LIFESTYLE, Travel and tours

Honeymoon Travels – Article 370 and a revisit soon?

My first visit to Srinagar was on 27th May, 1984. It was my honeymoon destination. We both promised ourselves to come back to Srinagar after a decade. It was truly mesmerising!

A honeymoon destination always has a special place in life. Over the years, the condition of J & K deteriorated and my plans of visiting again were almost dead. Though there are attractive tourist packages offered by the travel agencies in recent years, I was not ready to take the risk or travel with conditions.

On August 5, 2019 when the Government of India revoked Article 370 and 35A stripping J&K of special status, my hopes of revisiting Srinagar were ignited. The memories of that trip came alive.

On a hot afternoon in May (27th May 1984) , we boarded the train from New Delhi Railway Station for Jammu. We had a two berth coupe, all to our self, in first class compartment. The train reached Jammu station in the early hours of 28th . We were to board a flight to Srinagar the same afternoon and we didn’t have much time to explore the city. To our disappointment, the Railway retiring rooms at Jammu Station were all reserved but we somehow persuaded the staff to let us use the room to freshen up for a few hours before the guests checked in. The power of being a young newly married couple. 🙂 After freshening up, we kept our luggage of two huge suitcases in the cloak room and went out to visit the ancient Raghunath Temple of Jammu. Ancient and old buildings always invite me to visit them. They introduce us to the grit of human race along with the path of civilisation took by our earlier generations.

Finishing our trip well in time, we hired a cab and reached airport. It was an uneventful Indian Airlines flight that took us to Srinagar except for two waves of massive turbulences that hit our aircraft minutes immediatly after taking-off from Jammu.

We were stuck by the natural beauty of Srinagar as soon as we landed at airport and the drive from airport to city was very enjoyable. Our itinerary was meticulously planned. We had planned to stay in Srinagar for 4 days as a base and visit all the places of interest from there. We had not made any advance reservation in any hotel as we had decided to explore the hotels on our own and then settle for a good hotel in a quiet place with natural beauty. One of my husband’s office colleagues in the meanwhile had made arrangements for a day’s stay at a hotel in Residency road. The hotel was almost at the end of the Residency Road in a residential area. The room was very large with a huge restroom and a balcony that opened up on the street. We weren’t really happy with the location and soon went out to explore the city.
We found a very pleasant hotel with a big front lawn of lush green grass and abundant roses nearer to Regal Chowk area. We checked in to this hotel the same evening . This was to be our abode for five days. 🙂

In front lawns of Hotel Pamposh, Srinagar

Those were not the days of “Google” , “Tripadvisor” or “Ibibo” :), where you get all the informations about the hotels like these days complete with the look, location and facilities. The internet age people will not be able to understand the struggle of earlier travelers. 😋

The next morning, we visited the Tourist Reception Centre and planned a detailed itinerary for the next four days with them. The officials were very helpful. One of them sat with us to know the purpose of our visit and our interests. He curated a very good personalised travel plan for us. The famed Dal lake and its legendary Shikara boats was the place we were immediately directed to by the Tourist Centre as the first must visit stops. The scenic beauty of the whole area with surrounding hills, Chinar trees, the pristine water and the Shikaras is so difficult to describe in words. We had an unforgettable time boating and soaking in all the beauty and serenity around us. Nishat bagh with its enchanting gardens and water channels was the next on our visit.

In Nishat Bagh

Next day, was devoted to Srinagar City Tour by the J&K Tourism luxury coach. It was a hectic trip and took us to all the major tourist spots, buildings of historical importance and ancient places of worship. The late evenings were always spent in our pleasant hotel room and dinner ordered from room service.

Hotel Pamposh, getting ready for an outing 🙂

Next day, we took a cab for Pahalgam. The journey was simply divine and the beauty on the way is difficult to describe in words. In those days, people were not so mobile and there was not heavy tourist rush like the present days, not so in Srinagar and around.

On the banks of river Lidder in Pahalgam

Pahalgam was a small sleepy town in those days. It was all of 4-5 km long, along the river Lidder. The natural beauty was the USP of the town. It was also starting point of Amarnath Yatra. The nearest base camp was at Chandanwari. We walked up to Chandanwari, as locals told us that it’s a beautiful valley with great view. View from there was definitely very beautiful with greenery and snow capped mountains all around. But it was very smelly because of ponies, which were in large numbers waiting for Amarnath tourists. We spent our time roaming around the town like “do deewane shehar main” 🙂 There was a bridge across Liddar, which was a major attraction because of the view. We used to walk upto the bridge every day and absorb the natural beauty around. I have never seen that kind of serenity ever after, though have traveled a lot in last 3.5 decades.

It was 3rd June, we were sitting by the river Lidder, clicking photographs and having fun. Suddenly, we heard someone calling us. It was our hotel manager. He told us that there is an attack on Golden Temple, you should go back to Srinagar. Things may go worse in coming days. He helped us get a cab and we started immediately. He also packed some lunch and snacks with us. It was a very abrupt ending of our honeymoon.

By the side of river Lidder !

As we were nearing the Srinagar, we could see the columns of smoke rising and the situation there. He took us to tourist reception centre. They guided us to go to airport and leave by first available flight. The small airport was overcrowded with many film units who might be there for their shooting. I remember late actor Rajkumar , Sadhna and few more. Most of the flights were cancelled. Flights were going only up to Jammu. RB, my husband was running around from one counter to other as there was lots of confusion about the flights, available seats and tickets issued.

And then the magic happened. Someone called his name – “Rajvir…idhar aa yaar.” RB went to that gentleman. He took his earlier booked tickets and came with two tickets upto Jammu in the next flight. Till date RB did not remember this man, who claimed to be his school mate. Finally, we could board the flight in an hour’s time. We reached Jammu. As we were waiting for our luggage to come, our names were announced. A distant relative, who was a BSF commandant has sent someone to pick us up. We stayed at his place for 2 or 3 nights, I do not remember. We came via the first train that had started from Jammu upto New Delhi. It was over crowded train. thanks to those strong fauji of BSF, we could manage to get two seats.It was so overcrowded that people were lying under the seats. It was a very tough and slow journey. A pilot engine used to cover 1–2 or 5 km and then our train used to cover that much distance. It took us more than 12 hours to reach Ambala Cantt station. We got down there at mid night. My uncle used to stay in Ambala city. We reached his place in an hour’s time. Next morning, we came to Delhi by bus. What a relief it was to come back home safe and sound !

  • The quality of photos are bad and are not able to convey the beauty of the place. They were taken from a box camera of Agfa Isoly. Please bear with it.
  • Photos clicked and copyrights with RB.
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LIFESTYLE, top post on indiblogger, Travel and tours

Exploring the Kangra Culture

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What do you do on a vacation? Do you let someone plan your vacation? Does someone else chalk out the daily plan for you on a vacation and keep you on road to cover “popular tourists points”? You come back doubly exhausted but with a false “happiness’ of covering all the places? If yes, then I and you have opposite expectations from the vacations. 🙂

A vacation to me is to relax and visit places of my interest and not to cover the routine “points” listed on different online resources as a “must visit” places. My interest lies in the history and natural beauty. Going out for me is to have a relaxed time and doing things at my pace. 😛 Crisscrossing the place to visit sunrise point, sunset point etc. is not my kind of “vacations – “छुट्टियां “.

This year in May, 2019 while on a visit to Dharamshala – Mcleodganj, I shortlisted Kangra Fort in my “to do list”. It’s around 32 km from our homestay as per the Google and travel time is shown around 2.5 hours. We earmarked one day to explore our Indian heritage and planned to visit Kangra Museum in Dharamshala and Kangra Fort.

The cab arrived well in time. We started at 9.30 am after getting up without alarm and had a sumptuous filling breakfast of stuffed pranthaas. :P. On vacations, I am never in a hurry. As I had mentioned in my earlier posts about this vacation, I am accompanied by RB.

We reached the Kangra museum in less than an hour. It was still early and we get a space in the parking of the museum. It’s a treasure trove to understand the growth of Kangra art and craft. The golden period of the cultural growth in this region was during Katoch dynasty. Katoch kings were powerful and rich and have invested large amount of their riches in developing art and craft of the region.

As one enters the museum, first section is about stone carvings, next is about Kangra paintings and third and last section displays the jewellery and wood carvings. The stone carvings, murals, statues etc were as old as of 7th and 8th centuries.

The section of Kangra paintings was a showcase of divine relationship of Shri Krishna and Radha. It also depicts the lavish lifestyle of the royalty of those times. The natural colours still remains the bright and beautiful. I always admire in sheer awe the artists’ imagination and how they bring it alive on paper. I can not draw a single straight line. This is one reason, I love photography. 🙂 .

After spending more than two hours here, we were back on wheels towards Kangra Fort. Criss crossing the well laid roads, we reached the fort by 1.30 pm. Our driver told us beforehand to have packed lunch from Dharamshala as there won’t be good eating places near fort . We had some burgers and cakes packed along with some fresh fruits.

There is a small entry fee for fort. We opted for audio guide to know about detailed and correct history. It’s a must, if you really are interested in the history of the fort. You can choose the language of the audio- English or Hindi. The audio guide may cost around Rs. 175 only inclusive of all the taxes. After testing the audio guide functioning, we started on our tour of the Kangra Fort.

All ears to my guide – Audio Guide, on the top of the Kangra Fort, catching my breath !

The fort is spread over a large area and has 4 km long rampart in black stone. Highest floor had a palace, below which are the temples of Lakshmi Narayan, Devi Ambika and Jain temples. Just wondering, if kings put themselves before Gods in the eyes of the citizens? The massive fort has 11 gates and 23 bastions.

Here are some of the glimpses of the fort tour.

The Kangra fort is the oldest fort in the Himalayas and according to ASI (Archeological survey of India), it’s one of the largest forts of India, covering an area of 463 acres. It’s dated back to 3500 years old and is said to be constructed by Maharaja Susurama Chandra, of Katoch dynasty.

The royal family in this region was supposed to be founded Rajanayka Bhumi Chand in 4300 BC. Legend has it that they had been a part of Mahabharata and they fought for Kaurvas. Bhumi Chand of Chandravanshi clan was born from the sweat of Devi Ambika, while she was fighting a long battle with the demons. He helped Devi Ambika in her fight against the demons and he was given Trigarta, the region between three rivers – Ravi, Beas and Sutlaj as Devi’s blessings. Maharaja Susurama Chandra of Katoch dynasty accessed Trigarta after he lost Mahabharta as he fought for the Kaurvas. He did not go to his own kingdom in Multan but accessed Trigarta and built this fort to save his kingdom. He built a very rich kingdom and the lure of his rich kingdom attracted Alexander , Mehmood Ghajini, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and British to attack him.

The surroundings smaller kingdoms and rich devotees of Brajeshwari Devi temple used to make large offerings to the Goddess to save them in return from any calamity. Over the years, the treasures of the temple multiply, which was under control of the kingdom had helped the kingdom as the richest in the region. This was the reason,the fort was attacked innumerable times throughout the history. It was said, ” whoever holds the Kangra Fort will hold the hills”.

After innumerable attacks by different kingdoms, few like Mehmood Gazani, Sultan dynasty of Delhi, Maharaj Ranjit Singh of Panjab and Gurkhas also had controls over the fort. It was in 1846 when it came under control of Britishers. A british garrison occupied it till 1905, when it was heavily damaged by earthquake.What no army could do in hundreds of years, nature literally shook foundations of the fort.

After Independence, Archeological Survey of India handed over the fort complex to Katoch descendent Maharaja Jai Chandra. It’s still under control with them. The family performs the yearly pooja of their family deity, Goddess Ambika Devi, whose temple is inside the fort.

The ruins of the fort are well preserved and well maintained. The Sansarchand Museum in the premises of the fort will let you peep in the lifestyle of the royalty. It took us almost three hours there. You will find the clean conveniences there.

All pics are copyrighted with the author and this blog.

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LIFESTYLE, top post on indiblogger, Travel and tours

Exploring Tibetan Culture

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While in Dharamshala/ Mcleodganj recently on a holiday to celebrate togetherness and life, this May, 2019 we kept one day to explore Tibetan culture.

Mcleodganj and it’s Tibetan Connection:

It was in March 1959, when Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet against the Communist Party of China. The Indian Government offered him refuge in Dharamshala, where he set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960. Thus McLeod Ganj became his official residence and also home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees. Over the years, the Tibetans and local population have intermixed and one can see a peaceful co-existence.

The most important Buddhist site in the town is the Dalai Lama’s temple.  Other Buddhist and Tibetan sites in McLeod Ganj include the Namgyal Monastery, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts,Gompa Dip Tse-Chok Ling (a small monastery), the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Gangchen Kyishong (called Gangkyi for short by Tibetans and is the premises of the Tibetan government-in-exile), Mani Lhakhang Stupa, Nechung Monastery, and Norbulingka Institute, which is 8 kilometres away. The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, lives near Dharamshala, in Gyuto monastery in Sidhbari.

Out of these, we shortlisted Dalai Lama temple, Norbulingka Institute and Gyuto Monastery to visit.

19th May, 2019 was the day of our Tibetan exploration in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. Our first stop was the Dalai Lama Temple. It was at the end of the local market in Mcleodganj. There was a small parking for vehicles. Our cab driver parked his vehicle little away from the temple which gave us the opportunity to walk down and be part of the locals.

The monks in their maroon and yellow robes were all around in the temple and provides a mystic touch to the surroundings for the visitors like us. The place appears to be full of activities. Like all Buddhist monasteries around the world, this one is also full of intricate art work in bright colours with yellow or golden as main colour. The followers were going around their ritual of meditation. One of the main halls had sitting arrangement which appears like a class for monks. Since it was early morning , student monks were gathering together for class.

The temple has been opened for public and without any restrictions.Photography was allowed. Shoes are not allowed inside the main sanctum of the temple. The only request was to keep silence. But most of the tourists were not at all considerate, thus abusing the serene atmosphere of the temple. Responsible tourists are the need of the hour.

You can meditate, rotate prayer wheels, visit museum and library in the temple. Museums are my favourite. They tell us so much about history without being emotional. 🙂 This museum holds rare photographs of Dalai Lama, Tibetan culture, martyrs and others. This museum is found near the entry gate. There are also pictures of how Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet. A short video about the tibetan culture is played in the museum. ( Pls check timings.)

We spent around an hour here and enjoyed the serene and peaceful environment, rotated the prayer wheel while circumferencing the temple and captured some memories in our camera. We walked down to our cab, which was not parked in the temple’s parking. We got some time to walk down and be part of the locals.

Our next stop was Norbulingka Institute.

The Entry to Norbulingka Institute

Norbulingka is a community with a sustainable business model and a strong social mission to keep the Tibetan culture alive by training people for the future. All proceeds from their business sections go directly back into running the institute. In Norbulingka Institute workshops  and processes are held by providing apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms and making Tibetan experience accessible and relevant to the contemporary lifestyle and young Tibetans.  Norbulingka focuses on design, meaning, and quality of their products. Every product has a story to tell through its materials, processes, and themes. These ventures take pressure off of the artists to produce in mass quantity, who can then focus on maintaining the authenticity of their artistic lineages. It also provides additional jobs with stable income and training in service and administration to many in the Tibetan community. All income generated by Norbulingka then goes back into the institute, through which they support social programs such as health and child care for the staff, as well as apprenticeships in traditional arts, and the patronage of various scholastic projects. They also have rooms to stay and can be booked on the website. One can register for the workshops on their official website. Wanna bring some authentic Tibetan culture back with you from Dharamshala, you can buy from the shop at the institute. For all these details, pls check their website – https://www.norbulingka.org/

This sign board about a “Doll’s Museum” in Norbulingka caught my eye. A doll’s museum here? The doll’s museum of New Delhi flashed before my eyes. It was a deja vu moment for my visit to doll Museum in Delhi decades ago, with my young children.

The Losel Doll Museum at Norbulingka.

This museum gives an insight into Tibetan past, their struggle, art and culture through dolls. I loved every minute, I spent there. What an innovative and interesting way to introduce the old culture to visitors! I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the Tibetan history .

After spending good time in the museum and monastery, we started for the Gyuto Tantric Institute. It was established for the preservation and promotion of the tradition of tantric teachings of the great teacher Tsongkhapa, the crown among the learned and accomplished masters of Tibet, who had been taught the teachings of the Buddha, through Nagarjuna and other learned Indian Buddhist scholars of Nalanda University, great Tibetan translators and accomplished masters.

The Gyuto Institute in Dharamshala has a very beautiful premises. A bright combination of red and yellow adorn the whole premises which stands out and is very eye catching. Below are some photos from outside and inside the monastery. 

The most common sight in the twin cities of Dharamshala and Mcleodganj is of Tibetan monks in their maroon and orange robs. Many tourists ask them to have a photograph with them and they happily oblige. Why do they ask- just wondering? May be it makes a better composition 😊. Most of the Tibetans in the city are monks. They are studying about their past, history and culture in these monasteries but what do they do for a living? My local guide shared that the monasteries are heavily funded with aids coming from European countries and US. He also shared that the most of the high ranking hotels are owned by these monks. One can see them using most of the latest and high end gadgets thus pointing to financial strength. They have made this place their home almost half a century ago and one can see the ease with which they have amalgamated with the locals. The hills are rich green and at peace with this synthesis. Amen !💐

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LIFESTYLE, Musings, Travel and tours

The 35 years…and Counting

This year on 20 May, 2019, I celebrated the foundation of that lifelong relationship called marriage. It happened on 20th May, 1984. It has been an eventful journey of love, fights, adjustments, empowerment and balancing. Like everybody else, I had no idea of what comes along with getting married. 🙂

Even after staying and sharing life together for 35 years , we have kept our individualities and independence. Both the boys are busy and hopefully happy with their lives and we are leading a relaxing retired life. I enjoy the slow paced life in hot Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat. I have changed myself from being a fast paced active professional to being non-professional and doing things which I could not do earlier. This let me be at peace with myself. I enjoy watching the fast paced world from the gallery.

To celebrate the day of reckoning, 😜 we planned a vacation which is going to be different and will cater to our kind of vacation. Earlier due to time constraints, we used to handover every planning to travel agencies and follow the routines they had set. In these kinds of vacations, one has to visit some places which are not of interest but have to go with the flow. This time, we took charge and curated a vacation which caters to our interests of historical places, natural beauty and relaxation. We ignored the routine tourist spots like sunrise and sunset points, few religious places and city shopping centers. We planned for a vacation at Mcleodganj, which was on radar since last 2 decades.

A recently started flight by Spicejet from Ahmedabad to Dharamshala (Gaggal Airport) prompted us to finalize this location. The layover at Jaipur was longer while going but we took it in our stride as this is the best option available on the dates, we planned to travel.

We boarded the night flight on 17th May. The flight was delayed by almost 2 hours from Ahmedabad but we were not worried as our next connecting flight was in early hours of 18th. We reached Jaipur at midnight only to find that the airport is closed as there are no domestic night flights from Jaipur. The airport lounge was also non functional for last few months. This was not updated on website. We thought of spending the night at lounge while booking for this flight. It would have been very convenient. Anyway, it was not there at all. 😑

No restaurants or even tea – coffee outlets were open at that time. My idea of eating a pyaaz kachori or bedmi poori from LMB ( Laxmi Mithai Bhandar) were dashed. 😦 The only option available was a restaurant “Saptagiri”outside the airport, which remains open throughout the night. But being a transit passenger, if we get out of the airport, we will not be allowed to enter before 4 am, when the people for morning flights start pouring in. We contacted the Spicejet office and who also spoke to CISF security personnel to let us in as we are transit passengers. We passed through the exit gate of airport to check into that restaurant thinking about some tasty rajasthani local foods.

Our luggage was not booked for both the flights, as ours was the last flight of the day and next flight is on next day. As I have mentioned earlier that Jaipur airport is closed at night for domestic flights. This was the explanation given by Spicejet.

The restaurant was in basement and there was no lift . Going down with luggage was an exercise, we never wanted to carry. It was decided that one of us will stay with luggage and other will get down and bring whatever looks fine. RB went down and appeared with two huge samosas and tea. The samosas were very “healthy” 😁 and served as full meal. They were delicious and my favourite snack. दो दीवाने शहर में वाली फीलिंग आ गयी। 🙂

We entered the airport after showing our boarding passes for the morning flight and Ids to the CISF personnel on the gate, whom Spicejet official had spoken. There were few more passengers like us who were settled in the small sitting corner on the ground floor of the airport. We also joined the tribe. Many were sleeping while sitting. I also tried to sleep by extending my legs to the seats opposite to mine by pulling them closure, thus making a comfortable sitting.

The airport was closed for flights but there was fast paced activities all around. Large scale cleaning was going on, airlines offices were working and repairs and renovations were going on as Jaipur airport is being upgraded. Just in front of us, welding was going on. With so much action around, I was the only one who is not sleeping. 😒

The airport authorities should have put some recliners for transit passengers, who are forced to spend night sleeping on the chairs in the wake of no lounges available. Anyway, as they say, time never stands still for anyone, this night also passed by. Around 3.30 am, passengers for morning flights have started pouring in. We also freshen up and waited for the luggage screening to start. It started around 4 am. In another 30 minutes, we have done security checks for our next flight to Dharamshala, before the crowd swell. The flight was to take off 6.30 am. Before boarding, we had our coffee and muffins while waiting at gate IA, so that we can survive till we reach our homestay for breakfast. On time boarding and on time take off. ✌️ We landed at 9 am at Dharamshala.

We hired a taxi from prepaid taxi service booth to our destination. Since tourism is a big industry here, the drivers, cabbies and all other associated with tourism industry are well trained in soft skills. The driver who took us to Shatobari Greens, past Mcleodganj was a great conversationalist. Since I am afraid of speed on hills and I told him as we sat down , he drove us at very controlled speed throughout the drive of 1 hour. He found out from our conversation that we love the greenery and nature and took routes which have tea gardens, jungles and avoided traffic wherever he can. The drive was very enjoyable. Unlike other hill station, this side of HP has taken good care of their forests.

We reached Shatobari Greens by 10.30 am. This homestay is run by a retired government official and his wife. The property is in forest area and 6 km away from main Mcleodganj. There is no markets and no civilization around. We planned our stay in this homestay, which is away from the hustle and bustle of city and surrounded by pure nature. It’s so blissful to be woken up by chirping of birds.

SHATOBARI GREENS

We have planned this trip rather differently. We kept only two days to see museums, monasteries , Kangra fort and Masroor rock temple. On other days, we planned our outings for leisure walking around forest and villages and enjoy nature. The local temples, sunrise and sunset points and Triund trekking were not on our platter.

We had masala tea with light snacks in our room. The room on first floor is very spacious with two balconies. It has a small kitchenette well equipped with gas stove, fridge , electric kettle and basic utensils. The big room has nicely furnished bedroom and dining room. The property is rather new and has very positive vibes. I fell in love with it the moment, we entered. They are not keen to serve meals, though on our insistence they served us basic home food of dal, sabzi, roti, without any dessert. Breakfast was stuffed pranthas. Other options for breakfast were toast and sandwiches. They do not have many options. Homemade food is a blessing while on vacation. I hope, they may add more varieties as there are not any options to eat except self cooking, which many like me may not want to do on vacations. We had stocked seasonal fruits, cucumber, tomatoes along with some cakes, biscuits, namkeens , cup noodles , bread and butter for in between meals munching.

After freshening up, we went out to explore the surroundings. The majestic Dhauladhar range is visible all around. The thick jungle, chirping of birds and fragrance of greenery… it was an awesome outing. RB was experimenting with his photography and trying new settings in his camera. I lied down on the stones placed around the roads and was mesmerised by the purity of nature around. It was as if time has stopped. The stillness has it’s own language. I have not seen such azure blue sky since quite some time now. Ahmedabad is polluted dusty city.

After spending good time, we started back. The coming back was tough as it was all climb yet enjoyable. We had good sleep after all this exercise and woke up only in the evening. Next day was election day in this part of the country. We planned to go for local monasteries and museums. As Mcleodganj is home to Dalai Lama, the tibetan influence is visible all around. It has been almost 5 decades and the tibetans and local population is well adjusted.

Common street view in Dharamshala/ Mcleodganj.

The monks are seen all around in the city. Tourists very often ask them to click a picture with them and it appeared that they are very much used to it. They happily become part of the moment with a smile. They get huge support from international communities. Our drivers told us that these monks are running some of the most expensive hotels, restaurants and clubs here. Their financial status is very visible

We had hired a cab and started at 10 in the morning. This day, we visited the famous Dalai Lama temple,Norbulingka institute, war museum , tea estates, highest cricket stadium of India and Naddi. Bhagsu temple and waterfall were given a miss. It was a day well spent. More on these in separate posts. The election was peaceful and on many polling booths, there were ques.Our driver had casted his vote before coming to pick us. Such stories are a proof that our democracy is maturing. A glimpse of our visit:

20th May was kept for walking trail to Dal lake, which is 4 km from our homestay. A small lake , surrounded by forest and an old Mahadev temple is a peaceful serene stopover. It took us 1.5 hours using the short cuts as told by local people. This small lake is the hidden gem.

After spending good time there, we came back by evening by an auto rickshaw. Next day was marked to explore our heritage. We were to go to Kangra valley to visit Kangra fort, state museum and Masroor Rock temple. I will write separate posts on these. It was such a pleasure to get acquainted with our glorious past. I wonder, why we were not given the richness of our culture and traditions in our history classes? These should be made a part of local studies to expose new generations to their glorious past.

22nd May was again kept for “on foot outings”. It was local hiking and trekking and photography at our own pace. After having sumptuous breakfast of mixed veg stuffed pranthas we walked out around 10.30 am. Wandering aimlessly is great fun, which I guess, I have last done long back during carefree childhood years. We explored local surroundings. There was a ridge nearby with a great view. Conversations at small tea stalls, lunch at the home of a jawan, who is serving in Indian army and attended a local wedding on our way back were some of the highlights of this unplanned day.

23rd May – The day of Lok Sabha election results and the day we were to start our return journey. Our flight was at 11.30 am and we were to reach airport by 10 am. Our cab came at 9 am and by this time, many trends were available. It was an exciting day. Thanks to Jio, we remained connected to the world. The layover at Jaipur was of 4 hours. By the time, we boarded the plane at 5 pm, results / trends have clearly projected the new government.

It all ended happily. As they say, all’s well that ends well. So true for our vacation and the Lok sabha results !!

All pics © with Neerja Bhatnagar

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LIFESTYLE, Travel and tours

Women on Wheels (Part 2)

On 26th March, we planned to start after having breakfast. And none of us had set an alarm.Who does it on vacations? 😛 I and Preeti got up early without any alarm , for our common love of photography 📷. The complex of resort was vast, well maintained and it was all to ourselves as there were no other guests.

Preeti and white horse – Planning to ride her white horse to meet her prince. 🙂
The bindaas girl 😛

We enjoyed the cool early morning breeze, chirping of birds, rising sun from the distant Aravali range, the well maintained gardens and did some somersaults 🤸 too. It was total fun morning, a kind of college picnic fun.

By the time, we came back to room, Swati and Madhuri were also up and were enjoying their hot drinks. We were in dry state Gujarat, , so please do not confuse between these drinks – ☕ and 🥂. We also joined them .After getting ready we packed our things and left for breakfast. We settled the bill and left for Vijay Nagar by 9.30 AM. We did not find much traffic on the way and reached the “Vijay Vilaas Heritage Property”, by 11.30 am. Google map was our guide and brought us safely. Ever smiling and warm Asha ji , who is running the heritage homestay was there to welcome us personally. The refreshing nimbu paani was all what we needed to freshen up. It was my second visit to this place. We had a small chit-chat with Ashaji over masala chai and biscuits about the places to visit and how should we go about it. Since it’s almost afternoon, she suggested that we should have lunch and then take some rest. It’s good if we leave by 4 pm for Polo Forest complex. We will still have 3 hours, which is more than sufficient.

Since Asha ji is married into the family of the descendent of the erstwhile Vijay Nagar Kingdom, we requested her for a detailed discussion and insight into the tribal district about the growth and life of tribals. Her husband was generous enough to share details of their journey from royal to common man and eventually the journey of the kingdom under independent India.

Posing while the food is being laid.
The meals with the lion :

The lunch was simple home cooked food, served with love and warmth. The staff in the resort were from local Ghrasiya tribe. The dining room had all the tell tale signs of erstwhile days of kingdom.The photographs of royalty, lion skin on wall and a stuffed lion, old heritage furniture , all were pointing to the grand lifestyles maintained by kings and the downfall after the privy purse was over. It was a journey from royalty to common man. After our lunch, we came to our rooms for power nap of an hour before leaving for polo forest.

We went to Polo forest as decided. It’s a vast complex with forests, a river and ruins of Jain temple in the complex. It appeared to be a very popular location for film or serial shooting. Two units shooting with the ruins of temples in the background.

We had jolly good time there. Nature and history is my kind of vacation. It rejuvenates me. Have a look at the fun we all had in jungle. It was real a “jungle main mangal” moment for all of us.

We came back before dark, and after having a hot water refreshing bath, we settled down for evening tea and bhajias in the central courtyard of the property.

Now we had plenty of time, before dinner, which we utilized in dance and music session for that full on fun. 9.30 was dinner time. Here also, we were the only guests as this is almost end of the tourist season. So, the day had ended with a tasty sumptuous dinner in the company of “jungle ka raja” , chahe mara hua. 🙂

It was time to have that “gossip session before sleep”. The sofa set in Madhuri and Swati’s room was more comfortable than ours, so I and Preeti perched ourselves on the sofa in their room. Everyone has stories to share. We shared our struggles, achievements, happiness and sorrows. It was time to learn from experiences of others. It was the time to absorb the wise actions and learn about the grit and strength of each other.

When we started this trip, I knew only Preeti, that for too less than an year. I hardly know Swati and Madhuri. But after spending 3 days and specially this night, it feels as if we all are chuddy- buddies.We were awake till 1 AM.

We came back to our room only after 1 o’ clock in the early morning hours. We were to leave after breakfast. We requested Asha ji to share some facts about the place. She and her husband, who was there shared valuable informations about the royal and local tribal history . I will share it in my next post.

L to R : Royal descendents ( Ashaji in dark glasses and her husband), me, Preeti and Madhuri

My learning from the trip:

  1. It’s very important to go out with women friends to be yourself.
  2. This kind of trips lets you be yourself. You do not have to live upto certain expectations being mother , wife or sister.
  3. In such trips, everyone supports one another fully .
  4. No one is judgemental about your conditions, action and situations.
  5. Such trips are essential to keep you mentally away from the daily grind of running a household.
  6. As per one study of Oxford University, it’s important to spend time with your women friends to keep you physically , emotionally and mentally happy.
PREETI

Preeti is a freelance writer and social activist. She has won numerous awards for her writings, latest being “Women of the Future Award 2018 .

Swati is a successful industrialist, running an industry manufacturing AC motors.

Madhuri is running her fort and coordinating between an outstationed husband , a daughter who is in hostel and another one is in 12th and very busy.

NEERJA

Neerja is a physicist by education and blogger and photographer by vocation.

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LIFESTYLE, Travel and tours

Women on Wheels (Day 1)

How it all started:

I was in Roorkee at my sister’s place, when Priti sent a whatsapp message – “aap kahan hain? wapas aa gayin kya? Aa jayengi to baat karungi” ( Where are you? Are you back? When you come back, I would like to speak to you.) I called back, instead of replying on whatsapp. That’s the Jio magic. 🙂 She shared her plan to go out with her two female friends as their daughters are out on a school trip for a fortnight. Going alone with friends was on my mind for some time. I jumped at the opportunity, though I did not know about the other two women. I have known Priti for last one year and always felt an emotional connect with her.

Bhuj, the first choice:

It was the middle of February and this year was cooler in Ahmedabad than it’s normal temperature. We planned for Bhuj. By the end of February, we realized that Bhuj will be very hot by the end of March, when we were planning to go. Thanks to online resources, I checked the temperature on Accuweather and found it to be more than 40 C and more around the time of our tentative visit. So idea of Bhuj was abandoned and with it my dreams of visiting Bhujodi and other villages around Bhuj, seeing the handlooms, meeting the enterprising women and buy some creatively made sarees, stoles and home linens for my online outlet, “PUSHPNEER“.

Our first meeting:

We met at Madhuri’s place sometimes in first week of March to finalize the destination. Dates were fixed – March 25 – 27. My super senior citizen father stays with me and I can not leave him for more than 3 days at a stretch

After lots of discussion, it was decided that since we have only three days at hand, we will go to a place, which is at a distance of 3 to 4 hours journey. Polo forest was short listed but the place doesn’t require two night stay. We searched around some more places and finalized Balaram. One night stay at each place. This trip was mainly for relaxation, fun and lots of heartwarming gupshup.

Responsibilities:

Swati had taken the responsibility to arrange for the cab. I and Priti took responsibilities of bookings. Madhuri, was our pretty fourth partner, who planned for the small munching meals during the travel. Cab, Balaram Resort and Vijay Vilas Palace were booked well in time.

Planning For Home in Our Absence:

We all had to make arrangement for the family members left at home. I had to guide my cook about my father’s meals. My husband and son can manage their own affairs and can instruct the cook as per their requirements, so I have not made any arrangements for them. Priti had made sufficient arrangements for her mother in law and husband. Swati had to guide her cook two times a day to make life easier for her husband , son and mother in law. Madhuri was the only one, who have no one at home. One daughter in hostel, another gone on school trip and hubby outstation, she locked all her cooking worries at home. 😊

The Journey :

We started at 7AM on 25th March, 2019. After driving for almost 3 hours,we had brunch at “Siddharth” a South Indian restaurant at Siddhpur. We all had our morning tea and biscuit before we started at 7 am, so 10 in the morning was just perfect time to have a sumptuous meal.

Swati had recommended this as she had tried it frequently. We had ordered masala dosa, steamed idlis and hot wadas with sambhar and routine accompaniments. We ended the food with sweet gulabjamuns. Food was good. The enlightened group of ours was free from “calories fear”. 😛

@Sidhartha, Siddhpur.

Arrival at Balaram Resort:

We reached Balaram Resort before noon. The weather was pleasant throughout. The guards at the gate were aware of our bookings and we had a smooth entry to the premises. Their security systems were good. The entry to the resort is restricted. We felt being in a safe place. The resort was on the outskirts of Chitrasani village in Banaskantha district of Gujarat. Huge premises and just 3 cars in the parking ?

Balaram resort is a palace situated on the bank of Balaram River in Chitrasani village of Banaskantha district of Gujarat, India. Built in 1936 for
Sir Tale Muhammad Khan, 29th Nawab of Palanpur state to be used as a hunting retreat. It is now converted into a heritage hotel.

The original hunting retreat at Balaram .

Since then an additional new blocks have been added. Tent accommodations were also added. The complex was huge and very well maintained. There were only three cars at the resort. This showed the end of tourist season. We were allotted 2 adjacent rooms on ground floor. The rooms had a common sitout and a swing at the back of the rooms. So, the spot for first photo session has been found out. 🙂

After initial photo session, we ordered tea and coffee along with cookies as we have some hardcore coffee drinkers. To do justice with our efforts of bringing the tasty snacks, we supplemented our drinks with tasty chivada namkeen, thepla and spicy savouries. The weather was nice and we planned for our evening outing from the inputs given by the resort manager. An old Shiv temple, balrampur river, a nearby village to explore tribal market and living and Jessore Sloth Bear sanctuary were recommended and we decided to start around 4pm.

We had our tea and snacks after our power nap and started on time. The shiv temple which was referred to us was just half a kilometer on the bank of river Balram. It was not as old as we were told.It appeared to be a very recent temple, and river did not have much water. Our first destination was a flop visit. Thank God for the company, we had fun even in adverse situations.

Few more kilometers and we come across a village market. Me and Preeti were keen to visit a tribal settlement to have first hand experience of their life style and changes brought in their life by technology and (Jio) internet. But it came out to be any normal village and not a tribal settlement. On our way back, we come across two women walking by the side of road. They appeared to be belonging to some tribe from their dress. We got down and tried to speak, but they were not very keen… We clicked few pics, for which they happily posed. 🙂

As luck would have it, we came across a small settlement, and we just got down to explore. Swati was not keen to get down, so she remained in the car and three of us went out. It was a settlement of Ghrasia tribe family. They had cattles and sell their milk for living. Two brothers along with their families were living in few kachcha and pacca houses on a big plot .

The Gharsia tribal family

The women were more outspoken and showed us their kitchen and indoors. One of them posed very happily in her silver jewellery. A spick and span household with fewer belongings but happiness and peace with themselves. Two young children go to the government school near by.

Gharsia tribal lady showing us her kitchen.

We spent almost an hour there and thus got delayed for the sloth bear sanctuary. We missed it.

We came back to resort in the late evening. The resort had good lawns and many locations for photography. We clicked many photos over lots of gupshup. We were so engrossed in gupshup and photography, little did we realise that we were the only occupants in this secluded resort. It was 9.30 pm and we were sitting out one of the many sit outs spread over the property. As dinner were to be served by 10 pm, we were headed towards the dining hall. After having dinner, we went into our rooms. I and Preeti were still gossiping and slept around 2am.

When posing was much fun.

We got up early, around 6 am and did some interesting photography. After breakfast, we left for our next destination around 8.30 am.

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LIFESTYLE, top post on indiblogger, Travel and tours

Ambarsariya

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I am here at Beas , Panjab at Radha Swami Satsang , Beas , at my father-in-law’s home on my annual visit. I have been coming to this place now for more than 30 years.

I have read about the developments around Golden Temple. It was mentioned that it’s being developed on the lines of Vatican complex. This has motivated my visit to Amritsar along with some additional incentives of visiting some museums. Shopping of punjabi clothing is my way of releasing my traveling stress. 😊

We (RB and me) started early at 8.30 am with plans to have breakfast on a roadside dhaba. 8.30 am is pretty early for a us in our winter holidays relaxation and rejuvenating trip. We started right on time, in the family Santro car. This 12 years old is fit and strong, a robust Panjabi beauty. 😋

On GT road, we stopped at SK7 dhaba and had stuffed pranthas of aloo (potato) and gobhi (cauliflower) with curd and hot masala tea.

The gobhi prantha, curd and masala ☕.

Pranthas were huge and had the rustic panjabi taste. Usually, people prefer plain or salty curd with stuffed pranthas but I like to have sweet curd to balance the spicy chilli stuffing.

This place has clean toilets too. More options were available as you move towards Amritsar near Mallian.

I prefer to have food in dhabas as they cook fresh foods and have mostly recipes passed on from generations. That’s the secret of their authentic  tastes. Besides anything else, I go for hygiene.

Following the instructions from Google map to reach parking behind Golden Temple, we landed in a web of crisscross narrow lanes. After wasting lots of precious time, we came across a parking by the boundary wall of Baba Atal Gurudwara. The parking guy took 20 Rs. and gave us a receipt. There was no board of parking put-up there anyway. Finding a place to park the car after all the tussel of reaching here was a big relief. An E-rickshaw came from nowhere and dropped us at nearest entry to the golden temple. Before boarding, we confirmed the location of parking for an easier return to pick up the car.

I would suggest to park your vehicle outside in some nearby mall and take a local E- rickshaw to reach golden temple. You will save driving stress, time and effort.

After depositing the shoes, we moved towards the main complex. I last visited two decades ago with my sons. At that time, there was no crowd and we had very easy entry to the main sanctum of the golden temple. The crowds this time was huge and we decided to enjoy the serenity of the place and spent some time around the complex instead of being part of the queue.

The huge crowd waiting for entry into the main golden temple.

The weather was very pleasant. Complex was very clean. We bought panjiri prasad and kadha prasad . There is a museum about Sikh history in the complex . It has marvelous collection of information about the glorious past of Sikhs. A very enriching and proud experience !

Jalianwala bagh is also in the same complex. The entry through the historic lane through which Gen O’Dwyer entered the bagh with his forces to attack the Indians inside still smells blood.

The only entry – exit lane to Jalianwala bagh.

There is also much improvement in the complex as compared to my last visit. A visitor gallery showing the glimpses and heroes of Jalianwala bagh has been put up to enrich visitors knowledge about forgotten facts .

The main entrance of the Jalianwala complex 
A well manicured park inside the complex
The historical Memorial Tower in Jalianwala Bagh
The Martyrs’ well

This well had witnessed the massacre and  had offered itself to thousands of bravehearts. Visiting Jalianwala bagh was a very humbling experience.

We hired an E rickshaw for wholesale cloth market. In most of the tourist places, a nexus between the rickshaw walas and shops is well known. I never go to a shop recommended by any local unknown person. After hopping few shops, finally got a genuine wholesale shop. If the rates of garments around golden temple complex is Rs. 2000 , you can find same cloth in wholesale market in Rs.650. So, it’s worth a walk of 15 minutes through the nearby lanes. E-rickshaw takes you there in 10 rs per person.

Around 2 o’Clock, we came back to Golden temple complex and had our lunch at “Bharawon ka dhaba”. “Kesar ka dhaba”is a popular old food joint. I was not keen to follow the old “well-known” eating places as  these places are unnecessary hyped.

We had makki ki roti – sarson ka saag and amritsari aloo kulcha – pindi chana. Both were tasty and has authentic punjabi taste. The finishing touch was phirni. Very tasty, not very sweet melt in mouth sweet dish, phirni was clear winner in local desserts.

Amritsari kulche, pindi chana and raita
sarson ka saag – makki roti-gur
Kesar Phirni

The food was tasty and was served with so much of love. The convenient location and taste of food is the reason, this dhaba has become very popular with tourists.

The Independence museum is another important and not to be missed place in Amritsar. It’s all also within  walking distance from golden place. Old recordings , documents and historical facts about our independence struggle is an eye opener. The selfless fighters have given us the most valuable gift of life – Freedom. We spent almost two hours there.

Have a look at the premises around the golden temple.

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