Sunday, 6 May 2012

Destination Kolkata

What caught my attention other than the birds of kolkata, was the array of transport systems across the city. The journey into the world of automobile started with the antique ambassador at the airport. The mighty old ambi is very much a survivor in the city as much as everything else. The fresh coat of yellow paint for a minute misleads you into believing that the ride would be comfortable but as you become a part of good old car, you are taken aback on your seat and you can only hope that you reach the destination safely. 

 As a tourist, the ride in and around is made interesting by the driver who takes you through the heart of city with its narrow roads and bustling life around those who call these roads their home. Almost all the cab drivers refused to go with the meter and chose to take the shortest and maybe the slowest routes to the destinations. But it gave us a chance to experience Kolkata like we never imagined. 

 The mode of transport that i was most excited to explore was the tram. The tracks along the road and the dangling wires above clue you on that a tram could pass you by any moment. I was looking for something that i could relive the memory of  San Francisco. But what i was offered was a slow moving monster on wheels which added to the age of the city .

Though i was keen on experiencing Hoogly on a country boat lazing into the sunset, I set sail on the second best option- the good old  rustic boat with a loud motor and no seats. We joined the locals and enjoyed the proximity to Hoogly as we squatted on the floor of the boat. The slow and the noisy boat ride is a wonderful way to pass by the numerous ghats of kolkata and enjoy yet another type of transport.

Kolkata is most famous for its hand pulled rickshaws. This inhuman practice which started during the colonial times seems to prevail in the city. I hope that one day it will be a piece of transport seen only in museums and not on the road. Considering the array of transport the city houses including the century old buses with its arched windows, the rickshaws should be a thing of past.
The bridges across the river and the overhead tracks of the metro add to the landscape of the city.  Though we experienced the bridges, we did not get a chance to go on the metro. The laid back city has a laid back metro. We were surprised to know on reaching the station that on weekdays, the metro starts at 7.00am with limited service and on Sunday the service starts at 2.00pm in the afternoon. For a metro city , the timings seem far from the hustle bustle of subway of New York or tube of london.

Two things eluded us during this trip- the local food and its most famous export - rosogolla. Though now i am a big fan of the paneer kati roll from kusums on park street, kachoris  from the stalls lining near Dakshineswar and mishti doi from KC Das. But can someone tell me when is a good time to get rosogollas as they were never available.

With the limited time we had we could explore Dakshineswar temple, Belur math, victoria memorial gardens and marble palace. All must visit spots in Kolkata. With this trip, i have now covered all the four metros of India. Looking forward to more such milestones.

Our temporary home in this city was a hotel with a history as old as the city. Fairlawn Hotel is housed in a colonial building built in 1783 close to park street. It is certainly not your every day hotel. But considering that i had the pleasure of experiencing the idiosyncrasies of a similar hotel in Goa-Panjim inn, i felt at home in its colonial charm and the knick knacks all over this hotel. The hotel boasts of a long list of celebrities as its guests. The walls display many of these famous visitors and their stories including Shashi Kapoor's courtship with his would be wife and their honeymoon at this hotel. This family owned green colored piece of art was  an experience that can be repeated over and over again.

Location: Kolkata,West Bengal, India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Early bird catches the rosogollas
Must do: Travel like a local
First: The harsh life on the road
The travel connection: The mode of transport

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Destination Victoria Memorial

Red breasted Parakeet

Common Myna
Rose Ringed Parakeet
Asian Pied Starling
Cattle Egret and common crow
Yellow footed Pigeon  and Parakeet
Blue Throated Barbet

 My recent trip to kolkata left me with few unexpected surprises. The stark contrast of the day to day life out there from the one out in Bangalore was expected but to see friends of the feathered kind galore amidst of the harsh life in a metropolitan city left me in a state of amazement. The first morning in this city was the best i had in a long time. Though we were staying in the heart of the city, we were woken to chirps of hundreds of sparrows. It was a bitter sweet moment as i was enjoying the wake up call, i also recalled that the sparrows of Bangalore have almost completely disappeared. I wish sparrows would come back to Bangalore and feel at home like they do in Kolkata

The second morning in Kolkata just got better. We decided to visit Victoria memorial gardens. I had no clue that it is bird watcher's paradise- a heaven on earth. I wished the morning could last forever considering the variety of birds we spotted in the short time we were out there. I really wonder why we don't spot so many birds like this in Cubbon park or Lalbagh. I  want to know what kolkata is doing that bangalore is not. I salute you kolkatans for being true to nature.

Location: Kolkata, West Bengal,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Dawn/ Early morning is the best time for catching birds!
Must do: Visit Victoria memorial Gardens.
First: Spot birds never seen before.
The travel connection: Bird watching

Friday, 6 April 2012

Destination Gangtok Day 5

Gangtok  at a height of 4700 ft is on lower Himalayan ranges. It's a dense town with small roads and 5 storey concrete boxes packed next to each other. The hub of the town for tourism is the M G road. It is traffic free in the evenings and has its souvenir shops, cafes and the other tourist nick nacks.
It is an eco friendly city as plastic is banned.The city is doing its best to promote local tourism by having a flower show and handicrafts museum and view points in and around the town.

 The place of interest that I would recommend is the Do Drul Chorten where I finally turned the prayer wheels which was a long time wish. The stupa is close to museum of tibetology which has some interesting items on display. Rumtek monastery about 25 kms from the city is also a good place to dive into meditative state.

Gangtok though not an exciting place, is an ideal stopover for the journey to the north and beyond. I hope to return there one day on the way to Gurudongmar lake.

Location: Gangtok, Sikkim,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Pick up Buddhist chant cd!
Must do: Tibetan pilgrimage
First: Turn prayer wheels
The travel connection:Spirituality in the raw.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Destination Lachung - Day 4

Lachung natives i was told were hostile towards tourists about 10 years ago. I can totally understand their sentiments. For every sensitive nature respecting tourist, you will find one whose idea of holiday is to make merry with food/ drink, litter around, play music, talk loudly in the serene surroundings and leave their mark around by vandalizing. Maybe such tourists would be more comfortable in the city environment rather than out in wilderness. But if they do want to be one with nature, i request them to respect  and treat it with TLC. Maybe then the indigenous people will not be against tourism.

Over the years, North Sikkimese have realized the potential of tourism and have welcomed us to their home. Lachung now has about 120 hotels averaging 20-25 rooms each. But it is still unspoilt and not touched by commercialism like the popular hill stations.There are no view points or  lakes that you can go boating. There is no manicured  garden where you can take a leisurely stroll. There is no mall or MG road where you can spend the evening. I truly hope it remains that way as i could vote this place as one of my favorites. It's pure unadulterated natural world.


Unfortunately  the hotel we stayed at is an indication of changing times. All hotels in Lachung are very basic with just a simple bed and home cooked food with no entertainment, frequent power cuts and hot water bottles for comfort in a cold bed.But Yarlam had 24 hour power back up and hot water, LCDs with satellite TV, electric heaters and all the other facilities you would find in a good hotel. It also cost about 3 times more than the other hotels in Lachung. But the views it offers is worth the price and i would totally recommend it.

Due to heavy snow the roads from Lachung to Yumthang and zero point was closed. I hope to be back one day to experience these places.

Location: Lachung, Sikkim,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Carry essentials as we didn't see any stores!
Must do: Meditate the blissful nature
First: Sight of crows at 10,000ft
The travel connection: Respect Mother nature.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Destination North Sikkim highway - Day 3

A grey morning greeted us on the third day. I was looking forward to this day as i wanted to see the kanchenjunga ranges. But the chances of that happening was minimal. Hey, the glass is always half full as the day turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

By the third day, it was certain that our driver Prem's daily chant was rock star songs. Even though i had given him a bunch of Cds on the first day, he continued to play songs from rock star morning in and evening out. Initially i didn't think the songs were hummable but it grew on me. Believe it or not , i am so tempted to go pick a CD now so that i can follow in Prem's footsteps.

Prem who had kept to himself the first two days turned stones when we started our journey towards North Sikkim. We were passing through isolated stretches of North Sikkim highway and he started on his fascinating story. It was difficult to understand his Hindi with a nepali/ pahadi accent. The first round , I assumed that I heard him saying North Sikkimese add " beej" to their food and hence he avoids eating on the road. When we didn't react to this, he repeated the whole thing again. This time we got it right. He was talking about " beeish". According to him, North Sikkimese add slow poison to food that kills the affected person after a couple of hours. This is done for religious reasons to enhance one's own power from the dead person's life. Now i don't know if any of this is true but he didn't stop any place for lunch nor did we ask him to as we had packed lunch.

Remember the blessing in disguise i mentioned earlier, well if the picture haven't said it yet in million words nothing will. The grey sky, the pale clouds, the green cover, the multicolored rock, the translucent mist just added to the mystery of North Sikkim highway. 

North Sikkim is for the traveler who does not mind going the distance for the exotic and isolated experience.
Though it is slowly gaining popularity, North Sikkim is still untouched by commercialism. The journey of 130 kms took us 6 hours and i enjoyed every minute of it. The small settlements, the prayer flags at each settlement, the cherry blossoms in front of bamboo mud houses, the domestic stock lazing around, the kids and the old doing their thing, the lush green cover of evergreen trees, the meandering teesta river, all of this made the drive feel much shorter.


There are numerous view points and water falls along the way  to stop and enjoy the serene surroundings. I would vote this as one of the best drives so far though it was the slowest one too.

Location: North Sikkim Highway, Sikkim,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Listen to the local folklore with a pinch of salt.
Must do: Road trip
First: Cherry blossoms in India
The travel connection: Local folklore!

Yet Again ! Nagarahole 2017

Flying Malabar Squirrel Kabini as a winter wonderland was a stark contrast from the lush green paradise I had experienced earli...