Thursday, 14 November 2013

Destination Ooty

The best part about traveling to Ooty is that the drive through Bandipur, Mudumalai and Masinagudi is worth every minute spent on the road. Time and again i have heard that the drive through these jungles lead to more sightings than taking a safari through the interiors. And we were not disappointed. Like always the spotted deer gave us company all along Bandipur. Mudumalai proved to be even better with our friends elephants, peafowl, langurs, wild boars among other animals dropping in along the highway and greeting us with an smile. I am so tempted to get preachy on how people don't respect the distance factor but let's leave it for another day.

As long as we are conversing about roads, it was enlightening to realize that the flat 2d google map is no match for the roadways on the hills. What looks like a straight road will have its curves and leave you wondering where to take the next turn. Was is it just me or has anyone experienced the same.

The queen of hills is certainly not a road that is less travelled. It is like all roads lead to the blue mountain. Now someone great said if you come across a fork in the road, take it. And so i did. The fork led me to the hidden treasures of the mountain. Who said the road to success, wait treasures was easy. All it meant was a drive through scenic hills as long as one could overlook the concrete jungle topping the green carpet . A glimpse of emerald and avalanche lake will make you want to be on this road all your life. Did i overdo the road echo? Ok let me get off the road and get back to the hidden trial to the treasure.

The secret treasure is Upper Bhavani Lake and i hope it remains the way it is. The department for once has been smart and restricts the number of people visiting the lake. Its pristine waters and the rolling green hills holding it was breath taking. Is this India? I could not believe it! See for yourself.

After the trip to upper bhavani, the rest of the stopovers seemed unimpressive. But the toy train ride, pykara lake , the drive through the tall Niligiri trees enveloped in fog did not disappoint as much.

The place we crashed for three nights was Tulip elk hill. The choice was not ours but driven by some vouchers we had. Nothing much can be said about the place except that it was a little high on the hills and had the view of the town and the race track.

Next time i visit these parts, i will choose a place away from the town so that it doesn't feel that one is part of the concrete jungle up on the hills.

Date : November 2013
Place : Ooty, Tamil Nadu

Tip :  Stay as far as possible  from the town.
First : Pristine waters in India without a single man made structure in sight!
The travel connection :  Rawness in its totality!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Destination Jaipur

Rajasthan had eluded me for  long time. I finally made the trip across its border recently. The pit stop was the pink city Jaipur.  Maybe because the wait was long, my expectations from the city was very high. I also realized that i  had misconceptions about the city. Both the expectation and the misconception were broken. More about it later.

Considering I was there on an official trip, the time I had for sightseeing was limited. But I managed to  take in Amber place, Jal mahal palace, City palace and of course the Hawa Mahal in the old city. The expectation that was broken was the architecture. Don't worry , i am not getting technical here. To me it was a poor cousin of Fathepur Sikri. I had no idea that Rajasthani architecture was influenced by Mughal architecture to this extent. The architect in me who was hoping to see a new style had to be pacified and be replaced with the photographer me. No doubt of Jaipur's charm and its place in the world heritage  but i wanted more. The thin crowd under the steaming afternoon weather was the saving grace at Amber or Amer place as it gave me some interesting photo opportunities!

 The Jal Mahal is inaccessible and we didn't want to access Hawa Mahal. So it was more photo moments at these locations along with City Palace. I would have loved to spend more time in the museums of city palace but could not.Now for the memorable part of the trip but lets get there after a few more picture!

Now that i am done with pictures, let's get into the world of imagination and dreams. What I am about to describe has very little to do with sight and all to do with taste. Now the only way to recreate the experience would be to go back  to Jaipur and i suggest one does that. Whatever said and done Jaipur  reintroduced me to mouth watering flavors which i had to appreciate though i am not a foodie!  

The cherry on the cake was the kulfi i had at Pandit Kulfi near Hawa Mahal. The creamy calorie filled indulgence on a hot and humid night after going around the block twice looking for it was worth every penny. Move over haagen dazs, London dairy. You will never be able to beat this Indian great!

The cream of the cake was the Chaats of Jaipur. A self confesses chaat addict, I could not resist the sardar who was whipping out pani puri at speed of lighting to each of his customer. The smart entrepreneur had set shop on street of Nehru bazaar or was is it Bapu bazaar. Move over food trucks. Learn from us. We can start a business at any location. After not being satisfied with umpteen number of pani puris, tiki chaat and one more thing that i forget, we decided to go back to LMB. The evening before we had tried the ultimate Dahi bhallas  at LMB. Did i just go and come back from the food  Heaven. Salivating nirvana and we wanted to recreate it again after the street Chaat. The adventurous us decided to have kachori Chaat instead which was not bad by itself. Can one get anymore gluttonous than this!

You must be wondering yeh LMB kya hai , yeh LMB, LMB kya hai? It is Lakshmi Misthan Bhandar Hotel . For a tired soul after some shudh desi romance with the city's shopping, LMB is decent place to put your feet up. Having tried Rajasthani Thali before, I wanted to avoid some of the culinary items and decided to go A la carte. Another trip to the foodie heaven and that was the cake of the cake. I had bela rajasthani (spicy, steamed thick gram flour dumplings with whole spices cooked in jaipuri gravy ) with missi roti and kadi chokanwali ( fried gram flour soft balls with rajasthani herbs and yoghurt curry) with rice.  Move over Michelin star. The palate cannot get more sophisticated than this. If only i could have stayed a little longer and tried all the items in the menu.

Through the trip, I got to try some amazing naan, paneer and lassi. I also i might have eaten urea  in the punjabi dhabas along the Jaipur Delhi highway. But hey , totally worth it! You can forget a meal at a fine dining restaurant but you will not forget eating urea paneer on a highway!

So much for have the cake and eat it too!Oh Btw the misconception i had was that Jaipur would be dry and dull city. It turned out to be greener than the garden city!

Date : July 2013
Place : Jaipur,Rajasthan

Tip :  Always have a large bottle of drinking water.
First : The emergence of the foodie me!
The travel connection :  Gastronomical Heaven!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Destination ladakh

Ladakh had been one of my dream destinations for as long as I can remember. Among the many emotions it offered me,  the long drives along the ever changing landscape captured my attention. No wonder it is a favorite destination among the bikers. Nothing like winding through nature and being part of it. The morning sun peeping through the mountain tops makes you want to jump off you bed irrespective of the sickness and start the day all colorful.

Believe that the  road had been laid just for me!  It is the path to get me closer to my destination after a bright start to my morning and all I have to do is take off from there. Me , myself and the road, teasing with glimpses of far away lands and dreams. The meandering melting snow , the green pastures , the yellow mustard field in middle of nowhere only heightens the experience. May this drive never end!

The expanse of the blue sky only leads you closer to heaven. What is it about ladakh that makes the sky so blue and pristine. Is it because we are closer to it or is it because man has not yet ruined it. Wish each and every location on this earth brought in calm to ones eyes as this one did.

The only thing that could beat the mightiness of the nature is the inhabitants of ladakh. It was an humbling experience to understand their struggle against the harsh weather and still be sustainable in their efforts. Who said keeping the carbon footprint low is easy. But one can learn from the ladakhis. Something even more beautiful than the landscape was the goncha and perak! They are the traditional robe and headgear of ladakhi women.  Amazing land Amazing people! Can't get better than this!

 Date : June 2013
Place : Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir

Tip : Just do it!
First : Ladakhi culture!
The travel connection :  Complete a bucket wish!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Destination Thiksey

Om mani padme hum - Though i have heard this chant many a times at home , I had to Google the meaning as i sat down to write this blog. Why are some of us restricted by money and time that we don't sit down and reflect the memorable moments during the journey. Maybe recollecting it later and writing about it is a good way to relive the emotions and the moments. So i guess i am doing the right thing.

In between the different pit stop , we spent a tranquil dawn at Thiksey monastery which is about 19kms from leh. The pre dawn wake up call was to be part of monastery's morning prayers . The drive through the Indus valley plains as the sun was peeping out was enough to drive the slumberness away. As we approached the monastery the size became apparent. The architecture with its vibrant colors became one with its surroundings. Why don't the modern buildings give us the same feeling. The stepped architecture came hand in hand with steps, lots of steps. You think you reached the destination and behold in front of you there are more steps. The thin mountain air only made it better. Maybe I criticized modern architecture in haste. I certainly don't mind the escalators and the super fast lift that takes you high up into the sky.

I wish i could say the huffing and puffing disappeared as we approached the assembly hall and fell upon monks aged 3-12 chant prayers before entering the hall. That certainly was not the case. Though the monks were adorable in their attire ,  heavenly in their rendition of chant, it took me more than a few minutes to get back my senses as we settled down in the assembly hall. Rows of monk aged from 3/4 to maybe 80/85 years old chanting and performing their rituals was an amazing sight to my sleepy eyes. I wish somebody explained what was happening. The monk were served some kind of concoction as they were chanting. What was the significance of this ritual or was it their breakfast? Back to Google! Google Baba's first page didn't give me any answer. But one of the images made me recall that we climbed up all the way to the roof of the hall before the prayers started to be part of ritual wherein monks invoked good energy and announced the start of prayer with their conch facing the four directions. Again Google baba did not give me the name of the instrument. Is baba having a bad day? Or maybe I was a lazy indifferent tourist who was'nt eager for more information the day I visited Thiksey. I guess it is the later.

One of the thoughts that ran through my mind as we went through the monastery was about the very young monks. Wonder how they leave behind their family at such a young age. What drives them to lead a life of austerity. Where does this kind of intense devotion take them as they grow older. As these thought were running in my mind while climbing down, i spotted magpies. The shallow me pushed aside these thoughts and the need to capture these birds overtook everything else. Yeah the shallow shallow me!

Praise to the jewel in lotus!

Date : June 2013
Place : Thiksey Monastery, ladakh

Tip : Stay in the monastery!
First : Buddhist morning prayer!
The travel connection :  Spiritual connection!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Destination Zanskar River

Though ladakh had been my dream destination, the fact that I would be white water rafting on zanskar made it even better. Now I had  tried my hand in rafting along the kali river and it only made hunger for a higher grade. The guide proclaimed that at a few stretches we would hit grade 3 and the mermaid in me was jumping with joy.  Unlike Kali river where the dress code included sarees, we were given body suits. The temperature on the day we went rafting was about 6 degrees and it was considered a good day to be rafting! After changing into our suit , we were taken along the Zanskar river for 14 kms drive to somewhere on the road to Chilling. I wonder why Zanskar is so brown. Is it because the brown minerals are bleeding into the river? Surrounded by mountains in multiple shades of brown, it all became one only to be framed by the vibrant blue of the sky. We had embarked on a brown water rafting and I couldn't wait!

The drive seemed too long as I wanted to be part of this mighty brown. After a quick round of instructions, we embarked on the journey like no other .  The excitement, the fear, the amazement , the calm , the physical exertion, the gratitude, the fun, the adventure, the triumph, what more can one want in a two hour journey through the rapids. The emotionally stirring part was being in midst of  the dramatic  Zanskar gorge surrounded by walls  thousands of  feet high  and  the knowledge that the river is hundreds of feet deep. The triumphant end at Nimmu village where the brown Zanskar meets the emerald  Indus brings you back to reality. Isn't Mother Nature the most happening place !

Date : June 2013
Place : Zanskar river, ladakh

Tip ; If your right handed, take the right side of the raft
First : Jump into freezing water hundreds of feet deep protected by a bodysuit!
The travel connection :  Different modes of transport!

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