Hyderabad : A Brief Visit

Hyderabad

The old cities of India have always been charming for their richness of cuisine, culture and architecture. Hyderabad is a prime example, a city of the Nawabs founded in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. About 100 years later, the Mughals captured the region and around 1741, a Mughal Viceroy Asif Jah I declared sovereignty … Read more Hyderabad : A Brief Visit

Kaza : Key, Kibber and Langza

In the end of October 2016, we had driven down to Spiti Valley from Mumbai. We went through Jaipur – Chandigarh – Sarahan – Sangla – Nako and finally we reached Kaza. Most of the Spiti Valley is a high altitude cold desert, and as such water is scarce and so is the vegetation. And in … Read more Kaza : Key, Kibber and Langza

Sangla to Nako To Kaza: The Roadtrip Continues

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Recap: We undertook this monumental road trip from Mumbai towards Spiti Valley at the end of October, 2016. Stops included Udaipur, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Sarahan and Sangla.

Our hosts at Sangla told us it was possible to reach Kaza the same day. So onward we left and wanted to halt for breakfast around Kalpa. But around breakfast time, I was stuck with a bout of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Nausea took over and I had to give up the driving seat. The sickness made me lose my appetite but we managed to get some khichdi, some of which I ate and mostly we packed for the onward journey.

But soon we realised that mountain roads aren’t to be taken lightly. From Pooh the road was just a gravel trail, winding around the mountains. My AMS got worse, and to add to it all, we got stuck at a major land slide. For over two and a half hours, we had to wait it out while earth moving equiopment from BRO (Border Roads Organisation) cleared the roads ahead. While we waited, the strong cool breeze blew stones at the car. It’s apprently quite common here, flying stones. The packed khichdi came in handy as we were stuck around lunch time and all were starving. Finally when the road was cleared, it was getting late. The entire stretch of road ahead was nothing but gravel which slowed us down considerably.

It was getting dark so we decided to noit move towards Kaza but halt at Nako, with the hope of staying over at Knaygoh Kinner Camps. We drove into the town at dark (must be around 7 pm) and asked a shopkeeper directions towards the Knaygoh Camps. A kind looking gentleman standing there asked us if we had a booking. We said no, and he nodded his head saying the camps have been shut for winters, and he owns the camps! He told us we shouldn’t have come at this time of the year, and especially without bookings in place!

Important lesson : In the mountains we had mistakenly hoped we could cover plain level distances in one day. We realised it was hopeless to try and cover Sangla to Kaza in one day. We had advance bookings for hotel stay in Kaza but not in Nako.

Shanta Kumar Negi of Knaygoh Kinner Camps kindly helped us look for alternative accommodation, which we found very unsuitable. It was a truckers’ lodge and honestly, looked very very run down. We have stayed at extremely modest places but this was too much. Meanwhile it was getting colder with a biting breeze blowing. After about an hour of talking, discussing, we managed to get one room only (for all five of us) in a guest house’s semi-basement. It looked good enough and we jumped on it, tired and hungry.

Since we had come off-season, there were no restaurants serving dinner. Everything was shut. The guest house kitchen was taken over by a very large and very loud family who were hell bent on cooking something exotic and time consuming for themselves on the kitchen’s lone stove. We managed to convince the over worked cook at the tiny restaurant in the truckers’ lodge to cook something simple for us. And he did, some delicious thukpa and noodles.

The night four of us shared one double bed while I, still sick with AMS, took a tiny cot on the side. It was tough, but fun!

The morning was sunny but cold. We woke up to see the guest house packing it’s gas stove. End of season.We chatted with another couple on a bike trip from Dharamshala, and told us how they slipped on the ice sheet near Nako Lake. I was too AMSd out to try the walk till the lake.

The truckers’ lodge cook made us simple dal, parathas and eggs. Remembering the last day’s land slide, we packed enough parathas for the road ahead. Shanta told us we could read Kaza the same day but should still keep a backup in Tabo. So off we left at around 9am.

The road head was generally fine but deteriorated near Sumdoh. We slowed down again. At around 2pm wew reached Tabo, only to realise everything was shut there as well. We wouldn’t find food too. The home stay that Shanta had suggested in Tabo had it’s water freeze in the pipes so it was shut too. We had no choice but to move ahead towards Kaza. It was already around 2:30, Kaza a good 50 km away. It would be a breeze if the roads were good, but not being sure, we left quickly, only to take a brief stop for our packed parathas by the Spiti River.

On the way towards Kaza, we passed Dhankar, and could see the lovely monastery on the hill. Tomorrow, we told ourselves, and drove on. We reached Kaza by around 6pm.

Sangla valley Road Skoda Yeti
Parts of the journey had pretty good roads.
Sangla valley
That road down there goes right next to the Spiti River.
Spiti Valley Village
Passing through pretty villages like this one, with trees that have turned yellow for the winters.
Nako, Himachal Pradesh.
This is Nako. A high altitude arid region. Please be respectful of the resources here.
Nako, Himachal Pradesh
The hills have been stepped for cultivation in the short summer months.

Read moreSangla to Nako To Kaza: The Roadtrip Continues

Sarahan: Because travel is all about the journey…

The thrill of journeys begin when it is all dark outside and you hit the road at the brink of dawn, waiting for the celestial body to rise like a crimson ball in the sky. And so we left Chandigarh before sunrise, en route to Sangla Valley, which according to many travel bloggers was achievable … Read more Sarahan: Because travel is all about the journey…

Mumbai to Spiti Valley : A 5500 km Roadtrip

A close couple came with the idea of travelling somewhere with 9 days of leave that were possible on a particular week at the end of October, 2016. We tossed out a couple of ideas, and froze on Spiti Valley. It would be just perfect, very cold, but not snowed shut. They would be able to … Read more Mumbai to Spiti Valley : A 5500 km Roadtrip

Alleppey And The Backwaters: In Brief

Alappuzha

When you think of Kerala backwaters, what you are imagining is probably Alleppey. Also known as Alappuzha, Alleppey has some of the most naturally beautiful backwaters forming hundreds of channels and waterways. The average elevation of Alleppey is only 1 metre above mean sea level. It covers an area of 1,415 square kilometres and is … Read more Alleppey And The Backwaters: In Brief

The Serenity of South Goa

We have never been excited by the noisy, crowded parts of North Goa. And when we had to reach Goa around Christmas for work we were afraid all places would be sold out or too loud. A bit of a search around South Goa, an oasis of calm and serenity, and we locked on to a beautiful place called Ordo Sounsar  (meaning Another World, in Goan), on Talpona Beach, run by the charismatic Serafin Fernandes.

The Location:

The location was a bit of a trouble finding at night, which is all the better, since it attracts less crowds. At one point we had to cross a narrow iron bridge over the river Talpona, fearing it could scrape our car from either or both sides.

Bridge on Talpona River
An extremely narrow bridge on the way to Talpona Beach in South Goa.

Once we found the place, we were shown our lovely shack, made of bamboo, raised on stilts. These shacks are temporary and taken down every monsoons. The rooms were cozy and the open top bathroom very cool. Goa during end December becomes very cold at night with temperatures dipping to around 15 degrees, and add a cold sea breeze to that. We were thrilled to have discovered just the tucked away place to spend our Christmas and New Years’.

Mornings here wake up to a clean and serene beach, with only a fellow traveller or two practicing yoga. Our shack was right on the beach so we could hear the sea throughout. If you are the types who likes to connect to a peaceful and very indigenous local culture, South Goa would appeal to you. There isn’t much to do around here, which is very good, because you can truly relax. We discovered another shack next to ours which serves delicious local food, at very reasonable prices, called Deepiksha, and it became our meal destination. A walk down the road either way, and we discovered just a couple of more places, all serving great food, and all very peaceful.

The Talpona river forms a beautiful estuary as it meets the Arabian Sea. It’s home to many species of bird and marine life. A small ‘mangrove safari’ in a local fisherman’s boat is highly recommeded. Do carry your binoculars for spotting the many species of birds found here.  Evenings are spent lazing around, taking walks down the estuary backwaters while listeing to a Lineated Barbet, and stopping by some shack for your tea. It was during this trip that we also visited the nearby Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.

South Goa is very peaceful and gorgeous, if you want to be away from the crowds. And lets hope and pray it stays that way.

Dinner at beach shack in south Goa.
Dinner at the shack was delicious and cozy, amidst the sea breeze and rustling of casuarina trees.

Read moreThe Serenity of South Goa

Pondicherry : A Gorgeous Town Full Of Heritage Beauty

After a beautiful road trip from Mumbai, we reached our destination, Pondicherry, also known as Puducherry. Although we were here for work, we always wanted to visit this beautiful old town, full of heritage buildings, spirituality, art, food and culture. And Pondicherry didn’t let us down even one bit. Here’s a bit of what to see in Pondicherry.

Pondicherry, officially known as Puducherry, is a city in the Union Territory of Puducherry. It’s a coastal town in the state of Tamil Nadu. Since Pondicherry was once a French colony, the city has a strong French influence over architecture, art, culture, food and also language. The streets still have French names like Rue Damas etc.

We stayed at the Hotel De Pondicherry, an old colonial era building, which has a great restaurant as well as promixity to the beach.

There’s plenty to do in this lovely city, after you have had your ample naps and relaxations! You could go for walks in its streets, hang around in lovely cafes, go for art galleries, shop around, visit one of the many museums or monuments, there are some old and beautiful temples and churches, or try the wonderful food. You could also visit one of the many Aurobindo centres, some for meditation, some have excellent libraries and they also make a wide range of hand-made paper.

Puducherry is distinctively divided into White Town and, well, the rest of it. White Town is where all the colonial heritage beauty is. If you want to stay in Pondicherry, do ensure you stay inside White Town (unless you want otherwise). The other part of town is like any other congested Indian city.

What to do in Pondicherry: Go for walks, visit musuems, libraries, read books, take long naps in the hot afternoons, hang out at cafes and art galleries, shop, and eat wonderful food.

Also go visit Aurobindo Ashram. They have libraries, hand made paper stores, meditation centres etc.
Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple
is an ancient temple, built before 1666AD.
Visit the Basilica of Sacred Heart Of Jesus, a fine example of Oriental Gothic Architecture.
The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), in Rue Dumas, is notable for its masonry – which uses the finest of limestone mixed with white of the egg – making for a texture identical to that of white marble. Visit this Church at around 5:30pm to catch some awesome light coming in through its ceiling dome stained glass.
The Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Immaculate Conception was built around 1692 AD. Do visit.
Meeran Mosque is the oldest Mosque in Puducherry, built over 350 years ago. We couldn’t see it, but try and do.

Do visit the Pondicherry Museum. They have a fantastic collection of the history around this region.

Do go for evening walks on the Beach Road Promenade.

Nearby: You can visit Auroville, hardly 10km from Pondicherry. If you want to see their meditation theatre, you must book in advance. Auroville has wonderful landscape, libraries, cafes, meditation centres, places to stay etc. You could also book a place to stay in lieu of voluntary service. Check for these at Auroville.

Tranquebar, about 4hours’ drive from Puducherry / Pondicherry to Tranquebar is a wonderful 17th Centure Danish fort town.

Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary is roughly 4.5 hours from Puducherry and has blackbucks, wolves, many species of resident and migratory birds. There is also the Ousteri Wetland and National Park, which is essentially a bird sanctuary but also has many marine species. It’s some 10km from Puducherry.

Arikamedu is an ancient archaeological site with remains of a Roman settlement. It’s about 7 km from Puducherry.

Where to stay and what to eat? : There’s plenty. We are writing another post for that!

We stayed at the lovely Hotel De Pondicherry
We stayed at the lovely Hotel De Pondicherry

Pondicherry street.
The beautiful streets of Pondicherry are worth many a walk.

Read morePondicherry : A Gorgeous Town Full Of Heritage Beauty

Bir – Billing, Himachal Pradesh : Away From The Maddening Crowds

After a hectic recce in Kullu, our shoot got postponed. Therefor, we had the option of going to Delhi and wait out for further information or explore somewhere in Himachal. Just then, a team member suggested Bir-Billing and we jumped on it.

Bir – Billing are two different but closely linked places. Bir is a tiny village town, which has scenic meadows, farms, forests and is also a Buddhist settlement. As such, it has many monasteries and a stupa as well. Bir is a quiet, sleepy little village, yet not big on the tourism map, which is what makes it all the more attractive. Once in Bir, we stayed at the Namlang Himal Resort, a beautiful tucked away resort amidst trees and meadows, made of tiny independent cottages, each named after a town/village of Himachal. The rooms are basic, there is no room service, which we didn’t mind at all, and the food served at their dining area is excellent. The only thing that made me sad about Namlang Himal was a poor imprisoned Alexandrine Parakeet. Upon asking I was told she had a damaged wing and was unable to fly. I tried to connect with some local wildlife groups to rehabilitate the parakeet, but haven’t heard more on the issue. If you do visit Namlang Himal, do check on the parakeet.

There isn’t much to do in Bir apart from long walks through the village and meadows, and visits to the monasteries. This makes Bir an excellent place to unwind. There are plenty of treks around as well.

Billing is the paragliding hotspot of the world!

Billing is a meadow in the forests, a 7km hike (or drive) away at an altitude of 2400 metres above sea level. It’s weather and wind makes it one of the best destinations in the world for paragliding. September to October are supposed to be the best times for flying, though when we visited in end May, lots of people were still flying.

The para-gliders land at the meadow of the village Chaugan, at a place conveniently named ‘Landing’. It’s a pretty little meadow with a lone tea-shop (tapri) under a tree, which sells chai, cigarettes, instant noodles etc to visitors. Every evening at Landing is like a little festival with gliders landing, local people out for a walk, and an excellent sunset in the cool Himachal breeze. Chaugan is the village which has the most number of tourist accomodations, bicycle rental and sale shops, and plenty of eateries. The food here is yet unspoilt and still tastes of home made fare.

This year in October (2015), Billing is set to host a World Championship of Paragliding. The tiny village town is gearing up with plenty of construction and new shops are opening almost every day.

DSCF4076
The path leading to Namlang Himal Resort.

Read moreBir – Billing, Himachal Pradesh : Away From The Maddening Crowds

Fort Seengh Sagar : Probably The Most Romantic Getaway In Rajasthan

Soon after our lunch at Deogarh Mahal Palace, our warm and generous host, Veer Bhadra Singh Ji asked us what would we like to do? Of course, we would like to see around the place. He suggested we take a look at one of their hotel properties, Fort Seengh Sagar, in the nearby rural area. … Read more Fort Seengh Sagar : Probably The Most Romantic Getaway In Rajasthan

Deogarh Palace, Rajasthan : A Hidden Jewel

Built over 300 years ago, the splendid Deogarh Palace is a delight for architecture, royal living and art. We surely couldn’t give it a miss, and especially when it is so close to Todgarh. The city of Deogarh is about 2100 feet (roughly 700m) above sea level. This keeps it slightly cooler than neighbouring areas … Read more Deogarh Palace, Rajasthan : A Hidden Jewel