Oh Berlin!

Perhaps one of the most culturally rich and significant cities of the world, Berlin has in many ways shaped a lot and gone through a lot as well. First documented in the 13th century, and founded at the crossing of two important trade routes, Berlin became the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg (1417-1701), Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1918), German Empire (1871-1918), Weimar Republic (1919-1933), and the Third Reich (1933-1945). It was bombed out in the World War II, split into two with a 96 mile long wall becoming a symbol of the Cold War, and then re-united, thereby symbolically ending the Cold War, and uniting a Germany split by Allied Powers after the World War II. It has now become the cultural (as well as political) capital of Germany, and perhaps an important one in the world as well, with its vibrant art, music, movies and startup scene.

When visiting Stuttgart, we were sure we wanted to visit Berlin as well. A big multicultural city, Berlin is also kind of artsy and hence a little bohemian. It is one of the largest startup capitals of Europe. There is a wide choice of food, music and party for every taste and budget.

What to do in Berlin?

We decided to stay in Berlin’s Mitte district in the hotel Lulu Guldsmeden located in a building made in 1850. The Mitte District is the first and oldest district of Berlin City. It encompasses the historic core of Berlin City and includes landmarks like the Museum Island, Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz, Berlin Hauptbanhof, Checkpoint Charlie (Berlin Wall), Brandenburg Gate, etc. Plus lots of nice cafes and restaurants. Because of its rich history and culture, we were sure this is where we wanted to stay.

What strikes you is the magnificent architecture and its sheer scale. The older buildings are like monuments, built carefully and with love. You cannot but help think of all that this wonderful city has gone through. During the second world war, the British dropped over 45,000 tonnes of bombs on Berlin, the Americans, around 25,000. A lot of the standing buildings were destroyed. At the end of the war, the city was split, the Berlin Wall built. But thankfully freedom and resilence shone through, the wall was brought down and Germany united once again!

Standing at the corner outside our hotel, our first views of Mitte in Berlin.

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Stuttgart : Not Just The Home Of Mercedes Benz And Porsche

Schlossplaz, Stuttgart

Ok, so it’s a fact that Stuttgart is a home to Mercedes Benz and also to Porsche. Stuttgart is the capital of the German state of Baden-Württenberg, and large German auto companies like Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Bosch etc have their headquarters here. It is for this reason most people associate this city with industry and … Read more Stuttgart : Not Just The Home Of Mercedes Benz And Porsche

Lone Pine, California : A Gorgeous Town In The Mountains

Serendipity plays a huge part in traveling, and perhaps that’s what leaves you with a good feeling after a travel. We discovered Lone Pine, California, out of sheer good luck. From Los Angeles we wanted to visit the Death Valley National Park. After much searching, we couldn’t find any place inside the park, since everything … Read more Lone Pine, California : A Gorgeous Town In The Mountains

Oakland : The Art Hub Of The West

It is said that Oakland, California has the highest concentration of artists in America, and hence known as The Art Hub of The West. With a vibrant arts scene, this city is a must visit for lovers of the arts. Situated across the river from San Francisco, Oakland is only a BART train and a … Read more Oakland : The Art Hub Of The West

San Francisco : The City To Fall In Love With

What makes a city interesting? History, culture and the arts. San Francisco, also fondly called Frisco or San Fran has a rich history and a culture that gave birth to the flower power of the 70s. San Francisco is the cultural, commercial and financial centre of Northern California. It was founded on June 29, 1776 … Read more San Francisco : The City To Fall In Love With

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.

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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.

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The path leading to Namlang Himal Resort.

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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

Gulmohar Homestay : A Beautiful Home

In our quest to find quaint and quiet places, we discovered Gulmohar Homestay. Just on the outskirts of Nashik city, Gulmohar is a beautiful home amidst a private farm. Large swaying trees, singing birds and many beautiful flowers surround the home run by Vinod and Kamala Parekh, along with their son Sumit and his wife Anjali. The rooms are spacious and clean, and the food delicious. Plus the loving family makes for great company.

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Kamala and Vinod Parekh are a lovely couple and make for engaging conversations.

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Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary

The drive to Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary was like a Safari in itself, passing through amazing Aravalli Hills, dry scrub land, degraded hill slopes and many a hairpin bend. At the village Todgarh, we called Gopal Ji, the caretaker at the forest rest house, to check what was cooked for dinner. He didn’t have much, … Read more Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary