Friday, November 10, 2006

Reinventing ourselves


That one word describes how Aparna and me feel about the response we’ve been getting to this blog of ours which we’ve recently revived after letting it exist in a limbo for over a year.
We had originally planned this to be a place where Aparna and me would put up our own travel experiences but find that it is now acquiring the dimensions of being a Traveller’s Digest. In the last 4 days, we’ve received over 40 mails wanting us to feature their stories, photographs and experiences. We already have put a few up and will be posting the rest up shortly. Keep sending those mails – we love ‘em. Surprisingly, we’ve also received over 50 mails asking us for more information on the destinations / activities we’ve covered. Now, those are tough to handle but, nevertheless, we’re trying to answer those as well.

We’ve now decided to re-invent ourselves. Make this a more interactive blog. Get more people to contribute and share. So if you’d like to be a regular contributor, write in and we could open your account to enable you to post directly on the blog. If you have encyclopaedic and up-to-date knowledge of a destination (and it could even be the city you live in!!) and wouldn’t mind sharing it with others or answering queries from those planning to visit that are, you cound become a Destination Guru. We’ll forward all queries that we receive about destination of your choice to you. If you’re traveling to a particular place and would like to catch up with members of our community living there, you could post it here and our members could respond so that you’re never alone wherever you go. You could even use this forum if you’re planning a trip and would like to invite others to join you on it. No need to travel alone. No need to get frustrated when out-of-date and out-of-touch guide books lead you to deserted clubs, stuffy hotels, and horrible restaurants. You can get candid and updated advice from locals and fellow travelers (the real travel experts). Additionally, we will soon be adding a bunch of exciting features so you can plan and share your fantastic travels with your friends. We are also planning to have regular meets where travelers can share their experiences with others over a cup of coffee or a drink.
So hop on board and we hope you enjoy the trip.

Romancing Prague...

Think romance, think timelessness, think baroque art, think exquisite bohemian crystal, think Kafka...think Prague..
Eastern Europe, the world behind the iron curtain, fascinates and compels..and I finally succumbed to it in the summer of 2002. I had heard a lot about Prague..Praha and the traveller in me finally made it to this beautiful city. I stayed in a small and very centrally located hotel in town. Prague IS miniscule..this is one city I would advise you to check out, only on foot. Guide and map in hand I set out to discover this beautiful city.
The Prague Castle is the main attraction and you can spend about half a day just exploring the majestic red tiled buildings..The Lovely art gallery of the Czech baroque artists is a must see..The gothic courtyards and cathedrals in the castle are beautiful. I loved the ancient toy museum which is perhaps the largest in the world. From the first limited edition of Barbie to toy train sets to miniature china tea sets, I was completely awed by the wonderful toy collection. That done, one exited the castle through the Golden Lane. Tiny colourful houses dot the castle arches and the cobbled pathway is suddenly full of people posing outside Franz Kafka's house. A metal name plate adorns the wall and yours truly didn't miss the opportunity of getting photograhed right next to it! I picked up some copies of famous Kafka works for friends and family back home from here.
Strolling down the steep cobbled path, one ambles on to the famous St Charles Bridge, over the Vltava river, the most famous landmark of Prague. The bridge at one time was an archtectural marvel, wide enough for four carraiges to pass simultaneously. Today it's thronged by tourists who seem to be in no particular hurry to reach the other side. The bridge is lined with sandstone arches and baroque statues of many Christian saints. The bridge is very popular with the local Czech artists, musicians, and souvenier vendors, all lining the sides of the bridge. I found it it bit crowded during the day so came back again in the evening..and saw the most exquisite sunset with the Prague castle lit in the background..
Just keep walking and you'll find yourself in the Old Town. The Old Town Square is bustling with people looking with awe at The Orloj or the astronomical clock on the Town Hall wall, which chimes on the hour and an army of statues moves between two wooden doors at the top of the clock You step back atleast 600-700 years back in history and this sight was one of the best that I have seen in Europe. The statue of Jan Hus, the famous Czech reformer, stands in the middle of the square and is seen as a symbol of Czech identity.
This is also a good place for shopping- Bohemian crystal, essentially. I picked up some lovely handmade wine glasses and decantars and believe me ..when I say the prices were great!
One can spend a day in Prague or a week, but the beauty and the magic capitivates one forever..I hope to go back soon!

KANCHENJUNGA - The last virgin

Kanchenjunga - the last virgin peak in the world - is often translated as Five Treasuries of the Great Snow, a reference to the five high peaks that rise from the surrounding glaciers. Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. From 1838 until 1849, it was believed to be the highest. It is an enormous mountain mass, and many satellite peaks rise from its narrow icy ridges. It is located on the border of Nepal and Sikkim, just 46 miles northwest of Darjeeling. It is the most easterly of the great 8,000 meter peaks of the Himalaya. Though not successfully climbed until 1955, it was first attempted in 1905, but four members of that international party were killed in an avalanche. The threat of avalanches and mudslides is omnipresent in the area, which receives very heavy precipitation throughout much of the year. As inspiring as Kangchenjunga's beauty is that at least the first three parties to ascend the mountain never attempted the final few feet to the summit out of voluntary respect for the Sikkimese, who consider the summit sacred. The successful British expedition of 1955 set the standard by stopping a few feet short of the actual summit, in honor of the local religion. The next two ascents were teams led respectively by India's Colonel N. Kumar in 1977, and by British climber Doug Scott in 1979. These parties also honored the tradition.

Elevation (feet): 28169
Elevation (meters): 8586
Range: Himalaya
SubRange: Sikkim-Eastern Nepal Himalaya
Country: Nepal / India
Continent: Asia
Latitude: 27.7 N
Longitude: 88.1333 E
Difficulty: Major Mountain Expedition
Best months for climbing: April, May
Year first climbed: 1955
Convenient Center: Hille, Nepal via Dharan Bazar
Nearest major airport: Kathmandu, Nepal and Bagdogra, India

Jhinuk Chaudhary is amongst the most intrepid travellers I know. His love for photography is almost obsessive. I've never seen him without a camera - ever. I'm sure he carries his camera/s even when he goes grocery shopping, lest he miss the - now proverbial - Kodak moment. The following pictures have been taken by him over two trips that he's made to this part of the world. The accompanying text is also his. You can see more of his pics - Kanchejunga's and other parts of the world here. We will be featuring him on this blog again. Soon.


There is a narrow gauge "toy train" that runs from the plains to the town of Darjeeling (yes, where the famous tea comes from) in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, in the northen part of the state of West Bengal, in India.

In 1999, UNESCO declared the Toy Train and its tracks a "World Heritage Site." After a ride aboard the Toy Train in 1895, Mark Twain is said to have remarked, "The most enjoyable day I've spent on earth is of mixed ecstacy of deadly fright and unimaginable joy."

It's a 80 km (50 mile) ride through some of the prettiest landscapes in India -- a journey that takes about 7 hours, and climbs from the plains to an altitude 6,800 ft.

In one section of the journey, the train climbs almost a 1,000 feet in a matter of minutes at this "Batasia Loop," where the tracks spiral around over itself through a tunnel and over a hilltop.

Kanchenjungha, the mountain in the background, looks close. But, it is about 75 kms. (47 miles) away as the crow flies!


The mountain in the distance is Kanchenjunga.

NOTE: This is another one of my unintended/accidental HDR photos. I took this photo (two photos, actually) in December of 2003, at a time when I was unaware of the concept of HDR. I was quite aware of the limitations of exposure lattitude though. So, standing at the same spot, more or less, I took two handheld shots of the scene at different exposures - one, for the mountain and the sky, and the other for the foreground. Now, years later, I am able to combine them into a blended photo. :-)

If you look at the top right hand corner of the frame, you will see the outlines of the mountain from the two shots not lining up perfectly. Of course, I was not careful about keeping the frames identical, and must have moved a bit, one way or the other.

Our Planet wears dazzling ornaments!!

Beyond the mists of the valley and the haze in the upper air, Kanchenjunga, the third-highest summit in the world, rises with breathtaking brilliance, exuding its majesty in the morning sun

A greater glory, I've never seen!!

Walking in Memphis, like an Egyptian

eM - the uncrowned queen of bloggers went to Egypt, this summer. Here's what she has to say about her trip.
When we last met, she was a journo with a leading newspaper and on the verge of becoming a published author.
You can check here why she is the blog queen!!

Awww.. I've missed you guys. And blogging.

Egypt was fantastic, but I have so much to say, I hardly know how to contain it into a single blog post. Travel is mind-broadening, and sorta figure broadening too, I must say, I'm a couple of kilos heavier, which sucks, but the amount of beef I ate is all worth it.

Oh, the pyramids! And the colours! Egypt is all about colours--the blue blue blue blueness of the Mediterranean Sea, the hot yellow brightness of the Sahara desert, the green reptileness of the Nile. And that's only their geography. All over the skyline there are green domes of mosques, and every hour on the hour, there's the call to prayer. People stop to pray everywhere, spreading cardboard on sidewalks, sitting with their hijab-clad dates at coffee shops, over the rattle of the train, and not at all self-concious or disturbed by the noise and the clamour around them.

And the hijab. All the women wore scarves around their heads, little sundresses with a full-sleeved bodice and jeans underneath, some even in heavy burkahs, with only their eyes visible. The Lonely Planet told us to dress modestly, and we did, modestly, in t-shirts and long skirts and still eyes followed us, men attempted to get familiar, women tittered to each other about these bold, bare-headed foreigners from the land of Amitabh Bachchan (who they adore), who looked so much like them, but were so shameless.

Are you Muslim, is another question that I was asked over and over again, that and do you have a husband? Both of which I answered in the negative, to which they looked puzzled. Hindusim is a concept not understood at all there, most people haven't even heard of it. One man asked me my name and when I told him, he said, "That is not an Egyptian name. My name is Mustafah, that's not an Indian name." "Yes it is," I said, and he started. "You have Muslims in India?" Even our guide, a strange horrible man called Mohammed said, "I bet you have no Muslim friends in India." "We do, actually," we replied, but he still looked disbelieving, even when we broke it down into figures and statistics.

The ancient Egyptians are more or less forgotten in all this, spoken of only as history lessons. No one worships Amun-Ra or Horus or anyone anymore, which is sad, especially when you see their breathtaking temples, and look at 3,000 year old heiroglyphics, still shiny and new looking. When we were making thingummies out of clay over at the Indus Valley, they were making marble statues, and coins and they had gods for every possible thing, including the god of sex, who is always depicted with a massive hard-on and whom Mohammed pointed out without fail at each temple. "That is his benis," he said (Arabic doesn't have the letter 'p' so all we heard was "bictures" and "barking" and so on), "Have you ever seen a benis?" This to me, right in front of my mother. "A lady never answers these questions," I said, as frostily as I could, but he just cackled and said, "That means you have!" Jesus.

More stories in the next post. So nice to see you all again.

8:51 pm, update: Happy Day was the name of the falluka that took us gently across the Nile. Our cruise ship was called, appropriately, I thought, Le Scribe, but fallukas are things of Cleopatra, with huge sails and two laughing men, who teased me and Small and picked me a handful of water weeds, which I then gave as an offering to the Nile, which I have fallen madly in love with.

At sunset, our falluka drifted close to the marshes and we were very still, listening to the loud opera of frogs and watching as kingfishers darted suddenly across the water. It sounds like a tourism plug, even as I'm writing this, but it was so, so magical, and witchy that I don't think I can do it justice.

As a marked contrast to that, let me offer you the story of a young man in the marketplace, selling glass bottles of coloured sand. "You know Tupac?" he asked me in this strange Brit accent, which sounded so odd in contrast to his long kurta like outfit (that they call a gabbaleya). When I nodded, he said, "Well, he my brother. And Craig David? He's my son."



What we saw

* The Pyramids (overwhelming)

* The coffee shops (encouraged spending)

* The food (kebabs and kushari)

* The belly dancers (almost in a sari)

* The whirling dervishes (whirly)

* Khan-el-Khalil bazaar (pearly)

* Camels called Michael (who almost smiled)

* The Philae temple (in the middle of the Nile)

* Moses' spring (where he was found)

* An old mosque (the dome was round)

What I read

The Lonely Planet Guide To Egypt (excellent for anyone making the trip, I always find the LP even more informative than the locals)

In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh (I picked up most of my Arabic from this book, my proudest point was saying Al-Hindi (for India) to farmer's kids and seeing recognition across their faces)

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk (Okay, not about Egypt, but good reading anyway)

Khul Khaal (About five Egyptian women, telling their life stories. Did you know most of them had clitordectemies?)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

RAJASTHAN - as seen by Alisha Colaco

In her own words "I take pictures, I gaffaw maniacally, i wear eyeliner like a bollywood actress from the 60's, i have rubber knuckles, i draw, i make fish faces, i wear wierd costume jewellry, i point and laugh, i blog, i sing when not wanted, i wear leather slippers,i paint, i laugh at demented humour, i breathe, i philosophize, i have talons, i detest making decisions, i blab
I'm Female and 20. "

She goes by many names (Is that fishy or wot?), though officially she's Alisha Colaco.
She does have an eye for the unusual and takes kick-ass pics.

Join her here as she takes you through Rajasthan and then check out some unusual pictures of Goa - her hometown!!

Mama Mia Mauritius!!

Welcome to the party, Sonali!!!!
- Vikrant

I am a sucker for brown eyes, light eyes, pretty eyes, and when they are a couple of feet under water on a scuba diving instructor, with blonde dreadlocks and dishy pecs, I can’t say no!

To a walk under the sea I mean. I am in Mauritius, where they have taken us for a walk under the sea, on the sea bed.
While the grumbling husband is not too happy being downloaded with weights and a breathing apparatus which reminds us of ‘Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’, I can’t complain.

Mauritius knows how to do its tourism, considering that all it has is the sea as a principle attraction. I mean it’s not Goa; there ain’t too many bikinis, or drugs, or raves or mad shopping at fleas to add to the fun. But, they do have the sea to offer. So you can swim in it, walk on it (if you have a Jesus gene), walk under in it, dive in it, snorkel, and feed the fishes all at the same time.

So, if salt water isn’t your cup of tea then don’t go there. On our third or fourth day at the island paradise, they bundled us six Indian tourists in a van (we gotta stick together you know) and took us to the other side of the island to watch the volcanic earth and vanilla plantations. A miserable Vegetarian Gujju couple on Honeymoon (now you know why?) spent the entire four hour drive complaining to us of nothing to see, but sea, non-vegetarian seafood grills, wicked western tourists who cavorted in bikinis and danced till midnight under the stars. Now why did they come to Mauritius? I mean they could have had sex anywhere.

Coming back to the much married ‘US’. We went for the sea, and had our first ever professional snorkeling lesson. Breathing tubes and flappers in place, we spent the better part of an afternoon goggling at a tranquil world where silver angels, brown demons and fiery redheads played a tango with corals and algae. Topped up with a glass of beer and some excellent grilled seafood at the La Plantation Hotel after that, we felt well rewarded for the hard work.

But, what I really loved about Mauritius even more than the sea are the twenty varieties of brown skin. Anyone who is a closet user of Fair and Lovely or Fair and Handsome needs to go thereto see how beautiful brown can be. There is skin the colour of Mocha, Chocolate, Latte, Ebon, dirty vanilla and Olive. And they love us. How many countries in the world can an Indian visit and feel welcomed like a celebrity descended from the Mother Country? The warmth with which they greet Indians is so genuine that it warms the cockles of the jaded heart.

Other things that you really must do while you are there:

1. Avoid the deep south and stick to the northern part with the beaches.
2. Visit Grand Bay area for a spot of shopping, eating and drinking.
3. Hire a scooty and whiz past an azure coastline dotted with palm trees.
4. Dance the night away with a Creole (and write in to me for the vicarious pleasure of it).
5. Take a scuba diving or snorkeling lesson.
6. Alternatively sit on the beach and watch the Firangi three year olds beat you to it.
7. Go for a banana boat ride.
8. Walk on the sea bed-even if it looks suspiciously man made, and feels uncomfortable as hell; it’s a high like no other.
9. Eat a Dhol Puri in the noisy community market.
10. Learn some lessons in cleanliness, hygiene and National Pride form a country that’s a dot on the ocean in the World Atlas.

- By Sonali Sokhal




The Dull ' n ' Lousy Travelogue - or the Wonderful Walks of Dalhousie

And now.... JUNOESQUE joins the party. You can read more of what she writes here.

Dull and Lousy.

That was the disparaging comment that my teenage son threw at me when I announced my decision of trying a new location for our annual summer holiday.
After all, it was a bit much for him to get used to this new situation.

One which offered no skating. No video games. No cable car rides. No boating. No “mela” with its array of kitschy offerings – no balloon shooting, no magic tricks, no junk to buy.. and worst of all…possibly even no TV !!

But I had made up my mind. This time it was going to be Dalhousie.

My parents often spoke about their long summer vacations there in their young days in the 1950’s. Memories of long walks, “jalebi and samosa” evenings, names like Bakrota and Moti Tibba , Thandi sarak and Garam sarak, sounded quaintly enchanting. Notwithstanding Junior’s protests, I took the risk.
Short of being pulled along kicking and screaming, he had no option but to board the Jammu Mail on a sultry June night at Delhi Junction, with a very determined mother behind him.

I had it all planned. A bit of scrabbling around on the net well in advance of the summer season had me stumble upon the Silverton Estate located on Moti Tibba in Dalhousie.
A heritage property built by its present owner’s grandfather in the 1930’s its charming appearance plus a few phone chats with its warm and affable owner Vickramjit Singh and I had my stay worked out.

We didn’t have a particularly spectacular start.

Post an overnight journey, the drive up from Pathankot was.. well…like any other journey in to the mountains. The saving grace was a light drizzle which seemed like manna from heaven.

Carrying detailed instructions from Vickramjit, a brief stopover at a quaintly cute garden restaurant called “Maama’s Rasoi ” took care of breakfast pangs. Then on it was all the way up to the mountains.

Even after reaching Dalhousie and negotiating the steep climb up to Silverton which is located above the Circuit House, it still didn’t hit me. The place was as charming as it looked in the pictures. Lunch laid on especially for us, was just the way one would have it at home, albeit with extra attentive service thrown in. But was this all that one had come here for? Where was the “wow”?


Thankfully we had a lovely room with an attached dressing room and bathroom with a tiny living room and wonder of wonders, a portable TV !! I began to thank my lucky stars that at least I had this option to fall back upon.
On day one, things were nice enough. Though not outstandingly, ecstatically so.

How wrong I was…

Once settled in, Vickramjit handed me a slim guidebook to Dalhousie. It had all the necessary information that any first-timer would lap up in a flash. Notwithstanding the information and the pretty pictures, what set my mind working was the way our day ahead was planned by our host.

Knowing my dislike of doing the routine stuff and the need to avoid the crowds at the market places and that I also needed to keep child’s interest levels going, he painstakingly and meticulously worked out a daily schedule of activity for each day of our holiday.
In advance.

Dalhousie is a walkers paradise. Its charms are best discovered on foot. One can walk as little or as much as one wants to. Even unfit city slickers like yours truly can get royally hooked, as I discovered.


You get to enjoy clean, fresh pure mountain air. The clouds play with you as you walk though them, occasionally teasing you with a drizzle or warning you with a shower. The greenery is almost too green to be true. It is hard to believe that one is technically still “in” Dalhousie.

Day One:

Vickramjit had lined up the Inner Bakrota Walk for us. Armed with his detailed instructions we walked down to the GPO Chowk and took a cab up the 3 kilometre drive to the top of Bakrota Hill. As instructed, we got off at the water works and discovered the beginning of our walking trail. I had been reassured that this was not a “climb” but a level walk. Thank goodness. The trail was quiet and peaceful with accompanying birdsong. It was also wide and easy.


An occasional vehicle would drive past and occupants would gaze at us in wonder. I guess not many people would be seen walking on this stretch, let alone people who obviously did not seem to be locals!! Passing by well spaced out cottages and old fashioned bungalows with surrounding gardens and landscaping, one spotted name plates of service officers who lived there. An iron gate leading to a cottage located some distance away, was partly shrouded in the mist and looked straight out of “Harry Potter”!!
It’s pretty easy to go shutter happy over the trees and the lush foliage. As I did.
It was only later that I did my review-delete routine and kept what I thought were my best shots.

The trail twisted and turned around the reverse side of the mountain that we had climbed up in the car. It was so easy to get caught up in the stillness and quiet of the place that the sight of a young girl dressed in black who appeared from behind a bend in the trail made me stop for a second and wonder if she was real or a ghost !

The moment passed quickly enough and we emerged on the main road whence we had come from.

As instructed, we stopped by at a little fast food joint called “Chill Out” for lunch. Parked in the balcony of the restaurant, we amused ourselves by watching a bus and a truck trying to pass each other on the road which had been narrowed down due to a dump of bricks left there by some construction workers.

Walking down past colourful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze and in to the Kendriya Vidyalaya set up for the Tibetan settlers, we wended our way past their temple after turning the prayer wheels, to their carpet weaving centre.

Pure wool carpets are hand woven here and are also for sale.
One has to scrabble around a bit for unusual colour combinations and designs. Though not priced particularly cheap, I did not mind paying that tad extra for all the effort the weavers put in at their looms.

As we stepped out of the Tibetan Centre, I noticed a little path trailing away behind the building in the general direction of the main chowk. On impulse, I took that route, disregarding instructions to use the main road back.
The path twisted and turned through the trees, sometimes with stone steps to enable our walk, at times narrow, at times broad. Local folk were questioned time and again as to whether this was the way back in town. Affirmative replies emboldened us and the steep twists and turns became fun since we were going downhill.
The wind shushed through the trees approvingly. And life seemed suddenly so …light. The path brought us on to the main Bakrota Hill road and we walked past groups of fellow tourists struggling up the steep climb. Before we knew it, civilisation had retuned full force to hit us smack between the eyes.
It seemed almost sacrilege to wait for child to finish playing a much begged for video game. Even the prospect of buying a newspaper seemed so depressing for it would bring me back to reality with a hard thump.

Things righted themselves once we got back.
The pretty lawns of Silverton are made for idling away the hours. A glorious sunset was followed by a candlelight dinner under the stars. With limited guests and no walk-ins, we were far from the madding crowd.

Day Two:

The night had played host to thunder, lightning and rain.

Morning saw the sun peeping through scattered clouds. Today would be a walk from the Jandrighat Palace. We chose to drive one way and walk back the 3 km distance from the palace to the GPO Chowk. Once at the palace , we waited at the gates for the resident chowkidar, who we had been told we would need to request, for a quick tour .

Located on the edge of a mountain with a breathtaking view of Dalhousie, the Palace, originally part of the erstwhile state of Chamba, is now an official Government residence and often has local politicos and big-wigs staying there.


Despite having managed to get in to the grounds due to a partly open gate, the caretakers seemed unhappy at having us outsiders wandering around. A short, sharp shower enabled us to wait in the verandah and take a few pictures and observe the hunting trophies and old pictures on the walls. The other claim to fame that the Palace can make – portions of the movie “1942, A Love Story”, were shot here.

Post the shower we were quietly but firmly ushered out of the grounds. Not that I was too bothered. The mist and the quiet, deserted road beckoned us.


Passing a little tea-shop the world seemed to be ours and ours alone. A mostly level walk (again ! ) bought us to a little spring called Subhash Ki Baoli.

Though now it looks like anything but that.

Its only a pipe jutting out of the hillside, with a trickle of water falling in to a cemented pool, with a raised ledge around it is further surrounded by benches on a marble floor.
Tourist vehicles congregate at the bottom of the steps leading up to the spring, with their boom boxes thumping out Himesh Reshammiya .

And to think, way back in 1937, when Netaji Subhash Bose was in jail and was suspected to be suffering from TB, he was sent by the British to Dalhousie to recuperate. He would take the walk from the main chowk to the spring every single day and return after drinking the water from it.

I frankly doubt if any one of us would be foolhardy enough to do what he did in this day and age. The place, too, could have been simple and peaceful. Instead, the tacky benches, the dirty looking spring and its water, the muddy floor and the hordes of tourists do nothing to preserve its sanctity.

Peace returned as we walked back on and reached the town centre again.

Lunch today was at Kwality’s restaurant. The same Kwality’s that we all know about and have grown up with. The wood panelled interiors, old –fashioned fans and the menu draw throngs of visitors and we were no exception.

Post lunch, child had to be bribed with his daily video-game fix and a pony ride back to Silverton while I cooled my heels and then huffed and puffed my way back uphill.
In the evening, I went for a short walk to the “garam sarak” to check out a place called Crag’s.


My parents used to stay in the cottages during their summer vacations. The place is now in rather a run-down condition but seems popular with foreigners. Of course, it was rather nice to meet and reminisce with the owner about days gone by. On the way back, a short visit to St. Francis’ Church could have been nice but with the swarms of tourists milling around, I beat a hasty retreat.

Day Three:

This was the long awaited trip to Khajjiar. Do I really need to say anything about its Swizerland-ish appearance here ?

Be warned that if you are hiring cabs in Dalhousie, you are virtually at the mercy of the local taxi union’s pre-fixed rates. This irritant aside, the drive is through a thickly forested road that twists downhill, and one can spot tantalising glimpses of a green carpet far away below the mountain.

At this moment, the dark rain clouds threatened to spoil our day. It was so dark that it seemed like twilight. Our sharp descent however, enabled us to leave the clouds behind and suddenly the lush, emerald-green carpet of Khajjiar was below our feet.
Despite the vastness of the meadow and the dense deodhar forests surrounding it, which gave the place a look straight out of our childhood fairytale books, the place stank of pony droppings and the grassy ground didn’t appear too clean up close.

A clutch of eating joints on one side of the meadow, were a little distance away from a little overbridge that led on to a pond in the centre of the saucer-shaped meadow.
Up close, the whole place was noisy, smelly and dirty. The Khajji Nag temple after which the place is named lay deserted and was full of flies.
Open drains behind and around the buildings and loud mouthed touristy types made us cut short our visit. Abandoning plans for lunch at the Kwality’s branch at Khajjiar, we munched our way through packets of chips and biscuits in the car.
Now the town of Chamba beckoned. As we traveled further down hill in to the valley of the Ravi river, where the town is located, the hillsides grew browner and rockier. The weather grew warmer.

We drove past a tiny ledge jutting out of the mountain-side, with a forlorn looking Shiva temple. Looking beyond and across the mountains in the distance, albeit now covered by monsoon clouds was a little gap between the craggy ranges, where we were told nestled the mighty Mount Kailash. Never have I wished so much for x-ray vision as I did right then…

Chamba was a curious mix of the old and the new. Capital of the former princely state, it nestles deep in a valley and is known for its annual Minjar Fair.

Today, as flying visitors, we could only take in the Lakshmi Narayan Temple and its State Museum.

The approach to the temple was through a maze of narrow alleys and “gallies” which didn’t smell too good.. but we persevered up the short climb.
Built in the typical pahadi-style ( is there a genre such as that ?? ) the main temple building was surrounded by smaller versions of itself, scattered around a stone paved courtyard, each one dedicated to a different deity. The floor was hot enough to burn the soles of our feet so we stuck to the carpeted pathways created across it.

On the way out of the temple complex we came across a little shop fully equipped with Sony Play-station machines hooked up to large 29 inch flat screen TV’s with stereophonic sound effects blaring out of the speakers. Offering a full thirty minutes of play time for a princely sum of ten rupees.

So while young man in life was gainfully employed in using his thumbs and fingers on the gaming console, I wandered off the State Museum.

Walking past tiny jewellery shops and “kaarkhaanas” engaged in creating artifacts and statues covered with gold foil...I resisted the urge to stop and check out things. Else would have run out of both time and money.

The Chamba Museum is a comprehensive and impressive documentation of what the state is famous for, and showcases bits of its history.

Things to marvel over included intricately carved wooden doors, Chamba “rumaal’s” -intricately embroidered with incredibly detailed scenes from royal life of yore, costumes, footwear, jewellery and even a metallic coat of armour which may have been a silent witness to many wars.

Leaving Chamba and the heat behind, we drove out and parallel to the Ravi river.
Our driver proudly pointed the shooting locations of the movies “Taal” and “Gaddar” to us. Having been suitably briefed by our host, we stopped at a relatively safe spot where we could walk down and perch on the rocks and dangle our feet in the cold waters of the river.
Further downstream, the Chamera dam made a breathtaking sight from the road high above.

Day Four

Dainkund – the place where the “dain” or witch lived in olden times. Vickramjit had told me in detail and raved about this particular walk. At the end of which was a temple devoted to Palaani Mata. There was much to look forward to as we drove up to the point from where the walk began. I wasn’t disappointed.

The path was a tiny one and twisted and turned uphill for a sizeable distance. We had already driven uphill before commencing our walk and this was about the last stretch before we reached the top of the mountain. Huffing and puffing and rueing my lack of fitness, I was determined to get to the top, from whereon I had been told was a level walk to the temple.

The walk was lush green and the path manageable. I realised that we had reached the limit of the tree line and our surroundings were now meadows carpeted with wildflowers.

The silence was bliss and the walk was unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
We were surrounded by mountains on almost three sides. To the south was an expansive view of the Ranjit Sagar Lake opening out in to the plains. To the West were the Pir Panjal and the Pangi ranges. Beyond them lay the plains of Punjab, with the rivers Ravi Chenab and Beas flowing through. On a clear night in October, the lights of Amritsar are visible from here. And through binoculars one can spot the lights of Lahore as well.
The north and the east were surrounded by layers and layers of mountains of the great Himalayan range. Again, on a clear day, Mount Kailash is clearly visible from here.
In order to grab as breathtaking views from here, make sure you have a high end camera with a telephoto or zoom lens to max out your mountain images.
The utter stillness of the place and the forks in the paths made us wonder if we were on the right track.
We were.

The temple of Palaani Mata is a tiny one set in a little niche on top of a cemented platform. The resident dog in attendance would happily wander around and muck up all the offerings laid out in front of the goddess but no one seemed to mind. Amidst a cluster of tinkling bells we tied a red chunri as our offering. Grabbing a cup of tea and packets of aloo bhujia from the makeshift shop nearby, the walk back was tinged with regret at leaving this magical place….
On our way down at the Lakkar Mandi Chowk was the entrance to Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. The 3 km walk inside can and should be done on foot, but lacking the time and the energy we took the easy way out and a permit to drive inside.

The thick forest and the utter stillness of the place was simply amazing. I made a note of a paricular spot which was like a clearing between the trees, with a grassy carpet. Just the place to take a picnic basket and laze the day away…have stored it away for future reference. The Forest rest house in the middle of the sanctuary is a charming cottage built on British times and if one wants to spend a night there one needs to book in advance.

Little pathways around and behind the rest-house are made for exploration but the arrival of a horde of cars with people spilling out with their coke cans and packets of chips and loud voices made us shiver and beat a hasty retreat.

Wish we could have stayed on and done more…

Our time in Dalhousie was nearly over.. there was a tiny twinge of regret at leaving behind such beauty was coupled with delightful memories of all that we had seen and enjoyed. I plan to go back and do the Dainkund trek again when the skies are clear and with a better camera.

There are other walks and treks that we missed out on – the one in Kalatop and the trek down from Lakkar Mandi to Khajjiar. Those are on my “ must do ” list .

As always, child had the last word on the dusty drive back to Pathankot.

When asked if Dalhouse was still Dull and Lousy the answer was succinct and spot on ..
“ No Ma, its bright and shining !!”

Dalhousie Fact Sheet :

Dalhousie is a town with a colonial past and located along the Dhauladhar Range in Himachal Pradesh, 80 kms from Pathankot at an altitude of approximately 7,000 feet. It’s the perfect place to be as active or as lazy as you want to be. The days move by at a gentle pace everything seems different and the appetite multiplies enormously.

Getting there :
By train: Take an overnight train to Pathankot from Delhi (Jammu Mail Rs 836 2 AC). From there drive up in a taxi ( Rs.1,150 upwards )
By road: 555 km from Delhi, 190 km from Jammu, 300 km from Chandigarh

Where to stay :
Silverton Estate Guesthouse, above Circuit House, Moti Tibba. Rs 800- 3,000 (EP)
Tel: +91 9418010674 (Closed Jan 15-Mar 25).

When to go :
Summer: May-June is the best time. The weather is cool, but fickle.
Autumn: Mid September-first week November. Crisp cold , clear skies..

What to Carry :
Woollens and a windbreaker. Sunscreen. A pair of sturdy walking shoes is a must .

Walks of Dalhousie :

Mini walks :

- Thandi Sarak which connects Subhash Chowk and GPO Chowk – good only on weekdays and in the evenings or in the mornings since vehicular traffic moves here.
- Garam Sarak which is a walk on the other side of Moti Tibba again connecting Subhash Chowk and GPO Chowk. No traffic here so walking is a breeze. Check out the St. Francis’ Church at Subhash Chowk or walk down Court Road to DC Khanna and Sons – departmental store that’s over a hundred years old. The gracious owners let you mooch around and even click pictures. Park yourself at the next door verandah cafe and watch life go by..

Longer walks / treks :

- Inner Bakrota walk from water works around the Bakrota hill down to Chill Out CafĂ© and then to the Tibetan Centre. Past Neelam Hospital on the path behind, ( Vickramjit calls it “Sudden Death” ) down to the Bakrota Hill and further on to GPO Chowk. Total distance should be approximately 3 - 4 kms
- GPO Chowk to and from Jandrighat Palace - 3 kms one way.
- Lakkar Mandi to Khajjiar – about 12 kms of steep downhill trek one way. A local guide would be needed.
- Kalatop Sanctuary from entrance to Forest Rest house - 3 kms one way. You can also explore the forest path ways around the rest-house.
- Dainkund – At 9,000 feet. A two kilometer distance each way, some of it is uphill. Post that it’s a level walk.

Use sunscreen and carry drinking water to rehydrate you on the walks and to prevent muscles from cramping up.

Panchgani Will Never Be The Same-No Thanks To Aamir

Originally posted by Kaveetaa Kaul on her blog here


If only ..Life were one l-o-o-o-n-g vacation!

Some of my most memorable holidays have been while in Greece, Australia and believe it or not, Israel. The uniqueness of the people was fascinating. Of that ..another time.

In India, Goa heads the list. For serious fun in the sun..scramble there, without second thoughts.

Another hot favourite has been Panchgani. Proximity to Mumbai, though not the sole, was a determining factor. However, what magnetically wooed us was a quaint hotel “Il Palazzo” with its inimitable old world charm. It seemed right out of British History. Huge palatial rooms, never ending roofs, teak wood panellings and maybe a hundred windows.Oh! so regal, enchantingly antique and classy.

Set amid greenery and well maintained sprawling lawns, shrubs, flowers and landscaping that quietened your mind and filled it with peace, the Hotel served to relax one on all fronts, by its sheer calming influence.

If there was one place that compelled one to totally disregard terms like ‘moderation’, ‘balance’, ‘healthy’, ‘fat-free’, it was this . We made it a point, no, swore to ourselves, to indulge, as if there was no tomorrow, where food-ing was concerned. As if strawberrys and cream was not a bad enough snack opted for at every available opportunity, mealtimes at the hotel were ’sinful’.

Imagine starting the day with a breakfast buffet served right outside your room, individually, on your personal balcony, comprising Mince meat-bread, eggs, ham, bacon, puri bhaji, porridge, marmalade..

And this was just the beginning. Lunch again saw a variety of delectable Parsi dishes, Chinese and Continental fare, alongside kebabs, topped with to-die-for- desserts.

Dinner was equally interesting and devilishly inviting. Menu changed daily, so one was always surprised and eagerly in wait for the chefs newest concoctions. The fact that we headed back home with guilt writ largely on our faces, at the limitless indulging to forbidden fare, is besides the point. What is of essence here is the plaint as to ‘Why do the best treats have to be in direct negation to a weight watchers diet?’

Lately, evenings at Joggers,when the ‘enough is enough’ syndrome took over, had been planning a trip there’one of these days’..but calamity struck via this news. Aamir Khan had recently got married there, which of course was no skin off my back. But the guy had purchased the Hotel!!!!

In other words, No Il Palazzo. Disappointment, agony, pain doesn’t have a face. One doesnt resort to crying, in these circumsatances. Its not done.. you-know-what-I-mean, Adult and all of that. But then how else does one show extreme disgruntlement, regret? Stoically? Maturity can be stifling at times. What I would actually love to do, is shake up the owner ( poor a delightful guy who always gifted us home-made strawberry jam) and demand explanation. After all, this did amount to playing with the feelings and sentiments of those who had been strong patrons of his supremely enchanting Hotel!! of now.

Wisdom often is a handmaiden to disappointments, I believe. Setting my sights on loftier heights is probably what is advisable under the circumstances. For what is finte regret in comparison with infinite hope!

Its not improbable that Aamir offers to invite us to spend a week there…must befriend him seriously..but.. ..No will never work. Some things in life come as a ‘package deal’. How can one incarnate piecemeal ..and the delicacies of parsi cuisine..what of that?

Maybe another Il another town waits to be discovered!Or, maybe some experiences are best savoured as memories!

Geeta goes on a road trip thru the USA

Traveling by road is the cheapest way to travel across this vast country which is about 4 times the size if India. When the great depression hit the US in 1929, the government decided to provide employment to a large number of its citizens through an extremely ambitious project – that of building a fantastic network of roads countrywide. They took a huge loan from the world bank in order to execute this project, and have not been able to control their external debt sinceJ

In my opinion, it was worth the effort. This was the first time I regretted not having an international drivers license with me. A lot of my friends told me that they drive the roads of the country when they want to relax. I did not quite believe them till I saw for myself. A long road trip, from NJ to Cleveland and then from Cleveland to Carbondale prove to me that driving here can indeed be relaxing.

In the 1930s GM also made a huge investment, they put up rest areas every hundred miles or so along most of the highways, so travelers could rest and refresh themselves on long drives. They did this because they were convinced that travel by road was the way leisure travel would be done, and the existence of these rest areas have gone a long way to make driving the preferred mode of travel for leisure here.

Each rest area is like a picnic spot with tables and benches to have picnic meals on. Each table also has a grill placed close so that people can grill their food for their picnics if they choose. The main rest building has toilet facilities and if the rest area is near the entry into a state, it also has a visitor’s information desk. In the absence of this desk, a variety of literature is provided free of cost. These brochures cover information about the areas of interest in the vicinity as well as hotels and their contact numbers.

Watching the countryside, one realizes how green the country is and I wonder how they have managed to build these roads without destroying nature on either side.

Another invaluable feature of all the highways in the US is the slight rough patch on the shoulders of each road. This is so that the car shudders when it hits this patch, bringing to the drivers attention that he has crossed the road limits and is almost on the shoulder of the road. This is extremely necessary since it is very easy to nod off during long drives given the roads are excellent and there is seldom any traffic.

Signs along the roads inform you of the FM channel to tune in to, to get information on local weather and traffic conditions. President Bush has recently sanctioned several million dollars to repair roads all over the country and signs are also posted to inform you where this money is being put to use. The sign gives you information about how much of a delay this road work would cause, giving alternative routes that can be used if you so wished!!

It is not uncommon to spot deer crossing the road just ahead of you, especially if you are driving in the early hours of the morning or late in the evening. How delightful!! They are also considered a nuisance because not all drivers are able to stop their cars and avoid hitting the deer. If you hit a deer at 65 miles an hour, you can wish your car goodbye.
Oh, and satish’s van is equipped with a GPS system which will ensure that you never get lost, though the voice that the route guidance system uses is extremely annoying. The van also has 2 TV screens and a 6 speaker Bose music system!! Sigh!! I could just live on the roads of the US of A!!!

New York! New York!! More from Geeta!!

Like i have mentioned before, I love New York!! In fact, I think every Bomabayite will love New York! The energy and buzz of the place is very similar to what we have back home. The differences are obvious too.. the city is very well laid out and impossible to get lost in .. yes.. even for me.. with my one neuron dedicated to my sense of direction :)

I have been walking a lot in NY. I think its the best city in the world to walk around in and also the best way to get to know the city. It comes a close second to Rome which also demands that you walk through its streets to discover the small hidden treasures it holds. Back to NY..
Its a city of museums. There are over a 150 museums in the city of NY. Most of them are small and not too many people visit them, but there are a few that are a must see for every tourist even remotely interested in the world around him. The Guggenheim museum for its architectural beauty and for the interesting exhibits it has, The Metropolitan museum of Art for the sheer scale and variety of its collections, The MoMA for allowing us to gaze upon works of such masters as Van Gogh, Picasso, Joan Miro and Monet all in one place, and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum for the subtle homage it pays to man's advances in technology. The last museum is actually meant to evoke in the hearts of the American, a pride for his country and to go home feeling great about its soldiers, but for me, it was a look-see at man's incredible journey through aviation technology. I spent a long time looking at the Lockhead that can fly at speeds of about 3 times the speed of sound and walked through the Concorde which, will sadly fly no more. A tour of the submarine too was a fantastic experience.
Central Park!! What can i say about this absolutely beautiful huge park right in the middle of Manhattan? Its absolutely amazing that NY has a park that is over a mile long and half mile wide right in the center of some of the worlds most expensive real estate. Then again, the real estate is so expensive in part because of this park. Walking through this park, one just forgets that there are busy streets and a virtual jungle of steel and glass just outside of it.
The financial district has big open esplanades in the middle of every few buildings. This gives it the much needed breathing room that makes it a pleasure to wander around it. These esplanades have interesting sculptures and installations at a scale that makes me catch my breath. Soho and Greenwhich village are very chic and smart and run seamlessly into Little Italy and Chinatown which have a very ethinic look and feel. Football excitement was palpable in the air in Little Italy and the numerous roadside cafes transported me back to Europe for the brief time i spent there.
It is said that if you stand in one corner of Times Sqaure long enough, you will meet every person in the world. It surely feels like that and i was drawn to this part of the city over and over again to just soak the atmosphere in. I have yet to catch a braodway show which i hope to at some point.
What i loved about this city is the piers and walkways created near the East river which allows people to walk peacefully next to the river, surrounded by green and just a couple of streets away from the hustle and bustle. They have managed to create a balance and have brought as much nature into the city as is possible.
The Upper West side is a beautiful place to live in, and if i ever win the lottery, (of course it would have to be at least 25 million USD) I would buy myself an apartment there :) I never ever thought that i would fall in love with a city as much as i love NY. This city will hold a special place in my heart when i leave this country in about 5 weeks :)

- intrepid reporter Geeta Suthar

Geeta in the USA - Atlantic City

This is one of a series of stories written by Geeta Suthar during her 2 month long trip to the USofA this summer.

America is a country of deals. Fantastic offers are made on everything from common salt to holidays. Most shopping is done when sales are on and people religiously look through coupons in the local paper to see which stores are offering incredible discounts on what goods. I found one such deal when i was looking up the daily bus schedule from NJ to NY. Tickets to Atlantic City and back by bus for only 3 USD!! One pays more than that in tolls if one travels by car.

Since, despite all my efforts, I have not been able to convince Shalabh to take me to Las Vegas, I decided that a visit to Atlantic City would be an acceptable compromise. Satish and i decided to make a day trip to the Las Vegas of the east coast. It was a dark and gloomy day and we nearly changed our minds but got on the bus nevertheless, thinking it would be a great way to spend time with each other.

A 3 hour bus ride later, we were in Atlantic City!! We decided to pay homage to the city by spending a little money on it and headed to the Tropicana Casino. After trying to make sense of some of the games, we decided that the slot machines work best for us ;) Each of us set a limit for ourselves and played till we, of course lost all the money. Not being very interested in emptying our pockets any further, we decided to walk around the casino.

The Casinos dont spare any expense to make the interiors look larger than life, all glitz and glamour. I shudder to think what their monthly electricity bills would be! Thousands of lights, everywhere. Its a visual spectacle that i would not have missed for anything in the world. The shopping arcade has been treated to look like the streets of some European town. the ceiling painted to look like the sky and the lights designed so that the ambience is always that of late evening. Lovely!!

My first introduction to casinos was years ago, at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. What I remember of that casino is vastly different from this one. That was old world, very elegant and had a restrained opulance about it. This was much more brash and in the face. I cant help but think that maybe it embodies the personality and cultures of the two continents.

Another thing that struck me as very sad was that most of the casinos were filled with hundreds and hundreds of senior citizens. They were sitting at the various machines, just playing by themselves, with no evidence of enjoyment or excitement. Did they come there just as a way to pass the time? Later, we walked along the boardwalk (the boardwalk is literally that!! A walkway made up of wooden boards. This is a walkway that is a few miles long and borders the sea. It has the beach and the sea on one side and is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops selling memorabilia and clothes and.. oh .. just everything on the other) and went up to the beach. the boardwalk is truely beautiful, full of people, performances and life. I also went into the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum and looked at some strange exhibits, by which time, it was time to board the bus and come home. All in all, a fantastic day!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A trip to Kananaskis aka Alberta's Mountain Playground


Beautiful innit?!? That's the view from the summit at the end of the Canadian Mount Everest Expedition Trail in Kananaskis Country. The lake in the picture is the Lower Lake, and towards the back of where I stood and took this picture is the Upper Lake. A beautiful sight indeed!

To start the story, I'd put up the picture of the place where it all started:

That's the entrance to the Canadian Mount Everest Expedition Trail. Me and a couple of friends took up the undaunting task of climbing up the trail without a trace of sweat on either one of our brows. Nah, I'm only playin .. it is a rather easy hike .. or so we were told before even going there. That's why we probably chose to go there ;p. Anyway, this is where it all started and up the stairs we went onto the trail that led us into a dense growth of trees and various other vegetation. A few steps inside, I spotted a centipede on my shoulder and screamed my lungs out. My friend, being the gutsy one that he is, flicked the pede off my shoulder while the other friend made it a point to let me know that the slimy, slithery, ugh insect could now be in my hair. I screamed some more. Neither one of them cared. They walked on. Tired of not being heard, I walked on too. Following are a few pictures from within the centipede infested zone:

Before I forget, here is a picture of one of those slimy creatures hanging from a web-string:

Scary, isn't it!?!?!? There were so many of them along the way that I was forced to keep my mouth tightly shut for the fear of either of 'em going into my mouth if I opened it. Lucky for my buddies haha. Wait, there was also the fear of grizzlies prowling the area. When I expressed my concern to my friend, first he laughed at me and then he yelled out into the woods, "Grizzly bro, I got you some meat for tonight" (pun intended!). :( It definitely was not assuring at all. For rest of the way up to the summit, the calls out to "Grizzly Bro" didn't stop, and, lucky for us (read me), Grizzly Bro didn't heed.

So yeah, finally, we made it to the top.

Hmm relaxing. Surely worth every fright that centipedes, millipedes, grizzlies, lizards, goats, monkeys, two losers et al could inflict on me. Then, we started experimenting with the camera. Determined to take the picture of the three of us and no one in sight to take it, we figured we could risk putting the camera on a rather unstable cliff and take a picture. Luckily (yeh, once again), the mission was possible, and we did get a picture:

A happy moment indeed! :)

We stuck around there for a little while, contemplating about our lives, our past, our present, our future haha ya rite. We probably talked about everything else but that hah while overlooking the beautiful Upper Lake:

After nearly half an hour of self-introspection, the trio made its way down. This time around though, the P-man (in white) decided to give us geology lessons. He pointed out rocks to us that showed striations from the glaciers that were there more than a few million years ago. We also spotted the oldest plant known to man - the fern -, which P-man was quite excited about and neither one of the rest of us cared much. :/ We just wanted to break a sweat, strengthen our heart, and tire our legs. We were not there for a science expedition ... wait, we just don't have the brains for one, I assume, but we listened. We listened patiently. I listened enough to remember the details that P shared with me. It turned out to be fun to learn which way a glacier might have went. Felt good to know that I was there where a mighty sheet of ice was once upon a time. hmmm quite empowering I tell ya. Here's one of many rocks that P showed us:

Yep, you probably see that rock as I might've seen it a couple of days ago ... as JUST A ROCK! ... but it is not! It's evidence that glaciers left behind. Interesting, isn't it? ;) Anyyyyyyway, we prodded along and here are a few pictures from our descent:

Finally, we took the following road home hehe.

The End. :)

Thanks for coming along for the trip.