Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kerala


Kerala - there is no dearth of paeans that have been written on this place in verse and in prose. I am wondering what more can I say about 'God's own country'?

While being in Bangalore, if one wants to go for a rejuvenating break, Kerala offers a perfect getaway. So in 2010 we planned a 5 days 4 nights trip to Kerala. We usually keep our trips very relaxed, covering less to enjoy the place in its entirety. The plan was to fly to Kochi, spend a day in Kochi, visit Fort Kochi and see Chinese Fishing nets and head towards the backwaters for the rest of the four days.



We had four days and three nights for the Vembanad lake, Kumarakom and Allepey.   We stayed in Malabar resort which overlooked the lake and  enjoyed the 'made to order' food. Those couple of days were spent blissfully nestled in the lap of nature. The last night we were supposed to spend on a houseboat. It was a houseboat with two bedrooms and a deck on the top tier. What can I write about that one day, that we ended up spending in the houseboat!



That was truly an experience out of this world. Perhaps the words like 'peace' and 'tranquility' were coined for such places only. Usually houseboat is anchored for the night at one place and one gets to see pristine sunset in its full glory. Verdant green paddy fields on one side, sunset on the other, surrounded by serene  water, slightly bobbing houseboat… perfect ingredients for a perfect holiday.


Ours is not a very frequently travelling family, yet we try to visit at least one new place every year. The trip to Kerala remains the best of the lot still.

Places to stay at : Kumarakom Lake resort is a great option. (Make sure you do the reservations well in advance)
Best time to visit : all year through

Important Tips :
1.       Do not try to cover more places in less days, the whole objective of the visit will get defeated.
2.       Make sure to take boat ride inside the lake, you will get a chance to notice different varieties of flora and fauna.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jim Corbett National Park



Visited in : March 2015
Best Time to Visit : November to February, March to June and July to October
Distance from Delhi : 267 km
Distance from Chandigarh : 348 km

Though on paper, the travel time from Chandigarh to the national park is 7 hours but it almost takes 10 hours to reach the destination. This is because of - certain detours to avoid some bad roads, high traffic on highways passing through the cities and reduced speed in hilly region at some places.

Best way to reach there :
  1. By Road : Taxi
  2. By Train : A train runs from Chandigarh to Dhampur once daily. It takes less time but the problem is the arrival time at Dhampur -1:50 am at night.

Good Places to Stay At:
We stayed at Hridayesh Wilderness SPA and Resort, one of the many resorts which are situated on the banks of the river Kosi. But these are not inside the forest. There are many rest houses inside the forest also but there are fixed rules and regulations pertaining to reservation, facilities and timings. Please check the website of Corbett Zone for the same.

The part is divided into two parts - core and the buffer region. The buffer includes Jhirna and Sitabani parts which remain open throughout the year. However the core part includes Birjani, Dhikala and Durgadevi which is usually closed during the monsoon as the mud roads get washed away during this time.

Since the travel itself took such a long time, we had planned to spend three nights there. We reached there by the dinner time, had our dinner and called it a day. The next day, we had a walk inside the resort and the flowing Kosi captured our attention. We sat there, feet dipped in the fresh cold water of the river for a very long time.




We had a Jeep Safari planned for that day but unfortunately because of some incident, the forest gate for which we had the entry passes, got closed. We waited to get entry from some other gate but it could not materialise. When we returned back to the resort, we were informed that our Elephant Safari which was scheduled for the next day had been arranged for that day itself. We decided to go on that one. Perched on the Elephant back, we ventured into the forest. After an hour of persistent search for the big cat, we could finally spot the striped beauty in its full glory near a narrow stream of water. When you actually see the royal beast, you wonder at the awesomeness of nature and its beautiful creations.



We embarked on the Jeep Safari the next day and thanks to one bird enthusiast in the family, we dedicated this trip to bird watching. It was a great fulfilling experience as we spotted some beautiful birds in the jungle. Some of them were - chestnut headed bee-eater, oriental hornbill, white crust laughing thrush, robin, kingfisher, hornbill, rostering parakeet, emerald dove, green bee-eater bulbul, barbet, river lapwig, kalij pheasant and white cap red star.

The forest is a home to diverse flora and fauna and we got a chance to see some of them in their natural habitats.






Other than enjoying the cool breeze of Kosi river and spending some relaxed time on its banks, the in house facilities included - swimming pool, badminton, bicycles, gym and some other indoor games.  We had all our meals in the resort itself and the food was simply awesome.  


Notes:

  1. Please arrange for the Safaris before you go there. The bookings for the same are done in advance and only a certain number of Safari Jeeps are allowed inside the reserve area every day.
  2. Do not miss Elephant Safari. It is a different experience and where an elephant can go, even a Jeep cannot.
  3. Try to keep it relaxed, taking in the natural sounds and sights rather than covering more in less time. If you plan to add Nainital visit along with this then add more days accordingly. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Taj Mahal (Agra)

Finally trip to see poetry in stone materialised...

Visited in : October 2014
Best Time to Visit : March, October, November
Distance from Delhi : 208.6 km

Best way to reach there :
1) By road : the highway Taj Express Highway/ Yamuna Expressway is a well laid highway and offers a smooth drive at 100 kmph. 
2) By train : Bhopal Shatabdi Express is a good option and the travel time is just two hours.

Good place to stay at :
1) Raddison Blu is a safe option (that's where we stayed). The food is a good spread of all varieties.  It was 1.5 km from the Taj.
2) The Oberoi Amarvilas is 600 m from the Taj.
Other than these, ITC Mughal, Wyndham Grand, JayPee palace are some other reliable options.



Paeans and paeans have been written trying to put beauty of the Taj in words but words fall short miserably in front of this  epitome of love which graces Indian skies resplendently. The experience of actually soaking in the exquisiteness of the white monument is beyond what one could ever imagine. One is awed by the sheer brilliance of architecture, the finesse, the thought, the planning and the perfection of executing an emperor's tribute to his beloved wife.

Do not rush, spend time admiring the one of its kind monument.

Entrance to the Taj Mahal

Agra Fort is around 4-5 km from the Taj Mahal. A tour of this fort should be a part of the visit to Agra.

The official website of Taj Mahal is a wonderful great place to get inspired to visit Taj Mahal, once more!

Important Tips :

  1. The Taj Express Highway does not have any good eating joints, so be prepared to take eating halt only after reaching the destination.
  2. Must take a knowledgeable guide while taking the tour of Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. With the detailed information, the tour becomes much more enjoyable and educational.
  3. Do not miss the Light and Sound show in the Agra fort at night. Delhi Red Fort has similar kind of show, nonetheless, the one at the Agra fort gives a wonderful brief of the importance of Agra in the Mughal reign.
  4. If you do plan to go for the Light and Sound show, do take mosquito repellant along with you. Why should pesky pests spoil the fun of getting transported to the Mughal period?
  5. Make sure to see live demonstration of the inlay (pacchikaari) work that has been done on the walls of the Taj. Raddisson hotel has a small show with a replica of Taj Mahal highlighting the various details that must not be missed when one goes to see the monument. As a part of this show, a demo of inlay work was also shown by a craftsman. I am sure other hotels would be having something on these lines too.
  6. How can one leave without buying the authentic Panchchi petha from one of the authentic outlets? Make sure to check the originality of the Panchchi petha outlets by asking a trusted person. Must try saffron, paan and chocolate flavours in the petha. They are 'to die for'.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Trivandrum-Kanyakumari-Rameshwaram-Madurai Post 3 of 4


The third stop on our pilgrimage journey was Rameshwaram.

Visited in : Dec 2011
Distance from Kanyakumari : 307 km
Best way to reach there : By road (it takes around 5 hrs to reach Rameshwaram from Kanyakumari)
However, there is a train from Kannyakumari to Rameshwaram too - Cape Rmm Express
Good place to stay at : We stayed at Royal Park. There are not many well known hotels in Rameshwaram and the ones which are there offer standard facilities, nothing fancy.

Places to see here:

  1. Ramanathaswamy Temple

Image Courtesy : Kumbakonamtemples

Shiva (Ramanathaswamy) is the main deity here and is present in the form of signature lingam. Two lingams are the main attraction of the temple. One is believed to be built by Sita and the other was brought by Hanumana from Kailash (which is worshipped prior to the Sita's lingam).

Image Courtesy : vettriparavaigal

In line with other South Indian temples, Ramanathaswamy temple has long corridors lined with tall pillars. It is noticeable that these temples are usually very dark inside, not letting sunlight light up the interiors.

  1. Pamban bridge


It is a cantilever bridge on the Palk Strait connecting the town of Rameswaram to mainland India. It was opened in 1914 and is India's first sea bridge. The name Pamban bridge is used for both road bridge as well as the railway bridge. The rail bridge can be raised in order to let ships and barges pass through this strip of ocean.

  1. Dhanushkodi


It is a small town or village at the southern tip of Rameswaram island. It had a railway line which got destroyed in 1964 cyclone. It is believed that Lord Rama built a bridge between mainland India and Sri Lanka in order to take his army to Lanka. After Rama won the war and Vibhishana was crowned the new king of Lanka, he requested Rama to destroy the bridge. Rama did so with one end of his bow and hence the name Dhanushkodi (end of a bow).




Dhanushkodi town now wears a completely destroyed and deserted look. There are ruins of some old temples, some idols of Gods and railway station.


Fun of seeing the ground water up so close...


You can actually see Sri Lankan land from the edge of Dhanushkodi. 



The dancing waves bathed in the early morning rays of sun looked spectacular, so a visit to this place must not be missed.

Note :

  1. It will take 2-4 hours inside the Ramanathaswamy Temple. Since one needs to take bath (a bucket/pot full water is poured on you) at all of the 22 tirthas within the temple, it takes time, so plan accordingly.
  2. The Pamban railway bridge looks beautiful so must watch out for it while driving.
  3. Visit Dhanushkodi during the day time preferably because the place is very lonely and may appear spooky at night. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Trivandrum-Kanyakumari-Rameshwaram-Madurai Post 2 of 4

This was the second stop on a journey which -
Was spread across a distance of 1,720 km
covered two states - Tamil Nadu and Kerala
comprised of three means of transport - air, water and road

Visited in : Dec 2011
Distance from Trivandrum (Thiruvanathapuram) : 85 km
Best way to reach there : By road (approx. 2 hrs)
Good place to stay at : We stayed at Sparsa resort

Places to See :

  1. Vivekananda Rock Memorial

The story goes like this - This is the place which make the young monk Vivekananda - the Swami Vivekananda in 1892. He meditated for three days and nights and attained enlightenment on his life's mission here. He dedicated his life to arouse the nation from its deep slumber from slavery and bigotry.
The idea of constructing a memorial to honour Swami Vivekananda was mooted in 1962 and the memorial was dedicated to the nation in 1970.


Do not miss spending some time in the meditation hall. There is a store which sells books and souvenirs. 

  1. Thiruvalluvar Statue
Photos of Thiruvalluvar Statue, Kanyakumari

This photo of Thiruvalluvar Statue is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The 133 feet stone sculpture of Tamil saint and poet Thiruvalluvar stands tall at the meeting point of two seas and an ocean - the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The statue is installed on a tiny island adjacent to Vivekananda Rock. The ferry service from mainland to Vivekananda Rock Memorial stops for a while at the Thiruvalluvar Statue.

  1. Vattakottai Fort

About 7 km from Kanyakumari, this fort was built in 18th century as a coastal defence for the Travancore Kingdom at that time. The elevated portions of the fort offer magnificent views of Bay of Bengal, numerous windmills and vast expanse of green blanket.

    4. You can take a stroll along the coastline. 


Important Tips :

  1. The queue for the ferry which takes you to the Vivkananda Memorial Rock is usually very long so budget the time well for the same. 
  2. Life jackets are not in a good state though the ferry ride is just for 5-7 min.
  3. Do not miss the sunrise time early in the morning at Kanyakumari. It is beautiful there.
  4. If planning to stay in Sparsa Resort, request for the room which has a sunset view from the room itself. Some of their rooms overlook the Indian Ocean or go to the sunset tower for a breathtaking sunset spectacle.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Trivandrum-Kanyakumari-Rameshwaram-Madurai : Post I of 4

We had slotted seven days to visit these four places. We took the air route from Bangalore to Trivendrum (Kerala) and did the road trips to the rest of the places. Our return journey from Maduari was also by air. Obviously it is not mandatory to cover all these places in one trip but we had the whole week for this trip and we distributed eight days and seven nights in this manner - one night in Trivandrum (Kerala) and two nights each in Kanayakumari(TN) , Rameshwaram (TN)and Madurai (TN).

For the readers convenience, I will describe our experience in each of these places separately across 4 posts, first being devoted to Trivandrum.

Trivendrum - the main objective here was to see the backwaters. Since we added this leg at the very last moment, wthere are some beautiful places  where you must make reservations well in advance to take the best out of your trip.

You can see the backwaters either at Allepey and Kumarakom (for which, coming from Kochi would be more appropriate). This I will cover in another post describing about our trip to Allepey.

The other option is to go to Trivandrum and then see the backwaters at Poovar. Poovar backwaters are beautiful and at many places you can even see the poovar river merging into the ocean and that is an awesome sight.  If you plan to come to Poovar then staying in the floating cottages must not be missed.

Must see places in and around Trivandrum:
  1. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple :

This is a very famous Hindu temple in the city. Lord Vishnu in a sleeping position is worshiped here. It is an old temple built in the traditional Dravidian style architecture and has 365 pillars adorning it.

Since it is an old temple and not much modifications have been done as far as the sanctum is concerned, the lighting is not very good. The black colour of the idol did not help either. With great difficulty we could see the idol in parts. The view gets obstructed by the pillars which stand at regular intervals even in front of the idol.


Image courtesy : HolidayCheck

Note:
Men have to remove the upper body clothes and need to change into a lungi (long skirt) to enter the temple. Women also need to drape a saree or wear a long skirt, but I saw many women following a short-cut method, they just tied the lungi on top of their pants/salwar/churidar and apparently that was fine.

  1. Backwaters :

You can see the beauty of backwaters either at Allepey/Kumarakom or at  Poovar island. For Allepey and Kumarakom, Kochi airport is much closer while to see Poovar, it makes more sense to reach Trivendrum first. During this particular visit since we were in Trivandrum, we drove down to Poovar and took a boat ride through the backwaters. It was a two hour ride but was a wonderful experience. We could even see the small openings of Kollar river into the Ocean and that is really picturesque. You can actually witness ocean inviting the river in its many waves.


You can spot many birds here.


Important Tips:

  1. Book much in advance if you are visiting Kerala in peak season which is practically all the months in a year except monsoon period. Since we added the Trivandrum leg of the trip at the very last moment, we did not have many good lodging options to choose from on a Christmas eve (which is anyway a very busy time in Kerala). But there are some really beautiful resorts in close proximity to the city.

  1. My personal suggestion : travel less and relax more. Avoid road travel as much as possible. Why would anybody want to go away from the serene environs of backwaters to the concrete and gravel. Do not try to pack too many places in one trip. We planned a trip of four days dedicated to the backwaters of Allepey and Kumarakom. (Covered in a separate post)

  1. I think a good rule of thumb could be to not travel every day. If you are covering more than one places in a single trip, spend at least two nights at one place. Give yourself sometime to unwind and relax. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Una-Kangra-Palampur (Himachal Pradesh)


    In spite of being born and brought up in Chandigarh, never got an opportunity to visit any place in Himachal Pradesh, so last December planned a short trip to the state of beautiful hills.

    Initially our plan was to stay at Palampur for three nights and do the day trips from there but then we included one more night at Jawalaji before going to Palampur so that we have ample time to offer prayers at the famous Shaktipeeths in Hiamchal.

    Story of Shaktipeeths - Out of total of 51 Shatipeeths in India, 5 are in Himachal Pradesh. It is believed that 51 different charred body parts of Sati (wife of Lord Shiva) fell at these locations which were later transformed into Shaktipeeths. These five are in Himachal:

    Chintpurni temple in Una district (severed feet of Goddess Sati fell here)
    Chamunda temple in Kangra temple
    Brijeshwari temple in Kangra temple (charred breast)
    Jawalaji temple in Kangra district (burning tongue)
    Naina devi temple in Bilaspur district (eyes)

    Began our journey on 28th Dec, 2012 at 12:00 pm by car and reached Chintpurni at around 4:00 p.m. On the way we had a short stop for lunch at some roadside eating joint. However, recommended eating joint is - Haveli (only negative thing about this place is that it comes too early in the journey, just after 30 km from Chandigarh).

    First stop - Chintpurni Temple
    Distance from Chandigarh -  175 km
    Travel time - 4 hrs (with one short stop on the way)
    Recommended eating joint on the way - Haveli
    Things to buy  : Aam Paapad

    At this time of the year and that particular day there wasn’t much crowd in the temple (quite unlike the case otherwise) so we could actually be in front of the deity for a while rather than being shoved from the spot instantaneously. We decided to travel to Jawalamukhi the same day and spend night there.

    Second Stop : Jawalamukhi temple
    Distance from Chintpurni - 35 Km
    Travel Time - 45 min
    Place to stay - HPTDC
    Recommended eating places - Dhabbas are good and the restaurant inside HPTDC was decent too.
    Things to buy : Aam Paapad

    By the time we reached Jawalamukhi it was 7:30 pm so we just checked in HPTDC hotel, relaxed for a while and decided to step out of the hotel for the authentic Himachali food. We ended up eating at a roadside dhabba, very close to the entrance to the temple and the food was good.

    The next day early morning after breakfast (at HPTDC restaurant itself) went to the temple. The queues were long in the temple so it took us around 2 hrs inside the premises. From there we began our road journey of the day towards Brijeshwari temple and Chamundeshwari temple. Both these temples did not have much of crowd. The view of snow capped mountains in the background was breathtaking from the Brijeshwari temple.


    Third Stop : Brijeshwari temple (Kangra district)
    Distance from Jawalamukhi temple - 40 km
    Travel time : 1 hr
    Things to buy : More Aap Papad (if you still haven't bought enough)

    Fourth Stop : Chamunda Temple (700 years old temple)
    Distance from Brijeshwari temple - 20 km
    Travel time : 35 min
    Things to buy - You can guess now :) There is one Govt. shop within the premises which has a few interesting items - straw paintings, Kangra tea of various grades, various pickles and chutneys. We bought bamboo pickle from there and it tastes really good.

    After offering our prayers at these Shaktipeeths we reached our destination - Taragarh Palace. This property belongs to the royal family of the erstwhile Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.



    Fifth Stop - Palampur
    Distance from Chamunda Temple - 35 km
    Travel time : 1 hr
    Places to stay at : Taragarh Palace
    Recommended eating places - Inside Taragarh Palace



    The entrance to the property was quite unassuming but as we crossed the gates of the Palace, the verdant greenery was there to invite us. 


    First day we decided to do a day trip to Billing (2290 m)- the site for take-off of paragliding and Bir (1400 m) is the landing site. The paragliding site at Bir-Billing in Kangra district is regarded as one among the best in the world for this sport. The road distance between the two points is 14 km. Bir is surrounded by the Dhauladhar mountains. It was a bit scary initially when knowingly you just have to jump from the hill top but then it is quite comfortable ride down. The wind was extremely chilly high up in the sky so must have a jacket and gloves on when going for this sport in winters.



    For the next day a trip to McLeodganj was planned and we visited the Namgyal monastery there. The road leading to the monastery is very narrow and parking place gets too cramped so it helped that we had the taxi driver to take care of that part.






    There are many more activities which you can engage in if you do not want to step out of the property - badminton, tennis, table tennis, board games, swimming, horse riding or just relaxing in the beautifully manicured lawns.

    Notes:
  1. Roads are good barring a few segments throughout this road travel.
  2. Best period to visit these places would be Feb-March and Oct-Nov weather wise but the good part in Dec was that there was very less crowd so we saved a lot of time by not standing in queues.
  3. Taragarh Palace was also almost empty so we could get places like badminton courts, tennis courts just to ourselves without having to wait for our turn.
  4. Must do paragliding here. Initially the price quoted was Rs. 2,500 per person but it got settled at Rs. 2000 per person.
  5. If you missed eating at Haveli while coming out of Chandigarh, make it up by eating while on the return journey so plan accordingly.