Dayara Bugyal – The Heavenly Path

The Dayara Bugyal Trek was my second high altitude trekking expedition with IndiaHikes and escaping into the glorious Garhwal Himalayas. If you missed out on my Kedarkantha Trek blogpost, take a look here. In comparison to Kedarkantha, trekking to Dayara Bugyal has fewer challenges and is ideal for a beginner. It suits all kind of travellers, nature lovers, photography enthusiasts and people of all ages.

Let me start by telling you the exact meaning of “Bugyal.” It is an alpine meadow but not just any meadow; it’s specific to the state of Uttarakhand. The word ‘bugyal’ comes from a local language; some say it means high-altitude meadow, and others- nature’s own garden. The Dayara Bugyal Trek is one of the best natural places where you get to see high altitude meadows offering a spectacular panoramic view of the Himalayas. If you’re looking for a peaceful trekking and camping experience, Dayara Bugyal has less human presence and it could be your ideal choice.

The trek starts from a small quaint village of Raithal nestled in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. We stayed in the rest houses organised for us by the IndiaHikes team. These GMVN houses overlooked the stunning valley on one side and the snowy mountains on the other. Early next day, we started our ascending climb. In the beginning, we walked through forests of oak and then entered a dense growth of deodars and rhododendrons. About 20 minutes after the start, we reached a clearing, and beyond this the forest became even denser. The trail through the jungle was steep as it goes to the top of a ridge, where the terrain becomes gentle. The trek trails through gorgeous Oak forests, clear water bodies and sprawling grasslands while offering views of specks of huts and grazing sheep, all while overlooking the valley and high-rise mountains. Wild flowers also bloom around streams and brooks that run across the pastures. The hike is a great way to blow off some steam, do something memorable and see some of the best natural sights in the world

On the trek, we saw dogs basking in the sun; cattle grazing happily; langurs hopping and jumping all around; and crows flapping their wings. Once in a while, you may get to hear a loud unfamiliar bird call, if you spot it, it’s probably going to be surprising to see some large birds, beautifully swaying against the stark blue sky, and it’s impossible not to be envious of them!

When we reached the highest campsite of our trek, I was stunned with the view that met my eyes. It was a visual delight to see a panoramic view of the Garhwal Mountain Rage from Dayara, twin ranges of Bandarpoonch, and the Kalang (Black Peak). That’s not all! The Gangotri, Jaonli, Srikanta and Draupadi ka Danda stood massively tall in the background, giving us an adrenaline rush. Do not miss the sight of the sun setting behind the snow-capped peaks, emitting a luminescence as though gold is beautifully sprinkled all over the meadows.

That evening though, we experienced the worst 3 hour-long hailstorm, due to weather imbalances throughout northern India. Snuggled in our tents, the IndiaHikes team pampered us with popcorn and hot tea to keep warm and cozy. The storm left us with a white washed view of the near vicinity and the ice glistening in the moonlight. This, I called the physical embodiment of divinity.

Step out of your tent at night, and you may be able to hear the hoot of owls; the Indian eagle owl and even the Himalayan eagle call the region their home. While I laid down on a flat rock and looked up into the pristine starry night sky, as if a bowl full of glitter, making impressive patterns on a blank canvas. Once in a while I spotted a shooting star and the only wish I wished is if I could live there, in that moment, all my life. My problems seemed pitifully faint and untroubling, realising the insignificance of human life against the scale of the universe and I enjoyed that feeling. “Perhaps we could all do well to remember our tiny place in the Universe. We’re not the center of the world. We’re just billion-year-old stardust, orbiting a burning ball of gas in the middle of empty space with no beginning, and no end.” And that’s the greatness of feeling small and insignificant.

On the next day, our final climb required us to awaken with the sun. We saw endless meadows covered in ice and snow from the previous day and it looked magical as ever. Even though only 8 of us made it (rather, made the decision to risk it) to the Dayara top in the midst of an all-out thunderstorm, we had to descend before the storm caught us in its path. It was extremely challenging but we experienced a surprise snowfall, and everything suddenly became so joyous and exciting!

We were not that high up, but the day was so clear that we could easily count the mountaintops and when we looked down upon the lower hills in the background, large trees covered them. Although the landscape below didn’t seem as green, the setting was still very striking. But when I looked up at these enormous trees while making my way up, it gave me a unique feeling: of being tiny, like dust. It made me realize how much time we waste on useless thoughts when instead, we should be living the present moment to its fullest; irrespective of the surrounding, whether it’s these breathtaking mountain views or our daily lives back in the city. These moments on the trek make you aware of how many details go unnoticed in the rush of city life. I began to notice the minimalist materials we used on the trek yet back at home, there’s so much excess unnecessary resource.

I photograph the landscape naively trying to capture these feelings, so I can never forget but like most people say, photographs never do complete justice to nature, our feelings or our experiences.

Finally, the trek brings you to a highland meadow situated in the Uttarkashi district. We caught the sight of the Barnala Tal lake strewn across the green alpine prairies – in whose reflection the peaks look even more beautiful. The trek ends at the tiny hamlet of Barsu nestled on the Haridwar-Gangotri road, which is 32kms from Uttarkashi. It’s an energising experience with a fun and adventurous journey. For serious trekkers and trekking lovers, exploring the high altitude of Dayara Bugyal makes it exhilarating with steep climbs, snowy trails and a spectacular view of the peaks. Adorned by the enthralling beauty of the Himalayas, where you feel absolutely dwarfed by nature makes it an experience of a lifetime!

Out here in the world you get a taste of true space and distance, a hint of the reality of our existence as a speck of nothing in an incomprehensibly vast and wonderful universe.

Snowfall!
The Tent Life

Dehradun, India.
Mumbai, India.
The only 8 who made it to the top!!

 

24 hours in Jodhpur – The Blue City

Jodhpur- the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan, is called the “Sun City” owing to its fantastic weather all year round. If you’ve scrolled through hundreds of gorgeous images of Jodhpur; you know that it is also called the Blue City. All the buildings painted a lovely sky blue, looking incredible in contrast to the dusty old desert town.

Having checked out of the Camp Thar Resort in Osian, I had about a day to spend in Jodhpur before I took an overnight bus to Udaipur. Now, with just a day to see such a large city, it seemed impossible. But, I think I managed to discover a large portion of it and so, I thought it’ll be helpful to give you a one-day travel guide for Jodhpur.

So, if you have a day in Jodhpur here’s what you should do…

 

Mehrangarh Fort

If you’ve done even a little bit of research on Jodhpur, you know you HAVE to visit the Mehrangarh Fort. The ticket is about 100 rupees for an Indian citizen and a whooping 600 for international guests. Luckily, we had our student identity cards and entered with a 50-rupee pass!

My Jaipur blogpost covers some of my travel tips and carrying your student ID card tops the list!

The fort is more than magnificent and breathtaking; I couldn’t seem to gauge how massive it was. After buying our tickets, we thought we had entered the fort so; we kept walking until a signboard said “This way for the fort”, and I couldn’t stop laughing! Its huge and overwhelming, and if you’re interested in knowing the history and stories of the fort then you’re in for a long day! I still think I haven’t entirely seen each part of it.

When you look down from the high vantage point of its ramparts, it’s quite possibly one of the coolest views you’ll see. It’s a magical blue city in the middle of a desert with a giant fort overlooking it, palaces scattered around and in the distance you see the hills protecting it. It’s quite a spectacular view.

 

Other attractions

Jaswant Thada is a cenotaph (an empty tomb that does not contain the remains of the person it was built for) located about half a kilometer away from the fort by rickshaw. It serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar. From a distance, you may not find it jaw dropping or incredible but once you get a closer look at it, the intricately carved sheets of marble make you feel peaceful and calm. The sheets are extremely thin and polished so that they emit a warm glow when illuminated by the sun.

Umaid Bhavan Palace looks great from a distance but honestly, it’s quite average considering tourists don’t get to go inside because the Taj Hotels converted a part of it into a hotel property while the rest is preserved. It’ll cost you your entire bank balance (especially if you’re a student) to book a stay there, and they don’t welcome guests for a cup of coffee or to eat at their restaurants (I speak from experience).

 

Sardar Market near the Clock Tower

If you have some more time after seeing the attractions, head to the Sardar Market for some local shopping. It’s known for its general merchandize but also for its lovely bandhini materials (a type of tie-and-dye textile). Wondering what’s ‘the thing to buy’ in the Jodhpur bazaars? Antique artifacts, wooden furniture, gold, scarves, puppets, hand crafted toys, home decor and so much more!

You may also find a lot of embroidered leather shoes, antique pieces, handicraft work and sweet shops. Don’t miss them! You’ll notice a lot of locals selling fake silver jewelry, I’d suggest you don’t buy these here and instead purchase real silver when you visit Jaipur.

 

Where to eat in Jodhpur? Cafes, restaurants, hotels…

Since you’re in Jodhpur only for the day and assuming you will be there for at least three meals, here’s where you should eat when in the Blue City.

1. Gypsy is easily one of the best places to eat in Jodhpur. It’s a foodie’s dream come true! Known for the best thali in Jodhpur, Gypsy’s menu comprises of 30 separate and distinct dishes and the staff there will insist that you order all! It’s not at all expensive to eat a meal here (or even all your meals, if you like), it’s worth every single penny you pay and more! The people in Rajasthan, food is a means of interacting, making friends and beautiful memories with absolute strangers.

Order this – Poori & Mix Veg Sabzi, Pulao, Halwa, Paranthas, Dal Bati Choorma, Besan ki Kadhi and Gatte ki Sabzi.

2. Indique is hands down one of the best rooftop restaurants in the city of Jodhpur. Located on the terrace of the Pal Haveli, Indique takes you back in time, in the existence of the Rajput kings and queens. It sits right under the proud gaze of the Mehrangarh Fort, the seat of the royals. It offers a spectacular view of the famous landmarks of Jodhpur and the entire city. The best time to enjoy this view and the weather is in the evenings, when the sky is aglow with magical sunset strokes and colors.

Order this – Lal Maas, Gatte ki Khichdi, Gujarati cuisine and Dal Bati Choorma.

3. Janta Sweet House is THE place to go to if you’re looking for the best crispy, traditional and tasty kachoris. You haven’t truly tasted the flavors of Jodhpur unless you get your hands on the varied assortment of kachoris, which are a hit among the tourists and locals alike. The street food is as good (or more) as the elaborate fine-dining restaurants in Jodhpur.

Order this – Onion kachori and Mawa kachori.

4. Darikhana is in the Raas Haveli Hotel, which boasts of being the first boutique hotel in Jodhpur and is the ideal place to savor some authentic Lal Maas. Team it with a butter tandoori roti or the Warqi paranthas cooked in ghee to offset the hotness of this dish. Situated in the shadows of the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, the Raas Haveli with its open courtyard completed with a pool, makes for quite an inviting setting to gorge on this spiced meat delicacy.

 

Hope this blog helps you find your way into the big blue city of Jodhpur. Make the most of your time here, it’s truly a wonderful place!

Jaipur – The Pink City

I’ve been wanting to visit Rajasthan for as long as I can remember. Every time I tried to steal some time out of my schedule, something always came up and I couldn’t make the trip. But this time, I believed it could happen; and it did. In the month of November 2017, I decided that I would take out 10 days during December to explore at least 3 cities in Rajasthan. The best time to visit Rajasthan is in the winters, between November and January. So, it worked out perfectly!

When I think of Rajasthan, the first city that comes to mind is the beautiful Pink City – Jaipur! The city of royal, charming and marvellous palaces and forts. Jaipur had to be first on my list! This time, I travelled with two of my friends who didn’t know each other at all; so, I was pretty excited about how that would play out. And fortunately, it turned out pretty damn good! Brownie points to me!

We took an early morning flight from Mumbai to Jaipur, which gave us a whole day and more to explore. We stayed in Jaipur for 2 nights and 3 days. However, I think we needed a day or two more, because there’s so much to see there, and we hardly managed to cover half of it. The first night, we stayed at the Jaipur Zostel which is a hostel, if you couldn’t figure by the name. It was the first time I got to experience living in a hostel with people from all over the world. At first, I didn’t know what to expect at all. Will there be nice people? Will the place be clean? I really had no clue. But I guess having no expectations whatsoever has its perks, and most of the time the Universe surprises you! I walked into the most quirky, comfy and welcoming place ever! The rooms were clean, the washrooms looked hygienic and well kept, the common room looked so inviting and comfortable and the other hostellers were kind, generous and very sweet! We got to spend a little time at breakfast with some of the hostellers, and then headed out to soak in the city’s vibe and culture.

We walked along the main tourist market, gawking at the leather bag boutiques, silver jewellery stores, jutti shops and vintage antique sellers. I wanted to buy everything. I was in heaven! From the main market, the grand Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) stands tall in red and pink sandstone. It’s unique five-storey exterior is akin to the honeycomb of a beehive. The jharokhas (balconies) have tiny intricate designs and paintings. We skipped going into the palace, and instead entered the City Palace of Jaipur. It’s peach and pink tones, detailed carvings and magnificent architecture will make you fall in love with the palace. The beautiful jharokhas and pretty walkways make you feel no less than a royal highness! The palace complex incorporates an impressive and vast array of courtyards, gardens, and buildings. After hours of walking and exploring, we went back to the hostel to rest. We spent that night playing Scrabble, jamming to interesting music, and interacting with fellow hostellers.

The next day, we woke up really early in the morning to go to the Amber Fort and Palace in Amer. It was about 20 minutes away from the Jaipur city centre, so we took an Uber cab up to a point, and then walked up to the fort and palace. As the fort progresses, you begin to see its magnificence, and I was stunned at the sight. Its massive walls, huge doors and windows, and its royalty, as it stands high on a hilltop, make for a mesmerizing view! Usually, I’m not the kind to hire a tourist guide, but this time I figured why not? They probably have their own version of the history and stories of the palace, but I was curious to know what they might bring to the table. And so, we hired one. He took as to all the corners of the palace, gave us minute details about it, and even cracked us up a few times. This palace was one of my favourite ones out of all the ones we saw on this trip. With its intricacy, organic colouring, brilliant architecture and golden vibe, I was awestruck! This is one palace you CANNOT miss if you’re visiting Jaipur.

The same day, we visited the Jaigarh Fort that was just about 15 minutes away, on a higher hilltop. Two important things about visiting this fort are; one, there’s not much to see because it was a fort for the Rajput soldiers of the time. It has some beautiful views of Amer city from that height, and the world’s largest cannon. But that’s about it. Two, the cabs will take you up to the fort, but on your return trip down, they’ll charge you 200 rupees more than your billing amount. Why? I still haven’t understood. After getting cheated by rickshaws asking for a 200 rupees downhill drop, you’re on your own. In all, I’d say it’s not really worth the inconvenience. That day, we moved from the Jaipur Zostel to the Mansingh Tower Hotel. It’s part of the Club Mahindra properties, and a fairly regular hotel. Of course, it has its perks of comfort, luxury and bathtubs, but somehow, I wanted to go back to the hostel!

On the last day, we slept in until just before noon, and then only stepped out for lunch. We walked along the shops, ate roadside food, and I finally bought a leather bag I was eyeing since day one! In the evening, before sunset we left for the Nahargarh Fort. Again, the rickshaws could only drop us up to a certain point and then we had to walk. But, we did something more adventurous and what, for me, is the same as meditating. Trekking! Yes, we climbed that massive mountain, walking up slopes that seemed like 60 degrees, and it was so much fun! There was not much to see in the fort so we walked along the fortress wall, picked a quiet spot, and sat there watching the sun set over the city! The view was beyond words can explain, and it was so peaceful. I’d say it was the perfect culmination to our trip to the Pink City!

That night we took an overnight bus to Jodhpur. (Blog coming soon)

Overall, Jaipur treated us well and I absolutely loved the city, the people, the culture, the sounds, the heritage and everything about it!

Restaurants/Cafes we visited:

  1. Wind View Café – It overlooks the beautiful Hawa Mahal, and parts of the city. Serves the best lassi in town!
  2. Kailash Restaurant – Serves the most delicious and flavourful vegetarian food. They dolloped a whole slice of butter in the curry, and oh my god, it was so yummy!
  3. Jaigarh RestaurantIf you’re looking to eat authentic Rajasthani food, here’s a place you must go to, only if you’re visiting the Jaigarh Fort. Order the laal maas and chicken biryani. The best food we ate on this trip!
  4. Handi Restaurant Known for its pretty rooftop setting. Average food, with terrible service.
  5. The Tattoo Café Directly opposite the Hawa Mahal, it has a variety of food options and choices. Great for breakfast!
  6. Roadside daal kachori Anywhere on the market road, you’ll find a guy serving daal kachoris and samosas, they’re a must when in Jaipur! Cheap and yummy street treats.
  7. M. KhanYummiest tandoori chicken and traditional Jaipur style street food available here. Most scrumptious, finger-licking and tasty food ever! If you’re a foodie, this is the place for you!

#FRWTravelTips

  • If you’re on a budget, spend less on rickshaws and autos; try walking as much as you can. Everything is pretty close by.
  • Use the Uber cab service over the local rickshaws because it’s cheaper!
  • If you’re a student, carry your university or college identity card, you’ll get students discounts at tourist visiting sites and ticket counters. It can make a huge difference to your wallet!
  • If you want to shop a lot, go to the local market. You’ll get the same things you get at the tourist market at half the price.
  • Be a sport and try the authentic Rajasthani food at least once, if you’ve come all the way.

Kedarkantha Trek with Indiahikes

“Travelling alone will be the scariest, most liberating, life changing experience of your life.

Try it at least once.”

Last year, for my birthday, I wanted to do something completely different from the usual celebrations. My parents had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I took a while to decide what exactly was worth all that money they were going to spend on me. I vaguely remembered following an Instagram handle that had the most incredible feed of majestic mountains and enchanting skies. Instantly, I logged in and found myself gawking at the photographs shared by Indiahikes! This was it. I had chosen my birthday gift.

To begin with, Indiahikes spoils you with the variety of trek options, ranging from easy to difficult treks, sprawling across the Himalayas; from Kashmir to Himachal. It was so difficult and unfortunate that I had to choose only one trek out of all the thirty wonderful treks they offer. The plan was to do a winter trek, in the month of December and I couldn’t get myself to decide which winter trek I wanted to do. After almost a week of reading and researching, Kedarkantha topped my bucket list of treks. It’s not only the perfect trek for beginners, but also has the most beautiful setting throughout the trail, under pine trees and on untouched, glistening grains of snow.

 

Prepare:

 I had been preparing for the trek mentally, physically and emotionally a month prior. An overdose of yoga, running and healthy eating made my trekking experience valuable and positive. I began to feel light, energetic and full of adventure as the days to departure kept counting down. A week before I was supposed to leave for Dehradun, the meeting point for our trek batch; I received an email from the team, welcoming us to the Indiahikes trekking community and my eyes sparkled with anticipation. This was going to be the first time I ever spent my birthday and New Year’s Eve on my own. Well, not really, because I met some amazing likeminded people. And that’s what is so special about travelling. One gets to meet new people, indulge in new stories and of course, you get to explore!

Honestly, I didn’t quite know what to expect out of this experience. I was oblivious to where I was going, whom I was going to meet and how I was going to feel about this journey. The mystery would only start to unfold when I’d get there, and I wanted to be fully aware of how I react to such a situation; it was strangely exciting! The most satisfying part was that I could completely switch off from the mundane world, I was electronically inaccessible and truly, it was the best feeling ever!

I took a train from Mumbai to Delhi and then another train from Delhi to Dehradun. Crossing numerous states and cities, I was filled with quest for the unknown. In Delhi, I was already beginning to get acclimatized with the chilly evenings and terribly cold nights. We reached Dehradun in the wee hours of the morning, and got into cars that took us to the starting point of our trek; a small village called Sankri.

Delhi Winter Sun

Dehradun – Mussoorie Highway

Purpose:

 On the first day of our climb, we walked into the thick jungle of pine trees that would lead us towards the first campsite, Juda Ka Talab. As the air became thinner and thinner, I was longing for warmth, food, water and breath; it all seemed unachievable and I couldn’t imagine how the other days would pass. Squinting my eyes, I looked up to a panoramic view of the Himalayas that kept me going, it was soulful. It was like something was pulling me higher, like something magical was waiting for me and only me. So, I pulled myself together in order to slowly get to rest point. We reached the campsite around noon. The JKT campsite is almost too perfect in its setting. The landscape comprises of a frozen lake set to the backdrop of a forest so dense that the golden sunlight hardly seeps through. By three o’clock, it had become dark like the night and I would wonder, what a world full of surprises! After dinner that night, I spent almost two hours lying down on a flat rock looking at the night sky that was perfectly framed by the tree-line of the surrounding forest. It was mesmerizing. I was speechless and could only imagine what it would be like from up above. It was a tough day, yet; I slept with hope for snow covered trails and towering peaks for the next.

Waking up to a sunrise with glitter in our pockets and stars in our eyes, we ascended a steep mountain to get to the KK Basecamp. This was a slightly easier climb, not physically but mentally. The basecamp was truly the most beautiful campsite of the whole trek. It was nestled on a cliff overlooking the spectacular view of the snowcapped Gangotri Range and a narrow jungle trail we had just climbed behind us. Later that evening, in sub-degree temperatures and freezing breeze whistling by, I lay down gasping in astonishment at what I was looking at. In the pitch black, spooky dark night was a lucidly visible milky way among thousand constellations and million sparkling stars; and at that moment, I felt small and insignificant. I mean, there are billions of us on this one little speck constantly planning and worrying, knowing all along that we’re just a dot in this universe; a tiny little crumb.

Juda Ka Talab Camp

The Dinner Tent

KK Basecamp

Procure:

It was four a.m. when we set foot to scale the summit that glistened in the darkness of the pre-dawn sky. Crushing snow beneath our feet and mild torchlights guiding us on our way, dawn broke behind the Himalayas in shades of pink and peach. As the hours passed, the atmosphere became clearer and it started to become warm. At this point of the trek, I couldn’t believe I had actually come all the way up and had just about a kilometer from what’s called ‘the best feeling on earth’. Only five hundred meters away from the peak, the team decided to take a rest break. I continued to tread on up so that I could reach before anybody else could. I was one footstep away from conquering a peak, one footstep away from heaven. As I put one foot in front of the other, gulped, swallowed and rose up to gaze at what was around me; I was dumbfounded at the sight that met my eyes. A clear blue sky above, a 360’ glorious view of the gigantic sunlit mountains that casted a diagonal shadow and a carpet of clouds below, engulfing the shorter hills around me, I stood there feeling enlightened. Over-powered by emotion, I felt subdued as I sat on a rock that jutted out of the mountain with my feet hanging below, ready to… jump? There was no need to achieve anything else in this world. I had done it and at that moment I felt infinite, I felt complete, I felt free.

It’s been almost a year since this liberating experience and still, I am unable to fully explain to people that exact feeling of victory. No word or book will ever do justice to an escapade of such sorts and I am unapologetically possessive of this adventure with Indiahikes. A special shout out to Vishal Negi, our kindest, most encouraging trek leader and the whole team that took immense care of us until the very last step.

Dawn cracking behind the Gangotri Range
Purpose – Kedarkantha Peak

On top of the World.
Vishal Negi and the Indiahikes – Kedarkantha 2016 team.
SHERU !

Hargaon Camp

Ever since this trek, heading out of the city tops the list of plans I have on my birthday. For those of you dreading another wasted night at the club on your special day- here’s a suggestion that’s totally worth it. Travel! It inevitably makes your special day worth remembering.

Husein 🙂
Found my Trek Family 🙂

Hyderabad Photostory | India

Welcome to a Photo Series!

Last weekend, I took a short trip to Hyderabad in the state of Telangana for two reasons. Primarily because I missed mom so much and the fact that grabbing opportunities to getaway is my forte!

This blog post is a little different from the usual blogs I write. Its a ‘Visual Blog’ and what do I mean by that? Well, it’s a visual experience, a visually and aesthetically satisfying post; an article that blooms your senses and rejuvenates you.

I visited the Golconda Fort and Charminar (Four Minarets) in the old city of Hyderabad and I literally do not have words to describe what I felt exploring these beauties. Brilliant engineering and magical architecture is an understatement. So, I decided I wanted to write less and show more. Honestly, these photographs do not do justice to the experience of physically being there but I hope I can convey the feeling of being speechless, at the most.

Enjoyy! x

G O L C O N D A   F O R T

C H A R M I N A R

Any comments, remarks and views are appreciated! Let me know and I will respond! 🙂

Coonoor, A Misty Mountaintop!

Hello, there! It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog post and thenceforth, I’ve been trying to write this one but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. These few days have been very difficult and uninspiring for me, so much so that I feel unambitious and weighed down upon, personally and professionally. It’s hard to concentrate or work towards anything – a bad space. I felt like everything was going slow, work wasn’t getting done and, I felt small and insignificant. Do you ever feel like something is controlling you? It’s not your own mind or heart and you don’t know what it is, isn’t it scary? Demotivation is a frequent visitor especially when you live away from home and unintentionally, surround yourself with people or things that are rather confounding. Although I’ve come to the understanding that distancing is key, what’s more important is to learn and imbibe from the discomfort and strangeness. I once read somewhere, “If you want to create the mindset of a happy, successful person, you have to accept that the best things in life happen at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.” Disappointments and setbacks are a way of life, a speed-breaker on the road to success.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” – Unknown

So, let’s finally get down to my journey to a misty mountaintop! My trip to Coonoor was an extension to the Coorg road trip along with my mother. Once we left the district of Kodagu (Coorg) in Karnataka, we drove further down south along and over the Nilgiri Ranges, of the Western Ghats, towards the state of Tamil Nadu. The state border cuts across the massive Bandipur National Park, abundant in organic, natural vegetation and untouched beauty. On this beautiful journey, you are sure to spot a few animals of the national park. What’s funny is that, you may not spot any animal on the safari rides into the forest but, on your way out of the park, a surprise may be waiting! Crossing barren lands, basin valleys, ascending slopes and hairpin bends we reached Ooty, a popular hill station for both, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Originally, we were to stay in Ooty and then go to Coonoor the next day. To our surprise and disappointment, we were rather taken aback by the sight of it all. Over crowded, over populated, noisy and dirty are a few kinder words I’d choose for a description, but it wouldn’t be fair to judge the book by its cover, so we looked around for a while. We tried looking for a slightly quiet place to stay the night, a small café or restaurant to eat but we were so let down by the dearth of such places; that we decided to drive directly to Coonoor, even if that meant arriving late.

Descending a few meters, swirling around mountain edges and dodging vehicles coming from the opposite end was somewhat fun especially since it included four drastically different views from either directions of the hill. Rolling my window down and sticking my head out to feel the ice-cold wind and moist clouds flying by, it was like a dreamy winter setting. Often, we would pull over and go walking into the tea plantations; enjoying the smell and watching the lush green leaves that surrounded us. Coonoor main town is also very populated and congested but, not as much as Ooty. We stopped over at 5 hotels and each time we left the reception, we hoped for something better in the next one. Very picky, must say! Funnily, while driving along these roads, my mother came across a familiar pathway leading to a cliff, a place she had visited almost 10 years ago. I found it fascinating, that she could remember a particular road and even a turn, considering the fact that she seems to forget details I’ve told her only days ago. There are times when I sit with my grandma and she tells me stories of her childhood or even my mother’s and I’m amazed with the power of memory! So, mom and I decided to go down the lane to wherever it took us and you’ll be astonished with what we found! We bumped into the perfect villa, over-looking an insane view of Coimbatore city, with the sun setting over the horizon. The signboard that led us into the plot read “De Rock, Jungle Living – Coonoor”. Doesn’t it sound exciting and inviting?

When we entered the property, we met the owner and he said it was full for the next three days but there was a small hut/tent available because, nobody really preferred it to an air-conditioned, fancy villa, yet, for us, it was just perfect! I fell in love with the place at the first sight of it. It centered a huge tea plantation slope. It over-looked Coimbatore, framed between two slightly shorter mountains, offering a view of the horizon in the background. The clouds would occasionally cover our view of the city yet, giving us the privilege to watch the open sky and let us dream! That evening, we soaked in the view and watched the sun tell us its story.

De Rock is known for its quiet and serene locations accompanied by an extremely kind and hospitable staff. Since they have properties that are in remote places and prefer only a hand full of people staying with them, they bring fresh foods and meat every single day. Everyday, we were asked what we’d like to eat the next day for all three meals so that they could organize everything on time, without any compromises. How sweet is that? They took such good care of us, that we extended our stay to three days!

The next day, we were looking for things to see or do, in or around Coonoor. A friend of mine suggested we visit Lovedale near Ooty, a cute little hamlet accessible by the even cuter Nilgiri Mountain Railway, known as the “toy train” by locals and travelers alike. And, my mother wanted to visit a shop that we passed by called, “The Pony Craft Store”, famous for its craft materials, wools and knitting needles. So, that day, we visited these lovely places while the weather was even better than the previous day! It rained and poured the entire time; the perfect weather for a cup of hot chocolate! The other two days, we spent relaxing and absolutely enjoying the weather, view and everything about the place!

We also found out that De Rock has another property about 2 hours away from Coonoor; and guess what? We stayed there too! Located in the heart of a national park, amidst mountain views and forestry, it provides a safari experience into the depth of the forest for morning and night slots. The accommodation is in bungalows with open-air buffet dining. For those who enjoy daring adventures and thrills, a lot of elephants, deer and other animals may come knocking at your door!

 

#FRWTravelTips

  • For those who like to stay away from the crowd, tourists and noise, I’d suggest you opt for Coonoor over Ooty.
  • Just above The Pony Craft Store is a European restaurant, ‘The Culinarium’ that serves mouth-watering food and also has its own bakery for the bread, pie and dessert lovers!
  • De Rock, Jungle Living also has another property in Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu. It is located in the Mudumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary also declared tiger reserve in the Nilgiri Hills.
  • If you are in or around Ooty or Coonoor, do visit Lovedale and experience the toy train ride from Lovedale station to Ooty railway gauge. (Before taking the ride, recheck the return train schedule)
  • Cheesy lover – In Coonoor, there is an organic cheese-making farm called ‘Acres Wild Farmstay’ and it also has a homestay facility. Do go there for fresh, organic cheese tasting!
  • Since we were living in a tea plantation area, we were able to see and smell the fresh tea leaves but I must say, you should experience the process of the plantation and go tea tasting!

Coorg Travel Story | India

I share a very close relationship with my mother. She is a friend, a confidant and my truest lady love. She knows my deepest secrets and understands me with all her mind and heart. There’s so much to learn from what she has to say, and often I teach her things she may not be aware of; it’s a give and take. A lot of people these days find it difficult to gain a certain rapport with their parents or are, most often, rebellious to their roots. Fortunately, I’m not one of them. I tell my mother things that friends tell each other and I believe it takes time, effort and patience to develop this equation with anybody you want to trust blindly. I’m aware this kind of relationship is more common in the western culture, however, in India, I wonder- why not? Well, that’s a debate for another day. But, I do believe that times are changing for the good.

Anyway, mom and I are absolute wanderers and we love driving through unfamiliar roads that take us to unvisited places. Which is why we make it a point to spend at least one holiday together; travelling and exploring. It’s also an excuse for us to bond and talk about almost anything under the sun. This is one such travel story.

1. Coorg Overview
Nestled in the jade slopes and profound valleys of the southern state of Karnataka in India, Coorg is a favoured travel destination. Spread over coffee and spice plantations, this locale is otherwise called Kodagu. It is a coffee lover’s dream to be able to walk around the spiralling paths, smelling the air perfumed with coffee beans! Furnished with an abundance of appealing views and beauty, you will never want to leave this picturesque hill station. Other than the charming climate, this place has a rich cultural setting. On a personal note, I was most attracted to the numerous types of flowers at every crossing.

2. Arrive
Mom and I were to drive from Bangalore to Coorg, which is roughly 5-6 hours, so we left early in the morning to avoid the city traffic. We were dependent on Google Maps; not realising that it tells you the fastest route to your destination and not the best, in terms of road blocks, village traffic etc. We hit the NH75 taking us from the outskirts of Bangalore to the heart of Coorg. On our way back, we took the massive six lane NH275 that bypasses Mysore, an easier drive! NH75 is not the best highway since it crosses a lot of villages and towns, attracting local traffic. But, it swirls through flat lands and deep valleys, along meadows of lush greens and yellows, through isolated hills and long boulevards of canopy trees. Each curve overlooking drastic backdrops, making you want to stop over for a photograph. A kind of roadway that allows you to pull down the windows and stick your head out to smell the moist mud and sense the alluring wind slipping through your hair. It’s amazing to watch how the landscape, colours and smells change ever so often, making you realise the diversity of this country! As you approach the district of Kodagu, the temperature begins to drop; the skies gloomy and grey. Once we entered the district, we were confused what direction to follow. Guess why? We hadn’t even booked a place to stay! What can I say, spontaneous plans and distracting journeys do this to you!

3. Stay
The people and hotels of Coorg are known for their hospitality and warmth. There are a lot of options for luxury hotels like Orange County, Vivanta by Taj, The Tamara, Club Mahindra and Amanvana Resort. On the other hand, there are budget hotels aplenty, like Hotel Villa and Evergreen Coorg. All kinds of accommodations are available at this hill station. Home stays in coffee plantations are also a popular choice of lodging in this region.

We spent our first night at a small budget hotel called Bungalow Inn. Bed and breakfast- just what we needed! A decent hotel, with a very kind and hospitable staff; but I was pretty let down by the food. The next day, as we drove around Madikeri town, we came across the distinctive stony signboard of Vivanta by Taj, and were tempted to take a look inside. The Taj hotels somehow always get the perfect, most beautiful properties wherever they set up camp! Until we visited this location, surprisingly, I hadn’t heard of this property at all. It was, by far, one of the most scenic, quiet and captivating locations I had ever been to.

4. Visit
Google “Places to see in Coorg”- and a list of websites will pop up; naming and describing each of the sights for you. As you all know, I’m not one to visit touristy places and noisy settings. No doubt, I do sometimes check out these tourist destinations (if I feel they’re worth it), but I’m always craving for some place untouched!

Of course, in the over populated nation that we belong to, I won’t possibly find an entirely untouched place; but something along those lines calls out to me. Mom and I visited the Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery- the largest teaching centre of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. This was the first time I was entering a monastery, but the experience makes me want to go back every time I think about it. There were over 100 people in and around the monastery, but it was as quiet and still as the night, with only the gentle whispers of monks to be heard. I was thrilled watching them gracefully live everyday life. We also visited the “Golden Temple” nearby, and the Nunnery just next to the monastery. Oh, the silence!

5. Weather
Coorg has a moderate and pleasant climate throughout the year, with some naturally scenic surroundings. Summers tend to become slightly warmer than usual, however, the monsoons arrive rather early in the hills, and everything brightens up and blushes green! The winters begin in December, and this is the best time to visit the wonder of Coorg. Consequently, this also happens to be the time of year that most tourists bombard the place. The secret to avoiding too many tourists and travellers is to avoid visiting during the holidays (since it’s usually a weekend getaway), and plan your journey for the months of October or November. Not too hot and neither too cold, just perfect!

Hope this blog post was helpful incase you’re planning a road trip to Coorg. I look forward to your comments and I’d love to know what you all think about this post. 

 

#FRWTravelTips

  • If you’re traveling from Bangalore, please take the NH275. It is safer, has better roads and it is pretty straight forward.
  • Visit Coorg in months of October and November for the perfect weather and a great experience.
  • There are lots of activities like Trekking, Rappelling and other sports for adventure enthusiasts! 
  • Do not fail to visit a Coffee Plantation and experience the richness of the fields.
  • Namdroling Monastery, The Golden Temple and the Nunnery are places you must visit!
  • Coorg is known for super spicy dishes so beware!! 

Pondicherry & Auroville (Part 2)

CONTINUED:

I hope you all enjoyed reading the first part of this blog, and I wonder if it was helpful at all. My family and friends had some really kind words to say, but I would love to know what you all thought of it. Do express your opinions, whether they’re good or bad, in the comments below. It’ll be beneficial for me if I have to improve on execution!

DAY 4:

Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was the day we had to check out of our little blue villa by the sea to explore the city life of Pondicherry. All packed up, we wondered where we could catch breakfast before hitting the road to the city; until we came across a cute café called Motorcycle Diaries, right at the end of the lane from our villa, by the East Coast Road (ECR). It’s a quirky, fun and cozy café that serves some delicious smoothies and shakes, which go perfectly with the typical, all-American breakfast. We then took a rickshaw to our next accommodation- the Aadhaar Guest House, in the heart of Pondicherry City. We were overwhelmed by the view from our room; it faced the Pondicherry Harbour, with the lighthouse in the distance. The Bay of Bengal looked crystal-clear under the beaming sunlight. Also, we had a balcony! Balconies are a temptation; I could sit there all through the day and the night, by myself, just taking in the view! However, we had a lot to see in the city in just three days, which put us on our toes from the very first day.

Our host at the accommodation gave us a map of the whole city. Every sight, restaurant and café was precisely located and perfectly categorised under particular colours. We noted the places we wanted to see for our three-day sojourn, and narrowed down two locations to visit for that day alone. Immediately after we decided, we walked to the ‘Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus’, situated on the south boulevard of the city. Believe it or not, this was the first time I was visiting a church, so I was very excited to see the cultural differences. It’s an oriental example of gothic design. The interiors are decorated with rare recoloured glass panels, each narrating events from the life of Jesus Christ in the form of paintings, drawings and sketches. Kneeling down on that church pew, the silence spoke loudest to me, and within seconds I saw myself shedding tears; at that moment, it was just my soul and I. It’s amazing how much the things we take for granted do for us in return. Yet, in all that stillness, the uncontrolled mind talks to you.

With the sanctity of the church still hovering above us like a cloud, we leisurely strolled around town until we found ourselves on Promenade Beach. Promenade Beach is the famous stretch of the beachfront along the Bay of Bengal. It’s all very pleasant and windy, but honestly, it’s not a big deal if you give it a miss.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church
Promenade Beach
Le Cafe at Promenade Beach

 

DAY 5:

WHITE TOWN DAY! I was looking forward to this day ever since we decided on the itinerary. However crowded and ‘touristy’ this part of town is, it’s the most inviting. Luckily, it wasn’t very crowded. Just strolling around White Town is so calming and serene. We saw some astounding architecture in the form of churches, temples, government buildings and statues. To name a few, the Pondicherry Museum, Pondicherry Library, Consulate General of France, Raj Nivas (a government building), Botanical Garden (Aayi Mandapam), Notre Dame Church, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and the famous Promenade Hotel. We also visited the prominent Aurobindo Ashram, and out of all the lovely settings we saw, I absolutely loved this beautifully preserved place. I still treasure the feeling of sitting amidst the massive garden of flowers, each one emitting a positive vibe of its own. Flower Power! Recollecting the immense happiness I experienced after visiting the church on Day 4 and the ashram on this day, I am so thankful for those magical moments!

Note: ScoopWhoop wrote an amazing article with some spectacular photographs on Pondicherry. To witness the Indian East Coast feeling, do check out the article here.

Pondicherry Museum

Raj Nivas (Gov. Quarters)
Blueline Restaurant at The Promenade Hotel

Aurobindo Ashram (clicking pictures inside the ashram is forbidden)
Botanical Garden – Aayi Mandapam

Eglise de Notra Dame des Anges

(Google Images)
Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Google Images)

DAY 6:

Since we visited almost all the sights on Day 5, we were looking for things to do on the last day of our trip to Pondy. Browsing through the map that our host presented to us, we came across a tiny island on the east coast of the Union Territory further down south called ‘Paradise Beach Island.’ We jumped at the idea, as it was an island! It’s a forty-minute ride to the jetty and a twenty-minute boat ride to the island itself. As soon as we stepped foot on the boat deck, we stood dumbfounded at the sight that met our eyes. How did such a place even exist on the Indian Subcontinent? A clear blue sky above, a cerulean blue sea, crystal shinning sand and only ten people! Wow. Just one look at each other, and we ran swift into the sea, plunging with excitement. The only thing this small island lacked were the food shacks and cafés that were abundant on the mainland. If one decides to spend the whole day there, it’s inconvenient unless you carry a picnic basket (which sounds rather fun). We returned to our cosy room and stayed in until dusk.

A lot of people we interacted with on our journey so far suggested we walked along Mission Street for a rather local vibe and atmosphere, so we did. It was peak hour when we got there, which made us feel like taking a U-turn. We made an impromptu visit to a tattoo studio, only to check the rates. Yes, you guessed right. After a lot of convincing, pleading and thinking, we decided to get small tattoos! Primarily because we were marking our first trip together as part of our pact. It was such a spontaneous decision that I didn’t get the time to give thought to it, or design it myself. But the traveller in me wanted the typical bird tattoo. So, I got a tattoo of three tiny birds in full flight on my right-hand wrist. One may think that it’s clichéd, but I think tattoos are very personal and, therefore, a personal choice. However overdone a design may be, each person has a different interpretation and understanding of it, which makes it unique in its own way. My explanation behind this bird tattoo suggests the need to go places, a free spirit and wanting a consistent change or assortment of life; living without excessive restraints or obligations.

Paradise Beach

DAY 7:

Before dawn broke, we left for Chennai Airport to return to our respective homes. Looking back on our journey as friends, as a support system, and this beautiful trip to Pondicherry, I realised their worth. In life, we meet numerous people, all different from each other and only a few stay with you till the end; these are my few. I lived with them for five years, and of course we had our fair share of ups and downs. But, we’ve come a long way, and this relationship is meant to be. No matter where I am in the world, who I’m with, what I’m doing or how many more people I meet; I love and cherish my equation with them and always think of what they would think or do or say. These are my girls and I am proud of them.

YUP! Dedicated my first travel story to these four beautiful girls and our friendship! Here’s to many more LG trips and inside jokes.

Asian House Pub

Hope you all enjoyed reading my Pondicherry & Auroville travel story, and in its course figured out the person I am. I await your comments and opinions. Stay tuned for my next post!

#FRWTravelTips

  • Motorcycle Diaries is an expensive café. Incase you do consider going, flood your wallet!
  • Pondicherry has inefficient Uber services. I’d suggest you take a Rickshaw for long distance commute.
  • If you don’t enjoy walking on Promenade Beach, visit Le Café, munch on fries and take in the wind.
  • Blueline at The Promenade Hotel is a luxury, fine dining restaurant. It is perfect for a candle light dinner date!
  • For a more economical meal, eat at the New Farm Fresh Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant (close to the Museum).

Pondicherry & Auroville (Part 1)

My trip to Pondicherry and Auroville was part of a high school pact I made with four, very close friends of mine. After school was over, we agreed upon meeting once a year wherever in the world we were, in order to spend quality time together and catch up on life. Although one of us could not make it, 🙁 this trip is exceptionally close to my heart. It was a roller coaster ride right from the beginning, when we started planning it to bookings and eventually going! It was one filled with oodles of (inside) jokes, laughter, musings, the summer sun and cuddles leading to an indelible journey!

Before I get to telling you about our journey to Pondicherry, I want you to know that the five of us were called “The LG” (Try deciphering it) back in school. Well, we still call ourselves that! So stay tuned for more LG trips, they’re super fun. 🙂

 

PLANNING:

How long does a trip take to plan out until you can actually see yourself going? Two weeks? A month? Well, we took a long two months to decide! What’s interesting about contemplating where to go are the many options you see on India’s map. I usually just open Google Maps and navigate places depending on the budget and mood (although, most times I take a detour to Europe or New Zealand’s maps). They also have an option called ‘Explore’ on the far-right bottom of the page, which is quite interesting especially if you have no idea what exactly you’re looking for. Eventually, after all the research and disagreements, we narrowed down on Pondicherry because we wanted two things – a coast and a place none of us had been. Google Info: “Pondicherry (Puducherry) was a French colonial settlement in India. Its French legacy is preserved in its French Quarter, with tree-lined streets, mustard-coloured colonial villas and chic boutiques.” And what’s exciting is to see the amalgamation of Indian culture with that of the French. How inviting!

 

DAY 1:

It was a super early and super excited start to the morning, hustling to Mumbai’s airport and we almost made it in time. We took a flight from Mumbai to Chennai, and then drove from Chennai to Pondicherry. It’s a safe three-hour drive to Pondy along vast, captivating grasslands filled with yellow wildflowers and a clear blue sky above! It’s the perfect long summer drive with good music and great company. Hints of the sea-face now and then will make you want to get off and catch waves or tan a little.

We were staying at the Sea View Villa on Serenity Beach for the first couple nights. It’s the cutest little blue villa directly connected to the beach owned by a French man named Alex. He was kind enough to tell us a little about the place and a few tips, like renting bicycles for an easier and cheaper commute! The sea was as inviting as ever, so we jumped right in and spent all afternoon sun-bathing. Later that evening, as the sun set over the horizon, we walked around the daily market to rent cycles at the local shops. These cycles were absolute saviours as the distances to be covered were rather absurd, and they were a convenient means of transport whenever we wanted to step out. That night was, to say the least, beautiful! It was a full moon night, and one could hear the sea lashing out and see glittery lights of the city in the distance. What a start to the trip!

Our damn cool Cab Driver.

Chennai to Pondicherry – NH32
Serenity Beach

 

 

DAY 2:

The second day, we intended to start early so we could cycle all the way up to Auroville, an experimental township approximately 9 kilometers away (particularly ambitious, and rather unfortunate as you will see further on). Quite obviously we couldn’t actually make it all the way because it was too hot, the secluded roads looked unsafe, but predominantly because of how unfit we were to cycle such a long distance. Ultimately we cycled around town, on the beach and to almost all the coconut vendors we saw! It was the sweetest, most fresh coconut.

Sweet Coconut Water

What’s Up Café

DAY 3:

In view of the fact that we could not visit Auroville on day two, we spent the entire third day walking around the township. Here, the days are blindingly bright and hot while the nights tend to become humid. The tranquility and serenity of the afternoon will make you feel like taking a siesta on a hammock and oh that feeling! On their website: “The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity in diversity. It is also concerned with sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.”

This place was filled with positive vibes and a soothing feeling. Of course, your company does matter but I couldn’t stop imagining what it would feel like to travel solo to such a place, oh I wish! We met the most kind and thoughtful visitors. To be very honest with you, I didn’t research as much about Auroville and I absolutely regret it. It’s a shame to just spend one day here. However, we did visit Matrimandir which lies at the centre of the township also known as the Peace Area. One would imagine it to be a temple (mandir) and may avoid it judging it’s name however, it is designed to be a place oblivious to religion and faith. It is built purely for humanity to connect with its inner self. It’s not the typical tourist site, it’s a place for individual silence and peace. Inside it are 12 petal-chambers. From the centre of the meditation chamber runs a single beam of sunlight from the top to the bottom. The calm atmosphere is a way of life that must be experienced.

We missed visiting Savitri Bhavan but I’m aware that it needs to be explored if you’re in Auroville!

For more information – http://www.auroville.org/

Matrimandir (Peace Area), Auroville

Right Path Café, Auroville

This part of our trip was a rather relaxed and easy adventure. I hope you were able to gain a sense of the journey so far however, the best is yet to come! I hope you enjoyed reading this post and are eager to read Part 2 of this series as much as I am to share it with you all! 🙂

#FRWTravelTips

  • Unless you’re a person like me who prefers travelling during the off season period, I’d suggest you avoid the months of May and June while travelling to Pondy.
  • Make sure you rent bicycles for convinient transport only for ₹70/day.
  • Get the yummiest tuna sandwich (and more) at ‘What’s Up’ Café – Serenity Beach. It has a sea-view deck!
  • Best contemporary American Café – ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ serves delicious milkshakes and great breakfast.
  • Are you a Cat lover? Lunch at ‘Right Path Café’ at the Auroville Centre. It is the ideal place for you! Purr