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(Day 6 of our trip) We had to leave early in the morning by 6 AM to Manali. The agent had told that he would send a car by that time. My job to start the day was to wake these guys and pester them to get ready. I did my job promptly with all my friends cursing me for waking them so early on a cold morning @ Simla. It was 7 AM by the time the car came and we weren’t quite ready. We checked out the room in quite a hurry and dumped the luggage on the car’s carrier.

Enter RAJU from Patankot– our driver, from here on I(we) refer(referred) to him as “Annavru”. This amazing, tall, extremely tough looking, very soft spoken guy has left long lasting memories as a part of our trip. His Qualis was in a very good condition. Neatly decorated with saffron bands and shining wrappers. He said with pride that he loves his car more than his life!
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We left to Manali by 7:30. The views were astounding as we passed through beautiful hills. We had bread jam and a few apples packed and managed our breakfast with it. Anirudh was suffering from severe headache by then. Annavru took out his first aayudha – “Laun ka tel”. On applying a little of that oil on to his nose, the headache was gone and he was alright! We then discussed about that oil for a while and asked him if he could get that for us to take back home. Annavru said he’s get it but its made at a place which is a few miles from Manikaran and there is no time to go there.

Then came scene 2 with Annavru. He said Mangoes at Simla are very tasty and stopped at a place. After lot of discussion we decided to buy half kg of mango (about 6 so that we can eat one each). We were scared that eating mango would spoil our stomach. As the vendor refused to give out half a kg, we decided we’ll buy 1 kg and give half kg to annavru. We ate the mango (Annavru was right. It was very tasty) and when we were searching him to give him a few mangoes, we saw him purchasing 10 kg of them! He came to us with the crate and offered us a few!

We started from that place and proceeded further towards Manikaran. We passed beside a beautiful lake and after a while Annavru stopped at a car service station. He got down, locked us inside, took a water gun there and started washing the vehicle! No wonder he loves the car so much. After 15-20 minutes of washing we left the place. He seemed to know everyone on the route as everyone would wave at him. We then passed through the Beas dam. Here the photography is prohibited. But we stopped after some 2 km from the dam where we had a good view of it and took a few photos.

The journey had us drive right beside the Beas river all long the way with sharp cut mountain on the other side of the road. There is a beautiful falls enroute where we stopped to take a few snaps. Then the next stop was at a kali matha mandir on the banks of Beas. Then comes something which was amazing – We passed through a 3km long tunnel which takes us from one side of the mountain to other side. It is the longest tunnel in Asia. It is well lit from inside with huge fans supplying oxygen. When we are near the other end of the tunnel, we can hear the sound of the bells from the hanuman mandir located outside the tunnel.

First view of snow

First view of snow


We stopped at one Vinayaka hotel located on the banks of Beas. It was late in the afternoon and Annavru was feeling hungry. It wasn’t clean and we decided not to have anything there. We went to the river bank and enjoyed the rush of water for a while. Then we ate a few apples,biscuits and cool drinks that we had bought.
It was 2 when we reached Kullu. We saw the Parvati and Beas sangam (We passed a bridge which is located right above it) before stopping at a shawl factory. Kullu is famous for its shawls and sweaters. After a brisk shopping, we left to Manikaran. Here we left the trail of calm Beas and caught the trail of an angry and violently gushing river Parvati. On the way to manikaran, we caught the first view of snow capped mountains. We reached Manikaran by 4PM.
Gurudwara at Manikaran

Gurudwara at Manikaran


Super hot springs

Super hot springs


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Manikaran is located in the Parvati Valley between the rivers Vyaas and Parvati, northeast of Bhuntar in the Kullu District. It is at an altitude of 1760 m and is located about 45 km from Kullu. Manikaran is a sacred place for the Sikhs. It is known for its gurudwara located on the banks of river Parvathi and hot water springs. We tied handkerchief to our head as Sikhs do ( It’s a must to enter gurudwara) and crossed the bridge. The view of the violent river underneath the bridge was scary. We were welcomed by the hot water spring bathing area as soon as we entered the gurudwara. The walls and floor of the sacred building was very warm. At some places it is so hot that we couldn’t keep our feet more than a second. We passed a gufa to enter a place where the main spring is located. This spring is located just below a huge life size statue of shivji. The whole area smells sulphur and is a kind of suffocating. The boiling water is made use of to prepare rice which is given out as prasadam. There is a pond where we can place a bag of paddy grains and cook it to rice. We tried out this for a while and hurried back to the car as we were getting late.

It was 6:30 by the time we reached kullu and stopped at another shawl factory where we did some shopping. We stopped at a dhaba to have tea/coffee and started towards Manali. It was 8 by the time we reached manali. We were not sure of getting the rooms that were booked in SBI holiday home. The owner of Apple view resort said its not possible to reach the place in pitch dark. So our Annavru took us to one vegetarian hotel named Hotel Natraj. It turned out that the owner is a kannadiga hailing from Bangalore. He offered to prepare dinner in half an hour time. It was a very decent hotel with neat dining area and maintained rooms. The owner persuaded us to stay in their place and even offered us to rent out the rooms at discounted rates. But we decided to take a chance at SBI and called up the SBI holiday home. The guy at the other end seemed to be very friendly and promised us to arrange the rooms. We promised the owner to come back if the rooms aren’t available at Holiday home.

We left to the Holiday home. After enquiring we were happy to know that rooms were available. Annavru promised to be back the next morning by 9:30 AM and left. We dumped our luggage in the room and got down to check if anything is available for dinner. We had 2 rounds of tasty tomato soup, rice dal and curd rice. Got back to our rooms and retired for the day.

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It was early in the morning we left to Kufri. It is located 13 km from the state capital Shimla on the National Highway No.22. The highest point in the surrounding region Kufri has a Himalyan Wild Life Zoo which hosts rare Antelopes, Birds and rare feline species.

 We stopped for breakfast at Hotel Dawat, A roadside small and neat food centre which provides you a beautiful view of the landscape (It was where my friend Mr.A, who was sick with fever, shed his sickness in matter of seconds). We reached the base of kufri where we had to hire mule to reach the top(Rs 250 for a 2 way ride). It is an amazing 45 min journey on the mule which passes through dirt and stone filled track. At some places the slope is as much as vertical, for then you will know what horse power is! The kufri top was very foggy with clouds and fog occasionally giving way to the landscape view which stretch to infinity below the hill. There will be many people with telescopes offering you to show China border form that place amongst a few other places. We did not believe them anyways. This is the place at which we first saw The Himalayan Yaks. Both black and white with puffy hair, they will bbe with their masters who charge you Rs.10 for a photo with them. They’ll even have cowboy costume if you want to use.

       Then we went for go-karting. The kufri track is the world’s highest go-karting track. It was a nice experience to race in that chilling cold! We had hot hot maggi for lunch in a shop within the Race park. We then spent some time shopping there as my friend was trying to find a keychain with ‘A’ inscribed on it!


     We then came back to the place where mules will be parked. On giving a call to the guy to whom we had paid, he came and picked us. Unfortunately (or fortunately – for a change ) it started to rain heavily.  The terrain is so skidding and slippery with all the dirt and stones and water, the mules will push their way through the steep slopes breaking so hard that can send a shock down your spine with every step!.

        Finally on reaching the bottom of the hill with half broken back and dirt all over our rain coats, we got into our car, changed clothes and went to the nearby helipad. The helipad is a flat concreted land on top of the hill. We got down with our umbrellas and took a walk around the place in shivering cold.

       We then went to a place called Naldheera. It is a beautiful 18 hole golf course at the hilltop with forest cover all around. We roamed around the place taking photos. Due to shortage of time, we dropped the idea to trek down the hill on the other side where we can reach the Yamuna river( its a 4hour trek altogether). We then asked our driver to drop us at the mall road and we would walk back to our lodge.

       We reached mall road just before sunset and its a nice place to see the sun going down amidst the numerous buildings of the mountain city. The mall road is a 2Km stretch starting from the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan soudha. We roamed in the road almost twice along its stretch. (It is similar to our Brigade road @ Bengaluru but with lot more beautiful girls(tourists or localities?!!)). Shopping at tha Mall road is quite expensive, but in the midway, another road breaks out downward where you can bargain and shop provided you know some localities(It is like National market here). We then found one Dhaba in that road named Sher-e-punjab where we had a cheap but otherwise superb dinner! I’d suggest any vegetarian to visit that place for dinner.

       Then started our One night @ ATM! We decided to draw some money at the ATM as we had to leave to manali early next morning. My friend inserted his card in the Axis bank ATM and just before dispensing the cash, the system hung!!! The ATM gobbled up his card and did not spit it out. The security guard restarted the machine but it refused to give out the card. We were not even sure if the money was intact in his account or not!( for we could no more trust their database commit and rollback algos and its atomicity) We called up customer care @ Mumbai and they said they’d block the card on providing proper card info. All the card info was in his house at Bangalore. Since he needed his card for the rest of trip, they gave another option that to came back the next day by 10 o clock to get the ATM machine opened. This was out of what we could afford as we had fixed our journey to Manali the next morning by 5AM.

      We departed at 12AM with 3 of them staying at the ATM as we had to make final payments to the local travel dealer who was waiting at the lodge. Since I was familiar with the route(I had gone for a walk the previous day), i told the other two to come slowly and i’d go ahead as the agent was waiting. Unfortunately they did not understand what i said. It was pitch dark and a real narrow downhill route with multiple other routs. On not finding me they thought i had gone missing and started a massive search! For their bad luck my cell was not properly reachable. The strange sounds accompanied with the darkness and street dogs got their heart pump out of their esophagus until they found me happily talking to the agent on the road near our lodge. Finally the guy over there got the card blocked with his dad coordinating from Bangalore. They returned to lodge at 1AM! Day Done!

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     (Day 4 of our trip)The Shivalik express was waiting for the arrival of H-D-K mail as the shivalik gets most of its passengers from it. The shivalik express (leaves at 5:30 AM every day) is a small luxury train with just 7 bogies. It has got cushoined seats with a breakfast tables in between.

       The 96km journey takes about a little more than 5 hours as the train moves slowly on its narrow guage tracks. The journey is worth every penny since the package includes breakfast, wonderful mountain views, hundreds of tunnels and the train passes over numerous bridges. When passing through a few long tunnels we switched off the lights inside our bogie and felt the chill of complete darkness. The train crew are very friendly and provide you an extra sandwich or samosa if they have!

 

 

     The Shivalik express( I do not know why it is called an express as its max speed is somewhere around 30kmph!) stops midway at Barogh for 15 minutes where we got down and took photos of the train amidst the beautiful terrain. We reached Simla at 11:30.

     The taxiwalas outside the railway station tortured us to get into their taxi as the place we had our rooms reserved was quite far(3 kms, SBI holiday home). In simla, the distance doesn’t matter. They charge Rs.100-150 per drop. Unfortunately, due to some misunderstanding only one cottage was booked in the holiday home instead of two!. They could not adjust another cottage and we were forced to search for another lodging to stay. We finally settled in a nearby lodge named Firhill( 600/room, pretty decent). It was past 2PM by the time we put all our luggage into rooms and get out for lunch.

     We had talked to a local travel agent and had arranged for our sight-seeing for 2 days and drop till manali. The car was waiting by then and we went to the famous “Mall road”. There is a twi tier lift system to reach the mall road from the main road below. We got in to it(Rs.7/person) and reached mall road in search of a vegetarian restaurant. We finally settled in Nalini resturant which made us wait for another hour before giving us some chowmein and plain sandwich. It started drizzling soon we came out of the hotel so we had to cancel rest of mall-road-beat and return to the hotel.

     Then by 5 o clock we went to Sankat mochan hanuman mandir. It was a beautiful place accompanied with a wonderful fog covered-dull-drizzling weather. The place is inhibited by tens of langoors( a kind of monkey) which threaten to snatch anything from visitors which looks like food. Then we visited Vishnav devi gufa which lies nearby, uphill. It is similar to the famous vishnav devi temple with a long cave leading to the temple of devi trio.

     We returned to the hotel by 7. We decided not to go out for dinner as two of my friends fell sick with fever. We had a limited stock of bread and biscuits and the hotel attendant got us mineral water. At 8, Me and my friend decided to take a walk and find some bakery to buy some eatery. One thing we then found out was, it should be a walk in the late night that can show you the real beauty of Simla. A walk on the beautiful, decorated, neat, well maintained road which is protected by the police and Army surrounded with lush green provides you a chill in the spine with cold wind. The million lights of the city fades the barrier between the sky and the land. You can see hundreds of tourists walking across mall road even at 11PM in the night. The place is very safe. We passed via Himachal pradesh vidhan soudha, CBI HQ, Army base, officers colony, bought some stuff at the bakery in the mall road and came back to the hotel(around 10 km walk!) at 11PM.

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Gateway to the Taj

Gateway to the Taj

 

    (Day 3 of our trip) The hotel we stayed was half a kilometer form the Taj (Oberoy Amarvilas offers you a magnificient view of the Taj), so we decided to jog our way. Taj, The wonder, opens to public at 6:30 AM everyday. Entry fee Rs.20/- for nationalities and Rs.750/- for non citizens. You see more non citizens than Indians at any point of time; May be because of its wonder of the world status. Even after entering in to its compound after a security check, the Taj still stays hidden from view until you pass another layer of the fort, and through its door you get to catch a full glimpse of the magnificent structure built by Shajahan. Form then on, Your cameras get busy all by your intuition. No wonder its the most photographed monument on this planet. Even though you are free to take as many photographs of the structure form outside, its a strict No-No inside. The art on its marble walls are amazing. You also can get a view of the famous Agra fort situated across the Yamuna River. It is sad to see the Taj losing its color due to pollution.

The immortal symbol of Love

The immortal symbol of Love

      The Taj keeps you so captured that you will not realise the time passing until its 10 AM and you feel hungry. We got back to our hotel, got ready and after breakfast, we went to another famous structure – The Agra Palace.

 

Agra fort

Agra fort

     Unfortunately, it started to rain by the time we reached there. We toured the fort completely drenched. With its ultra strong walls the fort still looks new from its entrance. The fort is huge, with red walls and completely marble inside. It has the mughal king’s addressing stage, a jail, a palace, water storage area and many small gardens. A part of the fort is closed for maintenance and entry is restricted. The fort is similar to the one projected in the movie Jodha Akbar. You get a magnificient view of the Taj from this fort. This is where Shajahan spent the rest of his life watchin the Taj mahal after his arrest.

 

Taj from Agra fort

Taj from Agra fort

Through Shajahan's eyes

Through Shajahan's eyes

     It was 4 PM by the time we left the fort. It was raining cats and dogs and we were cought up in the flood for hours in the middle of road. As water had rushed into exhaust pipes, many automobile engines refused to start there by adding to the jam. After getting out of it, we had to rush to delhi at full speed thanks to our driver Balbir Singh. We had our dinner at friend’s place and reached Railway station by 9:30, just in time to catch Howrah-Delhi-kalka mail. To our badluck, the train was delayed by 2 hours!. The old delhi railway station is unhygenic and full of rats.

                        The H-D-K mail finally arrived at 11:30PM. He managed to cover the distance by over speeding the train and we reached Kalka half an hour late of schedule.

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    (Day two of our trip)It was early in the morning when we reached Delhi. One of my friend’s relative had arranged a taxi. We reached another friend’s house where we got ready and had our breakfast. I remember seeing an interesting quote on the bathroom door there which said “How long is 1 minute?, The answer depends on which side of the door you are! “.

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 Then started our journey to vrindavan, where on our way had lunch at a dhaba(Gulshan Dhaba, if i remember the name correctly). The very sight at vrindavan shocks you. you cant believe you are in a place of such historic importance, The city is very densely packed with roads narrowing down to gullys with stincking drainages on either sides. You will be left clueless untill you find yourself surrounded with 10 guides threatening you to hire them.

 On hiring one, you will be taken to the main Radha Krishna temple. En route, beside Yamuna river you find a tree(supposedly 1000’s of years old) where Krishna stole the dresses of his maids.

 

ISKON temple at Vrindavan

ISKON temple at Vrindavan

 

 “Caution”: In the Radha krishna temple, you will be offered various plans like student plan( 250/-), name plate plan (2265/-) and so on.. You will be threatened that if you fail to subscribe to one of these bad luck follows your family! Do not fall prey to this unless you have heart to donate. There is an ISKON temple nearby which is very beautiful and worth a visit too.

        Continuing, we reached Mathura by 4 PM. Mathura, the birth place of lord Krishna is a very sacred place and a sensitive one too. It is located approximately 50 km north of Agra, and 150 km south of Delhi; about twenty kilometers from holy Vrindavan. The security is very tight and you will not be allowed to carry any bag, phone or camera. After being frisked twice, sometimes thrice, you enter the temple premise guarded by hundreds of army men with machine guns. The birth place of the lord is a small jail cave with a divine environment. There is a huge marble temple built above that. 

  We left Mathura by 6PM and on reaching Agra, we had dinner and checked into the hotel which we had previously booked.

 

 

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     (Day 0 and Day 1 of outr trip) Since it was night on the day of departure, I call it day 0(May be i’m used to indexing!). Rajdahni express was not as we had anticipated. Apart from centralized A/C, it is just as any local train except that you get a pillow, blanket,rug and a bed spread to sleep.
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     The dinner served consists of a soup(if you can call it a soup) with a biscuit(starter), 2 rotis, 2 kinds of curry(1 paneer and 1 dal), rice plate sweetened curd(I wonder y they add sugar to curd) and before i forget, a bottle of RAIL NEER!. You are forced to eat the same dinner 3 times during the journey.
6 friends out of college, how can people in the train expect us to sleep at 9?!! that too on day 0 of our fascinating journey?! amidst complaints we managed to make a lot of noise with our rib tickling anecdotes.

Bangalore - Delhi Rajdhani Expresss

Bangalore - Delhi Rajdhani Expresss

     Early Morning and Coffee time! It was 6:30 in the morning when we were woken up by the rail servicemen. with just 3 hours of sleep(for us, 6:30 is night even during exams!), we got ready to prepare our coffee – you get a cup, milk powder, hot water jar and 2 biscuits- do it yourself! then follows breakfast at 8, lunch at 1(same menu), do it yourself coffee at 4 and dinner at 8(again). You can have a good time if you love to stand by the door of the speeding train and watch vindhyas pass by…

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