Incredible India, India Travel, IndiaTravel, Rajasthan, Tourism, Travel

The Desert Lands of Bikaner

The depression has been killing me for the long time. It was more of a battle that I was fighting within myself, the heart brain conflict you can say, but more or less it was a conquest of evil over good and I was going through a lot of pain. Well for pain, it accumulates to my alcohol addiction, which I know is bad but gives me relief for the time being, and work schedule. The new job and the designation aspires me to do more but not getting much time for myself to explore and do more creative work is exactly very frustrating. It looks good in the starting phase but not for very long. I needed a break and that was all running at the back of my mind even when I was presenting some marketing pitch ideas. And I got one.

This time the focus was solely on discovering a city which I visited as a child and not since then, ever, until this time. Most of the time what happens is that I run after the mountains, the clouds, the greenery and the complete serenity but this time it was the barrenness if the desert that was calling me and hence I embarked on my journey to Bikaner in the state of Rajasthan, India. The city has a royal heritage and it is said that this is the very city which is the entry point of the Thar Desert. India as a country has diverse climate and regions and only one desert i.e. the Thar Desert.  I stay in New Delhi, because of the job that I do and the journey took some 7 hours by train to reach the Bikaner railway station. The journey was comfortable. Indian railways are impressive to many extents, the people and the landscape to everything. I interacted with some of the people who travel by that very train and sharing a cigarette with someone whom I never knew and I will never see, on a running train, was simply awesome.

Bikaner is one of the princely cities of Rajasthan. The city has its royal heritage dating back to the 1450s. It is said that Rao Bikaji is the founder of this city. Rao Bikaji was one of the five sons of Rao Jodhaji, who infact is the founder of the city of Jodhpur. When Bikaji arrived far and east leaving his father’s kingdom over a heated argument, he arrived in Bikaner and established the city and made it his kingdom. He built the ornate forts and other castles of the city, built primarily of red sandstone that withstood the passage of time. Today, the Indian government and the trustees of the forts spent lump sum amounts in their maintenance and also aid comes from the Indian government and the government of Rajasthan.

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Rampuria Haveli

#JunagarhFort

This fort holds the prestige of never been conquered and not even during the British rule. The fort was built by Raja Rai Singh during 1540s and has since then played a prominent part to contribute to the history of India. Bikaner as a princely state was always held of high grandeur until it got merged with the Indian union of states and territories post-independence during 1947 to 1948. The royal family of Bikaner used to live in this fort and rule the entire north western region of Rajasthan. The construction of the fort is believed to be so royal that in those times that marbles were specially imported from Rome to lay the foundation of the floors. Special Mughal craftsmen and architects were called to design the monuments and arches. This fort is stupendous in many extents and forget not, this fort has one of the two fighter planes that was used during World War I. The British gifted this to the then ruler of Bikaner for his loyal services. The rulers of Bikaner were believed to be loyal devotees of Karni Mata. Today it is commonly called the rat temple and lies some 45kms south of the city. Due to lack of time and unpleasant heat during day time, I could not manage to visit the temple but remains in my bucket list.

#RoyalCenotaphs

These are the places where the kings and queens were cremated. The royal cenotaphs are located some 8kms west of the city on the highway connecting Bikaner to the state capital Jaipur. The road to this place is extremely barren and arid landscape plus hot sands are a disaster, but worth relishing every now and then. Don’t forget to carry your polarized shades and plenty of drinking water if you want to visit these cenotaphs. Well history says that, it is simply a burial ground. But the architecture and the blend of Mughal and Persian plus Rajput arts make this place worth a visit. The cenotaphs are a shinigexample of Rajasthani arts and culture. It is also known as Devi Kund Sagar, which a lake that’s almost dried up. The cremation/burial ground is just adjacent to this lake. The floral patterns are seen throughout the place and during summer months, when you might be resting under one of the cenotaphs, sighting a peacock resting by your side is a common scenario. I missed the peacock though.

#KoteGate Market Place

Due to shortage of time and struggling finances, I had to call off the trip. Two important palaces I had to leave, primarily because those were closed on those two days and secondly I struggled with my expenditure. The market place around Kote Gate is highly vibrant and the most thriving one in Bikaner. It is believed to be one of the oldest market place of the city. From shops serving snacks and sweets to jewelry and clothing and garments, everything is available in those lanes surrounding the gate. This place is highly popular for the history buffs since the lanes are centuries old and the pillars of the old lanes have seen it all. Also for shopaholics, this, this, this is the place where you can spend heavily from buying some local food to souvenirs.

#BandasharTemple

This is the most prominent Jain temple of the city and dates back centuries. It is believed that this temple has its existence prior to the formation of the present city. As I stated before that when the king fled the kingdom of Jodhpur to establish his own city in the far North West, he took shelter in this very temple as he and his army was thirsty and already many of his men died of hunger. It is believed that once a priest met a rich businessman of those times and he was told to keep a valuable object that the priest owned. But somehow the businessman lost it and when the priest demanded its return he was unable to give it to him and the priest said that to avenge the disappointment a temple must be built. Hence the merchant started construction of this temple. The entire depiction of arts, culture, sins and righteousness in Hinduism and Jainism is depicted in the walls of the temple. It is one place which just cannot be missed, especially those who love arts and wall paintings.

That’s much of it. This trip was mostly of a self-time-needed break for me. I wish I could have more time and sincerely wish that I could have spent less on buying good whiskey and rum. Being frugal is good but for unplanned trips when come to a sudden halt due to shortage of money, the reckoning comes that, what if had I been thrifty?

Bikaner is a place which can be covered in 3 to 4 days if the trip be taken on a luxurious scale. Else 2 days is maximum to cover the length and breadth of the city. It is a small city well connected by railways and roads to the rest of the country and is a military base for both the army and the air force. So, sighting army convoys and jeeps is a common sight. Yet, nothing to worry about, everything is okay for tourists. So do let me know if anyone is planning a trip to this city anytime soon, would be super happy to accompany you.

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Incredible India, India Travel, IndiaTravel, Tourism, Tours&Travel, Travel

A Roadtrip Through the Heart of India

Madhya Pradesh, which is made up with two, words i.e. ‘Madhya’ which means Central and ‘Pradesh’ which means state. So Madhya Pradesh is located in the central part of India or you can say in the heart of India. Whenever the TV commercial for Madhya Pradesh Tourism used to get aired which said “Hindustan ka Dil dekho” which means in Hindi “See the heart of India”, made me curious to see and learn about this state.

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India map displaying Madhya Pradesh which is the central part of the country. Image Credit : http://www.sehore.nic.in

I decided to go on a road trip through the heart of India. The route undertaken was Mumbai – Sanchi – Khajuraho – Orchha – Indore – Mumbai. A total trip of 2600 Kms in 6 Days. I left my home at early morning 6:00 AM so I can avoid traffic and can reach the highway by sunrise. One thing, which I prefer not to miss during my road trips are the sunrise. It’s always so mesmerizing to see the sun rise through the cloud and slowly the orange ball turns up int a huge ball as the clock ticks the right time, around 6-30AM in the morning.

My first stop was Bhopal, which was 772km away from Mumbai. It was a 17 hours’ drive from Mumbai. As it was 8:30 in the night when I reached Bhopal, I stayed in a small ‘dhaba’ or a motel. The stay along with the meal was charged just Rs.280. Sleeping under a sky on a highway with your luggage tied up on your motorcycle is totally a different feeling. As the morning sunrise hit me, I woke up to a fresh feeling and moved towards my next destination Khajuraho that was 332 kms away, but on the way i need to visit Sanchi Stupa also.

Sanchi Stupa situated near to Bhopal is just a 40 Kms drive. Sanchi is a Buddhist Complex, famous for its Great Stupas. The Great Stupa at Sanchi is one of the Oldest Stone structure in India and was originally commissioned by the great ruler King Asoka in 3rd Century BC. The original Construction of the stupa was overseen by Asoka. The Stupa has mostly Brahmi Inscription on it and mostly all of them talk about donations in small or big term. They all are of a great historical significance. It is to be remembered that it was King Asoka who solely is responsible for the spread of Buddhism from India to South East Asia.

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Sanchi Stupa. Image credits : sanchi.org

After visiting Sanchi i went ahead towards my next destination Khajuraho. The distance of Khajuraho from Sanchi was approx. 350 Kms which I thought to get covered in 6-7 Hours. I reached the destination in the estimated time. I reached Khajuraho and decided to stay in a Hostel in Khajuraho. They charged me Rs.350 for a night, which was an air-conditioned dormitory. Someone truly said, “While you are on a journey, you will meet few people who will be a part of your travel story.” I meet three people from South Africa, Taiwan and China and we connected instantly. Therefore, we decided to watch the light and sound show which was an amazing experience followed by dinner in a nice restaurant.

The perception what people still have for India is still old and highly preconceived. They believe that in India they have Parda system still prevailing. They still believe that whenever we hear a song we start dancing on the street and many other things. As we talked and talked, I cleared their doubts with a few places to visit for their future trip to India. The next day i visited the temples, which I wanted to, visited from a long time ago. I was mesmerized by the architectural marvel of the temples. I think that I have never seen such magnificent and graceful temples ever. The architecture of the temples had Nagra style architectural symbolism. The main features of the temples are the erotic sculptures, which are on the walls of the temples. History states that at one point of time, the population was not increasing and the ruler felt that the dynasty and his kingdom can never flourish if such continued and hence decided to inscribe eroticism on the walls of the temples. Kamasutra theory and it is a world known fact that it originated from India.

 

Most of the temples in Khajuraho were built between 950 and 1050 BC. by the Chandela Dynasty. There were historical notes, which said that there were 85 temples by the 12th Century spread across 20 square kilometers, but now only 25 temples have survived. The Khajuraho group of temples were built together but were dedicated to two religion Hinduism and Jainism. The Khajuraho Temples represent one expression of many forms of art and are dedicated to Vishnu, which includes Vyalas, which are hybrid imaginary animals with Lion’s Body. Some 10% of these iconic sculptures and carvings are sexually themed and shows various sex positions. A common misconception is that the old carvings and structures depict sex between deities, However, the kama arts represents the diverse expression of different human beings. The vast majority of arts depict various aspects of everyday life.

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After visiting and seeing Khajuraho I moved to my next destination, Orchha, which is 178 kilometers from Khajuraho. It’s Orchha where Lord Ram is still worshipped as a king and not as lord. The journey from Khajuraho to Orchha was a 4 hours’ drive. With no expectations in mind, I rode towards Orchha. I managed to find a guest room which charged me Rs.250 for a day.

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Age old cenotaphs of Orchha. In view is the Betwa river.

Orchha is a historic town situated on the banks of the river Betwa. Bundel Rajput Chief Rudra Pratap Singh established it in 16th Century. The main attractions to see in Orchha are Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Ram Raja Mandir, Royal Chattirya and Chattarbhuj Mandir. The Mahals in the Main Orchha Fort has influences from Bundel style and Mughal style of architecture. As the great Mughal emperor Jahangir was close to Raja Rudra Pratap he built an entire palace for the stay of Jahangir as he was coming to Orchha for a visit. The ancient town of Orchha seems frozen in time, with its many monuments continuing to retain their original grandeur even to this day.

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Jahangir Mahal of the great Orchha Fort

After Orchha it was time to return back to home so I decided to break the journey into two parts. First part Orchha – Indore and second Indore – Mumbai. As both the distance were almost equal. It took me 10 hours to reach to Indore from Orchha. Also while coming back, I crossed the Tropic of Cancer which was for me the best moment in this road trip. I reached Indore by 5:30 PM so in the evening I decided to go to the famous Sarafa Bazaar, which is famous for its street food. I was more excited for Sarafa Bazaar because it was covered in many food shows. After reaching Sarafa bazaar my mind was blown seeing the different varieties of unique street food. The taste of every item was unique and it was something, which I had never tried out before. It has a mix of all the flavors.

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My companion and passion, Abira.

Now it was time to return home. Exhausted, drained yet replenished with a lot of experiences and meeting some amazing people on the entire course of the journey, it was a trip worth remembering. Traveling has always opened my eyes and mindset to brand new levels and it will continue to do so. It doesn’t matter where you go but what matters is how easily one can get used to the feeling that it is time to get lost and there’s no chain that can hold yourself back. Traveled through the heart of India and truly it’s incredible India.

Hike, Himalayas, IndiaTravel, Trek

High Up in Nag Tibba

Have you ever wondered what it feels like hiking up the mountains in monsoon? Heavy downpours and the lush greenery all around welcome you to a land of dreams and serenity. The risk factor always remains though about crashing rocks and landslides considering the mountain to be the Himalayan range, I took the risk. Management course taught me “the higher the risk, the greater the return”. Hence accepted what’s in destiny and started hiking up the Garhwal mountains to reach the summit of Nag Tibba, 3022 meters above sea level.

Trek started from the village of Pantwari which is around 40 kms from Mussoorie and it is close to the capital city of Uttarakhand i.e. Dehradun. Dehradun can be reached by train as well as buses from Delhi and it takes hardly 4 to 5 hours. Considering traveling by air, it is a 1 hr flight journey from Delhi to Dehradun. I reached Mussoorie early in the morning around 7AM. Public transport to Pantwari is not so smooth. There are only two buses plying in the road, one leaves early in the morning and the other in evening. So had to hire a taxi and it cost me 3000 bucks. The cabbie agreed for a to and fro journey and dropped me in Pantwari at 9-30AM.

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Pantwari is a small village by the Yamuna river and has a good market place to get some snacks and foods. You will find amazing parantha here. So I had some and packed a few for the journey ahead of me. In the initial phase the slope is very steep and gradually comes to a flat road and the road takes you up. Walking by the trail, encountered a lot of village folks who asked me about my purpose there and some merely gazed. I interacted with shepherds as well as herdsmen who guided me well and cautioned me about heavy rainfall on the upper side. Pantwari welcomed me with high sunshine though.

The mountains are so tranquil here. Sat on a rock and observed the farmers working on their step farming, some busy with their bullocks and I lit my cigarette. The steep is very general and this trek is considered one of moderate difficulty. The village road was a bit murky giving me the impression of rain that fell sometime back. Finding the road to the tip was not very difficult because of forest department authorities painted some rocks with directional arrows. Still there are certain hairpin turns which indeed were very much confusing. Thanks that the GPS system was working and found out my path in satellite mode.

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As I scaled up there were 3 to 4 huts and it was noon. The shepherd welcomed me with water and sweets. Their behavior and manners touched my heart. Full family was excited that a traveler has stepped in their hut. Having some sooji ka halwa started climbing up until I reached a water tank where water was collecting for irrigation purposes and was safe for drinking. So reaching from the shepherd’s hut to this place is a mere 3km trek and it took almost more than 2 hours because of extremely muddy and narrow trail. At some points horses prevented me from going and sometimes monkeys and buffaloes. Beware of the monkeys because they are a real nuisance there. This water tank is one prime indication that you’re right on your track.

There I met a local herdsman chief Mr.Gaur aka Gaur Ji. It was past 3PM and he warned me not to climb up and I firmly believe that no one knows the mountains the way they do. He warned me of heavy cloud bursts and some falling rocks which is very common in the remaining 2kms. Don’t know from where another person came and he warned me too and he was the forest ranger. So I had to climb down.

The overall experience of the trek was amazing. Sitting in the middle of maize field and having the cup of tea offered by the local shepherd and slowly watching the sun set was another amazing experience. The local people in these regions treat travelers as God. They believe that it is because of hikers that they get additional income. The lsuh green mountains and such heart touching etiquette from these people truly made my trip one memorable thing. You will come across some marijuana plantation in this region but dare not those plants, if you do then prepare yourself to face the fury of the locals. They sell the marijuana to customers from Delhi and Dehradun. On the whole the trip was very much exciting as I was traveling solo. It was just me, the mountains and them.

Overall expenditure for the trip was around Rs.6500/- including transport and stay.

IndiaTravel, Tourism, Travel

Manali – The Snow Draped Town

Have you ever witnessed the time when the world stops around you to a standstill, the people walking around you without any hurry or urgency of the moment, and you yourself feel pretty much useless because there is nothing much to do? Have you ever seen how your coloured photographs automatically turn black and white? Its not any camera glitch but praise Mother Nature for her exuberant beauty that makes the photos so.

#BackpackingManali

If you are ready for all these feelings, then Manali welcomes you in January end or better in February. Manali is a small town in the northern Himachal Pradesh nested in the PirPanjal range of the mighty Himalayas but drives large number of tourist from all across the nation, even foreigners, mainly from Israel and Germany. Manali is the gateway to Ladakh, Leh, Spiti Valley and other hidden treasures of the Himalayas. Hence throughout the year there is a constant rush of tourists and tourism industry is the main occupation of the local population. But in February, where is the rush of tourists? Particularly in this moth snowfall is intense, with snow upto 4ft to 5ft in certain places and the roads going out of Manali into the interior of Himachal or Jammu and Kashmir is pretty much blocked due to heavy snowfall. So Manali and the adjoining Old Manali, these two are the final destination if heading north.The Himachal Govt. does a good job in time to time clearing of the snow covered roads in Manali and its surroundings. Else life would have been come to a complete standstill.

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#TravelSolo #TrueHimalayas

I visited Manali last weekend. It was my quest to experience the thrill of life in heavy snows, which I never experienced before. It seemed that the snow-capped mountains and the spine chilling cold winds have cast a deadly shadow over the town. People were in no hurry of doing things, their main intention seemed keeping themselves warm. So fires were lit at various places across the Mall Road, which is the main market place. Some were busy with shovels picking up large chunks of ice and clearing pathways. When asked they said they have nothing to do, so doing these they keep themselves occupied. The food is stocked inside their homes, due to snowfall there is no cable TV connection, mobile networks are not working most of the time and they threw me back the same question, “tell me, what can we do?” and I was pretty much singing the same tune as theirs. As I tried some hand in shovelling the snow it felt good as it kept me warm for long. Finding the hotel was not that difficult, unlike the peak seasons. Most of the hotels were run at massive discount on their room rates.

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#TrekBegins #Waterfall #Ruads

When asked which the local places to explore are, Jogini Falls seemed the answer in every mouth and Solang Valley. So I started trekking up the Jogini Falls despite warning from the villagers that I might fail to find the real route to the falls due to heavy snow which eventually in massive turn of events happened. It was some 1 km more or so when I lost my route. I had to stare high up to see the Jogini pouring down gushes of water through the “ruads”. “Ruads” are the narrow caves which the shepherds use for night stay when their cattle graze high up in the mountains during the spring. Poor me, could not make out to the ruads and the mighty Jogini. The place around the waterfall is worshipped by the local people. They believe that is the place where Jogini Mata, the local goddess resides and showers her blessings to the shepherds. But the entire thrill of finding the road alone and that too in thick snow was amazing. All I had to do was following the trail of the rapid alongside me. But it was amazing, a bit of a challenge but more of fun. It was complete silence high up in the mountains. All that I could hear was the eagles and some birds chirping. Serenity indeed.

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#SnowDestination #SnowValley

Solang Valley is more of a commercial place. The valley turns to a skiing ground in winter. Its in February when the winter skiing festival is held in Solang grounds and people from various countries flock to this place for winter sport activities. There was paragliding, ski, hot air balloons and lots to give the thrill. However the best thing I discovered was not in Solang valley but 2kms down west of the main parking lot. I am more of a wanderer. I came across a complete frozen mountain rapid. Thick snow covered its surface and it was only me on that spot. I could hear the water flowing swiftly beneath the snow and the big boulders. It was late afternoon and the entire landscape was amazing and changing its colours. The first ray of sunlight struck around 3-50PM and the ray was silvery. I have never seen sunrays, so brilliant. Hence February is the time to experience all these. Its shimmering cold, frost bite on my toe, yet the thrill to wander around could not stop me. I could not make out to the local villages by the frozen river, thanks to the bite which ultimately made my left foot some blacking blue.

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As it is said “No Pain, No Gain”. I got injured, suffered bruises, feet got badly hurt, but the experience I gained from the wilderness was amazing. If you venture out to the unknown, you must know first where you really belong. Then you can start venturing out. It made me come to the conclusion that mountains are my thing, those stone blocks towering high up in the sky, I love to take the path less travelled to those towering peaks. There I belong. The mountains and the thrill they give me rejuvenates me and enriches my life from within. I get my frission from those mountains. It seems sometimes I hear the words they try to speak, yet remains unspoken. Keeping all the philosophies aside, if you want to feel the true nature of the mountains you must visit these places when these are less visited. Manali was another eye opener for me.