Shailza - A crazy little bird who you'll find flying around in some unknown sky. Here's the treasure of my beautiful experiences for you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rejuvinate Yourself at Aamari Resort Ramgarh

I get invites from many big and small properties but I hardly get time to visit and review them all. This time around when I got the invite from Aamari resorts, a luxury resort in Nainital, something clicked. May be it was the perfect weather for an outing or it's location - the quaint Kumaon hills or it was meant to be like this. The property looked inviting in pictures on the net. So without any second thought, I instantly finalized the plan and headed towards it the very next day.

Started early morning from Indirapuram. Around a kilometer before Gajraula when I was looking for a place to have breakfast, an interesting sign board attracted my attention - "Enroute - The Dhaba". The place looked interesting, so thought of checking it out. A very good decision it was to stop there. The ambiance, the cleanliness, the staff all looked perfect. And the food was just amazingly delicious. (review in another post). Such a good start it was to the trip. 

It was an enjoyable 8 hrs journey through the villages, green fields and small market places. I took a detour from the highway through Suar and Kaladungi to make the drive more interesting. The road condition also is better on this route than the highway. Via Kathgodam, Nainital and Bhowali, driving on the picturesque road through pines I reached Ramgarh.

The scent of pines and the lovely view of the valley and the snow covered peaks welcomed me to my lovely abode - The Amaari Resort. 

Picture by Vinod Verma

The smiling staff showed me around and took me to my room. It's a huge property with 22 rooms and 3 villas located on a hill, Mine was a well designed room with huge glass window overlooking the valley. A hot shower after a somewhat tiring journey refreshed me to the core. A small walk in the woods there after made me forget all the worries and hurries of the busy city life and I was fully in the holiday mood.

The next day was spent exploring the surroundings. There's a lot that can be done in the area. Go to Mukteshwar temple located on a top of the hill, do bird watching at Maheshkhan, visit Sitla for a panoramic view of the gorgeous snow covered Himalayan ranges or just relax at the resort. I went to explore the nearby village Nathuakhan. Had fun time interacting with locals and having local sweets and snacks. After a tiring day, my evening was spent relaxing at the resort and enjoying the play of colors on the sky that created dramatic patterns along with clouds.

Picture by Vinod Verma


The location:
A cozy corner in my room
The place had a welcoming aura to it.  It is placed beautifully on a hill amidst pine forest with a wonderful view of Himalayan peaks and is perfect for those looking for a relaxing vacation in the lap of nature.  Most of my time was spent by the huge glass window in my room sipping tea and watching the sky and peaks changing colors. I wasn't surprised to hear that Aamari is built on the same hill where the famous writer & poet – Rabindranath Tagore wrote the verses of his Nobel Award Winning Epic Geetanjali and also Poetess and Freedom Fighter Mahadevi Verma got the idea of writing her famous story “Lachma”.

The pool
The infinity pool overlooking the Himalayan ranges and the valley is the highlight of the resort. 

The range of activities:
Inspite of its remote location the resort has a wide range of activities to offer for all age groups and interests. The games room for kids, outdoor activities for the teenagers and adventurous lot, a well equipped gym for health freaks, the spa and sauna for relaxing, nature walks and bird watching for nature lovers. This makes the resort ideal getaway for group of friends, families and corporate, precisely everyone!

Activities in the resort

The classy restaurant and the smiling staff:
Tastefully done interiors combined with the tasty food and perfect service made the dining experience something to remember.
The well groomed local staff ever-ready to talk and help was commendable.

Picture by Vinod Verma

My cozy room, sleeping to the sound of wind passing through the pines, waking up to see the valley being slowly lit by warm sun rays, the nature and village walks in the day, the evening snacks and hot cup of tea by the pool side, watching the changing colors of the evening sky and sleeping while watching the stars at night... I loved it all!
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Calm in the Chaos - VARANASI

A humble try it is to understand the phenomenon called  Varanasi, not as an expert but as someone who has visited it just twice.

It is a city full of chaos. Be it the slow paced traffic of cars, cows, rickshaw, cycle and pedestrians all on the same bumpy road with continuous honking from all sides; or the streets and lanes, not even wide enough for 2 people to walk side by side, full of people, cows and even bikes running on them... You can expect anything to come from anywhere and hit you. And mind you, don't expect a sorry. The accused will smile at you and move further.
Inspite of all the chaos hardly did I see anyone getting irritated or shouting at each other. There is a strange calm that drive these people. It's hard to say where it comes from. It can be their faith in the place they live in and the spiritual aura that surrounds it. Or it can be the patience they have developed over time by experiencing the chaos day and night Or have they gotten so use to of all this, it no more feels like a chaos? Whatever it may be, it is exceptional.

Another aspect that attracts my attention is "Thugs of Banraras". I have heard stories about the pandas... how people would give all their belongings to them and get killed at Banaras to attain salvation. I hope it no more exists but till today people are being fooled on the name of salvation. Pandas take huge amounts to perform rituals and collect money. And faith makes them do it all. They get robbed willingly and return happy. Who would decide if they are fooled or they get (bought) what they were looking for - the inner peace, at cost of  whatever. Who cares!

The ghats are no less amazing. While one ghat gives you a calm serene feeling with cheerful crowd hanging around and nice book stores and cafes to be at; some other ghat gives you an eerie feeling with strange looking people hanging around as if each one is carrying a secret within.
At some place on the same river they are dumping garbage and at some other place they are taking holy bath.

There are ghats that are cursed and there are ghats that give you salvation.

Every day thousands of dead bodies come here for burning. I am amazed to see how normal it is for the people here, or so it seems. They seem to be unaffected by the presence of dead, mere thought of which shakes us from within. Again in the chaos of burning the dead, there is a peace and calm. There is a silent understanding that what comes has to go one day.

Strange chaos it is,  full of calm!

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Pangong Lake - A Gorgeous Wonder!

The journey was no less than the destination...
It is an amazingly beautiful drive of around 6hrs from Leh on a dramatic mountain terrain via Karu and Sekti village.

We started early morning with Tenzing, an experienced and cheerful driver from Leh. We drove through the vast barren landscapes with small villages and some greenery appearing every now and then. This was followed by the barren mountains of interesting shades of blue, grey and purple. They soon started to get white with snow and was fully snow covered as we approached The Chang La (17,590 ft.), world's third highest pass. We took a break to have hot meal of maggi and bread omelette at then-highest cafe of the world. Now the highest cafe is at Khardung La.
As the day progressed water on the roads started increasing. Glad we were to have listened to our driver and started early morning.

Travel Tip - One need to hire cab from Leh as taxis from outside Leh are not allowed to ply on this road. Start from Leh as early as possible. Water on roads will keep increasing as day advances.

The view of the road that we came driving on from Chang La

It is always good to start as early as possible from Leh 

The drive was more or less smooth except for a few places near the pass. There are many interesting road signs from BRO that make the journey even more enjoyable. Below are a few of them that fascinated me:
"Be gentle on my curves."
"Don't be a gamma in the land of Lama"
"Darling I want you but not so fast"
"Feel the curves, do not test them"
"Mountains are pleasure only if you drive with leisure"
"Love the neighbor but not while driving" 

A little farther on the road we met these cute little creatures called Marmots. They came out of their burrows as we were passing by. They did not seem to be shy at all. Rather they seemed curious and playful. It was fun playing with them and clicking them.

A curious Marmot spotted on the way to Pangong approaching the camera 

The Gorgeous Pangong Tso...
While we were still in the awe of meeting marmots, we saw a hint of brilliant blue in the barren brown terrains. I could not believe my eyes. The whole tiredness and the cold disappeared and we were filled with a joy, excitement and anticipation of what is in store. The moment is still engraved on my mind. It was surreal to see almost every shade of blue in sparkling water in these barren lands.

Brilliant hues of blue in the barren brown terrain - the first view of Pangong lake
This was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful creations of nature that I had ever seen. The sight of unending expanse of deep blue water and the spectacular Changchenmo range in the backdrop. 

This beautiful Himalayan lake Pangong Tso (Tibetan for "high grassland lake") is situated at a height of about 14,270 ft and is 134 km long. It extends from India to China and around one-third of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point.

Pangong is one of the largest brackish water lakes of Asia

The fascinating fact about Pangong Lake is that it has saline water and even then the water freezes. There is no aquatic life but some migratory birds can be spotted. It was a visual delight to watch the gulls and ducks play over the beautiful lake

Brown headed Gulls at Pangong

The first place we crossed was the army camp at Lukung. From here till Spangmik, the road was merely stone filled dirt track. Spangmik is the last village till where foreigners can go with an inner line permit.

Spending night with the locals at the height of 14,270 ft. ...
The village has merely 5-6 houses of which 2 provide the facility of home-stay. We chose to stay in one of them rather than at the camps nearby; One, because in a remote place like this I want to contribute to the economy of the place and second, I love to experience the local life and interact with locals.

Me with my hosts in the neatly organised kitchen of our home-stay at Spagmik

The evening was spent in the kitchen-cum-common room chatting and having endless cups of tea. There was a biker who had come from Bangalore and was exploring Himalayas from past one month on his bike. I still remember his adventure tales that inspired me to do Leh-Khardung La on bike.
The hot dal-chawal and ladakhi rotis with vegetables tasted heavenly delicious in the chilling cold of Ladakh. We were provided with a cozy room with wooden flooring covered with carpets and wooden roof. The bedding was warm and comfortable. And the hospitality of the hosts made it even better.

The home-stay at village Spagmik
One can also stay in the camps on the shores of the lake. The camps are made of canvas and the floors are covered with jute carpet to provide warmth. Each camp has an attached bathroom with cold running water. Thick blankets and a hot water bag is provided for warmth.
On the way back we visited Shay and Thiksey monasteries.

This was undoubtedly one of my best journeys so far. Have already visited Pangong thrice and every time it seems more beautiful.

P.S.- Pictures are clicked while on a road trip Himalayan Voyage with INDIAN TERRAINS in June 2012 and July 2014

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016... The Year That It Was.

A known: How lucky you are, you get to travel so much
Me: Like really?! Isn't luck just the outcome of genuine effort and intent.

It's been more than 5 years since I started to travel extensively as a writer... blogger... trip leader and an organizer. The journey was not easy.  I had a different challenge everyday and I overcame it just to find another one standing right ahead. I will share the story of my struggle some other time. Today when I look back at these 5 years, I get overwhelmed with joy and pride. I have apparently traveled more than what an average person travels his whole life!

This post is dedicated to the numerous memorable moments 2016 gave me... let me recall and relive some of them.

Jet skiing at Tehri, Uttarakhand.  It was on a trip to Kanatal with +Chalo lets go India. I reluctantly said yes to something I didn't know I would enjoy so much.

A refreshing morning when I woke up to the chirping birds in an old Rajasthani haweli at Lotwara,  also called the peacock village followed by a perfect breakfast prepared from farm fresh vegetables. 

My birthday month... and I celebrated it with lovely locals and the ChaloLetsGo Barot team. Dancing, singing, laughter along with the local wine made from jaggery served by locals with lots of love. 

And I started the 40th year of my existence, paragliding at Billing (very near to my birth place Baijnath). I did dangerously amazing take off at Billing. Check it out in the video.

(Video credits: Vinod Verma)

Experiencing snow when my friends were crying over hot summers in Delhi was surely the moment that wicked-me thoroughly enjoyed. 

Driving on snaking roads through the hills from Kasol to Malana where after a point it felt like I am entering a dream world. The high hills, the bluest sky adorned with milky white clouds and the cool breeze..!

The giggles throughout our trip to Mukteshwar with awesome travel buddies. The one-liners and the jokes we shared and loads and loads of fresh plums, pear and peaches that we had.

 And not to forget the daring photo session we had on the cliff.

A beautiful morning in the lap of Kumaon hills at a beautiful home-stay in Nathuakhan... feeling the Crisp cold breeze on my face and watching little birds play, I myself felt like a bird ready to fly.

That feeling of being a tiny speck in this huge gamut of universe took me over while I was trekking my way down to Chandrataal. I could hear the silence of nature and could feel its power. Amazing moment it was!

Staying with locals in Mudh, a remote village in Pin valley Spiti is something I will cherish throughout my life. I just wished I had some more days to spend with lovely people out there who have done their best in terms of proving comfort to the travelers visiting them. The most I appreciate is the fusion of cuisines they have done to make the meals interesting. Local Pizza is what they called it. It was the local bread stuffed with cheese and veggies. 

Imagine having it sitting at an altitude of more than 13,000ft...!

Have countless memories of the trip to Spiti organised by +Indian Terrains, will dedicate a full post to it. Here I just mentioned the most prominent one.

Got the privilege to be at the height of 13,000 ft above sea level and at the sea level both in the same month.

Jumping around on the waves and playing with star fish at Mondarmoni beach in the day and listening to the waves crashing on the rocks on the shore at night. 

Witnessed mesmerising sunrise at Chandrashila. Standing on the zenith, I could see myself surrounded by layers and layers of Himalayan ranges and  in front was scarlet sky ready to welcome the beautiful ball of fire, the source of all energy - Sun.

My year seems incomplete without visiting Pushkar. So November was dedicated to my visit to Pushkar. I enjoyed my food the most on this small trip. It's heaven for foodies especially for the vegetarian lot.

The year ended with an encounter with the Beast at Dhikala, Corbett National Park.

     (Picture credits: Anirban Dasgupta)

Wish you all a life filled with lots and lots of exploration and travel..!

P.S. - Don't forget to leave a message for me in comment section :)

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Chandrashila - Where the Magic Starts

I woke up to a knock at the door of my room from a fellow traveler Lalima at 4.30AM. Excited she was to announce that the sky is clear. We took no time to get up and start trekking towards Chandrashila. It was biting cold sub zero temperature. The hands, nose, cheeks and lips were all red with cold and the heart was thumping not sure from the rush of blood due to trekking or from the anticipation of what awaits us.

It was a steep climb of around a kilometer with no specific path to follow. Cold and darkness made it even more tough. But as they say, "no pain no gain". Just when our stamina was shaking after around two-third of the climb, we took a turn and got a glimpse of what awaits us. The sky was deep orange and there were layers of mountain ranges visible. There was no looking back after that. Every second was precious. Our speed doubled and excitement increased many fold.  

 I was surrounded by layers and layers of mountain ranges all around placed beautifully in different shades 
We were on the top point in less than half an hour. I couldn't believe what I saw. I was surrounded by layers and layers of mountain ranges all around placed beautifully in different shades. In front were snow covered Himalayan peaks like Nanda devi, Chaukhamba and Trisul standing tall acknowledging our efforts.

The sky was all red, ready to welcome the Sun. And the hills were ready to embrace the day with open arms. Slowly the rays of the sun started appearing from behind the Nanda devi peak, lighting it and creating a golden outline... It looked like some magic was about to happen. The divine ball of fire, the source of every possible energy, the core of our creation appeared slowly from behind Nanda Devi leaving us spellbound. The love of God was all over in the form of fresh warm golden rays that lit the whole valley and the mountains.

The sun was up in its full glory in no time. It was the sign of a new beginning!  

P.S. - I was so engrossed in the magic happening in front of me that I forgot to take pictures. And I am glad I did, it is now all engraved so well in my memory disk. Below are the 2 mobile pictures I could manage while in the trance...

The rays of the sun appearing from behind the Nanda devi peak creating the golden magic  

Chaukhamba lit by the morning rays of Sun

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tungnath - Nature's Playground

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—sky, clouds, mountains, trees. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy"

Standing on a cliff at an altitude of 3,680 m (12,073 ft), this is exactly what my feeling was. All the tiredness of 3hrs trek disappeared immediately. All I could feel was the happiness... happiness of being there at that moment. Nothing else mattered, how I reached, what I have come for, what I have left behind... all this was meaningless. All that mattered was I WAS THERE, I was there to witness the magnificent beauty of nature!

The sight of deep valley spread below, the onrush of cool breeze from those lands faraway, the misty smell and the sound of silence up there.. overwhelmed me.

Himalayan griffon chasing their prey 

Tea shop owner on the way to Tungnath
An easy trek of around 4kms on a well paved path through oak and rhododendron forest brought me to this heaven called Tungnath, the highest of the panchkedars. On the way were a few tea shops that were such a respite for the trekkers. It was not just the refreshing tea or the rhododendron juice but also the sweet simple smile and the innocence of these pahadi people that refreshed us from time to time.

Being there on the top of the hill witnessing the nature unfolding its marvels is one the best experiences of my life. When we reached, it was sunny, clouds playing hide and seek with the sun. We lied down on the cliffs basking. The sun rays never felt so soothing in the city. After a few hours as the time of sunset approached, the sky turned into a canvas and the evening colors started spreading all over, making beautiful painting like patterns. The dark clouds covered the sun and the rays trickled through, lighting the valley golden while we could see the sky above clouds still untouched by the golden hues. Far away was one lonely cloud, so blue, wandering alone... as if looking for a partner to color it red. And in no time others realized and merged with it turning it pink. Slowly the evening colors started spreading all over... golden, orange, pink, purple... can't say when the colors changed and darkness took over the whole valley and the sky.  We were mesmerized by this whole play.

Witnessing the divine sunset from the cliffs at Tungnath
Night was no less dramatic. We found ourselves standing in the middle of clouds when suddenly a breeze came and took away all the clouds exposing the star studded sky. We could now clearly see the twinkling stars big and small, in clusters and alone, bright and light... all together making the sky look amazingly gorgeous. While we were lost in this beautiful vista, another cloud came hovering over from nowhere covering it all again... As if saying that's all for the day folks. Good Night..!

I woke up to a knock at the door of my room from a fellow traveler Lalima at 4.30AM. Excited she was to announce that the sky is clear. We took no time to get up and start trekking towards the Chandrashila. It was biting cold sub zero temperature. The hands, nose, cheeks and lips were red with cold and the heart was thumping not sure from the rush of blood due to trekking or from the anticipation of what awaits us...!

To be continued... 

*This trip was done with ChaloLetsGo travel group
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Sunday, July 24, 2016

A perfect weekend getaway in just a few hours drive from Delhi!

Tip tap tip tap... as the drops of rain fall on the ground, on the leaves and on the slate roofs, we sit in a cozy balcony of our cottage sipping hot tea. We are surrounded by forest all around with a few village houses in the vicinity. Just a few moments before the golden rays of setting sun  had engulfed the whole valley creating dramatic patterns on the sky together with clouds.

Just 8 hrs drive from the capital city takes you to this tiny village Nathuakhan. It is a quiet place located at an altitude of 1940mt in Kumaon range of the central Himalayas. Just a kilometer before the market of Nathuakhan is a beautiful cottage that we had booked to spend a weekend in the lap of nature.

The drive from Delhi was enjoyable. We got to experience it all... sunny sky, clouds, rain, fog and again sun. We had no idea what the place will be like, all places look good online in pictures. But we were sure we will have good experience the moment we entered the place. There was warmth in everything. Ever-smiling staff to take care of every little thing; tastefully done interiors, nick-nacks placed in the outdoors; the cozy sitting areas inside and outside the cottage... that's exactly what we needed for a relaxing holiday away from the city.

A nice cup of tea in the lap of nature after 8 hrs long drive refreshed us

It's a paradise for bird watchers
Evening was spent exploring the surroundings. Small meandering path through fruit trees took us to the village. A small village with just a few houses with farms and the livestock. Just a kilometer away from the cottage was the local market.
A short drive little further took us to Sitla from where we got a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Himalayan ranges - Trisul, Nandadevi and Panchachuli. There's a shop here where you can buy locally made stuff that includes spreads, jams, juices, handicrafts etc.

Once back to our nest, we picked our corners to just relax and soak in the serenity of the place. The music from the wind chyme was the only sound we could hear. After a refreshing cup of tea, we all got together and enjoyed chatting in a cozy balcony lit by candle lamps creating a mystic effect.

We picked our corners to relax and soak in the serenity of the place

Had sumptuous dinner cooked and served with lots of care and love.

The living area became our favorite place. The wide range of books and music collection, the wooden interior, cozy couches made it a place you would want to spend days relaxing at. Just a night was not at all sufficient.
The living area 

I woke up to chirping of a bird on the window sill of the attic I stayed at. It was very early in the morning. The same lazy me who would not get up early morning for anything in the city, was up and straight at 5.30 am with no intentions to go back to bed again. Sitting in the small sit-out area of the attic sipping my morning tea, I could see the forest slowly getting lit and the life getting started in the village. The deep breaths of cool fresh air refreshed my body and soul. I was rejuvenated to take on the stress of busy city life again.

Bid goodbye to the team with a promise to be back again
It was a perfect getaway - "A home away from home" in a true sense!

----THE GUIDE----


On Road: New Delhi to Nathuakhan: 340 kms via Moradabad, Rampur, Rudrapur, Haldwani, Kathgodam, Bhowali, Malla Ramgarh, Talla Ramgarh. The journey takes approximately 8 hours. Parking lot available.
Other distances from Nathuakhan: Nainital - 40 km, Bhowali - 30 km, Mukteshwar - 14 km

By Train:
Ranikhet Express runs daily; Departure from Old Delhi at 10:40 PM, Arrival at Kathgodam at 5:20AM.
 Indian Railway Information available here
Khatgodam AC Express runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; Departure from Delhi Anand Vihar at 6:00 AM, Arrival at Kathgodam at 11:55 AM. Indian Railway Information available here
Take a taxi from Kathgodam to Nathuakhan, a hill journey of 60 km.

The Village Stay - Home away from home


The cottage has 5 rooms and an attic.

Vanilla room
Mustard Room: A double bed room with attached bath.

Vanilla Room: A double bed with attached bath. This room is in the main level of the house, adjacent to the living room.

Cinnamon Room: A cozy room with an attached bath, ideal for a couple. This room is accessed through the heart of the house- the kitchen, but offers complete privacy and excellent views.

Rosemary & Thyme Suite: Rosemary is the living space and Thyme the bedroom, bath attached to the Thyme room. The unit can accommodate 4-5 adults, with extra beds in both rooms.

The Attic: Perfect for a group of 4-5 friends. The attic has an attached bath.

Meals are scrumptious and home-cooked. Local produce sourced from home garden or the neighboring farms is used.
Breakfast is a hearty affair, complete with eggs, porridge, flakes, bread, jams and spreads, and even poha or idlis or upma or parathas.
Lunch is usually an Indian vegetarian spread. Kumaoni/ Gujrati/ Bengali etc. The spread consists of a daal, vegetables, yogurt, salad, rice & chapati/ puri.
Indian, Continental, Mediterranean or Chinese cuisine is served as per choice in dinner. It starts with soup, main and side dishes and dessert. Bar-Be-Que too can be arranged. Non-veg is served for dinner for those who prefer it.

Contact me @9999731115 to book a perfect holiday in this beautiful village home.

If you also know places like these or have your travel stories to share, do let me know in comment section. 

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