Saturday, February 17, 2018

Destinations You Must Visit This Summer

It's the time of the year we all are looking for options to spend a cool holiday with family and friends during summer vacations. Here are a few off-beat destinations you will love to be at.


Gift your family a holiday in the land of  pristine beauty. The breathtaking view of Mount Kanchendzonga, the quietness of sparkling lakes and the gurgling of rivers make North Sikkim a destination that no one should miss. The best time to visit are the months April and May when the rhododendrons are full in bloom at Lachung and in the Yumthang Valley.

Things to do: Visit Lachung Monastary, Lachung chu, involve yourself in local farming activities, go for a village walk or just sit with locals and chat.
Excursions nearby - Yumthang Valley, Chopta Valley,  Gurudongmar lake, Katao, Zero point

How to reach:
By Air. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra which is about 196 kms away.
By Train. The closest railway station is New Jalpaigulri which is around 190 kms.
On Road: You can take a cab from Gangtok (116kms)

Where to stay: There are many homestay options available in Lachung. Stay with locals to experience the traditional life and culture of Sikkim and also get enriched by the knowledge of the host.  Recommended stay:


Mukteshwar is a quaint little hill town in Nainital district of Uttarakhand. A kiss of crisp mountain air laden with the fragrance of oak and pines welcomes you to this sleepy hamlet. Stunning views of snow clad Himalayas, fruit orchards, mountain streams and waterfalls - it's dreamland you must visit with your loved ones.

Things to do: Visit Mukteshwar Dham Temple; Try adventure Sports like rock climbing and zip lining at Chauli ki Jali; Go on a nature trail to Bhalugaad falls; It is paradise for the bird watchers; Go on a village walk.
Excursions nearby: Do day trips to Nainital, Naukuchiatal, Bhimtal, Sattal and Almora

How to reach:
On Road: Mukteshwar is 350 kms from Delhi.
Route: Delhi – Gajraula - Moradabad - Rampur - Rudrapur - Haldwani - Bhowali – Mukteshwar.
By Air: Pantnagar is the nearest Airport and is 94kms from Mukteshwar. Cabs are available from here.
By Rail: Kathgodam is the nearest railway station and is 62kms from Mukteshwar. Cabs are easily available from here.

Where to stay: Stay in the midst of thick Oak forest in a farm stay and get a glimpse of traditional village life, try your hand at farming, participate in cow milking and adopt their organic way of life for a few days. Visit in the months of June July to taste garden fresh Peach, Plum, Apricot and Apple.


If you want your vacation to be adventure filled go to Pin Valley in Spiti. Pin Valley is the most picturesque valley in Spiti. It is formed by Pin River that runs throughout its length, before merging with Spiti River. 'Pin Valley National Park' which is the natural habitat of the Snow Leopard and Himalayan Ibex is located in Pin Valley. The valley is covered in carpets of green with mountains in the backdrop. Miles and miles of isolation, stunning vast landscapes and complete silence - that's what will welcome you to the Pin Valley.

Things to do:   
The prime attraction of Pin Valley is it's wildlife that includes Ibex, Bharal, Red Fox, Marten, Weasel, Pika, Snow Cock, Beareded Vulture, Chukor, Golden Eagle, Griffon, Himalayan Chough, Raven etc. It is also home to snow leopard.
You may go for various treks:
Mudh to Barshaini via Pin Parvati Pass. Duration: 1 week
Mudh to Kaphnoo via Bhaba Pass (4850m). Duration: 4 days
Sagnam to Laurang and back to Mudh. Duration: 4 days
Other attractions:
Spiti and Pin River Confluence, Kungri Monastery and small villages.
Stay in one of the villages to get the feel of the life in Himalayas. Have long conversations with simple village people, learn how to cook local delicacies or Chang - a local liquor made from Barley, or spend time with kids.

How to reach:
Since its a remote village in Himalayas there is no airport or railway station nearby. The only way to reach the valley is on road. It is 789kms from the capital city of Delhi and 558 kms from Chandigarh. Follow this trail: Delhi-Chandigarh-Shimla-Sangla-Nako-Pin Valley
You can do a trip exclusively to Pin valley and do some treks or you can visit Pin valley on your trip to Spiti.

Where to stay: Mudh is the last village in Pin Valley that is accessible by motor-able road. There are a couple of homestays in the village, this is the one with all amenities you can think of in the high altitude village -


Located on the banks of River Bias, Raison is a hidden around 12 km from Kullu on the way to Manali and is one of the top adventure destinations in Himachal that not many people know about.

What to do: There's a lot that can done while you are in Raison. Adventure activities include River Rafting, Trout Fishing, Mountain Biking, Paragliding and Trekking. You may also do fruit Plucking if you go during the harvest season - August/ Sept. If you are not an adventure person just enjoy chirping of the birds, blue skies, butterflies in the garden and relaxing in the lap of nature.
Excursions nearby: Visit Manali, Rohtang pass and Solang vally

How to reach:
On Road - Delhi 550 kms; Chandigarh 285 kms; Mandi 85 kms.
By Train - Chandigarh is the nearest railway station which is around 260 kms.
By Air - Bhuntar is the nearest airport which about 23 kms from Raison.

Where to stay: Consider staying in heritage home made in Himachali style of architecture just a few meters away from the River Bias for a perfect summer holiday -


Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is tucked away in East Khasi Hills and is home to several waterfalls. It is also known as the Scotland of the East. It has the old world charm with beautiful houses having slanting roofs, large number of windows and wooden floors. The British legacy is still visible in the architecture and food habits of the population. Shillong receives heavy rainfalls during monsoon and the rainy season usually lasts longer than in the rest of India.

Things to do: Visit Don Bosco Museum, Ward’s Lake, Shillong Golf Course, Wankhar Entomology Museum, Anglican Church, Cathedral Catholic Church, Lady Hydari Park, Spread Eagle Falls, State Museum, Elephant falls and Shillpong peak to get the bird's eye view of the city. Go to Barra bazar to shop.
Excursions nearby - Trek to stunning Waterfalls and the Living Root Bridges, Visit Mawlynnong – Asia’s Cleanest Village, Trip to  Cherrapunji and visit Mowsmai caves and Dawki.

How to reach:
By Air. The nearest airport is the Umroi Airport near Barapani, which is about 25 kms away.
By Train. The closest railway station from Shillong is in Guwahati which is around 100 kms.
On Road: You can self drive or take a cab or bus from Guwahati to Shillong.

Where to stay: Have a relaxed time with your family in some quiet homestay. We recomend staying at It is located in the residential area of Shillong away from the city noise yet within 7 minute walking distance from the local market, convenience stores, cafes and restaurants.


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Friday, February 9, 2018

ASSAM - The Land of Unique Culture

I got introduced to the land of 'red rivers and blue hills' during my recent visit to Rongali tourism festival that was held from January 19 to 21 2018 at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, Guwahati.
RONGALI means amalgamation of varied colors of Assam explained Shyamkanu Mahanta, the chief organizer of the festival. It was undoubtedly a perfect platform for all tribes to come together and display their culture and talent. The highlights of the festival were music and folk dance performances, Bhaona, local food stalls and fashion shows by talented designers of Assam. After experiencing a small slice of Assam at this festival I was excited to visit this beautiful land of tribal people.

Below are a few things that caught my attention during my exploration of Assam. The exclusive art of making homespun masks and of weaving gorgeous silk Mekhlas; the simple yet delicious healthy food; it's natural heritage of one-horned Rhinos and Assam tea; and the neo-vaisvanite culture and the tradition of satras - all these things are unique to Assam and cannot be experienced elsewhere in the whole world.

Assamese cuisine is known for its simplicity and is best represented by various tribes who dwell in this beautiful land. Rice is the staple food and sides are cooked with lot of herbs, green vegetables, fish and poultry most of which is produced at home. A general Assamese meal starts with khar. It is alkaline in nature and cleanses the palate. There are a variety of lentils and fishes cooked with herbs and green veg. Another main dish is meat that varies from chicken and duck to mutton and pigeon to pork depending on the which part of Assam you are at. You must try Bodo and Mishing thali.

A quick visit to Sualkuchi, situated on the north bank of the river Brahmaputra, will introduce you to the art of weaving silk. Beautiful mekhla chadar is something every women would love to have in her wardrobe. There are three major types of indigenous silks produced in Assam—golden Muga, white Pat and warm Eri silk. Muga is known for its glossy fine texture and durability. This silk can be hand-washed with its luster increasing after every wash. Pat is usually brilliant white or off-white in colour while Eri silk is soft and warm and is primarily used to make shawls and quilts.

Assam witnessed a great movement of Vaishnavism under guru Sankardeva in the Middle Ages. The Satra were then established by the gurus where single minded vaisnavas resided. The satras consist of a large prayer hall facing a simple shrine, surrounded by dormitories for monks. And each satra specialize in certain craft and also acts as a cultural centre for its locality. Today, there are over five hundred satras and numerous vaisnava households are affiliated to one or the other Satra. Satras are treasure troves of cultural artifacts, manuscripts and antiques.

I visited a few sattras in Majuli and found them ultimately peaceful. The prayers echoing in the huge central halls; the display of ancient artifacts, old utensils, jewelry and handicrafts; the smiling bhakats all of this transported me to a different world all together.

Maskmaking is a well known traditional craft of Majuli mainly practiced by Chamaguri sattra. Masks are made out of bamboo, cloth, clay and colors and are used for the religious dance drams mainly raas leela festival and bhaona.

A ferry from Nimatighat, Jorhat will take you to this river island formed due to course changes by River Brahmputra and its tributaries. It is supposedly the largest River island of the world. It is the hub of neo-Vaishnavite culture and spirituality, spread by 15th century social-reformer Sankardev. But it is disappearing fast. From the area of 1,200 square kilometres at the beginning of the 20th century now it just covers around 300 square kilometres. Studies predict that the island might disappear in another 20 yrs. So you must plan to visit Majuli before it disappears.

The visit to Assam is incomplete without having seen the pride of Assam - One horned Rhino. It is one of the rarest mammal in the world and Kaziranga National park has the world's largest population of them. Go on early morning safari to witness this majestic animal in its natural habitat.

Do try the strong Assam black tea while you are there and do not forget to buy some as you won't get this quality anywhere else in the world. It is known for its strong, bold, brisk, malty flavor. The state of Assam is the world's largest tea-growing region.

I was amazed to see the traditional mishing houses known as 'Chang Ghar' that are constructed on a raised platform. Floor, ceiling and walls are made of bamboo and have thatched top. They stand on four pillars to prevent flooding in the house during monsoon. High precipitation and moisture content both in the air and in the soil is another reason to design houses on stilts. The lower part of the house is used to rear animals. You will be welcomed by a warm smile and will be offered tea and sweets

Your journey to Assam will be incomplete without tasting home-brewed rice beer. It is traditionally prepared by fermenting rice and is a day to day drink for local people. It is prepared in every household of the tribe. Folklore says that people of the Mishing tribe came together to drink the ceremonial beer (Apong) to put an end to all their communal conflicts and restore peace and harmony. Apong is considered a cultural heritage of this indigenous tribe of Assam. There is another variety of beer called Xaj which is made of fermented rice and a mix of rare species of herbs. Xaj is the drink of the ‘Ahoms’. It is told in the folktales that a newborn is dipped in this beer to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the child. Guests are often welcomed with Xaj served in copper vessels.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

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

Connect with me on Instagram and Facebook for more responsible travel adventures.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

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, November 26, 2017

How to Prepare Yourself for a Memorable Homestay Experience

Homestays these days are getting quite popular; while home-stays can provide you with an amazing local experience, you must go with a right set of expectations. Here are a few pointers based on my travels and stays with host families that will help you get the best of your vacation at a homestay.

  1. Homestays are the best place to stay if you like to try local cuisine. For instance if you are staying in a homestay somewhere in south India be open to eat idly, upma, dosa or puttu. Expecting paranthas, butter chicken or shahi paneer will not work.
  2. Come prepared to adapt to the menu set by the host. Mostly in home-stays there is a day’s fixed menu. Unlike hotels, home-stays won’t have an elaborate menu to choose from. It is a good idea to discuss with your host in case you have any food allergies or if you don’t eat something.
  3. Also, If you like to eat non vegetarian food please clarify in advance with the host if non vegetarian food is served in the house and if it is included in the cost or not.

  1. Book a home-stay if you want to know more about the place you are visiting. I have spent hours talking to the families and got to know about many hidden places and cultural information that is not available anywhere on internet.
  2. While hotels can provide you 24*7 room-service they lack the personal touch and care that the host can provide in a home-stay. Once on a trip I lost the keys to my baggage; my host was kind enough to take my baggage to the nearest key maker and got it fixed by the time I had my tea.
  3. Don’t talk to the host like you talk to (read order) the house-keeping staff in a hotel. He is the owner of the place and deserves respect.

Home-stays are run by the families and limited staff personally appointed by the host so you can be sure of your safety and security. The host himself, being a part of the locality, will never do anything that can harm his reputation. While staying in home-stays I have never felt the need of locking my room when I am around and I have always ended up being a part of the family.


Home stays may be not be as luxurious as five-star hotels, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be as comfortable. In fact, in some ways they beat five-stars by offering amenities like kitchens and truly personalized service. You will not have to run to the market for small things you might need in emergency. Your host will be happy to get it for you from his place. For instance once I had cut my finger and the host immediately came with his first aid kit, another time I got my clothes wet and the lady of the house dried them in her drier.

But at the same time be aware that you might not get some facilities like power back-up, attached bathrooms, AC, geyser, laundry etc if you are choosing a home-stay in remote area. So you must talk to the host in advance about the facilities available. Also check for its accessibility. Some home-stays are away from the main tourist area and you might have to walk a bit to reach the place. So check that in advance if you have older people who have issues with walking. Also, as already mentioned do not expect the room service in a home-stay.

Home-stay is a family run place. Unlike hotels, every house has some rules. So when you choose to stay with a family you become a part of the family and same rules apply to you too. It’s a good idea to understand that and behave accordingly.
Here are a few things to be kept in mind for a happy memorable experience:
  1. Please check if there are any house timings and follow that. Inform the host in case you intend to come late or stay outside any particular day. Your safety and security is a big concern for the host.
  2. Please take permission before smoking or drinking. And dispose of the leftovers carefully.
  3. Make sure you use the amenities provided to you wisely and leave them in working condition. When using water and electricity, make sure you don’t leave taps running or appliances switched on when you don’t need them.
  4. Most of the home stays unlike hotels do not have a huge housekeeping staff. So, please maintain hygiene and do not litter in your room or common areas.


This article has also been published on blog of Homestays of India
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

An Appeal From a Responsible Human Being

"I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as our defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend."
Read it somewhere and I so agree to it.

It's time we wake up, realize and  understand where are we heading. Our wrong habits have done some alarming damages to the environment and if we do not change it today we will leave a bad bad world behind for our coming generations.

I understand some tough decisions are required to be taken by authorities, so leaving the larger things to them and hoping they will do their best to safeguard environment. But let us not just wait and watch. Let us do our little bit and at least start making a difference. I am putting down some small changes that we can make in our life for the better. Feel free to add on to the list.

Say Complete No to Plastic

Check the video below... Do I need to say more? 

Slight changes in our lifestyle can reduce the amount of garbage we are filling our earth with.
  • Stop using bottled water. This is especially when we are travelling. In most hotels there is an RO or a filter, let's refill a big bottle with filtered water rather than buying a small plastic bottle every time we are thirsty.
  • Don't use plastic bags. Our parents had a very nice way of carrying a cloth bag with them along with the list of things to be purchased. Lets us start doing that again. 
  • Minimize the consumption of packed food. We can't stop having plastic packed junk food all of sudden, but let us not buy many small packets for every member but a huge one and share from that. This way atleast we can lessen our contribution to this huge mass of plastic that is accumulating.
  • Try alternate environment friendly options. Dear ladies, do we realize have much plastic we dispose every month? Let's try some environmental friendly methods. Have you tried menstrual cups? Learn more about it and be inspired.
  • Please do not use plastic disposable utensils. Its easy and convenient to use them but anything that can'e be recycled is hazardous. 
Save Fuel Save Air

Smog in Delhi
  • We all love to have an independent vehicle to commute but why is travelling with others so difficult for us (including me). It was some time back but not anymore. Now the time I spend in metro is one of my favorite time of the day. I get to see so many people, know the latest fashion trends, make friends, and get some business also. Have closed a few deals chatting to people around while traveling in metro.  Using public transport is not that bad after all.
  •  Not a public vehicle person, how about sharing your vehicle with others and reduce your car cost? 
  • Be careful of what you throw in your garbage bin as it will add on to the heap outside your community and might get burnt one day adding to toxic fumes you are breathing.

Plant More

This we have read and heard so many times. What have we done?  How many trees each one of us has planted? And come to think of it.. how many trees might have been cut to fulfill my everyday needs? Do I see a balance there? Definitely no. 

Read stories of individuals who have made some difference by planting trees to get some inspiration.

Today seeing the smog, the bad air that we and our kids are breathing we feel angry and alarmed. But soon after things get a little better, we forget and get into same behavior. We again start choosing comfort and convenience over environment. 

Here's an appeal from a responsible human being... Please make your choices well. Leave the habits that spoil the air that your coming generations will breathe in.
Would love to hear from you all what changes have you made in your life  to leave a cleaner earth and breathable air to your kids?

P.S. - The post is different from what I usually write but the severity of the issue compelled me to write this. Hope we all will be able to make a difference.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Thar Experience

Suddenly in the middle of night I opened my eyes to a "Moon Halo". I had no idea what I was watching at that time but was mesmerized by the sight of it. The moon, in its full silvery glow, was surrounded by a rainbow like circle and two tiny bright stars were playfully twinkling inside the halo as if teasing the moon. I was sleeping on the dunes of the Thar desert under the sparkling star studded sky.

The evening was no less magical. After sailing on camels for an hour we had reached in the middle of nowhere. The golden ball was dipping behind the sand dunes creating a magic on the sky. Our excited souls were transported back to our childhood and we were jumping around and playing in the sand... at times making the dipping sun our ball and at times swimming in the sand. That one hour of craziness seemed too short. But anyhow what followed was no less.

After witnessing this gorgeous sunset and being a kid again, we feasted on simple dal roti made on the fire lit by the side of a bush in the desert. Dal never tasted better. After a while the darkness started to take over. The gorgeous sun disappeared on one side and the stunning moon showed its face on the other. Standing at a point I could see both at the same time.

It is one of the most memorable moments of my travels. Even today when I think of it I get transported to a different world.

I am curating a trip to Thar this Dec. Check the details here.

Image Credits: Vinod Verma
Connect with me on Instagram and Facebook for more responsible travel adventures.
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reasons you must visit Pushkar

There’s a lot more to the oasis town of Pushkar than just the Camel fair that it is mostly associated with. Walk through the labyrinth of alleys and lanes, its bazaars and the ghats to discover the magic of this tranquil town. Below are a few things I love to do when I am in Pushkar.

#1.  Spend Dazzling Evening at Pushkar Lake
The aura around the lake, the reflections of the evening colors of setting sun and the music flowing around all adds up to making a memorable evening. Spending an evening at Pushkar lake always fills me with energy.

Sip hot coffee by the lake side andatch the day bidding adieu and a beautiful evening taking over. As the golden sun dips behind temples, lake water mirrors the changing hues of the sky from blue to orange and then red and slowly black takes over transforming the day into a beautiful night. Spend some quiet hours sitting on the stairs of the lake listening to the music coming from all directions - hymns and bells from the temple, nagara beats from the ghat, strumming of guitar from some cafe and sound of Ravanhatha being played by some bhopa musician sitting just next to you. While you are lost in the music, the lake turns gorgeous with reflection of town lights and numerous stars. I love watching the day end by the lake side and being just with me; slowly pilgrims leave temples, tourists go back to the market or the hotels, sanyasis go hiding into their kutiya and you are left alone on the stairs gazing at the glittering sky and the lake. The calm cool air from the lake fills you with tranquillity.

#2.  Camel Safari
Riding through the desert atop a camel is an amazing experience. I love to have a chat with enthusiastic camel men who are always happy to share their stories. If you want to know about the life in a desert village, he is the best person to talk to. Hear the stories while sitting 10 feet above the ground sailing through the desert. The slow moving camels will take you through dunes to a point from where you can watch beautiful golden ball dipping down beyond the horizon and the sky changing color from evening red to violet and then slowly darkness engulfing the whole expanse.

You can hire camels from the fairground or can ask your hotel to arrange for one. There is an option of camel cart too if you want to enjoy the ride with your friends or family. The best time to go on the safari is before the sun sets.

#3.   Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you are in Pushkar around the fair you must take a balloon ride. I love to glide gently above the crowd over the vast expanse of the dunes to get an amazing bird’s eye view of the fair and the desert.

The balloon ride is usually organised towards the end of the fair. The best time to take a ride is at sunrise when the soft rays of sun slowly lit the temples, ghats and the ancient buildings surrounding the lake. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime experience and capturing it all in morning light is a dream-come-true for any photographer. Advance booking is recommended to get the best time slots.

#4. Drive to Ajaypal ji
Ajaypal ji temple is located 10kms from Pushkar. Raja Ajay Pal, the founder of Ajmer City, founded this temple in 11th century AC. The temple is surrounded on all sides by boulders of marble which makes the site amazingly beautiful. I find the drive to Ajaypal ji one of the most scenic drives around Pushkar. It passes through the forest for initial 3kms which is replaced by the sand dunes and then the valley surrounded by the hills. I like to stop and spend some time with simple villagers talking and clicking. Most of the times when I do so, I am offered tea and local snacks. A mud house, huge veranda, a well, giggling kids, smiling ladies in their vibrant attire busy with house chores and cattle is what a typical home will comprise of. And men folk with colourful turbans can be seen sitting on a platform below a tree having hookah and chatting.

Rent a motor bike or a scooter from Pushkar market; look for the Bitumen road leading from the base of Savitri hill that takes you towards Kharekdi village. This road leads you to Ajaypal ji Temple. Rainy season (August- October) is the best time for this drive when the greenery is at its best and you can see springs, streams and waterfalls all through the drive.

#5.   Evening Aarti
Evening aarti is a not-to-miss experience for everyone, believer or non-believer. People in thousands assemble in the temples across the ghats. As the chants begin the atmosphere gets filled with the fragrance of incense sticks and roses. The sound of ringing bells comes in chorus from numerous temples surrounding the lake. The whole ambience feels divine and transports you to a different world altogether. While the evening sky fills with gold of setting sun, the lake looks gorgeous with numerous floating diyas.

You can attend aarti ceremony at any of the ghats but evening aarti at Varah Ghat is highly recommended. It commences at 7:00 pm during summers and 5:30 pm during winters.

#6.   Nagara lessons at Gangaur Ghat
Music is in the soul of Pushkar. While strolling around the lake in evenings, you can find many people learning and playing their favourite instruments. Around Gangaur ghat, look for coke-studio-fame Nathu Lal Solanki, the master drummer teachiing the beats to drumming enthusiastsYou can join him and learn to play these local drums called Nagara. He still charges a negligible amount that he used to charge some 20 years back To teach Nagara. He considers this place his karmabhumi from where he has achieved the name and fame and it’s his tribute to the place and the art.

#7.  Hiking on Ratnagiri hill to Savitri Devi Temple 
Do hike up the Ratnagiri hill in south-west of the lake if you have time. It’s a moderate hike of around 1.5kms and takes around two hours to reach the top. Located on the top is Savitri Devi Temple dedicated to the wife of Lord Brahma. The breathtaking panoramic view of Pushkar town from here is worth the effort. Evening hours are best for this trek as you get an amazing sunset view from the temple.

If you like hiking and are game for some more, on a smaller hill on the northern side of Pushkar town is Gayatri Devi temple. It takes around 45 min for this trek and offers a lovely sunrise view.

#8.  Shopping
Go for a good retail therapy session once you are done with all other planned activities. A good mix of ethnic and hippie culture reflects in Pushkar market. There’s a lot to shop for, so keep at least half a day exclusively for shopping. Pushkar is known for its traditional silver jewellery, ethnic clothes, leather bags and rose products. T-shirts, harem pants, wrap-arounds, kurtis, bandhanas and funky accessories are also available in abundance at a very reasonable price. Do not forget to bargain to get the best prices. You can also shop for souvenirs like puppets, antique silverware or pottery stuff.

The main shopping places are Baza Bazar, Sarafa Bazar, Sadar Bazar and Kedalganj bazaar.

#9.       Pushkar for foodies
Pushkar is heaven for foodies with a range of roadside restaurants, rooftop cafes and eateries serving wide variety of food. Some of not-to-miss foods in Pushkar are malpua and kachori at Sarweshwar at mithai wali gali, Gulkand Lassi near the steps of Brahma Temple, lafa and falafel at Ganga restaurant near Rangji temple, muesli and fresh fruit juice at Sonu juice near bus stand and pizzas at La-pizzeria.

Pushkar is such a place where you can spend days just having good food and relaxing in cool cafes. Some of Pushkar’s most popular cafes are Honey & Spice, Funky Monkey Cafe and Out Of The Blue Cafe.

#10.  Kalbelia dance performance
The best way to unwind after a fun filled day is to enjoy the Kalbelia dance performance. It is one of the most sensuous dance forms of Rajasthan performed by lively Kalbelia tribe, a nomadic community who were snake-charmers until it was outlawed by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. With their charm, unbelievably flexible serpentine shimmying and their lovely traditional black attire they have the talent to absolutely mesmerise you. The beats and the movements will surely instigate you to join them in their dance.

Many hotels arrange the dance performances in their premises for their guests.

And if you want to experience it all with the experts, you might want to join the group trip PULSATING PUSHKAR with Indian Terrains.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

5 Best Road Trip Himalayan Destinations

If you are in Delhi and have passion to drive, pick your car and head to Himalayas. There are some of the world's most picturesque drives that you can do from here.

#1 Leh via Srinagar 
It's a dream-come-true road trip for every adventure lover. Driving through green pines and then rocky mountains... over the snow covered mountain passes... witnessing vast landscapes that change with every turn and visiting the colorful monasteries and celebrating life with monks, you'll reach the destinations that come straight out of the world of fantasies. The nature's beauty will keep you alert every moment, so much so that you would not want to even blink.

The Trail: Delhi - Pathankot- Patnitop - Srinagar - Sonmarg - Kargil - Mulbek- Lamayuru - Leh (1250kms approx)
Time Required to reach: 3-4 days

The highway drive from Delhi to Pathankot has some of the best road side dhabas offering delicious punjabi food. The first night halt can be taken at Pathankot. From here a scenic drive along river Tawi will take you to Patnitop, a beautiful hilltop enveloped by thickly wooded Cedar and Deodar forests with the breathtaking views of the Chenab basin. The road from Patnitop to Srinagar is dotted by Poplar trees, green fields and small markets. You can take a day break at Srinagar and enjoy beautiful gardens and the Dal lake. The last leg of this journey from Srinagar to Leh through Sonmarg, Batal, Drass and Kargil is the most exciting one. 9 kms from Sonmarg you will reach the first high mountain pass, Zoji La (3,528 m/11,575 ft). The road from Batal to Zoji La is said to be one of world's most dangerous roads. Once you have crossed the pass, the whole landscape changes. Greenery disappears and you will find yourself driving through the vast landscapes. The mountains change texture and color on every turn. Crossing world's coldest inhabited village Drass and Kargil reach Lamayuru, one of the oldest monasteries of the region. Driving through Sangam (confluence of Indus & Zanskar Rivers), Magnetic Hills, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and Hall of Fame, finally reach Leh.
The high mountain pass you will cross on the way:
Zoji La (11,575 ft) located on the Indian NH 1 between Srinagar and Leh in the western section of the Himalayan mountain range.
Namika La (12,139 ft) is in the Zanskar range on the road from Mulbek Valley to the Lamayuru Monastery. In Mulbek you can see an immense rock carving of the Maitreya Buddha and a Gompa perched high on a cliff overlooking the village.
Fotu La (13,432 ft) is a mountain pass in the Zaskar Range. It is the highest point on the highway, surpassing the famed Zoji La.

#2 Leh via Manali
This is the most sought after road trip and takes you through one of the most difficult terrains in the world Manali- Leh Highway. Pass through high altitude passes covered with snow while enjoying the rare beauty of the Himalayas.

The Trail: Delhi-Chandigarh-Manali-Keylong -Jispa- Bharatpur-Sarchu- Pang -Upshi - Karu -Leh (1030kms approx)
Time Required to reach: 3 days

Enjoy some delicious parathas at Murthal on the way to Chandigarh, take a lunch break around Sundarnagar and driving along river Beas reach Manali by night. Manali to Sarchu is a beautiful drive through gorgeous Solang valley, Rohtang pass, Keylong and Jispa. There are tents in Bharatpur and Sarchu where you take a night halt. At Sarchu, Lahaul region, Himachal Pradesh ends and Zanskar region, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir starts. Start early morning for Leh through NakeeLa and LachangLa. Drive to Leh passing through Skyangchu Thang (Plateau on Stretch of 42 Kms) and Tanglang La. Driving along the Indus River, reach Leh.

The high mountain passes you will cross on the way: 
Rohtang Pass (13050 ft) on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas is around 51 km from Manali. It connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh
Baralacha Pass (16040 ft) in Zanskar range connects Lahaul district in Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir
NakeeLa (15,647 ft) It is located between Sarchu and Pang
Lachulung La (16,617 ft) It is located some 54 km from Sarchu
Tanglang La (17,585 ft).

#3 Kaza, Spiti Valley
Located at an altitude of 3650 mt (11,980ft.) on the left bank of the Spiti River, Kaza is the largest township and commercial centre of the valley. Being centrally located, it is a good base to explore the rest of Spiti. Day trips can be made from here to Tabo, Dhankar, Langza, Hikkim, Komic, Key and Kibber. Cut off from the tourist map because of its remoteness, Spiti valley along with its twin valley of Lahaul, has retained its pristine charm. Quaint old monasteries, prayer flags fluttering in the wind and monks in their ochre robes, add to the mystic charm of Spiti. The scenic mountain villages perched on mountain crests, Pristine rivers, the vast landscapes and the harsh conditions are all a part of the package that constitute this adventurous Himalayan journey.
The Trail: Delhi-Chandigarh-Shimla-Kalpa-Tabo-Dhankar-Kaza
Time Required to reach: 3-4 days

It will take around 9-10 hrs to reach Shimla. You can take a night halt at Shimla, Mashobra or Fagu. Drive along picturesque Hindustan-Tibet Road which is carved in rock and goes along the wild Sutlej River to reach Kalpa, one of the most beautiful village of Kinnaur. You can also visit Sarahan on the way. Its around 14 kms off the way. The most fabulous part of the drive is from Kalpa to Nako. On the way visit Ribba. Passing through Khab which is hardly 13 km from Tibbet border reach Nako, situated in Hangrang Valley. The existence of lake formed out of the masses of the ice and snow adds beauty to the village. You can either take a night halt here at Nako or proceed to Tabo and halt there. Flanked on either side by hills, Tabo monastery is one of the oldest Buddhist monastic complex regarded by many as only next to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet. It is also known as the Ajanta of the Himalayas for the caves and the frescoes found here. Next day you can drive to Kaza exploring Dhankar on the way.

#4 Sangla Valley, Kinnaur
Sangla valley in Kinnaur is situated in the northeast corner of Himachal Pradesh. The Baspa River flows in the Valley that is surrounded by forested slopes. Do visit Chitkul, the last village of India and Hindustan-Tibet road which finally enters Tibet at Shipki La Pass, Rakcham, a beautiful village in the valley and Kamru village that hosts one of the oldest forts in Himachal. 

The Trail: Delhi-Shimla-Sarahan-Sangla-Chitkul-Kalpa
Time Required to reach: 4 days

The first leg of the journey starts with a lovely drive on NH1 and later driving through Shivalik foothills you reach Shimla. Night halt can done in or around Shimla. Next morning drive along the fierce Sutlej River on the rock cut road that is a great engineering feat.  From Karchham a road goes towards Spiti and another turns towards the Sangla Valley. This 18 km stretch is a narrow winding road with hair-raising gorges & cliffs high above the Baspa River gushing below. Sangla valley is rich in Apple, Apricot, Wall-nut, Cedar tree orchards and glacial streams with trout fish. Drive another 22kms are you reach Chitkul. Once you have explored the valley including Chitkul and Kamru head to Kalpa. Kalpa is situated at the height of 2758 mtr above the sea level, and is one of the most beautiful village of Kinnaur that offers stunning views of the Kinnaur Kailash.

#5 Chandratal
The Chandratal Lake (4270 mtr.) is one of the most photographed lakes in the world. Once a halting place for traders who went to Spiti and the Kullu valley from Tibet and Ladakh attracts a large number of adventure lovers. This typical high mountain crystal clear blue water lake lies in a broad grassy plain, which in ancient times was a glacier, 7 kms away from the Kunzum Pass now a source of the Chandra River and idles for camping. 

The Trail: Delhi – Manali – Rohtang La – Gramphoo – Chattru – Battal – Chandratal.
Time Required to reach: 2 days

It will take around 14hrs to reach Manali. Its a highway drive followed by the drive along Beas River and then through lush green Kullu valley. Take a night halt at Manali. From Manali Chandratal is around 120kms. Driving through the magnificent landscape of Solang valley you reach Rohtang pass. Post which the road is quite challenging. You need to be an expert driver to drive on these roads. The area has magnificent vast himalayan landscapes. But there is no habitation except for the fixed camps at Gramphoo, Chhatru and Battal. This is where you can have your meals of simple rice dal and sabji or maggi with hot refreshing tea and relax for some time. 

The high mountain pass you will cross on the way: 
Rohtang Pass (13050 ft) on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas is around 51 km from Manali. It connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh

In case you don't drive but love to go on road trips, check our list of road trips and join one.


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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Common Myths About Homestays

As a traveller and a travel consultant I always try to make choices that are environment friendly. For instance, rather than buying plastic mineral water bottle every time I am thirsty, I prefer carrying my steel water bottle and refill it and encourage other people to do the same; I always snack on bhutta, nariyal pani, dry fruits etc that are natural and do not come in plastic packing and on group trips, I always prefer organizing our stays in homestays that are run by local people and are ecofriendly.

But at times I come across people who do not want to stay in homestays. Here's a list of the reasons they give, most of which I feel are misconceptions.

Homestays are difficult to access; It's tiresome, not relaxing

Many homestays are located in remote areas away from the crowd, reaching there can be tiresome but living there away from the crowd will surely be relaxing - spending a few days disconnected from technology, embracing the genuine warmth of hosts and eating food from farm to table can take away all the tiredness of the city life.
Also, not all homestays are far located. You can check beforehand if there is a proper road till the homestay or you will have to walk to reach the homestay and chose according to your preference.

Homestays are not safe for travelers

Safety can be an issue anywhere if you are not cautious so taking a few precautions will ensure your safety:
Before booking a homestay ask the owner if it is a government approved homestay and ask for their license number. In Kerala, Himachal and many other states there are strict rules to get a license. The owner has to obtain police clearance from multiple channels before a license to run the homestay is obtained. These clearance and licensing rules are introduced to ensure the safety and security for the tourists.  Alternatively, book it through a reference, a known person or a trusted platform like Homestays Of India.
On the contrary to this myth, many also feel it's much safer living in a homestay as the host can tell you which areas to avoid or go out with you to places where you might not be safe if you go on your own. They can be a sounding board for any issues you face and help you learn how to navigate a new location.

Homestays may not be hygienic and have our choice of food

Being in the industry I have checked kitchens in both, hotels and homestays, and can vouch for the cleanliness and hygiene of homestays especially if we compere from the kitchens of most of the hotel restaurants. Moreover food served in homestays is mostly prepared from homegrown vegetables and is cooked in the same kitchen in which they cook their own food, so you can expect the best.
Also, there is good variety of food in homestays. As per the availability of non-vegetarian food, you must check with the host before booking if they serve non vegetarian or not and chose as per your preferences.

Homestays are cheaper alternative to Hotels

It is the most common myth that if it's a homestay it will be cheaper than the hotels. No doubt you can chose to stay in low budget homestays if you are on a budget trip but thinking that homestays are always a cheaper alternative to hotel is wrong.
The fact is homestays are available in all ranges as is a hotel depending on the location, area and the facilities they provide. I have stayed in a homestay that charged me 2500 per night for bed and breakfast. And I think it's totaly worth it. The tastefully done interiors, the comfortable stay, the personal attention, the hospitality, the cleanliness and most importantly the fresh tasty organic food made from the produce of the kitchen garden and meticulously cooked by the host was all worth the money I paid. Which hotel could have given me this experience even in 5000/-... I wonder.
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