Monday, September 22, 2014

PUSHKAR - My favorite weekend destination

What attracts you to PUSHKAR?
Spirituality - Holy Lake and the only Brahma Temple; The local life - cheerful people dressed in vibrant dresses; Nature's marvels - mesmerizing sunrise and gorgeous sunset; Food and shopping - cafes overlooking the lake serving delicious food and the variety of silver jewelry and traditional clothes to shop; Music and dance - Bhopa musicians playing Ravanhatha and kalbelia ladies performing dance... 

Its the mystic yet relaxed air of this place that brings me here time and again. Pushkar is my favorite getaway during winters if I am not heading to the Himalayas.

Fragrance of Dhoop and incense sticks mixed with fragrance of roses welcomes you here. Walk through the maze of narrow lanes to reach the hotel. Warm simple people will greet you with full heart. After relaxing you can decide on weather you want to spend time by the side of the lake listening to someone playing guitar or you want to hike up to Savitri temple and watch the golden sun dipping down the horizon while some Rajasthani bhopa plays ravanhatha (a traditional musical instrument).

Hema enjoying sunrise at Gayatri Devi temple
Head back to the market and relax on some roof top cafes with wide range of menu. Have local cuisine or try lafa and falafal or some of the best mud oven baked pizzas.

Wake up to the sound of ringing bells. Opening your eyes to this spiritual atmosphere is one thing I love about Pushkar. There is a range of breakfast options to chose from... kachori, kadi pakora, bedmi puri subji or if you want it light go for some awesome bakery product. Whatever you chose end it with rich sugary malpua.

Malpua in making
Life has a very slow pace here. Spend hours just sitting by the side of lake listening to the stories of sadhus or at a juice corner interacting with some backpackers. Walk around the lanes to find best silver jewelry and traditional clothes. You can pick the fabric and a design, give it to the tailor in the same shop and go get some lunch. Have a nap and your dress is ready. Stroll around the colorful bazar to flaunt your new dress, have your favorite cake with a cup of coffee and go to the desert to enjoy a camel ride with some soulful Rajasthan music.

Pushkar is a shopper's paradise
If you have time hire a bike and explore the outskirts of Pushkar. Cheerful locals, ancient temples and the greeny around will surprise you.

Hire a bike to explore surroundings
To reach this mystic land of Pushkar either take an overnight sleeper bus or a Shatabdi till Ajmer and then a bus or a taxi that will take not more than a hr to reach Pushkar. I find it the most easily approachable weekend getaway from Delhi.

Want to explore PUSHKAR with experts... Join ChaloLetsGo trip in Nov



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Thursday, September 18, 2014

A WILD ESCAPE - Corbett

With stress levels increasing in today’s competitive life, weekend getaway in the lap of nature is the best way to rejuvenate you. Corbett is one of the most sought after places for a quick escape. Just 6hrs drive from Delhi takes you to this beautiful place close to nature. While Corbett has plenty of accommodation options available finding a neat boutique hotel that is located in the heart of the jungle and moderately priced is not an easy task. Below is a brief of my stay. I hope my experience will help you make your search and decision-making easier!

After a lovely drive of around six hrs from Delhi we reached Ramnagar. An exciting drive started just a few minutes after we crossed the Kosi barrage that took us through the dense forest passing the grasslands and crossing the river beds. While we were driving through this magical land, a friend Pankaj who has already been here many times told us the tales of the area. He has witnessed a lot of wildlife here on this drive. Be it spotting beautiful little Himalayan birds or bumping into a herd of wild elephants or spotted deer one can expect anything. This drive is no less than a wild safari.
A beautiful drive through the Jungle that takes you to the resort
We passed through the uneven terrains enthralled and captivated by the beauty of the jungle. Shy golden rays of sun could hardly reach the wet bushes and leaves longing for its warm touch. We were mesmerized by the sight, sounds and scent of the jungle when we realized we have reached our destination - The PRIM Resort, located at Kyari - the buffer zone of Corbett National Park. Just outside the resort gate is a river bed that fills with water during monsoons. 
A warm welcome by the well trained soft spoken staff immediately made me feel at home. Just a walk around the nicely maintained beautiful resort was enough to assure me of a comfortable stay in coming days - hospitable staff, clean spacious tastefully decorated rooms with nice big bathrooms and hot water available 24hrs, enough green space and well trimmed gardens to walk around and a well maintained clean pool to relax.

A comfortable stay in midst of the forest
After relaxing for an hour, I pushed off to explore the village Kyari. Mud houses and the green fields, ladies working in the fields and carrying fodder, kids playing with sheep and old lady with her grandson sitting in the courtyard – I felt like I have been transported back to my childhood days. An elderly lady in one of the houses courteously invited me for a cup of tea. We sat in front verandah of her house looking at the sky. The sun was setting and the reflections of the setting sun on clouds created magical spell of colors.
Exploring life at village KYARI 
My group was relaxing by the pool side with some drinks and nicely prepared snacks when I reached back. I could not resist and joined them. The hotel staff deserves a mention here. They were extremely accommodating to our requests and went an extra step to ensure they are met. Delicious dinner was served absolutely on time.
A relaxing evening by the side of the pool 
Next day was dedicated to the adventure activities that the resort had organized for us. We did jungle safari in the first half of the day that was full of excitement while rappelling, rock climbing and river crossing at River Khichdi and body surfing satisfied our adventurous souls later in the day. I was quite skeptical in the beginning to try all this but as I met the expert and spoke to him, his assuring and comforting talks made me do it all. And now I thank him for instilling the courage in me else I would have missed the entire thrill.
River-crossing, Rappelling, Surfing and Jungle Safari to satisfy your adventurous soul
The guided lantern walk in the jungle after dusk was what the resort people offered us to do in the late evening. Though we were dead tired, could not resist it. Walking through the jungle at night was like a musical spell. The sound of cricket and occasional calls of deer mixed with the sound of rain drops on the saal trees resulted in a mystic effect beyond the darkness. Though we could not stay out for long due to rain, I decided to visit the place again just to do more of it. 

I wanted to spend the next day at leisure. It started with a hot cup of masala tea while watching mesmerizing sunrise. Post breakfast I picked up my book and walked up to the machaan (watch tower). PRIM is the only place around that has a machaan where you can sit and enjoy reading or keep an eye on the surroundings for some wildlife or sit at night with friends and chat.  Around the resort are many river beds. Spending some quiet my time on a huge boulder, feet dipped in water sitting in middle of the jungle refreshed me.
River beds with huge boulders all around offers an ideal setting to spend some quiet time with yourself
It being a pleasant weather I took a walk in and around the resort and tried to capture as much as I could in my eyes and camera. 
My tired city soul was now fully refreshed to start my journey back to the city

Important Information:
  1. The resort is just 6hrs drive from Delhi through Gajrola, Moradabad, Kashipur and Ramnagar (around 240 km.) and is located at Kyari, the buffer zone of Corbett.
  2. Resort Amenities: Swimming Pool; TT table; Library; 50 ft. high Machaan to enjoy the forest; Beautiful dining area overlooking the landscape and 60 seated conference hall.
  3. Room prices for this resort starts at Rs. 4000 with meals for two. They give the best rates at www.primresorts.com'. 
  4. Room Amenities: Tastefully done rooms with big sit out areas and gardens; TV; Intercom; AC/Heaters
  5. Activities like River crossing, rappelling and body surfing can be organised on request
  6. Jeep Safari to Corbett National Park can also be arranged. Pick and drop from the resort at no extra cost.

PRIM RESORTS is a Collection of Boutique Resorts in most beautiful offbeat locations. For details and bookings visit their website http://www.primresorts.com/.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

In the shadow of Dhauladhars

Gossip session in the morning with bed tea in hand was followed by digging into steaming hot aalu puri as sweet rays of winter sun warmed our bodies and the panoramic view of snow caped dhauladhar ranges soothed our eyes.

Of all the hill stations in the North, Kangra valley rarely vies for attention with gimmicky spells. But perhaps that’s where its charm lies. Snuggling up to the snow capped Dhauladhar range, this valley in Himachal is a weekend getaway from Delhi with its scenic viewpoints, hidden monasteries and warm people. It has something to offer to everyone, amazing landscapes and lush green forests for photographers and nature lovers, serene monasteries hidden in the pines for those looking for some quietude and activities like paragliding and trekking for the adventurous lot.

Embracing the Cool Winds at Billing 
It was a clear day, perfect for paragliding. We were now heading to Billing, one of the world’s best Paragliding sites. Zigzag ways, deep valley on one side and snow covered high hills on the other and chilled air kissing our faces. The paragliding team was headed by Sonu. Sitting at the height of 2290m above sea level, looking at the horizon and sipping hot tea in chilling weather was something we will cherish throughout our lives. Exalted hearts, nervous minds and shivering bodies. Right direction and velocity of wind was required to jump off the cliff. Our pilots were experts in judging the right moment and encouraging us to jump. All the nervousness disappeared as soon as we were in the air. Then it was all excitement of flying up above the deep valleys and high mountains. The feeling while you are up there is beyond words.

Paragliding at Billing
Landing was trickier than the take off. Along with the right direction and velocity of air, folding legs in a specific way was also required. Follow the instruction exactly as given by your instructor or else break your legs, we were told. We opted to follow the instructions. We were all dead tired after this soul stirring experience. Not just exciting but it was also a good learning experience - trust and confidence in your instructor, perfect coordination, taking timely decisions and much more.

Celebrating Life with Lively Monks at Shera Bling monastery, Bhattu
Tucked away from the town, just a few kilometers west of Bir in Upper Bhattu, is this sprawling Tibetan Buddhist monastery and retreat complex. Situated in the midst of lush green pine forested foothills of the Kangra Valley, Palpung Shera Bling monastery is the place to relax and celebrate life, leaving behind all the worries and hassles.  

Serene walk around Shera Bling monastery Bhattu
A quiet walk through the pine forest with colorful Buddhist prayer flags on the sides of the road guided us to the monastery.  While we were taking a look at the magnificent monastery building, the magical drum beats compelled our attention. We followed the beats and found that they were coming from the 3rd floor. The monks, young and old, were engrossed in the rehearsals. The monastery will host bi-annual Lama-dances in its premises we were told, of which the practice sessions were going on. Celebration of life in the midst of serene nature, glowing jovial faces of kids, youth and old alike, we felt as if we have reached some different world altogether where people knew no sorrow.  After having Thukpa and tea, being served by most friendly people in the cafĂ© outside the monastery we proceeded further.

Rediscovering History at Ancient Shiva Temple, Baijnath
On our way back to the hotel we visited the ancient Shiva temple in Baijnath.  13th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has been continuously under worship ever since its construction in 1204 A.D.

Old Shiva Temple, Baijnath
The temple is a beautiful work of the early medieval north Indian Temple architecture known as Nagara style of temples. Baijnath being my birth place, this temple holds special importance for me. We, as kids, used to come here every evening with our parents. While they used to offer prayers, we would spend time playing in the well maintained garden just outside the temple. I still have very fond memories of grand 5 day celebrations on maha shivratri in the temple. All the members, including kids of the family would get up early morning, take bath and rush to the temple and this routine would go on for the whole week.  Decorated with marigold flowers all over, temple looked so different in those 5 days. Thronged by numerous devotees from all over the state, we had to wait for hours just to get a glimpse of the inside of the temple that’s so easy to approach on any normal day.  Today while visiting it with people from other cities and narrating to them the whole childhood experience I relived those childhood memories.

That was the moment when we realized that it’s time to say goodbye to this serene land. With heavy hearts we left the beautiful valley but we were happy to have gathered so many memorable moments and have made friends for life.


The Guide
Kangra Valley is situated in Himachal Pradesh, India. The valley has an average elevation of 2000 ft. The highest peak on the Dhauladhar range which marks the boundary of the valley reaches 15,956 ft.

FACT SHEET
Getting there
·     By Rail :  The nearest broad gauge railway station is at Pathankot placed at a distance of about 90 km from Kangra. There is frequent bus service and taxis are also available from Pathankot. One can also take narrow guage rail from here.
·     Air: The nearest airport to reach Kangra is Gaggal airport, placed at distance of 13 kms from Kangra city. Taxi cabs are available from there. The taxi fare varies depends on the season. Typically taxi charges are Rs.300.
·     By Road: Kangra is approximately 450kms from Delhi. It is around 10hrs drive and roads are in good condition.

Getting Around
You’ll need a car to travel around. Hire a taxi from Pathankot, if you have come by rail or from Kangra, if you have come by air. 

The areas of interests in and around Kangra valley are Palampur, Baijnath, Bir, Billing, Bhattu and Dharamsala

I am planning a group trip in Sept 2016 that will cover this and much more (Masroor rock-cut temples and Andretta). Contact me @9999731115 to join.



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Friday, September 5, 2014

Wild Alaskan Arctic - The Hostile Land

A VERY SPECIAL LIVE REPORT from Mr. Nirmalya Chakraborty,Editor, Jungle Rhythms. The man who always takes extra miles to reach out to explore the rare wild life throughout the world. Presently, he is fighting the snow blizzard and extreme adverse weather condition at Northern Slope of Alaska in search of elusive Polar Bear. 


The Wild Alaskan Expedition 
"As I sit here locked in my very small warm cabin writing this small note, a strong gust of wind with a blast of snow is constantly bombarding on my glass window. This is definitely a clear signal that an early cold winter is fast approaching this year at the Northern Slope of Alaska in Deadhorse on the Arctic coast.


Dalton Highway
The weather has been very hostile and harsh since we landed in Fairbanks. Still, we risked and drove the entire James Dalton Highway, a distance of 666km in torrential rain, frigid ice and bad unstable gravel road surface. We crossed the alpine cover and had close encounters with Grizzly Bears around Wiseman and then climbed up the treacherous Atigun Pass and passed through the Brooks Range to reach a place away from modern lifestyles into a white snowy world of the bears.
Arctic Ocean

Since, last 3days we are locked here in this little space fighting against all odds to seek key data from the secret lives of the polar bear sub-population in the Beaufort Sea. This is part of a Polar Bear expedition that will track the bears during this very small window of relatively 'good' weather and then try to identify key parameters of impact of Arctic oil explorations and global warming in their lives. The expedition is with a team of member scientists from US, UK and Australia. I am the only Indian member. The key contribution would be of the accounts of the local people who stay harmoniously with the bears. This key data would reveal how they feel about the bears who have adapted over time and any major changes in attitude and movements. 

It has been noted that polar bears are already near a village named Kaktovik gorging themselves on a whale carcass and our team is now well-prepared to document and film them in this hostile weather. Sadly due to gusts of winds of around 53kph and snow shadow constantly of around 3inches, things ahead look very bleak. This weather disturbance is basically due to a cold front that has hit the entire northern Alaska, the charter flights have been cancelled and our expedition is on an uncertain future."

(Report Date: 04.09.2014)

Nirmalya Chakraborty
Editor, Jungle Rhythms
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