5 Most Beautiful Himalayan Towns

Originally posted on AsiaRooms

No matter how much I write about this beloved destination that I adore, there’ll never be enough to express the awe inspiring, breath taking, beautiful wonders that the Himalayan Mountain Range brings to all! While trekking within the Himalayas during the summer is quite a popular thing to do, there are many other ways to enjoy the magical spirit of the mountains – especially if you aren’t an ardent mountaineer, a huge trekking enthusiast or an avid lover of walking across the mountains. For starters you could try experiencing the beautiful serene towns that lie at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, and these five are my recommended.

1. Joshimath, Uttarakhand

The city of Joshimath serves as a good base to explore the mountains and smaller towns across the North Western Himalayas in the Garwhal and Kumaon reigons. If you drive 250km southwest, you will get to the holy town of Rishikesh and Haridwar, a glimpse of the beautiful escapades in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. From this place you can drive up to Govind Ghat, which is the base for the trek to the Valley of Flowers National Park. 20km away is also the beautiful skiing resort in Auli. Auli is known to be a skiing paradise in the Kumaon Himalayas. If not for skiing in the winters, this place makes for spectacular views and a ride on the cable car ropeway is quite fun even during summers. With a sneak peek towards many beautiful regions within North Western Himalayas, this is the perfect spot to snuggle up and relax if you want a peaceful retreat away from the madness of cities.

Auli is a famous skiing resort in the Kumaon Himalayas

2. Leh, Jammu and Kashmir

Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. It now forms part of the Leh district in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Though this is a huge stretch and has beauty varied with geographical diversities, it is more popular for its roadtrips on high altitudes, and the view of the expansive and different landscapes it has to offer. More importantly, the lakes and waters of this place make for magnificent viewings. On one side, there’s Tso Moriri and on the other side by the India-China border is Pangong Tso Lake. If it were up to me, I’d just go and settle down in this beautiful haven. With beautiful monasteries, the highest motorable road and the cold deserts of the Nubra Valley, Leh has a lot to offer and makes for a great stay especially during the months of July to October. What’s more, there are direct flights to Leh from Delhi, making the commute a lot easier.

With the view of the Himalayas in the backdrop, Tso Moriri Lake is a magnificent stopover

3. Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Situated in the Western Himalayas, Kaza is the gateway to the forbidden valley of the Great Western Himalayan Kingdom, known as the Spiti Valley. While getting there is an arduous task without any direct flights and the roads being one of the most dangerous in the world, once you’re there, the experience makes up for all the bumps and backaches you’ll incur on your journey there. Check out the views across Rohtang Pass and the short hike to Chandertaal Lake, and yes, once you’re there, the opportunity to visit one of the coldest villages in the world, Kibber, at 14,200 feet is the most blissful experience you’ll ever discover. One of the most spectacular views is of a gorgeous tall statue of Buddha sitting in the middle of nowhere, looking out onto the majestic mountains. The feeling you get out there is nothing short of magical.

Take a short hike to Chandertaal Lake before arriving in Kibber, one of the coldest villages in the world

4. Darjeeling, West Bengal

Known as the Queen of Hill Stations, Darjeeling is one of the prettiest towns in the North East Himalayas. As soon as you near the town, you’ll start to see views of the Kanchenjunga Peak. But there’s more to this place than just that view which almost sits in the background no matter which part of town you’re in. Darjeeling has some amazing restaurants, beautiful vantage points and a splendid ambience with its rustic Victorian legacy having served as a British hill station in the past. Wake up early at 4am for a visit to Tiger Point for a stupendous view of the sunrise. On your way back down, you can visit theGhoom Monastery, Japanese Pagoda which has some really amazing statues of Buddha in different poses.  Darjeeling is also famous for its teas, so stop by for a cup of Darjeeling tea as you view the sunset on the terrace of the century-old Keventer’s Café.

Darjeeling was a British hill station that is popular for its tea plantations

5. Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh

If you want to experience cool weather all year round, complete with chilly breezes, magical misty roads and some serious time and space to think about the meaning of life, then you’d want want to head to Mcleod Ganj. Located in the suburb of Dharamshala, it is also home to the Dalai Lama’s Temple known as Tsuglagkhang Temple. The town is also nicknamed “Little Lhasa” due to the large population of Tibetans living there. For me, a visit to the temple during prayer times was an enchanting experience. Whether you believe in any form of God or not, the spiritual journey is something that you’ll cherish for quite a while. The town centre gets crowded due to the hoards of tourists that come from all over the world to catch a glimpse of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but you can quietly slip away to a small part of town called Naddi. It’s quiet, beautiful and serene here. Either way, don’t miss Mcleod Ganj, especially if you’re in Manali or New Delhi.

McLeod Ganj is home to the popular Tsuglagkhang Temple, known as the Dalai Lama Temple

Buland Darwaza, Agra, Bharatpur, Jaipur, India, Travel

Magnanimity and Fortitude of Buland Darwaza

Some stories are part of legends and some stories are ‘Legendary.’ While I dawn upon a realization that most journeys have that one story, one place, one person, one experience that gets etched into memories of the travelers, there are stories that remind you that there are places that are etched in History and more importantly a passion that is driven by the stories of our past.

One such story was when I took a journey across Rajasthan and Agra about five years ago and stumbled upon this place via Bharatpur en route Agra. While we were on a traveling spree and covering city after city trying to experience the ruggedness and rustic nature of wonderful structures, cultural heritage and beautiful serenity of the magical monuments across India during the World Heritage Week in 2009 we were blinded by the magnanimous structure of the ‘Buland Darwaza’ on the outskirts of Bharatpur in a place called Fatehpur Sikri on our way to Agra.

‘Fateh’ stands for Victory and ‘Buland’ stands for powerful, stentorian and it is not just mere irony that this Indian Monument from the Mughal era was supposed to be built in this place. This Darwaza (gate/door) was constructed by built by the great Mughal emperor, Akbar in 1601 A.D. at Fatehpur Sikri. As we passed across the beautiful and green road structures on our way to reach the Buland Darwaza, as soon as we witnessed the huge structure, it made for an awe inspiring look on our faces only to realize that the structure had more to it. While you approach it closely and realize the marvel of the sculptures and inscriptions on the gate, you realize that this is sheer art created from a marvel back in the 16th Century. Akbar built the Buland Darwaza to commemorate his victory over Gujarat, there is some folklore which has a lot more to speak about this monument.

The Graves of Salim Chisti's Descendants

The Graves of Salim Chisti’s Descendants

Two things that you will only get to know when you go there. There is a Dargah inside the Buland Darwaza outside of which, you’ll find multiple graves of the Salim Chisti Dyansty. Even today his descendants reside within the complex and Dargah area, and whoever dies will be buried within those confines. It was believed that Salim Chisti already lived in the area where the Buland Darwaza stands today.

Salim Chisti's Dargah

Salim Chisti’s Dargah

Before it was built, it was nothing but barren land in the woods where the holy prophet practiced his religion. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, is believed to have consulted him because his wife was unable to give birth to a child. After which, Akbar’s wife gave birth to a baby boy Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim, at Fatehpur Sikri. He is also known by his imperial name Jahangir (30 August 1569 – 8 November 1627), was the fourth Mughal Emperor who ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627. And of course, no wonder he was named Salim, after this holy man Salim Chisti.

Another interesting thing about this place is a underground subway, which is now closed, however in those days, it was a direct passageway to Emperror Akbar’s Fort in Agra, now known as the Agra Fort! This was built for a safe passage as well as convenience if ever Akbar wanted to consult with Salim Chisti, who he highly regarded. What marvels of ancient archaeology, I must say.

The entire sight is plain beauty and while you’re there, you must marvel and admire the beauty of the ancient Mughal architecture and of course look around and speak to a few locals who’ll give you some inside stories of this place.  And no wonder it’s called Buland Darwaza, for truly it is sheer Magnanimity and Fortitude in its elements!

A glimpse of Gorgeous Nepal!

Originally posted on Gorgeous Nepal

One of the most brilliant sights across any landscape is the sight of Mountains reaching out to great heights across clouds! While I’m an avid mountaineer, trekker and have great aspirations one day to reach out to many mountains across the world, especially Everest Base camp and with Nepal’s Namche Bazaar being on my bucket list for certain, I’m yet to explore Nepal to the fullest. However, my first experience of Nepal was a mere glimpse of the beautiful and chivalrous mountains across the Indo-Nepal border on my Sandakphu trek in Darjeeling.

Indo Nepal Border

Yes, I can say that ‘technically’ I’ve been to Nepal, and boy, it has been quite a brilliant expose so far. This was back in November 2011, when I decided to take a trek with Youth Hostels Association of India into Sandakphu, the route to which was interspersed with entry and exit points across a few villages up the hills in Nepal. Specifically Jaobari and Kalipokhari. And while one may say, that’s hardly any experience in Nepal, I might beg to differ and have a completely amazing experience of the beauty those desolate places had to offer me. One thing that this trek offered, when you reach the top most point in Sandakphu, was a glimpse of Mt. Everest and a closer view of Kanchenjunga.

Tumling, Nepal, Himalayas

Our first stop at a point where we entered into Nepal was at a small pit-stop in Tumling. Though not proper Nepal, this region was quite a charm when it came to serenity and the most amazing food they served here. The evening was quite chilly and fog set in even as we reached there in the evening. But that did not deter us from going out for a short walk and exploring a bit of Tumling. Once we did that, we had amazing dinner prepared by Neela Di, the camp leader, a glorious entrepreneur who ran the camp lodge all by herself. This is a common sight you get to see in North East, Himalayas and Nepal regions. Most of the setups are managed very efficiently by the women of the house while husbands are mostly Sherpas. After dinner, we were joined by a couple of guides one of whom was really good at playing the guitar and he played some amazing Nepali songs while we hummed along.

Sunrise, Mountains, Sunrise on Mountains, Nepal

What was even more wonderful was the glimpse of a very early sunrise at 5.30 AM. Though the clouds and the mountains tried their best to hide the sun, the tinge of a yellowish orange sky made for one of the best views I’d ever seen across these mountains.  A much needed refresher for the journey up ahead on Day 2. That was the time when we had to scale a daunting climb, to take us into Kalipokhari. While there is a lot of effort you might need to take as soon as you move beyond Jaobari, another small village across Indo-Nepal border, you’ll realize that the most amazing landscapes of the young mountains will give you a sense of serenity that you would not really experience anywhere else. On your way, the Jaobari monastery is quite a small and melancholy stop, which will get you to think, how peaceful this region is.

Jaobari

After trekking for 4-5 hours, when we reached a pit-stop, we decided to stop over at a small place, which served amazing food and great mint tea. While I’m not a big fan of mint tea or tea as much, I decided to try out the Nepalese instant noodles. This was their answer to Maggi. ‘Rum Pum’ as it’s called.

Nepalese Noodles Rum Pum

That was our last stop before we actually reached the Black Lake a.k.a Kalipokhri! It is believed that Nepalese villagers worship the black lake and no one is allowed to take a swim or a dip in this lake. The temperature was freezing and it was already evening as we approached this village.

Kalipokhari, Kalapokhari, Nepal, Sandakphu

Once we settled down, we sat by the fire inside the kitchen and started mingling with the locals. So much so, that we even had a chance to listen to Nepalese radio channel, Koshi FM. Some were Hindi songs, and some Nepalese! Was fun tuning into the radio as we had our grub.

There was an interesting structure is like an indication of the Indo-Nepal border, with the right side being Nepal and the Left being India. This was at the entrance to our camp in Kalipokhari. The weather in Kalipokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it was, we certainly felt the pinch even when we had to step out of our wooden cottages to go have dinner in the hall. Our saving grace was that we didn’t have to wash our hands with cold water. There was provision for warm water and that was something all of us desperately desired for, after having dinner.

After a tiring hike and extremely fatigued run of this last stretch of uphill mountains one could only feel joy and glory when we saw that flag flying high. We knew we had reached Sandakphu. Post lunch we explored a couple of places on the Nepal side of Sandakphu. A Buddhist Monastery near a Shiva Temple and a small pond of water.

Maahi River's Origin

One that never dries. This is near the Buddhist monastery of Nepal part of Sandakhpu. This is apparently the head of the river Maahi, a very famous river of Nepal that never dries. This well or a small pond as they’d call it is perennial.  Once we were done visiting these places, we headed towards the top and after a short walk, and a bit of rock climbing we moved to the top where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Trails of the Hills and Woods

Post lunch we went to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 Kms walk where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on top. That’s the spot, the highest peak on Sandakphu. 3600 Meters around 14000 feet! Our trek is finally complete. Well, at least the climbing. After which was mostly going back to Darjeeling, and downhill.

Atop Sandakphu

Overall from whatever experience I had had of the glimpses of Nepal so far, one thing I felt was most certainly a feeling of utmost magic, something that I had never experienced so far. A beautifully fulfilling experience if anything I may add. I can only imagine what other parts of Nepal may have to offer, if the glorious mountains across Sandakphu, Kalipokhari and Jaobari were this beautiful.

Fragrance of Culture in Kochi

Fort Kochi - Chinese Fishing Nets

Fort Kochi – Chinese Fishing Nets

While Kerala is infamously popular for its backwaters and magnanimously known for being GOD’s Own Country, there are many other facets that describe the beauty of Kerala. One such part of the state that adds a spice of it’s own to this beautiful God’s own country is Ft. Kochi. Kochi was a fishing village in the Kingdom of Kochi in the pre-colonial Kerala, has a mix of old houses built by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in these colonial periods line the streets of Fort Kochi. St Francis Church was built in 1503 by the Portuguese as a Catholic church. 

An Ancient building in Ft. Kochi

An Ancient building in Ft. Kochi

One of the first things you’ll notice when you set foot off the boat, that arrives from Marine drive is the fragrance of the spices. Since early days Arabian and Chinese traders sourced spices, especially pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, sandal wood etc. from the Kochi region. Even today, it is hugely important for it’s spices. But other than that, from a traveler’s point of view there are far more interesting things that you’d love to take a look at.

In fact, Ft. Kochi is a place that’s far more different than any other places in Kerala. Much different from the beautiful, landscape full of trees and water, different from the valley of coffee plantations, certainly a sight far closer to the beaches of Kovalam, and yet has a distinctive look and feel about it that you can’t really spot a place like it elsewhere in Kerala.

Oldest Jewish Synagogue lies in India at Fort Kochi - Pardesi Synagogue

Oldest Jewish Synagogue lies in India at Fort Kochi – Pardesi Synagogue

St. Francis Church - Ft. Kochi

St. Francis Church – Ft. Kochi

A Hindu Temple on Dutch Street in Ft. Kochi

A Hindu Temple on Dutch Street in Ft. Kochi

The ancient, historic confluence of the Church as well as the Jewish Synagogues,  a Hindu temple on Dutch street and the Chinese Fishing nets will mesmerize you while the sun sets across the shores and the most beautiful roadside stalls on Jew Street offer a cultural expose that even the Merchants of Venice would have been envious of.

Jew Street

Jew Street

Sunset at Fort Kochi

Sunset at Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi has a thing of it’s own to offer to most travelers. You have got to experience it in a way that you’ll never experience any other place across India. And while you’re at it, you must breathe in the synchronicity of rich heritage and various cultures that still forms part of this magnificent country that I’d like to call India!

Travel Enthusiast of the Month

Fourways travel, Travel

Fourways Travels – Travel Enthusiast of the Month :D

One of the best things about being known as a traveler and a wanderer is to share your exciting journey and your lust for travel with everyone who wants to be there and beyond! Recently Fourways Travel reached out to me to feature me in a category on their blog called ‘Travel Enthusiast of the Month’ Was happy to know that I’m one of the first in the series to come and would be watching that space to find out perspectives from people across the country who give their opinion on the way they travel.

While I don’t generally have a theme or a pattern in mind, other than ‘Backpacking,’ it was a great opportunity to pen my thoughts down on some specific questions that they asked and answer my responses!

From what inspired me to travel, to describing how my first solo travel experience was. From the best of my trips to the top on my bucket list I got to pen down some of my most favorite travel moments for others to seek inspiration towards. Something that gave me a perspective on how this journey has come out so far. Some of these questions were for them, but the answers I gave were answers to myself. As a wanderer, as a traveler, what makes me happy and what are the reasons why I travel. Well, all of it encapsulated in this interview. So go ahead, read all about it on this blog here!

Singaporean Delights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most interesting things on my visit to Singapore was the beauty of the city and of course my trust with the delightful architecture and some interesting sights that I had on my trip. The best thing about Singapore, is that you can get from Point A to Point B with complete ease. The worst thing about Singapore, is that you hate when you leave it. ;) Most of my trip I either took the metro, or walked across the city wherever I could go. It was so easy that I didn’t have to ask for any directions. In most cases, Google Maps did the job for me. The beauty of this city is the sparseness and the clean roads. But more than that the entire experience has a level of nostalgia that I cannot just share in mere words. The reason I decided to write this post was to remember and relive those memories that I had last year! A few delightful moments in this Photo essay of my trip to Singapore.

A colourful view of theHongbao River festival… Part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

A colourful view of the Hongbao River festival… Part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

A view of the Lotus shaped Arts Science centre from The Helix Bridge…

A view of the Lotus shaped Arts Science centre from The Helix Bridge…

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple - Chinatown

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple – Chinatown

Tintitn Statue at the Tintin store in Chinatown

Tintin Statue at the Tintin store in Chinatown

A view from Boat Quay

A view from Boat Quay

Chinatown during the day

Chinatown during the day

DBS Building near Marina Bay

DBS Building near Marina Bay

Five Stars Building - Pagoda

Five Stars Building – Pagoda

Fullerton Hotel Near Boat Quay

Fullerton Hotel Near Boat Quay

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

Mustafa Center Near Little India

Mustafa Center Near Little India

Outside Buddha Tooth Relic Temple near Chinatown

Outside Buddha Tooth Relic Temple near Chinatown

Paper Puppets Installation at Hongbao Festival

Paper Puppets Installation at Hongbao Festival

Parliament House

Parliament House

Singapore Flyer - Beautifully lit up Ferris Wheel at night

Singapore Flyer – Beautifully lit up Ferris Wheel at night

Singapore River

Singapore River

Songs of the Sea - A must watch at Sentosa Island

Songs of the Sea – A must watch at Sentosa Island

Sunset at Siloso Beach - Sentosa

Sunset at Siloso Beach – Sentosa

The Merlion and Marina Bay Sands

The Merlion and Marina Bay Sands

 

 

Wandering off beyond reality

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“To wander off beyond the realms of reality, sometimes you just need to travel to get back to the roots of your imagination.”

Isn’t it true? Whenever you travel you make sure that you go to the places that you have dreamed of many times. When you travel, you always make it a point to find something that you don’t get in your day to day life. You find that escapade, that solitude and that beautiful far off distant places that you wondered about every single day of your life. Travel to me is beyond finding that escape, beyond just rediscovering myself or finding my soul. Sometimes I travel to just look at the beauty that is around me. Sometimes I just travel to find an interesting observation that I won’t on a day to day basis. Many a times I travel to just look at things that I don’t pay attention to if I am living my so called ‘life.’

How do you decide where you want to travel? The truth really is, you don’t decide where you travel, it decides you. Yeah, you might say that it’s a cliche, that has been fed to many a writers, artists and now people don’t accept it the way it is meant to be. Yes, many of us make our bucket lists and travel to places that you have been wishing for many years and I fall in that category too. The truth is, no matter how much you plan, how much you travel you would never get enough of it. So don’t think about it. Travel as much as you can, travel without a goal, travel without a dream. Just travel for the sake of it, if you will. Believe in the fact that you have the world to yourself and get going on the road that you have thought of in your mind!

Just wander off! Just start traveling, just start dreaming and start believing in the fact that, no matter what you do, you’ll always keep traveling at the smallest occasion you get. Believe in the fact that you can do it and you will do it! When you look at it a few years down the line  you’ll realize how far you have come! And that’s what I do, today. I am happy! I feel and I think I am for sure. I know I can be happier, and I know I will! Cause I have a belief that that is the only goal I have in life and I will pursue it day after day until I die! Cause I believe in what I want, and what I shall get! To travel the world till I die!