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To be well traveled is to be well read…

Or is it the other way around? Well, doesn’t matter, they both add up to making you a person of great learning and knowledge. I started traveling hardcore about eight years ago. I’ve traveled extensively for months, and there have been times when for months, I’ve been busy with either work or pursuing other passions in life. No matter what, after such a great journey I’ve had in these past years, I’ve always felt the thirst, the hunger to seek more knowledge. Meet new people, think and talk about places, destinations that make for the best memories throughout.

So, apart from the fact that travel makes me a well read person, because I am able to do all of those things, I believe one thing that I always carry on all my travels, especially in the mountains, is a book! A book to keep me company and to give me time to unclog especially if I’m on one of those unplugged trips where I want to get away, off the grid from this melancholy of life that we lead on a daily basis.

While, my choice of books is varied, across genres of travel, sci-fi, modern classics, technology I always feel the need to pack more than one book, in case I want the choice to read another if I get stuck somewhere on one of them. Guess, what, being a backpacker, my first motto is always to travel light. And if I have to travel light, there have been times that I’ve probably traded an extra book, to an extra pair of jeans or even a jacket for that matter. That’s how perplexed I am after I’ve stuffed my backpack. I keep wondering, let me choose a few thinner books rather than one large size monster, cause what if I don’t like that book and want to read the other ones. Then I wonder, what if I finish all my books and I don’t have anything to read or have to buy one on the move… And yes, that’s why I always have my iPod, where I carry an additional audio book just in case, but mostly end up listening to music if I’m on longer trips.

Anyways, that dilemma has been solved, now that I’ve got the new Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. I’ve always had it in mind to get one of those, especially for my mountain trips, treks. I remember trekking the Sandakphu in West Bengal, and that was the time I had pre-ordered a mammoth Steve Jobs book, which was released around that very time. Sadly, I couldn’t carry the huge book atop, and had to leave it at the base camp. I did have an e-book version of it, on the Kindle App on my phone, but the battery wouldn’t last long enough to survive the entire trek. So I can actually remember reading bits, savoring the battery life I had and somehow manage to skim through some chapters before I could actually come back to the base camp and continue a better reading experience on my return journey back from Darjeeling to Mumbai. Add to that, despite having a 4″ screen, the reading experience is not the best and I admit, having a Kindle, would have been a great experience.

Cut to 2015: I was on another trek in the Himalayas, (Har-ki-Dun) This has to be one of the most magnanimous journeys I’ve taken in the Himalayas, especially because of it’s amazing view of the mountains, the landscape and the journey across a serene landscape of solitude of sorts! I could probably just stay there for years and years, if I have over a thousand books with me. One of those surreal dreams of being a sage, a relic in the mountains surviving on learning through the wisdom of books!

Har Ki Dun India Travel Blog srinistuff srinivas kulkarni

Thanks to the Kindle, now I can. I think as a traveler, this is the best gadget to carry especially if you are one of those who travel solo or travel with few people and don’t mind the company of a few good reads along with the conversations, imaginations and view of the landscape around you. I’ve been using it for over a month now.

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One of my biggest problems of choosing how many books to carry, or which one, is kaput! To add to that, I don’t have to worry about space in my backpack or my book getting wet as well, cause you can actually be worry free especially if you buy the Kindle cover that’s available separately on the Amazon store. The fact that it’s battery lasts for about 2 weeks would easily mean that you are sorted for about 15 days, which is mostly the length of most of my trips, and either ways, you have the ability to charge it with any USB / Mobile charger nowadays. While the earlier version I’ve heard lasts for more than 3 weeks, the ability to download / buy via 3G and probably the better user screen experience, could be the reason, why the battery life could use some more juice, it’s still a great advantage for a traveler like me.

For most travelers, the user experience of flipping through books, being able to read without straining your eyes, especially if you go for a mobile device to replace the actual books, then I think this Kindle is perfect for you. Probably one day, if my dream of becoming a Modern Day Relic, would come true, then I’d probably disappear in the mountains with nothing but a thousand books on this device and probably an iPod. That’s all that I need to survive in the realm of my imagination!

Disclaimer: While I mostly write about travel on this blog, I’m also an avid reader of books, especially e-books and audio books. The Kindle device was given to me by Amazon for my views on how it’s a great tool for a traveler like me. I’ve written this blog for my audience, fellow travelers as I felt this recommendation makes sense for you readers and I recommend this device on my own accord and makes a lot of sense especially for backpackers like me to carry a Kindle as opposed to many books. The views on this blog are personal and neither Amazon India or their stakeholders have any influence on my thoughts.

Image Credits: Creative Commons, Wikipedia uploaded by user Metanish

A trail to the Valley of Heaven!

One of the most exciting things for a traveler is always the beginning of a journey. The sheer joy you get when you are headed for a new trail is something which you can’t imagine without actually going through that experience, which I’m sure all of us would have. But it’s a notch above the rest, when that journey is to Himalayas.

Especially when the meandering trails happen to be as lovely as this. Tomorrow is the start of an all new journey after quite a while, since I actually went hiking in the Himalayas. While 6 months ago, the trip to Sikkim gave us the boost we needed to rekindle our love with the Himalayas, Feetonthemap and I made it a point that the next trip to Himalayas was going to be an amazing trek, something like this. And here we are today, with excitement galore, just one day to go and all set to drive into a wandering melancholy and figure out our journey as we go.

We’ll be trekking for at least 6 days, beyond wilderness that I just hope will have some enchanting snow caped mountains and lush green sights like the one above, even as we are at the onset of monsoon.

One of the things this journey is going to be about for me personally, is to seek a gateway towards exploration. To be one with nature in it’s true self. To learn some more from stories that it tells me. Obviously, since there isn’t going to be any connectivity, we’d most certainly enjoy a lot of time closer to nature, and that is only the beginning…

And the only thing I can do right now is hum my favorite song…

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…”

Backpack Srinistuff

Hopefully I’ll share some stories as soon as I’m back. To find out on the go stories follow my Tumbleogue @ srinistuff.tumblr.com

The Sheer Joy of traversing through Himalayas

Sometimes a distant memory of the past is the lost enchantment that you imagined on the road you traveled upon without having to wonder if you’d ever want to come back to your regular life…

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Sometimes a simple thing such as living in your backpack and wandering away the melancholia of your mundane life is what sets you apart from the beauty of the life lived upon a treading path of glory.

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Sometimes the sheer madness of the breathtaking view on your journey let’s you imagine a world of fantasy that you always tell yourself of the wonderful stories that last longer than eternal sights of nature to make you want to go back to the ‘Kingdom of Narnia’ again and again…

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Sometimes you just meet someone so interesting that it makes you realize  many things about yourself, and you strive harder to look for inspiration that is so close to your life, yet so far, you have to  seek out these journeys to eventually get there…

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Sometimes the best part about your travels is nothing but the amazing cuisine you enjoy, without having to worry about the calories you count or for that matter the taste… They’re just simply awesome and you like it that way…

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Sometimes you look around yourself, and you realize that you have woken up in a land unknown and a place that you are about to fall in love with, knowing that the view is so magnanimous that you’ll just have to try to let go of it after a few days with a heavy heart…

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Sometimes it’s the beauty of nature, the animals, the interesting folks, the enchanting culture and the divine spirituality that surrounds you, nothing can beat the simple joy of traversing through these enchanting Himalayas…

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Vintage delight at the Verandah in the Forest

One of the most interesting aspects of traveling is the opportunity to explore the unexplored and experience the inexperienced! Being a backpacker, I’m not so much into luxury, however if I get an opportunity every once in a while, I’d not hesitate to sit back and enjoy the relaxation galore. One such opportunity happened to present itself when we went to a much renowned, tourist attraction, yet very popular destination among hikers for the sheer joy of trailing down the woods. Yes, I’m talking about the ever so popular, Matheran!

A weekend destination in itself, this location is a regular, for people around Mumbai, Pune and has a very age old heritage and antiquity to itself. Discovered by the Britishers back in the 1800’s, left to the Parsis, this place now has become a tourist haven. But apart from it being a typical weekend retreat for tourists, there are certainly a lot of unexplored aspects of Matheran, which many people generally tend to miss out especially if you get caught up in the whole typical, sight seeing, visiting spots, the regular horse back riding or the toy trains which are most popular with breathtaking views across the mountains.

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We happened to get one such opportunity while we went on a long weekend to spend some quality reclusive time this summer. Apart from being close to nature, the little respite from the Mumbai heat was more than welcome.

The joy of walking, rather hiking across the woods, the ability to feel the shadows of the trees and see horses galloping around, the amazing view of the sunset across a dense array of mountains was something worth spending the quality time over the weekend. But all that apart, the most enchanting experience of this weekend was the brilliance and magnanimous feeling of being in a vintage property that’s age old and hasn’t really had the need for any kind of restoration.

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Originally, known as the Barr House, built by Colonel Barr during the early regime of the East India Company and later on inherited by a Parsi owner, it became the Verandah in The Forest, when it was acquired by Neemrana Group of Hotels as part of their amazing collection of Vintage hotels across the country.

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While you may not have connectivity, television, network, Internet at this hotel, what makes up for it is the amazing experience of being transported back into a time capsule, probably back in the 90’s where you have a huge hall within the hotel, where you can listen to an amazing collection of music, my favorite, Jazz on a CD Player. Read some vintage magazines, an exploration of the Parsi dynasty, treasured books off the library shelf.

The decor and the furniture within the room, is still from the 1800’s and has an enchanting style to it, that cannot be matched without any other experience in a luxury resort of sorts.

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The sheer brilliance of an antique, vintage experience, topped up with a courtyard of retreat and relaxation, brings joy to your tethered soul that needs space on weekends such as the ones we explored. The best part about this hotel, was that it’s a walk away from the famous Echo Point and Charlotte lake, amazing I must say for the magnificent view at Sunset.

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Not to mention the amazing experience that we had during our 4 course dinner sitting in the dining room, that probably resembled one of those from the movies depicting old regime of pre-independence British era. With the candles, the wall clock, the silver laden platter and cutlery gave us a feeling of the royal family dinner, one that you won’t get anywhere else, especially around here. The experience was one of it’s kind.

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Special Note: This trip to Matheran was an impromptu weekend getaway. A special thanks to the Neemrana Group’s The Verandah in the Forest for their warm hospitality and complimentary stay. The Verandah in the Forest is acclaimed as the second house to be built on the isolated Western Ghats, by the Britisher Captain Barr.

Now, with every facility in place, it is reputed to be second to none! A note on Neemrana Properties- All Neemrana properties are ‘non–hotel’ Hotels, as they were originally built for other purposes. All efforts have been made to maintain the old charm of The Verandah in the Forest while ensuring the basic comforts that have come to be associated with the changes in lifestyle since the 19th century. Neemrana offers guests a unique opportunity to lounge like never before.

Inspiration: Travel is thy name!

One of the best things that travel gives me is a soul searching ability towards looking within. Within my heart and my soul to imagine a world that exists in a transcendental boundary on a journey that knows no horizon.

I look back upon this journey of mine and ask myself sometimes. Why do I do this? Why did I start traveling when I did? What drove me, what was my inspiration? The answer to which is very easy to find if you really want to  truly answer that from the bottom of your heart.

I don’t need a reason, I don’t need an inspiration! I just need to go!

Traveling for me is a  means to life. It’s a purpose. It may not be a means to an end or for that matter a journey in itself. I may or may not explore the entire world, but today as I live, I know I have that passion, that zest, that love for the long roads, the mighty mountains, the beautiful stories and the interesting people that I meet on my sojourns. If anything defines me today it’s my insatiable hunger for the road less traveled. Today I am, therefore tomorrow I move forward. I look at myself and imagine a future where I look back upon this journey, like I did about seven years ago, when I told myself.

“I have to leave a legacy that speaks miles about my journey taken, roads traveled, mysteries of this amazing world explored.” Needless to say, my blogging has helped me document this journey of life, of an exploring and meandering soul searching traversing across many destinations. To me, that simple hunger, that thirst, that endless desire to keep pushing myself forward is my sole inspiration.

Hence, I always say to myself, “The world is waiting for me and I must go! Go seek out the passion within the beautiful boundaries of this amazing creation!”

Meandering across the horizon in search of spirituality

Over 5000 years the quest to spirituality has been a constant rouse for explorers across the world when they happened to arrive to India! That has always been a very important phenomenon of the Indian culture.

Despite that more recently, there has been a troubling side of it, being the repressive rules, the hypocritical approach of many folks irrespective of gender. The lack of awareness to global etiquette while interacting with travelers across the world has been a huge challenge, even so to provoke those tourism ads to educate Indians. While India always has brought a spiritual quest to many travelers and explorers there always are political considerations and factors in play in. Those that aspire towards a more fundamental leaning towards agendas that are meant to control chaos and simply construed as against ‘our Indian culture.’ This is simply a fact that many fail to address or simply choose to ignore!

But as a traveler, a travel blogger and most importantly an Indian, I’d like to say, that no matter what you do there are always two sides to this coin! And the change that is happening, is largely driven by an undercurrent of changing global economy, as well as cultural shift in the paradigm of the world. In light of that, there are some interesting aspects of India, that I’ve found amusing as always, as a traveler. While I’d relate to the thought and reasoning behind these small things, it’s ironic that while you go out there in the world probably imposing endless restrictions upon citizens. Restrictions on matters that are as trivial as what we should eat, what we should watch or many such things. There is a plethora of two faced approach where, in the name of religion anything goes.

Spirituality for us is not significant in the blindness that conquers the rationale of our country, but opens our eyes towards progression and a far larger understanding of what we should be as human beings. As always, religion world over has been an instrument used by people in their quest to power conveniently cite, unless they find value in people who are willing to apostatize their beliefs for their convenience.

To me, travel has certainly broadened my horizon to a greater extent. Travel has given me a perspective that is far wider and different. Especially if you were to compare it to a reason of meaning and belief that exists in your heart. Having said that, there has been the element of tolerance and contempt that conflict my thoughts every time I put on my backpack when I traverse the country.

Every different situation in different regions of the country either inspire me or bring me to a new low that I have probably never imagined. On most trips, I’m either enlightened or completely thrown back into stone age. But no matter what I do, where I go, there is one strong belief that I have which enriches everything about my travel experience. It’s the meandering quest towards a sense of calm and invigorating tryst towards experiencing spirituality despite not knowing the inclination towards it’s religious associations. There are no boundaries when it comes to spirituality especially when you are traversing not just across locations but beliefs that hold true to achieving a greater high, which is far more important than trivial matters of existence.

Travel reaches out to your spiritual roots to find art, imagination, a sense of purpose within history, heritage,nature, food, people,  and magical souls that gives you that wider horizon of reality that exists out there in the world. Here are a few pictures that have captured my imagination leaning towards a spiritual belief of a simple admonishing fact that everything aside, Travel is that dose of medicine, that spiritual reality of my existence, that purpose of my life in this world that is constantly exclaiming to crave for more of such experiences across the beautiful country of ours! It is that singular belief, which, when, all said and done reaffirms and assures me that there is still hope…

Freedom of Life through the roamers of nature

A herd of horses taking a stroll at their whim at Rohtang Pass

Himalayas, Ladakh, Mountains, Snow

The Magical Mountains of the Himalayas

 

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The Golden Buddha viewing the Mountains

Statue of the Future Buddha

Statue of the Future Buddha

Queen of the HImalayas - Blue Poppy

Queen of the HImalayas – Blue Poppy

View of Hampi from Anjaneya

View of Hampi from Anjaneya

A 61 year old Tibetian refugee manufacturing & selling handicraft since 1972.

A 61 year old Tibetian refugee manufacturing & selling handicraft since 1972.

Shing Theng - A saleswomans kid outside the monastery

Shing Theng – A saleswomans kid outside the monastery

Lamani Woman with her kid near the Lakshmi Temple

Lamani Woman with her kid near the Lakshmi Temple

Idranna a local kid at the Lakshmi Temple

Idranna a local kid at the Lakshmi Temple

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A Tiger Paw on our trip to Pench

A Tiger Paw on our trip to Pench

Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya

Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya

The Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree

Kerala Backwaters

Kerala Backwaters

Fort Kochi - Chinese Fishing Nets

Fort Kochi – Chinese Fishing Nets

Sunset by the Bridge

Sunset by the Bridge

Sunrise Enroute Trichy

Sunrise Enroute Trichy

Sunrise at Kanyakumari

Sunrise at Kanyakumari

Kanchenjunga Peak

Kanchenjunga Peak

India Gate

India Gate

Hut @ Pondicherry Beach

Hut @ Pondicherry Beach

Himalayas

Walk across the silent trails towards Vasudhara Waterfalls in Himalayas

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Rajasthan: Land of the Kings

A view of the Mahuli Fort in the rains

A view of the Mahuli Fort in the rains

This one's playing around inside... :)

This little squirrel found playing around inside the Red Fort…

Stone Chariot at Vittala Temple

Stone Chariot at Vittala Temple

View of Hampi

View of Hampi

 

 

Of Pottery and delightful people…

“Art is the craving of the hungry travelling soul!”

While on my travails, I’m always on the look out for something interesting, something off beat, something that doesn’t come to you often when you walk around in familiar environments! If you are the one with a penchant for newer experiences, you always have that sheer urge of falling in love with a lot more than the surroundings or a gleaming opportunity to see newer places and log them in your diary of an encompassing journey that you’ll leave behind as your own legacy.

Sometimes, I even dare to imagine to look beyond just the ordinary, beyond what is seen or talked about, and many a times, I feel inspired by small joys of travel and the simple things that it teaches you and how it broadens your horizon. I have spoken about this often, maybe not enough, but certainly enough number of times where I have talked about the interesting people I meet on my travels. And being a Wandering Thinker, Pondering Writer that I am, I always wonder, how is it that I get to meet these interesting people or why I bump into them so very often. The answer to that is very simple I believe.

It is  because of a connection that we all humans share. No matter what levels or degrees of separation are among us, all of us have a desire to know and connect in some little way or the other. For me, one such thing is Art! Being an aspiring writer, I always try to look for experiences that drive the philosophy of ‘Art imitating life.’ I seek out to look beyond the ordinary, only for that very simplistic, yet resonating belief and feel it is always inherent within most explorers.

One such experience was connecting with the artisans of Khawasa village at Pench, Madhya Pradhesh! While the wildlife was one amazing experience in it’s own, I couldn’t help but forget the beautiful and brief interaction with one of the potters at that village. Tukaram Gonde, who is an ancestral potter and makes his living through crafting one of the best artworks, it is sad, to see very little appreciation as a whole for people in this village. To me, that experience was more than just enriching, it was something that told me a lot about how this trade has become what it has. It is something that we always tend to overlook, while we buy these products for our festivals and daily use maybe, there’s a lot more than just the mold, the earthen flair and the technique that these amazing folks use.

To me, this travel experience gave an insight on a story that is beyond just pottery, art and craft of the trade. It is more than just a story about his life, his words, his family. It is something that he understands as a philosophy as an ingrained belief, as an experience that has transcended upon him in a form of that art. The same art that, maybe his father, his grandfather or forefathers cherished and groomed him for. This story is more about that deep rooted belief in what he did. He had an uncanny smile, a belief that told us how he was the master of his fate and captain of his destiny, in the great words of none other than Madiba.

While the experience wasn’t for many hours or even for that matter, it was something we cherished because of the quality of the craft and the beauty of the handiwork we saw within those minutes and closely observed a level of concentration, ease and amazing tendency to be a professional who doesn’t just work because he has to, but loves what he does. An experience that gave us an insight on how the rugged and unkempt life brought out the true artist within these folks. How, their life, despite it’s simplicity had a complex aura to a brilliant mind of sorts. One that you don’t often get to see in the life that we choose to live in.

Watch the Video of him indulging us with his artwork

Tukaram at his masterful best

Tukaram Potter at work Art at it's best

 

Pots

Tashi Tagey, Tadong, Gangktok, HomeStay, Sikkim

Dorjee Nyima of Tashi Tagey

Why do I travel you ask? To tell stories that very few have heard I reply! The best part about travel for me is not just the beautiful views I get to see, not the amazing experiences of climbing mountains in the Himalayas or for that matter the most delicious food I eat no matter what corner of the world I am in. To me it’s the singular experience of meeting some of the most beautiful people, who make me challenge the way we live our lives. It is in the question that they ask me subtly, without even hinting at how their life is different than ours. It is in the humility that begs to ask myself a simple yet profound question! What have you done with your life?

And then, I feel great that I have a lifetime ahead of me to go ahead and pursue that goal of whatever it is that I want to without the fear of forgetting the soul purpose of my life. Travel, tell stories, make magic and help more people believe in the mere existence of a world larger than the sort of bubble we live in. All of that isn’t possible without having experiences that broaden our horizon. One such experience was when we recently visited Sikkim.

We were in Sikkim for about 10 days and most of our trip was North Sikkim and a little bit of Gangtok. And interestingly we met a couple of folks who were fellow travelers who recommended an quaint little place a few miles away from the main area of Gangtok, a little far from the local taxi stand of Deorali called Tadong. On the road, right next to the Baker’s Cafe stood a small but submissively enchanting home stay called Tashi Tagey. Not unexpectedly it’s a name taken from Tibetan Buddhism meaning eight lucky signs. Something you’ll find a description of in the Museum next to Do Drul Stupa in Gangktok.

You wouldn’t ordinarily find such warmth in a place that is unusual and unfamiliar considering you’re miles away from your subtle comforts of the place you call home, but this isn’t the first time that I have experienced something like this before. Earlier, when I talked about meeting real people on your journeys, I shared anecdotal references of people who have a certain aura within themselves that the minute you meet them or come across them, you tend to realize that your connection with them is more than a faint memory and something that’ll be etched into your travelogues that you leave behind. Such was our experience at this beautiful little traveler’s abode!

From the time you enter the lobby of this quiet and well furnished home-stay, you realize you’re in good company! A company meant for world travelers! A nice couch, a lounge like feeling with an archive of TIME magazines, a photograph of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama and an adorned wall full of beautiful pictures, paintings and a decor that’ll quickly make you fall in love and fondly so, with this enchanting place. But, wait, that’s just the beginning.

The beautiful couple and our very good friends Dorjee and Nyima are quite the couple and have spent over 30 years serving travelers and being part of helping the community as well as pursuing their own goals and aspirations, that they’re someone who would be truly an inspiration for many souls who wander off and bump into them. We have seen and heard of heaps of compliments because of their wonderful home stay and their impeccable service to all. Nyima aunty, as we call her, is more than just a home stay owner. She has an extensive passion for knitting, painting, gardening and their home stay has a diverse collection of her art. In fact, one travelling couple from Italy have even named their daughter after her. Now, that is nothing short of what we call ‘mighty respect.’

With that I leave you a few memories from our journey of the Kingdom of Paradise, Sikkim and the warm, homely stay at Tashi Tagey, Tadong!

Tibetan Thukpa and Momos

Home Made Tibetan Thukpa and Momos, courtesy Nyima Aunty

Sculptures

Beautiful Sculptures in the corridor outside our room

Painting by Nyima Aunty

One of the beautiful Paintings made by Nyima Aunty

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View of Gangtok from the Terrace at Night!

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A Heritage, Tibetan Monk’s Statue in the Lobby

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Walls of Tashi Tagey, adorned by artistic expose

Gangtok View from Tadong

Gangtok View from Tadong in the Day!

Early Morning Bird

A bird we spotted early in the morning on the terrace garden

Bonsai Tree on Terrace

Bonsai Tree maintained by Nyima Aunty