Go Goa – anytime, everytime, manytimes!!!

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Colva Beach

People find paradise in Goa. Some like the beach. Some like the drinks. Some like both. And then there are slightly eccentric people like my husband who love to chase ghosts – well he loves to walk around ruins of forts and desolate temples, churches and mosques and calls it the study of heritage.

This was my third visit and am sure am at the far end of the list of ‘number of times visited Goa’ and yet I thought I’ll put together a few lines that might help some first timer or uninitiated like me.

The ones who are driving in don’t need to worry about transportation but the ones who fly in or use the railroads, be warned transport is expensive and one can get heavily duped.

The prepaid taxis are cheaper and reliable, available at the airport/railway station. There is no OLA/UBER service. Autos are rare. ‘Self drive’ is the best option for people who can drive, both – two and four wheelers are available.

A word of caution about the roads – except for the main roads on which one can see a lot of infrastructure development happening and thus creating traffic congestion, all other roads in Goa are narrow. Time distance equation has to be worked out keeping in mind that one can never drive faster than 60 – 80 kms/hr.

Airport to Colva beach
Panaji – Near the Latin quarters

Since we flew, as in a plane, we don’t have wings – I’ll talk about the commute to and from the airport. Goa International Airport is growing – development is on and visible. The prepaid taxi booth can be accessed from both inside and outside the terminal. A quick bite joint is right outside the exit and keeps a tasty spread.

We went straight to Colva Beach down south, that was supposed to cost us 800INR change but we lost our way, thanks to the obscure location of the resort we were booked in. Google maps suggested that we walk 200mts on the beach to reach the resort, which isn’t a bad proposition early in the morning or evening – but with two suitcases and backpacks in the afternoon sun, it did not seem plausible.

The resort has its own vehicle to transport the guests from the tourist spot ‘Colva Beach’ that is the beachfront. Our cabbie left us there demanding an extra 100 and soon we found our vehicle to the hidden paradise. Named as C’Roque Resort it is a lovely piece of land on practically the sand – the beach. We had booked two cottages as each had accommodation for only two.

While Roddur our son got salted and baked in the sea, I kept an eagle eye and Rajib took to heels to photograph the ancient temples of Ponda and beyond. He mentioned it was a picturesque journey being almost beside the western ghats. Cost him 3600INR for a day’s driving around.

After spending a delightful time at the beach side and packing ourselves up with calories from the delicious spread available at the restaurant, we moved to civilization – Panjim. It cost us the standard 1400INR.

Our target was to walk the Fontainhas, do the river cruise, visit old Goa churches and have Tiramisu and Serradura. I have had had Tiramisu on an earlier trip and praised it such that Roddur had it on his hit list. But alas! From Colva to Panjim it evaded us – even the famous ‘fisherman’s wharf’ (restaurant) could not delight us with either of the desserts. Finally we found Serradura at a cafe’ near our guest house, and Tiramisu at Vithal Malaya road in Bangalore.

We chose to live in a guest house near the river and at a stone’s throw from Fontainhas – Goa’s Latin quarters. Unfortunately the guest house had only one triple bed room at the ground floor which has a low ceiling without a fan and its door opened onto a public road, though a quiet one with hardly any passerby. It was not to Rajib’s liking but with a powerful AC and a clean bathroom/room it did okie tokie. Location and value for money are the two biggest USP’s for Marquito’s Guest House at Rua 31 de Janeiro (31st January Road).

A mention about proliferation of casinos is adequate. The river Mandovi might be called the ‘casino river’. The river front is illuminated with the alluring party lights of the casino facades and the river comes ablaze with the big and medium sized casino ships anchored in the river. For the naïve like us all it gives is an opportunity for glittering photographs.

The river cruise that was ought to start at 7.30pm but was delayed by an hour and a half for the want of riders. It doesn’t start till a minimum number of passengers are attained. FYI, most cruises have a deck and an AC chamber below. An entertainment program of some sort goes on in that chamber, basically a lot of noise with people gyrating to it, not exactly in tandem. I visited the ‘cultural-chamber’ if I may call it that for about 5 mnts or so – for one it was cold, very cold and second it didn’t have the slightest feel of being on a boat.

The river cruise takes one through the casinos till almost the mouth of the river where it embraces the sea – now on the way back the boat moves slow, very slow as the water is turbulent and it is also dark being a bit distant from the glitters of the casinos. This is the part I like the most, though it is also the part where it rains – most of the time even if there is no rain anywhere else.

Restaurant are open till 11pm so we did get to eat that night – Delhi Darbar was the nearest from the jetty and we quick marched to it. The food was good. Food is good pan Goa, be it the local cuisine or the generic Indian mix or continental or south east asian – veg or nonveg – the cooks know how to cook.

We walked back to the hotel through the drizzle that turned into rain; the streets were quite but felt safe.

Old Goa was a heated affair – literally – it was hot, too hot! Most of the churches don’t allow photography inside them, so that one can’t take a selfie with Virgin Mary or infant Jesus. Unfortunately for people like Rajib who want to photograph every inch of the earth specially architecture and art, it is a big disappointment.

The convent of St. MONICA and Chapel houses the Museum of Christian Art (MoCA). We freshened ourselves up at their facility, took a tour of the beautiful items on display, had a wonderful lunch and bought a few Knick knacks.

The Chapel of our lady of the mount has become a wedding photography venue, with drone cameras rampant. There wasn’t a single tourist there other than the three of us.

The mound gives a beautiful bird’s eye view of the churches and around.

Panaji to Old Goa cost us 800INR in an auto, and then a taxi took us around the churches @ 800INR. We wanted to wrap up the day with sunset at fort Aquada, which cost us 1000INR, but we reached late just in time to enter and have a few quick clicks. The journey back to Panaji cost us another 1000INR.

We wanted to get a glimpse of the Salim Ali Bird Park across the river and made a dash for it right after breakfast on the day of our journey back to Bangalore. For breakfast there are a couple of joints like Kamat, Bombay Shiv Sagar and Udupi cafe – the last one being the tastiest. It would be good to mention that though our guest house was supposed to provide breakfast, inclusive in the price – breakfast was laid out from 10am – a bit too late for us while on a trip.

The ferry carries people and vehicles across the river to Salim Ali Bird Park / the island Charao island. Our auto to and fro from Panaji, cost us 600INR. It is a mangrove forest by the coast where a path has been laid for people to walk through. A boat tour is also available for bird watching.

Mangrove Forest

Fontainhas has a number of good food joints. We chose to have lunch at Panjim Inn.

Way back to the airport was jam packed due to some accident on the way and we made it just in time for everything to go smooth and had a bit of a reading time too! There is lot of traffic at the airport too and thus the takeoff takes time.

And ya! With all parties promising a wonderful future for Goa – you must Go Goa!

Click here to read about my all girls trip to Goa in 2017.

Click here to read in-depth about the churches and convents of Goa.

Fortified Living within 99 bastions – Jaisalmer Fort

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

The living fort as it is called by many is a destination of a life time. That is not to say that one cannot or would not like to revisit this one of a kind place. One of the oldest forts in India it is a place where history lives. I have been there twice. Long back as a pure tourist with my parents and recently to feel the history. Living within the fortified walls of the fort is distinctly different from visiting it for a day or half a day tour.

Ludavra, 16kms north west of Jaisalmer, was the stronghold of the Bhati Rajputs who had captured it from the Ludarva Rajputs. This ancient city (Ludavra) was on the connector route to the maritime international trade route popularly known as the Silk Route, in the 1st to around 6th century and then other important trade routes till the time of the British raj, when the ports of Mumbai and Kolkata took over and these parts of the Thar desert lost its sheen. In its days of glory Ludavra was rampaged by foreign invaders many a times but later the Marathas didn’t even take the trouble to trouble the Bhati Rajputs.

Maharawal Jaisal Singh was banished from Ludavra (Lodhruva) by his younger brother who ascended the throne. He chose to built this unique fort resembling the giant ark of Noah in 1156 AD on a hillock called Trikuta Hill. Thus Jaisalmer became the new abode of the Rawal, named after him. It was a mud fort then.

Caravans passing by on the trade route found this new hill fort safer for stopover and warehousing. The prosperity of Jaisalmer Fort was phenomenal over the years. It was strengthened with Yellow Sandstone which is quarried in the neighbouring areas. At a time the whole population used to live inside the fort, now only 25% remain. It seems like 4000 people are living on a giant ship and few hundreds more boarding and de-boarding all through the day.

We too boarded this ship through a winding pathway one fine october morning. We chose to venture out early so as to avoid the onboarding tourist rush, at least for a while. The narrow lanes with ornate balconies hanging over them branch out in several directions and it is easy to lose one’s way, but then there is only one entrance gate to this fortified city and the royal quarters spill over it so one could always find the way back to this gate.

We went up and down the streets and met some residents who were gearing up for the day to showcase their ware. Amidst colourful garments mostly for the foreigners but made of very comfortable glass cotton fabric and junk jewellery and travel bags and bowls, cups, plates, etc made of yellow sandstone, there was a very interesting collection of paintings. The paintings were done on wall hangings, t-shirts, cloth and paper. The subjects were varied with vivid colours depicting scenes of the desert life, portraits of beautiful girls in traditional rajasthani attire, men with various musical instruments with their gigantic pagdi (head gear).

We met Kamal who was painting on a t-shirt in the front part of his shop. It is an amazing experience to see a live painting getting created. Leaving it to dry he showed us a few of his creations including miniature paintings on cloth and paper, depicting hunting scenes, the royal procession and a row of musicians. Photography is strictly prohibited in these shops even from outside and for good reason.

There is a little treat for Sonar Kella enthusiasts (the famous movie by Satyajit Ray) – Mukul’s shop.

The Jain temples were closed for public at the time and we went past it. At the end of the road is the sunset point. A lone tree stands there the wall is broken and a little deity awaits flowers and kumkum (a red pigment made from turmeric) from the residents. The vast stretch of land comprising of the expanded city of Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert beyond is a site to behold from this vantage point.

The houses on either sides of the lanes are made of the same yellow sandstone which changes colour from a tawny lion in the morning to a honey lemon at dusk as that of the fort walls.By character they are narrow and multi-storied and have common walls with the adjoining house. A lot of them have been converted to hotels and eateries. Some of the houses are being demolished and rebuilt to suit the needs of the tourists.

A major portion of the tourist crowd is from West Bengal and thus alongside European, Italian and Chinese, Bengali food is also available. We found a lovely rooftop joint where we had lunch later in the day with a view to kill for. Sitting atop a hill almost 100mts above the flat ground below and eyeing a boundless expanse with nothing to hinder the vision is one of a kind experience, add to it gulping down food from your own province. The usual homely daal (lentils) rice n finger chips felt like Turkish delight.

A walk around the second layer of the fort where the walls coils around it felt like one of those 3700 soldiers guarding the fort against the Sultan’s Army, who laid a siege for 8 years before he could finally breach its walls. The canons are still placed on the bastions and count as a place to see alongside the royal quarters, museums and temples.

Day inside the fort is all hustle bustles with tourists and hawkers and guides and ruminants. Night is hauntingly quite but all the stones seem to come alive as the bats commence their hunt. I closed my eyes and suddenly something trotted by, seemed like a horse with his rider, followed by a couple of foot-steps, these were chirpy men talking of money and goods and the refreshment they had in Patwon Ji ki Haveli. One fellow was quite close and his cloak brushed against my hand, it was smooth muslin.

Night at the rooftop restaurant at our temporary abode in the fort was nothing short of a scene from Arabian nights. The lights from the city glittered like jewels and looked like a choker around the neck of the fort, and then there was darkness all around of the cold Thar Desert. I have vertigo so I could not stand on the edge and feel the nothingness. My son was crawling on four and hubby was comfortable sitting at the table in the middle of the bastion that housed the restaurant. A more adventurous soul could have felt the air of triumph one feels standing on a high ground with an glittering city beneath.

The Very Affordable West – Singapore

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Singapore was once a small fishing village, then Singapura (Lion City), then an important settlement in the 14thcentury (evidence from archaeological excavations) and finally “great ruins” by the time the Portuguese came in the early 16th century. Sir Stamford Raffles identified Singapore as a natural harbour with not more than 150 people living at the mouth of the Singapore River and merely a 1000 in the whole island, as he landed in 1819.

The Dutch and Portuguese dominated the ports on the trade route between China and British India levying high tariff. As Opium trade was vital for the British, Sir Raffles planned to replace the dominance of other countries and establish a port in Singapore. He declared Singapore to be a free port and soon traders started flowing in. By 1824 Singapore was an important trading port surpassing the earlier established ones by trade volume and the population increased rapidly to 10000 from being 5000 in 1821 and a 100 thousand by 1871!

After the British the Japanese held Singapore for 3 years (1942–45) renaming it Syonan-to. Failing to defend Singapore, the British lost credibility with the public and 1948 saw the first Singaporean elections. Thereafter the Singapore River witnessed a series of political ebb and flow, merger and separation and finally Singapore abruptly becoming an Independent nation in 1965.

Today for someone travelling out of India for the first time, the jaw drops at the Changi airport and closes only after reaching Little India, where one kind of feels at home, with a wee bit of garbage spilling on the road once in a while. Singapore is sparkling clean, meticulously planned and beautiful, to say the least.

As a budget traveller from India, Little India is the place to stay, with neighbourhood food joints open round the clock and tube stations at every nook and corner. We managed 8 days in less than 65k per person inclusive of all entry tickets, door to door.

India is naturally beautiful, Singapore is decked up. India has variety naturally, Singapore has created many variations. From huge malls stretching across a whole neighbourhood to artificial beaches, roof top pools on skyscrapers to one of the best zoological gardens in the world, every inch has been man-made and man maintained. Not chewing a gum is a little sacrifice to make to visit Singapore; it is a punishable act by law.

Lee Kuan Yew, considered as the father of Singapore, married human discipline to technical efficiency and though they were forced to stay together at first, the consequences of the travail are amazingly spectacular and worth being duplicated.

The roads are pothole less thus the bus ride is smooth and delightful though office times witness a lot of traffic congestion, the Island being populous. The buses have option for having physically challenged individuals on board, which definitely scores very high. Most people use pass and the system runs on trust. SMRT and SBS fleet of buses ply across most areas along with other companies like Go Ahead, Causeway Link etc, yet Singapore majorly runs on MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). An electrifying, exciting, and awe inspiring commute for the first timers.

To begin with the metro is spread through the island nation like a spider web, connecting most of it seamlessly. They are frequent, they are fun, and they are relaxing as one can evade the sun almost entirely cause the stations either delivers one to a mall or to a bus interchange or even to one’s office in some cases. Singapore is hot and it matters to be indoors in a regulated environment. Some MRT stations have multiple lines, say a commuter from the north need to go west, all that is to be done is change levels from the North South line to the East West line and hop on to the next MRT, and “mind the gap!” This seems to be the most used phrase as every door of every MRT has it written and the announcer keeps repeating it at every station before and after the door closes. The last but not the least the trains don’t have a driver!

The zoo, the bird park, the river safari and the night safari, where nocturnal animals are on display, are where an animal lover’s dreams come true. The Universal Studio at the man- made Sentosa Island is a movie buff’s paradise. The SEA aquarium feels like walking through gallons of water amidst a plethora of fishes from around the world. Sentosa is not a day’s job. It’s a destination in itself and definitely needs more than 2 days.

A trip to Singapore is not complete without a visit to The Cloud Forest in the Gardens by the Bay. At its entrance the world’s tallest artificial waterfall creates a mist so refreshing that it immediately transports one to a tropical rainforest. From insectivores to massive cacti it is like the conglomeration of all plant life on earth under a dome.

One of the oldest locations where a Chinese community settled outside China is Singapore. It is known from excavations that these Chinese lived in harmony with the Orang Laut (sea people), the natives of these islands far out in the sea.

After Singapore became a British settlement, people started flocking in from Malaya, China and India. They came to work in the rubber plantations and tin mines. The bulk of the Singaporean population was formed by their descendants, with half of it being of Chinese origin.

In the 1960’s an Independent Singapore was overwhelmed with development activities and work force influx and started facing crime and health issues due to lack of public services, housing, sanitation etc. But within a decade with strict and mandatory laws most of the population was housed under hygienic condition and squatter settlements were mostly abolished.

China town and Little India are the only two places where some of the buildings have a character of their own hailing from the Victorian era when the Island was under the British Colony, otherwise most housing societies look the same, most crossings with manicured lawns are identical, and most high rise offices by the bay have a similar demeanour. Unfortunately most of the commuters going to work also look the same, similar dressing style and eyes glued to the handheld screen, possibly the monotony doesn’t hit them as they are not looking!

Nevertheless to compensate for the induced monotony for maximum efficiency Singapore has numerous entertainment spots of all kinds, from nature lovers to pub hoppers; there is a joint for everyone. It is highly recommended for people on a tight budget who wish to have taste of the western world.

Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

“A palace which gave the original a run for its money”
by Rajib Deysarkar

Often skipped by tourist in favour of its more popular cousin the Faluknama palace, the Chowmahalla palace which was built as a replica of the Shah’s palace in Tehran, Iran, was rumored to have surpassed the original in it’s grandeur.

Recipient of the prestigious UNESCO Asia Pacific Merit award for cultural heritage conservation in 2010, the Chowmahalla Palace whose restoration are still going on, is one of the must to visit tourist spot while you are in Hyderabad.

Though the older Southern part of the palace is still undergoing renovation but the Northern courtyard and “Khilwat Mubarak” which is open to public is enough to make you understand the splendor of the palace in it heydays with central fountain and pool and the adjoining greenery and buildings which were mirror image of each other.

The “Khilwat Mubarak” turned into a museum now, used to be the heart of the Palace where coronation of the Nizams used to happen and prestigious durbars of the Nizam used to be held here – the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty. The Durbar hall along with the aritificats of the museum – the arms and armaments section of th museum are one of the finest one can see in this part of the country. It brought me back the memories of arms I saw in the Rajput forts of Junagarh (Bikaner) and Mehrangarh (Jodhpur).

The Chandeliers of Belgian crystal in the durbar hall and the intrinsic stucco works on the ceiling and walls are another example of the grandeur of the palace.

I would love to be back to the Chowmahalla Palace when the Southern courtyard opens and I hope the palace administration can then go on to introduce a “Light and Sound” show to relive the days of the Nizams.

The palace has a small cafeteria just after the entrance serving tea, coffee, ice-creams, soft drinks and some basic snacks, however the eatery needs to have more chairs for guest and needs to kept more clean. There are toilets also which were quite clean when we went.

I visited Chowmahalla Palace with my family during December 2016.

Chowmahalla Palace
Khilwat, 20-4-236 | Motigalli, Hyderabad 500002, India

Threesome Awesome in Goa – Aug 2017

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

I am Mota, a name coined in school; am Zen, a title earned by virtue of my ‘know it all attitude’ and am going to take you through a journal of three stupendous days of my life spent with two extraordinary individuals. 

An exemplary scene, if I may call it so, of this mémoire, wouldbe the one where am screaming, “Rums dare you fall asleep!” “Am not sleeping, it is just the eyes, you continue…” says Rums feebly, visibly half asleep completely tired from the day’s ordeal. I continue with the same zeal amidst my cough, finish the monologue about some very unimportant chapter of my life with few interceptions from our all remembering friend, the data bank and finally retire to bed. Rums is fast asleep by then and greets us all fresh and set to hit the beach in the morning.  We two meanwhile have had little rest, me by virtue of an incessant cough and Vidu for trying to tend to me so that I could get some relief. Rums is inspiration personified. After having an illustrious corporate career for 15 years she has taken another leap to distinguish herself in a vocation that has been her passion. Rums is a bundle of fun and vigour. She is a chatter box and exceptionally unassuming. Rums is incapable of presuming an ulterior motive in any deed. She is a cushion and a pillar at the same time, soft and strong and radiates a smile at all times that can melt any heart.

As the Innova sped on the metalled road, through the night, we were rolling in laughter, hardly noticing the occasional lights from either a house by the road or a dilapidated structure, which may have been occupied in a distant past. Laughing is contagious and when three schoolmates meet after more than 20 years and are out on a trip together there is every reason to be happy. Rums took the pains to stop her thundering guffawing and explain this to the lovely gentleman who has been driving us around all evening.

Vidu had flown in earlier in the day and was doing the formalities of checking us into a hotel which we had painstakingly chosen over the days and agreed upon after numerous WhatsApp messages and calls. Her husband had taken the initiative to book it online but there was some dissension over the charges for the extra person, as we were three. We walked in a little while later and were greeted with a refreshing kokum juice. Little did we care for the poor soul who was struggling to get her way through, not only for her but also us, as we waited in the beautifully decorated lobby, giggling our hearts out, also contemplating if they would offer us another drink.

Vidu, the data bank is an intricate character; sensitive, delicate and yet eloquent, exceedingly sober but sombre. She has a great sense of humour and can be really fun if she chooses to be so. Vidu is into serious aspects of humanity and has passionately turned it into her metier. She is a softball the type they give at offices these days as stress busters; people can dump their woes with her and she’ll happily absorb it all and suffer silently. We were checked in, three schoolgirls, out of their regime, and free to do anything they wished to; now that doesn’t happen every day. An outline of “things to be done” was already in place, girls are oh! So organised. Vidu was starving and we promised her food on the way as we discussed our evening plans, which included tourist spots, beaches, water sports, river cruise and fine dining. Rums gave us apples. We took just a little over an hour to decide what to wear and after about 3 changes, matching the accessories each time, the first leg of our “do as you like” began.

Just in time for the last cruise, we reached the jetty, accompanied by a mild drizzle, and anybody would have bet any amount on our being high on alcohol, but we had not had a drop. I’ll never forget the faces of the hapless chaps at the ticket counter who had to keep a straight face as we asked stupid questions and made outrageous comments. We asked if they served food on the deck, very well aware of the fact that they never do. We inquired about the programme on board and when they said regional culture, we actually said the bad word for crap!

The glittering lights from the boats were dancing on the waves and so were Vidu and Rums on the deck, as we talked and talked and talked more. The poor starving girl had been fed earlier that evening, though not on the way but at Dona Paula where we lingered on till nightfall. We tried to offer her sandwiches, paw bhaji and biscuits, as the shops came along, but each time she would say no and then once we had passed the shops, she would want to have them. Finally, the gentle driver offered coconuts that were being sold by the roadside, this time Vidu readily agreed but Rums forestalled us and we drove on, for obvious reasons which had slipped out of our minds.

A little undecided about where to dine, finally we gave in to Rums suggestion and the ambience of the restaurant was just what we needed to rejuvenate us after a long day. There was live music and very lively decor. Rums enjoyed the fish, which was too herbaceous of a certain kind for my taste and I spend the next day regurgitating it. Vidu seemed a little deranged but she played along. She doesn’t drink but did sip in from ours only to confirm her distaste for the heavenly liquor. The day concluded with the exemplary scene aforesaid.

Mornings are always beautiful, they bring hope, and a morning spent on a beach racing with the waves and dodging them is a perfect morning. The perfect morning gave way to a sumptuous breakfast accompanied by hearty laughs and long tales, never tall though, we had opened our hearts to each other and had no intentions of any fabrications. The clocks struggled to make time for the ladies, as they groomed their already handsome selves into exquisite beauties.

Fort Aguada up the hill overlooking the Arabian Sea was where the beauties de-boarded, me running off to throw off first. As I felt better we hovered on the hats at a stall nearby, I had forgotten to carry one along so was vaguely interested but then decided against them. Coincidently Vidu had a hat on, which was very similar to a pile on display. The keeper of the stall, a lady, thought that Vidu was walking away with one from the pile. Evidently, Vidu’s hat was a little different and not an exact copy, so we got away with only a little embarrassment.

Before lunch we made our presence felt at Vagator beach, me again rushing off to disgorge some more of that stupendous fish which my husband would have died for. Vidu let her hair loose to get it beaded with colourful threads and Rums and I sang our lungs out to the vast expanse of the ocean. I wondered if some faraway boatman looked up to find the source of a faint melody.

Lunch was at Fisherman’s Wharf; the ambience was overwhelming with the old world charm recreated through remarkable decor. The menu was a foodie’s delight and Rums enjoyed. Vidu also seemed to be more at ease and happily enjoyed the Goan curry and rice as opposed to last night. My poor ailing stomach agreed to only a trifle, but delicious it was. We sat there long enough for the other guests to clear off and the furniture being reorganised so as to indicate shop closed. Nobody drove us out though and we took our own sweet time to help ourselves out of the chairs.

Young is what we call ourselves, nevertheless matured we are, thus having paid a great deal to the hotel; the idea was to enjoy its facilities to the fullest. Thus we made it back to the hotel after we picked up a little something, customary, from the market. We stretched ourselves on the bed, making the most of our payment, had loads of tea, provided by the hotel, took long showers, used the toiletries, the only thing we did not use our money’s worth was the idiot box, we are too smart for it.

The swimming pool was closed by the time we managed to change and disembark from our room. Vidu poor thing got caught up with something urgent and had to devote some time to her work- dabba. I and Rums sat by the poolside. It was the first time I was sitting alone with another woman, mom excluded, under the wide open sky, with the rumbling of the waves as background music. We were talking of pleasant things, one of them being Reiki; we were talking of enriching experiences, one such we were presently in at the time; we were talking of things that had come to pass and of things that might do so. It was another magical moment of the many that I had lived in the past couple of hours.

We took special care to get ready for dining on the eve of our departure. We chose to dine at the hotel and by the time we settled at a table, the other guests had left and the kitchen was on the verge of closing. Little did we care, as our gorgeous selves are always drowned in self-appreciation, we are indubitably self-obsessed individuals. Most people think women dress to impress, only a true woman knows that we dress in celebration of our own being.

Dinner was satisfactory under the able supervision of a very cute boy; most likely from the northeast, nevertheless to our discomfort he just couldn’t leave us alone. We also had cats for company which none other than me was excited about. The high point was Vidu trying to taste a spoonful of our drinks as if it were faluda or firni. I had ordered a neat tequila shot but on rums insistence, the fair guy got us a lemon, which Vidu promptly squeezed into the shot glass, so instead of having to bite into the lemon after gulping down the shot we had nice good lemony tequila, which I sipped and Vidu took a spoonful or two.

Deep into the night the three of us chatted up, that was our last night of togetherness, at-least for then. The day of the departure was to be a hurried one as we had flights to catch to get back to our dominions. Yet I and Vidu hit the beach again, she playing alone in the waves this time, as Rums had a sleepover and rather wanted to take a plunge into the pool a little later. I watched Vidu happy and contemplating; I watched the sunrise bringing joy to the world, the rays breaking in through the mist; I watched the scurried movements of the tiny crabs and I felt happy and alive as always.

We shot Rums at the pool; she looked like a blue mermaid in her costume. After a couple of graceful laps the diva and her companions went off to gorge on food. Breakfast was complimentary throughout our stay and the spread was good and wide. We had every intention to check out well in time but even after so many hours we still had so much to talk! Finally, we packed and picked all the remaining sachets of beverages, settled the bill, got a cab and reached the airport.

I spilled out the remnant of the fish as we dislodged ourselves from the cab. A week before the trip some corona-viruses decided to explore my body so I can’t really blame my stomach completely for rejecting anything sumptuous.

Thus we were at the terminal, Vidu ran as her flight was to take off earlier than ours. I and Rums got through the security eventually, our time together was a wee bit longer; one we stay in the same city and two we had taken a train to reach Goa, which gave us an evening and an extra night to talk and laugh. The train being late we had occupied a bench, piled up our luggage and shared stories and food that Rums had packed from home, oblivious to the crowd and inquisitive eyes. Rums had a hat on most of the time and appeared quite a character; I pulled out a t-shirt and put it on above my top as the gentle breeze slowly got chilled, as the night darkened.  Vidu was wirelessly with us on phone from time to time. It was a long time since I had laughed so loud in public.

By some untypical logic after the airport security check, we sat facing the restrooms, where there were no monitors showing the details of the flights. Vidu came around to bid us goodbye and our first reaction was of annoyance, we were scared she would miss her flight.

As a desperate attempt to bestow these cuties with a gift I offered to pick something from the airport lounge but they declined. The heartless creatures with no regards for my feelings had picked up the choicest gifts and affectionately presented it to me as we had met. I having researched a lot could not finally manage to grab any for them owing to my untimely infection.

As the time for our departure approached, I and Rums walked around the little airport lobby to get a place near the gates and then I spotted him! A dashing young man in his late twenties maybe, tall, fair, handsome and with a poise of an ultimate gentleman. By the time I told Rums, he had seated himself, so she had to take a small walk to have a look, and she was not disappointed at all.

Goa is all about Bikini, Booze and Boys. We had an almost private beach where we played like kids, bikini we left out for the benefit of humanity at large; we had two drinks at the two dinners, with a teetotaller trying spoonfuls from them and we saw this gorgeous boy at departure. We had it all then!

It was raining as we emerged from the airport and with a hurried goodbye we rushed to get a transport, though we live in the same city, the localities are wide apart. I took a Volvo and was drowned in the reminiscence of the past couple of hours that undoubtedly were one of the best. I am a traveller, my team which comprises of my hubby and son take frequent trips which are focused around photography and exploring a destination, so outings are common for me, but this was a trip where I explored humans and am unquestionably happy to have taken it.

Pahalgam – The unforgettable pony ride in paradise

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Pahalgam || Gulmarg || Kashmir

It would be a cliché to say the view was picturesque, Kashmir is too beautiful to express in words. We were on our way to Pahalgam. As we left the city of Srinagar behind and hit the highway, my window was splashed with colours, the yellow mustard fields, the green lining of the willow trees, the greenish-grey hills, the shimmering white snow cap and then the pristine blue sky; one making a backdrop for the other. It is like a layered painting conceived by the greatest of artists.

It was a little after 6 am, and the roads were almost deserted.

A bandh (shut down) was called on that day demanding justice for Asifa, the hapless little girl. Procuring transportation was difficult but our hotel manager (Walisons Hotel) Sajad bhai went the extra mile to extend his cooperation. He insisted that we move on early, a village en route to Pahalgam in Anantnag district was supposedly in an enraged temperament and could pose a threat. Thus the journey at the appointed hour.

Suhail the kashmiri boy, all of 21, drove at a slow but steady pace, showing us the Kesar fields, the walnut trees, the willow trees, the bat market and the kesar market lining the highway with countless shops, ofcourse all closed at that wee hour, interestingly most of the kesar shops had ‘Zamindar’ on their Signboard pre or post fixed with something or the other.

Soon we were driving past sleepy little villages, the apple orchards and then we met the Liddar. Rajib asked Suhail to stop and urged us to get down. I had no idea that the air outside would be so chilled.

Srinagar was at 5200ft and we were now approaching 8989ft, much closer to those snow caps. Pahalgam boasts of being the gateway to Amarnath pilgrimage. The famous Amarnath yatra starts from ‘Chandanwadi’, 16kms uphill from the main town of Pahalgam.

Srinagar looks like any other town, bustling with activity, big and small buildings, flyovers and congestion. Jhelum and the flood channels are fairly clean and looking at the ornate bridges on them, with a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains at the horizon, one does get reminded of being close to paradise. But Pahalgam is paradise.

The river that is called Liddar, fed by numerous streams trickling or babbling down the snow-capped mountains, gives a distinct character to Pahalgam. It is at the heart of this tiny picture-perfect town.

There is only one way to enter Pahalgam, through a small check post on the road. After the welcome banner, the road goes upstream beside the Liddar. On one side the hill slopes up and the other limits the gully that the river creates. A few hotels are scattered on either side of the road, each kindling a desire to frame it or better be a part of that frame.

The road leads to the centre of the town which is at the river level.  The town centre is a stretch of about 2 km on the same road; it has two big parking lots (to hire cars) at each end, curio shops, eateries and hotels, a mosque, an ancient temple and a gurdwara. It also has two ATMs and branches of J&K Bank and HDFC. SBI atm counter had been closed since long. A public utility stands a little way up the slope from the road, opposite to the Gurudwara, Swachcha Bharat!

The road then bifurcates, one leading towards ‘Chandanwadi’ and the other towards Aru Valley and further.

The town has another level accessible by two roads, one a steeply inclined road which goes straight up the slope from the town centre to the main gates of the JKTDC (Jammu Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation) tourist lodges where we were housed for the 3 unforgettable days of my life.

Another, which we took on the day we arrived, a little round-about but less steep, is an offshoot of the main road at the onset of the town centre. This level is on the slope of a hill that goes up, up and up; mostly has JKTDC lodgings, some government offices and residences of the forest and other departments.

There is a village at the fag end of the road on this level. This road is called the circuit road.

In Pahalgam, riding is the thing to do, if one is not angling or rafting or trekking! It had been raining and snowing for the last couple of days and it was only for us to ride that snow white gleamed on the mountain tops, and ride we did.

We checked in to a pre-booked (online) two bedroom cottage, had tea and breakfast sitting at the garden table. Gulam was just a phone call away to take care of all our needs. Villagers from the nearby mountains came with their wares to sell, we mostly declined, taking just one dress material as a gesture of empathy. All winter they weave and wait for the tourist season that begins in April.

Tourism is the only livelihood of the people of Pahalgam, in fact of Kashmir as a whole. The hotels, the shops, the weavers, the artisans who do paper mache or woodcraft to the drivers, horse tenders and the horses and even the masseuse, all depend on us, the tourists.

The masseuse, another Gulam bhai was persistent about rendering his services and finally, we promised to avail them in the evening. He came around 7 pm and massaged Rajib and Roddur. It was good and reasonable at only Rs 300.

We took the horses from the guy, whom the manager of JKTDC recommended, the rates are written on the board for all to see as though fixed, yet negotiations go underway if the hours are lengthier and the numbers are more. We took three ponies for a 4 to 5 hrs trip (12kms) for Rs 4800.

Little did we know about the adventures that awaited us! Roddur had been very eager since he rode a horse in Darjeeling and a camel in Jaisalmer. I was very sceptical since in Darjeeling, I mounted one and got down immediately screaming hypnotically and in Jaisalmer was almost hanging for my dear life at the camel’s butt. Rajib was only worried about being able to sustain the long ride.

As soon as I got up, my head reeled but I hung on, for one if I backed out the fun would get spoiled, two there was no other way to go to Baisaran valley also called ‘mini Switzerland’, except for on ponies or foot and I could not have trekked alone.

After a while I got comfortable, this was a classic case of defeating fear with mental powers, I did it! The metalled road soon ended as we started the climb to the next level up the slope through a winding road that was full of muck and water from the incessant rains that had hit the valley till the day before.

The ponies want to walk through the mud, as the stones laid on the mud road hurt their legs, thus they move over to the edge often. We went on for a while stopping at times to see the Pahalgam valley peeping through the pine trees as if to take a look at the new bride. And beautiful she is.

At a point we stopped to pose with rabbits which the local boys catch from the forest and are happy to get any dime that one cares to give them. Then came a turn where we left the path which came close to be called a ‘road’, though muddy and clearly made only out of regular use.

We started climbing up the slope, no tracks, no marks, just a straight climb up. All my fear had vaporized by then and I was amazed to find that the horseman was able to find a footing on the slope where I could see none and the beast followed.

We went over the logs, through gentle streams, adjusting our bodies, bend back when going down, bend forward when going up and in the midst of all this I give a sidewise glance and find Roddur riding all by himself at a little distance giving instructions to his horse. Under normal circumstances, I would have been petrified but there atop my pony in that vista, I assumed myself to be Ibn Battuta going on a long journey and thought of him as a fellow traveller used to ridding naturally, which he proved to be all through when we hit even harder descends down the slope.

Finally we reached Baisaran valley. Rolling meadows, surrounded by pine forest with a backdrop of the snow capped mountains. It seemed like a gateway to heaven. Baisaran is the camp site for trekkers who go up to Tulian Lake at 12000ft. Baisaran is 5kms from Pahalgam.

We sat for a while, drank kahwa and ate maggi which is readily available. Roddur did some Zorbing and Rajib clicked, clicked and clicked.

The onward journey, again through the off-beat, no track path took us to a village which had 3 houses. The Gurjar lady happily let us photograph her ware and we gave her a few bucks.

There was a nice stretch of land after the village and then came the most horrific descend. We were to ride down a slope which had an inclination of almost 45 deg down to a waterfall. I was trying to focus on the awesome scene.

Suddenly Roddur’s pony was sick of following mine, which was being led by a horseman and went astray. It had been doing that all the while but this descend was not to be fooled around on, so my horseman took its reins too. It would have made quite an intense scene in a movie. One horseman trying to lead two horses down a very steep slope with riders on them, one of which, me, was quite a rounded bundle prone to lose balance any instance.

Rajib had a horseman to himself but that didn’t make it any bit easier.

The waterfall was another prattling stream cutting through the rocks, coming from somewhere uphill. One could wade through it in April and the drier months, but after July it swells up and makes quite a sight rumbling down over the rocks, rendering the crossing over impossible.

There is a small shack for refreshments.

The descend further is not so steep but a difficult terrain for the horses. Its all rocks and slippery too! The ponies tripped a couple of times. I reasoned that since they had four legs, a little trip won’t make it fall and if we could just cling on to it, then we won’t crash land either.

Soon we hit the metalled road that was the other end of the circuit road that we had started our journey from. There is a small village and settlement at this end. Children were waving and running along.

Roddur seemed to be in his element all through; he mostly rode on his own, up the hill, down the hill and was having a roll.

The next day, to Roddur’s dismay and discomfort, we travelled on the four legs of a car that we are more used to. We visited the famous Betaab valley, where Roddur tried Zip Lining to my surprise. He is scared of heights and is a very non sporty person.

We went till the snow line at Chandanwadi and had jhaal muri, in the Aru valley where we found possibly the costliest public utility in India at Rs 10/- per head.

Back in Pahalgam after the sightseeing, we tried trout fish. It was too expensive but delicious. Food all through the Kashmir valley needs a special mention. Just as the valley is a paradise, the food is that of the Gods; from 5 star rated restaurant to road-side dhaba, everybody knows how to cook up the most mouth-watering savoury.

Kashmir is also famous for its Papier-mâché art in addition to their signature motifs on textile and wood carvings. Walnut wood is widely used for decor. Pine is used for the base of the Shikaras. The saying goes that its only after some 10-15 years that the pine realises it is in the water, the decay might start then.

We picked up most of the home decor from Pahalgam.

The day before our departure we explored the 1300 years old Sun temple, the mughal garden at Achbal and Kokernag; that is another delightful story which needs to be told separately.

Closing the Pahalgam chapter, we headed for Srinagar. Liddar kept company for a good time and then we parted, once and for all? May be not, who knows. Loaded with souvenirs and kesar and cranberry and blue berry and kehwa and saffron cream, and many more things and enchanting memories we came back to a sweltering Srinagar.

Srinagar we found is chilling when it rains and sizzling when it doesn’t, that is in April.

Pahalgam || Gulmarg || Kashmir

10 days in Andaman – Baratang – 25th – 27th Dec’19

Facts Figures and Touchdown || The Havelock Chapter || Port Blair || Jarwa Reserve

For a mainlander it is an experience of a different kind, especially if one is a first time visitor like me. Of course, with water filling three fourth of the Earth we all are living on one island or the other, but ours is a huge one, and the more inland we live, it does give a sense of safety – at least from tsunamis.

Getting on with Baratang, one can do a couple of things. We chose to begin with visiting the parrot islands. You can’t actually step on the island but sit in the boat and wait for the chirpy parakeets to fly back home after dusk.

The setting is surreal. Imagine water all around you, tiny lush green islands floating here and there. The coastline of the island of Baratang is visible at a distance on one side and on the other the hills of the middle strait – the Jarwa territory come flowing down to touch the waters. Any moment poisoned arrows could come flying. The golden sun which was already melting would shortly give way to a glistening darkness full of stars. The breeze is strong and chill. The wide ocean beckons from where the channel meets it, far to fathom and yet near if one goes with the flow.

All of a sudden a shrill cacophony hits your ear. You raise your head to trace the direction of the sound and spot them flying towards you. A flock, then another, and another and another – they are of varied sizes: Small parrots, big parrots, long tailed, short and stout. If you have seen Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’ you would be scared. Even if you have not, you would be thrilled.

The moment, the surroundings –anything could have happened, had we been in a novel, an author could do a thousand things with a setup like this.

The parrot island is named so as the parrots have made it their home. Every evening they come back to this island. They have decorated the island with their beaks and the tree tops look perfectly manicured. This distinctive feature has turned it into a tourist spot.

By the time we started our journey back through the channel, it was completely dark. We sped through the waters under a star lit sky and came back to the Jetty. Pricey it was, but a boat ride I’ll remember and delight in all my life.

Dew Dale – our abode, tucked in the little village by the road can be perfectly cast as a haunted resort. Of the 12 cottages, only two were occupied at the time we stayed there, one ours and the other by an Englishman.

At dinner we got talking to the manager and chef, young chaps with promising careers. The food was excellent both in taste and quality, at par with star rated hotels. The resort is usually occupied by corporate guests and government officials.

To go to north Andaman, one has to pass through Baratang, as the ATR continues across the channels. Thus Baratang has a lot of passing traffic but hardly any stay on and hence the dearth of hotels. The tourists prefer to visit Baratang on a day trip from Port Blair.

We had stayed on, as we usually do. So the day we reached Baratang, we visited Parrot Islands in the evening. Next day we started early as was advised to visit the Limestone caves. This is the journey I had been really really looking forward to. It is majorly a motor boat ride and a bit of trek.

This time we went in the opposite direction to that of the parrot islands and towards the Jetty on the middle strait. We went past the Jetty and further down… or up? Well that depends on one’s point of view. The motor boat was gliding at a tremendous speed cutting the waters. After a while we slowed down and headed towards the bank lined with mangroves. We got into a channel which was quite narrow and the boat waded for a while. The mangroves could be seen closely now.

We were asked to de-board at a small jetty. A guide took us on a short trek through a narrow mud path lined with tall trees.

The trek has a few ups and downs and a sturdy foot gear is recommended. First we reached a small village. The villagers were selling fresh lemonade under make shift tents. After a few more steps we saw hoardings describing the Limestone caves. There were restrooms too.

Going further we reached the natural wonders. A very narrow one way path goes on to the end of the caves laced with stalactites and stalagmites forming beautiful patterns inspiring vivid imaginations.

The place was so crowded that it is difficult to find a footing. Batch after batch of people following their guides were either in the process of going in or out. The caves are on a level ground so one doesn’t need to go down into a cavern or anything like that. In other words it is not scary at all.

On the way back we stopped at the village, had lemonade, clicked some pictures and then went back to the small jetty where we had de-boarded, but instead of going into a boat we were directed towards a walkway on a series of bridges, it is called –‘mangrove walk’.

The winding bridges took us through the mangroves jungle which was indeed a delight. The light was low for photography. Occasionally crocodiles can be spotted but we didn’t spot any. The walkway ended in another Jetty from where we got into our boats again for a return journey.

One has to wear a life jacket while on these boats mandatorily and given the speed at which they move, I would definitely support the rule though it is immensely uncomfortable. Once on shore, we headed for an eatery next to the Jetty. The food was simple yet tasty.

Mud volcano is another natural wonder that this island has on offer. We took a detour from the ATR this time and moved towards the interior of the island in order to reach them. A few steps up a hillock adorned by well nourished gardens on both sides makes for a serene landscape. It is in sharp contrast to the baron top where numerous mud mounds are created and the mud is bubbling and boiling and gushing out of the mouths of these tiny volcanoes.

No sooner had we finished marvelling at this earthly wonder we found some wonderfully coloured feathered friends unique to Andaman vying for our attention. In our whole trip this was the only place where we saw some spectacular avian life. Most other places we saw their pictures or at best heard them.

After another delicious lunch at the dhaba we returned to our cottage in Dew Dale. Evening was spend playing Monopoly with ‘chay’ and ‘pakoda’(snacks).

Next morning we woke up early got freshened up and were all set to head north… again… yes further north! Stay tuned for our journey to the Northern most town of Andaman – Diglipur.

Facts Figures and Touchdown || The Havelock Chapter || Port Blair || Jarwa Reserve

10 days in Andaman – Jarwa Reserve – 25th Dec’19

Facts Figures and Touchdown || The Havelock Chapter || Port Blair || Baratang

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Aalu paratha is one of my favourite dishes and to my excessive pleasure whether in Kashmir (had the unforgettable experience of having them on a shikara) or in Andaman I had the fortune to savour them; it almost always comes as a complimentary breakfast. Following the tradition, breakfast was on the house in shelter hotel at Port Blair too.

Happily fed, to the ‘North’ we headed. This was to be an interesting journey. Andaman is a conglomeration of islands. South Andaman is one big mass with a few small islands scattered around, like Ross and NorthBay that I had earlier mentioned. Baratang can be considered to be the last considerably big island in South Andaman.

To reach Baratang, one has to cross the much romanticised ‘Jarwa’ territory. Imagine a dense forest, tall trees that can be seen in tropical rain forests – reaching the sky, shrubs overburdened with wildly fragrant flowers, a slightly hilly terrain sloping down to the shores of the pristine waters. That is where they live, the Jarwa tribe.

From the city of Port Blair one needs to go past the airport towards further south and then take almost an u-turn to go northward on the Andaman Trunk Road, which runs from the north to the south and is the only arterial road for commerce and commuters. Earlier when the ATR was not completed or those times when the reserve was off limits for common use people and goods used to travel by small launches and boats to Mayabunder Jetty from Chatham or Port Blair Jetty.

As we left the city behind, the landscape started changing. First came a few houses amidst fields and then the road started getting lined by woods. The road condition was pathetic and Sanju was driving very slowly to avoid damage to the car and rolls in our stomachs. Anoushrayan and I are motion sensitive creatures.

We reached a place called Jirkatang which is where all the vehicles line up who need to go North. There is a gate here operated by the government officials. It opens four times throughout the day – 6.30am, 9.30am, 12.30 afternoon and at 15.00 hrs. An escort vehicle leads the way and all the vehicles must follow it all through the Jarwa Reserve till the Jetty where one needs to cross over on a ferry to the island of Baratang.

There is a beautiful south Indian style temple at Jirkatang on an elevation beside the road. The roadside is also lined up with Tea stalls which have a range of snacks to cater to the passengers. Toilets/washrooms are present for our convenience. A small curio shop has an interesting collection priced reasonably.

We got the 9.30am gate. For a first timer it is nothing less than an adventure, passing through a land inhabited by the dreaded Jarwa tribe. We envisioned them as an aboriginal race that hunt with bow and arrows and are fiercely hostile towards civilization.

The first 5kms are buffer zone and actually have a few settlements, mostly village homes that have been there for many decades. We were given strict instructions to not take photographs all through the reserve, it is a punishable act to the extent that we could be jailed and fined. On top of it the driver would lose his license for 10 years. The windows were to be kept rolled up.

The reserve is indeed a serene terrain to traverse through. We were going in a convoy and then it seemed to slow down. Sanju said in a hushed voice, “See see Jarwa.” We started peeping but could not see any one for some time. Then we saw a guy in sunglasses, wearing a green shirt and khaki trousers walking down the road towards our car in style. His facial structure and skin colour were the only things that made him look any different from an average Indian. He had Negroid features and a very shiny black skin.

As we moved on we saw many more Jarwas sitting by the road side, mostly women and children. Most of the adults were clothed with a very few exceptions. They were accompanied by a man from the our world. We came to know that the government has tried to post personnel along the whole length of the road that cuts through the reserve to prevent any possible contact with the Jarwas.

Many indigenous tribes have perished from coming in touch with us as their body is not immune to a couple of diseases that we can spread. Also ‘civilized’ people have the unique tendency to exploit the trusting and somewhat naive people.

Our journey through the reserve was peaceful and pleasant and also quick – the road being well maintained. We reached the jetty where a channel separates the island of Baratang from the mainland of South Andaman. The cars and buses need to queue up and buy a ticket. We got out of the car as Sanju lined it up and then went off to get the tickets.

The channel is quite wide and the flow is fast. As we were waiting at a sit out we saw the birds diving for fishes which were a plenty.

After a short while we saw a big launch coming afloat and positioning it in such a way that its rear aligns with the slope of the jetty. The launch had a huge belly where the cars and a bus rolled in. The people then percolated in – the scene was akin to salt trickling in a jar filled with pebbles. The ride was short but exciting. At the jetty on the Baratang side, the salts, I mean the people went out first then the vehicles. The whole affair is very well organised by personnel on both sides.

Food was at the top of our minds with the stomach growling. Sanju took us to a nice joint, one of its kind in Baratang. It was a bustling place with two front rooms of a two storey house converted into dining halls complete with sitting arrangements – a batch of people were eating and another batch waiting at the porch beside the road. This was a north Indian household with origins from Delhi, who had made Baratang their home decades ago. As I went to the washroom that was a clean affair at the back of the house accessible by a passage by the side of the dining hall, I got talking to the lady of the house. She got married more than 25 years ago and settled amongst these transparent people – as she calls them, on this small island amidst the pristine waters.

Her husband takes care of the front-desk while she runs the kitchen. Almost all the people who visit Baratang either for a day trip or as passerby to further north dine here and there is hardly anybody who stops over for a night and thus there aren’t very many places to put up for the night.

We quickly got our seats and the plates were laid. The menu was fixed as the footfall was too high to cater to different choices for an optimal task force. Rice ‘daal’ vegetable curries and ‘papadum’ kept coming in a sequence. One could ask for as much as the stomach would agree with, but I went beyond my capacity as it was delicious to say the least – All this for just a 120INR per plate.

We went off to check in to Dew Dale Resorts, half an hour’s drive owning to the precariously bad road condition. Dew Dale, tucked in a village by the roadside with its aesthetically designed huts to match the ambiance complete with all the modern amenities is worth an experience by itself.

Join me as we go on to explore Baratang and beyond… So long…  

Chasing Temples in the Capital of Mallabhum (Bishnupur) – 1

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

4 day trip including journey dates – 20/12/2017 – 23/12/2017

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Twenty four structures including temples, ruins and a museum in town; a temple 25 km to the north-west, another 10kms to the northeast, a village 22 km to the south-west and a popular pilgrimage 43 km to the south-east; that’s all we had planned for the 3 day trip to one of West Bengal’s hottest tourist destination in winter – The temple town Bishnupur.

Bishnupur town is around 200kms in the northwest direction from Kolkata located in the district of Bankura (one of 23 districts of WB) that is included in the area known as ‘Rarh’ in West Bengal, India. ‘Rarh’ popularly means ‘land of the red soil’. Bankura finds a mention in Mahabharata where it is called as ‘Suhmobhumi’.

We started on a Wednesday, last December, early in the morning and boarded a train from Shalimar station. The station gets its name from Shalimar Paints; who have painted the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Howrah Bridge, the AIIMS and many other prestigious structures since 1902. One can still see their dilapidated guest house and grounds near the station.

The train was on time, we hopped on to it and settled the little luggage we had on the rack above our seats. I directed my gaze towards the tea stall where the mob was, interestingly it was called Pillai tea stall. Rajib went to get us the steaming cuppas. A helpful gentleman educated me about the terminal station which had a name, that I thought was quite funny – Bhojudih.

Bhojudih is in Jharkhand. It is surrounded by three rivers, Damodar, Ijari and Guwai. It also has a famous kund (lake) that our epic Mahabharata hero ‘Arjuna’ created while the ‘Pandavas’ were in exile.

The journey in a reserved chair car on a winter morning is promising from the word go. I missed my boy, who loves trains just as we do. We omitted him from the trip as he would get bored spending hours around the brick temples as we study, survey and document each of them from every angle, brick to brick.

I suggested we move out right after lunch so as to be able to cover the huge list, but Rajib was craving for a little rest after the good meal. Lunch was simple yet delicious. Daal(pulses), aalu-posto(poppy seed curry), aalu-bhaja(finger chips, really thin) and a fish curry. The WBTDC lodge is the favorite eat out for day tourists as well.

The train having reached almost on time we had checked into WBTDC lodge after a medium rickshaw ride from the station that is to say the distance was neither short nor too long.

So we went into the AC deluxe room with a full stomach, body yearning to retire having been subjected to activity since the wee hours of the morning, put on the AC and slept off.

At about 3ish in the afternoon we pulled ourselves up from the alluring comfort of the bed, got ourselves and our gear ready and came out to conquer the land of the Malla Kings, Bishnupur was the capital of Mallabhum for almost a thousand years; and the sun gave us a wink! He was taking an early off and we were caught unawares. It was no good for photography.

Stunned by the sun’s stance we decided to just walk around heartbroken and headed to the museum that is less than a km down the alley from the guest house. It was open but photography was allowed. It’s a nice old structure with many artifacts.

Dihar, around 10-12 km north of Bishnupur was a site of human habitation as the Chalcolithic people settled on the north banks of the river Dwarakeswar by 1000 BCE. Excavations have revealed many utensils and tools used in those and later times. Some are on display at the museum.

The stone and brick sculptures we saw at the museum had interesting formations and names. They were mostly Shiva and other Gods from Hindu mythology alongside the ‘Jain tirthankars’.

Once out of the museum we walked along the directions on the roadmap and also google maps to reach a group of temples we knew was lurking somewhere around the corner amidst the development happening in terms of apartment sites scattered here and there.

We walked beside a school/college campus that was big and a very old one too, stretching from the beginning of the road till the pond that was a long way ahead. It had many hostel blocks and grounds, that’s definitely a student’s delight.

Uncertain about the distance and the navigator girl at google which like Cuthbert’s pendulum kept on pointing north we decided to ask a human being and in a short while reached our destination.

We tried a few shots but the sun said “Sorry! Expiry underway” like the stockbroker who won’t let one buy or sell any more stalks after 4 pm and we just sank in the dusk amidst ages of history day 1 went by.

As we strolled back to the hotel this time by another route, we passed by a live temple which was rather crowded and had many shops adjacent to it selling terracotta artifacts. I started peeping into them while Rajib quickly did a handy work with his camera getting snapshots of the goddess. Most live temples in India do not allow photography.

Chinnamasta Goddess

It was not until I had seen the picture Rajib shot that the name struck me, the goddess is called “chinnamasta” which means “severed head”. She is worshipped as a form of power and according to mythology had severed her own head to satisfy the hunger of her two mates, Varini and Dakini.

The road from the temple to the guest house had shops all along; apart from terracotta the shops also had “dokra” crafts; there were the famous “baluchori” and “bishnupuri” sarees, some woodcraft and the usual tea stalls and sweet shops.

Shop in Bishnupur

A mega fair was to start the day we were supposed to leave Bishnupur and it being on the grounds right opposite to the guest house there was a lot of hustle bustle, preparations were on a full swing. We indulged in local made sweets and chops, the medium of cooking showed its true colours a day later and we didn’t try to brave them ever again.

Accuweather predicted that the next two days were going to be foggy with the sun mostly working undercover. We sat down with the list of “to be visited” with a grim face, no sun meant no shoot and we had only two and a half days in hand.

It reminded me of our honeymoon trip. Traveller’s cheques were in vogue back then, but by the time we managed to visit the bank anticipating a probable cash crunch, it was closed; we were supposed to leave for Geyzing from Gangtok(Sikkim, India) the next day thus were left on a shoestring budget until we could get a bank that was operating.

Tsangu Lake, Gangtok 2002

Back then it was money and now it was time. We would have to be very prudent, take wise decisions using all our experience and ration time.

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

10 Days in Andaman – Port Blair – a deeper look – 23rd – 25th dec’19

Facts Figures and Touchdown || The Havelock Chapter || Jarwa Reserve || Baratang

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

It grew dark as we whiz past the jetty in Sanju’s car and as we were passing by the harbour front road with the sea on one side and a hill slope on the other, I wished if we could stay nearby and the wish came true! The Shelter Hotel is on the base of the hill slope which houses the Cellular Jail. The ‘honeymoon suit’ as they call it is just another double bedded room with a clean attached bathroom; but the balcony is a love affair for sure. It has a moderately good sit out option facing the sea, right across the road.

We freshened up and went out, heading for the ‘sound and light’ show at the cellular jail at 9pm. We needed to grab our dinner before that somewhere on the way. The road by the sea is both delightful and a bit scary for first timers like me, though the railings bracing the footpath were mostly present, the once that were broken did pose a danger. The breeze from the sea was strong and we felt the chill. There weren’t too many pedestrians or vehicles at this hour. At a junction the road bifurcated, one branched up the hill and we followed.

A short way up was the Cellular Jail, all lighted up. We got the tickets.

Our road went on bypassing the Cellular Jail and going down to meet that road which had continued straight on from the bifurcation. We went down that way and found a road side arena decorated with lights and umbrellas with many fast food stalls and sitting arrangement, we got some of it for dinner. The waterfront has many options for dinning. This is an interesting place, and is just a walk away from Aberdeen Bazaar. We explored this area after coming back from North Andamans.

The sound and light show brings alive the sufferings of the prisoners, the cruelty of the Jailer with dramatic narration and inspiring songs.

We came out with a heavy heart but the breeze and the distant lights in the dark, the huge Indian flag hoisted at the tip of the waterfront brought back the lively mood as we walked back to the hotel. Rajib and I sat in the balcony late into the night watching the ships anchored in the harbour. Some had dim lights, few had bright, and we could even see small boats sailing in the light of the stars. It was beautiful, mystic.

We almost started the day on the balcony again, we means me and Rajib, Anoushrayan as I have said earlier has eyes for only kindle; he came, he saw and said a brief nice before rushing back to his beloved.

Luckily to our left was the fresh catch fish market, so we got a glimpse of a lively merchandise exchange. A boat was anchored at the opening of the wall / railing on the footpath. It had many varieties of fishes which had been caught fresh. The boatmen, two of them were busy segregating them and they didn’t finish until we left for our day tour, which would be about an hour. The retail sellers were mostly women in their brightly coloured sarees. People came in small and big cars, all residents of Port Blair. Some bought directly from the boat man as the ladies were busy setting up their shops. Some were waiting patiently and slowly the place that had a quite sleepy start was bustling with activity.

The plan was to see the museums and enjoy some water sports. We didn’t go for water sports in Havelock, which was definitely a mistake we realised later. I was particularly interested about the sea walk which didn’t need any swimming or diving experience. But we came to know only after reaching North Bay Island that it has been stopped after some unfortunate incidents.

Sanju, who by now had almost become a chauffeur, was ready at the gate. We drove off to the island of Chatham, which is connected by a land bridge over the sea. Chatham is where the felled trees are cut into sizes as is in demand and sent out to far far away lands on ships. Chatham is where the first and the second penal settlements were established. Chatham is where the 200 prisoners first landed on 10th March 1858. The date is still celebrated as the foundation day of Port Blair and those prisoners are considered the ancestors of modern residents of Andaman.

At Chatham one needs to buy tickets to enter through the gate, there is a nice little museum stuffed with photographs with information on various important things and places and people of Andaman and Nicobar. It has many beautiful articles on display, majority being things made of the famous ‘Padouk’ wood that is indigenous to the Andamans. At a time only 20 people are allowed inside.

//——–We saw many Padouk trees on our journey to Baratang and further north to Rangat and Diglipur, but could not identify even one on my own, however hard Sanju tried to educate me.—–//

Then there is the bunker to hide from the Japanese bombing, the huge ditch created by the Japanese bomb that fell on Chatham and mostly destroyed it and last but not the least one gets a walkthrough of the saw mill. Huge bundles of logs, huge machines to cut and polish them, it is a fascinating place and definitely not that one gets to see on a day to day basis. It is not a tourist destination by definition, but an amazing experience.

The curio shop has items made of the Padouk wood, it has the cheapest and the best collection in town. We bid farewell to this historic island with loads of souvenir to visit another, Ross Island. The motor boats take 6 / 7 passengers, first to Ross then to North Bay and back to Port Blair. While Ross is where the Brits had their headquarters, living quarters, entertainment arena which is all in ruins now, having been captured by the Japanese for a brief period and then finally abandoned; North Bay is for water sports ranging from scuba diving to visiting the marine life in submarines.

Ross Island has many things for the ones like us who are interested in ruins. It has a haunted feeling about it. It also has peacocks and deer roaming about. Beware the coconut is way too expensive in Ross. From Ross we went to North Bay.

Since underwater sea walking was not possible, we wanted to opt for Scuba. The norms don’t allow diabetics and hypertensive to go scuba diving thus we sat on the shores as Anoushrayan took the dip. It is expensive at 3500INR per person. The experience was not so great for my child as his braces hurt against the mouthpiece. We found many oldies with sugar and pressure taking the plunge not withstanding any warnings and coming out clean. We also saw many young girls and boys failing the test that is mandatory (to be able to follow basic instructions) before diving in.

One can go snorkelling, which is open to all as it doesn’t take one deep down but once again Havelock would be a better place to try all these.

Lunch was a quick affair on North Bay in one of the make shift shacks but it was good to taste.

We were transferred to a submarine parked a little way into the sea by a motor boat; though there is a great deal of marine life to be enjoyed and the boat belly where we were seated was taken very close to the bottom of the sea exposing a multitude of corals and fishes and plants; the sapiens inside the belly were too noisy and unsettling in contrast to the vibrant calm outside. I puked and realised that land, plain land not mountains not on fast moving vehicles – is where I belong, neither the sky nor the oceans.

The moment the submarine ride ended we were almost snatched off and ushered into our motor boat, our co-passengers were a tolerant lot muttering the grudges only under their breath, in the morning they had to wait for us for a whole 2 hrs, while we took our time at the Chatham saw mill, in the afternoon another two as they didn’t engage in any sports. That is how they gather the passengers; 2 here 2 there to make 6 or 7 in all, our co-passengers where a family of 4 so they had to wait for us 3.

Once back on the island of Port Blair we rushed to the Anthropological Museum, as all museums close by 5pm and we had just about an hour to spare. It is a fine building which houses many artefacts that the different tribes of Andaman and Nicobar have been using since time immemorial. We also saw the models / photographs of the men women and children, belonging to different tribes that were and are residents of the Andamans. But the most interesting was the model of the boat called the outrigger canoes. It helped these people to brave the seas, then and even today. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the museum.

By now we were hungry as a hippo. We had only grabbed a cucumber at the waterfront after de-boarding the boat; the most expensive cucumber I have had in my life. All through Andamans cucumbers are extensively expensive, most other food items raw or cooked are not. The auto dropped us at Aberdeen Bazaar and we walked through the busy streets lined with shops on both sides. We found a good looking restaurant, had our fill, bought some cheap tshirts written Andaman and Nicobar on it of varying sizes and colours for ourselves.

The next day we were supposed to head on to Baratang, so we picked up some cash and bakery stuff. In Andaman we had to fish out cash everywhere except The Taj. We picked a few souvenirs on the way back to the hotel and skipped dinner. Once again we enjoyed sitting in the balcony and gazing out at the lights from the ships and the stars and the dark waters and the light house that stood at the edge of the island opposite to us, for the last time.

To the North – through the Jarwa Reserve

10 Days in Andaman – The Havelock Chapter – 21st – 23rd Dec’19

Facts Figures and Touchdown || Port Blair || Jarwa Reserve || Baratang
By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Havelock was there in about one and a half hours. It has a pretty and small Jetty where we disembarked. The luggage had been loaded separately and had been unloaded similarly. We collected it and walked towards the gate. Autos and taxis had lined up. Some hotels send their personal vehicle if you opt for one. Good eco buses ply regularly on the main roads and are the cheapest means of travel. We hired an auto and told him our destination. Cross-Bill Resorts on the Govindnagar beach. Also called beach number two, where most hotels are, is the nearest to the Jetty. It is hardly 2 km and the auto fare was a 100INR.

Our abode was a small cottage with a little sit out. This hotel has some 10 of them in two rows. It is run by a Bengali lady who came to the island years ago having been wedded to a school teacher residing here. We freshened up and yessssssssssss, headed to the beach, the property grounds practically merge into the beach.

The sand is white! The water is turquoise! And I am in the heavens! That is what I felt. The sun was yet to begin his goodbyes so we took a little stroll along the beach, Anoushrayan in the waters mostly, I was ecstatic but skeptical, not knowing the depths. We found that all the properties lined up on the Govindnagar beach had this unique facility for the guests to wander on the beach late night or early morning or just as and when one felt like.

We had hogged on bread and tea as soon as we had checked in, cause that was all that they had to offer apart from Maggi. Dinner was elaborate to compensate for the missed lunch. The beach beckoned us once again and it was almost an out of the world experience. Pitch dark, innumerable number of stars and planets twinkling in the clear sky above, the sound of water gently kissing the sands and swaying away, the shimmering lights from the boats anchored in what seemed like nothingness. I will never forget that night.

We finally hit the bed after about 24 hrs of leaving home to Anoushrayan’s delight, and our’s too.

The morning sea was calm and cold. Waterline had receded to reveal the rocks. We went wading in and in and in and in and yet the water was only till my waist and I am just 5ft. We could see the water sports guys taking the tourists quite far off into the sea for scuba diving and snorkeling, so the waters must be deeper there. Anoushrayan was very happy to be in this large open pool and so was I. Rajib played along for a while then went off, the salt in the water makes him sick. We made sandcastles on the beach, mine was better, so claimed Anoushrayan too. We two went back to the waters; it was a little difficult maneuvering through the rocks which by now had come out in the open completely. It was about 8ish and very low tide.

We had a sumptuous complimentary breakfast and headed on to exploring Havelock. The options were: auto / car / bus / hire scooter. When we set out from the cottage we had auto in mind, but it changed to hire scooter by the time we finished breakfast. The charges are 400 INR per scooter plus two ltrs of petrol (160 INR) and a refundable deposit of 4000 INR.

Now helmets are a must in Havelock otherwise 10000 INR fine for the rider, but Rajib’s is one the biggest heads on the planet; an Australian company had to manufacture a hat to match his head girth, they quoted that they are equipped to manufacture just one more size above his and they don’t keep these sizes as ready stock due to infrequent orders of these sizes coming in. Bottom line:  getting a helmet for him is next to impossible. We got one though that had to be forced onto him and that broke the tender temple of his spectacle. He was left with one ‘temple’ throughout the rest of the Andaman trip, but for once he wasn’t grumpy about it!

Zoooooom we went, Anoushrayan as my pillion; all three knights armed with shooting gears and refreshments for the hunt. Destination: Elephanta Beach. The directions are quite clearly marked yet we stopped once or twice to be sure. There are two ways to reach this beach. In a ferry from the jetty that takes about 45 mnts or by road to a place called Krishna Nagar (which is well marked) that takes about a half-hour and then hike for 2 km through the jungle and mangrove flats.

We chose to hike or rather I chose to make us go hiking. Rajib doesn’t enjoy it at all. Anoushrayan detests walking of any kind anywhere. One needs to register their names phone numbers etc before setting out on foot so that they can be searched for if they don’t return in time. The folks do insist on guides and try to scare you into taking one but there is no such need.

Thus we started and got lost, only briefly though. There was a dwelling and the people showed us the right way. Thereafter we followed the road over the hill, up for a while then down to the broken bridge, passed the resting hut where we sat while coming back.

As the mud pathway made its way into the forest, the trees became tall and the vegetation dense. Remember Mirkwood (Hobbit lovers).

The terrain was a little hilly and muddy and did call for good boots. Through numerous ups and downs, some tad trickier and not for the faint-hearted, we trecked.

And reached the flats.

Mangroves and her domiciles, the hermit crabs, mudskippers and countless other tiny creatures posed for us.

A bend there and through a thicket of mangrove we popped on to the beach. Ah! the shades of blue she wears are beyond envy, and her beach skirting is sparkling white. This part of the beach was quite deserted.

The action was concentrated where the water sports were.

We could see parasailing happening far into the sea on a boat.

Anoushrayan wanted to play in the waters but we were running out of time and also I didn’t want him to get too much wet.

Rajib caught a ghost crab, it is completely white and in the white sands moves like a spirit; we made it a model.

Couple of shots and we started the return journey. We also met a human on the mudflats, while trying to observe a mudskipper; Ankit from Delhi was a solo traveler with a keen eye but without a camera. He spotted a monitor lizard and a red back lizard, and I captured them though not so well.

We got lost again on the way back but I found the path before Rajib could hit the panic button. Though not interested in walking Anoushrayan is quite enthusiastic if the road has a little adventure to offer, so he played a good sport.

We rushed to Radhanagar beach – the one which has made its way into the top 10 beaches of the world. But we had to stop for food before we hit the beach and guess where we thought of flaunting our hard-earned painstakingly saved money? At the Taj. But we were not the only ones flaunting, The Taj Exotica Resort and Spa occupies a whopping 46 acres of land!

We ate prawns curry, rice and a crab (Anoushrayan called it a fortune crab, as it was worth a small fortune to him – INR 5000/-). The huge crabs are brought from Diglipur in north Andamans. Most of them board a ship to go overseas and a few adorn the local exotic dining facilities. We didn’t find crabs in the usual restaurants.

After the luncheon, it was time to hit the famous beach. The Taj staff showed us a short cut and we arrived onto the glorious beach through a tiny opening amongst the thicket of the tropical rain forest trees. What one can’t get enough of is this blue and white. It kind of never gets old. And did I miss the green? So its the greens of the tropics, the sparkling white of the sands and the blues of the open ocean, the true beauty is hard to capture on any media, it is only for the eyes to behold and the heart to make elephant legs with sand.

We waited to catch the sunset, caught it, and then ran back to our scooters. It gets dark within half an hour of the sunset and we were to drive at least 45 mnts to reach the main market area. The road didn’t have much light and was narrow with face to face driving. We managed, driving for decades now. It could be our alternate profession.

Havelock Market is a lively place, with a big ‘mandi’ at its heart where vegetables. fish, meat and all kinds of vendors put their wares on display. The footfall is heavy and the place is ablaze with activity. There are good snacking options and a few shops that sell handicrafts and knickknacks.

We went off to our resort after getting refreshed and hanging around for a while. Again the mystique home beach beckoned us and after dinner, we hit the bed relaxing after the day’s toil.

Now came the last day on Havelock, a fine morning to wake up to. There is plenty of space to dry clothes. We were mostly packed except for the wet clothes which we let there be to collected later after our morning odyssey.

The plan was to walk down the Govindnagar beach to the Vijaynagar beach which has no separate demarcation except that on Vijaynagar beach one encounters huge ‘Mahua’ trees that seem to have been beckoned by the blue waters and were hurriedly reaching out to it. The Vijaynagar beach continues on to Kala Pathar beach but the stretch is interlaced with rocks and is devoid of any shade.

After breakfast, we started walking and disturbed many a crab small and bright who were trying to go about their daily business.

The Mahua trees provide good shade to walk under or sit on to rest for a while.

We met a few indigenous birds who did not agree to pose for us, it being a rush hour for them. We walked for about 15 mnts and reached the end of the Mahua tree line.

We then went inshore into a property, Rajib was skeptical about trespassing but as the properties have no borders with the beach and none have cared to keep any demarcated roads, we pretty much passed unnoticed.

Once on the main road, we took an auto to kala pathar beach and saw many enticing restaurants and properties and also plantations on the way. The Kala Pathar beach was full of life forms mostly humans and dogs as this was a bathing beach, though only in a designated area and the coast guard were very vigilant. We asked the auto to be back in an hour which he agreed to and took off.

Loading ourselves with coconut water and pulp we walked for a while on the tar road that went beyond the beach and up on a hill. We came across a restaurant with an interesting name: “The Flying Elephant” and turned around to head to the beach.

Since we were to leave by a catamaran that afternoon we didn’t want to get our clothes wet, so we just walked on to find more Mahua trees trying to reach the blue across the white, some perished on the way.

We came back after a long refreshing walk, dipped our feet in the Havelock sea for the last time but didn’t find our auto. We waited for a while and boarded a bus that came our way as we were on a tight schedule, all the while feeling guilty about the payment that was due to the auto.

Back at the resort, I packed the remaining clothing which had dried by then and was brooding over a means of transport to go to the jetty, when an auto came looking for us. He had been sent by his friend, our auto guy, who had got caught up in something. I could not have been happier. He agreed to drop us to a restaurant adjacent to the Jetty and we paid him all the dues.

Lunch was good and tasty and different but it didn’t go well with my stomach and I gave it all to the waste bag while riding the catamaran back to Port Blair. Anoushrayan and most of our co-passengers preferred Bollywood song videos over the panorama of the setting sun over the horizon.

We reached Port Blair almost at sundown. Sanju had called while we were still at the sea and it felt good to see him at the Jetty. He dropped us at our next abode The Shelter Hotel.

The next two days we tried to take a deeper look into Port Blair. Stay tuned for our finds.

Port Blair – a deeper look

10 days in Andaman – Facts Figures and Touchdown – 21st Dec’19 – 1st Jan’ 20

The Havelock Chapter || Port Blair || Jarwa Reserve || Baratang
by Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Return Airfare 3 Pax: 78732INR || Stay 3 Pax: 44789INR || Food 3 Pax: 17398INR ||

Local Transportation: 42320INR || Fees (Museum, watersports etc): 19140 ||

Total: 202379INR

Our Itinerary

DayActivities
21st Dec 2019  Bangalore (Karnataka, India) to Port Blair(Andaman and Nicobar, India)

 

From airport to Aberdeen Bazar Breakfast, Corbyn’s Beach, Cellular Jail, drop at the Jetty

Port Blair to Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep)

Check into CrossBill Resorts, Havelock

22nd Dec 2019Elephanta Beach, Radhanagar Beach
23rd Dec 2019Govindnagar Beach, Vijaynagar Beach, Kala Pathar Beach

 

Havelock to Port Blair

Check into The Shelter Hotel, Port Blair

Light and Sound Show at 9.00PM at the Cellular Jail

24th Dec 2019 Port Blair  – Chatham saw mill (forest museum), Ross Island, North Bay Island – water sports, Anthropological Museum
25th Dec 2019Port Blair to Baratang Island(Jarwa Reserve is on the way)

 

Check in to Dew Dale Resort, Barantang

Parrot Island, near Baratang

26th Dec 2019Limestone caves, Mud Volcano, Baratang
27th Dec 2019Check in to Pristine Resort, Diglipur

 

Sit out at the beach waiting for Olive Ridley to come and nest

28th Dec 2019Checkout from pristine

 

Dhanninallah Mangrove Walkthrough to a beach

Check into Lakshmi Villa, Rangat

29th Dec 2019 Back in Port Blair check into Atlanta Point

 

Waterfront at night

30th Dec 2019Fisheries Museum, Samudrika Museum

 

Check into The Oceanus Resort

31st Dec 2019Wandoor Beach, Kalapani Museum, Chidiya Tapu
1st Jan 2020Port Blair to Bangalore

Tips for your trip

The beaches in Havelock and Neil are the best both for bathing and water sports. Bathing in the beaches of Port Blair is banned owing to fear of crocodiles. The water sports at North Bay / Corbyn’s beach are not so much fun as in Havelock.

The journey to Baratang can cater to most excursion enthusiasts. It passes through Jarwa (Andaman tribe) reserve, where they can be seen quite often.

If the duration of the trip is longer, Diglipur north of Andaman can be explored, it is a big town with Ross and Smith twin islands accessible from the Areal Bay. A new airport is coming up at Diglipur. It has beaches where the turtles come to nest from Dec to Feb.

If the trip is shorter then Havelock is a must (2 nights), Neil can be dropped, in Port Blair the Cellular jail, Samudrika Museum, and Chatham Forest Museum can be done in a day and another can be spent to visit Ross Island and North Bay and the city in general.

There are a few hiking and mountaineering opportunities but in Andaman, the blue is what predominates; the weather is ideal to be in the waters and the beaches are too alluring to forgo.

Recommended Itinerary for 10 days

DayActivities
Day 1Fly into Port Blair – Cellular Jail / Fisheries Museum – Both are near the waterfront

 

Head to Havelock(Swaraj Dweep) by Macruz around 3pm, check-in at Havelock

Day 2Spent the morning at Govindnagar Beach / Vijaynagar Beach  / Kala Pathar Beach to bathe in the shallow waters and build castles, water sports are available at Govindnagar/ Vijaynagar, have lunch at the Something Different Beach cafe, explore the market after sundown, retire to the hotel
Day 3Visit Neil Island  (Shaheed Dweep)
Day 4Explore Elephanta Beach – Hike /Water sports, be at the Radhanagar Beach to catch the beautiful  sunset
Day 5Enjoy the bath at the beach near you or just laze around looking at the azure waters and return to Port Blair by Macruz, enjoy the light and sound at the cellular jail
Day 6Port Blair – Chatham Forest Museum, Ross Island, Northbay, Anthropological Museum
Day 7Head north towards Baratang through Jarwa Reserve, visit Parrot Island, check-in at Baratang
Day 8Visit Limestone caves, Mud volcano at Baratang and return by the last gate
Day 9Reach Port Blair by sundown and enjoy the waterfront / Aberdeen Bazar is lively at night
Day 10Flyback

And now our travel story…

The brief Port Blair Stint

If I were Sanjay, no not the famous Dhritarashtra’s Charioteer from the Indian epic Mahabharata, but the guy who drove us around in Andaman, I would possibly start the blog thus:

It was another usual day at the airport. Tourists were not so abundant. I had no party to cater to. Usually, December is rush hour and I am overbooked. But here I was waiting at the arrival gate having queued for any stray passenger to be dropped at the hotel, generally, that is what they do, check-in first. Suddenly a trio in black jackets emerged; the grumpy one had a receipt in hand with my car number. As soon as the scanty luggage was fitted into the boot the chatty one started spilling out the beans regarding their travel plan. This was a family I gathered, with a 12-year-old son. They would be in Andamans for 10 days, definitely a good party to latch on to and that is what I did.

If I were Anoushrayan, our son about to be 13 with eyes only for kindle and is waiting for the day when we could teleport everywhere, I would have possibly started the blog thus:

The ordeal was not over yet. We had started late night on the 20th of December around 10pm after dinner, spent the night at the airport as the take-off was around 4am. The 1st-row seats were airy with a good leg space and since the door was open for long, I did not nauseate. My travel happy mom had not booked any hotel in Port Blair, the entry point of Andaman as we were supposed to be heading to Havelock around noon by a catamaran the same day. There we can finally hit the bed is what she has promised. The first thing we did in the port city was, have breakfast and good it was; both tasty and sumptuous, that made me very happy. I needed the energy as we were about to ride on a whirlwind for the next 10 days.

If I were Rajib, my hubby who loves to travel as much as me, has a keen eye for details and is fact-oriented, he also needs to get value for money from everything, I would possibly start the blog thus:

Andaman’s only operating airport for civilians is at Port Blair, it is called Veer Savarkar International Airport. It has a very small arrival and departure lounge. We collected the luggage which came quite fast and freshened up, the bathrooms were decent for Indian small city standards. A band was getting ready to play in one corner. We headed towards the inquiry counter and asked about the catamaran Sea Link. They suggested we better checkout at the Jetty, booked us a cab and gave us a receipt. The grey Suzuki Ciaz was comfortable and the driver Sanju though a serious kind of Bengali gentleman was quite efficient. He took us to a good breakfast joint understanding our requirement. We wanted to book the return journey from Havelock after 2 days, so he took us to a travel agent and we got it done.

If I were me, well which I am, a romantic storyteller who forgets names but remembers experiences, for whom the loss of money counts the least, I am going to write my blog thus:

As I stood behind the bars of the cellular jail I could feel the scream, the pain, the torment that this jail was supposed to have caused to the hundreds of innocent people who were not criminals but political prisoners entitled to humane conditions though in captivity. In Port Blair, the cellular jail and a ferry away the Ross island are the two major places where lies the dark history of Andamans, of the deported Indians, Burmese and the brief but devastating Japanese occupation. A must-visit for all who value their independence and want to know the level of human endurance.

The Great Andaman Tribes were worst affected while they were enslaved in their homeland, forced to give away their cultural identity and accept the so-called civilized way of life. Today as we know the ‘Sentinelese” remain the only tribe that did not let the outside world touch them. The Jarawa are at an interesting crossroad of modern and primitive lifestyle. The Nicobarese tribes though modernized keep to themselves. Tourists are not allowed in the Nicobar Islands, only the government officials and residents of Andaman can visit and stay there. Thus there is no chance of meeting the Nicobar Pigeon and other endemic life forms, in person, any time soon.

We went to Aberdeen Bazaar from the airport to have breakfast. It was early morning and most of the shops were closed. We immediately recognized the Clock tower at the crossroads, having read Deepak Dalal’s Andaman story more than once.

After the breakfast and return booking from Havelock, we went to Corbyn’s beach through the waterfront.

Port Blair’s waterfront which opens up to a harbor with lots of colourful motorboats parked in the blue pristine waters of the Andaman sea, steals away one’s heart from the first look. The capital is a small city, somewhat in layers, the city kind of spirals up the hill and slides down to the sea level.

Corbyn’s beach is the nearest beach from the airport/city center and it has a few water sport options. Though bathing is strictly prohibited due to possible attacks from crocodiles, a few have recently been spotted nearer than what could be called a safe distance.

We stayed at the beach for a while for the photoshoots and headed to The Cellular Jail. Even if I don’t make it as dramatic as calling it a life-changing experience, it is definitely going to create a mark. The seven spokes, of which only 3 survived with the surrounding grounds that house the hanging room, the oil churning equipment, the chair where David Barry sat and saw his cruel tortures being executed, create a heart-wrenching experience. The 3 wings are open to the public, one can go inside the cell to feel it more. I felt claustrophobic inside the cell, even with the iron door open. We went up the tower, which joins all the spokes/wings that house the cells. A sentry was enough to keep a watch on all the seven wings with 696 cells.

The terrace of the wings has some breathtaking views of the ocean around. A public hospital has been established where two of the wings used to be. At the entrance to the jail, there are two museums to the right and left of the gate, packed with photographs and write-ups about the horrible times this jail has witnessed, we could finish only one as the other one was being moped and we didn’t have time to wait so long; definitely, a reason to go back.

Our catamaran was to leave at 12.30 so we headed to the jetty.  Sanju readily exchanged numbers so that he could catch us when we are back from Havelock. The Jetty has two big lounges with chairs, restrooms, and a small canteen. Sealink, the catamaran was supposed to provide lunch so we didn’t plan for it. Unfortunately, it got canceled and we had to fill ourselves with snacks and beverages available at the small counter. We were accommodated on another catamaran called Makruzz, the best and the fastest. The wait was long, till about 2.30pm but the journey and the sitting quarters compensated for it.

As we sailed on the blue waters of the Andaman Sea, I could see, through the huge glass windows, the fading lines of the islands; I could see the waves but could not feel them, as the catamaran is a very stable vessel. We bought tea, 40INR per cup, but it felt good to have it in this smooth sailing vessel as we watched the horizon where the two blues met.

The Havelock Chapter || Port Blair || Jarwa Reserve || Baratang

Kashmir, its Mughal gardens and temples

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Kashmir || Pahalgam || Gulmarg

From the sweltering heat of Delhi we reached the wet and cold capital of Kashmir. It was nothing like the Meluhan Srinagar but a city just like any other in India. Cars and traffic jams and flyovers and ongoing construction work, all the same. But then came the mighty Jhelam in sight and the mightier mountains to frame its calm and serene nature which she portrays once on these flat lands.

The Kashmir valley is about 100 kms wide and is at an average elevation of approximately 6000 feet. The Pir Panjal range (inner Himalayas with average elevation 16000 feet) surrounds it in the south and west (where we have the LOC with Pakistan). 

Gulmarg is on one of the shoulder’s of one of the peaks (Apharwat) on these ranges.

The north eastern sides of the valley are flanked by the mighty Himalays. The Amarnath peak, Mount Kolahoi and a lot of other peaks pop up from this side when the skies are clear.

Pahalgam is a little valley tucked in between the lower ranges of the Himalays, 16kms from the base of Amarnath peak.

The centre of attraction in Srinagar is undoubtedly the Dal Lake. Funny though it is like saying the ‘lake lake‘ as ‘Dal’ in Kashmiri means lake. According to local legend, Kashmir is a land desiccated from water.

Our hotel was a stone’s through from the Boulevard that runs beside the Dal. Walisons is a mid range hotel which gives heavy discounts on online bookings with complimentary breakfast and other goodies. We had booked their family room for 2 nights before and a night after the Pahalgam trip. It was more than a pleasant stay with exquisitely decorated clean rooms and bathrooms, loads of good restaurants nearby, one being at the hotel itself. The Stream and Shamiyana are two renowned but tad expensive food joints on the boulevard. We enjoyed various Kashmiri Wazwan’s, the best being Mutton Yakhni.

Our Kasheer (Kashmir in Kashmiri) trip began with rains and as long as we stayed in Srinagar 90% of the time it rained. The “burkha clad” Autos, as I called them were a great relief. Though they hamper visibility, the chill winds accompanied by the showers are kept out by the covers on both sides of the auto which also has a door.

It takes only an evening to see the beautifully decorated ancient mughal gardens of Pari Mahal and Chashme Shahi along with the new Tulip Garden (only from 3rd week of Mar to mid Apr); but to the initiated heart, they are worth spending a life time in, specially Pari Mahal, which gives a panorama of the city being situated in the Zawarban ranges. The garden with 7 terraces was Dara Shikoh’s Library and place for meditation. We visited them amidst light showers, slipping in the mud trying hard to capture the beauties.

The Zabarwan ranges (sub mountain ranges of the Himalays) also houses the other two famous mughal Gardens, Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh. They are rectangular gardens sloping uphill. The spring water from the hills is channelized downhill and ornate stone structures adorn the garden in the true Persian style of the Mughals.

The Tulip Garden in the lap of the Zabarwan ranges; the largest in Asia will remind any hindi film buff of the famous Amitabh – Rekha starrer song, “Dekha ek khwab to ye silsile huye”. There are almost 50 varieties of tulips.

On the second day in Kasheer, we paid a visit to the Nishat Bagh. Beautiful as it is, but would be further enjoyable on a sunny day in full bloom around June.

After Nishat we then drove past Shalimar Bagh, again in a burkha auto to Burza Hamma or Burzahom. It is about 4.5kms from Shalimar Bagh. Our driver bhaijan had a faint idea about the place but had never been there. He had to put some effort into finding it and finally he did!

Burzahom was the home of our species around 3300BCE, when we lived in pits. We continued to live there even after stone-age but this time on the ground in mud houses. Loads of excavated artefacts are on display in the Museum in Srinagar. They date till 800BCE, thus Neolithic age. But as usual we believe more in folk lore than archaeological finds, so the locals believe that a sufi saint lived here 10000 years ago and thus the area was populated.

Amish, in his fictional story book assumes that Kashmir was part of Lord Ram’s domain centuries before Shiva was brought down from the mountains by Nandi to save the Meluhans. The recorded history can only take us back to the times of Emperor Askoka. There after the Indo-Greeks, Kushans, Sakas and Huns occupied Kashmir. The first true king of kasheer is considered to be Praversena II (580 CE). Karkota Empire established themselves as the rulers of Kashmir in the 8th Century. Lalitaditya Muktapida the third ruler of this dynasty extended his kingdom significantly. He is also credited with the construction of one the only three sun temples in India (the others two being Konarak-Odisha and Modhera-Gujrat); Martand Sun Temple near Anantnag. We visited it from Pahalgam, hardly an hour’s distance.

Suhail, our driver was unaware of the sun temple, so he took us to ‘Martand Mattan’ in the town of Mattan which is nearby. It is a Shiva temple cum Gurudwara.

Eventually, some army officers were able to help us find our destination. The locals know the Sun temple as ‘Pandav leni’, the place where the Pandavs from Mahabharata stayed for a while. Again folk lore beats history and archaeology!

The other magnanimous creation of Lalitaditya was Parihaspora, about 20kms from Srinagar, which we visited on the way to Gulmarg.

In the times of Ashoka the great, Buddhism crept into Kashmir and many places of worships were established, none of them are in existence today or may have been converted to Hindu temples.

Talking of temples, the famous Shankaracharya temple atop one of the edges of the Zabarwan range is attainable by any vehicle or even a jog by the enthusiasts. Bags and cameras are not allowed from the base of the stairs. There are about 250 of them to reach the top. Not only the top but even the way to the temple gives very scenic, far and wide views of the Srinagar town below.

Srinagar has many mosques in the old town, which is best visited in a hired car or auto. Some of them might be closed for tourists from time to time. The architecture of these mosques is of great interest to the enthusiasts.

The Hazaratbal mosque in particular, gives a very pleasant feeling. The imposing structure in white with its dome against the backdrop of the Zabarwan ranges makes it very appealing. The grounds as we went were flooded with the beautiful people of Kashmir, children playing around, men and women sitting in circles, chatting up happily made a very happy scene.

Two of the most unique attractions of Kashmir are the Houseboats and shikaras rides. We stayed in a House Boat called Martin’s House Boat in the ‘jewel in the ring’ – Nageena or Nigeen Lake as the locals call it, to the south-west of Hazratbal nearby. This is part of the Dal, but secluded, away from the hustle bustle connected to it only by a small strait.

We lost an entire day which we had preserved for shikara ride to the torrential rains but we managed an hour’s ride on the day of our departure and the experience of having breakfast in a shikara is the “must do before I die” kind.

The day we arrived from Gulmarg back in Srinagar was also a wet one but it wasn’t really pouring so we didn’t take a chance and rushed to Shalimar Bagh – ‘the most famed mughal garden’. The Chinars, one of them 400yrs old are a delight along with many other beautiful and strange flowers.

We met three Kashmiri boys in the bagh, who approached us to shoot them. They were mere kids studying in 11th grade and as a testimonial that the school was indeed closed that day and they were not bunking, they showed us the sms sent by the school.

We agreed to click and later send their photos through whatsapp, which we did; but what we didn’t apprehend was that they would give 75 shots!

There are many amazing things that one encounters on a trip, one such was the ‘kashimiri Dosa’ available right outside the bagh.

Of all the Mughal Gardens, I liked the one in Achabal the most; its in Anantnag and we went there from Pahalgam. It is smaller than Nishat or Shalimar but is none the less ornate.

In the land of natural springs and gardens, Kokernag is another beauty tucked amidst the mountains a little further away from Achabal.

Anantnag also has another gem, the Verinag spring which is considered to be the major source of the river Jhelum. The Mughal Arcade surrounding the spring is declared as a monument of special importance by the ASI.

We missed it.

We met two more wonderful Kushir (kashmiri people) at the temples of Awantipora in Anantnag. Both temples are in ruins and yet are a testimony of the days of glory they had once witnessed.

At Awantiswami dedicated to Shiva, we met a local guide who approached Rajib as he becomes very approachable when the camera hangs from his neck. A fine friendly neighbourhood man, a muslim, well versed in history, he poured out his own ruinous condition and that of the valley as he narrated the story of the ruins.

Less than a kilometre away is Avantishwara, a temple dedicated to Vishnu. We met a Sikh caretaker here, who was sweeping the floor of this bundle of ornate stones that once stood arranged in an array of well-structured walls and roofs. He was more than happy to see a visitor and was overwhelmed when he was tipped.

All said about the breathtaking beauty of Kashmir, if I have to pick only one from a dozen days experience, it would undoubtedly be its beautiful people.

Kashmir || Pahalgam || Gulmarg

Gulmarg – Meadow of Flowers

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Gulmarg and back || Pahalgam || Kashmir

We the people of the plains, living near the sea level have a remarkable attraction towards the mountains and specially the white ones. The mountain people can hardly live away from them if not forced. Either ways mountains are revered by one and all, possibly because it is close to the perceived heavens. Whatever the ethos, man has always found the beauty of a snow capped mountain supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Well I wanted to use that word because it kind of suits the grandeur of those high peaks. It simply means wonderful. Pardon my idiocy.

Gulmarg is just an hour and a half, tops two from Srinagar. It is a steady ascend from Srinagar at 5200 ft to 7021 ft till Tanmarg that is the base of the mountain atop which the ‘meadow of flowers’ lies. We started from Srinagar with a slight drizzle and took a detour to Parihaspora, the ancient seat of glory built on a plateau by Lalitaditya Muktapida, the ruler of Kashmir, around 700CE.

Parihaspora or Paraspor as it is called now; 20kms from Srinagar, is known to the locals more for the SSM College of Engineering and Technology that stands atop the plateau sharing grounds with the ruins of an ancient temple that was magnanimous and housed idols which reached the skies according to Kalhana, the 12th century Kashmiri author famous for ‘Rajtarangini’.

By the time we reached Tanmarg, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain, though not a heavy shower. Our driver convinced us that it would be best to hire the snow boots and jackets from Tanmarg, and he knows exactly the place. We also ended up hiring a guide @ 700 a day, who would supposedly get the tickets for the Gondola next morning and wait for us at the Gondola gate.

From Tanmarg the mountain slopes up. ‘Peril in Paradise’, a detective thriller by Satyajit Ray written in 1987 states that ‘Feluda’ (The sleuth) and party had to go up these slopes in Horses. Roddur was looking forward to it after the extraordinary experience we had in Pahalgam.

However this is 2018 and the Innova went on uphill; the rain and the mist restricted our view. It was chilling outside. After a couple of enquiries we found the building called ‘club’ where our hut would be allocated. I had booked the JKTDC hut online.

Vicinity was almost nil but we shortly found our hut and its care taker. The most interesting thing in the hut was a ‘Bukhari’. We sat around it as Fayaz bhai (care taker) got the fire going. Later I and Roddur tried a hand at it, and boy its fun!

It was too foggy and chilly to step out and then it started raining, which cleared the fog a bit but lowered the temperature further. It was hovering between 2 to 5 degrees. We kept indoors hoping for a better tomorrow.

The next morning didn’t get any better. The weather had been thus for the past 6 days and was likely to continue. Our guide Tarik bhai came with the bad news that the Gondola was not operating and offered to take us around the other places instead. The rain and the chill or the fog which were alternating did not create a welcoming outdoor, so we decided to be at home near our Bukhari.

Tarik bhai demanded his 700 bucks as he had come and supposedly his day was wasted. We gave him the money out of sympathy as tourists are the only means for earning for these people. But we felt cheated.

Fayaz bhai told us that the boots and jackets were being charged at double the rate in Tanmarg. I read in ‘tripadvisor’ that these are available at a cheaper rate in Gulmarg and should not be hired from Tanmarg. Yet the weather and the trust in the driver Iqbal bhai which was the residual effect of Suhail (the driver for Pahalgam) being such a wonderful lad, led me to hire them and the guide from Tanmarg. Bad mistake.

It is not the money that made a big difference; we were paying out large sums as tips absolutely out of empathy; but the feeling of being cheated in paradise made our hearts heavy. Till then we had been experiencing hospitality at its best, in India.

We decided to brave the rains and went out around 11 am. We took a car till the slopes of Khilanmarg, a place to learn skiing in winter, when the snow is deep and steady. The horses were asking 1200 per head. The car asked for 1500. It was raining and we didn’t think the pony ride would be worth so we took the cheaper option.

The snowline was a little way up the slope from where the car dropped us. We walked up alongside horses and men, over streams and rocks and muck and reached. Here also there is a shack for refreshments.

The day tourists looked miserable. Though Gulmarg is a small place, its weather is unpredictable, and since its all about the amazing view from different points, the rain and the mist could render the whole day a waste. I would definitely recommend a stay over.

We had lunch at Grand Mumtaz Hotel. They had a dish called ‘Fried Ice cream’ in their menu but none, from the waiter to the manager could describe it, leave alone producing one.

The food was good, as in all through Kashmir we found people didn’t know how to ruin a dish, whatever we ate, wherever we ate, it was delicious. But if I have to rate it amongst Kashmiri food joints, it was not the best we had. We played Monopoly, cards and lighting the ‘Bukhari’ for the rest of the evening and night in our cosy room. It poured like cats and dogs all through the night making the prospect of the Gondola ride very bleak.

To our hearts delight, we woke up to a sunny morning. Fayaz bhai fed us a quick breakfast and almost shooed us to the Gondola, which was a short walk from our hut.

Rajib went a couple of minutes before us to get the tickets and got them with ease till the first phase (740 INR each – credit card facility is available). The second phase tickets (900 INR each) they said would be made available at the base of the first phase.

Dressed in snow jackets and boots and loaded with our cameras we boarded the little yellow cable car. It has a sitting capacity of 6, 3 facing either side, front and back.

The car goes up and down on the cable at a very comfortable speed, way up to about 10000 ft (Kundoori Mountain). Gulmarg is at a little more than 8600 ft, the second phase takes one up to 12293 ft on the shoulder of the Apharwat peak which is at 14000 ft.

Roddur was not very comfortable, he is scared of heights and has extreme motion sickness too, but he managed. We decided to check out the first phase and then buy the tickets to the second phase.

As soon as we emerged from the base station, a horde of horse men, sledge men, ski men and snow bike men surrounded us. We wanted to walk up to the snowline of the first phase but the whole place was shrouded with mist and the direction unknown so we gave in to the touts and hired three horses for 500 bucks each to and fro.

The ride was not very enjoyable; the horses were also feeling the chill and slipping on the wet rocks and mud. But it wasn’t afar and I was thrilled to see so much snow.

I made Roddur try some skiing which he didn’t like at all.

We also rode on sledges only because they said if we don’t then they won’t get food. It is agonizing to be pulled by another human, when you are sitting on a plank, up a steep slope. I even felt sad for the horses. But this is their only livelihood. We went on for a while and then when the slope got even steeper we walked beside them.

I walked with a Chachaji, who was holding my hand and preventing me from falling in the snow that was knee deep. It was fresh snow from the day before. Talking about Kashmir and its state of affairs, he said ‘hamara (our) India’ in a very pensive tone. Standing in Kashmir, looking at the people, talking to them, it is absolutely impossible to take sides. Our army is very vigilant, we saw convoy after convoy as we went from place to place, we also saw personnel posted at every nook and corner. Yet the hopelessness in the eyes of the people creates an air of melancholy and confusion. All does not seem well.

From where we stood, not so far away I could see the waterfall that is a stream flowing under a large rock which is fed by the glacier above. There were paper trees on one arm of the Kongdoori. Snow bikes were blazing past up and down the slopes. Then all of a sudden the crowd thinned out and the snow fall started. One of the sledge man who was still with us said he’ll go call the others who had gone for some tea.

The three of us stood there, in the country of the white witch, amidst a snow blizzard. It was both scary and thrilling.

After which seemed not like a while but a considerable amount of time, the sledge men came back and took us downhill in a manner which is a ‘must experience’ once in a life time. The sledge puller sat in front of the sledge, I sat at the back putting the legs around his midriff and he held it tight with his hands, the man controlled the speed of the sledge with his legs as we slid downhill.

The blizzard was still on and our horses or their keepers were nowhere in sight. There is a shack for refreshments where we huddled along with others of our species.

A little later we were on our way down, the horses were cold and uncomfortable due to the freezing air, and so was Roddur. He shivered by the mention of a climb to the second phase, would have possibly bitten me if he had the strength to. The red cars on the cable, moving above the white snow were too alluring to be left out.

Yet we did. One the child was not at all interested and two the weather was bad and vicinity minimal, so the great views expected from the car atop were not going to happen.

After the Gondola ride and the snow experience, I and Rajib were beaming with happiness like little kids and the actual kid in our group declared he never wants to see snow in his life.

Thanks to the day being a bit dry, I walked around, gathered some pine cones and tried to befriend the ponies who were happily munching away after a hard day’s work.

The next and the last morning in Gulmarg was another delight. There was fresh snow on the grounds of the huts, the ponies were grazing and the whole vista was sunlit. Swift clouds came over pretty soon as we prepared to go back to Kashmir.

Iqbal bhai was supposed to pick us up but we cancelled him, as it was he on whose insistence we had to go through the distasteful incident. There were reparations. The guide gave back the 700 bucks as we met him while returning the boots and jackets, he realised it was iniquitous to receive payment for the services we never took.

On the way back we visited a place called Baba Reshi. It is nearer to Tanmarg, half way or more down the hill from Gulmarg. The Sufi saint Baba Payam ud din Reshi (15th century) used to live and meditate in this region and then it became the site of his tomb and a shrine for his disciples. The ornate structure was built in Mughal and Persian styles.

The vehicle we hired from Gulmarg for Srinagar cost us only 1700 INR and 300 INR extra for the little detour as opposed to 3300 INR that Iqbal bhai charged.

There are many other places nearby that can be explored by foot or pony or car, but one needs more time, as days may have to be spent indoors due to the erratic weather. En route Srinagar, beyond Tanmarg the weather was pleasantly cool sans the chill. We passed many towns and also got caught in a traffic jam. This time we went to a different part of the town and not the usual boulevard beside the Dal lake where we have been residing at the Walisons Hotel ever since we stepped into Kashmir. We were to check in to a house boat in the Nigeen Lake but that story goes into the another blog, which will cover the Mughal gardens and the ancient temples.

Gulmarg and back || Pahalgam || Kashmir

Karnataka Hoysala Temple Trail Day Trip

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Destination :  

Govindanahalli, Kikkeri & Hoshaholalu; Karnataka, India, Hoysala Temples.

Distance Travelled: A day round trip – 352km.

Time taken :  15hrs.

A quick shower & we hopped into our little WagonR around 6:20AM. Heading towards the Tumkur road (NH4) via Yeswanthpur we reached the end of the “under construction” toll bridge. 5 km ahead New Agarwal Bhavan is a decent joint for la nourriture. It was around 7:23AM & the parking was full already. The prices are competitive & the choices galore. On the way to Nelamangala crossing a little further down, a huge Anjaneya statue on the left is an eyecatcher. Hassan road NH48 is to the left of the crossing, while NH4 continues straight down to Tumkur. The Hassan main road was being broadened & with lots of heavy machinery at work & freshly tarred widespread roads laid; it felt good at the very onset.

We reached Hirisave at around 10:00Am, caught a glance of the distant Sravanabelegola as we rode a few km further to Channarayapatna, where we stopped for tea. Thereafter we abandoned Hassan road at the main town crossing to take SH7 towards Mysore.

The sites say 16, people said 10,12,14, so we kept a vigil from 10km onwards & enquired from a pedestrian at about 12km & just before a petrol bunk reached a signboard in kanada directed towards Govindanahalli on the right at around 15km from the Channarayapatna crossing.

Just before reaching Govindanahalli village through a winding lone road, we took a left to the Panchalingeshwar temple, the only Hoysala temple with panchakutas(5 pinnacles). It is a neat structure amidst lush green fields, attended to by a priest from the nearby village. Tourists are rare & mostly locals.

The temple is home to number of chameleons coloured very brightly in a red & yellow combo. The sky is so clear blue that the smog accustomed city eyes hurt but the heart sings. The temple has a rectangular mowed lawn around it & a high wired fencing with a gate to keep cows, buffaloes & goats away.

Just half a km behind it across a field is the Venugopal Temple, which is in utter ruins. Venugopalaswami as the temple deity is fondly called has to guard building material like rods, cement etc which is dumped inside the remaining single chamber of the temple & is being used in the house that is coming up very next to it.

kikkeri is 4km further down on the SH7 towards Mysore.

 A little enquiry led us through a village settlement till the banks of a big lake, beside which we located the “Brahmeshwara” temple. The gate was locked but there is a small walled courtyard around the ekkuta(1 pinnacle) temple & we managed to jump in.

The temple walls have a good collection of hoysala art, many small & big statues of entangled snakes are standing in a row in front of a well which has lots of fishes & a big Nandi is siting facing the temple door. Yet we couldn’t find what we had come looking for, outside, so Raji went looking for the priest & I stood waiting outside the gate shooting the surroundings. Buffalos & cycles were being bathed in the water-body. Children were happily playing in the water while women were going about the chores.

The priest came & this time we entered decently through the gate after he unlocked it. He also opened the temple door, lit up the dark chamber & there they were “The Madanikas” or “The dancing girls”. Beautiful ladies, ornately decorated & perched on the pillars. The priest quickly did some puja, gave us prasad & let us take some snaps. He had a story for why the main deity was a Shiv linga when the temple is named Brahmeshwara, but that was so bizarre am sorry I forgot it instantly.

Back on the SH7 again, 15km down is Krishnaraj Pet. It was 2 ‘o’ clock & Jairam got a suitable joint for lunch, we had our aalu parathas that we had packed from home in the car itself. They were actually fresh & tasty so we have decided to carry them on all our future trips. At the junction we turned right & moved along SH85 for about 3.5km before taking another right into a narrow lane following a sign board on SH85, that says “Lashminarayan Temple, Hosahulalu” in kannada.

This temple structure is exactly at the middle of a semi urban settlement. It has a well kept lawn & a fence around it but is surrounded by houses all around which puts a photographer’s skills to test. The front portion of the single pinnacle temple seems to have collapsed & has been build up with bare stone blocks, in contrast the rear still boasts of intricate carvings.

A couple seemed to be discussing serious issues, little girls & boys were chirping around, two of them even took a liking in me so much so that I had to take their snaps & finally get inside the car to shake them off my back. It seemed more like a garden where locals could breathe a little open air.

None of the three temples have any entry or camera fees. Chapals if left outside would make the locals feel good.

It was just 3 in the evening so we decided to have an idea about Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary off Srirangapatana on the Mysore road. We spend a good 2 hrs there with birds & crocodiles & were back to Bangalore city limits by 8 ‘o’ clock.

Karnataka Hoysala Temple Trail Weekend Trip

By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Destination : 

Arsikere, Belavadi, Halebiddu; Hoysala Temples, karnataka, India, .

Distance Travelled: 515 km. Weekend trip.

Jayram is always on time but we can never start before 6:25. This time we had a set of extra cloths in addition to the cameras & tripods & ofcourse loads of water & some aalu paraths.

We took the ring road to Tumkur from Old madras Road & reached New Agarwal Bhavan, the good food joint with washrooms, at around 7:20AM. We went straight down on NH4 till the by-pass road just before entering Tumkur city, a distance of 41km from the food joint. The by-pass road meets NH206 at the rightmost outskirts of the town, which runs through Gubbi(19km) to Tiptur(82km) & reaches Arsikere (107km).

The Ishvara temple(devasthana) at Arsikere is accessible through a number of streets on the right of NH206. The most convenient way we found is to get into the lane opposite to the town bus stand. The lane goes through a market area straight down to the temple. This hoysala temple is unique in terms of structural design & carvings. The walls are decorated with carvings from the base to the pinnacle but they are not intricate.

There are several rows of geometrical patterns & just a single row of neatly carved medium sized figurines of various deities. The temple has a single pinnacle(ekkuta), the extension(mandapa) in front of the main door is circular as opposed to being rectangular in most of the other hoysala temples. A hall with many pillars stands as an individual structure to the left of the main temple at about one hand distance from it.

ASI has been taking care of the temple for the past 20 years & the premise actually stands out as a breather in an otherwise densely populated not so hygienic locality. We spend about an hour, took some 100 snaps, got back on the main road, had coffee & checked out the washroom facility(quite okay) at the bus-stand, which was now to our right. Straight up the main road & into the lane on the right we went, just before NH206 tries to leave Arsikere.

In a short while, we arrived at a junction where a road went off towards Mysore & the other, SH102, towards Haranhalli 11km away. At Haranhalli we left SH102 & took another lane on the right namely SH74 & reached Javagallu 22km away enjoying the exuberating beauty of nature. windmills perched on distant hill tops & the valley glowing with colors of sunflower, mariegold & lush green crops.

We turned left to take SH58 leading to Halebiddu at the Javagallu junction. A number of state & private buses along with Sumos & autos were boarding & unboarding a lot of people. Jayram found a good mess for lunch & we had our aalu parathas. 5km down the road there is a diversion towards Belavadi, another 5kms & we reached Belavadi.

The Veernarayana Temple built around 1200CE is huge. It has three pinnacles(trikuta) housing the three deities “Veernarayana” at the center “Venugopal” on his right & “Yoginarasimha” on the left. The deities are an example of fine craftsmanship & are completely unscathed. The built-up area is probably the largest among all hoysala temples with the hall having 132 pillars. The pillars are very interesting, some of them have unfinished carvings, some bereft of any work & some have carvings which are completely out of place. The architectural grandeur is surrounded by a very poor local population but ASI is doing all it takes to preserve such an heritage.

5km back to the diversion & 6km more to Halebidu. It was around 4ish & had started raining when we reached the Hoyesaleshwara temple. Two years ago we had visited this temple & it was raining heavily, that was March.

Across the road is Hotel Mayura Velapuri KSTDC which can be either booked from Belur or Bangalore ( Corporation Circle) in person. Rajib wanted to take a chance & walked down to the office. Two double bedded rooms were available @ INR350/-. We grabbed the offer, canceled the booking at Hassan & stayed back. The room is big with a TV, dressing table, two chairs & a small wooden table. The floor is clean, sheets are not so inviting & the bathroom is big, old & messy. The garden is refreshing & the huge premise is shared by PWD guesthouses.

Amidst the drizzle, we ventured into the Jain Basadi about 200mts from the hotel & to the Kedareshwara temple another 200mts down. Either the vandals were too tired or didn’t have the heart to destroy such lovely creations of beauty for most of the sculptures are unharmed. The Jain basadi has wonderfully polished pillars & a 14ft tall Lord Parshwanatha Swamy.

Bellur is way too famous to be missed and can be visited easily on the way back to Bangalore.

If you are looking for a day trip… read here.

Chasing Temples in the Capital of Mallabhum (Bishnupur) – 4

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

4 day trip including journey dates – 20/12/2017 – 23/12/2017

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Morning temple target was accomplished with ease; we went to the farthest first in a rickshaw(the three-wheeled two-seater vehicle that the puller pedals) to save time.  

Set amidst the garden maintained by the Horticulture society which also houses many trees are the two ancient temples. The last one on the grounds lining the boundary is Kalachand temple. Some 20 people had gathered both men and women when we reached there and more were pouring in; not for worship but some meeting which involved distribution of money.   Adorning the entrance is the Radhamadhob temple. Its walls are sculpted with the story of Ramayana.  

Walking back towards the town within a 100 mts is the Radha Gobinda temple. Distinguished I would say for the little structure beside it which creates a magical frame for portraits.  

Further down is Nandalal temple and here is where we met a guard who has a rifle. He was there to protect the temples from vandals and petty gamblers.  

Right opposite to Nandalal temple is the Jor Mandir, which is a conglomeration of 3 temples neatly tucked in a compound and this too has an armed guard. This compound is hardly 300 mts from the famous Chinnamasta temple.    

We walked back to the tourist lodge, taking one last glance at the terracotta market, checked out, and drove off to Panchmura, this time in an Indica to my utter disappointment. The 22kms drive though is so delightful that I could make it in a tin van from our school days if required. The metalled road goes through a series of ‘Akashmoni’ plantation, commonly known as earleaf acacia, that is native to Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It is used as fuel and for making furniture, paper and tools. It has medicinal uses too.  

The plantations were interrupted by fields and ponds and small tribal villages. A tourism savvy state could have turned this drive into a money churner. There are no restrooms or eateries on the way.  

A sudden congregation of people and cars almost midway in an otherwise deserted road elicited inquiry and revealed a curious info. It was an ashram, a little off the road, where people came from afar and near to find a cure for cancer. There was a basic eatery on the roadside and to our expectant glances driven by the stomach’s calls, our driver shook his head so fervently to convey a ‘no’ as if, even to look at the food would mean instant doom.      Panchmura is a usual village but for the housing of the unusual artists whose livelihood is to build these wonders with mud. Horse, elephant, bison, rhino, birds, masks, motifs on tiles, vase and so many small, medium, large and giant items. It is overwhelming.  

Here again our request for a stopover at a sweet shop was met with the same vehement shaking of head by our driver Malay. Yet having next to nothing for lunch was a small price to pay for the extraordinary experience that we bagged from the trip to Panchmura.

We reached the station well before time for the train. Bishnupur station is a neat affair; decorated with flowering plants and terracotta tiles, it has two platforms and a couple of tracks. The train got delayed and we got ample time to explore the small town beauty. It has 86 benches placed uniformly, first class and second class waiting rooms and retiring rooms too. The stalls were all closed.

The original plan was to drop in to a relatives place at Kharagpur, sort of midway, the station that boasts of the longest platform in Asia, and stay over for the night; instead we changed it to just paying them a visit and de-boarded at the station.

To secure a train back home we went to counter to enquire about the last passenger train to Howrah and to our utter dismay found that it was due in a couple of minutes.

We rushed back to the platform got a somewhat empty passenger train where we could stand with our luggage and I started watching the co-passengers with great interest. These were people we call the mass. These were people we hardly interact with, in lieu of being able to do almost everything online. These were people who make the backbone of our country and yet are the most ignored except for the few days before elections.

There were hawkers selling almost every item that a household might need and savouries of all tastes. It is like a mini super market on the move only a class apart. Is it not so intriguing, how we humans have divided and subdivided into classes and sub classes depending on practically virtual notions?

The train was to terminate at a stop before Howrah, our destination. The first thing I did as we got down was to use the public washroom. The train had a toilet but it was unusable – for us.

Shortly we got another train and reached Howrah. We were famished and food was our top priority. I called dad to pick us up from 26 kms afar and he did; a dad is someone you could always rely on. I Remember calling my parents from Gulbarga while on a college trip and man! They did go to get me.

My little son was already asleep as we stepped in home a little after 12. And that was how the beautiful 4 day Bishnupur trip came to an end.

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Chasing Temples in the Capital of Mallabhum (Bishnupur) – 3

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

4 day trip including journey dates – 20/12/2017 – 23/12/2017

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Terracotta or baked earth art is extensively in use in West Bengal, from temples to jewellery, decorative sculptures to tiles and everything in between. The rest of India and abroad also adores terracotta, for its pliability which helps give form to a plethora of ideas that is bound only by one’s imagination.   The sun was shining bright negating the weather forecast and we set out to shoot all that we could at will. 24 temples was a bit too over the top sort of a target but one must try.   This time we started from the nearest one. Rasmanch. You got to buy a ticket, Rs.15 per head, it also pays for two other temples maintained by ASI, Pancha Ratna and Jor Bangla.   Rasmanch is a raised platform for displaying the idols of Radha and Krishna from temples around on a particular occasion. It has the essence of a step pyramid to it. There are loads of Drongos for the bird lovers.  

A 10 min walk along the canal took us to the Gumgarh, which is a very ancient structure and is yet to reveal its purpose to the archaeologists.   The famed Pancha Ratna temple is another 5 min walk. We found it being renovated and thus could not capture this one of a kind beauty with 5 pinnacles; the images we took are like that of a bandaged heroine.  

Further up the road, we found a twin temple which now has the privilege to witness martial arts training.

The Mrinmoyee temple comes up next as we keep going along the road. Built in 997 AD, this temple houses goddess Durga and is alive with the sacred rituals being performed till date.

Bang opposite to the Mrinmoyee temple on the main road is the Radheshyam temple. Across the grounds beside it, where children were happily playing is another hottie the Laljiu temple.

Marching backward through the grounds onto a mud lane on the other side of Radheshyam temple we found Jor Banglo, the most famous of them all. It had a small contingent of makeshift shops in front of the entrance selling souvenir and also some local specialties like the cotton towels the size of almost a bedspread for peanuts.

We had refreshments at an open-air spread out shop which had benches to sit, tea, biscuits of all sorts, sour, sweet, sweet and sour, chocolate flavoured, adorned with nuts and many more. It also had a dish favoured by most Bengalis, the ‘ghugni’ which was on offer with or without bun. ‘ghugni’ is black gram or dried yellow peas or dried white peas cooked with gravy, in the traditional eastern Indian style.

A mud lane from the gate leads up to the Mrinmoyee temple, we went past the temple looking for a place to relieve ourselves and found one behind it. It is a ‘Sulabh’ sort of a place, not so unclean and usable. The keeper, however, was very confused about what to charge. He wanted to ask something big but was suddenly mobbed as a bigger group came around. This group had ‘English speaking Bengalis’ who loved to throw their weight around and the poor fellow was completely mellowed. We paid him the dues and went off.

We walked and walked and walked, through the big and small gate of the fort walls that once stood there, down into the densely populated part of the town through winding roads, left and right, asking local guides and finally hiring a rickshaw to reach Madanmohan Temple.

A man very humbly dressed offered me ‘prasad’(anything edible that has been offered to the god), it was some variance of the ‘khichri’(rice and pulses cooked together) and it was nice. The man said he had made it himself at home.   From this temple which was deep into the heart of a maze of lanes, we tried reaching out to other temples but that seemed impossible on foot. After a good amount of trekking when we were about to give up we got a ‘toto’(a battery operated three-wheeler which does not need a license to be driven; this is restricted only to West Bengal).  

A couple of more temples could be covered thanks to the ‘toto’, but most were in a dilapidated state, being family owned who were unable to bear the cost of a proper maintenance. In some, the deity is actively worshipped and is expected to take care of the structure with its divine grace.   Back in the tourist lodge, we had a late lunch and soon after went out shopping for curios. I bought terracotta neckpieces for reselling; Rajib bought a ‘dokra’ artifact modeled on the famed canon that is called ‘Dal Madol’ which can be seen on display in a small courtyard near Chinnamasta temple. It was made around 1600 AD, was lost after the Malla dynasty declined only to be found by the British.  

Legend has it that Lord Krishna himself used the canon to ward off the enemies.   We bought a few more souvenirs for ourselves and as gifts including the famous ‘dashavatar cards’ which is handmade on cloth and depicts the 10 avatars of Vishnu. Its a Mallabhum specialty, collectible item.

The day was well spent culminating with a flavoursome dinner at the lodge and speculations about our next and final day at Bishnupur.   Time management was crucial on the last day, as we still had a few important temples to visit, travel 44kms to and fro to visit a village called Panchmura where they make the famous terracotta horses and other artifacts and catch a train back home at 3 pm.

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Temple List::Bishnupur – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_temples_in_Bishnupur

Chasing Temples in the Capital of Mallabhum (Bishnupur) – 2

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

4 day trip including journey dates – 20/12/2017 – 23/12/2017

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Nandi in the temple of Dihar

We decided to do the farthest first. 

The next morning, a foggy one, we hired a taxi, an ambassador! I just love the car; the space, the height and the nostalgia. It has been ‘the car’ through most of my growing up years!

The target was to cover as much of the surroundings possible in a day. As the car rolled out of the narrow streets on to the highway we zoomed past many ruins, reminiscence of once a glorious kingdom.

Bahulara, the first destination is a village 25 km north-west of Bishnupur. The nearest railway station is Onda. We crossed the railway tracks to reach our destination, trains excite me so much whether am in it or just watching it.

…………….You mighty beast on track,
…………….Long or short, shiny or dull
…………….Your whistle at night, or as the dawn crack,
…………….Takes me afar whether or not am in your hull.

Archaeologists have found significant presence of Buddhism and Jainism till the 7th century CE in and around the place when the Malla kings turned the temple and the place into the seat of Lord Shiva. The temple, our destination is quite some way from the main road. We passed a couple of villages to reach this quiet site amidst another village by the pond.

The Siddheswara temple as it is known has a unique architectural style called the ‘brick Rekha deul’ style in line of the Kalinga architecture from the Pala (medieval) period. It is a fine specimen towering up to 19.2 m in height. The Susunia Hills nearby is famous for rock climbing and trekking.

We clicked and clicked and when we had all we wanted and more, we admired its beauty.

Next we headed for Dihar, its only 10kms from Bishnupur but for us it was 35kms as we were at Bahulara, but the guy driving us around was a local and knew amazing shortcuts. He took us through serpentine lanes, villages with thatched roof houses, someone’s courtyard and over such narrow bridges which one would think were only built for Maruti 800 but the ambassador went through miraculously unscratched.

At Dihar the temples are built of laterite stones, there are two of them Sareswar and Saileswar, both dedicated to Shiva the enchanting God and are protected monuments under ASI. Not much to click there, it is more of a place for serious devotees and could also double up as a day outing for the locals and picnic party, with a huge mango groove surrounding the area.

Moving on, we crossed the Dwarekaswar river, not by an over or an under bridge but one that is on the river bed. In winter the river is so shallow that people can walk over it and thus the indigenous idea of building a motorable mud road, which can shorten the distance to the other-side considerably. In summer a ferry would have to be used to cross the river at that point.

In a short while we emerged on the other side of the river, went through a part of Joypur forest, where the mighty elephants reside and parked at the Banalata forest resort which is gaining popularity as an upcoming hospitality centre on state highway 2, WB.

The resort is built on a vast area and is quite picturesque with a pond, loads of flowering and ornamental plants scattered around. It had thatched huts alongside two storey staying quarters. We had a straightforward lunch, which we generally do, if on a day trip. The staff and arrangement are new and will need a lot more grooming up before the service can equalize that of a professional establishment. We heard the staff comprise of local village woman and that is indeed a great initiative towards their employment and empowerment.

Gokulnagar, the next stop is difficult to reach if one is self-driving. One has to know the area or else there is every possibility of falling into a ditch or going off track at the next turn.

The journeys through these settlements that have been sitting here unchanged year after year are in themselves monumental to city dwellers like us. Here, life goes at a pace that we only read in books and call them fiction, but it is the reality of millions of living breathing people, for whom nothing changes, year on year, millennium to millennium.

Yet development is happening, many undaunted individuals are working towards the upliftment of the society at large, many bright young minds are fighting their way through hardships and attaining their goals.

The Gokulchand temple at Gokulnagar is considered as the largest stone temple of Bankura District, and hence the endeavour to reach it.     

This handsome structure had been plundered by locals and contractors for its stone for many years and yet it stands tall, 64ft with five pinnacles and is worth a photographer’s effort.

The sun had been merciful towards these two hapless photographers, who had come all the way from Bangalore to Kolkata, ditched their friends and relatives there to document these beauties through their lenses.

We still had time and urged on our transport to take us to Kamarpukur and Jairambati, famous for being the birthplace of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his wife Maa Sharda respectively. They are the pillars of Ramakrishna Mission, the charitable institution famed for serving humanity across our country and the globe to an extent. By sundown, we were on our way back having had a glimpse of the bearings of the great saints. Though the premises are kept clean and well maintained, the surrounding needs a huge makeover both to enhance the quality of life and to lure tourists other than devotees

Day 1 || Day 2 || Day 3 || Day4

Bhujiawala’s humble abode – Bikaner

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Of Haveli’s and forts and temples we talk, as we try to picture Rajasthan, but we forget that the most used snacks without which the drinks gets boring is also a gift of Rajasthan, mainly Bikaner, within 200kms of Pakistan, amidst the desert.

Bikaner was called Jangladesh, it is in the Thar desert and was completely baron but the one thing which made it an oasis on the trade route between the Gujarat coast and central Asia, were its natural springs.

Rao Bika was the eldest son of Maharaja Rao Jodha of the Rathore clan of Jodhpur and wanted a kingdom for himself. So he built a fort in Bikaner 250 kms north-west of Jodhpur and established a city. As any city in the trade route, Bikaner prospered but it was not until the times of the sixth Raja, Rai Singhji, when the city’s fortune flourished. Raja Rai Singhji was an army general at the court of Emperor Akbar and Jahangir. He had won many accolades in the war fought for the Mughals and thus received jagirs from the emperor.

These jagirs earned him huge revenues and he was able to build the beautiful Junagarh Fort (Chintamani Durg). Subsequent rajas added new palaces to the fort and decorated it further. The Bikaner Rajas accepted the suzerainty of the British after the Mughals and thus have been always wealthy and prosperous. After independence the then Maharaja, Lieutenant General Sir Sadul Singh acceded the princely state of Bikaner to the Union of India. The last Raja Dr. Karani Singh had fought in the Second World War and was member of the Indian parliament for 25years. Now the royal family lives in a suit at the Lalgarh palace which they have turned into a luxury hotel.

Rajas, royalty and their prosperity, more or less the same story all over the world but Bhujiyas and bhujiyawalas are unique to Bikaner. It all started here. Bhujiyas, delicious, can be preserved for days and a little quells the hunger, made a wonderful carry on food through the desert where caravanserais are distant and infrequent.

Born in 1877, when the first moth bean, chana daal, powdered cellulose, red chilli, black pepper, cardamom and so many other condiments mixed together, went through the sieve into the frying pan, the Bhujiya finally got the Geographical Indications rights and patents in 2010, so none other than the local manufacturers can call their bhujiya, Bikaneri Bhujiya.

Mouth watering kulfi, crispy kachori, tasty puri and multicoloured dry sweets are among the tourist attractions in Bikaner.

The casse-croûte is one of the major cottage industries in Bikaner employing more than 2.5 million people, the other things people are involved in is making kundan jewellery, lac ornaments, leather products, wool craft, carpets, leheriya and tie and dye fabric, quills and bedspreads.

These skills have been passed on for generations, from the intricate carvings in the palaces and temples to the precision of the needle as it moves and the mixture as it goes through the sieve.


Camel is another important element of dwelling in Bikaner. Ganga Risala an elite camel corps unit in the Bikaner Army participated in both the World Wars and for the Indian Army in the Indo-Pak war. Bikaner is the only place to have a camel research farm and breeding centre in India and one of the biggest in the world. Varied varieties of camels are housed in the research centre, one humped, two humped, kachchi, Jaisalmeri, Bikaneri and many more. Camel milk products are available at the research centre for the tourist which is extremely delicious. Camel bones from the dead camels can replace ivory and stop the killing of the tuskers.

Bikaner, a vertex of the golden triangle is a thriving city of more than 6.5Lakhs people is distinctly divided into the old and the new city. The old city boasts of exquisitely carved and intelligently designed Havelis of the rich, narrow galis (lanes), bazaars and tightly packed houses of the common man most likely to fend against the heat and desert storms. It is bordered by the Gorgeous Junagarh Fort. The new city has wide roads, havelis and palaces converted into luxury hotels lining them, eateries with an old world charm and glittering street lights.

Many a beautiful and unique attraction can be attempted with Bikaner as the starting point, like Karani Mata temple, the safest haven for the rodents some 35kms away towards Nagaur, Gajner palace by the lake, once a hunting lodge of the maharajas, now converted into an opulent hotel, another 35 kms on road to Phalodi, the first monument constructed by Rao Bika, the Kodamdeshwar Temple some 24kms to the west and ofcourse the beautiful cenotaphs in a serene surrounding.

Delighted to have visited this colourful and humble abode of the Bhujiawalas.