Destination review: Solan, Himachal Pradesh

Solan nestles amidst the beautiful mountains in Himachal Pradesh. We take you on a trek through the snow-capped peaks

For an amateur trekker like me, the trip to the snow-capped mountain ranges of Solan in Himachal Pradesh was an extremely memorable one. Unlike Manali, Solan is not a tourist destination for lavish spending but is a place that offers solace to tired minds and bounty of fresh air.
Munnar-hillstation-kerala
It is quite rustic and scarcely populated, but a destination for trekkers to explore the mountains in solitude, listen to the gushing waters of Beas. There are a number of small eateries in Solan which cater to the taste-buds of non-pahadi tourists who visit the place on the one-day himachal tour package organised from Manali. We scouted around the area for a while and finally settled at eating in one of these places and then later checked into a decent hotel.

Early evening, after a cup of steaming chai, we set out on our acclimatizing journey to a nearby mountain range. The day-long sun’s harsh rays had melted snow-capped mountain ranges of Solan, and hence the levels of the nearby streams had risen. The next two days were occupied with acclimatizing ourselves for the final trek. Loosening of limbs, strengthening the back and inhaling the air in this terrain helps before setting out on a trek to higher altitudes.

On the fourth day, late afternoon we set out to the base camp at Dhundi. We were heading for the trek to Beas Kund which is a higher mountain range in the Himalayas. We moved on trekking light footed, to avoid creating loud sound waves since this path leading to the base camp is a landslide-prone area. We touched base at Dhundi before dusk set in.

By late evening we were famished and ate the freshly prepared food in the community kitchen set up by locals, at the base camp. Following early morning, we set out for our trek to Beas Kund. Within an hour nearly 40 per cent of our over-enthusiastic trekkers in the group opted out and the rest of us marched ahead. We used empty bottles for drinking mineral-enriched chilly water from Beas.

Two hours of climbing hilly ranges and walking through narrow pathways of large expanses of meadows, called for a respite. After a break we set on the last leg of the trek which I was eagerly looking forward to since I set foot in Solan. But it was not easy. Like many in the team, I kept skidding.

The final ascent to the top of the range was even more difficult, because the terrain’s surface was rough and getting a footing was not easy. Somehow most of us in the team made it to the highest point of the Beas Kund. A few minutes later we were greeted by a thundering blast, echoing in the background. The local guide disclosed that an avalanche had crashed down a mountain around 20 kilometres away from the point we were standing. This was the first time in my life I had a first-hand experienced of the immense power of nature.

Descending to the base of Beas Kund, was a nightmare. Our feet either slipped under the rolling pebbles scattered on the surface or they refused to stir with fear. Within 10 minutes on touching the base of Beas Kund, I was severely hit by altitude sickness and with great difficulty made it to the base camp in Dhundi.

Next morning we were off to Solan. I preferred to relax the entire day at the hotel. The following morning after a brief halt at Manali, we drove down to Rohtang Pass nestled in the icy slopes of the mountain ranges, which is an ideal location for skiing and snowboarding. Manali is the gateway to Rohtang pass beyond which lies the twin valley of Lahaul and Spiti. In winter the mountain slopes are snow clad and they turn into perfect skiing slopes. This pass opens for tourist from April end to October end of the year. On the eve of our departure to Delhi, in the morning, we did white water rafting which was trilling and energizing too. Since my navigational skills are not very good, I would invariably row the paddle in the wrong direction and add to the turbulence encountered by my co-team members while maneuvering the raft through the rapids. It was a brilliant team work displayed by all of us when navigating through the rough stretch of rapids in the river Beas. Next day by late noon, we left for Delhi by road.

Trekking routes in Himachal Pradesh

Manali-Deo Tibba base trek, Manali-Malana trek, Kinner Kailash Parikarama, and Bara Banghal Trek (Dharamshala).

Great Tips – How to travel right?

Travelling abroad requires careful planning. Unless, of course, you are one of those carefree backpackers who can head out at a moment’s notice. If not, then brush up on these helpful tips to travel right…

1. While on long flights, make sure that you walk in the aisle at regular intervals. This prevents your feet from swelling up.

2. Figure out the requirements for various security checks in the place you are travelling to. There are some places with specific restrictions that you need to know before actually landing there.

3. If you are prone to air sickness, pop an anti-sickness pill before the flight. Otherwise you can be in for a rather rough ride.

4. Before you head to a place, do enough research over the Net and pour over travel guides to make the most of your vacation.

5. Always ask locals about the great places to visit. They can be of much greater help as compared to tourist guides.

6. Put your name and the phone number of your destination on the inside and outside of your bags.

7. Travel light, as far as possible. Try bringing one carry bag that will fit underneath your airplane seat.

8. Make sure your bags don’t have any straps or hooks sticking out that could get caught on something and damage your bag.

9. Take out appropriate travel insurance to cover hospital treatment, medical evacuation and any activities, including adventure sports, which you plan to take on.
bishnoi-villages
10. Check to see if you require visas for the country or countries you are visiting or transiting. Also, a visa does not guarantee entry.

11. Leave a copy of your travel itinerary with someone at home. Keep in touch with friends and relatives while overseas. When travelling abroad, make sure you have copies of your passport details, insurance policy, travellers’ cheques, visa and credit card numbers. Carry a copy in addition to the originals and also leave one at home.

12. Carry your valuables as well as all your important travel documents in your hand luggage.

13. Reduce stress by keeping aside plenty of time to check in and reach your departure gate.

We are Delhi Car Rental services company, who provide 24 hours car hire in Delhi city.We have a large fleet of cars to choose from. People can hire a car on rent of their own choice and make travel easier and comfortable. A car drive on Delhi’s wide avenues is itself a pleasant experience. It gives travellers chances to see many tourist attractions and monuments of city.

The ‘most haunted’ place in India – Bhangarh Fort

How many of us believe in ghosts? Do they actually exist? Can they be felt? Believers will reply in affirmative and non-believers will perish the thought. But everybody would like to take a trip to THE den of the ghosts and such was the trip to Bhangarh, considered India’s “most haunted” place.

Although it is a 300-km drive away from Delhi, yet a handful of people know about it. We started driving towards Bhangarh from Delhi early morning, expecting the journey to last not more than four hours. As not many people frequent the place, we did not have any first hand information and took guidance from a map and distance measurements available on the internet.

After crossing Gurgaon we proceeded towards Bhiwadi and turned to Alwar district in Rajasthan. Till this point we did not encounter any problem; it was a nice long drive and a little anxiety about what we would encounter at the fort.

From Alwar, as we crossed the Sariska reserve, the weather conditions changed. The sky became completely dark and in the afternoon it seemed like 7 o’ clock in the evening. Dark clouds started descending over the Aravalli range and both melted into each other.

The weather condition was becoming hostile the more we approached the fort. To add to our plight, we bumped our way over at least two kilometres where there was no asphalt on the surface.

After crossing Ajabgarh, we entered into Bhangarh territory. It started raining profusely. It rained so much that visibility was down to 500 metres. Luckily we were carrying umbrellas and so without wasting a minute’s time, we jumped out of the car and entered the fort. The lush green grass in the fort and its adjoining area surprised us. It did not at all seem like a place in the desert state of Rajasthan. There were many local tourists who came in groups, mostly youngsters. The dilapidated fort and the ruins welcomed us.

As we entered we found a Hanuman temple right next to the main gate. The sprawling premises has more than half a dozen temples: Hanuman Temple, Gopinath Temple, Someswar Temple, Keshav Rai Temple, Mangla Devi Temple, Ganesh Temple and Naveen Temple and a very strategically positioned Purohitji ki Haveli. It left us wondering how ghosts stay in a premises where there are so many temples!

A young tourist, Babulal, who was in a group of 10, said: “We all have come to see bhoot bangla (the fort of the ghosts)! We have heard about this place a lot and hence thought of coming once.”

As we entered, we saw a Dancers’ Haveli and Jauhari Bazar. All dilapidated now, but locals say paranormal activities are observed in these places at night. Further down the sprawling expanse of the fort was the Gopinath Temple, crossing which we reached the Royal Palace. It is located at the farthest end of the fort area.

The architecture of the buildings and the fort speaks volumes of the talent and acumen of the people during the rule of Bhagwant Das who established the town in 1573.

There are many myths about the place. It is believed that the entire township was obliterated in a day. But no written evidence has been found till date.

Against the backdrop of the Royal Palace stands the Aravalli Range. Bisram Nath, who works in the Someswar Temple said at times wild animals come down from the mountain ranges at night. “A few families like ours stay within the premise. We stay near the Ganesh Temple. The biggest problem is that the area does not have electricity.”

The Archeological Survey of India has put up a board on the fort gate that it is prohibited for tourists to stay inside the fort area after sunset and before sunrise. Locals say whoever has tried to stay inside after sunset was never found.

Standing on the terrace of the Royal Palace one can view the vast expanse of the fort. It has four gates – Lahori Gate, Ajmeri Gate, Phulbari Gate and Delhi Gate. It seems life has come to a standstill in this area.

Like all other tourists, we also left the place before sunset with many questions remaining still unanswered in our minds.

How many of us believe in ghosts? Do they actually exist? Can they be felt?

1. Route: Delhi-Gurgaon-Bhiwadi-Alwar-Sariska-Thanagazhi-Pratapgarh-Ajabgarh-Bhangarh. It’s a nearly 300-km drive. Best to travel in a SUV and always carry a spare tyre as there are stretches where for kilometres there are no petrol pumps or habitations.

2. Always carry some dry food as good dhabas and eateries are rare.

3. Carry a torch with you as the fort does not have electricity and even in day time, a torch will help you to see parts of the fort better.

We are Delhi Car Rental services company, who provide 24 hours car hire in Delhi city.We have a large fleet of cars to choose from. People can hire a car on rent of their own choice and make travel easier and comfortable. A car drive on Delhi’s wide avenues is itself a pleasant experience. It gives travellers chances to see many tourist attractions and monuments of city.

Amarnath Yatra, a spiritual adventure

With the Amarnath Yatra commencing this week

It is one of the spiritual yatras that everyone hopes to do once if not more during the lifetime. With its location in mighty Himalayas and the heaven on earth-Kashmir, Amarnath is among one of the most tedious and landscaped treks to a religious site. The Amarnath Shrine is among the most visited holy place located at such great heights.
amarnath-yatra
Situated in a narrow gorge at the end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath Shrine stands at 3,888 m (12,756 ft above the sea level) at trek of approximately 46 Km from Pahalgam and 14 Kms from Baltal, the distance can be covered by ponies, plakis and helicopters.

With the yatra commencing on June 28 this and culminating on August 21, the yatris are all set to go and seek the divine blessings. I too like many devotees took the decision to undertake the yatra last year and the decision came after years of thinking and convincing by devotees who have been among the regulars by now and assured that things are not that difficult as perceived to be. Whatever I might say, it was purely the divine call and blessing that I managed to be there and undergo what I can call ‘a life changing experience’.

Amarnath is considered to be one of the major Hindu pilgrims and it is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva, especially during the saawan month. The naturally formed ice-lingam gets formed during the holy month and is opened for devotees for darshan during the same time.

We started our tour from Delhi and flew down to Srinagar. With availability of two options—from Srinagar to the base camps at Pahalgam (approximately 96 kms from Srinagar) and Baltal (approximately 115 kms from Srinagar)—we decided to go to Baltal via Sonamarg as the trek to the holy shrine from Baltal was much shorter as compared to the traditional Pahalgam-Chandanwari. The reaching time to Baltal or Pahalgam in almost the same it takes about 4 hours by road as there are several check points to ensure safety of the pilgrims.

As we reached the base camp late in the evening and had the yatra slips for the darshan next day, we decided to take rest at one of the camps and start our trek the very next morning. With a host of bhandaras at Baltal, everyone is offered food as if it’s being served to the deity itself. From Indian to continental to Chinese-they world is served on the platter there. But we wanted to stay light and decided to go for the regular Indian food (a word of caution here the lighter you eat, the easier you are able to travel). After a light meal, a good night sleep refreshed us for our journey ahead.

As we took the shorter route to the holy cave from Baltal which is about 14-kilometres as compared to the route from Pahalgam which is about 42- kilometres. Being the shorter route the height escalation is sudden and there are several steep stretches. Regular breaks and rest, the trek took about 4-5 hours to reach Sangam where both the routes merge. The holy cave is about three-kilometres from there, which takes an addition of 2 hours as this stretch includes a major stretch over the glacier and walking on ice is surely not easy.

After a day long of trekking, we reached the holy cave at twilight and the cave had closed for the day. After resting their overnight in tents erected over snow, we got in to the queue to the cave early morning thinking that the thought part was already over-but each step that took us to the cave was a tedious one. But, still pulling ourselves, we reached the cave and the darshan of the ice lingam and the holy pigeons, we were all elated and rejuvenated for our trek back to the base camp.

If, you too plan to undertake the yatra this year, do ensure that you are in best of your health, ready to sustain physical strain and fatigue.

Keep these in mind! When travelling alone

Some things you need to learn if you are planning to hitting the road without your guy.

Get yourself a good guide
Start with buying yourself a guidebook of the place you might be visiting. It is wise to do your home work if you are hitting an unknown destination. These guide books usually give you an in-depth knowledge about places to visit, accommodation, travel routes, car rental and weather details.

Book your bed
To find yourself accommodation at an unknown destination can be risky. So better book your accommodation before hand, unless you want to be left stranded.

Pretty young woman hitchhiking along a road.

Word of caution
Where ever you might be, a and no matter what, a woman always draws attention. And if you are not from that place, you will stand out if not appropriately dressed. So never be dressed to be noticed while going to a new place. If you are being followed or are facing any such thing, it is better to move into a crowded public place or get into a hotel or restaurant where you can tell the people about your problem. It always helps!

Talk and smile
A warm gesture like a smile has never done any harm to anyone. When at a new place you have no one, you can join in with a family and start a conversation. Such spontaneous interactions are always memorable. If language is a barrier, you can try and communicate with signs. In return you might just get to know their lexicon.

Romantic destination? NO!

Since you are travelling alone and do not have your boyfriend or husband or for that matter your girl gang, popular romantic destinations should be a big no. You will always feel put of place seeing couple holding hands or getting cosy. You have come to have a good time, not to sulk!

Food
Since you have come on a holiday, you cannot miss a chance to taste the local cuisine and try out something new. It is always exciting to eat and drink something never tried before. And yes, don’t get drunk! And just in case you do not want to take a chance with your stomach, you can stick on to your regular diet and have a blast!

These are the tips provided by Delhi Car Rent, a car rental company in Delhi. We are Delhi Car Rental services company, who provide 24 hours car hire in Delhi city.We have a large fleet of cars to choose from. People can hire a car on rent of their own choice and make travel easier and comfortable.

Want to know? Indian Switzerland! Come at Manipur

If you have long been planning a tour to the Northeast India but don’t know about place where to go, Manipur may be the kind of destination you are looking for. From serene landscapes, exotic wildlife, floating islands to the warmhearted locals, there is no way you’ll not fall in love with this place.
Manipur known as the ‘Switzerland of India’, Manipur lies in the deep corner of the northeast part of India. This beautiful land is surrounded by Nagaland in the north, Mizoram in the south and Assam in the west, and shares a common international border with Burma in the east.
manipur

Places to visit

Imphal – The capital city
Surrounded by seven hill ranges, the capital city of Manipur is the hub for culture and commercial activity.
Khwairamband bazaar
You get a glimpse into the matriarchal set up of Manipur at this bazaar. Known as ‘Ema Keithel’, it is the only and the largest market run by women in the country. From here you can pick up traditional Manipuri handlooms such as shawls, baskets, bags, clothes, household tools, and many more. Tourists popularly buy cane and bamboo handicraft from here.

War cemetery

The cemetery commemorates the British and Indian soldiers who died during the Second World War. It looks tranquil and is well maintained with stone markers and bronze plaques recording brief accounts of the soldiers.

Shri Govindajee Temple

Adjacent to the palace of the former rulers of Manipur, this temple is a sacred center for Vaisnavites. The temple has a simple structure comprising twin domes, a paved courtyard and a large raised congregation hall.
Gambhir Singh shopping complex: Wondering where to find those shoes and shirts worn by rock stars? Well, this is the right place to buy them from. The place is flooded with latest foreign fashion accessories. Also look out for tattoo shops; the tattoo artists here are quite creative.

Loktak Lake & Sendra Island

This place is a must see for the tourists. About 48 kilometers from Imphal, Sendra island is more of an elevated hill in the center of Loktak Lake, the largest fresh water lake in the northeastern, and opens up a wonderful panorama of small islands of floating weed dotting the glittering blue waters, aquatic flora and the locals going about their daily life. Loktak is like a miniature inland sea with a beautiful stretch of water, and is a good place to enjoy boating, canoeing and other water sports.

Keibul Lamjao National Park

The park is home to the rare and endemic brow-antlered deer called ‘Sangai’. About 53 kilometers from Imphal, on the fringes of Loktak Lake, this is the last natural habitat of the endangered Sangai deer. The unique characteristic of this park is it floats on water.

Moreh (Indo-Myanmar border)

Experience a little bit of Myanmar here in this place. Approx. 110 kilometers from Imphal, this border town is located on the lands of Tamu. It is an important commercial hub in Northeast. Enjoy the advantages of rupee at the Myanmar Shopping Complex. Here you get a cheap bargain on an assortment of Thai, Chinese and Burmese electronic gadgets, clothes, carpets and home decor range.
Must do in Moreh- Go for a short tour of Myanmar’s town like Kalimiew and Mandlay. Also enjoy a chariot ride near the border.
An honest piece of advice, avoid hooking up with Burmese prostitutes for the fear of STDs.

Other places to visit

Paona Bazar
Ukhrul
Singda
Manipur Zoological Garden
Moirang
Manipur state museum
Other things to do

– For those who love music must catch up a local rock concert in case it is on. Rock concerts are a common feature on the cultural calendar of Manipur.

– Don’t hesitate taking a sip of the locally brawn rice beer and wine at local bars. They are as authentic as can get. The locals enjoy their drink with a platter of pakoras, momos, fish, singju and even dog meat.

– Watch Ras Leela dance at theatres. Ras Leelas are based on the eternal and celestial love of Radha and Krishna and tell a love story in the form of dance movements and musical compositions.

– Watch Manipuri films, which are totally inspired by Bollywood! The Manipur film industry is one of the fastest growing industries in Manipur. Kaiku, Kamala, Maya Choudhary, Sadananda are some of the famous actors.

– Don’t miss out to watch Polo sport ( Sagol Kangjei) at Polo Ground. Polo is believed to have been initiated in Manipur.
Where to stay

Classic Hotel, a new 3 star hotel in the city is highly recommended. Hotel Imphal, Anand Continental Hotel, Excellency Hotel, and Tampha Hotel are among the best hotels in Imphal.

How to get there

By air- Manipur is well connected to all the major cities in India by air.
By rail- There is no railway station in Manipur. But the nearest rail head is in Dimapur, 215 kilometer from Imphal.
By road- The roads here are in very good, motorable condition. The National Highway 39 connects the state with all the important neighboring cities like Guwahati, Agartala, Dimapur, Shillong, and Kohima.

Local transport – Most of the hotels in Imphal provide transport facilities to tourists. The best way to travel inside the state is by unmetered taxi and private vehicles. For travelling around the city, autorickshaw or cycle-rickshaw is the best option.

Butterflies find a home in Goa

Away from Goa’s sunny beaches, where beer and bikinis rule the roost, butterflies have found home in three eco-parks located deep in the tropical hinterland.

For Yashodhan Heblekar and his wife Jyoti Heblekar, what began initially as a passion soon turned into a business converting a dry patch of land into what is today the Butterfly Conservatory of Goa, one of the three eco-parks, 40 km from state capital Panaji.

“It was more of a passion than a full time job,” Yashodhan said. “Our idea is to provide an environment where the butterflies would want to choose as their home. It’s an open conservatory. If the butterflies find it nice, they will come and live here,” he said.
butterfly-2
“If we start bringing busloads of tourists, lots of vehicles and activity the butterflies may decide not to come,” he said, adding that a steady trickle of visitors was just about right.

The idea was first mooted by his wife, a practising homeopath, who shuffles between her twin passions.

The duo has till date documented more than 130 different species of butterflies within their area. “There may be more, but we’ll claim only what we’ve documented,” Yashodhan said.

Some of the species easily sighted in the park are Southern Birdwing, the biggest butterfly in India, Common Rose, Crimson Rose, Blue Bottle, Common Jay, Common Mime, Imperial, Spot Sword Tail and the Lime Butterfly, besides endemic species like the Malabar Banded Peacock and the Blue Oakleaf.

The Heblekars, with the help of another couple, Animesh and Jigisha Sahay, have plans to expand the venture slowly to promote an eco-friendly form of tourism.

For now, the conservatory receives the occasional tourist, besides wide-eyed schoolchildren who come in hordes to experience a different world.

While Yashodhan admited they are yet to break even, he’s hopeful of working out a commercially viable model where both humans and butterflies can co-exist.

“The park is essentially a conservation effort. It is designed to be like a walk in a riparian forest, so quite like how it is in a wildlife sanctuary (and unlike a zoo), sighting of butterflies is not guaranteed,” Yashodhan warned.

“The best time to visit is between October and February, that’s the time butterflies are the most,” Yashodhan says encouraging a visit to his new concept.

The Heblekars are not alone in who have faith in butterflies.

Former state power minister Nirmala Sawant, having tried her hand at politics, now devotes her time to the Atreya Vedic Farm located on the edge of the Molem Wildlife Sanctuary, 75 km from Panaji.

“All you need to do is look around you. Springtime is the best because butterflies are at their best,” Sawant said.

The 36-acre venture too boasts of an exquisite collection of butterflies that are free to flutter about.

The Goa government’s Forest Department is also setting up a Butterfly Park in the Eco-tourism Complex at the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, 90 km from Panaji. To be spread over 5,000-sq mtrs, the park will be home to more than 40 species of butterflies, making it a tourist attraction. The park will have around 50 nectar plant species, a lily pond and a rock garden, among others.

How to get there:

Butterfly Conservatory of Goa – Priol
40 km from Panaji
60 km from Dabolim airport
50 km from Madgaon railway station

Atreya Vedic Farm – Mollem
75 km from Panaji
90 km from Dabolim airport
10 kms from Collem railway station.

Butterfly Park – Cotigao
90 km from Panaji
100 km from Dabolim airport
15 kms from Canacona railway station

Rajasthan’s Blue City is a painter’s canvas

In a childhood, we would pester our grandparents to tell and retell the stories of beautiful queens, handsome maharajas, fierce battles and bejeweled royal palaces. I managed to behold and soak in the regalia of one such fairytale-like princely state on my recent trip to Rajasthan’s second largest city and home to the Maharajas since 1459, Jodhpur.

Colourful cityscape

The silky sand dunes of the Thar Desert dotted with camels basking in the sun, towering forts and palaces glistening in red sandstone and the narrow lanes leading to shops that open into an alluring world of handicrafts are some of the welcoming sights here. We were fortunate to have a host-cum-tour guide to walk us into different eras every time we stepped inside historical monuments, temples and gardens. Madan Lal Jangid, a 69-year-old French professor, entrepreneur, researcher and an avid traveller could not be dismissed as one of those guides who takes tourism to be a revenue-making business. “I cannot wrap up the history of a place in 45 minutes, make money and let you go feeling satisfied. I remember when a diplomat from Canada had been here, we spent at least 4-5 hours in Mehrangarh Fort discussing the many stories behind every pillar and rock. That is how you connect; summarising a history in stock-and trade terms is a fruitless exercise,” asserts he. Our car moved through the nooks and crannies of the city in a way that the seat’s window became a frame to the colourful images outside running past one after the other. From veiled women keeping up with their husbands’ pace, the paan wala sprinkling water on the cascading betel leaves, little boys encircling foreign tourists to that old woman under the shade of the Clock Tower with a heap of coloured shoelaces awaiting buyers; the transition seemed like we turn pages in a photo album.

The Royal quarters of Mehrangarh Fort

mehrangarh-fort
The mighty walls of the Mehrangarh Fort have many secrets buried inside. Maintained by the present generation of Marwar Kings, Maharaja Gaj Singh II, the expansive courtyards, exquisite palatial spaces like the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), and hidden balconies for women to listen to court proceedings, chambers and galleries enrich the fort’s heritage. Our host informs us that this is the only fort where you will find the provision of an elevator allowing people to not worry about any physical barriers during their tour. There is yet another purpose of the elevator; it leads you to the Mehran Terrace, a roof-top restaurant where people take delight in indulging in the traditional Rajasthani thali. And what better way to admire the beauty of a world-class historical monument than sitting on the terrace beneath the twinkling stars and dim-lit candles on the dining table?

On reaching the top floor, the view of the entire cityscape is breathtaking. All the gates of the fort are visible and the panoramic view seems sketched on a blue canvas. Blue, because the cluster of buildings are bathed in that colour and there is a reason too. The colour was earlier identified with a certain privileged section of society, a marker of a higher caste but slowly as civilization grew, such social indicators ceased to have any significance. Subsequently, blue emerged as the universal colour of all communities irrespective of distinctions. Jodhpur is not only known as the ‘sun’ city, it is also referred to as the ‘blue’ city, like Jaipur is the Pink City.

Note: The rooftop restaurant opens during the evenings after the fort closes. Tourists who do not intend to move around the fort and would rather revel in the maharaja-style dining on the terrace can do so. The Chokhelao garden (200-year-old and recently refurbished) is often mistaken to be the Mehran Terrace but both are different, though within the premises of the fort area. The Chokhelao Garden leads to the Mehran Terrace.

Jaswant Thada: Located half way up the road that climbs onwards to the Mehrangarh fort is Jaswant Thada. Immaculate in white marble, this mausoleum was built in the year 1899 in the memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. A tomb with an array of domes is the crematorium for Jodhpur rulers. As the sun rays kiss the milky surface of the monument, the memorial comesalive in a glaze and its intricate carved jalis (screens) emit a glow.

The grandeur of Umaid Bhavan

umaid-bhavan
This palace was born out of a crisis. When consecutive seasons went without rain, a famine-like situation arose that threatened the economic lives of people. Maharaja Umaid Singh decided to construct a palace that would not only relieve employment worries but also remain a monument of symbolic value for years. A visionary and benevolent king succeeded in his famine-relief policy that provided employment to thousands for a period of almost two decades from 1929-44. Anecdotes are many when it comes to discussing the Umaid Bhavan (initially called Chittar Palace for it stood on the Chittar Hills). The Art Deco furniture and impeccable interiors were originally crafted by Maples of London but unfortunately all furnishings could not reach the Palace. In the wake of World War II, the furniture-laden ship succumbed to a tragedy and was sunk by the Germans en route to India. Nothing could deter the Maharaja’s plans and in came a Polish artist and refugee from war-torn Europe, Stephen Norblin, who mended what was wrecked. Familiar with the work of Art Deco connoisseurs, Norblin did not fail the King. As you look through the paintings (essentially inspired by the episodes of Ramayana), gaze at the artefacts ranging from antique clocks (some in the shape of railway locomotives and others in windmills) to ornate ceilings; you would be quick to notice a harmonious “blend of occidental symmetry and oriental texture,” in the words of our host.

Umaid Bhavan has been divided into three sections- one portion is dedicated to the museum and exhibition area, the other is converted into a hotel and the third segment is owned by the current family of the royals headed by Maharaja Gaj Singh II.

Clock Tower and marketplace

jodhpur-clock-tower
Rajasthan is a land that celebrates colour and what better way to explore it than doing the rounds of the market area on the Nayi Sadak with the huge Clock Tower in the backdrop. Once you take a left from the Nayi Sadak, you reach the inviting world of lac bangles sparkling in embedded mirror work and bold colours almost blinding you at first sight. A walk through the Lakhara Bazaar reminds you of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk where everybody is scuttling around but with a sense of purpose. With bandhej designs, tie-dye prints, ethnic footwear and all things jodhpuri, you are bound to go neck-deep in shopping. Amid all the chatter of the localites, bickering of buyers and sellers, frying of ‘mirchi’ vadas and mawa kachoris (chilli-infused snacks) Jodhpur brightens up in the evenings. Biting into one of the spicy vadas, our host shared a trivia, “Rajiv Gandhi loved the mirchi vadas here and would never leave the city after every visit without his share of the popular snack”.

Trivia: Most clothing items on sale are second-hand; yes, it is believed that these articles where once worn by the queens and now re-designed and modified to allure shoppers. Slip into that Rajasthani attire and feel like a real queen if you will!

Mandore Garden is more than flower-beds
mandore-gardens
Gardens are supposed to make you feel happy but I entered into the gates of the Mandore Garden with a heavy heart. It was once a prominent entry point to the Mehrangarh Fort but today stands like an ordinary gateway. Its walls embossed in palm prints continue to speak of the cruel ritual of sati (burning of wives in the funeral pyre of their dead husbands) rampant during the time. Once inside, between the crevices of lush green trees you can catch a glimpse of the Mandore temple that is believed to be named after Ravana’s wife, Mandodari. On one hand, while a woman is a symbol of divinity, she is also subjected to atrocities like sati and dowry deaths; a conundrum unresolved.

Osian Village and the Great Indian Desert

jodhpur-clock-tower camel-ride-at-osian-village
If Jaisalmer prides in its Golden Fort (fondly known as ‘Sonar Kella’ after Satyajit Ray’s film by the same name), Jodhpur too flaunts the ‘Khajuraho of Rajasthan’, i.e. Osian Village. It is one of the ancient villages and pilgrimage centres of the Oswal Jain community that is home to ruins of Brahmanical and Jain temples dating back to the 8th Century. Almost a two-hour drive from the main city, Osian is an oasis in The Thar Desert. Once in our lifetime, some of us wish to see snow, some want to feel the sea from up-close and others long to be on the mountains. But when you find yourself standing in the middle of a desert, surrounded with nothing but golden-yellow sand dunes, the openness engulfs you. Footprints on the desert that begin to form a trail but suddenly dissolve after a distance seem like a reminder of how fragile permanence can be. Tents and resort camps situated on the picturesque Osian sand dunes can make for a peaceful stay for tourists hoping to escape their busy lives.

Other attractions:

Bishnoi Villages: 
bishnoi-villages
The Chipko Movement can be traced back to the origin of the Bishnois (a community of nature and wildlife lovers) that revolted against the Maharaja’s decision to fell trees in order to build the Mehrangarh Fort. Since the feudal power dismissed the protests by the bishnois who hugged the trees as an act of resistance, many of them were hacked with the trees. Since then, there is a day that commemorates the sacrifice of the bishnois in Khejerli Village. A glimpse into the cultural life of the bishnois in Khejerli Village, (south-east of Jodhpur is considered a place of pilgrimage) can definitely be a value addition to your trip. Village tours and safaris are conducted in Khejerli and Guda Bishnoi Villages; they are home to chinkaras and blackbucks that roam the countryside throughout the day but return to their native village as the sun sets.

Polo tournaments, cultural fests and fairs and Desert Kite festivals are other activities that happen throughout the year witnessing a huge turnout from near and afar.

Gangtok blooms in exotic colours

 

Daisy, pansies, peonies, exotic seasonal blooms and orchids are the colours of this picture-postcard capital of this Himalayan state that opened its door to visitors with the inauguration of the International Flower Show 2013.

Nearly 80 exhibitors, including eight foreign ones from Europe and US, are taking part in the five-day show (Feb 23-27) that aims to push Sikkim’s flower power as a potential tourism and revenue generating option to the world.
kanchendzonga
Floriculture contributes to just about a meagre one percent of the state’s revenue or even less despite the immense possibility it offers as a lucrative economic activity.

“Sikkim, together with Himalayan states like Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir that are located 3,500 ft above sea level, are conducive to floriculture,” Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling said.

These states have the potential to meet the country’s demand for flowers. Countries like China, Thailand and the Netherlands flood our markets. It could become an attractive trade sector and as a profession,” Chamling said.

The chief minister’s wife, an expert flower grower, leads the flower movement in the state. Her nursery is known for its wide variety of orchids across the state and outside.

The venue of the International Flower Show is the Saramsa Garden, nearly 14 km from the Gangtok city in the outskirts.

Flanked by lush Himalayas and watered by the gushing Ranikhola stream that drains into the Teesta river, the garden spread across 10 acres serves as a picnic spot-cum-floriculture showcase, hosting the colourful fauna of the state.

The garden has been given a face-lift for the flower-show.

The manicured lawns have been divided into segments for separate exhibition of rare orchids, smaller flower bed blossoms, herbs an international exhibitors section and a culture stage.

The theme of the fair this year is the cymbedium, a sturdy velvety orchid in mustard and pink that can live in vases for more than a month.
gangtok-blossoms
The decorative bloom occupies a pride of place in the state’s flower roster along with another mystical Himalayan bloom, rhododendron.

On day one Saturday, the mood at the Saramsa Garden was one of revelry. Visiting delegates and local flower lovers pored over stands of flowering pots on display to identify them and then photograph the exhibits.

Discussions veered around flowers to sounds of ethnic hill music from the culture stage. Strange fragrances from assorted collections of lilies and roses vied for attention.

“This is the time of the year when the number of visitors peak. We have seen a rise in foreign tourist footfall during January-February since the first international flower show here in 2008,” Sonam Lepcha, a nursery and restaurant owner in Gangtok, said.

In a radius of at least 2 km of the Saramsa Garden, shops and eateries have decked up in floral finery.

Strands of orchids, gladioli and lilies hung on door frames and at the outdoor cafes which were crammed with young people out to savour the spirit of the unique exhibition.

“No one knows what happens in Sikkim during the flower show. We have such a low presence on the national psyche of India,” Sushma Tsering, a post-graduate student of the Sikkim-Manipal Institute in the state capital said.

“This state like other northeastern states must be spoken about in the national and international media. Great things are happening here. We are building a new airport, new schools and fighting to save the environment,” she said.

The government has banned cattle grazing, hunting in wildlife reserves and use of toxic plastics.

Five years ago in 2008, the government decided to promote floriculture with a platform for “knowledge sharing, sensitising farmers, to explore the potential for high value floriculture, provide an umbrella to stakeholders and enhance investment in the sector to push flower trade”, an official of the state’s horticulture department explained.

This year, the fare on display is more lavish and attractively curated with textual identification and related information.

A break-up of Sikkim’s floral wealth reveals that the state a treasure chest to 600 varieties of orchids, nearly 250 species of trees, 150 varieties of gladioli and nearly 50 strains of rhododendrons.

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Mughal Gardens in New Delhi set to open for public

The warm spring sunshine graciously bathes the floral carpets of exquisitely manicured lawns of Mughal Gardens adorned with myriad flowers of every description. Rashtrapati Bhavan’s treasured gardens are set to be opened to the public from Friday.

While there are 120 varieties of roses across the 15-acre Mughal Gardens, this time around the main attraction are the 2,500 dahlias that will certainly grab eyeballs.

Mughal Garden Delhi

Mughal Garden Delhi

A floral wall of dahlias can been seen encircling the Circular Garden — a part of the Mughal Gardens.

Scarlet flax, sweet William, christian Dior and rose sentimental are among the flower varieties that embellish this sprawling garden.

“Though this year we don’t have tulips, we have planted cyclamen. These flowers will be in full bloom in a fortnight,” said Nigam Prakash Semiwal, officer on special duty (horticulture) at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Semiwal said the hailstorm earlier this month affected the quality of flowers.

The grandeur of the sprawling gardens is the result of conscientiousness of 35 gardeners who work here.

While it will be President Pranab Mukherjee’s maiden ‘Udyanoytsav’ Feb 15, he strolls around the garden every morning.

“He likes to take a walk every morning and enjoys watching peacocks dance in the evening,” Venu Rajamony, press secretary to the president, said.

The Mughal Gardens will remain open to general public from Feb 16 to March 17 while the differently-able and the visually impaired people can visit it till March 19.

“The president wants Rashtrapati Bhavan to be more accessible to public. He also wants the entire premises to be eco-friendly,” Rajamony said.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s official residence, is spread over 330 acres and was designed by British architect Edwin Luteyns.

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