Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Touring Rampuriya Havelis, Bikaner



With intricate art and vibrant colors inching throughout the exteriors, the cluster of Rampuriya havelis in Bikaner is a visual treat. This lesser known city of Rajasthan is an offbeat place to travel. Thanks to these colorful havelis. Located in the old part of the city, Rampuriya havelis were homes of the wealthy merchants many decades ago. Had the heritage property not been turned into a heritage site by the authorities, they would have been in ruins, hence damaging the chances of the little tourism they get. Visitors are not allowed to enter the havelis but can tour the lanes and settle with capturing the beauty through lenses.


Guarded by an aged man donning traditional Rajasthani attire, these havelis left me with a mystic charm. If the buildings look so gorgeous on the exterior, imagine the rich details of the interiors.

Guarding the heritage


The bulky locks with chains on the doors, the colorful windows, the carvings and paintings on the walls date back to the 1400's. Imagine 600 year old buildings! As I walked through the tiny lanes, the view of the adjacent buildings intrigued me deeper into the old city.









Intricate art 



Rich details in every corner 


Ancient homes so beautiful

Vibrant colors of the architecture

Old  is always gold




The grandeur of the past  




ENTRY FEES-
None.

BEST TIME TO VISIT- 
The heritage buildings can be visited any time of the day, though I suggest morning or evening for photography in better light. Day time can get extremely warm with unbearable heat in Summers..

November to March is an ideal time to visit Rajasthan which otherwise scorches with 50 degree centigrade temperature.

HOW TO REACH
One can easily reach the place via auto or taxi. If your hotel is close by in the old Bikaner city, you might was well walk.

GOOD TO KNOW- Bikaner is a small town of Rajasthan with still developing infrastructure. While the old town charm remains the same, do not expect good roads or open spaces. The lanes are congested, air pollution is high and the old town is quite untidy.

P.S- This trip of mine was in March 2019. The post made it to the top post of the day and was featured on Indiblogger home page.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

All about planning a trip to Nathula Pass




Sikkim was one hell of a trip for us (husband and me). After a lot of surprises and changes in plan, I wasn't sure if  we would be able to make it to Nathula Pass. At last we found a travel agent in Gangtok Gandhi market, who made necessary arrangements at 1000 INR per person. (It varies between Rs 700-1000 depending on the season.) Booking a whole taxi costs around Rs 2500 which is recommended for a group or family travelling together.

P.S- Visitors are required to fill up a form with details which is submitted by the agent at the border authority office. The forms are queued up for next day and signaled for 'permit'.  Hence one must apply for the same a day before the intended visit.

For altitude sickness and breathlessness, it is recommended to have popcorns. Buy a packet or two from vendors at the taxi stand.


The shared taxis (usually Tata Sumo or Bolero) ferry ten people in one go. We left sharp at 9 am with 8 more people as co-passengers. The breathtaking views on the old Silk route of 53 km from the taxi stand to Nathula Pass left us speechless. The views changed from emerald cover of mountains to tree tops wrapped in fluff of clouds. The rapidly changing landscape compensated for the little challenges on the curvy road. Narrow roads along with solo bikers slowed us down and we got stuck at a check post for half an hour. Yet our excitement throughout the journey remained on a high.


Be prepared for road blockages or broken bridges that happen due to avalanche and the only people who take responsibility to repair the damages is Indian Army. Roads are a lifeline of Sikkim as well as strategically important due to proximity from China. Hats off to our Army who rapidly come into action and keep everything moving.

P.S- Due to this bridge construction, entry to Nathula was stopped for two days. Luckily the roads were opened just a day before we inquired. Do get in touch with Sikkim tourist information center before you make booking for Nathula.




Our stoppage on the way where we were greeted by a furry lot. 

Enroute Nathula

The driver would usually stop midway for a short break. Advisable to to relieve yourself or fuel up with food during the break, since the facilities vanish as you near Nathula. Your driver would have a collaboration with these tiny eating joints, where you are required to place your order for lunch in advance.

(Food is quite costly; one plate of fried rice was Rs 180 and a humble thali of rice, daal and dry veggies was priced at Rs 200.  But its okay. Given the harsh terrain where logistics support is negligible, that's how they make a living)

Vegetation started thinning and temperature dropped gradually as we sped through the uphill curves. Our co- passengers had come to a common consensus to visit Nathula Pass first followed by Tsongmo Lake and Baba Mandir on the way back.










Stepping out at an altitude of 14000 feet in spine chilling cold towards Nathula Pass post was a life-learning. We took one step at a time on the stairs, slowly inching towards the Indo-Chinese post facing each other. Icy wind hit our ears and lack of oxygen made us breathless. But you know what kept us going? It was the Indian Army soldiers who had a smile on their face while braving the odds. Nothing puts them off guard or off duty even in sub zero temperature.

An Army personnel narrates stories of the post formation, the ill-fated war and history of Chinese invasion. Both the country's flag flutter in chilled winds, each representing the respective nation's pride. While you can look at the Chinese guard post and sometimes their soldiers on inspection rounds, photography is strictly prohibited. We were told that Indian tourists out of excitement take pictures and post on social media which Chinese use as a propaganda against India. They have accused India in past of war preparations.

PS: If caught, mobile phones are confiscated. You cannot use DSRL at all. You can carry your camera but in no case would be allowed to use it.

Imbibing the story and paying our respect at the war memorial, we made our way out through the canteen grabbing some jalebi and momos. Army also sells small collectibles and gift items worth carrying home as memories. We bought a wall poster on which has a space to paste a picture and write the date of visit. This was the best collectible from Nathula for us.

P.S- Do spend a little at the souvenir shop. It can be an amount as small as Rs 50. The money goes to Army welfare. This is the least you can contribute to the brave-hearts on duty. 

Enriched with a sense of pride, saluting the heroes of the nation and paying a quite homage at the war memorial, we bid adieu to Nathula hoping to come back some day again.   Our next stops were Baba Mandir and Tsongmo Lake.





P.S- My trip to Nathula was in October 2018.
This post made it to Indiblogger Homepage as Featured Post of the day as well as the Top Post of the Day.
Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers 
Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers




Monday, December 31, 2018

The Smart Revolution



Pic source: Pixabay

As the weighing machine displayed 89 kilograms, Subhash looked at me with a puppy face and in the world's most innocent voice said "I don't get time to hit the gym daily. Will rejoin tomorrow on-wards, I promise". With a straight face Neetu, his wife, rolled her eyes and said nothing, clearly showing how upset she was. I smiled as Neetu shrugged giving a helpless look. Subhash, my brother in law is in a job that requires him to travel extensively across the country. The irony is that he heads the sales department of a fitness brand and is health conscious too but has been unable to keep fit. He admits that his tight schedule leaves him with less time to workout and he doesn't get to know his calorie count or health stats. 
I ordered 
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro Smartband  from Flipkart smart wearable  to resolve the issue for him. The smart wear transformed his lifestyle and helped him keep a check on his health. Now he can monitor the calories lost, heart rate and the number of steps he walked. The most unique feature of this band is he can read his mails & texts in it without getting off  his treadmill or stopping while working out. The best part is he cannot lie to Neetu or skip working out anymore, since she has the device connected to her mobile. This smart-wear has been the best addition not only to Subash's life but to Neetu's as well. Thanks to Flipkart and some credit goes to me too. 
Image credit: androidpit

Todays' hectic times often leaves us time crunched and lazy to say the least. While juggling work and home, you are either too tired to spend time on fitness or lack the motivation to work out. For Subhah, Neetu and I were the motivation. But what about Girish, his son living in a different city? These smart devices came to his rescue too. His smart watch reminds him to study, workout and sleep on time. It even plays soothing music when Girish practices Yoga. Smart devices for the smart generation. Isn't it? Thanks to Flipkart for supporting the smart revolution movement by making these available on their website. 

Pic source- Cnet

Like a silent supporter, Google  Home Mini  from Flipkart's Smart Home section works wonders for busy people like Neetu by reminding her to pay insurance premiums, getting car maintenance done, transferring money to her parents or getting news updates since she has no time to read newspaper. 

   
        


      Image credit: perthome, pixabay



Neetu's parents who are in their early 70's stay alone in a distant city. Plus they wouldn't hire a house help. (You know how elderly behave). Neetu's worst fears turned true when her dad was diagnosed with partial amnesia. What followed were accidental cases of geyser left on, door left open and so on, doubling the chances of major accidents or theft. Smart technology from Flipkart came to their rescue, which was of-course suggested by me. The Oakter Smart Plug For High Powered Appliances from the Flipkart smart home store is designed to control home appliances via mobile app, anywhere in the world. Neetu gets notification on her phone when appliances like geyser or air-conditioner are on or off, saving electricity or from accidents. The best part is that the Oaker app can control home appliances with an Android or iOS device, or even with voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

Neetu also got Smart Alarm installed at her parents place since they live alone. This wireless GSM alarm from Flipkart secures homes with RFID as well as voice control. Now I am thinking I will get this installed at my place too. 



Pic credit: Pixabay

With the advent of technology and our dependence on digital equipment, it absolutely makes sense to accept them because they make our life simple and stress free. If a small digital reminder can averse a security threat, then there is nothing better than this. On the night of 28th December, a grocery store in my residential colony burnt down to ashes because of electricity short circuit. If only he had a smoke detector or may be an alarm system. I feel sorry for the gentleman who now regrets not adapting himself to the  smart technologies. Flipkart is making these easily accessible, so why not make the most of it? 
Credit: homedesignersuite

My personal favorite is Philips hue LED smart light from Flipkart's  Smart Lights shop. This light has the power to create unlimited possibilities. With an option to choose from 16 million color patterns, it can change the ambiance of the room according to mood or occasion, all at our command! Imagine you can change the wall color to yellow on Diwali, reduce the brightness in mornings and make the house look blue during a party. This smart light gives a new look each time without you having to paint the walls. How incredible is that!



When everything can be controlled at the touch of your smartphone screen or a tap of remote, imagine its potential. Lights that turn on in human presence, machine that dispenses coffee as soon as you wake up, alarms that raise alarm on detecting danger, assistants that dont lot you forget anything and so on, are examples of smart robot-like technologies that can sort you.     

Technology is here for good and to add an ease to our life. There is a reason smartphones came to us and eventually the smartness extended to every aspect of our daily lives. I guess each one of us should be open to these and live smart.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The beauty within



Beauty is interpreted in many forms. The idea of beauty planted in heads of young girls often comes from TV or films and age old mentality of the society. For many women, fair skin is beautiful. For others beauty means size zero and looking young. It would not be wrong to say beauty is skin deep. Whats surprising is that these thoughts are deep rooted in the 'literate' section of the society. I refrain from using 'educated' in place of 'literate' because often the two are confused. We are taught to read and write in schools, graduate and earn our degrees. That simply does not make us educated because we fail to imbibe the values and life lessons in the educational institutes. Or else why would we indulge in the evil beliefs of the society? My best friend's mother too has the same mindset. Many a time she expressed worry of her daughter's dark complexion and that she would have a difficult time finding a groom. She was also concerned about her education status because a highly educated girl faces a tough time finding an equally educated groom. I would not be surprised to hear the same story from many other women, especially rural places. 


But a woman shook my belief and it was astonishing to see that come from someone who is not literate and was born to a poor family. She is my domestic-help Sharda who comes to work everyday with the same energy and wears a broad smile on her face like an accessory. She works in ten households of my residential colony to support her husband financially and give a good life to her children. 
Sharda's story of battling the odds moved many to tears. Born in a tiny village in Nepal, Sharda along with her four other sisters were married at young age and they traveled to Delhi with their husbands respectively. Her rickshaw puller husband got into the habit of drinking and his medical illness halved his earnings. Her son got into bad company and quit school. It was then when she fought back and decided to work as a house help, much against the wishes of her husband. Her earnings stabilized the financial conditions and she planned to do something which usually women from her society don't- She got her handicapped daughter Meena enrolled in a school. Criticized by many, including her husband, Sharda was determined to get Meena educated despite her disability and change her life. Meena was born with a crippled leg and missing fingers in right hand.  
My respect for Sharda grew by many folds when I came to know how she braved the odds for her disabled daughter who would otherwise be treated as liability in our society. Husband and I offered to help her financially and would often try passing on little things to make her life a little comfortable. A dignified Sharda would always refuse our help saying she cannot accept favours, because she is earning and accepting help would only defeat her motive of providing a respectful life to her girl. 

The only time she asked for help was when her elder daughter Meena graduated and was  looking for a job. I called Meena to my place for a short meeting. Watching her converse in flawless English was unexpected and quite impressive. Her confidence amazed me. When she told me that she tutors school kids and supports her family so that Sharda could retire, my eyes welled up. The next day I gave a box of cosmetics and skin care products to Sharda for Meena. As always she refused saying "These things will dishearten her didi. If she knows there are cosmetics to mask her flaws, I would be a liar in her eyes".  

Her statement left me stunned.  What a woman of substance she is!  
My husband and I recommended Meena for jobs that matched her skills. The day she landed with a job, Sharda came to thank us with a box of sweets. It was the happiest and biggest feat of my life. I felt so happy for her who brought up Meena like a normal child and did not let her disability hinder her success.She did not abandon her at birth and always told her how beautiful she was. Meena is a mentally strong girl who never pitied herself and never considered the problems her limitations.  

Sharda did not stop working and Meena is earning well, making everyone proud of her. Like mother, like daughter. For me, Sharda and Meena are two exceptional women with true beauty within themselves.

I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.
Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.
Presenting Naturals TRUE BEAUTY… http://bit.ly/naturalsOF 






Pic credit: pixabay







Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Touring Sikkim's largest monastery: Rumtek




Visiting temples or monasteries rarely make it to my priority list unless they are exceptional. Never had I thought about seeing any monastery on my trip to Sikkim. However, after reading about the unique History and having heard a lot from the locals, husband and I made quick plan to visit Rumtek; the largest and most popular monastery of Sikkim.


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22 km from the capital, Rumtek stands  at an altitude of 4900 feet against the backdrop of the beautiful Himalayan Range. Made in mid 1700, Rumtek is home to hundreds of monks with a long history of clashes over stewardship of the monastery and its contents. Heavily guarded by ITBP, the monastery is under strict surveillance 24x7.
The heavily guarded entrance 

P.S- Weapons or sharp objects are restricted to entry. Use of camera/mobile phones are allowed in the outer premises, not inside the assembly hall.

The pillar of good luck

A pillar stands across the main temple in the center of the courtyard where tourists engage themselves by throwing coin on the top of the pillar. The coin if perches the pole is said to bring good luck.




Rich and vibrantly colored murals in the traditional, Tibetan painting style grace the entrance of the main temple. Here, on each side of the door, stand life-size images of the four guardians of the universe: Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra, and Vaishravana, protecting the four directions, respectively. (photography is allowed only till point)







The assembly hall leaves you breathless. The spacious and intricately decorated Main Shrine Hall is supported by robust red pillars. Long, round silk banners and ancient thangkas hang from these columns. One side of the main hall houses a complete set of religious scriptures dating thousand years ago. The ornate details and paintings on the walls are truly mesmerizing. (Photography is not allowed here). 


The main assembly hall is surrounded by the monks' quarters and through them leads a path towards the Golden Stupa and the Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhism Studies. The Golden Stupa contains the precious relics and holy remains of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. You can meditate or pray here and feel the positive aura surrounding you. (Photography is prohibited here)


The Nalanda Institute is a center dedicated for Buddhism studies.


Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies



You can buy souvenirs at the little shop near the Nalanda Institute's complex or capture nature's bliss around. I was impressed to see how the authorities conserve nature and make the most of the resources available. City dwellers need some serious learning from them.


Road conditions: 
The road condition is extremely bad in patches. Since the ride is bumpy and uncomfortable, the slow drive will elongate the journey. Recommended to visit Rumtek during the day or else the bumpy roads are not visible in the dark due to absence of street lights. Apart from few settlements and shops, the entire road is isolated.

Timings- 10 am to 5 pm everyday

Total time to spend: 1 to 2 hours

P.S- This trip of mine was in October 2018.
This also made it to Indiblogger's Featured Post and Indiblogger's Top post.


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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sight-seeing: Gangtok

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Gangtok, the gateway to the heavenly North East India and the capital of Sikkim, offers a plethora of  wonders for tourist. From tranquil monasteries and exotic mountains to exciting adventure parks, Gangtok has it all. On an average, sightseeing in and around Gangtok would take two days. The taxi union has fixed the rates of sightseeing, saving you the hassles of negotiation.


Taxi Rate List as of October 2018

The cabbies swear by the rate list and do not deviate. However, what they don’t mention is the fact that all the places in the itinerary cannot be covered in one day. They might give you a list of 7-10 places but it is next to impossible to cover them all in a day because of following reasons:

1. Most of the time the narrow roads of Gangtok are packed with traffic. On unusual days, the waiting time is long as two hours.

2. Places like Rumtek or Hanuman Tok are quite far and the roads are extremely rough causing cars to slow down. Ask your driver to take you to Rumtek first which is 22 km from Gangtok. By the time you’d return, it would be dark and several sight points would shut by then.

3. If your itinerary includes the rope-way ride, you would lose three hours straight. Even if you get a place in the never ending queue, make sure you make it to the ticket counter before 12:30 pm as they break for lunch. Since the cable car ferries only 20 people at once and returns from the ride in 15 minutes, the waiting time is painfully long. It’s wise to skip rope-way from the itinerary and do it separately.

4. Chorten Gumpa and Tibetology Center are next to each other. The Tibetology Center is recommended only if Tibetan Culture excites you or the idea of a museum/school sounds interesting, lest you should spend a considerable amount of time here and miss out on the major sight-seeing points.

Husband and I had planned the day with 6 view points while we skipped Tibetology Institute, Flower Show and Rope-way Ride (which we had done in advance). Here is a virtual tour of Gangtok of what we covered one odd day.



1. Chorten Gumpa

Do Drul Chorten

Do-drul Chorten is a stupa was built by Trulshik Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. Inside this stupa lie a complete set of Dorjee Phurba (dagger spike), Kangyur relics (holy books) and other religious objects. Around the stupa are 108 prayer wheels which when rotated in the direction mentioned while reciting the prayer brings good luck. We also met a cat peacefully sleeping behind the prayer bell. The main prayer hall is also open for visitors with prior permission. The stupa site is next to the Tibetology Centre.





Chorten Gumpa has a free entry and you can spend 30 to 45 minutes here. (We were stuck in traffic for one hour before reaching Banjhakri Waterfall)





2. Banjhakhri Waterfall




This is a recreation centre and tourist attraction near Gangtok spread over 2 acres of land. The park is based on a theme of shamanic traditions of the people of Sikkim. (Traditional shamanic healer who worships spirits living in caves around the falls). The park has a waterfall, an artificial lake with a dragon in the centre; gazebos; statues of jhākri and ancestors, sculptures of forest dwellers, Burma Bridge and adventure activities. The paved paths and footbridges wind through the beautiful garden decorated with ornamental trees and flowers.




Entry Fee: Rs. 50, Camera fee: Rs. 10. You will find lot of eating joints in and around the place. (We stayed here for about one and a half hours and reached Rumtek by 2pm)


3. Rumtek Monastery


22 km from Gangtok at an altitude of 4900 feet, Rumtek is the largest and one of the oldest monasteries of Sikkim. Heavily guarded by ITBP, the monastery has a controversial history dating back to 1994. The multi-layered buildings with tiers of white, yellow and oxblood has the throne of Karmapa in a grand assembly hall, where ornate wooden casements hold 1,000 Buddha statuettes and several ancient manuscripts. Home to several monks and the Nalanda University for Buddhism studies, Rumtek also houses the golden stupa with relics of 16th Karmapa. The place is tranquil and full of positive vibes, where you can spend some time meditating.



The ornamental entrance to the main assembly hall


This place is huge and takes about 1.5- 2 hours to explore. The roads to reach Rumtek are in bad condition and takes lot of time to reach. Entry is free. Carry your ID proof with you which is checked at the monastery main gate by ITBP. Weapons, sharp objects, pepper spray or objectionable items are not allowed beyond the second gate. Rather leave them in your taxi. Photography inside the monastery is prohibited. (We left at 5 pm and it had started turning dark)



4. Hanuman Tok




Hanuman Tok is known as the place where Lord Hanuman rested for a while during his search of Sanjeevani Booti. The roads pass through the curvy path of the forest area. Maintained by the Indian Army, the temple on the hill top treats you with a magnificent view of the Kanchenjunga peaks. A visit to this place is a spiritual sojourn.

As you ascend the stairs, a distant prayer or bell greets your ears, filling you with positive vibes.



Entry is free. The roads have no streetlight and are frequented by wild animals. Avoid visiting after dark. (We reached the temple around 6pm and headed to Ganesh Tok)




5. Ganesh Tok


A small temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh offers a bird’s eye view of the town below. Built in 1952-53 by Shri Appa B. Pant, the former Political Officer of Sikkim, the site has been beautified to provide superb view of the town and distant rolling hills and snowy peaks. This is a humble temple place with no extravagant carvings or designs yet feels beautiful, especially during evening. The temple is not wheelchair friendly and requires a flight of stairs to mount.





6. Tashi View Point  
Tashi View point- Courtesy TourmyIndia

It was pitch dark by the time we reached Tashi View Point. It is an elevated place to view the city dotted by colourful greens and bright hues. Had we reached on time, we could have enjoyed sunset view. But we made the best out of the opportunity and captured the twinkling city view at night. Personally, I think Tashi View Point isn’t that great. I am sure there are several other elevated places to watch the city.

Apart from the above, Gangtok sight seeing also includes Lingdam Monastery, Himalayan Zoological Park, Saat Kanya Jharna and Saramsa Garden, which we had to skip owing to shortage of time. In case your itinerary has Rumtek Monastery, it is recommended to go there in daylight. The roads would be riskier and worse in evening and you may not want to run into any trouble on the streets without lights.



P.S: This trip of mine was in Oct 2018.



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