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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rohtang and Solang


Itinerary Day 2

ROHTANG


We had booked a cab for Rohtang from Govt authorised Hiamchal Taxi Operators Office a day prior to Rohtang visit. Advisable to book from authorized operators who charge reasonably and drive responsibly. To know what all we explored on first day, read here http://bit.ly/2uojHb3


Though we were a little disappointed on learning about the ban of snow activities, yet we were geared up for the next day trip to Rohtang Pass, 51 km from Manali. Since snow had not touched the lower hills, we did not rent snow dress, which otherwise is must have during heavy snowfall. Negotiate for your dress cost in the market, which may range from 200 to 500 INR per person. Do not rent from shacks just before Rohtang.



Snow clad hill tops, clouds in the way, lush greenery and beautiful waterfalls added sparkle to our journey. Apart from the fixed rate of Taxi, we additionally paid a toll tax of 50 rupees only. (No driver should charge you more than 50 INR for taxi ride). The entire route is maintained by BRO (Border Road organization). The curvy roads, at times bumpy and at times smooth, pass through village named Marhi, which is the last village before Rohtang. Advisable to buy eatables or have meals here, since there are no shops in the 15 km stretch till Rohtang. The village has a Tibetan Temple  which is a good place for photo opportunities Pic courtesy- Hubby :-)







As we touched Rohtang base, frozen winds hit our ears hard. We trekked towards the snow top braving the rocky steeps. Wear gripping shoes, warm clothes and do not carry heavy bag pack with you. As oxygen levels are low in mountains, you might feel dizzy, breathless or heaviness in chest. Its 14000 feet above sea level after all. Advisable to trek up slowly with short breaks in between. Do not forget to sip water in small quantity.



Snow falls up to a thickness of 12 feet in peak season, making it practically impossible to trek up. We were lucky enough to trek in off season with good visibility and comparatively warmer weather. Trekking tests your endurance and gives you an unforgettable lifetime experience. When you see the clouds playing hide &seek with the Sun, mount tops painted with snow, plush green hills disappearing in foggy blanket, herds of sheep grazing, massive Yaks walking past and vibrant hues of mountain plants, you start wondering how much nature has in abundance to offer, which we are ignorant of! The mesmerizing experience gives a shudder in your body. You feel as if you have discovered something, or substance of life. You suddenly want more; want to break free and carry on!  At least I felt so. While hubby faced a little difficulty in climbing up, he patiently went ahead, beyond his limit, just to accompany me. Such activities bonds people stronger, trust me!

Some distance from snow at Rohtang
We halted at multiple spots to catch our breath, sip water and watch the beauty around. It is out of the world. Every halt that we made felt like an eternity and we only wished time could stop. We relaxed, soaked in the warm sunshine, breathed in pure air and kept moving towards the zenith. Seeing the locals and other mountaineers trekking to the snow point, gives you a kick within. I wanted to go on, but stopped as higher altitude multiplies the risks. Also, hubby was tired pertaining to less oxygen level. He was almost out of breath.





For many, trekking down seems an easy task. However it is MORE difficult than what it looks like. While descending, your legs feel the force to control and balance the body. Applying brakes to legs is more painful and difficult hence. Only good shoes can save you in such case. Be careful while stepping on stones for they might be slippery. The risk rises during snowfall. Expert guidance is needed there.


I enjoyed the journey to and fro as much I loved the trek to the peak. The entire experience gave me a different perspective of life. Following are pictures that I took on the way to and back from Rohtang. 







Rohtang is an easy trek for beginners. One only needs to be alert and careful while trekking the mountain, especially when it snows. I finally ticked off Rohtang from my bucket list but do want to visit again. 

SOLANG

After a good 2.5 hours at Rohtang, we headed to Solang Valley, about 20 km from Rohtang. Had fun taking pictures among grazing sheep, colorful valleys till we reached a green pasture-land Solang Valley. Paragliding, Zorbing, snow scooters have been banned here as well. The only activity open was Ropeway Trolley Ride, which covers 3 km over a vast expanse of deodar and pine forests.





The view from the trolley is fantastic. However, each seat costs 500 INR, which I felt was a bit high.

Once you reach the hill top, take a relaxing break in nature’s arms. The beautiful velvety stretch of little flowers, tall trees and trimmed grass makes the trolley ticket price worth it.







It is picture perfect and beautiful beyond words. Little benches have been planted in the bays for people to unwind. If only rope-way would operate whole night, I would have spent the whole night there. Reluctantly we descended the rope-way, bidding goodbye to Solang.


The whole day trip left us refreshed and rejuvenated. We ended up with a stroll and late dinner on Mall Road, till we retired to the hotel room and crashed. This was on account of two days. To know about the third day, stay tuned for the next blog post. :-)

Marvellous Manali

For corporate professionals, a three day holiday calls for a vacation, and there is nothing better than hill station to rejuvenate yourself! Hubby and I chose Manali in Himachal Pradesh for a short trip.  The beautiful hill station is more than five hundred kilometers from Delhi, which takes 12 hours+ to reach. Book your Volvo tickets from Himachal Pradesh Tourism Desk in Himachal Bhawan, Mandi House (Delhi) or Chandra Lok Building in Janpath, (Delhi).  The latter also books hotels for Himachal. Bookings can be made online as well from http://hptdc.nic.in/bus.htm
Rohtang Manalsu

Carry food with you for the long 12 hour journey. Volvo leaves from Kashmiri Gate/Himachal Bhawan at 10:30 &10 pm respectively and reaches Manali next day around 11 am.

Instead of hiring a taxi, we chose to walk with our bag packs from the bus stop to our hotel. Vibrant flowers, warm sunshine and fresh breeze (the perks of walking) welcomed us as we checked into Rohtang Manalsu  located on Circuit House road, a little away from Mall road.


Itinerary Day 1

1-Himdimba Devi Temple


Hidimba Devi temple
Post lunch, we left for the famous Hidimba Devi Temple, just 1.5 km from our hotel. 

I love road signs 

The Mahabharat History says, Bheema (the strongest Pandava) married Hidimba during the Pandava exile in forest. Hidimba stayed back in Manali and continued to meditate as Bheema left. The temple dedicated to Devi Hidimba, is believed to be centuries old, carved on stones and deodar wood. Make this place a must visit during Manali trip.






2. Great Himalayan Forest



Few meters away from the temple is the open worship place of Ghatotkach (Bheema’s son). The tranquil place is surrounded by Dungri Forest, also named as the Great Himalayan Forest, entry for which is 5 rupees person.

Dungri Forest

Walk through the forest trail, let fresh air wrap you while you soak the refreshing greenery. The sun shines through the thick tall trees, offering a marvelous natural view. Managed to get some amazing pictures as we spent quality time there.

Beware of hawkers selling saffron and shilajit to every couple they spot. Also, politely refuse the ladies loaning mountain rabbits at 20 Rupees to pose for a picture with you. F.Y.I. it is against Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. I did not raise a hue and cry over it because law & order is not strict in H.P, and the ladies were earning a living for themselves. Thirdly, I did not want to spoil my vacation. Seeing a white lady renting a python for picture, did not surprise me.

3. Mall Road



Mall road bustles with life all day long. Dotted with restaurants and travel agent shops, the entire stretch of road offers you everything from grocery to fancy clothes. There is also a flee market on the left where you can go shopping without burning a hole in your pocket. 

Do buy Fruit Burfi there, which is a specialty made of fruit extract, very low on artificial sweets. You’d love the guava burfi for sure! Looks like aam-papad, but it is a pure fruit pulp extract.
Guava Barfi
Bought this delightful box of sweets from Nature's Hut, Mall Road. 

4. Tibetan Monastery

Take a right turn on Mall Road for Tibetan Monastery.   The small neat temple houses a large Buddha statue and is decorated by Tibetan artefacts. (Photography restricted inside the temple) 






The rolling bells or prayer wheel surrounding the temple is said to bring good luck when rotated in the right direction, coupled with the chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum.” A true delight to your senses.

                            
And not to forget my furry four legged friends who shook hands, err paws with me. This one made my day. They photo-bombed us as well.

Late in the evening, we approached the Hiamchal Taxi Operators Office, Govt authorized place for tourist transport. The board on display clearly mentions the rates of transport to Rohtang and Solang. However, here is a fresh update. National Green Tribunal has recently banned all snow activities in Rohtang (skiing, snow mobile, horse riding) to curb pollution. Also, there is a limit to the number of taxis entering Rohtang. Against the fixed rate of 2400 (on display board), the taxi driver asked for 1500 INR to ferry us to Rohtang as well as Solang Valley. You need not book a taxi for early morning and leave at 4am for Rohtang. Though the ban may be lifted in near future.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fantastic Fatehpur Sikri

Having one of the Seven Wonders of the World in our own country draws tourists from across the world. A proud thing to flaunt indeed! Thousands of tourists flock to visit the dreamy Taj Mahal in Agra; A must see for every Indian at least. However, very few visit the other historical monuments in Agra, like Fatehpur Sikri, which I visited in July  2015.

40 kms away from Agra, Fatehpur Sikri is a city which was built by Emperor Akbar in 1569. Known for its hybrid architecture of Mughal and Hindu era, the place will not fail to awe you.

The moment you enter the city in your own vehicle, locals will try to extort money, calling it MCD tax. Since hubby has dealt with situations like this before and being the son of an Intelligence Officer, we managed to shoo the "tax collector" away. DO NOT PAY ANY TAX. If they insist or stop your car, ask for their rule book or say "your dad is a cop". They will flee from the spot within seconds.


Fatehpur Sikri Mahal has a separate gate for entry where private vehicles are forbidden (reasons unknown). We were not allowed to enter in our car and charged 80 INR for car parking. Near the parking, you are made to wait for a bus that ferries you to Fatehpur Sikri Palace. Surprisingly the bus service is also not free!

Beware of the shopkeepers around the parking area who plead you to visit their shops and force their visiting cards on you. Be polite but assertive in refusing them. This kind of stalking and repeated pleads is unpleasant, leaving you feel unsafe and turned off. 

We made an entry through the Buland Darwaza but could not take its picture.

The imperial palace complex has a number of geometrically arranged independent pavilions on a piece of level ground. It is believed that this pattern was derived from Arab and central Asian tent encampments. You can see prominent inspiration of of the Mughal and Rajput architecture in Fatehpur Sikri. The entire building complex construction has been done with red sandstone.



Here is the Diwan-e-khas- The place for private audience of King Akbar. He held meetings in this special court with his royal men.



Khwab-gah or the place of dreams was the private place of the king with beautiful spacious rooms. The double story structure had a library, bedroom, bathroom and meeting room for the king to hold his secret meetings with his officials.



Along side is the picture of Anup Talaao, a beautiful structure amid the water tank in the royal palace. The center of the structure with raised seats is a romantic place to spend time. The pond is situated right across Khwaab Gaah.

Along the perimeter of the palace complex

Jodha, Akbar’s wife had a beautiful palace to herself. Few glimpses of the Jodha Palace-
Jodha Mahal
Jodha's Kitchen


                        The backyard is not accessible to public and lies in ruins.

Fatehpur Sikri city is beautiful with a great architecture and cultural heritage to learn from. It is a fantastic place for photography enthusiasts and art lovers. The city makes a perfect weekend getaway from Delhi or nearby places. Best would be to travel in your own car. Don't rely on public transport because of less frequency and are are overcrowded. 


Wear cotton fabric or lose clothes, not too tight or hugging. The place is VERY warm. On rainy days the place is hot and humid. July was quite warm, but the onset of rains made it little pleasing for us.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Chaayos - Review


Delhi NCR is known for numerous eating joints and variety of food. Delhi-tes are passionate about food and are constantly in pursuit of good cuisines. So hubby and I carry forward the legacy by keep trying out new restaurants or food corners, to refresh ourselves and to quench the thirst of the foody within us.  And this time it brought us to Chaayos, in Galleria Market, Gurgaon.

What attracted me the most was the concept of a huge tea variety in a comfortable tea-shop. Having tried tea from small tea stalls by roads, this one seemed to be a hygienic idea of sipping tea. Considering my love for tea, I was instantly hooked to the tagline “Experiments with chaai”. As we entered Chaayos, the ambience with warm lighting, wall graffiti of old times, tea glass holders used as bulb holders appealed to us.

The menu had a large variety of tea. Beginning from kullad and masala chai to chamomile tea, ice tea and English tea, they had an amazing variety. Masala or desi chai had options of spices to choose from. The menu had a decent number of snack items as well.

 

The staff was quick in taking orders and suggested us the tea that we wanted.  We choose kullad chai, kadhaai paneer wrap and keema paao. To our disappointment, the waiter came back with an apology as they had run out of kullad. We settled with Desi tea choosing from spices of ginger, basil, cardamom, cloves and fennel seeds (saunf).
The order arrived after  20 minutes. Tea was served in a good quantity and smelled of nice flavors. I loved the
tea! Sugar was not added by the staff. A plus point for that! However, snacks were utterly disappointing. The kadhaai paneer wrap filling was partially uncooked. A layer of aloo bhujia and mayonnaise wwere big turn offs. Never had such a bad veg wrap ever! I hate to waste food but I left half the wrap uneaten on the plate.

Same was the case with keema paao. With the first bite, husband’s smile vanished and he reluctantly finished the rest. “Barely any keema filling in the paao, tasteless” was his feedback.

While the waiter claimed that they were short of kullad, he brought our bill in a kullad! Heights of irony. Post a bad eating experience, we paid around 500 INR! It was way too high for snacks.500 INR can feed thali combos to three people. Come on! Just because you are located in a posh area, doesn’t mean you get the right to plunder customers. We landed up paying for 4 tiny items out of which we hated 2. High taxes, VAT and what not. An overall below average experience it was. We liked the tea but everything was overpriced. Who wants to burn a hole in their pocket like this? Atleast I don’t.
  • Ambiance- Good
  • Service- Slow
  • Tea- Excellent, Quantity- Good
  • Snacks- Extremely poor, Quantity- Okay
  • Price- Too high
  • Repeat visit for me- YES, Only for tea

Sunday, September 13, 2015

PepperTap - App Review

Tap the Pepper Tap
Mankind has evolved. From a raw meat eater to landing on the moon, the evolution has come a long way seeing many changes, both good and bad. Today’s generation has higher power of income than before. Professionals work hard to earn their living and make their lives comfortable. Torn between work and family, sadly we are pressed for time. No matter the levels of evolution, one can’t have more than 24 hours in a day! So how do the time pressed people manage to look after their homes, especially the working women? Ah! Pepper Tab comes to our rescue.

Grocery shopping is not only time consuming but a tiring activity too. Staying away from family for studies and job, taught me managing my bachelor life. Trust me, I hated it! Those long queues at the billing counters of shops, those stinky vegetable markets, haggling with hawkers over change, unclean dirty roads, the noise, the pollution; I was growing sick of it. The saga continued for me post my marriage too.  I had seen my mom going through the same ordeal all her life. Why do all husbands think that grocery shopping is a woman’s job only? Then one fine day, while killing time in a mall, I noticed a big poster of Pepper Tap. A shudder passed through my body when I learnt about a shopping app for grocery shopping. Bingo! That was a dream come true. Not that I dreamed of something like that day and night, but it was definitely a blessing. I tried the app, only to make me a big fan of it.

Shopping from the app is a piece of cake! The categories are marked under breakfast & dairy, fruits & vegetables, food & drink, bath & body, home & hygiene, baby needs, staple & spices and popular. With the swipe of my finger, I shopped for few items. To my surprise, onions were available at lower price than market price. What could be more delightful for a girl on saving a little money, as this comes naturally to us. The payment options are cash on delivery or Paytm. I choose cash on delivery and set a delivery slot for the next day.

Shopping list
After discount

The most exciting part was a discount code that was applied while checking out. TAP20 gave me a 20% discount on my first shopping! How easily half my life is sorted with this app. You get a free delivery on purchase worth 250 INR. I shopped for a lesser value and felt okay to pay a minimal delivery charge, without moving in the dirty lanes of the markets. (How much I hate those streets).

While running late for home from work (which is a usual scenario almost every day) I conveniently shop for groceries on Pepper Tap, without visiting the market. Mankind has indeed evolved for good!!!!

Pros of PepperTap- 
  • Can be browsed and used very easily (Given that even kids can operate smart phones these days, your kid can do that too!)
  • Category named clearly
  • Secure payment method
  • Lower prices than market price
Cons of PepperTap-
  • Need to include more variety. I found flax seeds, fruits variety, raisins and more missing.
I would rate this app 4 on 5

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My top 5 travel destinations

Travelling thrills me and I admit being bitten by the ‘traveler bug’. I have travelled to quite a few places and dream to travel to many more, because I just don’t get enough of the “bug”. Sharing few top destinations of my choice-
Dalhousie- Visiting Dalhousie was on my wish list since a long time till the dream came true in April of 2014. An all-girls trip to this pretty hill station was fun and mesmerizing. Known for its beautiful landscapes, serene splendor of nature and amazing weather, Dalhousie charts as one of the most romantic places in hill stations. At a distance of 558km from Delhi, there is no direct connectivity of the places. We boarded an overnight bus from Delhi to Pathankot covering around 480 km and hired a taxi from Pathankot covering around 83km. The tiresome journey and patience finally paid us when we entered Dalhousie. The place is breathtaking. Before checking into our hotel, we detoured for Chamera Lake, a major boating point and hydroelectricity project for the district. The entire alley was scented with beautiful pink roses. The foggy hills, the lavish greenery, the sparkling waters, the cloudy sky, made us speechless. As the taxi ferried us to our hotel, I was absolutely stunned by the location of the hotel Silverton estate.Post a refreshing welcome drink and tour of the marvelous property built during British time, we headed for sightseeing. We covered Subhash Chowk, the little Gandhi market and Panchpula waterfalls on day 1. Every place is a must see for all.

Khajjiar


Diankund
Day 2 was trip to Khajjiar,DiankundandKalatop. Mind you, it was the 3rd week of April and was surprising chilly. Against our expectations, we experienced snowfall in Diankund. Ah it was a place to die for. Khajjiar, called the mini Switzerland of India was the cherry on the cake. A huge pastureland surrounded by coniferous trees and a little pond in middle, sheep grazing by, cold winds from the hills and an array of colorful flowers were remarkably astounding. One would be awed by the natural beauty of Dalhousie. A must see destination for nature lovers and a superb place for honeymoon


Agra- Every Indian must visit Agra, because it is has one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was declared UNESCO world heritage site. One does feel proud to see the great Taj Mahal that was built in 22 years (1631-
Taj Mahal
1653) with the orders of Shah Jahan, dedicated to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The white marble structure stands as the symbol of love and clever architecture of an era without technology. Easily approachable from Delhi via Noida expressway, Agra is at a distance of 232 km only, which can be covered via bus, own vehicle, train or flight. As you spend around 3 hours in Taj Mahal appreciating the beauty and the grandeur of the bygone time, you would also feel sad for the depreciating structure and the physical harm done to the Taj. If only the authorities were not looking after the monument, it would have been in ruins today. Besides Taj Mahal, one must see Old Fort just 2.5 km apart. I was speechless the moment I entered it. The huge monument still stands tall with pride and sets a remarkable example of perfect ancient architecture. Be it the Deewan-e-khaas , Deewan-e- Aam , Jahangiri Mahal,Sheesh Mahal or the entry gates for the Army, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the fort comprising a blend of white marbles & red sand stones. The ancient engineering has no equals and nobody can reproduce the magic with the same grace and perfection. Some portions of the fort are not accessible to the public, of course for security reasons .The portions which are open for all, are masterpiece of creations.  Once you are in Agra, don’t miss trying various sorts of petha (angoori, pan, saada) and moth-kachori, a staple snack.It is out of the world! Avoid Agra during April to June due to peak summers.

Jaipur- Named as the pink city, Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is a seamless blend of History and modern lifestyle. Formed by Raja Man Singh, Jaipur offers some of the finest forts and palaces that attracts tourists from the globe. One of them is the Jaigarh Fort. Located at 400 meters above the Amer Fort,  the fort offered a bird’s view of the city to the army of Jai Singh. The main attraction of this fort is the giant canon, referred as Jai Vaana in Hindi.
Jaivana
Hawa Mahal

Its 20 feet long barrel that weights about 50, and has a diameter of 11 inches. With a range of 22 miles, the cannon is said was fired only once. The specialty of this cannon was its free rotation in any direction. Imagine mounting such a heavy piece on wheels and rolling up the hills during those that time! Beautifully carved at the mouth scroll and body, the cannon stands protected as a masterpiece made by the skilled craftsmen then.  Indulge in the royal Rajput architecture of the massive Amer Fort that takes more than 3 hours to stroll around. The fort houses artifacts of Rani Jodha’s paalki, the king’s lifestyle, handcrafted trunks, beds, entertainment rooms and many more. One can enjoy live puppet shows, an art that is slowly fading. Among the other must see things in Jaipur are Hawa Mahal, Rani Padmawati Mahal, Nahargarh Quila, Rajmandir (a movie theater built in British style) and Choki Dhani ( A modern reconstruction of old Rajasthan with culture, food and games on display). In 400 INR entry fees, Choki Dani offers you a lot more than what meets the eye. Because of connectivity to adjoining cities like Ajmer, Pushkar, Neemrana and Alwar, Jaipur contributes a lot to Indian tourism. Avoid visiting Jaipur during April to July when temperature soars higher than 50 degrees.




The Great Barrier Reef, Australia- Apart from serious sports, Australia has great places too. The Great Barrier Reef is an absolute must visit for every human on this Earth. This water body on the planet is the largest structure visible from outer space! Need any more reason to be there?  This 2,300 km-long ecosystem encompasses countless reefs and islands made of over 600 types of hard and soft coral. The reef structure was built by tiny organisms coral polyps thousands of years ago. Sedimentation of rocky deposits, volcanic eruptions and other geological shifts formed the barrier reef which eventually became a popular tourist destination.












The barrier reef is home to a wide diversity of life. Among the seven natural wonders of the world, Barrier reef’s crystal blue offers breathtaking view of islands and marine life. The Great Barrier Reef is a breeding area for humpback whales, migrating from the Antarctic and is also the habitat of a few endangered species including the Dugong (Sea Cow) and large Green Sea Turtle. In recognition of its significance, UNESCO listed the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Site in 1981. With activities like scuba diving, sky diving, sailing and many more, the natural wonders are experienced. Personally I feel awed by how much the creator has blessed us with so much to see and appreciate! This place has been on my travel list since childhood!


Amritsar- My workplace demanded me to travel a lot during the initial stage of my career. One of the destinations was Amritsar, Punjab.
Golden Temple
I have been lucky to visit the place twice and soaked in all that I could. Connected via Volvo and train, Amritsar sees a mahor footfall each day towards the majestic Golden Temple and Wagah Border. At a distance of about 450 km from Delhi, Amritsar boasts of a closely knitted culture along with hospitality and warmth in people. A memorial in Jallianwala Bagh speaks of the tragedy meted out to thousands of people by General Dyer which holds a very important place in History. These three places in Amritsar are major crowd pullers. As you start your day with a dip in holy water in Harmandir Sahab’s pond, the serenity of the Gurudwara instantly fills you with devotion. A long queue at the Gurudwara entrance is managed by the management very efficiently. It is believed that an ardaas (prayer) is always answered by the almighty if done with pure heart. The Gurudwara is home to several homeless and poor and thousands volunteer to participate in Gurudwara maintenance, as it is believed that sevaa to mankind is sevaa to God. Half a day at the Gurudwara spending peaceful moments followed by langar, again managed so efficiently, makes you come back here each time.

The retreat ceremony at Wagah Border every evening is something to watch for. Wagah border between India and Pakistan where high tension prevails, is guarded by Border Security Force (BSF). The borders are barred by gates where the flags of both the countries are retreated in the evening and thousands gather to watch the cultural ceremony that takes place with great enthusiasm. Mind you, one needs special permission or pass to sit in the VIP block and watch the function from a short distance. I have witnessed the entire saga that comprised an opening march by lady officers, dance on patriotic numbers, BSF soldiers’ aggressive salute, face off with Pakistan Rangers and roar of slogans from both the countries. The ceremony is a treat to eyes and certainly gives you goosebumps! The energy, the colorful life, great food and beauty of Amritsar keeps seeing me visit frequently.
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