Travelling Is Life

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page

Travelling Is Beginning

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step

Travelling Is Involvement

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles

Travelling Is Exploring

Tourists don’t know where they have been, travellers don’t know where they are going

Travelling Is Observation

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ladakh Can Leave You Spellbound

I still can’t understand why it felt the way I felt when I saw Ladakh for the first time. Suddenly, after travelling through various landscapes, we were amidst huge, rocky and barren mountains, which were sometimes yellow, sometimes red and sometimes white. For me it was a déjà vu, a strong sense of home-coming. The place was Upshi and it was a beauty beyond description. It felt as if I belonged to this marvelous place.

I had fallen in love with Ladakh very long ago after watching a documentary on television. So, the moment my hubby told me about our still-undecided programme to go to Ladakh for a holiday, I was exhilarated. It was a childhood dream waiting to be realized. He had been sanctioned one-month annual leave- a part of which we wanted to spend in the mountains before going home. And then began our inquiries about the road, route and terrain etc…. after all, we were not alone; we had our two-year old son with us. We decided to go by car and cruise on Manali-Leh route, as going via Srinagar was highly inadvisable. But the moment we entered Ladakh our doubts of the past couple of days vanished in thin air. What was before our eyes could easily be termed as one of the most beautiful places on this planet.
En route Leh, road after Rohtang Pass is full of patches
It had taken us four days by road to reach from Udhampur… on the way halting each day for night stay at Pathankot, Palchan, and Patseo. The drive till Palchan was almost of 300 kms. Here we halted for night at newly constructed Army Transit Camp. Next Day our destination was Patseo. The road was okay up to Rohtang Pass. Thereafter, there were some really bad patches due to heavy rains and landslides. There were moments when we doubted our decision to make this trip. We had been forewarned about the route, but still we were not prepared for whatever we encountered on the way. It was our faith in God and confidence in each other that we carried on. In Patseo also, we stayed at the Army Transit Camp. We were really touched by the hospitality of the army men; it was indeed very heart warming.

Leh has many monastries. some of them presenting breath-taking views 
The next was our final day of travelling; we were to reach Karu that day. And the moment we entered Ladakh we were spell-bound. Ladakh was breath-taking and mesmerizing. We stopped at Upshi to take in whatever was around us. It was a beauty beyond description: barren rocky mountains had an exquisite beauty of their own, the shattered looking landscapes splashed with small but brilliant patches of green. Ladakh is also known as Little Tibet; there one could notice the chortens- small white structures build to guard the fields and villages, and the holy flags- the long pieces of cloth with mantras to purify the winds. And not to be missed were ever-smiling Ladakhi people.

The courtyard of Hemis- the largest Gompa in Leh
En route one could also see many Gompas- the monasteries. Hemis is the most important and the largest Gompa in Ladakh that we visited the next day. Thereafter we visited the famous Pangong Tse Lake with its celebrated Garnet hill (where I collected some really beautiful pieces of raw Garnet), Leh Palace, Shey and Thikse Gompas, and then Khardungla Pass. It is world’s highest motor-able road.

The world's highest motor-able road at 18380 feet is at Khardungla Pass
Shopping in Ladakh can be fun. This we discovered on the last day of trip. We spent the most of our day shopping in Leh, which is the district centre and main city of Ladakh. Leh is famous for pearls and precious stones. One can also go for local handicrafts. There are numerous shops in and around Main Bazaar where one can find a wide range of souvenirs. Most of the souvenir shops sell Tibetan antiques or replicas.

Another option for shopping is the Tibetan Market, where one can go for little jewellery made of semi-precious stones and local handicraft items. There are also some good book shops where one can find an excellent range of guidebooks on the Himalayas. And those, who need to buy some warm clothing, can go to second-hand clothes market situated near the jeep stand. Leh is also a good place to buy authentic Pashmina shawls. The price ranges anywhere between Rs. 4500 and Rs. 8000.

Instant noodles- a good option for trekkers
Leh has many good places where one can soothe one’s taste buds. There are some good low-range Tibetan-food restaurants in market area of old town and the area around bus stand. While you are in Ladakh, you can’t miss on noodle soup called Thupka, and Momos (a Tibetan name for dumplings). Almost every restaurant or food stall offers these two dishes. If you a vegetarian, then you have very limited options in these areas as it is difficult to find a dish without meat as an ingredient.

Main Bazaar also has many Tibetan-food joints. Those being mid-range joints and offering a vast variety of dishes are quite popular with tourists. And as the rush of tourists starts increasing with onset of summer, many garden restaurants start springing up in Changspa area. These restaurants serve a variety of Tibetan, Indian and Western food. For trekkers also, Leh offers the best selection of food. Apart from ready-to-serve noodles, instant milk and biscuits, trekkers can opt for fresh and dry fruits and vegetables which is an ideal choice for hilly deserts of Ladakh. 

But more than anything else, it was the memories for the lifetime that we gathered during our journey and our stay in Ladakh. I miss you, Ladakh!!!

Text by Ambreen Zaidi   Photos by Piyush Garg

Friday, March 09, 2012

The City of Golden Temple

If you are habitual of living in a place with wide roads and smooth traffic and are easily put off by narrow alleys, too much of traffic and all the construction work going on at every nook and corner, you will at once discard Amritsar as your destination. But, hold!! Are you really sure you would like to leave Amritsar out of your itinerary? My guess is that you would not. Who would want to miss on an opportunity to experience rich heritage and culture of this historical city while riding a rickshaw passing through narrow lanes of the old city and overtaking four-wheelers on a busy street! And the calm, pious and serene Golden Temple! And, then the world famous food of Amritsar! Ohh!! So this city has got so many things to offer. Well, one just can’t resist the temptation, really, once one knows what he or she is going to get in Amritsar.

Amritsar has been a favourite destination of mine. I am there whenever I get a chance to go. Since I am living in the northern part of India, and nature of my job makes me travel a lot, many times I have had the privilege of visiting the city of Amritsar that is often regarded as Sikh capital of the world. Aptly so, because it is Amritsar where there is the highest seat of Sikh religion.
Whereas newer parts of the city are all concrete, the older ones still retain their rustic charm
The actual charm of this city lies in its older part. There are many gates- Lahori Gate, Bhagtanwala Gate, and Lohgarh Gate, to name few- to enter the old city. As I earlier said, better you take a rickshaw to tour this older part. It moves slowly so it lets you absorb as many details as possible, and it is far cheaper mode of transportation. If you are coming to Amritsar by air, then you reach at Rajasansi. From there you have to take a faster mode of transportation. But if you are coming by train, you are already in the older city. Just hop on a rickshaw and start roaming.

Famous Durgiana Temple
Like Golden Temple, the Durgiana Temple is also covered with gold. This is a Hindu temple
The adorned idols of different gods are situated in the inner sanctoriums of the temple
This is a famous tourist spot in Amritsar. Durgiana temple is situated at the backside of railway station. Temple itself is situated in the middle of a water body. This brings pictures of Golden Temple in mind, as both are situated inside a holy pond. Like Golden Temple, the dome of Durgiana Temple is also covered with gold. In fact, it was constructed on the pattern of the Golden Temple by Guru Harsai Mal Kapoor. It is sometimes called Silver temple as it has carved silver doors. Though, the temple derives from Goddess Durga, it is in fact a Vishnu temple which also houses idols of Krishna and Shiva. It is in fact a temple complex where there are some historic temples such as Sita Mata and Bara Hanuman.

Historical Golden Temple
From Durgiana Temple, you can move to Golden Temple. It is also a temple complex which is named as Darbar Sahib, but it is famous as Golden Temple as the main temple inside is plated with gold. The actual name of the main temple is Harmandir Sahib. Besides temples, there are museums and inns inside the complex. The place is full of pilgrims 24 hours a day, but is very well managed. 
As devotees take dips in holy water, the guards attired in traditional dresses are all around 
On the left side of entry gate is shoe-stand where you will find very decent people offering free service. You will find it very neat and clean inside. But it is the serenity and piousness of the place that mesmerizes you the most. Most of the first-time visitors feel as being in a state of meditation or trance, while they are inside the complex. But be sure that you don’t forget to cover your head with some cloth or handkerchief before entering any temple inside. If you don’t have even a hanky with you, don’t worry… Outside of the main gate, you can find pieces of cloth placed there by the temple management for people who don’t have anything to cover their head. Use it and leave it at same place when you come out.

As I mentioned before, Golden Temple is also situated in the middle of a water body. There is bridge to reach the temple. People take bath in this holy water of the pond and then go for ardass (offering prayers). Even sitting on the bank of pond is very soothing. The coloured fish inside the pond keeps you engaged and focussed.
Water being offered to devotees inside temple. The bowls are cleaned properly before re-use
If you have been feeling thirsty by now after moving inside the complex, you can have water from various taps there. It is safe to drink water from those taps which are marked as ‘Drinking Water’. Even outside of the complex, you will find bowls of water being offered to you. If you are hesitant to drink this water, don’t be as these bowls are cleaned properly and the water is filtered.

The Jallianwala Bagh
Under this dome, there is the well people jumped into when bullets were fired on them 
The brick wall behind the well which, after more than 90 years, still has bullet marks on it
A monument was elected later in memory of those innocent people who attained martyrdom
This historical park is very near to Golden Temple. This is the place where Brigadier General REH Dyer ordered a massacre on 13th April 1919. Following his orders, hundreds of unarmed Indians who had gathered here to listen to their leaders were killed in what can be described as an act of madness. As you enter the park, you will see on the left side the Martyrs Well, locally known as Shaheedi Kuaan. Many people jumped into this well to save themselves from a rain of bullets being fired at them by British Army without any warning, and died. They had nowhere to escape as the entrance is very narrow, as you will notice when you are there, and British troops had blocked that entrance. Ahead of the well, you can see hundreds of bullet marks on the wall. Officially, the total death poll was put at 379, but it is said that more than 1500 people were killed here on that fateful day.

And now, Amritsari food
These mouth-watering dishes can make anyone feel hungry. It is heaven for food-lovers
Amritsar is famous for its food. It is in fact food-lovers’ paradise. The most famous of all recipes is Chhole Kulche. While you are in Amritsar, you must have them at any cost. There are a few good restaurants near Golden Temple where you can have Chhole Kulche. One more famous destination for food in Amritsar is Kundan Da Dhaba. It is near railway station. You can have really excellent food here.

Text and Photos by Naveen Choudhary

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Melaka Diary # 8 : Jewels Here and There

While you are in Melaka, you always have something to do, see or experience. In nutshell, Melaka, sort of, gets on you. Even a leisure walk through clean and spotless lanes or sipping coffee or beer in one of those cafes in and around Jonker Street is refreshing and occupying. But there are some attractions, which a visitor must not miss. In my previous diaries, I have discussed in detail about many aspects of this quiet town and covered almost everything a traveller must see or do while being in Melaka. And, in this last diary of mine about Melaka, I am going to talk in brief about some of the tourist attractions or places that have yet not been covered.

Heritage Trail and the New City
New area just south of Menara Taming Seri... built on reclaimed land
The part of Melaka that has been demarcated as heritage city can be experienced by following a sign-posted trail. It is the older part of Melaka which is quite compact, but it can boast of having almost all the cultural and historical attractions. Outside the boundaries of Heritage city lie the newer sections of Melaka, which are very much planned. Just across the waterfront and near the sea shore, there is an area built on reclaimed land. Suddenly you come across broad roads and symmetrically built buildings. This is quite a different sight than what you encounter while roaming in older section. It is this new city which has most of the shopping centres and malls, and is also bustling with very good restaurants and food joints, and also many entertainment centres.

Menara Tamang Seri
If you wish to have a bird’s eye view of Melaka city and the sea beyond its boundaries, then you must go to Menara Tamang Sari. It is named after a magical weapon named Tamang Seri, which is said to have been possessed by Melakan warrior Hang Tuah. By spending just RM 20 as ticket price, you can have a 360-degree panoramic view of Melaka and the strait from atop this 110-metre high tower. As the revolving observation cabin goes up the shaft, you feel excitement building inside you. It is quite a new attraction in Melaka; it was installed only four years ago… and it is the only gyro-tower in Malaysia till date. It is situated on Jalan Merdeka and at a short walk from waterfront. You can see this tower from St. Paul’s Hill when you happen to look towards the sea. It is around 7-minute ride but it is worth having the experience.

Eye on Melaka
It is 25-metre high Ferris wheel on the banks of Melaka river. When you walk up the river, it is on the left bank near Jalan Hang Tuah Bridge and opposite old Cathay Cinema. The wheel has 16 pods and each can accommodate five persons at one time. It also offers stunning views of the areas nearby from the highest point of wheel, particularly during night time. It is truly a sight to behold. There are two other attractions too- a pirate ship and a trampoline bungee. Ticket price for each of these attractions is RM 5. During night time, the whole area is lit with neon lights. One can have a lovely view of this place while going up on a boat-ride in the river.

The Duck Tour
This is land-and-sea adventure offered on an old military amphibian vehicle. You can’t miss a bright yellow vehicle- shaped as a duck- moving on the roads of Melaka. One can enjoy a ride on this vehicle by buying a ticket at RM 38. The tickets are available at Menara Tamang Seri, and this duck-bus starts from just outside the Menara. It is about 60-minute ride and is open from 9 AM to 6 PM. The ticket sale counter closes at 5 PM. The duck tour offers glimpses of historical sites and monuments while it moves on land, and of Straits of Melaka while moving in sea. It is quite an experience to have.

Islands nearby
There is a cluster of islands near Melaka, which can be accessed by boat. Pulau Besar is the largest of these islands and it offers sandy beaches and many types of fun activities to its visitors. The second largest one is Pulau Upeh, which is far quieter as compared to Pulau Besar. It is sort of a getaway for nature-lovers. Here visitors can have an opportunity to see Hawksbill Sea Turtles. And just to add in the end- in Malay language, a Pulau means an island.

Text and Photos by Ajay Garg

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