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, May 15, 2012

Postcards from Bewitching Gulmarg

Gulmarg is a hill station and a popular skiing destination in Kashmir region of India. The name literally means 'Meadow of Flowers'. It was once described by CNN as 'the Heartland of Winter Sports in India', and was a candidate as venue for Commonwealth Winter Games in 2010.

Here, the beauty of Gulmarg is depicted through pictures. These pictures are of two seasons. Savour the snow-clad mountains in winter and pleasant warmth and serenity of nature in late summers. It is just 52 kms from Srinagar and is situated at an average elevation of 2690 metres. The approach time from Srinagar by car or taxi is two hours.

All these pictures are by Ambreen Zaidi

Mesmerizing Winters
A plain mass of land flanked by mountains makes Gulmarg ideal for winter sports
Tourists from all over the world choose Gulmarg as one of their destinations
Even in winters, one can see patches of land here and there peeping through snow
Terrace farming is abundant in Kashmir. The area is known for saffron cultivation 
All set on the start line... Surely, some spectacular skiing is on the cards 

Enchanting Summers
View from top of the surrounding mountains can be stunning and breathtaking
Gulmarg has some beautiful landscapes and mountains in and around
The best way to savour the beauty of Gulmarg area is a rope way trip
Get as close to nature as you can, and take non-erasable imprints home
A mix of nature and machine... it is variety of scenes that attracts in Gulmarg

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Little Tibet Of India

Prayer flags adorn most of the buildings in the little town of McLeod Ganj
The little town of McLeod Ganj may be a thriving tourist destination that lures in more foreigners than Indians, but to the many Tibetans who live here, it’s their home. Visit this unexpectedly charming town brimming with warm people, and indulge in the vibrant display of their rich culture.

As an enthusiastic traveller, I’ve often wondered what the best way to explore a destination would be. Should I do detailed research about it so that I know what to expect once I reach there? Or should I just jump in headfirst and head there without a plan? Well, for McLeod Ganj, I chose the latter. So here I was, heading up the narrow road from Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj on a cold Tuesday evening in March. Evening turned into night as I arrived at the bus stand. With no hotel booking in place, I set off, lugging along my heavy backpack, to look for a room. Four different hotels and no vacant room. Without a choice, I walked on to Bhagsu, 2 kms. away, and finally found a place to spend the night: Hotel Sangam, with basic rooms at a reasonable price of Rs. 400 for a double-bedroom, a balcony and a hot shower.
A breath-taking view of the Dhauladhar mountain range clad in snow
I woke up early the next day after a good night’s sleep, ordered tea and headed to the balcony to see what I’d missed at night. There in the distance stood the powdered white nose of the Dhauladhar mountain range. I sat there gazing till I heard the bell-boy banging on the door waiting outside with the tea. I got ready and decided to walk to McLeod Ganj, instead of taking a rickshaw.
Didgeridoos (a musical instrument of Australian Aborigines made from a long wooden tube that is blown into to create a low drone) sold in the local market
The route is flanked by cedar and oak trees; many strung with colourful prayer flags. I passed by a cafe jutting out of the road towards the ravine and mysteriously called ‘Last Chance - do not miss pleasant view from here’. Plus points for creativity! A series of shops cropped up as I neared McLeod Ganj, mostly selling Tibetan souvenirs. But there was one store that stood out. Called Rosa ‘n Tosh’s Artistic Shop, it featured the works of artists who specialize in abstract psychedelic paintings. Upon reading McLeod Ganj, I spotted a stall selling a wide variety of didgeridoos. There was one box-shaped didgeridoo with a Cannabis leaf painted on it that caught my eye, but its price made me look away soon enough.

After all the walking, my stomach pleaded for some respite, so I headed to Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen - highly recommended by my handy guidebook. Bright chrome-coloured walls decked with movie posters dominated the decor, while Masala Omelette, toast and pancakes made for a hearty breakfast. Sipping on a hot cup of coffee, I discovered that the restaurant- which also had a great terrace with a view- also hosted movie screenings occasionally.

Onto Temple Road
The monastery inside Tsuglagkhang complex in McLeod Ganj
Monasteries emanate a sense of calm that always urges one to just go inside and sit in complete silence. I did just that at the monastery inside Tsuglagkhang complex. It was completely vacant, but for one devotee who sat there with prayer beads in his hand. Besides the monastery, the complex also contains the Dalai Lama's residence, a temple and a museum. The complex is comparable in function to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, said one of the young monks I met. as he pointed to a painting of the palace that covers the exterior of the monastery. Surrounding it is a meditation trail lined with many shrines and prayer flags that pilgrims circle through in a clockwise direction, while offering a prayer.
Peace march in McLeod Ganj led by natives and foreigners alike, commemorating the completion of their 50-year struggle to free Tibet from Chinese rule
In 1960, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatsho, was permitted to make McLeod Ganj his headquarters. This led to the influx of Tibetan refugees who settled here and shaped it as a learning centre for Buddhism and Tibetan culture. People come here from all parts of the globe to uncover their spiritual curve, whereas some come here as volunteers to help Tibetans fight their battle to regain their land. It amazes me that they’ve spent 50 years fighting this battle only using the path of peace, without resorting to any alternative methods, and their patience still perseveres. Every monk I passed by on the streets and every local I interacted with greeted me with a smile. No sign of pain, no sign of doubt and no sign of weariness creeping in even after 50 years.

On Hunger Trail
My food trail was largely ruled by the quest to find the best momos. After a few experiments, I found the yummiest momos at Snow Lion, located at Jogibara Road. Their steamed vegetable momos were just delicious; and against better judgement, I devoured two whole plates. I also gorged on a yummy banana chocolate crepe and a piece of chocolate cake. They just looked at me so invitingly; I couldn’t resist! By dinner, I was in the mood for good ol’ Indian food, so I headed to Ashok restaurant, located at the end of Jogibara Road. A great roof-top view and some paneer tikka masala and naan for company; I couldn’t have asked for more.
Inside a coffee shop. Some of the coffee shops are more of traveller's cafe'
If you are a coffee lover, you’ve come to the right place. McLeod Ganj is replete with coffee shops, most of which offer indoor and outdoor seating and serve good quality coffee with numerous accompaniments. My trail led me to four cafes: Moonpeak Espresso and Mandala Coffee House that lie adjacent to each other on Temple Road; Coffee Talk, which is close to the Tsuglagkhang complex; and First Cup Café, located en route from Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj . The coffee mugs there are just as large as the ones made popular by television sitcom Friends. Wait, it gets better. The prices attached to these large mugs were very tiny. On an average, a regular latte cost only Rs. 40!  Some of these cafes even had a significant collection of books that customers can read while enjoying their coffee.

Giving in to shopping
On the last peg of my journey, I scanned the streets, only to find the usual suspects: apparel, shoe and handicraft shops. Then came the ethnic jewellery shops. Aside from colourful gemstone necklaces and beaded bracelets, there were pendants with Tibetan writing scribbled on them, and some that bore miniature paintings. There were several shops that sold authentic Tibetan wares. Thangkas, mini prayer wheels, prayer flags, T-shirts and bags bearing the Tibetan flag, statues of the Buddha, incense sticks and many more curios that one can take back home as souvenirs. I was particularly interested in the prayer flags. I expected to get cheaper rates in a small town like this, but the prices were rather high and bargain tolerance as good as nil. However, women somehow find a way to get what they want, don’t they? So did I.

McLeod Ganj  isn’t exactly a touristy place, but if you’re hoping to find yourself in a place that is cosy, content and lively, then this is your best bet.

How to get there
The nearest airport is at Gaggal, approximately 17 kms. from Dharamsala. The nearest rail-head is Kangra, which is on a narrow gauge railway that runs between Pathankot and Jogindernagar. Pathankot is situated on Delhi-Udhampur rail section and is a major station. From Pathankot, it is a three-hour road journey to Dharamsala, and from Kangra it is a half an hour road journey. From Dharamsala, it is a short bus journey to McLeod Ganj. Buses also ply daily from Delhi to Dharamsala. One can book Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation buses or private buses through a travel agent. Best time to visit McLeod Ganj is from May to October.

Text and Photos by Ruchika Vyas 
of Traveller Stories

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Delhi at Dawn, Dusk and Night

As seen from ITO bridge.. road towards Akshardham
Lovely hues and colours at dawn at India Gate
A 15-second exposure shot at India Gate
A long shot of Akshardham at sun-set
Indraprastha Park looks no less captivating than other sights
A closer view of Indraprstha Park from another angle
This is how the Cannaught Place looks at night time
The Lotus Temple.... a meeting point for followers of Baha'i faith
Lotus temple at dawn
A quite and religious morning at the Lotus Temple
Sunset time near a building inside Red Fort
The golden look of Akshardham Temple
An all-illuminated India Gate
These are the lights responsible for illuminating India Gate at night
Fountain near India Gate.... It reminds of a setting of a Europen town
The setting may look European but the scene is very much Indian
All Photos by Naveen Choudhary

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Comic Tour of Tintin Land

To every comic lover the name Tintin brings an exciting feeling. Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Adventures of Tintin- The Secret of the Unicorn’ released last year might have renewed interest in Tintin’s country and even inspired a few to be there. Surely, whether you love comics or chocolates, Belgium is a traveller’s delight. And, it certainly has a lot more to offer.

Belgium is the country which gave birth to Tintin. Capital Brussels is fondly called as capital of Tintin by comic lovers around the globe. No wonder, Tintin has the stature of the world’s best-known Brussels resident. But then, comics in Belgium is limited not just to Tintin, they also have stars like Smurfs and they have a created a huge following of… no, not comic lovers but of comic strip writers. It’s statistically said that with more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometre than any other country in the world!
Streets in Bruges, called Venice of the North, are infused with artwork
Sculptures are scattered everywhere in Burges. It is an artistes' town.
But then, Brussels was the last stop in my Belgium trip, where my encounter with Tintin was destined. My tryst with Flemish art started well in Bruges during the boat ride in its canals for which it is also called as ‘Venice of The North’. I could see interesting sculptures and paintings along the waterway for full public view. I started enjoying the way art was mingled in the daily life of Flemish people. So much so that I even almost missed the setting of dog scene of the movie ‘In Bruges’. But luck was my way and I managed to catch that beautifully.
The Graffiti Street in Ghent, flowing with colourful graffiti all around
History is strewn on the streets of Ghent, but that too in comic form
But it was Graffiti Street in Ghent that I instantly fell in love with. Had googled about it before the trip and every search result had in fact brought impatient me to the fore. It was something I haven’t seen anywhere before. A street overflowing with all kind of colourful and expressive graffiti from top to bottom and start to finish, not just on the side walls but on the walkway itself. In it were some finest expressions of feelings, emotions, ideas and ideologies. I was fortunate enough to see some young artists at work. Perhaps it was also the playing ground for all budding comic strip artists of Belgium. The way different graffiti co-existed and were overwritten again and again, I couldn’t help thinking that it was where they were sowing the seeds of tolerance within the society.
Masqueraders on the roads of Antwerp fool you as well as impress you
Wow! These sculptures showcased in Antwerp are made of chocolate...
Antwerp was more of a happening city, often termed as fashion capital or the diamond capital. Here comic art was live and intriguing. You can find all kind of exhibitionists on roads- from pretty guitarists to masqueraders who can fool you (or rather impress you) with their Vincent Van Gogh look. Since Belgium is everything about chocolates, you can find all types of experiments done with them from body paint to cartoon characters. In Neuhaus Chocolatier at Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert I found a whole range of Tintin comics packaged with chocolate boxes. Kids will just love it.
Okay.. Tell me which one is sculpted and which one is an artist posing
Tintin can be seen on the chocolates and also on their wrappers
It's a four-storey building and Tintin is coming down the ladder. Interesting!
Brussels’ comic museum is a huge draw for the tourists coming to Belgium. Every year more than 200,000 visitors come here to explore 4,200 square metres worth of permanent and temporary exhibitions. At the Belgian Comic Strip Center, you will witness the unusual marriage of the Ninth Art and Art Nouveau, two artistic forms of expression which have always been particularly cherished in Brussels. Besides Tintin, this kingdom of the imagination is home to some of Belgium's best-known comic strip heroes like Spirou, Bob and Bobette, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, Marsupilami, etc. They are one big happy family of paper heroes. Belgian Comic Strip Center has become the number one reference for comic strip lovers. It is also a modern research centre that boasts of more than 40,000 titles (albums and theoretical works) in more than 20 languages.
Sidewalls of buildings in Brussels have comic scenes drawn on them
But then, as in other cities of Belgium, in Brussels too, comics are not just limited to Comic Strip Centre. Going down the Stoffstraat towards the Manneken Pis, you may find comic scenes drawn across the whole height of sidewall of a four and five-storey residential buildings and in one of them I even found Tintin coming down a four-storey ladder. Of course, when it comes to comics and Tintin you will never escape them when you are in Belgium.

Well Connected
Brussels is one of the most well-connected European cities from India. There are direct daily flights from all the four metros to Brussels. Once in Brussels, whole of Belgium is well-connected through roads. Driving there is fun through the countryside- a typical European lush green. Brussels to Bruges was just a few hours’ drive; and then Bruges to Ghent, Ghent to Antwerp and Antwerp to Brussels, every bit of this trip was worth enjoying.

Text and Photos by Upendra Swami

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