The Thai Way

Couldn’t have gifted myself a better end to 2017 than a Thailand trip. 2017 has been a year of travel for me, of which Seychelles and Thailand will top the list without an iota of doubt. Earlier I thought I was equally inclined towards mountains and beaches but now that’s beginning to change and I feel I am more of a waterbaby. Thailand will also be memorable for ticking an important thing off the bucket list: SCUBA DIVING. Yes, I finally dived in the middle of a beautiful ocean only to be surrounded by colourful fishes. In this blog I will mostly be writing about the entire trip, where all I went and stayed. I will also be doing another post soon on all the cafes, restaurants I visited during the trip.

Day 1: Bangkok. We reached our hostel Here hostel in the heart of Bangkok city around 2 pm after a long journey only to crash in our cosy room for a while before we headed to explore some night markets and the city life. We wanted to take it slow and retire early so as to be fresh for the drive next day. Yes, Thailand has been a first legit road trip for us. My boyfriend and I drove to the different islands through road, at some places we had to ferry the car. It was a fun, tiring drive.

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Slide your way through hostel dorms at Here

We went to the popular Platinum Shopping Mall and the Saphan Phut Night Market in Bangkok as we wanted to stock up on some beach essentials. Platinum Mall has a lot of options for women and just one floor for men (that’s a pity) but you have to have the patience to scout the best shops and bargain for everything that you buy. There are some cute shops such as Moshi Moshi where you can buy things like headphones, neck pillows, stationery, mobile covers, hand bags etc. Saphan Phut is the street parallel to Platinum Mall and it had all kinds of stuff at half the price than inside the mall but the quality of clothes was rather ordinary and didn’t seem long lasting.

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After roaming the streets for a while, we wanted to have a good meal and while driving around in search of some eatery, we accidentally took a wrong route and ended up reaching Sukhumvit area through a toll road. Bangkok is full of toll roads and if you are not careful you will end up spending so much money on tollways. But I am glad we reached Sukhumvit cause we got to eat authentic pad thai noddles and a hot broth full of veggies at Tamnak Isan Ekamai where the meals are prepared by traditional Isan people of Thai region.

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Day 2: After having a sumptuous breakfast of waffle and fruits at Here (don’t miss the breakfast), we started our drive towards Hua Hin, which is touted to be a romantic destination in Thailand. We don’t know why but I guess the laid back vibe and the pleasant weather kind of makes everyone cosy. The weather in Hua Hin was cold as compared to Bangkok with cold winds and rains, for which we were unprepared for. The weather didn’t let us do anything except indulge in some refreshing massage. The location of our hostel was right in the heart of the busy street which was in proximity to all the popular cafes and restaurants. We walked to the night market on the evening we arrived and bought a bunch of stuff, including these really comfortable trainers for just 500 baht. The streets are lined with crepe and coconut stalls every few mins and that was our dinner for the evening.

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Jetty hostel in Hua Hin is a newly opened hostel and the owner Cap, being an architect has designed the interiors himself. In the entrance lobby are these beautifully designed suitcases that adorn the wall that he has cut from old suitcases of his grandmother. Throughout the hostel there are these pretty corners with wooden work. The view from the terrace is the uninterrupted ocean view.

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Day 3: We went to the historical Hua Hin railway station which is considered to be one of the attractions in the town. It’s a small station where hoards of tourists had gathered just to click pictures. A must visit if you enjoy old architecture.

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Pretty. Isn’t it?

Day 4: We started our drive to Krabi early in the morning around 9 am since it was a long 6-7 hours drive and we wanted to reach before sunset. We had a great breakfast at Velo cafe (more information on this in my next post) and headed straight to our next destination. The drive to Krabi is the most prettiest drive in the entire Thailand. We found ourselves driving amidst huge palm trees and limestone mountains that glow at night. We were staying in this beautiful guesthouse Aonang Guesthouse and the owner, Tin was really sweet to help us with kind suggestions and places to visit nearby to make the most of our limited stay. Again this guesthouse was very close to the popular sunset point at Ao Nang Beach and the entire market area in Krabi. On our first evening, we just walked to the market, had a nice meal at a cafe nearby and retired since we were tired after all the driving.

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Drive to Krabi

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View from Ao Nang Guesthouse

Day 5: We woke up and went to the popular hot springs which is an hour’s drive from Ao Nang. It’s advisable to rent a bike if you don’t have a personal mode of transport since cabs are quite expensive in Krabi. We thought that the Hot Springs will be crowded and full of people but when we reached there, we were surprised to find only few people. It’s located in a secluded place amidst a huge fancy property. There are these mini pools before the actual hot springs where you can start by dipping your feet and then once your body has gotten used to the temperature, you can proceed to immersing yourself in the pool. It’s really fascinating as to how a certain part of the pool is warm and then the lower bottom where the water opens is cold. It’s also advisable not to be in the warm water for a prolonged period since it can drain you.

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A mini warm pool

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Hot Spring

We were here for a good two-three hours before we arrived at Ao Nang beach for the beautiful sunset.

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Ao Nang Beach

Day 6: We left Ao Nang shortly after breakfast to start our drive towards Donsak from where we had to take a ferry to Koh Samui. The ferry port at Donsak is huge and beautiful. We had to wait there for an hour for our ferry. We managed to reach Koh Samui only by late evening and the hostel where we were supposed to stay (P168) missed our booking and we were transferred to another hotel which was on the party street of Chaweng Beach in Samui.

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Donsak Raja Ferry port

We went to party at the famous Ark Bar on Chaweng beach. I really enjoyed being there. The music, fire show and the vibe was really good.

Day 7: We moved to another hostel Chill In near Lamai beach in Samui and before heading there we had one of the best breakfasts of our trip at Tanya’s cafe. Chill In hostel was situated right at the beach and during evenings and early mornings, the waves used to hit the edge of the parapet. On our way to the hostel, we passed this beautiful viewpoint from where you could see the entire ocean and it was a pretty sight. We spent the day chilling at the hostel and playing some interesting card games with fellow hostel mates.

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The Viewpoint

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Chill In hostel

Day 8: This was New years eve day and we wanted to rest it out as much as we could so as to be all pumped up for the night. We were going for the full moon party to Koh Phangan. We paid 2300 baht for a couple that would take us by a speedboat to Phangan and bring us back at any time in the wee hours. The speedboat ride was quite bumpy and we were glad to have made it alive. The full moon beach was crowded with thousands of people and it was difficult to even walk your way to the beach. I don’t think I will ever be back to a full moon party because one has to be completely drunk to enjoy these kind of parties and I realised that it’s not my thing.

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Day 9: We had an early morning ferry to catch to Koh Tao, which was going to be our last island destination for the trip and we were particularly very excited because we were going to be diving for the first time ever. Koh Tao is a relatively smaller island as compared to the rest of them that it almost feels like a small town/ village. There might not be as many 7 Elevens (a popular supermarket chain in Thailand. You’ll find them every few metres wherever you go) in Koh Tao as there are diving schools. We just relaxed the day we arrived as we were very tired from partying the earlier night so we just walked around, had thai food at a popular restaurant right next to our hostel. We were staying at a great hostel, The Dearly hostel in Koh Tao. I think it’s the biggest hostel in Koh Tao, also walking distance from the ferry pier. It is huge, spacious and has clean rooms.

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Day 10: And the D- day was here. I had contemplated diving so much only because I was suffering from a severe toothache which was making it very difficult for me to even talk but the people at Ozone Diving School assured me that if I did everything slowly, it wouldn’t affect and since I was in Koh Tao to dive, I couldn’t have not done it. We arrived at the diving school at 11 in the morning and our instructor, a South American guy now living in Thailand explained us few basics before we left to go to the island. He was a sweet and motivating instructor and it’s important to have a good instructor who will just motivate you to have fun under water. We went to another island Koh Nangyuan to dive, which is an extremely beautiful island.

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As usual, we were having the pre-dive jitters like everyone does and since there were too many things to remember, we kept clarifying them again and again before we actually jumped. While wearing the suit and the gear before the dive, the oxygen cylinder that goes on your back is the heaviest and jumping with that weight was quite scary but if you follow the instructions it’s pretty simple. Once we jumped, I was like that’s it? Is that all we had to do.  The marine life underwater is absolutely breathtaking. From beautiful shaped corals to different varieties of fish ranging from angelfish to barracuda, neon damsels, parrotfish, horsefish etc. I saw all kinds of fishes at Japanese Gardens in Koh Nangyuan. It is considered to be one of the best diving destinations in the world. No wonder there are tons of diving schools in Koh Tao and each school is equally competitive than the other. After doing this try dive, I am very sure of going for a full fledged diving course so that I can dive anywhere in the world.

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Enjoying the sunset post diving

Day 11: We were on the road the entire day driving back to Bangkok which was in all a 16 hours journey, two ferry rides over 4 hours and then 11 hours of driving. It was the longest and tiring drive of our lives. We finally reached the Yard Hostel in Bangkok late in the night. This is another hostel which is beautiful. They serve basic yet filling breakfast in the morning and they have this fancy burger place in their premises, Paper Butter which is famous for their charcoal burgers.

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Day 12: This was the final day of our trip which was spent shopping on the streets of Bangkok, buying gifts for family and friends.

Some tips if you are planning a Thailand trip:

  1. One mistake we did was not calculate the distances between two destinations and in the process when we reached a certain place we were so exhausted by the end of the it that we just wanted to crash. And eventually we were left with just one day or one and a half day to spend in that place.
  2. One thing I learnt the hard way was: never ever forget to carry your medication. Although you get the basic paracetamol tablets there but antibiotics are difficult to find and they are very expensive.
  3. It’s better to have your own mode of transport since taxis around islands is expensive so once you take a ferry to a certain island, just hire a bike. We hired a car from the airport since we wanted to do a road trip and it still proved to be extremely cost effective.
  4. There are great hostels in Thailand, one of the best I have experienced so far in any country. So don’t waste money on hotels, stay in hostels while in Thailand.
  5. Stay in each island for atleast 3-4 days so as to enjoy it to the fullest.
  6. Lastly: eat local. Thai food is one of the best cuisines in the world.

 

 

All images © Kainat27

Vino Weekend

Recently, my girlfriends and I got the chance to take off during the long Diwali weekend and we wanted to go for a quick short trip. After some considerable research of places to go near Mumbai, we finally zeroed on Sula Vineyards in Nashik. I was really excited for this since I had only heard about the vineyards and seen pretty pictures of it online or on friends’ social media feeds. This place is famous for the Sula fest that takes place during the harvest season in February every year. We had booked a hotel near the vineyards. We left on Saturday morning in a rented cab and checked in to our hotel at 3 pm. We quickly got ready and rushed to Sula since we wanted to finish the vineyard trip and head to another nearby winery, Soma to see the sunset as a lot of people had written about pretty sunset views from Soma.

When we reached Sula, it suddenly felt like some fair. It was crowded and like how. There was hardly any place to walk in that huge property. We were really disappointed and decided to directly head to Soma and do the wine tour the next morning before heading back. Soma, on the other hand was empty and pleasant to explore. We directly headed to the terrace restaurant since we were there mainly for two things- wine and sunset, both of which were quite a delight.

 

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Sunset from Soma Vineyard

 

The wine at Soma was quite nice. They had the Chenin Blanc Dessert which was a mixture of peach, dried apricots with lushness of melon and pineapple. It had the perfect balance of sour and sweet with an after taste of apple-honey which made it absolutely palatable. They have another variant in this: the Dessert Sauvignon Blanc which is high in its acidic content with more of pineapple flavour. We spent the entire evening at Soma, drinking wine, walking around the vineyard before calling it a night.

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Next morning, we made sure we reached Sula at 10.30 am (that’s when it opens) so that we get to do the wine tour before the crowd pours in. For spice lovers, there’s a very famous restaurant near Sula, called Sadhana Restaurant where you get charcoal made misal (lentil stew) which is loaded with spice, so much so that my friends had to pour bowls of curd in it to douse the spice. Our wine tour started at 11.30 am, before which we were touring Sula vineyards, which is a huge property. It has an open amphitheatre where the festival takes place, surrounded by lush green gardens.

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From understanding the entire process of grape harvest to what kind of grapes go in making each kind of wine to holding a wine glass properly followed by a finale of wine tasting, the tour was quite enjoyable, so to speak. There were a few myth busters as well like how wine should not be stored for years. It starts to oxidise which eventually makes it completely sour and inedible to drink. Also the fact that Champagne is Champagne. No other brand can use that name. Just like you cannot call France as India, you cannot call sparkling wine Champagne in India. Champagne is the name of a village in France and that’s how the sparkling wine that’s made there is called that.

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Cylindrical tanks in which wine is made

In all we tasted six different kinds of wine: white, red, rosé sparkling wine (my favourite) and three other types of red wine which were late harvest and hence dry in taste.

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Obviously a vino trip is incomplete without wine bottles, so I ended up buying tonnes of bottles to stock them for all the upcoming year end celebrations. Before coming here, I was not sure how the place is going to be cause Nashik is still an orthodox developing town but the vineyards felt like a different world altogether. A must visit place. In fact I plan to visit there again specially during the harvest season between December to March so that I can also do some grape stomping. Will be a lot of fun, I am sure 🙂 Till then happy vining guys!

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All images © Kainat27

Paragliders Paradise

It’s been a while since I wrote about my getaways although I have taken a couple of them in the last few months. Recently, a friend of mine went to Himachal on a backpacking trip without any agenda and ended up in this village Bir Billing, which is famous for paragliding for almost ten days doing random things with the villagers there and had amazing stories to share. And that was when I thought, this could be the perfect place to escape from all the work pressure that drives me insane here in Mumbai. To tell you the truth, this has been one of my budget friendly trips in a long time.

Bir is a two hour drive from Dharamshala. Since I couldn’t get cheap flight ticket to Dhramshala due to India New Zealand ODI, I decided to go via Delhi as I am also not a big fan of spending hours in buses. It makes me sick. So I got a cheap return airfare to Delhi and from there I took a train to Pathankot. There are trains from Chandigarh as well but I preferred Delhi. From Pathankot, Bir was a 4 hour drive (around 145 kms) and since my train reached Pathankot in the wee hours of morning, I reached Bir at 7 am. While boarding a taxi, its important to negotiate with the driver so as to reach the best price possible and if you have people sharing with you, boom! Staying in hostels has become an integral part of my travel so even this time I stayed at Zostel Bir. It’s a recently opened property and definitely one of the best.

Zostel at Bir is run by two engineers who quit their jobs to pursue their passion and love for creating an eco friendly vacation getaway. They plan to extend the idea to encourage corporates to plan meetings integrated with vacation for families in an interesting way.

The food at Zostel is delicious especially their parathas, omlettes and daal. They have a cool lounge like setup on the terrace where one could enjoy the sunset with piping coffee or tea admiring clear sky changing hues over the green mountains.

There isn’t much to do post sunset in mountains. That is the time when you engage in interesting conversations with the locals, hear stories of other fellow travellers, enjoy some drinks with strangers before retiring in the comfortable dorm beds at the hostel. The hostel is reasonably priced, boasts good cleanliness and hygiene.

Next day, I rented a bicycle and rode uphill to a monastery. It was physically exhausting as the route was narrow and full of curves. There were times when the incline was so steep that I couldn’t peddle after a point and used to start sliding down, so I had to get down and walk. Once I reached the monastery, the feeling of achievement was thrilling and the place was grand so to speak. It is one of the biggest training institutes for monks in Asia and quite heartening to see them pray and share a glimpse of their routine with strangers.

Next on the agenda was paragliding. I have never ever done any aerial adventurous sport before and there were butterflies in my tummy before I went for my jump. There’s a pilot who accompanies you on the jump. I can’t really explain the feeling in words but the initial couple of minutes that I was in air, I was just smiling throughout and talking to the vast universe which embraced me in its warmth. It was cold up there and my pilot was worried since I wasn’t shouting or exclaiming, which could be a common form of expression for others. But little did he know that I was happy and it was a great feeling within. Towards the last lap of my landing, I was actually starting to feel sick because if you are going to do paragliding with the expectation of thrill then it might just disappoint you. It’s more meditative than adrenaline.

After Bir, I descended down to Mcleodganj. Although in hindsight, I wish I could’ve stayed at Bir a little longer as you start gelling in the vibe of the place only after two-three days and by the time I had started enjoying the calmness around me, it was time to leave. Mcleodganj was a sudden plan as I was joining a few friends there but I know I will be back to Bir soon. The only cafe I went to in Bir was Silver Lining cafe and fortunately I was their first customer. The guy there makes amazing cafe mocha. Make sure you guys try it out when you’re there.

Mcleodganj was commercial and surrounded by tourists. It’s good for shopping and cafes. Thanks to international travellers there has been an increase in the number of cafes at such places in the last 2-3 years. I stayed at this hotel called Zambala and it was a decent hotel. The room was clean, nice and comfortable. And since it was in the centre of the city, we could just walk to the nearby places. Some of the favourite cafes that I went to are:

1. Shambhala restaurant: they are good with their breakfast and coffee but I didn’t quite enjoy the food there especially their momos. They were huge and didn’t taste as good as the ones you get on the street. Personally, one should go for the street side momos rather than the restaurant ones. Shambhala did have good thukpa though.

2. Illiterati Cafe: I went here twice and I must admit that it is one of the best cafes I’ve ever been to. It’s a huge cafe integrated with a bookstore and a mini terrace kind of setting. Fortunately I was there during full moon day and I could witness the moonrise from behind the mountains illuminating our tiny table with its full might. Everything on their menu is droolworthy, be it coffee, sandwiches or burger.

3. Moonpeak Espresso: another favourite cafe of mine for breakfast. It’s a tiny cafe located in a busy shopping lane. A must try for coffee and chicken sandwiches.

4. Shiva cafe: one of the most popular cafes of India, to be honest I was a bit tad underwhelmed by it. Firstly, it’s located on top of a mountain so the trek is literally exhausting and then the food (not that I tried anything fancy) is nothing to rave about either. It’s just the location that attracts people and the not-so-great view from the top. The only good thing was the fresh mountain water from the tap which you’ll need after the tiring steep trek!

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5. McLlo: perhaps the most famous Indian restaurant in the entire Mcleoganj only cause it has host the cricket team from India and elsewhere. The entire place is full of photos of all the popular cricketers with the owner and the food was just like any other Indian restaurant but the apple cider beer is something that could be given a try there. Good place to drink and chill with friends.

There is also a small village Nadi near Mcledoganj city where we took a cab while going and because we wanted to enjoy the sunset, we trekked all the way down from the valley. It was a beautiful little trek and I’d advise you to try it too. You’ll find the descending walk down the narrow green valley exciting and peaceful.

This was perhaps one of my most commercial hill experience, barring Bir ofcourse. In my next blog, I’ll write about my experience of Leh Ladakh where I went in July this year.

All Images © Kainat27

The city to be: Udaipur

From someone who hasn’t visited Udaipur even once all her life to being who has been to Udaipur almost thrice in the last five months, Udaipur has become one of the places where I can just be. For someone, who has the option of going to Goa due to its proximity to Bombay, Udaipur has definitely become one of the places where I can simply relax and lay back.
My first time was during New Year’s Eve when I wanted to escape the maddening chaos of Mumbai and enjoy the weather at its best. Contrary to what I imagined Udaipur wasn’t cold at all (it was almost 30 degrees) but it definitely was a pleasant experience.

I stayed at a hostel called Bunkyard which is perhaps the best hostel I’ve stayed so far. It had just opened in December and I was one of their initial guests. From being centrally located to extending the best service and hospitality, Bunkyard felt absolutely like home! Also my interaction with people from different countries over evening tea that Bunkyard organises everyday over sunset was something different and to look forward for.

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Sunset view of Udaipur from Bunkyard

Inside Bunkyard there’s this long curtain kind of hanging depicting flags of countries from where people have visited since the time it opened, which I thought was quite cool.


As far as places to visit are concerned, following places will be among my recommendations:
– City palace: it’s interesting to simply visit the huge palace for its grandeur and history.


– Bagore Ki Haveli: my best pick cause I enjoyed this puppet and dance show by cultural troupes of Rajasthan thoroughly and it takes place everyday between 7-8 PM and 8-9 pm. You have to go there in the evening between 5 pm- 6 pm to book tickets. Since, I wasn’t aware of this and went there only before the show, I managed to find a standing place in the end.

– Grasswood cafe: the best cafe I explored during my stay. The cafe is managed by an Indian couple who serve great brewed coffee and an amazing range of breakfast. And more than that the fact that the owner himself cooks everything fresh, the wait for the food is completely worth it. A must visit cafe.

– Jheel Ginger cafe: another interesting cafe in the lane next to Grasswood, Jheel Ginger cafe is located right next to the lake that makes it a place to spend some serene lone time by yourself. They also have pretty amazing coffee and some small bites. But if you wish to sit and read or spend good time with your loved one, this is the place to be. The view of the lake from Ginger cafe is gorgeous.


– Savage Garden: another interesting cafe run by an Italian expat is pretty looking and the food was good too. A lot of foreigners frequent this place and it has been one of the top rated cafes in Udaipur. I ordered for a mushroom Ravioli and it was yum as hell. Haven’t eaten such a good ravioli in ages. For a beautiful blue surrounding and some great Italian food, this is a must visit place.

 

-Ayurvedic massage: yes you read it right. Udaipur is full of lanes luring tourists for a relaxing Ayurvedic massage. I bargained for a reasonable price and had the best one hour of the time the masseuse had to offer.

Udaipur is a shoppers paradise. The place has lanes full of tiny shops selling stoles, sarees that have the famous Rajasthani Bandhej print on them, kurtas, salwar, bags made of camel leather. You have to be smart enough to bargain or else you might end up getting duped.

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If you are looking for a budget friendly travel, then my itinerary might come handy but if you are also looking at a lavish stay away from hustle bustle of the city for a relaxing getaway, you can check out Ramada hotel which is a little on the outskirts of the city (about 10 mins by road). It is a lovely, secluded property where you can have private time with your loved ones.

A place that I missed going during my three trips is Sajjangarh Fort (also known as Monsoon Palace) located on the top of a hill. It is a place one must visit to witness a beautiful sunset. There are these private vans that leave from the city palace everyday or if you are one of the adventurous kinds then you could hire a bike and trek all the way up.

Go,plan your Udaipur visit today. It is definitely worth a visit.

All images ©Kainat27

The Goan Holiday

Goa is synonymous with Las Vegas for Indians and it stands true to that identity since Goa is all about letting the fun side of you have an unimaginable time. I have been to Goa several times in the last few years, for both work and vacation in equal ratio. Most of the times, it has always been about visiting the same old stereotypical locations that almost every second tourist flocks to which kind of sickened me and I had started to despise the fact of visiting Goa for vacation fearing the crazy crowd. Until, this time when I had to visit Goa yet another time for work and was extending the trip by a couple of days cause I simply needed a break.

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The view from Marriott Goa

And I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday. I had gone to attend a film market as part of my work and was staying in the heart of Panjim near the casino hub. I have always wanted to visit a casino bar and during all my visits, I have never managed to. I stayed in a hostel called Zostel in Calangute. It is situated in a small unidentifiable corner of Calangute, not too far from the beach and just the perfect place in case you are looking for solitude and privacy. Zostel hosts backpackers from all over the world and is a great place for people to network and bond on the go. I have never stayed in a hostel before cause hygiene and clean surroundings is a big concern for me. But this was quite a surprise considering it has started only 2 months ago, this place is already giving other places a run for their money. But one thing the owners of the place are clear about is that Zostel is not meant for tourists, it is meant for backpackers and solo travellers who are looking at bonding with other people and having an experience. You got to try the place in order to believe me.

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Zostel, Goa

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The people at Zostel had told me that there were a couple of French cafes around Anjuna and they are a must try so the next day, I was at this quaint little cafe Artjuna which is hard to miss if you are speeding on your bike. It is one of those places where you can just chill and relax the entire day while gorging on yummy coffee and French croissant and hummus. Another cafe I went to was Baba AhRhum, the name feels completely Yogic but trust me once you reach there, you will fall in love with the place for what it is: the space, the decor, the food, surrounding and the feel. The cafe is run by a French couple who manage the entire chore of the place. It is a must visit if you are looking for some lone time and good food. Their speciality is croissant, crostinis and bagels.

Entrance of Artjuna

Entrance of Artjuna

Hummus platter at Artjuna

Hummus platter at Artjuna

 

 

 

 

 

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Baba AhRhum

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Baba Ganoush

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Chocolate Croissant at Baba AhRhum

Library in Artjuna

Library in Artjuna

 

After all the hogging, it was time to go to the beach and enjoy the cold waves by the feet. I chose the rarely frequented Morjim beach and Hard Rock Cafe was my go-to-shack. The water wasn’t that clean but it was isolated and I thoroughly enjoyed playing in the water. This was duly followed by ice cold Kings beer.

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Morjim beach

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My next stop was Thalassa in Vagator. I can swear by all the Gods, living and dead that this is perhaps the best place one must visit in Goa if they want to enjoy the most prettiest sunset of their life. You got to book this place in advance to get the best table by the beach view. I spent some 3 hours at this place sipping on some great Chatet Rose wine and lots of yummy food with feta cheese that added to the flavour. While I was lost in the tranquil of the vast ocean in front of me with the sun casting different hues over its surface, lot of people around me were so busy capturing pictures on their phones that they were missing out on the real beauty of the place. If you are looking at a place to unwind, then this got to be it.

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Uninterrupted view at Thalassa

I was keen on visiting Ashvem beach too which is another quiet beach in Goa but couldn’t cause it was time to return home. All the places I went to were located far away from the chaos of the city which I think makes them alluring and special.

In 3 days, I experienced a Goa that I hadn’t before and it indeed is one of the best travel highlights of 2015.

 

All images ©Kainat27

 

Europe Dream

Destination is never a big deal when travel is on cards. I can simply pack my bag and be ever ready for any sort of travel. And the journey only gets exciting when you are about to fulfill your Europe dream. Yes, I haven’t met a single person in my life who doesn’t harbour a Europe dream in their heart. The beauty and romance that lives in the atmosphere is yearned by all. There are times when certain places and people happen to you,  when you least expect them to. And that’s how my tryst with Europe happened. It all started with me having to attend the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ for a business trip, which got the excitement kicking and then at numerous occasions it got thwarted until I finally gave up and it really happened. I remember the jitters of excitement I had when I took off in the flight and the screen flashed the time to reach my destination- Paris!

I was there for about 10 days and explored Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Paris. I was in Cannes for about 6 days attended the world’s biggest film festival. Cannes is a beautiful village in South France and when I was there, the weather was pleasant and sunny. Although, I was told that it rains any time in Cannes but I did not experience anything like that throughout my stay. The place where I was staying was very close to the festival venue, in the proximity of Marriott. I had booked it through Airbnb. The first night I reached Cannes, I couldn’t sleep due to excitement and hence decided to walk by the waterfront and explore the nearby streets. Food is never a matter of concern, even when you’re travelling as a backpacker cause there are so many options by the streets- be it burger, fresh croissant or nutella crepe, yummy food options are available for a measly price of 2-3 euros. One food I fell in absolute love in Europe- croissant. I could eat it everyday. It was that fresh and tasty.

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Festival arena

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My next destination was Nice. It is only a half an hour train journey which cost me roughly about 10 euros.  Since I was in Nice only for a day as I had a train to Paris next morning, the only nearby town that I could explore was Monaco- Montecarlo, a village that appeared to be a film set, beautiful, delicate and enthralling. The day I went to Monaco, there was the Monaco Grand Prix and the town was kind of crowded but even then it was extremely pretty. There was this Prince’s Museum at the top of a hill which overlooked the entire Monaco harbour. There were these pretty little lanes that you usually find in movies with antique shops and painting exhibitions on the way. The best thing I love about Europe is the way the buildings and homes are constructed. The french windows and fresh flowers outside the window sills. I used to simply stand by and gaze at them.

Monaco harbour

Monaco harbour

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The pretty lanes of Monaco

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last destination and my favourite was Paris! The train journey from Nice to Paris was breathtaking, so to speak. Those 6 hours went by in a jiffy. All one can do is sit and admire the greenery, the magnificent mountains and the picturesque villages that pass by. In Paris, I booked a studio apartment again through Airbnb and it was very close to Charles de Gaulle train station. Eiffel Tower was just 20 minutes walking distance from the apartment. In fact, I got into the habit of walking a lot in Europe which I rarely get to continue in Bombay, considering the weather and space that our streets have to offer. There I could walk a good 15 kms everyday without even realizing cause the weather was so pleasant and the surroundings beautiful as hell.

There were so many tiny cafes and restaurant that I explored each one of them during every meal for the next 3 days I spent there. The first day I travelled in a metro in Paris, I was kind of lost since I couldn’t understand the station names that the operator pronounced. But once I got acquainted to the map and the routes which I had marked out on the map, my life became so much simpler. There are certain places which are accessible by metro, while for others, you need to change to train. Trust me, the maps are self explanatory.

I had to visit the Eiffel tower on the very same day I arrived in Paris, after all for me it is still one of the wonders of the world. It doesn’t look that charming from far but the moment you climb atop the humongous monument, you realize what a massive breathtaking view it has to offer of the entire Paris city. The day I went on top of the tower, it was extremely windy and cold. I couldn’t stay up for a long time but trust me it is one of the things you must experience in your life.

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Beauty by the night

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View from top floor of Eiffel tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louvre

Louvre

I didn’t feel the same for Louvre museum since I thought it was overrated thanks to the Mona Lisa painting. But it is a great place for students to study their history and culture from such proximity. I couldn’t shop much while I was there, although it is the world’s best fashion destination and also hell lot expensive at the same time. But Paris was a wonderful experience cause I travelled  outside India for the first time sans my folks. Although, the next time I go, I would like to visit more places and spend more time interacting with the locals but a solo trip is definitely liberating and a great life lesson in itself, especially when you miss your flight back to India with no money for food and water. But I came back with a horde full of memories to last me until the next time.

 

 

All images ©Kainat27

Travelogue Diaries- Part II

Jannat Ki Saer…

After trekking the cold, barren mountains of Leh, it was now time for me to descend (in terms of altitude) to the greener and pleasant part of Kashmir where weather Gods do not believe in following the conventional weather pattern because after all ‘Kashmir ka mausam aur Bombay ke fashion ka koi bharosa nahi.’ When we first landed at Srinagar airport it was quite bright and sunny outside but by the time we collected our baggage and decided to venture out in search of a cab, it started to rain heavily. This was the first glimpse of Srinagar for me. Even from the airport I could make out the lush green mountains which eagerly seemed to be calling out to me.

Finally after a long wait, we got a tour guide who offered to drop us to our house boat at Nigeen lake, a little further from Dal lake. I kept gazing out of the window of the car staring at the vast stretch of greenery and feeling the cold breeze slowly soothing my senses. We hadn’t prepared any itinerary for our 5 day stay in Kashmir but with the help of our tour guide we sort of sketched a rough plan to visit some of the famous places which until now I had seen only in famous Bollywood films. Nigeen lake is comparatively peaceful, clean and privy as compared to Dal Lake which is commercialized and crowded with fleet of shikaras all around. The most striking feature about the lake is that it is edged by willow and poplar trees whose reflection looks beauteous in the dark green waters of the lake. Once we reached Nigeen Lake, we had to take a shikara ride to our boathouse which was located in an isolated spot. Once there, we had two rooms to ourselves and the entire house boat was unoccupied so it nearly felt as if we were the sole owners of the boat.

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Nigeen Lake

 

 

Heavy rains welcome us to the ‘Paradise on Earth’.

 

Our boat house

Our boat house

Our very own private boat house. These house boats are made of Cedar wood, have multiple bedrooms, a dining area and a living room with carved furniture and warm Kashmiri rugs running across the entire flooring of the boat. The ambience inside the house boat is relaxing and soothing that you will feel as if you are staying in a luxury hotel. The beds are equipped with heating rods which can be manually adjusted depending on one’s comfort. Another speciality of staying in a house boat is that you don’t have to go the market, the market comes to you. Yes. A number of locals selling Kashmiri shawls, dresses and accessories will hover around your house boat, putting their marketing skills to use, trying to coax you to buy from them.

The day we arrived in Kashmir was spent relaxing in our spacious and cosy house boat admiring the weather and the gardens that made like a perfect scenery.

Day 1

Since we were staying in a convenient location in Srinagar, local sight-seeing was pretty accessible. We did not have to travel too far to the hundreds of gardens which occupy majority of the land in Srinagar, built by the famous Mughal emperors in fond memory of their loved ones. Our first destination was the Shankaracharya temple situated on the Zabarwan mountain range at a height of 1,000 ft. above plains, dedicated to Lord Shiva. There is a flight of some 120 odd steps that one needs to climb before reaching the top of the temple. What I loved the most about the temple was that it overlooks the entire city of Srinagar which seems like tiny, little bricks strung together with green stripes of land running in between.

Srinagar city as seen from Shankaracharya temple

Srinagar city as seen from Shankaracharya temple

Our next stop was the much hyped and praised Tulips Garden, which also happen to be the largest tulip garden in Asia. This huge garden is lined with multitudes of tulips in all possible colors, shades and sizes occupying the lush green landscape. It is believed that the gardens are inspired by the Tulip gardens of Switzerland where the famous Yash Chopra romance film Silsila, starring the charismatic Amitabh Bachchan and the stunning Rekha was shot. Unknowingly, one will start humming the song ‘Dekha ek khwaab toh yeh silsile huye’ spreading their hands wide open and smiling away to glory. The garden is open only from March to June post which the tulips are not compatible with the weather conditions.

Tulip Gardens

Tulip Gardens

This is just 10 percent of the garden (since that is what fit my frame). The entire garden is 4x the length captured here with colorful tulips lined along the array.

 

 

 

 

Kashmiri Willow

Kashmiri Willow

Famous Kashmiri willow tree from which cricket bats are made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2

Alas it was time to play in snow! Quite literally. The 2 hour drive to Sonmarg was extremely smooth lined with green valleys and rivers on both the sides. On my way I could see alpine and fir trees all around which are found in abundance here. Sonmarg forms the base camp for the holy Amarnath yatra. Since the highway was not yet open for vehicles to pass due to glaciers on the road, we had to trek all the way up to the snow clad mountains. Although, there was an option of hitching a ride on the pony but we decided otherwise since the road was not formidable and we could get to admire the mighty Sindh river flowing amidst the mountains. The road ahead joins NH1 highway going to Leh and one can go right till the the top once it is accessible to tourists from May onwards.

Sind river

Sind river in Sonmarg

Once we reached the top, we saw many people skiing and sledging in the vast stretch of thick glacier that enveloped us. I too tried sledging from a steep slope since the locals there make you sledge along a not-so- slopy surface which is not as much fun as doing it from the top is. Since the ice was now starting to melt, I kept slipping after every few meters which added to the much- needed entertainment for my family.

Thick glacier (sledging point)

Thick glacier in Sonmarg (sledging point)

My experience of Sonmarg was just the tip of the iceberg. Even amidst the crowd I felt my being at peace with the nature. There is so much more of this place that is yet unexplored, the stunning blue lakes and  dense forests that make for a perfect gateway  that I would definitely come back again to go right till the end of this golden meadow.

Day 3

Kashmir in itself is a romantic’s haven that it is very difficult to call any one spot more romantic than the other. All the places have a scenic divinity of their own and you can never choose a favorite among these. My next stop was a place that boasts of having ‘Mini Switzerland’ as one of its numerous attractions. It is one of the favorite locations of Bollywood directors. And hence I was curious to explore what Pahalgam looked like. The transport rules are quite whacked out in Kashmir. Whichever tourist spot you go to, you have to hire the local transport there to see the places around and you cannot take your respective taxi (even if it is from J&K). Since the way leading up to Mini Switzerland is quite rocky and the terrain is treacherous, we were advised to hitch a pony ride who would take us to the top. And believe me it was the wisest thing to do. The road ahead starts getting steeper and muckier promising you an absolute bumpy ride.

My pony though was quite smart. He apparently disliked muck and therefore made sure to walk along the edges of the valley (which always made my heart skip a beat) but eventually I became comfortable with him. The pony owner who was guiding the pony gave me Kashmiri lessons throughout our ride which made the journey interesting and I was also able to navigate my pony by giving him instructions in Kashmiri.

Pahalgam valley as seen from the top

Pahalgam valley as seen from the top

Mini Switzerland or Baisaran as it is called in Kashmir was a vast expanse of green landscape which was covered with snow in places. One could do zorbing there and for people like me who love to admire the beauty around them could make do with a cup of Kashmiri Kahwah which is a sweet tasting energizing herbal beverage that is prepared by boiling green tea leaves along with saffron strands and cardamom pods giving it a rich aroma of both the ingredients.

Baisaran or Mini Switzerland

Baisaran or Mini Switzerland

Kahwa chai

Kahwah chai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4

We extended our stay in Pahalgam by another day since we had time on us to lay back and enjoy the pleasant rainy weather out there. Both the days I was in Pahalgam, the weather was at its best, breezy and cool while we were out and rainy when indoors. This time we were to visit the picturesque Betaab valley which owes its name to the famous Bollywood film Betaab starring Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh that was shot there. Betaab Valley is some 15 kms drive from Pahalgam surrounded by thick dense forests all around and Lidder river gushing through the snow capped mountains which is an ideal spot for river rafting in summers.

I am sure at other times one must be able to admire the green forests inside the valley but while I was there it was raining and the entire valley was covered in snow. It seemed like a perfect stretch of walk (just like they show in movies) where I was walking on the narrow walkway with snow all around me, trying to balance myself from the slippery melting snow.

Betaab Valley

Betaab Valley

Since there were pine trees around us my mother and I picked up tiny branches of pine trees in the pursuit to try our redundant artistic skills on it once home. But again these are the small little things that would remind me of this beautiful place when I am sulking about my monotonous city life.

 

 

 

Day 5

It was time to visit the last and the final place on our Kashmir itinerary and I can say that it was the best place I have visited so far in my life. The trip to Gulmarg is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, the pleasure of experiencing snowfall for the first time in my life was indescribable. I had become a 6 year old kid who gets fascinated when they discover a new toy and the excitement that follows thereafter. Also, the cottage that we were staying in was an isolated private cottage away from the market and commercial establishments on top of a hill. When we reached Gulmarg the weather was pleasant and I could see the green coniferous trees standing out amidst the off-piste deep powder snow but once it started snowing I could see the green getting covered evenly with snowflakes on all ends.

Gulmarg is one of the best skiing destinations in the world and has a National Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering where training is imparted to individuals in this sport for 15- 20 days at a cost of INR 15,000. Many foreigners and ice sport enthusiasts visit Gulmarg to enjoy the skiing season which is otherwise full of greenery and flowers in off season. Not only this, Gulmarg boasts of having Asia’s longest and world’s second longest cable car which is also known as the Gondola. The Gondola is divided in two stages, where the first stage takes you to a height of 8000 odd feet giving you a glimpse of the stunning Kongdori valley. I was not able to enjoy the Gondola ride since it was snowing heavily and I could see nothing of the valley except thick fog and snow all around.

Snowfall view from cottage

Snowfall view from cottage

Snowman

Snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cottage was equipped with all the latest gadgets to ensure adequate warming but what impressed me was the use of traditional Bukhari system present predominantly in many cottages and hotels in Gulmarg. The Bukhari is lit by burning logs of wood along with kerosene and once heated it warms the room preventing one from the chilling cold weather outside. The system has an outlet for the release of smoke on top outside the roof.

Bukhari system

Bukhari system

I experienced severe withdrawal symptoms when I was back to the city (infact I still am). I have been to several mountains before but what I experienced here was unparalleled and I can feel the peaks calling out to me again and again. Moreover, the locals of Kashmir is a friendly lot. They will talk to you, share the difficult situations that they have to live in day in and day out amidst the political chaos that surrounds them and still serve you with smile and a big heart. It is extremely saddening to know that a certain section of people feel alienated in their own country due to the foreign treatment meted to them under the pretext of maintaining a farce of democracy. The hype and sensitivity that prevents a lot of tourists from planning a trip to the paradise is unwarranted and should never ever hinder your dream to experience the heart and soul of Kashmir and Kashmiris. Please put this place in your list of must-visit-places today!!

 

 

Please Note: All images ©Kainat27

Travelogue Diaries- Part I

Away from the City!!

According to Seneca, travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. This statement holds true for every individual who is constantly experiencing the grind of the city life. Only when our brains and bodies reach an alarmingly dangerous levels do we realize the need to take a break. Quite recently, I had the chance to escape the tyranny of my monotonous life, thanks to this long vacation to the mountains that my family and I successfully managed to execute. I say execute because there have been incidents in the past where we will engage in days and days of research to select places we haven’t explored, prepare itineraries and then wham!! The vacation is thwarted due to some unanticipated reason.

So which mountain ranges did I escape to? Well, it is called the “Land of High Passes” in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It is surrounded by the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south. The history of this place is predominantly dominated by the Tibetan culture and the great Pangong Tso Lake is situated in this part of the region. Yes, Ladakh it is.

The excitement for this trip begun the day it was planned and our tickets booked. I had only seen the beauty of the place through pictures because I wanted to make sure that I visit all the important places during my brief stay in the region. But even before I landed, the glorious charisma of the Himalayas simply blew me away. So to all those who had always dreamt of touring this region and to share my experience with my friends, let me take you through Leh..all over again.

Himalayan ranges as seen from the aircraft minutes before landing!

Himalayan ranges as seen from the aircraft minutes before landing!

Day 1

We were told to rest on the day we arrived in Ladakh to acclimatize to the extreme climatic conditions and thin oxygen levels that creates difficulty for travelers. The official tourist season had not yet begun and the temperatures would drop to minus during the evenings.

Day 1 of our excursion consisted of local city tour and visiting the Buddhist monasteries which are present in abundance in this region.

 

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa

This massive stupa overlooks the entire Leh district giving a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and villages. It is believed that you have to circle the stupa in clockwise direction since it is considered as good fortune in Buddhist culture.

The golden Buddha at the centre of the stupa depicts the "Turning Wheel of Dharma".

The golden Buddha at the centre of the stupa depicts the “Turning Wheel of Dharma”.

 

This relief represents the birth of Buddha

This relief represents the birth of Buddha

Defeating the evils followed by Nirvana

Defeating the evils followed by Nirvana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2

Since we were still getting acclimatized to the weather conditions we decided to take it easy with our itinerary and explore the local monasteries and other places of interest around Leh. Our first stop was this place known as the ‘Hall of Fame’ which, on the outside looked like a museum that houses memorabilia of Indian martyrs who fought endlessly for safeguarding the pride of our nation against Pakistan and other infiltrating forces. But when I entered this place, it was an experience in itself. This two- story geometrical structure with a cannon placed on top of it was everything I needed to know about the history, geography and culture of Ladakh.

Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame

Just as you enter the place there is a huge clay set up of the mountain ranges that surround Jammu and Kashmir (be it the Kargil, Karakoram, Siachen and Zanskar for that matter) so that once you get to know the story behind it, it will be easier for you to locate and relate. This museum is divided into sections where every part tells you about Kashmir. One room was dedicated to the flora and fauna found native to the region, another to animals. Then there was a section which was entirely about the history and culture of Ladakh- how it was heavily influenced by the Tibetan culture and the subsequent battles that the monarchs fought with the rulers then. It was a pretty impressive setup.

On the second level, there was a room full of arms and ammunition equipments stored as a memorabilia of the battles that our Indian soldiers fought with Pakistani forces. There were all sorts of things starting from letters that must have been written by the soldiers to their families, not knowing whether they will ever see them again to the types of food the soldiers consumed while they were out in the field (due to stipulated rations). Not only this, our soldiers wear around 15- 20 kgs of heavy gear from head to toe to prevent them from catching frost bites in the extreme temperatures. So much just to safeguard the integrity of our nation. Hats off to these guys!! Really.

Amar Jyoti

Amar Jyoti

Arms and ammunitions on display

Arms and ammunitions on display

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was perhaps the most beautiful ‘Sangam’ I have ever witnessed in my life so far. Although it does not have any religious significance but I can now proudly boast that I saw the convergence of two of the most mightiest rivers that flow through our country- Indus and Zanskar.

 

Sangam

Sangam

From the right it is the mighty Indus with its brown sediments mixing seamlessly with the ice cold Zanskar making this convergence as one of the most glorious sights amidst the brown landscape. The Indus then flows further ahead entering Pakistan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3

After two days of casual sight-seeing we decided to take a step further and ascend into the adventurous mountains of Ladakh. These snow capped mountains had been inviting me since the day I landed. Now it was time to have a tete-a-tete with them. It was time to explore the Khardungla pass. Khardungla means ‘la pass’ in Tibetan. Located at an altitude of 17,000 feet it is considered to be the world’s highest motorable pass. As exciting as hell it might sound the 2 and a half hour drive from Leh to Khardungla was perhaps the riskiest drives of my life. Since the ice from the mountains had not even started melting, we were driving virtually on snow at a speed of 30 kmph. You cannot even imagine surpassing that speed because there is a constant risk of the car slipping on the ice (for which our driver used to tie the tyres of the vehicle with chains that would eventually break the ice with friction).

Also I had never in my life seen these massive sheets of ice in front of me, glittering sharply under the rays of the sun which was almost blinding after a point.

Drive to Khardungla Pass

Drive to Khardungla Pass

On reaching there, I realized the minus freezing temperatures along with the cold breezing that simply did not let us stand peacefully. And whenever I wanted to walk a certain stretch on ice I would sunk deeper into it due to the thinning of the top layer of ice.

Even the army camps were sunk deep in snow at Khardungla

Even the army camps were sunk deep in snow at Khardungla

On our way back from Khardungla, we passed this Gurudwara which is built in the memory of the first Sikh leader, Guru Nanak Sahib. It is a beautiful gurudwara situated at 12,000 feet on Leh- Kargil road, constructed and maintained by Indian army. The gurudwara has an interesting story behind it, where Guru Nanak ji had saved the Ladakhis from the misery of an evil giant Chardi Kalan.

Gurudwara in the memory of Guru Nanak Sahib

Gurudwara in the memory of Guru Nanak Sahib

 

Day 4

And this was the last and the final day of my stay at Ladakh. Inspite of my not so great health condition (caused due to the thin depleting oxygen levels) I was little sad because I was in love with the landscape of Ladakh and did not want to leave it so soon. Today was the day for visiting perhaps the best tourist attractions in the world (trust me, mark this place in your must- visit places before dying and you will not regret even one ounce)- the vivid Pangong Tso lake.

The lake was almost a 4 hour drive from Leh- perhaps the longest and most tiring since one had to cross the dramatic Changla Pass followed by a few villages and small rivers before you finally make it to your destination (it felt like light years since the road would seemed to be never ending). This is the same lake where the famous climax of the 2009 Aamir Khan starrer hit film ‘3 Idiots’ was shot. It is said that out of the 600 km long lake only 40% lies in India and the rest of it is in Tibet. Since I went in April, the lake was frozen on all ends and there was hardly any soul to be found. It felt as if the lake belonged to me and I am the owner of this vast expanse of landscape. It was a different experience to stand in the middle of the frozen lake and feel the wind blowing through you.

Frozen Pangong Tso lake

Frozen Pangong Tso lake

The blue above and the white below makes you forget where you are from and in those few moments that you are standing there, you become one with nature. I wish my words could do justice to the empowering feeling that one feels enlightening their soul.

On our way back from the lake, we visited our last destinations- Zorawar Fort and Ancient Palace of Leh which is one of the oldest palace in Leh. This 8 storied palace is built using local ingredients like mud, brick and mortar and houses some of the valuables and memorabilia of the kings and their stories of wars with Kasmiri rulers of the 19th century.

 

Ancient Palace

Ancient Palace

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Apart from this I visited the market for some local shopping. Make sure that if you are planning to shop, take a local along with you since the Ladakhis have a habit of quoting everything four times the actual worth of the item.

 And with this my momentous trip to Leh came to an end. Although I wouldn’t call it as an end since this is just the beginning and I have promised myself to come back to this region again just to travel along the NH1 highway all the way to Kashmir through the green valleys of Kargil. Something that I learnt from the people of Ladakh is simplicity and gratitude in everything they do. Even though they stay in a place where there is scarce vegetation throughout the year, these people are one the most hospitable lot I have come across. They are genuine and humble in their mannerisms and they will go all out to keep their guests comfortable and happy. All the 4 days that we were in Leh, we had opted for homestay and the owner of the house used to treat us like family; serving us home cooked food and hot herbal tea to keep our body temperatures normal. It was perhaps the sweetest gesture of hospitality I ever experienced.

I will strongly recommend all my friends to take the trip to the mountains because it is not about discovering the beauty within the peaks, it is about getting a notch closer to your soul.

Please note: All the images © Kainat27