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My travel to Prayagraj [ Allahabad ] and back by Prayagraj Express [ 12417/18 ] from New Delhi : 9-11 March 2019

According to Wikipedia , Prayagraj Express is one of the “first” ISO 9002 certified trains of India because of its security features and high priority on the Indian Railways. No wonder .

 

prayagraj-express

The features on the the train that I checked out during my overnight journies from New Delhi to Prayagraj [ Allahabad ]  to and fro :

– Well dressed and courteous TTE
– Smart youngmen wearing name badges attached to each A.C. coach with the responsibility of ensuring that spotlessly clean linen/blanket is provided on all berths,
including replacement of used linen at intermediate stations
– Provided with Wifi courtesy Railwire in association with Google
– Clean/non smelling Western style toilets incl: bio toilets
provided with soap dispensers
– Floors swept clean
– No charts pasted on the coaches – list of WL/RAC passengers whose seats were finally confirmed showed on digital charts put up on the very clean platform provided
with signages showing location of each coach prominently
– trash bins provided on either sides of the coaches
– no vendors noticed entering the coaches
– pest control management with checks every 3-4 days
– facility provided for cleaning a particular spot in the coach further or attending to           some other requirement – just send a request as :

SMS to 58888 or 9200003232 by typing
CLEAN< Space ><10-digit PNR number>< Space >SERVICE TYPE CODE – [ C for Clean , B for Linen/Bed roll , P for pest control ]

– reading lights provided on each berth with convenient phone/laptop charging points
– software programme via QR or web link for giving feedback on the travel
– timely departures although there were slight delays on  arrival while reaching Prayagraj and while returning to New Delhi

A complete departure from some terrible experiences that I have had on some train journies not so long ago .

 

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A mention about the transformed Allahabad Jn Station as well. It is illuminated in pink/yellow colours in the evenings giving it an amazing look – quite unlike the dull red/yellow coloured facade of railway stations that we have been used to seeing . Again quite clean and very well lighted . All facilities at the Station nicely signposted .

Well done, Indian Railways .
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BADHAI HO

On strong recommendations from my daughter backed by Avijit Das Patnaik ‘s review published in WordPress few days ago , we decided to check this Hindi  movie out for ourselves .

We were not disappointed . Rather pleased that we accepted the recommendations of these 2 wise guys . Wouldn’ t say that this is the best picture of the year , but certainly one of the better ones that have come our way in recent years .

All the actors play their role to near perfection . Ayushman Khurrana is maturing as a fine actor with great facial expressions . Neena Gupta has certainly come up with her best performance till date. And the good old Surekha Sikri (Dadi of Balika Vadhu fame ) has you laughing in splits with her strong admonitions . The very refreshing and radiant Sanya Malhotra performs pretty well as the hero” s office colleague and love .

But the best applause for acting should be reserved for Indian Railways employee Gajraj Rao as the father placed in a rather piquant situation, with embarrassment changing to pride in the later part of the movie . I especially liked his gesture of making and serving tea [ ginger included ! ] to his unwell wife and ageing mother in the early morning hours ,a lesson for us senior citizens who take their wives for granted .

The picture makes you laugh , it makes you curse those who talk of ” sanskars” and is also successful in making your eyes swell at times , esp. in the absorbing post interval session .

I give this one 4 Stars out of 5 . Do not miss it .

PS: One of those rare occasions when I gave the customary Popcorn box a miss . Just couldn’t adjust myself to paying an exhorbitant Rs 210 for a small packet !!

The very memorable travel to the princely City – Jaipur with a group of students [ 22-23 October 2018 ]

Hawa Mahal

The amazing Hawa Mahal – Iconic landmark of the Pink City

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan State in North India , was founded on 18 November, 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II , who ruled Jaipur State from  1699-1744 . Jaipur is located at a distance of 280 kms from New Delhi and is about 6 hours drive from Noida along NH8 via Gurgaon  .

Jaipur is also known as the Pink City so named as Pink is the dominant colour of its  buildings throughout the City . It was painted in Pink by Maharaja Raj Singh in  1876  on the occasion of visit of  British  Prince  Charles.

Jaipur is famous for its exquisite jewellery, hand printed textiles and handicrafts. The present population of the City is estimated at 3.7096 million .

Apart from  Jaipur , prominent cities in Rajasthan are Ajmer-Pushkar , Jodhpur-Jaisalmer, Bikaner , Udaipur-Chittorgarh  , Bharatpur – Alwar  . The famous Jain temples of Mount Abu are also located in  Rajasthan State .

Places visited during the 2-day trip to the Pink City were : Hawa Mahal , Jantar Mantar , Birla Mandir , Albert Hall/State Museum , Statue Circle , City Palace , Jal Mahal [ a Palace in a Lake, viewed from a distance ] and the majestic Amber Fort while departing .

The trip comprising of 16 students [ 11 girls+5 boys] and Class Teacher from Setu School was flagged off at 0545 hours on 22nd October  .

After a 45 minutes  stop over at King Express Highway Cafe, Behror  for a cup of tea, the group arrived arrived in Jaipur  at 12.30  PM .

Checked  in at Kalyan Hotel , Hathroi Fort, Ajmer Road, Near Vidhayakprui Police Station Jaipur  [ at the back of famous Khasa Kothi on M.I.Road ]  . Phone : 9314501591 . Lunch at the Hotel  [ rather expensive for a 2-star hotel that this property is ! ]

3  PM -8.00  PM:  City  Sight seeing .

Covered  Hawa Mahal [ Palace of Winds] getting there via e-rickshaws from Hawa Mahal Bazar . Hawa Mahal, which is constructed of red and pink sandstone , sits on the edge of the City Palace, Jaipur. The structure was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh [ Admission tickets :  Rs 50/adult , Rs 10 for students holding valid School ids ]

View of the City street and the fort beyond from inside of Hawa Mahal

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Views of the massive Jantar Mantar complex from Hawa Mahal .Jantar Mantar monument  is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Drove to Birla Temple  in the late evening hours. The temple was constructed in 1985 by Birla family and is made of white marble . Birla Mandir in Jaipur is part of one of the several Birla mandirs located all around the country. The grand temple is located on an elevated ground at the base of Moti Dungari hill /fort . The temple is sometimes also referred to as the Laxmi Narayan Temple. The views of the City from the elevated location of the temple at night hold the visitors spell bound . Visitors are required to take off their shoes before entering the temple and pay Re 1 per pair for storage .

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Thereafter we passed by Albert Hall – also known as State Museum. The sight of the Museum illuminated in multi colours by laser during the late evening hours was simply awesome .

Had light meals at a wayside cafe as there are huge parking problems on the main roads which made it very difficult for the mini bus to be parked .

Day 2

Checked out from the Hotel at  9.30 AM post breakfast on rooftop restaurant on the 3rd floor . Visited Albert Hall again and went around exhibits on display on the ground and first floor .

Albert Hall functions as the State museum of Rajasthan. Of special significance is an ages old mummy placed at the basement of the Museum alongwith other relics from Egypt .  It is situated in beautifully landscaped  Ram Niwas Gardens outside the city wall opposite New gate . Admission tickets are priced at Rs 40 per adult  [ students @ Rs 20 ]

But the most amazing visit was to the residence of the Royal Family – the City Palace Complex [ Admission fee : Rs 130 for adults , Rs 70 for children above the age of 12 years, senior citizens – Rs 110 ] where we spent over 2.5 hours engaging an official guide to show us around [ fixed rate : Rs 500 -2 hours ] . The palace was constructed by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. As most structures in Jaipur, this Palace also reflects the fusion of Mughal and Rajput architecture. The City Palace complex is spread over a large area occupying one seventh of the old city of Jaipur. It has a sequence of gardens, buildings and courtyards, temple and museum to give it a grand view that reflects its historical importance and magnificent royal grace. Its outer boundary was built by Raja Jai Singh and other structures by his successors to add charm to it. We had the opportunity to witness the shooting of a Hollywood movie at the Diwan-e-Khas of the City Palace and to be entertained by the performance of puppets at the entrance .

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Thereafter the group proceeded to the majestic  Amber Fort [ climb to the fort via electrically operated vehicles – Rs 50 for 2 persons – elephant ride costs upto Rs 1100 for 2 persons ] . Amber fort was built in the 16th century by a trusted general of Akbar, Maan Singh. Later, Maan Singh started to rule the area surrounding the Fort which was called as the Amer state. The Fort is located 11 kms from the City and is open to visitors from 9 AM until 6 P.M. It is an important tourist destination in the City. [ admission tickets: Rs 50 per adult , Rs 10 for students ] .

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Note : Visitors can save substantial costs and time by purchasing a composite ticket which covers admission to 7 major attractions in the city. Available at all booking counters . Also to avoid delays on account of heavy traffic on roads leading to Hawa Mahal/ Jantar Mantar/City Palace , it would be best to leave from your Hotel latest by 8.15 AM .

The trip concluded with shopping for hand printed sarees , quilts [ 100 gms  ! ] ,chunnies and sweets at shops located on the main road at the starting point of the Fort . Departed for Noida at 5.30 PM  stopping over for an hour at a wayside Dhaba on NH8 for meals .

Arrived at Noida @ 23.30 hours carrying happy memories of the 2-day trip .

A Post on Face Book which I specially liked .

feedback

Acknowledgement : The author expresses his sincere appreciation to Mr. Ravi Kaul,Chief Trustee, Setu School, for the financial support extended by the School which enabled coverage of a substantial part of the trip expenses.

The incredible journey to the Land of Happiness : 30 September – 5 October 2018

OUR TRAVEL TO THE LAND OF HAPPINESS –  BHUTAN  

30 Sept.2018 :

A comfortable 2.20 hours flight with Druk Air from IGI Airport, New Delhi  with spectacular breath taking bird’s eye view of mountains  took us to the picturesque Paro International airport.

The immigration and baggage collection procedures were surprisingly very swift, taking us no more than 20 minutes to get out of the small terminal that Paro International Airport is .

Photograph courtesy  : A kind visitor from Houston/Texas  – Robert Sergesketter

Upon exit , we were  greeted by smartly dressed Driver Tandin in his Santa Fe. Driving across the Paa chu river and Thim chu river brought us  closer to the nature, we  arrived at Thimphu 90 minutes later and checked in at the  Ramada Valley Hotel , being greeted by offering of scarves and serving of fruit juice.

Hotel Ramada Valley Resorts – facade, very well appointed room, Lobby                              and Driver Tandin in front of it .

Thimphu sightseeing :

Tashichhoedzong (Outside) – Meaning: Fortress of the glorious religion. It was built in 1641 and rebuilt into present structure by late king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (Father of Modern Bhutan) in the year 1962-1969. It houses the secretariat building, the throne room and the Office of the King, and the central monk body.

Memorial Chorten – It was built in 1974 in the memory of third King late Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is regarded as the father of modern Bhutan. The temple inside gives good examples of tantric Buddhist and its philosophy. Admission fee: 300 Nu  [ equiv to 300 INR ]

Visited  Handicrafts Market opposite Taj Tashi Hotel which is full of stalls lined in a row selling traditional Bhutanese handicrafts and textiles products  . Right opposite Taj Tashi Hotel .

Overnight stay at Thimphu .

Additional pictures taken at Ramada Valley Hotel in the evening upon return from the day’s sight seeing tour .

View from the room of Ramada Valley Hotel  , its  elegant restaurant and the front desk .

1 Oct.2018  – Sightseeing Thimphu

Semtokha Dzong – Semtokha is 6 km from Thimphu; it is on a hill stand and was built in 1629 by Zhabdrung. It is the oldest fortress in the kingdom built by Zhabdrung. It now houses the cultural and Buddhist studies.

Budhha Point : The highlight of our travel was a visit to Kuenselphodrang where world’s tallest Buddha (Dhordenma) Statue (169 feet) sits overlooking Thimphu City.  The view of the City from the base of the Statue are simply spectacular.

 

Bhutan Post Office Headquarters : We got  postage stamps made  with our own picture in it for use within Bhutan [ 500 nu ]  .

We also thought of buying  special round shaped gold leaf covered  and 3D stamps which are famous world wide , but found them to be too  expensive  !

Simply  Bhutan Museum – This   Museum showcases  the 19 century farm house and the living style of the Bhutanese family. It was funded by  the Government of India .

Here we took  pictures hearing wearing traditional Bhutanese clothes  and danced with  visitors . Admission fee: 300 Nu .

There is also a Wishing Pond here , close to the exit of the Museum . It is stated that if you drop 5 old coins in the vessel floating on the pond, your wishes will be fulfilled .

2 Oct.2018 – Thimphu – Punakha :

Additional pictures taken while departing from Ramada Valley Resorts after a comfortable overnight stay.

After breakfast , proceeded  to Punakha. [ Note that all travellers intending to visit Punakha must obtain a route permit in advance from the Immigration Department in Thimphu . This takes about 3 hours and usually the cab driver takes care of this at no extra charge ]

Dochula view point :  Although quite cold , the views from the Dochula Pass were simply stunning.The first stop after leaving Thimphu is Dochula pass at 3100m.

Only about 45 minutes from Thimphu, it offers visitors their first glimpse of the Himalayan range. The road to Punakha branches left and curls its way down to the relatively low lands of the Punakha valley.

Just as we were  about to reach Punakha :

Chimi Lhakhang (Fertility Temple): Situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley is the yellow-roofed Chimi Lhakhang, built in 1499 by the cousin of Lama Drukpa Kunley in his honour after he subdued the demoness of the nearby Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. A wooden effigy of the lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the lhakhang, and childless women go to the temple to receive a blessing or empowerment from the saint. It is a pleasant 20 minute walk across fields from the road at Sopsokha to the temple. It crosses an archery ground before making a short climb to the temple.

Checked in at Damchen Resorts by the river side . The location is quite popular as it is the starting point for white water rafting .

Thereafter , we visited :

Punakha Dzong: Majestically standing on an island between the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, the city’s Dzong is admittedly one of the most photogenic of all Bhutan’s ancient fortresses [ I understand that pictures of it  are hanging in hotels and restaurants throughout the country ].

dzong

The Dzong is joined to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge, and contains many precious relics from the days when successive Kings reined the kingdom from this valley.

A long suspension  bridge which is 20 minutes walk from the Dzong is also well worth a visit .   Admission fee : 300 Nu .

From Punakha , we went to Wangdue, known as the designer town of Bhutan , buying some grocery items and helping a woman to sell her stock of fruits and vegetables  at an all women fruits and vegetables market offering a discount of 25% which made customers flock to “my” stall  .

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Return to Punakha and overnight stay at the Hotel .

3 Oct.2018 : Punakha – Paro via Thimphu – 4 Hrs:

Checked out from Damchen resort at 0930 hours .

Proceeded to Paro .

National Museum of Bhutan  was our first stop – Situated right above Rinpung Dzong in Paro, the National Museum of Bhutan showcases Bhutan’s culture. Built in 1968, the museum stands inside the ancient Ta-dzong building. The Museum is in 2 sections . The first section is devoted to different designs of masks that Bhutanese dancers wear at festivals . The second section is devoted to flora and fauna of Bhutan as well as wildlife .

National museum

There is a small gift shop from where you can buy traditional Bhutanese crafts and historical books . Admission fee: 50 Nu

Rinpung  Dzong –   Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district.

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Nya Mey Zam Bridge – “The Bridge with No Fish ” is the bridge that connects Paro Town to Dzong ..It is one of finest specimens in Bhutan and locals believe if one sees a fish in the river , it is ill omen.The earlier bridge which could be folded during war was washed away by flood in 1969. Quite close to Rinpung Dzong .

Checked in at the picturesque Tiger’s Nest Resorts, 10 Kms from Paro International Airport overlooking the world famous Taktsang Monastery with awesome views of the valley all around .

 

The spectacular facade of Tiger’s Nest Resort which is also equipped with traditional spa and a meeting room . It also has several cottages at the back of the rooms . On the right is Hotel’s very efficient and courteous Manager , Sanju .

4 Oct.2018 – Paro

Kyichu Lhakhang : Visited  Kyichu Lhakhang, (also known as Kyerchu Temple )  which is an important Himalayan Buddhist temple situated in Lamgong Gewog of Paro District .This  is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songsten Gampo. Admission  fee: 300 Nu

Old temple

Airport View Point –  Provides a bird’s eye view of the splendid  Paro International Airport .

 

Taktsang Monastery : If you can brave the risky cliffs on a high mountain, Paro will astonish you in the form of Taktsang Monastery. You need to  cover 1200 metres on a fierce cliff to reach this sacred site, also known as the Tiger’s Nest. You could take a deep breath after reaching the spot and then comfort your eyes and soul with the stunning view of the scenic surroundings and the valley lying underneath. The Taktsang Monastery was established by Saint Guru Rinpoche who came to Bhutan in 747 CE. Construction of the complex was completed in 1694. Discovering the Tiger’s Nest after 3-3.5 hours of trekking is real adventure but one can  also opt for a horse ride from the parking lot [ 900 Nu incl: attendant charges – total trek time up and down is close to 5.5 hrs ] .  Certainly not recommended for people in the age group of 60 years and above .

But you can get amazing views of the Monastery from the base camp itself where you can also find dozens of stalls managed by women selling traditional  Bhutanese handicrafts at throwaway prices . Admission fee: 500 Nu .

Drukgyal Dzong – Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in ruins, located in the upper part of the Paro valley in Paro District of Bhutan. The Dzong was built by Tenzin Drukdra in 1649 at the behest of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate victory over an invasion from Tibet. Presently labourers are working on renovation of the monastery . Tourists should avoid going there for the time being .

Ruins

Aum Choden:  Hot stone bath .  This is a traditional therapy that cures people of joint pains and skin related dieseas . You simply lie down in water that is made hot by immersing hot stones in it . Select herbs which are supposed to have medicinal properties  are added to it . Charges 1500 Nu / hour  .

 

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Traditional Hot Stone Bath . Lying in hot water relaxes the mind and rejuvenates the body .

While waiting for your turn, you can take some lessons in Archery, the national sport of Bhutan . This facility is located mid way between Paro International Airport and Tiger’s Nest Resorts .

Overnight Stay in Paro.

5 Oct.2018

Checked out from the Hotel in the early morning hours to board our Druk Air flight back home carrying happy memories of our 5 days’ stay in the Land of Happiness .

Tashi Delek – goodbye , as they say in Bhutanese language

bye bye paro

Our sincere thanks to Mr G S Duggal /Ajay Laheria  of Discover Leisure Tours & Travels Private Limited, New Delhi for making the entire arrangements for our trip in a meticulous manner .

 

 

 

 

 

Diwali – the festival of lights : 2017

Diwali, or Deepawali, is India’s biggest and most important festival of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes . On this occasion, people illuminate  their houses with earthen lamps, engage in cleaning their houses , light crackers , buy sweets and pray before Gooddess Lakshmi and Lord  Ganesh  for prosperity . This is also an occasion  to greet all close relatives , friends, neighbours  and business associates .

The 5-day celebrations comprise of  Dhanteras , Govardhan Pooja , Chhoti Diwali , Diwali  culminating with Bhai Dooj . This year , Diwali was celebrated as well with great fanfare during 17-21 October .

Our own family members throughout the world  celebrated Diwali , and related festive occasions .

Noida

Mumbai

Chennai

Lucknow

Bhagalpur

Dubai

Philadelphia

 

 

Call from the hills – Uttarakhand [ 6-11 October 2017 ]

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Uttarakhand, a State in northern India crossed by the Himalayas, is known for its Hindu pilgrimage sites. Rishikesh, a major centre for yoga study, was made famous by the Beatles’ 1968 visit. Haridwar – considered to be one of the 7 holy cities in India ,  hosts the evening Ganga Arti, a spiritual gathering on the sacred Ganges River at Har Ki Pauri Ghat . The State’s forested Jim Corbett National Park shelters Bengal tigers and other native wildlife. And then there are the famed Hindu temples – Badrinath and Kedarnath. Not to forget the “Queen of Hills” , Mussoorie . And then there is Nainital which  is a Himalayan resort town in the Kumaon region  at an elevation of roughly 2,000 m. set around Nainital Lake, a popular boating site with Naina Devi Temple on its north shore.

I was there during 6-11 October with Mr Agoston Lorincz , a friend of mine from Hungary , covering about 850 kms by road on a 6 -day/5 -city trip that took us to Garhmukteshwar , Haridwar , Rishikesh, Mussoorie and Kanatal .

6 OCTOBER

The trip began at 10 AM  from my home in Noida in  the morning hours gettting to Garhmukteshwar, a small sleepy town in the State of Uttar Pradesh located along the holy Ganges river,  covering the  journey in about 2.15 hrs.

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GARHMUKTESHWAR

Garhmukteshwar is a little town along the banks of Ganges river in the State of Uttar Pradesh . Ganges is considered sacred in India. Thus, people come here for Hindu religious rites including performing  rites related to prayers for ancestors, birth and death. Garhmukteshwar is about 100 kms from Delhi, the capital of India and thus, persons living in Delhi come here for special moments such as mundan  ceremony (the first cutting of hair of a child) and for dispersing the ashes of family members recently cremated .

Places which we visited  in Garhmukteshwar

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The river banks.

Ganga Temple

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The Ganga Temple is one of the ancient temples in India. Almost 101 steps, extending down to the Ganga River, are one of the main features of the temple. There are 85 steps out of original 101 steps present today. The beauty of the temple is enhanced by the white stone idol of Lord Brahma.

Young children  seemed very excited when we stopped to take pictures of them weaving mats .

Mukteshwar Mahadev Temple

This ancient temple is devoted to Lord Shiva, and the temple is one of the must visit attractions in the city. The temple was built by King Shivi and there is a Shiva lingam inside the temple, which was built by Sage Parshuram .

Nahush Koop (Nakka Kuan)

Yajna [ Prayers ]  was performed here by King Nahush. The water in the Well is from Ganga River. Water from the Well is considered to be sacred. It is located within the Mukteshwar temple complex . However, the premises are not very well maintained and water inside the well  looks so very dirty .

Kalpavriksha

Kalpavriksha is the holy tree, renowned as the ‘Tree of Heaven’. The tree was planted at the Vedant Mandir. The tree is said to fulfill the wishes of the visitors. Along with this, the tree is also considered pious and contemplates the religious, spiritual, environmental and medicinal significance.

Trivia :

Garhmukteshwar Ganga Fair, also known as Garh Ganga Fair , will take place on November 4.  Gadhon-ka-Mela is also part of Garh Ganga Fair. In the Fair, more than 50,000 horses, donkeys and asses are sold .

It is believed that taking holy in Ganga here helps in sin redemption and in attaining Moksha or liberation. The spot is an important sacred location for performing prayers dedicated to dead ancestors.

After spending about 2.30 hours in Garhmukteshwar  , we left at 2.45 PM for Haridwar , 175 kms. away , stopping  by for light snacks at the Grand Cheetal which is located on the  National Highway at Shamli,Muzaffarnagar . The dishes that we ordered, viz. paneer pakoras, french fries, grilled chicken sandwiches and freshly squeezed orange juice  , arrived in double quick time . Note, however, that this food joint  is rather expensive .

Arrived at 7.30 PM at Jagdamba Dham, a 24-room Dharamshala , Opp: Sai Baba Mandir on Doodhwala Chowk , where we had hot vegetarian  meals , before proceeding to Hotel  Treebo Vibhav Mariott for overnight stay .

HARIDWAR

Haridwar is an ancient city and important Hindu pilgrimage site in North India’s Uttarakhand State, where the River Ganges exits the Himalayan foothills. The largest of several sacred ghats (bathing steps), Har Ki Pauri hosts a nightly Ganga Aarti (river-worshipping ceremony) in which tiny flickering lamps are floated off the steps. Worshipers fill the city during major festivals . Haridwar is considered as one of  the 7 holy cities in India .

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Checked in at  :

TREEBO VIBHAV MARIOTT                                                                                                 Opposite Avdoot Mandal Ashram , Near Singh Dwar, Haridwar .M: 7500635006 .

Treebo Vaibhav Mariott is a 24 room property of recent construction at a convenient location in Haridwar . The hotel has a very nice facade and a apacious lobby . The rooms are quite well furnished with comfortable mattress/ soft pillows and the decorations on the walls in the corridors are simply amazing.  The plus points are the quality of food served in the restaurant and easy accessibility to the owner, Namit Goyal .

However , the hotel management will do well to focus on staff issues as well as housekeeping and  sanitation – the latter  within the hotel premises as well as outside of it – which were noted to be its weak points. During my stay at this property on 6-7 October, I had the opportunity to interact with the owner as well as Treebo Corporate headquarters in Bangalore at regular intervals . I have been assured that these will be looked into and remedial actions initiated at the earliest opportunity.

7 OCTOBER

 

Mansa Devi Temple

This is an ancient Hindu temple perched on a hilltop.  This ancient Hindu temple honours Mansa Devi, the folk Goddess of Snakes and can be accessed via a ropeway .

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Chandi Devi Temple

This is a historic Hindu temple accessible by cable car on the other side of the river along the National Highway offering picturesque mountain top views. A combined ticket of Rs. 330 per  visitor was purchased by us to cover the cost of cable car rides to both the temples  as well as transportation to and fro . River Ganges flowing along one side of the temple enhances its beauty .

Bharat Mata Temple

This is a tall 8-storey temple with shining white body . This is basically a Hindu  shrine dedicated to Goddess symbolizing India as a huge undivided country. A similar temple, although much smaller in size and limited to just one storey, exists in Varanasi . There is a lift to take visitors to the top floor. However, as we noticed a rush in front of the lift entrance, we decided to take the steps upto the 5th floor . Each floor is dedicated to different groups such as religious leaders and preachers , pre-independence time patriots and revolutionaries  ,  Gods and Goddesses , politicians , women leaders and politicians .

Bada Bazar

The bustling Bara Bazaar [ market ] in  Haridwar is a shopper’s stop for the local as well as foreign tourists. Located near Subhash Ghat ,the market  is very famous for  religious as well as ornamental items. Among the most famous items sold here are  Ayurvedic [ herbal ] medicines. What makes these medicines different is that these are all made from original seeds found here, and these are quite effective too. People visit Bara Bazaar especially to get these medicines which are a perfect cure for pains and aches.

Har Ki Pauri 

Har Ki Pauri is a very famous ghat  [ steps ]  on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar. This revered place is the major landmark in the City  which is visited by thousands of  devotees and tourists during  the year .

Ganges Aarti in the evening 

Ganga Aarti [ worshipping of Ganges river ] is performed  at Har Ki Pauri Ghat  at 18.00 hrs during winters . Tiny flickering lamps  are set afloat on the river with fire burning on cotton wicks immersed in oil  .

haridwar-ganga-aarti

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There were an estimated 5,000 devotees present there on either sides of the Ghat chanting ” Har Har Gange” in unison when we went there . Note that all vehicles must be parked at the ” Double Parking ” area , some 350 m. from Har ki Pauri  ( Rs. 100 ) .

 

Ganga is just not a river for Indians . Ganga is supposed to liberate humans from the sins that they may have committed if they take a dip here in the river  . It is therefore revered and respected by Indians .

8 OCTOBER

We went for an early morning dip in the Ganges river which was quite a divine experience .

We checked out from the Hotel at  9 .15 AM . Before proceeding to Rishikesh , however , we visited two “cave temples” Shiva Temple and Shri Vaishno Devi Gufa Temple , in  a street lined up with several temples . At the Shiva temple, it was a very strange and scary experience for us crawling inside a dark cave for some distance  to get to the deity at the end of it .

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We also spent time looking at the deity of Narasimha , half-animal , half-human, one of the Avataars of Lord Vishnu .

RISHIKESH

Rishikesh is located in the Himalayan foothills along Ganges river .  The City is renowned as a Centre for studying Yoga , Meditation and Ayurveda and is, therefore, known as the “Yoga Capital of the World”.  Several Temples and Ashrams   [ Centres for spiritual studies ] are located in Rishikesh . In the evening, an almost supernatural breeze blows down the valley, setting temple bells ringing as sadhus (‘holy’ men), pilgrims and tourists prepare for the nightly ganga aarti (river worship ceremony) . Trekking , white water rafting , biking , paragliding , bugee jumping , kayaking are some of the popular adventure sports activities here.

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Arrived in Rishikesh at 12. 30 PM and checked in at :

HILLVIEW APARTMENTS  

B1/B2 , Tapovan Heights, Deecon Valley Complex, Near Tapovan Police Chowki Rishikesh 248008  . Phone : 9650933556 .
Hill View Apartments is 1 kms away from Laxman Jhula. We were accommodated on the second floor in a well furnished studio apartment which is really suited for families staying for 2-3 days who can cook their food by themselves . There is a water stream flowing right below the Apartments. However,  it is not easy to get there by yourselves  . We had to phone the caretaker – a young man named Pramod Kumar – upon reaching the Tapovan Police Chowki to come and escort us to the property which is in a residential colony with construction of several buildings going on in the vicinity .

Places which we visited in Rishikesh

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Lakshman Jhula

Believed to have been completed in 1929, the Laxman Jhula is a popular suspension bridge situated 23 metres  feet above the River Ganga and 150 m. long. The Jhula connects two villages, Tapovan and Jonk, crossing the river from west to east. Lakshman Jhula acts as an adjoining bridge across River Ganga, along the old route to the sacred shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath. The construction of various grand temples and ashrams  around the Jhula has made it one of the most visited places in Rishikesh. It was reported that in peak tourist season, it could take upto one hour to cross the Jhula .

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Lakshman Jhula Market

Lakshman Jhula Market  is one of the best areas for shopping while in Rishikesh . There are several  shops for clothes, jewellery, precious stones, books, religious books, spiritual items and  souvenirs .

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Beware of these monkets prancing about around the Jhulas . This simian  snatched a banana right out of my handbag while was I was entering the Lakshman Jhula for crossing to the other side of it .

Ram Jhula

Positioned in Muni Ki Reti, Ram Jhula is one of the most popular attractions of Rishikesh. This bridge was constructed later than the Laxman Jhula, in the year 1980. Both these bridges are quite similar in design and steel construction.  Ram Jhula is placed a few miles downstream from Laxman Jhula and links Swarg Ashram on the western bank of River Ganga to the Sivananda Ashram on the eastern bank .

Ganga Aarti ceremony at Triveni Ghat

The Ganga Aarti at Triveni Ghat is an evening prayer performed at 6.30 P.M. on the banks of the River Ganga. It turned out to be a major highlight of our visit to Rishikesh in  the presence of  a large number of devotees and visitors.

The Aarti , walking distance from Ram Jhula , is conducted on the lines of the one in Dasashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi with 5 young men in saffron robes moving fire lit torches in different directions , paying a tribute to the river Ganges flowing in front of them . People lit diyas, put them on flower-filled leaf boats and release them in the holy waters of the river. These illuminated lamps in the evening provide a beautiful view.  We bought flower filled leaf boats lit with camphor from an old lady standing nearby  [ @ Rs 10 each ]  in order to be a part of the religious custom. The religious hymns recited in praise of the Ganges helped in rejuvenating our mind and soul.

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Maharshi Mahesh Yogi  Ashram

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram is located in a calm and peaceful and  spot within the Rajaji National Park . It got the world’s attention when it briefly housed the band members of the legendary English rock band The Beatles in 1968.  It was reportedly  in 2012 that a bunch of travelling artists, including Canadian artist Pan Trinity Das, painted the walls with pop art and beautiful black-and-white portraits of The Beatles, alongside those of prominent spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama.

Nature walks, bird watching, and a visit to the Ashram are on offer for an entry fee of Rs 150 for Indian nationals, and Rs 600 for foreigners. However, as we were informed by locals that a steep climb was involved upto some distance , and that the premises were not in very good shape, we decided not to enter . Instead, we rested for a while after a long walk to the Ashram from  Ram Jhula exit in hot weather, quenching our thirst with chilled lemon drink/ Jal Jeera from  a vendor stationed at the entrance to the Ashram  . For return, we engaged a SUV at Rs 300 to get back to the entrance point of Lakshman  Jhula .

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Bistro Nirvana  – Bypass Road , Green Valley Cottage [ Swiss Cottage area, Tapovan ] . Phone: 97580 68993.  This new joint has a shaded patio and elevated tables with cushioned bench seating with a nice ambience, both indoors as well as outdoors .  The theme is bamboo and the restaurant offers multi-regional cuisine – Mexican, Middle Eastern, Continental abd North Indian .  For ourselves,  we ordered Flafel, Pita and Humus which was served alongwith Israeli salad and was noted to be very delicious . The restaurant seems to be very popular with foreign tourists . However, the approach to the Restaurant is rather narrow making it difficult for  vehicles to navigate if they confront each other in opposite directions .

For dinner, we preferred to go to in the same area  to Roadside Bistro Restaurant , right at the entrance to it . For meals , plain chapatis/nan  with dal and mixed vegetables/curd were ordered, while the restaurant owner played old  Bollywood songs of 60s and 70s of our choice for our enjoyment .

9 OCTOBER

We departed from  Rishikesh at 9.45 AM  for Mussoorie . On the way we stopped by at Ellora’s Melting Moments, a famous bakery  located on 29-A Rajpur Road, Dehradun .

After relishing  delicious vanilla/pineapple and mango pastries and shopping for some Choorans , we left for Mussoorie  at 1 PM.

SHAHASTRADHARA

Meaning 000s of water streams, Shahastradhara is a delightful place to spend some time at while passing through Dehradun on your way to Mussoorie. You cannot but be enchanted at the sight of water streams flowing from all over , especially among the branches of tall trees. You can notice many travellers with their children having a nice time with children taking a bath in the pond.  There is also a small Guru Dronacharya temple which can be reached by climbing a few steps along the path in one corner of this attraction.

It is said that spring waters at Sahastradhara have a high sulphur content. By taking a bath in these waters, skin diseases can be cured.

We reached Mussoorie at 4.30 PM  after covering a distance of approx. 25 kms . driving along narrow winding roads up the hills .

MUSSOORIE

Mussoorie is located at an altitude of  2006 m. Established in the Himalaya foothills by a British Army officer in 1820, the “Queen of the Hills” stands above the rest with its deep woods, favourable climate and Doon Valley views. Its name is derived from the berry-covered Mansur shrub found in abundance around this trekker-friendly area. Vestiges of its colonial past are still reflected in the architecture of several structures in the city.

Checked in at :

Mahindra Club Resorts , Avalon , Rockcliff Estate , Guncliff , Mussoorie 248179.  Phone : 0135-2632972/3. On arrival at the Library Point , the vehicle has to be parked there only  ( Rs 200/ day ) as movement  of  vehicles inside the Mall Road is not permitted . You have to either engage a porter [ Rs 100 ] or a hand pulled rickshaw [ Rs 50 per rickshaw] to take your suitcases upto the Resort pick up point, some 300 m. away on the Mall Road . A SUV waiting at the pick up point takes you up the hill to the Resort .

The Resort is located in a big complex with rooms and apartments at  different levels , each level having a different colour code. The rooms are very well furnished , complete with tea/coffee maker, heating arrangements and full complement of toiletries and offer amazing views of Doon valley. The Panorama restauurant located at the lobby level serves different kinds of delectable cuisine to satisfy all tastes .

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Cloud’s End

Cloud’s End is situated at a distance of around 6 km from the west of the Library.  The name of the site is derived from its location, lying on one of the ends of Mussoorie. The path to reach this place is covered by thick and dense forests. Further, a 2 km path from this place takes tourists to the Benog Wildlife Sanctuary. We can witness variety of species of flora and fauna, while following the path to get to the Cloud’s end .

The site can be reached by travelling through the Hathipaon Road from Happy Valley   . Although the distance is short, the drive can take upto 45 minutes due to a narrow and rough approach road which can cause inconvenience to the visitors .

Kempty Falls

Located on the way between Dehradun-Mussoorie road, Kempty Falls is a beautiful location to take a dip in the water falling from an altitude of 4 metres . It is a perfect place to take a short swim or fish.

Kempty Falls, one of the most renowned waterfalls in Uttarakhand, offers a mesmerizing panoramic view as the water falls from a great height. The pond formed at the bottom of the falls make an excellent spot for swimming, fishing, and bathing. Quite famous among the tourists as a picnic spot, this perennial waterfall is crowded almost throughout the year.  There is also a cable car ride at the Kempty Falls sight seeing point . However, as advised by a woman selling bhuttas by the roadside, instead of going down, we walked  100 metres ahead and climbed several steps from the left side of the road under repairs .

Company Bagh

Company Bagh situated in the Happy Valley area of this beautiful town, is located at 3 kms from the Library point .

The Garden houses a large variety of flora and birds, making it popular among nature lovers. Housing 800 different species of flowers, the garden has a nursery, which offers a wide range of saplings for sale.

Some of the popular flowers present in the Garden include Dahlias, Begonia, Pansy , Roses and Petunia.  There is also a Museum containing wax statues of several leaders  and celebrities .  Apart from this, the garden also houses a huge China tree, which offers shade to tourists visiting the garden. Creating a replica of colonial gardens, the place has a lush green carpet of lawns and a fountain rwhich is located in its centre and waterfalls at the back of it . Tourists can enjoy boating in an artificial lake, which has been  recently constructed within the Gardens . A charge of Rs 19 is payable for admission into the Company Bagh .

After completing our visit to  Company Bagh, we shopped for woollen shawls at one of the shops located at the entrance to it .

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Gun Hill

It  is one of the popular tourist attractions of Mussoorie, possessing historical significance dating back to pre-independence. It is believed that a canon was fired from the place at a fixed time on every afternoon. This firing at the hill provided an idea of time to the local residents of the destination and they adjusted their watches accordingly.

Situated at a height of 40 metres above The Mall, the location presently houses a water reservoir of the destination. Tourists can witness snow capped peaks of Himalayas and The Mall on either side of the place. [ cable car ride from Jhulaghar @ Rs 100/pax . ] . As it is very  close to Club  Mahindra Resorts , we viewed it from the top of the Resort itself .

 The Mall

The Mall is a long stretch of road between Picture Palace and The Library. Almost all the shops and restaurants are lined up on this road. You can eat different kinds  of food  in several  restaurants all along the Mall Road and shop for gifts and souvenirs from  one of the many shops located all along .

The Mall  is a delight to shop and there is a Tibetan market as well in it .  You can see the city of Dehradun from The Mall and there are benches all along the road where you can sit and enjoy the view.

We departed from Mussoorie at 3.30 PM , stopping by at Dhanaulti for an  hour25 kms from  Mussoorie. Dhanaulti is a land of hidden treasures. With very few travellers aware of the degree of beauty, the raw trails are almost untouched. Trek, pony rides along fruit orchards and water streams appearing from nowhere keep the travellers   busy .

Surkanda Devi temple at Dhanaulti  is dedicated to Goddess Sati . The Temple is perched at an exhilarating altitude of 3030 m above the sea level. Though the distance of the temple is just about 1.8 kms from the road, the climb is very stiff and tiresome given the incline. Ponies @ Rs 800 per one way trip are required to be engaged which take 30 minutes to get to the temple from where one can have a 360 degree view of the mountain ranges . Due to shortage of time at our disposal , we decided to consider visiting the temple on our return journey .

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A short break at Dhanaulti , relishing freshly prepared hot maggi noodles mixed with several vegetables and a mango based drink at this wayside eating joint  helped us in relaxing for a while in a very pleasant weather . 

KANATAL

A few decades ago, there used to be a lake by the name of Kanatal, now it dried up and hence the name, Kanatal, literally meaning ,”one eyed lake” in Hindi . To make it memorable, the place was named Kanatal . 40 kms from Mussoorie .

Checked in at :

Mahindra Club Resort Kanatal : 11 Km Stone, Chamba Mussoorie Road P.O. Kanatal . Phone : 8393011177 / 8393011166

Nestled amid Shivalik ranges and lush green pine forests, Club Mahindra Kanatal offers well-appointed rooms with free wired internet at all public areas with the ” Green Terasse” restaurant on the lobby level serving sumptuous meals . The staff is very courteous and efficient and check in  process took no time at all .

We soaked in the experience of getting close with the mountain wilderness by staying at this Resort which is perched on the slope of hills with spellbinding views of Everest from the balcony of the room.

11 OCTOBER

There is  a trail just opposite  to Mahindra Club Resort and it is understood that it  takes about 45 minutes to reach the end of the trail from where one can get a nice  view of the majestic mountains. There is an entry fee of Rs 100 here , however, due to shortage of time, we could not enter this trail.

Checked out from the Resort at 9.45 AM  to proceed to Dehradun . Stopped by for meals at the 4-storey Pacific Mall  on Rajpur Road which is very elegant and houses several shops selling branded goods . For ourselves,  we ordered Makki Ki Roti+ Sarson ka Saag and Lachha Parantha/Amritsari Nan with Dal Makhni/Raita and rice , downed with Kesar Lassi at the Food Court on the 3rd floor .

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At the Three Pyramids Restaurant right opp: Pacific Mall where we had a hot cuppa Coffee before proceeding to the Railway Station .

Boarded the Shatabdi Express train [ No 12018 ]  from Dehradun Railway Station at 5 PM  which arrived at New Delhi Railway Station at 11.20 PM , marking the end of an exciting/ fun filled 6-day travel to the State of Uttarakhand in the pleasant company of Mr Agoston Lorincz. I hope to see him again in not too distant a future .

 

 

 

Dubai -Off the beaten track [ 14-21 September , 2017 ]

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Think of Dubai and images of Burj Al Arab , Dubai Fountains , Mall of Emirates, Safari in the sand dunes ,  Cruise on Dubai Creek on a beautifully illuminated ‘dhow’ [ a traditional Arabian sail boat ] , Adventure Parks and Shops laden with gold jewellery at the Gold Souq flash into your minds straightaway . And then there is the magnum opus – Burj Khalifa, standing tall and majestic .

Not to forget the annual Dubai Shopping Festival [ DSF ] which draws thousands of shoppers to Dubai in January every year .

But having been to Dubai umpteen number of times since I started travelling overseas in 80s , I have seen them all .

Happily,  the best thing about Dubai is that it keeps on developing new entertainment spots to ensure that tourists keep on coming again and again .  So for my next trip , I selected the following attractions which have come up in Dubai in last 24 months , that do not normally find a place in the travellers’ standard itinerary .

Dubai Canal : Dubai Water Canal is an artificial canal which was inaugurated in November 2016. It comprises one shopping centre, four hotels, several restaurants, luxury housing, walkways and cycle paths.

Village Outlet :  Located in Jebel Ali area .

This Mall offers  sophisticated shoppers the ultimate in discounted deals on high-end brands, this Italian-inspired indoor mall is a stylish entertainment venue in Dubai.   From fashion to food, music to magic, visitors can enjoy an exciting calendar of events, all within the charming setting of a traditional Tuscan medieval town

The Green Planet : Explore and interact with a whole new world of exotic flora and fauna in this fully immersive indoor vertical rainforest in Al Wasl area . The world’s largest artificial tree rises can be seen here . Located on City Walk – Al Wasl . Must visit .

Bollywood Parks :  This is a family-friendly theme park styled like a Bollywood set, with rides, stunt shows & performances, located on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway .

Restaurants, cafes  and eating joints located all over Dubai offer a varied international cuisine . Therefore, apart from relishing home cooked food ,  the restaurants that I have identified for a nice  gastronomical  experience this time  are as follows :

Kulcha King –  for the best mouth licking Amritsari Kulchhas in town . Several outlets in the City . Also deliver at home .

Pappa Roti – the very soft  buns that simply mmmelt in the mouth .  3 outlets as far as I know . At Dubai Mall, JBR Walk and JLT, quite recently .

Manvaar  – for delectable Rajasthani cuisine, located in Karama area , not far from Bur Juman Mall/Metro Station in Bur Dubai .

Gazebo –  specializing in North Indian/Punjabi cuisine – located on Kuwait Road , Mankhool, Bur Dubai . For fine dining .

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Qasr El Sultan

Experience the lifestyle of a royal at this cultural space inspired by traditional Arab hospitality. You’ll feel like you’re in a different world when you enter a bakhoor-scented majlis. Try some heartwarming, delicious cardamom-flavoured Arabic coffee and nibble on dates before you begin your sensory journey. Stroll through charming sikkas or souk streets, browse the lively spice markets, watch belly dancers, live cooking and falcon shows, and end up at a shisha lounge. Qasr Al Sultan’s food and drink takes you on a sensory experience. Located on Qasr El Sultan  Road  between Dubai and Abu Dhabi Expressway .

See you there , very soon . Khushamdeed .