Travel Experiences, Musings, Short Stories & More...

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” St. Augustine
  • 5 Awesomest Things To Do In Mauritius

    A sneak peek into my experiences at Mauritius...

  • On The Movie Streets @ Chicago

    Chicago Downtown was a real experience for me and being there was no less than being in a Dreamworld...

  • Kashmir... the only paradise on Earth

    Read More About Our Recent Mindfreaking trip to Kashmir...Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and more...

  • Himachal Pradesh - An Experience @ Manali and Shimla

    A Travellogue on our recent tour to the Himalayan wonderland and the beautiful cities of Manali and Shimla

Anatomy Of The Morning Phenomena

Travelling between the time zones is by far the best experience an international traveler can get. It is quite easy for a curious traveler like me to get boggled with the several amazing natural phenomena one could happen to experience during your journey between two far away places on the planet earth. We often have been listening since our childhood days about the shape and size of earth, the sun being a stationary in space and the moon being a satellite of the earth which keeps on orbiting around the earth.
That Amazing Moment When Night Transforms into a Day
A Day Far far Away
While many of the travelers are struggling to grab a power nap to battle their jetlags, how many of us really bother to open the airplane window and bother to observe the beautiful experiences out there in the sky wide open? Probably, quite a few of us. I often get amazed by the fact as to how different places on earth observe day and night at the same time.
There are often times when I have been stupidly calling my friends and family members to verify if there is really a daylight out there in India while I am located far off from home. How could some place of earth observe such a hot, sunny afternoon when at the same time some other place on the same planet experiences a pitch dark black night which seems like it never observed a day before. I know we take facts for granted and I know that the earth is like a big ball and the sun is like a big electric bulb in dark space. But, observing this happening in it’s live environment is an amazing experience, all thanks to the technology of the recent times.
Amazing experience observing the night transforming into a day
From the surface of the earth, it is quite an experience observing the dark night sky gradually turning lighter and lighter until it turns into a sky with broad daylight. And we have been observing this phenomenon since we were a child - the earth rotates around it’s own axis causing day and night. Nights turning into days and days turning into nights is quite a daily experience but have you wondered how it would feel like observing both the day and the night at the same time. Yes, it is this exact moment when your airplane reached to a point travelling through a dark night and you are able to see the first ray of light at the horizons while you realize you are still in the dark.
An Airplane Piercing Into A Day
Gradually, as you move forward, this ray of light becomes brighter and brighter transforming almost everything around you into a beautiful aura of colors. That is what we call a beautiful morning. Experiencing this from a 30,000 feet above the surface is quite an experience.

10 Best Things To Do @ Hyderabad

Call it the Land of Biryani, the land of the Nawabs or in recent days the High Tech City, Hyderabad always has the same aroma, the same uniqueness to offer no matter at what point in time in history you have been to the place. Undoubtedly, this city has not lost it’s charisma all these decades or probably centuries. Although, the City has witnessed a great deal of modernization in terms of the Information Technology Industry, but the very essence of the Old City of Hyderabad seems to remain the same. And, the very feel of this City has not deviated with respect to all the best things it has been promising for several years to offer to the tourists and visitors. 

The Charminar
I had been visiting Hyderabad for business reasons and recently spent a whole week trying out several usual things tourists do at Hyderabad City and also some offbeat things that really makes your tour in the City remarkable. After all those days spent at Hyderabad, here are the top 10 best things to do while spending your time in the City. 

10. Feel the Old City at the Charminar

You haven’t really visited Hyderabad if you fail to visit the Old City and the Charminar. Decades after decades, generations after generations, this place has seen absolutely no change. And, that is the specialty of the Charminar area. The Archaeological Survey of India has been maintaining this monument and charges a nominal fee of INR 5 for Indians. Buying this ticket will provide you access to enter the monument building and climb upstairs for a spectacular view of the busy Hyderabad street. Beware of the pick pockets since this area is rather known for this. The Charminar is always a busy place and there are numerous stalls, hawkers and street food sellers surrounding the main street. 

An Amazing View of the Market from Charminar
This is a good place to shop bangles and pearl ornaments. However, you really need to know an authentic shop selling pearls and other valuables. There was a coin seller selling old coins right in front of the Charminar which was a center of my interest. There were also other small shops selling clothes, sunglasses, fancy ornaments and China products. It is quite obvious to find an over-friendly localite  who would pretend to be a guide and would take you for a ride. You may hire him at your own risk. For all other things you want to know about the Charminar, I recommend the Internet! :-)

Complete View of the Charminar
9. Experience the Serenity, Peace and a Gorgeous City View from the Birla Temple

Built with fresh white marble all around, the Birla Mandir is one of the most serene places to be. It’s proximity from the famous Hussain Sagar lake and the soothing view of the Hyderabad City makes it my one of the favorite places. Cameras and cell phones are not allowed inside the temple and this was a matter of my disgust. Nevertheless, the majestic view is better experienced than captured in a picture. One can easily spend an hour or two at the temple and if you happen to fall in love like me with the ambiance  you may spend an entire day all by yourself. At the temple foothills, there are some interesting shops exhibiting several religious books and statues. I remember buying a cutest Ganesha Idol from this shop which I have treasured at home. A few minutes from the temple is Birla Planetarium which is worth a visit. 

8. Try the Awesome Biryani and Haleem at Café Bahar

You won’t believe me but during our recent one week visit to Hyderabad, we have been eating Biryani almost every day at different restaurants and local joints. This was one of the best attempts one could have made to review the various Biryanis available in the City. We tried and reviewed almost every famous Biryani centers including but not limited to the Paradise Restaurant near Prasad’s Multiplex, Shadab’s, Bawarchi’s and Café Bahar. It was just that we happened to come across this awesomest Biryani at Café Bahar at Begumpeth on our last day of the tour. I am not too supportive to several people I come across who adore and overhype the Paradise chain of restaurants for Biryanis, rather I would like to stick and go with my personal experience and by far the Café Bahar Biryani was the best ever I had in Hyderabad. I welcome other thoughts but until I could prove myself wrong with a better Biryani outlet, I would keep on recommending Café Bahar. Needless to mention that this is not a paid post and I do not get any perks for writing  such a positive review about this business. The next time you visit Hyderabad, just try them.

Haleem is quite famous dish in Hyderabad and is made out of meat or chicken or beef by crushing down the flesh into granular pieces. It is a very healthy and heavy snack or rather a complete meal. It is abundantly available all across Hyderabad City esp. during the month of Ramadan. I have seen Haleem stalls on the streets which I would not recommend if you are new to the City. It is better to have it at a decent restaurant where I am sure it is more hygienic and enjoyable. 

7. Visit the Chowmahalla Palace

This is a huge ancient neatly maintained palace of the Nizams. We came across several rooms in the palace which are now transformed into exhibition rooms displaying several old artifacts of the Nizams which includes the clothes, weapons, furniture and even the vintage cars. I remember one room was dedicated to the Sarees of varied kinds which is a must see for Indian women who are fond of this traditional Indian attire. The Palace has a beautiful pond right at the entrance which clearly exhibited the prosperity and royal lives of the Kings of Nizams. The palace also displayed pictures of several generation of Nizams who have been associated with the Palace and the city of Hyderabad. 

Interior View of the Chowmahalla Palace
With such a large historical heritage present at just one place, the Chowmahalla Palace is just too good to miss.

6. Enjoy an Auto-Rickshaw Ride

My opinion about Auto-Rickshaw drivers changes spontaneously when I think of the Auto-Rickshaw drivers of Hyderabad. How can I forget my unique experience with one of the Auto-Rickshaw drivers in Gacchibowli area in Hyderabad who simply offered me a lift. That was one of the cutest experience one could have with an Auto-Rickshaw driver ever in India. The rides here in Hyderabad are like a roll coaster ride. For a vehicle meant to carry a maximum of three passengers, there is always a space for three more. I have also traveled with eight other fellow passengers just to save money during the start of my career. I remember how we used to bargain with the drivers over a five rupee deal. 

An Auto-rickshaw Ride
Auto-Rickshaw journey is just a unique experience in Hyderabad and I really get nostalgic travelling in one. They are abundantly available and take you almost anywhere in the City.  

5. Experience the History at Golconda Fort and Kutub Shahi Tombs

The Golconda Fort and the Kutub Shashi Tombs are situated hardly a couple of kilometers away from each other. I have visited both these places twice – the first time in the year 2005 and the latest being in the year 2013. Like I always say, almost everything in Hyderabad remains the way it is irrespective of when you visit. The Kutub Shahi Tombs are a series of Mughal Tombs which imparts a strong message to humankind. It is said that these tombs were built by several Mughal emperors when they existed. The primary purpose of these tombs being built by them was to see their own graves during their own presence. In literal terms, these emperors built their own graves. Death is a reality of life just like life itself is. They strongly believed that man must remember his own death every single day of his life. Built several centuries back in time, these tombs stand straight today signifying the importance of remembering death just as we live and breathe. 

One of the Several Kutub Shahi Tombs
Forts always excite me and Golconda has been one of my favorite forts so far. After several years of glory, the Golconda stands straight amid-st several ruined walls. It is a sweaty experience to climb this fort and the best time to visit is in the early evenings. When it turns dark, there is a special light show arranged at the fort which narrates the glorious past of the Golconda for tourists. I happened to witness this light show in 2005 but did not wait until dark during the recent visit. I am not really sure if the light show still happens. Nonetheless, spending a peaceful time over the Golconda watching the beautiful view at the horizon is by far a rejuvenating experience.

A View from the Golconda Fort

4. Visit the Durgam Cheravu Lake near Madhapur

This is my favorite place in Hyderabad. Cheravu, as I learnt from my Andhra friend means a lake. This place is at it’s best ambience at evenings. With beautiful flower gardens and plantations all around this is a popular place among families and couples planning to start families. There is a small lake where one can also enjoy a boat ride which is one of the best experience in the evenings.

3. Get Filmy at the Ramoji Film City

If you are a movie freak, I would definitely recommend you to visit Ramoji Film City once and experience the reality of the sets you often see in your favorite movies. They have several packages to suit different budgets. If you plan to stay overnight, accommodation can also be arranged in advance. I believe, this is how movie crew does when they plan a big banner project. But, for the tourists visiting Ramoji, they have enough things that will keep them entertained all around the day. Do not forget to bring your camera as you just cannot stop getting filmy at Ramoji. I really loved the Ramoji Tower which hosted a 4D movie experience of an earthquake. Airports, London street, Statue of Liberty, Hospitals, Railway stations or Meena Bazaar, you will find a replica of nearly everything at the Film City. There were several other rides that cannot be described in words, you would rather love to experience them all by yourself. 

The Ramoji Film City Entrance
I was quite happy to see several sets and gardens in the same condition as they were seen in several Bollywood movies. A short one hour tour hosted by the Ramoji Film City was remarkable and I am sure all the visitors would cherish this tour and remember the facts publicly shared by the tour guide about the most famous movies shot at Ramoji which they had been watching for years.

2. Board a Ferry to the Buddha Statue

Consecrated by the Dalai Lama the Buddha Statue standing right in the center of the Hussain Sagar Lake remains a new Identity of Hyderabad. There is a ferry service from the NTR Gardens to the statue. However, spending much time near the statue is prohibited since the same ferry will take you back to the starting point. Evenings are the best times to spend around the Hussain Sagar Lake. 

The Buddha Statue at the Hussain Sagar
There are several places around this lake which will keep you busy and entertained. A drive around the necklace road is very nice experience. There are several things that will keep you busy at NTR Gardens including the light show which starts as soon as it gets dark.

1. A Romantic Walk at the Hussain Sagar Lake at Night

The best time to visit the Hussain Sagar lake is in the late evenings and nothing could beat a romantic walk around it. Do I really need to explain about it any further!

Enchanting Coorg and Mysore... @ North Karnataka

If a thought to sneak away from the city stress crosses your weary mind while in Bangalore, then you just cannot miss planning a quick weekend trip to places around Mysore and within the Coorg District of Karnataka. Yes, it is a long road trip and in order to cover the complete places, one needs to reserve at least two days. You can plan an overnight stay in Mysore so as to cover the city and the beautiful places around it which are definitely must visit places on your way to Coorg (Kodagu). The Bangalore-Mysore Highway is a speedy highway which at times may become prone to traffic due to weekend rush on Fridays and Mondays. But if you start early on a Saturday morning, you may cheat the city traffics. This road trip starts from Bangalore visiting Mysore via. a small town called Srirangapatna and then catching up with the Mysore-Coorg Highway. 

Mesmerizing Coorg
Once you are in Coorg, you may also plan to visit the Madikeri which is the headquarters of the Coorg District and is a famous hill station too.

Namdroling Monastery in the Bylakuppe town in Mysore

Bylakuppe is a small town in Mysore District around 96 kms. from Srirangapatna in Mandya District. It was rather unusual for me to experience a very different culture of this town which was unlike several other towns of South India. This town is inhabited by many Tibetans and it is believed that the population of Tibetans including the Monks and nuns are more than 70,000. For some reason, I get a very serene feeling when I look at the Tibetan Monks. 

A Tibetan Monastry on our way to Mysore
We happened to visit the Namdroling Monastery which was an experience of a different kind. Inside the monastery, there are huge golden status of several Buddhas including the founder of Buddhism religion Buddha Shakyamuni, Buddha Padmasambhava and Buddha Amitayus. You can rest here staring at these statues which will bring divine peace to your mind. 

Buddha Amitayus
Today, the Namdroling Monastery is a home for more than 6000 Tibetan Monks and is renowned as a center for the pure upholding of the teachings of the Buddha.

A Tibetan kid in Bylakuppe
Krishnarajasagar Dam and Brindavan Gardens

The Dam is built across the Cauveri River and just beside the dam is the famous Brindavan Garden. It is too rare to miss these gardens on your way towards Mysore. With lush green tree and flower plantations all around, it is surely understood why this has been a hub for shooting several famous love songs of old Bollywood movies. There is a small fish aquarium built across the garden which has quite a different variety of fish on display. This attraction is has a nominal fee and school students visiting the Brindavan really enjoy them. 

The Krishnarajasagar Dam
The Krishnarajasagar Dam is a beautiful and well constructed dam with a planned pathway for tourists visiting it. The mighty flow of the river can clearly be experienced from here and one can imagine how a river flows across several villages of South India quencing the thirst of severals on it's way.

Water Fountains at the Brindavan Garden
The Mysore Palace (Ambavilas Palace)

The famous Mysore Palace remains the greatest attraction in the city of Mysore. One can enjoy a short guided tour through the palace and enjoy a historic view of the paintings and architechture of the structure. The most amazing part of the architechture is that the entire palace is covered with electric bulbs which are all lit up during special occations for e.g. on the auspicious occation of the Dashera which commomorates the victory of the good over evil. The palace was the official residence and center of the Wodeyars who rules the princely state of Mysore from 1399 to 1950.

The Mysore Palace
The palace houses several rooms of unique historic importances which are clearly written and displayed during the tour. Just outside the palace are several lion statues which will make you ponder and tempt you to pose some good pictures with them. Certainly, the Mysore Palace is worth a visit.

Talakaveri and Brahmagiri Hills

Talakaveri is a small temple village in the Coorg District of Karnataka. This place has a good number of tourists visiting every day. This place is the origin of the River Cauvery which further flows through four different states of South India. We can drive all the way to the foothills of the temple. As a common scene across several major temples of India, there are small shops outside the temple where you can buy yourself quick snacks. On entering the temple you will come across a water kund (pond) where devotees wash their feet and hands after travelling through the narrow roads towards the village. There are two temples beside the holy water kund the first one of Lord Ganesha and the other of Lord Shiva. 

A Majestic View of Coorg
The most beautiful part of the visit to Talakaveri is the climb towards the Brahmagiri Hills. Right beside the temple, there are footsteps which will take you to the highest peak of the Brahmagiri Hills which is nearly 1350 feet above the sea level. The scenic view one can observe from this peak is uncomparable to any other place on earth. It is believed that the seven great sages known as the Sapta Maharishis performed a great yagya right here. You can see the distant horizons from here and the clouds kissing the winds as it rushes through your hair. The view of several windmills on these mountains seem too beautiful to miss. I am sure that the pictures you capture from this place will be your best pictures in Coorg.

Walking On The Movie Streets @ Millennium Park, Chicago Downtown

Believe me, I just happened to visit the Chicago Downtown last month with almost no idea what the place had in store for me. Thanks to my American friend who initiated this weekend outing which was a much needed break from the mundane days spent at the hotel at Schaumburg, Illinois. This is just like what we have seen in the movies, I exclaimed as our car entered the busy street near the Chicago River Walk. This was the street which was featured in several of the Hollywood Blockbusters including The Dark Knight, Transformers and Home Alone. And yes, this was where Amir Khan drove his BMW bike in the Bollywood Blockbuster DHOOM 3. I had been a close observer of these movies for quite some time now but was never bothered about the location where these movies were shot. Having it all of a sudden before my eyes and getting told by someone about it was an unparalleled feeling. Of course, Chicago Downtown was better than how it looked in the Movies unlike several other locations featured in the movies which are nothing but sets mocking the original places. 

A Street at the Chicago Downtown as seen from the Millennium Park
The Cloud Gate a.k.a. the bean was one of the most beautiful pieces of Architecture at the Millennium Park. One cannot simply miss it’s polished surface reflecting the Chicago skyline and I am sure it has been featured in several movies. It was good to know that this famous structure was designed and developed by an India-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor. This was another reason for me to believe that most great things in the United States are masterminded by geniuses having Indian roots. It was a weekend and the Millennium Park was a crowded place with people from all age groups. There were several cultural activities happening around at the Park. We enjoyed a short musical performance by some of the Japanese school students that concluded our stint at the Park.

Cloud Gate @ Millennium Park
It was a superb experience to walk along the Michigan Lake which was just a road-crossing distance from the Millennium Park. Watching a couple of geese floating together on the blue surface of the lake was a soothing experience. It was just then we heard some noises of electric guitars getting tuned across the lake – a rock band getting themselves prepared for an evening concert. Wish we could attend it but there were better things to do than indulging in a concert which were quite common at my college. Our parking meter was on and frankly, driving along the streets of the Michigan Avenue was much more cheaper than spending more than double the amount on parking. The Lake Shore Drive was one coolest experience. Many a times, we almost go ourselves lost on the crossroads and had to rely on the GPS to get out of the loop. After a long drive on the gorgeous streets, we decided to try Chicago’s famous Deep Dish Pizza at the Gino’s East. It was my first time trying the Deep Dish version of the Pizza. We ordered the large one and waited for more than a couple of hours for us to be served. Hailing from a country where Pizzas are delivered in less than 30 minutes, it was rather unusual for me to wait for this long for a Pizza. But the outcome was worth the wait. Snap, snap, snap – that is what I did before getting a bite of this beautiful dish. We enjoyed it to the fullest and almost overate. It was just then when we realized why celebrities visited Gino’s East this often. No wonder why the restaurant owner showcased a huge list of movie stars and politicians including the President himself on the walls of the restaurant.

The movie world is a fictional world but places like the Chicago Downtown was a real experience for me and being there was no less than being in a Dreamworld.

The Himachal Experience At Manali And Shimla

Soon after our mind boggling tour of Kashmir, in June 2014 we decided to have a grand family tour to the state of Himalayan wonderland – Himachal Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh is one of the northernmost state in India and one of the major tourist destination cities are Shimla and Manali. Although it is generally freezing cold during the winter months, it was rather pleasant to be here in June when the rest of the States in the Country are witnessing early monsoon showers. 

The Journey towards Shimla

On Day 1 of our tour, we reached the New Delhi airport in the afternoon. The temperature in Delhi was already competing with that of the major cities in the middle east countries and I am quite sure that it was somewhere close to 50 degree Celsius. After a late lunch at the hotel, we planned to have a local sightseeing of the national capital. Delhi has it’s own charisma and visiting the major tourist attractions here is an affair of half a day. We had a quick visits to the famous Kutub Minar, the Bahai Lotus Temple, India Gate and the Indian Parliament. The very next morning, our journey to Shimla began. We chose to board a comfortable Volvo bus since the journey was a long one that lasted for nearly 10 hours. On our way to Shimla, we had a stopover at the historic Pinjore Gardens. It was quite neatly maintained and felt like an Oasis amidst the soaring heat. This was the last place where we saw plain land and ever since we started from Pinjore, it was all a mountainous road trip. The weather started to change gradually as we continued our uphill journey towards the State Capital, the city of Shimla. Summer had just ended but it was good to see greenery spread across the mountains that passed by. After a few hours of uphill climb, it started getting dark and even darker as we approached Shimla at around 8 PM in the evening. After such a long and tiring drive, there was not enough motivation left to have an evening walk on the streets of this beautiful destination. We left it all for the next day. After a good dinner at the hotel, we simply chose to squeeze ourselves inside the comfy quilts and put ourselves to charge up for the next day just as we plugged up our cell phones to the switches. 

Exploring Shimla

I had heard someone saying that the night sleep gets over early amongst the mountains and that was an apt experience for us. Despite a tiring journey last day, we woke up early and the present day was solely dedicated to admire the beauty of Shimla. It was a good idea to start with the tiring activities first and that brought us up to Kufri. June is that part of the year when you really would not find any snow in Shimla. We took up this rather optimistically since, absence of snow gave us a better view of the city. On our way towards Kufri, it was rather unusual for a metropolitan resident like me to see numerous houses built on top of sky rising mountains which leaped straight towards the deep valleys. Seeing these housing in so large numbers, felt like a huge honey bee comb trying to grab their hard earned honey inside. Certainly, with such natural beauty scattered all around, it must have been a privilege for the localities here to stay at a hill station. But, that is just a perspective of a stupid tourist like me, I thought. Living at such a place for ever has it’s own challenges. The mountainous roads gave us chills inside to see deep valleys just a few inches away from us. It was indeed a breathtaking experience. We came across several schools on our way – schools right inside a valley and children effortlessly climbing to their classrooms. This was something unusual for us to watch. Everything here is stuck to the mountains – schools, colleges, government buildings, temples, hotels, houses and private offices. This is the specialty of a hill station like Shimla.

One of the numerous breathtaking views from Rohtang Valley
Kufri was a 2 hour drive from Shimla and soon as we got down, we were encircled by a group of horse owners offering us their horses for a ride. At Kufri, the localities do not allow outside vehicles beyond a certain point where outsiders will be mandated to park their vehicles. In order to reach to the top, you need to hire a horse ride or if you are adventurous enough, you could opt to have a small trek. We hired few horses for INR 480/- per head and later realized that this was a better decision given the condition of the roads towards the Kufri temple. The horse ride was very enjoyable and was scary at times esp. when the horse climbed a sloppy mountain surface. The overall impression after reaching the Kufri point was not that great and soon we realized that the experience would have been much better in winters. It was rather dusty up there and snow was what we missed a lot at that very time. But, it was good to have a memorable horse ride here. Certainly, it is hard for us to imagine Kufri without the horses.

A Local Himachal Girl on her way to School
A couple of kilometers away from Kufri, we visited the Himalayan Zoo which claimed of having several wild animals and also advertising themselves to be worth a visit. However, to our dismay we did not encounter enough beasts that could entertain our 3 year old. After the Zoo, we had a quick lunch at a local restaurant at Kufri and headed back towards Shimla city. Our next destination was the Shimla Mall. Hold on; like you, the word ‘Mall’ did confuse me as well. If you were expecting something like a modern building just as we have in our metropolitan cities, then this place is not at all one like that. It is just a big market place and is the prime area to shop at Shimla. As I mentioned earlier, everything in Shimla resides on mountains, this market is a no exception to it and we had to wait for more than half an hour for a paid elevator which took us there in two different phases. I had never ever paid money to use an elevator nor waited for so long to board one; this was my first time doing so. Optionally, you can climb stairs to reach atop at the Mall. As soon as you reach up, you will come across the famous Shimla Church where you can spend some time if you wish. However, we got too much engrossed at the various shops at the Mall that we did not realize when it was dark. After enjoying some shopping, a little bit of street food and tea, we drove back to our hotels. It was a remarkable experience and it was hard to believe that it was our second night at Shimla. After such a weary day filled with some new memories, it was hard to bid an adieu to Shimla the very next morning.

Nature getting better as we head up towards Manali 

It was nearly a 60% hilly drive all the way towards Manali. If you have a motion sickness or a nausea, better to have a light breakfast as the roads from Shimla towards Manali will only get more curvy at the beginning of your Journey. I had this problem as a kid but hilly drives just stir away my stomach even today. A recent solution I have found out to this problem is to stare at the upcoming curve on the road and that is how you can get rid of the motion sickness. I am sure if it works for me, may be it may work for anyone else too. I was happy to see some straight roads approaching soon after a few hours that gave me a sigh of relief. We halted for lunch and most of us decided to have a bit heavy one after we learnt that the worst hilly roads were just over. That may sound funny but this was a practical problem with most tourists travelling on these roads. A dangerously magnificent view of the River Bias caught our attention soon as we were a few miles away from Kullu, a small town near Manali. The river was breathtakingly beautiful and dangerous at the same time since it had won a credibility of engulfing several teenagers just a week before our arrival. We could see the search operations by the Indian Army men still on at the Dam on the river. The River water although looked muddy at the start, but soon began changing it’s color as we headed upwards towards Manali. White water river rafting is one of the famous water sport being played by tourists visiting Manali and soon we started to realize why the water was called white. The weather began changing it’s course gradually and it soon started becoming colder and even more colder. All throughout our journey, the Beas waters continued giving us a good company. We enjoyed the human settlements across the River and amid the beautiful mountains. It was a long day long journey and the Sun was almost on it’s way to go down beyond these mountains. The Golden rays emitted by him gently kissed the white waters just like a lover kissing his beautiful girl and promising her to meet up soon the very next day. A flock of Himalayan sheep blocked our way at one of the crossroads which gave my camera a room to work and capture the scene permanently on the memory card. I looked at the Shepherd guiding them towards home with envy. Merely having a carefree look at them was so soothing, so relaxing. It was dark by the time we reached our hotel Manali. I had a casual look outside the hotel balcony. It was 10 PM and the night was captured by the silence of the mountains. I heard a distant noise which soon turned out to be a music; one that was the best I had ever heard in my life. It was a distant sound of the dangerously beautiful river Beas cutting the silence of the night. I held the beautiful hand of my wife who too joined in listening to the music produced by the River. Just then my eyes stuck upon something that caught my attending in the night sky. For a moment, it was hard to imagine what it was but the very next moment I took a guess. It must be the snow resting over the mountain peak. Priya, my wife did not buy that but was almost went by surprise the very next morning when She had a majestic view of the snowcapped mountain from the window; the first thing to see when she opened her eyes that day. This was the beginning of our most memorable moments at Manali.

Adventures activities at Manali

Manali is a place known for trekkers, for people with a zest for adventures, climbing snowcapped mountains, indulging in water sports and for most of other things that would be on your 100 things to do before you die list. The next morning, we got ourselves busy with adventures such as, Zipline climbing, parasailing, river crossing and shooting. We chose a spot beside the River where there was a camp arranged by a local organizer that carried out these activities for tourists. River rafting was stopped due to the unfortunate incident the took place last week and authorities were on a lookout for anyone indulging in such dangerous activities. The River itself is so rough and to add to the difficulty is it’s uneven rocky bed which will not provide even a single chance to someone who unfortunately gets into it’s powerful current. Believe me, my intentions are not to scare my readers but rather to make them alert on the unpardonable nature of the River Beas. 

After lunch we headed towards the Hadimba temple, a temple which was of a different kind. It looked like an ancient temple of the asur (Devil Goddess) Hadimba. It was rather unusual to see people venerating a Devil in so large numbers and to see people in large numbers forming queues outside the temple. Apparently, most of the local vehicles at Manali carried the name of the Devil Goddess. Localities had a deep belief in her. The temple surroundings were one with the best ambience a temple could have. With huge pine trees surrounding the temple, it is quite easy to imagine why not only Gods, but also Devils chose such places on Earth to relax, to meditate. Certainly, humans are no exception to it and so weren’t we. We spend few minutes admiring the temple architecture and rested at a rock in front of the temple for a few soothing moments. That was a much needed break after an adventurous day. But this was just a beginning of a great adventurous time we were going to have further in Manali. On our way back to our hotel, we also visited the Vashista Kund, a place where we found hot water springs amidst the cold weather of Manali.

Rohtang Pass and Solang Valley

We started at 3:30 AM at dawn towards Rohtang. The Rohtang Pass is known for the most scenic views of the Himalayas in the entire state. It is filled with snow almost at any part of the year. This was our impression about Rohtang before we actually visited the place. It is really required to start the journey towards Rohtang from Manali this early as traffic is a huge problem to and fro. If you start this early, it is only then your timely reaching there can be assured in approximately 3 hours. However, there is absolutely no guarantee or any assurance on the time required to come back from Rohtang. This very fact alone added to the thrill of visiting Rohtang. 

A Selfie shot soon after we landed at Rohtang Valley
We reached the Rohtang Valley in almost 3 hours. The beautiful early morning drive on the roads, seemed to have nearly no trespassers for ages. Of course, this turned out to be a joke when after the Sun got up, we saw these roads getting crowded with traffic. We rented out the snow jackets, caps and glasses on our way towards Rohtang and just when we got down from our vehicle, we realized that such thick jackets turned out to be incapable of handling the cold winds which continually attacked our faces. Our attempts to keep ourselves warm in this kind of weather turned futile every other moment that passed by. I wanna get inside our car, our 3 year old murmured. Well, it took us a few more minutes to adjust in this climate. Our bodies were shivering as in hell. For those very moments, we were only thinking of keeping ourselves in a better condition. It was only then when we realized how extremely difficult nature could be in a cold atmosphere. Soon we decided to walk towards the Sun in a hope to gather some warmth. Exposing our hands in the Sun gave us the confidence to walk around. After our bodies got settled at Rohtang, we were carried away by the beauty that almost killed us by it’s mere looks. India has such a variety of geographies. It has beaches, rainforests, deserts, snowcapped mountains – you just name it and it is there, I thought. It was so good to see people enjoying skiing and driving snow trucks. More interestingly, it was a surprise to see a small local restaurant operational up here which offered a variety of breakfasts. I never expected such a fully operational business at a difficult place like Rohtang. Attractions all around the world have been deeply commercialized lately and Rohtang was no exception to this. After spending a couple of hours in the valley, we recollected our chauffer’s words who insistently asked us to come back to the car early lest we may spend the rest of the day in the traffic. It was not easy to find our car and it took nearly 30 minutes searching for it. To add to the difficulty, cell phone signals do not work at Rohtang. Soon after we found our vehicle, we started towards the Solang Valley. We spent more than 3 hours later in the traffic and Ironically, this was the best time I have ever spent in a traffic jam. At every point on the road downhill where we got stuck up, it was another chance for a majestic view of the Himalayan snowcapped mountain ranges. Every time we stopped, our cameras did their jobs well. This was the best experience of all we had during our Himachal tour.

At Solang Valley, we got engaged in quick eateries and enjoyed the distant view of the snowcapped mountains. We were back out of the snow and each one of us very well realized the fact that the distant beautiful views were hard to sustain being so close to them. Certainly, beauty comes with thorns and our today’s experience well explained it. After all these days we had spent at Manali, there came another day to start a long journey back home. In order to have a rather comfortable journey, we decided to arrive at New Delhi after a night’s stay at Chandigarh. This provided us a breather and courage to cover a long Journey way back home. Himachal has been a memorable place and the memories will undoubtedly remain green in our minds for the rest of our lives.

5 Awesomest Things To Do In Mauritius

I always wanted to share my travel experiences on my recent couple of visits to Mauritius, a marvelous luxury holiday beach destination in Africa. Mauritius is an island just to the east of Madagascar. The capital city of Mauritius is Port Louis which is a commercial hub of the country. During my visit to the country, I stayed in Port Louis and was able to explore the characteristics of the city and the country culture in a broader sense.

A majority of the local population of Mauritius are North Indians who are descendants of the Bihari population that was smuggled as slaves by the Britishers during their rule over India. The local language of the country is Creole but French and Hindi are also widely spoken all across the country. The local language Creole is also spoken in other African countries viz. Rodrigues and Seychelles. It was an amazing experience for me to see Hindi speaking population speaking good French in large numbers. 

Although Mauritius is a country filled with friendly local people, it is rather unsafe to roam at evenings esp. at the crowded city like Port Louis which is also a hub for several drug addicts. This post of mine is not really to scare you but rather to tell you about the 5 awesomest things to do here - something I experienced the most.

1. Visit the Ganga Talaab: Unlike a majority of the religious places in Indian cities and villages, where godliness is searched within poorly maintained and filthy temples, the Ganga Talaab in Mauritius was a rejuvenating experience. The cold and blissful climate at this lake was one of the best I have experienced at any of the Hindu religious places so far. The cleanliness maintained at the lake was quite intriguing. Right at the entrance of the temple area, I came across a huge Lord Shiva statue that stood straight up and was a center of attraction for the Devotees visiting the place. Apparently, there were many tourists visiting the place rather than the Devotees. During the festival of Mahashivratri, several Hindu Devotees turn up to Ganga Talaab to offer prayers to Lord Shiva.

The Serene Ganga Talaab

2. Basking in the Sun at the Beach: Mauritius is an island country and it's coral beaches are one of the best in the World. I spent an entire weekend having a drive along the Mauritian coast. Two days are more than enough to cover the entire circumference of the country and cover all of the beaches. Almost all of the beaches were as clean as the beautiful blue skies seen above. Most of the beaches I came across seemed as if no mankind had ever adulterated the sanctity of them. Blue skies, Blue waters and Lush Green mangroves were the only two colors I saw during this weekend. I had a good time collecting some of the coral deposits, shells and pebbles to carry way back home on these beaches. I also bought a big conch for 250 Mauritian Rupees as a memory of these blissful beaches.

The Mauritian Blue

3. Try Street Food at Port Louis: When I talk about street food at Mauritius, I mean try out the awesome Dholl Puri which is the most popular snack across the entire country. Mauritius is deeply inspired from the Indian culture. Most of the dishes here are also having Indian flavors in it and Dholl Puri is one amongst them. Essentially, the Puri is made up of maida (fine wheat floor) and Dholl is a mixture of beans, few other spices and fish or chicken curries that boil up into an awesome taste. A western equivalent to this local dish is a frankie but Dholl Puri has it's own identity and taste. There are other street foods available that are mainly bakery products which can be tried out. However, hygiene is a concern if you try out something at local food joints so better be precautions of what you choose to eat. Port Louis is quite busy city and there are also quite a few good restaurants which offer good Indian, Chinese and Mauritian food options. It was in Mauritius where I tried out a squid snack dish for the very first time in my Life. An average meal for two will cost around 500 Mauritian Rupees.
Fish for Sale at a Mall in Mauritius
A Typical Street at Port Louis, Mauritius
4. Spend a Romantic Evening at the Le Caudan Waterfront: The Waterfront Mall is a must visit when you are at Port Louis. This mall is surrounded by the sea from one side which gives an illusion that the entire place is floating on the water. This is a perfect place to spend romantic evenings. The only not so good thing about Mauritian shops I found is that everything closes down at 5 PM. But there are pubs, bars and casinos that will keep you entertained if you are really a night creature. The Waterfront offers a delightful option of Movies, Gaming zones, Casions, Restaurants and Coffee shops where you can laze around and spend hours chit chatting or simply enjoying the view of the blue waters.

5. Dive into the Sea at Blue Bay: With the breathtakingly beautiful blue sky getting reflecting on to the sea water as you swim into it with roaring air planes flying closely right up on your head, the Blue Bay was quite a good experience. Unlike several other quite beaches I came across at Mauritius, this beach was one of the most crowded places at Mauritius and believed to be a safe place to swim and conclude a beautiful trip to Mauritius.
Blue Is The Color of the Heavens

Kashmir - The Perfect Getaway

Kashmir was our most awaited holiday destination for a long time and it was only in November of 2013 when it turned into a reality. A Paradise as it is generally referred to; we were more than excited to experience the bliss and some great surprises it claimed to offer us. Winter had just begun and the temperatures in Mumbai had already started to drop. We knew it would be challenging as far as the weather conditions were concerned and this made us power pack our bags with lots and lots of body warmers, jackets and sweaters. Here we were all set to freak out our minds with the enchanting beauty of the only Paradise on the planet.

We started at 11 AM in the morning to board a direct flight to Srinagar from Mumbai. The first two hours of the flight were pretty usual until we flew over the majestic snow capped mountains of the Himalayan ranges. It was the first time we experienced such a breath taking view from a commercial airplane. It was partly cloudy outside the flight on that sunny afternoon which initially made us hard to believe what we saw over the mountain peaks was actually snow. But soon enough all our doubts were clarified and our minds accepted this surprise as a reality. It was pretty cool and comfortable 21 degree Celsius inside the aircraft. However, we had no clues that our comfort was short-lived and that it would last only until the cabin crew had bid us a Good Bye.

Aerial View of Kashmir
A chill of cold wave entered our ears as we landed on the Srinagar airport. Soon as we claimed our baggage we had them wide open to pull out our jackets, scarves and body warmers. It was 8 degree Celsius at the Srinagar airport. After a warm welcome from our trip organizers, we headed towards the beautiful Dal Lake which was a short 45 minutes ride from the airport. It was rather unusual for a Metropolitan person like me to see so many Indian Army soldiers appointed at every hundered meters distance. It was also unusual to see most of the roads sparingly crowded and most shops outside the airport closed down. This gave us and our fellow tourists an uncomfortable feeling about the city.  However, soon after a conversation with our local chauffer and our tour guide, we learnt that the shops remain closed on Sundays. That was weird, we thought. Srinagar is a city of tourism. Tourists are the sole means of bread and butter for a majority of the localities in the city. They are pretty professional when it comes to handling tourists and of course, they hold some expectations in return. It’s better to plan your tour in advance in order to avoid last minute bargains.

We reached the Ghat No. 12 at the famous Dal Lake where our own Shikara (boat) was waiting for us. The Shikara ride has a special significance due to it’s glamorization in Indian movies and their popular songs. Shikara is a narrow boat with a comfortable sitting arrangement, a small one will carry up to 5 persons including the driver. 1 hour of a Shikara ride charged us INR 400. The most interesting part of the Shikara ride was that the person riding us was a beautiful Kashmiri singer. “We are naturally like this. We do not need cosmetics unlike your movie stars”, I recollect his words and his pink-cheeked face that has remained green in my memory. We spent rest of the evening singing songs with him over the beautiful Lake enjoying it’s floral and scenic beauty. Having a cup of tea at a floating shop on the Lake in such a cold weather was an experience of it’s kind. We also visited a few garment shops at the Meena Bazaar - floating market over the lake but as the evening approached, the cold was almost unbearable. Soon it was dark and we checked in at our House Boat where our cook served us a sumptuous dinner.  

Dal Lake
The next day we headed towards Gulmarg which is around 52 kms from Srinagar. It was almost a straight drive and took us around a couple of hours to reach. However, the later part of the drive was a twisted uphill drive towards Gulmarg. The famous Gondola ride through the snow capped mountains is the only attraction for most of the tourists visiting Gulmarg. It is one of the largest Gondolas in Asia. On our way, we rented snow jackets and gum boots that later proved our saviors. After lunch at our hotel, we started towards the Gondola ride. The ride is covered in two phases. It is not advisable for people with medical problems or heart ailments to visit the Phase 2 of the ride. During heavy snow fall or poor climatic conditions, Phase 2 remains closed for tourists. Tickets for the Gondola ride can be booked in advanced over the Internet or can be booked on the spot early in the morning. The Gondola car gave us a beautiful view of the pine trees wrapped with the snow. The 10 minutes ride to Phase 1 was remarkable and the experience was permanently captured in our memories. We reached Phase 1 and walked over the slippery snow bed. To our dismay, Phase 2 was closed down due to a heavy snowfall on the mountain. We had the liberty to hire the pony and enjoy skiing and other sports. Enjoying a Snicker Bar to kill the hunger after falling down a couple of times on the snow was unforgettable. We came down to our hotels before it was dark and spent the rest of the evening battling the ruthless cold.

Aru Valley, Pehalgam
We started for Pahalgam the very next morning which was a long 6 hours drive via. Srinagar. Kashmir is known as the land of Chinaars due to the abundant plantation of the Chinaar trees all around the State. Driving through the roads, making a way ahead through these trees is a beautiful experience. Some Chinaar trees are so shady on the roads that one does not feel like moving ahead from it’s very own shady grace. On the way we had a stopover at the Saffron (Kesar) Gardens and had an opportunity to buy the real Saffron from the very source – the farms. As we headed towards Pahalgam, the wide open highway roads started becoming steeper until it made us realize why it must have got it’s name. The wide open green grazing lands between the valleys and the snow capped mountains across the roads were enchanting us. The Periodic view of the serene, peaceful grazing herds of wool coated sheep added to the beauty of the place. The innocent looks of the Kashmiri villagers looking at the tourists peeping out of the windows felt like they were welcoming us to their Paradise. We reached our hotel at Pahalgam late in the afternoon. After lunch, we spent the evening at the local Pahalgam Market.

The very next day was dedicated to explore the beauty of Pahalgam. The famous Betaab Valley was the first to visit. The valley has got it’s name from the famous Hindi Movie Betaab which was shot in this Valley in the early 1980s. Even after several decades, the place has maintained it’s sanctity and there is almost no change in it’s beauty or ambience. Personally, I find myself out of words to describe the charisma of the place and this valley is one of the best places I have ever experienced in my life till date. After spending an hour at the place, it was hard to bid an adieu. We headed towards Chandanwadi which is where the famous Amarnath Temple Journey starts. Amarnath Journey has a religious significance amongst the Hindus and Lord Shiva devotees. This journey of approximately 30 kms. through the snow starts from Chandanwadi and we had the privilege of stepping on the steps that headed towards the Temple. After spending some quiet moments, we headed towards the Aru Valley which is a few minutes drive through the breathtaking views of the mountains and lush green Valleys systematically designed and nurtured by Mother Nature. Aru Valley seemed like just another Nature’s marvel. This is why it is also known as the mini Switzerland, a destination that it’s best. Way back to our hotel in Pahalgam, we stopped over a few scenic locations to get our cameras in action just to realize that these spots were familiar to us and were already featured in many Indian movies and famous songs. The time we had spent at the hotel that evening was exhilarating and filled with numerous memories of the day – a holiday spent at it’s best.

Betaab Valley, Pehalgam
We came back to Srinagar the next day which was around 95 kms. drive. On the way towards Srinagar, we halted at Bijbehara, the village of apple gardens surrounded by beautiful Chinaar trees. Plucking an apple and enjoying it’s sweetness as it quickly melted in my mouth was something I had never done before. Those were the freshest apples we ever ate. A few minutes before Srinagar, we also visited the Avantipura Temple just on the road towards the city. The ancient sculpture and craftsmanship of this Old Hindu Temple is indeed notable. At Srinagar we visited the Shankaracharya Temple which is located at the highest point in the city. Climbing the steps towards the Temple was a good exercise and also worth the view. It gave a spectacular glimpse of the Srinagar city beside the beautiful Dal Lake. The numerous stationery house boats on the Lake looked like a beautiful garland around the City. After a late lunch at our hotel, we visited the renowned Mughal Gardens and Chasmeshahi Garden. This is the second best way to spend an evening in Srinagar. The best still remains the Shikara ride on the Dal Lake.

Sonmarg is a few hours drive from Srinagar. Reaching there is another treat to the eyes and experiencing the snowy atmosphere in there is another. Sonmarg is probably the only tourist place in Kashmir where one can find snow at almost any part of the year. After we reached Sonmarg, we had the liberty to choose a pony ride or a local car. However, me and a fellow tourist decided to walk into the wilderness of the snow. This is something very adventurous and one of the most memorable thing I have done in the Paradise. When we returned back from the mountains, we had returned with two big balls of snow which were generously gifted to our spouses as a token of love. That was memorable too. After spending such a blissful time in the Paradise, we unanimously felt sad to leave the place. The white snow had by now became permanently green in our memories. We headed back to the Srinagar airport with a promise to visit Kashmir again.

Life Is All About... Knowing Your Purpose

I am sharing my most recent experiences with Falun Dafa in this post.

Introduction to Dafa

The Fa is enormous and the most profound thing I have come across in my life. I wholeheartedly thank our revered Master for this pre-destined opportunity provided to me. The biggest hurdle I experience in my cultivation practice is that I am surrounded by everyday people all around me. Way back in the year 2011 when I was introduced by a friend to Falun Dafa, I firstly ignored him. But he continued to introduce me to this Great Law wheel and the principles of the Universe. This happened several times and the level of resistance I had in listening to him came down steadily every time we spoke. I knew that whatever I got to know from this friend was truth and something that demanded a high level of character standard. There was some shortcoming within me that was stopping me to open up. Today, I am enlightened to the fact that this friend was a messenger of the Master. This is since our meeting was arranged by the Master which was indeed pre-destined. What really worked well was this friend’s dedication, sincerity in clarifying the truth and above all the genuineness in his own cultivation practice. Today, I have realized that without putting emphasis on our own cultivation practice, it is very hard to make everyday people believe or get them introduced to Dafa.

Early Days

It is not at all easy being a Dafa practitioner. Being in this world of everyday people, it feels like a real test. When I am practicing the meditation exercises or studying the Master’s lectures, I find myself closer to the truth. I feel lighter and even more when I get involved into any of the three things. Many a times, I get carried away by the worldly things around me. This is a very difficult situation. When this happens, I feel ashamed. I know that I am answerable to no one but myself. When I was new to the practice, there were too many interferences encountered from outside. For example, whenever I thought of performing the exercises at home, one of my family members would bring up an issue which would make me disturbed. My spouse would start an argument which would make reading the book very difficult. This is just to name a few. In almost all of such situations, the first few minutes were full of hurdles. But when I was successful in overcoming these hurdles, things were very easy. If I could make it through the first ten minutes of reading Zhuan Falun, I could reach into a different realm of thoughts. When I continued reading further, I used to get the answers to all the problems. It was then when I realized that all that happened was so paltry. I was able to identify my own mistakes instantly. It helped me improve every single time.

I was introduced to the exercises first by few of the practitioners at a Practice site near my home in Pune. It took me some time to understand the implied meaning of the hand movements of the five exercises. It is a common tendency of new practitioners to seek benefits in terms of mental peace, health etc. and I was a no exception to it. But yes, I was very keen to understand the principles behind the practice. That is when I started reading the book Zhuan Falun. The first read took around three months and that was pretty casual. A practitioner suggested me to go for a second read and interestingly this time the book did not seen the same. I was not able to recollect if I had read the same lines before. This pulled in my interest and I was able to understand the lines even better. Every time I read Master’s lectures it took me in a different realm of thought. It has an immense power to soothe any situation. The guiding principle in all the teachings given by the Master is Truth, Compassion and Benevolence. No other book has had such an effect on me.

Soon after I started practicing the Fa regularly and genuinely, there were significant changes in my home atmosphere. There were no arguments at home anymore. I had improved and was continually progressing. My spouse with whom I am sharing a karmic relationship had by now became my strongest supporter. She almost always started telling me to exercise and read the book when I had a free time. This was a drastically changed situation.

Cultivation is a continuous process

Cultivation was never a piece of cake several centuries back. Falun Dafa allows me to practice amongst the everyday people. This not only allows me to possess worldly things such as, wealth, material property, relationships etc. but isat the same time allows me to improve in my cultivation which is by far the sole purpose of my life. I am sure that no other practice today, can guide practitioners in such a way. The Fa taught by the Master helps me ascend in my cultivation level. This is the reason why I always get answers to my problems whenever I randomly open any page and start reading Zhuan Falun. The book is truly a torch bearer in my life. The answers I get from Dafa are supernatural and demand a very high level of personal standard. Even an everyday person will accept that being truthful, kind and tolerant is a good thing. Since an everyday person is filled with worldly attachments, desires and ambitions he will ignore these fundamental characteristics of the Universe. I understand that this is the source of all his problems. Certainly, it is too difficult to change ones thinking overnight. Dafa helps me do that steadily and continuously. Even when I am not practising, I am practising. While at workplace or on the street, when I come across a tricky or difficult situation, it is the Fa that I am recollect. The principles I have been learning are from the heart and they are closely linked to my conscience. This always happens spontaneously while I just need to treat myself as a true practitioner. I am very sure that I can confront any tribulation or situation by following some simple standards Master has set for the practitioners. The principles of Falun Dafa are very transparent and open to everyday people with an open mind and a willing heart.

I recollect Master’s words:
“As a matter of fact, no matter how many more scriptures we publish, they are
merely complementary materials to Zhuan Falun. Only Zhuan Falun can truly
guide a person’s cultivation. It contains inner meanings that go from the level of ordinary people to incomparable heights. As long as you continue to cultivate, Zhuan Falun will always guide your elevation in cultivation.”—Li Hongzhi

No matter how many times I read the book I feel like there is always something more that I have missed in my last read. Putting the Dafa principles at work every single moment amongst everyday people is what makes life challenging and helps me learn from my past mistakes. Being on such a path of continuous improvement makes me feel like I am born newly every day I wake up from sleep.