Living in Delhi NCR, a trip to Rajasthan becomes almost compulsory every winter. In the past, we’ve made short trips to Churu, to Jaipur, to Kishangarh, to Pushkar, to Ranthambhore, & to Sariska.
However, in 2019, we decided to do a proper, week long road trip of the desert state, flitting from place to place. Why a Rajasthan road trip you ask? Well, where else can you get a combination of culture, heritage, history, good food, an arid landscape, & tonnes of color?
We’d nine days to spare around Republic Day. We also have a principle of not driving more than 300 kilometers in a day. We feel it’s an optimal distance – covering fair ground, not too tiring, & gives scope to sight see on the way.
With these points in mind, we chose the route of NCR – Jaipur – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Mandawa – NCR. A few of these places were repetitive for us, but we’d not visited these as a couple. So, our itinerary looked something like this –
Saturday, 26 January 2019 – NCR to Jaipur (289 KMS)
We left on time, had brunch in Behror (146 KMS), & were in Jaipur by afternoon. A cup of tea later, we were out shopping & dining. Overnight in Jaipur.
Sunday, 27 January 2019 – Jaipur & Amer sightseeing
After breakfast, we visited City Palace & Jantar Mantar, strolled through Johari Bazar to reach Hawa Mahal & Laxmi Mishthan Bhandaar (where we’d lunch), & then to Amer (8 KMS from Jaipur) for seeing the fort and the light & sound show.
Back to Jaipur for dinner & overnight stay.
Monday, 28 January 2019 – Jaipur to Udaipur (391 KMS)
We began after breakfast & halted at Kishangarh (102 KMS) to buy marble products in its famed marble market. We’d made an exception today & chosen ~400 KMS. So, today was going to be a long drive. We stopped for lunch at a dhaba in Kishanpura.
We were crossing Nathdwara (248 KMS from Kishangarh) in the evening when we spontaneously took a break to visit Shrinathji. We finally reached Udaipur by late evening. After refreshing, we headed out for dinner. Overnight in Udaipur.
Tuesday, 29 January 2019 – Udaipur sightseeing
Done with breakfast, we visited City Palace Museum, Jagdish Mandir & Bagore Ki Haveli. We ate lunch at a lakefront, rooftop restaurant. We made our way to Chetak Smarak & were back in time for sunset watching at The Sunset Terrace.
We ended the night with the light & sound show at the City Palace, & then dinner. Overnight in Udaipur.
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 – Udaipur to Jodhpur (253 KMS)
We started for Jodhpur after breakfast & a little before lunchtime, we were at Ranakpur (84 KMS). We visited the Jain temple & then lunched at Ranakpur itself. We were at our Jodhpur hotel by early evening. We just went out for dinner tonight.
Overnight in Jodhpur.
Thursday, 31 January 2019 – Jodhpur sightseeing
We began our day with a safari in the Guda Bishnoi village areas (24 KMS). The first half of the day was spent in visiting a traditional Bishnoi household & spotting wildlife in the surrounding areas. We returned to the city for lunch & then visited the Mehrangarh Fort.
The Fort visit was followed by a sun downer, a walk in the Sardar market, seeing Ghanta Ghar, & an early dinner consisting of local specialties. Overnight in Jodhpur.
Friday, 1 February 2019 – Jodhpur to Mandawa (320 KMS)
This stretch of the road was horrible. We reached Mandawa by afternoon & went for a walking tour of the town in the evening. Back to hotel for dinner & overnight stay.
Saturday, 2 February 2019 – Mandawa to NCR (275 KMS)
We’d kept this day open, thinking if we needed more time in Mandawa, we’ll stick around for a day more. But we managed to see a fair number of havelis on our first evening itself, & thus, decided to head home today.
Wondering why we’ve made such a brief post? 😀 It’s because we intend to write detailed posts for each of these four destinations. This blog post was to give an overview of how a week long road trip can be planned for Rajasthan.
Stay tuned for our post on Jaipur!
P. S. There can be endless variations of this road trip. E.g.
There are some places you can never get enough of. Lucknow always brings a sense of belonging. It feels like home. Tunde kebab & kulfi at Aminabad, walk at Hazratganj, sightseeing at Bada & Chota Imambargahs, crossing Cantt, mutton nihari at Rahim’s, kulfi at Chhappan Bhog, chikankari & zari shopping at Chowk, walk in Ambedkar Park, galauti kebab at Dastarkhwan, & kulfi (again!) at Nishatganj – spread over just a few days. That pretty much summaries our two visits to Lucknow.
We chose to spend our sixth anniversary in the Awadhi city. We usually make elaborate travel plans, but work commitments forbade us this time. A road trip came to the rescue. Leaving from Noida, using the Yamuna Expressway, eating breakfast at Jewar, & then using the Agra – Lucknow Expressway, we made good time & reached Lucknow by evening.
The Agra – Lucknow Expressway was a breeze to drive on. An empty six – lane highway, with high toll fees (no wonder it is empty), & with almost no stops, the expressway allowed us to cover a large distance in a short span of time.
A highlight of the Agra – Lucknow Expressway is an emergency airstrip built on the expressway itself. The airstrip stretches for a little more than three kilometers. If an emergency landing of IAF combat jets is needed, this can be used.
Caution: Do not get tempted into exceeding speed limits on the Agra – Lucknow Expressway. Like all Indian highways, it can be unpredictable. Also, Indian cars are not made for extremely high speeds. There are enough & more cases of tires bursting on the Expressway.
The First Evening
Our first evening in Lucknow was our anniversary itself. We chose to spend it in a relaxed manner, dressing up, lounging on the rooftop bar of our hotel, raising a toast, coming down to the in house restaurant, hogging on Awadhi cuisine, & retiring early.
At times, a little thing like sitting under the stars can bring immense happiness. As the night got colder, our souls became warmer. We thanked our gods for all the good things bestowed on us…
Saraca, the open-air bar overlooking the lawns, is just what the doctor ordered. Here, it was quite cold but, luckily, they had heaters placed around tables. The dim lighting of Saraca & the twinkling lights of the surrounding buildings created a romantic ambience. We sipped on colorful Long Island Iced Tea & Mojito, both well made. To accompany the drinks, we had Galawat Kebab, which was good too.
Saraca was perfect to relax. Exotic drinks, Awadhi starters, & music under the stars…
Time to call it a night after some more yummy in our tummy. Azrak, the restaurant at lebua, serves Awadhi food. If Awadhi cuisine isn’t well made, it can turn the dishes oily. But we did not face any such challenge here. We had Awadh Dum Murgh Biryani, Bakarkhani, Dum Murgh, & Ulte Tave Ka Paratha. We are fans of Bakarkhani, & this one lived up to our expectations too.
Azrak is one of those laid-back places; do not hurry through your meal here.
The Next Day
We had traveled over a December long weekend. Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Lucknow. While we waited for our Uber, we posed & clicked with the vintage cars in the lebua premises. The best way to get around old Lucknow is by public transport.
Our first stop was the Bara Imam Bara. An imam bara is a hall for Shia Muslim ceremonies, especially Muharram. The Bara Imam Bara is an imam bara complex built by the Awadh Nawab in 1784. This was the year famine had hit Awadh. Through the Imam Bara construction, the Nawab wanted to provide employment for people. The construction & the consequent employment lasted for 10 years, same as the famine duration.
As we entered the compound, we were struck by the imposing gateways. We entered one, came across a circular garden, & then chanced upon the second gateway. The second is the main gateway where we purchased tickets. As we walked further, the Asfi Masjid came up on our right. It is the last monument to be constructed without using iron.
Moving on to the main imam bara, we got ourselves a guide & entered a large vaulted central chamber (largest in the world). In the center of the chamber is the tomb of the Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-Ud-Daula. On the upper floor is a labyrinth, famously known as the Bhool Bhulaiya.
When we emerged from the passages onto the hall balcony, we could not help but be amazed at such a large structure being built without beams/ pillars. Caution – Walking on the narrow terrace is not for the fainthearted! Or for those with acrophobia or vertigo!
The Bhool Bhulaiya legend says there are 1,024 ways to get inside the maze, but only two to come out! The network of passageways winds its way inside the monument, & eventually leads to the roof. The roof was meant to give a panoramic view of the Awadhi city. In the 21st century, however, this is not easily possible.
We were thrilled with the Bhool Bhulaiya. For the first time, we got a chance to see a heritage monument by actively participating in it. Namely, finding our way out of the incredible maze! The architecture is worth a mention, specially of echoing walls, & hidden cloisters.
A flight of stairs leads down to the Shahi Baoli (royal stepwell). Around the Baoli is a multi- storey structure with arched windows & inter-connected galleries. Apparently, the Baoli still has running water. Rumors of the Baoli being connected to River Gomti, & of treasures/ treasure maps/ keys to some hidden treasure underneath are quite rife. Exceptional architecture here!
Before we left the Bara Imam Bara, we found another trivia – Ordinary people built the edifice during the day. At night, noblemen broke down whatever was raised that day. This was by the order of the Nawab, to ensure continuing employment for the masses.
Through the Bara Imambargah complex, we caught ourselves gaping at the architecture! For a heritage lover, the Bara Imam Bara scores not only on the heritage but also on the maintenance of its premises, and the easy & fair availability of authorized guides who explain the history behind the monument. To enjoy the monument fully, do take a guide.
Out of the Bara Imam Bara, we hopped onto a tanga (horse carriage). Our first carriage ride! To double the excitement, we spotted the Rumi Darwaza coming up ahead. It is a gateway built under the patronage of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula, in the same year as the Bara Imam Bara.
The front facade of the Rumi Darwaza is a fine example of Awadhi architecture! There’s no ticket to see it. Caution – As the Rumi Darwaza is an operational gateway, you must be careful of traffic.
The Husainabad Clock Tower is a 19th century marvel. It was constructed in 1881 to mark Sir George Couper’s arrival, the first LG of United Province of Avadh. You can spot the Clock Tower from kilometers, but as you come closer, you can also see a large step-well next to it.
The Satkhanda is a watchtower from the 1800s. The iconic tower has an octagonal base, arched windows & Islamic design details. It is located next to the Husainabad Clock Tower; so, if you are in the area, you cannot miss it. A reminder of Lucknow’s Awadhi & colonial past.
The Husainabad Picture Gallery houses portraits of the erstwhile nawabs of Awadh. The portraits are quite fine, with intricate details. The caretaker pointed out to us a few amazing bits here & there. Like how the nawab’s shoes seem to move!
Our minds were also blown off by the view that the Picture Gallery offered. The Clock Tower to the left, Chota Imam Bara straight ahead, & the Satkhanda to the right. Photography is prohibited at the Gallery. It does not seem to be frequented by tourists; we had the place almost to ourselves.
There is no dearth of darwazas in Lucknow. The Husainabad Darwaza is an outer gateway to the Chota Imam Bara. Passing under arched gateways will remain high points of our lives.
Chota Imam Bara is the popular name of the monument; its actual name is Imam Bara Husainabad Mubarak. It was built under the patronage of Muhammad Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh, in 1838. Today, it serves as a mausoleum for him & his mother.
Indian heritage buildings are nothing short of fascinating. Not just architecturally, but from an engineering POV too:
We noticed a goldfish at the entrance. It is an anemometer. One of the earliest ones in India.
A golden statue at the entrance holds a chain that is connected to a spire. This works as earthing.
A Shahi Hammam (royal bath) houses stained glass windows, an elaborate hot water system & a jacuzzi setup. Apparently, when the nawabs would visit the Imam Bara, they would first complete their ablutions in the Shahi Hammam.
The Tomb of Princess Zinat Asiya is supposed to be a replica of the Taj Mahal. We, however, did not see the likeness.
Moving ahead, photography inside the main Imam Bara hall is prohibited. But the inside is worth seeing – chandeliers & crystal glass lampstands!
Looking back from the main Imam Bara hall, we saw the ceremonial gate reflected in the rectangular pond.
Caution – Women are required to cover their heads here.
Opposite the Chota Imam Bara is the Naubat Khana. A Naubat Khana was the orchestra pit of buildings, i.e., musicians would play their instruments sitting in the Naubat Khana so that their music could be heard far & wide.
In the context of the Chota Imam Bara, the Naubat Khana was more of a place from where the hour of the day was announced by beating drums.
We bid adieu to the Chota Imam Bara & hopped back on our tanga. It brought us to the Jama Masjid. The construction was started in 1839 under the patronage of Mohammad Ali Shah Bahadur. Apparently, he wanted this mosque to surpass the Delhi Jama Masjid in size. But, unfortunately, he died before its completion.
His wife, Malika Jahan Sahiba, got it completed, but the size could not be matched.
After all the sightseeing, we attacked what Lucknow is famous for – the Awadhi cuisine. If you are a non vegetarian visiting Lucknow, you MUST try the nihari with Qulcha at Raheem’s Qulcha Nihari. Tucked in one of the lanes of Chowk, the restaurant may appear a little dingy but do not let that deter you.
We walked in for lunch & had Mutton Biryani, Mutton Nihari & Qulcha. Each dish was mouthwatering. Portion size was adequate for two. Service was quick. Raheem’s can get quite crowded; you may have to wait your turn. But it is worth it. Families & women can easily go here; nothing to get intimidated about.
Stepping out of Raheem Qulcha Nihari with big smiles on our faces, we found ourselves in Phool Wali Gali. The flower mandi is 200-year-old. If we close our eyes, we still remember the fragrance!
It is not just heritage structures that lend an appeal to a place; it is also the traditional markets, cuisines, & culture. Chowk contributes majorly to Lucknow’s history! This market area is heaven for foodies & shoppers. The best way to get around is on foot. Do not hesitate to explore the tiny gullies!
We had heard a lot about the Malai Gilori at Ram Asrey. We had to check it out. Ram Asrey was in another gully of Chowk. We walked here from Raheem’s, taking in the sights & sounds of this centuries’ old market. Ram Asrey is a large sweetmeat shop & goes back hundreds of years.
The Malai Paan was a little different from what we expected but delicious, nonetheless. Go ahead & try other mithais too. A heaven for those with a sweet tooth.
We wanted to explore the British Residency post this, but, for some reason, we could not get any public transport to the place. Uber cabs were taking too long to arrive, & rickshaw pullers did not seem to know where the Residency was. After waiting for almost half an hour, we got an Uber cab ready to take us to our hotel.
In the evening, we decided to visit Khadi Weavers, a store we had (again) heard a lot about. It has all Khadi products under one roof. Men’s wear, women’s wear, personal care products, you name it! Khadi Weavers is amazing. The store is compact, neat & well laid out. The clothes are to-die-for & so reasonably priced!
We came out with a bag full of garments. This was after we had to stop our greed from taking over our senses.
We ended our day at The Mughals Dastarkhwan. We were advised to try this restaurant over Tunde Kebabi. Glad we did! Dastarkhwan had a large waiting time, which indicated to us that it was, indeed, popular. It has a proper waiting area outside, where the smell of the tandoori dishes’ wafts in, & gives a boost to your appetite.
Finally, when we were seated inside, we had Dhania Roti, Galawat Kebab, Mutton Rogan Josh, Plain Rice, Shahi Tukda, & Ulte Tawe Ka Paratha. The Dhania Roti (chapati with coriander filling) was a first for us. The Galawat Kebab was, truly, melt-in-the-mouth. The service was quick. The Mughals Dastarkhwan is a family-friendly place.
We cannot wait to go back!
A post – meal drive took us to the Lucknow Charbagh Railway Station. In a place like Lucknow, you cannot possibly escape heritage. Designed by J.H. Hornimen, the Charbagh Railway Station construction began in 1914. It is a fabulous mix of Awadhi, Mughal & Rajput architecture!
If you are up for it, step out in the cold night to have a kulhad chai. It will fill you with warmth…
The Last Morning
It was time to head back home but only after a hearty breakfast & a photo shoot! (P.S. The Azrak breakfast spread was great.)
As we crossed our favorite mustard fields on our way back home, we made up our minds to return to Lucknow. After all, still lots to see & eat.
For the frugal us, our sixth anniversary was a time to splurge. The least we could do was stay at a fantastic place — the lebua Lucknow.
A boutique property, in the heart of Lucknow, is housed in an old, traditional bungalow with a lush green lawn. Almost entirely white in color, lebua exudes calm. An aangan (courtyard) is surrounded by beautiful rooms. On the grounds you can find vintage cars & two-wheeler, & a garden full of flowering plants & trees. Large, colorful bougainvillea! The hotel had a few Awadh/ Lucknow books on sale at the reception.
Our room was more than comfortable. With a four-poster bed, we felt we had been transported back in time.
Thank goodness for the folks who restored this heritage bungalow! When you travel to Lucknow, & if you can, please stay at lebua. Its modern hospitality blended with traditional ethos will impress you.
(“I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.”)
We have been drawn towards Buddhism for a long time now. As we visited places like Bhutan, Ladakh & Spiti, we came to know more about Gautama Buddha & His teachings. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse further increased our fascination.
In a world of extremes, we find Buddhism to be a balanced religion. The basic premise of ‘looking within’ & ‘introspecting’ appeals to us. It was, thus, only natural for us to visit Sarnath on our travel to Varanasi.
After spending a couple of days in Banaras, we hired a cab to take us to Sarnath. We had a flight to catch later in the evening; so, we wanted to utilize the few hours we had in an effective manner.
Sarnath is located ~10 KMS from Varanasi. It is the place where Buddha first taught the Dharma. Thus, it is an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists. After the chaos of Varanasi, Sarnath is a sea of peace.
Once you reach the deer park, most of the sightseeing spots are at a walking distance of each other. Engage a guide in Sarnath who can brief you on its history.
We started our Sarnath sightseeing at the Archaeological Museum. You need to buy a ticket from across the road. There is a locker room to deposit all your things, including cellphone.
In the museum, there are stunning artifacts dug up from excavations. Fine Buddhist art is housed. You can see the Asoka Pillar as well as a Buddha sculpture where He sits with eyes downcast, and with a halo around His head.
The Asoka Pillar is, of course, from where the Indian National Emblem is adopted. Four Indian Lions sit back to back on a circular base; a Horse on the left, the Asoka Chakra in the center, and a Bull on the right on the base.
If, like us, you are a history aficionado, you will love the Archaeological Museum. It houses figures from Gupta, Kushana & Mauryan periods.
Chinese Buddhist Temple
Our next stop was the Chinese Buddhist Temple. It is located a little away from the other sightseeing spots. The temple is beautifully painted in red and yellow in the Chinese architectural style. You can see Chinese lanterns hanging on the walls. The surroundings are calm.
The outer wall has a painting depicting the route taken by Huein Tsang to come to India. Interestingly, the land on which the Chinese Buddhist Temple stands used to be a mangrove. You can see a lot of Chinese/ Japanese pilgrims/ tourists here.
The huge campus is a delight for history & heritage lovers. The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to commemorate the Buddha’s activities in Sarnath. It is a thick, solid & tall cylinder of bricks and stone. The wall of the Dhamek Stupa is covered with exquisitely carved figures of humans and birds.
Legend has it that if you manage to fling a white prayer cloth atop the stupa, your wishes will be fulfilled. While it may seem impossible to passersby, there are lads here who do that for a fee.
Apart from the main structure, there are innumerable small but significant ones. The Asoka pillar with an edict engraved on it stands nearby. The excavations do not even seem to be complete & yet, the magnitude stuns you.
Mulagandha Kuti Vihara
The Mulagandha Kuti Vihara is a monastery & temple surrounded by gardens. It is enshrined with Shakyamuni Buddha’s relics. The Buddhist architecture is worth gaping at, specially the frescoes. The frescoes depict scenes from Buddha’s life & are quite pretty. There is, thus, little doubt why Mulagandha Kuti Vihara is a tourist attraction.
You can hear the chants which bring about serenity. The well-maintained precincts are lined with Buddhist prayer flags. You can do a ‘Parikrama’ of the Bodhi tree. Legend has it that this tree is a descendant of the tree under which Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment.
As we were short on time, our Sarnath visit was for just half-a-day. But, if you are a history buff or are spiritual, you can spend days here.
We still prefer referring to Varanasi as Kashi. The word ‘Kashi’ conjures up images of ancient India. After all, didn’t Mark Twain say, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”?
We made our way to Varanasi on a January long weekend. We had to cancel our original train booking as it was running late. (Winter can be a little risky time to travel in north India, as flights & trains get disrupted due to fog.) We flew to Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport located in Babatpur, 26 KMS from Varanasi.
The First 12 Hours
The highway from Babatpur to Varanasi was under construction then; so,
it took us a while to get to our destination. But the construction has been
completed in November 2018.
Our first evening in Varanasi was reserved for a boat ride on the River Ganges. It had been a childhood dream for us to take a boat on the Ganges & watch the Ghats. As the Sun set, we made our way from the Assi Ghat to the Dashashwamedh Ghat. The gentle swaying of the boat was accompanied by the boatman’s stories. The Ghats twinkled as we floated alongside. Our hearts could not possibly be fuller.
At sunset every day, the Dashashwamedh Ghat is lit up. Priests line up for a magnificent spectacle wherein the Mother River is worshiped. We felt blessed to be watching the iconic Ganga Aarti. The aarti time makes the Ghats (& the river in front) crowded; so, ensure you get here well in time. It was a heady feeling to be a part of faith at this scale. Watching the aarti from the boat was a surreal experience too!
From the Dashashwamedh Ghat, we moved inland through the maze of lanes that are famous for small temples, eateries, shops & what not. We did not have a set agenda but as our tummies were rumbling, we stopped at Bana Lassi. We tried a Plain Lassi & a Banana Lassi. Both were lip smacking good. The cafe had a bohemian touch with floor seating & painted walls – Bob Marley featured too. The place appeals to foreign tourists. Indian youngsters would feel at home here. We could imagine curling up with a book & trying out all their lassi flavors!
We roamed the Varanasi streets. The abundance of color on the roadside
shops dazzled us. Look out for handicraft centers having figurines of gods
& goddesses. You will be struck with the variety in color, material &
It was time to call it a night after some more yummy in our tummy. Varanasi is known to have one of the tastiest street foods. To validate this, we headed to Kashi Chaat Bhandaar. This place is so good that even a non – street food lover like us returned to eat more. A small, easy – to – miss shop with a handful of tables for seating. Most customers prefer to stand outside, on the road, to gobble up the goodies. The Golgappa, Gulab Jamun, Kulfi Falooda, Potato Tikki Chaat, & Samosa Chaat knocked us off. We may return to Varanasi just for this!
It was a cold January night. Chai would help us sleep better. (Well, there doesn’t really have to be a reason to have tea.) At the Assi Ghat, a kiosk called ‘Taste of Banaras‘ offered us delicious kulhad chai.
The Next 24 Hours
We had traveled over the Makar Sankranti long weekend. It’s considered auspicious to take a dip in the holy river, but, with the chill, we just bowed our heads. However, we did enjoy watching the kite flying.
We hit the road soon after. The best way to get around Varanasi is on foot or take a rickshaw. Our first stop was the Tulsi Manas Mandir. This is a newer temple. It is built on the site where the Ramayana was written. The gardens around the temple were clean & well-maintained.
The Sankat Mochan Mandir is dedicated to the monkey god, Lord Hanuman. As if on cue, there were a lot of monkeys roaming around. While they mind their own business, it’s a good idea not to engage with them. The temple itself is divine. It has a calming effect. It is, probably, the second popular temple in Varanasi, after the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. There are lockers made outside the temple where it is mandatory to deposit all your belongings, including cellphones.
The Banaras Hindu University has beauty & history at one place! BHU, of course, is legendary. It was a pilgrimage of sorts to come here. The campus took our breath away with its cleanliness, greenery, & wide roads. This is one of the oldest universities in India, & you can almost feel the history when you stand in the campus.
What we liked about the new Vishwanath Mandir was that it was orderly & did not have the same chaos that other temples do. There were proper queues formed & the darshan was managed by officers. The temple is in the middle of the BHU campus & its own precincts are huge. This is a new temple & maintained quite well. Have a cold coffee with ice cream at its entrance.
The Nepali Mandir was on our must-see list. The temple is built as a replica of the Pashupatinath Mandir. It was a hidden gem as even many locals did not know about it! It was, thus, a little difficult to find. (P.S. It is on Lalita Ghat.) But once here, we fell in love with the woodwork.
The Nepali Mandir was constructed by one of the erstwhile Nepali kings. The temple is different from all the other temples in its architectural style, materials used etc. The terrace is a good place to view the river. (There’s an entrance fee for foreigners.)
It is a lifelong dream of many Hindus to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. Glad we got a chance! The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism. The Kashi Vishwanath Mandir is in a narrow gully with a heavy police presence.
Many ‘priests’ will approach you for a hassle-free ‘darshan‘. You can opt for them if you want to cut the queue & do not mind parting with some money. Better to fix the amount with them beforehand. Our ‘priest’ made us buy a few offerings, got a locker for us to deposit our stuff & to remove our shoes. He, indeed, took us through some other gate where the line was shorter.
Once inside, he took us to the various parts of the Kashi Vishwanath
Mandir, made us worship & told us the significance of the temple. Beware:
these priests have tie ups with the priests inside. So, they will make you
complete a worship & ask you to donate large sums of money. It is OK to say
no or give only what you want to give.
It was good to be able to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, but it would have been better if there was more discipline inside. Once out after the darshan, you can feast on ‘malaiyo‘ – a thick, creamy variant of curd, available in the gullies connecting the temple to the street. Yum! After all, every puja must be followed by pet – puja.
(Disclaimer: The area around the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir has been cleaned
of encroachments & been beautified.)
We ended our evening at the Assi Ghat. Cultural events keep happening here. The Ganga Aarti takes place at the Assi Ghat too. But as it is not as famous as the one on the Dashashwamedh Ghat, it is less crowded. We got front row seats to view this engrossing event. Morning after morning, evening after evening, it is only faith that makes this possible.
We had heard since childhood that the Banaras Ghats were not fit to step on. However, we did not encounter any such filth. All the Ghats have steps leading to the river. While hawkers & mendicants still throng these steps, there is no stinking dirt as such.
We loved Varanasi. Delightfully vibrant! Spiritual & all-encompassing!! We understand now why people choose to spend their last days here. Kashi stole our hearts & left us wanting for more. To (mis) quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, “We’ll be back”.
We wanted to stay near the Ghats but had a difficult time finding a suitable accommodation. Thank goodness we chanced upon Hotel Banaras Haveli! It is located at a walking distance from the Assi Ghat. We could spot the Ghat & the River Ganges from our room.
The room was comfortable with all required amenities available.
Breakfast was served on the rooftop restaurant which was a great way to start
the day on a winter morning. The hotel reception guys also arranged a boat for
us for the evening boat ride. They also provided the airport pick & drop.
All in all, a good choice!
With the Ghat being next door, & with rooms offering a view of the
Ganges, we do recommend this hotel.
I was nine when I went on my first school trip. More such school/ college trips happened when I was 15 & then 20. I traveled alone to attend my friends’ weddings in Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Uttar Pradesh when I was 25-26. Those same years, I visited Thailand & to Bordi with just my girlfriend.
I went on a solo trip to Australia when I was 27, to Gangtok when I was 32, & to Ladakh when 33. I visited Beijing with my girlfriends when I was 29, Bhagalpur with my mother when 31, & Goa with my niece at 32.
I roam around my city all the time for sightseeing, either alone or with my mother. Lastly, from the time I began my post-graduation till my early retirement from the corporate sector, I traveled alone for work.
Why do I list these?
Because, I acknowledge that a female traveling, in India, is still a big deal. A female traveling solo, an even
bigger one! An older male friend recently asked, “Why do women prefix their
trips with ‘solo’? Why can’t they just say that they are going on a trip? Like
I had not come across this
question earlier, but the answer hit me in a split second. It was because every
time I have mentioned – ‘I am going on a trip.’, the first response is a
question – ‘with whom?’ I guess so is the case with most girls, which makes us
want to #SoloTrip.
Women are brought up to
believe that the world is a dangerous place. That they are better off within
the confines of their homes, or only when accompanied by men. I have rebelled against this for as long as I remember. The world is
only as bad or as good as we want it to be.
In all my solo travels, I
have been treated with curiosity (sure) but also with awe & respect. Despite
being an introvert, I have got into more conversations with strangers when
traveling alone, than when in company. I have felt freer on my journeys alone.
More introspective. More at peace!
And I wish more girls
experience these moments
of exhilaration for themselves.
P.S. I thank my parents for instilling this independent spirit from an early
age. They never stopped me from undertaking any kind of travel. Also, my spouse who encourages (not ‘allows’) me to travel solo every
now & then.
Winter is a great time to go sightseeing in Delhi. Before
winter 2019 begins, we felt we must finish blogging about our winter 2018
To begin, we post about Rajpath today. Ideally, we should
come to the most important road in India to see the Republic Day Parade. But,
thanks to our apprehension of crowds, we’re better off watching it on the TV,
at home… Apart from 26 January, we can come here any day!
With time, we’re managing to identify birds too. Nature will be our salvation…
A glimpse of the Rashtrapati Bhavan from the outside in 2018. The flag on top means the President of India is in the house… We aimed to walk from the gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate, covering the stretch of Rajpath that’s a familiar sight, thanks to the Republic Day Parade!
Raisina Hill houses India’s most important government buildings. Consequently, it’s often used as an equivalent for the Government of India…
Sandstone jaalis & carved elephant heads give the renaissance dome an Indian touch. Also note the chhatris… This is where the Government of India is housed! Situated on the Raisina Hill, the North & South Blocks are symmetrical buildings.
They sit on opposite sides of the Rajpath axis & flank the Rashtrapati Bhavan… It’s well-known that Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens was responsible for town planning & (what’s now) Rashtrapati Bhavan construction!
His second-in-command, Herbert Baker, is forgotten, even though he was the one to design the Secretariat Building, New Delhi.
Relations between Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens & Baker deteriorated. The hill in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan obscured the view of the Rajpath & the India Gate… Only the Rashtrapati Bhavan dome was visible from far away!
President’s Estate, South Block, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan & Vijay Chowk – Sir Sobha Singh has left behind a rich legacy. Wonder if Sobha Realty is related to the man…
Herbert Baker used the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture to design the Secretariat Building. Love how Indian touches were added to it…
The largest residence that any head of state in the world has, the President of India has it.
The ceremonial boulevard runs not just till the India Gate, but till the Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
Salute to the temple of democracy.
We remember a time when these lawns used to be abuzz with activity. You could find every kind of street hawker selling her/ his wares here… It’s been curtailed now! Areas have been designated where hawkers can pitch their goods.
It does a great job of maintaining the greens, & of ushering in color.
The India Gate was designed by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens. Its architecture is quite like the Arch of Constantine, the Arc de Triomphe, & the Gateway of India… On 10 February 1921, the Duke of Connaught laid the foundation stone of the India Gate!
The India Gate is also a popular spot for civil society protests. This war memorial evokes emotions – the senselessness of war, & yet, a passion for the nation…
No walk is complete without satisfying grub in the end.
The Arancini was an interesting take on the humble kadhi chawal.
With our hearts & tummies full, we plotted our next heritage outing.
To end our Bali blog posts series (see posts 1, 2 & 3), what can be better than to write of the day we spent on a boat, out in the ocean? It’s an experience we highly recommend. When your bones are tired from visiting temple after temple, or from partying too hard, a day sunning yourself on the boat is just what the doctor ordered.
We knew beforehand that we wanted to spend a day just chilling. After all, it’s not everyday we’re privy to turquoise waters. So, we scoured the internet for boat/ yacht day trip service providers.
Unfortunately, many of them proved to be exorbitant. But then we came across Indo Charters (Pulau Luxury Charters) which fit into our budget. We started interacting with Jesse on email, who helped us with all the information.
All charters of Pulau Luxury are private. This means the vessel & accompanying crew are privately yours. So, if you’re a big group, you can be assured of an exclusive, wonderful time.
Or, even if you’re a couple, (& have the buck to spend), you can enjoy a day living the life of a millionaire.
Luxury Charters has two boats – Haruku & Rhino 1. We opted for the Rhino 1.
The total cost we incurred for eight adults was USD 1,165. The cost included food
(snacks, fruits, lunch), beverages (soft drinks, water, beer, champagne, wine),
snorkel equipment, raft, fishing equipment, towels, cruising permits, boat fuel,
certified skipper & crew, vessel to shore tenders, life jackets, insurance,
& return villa transfer in a private air-conditioned vehicle. We could also
bring our own F&B.
We were picked up at 8 AM from our villa in an air-conditioned vehicle. We were at the Serangan Harbor for a 9 AM start.
1 turned out to be a beautiful boat. It’d individual undercover cushioned
banquette style seating down the sides of the cabin, & an open deck at the
bow & rear. The Rhino 1 also had a rooftop level for lazing in the sun, &
a freshwater shower & electric flush toilet. Further, it’d a great on-board
sound system for music. The Rhino 1 was comfortable for a day out.
As we set sail, we enjoyed light snacks, tropical fruits, & chilled beverages on-board. We relaxed listening to music. We enjoyed the scenery. We did some fishing. Once moored, we snorkeled in a bay with clear water. We lolled about on the inflatable raft.
We sailed over to the island of Lembongan. We had lunch at Villa Wayan Restaurant where we enjoyed fresh barbecued food. We arrived back to the harbor in Bali at 5 PM & were transferred to our villa.
the crew members – Nanik & Shiby – ensured we’d a good time & took care
of us. However, we did miss the champagne & the wine; these weren’t on-board.
How can travel be complete without food? Now that you know where to stay in Bali, & what to see/ do, it’s time for the restaurants we loved. As before, the below eateries are tried & tested!
Breeze at The Samaya Seminyak
The Samaya is a resort in Seminyak. Breeze is its beach side restaurant overlooking the Petitenget Beach. The beachfront setting means lunch with a view/ dinner with a breeze.
here. Soft fairy lights lit up the perimeter of the restaurant while tealights
at the table ensured we could see our visually – appealing dishes too. Plus,
our meal was accompanied by the sound of the waves!
experimented with a variety of meat dishes. All turned out to be delicious, specially
the Bebek Goreng (a classic Balinese ceremonial dish).
was courteous & helpful. A great meal in a nutshell! Even if you’re not
staying here, Breeze is worth visiting for a meal.
D’Joglo Beach Bar & Restaurant
D’Joglo Beach Bar is located on the Double Six Beach in the Seminyak – Kuta area. After chilling at the Double Six Beach, we were casually walking around when we noticed this restaurant, & thought of giving it a try for lunch.
both indoor & outdoor seating. We sat inside as it was quite warm. It’d a decently-functioning
The highlight of our time here was the melee of colorful drinks that arrived at our table. Bali Beauty, Lime Crushed, Long Island Iced Tea, Strawberry Crushed, Tequila Sunrise, & Watermelon Crushed made for a pretty picture.
The food was
scrumptious too. Our mouths are watering thinking of Ayam Sambal Matah, Grilled
Prawn, & Grilled Snapper. Certainly, a place to have a good time.
Caution – D’Joglo
may not accept cards/ dollars.
Jimbaran Bay Seafood
Jimbaran Bay is a cluster of restaurants situated right on the white sand beach. You eat your meal looking out to the Indian Ocean.
It’s a haven
for seafood lovers. As you enter any of the restaurants, you notice counters
stocking fresh fish & seafood. You can choose which exact fish/ seafood you
want prepared for you. Once you select, the fresh catch is prepared on a live
counter, typically grilled. while waiting for your fish is ready be served.
Baronang, Garupa, King River Prawn, Mubble, Sea Prawn, Super Crab are just a
few of the kinds of sea food you can choose from.
anything else on the menu apart from seafood.
is kind of slow; so, ensure you are well spaced on time.
& those who don’t fancy seafood can get queasy here.
La Favela is located in the busy Seminyak area. We came here to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was also our last night in Bali. Glad we chose this bar as it made our night memorable.
La Favela has
really cool interiors, in line with its Mediterranean theme. Even though we
were a big group, we got a table readily, & had a good time with the
F&B. The staff ensured we were in good spirits. A good thing is – you don’t
need to be in a defined dress code here. Just walk in & enjoy!
A ‘warung’ is a small family-owned café/ restaurant. Made’s Warung is one of the older restaurants in Bali. It has outlets spread across the island but our experience is of the Ngurah Rai one.
breakfast here before boarding our flight. It serves both Balinese &
International cuisines. The food was scrumptious, specially the Cheese Omelet.
was efficient & quick. This is all the more critical when you’ve a flight
to catch. We were a large group but the servers managed us effortlessly.
Revolver has got its basics right – amazing atmosphere, delectable food, exceptional service, & good coffee.
The café is
tucked away in a lane off the main Seminyak street. The look & feel will
remind you of a bar, rather than a café. But don’t let that fool you. Its
coffee (& coffee – based drinks) is fantastic. Of course, to keep up with
the times, it now does transform into a bar post 6 PM.
We were here
on our last evening for a round of coffee. Its Cinnamon Roll was absolutely
melt-in-mouth. The ambience is what you’ll call kitschy! Our server was
friendly & ensured we’d a good time. Cool place!
Sisterfields, in Seminyak, is a place where you can eat at any time of the day in a completely relaxed, café – style setting.
We were here for breakfast on our last morning. The place was teeming with patrons. & we soon realized why. The beverages were refreshing. Still remembering the Strawberry Milkshake… The food was appetizing too – Eggs Your Way, Omelette, Tacos etc. – sigh!
The place was
buzzing with activity. So good!
You may have
to wait for a table.
be slow due to heavy footfall.
The Paon seemed like an unassuming restaurant on the main Ubud street. We walked in with growling tummies & had a good time here trying different dishes. Luckily, there weren’t too many other patrons which meant we got great service.
The Chicken Mie Goreng was yummy. Crispy Hash Brown, Grilled King Prawn, & Pelalah were good too.
A large group of us were here for dinner on our first night in Bali. While the ambience was kept soft & soothing, the buzz from the patrons overpowered it. For us, it was a testimony of Ultimo being good. The service was good.
We have to mention Bruschetta Bread, Panacota, & Ultimo Pizza – these were absolutely tasty.
Now that you know where to stay, what to see, & what/ where to eat, do you want to know how we spent a day on a yacht in Bali? Stay tuned!
We hope Bali Basics turned out to be helpful to you. Now that you’ve figured out where you want to stay on your Bali holiday, we help you with the sights we saw in Bali & loved. The attractions below are tried & tested, & advocated (& not mentioned in any order of preference)!
Bali is, of course, all about beaches. So, it doesn’t really make sense for us to get into these. Nonetheless, we visited the Double Six, the Kayu Aya, & the Nusa Dua beaches.
Double Six Beach
In Seminyak, as a subset of
the Seminyak Beach, is the Double Six Beach. It is a relaxed one offering
umbrella rentals & a chill ambiance. Perfect for just sitting & watching
the activity happening around you & the Indian Ocean. The water wasn’t too
cold when we visited; so, one could opt for a dip.
Sunset is when the crowds start thronging in. Being on the west coast, the Double Six Beach offers stunning sunset views. The Beach is also home to La Plancha Bali, the beach bar that’s famous for its colorful parasols & beach bags.
Kayu Aya Beach
Kayu Aya Beach is a part of the Seminyak Beach. It is located behind Ku De Ta.
The beach is peaceful with quiet
activities available like body art & kite-flying. Or you can simply carry
your book & relax. The ocean was fairly calm when we visited; a few
splashed around in the water. There are a few restaurants nearby if hunger
However, at one spot, we saw
of stream of black water coming from inland & getting released into the
sea. Not good! We must keep our beaches & oceans squeaky clean.
Nusa Dua Beach
The Nusa Dua Beach is one of the public beaches in Nusa Dua. The general public can access this beach to try their hand at water sports. However, we found the prices to be expensive here. (Goa has better prices!) Having said that, the water sports facilities (changing rooms, toilets, waiting areas etc.) are well-developed at the Nusa Dua Beach.
Being on the east coast, you
can get magical sunrise views.
Our favorite bit! Bali is a treasure trove for those inclined towards culture, heritage & history. Dance, metalworking, & painting are just a few of its mainstays. Bali has had a Hindu influence from ancient times, which reflects in the scores of temples found on the island. In fact, Bali is called the island of a thousand temples.
Puri Saren Agung
The Puri Saren Agung is better
known as the Ubud Palace. The palace is in the heart of Ubud, with restaurants
all around it. The road that it is located on is busy; so, note that you will
not get a parking spot here.
The Puri Saren Agung is the residence of the royal family of Ubud. The architecture is preserved well & is worth gaping at. The rust & grey-colored buildings are set amidst a charming garden.
Entry is free; so, you can go
in & click photos. However, there is a lack of printed information in the
Palace, making it a guesswork for sightseers.
Satria Gatotkaca Statue
You can’t miss this statue. You’ll cross it once you’re on your way from the airport to your accommodation in Kuta/ Seminyak. The statue depicts Gatotkaca, the courageous son of Bheema (one of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic) & Hidimbi (a man eater who wanted to eat Bheema but, instead, fell in love with him).
Gatotkaca was powerful & had magical powers. He not only helped the Pandavas win the Kurukshetra war in the Mahabharata, but also sacrificed himself as a victim of Karna’s deadly weapon that could be used only once (which Karna was saving for Arjuna, Gatotkach’s uncle). Hence, he is regarded with respect in Hinduism.
(Bonus – You can find a Gatotkaca Temple & a Hidimbi Temple (both perhaps the only ones) in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.)
Pura Tanah Lot is located on a rock formation called Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot itself means ‘ land in the sea ’ in Balinese. True to its name, the rock formation juts out into the sea, with azure water all around.
The Tanah Lot Temple is
ancient & a popular pilgrimage spot. The Temple is a 16th C
marvel, dedicated to Balinese sea gods (along with Hinduism influence). Thanks
to the setting, it has become a cultural & photography destination as well.
The Pura Tanah Lot is accessible during low tide when you can simply walk till it. The main temple is out of bounds for tourists but a small cave with ‘ holy water ‘ is accessible. The priests will expect you to donate & will give you a nasty look if you don’t.
There is another cave with a
‘holy snake’. Legend has it that venomous sea snakes guarded the Tanah Lot Temple
from evil spirits. You again need to make a donation to see & touch the
During a high tide, the Temple becomes inaccessible. Then, the Pura Penyawang, an onshore temple is used as an alternative. Don’t forget to visit the Pura Batu Bolong, a temple built on a rock formation, similar to the Pura Tanah Lot.
As you walk down to the Tanah
Lot Temple, you will cross Balinese souvenir shops & restaurants. We’d some
refreshing coconut water at one of the many stalls.
The Temple is located in
Beraban in Tabanan Regency.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Luhur Uluwatu, another sea temple, is located on a cliff on the Indian Ocean, in Pecatu (Badung Regency). In Balinese, ulu means ‘ tip ’ & watu is ‘rock’. True to its name, the Uluwatu Temple is erected on the tip of a rock. The Temple construction year is disputed, but goes as far back as the 10th C.
It is dedicated to Lord Siva,
one of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism. Legend has it that the Pura Luhur Uluwatu guards
Bali from evil sea spirits. The Uluwatu Temple is accessible through a serpentine
pathway. Sightseers end up taking an hour or more to reach the Temple as they
can’t help halting at the numerous lookout points along the way.
It is surrounded by a forest with
monkeys (who are believed to guard the Pura Luhur Uluwatu against negative
influences). The Uluwatu Temple is scenic & a magnificent sunset spot. The
Sun dipping into the ocean is something you will remember for years. Thanks to
the setting, the Temple has become a splendid photography destination.
You need to cover your legs
while visiting it. Sarongs & sashes are available at the entrance. If
you’re wearing pants, you don’t need a sarong; a sash will do.
A Kecak & Fire Dance is performed every evening at a stage adjacent to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu, lasting an hour. The iconic Fire Dance was a high point of our trip. Against the sunset backdrop, the dance is magical. Dancers enact episodes from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The background score is provided not by any instrument, but by the ‘chak’ sounds emanated by the performers.
We loved the Kecak & Fire
Dance from beginning till end. The chanting has stayed with us. The Ramayana
episodes were enacted well. Seeing one of our epics beautifully enacted stole our
hearts. Definitely recommended!
Go early if you want to see both the Pura Luhur Uluwatu & the Fire Dance. Or, even to get a good seat. Else, like us, you would have to sit on the floor & then have the inflamed husk coming toward you. Also, keep following the story in the pamphlet, else you’ll be lost if you don’t know the Ramayana.
At the cost of inviting sniggers, we state that Bali is a lot like India. That is, it’s something for everyone. (Of course, better weather. Of course, fewer people. Of course, smaller distances.) If you’re done with lounging on the beaches, or tired of visiting temples, you still have the option of soaking in nature.
We knew Bali was famous for its coffee. So, when we got a chance to taste different kinds of coffee, we jumped at it. Cantik Agriculture is a cooperative of local farmers. The coffee bean is processed traditionally. We sampled more than 10 types with each having a strikingly different flavor than the other. The tasting helped us decide which ones we wanted to buy.
We sampled the popular Coffee
Luwak, understood the process by which it’s made & saw the Luwak Civet from
whom this coffee comes. (At that point of time, we were unaware of the probable conditions the
Luwak Civet is kept in. Knowing better now, we would discourage our readers
from opting for the Coffee Luwak. Or, at least find a place where Coffee Luwak
is processed ethically.)
The farm had spices of
different kinds & a shop where you can buy all their produce. It was on the
expensive side but then, it’s once-in-a-lifetime!
Gunung Batur (also called
Kintamani volcano) is an active volcano located in Bangli Regency. We visited the
volcano at the time of sunset. The mist was settling in slowly, making the
picture look surreal.
It’s famous for its sunrise
trek, but we chose not to do it. The feedback we’d got was ‘the trek’s
difficult’. But even from afar, the Gunung Batur looks spectacular. & who
gets to see a volcano everyday anyway?
It got chilly at Mount Batur
when we visited in the evening; so, do carry something warm.
Adjacent to the Gunung Batur
is the Danau Batur. The Lake Batur is a crater lake, located along the Ring of
Fire of volcanic activity. The Lake is considered sacred by the Balinese. It is
possible can take a winding road down to the shore.
Danau Batur is a striking color, no matter what time of the day you see it at. As you stand at any of the lookout points, the crisp mountain air & the majestic, crescent-shaped Lake Batur will stun you.
Mandala Suci Wenara Wana is a natural habitat of the Balinese Long-Tailed Monkey. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a blessed site located in Ubud. We can summarize the Monkey Forest Ubud in one word – enchanting!
It was love at first sight for
us – lots of greenery & Long-Tailed Monkeys (also called macaques). The Monkeys
usually mind their own business but like they say for every living thing –
don’t provoke them. The Forest is beautiful. The moss-covered ruins are lovely.
The ruins are of Hindu temples (which are actually still in use).
While the Sanctuary is well preserved thanks to a community-based management program, signboards displaying the history & significance of the ruins will be beneficial for sightseers.
In the next post, we’ll bring you a few of our favorite places to drink/ eat in Bali. Till then, happy sightseeing!
Before we headed to Bali, we had a lot of confusion about its geography & location. Was it an island? Was it a part of Indonesia? How big was it? Blame it on ignorance. And, there’s no better antidote for ignorance than travel.
Once we’d been there, many contacted us when they were planning their own trip. We realized then that we’d not been alone in our confusion & ignorance. Everyone who reached out to us knew Bali was a place to visit, but how’s Bali further divided, which are the areas to stay in/ visit, no one had a clue.
It was almost déjà vu for us, for we’d been equally clueless. After helping a few folks with a better picture of how to place their Bali holiday, we thought we should just put it down in a blog post.
Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia. It’s made
up of volcanic islands. Beaches & Komodo dragons are just two of the many
things Indonesia is known for. Out of the 18,000+ islands that this nation has,
the largest is Sumatra. (Technically, it’s New Guinea, but it doesn’t belong to
Bali is the 13th biggest, just about
1.14% the size of Sumatra. And yet, it’s made such a name for itself in the
travel world. Bali is a great way to remind ourselves that we mustn’t
underestimate anybody/ anything!
Coming to Bali Now…
Bali is a province of
Indonesia, & is divided into regencies. Each regency has a capital.
The above map clears it out right away that it’s South Bali that has the most tourism. South is where the beaches are, along with the nightlife. As you travel north, the forests of Bali start emerging. But before that is the place where you get a taste of the culture of Bali. Further north are the regions you would visit if you’re keen to see volcanoes.
Okay, let’s take it one at a time.
Denpasar is the capital of Bali. The city can
easily be called the gateway to Bali due to its proximity to the Ngurah Rai
Denpasar has a close association with history.
In 1906, almost a thousand Balinese committed suicide to avoid surrendering to
the invading Dutch troops. The Taman Puputan square is a memorial for the
Balinese who laid down their lives.
Serangan is a part of Denpasar. It is an island
known for its turtles. Serangan is connected with the mainland by a road
There are numerous yacht operators here that
conduct day trips/ cruises.
Serangan is also home to the Serangan Beach (secluded).
Let’s begin traveling south from Denpasar. The first town you will hit is Seminyak, a suburb of Kuta in the Badung Regency. You can find luxury hotels, spas, high-end restaurants etc. here. Sunsets are a busy time here with bars offering sun-downers on the beaches.
This is also where you will find gorgeous villas for your accommodation needs. We stayed at a heavenly villa called Villa Teman Eden. It was love at first sight! The pool is the highlight but the rooms were spacious with all amenities available. The prettiest bathrooms! Fantastic location! (Also read our piece on our Airbnb experiences featuring Teman Eden.)
Seminyak is home to the Double Six Beach & the Kayu Aya Beach.
Moving further south, you will hit Kuta (Badung
Regency), the nightlife hub of Bali. At any time of the day or night, the
atmosphere here can only be called electric.
Kuta used to be a fishing village, but also one of the first to start developing for tourism. The Kuta Beach is the most well-known (& thus the most frequented). Being on the west coast, it’s a great spot for sunset watching (& sun-downers!).
You can find luxury resorts, clubs & the like located along the Kuta Beach. And, surfers! (Do you know that surfers massively helped in restarting tourism in Bali post the bombings?)
Sightseers prefer to stay at Kuta (or its suburb,
Seminyak) as this is where the action is! Consequently, a few of the best
accommodation options can be found here, specifically villas.
Kuta is home to the Satria Gatotkaca Statue &
the Waterbom Bali (water slides anyone?).
Further south is Jimbaran (Badung Regency), a
fishing village. Its Bay has calm waters.
Terrorism is an ugly part of the world today. In 2005, suicide bombers attacked a couple of popular restaurants in Jimbaran. But, the wonderful part about the world also is, it bounces back! Bali is a great example of that.
Jimbaran is lined with live seafood counter
restaurants. At these restaurants, you can select the live seafood you wish to
eat. It will be immediately prepared (generally grilled) & served.
If you’re seeking affordable accommodation
options, Jimbaran is the place to try.
We’re now at almost the south western end of
Bali. Pecatu (Badung Regency) is where you’ll find a hilly landscape. The hills
shield the beaches, making this area popular with nudists. Pecatu is also the
area that’s almost exclusively developed by the private sector.
Pecatu is home to the Uluwatu Temple (a
spiritual pillar of Bali) & the Suluban Beach (exotic!).
Let’s travel east from Pecatu to Nusa Dua (Badung Regency), the water sports area. On the southeast coast of Bali, the sandy beaches are a great backdrop for different water sports like banana boat, parasailing, sea walking & snorkeling.
A sub-district of Nusa Dua is Tanjung Benoa. A peninsula with beaches on three sides – dreamy enough?
Nusa Dua is home to the Nusa Dua Beach & the Museum Pasifika (all things artsy).
Start moving northwest now. Beyond Denpasar is Kerobokan
village (Badung Regency).
The Kerobokan Prison is the stuff legends are
made of. Thrill seekers find ways to spend a night in the prison, to experience
the notoriety first-hand. For the non-thrill seekers, there are night markets
Kerobokan is home to the Batu Belig Beach
(whattay calm) & the Petitenget Temple (wards off dark forest spirits).
Moving further northwest, & closer to the
west coast of Bali, you will arrive at Beraban, a village in the Tabanan
Beraban is home to the Tanah Lot Temple (you can’t not have seen a photo of this place) & the One Bali Agrowisata (chocolate & coffee plantation).
Let’s head a little northeast now & come to
Gianyar, the seat of the Gianyar regency. It is a town that has preserved its natural
& traditional heritage well. Once you’re done with the heritage
sightseeing, you can relax on the beach.
Gianyar is home to the Cantik Agriculture (coffee anyone?) & the Bali Bird Park (bird-watching alert).
In the Gianyar Regency itself, towards the northwest, is the cultural center of Bali, called Ubud. The town is located in the uplands. Anything that has to do with Balinese tradition can be found here.
Rain-forests and terraced rice paddies surround Ubud while Hindu temples form the main attractions of the town.
Ubud is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Balinese Long – Tailed Monkeys. Squee!) & the Puri Saren Palace (erstwhile official residence of the royal family).
Moving far north from Ubud, you will come to
Kintamani (Bangli Regency). You can view the Mount Batur from the village. It
is the place from where the breed ‘Kintamani dog’ (only official breed in Bali)
Kintamani is home to the Mount Batur (active
volcano) & the Lake Batur (crater lake located along the Ring of Fire of
Southeast of Bali is the island of Nusa Lembongan (Klungkung Regency). It is famous as a side destination for mainland Bali visitors. Nusa Lembongan is surrounded by coral reefs with white sand beaches. Day cruises from the mainland to the island are worth opting for.
Nusa Lembongan is home to the Devil’s Tear (cliff
jumping anyone?) & the Mangrove Forest (canoe ride).
With this, we end our short guide to the way Bali is structured from a sightseer’s viewpoint. By no means is this list exhaustive. We’ve tried to cover the areas that we’ve personally experienced.
Other Bali Basics…
Bali traffic is quite bad. We stayed at Seminyak, & chose to spend a day in Ubud. The traffic from Seminyak to Ubud was awful. This is the reason sightseers choose to break their stay into two places – Seminyak/ Kuta & Ubud.
Bali is economical for Indians. Except for the airline fares, all our expenses were similar or even less than what we would spend in, let’s say, Goa, on a similar kind of holiday.
In our next blog post, we’ll share our favorite Bali attractions.
A few folks reached out to us to know more about the three destinations we recommended in Part I to escape the Indian summer. Glad we could be of help! But, three destinations are inadequate for six months of the intense north Indian summer. So, we bring three more long weekend getaways from Delhi. All the three are in the Himalayas, yet are quite different from each other!
The home of the Dalai Lama & the Tibetan Government in exile is technically not a long weekend destination, i.e., three days will be insufficient to do justice to it. But something is better than nothing!
Fly to Gaggal, or take a train to Pathankot, or drive down to Dharamshala, the serene Himalayan town is more accessible than ever before.
We have a soft spot for all things Buddhist. Thus, liking Dharamshala came naturally to us. If you are of a spiritual bent, you will benefit from a visit to the Namgyal Monastery, the largest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet.
If, instead, you are one who prefers the outdoors, you can take the long but picturesque walk to the Bhagsu Waterfall. But, let us caution you – the waterfall & the Bhagsu Nag Temple can get crowded.
And then, there is always the option of sit back & sigh at the stunning views of the Himalayas.
Our original trip of fours days had to be cut short by a day due to an accident. It only makes us determined to return to Dharamshala soon!
Jim Corbett National Park
OK, this is an uncommon choice to ‘beat the heat’ as the Jim Corbett National Park itself attains temperatures of 40+ degrees Celsius. But this is the best time to spot the big cat. Thanks to the extreme heat, many watering holes dry up, forcing the animals to congregate at the few that remain. Thus, summer turns out to be a great time to spot most animals near water bodies, including the tiger.
If you are like us (hate summer), let us reassure you that because of the greenery, the Park still remains bearable. Safaris take place in mornings & early evenings. So, take out the broad brimmed hat, slather on the sunscreen, put on the glares & head to Corbett.
And, again, if, like us, you dislike crowds, fewer tourists visit the Jim Corbett National Park in the summer, making it a more private experience for those who do.
You can get from Delhi NCR to the Park in about six hours, eight in case of traffic.
In our two visits, we stayed at Kanwhizz HUM TUM Resort (yes, that was its name but now it is called La Perle River Resorts), and The Riverview Retreat. Both are on the banks of the River Kosi but we recommend The Riverview Retreat. You can walk to the river and spend time in solitude, listening to the sounds of nature.
Kanwhizz HUM TUM had cabanas next to the Kosi. We enjoyed a candlelit dinner in one of the cabanas.
Be careful of the scams operating in Jim Corbett National Park in the name of safaris. Agencies like Travel Tiger Track can cheat you by showing you zones like Sitabani (hardly a wildlife reserve) in the name of tiger safaris. No permit is needed for this ‘zone’. Private vehicles are allowed. There is a tea stall inside where visitors can not just have tea but biscuits, mixtures & instant noodles. Smoking is allowed too. No guide is needed to visit Sitabani.
Around sunset, visit the Garjiya Devi Temple, located on the other side of the Kosi. You cross a foot over bridge to get to it. To get to the shrine, you will climb steep steps. The shrine is small but the idol is beautiful.
Falling under the Nainital district & the Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve, Pangot (or Pangoot) is a village known for its bird watching. Its beauty lies in its picturesqueness. The village, though barely 15 KMS from Nainital, is fairly remote.
Pangot is a birdwatcher’s paradise, courtesy the hundreds of bird types found here. Oak & rhododendron forests attract the eye. If you like all-weather destinations, this is the place. Like most of our other recommendations, please do not expect a list of things to do/ see in Pangot. It is a place of calm & quiet. So, if you love nature, make your way to this village which, along with birding, offers scope for activities like mountain biking too.
Pangot is a village; expect limited number of accommodation options. We stayed at The Nest Cottages which we liked for its location. Away from ‘civilization’, you can enjoy solitude. Your neighbors are birds, dogs & monkeys.
The cottages are standalone, reminding of English novels with their slanting roofs & wooden interiors. Excellent service, home style vegetarian food. The owner is a sweet old man, lovely to converse with.
We did not have to step out of the property to see birds; many kinds greeted us right in the common area. Hardly any network & an erratic TV meant tranquility. Did we mention they have a well-stocked library?
You can get from Delhi NCR to Pangot in about seven hours, nine in case of traffic. Do not forget to halt at Nainital to do some boating at the Naini Lake or to have a delectable meal at Sakley’s Restaurant & Pastry Shop.
Come April & the Sun starts its mercilessness on the hapless souls of the National Capital Region. Right till September, it becomes a matter of hot, very hot & unbearably hot. In these six months, at least one getaway is needed to cooler environs.
Aren’t we thankful that the Himalayas are a stone’s throw away? So, to help you tolerate the weather, we bring three relatively unknown, long weekend getaways from Delhi. All the three are in Uttarakhand, in the Nainital district, yet are as different from Nainital as chalk from cheese!
Jeolikot: It was a never-heard-of-before village for us till we made our way here. Jeolikot is located close to Nainital, & yet, is far removed from the chaos that Nainital can be during the tourist season. It is a great place for flower lovers & lepidopterists.
Visit Jeolikot for a picturesque view of the Himalayas. It is not a place where you rush around to ‘see’ spots. Rather, grab a book, or put on your favorite music, or carry a board game, sit facing the mountains, grab a cup of ‘chai’ & life is sorted.
Located a little down the hill from the main road, The Cottage is a cozy home stay reminiscent of the bygone colonial era. Its red roof exudes an old-world charm. The shimmery blue & white porcelain crockery make up a large part of the decor. A decor you will be tempted to take home!
To top it, Ms. Bhuvan Kumari’s impeccable hospitality & warmth. Over mugs of tea, she regaled us with stories ranging from leopards to winter soirees. The best part – dogs! When we visited, there were three adorable & friendly doggos.
We tried to get to Nainital but, being an extended weekend, we could not get past the traffic jam. Instead, we turned towards Bhimtal, had lunch at a dhaba from where the Bhimtal Lake was faintly visible, & returned to the calmness of Jeolikot.
We recommend – do not bother with Nainital & the like. Head out for a stroll in Jeolikot itself. You will come across giggling kids, grazing horses, plenty of flora, & wild berries. Try the Chicken Roast at The Cottage, and pick up souvenirs from Kilmora.
You can get from Delhi NCR to Jeolikot in about seven hours, nine if there is traffic.
Sattal: A village deriving its name from the lake it encircles, Sattal is near Bhimtal, but is less known. True to its name, the ‘lake’ is actually a combination of seven lakes, each quite pristine. Forests surround the lakes.
Given the ecosystem, birds thrive here, making Sattal a paradise for ornithophiles. We spent our time birding. Ask for directions to get to the bird watching spot, the Studio. It is a downhill walk, with no restrooms in the vicinity. As birding is a time-consuming activity, this is something you need to be aware of. Also, note that bird watching needs a lot of patience & silence. You make one movement/ sound, & the bird would have flown off.
It was our first birding experience; we were lucky to spot jungle myna, blue whistling thrush, grey wagtail, red-Wattled lapwing, oriental turtle dove, orange flanked bush robin, grey-headed canary flycatcher, black bulbul, verditer flycatcher, white throated laughing thrush, slaty-headed parakeet, ultramarine flycatcher, Himalayan bulbul, & black headed jay.
Located in a nearby village called Suriyagaon is Naveen’s Glen, an estate comprising apartments, cottages & villas. It is run by Ms. Nitya Budharaja & her family. The rooms have been done up warmly. A personal touch is evident in every aspect of Naveen’s Glen.
To top it, there is an absolutely stunning view of the sunset from the garden. We spent many minutes chatting with Ms. Budharaja, getting recommendations from her for bird watching & for food.
The best part – again dogs! When we visited, there were three adorable & friendly doggos.
It does not snow in Sattal; so, it is accessible throughout the year. You
can get from Delhi NCR to Sattal in about six hours, eight in case of traffic.
Naveen’s Glen is located off the main road, the last few kilometers are devoid
of human habitation. But, do not worry – you are on the right track.
Nathuakhan: Falling under the Ramgarh block, Nathuakhan is essentially a village. & therein lies its beauty. It offers appealing views of the sun caressed Himalayan ranges which are dotted with soaring trees of pine, birch & many others.
The mountainous terrains, fertile valley and dense cover of abundant forest make Nathuakhan a place to rest and enjoy solitude away from the city buzz. The mountains may get your creative juices flowing; so, whatever your artistic inclination, carry it along.
If you like to work your limbs, there are a number of walking trails nearby. Keep a lookout for members of the feline family. For those who like their poison on-the-go, Nathuakhan has a country liquor store with few English brands available. So, if you have superior tastes or are fussy, we suggest you carry your alcohol.
Country wood cottages augment the beauty of Nathuakhan. Bob’s Place is one such. It is nestled away from crowds, provides comforting food, and does not compel one to do anything. Bob’s Place has standalone cottages erected in a multi-level manner. The highest ones command a view of snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas. The lower ones have sit-out areas but the view gets diminished by the foliage.
Our cottage had a fireplace, a blanket and a heater. The food we ate did not taste any different from what we eat at home. The ‘poha’ we had for breakfast was quite different though, and wonderfully so. It was made with ‘khada garam masala’. People who have eaten the Indian-style meat can identify how good this would taste. The ‘masala chai’ was free-flowing too. Special mention of the chicken fry we got as our finale dinner. Do ask for it when you head to Bob’s Place.
You can get from Delhi NCR to Nathuakhan in about nine hours, eleven in case of traffic. Do not forget to pick up shawls, stoles, herbs and pine needle decorations from Kilmora, and fruit spreads from Himjoli.
(You can read our full blog post on Nathuakhan here.)
We blogged about Khajuraho in our last post. Khajuraho is still a known name on the tourism circuit. Orchha is the real surprise! We ourselves came to know about Orchha when we were researching for our travel.
On our maiden trip, we spent a little less than a week exploring three destinations – Khajuraho, Panna Tiger Reserve & Orchha. Here, we take you through Orchha with our photo-blog.
An incredibly historic town, Orchha was founded in 1501 by Rudra Pratap Singh, a chief of Bundela Rajput descent. The town is settled on the banks of River Betwa. It is worthwhile to spend a couple of days here as there is a fair bit of heritage to ogle at.
We stayed inside the fort! Our preference is always a heritage hotel. So, the Sheesh Mahal, was a natural choice. The palace has been converted into a hotel & is run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism.
Evening light & sound show
Since we had reached in the evening, we started our Orchha sightseeing with the Light & Sound Show. This takes place in the Fort complex once the Sun sets. The sounds & the stories – both will astound you. The history of Orchha is narrated, a compelling one too, complete with tiger attacks & musical numbers.
We found this show to be better than the one in Khajuraho.
Our first morning in Orchha began with the Jahangir Mahal. This palace was built by the Bundela ruler, Bir Singh Dev, in honor of Prince Jahangir, who came & stayed here for one night.
Rani Mahal was the queen’s quarters. A series of frescoes depict the Dash Avatar (10 incarnations) of Lord Vishnu.
Legend has it that the temple was originally built for Lord Rama who was being brought from Ayodhya to Orchha. He, however, refused to budge from the spot where He was first put down. Another temple was built for Him there (now called the Raja Ram Mandir). A Lord Vishnu idol was established in this temple subsequently & given the name Chaturbhuj (literal: ‘one who has four arms’, referring to Lord Vishnu).
Raja Ram Mandir
This is the new temple that had to be built for Lord Rama.
One of those rare temples where Lord Rama is worshiped as a King, rather than as a God (condition the Lord had kept when He agreed to come to Orchha from Ayodhya). Hence the name – Raja Ram Mandir!
Since He’s the King, He gets a guard of honor every evening, at the time of the evening aarti! This is not something you see every day. So, brave the crowds & go for it.
Laxmi Narayan Mandir
Dedicated to Goddess Laxmi, this temple is built in a blend of temple and fort architecture.
Located beside the River Betwa, the chhatris (cenotaphs) have been built on the spot where the Bundelkhand royals were cremated.
Each Chhatri is a little different in design, showing the architectural brilliance of the ancient regional craftsmen.
Sunset at the Betwa River
If you travel from Orchha to Khajuraho by road, detour to Dhubela to visit the Maharaja Chhatrasal Museum & the Maharani Kamlapati Chhatri.
Chhatrasal was only twelve years old, when Aurangzeb attacked his father, Champat Rai. The latter was killed in a battle in Malwa. On growing a little older, Chhatrasal saw an opportunity to earn a name for himself by joining Aurangzeb’s army. However, soon his conscience started pricking him to take up the sword against the Mughals rather than for them. Chhatrasal escaped from the Mughal camp and made his way to the Deccan to meet Chhatrapati Shivaji. He intended to join Shivaji’s army, but the latter stirred his patriotic feelings for the liberation of Bundelkhand from tyrannical Mughal rule. Inspired by Shivaji, Maharaja Chhatrasal Bundela returned to Bundelkhand. He attacked & won the Mughal forts of Gwalior, Chitrakut, Kalinjar, etc. Twice Maharaja Chhatrasal was defeated by Aurangzeb’s armies but he would get back on his feet soon. When Aurangzeb died in 1707, Maharaja Chhatrasal governed a huge tract of land in Bundelkhand, comprising forts like Sagar, Jhansi, Sironj, etc. [Source]
The Maharaja Chhatrasal Museum was, thus, established in 1955 to honor the Bundelkhand king.
Maharani Kamlapati was Maharaja Chhatrasal’s first queen. Her cenotaph is an octagonal structure situated on a platform on the bank of lake Dhubela.
Orchha is best visited in the winter months – October to March. The weather is salubrious to walk around. The monuments become more radiant when the winter sun rays fall on them!
Orchha can be reached via the Khajuraho airport or the Jhansi railway station. We opted for a train to Jhansi – road to Orchha – road to Khajuraho – flight to Delhi.
Orchha is a paradise for architecture/ art/ history/ photography enthusiasts. However, if you are someone who yawns at heritage, pass!
The Bundelkhand region made a place in our hearts!
Madhya Pradesh must be the most underrated tourist
destination in India. The centrally-located state has nature, heritage, &
art. Yet, we neither hear much about it nor see family & friends visiting
MP. We ourselves were oblivious of all that the state has to offer till we made
our way there.
On our maiden trip, we spent a little less than a week exploring three destinations – Khajuraho, Panna Tiger Reserve & Orchha. Here, we take you through Khajuraho with our photo-blog.
Khajuraho was a seat of the Chandela rulers’ authority.
They built numerous temples in the town in the 9th and 10th centuries. Today,
the group of temples is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Erotic sculptures do not make up even 5% of the total. The guides will ask you if you are okay seeing & knowing more about them before they point them out to you.
The golden hour is a good time for photography too.
Since the Jain Temples were built around the same time, their architecture is strikingly similar to that of the Hindu temples.
The standalone Chaturbhuj Temple has a well – preserved idol of Lord Vishnu.
Western Group of Temples
Even the roll of His tummy fat has been sculpted with precision!
It is built in the shape of Mount Meru, the source of creation of the world.
It was built by one of the last Bundelkhand kings when the British were instigating religions against each other. To promote harmony, the king built this temple adopting the styles of architecture from Hinduism, Islam & Buddhism. The leftmost is a Hindu ‘shikhar’, the middle one is a Buddhist style pagoda, & the rightmost is an Islamic style dome.
A light & sound show takes place in the evening at the
Western Group of Temples. You can opt to see that to understand the regional
Khajuraho is best visited in the winter months – October to March. The weather is salubrious to walk around the temples. The temples become even more radiant when the winter sun rays fall on them!
Khajuraho has air connectivity. Delhi – Khajuraho – Varanasi is a preferred route by tourists. We, however, opted for a train to Jhansi – road to Orchha – road to Khajuraho – flight to Delhi.
Khajuraho is a paradise for architecture/ art/ history/ photography enthusiasts. However, if you are someone who yawns at heritage, pass!
When we began our research for the Masai Mara National
Reserve, we found information to be scattered across the Internet. Climate
information at one place, visa at another, what to carry at yet another… We
made a mental note then itself that we would list down the useful bits at one
place when we got back!
So, without much preamble, listing down the top 10 things
you need to keep in mind if you are planning a trip to the beautiful Masai
1. Best Time to Go – We will not get into what the Great Migration is. But just suffice to say that it is the BEST time to visit the Mara if you want to see thousands of animals. July – September is the time when the wild beasts move from Tanzania to Kenya; they return to Tanzania in January – March.
Jul – Sep is the busiest time of the year for the National Reserve. So, make your bookings well in advance. The costs will be inflated in this quarter, but if you delay, there is a likelihood of not getting accommodation/ vehicles at all. We finalized our trip in June to travel in August! <facepalm>
2. Getting There – There is no direct connectivity to the Reserve. The closest international airport is Nairobi. For Indians, while there are direct flights from Mumbai to Nairobi, this does not hold for New Delhi. There are innumerable options available for hopping – either through Mumbai or to one of the many cities in the middle east.
We chose the route of New Delhi – Muscat – Nairobi by Oman Air.
3. Visa for Indians – Kenya has a convenient e-visa system. Go to the visa website, create an account, fill out the application form, & pay the visa fee online. Once your e-visa is approved, you can download the PDF on your handheld device to use during immigration.
As a tourist, you will be eligible for a Single-Entry Visa.
4. Yellow Fever Vaccination – The Yellow Fever Vaccine is needed by those traveling to certain African countries. There are specific places that are authorized to give this vaccination – a simple google search will throw up the names. However, note that each of these places have either a booking system or a specific day/ time when they give this vaccine. So, it is not like you can simply walk in & get this done.
We got ours done at Public Health Lab
Building, Delhi. There is a registration window lasting till 10:30 AM; the
vaccination begins at 11 AM. If you are aware of your allergies (especially egg
– related allergies), please let the officer-in-charge know upfront.
Please note – you have to carry your passport for the vaccination.
5. Weather – Being close to the Equator, the weather is cooler from July to September. It is cold in early morning & late evening. For our sunrise & sunset safaris, & for our dinners, we would step out with a jacket.
We recommend carrying a light jacket at
least; it will be useful in the Savannah (the temperatures can be even lower
there). Typically, these months also see a bit of rainfall but we were lucky to
have avoided it.
The Jacuzzi looked inviting as the Sun shone overhead. But the moment we got in, we froze to our bones & emerged promptly with chattering teeth.
6. The Sun – The weather is pleasant but the direct Sun is strong. Walking in the Sun made us sweat like pigs. But the moment we entered the shade, it became nippy. Also, the wind was never hot. We recommend carrying a cap/ hat & sunglasses.
7. Travel Agency – As it was our first trip to Africa, we were unsure of what to expect. We felt it practical to use a travel agency. We found agencies ranging from INR 3L to INR 10L! So, irrespective of your budget, you will be able to find an agency.
8. Accommodation – There is no dearth of accommodation in & around the Masai Mara National Reserve. Unlike India, where staying inside forest reserves is not allowed, the Masai Mara has plenty of options inside the reserve itself. In terms of quality, there is no difference. However, the camps/ resorts within the national reserve come with an added bonus of animal noises at night!
9. Food – A complete nonissue! Many people are wary of traveling to Africa as they have preconceived notions about the food. If you have any such notions, dispel them immediately. We did not have any problem of finding food suitable to our palate. African, European & Indian foods are available aplenty.
Kenya has a sizable Indian diaspora; thus, Indian food is extremely common. Plenty of vegetarian options available too!
10. Clothing – Like with any wildlife safari, it is better to wear earthy, muted tones. Wear fully-covered clothing to prevent insect bites & sunburn/ tan. We wore full-legged pants on all the days, yet got bitten by microscopic insects.
11. Bio Breaks During Game Drives – We were worried about the loo aspect as we are high water drinkers. The sunrise/ sunset safaris last for two hours typically. That is a manageable time for not using a loo. In a full day game drive, the driver makes two stops, at intervals of about three hours.
For us, one of the stops was in a lodge
where the loo was clean & easy to use. The other stop was in a public
facility, which was basically a hole in the ground! We dehydrated ourselves a
bit to avoid getting our bladders full.
But we will advise against not drinking water at all, because the Sun will compel you to. Drink in moderation, so that you do not end up uncomfortable.
12. Safety – We traveled during daylight hours. Our driver stopped at respectable places. Safety was not a challenge for us, neither should it be for you.
In the reserve & the camp, pay heed to security warnings issued by the guide/ management. You are in wildlife territory. Leopards & hyenas are known to wander into human areas. Maybe they are as curious about us as we are about them!
13. Game Drive – Drives are carried out in two kinds of vehicles – vans & Land Cruisers. While both are customized for game watching, we feel the Land Cruiser is a more comfortable, more spacious, & thus, a better option.
Also, you can opt for a dedicated vehicle
or a shared one. The dedicated vehicle is expensive undoubtedly, but it is
value for money. We had a dedicated vehicle with just the two of us in it! It made
our movement within the vehicle to take photos from different angles extremely
There are three kinds of safaris – sunrise, full day & sunset. The sunrise & sunset game drives last for a couple of hours. The full day drive is from 8 AM to 3 PM.
a. Sunrise Safari – You enter the Masai Mara National Reserve a little before the sun rises. Witness the sunrise against a backdrop of wildlife & acacia trees. The hot air balloon rides take place at this hour, & make for pretty photographs.
The sunrise game drive is the best time to see the big cats in action, as well as nocturnal animals heading home. We saw a hyena, a jackal & a serval cat slinking away after a night of notoriety. We then saw a display of ‘Might Is Right’ between a honeymooning lion & lioness, and a cheetah. Read this story here.
i. Birds Spotted – Common Ostrich, Yellow-Fronted Canary
ii. Mammals Spotted – Plains Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Thomson’s Gazelle, East African jackal, African Bush Elephant, Cheetah, East African Lion, Masai Giraffe, Wildebeest
b. Full Day Drive – Alfred got our lunch packed & we headed out for a day of wildlife spotting. This safari is great to see the most number & variety of animals.
ii. Mammals Spotted – Thomson’s Gazelle, Black Rhinoceros, Impala, Plains Zebra, Wildebeest, Hippopotamus, Common Eland, African Bush Elephant, Olive Baboon, East African Defassa Waterbuck, Warthog, Coke’s Hartebeest, Masai Giraffe, East African Lion
iii. Reptiles Spotted – Agama Lizard, Nile Crocodile
c. Sunset Game Drive – This afternoon/ early evening drive is the time when birds are returning to their nests & herbivores have stuffed themselves full! The afternoon Sun is not conducive for the Big Cats; you find them hidden under bushes (lion), hidden in the tall grass (cheetah), or plain hidden (leopard)! So, do not expect to see great action from the Big Cats now. However, the sunset hour is a good time to see raptors.
ii. Mammals Spotted – African Bush Elephant, Plains Zebra, Masai Giraffe, Wildebeest, Common Eland, Cape Buffalo, East African Lion
14. Road Condition – From Nairobi, if you take the road to the Masai Mara National Reserve (the alternative is an aircraft), be prepared for bad roads. When we say bad, we mean ‘India of the 80s’ bad. The last 50 kms to reach the Masai Mara are nightmarish.
Kenya is sparsely populated. So, you do not
see many human beings, but certainly Chinese trucks. Thanks to the rapid
construction, trucks ferrying goods can be seen. You can spot under
construction highways, railway lines etc.
While we did not see any animals on our way to the Mara, but the day we left from there, in the early morning hours, we kept spotting wild animals for many kilometers, even after we had exited the reserve area.
15. Tipping – Kenyans expect a tip, & can be blunt about asking for it. Ensure you have adequate change on you.
Phew! We believe we have covered all the practical aspects
that we wished we knew before going. If there is anything more you would like
to know, please feel free to leave a comment; we will answer it to the best of
For somebody who has grown up watching the nature &
wildlife channels on television, the Masai Mara National Reserve was a
must-have on the bucket list. Thus, when an ex-colleague, now working in
Nairobi, asked us to come over, specially as the migration season was on, we
did not have to think twice. It also meant that our planning & reservations
were being done at the last minute, implying fewer options and/ or higher
fares. But we knew we might not get a chance again anytime soon. Before we
could digest the fact that we were (finally) visiting the Masai Mara, we were
on a plane bound for Nairobi via Muscat.
Getting to the Mara from Nairobi is possible both by air & by road. We chose road as we have been lifelong believers of ‘the best way to see the country is by road’. But if you want to save time, you can choose the flight option. Tiny air crafts land on airstrips made inside the national reserve, giving a chance to see the vast land aerially. But, do note, as these are the small air crafts, there are luggage restrictions. Check before you book!
Within the reserve, as well as right on the periphery,
there are innumerable accommodation options available. The ones within have an
added advantage of the visitor being able to sleep amidst the wilderness, listening
to the wildlife sounds all night long. We chose a camp at the periphery, thanks
to, well, our last-minute booking. But we do not regret it, as our hearts were
full with all that we saw during the daytime. Speaking of accommodation, camps
are available in both luxury & mid segment, to suit all budgets.
With the details out of the way, let us come to the Masai Mara National Reserve itself. Imagine an unending stretch of land in front of you, with golden grass swaying in the breeze, a blue sky overhead, and here & there a spotting of acacia trees! Turn left, or right, or around, & the same vista greets you. The golden grass reminds you of wheat fields. The clouds twist & turn into different shapes. And a giraffe chomps on the thorny leaves of the acacia tree! Remembering our first sight of this vast grassland, & writing about it, still gives us Goosebumps!
So, Mara stands for ‘spotted land’ in the Masai language.
Rightly so, as the monotony of the flat savanna is broken by the spotting of
the flattop acacia trees. When the light is right, clouds cast their shadow on
the land, causing a spotting of a different kind. And when the migration is
underway, animals spot this gorgeous grassland.
Enough & more has been said about the Masai Mara. So, instead of the generic, we would like to share a few experiences we had.
A leopard had hunted a wildebeest & hung it on a tree for some leisurely eating later. As the day was too warm, the leopard had receded into the shade. When we chanced upon the carcass hanging from the tree, we noticed a White-Backed Vulture sitting next to it. Around the vulture flocked many Lilac-Breasted Rollers. But none of the birds touched the carcass. The birds were waiting for the leopard to finish eating the wildebeest. When pieces would fall on the ground, the vulture would snag its share. And when the carcass rots, the rollers would move in to eat the maggots. There could not be a better example of animals working on the principle of symbiosis.
The second realization for us was the ‘survival of the fittest’. Such an oft-used term, and still when we saw it being played out, it gave us chills. Once July begins, the Kenyan side of the Mara River becomes greener. Herbivores cross the crocodile-infested river and come over to the Mara to give their young ones a better chance at survival. This phenomenon is called The Great Migration. Now, imagine, a river teeming with brutal, hungry Nile Crocodiles. A herd of wildebeest anxiously stand on the edge of the river, debating whether or not to cross. The choices are being eaten by the crocodiles if they do, and death by starvation if they don’t. They take a chance & dash through the river. In the process, the slow and weak ones get snapped up by the crocodiles, & a few get caught in the stampede. But most cross! Nature eliminates the weak, & the fittest survive. Ruthless, but natural!
On a sunrise safari, we missed a hunt by a few minutes. A cheetah stood tall over a dying impala. Ideally, it should have sat down & feasted. But its ears were pricked up. The cheetah was, rightly, on high alert. A lioness had smelt the blood and was making her way towards the cheetah. The fastest animal in the world was no match for the Big Five member. It scooted, leaving its prey for the lioness. She staked claim on the impala, lapped up a little blood, but did not eat either. What was the matter? It turned out she was on a honeymoon, & was waiting for her mate to partake the food first. The king of the jungle walked in with a swagger, & dragged off the impala into the bushes. The lioness looked on, forlorn. At a distance, the cheetah rested its tired limbs, brooded over losing its meal, but glad to be alive! We had heard stories of the dominance of the Big Five; we now had one of our own.
There were so many more such eyeopeners. The ink may run dry, our national reserve stories would not. Stories of the Elephant calf mocking us, the Rhinoceros casually strolling on the path, the beautiful Zebras running along with our vehicle, the Giraffes cocking their ears at us, the Wildebeest walking in a straight line, the Ostrich looking for water, the Lion cubs cuddling, the uncountable varieties of birds posing readily for us, the Hippopotami sunbathing, the Agama Lizards darting around us, the Warthog hiding on seeing us, the East African Jackal being curious about us, five Cheetahs popping out of the grass when we expected only one…
If you have the time, try to go for all the kinds of game drives – sunrise, full day, & sunset. Each has a USP. E.g., the sunrise drive is the best time to catch the Big Cats in action. The sunset one is most suitable for seeing the raptors. We also chose a private vehicle, which meant we were the only ones in it. Sure, it was expensive, but we wanted an unhindered view of the savanna & the wildlife.
We like beings like these – bruised but not broken… Go Lioness!
Lastly, a visit to the reserve is incomplete without visiting the Masai village. You can meet the tribes people, understand their customs, see their distinctive outfits, buy traditional handmade beaded jewellery & participate in their traditional jumping dance. It is not something one can forget!
Ever since we returned, we have encouraged everyone,
specially those with kids, to go to the Masai Mara National Reserve. The
beautiful land can teach us a thousand lessons on why the environment must be
respected. The timelessness of the Masai Mara, the vastness of the grassland,
& the coexistence of different species – if these are not what dreams are
Every now & then, a new phenomenon catches the world’s attention. If it is a fad,it dies down naturally. Else, it goes on to create history. Airbnb, to us,falls in the second category. We had been reading & hearing about Airbnb but our inhibitions were preventing us from trying it out. Will a stranger’s house be clean & hygienic? Will it be safe? But then came a time when we were unable to get a hotel for our travel. After exhausting all the hotel options on TripAdvisor (our love for TA needs to be another blog post), we perforce switched to Airbnb. We chanced upon a two-bedroom cottage in our destination.Looked pretty & reasonably-priced too. The questions still nagged our minds but we went ahead & booked. & that was a life-changing decision for us…
Since then, we have stayed in four Airbnb accommodations – a cottage in the Himalayas, a villa in Bali, a flat on the Indian west coast & a shepherd’s hut in the Himalayan foothills. There was no reason for us to dislike any of these. While the cottage was a little away from the town center, it had an incredibly homely feel. The villa in Bali, of course, was outstanding. The flat on the west coast was like a regular apartment but you could see the Arabian Sea from there. & the shepherd’s hut gave us a chance to interact with his family & understand their customs. In all of these, there was the owner/ a caretaker to help us with food.
So, for the uninitiated, Airbnb aggregates bed & breakfast services across the world, & in every possible price range. From the backpackers’ hostel to the luxury travelers’ state-of-the-art mansion, Airbnb has got it all.
You can choose to have the entire place to yourself. Or you can have a private room but share the common space. Or you can stay in a shared space, like a common room. We have, till now, only chosen accommodations where we had the entire place to ourselves.
So, Airbnb is cheap. Hold on! What? Please do not have this notion. A few Airbnb accommodations can cost as much as a five-star hotel. We did a sample search for a not-very-touristy destination, Gwalior. The available options, for four adults, ranged from INR 900 per night to INR 6,000 per night. But what works in the favor of Airbnb is that the more people you are & the longer you stay,the cheaper the options become.
We also like their security features. The hosts are verified & so are the guests. We had to upload our photograph & a photo id. We could book the accommodation only if the two matched. It gave us some comfort that there may not be a psychopath on the other side.
What must be remembered – it is not a hotel. So, do not expect 24*7 service or‘tandoori’ food or room service etc. Think of it as staying in someone’s house.
So,go ahead, create an account & book. Do not forget to share your experience with us.
We don’t really remember what prompted us to try Zoomin in the first place. In 2009, we created & ordered our first product – a t-shirt!
That started our love affair with this online photo service provider. Over the years, Zoomin has made even our ordinary photographs look excellent in print.
We have tried almost every product it launched – Photo Books, Canvases, Posters, Mugs, Magnets, & even a notebook!
Anyone who loves their photos will know the nightmare called ‘Crashing of The Hard Disk’. Sure, there is Facebook & Instagram, but what if, tomorrow, you wish to quit social media?
There are also many who prefer to flip through albums, either by choice or due to limitations (e.g. the elderly who aren’t technologically-savvy). For each of these scenarios, Zoomin comes as a savior.
So, what do we love about Zoomin?
Speed – At times, we have placed an order in the morning & received the product the next evening! Perhaps, with their business growing, they may be unable to maintain such a turnaround time, but it is still better than many traditional eCommerce websites.
Creation Ease – You sign up on the Zoomin website, upload photographs into an album on the portal, choose the product & theme, place your photos into templates, write your captions & voila! You are done.
There are many optional effects & features available, but if you are like us, you would prefer to keep it natural.
We tried Canva, another leading photograph printing website recently & gave up within 10 minutes due to the navigation difficulty.
New Designs/ Products ALL THE TIME – Zoomin is one of those companies that continuously evolve. It is always coming up with new designs & products.
Since October, Zoomin has been bringing new Easy Book covers based on monthly themes. These covers are designed by doodle artists & sourced designers. For November, Zoomin has festive covers. We cannot wait to get our hands on the new theme-based Easy Books.
Zoomin has recently introduced Decorative Clips to go with Square Prints. We think these look chic. And for those who like to dirty their hands, it has come up with a DIY Photo Display Kit.
Zoomin is launching Felt Boards & Calendars in Square Prints size with new designs by November – end. Hats off to their design & product teams!
Photo Books – Our absolute favorite! A Photo Book is an album that you can create for your trips or for an occasion or even as mixed bag of memories. The high-quality paper gives a glossy look to the photos.
Photo Books are available as Flip Book, Hardcover & Lay Flat. Prices begin at INR 329 which, in our humble opinion, is value for money.
Canvases – We recently tried this & are hooked for life. You can create wall art using your own photographs. They come printed on quality canvas material & already mounted. You can hang them up as soon as they arrive; no hassle of framing.
Our travel photos turned out to be even more beautiful when canvas printed.
The newest Zoomin offering is Square Prints. When we were approached to try these out, we could not say no. A set of 12 photographs, looking like Polaroids, arrived promptly in our mail. To put these up, we chose a vertical magnetic rope. (The other choices were horizontal magnetic rope & washi tapes.)
We were super impressed with the Prints. Made on top quality stock paper with a wonderful finish, the Square Prints breathe life into the photos.
We cannot say the same about the magnetic rope. The Square Prints are on a thick paper & too strong to be held in place by tiny magnets. Also, we felt the magnetic rope is child & household help unfriendly. Perhaps, washi tapes would have been better.
Three boxes full of albums covering our travels & important memories, & we still haven’t got enough. Zoomin is one service we fully vouch for. Convert those memories to keepsakes right away!
(P.S. Did we mention Zoomin has good deals going on throughout the year.)
The 2009 edition of Outlook Traveler spoke of the Mumbai to Goa drive enjoying cult status. The NH17, fondly remembered as NH66, ran along the western coast of India. At a few places, it came at a stone’s throw distance from the Arabian Sea. It sounded exciting.
So, for our 2017 annual domestic trip, we chose the Western Ghats & the Indian west coast. It was in line with our lets-see-the-country-at-least-before-we-die plan. When we started studying about the NH66, we found that it ran from Panvel to Kanyakumari. We were thrilled! We had ~10 days to spare. We could do a longer stretch than just Mumbai to Goa.
After extensive research & iterations, we narrowed down to a return trip of ~2,100 kilometers: Mumbai- Ganpati Phule- Gokarna- Kannur- Karwar- Panchgani- Mumbai.
The only reason we could not go till Kanyakumari: we had to return to Mumbai to drop off the rented self-drive car. Self-drive car rentals in India do not have the feature of different pick & drop points yet. & 10 days were inadequate to go till Kanyakumari AND return to Mumbai. So, the remaining stretch in maybe another trip!
Most of our road trip was on the NH66. Here & there, we touched SH92 (in Maharashtra), SH34 (Karnataka), NH48 (Maharashtra), & the Mumbai- Pune Expressway (Maharashtra). SH92 connects the NH48 to the NH66, traversing through villages to give you a view of rural Maharashtra. SH34 is a beautiful, well-maintained hilly stretch running through the Kali Tiger Reserve & Dandeli, the river rafting paradise of west India. NH48 & Mumbai- Pune Expressway are typical highways: wide roads, straight-line driving & limited scenery.
But this post is about the NH66. On our first stretch (Mumbai to Ganpati Phule), the highway zigzagged through the Western Ghats. It being the monsoon season, the Ghats were lush. We saw more shades of green than we thought existed. So much so, that after a while, our eyes sought colors other than green.
Once we started from Ganpati Phule (till Kannur), we encountered the reason NH66 is considered so highly. We drove parallel to the Indian west coast. We felt the sea breeze.
At places, the Arabian Sea was right beside us. One such place was Maravanthe: to our right was the Arabian Sea & to our left, the Suparnika River. Essentially, we drove on a thin strip of land.
All along the highway were fishing hamlets. We halted just about anywhere & asked for the day’s catch to be cooked for us.
Also pleasing to the eye were the intricately carved & colorfully painted temples. The gopuram of each of them carried gods & goddesses of all kinds, & of more colors than found in a child’s box of crayons.
There cannot be words better than photographs. So, leaving you with our captures of NH66.