Again! Chipper that our Saint Michael’s Church, Anjuna photo was selected by the Ministry of Tourism social media handles for the Heritage Photography Contest!! What’s more – It was the first photo to be selected!
The ‘Open Air Museum’ In 12 Hours
We had been to Churu earlier. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include another Shekhawati town. Mandawa was our fourth & last destination.
We left our Jodhpur hotel after breakfast. Jodhpur to Mandawa was close to 330 KMS. We did not halt anywhere except when needed. The road was terrible; it affected our mood negatively. But we found our solace in spotting birds along the way. We managed to click an Indian Roller & a Black Drongo.
Here is a blogpost on Mandawa.
We were at our hotel in Mandawa by early evening. Tired from our journey, we sat under a tree & sipped on steaming masala chai. Then, we were out sightseeing. Our hotel provided us with a guide who took us around the town.
It is not just Marwar & Mewar that are rich with history; Shekhawati has its fair share too. The region is unique. Shekhawati towns are full of havelis that once were homes to rich business families. The businessmen constructed their havelis & baolis with painting on the walls, called frescoes.
The region reminds of cultural amalgamations with fresco themes ranging from Hindu motifs to Rajasthani women to Europeans wearing hats. Religion is an extremely common fresco theme. Scenes depicting Lord Krishna, His childhood antics, His Leela with Radha etc. are found commonly in the frescoes.
On the other hand, when the Mandawa merchants returned from their Europe travels, they would get these frescoes made to give an idea to the local populace about life abroad.
Today, the havelis lay abandoned as the business families are now settled in Kolkata & Mumbai. A few havelis have been converted into hotels. A few others have been restored with caretakers allowing sightseers to visit. Sadly, we saw only a few caretakers take active interest in care taking.
Sightseeing is now the only way to ensure that the havelis do not remain abandoned. But, even with sightseeing, most havelis need TLC. We wished the owners would take charge. We call all Agarwal’s, Birla’s, Chokhanis, Goenkas, Jhunjhunuwalas, Ladias, Nemanis, Saraf’s to please restore their ancestral residences in Shekhawati.
A little love, a little renovation & a whole lot of old-world charm.
Now, there are no specific sightseeing ‘spots’ in Mandawa though Chokhani Haveli, Ladia Haveli & Saraf Haveli are a few of the splendid ones. The havelis are located close to each other & in narrow alleys. The best way to see the town is on foot.
So just walk around the town & see the havelis & the frescoes. You can enter a few of the havelis to see brightly colored rooms.
Our first stop was a water well. Mandawa & its surrounding areas have several open & tube wells, highlighting the scarcity of water in this region. We could imagine the importance of the wells by seeing how beautifully the well was constructed.
Next, we explored the havelis. We discovered something new at every turn.
At one haveli, a bright green & yellow door caught our eyes. The door was a tourist magnet; it gave us decor goals. We saw more such beautiful doors.
Given that many havelis are neglected by their owners, it was heartening to see Saraf Haveli in good shape. It is a great example of Shekhawati art.
At one haveli, we came across evidence of Mandawa’s trading past. The town was once important, lying on the route between Delhi and Gujarat, and China and the Middle East. How did a Burmah-Shell Oil Storage & Distributing Co. of India Ltd. board find its way here?
An enterprising caretaker had taken to selling goods (which we believed come from the haveli) to tourists.
The Kedar Mal Ladia Haveli is called ‘Golden Haveli’. It has a golden painted room which was a result of competitions to build the most opulent Havelis. Even the main gate leading inside is grand. It is fair to call the Golden Haveli a one-room museum.
A form of stained glass greeted us. This was another exquisite part of the Shekhawati havelis. Belgian Glass was embedded in the doors. We saw scenes from Indian scriptures come alive on the walls. Little gold remains on the golden room frescoes, but colors make the room lively.
The ‘gold’ paint has peeled off in places. But it gave us an idea how the room would have looked when it was intact.
In a few havelis, the frescoes date back to the 18th century. & naturally, these transported us to the days of yore. Mandawa is 360 degrees of art. Decoration exists on every conceivable part of the walls. Do not forget to look up as even the underside of arches have art on them. The attention to detail is astounding.
Ceiling frescoes seemed like carpets above our heads. How did people manage to paint entire tapestries on the ceiling? The outer walls have fine decoration. The inner walls are equally attractive.
An interesting bit is that only the rooms in which visitors were entertained were painted. The private quarters would be kept plain.
If architecture/ art/ heritage/ history interest you, you will enjoy the havelis & kothis. The lapse of time has not taken away the grandeur. We were out of words to keep describing the frescoes. Each stood out in its own way.
After the visual extravaganza, back at our hotel, we found tourists gazing at frescoes & restoration here. We lounged by the pool enjoying a local shisha & ended the day with a homely dinner.
It was time to head home but only after a hearty breakfast at our hotel. Mandawa to NCR was ~290 KMS. We halted at Indulgence, Manesar for lunch. It is a food court having multiple restaurants inside its campus. Even though the campus is big, the parking is inadequate. We had to park on the side of the road itself, which is not ideal as NH8 is a heavy – traffic, high – speed highway.
Having said this, the inside is made quite well. There are food joints for every kind of palate. It is a family – friendly place. Washrooms are available & were clean. We filled our stomachs at Berco’s, Burger King & Giani’s.
Painted havelis & carts pulled by miniature donkeys were just a couple of sights that made Shekhawati a tourist’s paradise. The entire Rajasthan road trip was about experiencing calm in different ways. Every time we visit small cities, life magically seems to become simpler.
After an art & heritage filled road trip, we knew we would sleep easy for some time to come. Before the travel bug infected us again.
After the bumpy ride, our accommodation in Mandawa sprang a surprise on us. Knowing that it is a small town, we were not expecting much in terms of hotel quality. But our minds were blown off by the Mandawa Kothi. Everywhere we looked, we saw art.
We thanked God for the person who decided to restore this century – old ‘Kothi’. It would have been heartbreaking to lose such art. This boutique hotel has old world charm coupled with modern amenities. Living in places that echo with history is always an enchanting experience. By staying at Mandawa Kothi for a night, we became a part of its history.
Walking under its arched gates was memorable. We had to cross three gates/ doors to get to the main living area. (We love how old houses had the concept of multiple sections.) Mandawa has been a favored location for Bollywood. A gate in the Mandawa Kothi featured in a prominent scene in the movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
The parking is right in front of the entrance. Mandawa Kothi has just six rooms but all have been carefully restored & upgraded with modern amenities. Our room was beautiful & spacious. There seemed to be just a handful of young men managing the hotel but ever so efficiently.
Sad, we stayed only for a night; wish we had more time at Mandawa Kothi! It felt like a home away from home.
- Getting to Mandawa
- You can easily do a long weekend road trip from Delhi NCR.
- A train to Churu is available from Delhi. Churu to Mandawa can then be done by bus/ cab.
- Make your way to Mandawa between November & February. You will not be disappointed.
- If you visit Mandawa in winter, do remember the nights can be cold. Do not forget your woolens.
- Take a guide with you for the fresco sightseeing as s/ he will be able to point out details you would not notice otherwise.
A Brief Halt at a Unique Indian Temple
On our Udaipur to Jodhpur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Pali (92 KMS from Ranakpur) turned out to be a spontaneous halt. We had known about a unique temple existing in Pali but when we found it right on the highway, we had to stop.
The temple is called Om Banna Dham and/ or Bullet Baba Mandir. We write the key points from our visit here.
Pali is situated on the banks of the river Bandi. Since the 11th century, it was part of one or the other kingdom – Guhilas, Songara Chauhans, Champavata Rathores & more & finally Marwar. Pali has the distinction of being Maharana Pratap’s birthplace. During India’s struggle for independence, its ‘thakurs’ had confrontations with the British.
Pali is famous for a sweet called ‘Gulab Halwa’ & for its kulfi & ice-cream. It also has many industries. & like any other industrial city, Pali has been struggling with a pollution problem.
What’s Unique About the Temple?
The temple is dedicated to a local youth called Om Singh Rathore. What makes the temple unique is the legend behind it. In 1970, Om Rathore died in a road accident at this spot. The police hauled his motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Bullet 350, away to the police station.
But the next morning, it was mysteriously discovered back at the accident site. The police again hauled the bike to the station. The next morning, it was again found at the accident site. The police watched the motorbike one night.
The fable goes that it started on its own & stopped at the accident site. After this ghostly happening, the police returned the motor bike to Om Banna’s family. A shrine was erected at the accident site. Since then, Om Singh Rathore’s spirit is said to protect other riders.
The motor bike is the idol at this temple. It draws huge crowds specially the local population. It is almost a rite of passage for bikers. Ironically, Bullet Baba is offered alcohol. We wonder how he manages to protect his drunk devotees!
We Recommend –
- Photography is allowed inside the temple.
- It can become crowded. Keep your wits about you.
All around the temple, there are ‘dhabas’ (roadside eating joints). Hop into one, chat up with the locals & find out more about the legend of Om Banna.
India – A Land of Temples – & Unique Ones at That
We doubt you can travel even a kilometer in India without coming across a temple. Many of them are ancient while others will, nonetheless, carry ‘ancient’ in their names. Each temple, however, has its distinct belief system.
It is rare to find one devoid of devotees asking for their wishes to be fulfilled or thanking the deity for fulfilled wishes. However, there are a few that are totally unique.
- Congress President Sonia Gandhi Temple in Telangana
- Devji Maharaj Mandir (exorcism & ghost fair) in Madhya Pradesh
- Devaragattu Temple (devotees hit each with sticks) in Andhra Pradesh
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi Temple in Tamil Nadu
- Stambheshwar Mahadev (vanishing temple) in Gujarat
& so many more…
Have you visited Pali?
The Blue City In 36 Hours
We had been to Jodhpur earlier but never together. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include the blue city. It was our third destination.
We left our Udaipur home stay after breakfast. Our first halt was Ranakpur (94 KMS from Udaipur). You can read about our visit to this Jain temple village here. Post lunch, we continued towards Jodhpur. Udaipur to Jodhpur was close to 250 KMS. Google Maps insisted we take a state highway which was a mix of good & bad.
While Ranakpur was a planned halt, Pali (99 KMS from Ranakpur) turned out to be an impromptu one. On a whim, we stopped at the Bullet Baba Temple. We promise to write a super short blog post on this separately. For now, let us continue onto Jodhpur.
The First Evening
We were at our hotel in Jodhpur (72 KMS from Pali) by evening. A cup of tea & stretch of legs later, we were out dining. Zomato recommended Khaas Bagh to us for dinner.
The first word that struck us was ‘heritage’. Khaas Bagh is built incorporating Colonial, Indo, & Islamic architectural styles. A heritage property, the haveli is decorated with European & Indian art objects, paintings & wall pieces.
It was refurbished to bring back its stunning architecture. Its USP – a large collection of British – Raj vintage cars. What our dreams are made of… The garden restaurant overlooks the regal structure & the cars on display.
We settled down to a romantic dinner with mellow lights & heaters to give us company. Despite the restaurant being full, there was never any disturbance. Service was great. Of all the dishes we had, Brooke Swan’s Bailey’s Ice Cream & Travancore’s Pepper Chicken Rasam, were outstanding!
It was a great place to have a candlelit dinner. One that we will remember forever. The restaurant can seem to be expensive, but it is worth it. After the delectable meal, we toured the grands, oohing & aahing at the dazzling cars.
Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, Rolls Royce & more. Alluring colors. Robust builds. Intriguing details. Splendor. After visiting Khaas Bagh, we were left fully convinced that it deserved the high ratings it had! Ample parking available.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Jodhpur. After breakfast, we were picked up by a Jodhpur Village Safari driver/ guide & jeep. After the safari, the vehicle dropped us to Gypsy Restaurant.
We had done a last-minute booking but luckily got it. Our driver/ guide first took us to the Guda Bishnoiyan where we met a Bishnoi family, saw their traditional house, & participated in their opium ceremony.
At the ceremony, our guide first showed us all the ingredients that go into making an opium drink. The head of the household then brewed an opium water. He is ~100, our guide said, & yet, he has no ailments. They credited it to regular opium consumption.
We expected to swing as soon as we sipped the opium drink. But, sadly, nothing of the sort happened. It just felt like bitter water! However, we would never criticize a hospitality gesture.
We knew the Bishnois are animal lovers because of the black buck – Salman Khan episode. Our guide told us more stories about their love for animals. The lady of the house was known for breastfeeding orphan fawn in her younger days. This is a common practice now with Bishnoi women.
Also, the Bishnoi filter their water at least twice before putting the cooking pot on the fire. This is so that tiny bugs can escape into the red earth.
Two young girls were sitting behind the old couple. Our hearts fluttered to know that both attended school & to see that they were studying.
We then headed out to see wildlife & weren’t disappointed – peacocks, antelopes, demoiselle cranes, green winged teals, black winged stilts, chinkaras, green bee eaters, red-Wattled lapwings, chousinghas, black bucks, Eurasian collared doves, & Indian rollers.
Antelopes peeped out from the undergrowth, as curious about us as we were about them. There were herds of playful but shy deer. We watched them bound behind the shrubs. Alarmed by the sound of our vehicle, the deer leapt for cover. It was a sight to see them leap high in the air & cover wide distances in one go.
Blackbucks proved to be shyer. While we briefly glimpsed a couple behind the bushes/ in the distance, our guide scouted the area thoroughly to get us a good sighting. The male blackbuck is gorgeous!
The white fur on the chin & around the eyes makes for a striking contrast with the overall black color!! Not just for the Bishnoi, the black buck has significance for many Hindus. In many villages in India, and even Nepal, villagers do not harm the antelope.
Jodhpur has not been considered a traditional bird watching spot, but we were grateful to see many bird varieties. Within the Guda Bishnoi village, a manmade lake has been created to provide water for black bucks & migratory birds.
As Marwar cools down in winter, migratory birds make their way here, with their numbers increasing each year. We were thrilled to spot Demoiselle Cranes. It is estimated that more than 5,000 demoiselle cranes migrate to India in a season.
With such deep love from the Bishnoi community, it is but natural that animals & birds have no qualms in living freely in this area. It respects cows & deer the most & protects them from hunters.
Apart from being animal lovers, Bishnois are also environmentalists. In the 1700s, many of them laid down their lives by hugging trees to stop them being felled by the Jodhpur Maharaja’s army!
The concern the Bishnoi have for the environment is way above normal – almost Godly. As we left the lake, we spotted a melange of colors formed by flowers, sand, sky, & almost barren trees. David Hockney said well, “I prefer living in color.”
Once we had had our fill of fauna, our guide dropped us to Gypsy Restaurant for lunch. If traditions and/ or wildlife interest you, this safari is highly recommended.
Gypsy came highly recommended. It has two sections – downstairs is a fast food restaurant while upstairs is the thali place. The thali is famous here. The restaurant was fully occupied but due to the quick nature of thali service, we did not have to wait much.
Once served, the number of items stumped us. The tastes tickled our taste buds. Every dish was delicious, be it Ker Sangri Ki Sabzi or Hari Mirchi Ka Achaar or Daal Baati.
All that food had to be worked off! What better than sightseeing?! As we pulled into the Mehrangarh Fort parking, its grandeur made our jaws drop for the second time. For more than five centuries, the Fort has been the headquarters of the senior branch of the Rajput clan known as Rathore.
We could see why Rao Jodha (the founder of Jodhpur & the one who commissioned the Mehrangarh Fort) chose this site to build a new fort. Spread over 5 KMS. Isolated rock. Higher elevation. Better natural defenses.
A 500 yards long, 120 feet high & 70 feet thick delight. We bought tickets to view the Mehrangarh Fort inclusive of the elevator. There are two ways to explore it – you start climbing on foot or you take the elevator up & then make your way down on foot.
At the entrance, frescoes depicting Hindu gods caught our attention. From the top, we saw a panoramic view of Jodhpur. It seemed a blue carpet was laid at the foot of a hill. The ramparts house preserved old cannons. Our imagination made us think of them booming to safeguard from enemies. But legend says the canons never had to be used in conflict.
Up the stairs from Suraj Pol, we came to the Shangar Chowk (Coronation Courtyard). Apart from Rao Jodha, all other Jodhpur rulers have been crowned here. The Shringar Chowki at the Shangar Chowk makes for a pretty picture with its marble, peacock armrests, & gilded elephants.
The Fort interiors are a visual delight. Dancing Room, Toran & Maud, Elephant Howdah, Phool Mahal, King’s Howdah, ceilings that look like carpets, Sheesh Mahal, & Moti Mahal. The Moti Mahal Chowk is especially noteworthy for the 18th century apartments around it.
We mused how visiting forts always seems like homecoming to us. At the Jhanki Mahal, we got reminded of our love for latticed windows & of the purdah system. Jaalis & small windows allowed the women to observe the proceedings without being seen themselves.
Rao Jodha brought goddess Chamunda Devi idol from Mandore. Since then, the Chamunda Devi Mandir holds significance for the locals. As we moved to other parts of the Mehrangarh Fort, we saw vermilion palm prints on a few walls. These are jauhar prints imprinted by princesses & queens who committed ‘jauhar’ for their husbands.
The Fort is aptly called the Citadel of the Sun. Much has been written about it; it is, after all, impressive. Do not rush your visit at the Mehrangarh Fort. There is a lot of walking & climbing involved; so, wear comfortable shoes.
Good idea to hire a guide so that you understand the place well. (We always hire a guide but this time, we did not. & we still regret it.) Apparently, there is a night tour of the Mehrangarh Fort too. If we return, it will be for the night tour.
From the Fort top, we spotted the Jaswant Thada in the distance. We could see how sunlight illuminated this monument. A beauty of Rajputana & Mughal fusion architecture! We missed Jaswant Thada on this trip. Hope to return to Jodhpur to see it.
We also saw the Umaid Bhawan Palace from the Mehrangarh Fort. Another of those ridiculously – priced hotels we will not have the heart of staying in. But, perched on Chittar Hill, we are sure the hotel offers views of the blue city & the sand dunes!
Indique was an open-air museum. View of the setting sun, Mehrangarh Fort, Ghanta Ghar, Jaswant Thada, Gulab Sagar, city lights… The mix of Rajasthani food with exotic beverages in a stately ambiance claimed our hearts.
If sundown were so picturesque, we could imagine the gastronomical experience under the moon. However, the service disappointed us a bit. The servers seemed to prefer foreigners over Indians. Indique will be an indulgent affair if they can reduce their bias.
The Gulab Sagar was built as a water storage replacing an old Bawdi. As dusk turned to twilight, the tranquil Sagar underwent a color change too! What a fabulous sight!
We had spotted the Ghanta Ghar from the Mehrangarh Fort. It is a Jodhpur landmark, has a market by its name, but is also an architectural delight. After Indique, we walked up to the Ghanta Ghar which was lit up in a burst of colors.
A market that dates back centuries, everything that is sold here is exquisite. After all, it is made with unparalleled energy & time devotion. Most of the shopkeepers have been in this for generations. Have a chat with these simple people but also do not hesitate to bargain if you buy anything.
We did not buy anything but loved roaming around in Sardar Market.
Janta Sweet Home
We always prefer street food over fancy cuisines. To relish Jodhpur’s famous street food, we made our way to Janta Sweet Home. Walking in the old city lanes helped us in building an appetite. We hogged on Mirchi Vada, Onion Kachori, Rabri Ghevar & Samosa.
A Mirchi Vada is a thick, less spicy green pepper stuffed with tangy potato stuffing, dipped in a gram flour batter & deep fried until crispy. An Onion Kachori is a whole meal. While Ghevar is famous during festivals, a Rabri Ghevar on a regular day can transport you to another plane. & Samosa, there is absolutely no need to say anything about this snack!
Just writing about this meal makes us salivate…
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast at our hotel & a hot cup of tea at the famous Bhati Tea Stall! Even in the early morning hours, the small stall was crowded.
It seemed the locals were quite fond of the place too, not just for the tea but also for the gossip. The parking was on the road itself. We had masala chai & it was delicious! There seemed to be a few food items available too, but we did not try those.
After two home stays, Ratan Vilas was practically luxury. The most lavish hotel of our entire road-trip. This architectural beauty was built in 1920. It is beautifully made with ample parking, outdoor seating in its restaurant, & a swimming pool.
Our room was nothing short of grand. It had a pool view along with its own balcony seating. It was tastefully furnished & had portraits of the royalty as decor. The bathroom was worth seeing. We truly felt regal.
The surroundings of Ratan Vilas were quiet. We had our breakfasts at the hotel. The food was delicious. The buffet breakfast had a good spread. The service was spot-on. Because of the intensive sightseeing we were doing, we could not enjoy the hotel fully; hope to return to just relax here.
A Halt at The Ranakpur Jain Temple
On our Udaipur to Jodhpur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Ranakpur (94 KMS from Udaipur) was a halt that had to be made. P had been here earlier; there was no way N could not see the marvel that the Jain Temple was.
A photo-log from our visit to the Ranakpur Jain Temple.
Ranakpur is a village with greenery & water bodies in an otherwise largely arid Rajasthan. It is often ignored by sightseers, sandwiched as it is between Jodhpur and Udaipur. But Ranakpur holds dear its heritage & history.
The small village is known for its Jain temples dedicated to different Tirthankaras. The temples were built under the patronage of Rana Kumbha (of the Kumbhalgarh fame). Their history – Dharna Shah, a local Jain businessman, dreamed of paying homage to Lord Adinatha by building a temple in His honor. This is a common backstory of many Indian monuments. That a king or a noble dreamed of a god/ guru who either asked for a temple to be built or who pointed to the place where an idol could be found etc.
The temple complex is a large one with multiple temples inside. Each beautiful… But the main one is the Adinatha Temple. The first word that pops into our heads on seeing the temple is – Majestic!
The Adinatha Temple is huge. ~1450 marble pillars are needed to support its structure. At the entrance, an akichaka is carved into the ceiling. It is a man with five bodies representing fire, water, heaven, earth, and air. The akichaka guards the temple.
The temple is, undoubtedly, beautiful from the outside. But it is the inside beauty that amazes us. Marvelous is an understatement for the architecture. The clean, cool & quiet Ranakpur Jain Temple is a break from the overwhelming chaos that life otherwise is.
When you visit Ranakpur,
- Spend a night at Ranakpur if you really want to do justice to the large temple complex.
- Alternatively, stay at Kumbhalgarh. Cover Ranakpur from there as well as visit the Kumbhalgarh Fort & Wildlife Sanctuary. (We would really like to see its wolves!)
- Ranakpur is a popular day trip from Udaipur.
- There is a huge parking lot in the temple complex.
- Leather products are forbidden inside the temple.
- Legs must be covered when visiting the temple. Long pants are available on rent at the ticket counter in case you are wearing shorts, skirts etc. (This rule is relaxed for children.)
- Like we always recommend taking a guide when visiting Indian monuments, same goes for the Ranakpur Jain Temple. The guide will be able to point out unique bits. You can take an audio guide too.
- If you need to do photography inside, you must purchase a ticket separately for that.
- An on-premises canteen offers affordable Jain food.
- There is a market too in Ranakpur, where one can buy curios and souvenirs.
- October to March is the right time to visit. The rest of the year, the Sun will roast you alive!
- If you intend to have lunch at Ranakpur, head to Fateh Bagh. The heritage hotel has beautiful gardens & interiors and is usually sparsely occupied. And the vintage car!!
A Quick Halt at The Shrinathji Mandir
On our Jaipur to Udaipur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Nathdwara (351 KMS from Jaipur) turned out to be an impromptu halt. On a whim, we turned inside from the highway to bow our heads to Shrinathji (a form of Lord Krishna). We write the key points from our visit here.
1 But First – What’s Unique About The Temple?
Shrinathji Temple is known as Haveli (mansion) of Shrinathji. The haveli itself is fortified & was the Mewar royalty’s palace at one point of time. Interestingly, the haveli has amenities/ rooms for different purposes – chariot, betel storeroom, flower storeroom, jewelry chamber, horse stable, gold & silver grinding wheel etc.
Shrinathji is not seen as a God but as the Lord of the Mansion. So, the form of worship is unusual – service to the living image. The Lord is attended with daily functions like bathing, meals etc. Moreover, as He is a form of Lord Krishna as a child, special care is taken. (Shrinathji has a nap time, play time etc.)
Now, as Shrinathji is a living image, He can be met (seen) only a finite number of times a day. Thus, devotees & visitors can do the darshan only eight times a day when His aarti & shringar (dressing up & beautifying) take place. The darshan timings, according to the official website, are:
|Mangal Aarti||5:15 am to 6:00 am|
|Shringar Aarti||7:15 am to 7:45 am|
|Gwal Aarti||9:15 am to 9:30 am|
|Rajbhog Aarti||11:15 am to 12:05 pm|
|Uthapan Aarti||3:30 pm to 3:45 pm|
|Bhog Aarti||4:45 pm to 5:00 pm|
|Sandhya Aarti||5:15 pm to 6:00 pm|
|Shayan||6:50 pm to 7:30 pm|
1.1 We Recommend –
- Plan to spend a night at Nathdwara. The different darshans have different meanings. Try to see more than one.
- If you cannot spend a night, time your visit appropriately. It would be heartbreaking to reach all the way here only to find out that you cannot see the Lord.
- As mentioned above, there are multiple parts in the haveli. Try to see them all.
2 Finding The Temple
Once we turned in from the highway, we kept going around in circles trying to find the temple. GPS was of no help. We must have maneuvered through multiple narrow alleys before a kind traffic policeman advised us to ditch the car & run as it was almost time for the Shayan, our last chance to see Shrinathji.
Unfortunately, there was no parking in sight. We did not want to leave our vehicle on the road either. Finally, another kind soul told us the way to a gaushala (cow shelter). There was space to park & a shortcut through the gaushala to the temple, though uphill.
2.1 We Recommend –
- If you are staying at Nathdwara, take local transport to the temple.
- If you are just visiting, there is a parking lot on the highway itself. Park your vehicle there & use public transport to get to the temple.
- If, like us, you are lost in the lanes, ask locals. Do not rely on GPS.
We literally ran up the incline to be just in time for the last darshan of the day. Like mentioned above, the idol of Shrinathji is open for public viewing only eight times a day. As we did not have a plan to stay in Nathdwara, we had to make it to the last viewing.
Luckily, we reached in time, even after depositing our cameras, phones, shoes & wallets at the storeroom. People were still scattered around.
The curtains were drawn within a few minutes. It seems the entire place came alive as soon as that happened. The crowd thronged towards the viewing queue, separate for men & women. We did not have to make any effort to move forward; the crowd carried us along! 😀
The darshan time is small as all the devotees need to be accommodated in the 45-minute window. So, do not expect to get a leisurely time to pray. And, do not even think of getting distracted, as it could be a blink-and-you-miss-it situation. 😊
The atmosphere was emotionally charged with devotees getting overwhelmed. We believe people from far & wide come to catch a glimpse of the Lord.
3.1 We Recommend –
- Keep time available for the security checks & for depositing your belongings.
- Photography is prohibited inside the temple. Leave your camera behind.
- Keep your balance in the crowd. You would not want to fall down & be trampled upon, would you?
- Keep your eyes focused to see the Shrinathji idol. It is a small time-frame. Do not get distracted.
- It is, after all, a crowded place. Keep your wits about you. Do not hesitate to ask for help if you feel the need.
4 Getting Out
Outside the temple, there are scores of small shops selling idols & photographs of Shrinathji as well as material for worship. We bought a few memorabilia & had cups of tea.
We then used the earlier route & climbed down the incline towards our vehicle. It was now that we realized we were essentially walking between houses. At one spot, we saw the sun going down. At another, we came across a group of men huddled around a fire, right under a sign that read – “Do not idle around”! 😀
(As we clicked the signboard, the men began to laugh. We turned out, grinned & clicked them as well. Nothing breaks barriers as humor does. Do not leave your sense of humor behind when you go sightseeing!)
We made our way back to the highway & started towards Udaipur. Just then, we spotted a large Shiva statue, under construction, by the highway. A little googling told us it is called Statue of Belief. It was expected to complete in August 2019. We, unfortunately, do not have an update if it is open to public now. But, once it is, it will be worth visiting as it will be the second tallest statue in India.
HAVE YOU VISITED NATHDWARA?
Recently, a classmate reached out to get a three-day itinerary for Udaipur. As we dug through our emails, photographs, and memories, we couldn’t help compiling an itinerary of the city of lakes…
Day 1 – City Palace Museum, Jagdish Mandir, Bagore Ki Haveli & Lake Pichola
- Start at the City Palace Museum. It opens at 9:30 AM. Get here as early as you can as it tends to get crowded as the day progresses. Also, this is the most time taking activity today. Take a guide as it may be difficult to understand things on your own.
The best parts about the Museum are Mor Chowk & Zenana Mahal.
- Exit from the Tripolia Dwar of the City Palace Museum & walk to the Jagdish Mandir via the Hathipol Bazar. Jagdish Mandir has amazing carvings in its architecture. It’s a small temple; so, you’ll not take much time here.
Note – it involves climbing about 30-40 steep steps.
- If you entered the City Palace Museum at 9:30 AM, you’ll be done there by noon (if you see each part properly). Walking till Jagdish Mandir & darshan will take another 30-45 minutes. We suggest lunch now.
The area is full of rooftop restaurants with Lake Pichola views.
- Post lunch visit Bagore Ki Haveli Museum. This was the residence of the prime minister of the Mewar dynasty. It was falling to pieces but has been painstakingly restored. See the before & after of restoration.
Plus, this museum has made galleries of traditional Mewari life. Lastly, it has a collection of turbans worn in different cultures. This museum isn’t crowded, mostly foreigners. So, you can be done here in an hour.
- If the sun isn’t too strong, boat on Lake Pichola.
- For the evening, you’re spoilt for choice. Sunset boating at Lake Pichola is a popular activity. & once the sun sets, the City Palace Museum has its Light & Sound Show (L&SS). The Bagore Ki Haveli Museum has a dance show – Dharohar. Watch the sunset from The Sunset Terrace.
- End your day with dinner at one of the lake – facing restaurants.
Day 2 – Monsoon Palace, Fateh Sagar Lake, Sukhadia Circle Fountain, Shilpgram
- Start day two at the Monsoon Palace. It was the hilltop residence of the Mewar royal family. The Palace has great views of the lakes & countryside. It opens at 9 AM. Vehicles go up the hill; so, getting there wouldn’t be a problem.
You’ll typically take an hour or so to see this (modest) palace. But the drive up the hill is nice.
- Head to the Fateh Sagar Lake. If the sun isn’t strong, opt for either boating or a tanga ride around the lake or just walk around it. There are ample food stalls around the lake. Cold coffee with ice cream, served in kulhad, is a visitor’s favourite here.
Fateh Sagar has two parks on two of its islands, a solar observatory & an aquarium. See either of these.
- Another place for boating (when you go to the City of Lakes, boating is unavoidable :D) is the Sukhadia Circle. It’s a roundabout but has a garden & a pond (in which boating takes place). Quite a few street foods options here.
- Go to Shilpgram next. It is a village created to give visitors a taste of Rajasthani art, craft, culture, folk dance, food etc. Camel riding, puppet show, pottery etc. Pick souvenirs from here – ceramic, pottery items, oxidized jewellery etc. Spend a good amount of time here, if interested.
- In the evening, you’re again spoilt for choice. Sunset views from Monsoon Palace are excellent. (There is a dedicated sunset point.) So, maybe you can opt to go to the Monsoon Palace towards evening, rather than morning. See the palace, catch the sunset & return.
Else, sunset boating at Fateh Sagar Lake is hot. Or catch City Palace L&SS or Bagore Ki Haveli Museum Dharohar Dance, whichever you missed the first evening.
- End with a lake – side dinner.
Day 3 – Day Trip
- Done with the main attractions, you can either relax & just walk around today. Or catch up on anything you missed from the above. The third option is to take a day trip from Udaipur. A few options:
- Start early & go to Haldighati (about 45 KMS from Udaipur). The drive is through the Aravalli mountains. At Haldighati is the Maharana Pratap Museum. A good place to learn more about Maharana Pratap’s life & the battle of Haldighati.
They show a good small film. The museum is conceptualized & run by a history – loving individual. Just passing through Haldighati gives goose bumps. There is a place called Rakht Talai a little ahead of the Museum which is where the actual battle took place.
It’s said the color of the soil changed with all the blood that was spilled. Also, at the museum, there is a special kind of rose water available for purchase. It’s made from cheti Gulab, a species brought by Akbar to this region.
On your way back from Haldighati, take a slightly different route to visit Eklingji. It’s a temple dedicated to Eklingji (a form of Lord Shiva), the ruling deity of the Mewar dynasty. (In fact, Eklingji is considered the king, & the ruling Maharana is considered His dewan.)
The temple has suffered repetitive attacks from the Islamic invaders but the Mewaris rebuilt it every time. It’s an 8th century temple!
From Eklingji, return to Udaipur. Make a stopover at Forum Celebration Mall to grab a bite.
- Another day trip option is Kesariyaji Rishabhdev Mandir. However, it’s in a different direction altogether & can’t be combined with any of the above. It’s about 75 KMS from Udaipur. It opens at 6:30 AM. The temple is worshiped both by Bhils & Jains.
The Mewar dynasty followed four religious’ institutions; this is one of them. Like all Jain temples, this one is artistic.
While we like to maximize our trips with as much sightseeing as we can, we don’t believe in overdoing it. & we recommend the same – don’t treat sightseeing as a competition or a checklist. So, even if you don’t manage to see a few of the above, it’s okay. It’s more important to enjoy yourself. Happy sightseeing!
The City Of Lakes In 36 Hours
We’d been to Udaipur earlier but never together. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we’d to include the city of lakes. It was our second destination.
We left our Jaipur home stay after a hearty breakfast. Our first halt was Kishangarh (102 KMS from Jaipur). On our first visit to Kishangarh, we’d noticed the town was famous for marble products. Since then, we’d been wanting to buy a marble Ganesha idol for our home. It was time to tick that off.
After a few marble purchases, we continued towards Udaipur. We usually don’t drive > 300 KMS in a day but Jaipur to Udaipur was close to 400. Phew! Lunch was a quick affair at a Kishanpura dhaba.
While Kishangarh was a planned halt, Nathdwara (248 KMS from Kishangarh) turned out to be an impromptu one. On a whim, we turned inside from the highway to bow our heads to Shrinathji. We promise to write a super shot blog post on Nathdwara separately. For now, let’s continue onto Udaipur.
The First Evening
We were at our home stay in Udaipur (46 KMS from Nathdwara) by late evening. A cup of tea later, we were out dining. Zomato recommended Khamma Ghani to us for dinner.
The restaurant is on the banks of the Lake Rang Sagar. The first thing that struck us was the panoramic view. We settled down to a candlelit dinner with buildings on the opposite shore lit up & reflecting in the lake. The shimmer of the reflections made for a pleasant, relaxed & romantic ambience.
Service was great. The servers were cooperative & helpful. Our server was patient enough to answer even our touristy questions! While they serve multiple cuisines, we would recommend sticking to Rajasthani. Of all the dishes we’d, the Chicken Banjara Tikka & Mewari Maans Dhungar were outstanding!
By the time we left, we felt more like guests than customers! The restaurant can seem to be on the expensive side but it’s worth it. Ample parking available.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Udaipur. After breakfast, we drove to the City Palace Museum & parked our car in its parking. We bought tickets for the Palace Museum as well as the Light & Sound Show at one go.
After the Museum, we advanced through the Hathi Pol Bazar to reach the Jagdish Mandir. We then went to the Bagore Ki Haveli. Once we’d seen the Haveli, we moseyed along the lakeside & landed at the Gangaur Ghat. We then climbed the Daiji Bridge & had lunch at Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant.
Post that, we took an Uber to Moti Magri & ascended to the Maharana Pratap Smarak. We took an Uber back to the City Palace Museum precincts where we went to The Sunset Terrace. Our evening was reserved for the Mewar Light & Sound Show, & dinner was decided at Ambrai.
City Palace Museum
Let us put a few words & phrases together. Corridors, entrances, galleries, insignia, jharokhas, legends, elephants, facade, frescoes, reflections, views, miniature paintings, private quarters, royal kitchens, kerosene-operated fans. What do these words make you think of?
The City Palace Museum is all these & more. When a grand palace is converted into a museum, you can be sure to find rich history in each corner. Corridors where you can walk only in a single file. Picturesque entrances to the private quarters of royalty.
Multiple galleries displaying buggies, silver, arms, clothes etc. ‘Jharokhas’ that take your breath away. Legends of Rajput horses wearing trunks so that Mughal elephants don’t attack them. Frescoes & miniature paintings of Indians gods & goddesses.
The moment we entered the Mardana Mahal under the Ganesha Pol, we knew we were in for a treat. We didn’t know what to click & what not to. It was a good place to understand the whole of Rajasthan & the Rajputana culture.
A few parts we loved:
- Mor Chowk – It’s aptly named for its 19th-century glass peacock mosaics & the Surya Prakash glass work. 5k mosaic pieces & concave mirrors make up the peacocks. Radha Krishna miniature paintings in the inner court (also at Bhim Vilas)
- Zenana Mahal – It’s a diverse array of art. But, more than that, the blue walls are soothing. Breathtaking chandeliers!
- Chini Chitra Shala – European tiles. Exquisite blue & white ceramic-work. & oh, the city view!
- Laxmi Chowk – As you emerge from Badal Mahal & Rang Bhawan, you’ll reach the Laxmi Chowk. Sprawling & vast. Its surrounding greens make for a sight not to be missed.
- Manak Chowk – The Manak Mahal opens into the Manak chowk. The religious insignia of the Sisodia dynasty can be seen at the entrance.
- Kanch Ki Burj (Mirror Palace) – Dazzling room with glass inlay work
- Baadi Mahal – It’s a Charbagh layout but not connected to the Islamic Charbagh design. Alluded more to Lord Shiva’s abode, as is reflected by its older name, Shivprasana Amar Vilas Mahal. So pleasant!
You can see an ivory door here. While it’s beautiful, it made us wonder how many elephants would have had to give up their tusks for this door to be constructed.
- Maharana Bhupal Singh’s room – In spite of a disability, the Maharana envisaged a life for himself & his people.
- Surya Choupar – For the Sun sculpture. The Mewar dynasty is Suryavanshi (children of the Sun). Sun sculptures are found everywhere in the erstwhile Mewar kingdom.
- Tripolia Dwar – If we’ve learnt one thing from visiting excessive number of forts, it’s that triple-arched gates are called ‘Tripolias’. Next to the Gate, there is an arena where elephant fights were staged.
The City Palace has many courtyards & buildings. Don’t rush your visit. There’s a lot of walking & climbing involved; so, wear comfortable shoes. Good idea to hire a guide so that you understand the place well. There are also several shops inside the compound where you can buy clothes, mementos etc.
We exited from the Badi Pol & reached the Hathi Pol Market. We collect fridge magnets on our travels. Shops in the Market had good collections of fridge magnets of not just Udaipur but of other Rajasthani cities too. Beyond this was the Jagdish Mandir. It was at a busy intersection (i.e. no parking).
A steep flight of stairs from the road took us to the main temple. There was space outside to remove & keep footwear. We were awestruck with the stone carvings. They reminded us of the Ranakpur temples. The spire was quite high; it dominated the Udaipur skyline.
It was gratifying to get a glimpse of Lord Vishnu in the temple.
Bagore Ki Haveli
Bagore Ki Haveli is a restored 18th century haveli. It was built by Amarchand Badwa, the Prime Minister of Mewar from 1751 to 1778. After the City Palace Museum, the Haveli may seem like an anticlimax, but we must remember that while the former was the abode of kings, the latter was home to the prime minister.
Bagore Ki Haveli has been painstakingly restored. In fact, there was a room which shows the condition prior to the restoration. A room in the Haveli houses marionettes. It was quite lively. We’d a good time fooling around in this room.
Another section of the Bagore Ki Haveli houses turbans. This has (supposedly) the world’s biggest turban. The turban is made in such a way that its left side represents Gujarati farmers, the right Madhya Pradesh & in the middle is the Rajasthani style.
Also catching our fancy at Bagore Ki Haveli were arches, terraces, red colored rooms, & stained-glass windows. The Haveli was almost empty when we visited except for a handful of foreigners.
Despite there being so much to see, Udaipur can also be just about calm lakeside strolls. We found ourselves on the Gangaur Ghat, right next to the Bagore Ki Haveli. This is a primary ghat on the Lake Pichola & hosts festive rituals. We spent a few minutes here, absorbing the beauty of the lake.
We also spotted the Lake Pichola Hotel on the opposite bank. We didn’t visit it but can say that a meal on its rooftop restaurant will be worth it.
Without a doubt, the Gangaur Ghat can be cleaner but if you ignore the dirt, it’s a decent place to click photographs.
Daiji Bridge is a foot way bridge over the Lake Pichola. If you want to go to the Ambrai Ghat from the Gangaur Ghat on foot, this is the path that will take you there. Once you stand at the midpoint of the bridge, you get a terrific 360-degree view of Lake Pichola & its surroundings. Quite a camera-ready situation to be in!
As we took in the view, we couldn’t decide if the blue of the sky or the blue of the water was better. We got reminded of what Rudyard Kipling wrote in Letters of Marque – “If the Venetian, owned the Pichola Lake, he might say with justice, ‘see it and die’”.
Sadly, the bridge is quite dirty with cow dung. You’ve to be careful where you step.
You can spot the Mohan Mandir from the Daiji Bridge. The Mandir is a small gazebo – kind of structure in the middle of Lake Pichola. In the earlier days, royalty would watch Gangaur celebrations seated here.
It was time for lunch. We looked for a place that would afford a view of the Lake Pichola & found one in Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant.
Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant
This is the place if you want to have a relaxed meal. The rooftop gives an unobstructed view of Lake Pichola & the skyline on the opposite bank. & let us say – the view is LIT!
Regarding food & beverages, we drank Cosmopolitan & LIIT, & ate Create Your Own Pizza & Murgh Soola. The F&B was okay – neither great nor bad.
The service was good. Be prepared to climb a couple of floors to get to the rooftop; we didn’t spot an elevator here.
Moti Magri is a hill near the Fateh Sagar Lake. The hilltop offers a view of the Aravalli range & the Lake. On top of Moti Magri is the Maharana Pratap Smarak.
We didn’t want to take our car out from its comfortable parking. So, we called an Uber! We got one near Chand Pole. (Try to explore these lanes of Udaipur too; a different world altogether!)
The Uber dropped us at the base of the Moti Magri. After that lunch, we felt climbing on foot would be a good exercise. (Truth be told – the cab refused to go inside & uphill!) There are two ways to reach the Moti Magri top on which the Maharana Pratap Memorial is located – a winding road for vehicles, & a flight of stairs. We opted for the stairs; it killed our knees, but we took less time.
When all the stories of legends come back rushing to you, you know you’re at the right place! Perched atop Moti Magri, with sweeping views of the city below, the Smarak is a statue of Maharana Pratap atop his beloved horse, Chetak.
Legend has it that Chetak got injured in battle but crossed Haldighati (on three legs carrying his master. The horse gave us its life to save Maharana Pratap. The Memorial immortalizes the bravery of both & evokes emotions of courage. It has plaques narrating history.
The Moti Magri top is calm & away from chaos. The view from the top is beautiful & serene. There are a couple of paths leading down to other statues. Food options are available as are plenty of photo-ops.
On our way down, we halted at Hall of Heroes & enjoyed murals & portraits of Mewari kings & other notable personalities. We also admired mannequins dressed for war & large models of old cities & battlefields.
The Sunset Terrace
We descended the Moti Magri through the winding road & called an Uber to take us to the City Palace Museum precincts. It was time for some sunset watching. We’d been recommended The Sunset Terrace for a great sunset view. It’s an al fresco restaurant in the Taj Fateh Prakash Palace.
We perched ourselves at The Sunset Terrace a little before sunset & made ourselves comfortable with LIIT & Masala Chai. The service was good but a little aloof. The view, of course, is breathtaking. As the Sun disappeared behind the combination of Taj Lake Palace + Lake Pichola + Aravalli, we could only sigh at the sight.
City Palace Museum Light & Sound Show
As soon as the Sun went down, we finished our drinks & hurried inside the City Palace for the Light & Sound Show. The Show is a good way to explore centuries of Mewar history. It’s narrated by Shriji Arvind Singh, present custodian of the House of Mewar. What a baritone!
After an English performance, there’s one in Hindi as well. The beauty of the performance & the melodic sounds offer an enjoyable experience.
This must be the busiest restaurant in Udaipur. We’d to book our table a night in advance. But we understood the fuss once we got here. Located on the Ambrai Ghat with a view of the City Palace Museum across Lake Pichola, this must be one of the restaurants in India that give a romantic experience.
Our table was lit with only a tealight but the twinkling lights from the monuments across the Pichola provided all the bokeh we needed. Our server took really good care of us.
We drank Fire & Ice and LIIT. We ate Daal Tadka, Murgh Dhungar, Maans K Sula Kebab & Steamed Rice. Usually, restaurants with views compromise on food. Not Ambrai. The food was as good as the view. The restaurant is expensive but VFM we would say.
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast & clicking photographs of our home stay!
Chandra Niwas Home Stay is a homely & safe place to stay. It’s well located from the heart of Udaipur – near enough to reach Lake Pichola in 10 minutes, yet far enough from the hustle bustle. Samvit, the host, was helpful right from the time of the booking.
His team members took good care of us during our stay. Our breakfast was included & was simple but delicious – aloo paratha & idli sambhar with standard items like bread, fruits etc. We could park our vehicle right outside the house.
The best part for us was that the home stay was economical. We didn’t want to spend too much on accommodation as we intended to be out sightseeing the entire day. Chandra Niwas fit perfectly that way.
While coming from Jaipur by road, we’d a bit of a tough time reaching the Home Stay because of Google Maps pushing us into dingy lanes. We became apprehensive seeing the surroundings, but our fears turned out to be unfounded.
The room allotted to us was on the roof & extremely sparsely furnished. Ditto for the bathroom. If the rooms are made a little cozier, it will be great.
P.S. We feel Chandra Niwas Home Stay is better suited for backpacking/ budget travelers, or people like us who don’t mind staying in the most basic of accommodations.
When the clock struck 12 AM on 1 January 2020, none of us had thought the new year would turn out thus. Sure, the preceding years had their share of ups & downs. But these were never global in nature.
Today, the entire world has come to a standstill because of the Wuhan Virus. Citizens across the world have fallen prey to the pandemic & as of now, we don’t have a vaccine/ cure for the Virus. International flights have been suspended, borders have been sealed, hotels & restaurants have been shut down, & people are staying indoors in a bid to curb the spread of the Wuhan Virus.
We, at Let’s Go Sightseeing, as responsible citizens, are adhering to all the rules being laid down by authorities & staying put inside. We strongly recommend you suspend your travel plans, if you’ve any, for the time being & stay at home to keep yourself & your loved ones safe.
Having said this, we intend to continue posting about our older travels. We felt the need to clarify as we’ve seen fellow travel bloggers get hate on social media for choosing to post about their past travels. We feel we must continue because:
- These are posts from our older travels. 2019 mostly but maybe even older.
- All of us are being inundated with news only about the Virus. We feel a change of pace is needed.
- The travel photos & posts may help you visualize & plan your travel in future, when this is over.
- Blogging is our occupation. We’re in the Work from Home mode too!
- Lastly, & most importantly, writing is catharsis for us. If we don’t blog, our mental health may take a hit
So, we hope to bring a little cheer in this gloom & doom. But, to reiterate, Let’s Go Sightseeing doesn’t advocate traveling till the travel advisories regarding the pandemic are in place.
Sending all of you a lot of safety…
The Pink City In 36 Hours
We had been to Jaipur earlier but never as a tourist. One time for work, the other time to shop. So, when we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include the pink city. It was our first destination.
The First Evening
Stopping just for a brunch in Behror (146 KMS from our starting point), we were at our home stay in Jaipur (143 KMS from Behror) by early evening. A cup of tea later, we were out shopping & dining.
Gulab Chand Prints
Rajasthan has a Geographical Indication tag for Bagru & Sanganeri block prints. Gulab Chand was an excellent place to pick the same. We picked stuff up not just for ourselves but also to carry home as mementos.
The prices were economical, thus sparing us the need to bargain. We picked Bagru print sarees, a Sanganeri print dress material, & a printed men’s half-shirt. The shirt had peacocks block printed on it – so cute!
The collection at Gulab Chand Prints stretches to home linen & upholstery too. We got adequate attention from the salesmen. Must visit & must buy!
It’s easy to go crazy here. The blue pottery artifacts are colorful & extremely attractive. We were oohing & aahing at all the wares on display. A pity we couldn’t pick the big pots & vases, as taking them back would have been a challenge, but they were gorgeous. Everything was!
The prices were on the higher side, but the quality was great. We picked up an earrings & necklace set in blue pottery as a memento.
We’d been recommended Spice Court by our hosts for our dinner.
The restaurant had quite a waiting. Luckily, there was a seating area in their cafe (Dzurt) where we’d a cold coffee while we waited. Dzurt seemed quite a hit with the locals. Our cold coffee was delectable. A glass was as good as a light meal for one person. The cafe had a nice, chill vibe, with a soothing white decor.
Once we were seated in Spice Court, we couldn’t help noticing the interiors; they resembled a colonial dining room, with mellow lighting & quite elegant in appearance. The service was quick; the servers were courteous & did a great job of recommending dishes to us.
We’d Keema Baati & Safed Maas with Missi Roti. Both the items were delicious but quite heavy. Between the two of us, we couldn’t finish. (Our desire of sampling the tasty – looking desserts at Dzurt went for a toss too.)
By the end of our meal, we could figure out why Spice Court is highly recommended.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Jaipur. After breakfast, we drove to the City Palace & parked our car in the parking available in the courtyard behind Naqqar Darwaza.
After the City Palace, we visited the Jantar Mantar & then strolled through the Johri Bazar to reach Hawa Mahal & Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar (for lunch). We then drove to Amber (8 KMS from Jaipur) to see the fort and for the light & sound show.
We ended the day at Jammie’s Kitchen.
One may feel the City Palace ticket is expensive but it’s worth it. This Palace is not as well-known as its Udaipur counterpart but is grand, nonetheless. A buggy is available to visitors, for a fee, to take a round of the premises.
The City Palace has many courtyards & buildings. So, don’t rush your visit. A few parts we loved:
- The Mubarak Mahal facade has a hanging balcony; the carving gives an illusion of a decoupage.
- All the gates (Pol) have beautiful marble inlay work.
- The Greek design on the marble floor of the Sarvato Bhadra is eye-catching.
- The Chandra Mahal is the residence of the royal family.
- The Peacock Gate in the Pritam Niwas Chowk is outstanding.
The Jantar Mantar is across the road from the City Palace. We purchased a composite ticket that included entries to both Jantar Mantar & Amber Fort (& also to Albert Hall, Hawa Mahal, Isarlat, Nahargarh Fort, Sisodia Rani Garden, & Vidhyadhar Garden). (You can book these tickets online too.)
The innovative architectural instruments are designed to observe astronomical positions with the naked eye. It’s quite pointless to come here without a guide as you can’t understand the instruments on your own.
We were awestruck with the masonry of the instruments! Noteworthy were the:
- Digamsha Yantra which calculates sunrise & sunset timings & the solar azimuth angle
- Laghu Samrat Yantra (small sundial)
- Vrihat Samrat Yantra (‘great king of instruments’) – It’s the largest sundial ever built.
- Chakra Yantra
The Hawa Mahal is at a walking distance from the City Palace/ Jantar Mantar. It’s in the shape of Lord Krishna’s crown. The Mahal has jharokhas (windows) on its decorated facade. Do note that it’s almost impossible to find this place sans people.
You can buy a ticket & go inside too; we chose not to.
This market is a great place to buy anything & everything. If you’re looking for traditional Rajasthani items, you’ll be spoilt for choice here. If you’re looking for wedding – related finery, this is the place.
The entire market has been made in a consistent color scheme of ‘Pink City’ giving it a charming look. Do note there’s no parking available here. So, leave your car behind & catch a public transport.
Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar
It was our second visit here after more than five years. But nothing seems to have changed. They have a shop in the front & seating space at the back. We hogged on Dal Kachori, Mirchi Vada, Pyaz Kachori, Samosa, Stuffed Paratha, Sweet Lassi, & Virgin Toddy. Oh, the kachoris are delectable!
The restaurant is always crowded but the service is quick.
After that kind of a lunch, we were just too full to scale a fort. Also, there seemed to be hordes of visitors. So, we parked in the Amber Fort parking & promptly dozed off! Of course, the winter afternoon sun helped!! Around 4 PM, the crowds started thinning. That’s when we took our car up from the back alleys right to the top of the hillock on which the fort is built.
Inside the Amber Fort, all the structures are captivating & have immense history behind them – Suraj Pol, Jaleb Chowk, Diwan – i – Aam, Shri Shila Devi Ji Mandir, Ganesh Pol (awe-inspiring), Sukh Niwas, Diwan – i – Khaas (beautiful glass work), & Chand Pol.
The architecture is a blend of the Mughal & Rajput styles. The fort base is made up of the Maota Lake, which was sadly almost dry when we visited. The Amber Fort wall is the third longest wall in the world.
We recommend taking a guide (though the guide is sure to take you to one of the commission shops).
Amber Fort Light & Sound Show
Post sunset, we headed to the Kesar Kyari for the Light & Sound Show. A good way to grasp the history of the Kachwaha Rajput royalty & understand it in relation to the Mughals! The Rajput royals’ lifestyle, story & tradition is enamoring.
The narration was good, the lighting average. In the winter months, it can get cold to sit in the open; so, ensure you wear enough warm clothes. There is no parking around the amphitheater; you must park in the main lot & then either walk or take a gypsy ride for a fee.
On our way back from Amber, we took a detour to Albert Hall Museum. You cannot possibly miss this piece de resistance… A fine example of Indo – Saracenic architecture! It was made prettier with the colorful lighting.
Jammie’s Kitchen is cozy & feels like you’re eating in someone’s home. The butter chicken was highly recommended at this restaurant; unfortunately, it came out as average to us.
We had Bacon Wrapped Chicken, Butter Chicken, Chicken Clear Soup & Plain Tandoori Roti. All the dishes (& the service) were average.
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast & selfies with our hosts!
At Jaipur Friendly Villa, it didn’t seem we were meeting the Mehras for the first time. Sir & Ma’am have built a cozy home that they open with warmth to tourists. We reached here by early evening & were welcomed with hot tea. Over tea, the Mehras recommended to us the eating, seeing & shopping spots of Jaipur. & all their suggestions turned out to be on-point!
Our room was adequately sized with all amenities (including a kitchenette). It was January & there was no dearth of warm water. Across our room was a large balcony where we could dry our towels etc. & sun ourselves – though we never got the time.
The breakfast spreads were more than we expected from a home stay – Banana bread (yum), Bread omelet, Cornflakes with milk, Samosa, Tea, Upma, & Uthappam.
They had a foreign couple staying at the same time. All of us had a nice time around the breakfast table, sharing cultural stories.
The location is excellent. JFV is nestled in a residential area but the old city is hardly 15 minutes’ drive from here. Parking is available right in front of the house. It sounds cliched, but this was truly a home away from home.
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.
NCR – Churu – Pushkar – Udaipur – Kishangarh – Surajgarh – NCR
NCR – Jaipur – Ajmer – Churu – Surajgarh – NCR
NCR – Mandawa – Ajmer – Surajgarh – NCR etc.
Lucknow in 24 hours
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.
A half-day excursion to Sarnath
“Buddham Saranam Gacchami. Dhammam Saranam Gacchami. Sangham Saranam Gacchami.”
(“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.
Varanasi in 36 hours
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 & size!
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.
* Quote from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
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 men do!”
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 sightseeing!
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.
Wishing you & every near & dear one a very happy Deepawali, & a great festive season ahead 🙏🏻
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.
Pulau 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.
The Rhino 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.
Both 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.
Breeze at The Samaya Seminyak
We’d dinner 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!
We experimented with a variety of meat dishes. All turned out to be delicious, specially the Bebek Goreng (a classic Balinese ceremonial dish).
Our server 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.
D’Joglo has both indoor & outdoor seating. We sat inside as it was quite warm. It’d a decently-functioning WiFi.
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.
Barakuda, Baronang, Garupa, King River Prawn, Mubble, Sea Prawn, Super Crab are just a few of the kinds of sea food you can choose from.
- Don’t expect anything else on the menu apart from seafood.
- The service is kind of slow; so, ensure you are well spaced on time.
- Vegetarians & 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.
We’d breakfast here before boarding our flight. It serves both Balinese & International cuisines. The food was scrumptious, specially the Cheese Omelet.
The service 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.
- Service may 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 strikes.
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 ‘holy snake’.
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
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 Indonesia exclusively.)
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 International Airport.
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 bridge.
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.
Jimbaran is home to the Samasta Lifestyle Village (lots of entertainment) & the Tegal Wangi Beach (hidden beach).
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 to explore.
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 Regency.
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) originates.
Kintamani is home to the Mount Batur (active volcano) & the Lake Batur (crater lake located along the Ring of Fire of Mount Batur).
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!
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.
We stayed at Sterling Dharamshala but we believe there are better options available like Hotel Norbu House and The Divine Hima. We drove from New Delhi to Dharamshala which became a little tiring as the distance is >500 KMS.
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?
Another accommodation you can consider is Jungle Lore Birding Lodge.
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.)
So, go ahead & beat the heat!
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).