10 Reasons Why We Love The Mountains

Thanks to the lousy day we had yesterday, we have been trying to escape mentally to the mountains. If you know us, we feel ourselves at home in the mountains. 2021 has been difficult for all of us but we have managed to cope on most of the days. However, occasionally, like yesterday, it gets tough.

As we process our thoughts, we seek solace in travelling back through memories. Why we dreamt of the mountains when inundated with sad emotions is something that made us curious. We narrowed down to 10 reasons why we love the mountains so much.

Tso Moriri, Ladakh, India

1. Memories

The mountains were a part of our childhoods, from road trips on the winding roads of Nepal to scaling gravity defying inclines in Darjeeling to trying yak cheese in Gangtok. As young adults, we remember freezing in the chilly winds of Chail & viewing surreal sights in the Scottish Highlands.

Our honeymoon was in Italy, but the standout memory is of viewing the Alps as we flew from Paris to Venice. We are lucky to have visited some amazing places & will continue to make more such memories.

Kyagar Tso, Ladakh

2. Delight

We are not keen on adventure sports, but walking & hiking are a part of us. When a hike takes us to a vantage spot, the adrenaline rush is exceptional. We get drunk by that sense of achievement. Physically we may say ‘no more’ but in our hearts, we know we will do it again.

3. Food

Chicken Thenthuk at The Tibetan Kitchen, Leh, Ladakh

Oh dear! This is triggering a major nostalgia. Mountain food is dainty! We always opt for the local cuisine & have seldom been disappointed. The steaming thukpa of the Tibetan – influence regions to the rajma – chawal (Indian style kidney beans with rice) of the lower Himalayas, we have always had a plethora of options when we visit the mountains.

& how can we not mention the freshly baked goods of hill stations which were home to British colonists!

4. Freedom

Dawn at Leh

When we have stood on the top of a mountain, freedom has been our dominant emotion. For those of us who live in the Indian plains, the warm Sun on our cheeks is welcome for a change. As we inhale the fresh air, with every breath, we exhale the word ‘freedom’.

5. Inactivity

There can be much to do in the mountains but there is always an option to relax. We love the fact that there is no pressure to dress up & complete a checklist of sights to see. There have been mountain trips when we have just lazed in the gardens of our accommodations, looked at the sky change colours, & listened to the birds chirp.

Spotting Indian Bisons at Dhupgarh, Madhya Pradesh, India

The pace of life for the locals is easy-going too & that can be infectious!

6. Landscapes

For those of us who live in Delhi NCR, the Himalayas are our chance of awesome panoramas. There is no better way to escape reality in our opinion. When we are in the mountains for a break, we are in awe of life every single day.

A misty morning at Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh

If dramatic scenes do not make us believe in the beauty of life, we doubt anything else can.

7. People

OMG! We could write pages on this. We have met such beautiful people in the mountains. Their life outlook is different from ours & something to take inspiration from. They know the value of life & they do not take anything for granted.

A dramatic sunset at Lodwick Point, Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, India

We cannot forget the ladies we met in Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh – the friendliest people we have ever come across.

8. Seasons

Be it any season, the mountains remain extraordinary. The breeze of spring, the rivers of summer, the yellowing leaves of autumn, the bone chilling cold of winter – each season has a distinctive vibe & must be experienced.

Mashobra, Himachal Pradesh, India

9. Travel

Our appetite for the mountains has taken us to impressive places – high altitude deserts of Ladakh, lush green hills of Satpura, rainfed forests of Western Ghats, umpteen hamlets of Himachal, warm hospitality of Bhutan, birds of Uttarakhand, Rift Valley of Kenya, safety of Sikkim, rice fields & volcanos of Bali, spooky Scottish Highlands, Great Wall in China, mountainous island of Kauai, undulating streets of Hong Kong, breath-taking valleys of Kashmir, cable car rides of Langkawi, vineyards of Chianti, Blue Mountains of Australia

To each of these places, we have said, ‘we will be back’ & we do dream of returning but we also realise life is too short to keep seeing the same places. So, we continue to revisit these places in our hearts!

Punakha, Bhutan

10. Ambition

Every day we dream of the mountains. Every day we envisage our forever home in the mountains. This becomes more pronounced in the summer when we feel ourselves melting under the Sun. & also in winter because the very thought of snow surrounding us is delicious (even if inconvenient).

We do not know if & when our forever mountain home will materialise but that does not stop us from daydreaming.

Rift Valley, Kenya

It may take a while, but we will be back in the mountains at the first safe opportunity. Breathe in that fresh air & make those memories again. Till then, we are staying home, staying safe, & hope you are too!

Strawberry Overdose Let's Go Sightseeing!

How can you spend a couple of days in Mahabaleshwar? This episode tells you how. Also available as a blog post: https://letsgosightseeing.blog/2021/06/03/strawberry-overdose/
  1. Strawberry Overdose
  2. 10 Reasons Why We Love The Mountains

Doors of Rajasthan

So we’ve been wanting to do this for a LONG time but something or the other made us put it off. Finally, the Holi post of Incredible India made us bite the bullet!

Isn’t that a treat to the eyes? So, here we go, with our version of ‘Doors of Rajasthan’!!

Doors of Rajasthan… Or colors of Rajasthan!

Do you like it? Do you’ve a version of ‘Doors of Rajasthan’ too? Please let us know in the comments.

P. S. This has to be our shortest blog post EVER!

LODI GARDEN

Winter is a great time to go sightseeing in Delhi. Before winter 2020 begins, we felt we must finish blogging about our winter 2019 sightseeing!

Tomb of Sikandar Lodi

We post about Lodi Garden today. We had been to the Lodi Garden earlier but never with a camera. We had to make amends. Also called Lodhi Garden, Lodi Gardens & Lodhi Gardens, this attraction in the heart of the Indian capital combines heritage & nature effortlessly.

We spent a winter afternoon here, sightseeing & soaking in the sun.

Heritage

Shisha Gumbad

The Lodi Garden is a complex of gardens & monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. The structures are weather-beaten but standing strong. The main monuments in the complex are Bara Gumbad, Mohamed Shah’s Tomb, Shisha Gumbad, & Tomb of Sikandar Lodi.

Trivia – The monuments were originally not a part of a complex. They were standalone structures in a village called Khairpur. It was only in the early 20th century that the four monuments were confined together as a park.

Bara Gumbad

Friday Mosque flanking the Bara Gumbad

The Bara Gumbad is a 1490 construction when the Lodi dynasty ruled over Delhi. Out of all the domes in Delhi, this Gumbad is the earliest one. It is flanked by a Friday mosque on one side & a मेहमान खाना (guesthouse) on the other. Both structures viewed together give a symmetry to the Gumbad (though they are nonidentical).

The Bara Gumbad was, perhaps, a gateway to the mosque. The Friday mosque arches are embellished with intricate Arabic inscriptions. It always gives us a sense of awe of the craftsmanship with which such carvings were done in stone.

Through a window in the mosque, we got a pretty frame of the Shisha Gumbad.

Mohamed Shah’s Tomb

It is said the Sayyid’s could not build extravagant monuments as their coffers were diminished. Mohamed Shah’s Tomb has an octagonal chamber which signifies a royal tomb. The chamber is surrounded by an arcade. Buttresses reinforce octagon corners.

We did not manage to see Mohamed Shah’s Tomb on this excursion.

Shisha Gumbad

Shisha Gumbad

The approach to the Shisha Gumbad is lined with small trees & bushes.

In the absence of an inscription, it is unknown whose tomb this Gumbad is, but historians suggest either an unknown part of the Lodi family or Bahlul Lodi (Lodi dynasty founder & Sultan). The latter seems unlikely to us – why would the founder of the dynasty have an unmarked resting place?

Ventilators form a feature on the outer walls. From outside, the Shisha Gumbad appears to be a two – storied structure; however, it has only one floor. Its magic lies in the ceramic tiles that decorate its exterior. These tiles give the Shisha Gumbad its name (Shisha = glass).

Jharokha on the outer wall of Shisha Gumbad

At one point of time, the ceramic tiles lined the entirety of the Shisha Gumbad top, but many have fallen off since. We tried to visualize how it would have looked then. A corbel entrance door frame made us wonder if there is any ‘कारीगर’ today who can create such wonders on stone.

Ceramic Tile Work

Inside, the ceiling is decorated with Quranic inscriptions & floral designs.

Tomb of Sikandar Lodi

Stones strewn about

The Lodi Garden is a huge city park, but its enclosed monuments are situated close to each other. Sikandar Lodi’s Tomb is in the middle of a large, outstanding garden & tall boundary walls. The Tomb was built by his son Ibrahim Lodi upon the former’s death. Its octagonal design stands out. The architectural style is Ind-Islamic.

WIP!

Stones strewn around made us think of probable restoration work. Our conjecture turned out correct when we spotted a ‘Work in Progress’ sign.

Athpula

The beautifully – curved Athpula

As we made our way back to the car park, our last stop of the day was a water body. This lake connected River Yamuna to Sikandar Lodi’s Tomb. The Athpula is placed diagonally across this stream bed. In the Lodi Garden, this bridge is the only structure made by Mughals.

Reflection on the stream bed

The Athpula gets its name from the eight (‘ath’; ‘pula’ = bridge) pillars that support it. It has a beautiful curving shape.

Other Structures

Gateway to Rose Garden

A walled gateway looked appealing to us from afar. It had beautiful paintings in floral patterns. The gateway opened into a garden abloom with roses. There were a narrow staircase going to a ‘roof’, but we did not find it to be a great idea to ascend those dilapidated, high steps.

A rose by any other name…

Almost at an end of the Lodi Garden, we saw a turret. It seemed it would have served as a watchtower. The two- storey tower had a jharokha – style window on the first level.

Another restored mosque painted bright red! Its enclosure seemed to have disappeared over time. It had a triple arched entrance & a vaulted roof.

Color Me Red!
Elsewhere in the Lodi Garden, you can find mysterious sculptures strewn about.

An aspect that is bound to stun you is the symmetry in all the structures.

Water Lilies

Nature

Highlight of Our Walk – Red Naped Ibis

Lodi Garden is home to many kinds of flora & fauna. We must complement the horticulture department for keeping the gardens in a pristine condition. The lush greenery makes it a magnet for walkers & exercise fans. Walkways have been constructed all around the garden for those wanting to stay fit amidst nature.

The symmetrical heritage was not the only one we witnessed. The trees, too, have been planted uniformly.

Flora

Glasshouse for Indoor Plants

While winter was a good time to walk around, a few trees had an eerie, shorn look. We mused how the garden must appear in monsoon. At the same time, we were privileged to see tulips in full bloom. Rows & rows of tulips! Tulips are naturally adapted to mountainous areas & temperate climates. We wondered how the Lodi Garden horticulture department manages to grow them in Delhi. In any case, we have effectively cancelled any plans of visiting Rainawari!

The eerie winter look

Folklore – Tulips have long been associated with the lovers Shirin & Farhad. It is said that where the blood of the two lovers flowed, a single tulip grows every year.

Tulip Garden

We are not too familiar with the names of plants but derive immense joy from spotting myriad kinds.

We saw a few colorful plants that reminded us of cabbage/ lettuce.

The walled gateway had a rose garden in its enclosure. Beds upon beds of roses! We felt we were in the Mughal Gardens! It is a good idea to be like a rose – armed with sharp prickles for anyone who wants to pluck us!

Rose Garden
On a tree that had dried, an artistic face had been carved.

We spotted a Chudail Papdi (Indian Elm/ Jungle Cork Tree). Its bark glows in the dark giving it a ghastly appearance.

A glasshouse had a small water body and plants surrounding it. Outside it, hardworking caretakers were taking a well-deserved break. आह! सर्दी की सुनहरी धूप… Even man’s best friend was enjoying it.

A leaf arch made for a pretty picture.
Is this a White Osteospermum?

A bamboo grove is dedicated to various bamboo species.

Spring was knocking… We saw eager bees on many flowers, ready to pollinate the garden.

Fauna

Lodi Garden is a particularly good habitat for birds. You can see migratory & resident birds here.

Domestic Goose

In the tranquil garden, the duck pond was a noisy area. While the ducks paddled quietly, their geese brethren created a ruckus! But we did spot one pensive Domestic Goose!

The highlight of our walking tour was a Red Naped Ibis. It strutted around nonchalantly, unperturbed by human presence. The Ibis used its long beak to dig out insects & worms from the mud. It was a delight to watch it!

A Little Cormorant watched the duck paddlers!
An Indian Palm Squirrel was ready to jump from its perch.
A Little Egret looked for small fish to feed on.
Dozens of Rose Ringed Parakeets flew around but only one settled on a tree for us to be able to take a shot.

Tips For Visiting

  1. Lodi Garden is in the heart of New Delhi. You can get any mode of transport to reach here. The nearest metro stations are Jor Bagh & JLN (Violet Line).
  2. The Garden is open from sunrise to sunset. It is a haven for morning walkers; so, expect crowds then.
  3. The entry is free.
  4. Given how horrid New Delhi summer is, it is ideal to visit the Lodi Garden from October to March. Or on any of those monsoon days when the weather becomes salubrious…
  5. Nooks & crannies in the Garden are hot-spots for romantic couples. Try to not get scandalized!
  6. MTNL Wi-Fi is available.
  7. Do not feed the birds!
Lodi Garden Layout

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MANDAWA

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.

The Evening

Art Worthy of a Museum

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.

Frescoes depicting Lord Krishna are common.

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.

The unique Shekhawati region!

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.

Look up!

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.

We climbed to a haveli rooftop & saw Mandawa Fort in the distance. It is now run as Hotel Castle Mandawa by Rajasthan Tourism.

Cultural Amalgamations

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?

In need of a little TLC

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.

Each fresco stood out in its own way.

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.

A Ceiling Carpet

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.

City – life Frescoes

The Morning

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.

So attractive!

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.

Accommodation

The Mirror of Our Dreams at Mandawa Kothi

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.

Tourists gazing at the frescoes & restoration at Mandawa Kothi

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.

Recommendations

Such attention to detail!
  1. Getting to Mandawa
    1. You can easily do a long weekend road trip from Delhi NCR.
    1. A train to Churu is available from Delhi. Churu to Mandawa can then be done by bus/ cab.
  2. Make your way to Mandawa between November & February. You will not be disappointed.
  3. If you visit Mandawa in winter, do remember the nights can be cold. Do not forget your woolens.
  4. Take a guide with you for the fresco sightseeing as s/ he will be able to point out details you would not notice otherwise.

Jodhpur

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.

Fresco at Mehrangarh Fort

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

Relaxed dinner at Khaas Bagh

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.

Khaas Bagh

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.

A forever experience

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.

Vintage 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.

Guda Bishnoiyan surroundings

We had an hour to spare before we headed to Mehrangarh Fort. We used this time to return to our hotel by Uber & take a nap! Mehrangarh in the evening was followed by a sundowner at Indique.

We strolled around the Ghanta Ghar & in the Sardar Market & ended the day with an early dinner at Janta Sweet Home.

Village Safari

Peeping Tom

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.

Bishnoi lady in traditional attire

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.

Bishnoi patriarch conducting opium ceremony

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!

A gorgeous blackbuck

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.

Demoiselle cranes

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.”

Elated to see the granddaughter studying

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 Restaurant

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.

Tummy full

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.

Mehrangarh Fort

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.

Complete with natural defenses

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.

Delight

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.

Thoughts of jaalis & purdah system

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.

Jaswant Thada from the Fort top

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

A picturesque sundown

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!

Ghanta Ghar – day & night

Ghanta Ghar

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.

Sardar Market

Arched gate of Sardar Market

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

Sigh!

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 wee tea stall

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.

Beautiful & luxurious Ratan Vilas

Accommodation

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.

Boom!

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 Walk On The Rajpath

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!

Ever since we’ve discovered birding, we notice far more birds now.

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…

While we popularly know these as North Block & South Block, together they’re known as the Secretariat Building.

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.

The term ‘Raisina Hill’ was coined after land was acquired from 300 local village families.

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!

Sardar Bahadur Sir Sobha Singh was an Indian civil contractor, prominent builder & real estate developer.

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…

As we began walking down Rajpath, towards the India Gate, we looked back at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The largest residence that any head of state in the world has, the President of India has it.

As we stepped down from the Raisina Hill, on either side of the Rajpath were fountains set in gardens.

The ceremonial boulevard runs not just till the India Gate, but till the Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

The Sansad Bhavan is the house of the Parliament of India, containing the Lok Sabha & the Rajya Sabha.

Salute to the temple of democracy.

The Rajpath is lined on both sides by huge lawns, & rows of trees.

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.

The Rajpath is also used for key Indian political leaders’ funeral processions.
We’ve to give it to the Delhi horticulture department.

It does a great job of maintaining the greens, & of ushering in color.

Finally, the India Gate.

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!

Our symmetry obsession is satisfied, seeing the neatly stacked rows of plants, with not even one out of place.
Flags of the Indian Armed Forces at the India Gate
The India Gate has become a symbol for India.

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.

Penne A la Vodka at The Immigrant Cafe 2.0
Kadhi Chaawal Arancini at The Immigrant Cafe 2.0

The Arancini was an interesting take on the humble kadhi chawal.

With our hearts & tummies full, we plotted our next heritage outing.

Beat the Heat!

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.

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Misty Jeolikot

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.

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Outside our room, a cozy spot to sip the morning tea

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.

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Greeted by ‘Nanhi Bai’

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.

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Spot Bhimtal in the distance

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, little known, picturesque
Sattal – So little known, & thus so picturesque!

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.

mind, reel, gorgeous
Our minds reeled with all the gorgeousness.

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.

Naveen's Glen, garden, bloom
Naveen’s Glen garden in full bloom!

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.

sunrise, sunset, Jo Walton
“There’s a sunrise & a sunset every single day, & they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.” – Jo Walton

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, Dusk, changing colors, amaze
Nathuakhan Dusk – The changing colors amazed us.

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.

clear day, snow-capped mountain, entice
On clear days, the snow-capped mountains entice…

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.

Summer, Flower, wilt
Summer had arrived. Flowers had started wilting.

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!

It Took a Spell of Rain to Make Us Love

We have been to Goa before. You must know Goa. The city that is synonymous with India, and incorrectly so. Sure, Goa has sand, sea, skin and Sun, and attracts a large share of domestic and international tourists. But is this all that is there to India?

What about the heritage, the culture, the colors, the smells, the sounds, the jostling and pushing, the hospitality, the monuments, the history, the diversity, the religion, the dirt and grime, the easy smiles and so much more?

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We tried photography at various locations

We do not imply Goa has none of these; it does, yet it cannot accurately represent India. So now that we have established how fastidious we are, let us continue where we left off. Yes, we have been to Goa before.

The first time was when we wanted to heal ourselves. We wanted to escape the sudden pain that had been inflicted on us. We wanted to find our inner peace. Or simply put, when we did not want anybody to see our tears.

It was in April; tourist season had not really picked up. We were happy to escape crowds. We lodged ourselves in Panjim, a quiet part, going out to even quieter places, wishing to find our solace.

Consequently, the memories of Goa do not stand out for us from this visit. That trip was more about us than about the destination.

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We soothed our eyes

The second time was when we were in full spirits, gung-ho with life, and ready to take on whatever came our way. This was a more Goa-esque visit. We stayed in Baga, the heart of the city, buzzing with life, days starting late, and nights ending even later.

We thoroughly enjoyed but we asked ourselves if we would not have enjoyed as much elsewhere if we were in the same frame of mind and perhaps had similar company. So, you see Goa did not impress us much.

Sure, for a one-time visit, it is as good a tourist destination as any other. But we know people who go there every year, and perhaps even more than once a year. This fills us with discontent. There are so many exquisite places in India.

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We put our feet up

Why then would one waste one’s effort, money and time on the same destination over and over again? But then, that is us. We cannot repeat. We need our variety. We need new destinations. We need new experiences. We need new journeys. That is where we get our ecstasy from!

But this time, it was different. We think it was the ‘third time lucky’ adage working. We stayed from Friday till Sunday, a short trip. In our experience, these little breaks help tremendously in rejuvenation.

Given that we had not stepped out of Delhi for more than two months, we were not complaining. We were glad to get away.

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We counted the trees

The connectivity from Delhi was rotten. The earliest non-stop flight was at 10:25 AM. You reached after 1 PM; half a day was effectively wasted. Nonetheless, as we had been trying to see the upside of everything, we realized that taking such a flight meant we did not need to get up at an unearthly hour.

True to our nature, we were at the airport with about an hour to spare and used that to gobble down a breakfast at Fresco.

We had a page three crowd in our flight which was on its way to attend a wedding in Goa. We were forced to observe the wedding party as they were dripping with brands, air-kissing quite heavily and were loud. Ah, of course, when did money guarantee class? We immersed ourselves in our books.

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We reveled in the warm glow

Our hotel was only an hour and 10 minutes away. We were staying at Vivanta by Taj – Fort Aguada in Sinquerim. They had sent a pretty little bus to pick its guests up. As soon as the bus started moving, we started falling in love.

It was drizzling; my surroundings were lush green. The rains had washed away the dust; it seemed the plants and trees had been given an extra coat. The narrow roads had been washed clean; Goans were going about their daily lives covered by raincoats or protecting themselves under colorful umbrellas.

We could not take our eyes off. What also drew our attention was the array of colorful houses. Memories of Burano came back to life. Oh how young were we! How ‘in love’ were we! Truly, nothing can recreate the magic of a honeymoon. Or even of courtship.

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We gaped at the clear reflections

We wondered why so many colors, ranging from orange to pink to green to blue. Was it something to do with fishing communities? Fishermen returning at night with their hauls had trouble identifying their homes in the dark? Or were they too drunk?

What was it? Wikipedia told us that coloring the exterior of the house signified the economic well being of the owner. Also, the erstwhile Portuguese rulers fined houses that were not painted. Lastly, white was reserved for the churches.

We were, somehow, not convinced. There had to be a drunk fisherman angle. What is life without a bit of spice!

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We swung in hammocks tossing our worries to the wind

We had not imagined the Taj property to be as pretty as it turned out to be. Located at almost a tip of Goa, flanked by the walls of Fort Aguada, Taj Fort Aguada is sprawled across acres with cottages dispersed throughout its premises.

It is built on a hillock and so the elevation of cottages differ, making thus possible different views. Our cottage was at a fair height. The sea view was unobstructed from there. At that moment, we knew we had finally loved Goa. What the beach, shacks, parties could not do, the greenery, the rain and the sea did.

That evening, we also hit the gym after almost two years. It felt good to get our blood, heart and limbs going. The gym is located between the two Taj properties- Fort Aguada and Holiday Village. The hotel car provides the pick and drop.

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We looked up to see this. A small voice in our head said – duck!

The hotel is one where you need not step out. You can just flit from one spot to another, catching the cool sea breeze, listening to the crash of the sea waves, sipping on something and reading a good piece of fiction.

There are multiple activities arranged at the hotel itself but we, unfortunately, were unable to participate in any. Though, we did avail their spa services. We had visited Jiva before and were thoroughly impressed. This time too, we were not disappointed. It is good to leave yourself in the hands of an expert. Hmm! We reminded ourselves to do this more often.

Our next evening was spent sitting next to the sea, with music playing in the background and the warm light of the candles bringing a glow to our faces.

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We strolled in the lush green gardens…

We traveled to a lot of corners of Goa, either to buy or eat or see. Being on the road is our elixir. Being on the road in a pleasant clime with raindrops falling is perhaps divine. Plants, trees, puddles, earthworms, the smell of wet mud- all brought us to our knees.

Our road trips have brought us closer and closer to Mother Earth. Her beauty is unparalleled. She knows when to be gentle and when to unleash her fury on those who mess with her. This visit was not about us Goa; it was about you in your full glory.

We have no itinerary to provide; we are still mesmerized…

A Sunday at the Rashtrapati Bhavan

It is strange when you have resided in a city for more than 15 years and yet, are unaware of many of its gems. Now, we were certainly aware of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (RB) but we did not know we could visit it too. When we heard about it from an acquaintance, it was as if the heavens had opened up and God had showered us with Her divinity. Okay, well, we exaggerate, but we did feel a thrill run down our spine. Are you wondering what is so special about this? There are many reasons including our interest in politics, our fascination with heritage, and our love for the ‘new’.

A couple of years back, we had visited the Buckingham Palace to be wowed by its grandiosity. Now, if the Queen can allow visitors, we are sure Mr. President will not mind either! So then, we got down to business. Booking the ticket was fairly simple on the easy-to-navigate www.presidentofindia.nic.in. Do note, though, that:

  1. You have to upload a photograph of yourself and input an identity card number; so, keep these handy.
  2. You may not get tickets for the immediate dates.
  3. Your visit gets postponed to a later day, like it happened with us. But, we found it to be a blessing as instead of moving ourselves early in the January morning, we could laze around and go a little later, when the Sun was out.

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Our tricolor, the Central Dome, the Tuscan Pillars, & the Forecourt – Sandstone dreams!

Undoubtedly excited, we were up and about on Sunday, even if the lure of the quilt was high. After all, we had to meet the President! We had received a detailed email confirming our visit, and containing guidelines and a map. Follow directions as given in the map as entry is allowed from select gates only. It was good to be able to park our vehicle inside the Presidential Estate 😊 Hereon, leave behind anything and everything except your wallet, identity card and the confirmation emails.

After three rounds of scrutiny of our identity papers, we were finally inside The Bhavan. Temporary passes were made for us at the Reception. A Curio Shop nearby attracted us but we realized that better merchandise was available online on the official RB website. Surprise! Post all security clearances, a guide took us through the select parts of the Rashtrapati Bhavan while regaling us with their history, interesting anecdotes and trivia. A PSO followed our group to ensure we did not wander off. We had booked Circuit One which is a tour of the main building.

Lord Buddha Statue: Called the Sahastrabahu Avlokiteshvara, this 1000-armed Lord Buddha Statue was a gift from Vietnam to India. It was brought to India in three parts, and assembled here. The Statue itself is of Plaster of Paris but is surrounded by a marble staircase. The sun rays filtering in through the windows and lighting up the marble stunned us.

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The Government of India Auto Rickshaw!

Durbar Hall: For us, this was the most familiar room as this is where the civil and defense investiture ceremonies, like the Padma awards, take place. The significance of this Hall goes back to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Nehru to form the first government of independent India.

In front of the Ashok Hall, the Durbar Hall looks simple. Yet, it enthralls in its own way as this is the room that lies right under the Central Dome. So, technically, you are in the heart of the Bhavan.

A fifth century AD Buddha statue is placed against the wall and in front of it is placed the President’s chair during ceremonies. No, our visiting RB was not considered a ceremony and hence, the chair was not there!

Two pieces of trivia made our heads woozy. One, when you are standing in the Durbar Hall, you are at the same height as that of the top of the India Gate! And two, the line that runs in the center of the Hall cutting it into half is also the line that cuts the entire Rashtrapati Bhavan into two equal halves, and runs down along Rajpath till the India Gate!!

North Drawing Room: This is where meetings between the Heads of State occur. Historically important oil paintings adorn the Room like the swearing-in of PM Nehru. The Bhavan uses a lot of acronyms; this Room is called the NDR.

Long Drawing Room: Of course, this is the LDR. It is a meeting room where the annual conferences of governors take place. The LDR seemed to be one of those rare rooms that was not paneled heavily with teak. It had a soft green color. Adding to the aura of the LDR were some stunning paintings and gorgeous chandeliers.

Library: Clearly my favorite spot! Sir Lutyens loved circles. Circular patterns can be found everywhere in RB, from ceilings to floors to chairs! The books are arranged chronologically with the oldest dating 1795. To break the sandstone and marble monotony, the Library floor has golden yellow Jaisalmer stone. On a clear day, you can see the India Gate from the Library. We will have to return on a clear day!

Ashok Hall: Easily the grandest part of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. We have been to a few European palaces and seen their fresco art. The ones in Ashok Hall are equal in their grandeur if not better. It used to be the State Ballroom but is now used for ceremonial functions. Being a Ballroom, its floors are made of wood and have springs underneath to give a little bounce. Of course, now it is fully carpeted with Persian weaves.

The painting on the ceiling and the wall frescoes took our breath away. The rich oil colors make the paintings come alive, so much so, that the one on the ceiling has a 3D effect to it. Bordering the paintings are Persian inscriptions. There are two portraits hung in the Ashok Hall- of Nizami the Poet, and a Persian Lady. Strangely, the painter (s) of both these portraits is (are) unknown.

During the days of ball dance, the orchestra would play out of a loft. Now the trumpeters sit here and use their instruments to signal the arrival of the President.

Grand Stairs: To get from one part of the Bhavan to another, we took the Stairs. I am fairly certain I would be lost in this house! The Stairs are a delight in sandstone. This is the spot where Sir Lutyens’ bust has been placed. He gets to enjoy the Indian Sun! The Mughal ‘jaali’ work can be found around the Stairs. Sir Lutyens may have denied any Indian influence on his work but well, it can be seen aplenty.

Banquet Hall: As the name suggests, this is where the party happens folks! Panelled with Burmese teak on all sides, this hall is a classic. The panels, on top, have intricate zardozi work, which was commissioned by President Patil. Earlier, in place of the zardozi work, were displays of medieval arms. But a banquet hall is hardly the place to display firearms, isn’t it?

What we loved about the Hall was the blue-green-red light system. The head butler uses this to instruct the other butlers. The blue light indicates food to be brought in; green light means start of service; and red is to clear the plates. N is contemplating installing this system in our house too 😊

There is a small anteroom just behind the Hall. This is where the band plays while a banquet is in progress. The band cannot be seen but the music can be heard as it wafts in through the walls!

Forecourt: This is the area that leads from the Main Gate to RB. You would have seen the Forecourt during the swearing-in ceremony of the 2014 central government. The path from the Gate to the Forecourt is lined with trees that are cut in an adorable mushroom shape. N wondered why a broken capital occupied prime position in the Forecourt. We soon came to know about the Rampurva Bull, from the third century BC, excavated from Rampurva in Bihar (hence the name!).

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The Rampurva Bull behind the Tuscan Pillars (& the tiny people carrying out the renovation work)

Central Dome: When we stood in the Forecourt and looked up at the Central Dome where our national tricolour fluttered, our hearts swelled with pride. Did you know- if the flag is flying atop the Dome, it signifies the President is in New Delhi? The Central Dome is inspired from the Sanchi Stupa. It is Massive! It is twice the height of the building itself. Who would have thought?

The Rashtrapati Bhavan is a combination of different styles of architecture. Under the Central Dome are the Tuscan pillars which are Greek in style. On top of the pillars are the carvings of temple bells inspired from Karnataka temples.

When we turned away from the Central Dome and tried spotting the India Gate, we saw the Jaipur Column. Trivia about the Column- it has the map of Delhi on its eastern face.

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The Jaipur Column, & beyond that, the Rajpath leading to the India Gate

 

We missed out on the Guest Wing, though, as it was undergoing renovation. But, on the whole, we came away impressed. The Bhavan is grand and thoughtfully designed. It was interesting to see how a few British traditions are still followed but given an entirely Indian touch. When our cities are being taken over by futuristic glasshouses, these visions in marble and sandstone are a treat to sore eyes. We were also fascinated with the numerous fountains on the roof of RB.

The tour itself was well conducted. The cordial nature of the staff members pleased us – no loud voices, no rudeness, process orientation and efficient use of technology.

Sundays are meant for lazing around but when heritage beckons, we had to obey. And we cannot wait to return to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the remaining circuits!

My Gangtok Chronicle – Chapter 5

Continuing from Chapter 4, day two dawned bright & beautiful again. I looked forward to capturing the Kanchenjunga summit. This was also the day for local sightseeing. KN arrived promptly to take me around.

We started with the Bakthang Falls. The Falls are a better sight during & right after monsoon when the volume of water is high. Currently, it looked bereft of its glory but to me, any sight different from the usual is worth seeing.

A hawker girl asked me if I wanted to dress up in the traditional Sikkimese clothes. I politely declined. One of the other aspects I loved about Sikkim was that the hawkers would offer you their wares once; if you decline, they will move away & not pester you again. This is so unlike most other tourist spots where hawkers will make you want to run!

The Bakthang Waterfall
The Bakthang Waterfall

Next stop was the Tashi View Point – a lookout offering an unobstructed view of the Kanchenjunga. As luck would have it, clouds hovered over the peak. I couldn’t get a clear photo, no matter how hard I wished or how long I waited! I cursed my luck for some time but soon realized that even though I’d been unable to click it, I’d managed to see it with my eyes. And that’s what mattered!

Next up was Ganesha Tok – a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, perched on a little height, such that you get a clear view of the Gangtok city. A bit of climbing is required; if you’re not keen on the temple, I’ll recommend to skip it, as the view is average. By contrast, the view from the Tashi View Point is spectacular. Or, perhaps, at night, when the city lights up, the view from Ganesha Tok will make sense!

We made our way to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Don’t let the heavy name deter you. It houses a wonderful museum wherein you can find relics centuries old that tell the tale of Buddhism in India, Nepal, Bhutan & Tibet. I’m an absolute museum buff. I spent the maximum time here, & thanked my stars N wasn’t around, for he abhors museums. This gave me time to read every single description, & not leave even one exhibit unseen.

The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology- Photography prohibited inside!

Photography is strictly prohibited here (like most museums in India) but as is wont of Indians, they clicked mindlessly. Why is it so difficult for Indians to follow instructions? I was overjoyed when the attentive museum staff caught hold of the defaulters & made them erase the photographs.

A small souvenir shop outside the museum made me splurge a bit. I picked up a book on Buddhism, a traditional necklace for myself & a tote bag. I barely shop on trips. The max I pick up is a fridge magnet. But for this trip, I loosened my purse strings, also because everything seemed reasonable (so atypical of a tourist place)! And then, you don’t travel solo every day, do you?

A few steps & almost a mountain away was the Do Drul Chorten. The climb is pretty much vertical and it knocked the wind out of me. But I guess travel gives me energy. I huffed & puffed my way to the top, circumambulated the chorten, clicked away & attracted more friends again! It struck me that Buddhism & Hinduism have this aspect in common – all their holy sites are built at almost inaccessible places.

Do Drul Chorten
Do Drul Chorten- The effort paid off!

My Gangtok Chronicle – Chapter 2

Continuing from Chapter 1, landing in Bagdogra was a visual delight. As we descended, I spotted neat squares and rectangles that served as farms. Almost every shade of green was discernible. Then onward, I was in for a wonderful time.

I had booked an Innova for myself; I can trust the reliability of this vehicle blindly. My driver, KN, was a Sikkimese and pointed out that we would have to go slow on the hills in the dark. I knew then that I was in safe hands. My relief was not shared by my parents who were worrying themselves sick. They got their peace of mind when I reached Gangtok.

Along the way, crossing Bagdogra/ Siliguri was a headache with the annoying auto and rickshaw traffic. Perhaps I had had a bad day which made me more irritable. NH10 was patchy. Traffic was dense till the turn for Darjeeling. There on, it became a breeze. The roads drastically improved once we entered Sikkim at Rangpo.

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Stunning vistas- Sikkim can easily be called the Land of Lakes

It was 9 PM by the time we reached the hotel. The day had been wasted. My plans of roaming on the streets of Gangtok went down the drain. I was exhausted. I wanted a hot meal and a warm bed. Thankfully, my hotel provided both.

New Orchid Hotel was not fancy but its basics were in place. I was welcomed with the traditional ‘khada’, the white silk scarf. They upgraded me from an Executive Room to a Suite. Yay! Not a bad end to a lousy day.

On the first real day of my travel, the initial plan was to undertake local sightseeing in Gangtok. But as I feasted on my breakfast, my cab agent informed that my permit for Nathu La had come. I thus needed to leave for the daylong excursion to Nathu La, Baba Mandir & Tsomgo Lake.

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I wish I could have reached out & touched the clear water…

Excitement would be an understatement to describe my state of mind. Nathu La, of course, is the stuff legends are made of. At 14,200 feet, it is an international boundary between India and China where civilians are allowed. However, the rarefied air and the extreme temperatures deter most tourists. Also, the number of cars (and consequently the number of tourists) to Nathu La has a daily capping. This meant that I had to club with someone in one car for the last 3-4 kilometers. I did not mind this.

I have been to Dochu La, Khardung La, Chang La, Rohtang La and Kunzum La. I knew what to expect from a pass in terms of oxygen and temperature. I was, however, a little anxious about the amount of walking involved. Well, I will cross the bridge when we come to it.

I am a lover of long drives. The terrain reminded me, happily, of Ladakh and Spiti. The sky was blue; the Kangchenjunga beamed at me. I sighed with contentment but I postponed clicking its photos to the next day. I soaked in the sights as we ascended.

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I loved how the mountains seem to fade away…

Once the army-controlled area began, mobile connectivity dropped. Tiny lakes started appearing which looked like infinity pools. Furry dogs sunbathed; I wish I could take one home.

We stopped at Kyangnosla for a bio break. Surprisingly, in the family-run shop/ café, the toilets were clean, though without a light bulb. It struck me that Sikkim had taken the Swachh Bharat Mission seriously. Every few meters in Gangtok, I found posters extolling the virtues of cleanliness. Dustbins were a common feature. There was hardly any litter to be found on the streets.

I knew Sikkim was one of the most developed states in India but now I was getting to see it first-hand. Center-state cooperative federalism is something that Sikkim can teach to the other Indian states.

The blue sky made my day even better!
The blue sky made my day even better!

The ethnicity, the cleanliness, the discipline, the safety – all made me feel I was not in an Indian city. Only the presence of Mr. Narendra Modi’s posters every few hundred meters (put up by the non- BJP state government) and the presence of the Indian army brought me back to reality.

But I digress; let me continue with my Nathu La story.

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