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Posted on: Tuesday , Dec 30, 2008 At 20:33 PM

Airfares Go Down


After a long period of continuous increase in prices and additional levies that had made flying expensive, airfares are looking downwards again. Nearly all the airlines have now reduced ticket prices in the last few weeks, making flying attractive once again.


I went to one of the ticketing websites to check the extent of reductions, and was pleasantly surprised to see prices hovering around their lowest levels that existed a few years back. I could see a long distance flight ticket from Delhi to Bangalore sold at as low as Rs.3,174.00  The best Chennai - Bangalore fare was at Rs.2424.00


While low prices are a good thing, in the new year, I would still try to fly as less as possible, and prefer taking trains. Besides the fact that I have plenty have time and can afford to go by train, taking trains is a lot more environment friendly than flying.

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Posted on: Monday , Dec 29, 2008 At 13:55 PM

2008 On India Explored


This blog started in the early months of 2008, and has been updated regularly since then. It has been more than 100 posts in the year, covering travel news, interesting information and destination features. The page views have approached 25,000 and hopefully will accelerate faster in 2009. Here is a quick look at the all the destination guides we have had in the last 9 months.

Happy travels in the coming year, and wish you a very happy new year from 'India Explored'

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Posted on: Sunday , Dec 28, 2008 At 13:39 PM

Train To Khajuraho


Khajuraho joins the list of places that are now connected by Indian Railways.


The Railways Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav flagged off the train connecting Khajuraho with Jhansi on December 26th, putting the famed temple town on the railway map.


A large number of tourists travel from Orchha near Jhansi to Khajuraho, and they had to rely on buses till now. Nearest train station to Khajuraho was at Mahoba, more than 60km away. Train connectivity between Jhansi and Khajuraho makes getting to Khajuraho a lot more easier than it is now.

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Posted on: Saturday , Dec 27, 2008 At 12:07 PM

Crossing Wagah And Tracing The Hoysalas


I am sick, down with fever, sitting at home with not much to do and bored to death. Boredom and I don't go together, and when it does come to me, it takes off as fast as it arrived. Today, I am spending time searching for travelogues that kill boredom, and quickly came past a few write-ups that lifted my spirits and put me in the mood of travel.


Read about temporal's experiences of wandering in Amritsar and then crossing the border at Wagah to Lahore. His write-up seems a bit partial to India, but who cares, it makes a good read besides making me feel good.


Laxmi writes about her visit to a small non-descript village in heartland Karnataka where she explores the little places that stand witness to birth of a kingdom - of the Hoysalas. She has been tracing the roots of Hoysalas all through the year and writing about it. More of it here.

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Posted on: Monday , Dec 22, 2008 At 13:27 PM

Destination Guide: Thanjavur


Overview. Thanjavur is well known for its paintings and the huge temple built by chola kings. The Brihadiswara temple, or the 'big temple' as it is sometimes called,  remains the tallest landmark in town even today, and is visible from far. Built by Chola kings, the temple is nearly a thousand years old.

thanjavur temple


Orientation. The two well known places to see - Brihadiswara Temple and Thanjavur Palace are close to each other and in the center of the town. The Temple is in a large complex and can take more than an hour to see it from end to end.

Things to do and places to see


Thanjavur Temple

Thanjavur's Brihadiswara Temple was built by Raja Raja Chola in eleventh century to commemorate his victory over the king of Kerala. The temple was subsequently enhanced by the Maratha and Nayak rulers of Thanjavur. Today, the temple complex includes the tall Brihadiswara Temple surrounded by an Amman Temple, Muuagan Temple, a Ganapathi Temple and a mantapa for Nandi.


The gopura of Brihadiswara Temple has a 85 tonne stone crown. How it was lifted up remains a mystery even today. There are some speculations that it would not be a monolith, and some people say that it might have been taken up through a ramp several kilometers long. 

thanjavur paintings

The inside walls of the temple complex are decorated with Thanavur style paintings, most of them in bad shape today. The insides of the main temple too, are said to have sections with frescoes that are now closed for visitors to prevent possible damages. The roof of Nandi Mantapa adorns colorful floral designs, and so does Amman Temple. But the later has gone through a round of painting in recent years, which has made it loose its original touch and appears garish instead.

thanjavur temple elephant


While you are the temple complex, don't forget to pat the temple elephant and offer her bananas.


Thanjavur Palace.


While Brihadiswara Temple is a good example of well preserved ancient edifice, Thanjavur Palace is just the opposite. Nevertheless, it has many things worth seeing. 

thanjavur palace


The bell tower is a queer seven story structure that looks like a modern multi-storey building, and has a maze of hapahazard passages inside . The main palace building looks like a temple from outside. Inside the palace is Saraswati Mahal Library, which has a rare ancient books from the collection of Maratha King Sarfoji. The Maratha Darbar Hall in the palace has a colorfully painted auditorium. 

thanjavur palace

Food and Accommodation

Thanjavur is a big town, and has many budget and mid range hotels. South Indian food is available in small restaurants spread all over the town.

How to reach

Thanjavur has a train station. Nearest airport is at Trichy, which is approximately 60km away. Regular buses connect Thanjavur with Trichy.

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Posted on: Sunday , Dec 21, 2008 At 15:16 PM

No Beach Parties In Goa This Year End?


There were some rumours and unconfirmed news reports earlier that the Goa Government will ban beach parties in Goa this year end in the wake of Mumbai attacks and subsequent threats of terror. But the chief minister of Goa had denied it, and had mentioned that things will go on as usual.


But Goan government seems to be going back and forth on this issue, swinging between security concerns and tourism lobby. There were orders issued again yesterday, banning parties by the beach and open areas in Goa. How-ever, parties in hotels and enclosed areas can continue as usual.


So if you had plans to spend the Ney Year's Eve in Goa's Beaches, it is time for you to rethink on it.

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Posted on: Sunday , Dec 21, 2008 At 14:59 PM

Looking Up To The New Year Of Travel


The Government of India has declared 2009 as the 'Visit India Year'. This may not mean much to the domestic tourist though. It would mean the tourism department will have more budget allocations for their roadshows and publicities abroad, and more foreign travellers might visit India. The government has also announced incentives to repeat visitors coming to India. See more on the story.


At a personal level, I am already making some travel plans for the coming year. I will begin the new year with a 2-week visit to MP - a state with many treasures but less popular with tourists. I hope to spend a few weeks in Sikkim and Garhwal Himalayas in mid-2009 and a trip to South East Asia in later parts of the year.


2008 has been good for me in terms of travel. I visited Rajasthan early in the year, followed by Tamil Nadu. During the middle of the year, I made a long trip to Ladakh and then to Goa last month. I am going to end the year with visit to MP, which will stretch to early next year. There was an opportunity to visit the whole of India on a three month trip which I had to let go due to personal reasons.


How has 2008 been for you when it comes to travel? What are your plans for next year? Do leave your comments.

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Posted on: Sunday , Dec 21, 2008 At 10:49 AM

Destination Guide: Jog Falls


Jog Falls is India's tallest waterfall, located at the edge of Sahyadri mountains where river Sharavati plunges from a a height of nearly 250 meters. Though it was a popular tourist center for long, its fame was re-established three years ago when Kannada blockbuster movie 'Mungaru Male' – monsoon rain - was shot in the surroundings.


Overview. Jog Falls is formed by river Sharavati falling from a cliff. The fall can be viewed from either sides of the river, and each side gives a completely different perspective. If you are daring enough, you can even look down the gorge and see the fabulous view from the top. There are a few dams built along the river, and noisy power stations, but not all of them are open to public.

Jog Falls


Best time to see the waterfall is during the monsoons and just when the fury of the rains is over. Sometimes, the gorge gets covered in fog during the monsoons and you may not get a view of the fall for hours. The fall reduces to a trickle in summer.


This video shows Jog Falls at its best. But keep in mind, it is a rare event to see so much of water going down the cliff.


Orientation. Jog Falls is 30km from nearest town, Sagar. The view points and places to see are far from each other. Best thing to do is to hire a vehicle to take you around once you arrive.


Sightseeing and Activities


The view from the front of the fall, which is to the south side of the river is the most popular. There are fenced viewing areas made to get a clear view of the fall. In case you are at Jog on public transport, this is the most easily accessible view of the waterfall. When there is sufficient water, you can see all the four strands of the fall, named Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Lady from left to right.

Jog Falls


View from British Bungalow. This is the view from north bank, which gives a lateral perspective of the fall. What you see from here appears completely different from what you see from the front. A small section of the fall that is hidden by the rocks when you see from the front, can also be seen from this side.


Top View. A short walk from the views of British Bungalow, you can get to the top of the cliff. This is only for the daring folks who would not mind walking up to the edge of the cliff and look down at the water falling into the gorge 250 meters below. Five years ago, you would see no one in this area, but some visuals from the movie Mungaru Male changed all that. Today, you may have to stand in a queue to look down if you are here on a weekend.

Jog Falls


Sharavathi Valley. A short 30 minutes drive from Jog Falls towards Honnavar, you can see spectacular view of river Sharavathi flowing in a valley. The uninhabited slopes of the valley are covered in thick greenery. The view makes the drive worthwhile.


Honnemaradu. This is a small village in the backwaters of Linganamakki Dam, 15km from Jog Falls. An adventure company organizes coracling, canoeing, kayaking and camping in islands. See more details.

Other attraction. Between Sagar town and Jog Falls nearly 10km before Jog Falls, the road passes next to a small dam. During the rainy seasons, overflow from the dam forms a small waterfall.

Close to Jog Falls is a hydro-electric plant, but visitors are not allowed here. There are steps leading down to the fall, but decide to go down only if you are very fit.


Food and Accommodation. Facilities in Jog are basic. There are some basic restaurants at the view point at the south bank. The only accommodation available is government PWD guesthouse. A good option is to stay at one of the budget hotels in Sagar and travel to Jog Falls.

How to reach. KSRTC buses connect Jog Falls from Bangalore. A few private buses ply from Mangalore. Nearest train station is at Shimoga, which has daily trains from Bangalore.

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Posted on: Saturday , Dec 20, 2008 At 15:17 PM

Taj And Trident Are Opening Tomorrow


The two hotels that had to bear the brunt of terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month are springing back into their feet, and are ready to re-open for guests tomorrow.


Taj will be open only partially, with rooms in new wing ready for occupation. But the heritage wing has gone through considerable damage, and will take much longer to re-open.


Taj Hotels Website says:


"The Taj Mahal Tower will reopen on December 21, 2008, at 7 pm IST. On this date Mumbai will rediscover its nesting place and play host to the world again. You will feel the buzz of business as usual and experience hospitality that is quintessentially Taj."


Here is the release from Trident Hotels:


"Trident, Nariman Point, Mumbai will reopen to guests on Sunday, 21 December, 2008.

A round-the-clock effort is underway by the management and staff to ensure that the hotel is ready to receive guests.

The hotel will reopen about three weeks after it sustained damage during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on 26 November, 2008. The hotel was amongst more than 10 locations in the city that were targeted in the terrorist attack.

When the hotel reopens, enhanced security will be in place to ensure the safety and comfort of guests and staff. The local law enforcement agencies have also been requested to extend all assistance.

The Oberoi Group owns and manages two hotels located adjacent to each other at Nariman Point in Mumbai. These are the luxury ‘The Oberoi’ hotel and 5-star ‘Trident, Nariman Point’ hotel. "

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Posted on: Wednesday , Dec 17, 2008 At 15:28 PM

How About A Taj Mahal In Dhaka?


Ahsanullah Moni, a film director in Bangladesh is working on a project to build lifesize replica of Taj Mahal near Dhaka. The Taj Mahal look alike is nearing completion now, and the Government of India doesn't seem to be very pleased about seeing a replica of the monument in another country.


The Indian Embassy at Dhaka has expressed its displeasure over the 'copy' and is working to see if there is a copyright violation, and hence possible action on the replica.


But I think the Indian embassy did not have to worry. As far as I can see the images of the replica, it can be described in one word - 'ugly'. An eyewitness blogger from Dhaka speaks in similar lines - 'they have used toilet tiles..'

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Posted on: Wednesday , Dec 17, 2008 At 15:08 PM

Coming Up - A New Luxury Train To Travel India


Luxury sightseeing trains seem to be here to stay, and proliferate. We had four major launches in almost a year's time - one each in Karnataka, Maharasthra, Rajasthan and Punjab. Now another launch is on the cards and this one is not confined to any state, and will traverse across India.


This new luxury train will go through west, north, east and southern parts of the country, spending a week in each region. The train will be a joint effort of IRCTC and Cox and Kings. It is likely to be functional the third quarter of 2009.


See complete story.

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Posted on: Thursday , Dec 11, 2008 At 23:17 PM

Fog Delays Flights At Delhi Airport


If you are flying into or out of Delhi in the next few weeks, make sure you keep plenty of buffer time, and even stay prepared to see your flight canceled.


Fog reduces visibility in Delhi airport every winter, and flight delays or cancellations are common. Several flights have been delayed today and some canceled, but the visibility situation is said to have improved in the later hours of the day. However, weather situations are usually unpredictable in winter and fog can disrupt flights any time.


Even though Delhi Airport is equipped with advanced CAT III systems that allow flights to land and take off in thick fog, most airline pilots, especially of budget airlines, are not trained to use this system and the delays continue.

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Posted on: Thursday , Dec 11, 2008 At 00:39 AM

Events In December


December is the time of holidays, festivals and the weather is just perfect to travel. May be that's why, there are lot of interesting events and festivals in December. Here is the list of events in the coming days.

  • Mamallapuram Dance festival begins on the 25th of December and goes on for a full month, featuring dances from all over the country. See timetable on TTDC website.
  • Winter Festival, held in Mt. Abu begins on 29th and goes on for three, days, showcasing the culture of Rajasthan. See info on RTDC website
  • Christmas and New Year Eve, needless to say, fall on 25th and 31st. If you like to party, beaches of Goa are the place to be where you can party through the night nearly every night between these days.

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Posted on: Thursday , Dec 11, 2008 At 00:00 AM

Jet Airways Agrees To Pay Commission To Agents


Hopefully this is the last update regarding transaction fees. The additional fee seems to be going out from the list of payments that passengers have to make.


After being blocked by all travel agents, Jet Airways has conceded and has agreed to pay a 3% commission for tickets booked by agents. This doesn't include bookings for Jet Lite. Other major airlines - Kingfisher and Air India are yet to announce their stand. It would be important to know what Air India's views are, since they are the first airline to stop paying commission to agents.


With Jet's decision payout commissions to agents, it is passengers who benefit finally, as they don't need to pay the additional transaction fees that was levied since November. 


Read earlier updates on transaction fees on India Explored

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Posted on: Saturday , Dec 06, 2008 At 15:45 PM

Tour Of Nilgiris


A bunch of cycling enthusiasts from Bangalore have come out with a novel idea of traversing the Nilgiri Mountains on bicycles.  


The tour begins from Bangalore on 25th December, and lasts for seven days going via Mysore, Madikeri, Sultan Battery and Ooty. The tour ends of 1st January at Bangalore after covering 919kms. As the title says, this is not a race but only a tour.


Anyone fit to travel 150km a day and is above 18 can join the tour. Go here to know more and register.

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Posted on: Saturday , Dec 06, 2008 At 15:26 PM

Updates On Airline Transaction Fees


'India Explored' has been tracking developments related to newly introduced transaction fees for air ticket bookings. See bottom of this article for earlier updates.


In the latest development on airlines deciding not to pay commissions to travel agents, agents are trying to hit back at the airlines. Lead by Travel Agents Federation of India, travel agents have targeted Jet Airways and JetLite, and have stopped selling tickets of both airlines.


Although many other airlines have stopped paying commissions on ticket bookings, the agents have targeted market leader Jet Airways to begin with. I searched for air tickets with some travel portals today, and results do not include Jet Airways and JetLite.


See the report here. It is time to wait and watch to see if airlines take a step back.


Earlier updates on transaction fees on India Explored

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 30, 2008 At 12:30 PM

Destination Guide - Panaji


Panaji or Panjim, being the capital of Goa and a transport hub for the region, is only used by most people as a transit point before hitting their favourite beach. But the city of a lot to offer to a tourist who is willing to explore. 'India Explored' brings you some of the things to do in Panaji.


Overview. Option of things to do in Panaji are many. You can wander the surprisingly clean streets of Panaji admiring its old buildings and mansions from the days of the Portuguese, take a cruise on the river or sea, visit casinos - something you can't do anywhere else in the country, or just wander along the promenade that runs along the river.


Panaji City


Orientation. Panaji is strategically located at the center of Goa, close to the beaches of North Goa as well as South Goa. Its a small town where you can even walk from end to end of the town in just an hour's time. Public transport within the town and to surrounding areas is frequent and excellent, and you can also hire bike-taxis or auto-rickshaws to move from place to place.


Sightseeing and Activities


Evening Cruises. The government of Goa and a few private operators like Santa Monica organize evening cruises along Mandovi River that depart between 6.30 and 8.30. Most of the boats will have some entertainment programs on board, restaurants and discos. You can buy tickets at the jetty and get on board at Santa Monica Jetty, just below Mandovi Bridge. You can also ask for fishing boats and dolphin sighting boats that leave during the day.


Promenade Walk. The long promenade that runs along Mandovi River all the way from Mandovi Bridge to Miramar Beach is a great place to walk in the mornings or evenings. The walk-way is in excellent condition, clean and well maintained. See the river, the cruises and boats that float, watch fishing nets spread on the river, and stroll into Miramar Beach.


Fotainhas and Sao Tome. These are near the heart of the town, with beautiful old buildings colored in Red and Yellow that have stayed from the times of the Portuguese. Not to miss is the high court building close to the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, and the church itself. Behind the high court is a large hilly area that is surprisingly quiet and green, and not affected by the booming tourist economy of the city.


High Court Building, Panaji


Take a Ferry. All along Mandovi, Government of Goa has ferries to cross Mandovi or to get into one of the inhabited islands. Access to ferries is free. Take one of them just for the fun of it, and if you like it, go back and forth as many times as you wish! There is a ferry at Panaji near Captain of Ports Trust. Travel 4kms east of Panaji along the river, and you can find more ferries at Riabandar Village to take you to Charao and Diwar islands.


Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Surprisingly, this is a less known and less visited destination in Goa despite being just 4km from Panaji. Access to sanctuary requires going in a boat into the Mangrove forest and is a worthy experience even if you don't find too many birds on the day you are there. The common bird population includes small and large egrets, brahminy kites, reef herons, red shanks, common sandpipers, white throated kingfisher and small kingfisher.


Boating in Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary


Food and Accommodation.


Although Goa is known for sea food, you would be surprised by the number of vegetarian restaurants in the town, in nearly every other street. Hotel Fidago(18th June Road, Panaji, 0832 2225061) has several restaurants, and they are all excellent value for money. You can see many restaurants on the other side of Promenade and in the main market that serve Goan food or vegetarian. The best budget accommodations in Panaji are all near 31st January Road. More expensive hotels and resorts can be found near Miramar and Dona Paula.


How to Reach. Surprisingly, Panaji is not on the main line of Konakan Railway. Take a train to Madgoan, and then take a bus or taxi to Panaji. The city is connected by direct buses from Mangalore, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. Panaji airport is at Dhabolim, is nearly 30km away from city.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 29, 2008 At 23:57 PM

The Spirit Of Mumbai


May the city that never sleeps stay true to its image and continue to remain a hub of activity, despite all the things that have happened in the last few days.


I admire domestic airlines that continued to fly despite all the fears, and unlike many foreign airlines that cancelled flights to Mumbai. The policy of Spice Jet is especially laudable, who have kept time with all their flights that go through Mumbai without cancellations, and yet have graciously offered full refund to anyone who did not wish to fly and cancelled their tickets. Read about it here.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 29, 2008 At 23:41 PM

The Oncoming Skiing Season


December is just about to begin. In another month's time, it will start snowing in the Himalayas, and it will be time to pack the skis and head to the snowy slopes. And the time to plan the dates, book your ski lodge, is now. Here is a list of popular skiing destinations in India.


Auli. The slopes here are good and are especially friendly for beginners. This is also one of the least expensive places to ski in India, and probably in the entire world. Run by GMVN - an organization that belongs to Uttaranchal Government, you can spend your days skiing here on your own or taking one of the courses offered by GMVN. The downside about Auli? Snow conditions are unpredictable, and some years can go competely dry. GMVN rarely gives you proper information on snow conditions, and you might end up on a day when there is little snow and the lifts are not operating. See GMVN website for more details.

Auli


Gulmarg. Some of the best slopes and best skiing infrastructure is found here. Snow conditions are usually reliable. A bit more expensive in comparison with Auli, but still worth the money for the slopes and facilities. The skiing season here also lasts longer than Auli. More details here.


Manali. Solang Nala near Manali is not exactly a destination for serious skiers, but nevertheless, seems to have some popularity. The long slopes lack a lift, making it too much ordeal or carrying your skis up for few minutes of fun. A good infrastructure in place here would really make things better.

 
Solang in Summer


Others. There are a few other places where you can ski, but the infrastructure and snow conditions are not very good. Such places include Kufri, Narkanda and Munsiyari. These places are more like an attraction for casual tourists than for serious ski enthusiasts.

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Posted on: Friday , Nov 28, 2008 At 09:34 AM

Airline Transaction Fees And Fare Update


'India Explored' has been tracking the new transaction fees introduced by airlines in recent past. See earlier updates here and here.  


Air India, Kingfisher and Jet Airways have now announced that there will be no transaction fees charges on tickets booked directly with the airline's website, offices or call centers, hence giving passengers as option to by-pass transaction fees. See complete story here.


In another news, the falling fuel prices are giving the airlines a chance to reduce air fares after many months. Air India is planning to cut prices by 12-15%, and kingfisher may follow. See report here.

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Posted on: Monday , Nov 24, 2008 At 20:47 PM

Tea Tourism


Tea Tourism is a recent initiative from tourism department, to promote tea estates as travel destinations.

 

India has a large tea growing area and they are usually in beautiful hilly locations, such as Darjeeling and Munnar. In last few years, enterprising tea estates like Glenburn have converted bungalows in their estates to holiday houses and have been accepting guests. It's a unique idea that has found many takers.

 

Tea tourism mostly aims to catch high-end travellers, with rooms that can cost as much as $200 to $400 per day, but an increasing popularity would eventually lead to more tourists to hills, and allow less expensive places to come up around the tea estates.

 

See more about tea tourism here and here.

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 23, 2008 At 13:10 PM

Travel And Internet


Being connected is always a problem for me when I travel. Though I don't intend to stay online all the time, it is important for me to be able to see my mails and read a few things at least once a week. A comfort position though, is being able to connect everyday during the hours when I am not doing much.


Initially I was using internet cafes. Most cafes, especially in tourist places, have reasonably fast connections these days. But having to leave the hotel room and going in search of a cafe is painful, and I would avoid it if I can.


Recently, I am experimenting with carrying a laptop and a mobile internet connection device. Though it seemed like a pain to lug laptop, I am finding it useful in many ways - I can work and travel simultaneously and need not worry about having to stay at home to complete some jobs. I am currently on an Airtel USB modem, and here is my experiences so far.


Speed. The best download speeds I have seen are nearly 20kbps, which I think is reasonable. But this is not a consistent speed, and drops considerably, sometimes to as low as 2-3kbps. It is much better in larger cities where they have EDGE connectivity, but if you go into small towns, the connection can test your patience.


Availability. It is not hard to get online - the network is available in most small towns. But surprisingly, GPRS doesn't work well in some areas. I was trying to connect in Kathgodham and Nainital towns in Uttaranchal, where the modem could detect signals, but could not connect. Connecting to the web using a GPRS phone from a handset also did not work.


Airtel is a reasoable choice as long as you are not going too far, or into the mountains. In such case, it is better to look for other options.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 22, 2008 At 23:31 PM

Iffi Goa Begins Today


I am here at Panaji, at a time when the International Film Festival of India is kicked off. It started off today with screening of the film 'Warlords', with actress Rekha as chief guest for inauguration. The festival will be on for ten days - from 22nd November to 2nd December.


Most of the public screening will be happening only after 27th, while the screenings are reserved for delegates and press till then. The list of films being screened is big, spanning more than hundred films long from all over the world. I am personally looking up to the five movies screened as part of celebrating 75 years of Kannada Cinema.


If you are a film buff and have been planning to visit or visiting Goa in next ten days, don't miss checking out schedule of movies at Panaji's Inox theatre. See more details here.

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Posted on: Thursday , Nov 20, 2008 At 15:32 PM

How Much For A Samosa?


What is the maximum you have paid for a Samosa ever? May be a handful of rupees if you have bought at the street, a few dozen rupees at a nice restaurant or a few hundrends at the five star hotel in your city? That's more like the money I have paid up. But how about a ten thousand rupees? Thats what a Dutch couple had to pay when they ate samosas and then found their bill to be in five figures. They were not gullible enough to believe that, but could not put up against the shop-owner who claimed that the samosa was made using rare herbs. They did the best thing that anyone could do in such situations - they paid up, and then filed a complaint in nearby police station.


What happened next was the happy ending - cops had the shopkeeper return the money, less ten rupees for the samosa. And a complaint has been filed against the shopowner.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Nov 18, 2008 At 15:43 PM

Destination Guide: Varanasi


 One of the oldest living cities of the world, Varanasi has a history lasting many thousand years. It is the holiest place for the Hindu, was an education center, a place ravaged by history and rebuilt many times over. Varanasi, Banaras or Kashi, however you call it, the place brings in a charm of timelessness to mind - of thousands of pilgrims bathing on the ghats, performing shraddha karma, sadhus meditating and the ganges flowing gently since ages.























Overview.
Varanasi is a holy city for the Hindus, and is visited by a large number of people from all over India. In the recent years, it has also attracted backpackers and tourists from all over the world who want to quickly witness Indian Culture and head forward to next destination. It has become as much a touristy place as it is a place of pilgrimage. Winter is the ideal time to visit Varanasi, as temperatures easily cross 40 in summers.

 

Orientation. Most of the action is Varanasi is centered close to the 5km stretch of ghats along the bank of Ganga. Ramnagar Fort and Banaras Hindu University are some of the attractions that may require you to hire some transportation.

 

Things to do and Places to See

 

Ganga Aarti on Dasaswamedh Ghat. Every evening, an elaborate aarti is performed on the bank of the river at Dasaswamedh Ghat, close to Kashi Viswanath Temple. The aarti begins at 6pm and lasts for approximately 30 minutes. Its a colorful ritual with fine choreography with lamps swaying in the hands of the performers.






































Kashi Viswanath Temple. The most important pilgrim point in Varanasi. Entry is allowed for Hindus only. It is this temple that attracts people from all over the country, who believe that one must visit the temple in the lifetime.

 

RamNagar Fort. A short rickshaw ride from Varanasi, Ramnagar has a large fort in the opposite bank of the river, built by Maharaja Balwant Singh in 18th century. You can see the fort walls at a distance from the ghats of Varanasi.

 

Sankat Mochan Temple. This is a well known Hanuman temple south of Assi Ghat, popular with locals who visit the temple every day. The temple was in news a few years back for a bomb blast that killed many.

 

Harischandra Ghat. This is not exactly a place for tourists, but the western curiosity has propelled the ghat into such a status. Harischandra Ghat is where Raja Harischandra is said to have worked as guardian of the cremation ground. It still remains the place where the bodies are burnt and ashes immersed in the Ganges.























Banaras
Hindu University
. The well known university built by Madan Mohan Malviya, located south of the ghats has a leafy and peaceful campus worth a visit.

 

Sarnath. Sarnath is a short rickshaw ride from Varanasi. This is the place where Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon. This is a popular tourist spot and pilgrimage place for Buddhists, and is especially popular with travellers from Buddhist countries like Japan. This is also the place where King Ashoka's pillar with four lions is, which is now the national emblem.

 

Boat ride on the Ganges. This is one of the most coveted activities in Varanasi. Get down to the ghats early in the morning and take the hour long ride from Assi Ghat to Dasaswamedh Ghat. Watch the sunrise over the river, and then see hoards of pilgrims along the ghats.






















Food and accommodation. There are a large number of guesthouses, small hotels and dharmashalas along the ghats. These are the best places to stay and see Varanasi. The good hotels are all near the railway station and far from the ghats. Varanasi is known for its street food, especially Lassi and other foods derived from Milk.

 

How to Reach. Varanasi train station, and nearby MughalSarai station are well connected from most of the country. Varanasi also has an airport, with daily flights with connections from Delhi and Mumbai.

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Posted on: Monday , Nov 17, 2008 At 22:30 PM

You Can Smoke In Goa This Winter!


We all know about the new smoking ban rules that have been effective in the last few weeks. It hasn't exactly been practiced or enforced well, but there is a rule now and people are conscious, and will remain conscious at least for a few more months.


But in Goa, where the winter and new year is a season when lot of tourists visit and parties get organized in large numbers, you should have no problem burning that cigarette between your lips. Goan government wants you to be there and make sure your money is spent, and doesn't want to see you put off by the smoking ban. So they now have a clever strategy - their system of enforcement will start working only from next year(Jan 1st). And they have excuses to support their decision - they need to train their cops and educate the people, and it takes time!


This is not exactly a news I am eager to cover on 'India Explored', but still, if you are one of those people who can't manage without a smoke every hour and now finding it hard, this is one news that could cheer you up at least temporarily.

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 16, 2008 At 11:09 AM

Experiencing Karnataka's Wilderness


When tourism departments get into business of hospitality, the result is usually service that falls way short of expectations. There are a few exceptions though. I have seen Rajasthan Tourism's restaurants and hotels running efficiently, even though it can do with a bit more friendliness from the employees. Another shining example is Jungle Lodges and Resorts, run by tourism department of Karnataka.


A Cottage at Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Dandeli


The company is run as a distinct entity that operates independently, which is probably the reason for its success. They have another unique advantage being a government enterprise - they get access to places where no one else does. The second reason is what makes jungle lodges famous with holidaying people, and especially with those who love to be amidst wilderness. Add friendly and helpful staff who are trained naturalists to that, and there is a winning formula.


Jungle Lodges offers travellers a comfortable vacation in many places where it would otherwise not be easy to take your family or the elderly. How would it be to stay in an island at the edge of a wildlife sanctuary, surrounded by clear backwaters from a dam and thick forest beyond it, and getting into the jungle once in a while to sight wildlife, possibly varying from a Crested Hawk Eagle to even tiger? Or how is it like to be in an ancient lodge next to a reservoir where you can regularly watch elephants wandering? The first one, you can experience at the Jungle Lodges at Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, and the second at Kabini near Mysore. Kabini's Karapur Lodge is recognized as one of the premier wildlife destinations in the world.


Jungle Lodges has more interesting locations, like an exclusive island south of Goa at Devbagh, resorts in the forest or at the edge at Bandipura National Park, Kaveri Wildlife Sanctuary, Banneraghatta National Park, BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary.


They are the best option to have a wildlife holiday in comfort in Karnataka, if not, in the whole country. See more information on their website.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 15, 2008 At 13:46 PM

Accommodations In Ladakh


It is too early for planning a trip to Ladakh, but when you start doing that for your next year's trip, here is another resource you would like to look up. I have been compiling a list of accommodations all over Ladakh - in places where I had stayed during my 2-month visit to Ladakh earlier this year. It could help you plan where to stay in remote locations in Ladakh, and find reviews of guesthouses worth staying(or avoiding).


Review of four places have already gone online.

  1. Hotel Auspicious, Leh
  2. Lakrook Garden Guesthouse, Leh
  3. Rahela Guesthouse, Leh
  4. Tharpaling Guesthouse, Lamayuru

This is not the end; they will be updated regularly, and in a couple of weeks there will be a list of places from all over Ladakh. To keep up with updates, go to my profile, contributions tab and click on hotel reviews.

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Posted on: Friday , Nov 14, 2008 At 22:25 PM

Bangalore Airport


The new airport in Bangalore has been regularly making news for many months now, but mostly for wrong reasons. The project dragged on for too long, and the inauguration too had some hitches with dates. I made two trips out of the new airport in last one month, and here are my observations.

The good.

  1. The days of regular delay and flights circling the skies waiting for the runway to be free seem to be finally over. Takeoffs and landings happen smoothly, and there are no traffic jams. 
  2. Finally, there is some sense in the food available inside the airport. All that you got in the old airport was some stale sandwiches re-heated to make them taste worse. Now, a restaurant serves South Indian food(Idli, Vada, Khara Bhath,..). Bless them!
  3. This one for shop-a-holics, not for general public. You have a way to spend time in the airport - there are quite a few shops to hang around. 
  4. It is big enough not to feel crowded.
  5. The best thing is connectivity. BMTC has done excellent job in connecting the airport with the city. It is no longer needed to look for a taxi outside the airport. Just get to a comfy bus and get to the city. 
  6. Free inernet.
The Bad
  1. Distance is the most painful thing. It takes simply too long and you have to make lot of planning to get to airport. And this is one problem that nullifies all good things. The problem shows especially if you are taking a short haul flight.
  2. Pricey. If the airport starts charging User Development Fees as planned, passengers using Bangalore airport will have to pay some more money.
  3. Scalability. It doesn't look like it can handle twice the traffic we have today with its current avatar. Doubling traffic can happen in a time not far from now if we have growth rates similar to past five years.

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 09, 2008 At 11:55 AM

Transaction Fees For Airline Tickets


The airlines are slowly finding ways to make more money for each ticket. I had earlier mentioned on this blog that there will be transaction fees for each ticket bought from November 1st.


The new fee is now live, and I got to see it with my air ticket I am using for my fight to Delhi tomorrow. Here is the distribution of fare I am paying.


Base Fare: Rs. 2,600.00

Passenger Service Fee: Rs.225.00

Fuel Surcharge: Rs.2,900.00

Transaction Fee: Rs.330

Total Price: Rs.6,055.00


The transaction fee is the newly introduced component. Read more about it on my earlier post. The transaction fee will be kept by agents, since the airlines no longer give a commission to the agents. Interestingly, even if you directly book with the airline's website, you will still be charged the transaction fee. But in this case, the airline gets to keep the transaction fees too.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 08, 2008 At 23:37 PM

Pushkar Mela


The annual Pushkar Mela, held in Pushkar, Rajasthan, will be held from November 10th to 13 this year. The Pushkar Mela is an yearly affair where people come in large numbers from nearby areas to buy and sell camels. It is also popular with tourists and photographers who come here in large numbers to witness the Mela and go back with memories and images.


Though the Mela is officially beginning from 10th, Pushkar village starts seeing action much before, as people start arriving as much as a week earlier and trade of camels would have already commenced. 


If you are heading that way, do keep in mind that there is a rush of tourists during the fair, and accommodation is hard to come by. Also, room rates are known to shoot up by as much as 1000% during the days of the Mela. Book ahead, if you can.


Pushkar Lake


Besides the mela, Pushkar is also known as a holy place, and it is said that Brahma meditated on Puhkar's Lake Shore. The village also hosts what is said to be the only Brahma Temple in the world.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 08, 2008 At 23:22 PM

Janapada Jaatre, Bangalore


Translated from Kannada, Janapada Jaatre means folk fair. 


The Janapada Jaatre is a government sponsored program to celebrate traditional culture of Karnataka. It was a weekly program during 2006-7, in a year when it was conceived to celebrate the Golden Year of Karnataka. But it was no longer conducted since then.


Janapada Jaatre


The fair is back this week, only for this weekend. It is on at Lalbag Botanical Gardens in Bangalore on 8th and 9th November at 6pm at the open area close to Kemegowda Gopura. Do visit if you are in Bangalore this weekend. Its a great show giving a glimpse of rich traditions from all over Karnataka.


Janapada Jaatre


The pictures posted with this article were taken during multiple visits to the fair in 2006-7.


Janapada Jaatre

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Posted on: Friday , Oct 31, 2008 At 18:05 PM

Sringeri


I am writing this post from small and quiet town of Sringeri - a place made important by Shankaracharya. Though I was loathe to come here initially, am now enjoying being here.


The town is in an idyllic location, surrounded by thick forest all around it. The drive to the place took me through winding and hilly roads with occasional view of beautiful hills of Sahyadri. Early in the morning, our car broke through foggy road, via evergreen forest, coffee estates, areca farms and paddy fields, taking us through perhaps one of the very scenic areas of Karnataka. Sun broke through the fog many hours after sunrise, his rays streaking through parallel pillars of areca and silver oak that grow straight and spread wings only at their tips.


The town itseld doesn't have the urgency that any town usually tends to possess. It's spread amidst verdant undulating landscape, with green unpolluted Tunga River flowing next to the ancient Shaneeswara temple and Sharadappetha on one side, and Shankara Mutt on the other side.


The river, undoubtedly was my first love. The next position goes to ancient Shaneeshwara Temple with its beautifully tapering gopura outside and finely carved pillars inside. I have much more to explore here, and if not explore, simply be in the middle of nature doing nothing more than feeding the plentiful fish in the river and dipping my feet into its flow.



But here, being on a low-bandwidth wireless dial up also means I am right now unable to research on the festivals for November and inform my readers in advance. But I shall do that the first thing I am back, in next few days. In the meanwhile, don't forget, if you are in the south, to visit Hampi Utsava from 3rd to 5th November.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Oct 28, 2008 At 12:20 PM

Destination Guide: Badami, Aihole And Pattadakal


The town of Badami, along with small nearby villages of Pattadakal and Aihole are a hub of ancient architecture of Karnataka. Turn every corner and you will see a finely carved temple built from sand stone.



Overview. The region around Badami is rich with architecture dating as far back as the 8th century. Chalukya and Rashtrakoota dynasties that ruled this region on the bank of Malaprabha river have built many Hindu, Jain as well as Buddhist temples on the plains and rocks of these parts. Summers can be hot in these parts; best time to visit is from November to February.



Orientation. Badami is a small town with some tourist accommodation. The cave temples and other places to see in Badami are a short walk out of the town. Banashankari, a small village just outside Badami is known for its temple and the annaul fair. Pattadakal and Aihole are 30 minutes to one hour away from Badami. Buses and rickshaws are easily available for the commute.



Sightseeing and Activities



Cave Temples and Agastyamuni Lake. Badami is most well known for it's cave temples. There are five temples built on a fine red sandstone rock, which have carvings of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage. The place is in a beautiful sight facing Agastyamuni lake.


Agastyamuni Lake


The hill opposite to the caves has many temples that is approached by a beautiful passage formed by depression in the rocks. There is a Shiva temple on the top of the hill. Just beyond the hill is Malegitti Shivalaya Temple. You can see the panorama of the lake and the cave temples from the top of the hill. At the base of the hill is a small museum maintained by Archeological Society of India. At the far end of the lake is the beautiful Bhoothanatha Temple.


Cave Temples



Pattadakal has a complex of temples on the bank of Malaprabha river. Pattadakal, along with Aihole has the unique distinction of being the only place where you can see a mix of northen rekhanagar style architecture along with southern dravidian structures. Galaganatha temple is a fine example of Rekhanagar style build of temples, while the Virupaksha temple, one of the largest in the complex is built in dravidian style.


Pattadakal

Aihole once hosted a school of architecture where students from all over India came to learn. It is often called the cradle of Indian Architecture, where many styles got evolved and refined. It is for this reason that one can see temples that confirm to no style, each different from other, can be easily seen spread all along the village. Durgi Gudi, Lad-Khan Temple, Huchhimalli temple and Ravanphadi are some of the important temples in the village.


Pattadakal

The village of Banashankari has a small temple and a large tank in front of it. It is more known for its annual fair which attracts large number of people from nearby towns and villages. Mahakoota is another place with an ancient temple complex inside a leafy area. A perennial spring emerges from the complex and is said to be holy. The beautiful temple complex is worth a visit.


Mahakoota



Food and Accommodation. Only Badami has some reasonable food and accommodation available. Use Badami as base to travel to Aihole and Pattadakal.



How to Reach. Badami is approximately 500km from Bangalore. Direct Buses are available. Nearest large towns are Hubli and Gadag. Hubli is well connected from rest of the country by trains.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Oct 28, 2008 At 11:22 AM

Travel Alert: Hampi Utsava


The annual Hampi Utsava is scheduled on November 3rd this year.


Hampi Utsava is a government sponsored program held on the first week of November every year, consisting of various programs involving local culture, folk tradition as well as performance by artists from all over the country.


Hampi is brightly lit up with various stages and exhibitions every year during the fest and is a treat to the visitors eyes. Do keep in mind though, most hotels in the region get completely booked for the duration of three-day festival. Here are some images from the festival two years ago.


Hampi Utsava Stage


Viroopaksha Temple

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Posted on: Saturday , Oct 25, 2008 At 13:00 PM

Airports And User Development Fees


The new greenfield airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad had been pushing for User Development Fees, and were hoping to impose it in the coming months.


Now, a parlimentary committee headed by Sitaram Yechuri has recommended against UDF. The committee says not to impose UDF, and remove them from all airports where it is currently active. How-ever, it still may not mean much, since the fate of committee recommendations may or may not lead to anything.


UDF would have kept more people off airports in a time when people are already opting for trains owing to high airfares.


But the recommendations of the parlimentary committee do not come as a surprise. Headed by a communist party leader, naturally they want all airport developments in the future to be done by Airports Authority of India instead of private parties!

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Posted on: Friday , Oct 24, 2008 At 10:36 AM

Arunachal Tourism


Until recently, getting information on places in Arunachal Pradesh was a hard job. There is plenty of information available on much travelled places like Tawang and Itanagar, but beyond that, scouring the internet would have resulted in little information. Places like Along, Zero are rarely visited. And there are not many internet savvy travel agents who operate in these regions. So the only way to get any information was by contacts and people who have already been there. Arunachal Government did not have any useful info on destinations in the state.


Now, things seem to be changing. The state government woke up to the potential a few months back. They have opened up new areas for tourism and sprucing up their system. One helpful addition in the recent days is their new professionally designed website. It has a compilation of destinations and accommodation, which will be very useful for people travelling in the state. What comes most handy is the contact number of hotels and guesthouses, which is not easy to find anywhere else.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 22, 2008 At 19:23 PM

Travelogues That Make A Good Read


Remember India Discovered contest run by oktatabyebye two months ago? There was a travel writing contest running for six weeks with weekly winners and a mega-winner.


Today evening, I was browsing through the site looking for interesting things to read, and stumbled across those travelogues again. I had been planning to read them for a while but never got around to doing it. I read a couple of them today and was impressed with the quality of content we have had there.


Some really interesting travelogues covering length and breadth of India. I have started with the list of short-listed entries and winners, and planning to go through them one per day for the whole of next month. Yes, there are exactly 31 shortlisted stories that can take me through a month. 31 minus one actually, one story that I had submitted. If you love reading travel stories like I do, this is where you should be heading.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Oct 21, 2008 At 19:15 PM

Solar Powered Cycle Rickshaw


There is news about Solar Powered Cycle Rickshaws being unveiled in Delhi. It is built by CSIR and is said to do 15km per hour. Its usage would currently remain limited to Chandni Chowk area, since a charging station is installed near Chandni Chowk Metro station to begin with.


Its a move in a good direction, but I get a few questions about getting them on the road. Would the current rickshaw owners be able to afford a new solar powered ones? Most of them would be struggling to meet their daily food bills and would not be able to buy an expensive alternative.


It is also touted as an environment friendly alternative to the existing ones, which seems untrue. The rickshaws will only replace cycle-rickshaw and not auto-rickshaws, so the question of pollution did not exist in the first place. With the charging station at Chandni Chowk and a max speed of 15kph, these new rickshaws also would not be able to ply long distances and will not be capable to replace auto-rickshaws or taxis.

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Posted on: Monday , Oct 20, 2008 At 12:13 PM

Air Travel In Near Future


It is visibly turbulent days in Indian Aviation Industry. Rivals Kingfisher and Jet have joined hands, Air India is looking at the government for a bailout and smaller airlines are struggling. What are we up to?


We may have to live with higher prices as the competition comes down, and the industry leaders don't have to think twice about upping prices. 


The smaller airlines may have a tough time. They may not be able to sustain long streaks of loosing money. Either they would have to resort to Jet-Kingfisher type of deals with other airlines, go for mergers or go bankrupt altogether. Those who try to go alone may not last. That only means less number of airlines, less aircrafts on the skies, less competition and higher prices.


The ray of hope comes from reducing fuel prices and improving airport infrastructure. Crude prices are at almost $30 below the peaks, and with a worldwide recession, are unlikely to climb back any soon. Better infrastructure in all major airports - Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai means airlines waste less fuel circling or waiting, and can utilize their fleet more efficiently. SpiceJet has already removed congestion levies.


The one thing that should worry large airlines majorly is considerable reduction in business and international travel post US meltdown. A solution to this may have to wait till the bailout money invested from US Fed trickles into the economy.

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Posted on: Friday , Oct 17, 2008 At 19:06 PM

Destination Guide: Jaipur


Winters is approaching, making it a good time to visit the desert state of Rajasthan. The easily accessible state capital of Jaipur has several forts and historical structures worth seeing.

Overview. The buildings of the walled Old City of Jaipur are all painted pink, giving it the name 'Pink City'. Jaipur is also said to be the only planned city in India when it was built. The city is best visited in the cooler days of November to March, when seeing places is not a sweaty affair.

Gates of Old City

Orientation. Most of the ancient structures of Jaipur are located around City Palace in Old City. The new city is the modern sprawl of Jaipur to the west of Old City. The two well known forts are both outside the city: Nahargarh fort is on a hill overlooking Old City while Amber Fort is a 20 minute drive from the city.


Sightseeing and Activities


City Palace. The City Palace was built by Sawai Jai Singh in early 18th Century. The Diwan-i-Am and Diwan-i-Khas are the most prominent structures inside the palace. The four-season gates have beautiful paintings of peacocks representing each of the season. The descendants of the kings still live in the palace in 7-storey tower of Chandramahal. The palace has a arms museum with a large collection of ancient firearms, and another museum with artifacts belonging to the royals. An art gallery has a vast collection of carpets, paintings and metal artifacts.


City Palace


Jantar Mantar. Right next to City Palace is Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh. It looks like a clutter of odd shaped buildings at first sight, so take a guide to understand each one of them.



Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal is a building that epitomizes Jaipur's ancient structures. The tall pink building has always been a part of brochures telling about Jaipur. Overlooking a wide main road, this building was once used by women of royal families to watch festive processions of the city.


Hawa Mahal


Nahargarh Fort. Nahargarh Fort, built by Maharaja Jai Sawai Singh in early 18th century, also called Tiger Fort, is located on a hill overlooking the old city, and offers panoramic views of Jaipur.


Amber Fort. The large Amber Fort is located outside the city on the top of a hill, and is surrounded by hills, with beautiful views. A large tank in front of it adds to the beauty. The interiors, with spacious Diwans and living quarters are a must see.


Amber Fort


Gaitor. Just outside the Old City, this place hosts the cenotaphs of the rulers of Jaipur and their descendants. The structure is entirely built of Rajasthan Marbles and has some beautiful carvings. The marble Chhatris of Gaitor with Nahargarh fort in the background are a great sight.


Gaitor


Jal Mahal. On the way to Amber is this curious place built in the middle of a lake. It is interesting to see a few trees that have grown over the palace and have overshadowed the structure.


Jal Mahal


Food and Accommodation.


There are plenty of budget hotels, guesthouses and restaurants all around Jaipur. Rajasthan Tourism promotes home-stays, and you can inquire at their office for addresses of approved home-stays. Hotels of every budget are easy to find it the city, but most premium hotels are located outside the town. Not to miss is the resort at Chokhi Dhani which has Rajasthani cultural evenings every night and has excellent local food. Also visit the Om Hotel, where a revolving restaurant gives you panoramic views of the city.


How to Reach.


Jaipur's train station and airport have direct access from most of the major cities. You can also take a bus or drive down from Delhi(7 hours).

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 15, 2008 At 18:28 PM

Manali - Leh Highway To Close On November 1st


Border Roads Organization has announced that they will be closing Manali-Leh highway on November 1st. The release from BRO says that they will not be able to carry out any maintenance and rescue activities on the road after October 31st.


The highway had opened this year on May 13, serving tourists and supply trucks for army and the Ladakhis. Bad weather had resulted in temporary closures twice in September, resulting in speculations of early closure this year.


From November onwards, the road will remain closed till next summer, for approximately seven months. BRO starts clearing snow from the roads in February and makes it ready for full fledged operations usually in the later half of May.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 15, 2008 At 07:55 AM

Indian Railways Goes To Srinagar


The train to Srinagar was one of the well covered events in the recent days. I was thrilled to see all those images in the front pages. It was a pleasure to see pictures of people smiling, posing through the windows of the train with joy and filling up the coaches with excitement and giggles.


India has a long heritage of mountain railways since the days of the British who connected Delhi with Shimla, and Darjeeling with New Jalpaiguri. Srinagar is a new feather in the crown. 


The train travels from Srinagar to Anantnag twice daily in what is said to be a very scenic route, letting people into views of locations in Kashmir that were earlier not seen from the road. The train looks plush, comes with heating to beat the weather and has a system to beat snow. I am looking forward to make this journey some day!


AFP has a few images of the train.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 15, 2008 At 01:29 AM

Airports And Internet


I was on my way to Delhi from Bangalore last week, and had carried my laptop for a change. It was a pleasant surprise to see Wi-Fi in airport lounge, and felt good to figure that the usage is for free. I then almost took it for granted that every major airport would have Wi-Fi. After all, a lot of people flying will be business travellers and would be delighted to be able to use their waiting time optimally. 


But it was a surprise on my way back. As I waited in Delhi for my flight to arrive, I turned on the laptop and scoured for Wi-Fi. But I was disappointed - Delhi airport did not have Wi-Fi.


It is a bit surprising to me that one of the most important airports in the country does not offer internet to passengers. It doesn't have to be a free connection; even a pay-and-use one would be just fine and helps people use their time optimally. It's time for the authorities to tie up with an ISP and offer Wi-Fi internet.


Update: I read some online reports that Delhi airport does have Wi-Fi at Rs.60 per hour. May be it was a temporary glitch when I was there, or the terminal I was in was not a Wi-Fi hotspot.

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Posted on: Monday , Oct 06, 2008 At 18:37 PM

Armchair Travel - World Heritage Sites


Browsing through the web, I stumbled upon this interesting website which has a compilation of images from World Heritage Sites from all over the world.


You can select a site by region, click on it and watch a flash movie give you a panoramic perspective of the site. There are some controls that help you change the angle of view and the zoom level, all which are meant to give you a feel of you being there and watching the site. Looks like some good technical work has gone into creating it.


Right now, I am sitting in front of my laptop and travelling to Agra, admiring the beauty of Taj. I won't go all out and say it is a brilliant work that gets you hooked, but is a definitely interesting compilation, and is a good way to know what these world heritage sites look like.


The list is not complete though, and right now they have only 25% of the place covered.

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Posted on: Monday , Oct 06, 2008 At 14:18 PM

Luxury Train In Punjab


The Indian Railways seems to be busy launching luxury travel experiences one after another.


A year ago they launched a rather plush train - The Golden Chariot in Karnataka. This august came yet another luxury train in Rajasthan besides the existing Palace on Wheels, called Royal Rajasthan on Wheels


The latest offering comes from Punjab, a luxury train covering Agra, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Dharmashala. 


In another train related news, Indian Railways has a new and remote destination - Agartala - where the train services have begun from Sunday. Though the railways cover the plains of India extensively, I never thought they will manage to get as far.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 01, 2008 At 15:57 PM

Festivals For October


October is the month for festivals, the very first day beginning with Id-Ul-Fitr and Dasara.


Dasara/Navaratri. Celebrations are plentyful in many places in India. Mysore is the place to be, in the south. Head to Gujarat for Navaratri celebrations, and Durga Pooja in Kolkata.


Marwar Festival. A celebration of dance and music held in Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort in memory of heroes of Rajasthan. Falls on 13th and 14th October.


Rajgir Dance Festival. Held in Rajgir, Bihar from 24th to 26th October. Another music and dance festival, organized by tourism department of Bihar.


Diwali. Held on the 28th all over the country, not much needs to be said about this; celebrations go on for the whole week.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 30, 2008 At 20:46 PM

Airline Fares


With difficult days for the airlines, things aren't going too good for passengers either. Cheap deals have disappeared, and minimum fares have almost foubled compared to two years ago. Every now and then we hear about some additional fees or surcharges over base fare. Taxes, then fuel surcharges, coming ahead is transaction fees. Add to that, Bangalore and Hyderabad airport are lobbying with the Civial Aviation Ministry to impose User Development Fees.


It is complete chaos out there with ticket prices. An article on Business Standard tries to make sense of it. Worth a read, if you are a regular air traveller.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 30, 2008 At 08:53 AM

Mysore Dasara Celebrations


The grand festival of Mysore Dasara is beginning today at Mysore. It will be ten days of unlimited celebrations and events for people of Mysore and those travelling there.


The official website is now updated with all the details of the events. There is much to do and see, including music concerts, sports events, an exhibition, folk events and a lot more. The most celebrated of all the events being, the procession on the last day with elephants.


See the complete schedule here. Also visit the home page of mysoredasara.com; don't forget to keep the sound turned on!


Also see: Kullu is another place where Dasara is celebrated with lot of fanfare. Some information on this at the official website of Kullu.

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Posted on: Monday , Sep 29, 2008 At 19:54 PM

Karvy Flowers In Sgnp


Karvy, a plant that flowers once in 7-8 years are now blooming in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. So if you are in Mumbai, don't forget to head there this weekend, or you will have to wait for many more years to be able to see them again. 


These flowers belong to the same family as the Kurinji flowers that grow in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which flower once in 12 years. 


See the full story. See more about the flower here.

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Posted on: Monday , Sep 29, 2008 At 19:37 PM

Additional Fees For Flight Bookings


Starting November, booking a flight from a travel agent is going to cost you more.


It all started a few months ago when 'Indian' declared that they will stop paying commission to travel agents for flight bookings from October. In the times when airlines are struggling with high fuel prices and overcapacity, other airlines quickly followed and it almost became a crisis situation for travel agents.


The solution that has now been worked out is simple - let the users pay! So every ticket now booked with a travel agent will cost more, by a minimum of Rs.350, to a maximum of Rs.10,000 for a first class international flight. This additional charges is termed as 'transaction fee'. See more on this.


Surprisingly, even tickets booked on an airline's website also attract this transaction fee, but this money will be earned by the airline itself and not a travel agent! That seems a bit very unfair.

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Posted on: Sunday , Sep 28, 2008 At 19:34 PM

Where To Go This Winter?


With the winter setting in, its mostly the plains of India where it is the right time to travel. Though most domestic travel happens in summers when the sun is blazing, a lot of places in India are best visited in the winters. In the coming few months, India Explored will explore travel ideas and destination for the winter. We have already started with a post on Hampi.


Just before the beginning of winter, here is an overview of ideal places to visit from across the country.


1. Temple Towns of Tamil Nadu. In 10 days, you can cover Madurai, Thanjavur, Chidambaram, Kanyakumari and Rameshwaram. Or you can visit any one of these places for a weekend.


2. Beaches and backwaters of Kerala. Alleppey is a celebrated destination. Other places - Kovalam, Varkala, Cochin and Kasargod.


3. Northern Karnataka. Where history and architecture is at its best in the country. Visit Hampi, Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal and Bijapur. Spice it up with a visit to Belur and Halebeedu in Southern Karnataka, if you have enough time.


4. Beaches of Goa and Southern Maharashtra. Not much needs to be told about Goa. Visit North Goa's famed beaches, and in Maharasthra - Ganpatipule and Sindhudurg.


5. Madhya Pradesh. The less touristy state has much to offer than people know about it. Orchha and Khajuraho for remains of yesteryears, Kanha and Bandhavgarh for wildlife, Dhuandhar falls and Pachmari to be in the lap of nature.


6. Gujarat and Rajasthan. Rajasthan has plenty to offer, and winter is obviously the best time. Start from Jaipur, pass through Jodhpur, Udaipur and end in Jaisalmer or Bikaner. In Gujarat, see the only place in India host to Asiatic Lions - Gir. Rann of Kuchh is another noteworthy area in Gujarat.


7. UP and Uttaranchal. Varanasi, Rishikesh, Corbett. A few places worth mentioning among many beautiful places to go to. Skiing in Auli is an option for adventure oriented.


8. The North East's plains. It is ideal time to visit the plains of Assam, especially if you are the kind looking for wildlife. Visit Manas, Nameri and Kaziranga National Parks


9. The Himalayas. Most of the mighty mountains are out-of-bounds for winter. But it is ideal time to go to lower regions if you can tolerate some cold weather. Winter is the best time to experience clear blue skies in the days and orange sunsets on the mountains. Visit Kumaon, or lower regions of Himachal.

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Posted on: Saturday , Sep 27, 2008 At 11:56 AM

Destination Guide: Hampi


Winter is approaching, and it is a good time to start planning a trip to Hampi. It would be all the more ideal to get there for Hampi Festival, usually held in the first week of November. For exact dates of the festival, keep watching this space. 


sunrise



Overview. Hampi, in its glory days was the capital of Vijayanagar empire, one of the most powerful rulers that South India's history has seen. Text books speak about richness to an extent that people sold gold and diamonds on the streets. What remains today are the ruins of those days, spread over a vast area. The setup of Hampi itself is amazing, with its boulder strewn landscapes and a river flowing amidst them.

Orientation. Hampi is a large area. If you have a short time, say a weekend or less, it is best to do your monument hopping with your own transport. You can hire auto-rickshaws near the main Bazar. For those who have plenty of time, the ideal way to move around Hampi is by hiring bicycles.

Sightseeing and Activities

Sunrise and Sunset. Sunrise from Matanga Parvata is a magnificent scenery that you would not want to miss. The Rough Guide for South India calls the sunrise 'arguably one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world'. Lonely Planet doesn't fall short in praises either. Make sure you wake up early enough to complete the 30-miute climb to the peak before sunrise. For sunset, head to Hemakuta Parvata near the bus stand.


sunset


Vithala Temple. Vithala Temple is the most prominent temple in Hampi, with its famed stone chariot, musical pillars and its UNESCO World Heritage Monument status. The beautifully carved pillars are said to give out melodious tones on striking them; but delicate that they are, you are not allowed to touch them.


stone chariot


Viroopaksha Temple. Nearly all temples in Hampi were desecrated during invasion from Muslim Rulers from the north, and today, there is no worshipping in these temples. Viroopaksha Temple is an exception. With its tall gopura, it is visible from far away anywhere in Hampi.


viroopaksha temple


Queen's Bath Complex. This is a large area full of ancient monuments. Visit the queen's bath, Hajara Rama Temple, Lotus Mahal and Underground Shiva Temple in this area.


King's Court Area. Another large complex, not very far from Queen's Bath has has the ancient Vijayanagar City within a ruined fort. Look for King's Court, a large tank, Mahanavami Dibba where festivals were held, and complex channels that fed water to the palace.


Around Krishna Temple. Not far from the main bus stand is an ancient Krishna Temple. And a little further down are statues of Laxminarasimha and BadaviLinga, both large monolithic statues.


lakshminarasimha


Daroji Bear Sanctuary. 10Km from Hampi, this is a small forest which offers protection to bears and is an excellent place to sight some black bears.


Food and Accommodation


Being a backpacker destination, finding local cuisine in Hampi is not always easy. What you can find more often is Israeli, Italian and Continental food. Mango Tree Restaurant behind Viroopaksha Temple is an good place to eat and while away your time. A lot of basic guesthouses are available near the main Bazaar. Only organized place is the KSTDC Mayura Hotel at Kamalapur Village just outside Hampi. Hotel Malligi is your best bet if you are looking for some good accommodation.


How to Reach. Hospet is the nearest train station. Nearest airport is far away at Bangalore, from where you can take a bus, train or a taxi to Hampi.

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Posted on: Thursday , Sep 25, 2008 At 18:05 PM

Snow In Lahaul + Leh Manali Highway


Here is a noteworthy news for those who are planning to travel in Himachal/Ladakh in near future.


Snowfall has begun much earlier than usual this year, and the season seems to be nearing its end. First major snowfall in Rohtang Pass happened on the 6th of September, leaving many vehicles stranded for hours until the road was cleared. But it was only a matter of time before the pass was re-opened for traffic.


The next incident happened this week, again leaving many locals and tourists stranded. This time it was for a longer period due to continued bad weather in Lahaul and Spiti region. There has been heavy rains resulting in many deaths and landslides in Himachal.


Rohtang Pass is still not closed for the year, and BRO has managed to re-open the road. But those who are heading that way should exercise caution.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 23, 2008 At 16:29 PM

Books For The India Explorer - Iv: Ladakh


See the right side panel for links to earlier posts in this series. This time, a list of books for those interested in Ladakh.

Ladakh - Crossroads of high Asia by Janet Rizvi: Rizvi's book is a scholarly work with detailed study on every aspect of Ladakh, including geography, people, living and changed seen in today's Ladakh. The author's deep understanding and knowledge of the region is evident when reading the book. It is a good book for those who want to get a deep understanding of the region, but doesn't go well for light reading.

Ancient Futures by Helena Norbert-Hodge: This is yet another book written by an author who has understood the region well. Hodge has been coming to Ladakh for more than 25 years, since the time the region was opened for tourism. The book gives an excellent preview of Ladakhi culture, while giving a lot of emphasis on the troubles brewing in the region due to influence of the modern society.

A Jounrney in Ladakh by Andrew Harvey: This book has plenty of personal experience of author travelling in Ladakh.

Trekking in Ladakh(Trailblazer) by Charlie Loram: This Trailblazer Guidebook is more or less like bible for those who intend to trek extensively in the region. With very detailed maps and descriptions, it is a must keep book for everyone who is keen on trekking in Ladakh.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 23, 2008 At 15:37 PM

Images From India


An incredible collection  images from India  from recent times at boston.com - a must see.  

The images are a collection of photos from major media companies like Reuters, AP Photo and Getty Images. Contains photos from the recent floods, Ganesha Chathurthi celebrations, Janmashtami and much more. Do not miss.

Note: Due to some technical issues, the linked URL doesn't show up correctly. Please replace single quotes in the web address by underscore when you view the page to go to the correct page. Thanks.

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Posted on: Sunday , Sep 21, 2008 At 10:02 AM

Internet On Trains


Indian Railways is doing all that it can to become a current generation carrier. Latest in their offering - satellite based internet connectivity on their trains. Trials are currently underway on Ahmedabad-Mumbai Shatabdi, and may be expanded to important trains in other routes.

The story on ET says: Passengers will soon be able to use their laptops in running trains as Indian Railways is mulling over a proposal to provide satellite-based internet facility in premier trains. A trial run is already underway in Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express and our aim is to provide the internet facility in certain premium trains including Rajdhani and Shatabdi, said a senior Railways ministry official.

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Posted on: Friday , Sep 19, 2008 At 21:58 PM

Destination Guide: Kanyakumari


We keep hearing people say all the time - 'from Kashmir to Kanyakumari..'. Kanyakumari is well known for being the southern tip of mainland India. It is also a popular tourist destination, place of pilgrimate, and the southernmost train station(naturally) in the country.

sunrise hour

Overview. The local name for Kanyakumari is Kanniyakumari. Adjoining the seas three sides, Kanyakumari remains windy most of the time, keeping it a little cooler than rest of the plains of Tamil Nadu. Temperatures are moderate for most of the year, but peak summers are best avoided. October to March is the ideal period to visit. With Travancore hills donning the northern parts, and greenery dominating the plains, Kanyakumari is a picturesque location.

Orientation. The town of Kanyakumari is a small place, and has many places worthy of visit that are within a kilometer radius. A few visit-worthy beaches and temple are far from the town, and can be 15 to 60 minutes away from the town.

Sightseeing and Activities

Confluence of the Seas. Kanyakumari is known as the place where the three sees meet. The southern tip is the confluence of Arabian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, which is also said to be a holy place.

Kanyakumari Temple. Near the southern tip is the ancient Kanyakumari Temple where Goddess Parvati resides as Kanyakumari. The beautiful temple built in stone is thousand years old, and is worth a visit.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The Vivekananda Rock is the place where Swami Vivekananda meditated for a few days. A memorial stands here today, with a structure built by Eknath Ranade, which contains a statue of the monk and a book shop. The island can be accessed by boat.

Vivekananda Kendra. A kilometer from the southern tip on the road to Nagercoil, Vivekananda Kendra is a cultural institute established by Eknath Ranade. The institution runs Yoga and meditation courses regularly, and has a collection of books in their library. The place also has pilgrims accommodation and can accommodate large groups. When you are there, you can see a film on Vivekananda's life that is shown in the institute's auditorium every evening. The institute is located in a large leafy environ where you can spot peacocks. It is adjoining a beach, where you can arrive early in the morning to see sunrise.

Vivekananda Memorial. Near the southern tip is a memorial built for the monk, managed by Vivekananda Kendra. The memorial has plates that tell the story of Vivekananda's life with picture, tracing from his youthful days with Ramakrishna Paramahansa to all the places he travelled to, spreading the message of awareness. 

Sunrise and Sunset. Kanyakumari is the only place in mainland India where you can see both sunrise and sunset over the sea. Don't miss either of these.

sunset

Shuchindram Temple. Just 15 minutes by bus is Shuchindram village which has a beautiful temple dedicated to Shiva. There is a large tank outside the temple, and combined with the temple's tall tower, the place looks beautiful. Frequent buses from Kanyakumari are available to get to Shuchindram.

Padmanabhapura Palace. An hour by bus is the large beautiful palace of Padmanabhapuram. Built over 400 year ago in Karalan style, the temple has some ornate wood carvings worth seeing. To get to Padmanabhapuram, go to Thakkalai town which is one hour by bus on Kanyakumari-Trivendrum highway. The palace is a few kilometers away from Thakkalai town, and auto-rickshaws can be hired to get there. 

padmanabhapuram

Food and Accommodation.
Due to arrival of large number of pilgrims from all over the country, Kanyakumari's restaurants have adopted to serve every kind of food, including South Indian, North Indian, Gujarati and Marwari. You don't find many speciality restaurants, but most places can serve clean and basic food. Though there is plenty of accommodation, they all can sometime get full due to arrival of pilgrims in large numbers. Book ahead. TamilNadu tourism's hotel, which has all rooms sea facing is worth staying in.

How to reach. Kanyakumari has a train station, and is connected directly with many important places in the country. Nearest airport is in Trivendrum, which is 2 hours by road. 

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Posted on: Thursday , Sep 18, 2008 At 19:55 PM

Kalka Shimla Railway Line


The ancient narrow guage track traversing through the foothills of the Himalayas from Kalka to Shimla was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site a few months ago. Indian Railways is now plannig a series of activities to celebrate the event on November 8th and 9th.

Here is an excerpt on the news from Punjab News Line: ..local Panchayats and School Children would welcome the visitors with flags and balloons and exhibitions of rare photos, maps, artifacts etc. will be displayed at Barog and Shimla Railway Stations, she added. She said that dedication ceremony, Himachali cultural programmes with fire works will be organized at Shimla in the evening and special cover and UNESCO certificate will be released. A plaque will be unveiled and foundation stone for Railway Museum will be laid down..

In the meanwhile, railway authorities are considering resurrecting more steam engines - there are 43 of them in all that are left, and the railways sees a good tourism potential.

Also see: an account of travelling by Shivalik Express from Kalka to Shimla by Tim Pozzi on The Telegraph. 

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 16, 2008 At 19:51 PM

Mysore Dasara


Dasara is one of the important festivals of Karnataka, and is celebrated in a grand way in Mysore. The heritage of celebration dates back to the time of Wodeyar Kings. Now supported by the government, it is a major event looked forward to by locals and tourists alike. 

This year's Dasara festivities will begin from September 30th and will go on for ten days. The celebrations usually include a lot of sports and cultural events and an exhibition, concluded with a grand procession on the last day. If you are in Bangalore, Mysore, or travelling anywhere in South India, make sure to take a break for a couple of days to get to Mysore and attend the celebrations.

See more about the festivities on mysoredasara.com. It is still not updated with this year's data, but last year's celebrations won't be very different from this year's. And here is a news clip on The Hindu.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 16, 2008 At 19:23 PM

Returning From Ladakh


I am back home after spending two memorable months in the mountainous regions of Ladakh. While I was away, I had scheduled a few posts to keep 'India Explored' going, but the pace of updates here was slow.

Now that I am back, 'India Explored' will be more frequently updated with plenty of travel information, news and alerts.

The Ladakh trip was a rewarding one, with visits to Buddhist Monasteries, huge lakes trapped amidst the mountains, picturesque mountain landscapes and much more. Ofcourse, in the days to come, I will be updating this blog and rest of oktatabyebye.com with lot of information and images on Ladakh. Here is a photograph to begin with.

Ladakh

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Posted on: Thursday , Sep 04, 2008 At 11:25 AM

Festivals For September


Here is a list of festivals scheduled for September 2008, which can help you to make travel plans for the month.

Ganesha Chathurthi. Celebrated in Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka, Ganesha Chathurthi falls on 3rd Septembet. The procession of releasing Ganpathi in water in Mumbai and Pune are famous events that draw large crowds.

Onam. Onam is celebrated all over Kerala in on September 12th. According to onamfestival.org, "Onam is the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala and marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali. Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam, ambrosial Onasadya, breathtaking Snake Boat Race and exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam - the harvest festival in Kerala. "

Navarati. Navaratri is one of the largest festivals to happen in India. It begins on 30th September this year, and goes on for 10 days. Places to watch celebrations are Gujarat, West Bengal and Karnataka.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Sep 02, 2008 At 09:19 AM

Perspectives Of Beauty


 You would have head it many times - "Taj Mahal looks beautiful from any angle". Here, you can see it yourself - a few images of Taj, from different angles.


Taj is closed on Fridays. And tourists who arrive on Fridays do no know what to do. Not to worry, just stroll around the monument and someone will approach you offering terrace views of Taj. One such place is in the picture, would have been better with a rose than tissues in the glass.



You see just the Taj in most of the images, which could very well make you feel that you can go there someday, spend a lot of time having the monument all by yourself. But the truth is far from it, and is crowded from the very second the gates open.


Tourists walk up to Taj, eager to get closer. The picture also shows how large is the enclosure of Taj Mahal.



And this is what I would like to call 'Standard View'. How many million times would this picture have been shot? If I were Taj, my modeling fees would have been really steep!


And a slightly skewed perspective. Yes, it is pretty even skewed.



And at the end, to leave you with an easy puzzle. Taj as seen from ........?   Fill in the blanks.


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Posted on: Tuesday , Aug 26, 2008 At 11:36 AM

Destination: Gokarna


Gokarna's beaches are slowly gathering popularity to the tune of beaches of Goa. Number of incoming tourists is increasing every year, and with more and more foreign backpackers arriving here trying to escape crowded Goa, Gokarna is getting crowded too.

Overview. Gokarna is probably only place where both pious and the hedonistic have something to look forward to. The Mahabaleshwara Temple in the town is one of the holiest in South India and is frequented by pilgrims. And there are many beaches, some well isolated, which beckons backpackers.

Orientation. Gokarna is just south of Goa, which is how its beaches got discovered. Five beaches, each a thirty minute walk from its neighbour and all separated by hills, making the picturesque place that Gokarna is. The Mahabaleshwara temple is in the center of the town, which is also close to the sea.

Things to do and Places to see

Kotitheertha. This is a large tank near the temple, and is in a quieter part of the town. Pilgrims come here to perform Shraddha Karma.

Mahabaleshwara Temple. This is one of the holiest temples in South India. So not surprisingly, is surrounded by houses of temple priests. The story behind the temple goes like this. Ravana received Atmalinga from Shiva, and was instructed not to keep the linga on the ground ever. On his way back from Kailasa, Ravana stopped at Gokarna for his prayers, and was looking for someone to hold the linga for him. Ganapathi came in the disguise of a boy, assured Ravana to take care of it but dropped it to prevent Ravana from benefiting from the linga. The place where Ganapathi dropped the linga is said to be the place where the temple now is.

The Beaches. Below is the list of beaches, listed from North to South.

Gokarna Beach. This is the longest of all the beaches, almost 7km of straight stretch of sand. It is located at one edge of the town and is popular more with pilgrim crowd than backpackers.


Kudle Beach. A kilometer of walk south of Gokarna Beach, Kudle Beach is surrounded by hills on three sides and sea on the fourth. If not for the backpacking population that crowds the beach, this would have been a paradise of sorts. But fear not, it is still a nice place, though falls short of its potential.


 

Om Beach. This is the most popular of all the beaches, and the names comes because of its shape similar to Om. It is a 20 minute walk south of Kudle. This is the last of the beaches connected by motor road.  There are a few resorts and budget hotels to stay here near the beach, but may not be operational through the year.



Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach. These two beaches are further south by 15 minutes from Om Beach, and not very far from each other. Both beaches are much isolated, as they are not connected by motor roads and there is no habitation in the vicinity for a couple of kilometers.. The isolation makes them more appealing and worth a visit.


How to Reach. Gokarna is approximately 500km from Bangalore and 150kms from Panaji. There are direct buses from Bangalore running every night. From Goa, you can take a bus to Kumta, the nearest well connected town and then take a local bus to Gokarna. 'Gokarna Road Station', a train station on the Konkan Railway line, is approximately 6kms from Gokarna town.

Food and Accommodation. There are many beachside shanties that serve foreign backpackers in Om Beach and Kudle. Gokarna town has a few budget accommodations, 'Hotel Gokarna International' the most prominent of them. Namaste Cafe, a budget hotel on Om Beach has many rooms but often turns away Indians. Om Beach also has a few mid-range resorts. You can get South Indian cuisine in the town, but whatever food available along the beaches is prepared with backpacking foreign clientele in mind.

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Posted on: Friday , Aug 22, 2008 At 15:44 PM

Car And Bike Travel Forums


If you are a driving or riding enthusiast and also a travel bug, but often left without many choices on places to go to, or no good set of people to go with, there are a few forums and online groups that can come to your use. These are popular websites that are visited by thousands of people everyday, where people plan for new trips, share trip reports, or get information on biking and driving routes and about the automobiles. Here is a list of popular websites.

bikenomads.com  Bike Nomads has a blog which primarily focuses on technical aspects of bikes. The forum is popular, and people plan outings often. You can also get technical information on bikes, ask questions, and go through a bike wiki. There is a special section on Leh. 

bcmtouring.com  BCM Touring has info on both bike and car trips. They too have a separate section on Ladakh. You can go through a discussion forum, articles, destination guides, vehicle information and lot more stuff on bikes, cars and travel.

60kph.com 60kph is another site focusing on bikes. They appear to be more travel focused and a little less on the vehicles compared to other sites.  Like bikenomads, they too have forums, featured rides and photo galleries.

royal enfield This site is exclusively dedicated to bike trips on Royal Enfield motor cycles. It is a strong community of people who are fans of the legendary motor cycles from Enfield.

 

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Posted on: Monday , Aug 18, 2008 At 13:51 PM

Destinations: Lepakshi


Lepakshi is a small temple village, almost seems out of nowhere. It is not mentioned in glossy tourist brochures, is hard to find on the map and there are no proper places to stay or eat anywhere nearby. And yet, its charming temple from the times of Vijayanagar Empire is surprisingly beautiful and visit worthy.

Overview and Orientation: Lepakshi is no more than a small village with a large temple in its middle, which was built in the sunset years of Vijayanagar Empire. It is close to Bangalore and can be done as a daytrip. It can be visited through the year, though can get a little hot in summer days. There is not much to see in and around Lepakshi other than the temple. If you are there in winter, you can also pay visit to a small village 10km from Lepakshi where a large number of migratory painted storks come for breeding.

Things to See

Lepakshi's temple is the most prominent landmark in the village.



The temple has many oddities that bring out the charm in the structure. Its engineering is not rigid, and it doesn't confirm to strict architectural rules that govern(gopura, mukhyadwara, prangana, inner prangana, garbhagudi,..) our temples. Instead, it seems to have evolved with time by impulsively created structures, and designed on the go. In fact one of the most well known carvings in Lepakshi - a five headed serpent over a linga - is said to have been created when the artists were free and looking to do something to kill time!



There are many such oddities in the temple. Soon after you enter through the main door, you don't see a succession of doors all the way to the sanctum, but a wall that blocks your way! Another door that leads to the interiors is offset to the right. In some sections of the temple, boulders have been left as is, and parts of the temple have remained incomplete.
































To get to the history, the temple was built by Virupanna, treasurer of Vijayanagara King Achutharaya. When Virupanna was accused of excesses of spending for the temple, he is said to have plucked out his eyeballs in anguish and thrown them on the walls of the temple. Tour guides show two faded brownish stains on the walls as the bloodstains of Viroopanna.






The temple clearly shows the architectural style from the days of Vijayanagara. The walls and pillars look very similar to those in Hampi's Vithala Temple. The most well known structure in the temple are that of the linga and the serpent, a mural of Ganesha and the main deity - Viroopaksha. Intricate carvings of a series of designs on the pillars and roof rails were borrowed by designers to paint sari borders, now known as 'Lepakshi Design'. A Kalyana Mantapa, which was intended to reproduce the marriage of Shiva and Parvati in stone, remained incomplete with the death of Viroopanna, and has beautiful carvings of the couple, other gods and ashtadikpalakas along the pillars of the mantapa. The other most striking thing in Lepakshi Temple are the frescoes on the roof of inner courtyard, some of which are still in good shape and are a must see.


A kilometer away from the temple is a large statue of Nandi just outside the village, said to be overlooking Viroopaksha in the temple. It is said that the Lepakshi Temple was built in seven layers of walls of which only three inner walls remain, and in those days, Nandi was inside the temple complex. This is said to be the largest Nandi Statue in the country, which in effect probably means the largest in the world.

How to Reach: Lepakshi is approximately 150km from Bangalore located close to Karnataka border in Andhra Pradesh. Drive on NH7 connecting Bangalore with Hyderabad. Just after Karnataka Border, turn left at Kondikonda Village(note: there are no signs). Lepakshi is a 20 minute drive from here. If you are taking public transport you can take a train to Hindupur or catch one of the frequent buses from Bangalore and change to a local bus in Hindupur to take you to Lepakshi.

Food and Accommodation: There is no accommodation available at Lepakshi. It is best done as a day-trip from Bangalore. There are a few small restaurants in the village, but don't expect much.




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Posted on: Wednesday , Aug 13, 2008 At 20:21 PM

Incredible India Videos


 

We all have seen some or the other India Tourism campaigns on tv, print or on the web with the tagline 'Incredible India'. Ministry of Tourism has produced many great videos showcasing India, most of which have won many awards and have been used for India Tourism campaigns abroad. The number of such videos are many, and not all may have been used for campaigns within the country. The ministry of tourism has compiled their campaign videos and have made available on the web for any one to see. There are some brilliant videos based on various themes such as wildlife, history, landscapes and other things about India that attract the tourists. Don't miss watching them, makes you wonder if our country is so beautiful! 

Also see - Incredible India microsites with brilliant images that promote theme based tourism in the country.

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Posted on: Monday , Aug 11, 2008 At 08:05 AM

Indian Autorickshaw Challenge


Have you ever thought of crossing three states in an autorickshaw, driving it by yourself over a span of more than a week? Most of us would take a rickshaw for a hop to the neighborhood mall only as an obligation, but the queer Indian Autorickshaw Challenge makes participants spend days driving the three wheeler on India's highways.

The Indian Autorickshaw Challenge is a bizarre idea that was conceived first in 2006, and has been an annual even since then. The 2006 rally was from Chennai to Mumbai, and it was from Chennai to Kanyakumari in 2007.



This year's rally will be again between Chennai and Mumbai, going via Bangalore, Hassan, Mangalore, Goa and Ratnagiri. The rally begins on 5th august, and the registrations are already open. Keep in mind, participation comes with a steep entry fee of €1,600.00, but all the money that remains after expenses goes to charity. If you wish you could participate but don't have enough time to plan, watch their website for registrations to open for another rally scheduled in December.

 Also see: 50 years of the autorickshaw

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Posted on: Tuesday , Aug 05, 2008 At 11:19 AM

Melukote


Melukote, a three hour drive west of Bangalore is an unlikely tourist destination. There are no hotels to stay in town. And you don't see garishly expanding hotels and restaurants or new construction coming up everywhere, and neither do you see truck loads of people hogging the place in the weekends. Yet, it is a very pretty, quiet and pleasant place to visit, anytime of the year. 

Overview. Melukote is a town that is still living in history. A large number of the town's population are priests, and you see them wandering in traditional attire. The temples in the town are hundreds of years old and are well maintained and remain intact. It is a quiet, calm and clean place that has a feel good attached to it. Walking along the streets, the houses look old and you get a feel that you are living in a world centuries old. Melukote is an ancient Vaishnavite town where people worship Vishnu, and has its history rooted in the times of Sri Ramanujacharya who made this town his home. The town is known for Vairamudi festival which attracts more than 100,000 people every year. 

Orientation. Melukote is a small town. Once you get there, it is easy to go from place to place walking. It is no more than a kilometer's length, which has all the sightseeing locations within this stretch. How-ever, there are a few more places that are worth a visit but can take 15-20 minutes of driving. Most people prefer to drive from Bangalore or Mysore, as it is only a short distance.

Sight Seeing and Activities

Yoganarasimha temple. Standing on the top of a hill, this is the most prominent and most visible structure of Melukote. The ancient temple dedicated to Vishnu is reached by a series of steps, and once you are there, it offers you 360 degree vista of the plains around it.

Kalyani. This is a large tank at the base of the temple and is surrounded by small temples. The shelter around it is adorned with series of pillars which makes it look interesting. The place has been used for shooting many Kannada movies.


Kalyani as seen from Yoganarasimha Temple



Cheluvarayaswami Temple. This is the other major temple in the town which has a history of almost 1000 years, and the deity was worshipped by Ramanujacharya. Wikipedia says - "According to a legend, this metallic image[of the deity] was lost and was recovered by Sri Ramanujacharya...The temple is richly endowed having been under the special patronage of the Mysore Rajas, and has a most valuable collection of jewels.."


Raya Gopura. Past Cheluvarayaswami temple is an incomplete tower with four rising pillars called Raya Gopura. The pillars are thick and impressive and have carvings all around it. It is said to be built overnight, and with the huge pillars and stones used for construction, seems hard to believe.

Akka Thangi Kola. Just besides the Raya Gopura are ancient twin ponds called Akka Thangi Kola, built by two sisters. Next to these is an old Hanuman temple, which is now abandoned.

Thondanur Kere. 15km from Melukote is the large lake at Thondanur which is so huge that you will not be able to see its other end. The lake is one of the biggest in the region and is usually full with water, makes an excellent sight even in summers. 

How to reach. Melukote is approximately 150km from Bangalore. Take Bangalore-Mysore highway and reach Mandya. Ask for directions to Melukote once you reach Mandya town. You need to turn right in the town before bus-stand at Mandya and drive for another hour to reach Melukote. There are a few buses available from Bangalore, but the frequency is low. If you plan to take a bus, catch a Mysore bound bus to Mandya and change to another bus heading to Melukote.




Food and Accommodation. There is no accommodation available in Melukote. A few basic restaurants in the town serve simple vegetarian food. People of Melukote proudly proclaim of their specialty foods - Poliogre and Sakkare Pongal - both are a must try.

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Posted on: Friday , Aug 01, 2008 At 08:17 AM

Festivals For August 2008


Here is a list of festivals scheduled for August 2008, which can help you to make travel plans for the month.

1. Teej. This is one of the major festivals celebrated all over Rajasthan, and falls during 4th to 5th August. According to Rajasthan Tourism - "Teej is one of the most widely celebrated festivals of Rajasthan. Swings, traditional songs and dancing are the unique features of Teej celebrations in Rajasthan. Women perform traditional folk dance dressed in green colored clothes and sing beautiful Teej songs while enjoying their sway on swings bedecked with flowers." Read more.

2. Nehru Trophy Boat Race. This is the snake boat race - one of the most famous annual events of Kerala, held on second Saturday of August every year in Alappuzha. Their official website says - "The Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, held on the second Saturday of August every year, is the most competitive and popular of the boat races... The major attraction of the boat race is the competition of snake boats chundanvallams or snake boats" Find out more.

3. Independence Day. Celebrated countrywide, Independence Day needs no introductions, and celebrations in Delhi are well known. You can see some videos of last years celebrations here

4. Janmashtami. This year's Krishna Janmashtami is on 24th August. The places to look out for celebrations - Mumbai, where groups of young men participate in pot breaking competitions, and in Mathura and Vrindavan.

 

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Posted on: Monday , Jul 28, 2008 At 11:31 AM

Images: Ganga Aarti


Along the banks of Ganga, devout people perform daily aarti to 'Ma Ganga' in the evenings. The most famous of these is in Har-ki-Pauri ghat of Haridwar. A popular aarti also happens at Varanasi every evening in Dasaswamedh Ghat. A quieter and less known aarti is performed in front of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh. Here are a few images of aarti from all these places.



The aarti at Haridwar is visited by thousands of pilgrims from all over the country.



Priests perform aarti in the darkness after sunset.


Varanasi


















The aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi is an elaborately choreographed ritual.



































Lamps glitter in the hands of the performers.

Rishikesh






















The aarti at Rishikesh is a quieter affair and is visited by very few people, occupants and pupil at Parmarth Niketan Ashram.






















It is performed against a statue of Shiva in the middle of the Ganga.



















The aarti at Rishikesh has a feel-good and is not noisy unlike rest of the aartis. It feels good to be here, and makes you wish to come back again and again.

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Posted on: Friday , Jul 25, 2008 At 16:56 PM

Rafting In South India


Unlike in the North, where the rivers emerging from the Himalayas are perennial and flow full of water through the year, South Indian rivers don't carry much water in them for most of the year except during monsoons. They are also not as large as the rivers in the north. Because of this, adventurers who are looking for white water rafting will be left without too many options in South India. Even the few existing options do not have to many rapids, and one will have to be satisfied with occasional Grade 3 rapids at its best. Here is a list of rafting possibilities in the South.

Kali River, Dandeli. This is by far the most well known and popular, and the only programme that runs in almost all seasons. Rapids are up to Grade 3. The rafting is supported by water released by a dam upstream. See details. They can also arrange for Kayaking in the river.

Barpole River, Coorg. This tour runs only in the monsoons, when there is enough water. It is conducted by the same company that organizes rafting in Dandeli. The rapids are up to Grade 3 and 4. See details.

Sitanadi, near Udupi. The expeditions on Sitanadi happen on and off, and are not entirely reliable. The rafting stretch can be used only in high monsoon seasons. See details.

Besides these, a few companies occasionally organize rafting on Kaveri at Dubare in Coorg, and at Srirangapatna. They are more like fun rides and you don't see too many rapids on the way.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Jul 22, 2008 At 10:52 AM

Car And Bike Travel Forums


If you are a driving or riding enthusiast and also a travel bug, but often left without many choices on places to go to, or no good set of people to go with, there are a few forums and online groups that can come to your use. These are popular websites that are visited by thousands of people everyday, where people plan for new trips, share trip reports, or get information on biking and driving routes and about the automobiles. Here is a list of popular websites.

bikenomads.com  Bike Nomads has a blog which primarily focuses on technical aspects of bikes. The forum is popular, and people plan outings often. You can also get technical information on bikes, ask questions, and go through a bike wiki. There is a special section on Leh.

bcmtouring.com  BCM Touring has info on both bike and car trips. They too have a separate section on Ladakh. You can go through a discussion forum, articles, destination guides, vehicle information and lot more stuff on bikes, cars and travel.

60kph.com 60kph is another site focusing on bikes. They appear to be more travel focused and a little less on the vehicles compared to other sites.  Like bikenomads, they too have forums, featured rides and photo galleries.

royal enfield This site is exclusively dedicated to bike trips on Royal Enfield motor cycles. It is a strong community of people who are fans of the legendary motor cycles from Enfield.

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Posted on: Sunday , Jul 20, 2008 At 07:25 AM

Mapping India


 

Finding accurate maps or precise driving directions in India is never really easy. Most of the time we rely on asking people where to turn next and how far to go. Geographical Survey of India have made detailed maps of the entire country, but the only way to get those maps is to go to their office during business hours and ask for a copy. There are a few mapping services available online, but they are far from complete. Here is an assessment of the options.

Maps of India. They are one of the early birds in online map business. However, their maps are not interactive. You can get various type of maps on their website, such as district maps, road maps, railways, topography, etc. The maps are not interactive. They can be used, to some extent to chart your journey, but you would be left with a wish that you need more detailed maps.

Google Maps. The best of the lot in terms of technology. It is a great tool for charting your journey online with routes and placemarks and sharing them with fellow travellers. Their satellite maps(or Google Earth) are excellent and have very good details. However, Google Maps doesn't have detailed mapping of entire India. They seem to be working on it slowly, but right now, you will have difficulty getting details of anything but big cities. Also, search for driving directions does not work anywhere in India.

Windows Live. They have a decent degree of details of places, better than Google Maps. Driving directions can be queried between cities, however, they don't have details of driving directions within a city. It lags behind Google Maps when it comes to features.

Map My India. Map My India has the most detailed maps of any location in the country. It is also the only website where driving directions query works within the city, though not entirely accurate. They have detailed the geography to the level of each village in the country. No satellite images though. Map My India's maps are also used by Yahoo Maps.

If you are not satisfied with any of these, and need much more details and accuracy about a remote region you are planning to explore, it is time to head to nearest office of Geographical Survey of India.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Jul 16, 2008 At 10:06 AM

Monsoon Travels: Chikmaglur


Every year, the first thing I think of doing when the rains begin to fall is to head to Chikmaglur. Its hills have a magic. When it rains there, it falls without mercy, and doesn't give you any chance to escape. Umbrellas, raincoats, nothing can help you stay dry. The moment you are out, you are at the disposal of rain gods waiting to hammer you.



 











The places to see are plenty. And there is never a minute of boredom. Every time I go, I return to same places, do the same things, and stand in the same strong winds on the top of the hills and giggle at the wind hitting on my face. Visibility is always down to a few meters, sun is never to be seen and you can never tell looking at the sky what time of the day it is.































I am so used to it now, it doesn't require any planning. Till Friday evening, it doesn't even cross my head. And then suddenly a few phone calls are made, willing travellers are always there, and we are off. Early next morning, there we are, in Chikmaglur, checking into Planter's Court as always, for a few hours of snooze. There is no hurry to head out early to see places - it feels the same, be it 6am or 10am - cloudy, windy weather with a constant drizzle or a powerful downpour.

A quick breakfast and coffee from locally grown beans at 10am gets us ready to go. We are off to the hills of Bababudangiri and Mullayyanagiri. It is a pleasure driving on those meandering roads splitting the thick forests, later coffee estates, and eventually grasslands at higher reaches. There is just one car and too many drivers, a fight is inevitable. Finally we come to some kind of timeshare agreement. It is all exactly the same way we had done last year. And we know we will do the same thing in the coming years too.

The romance of Mullayyanagiri is queer. Who would think that stormy, windy, cold weather would be refreshing, lovely and delightful? But it is so. We feel like little children in a playground. We laugh, jump and make merry. We challenge the wind and walk against it, until the wind gets furious and starts stripping away our jackets. Every step is an effort, and fun. More giggles.






















A little further ahead, fun continues to follow us at Bababudangiri. How green can a place be? If you want to know, Bababudangiri is where you should be. It is green to the left, green to the right, at the bottom of the valley and on the top of the hill. No, the sky is spared from getting painted green, but there just thick fog up there and no sky. Wind acts up, makes some drama, pretending to chase the mist away and show us bits and pieces of the valley below and the sholas ahead. But that's only for a few seconds. Before we get to say 'look there...!', a big mass of low lying cloud has occupied the space between us and the vista.





























The evenings are reserved for Hirekolale Lake. In summers, the lake looks like a polished metal surface reflecting the hills surrounding it. Now it is a different story. Water level has gone up to the maximum. Its all brown and muddy, and the wind makes fast moving ripples on its surface. The beauty never dies, be it summer or rains. But the mood is completely different.





















Next morning we brainstorm on what to do. Everyone knows the answer, everyone knows where to go, and everyone has the same preference. But we need something to yap over the breakfast. And without even bothering to check where we are to go, the guy with car keys shifts the car into gear. We are on the way to Charmadi, the thickly forested road that leads towards the sea. No, we don't intend to get to sea which is pretty far, it is the forest that interests us. Wet green hills, winding roads of the hills and deep valleys. Streams running down in a hurry. Every 10 minutes we stop the car, mutely contemplate on the unbelievable beauty of this natural world in the uninterrupted rain, and the mist torn at places. Yes, predictably, it is the same places we had stopped last year, and even the thoughts are the same.























Time runs fast. It never understands when to run fast and when to go slow, and does exactly the opposite of what is desired. Evening comes even before we know that the morning hours are gone. We have to head back. And we obediently do, not knowing when is the next chance to repeat the same things. All it needs is a flash of lightning in someone's mind on a conducive Friday evening. It could well happen next week, or it may be another year's wait.


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Posted on: Thursday , Jul 10, 2008 At 09:19 AM

Books For The India Explorer - Iii


Also see the  first and second posts on books. The third in the series covers five more books that would interest the traveller.

Rain in the Mountains by Ruskin Bond. In this book, Ruskin Bond gets up close and personal about his life in the mountains and his experiences of living in the Himalayas, especially around Landour and Mussoorie. It extends as a short autobiography of his life too, but most part of the book is dedicated to his short works like essays, short stories and poems.

The Great Railway  Bazaar by Paul Theroux.  In this book, Paul Theroux writes about a journey through Asia, starting from London. He narrates his story about starting from London and travelling on trains through Europe to Istambul, and then on to Iran, Pakistan, India, Indochina, Japan and back using Trans-Siberian Railway via Moscow, Germany and Holland. Just the thought of such a journey sounds incredible.

Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken. Nanda Devi affair is a book written with extensive information and travel-stories on the region around Mt.Nanda Devi. Bill Aitken writes about history of expeditions in Nanda Devi, and then goes on to tell about his own experience of walking in the wilderness and mountains around Nanda Devi.

Seven Sacred Rivers by Bill Aitken. In this book, Aitken goes on to explore the seven sacred rivers of India, as the title of the book says. The old Sanskrit slokas defines those seven rivers as Ganga, Yamuna, Godavary, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri; mythical Saraswati of course, no longer traced. The book is full of his experiences and insights of each of these rivers.

Exploring Indian Railways by Bill Aitken. Aitken found trains fascinating, especially steam engines and narrow gauge trains of the olden days. He travels through the country exploring the new and old railway systems, which takes him to some well known places and remote regions across the country. This book is about sharing his fascination to trains.

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Posted on: Monday , Jun 30, 2008 At 09:07 AM

Time To Travel


It is the right time to be Ladakh, and I can't help but leave home. I will be travelling, spending time in Delhi, Lahaul, Changthang, Leh, Zanskar and Nubra, Kashmir and Western Himachal region for next 8 weeks. Of course, 'India Explored' will feature many stories, information and images from these places once I am back.

That doesn't mean there will be no posting on 'India Explored' for next two months. I have compiled a great lot of information and travel dough, which will continue to get published here frequently. Do keep visiting, and leave your feedback.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 26, 2008 At 22:23 PM

Himachal Government Annoys Tourists


In a story that seems to be a pointless drive by authorities of Himachal Government, they have left hundreds of tourists stranded on the road for many hours.

According to the story, the private run buses from Manali to Delhi that the tourists had booked did not have valid permits, and passengers were made to disembark and wait for many hours in the small hours of the morning until alternate buses were provided.

What really irritates me is that the tourists are made to suffer for a mistake that is not their own. Are they expected to check detailed permits and licenses of their buses, trains, or flights when they book their tickets? If the bus company has indeed erred, they could be fined, or the buses could be detained sometime at the end of journey, but not in the middle of the road making many tourists stranded for no fault of theirs. Especially in a state that earns a lot of its income from tourism, it is like shooting yourself on the feet.

The responses from annoyed tourists in the bus too was in similar lines, and one person swore never to revisit Himachal again. I hope the authorities are listening.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Jun 24, 2008 At 15:21 PM

Amitav Ghosh's New Novel - Sea Of Poppies


Well known Indian born writer Amitav Ghosh's recently released  novel - Sea of Poppies has been receiving good reviews. The book is set in early 19th century, and deals with migrant Indian labourers and forced(by British) cultivation of Opium in the Gangetic plain.

Read an extract of the novel here and here(registration required). 

The review at The Hindu says "Ghosh has produced his most incisive engagement with imperialism". The Guardian calls it a "terrific novel". Also see a chat session with Ghosh on Rediff.com.

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Posted on: Monday , Jun 23, 2008 At 14:51 PM

Darjeeling Updates: Blockade Relaxed Temporarily


'India Explored' brings you Darjeeling news as it happens. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha(GJM) has given a 60 hour relaxation for its shutdown of Darjeeling town and the highway Gangtok, and the concerned parties appear to be getting ready for talks. The relaxation is on till Wednesday 6am. The hill station is not safe for tourists yet, and it is better to wait and watch if you had planned to go to Sikkim or Darjeeling.

New Indian Express reports: "The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading an agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state, relaxed its indefinite bandh in the Darjeeling hills for 60 hours beginning this evening even as it decided to send two teams to talk to the West Bengal government as well as the Center."

Below are the earlier updates and details on Darjeeling shutdown by GJM.

1. June 11th. Darjeeling Updates

2. May 21st. Darjeeling Safe?

3. May 3rd.  Darjeeling Travel Warning

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Posted on: Saturday , Jun 21, 2008 At 21:17 PM

Indians Travelling Abroad


It is an old and stale story that Indians with new found wealth have been travelling abroad in considerable numbers. It has been told and retold a thousand times in the last few years. While I myself was seeing large number of people around me leaving for destinations like US(mostly on work), Singapore, Malaysia, Europe, Australia and other popular tourist destinations, I did not know that Indians are travelling to more remote regions too. A few months back, a friend asked me if I know of any trends of Indians travelling to South America, and I had casually said no. But when I tried to recall, it so turned out that I knew more than half a dozen people who had been to South America in the last couple of years.

Scanning travel related news in the last few days, I was amazed at the kind of tourism offices that have been wooing Indians to travel to their countries. Would you have thought about Indian tourists in countries like Korea, Cuba, Tanzania, Nigeria..? Just see news clips from just last week alone, about all these countries trying to have Indians hop on to a plane to their tourist destinations.

1. Korea Tourism makes a comeback [to woo Indian tourists] with new strategies.

2. Cuba is looking at India as a potential market [for tourism] in the Asia region.

3. Pakistan Tourism keen on India.

4. Mexico Tourism board plans to come to India.

5. Egypt to sign tourism agreement with India

6. Nigeria Tourism opens office in India.

7. Land of Hospitality[Kazaksthan] invites Indian Tourists.

8. Tanzania to woo Indian Tourists.

The variety of countries is very very impressive, and doubly so, that all these news stories are no more than a week old.

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Posted on: Friday , Jun 20, 2008 At 11:03 AM

Increasing Airfares


The steep increase in fuel prices have left everyone troubled. Airlines, especially budget airlines have been loosing a lot of money since bulk of their expenses is on fuel. Spice Jet recently announced of big losses ahead. Airlines have been cutting down on less profitable routes flying to smaller destinations. It looks like things can only get worse as long as the fuel prices remain this high or go further. 

That is leaving airlines with no choice but to increase prices. At least temporarily, it looks like days of cheap flights are behind us. A quick search for airfares asserts the same story. 

To make a sample, a Bangalore - Delhi one way flight booked two weeks ahead would have approximately cost Rs.3,500 a year ago, which base price at Rs.1,500 and remaining made up of taxes. For the same criteria, the minimum fare today is near Rs.5,400 with taxes and surcharges making bulk of it.

Another round of fare hike is due from major airlines today, making flying dearer again. Business Standard has a summary of hikes

Almost every bad news has a silver lining(though we have to look hard for one in this case). We should still be happy that our airlines haven't got as ruthless as their counterparts in the US, charging for first checked in luggage and every other possible convenience. Besides, we all had got used to flying away at the slightest possibility in the last few years, which is one of the least environment friendly way to travel(unless you drive a Hummer, it may be the worst). At least we will have some clean air in the days to come.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 19, 2008 At 11:41 AM

Chandigarh Music Festival


Here is a news for music buffs from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and around. Chandigarh Tourism, in association with Society for Tourism and Entertainment Promotion Chandigarh is organizing Chandigarh Music Festival on June 21st and 22nd. The festival will include performance by local and international artists. Here is the schedule. 

21st June 2008, 6:30am at Sukhna Lake: Morning Raga

21st June 2008, 7pm at Plaza, Sec-17: Punjabi Folk dance Performance

22nd June 2008, 5pm at Auditorium, Govt.Museum and Art Gallery, Sec-10: Performance by Nim Sofyan

22nd June 2008, 6pm at Auditorium, Govt.Museum and Art Gallery, Sec-10: First Performance by Chandigarh Choir

22nd June 2008, 7pm at Sukhna Lake: Performance by French rock band Dablackdots

For more information on the festival and the performing artists, see Chandigarh Tourism Website.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Jun 17, 2008 At 20:52 PM

Destinations: Madurai


The name of Madurai immediately brings into mind the huge Meenakshi Temple. The temple is indeed the star attraction of Madurai, with a few more ancient structures surrounding it.

Overview. Madurai is an all season destination, though it can get hot in summer. Winter is the best time to go, as the days will be pleasant and it hardly gets cold in the night.

Madurai Meenakshi Temple

The city of Madurai has a long history and is one of the oldest in southern parts of India. Megasthanese, the well-known Greek traveller is said to have visited the city in 3rd century BC. The city was ruled by Pandyas and Cholas for most part of its history, and Nayak kings from 17th century before the British took over from them. The Meenakshi Temple is said to be first erected by Pandya Kings. Legend has it that Madurai is the place where Shiva wedded Parvati.

Orientation. Madurai is well connected by rest of the country by trains, since it falls on the route connecting Chennai and Kanyakumari. It is located on the plains of Tamil Nadu, close to Western Ghats near Kodaikanal. It is medium sized city that can be comfortably covered from end to end by an auto-rickshaw. Most of the old structures of Madurai are located at the center of the city, around Meenakshi Temple. A few new attractions, like Gandhi museum will require some additional commute.

Sightseeing and activities.

Meenakshi Temple. The Meenakshi temple is a huge complex and can take a complete day to see from end to end. The temple can be roughly divided into three sections - the enclave of Meenakshi shrine, of Sundareswarar shrine and the areas in the eastern part comprising markets and the thousand-pillar hall.

Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Shrine. The shrine can be approached directly from north gate or through a passage on the east gate. When you enter through east gate, you walk past the beautiful environs of the Golden Lotus Pond - Potramarai Kulam. The Meenakshi shrine has a golden gopura, which can be seen from a corner of the Pond. In the inner courtyard, there is a silver statue of Nataraja, and further ahead is the sanctum of the goddess.

Sundareswarar Shrine. This is a separate section to the south of Meenakshi Shrine, enclosed in layers of walls. When you enter from east, you walk to a mantapa hosting Nandi. The pillars of the Mantapa have statues of Shiva in various forms, such as Bhairava and Nataraja. A mural of Hanuman on a pillar to the left of the mantapa is popular with devotees. Entering through two more set of doors takes you to the sanctum where you can see the lingam resting under a four headed serpent.

Meenakshi Temple

Thousand Pillar Hall. This is a large hall filled with pillars, located close to the eastern entrance of the temple. This is now made into a museum that hosts many stone statues and other artifacts. Unfortunately, the museum is poorly maintained and the artifacts are unaesthetically arranged.

Markets. Near the eastern gate is a market selling various pooja materials, trinkets, photos and statues of all possible gods and goddesses. It is a nice place to hang around and see interesting materials for sale. There is also a small flower market that is a separate section, near the entry to Meenakshi shrine.

Meenakshi Temple

Pudu Mantapa and Raya Gopura. Just outside the eastern gate to Sundareswarar shrine is a large mantapa, called Pudu Mantapa. It is worth a visit to the place just to see the scale of the large Mantapa and the size of big pillars inside. Unfortunately, the Mantapa is not properly maintained and the gates are locked, which means you can only take a peek from outside. To the opposite side of Pudu Mantapa is another ancient structure with four tall pillars, called Raya Gopura.

Pudu Mantapa

Nayak Palace. This is a palace built by Nayak Kings, located a kilometer away from the temple. Only a part of the palace has now survived, which includes a large hall and a private auditorium call Natakasalai. The big open hall with its giant pillars and paintings on the roof make the palace worth a visit.

Nayak Palace

Gandhi Museum. The Gandhi Museum contains many artifacts and materials tracing the history of India since the landing of Europeans, in the perspective of freedom struggle. A very visible artifact in the museum is the blood stained dhoti of the Mahatma that he was wearing when assassinated.

Food and Accommodation. There is no dearth of hotels of all classes in Madurai. You can find many conveniently located budget hotels along the streets surrounding the temple. Madurai is a good place to taste traditional South Indian food if it is not your everyday diet.

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Posted on: Monday , Jun 16, 2008 At 20:25 PM

Where Are You Going This Monsoon?


So the monsoons have now reached Delhi, and will be in Himachal in matter of hours. That completes the journey of rain clouds all the way to mighty Himalayas from somewhere down in the Indian Ocean.

Arrival of monsoons means a change of travel itinerary from the summer days. The choices are now not too many. There are two sets of options for the 'India Explorer' who hates to stay home, no matter what season it is.

1. Go to those places not affected by monsoons

2. Take the monsoon head-on, relishing those rain drops

In the many years of my love affair with the rains, I have always taken the second option. But I am trying to be a little different and going to Ladakh this time, where the rain clouds do not reach. Do await for long essays filled with images of Ladakh on 'India Explored' later this year.

To explore further on the monsoon destinations, there are two sets of places in India that are not largely affected by the monsoons.

1. Greater Himalayas and the region north of it. That includes Lahaul and Spiti region in Himachal, Zenskar ranges, Kargil and Leh, Nubra Valley and Changthang region near Tibetan Plateau.

2. In south Tamil Nadu remains an exception from the rest, not affected by rains. Visit the gigantic temples of Chidambaram, Madurai and Kanchi. Other places worth going to are Rameshwaram and Pondicherry.

If you are the kind of person who loves the 'tip tip' of the raindrops, Sahyadris is where you should be. Rains bring out an inexpressible magic in these parts. Trek to the forts of Shivaji in Maharashtra, visit the beaches of Goa that are now empty yet pleasant, see the jungles in Karnataka, or take a traditional Ayurvedic Massage in Kerala. Your options are unlimited. If lower temperatures and rain don't deter you, also try the lower Himalayas, like Shimla, Dharmashala or picturesque towns in Kumaon region like Nainital and Ranikhet.

So, do say now, where is it you want to go in the next 3 months?

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Posted on: Saturday , Jun 14, 2008 At 17:35 PM

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra - 2008


This year's Kailash Mansarovar Yatra has now begun, and the first batch of pilgrims have left for the holy lake.

The Yatra was delayed by two weeks this year against the initial planned date of May 29th, as Chinese authorities expressed their inability to accept pilgrims, owing to the event of Olympic Torch Relay to be held in Tibet from June 19th to 21st. The government organized yatra will leave in 18 batches between now and 27th August, however registration for the pilgrimage have closed as early as March(see releases from ministry of external affairs). But for those who intend to do the Yatra this year, many private operators based in India and Nepal conduct group tours to the holy lake, which can be booked even now.

Besides being known as one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimages, Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is an arduous 3 weeks journey that takes you through breathtaking landscapes of Tibet and Indian Himalayas.

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Posted on: Saturday , Jun 14, 2008 At 17:09 PM

Amarnath Yatra - 2008


The famed pilgrimage to the cave at Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir, where a ice shivling appears in a cave, will begin on June 18th this year. Registrations are open for some time now, and more than 2 lakh people have already registered. The Yatra will be on for 2 months, after which the route will be closed.

Last few years have seen some controversies, with the ice lingam having melted at the time of commencement of the yatra. A poor attempt to create a lingam was also a matter of contention. This year however, the lingam is still present. The temple authorities have installed protective doors to the cave, which is expected to keep the interiors cool and help the lingam remain longer without melting.

Amarnath Yatra route takes you through mountainous territory in J&K, and it is a difficult but rewarding trek with scenic views. If you want to perform the trek, it is necessary to register via J&K Tourism Offices or at Jammu & Kashmir Bank Branches. See registration process and other details related to the pilgrimage at amarnathyatra.org. If you are keen on the pilgrimage but unwilling to make the trek, there are helicopter facilities available.

The Yatra is not entirely free from controversies this year too. Environmentalists have raised concerns of the impact of large human presence during the season, while the authorities say that the pilgrimage doesn't harm the ecology.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Jun 11, 2008 At 18:08 PM

Darjeeling Updates


The latest news from Darjeeling is not good, again. And it has been more troublesome to tourists than the previous incidences. Many tourists have been stuck in the hill-station, unable to leave, as Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has blocked the roads connecting Darjeeling with the plains. The protesters have blocked the road connecting Siliguri and Gangtok too, cutting off Sikkim from the mainland.

Express India Reports: Hundreds of tourists were trying to head out of Darjeeling in West Bengal as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland, enforced an indefinite bandh, shutting down the hills and leaving an estimated 10,000 plus stranded in the plains. Sikkim was also cut off with GJM supporters blocking the arterial National Highway 31A.

'India Explored' has been tracking unrest in Darjeeling for a few months. See past updates.

1.May 21 - Darjeeling safe?
2.May 3  - Darjeeling Warning

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Posted on: Sunday , Jun 08, 2008 At 13:55 PM

Progress Of The Monsoons


Monsoon clouds have been moving north  in a good pace. It has been raining in Kerala for more than a week now. Bangalore has been seeing clouds passing through its skies, though the monsoon rains haven't come down with full force there. Mumbai is lashed with monsoon rains and life in the city has been disrupted to some extent. According to latest updates from Indian Meteorological Department(IMD), monsoon clouds have reached Central Maharashtra in peninsular India, and have covered the entire North-Eastern region. The clouds have reached Mumbai three days earlier than normal.

A Rainy Day near Bangalore

Track the progress of monsoon, updated every day at IMD Website.

More monsoon news:
1. Monsoon trouble in Goa
2. Monsoon hits Maharashtra ahead of time
3. Ahmedabad: Monsoons may be here by Tuesday
4. Kolkata, June 7: Monsoon in 48 hours

While everyone is preparing to ensure smooth day-to-day activities during the monsoons, Kerala, as always has been tourist savvy. They are hoping to see more tourists in the monsoons.

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Posted on: Sunday , Jun 08, 2008 At 13:24 PM

Destinations: Rishikesh And Haridwar


On the bank of Ganga, Rishikesh and Haridwar are places visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. Haridwar is known as the place where Ganga emerges from the mountains and flows wide and mellow in the plains of North India. While Haridwar is a bigger city, Rishikesh has remained a charming small town near the mountains and amidst greenery.

Overview. Haridwar can get really hot in summers, while Rishikesh, only slightly better. Winter and monsoons are a good time to here, but pilgrims flock to these places through the year. The Ganga flows narrow and small in Rishikesh, but the riverbed is wide in Haridwar. A dam upstream of Haridwar stores most of the water from the river and releases it through a network of channels. The famous aarti at Har-ki-Pauri is conducted on the bank of one of these channels.

Orientation. Both Haridwar and Rishikesh are less then an hour away from Dehradun, and are separated from each other by a half hour drive. It takes nearly eight hours to reach to either of the towns from Delhi. Both towns are the banks of the Ganges. While Rishikesh is at the edge of a hilly and forest terrain, Haridwar is on the plains, at the end of Shivalik ranges. The towns are separated by thick forest that is part of Rajaji National Park.

Frequent buses connect Delhi with Rishikesh and Haridwar. You can commute between the two towns by buses, or more frequent shared rickshaws called Vikram.

Things to do and places to see

Aarti in Haridwar. The aarti at the ghats of Har-ki-Pauri is the most famous activity in Haridwar, attended by thousands of pilgrims every evening. The location is sacred, and is said to be the place where Lord Vishnu meditated.

Ganga Aarti Haridwar


Mansa Devi Temple.
Located on a hill just outside the town, this is another place popular with pilgrims. There is a cable car to take you up the temple.

Lakshman Jhula. Laxman Jhula is a small village just outside Rishikesh, named after a hanging bridge of the same name. You can get excellent views of the Ganga emerging from the mountains when you are standing on the bridge.

Laxman Jhula

Ganga upstream Rishikesh

Ashrams. There are several Ashrams in Rishikesh where you can learn Yoga and meditation. Shivananda Ashram, Swargashram, Gita Bhavan and Parmarth Niketan are the most well known. Rishikesh is also known as the Yoga Capital of the World, as people come here from every corner of the world to learn Yoga.

Trayambakeshwar Temple. Just next to Laxman Jhula Bridge is this 13-story temple, a well-known landmark in Rishikesh.

White Water Rafting. Rafting on the Ganga is one of the most popular activities in Rishikesh. Many agencies conduct half-day to multi-day rafting sessions that can be booked in Rishikesh on arrival. The multi-day sessions often involve staying in the tents along the Ganga, and would be memorable experience.

Tents on the bank of Ganga

Nilkanth Mahadev Temple. This is a temple in the hills adjoining Rishikesh. This can be a full day's walk from Rishikesh, and is a popular destination for pilgrims.

Ganga Aarti. Aarti happens in the premise of Parmarth Niketan Ashram every evening. It begins at 6pm in front of the Ashram, on the bank of Ganga, and lasts for an hour. This is a quieter affair compared to aarti in Haridwar.

Ganga Aarti Haridwar

Rajaji National Park. You can visit Chilla village between Rishikesh and Haridwar, which has the office of Rajaji National Park. You can go on jungle safaris from Chilla. The National Park hosts tigers and elephants, among many many more mammals and birs.

Accommodation.

There is plenty of accommodation available in both the towns. Most of the times in the year, except on special days and festivals, it should not be difficult to walk in and find a place to stay.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 05, 2008 At 11:24 AM

Srinagar Airport Will Go International Next Month


Sringar Airport is currently being upgraded, and will be open for international flights from July.

This was informed in a press conference by Sitaram Yechuri, who is heading a 14-member parliamentary delegation currently on a week-long visit to the State. The news report says:

“Airports Authority of India officials have told me that the Srinagar airport, which is being upgraded to international status, will be ready by the end of July,” he said adding “after that the way for international flights coming to Kashmir will be open.”

The delegation headed by Yechuri is in Kashmir to work on development of tourism in the state. See more about it on Greater Kashmir.

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 05, 2008 At 10:51 AM

Walks In India Series On India Travel Blog


India Travel Blog, another blog where I write more personal travel related content, is featuring a series of articles for traveller on Walks in India.

Unlike in many countries, walks and walking tours are not common or popular in India. This series intends to promote the idea of walks that can enable travellers to see and experience the places better by getting closer. The series explores short and easy walking trails across India, with which a traveller can witness history, culture, life, landscapes and heritage of the country.

The series will have fifteen walking trails, published through the month of June, containing detailed description of the walk along with maps, difficulty level, best season to do the walk, time of the day and distance of the trail.

The places include, but are not limited to metros and cities, and are chosen from every corner of the country. The walk intends to cover a lot of variety, such as walking the sand dunes in a village in Rajasthan, experiencing devotion on the bank of Ganga, seeing history come alive in the remains of ancient structures and short walks in snow amidst views of the snowy peaks.

Walks are a great way to see places, get up close to people and interact, observe carefully and see things better. They help the traveller take time and feel involved with the scenery instead of buzzing past and seeing things as a window-view. This series will assist you to find some great walks from all along the country and feel its pulse.

Walks published so far.

1. Introduction
2. Old Delhi
3. Rishikesh
4. Varanasi

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Posted on: Thursday , Jun 05, 2008 At 10:44 AM

Fuel Prices, Travel, Environment, Etc


It may be a co-incidence that the government decided to increase fuel prices to fall in line with World Environment Day. But it gives a message - fuel is most likely getting scarcer, and we need to do all that we can to cut down consumption.


Rising prices will eventually make people look at alternative means for commuting and travelling. The pricier the fuel tends to get, it is only natural that people with less disposable income will again fall back on public transport and other economic modes of travel(walking, cycling,..). But a better way to go with it is to pro-actively embrace low fuel consumption strategy.

The benefits of adopting to less consumption is many, but it needs to happen in a larger scale. The foremost important consequence to reduced fuel consumption is cleaner environment in the cities and improved health. Reduced consumption will also help keep the prices from shooting further north, which in turn prevents the prices of other everyday necessities from increasing.

More often than not, a little discipline and extra effort not to burn too much fuel, and using friendlier alternatives can make considerable differences. It could be simple things like leaving your car at home when going to neighbourhood grocery store, or car pooling or using public transport to get to work. These changes can also help in getting rid of sedentary lifestyle and make improvements in health and fitness. It is not really necessary to give tips about how to save oil, as most of us already know very well about it. But what is needed is some will to go ahead. Let's join together to reduce fuel consumption and move to healthier means of commuting, which will help build a better world in the long run.

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Posted on: Saturday , May 31, 2008 At 17:36 PM

Festivals For June


Here is a list of festivals scheduled for June 2008, which can help you to make travel plans for the month.

1. Ganga Dussehra. Ganga Dussehra is celebrated in many places across the Ganga, like Rishikes, Haridwar, Prayag and Varanasi. The festival begins on 13th June and goes on for 10 days. Read more about the festival.

2. Champakkulam Boat Race. This is a traditional snake boat race similar to more famous Nehru Boat Race. This will be held in Champakkulam River in Alappuaha. See more details on Kerala Tourism Website. Scheduled on 19th June.

3. Saga Dawa. Saga Dawa is a Buddhist festival to celebrate birth, enlightenment and nirvana of Buddha. It is celebrated in areas where Tibetan Buddhist population is prominent, such as Dharmashala and Gangtok. Held on June 3rd.

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Posted on: Saturday , May 31, 2008 At 14:31 PM

Monsoon Destination: Dandeli


Monsoons are just about to begin. It is time to look for some romance in the pouring rains.

Dandeli, in fact, is a round the year destination. It doesn't get very cold in winter or hot in summers, and you have something to do in every season.

Overview. Dandeli is in the heart of Western Ghats amidst thick jungles and Kali River criss-crossing the region. It rains well in the monsoon and the hills look fresh and green. Winters see mild temperatures but still pleasant, and you can see some great sunsets. Being faraway from the cities, it is not yet part of any main tourist circuit, and has remained a quiet place so far.

Kali River


Orientation. Dandeli is away from big cities, and that serves to keep it isolated. But its vicinity to Goa attracts some tourists coming from there. The places to see in Dandli are far apart from each other, which means you will require a vehicle of your own. Public transport between places is not frequent, and to some places, does not exist. All around Dandeli exist dams and hydro-electric powerstaions built by Karnataka Power Corporation. While the dams would be beautiful places to see, they are not accessible to public and require prior permission which is not easy to get.

Sightseeing and activities.


Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. A few kilometers away from Dandeli, this place is home to elusive Black Panther, of which sightings are few and recorded images very scarce. A sighting of this would be your lucky day. The sanctuary has tigers too, but are not easy to find. Other animals include Bisons, elephants, wild dogs, Malabar Giant Squirrels and Chitals. There are no organized safaris in the park; you will need to hire your own jeeps. Shiroli Peak inside the sanctuary is a great place to see sunsets. The peak is the highest point in the region and has great vistas of the hills.

Anshi National Park. The National Park on the road to Karwar has thick jungle and is not explored much. There aren't many roads or any kind of safaris that you might experience in the National Parks in the plains. Forest department at Dandeli provides a few tented accommodation in the park, near Anshi village. It is worth staying there - the place has an authentic jungle experience and feels far away from rest of the world.

Anshi National Park

Whitewater refting. KaliO2 conducts whitewater rafting trips near Dandli, in a place called Ganesh Gudi. You can book through Jungle Lodges. The rafting happens in clearn waters of Kali that runs through thick forest. Rapids are upto grade 3 and largely safe. KaliO2 also runs other adventure activities for private groups, such as Kayaking and trekking.

Coracle Ride

Cintheri Rocks. A small waterfall and a river running in a rocky valley, Cintheri Rocks is a picturesque place an hour's drive from Dandeli.

Cintheri Rocks

Sykes Point. Sykes point is a deep valley where the Kali flows, with cliffs that offer panoramic views of the river and the hills. A great place to see sunsets, but since there is a hydroelectric power station in the valley, this place is off-limites to public and requires prior permission.

Birdwatching.
A keen observer can see many exotic species in and around Dandeli. A few waterbodies around the town serve as great places for birdwatching. You can spot here almost all the bird species of the western ghats. Some of the species include Scarlett Minivets, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Malabar Trogon, Jungle Babblers, Leafbirds, etc. The star attraction of Dandeli are Hornbills.

Jungle Babblers

Ulavi Channabasappa Temple. A famous temple for those inclined. It is more known for the fair that is an annual event, and draws large crowds from all over North Karnataka.

Accommodation.


Options for accommodation in Dandeli are not many. State Lodge in town, opposite to bus stand is the only budget option. Jungle Lodges is the most popular choice of accommodation, as they can facilitate with all activities and sightseeings. Other places to stay includes Bison Resort in Ganesh Gudi and Jungle Camp Resort. Forest Department provies tented accommodations in Kulagi Village and Anshi, which have to be booked through their office in Dandeli.


Getting There. Nearest well connected towns are Hubli(approx 75km) and Karwar(approx 120km). You can reach Karwar on Konkal Railway from Mumbai, Goa or Mangalore. There are many trains to Hubli from all over the country. Air Deccan flies to Hubli from Bangalore. Frequent buses connect Hubli and Dandeli, but Karwar to Dandeli are only a few buses in a day. Karnatate State Transport runs daily overnight buses from Bangalore. If you are arriving from Bangalore, nearest train station is Alnavar, an hour's drive from Dandeli.

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Posted on: Thursday , May 29, 2008 At 22:40 PM

Rural Tourism Initiative: More Sites Added


Rural Tourism is an initiative from the Tourism Department to promote tourism in India's hinterland and help travellers experience out-of-the-way destinations. With continued growth of tourism in India, and with more and more domestic and international travellers looking for authentic experience and new places to travel to, rural tourism can help cater to those tourists looking for places off the normal tourist destinations. The initiative also serves to improve local economies from tourist inflow.


The department of tourism had kicked off the initiative last year with places identified all over the country, and had many earlier unknown destinations that are no more than small villages. These places were made ready for tourists with accommodations, and compilation of places to see and experience. The initiative is a part of Incredible India campaign. Rural Tourim Initiative is now given further push by adding 14 more destinations to the existing list.

For more information on the initiative, see Rural Tourism website by Ministry of Tourism.

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Posted on: Wednesday , May 28, 2008 At 09:42 AM

Monsoon - Almost Here


The monsoons will hit Kerala in next 2-3 days, inline with earlier prediction from Met Department. In the meanwhile, many parts of the country are already witnessing pre-monsoon rains. It has been raining every evening in Bangalore, and rains in Delhi have brought down the temperatures considerably.

If you have any serious travel plans in the next few months, it is always useful to check latest weather information. IMD provides details of progress of the monsoons, updated everyday on their website. Or you can see the latest satellite imagery and look for clouds in and around your region.

In the meantime, if you are looking for places worth travelling to in the monsoons, a few options to think of.

1. Ladakh. This high mountain desert is not affected by the monsoon clouds. And June-September is the ideal time to be there.
2. Tamil Nadu. The eastern parts of this southern state are not affected by monsoon, as the clouds are blocked by the western ghats.
3. The Sahyadris, from Maharashtra to Karnataka to Kerala. It rains and rains in these green hills. The misty weather has a romance in it, not to be missed.

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Posted on: Friday , May 23, 2008 At 10:22 AM

Pico Iyer's Ladakh


When Pico Iyer writes, it is time to sit and read. His capability of observation, ability to write and make the readers feel his own experience are difficult to emulate; he is not one of the most well known travel writers of today for nothing. In his recent article on NYTimes T Magazine, he writes about Ladakh of current day, it's landscapes, tourism and its transformation in the new world. Don't miss. Here is an excerpt on Lamayuru, sufficient to motivate you to read the rest.


Although I had thought myself hard to impress after traveling for decades across the Himalayas, I heard a gasp escape my jaded lips, and realized I was glimpsing a location even more unlikely than that of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, and a temple even older than that wonder of the world. Often, jouncing along these pebbled roads, passing a rundown ‘‘War Hero Filling Station’’ or a sign saying, ‘‘Better to Be Mr. Late Than Late Mr.,’’ my friendly, weathered driver communicating with nothing but smiles and some sweet Ladakhi folk songs wheezing out of a scratchy cassette, I felt that here was as grand a pleasure as the traveler’s life affords.

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Posted on: Thursday , May 22, 2008 At 10:31 AM

Flying In And Out Of Bangalore


If you will be flying into Bangalore or out of it from tomorrow, make sure you are accounting for some extra time to get into the city or to get to the new airport. 

The new Bangalore International Airport will begin operations from Saturday, and existing HAL Airport will be closed for passenger traffic. It would take anything like two hours to get to the city from airport, and may be more if you are heading to  the southern parts. Connectivity from airport to city center is nothing great, and the government has not been able to commission many pipelined projects like an express way and direct train facility to the new airport.

So make sure add at least an hour to your travel time when you are taking the flight to Bangalore.

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Posted on: Wednesday , May 21, 2008 At 10:54 AM

Darjeeling Updates: Safe Now?


I had earlier updated about unrest in Darjeeling due to demand for separate Gorkhaland state, which had eventually lead the hill affairs minister of West Bengal to issue a statement requesting tourists to stay away.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Asok Bhattacharya, the hill affairs minister, thinks it is now safe and tourists can return to the hill station. 

It is hard to accept his words though. The problem is still not resolved and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, which is heading the moment, is meeting the chief minister tomorrow. It would be ideal to wait and watch for a few more days.

How-ever, even if things remain calm, weather gods are now playing spoilsport. Monsoon season is nearing in Darjeeling, sending signs of the end of tourist season. The Daily Telegraph report says:

A storm struck Darjeeling and Siliguri almost simultaneously this morning, uprooting trees and cutting off power supply in the hills and damaging houses and blocking roads in the plains.

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Posted on: Sunday , May 18, 2008 At 13:02 PM

Destinations: Cherrapunjee


It is the right time to be in Cherrapunjee. It pours heavily in monsoons, but some rains would have started in April and it will be pleasant this time. It can drizzle once in a while and can be intermittently foggy and sunny.

Overview. Needless to say, Cherrapunjee was known as the place where it rains the most on earth. How-ever, most of us don't know that Cherrapunjee does not bear the crown anymore, which is now lost to Mawsynram, 2 hours away from Cherrapunjee. 'Cherra' is how  it is usually called by people from surrounding regions. But in pre-British days, Cherrapunjee's original name was Sohra. The government of Meghalaya has now re-instated this name, and Cherrapunjee is now officially Sohra.

plateau of Cherrapunjee

Orientation. Cherrapunjee is an hour's drive from Shillong. It is a high plateau with pleasant weather and can be cloudy most of the year. It rains heavily in the monsoon season, but intermittent rains keep falling much before. The plateua has some interesting places to see, such as waterfalls, limestone caves and green vistas all around. To the other end of the plateau is a deep fall and below it is Bangladesh border. Dawki, a checkpost on the border after Cherra is a place of crossing to Bangaladesh by road.

Places to see in Cherra are spread over a large area. There is no public transport to many of these places, and it would be necessary to hire a taxi to go from place to place. Alternatively, you can take day-trips conducted by Meghalaya Tourism that depart daily from Shillong. If you are staying for a long time, you can do many long pleasant walks.

Sightseeing and Activities

Nohkalikai Falls. This is one of the tallest waterfalls in India, second only to Jog Falls. A small narrow channel of water falls into a deep gorge, which can be witnessed from an opposing cliff or you can walk down the gorge. The waterfall is said to be named after a woman who fell from the cliff.

Nohkalikai Falls

Seven Sister Waterfall. This is a series of waterfalls that fall off a cliff overlooking Bangladesh. With no habitation or population anywhere in the view of the fall except a small tourist facility near the cliff, this place feels like no man's land. The fall is named so because on a good season you can see at least sevel different falls side-by-side falling off the cliff.

Seven Sister Falls

Mawsmai cave. This is a cave 250m long, which is part of the tourist itinerary. The cave is wide enough for a person to walk comfortably, and a local association has installed lighting for tourists. Interestingly, cave has two openings and you can walk out from the other end. There are a few more caves in this region, and adventure companies in Shillong can assist you in exploring them.

Mawsmai cave

Root bridges. A species of Rubber Tree that grow in the region have a peculiar character of spreading their roots flatly across streams. They grow near streams, and their roots tend congregate together and stretch across the stream, forming a natural bridge few feet wide. The locals have been using these bridges for many years. The region around Shillong have a few more odd attraction in terms of flora, such as insect eating Pitcher Plants.

Ramakrishna Mission. A Ramakrishan mission is established on the plateau of Cherrapunjee, which hosts a museum consisting of ancient artefacts that were used in everyday life of the tribals.

Mawkdok Valley. This is a long and green valley, and a beautiful stop-over on the way from Shillong to Cherrapunjee.

Mawkdok Valley

Eco-Park. An eco park has been established by the Meghalaya government in the plateau, which hosts a few flowers and an orchidarium.

Accommodation.

Cherrapunjee town is a small settlement and you may not find many tourist amenities, so most people tend to stay in Shillong. Cherrapunjee Holiday Resorts is the only good option for staying in the plateau.

How to reach.

Cherrapunjee is an hour's drive from Shillong. You can hire a taxi for the trip. You can also choose to take daily sighseeing trips conducted by Meghalaya Tourism. They depart daily but is subject to availability of sufficient tourists for the day, so check ahead.

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Posted on: Saturday , May 17, 2008 At 22:49 PM

Manali - Leh Road Re-Opens


After two weeks since Srinagar - Leh road has re-opened, now the snow has been cleared from Rohtan Pass and Manali - Leh road is now open for traffic.


There were some news reports of the road being open earlier, but the status remained 'Closed' in official website of Ladakh. It is likely that the road was opened only for light vehicles before.

Rohtang Pass

With the opening of this road, access to Leh has eased and the tourist season to Ladakah has kicked off. Some first person reports have also mentioned that Nubra Valley is also open for traffic now. If Leh is in your radar, it is time to pack your bags.

See Ladakh information, travelogues and images on oktatabyebye.com.

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Posted on: Saturday , May 17, 2008 At 01:17 AM

Entry Formalities To Arunachal Relaxed


This is a news for foreign nationals visiting Arunchal. I hope there are some non-Indian readers for India Explored, who might find this news useful.


So far foreign nationals had to travel in a group of at least 4 people in Arunachal, and permits were issues only for 10 days. Now the government has amended the rules to allow 2 persons at a time, and the duration is extended to 30 days. A few new areas also have been opened up for tourism.

The news does not seems to have got the attention of national newspapers, only statesman carried the story. Unfortunately there is no permalink to it, but here is an extract.

The Union home ministry has delegated power to the Arunachal Pradesh government to issue such permits to foreign tourists in a group of only two or more for up to 30 days, an official release said here. Earlier foreign tourists were allowed to visit certain areas in the state in a group of no less than four for only 10 days

You can also see more details on Arunachal Diary, a blog maintained by a local.

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Posted on: Thursday , May 15, 2008 At 13:35 PM

Monsoon Update + Flooded Port Blair Airport Reopen


Rains are appearing in the horizon and summer may soon be ending. IMD reports that monsoons will be early by a few days this year, and may hit Kerala by 29th May. It might take another month for the clouds to travel up north though. The North East usually gets the rains early, almost at the same time as it hits Kerala coast.


That means summer travel season might end in the South and North-East by first week of June, and in the north at places like Shimla by the end of June. A first person report from a friend who was in North-East says it is already raining on and off in places.

In the meanwhile, Andamans's has seen some heavy rains in this week. Port Blair's airport was closed for three days due to flooding, and has re-opened now.

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Posted on: Wednesday , May 14, 2008 At 14:59 PM

Jaipur Old City


After a good long peaceful period with no untoward incidences anywhere in the country, the forces working against the integrity of the country have struck again. Jaiput has been rocked, and 60 people have been killed.


Old City, Jaipur

This time the target has been a peaceful tier-2 city and a major tourist destination. It was only a few months back that I had wandered in the same lanes of the city with no fear or anxiety of anykind. And were I to go there tomorrow, I am sure I would go again with same mood and not heeding to forces that try to fill insecurity in our minds.

I appeal all those travelling to Rajasthan not to heed to this act of terrorism and not allow them to penetrate into your minds. A call to a friend in Jaipur today confirmed that everything is peaceful, though there is a short curfew introduced as a precautionary measure.

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Posted on: Sunday , May 11, 2008 At 19:37 PM

Travel Warning: Wildlife Guides In Kanha Are On Strike


Times of India reports that wildlife guides who accompany tourists in jeep safaris are on strike, demanding increase in compensation. 

Tourists can be hit because of the strike. The guides are asking for increase in their fees from current Rs.150 to Rs.300. The guide fee will be borne by tourists, which means, if the demand is approved, Kanha is going to get dearer.

The news report doesn't say how the strike has affected the tourists. But in most national parks, tourists are not allowed into the forest without guides. That probably means access to Kanha would be virtually closed, except for safari on forest department buses, if they have such a facility.

Also see - More about Kanha on oktatabyebye:

1. Travelogue from Ananda Banerjee
2. Travelogue from Achal
3. Destination details by Vishwas
4. Destination details by shishir70
5. Kanha Images

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Posted on: Wednesday , May 07, 2008 At 15:54 PM

Summer Destinations: Thekkady


Going to Thekkady is killing two birds in one stone. First, it is at a good altitude and gives respite from summer heat. Next, it is an excellent place to be in nature, and if you are lucky, you can spot some wildlife.

Overview. Thekkady has some naming confusions, so let's set it right first. The names Thekkady, Kumily and Periyar tend to get mixed up very often and get used interchangeably. Periyar is the name of tiger reserve encompassing a large area of forest and a reservoir. Thekkady is a small place in the forest where tourist facilities for Periyar Tiger Reserve are located. Kumily is the town, which serves as the road head to Thekkady. Periyar National Park comes under 'Project Tiger' and is the most visited National Park in the south.

Orientation. Thekkady is on the bank of the reservoir that is in the center of the park, and is 4km from Kumily. You can drive down, take a walk, or hire a rickshaw from Kumily to get to Thekkady. For any activities in Thekkady such as walks or boating, you need to arrive here first and buy your passes.

Sightseeing and Activities

Boat ride. Boat ride is the most popular activity in the park. You can take public boats that start from Thekkady, which take you on the large reservoir in the forest. The ride lasts for an hour, and is a good way to see the beauty of the park. If you are lucky, you might spot elephants, bison, chital and even the tiger. There are two types of boats - large boats managed by Kerala Tourism and smaller ones from the forest department. While both of them don't really give a you a very personalized experience, forest department boats are comparatively less crowded.

Private Boats. If you are willing to spend some extra money for the experience, you can hire your own boats and go into the lake. An expensive option though.

Jungle Walks. Forest department organizes jungle walks. You will be escorted by local tribals who are now part of community based eco-tourim programme. These tribals are experts in tracking wildlife and might help you see animals that you would have missed without their tracking abilities.

Walk to Thekkady. It is a pleasant walk in the forest from Kumily to Thekkady. Resist the tempation to drive, and take a slow walk instead. You will get glimpses of the lake on the way, and have plenty of chances of seeing wildlife. When I walked this stretch, I got to see Sambar deer, wildboars and chitals and few indigenous birds like White Bellied Treepie.

Spice Tours. This is an activity that probably started to amuse foreigners who come in good numbers to Thekkady. Any auto-rickshaw driver can plan a quick spice tour for you. If you are looking for an elaborate one which sometimes involves a lunch, talk to a travel agent or to your hotel manager. The tours usually involve walk to a spice plantation with an escort cum guide.

Stay in the forest. There are two hotels inside the forest that are run by Kerala's state toursim department. One of them, an expensive option, is the lake palace which happens to be located at the bank of the lake.

For more information on activities in the reserve including boating, treks and nature walks, see the reserve's website.

Accommodation. Kumily is where most people stay. It is small town but full of hotels at every budget costing as little as few hundreds to more than 10,000. There are a couple of hotels inside the reserve that are run by Kerala Tourism Department.

How to reach. Nearest cities with good train connectivity are Madurai and Ernakulam. Both these cities have airports. Buses connect Kumily with Madurai and Ernakulam.

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Posted on: Tuesday , May 06, 2008 At 14:19 PM

Yhai Himalayan Expeditions


If you have been thinking of Himalayas this year, but too lazy to plan and organize a trek, YHAI is the way to go. Youth Hostels Association of India conducts regular trekking expeditions every summer in Himachal Pradesh and a few other regions in the Himalayas. Going with YHAI means almost everything is organized for you at rates affordable for students. The Sar Pass Trek starting near Kullu is especially well known. This trek has already begun this summer, and batches leave from Kasol village everyday till the end of May.


But the bookings are running out fast, so if you are planning it, you should probably hurry and book. The online booking status shows only a few availabilities for the last week of May. But if there are no vacancies when you see it, don't worry. Here is the complete list of YHAI's activities for this summer that you can explore, and may be join.

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Posted on: Saturday , May 03, 2008 At 20:45 PM

Darjeeling Travel Warning


If you are planning to escape the summer in the cooler climes of Darjeeling, reconsider your plans.

Darjeeling is tense due to agitations from Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, demanding for a separate Gorkhaland State. West Bengal's Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Minister Ashok Bhattacharya has advised tourists to stay away from Darjeeling. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu also has echoed the same opinion. How-ever in the meanwhile, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has assured that tourists will not be harmed. But still businesses may not run as usual and your trip to Darjeeling may not be as smooth as it should be. The telegraph reports of inconveniences to tourists last week, even though no one was harmed.

An article on Newkerala gives some background to the problem.

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Posted on: Friday , May 02, 2008 At 21:37 PM

Traveller Iq Challenge Game


I stumbled on this facebook application when I was browsing through some travel related stuff today. The game is about spotting a city, well known place, monument or such things on a map. The closer to the actual place you click on a map, more points you score. It starts at an easy level with questions like 'where is London located?' to more difficult levels that ask you to point out some obscure locations in middle-east. I could not complete the challenge, but do post a comment here and say how did you fare.


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Posted on: Thursday , May 01, 2008 At 00:22 AM

Books For The India Explorer - Ii


See the previous post on books in the first part.

Listed here are five more books that might interest the India Explorer.

Elephas Maximus by Stephen Alter. 'Elephas Maximus' is the scientific name of the Asian Elephant. That said, title says everything about what the book is. What Alter churns out is not just a boring documentary on an animal. He mixes scientific facts, history of man and elephant in India, current state of elepahants in the wild and his own journeys from Corbett National Park in the north to Thekkady in South in search of elephants. Combine with Alter's excellent narration skills, and what you have in your hands in a winner.

City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. A story of suffering, bravery and love in the middle of startling poverty in the slums of Kolkata. Much that we don't know on the living conditions in Kolkata three decades ago is well documented in the form of a story of a few individuals who were in the middle of it.

Roar of the Ganges by Mark Barian. This one is for the spiritually inclined. A book written by computer professional from the west on his search for peace in India, and eventually becoming a sannyasi. The book is the story of his quest. A good read, the book also gives a brief idea of becoming sannyasi and gently brushes up on spirituality without boring the reader.

Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
by Sogyal Rinpoche. A book written by Tibetan Lama that contains the original teachings of Padmasambhava who took Buddhism to Tibet from India more than a millennium ago. A book definitely not for the casual reader, but only for very spiritually inclined.

Slowly Down the Ganges by Eric Newby. Eric Newby and his wife take up the adventure of sailing down the Ganges from Haridwar to Kolkata. From the moment they land in Haridwar, they realize that this is no easy journey. A journey involving lot of pain and some pleasant moments, and plenty of history inserted in between. If you love the mighty Ganges, you will love the book too.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Apr 30, 2008 At 10:27 AM

Summer Destinations: Kinnaur, Lahaul And Spiti


Himachal is an obvious choice of destination for summer for people from the plains in Delhi, Punjab and Chandigarh. While Shimla may be the de-facto destination, more exotic places in the north are meant for those with an adventurouse spirit. That doesn't mean you have to be strong and fit to access these higher regions of the Himalayas, as most places are close to road networks.

Chandratal Lake

Overview. Most of the places in Lahaul and Spiti are at heights more than 10,000 feet, with highest point close to 15,000 feet. Yet, it is not forbiddingly cold in the summers and is not very demanding on the traveller's physique. But a possibility of altitude sickness always exists. Sun tends to be harsh in these climates and it is necessary to carry sunscreen.

Best way to do this section of Himachal is by hiring a jeep. Public transport does exist but not frequent, so you will have to do some planning and know bus timings in advance. The adventurous lot can do it in bikes. The road is scenic in many parts and you might want to take it slow and easy, enjoying the views, which means you will be better off with your own transport instead of relyaing on buses.

Some passes on the road are closed in winter and open in May-June. So if you are planning the trip early in summer, check first if Rohtang Pass and Kunzum La have been thrown open to traffic.

Orientation.
While Manali and Shimla are connected by a highway via Mandi and Kullu towns, there is another longer detour you can take, passing through Lahaul and Spiti. For this, start from Shimla and head to Kinnaur on Hindustan-Tibet road. The road goes along Sutlej river in Kinnaur, and as you enter Spiti Valley from Kinnaur, traverses along Spiti River. Further, beyond Kunzum La where Spiti Valley ends, the road goes along Chandra river in the valley of Lahaul till you climb up to Rohtang Pass and eventually reach Manali. The major towns along the way are Rekong Peo(which is a short detour from Hindustan-Tibet road) and Kaza. The road takes you through some great mountain scenery and a few Buddhist monasteries.

Places to Visit

Listed her are places worth a visit, ordered as they appear when you go from Shimla to Manali.

Sangla and Chitkul. Sangla is a detour from Hindustan-Tibet road. Sangla Valley is known for its views of snow-capped mountains and scenic locales. Chitkul, which is further from Sangla on the same road is the last village you encounter near Tibet border.

Kalap Village. Located just above Rekong Peo town, Kalpa is a good summer retreat for people of Delhi and Punjab. The village is also known for its views of Kinner Kailash range of mountains.

Kinner Kailash range

Nako Lake. Nako Village is an ideal place to spend a night on the way from Kalpa to Kaza. Nako has a small high altitude lake, which is one its attractions.

Nako Lake

Dhangkar Monastery. The ancient Dhankar monastery is said to be 400 years old. At more than 12,000 feet high, Dhankar is one of the most scenic locales in Spiti Valley. Another attraction here is a beautiful high altitude lake.

Tabo and Ki Monastery. The monastery in Tabo, the oldest in the region is more than 1000 years old. This, along with Alchi monastery in Ladakh is declared a word heritage site. Tabo's ancient monastery is known for rich frescoes in its nine temples. Ki Monastery is located close to Kaza town in a picturesque location in Spiti, and is said to be 800 years old.

Ki Monastery

Kibber Village. Located above 14,000 feet, Kibber was once known as the highest village in the world with permanent habitation. The status is now lost, with better access to remote places in the Himalayas over the years. Kibber offers good high altitude walks, and has picturesque views of Spiti Valley from its heights.

Kibber Village

Kunzum La. Kunzum La is the highest point in the journey, at almost 15,000feet. The pass marks the boundary between Spiti Valley and Lahaul. There is a small temple to Kunzum Devi at the pass. The pass also serves as the starting point for the trek to Chandratal Lake.

A lone Yak grazes in Spiti Valley

Chandratal. This is a beautiful high altitude lake located besides Chandra river, and is a 15km detour from the main road. The road to Chandratal is the last to open after winter, so always check before you leave. But there is always the option to walk here from Kunzum La.


Rohtang Pass. Rohtang Pass separates the valley of Chandra river in Lahaul with the valley of Beas that leads to Manali. While Lahaul is like a high altitude desert in rain shadow, greenery starts making its mark after Rohtang. Rohtang is a popular tourist destination due to availability of snow till late in the summer, and its easy access.

Rohtang Pass


Food and Accommodation.

There is basic accommodation available all through the way. The villages where you can find guesthouses include Sangla, Kalpa, Nako, Kaza, Kibber and Batal. You can also find accommodation in Ki and Tabo monasteries. There is no comfortable mid-range or high end accommodation available anywhere on the road. 

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Posted on: Wednesday , Apr 30, 2008 At 01:01 AM

Festivals For May


Traditionally, summer is not the time for festivals in most of India. That means no vibrant festivities like Holi or Diwali in May, but a few events organized by governments. Hilly states try to make the best of tourist inflow. Here is a list of festivals of interest for the month of May.

Summer Festival, Mount Abu. 18-20 May 2008. Excerpt from Rajasthan Tourism Website: The Summer festival is held every year during the month of May on Budh Poornima. The festival celebrates the warmth and cheerfulness of the people of hill station, who welcome the tourist from the depth of their hearts. The hospitality of the people, their colorful culture and exotic location made this festival a never to be forgotten experience. See details at http://www.rajasthantourism.gov.in/attractions/fair&festival/summer'fes.htm

Summer Festival, Ooty. 10-18 May. See more information at http://www.thehindu.com/2008/04/09/stories/2008040954600600.htm

Summer Festival, Dharmashala. 29-31st May. Himachal tourism website, which lists the schedule, mentions that there will be cultural events organized every evening. See http://www.himachaltourism.nic.in/events.htm

Other than these, Buddha Poornima, which is celebrated in parts of the country, falls on May 20th.

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Posted on: Monday , Apr 28, 2008 At 10:13 AM

More News From Highlands - Road To Zanskar Re-Opened


Access to parts of Ladakh are opening up slowly with passing days of summer. After opening of Srinagar - Leh road two weeks back, now it is the turn of Kargil - Zanskar road. Greater Kashmir reports -


The 250-km-long Kargil-Zanaskar road was reopened for traffic after it remained closed for six winter months due to ten to 40 feet of snowfall.
 Meanwhile, hundreds of vehicles carrying passengers and essential commodities reached different parts of the Ladakh region from Srinagar after the 434-km-long Srinagar-Leh highway was again reopened for traffic on April 22.

See http://www.greaterkashmir.com/full'story.asp?Date=26'4'2008&ItemID=33&cat=21 for the full story.

The road from Manali to Leh still remains closed. Watch this space for updates; I am hoping to travel to these regions in a few months, so I will be tracking all the updated.

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Posted on: Friday , Apr 25, 2008 At 21:04 PM

Pico Iyer's Book - The Open Road


Acclaimed writer Pico Iyer's new book - 'The Open Road'(http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307267603) was released last month, in which Iyer writes about the Dalailama he has known for last 30 years, about his life, his ideas and challenges ahead. At the same time he seems to address the larger picture involving the issue of Tibet and Tibetan People.

Kyoto Journal has a deeply moving high impact extract from the book, which had me baffled as well as touched, and making me want to read the book. See the article on the journal's home page - http://www.kyotojournal.org/

They don't seem to have a permalink for the article, so read it quickly before their next month's issue consumes the homepage.

See also: Iyer's interview at WorldHum - http://www.worldhum.com/qanda/item/pico'iyer'on'the'
open'road'and'30'years'with'the'dalai'lama'20080325/

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Posted on: Tuesday , Apr 22, 2008 At 10:04 AM

Earth Day Post


April 22nd is Earth Day. Cross posted with my personal blog, with a wish to spread goodwill.

Much as I love to travel, a part of me is always feeling guilty about the footprints left by us travellers. Let's admit it, travel is hardly anything environment friendly. The least we can do is to try to minimize our footprints, or if possible, go Carbon Neutral(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon'neutral).

It would be nice to scribble some tips and then forget it, but it is much better to say what I am trying to do myself. Here are a few things I have been consciously trying to do, things that have happened by themselves and things that I hope to do someday.

* Not to drive. I have cut down on driving trips drastically. Three years back, nearly every trip I made was in my car. Now the passion of driving has weathered down; and I am also consciously cutting down on my driving. Even within the town, I don't take the car out unless I have absolutely no choice. I even use a bicycle now for short rides around home, which were done with a car earlier. And if I remember correctly, I haven't made a driving trip since last August.

* Not to Fly. Flying is one of the least fuel efficient ways to travel. From the usual habit of flying everywhere(when I travel to North), I have started taking trains. It it not entirely successful, the basic reason being that train journeys require lot of planning in advance. And my return journeys are usually open, which makes things more difficult. When I travelled to Rajasthan this February, I managed to take the train to Delhi. But when I was ready to return, I could not find seats in any trains, forcing me to fly back. But abstaining from flying is not entirely by choice. Since I have not been working 9 to 5 these days, I try to keep spending to minimum.

* Simple things - like behaving properly in environmentally sensitive regions is something I have been doing for a very long time now. Things like dispose garbage properly, take care of your consumption, avoid being noisy in the jungles or burning wood, etc. I once stopped consumption of tea(once part of my daily diet) and switched over to coffee(which is also destructive, but to a lesser degree), when I was disturbed(see http://travel.paintedstork.com/blog/2006/12/impact-of-tea-estates.html) by seeing sprawling tea estates in erstwhile thick jungles of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

* Some thing that I strongly hope to do in the next few years is to go Carbon Neutral. The strategy is simple - buy land and start growing trees there and do little else. A few people have been doing this already, and this is a project I am very keen to do once I have some extra money in hand. And then, as and when there is surplus money, expand the periphery of the forest. I am not sure when I can begin on it, but hopefully in less than 3-4 years from now. Ah, I can just imaging my private forest and going there birding every morning, makes me smile.. :)

* Another thing I hope to do, but don't know when and how I can start - to volunteer in our National Parks and surrounding villages in projects aiding conservation. I nearly teamed up with folks at Eaglenest(See http://travel.paintedstork.com/blog/2007/03/about-vacation-for-conservation.html) last year but had to drop out due to some constraints.

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Posted on: Monday , Apr 21, 2008 At 20:46 PM

Blogging From Ranthambhore


Let me start by saying - 'No, its not me blogging from the wilderness!'

We have all seen travel blogs, travel writings and trip reports in plenty. People going to a new place, coming back awed and writing their experiences is nothing new. But how about blogs from people who live in well-known tourist places? I haven't seen many, but Ranthambhore Blog is an exception. And an excellent exception at that.


Aditya Singh blogs from Sawai Madhopur, the town just outside
Ranthambhore and writes about the forests of Ranthambhore, its people, geography and things that happen there everyday. And tigers are like part of his life, which you will know once you see all those pictures of tigers in his blog. He is also passionate about conservation and improving the park. In his own words -

I own and run a small lodge on the outskirts of the Ranthambhore (often misspelled as Ranthambore) national park. I am very passionate about tigers, wild animals and photography.

Check out his blog at ranthambhore.blogspot.com

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Posted on: Friday , Apr 18, 2008 At 12:35 PM

Change Of Guard At Rashtrapati Bhavan


Change of Guard at London's Buckingham Palace is a well known tourist attraction that most of you would have heard of, and some of you would have witnessed.

Did you know that much closer at home, you can visit Change of Guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan too? This is a new initiative made a few months ago by president Pratibha Patil(See news http://www.indiaenews.com/art-culture/20071214/86286.htm).

Here is what the Rashtrapathi Bhavan's official website has to say about it.

"The 40-minute Ceremony includes inspection of the New Guard, nomination of sentries, a formal march to take post and an exchange of compliments by the Guards. A formal military ritual, the Ceremony is a coming together of smartly-attired soldiers of the impressive Army Guard and statuesque President's Bodyguard Troopers, astride their caparisoned, sleekly muscled, powerful and exquisitely groomed steeds."

According to the website, Change of Guard will be held from 8AM to 8.45AM on Saturday, except on gazetted holidays that fall on Saturday. See more details on the site - http://presidentofindia.nic.in/ceremonical'func.html

I haven't got a chance to see it yet, but am eager to do do on my next visit to Delhi. If you have witnessed it, or managed to do so in future, would love to hear from you of the details. Drop a comment here, or better still, go to my profile and send an email..

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Posted on: Wednesday , Apr 16, 2008 At 11:27 AM

Srinagar - Leh Road Opens


I had mentioned a few days ago in 'India Explored' that Srinagar - Leh road work is going in full pace and it is expected to open earlier than ever this year. The road has been opened for traffic yesterday and the first vehicles have crossed Zozila pass. This is a new record, as the road was opened in May last year, and most of the time it used to be closed as long as early June. The report says -


Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad flagged off a fleet of Srinagar-bound vehicles from Zero Point near Gumri across Zojila pass, marking the earliest annual opening of the 434 km Srinagar-Leh highway.

Read the full story at http://www.newkerala.com/one.php?action=fullnews&id=48481

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Posted on: Monday , Apr 14, 2008 At 11:15 AM

The Wildlife Season - Corbett National Park


Summer is indeed the best time to visit hill stations to cool off from the heat of the plains. But if you are willing to dare the heat for your best wildlife experience, this is the time you should be heading to our National Parks.

Summer is the time when the forests run dry, forcing the animals to come out of their hiding and into waterholes. These is the time when, instead of scouring the forest, all you have to do is hide somewhere near water and watch a movie unfold in front of you, with many animals coming and going.

A deer on the bank of Ramaganga

Corbett National Park is one of the best places to go wildlife watching. Its proximity to Delhi is an added advantage, making it an easy weekend getaway. Here is all you wanted to know about Corbett National Park.

Overview. Corbett is one of the best-maintained National Parks in India. Even at a time when rest of the country saw sharp decline in tiger numbers, Corbett had maintained a healthy population. It also boasts of highest tiger density anywhere in India(74 tigers at 200 square kilometers. See http://www.indianexpress.com/story/206758.html), increasing your chances of sighting. But tigers are not the only attraction of the Park. There are elephants, wild cats, four types of deer(chital, sambar, barking deer and hog deer), otters, wild boars, porcupines, Gharials and muggers to see. If that is not enough, don't just keep looking for animals but go on early morning safaris on the bank of Ramaganga River and indulge in seeing the immensely beautiful landscapes at sunrise.

Corbett Landscapes

Corbett is an excellent birding destination too. The keen eyed naturalist will find a great variety of raptors(birds of prey) like Changeable Hawk Eagle, Fish Eagle, Serpent Eagle, Black Kite to name a few. And then there are vultures and Griffons, birds at water bodies like White Capped Redstart, River Lapwing, etc. The list is nearly 400 long, so I must refrain from carrying on.

Orientation. At less than 300km from Delhi, Corbett is easy to visit. The Park is in the foothills of Kumaon Himalayas in Uttaranchal on the Ramnagar-Ranikhet highway. Ramnagar is the road head to Corbett and the town also hosts the office of Corbett Tiger Reserve(CTR). Dhikala tourist village, deep inside the forest is the most sought after place for visitors. You are required to book a stay in Dhikala or one of the guest houses in this section to be able to visit this region, and day-trippers are not allowed unless you take the open bus safari organized by CTR. How-ever jeeps for day-trip are permitted at another section of the forest at Jhirna Gate.

If you plan to stay at Dhikala, you will need to have your own jeep to be able to reach Dhikala and then go on Safaris. You can hire jeeps at Ramnagar. Dhikala is located on the bank of Ramaganga River that runs through the park, which is an added attraction.

Things to do and Places to See.

Tiger sighting is the most sought after activity in Corbett. The best place to look for them is along Sambar road, which goes along the Ramaganga from Dhikala Tourist Village. The guides are familiar with the region and can lead you to places where sightings are likely.

Jeep Safari. If you have booked accommodation in Dhikala, you can go on Jeep Safaris and wildlife viewing in the forests in the region. Jeeps are allowed in the forest from sunrise to sunset and the best time to see wildlife is early morning hours or in the evening before the sun goes down. All jeeps are required to have a guide, who can be hired at Dhikala.

Jeep Safari

Elephant Safari. Once again, you have to be staying in Dhikala region to go on elephant safaris. The safaris are scheduled in morning and evening, and take you around the riverbed and nearby forests. Elephant Safari is the best way to spot tigers, as elephants can be good at finding and flushing out tigers.

Elephant Safari

Daily Bus Safari to Dhikala. An open mini bus leaves Ramnagar for a day trip to Dhikala and back everyday, starting at 8am and ending at 4pm. Though you can't expect an extensive tour of the forest, it is still worth taking, as it takes you deep into the forest till Dhikala. Arrive early in Ramnagar's CTR office to ensure your seat.

Bird watching. Several resorts in and around the Park can arrange bird watching tours. With more than 400 species of birds, and with more than 40 raptors among them, Corbett is a great place for birding. If you are a seasoned birdwatcher, you can also do it on your own when you go on Safaris in Dhikala or any other region. Most of the guides in Dhikala are good at sighting and identifying birds.

A changeable hawk eagle

Angling. Fishing is prohibited within the park, but you can get permits for angling in Kosi and Ramaganga rivers outside the park. Some resorts can arrange permits and angling tours.

Museum at Dhangadi Gate. Dhangadi Gate on the way to Dhikala has a museum that displays stuffed animals that were killed by Jim Corbett and other hunters. Seeing those tiger and spotting bullet marks in them is a worthy experience.

Other attractions. Corbett is close to hill stations Ranikhet and Nainital. You can plan an itinerary to Corbett that includes these places. Kaladhungi, the village near the park where Jim Corbett had lived now houses a museum.

Accommodation.

Dhikala Tourist village is the most sought after accommodation in the park. Book in advance through CTR Office. See http://www.corbettnationalpark.in/page'contactus.htm for contact details. There are a few more guesthouses inside the park on the way to Dhikala but they don't have restaurant facilities and you will have to make your own arrangements for food. There are resorts littered all along the road from Ramnagar to Dhangadi gate on the way to Dhikala, which provide mid-range to luxury accommodation. Note that if you are staying in these places, you will not be able to access the forest ranges of Dhikala with your own vehicle. Ramnagar has a few budget hotels if you have a tight budget.

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Posted on: Saturday , Apr 12, 2008 At 21:20 PM

Ramanavami Music Fest In Bangalore


If you live in Bangalore or visiting at least for a day in the next 30 days, and if listening to classical music is something you love, here is something that might interest you.


Sree Ramaseva Mandali, Bangalore organizes a month long music  festival in the city which brings in artists from all over the country. The program begun last week and will continue till May 14th. There will be four hours of music every evening, and some programs on Sunday mornings too. Entry fees are nominal, but if you are so keen not to pay, you can listen to the speakers setup outside!

See Rama Seva Mandali website for details at http://www.sreeramasevamandali.org/. You can see the complete schedule of the programs at http://www.sreeramasevamandali.org/programme'list.html

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Posted on: Friday , Apr 11, 2008 At 18:55 PM

Books For The India Explorer - I


In this series - 'Books for the India Explorer', I will be listing travel books that would interest the compulsive travellers who are after the genuine expeience(cliche, admiited). Don't expect a Part II and Part III to follow soon; this will be an endless series that will go on as I get to read or get to know about new interesting titles. Here is a list of books that I personally appreciate for excellent travel writing on India. Here we go, five at a time.


1. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. A book on the history of Delhi, it is no dry and boring history lesson but full of insights on its past mixed very well with the Delhi that is today. Read this without fail, Dalrymple will charm you so much that you will want to dump the book and instead head to all those sites he mentions for a personal visit.

2. Sacred Waters by Stephen Alter. Allow me to express some favouritism and prejudice I have for Alter. He is my most revered writer yet, and Sacred Waters the most revered book. This is a story of his wanderings on Gharwal on foot. While he explores the mountain, he tells the lores, culture and heritage so well that you become part of him, experiencing it yourself.

3. Into the High Ranges. A collection of Anthropological stories and book extracts on the mountains and the people of the mountains. Published by Penguin Books, it has some excellent contributions and makes a great read. Look for names like Tenzing Norgay and Ruskin Bond in the list of contributions.

4. Waterlines. Another good collection of stories from Penguin Books, this time on the rivers. The list of authors includes AK Ramanujan, Stephen Alter, Romulus Whitekar and Jim Corbett, only to name a few.

5. Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater. A unique novel on travelling along with monsoon as it makes its journey starting from the southern end at Kerala, all the way to the north. Set in the seventies, a few things like requiring a recommendation just to get a seat in Indian Airlines feel dated. But the real story about people celebrating the monsoons, the science behind it and the way monsoon defines life in India is timeless.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Apr 09, 2008 At 22:13 PM

The Goa That Was


Goa has been in news lately, primarily for wrong reasons. Scarlett Keeling incident attracted a lot of press and has had its effect in giving plenty of bad publicity for the state with its long line of beaches. Knowing how Goa's tourism has expanded in the recent years, it is not all that difficult to believe that its beaches were once empty, sparsely populated with a few locals, a few Indian and fewer tourists from abroad. In a very well written article, Uma Ranganathan rues of the Goa that was, and the good times it used to offer.


"When I first visited Calangute almost thirty years ago with my parents and brother, the beach was an open, endless expanse of sand, unblemished by the small and big shacks which have turned it into a noisy funfair today. There was just one rather ramshackle bar along the shore where we would head at midday to quench our thirst with a couple of bottles of beer. Except for a long haired unkempt hippy whom one came across now and then, shuffling along the beach, in search of his next chemical high, the land was peace personified."

Makes me long for the Goa of those days. Read the article at  http://desicritics.org/2008/04/09/110120.php

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Posted on: Tuesday , Apr 08, 2008 At 01:02 AM

Now Take A Chopper To Tawang


Tawang is one of the well known destinations in Arunachal Pradesh and in the entire Northe-East region. Besides being known as one of the highest regions in the region, the Buddhist monastery in Tawang is one the biggest in the country. The regions above Tawang like PTSO are known for its alpine lakes of immense beauty.


Buddha statue in Tawang Monastery



But Tawang has never seen a share of tourists worthy of its stature. Distance was the biggest problem, as the only access to the town was by a long road journey from Tezpur lasting more than 24 hours. Things are about to change, and there is something to cheer for those who wanted to visit this region but not willing to go through the ordeal of the journey. Government is soon starting a subsidized helicopter service from Guwahati to Tawang(see http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Airlines''Aviation/ Helicopter'service'between'Guwahati''Tamang'to'start'soon/articleshow/2910230.cms). The exact dates are not known but the indications are that it should begin very soon. Watch Arunachal Helicopter Service website(http://arun-aviation.nic.in/) for updates.

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Posted on: Thursday , Apr 03, 2008 At 21:21 PM

Summer Destinations: Coorg


It is the time of the year when the mercury level goes up, and travelling to every possible destination is not easy. Hills stations and mountains are a way out where the weather remains pleasant and unaffected by the raising temperatures in the planes. In the days to come, 'India Explored' will help you find those places where you can escape the summers, starting with Coorg.

Overview. Coorg is the anglicized name for the district of Kodagu in southern part of Karnataka. It is a hilly region that falls in the Sahyadri ranges(Western Ghats) that stretches from Maharashtra to Kerala. Being at an altitude, weather remains cool to moderate through the year, making it possible to visit the region in summer as well as winters. It rains heavily during the monsoon months of June to September, a period when Coorg is best avoided. Of course, for those who love rains it is a good opportunity to beat the crowds of the peak season.

Orientation. Madikeri is a small town on the top of a hill that serves as district headquarters for Coorg. Some times Madikeri and Coorg are incorrectly used interchangeably. Virajpet, Gonikoppa and Kushalnagar are the other major towns in the district. Most places of sightseeing are far apart and may take up to an hour of drive from each other. Best way to travel within Coorg is with your own vehicle. If you have to depend on public transport, ensure that you have plenty of time. Coorg can be accessed from Mysore, Bangalore and Mangalore. Buses are available to travel within Coorg but some places are not connected at good frequency. Roads are hilly and curvy, and due to heavy rains during the monsoon every year, they are usually in a bad condition, and you may be forced to drive at average speeds no greater than 30-40km.

Kodavas, the local community have a distinguished culture of their own and speak their own language. Kodavas are known as valiant people and have a made a significant contribution to Indian Army; that includes first Field Marshal Kariappa.


Coorg country side


Sightseeing and Activities.

Raja Seat. As the name says, it is place where the king used to sit and spend his time. It is a small garden in Madikeri town, and one end of it plunges into a valley, offering good views. You can see people whiling away their time in the evening here, but the best time to be here is in the morning when it is quiet and the views are at its best. It is generally foggy in the morning during the winter months, and sometimes even in the summer. It is close to Madikeri bus stand, ask anyone for directions once you are in Madikeri.

Abbi Falls. A short drive from Madikeri, this waterfall is in a private coffee estate but is open to all. There is usually water through the year, though may not be a lot of it in the summer months. You can drive here from Madikeri(20 minutes) or take a rickshaw. Public transport may not be available.


Abbi Falls


Kaveri Nisargadhama. This is a small island formed by River Kaveri, approached through a charming hanging footbridge, and is developed into a park by Karnataka's Department of Tourism. Families come here to spend time in a forest like ambience. There is a deer park and bamboo groves inside but the biggest attraction is the river itself. You can also go on short elephant rides. There are a few rooms to stay in the island, book ahead with the Tourism Department. Nisargadhama is on Mysore-Madikeri road is 15 minutes away from Kushalanagar town.

Dubare Forest Elephant Camp. This is a short drive from Kaveri Nisargadhama. Forest Department runs an elephant camp here on the bank of Kaveri. Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a Government of Karnataka initiative organizes day visits to the camp where one can take elephant rides and join hands with Mahouts to wash the elephants. It is a scenic place by the river and a good location to spend time.


Kaveri at Dubare forest


Harangi Dam. A reservoir, also a short drive from Kushalanagar and Kaveri Nisargadhama. The lake formed by the dam is surrounded by thick forest.


Harangi Dam


Bylakuppe Tibetan Settlement. This is one of the largest Tibetan settlements anywhere in the world. See a little Tibet manifest itself in the village where you can see monks in prayer or Tibetan children playing. It is like stepping into a whole new world completely different from rest of the atmosphere. Visit Namdroling Monastery and the Golden Temple and get a feel of Tibet as authentic as Tibet itself.


Golden Temple, Namdroling Monastery


Bhagamandala and Talakaveri. A confluence of rivers, Bhagamandala is a holy place. As it often seems to happen, it is said to be a meeting point of three rivers but you can see only two of them. Kannike, Sujyoti and Kaveri are the three rivers, Sujyoti being the mythical third one. Talakaveri is the place of origin of Kaveri, which is 10km from Bhagamandala and is on the top of a hill. Besides being a holy place, Talakaveri falls on the edge of Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary where you can see rolling hills of the Western Ghats(and a few defunct wind mills). Bhagamandala is an hour's drive from Madikeri and is also well connected by buses. There is no public transport to Talakaveri but an asphalted road connects it from Bhagamandala.


Hanging Bridge at Kaveri Nisargadhama


Nalknad Palace and Iguthappa temple. These two places, which are 5km apart are in a small village called Kakkabe and are identified with Kodava heritage. Nalknad palace is a small structure a few centuries old. Iguthappa temple is sacred to Kodavas. Kakkabe village is on the way from Madikeri to Virajpet, 40km away from Madikeri. Buses connect Kakkabe from both the towns.

Thadiyandamol. Thadiyandamol is the highest peak in Coorg, more than 1400m high from sea level. Reaching the top is a four-hour trek and one needs to be reasonably fit. Once on the top, you can see great views of hills spreading far away. It is said that you can see Arabian Sea from here on a clear day. The trek begins from Kakkabe village, and can be completed within a day.


Views from Thadiyandamol


Brahmagiri. Brahmagiri is another high peak and a popular trek in Coorg. This is generally done as a two-day trek. Since the peak falls within Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, those who want to trek must take permission from forest office in nearby Srimangala village and have to take a forest guard as escort.


Brahmagiri Ranges


Irpu Falls. This waterfall is at the beginning of the trek to Brahmagiri. You can see water here through the year, though it won't be much in the summers. Irpu is a deviation from other well-known places in Coorg. To get here from Madikeri, you may have to take a bus to Gonikoppa town first and then change to another bus that can take you to Irpu. However, the effort is worth it and the falls is in a beautiful location.


Irpu Falls


River rafting. Rafting trips are organized in peak monsoon seasons in Barapole River. See http://www.coorgrafting.com/ for more details.


Food and Accommodation.

Madikeri has a few options of hotels. Other towns - Virajpet and Kushalnagar may have some basic accommodation but nothing reliable. The best places to stay are the home-stay accommodations spread all over rural Coorg. Nearly every sightseeing location mentioned above would have a few home stays dotted in the villages around them. Most of these home-stays can be found online; search for them. The home stays are often within private coffee estates that give you an opportunity to wander in these estates or go for treks in the forests around them. Orange County is the most well known up market resort in the district. When you are staying in the home stays, ask for the Kodava specialty dishes of Pandi Curry and Kadambuttu.


Relaxing at a home stay


How to reach Coorg. Coorg is connected by buses from Mysore(3 hours), Bangalore(6 hours) and Mangalore(3 hours). You can also drive from these places. Nearest major train stations are Mysore and Mangalore, and nearest airport is Mangalore.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Apr 02, 2008 At 11:23 AM

Leh May Be Accessible Sooner This Year


If you are the adventurous kind and looking to make a road trip to Leh this year by bike, four wheeler or even bus, it is time to start planning and packing.

Border Road Organization has been working on clearning the road (http://www.newkerala.com/one.php?action=fullnews&id=40894)  to Leh, and is expected to re-open much sooner than last year. Zojila pass connecting Shrinagar and Leh was not open until May last year, but is expected to be operational by April 15 (http://www.greaterkashmir.com/full'story.asp?Date=1'4'2008&ItemID=51&cat=1) this time.

For those who are looking to travel to Leh via Manali, the tentative dates for opening Rohtang Pass is not yet announced, but the pass has been partially cleared and pedestrians are allowed to cross over (http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/business/rohtang-pass-opened-to-pedestrians'10028586.html).

Leh is on its way to becoming a year round destination a few years down the line. Work is already underway to construct a tunnel across Rohtang Pass (http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Work-on-Rohtang-tunnel-to-pick-up-pace/289644/), and a new tunnel is proposed (http://www.thestatesman.net/page.news.php?clid=2&theme=&usrsess=1&id=197502) under Zojila pass to keep Srinagar-Leh road through the year.

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Posted on: Monday , Mar 31, 2008 At 22:50 PM

India Explored


Welcome to India Explored.

This blog will take you on armchair journeys along the length and breadth of the country. Look out for places to visit, festivals, events and travel alerts, destination guides and everything that you, the traveller need to know and would not want to miss.

For the big country we are and the variety that we have, places to see and things to do are endless. Mountains, deserts, rivers, lakes, monuments old be many millenniums, cultural diversity.. Read all about them unfold on India Explored in the days to come, and see yourself getting out of armchair travel mode and getting on the road!

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arunchs arunchs lives in Bangalore(Karnataka) and is interested in travel, photography, reading, movies, music,...

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