Saturday, January 5, 2013
Monday, December 31, 2012
When I booked my tickets to go to Bikaner, almost every one asked me what’s there to see in Bikaner. In fact, some people had lived in Bikaner for almost 10 years while they were working and they too asked me the same question. I was told that one day is enough to see the city. It wasn’t so encouraging to hear all this but then I had made up my mind to go there.
We boarded a late night train from Delhi and reached Bikaner by 7.30am. I was quiet clear that I wanted to stay in a haweli which is centrally located. On the day, I was supposed to board the train, I called up 2-3 hotels which had a feel of haweli. Basis the conversation with Manisha- the owner of Tanisha Heritage Haweli, I decided to stay at their place. The auto rickshaw charged INR 50 from the Railway Station to reach the Heritage Haweli.
Day 1: The Old City area resembled the narrow by lanes of Delhi-6 and later I came to know that it has around 1000 hawelis. I was glad to see so many huge and beautiful hawelis. We were warmly greeted by Manisha, her husband Anil, their mother-in-law (who is a terrific cook) and sweet little Tanisha (Manisha & Anil’s daughter). My parents instantly liked the place as it had the old world charm and the owners were very hospitable. We had breakfast at the haweli and after getting some directions from Anil, decided to walk till Junagarh Fort.
We walked through the bustling market area. On our way, we went to Ratan Bihari Temple. It has a nice temple complex in white marble and had Indo-Mughal architecture. The temple was built in 1846 A.D.
Then, we reached Junagarh Fort. It is a massive and well-maintained fortress that has never been conquered. It was built in 1593 A.D. We bought the tickets to see the fort as well as the museum (INR 50 per person). One needs a guide to see the fort. A joint family had hired a guide and they asked us to come along. We paid INR 200 to the guide. Certain portions of the fort are made of red sandstone and the rest is of white marble. The flooring and the paintings on ceilings was spectacular. It would not be wrong to say that it is indeed one of the best fort’s in Rajasthan (have been to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Ajmer, Pushkar, Mt. Abu and Nathdwara). We visited the Prachina Museum (behind the fort). It is also very well maintained and it’s definitely worth it. We were a little tired, so we took an auto rickshaw to go to Lalgarh Palace.
The Royal Family of Bikaner lives in Lalgarh Palace and some portions of the palace have been converted into a Heritage Hotel. The Lalgarh Palace Complex has the Sri Sadul Museum. We bought the entry ticket (INR 25 per person) and entered the museum. The museum is well maintained, though the museum at Junagarh Fort was more informative. Since the entry to Lalgarh Palace is only for the guests of the hotel and the royal family, going to the museum is the option for tourists. We were hungry by now, so we went to the restaurant inside the Lalgarh Palace and had some snacks. The Lalgarh Palace was built in 1902 and is a fusion of Rajput, Mughal and European architecture. The palace is good but I somehow felt that the wow factor was missing.
The Laxmi Niwas Palace is also in the same complex and has also been converted into a luxury Heritage Hotel. We had a look at it from a distance. We took at auto rickshaw and went back to our accommodation.
Day 2: Anil helped us hire a cab to see the places around Bikaner. Our first stoppage was Gajner Palace (approx 34 kms). It was built as the hunting and relaxing palace for the Maharaja and is now a luxury Heritage Hotel. We bought the tickets to see the Palace (INR 225 per person). It is a small guided tour which ends at the restaurant facing the lake. We sat in front of the lake for quiet sometime and enjoyed watching the migratory birds. Listening to the continuous chirping of birds and just observing the birds in the lake was a complete delight. I found the Gajner Palace very impressive. The Gajner Palace complex is spread over a massive expanse of 6000 acres. Someday I would like to come back to this palace and stay here.
Our next destination was Kolyat ji which is another 16 kms away. According to the legend, Kapil Muni performed tapaysa (penance) here for the redemption of the world. The complex is surrounded by a holy lake and has several temples. There was peace in the air and it felt good to be there.
Thereafter, we went to the National Research Centre on Camel or the Camel Research Farm. We bought the entry ticket to the Farm and saw the various breeds of camel. They too have an interesting museum. I then tried the flavored camel milk which was tasty and had a kulfi made of camel’s milk. I was a little hesitant to try the milk initially as we had been told that camel’s milk is difficult to digest. But after reaching the Camel Farm, I was curious to try it. I asked few people out there and they told me that camel’s milk is very light, has a low fat percent and has therapeutic properties and they consume this milk every day. I tried it and was able to digest it as well.
|Bhandeswari Jain Temple|
Day 3: We visited the Bhandeswari Jain Temple, a fifteenth century temple regarded as the oldest monument in Bikaner. It is located in the Old City and it was a 5- 10 minute walk from where we were staying. Inside the temple, intricate work has been done and the gold leaf paintings are beautiful. We also got an opportunity to climb on to the top of the temple which provided a view of the Old City.Next to the Jain Temple, is a Hindu temple and we visited it as well. I offered my apologies to Karni Mata for not visiting the main temple (cause of rats).
Then, we went to the market in the Old City and bought Bikaneri bhujia and other sweets.
|Camel Research Farm|
Finally, we headed towards the Rampuria Haveli. It is superb haweli and I would have loved to enter the premise. However, it is a personal property and is not open for visitors. The owners do not stay in the haweli but is regularly maintained by them. I have not seen such a huge haweli before and I was totally in awe of it.
We had our lunch and then boarded our train to reach Delhi. We really enjoyed my trip and would not mind going back again.
The popular eating spots include Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop, Station Road and Chapan Bhog, Rani Bazaar. However, I liked the small shops in the Old City (on our way to Jain Temple.
The popular eating spots include Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop, Station Road and Chapan Bhog, Rani Bazaar. However, I liked the small shops in the Old City (on our way to Jain Temple.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
When I was studying in school I watched a programme on Discovery Channel about the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. The place looked simply divine and from then onwards, I wished to go to Kailash Mansarovar. I knew that this yatra is tough and you can go there only if you get a ‘bulava’ (God’s calling). But my experience has been that if you have a strong willpower then nothing is difficult and if you really intent to meet ‘Him’, then someone up there does not stop you (though he may test your longing).
|Hotel Manaslu, Kathmandu|
I came to know about a group that was going for this yatra in August and I along with my mother decided to join them. Once we got the visa and permit to undertake this yatra, then the feeling started slowly sinking in that I am going for the trip I consider as the ultimate journey.
After a one hour flight from Delhi, we reached Kathmandu and stayed at Hotel Manaslu. The hotel has a traditional Nepalese feel to it (though if it improves its maintenance level, then it will be really good). In the evening, I went to Thamel (a popular tourist destination) to buy jacket and other trekking equipment.
On Day 2, we had booked an early morning flight to see Mt Everest. This was our own initiative and was not a part of the Yatra package. After reaching the airport, we were informed that the flight has been cancelled due to cloudy skies. We were a little disappointed but then thought that whatever happens happens for our own good. We came back to the Hotel and joined our group and visited the famous Pashupatinath Temple. It was the last Monday of Shravan (considered auspicious) and there was lot of rush inside the temple. We still managed to have a good darshan. Then, we went to see Baudhanath Stupa. Thereafter, we generally rested and prepared ourselves for the journey.
Day 3: We had planned to leave early in the morning but we had to change our plan as there was a strike in Kathmandu. We left Kathmandu at 11am and travelled 115 kms to reach Kodari (takes 4-5 hours to reach there) and halted at Hotel Mansarovar. Kodari is a beautiful place and has lots of waterfalls. We generally had fun at nearby waterfall and returned to the Hotel before dark.
Day 4: In the morning, we went walking to the Chinese Immigration Centre and entered Tibet. However, our Guide faced some difficulty in getting clearance and we had to patiently wait for couple of hours. Once we got the clearance, we left in our Land Cruisers towards Nylam. On the way, there is so much greenery and there are numerous waterfalls, in fact some of the waterfalls fall directly on the vehicle passing through the road yet there are no potholes on the roads. We stayed at Hotel Nylam.
From this day onwards, we were checked every day for pulse rate as well as for the oxygen level in our body. Any one whom fell short of the mark was given a pill. Thankfully, I did not have to pop a pill during the entire journey. Nylam is located at a height of 3720 m, so lot of people in our group were experiencing altitude sickness. Also, there is sunlight till 8.30pm and sunrise is late around 7am.
Day 5: On our way to Saga, we experienced heavy snowfall. Roads are very good and we travelled 245kms in 5 hours to reach Saga at a height of 4560 m. From now on, none of the hotels had any concept of bathrooms or taps in the toilets. In fact, one is advised to avoid having a bath once you enter Tibet as it is cold and one can fall ill easily. In such high altitude region, Tibetans have made common toilets like you would have while camping, so basically there are multiple pits where you can relieve one self. When I went to the toilet, I realized that there was no bolt on the door. So I spoke to my Travel Guide and asked him to inform the Hotel staff (Sa Ga Ya Jie Hotel) to rectify the bolt. I was told that there is no bolt on the door for a purpose so that multiple people can enter the toilet to use it simultaneously. This was new for me and this was just the beginning…
Day 6: Next day, we travelled 210 kms to reach Paryang at a height of 4590m. We stayed at Hotel Tashi. After reaching this place, I realized that anyone who has ‘fixed’ ideas about life will be forced to reinvent oneself. This time, there was a waist length wall that separates the women’s and men’s toilet, with no entrance door whatsoever. Interestingly, the open air toilets had a spectacular view of the snow-clad Himalayas.
I observed that Tibetans in that region have a simple and egalitarian society. The owner of Hotel Tashi is a beautiful lady and the hotel premise did not have any lock/guard at the main entrance. The few support staff whom I saw were all men. It seems that people do not interfere in other’s lives and I was also told that people do not steal and is safe for women.
Day 7: All this while, we were just trying to acclimatize ourselves and enjoying the natural beauty of the region. And it was today that we were going to get a glimpse of Mansarovar Lake (4500 metres or 15,000 ft). We travelled 200 kms passing through picturesque landscape and spotted the beautiful looking Tibetan Kangs (it is an endangered species and looks like a horse) on several occasions. As we entered the Mansarovar Lake, we were greeted by the Antelopes.
Mansarovar Lake (or Mapam Yumco) is a freshwater lake with a circumference of 88 kms and has a maximum depth of 90 metres (or 300 ft). The lake attracts pilgrims who practice Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism. According to Hindu mythology, the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma after which it manifested on Earth. It is believed that Devi Sati (Lord Shiva’s wife) bathed in this lake. Further, as per the Hindu theology, Lake Mansarovar is a personification of purity, and one who drinks water from the lake will go to the abode of Lord Shiva after death. He is believed to be cleansed of all his sins committed over even a hundred lifetimes. And those who bathe at Mansarovar go to the abode of Lord Brahma after death.
|Board @ Lake|
We did the parikrama in our Land Cruiser and then stopped to take a dip in the holy water. Since it was afternoon, the water was not freezing cold and I took a quick dip. It was the first bath that we had after entering the Chinese territory. I mediated and then drank the water of the lake, while my group members performed pooja. Then, we headed towards our hotel and on our way we were lucky to get the first darshan of the snow clad Mt Kailash. I felt as if my prayers were heard. We got down from the car and clicked photographs and were really happy.
One could see the Mansarovar Lake on one end and Mt Kailash on the other from our Hotel (Parmatama’s House). Nearby, there is a monastery on a hill top and I climbed it along with my mother to get a closer view of Mt Kailash. We spent several hours on the hill top and returned to our Hotel for dinner.
It is believed that Lord Shiva comes to the Lake in the form of a light. So my group member went to the Lake at 2am to notice the phenomenon. However, I choose to be indoors as it was really breezy and I did not want to take a chance to fall ill. My group members said that they saw the light three times and enjoyed the experience.
|First view of Mt. Kailash|
Day 8: I again climbed the hill that housed the monastery and gazed at Mt. Kailash for hours. Post lunch, we left for Darchen which was just an hour and half away. We stayed at Ma Phong Hotel (or Peocock Hotel) and one could see Mt. Kailash from our room. In the evening, our guide told us that we have only got ten horses and there are 14 people. Horse ride for parikrama was part of the package and this last minute change did not go down well with most of the group members. It was collectively decided that the elders in the group will get the horses and the youngsters would walk. Two horses will go idle and will be used in case of emergency.
I was told by our guide that one may experience sleeplessness due to high altitude. I somehow had a feeling that my sleep will not get affected and it did not. But today, I lost my sleep as I realized that I have to walk 51 kms in such high altitude. Also, I was the only one in the group who had not hired a porter to carry my luggage. I had thought that on a horse back I will easily be able to carry my load. Now with the twist of events, I wasn’t sure how will I manage this feat? After a while, I tried to relax myself as I knew I did not have an option and by not sleeping in the night my situation will only weaken the following day.
|Near Yam Dwar|
Day 9: In the morning, it was raining cats and dogs and we were told that the parikrama region is experiencing snowfall. The Guide said that if it continued like this then we will have to cancel the parikrama. It was disheartening to know that we may have to go back. After 2 hours of wait, we decided to go to Yam Dwar (the last motor able spot before the parikrama). We reached there and it was raining heavily. I thought that we will not be going ahead and all of a sudden our group decided that we will take a chance. I wasn’t sure how I was going to walk 12 kms in this heavy rain. So I hugged my mom and told her not to think about me and be careful. Only after reaching the destination (place of stay/mud houses) should she think about me. My mother promised to take care of herself.
I started with my group member but strangely they decided that they will walk very slowly and will not halt at any place. I was sure that I could not walk so many kilometers without taking a break. Also, in such high altitude one is not able to walk fast but walking too slow was also not possible for me as I was carrying a bag. Gradually, my team members got left behind and I started walking ahead of them. I halted whenever I was tired and walked leisurely. In my mind, I wanted to cover as much distance as possible so that when my mom’s horse crosses me then she at least knows that I have covered say 50-60% of the distance. During the course of walking I had juice and an apple and did not feel hungry. Thankfully after sometime the rain stopped and there was sunshine. Unfortunately, all boards and signages are written in Chinese so one does not know how many more kilometers one has to trek. Around 3pm our group’s guide caught up with me and was pleased with my speed. He told me that we are about to reach the mud houses (in Dirapuk at 4890m) where we were supposed to spend the night. Soon I realized that I was the first to reach the mud house, even before the people on horseback. After an hour my mother reached. She was so happy to see me. This gave me a lot of confidence and I was ready for trekking 22 kms on the following day.
Again, Mt Kailash was very close to where we were staying. Later on everyone went trekking to go as close to the mountain. I decided to rest and save energy for the next day.
Day 10: My mother was glad that I had no problems while trekking. But she was apprehensive regarding what will happen today as 22kms was way too long a journey. And this time round snowfall was happening. I walked for sometime but soon realized that I was not geared up to tackle snowfall. I decided to take one of the idle horses that our team had. I made the right decision as after a while it became too cold and the weather was really bad. It was a steep climb (on the way is Doma-La at 5650m) and my horse was walking alone. I did not know where my group members were. After a while I spotted two of my group members and was relieved to find them. The horses don’t take you on their back whenever there is downhill. I was asked to get down. It was a 5 kms downhill trek and snowfall was still happening. I could see Gauri Kund (it has lovely dark green water colour) in front of me but my legs were frozen till my knee level as I got down the horse. I slowly started walking but my team members were Nepali and they were very fast. We took some snaps on the way but walked non-stop. Descend was slippery at some portions and I was glad that there was someone with me. We reached the base and waited for our horse as well as any other group member to join us. We waited for about 2 hours and none of the group members came, so we decided to move on as it was raining. Then we travelled 12 kms to reach Zutulpuk (at 4750m). My group members reached late as two of them fell down, including my mother during the downhill trek. And a young man from our group faced lot of difficulty. He was administered oxygen at several occasions.
Day 11: Now it was a 10 km trek and I was sure that I will be able to do it on foot. I knew my mother will also manage the last leg of the parikrama, even with her injury. It was very cloudy but it did not rain. At the end of the parikrama, one could see the beautiful Rakshas Taal or Ravana Taal. It is the place where Ravana did tapasya. In the backdrop were the snow-clad Brahma Parvat and the scenic beauty of the place is the apt finish line for the parikrama. All of us took photographs and lot of unknown people shook hands in excitement of completing the parikrama.
|Brahma Parvat along with Rakshas Taal|
Our Land Cruisers were waiting for us and we got into it and then again went to Mansarovar. It is said that is how you complete both the parikramas (Mt. Kailash & Mansarovar Lake). All of us thanked God for giving us this opportunity and fell short of words.
We had lunch at the picturesque Pigu Tso Lake. I realized that during this trip that most of the mountains and lakes appear to be near and as you start walking towards them you realize that they are not so close by. I wanted to touch the waters at Pigu Tso but after a lot of walking I dropped the idea as I would not get my lunch if I pursued any further. We returned to Hotel Tashi at Paryang in the evening.
|Pigu Tso Lake|
Day 12: Since there is no donation box at Kailash Mansarovar, I wanted to give some money to a poor person but not a beggar. On the way, I spotted an elderly selling some Buddhism related material. I bought some make-a-wish Buddhist notes (not sure what they are called) and paid him a lot more than its selling price. I took the help of my Guide to translate and tell the elderly gentleman that I just wished to give him more money. He was so happy that the look on his face made my day.
We travelled to Saga and stayed in Shi Sha Bang Hotel. They had shower rooms and I took a bath in the evening. On the way back, you still can afford to take risks.
Day 13: Travelled back to Kathmandu
Day 14: Flight back to Delhi and guess what I managed to get a very good view of Mt Everest from our flight :)
I came to know that it is believed that once you undertake Kailash Mansarovar Yatra your life transforms. I don’t know how it changes but surely if it does, then it will be for good.
|Waterfall landing on the road|
- There is visa on arrival for Indians going to Nepal
- There is a 15 minutes time difference between India & Nepal; and 2.15 hours difference in Tibet
- While shopping bargain hard in Kathmandu
- Flight to see Mt Everest costs about INR 5000 per person plus airport tax
- The temperature of Kodari is cooler than Kathmandu and as you enter Tibet becomes cold
- In Tibet, hardly any one understands English. You have to take your guide’s help for translation
- There is a Chinese military base at Saga, so photography is prohibited. The army can take away your camera if you are taking photography shots
- One does not feel hungry in high altitude. One has to force feed to get energy in the body
- Hamsa goose spotted at the Mansarovar lake is not so impressive in terms of looks
- The Bhutia dogs in the Tibetan region are ferocious, so better to stay away from them
- Preferably book a package tour that excludes horse ride for parikrama as there is a chance that your tour operator may charge you but not provide you with a horse. So better to pay for it when you reach Darchen and book the horses
- Tibetans do a three-week parikrama. Some of them do not halt and do parikrama during the day as well as night
- We had booked our package from Adventure Asia, Karol Bagh, Delhi and their partners in Nepal were Mahtra Hone Group. I was not satisfied with their service as the standard of the food and the hotel was not up to the mark considering that we had paid INR 1,00,000 per person. Also, they refused to give the refund for the payment for not getting all the horses for the parikrama. When I asked them about the payment receipt or the cancellation of horses receipt, they did not show me any paperwork. Since I did not find their dealing transparent, I asked for a refund and was only given 450 Yuan, though the cost of hiring a horse is 1200-1300 Yuan. The Guide never did the job of explaining the importance of any place, if you had certain information and needed clarification, only then would he respond
- If you know someone who has gone for this yatra, then ask him/her regarding a good travel operator. It is very difficult to otherwise figure out who is good operator and what services will he actually provide
- In Tibet, lot of ladies and children come asking for bangles and bindis. I don’t think they get it there but I think it’s in fashion. You may want to keep some with you and give it to them as a goodwill gesture
- Once you enter Tibet, the weather at times changes very fast. So, it is better to be careful.
(* Photo courtesy - Christelle - Thanks dear)
Monday, July 25, 2011
The route from Panchtarni onwards becomes narrow. Army, BSF & CRPF personnel control the traffic of those travelling on foot, horse and palki(palanquin). At times, one way traffic is stopped completely to let others coming from the opposite direction pass by. I got hit on my injured knee by a lot of travellers as the passage was constricted. Two kilometres before the cave, the horse journey ends and one has to walk to cross a glacier and is followed by steps leading to the cave. We were fortunate to have a good darshan on Monday and it was also the first day of Shravan. After the darshan, it started raining and we reached Panchtarni by 2pm. We wanted to go till Sheshnag but the horsewalla suggested that we do a night halt at Panchtarni as the weather was inclement. We listened to his advice.
|Sarika Devi Temple, Srinagar|
|Shalimar Bagh, Srinagar|
We took a morning flight on July 15th from Delhi to Srinagar. If you get an opportunity to enter the VIP lounge at the airport, then do visit. I liked the wooden carving and the amenities offered to the guests inside the lounge. After having lunch, we decided to go to the city. So I asked the hotel receptionist, “by what time was it safe to return in the evening.” He replied, “It is safe till 10pm.” I wondered whether I could ever give this advice to any traveller visiting Delhi. But I was happy to hear that things are fine in the Valley. Some five years ago, when I last visited Srinagar, the situation was a little tense. May be at that time, I had visited during the Independence Day, so there was so much security that it felt as if one has entered a battle field. I had felt very uncomfortable at that time but even then I liked the place and I knew that I will come back here again.
|Hari Parvat, Srinagar|
The receptionist also suggested that we buy rain-coats for our journey to Amarnath from the city. We went to Budshah Chowk and bought raincoats. Then, we thought of re-visiting all the tourist spots. I was interested in going to Sarika Devi Temple. Last time, I not only felt a connection with Srinagar but also sensed some sort of attachment with the Sarika Devi Temple. I knew that Sarika Devi will call me back to Srinagar, at least once more. Now that I was here, I wanted to thank her. But most auto rickshaws were clueless about the temple. My mom asked me to give up. I felt a little dejected. Just then an auto walla approached us and the itinerary for the rest of the day got charted out. We went to Sarika Devi Temple, Mughal Gardens (Shalimar, Nishat & Cheshmashahie), Zetsha Mata Temple, Dal Lake and then dinner at the famous Krishna Dhaba at Dal Gate. After starting the trip by visiting the Sarika Devi Temple, I felt that we have Her blessings and nothing will go wrong during the trip. The taste of rajma at Krishna Dhaba hasn’t changed over the years. It is the tastiest rajma I have ever had. We returned to the hotel by 10pm.
Day 2: We booked a cab from Srinagar to reach Pahalgam. The journey takes two to three hours. On our way, we saw the ruins of Avantipura. By noon, we reached Pahalgam. We had booked a cottage to stay. We hired a local cab to see Aru, Betaab Valley, Golf Course and Mahal Shiva Temple. We could hardly see Aru as it rained heavily. Betaab Valley is the same place where shooting of the movie Betaab had taken place (Sunny Deol & Amrita Singh starrer). It is beautiful and I would recommend visiting the place. We came across a lot of tourists who were waiting for their turn in the helicopter. Since the last two days, the chopper service was affected due to rains.
|Betaab Valley, Pahalgam|
The journey starts by crossing a glacier and the trail runs along the Lidder River. Then, there is the uphill climb of Pissu Top. Since the weather was good, we reached Sheshnag by 10.30am (at a distance of 12 kms). Sheshnag is a picturesque lake at 11,730 feet. It derives its name from its Seven Peaks that resembles the heads of the mythical snake.
|Glacier- On the way to Amarnath|
The legend of Amarnath goes as follows:
This is the Cave that was chosen by Shankarji for narrating the secrets of immortality and creation of Universe to Maa Parvati ji .
Day 5: It was pouring in the morning, so we started at 9am once the rains stopped. I was in so much pain that I was scared to see my wound. I did not share my feeling with any one as I did not want to disturb everyone’s plan and moreover, I didn’t want to go on a chopper or use a palki. After reaching Sheshnag, I again went to the medical camp and the doctor told me that only when you return home, will your wound heal. I completely agreed with the doctor and again mounted the horse. We reached Chandanwari by 6pm and then took a cab to Pahalgam. We stayed over at Pahalgam and later returned to Delhi.
|The Holy Cave- Amarnath|
I saw a couple of differently-abled persons who were undertaking this journey alone (without any family or friends). I salute their courage and determination to make things happen. I also met a 67 year old Uncle who had been coming to the yatra without fail for the last 13 years. And he takes two months off from his work annually and volunteers his service at one of the bhandaras. He walks the entire 30 kms every time he comes here.