Tag Archives: hills

Kashmir: At the time of Curfew – Part II

Day 2: Sonmarg

I had planned a more elaborate trip to Kashmir, but upon discussions with locals and the drivers I understood that Pahalgam and Gulmarg were not a safe place to travel during the ongoing curfew since it was pretty disturbed at the moment with stonepelting still continuing. Gulmarg which is famous for the Gondola ride was closed for close to 2 months at the moment. I also had a couple of days of stay booked in Pahalgam. Considering all this I dropped my plan to go to these places and instead decided to go to Sonmarg and  stay back in Srinagar for a day longer and made a plan change to go to Jammu instead. So on my 2nd day I headed to Sonmarg in the wee hours at 4:30 am, since usually everyone is asleep at that time and it helps avoid any commotion on the road that might happen during day time. So we travelled in the dark and on empty roads and it took us around 3 hours to reach Sonmarg with a few toilet and tea breaks in between. So by 7:30 am we reached Sonmarg. The air was cold and fresh and the view was magical. The sun had risen and its warmth was so comforting. After having my breakfast at a local stall.

I understood that usually one would hire a horse and a rider to take me uphill. So after negotiating we decided on Rs 1400 for a horse ride up and down the hill. As per locals this was a very cheap rate given the low tourist footfall. And so at around 8:30 am my splendid ride began with my horse named ‘Heer’ who was just 4 years old and quite a girl, she would gallop atimes and walk on the all the possible loose edges of the hill although there were broad paved roads right beside them, almost giving me a heart attack. Apparently the horses prefer to walk on the edges I was told.Phew!!!

img_20160919_124203
A herd of sheeps grazing at the foothills
img_20160919_123650
my pretty ride for the day ‘Heer’
img_20160919_093538
Beautiful valley

I should admit that within no time I and Heer befriended each other and soon the rider let me and her take the lead on our way up. Soon I was comfortable enough to be clicking pictures and enjoying my ride. We crossed locations where the recent movie ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’ was shoot (Bollywood movie) and few others the horse keeper named that I don’t remember now. Soon we reached the drop off point from where I climbed a bit of the hill by foot where a huge cave was formed out of stacked frozen ice. After clicking some pictures, having some tea and snacks and resting a bit, while Heer had some water to herself we headed back downhill.

Once we reached I patted my beautiful black horse and bit adieu to the rider who too was a real nice person although we didn’t talk much during our ride. By the time we were back it was around 12:00pm and lunchtime.

I was interested in having Wazwan which is Kashmiri cuisine and I did find a comfortable local restaurant serving them luckily, unlike many which were closed and serving just basic food. I ordered Rista which is basically mutton balls in spicy gravy to be had with rice. After a good and super spicy wazwan we headed back. I stopped by for a bit of shopping at a government store on the way, where I also relaxed a little and had some kashmiri tea: Kahwa which is a specialty. This too was a great place to shop and more so since the shopkeeper was very sweet.

Finally at around 6 pm I was back at my house boat and the roads had a little more people than the day before, a few more shops were open. I rested a while and decided to go out for a stroll. It was comforting to see that a few shops were selling samosas and breads, was I walked down further I came across a big hospital due to which there were vans selling biryani and fried chicken. So yes, post 6 pm life was a little better than the morning for the locals here, I also saw a park fun of kids playing and I wished that the crisis in Kashmir would end soon.

Expenses:

Srinagar to Sonmarg by car and back: Exorbitant Rs 6000, due to the curfew. Usually they charge Rs 2500.

Sonmarg horse ride uphill and down: Rs 1400 per horse, usually during normal situation its more.

Continued…

What not to miss in Darjeeling

img_20150812_143048

Darjeeling is absolutely one of my most favorite hill stations in India, the charm of this place is elegant and gracious. In my previous post I was busy admiring this place and only had enough time to write about my first impressions once I reached Darjeeling. Now it has been a week of me staying here and I think I am finally ready to write about what are the absolute have-to-visit or have-to-do places in Darjeeling. While I sip on to my cup of tea sitting here in the valley facing CCD cafe, join me in as I pen down my personal favorites here.


Momos
Ah!!! The momos one can eat in Darjeeling is unmatched. I don’t remember ever eating such heavenly momos anywhere else. The momos are served with red hot spicy sauce and a very clear chicken soup. The best ones I found where in the small dingy road side eateries lined up on the road around the Darjeeling railway station run by local people. No! do not get skeptical by looking at these places, they might look really shabby from the outside, the places are usually clean and really tiny with just enough space for 6-8 people to fit in but it’s the food they put on your plate that will leave you wanting for more. This is where I went and then went there again for 3 consecutive days and had my itinerary permitted I would have gone there everyday.

img_20150811_144143img_20150811_144231

Glenarys
The most famous bakery in town, also known as the Glenary’s Cake Shop is located at the ground floor of a beautiful white colonial building, its a typical British colonial building and very near to the Mall road. While the Restaurant is located upstairs, the bakery is on the lower floor, go there for the yummy breakfast, rolls, pies, pizzas, pastries, fruit & rum cakes and also freshly baked breads. The view from the cafe is breath-taking. Order a pot of Darjeeling tea and it almost feels like having a cup on tea sitting on the clouds. Also lookout for the red telephone booth, a perfect selfie location

img_20150808_174228
Red telephone booth inside the cafe
img_20150808_175014
Placed in one of the corners in the cafe
img_20150808_175040
View from Glenarys bakery

The Restaurant is equally regal and beautiful, famous for its continental food, order with a glass of wine to enjoy the feel for colonial life.

img_20150810_221646
Wine for three 🙂 @Glenarys
img_20150810_195251
Restaurant in Glenarys on a casual evening

Keventers

Popular for being featured in some of the recent Bollywood movies, it is located facing the Clock tower. I have never had a sausage platter so big and so huge in my life. A foodies paradise. USP huge quantity, sausage platter for breakfast with breads and Darjeeling tea. Overlooks the clock tower. The terrace is the best place to find a table.

img_20150809_182637
The famous sausage platter
img_20150809_160725
View from the terrace in Keventers
img_20150809_182916
Look out for one of the ship shaped building from the terrace in Keventers

Mall Road

As many hill stations in India, Darjeeling too has the mall road lined up with shops selling rich authentic local handicrafts and jewellery. I bargained to buy really gorgeous jewellery and artifacts

img_20150808_180427
The usual scene from Mall Road

Toy Train

Well Toy Train is heritage and a ticket is hard to find unless booked in advance and pretty damn expensive too. My advice ditch the Toy train, take a train from Darjeeling station to Ghoom and back to get a flavor of the a train journey on the hills by the tea gardens. (Although this is my personal opinion)

img_20150812_124842
The world famous Toy Train
img_20150812_142000
Ghoom or Ghum Railway station

Mountaineering Institute & Zoo

Usually I don’t do the usual places like zoo when visiting a place, but this one is different. The Mountaineering Institute houses all the clothes and equipments used by the very first climber Tenzing Norgay and their team and also a detailed description of the route and their journey followed by them. In the Zoo specifically look out for the Red Panda lazying around.

img_20150809_113828
Himalayan Zooligical park
img_20150809_114218
The super lazy Red Panda

Rope-way ride

The  Cable Car is a must see only because it allows majestic views of the acres of the tea garden which looks like a green carpet from above. To me it seemed like a trip into a Jurassic Park scenario. We reached  here to board the cable car from Singamari which is approx. 3kms away from Darjeeling Chowk Bazaar.
The ride is about 45 minutes and on an altitude of about 7,000 ft. down to 800 ft. where the last station Singla Bazar is located.

img_20150809_205433
View from the rope way on rainy day
img_20150809_204753
The green carpets of tea garden from the rope way as can be seen below
img_20150809_204500
Into the clouds

Cup of Darjeeling Tea

And finally nothing beats having cup after cups of Darjeeling tea sitting in Darjeeling. The Mall road is lined up with tea cafe come shops like Nathmulls , Golden Tips which serves Darjeeling tea plus all forms of tea related things like cups, sets, pots etc. Look out for the tea cups with strainers with beautiful dragon paintings on it.(below pictures taken in Nathmulls)

img_20150812_142955
This is a tiny tea set, one of the many beautiful things available in the tea shops
img_20150812_142842
Alas! Darjeeling Tea


Darjeeling – My Muse

Darjeeling – My Muse

As a kid I remember waking up to the beautiful aroma of Darjeeling tea everyday along with morning chatter and my Dad sipping on to it while reading the newspaper. It is since then that ‘Darjeeling‘ has enchanted me. When I grew up, inevitably I too took to this drink as my favorite cup of tea. I had visited Darjeeling on many occasions earlier as a kid but that was more of a holiday with family. This year I am visiting Darjeeling again after 12 years, but this time it is with a different mindset, it is with the knowledge that this is the place which was the reason for my morning enchantment as a kid and continues to be, it is  with desire to see the hills that bear them.

Darjeeling is classically beautiful, it is beauty that never ages, it is evergreen  and elegant.

darjeeling, hills, clouds, road, hilly road
Sign board on the road way up the hills

As I drove up towards Darjeeling from the Bagdogra Airport in a taxi few hours ago, the spiral hilly roads only added to my anticipation of seeing this old colonial hill city yet again, which was once the summer resort for the British during their rule in India. It is the British influence that I could immediately seen once I reached Darjeeling.

I will skip the part on where and which hotel I checked into because I will detail about my hotel & details of my stay in a following blog post as and when I travel around Darjeeling, since Darjeeling cannot be talked about in only one blog post. In this post I only want to sink into admiring this hill city right now as I stand there. I checked into my hotel a while ago, it is almost sun down now. In the same airport taxi I got dropped off at the next place I could not wait to get to, the Mall Road. Mall Road is a small stretch of road which ends with a huge open space with a stage at the very end which has an enormous live screen playing amazing music videos along side it. The place is busy with tourists and locals lazying around either sitting on the side benches or on the stairs to the stage. There are many horse keepers ready with their horses to take people for a ride around the mall road for a nominal charge. The place is so infectious as if it is inviting me to come, sit, stay and just stop for a while and take a break. Just down the road is the ‘Clock Tower’ with this huge clock standing tall in the heart of the city. It immediately reminded me of some Bollywood movies that were shot around the clock tower (latest Bollywood movie being ‘Barfi‘).

darjeeling, clock tower
Clock Tower in Mall Road

As I strolled past the several antique stores by the road the clouds came descending down to kiss me as if to say ‘you are welcome back’.  There is a CCD cafe right in the heart of the mall road facing the valley below.

For now I am sipping onto a lovely cup of Darjeeling tea sitting on a couch telling you all about my first few hours in Darjeeling, while I watch the clouds form a garland in the valley below and I contemplate on my itinerary for my stay of next few days in these hills whom I call ‘My Muse‘.

cafe, CCD, clouds, hills, darjeeling
Garland of clouds as clicked from the CCD cafe