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Varanasi – Photo Journal

Varanasi – Photo Journal

Varanasi is the soul of spiritual India and one of the oldest living cities in the world. It embodies the brilliance of human existence and co-existence. Where else can one witness contrasting religions co-existing, Varanasi – the capital of Hinduism is home to an equally large population of Muslim weavers producing the highly coveted Indian fabric called Banarasi fabric or Banarasi sarees. Where else could one possibly witness the burning of dead bodies by the ghats of Ganges. A Hindu saint, a Muslim weaver and a stray dog can be seen sitting beside each other on the ghats with silent harmony, such is the spirit of Varanasi where each human being is equal just as nature would wish for it to be!

One would either absolutely love the complex organised chaos of Varanasi or totally hate it. The essence of this city will rip your soul, the raw scenes of the bodies burning on the ghats will churn your brains inside out and compel you to re think about life and your existence. I have shared a few random photos from my time in Varanasi, it is better seen than spoken about!

Preparation for the Evening Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. The famous evening aarti takes place on this ghat only starting at around 6:45pm every evening, essentially is it a form of worshipping the Ganges.

Many vendors can be seen selling flowers and diyas on the ghats, a diya along with flowers is usually sold for Rs 10, it is holy to light the diya and set the leaf bowls afloat on the Ganges hoping it will fulfill whatever one has wished for which lighting the diya.

The evening aarti in progress, its a magical and soulful experience t witness 7 pandits performing the evening aarti, all in sync with each other. The atmosphere is electrying with holy chants and the harmony of all the people there clapping together in tune with the chants.

Watch the Aarti:

Varanasi illuminates the moment the sun goes down, starting with the evening aarti and hundreds of diyas afloat, Ganges turns into a dancing beauty shimmering through out. The best way to indulge in this time is by a boat ride which will take you along the ghats. The boat men are usually well versed with the history of the ghats and double hat as a guide as well. For foreigners, my tip is do not settle for anything more than Rs 300 for a boat ride on the Ganges.

Manikarnika Ghat is one of the most famous Ghats is Varanasi, it is believed and it is true as well that the fire of this ghat never goes down, there is some human dead body being burnt here throughout the year. It is a unique, life changing and raw experience to witness performance of Hindu burial rituals in such close proximity.

At Manikarnika Ghat, clicked from the boat.

Varanasi is equally calming in the morning, the air is fresh and it is beautiful to watch the locals offering prayers in the Ganges and taking a holy dip. At Dashashwamedh Ghat in the morning, the boats are parked by the ghats awaiting to take tourists on boat rides.

From the boat:

The famous Indian local barbers, one can be seen below in the photo, sitting like a king while he waits for his next customer.

The one most popular visual from the ghats of Varanasi is that of a ‘sadhu’ drapped in saffron, I clicked the sadhu with the perfect pose! 

This below is the backside of Brijrama Palace, said to one of the oldest landmarks of the city perched on Darbhanga Ghat, the palace which is now one of the most expensive hotels in Varanasi at approx. Rs 25,000 per night dates back to 1812. It also has one of the oldest elevators installed in India in 1915.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most important and oldest temples in India with a dome still made of gold. Although photography is not allowed in the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. There is now a newly built Kashi Vishwanath Temple in the sprawling Benaras University. 

Chaotic street traffic of Varanasi  – Nothing can get more thrilling than this, not even a good roller coaster ride :

Any trip to Varanasi is incomplete without indulging on the super delicious food on offer. Below is a drooling Maharaja thali, although this one is vegetarian, still it is one of the best thalis I have ever had at Kaiser Palace – Hotel Surya.

Do not, I repeat do not miss out on having the utterly rich and yummy milk based desserts and drinks, such Kulfi, Lassi, Rabri, Dahi and many more.

The best way to end a delicious meal is by buying yourself a what they popularly call in India ‘masala’ a form of digestive that can be found in several forms such a tiny bullets or flavoured or softened betelnuts, etc. Buying some as a souvenir is always a great idea.

Last but not the least, interested in shopping or  not, it is still worth visiting the local shops in dingy alleys selling stunning intricately woven Banarasi fabric and sarees.

Subtle and pain staking process of weaving a Banarasi saree:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My experience of visiting Varanasi was like a roller coaster ride – thrilling, sometimes a bit scary, mentally and emotionally consuming and definitely one that I will never miss for anything else.

Review: Hotel Surya, Kaiser Palace, Varanasi

Varanasi is the soul of spiritual India, it is one of the oldest city in the World. When I was planning my trip to Varanasi I was sure I did not want to stay right next to the ghats, I was looking for a heritage place rather. Usually heritage accommodation in Varanasi is expensive given the tourist inflow. Although I was lucky to have some credit point on MakeMyTrip App which I wanted to use.

Upon some research I found this beautiful heritage property Hotel Surya, Varanasi – Kaiser Palace, a small palace from the 1800s converted into a hotel and booked it.

The heritage building
Hall way of the heritage building

Pros:

Price: After discount Rs 1500-2000 per standard double room. It is definitely value for money.

Location: Location is at Cantt. area at approx 5kms (30 mins due to traffic) from the Ghats of Varanasi. But very close to the Railway station which is a plus, also pretty close to Sarnath since the location helps skip the city traffic. Getting an auto the ghats is not an issue as there is a auto, taxi stand right opposite the hotel.

Stay: The old heritage building is well maintained, rooms are spacious, clean and well maintained equipped with tea maker and hot water. Although the standard rooms donot have a mini freezer. Do not forget to ask for a lawn facing room while booking.

Standard room
Standard room
Hallways of the heritage building

 

Pool: Pool doesn’t have the cleanest water but not bad enough to not swim, drinks served at the pool which is a plus.

Pool and some Mojito

Food:  The hotel has 1 restaurant and 1 cafe and 1 bar:

Canton Royale – a fine diner (do not forget to enjoy a great Maharaja Thali here, I had ordered a vegetarian thali and this was one of the best I had). A good meal without drinks would cost around Rs 2000 for two.

Canton Royale
Vegetarian Maharaja Thali

Magi Ferra Cafe – A cafe and juice bar, a cool setup with a relaxes ambiance.

Sol Bar –  I loved the Sol Bar, colorful, vibrant and a great place to chill after a tiring great day of sightseeing.

Breakfast: Do not miss the breakfast here, it is served in the heritage building and the spread is pretty decent, great enough to start off the day!

Breakfast area

Cons:

The only con is that since the place is away from the Ghats its takes enough time to and fro, around 30 mins each way, costing Rs 100-150 per trip. Also since the hotel is located in cantt. area among other posh hotels, there aren’t any road side restaurants or eateries around the hotel for cheap meals, of course I wouldn’t suggest eating  all meals in the hotel if you are on a budget. So we made it a point to eat well before we came back to the hotel for the night or pack some food rather.

Overall, if you do not want to stay in the busy city of Varanasi this is a great place away from the noise for sure!

 

Banasura – Kerala’s Hidden Gem – Guest Post

In the South West corner of India, there is a land of rivers and backwaters named Kerala. A state considered by many as God’s own country because of its exotic wildlife, ancient historical structures and vast nature preserve. It’s history is that of fishermen who have, for centuries, awoken early in the mornings before sunrise, to set
out with their sons into the waters. They would spend the entire morning catching fish and would then bring back any successful bait to their families. The fish would be cleaned, salted and eaten with a small portion of rice, or garnished with crushed chillies and turmaric, if this could afford that as well. Any left-overs would be sold on
the market by mid-day, and after that, everyone would head to bed before sunrise to be ready for an early rise the next day.

Years ago, when I was in my teenage years, my family and I were spending a few weeks in India, visiting family and friends. Suddenly my father decided that we should go on a trip to a jungle in Kerala, and stay in a place called Banasura for a few days. Of course my sister and I were very keen about this and couldn’t wait to leave,
knowing we could futher explore the buzzeling city and it’s chaos when we’d got back. We left in a big bus with not just my family but also all my family’s old friends and their relatives. The journey was about twelve hours long which was funny because we hadn’t traveled more than 300 km. The length of the trip was due to the terrible Indian traffic and the fact that we were trying to navigate our way through a mountain with a 30 ft. long bus. But I must say the ride was well worth it because our destination was more impressive than words could describe. We were surrounded by green mountain
ranges covered with tea plantages, the sky had an unusual purple glow to it and here and there you could see enormous lakes with odd looking branches sticking out of them. It was only then I realized how much I felt aligned with nature by being this secluded, parted from the civilized world I had come from. It’s always an interesting
and sudden change when you step into nature from the busy city life.

Banasura Sagar Kerala by DP Photography

We ended up not doing very much throughout our trip. There was a campfire every night, I learned to play cricket, and also learned that I wasn’t very good at it. In my defense, we were playing on a cliff’s end, so everyone was rather cautious of not falling from it in the process of batting and running. All in all, it was a relaxing
holiday, unlike our usual city trips that include jogging from one museum to the other. Banasura however, was far more stunning than any historical building I’ve ever seen, in fact it’s possibly the most wonderful place I’ve ever been.

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Assam – The hidden beauty of North East India – Photo Journal

Assam – The hidden beauty of North East India – Photo Journal

Having grown up in Assam, and having spent a considerable amount of my childhood there, I sometimes really miss the greenery, the clear skies and untouched beauty of  this north east Indian state. The beauty of Assam can only be witnessed rather than described, it is naive and simple. Even a random walk in a village is would to etch ones memory forever.

These are a few moments I captured from my recent trip to Assam and the simplicity in the beauty is profound, see for yourself!


Inside Rang Ghar in Sivasagar, said to be one of the oldest surviving amphitheaters in Asia built by the royals of Assam, the mixed hues of green and brown are enough to tell a tale about how old this place is.


Cannons used during wars of the Ahom Dynasty in Talatal Ghar, Sivasagar. So much of history behind these cannons, yet they have withstood time. 


Out on a walk into a village around Sivasagar, I happened to capture what I would call a perfect image of serenity. I still have it up as my laptop wallpaper, in someways the gradual mix of the blue skies into the green fields relaxes my eyes every time I look at this picture.


Some places are like hidden gems, and this is one of them. Tilinga Temple in Tinsukia is mystical in so many ways. Tie a bell, small, big, medium whatever size you choose and and it is said your wish will be granted. I was amazed by the sheer volume of bells that were tied, bells were dangling from everywhere I could set my eyes on.


Lord Shiva is widely worshipped in Assam. How could I not visit one!


If one have ever read a little about Assam, they must have come across Majuli, the largest river island in the World, and soon eroding.


The most popular way of showing respect to anyone in Assam is to present an Assamese gamosa (kind of white towel with red borders). I was lucky to witness one in the making by the locals at a village.


Kamakhya Temple is one of the most famous temples in India and strongly believed upon by the Hindus. In itself it is a tourist attraction too.


Kaziranga National Park, the world’s only sanctuary with the largest population of the one-horned Rhinos. A visit to Assam is incomplete without a visit here. The landscape inside is untouched and stunning!

As I was about to leave the National Park after visiting the lazy rhinos, I spent some time with this pair of elephants, the mother and the baby.


Assam is spectacular, and these memories and many more will always capture a special little place in my heart!

 

Corner Courtyard – Review

India has a rich and long standing colonial past, and there are some gem of places where one can dine & wine in the company of such old world charms. One such place is the colonial looking pretty place perfectly named ‘Corner Courtyard‘ and conveniently tucked into a corner in Hazra, Kolkata. This place is often hailed for being one of the most romantic places in the city and I might as well agree!

The Space: If you are a fan of cozy, bright and white colored interiors, if colonial old world charms appeals to you, and if you are looking for a quiet romantic meal, this is your place. The place has a striking interior with white walls with mirrors and frames hanging on them, huge dangling lights, big windows and a shelf full of travel books of India and Kolkata, the most unique look of the place is the wall with a 100+ door knobs of all shapes and sizes, pretty chairs all in shades of pastel; all this put together, it works out to be a perfect place for a cozy family dinner or a romantic one with that someone special.

A wall full of mirrors
a quaint corner with a window
The interesting wall of Door Knobs
a fitting menu

Food & Drinks: The place specializes in continental cuisine, in fact one of the places in the city serving Italian and French cuisine pretty close to authentic. My favorites!core they serve really loaded and well done bruchettas, the pizzas and pastas can be ordered without second thoughts. Watch out for the Grilled chicken ‘The Californian’, it sure tasted as well as it sounds.

What’s unique: Definitely the huge wall full of colorful door knobs of all shapes and sizes, such a stunner!

Watch out for: It is best to ask the waiters for the best options available. I have tried to not listen to them and order as per my liking but I was kind of disappointed, so it is always to best to ask!

Pocket Pinch: The quantity is typically European in nature, by which I mean very measured and this left me with a feeling that the hit on my pocket was on a harder side. A dinner with drinks for a couple could be anywhere around Rs 3000+. Quite expensive with a rather not so full stomach!

What not to expect from the French colony of India – Pondicherry

India has a touch of so many worlds, it has got a place for all cultures, people and religion and it is always a visual treat to witness such an amalgamation. One such place is Pondicherry, after years of wanting to visit this place, last month (February 2017) I finally found myself in this tiny French colony of Pondicherry.
How to Reach: Best way to reach is to travel to Pondicherry from Chennai. Chennai is at a distance of approx 170 kms. By bus or car its takes 3-4 hours. Best and cheapest option is to travel by bus, bus tickets range from Rs 100 – 400 depending on the type of bus. For a more comfortable journey you can hire a car for an expensive fare of Rs 3000 one way.
What not to expect in Pondicherry: 
Well, to be honest when we hear about Pondicherry we picture pastel colored French buildings and architecture, lovely bakeries and a hip culture. Upon visiting this place I realized that this is only partially true.
This is not GOA: Sometimes Pondy is compared to Goa due to its beautiful beaches and influx of foreign tourists. But unlike Goa, Pondy doesnot have shacks like Goa, nor a late night pub or club culture. The beach side cafes and restaurants close at 10:00 PM dot. The ones not beach facing have a buffer of 1 hour and close at 11:00 PM exact.
‘Tiny’ French colony: The most popular part of Pondy is indeed very very small with a capital S. The rest of Pondy except Heritage town in pretty much like a typical, regular south indian city,  so do not expect an extensive French town full of beautiful buildings.
Early nights: Pondy is not the best for the lazy souls. The beach side restaurants shut down at 10:00 pm dot or else expect to be almost thrown out. If you wish to push your nights a bit longer past 10 pm, best bet would be to dine and wine at one of the not so beach side cafes\restaurants to be able to chill till 11 pm. But! Do expect an annoying waiter to be over your shoulder every 10 mins reminding you its time to leave once it is past 11  pm
Language problem: In case you are not  able to find a hotel or accommodation in Heritage town, be ready to struggle a bit, well lets make it quite a bit owing to the prominent language problem. Hindi and English are not commonly spoken except for specific areas in Pondy. I being an Indian had a tough time moving around in the city, imagine what it might have been for someone not from the country.
A teeny weeny bit less hospitable: Okay this is only my personal opinion and no one needs to agree with it, also maybe these opinions are due to specific experiences I had, but nevertheless somehow I had instances in restaurants and hotels where I faced some reluctance or lack of warmth while addressing lets say an issue I was facing. Maybe its the influx of foreign tourists and dollars that has attributed to this or something else I am not too sure about.
I would like to add that hope this post does not discourage anyone from travelling to Pondy, rather it should help you from getting disappointed by setting the right expectations about this tiny lazy extremely pretty French city of Pondicherry.

Review: Thar Oasis, Jodhpur

Thar Oasis, Jodhpur

One of the highlights about a desert holiday is camping in the sand dunes. On my recent trip to Jodhpur I happened to stay at Camp Thar Oasis and I can agree that it is one of the best camping sites in Jodhpur. The moment you enter the gates of the resort and are greeted by the warm gentleman at the gate with a handsome moustache you know you are in for a great stay.

Pros:

Location: Located far away from the city, this place truly is an oasis in the middle of the desert with expanses of desert and sand dunes around it. The moment you enter the Resort you can see the sprawling lawns and the swimming pool brimming with clean blue water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camps & cottages: You can opt to either stay in the camps or the cottages. The cottages are very well maintained, spacious, and well equipped with all basic necessities. the cottages have maintained the essence of Rajasthan with paintings on the walls of the cottages.

The camps are located at a distance from the cottages at a more secluded area. The camp area has an oasis in the middle of it which adds to the experience of staying the sand dunes. The camps are extremely well maintained with beds, washrooms, etc.

Restaurant: The restaurant is equipped with a massive bar and serves delicious food, both indian and continental. The staff too was very polite and warm in their approach.

Do not miss the dinner at the campsite in the middle of the desert under starry skies accompanied with drinks of your choice, amazing Rajasthani folk music and dance.

Cons:

Cons aren’t many. But yes the only not  so  good thing about the location is that it is quite far from any of the cities and if you are in for a short trip staying here is not the most convenient option.

I must conclude that I am totally in love with this place I must say 🙂

 

The Indian “Great Wall of China” – Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan, India

Things you need to know before visiting the Kumbhalgarh Fort:

  • The place usually gets very crowded during peak season (September – March), so make sure to reach early to be able to have a not-so-rushed visit
  • The stairs inside the Fort are pretty steep and narrow, so be careful, not very convenient for people who have problem with small spaces (claustrophobia)
  • Take a guide who can help you around the Fort to not get lost. Do bargain
  • The walk up to the Fort is pretty steep, so be well equipped with proper walking shoes and a water bottle since it could be exhausting
  • Being at the Fort during sunset is one of the best things to do, since it is a captivating view
  • You might consider watching the Light and Sound show in the evening, although it is too much of talk and less about the Fort, watch at own risk (it is in Hindi language though!)
  • Eat properly before going up there, since to walk around the Fort properly is pretty time consuming
  • Mornings and Evenings are best time to visit

 

What you need to know about the’GREAT WALL OF INDIA’:

For the longest time we only knew about The Great Wall of China and its history, but we have a close counterpart in India as well which happens to be the Second Longest Wall in the world after The Great Wall of China. Unknown to the outside world for a very long time, this place is now gaining popularity, Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan, India also referred t now as the GREAT WALL OF INDIA.

Built in the early 15th century by the Great Maharana Kumbha and further extended in the 19th century, this fort is also where The Great King & warrior of Mewar, Maharana Pratap was born. History has it that this is the invincible Fort which could not be conquered even by the mighty Mughals alone, only together with the armies of Delhi, Amber and Marwar they were able to break through the Fort. This Fort is a standing icon of the bold and unbreakable Rajput glory and spirit.

The Fort is a safely protected by the massive snake like meandering Fort Wall which is 15 kms long and 1150 m to 1200 m in height, the wall is as thick as 12-25 feet and broad enough to allow an army of eight horses to ride abreast. It runs through the mountain cliffs and valleys of the Aravalli ranges sometimes going uphill or taking a descent structured with long walk ways, stairs and seven huge gates. Also within the Wall it guards 360 temples. Along with the Fort the Wall encompasses around some of the forest ranges of the Kumbhalgarh National Park which helps in the safe keeping of a few Indian endangered species, it is home to the famous panthers & leopards of India and also a variety of other wildlife. The Wall is an standing proof of the brilliant architecture from the Rajput era, built with such brilliance that even after 700 years of its being it still stands tall unmoved. It is this wall that is known as the second longest continuous wall on the planet after the ‘Great Wall of China’.

 

 

Jodhpur – The spectacular Blue city of India

Who doesn’t like palaces, camels rides, royality and feeling like a prince or a princess in some ancient place. We all love to think of it and maybe visit such a place and indulge in the stories behind it. Rajasthan in India is such a place, full of palaces, deserts, sand dunes, vibrant clothes and lovely music and folk dance. Although Rajasthan is very big and each city is equally different and beautiful, for the last month on 2016 I was lucky to be in Rajasthan and visited Jodhpur.

‘Must do’s’ in Jodhpur:

Camping in the desert: The spectacular Thar Desert is spread across Jodhpur, and one of the best things to do in Jodhpur is to indulge in the Desert experience. There are quite a few Camps and Resorts in the vicinity of Jodhpur city. You could either stay in the Resorts; for a more indulgent experience stay in one of the Deserts camps on the sand dunes. The camps offer various types of stay packages equipped with meals, you can also opt for a Camel safari – a must do; as well as the Jeep safari for a more thrilling feel; best taken in the evening or early morning. http://ourlittletravelbook.com/review-thar-oasis-jodhpur/

Thar Oasis Resort – The resort we stayed in
Swimming pool inside the Resort

Dining in the desert: There can be no experience more etching in the memory as that of dining under the expanse of the starriest skies in the middle of the desert, served along with traditional Rajasthani folk dance and music. The set ups are usually ethereal with sofas lined up around the performance area along with bonfire. The hospitality is usually impeccable with great service of starters and drinks being served during the performance and the dinner is usually served indoors.

Drinks and snacks served before dinner in the desert
Rajasthani Dance performance

Explore Mehrangarh Fort: Without doubt Mehrangarh Fort is the best place in Jodhpur. Perfectly perched on the hill top it is as picturesque as can be. Invincible and one of the more prominent forts in India constructed by Rao Jodha way back in 1459 AD. It is an art and architecture lover’s heaven. Throughout done with extreme detailing, the grandeur of the Fort is extraordinary. The entire Blue City of Jodhpur is visible from the Mehrangarh Fort.

Sunset from Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh Fort
Architecture of Mehrangarh Fort
Huge weapons of all sizes on display inside Mehrangarh Fort

Ivory jewellery on display in a store in Mehrangarh Fort

Admire the Umaid Bhawan Palace: The Palace is placed on the highest point of the city and is comparatively more recent, being constructed in 1929. The palace represents a mix of Indian and European architecture, with 347 rooms, it is one of the largest private residences in the world and is partially also the residence to the former royal family, while the remaining part is a museum and the other owned by Taj Palace Hotel.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Obsess over a Rajasthani Thali: Being in Rajasthan and not obsessing over Rajasthani food is a crime. The best way to do so is to fill your stomach with the elaborate spread of food served in a Rajasthani thali. Look out for dal baati churma, gattey ki sabzi, makkey ki roti, panchmel ki Subzi, kheench, moong dal halwa all of which are local delicacies. For the most amazing thali go to Gypsy Restaurant in Jodhpur city. Other options for great food are Shandar Sweet home, for great ambience & food are Hanwant Mahal, Indique & On the Rocks.

The elaborate Rajasthani Thali

Try the Local street food: Personally I have to say, do try the Pani puri or golgappas here. There are like nothing you have ever eaten before. Served with a choice of 5 pani options (watery dip) like sweet, hing, imli and others they are just mind blowing. Also try the super spicy Mirchi Vada to ignite your taste buds.

The famous Mirchi Vada

Shopping: Just like Rajasthani food, the things to shop on offer are equally tempting. Surrounding the Clock Tower is the bustling bazaar, Sardar Market. Everything starting from home décor, jutis(shoes), silver jewellery & Bandhej sarees in vibrant colors can be found here. Personally my opinion is that the most economical and best quality shopping can be done from National Handloom Cooperation on Nai Sarak, it is like a one stop shop for all things in one place for really affordable prices.

How to reach Jodhpur:

By Air – Jodhpur has its own domestic airport located at 5 kms from the city and is well connected with all important metro cities. Flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Udaipur and other important Indian cities serve Jodhpur on a daily basis. Cabs and autos are available outside the airport and can be hired to travel to any part of the city.

By Train: Jodhpur is well connected by train will all major cities.

By Road: Direct buses both luxury such as Volvo & state buses ply from Delhi and Jaipur. The Roads are very well maintained and one can also drive from the nearby cities.