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Review: Baul Mon Resort – Shantiniketan’s hidden gem

Review: Baul Mon Resort – Shantiniketan’s hidden gem

Shantiniketan is West Bengal’s soul of art and literature and a world famous tourist spot as well. Given its popularity over the years Shantiniketan has several hotels and guest houses, but it is difficult to guess which ones to stay at. The ones already popular don’t come cheap and the ones good but not too popular are not easy to find due to lack of information on internet and booking websites.

During my search for one such place that would provide me the rural life experience I came across this resort called ‘Baul Mon’. Best not booked via online booking website, since even though the resort is listed in a few booking websites but they do not officially take bookings made via booking websites. Best is to book by calling them, details available at www.baulmonn.in .

The main building

The Space: The resort is just the kind of place you would want to stay in on a trip to a country side place like Shantiniketan. Abundant with green trees and ample space, the resort has cottages as well as rooms in 2 storey buildings. Rooms are big and clean. There is a restaurant as well serving all 2 meals, but the restaurant needs to be informed in advance if you want to have your meals the restaurant.

Cottage I stayed in

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What I liked: Abundant space to chill, a stage for Baul singer performances that take place on evenings. There is also a huge cage with pretty love birds and they also have a bunch of rabbits and a dozen pet dogs. It is a great way to spend the mornings watching the pets and feeding the rabbits. The backside of the resort is a huge rice field and as the night sets in, there is pin drop silence and all one can hear is the sound of fire flies. In winters, ask the resort staff to light a bonfire, and it is even such a lovely experience to enjoy some time in the midst of peace and calm. Personally for me I would definitely return back to this place to stay.

Feeding the rabbits in the morning
The rice fields behind my cottage
A sculpture in the Resort garden
Lovebirds in the garden
Pebbled lanes inside the resort
Pet dogs in the resort napping in the afternoon

What is not there: Of course as described above, you might have guessed this is a no flare place, so it would be unreasonable to expect flare and show. The resort is simple and neat with all basic amenities and justifies the essence of the Shantiniketan, simple and peaceful. I personally feel that coming to Shantiniketan and wanting to stay in a fancy hotel or resort takes away the spirit of enjoying the rural country side experience, although this is just my opinion.

Shantiniketan – An Art Lover’s Paradise

Shantiniketan – An Art Lover’s Paradise

‘Shantiniketan’ meaning ‘Adobe of Shanti or peace’ is a place true to its name and a true art, nature and peace lover’s paradise.

Shantiniketan is home to the world famous Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Having stayed at a distance of 160 kms from Shantiniketan in Kolkata for the last 4 years and yet not having visited the place was something that was always at the back of my mind. So recently I finally ended up spending a weekend in this stunning abode of art, culture and literature.  Here I have shared some photos from my weekend stay in Shantiniketan.

The moment you set foot in Bolpur, where Shantiniketan is situated, the first thing one would notice is the vibrant red color of the soil, the reason why it is also called the land of ‘Lal Matti’ meaning land of red soil.

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‘Lal Matti’ – Red soil

In the evening I wandered over the nearby ‘Haat’ meaning flee market. The one is called the Biswa Bangla Haat with proper stalls selling handmade and painted things made by the locals put up for sale. Trust me shopping here is a dream, such reasonable prices and such beautiful work of art on sale, such as hand painted umbrellas and painted wall hangings.

Hand painted umbrella
Local hand painted wall hangings
The permanent shops at the ‘Haat’

After spending some time at the Haat buying local handcrafted things, while wandering around we came across this beautiful park cum boating area called ‘Shyor Bithi’. Not a usual tourist spot, trust me it  a lovely secluded park and a great way to spend sometime in nature. It also have a restaurant, and to my surprise it was serving all cuisines like indian, chinese, even Italian.

Entrance to the park
The beautiful park over looking the boating area

Next morning we left early to visit the very holy ‘KanKalitala’ temple, a hindu temple of great significance for the local people here. It is at a few kms from Bolpur and one can easily hire an auto to take you there. The trip to Kankalitala is worth even if you are not too keen about religious things, the ride to the temple is through untouched villages and fields and such a great way to enjoy the country and village side scene. The streets around the temple is usually buzzing with shops selling offering for Godess Kali, such as colorful hibiscus garlands and incence sticks.

Hibiscus garlands on sale
The village side scene

Finally in the afternoon I ended up in the Visva-Bharati University founded by Rabindranath Tagore who called it Visva-Bharati,  meaning the communion of the world with India. First thing you notice once you enter the campus is huge trees and open spaces with study areas under the trees, one of the most unique things about the university is the concept of teaching under trees, which is still practiced today. There is the museum inside the campus with things Tagore used to use, his writings and other things related to his life on display. It takes well over a good 5-6 hrs to explore the entire campus along with the museum.

Open study areas under the trees
Museum comprising of a permanent display section and the five homes lived in by Tagore,
Art installations in the gardens inside the campus

Inside ‘Kala Bhavana’ a well-known and distinguished centre for Visual Art practice and research in India.

 

Further into the campus there is a section on display showcasing the huts and lifestyle of villagers from all regions in India like how the people in the villages in Orrisa live, how their huts are, etc. Other huts on display are from Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram,etc..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a tiring day spent exploring the University and museum, I headed off the the most interesting part of the trip, to the weekend ‘haat’ which gathers every weekend by the bank of the river there. Trust me you wouldn’t want to miss this for the world. As the evening commences so does the electrifying and infectious atmosphere by the banks of the river. The air is filled with local musicians playing baul music and it is such a festive and joyous feeling all around, almost as if you would want to tap your foot and dance and sing along.Don’t forget to grab an out of the world bengali lunch served in Lotus leaves in the hut style ‘Shakuntala’ restaurant right on the banks of the river beside the haat. Be sure to reach there early fr lunch else expect a long queue or worst id food gets over. I had the best mutton curry and shukto here. Such a great way to have lunch on the banks of the river amidst baul music and hands down delicious home style cooked food served on lotus leaves and terracota vessels.

Some  of the things for sale in the weekend haat. It is common for college kids and others with interest in art to come and sell their art work here. Its is a kingdom of art work, especially for me I did not want the evening to end. Home decor, fabric, bags, sarees what was not there to buy.  Rest assured I am definitely coming back here just to admire the sheer talent and art work display.

Local handircraft on saleAlas! after a soul satisfying trip of Shantniketan, I was off back home but not without visiting the newly opened museum ‘Gitanjali’ very close to Railway station that tells the story of ‘Gitanjali’ (the collection of poems for which Tagore received the Nobel prize) and Tagore.

 

 

 

13 Haunted Vacation Spots to Visit in the United States Before You Die

13 Haunted Vacation Spots to Visit in the United States Before You Die

Some of the best haunted places in US for the thrill seekers! You would not want to miss these places!

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13 Haunted Vacations in the United States to Visit Before You Die

Guest post attribution: ExecutiveGiftShoppe.com

Shop for exclusive gifts at Executivegiftshoppe.com 

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!

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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 it is a form of worshiping 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 a  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!

 

An Evening in Colombo – Photo Journal

Sri Lanka was a surprise package for me, especially so because I did not plan too much around it, it was more like an on the spur plan. Turns out the country does have a lot to offer! Apart from other places I had a short time in Colombo, Some of the highlights of my stay in Colombo in pictures.

Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo: A must visit place in Colombo, the Temple of 1000 Buddhas – Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo.

The Temple of 1000 Buddhas, at Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo
Inside Gangaramaya Temple
Inside Gangaramaya Temple

Inside Gangaramaya Temple

Interesting looking men at Gangaramaya Temple
Luckily found some preparation for a wedding setup going on inside the Temple
Some stunning piece inside the Temple
Yes! unfortunately these are Tusks on display (Elephant teeth)

Streets of Colombo:

A road side shop in Colombo
Interesting looking pickle on sale at a roadside shop


Galle Face Green, Colombo: 
The part of Colombo best to spend a carefree evening after hopping around touristy places. Overlooking the ocean, it is a perfect spot to try some delicious sea food and watch a beautiful sunset.

Seafood at Galle Face Green
Seafood at Galle Face Green
My dinner for the night!
Sunset at Galle Face Green

 

All photos are clicked from my mobile phone so pardon the quality 🙂

Experiences from Sri Lanka – Which I will remember Forever!

I visited the beautiful island country, Sri Lanka last year December 2016, being from India I was very curious to find out being a neighboring country how different could we possibly be. Well, now I can say we are very different temperamentally, yet so similar in several ways. When we talk or write about a place we usually end up talking and discussing about the places, food and culture. What we miss out is talking about the experiences and encounters with the people and the locals of the place. So today I feel like writing about my experiences with the locals of Sri Lanka, of course not all are great, but few which are, they have really touched me in a special way and I think I will always mention (I still do) these while talking about my stay in Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya

The amusing obsession with Age: This is not really a situation I can classify as good or bad, rather it is plain amusing. I am 29 years old and as per normal society standards (that’s what most people say, I personally don’t believe in society) I do not look like a nearing 30 year old I am often told, not only by people of my country but in general by human standards (so I am always told). But I faced the most profound situations of being reminded that I do not look like my age almost 90% of the time I interacted with a local in Sri Lanka. Not sure if it is treated as an ice-breaker (quite interesting if it is) in the country, but I can almost count several instances where after a quick ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’ the very next line to me was ‘How old are you?’. First 2-3 instances I was baffled, in my mind I was thinking ‘Really?what kind of a question is that!’, but after, I started enjoying it and I used to give hilarious replies, like I am 35, with 2 kids (I am still happily not married with no kids) just for the fun of it. I am still intrigued if it was just me or if there is really something to this. Nevertheless! Very amusing I must admit!

Sigiriya.

As peaceful as can get: Well this might be a relative observation given that I belong to India. India is the epitome of chaos and craziness and every tiny situation is usually addressed with enough drama and noise, especially road and traffic situations. I happened to be a part of a road situation in Sri Lanka and the parallels of a similar in any country (rather any country) would be very different I am sure. So one of the days in Colombo I had taken an auto from my hotel to the railway station. During this ride, we happened to stop at a red traffic signal, unfortunately when the signal turned green due to some reason the auto ended my mildly brushing into a passerby on a cycle (no one was hurt). The events that followed after were thoroughly amazing! the auto driver realized that he had brushed into a cyclist and both of them started talking in a straight face manner in their local language. Very soon the traffic police intervened and after a short discussion us and the cyclist drove to the closest market and to my utter amusement I saw the auto driver got down, signaled me to wait in the auto, went to a local road side shoe store nearby, bought a pair of slippers and gave it to the cyclist. After this we were back on track and soon I was dropped off at the railway station. So! was this how a road rage situation is handled here?? i would infer what happened was that the cyclist must have demanded that a pair of slippers be bought for him and so it was agreed. I could imagine a similar situation in India where such an incident would be noisy with people hurling abuses at each other or even fists. Though I am not really very surprised, since being a Buddhism dominated country it is just befitting for the people here to be so tolerant and non-violent. Either ways I hope the peace remains and spreads on to its neighboring countries as well.

Dambulla Cave Temple

A helping hand: How often does one have the privilege of feeling cared for or to have someone go above the ordinary to help you. I was fortunate enough to have this experience. We had booked a taxi to Nuwara Eliya and during our way back we were discussing our plans of travelling to Sigiriya via a local bus the day after . The driver happened to overhear us and asked us about our plans, upon knowing he was really worried and was trying hard to convince us that going by bus was not a good idea. Later after dropping us back, he called up and arranged for us to go to Sigiriya in a taxi that was going there to pick someone else up for an extremely reasonable price. I couldn’t be more thankful to this find gentleman for taking the initiative and pain to arrange this for us without us even asking for it, just so that we could be safe. The world could use more such heroes who find the safety of others as their responsibility. Blessings to this man!!

 

Koh Phi Phi & Phang Na Bay

Koh Phi Phi Island & Phang Nya Bay

 Well if you are in Phuket for a short stay and do not take these 2 tours, you are surely missing out on a lot of nature’s versatile creation.

One of the days during our stay in Phuket we opted for the Koh Phi Phi Island tour, we had already booked the tour from an agent in the airport for a good bargained price. The day to Koh Phi Phi began really early, the tour guys arranged for pick-up and drop to our hotels, the pick-up happened at 7:00 am, too early after a mad night at Bangla Road. With swollen eyes and an empty stomach and several pick-ups later we headed off to the pier where our speedboat was waiting for us.

 After a complimentary coffee and snacks and a handful of ‘how not to die’ instructions in Thai-lish (Thai + English) language we were off to explore this side of the Krabi province, Koh Phi Phi is ideally a collection of 2 large and few smaller islands as told to us by the cruise guide.

One tip: The seats inside the boat are not allotted, it is on first come first serve basis, so if you are interested to not get charred and burnt sitting outside under the tropical sun, you might as well want to grab a seat inside the cabin area asap. I did the mistake of sitting outside for a better view and ride at the expense of my nose that got tanned severely.

The first leg of the ride is calm overlooking vast expanses of blue as far as one can see, just sea and the sky around and above, it is after a good half hour ride that we could start to notice the pinnacle shaped massive rocks protruding out of the blue, it does look like a place something out of Avatar.

 The boat stops at Maya Bay, popular for the shooting of the movie ‘The Beach’. Here usually they let us go snorkeling for a while with gears provided by them. Although snorkeling here was pretty disappointing as there was no coral nor much fishes around, maybe due to the disturbance caused by the boats. We were served juices and cold drinks in the boat, no restrictions on how many you have, water bottles were provided as well.

We stopped at Phi Phi Don for lunch, the menu comprised of noodles, soup, chicken for main course, vegetables stir fried and a couple of other items, washroom facilities and free water was available as well.

 After lunch and some more time we headed off to the Viking Caves and then over to the Coral Bay. We were given free time here to do as one wishes, while we were lazing around, we saw quite a many people with head down under water. We figured this place as the name suggests was famous for snorkeling, without wasting time we headed off to get our snorkeling gear.

 What happened after that was sheer pleasure, once we started to snorkel we realized this place was abundant with coral life and fishes of beautiful colors and sizes, the water level was waist high with a bed of sharp corals, so be careful to not set your foot anywhere without seeing or you might end up cutting your feet like I did. You can carry a piece of bread or fish food to attract the fishes towards you, something a lot of tourists out there were trying. The beauty of the underwater still remains alive in my eyes. What was lovely about snorkeling here was that since the water is waist high, its safe to snorkel on your own, there are no instructors to direct you or no time limit on how long you remain under water which was the best part.

As we headed back one of the helpers in the boat started throwing some food into the sea, until 2 minutes we could not understand why he was doing. Within 5 minutes we could see a fleet of huge sea birds, not sure about the name of the kind, following our boat and making sharp dives into the water, picking up a piece of food and flying away. Watching them was so liberating, it looked something like a scene out of a Jurassic Park movie.

After our journey back to the Pier we got dropped off back to the hotel, the tour costed us around 1000 THB per head.

Next day early morning we headed off to Phang Nya Bay, the main attraction being James Bond Island.

After a late last night we hardly managed to not miss the pick-up in the morning for the trip. Sleepy eyed and with an empty stomach we pulled ourselves out of bed and headed off to another day at the sea. Having slept on our way to the pier, we woke up directly at our drop off point at the pier. Luckily complimentary coffee and snacks was available as a relief. After a quick safety session by the leaders of the boat, we headed off into the sea. The sun had no mercy on us even early in the morning. We grabbed the front deck under the sun in the speedboat, although this time we were well equipped with loads of sunscreen. Few hours into the ride, we were wide awake, all the sleepy feeling was soon gone as soon as we spotted the rocks protruding out of the waters, quite similar to the scenes out of Avatar. A handsome layer of skin tan later we reached Panak Island, here we climbed into a canoe along with a guide who paddled us into dark caves and into hidden lagoons, the experience was spectacular, this was the first time I was doing something like this and it was such an adventure like experience. We were all handed a helmet with flashlights, it felt nothing lesser than a Nat Geo guy on cave discovery mission. Its fun when the othe canoes pass you by and usually gently nudge into each other, reminded me of striking cars in an amusement park.

We headed off to the world famous James Bond Island after this.

On reaching here first we noticed the 66 foot tall islet called Ko Tapu which seemed to be a tourist hit, as it was crowded with tourists posing for pictures in front of it.

Right across it is the famous rock jutting out of the green waters called the James Bond rock made famous by the scene from the famous 007 movie. We dint really stop here for too long, a few quick snaps later , which is difficult to manage as it gets crowded around the rock, we shopped a little at the local stalls around, it does make sense to buy a thing or two from the local stalls there as it is the source of livelihood for the locals there. We were back into the boat and headed off to the Naka Island.

Lunch was served in the mean while in the boat itself. Well the lunch episode is quite interesting, a good, tempting spread of food was laid out; noodles, a big sea fish grilled and dressed to perfection, vegetables, soup, desserts and quite a few other tempting items. Since we were to busy chit chatting, we thought to get lunch after 5-10 mins. It turns out that after 5-10 mintues, the food was gone, only the fish bones were left behind. The food was attacked by all our hungry co-passengers. Although we managed to eat, but quite a few items were not being refilled, like the grilled fishes. So bad luck for us, but good luck for you guys now that you know what to do..as soon as the food it laid out, go for it ;).

So we had to do without it. So yes, ‘when the food is served’ – Attack! 😉

Few snaps from the canoeing into the caves:

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!

 

Quintessential Phuket

I remember watching the James Bond movie’ The Man with the Golden Gun’, and going all gaga over the location and the scenery. I wondered where on earth this paradise existed. Few years later the beautiful rocky pinnacle island became famous as one of the best tourist attractions. I have noticed that somehow when people plan on visiting Thailand on a budget trip, they usually opt for Bangkok and Pattaya. I guess they fail to realize what they are missing on by leaving out on Phuket.

We planned a trip to Thailand and reserved a good few days for Phuket. Having spent a few days in Bangkok we headed off to Phuket. We took an early morning 6:20 am Air Asia flight from Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok to Phuket, which was pretty okayish for the price we paid, we paid around 2500THB as return fare, the flight takes around 1hr 20mins to  reach Phuket. The view from the flight itself is mesmerizing, the bluish green ocean below and the greenery surrounding the runway is breathtaking and refreshing. The Phuket airport welcomes you with fresh blooms in every corner, its exactly what your sleepy eyes need, we left for the Bangkok airport at 3:00am in the morning, quite natural we needed this dose of freshness to get the day started.

Al the airport entrance!

 Pretty much like in India, in Phuket too inside the airport very soon we were surrounded by travel agents trying to strike a deal for the inland tours. After talking to a couple of agents we started to negotiate with an agent, we were correct in our decision of booking the tour packages from Phuket itself because as we had expected they were much cheaper than the ones online. After bargaining a little we striked a deal: 2 tours (phi phi island and James bond island tour) plus the airport pick up and drop free, seemed like a good deal. Our taxi was a sleek Camry, with a uniformed driver, fortunately he knew how to speak broken English which was a relief, he later told us that instead of booking our tours from the agent we could have booked one from the Thailand tourism office in Phuket, (so for all you guys reading this, its advisable to book your tours from the tourism office, cheaper deal). The way from the airport to the hotel  is gorgeous, big palm trees lining the smooth rippling roads, quite a splendid ride I must say.

Patong:

At the Patong beach during sunset with grey clouds in the horizon

 

A shop in Patong selling everything in pink

 Our hotel was in Patong, the prime area in Phuket. After freshening up we set out to explore the surrounding. The place is beautiful with wide palm lined roads, the hotels are spaced far from each other, hence not congested, the rippling roads and the greenery around, quite a delight. We started walking and it took us just 10mins to reach the Patong Beach, the beach road is lined up with numerous restaurants and bars, shops and flee markets, we planned to survey the entire market on foot in search of beachwear, well the choices are so many that it drives you crazy. What type do u want? Hot, covered, tiny, skimpy, one piece, 2 piece, its got it all, the shopkeepers are a little reluctant to bargain, but do give in after sometime, one con: no changing rooms available so buy at your own risk. We also found a few good souvenir shops selling massage oils, soaps and candles of very interesting shapes and sizes, if you know what I mean ;). If your heart is set on either of it, go for it since these kinds are available only in Phuket. We walked past the beach road into Bangla Road, in the day time it is like any other road with happy tourists and bars and clubs, but Bangla Road usually comes alive at night. It took us a good 3-4 hours to stop, check, buy and go around the entire market and back to the hotel. But I must say I was very pleased with the collection and variety of clothes and accessories Patong market has to offer as compared to Bangkok. Although keep calm as I found the shopkeepers sometimes being arrogant and rude. Another good thing about the place is it has 7-Eleven store at every kilometer, and its quite a life saver, for anything you need on the go.

 Bangla Road:

As the evening set in, we got all dressed up and headed off to Bangla Road, it is a straight stretch of road about a kilometer long I guess, and as expected it was booming with tourists and music, some playing live, some playing on the road. The place was bustling with energy. Everywhere you look there were pretty females all dressed up, standing infront of their respective bars or clubs with a menu in there hand, having heard a lot about Bangla Road for a lot of wrong reasons, I would like to mention that I found the place fun and happy. It’s a matter of choice, if you do not show interest I did not notice anyone trying to get too pushy, which was good. It’s a great place to go dancing and let your hair down. Almost all clubs have a counter in the front with females doing pole dancing, some doing rain dance. But yes, you cannot just walk into a restaurant playing music and get dancing, you are compelled to buy something, maybe a drink or too, if not there will be a waitress nudging you every few minutes with ‘what would you like to have?’. So either enjoy the fun from outside, or buy a namesake drink to have fun inside the clubs. Food and drinks are usually good and quite surprisingly you can bargain in that too.

As you walk further, you will be greeted with a huge walking street projector, which is quite a hit there, as you walk by it you can see yourself in the projector, pretty awesome it feels.

 Further ahead you will see an array of clubs lined up with really flashy pink, red and blue lights which is the Tiger Club, usually it charges an entry fee but has really good music and cheap drinks.

Tiger Club in Bangla Street

Outside we saw a small group of street dancers showing their moves, on the other side there was a ‘who hangs the longest from a pole’ gets a free drink, and a lot of people trying to earn themselves a free one.

As the evening turns to night, we saw a lot of lady boys dressed in cabaret costumes take to the street; they no doubt look very loud, extravagant and glamorous at the same time. Clicking a picture with them or of them is usually chargeable @ 10-20thb.

An image of one of the performers from far

We also found a lot of what should I call them , agents maybe who invite you to watch the adult, nude shows in their clubs, 1st 15 minutes of the show and a drink free. We too went into one, I would only comment that the show is very very interesting and weird at the same time, I would suggest my readers to experience it on your own instead of reading it 😉 Once in and one drink down they offered us a 2nd one for a whooping 900thb, shocked we started to leave and as soon as we got out of the club, a waiter ran after us and offered to reduce the price to 100thb for the 2nd drink. That’s the kind of bargaining that happens there, so next time before paying for something, give it a try maybe you will end up striking a really super deal.

For drinks and food we tried something different, there are many open pink vans selling drinks and food on the beach road, its fun to eat there after an exhausting night in Bangla Road.

One of the open pink bar van

The people are usually friendly and helpful. I must say that Patong has a good equation of people from all countries, quite a cultural mix. Upon recommendation we also went to Banana Club on the Beach Road towards Bangla Road, unfortunately we found it very disappointing, there is 200-300thb entry fee which covers a free drink or shot, but apart from that the club was totally empty.

The big banana in front of Banana Club

It seemed like entire Phuket had headed off to Bangla Road 🙂 No wonder its the most popular place in the city!