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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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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 🙂

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!

 

Asia Kitchen – Review

Lovely Asian food on a lazy Sunday afternoon

Kolkata has the best Chinese in India, hands down, there is no doubt in that. So how does a new join in town surpass that? Well in my opinion Asia Kitchen just did. It is a fresh take on Asian cuisine by the same chain as Mainland China but at the same time with its own uniqueness. I have been there quite a few times since it opened, a few other times I did go but the long queue drove me elsewhere. But finally when I did manage to find a place in the restaurant, I knew what the huge queue was all about!

The Space: The first thing that struck me the moment I walked in is the fresh look of the place. It is spacious, with a mix of dark shades and green. It has a brilliant open kitchen, something which is a new concept in Kolkata, not many places have such a fabulous open kitchen.

Food & Drinks: Let’s go back to the long waiting queues I was talking about, it is precisely the awesome food they serve that is responsible for the long waiting time. The place has an extensive food and drinks menu, with a fresh and self take on the Asian cuisines, the food really plays around with your taste buds. Thoroughly impressed!  Some of my favorites: Lotus stem with black pepper, Dynamite prawns – must have, Khao Suey – probably the best served in the city, Thai red curry – couldn’t find one flaw with this dish. Apart from this in general the food quality and quantity is really impressive!

Khao Suey
Dynamite Prawns

Whats unique:  I am in love with their dessert innovation, apart from the taste the way the desserts are presented is an absolute delight. Do try the ‘Baileys Irish cream stones’ just for the presentation, super unique.

Baileys Irish Cream stones

Watch-out: Be prepared for long waiting queues, especially on weekends. One major downside is that the waiters need serious insight and info of the menu, although the food is so good but because the waiters are unable to explain a certain food item and what it is all about, it is an utter disappointment.

Pocket pinch: I must admit the rate is reasonable, since although a dinner for 2 with drinks would be any where more than Rs 2500, but since the food is so good and so is the quantity, it kind of compensates for the money one is shelling out!

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.

Singapore – Getting There

At a Glance

 

Marina_Bay_Sands,_Singapore_(8351775641)

Singapore is a stunning and beautiful island strategically located in the heart of South East Asia which also happens to be world’s only island city-state. This breath taking island is one of the most popular and busy travel destinations in South East Asia. It is not only of great commercial interest but also a booming tourist destination as it sees travelers dropping in from all around the Globe.

Singapore boosts of an interesting mix of uber modern architectural marvels as well as age old temples and traditions. Not to be fooled by the size of this tiny island, it has a lot to offer with innumerable options to choose from. It is like a parallel universe residing together all in this small city.

On one side the city skyline is clouded with tall skyscrapers and modern state of the art structures such as Marina Bay Sands, a three-towered skyscraper that is a vital part of Singapore’s horizon, Resorts World Sentosa which is home to the very famous Universal Studios theme park, and the majestic Gardens by the Bay and many more such iconic places. On the other hand there are the humble century old buildings like the elegant Raffles Hotel still standing tall more than a century after being built. This island state was a former British trading post and colony and even after independence and the blend of cultures is ingrained in all aspects of life in Singapore.

The cultural blends are strongly visible in the food scenario most prominently. Cuisines from all around the world are available. Alongside world class fine dining restaurants offering international cuisines, the street food available here is also finger licking good. Due to its vicinity with other South East Asian countries the food culture in Singapore is an amazing confluence of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. One can escape the hustle and bustle of modernity in Singapore by visiting the very exotic Chinatown and Little India to get a flavor of the neighboring Asian countries.

How to get there

 Cg2_Changi_Airport_Terminal_2_entrance.jpg

Visa & customs:  For information on visa requirements and the Visa Free Transit Facility, you can visit and check with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority or the Singapore Overseas Mission in your city or country. The visa application form is available for free at all Singapore overseas missions. For detailed information and requirements for entry to Singapore you can visit the Official website for Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

By Air: Changi Airport in Singapore is one of the most busy and well connected airports in the world. It sees over 100 airlines flying to more than 250 cities around the world. Most of the well-known international airlines have their operations in Singapore. Few local airlines operate from Singapore such as the renowned Singapore Airlines and budget airlines Tiger. The airport itself is very well maintained and conferred with many awards, it boosts of modern amenities and activities for tourists and travelers making it a world-class attraction in its own way.

By Sea: Singapore is an important port of commercial interest due to its strategic location in the heart of Asia; it is one of the world’s busiest cruise centers. Several cruise operators of various kinds like luxury, premium, and contemporary types operate from here. The newest is the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore which can accommodate the largest range of cruise liners.

By Road: Singapore is also very well connected by roads; it can be easily reached from West Malaysia through a scenic ride. Two checkpoints need to be crossed before entering Singapore; one is at Tuas in the west and Woodlands in the north. They both operate 24/7 facilitating ease of reach to Singapore via road.

Getting around Singapore:  Singapore has one of the best public transport systems in South East Asia, it is fast, efficient and world class and is well connected;  enough to make reaching the various places in Singapore easy and comfortable without much hassle.

By train: MRT (mass rapid transit) system in Singapore is definitely the most efficient and fastest way to commute around the city. The Rail network is extensive and connects almost all the key attractions in the city. Tickets can be bought for single trips, for a mix of both rail and bus network one can buy the Singapore Tourist Pass, a value card which will allow unlimited travel for one day (S$10), two days (S$16) or three days (S$20). Cards are available for purchase at the Transit Link Ticket Office at the following MRT stations: City Hall, Raffles Place, Ang Mo Kio, HarbourFront, Bugis, Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, Lavender and Bayfront. The MRT stations and trains are well equipped with facilities to make travel smooth for wheel chair users, visually impaired, as well as families with strollers.

By taxi: Taxis are also frequently used and a common mode of transport especially for the places not accessible by buses or trains. Cabs run on meters, although it is advisable to check with the driver because a lot of them charge based on time, location and destination of travel and might also add surcharges depending of the company the cab belongs to. Make sure to ask for a receipt at the end of the trip. Taxis can be boarded from the roadside at most places, or by queuing for any of the taxi stands found at shopping malls, hotels and tourist attractions. Cabs can also be booked by calling at a common taxi booking number, 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222), which than routes the call to any available taxi company’s call centre.

By bus: The most economically viable mode of transport in Singapore is the bus system which is extensively connected covering all routes to places in the city. It is also a great and comfortable way to explore and see the city also because most buses are air conditioned, a very important aspect for traveling in the tropical climate of Singapore. Singapore Tourist Pass is commonly used to pay for the bus travels by using the card reader located next to the driver as your board and exit. Cash payments are also accepted but need to be exact change amount.

Singapore Visitor Centre: Three Singapore Visitor Centres in ION Orchard, Orchard or Chinatown are available in case you need help. Information on tips and recommendations to plan your itinerary, purchase tickets to attractions and tours are available here, also you can pick up locally designed souvenirs and book accommodation for your stay.

To be continued in next post ‘Must Visit Places in Singapore’

Durga Puja in Kolkata: A photo journal

Christmas in New York, the Rio Carnival in Brazil and La Tomatino festival in Spain all put together cannot beat the madness and magnitude of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata, India. It is almost impossible to pen down the experience in words, and if I do it would be a never ending post I am sure. To save all the trouble, here is my photo and video journal of my experience of visiting the stunning pandal in Kolkata during Durga Puja 2016 made with immense artistic work and manual intricate labour, it is an art kingdom on its own and would be any art lovers ticket to paradise:

Pandal in the shape of huge Manipuri dancers of India in Bosepukur Talbagan:

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Tribal themed Durga Puja pandal in Tridhara Sammilani Sarbojanin:

The very famous and popularized World’s 1st Durga goddess with 1000 hands in Deshapriya Park:

Bhutan themed Durga idol and pandal in New Alipore Suruchi Sangha:

I do not remember the name of the place but the decor was made out of plastic dusting brushes, pretty unique and colorful:

Amusing figure of Ravana from the sky in Kendua Shanti Sangha club:

The Bengali wedding themed pandal in Bosepukur Sitala Mandir:

Themed on a famous Bengali poem showcasing cartoon figure like village theme in Jodhpur Park:

Mesmerizing serene and calm idol of Durga in  Naktala Udayan Sangha depecting peace within chaos:

The outside pandal decor was that of chaos while the inside was calm

Old Kolkata city themed Durga Puja idol and pandal in 66 Pally Sarbojanin Durga Puja:

A divine pandal with decor of stone pebbles dropping fromt the sky in Badamtala Ashar Sangha Durga Puja pandal:

Intricate work and detailing on the pandal with dry fruit shells, wood shavings and betel nuts in Jatra Suru Sangha Durga Puja Pandal:

So next Durga Puja book your tickets to Kolkata to indulge in art of the most beautiful kind and admire the hard work and labor that goes behind these stunning pandals.

Kashmir: At the time of Curfew

I have seen Kashmir in Bollywood movies and always wondered when I would get that chance to go there. It seemed like a piece of Europe in my own country India, enormous mountains, tall pine trees, rivers running in between the valleys, blue skies, shikara rides, gorgeous looking people and so much more beauty all in one place.

So I booked my flight and hotel tickets way back in the month of May to travel to Kashmir in September. September being a busy season in Kashmir and when I had booked my tickets in May the hotels were almost getting sold out. But as my luck would have it, curfew struck Kashmir in July. All the news channels and newspapers were flooded with news about the curfew. So I waited for a few months until August to check back on the situation, unfortunately not much had changed. Came September and a few days left for me to travel to Kashmir and by then the curfew had been on more that 50 days. With uncertainty and my wish to visit Kashmir, not knowing when next I would get a chance to travel to this beautiful place I decided to go ahead with my plans. I definitely did receive a lot of ‘are you crazy to go there now?’ type statements from various people I know. And so I did go..

As a result during my time is curfew stricken Kashmir I did end up busting a few myths about how Kashmir really is during curfew..Here is a detailed account of my days in Kashmir during curfew.

Day 1:

With an anxious heart and partially worried head I finally arrived at the Srinagar airport. I was greeted with the impact of curfew the moment I landed in the Srinagar Airport. While I was waiting for my luggage to arrive I happened to get acquainted with a local woman from there living in Delhi, we started chatting and boom came the question ‘What brings you to Srinagar?’, when she heard I was there travelling for leisure, she was totally livid! How could I plan to travel to Kashmir during the curfew, my reply as usual was that my tickets were booked way in advance and I wanted to take the chance. This was just one of those many discouraging conversations that followed later during my days in Kashmir.

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view from the flight

My houseboat owner arranged for my travel to the houseboat from the airport. On my way to the houseboat I noticed that all roads were totally barren and all the shops were closed. Except for the army personals there were no other people on the roads and not even one shop was open.  I reached my house boat and was greeted by the keeper with a warm smile. After taking some rest I discussed with the hotel people on what are the places I could visit.

The Mughal Gardens:

So for my first day I visited the Mughal Gardens. There are 4 gardens which make it up to the Mughal gardens. I would say a few of the gardens were beautiful with lovely blossoms of various kinds, although don’t expect too much, I must admit I was a little disappointed by a few too. None the less all of them are well maintained and have a heritage value so these are more than just gardens and rather monuments, lets put it that way.

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At the Mughal Garden
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All the lovely flowers in the Mughal gardens

Sankaracharya temple:

Next I went to the Sankaracharya temple, it’s a beautiful climb up the hills, it’s a 800 year old temple, clean and very well maintained, due to the curfew it was ONLY me who was there at that time, there were no tourists at all. And I loved the experience to be able to take in all the beauty all by myself. I realized I had not been in so much silence in a long time. The view from the top is breathtaking, the entire Dal lake and Srinagar could be seen from above, the peace and serenity of the place is contagious, I wish they would have let me click a picture of the view, I could not click any since it is a high security zone and cameras and phones are not allowed.

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Adoring the beautiful view from the view point on the way to Shankaracharya Temple

Sunset at Dal Lake:

On my way down, I spent some time at the Dal lake. The sun was setting and it was a mesmerizing view to behold, as the sun was setting the shikaras formed a silhouette and a perfect vision to take away with me for life.

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Mesmerizing sunset at Dal Lake

Shopping:

I planned to shop a little and since most of the shops were closed, our taxi driver took me to an underground store belonging to the co-operative, I must say the place was a steal, huge collection and very reasonably priced.  I almost bought everything in the shop! It should be a must visit place for anyone who plans to go shopping. I retired to the houseboat after this, on my way back I could see a few shops were open since the curfew would usually last from 6am – 6pm. Few shops were open and for a change I could see some locals on the streets which was welcoming to see. Although my plan to dine somewhere outside failed since all the eating places were shut down. So I settled in for a homely dinner at the house boat. I did enjoy my first day in curfew stricken Kashmir.

Details:

Airport to Houseboat transfer: Rs 500

Day tour of Srinagar: Rs 1500

Continued in Part II…Coming soon!