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Nainital needs no introduction. It has been a popular hill station in Kumaon for more than a century and I don’t really have to reiterate the same. Today, I am listing out a few interesting places that you can visit from Nainital on a day trip. I have taken care to keep the distance to a maximum of 100 KMs so that you can make day trips from Nainital. However, it is also possible to stay in these places and spend more time, if you can.

Nainital Lake

Do note that there are other better-known hill stations nearby like Almora, Bhimtal, Ranikhet, and Mukteshwar, along with the Corbett National Park, which is also within striking distance. I have left them out because they are already famous and you probably know them already.
Coming back to Nainital, it remains one of the most sought after destinations for family vacations. As a well-developed tourist centre, you can stay in the Hotels of Nainital and drive to these places on day trips, once you are done with local attractions of the town. However, before that, you should also enjoy Nainital and nearby areas, especially Pangot, a good birding detsination.

Jageshwar: The Abode of Shiva

Jageshwar is a cluster of ancient Shiva & other Hindu temples near Almora dating back to the 1st Millennia. It is one of the most important surviving archaeological sites in the entire Himalayas and is a great example of the region’s architecture and sculpture. Better known as Jageshwar Dham, it is around 96 KMs from Nainital and can be clubbed with a visit to Almora, which is 36 KMs away.

Kaladhungi: Memories of Corbett Delights of Corbett

Kaladhungi is another small town surrounded by fertile valleys known for its agricultural riches. It is 37 KMs from Nainital, closer to the plains and on the edge of the famous Jim Corbett National Park. Corbett himself used to live here, in a place called Chotti Haldwani, just in the outskirts of the town. Now, that place has been turned into the Corbett Museum, where you can find his personal memorabilia and relive his adventures.

Ramgarh: The Fruit Bowl of Kumaon

Ramgarh is a small town on the way to the more famous hill station of Mukteshwar. It is only 35 KMs from Nainital at an altitude of 2000-2300 meters. Although small, it is an important town where many major Hind literary figures like Mahadevi Varma & Ramdhari Singh Dinkar lived and worked. This may give you an idea that this is a place is an idea for long term stay, where you can work on that novel that you may have been planning to write for the last 10 years! These slopes are very fertile, full of apricot, pear, peach, and apples, thus earning it the sobriquet of Fruit Bowl of Kumaon.

Someshwar: The Rice-bowl of Kumaon Fertile Someshwar

Someshwar is around 102 KMs from Nainital, on the way to a more famous hill station called Kausani. Someshwar area is a plain valley just before the hills of Kausani starts. It is primarily fed by two rivers, Kosi and Sai. You can reach here by any Kausani, Garur, or Bageshwar bound bus from Almora. It is not a touristy place and the primary delight is the lush green rice-fields dotted with hilly streams and hanging bridges over them. For hotels and other facilities, you can go ahead a bit further to Kausani. Read the Someshwar & Kausani post here.

Kasar Devi & Binsar: An Enigma


Named after the temple of a goddess, Kasar Devi is a place unlike any in Uttarakhand. It has a cluster of affordable homestays, where most western tourists live long term, like they would do in Goa or Old Manali! The hippie vibes here remind one of Himachal more than HP and is a great place to do nothing and live long term. On a clear day, you can great views of the colossal peaks in the horizon. The road leads to Binsar Sanctuary, where you can hike and spot birds. There are many myths and stories related to Kasar, the most famous one being its location on the Van Allen Belt! It is around 70 KMs from Nainital and barely 10 KMs from Almora.

FOr more info, read the Kasar Devi Post.

Sattal: Hike Through Seven Lakes

The name Sattal literally comes from Sat Taal (Seven Lakes). It is a small place 21 KMs from Nainital, surrounded by an interconnected cluster of seven lakes. Himalayan lakes are delightful anyway and here you have not one but as many as seven lakes. You can hike through the forests from one lake to another and enjoy the views of Kumaon while at it. It is also a major hub for ornithologists and lepidopterists and in fact, there is also a butterfly museum.

Naukuchiatal: The Nine Cornered Lake

Naukuchiatal literally means nine corned lakes and it is another lake town as the name suggests. It is around 26 KMs from Nainital and is another place that is growing rapidly in popularity. It is known for activities like angling, bird watching, parasailing, paragliding, rowing, paddling, yachting etc.

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So, I reached Imphal from Kohima on a bright sunny day, just after the Dzukou Valley Trek. After the rain-marred Manipur trip on the previous occasions, this time I wanted to complete the Shirui Trek in Ukhrul as soon as possible, as I knew that the sunny weather wasn’t going to last long. After spotting the Dzukou Lily, I was more or less certain finally the Shirui Lilies too are blooming. As usual, I could not find concrete information about their blooming status but decided to go ahead anyway. As it turned out, I was too early for the lilies but nevertheless, I managed to complete the trek, that too without anyone’s help.
Hills of Ukhrul (Pics from 2017)
The self-managed trek was important for me. Last time in 2017, it failed as I talked to a group of local youngsters running a travel agency, who asked me to wait for the next day, and also arranged a very expensive driver cum guide. Eventually, the next two days were rained out and the whole thing was cancelled. In other places, I would not have bothered to ask anyone but in these remote areas of NE, even I had doubts. However, this time, I not only wanted to complete it but I wanted to do it in my normal style, without anyone’s help, and by spending peanuts.  While no one could provide clear information regarding this, I am making it available now for everyone.
Imphal to Ukhrul
I booked a ticket in a shared car winger from the ISBT the previous night and the ride started at around 6 am next morning. Last time even his road was in really bad shape, with a huge hole at on the middle of the road at some point. But thankfully, that seemed to have been repaired and so the ride was smooth and I reached Ukhrul at around 9.30 am without any incidents.
At Ukhrul
Breakfast at Ukhrul Hotel
I went to the same hotel where I stayed last time as it was a reasonably good hotel with a modern restaurant. On the flip side, I found out that they have increased their rates (INR 600 to INR 800 for the single room!). Nevertheless, I quickly took the room to avoid wastage of time and came out for the trek. The girl at the reception gave me some tips, but as a matter of fact, I was extremely unsure of the direction. I asked around but initial few people were not very helpful, or maybe it was the language barrier. Finally, I found one cab driver, who dropped me at the right point, 2-3 kms ahead of the town square on the Imphal road, from where a road to Shirui bifurcated, for only INR 10 (Look for Bakshi Mini-Stadium for the turning). The trek starting point was another 12-13 KMs from there. So, I waited for five minutes, until a heavily packed autorickshaw arrived. The only spot available was half a seat on the right side of the driver. Anyway, it was a pleasant ride and the road again was in good shape. It cost barely INR 40 as we crossed the Shirui Village and spotted the big gate pointing towards the trek.  The road goes further to submit me other village but the trek starts at think it.
Shirui Kashong Trek
So, Shirui Kashong (Shirui Peak) is a small peak of 2835 meters. The trek route starts from the Shirui Village on the road. It is a small day trek and in case you have not realized already, this hill is famous for the seasonal Shirui Lily blossoms (which was going to remain elusive for me anyway). Now, this trek is actually a strange one. It does not end where you think it ends and different types of stretches mix up the trek.
The Trek Starts
So, after 10 minutes hike thgrough a motorable road from the main road, I reached the ticket counter. There were some local retaurants too, selling basic food. I paid the entry fee (INR 10), they also checked for and asked to bring back all the plastic waste, and started the hike.  The initial part was a series of stairs, pretty steep ones at that. This stretch somewhat reminded me of teh last stretch at Shikari Devi Trek. It was a bright sunny day and it was almost noon. So, this part was a bit tiresome and finally, after around 45 Minutes, I finished the stairs and reached an open grassy meadow, somewhat reminiscent of those treks in the Western Ghats.
Steep stairs at the beginning
This place seemed very popular among the local youngsters. There were couples and groups of teenagers enjoying picnic at a couple of places. I walked past them through the meadow, but there was no sign of the lilies or for that matter any other flowers. After a while, I even crossed teh meadow and reached a jungle stretch. For a moment I thought the trek had ended, but then I saw people coming out of the jungle. So, the trail goes through this short jungle stretch and continues beyond.
Open meadow after the stairs
A short jungle stretch in between
After another 5 minutes, I crossed the jungles and the open meadow resumed again. I saw a red roof at a distance, which turned out to be a resting shade. The peak was now clearly visible. After passing the shade I finally saw some flowers, but these were not lilies. These were irises (as per a friend these are specifically Kumaon Iris). They were much smaller than the irises of Himachal that I am used to. The next half an hour was spent in hiking slowly towards the peak, and clicking the irises from different angle, and consoling myself for the lack of lilies.
Red roof at a distance
Towards Shirui Kashong (Peak)Iris blossom at Shirui
More of IrisVertical one for a change
Yet another
Apart from other things, this area also seemed great for ornithologists and lapidopterists, although I could not really click one. I tried to make up for that by clicking a pair of mating dragonflies, and another insect that I failed to identify (I was told that it is a plant hopper but I am not sure).
Erotic!What is that?
Shirui to Ukhrul
The return was expectedly easier, but only till the main road. After that the natural risk of my decisions became apparent. It was around 3.30 PM and there was no apparent option to go back to the town. I tried to get a lifet but no one seemed to care. So, I started walking and prepared myself for a painful walk for 3-4 hours to reach my hotel by night. However, after 1 hour or so, finally one car stopped and gave me lift till Ukrul!
Ukhrul to Imphal
I had booked a bus ticket on after returning from the trek on the previous evening. So, I left comfortably in the norning. However, it was a rainy day, exactly what I was worried about. A gloomy day with zero visibility that had ruined my previous trip! So, on hindsight, I was right to quickly rush through it on the previous day without asking for advice. The Shirui Lily still remains elusive though. However, as far I know, it is related to the Dzukou Lily and looks similar, and I have seen plenty of those. So, I will have to live with that as of now!
The next day was a gloomy one.
Shirui Trek Approximate Distance Chart
Roughly, it can be divided into the following parts,
800 meters motorable road from the main road to the ticket counter
1 KM very steep stairs to the higher parts of the hill
1 KM hike through a open grassy meadow
500 Meters trail through jungle
1.5 KM hike through anothe rmadow towards the peak
So, in total, it is around 4-5 KM hike, depending on how far you go. Going up should take around 1.5 to 2 hours for regula rtrekkers. Personally, I think I turned back at around 500 meters before reaching the peak, as the views were more of the same and the lilies were not there yet.
PS: Ukhrul has other attractions too and it also organizes the SHirui Lily Fetsival every year. Read the complete Ukhrul Travel Guide for more details about visiting Ukhrul.
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When I reached Sikkim this January, my intentions were clear and I had a bucket-list in my mind. I was going to cover all major attractions of the state except those cut-off by the winter snowfall. However, as the trip progressed, although I managed to visit many places, I started growing impatient because I was not really getting that feeling of seclusion and serenity that I usually take for granted in the Himalayas. Gangtok was too big a city for me, Yumthang too was swarming with visitors even in the off-season, and Pelling just seemed like a cluster of hotels.

Congested Pelling

Finally, my search for that intangible “my kind of” place in Sikkim ended with Yuksom, that too on the last day of the trip. Due to my ignorance, I’d just planned it as a day trip from Pelling, something that I regret now. Looking back, I think this would have been the best place to stay for a few days, simply soaking in the country air and walking through cardamom fields. I actually asked around and found that the homestays here also are a bit cheaper than other places of Sikkim.

Pelling to Yuksom

The drive to Yuksom started from Pelling in the morning, along with Jacomjin & Abhinav. It took slightly more than an hour but not before we took a small detour to Rimbi. This was not a part of the plan but the driver suddenly pointed towards the orange plantations on the right side of the road and informed us that these are the orange gardens of Rimbi. So, we decided to take a look. First we just noticed a bunch of roadside shops selling tea and fast food, but soon realised that the path to the garden goes down from here towards the river. They were also selling their produces on the shop and one girl was selling entry tickets for INR 10. We bought tickets and quickly descended down to the orange kingdom. First I saw one tree, fully loaded with fruits, followed by another, and then the whole grove appeared till as far as I could see. The good part was that although it was unplanned, we were there at the peak of orange harvesting season. It was a quick stop, but a good example Sikkim’s organic move.

Rimbi Orange Garden

After the orange garden, we quickly moved on towards Yuksom, passing a waterfall or two en-route, but without making a stop. Coming to Yuksom, in case you have never heard of it before, was the first capital of the medieval Kingdom of Sikkim. Later on, the capital moved to Rabdentse near Pelling, and finally to Gangtok, which is also the current capital of modern Sikkim. Present day Yuksom is a small but pleasant town, skipped generally by most tourists and visited by trekkers because it also works as a hub for many major treks such as Goechala and Dzongri as it lies on the edge of Khangchendzonga National Park, one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. What sets it apart is the fact that the commercial establishments such as hotels and homestays here are well spread out and not thickly concentrated like other tourist spots. They are interspersed with medieval gompas, and plots of fragrant cardamom plantations.

Also Read: Rimbi Orange Garden

Norbugang: The Coronation Throne A new monastery at the heart of Yuksom Town.

We left the vehicle at the entrance of the town and started walking towards Norbugang as there were a lot of signage in the town pointing towards the same. We crossed cardamom patches and many single-storied, wooden houses for the next few minutes, only to spot a gigantic statue at the top of a tall concrete structure. It looked too new to be the Norbugang (But to be honest, I had no idea how Norbugang looked like). After a bit of investigation, I figured out that this is a fairly new construction, sort of a monastery with a larger than life statue of Yangthang Rinpoche at the top. Now, Yangthang Rinpoche is supposed to be the latest incarnation of Lhatsun Chempo, who was a monk present at the original coronation 500 years ago!

Towards Norbugang.The shrine of Yangthang Rinpoche

I don’t blame you if all these sound confusing. The statue also is strikingly brown in colour and has a beard, making him look like an old Indian sage rather than a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Nevertheless, from the top of this shrine, I could finally see Norbugang, which was on the other side. There was a big contingent of elderly lady monks making round of the statue. I think irrespective my confusion, it is an important Buddhist site in Sikkim. I tried to strike a conversation with one or two of them but we did not seem to share any common language. So, I left them there and started walking towards Norbugang.

Can you spot the statue?A closer look.View from the top.Exotic orchid blooming near the shrine.

The Norbugang is basically a chorten (stupa), which was the site of the coronation of Phuntsog Namgyal as the first Chogyal of Sikkim in 1642 AD. That dynasty ruled Sikkim for several centuries, till the point Sikkim merged with India in the 1970s. A park has been built surrounding the chorten and a few other shrines around it. There was a small shop run by a local woman in front of the park, who was also collecting entry fees of INR 10. We quickly paid the same and entered the park, which can also be called a mini botanical garden as there we many trees and all of them had boards identifying respective species. We soon realized that trees have always played a major part in the whole setup as the Chorten itself was located under a giant pine tree which, looking at the girth, can be assumed to be as old as the history of the town.

Locals paying respect at Norbugang Chorten.A sacred grove

So, Phuntsong Namgyal was a descendant of a royal from Eastern Tibet. As per local legends, his ascent was foretold by Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) himself in the 9th century. When the time came, a group of three Lamas went for a tour of Sikkim and eventually found and handpicked him for this role. He is believed to have established the first centralized administrative system in Sikkim and expanded the kingdom to parts of present day Darjeeling and Nepal. There is also a set of preserved footprints belonging to one of those three lamas from Norbugang, which is now a small structure where the white has turned greenish yellow. Nevertheless, symbolic importance of it in Sikkim and in the entire Tibetan sphere is unmistakeable.

Kathok: The Monastery by the Lake Kathok LakeKathok Monastery GateKathok Monastery

After Norbugang, we quickly moved on to explore other places of Yuksom and soon found ourselves at Kathok Lake, which is a sacred lake as per the locals. This green lake is surrounded by dense vegetation and lined with white prayer flags. As per the legends, the water from this lake was used to wash the throne at the time of coronation. Later on, a monastery was built slightly higher up, apparently in the honour of another of the monks who conducted the coronation. In that sense, I think almost everything in this town is a tribute to that historic event and the people involved in the same. It was a small monastery, but with very distinctive red walls surrounded by beautiful bamboo groves. However, it was closed when we arrived and so we could not really have a look inside. It is a small monastery and is located at an elevation overlooking the whole town. Even as you approach Yuksom, it is generally the first thing that appears in the horizon.

Dubdi: Trek to The Hermit’s Cell

We had a hasty lunch at one of the roadside restaurants. We still had at least 2 hours remaining in that short winter day and we wanted to make the most of it. The last major attraction remaining in this place was Dubdi monastery that required a short hike, which seemed perfect for the time we had. We figured out the route after asking around a few people and finally found the route to the monastery, which was a small trail behind a government dispensary as well as a popular homestay. The trail initially passes through a patch of cardamom plantations. In that season, I think the harvesting was already over and the leaves had gradually turned reddish yellow from green, not that it bothered me. How often do you get to walk through a cardamom patch anyway?

Cardamom Trail towards Dubdi.

Small hilly streams were flowing down from the top and they were powering what I call, for the lake of a better word, watermill chakras. These are usual Buddhist Dharma chakras that you get to see at any Buddhist site but at Yuksom they were designed as watermills and placed above the streams, so that the force of flowing water make them move automatically. After 15 minutes, we passed that stretch and the trail met a mud road. The cardamom trail ended and now we were in the forest covered by oaks, rhododendrons, and chestnuts. However, the hike did not last long and we reached the monastery in another 10 minutes.

Watermill Chakras

Dubdi Monastery was established in 1701 AD by Chogyar Namgyal and is dedicated to Lhatsun Namkha Jigme, another of those three Lamas from Norbugang, as you might have guessed already. It is also called “The Hermit’s Cell”, referring to the ascetic nature of the Lama. It is located reasonably higher up from the town, at around 2,100 metres and is a much larger monastery built of stone, covering a reasonably vast area for a small town. Images of various lamas, other Buddhist symbols and collection of manuscripts and texts have been preserved in the monastery, along with the statues of those three lamas. The courtyard of the monastery was well-manicured and as we were relaxing out there soaking some sun, a Polish traveller conjured from the back of the monastey and advised us to check the areas beyond the monastery.

Dubdi MonasteryMonastery Courtyard.A closer view.

So, we left the monastery behind in order to explore the backyard and found a couple of trails going further. One of them was pointing towards Hongri Monastery, which is on the way to Tashiding, which is 25 KM’s from Yuksom by road. So, there was the shortcut route here taking you to Tashiding although there was no time left for us for such an adventure. As far as I could see, one will have to trek for at least 15 KMs to reach Hoingri and then Tashiding, which will take the whole day. I’m sure Yuksom had more hidden gems to offering this was the most we could accommodate on the last day of the trip. Still satisfied, we returned to our vehicle and moved back towards Pelling but not before we spotted a magnificent orchid bloom at one of the houses. I don’t know what species it was and that was not even the blooming season. But Yuksom is nothing if not surprising.

Jackie trying sheershashan amidst prayer flags.
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I am not sure how to describe or explain this. It is a short and easy trek that everyone else seems to have done with consummate ease. But for me, it took two attempts and even after that, I barely made it to the entry point of the valley and could not really explore it in a way it deserved. I wanted to call this post “one and a half failures” but people have complained about too much negativity in my tone in the past. So, let me just cut the self-loathing and have a look at Dzukou through these two trips, one failure, and one half-success.

Dzukou Valley Trek: Attempt 1 (September 2017)

As my regular readers know, I started this blog with a trek to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand in 2010. Since then, I have had a fascination of such areas, desolated high altitude valleys, that can be reached only after a trek. I have known about Dzukou since then but I never managed to make it due to my base in Delhi and excessive focus on Himachal.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Kohima with a lot of expectations this September. While rains are always to be expected in the northeast, this year, it had rained even more than usual. I initially planned it in August but gave up due to the same reason. Ideally, September is too late for the wildflowers but considering the rains, I expected them to remain. I knew it will still rain but I expected it to be less severe, which was my first mistake.

The primary decision I had to make here is regarding the route (Details in the guide section at the bottom). I decided to take one from Viswema village, the one that is longer but easier according to other reports. The village is 22 KMs from Kohima and the second mistake I made here is to start from Kohima in the morning instead of looking for some nearby accommodation the previous day. I waited for the complimentary breakfast at my homestay, took a slow city bus to the Network Stand, and then took a slow shared car to Viswema. It was already 10 AM by the time I was at the start of the trekking point.

The trekking point at Viswema is located just on the other side of the village, by the side of the road. There are a couple of small shops and a garage too. I talked to one of the guys who advised me to by a sheet of plastic for INR 30 from the nearby shop. This was the wisest advice I received in this trip. He also asked me to hire a car from the village but that would have been too expensive for a budget traveller.

Actually, it is a motorable road from Viswema that leads one to the actual trekking point, after which, one has to complete a steep but short hike. I was told that this stretch is around 6-7 KMs and I was hoping to cover it in 2 hours. However, I expected a completely straight road, which was another silly assumption on my part. It is actually a gradual incline, and so walking is not as easy as it sounds, especially as I was carrying all my luggage including the laptop as I wanted to stay up there for a couple of days.

The initial hike was still pleasant. I quickly knocked-off a couple of kilometres. Viswema was looking like a dream from that altitude. I clicked one good photograph but a thick veil of mist appeared out of nowhere and obliterated the whole landscape in front of my eyes within two minutes of that capture.

I kept going but soon it started raining. I tried to continue but the rain got progressively heavier and not having waterproof shoes was beginning to cost me. By that time, I had covered an awkward amount of distance. I had come too far to return while I still had to cover a lot more to reach my destination. I was worried about my equipment too so I paused, and waited for a while. The rain subsided but it had taken away almost an hour of my valuable time. Due to unfavorable timezone arrangements, it gets dark pretty quickly in the Northeast. It was already past noon and I had no more than 4 hours in hand. On the positive side, there was a large Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis Lidderdalii) on the road. I almost stepped on it but saw it at the last moment. Then I captured it… digitally.

The road was longer than I’d imagined. It must have been 8-9 KMs from the main road and the light was fading fast. Finally, I reached the end of the road and it was already past 3.30 PM. Here, I found a hut, and a building that was under construction. I am sure in the future this will be turned into a tourist facility but at that point of time, there was no one. I noticed the steep trekking trail going upwards inside the jungle. Another non-steep route was going straight. So, it was a bit confusing and there was no signage to guide the trekkers. I decided to take the steep one.

The first few steps went well, but after that the trek was getting progressively more difficult. Due to the rains, a hilly stream was overflowing and merging with the steps, making it very difficult to move. While this stretch is short, it is covered by a thick, evergreen canopy, making it even darker. Soon, I was finding it very hard to see and beginning to question my decision and wisdom. At one point, I completely stopped because I could not see the trail ahead. Was it even the correct route?

Today, in hindsight, I can say that I was on the right path and I was almost there, barely 200 metres away from salvation. But at that moment, it was pretty dark and I had no idea what was happening. Maybe the rains had also obliterated some parts of the trail, which led to the confusion along with the lack of signage in the beginning. I paused for five minutes but the visibility dropped further and the rains also started again. With a heavy heart, I decided to come back.

The return turned out to be even harder. It was no more than 5 PM but it was pitch dark inside the jungle. I missed the trail at some point, slipped at a few points, found myself in a very awkward spot and could not proceed further although I knew I was not far. I was not carrying a torch either and my phone was dead too. I considered my options. One option was to sit still in the jungle for the next 12 hours and wait for the morning light. But in that case,  another burst of rain would have been a terrifying prospect, along with the arrival of any kind of wild carnivore.

Just at that point, it occurred to me that I still had a functioning camera. I cursed myself for my stupidity and took it out. While we underestimate the glow of the camera screen under normal circumstances, in that primal darkness, it worked like a torch. I could finally see the trail, which was just two feet away from my spot. The next half an hour was tiresome but finally, I managed to come out of the jungle and reached the hut.

I think constructions use this hut occasionally but there was no one that night. Now, I could keep walking and tried reaching the main road. But I was tired already and that would have taken at least 3 hours more and it would have been hard to get a transport to Kohima from there. I was also not sure if there was any accommodation option in Viswema. Even if it was there, I would have reached after 9 PM and as far as I had seen, these places become desolated after 6 PM. So, I finally decided to spend the night in that hut and start moving in the morning. The room was locked but there was enough space in the porch. There were some mats, a bench, utensils, and various other items, suggesting that I was not the first person to stay there.

My material, as well as social, needs have always been very modest. So, I was happy to find a place to lie down after a tough day. I was fine with the desolation but the only problem was food. I had not had anything after the breakfast. I knew that accommodation and food will be available in the valley but now I had no option left. I checked all accessible corners of the hut and finally found a bottle of Kissan Jam. It was mostly empty, except a few drops at the bottom of the bottle. I had to use my toothbrush bring that out and had my first morsel in 12 hours. It reminded me of Adrien Brody in The Pianist, when he receives some normal food after many days of struggle. I have always been against excessive glamorization of travel writing, but yes, sometimes it can make you look like a Hollywood star, although there was no one to witness that glorious moment.

I dozed off soon, but was woken up by the sound of something jumping on the tin roof. I could not really see anything but the sleep had departed already. I opened my laptop to check time. It was 1 PM. I thought of watching a movie and wait for the morning. But the only unwatched film with me was  Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba. It was too experimental a film to be watched when one was physically drained. But I think it had the desired impact and I was feeling sleepy again. After that, there was no interruption that night, or at least, I did not realize.

I woke up at around 4.30 AM after that and it was already pretty bright. I even considered going back to the valley. But I was too tired and also, I soon realized that my camera had accumulated a lot of vapour inside and it was no longer usable. This will remain a great regret for me because I could not take a single photograph of my shelter. Anyway, I walked fast, reached the highway by 7 AM, and then caught a cab to Kohima to end my ordeal.

Dzukou Attempt 2: December 2017

I returned to Nagaland after 3 months and this time I was no alone. I have already published my Pfutsero Travelogue. After that, we arrived in the same area. Being in a group meant that we had better bargains and were saving money on accommodation and transport. However, this also meant that we were finding it hard to coordinate and although we planned to go for the trek every day for the next 4-5 days, we could never collectively make up our minds to leave on time. I did not even want to visit Hornbill Festival but that is where we ended up every day and downed ourselves in rice wine and rice beer.

Finally, on the last full day of the trip, we decided to give it a try. By that time Johann and Devesh had left for Mon district and only Shubham was remaining of the original group. But he had a group of friends joining in and they also had their own vehicle. So, the first part of the trip was taken care of. We just drove to the steep trekking point, following the same route. The steep hike also seemed easier in the dry season. It took us around 50 minutes to negotiate this part, and in the process, I realized that I was very near to the top when I gave up last time.

After around 1.1 Km of a very steep hike, the valley finally opened up in front of us. I have done far longer treks but this was a reward comparable to many of them. It was a hazy, cloudy day but one glimpse of the valley was worth all the effort. It was also greener that my expectations although it was way past the peak season.

It is still 4-5 KMs after this point to the official resthouse of Dzukou. But it is a straight stretch where you just have to keep walking and the house was already visible in the horizon. We walked through dense foliage but the trail was very clear and we had no issues in reaching the destination in another hour and a half, including some photography breaks.

The people at the hut served some good fried rice and tea for us. There were already a lot of other people in the valley, most of them seemed to have stayed the night. By deciding to come on the last day, I already knew that I was not going to fully enjoy the valley. I tried hard to compensate and took a few more photographs but the weather was worsening. We spent no more than 3 hours at the top when the rains returned, reminding me of the previous attempt. This time though, I was not alone and nor did I have any luggage. So, we rushed back in a hurry and reached the car in a couple of hours, just before it got completely dark.

So, in the end, finally I can say that I have set foot in the Dzukou Valley but in my heart, I know that much more had to be seen. I must return next year, during the flowering season. But till then, all I can do is remember that lonely, drenched night, and watch the remainder of Soy Cuba.

Update May 2019

Dzukou Lily 3

So, I finally made another solo trip to Dzukou, and this time, finally I had good weather and the right season. I even spotted the Dzukou Lily in full bloom as you can see above. I have also updated the guide belofw with latest information. You can read the Dzukou Lily experience here.

Dzukou valley DIY Travel Guide How to reach Dzukou Valley?

There are two primary trek routes to Dzukou Valley. Both involve a bit of motorable road, and a bit of steep trekking, and then some straight walk in the valley.

 

  1. From Viswema Village (22 KM from Kohima + 8 to 9 KM motorable road + 1 KM steep hike + 4 to 5 KM straight walk in the valley to the resthouse)
  2. From Zakhama Village  (16 KM from Kohima + 3 to 4 KM motorable road + 5-6 KM steep hike + 1 to 2 KM walk in the valley to the resthouse)
  3. There is also a route from Manipur side (Senapati District), but it is even more obscure, unmarked, and I have never met anyone who has done it.

 

How to reach Viswema from Kohima?

At Kohima, go to the Network AOC Stand (Don’t confuse it with NST stand, where you are most likely to arrive from Dimapur), from where you get shared cars to any of these villages at INR 50-80 per head.

How to get cars to the trekking point?

You can ask around after reaching Viswema for cars to cover the motorable road and reach the trekking point (You can walk this stretch but it takes up around 3 hours through gradiual incline and tires you even before the start of the actual trek). You can also take someone from Kohima but I am sure they will ask an exorbitant amount. From Viswema they tend to ask for INR 1500 even if you are alone. So, this works better if you have more people to share the cost. The best guy to ask is the auto-repair guy at Viswema, whose garrage is located just at the start of the road, and where the shared cars from Kohima also drop you.

Where to Stay the night before Dzukou?

This is a tricky one. You can always start from Kohima and start as early as possible. But you can also start in one of the roadside villages so that you can start quickly in the morning.  I have done it both from Kohima and from Kigwema on different occassions.

Where to Stay on the Highway near Dzukou?

I once stayed in the one called Vicha Paying Guest at Kigwema and we had a good experience in this family run homestay, which also had the best food I had found in entire Nagaland. The stretch between Kohima and Zakhama has many homestays nowadays and this trend will only grow. However, some of them come alive only during the Horbill Festival in December because that’s when more people visit.

Where to stay cheaply in Kohima?

Kohima is an expensive city and can get difficult for backpackers and budget travellers. There are some godforsaken old school hotels in the market that you should probably avoid. I am aware of three places that offer shared bunk beds in Kohima City.

Morung Lodge (INR 800/bed/night with brekfast) at Midland Colony. It is a good place, highly rated online, with good views and facilities, and I have stayed here before. However, to be honest, 800 is a bit too high for a shared bed.

EcoStay Hostel (INR 550/bed/night with breakfast) near the World War Cemetary is a new development and I just stayed here for my latest trip. As of now, it seems to be the most affordable decent option for backpackers. The rooms need a bit more space though. An open balcony would have made it infinitely better.

Central Guest House (INR 300-400/bed/night) near the NST bus stand is the chepast option. I have not stayed here but from what I learned from the ones who stayed, the facilities are not that great.

Will there be someone in the valley to help me?

Yes, there are a couple of appointed people who are supposed to man the guest house throughout the year. They also collect fees, frovides bedding and cook food for the visitors.

What is the altitude of Dzukou Valley?

It is around 2400-2700 metres.

Where to Stay in Dzukou?


You can stay in the valley at the rest house. Basically they have a big hall, which is called the dorm. You can hire blankets & mat etc for INR 200 and help yourself out there. Otherwise, there is a solitary hut where you can get a private room for higer rates.

Can I pitch a Tent in Dzukou?

Yes, you can pitch your own tent for INR 100, or even borrow a tent from the caretaker to pitch at a designated spot near the rest house. The second option of course costs more. (Check teh chart below for more details).

Can I get food in Dzukou?

Yes, there is a kitchen and they provide some basic food like tea, rice, omlette, noodles, etc. I saw some people cooking pork, not sure they took the food with them or the caretaker provided them.

What is the right season for Dzukou?

It can be accessed throughout the year. For the wild blossoms, visit it in the summer and monsoons (May to August). The rains can be challenging bvut this is the price you pay for best views. The famed Dzukou Lilies bloom around late May and early June. A lot of people visit it in December to club it with the Hornbill Festival but to be honest, that is a dry and dull season for the valley.

Are there any entry fees to the Valley?

Yes, they charge INR 100 as entry fee even if you don’t spend the night, along with  INR 200 as camera fee in case you have it.

What about phone and data connectivity in the valley?

Most services work till Viswema. There is no real connectivity up in the valley. Sometimes you may capture some random signals but don’t get too excited.

Where do I get Old Monk before the trek?

Nagaland is actually a dry state where commercial alcohol is prohibited.  But you can always get some traditional rice beer, which ia integral part of their culture and not prohibited. You will have to ask around for this though unless your time it with Hornbill fest, where they sell it openly, but at a premium.

Dzukou Valley Price Chart

With my recent trip, I noticed that the prices have increased a bit with its increasing popularity. Packed food are sold at a premium also, but that is expected in a trek due to supply issues. You can also get firewood for bonfire and use the kitchen items too. So, here is a list of prices of various items atop Dzukou Valley.

Entry Fee: INR 100 per head

Camera Fee: INR 200

Stay Fee at the Dormitory: INR 50 (Do note that at 50 you are just allowed to stay, blankets etc cost extra)

Stay Fee at Individual Room: INR 1500 (Yes, I haven’t added an extra 0 by mistake!)

Permission for pitching own tent: INR 100

Hiring Tente from the Caretaker (2 people in 1 tent): INR 1200

Foam Mat for Sleeping: INR 50

Light Blanket: INR 50

Thick Blanket: INR 150 (Basically light blacket is useless in the cold night atop the valley. I had to use a combo of light and thick).

Cup Noodles: INR 70-90 depending on brand and size.

ORS-L  200 ml Tetrapack (Health Drink) INR 60

Omlette INR 80

Milk Tea INR 20

Red Tea (Black Tea) INR 20

Simple Veg Dinner with Daal & Potato INR 200

Dinner with Meat INR 300

Fire Wood INR 10..

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Finally I managed to do it! I reached Dzukou Valley in the right season and spotted Dzukou Lilies, avenging the previous disappointments. Rarely do I get a chance to say it but this was one of those occasions where a lot could have gone wrong but didn’t. Regular readers here would know that I have already made one failed and one successful visit to the Dzukou Valley in the Nagaland-Manipur border, probably the most famous trek in the entire Northeast India nowadays along with Nongriat. Even when I finally made it a couple of years ago, it was December and the hills were devoid of colour. On top of that it even rained and all I could do was to reach the entry point and come back after a while.

Dzukou at its best

In comparison, this time I hesitated and postponed a few times looking at the weather forecasts. Rain starts as early as April in the North East, so I was prepared with a raincoat and waterproof shoes. But when I finally did it, I got consecutive days of abundant sunshine, and the Dzukou Lily season had started already. Due to my previous experiences, it was hard for me even to imagine an azure sky above those rolling greens, but this I time had that too along with the starry sky at night, although I did not have the right equipment for star trails.

Unusually clear skyViswema to Dzukou Ascent: The Usual Route

I did not want any hiccups to start with, so I preferred to take the usual but boring Viswema route. I was willing to spend extra if somebody agreed to drop me at the trekking point from the highway. I left as early as 6.45 AM from my hostel in Kohima skipping the complimentary breakfast with a heavy heart (it was already very bright outside), and reached Viswema by 8.00 AM. Learning from previous experiences, I directly asked the guy at the auto-repair shop out there, and he agreed to provide a car for INR 1500 to drop me at the trekking point. Thankfully another guy had arrived by then and we shared the cost. Do note that while you can hike through this 8-9 KMs of motorable stretch, it eats up around 3 hours and tires you off and considering the mercurial weather and other issues on this trail, these 3 hours can be the difference between a successful and a failed trip.

Promising first glimpse

Also, since I had done it before, I had no patience to walk through that road again and wanted to quickly reach the valley, even if by spending a bit extra. So, the car dropped me at the starting point at 9 AM, and I went through the short but steep portion through the jungle in an hour or so. It should have been faster but I realized that a few months of cubicle life in Bangalore followed by a month of rice-siesta-rice routine at home preceding this trip had taken a toll. As I finally neared the end of this steep stretch, the sky seemed gloomy through the jungle. However, as I took the final step, the sunny valley opened up in front of me. The threatening gloom was literally behind me as the thick veil of mist was being driven away by the strong winds coming from the valley.

Wind clearing the mist

I walked briskly through the rest of the stretch and I was at the Dzukou Guesthouse by 11.15 AM. The caretaker, who also collects the entry fees, wasn’t there (apparently he had gone to a certain spot, from where one can catch the signal and make a phone call). So, I decided to go ahead and enter the actual valley.

Usual views at the topSpotting the Dzukou Lily

The real Dzukou Valley is a couple of KMs hike down from the Guesthouse. Initial stretches involve small descents and ascents through a well-marked trail bypassing the helipad (yes, that is there too, but thankfully only used sparsely for VIPs) and eventually you need to go downhill for 30 mins to reach the open valley, and also the stream (the Dzukou River).

Towards the Lilies

As I have mentioned already, spotting the Dzukou Lily (Lilium Chitrangadae) was my primary intention. I had information that it was blooming already but it was not visible near the guesthouse. As I started to hike down towards the valley, I suddenly spotted one hidden inside the bushes. After that, I started seeing them more often as I encountered other visitors coming back from the valley. However, they were too few and far too scattered to provide the spectacle I was hoping for. It took another 15 minutes before I noticed a much thicker concentration on the right side of the trail, and I also noticed pink and yellow patches at a distance. The pink patches were the actual fields of Dzukou Lilies while the yellow ones were a different flower not known to me. Forgive me with the overdose of these floral closeups but I could not decide which one to use and which one to ignore.

Dzukou Lily 1Dzukou Lily 2Dzukou Lily 3

As I reached the flat portion of the valley, I saw one trail going straight and another going towards the right. At first, I took the right one, crossed bridge over a small tributary stream, and reached those aforementioned pink and yellow patches and clicked many photographs. A lot of small birds and insects were visible too, although they were hard to click.

The BridgeDance of the LiliesA vertical frame

After a while, I turned back and decided to take the straight path, that took me to the largest stream, with only a log as a “bridge”. It was hard to balance but the water was only ankle-deep, so I just walked through the water and reached the other side.

The larger streamView from the middle of the stream

This side was even wider and the stone pathway through the field of lilies was reminding me of the original Valley of Flowers. As a matter of fact, the valley continues even after this point, although I also had to return back to the guest house, so I reluctantly started coming back, which was harder as I had to hike up again after a tiresome day without any proper food and by that time I had run out of water too. I dragged myself while clicking photographs and finally reached the guesthouse and thankfully also found the caretaker and purchased some overpriced noodles from him (as usual, most items in the treks are overpriced due to supply problems).

Views kept getting betterAnd betterAnd better!Resplendent ValleyThe yellow ones… don’t know the name.No I’m not plucking it. Just making it stable for the click.Reminded me of another place.

The Night at the Dzukou Tourist Hut

To be honest, I was initially planning to complete the trek and go back to Kohima by the evening. However, I was too tired after exploring the valley and had taken an hour extra than my original plan. I was unlikely to make it to the highway before dark and I was not sure if any transport was going to be available at that time. So, I decided to stay back at the tourist hut (which is nothing but a big empty hall, where people can sleep) although I was grossly unprepared for the cold night. Nevertheless, I’d spent a lonely night without food in the jungle on my first attempt here (a failed one), so it could not have been worse than that.

Sunset at Dzukou

Eventually it turned out to be a good decision as I also got the sunset pics from the valley. A lot of other visitors from various parts of the world had arrived at the guesthouse by then and the conversations around the bonfire was more interesting than what I had experienced of late. It was not exactly a very comfortable night in that dormitory with the mat and blankets provided by the caretaker (no pillows), but after a tiring day, I managed to sleep anyway.

Dzukou to Jakhama: The Alternate Route

The next day, I decided to join a few other guys and come down through the Jakhama or Zakhama Route, something I had not tried on my previous attempts. Initially, after a bit of straight walk, this trail bifurcates, and goes higher up. This ascent was short but tiresome for someone who was already tired but but as it was a bit higher in altitude, I got some interesting frames.

Leaving Dzukou
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This is a guest post by Akash Gogoi who writes about Assam in his blog called All About Assam.

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Tezpur is one of the most important towns in northern Assam. It is the headquarter of the Sonitpur and more importantly, it is the gateway to many popular tourist destinations in Arunachal. From here you can find local transport for places like Tawang, Bomdila, Dirang, Bhalukpong, and Seijosa etc.  Nevertheless, Tezpur has a lot on its own to explore. It is an ancient town and some of the archaeological sites date back to the first millennia.

Mythology of Tezpur

According to Hindu mythology, once there was a king ruled in Sonitpur, whose name was ‘Banasur’, who was also an enemy of Krishna (Do note that some other areas in India also claim to have the same story and just like most other mythological stories, we can never be sure). His daughter ‘Usha’. She loved his enemy’s grandson ‘Aniruddha’. One day they both got married by going against Bana’s interest. Due to this cause, somehow Banasur captured ‘Aniruddha’ and imprisoned him into Agnigarh. This time Krishna had to come there to make his grandson free from Banasur’s prison. But there Krishna faced an obstacle, and that was Lord Shiva. Actually, Lord Shiva was a devoted deity of Banasur. In that case, once Shiva promised to help him when he would be in danger.

So, when Krishna went there to fight against Banasur then he remaindered Shiva’s promise to help him. Finally, these two supreme deities faced against each other and an epic war fought in the mythological history of Assam. The river of blood swept away, and the water of the entire Brahmaputra became red with the color of blood. That place where the epic war happened and the river of the blood swept away, today known by ‘Tezpur’. So this is the simple abstract of Tezpur city and how it got the name. (Tez= Blood, Pur=City).

History of Tezpur

Historical ruins of Tezpur dates back to the 5th-10th century and they seem to have been influenced by the Gupta era archetecture that was prevalent in India at that time. Local dynasties of those times generally were subservient to such powers. Most of those constructions are attributed to Salasthambha Dynasty. The modern town of Tezpur developed as it is during the colonial era. Many important Assamese literary and cultural figures such as Jyotiprasad Agarwala, Bishnu Rabha, & Phani Sharma lived here during those times and that is what made Tezpur the cultural capital of Assam.

Reaching Tezpur

Tezpur is easily reacheable from Guwahati (184 KMs/ 4 Hrs ). Regular bus services are available from Guwahati ISBT to Tezpur. It also has an aiport and the nearest important rail stations include Dekargaon and Balipara, where most Naharlagun-bound trains stop.

Top Places To See In And Around Tezpur

Mahabhairab Temple: Mahabhairav Temple is believed to be at least 1200 years old by the archaeologists, dating back to the Salstambha era, although many modifications have been done over the ages. The giant shivling inside the temple is believed to be one of the largest in the world.

Agnigarh: A beautiful mountain with its historical elements. The mighty Brahmaputra River flows near itself. According to Hindu mythology, Agnigarh was a Jail, built by ‘Banasur’ to imprisoned criminals of his state. Today, this is especially famous as the jail, where Krishna’s grandson ‘Aniruddha’ was kept as a captive. Agnigarh is located in the mid of Tezpur city. While some ancient ruins remain, the site has been beautified with new scuptures depicting those events.

Chitralekha Park: Chitralekha Park or Chitralekha Uddyan is another beautiful place. This is also located in the very middle of the city, Tezpur and nearer 1.2 Km to Agnigarh. Chitralekha Park is especially dedicated to Usha’s best friend ‘Chitralekha’ who was also an artist and who helped her in her affair with her prowesses.

Nameri National Park: Nameri National Park is one of the largest national parks of Assam. As per land areas this the 4th largest national park of Assam, which land area is around 200 sq. kilometers. Established in 1978 this wildlife reserve is especially famous for giant Asian Elephants. Apart from elephants, there you can also see other animals like Dhole, Clouded Leopard, Pigmy Hog, Barking Deer, Muntjac, Somber Deer, Sloth Bear, Gaur, Capped monkey, and Tiger, etc.

Orang National Park: Orang is a major national park in Assam, spread accross Sonitpur and Darrang districts. Great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, pygmy hog, elephants, wild buffalo and tigers are spotted here regularly. Various types of pelicans, adjutant storks, and many other avian species are also easily visible.

Da Parbatia: A beautiful small village located on the west coast of the city. The village ‘Da Parbatia’ is known for some amazing Hindu temples built during the 6th to the 7th century in Ahom ruling period. However, over time most of the temples were destroyed but if you are interested in archaeological things then it might suit your interest.

Bura-Chapori wildlife Sanctuary: So-called the bird’s heaven the Bura Chapori wildlife sanctuary is a small wildlife reserve established in 1995. Including various species of birds, there are also various reptiles and wild animals are founded here. If you really love seeing colorful birds then it will be proven as the best place for your holidays. Here is a short list of birds founded in Bura Chapori – Bengali Florican {especially famous for}, open bills, monk parakeet, water hen, Bar-headed goose, Greater adjutant, etc.

Sonai Rupai: It is another sanctuary in the Arunachal border, sharing its boundary with the Kameng Tiger Reserve on the other side. Tiger, lesser cats, elephant, wild boar, hog deer and barking deer are some of the mammals found here. Birders can find white winged wood duck, hornbill, pelican, etc.

Bhalukpong: Bhalukpung is a small town on Assam-Arunachal border, divided between both states, and the gateway to Bomdila and Tawang. It is located on the banks of a beautiful blue river which is called Kameng in Arunachal and Jia Bhoroli in Assam. It is a picnic spot for locals and an adventure destination with rafting and angling facilities.

Seijosa: Seijosa is another small palce located on the Assam-Arunachal border. It is the gateway to Pakke Tiger Reserve. Among other things, it is known for various types of hornbills.

 

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There are a lot of wonderful places to visit all around the world. Unfortunately, even if you have all the money in the world, there simply isn’t enough time to visit every wonderful spot on this planet. Instead, you have to think carefully about exactly where you want to go and what you want to do when creating your vacation bucket list. For some, that might mean taking an African safari, while for others, it might mean walking the iconic streets in New York City. However, if you are looking for an exotic location that is also easy on your pocket, look no further than Vietnam.

Travel-Friendly Economy

There are some amazing places on this planet, but you’ll have a hard time enjoying some of them because the people, governments, and economies in some places aren’t very traveler-friendly.

That’s not the case in Vietnam. In many ways, the country depends on tourism to feed their economy, so they have set things up to be easy for travelers who come from all over the world.

Most places have English versions of the menu, and many residents speak English. You can expect the same kind of service at a Vietnamese hotel that you would get in the states.

Getting a visa is extremely easy. The Vietnam visa application process includes applying online and waiting for your approval to be sent to your email. In most cases, it will be sent within three days, and you can simply print your eVisa using your home printer.

Natural Splendor

Even if it’s easy to vacation in a country, that doesn’t mean there’s a lot to see or do. That’s definitely not the case when it comes to Vietnam. This country is full of natural splendor from north to south, east to west.

Just a few of the beautiful places in Vietnam that are worth a visit include:

  • Ha Long Bay is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and voted a New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012, it’s a must-visit.
  • Hang Sơn Đoòng is the world’s biggest by volume, and it’s a great option for those with some hiking skills who are looking for a challenge.
  • Hoi An is the perfect mix of ancient coastal city and modern amenities that hasn’t been changed by the frequency of travelers who visit the town.
  • Sa Pa is home to people who live a traditional life with the dramatic backdrop of misty green terraces and Mount Fan Si Pan.
Vacation like a King

Vacations can get expensive fast. It’s true that you can find modern accommodations in Vietnam that are comparable in price to those in the states, but you can also travel on a budget too.

Very few places in the world enable you to stretch your dollar further than Vietnam. If you plan your trip carefully, you can find accommodations for under $5. You can find delicious meals for under $2 with beer that costs just a few cents. You can stay a lot longer, or travel back home sooner with more money in your pocket when you travel to Vietnam.

History

Recorded history in Vietnam dates back to the third century BC, so there’s plenty for history buffs to learn about this amazing country. However, for many, it’s the history of the Vietnam War that draws them to this fascinating country.

There are many educational sites that can teach you about the Vietnam War, including old war planes and tunnels that soldiers used during the war.

Other historic events are highlighted as well. For example, you can visit the imperial palace and visit the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh.

Culture

The culture of an area is a big draw for nearly any place you can possibly visit. After all, it’s the local culture that makes a place so special!

In Vietnam, the culture is unlike what we have in the West. Walk among bison-led equipment, sip on tea, and strike up a conversation with a friendly local who lives in an unbelievably modest home.

And of course, don’t forget about the food! There are some amazing Vietnamese dishes with flavors you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

By all means, gaze at lions on an African safari and gaze out your hotel window at Times Square, but don’t forget to add destinations that are off the beaten path to your bucket list. Even a short stay in Vietnam is sure to change your outlook on life.

PC: Sasint/Pixabay

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Mahakuta Group of Temples? What are these ?
I was there in Badami and was planning to cover Aihole and Pattadakal, as is the norm. However, I had not heard of Mahakuta, which was visible in a tourist map at the KSTDC hotel. Nevertheless, it seemed that it could be covered easily, along with Banashankari Temple, another place I had not heard of, enroute to Pattadakal. The first day was spent exploring Badami (More about it in a different post) and the second day was left for covering all these 4-5 spots in the 20 KM raidus of the town. We had already talked to a local autorickshaw guy on the previous day. He decided to take us to Aihole and Pattadakal, but through a longer route covering Mahakuta.
Banashankari Temple Banashankari Tower from the stepped tank

It took less than 15 minutes to reach our first stop, the Banashankari Temple, dedicated to goddess Shakhambhari, which is also an ancient shrine around 5 KMs away from Badami. It is a live temple, i.e. it is still in use by the locals. So, modern structures have been mixed up with ancient structures and difficult to distinguish and to explore. Nevertheless, it seemed very popular among locals.

Somewhat reminiscent of Hampi

There is a big stepped tank in front, but there was practically no water here as it was the driest and hottest season. It is located in the middle of a busy market place, or may be the market exists because of the temple. It organizes a major “Rath Yatra” with a gigantic chariot for the deity every year. The primary deity here is known as Shakhambari, an incarnation of parvati. The most noticeable structure here is the so called “Guard Tower”, with a strange shape. The temple dates back to the 7th century Kalyani Chalukyas but various components must have been built over the next centuries.

Tusker beyond the pillarsThe Guard TowerAn abandoned stepwell…The giant chariot outside the temple

After Banashankari, Mehboob Bhai also took us to Shivayoga Temple.  It did not seem like a historical site though. It is around 7 Kms ahead of Banashankari. It was not a part of the plan but it is in the route and so he decided to stop. The primary attraction here is another one of those larger than life chariots that is used for processions once in a year. He told me that it is the second largets chariot in Karnataka at 65 feet. I don’t know how accurate is that bit of information and which is the largest one. The road was pleasant and enjoyable at this stretch with open, fertile pastures. There were sunflower fields too but it was not exactly the season.

Stunt on the highwayMahakuta Group of Temples

Eventually, we reached the Mahakuta Group of Temples.  Although I had not heard of it before, it seemed like an extensive compound with some ancient, giant banyan trees. There are some small shops and eateries and all we could see was a series of stairs leading up to a medieval-looking stone structure. However, halfway through the staircase, we realized that the actual temples are on the right side of the stairs.

Temples are on the right side of this…

We soon entered the walled compound and a completely different world opened up. There were more than a dozen small temples, surrounding a beautiful pond. Now,  the tank called Vishnu Pushkarni, itself was a delightful proposition. This was March, the hottest and driest season in the southern peninsula. I was only travelling at this time because I had a limited window in hand. Every other water body I had seen so far in this area was dry and even the rivers were on the verge of disappearing. However, this one was thriving and locals were swimming gleefully. Apparently it is fed by a local stream which was not visible. Probably it runs underground.

PushkariniA delightful sightGanesha

I decided to explore the temples and stumbled on a bull blocking my way. It turned out to be a Nandi statue, but it was so lifelike that for a few seconds I mistook it to be a real one. I have seen such statues at many places and even Mahakuta has a few more but the realism on this particular one was striking. It is also located under a flowering tree, so it keeps getting a flowery shower. This also indicated that this is primarily a Shiva shrine.

A very realistic NandiFront view of one of the Shiva shrinesAnother Nandi

Coming back to the historical aspects, Mahakuta is another achievement of the early Chalukyas of Badami. It was built in the 6th or 7th century and some archaeologically important inscriptions have been found here describing the important events of the Chalukyas. The most important inscriptions though were on a pillar, now known as the Mahakuta Pillar, which has now been transferred to Bijapur Museum. The inscriptions were written in the Sanskrit language and Kannada script.

Scattered sculptures

The name Mahakuta derives from the original name of the most important temple here, the Mahakuteshwara Temple. It displays a combination of southern and northern influences, which is normally the case in Karnataka due to its sheer geography (& this region is closer to Maharashtra rather than mainstream Karnataka). The cluster of small Nagara style temples definitely reminded me of many temple complexes I have seen in the hills of Northern India, such as the Baijnath Temple and Baleshwar Temple in Champawat, and Jageshwar.

There are several Temples within the complex.

Walls of each and every temple display intricate sculptures which are not limited to Shiva and his cohorts. Vishnu and his avatars were present too, especiallynoticeable was the Varaha one, which was similar to the one I once saw in Udayagiri Caves, Vidisha. While most of the temples still look in good shape, the largest one, which is also regularly visited by devotees, has been painted with an aesthetically ill-suited green paint, I don’t know why!

VarahaGreen paint on some of the temples…

We spent around an hour in this complex. The day was only getting brighter and hotter and we had a lot to cover for the rest of the day. I think I would have spent more time here exploring each and every temple had I visited on a cooler season. But for this trip, this is what I could do.

White one is Mahakuteshwara TempleHow to Reach Mahakuta?

Mahakuta is around 15 KMs from Badami Town. You will have to get local autorickshaws or tourist tempos for reaching it, unless you have a vehicle on your own.

Entry Fee at Mahakuta?

One guy asked to pay up INR 10 each but did not give any tickets. Not sure it was even official. LOL

For more details read the Badami Travel Guide.

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While many people aspire to be digital nomads, not many realise what it actually takes. Apart from certain skillsets that can be helpful and a strong mindset to survive the uncertainties of this lifestyle, you also need to be prepared for all sorts of situations beyond your comfort zone.

Yes, everyone will tell you about a good backpack and shoes to wander the world, which are definitely essential, but I want to talk about a few additional things that may not occur to you immediately.

#1 Gadgets: Aim For Powerful But Light

A digital nomad naturally carries a laptop and a lot of other gadgets to be able to work from anywhere. When I started travelling, I had a laptop that weighed literally a ton. It was a good, strong performer but carrying that on my back was a nightmare. I endured this for a while but later on I moved on to a much lighter laptop.

Similarly, I love my DSLR but it is too bulky to carry around and hence I am beginning to consider getting a mirrorless camera. Basically, you should choose light gadgets without compromising performance. This is not always easy because light yet high-performing gadgets tend to be expensive.

So, do your research, scout good deals, or consider second hand products. I recommend you find lighter tech equipment because a heavy rucksack is not only an inconvenience but also a threat to your spine in the long run.

#2 Travel Insurance: Better Safe Than Sorry

Travel insurance is a must for any trip! There are lots of insurance providers out there which doesn’t make this choice an easy one.

I recommend you check out SafetyWing, a travel medical insurance for digital nomads, entrepreneurs and remote workers travelling or living abroad around the world. It’s only $37 for 4 weeks of coverage for 18 to 39 year olds, excluding coverage in the US. With SafetyWing, you simply choose a start date for the medical insurance and it will extend automatically until you cancel. This way, you don’t have to worry about the policy expiring while you are still travelling. You can also purchase insurance when you’re already travelling, something many insurance providers won’t let you do.

SafetyWing travel medical insurance covers you for unexpected injury or illness, hospital visits and emergency medical evacuation. Additionally, they also cover you for travel delays, lost checked luggage, natural disasters and personal liability. SafetyWing can be purchased in 180 countries, including India and also includes home coverage, in case you come home for a short visit before taking off to the world again.

#3 Mobile Hotspot: Never Go Without Internet

Most peope in Western countries take Internet connectivity for granted. However, it is not always so in many countries. WiFi hotspots are generally only available in major cities and they can sometimes be a daunting task to find.

International roaming on your phone may work but this can be incredibly expensive in the long run. But rest assured, in most major digital nomad hubs, you should be able to get a local SIM card or locate local hotspots, cafes or coworking spaces to solve your Internet problem and stay productive.

For India, I wrote a different post earlier about the best pocket WiFi. As a digital nomad, most of your work will be online, so this is really not something you can compromise with!

 

#4 Rain Cover: Keep Your Belonings Save

Unexpected rain can quickly turn into a disaster as it can damage your belongings if you get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Especially in tropical countries, you never know when it’s going to rain.

Good rucksacks should always come with a rain cover. If it doesn’t, I recommend to get extra one. I also like carrying additional plastic zip bags for all my important small gadgets like phone, WiFi hotspot and passport, just to be on the safe side.

 

#5 Data Backup: Never Loose Your Work

We all have a lot of data on our laptops, including photographs, write-ups, videos, and a lot of other things we are working on.

Generally, I keep most of my documents on my laptop or an additional hard-disk. However, these can always crash. I had a horrible moment a couple of years ago when my old laptop died and coincidentally, the external hard-disk also died around the same time, and I lost years of original photographs, just aweful! Even worse if it is your work or work you’re being paid for.

That’s why you should consider a good online cloud storage solution for your most valuable data. Yes, there are free options too but most of them have limited space.

BONUS!

Also, although I planned it as a top 5 post, a few more things came to my mind.

Travel Adapters: Stay Charged Anywhere

Travel adapters are another thing we usually don’t think about. However, I am sure you are aware that different countries have different standards for power plugs and you might not be aware if you are leaving your country for the first time that you will not be able to fit your devices into those plugs!

Always carry an international travel adapter with you, I put it in my carry-on luggage actually, so I can charge my devices on the go, for example at the airport while waiting around for a flight connection.

VPN: Browse Safely From Anywhere

As a digital nomad, you are most likely to end up using public networks, shared with dozens of strangers. Naturally, there are security threats in such cases. So, opting for a good VPN service can help you secure your work as you travel the world. As a digital nomad, your work will mostly be online, so this is an expense that can rarely be called a luxury.

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While everyone wants to be a digital nomad nowadays, not many realise what it takes. Apart a certain skillset and also a certain mindset to survive the uncertainties of this life, you also need to be prepared for all sorts of situations beyond your comfort zone. Yes, everyone will tell you about good backpacks and shoes, which are essential, but I want to talk about a few additional things that may not occur to you immediately.

Gadgets: Powerful but Light

A digital nomad naturally carries a laptop and a lot of other gadgets to continue working. When I started travelling, I had a laptop that weighed a ton. It was a good, strong performers but carrying that on my back, especially in the hilly areas was a nightmare. I had to endure it for a while but later on, I moved on to a lighter laptop. Similarly, I love my DSLR but it is too bulky and hence I am beginning to consider mirrorless cameras nowadays. So, basically you need to have light gadget without compromising with performance. This is not always easy because light yet high-performing gadgets tend to be expensive. So, do you research, scout for details account deals, or consider used products. But find lighter ones because a heavy rucksack is not only an inconvenience but also a threat to your spine in the long run.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a must in the foreign travels. While there are lots of options for insurance, you should look for services such as Safetywing, which are tailor-made for travellers. This is because unlike generic insurance options, they understand the needs of the travellers and the potential situations they can be in.

Mobile Hotspot

People in western countries take internet connectivity for granted. However, it is not always so in many other countries. WiFi hotspots are generally available only in the major cities and can be hard to find oinc. International roaming may work but not every service provided is present in every country. The solution to this is country specific. In most major countries, you should be able to locate some innovative local services for solving this problem and providing internet on the go. For India I wrote a different post earlier. As a digital nomad, most of your work will be online. So, this something you can’t compromise with.

Travel Adapters

This is another thing we usually don’t think about. However, different countries have different standards for the power plugs and this may come as a culture shock if you are leaving your country for the first time because you will not be able to fit your devices into those plugs! This is why you should always carry an international travel adapter. It is a simple device, but it will keep you safe in every country and you will get get stuck for something as silly as mismatching power plugs.

Rain Cover

Rains can be romantic, but they can also destroy all you belongings if you get stuck at the wrong place at the wrong place. Especially, in the tropical countries you never know when it rains and you may just get stuck in the middle of the road. Good rucksacks come with a rain cover. If it doesn’t, you should get extra ones. You should also carry additional plastic coverings for your important gadgets just to be on the safer side. Also, never hesitate to invest on a pair of waterproof shoes.

VPN

As a digital nomad, you are most likely to end up using public networks, shared with dozens of strangers. Naturally, there are security threats in such cases. So, opting for a good VPN service can help you secure your work as you travel the world.

Data Backup

We all have a lot of data, including photographs, write-ups, videos, and a lot of other things we are working on. Generally we keep then in the laptop or get an additional hard-disk. However, these can always crash. I had a horrible moment a couple of years ago when my old laptop died and coincidentally, the external hard-disk also died around the same time, and I lost years of original photographs. That is why you should consider a good online storage solution for your valuable data. Yes there are free options too but they have limited space. If photography is your primary trade then you should consider paid options.

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