I am no stranger to either Chopta or Rhododendrons (Buransh, बुरांश). In fact, I had done the Chopta-Tungnath trek way back in 2014 and this time I was just passing through the road without any expectations. But now I am having to write about it again because in a matter of an hour, I got the best views and best pictures of this entire spring.
I have often felt that I have grown more and more cynical and misanthropic over time. Few things excite me, especially when I am visiting a place for the second time. However, there are days when I feel better as I get an unlikely spring snowfall, pink and red rhododendrons in the same frame, that too with white icing on the top, along with crystal clear view of the Chaukhamba in the horizon. This was that kind of a day!
Before this, I’d had a mostly disappointing trip around Kumaon, where dull and dusty sky obscured all the peaks and returned a huge number of disappointing photographs. I crossed over to Garhwal via Gwaldam & Karnaprayag and reached Gopeshwar. I was not exactly sure what to do at that point but Travelshoebum was nearby and he suggested another round of the area, including a couple of secondary treks that I had not done before. I will write about the other treks later on but let us now focus on Chopta.
Our host for the day was Pushpendra Rawat who runs PeaceTrips, a traditional mudhouse turned into a homestay near Chopta. I met with the rest of the team at Gopeshwar, did another trek (will be discussed in a seperate post), and then moved on to Chopta towards the evening. It was sunny in the morning but the weather had began to deteriorate by afternoon and it started raining during our final stretch. Chopta is actually at a significant altitude of 2680 metres compared to 1500 odd in Gopeshwar where we were in the morning. So, it was predicted that there might be a snowfall in Chopta but I was doubtful about the same. However, very soon, we began to notice that layer of white on the conifers at a distance as the car moved on. Finally, after one last sharp U-turn, the road suddenly turned white.
It was pretty dark and still snowing. I was completely unprepared for the cold and the freezing wind made it worse. The location for the night was located a bit downhill from the road. We left the car and walked as fast as we could and finally reached the mudhouse. A fire was lit inside but it took a lot of time before I felt normal again. Miraculously, the weather cleared after a couple of hours and we had a great view of the starry sky. It was too cold to stay outside but we knew that the next day will be better.
I woke up early the the next day and it was all sunny but the landscape was still white. I even spotted a couple of vultures that morning, soaking up some sun after a cold night. This area is more famous for Himalayan Monals. I could not see them but I was not bothered because I had seen enough monals back in 2014. The there were several things in mind and it was not sure where we will be by the end of the day. Eventually, we ended up walking to Chopta, reach Sari and complete the Deoria Tal Trek, climb down from Sari to the main road, reach an obscure village (whose name I don’t remember) near Kartik Swamy Trek, to be hosted by complete strangers by the end of the day. But these are very long and eventful stories that will require a seperate post.
So, our mudhouse was actually located 2.5 Kms before Chopta. We bad adieu to Pushpendra and rest of the guests and started walking towards it because there was very limited transport available in that route and in that weather. We tried to get lifts but nobody stopped. So, we started walking, carrying all our luggage. It was sort of an ordeal but with every step, I began to sense that something more interesting was in store for us at the end of the walk. I took out the camera and started clicking some pictures. That is when I noticed a solitary pink rhododendron tree obscuring my landscape.
A few more steps and one more turns later, we suddenly arrived at the rhododendron territory and that too primarily pink ones! On all the previous occassions, I have mostly found red rhododendrons including my last Chopta-tungnath trek, and some other treks such as Rashol & Tirthan. But in this stretch, there seemed to be an explosion of pink, although the reds were present too. I kept walking awkwardly, carrying two bags on my shoulder and clicking photographs at the same time. It was a tiresome process because the walk was somewhat uphill. But then, one is not always forced by circumstances to the right place at the right moment. When I think of it, even if we’d managed to get a lift, we would have missed out on this opportunity!
We took one last 90 degree turn and our jaws dropped and touched the ground. We’d already seem more than we could have asked for but now we could see the Chaukhamba looming large over the valley and a lot of assorted peaks in the horizone while the rhododendrons were still covering the foreground. This stretch was still a bit higher and the snow had not melted here yet. So, most of the flowers had a delicate icing above them.
We took more than two hours to cover that stretch and reach Chopta, which was packed with tourists already. But interestingly, the other side of the road leading to Ukhimath had none of these blossoms. Ideally people arrive from that side only so I guess many of them probably missed out on what we witnessed.
Earlier, I was actually considering doing the trek to Tungnath again but I’d already got more than what I wanted in terms of frames and so gave up on that plan, bought a bottle of rhododendron juice (what else?!) from one of the roadside stalls, and moved on to the next destination which will be recounted in some other post. The only other thing I want to mention here is that Chopta seem to have grown quite a bit since I last visited it. I barely rememeber a few restaurants and a couple of lodges back in 2014 but this time I saw a huge number of facilities along the road from Ukhimath. Visit it before it gets too popular.
It is true that travelling can cost quite a lot at times. But if you just want to discover new places without really worrying about a specific list of destinations, there are few countries which are budget-savvy. Make your 2018 worthwhile by visiting the most affordable destinations all around the world.
Thailand is very popular with backpackers due to many small reasons- it is surrounded by calm islands, has a rich culture, consists of beach huts, the food is good- and all is available at low prices. Even if the routes are normally frequented by many travellers, it is very easy to get away from the crowds. You can travel to Nakhon Si Thammarat for the best food which the country has to offer! You can also hire a bike or a car and make trips to the lush forest, or visit the mountains.
One of the best things about visiting South Africa is that you can have the best possible safari experience as the Big Five is the thing there! And, that too without breaking a tight budget! You can head to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi to admire the white rhino and to stay away from the crowds of Kruger. For elusive hiking, you can travel to Drakensberg and you should definitely spend a few days in Cape Town.
Many travellers have the tendency to think that travelling to Egypt cost a hell lot of money! But, that is not the case. For instance, if you want to visit all the pyramids and Valleys of the Kings, it might be costlier than expected. But you can limit the places you wish to visit by choosing some specific sites like ancient sights. Also, there are many hotels and restaurants which are very budget-savvy; you just have to check for the best deals. Now, if you still want to get a glimpse of ancient Egypt and their culture, you can try Temple of Isis Slot at Just Cash Bingo. On this top slot game, you will discover the ancient hieroglyphs engraved in pyramids and the ornaments which was once the possessions of the lands of pyramids.
India was and still is one of the ultimate destination for budget travellers. All around the world, there are hardly any countries like India- where you can visit majestic palaces and eat really well for low cost. If you want a beach escape, then you can add Goa to your list. It is made of pretty beaches! For good food, you might want to walk onto the streets of Mumbai; you will find delicious pani puris and kebabs. Make it a must to visit the city of Jaisalmer where you can walk amidst the endless sands.
As this year is about to end, it would be best that you pick any of these destinations for 2018. You can find out more about this destinations by checking the accommodation costs, so that you are sure which one will suit your budget perfectly.
I’d had a long 24 hours. I was at Pushkar. I had to come out of my den and catch the Ranikhet Express to reach Rudrapur at an unearthly hour of 3 AM, followed by a early morning bus to Tanakpur, and then a shared car to Champawat. At around 10 AM, I was 15 KMs away from my destination. All this while I had been battling flu-like symptoms and I was not sure what exactly was happening to me. All I knew was that I will need a good siesta once I reach. However, the traffic came to a standstill after that point.
A large rock had fallen from the top and positioned it miraculously on the road, instead of tumbling down further. Hundreds of vehicles had gathered at that point on both sides of the rock. For the next 8 hours, all I could do was to watch the excavators work tirelessly to dig out a road bypassing the rock because it was too big to move. I have been in trickier situations such as when I got stuck at 4400 meters and when I had to spend a lonely night at the jungle but combined with illness, it turned out to be a serious ordeal that day. Anyway, the road finally cleared at around 6 pm and I reached Champawat by 7 pm, and went directly to attend a meeting, which was a part of the program I was invited to attend. I could finally retire for the day only after 11 PM.
Sorry for the tedious beginning but this is also to point out how difficult it can get in these regions. Champawat is a place that does not easily ring a bell, which is surprising because it used to be the capital of Kumaon Kingdom, an ancient town with mythological associations as well as archaeological remains. When I first saw the invitation to visit the place, I had to think hard and finally remembered a Corbett story called the Champawat tiger. Apart from that, I could hardly find anything about the place. This is because this Tanakpur-Champawat-Pithoragarh route is the easternmost and least visited part of Kumaon. It is not far from the Nepal border and feels a bit different compared to the rest of the state. Anyway, this is why I accepted this opportunity to visit and explored the place.
So, the primary thrust of me being here was Uttarakhand Sustainable Development Festival. It was being organized by NGOs International Centre for Sustainable Development and The Dais Foundation, primarily managed by youngsters. But it was good to see that they had full support of the district administration in the process. The scope of the discussion was not limited to tourism but covered everything from education to agriculture. However, since I was there as a travel writer, I am focusing on the tourism part. I hope this will bridge the information gap that exists right now between Champawat and its potential visitors. During the conference, the also launched an ecommece shop for Champawat where once can buy local produces such as Red Rice and Organic Tea.
For the next few days, I participated in many activities, some organized by my hosts, some on my own. Instead of providing a day by day account, I am segregating my experience in a topical manner so that everyone can understand what Champawat has to offer.
Champawat itself is a small but busy town. If you just pass through the market around the highway, you will probably not realize what the town has to offer. It actually has a very unique geography and it can only be understood if you walk around a bit. Narrow but fertile valleys are spread on all directions, till they reach the higher mountains. It was February, so the landscape was reddish brown. I guess it looks better in the monsoons. Nevertheless, the spring was already beginning to show its colors. Especially pear trees were flowering already. It some manners, it reminded me of Karsog in Himachal. The most prominent buildings in town are the government buildings and if you just try hard enough, you can capture the same through some interesting vantage points.
Desmond’s Farm and Tea Garden Hike
Uttarakahnd is one of the lesser-known tea growing areas of India with a long history. Tea plantation started in Kumaon more than 150 years ago, almost at the same time as some other major tea producing areas of India. It also enjoyed a brief period of prosperity in the middle of the 20th century but due to increasing production cost and some other issues it gradually lost its market. However, the efforts are now on to revive the same and Champawat remains one of the major tea growing areas in the state.
Desmond Birkbeck and his family was the host for the day for the delegates of the conference who were being given a tour of the tea gardens. Desmond’s family has been involved in this trade for several generations and working with the Uttarakhand Tea Board to revive the fortunes of Kumaoni tea. However, even before a hike through the tea gardens, we got a chance to explore the estate of the family, that is more like a agricultural utopia for mountain lovers. Blooming mustard fields, peaches, pears, malta (a citrus fruit) trees bending over with the weight of ripe fruits were enough make the delegates delirious. Everyone was treated with pancakes homemade jams from the fruits from the farm and of course, local tea. Later one, we did take that hike through the tea garden. Such walks are not new to me but occasional rhododendrons, which seemed to be blooming a bit too early in February, was a surprise addition to the garden.
Baleshwar Temple and other archaeological remains
As I have mentioned before, Champawat was once the capital of Kumaon Kingdom. There are several ancient temples spread around the district. While I could not visit them all, I managed to visit the Baleshwar Mahadev temple, one of the most elaborate temples I have come across in the hills. According to ASI, this group of temple was constructed in the 14th Century by the Chand rulers. I have seen many medieval temples in Himachal and Uttarakhand but this one is unique because the unique structure. Also, there are hundreds of sculptures scattered around the complex. They reminded me of some places in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and I definitely beyond my expectations. There is also a “Naula”, a traditional water structure near the temple. It is built below the ground level and the water oozing from the ground is collected. Another site that I could not visit in town is called the Chabutra. It is a highly ornamented structure with a Chatri. The exact purpose of the Chabutra is not known.
Abbott Mount and Mayavati Ashram
Lohaghat is another town, just 13 Kms ahead of Champawat, which is the base for two important attractions in this region, Abbott Mount and Mayavati Ashram. I managed to visit both as I skipped one meeting and set out with a couple of other guys I’d befriended at the conference. However, my trip was not as satisfactory as it should have been.
Abbott Mount is around 7-8 Kms ahead of Lohaghat, followed by a short hike to the hilltop. The primary attraction here is the great 360 degree view of the snowy peaks that it provides on a clear day. Sadly, that also means that it is completely dependent on the weather. The day I went was a strange day. It was a sunny day but the sky was dull and somewhat hazy. Not a single peak was visible in the horizon. Maybe this is why the dry and dusty spring is considered an off-season in these parts. Apart from the peaks, Abbott Mount has a few graves and a piratically abandoned church that can help conspiracy theorists to concoct one of those haunted house stories. Actually, the place is named so because of the Abbott family who tried to settle here. They are the ones who now rest under those graves.
We returned to Lohaghat quickly, by taking lift on a truck. Mayawati Ashram is around 8 KMs but there was no public transport available. We finally hired a guy, who ran a garage by the side of the road, to take us there and drop us back. He charged INR 400. I would not have done it alone but it got divided between three people so it was tolerable. It was a nice drive through pine and rhododendron forests and we reached in quick time. This Ashram was envisioned by Swami Vivekananda and built by a couple of British disciples of his. It is a beautiful compound but sadly photography is not allowed inside. We met Swami Narasimhananda, who is the editor of the magazine published from here. In fact,this has been a major publishing center for more than a century now. We also saw an old printing machine that has been preserved for everyone to see. We had a good conversation with Swamiji. Somehow he asked if I was a blogger (no one in my family has ever got that right). So, I guess the power spirituality is not to be underestimated.
So, I spent around 5 days in Champawat and then left for pithoragarh, which is higher up in the mountains. I am aware of the confusing tone of this article but that was because I was trying to cover several aspects of the place. The conference of sustainability is a good initiative and I hope they continue the work. What I could understand is that this region, just like most other Himalayan regions, is a fertile stretch with a lot of potential in terms of agribusinesses and tourism. As of now not too many people are visiting it but I can see that improving in the next few years. One thing that can help this process is better availability of information, and development of affordable homestays in various strategic parts of the region. I don’t know about the later but I can take care of the former through this guide below.
Champawat DIY Travel Guide
How to reach Champawat?
The best way to reach Champawat is via Tanakpur , which is one of the lesser-known rail stations in Uttarakhand. It is actually not far from Nepal Border. Unfortunately, it does not have any direct connectivity with Delhi but is connected to larger cities of UP. Easier way is to take a train to Rudrapur (Delhi-Haldwani route), bus to Tanakpur, and then a shared car to Champawat which is around 75 KMs away from there.
Where to stay in Champawat?
There are at least a dozen low to mid-range hotels in the town with decent facilities. I am not aware of any homestays or fancy resorts as of now.
What to see in Champawat?
Baleshwar Mahadev Temple and Chabutra (archaeological site within town)
Abbott Mount (20 KMs via Lohaghat, small hike and views of Himalayan peaks on a clear day)
Mayavati Ashram (22 KMs via Lohaghat, preserved memories of Vivekananda and a good place to meditate but you will have to book in advance if you want to stay in the ashram).
Banasur ka Kila (A short hike to the remains of an ancient fort near Lohaghat. There are many myths associated with it.)
Tea Gardens and Farms around the town. You will need a local guide to find them though.
Pancheshwar (52 KMs from Champawat, a small town with a temple in the Nepal border. Great views of the confluence of rivers Sharda and Kali).
Phone and data connectivity in Champawat?
Most major connections should work but the signal strength may fluctuate at times.
Should I carry my Old Monk?
There are wine shops in the market although the availability of particular brands could not be ascertained.
Where to go after Champawat?
This is only the beginning. After this you can move on northwards to Pithoragarh-Dharchula-Munsiyari circuit.
Kerala never ceases to fascinate its visitors. Every time, each visit turns out to be a new discovery. Take Thekkady for example. The very mention of the name brings images of elephants playing in the mud, the arresting aroma of the spice plantations and the lush greenery harboring mysteries of the forest. This sanctuary on the Kerala – Tamil Nadu border, is known for its expansive stretches of dense forests, savanna grasslands, and diverse wildlife.
Reaching the wildlife reserve
Thekkady is easily accessible from the cities of Trivandrum, Madurai, and Kochi. Once you fly down from your point of origin, you can do a cab booking in Kochi which is closer to the sanctuary. If traveling by road, you can alight at the Kottayam railway station, the nearest to Thekkady and easily connected to Bangalore.
The highlight of Thekkady is the Periyar National Park – one of the most intriguing wildlife sanctuaries in India. Spread across 777 Sq. Km. of the natural forested area, Periyar is known for its rich, vast, and varied flora, fauna and vegetation. From being a home to exotic species of wild animals to being the apt place for jungle adventures, the Periyar National Park is your complete vacation destination in the wild.
The national park houses an artificial lake, formed by the outflow of the Mullaperiyar Dam, which adds to the beauty of the park. The lake also acts as the watering hole for the wild animals dwelling in the Periyar forest.
The best part of this expansive sanctuary is its tiger population which has been conserved and declared a ‘tiger reserve’ since 1978. Other members of the wild community are innumerable elephants, sambar deer, Indian bison, lion-tailed macaques and Nilgiri langurs.
Of flora and fauna, the Periyar National Park is a treasure trove of nature. You can find at least 171 species of wild grasses in this sanctuary, followed by 140 species of orchids, medicinal plants like eucalyptus, sandalwood, bamboo and more.
Exploring the park
If you are in for a thrilling wildlife expedition, then there are various options to wander through the wilderness of Periyar National Park.
Jungle Trek: Join a jungle trek and take a walk into the wild. There are guided treks available for tourists, where you can walk along the nature trails, spot any of the 266 species of birds and soothe your eyes to the sight of wildflowers. These paths often cut through thick forests of evergreen and deciduous trees that add to the density, and sometimes cross marshy grasslands. For a more in-depth exploration, take the jeep safari.
Boat Ride: For a different kind of experience, skirt the peripheries of the lake on a boat ride. For those unaware, Periyar is the only natural sanctuary in India where you can have a candid encounter with the wild family, while on a boat. Boats run between 6 am and 6 pm.
Spice Plantation tour: If you are not fascinated by animals, then discovering rare plants and vegetation could be a way to explore this national park. Thekkady is favored for its spice cultivation. Take a spice plantation tour, away from the thickets and awaken your senses with the aromas of cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, coffee, tea and various local spices and herbs.
Elephant Ride: Want to see the sights the traditional way? Take an elephant ride for about an hour and roam around like a king. Rides usually take between half an hour to an hour and you can hail a ride anytime between 10 am to 5 pm.
In all, Thekaddy makes for an uncommon holiday destination. You can easily book some of the walks online to have a seamless experience. And the irony of this exquisite natural enclave is that it’s too vast to complete in one day. Hence, as they say, if you have to see nature from within, you have to keep coming back for more.
“Ancient archaeological remains in the southernmost corner of Northeastern India? Isn’t that some sorta rainforest?”, asked one of my friends who was never a fan of either geography or history.
I can’t really blame him. Even better-informed people don’t have much clue about Tripura’s history and even I first came across some of these names when I started planning for the trip. Unakoti is a bit more famous but nobody talks about sites like Pilak, Boxanagar, or Devtamura. So, on the last phase of my Tripura trip, I made it a point to reach Pilak, which is around 62 KMs from Udaipur, which is around 50 KMs southwards of Agartala.
Udaipur: The Other Lake City
Udaipur itself is one of the historical towns Tripura with several old temples dotting the town and its surroundings. It also has several man-made lakes and so it can be called a Lake-City just like its Rajasthani counterpart. I took a quick walk through it and found several medieval temples of varied shapes and sizes. They generally follow the designs of typical terracotta temples of Bengal. I had heard of Bhuvaneswari Temple across the river Gomati. But en route, I found a couple of others, one called Chaturdasa Devta Temple, and the other one did not even have a nameplate. All of them have a similar build, temples built on elevated platforms and very similar to some better-known temples in other parts of Bengal.
Finally, I also paid a visit to Tripurasundari Temple, which is situated slightly outside the town. It is one of the 51 Shakteepeethas and was built in 1501. However, the temple seemed to be pretty newly constructed. I think this is the issue with “live” temples. They keep getting renovated as devotees visit them regularly. So, the sanctum sanctorum is probably 500 years old but the rest of the structure seemed modern.
I left for Pilak the next morning, mostly following the google maps and without an concrete information. The primary mode of transportation here are the shared jeeps that go all the way to Sabroom, on the Bangladesh border. The place I needed to reach was Jolaibari. The road was mostly smooth and I had secured a good seat on the side. So, I mostly enjoyed that breezy ride of 1.5 hours, that passes through many small towns and some long stretches of deciduous forests. Eventually, the jeep dropped me at Jolaibari after an hour and a half. I asked around a bit and everyone suggested me to hire an autorickshaw to visit the ruins which are scattered all over the area.
The ruins of Pilak were believed to have been built between 8-12th century and feature both Hindu and Buddhist relics. It is believed to have been a part of ancient Samatata kingdom that has been mentioned in various ancient texts but still lacks proper details and documentation. Now, if one just looks at the present day map of Tripura, most people will not be able to connect it with the rest of India because we tend to forget the existence of present-day Bangladesh. So, this entire area covering the eastern parts of greater Bengal and located at the mouth of the meeting point of many great rivers in the Ganga- Brahmaputra Delta formed a very prosperous province in the ancient times. These areas of Tripura must have been frontier towns of those times, just on the edge of the impregnable hills.
These ruins were first discovered in the early 20th century and ASI has carried out excavations over the decades to unearth several points of interest. The problem for me was to figure out that there were several scattered locations in the region and the autorickshaw I hired for INR 100 knew only two of them. Data connectivity also stopped working as I reached Jolaibari and so I could not check the map although I don’t think even that would have helped. So, I asked him to show whatever he can.
It took barely 10 minutes to reach the first site. It was more of a collection of artefacts dug out from the ground. They are now protected by a wall and some tin shades. There was something akin to a Shivling, some fragments of various statues or temple pillars, and one large standing statue. In some sources, this is mentioned as Surya but I can’t really be sure. All I can safely say is that it is a set of Hindu relics. It must have been grand at one point of time but is pretty anodyne as of now. As per descriptions found online, it seems like the site of Thakurani Tilla but I am not really sure.
After then, he took me to a site which was comparatively better maintained, which finally gave me something to cheer about. It was the remains of a Buddhist Stupa, something strikingly similar to what I have seen in the likes of Sri Surya in Assam. From what I could understand from this excavation report of ASI, this is site known as Shaym Sundar Tilla. The site was excavated in 2000-01 and it unearthed the cruciform foundation of a brick built stupa. It is adorned with terracotta plaques depicting Buddhist mythological scenes, and probably also some contemporary social scenes of those times. Every plaque has different scenes and I wish I could spend more time studying them.
There is a strange object at the centre of the base. I am not really sure what that is (Please drop a comment if you know). Also, the other noticeable element here is another big standing sculpture carved on stone, with two smaller figurines on both sides. Again, I am not sure about the identity but according to some sources it is that of Avalokitesvara. Some other important relics found in this region have been moved and are now displayed in the museum in Agartala.
So, this is what I could manage in Pilak. On hindsight, I probably should have asked the people in the government tourist lodge in Pilak for more details and direction. But I had little time and this is how things work for me!
How to Reach Udaipur?
You can get buses and shared cars from Nagerjala in Agartala that should cost you no more than INR 50-60. You also have a nice morning train from Agartala where you can get a nice reserved seat for negligible rates.
How to Reach Pilak?
From Udaipur, grey coloured jeeps ply on the Shantirbazar-Joliaibari-Sabroom route. You need to reach Jolaibari and ask around for directions. It will cost you around INR 40-50.
Where to stay in Udaipur?
There is a big government tourist lodge and scores of decent private hotels around town. It is a big enough town so you will have everything you need. I got a very good room at INR 300 with attached bathroom and TV (although I hardly watch TV).
Where to stay in Pilak?
Generally, you can make a day trip from Udaipur. If you must stay, there is a big government tourist lodge, not far from the point where the jeep drops you.
Phone and Data connectivity in Pilak?
This is bit of a problem. My BSNL prepaid number stopped working in Pilak. Basically, both phone and data works well in Udaipur and even until Shantirbazar. After that, you are on your own!
Several different civilisations and lifestyles have left their imprints on the culture of Kashmir as we see it today. To celebrate the multitude of hues the state has accumulated over time, not just in terms of religion but also economic activities, cuisine, natural landscapes and rituals, Kashmir festivals range from the Tulip Festival, Apple Festival, Baisakhi, Gurez Festival, Shikara Festival and one of the latest entrants, the Snow Festival.
The Snow Festival was started in 2003 to celebrate the serene snowy winters of Kashmir. It is held in the “queen of the hills” Gulmarg, already popular for its Gondola ride and skiing slopes. Typically, a two to three-day gala, the Snow Festival takes place in January, organised by the Department of Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir. The dates vary from year to year and hence need to be checked and planned for, beforehand. Since every speck of land and hill is wrapped in a white blanket of snow, Gulmarg with its unparalleled slopes, became the ideal place to host this festival. Sports like skiing, sledge-racing, snow-cycling, ice-skating, snow rugby and even snow baseball now, are hosted for tourists, thus making for a fun-filled, active family vacation. Even if you don’t participate, the events are an adrenaline riot to view and follow right upto the finale.
The best way to experience any exotic place is to visit it during festivals to see the local culture come to life. Attending the Snow Festival in Gulmarg makes for a purposeful addition to your family vacation along with other places to see in Jammu and Kashmir like Dal Lake, Mughal gardens, Tulip Garden, Old Srinagar in Srinagar, Apharwat Peak, Baba Reshi in Gulmarg, Betaab Valley, Sheshnag lake in Pahalgam and Thajiwas Glacier, Zojila Pass, Gangabal lake in Sonmarg etc. Festivals also provide a great opportunity to sample local cuisine and shopping for souvenirs.
A great plan for such an active vacation would be to plant your pivot in a good location such as the Club Mahindra’s resorts in Srinagar. The city has a large number of tourist hotspots and the Club Mahindra’s accommodation presents a wonderful opportunity to live in the beautifully crafted houseboats on the city’s landmark, Dal lake. Catch mesmerising sunrises and sunsets with your family, have easy access to shikara rides and floating markets through your unique living experience of a houseboat. Certainly, a charming choice for a memorable family holiday.
Celebrate the Snow Festival and its several exciting events by visiting Gulmarg while keeping yourself rooted in these ethnic houseboats in Srinagar at Dal Lake. As can be confirmed with Club Mahindra reviews, the stay in the houseboats combine the traditional living with high standards of comfort your family is most accustomed to. Top this with assured access to delectable Kashmiri cuisine and warm hospitality.
I just made a quick trip to Roing and Mayudia. It had to be cut short due to various reasons. I visited Mayudia but could not go all the way to Anini and there is hardly enough to write a complete travelogue. I will return some day for more but till then, here is a DIY guide for anyone who needs it.
The region I am talking about is the area spread along the Dibang Valley. This is one of the 11 major tourist circuits, as defined by Arunachal Pradesh Tourism. It has now been divided into two districts, the Lower Dibang Valley (HQ Roing) inhabited mostly by Adi people and the Upper Dibang Valley Districts (HQ Anini) inhabited by Idu Mishimis. As it can be seen from the map, Roing is not far from Tinsukia and Dibrugarh, two much larger cities in Upper Assam. It is at the foothills and roads are good till that point. After that, you enter the hilly regions and the road gets tougher. Anini is the last big settlement in this region, not far from the border to Tibet (China). There are military settlements at various points as it is a border area. Here are the major spots and attractions in and around the circuit.
It is the nearest airport in case you need one. It also an ancient town and a trading port on the banks of Brahmaputra. But if you are arriving by road, you can skip it.
This is the ideal place to start your journey and nearest major Rail Station as well as bus stand. In fact, there are two stations now, New Tinsukia Junction (NTSK) and Tinsukia Jn (TSK). It is too big and squalid a city for my liking. But you get everything you need here. Also, the entire region here is full of tea gardens, but you need to get out of the city to see them.
Dibru Saikhowa National Park
It is one of the most unique and diverse national parks in the country and I personally rate it far above Kaziranga for soem reasons. From feral horses to river dolphins, and from river cruises to bird-watching, possibilities are endless here. I visited it a few years ago and made an extensive Guide to Dibru Saikhowa National Park. It is barely half and hour from Tinsukia but you need to explore the place on boats.
Bhupen Hazarika Setu (Dhola Sadia Bridge)
Until recently, reaching Arunachal through this route used to be an elaborate affair. You needed the help ferries to cross the river. However, the bridge was finally completed last year, thus making the process much faster. At more than 9 KMs, it is one of the longest bridges in the country and this itself has become and attraction fro local tourists.
After crossing the bridge you reach a small town called Chapakhowa, which is the centre of Sadiya subdivision. There is nothing much remaining here now but at one point of time, this was a major kingdom in Assam with a lot of myths and anecdotes associated with it. This is also the point where three different branches meet and form the great Brahmaputra river. Read up more about Sadiya if you want.
Roing has grown in recent times but still a much smaller town compared to those across the border. It is mostly surrounded by a big marketplace. It even has a zoo and there is a lake called Sally Lake around 3-4 KMs outside the city with pedal boats etc. Dense forests can be seen beyond the town, leading up to the hills. There is a sanctuary called Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary which is supposed to be rich in flora and fauna but I have not met anyone visiting it and not sure if there are any facilities for visitors.
Most of the region is known for orange cultivation. But Dambuk has become famous of late as it organizes the Orange Festival to celebrate the same. The festival is designed to attract tourists, so you get camping, music concerts, adventure sports, and a lot of other facilities during the fest, but you have to time it right. It takes place sometime in December every year.
This region still has a few ruins from medieval times. Locals relate them to the times of Mahabharata but most probably they are related to the aforementioned kingdoms of Upper Assam that thrived before the advent of Ahoms. Check this post by ASI to know more.
At 2655 Metres, Mayudia (or Mayodia) is the highest point in this route from Roing to Anini. It is not exactly a village and you probably won’t even notice it on other months. But in January, it snows here. It is one of the nearest point to witness snow for the people of Assam and this is what has made it famous.
It is a small town after Mayudia with scenic views and some small treks all around, although most of them are yet to be explored properly.
Anini is the last point in this route and it takes a whole day to reach it from Roing. It is hard to reach and you are rewarded with great views once you manage to reach. You can expect snow in the winter and colourful blossoms in the summer months.
Guwahati to Tinsukia 485 KMs
Dibrugarh to Tinsukia 47 KMs
Tinsukia to Roing 107 KMs
Roing to Mayudia 56 KMs
Roing to Hunli 90 KMs
Roing to Anini 221 KMs
Roing to Dambuk 40 KMs
Roing to Bhismaknagar 25 KMs
How to Reach Roing?
From Tinusukia, you get buses and shared cars that cost aroind INR 130. The bus stand is not far from the old Tinukia station, and a bit far from New Tinsukia Junction although you will easily get rickshaws from there. The road is smooth and straight and you should reach in less than 3 hours.
How to Reach Mayudia?
Now, it is easy if you have a vehicle. It is also easy if you are in a large group and can hire a vehicle. But if you are alone and relying on public transport, it is an issue. I figured out that the Anini bound shared cars to leave from Roing at around 7 AM in the morning. There are many Booking counters in the market. Mayudia is on the way but they don’t want to block a seat for someone going to only a small distance. They in fact were forcing me to book ticket all the way to Anini by paying the whole amount. After a lot of negotiations, they gave some discount but I still had to pay INR 500 just to reach Mayudia. On return, I was planning to catch one of the vehicles coming back from Anini. But I got a lift in a pickup van and that part was negotiated for free although I had to stand on the backside and brave the freezing wind.
How to Reach Anini?
As mentioned already, you get shared cars from Roing in the morning. It costs INR 800 per head and it is non-negotiable. You should book your seat on the previous day. Otherwise you may not get a seat.
How to Reach Dambuk?
There are shared cars to leaving to Dambuk from Roing too. However, they leave in the afternoon as far as I know. That means you will have to stay at Dambuk at night. You will get various camps set up during the orange festival. I am not sure about the facilities at other times.
Inner Line Permit at the Roing Gate
While I got my ILP from Guwahati, it was interesting to note that they are now providing ILP at the entry point of Arunachal. The bus stopped a few KMs before of Roing. Here, they check your permits or you have the option to get the permits made on the spot by paying INR 30, photographs, and ID proof. I am not sure if it is applicable to foreign visitors and I still suggest you get it done in Delhi.
Accomodations and food in Roing, Mayudia, Hunli and Anini
Roing has several small hotels with basic facilities at INR 300-400. Most of them are located in the market where the bus will drop you. Don’t expect too much though, you will just get a place to sleep. I stayed in the one called Mimu Hotel.
There is a nice government lodge on the banks of Sally Lake, which is just outside the town. I am not sure about the costs though. I also noticed a camp (tent accommodation).
There is another rest house near Mayudia and all the dhabas there offer a bed to sleep in case you need. However, to be honest, I don’t think it is a good idea. It will be bitterly cold up there after sunset.
Places beyond that point including Hunli and Anini should have government accommodations such as Circuit Houses. There may be a private hotel in Anini but I am not sure and facilities will be really basic. However, as I mentioned before, the new bridge has increased tourist inflow in the region and I think it is only a matter of time before better facilities come up.
Basic restaurants are available all over Roing and Mayudia. After that, you will find them less frequently. If you are not used to eating too much rice… well… get used to it before you go there.
Phone and Data connectivity at Roing and Anini
My prepaid BSNL card was working till Roing and I think most other services should work too. However, beyond Roing, it is extremely difficult.
Where is the nearest ATM?
You should find ATMs at Roing. There may be ones in other towns too but still, due to sheer remoteness, you can’t rely on them to be functional.
What is a good season to visit this circuit?
People mostly visit in the winters because it is easy and pleasant. You can see snow, and oranges ripen in the lower areas. I am sure the colours are beautiful in the summer and monsoons, but rains can wash away the roads here at any point and you need to keep that in mind.
Should I visit this circuit?
Although I visited only Roing and Mayudia, I would recommend that you go all the way to Anini. Mayudiya attracts local people from the plains when it snows. But if you have already seen snow in the higher Himalayas, this will not excite you. But if you are planning to explore all other spots mentioned above, you can devote a week here.
Yes, after several failed attempts, I finally managed to visit Tripura. Although I had to cut it short due to external circumstances and had to rush through my destinations, still I managed to cover a lot within those four days. While I will come up with detailed posts about each of the attractions, I really wanted to say something about the place in general. Tripura is an excellent place for budget travellers and it is surprising that hardly anyone is visiting it!
Actually, my emotions may be stronger at the moment because of my other experiences in the recent months. Regular readers here know that I have made several trips to the other Northeastern states in the last few months and as much as I like to promote them, I must admit that most of the trips were logistical nightmares due to the lack of basic infrastructure. It is probably easier if you have a vehicle but for a budget traveller like me who relies on public transport, it was a real struggle.
Tripura looks equally remote on the map but I was surprised how easily I managed to cover it. The only hiccup was at the time of returning when the train to Guwahati got cancelled. However, the issue was not with Tripura but it was due to some disturbances in the hill districts of Assam. So, I had to reach Silchar and take a bus to Guwahati through Meghalaya.
My Quick Tripura Itinerary
Took a train from Guwahati at night to Silchar because direct train to Agartala was not available that day.
Got down at Badarpur early morning, shared a car to Karimganj, and finally got a bus to Dharmanagar. Visited Unakoti Temples and returned to Dharmanagar for night halt.
Took the morning train to Agartala and directly took a shared car to Melaghar. Visited Neer Mahal and spent the night at the lodge near the lake.
Took a shared car to Udaipur. Completed some urgent work from the hotel room and then some local sightseeing in Udaipur, including medieval temples and lakes.
Took a shared car to Jolaibari to visit ancient ruins of Pilak. Returned by noon and wanted to visit Amarpur-Devtamura. But was too tired by then and so decided to return to Agartala for some local attractions and night halt.
I had a direct train to Guwahati in the morning which was cancelled as mentioned before. So,I reached Silchar and took the bus.
So, now let me explain why I found Tripura to be delightful and why it is ideal for backpackers with a limited budget.
No Permits needed for Tripura
As you know, it requires Inner Line Permits (ILP) to visit the Northeastern States of Arunachal, Nagaland, and Mizoram. Other states like Manipur and Meghalaya also occasionally keep demanding the same. They do have their reasons for doing the same and those complexities are beyond the scope of a travel blog but for travellers, it is an additional layer of formality and in some cases, you may have to devote an extra day just to get the permit even before you reach the state. But Tripura asks for no such things. Just book your tickets and go.
Excellent Rail Connectivity
Except for Assam, most other NE states practically have no rail connectivity excluding some border towns. Tripura used to be the same but in the recent years, the Indian Railways have made rapid progress to connect all major towns of the state and also to connect the state to the rest of India. Now they even have a Rajdhani Express to Agartala but I was more impressed by the local passenger trains with chair cars where you can prebook and get a comfortable seat for INR 40-50, and enjoy the best of rail travel as the compartment mostly remains empty. Train network has now reached as far as Udaipur in South Tripura, and they are constructing lines that will eventually connect the state to Bangladesh.
Easy Road Connectivity
I found most of the roads to be in reasonably good shape. Buses and shared cars are available everywhere. Interestingly, different types of cars are more prevalent in different towns. I mostly saw Tata Magic around Dharmanagar, Mahindra Maxx around Agartala, and classic Jeeps around Udaipur as you can see in the pic above. Electric rickshaws are available to travel within the towns. In any case, you don’t have to pay more than INR 40-50 for any stretch.
Quality Budget Accomodation
Comfortable accommodation on a budget is not always easy to find. When I was planning for Tripura, I was talking to a friend. I had found a long list of official Tripura Tourism Lodges that are present near every major attraction in the state. He refused to believe it and wondered if they exist only on paper. But now I am glad to report that they actually exist. I found a big one even in a place as remote as Jolaibari (Pilak). Also, apart from the government lodges, all major towns have good budget hotels complete with TVs and attached bathrooms for INR 300-400. The government lodges can cost a bit more, around INR 600-800, but that is purely optional.
Food in Tripura may surprise you
Normal Bengali food is available everywhere. Apart from the usual, they seem to have local variations, permutations and innovations in every town. I don’t really have much knowledge about them. the best way to surprise oneself is to walk around the streets. Hardly anything costs more than INR 10-20-30.
Tripura is Easy on the Wallet
As you must have realized already, it is a very cost-effective place. Accommodation costs are around INR 300-400, transport and food can be wrapped up in 2 digits everywhere. You can cover the whole state in 6-7 days, spending no more than INR 3000-4000 (i.e. $50-60).
Tripura is Rich in History
While it looks isolated on the map, Tripura has connections with ancient Bengal (Including present day Bangladesh) right from the beginning. In the medieval times, it came under the rule of Twipra Kingdom and although they have lost the political power, the Royal family till exists. In that sense, Tripura feels a lot like Rajasthan. Of course, it does not have the gigantic forts like Rajasthan but there are many ancient ruins, temples, and palaces to explore.
Tripura is the state of Lakes
Due to the royal patronage, all major towns in Tripura seem to be well organized and they have a lot of lakes. It is not a coincidence that there is a town called Udaipur in Tripura and it is also known as the Lake city like its counterpart in Rajasthan. All other towns also have lakes that add to the visual allure. Neermahal, one of the most famous royal palaces in the state, is located in the middle of a lake and needs a boat ride to visit.
Tripura has a Unique Culture
Tripura is a Bengali majority state but the original inhabitants also have their own rich language and culture. My trip was too quick to explore any of it. I guess one should time the visits with some traditional festivals to get a better experience in this regard.
Tripura has its own Orange Country
Jampui hills are one region in the state that I failed to accommodate in my short itinerary but it must be mentioned anyway. It is the hilly region of Tripura bordering Mizoram. The people living there are also Mizos and the area is known for Orange cultivation. They even organize an orange festival in the winter and you can do some small hikes in the hills too. Next time I am in Tripura, I will directly go to this region.
I am a great fan of the TV series Vikings and the recent season of it shows Floki sailing alone on a whim and accidentally discovering what we know now as Iceland. He mistakes it as Asgard, the abode of Gods. I think this sums up Iceland perfectly. It offers such surreal views that it transports you to a different world altogether and makes you think that you have arrived in paradise. Enough can’t be said about Iceland and there are scores of things to do in that country. However, today I want to discuss five of the most unique experiences in Iceland that blew my mind and that can transport anyone to a different era and a different world. That is why I am not talking about modern attractions but talking about the ones that are closely connected to the raw nature of the region and its ancient heritage.
This is probably the most well-known entry in this list. I don’t really have to introduce anyone to the ethereal sights of colorful apparitions all over the sky that we know as aurora or northern lights. Yes, there are boring scientific explanations for the phenomenon, but if you like to fantasize, go with the mythology and imagine it to be the handiwork of Valkyries. The good thing about Iceland is that the Aurora season here is pretty long, between September to Apil. However, you still need to be lucky to spot one because it depends on several factors. So, if possible, plan a longer trip during the season to enhance your chances of spotting one.
There was time when gigantic animals roamed on earth. They disappeared before human beings came into existence but the giants can still be found in the oceans. Due to their sheer size, the whales look like primordial beings, something far removed from our pedestrian world. However, spotting a whale is easier said than done. There are very few places in the world where you can be sure of spotting whales and thankfully, the shores of Iceland are among them. A whale watching tour in Iceland can be a great way to get acquainted with the marine life of the Arctic. You not only spot whales and dolphines of various types but can also spot a lot of avian species such as puffins that are abundant in Iceland.
A few years ago, the Volcano Eyjafjallajokull errupted, it made it to the headlines all over the world. Most people were not sure how to pronounce it but were taken aback by the very sight of a raging Icelandic volcano. The good news is that, that is not the only volcano in Iceland and there are many others both dormant as well as erupting. The very sight of a volcano can be a humbling experience. Just imagine the fire coming out of the belly of our planet. This fire is ancient, older than anything around us in the surface. A volcanic tour in Iceland involves some great hikes through epic landscapes and you can even inspect the interiors of some sleeping volcanos. But make sure to hire the right kind of people to help you with this adventure.
Yes, all of us must have read about this in our schoolbooks. The polar regions do not have the usual days or nights like the rest of the world. Their schedules are a bit strange. There can be darkness at noon in some months, but the good news is that there can also be sun at midnight in some other months. In Iceland, the midnight sun is observed at the peak of the summer, between May and August. Use this light for outdoor adventures. Your photographs will acquire ethereal hues in this light.
Vikings prompted me to write this post. So, it is only fitting to conlude this post with a bit more of the same. If you do fancy those fearsome warriors as I do, and if you are also a history buff, then it can be a very rewarding experience to explore the archaeological remains of the Viking era. They discovered Iceland sometime in the 9th century and gradually built it as an independent nation with language and culture on its own. Recent excavations have unearthet many such relics and visiting them can be a great way of experiencing the charm of that era.
Of course Iceland has much more to offer to the travellers. But these are the experiences that are close to my heart. In any case, I suggest everyone to take some time and read up about the country before visiting, so that they can come up with their own wishlist. However, no matter what your proclivities are, rest assured that Iceland will have enough to keep you occupied.
Each country has its own features and history, but France in this regard is able to outperform very many. France is certainly associated with romance, refinement, and beauty. We know perfectly well that it produces excellent wine, cheese, and perfumes. Obviously, genetically blessed people live in this country. This article presents a selection of six of the most amazing facts about France, about which you might not know, in order to know this country even better.
45% English Words are of French Origin
Yes, the French language has always had a certain allure. We also know a few French words that have made its way to the English dictionary. However, the influence of French on English is far stronger than you think. As per certain research works, almost 45% of the words in English can trace back its origins to French. If that make you feel like learning the language right now, here is a good place to find a French language teacher.
The French Invented The Soap
The ancient Gauls used soap pasta from goat’s fat and beech ash to keep their hair and body clean. Then, for many centuries, soap has not been widespread. The process of its manufacture was long and complicated. To produce the soap is not enough to mix fat and wood ash, it is necessary to force the substance to enter into a chemical reaction, which is called the saponification reaction.
To form the sodium salt, the fatty acid was heated and mixed with liquor. This method was called direct. The result was the so-called soap glue or glue soap, a homogeneous viscous liquid that thickens upon cooling. The resulting substance was quickly washed off, it was inconvenient to store and transport it. In addition, the adhesive soap contained a lot of impurities. It did not smell very pleasant and irritated the skin.
The soap production began to develop, although the impetus for this was no cosmetic but rather industrial needs. In the Middle Age, the soap was required for washing and bleaching homespun fabrics, and later for growing sailing and linen production. French textiles began to create special aperture blends, giving the fabrics strength, beautiful shine, and wrinkle-free features. Since the 10th century, the center of soap production was Marseille and it is indeed a fascinating piece of history.
License Plates For Cars Appeared First in France
The history of registration of vehicles begins earlier than, in fact, the car was invented. Vehicles were carts, and from the middle of the 19th century, cab drivers and, more recently, bicyclists began to be numbered in European cities. In 1893, the first car number appeared in France.
Needless to say, the cars in those days could be counted on the fingers. They were only in large cities and plates were issued by local gendarmes. At that time, there was still no single car registration system, since local officials dealt with plates without taking account of the cars from other cities. Another important distinctive feature was that after each technical inspection, which was already adopted then, the car’s plate must be changed. In addition, it is worth mentioning that each city had its own rules regarding the type of plates, their shape, font and color, as well as the number of digits and letters. Of course, this was extremely inconvenient.
The Oldest Bridge in Paris Is Called The New Bridge
The New Bridge, Pont Neuf in French, is the oldest of the existing bridges of Paris across the River Seine. Built in the XVI-XVII centuries, now it is one of the symbols of Paris.
A lot of tourists were confused by its name. In fact, there is something paradoxical that for more than 300 years, the New Bridge is the oldest bridge in Paris. Joining the two banks of the Seine and crossing the island of Cite, Pont Neuf presents a beautiful allegory of the connection between lovers.
The history of the New Bridge dates back to 1578, when King of France Henry III approved the project of its construction. The works were conducted for 30 years and ended in 1607, when the king was Henry IV, who personally supervised the progress of the work. There is still evidence that one day the king jumped over the unfinished span and this deed enthralled French people around him.
During construction, the technology of masonry was used. The length of the New Bridge is 280 meters, and its width is 20 meters, which was wider than any European street. The New Bridge became the first bridge of Paris with a stone sidewalk lifted above the pavement. It was more safe and convenient for pedestrians and riders.
In those days, Pont Neuf was very useful for Paris inhabitants because it considerably alleviated too animated traffic. In addition, the New Bridge was the only one bridge free from extra constructions. Parisians immediately appreciated its modern design and loved to walk along it, admiring the Seine banks and surrounding landscapes.
Legal Ban to Wear Trousers for Women
For more than 200 years, until 2012, French women did not have the official right to wear pants. The Minister for Women’s Affairs, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, announced in 2012 that this prohibition was incompatible with the modern legislation of France and the views of French women.
According to her, this law, introduced on November 17, 1800, has long lost its force due to its inconsistency with the main provisions of the Constitution. The decision to officially abolish this law was made as a result of a parliamentary request.
The text of the 1800 law stated that women needed permission from the police to wear menswear, in particular, trousers. According to the minister, the law was intended to make it difficult for women to get access to certain professions. Those days, people believed that the strong points of a woman are in her femininity and there is no need for her to be like a man.
In 1892 and 1909, the law was amended and allowed women to wear trousers if they hold the wheel of a bicycle or a bridle of a horse.
Between 1748 and 1772, Potatoes Were Outlawed in France
Medical Academy of Paris considered the potato as the harmful product to health and banned the use of this food in 1748. It was believed so inefficient that people preferred to feed pigs and prisoners with it.
The ban was lifted only in 1772 thanks in large part to the efforts of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the French pharmacist, agronomist, and nutritionist. During The Seven Years’ War, he was prisoner in Prussia. There, he tasted potatoes and liked very much these dishes unexpectedly. Most importantly, he appreciated the nutritional qualities of potatoes.
To make the French love potatoes, Parmentier came up with new dishes and used to arrange dinner parties for famous guests. He usually offered potato bread, potato soup, potato porridge (apparently a prototype of mashed potatoes), and even potato jam.
The most famous of his cunnings, invented to popularize potatoes, was the armed protection of a small potato field, which was given to him by Louis XVI in 1787. At nights, soldiers left the field unattended and local peasants had the opportunity to steal potatoes and get familiar with this exotic plant.
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