The Wanderer | Stories of an Indian Traveller across the world!
The Wanderer is a travel and living blog from India. It's a space where I share stories of my travels from across the world, along with travel and photography tips. My hope is that by sharing these stories I will be able to inspire more people to travel and explore the world even more.
Built by Gazi-ud-din Haider in the memory of Hazrat Ali, Imambara Shah Najaf is one of the lesser known Imambaras of Lucknow. The tomb back then was inspired by Hazrat Ali's tomb in Najaf, Iran and that's how it got its name. However, today the resemblance is close to nil.
Most Lucknowites consider their city to be the home of only two Imambara - Bada Imambara and Chhota Imambara. However, the truth is that there are numerous Imambaras in Lucknow, especially in the old part of the city.
A man praying at Imambara Shah Najaf
Imambara Shah Najaf
An interesting fact...Here's an interesting fact about Gazi-ud-din Haider, who built the Imambara. He was the seventh Nawab of Awadh, and as we know a Nawab was under the Mughals and was simply the caretaker of their lands, and not a ruler. However, Gazi-ud-din Haider decided to break ranks with the rather powerless Mughals and declared himself a king - so technically he was the first king of Awadh :)
Curious how it looked during it's heydays? Here's an image :)
Imambara Shah Najaf in 1890s (image credit: Wikipedia)
My visit to Imambara Shah NajafThe first time I saw this Imambara was when I was driving along the Gomti and I could see s beautiful gate an a large tomb on my left. I asked my driver about it and he had no clue. It was a few days later when I was researching about old Lucknow I came across an old black and white image of this building and immediately recognised it because of its large and unusual tomb. In fact it's tomb reminds me more of a Buddhist Pagoda than an Imambara. So the next time I had some time on the morning I decided to go there - as luck would have it, I forgot to carry the memory card for my DSLR and so could take pictures only from my iPhone 7 Plus.
The Imambara from outside
A walk around the Imambara
My visit to the Imambara was brief but I loved time spent there. A big away from the road, the Imambara was quite abs there was hardly anyone there, except a few worshippers. Just like the other Imambaras of Lucknow, people of all faith are welcome there, but the mosque next to it accessible only to the Muslims, like the Jama Masjid.
Practical detailsEntry: free
To reach: Imambara Shah Nazaf is located by the side of River Gomti on Maharana Pratap Road, just before the National Botanical Research Institute, a hugely popular park for those who love to do some exercise in the morning.
Located in the heart of Warangal, the erstwhile capital of the region during the Kakatiya dynasty, the Thousand Pillar Temple is considered to be one of best created during the golden period of the Telugu country.
Built by king Surya Deva in 1163, the temple has three presiding deities - Shiva, Vishnu and Surya. Right outside, there is a majestic Nandi too which adds both to the beauty as well as grandeur of the temple complex.
Entrance to the Thousand Pillar temple in Warangal
Nandi outside the main temple complex
The original name of the temple is Rudreswara Temple after the king under whose reign it was commissioned and constructed. Does it really a have thousand pillars? Though it’s called the thousand pillar temple, the temple actually doesn’t have 1000 pillars and the number actually is a little over 300. The name comes from the travellers who were amazed to see so many pillars and started calling it the Thousand Pillar Temple and somehow the name stuck.
My visit to Thousand Pillar templeMy hotel (Hotel Ashok) was less than a kilometre away from the temple so I decided to walk there at the break of dawn. The place was literally empty at that time when I reached, but within the next hour many more travellers and pilgrims came over.
That's me walking around the temple complex
I didn’t know this earlier, but the temple is now a living temple - which means prayers are offered regularly now. This also means that no photography is allowed inside the temple but you can take pictures outside. I had left my DSLR back at the hotel itself, so used my iPhone and GoPro and was rather happy with the result. It’s so much easier to carry your camera in your pocket :)
Another part of the temple is undergoing restoration and it will soon be open to public. I would actually love to com back and see it once it’s ready - it will be quite a sight to behold when both structures are complete, or as complete as they can be now.
Architecture of the temple
The temple is built in the typical Chalukya style, and that’s because artists from there were called in to build it. The Chalukya sculptors were known far and wide for their skills and this is another example of their exemplary work.
The inside of the temple is all build in black granite and the carvings are mesmerising. Unfortunately, most of the human figures are defaced, but with some imagination it’s certainly possible to imagine how magnificent this place would’ve been in the past.
Typical Chalukya style temple
Ceiling of the temple
Ganesha on the wall
An image of Vishnu outside
The pillars stand out for their richly carved designed and perfectly circular designs. As it turns out, there were turned on a lathe to get these perfect shapes.
The Shikhar is no longer there, and I didn’t find any information about it. But it must certainly be a part of the original temple back in the days.
Destruction of the templeThe temple lived as long as the Kakatiya dynasty ruled the region. Built in the 12the century, the temple was desecrated by the Delhi Sultanat in the 14th century after the last king was defeated and the region brought under direct control of Delhi. Not just this temple, but all the others in the region also met the same fate when the winning army returned back to the base after plundering and destroying the Warangal fort.
Left in ruins after it's destruction...
Practical detailsTiming: 5am to 9pm (all days of the week) Entry fee: free Camera fee: ₹25 (photogrpahy not allowed inside the temple)
To reach: Warangal is easily reachable by road from Hyderabad - the journey takes about 4 hours. Regular buses and trains also connect the two cities.
To stay: stay at the Hotel Ashoka - it’s one of the better ones with all modern amenities. I had a really stay there and recommend it based on my personal experiences.
Pune is a historical city and is famously also known as the cultural capital of Maharashtra. Not surprisingly, Pune has some old and beautiful temples, like the Ram Temple at Tulsi baug, within the city itself. However, there are some very important and popular pilgrimages which can be done within a day, and this an article for those, like me, who love to visit old temples and explore their history.
1. AlandiDistance from Pune: 22km (1 hour by road)
Alandi is the resting place of sant Dnyaneshwar, a 13th century marathi bhakti saint. Over the past few centuries the town by the Indrayani river has flourished into a popular religious destination with temples at every street corner.
The river banks are always busy with pilgrims taking a holy dip while the markets are busy with food and various items used in the temples.
Key attractions: The key attraction at Pandharpur is the Vitthal temple and the best time to visit is during the Pandharpur yatra, though it's not easy due to massive crowds. To reach: Follow the State highway 65 all the way from Pune to Pandharpur.
4. Mahalakshmi temple, KolhapurDistance from Pune: 235km (4.5-5 hours by road)
Mahalakshmi temple is one of the Shaktipeeth as per the Puranas and are extremely important places for Hindu pilgrims. This temple was first built in the 7th century by the Chalukyas and has been revered since then.
Key attractions: A special yearly festival called Kiran Utsav when the rays of the setting sun touches the feet of goddess in the evening. To reach: Drive on the Bangalore highway from Pune and Kolhapur will be on the main highway itself.
5. Trimbakeshwara near NashikDistance from Pune: 240km (6 hours by road)
Trimbakeshwara Shiva temple is a located in the town of Thrimbak near Nashik and also has a Jyotirlinga. It's one of the most important temples of Maharashtra and the Kumbh mela also takes place here.
Trimbakeshwara is also considered to be the source of river Godavari though the river actually originates from the mountains close-by.
I live in Mumbai and Bandra is actually one of my favourite areas to explore, especially on weekends when I am always on a lookout for a place to sit, drink coffee and work. Though I actually started writing the this post about best cafes in Bandra where one could actually work, but it has now expanded to all cafes which are perfect for hanging out with friends as well.
Well, Bandra close to home and is also home to some of the best and chilled out cafes of Mumbai, which makes me feel at home there.
But how does one go about finding the appropriate work cafes there? Well, online search is one way, but I often find cafes through recommendations from friends as well as my followers on Instagram and Twitter. Shivya, a fellow travel blogger, is often my go-to person as she has also explored this aspect of Bandra well, but I also ask for recommendation from people I often bump into while I am actually sitting at one of these cafe.
This isn’t a list based on some scientific methodology, and is purely based on what I like in a cafe, especially a cafe where you can work. Good coffee, relaxed ambiance, good music, and wi-fi are certainly a must-have for such a cafe. It’s also not a fixed list and I will keep adding to it as I explore more cafes and fall even more in love with Bandra. I’ve also included Khar, which is a neighborhood of Bandra because they are really close to each other and share some common vibes.
I have no included chain cafes (at least the big ones) like Starbucks and Cafe Coffee Day, and have focused on more unique cafes which offer something more than just coffee.
Best cafes to work and chill in Bandra!So without much ado, here are my recommendations for the best cafes to work and chill at Bandra. This is an organic list and will continue to grow as I explore more and more places. 1. Birsong - The Organic CafeWorking hours: 9:00 am to 11:30 am
Let’s start with the cafe which is one of my personal favourite in the city. It was Shivya who introduced me to this place and ever since I’ve been coming here often. In fact I've introduced this cafe to many of my others friends too and everyone so far has loved the place!
Birdsong cafe in Bandra
Some muffins! :)
What’s great? The coffee is good, but what’s even more interesting is that the place has vegan options to most of the items in the menu. This means a lot for vegan travellers, plus the vegan food is super tasty!
I love sitting by the window of the last table and working. I occasionally look out and watch the life passing by.
Outdoor seating: No Books to read: No
Pro tip: There is a lovely shop, Lila, just across the street where you can do some shopping too. It’s fairly expensive, but I still quite liked it. You can go there for some window shopping too!
Address: Shop No. 1-5, Jenu-Jenai, Off. Hill Road, Waroda Road Bandra West, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050 2. Bombay Coffee HouseWorking hours: 9:00 am to 00:30 am
I discovered this cafe in in Bandra on a lazy weekend surfing online for cafes, and actually my search that day inspired me to actually write this story because it wasn't that easy to find a lost of cafes which are actually good for working.
Entrance to Bombay Coffee House
Trying to work!
The charging point is available only on the table with bar stools, so if the plan is to work use those. I actually sat by the table next to the window and charged my laptop first and then worked later on.
Outdoor seating: No
Books to read: No
What's good? Though, I didn't eat their breakfast, it's a popular brunch cafe on the weekends.
Pro tip: Though it's a decent place to work, during meal times it's fairly noisy. I would suggest spending time here either early morning or after lunch time.
Address: 248, New Kamal Building, Waterfield Road, Bandra West Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050
3. The Bagel ShopWorking hours: 8:30 am to 11:00 pm
This was a place suggested on Twitter when I asked for recommendations for cafes in Bandra and it’s my favourite of them all. I was by myself that day and wanted to work like a focused beam of laser, but the day turned out quite differently. I met up with people from across the world on their community table, got introduced to this new app called Layover, went out shooting with new people and had a fantastic Sunday.
Entrance to the Bagel shop
All the food at the Bagel shop!
Did I work? Not at all...at least not that day. The next visit was great too, but I focused on work and got it all done.
Outdoor seating: Yes
Books to read: No
What’s great? If you are vegetarian, try out their avocado bagel and strawberry smoothie - it’s a divine combo!
Pro tip: If you stay long enough, you will see TV stars or even film actors walk in and sip coffee, or discuss scripts. It’s certainly fascinating for an outsider to get exposed to that side of life. Address: No.30, Pali Mala Road Pali Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra - 400050
4. La Folie LabWorking hours: 8:30 am to 11:00 pm (Saturday-Sunday till midnight) La Folie Lab isn't exactly the typical cafe, but a food and dessert place which also serves some good coffee. It's a creation by French trained Sanjana Patel, and the place does have a French feel to it. Unlike her other creations, this one is small and deliciously black and grey in decor.
Outdoor seating: No
Books to read: --
What's good? The desserts are great and are a perfect combination with your coffee.
What's not: The place is expensive and you are likely to feel the pinch on your wallet.
Address: Shop No.1, Libra Tower 70, Hill Rd, Opp. Saint Peters Church Bandra West, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050
5. Blue TokaiWorking hours: 8:30 am to 10:00 pm
Let's start with their story first - "When we moved to Delhi in 2012, gone were the local roasting shops we had frequented in Chennai. While the beans they provided may not have been terribly fresh, or even all that flavorful, they at least made a drinkable cup of coffee. In Delhi, we found our options were limited to pre-ground mass produced coffee or overpriced, imported beans that were roasted months ago."
Entrance to Blue Tokai
Very inviting interiors - cool with good wi-fi
They are relatively new in Mumbai and operate out of a small and a modern looking space right in the heart of Bandra. In fact Yoga House and Blue Tokai are walking distance from each other, and if you plan to spend your day (like I do sometimes) hopping cafes, these are perfect neighbours.
Outdoor seating: Yes
Books to read: No
What's good? They are known for their freshly roasted and brewed coffee. Have a bagel with your coffee for a perfect companion as you work. They have vegan options for most of their coffees - you can take either soya or almond milk. I find the place to be also very reasonably priced.
Pro tip: They are roast and deliver coffee to your doorstep. Read more here. Address: Shop No. 1 Mayflower Building 33 New Kant Wadi Lane, Perry Road, Bandra West, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050
6. Village ShopWorking hours: 8:30 am to 10:30 pm
The first time I visited Village shop was dinner and it didn't come across at all as a coffee and work place - I loved it though and decided to come back again for lunch on another day.
Guess what, though small, the place packs a punch. The green surroundings are a relief on a warm Mumbai day, and the really delicious food actually adds to the overall experience.
Outdoor seating: Yes
Books to read: No
What's great? I think the food here is great, even more than coffee.
Pro tip: They serve some good Vegan food, so if that's important to you, this is the cafe for you :)
Address: 53 Serpis Villa, Chinbai Road Next to St. Andrews Church Mumbai, Maharashtra
7. Yoga HouseWorking hours: 8:00 am to 10:00 pm (Monday closed)
Yoga House is actually a place which teaches Yoga, and the cafe is actually a part of it. It's located on one of those inner lanes of Bandra, and you can miss it if you are not looking for it - when you go there the first time, look for the faded green building - it says 'Yoga cafe' in Hindi.
The Yoga House
The ambiance is one of the most welcoming among all the cafes mentioned - there is no air conditioning, but the place is still genuinely cool. There is only one word to describe the feel of the cafe - earthy. Coffee is good too! There is, of course, free wi-fi and it's actually quite decent.
I love the seating here!
And that's me working :)
The cafe has two levels and both are great to sit. The one on the big balcony above is a community table and if you are alone, sit there and make new friends. Or help out a traveler - many of the patrons are people from outside India and can do with some tips.
Outdoor seating: Yes
Books to read: Yes
Wi-fi: Yes What's great? This is a House to learn Yoga, and if you are interested in learning Yoga, this is a place to do that. They have courses that you can join, as well as retreats that you can be a part of. Read more here.
Pro tip: It's closed on Mondays, so make other plans if you intend to work that day. Also, the place is expensive (a smoothie costs Rs 300) so it's good to know before you go :)
Map of Best work cafes in Bandra!Here's a map of all the cafes mentioned above. Hope you will like some of these as well :)
Plus, feel free to ping me and suggest more such cafes to checkout and add to the list!
Bhaja Caves is a small cluster of Buddhist Caves built by the Hinayana sect of Buddhism near Lonavala in Maharashtra. The work on these Caves started in 2nd century BC and finished in 2nd century AD. Over these 300 years, 22 Caves were made though today only a few of these are accessible for travellers.
Bhaja Caves near Lonavala
Chaitya hall at Bhaja Caves
Main attractions at Bhaja CavesChaityagrahaThe main excavation here is the Chaityagraha. This was also a period of transition in architecture practices in building and reinforcing caves and temples. The earlier method was using ribbed wooden fitted ceilings to support the large prayer halls. These timber elements slowly became a part of design sensibility and continued to be used to keep a connection between the past and the present. When these Caves were built, their role was purely ornamental, and not structural.
Entrance to the Chaityagraha
Stupa in the Chaityagraha
The StupasThe other striking part of the cave excavation is a collection of stupas. Some of these are carved deep into the rock, while a few are outside. The result is a fascinating space where you can walk in and around.
The stupa collection
Another very interesting, yet easy to miss attraction here are the carvings on the rocks. There are a few of them near the Stupas, while a few more are in the caves. Do keep an eye for them :)
Carvings at Bhaja caves
Carving at Bhaja caves
My visit to Bhaja CavesMy visit to the Bhaja Caves was a sight for the sore eyes. I had just visited the Karla Caves early morning and was extremely disappointed and disheartened by the way those historical Caves were kept and slowly getting destroyed (read more: Buddhist Caves turned into a dancing arena). It was so so sad to be there that I literally ran away.
Now my driver had no clue about Bhaja Caves, so we had to use google maps to locate the Caves. He was so convinced that nothing like this existed that he walked all the way up to the Caves with me to confirm. Both of us were rather impressed by the nicely kept Caves and lack of commercialisation there. It was a hot day and only a few tourist were around, which was so comforting after witnessing the mayhem and traffic jam on the hill at Karla Caves.
View from inside the cave
View form top of the caves
I sat, took notes, made a few videos and even fewer pictures, but was so much at peace. A couple sat next to me and I couldn't help but hear their conversation. They were breaking up because of parental pressure and this was their last meeting, both hugged and sobbed, completely oblivious to the world around as well as a stranger taking pictures (that's me). It's so disappointing to see how many people who love each other continue to be separated due to different religions, castes and economic strata. Sad to see love losing the battle for one more couple...
Travel video from Bhaja caves
While I was there, I also made a small video on the place. Enjoy :)
Bhaja Caves, Maharashtra - YouTube
Practical detailsEntrance fee:Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar): Rs. 15 Others: Rs. 200 Children: Free (up to 15 years)
How to reach Bhaja Caves?The best way to reach here would be in your own car or in a cab. Use google maps unless your driver knows the way already. It's only a few kilometers off the old Mumbai-Pune highway and the connecting road is narrow but well maintained.
My journey with using an iPhone started years ago with an iPhone 4 when I was still a student at Stanford. Right after I purchased the phone, Instagram was born, and since then the two have been my close companions in my photography journey. However, two things have changed over the last few years - iPhone cameras have simply become phenomenal with each new upgrade (I am currently using an iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X), and I've now even started using the device for taking pictures for photo assignments as well as making videos.
Holi with iPhone
Having been a user of an iPhone for years, especially for photography, I do have some tips and tricks which help me take photography to the next level. If you are planning to take your photography to another level too, this is a guide for you too. For ease of use, I have broken down my tips into three key categories:
General iPhonography tipsHere are some simple tips for using an iPhone for everyday photography. I use them all also for most of my travel photography as well, apart from simple video making.
Never zoom! There is a 2x mode on the iPhone X, 8 Plus and 7 Plus - use this optical zoom to get closer to the subject. When you pinch and zoom, it's only a digital zoom and the quality deteriorates significantly.
Use both hands to hold the phone and then take pictures, videos and so on.
Shoot in RAW - this is essential if you really want to use the iPhone camera's full capability. Unfortunately, you can't do it through the native camera, but there are many others which can do it for you - Snapseed, Lightroom, ProCamera and so on.
If using the native camera, control exposure and lock it too. You can create silhouette or overexpose based on how you plan to set the mood. Some of it can also be controlled in post-production.
Edit using a professional software like mobile Lightroom. Some free ones like Snapseed are also great and allow it also allows editing RAW images.
Skip the filters while clicking - you can apply them later, or create your own unique edit. If you really have to use the filters using an app called VSCO. The good ones are paid, but buying some of these is actually worth it.
Change perspective - don't just shoot at eye level, get down and dirty as well. I especially love the small reflections on the puddle and a mobile device allows you to get really close to the ground to click them.
Chase the light - the number one crateria for getting a good shot is to get the right
Portrait mode - it's not just for portraits but generally to create some awesome depth of field in your shots. I use it often for food as well as a sometimes even for nature photography. Now that portrait mode is also available on the front camera, you can also make some awesome selfies :)
Clean the lens - humidity and dust can make the images look blurry sometimes, just a simply wipe with a cloth will help.
From the time I used my first iPhone (it was a 4) to now, the cameras have changed and improved dramatically. Now it's possible to not just take stunning low light pictures, even portraits in low light have become a reality.
Go manual - take control of your settings, keep ISO low and try out long exposure shots. Download and use ProCamera for this full control.
Shoot at the right time of the day - be ready before the golden hour (both morning and evening)
Use environmental light - a street lamp, light from a shop - make sure your subject is well lit
Use a mobile tripod - manfrotto is what I use. If you don't yet have a tripod, make a contraption - just make sure it's stable and your hand isn't touching it
Take picture on timer mode or by using a hardware shutter like the volume button the iPhone headphones
Use multi-burst mode - often one picture will have less shake than others
Don't be scared of using the latest iPhoneX flash - the results can be pretty impressive!
Carry additional light, strobes - I simply use the flash light from my second iPhone to light up my subject sometimes
Understand limitations of your camera - though an iPhone excels at taking low light pictures, there are some scenarios where it won't work - that's precisely why we have a new and better camera every year. Understand what your camera can't do and make peace with it!
iPhone and Indian festivals!
There are two Indian festivals which I simply love clicking with my iPhone - Diwali and Holi. Diwali is celebrated after sunset and all the tips above on shooting in low light will be useful there.
However, Holi is a beast which needs to be tamed a bit differently. If you have an old iPhone I wouldn't recommend going out in the streets and taking pictures in colors and water, but with iPhoneX's rating of IP67, it;'s no longer a risk.
Kids throwing colors from the vehicle (shot on iPhone)
Here are a few suggestions to make sure you get some cool shots!
Use the portrait mode - it will help you bring out the colours of Holi and make them stand out like never before! I love taking pictures of those colorful faces and now it's thankfully easy and risk-free.
Make slo-mo videos - these are my favourite for Holi. Capture the moment when people throw colors in this mode and you will love the results.
Multi-burst - things happen really fast and to get shots of colors frozen in air, use the mode.
Keep the lens clean - use a clean cloth to clean the lens after every few shots. Both color and water on the lens can give you blurred shots.
And finally, after your are done with the shoot give your device time to dry up well. It will be ready to shoot again within minutes!
That's all for now! If you have further questions about shooting with an iPhone, leave a comment and I will try and solve your problem :)
Tomb of Saadat Ali Khan in Lucknow is the final resting place of the 5th Nawab of Awadh, Saadat Ali Khan and his siblings. Saadat Ali Khan ruled Awadh between 1794 to 1814, and this was a time when the British were already in the city and becoming increasingly more powerful by the day. Though the Nawab were technically clerks for the Mughal rulers in Delhi, it was the British now that they reported to on multiple matters.
Tomb of Khurshid Zadi
It was during his time that the imposing Residency was built to house the British Residents and some of his staff and army. Though Lucknow is more famous for Bada Imambara, Chota Imambara and other heritage buildings built during the era of Asaf-Ud-Dowhala, the Kaiserbagh area is not famous, partially because a large part of the area was razed to the ground by the British after India's first war of Independence in 1857.
Today the tomb is mentioned in some guide-books to the city while others completely skip it. I actually stumbled across it as I was researching for a place to visit on a free morning in Lucknow - actually quite a random google search. It looked exactly like the kind of places I love exploring and decided to check it out.
Tomb of Saadat Ali Khan
It was early morning and the sun was already bearing down on me. I had chosen to walk from the Residency to the tomb, and was sweating already. The tea at a stall near the entrance was refreshing (read more: Street Food of Lucknow), but did nothing to beat the heat.
There was a couple sitting outside, but as soon as I entered the majestic tomb, all I could hear, see and feel was silence. I almost felt like I was intruding in here. An old man called out to me and I came back to the gate and wished him salaam, something he greatly appreciated. After a bit of chat about my new city Mumbai where even he had spent 21 years making shoes for a seth, he told me all about Western Line for the locals and how he always travelled on those.
Inside the tomb
My visit to Tomb of Saadat Ali KhanThough I expected nothing, I took a chance and asked him if it was possible to go up the steps to the top of the tomb. Shockingly he said it's possible but not allowed, but if I gave a fee of Rs 50, I could go up and also get a guide to join me. I am usually vary of guides and their stories, but agreed nevertheless, as I was really keen to go up and see Lucknow from up there. However, my guide had other plans - instead of taking me up, he asked if I would like to see tehkhana (similar to a basement) where the Nawab was actually buried. Intrigued, I immediately agreed and followed him down the steps in pitch darkness with the aid of an old torch. There were originally four entrances, but only one is accessible, and remains locked unless someone asks for it.
Done with the Nawab's resting place, we went all the way up four stories from the ground. It was 120 steps and he was tired by the time we went up, but I was excited like a small boy. He initially mentioned that I was taking too many pictures, but I eventually managed to convince him to pose for one also :)
On my way up to the top
The thing about going up top is that you can't really see much of the building, but can really see the world all around, and it was beautiful. Lucknow is actually always so beautiful, and each visit makes me fall even more in love with it.
My beloved guide was happy with my enthusiasm and showed me another dome which is right below the main dome that we see from outside. So the real dome for the graves is actually a rather small and simple structure, and the large and beautiful dome is simply added as a super-structure to beautify the building from outside. Interesting.
Murshidzadi (Khurshid Zadi) Tomb from top
Lucknow from top
I came down soon after and gave the fee of Rs 50 to my guide who then wanted to buy tea from the same money and offered it to me. I politely turned down the offer and decided to take a walk around the building. As you walk anti-clockwise, you will see a lovely flower garden on the side and the back of the building, and a few stray dogs who have made the compound their home. They are all friendly so there is no real need to worry about them. Sit down, take a moment and absorb the beauty of this gorgeous complex - try and imagine what it would have looked like back in the glorious days of Lucknow.
Also located within the same compound is the tomb of Saadat Ali's wife, Khurshid Zadi. It's as beautiful as the tomb of Nawab, though a bit slender in form. Unfortunately it was closed for entry and could be seen only from outside.
Practical details:To reach: Tomb of Saadat Ali Khan is well marked on google maps so reaching here won't be a problem at all. If you are already in Kaiserbagh, you can easily walk up to here or take a hand-rickshaw. Uber and Ola are both available in Lucknow now and that's what I used to get from my hotel to this part of the town. Alternatively there is also the auto-rickshaw which can take you anywhere in the city - the only challenge is to fix the price as that is often negotiable and can be tough to guess.
Timings: The tomb is open from sunrise to sunset.
Fee: There is no fee to enter the compound and also inside the tomb. There is an informal fee of Rs 50 in case you want to climb to the top like I did.
Mount Sapitwa is the highest peak in Mulanje Massif, Malawi, and is located in the south eastern part of Malawi bordering Mozambique. It's not an easy trek and can test your strength as well as patience, especially in parts where you need to literally crawl up the rocks with sun shining at your back. I did this trek with a guide and that's pretty much the only way to do it. In fact there were moments when I regretted doing it at all, but my guide kept me going, often taking my bag also when I was too tired to climb.
Here is a recommended three day and two nights itinerary Mt Sapitwa in Malawi based on my personal experiences!
That's me at the top of Mount Sapitwa!
At the base is Mulanje town. Basically to climb the mountains you need a guide compulsorily. This is good because the trails up there are barely marked, and many have also lost their lives getting lost there. Secondly, there are huts near the all the trails and peaks for you to stay overnight. The huts are minimal but really good. There are many huts to choose from, though the trail or the peak you choose to conquer decides the hut.
So, for a three day-two night trek to Mt Sapitwa, you will have to stay overnight in two different huts. The huts need to be booked in advance and it's really difficult to do this through phone calls. I basically just reached there and looked for ways to book a hut. And this is where InfoMulanje comes into picture. They book the huts, arrange govt approved guide and porter and also help you plan the trip. For this they take a ten percent commission which I felt was very fair.
Day 1 - The beginning
Reach Chitakale by mini bus or taxi from Blantyre. Mini bus costs KW 1400 while taxi can cost upto KW 40,000. From Blantyre take a bus to Limbe (kw 200) and then another bus to Mulanje town (KW 1200).
Look for InfoMulanje office (ask anyone) and go up on the first floor. The staff is really nice and helpful and will spend time answering your queries and also in helping you plan. You obviously need a guide but I string recommend taking a porter. I didn't take one and regretted it. As of now the guide costs $25 and porter costs $20 per day. The staff will also help you decide the huts you can stay in. Starting early in the morning is highly recommended.
That's me posing, while David took over the camera :)
Mid-way from the top, the view below is stunning...
The climb on first day will start in the tea plantations and end a hut. It takes about 4.5 to 5 hours of tough trekking. The first half an hour is great, but the next 2.5 hrs are quite tough. The last bit is sort of plateau and actually relaxes you. You can carry some water with you, but eventually you will have to survive on water from the small mountain rivers all over the place.
Finally you reach the hut where you will eat dinner and sleep. There is no electricity, so it's quite easy to sleep off around eight. While you are there, make sure you look up and observe the Milky Way - the view is unbelievable.
Start at 6am from the first hut and trek for around 5 hours to reach the second hut. There is quite a bit of very steep hiking and you would need loads of water and multiple breaks to reach. No matter how tired you feel, keep up with it. There are many water streams and you can refill your bottles easily.
The hardest is the upward trek before you start going down to the second hut.
View below from the way down from the summit
That's David climbing, and me resting :)
If you reach by 11am, you can take rest for about half an hour or forty-five minutes and start the final climb up to Mt Sapitwa summit. The first leg of the trek is rather tough, with extremely steep hike on barren rocks. The last section is also quite steep, but much shorter.
The hike to the summit takes about 3.5 hrs and the downward journey to the hut takes about 2.5 hrs.
The day starts at 5am and you leave the hut for the return trek before 6am. But do not be fooled, return trek does not mean no mountain climbing, even though you come down most of the times. There are two steep climbs. And some really slippery downward treks where your shoes simply refuse to grip.
And the grand finale are the Likhubula falls, hidden in the mountains. The lake here is believed to be about 60m deep, and the water is very cold. If you know swimming, get into your swimming trunks and jump in! It's a very refreshing end to the trek.
David always picked breakfast places with a view :)
Swimming towards the deepest point...fearful!
The trek ends in the forest and you need to take a bicycle taxi to reach back to the town. At KW 700, it's a little expensive, but it's a very difficult ride as well.
You should be back at InfoMulanje by 2pm. Have your lunch in town and then head out to the next destination :)
With an increasingly globalised and accessible world these days very few places can be considered as the last frontiers of tourism – Saudi Arabia is one of them. My parents have been living in Saudi Arabia for the past ten years so because of that I’ve had the opportunity of visiting the Kingdom numerous times and here’s my account from a recent trip to the Kingdom.
On most advertisements in the Kingdom the faces of the models are censored.
The Saudi capital Riyadh is a fascinating place – it is like entering a constantly evolving museum where the contradictions and complexities of modern day Saudi Arabia are most evident. Most of the world tends to have a very skewed and uni-polar view of Saudi Arabia and the Saudis in general - most of these opinions revolve around these three words conservative, backward and petrodollar. Before travelling to the country - like most outsiders and skeptics I too did hold most of these generalized opinions. While there is some truth to all of this – I realized later that it is just a small part of a much greater story.
Riyadh - blend of old and newRiyadh is modern yet it is old, its young population is increasingly forward and west leaning and open to new ideas and innovation yet their activities continue to be monitored closely by the “Haya” (religious police), there’s a nascent arts scene in the capital yet it all occurs carefully behind closed doors, Arabic is the national language yet you can easily get by on Urdu/Hindi alone because of the massive expat population from the Indian Subcontinent– all this and more made Riyadh a mindbogglingly exciting place to explore.
The first thing that hit me while being driven around the streets of Riyadh was how modern and developed the city was. The city has a decent skyline not exactly like Dubai or New York but getting there, the roads are wide almost like mini intercity highways and it is immaculately clean yet pretty desolate and devoid of any trees or other vegetation. Before landing into the city you can see from your airplane window how barren the desert surroundings of the city is.
A modern skyscraper in Riyadh
There are many modern looking buildings located in the city. The honeycomb like building on the left is the King Fahd National Library and the ballpoint like futuristic skyscraper up straight is the Faisaliah Tower – one of the first few proper skyscrapers in the city.
The Kingdom tower is probably the most prominent and iconic buildings in all of Riyadh. It has sort off become the city’s unofficial symbol. The sky bridge connecting the two top halves of the building is a popular tourist attraction in the city.
Another view of Kingdom Center
The Riyadh skyline as seen from the observation deck of the Faysaliah Tower. Far off in the distance is the KAFD (King Abdullah Financial District) a Manhattan from scratch cluster of around 50+ skyscrapers.
Being a more off the beaten track traveler, I was looking for something different and slightly more cultural rather than the usual Dubai-esque fare. After some research and asking around I headed towards the old downtown area of the city. I’ve been to many souqs all over the region namely the Souq Waqif in Doha , the Bab Al Bahrain Souq in Manama and the various different souqs in Dubai – the Souq Al Thumairi in downtown Riyadh is by far the most authentic souq I’ve ever been to in the region. There was nothing kitsch, touristy or disneylandish about it – I guess it’s because it barely gets any tourist activity aside from an odd expat or a visiting businessman. This was the one place in Riyadh where I had to make use of my rather forlorn and broken Arabic skills. Everything from local garbs to ceremonial swords & daggers to traditional slippers and aromatic Ouds (local agarwood derived perfumes) were on sale at the souq.
Paradoxically the headquarters of the “Haya”(religious and moral police) and the infamous “Chop Chop square”(Locals know the area as Maidan e Adal, Square of justice, expats refer to the area as Chop Chop square) was a stone’s throw away from this relatively touristy area. The infamous “Chop Chop” square aka Maidan e Adal (The justice square) sits side by side to possibly the most touristy part of the city.
Maidan e Adal
Traditional Arabic coffee pots and other handicrafts on sale in the main souq square.
Activity at the Souq in the evening.
Traditional Saudi sandals locally known as “Madas Sharqi” (literally translated to Sandals from the east) for sale at the souq. They are worn year round, anytime and anywhere by almost all Saudi males underneath their traditional dress. I was told they are a popular souvenir item with the tourists – so I bought the white pair.
Local men shopping for traditional garb at the souq
Located right next to the main downtown souq area The Masmak Fort is one of Riyadh’s oldest buildings. Built in 1865 on the site of an early fortification it is now a well kept modern museum. I had to return back again on a different day to check out the interior of the museum because they were separately allotted visiting days and timings for single men, women and families. This is something you have to get used to when visiting the Kingdom. In the evenings the area around the museum functions as a public space where families gather to either picnic or simply relax.
Evolution of art scene in RiyadhDuring my stay in the Kingdom I was invited to the first contemporary art fair in the capital – Art Riyadh being held at a local art gallery. Truth be told I did not expect much – I expected most of the art to revolve around themes of patriotism and Islam long story short I expected it to be very safe - nothing too risqué or controversial.
From the outside the gallery seemed to be just another regular unassuming building on a busy city thoroughfare- once inside the gallery was a hive of artistic activity. The art fair wasn’t segregated along gender lines like most public spaces in the country. Surprisingly the majority of the artists were all female. Young savvy intellectual Saudi men and women were free to interact with another over here. As I was ambling along each particular art display I decided to have a little chat with each of the artists asking them about their particular art work and what it depicted. From identity crisis to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia to mortality and everything in between the art fair covered a diverse plethora of topics. I was pleasantly surprised to come across this side of Saudi Arabia – I did not expect to visit an art gallery and come across passionate and talented local artists in the Kingdom.
A local woman appreciating a bunch of murals at the art gallery.
Men at the art gallery
The interior of art gallery was a hive of activity. By worldly standards it was a pretty small art gallery but for Saudi Arabia this was groundbreaking.
Arabic Coffee themed art at the contemporary art fair.
Street Art in Riyadh
After heading out of the art gallery I was told by a few of my local friends that Riyadh has a pretty up and coming street art and graffiti scene also. Obviously the next thing I did was ask them to show me their favorite murals. Most of the works were scattered all over town and not clustered in one particular area like in the west. Unlike regular popular graffiti worldwide, the majority of Riyadh’s street murals were pretty small and safe usually covering a small portion of a wall and were mostly made using black spray paint. Most of them were made by one particular artist by the name of Turki Al Andas - I was told he was quite the local celebrity with thousands of followers on Instagram. The fact that my friends bothered to tell me about these works spoke volumes about how big a deal this was in the Kingdom.
Just goes to show that Game of Thrones has a truly global audience.
Patriotic themed street art featuring a portrait of the King.
Religion is an extremely important part of day to day Saudi life. Literally life comes to a standstill 5 times a day – almost all shops close and work stops during every prayer time.
Prayers an important part of life
Things to do for a tourist in RiyadhFrom a recreational point of view there is not much to do in the Saudi capital other than checking out the local restaurant scene and hanging out with friends. Riyadh is a pretty multicultural place yet a very segregated and divided city at the same time –people from all walks of life and nationalities reside here. Yet when people hang out with one another they tend to mostly stick to their own nationalistic cliques rarely venturing out of their comfort zones – Pakistani/Indians with the Pakistani/Indian crowd, Filipinos with the Filipinos and Arabs with the Arabs. I guess this was because most of the expats resided in their own communities where they were in the majority or because most of them lived in gated communities called “compounds” completely segregated from the local community who tend to reside in their own separate areas. It was pretty normal to come across an expat who had been living in the kingdom for 20 odd years yet had no local friends – yet without fail each of them had a particular stereotype and preconceived notion attached to the local community and each of the major nationalities residing in the city.
A desert picnic
Desert picnics are a favorite national past time. Everyone has a spare rug in their car trunk to open up and lay down anywhere anytime. During my stay in the kingdom I happened to enjoy a fair share of Wadi picnicking.
A high end restaurant in Riyadh
Most restaurants and cafes in the capital tend to have separate family and men sections in them. But the more upscale establishments in the city tend to be lax on these rules – usually a simple booking is all you need to get in. Pictured here is the uber posh Globe restaurant – a restaurant located high above the city inside the giant golden ball/globe of the iconic Faysaliah Tower.
At the end of my journey through this fascinating yet very misunderstood corner of the world I came to the realization that the country I visited and the people I met there were not exactly what they were portrayed like in the mass media. No doubt this is a very complex country. I learnt one thing for certain that stereotyping an entire country based solely on news headlines can be dangerous it creates fear and anxiety that prevents oneself from getting out there and seeing the bigger picture and hence forming your opinion.
Believe it or not there are guide books on Saudi Arabia!
I consider myself lucky to have resided in a mixed community in the city where I got the opportunity to befriend many people from the local community and learning more about them. Like anywhere else not everyone is super religious, some are happy to embrace change some are not, some are very educated forward thinking individuals while some hold extremely archaic point of views, some appreciate modern art while some loathe it. The country is as diverse and heterogeneous in general thinking and opinions as is any other part of the world. Putting it into one box full of stereotypes would not be fair to the entire population of the country. About the author:M Bilal Hassan is a Doctor by profession who loves travelling to obscure and off the beaten track locations around the world in his spare time. He enjoys writing about art, travel and geopolitics. He currently resides in Karachi – Pakistan.
Koh-i-Noor diamond has been a part of the crown of the Queen of England after the colonial British empire snatched it away from India; yet the earliest history of this iconic diamond is still shrouded in mystery.
It’s well documented journey starts from the time Allaudin Khilji defeated the Kakatiyas rulers of Telangana and took the diamond as part of its bounty. But where was the diamond when the Kakatiyas owned it? They were the ones who mined it from the Kollur mine, which back then was one of the only few such mines in the world.
One of the theories is that the diamond was actually the left eye of the goddess in the Bhadrakali temple located in the city of Warangal. Read more here.
Golden Temple of South India
Shiva Parvati at the Bhadrakali Temple, Warangal
Gurukul style learning represented on the cliff face
So when I was in Warangal recently, I decided to make a visit to the temple which is also the oldest temple of the region. It was actually built in the 7th century by the Chalukya kings, much before the Kakatiyas ruled the region.
Short history of Koh-i-noorUnfortunately when Delhi sultanate took over the region, the Bhadrakali temple was also destroyed along with all the other temples. The eye of the goddess, Koh-i-Noor, traveled with the victors to Delhi and with that the journey of the diamond across the continents started. From Khilji it moved to the Mughals, then to the Shahs of Persia, followed by Afghans, Sikhs and finally to the British. The last legal owner, Ranjit Singh willed it to the Jagannath Temple of Puri. However, after his death the will was not executed and the British took it to their queen and made it a part of the crown.
Kohinoor at it's present home - in London
From a journey that started from a temple, the diamond almost came back to another temple which is barely 100 km away from its original home. However, that never happened.
The present day temple was revived in the 1950s when a group of rich merchants came together to bring the temple back to life. Today it’s a thriving temple and visited my thousands every year. (Source)
Things to do at the Bhadrakali Temple, WarangalThe temple, also sometimes referred to as the Golden Temple of south India, is built in the traditional Chalukya style and one of the reasons to visit it would be to marvel at it's architectural beauty. Go during sunrise or sunset to see it glow during the Golden hour! It's a sight to behold.
Right next to the temple is a lake called Bhadrakali Lake, which makes for some lovely pictures. People are not allowed to step in or bathe in it's waters.
Finally, visit the temple to gaze over the beautiful image of goddess Bhadrakali and offer prayers. She is known to not send her disciples empty handed.
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