Kashmir trip

Kashmir – arguably the most beautiful place on earth and ironically, the least visited. So much beauty that we found it difficult to appreciate in our week long trip. Alas, for us city dwellers, we could spare only that much time.

We were mesmerized by it. And it was not even the best month to go.  I wonder how much more attractive it would be during the winter months, when everything from mountains to trees to roads wear the snow blanket.

Day 1: Shalimar Bagh

When we arrived in Srinagar late afternoon, we had just sufficient time to capture the most famous of Mughal Gardens – Shalimar Bagh in all it’s glory.

With the stunning Chinar, it was love at first sight; never has a tree looked more attractive. For us Bangaloreans, Lalbagh, Brindavan Gardens and Ooty Botanical Gardens is what has set the benchmark. Mughal Gardens is taking it to the next level altogether. The trees start shedding their leaves at this time making the garden even more colorful.

Day 2: Sonamarg

Next day, Sonamarg was on agenda – about two hour drive from Srinagar. In the mountains, it gets chilly in second half of the day leaving a short day for outdoors. To make the best of it, we decided to start early at 9 am.

Many of the roads in Kashmir, as is this, are accompanied by small rivers making the ride a beautiful affair.

The main attraction in Sonamarg is Glacier, about 7 km from the main road. Few trek, most ride pony – either way takes about an hour. Negotiating for a pony is serious business. They’ll start by quoting around Rs 2,500 for the return journey which is way more than the regular Rs 1,000 rate. Season rate (Summers) is even lower at Rs 700.

At this time, snow is only on mountain top. The trek goes uphill and downhill through splendid meadows giving glimpse of magnificent snow covered mountains.

Sonamarg gets heavy snow in winters and is closed post November. There are only a handful of hotels and restaurants here, no market. Sonamarg is also the point from where the Amarnath Yatra starts – about 15 km uphill. Last pony is at 3 pm.

Day 3: Gulmarg

Gulmarg is the most popular place in this region with adventure being the theme. Though the valley is attractive, you can feel the over-commercialization with trash and horse poop everywhere.

The big thing to do here is Gondola ride, the highest cable car in the world. There are two phases – first one is a 9 min ride to the foothills, and second one is 18 min to the top, Rs 300 and Rs 500 each. Unfortunately, the second phase was temporarily closed due to some technical snag. We reached the foothills via 1st phase in an hr due to heavy rush. There’s some tough trek to reach the snow. We saw plenty come down slipping from top, though with low height it doesn’t hurt much. There’s beginner’s skiing available which we decided to skip having done the full course a few years back. The return was a bit lousy with us spending one and half hr in line.

Day 4 & 5: Pahalgam

Pahalgam is a nice, quiet town located 2 hrs from Srinagar in a beautiful valley. Instead of going to Anantnag, we took a shortcut via Srigufwara. The drive is via Saffron and Apple fields. We stopped by at one place and got us some real Saffron – at Rs 200/gm, it feels like buying gold! Then we passed by apple fields. We plucked a few from the trees and packed a box. Kashmir apples are as juicy as they get.

Our hotel was located next to the stream, in the woods. You could see monkeys fighting outside our room.

There are 3 places of interest here – Chandanwari, Betaab Valley and Aru Valley.

Chandanwari is the most popular, scenic spot 15 km from Pahalgam. At this time, there’s only nominal snow along the foothills. There’s a big glacier here. This is as close to Amarnath Shrine you get to via a vehicle. Yatra starts from here too, about 30 km trek. As it happens often here, it suddenly became chilly and started raining, so we left after half an hr.

Betaab Valley is on the way to Chandanwari. It got its name by Hindi movie Betaab (yes, Sunny Deol one!) of which a significant part was shot here. Earlier, it was named Hajan Valley, they changed it after the movie was released!

It’s located perfectly besides a stream, surrounded by snow covered mountains amid gorgeous colorful Willow trees. Tons of people come here for bountiful sun. The water here comes from the hills and is very chilly. It’s so clear, you’re tempted to taste it a bit. Locals actually drink it directly from the stream.

Aru Valley is THE most beautiful spot in Kashmir; the road leading to it is equally alluring. I am jealous of the locals here who were  playing cricket on a sunny afternoon – can it be played in more serene, picturesque environment? We decided not to take pony and instead explore the beauty on foot.

We spent couple of hours just idling, climbing up and down, admiring the nature. We also met a few locals who were collecting woods for the winter season when everything gets covered by many feet of snow. It is also trekker’s paradise – start climbing from here and reach Sonamarg on the other side of the mountains in 3 days flat, no kidding!

The main market at Pahalgam is good with plenty of local art shops selling shawls, suits and wooden artifacts. Its open till 9 pm, but gets very chilly in evening.

Day 6: Houseboat

We returned to Srinagar to enjoy the magical Dal lake. With a said 26 km circumference, Dal is one of the biggest lakes in India and has a monumental significance in Srinagar. The Mughal Gardens, the market, the hotels – all are around Dal. It seems Srinagar lives off it.

No trip to Kashmir is complete without Houseboat stay on Dal, and rightly so. Ours was a 3 bedroom one, shared with two other families, with a drawing room, kitchen and dining room! All the houseboats are anchored, and you travel via Shikara. We enjoyed the 3 hr long Shikara ride which took as around Dal and the floating market inside Dal. You hop onto shops and back to shikara, just like that! To make things easier, there were Shikara vendors selling ice cream, shawls and even vegetables and memory cards. Could it get more hi-tech than this!

Dal is also one of the cleanest lakes, without any typical stagnant water smell.

Later in the evening, we went to Nishat Bagh, another of Mughal Gardens. You get awesome views of Dal lake from here.

One of things I liked about Kashmir is nice roads. Being a hilly area is not an excuse for bad roads. Full marks to J&K govt for it. I wish more destinations are well maintained.

Except Sonamarg, the rates for all sightseeing  activities were fixed, prominently displayed at all places, be it pony ride or hiring a vehicle or shikara. This prevents tourists from getting ripped off, like in so many other destinations.

Also, there were plenty of army men on the roads, almost one every 100 m or so, reminding you of the fragile nature of the place while making you feel safe.

Tips:

  • On the Srinagar airport, there’s lot of security check – we took 1 hour to just enter the airport and checkin. So leave early. Another thing – you need to “identify” your luggage after checkin. It’s a mandatory step.
  • Always carry your jacket, gloves and cap. It gets chilly suddenly. Can rain without notice.
  • Always take boots while trekking, normal shoes are not enough. Gum boots are available for rent at Rs 75-100 per pair.
  • Be careful when taking advice from locals regarding sightseeing. The ponywallas and so called guides sometimes misguide you to extract money. Better, research about your destination before the trip.

We had an awesome time in Kashmir and plan to return a few years later, although this time it’ll be before the onset of summer season to enjoy the snow, skiing and even more greenery.

Yercaud Trip


At Killiyur Falls

After being sick of being sick with a downtime of almost a month with Viral, Cold and Cough attack simultaneously, I seriously needed a break! So we decided to head out to Yercaud for the weekend.

We started out early in the day at 6.30 am. It’s a nice 4 hr drive south of Bangalore on NH7 via Salem. We had a nice South Indian break fast at A2B on the way. We reached Yercaud at about 11 and checked in to our room at Sterlings Resort.

We were delighted at the location of the resort. It’s just beautiful. Located on the cliff, it has awesome view of Salem downhill. There was a cloud literally next to our room.


View from Sterlings Resort

When we moved out for the lake later in the day, we were surprised to see that a hill station can be that small. It virtually finished the moment you started walking! There’s hardly anything to see or do. We did some boating on the lake, visited Shevaroy Temple (hardly a temple) and came back to the resort for a nice cup of tea and pakodas admiring the amazing view from our window. In the evening, we had a nice massage. Actually, wasn’t very good for me, but wifey enjoyed it.

We were told Sterlings has one of the best restaurant in the town. The food sure was nice.

Next morning, we did the trek for the Killiyur Falls. It’s about half an hr trek downhill, not too steep, but steep enough for not to allow children and elderly folks. This being post monsoon time, the view was worth the effort.


Killiyur Falls

Right after the trek, we headed back home. Overall, it’s a nice getaway for a day to relax and unwind doing nothing. We enjoyed thoroughly.

Mumbai & Mahabaleshwar trip


At Venna Lake

Our last trip to Mumbai a yr back was a whirlwind. Could hardly go anywhere. So, we decided to take a break and set out for a 10 day long trip to the grace western world.

We spent the first few days with family and friends, in-between inaugurating my sister-in-laws swanky new flat, visit to Marine Drive, Gateway of India and Kanheri Caves.


Kanheri Caves, Mumbai

Then we headed out to Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani via Alibag, Kashid and Murud Janjira halting for a few hours  in Pune on return. Hell of a trip.

I am all in favor of driving early whenever traveling. Upbeat mood, good weather, beat the traffic. Plus you can catch the sunrise for a change. What else do you want! So, we started at about 6 in morning and headed for Alibag. Well, as cab drivers go, we reached ahead of time!


Riding a tonga on Alibag Beach

The Alibag beach is quite calm and serene. Hardly a few folks present. In the morning, the water recedes leaving behind a not-so-often view of blackish sand. After spending the usual 10 mins negotiating for tongas, we got one for 120 bucks to the Fort (Kolaba Fort as it is called). Been quite a while since we sat on one. Well, the Fort is hardly a fort, more like ruins. After half an hr of clicking pics, we headed back with the water knee deep. It was fun riding a tonga amidst the water.


Janjira Fort in the middle of sea

In between we had lunch on Kashid beach and straightaway headed for Murud-Janjira. The Janjira fort is about half a km inside deep sea. There are a handful of sail boats that take you to the fort. I don’t recall myself being in one before. It’s interesting how they sail through the sea and maneuver the boat using sail. It took us about 45 mins to cross that half a km.

De-boarding the boat was an adventure for us city slickers. There’s really no place built in fort to anchor the boat. The sailors will try to hold the boat steady among the wild 3ft high waves while you try to get out, rather jump out of the boat unhurt. It’s amusing to see people crying and refusing to de-board. So much for the comfort of city life.


Janjira Fort

Well, we managed to get on fort relatively dry. One of the sailors offered to give us a 45 min tour of the fort for 400 bucks. We shared the cost with two other groups. As we moved on, it was quite amazing to see that the fort was quite a small world in itself with couple of small fresh water lakes, multi-storey rooms, cannons and tunnels to flee. One of the better forts I’ve ever seen. The return journey via boat was quicker – 20 mins.

Post Janjira fort, we headed out to Mahabaleshwar, reaching there late evening. Like the majority of the hotels, our hotel Rahi Plaza was right in the middle of the market. We quickly freshened up and roamed around the market a while absorbing some cool air and aroma of fresh strawberries.


View from Aurthur’s Seat

Next day, we visited Venna Lake, Parsi Point, TablelandPratapgarh Fort, Old Mahabaleshwar TempleAurthur’s Seat and nearby points. Venna Lake has boating, which we skipped, and instead opted for a horse ride which was fun. Next, we picked a couple of Mapro crush bottles from the Strawberry farm next to Parsi Point. Picked a small tonga ride at Tableland. Post lunch, we went to Pratapgarh Fort, which was not that impressive. A visit to magnificent Aurthur’s Seat made the day for us. It has quite awesome views of the valley with the freshest breeze you can get anywhere in the world. We spent a couple of hrs admiring the gifts of nature.

The following day we headed back, with a short halt for lunch with a friend in Pune. It turned out to be more than a “short” halt, as our cab developed a snag. We arranged for an alternate cab and reached Mumbai in night.

Easily one of the best trips we had. Lot to cherish about!

Goa New Year trip

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Impressions at Mandrem Beach

Cool breezy air, walk on the beach, lazying in the sun, massage, biking, orange juice, mexican breakfast, mojito, maritini, music…ahh, I feel tickled again as I start penning this down.

Day 0
It took almost a day to reach there. We started from Bangalore Central railway station at 9 PM and reached next day by 5 PM. We had already booked our stay at Cafe Liliput on Anjuna Beach. It was love at first sight 🙂 Cafe Liliput has an amazing service with great food and a wonderful view. We spent hours on the beach, just listening to the waves and viewing the sunset. After a hectic month at office, it truly rejuvenated me.

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Cafe Liliput, Anjuna Beach

Anjuna beach is nice and small, not very crowded. A part of it is rocky, but you can enjoy in sea a bit further.

We hired a bike for the entire duration, which made our trip more fun since we could go for long drives, beach hopping and shopping at our will.

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Biking

Day 1
After a nice Mexican breakfast, we headed for little “Goa shopping”. We hadn’t taken much stuff expecting to get it from there. Got some nice shorts for my hubby and a couple of nice dresses for myself. Bargaining is fun in Goa!

Later, we headed for Baga beach. Man, it was crowded there. As soon as we landed there, lot of agents started approaching us for adventure activities. We decided to have snacks first at one of the beach restaurants. Then we hired a water scooter. As we moved away from the shore, I was completely terrified, but later excited as I kept saying “all iz well’. It was a very nice ride.

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Water Scooter, Baga Beach

Tip: They give you all activities for half rate in evening. Not bad since these are already overpriced during New Year time!

Day 2
Next day we headed for Fort Aguada. It’s half an hr drive from Anjuna beach.

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Fort Aguada

Situated at a reasonable height, this place gives you a nice view of Mandovi River.

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View from Fort Aguada

On the way back, we had lunch at Candolim Beach.

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Strolling at Candolim Beach

Day 3
We decided to have breakfast at Shore Bar. Had heard a lot about this place from my Hubby (from his last year’s visit). This place is beautifully decorated. There are nice paintings all around. The seating is a refreshing change from the regular chair-table setup. You can see the effort put up by the owner, Richard, who is very passionate. We had a nice little chat with him. This place is very popular among the foreigners. We could hardly notice any Indians.

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Shore Bar

After two days of outing, we decided to take a break. We sat through the day observing the beautiful beach and listening to the waves. We had a nice massage in late afternoon.

In the evening, we headed to Dhum Biryani for dinner. It’s just a km away. I had the most awesome Biryani of my life.

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Dhum Biryani

Day 4
It’s Wednesday. And it’s shopping day at Anjuna beach. The whole of Anjuna beach makes way for a very big Flea market. We spent hours there.

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Wednesday Flea Market, Anjuna Beach

I got so indulged in shopping, almost forgot that we had decided to go to the Chapora Fort. It was already evening. We skipped lunch and headed for the ‘Dil Chahta Fort’. After about half an hr drive and 15 min walk up the hill, we reached at the top, just in time for sunset. Well, it’s barely a fort – just a wall surrounding the area. But the view is amazing.

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View from Chapora Fort

As we were about to leave, we got a call from our friend Karan, who also arrived in Goa that day. We decided to meet at Club Fresh – new place opened at Mandrem beach. We took forever to reach there. After about an hr and a half drive, we finally made it. There was a huge party with celebrities. Saying we were under dressed for the party was an understatement. I felt awful. Here, I was at a wonderful party and an average dress. But whatever! I got to meet Arjun Rampal at the party, apart from Chunkey Pandey and Dino Morea.

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Giving Arjun Rampal a company

Day 5 (New Yr Eve)
Karan and party arrived early in the morning at Anjuna Beach. We had fun throughout the day – alternating between eating, drinking, and a dip into the sea. The New Year party was fun till there was a firecracker that bursted just below our table. I got a little hurt, while one of our friend got somewhat more burns. After a visit to the hospital, we were back partying. The accident dampened our spirits a bit, but we enjoyed the night!

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Balle Balle on New Yr eve

Day 6
The next day, we decided to check out the beaches far north. We visited Mandrem and Arambol. Mandrem is an excellent beach, almost uninhabited. One of the less commercialized beaches in Goa. We managed to catch a glimpse of some crabs and a few star fishes. The drive was nice.

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Mandrem Beach

Day 7
The final day of our trip has come. We bought some souvenirs, settled the bill and headed home.

The fun ended with a bad tan and it took me days after I came back to get over it. It was an awesome trip with my sweetheart. GOA – I’ll be back!

Honeymoon
Vikas & Vini in Mauritius

We chose the beautiful Mauritius for our honeymoon. And believe me, it’s amazing place. We stayed there for a week and enjoyed a lot.