Travel Category

Amritsar Revisited

by

A few weeks ago, the visit of one of my Aussie friends in India gave me the opportunity to revisit Amritsar, the city of the Golden Temple. Located northwest of Delhi, just a few miles from India’s border with Pakistan, access to Amritsar has improved rapidly in the last couple of years. The Shatabdi trains connecting Delhi with Amritsar is around 6 hours have of course been there for years, but it’s air connectivity that has actually made Amritsar lot more accessible. With frequent daily flights from Delhi as well as from Mumbai, almost all major airlines operate to Amritsar now.

Coming on to the destination itself, of course, there is the Golden Temple, which without a doubt is one among the world's most beautiful places to visit, but Amritsar has a lot more too, and actually a lot of activities and options for tourists. 

Wagah Border

Our trip, after an early afternoon arrival, began with the sundown visit to the Wagah border, where every evening Indian and Pakistani soldiers participate in a colorful and elaborate closing of border gates/lowering of flags / changing of guards ceremony. Call it what you want, but it’s worth a visit. Both countries have constructed mini stadiums, and on this hot summer evening ( hot as is 42 c ) the Indian side had almost 5000 eager tourists, and the Pakistani side about 1000, all cheering their soldiers and dancing to patriotic songs. 

Post the noise, commotion and the cacophony of the Wagah border ceremony, visited the Golden Temple at twilight. The Temple looks magical as the lights come on and are certainly worth, not one, but two visits, one in the evening and the other early morning. It looks different in varying light conditions. With devotees quietly queuing up, religious songs (bhajans ) playing in the background, and the majestic Golden structure as the centerpiece, it’s an amazing experience.  

Golden Temple, Amritsar

But, the Amritsar of today, is a little more, or actually a lot more than just the Wagah Border and the Golden Temple. They’ve been a lot of improvements and changes in the last few years. The area around the Golden Temple is now a pedestrian-only walking street, with clean orderly shops selling local clothing, juttis ( Amritsari sandals ), local food, etc, and there is also ( In addition to the Jalianwala Bagh ) a newly commissioned Partition Museum , that takes the visitor through the history of India’s Independence struggle and the subsequent partition in 1947 . Certainly, a must-visit for everyone. Another great place we visited was the Gobindgarh Fort, located just a few minutes' drive from the Golden Temple. Opened for the public only recently, the Gobindgarh Fort was built in the 18th century, and it now houses a wonderful museum dedicated to the history of the State and the Rulers of Punjab.

Gobindgarh Fort

One of the things we wanted to do but didn’t manage to is the Food Tour of Amritsar. Amritsar has long been known as a foodie’s paradise, and its Amritsari Fish and Chole Bhatura, Stuffed Amritrari Kulcha, etc. are well known throughout India.  The Food tour sounded excellent and was tempting, particularly since it included stops at many of Amritsar’s landmark Dhaba’s ( roadside eateries), but unfortunately, in between doing everything else, we ran out of time for it.

In terms of accommodation and places to stay, the Taj Swarna ( opened about two years ago ) where we stayed, is certainly the best option in Amritsar, but there are plenty of other good hotels too, ranging from the modern Hyatt Amritsar to the homestay style Ranjit’s Svaasa.

As a conclusion, I would like to say, that Amritsar is certainly a well worth it two or three-day extension for anyone traveling to India.

 

 


Ladakh, India's Rooftop

by

Just a 75-minute flight north of Delhi lies the region of Ladakh, India’s rooftop and a stark frozen desert. Technically a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but the Ladakh region is far removed from anything Kashmiri, be it the topography, the culture, the way of life, the religious beliefs, and even the security issues that have haunted Kashmir for several years now. Ladakh is and has been an entirely safe area to travel too for all the years I can remember, with its wonderful peace-loving Buddhist residents. 

For years we’d thought of going to Ladakh, but for some reason or the other we’d been postponing it, but I’m glad we finally bit the bullet the summer. Ladakh exceeded our expectations several times over, and rates highly in our very own list of beautiful places to see in the world.
 

Monastery in Ladakh

Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region, and also the city with the region's only commercial airport, is a picturesque little town. The monasteries, monks and Buddhist way of life are very much visible everywhere as also the Tibetan influences. For years Leh lacked good modern hotels, but fortunately, those days are over now, with good quality modern hotels like the Grand Dragon and the Indus Valley being there. 

Leh and it’s surrounding areas have plenty to see and do, the Thiksey monastery, the Hall of Fame museum, the Shanti Stupa, the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, etc. and the two days spent there, partly acclimatizing to the thin air with the low oxygen levels were well worth it. The local bazaar with its colorful small shops, Tibetan and Ladakhi food restaurants, all very interesting and very different from anything seen in the rest of India. Other interesting and worth visiting sites we visited were the Sangam, where the Indus and the Zanskar rivers meet, and the Magnetic Hill, where vehicles seem to be magically rolling upwards defying gravity. 
 

Hunder Sand Dunes, Ladakh

Our next stop was the Nubra Valley, with its stark desert landscape, about a 4-hour drive west of Leh. The drive from Leh to the Nubra Valley area took us through snow-capped mountains, with the Khardung La Pass, one of the highest motorable passes in the world, certainly being the highlight of the drive. 
 
The Nubra Valley area has plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets, but for those not on a budget, the ultimate place to stay is, of course, the Ultimate Traveling Camp’s Chamba Camp. I’d have to say that the two days we spent at the Chamba camp were perhaps the best part of the trip. From the minute you arrive till the minute you depart, the service standards and the hospitality that you experience are a world apart. Luxurious tented accommodation, friendly smiling staff, gourmet cuisine, TUTC has really set the standards as far as glamping in India is concerned.

In the Nubra Valley area, there’s plenty to see and do ( provided of course that you can bring yourself to leave the luxurious surroundings of the camp ) with the Diskit Monastery just down the road , the Hunder sand dunes ( where we rode the two-humped camels ) and the remote village of Turtuk ( with a small museum run by the erstwhile Balti rulers of the area ), the village of Chang (the last village in India ) where a soldier from the Indian Army happily pointed out both, the Indian and the Pakistani border outposts to us, all this being within easy access of the Chamba camp.

Pangong Lake

Post two wonderful, relaxing, though adventurous days at the TUTC’s Chamba camp, our next stop was the Pangong Lake, at an altitude of over 4000 meters above sea level , this lake is huge , as in 134 kilometers long and about 5 kilometers wide at this widest point and extends from India to the Tibetan part of China. Words cannot describe the beautiful lake and its surrounds, truly magical in every way and certainly worth the long drive.

Happy Faces in Ladakh
 
With that, it was time to bid goodbye to Ladakh, a trip that we’ll remember for long, and a destination we’d like to return to, sooner rather than later.
 


Some Magical Moments At Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

by

And so before you could actually know it… we’d hit number 6! The sixth anniversary dawned upon us and this time I wanted to do something special for my beloved wife. I was scouting for a destination that offers a perfect combination of sun and sea along with a luxurious stay. Goa was the first place that cropped up into my mind, but one of my office colleagues suggested, "why don’t you celebrate your special day in Mumbai? ” I really liked his idea, because we had been to Goa several times and so I thought to give Mumbai, fondly called as the “City of Dreams” a shot. Without wasting too much time, I booked a stay in a Club Room at the ICONIC Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. BELIEVE ME! My anniversary was more unforgettable and mesmerizing that I could have ever imagined.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai

On the day of our anniversary, we checked in to a luxurious Club room at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. While booking the hotel, I had told the staff to make some special decoration in our room and to my utter disbelief, what they did for us was truly out of this world. It was like the room had been specially kept just for us! Heart-shaped balloons and rose flowers were amazingly decorated on the walls. There was a huge greeting card and a bouquet of colorful flowers kept on the bed. We were truly delighted when almost every staff member wished us a Happy Anniversary. The Executive Chef of the hotel sent a big chocolate cake to our room. The hotel really lived up to its reputation of treating its guests like a GOD.

Well talking about the room, it seemed that we were in the fairyland. The room was very elegant and swanky. The decor was the state of the art that immediately captivated our attention. The colors of the room were tastefully chosen and replete with every facility that one could dream of. Our room offered the stunning view of the majestic Gateway of India and overlooked the large pool filled with crystal-clear water. The large bath tub in the glass-walled bathroom meant that we could knock out fatigue while watching our favorite movies on the large screen TV. We had lunch at the Souk restaurant, on the rooftop of the Tower Wing, with beautiful views of the Mumbai harbor, the Art District and the Gateway of India. The entrance to the restaurant itself is grand and will astonish you with its magnificent architecture. The restaurant has an amazing ambiance and decor. One word which can describe the taste of the food is SUPERB. From the moment you enter the restaurant and the time you leave, you are actually treated like a VIP. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal as well as the ambiance and clicked some great pictures too. It is simply heavenly! 

WOW!!! This was our reaction when we saw the Sea Lounge restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant has the best high tea in Mumbai, with an elaborate buffet spread of classic English delicacies and local Indian favorites. Surprise! Surprise! We saw the Bollywood Megastar Amitabh Bachchan enjoying a cup of tea at the same place. We were so delighted to see him and wasted no time to click some pictures with him. He made our day when he too wished us a Happy Anniversary. As we left the lounge, we were still in an awe of the superstar. And the next morning, after a cup of coffee, it was time to say goodbye to the hotel. We thanked the hotel staff for making our anniversary memorable.

Anniversary or no anniversary, I think, I would certainly like to stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel each time I travel to Mumbai!


Manish is an expert blogger at Trans India Holidays, he has been writing for the last half a decade. His passion for traveling made him a travelogue. Manish's dream is to explore every nook and corner of the country. When he is not on board, he pens down his experience through articles and blogs.


A Short Trip to Gujarat

by

Having seen Tigers so closely (it was so pulse racing, that I felt like my heart in my mouth) in Kanha and Bandhavgarh last year, my interest in seeing more wildlife in its natural habitat, made me book a trip to Gujarat, which is the only home of the Asiatic Lion in India --- I along with two of my colleagues, Himanshu and Krishna did a recent trip to Gujarat and Diu. The other thing that perhaps played a role in our selection of Gujarat as a destination, was the wonderful advertising campaign that Gujarat Tourism has been running for the last couple of years, where, Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood’s biggest star, has been promoting tourism to Gujarat. The campaign from Gujarat tourism seems to be yielding excellent results, and the number of tourists travelling to Gujarat is on the rise. 

Lion in Gir, Gujarat-exclusive home to Asiatic Lions

Our trip began in Ahmedabad, where just after a few hours of sleep, we visited the Gandhi Ashram, where the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi spent a few years of his life. It is now converted to a museum depicting the Mahatma’s life. Our next stop was Diu, a Union Territory, and a beach destination, bordering the state of Gujarat. 

The next morning, we moved on to Sasan Gir (of course the main reason for our trip), en route visiting Somnath – one of the twelve Jyotirlinga temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Somnath Temple-one of 12 jyotirlingas

The resort, Gir Birding Lodge was very well located (just next to the entry gate of the National Park), and during the 3 safaris we did into the park, we were lucky to spot the King of Jungle a couple of times, also it was a good birding experience as we spotted many birds – Magpie Robin, Black-headed Oriole, Nightjar, Eurasian Thicknee – just to name a few. We were lucky to spot Leopard as well, which is quite rare.

Safari in Little Rann of Kutch

Our last destination was the Little Rann of Kutch – an unending expanse of salt marsh desert, also very famous, for the reason that it is the only home of the Asiatic Wild Ass. It was indeed a unique experience to see large herd of Wild Asses, the other animals I was able to capture in my camera were the Desert Fox, Blue Bulls, etc.. The area is also well known to have about 300 species of Indian and migratory birds, but they were all gone in March, so we missed them!

While currently, very few tourists from the western world visit Gujarat, this is truly a destination with great potential, and there is a lot to see and do for tourists in Gujarat. Also very impressive, is the infrastructure development, which seems to be way ahead of several other states in India – Gujarat has a good road infrastructure, availability of clean drinking water and no power shortages.

wildlife in Gujarat

The trip gave me and my colleagues a very good insight into the potential of tourism in Gujarat, and this is a destination that we would certainly be recommended, if not to first-timers, at least to second-time visitors to India.

The writer, Atul Shrivastava is the Asstt. Manager of Trans India Holidays in New Delhi, India.


  • 1