Photo of the Day – Landing in Leh

Photo of the Day

Kushok Bakula Rimpochee AirportStarting today I’m starting a new series called ‘Photo of the Day’ from my travels. Hope you like it.

One of the most breathtaking airports that I have landed in is the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport of Leh. About fifteen minutes before landing you get to see the majestic barren landscape which cradles this tiny airport. The flight attended keeps announcing to deaf ears that photography is strictly prohibited during landing due to security reasons… but no one can help themselves.

Solve your Forex Blues

Cool Tips

Calvin+and+Hobbes

Every time once everything is done- Hotel Booking,Tickets and Visa, the final hurdle is purchasing Forex. Most of the times its not a smooth process as we would like and many a times means visiting shady localities and dealing with agents who look like they could just  pack-up shop and disappear the very next day.

So this time I didn’t want the same hassle and wanted an alternative once and for all. We found a online option ( not that online inspires a lot of confidence ) – BookMyForex.

They had been covered by a online magazine ‘Your Story’ http://yourstory.com/2014/04/bookmyforex/ and we couldn’t find anything negative about them online. So the venture looked genuine atleast on paper. Finally after a lot of debate I call them. From the first call itself they came across as people meant business. Their dealing smooth and instructions given clear and to the point. The rates offered were competitive as well.

I would definitely recommend using their services.

As a side note – They are celebrating September 22nd as #ZeroMarginDay . Don’t miss it if you are planning to travel soon and need forex.

Link : https://www.bookmyforex.com/?u=7eqNzDsu4040

Coupon Code : FreeXchange23 ( between 10 am and 2 pm on September 22nd.)

Salman Khan Madness

Random

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Once in a while we head to Big Bazaar to do our monthly shopping. This time it was madness. I like to park my car as close the the Big Bazaar exit gate as possible so that its easier to load everything into the car. This weekend every single parking space was full to my surprise.
Entering the mall we saw why. The picture above is of fans trying to catch a glimpse of Salman Khan. Salman had come to promote his film production – Hero.
We also excitedly tried to catch a glimpse of the star. People we hanging out of very vantage point possible and anything move able be it the dusbin, chairs or ladders had been commandeered by fans.

Hanging around in Munich

Travel

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We arrive at Munich airport early in the morning on our 3 weeks trip across Europe; Germany, Austria and Croatia…
Since Indrani, my better half had not seen Munich previously we planned to do some city sightseeing before catching the train to Mittenwald. The most cost effective way to get around the city is to buy a day pass (€38 per person). With the same ticket we would also be able take the train to Mittewald….the only problem was that the ticket was valid from 9am only, which meant we had to hang around the Munich Airport till 9 before we could take the train into the city.
Coming from hot and humid New Delhi, at least the Munich weather was crisp… We filled in our lungs with fresh air. Inside the airport everything was closed except for a small departmental store and a bakery which was is full swing. The smell of breads fresh out of the oven was making everyone hungry.
The first thing that we bought was a big bottle of water. Plane travel always make me very thirsty as if I’ve just walked across the desert. It turned out to be sparking water. Once we quenched our thirst and freshened up, everyone was in a better mood to explore. We bought some chocolates to nibble on and as the shops started to open did some window shopping. After the long flight and cramped airline seats, we soon got tired and found a place to sit where we could put our feet up realising we still had 3 hrs to kill.
One incident which happened while we waited is worth mentioning. We were approached by a young girl with her mother in toe in a burkha.. First she asked if we spoke English…when I said Yes…She continued, saying that they had a lot of rice which she wanted to give away (she must have guessed from our looks that we were Indians and rice eaters). I realised like us they too must have hoarded what was dear to them on their travels. We were carrying 4 bottles of Maggi Hot&Sweet sauce as in our previous trips we found that most of the sauces available in Europe were too bland for our palate. We politely said no.
Finally at 9 we took the train to Munich hauptbahnhof. The first thing that we needed to do is get rid of our heavy bags. Luggage storage facilities are available at the train station itself. Pretty expensive €6 per locker.
From here we headed straight to Marienplatz. Marienplatz is a central square in the city centre of Munich, Germany. It has been the city’s main square since 1158. To tell you frankly this time around we didn’t enjoy our time in Munich at all. The temperature was soaring and the entire place has been uprooted . Construction work was happening everywhere we looked. The wonderful yellow facade of Theatinerkirche the 15th C Gothic church had completely disappeared and the exterior of the church was instead covered with paper cut out.
We were quite happy to leave Munich and take the scenic train ride to Mittenwald. The ride was not without surprises… Stay tuned.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Travel

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This seems to be an odd picture to start my updates about our recent trip to Europe… But with such an exciting end to the journey I just can’t help myself…

It all started with our return flight with #Austrian airlines from Zagreb. We had a early morning flight which means you hardly get time to sleep the previous night. The morning was misty which is usually the case this time of the year as informed by Mathia who was driving us to the airport. Reaching the airport and after finishing security check we grabbed any vacant spots available in the waiting lounge. People kept piling inside a space which was smaller than many of our domestic airports. Soon I realized all the flights were getting delayed because of the fog which seemed nothing to us. New Delhi sees much worse foggy conditions between December and January and flights still take off albeit delayed. I wonder what foreigners traveling to India crib about when traveling during these two months. The fog was so bad apparently that the Austrian flight which was coming from Vienna couldn’t land. Rather than delaying the flight, Austrian thought better to cancel the flight all together throwing all our plans into turmoil. While all this was happening ( I mean flight cancellation) we were sitting nonchalantly unaware. Not our fault I tell you. The announcement system was so great that we didn’t here anything. Finally exiting the departure area and collecting our luggage’s again from the baggage belt we stood patiently in the line to see how we would fly out. ” There are no flights available out of Europe. We can offer you a connection on Aeroflot” says the lady at the counter in a business like fashion. With no other option in hand, we take what’s offeredagain going through the tedious process of check-in, the mandatory strip down at security check and waiting in the lounge.
Fortunately this time Aeroflot flies on-time. The lady at the Aeroflot counter seemed sympathetic of our ordeal since early morning and helped get us excellent seats.
The layover at Moscow was a tight one- 1hr15mins only… After landing we huffed and puffed our way to the new gates having just enough time to see the dazzle of the countless duty-free shops from outside.
The flight back was very comfortable. Aeroflot was a pleasant surprise. No frills but nice. Landing in Delhi we had another surprised waiting for us. Apparently the 1hr layover was not enough to get our bags transferred. So our trip officially ended a day later when our bags got delivered home.

Inside Circle: Dudhwa National Park

Travel

 

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Most of the people I have come across have no idea about Dudhwa National Park and even fewer have ever visited it. Having heard good reviews from few of my adventurous friends, I was quite excited when I got an invitation from a friend of the Destination Knowledge Centre who plans to convert his farm estate into a luxury resort.

Located near the Indo-Nepal border, Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh is a major wildlife conservation site and an important reserve under the Project Tiger project for the conservation of Indian tigers.  We had driven down from Delhi. With Bareilly as the only halt we reached by afternoon. But the best thing to do is fly from Delhi to Lucknow and then drive for 4 hrs to reach the park.

The best fit for clients: After Delhi-Jaipur and Agra, continue to Chambal Safari Lodge ( 1hr/30 mins from Agra) to spend a couple of nights and then to Dudhwa (5-6 hrs from Chambal Safari Lodge) and finally Lucknow before taking the train/flight back to Delhi.

We had a quick lunch and were ready to head out for a game drive. After a long bumpy ride (the park gate is close to a 1 hr drive from the property) we reached the park.  The forest was beautiful. Even in peak summer the forest canopy was green. Dudhwa National Park has moist Sal forest unlike other parts of central India which are known for its dry Sal forest.  My time inside the forest was made extra special by the fact that I had an expert birder with me. The park boasts of more than 350 species of birds and we were able to spot many interesting ones like the Indian pitta, swamp partridge, plenty of painted storks, owls, woodpeckers and hornbills. Much of Dudhwa’s avian fauna is aquatic and found around lakes. Many a times when going to-and-fro we would stop at a bridge over the Sharda River to look at the huge turtles floating peacefully on the water surface and sometimes catch a glimpse of Gharials. The eco-system here which comprises of mesmerising mosaic of Sal and Teak Forest, lush green grasslands, steaming swamps and wetlands is what makes drives very interesting. I was also surprised to learn that this is probably the only National Park in the country where you can see tigers, swamp deer’s as well as rhinos. The 24 sq km enclosure inside the park, with swamps lands and tall grass is an ideal habitat for rhinos. We went on elephant backs to spot them. The tigers once again eluded me and Iam yet to see one in the wild.

Let me tell you a bit about my host’s property.  He is confident would be up and running by the coming season. The Haveli which was built in the 50’s has a colonial feel to it. The approach to the property is pleasant with litchi plantations and sugarcane fields flanking either side. Space is not a constraint here with acres of private cultivation land surrounding the property which is free to be explored by clients. Kamaljeet (the owner) plans to keep bikes and all-terrain vehicles at client’s disposal for them to explore their surroundings. At the moment there are seven rooms which would be decorated with British campaign furniture.  The food served here would be famous Awadhi Cuisine, including family recipes handed down through generations.  A wonderful sit out is an ideal place for evening get together after a tiring game drive. Apart from Kamaljeet’s property, stay wise there is nothing else noteworthy here. Ultimate Travelling Camp plans to open Suheli Camp, Dudhwa, to give clients the luxury tent experience sometime soon.

Before leaving Dudhwa I made a visit to ‘Billy’ Arjan Singh’s land, an Indian hunter turned conservationist who made Dudhwa famous by successfully hand-rearing and reintroducing zoo-born tigers and leopards in the wilds of Dudhwa. His house has a dreary, lost look to it as if forgotten by time, same as Dudhwa. It is hard to image that only fifteen years ago this park was once as famous as Corbett National Park.

Highs:

–          Located in near to Lucknow makes it easily accessible

–          Unique eco-system of Sal forest, swamps and tall grasslands

–          An opportunity to see rare avian species like the Bengal Florican, Swamp Partridge as well as tigers, rhinos and elephants.

–          No pollution of too many resorts putting a strain on the forest

Lows:

–          The distance from the property to the forest gate is a long 1 hr drive. There is a plan to reach the park through another gate  which if goes through would cut the drive time to 20mins.

–          Weekends attracts the local domestic tourist which sometimes leads to many vehicles in the park. There is at the moment no rule about number of vehicles to be allowed inside the park

 

Update : Recently Jaagir has come under the Tree of Life banner run by Himmat Anand. Expect only good stuff now 🙂

Website: http://www.treeofliferesorts.com/dudhwa/

ART OF BENGAL

Travel

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Patachitra or scroll painting of rural Bengal is made by the Patuas, a branch of the Chitrakar caste (picture-maker). The Patuas are professional artists who make images and paintings for a living. Patuas, like the kumars (village potters), started out in the village tradition as painters of scrolls or pats telling the popular mangal stories of the gods and goddesses. For generations these scroll painters or patuas have gone from village to village with their scrolls or pat singing stories in return for money or food. The pats or scrolls are made of sheets of paper of equal or different sizes which are sown together and painted with ordinary poster paints. Originally they would have been painted on cloth and used to tell religious stories such as the medieval mangal poems.

Our day return excursion to one such village, Naya is an authentic village experience traveling through lush green agricultural field, beautiful terracotta temple, seeing local craft such as Madur (grass mattress) weaving, and the highlight is of course, are the scroll painters. We also trace from here the other famous Bengal painting called Kalighat. Nowadays most of these paintings are in the hands of private collectors or locked behind museums doors. From the depiction of Indian goddesses, and other mythological characters, the Kalighat paintings developed to reflect a variety of themes. The charm of the Kalighat paintings lies in the fact that they captured the essence of daily life and they influence modern artistes like the late Jamini Roy even to this day, whose work we would see at the Academy of Fine Arts Kolkata. 

 

ITINERARY

Depart from the hotel after an early breakfast, and drive to Naya village (3.5 hrs). On arrival we first visit the beautiful Terracotta temple of the local Maity family. Proceed later to the village of the scroll painters. Simple, non-spicy home cooked food is served for lunch with mineral water. After lunch we are free to interact with the painters, watch them create intricate works of art, listen to their songs, and visit the houses of the grass mattress weavers.

Late afternoon we head back to Kolkata. A quick tea / coffee break with clean toilet facility are available en route. It would be close to 1930 hrs by the time we are back in Kolkata. Next morning we visit the Academy of Fine Arts before proceeding for our city tour.

For the price and a longer itinerary which includes the beautiful Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur get in touch with me.

Sitting on the Tarmac

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We have all suffered waiting endlessly at the airport for our flights. Sometimes for short distances like Delhi to Jaipur taking a flight seem to be longer that the real road journey. You leave early to reach the airport two hours before for check-in then the invariable delays due to air traffic congestion.

But I never thought one day I would  be sitting on the tarmac waiting patiently for my flight to take-off. Traveling with clients who were first time visitors to India, they were unfortunate enough to find themselves in this situation with me. Our Air-India flight from Khajuraho to Varanasi refused to budge even after several attempt to resuscitate it. Was it Karma ? Whatever the case our friends were very understanding and took everything in their strides.

Incredible India !!

(On a serious note since I’m talking about flying to India, if you are coming to India in December-January avoid landing in Delhi late night or early in the morning. During those two months Delhi has dense fog which hampers visibility. Afternoon flights are safe and its logical to fly out from Mumbai after you complete your tour)