Jaaoon Kahan E Dil (Where on earth should i go?)…..

The snow-clad mountains, the misty verdant mountains, the roaring blue-green oceans and soft sandy beaches, the gurgling streams, the deep mysterious forests, the arid stretches of deserts with shimmering sands, the ancient ruins, the temples, forts, cave dwellings, the palaces, monuments and memorials….the wonderous, scenic, cultural, historical and architectural heritage of the world is but fodder for a travel enthusiast and writer.

When I travel to the mountains, I love to breathe in the unadulterated fresh air and never want to leave….On beaches I return to my childhood gleefully picking up every colorful patterned shell and every smooth pebble…I loose the sense of time when I sit in the idyllic settings of those deep forests with my feet dangling into the clean gurgling rivulet…I imagine the royal maids pampering me as I walk down the ruins of palaces and forts….

However the only news that drums away on sense and sensibilities, these days, are that of destruction, hate attacks, revenge killings, supremacy wars, attacks in name of religion….Terror, like a molten spewing lava of a volcano, is spreading everywhere unleashing anger, frustration and havoc in its wake.

Closer at home, when the valley of Srinagar, Kashmir the ‘Paradise on earth’ should have enchanted the indulgent traveler with the views of towering snow-laden Himalayas…it is more often locked down in chilling grays of fear…when it should have been a riot of colorful tulips…there is a riot, yes, but of stone-pelting uncontrolled crowd…where one would have marveled at the flaming red Chinars…there are flames of unrest….where there should have been gentle lapping sounds of shikara at Dal lake and peaceful calm at Shalimaar Bagh…there are the deafening gun fires, sloganeering and disruptive speeches.

Out there in world, centuries old imposing Bamiyan Buddhas, a symbol of Buddha’s preaching of peace, have turned to dust and what remains is just a laser image of the centuries old heritage, lofty Pyramids are razed to the very ground from where they proudly rose…and there remains the desolate desert. When love should be healing broken hearts…people are gunned down for expressing their sexual inclinations or shot at for their color or killed in name of religion…when the azure waters along the beautiful Promenade should have enthralled many with fireworks sparkling in the sky in happy celebrations….the innocent toddlers and unsuspecting people were trampled under the wheels of a lorry…when airports should have been the symbol of excitement to reach home…guns and bombs made those the place of last journey to heavens above… Munich, Kabul, Nice, Turkey, Srinagar…everywhere the pall of gloom, the shroud of terror…death, pain, hatred!

Actor Aamir Khan invited a lot of ire with his infamous remark of wanting to escape from all the intolerance poisoning the society in the country. But isn’t intolerance rearing its ugly head almost everywhere? No place seems safer….Hatred has clutched man in its strong fangs viciously annihilating the bountiful nature and rich heritage world-wide….

Who knows where the next stray bullet is coming from…..?

So what does a traveler at heart do? Sit at home and feel safe…? Is it but safe there too? Or, spend the rest of the life being scared?

No!! The world, they say, is a book and those who do not travel have read only but a page….

I love to travel and explore new cultures, places, cuisines, people…yes, I do. But for now Mukesh’s song best describes my state…

“Jaaoon kahan bata aye dil, duniya badi sangdil…

Chandani aayi ghar jalaane, sujhe na koi manzil…” 

(O dear heart, tell me where should I go, the world is enveloped in prejudice…

even the moonlight burns home now…where should I travel, I can not decide…)

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The Land Of Royals, Jaisalmer

Steeped in sagas of royalty, bravery, conspiracy and scars from many wars, this city of sun, sand and ship of desert, has abundance of history, art, architecture, and desert adventures on offer for the inquisitive and intrepid travelers besides being a shopper’s delight and I knew from the word go, when we planned a trip to Jaisalmer that it was not going to be one of those lazy weekends.

I was proven right as soon as we ventured out of one of the white tents at the desert camp site. The site was teeming with tourists and hoards of camels adorning bright seats with mirrors, sequins and tassels in most colorful patterns clamored for attention with each owner offering a better deal for a ride on the sand dunes…few enterprising ones even offered to carry beverages on a spare camel cart.

Desert Camp

Desert Camp

Young camel rider racing his ride

Young camel rider racing his ride

Desert delight

We decided to watch the setting sun from the highest dune but with the sun already on its westward journey, it only seemed logical to hire a camel to quickly cross the vast desert. We selected a fairly less crowded spot to wait.

There is something about the soft carpet of sand that invites and tempts even grown-ups to forget their age and indulge in some uninhibited frolic which is denied in a city life not only due to lack of space but also because of the garb of urban civility that we cloak ourselves in. But out there, in countryside away from all pretenses, we can let the child in us express its unadulterated happiness. And so we laughed out loud, slid, slipped and climbed the dunes with bare feet even as with each step we sank in the sand.

A while later a little local ten-year-old girl walked up to us and requested to perform folk dance right there on the dunes. Her father tagged along with his small palm-sized instrument. I joined in for few seconds trying in vain to copy her moves, before rewarding her for the little jig.

Little performer

Little performer

The horizon soon turned deep yellow and crimson, shadows darkened and transformed into a picture postcard…breathtakingly beautiful.

The golden sun setting on the amber sand

The golden sun setting on the amber sand

As the moon rose up to claim the night, the sand shimmered in silver and we stood there, in absolute silence holding hands bathed in moonlight; romance taking a new meaning altogether.

With temperatures plummeting close to freezing point and cold winds adding to the chill the raging campfire was a welcome sight. The evening culminated with the Kalbeliya dancers taking center-stage swaying in a snake-like charm to the folk songs. But later as Bollywood songs took over and camp guests broke into frenzied dance, not in mood to gyrate at those out-of-place songs, we retired cozying up under ‘Jaipuri’ razais and dohars with delicate floral block prints.

Kalbeliya dancer with her huge skirt

Kalbeliya dancer with her huge skirt

Old world charm of the fort city

The next morning we went for a tour of this ‘golden city’ nicknamed so because it lies in the heart of the amber-colored sandy expanse of Great Indian Thar Desert and as far as eyes can see, yellow-brown sandstone walls sizzle in the golden sun.

Trikuta fort

Trikuta fort

Jaisalmer fort at night

Jaisalmer fort at night

A six-seater deposited us till the large age-old wooden fort gate from car-parking at the foot of fort. Soon we were walking through those meandering narrow lanes of the old city enclosed by the massive tawny ramparts of the fort sitting on the ridge of Trikuta hill. Unaccustomed to walking up and down the sloping stone pathways with uneven steps at intervals and a blazing harsh sun for company, it wasn’t long before I started sweating and panting. Few areas shaded by walls of bigger houses brought much wanted relief and I paused to catch my breath.

Negotiating a bend here, an open drain there past the big and small houses still occupied by the descendants and converted to home-stays and shops, I was intrigued to see old brass locks and latches of the kind I had never seen with locking mechanism cleverly concealed in the shapes of fish, elephant trunks, peacocks and even daggers, being sold at a shop. Another antique shop sold the old window frames carved with ornate floral patterns. All around me, the city proudly showed off a delicate artistry and the greedy bystander in me, marveled at all the old world charm that all those jharokhas and jalis exuded.

Among those shops I was in search of one owned by artist Mr Kanu Swami who known for his erotic miniature paintings still practices old techniques in his art. It was easy to locate with paintings covering every inch of his shop. But the erotic art was kept hidden from fear of vandalism. Convinced of our genuine interest he let us have a look at the paintings…and honestly even with all my advocacy of liberal thinking, I felt scandalised.

Miniature artist Kanu Swami and his shop

Miniature artist Kanu Swami and his shop

Street food to shopping

Our little excursion had parched us. Back at car-parking, from the tour of fort city, the smells of the freshly fried kachoris and dal-pakwan did nothing to ease the hunger pangs. We soon succumbed to the tempting aroma wafting from the way-side food-cart next to a government authorised ‘bhang shop’ that proudly displayed its Lonely Planet recommendation.

The sweet chilled mango flavoured lassi brought back much of the sapped energy and spicy pakoras and dal-pakwan never tasted better. With a satiated hunger we were ready to mosey on another set of narrow lanes at foot of the fort for a shopping spree.  Streets overflowed with foreign tourists and zealous shop owners engaged in ruthless selling. The shops spilled over on to the streets further obstructing the limited width.

To me, all shops looked same and yet I stepped in quite a few of them rummaging for that one perfect piece. I shopped for everything from leather mojris, bags, belts, block-print skirts, kurtis, scarves and saris to mirror-work bed-sheets and cushion covers and never realised how the hours flew.

Leather goods overflowing

Leather goods overflowing

A taste of cultural fest

It was almost noon and time for us to drive back home. However, we decided to stretch our stay a little longer and rushed to the venue of desert festival which was in its second day of celebration. The opening ceremony where elaborately decorated camels with equally dressed up royal riders paraded had concluded the previous morning. Though we missed the extravaganza but there was enough royal flavour on display. The perfect attire affects the persona of an individual and with each turbaned man in white dhoti-kurta coming forward to flaunt his carefully coiled long dense moustache, gleaming sword and martial skills on the stage I got a glimpse of days of yore when warriors raised their swords to rend the skies with thundering war-cry. With the honey-gold fort as the backdrop, the gait and stance of those men oozed pride for their Rajput blood and watching them I felt strangely braver than usual.

Rajput warriors

Rajput warriors

My fascination for stories of royalty deepened with this short trip to city named after its founder Maharawal Jaisal, Jaisalmer which literally means ‘Hill of Jaisal”.  And as the ochre landscape disappeared gradually behind our car, I looked back at the magnificent fort-city which like a lion sat claiming its ridge keeping an eye over the expanse of kingdom.

My other stories from Rajasthan:

Forts of Rajasthan, Wandering in the Haunted Ruins of Kiradu, Fast-tracking through Udaipur, A Glimpse of Royalty at City Palace, Udaipur, Guard at the Ganesh Dyodhi, A poetry on stone, Ranakpur, An evening at Lake Pichola, Oasis at Khuri, Sun City: Jodhpur, The Great Indian Thar desert, Where Gods love, Jaipur: Chand Baori, Kuldhara: The haunted village, You are invited

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Cat’s Eye Restaurant, Diu

By the time we finished visiting few of the places at Diu, the sun was high up and we were famished. A quick surfing threw up some names claiming to serve authentic Portuguese cuisine and then some more.

I usually prefer to find out choices in area specific authentic cuisine, but anything beyond the regular fish and poultry dish makes me go all vegetarian… Portuguese cuisine it seemed did not have anything for vegetarians. So off we went in search of something we could relate to…

On our way back to our resort, we chanced upon this restaurant. A peculiar name, Cat’s Eye restaurant caught my eye not only due to its name but also because the resort ‘Hoka Island Villa‘ that houses this restaurant is a quaint large house with an oldish aura.

The Hoka Island Villa

The Villa is named after the Hoka Palm trees or the Doum palm also known as Gingerbread tree, found in abundance in Diu. The trees native to Arabian peninsula and northern Africa are believed to have been brought in by Portuguese when they occupied the region. The palms unlike the usual palm trees, break out in many branches from the main trunk with fan like huge leaves.

Hoka palms near the sitout pavilions along the Nagoa beach

Hoka palms near the sitout pavilions along the Nagoa beach

I felt immediately at ease the moment we stepped in the white entrance portico filled with potted greens. The villa devoid of any fancy extravagant decor was perfect for guests with kids…after all there was nothing breakable; a great relief for mothers!

However it was anything but dull. The bright splashes of colors on walls, the contrasting cane furniture, the old wooden staircase at far left and the floor all oddly blended in to enhance the warm feeling that emanated from the space.

Blues, oranges, whites make it lively place....

Blues, oranges, whites make it lively place….

Nobody among the staff knew why the restaurant owner named it so. But I am guessing it has something to do with the cats and the cat eyed beauties depicted in paintings in the dining area… Now whether the paintings came first or the restaurant is a million dollar question!!

Cat eyed ....

Cat eyed ….

The resort being an old bungalow has just 17 rooms on two floors arranged around a courtyard that has a smallish pool to splash around with covered lounging area to relax. The rooms are simple and done up tastefully with similar bold colors defining the character of the room.

Though we did not stay at the resort, but the staff was generous enough to show me around. I loved the idea of personal small balcony attached to the room.

The Cat’s Eye Restaurant

Besides being a melange of joyful colors with a themed wall for the dining area, the restaurant is a cozy little space. The home style cooking is sumptuous and fresh with quite some choice in food items. The sea-food preparation is praise worthy as is the food for vegetarians.

However, the service suffers if the restaurant has all its dining space occupied with guests. But the ambiance being so relaxed and homely, one doesn’t mind waiting for the food to turn up on table while nursing a drink or two.

Nitpicking

  • In absence of natural breeze, the restaurant becomes slightly uncomfortable with only the ceiling fans being the source of air.
  • I also found the presence of a makeshift kiosk of newspapers, magazines and information near the dining area unsightly…it was definitely taking away the cheeriness of the restaurant.
  • The kitchen though serving fresh food was not presentable enough to be placed right there in the dining space. Either the cooking space should have been in the rear of the resort or designed as open kitchen in bright neat decor if the idea was to let guests see what was being cooked for them.

Facts and Information

  • Rooms are of two types Deluxe and Standard with tariffs Rs 3750 and Rs 3250.
  • Tariff does not include meals.
  • Resort is just a short walk at 200m from the Nagoa beach.
  • The resort can be contacted at hoka@resorthoka.com

We chose to skip meal at our resort Kostamar Beach resort to go again to Cat’s Eye restaurant during our two day stay at Diu.

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Why Take a Vacation?

Vacations are that whiff of fresh air which rejuvenate and relax us. If I am stuck in my work for about three months at a stretch, I start feeling the urgent need to refresh myself…I need to have a break, honestly! Travel makes me feel alive…

Here is a post by Rajveer Khanna:

Benefits of taking a vacation regularly

Majority of us look forward to a holiday and wait for that time of the year when we can take one. And  yet many of us are bogged down with work. We give up  much-needed vacation due to work requirements relegating it to a later date.

A regular practice of cancelling a vacation however may not only decrease the productivity at work, increase stress levels but also jeopardise our health as say most health nutritionists.

A holiday offers a chance to relax and restore your overall sense of well-being. Travel and holiday is undoubtedly a smart choice for the body, mind and soul. So here are few benefits of taking a vacation regularly.

  • Emotional recharge and relaxation

In our fast paced life we often fall short on enough sleep due to high stress every day. This leads to irritability and negative impact on our behaviour. With more and more people facing this problem these days,  a vacation has become imperative for bouncing back to  natural state of well-being.

An adult needs at least seven hours of sleep and a vacation is a great way to recuperate and catch up on sleep. It also recharges us emotionally in a new environment.

Source: Imperial Hotel GalleryIf we are unable to take a long vacation, it is better to take a short vacation over a weekend at a luxury hotel in our own city to relax and rejuvenate. For instance if you live in the capital, consider any of the best hotels in Delhi like The Imperial which offers specially modified and heritage luxurious rooms which will transport you back to a bygone era; just the thing you may need to help get a change and catch up on your sleep.

  • Enjoy the moment.

Travelling to far away  new places teaches us the art of savouring the moment and making the most of today. Nature and scenic sites help in reinvigorating our very soul. Taking a vacation in such a place helps us not only unplug but also forces us to live and enjoy simple joys.

  •  Lowers stress

Commitment and  integrity to follow it up are necessity for a job well done, but one needs to balance it to avoid a burnout and related health problems.  Those who take regular breaks, keep up better health conditions due to reduced stress. However those people who complain about medical bills for stress-related conditions are often the ones who haven’t vacationed in a while. Consider indulging in a spa treatment the next time you are on a vacation or even on a business trip to reduce stress levels.

  • Increases creativity

The change of place helps boost our creativity and allows clear thinking especially as one can easily disconnect from work. Holidays helps slow down our pace and thinking; giving more room for new and improved ideas to flow in.

  • Improved relationships
Enhanced togetherness

Enhanced togetherness

It is a well-known fact that taking a vacation is great to help strengthen the bonds of a relationship. On a vacation one tends to connect and interact much more with a partner or family member in absence of work issues.Sharing various experiences together at a holiday helps build personal bonds and increases quality time with family .

Wouldn’t it  be nicer to spend on a vacation and not on a visit to the doctor for stress?

Even if travel for work is on cards, an extended family vacation never harmed anyone….and once finished with work, quality time with family can be easily planned. The capital city Delhi boasts of many such hotels which offer a completely different and luxurious atmosphere.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags already and club your work and vacation with family to head over to nearest hotel..

Happy vacationing!!

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Chugging Along Aboard The World Heritage Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The mellow morning sun playing hide and seek with the snow-white gossamer clouds made the balmy weather only more pleasant…As I walked down the road towards the little town station I marvelled at the wild flowers swaying eagerly from the hill-side along the road to paint it  in their individual hues; purples, blues, yellows and oranges peeping out of varied shades of greens…. Enchanted I could feel a relaxed silly smile spread on my face directed at no one in particular and yet at every passing tall eucalyptus, every flitting butterfly, a stray goat, a small child, a military vehicle… I had not felt as fresh in months and had heard no music sweeter than the uninhibited chirping of birds.

Road to Wellington Railway Station

Road to Wellington Railway Station

Elated, I did not realise the fifteen minutes it took for the stroll on the steep incline.

The quaint little station of Wellington, my boarding point, still has the old British charm with brightly painted smallish building, a low platform and a smug skinny station master in oversized black coat who suddenly found himself to be the sole authority in courting my inquisitiveness….With an air of self-importance he proceeded to display his annoyance for my request to click pictures and then relented as if doing me a great favour!!

Old world charm at the quaint station

Old world charm at the quaint station

The home to Defence Services Staff College which imparts training to officers of Army, Air Force and Navy, Wellington is a small town on the route of Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

I awaited eagerly for the famous toy train which would take me to Lovedale station for Lawrence School Go UNESCO Heritage Walk.

Display at Wellington platform

Display at Wellington platform

Expecting an age-old steam engine choo-chooing its way to the station, I was slightly disappointed to see the loud honking diesel engine pull up all the five blue carriages back from Ooty. Only later did I come to know that owing to the steep gradient of slope between Coonoor and Ooty, the steam engine is replaced everyday at Coonoor with bio-diesel YDM4 engine.

Nilgiri Mountain Train

Nilgiri Mountain Train returning from Ooty

 UNESCO World Heritage Site

Nilgiri Mountain Train is one of the three mountain railways of India which have been given the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the other two being the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway and Kalka-Shimla Railway. Constructed by British in 1908, Nilgiri Mountain Train is considered an engineering marvel with the steepest track in Asia.

The train starts its uphill journey at Mettupalayam (1069 feet) at foothills of Nilgiris to reach Udhagmandalam(Ooty) at 7228 feet traversing roughly 46 km in five hours through 108 curves, 16 tunnels and 250 bridges.

Besides Mettupalayam, Coonoor,Wellington and Lovedale are the major stations en route to destination Ooty. Usually it is advisable to get seat reserved beforehand on this five carriage train, it being the one most popular touristy things to-do while in the hill station.

Aboard the mountain train

Since my destination Lovedale was only two stops from Wellington, I chose to buy an on the spot ticket. The station master was discouraging me from travel as the chances of availability of seat were slim….but my travel to Lovedale could not have been cancelled or delayed and I decided to try my luck any ways.

Sure enough, when the train from Mettupalayam reached my stop at 10:40 am, it was stuffed with tourists but I boarded the train nevertheless. Packed as we were, I still managed a place near the door with a glass panel.

Slowly the train pulled away from the station at snail’s pace. Verdant hills studded with tea plantations rolled past lazily…cotton candy clouds floated along matching the pace with the train…clusters of hutments with red baked mud shingles perched atop many hillsides saw the train chug past from a distance….forest on the higher hills waved us off with swaying trees…

Verdant rolling hills

Verdant rolling hill

Red mud shingled hutments along the way

Red mud shingled hutments along the way

Most times the train laboured along the steep slope but seemed to hurry at times with a distinct clicky-clack on tracks. We crossed a few bridges and the train groaned slightly and then came a long tunnel….encompassed in darkness, I let my aching arms, which juggled with a backpack and camera capturing the mesmerizing scenery outside, rest till we cleared the tunnel.

I wasn’t complaining about standing cramped in the carriage just because the glass panel of the door allowed me to drink in the breathtaking display of nature.

As the train bid me farewell at Lovedale station, the children peeped and waved at my camera. The guards probably accustomed to being photographed held on to the green flags and allowed me to click away….amused I stood grinning, waving and shooting.

Posing for a picture with green flag

Posing for a picture with green flag

Kids waved back at me as I clicked on

Kids waved back at me as I clicked on

Adieu at Lovedale

 A R Rehman’s Shahrukh-Malaika starrer “Chal chhayian, chhayian chhayian…” song which was shot atop this train, inadvertently escaped my lips as I saw the hooting train snaking away.

By the time I disembarked at Lovedale, the fluffy downy clouds had totally eclipsed the sun…I couldn’t have asked for a better weather and I promised myself a tour of the city as well.

The fresh breeze recharged my aching feet as I stepped out of the train and I walked down the road to Lawrence school to register my participation in Go UNESCO Heritage run.

Nilgiri Mountain Train Trivia

  • The toy train as it is popularly known,  leaves from Mettupalayam around 7.10am. The last train leaves Ooty at 3pm.
  • Private rail excursion tours are available.
  • It is advisable to book tickets much in advance on the train to enjoy the entire journey and avoid unnecessary travel hassles.

Getting there:

  • Coimbatore is the nearest big city accessible to Mettupalayam. It is better to travel by road from Coimbatore to Ooty /Mettupalayam as train services may not be time suitable.
  • The nearest airport is Coimbatore connected by direct flights from Chennai, Kozhikode, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Stay: 

  • I stayed at Wellington at Army establishment. however Ooty and coonoor have many high-end as well as budget accommodations available.
  • May June being the peak tourist season, the hotels overflow with tourists and hence pre booking of rooms is advisable.
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Heritage Run at Udagmandalam

“Is it okay, if I walk instead of running? I haven’t run in ages!!”

When I came to know about this GoUNESCO Heritage Run at Ooty, tempted as I was, I knew I would be panting more than I would be running. I had almost given up but a nagging lingering desire made me post a query on the public forum of Facebook page of Heritage Run.

And guess what? They replied in affirmative….in fact that is what they said they wanted…for people to see heritage in the sylvan beauty of the famous hill town.

Once upon a time I used to run…and win medals…but that was way back in school!  Post marriage, I had taken to long walks, instead, catching up on gossips on the way with close friends.

I immediately registered for participating in the  5 kilometre RUN as soon as I knew that I was allowed to WALK and soak in the beautiful weather, the verdant hills, the chirping birds and the gentle breeze steeped in faintly pungent eucalyptus aroma…

The walk was scheduled on 29 th May at with Lawrence School, Ooty as the starting point. At the registration kiosk the previous day all participants had been provided with run ticket and a tee-shirt with Heritage Run logo printed on it.

Flat top as it is popularly known(Lawrence School Main Building)

Flat top as it is popularly known(Lawrence School Main Building)

On the day of run I reached promptly at six in morning. I was not expecting the warm-up session to be a freestyle dancing at foot tapping Bollywood numbers, but the mike toting girl of the team with her effervescent energy managed to bulldoze everyone from first time runners to marathon runners and from teenagers(well, they did not need any pushing around to dance) to enthusiastic 70 year-olds to sway to the catchy Hindi and Tamil movie songs.

5K run was last to be flagged off. The horse riders of the school led the run…and I was on my way for first such event. On account of rain previous day, the trail through the forest was muddy and slippery. Most participants were in groups and I found myself alone a while later trudging along the trail, marvelling at the flora and at the rolling tea estates at a distance.

Somewhere along the trail

Somewhere along the trail

Stars on Earth

Stars on Earth

Though the route was shortest of the three categories, for a first timer like me it was enough to have a general idea of whole Heritage Run Event. And accomplishing the walk along a trail along the mountains did give exhilarating feeling.

Achieved!

Achieved!

Post the run a sumptuous breakfast awaited us and few women of local Toda tribe performed for us.

Toda performers

Toda performers

Few takeaways from the walk

Medal and certificate of run

Medal and certificate of run

Run Trivia:

Go Heritage Runs

An off-shoot of GoUNESCO, Go Heritage Runs is an award-winning series of fun runs organized across India at various heritage locations, all through the year. Designed with an aim to make it a holistic experience and run-vacation for friends and family, these are organised at heritage sites like Hampi, Khajuraho, Murud-Janjira etc .

GoUNESCO has something for everyone travellers, writers, photographers, fitness enthusiasts and history buffs. They also have student programmes and volunteer options.

Go Heritage Run Calender 2016

While the January saw participants run at Hampi, Karnataka, it was Warangal for February and Ooty in May. Next few runs are:

JULY: Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

OCTOBER: Udaipur, Rajasthan

NOVEMBER: Bidar, Karnataka

DECEMBER: Murud Janjira, Maharashtra 

Stay: The organisers had catered for accommodation in school premises itself on first cum first serve basis and by April mid-week they were full.  I had to fend for my stay. May-June being the peak tourist seasons at Ooty, it is better to plan and book accommodation as early as possible.

Cost: Excluding the cost of stay, I paid about Rs 1164 for the Heritage run which included breakfast, a tee shirt and participation fee.

Travel: Buses ply from Ooty bus stop to Lovedale where the school is situated. The Nilgiri Mountain Train needs early reservation for seat availability or like me one can travel standing inside a cramped compartment with other last-minute travellers. Taxis also are available at various spots.

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Haridwar – The Treasure of Uttarakhand

When I was a teenager, my parents were located in crime saturated Muzzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. Haridwar and Rishikesh were the two close destinations where we would often go….it gave my mother some peace. I loved going to Har ki Paudi…the stepped ghat at River Ganga.

Once when my 80-year-old grandfather was visiting, he wished to relive his childhood and take a dip in the holy water of revered river Ganga. So off we went from Muzzaffarnagar to Haridwar. Early morning next day we reached Har ki Paudi. The waters were cold and I was content to just dip my feet sitting on the steps.

My grandfather however was adamant and as my father held on to his hand, he immersed his body completely in the river…not once, not twice but three times and stayed under water for a good minute and half each time. He was shivering and his skin was all pink but the happiness that shone on his face was worth million dollars.

Later in the evening we saw huge gathering of people to not only attend the Ganga Arti but also to see Mr Gulshan Kumar of T-Series music company who was filming the evening.

I have fond memories of our frequent visits to Haridwar but this blog did not exist way back in 1991. Then a request for guest post piqued my interest and I thought…Why not?

So here goes the GUEST POST by Avyaya :

Haridwar in Uttarakhand, considered a sacred territory, is visited by thousands of pilgrims all year round from across the globe. Hindus hold a certain respect and fondness for this place. Set at the gorgeous foothills of the Himalayas, Haridwar also popularly called ‘The Gateway to Gods’ has abundant natural beauty and is a popular religious retreat owing to temples for many Hindu Gods. Drive down in a taxi from Delhi to Haridwar and experience a part of this mesmerizing city’s heritage.

Haridwar is truly a magnificent city, where the holy Ganges enters the North Indian Gangetic plain. It is renowned for the celebration of KumbhMela every twelve years, which is a major religious gathering for 40 days. Drive away from the usual tourist attractions and instead discover some of the hidden secrets this offbeat city has to offer.

Walk through the vast food farms

Patanjali_centerWhile most visitors follow the typical Haridwar temple trail, you can experience a different vibe of this city by driving to the country’s largest food park. As you drive towards the city in a Delhi to Haridwar cab, you will find the food park located 20km away from the main city. On the behest of Baba Ramdev, the famous yoga expert, the food farm was opened inside the premises of Patanjali Yogpeethand is spread across hundreds of acres. Take a quiet walk along the medicinal plants and fresh organic produce at the park, before driving into Haridwar.

Clock Tower at Har Ki Pauri Ghat

Drive through the streets at dawn and you will see a very different side of Haridwar in all its splendour, apart from all its popular temples. You will see towering palaces or havelis, and other such beautifully constructed buildings, which are a treat to the eyes. While you consult your guidebook about the history of these intricately designed and decorated structures, you will be pleasantly amused to hear various stories about their establishments.

Clock tower

While some say that the havelis were a mark left by the kings of yesteryears, the sadhus or ash smeared ascetics wandering the streets in an eternally inebriated state believe the structures appeared out of nowhere. As you explore these buildings, you might just have a story of your own as well.

Enjoy the juicy red Lychee

Rent a cab in Delhi from Savaari’s car rental in Delhi and drive to this treasure trove of a city. As you drive to MK Gandhi road and cross the HRA College, you will be pleasantly surprised at the sudden burst of colours your eyes see. The spread of lychee farms all around you, make for a fascinating spectacle. The green and red plump lychees almost bring down the branches, and you can pluck a few as you walk through the farms.

green lychees

Have a sweet tooth?

SweetsHaridwar offers a variety of Laddus and Jalebis Haridwar is famous for its Jalebis, when it comes to sweets. However, one of the many celebrated secrets of this city is its Laddus. The little balls of sweet are prepared in over thirty varieties and will definitely leave you wanting more. Make a quick stop at the Khanna Sweet House and buy a few boxes for the way.

Haridwar has also become a hub of Yoga centres and spas and a few of them are worth exploring. So next time you want a dose of Hinduism, set course to Haridwar…

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A Holiday In The US of A

I love to travel…period. But it’s not everyday that we plan a holiday, a month-long at that, abroad, because honestly that is a big decision and a hell lot of budgeting….And yet we did plan for a month-long vacation to the United States.

Our 15th wedding anniversary was a milestone in our married life and a reason good enough to plan a large-scale holiday. Added to that was a promise to our growing up daughter for a trip to Disneyland before she outgrew the fascination towards Disney Princesses…

Located in an obscure little town at the time,  we needed to travel  to Mumbai to board our International flights from the new just an year-old swanky glitzy T2 international terminal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport. Jodhpur being the nearest airport from our location, we drove and stayed overnight at the Officer’s Mess of Indian Air Force.

Our excitement knew no bounds…the entire evening seemed never-ending and sleep eluded us even at night. Next morning there was no need of any shrill alarm to wake us up…each one of us was eager to climb out of bed and rush to airport to board the Air India flight to Mumbai.

At T2 anybody could have guessed that it was my first flight out of country…and surprisingly I was in no mood to keep a lid over my joy or to mask my happiness under the garb of a nonchalant cool poise. We had kept our fingers crossed for too long a time and it was the moment to let go all of our fears of last-minute hitches.

DSC_0012

Clicking away at T2 lounge area

Only when we were mid-air, did the reality sink in… Our first stopover was Brussels. The wide emerald-green carpet of grass at the shoulders of runway made it look as if we landed in middle of a well laid out huge lawn…I wanted to just lie down on those greens staring up at the clouds floating above…

Lawn like green carpet shouldering the parking bay of aircraft

Lawn like green carpet shouldering the parking bay of aircraft

The two hours at our disposal at the airport were not enough to explore the lounge area. We found just the place to stretch our cramped legs after a long flight…a little coffee shop just opposite a chocolate shop….the aim obviously was to scout for variety of famous Belgian Chocolates post a cup of hot coffee.

We were indeed spoilt for choices. Varieties of Belgian Pralines with marzipan, nuts and liqueurs sat there waiting to be eaten. I had never tasted the salted and chilly chocolates ever before. We bought an assortment of chocolates hoping those would last till the holiday….Ha! there never ever was even the remotest chance of that happening. We also bought a bottle each of Virgin Mojito and Red Wine at airport to celebrate later.

Soon we boarded the next flight to Newark, New York. We landed on a little chilly but crisp morning and sat waiting for our hotel pick-up shuttle….30th September 2014…Our holiday had begun!

I was not an intrepid traveller with luxury of wandering and relaxing at my will to soak in the experience of my visit….We had gone as ‘tourists’ to visit and see every important landmark in least time on a tight budget. And that is what we did….tick off things to see from our ‘List of To-Do in America’.

The first three days we did extensive bus-tours, tiring foot travelling to and fro to subway and bus stops, museums and hunted for inexpensive food carts. Times Square and Empire state building featured every time we took the bus tours.

By end of three days I was tired of the perpetually lit Times Square with huge billboards, the background noise of humans, vehicles and blinking display….I felt I was trapped inside a giant video game…

Times Square

Times Square

New York done, we rented a car and drove  to Niagara Falls and back to New York. Niagara was undoubtedly beautiful. A boat ride in the river took us close to falls. Then we headed to Washington DC. We ticked off museums, memorials, monuments and Capitol hill. We missed White House tour because it needed 6 month prior permission and clearance.

The Needle

The Needle

We had started from one coast and planned to travel to other coast visiting every major destination in the way. With a brief stop in Detroit at my cousin’s, we covered Chicago, Yosemite, Vegas, Grand Canyon and San Francisco spending two days at least everywhere. The grand finale of our long vacation was Los Angeles and Disneyland.

Disneland

Disneyland

We reached LA in style…driving down the most picturesque road along the Pacific Ocean.

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Our vacation though immense fun, did not give us much chance to enjoy things at slower pace….yet there is so much to share…so many stories. It is two years now almost and I have  chronicled only a few of my travel tales from America .

What I wouldn’t give to travel again…but hopefully at leisure this time!

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Road To Kodaikanal

I love taking road trips (preferably in self driven cars) not only because it gives me an excuse to travel to new places but also because it affords me a melange of sights all through the journey…a weird tree stump, a garishly dressed up couple, a pond with water lilies, a sunset, an odd signboard, a flight of birds, a field of sunflowers, an abandoned structure…..

We hit the road to escape the sweltering heat and vapid routine to the cooler climes of Kodaikanal. The capacious ebony highway sizzled in the copious wrath of the flaming relentless sun. The wet patches that seemed to appear suddenly on the ribbonous road were tricks that the almost melting asphalt, devoid of the cool green cover, played on our vision.

Off the curbed road on both sides however, ubiquitous coconut palms swayed in neat arrays…The tempting shade of the coconut groves and realization that those green orbs holding sweetest natural water inside them were not for our taking, forced us to drink more of the cool bottled water that was stocked up in the car.

Coconut grove...so near yet so far

Coconut grove…so near yet so far

Yellow boards in Tamil and the coconut plantations were the only proof of little hamlets that we whizzed past. There was almost nobody on the road barring one odd vehicle that groaned along on the highway. Soon the young banana plantations with broad emerald-green leaves appeared but much closer to the tar strip than the coconut groves. Again making me long for the crisp banana chips but we made peace with potato wafers from the car.

My urge to see the landscape rushing by beyond the car window made me take out the window sunshade, time and again. It was not even noon but harsh sun-rays were scorching and I yearned for some respite….

The three-hour ride to Dindigul on the oven-hot bitumen had made me doubt our decision of taking the road trip.  But thankfully, it was only a few months ago that we had changed the old tyres with the new CEAT ones, because had we driven with the old ones, the heat of road would surely have caused the tyres to burst.

Beyond Dindigul, it seemed as if someone high in heavens had heard our prayers.  The four lane highway tapered and there appeared large tamarind trees with dense foliage along the now lesser wide two lane road. The thick shade at once provided much wanted relief….like a cold shower dousing the fire….

Tamarind trees provide much relief

Tamarind trees provide much relief

Unlike the seemingly uninhabited areas earlier, there were more people on this patch of road…the vegetable vendors, fruit sellers, tea kiosks and tender coconut vendors with heaps of those green orbs to pick and choose from. Needing no invitation we promptly pulled over for the ‘malai’ and ‘nariyal pani’. Several other people had cued up for quenching their thirst with that power-packed gift of nature.

A petite dark-skinned woman with her sari pulled up slightly tucked at waist, wielded the heavy sharp long knife and chopped away the hard shell of coconut deftly, inserting a cheap plastic straw at the top before handing it over to the waiting customer. Her little son flitting around in muddy shorts handed straws to his mother and collected the empty shells in a heap. What intrigued me was her multi tasking skills. A brief lull in the continuous stream of customers and she quickly tidied up the place off bits and pieces of chopped coconut. No wonder hers was the busiest stall among street vendors…

Tender Coconut in heaps

Tender Coconut in heaps

Re-energised, we set on road again under the canopy of tamarind trees. Soon the shade disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared and we hit the winding road that would lead us to our destination.

Narrower road flanked by hill on one side and a gradually deepening drop on other side indicated our destination was just a few bends away. Tall trees wrapped in vines began accompanying us. The long-tailed curious monkeys darted along the road expecting some titbits from the vehicles lining up on the road ahead. A new toll tax pavilion slow in dispensing the go-ahead permission forced the cars and buses to queue up and await the turn. We were there to enjoy the journey and not in any particular hurry to reach the hill station so the half hour wait at the toll station did not dampen our spirits.

With no traffic fumes, dust and no harsh sun at all, I finally rolled down my car window and the fresh mountain air simply engulfed me.  Another bend later the entire landscape changed….the air was cooler and the whole hill-side along the road stood tall with forest of eucalyptus trees ruling the skyline. There was a distinct aroma…medicinal, slightly pungent but not revolting and oddly refreshing…

Eucalyptus all the way

Eucalyptus all the way

I literally drank with my eyes, the sight of mountain slopes, chirping birds, blue sky… even the dry leafless trees seemed to smile back in rustic natural beauty.

Beauty lies in eyes of beholder...a rustic dry tree

Beauty lies in eyes of beholder…a rustic dry tree

I sat soaking in the nature and realised only some time later as the hill-side packed with coloured houses jostling for space crept up on the horizon…The road to Kodaikanal had reached its destination.

Hill town of Kodaikanal packed with small houses

Hill town of Kodaikanal packed with small houses

A journey is equally important as the destination….and a road trip better. My child like exuberance when I am on a road trip is best explained in this quote:

“To look, really look out upon the world as it is framed in the window of a moving vehicle is to become a child again”

Wouldn’t you give anything to be a child again…?

‘I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.’

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10 Destinations Safe Enough To Travel Solo or In An All-Woman Group

This article was written for and has first appeared on  Women’s Web. 

Who doesn’t like to travel to new places and be free of chaos of regular life, to relax and rejuvenate….to just be one with nature? Women at times are concerned about safety which makes them think twice before going solo for travel.

This has changed now however. More and more women are taking up travelling for sake of their own happiness. Those who are wary of loneliness join in groups to travel.

Here are a 10 destinations which I feel are safe for women travellers.

http://www.womensweb.in/2016/04/10-safe-travel-destinations-in-india-all-woman-group/

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