Lepakshi

Here is where the famous symbol of a Nandi is really situated. The giant monolith of Nandi. Lepakshi is also famous for its miraculous hanging pillar.
10440288_10154879544315037_6997217040299204581_n

It is a heritage site thankfully being preserved and maintained by Archeological Survey of India. Its a nice one day drive for Bangaloreans. A mere 125 kms. For those who use public transport, you may find this post more useful.
From Bangalore it requires you to take any (KSRTC or Private service) bus that is headed towards Hindupur or Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, other route is to head towards Chikkaballapura(it may be easier to return from this route). You can board these buses without any prior booking from either Majestic bus station or Hebbal (opp Esteem mall) costs 80/- per head. It takes about 2-3 hours to reach Hindupur, take a drop and then look for a bus or local transport till Lepakshi. A bus or auto ride shouldn’t cost more than 20/- as per local rates, but since we looked to be from Bangalore, we paid almost 100/- for the ride. After about 1 hour the bus drops you right in front of temple, in the Lepakshi village.

1511821_10154879603125037_5007047449520602994_o

People tend to spend atleast 2 hours in this temple campus, as this campus holds quite intriguing pieces of art, and is a very relaxing place. Advise you to hire a guide who explain you many nuances of the campus, as most of them are very humble and you don’t need to haggle at all. Only thing disappointing was the haphazard town that has grown around and between this temple campus and the huge Nandi monolith – they are supposed to be a combined experience, the village around completely hampers this. It is sad, there was no one monitoring whenever this urbanisation took place.

Lepakshi 2

At the temple the stories and meanings behind all carvings and paintings will amaze you. All paintings being on the ceiling, have managed to still be visible, but this place needs some serious frescos done – well most heritage sites in India are subjected to ignorance. The famous hanging pillar is found here. The temple structure is supported by 80 pillars, however with certain dynamics of the architecture, the single hanging pillar holds the weight of rest 79 pillars. In the past whenever an architect or even British officers tried to bring support to the hanging pillar, there were cracks and crevices created into rest of the structure, deeming it to crumble soon. So it has remained hanging ever since. Every temple has a surrounding campus, with the main temple at the centre. A huge monolith of Nandi was placed to face the main temple at about 500 mts, however a disconnect has been created between the structures by the town – as I mentioned earlier.
Lepakshi 1

You can return by taking a bus either towards Hindupur or Chikkaballapura, or a local auto to the NH 7 highway junction (the locals will easily guide you), where you will find buses going towards Bangalore every 15 mins. In 2-3 hours you will be back in Bangalore.

Best time to visit this region is in the winters Nov- Jan.

Rann of Kachchh

IMG_0171Frankly, Rann of Kachchh somehow did not fascinate me before in my life, I perceived and assumed it will be an arid place with hot winds, without putting much thought into why do people even get so excited to visit it. Very ignorant of me, or so I chose to be for unknown reasons. It all started with a bunch of people in my group planning a trip to this place in the Republic day long weekend. It was then that while putting up the event for them on our group website and page, I came across beautiful images and ofcourse some information about the weather there. So it was going to be chilly, and colourful…to my surprise (ya I know how ignorant I am!!). The photographer in me literally wanted to run to the Rann..to capture all it had to offer.
Our group however this time did not follow a single common plan, We were 8 people traveling to Gujarat, but we got divided into 4 groups due to different choice of number of days, things to do, accommodation and also budget. I have tried to trace all of our itineraries into a single map, and the days spent vary from 6 – 3. Some added 2 more days to the long weekend, while some just opted to spend only the weekend.
Guj trip Map

Group 1 itinerary: (Red dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, hire taxi -> Adalaj -> Modhera -> Rani ka Vav in Patan -> Haveli in Sidhpur -> Halt for the night at Toran Resort
22nd – Dholavira ruins & Little Rann
23rd Check into Dhordo Tent City -> inclusive packages for Bhuj sightseeing, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th hire taxi to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2-3 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 35,000-40,000

Group 2 itinerary: (Brown dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, public transport -> Ahmedabad city -> Adalaj -> night train to Bhuj
22nd Check in to hotel Oasis in Bhuj -> local bus to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> back to Bhuj in bus -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th back to Bhuj -> Kutch Museum, Ramkund -> shopping in Bhuj -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000-30,000

Group 3 itinerary: (Green dot)
23rd land in Bhuj -> pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Check out Tent City -> Bhujodi village for craft shopping -> Kalo Dungar -> taxi to Nakhatrana (J.P. Resort) for night stay
25th taxi to Lakhpat Fort -> Narayan Sarovar -> Koteshwar Temple -> Nakhatrana -> Bhuj -> Vijay Vilas Palace in Mandvi -> Bhuj -> evening flight back to Bangalore
Cost of 1 night at Tent City – INR 6,500
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 30,000

Group 4 itinerary: (Blue dot) this one is mine, so I can give more detailed costs
22nd land in Bhuj in evening -> Check in to hotel Raj Mahal in Bhuj -> dinner -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd walk to Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal -> Sharad Baug -> check out of hotel -> hire taxi to Hodka village -> Bhujodi Village for shopping -> check in at resort Mehfeel-e-Rann -> Kalo Dungar -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th taxi to Kutch Fossil Park -> Lakhpat Fort -> Sunset at Rann, Moonrise at Rann -> evening at Rann Utsav shopping campus
25th taxi back to Bhuj -> check in to Divya Jyot Hotel -> Ramkund step well(missed Kutch Museum due to steep timings) -> taxi to Mandvi, Vijay Vilas Palace -> Ship building yard -> Mandvi Beach
26th check out from Bhuj -> morning fly back to Bangalore
Per head Cost of 2 nights at Hodka – INR 4,000 | Cost of stay in Bhuj – INR 1,200
Per head Flight BLR – BHUJ – INR 12,000 – 18,000
Per head Taxi fare for 3 days – INR 3,900
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 35,000

FOOD:

idli

Cocktail idli

Bhuj is famous for Dabeli, but finding a good Dabeli in Bhuj was not in my fate this time. Having a non-foodie companion does not help either. Our Taxi driver was also the most clueless guy and had basically no idea about a good Dabeli. We tried some in Mandvi at ‘Joshi dabeli’ thela which was again a wrong place. Group 2 apparently liked the Dabeli at Mandvi beach. I had a good enough one at Rann Utsav food stalls.
Farsani Duniya is a must visit in Bhuj, ask anyone for directions. Try to buy most of farsan items, all are equally good.
Green Rock gujarati thali is overrated, costs as much as it would in Bangalore, minus the good location or seating whatsoever.
Restaurant at Hotel Oasis is amazing with its south indian specialities, trust me when I say that as you won’t find those food items anywhere in South India itself. Cocktail idli-a truly amusing combination of spices I could not figure out, Chettinad masala idli to name some.
Meals served at Hodka/Mehfeel-e-Rann were awesome, Bajra Roti with Ghee and jaggery…yummy. Sabji was mostly undercooked, hence untouched by me.
Vegetarian food only, at best you might spot eggs through your trip.

STAY OPTIONS:

rann stay
As all of us took up quite different stay options depending on availability and affordability of the accommodation, here are some insights about them:
Rann Utsav Dhordo Tent City Accommodation – Costs about INR 13,000 per night for a twin sharing tent, one bed extra costs a bit more.
http://www.rannutsav.net/accommodation/
In all it is not a bad deal, unlike the reviews you will read on trip advisor. The cost includes scrumptious and freshly prepared meals, coordinated trips to most of important places of attraction, pickup and drop facility from Airports/Stations, with many other amenities within Tent campus.
Hodka Village, Mehfeel-e-Rann – This place offers an authentic mud hut stay, decorated Kachchhi style, neat and clean, well-maintained and extremely cordial service with absolutely no flaws. Costs about INR 2,000 per night including all 3 meals in a day. They accommodate your taxi driver without any questions (I think they have tie-ups), food for driver will also be provided without any extra costs. Tea is really nicely done, if you are a fan of perfectly prepared Chai. The hut facility in all is very scenic and comfortable.
hodka
Nakhatrana, JP Resort – According to Group 3, this was an excellent location to be in, as most attractions are merely at 1 hour distance from here. Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar or Bhuj or Mandvi. They basically were able to cover all these 3 locations while their 1 night stay (2 half days).
Bhuj, Raj Mahal Hotel – A not so good looking or neat place, but as we got it for a good discount, costed INR 800 for a twin sharing room for 1 night. Worked. Walkable from Bhuj Bus station. All tourist atttractions mentioned in this post are at walkable 10 min radius from this Hotel. Reaching here from Airport or Railway Station may cost between INR 100-120.
Bhuj, Hotel Oasis – This is located slightly away from the central area of Bhuj, but you can manage to walk into most of town from here. Costed between INR 800-1,000 for 1 night. They have a good restaurant I already mentioned.
Bhuj, Hotel Divya Jyot – This facility is horrible for the price, worse than a hostel, rooms are almost without much privacy, you can hear the reception area all the time, with screaming guests. Its location is very near to the Airport though just 2 kms, auto will cost about INR 60. Costed INR 1,400 for a night (supposedly discounted)

ATTRACTIONS:

rann sun moon
Rann of Kachchh – Undoubtedly the most special thing of this trip. First tip is to carefully find a taxi guy who is really knowledgeable about which spot to take you to. Mostly you will find them along with Tent City packages, or if you are lucky to find one in Bhuj. Our taxi guy was clueless and repeatedly took us to all the most touristy spots only, heavily crowded, even at the Rann. Little Rann of Kachchh is way better to be at so I heard, try go there instead. The Moonrise is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll come across, plan for a full-moon night.
chi lamps
Luckily on our first visit to the Rann a night before full moon, we had a wonderful surprise – a group of people lighting and sailing off Chinese lamps into the sky. I tried very hard to capture on my cameras..but in vain (I just don’t know how to get my cam settings for the night!). What a beautiful sight was it, I wish it went on..they were apparently having a photoshoot going on there.
chi lamp 2
A night before full moon, the moon is almost full and rises early for you to be able to capture its image, so it was a good time anyway.

kalodungar sun moon
Kalo Dungar – Don’t  know why it is named as a ‘Black mountain’, it hardly appears so, but being the highest point in Rann, is definitely a breathtaking sight from here. Evening is a good time to visit this place, as you see the misty vast expanse of Rann of Kutch Lake that blends into the horizon. You can only wish that such a sight is of the Arabian sea from here..its not, its the lake enclosing Dholavira site. Life like installations of animals found in the area are displayed at Kalo Dungar.
kalo dungar

Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal – Located in the same campus, Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal are opposites that are evidence of contrasting cultures which colonialism brought into India. Aina Mahal is built inside a small portion of the dilapidated state of a Queen’s Residence, which follows traditional architecture and is ofcourse left alone to perish with time. On the other hand, Prag Mahal the completely out of place and the only European style building in the old city of Bhuj, is completely renovated and far better maintained than its Indian neighbour. They keep a bold sign board stating that the Queen’s Residence suffered due to 2001 earthquakes, but is that an excuse or a memorial for the earthquake itself? we’ll never get the logic.
Prag Aina 1

aina1

Few paintings of Mastani, the famous dancer-lover from Peshwa Bajirao’s court are displayed here. Wiki says she was exiled or prisoned somewhere at this site until she died.

Ramkund – A very small step well, almost unimportant. There may be stories about it, required to find someone who can tell you. From this place you can see the Prag Mahal across the Bhuj Lake, where is sits like a stranger in the otherwise traditionally build town of Bhuj.

Sharad Baug Palace – The Palace was damaged in 2001 earthquake, and as you will get used to listening to this excuse for most of heritage sights in this region, you will know how you are slowly being pushed to lose interest in these places. Don’t know why the authorities don’t get this, no tourist – no revenue. The belongings of the Haveli are being showcased in the outhouse of this Haveli, which is the usual aristocratic stuff like china ware, silver ware and dead stuffed wild animals owned by the Maharaja.
IMG_0078

Bhujodi Village – You will read a lot of about this place as one of tourist spots. Turns out our taxi driver did not have much idea and he left us somewhere at the beginning of the village, which had pretty okay sort of stuff to buy, and not such reasonable prices. The real village with all craftsmen is much inside, so please find out and go.
bhujodi

Kutch Fossil Park – This place is much less known, and clearly our taxi guy had never heard about it. Thankfully some road signs helped us reach the location, because when in Kachchh you just cannot rely on the phone network. Airtel stays perennially down. The Fossil collection is amazing, and thankfully a very well informed guide available at your service to explain everything to you.
fossil park

Lakhpat Fort – This place is probably the closest you can get to the Border area, its arid and dry, but offers a beautiful view nonetheless – a vast expanse of sand and sea which turns into nothing with shortcomings of human vision. Definitely a very important place from historical point of view.
lakhpat

Mata na Madh – A typical temple shrine dedicated to a diety/goddess. I was told that its a very holy shrine, where people from Mumbai side walk on foot to reach here during Navratri. I’m not so religious so hardly ever visit such places, because they are so damn commercialised, and lose their real structure or old architecture to cater to large volumes of devotees. Our Taxi driver was hell-bent on taking us there, and he did. Disappointment and nothing else. overcrowded and nothing too beautiful to marvel at. Only devotees know what it means, not me.

Vijay Vilas Palace – A beautiful palace, having featured in many films by now, is being badly maintained by the Govt. and why not, they barely charge a INR 5,000 per hour for holding family functions. That’s it? no wonder they can’t gather funds to maintain this place. When we went there, a tamboo-tent was being set up for some marriage function. Shame. Would have loved to walk to the little hilly side of estate around this property facing the sea, it would have given a nice view of the place. But my companion wasn’t keen as usual in doing anything out of tourist-list. We enjoyed the wind on Palace’s top floor for a while, thank god for that.
vijay vilas

Mandvi Beach – A relatively less crowded beach, you can sight this beach from top of Vijay Vilas Palace. You can see the windmills installed on this beach, which are out of use and in ignored condition. You can try the Dabeli here, please do not litter on the beach.

Mandvi Ship building Yard – If you happen to pass this place, you can view huge ships being built on the side of a very dirty stream of a river, clogged with human waste and neglect.

Dholavira Archeological site – Only one of our groups had been here, and as told it is definitely an important site from historical perspective, being the only place as old as Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Try to do it.

I have to admit, this trip was a fail for me as I did not plan it well enough to fulfil my photography endeavours at all. I learnt to follow one thumb rule this time – always try look for a photographer’s company, who will understand the importance of stopping in middle of nowhere just to click a perfect shot. Unfortunately this time even though the planned group comprised of so many photographers, I happened to choose a different itinerary than them. My bad. It was partially due to lack of time, and money as well. As always, even though I hate it, I end up following a tourist trail like crazy..because people often want to “Cover” all places they heard or read about. Its hilarious how I never end up traveling like I want to 🙂 just to please everyone around me.
Full moon light shining on the white ground was definitely a sight I will cherish forever.

1000 km long weekend

IMG_9957
It was long weekend in the offing, and as no surprise – everything and anything within 500 Km radius of Bangalore will not remain available. And we just hate booking off place well in advance – a week or 2 before the date arrives..works fine for us. We started by browsing the map for leads to places that could be seen in a window of a day or 2 if not for the complete 4 days of long weekend. There was no chance of settling for a homestay somewhere in typical picturesque options like Chikmagalur/ Shimoga/ Sakleshpur, first because Bangaloreans won’t leave out anything unbooked! second because we usually aren’t the relaxing kind and would ultimately not use most amenities at the stupid homestays.. we just won’t stay in the homestay.
wkend map
Hassan seemed like a very good option, as it seemed to be a centre from all places of visit like the heritage sites of Halebidu-Belur-Belavadi circuit, or the coffee plantation trails of Sakleshpur and the historical Manjrabad Fort, and bang next to the spooky(and so photogenic) ruins of Shettihalli Church. To add, accommodations are always available at Hassan, simply because most of tourist-type Bangalore doesn’t consider Hassan (just yet)
IMG_9727
We headed early morning from Bangalore on the NH48 to Hassan. We decided to check out Shravanbelagola on our way, which was a slight off from the highway we were taking. At Shravanbelagola, you need to trek the rocky hill with bare foot, no shoes, since it is a religious landmark. No wonder not many people do it. The scorching heat made the rock floor unbearable, wouldn’t dare to try. The hill isn’t small one either. We gazed at it from far and left the zone. Having breakfast and butt-breaks along some A2B’s & Adigas & CCDs we reached Hassan at about 2:30 pm. We checked in, and relaxed planning for our next jaunts. Free Wi-Fi does work sometimes.

Next morning after our complimentary breakfast we headed straight towards Sakleshpur, in about an hour we were there. A mere 45-50 kms. We reached Manjrabad Fort. Its a nice place, but full of plastic filth dumped there by the tourists. There is not even a single dustbin installed in that entire area of the fort, I’m sure there can be a job created for a care-taker & some management, IF locals are willing to do it sincerely.
manjrabad
We spent a good hour meandering its octagonal outline and clicking pics, and by 12 we were out driving by coffee estates on outskirts of Sakleshpur. On the way we spotted almost all the homestays we had checked out online while considering staying plan a week ago. They didn’t seem half as good a idea compared with what we were doing currently (and paying currently). While having lunch at a recommended joint in Sakleshpur, we decided to head for Belur-Halebidu-Belavadi in the next half. Watching sunset at Shettihalli was high on list but there was too much time on hand till then. So we moved on post lunch to Belur, and we were done by all 3 by 4 pm. We decided to head back to Hassan and sip some chai before we can move to Shettihalli, which was about 20 kms down from Hassan. It was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Hassan and sun was already on its way down once we finished tea. Considering Shettihalli Church being at a secluded zone and almost unknown to crowds, we decided it will be better to do it early in the morning.

At Hassan you can dine away your hearts full at Ramaa Hotel’s Swaad restaurant. The food was amazing and has some very good Icecream Sundae options. The place is quite a hit will locals it seems and also people from near by villages. It was packed on all days.

Next morning we started to see the ruins of Shettihalli Church. The sight is no doubt breathtaking, and thankfully still not thronged with people. May be because there isn’t much to do there, and the vendors have decided to spare this place as a potential customer base. It remains quiet and secluded for a equally quiet picnic spot, with birds enjoying the waters of the Gorur-Hemavathi Reservoir, also a few boatman.
shettihalli

Our stay at Hassan was getting over and we headed next towards the district of Coorg – to Madikeri. I don’t have much to talk about Madikeri, as it was quite ugly as expected. A hill-station but ofcourse ruined by now with the advent of tourist culture and ‘Traffic’ created by tourist vehicles. We generally just walked around, missing out every tourist-spot mentioned in the book. Weather was too warm for October with slight mist forming on our bike seats and helmets – thats about it.
windmill scene
The route while driving to Madikeri & back was more scenic than the place itself. Homestays ofcourse make more sense if you want to experience a hill-station. Unfortunately, all the famous restaurants that serve Coorg curries and appams were for some reason not working. ‘Taste of Coorg’ had a very bad stink inside its serving area …for which I will probably never enter it again in this life. ‘Raintree’ was only serving Chinese that day. These are the top Tripadvisor recommendations! I was able to find the coorg chicken curry at Hill View hotel, which was lipsmacking! Once I’ve had my fill of coorgi food, I was ready to go back to the hustle-bustle of Bangalore. The bike meter displayed about a 936 Kms covered on this trip.

Hassan – Hotel Mayura International – Rs.1600/- per night (includes Breakfast, Free Wi-Fi, TV, neat and clean rooms, Parking)
Swaad Restaurant at Hotel Ramaa – Meal for 2 (Rs.250-400/-)
Hotel Mythri, Sakleshpur – Meal for 2 (Rs.250/-)
Madikeri – Hotel Hill View – Rs.1500/- per night (Wi-Fi, TV, parking)
Raintree Restaurant – Meal for 2 (Rs.300/-)

Heritage site hopping weekend

Our Weekend plan was to hop starting from Badami – Mahakoota – Patadakkal – Aihole – upto Bijapur. We did this on a July weekend, 2015.

Bijapur way

We started our planning about 2 weeks before it. Our itinerary was based on some research and discussions amongst us over emails. We were 7+1 kiddo.

We took a train from Bangalore, Golgumbaz express 16536, to Badami. It goes up to Bijapur, but we wanted to head up by starting at the bottom (see map). All of us boarded from different stations and finally set out of Bangalore by 6:30 p.m. The train ran on time, and we reached Badami at 8 am.
IMG_3706
At Badami Station, as we walked outside, it is easy to hire a 6 seater taxi to the only Govt.accommodation, Hotel Mayura, at a cost of Rs.100. We spoke to the same guy to take us around Badami, Mahakoota, Aihole & Pattadakal for the whole day. I think we fixed him for some 2000 bucks for the day.
At the hotel, they are quite humble and check-in or check-out timings are not very strict and they often cut you some slack. They let us check in early. We freshened up, had a nice breakfast at the hotel canteen itself, and headed out.
We decided that we will check out Badami caves at the end of the day, so we first headed for Mahakoota, as it seemed to be nearest from there.
mahakoota 1Thankfully, this beautiful site was not flanked with crazy noisy tourists. We spent way too much time there thinking where will we get this serenity again. We realised at about 12 pm that we had to move faster to cover rest of the places.
Next we headed for Pattadakal. We skipped lunch, because we knew if we stopped some more, we’d have to drop something for next day, but that was out of question. Next day was dedicated to Bijapur. None of us was sure what we had planned for Bijapur, and you will notice later that we regretted it badly the next day.
Back to Pattadakal:
pattadakalWe hired a guide to tell us about the UNESCO protected site, stories I really cannot recollect, but they were not special enough either, which is surprising. We spent about 2 hours there, before heading for Aihole.

Aihole, sadly, is a much more pretty site, and tattered as much – not cared for. But why and how does UNESCO decide to ignore such an intriguing site? Aihole, if you go inside the museum, is an entire town full of ruins and remains, but only a 20% of that part has been made into a tourist campus. Heartbreaking to see the state of rest of precious ruins on your ride through the village. Don’t know how it is still hidden from all history buffs and archeological enthusiasts.
aihole 1

I almost unwillingly left from Aihole, as I had not been able to explore it fully. But we had to head for Badami, and did not want to stall everyone’s plans either. We rode off to Badami caves..our final heritage site for the day.

Badami caves are a less-expected surprise. I couldn’t help them compare with Petra in Jordan, but thats unfair as I haven’t been there. Badami is no less a marvel though, with what technology were these guys able to cut off the rocks and go deep in them?
badami caveIt was almost close to closing time at 6 pm, so we hurried up to check out the caves. The slight trek upwards is the one with a gated security, otherwise you can go walk at the foot of the same hill and go see some more caves at the bottom, there are some other interesting ceramic statues on that path as well.
badami 2But as the sun the was going down, we figured the site across the lake at Badami was an interesting spot to be, with many more heritage buildings visible on the hill that side.
badami 3We sprinted down the hill and asked our auto guy to transport us to other side of river through teeny tiny lanes of Badami town. In next 5 minutes were there, and the gate to climb up the hill to the monuments was thankfully still open. We hurried up, trying to touch every mandalam we could lays our eyes on. One of them has a specially narrow secluded way twisted between huge rocks, we somehow managed to climb through it. It was worth the view from top!
badami 4But the most breathtaking view is undoubtedly to walk till the end of the ghat.. at the rims of the lake, you see the beautiful temple with a great backdrop of a rocky hill.
badami 1We then headed for the resort to get dinner and a goodnight’s sleep, for early wake up next morning.

Next day, a sunday, we rushed to the railway station to catch the same train we had got off the last day. The Golgumbaz express to Bijapur. the train stopped unplanned for long breaks at a station called “Basavanbagevadi Jn”. We killed time by posing DDLJ and clicking several pics 😛
We arrived at Bijapur at about 9 am.
We had done absolutely no research about Bijapur, precisely because google does not have much helpful information, also many photos online are tagged and named wrongly.

We decided to begin with Golgumbaz, as it was just near by to a hotel one of our attendees was staying at, she was supposed to join us in Bijapur. Also, we were duped big time by the Tonga-walas. They are such crooks across Bijapur, completely took advantage of our large group that was helplessly not together all the time, so they used miscommunication to their advantage and literally fleeced us of money for no reason. Later in the evening the same tonga-walas came around super drunk using all the money they made us pay in the morning. Useless assholes! try stay away from these crooks.
Golgumbaz was awesome. Entry fees of about Rs.5, the experience is close to rare. The Golgumbaz is a magnificient monument, looks almost larger than life, unless you think about Taj Mahal and the likes. However, very few such marvels of architecture exist in India.

This building is just at the entrance, the giant tomb is hidden behind it

This building is just at the entrance, the giant tomb is hidden behind it

We hired a guide to tell us about the place, he asked us to pay as we find it fit after the tour given by him. Our Guide was really a colorful guy, animated and a singer – as we found out later.
The Golgumbaz, was a building that held meetings for the King. The architecture was such that utilised principles of sound travel and propagation, in an era when electricity and having a Mic was out of question. The dome allows you to speak in few designated corners of the building, and the sound is beautifully distributed and delivered in form of a loudspeaker kind of voice experience to the entire hall. The King was probably sitting in the centre at his grand seat at the ground floor, where a string phone or speaker would allow him to speak at normal volume, the strings would transfer the sound to the designated corners at the top floor of the dome and propagate the sound all over the hall.

bijapur 2

We only understood the theory when our dear guide, asked us to wait at one side at the top floor. He almost disappeared in the large circular floor, suddenly we could hear his voice as if he was talking right next to us! and then we spotted him far far away across from the hall, speaking into a corner. That is bloody amazing! I mean centuries ago..these people were much more advanced than us. They really used science and maths in amazing ways. He sang a string of famous songs for us, and with us all the crowd within the dome enjoyed the Vividh-Bharati live.. 🙂
We hope we rewarded him generously. By the way, climb up the dome is a 7 floor climb through a really tiny staircase. If you are Fat.. god help you. I’m a size less 😛
bijapur 1

By lunch we were out of there. Rest day we planned to check out other heritage sites, that we had heard about. Mobile data was not working in Bijapur, we were clueless, my companions were rather least interested in finding about more locations as well. We were all acting too lazy. We visited the following places:
Jod Gumbaz – a twin dome, but its basement is flanked with homeless people beside the durgah
Jami Masjid – could be missed, if you have seen Jama Masjid in other bigger cities like Ahmedabad & Delhi ofcourse.
Ibrahim Rouza – this place is worth visiting, it was thankfully less crowded and it was raining a lot, so we had enough time to click many pics. Google tags pic of this place with a wrong name. Research a little more.
Baarah Kaman – 12 unfinished arches. This place also can be missed, though it has great history and story behind it, nothing much to see
Malika-e-Maidan – Looked like most tourists chose to miss this place, however would suggest to visit it, it has nice view of the city and serene little garden. With a small cannon, that has a water body for the firing guy to run and hide his ears to escape the sound of cannon fire. The caretaker of this place is a ex-military man, who insists on telling the history behind this place – which is very informative. Apparently this place was a gift by the King to one of his queens.
Asar Mahal – is a garden and unfinished kind of building, an auto guy duped us by saying it was Sangeeth Mahal.
We were recommended Sangeeth Mahal by the Hotel guy, who insisted it was 8 kms away outside town. However, girls were almost disinterested to even argue or find out about it from anyone, so we allowed a Auto guy to fool us by driving into a near by lane to a mundane kind of heritage building. Yes, I’m not very proud of us.
[I will update pics of all these places soon]

Commute in Bijapur:
There are close to no options to commute in Bijapur, and locals are more misguiding than helpful. Auto guys like Bangalore ones don’t know the localities much. It will be better to take maps with you, coz google just does not work in Bijapur yet. You must ask atleast 10 people to confirm something, because the town is full ignorant idiots who have no clue where they live and what is around them. In case you are traveling with a bunch of idiots, you are in deep shit then 😛

Bhutan Series – Chapter 5(All about food)

Here we have collated our food experience, for other experiences in Bhutan please refer other blog posts.
Staying in Bhutan for a week, it isn’t easy to find what suits your tastes. Although the Bhutanese traditional dish, the Datshi spread is quite good and has great balance of flavours, if you are not a rice eater or even a junk-food addict, you may find it tough. We tasted the Bhutanese cuisine for the first time on the way to Thimpu. We were driving from the border at Phuentsholing to Thimpu. I think it is customary of all taxis to take a halt for lunch at Hotel Sonia, that is half way for tourists traveling to Paro or Thimpu from the border. They do have other options like maggi and coffee, tea. While you enjoy a hot sip at Hotel Sonia, this how your view will look outside the window:
hotelsonia

Now back to food, a typical Datshi spread will consist of about 4-5 elements:
A plate of red rice, a bowl of datshi preparation with any vegetable, a bowl of dal (lentil soup) – which is quite bland compared to the indian version-but good, some chilly pickle – really hot and spicy, some buttermilk or seasoned curd.
datshi
Datshi is a curry prepared with cheese and any green vegetable. The most common being Ema Datshi, which uses the 2 most common staple foods used in Bhutan i.e. Chilly and Cheese. Other kinds are –
Beans Datshi – beans and cheese curry
Nakey Datshi – hilly fern leaf and cheese curry, the fern leaf has a slight herbal and acidic taste, quite strong flavour
Shamu Datshi – Mushroom and cheese curry
Saag Datshi – Spinach and cheese curry
Many more exist, but we didn’t get to try all 🙂
Another dish is Thukpa, a big bowl of soup that has many elements in it, but we didn’t try that too, we were always too hungry to order a soup kind of dish.

That said, we always found one favourite place to hangout and get the kind of stuff we craved.
Phuentsholing:
Hands down it has to be one place – Zicom Cafe. Coffee, tea and bakery. We also had Indian style dinner at the restaurant adjacent to it, its the last time you see any indian food in Bhutan 🙂
zicomcafe

Thimpu:
Our Hotel Nemo could best serve a decent chowmein, veg fried rice, and the momos were alright but not great.
Cafe De-lite, down the street serves quite good coffee, frothy and strong. Limited bakery items.
Cafe Relish situated in a quiet corner tucked away at the right end the road was rather a disaster, where they charge about 20% tax on the bill amount. Coffee was cold, and flavourless, normal potato fries and spicy potato fries have no difference in taste at all.
thimpucafe

Paro:
We ate at the Hotel Jigmeling restaurant most of the days, as they really listened to how we need our food and they always tried to get it right. Their chicken curry and vegetable curry were well done, but there is no chance of getting a naan or even a roti, for roti they just serve you a maida made luchi. I somehow liked the chowmein they served, crisp and fresh. Grilled chicken was a disaster, almost burnt and small pieces of chicken with bones. We always had to request them to make a strong tea, adding more tea leaf than usual, they got it right for about 2 out of 5.
jigmelingCafe Europeans down the street serves good coffee, pizzas and reasonable spaghetti, both with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. We went here more often for just coffee.
Cafe Brioche on a parallel street was the only place serving amazing pastries and cakes. We only tried some cheesecake and chocolate brownies..yummies. You could walk in thinking it is only a small counter, but it has a seating area inside.

You can read about other experiences in Thimpu and Paro in our blog posts.

Bhutan Series – Chapter 4 (All about Paro)

Paro is huge, but it retains the charm of a town, infact it comprises of a group of towns, unlike Thimpu which did look like a city. We reached here by noon from Thimpu on the 30th. Paro is home to most of the world famous spots like the Thaksang Tiger’s Nest Monastery and many Dzongs, big and small. Our stay at Paro was pre-booked by us at Hotel Jigmeling, which is centrally located near by Paro Market lanes. We were to stay here for 3 nights, given the number of things to do here it seemed like a good idea to stay that long.

paro mapWe paid a sum of Rs./Nu. 2100/- per night for a room for 3 people at Jigmeling. They are a very helpful and friendly bunch, Chimi the Manager is chirpy and jovial, always accompanied us during our meals with his quirky one liners. They were always keen on serving us food with lots of care and love. However, you always need to order your meals in advance, as they do not run a full-fledged kitchen, they require preparation time. Most eateries in the town close early in the evening, except some bars and pubs in the vicinity. Mornings are often early when you are in Bhutan, your day tends to start by 6 – 7 a.m.. Our room had a beautiful view of the fields in the backyard.
paroroomThe first evening in Paro, we just spent strolling in the market, observing the laid back life. It was a festival day and hence most of the town appeared closed and sleepy. With the quiet river stream Paro flowing around, we only walked around the lanes of the town. Locals are fond of playing carrom board on the sidewalks, may be outside any shop you will find the community bonding over carrom and some tea. We planned to do the Thaksang Monastery Trek the next day, so we needed to get good sleep and rise early for the hectic day. We headed back to Jigmeling, had some dinner and dozed off dreaming about the beautiful Tiger’s Nest monastery.

paro1

Next morning we realised we had not ordered for our breakfast. We could not get anything as breakfast at hotel closes by 9 a.m. We had got ready only by that time. So we had to rush out, as we were already late for the trek. Ideally locals will advise you to begin your trek at 7 a.m. in the morning, so that you descend in time before it begins to pour (it often does rain there). We couldn’t pursue the trek without food, so we decided to hunt for a place that was open at 9 a.m. You’d only get hard luck in that case, its too early for anyone to open their kitchen in Paro. But we did find a place called ‘Europeans Cafe’. Unfortunately it only serves italian items, but it was the only place that had its kitchen ready to serve. We ordered some pizza and Coffee to go with. A good cup of coffee was served. One of us headed into the local market to get some fruits for the day, and she also found a taxi to take us to Tiger’s Nest. We agreed for a Nu.250/- for one way, on the way back he duped us to pay Nu.500/- as he will be bringing the taxi empty to pick us up later in the day. Later we found from one of our local friend, that it only costs about a total of Nu./Rs. 400/- to hire a taxi to go and come from Thaksang Tiger’s Nest.

At Thaksang, you get dropped at the foot of the mountain. You will need to buy sticks to carry on the trek, it is a helpful prop to keep you going. The open shops at the foot offer such sticks for Nu.50/-, expensive, and they don’t return you the money if you return it. You can simply take it with you, lend it someone may be at the hotel. We began our ascend at about 10:10 a.m. As per the standards, we were horribly late to start with. We looked at the monastery that was visible at the top – looked like a long way to go for us non-trekkers, we gulped and moved.

IMG_4523_ps

Tiger’s Nest is approx. at the height of 10,240 ft above sea level. From bottom of Paro valley you need to climb a distance of above 2,300 ft. to reach the monastery. The whole ascend took us about 3 hours of walking, although we took like few breaks to catch our breath. The restaurant is supposed to mark half point to the monastery(it really is, the picture above does not do justice to the effort you need to put in)

tigernest1Above images were taken after we had completed almost 1/4th of the ascend, that’s right – only 1/4th. You will be glad you have a stick to support you. The path has ups and downs, so the monastery might look near and far intermittently, that means you can’t just assume the distance from how it looks.
We did halt at the restaurant, but didn’t eat, as we had a heavy late breakfast of pizza, we weren’t going to feel hungry till 3 p.m.! So our late start did have some perks, we saved on lunch 😛 And also the restaurant lunch is too expensive, 40 ml juice bottles were about Nu.60/- thrice the original price. Well, given the distance they have to carry the stuff up, you can give it to them.

tigernest2

If you see these 2 spots around you, half your battles are over, you’re almost there – wait! Not really, another taxing one hour to go with an additional feature of 2000 steps to climb 🙂 Honest advise – drink up from the little streams and water taps you find on your way up, very refreshing and energising.

tigernest3But if you see this, it means you have reached the monastery. Just a few more steps to climb and 4 more floors to check out at the monastery, only by now you must stop complaining about the pain in your legs – there won’t be mercy. The cameras or even bags won’t be allowed into the monastery. It is a beautiful place, where you must make it a point to sit down and take a while to soak in the beautiful paintings on the walls and the magnificent statues of Buddha, Guru Rimpoche and many other gods being worshipped here. There are approximately 7-8 different temples within the monastery. While you walk each floor and get into different rooms, you are bound to miss the Tiger’s Nest cave itself. We saw many tourists pass it through without even noticing the cave. It is a deep cave, that moves down the spine of the gorge the monastery is placed at, about 15 steps down. It is called the Tiger’s Nest in some relation to a story – This Buddhist enclave was consecrated as the site where Guru Rimpoche, riding a flying tiger, faced, battled, and defeated the demon that lived on the mountain. This pious deed was remembered in the construction of the monastery. It reminded me of the cave that used to be at Vaishno Devi in Jammu, India, till the late 90s, which the disciples would have to cross to get a glimpse of Mata, until someday a bomb was planted in it causing it to be closed down forever. Also called the Sherawali Mata (Goddess riding a Tiger)

tigernest4

Descend took us about another hour and half. But ofcourse it was less painful. On other note, while going up we noticed a lot of old tourists from across the world, who despite their age were walking away without complaining. Its weird how we being younger found it so damn taxing, we are such an unhealthy lot, aren’t we!
As we reached closer to the bottom at about 4 p.m., it began to drizzle. After reaching the foot we had to wait a few mins for the taxi to come pick us. But as soon as he did, we got in, and you wouldn’t believe the pouring that began. It was a heavy heavy rain. We were thanking our timing.
We didn’t have much energy in the evening, and we were hungry as hell. We had an early dinner and dozed off watching TV.

Next morning we lazed around and left for the Paro Dzong more closer to lunch time. There were too less tourists everywhere as we guessed most would be now at Thimpu for the festival. We didn’t mind the quiet, laid back atmosphere. The Paro Dzong or the Rinpung Dzong is an amazing place. You can’t help but sit down and gaze at the breathtaking valley down the hill. I could’ve spent hours sitting there, only if I was carrying enough food 😛 You would be thankful if you are lucky to find the dzong almost empty with very few people around.

paro valley
Please note, they do not allow women to enter the Dzong if they aren’t fully covered on their hands and legs. The Ta Dzong i.e. the National Museum was closed due to renovation so we couldn’t see it.

paro2One of us had not withdrawn enough cash at the border, and we all had just enough cash to support our own self through next days. She had to convince the Hotel owner to lend her cash in return for the money she had transferred online into his account from India. After a day’s struggle and many conversations later, they agreed to help us, and gave us cash. If you transfer online, the banks in Bhutan receive them after a delay of about a week only. Still they trusted and helped us, we provided with all proofs for them to keep. The last day on Friday we checked out of the hotel, said good bye to our lovely hosts and headed back to Phuentsholing in a taxi. You can read about all our commute expenses on this blog post.

Bhutan Series – Chapter 3 (Thimpu)

The season we chose for our visit, has major festivals taking place in Thimpu. It is also true Bhutan has festivals all year round in each of 4 seasons. That means whenever you choose to visit Bhutan, it is always a good time. Apart from many things to do in Thimpu & Paro, there are other places like Punakha valley & Haa Valley, which require permission from the capital city of Thimpu only, nowhere else. We took the border route from Phuentsholing via West Bengal, there is another route option from Assam as well – though I do not have much first hand information on that. Now lets get back on about Thimpu…
In Thimpu, we were lucky to have landed in Hotel Nemo, which was surprisingly a good deal and in a good location on Chang Lam Street. We reached there at about 7:30 p.m. on 28th Sep (Sunday night). We got a room for 3 people at a cost of Nu./Rs. 1200/- per night. The hotel was clean and well maintained. We instantly liked the place, the owner was very cordial and helping. The street was full of hotels and restaurants with neat sidewalks. The good thing about Bhutanese cities is the number of casual bars and pubs in every building or street corner, but most of the street appears closed by 8 p.m. As we were tired from day long drive, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant itself. Unlike India, the food in the restaurant of the hotel you are staying at is always reasonable, and ambience is made such so that you feel most comfortable there. You wouldn’t really want to venture out for meals. It is like home, you sleep, eat and relax there, watch some TV, chat up with the hotel staff, and go out for sight-seeing, come back and do the same at the hotel. Indian hotels could learn to provide that comfort at reasonable costs, they don’t yet know what a personal touch would mean (without charging a bomb for it)

nemoThough the restaurant cum bar Menu at Nemo boasted of too many cuisines, we stuck to typical items that can be screwed up the least. Drinks were nominally priced ofcourse (probably due to less taxation). The hotel owner can always be found hanging out in the bar with some local whisky to go with, often a pleasant talker and very helpful. All his family members and staff are equally friendly, and the hotel is named after his cute lil’ daughter ‘Nemo’. Other landmarks to this hotel are Hotel Kisa and the football stadium.

We were told by many locals that ‘Thimpu Drubchen’ festival was held starting on 29th (typically 28th Sep – 2nd Oct), with the first day on Monday, the rest of the festival ‘Thimpu Tsechu’ would continue through Friday-Sunday(3rd-5th Oct). We were going to be in Thimpu only for the Monday celebration for ‘Thimpu Drubchen’. We enquired about where it will take place and the timings. Apparently the festival celebrations begin as early as 4 a.m. in the morning. We weren’t going to be that early ofcourse. We got ready by 8 a.m. and got out. Being the festival, everything in Thimpu was closed, usually everything would open by at least 9 a.m. and streets would be more crowded, but not today. We didn’t find any place for breakfast, not even our own hotel restaurant. Without much choice we began walking down the same street, with a faint idea about the direction towards the Dzong, where the celebrations will be taking place. It was not very far, seemed to be about 5-6 kms. We kept asking passers-by for direction, the answer was always ‘straight ahead’. We saw few locals heading towards somewhere, all dressed up in their traditional attire, called as the ‘Gho’ for men and ‘Kira’ for the women. It seemed they were also going to the Dzong, it was the only direction anyone on the street seemed to take. We simply followed them…

thimpudzong

Most people had cars or taxis transporting them to the Dzong. Almost no one except us walked the entire route. Even the local buses appeared somewhere or the other calling out and picking up locals, but they never responded to us tourists as such. After a 30 min walk, following random locals, we finally reached the Dzong. It was crowded, huge mobs were entering the Dzong, a palace like structure. It was packed, and you tend to squeeze and rub and stifle to reach the celebration area. The pushing does not stop until you come out of the place. We all had split right after entering the mobbed area, and enjoyed the event separately from our self-found corners. If you have a good camera lens, you will enjoy a better view of the dance for sure. I did.

thimpudance

After a couple of hours, we came back into the town, walking straight into a restaurant for lunch. It was like a house, that had placed a small board at the door for you to guess its a place to eat. It served only local traditional Bhutanese Datshi dishes (usually Red rice with some kind of vegetable and cheese curry). Few went into the De-lite Cafe on the same street, to have some burgers and coffee instead. You can read about our food experience on this blog post. After lunch, we decided to check out the Buddha Point, a monument of Buddha erected on the hill. We bargained with a taxi to take us there and bring us back in Nu.300/-. The Buddha point was magnificent.
thimpulast

On this ride, some of us turned stupid and pushed the driver to show us the King & Queen’s Residence (which by common sense will not be such an easy tourist sight to visit), as the driver agreed it was infact open for view. The Driver took advantage of our ignorance and instead just showed us the Tashiccho Dzong in a different dimension, but charged us another Nu.150/-. All of us could make out it was the same place we had been in the morning for the festival, this was just a view from the hill. But somehow were yet thinking it could be the King’s Residence (it can’t be that simple!). Later in the evening our hotel owner enlightened us that the King’s residence is somewhere hidden in the hills, not allowed for access to taxis or any traffic. We were ofcourse duped for money, and because of some silliness.

After the hectic day we thought of strolling through the market street to buy some souvenirs. Although our shopping had begun earlier just below our hotel, at a shop for clothing, running a discount at that time. We couldn’t help but barge in to dig out stuff. For Indians its a treat to find good quality stuff at dirt cheap prices. There are many good shops loaded with cheap and good quality stuff on the shopping street parallel to Chang Lam. Another good shop is near by Clock tower on the market street. Evening walks could fetch you some good stylish buys.
In all, the entire stay at Thimpu was comfortable and quite well-spent for 2 nights and 1 day. On Tuesday morning, we found a taxi to Paro, with help of our last taxi driver who had dropped us in Thimpu the day earlier from P’ling. Packed and ready, we said goodbye and thanked Thimpu weather for being so pleasant and the people for being so warm. Our home for next few days was Paro..all about it here.

viewthimpu