Magic in Pithoragarh !

What do you remember most about a place?

Is it the alluring landscapes of a secluded hill or the architectural marvel of a historic city? Unexpected encounters on the road or friends from a town you may never see again?

Or do you only recall the much-publicized tourist points of interest and cafes and their starry lights?

While we wandered without expectations, what we were fortunate to witness was a stunning sunset; a play of cinematic skies and it’s colourful emotions. A breathtaking evening that will last a lifetime.  

Khaliya Top: Magic of first snowfall

PITHORAGARH

Pithoragarh town

On our way to Munsiyari, we decided to stay at Pithoragarh for a couple of days. It was only after browsing the map(one of my favourite hobbies) of north India that I came across this place. It is less touristy and I had never heard of it before. I liked the sound of it though. These were enough reasons for me to want to be here.

A district in the east Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the town is a couple of hours from the Nepal border. Though located in the extreme east of the state and lesser-known, travellers en route Munsiyari and Darma valley stop by, who surprisingly aren’t a lot, given the fact that people do not want to be on the roads for a long time or visit unpopular destinations. Chaukori(3hr from Pithoragarh) is again a gorgeous hamlet where one could get a panoramic view of the Himalayas, most notably the Panchachuli peaks.

Gorkha Fort and Chandak hills are the most notable viewpoints apart from the terraced fields, the town’s setting and temples of course.

Kasar Devi – Exploring lesser-known places in Uttarakhand

THE SUNSET

  • The golden ray of hope?

It is said that magic happens when you least expect it.

After an exhausting 15hr journey and motion sickness to my friend, all wasn’t good. The crowd of the main town didn’t please us either. After adequate rest, we walked the town and explored nearby areas the next day.  And while we already had the grand view of the town from the Pithoragarh fort early in the morning, it didn’t stop us to want to just sit and watch the sun go down. Built by the Gorkhas in the 18th century, the fort provides a great view of the main town.

It was late evening and we were startled by the act of the skies enhanced by changing colours in the backdrop. A golden ray cut the sky and the towering mountains added drama to an unpredictable story. It seemed like a path customed for a UFO; the kind shown in the sci-fi movies. I had seen innumerable sunsets but this was an occurrence. A ‘once in a blue moon’ happening. Gradually the tale unfolded shades of orange, red and pink before it mingled with the Earth as the city lights came into action.

A fitting climax.

OTHER INFO

How: Delhi >>Haldwani >> Pithoragarh. Early morning buses and shared jeeps/cars are your best option.

When: Winters.

What else: Munsiyari, Darma Valley(via Dharchula) and Chaukori. Away from tourism and a lot to offer.

 

Take a U-turn for Pithoragarh.
Some great posing.
An evening to remember.

Exploring Rishikesh: A exhaustive guide to Rishikesh beyond river rafting

India has a lot to offer. Don’t just follow the trend. Explore.

Stay raw!

Beatles Ashram – Where the rock band stayed, meditated and composed!

Be it selling hippie culture in the name of Marley, cafes with posters of Morrison or baked food as German when there is no possible connection with Deutsch, Indians possess the unique ability to even sell water to fish.

So be it with Chaurasi Kutia, except the fact that the Beatles did stay here. 

MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI ASHRAM

Beatles ashram
Transcendental meditation – A meditation technique made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

A 15-minute walk from Ram Jhula, it is located within the Rajaji National Park, overlooking the town of Rishikesh. It was a centre for students of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s and 70’s to learn transcendental meditation.

Chaurasi Kutia
Chaurasi Kutia

The place comprises of a huge hall, a kitchen and a few abandoned buildings that are in a dilapidated state. The most noteworthy thing about the ashram is the cottages known as Chaurasi Kutia (’84 huts’). These are numbered huts in the shape of dome, meant for the stay of guests for the meditation programs run by the ashram.

The place now also boasts of a small café, lots of spider-webs and decay.

Beatles ashram
Just let it be.

Know more about – The largest ‘Camel fair’ of the world

THE BEATLES CONNECTION

Beatles ashram

One of the most popular bands in the 1960s,  The Beatles visited the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968 to learn meditation. It is said that they wrote more than 40 songs during their stay, including some that were later featured on “The White Album” and “Abbey Road.”

Their visit gained worldwide media attention and Rishikesh- tourists, yoga and peace seekers from all over the world.  The ashram remained closed after the lease expired and turned into ruin before finally opening up to the public in 2015. The iconic band’s reference has since drawn lots of interested international tourists/band’s followers while others followed suit.

Beatles ashram
Band members with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Furthermore, what also makes it appealing now is the various graffiti which have been worked on by talented artists both from India and abroad.

Read: Mysterious temples under water for 9 months

ABOUT TONY

Beatles ashram
Tony Ricucci- Young as ever.

I met Tony on the way to the ashram and we hit it off straight away. As we explored the ashram, I got to know about his love for music festivals and other global and exotic events (Burning Man for one) and how he had been travelling solo to attend some of the most popular ones around the globe. A resident of San Francisco, he considers Bali to be his second home. A retired attorney, he is now also actively involved in various volunteering programs. It wasn’t surprising when he told me that he had actually witnessed the Beatles live in action in his younger days.

Beatles ashram
Rishikesh as seen from the ashram.

Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.

And this young gentleman definitely had lots of stories to narrate. There is so much to learn from people of such kind. Enthusiasm, Passion and Liberation amongst others.

GRAFFITI FROM THE ASHRAM

Beatles ashram
The source of life.

 

Beatles ashram
Holy cow!

 

Beatles ashram
The Maestro. Pandit Ravi Shankar

 

Beatles ashram
Imagine. Create. Is it so difficult ?

Next time you visit Rishikesh, you might well want to explore this place too.

DETAILS

Where: Rishikesh. A 15-20 min walk from Ram Jhula.

Why: To feel the vibe, realizing the ‘productive period’ and stay of one of the most iconic bands of the world. Rest, the place greets you with fresh air and cool graffiti.

What else: Absorb nature. Listen to birds chirping. Meditate.

Timings: 9 am to 5 pm

Read: Explore the historic city of gold

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

Stay raw.

Bir, Billing, Paragliding and more !

A little adventure for the body and mind blended with some peace for the soul makes a perfect recipe for a great trip. That is why exactly you need to be here. To sense the rush of flying in the skies and to still the mind.

BIR

  • Let silence take over.

Two things particularly stand out in Bir – Monasteries and the Landing site.

It is not enough to just click pictures of the artistically built monasteries. The worship place of Buddhists demands that you spend some time here and connect with silence. Listen to the incredible chants followed by drums and bells. It sends a powerful yet soothing message, deep inside you. A message which can be decoded only in silence.

We sat inside the monastery listening to the shlokas being chanted by hundreds of monks in perfect rhythm and were even offered tea. The vibrations cannot be not felt.

A walk around Bir monastery will bring you to radiant faces of playful young monks, some of whom are studying, performing duties or cracking a joke or two. Simplicity and enthusiasm reflected on their faces.

Evenings can be best spent, admiring the colourful paragliders making their way from the hills, into the skies and landing into the charismatic sunsets at the landing site.

Other Monasteries  Tsering Jong and Choukling.

What else ?

  • Visit the Deer Park Institute; Meditate.
  • Go on nature walks and short treks around. 
  • Long hike – Trek to Rajgundha and camp over night. 
  • Some waterfall – ask the locals; we missed it.(I made it on my second visit-solo. It is a hike that starts from Gunehar)
  • Rent a bike (cycle) and explore.  
  • Try Tibetan food. 
  • Explore cafes. 
  • Connect with nature and yourself- most important. 

Explore-  ‘Temples under Water’– 2 hours from Dharamshala.

PARAGLIDING – BILLING

  • 0......... Get ready to jump.

This is for everybody. You do not have to be a daredevil for this. More than an adventure, it is just flying in the skies.  A bird’s view is what you get; you become carefree and jubilant on a flight that lasts around 10 minutes. 

Billing is the highest point for paragliding in India and if you want to fly, you should absolutely do it here. Period. After the 2015 Paragliding World cup that was held here, the place has gained immense popularity and remains the best in India.

About 40 minutes from Bir, this is the take-off site where you will find pilots harnessing people, fixing their paragliders, getting ready for the flight and eventually taking off.

So set your fears aside, give up that excuse; I have seen 10 year olds do it.

PALAMPUR

  • Through Palampur.

Palampur is a small town in Himachal known for it’s beautiful tea gardens.  Now that you have reached Bir, there is no point missing Palampur which is within an hour’s distance. We reached Dharamshala and visited Palampur en-route Bir.

Places of interest:  Tea gardens, Saurabh Van Vihar,  Tashi Jong monastery and temple in Baijnath.

Must read: Guide on exploring Amritsar in 3 days

MORE FROM BIR

  • Palampur
    Palampur.

WHY ?

For it’s young and peaceful vibe, and a little adventure.

HOW TO REACH ?

Buses– From Delhi to Baijnath(30 minutes from Bir) or to Dharamshala(2 hours) if you want to visit that too. There are a few direct buses too.

Trains-  Delhi to Pathankot. Bir is 4 hours from here.
I would recommend the first option. 

STAY ?

Hostels for solo travellers, backpackers.
Guest houses available at reasonable prices too.

BEST TIME ?

March-June and October-November. Avoid monsoons.

Also read: What to do at the largest Camel festival in the world !

Pondering will get you nowhere. Leave.
Just leave mate 🙂

Amritsar – Historic city of gold !

Golden temple does not define Amritsar. Nor does Wagah border.

It is a city with history of warriors and martyrs, of painful partition and bloodshed; of a religion with valiant leaders and gurus spreading the message of peace. Blend old crowded lanes of Hall Bazaar, buzzing Town Hall, colorful turbans, smiling faces, jovial people, a heartfelt language and some highly tempting food.

HISTORY

  • Partition museum.

A visit to Amritsar is incomplete without the taste of history which dates back to pre-independence era, when Sikhs drew their swords against the Mughals. One can get a flavor of it at the Central Sikh museum inside the Golden temple.
Not far by, is the Partition museum which details the chronological events leading to independence from the British and of the most painful and largest partition of India and Pakistan.  It is certainly one of the best preserved museums and goosebumps will definitely follow you here when you listen to whistles of steam engine train and historical speeches continuously being played in the background here.

A visit to Jallianwala bagh will further incite the blood of patriotism, if any.
It all actually happened.

GOLDEN TEMPLE

  • My first sight of the Golden Temple.

I stood in awe. Amazed. Speechless. The only time this happened to me at a man made monument was at the Taj Mahal. Such was the sanctity, holy vibe and charisma of this place.
Sri Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple is one of the most revered temple in India and serves gura ka langar round the clock in what is the largest free kitchen in the world.
I sat for hours admiring it. After the sun went down and the gold took over, it just meant more hours. The reflection of the temple shimmered in the lake. The heavens and the earthly met. It was pure magic. 🙂
(I spent my whole day here and came back again the next day.)

*Colorful turbans and smiling faces lit up the area around Town Hall(just outside Golden temple). Besides you can also explore Hall Bazaar which is in walking distance. 

THE AMRITSAR FOOD TRAIL

The Amritsar Food Trail

Now what have you even done if not had the world famous ‘Amritsari kulcha’ and explored the great Amritsari food trail. Either you can think of your food diet, defined rules and your increasing waistline or surrender to the most amazing north Indian cuisine.
I gave in.

Restaurants, dhabas and joints here serve the most amazing food. Amritsari Kulcha is a must amongst others which include punjabi thali, aloo-poori, chole-bhature, aloo-tikki, kulfa and lassi.

Blog : The Great Amritsar Food Trail.

*I explored the city mostly on foot (had to work on the oil and butter consumed). 

WAGAH BORDER

  • Just a kilometre away.

Doesn’t matter if you have no clue about Wagah or have no intention to go there. If you are visiting Golden Temple, you will most probably hear chants of Baaggah Border‘ everywhere in the complex area and before you know, agents and drivers there would have already managed to get out the bucks from you and make you sit in the next auto/bus to the border.

The atmosphere at the border is electric. Though rehearsed beforehand, the parade is highly charged from both the sides. Females are invited to run around with Indian flags before all the pomp and display. The songs, chants of the country and the overall buzz may strike a note or two with the blood of the nationality. It is a must visit. Different from any other patriotic experience.

The laser show at Gobindgarh fort, rose garden and botanical garden are other noteworthy places of interest. 

Other Details :

Stay : Since i hadn’t much clue, I stayed at a budget hotel which i rented on the spot(now i did have a tough time finding one).  You can stay at the rooms provided by the Gurudwara authorities in the Golden temple complex area itself. They are decent and pretty cheap. 

Travel : Buses ply mostly from Red Fort, Delhi. As usual, take an overnight one. 

Best time: Winters. (Dec – Feb)

**I was on a 3 day trip.

I honestly believe that a 2 day trip would only mean checking out the main places of interest. That has never been my idea of travelling. I need to know the city too. That would mean walking the place as much as possible, talking to locals and enjoying the street food.

It(3 day trip) might not necessarily be true for all places. I usually add a day to what I feel a place would need to be explored. 

What has been the highlight of your trip to Amritsar ?

My other trips:

Biking to Lansdowne

All about Pushkar

All about Pushkar and the ‘grand mela’!

There are two ways of looking at things.

Either you try to see behind walls; have admiration for smallest of things, embrace the new and feel and experience the vibe around you or else you are indifferent and can interpret most things as obvious with hardly any element that surprises you.

If you fall in the former category (try to, if you do not), Pushkar mela is totally going to mesmerize you. Held every year for around 10 days in the month of October/November, this is the largest camel fair in the world.

A living for locals, this is a photographer’s dream, a visual delight and a must for anyone with the heart of a traveller.

During my visit to the Pushkar Mela, I was totally captivated by what this town and the grand festival had to offer.  Why you must visit the Pushkar Mela !

1. Camel Fair/Mela – The largest in the world

  • Show time ! ~Pushkar mela

The centuries-old practice of trading livestock, especially camels is still followed with enthusiasm and vigour. The whole desert is filled with people in small camps cooking, looking after their camels, engrossed in their serious-looking conversations, taking a biddi puff and making a living.

It is a delight to be a part of such a fair with amazing scenes all around.   

2. Street Food

Must have Street food at Pushkar!

The delicacies of authentic street food in Pushkar will leave you craving for more. Pay a visit to the small street stalls or any of the sweet shops (recommend Sarvadia Sweets) and you would almost be risking your appetite.

The fusion of juices and shakes at Sonu Juice Center (there should be at least a dozen of them by the same name) will be something you may have never tried before. A melon-mint definitely gets a thumbs up.

3. Pushkar Lake

  • The ancient city of temples!

Pushkar town is spread around it’s main attraction – the holy Pushkar lake. The whole area around the lake is divided into ghats where pilgrims and believers come to take a dip in the holy water. Most of the ghats are some centuries-old while some are newly constructed too. Brahma ghat(near the only Brahma temple) is though considered to be the oldest and is usually the most crowded.

Even if you are not religious, the in-numerous temples and the setting of the lake and the town around it is pleasing to the eye.

4. Bazaar

  • Shopping at the evening mela.

Though I didn’t buy myself anything, the bazaar is one of the main attractions of Pushkar. It is a great stop to buy some eye-catching souvenirs of Rajasthan. From traditional handicrafts, leather products, jewellery, etc, there is a lot to buy and window-shop.

5. Cafes

  • Turkish coffee and prime view of the town from Doctor Alone cafe.

It is here that all my planned budgets for the trip went down the drain. From Little Buddha Cafe to Pink Floyd, Lakeview, Out of the Blue and Doctor Alone, I just wouldn’t stop. The town is filled with cafes serving Italian, Mexican, Israeli and other cuisines.

The food is decent and the extraordinary view makes it even better.

6. Adventure activities

Hot Air Balloon- One of the attraction's at Pushkar mela!

A trip on the Hot Air Balloon is the best thing to do if you want an aerial view of the picturesque town’s mela. Though hard on the pockets, this is surely worth an experience. Or you can run around capturing pictures of it like me. 🙂

There are other adventure activities including quad biking, rappelling, jeep safari, etc too.

** Fusion Bands/Camping/ Bizarre Competitions are a few other things that can make your visit a great, one of a kind experience. 

Come September end, you can start planning for it.
Or go for it straight away when it occurs. Better?

 

When?

October/November. Dates vary according to Hindu Calendar.

How to reach?

Daily buses from Delhi/Gurgaon. Take an overnight one.

Stay?

Fancy resorts.
For travellers like me – Anywhere. Doesn’t matter much. Lots of budget hotels and guest houses. 🙂
You should check online too. The rush during the festival causes the price to surge.

Recommended

Explore the town on foot.

Take the stairs to Savitri Mandir.

Explore the historic city of Amritsar !