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Travel Diaries – Ahmedabad

The day before the big trip:
Just another day at the office. Happy because tomorrow was the start of a week long, much needed vacation to Ahmadabad, Diu, Gir and Junagadh. Wanted to visit Ahmadabad ever since it was declared a heritage city. Diu is Diu. Ilha de Calma! I had visited Gir sometime in 2009, and the memory of a lion walking past our jeep
was still fresh in my mind. I wanted a round 2. Hadn’t done much homework on Junagadh. All I knew about this place was it was once a princely state – so there was bound to be plenty of heritage sites.
All my hopes of leaving work early were dashed – work :/ There was still 80% of my packing pending. As always – last minute.

Day1: Mumbai – Ahmadabad
Almost missed the alarm. Blame the jumbo cup of coffee I had before going to bed the previous night. Couldn’t sleep for a long time, and then dozed off just when it was time to wake up.
Had a quick bath and breakfast and booked the cab. Thankfully the cab was on time, and the driver didn’t need a lot of directions to reach my gate. It was an early morning flight, and thankfully we took off on time. Oh, and there were no screaming/wailing kids on the flight.
Landed at Ahmadabad airport, and my bag was in the first batch on the belt. Great going so far!
Drove from the airport to the old part of the city. For the next 2 days we were gonna stay at a charming place called French Haveli. This is a restored haveli located in one of the many pols in Ahmadabad.

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French Haveli

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French Haveli

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View from one of the rooms

A pol (pronounced: pole) is basically a cluster of houses accessible via a main gate. The houses are all within the walls of the pol. So it’s a kind of a housing complex?
Usually a pol has people from the same community (or profession) living there. The main feature of a pol is the main gate, and narrow lanes. Community living.
So, about French Haveli. Charming place. Cozy rooms, and paintings/antiques all over the place. The approach road to this place is via a very narrow lane. This is probably a feature in all the pols. Narrow lanes.
From the main road to the haveli is just a 2-3 minute walk. Since we had our bags with us we dumped all the bags in an auto and walked to the haveli. After a short break to freshen up and breakfast we set out to explore the city.
First stop was Sarkhej Roza.
Sarkhej Roza is a mosque/tomb complex. On reaching this place we were told we have to keep our footwear outside, AND cover our heads. Clicked a lot of pictures inside (what else ๐Ÿ˜€ ). Spent about an hour there, taking pics (and selfies!) No, I didn’t click any selfies. Still can’t take a proper selfie.
After Sarkhej, it was time for lunch. We went to a place called Gordhan Thaal for lunch. As the name suggests, this is a thaali place. Nice place. Good food. Not a big fan of thaalis though. And OMG!! What a HUGE thaali that was. The setup was the usual. A massive thaali, and many small katoris in it.
After lunch I was feeling too sleepy. Blame the rich food. So post lunch we continued our exploration. Next stop was Vaishnodevi temple. It is a replica of the original temple, complete with caves (artificial of course).
Didn’t spend much time there, walked up the ‘mountain’ through the caves, and tunnels and had darshan. The next place was an interesting one, and the one I wanted to see (mainly to photograph).
After Vaishnodevi, we set off for Adalaj Stepwell. This stepwell is 5 stories deep, and has some amazing carvings on its walls and pillars. Such stepwells are common all over Gujarat. They were build centuries ago, mainly to collect and store water for dry months. Since this region doesn’t receive a lot of rain, the stepwells were a good idea to ensure the people had water all year round.

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Adalaj Stepwell

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Carvings on the walls at Adalaj Stepwell

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Adalaj Stepwell – information poster

Looking at the depth (5 stories) and the number of steps, it must have been a big task to collect water every day. Good exercise!
I was looking forward to visiting the Adalaj Stepwell – had seen pictures by friends who had visited there earlier. Sadly I had to struggle to take good pics (good = less people in the photos). The place was super crowded. Maybe because it was a Saturday, and the entire population of Ahmadabad had decided to visit Adalaj.
Our final destination for the day was Akshardham temple, and the light/sound show there. So off to Gandhinagar and to Akshardham. One thing about Akshardham. There is too much of security there. You are supposed to deposit all bags, cameras – everything at the counters near the enterance. Only thing you could carry inside was your purse. That too was checked at the gates.
There was plenty of time for the show and we didn’t want to keep our bags, phones (I was concerned about my camera as well) for that long so we decided to check what’s there to explore in Gandhinagar.
But first chai break. We stopped at this place called Jai Bhavani Vada Pav for a chai break and some snacks. The biggest (so far) shock of my life was discovering that they don’t serve tea (or coffee). What!! Come on. A vada pav place that doesn’t sell chai. A Believe or Not moment for me. For someone from Mumbai this is a very hilarious situation.
A vada pav gaadi (or stall) will ALWAYS have a chai tapri next to it. So no chai. No vada pav either.
We had plenty of time to kill – but not enough to go back to Ahmadabad and keep our phones/bags there and come back for the light/sound show at Akshardham. We decided to visit Indroda Nature Park.
It’s an okay-ish place. But seems to be popular among the locals. Good enough to spend some time – take a nature trail. And like most popular places on weekends it was crowded. The main attraction I guess was the dinosaur park. Nothing great – a park with dinosaurs all over the place (not real ones, mind you).
Akshardham time. Deposited our phones and camera at the counter, went through the security check (sounds like an airport, no?) and bought tickets for the show. Then first things first – TEA. Tea was a big disappointment – bigger than the vada pav thing. After being redirected from one counter to another and then standing in queue for the coupon we finally made it to the tea stall only to find out it was machine tea.
Talk of rotten luck. Desperately wanted my chai fix, and all I got was the sugary machine tea. Meh!
The light/sound show was at an open amphitheater. It was already full when we reached there, but luckily we found seats in the middle rows. The light/sound show tells us about the story of Nachiketa. The light effects are too good. You got to experience it at least once.
After the show it was time for dinner. Luckily we had bought the dinner coupons before the show – to avoid the long queue, and the rush at the stalls. Dinner was pav bhaaji (didn’t taste like it though).
Post dinner we were supposed to head back to Ahmadabad, and then visit the local night market – this one is famous for it’s street food. But since it was a long tiring day for most of us, we decided to skip it.
Tomorrow was an early start. Heritage walk in the walled city. This seemed interesting.
So lights off – and zzzzzz. Tomorrow is another big day.

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 2

It was almost midnight when I hit the pillow .. needed a good night’s sleep before the trek. The temperature had dipped while we were on our way to Okhrey, and now it had become so cold that I felt like emptying my rucksack and wearing every piece of clothing in it ๐Ÿ˜€

Deep sleep – and probably a bit of snoring (my roommates would know ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Sometime around dawn (or was it?) I opened my eyes, and pushed the curtains aside .. looked outside and it’s bright and sunny. Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m late for the trek. First day of the trip, and I’m making my friends wait. Looked around the room, and see 2 people sleeping – peacefully. Huh? Picked up my phone and see it’s just 5:10 am. WHAT! Oh, right. This is the north eastern side of the country. Sunrise is very early – around 4:30 am. Phew! No one has to wait.

Instead of going back to sleep, which was impossible, I decide to step out. Take a walk. Maybe click a few pictures. Freezing cold outside. Still I manage to get over my laziness, and head out and I wasn’t disappointed.

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Good morning, Okhrey. Wish I could wake up to a views like this everyday.

I didn’t have to walk far to witness gorgeous views like the one in this picture. I just had to step out of the door .. and BOOM! It’s so beautiful.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is a short drive away from the homestay where we stayed. Then it’s a short 2-3 hours trek.

Had a hearty breakfast before heading out .. energy for the trek. The highlight of the meal was the sheera – yummy sheera full of dryfruits.

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welcome to Paradise

Okhrey (alt. 7200 ft) is a small village near the Sanctuary – majority of the people living here belong to the Sherpa community.

About the trek – It’s a short drive away from the homestay at Okhrey. You need to buy tickets at the entrance to the Sanctuary. No hassle ticket buying process… the polite (there’s that P word again) security guy at the ticket window asked minimum questions, and handed our tickets – no hassles.

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one of the many notices at the Sanctuary. This is also the home of the Red Panda.

It’s a gentle climb (a bit steep for non trekkers in some places)… but overall a pleasant walk in the forest. You are surrounded by rhododendron trees which were in full bloom.

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Rhododendron flower

(Sadly no good pictures on my mobile, just one blurry shot – y’all have to wait for the camera pics). There’s also bamboo, and sal trees. Depending on your fitness level, and walking pace it takes around 3-4 hours. This is just the trek within the sanctuary – just for the rhododendrons. There are other treks too – but you need a couple of days more for those.

So the 8 of us set out to explore the rhododendron forest – took plenty of breaks along the way. Snack break, photography breaks, to catch our breath, or just to stop and admire the nature around us. One of the most awaited moments of this trip was the mighty Kanchenjunga. I did manage to get a glimpse of the mighty mountain at one point during the trek. There’s a trekkers hut within the sanctuary – probably a base for some other treks in the region (e.g Singalila Ridge trek). We stopped here for a while – sipped tea while admiring the beautiful mountain in front of us. Sadly that was the only time during the 9 day trip that we saw this beautiful mountain and it’s snow capped peaks. On other days the views were obstructed by clouds ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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The Mighty Kanchenjunga (seen from Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary)

Lunch was under the shade of a tree – we had carried packed lunch as it wasn’t possible to return to the base before late afternoon.

Lunch, and then start the trek back to Okhrey. This time too I took plenty of breaks – to click pictures, eat something (I’m always hungry), or just wait – look at the mountain – hoping to get another glimpse of Kanchenjunga.

Reached Okhrey just in time for tea, and delicious snacks – food is always delicious ๐Ÿ˜€ There was a cultural program later that evening but we had plenty of time to spare.. so we set out to explore the family’s farm – where they grow brocolli, corn (probably – saw corn hung out to dry – for popcorn!). So that’s where they get the fresh produce for their meals.

Later that evening we had the first “remote village” experience – power cut. There was no power that evening and we had to sit for a long time in the darkness. Didn’t mind that one bit. It’s always good to sit out in the dark, in the cool breeze, talking, watching people, clicking pictures, playing with the dogs… Watching the prayer flags blowing in the breeze – so peaceful, so calm.

The cultural program was a lovely experience – the power was still out when it started. Folk dances of the Sherpa community – all performed by school kids. It was so wonderful to watch. The enthusiasm of those kids – too good! I do not have any pictures of that event. I was carrying my camera bag with me – but then I realised my battery is so low that it won’t last for more than a couple of shots. I didn’t click any pics – because that’d be rude – click a few pics, and then just sit with the camera without clicking because your battery is all drained out. The funniest part is I was carrying my mobile in my pocket but totally forgot about it. (Signs of old age, eh?)

No pictures – but it was an experience I’ll never forget. Such wonderful performances by little kids. Great memories.

Post a wonderful dinner it was time to dump everything back into the rucksack cos tomorrow we’d be traveling to Pelling. Had to set out early, so all the packing (or stuffing clothes in the rucksack – in my case) had to be done ASAP.

Thus ended Day 2 – a trek to see the lovely Rhododendrons, a special appearance by Kanchenjunga, the farm and the fresh veggies, a power cut, the friendly dogs, and the cultural event to cap it off. Eventful day – spent with great company.

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 1

My mobile displays the time …00:00 . It’s here. D-Day! The day has finally arrived. 8-April-2017. The day I FINALLY set out for my long awaited, much deserved trip to Sikkim.

No. Hang on. The flight is at 10:05 am, and it’s just midnight. Mr. Murphy be lurking in the shadows somewhere. Five years, and three failed attempts should have taught me something about plans going for a toss.

12:05 am. CAN’T SLEEP. So much excitement. Maybe it’s the huge tumbler of coffee I had just before dinner. Either way, there will be no sleeping tonight.

So … just lying down I try to make a mental list of all the stuff I was supposed to pack. And now begins the fun part – I always have this strange fear before every trip that I’ve forgotten to pack something. That gets converted to “the airline is going to misplace my bags” during a flight. Or, “what if my train is late”, “I’m going to forget something on the bus”, “maybe I’ve got into the wrong train/bus/any vehicle” ๐Ÿ˜€ Happens every time.

And I did forget something – torch. So I spend 45 minutes hunting for my headlamp. Obviously I don’t find it. But it at least keeps me occupied for about an hour, and probably woke up everyone at home.

6:00 am, and time to “wake up”. Haven’t slept a wink though. But yeah, wake up.ย  Breakfast, shower and I’m all set. I’m still not convinced this trip is happening.. Five years blah blah..

Booked an Uber for the ride to the airport, and two minutes later I get a call from the driver that he’s at my building gate. *Alarm bells clanging* That is the first sign. The glitch in the matrix. I mean, you’re not supposed to arrive at the gate in 2 minutes. What are you? Maggi? Go to the wrong locality, then wrong building, then the gate on the opposite side, and then finally after a world tour, arrive at my gate.

The ride to the airport was uneventful .. No traffic. Even with all the metro work on the highway. NO TRAFFIC! Another sign.

Arrive at the airport, and check-in done in 7 minutes. Sign #3. I don’t believe in signs and omens or stuff like that. But this is creeping me out. The universe is sending me signals. Oh em gee. Three failed attempts blah blah..

Checked in, and the long wait begins.ย  Now starts another round of “what if my flight is delayed”, “what if it’s cancelled”.ย  I look around. I see people clicking selfies, taking pictures of landing, take off, and parked planes. Much amusement. Such entertainment. Finally, the giant tv screen announces boarding for my flight, and relief! The take off was on time. 10:05 am. Should I interpret it as another signal? Naah!!!ย I AM GOING TO SIKKIM AFTER ALL!! Five years, three failed attempts…

Peaceful flight (= No screaming kids. No loud conversations ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). Slept for a bit, read a bit, looked out of the window and finally landed at Bagdogra airport. Met FRIENDS (7 wonderful people with whom I would be spending the next 9 days). Friends – yup! Didn’t know anyone from the group. Met them for the first time at Bagdogra. But that’s what traveling is all about. Meet new people, make friends, make memories. Had to wait for one from the group whose flight was delayed. But hey, who is complaining. A bit of chit chat, and lunch. All set to proceed towards Sikkim. Okhrey in West Sikkim, to be precise. Yay.

Okhrey is ~ 135 km from Bagdogra airport. Shouldn’t take more than 3 hours (maybe?) – in the plains. But mountain roads are tough. The people in the vehicle (driver, and passengers) make or break a journey. Extremely lucky to be in the company of 4 wonderful people. Lot’s of one liners (specially about reckless drivers, and bikers – more on that later), and some life gyaan by our amazing driver. The journey seemed like a breeze. So far.

Soon the straight roads were left behind, and we started ascending. Got to add a point here – Driving on narrow, winding mountain roads is a huge challenge, and much respect to all the people who do this every day.

We were informed beforehand that this was going to be a long long loooooong drive. And a long drive it was. And every long journey needs a quick chai break. We were not yet in Sikkim when we stopped for tea/coffee and snacks.

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We were in Kalimpong (Bengal). Stopped at this cute little place situated right next to the river. Had chai and momos, and maggi. You can’t travel to the mountains and not have momos and maggi ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s blasphemy.

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chai, momos and this view (at Kalimpong)

Still ascending, and sometime later the AC was switched off, and the windows rolled down. Felt the cool breeze on my face and I knew we’re getting close.

Sure enough we reached a check post and were greeted by a polite cop (erm, WHAT?) who checked our papers and wished us (WHAT again!) a happy stay in Sikkim.

There’s still a long way to go … but we stopped for a while to admire the view (it was dark already – but the moon! what lovely view. The almost full moon) and also to give the engines some rest.

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this view!

A short break, and we were off. The temperature had dropped, and I had to put on my jacket. Felt good though. Specially after the heat and humidity of Mumbai. More ascend, more winding roads, and a one liner about the dust (some road repair work on the way) we finally reached Okhrey at around 10 pm. Set off from Bagdogra around 3:15 -ish and drove non stop (with just one pit stop for tea).ย  Long, tiring journey – but strangely felt refreshed on reaching Okhrey. Adrenaline rush. That must be it.

Dinner (hot food!!) was waiting for us, and big surprise – I ate the veggies without any fuss. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Simple dinner – rice, daal, sabzi.

Dinner done, freshened up, and it’s lights off. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. Trek to the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary!

Lights off, and sweet dreams about the trek tomorrow. Ending Day 1 on a high note.

Note – There were two FIRSTS on this trip for me..

  1. First time I traveled with a all women group. Big shout out to F5 Escapes, for a wonderful trip. Well thought out itinerary. Plenty of off beat places – Thumbs up! and Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚
  2. First time I carried a book with me on a vacation (I can hear you laughing) – Read 50 pages –ย  *drum roll* while waiting for my flight, and during the flight. But hey, when you are in such awesome company you don’t need a book.

Another Note – Huge shout out to my F5 travel buddies. If you’re reading this THANK YOU. You are awesome.

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Long time ….

No see ๐Ÿ˜‰

Back after almost one year.. guess my blog posts have become a yearly event now. Starting a series of posts about my trip to Sikkim – will be titled (very creatively) as Sikkim Diaries.

I always carry a notepad whenever I travel… never blogged about my travels. But this trip *WAS* special.

So watch this space – coming up next – Sikkim Diaries Day1.

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Monday blues?

It’s Sunday evening, and most people are dreading the “Monday Morning Blues”. Me included.

The more I think about it, I realise it’s not Mondays… but Fridays that should be blue. Why? Okay, Monday mornings are a bit blue – I’m going back to work after a lovely two days off. Thinking of all the fun times I’ve had over the weekend. Monday mornings are a bit hectic. But once I’m in the office, and have had my daily dose of caffeine, I’m all ready to tackle whatever the day throws at me. But Fridays? The day just drags on and on and on and on and ….

I often find myself working late on Fridays. I’ve got to finsh everything before I leave for the day. Can’t leave anything pending, and then come back on Monday to find you have forgotten what you were doing. Okay, not that bad memory loss. But I don’t like to start a new work week with the previous week’s backlog. It’s not that on other days – you can always be at work a bit early the next day. I simply must finish everything. At least bring things to a logical conclusion.

So whenever I hear a colleague say TGIF!! on a Friday morning, I cringe. No. Don’t thank anyone. It’s going to be a long day (for me at least).

I’m thinking of changing it to TGIM, and Friday Blues. Anyone with me?