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A Travel Blog from India: May 2014

Friday, 30 May 2014

Skywatch Friday - Dal lake from Sky!

Our journey in Kashmir continues in this blog. After our experience of boat ride on Dal lake, here was a chance to go up in the sky!

When we arrived at the jetty, we saw this huge Helium balloon opposite the lake in Zabarwan park. Muzaffar, our driver told us that one can enter the balloon and it will take you up in the sky for a panoramic view of Dal lake and surroundings. We thought that it will be like travelling in a hot air balloon which would give us an opportunity see the landscape of Srinagar.

It was only when we came to ticket counter that we realised that it was a stationary balloon which goes up and comes down after few minutes in the sky. It wasn't the movable type. Nevertheless, we wanted to give a try and bought tickets.

The balloon up in the sky
A white big balloon - known as "Kashmir eye" locally - tied with a thick central rope and a number of colourful ropes from its sides that holds a big basket. This balloon is tied to a base through a strong cable and is pulled back with the help of a powerful winch. Cables beneath the balloon suspend the “basket” or capsule with a carrying capacity of 4 to 5 people. We had to wear a belt on our abdomen which is tied with the hooks on the sides of this basket. A red flag in the basket can be waved in case the balloon needs to be pulled down and an extra rope (rescue rope) which can be thrown down in case of emergencies like high wind. The Balloon is cable controlled by vigilant and trained staff. It goes up 100 to 120 meters where the balloon moves around the park with wind for a panoramic view of Dal Lake, Shankaracharya hill and downtown area.

The experience was not bad. The panoramic view of Dal lake and the hills was really good though we could not see mountains due to cloudy weather. Unfortunately, the tall poplar trees mar the visibility to some extent. Alternatively the balloon has to rise higher and above the height of these trees for better view.

Lovely view of Dal lake from the sky!
The Mountains as backdrop of the park
It may not be like a London eye or Singapore Flyer. It is not bad either. At Rs 500 a ticket, the cost of the ticket may look little steep. But it is good fun, especially if there are kids around. 

Try it once when you go to Srinagar next.

If you want read more about our experiences in Kashmir, you may look at the following posts

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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

10 Things to do in Ladakh you haven't done before!

It is the Time to go to Ladakh. This blog has been celebrating Ladakh and Kashmir for last few weeks. We will continue with another post on most enchanting place in India.

You would have already planned your trip to Ladakh by now. Your itinerary would include visiting Thiksey Monastery, Palace, Posing like Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor on Pangong Tso..... everything packed and planned for you by your tour operator on what to do in Ladakh.

There is more to Ladakh than these typical touristy places. Here is our list of what you should do which others might not have done before. Things that will enhance your Ladakh experience.

Read on.....

1 Stay with a Ladakhi family

If you want to have a true Ladakhi experience, then you have to stay in a Ladakhi home stay. Friendly people, they make you comfortable. You will enjoy best Tibetan cuisine. You will be accompanied by family members for walks in the nearby hills if you wish to!

Enjoying a meal in a Homestay (Photo Courtesy - Aimeebell)
For a list of Homestays in Ladakh, you may look at this link below.

Ladakh Home Stays

2 Go for Treks

You don't have to be mountaineer to climb a hill in Ladakh. It is easier to climb small hills and trek in the lovely valleys if you are well acclimatised. Climbing small hills and going for day treks locally is easier if you are staying in a Home stay. If you have time, plan for longer treks. It is worth the experience.

McKay Savage and team on Trek in Ladakh

For a pictorial essay of a trek in Ladakh click on McKay's album here

There are many agencies specialising in trekking in Ladakh. Here are few




3. Watch a High Altitude Football match

Ladakh and Football? Yes. Though not as popular as Polo and Archery, Football is slowly getting a fan following in Ladakh and Ladakhis are fond of the sport. You can watch local clubs fighting it out at 11,000 feet above sea level! You may join them for a game if you are well acclimatised. Else enjoy the match as a spectator.

A football match in Leh Photo Courtesy - T R Dastidar)
4 Talk to a Monk

This is something we did in Mcleodganj and it was a enriching experience. Monks in the numerous monasteries in Ladakh are pleasant lot and you can definitely spend time talking to them and understand their spiritual life in Tibetan monasteries. You can know more about Tibetan form of Buddhism from them.

A monk at his work table ( Photo Courtesy - Mihir Inamdar)
5 Attend a ceremony in a monastery

This will  be something special which you should do. For this, you need to contact the monastery in advance and find out the timings. When we were there in Leh, the monasteries were deserted as His Holiness Dalai Lama had come to Nubra and all monks had gone there. You can watch chanting and other rituals which would be a memorable experience. You can also attend the festivals which will be held in many monasteries between May - September.
A ceremony in Lamayuru monastery ( Photo Courtesy - Nityanand Shankar)
For a list of festivals in Ladakh, please click the link below

Calendar of Ladakh Festivals

Here is our experience of visiting monasteries and palaces in Leh town

Ladakh Diaries 3 - Leh, Sights of a Mountain town!

6 Visit a remote lake

Forget Pangong Tso. Everyone goes there now. Go to Tso Kar or Tso Moriri or even further to Tso Yaye. Thanks to Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots, Pangong Tso gets crowded during season. Head to other remote lakes to enjoy the serenity. You can either drive yourself or hire a Jeep in Leh.

Not only the lakes are spellbinding, the drive to them is an experience in itself.

Yaye Tso (Photo Courtesy - Romesh Bhattacharji)
7 Drive along Indus

You don't have time to do Manali - Leh road trip? But want to experience a bit of it? No problem. Hire a cab and drive along Indus river beyond Upshi for 100 KMs......May be upto Tanglang La. Leave early and do it as a day trip. You will love every minute of the experience.

Lovely Landscape on the way to Manali from Leh
You may check out our drive from Manali to Leh here in this blog.

Ladakh Diaries 1 - Manali to Leh, day One

Ladakh Diaries 2 - Manali to Leh, Day two

8 Sky watching in Nubra

Don't miss carrying a Binocular when you go to Ladakh. We would say carry a telescope. Ladakh is the best place to do sky watching. World's second highest observatory is located in Hanle near Nubra. Crystal clear skies at Nubra or Pangong Tso or anywhere in the region gives you an opportunity to spot the stars.

A night sky over Leh! (Photo Courtesy - Puneet Vikram Singh)
9 Go to Lamayuru.

We can't go to Moon. Can we experience moonscape? Yes, you can. In Lamayuru. Plan a day trip or stay overnight there to experience surreal moonscapes!

Moonscape!! (Photo Courtesy - Sandeepan Chetan)
10 Drink Ladakhi Rice beer - Chhaang!

We kept this as last item. But don't miss it. Light and tangy, the home brewed rice beer is a good drink. Should be drank freshly brewed. If you are staying in a home stay it becomes easier to get a drink.

The Bubbly! (Photo Courtesy - John Steedman)
Did we miss out any?  Do you have more to add? You are welcome to expand the list!

For other related posts on Ladakh in this blog, please click the link below.

Beautiful Ladakh!

Ladakh taken care of. Let us go off track here.......If you are a Goa buff like us, you would like this similar post below.

12 Things to do in Goa you haven't done before!

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Sunday, 25 May 2014

Monday Images - Spectacular Mountainscapes of Quebrada de Humahuaca & Ladakh!

Monday Images. Every weekend, we share images taken by us during our travel or those taken by fellow travellers from different parts of the world to places we haven't been to but liked them. Hope you will like them too.

This weekend, we were exploring for some pictures of Leh - Srinagar highway. We had done some fifty KMs of it when we were in Ladakh four years ago. we couldn't do it because of security situation in Srinagar then. Being the season of Ladakh on this blog, we thought it would be apt to showcase some pictures of the highway on this blog.

When we were searching for it in Flickr, we happened to see a lovely picture by Ms Ann Tatti. When we further dived deep and checked out her albums, we were stunned to see outstanding landscape of The Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Then we stuck a goldmine as we explored further. We were to see this amazing album by Mariano Mantel on Route 40 in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and its surrounding mountains. These pictures are taken by him on his Motorcycle trips to these mountains.

The Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow mountain valley located in the province of Jujuy in northwest Argentina, 1,649 km (1,025 mi) north of Buenos Aires. It is about 155 km (96 mi) long, oriented north-south, bordered by the Altiplano in the west and north, by the Sub-Andean hills in the east, and by the warm valleys (Valles Templados) in the south. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The landscape resemble that of Ladakh. The arid, broken landscape and pink coloured mountainscape was similar to the one we had seen while driving on Manali - Leh road.

Here are the pictures we had taken on Manali - Leh road..........
Eroded and broken landscape on Manali - Leh road
Pink and colourful mountainscape along Indus river befor Upashi on Manali - Leh road

The following are the pictures taken by Mariano Mantel on his Motorcycle trips........

Heaven above ... Jujuy
Route 52, at 4000 meters high Narrow Ronqui crossing towards the coast of Lipan
Gorge of the Arrows, Formations in the Gorge of the Arrows
The Castles Rock formation near the river gorge Cafayate in Salta Argentina Las Conchas
Painter's collage ........Pink Mountains of Quebrada ( by Ann Tatti)
For magnificent pictures taken by Mariano Martel during his Motorcycle ride in the region, please click here

Please take a look at this lovely Album by Ms Ann Tatti on Quebrada...

You may also look at the following posts on our drive in from Manali to Leh for some outstanding landscapes.......

So folks, all of you who have done the trips to Ladakh, plan to pack your bags to Argentina for your next trip!

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Friday, 23 May 2014

Skywatch Friday - Vistas on Leh to Srinagar Road

As Ladakh season starts, our memory goes back to 2010.

In 2010 when we went to Ladakh, our aim was to drive back to Srinagar by road and then onwards to Bangalore. We had experienced one of the spectacular drives in the world when we drove from Manali to Leh. The road from Leh to Srinagar is as spectacular as that from Manali. We had to abandon this trip due to security situation in Srinagar.

That didn't deter us in driving up to Basgo on the Leh - Srinagar road. It was a beautiful sunny morning and drive to Basgo was pleasant and delightful. Here are two pictures from that trip.

Lovely vistas on Leh - Srinagar road
The confluence of Sindhu and Zanskar rivers. Zanskar waters is darker of the two.
If you want to know more about our Manali - Leh road trip please click on the link below.

Ladakh Diaries 1 - Manali - Leh road, Day One

Ladakh Diaries 2 - Manali to Leh, Day two

If you want to know more about our trip to Basgo, please click on the link below.

Ladakh Diaries 5 - Basgo & Magnetic Hill

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Thursday, 22 May 2014

Srinagar 3 - Magnificent Mughal Gardens!

What is Srinagar without its majestic Mughal Gardens of Shalimar Bagh, Nishat bagh and 
Chashm-e-Shahi! If Dal lake is the life line of Srinagar, these gardens epitomises the grandeur of the city.  The great Moghuls have left for us a legacy of these gardens. Srinagar being their summer capital, they built these wonderful gardens modelled on great gardens of Persia.

After finishing lunch and resting for a while, we were at the mercy of Muzaffar. He is fond of Srinagar. Rightfully so and wanted us to see all that was on the offer in the city. This afternoon we were to be treated like royals in the Mughal gardens!

It continued to rain though not heavily. Keeping umbrellas handy, our first stop was at Chashm - e -Shahi garden. The setting of this garden fantastic. With a lovely backdrop of mountains, this is possibly the smallest of the three we were to see today. The natural spring in the garden gives the garden its name. Stepped garden modelled possibly on the lines of Hanging gardens of Babylonia, the design is typically Persian with focus clearly on the natural spring. The water from the spring flows down in terraces and creates waterfalls, aqueducts and fountains. The red brick structures provide a lovely contrast. The garden is tended immaculately. Thanks to rain, there weren't many tourists which was good for us.
The royal pavillion in Chasm - e - shahi garden with a backdrop of Himalayas
Well maintained garden. Notice the waterfall.
Lovely flowers!
Nishat Bagh, close to dal lake was our next stop. This is a large garden and typically Mughal in design. The large area provides for a well planned terraced garden. The garden is a broad cascade of terraces lined with avenues of Chinar and Cypress trees, which starts from the lakeshore and reaches up to an artificial façade at the hill end. There are 12 terraces. Nishat Bagh unlike Chashme Shahi is well spread out with a aqueduct in the middle. The aqueduct is built as per the topography which creates small water falls at many places. Rows of flowers flank on either side of the canal. The highlight of Nishat is the spectacular view of Dal lake from here. Normally all the gardens are crowded by locals as well as tourists. Thanks to rains, there were very few tourists today.

The terraced garden of Nishat bagh!
The pavillion which also acts a vantage point to view the lake
View of Dal Lake from the garden
We were now eager to see the largest of the Mughal gardens in India - Shalimar Bagh. Possibly the one in Lahore may be bigger than this. It is large. It is beautiful. It is a charming place. It possibly belongs to the league of beautiful gardens in the world. Big Chinar trees, beautiful flower beds, fountains, buildings with intricate art work all add to the beauty of this place. The Shalimar Bagh is well known for chini khanas, or arched niches, behind garden waterfalls. They are a unique feature in the Bagh. These niches were lighted at night with oil lamps, which gave a fairy tale appearance to the water falls. However, now the niches hold pots of flower pots that reflect their colours behind the cascading water. The walls and ceiling of pavilions in the garden has beautiful intricate work of Kashmiri motifs. Sadly they are not well maintained. Thankfully the weather had cleared a bit though cloudy. The garden was looking nice in the dispersed sunlight.

Dewan -e-khas or royal Pavillion
Intricate art work on the walls and ceilings

It was an afternoon well spent. It started drizzling even as we got out of Shalimar bagh. Driving along Dal lake was a pleasant experience. The sun was setting behind the hills even as we could see a lone boatman on the lake........possibly returning home.                                                                                   
Travel Tips

a) You need at least half a day to explore these gardens. There is a nominal entry fees for the gardens.
b) During season, the gardens get crowded with tourists. On weekends, by locals as well.
c) Explore the gardens leisurely. Appreciate the way they have been planned some five hundred years ago!
d) You don't need any guide to explore these gardens.  

You may click on the links below to read more on Kashmir in this blog.

Yusmarg - Hidden wonder of Kashmir!

Spectacular Srinagar 1 - A Floating market on Dal Lake!

Spectacular Srinagar 2 - Lullaby on Dal lake!

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Monday Images - Ladakh, ahoy!

Monday Images. Every weekend, we share images taken by us during our travel or those taken by fellow travellers from different parts of the world to places we haven't been to but liked them. Hope you will like them too.

Ladakh season has started. It is the time to explore its outstanding landscape. Time to explore cold desert and its beautiful vistas.

We were there in 2010 and it was a memorable trip. The drive from Manali to Leh was once in a lifetime experience. The drive to Pangong Tso was spectacular. To top it all was the heady feeling of being on top of the highest motorable road in in the world in Khardung La!

These are some pictures of magnificent vistas of Ladakh we had clicked during our trip.

A panoramic view of a Ladakhi village on the way to Khardung La
The road to Pangong Tso lake has stunning landscape like this
Awesome vistas of Pangong Tso lake 
Road through Barlacha La on Manali - Leh highway
Suraj Tal on Manali - Leh highway
Spectacular sand formations after Sarchu on Manali - Leh highway
In Ladakh, it is the journey to the destination which is beautiful. The drives through the mountains are mesmerising!

If you are planning a trip to Ladakh, you may look at the following posts on Ladakh in "Ladakh Diaries" series in this blog.

Ladakh Diaries 1 - Manali to Leh, Day one.

Ladakh Diaries 2 - Manali to Leh, Day two

Ladakh Diaries 3 - Leh, Sights of a Mountain town!

Ladakh Diaries 4 - On top of the world @ Khardung La!

Ladakh Diaries 5 - Spectacular drive to Pangong Tso, the lake @ 14,000 feet!

Ladakh Diaries 6 - Basgo, Magnetic hill & Gurudwara Pathar Sahib

Ladakh Diaries 7 - Himalayas from the Sky!

We came across this outstanding album on Ladakh by Ray Universe. The pictures in this album are just mindblowing. Take a look. Dont miss it. You will be left with a "Wow" feeling. Click on this link below.

Magnificent Ladakh!

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Friday, 16 May 2014

Skywatch Friday - Mountains on the way to Sonmarg, Kashmir

Kashmir season continues on this blog........

It was in the afternoon that we set out to go to Sonmarg from where we were supposed start our Great lakes trek. The journey from Srinagar to Sonamarg was breathtaking as we travelled along the river flanked by mountains on either side. It was cloudy and we could see the clouds hugging the mountains. Good rains in the previous week had brought streams and waterfalls to life which we could see aplenty.

These pictures was clicked on a cloudy afternoon. It started pouring after we started again. Ultimately we had to abandon the trek due to rain.

For other posts on Kashmir you may click on the following posts on this blog.

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Thursday, 15 May 2014

Srinagar 2 - Lullaby on Dal and Nagin Lakes!

Dal lake epitomises Srinagar and it is it's lifeline. The life in Srinagar revolves around Dal. Whenever we think of Kashmir and Srinagar the first thing that comes to mind are its lovely lakes and gardens.To say Dal is a beautiful lake is an understatement. It is spectacular and massive water body. You will not be able to see the opposite bank unless you are using a binocular. Next to Dal is Nagin. While Dal gets crowded by tourists during the season, Nagin is a quiet paradise. 

After coming back from our early morning visit to floating market we were ready to make a visit to two lakes. Being the lean season and the fact it was raining in the previous week, we didn't see many tourists at the jetty. It was cloudy which meant that we would not get to savour the view of mighty Himalayas. That didn't deter us in hiring a Shikara for a ride. Muzaffar spoke to the boatman in Kashmiri and we fixed a price for one hour ride on the lake.

The Jetty
The boat ride on dal lake is a very relaxing experience. The Shikaras are essentially small row boats. They are colourfully painted and very comfortable for two persons. A ride in a Shikara is like a lullaby. Slow and soothing. When you lie down on the soft cushions, you get a feeling of floating on the water. No one is in a hurry here. Put your feet up and unwind!

The boat man - Ali - started slowly. We moved through lovely stretches of lilies and lotuses which we could touch and feel. The floating gardens on the lake known as "Rad" in Kashmiri blossom with lotus flowers during July and August. Drops of rain from light drizzle were floating on the leaves like pearls. As we rowed away from the shore, peaks behind Nishat bagh gardens became visible whenever clouds cleared. With Clouds playing hide and seek, we had to keep our eyes open to grab the view of any vistas.

Let us now take you through the vistas of the lake.....

A shikara moored in the lake
Houseboats moored on the other bank of the lake
We found this big houseboat moored in quiet corner of the lake.
A broken fortified wall in the middle of the lake.
We saw this small boat moored in the lake. The blue colour of the boat was a nice contrast to the green all around.
The enormity of the lake ......
The lake is full of lovely lilies, lotuses
A panoramic view of the lake 
We were now far away from the banks. The enormity of the lake could be experienced now. Fortunately, ours was the only shikara in the lake as Ali rowed quietly. Ali started talking about how the booming tourism always gets derailed by some minor incidents in the city which gets blown up on mainland India. We could realise ourselves later during our stay. The ride in Dal lake is different because of the surroundings. The Lake gets water from surrounding hills which also acts as lovely backdrop. We were not fortunate to see the snow covered peaks which are visible in summers. Nevertheless, this is one ride you should enjoy relaxedly. 

Ali started rowing us back. We found another boat coming closer to us. It was a floating store! The guy in the boat was selling Kashmiri jewellery. Brinda was interested to take a closer look at it. The silver jewellery looked interesting. Brinda liked few, bargained hard and bought them. Being lean season, we were able to get good price. The seller was also happy that he got some business in this season. Another twenty minutes of ride on the lake, we were back. 

It was a de-stressing and nice ride. Muzaffar was ready and we drove to Nagin lake which is closeby. Nagin is smaller in size and in fact is a part of Dal. The two lakes are separated by a small causeway which help locals to move around for their day-to-day activities. The first impression you get when you reach Nagin is its quietude. Not many tourists come here and being lean season there was none in the morning except us.

It started drizzling and we opened our umbrellas even as we negotiated and got into a shikara. This was to be a short ride. But nevertheless it was pleasant. We could go closer to the houseboats moored on the banks. The activities by locals was more on this lake than Dal which is generally filled with tourists. You don't see many houseboats on Dal but on Nagin, you can see them berthed on the banks. Mohammed, our boat man was an elderly person and hospitable. He made sure we were taken around the lake and enjoyed the ride.
Houseboats moored on the banks of the lake 

Lilies and water drops on the leaves 
A lone boatman on the lake
It started pouring as we got down from the boat. We rushed to the car and Muzaffar brought us back to our home stay for a lovely lunch of Kashmiri Alu Dum!

Travel Tips

a) Boat ride early in the morning is soothing and relaxed. For this, make sure you book Shikara on the previous day. During season, it is good to go for the ride in the morning when it is quiet.

b) A sunrise ride on the lake is a welcome experience if you can get up early. One can witness spectacular sunrise on the lakes.

c) While on the boat, you may be approached by hawkers on the boat selling various items.

d) You may talk to your boatman who is generally friendly. Ask him to sing a Kashmiri folk song and he will oblige.

e) During the peak season, the rates for shikara will increase. Make sure you bargain and get good rates.

f) There are small shikaras which accommodate two people and bigger ones which can accommodate 8-10 people. If you are a couple choose the smaller one.

g) Nobody wears life jacket on the boat. Please do not move around without asking the boatman lest the boat may topple over.

h) Carry a binocular with you. If you are going for an early morning ride, then you will be able to spot many birds - Kingfisher, Barn Swallows, Common starling, night herons......

For other posts on Kashmir in this blog, please click on the links below

Yusmarg - Hidden wonder of Kashmir!

Spectacular Srinagar 1 - Floating market on Dal lake!

Skywatch Friday - Srinagar from Taj!

Monday Images - Great lakes of Kashmir

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