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A Travel Blog from India: April 2014

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Srinagar 1 - Floating Market on Dal Lake!

As scorching summer beckons us to cooler places, we thought of focusing next few posts on that lovely paradise called Kashmir. Here we go with the first one on Srinagar.

For Indians who are brought up on the staple diet of Bollywood movies, Srinagar and Kashmir is not new to us. Whether it is Shammi gyrating to Rafi's song in Kashmir Ki Kali or Rajesh Khanna courting Sharmila in Aradhana, we always knew that this is a lovely place.

It was in August last year that we planned to visit Kashmir. The visit was more for the "Great lakes trek" in Kashmir. Our initial plan was to go for the trek and then spend few days in Srinagar to explore nearby places. As luck would have it, we could not go for trekking due to heavy rain in the hills which gave us full four days to explore Kashmir.

To say, Kashmir is beautiful is an understatement. As Kashmiris say, it is "Zannat" or "Paradise". We could realise it even as the plane was making circles over Srinagar before landing. The mist filled valley with houses made of colourful roof looked like as if we were landing in an European country. The first impression as we left Srinagar airport and moved towards our home stay in Raj Bagh was that everything seemed to be calm and peaceful. The roads were clean and was lined up with Poplar trees. There was a nip in the air and the previous day's rains had ensured that the city was cleansed of dust.

What do we do in Srinagar? We asked Yasmin, our host. We knew and read about Srinagar - Dal lake, its houseboats, the gardens, the lakes and then of course the cuisine. We wanted to explore beyond that. On her advice, we started with something exciting - Floating Market on Dal lake.You must have read about floating markets in some of the south east asian countries. But this is unique. Let us tell you why.

Thus, our first day in Kashmir started with a an early morning visit to the floating markets on Dal lake. We are not sure why this market start so early, almost at dawn. Yasmin had warned us to reach there in time lest we would see nothing. We woke up early and were ready to hop into the Innova. Muzaffar drove us down in the misty morning to the jetty in darkness. The flickering lights of the buildings on the banks were the bright spots in a dark surrounding. We had negotiated a shikara on the previous day who would take us around the market and bring back.

We started cruising on the lake early in the morning in darkness as dawn was breaking out. The stillness of water, the tranquility of surroundings broken only by the calls for prayers from distant mosques in the city provided for a thrilling experience. Fortunately it wasn't raining though the sky was overcast. The cruise on Dal lake is slow and manual. Thank heavens for that. The manual rowing of the boat ensure that tranquility of the lake is not disturbed.

After 45 minutes, we reached the floating market. It was already buzzing with Kashmiris with their wares. Having noticed that we are outsiders and tourists, few hawkers came closer to us asking us to buy the flowers. The flowers were fresh and lovely. Yusuf, our boatman was very enterprising and we had told him to take us to all corners of the market. At the same time he was also giving us a running commentary of how important this market is to Kashmiris. This market is a more of a vegetable and flower market. The fresh produce by farmers living on the banks of the lake is loaded onto the boat and brought here every morning. Yusuf manouvered well through the boats selling fresh vegetables and flowers.

Here are few vistas of the floating market......

The buyers had come in their own boats and we could see them bargaining with the wholesalers for the best price. Soon after an hour, we could see all the vegetables/flowers transferred from wholesalers to retailers and boats moving away slowly. The market is active only for an hour. This is the uniqueness of the floating market of Srinagar. It is not a permanent market like you find in some of the South East Asian countries. This is also a man's market. We did not see a single woman in the market!

As boats melted away into the horizon, Yusuf asked us whether we liked the experience. We said yes, we loved every minute of it.

Getting there

Air - Srinagar is well connected by flights to all major cities in India.

Train - The train services are available only upto Udhampur which is connected to rest of the country. From here, either you have to catch a bus or hire a taxi to Srinagar.

Road - Srinagar is well connected to mainland India through one of picturesque roads. Regular buses operate from Jammu and other places.

Best time to visit

Srinagar is good to go in any season. Winters will be extremely cold. If you are looking for best season to be there it is May -June and September - October. The summer months of May - June will be crowded with tourists and prices will be higher.

Stay Options

There are plenty of options to stay in Srinagar including houseboats. We somehow did not like houseboats which are stationary in the lake unlike the ones you find in Kerala which move in backwaters. For a superb view of Dal lake and Srinagar city, go to Taj Vivanta.

We stayed in a lovely home stay in Raj Bagh area. We highly recommend it.

Travel Tips

Let us restrict these tips only for exploring the floating markets.

a) Make sure you are there at sun rise. The market closes very quickly after sunrise. Transactions are quick here!
b) Make sure you book a shikara on previous day. Else, you may not find one when you arrive at jetty early in the morning.
c) You may be surrounded by hawkers selling flowers. Buy a bunch. That way you will be helping these folks. Of Course, the flowers are lovely.
d) Take drinking water and small eats along. 
e) enjoy the atmosphere. talk to people. Kashmiris are very friendly.

For other posts on Kashmir on this blog, please click here

Yusmarg - Hidden wonder of Kashmir


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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Monday Images - Fantastic Fjords of Norway!

Monday Images. Every weekend, we share some brilliant Images from fellow travellers from different parts of the world. We have liked them. Hope you will too.

Norway - "The land of Midnight sun" is a beautiful country. The country is so picturesque that the landscape looks like a lovely painting. Especially in summer.

The Fjords of Norway is a natural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site. A cruise through the Fjords is an unforgettable experience. 

Take a look at the following pictures of Norway. 

Photo Courtesy - Peter Wdek
Photo Courtesy - Scarborough Cruiser
Photo Courtesy - J S McElvery
Picture courtesy - Morten Larsen
Another entry in our bucket list of places to see!

For a mesmerising pictorial tour of Fjords cruise, please click the link below

Norwegian Fjords Cruise in Pictures

Have you visited Norway and its Fjords? Pls share your experience.

If you are planning a trip to Fjords in Norway, click on this link below for more details

Fjords of Norway

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Friday, 25 April 2014

Skywatch Friday - Hemkund Sahib, Himalayas

The shrine of Hemkund Sahib is one of the holiest shrines for Sikhs. The location and setting of the shrine is so spectacular, you can actually feel the divine when you reach there after an arduous trek. 

We were there two years back as a part of our trek to Valley of Flowers in Indian Himalayas. It was raining when we started the trek and after an arduous trek of 6 KMs wherein you climb from 11000 feet to 15,000 feet. It was a "wow" feeling when we saw the glimpse of the shrine. Soon the clouds enveloped the whole area. We were not fortunate to enjoy the magnificent setting of the shrine as you can see in the picture below. 

Few clouds and their reflection in the pristine waters of the lake adds to the beauty of surroundings on a clear day.
For complete detail of our trek experience to Hemkund Sahib, you may look at the following post in the blog.

Valley of Flowers - Trek to Hemkund Sahib

You may also look at this post on the lovely trek to Valley of Flowers

Trek to Valley of Flowers

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Wildlife Stories - 4 Wildlife Bloggers You should read!

Summer is good time to go to wildlife sanctuaries. Yes, it will be hot. The forest will be brown. But this is also the best time to spot the animals. Especially the big cats. Elusive they are, otherwise.

We have been wildlife enthusiasts ourselves.  Brought up on staple diet of "Sanctuary Magazine" it is always fun to read an account of adventures by fellow wildlife enthusiasts. These are few "Wildlife bloggers" as we call them. You find many "Wildlife Photographers" but very few "Wildlife Bloggers".

Read them and we are sure your next trip will be either to Nagarahole or Corbett or Kaziranga!

Thomas Anand

Thomas started wildlife photography about 8-9 years back as a hobby (it is still a hobby as he has a day job in one of the IT companies in Bangalore). He tries to capture experiences that he and his wife have had every time they visit a wildlife destination. Both ensure that all their travel destinations revolve around wildlife. The best part of them is presenting their trips in an interesting manner with lovely photographs.

Snow Leopard in Ladakh
Please take a look at their adventures in the blog here

Vijay Cavale

Many of us know that Vijay is a excellent wildlife photographer. He is passionate about it. But he is also an excellent blogger which you will realise after reading one of his stories. He is lucid and provide those tit bits which are very useful for anyone interested in travelling to the destination.

Otter captured in Kaveri, Galibore
Please take a look at his adventures in his blog here

Angad Achappa

Passionate about Wildlife, Angad captures wild animals in his Canon camera and peppers them with nice write up. To Angad, wildlife photography provides is a unique opportunity to capture special moments in time, portraying the uniqueness of even the most common birds and animals around us. 

Slender Loris, Devarayanadurga, Karnataka 
Please take a look at his adventures in his blog here

Kalyan Varma

Acclaimed wildlife photographer, filmmaker, naturalist and explorer specializing in environment, science and ecology in India. Kalyan freelance with many of the world's leading magazines, environmental NGOs and television channels like Nat Geo and BBC. His photographs are a treat for the eyes. See them to believe it. More interesting are his lovely photo essays.

Desert fox pups, Rann of Kutch, Gujarat 
Please take a look at his adventures in his blog here

This an indicative list of bloggers specialising in wildlife we have liked. Passionate to the core, these guys bring a smile to our face when we flip through their stories and see their excellent pictures.

Have you come across anyone similar? Please share it with us.

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Monday Images - Magic of Mongolia!

Monday Images. Every weekend, we share some brilliant Images from fellow travellers from different parts of the world. We have liked them. Hope you will too.

You must have read about the great Emperor Genghis Khan as a part of your history lessons in the school. If you haven't don't worry.

Mongolia or "The land of blue skies" as it is nicknamed is the land of Genghis Khan. It is a beautiful country. Unexplored, inhabited by simple nomadic people. This is one of the countries on our list as well. If you are lucky to go there, you will come back with some lovely memories like Stefan's pictures show us below. 

You can not but agree that it is a magic out there!

For a full set of lovely pictures of Mongolia by Stefan Schinning, please click the link below

Magic of Mongolia by Stefan

If you plan to visit Mongolia, this site may be helpful.

Visit Mongolia

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

17 Cool options to beat the heat in South India!

The heat is on. Summer is scorching. There is no sign of Mango showers to bring the mercury down. Even in Bangalore which normally receives its first showers after Holi is yet to get good rain. 

Why not spend few days in the hills and beat the heat?

These are our list of places to beat the heat in summer. Some places where we stayed and came back with happy memories. Some places which comes highly recommended, in our bucket list to stay some day. These places are either Home Stays or small resorts. Not the fancy five star stuff. 

Let us start with those we have cherished our stay and came back with sweet memories.

Red Hills Nature Resort, Red Hills, Ooty

You can't call this a resort. This is more like a large home stay. The location is the king here. Perched on a elevated place with a hill as a backdrop, this place has fantastic view of the Emerald and Avalanche lakes below. If you can get up early, you will be treated to a lovely sunrise.

Rooms - Neat and comes with a fireplace.
Food - Good
Activities - Don't miss the lovely hike to the small hill behind the resort for jaw dropping views of lake district of Ooty.

Take a look this post on this blog - A Quick escape to Red Hills!

Official Website - Red Hills Nature Resort

Destiny Farmstay, Avalanche, Ooty

You will be bowled over by the setting of this place. Especially after the rains when the backwaters of Avalanche dam reaches the resort. A new structure built overlooking the plateau, it gives you a feel of an European ranch.

Room - Spacious and well furnished. Comes with a fireplace.
Food - Good
Activities - You have host of activities in the resort. You can do rappelling, fishing, riding, milking of a cow, small hikes in the forest. Kids would love this place.

Official Website - Destiny Farmstay

Sinnadorai's Bungalows @ Sakleshpur, Valparai and Mango Range

We clubbed all three into one.

Each one though is different and provides for a lovely experience. Kadamane estate in Sakleshpur is a huge British bungalow. Mango Range is a cute bungalow with only three rooms. The Bungalow in Valparai is on a small hillock overlooking the valley. All three bungalows have retained the charm of planter's life left behind by British. Go there. You will not be disappointed.

Rooms - Rooms in all the bungalows are very spacious and nicely done.
Food - It varies from excellent in Valparai to Good in Kadamane and Mango Range.
Activities - Go for small hikes in all the three places. Wildlife watching in Valparai. Tennis and Basketball in Kadamane. Trek to waterfalls in Kadamane. Jeep drive to five acres - an amazing view point - in Kadamane. Mango Range is ideally suited to explore both Ooty and Wayanad.

Please take a look at the following posts on this blog

a) Kaptivated in Kadamane!

b) Valparai - An unexplored wonder!

c) Monsoon experience @ Mango Range

Official Website - Sinnadorai's Bungalows

Villa Retreat, Kodaikanal

A cute little Victorian villa with an outstanding view of the valley. Again the location is the king. Excellent gardens and lovely rooms with magnificent views of the Kodai valley makes this place special.

Rooms - Rooms are generally spacious and neat. You have a wide choice based on tariff.
Food - Excellent
Activities - Nothing much inside the retreat. Many places to visit within the city.

Official Website - Villa Retreat

Thotadhahalli Home Stay, Chikmagalur

This is a real home stay. Small and nice. At the foothills of Mullayanagiri. Prakash and Pallavi are lovely hosts.

Rooms - Spacious and well done rooms. Kids will love the room with mezzanine floor.
Food - Excellent. Check out local Malnad recipes.
Activities - Nothing much in the homestay except for small walk in the estate and a basketball net. Go for a night drive in Jeep with Prakash. If it is a new moon day, you will be surprised by the silence in the estate.

Official Website - Thotadhahalli

Villa Urvinkhan, Chikmagalur

Lot of love has gone into making this place by Sunil and Shwetha. Beautifully located with a lovely pool overlooking the valley, the place is a hidden gem in crowded Chikmagalur.

Rooms - Excellent rooms. Spacious and done aesthetically by Sunil and Shwetha. Each room has a private sit out, a fire place.
Food - Good. 
Activities - You can go for a walk in the estate, fish in the pond, use paddle boat in the pond, swim in the pool. 

Official Website - Villa Urvinkhan

Let us now list out the places in the hills which are on our bucket list. We havent been to these places but have heard from friends and read about them.

Cloud Mountain Bungalow, Meghamalai, Tamil Nadu

This is still an unexplored country. Meghamalai retains its charm of secludedness. Woodbriar is a great example of how British used to live in their tea plantations. We would love to go there after rains, for sure. Woodbriar group also has some lovely bungalows in Munnar and Valparai as well.

Official Website - Woodbriar Bungalows

Camelot Resort, Munnar, Kerala

It is organic and sustainable living here folks. The lovely boutique resort with ten comfortable cottages amidst an organic garden. 

Official Website - Camelot

Camp Noel, Munnar, Kerala

This is straight out of Europe! Location is the king here. Away from the hustle bustle of Munnar town.

Official Website - Camp Noel

Cinnabar, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu

This is what one call an ideal homestay. Only two lovely rooms inside a beautiful house of Bala & Vasu. You can learn about Organic farming, making cheese or if you are outdoor type, Bala will help you to go for a trek in the forests!

Official Website - Cinnabar Farm

Bougainvillea, Ooty, Tamil Nadu

It is good to see more of these heritage bungalows in Ooty available for visitors to the Queen of hill station. Bougainvillea is one of them to explore for sure.

Official Website - Bouganvillea

Fringeford, Wayanad, Kerala

We still wonder how we haven't been here. A secluded beauty in the forests of Wayanad, your only companions here are silence or cries of wild cat! 

Official Website - Fringeford

Old Kent Estate, Coorg, Karnataka

We did not know this till a friend was singing paeans to it. When we looked at their website, we were bowled over at this English bungalow so lovingly maintained. Will go there sometime!

Official Website - Old Kent Estate

Magnolia resorts, Coorg, Karnataka

A boutique resort if you can call it. It is a welcome addition to those who want to spend few days of tranquility in Coorg.

Official Website - Magnolia

Halli Berri Cottages, Chikmagalur, Karnataka

The hills of Coorg and Chikmagalur springs surprises every now and then with new properties coming up. These places are aesthetically beautiful whether they are new construction or restored ones. Halli Berri joins the select list in Chikmagalur. A place to go. You can see why when you look at their website.

Official Website - Halli Berri Cottages

Thippanahalli Homestay, Chikmagalur

Grand old lady of all Homestays in Chikmagalur. You need to book well in advance to get here. We have had that experience of not getting a chance to stay whenever we decided to go there late. We will make it some day!

Official Website - Thippanahalli Homestay

Vanilla County, Vagamon, Kerala

We always knew Vagamon is God's own country. Unexplored region and a biodiversity hotspot. In the midst of this is the heritage bungalow! Nothing else matters. Have to go some day!

Official Website - Vanilla County

These were some of the places we thought we would share with you. Places where you can chill out during this summer. Have you been to any other interesting place in the hills? Please share it here. We would love to hear from you.

If you are planning a hill holiday in South India, you may look at the following post on this blog

Driving Holidays from Bangalore 5 - Hill holiday in Coorg, Wayanad & Ooty

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Monday Images - Sahara, Desert beautiful!

Monday Images. Every weekend, we share some brilliant Images from fellow travellers from different parts of the world. We have liked them. Hope you will too.

From the coldest place on Earth to the hottest.

Yes, we are talking of Sahara desert. The largest stretch of sand on earth is amazingly beautiful. It has its own mountains, oases and its own forests. The rock formations which are formed millions of years ago are natural wonders. You might have read about it and seen lovely pictures in magazines like National Geographic.

When we were browsing through some pictures on Flickr, we were stunned by the beauty of the desert captured by Claudio. An avid traveller, he has shot these mindblowing landscape of the Sahara desert in Algeria.

Have we influenced you enough to alter your winter travel plan and made you head to Sahara?

For more stunning pictures of Sahara by Claudio, please click here. Dont blame us if you are awestruck!

Algeria by Claudio Pettazi

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Friday, 11 April 2014

Skywatch Friday - Hong Kong from the Sky

Hong Kong does not have a London Eye or Singapore Flyer. But what it has is the cable car to Big Buddha or Tian Tan Buddha.

It was in 2008 that I (Poorna) visited Hong Kong second time as part of my work. A bustling metropolis, Hong Kong has its own charms. One of them is the thrilling ride on cable car to Big Buddha. A cable car riding over a distance of 6 KMs gives you fantastic vistas of Hong Kong landscape. 

Fortunately the weather was good.  It was around 11 AM when we travelled in these lovely cable cars enjoying the fantastic vistas of Hong Kong.

Don't miss taking a ride on this cable car and get divine blessings of Tian Tan Buddha while ein Hong Kong.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Road Trip Vignettes - Banyan tree and Tulsi Vrindavan

We just stopped seeing this. 

The setting was lovely. This was during our trip to Dudhsagar and Goa in August last year. As we left the hotel in Siolim and started for Morjim beach, the driver asked us whether we would like to see a big banyan tree nearby. He said this was the largest tree in Goa. We were curious as we have seen one of the largest Banyan trees in the world in Bangalore. 

When we arrived at the spot, the tree was big but nowhere in comparison to the one in Bangalore. What caught our eye was a small Tulsi Vrindavan or the place where Tulsi, the holy basil is grown. There was no tulsi plant but the colourful Vrindavan was a lovely contrast to the grey backdrop of the aerial roots of Banyan. The small Vrindavan was a contrast to the huge tree.

Around the roots were the holy white threads. 

Brinda clicked the picture for the keeps. Here it is.

Have you noticed unusual vignettes during your travel?

If you want to explore unusual Goa, you may look at the following post in this blog

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

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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Monday Images - Magnificent vistas of White Continent!

Monday Images. Every weekend, we share some brilliant Images from fellow travellers from different parts of the world. We have liked them. Hope you will too.

Antarctica aka White Continent.

Very few of us get a chance to visit the icy world.

We can at least savour the beauty of it through the eyes of some fellow travellers who were lucky enough to go there. Donna Hampshire is one of them.

We loved her beautiful pictures of the continent. It is your turn now. Here are few brilliant pictures shot by her.

Please spare a moment to take a look at her other pictures of white continent here. It will definitely make your Monday lovely!

Awesome Antarctica

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Back of the Blog - Sundays are meant to be in Sunday Bazaar!

Surprised with title of this post?

Instead of asking you to laze around on the bed and drink a good cup of coffee with newspaper in hand, why are we suggesting you to go to Sunday bazaar? Because, if you are curious and looking for an experience of street shopping, this is the place to be in Bangalore. We are not sure of other places - we understand that Hyderabad also has one and Delhi has Sunday Book bazaar - but you should make a point to visit Sunday bazaar in Bangalore. 

My first experience of Sunday Bazaar or "Gujari" - as it used to be called in good old days - was accompanying my dad on Sunday mornings to the old city of Bangalore. It was to buy second hand stuff. On Sundays, when the regular shops are closed, another market springs to life where you can buy anything. 

This is what we would suggest you to do this Sunday if you are in Bangalore. Get up lazily, have your cup of coffee with a diet of your favourite newspaper. Then take out your vehicle or better pick up an auto rickshaw and head to Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan in Balepet for a brunch around 10 AM. Finish brunch of excellent Masale Dose and Rave Bisi Bele Bath and then take a leisurely walk towards BVK Iyengar road. 

Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan (Photo Courtesy - http://indianbazaars.blogspot.in/)
Once you reach BVK Iyengar road, its lanes and bye lanes, you will be surprised with the number of temporary stalls on the footpath selling anything from old LP records to latest cell phones. You are now in Sunday Bazaar. Bangalore's own Chor Bazaar replica of Mumbai.

The uniqueness of Sunday Bazaar is it is never stagnant. You will always find something interesting if you have an eye for the curious.  Anything sells here. Bolts to blankets, from soles to software, from loo bowls to washing machines, name it and you will find it at the Sunday Bazaar.

Dumbbells for Sale (Photo Courtesy - Subbarayan Prasanna)
It all started as a market for secondhand goods. It continues to be one. But of late, you will see brand new items jostling for space with old on the streets.  As you walk along the lanes and bye lines, you will be surprised to see items you had never thought of.  Old coins, old books, binoculars, old cameras, radios, LP records and antique stuff......if you have patience to look around and check you will be surprised with list.  Home décor items, tools and equipments, mixer-grinders, washing machines, television sets, music systems, DVD players, refrigerators, garments, blankets, gym equipments, pen-drives, imported watches. List is endless.

Yes, you need to bargain for the prices. The traders are also aware of this. So it is the question of who has better bargaining skills. 

It is a good place to pick up stuff of yester years. Also good for human watching, to see the energy of people who throng every Sunday to buy items at cheaper cost. We go there once in a while to pick up some knick knacks or an antique lock or an old camera. We have never come back disappointed. 

Post Script - This is not like a leisurely shopping you experience in Malls in an air conditioned atmosphere. You will not get branded items here. Wear a cap and sunglasses. Carry bottles of water. The complete area of Old Bangalore will be like a huge market. It is up to you to explore. Based on your patience and time!

Please take a look at this nice Photo Essay on Sunday Bazaar by Subbarayan Prasanna 

Sunday Bazaar on BVK Iyengar Road

Have you had similar Bazaar experience? Do share it.

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Skywatch Friday - Sunset at Orchha

Orchha is a small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh in Central India. It still remain non descript but for the Betwa river, the charming palace, fort, chattris and temples

My first association with Orchha was when i was posted in Jhansi while serving in the army 25 year back. This used to be our place for weekend trips on our bicycles.

During our grand road trip of Central India in 2011, we stopped over for a night at Orchha. This wasn't planned and was a last minute change. I had told Brinda on the charms of Orchha, especially its mesmerising sunset. Thus, our endeavour was to reach Orchha well in time to catch the glorious moment.

Driving from Lucknow, we reached Orchha around 4 PM. Going straight to the Palace - it closes by 5 PM - we were able to appreciate lovely architectural sense of Bundelkhand kings. We kept a tab on our watch and as we neared the sun set time, we moved to the vantage point on the bridge over Betwa river.

As the sun went down in the horizon behind the silhouettes of the chattris, we clicked crazy and played around with exposures. It was a mindblowing experience which you can see below.

Don't miss visiting Orchha when you plan your trip to Khajuraho. We will follow up with a detailed post on the place in this blog. Stay tuned.


Chattri - Cenotaph

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