Tungabhadra river at Hampi

Weekend Getaways From Bangalore: Places to visit in 2 days

If you are looking for some places to visit near Bangalore (or Bengaluru if you insist) over the next long weekend that comes up, this post is for you! Here is a list of just 5 of the popular weekend getaways from Bangalore, as recommended by travel bloggers.

1. Munnar

One of the most preferred destinations among travellers for weekend getaways from Bangalore is Munnar. Munnar boasts an enticing landscape enveloped in carpets of tea plantations. It is till date the greenest place I’ve ever seen on this planet. Not only is it famous for its tea plantations but also has small yet scenic waterfalls amidst hills, and the highest peak in South India – the Anamudi Peak.

The best way to soak in the tranquillity of Munnar is to sit back, relax, and let the sprawling plantations work their magic. However, this resort town is much more than just plantations. Head to these places to see what more Munnar has to offer.

Mattupetty Dam: A deadly combination of mountains, forest, and water with blue sky and clouds like cotton balls is what I call the Mattupetty Dam. It is true that all dams look almost the same but this one comes along with a splendid view which makes it a photographer’s choice. You could opt for a boat ride, too.

Echo Point: Play a duet with nature – call out your names and let nature scream back to you. Works better when the crowd is less. It lies at the other end of the same Mattupetty Dam. Echo Point is a great 10 minutes stopover en route.
Top Station: Enjoy the panoramic views of Western Ghats from the highest point in Munnar. Lying on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, it almost feels like breathing the clouds. It is around 40 km from Munnar but the scenery it offers makes it totally worth a visit.

Attukad Waterfalls: I went to these waterfalls in the off-season and found I had the Attukad waterfalls all to myself. The trek to this waterfall is much more scenic than the waterfalls itself. It was a delight to walk through that path that leads to the waterfalls. Having Maggi next to the waterfalls made it worth every mile that I walked.

Anamudi Peak: A treat to the eye! On your way, spot a massive peak awarding mesmerizing views. Stop the car and take a glimpse at the highest peak of South India. The best part is that during monsoons you can see the waterfalls gushing out which makes it simply mystical.

View of Anamudi peak, the highest peak in the region
Anamudi peak as seen from Munnar

The most unique thing about Munnar is the Neelakurinji (blue-purplish flowers) that blooms once in every 12 years, and it is going to happen in 2018. It has already started blooming and by August the hills of Munnar would be bathing in shades of blue and purple. Top Station mentioned above has the best views of the Kurinji flower.

Munnar is an overnight journey from Bangalore by road. You could either drive or take a sleeper bus which is easily available online. Shut your eyes at night and the next morning you find yourself in the middle of heaven! This ease of getting there also makes it one of the most popular places to visit near Bangalore.

Neha blogs at TrippIndian and you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook

 

2. Belur and Halebid

Do you want to see the extraordinary architecture of the south Indian empire? Take a trip from Bangalore to Halebid and Belur temples in Karnataka. Famous to locals, but not known enough by foreigners, are the hidden gems worth a visit one of your next weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Belur and Halebid are located about 200 km from Bangalore and are popular places to visit near Bangalore. Both of the towns were once the capitals of the Hoysala Dynasty empire, that’s why they are rich in architecture from that period. Currently, they are proposed to be added to the UNESCO Heritage List.

A view of the stone cut temple of Belur
The ancient Belur temple

Halebid temple, the most important place in Halebidu town, was built in the 12th century and dedicated to the God Shiva. The detailed artwork and the friezes cover every wall and ceiling with every piece carved in the smooth soapstone, telling a different story. Since Halebid is a Shiva temple, there are two Nandi shrines on both sides of the building. Nandi is a name of the Shiva’s bull. The 6th and 7th biggest ones in India are located in Halebid.

The Belur temple is located 16 km away from Halebid, so it’s easy to visit both at the same time. Belur temple has a beautiful sanctum with a silver sculpture of Vishnu God. I especially liked the delicate and detailed carvings on the roof of the main building. The Belur temple is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings of the Hoysala empire. It has a lot of details, and if you are patient, you can even find a few from 644 elephants located at the temple base. They are all different! Belur temple was initially built in the 12th century and its completion took 123 years. As the tradition says, you should always visit a temple in India in a clockwise direction, so remember that when going around the sacred buildings in Belur.

The closest city to Halebid and Belur is Hassan. It has good transport connections with Bangalore. You can take a train from Bangalore to Hassan and then a local bus to Belur and Halebid. There is also a possibility of arranging a private tour.
Both of the towns have several traditional shops and restaurants around, so you can grab a bite in between the sightseeing. There are not so many options for accommodation, however, you can find a few guesthouses around Belur. Alternatively, you can come back to Hassan, Bangalore or Mysore for the night. Hope this will inspire you to add Belur Halebid to your bucket list of weekend getaways from Bangalore!

Aga blogs at Worldering Around and you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram

 

3. Mysore

Mysore was one of the largest princely states during the British rule on India. It’s grand royal palace, planned roads and architecture makes it popular among places to visit near Bangalore. The royal family of Mysore still follows some age-old traditions and that makes them different from others royal families. Today Mysore of one of the most popular weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Places to visit in Mysore

Mysore Palace: My favourite place in Mysore is the Royal Palace, its beautiful Indo Saracen architecture makes it one of its kind in India. There are many valuable artefacts on display in the palace and the durbar hall is so beautifully ornate that you feel amazed at the workmanship. The Palace is illuminated with thousands of light bulbs on special occasions and holidays, it looks very nice with lights.

The Chamundeshwari Temple: Dedicated to goddess Chamundi, it is located on the Chamundi hill outside the main city of Mysore. This temple is one of the 12 Shakti Peeths of the Goddess. Also, visit the massive black colour monolithic statue of Nandi bull on the Chamundi hill.

Chamundeshwari Temple

Brindavan Gardens: These gardens are 20 km from Mysore city. It is a good place for a picnic or to spend an evening at leisure. The gardens are well designed and landscaped and there is a musical fountain show with special light effects every evening. This place gets crowded for this fountain show, so keep your belongings safe.

Cathedral of St. Joseph and St. Philomena: This is one of the tallest churches in Asia. This Neo-Gothic style church was designed by a Frenchman named Daly by taking inspiration from the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. The twin spires of the church are 175 feet tall and can be seen from a distance of 1 km. The inside of the church is beautifully designed with stained glass windows showing the last supper of Christ and other events of his life after the crucifixion.

Railway Museum: This is the second best museum of its kind in India after Delhi’s Rail museum. They have a good collection of vintage motor cars, the salon of Wadiyar royal family, a gallery with photographs and paintings displaying the growth of Indian Railways. A small toy train runs on the grounds for children.
GRS Fantasy Park: This is a place to visit if you are travelling with kids or like water parks. Though it is not as modern as some of the big parks in India, it is still an interesting place to spend some time with near and dear ones.

Food
The local food of Mysore is healthy and tasty. Eat at Vinayaka Mylari, Mahesh Prasad, Om Shanti, Hotel Parklane and Oyster bay for some good food.

How to travel from Bangalore to Mysore
The distance between two cities is 150 Km and takes about 2.5 hours. The road conditions are good, so driving is the best option if you are visiting Mysore on one of your weekend getaways from Bangalore. If you don’t want to drive than take a train, there are around 2 dozen trains between two cities. Both cities are well connected by bus service. KSRTC and private bus companies operate many buses throughout the day. If you want to go by taxi than Ola outstation is a good option. To travel in Mysore or nearby areas, auto rickshaws are available easily or you can also book Ola Cabs.

Sapna blogs at My Simple Sojourn and you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook

 

4. Chikmagalur

Are you looking for places to visit near Bangalore? You should consider the hill station Chikmagalur whose peace and tranquillity will give you the break you need from the city’s traffic and noise. The clean air is the perfect escape from the pollution. The nearest railway station is Bangalore and you can drive from there in four hours, or book a taxi. Chikmagalur is not accessible by public transport, unfortunately. Mangalore is the nearest airport and it is a three and a half hour to four-hour drive from there. Chikmagalur is famous for its home stays. There are even five star home stays which you may prefer if you are a luxury traveller. Chikmagalur is mainly a hub for nature sightseeing, hiking and treks so if you are a trekking enthusiast you should consider including Chikmagalur in your bucket list of weekend getaways from Bangalore.

You may want to spare an entire morning for a trek here. Mullayanagiri which is a 3km trek should be considered. This takes you to the highest peak in Karnataka at an altitude of 1950 metres. It is a 20 km long drive from Chikmagalur. There is another peak named Baba Budanagiri which is a 36 km drive from Chikmagalur or you can go here from Mullayanagiri as there is a trail that connects it to Baba Budanagiri. But it is a hard climb as it is a 12-kilometre trek. The other popular trekking trails from Baba Budanagiri are to Gallikere(4km), Manikyadara falls(7km), Attigudi Junction(6km).

A view of Mullayangiri from above
Mullayangiri

Non-trekking activities include a visit to the coffee plantations and a coffee museum which is located within the city. Kudremukh National Park which is located 96 km away from Chikmagalur can also be visited; there is a hill there shaped like a horse head hence the name Kudremukh (In Kannada kudre means horse and mukh means head).

The scenic manmade Hirekollake lake located 10km away from the city is a perfect picture clicking spot. If you decide to skip the trekking and have some time to spare, you must pay a visit to Bhadra Dam and Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary along which the river Tungabhadra flows.

Summer is not exactly the ideal time to visit Chikmagalur since it can get really hot and you may not enjoy certain activities like trekking. The weather is pleasant during the monsoon but the rain may spoil your day. The best time to visit Chikmagalur is winter between October and February. Do explore Chikmagalur as one of the possible weekend getaways from Bangalore!

Harini blogs at Miss Talking Feet; you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter

 

5. Hampi

The ancient Vijayanagar empire was once the richest and most important kingdom in this part of the world. Its capital was Hampi, and this town still bears witness to the striking architectural developments of the time. Hampi is a must-visit place for anyone who has an interest in history or architecture. The ruins of the temples, palaces and other structures here date mostly between the 14th and 16th centuries and offer a peek into the life of an earlier time. It can easily be visited during one of your weekend getaways from Bangalore.

The Virupaksha and Vijay Vitthala temples, as well as the Royal Enclosure, must not be missed while you are in Hampi. You can cover the main highlights of Hampi in two days although three would be even better; I strongly recommend adding Hampi to the top of any list of weekend getaways from Bangalore. Do read my detailed post on things to do in Hampi. 

The stone chariot at Vitthala temple in Hampi
Chariot at Vitthal Temple Hampi

Hampi is about a six-hour drive away from Bangalore, but you can also take an overnight train or bus from Bangalore to Hospet if you prefer not to drive. Hospet to Hampi is a brief auto rickshaw or bus ride away. Early in 2018 Trujet also started a flight connection from Bangalore to Vidyanagar airport, making it even more convenient to make weekend getaways from Bangalore to Hampi. Hampi is definitely one of the most culturally rich places to visit near Bangalore.

So there you have it, five ideas for weekend getaways from Bangalore for the next long weekend that comes up. The question is, where will you go first?

 

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Hemkuta Hill Hampi

Temples, Coconuts and Ganesha: Hampi in Two Days

History buff that I am, visiting the ancient temples of Hampi had been on my to-do list for quite some time. I recently used a long weekend to make this trip from Delhi to Hampi in two days via Bangalore. If you enjoy history, architecture and nature then you will love Hampi. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in my opinion one of the most underrated places in India. Read on to discover more about the town’s history, the places to visit in Hampi in two days, and the nitty-gritty of planning a trip here.  

Hampi is a small, laid-back sort of town surrounded by paddy fields, coconut trees and banana plantations. The pace of life is much slower than what you’d typically be used to. In that sense, it felt like a mix of Kerala and Goa. There are homestays and small thali-serving “restaurants” everywhere. Coconut sellers place themselves strategically outside the various temple gates, offering them to you when you return from a visit, happy but dehydrated. Coconut water is great for rehydration by the way so drink away. I lost count of the amount of coconut water I got through during my two days in Hampi! 

The historic heart of the town i.e. Hampi Bazaar and its surroundings are considered sacred ground and you will not find any non-vegetarian food or alcohol being served here. To even find an ATM you will have to come out towards Kamalapur. The town survives mostly through income from tourism, as well as the neighbouring industrial belts. It is also a known centre for weaving. Cotton Ilkal saris from Hampi are famous, as are saris and textiles made out of the locally sourced banana-leaf fibre.

 

History of an Ancient Town – Kishkindha to Pampa to Hampi

Hampi derives its name from Pampa, the older name of the Tungabhadra river. The earliest archaeological records found here indicate that Hampi was inhabited by settlers as early as the 1st century AD. It is also believed to have been a part of the Mauryan Empire, and after that ruled by the Chalukyas and the Hoysalas. One can still see some surviving specimens of Hoysala temple architecture here.

The city really came into its own in the medieval times with the rise of the Vijayanagar Empire, the last great Hindu kingdom. The Empire was established in 1336, and Hampi as its capital city grew steadily and flourished as a centre for trade in gems, cotton, spices etc. Hampi was, in the 15th century, the second-largest city in the world (Beijing being the largest) and the richest city in India. It was a thriving metropolis, with a highly developed sense of art, architecture, agriculture and infrastructure. The society was multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

In the latter half of the 16th century, the Kingdom fell to the Deccan Sultans, and Hampi was destroyed, pillaged, and then abandoned. Today the ruins of Hampi consist of nearly 1600 monuments, are spread over an area of over 30 sq. km. Anybody who has seen the temples of Angkor Wat would be struck by the similarity in the layouts of the various groups of temples.

There is another mythological aspect to Hampi as well. It is believed that Hampi is, in fact, the Kishkindha kingdom mentioned in the Ramayana, where Rama and Laxmana met Sugreeva and Hanuman and stayed for some time before leaving for Lanka. In fact, Anegundi, located across the river from Hampi, has a Hanuman temple as well as a hill called Anjaneya Parvat where Hanuman is supposed to have been born.

Bali Sugreeva battle Hampi
Sculpture from a carved pillar showing the battle between Monkey Kings Bali and Sugreeva in Kishkindha

Places to see in Hampi

The ruins of Hampi are clustered into groups; the two main groups are – the temples and sacred monuments around the Hampi Bazaar and the royal enclosure near Kamalapur. The Vijay Vitthal temple stands in solitary grandeur about 2km away from the Hampi Bazaar. There are also various hilltops around Hampi with ruins scattered across.

If you have four or five days, you can visit every monument in detail and cover everything easily. However, given that most people only stay in Hampi for two or three days, I’m giving below a list of the most important places to visit in Hampi in two days.

 

Places to Visit in Hampi in Two Days

  1. Virupaksha Temple

This is one of the most important temples in the area and the only living temple. As you walk up the road to the temple, you will notice roofless stone pavilions along the entire side of the road. These are remains of the lively bazaar that used to exist outside this temple in the 15th century. The temple is dedicated to Virupaksha, a form of Shiva and the patron deity of the Vijayanagar Empire. The original temple was constructed in the 7th century i.e. much before the Vijayanagar kingdom came about. Time your visit to this temple for the early morning to avoid crowds. Also, if you visit in the morning you might get to watch an elephant getting a morning bath at the adjoining river-ghat.

 

Approaching the Virupaksha Temple from Hampi Bazaar
Approach to Virupaksha Temple

 

  1. Sasivekalu Ganesha

This is a monolithic statue of Ganesha, about 8 feet high. Walk around and look at it from the back, and you will see that the sculptor has tried to show Ganesha sitting in Parvati’s lap. “Sasivekalu” in Kannada apparently means mustard and the statue has been thus named because of the similarity of its belly to a mustard seed. Or so I was informed.

 

  1. Kadalekalu Ganesha

Located just a couple of minutes’ walk from the earlier Ganesha, this monolithic statue of Ganesha was damaged by the invaders. At 15 feet tall, it’s one of the tallest Ganesha statues I’ve ever seen. Its location is really great, a pillared porch on a rocky outcrop surrounded by hills. Quite scenic.

Kadlekalu Ganesha or Bengal Gram Ganesha statue in Hampi

 

  1. Laxmi Narasimha

Narasimha is considered an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu. Laxmi Narasimha as seen in Hampi is also sometimes called Ugra (angry) Narasimha due to the statue’s facial expressions. There was originally a Laxmi statue present in Narasimha’s lap, but this was damaged during the invasion of Hampi. What remains is the Narasimha statue and just the hand of Lakshmi. This statue is the largest of all statues in Hampi.

 

The Laxmi Narasimha statue is the tallest statue in Hampi
Entering the Laxmi Narasimha Temple

 

  1. Badaviling Temple

Located just next to the Laxmi Narasimha, this is a 3-metre high Shivling, carved out of a single piece of rock. It is believed that it was made by a poor woman seeking to please the deity.

  1. Underground Shiva Temple

This Shiva temple was until recently partially under water. It is still getting excavated and cleaned up by the ASI but is worth a look if you visit.

  1. The Royal Enclosure

This was the heart of the daily life of the royal inhabitants of Hampi. The Royal Enclosure contained living quarters, water tanks, stables, durbar halls etc.

Elephant Stables – This is a set of 11 stables for the King’s favourite 11 elephants.

Lotus Mahal – This beautiful medley of Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture was a part of the Zenana complex, and used as a venue for recreation and meetings. It reminded me of structures I had seen at Fatehpur Sikri in Agra.

Hazara Rama Temple – This Rama temple was the only temple within the Royal Enclosure and was the location for all ceremonial rituals of the royal family. The bas-reliefs on its walls depict scenes from the Ramayana – and instantly reminded me of the bas-reliefs on the walls of Angkor Wat.

Mahanavmi Dibba – This 8m high platform probably exists in the same shape as it was made all those years ago. The King used to watch the Navami celebrations from here.

Queen’s Bath – This was an enclosed pool surrounded by corridors. The queen and her ladies used to go here for bathing and relaxation.

The Elephant Stables in the Royal Enclosures at Hampi
The Elephant Stables inside the Royal Enclosure

 

     8. Vijay Vitthal Temple

The Vitthal temple is as significant and well-known among the Hampi temples as is the Virupaksha temple. Avoid going here in the afternoon – visit early in the morning or in the evening. There is a dirt road about one km long that needs to be covered either on foot or by the shuttle bus, for which demand usually outruns supply. Vitthal temple is a Vishnu temple, and the highlights of this temple are the detailed carving, the various musical pillars (it is now forbidden to play music on these pillars to avoid damaging them further) and the huge stone chariot that is so intricately carved that it almost looks monolithic.

The Vijay Vitthal temple is one of the two most important temples in Hampi
The famous stone chariot of the Vijay Vitthal temple

9. Hemkuta Hill

Hemkuta Hill near the Sasivekalu Ganesha is a famous sunset point in Hampi. I had read about it and decided to give it a shot. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend the sunset here to anybody. Get here at least half an hour before sunset to get a good place to sit, since it’s a very nice and peaceful place to relax. You get some amazing views of the surrounding hills. It’s a large enough hilltop to allow for a large number of people to gather without getting into each other’s space which is great.  

 

Other things to do in Hampi

Rock climbing: The rocky landscape with huge boulders attracts droves of rock climbing and bouldering aficionados to Hampi, with November and December being the peak period for this activity.

Wildlife watching: You can visit the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary, the only such sanctuary for sloth bears in India. It is located just 15km away from Hampi.

Visit the Tungabhadra dam: Located just outside Hospet, this is the largest dam in Karnataka. There is a lighthouse here which offers great views of the surroundings. There is also a garden with a musical fountain, somewhat popular with visitors in the evenings.

Coracle ride: You can cross the Tungabhadra river by coracle (a traditional round boat) that are still used in Hampi to this today. Look for these near the Virupaksha temple ghats.

ASI Museum: This museum in Kamalapur houses the artefacts found during excavations here, and also explains Hampi’s history in detail. The museum remains closed on Mondays and public holidays.

Tungabhadra river at Hampi
Tungabhadra river and Hampi’s classic boulder-strewn landscape

 

How to reach Hampi

By train: The closest railway station is Hospet, a town located within 30 minutes’ driving distance from Hampi. If you take the overnight train Hampi Express from Bangalore (Bengaluru), this is where you will arrive. From Hospet, you can easily get to Hampi by local bus or by autorickshaw.

By bus: Hospet has bus connectivity with cities like Bangalore and Mysore. From here you can continue to Hampi by local buses or autorickshaws.

By air: Till March 2018, the closest airport for Hampi used to be Bangalore which is a drive of about six hours. Luckily, since then Trujet has introduced a Bangalore to Vidyanagar flight connection. The new airport at Vidyanagar (Bellary) is just about an hour’s drive from Hampi.  

By car: If you wish to drive yourself, you can also bring your own vehicle as the roads, for the most part, are in decent condition, except for a few bits in between. Take the route via Bellary. Hampi being a popular weekend destination, quite a few people drive down from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Goa and so on.

 

Where to stay in Hampi

Hampi has accommodation to suit all budgets and requirements. The local administration has recently shut down most homestays and guesthouses in the Hampi Bazaar area, so check before booking. Kamalapur in southern Hampi is not a bad place to stay. It’s not much in terms of ambience, but the location is great. It’s where the bus-stand and ASI Museum are. It also offers close access to the Royal Enclosure side of the ruins.  The hotel I stayed at (Clarks Inn) was more than satisfactory.

 

Best time to visit Hampi

Being located in southern India and in an extremely rocky terrain, Hampi has a dry and warm climate. Summers can be quite unbearable, so avoid visiting between April and July. If you are making a long and lazy trip and don’t mind a bit of rain, monsoon would be ideal. If a quick weekend is what you have in mind, then the cooler months of November to February are good.

 

Getting around Hampi

If you haven’t brought your own wheels, then you have quite a few options when it comes to local transportation. You could walk of course, but I would not recommend this. The Hampi ruins are spread over rather a large area and the hot weather can really sap your energy. If the weather and your fitness levels allow, you may hire bicycles from your hotel or one of the local bike-hire outfits. Some places also rent out scooters and motorcycles, but be careful to check that it’s a legit setup. The bike you hire must have a commercial licence plate or you may get into trouble with the police.

By far the most common and ubiquitous way of transport within Hampi is the autorickshaw. They are everywhere.  Drivers will usually negotiate a flat per-day rate with you to take you around the temples of Hampi. However, they are not guides, so if you want a guide in addition, that will cost you extra. If you prefer a hired car and driver, most Hampi hotels and guesthouses can arrange this as well.

 

Overlooking Virupaksha Temple from Hemkuta Hill at sundown in Hampi
Overlooking Virupaksha Temple from Hemkuta Hill at sundown

 

I’ve seen a lot of temples in India and found Hampi to be really unique. The ruins and their stories are fascinating, and the quality of workmanship in the sculptures is outstanding. I do wish the local administration would focus on infrastructure development here. Given proper maintenance, better roads, shuttle buses, trained guides, etc., Hampi can easily be India’s Angkor Wat. In fact, I didn’t get enough of Hampi in two days and know that I will be back soon enough. 

 

Have you ever visited Hampi? What was your favourite part of the trip? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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#Travel tips on what to see and do in two days in #Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Bangalore in southern India

Pangong lake in the afternoon

Pangong Lake – The Most Popular Lake in Ladakh

My post today is more of a picture-post about Pangong Lake, the most popular lake in Ladakh. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The original name of the lake is Pangong Tso, with “Tso” being the Tibetan word for a grassland lake. One-third of the lake lies in India, and the rest in China.

A very large section of the Indian population had not heard of Pangong lake till 2009. That’s the year when the popular Aamir Khan movie “3 Idiots” was released. This lake was where the final scene of the film was shot. Since then, the popularity of the lake has grown across the country and a visit to “the 3 Idiots lake” is a must-do for practically any Indian visiting Ladakh.

Pavilions alongside Pangong lake
Pavilions alongside Pangong lake

I’ve been lucky to see the lake both in summer as well as winter. In summer, the colour of the water in Pangong keeps changing according to the level of sunlight and clouds. In winter, the water freezes over and I had a great time walking (and slipping) on the frozen Pangong lake.

Some more images from the late summer visit

Clear waters at Pangong lake
The water is crystal clear, salty and brr cold!

 

Pangong lake around sunset
The lake at twilight

 

Pangong lake at sunrise
Watching the sun about to rise over the mountains

Increasing tourism in the region has brought its own challenges of infrastructure and ecological balance. I hope the local administration will continue to keep a control over the area, and not let it get over-touristed like so many other places in the country.

Getting to Pangong:  Pangong Tso lies about a 6-hour drive away from Leh, the capital of Ladakh and the only airport in the region. Leh is connected by flight to Delhi, Srinagar and Mumbai.
Cabs or bikes can be hired from Leh for a day-trip or overnight excursion to the lake.

Stay at Pangong: During summer (Mid May until about the end of September) you will find seasonal camps set up near the lake. These will be basic tents with toilets but no other mod-cons. If you are in reasonably good health, and happy to rough it out for unforgettable sunrise and sunset views, then you might want to stay overnight. Be prepared though – the area gets terribly windy at night. Also, the lake is at a much higher altitude (14,200 feet) than Leh (11,500 feet), so you will need to acclimatize in Leh first.

If you are travelling with children or older persons, I would recommend a day trip and return to Leh, to stay at the lower altitude.

Camp at Pangong lake
Typical camp at Pangong

Whether you visit for a day-trip or brave an overnight stay, Pangong lake is an unforgettable, unmissable part of a visit to Ladakh. Do remember though that you are in an ecologically sensitive area, and act like a responsible traveller.

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Pangong Lake is the most famous and popular lake in Ladakh

 

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Qutub Minar complex courtyard

Exploring Delhi: The Qutub Minar complex

A casual conversation at work a few days ago brought up an interesting realisation – people will go far and wide to see the world, but often neglect to see their own city. Now I am not originally from Delhi, but having lived in Delhi/Gurgaon for over 15 years now, I guess I can qualify as a resident. I was quite surprised that my Delhi-ite colleagues had never been to places like Qutub Minar and Red Fort. After a quick mental inventory I realised that though I might have seen these two, there are still a number of places in Delhi that I have not explored yet. Over the next few months, I will be trying to remedy that, and also hoping to encourage others living here to explore their surroundings. This post on Qutub Minar is therefore the first of my “Exploring Delhi” series.

I first visited Qutub Minar as a young trainee in a travel agency, escorting a group of school children on a sightseeing tour of the city. Even though I didn’t get a chance to spend much time there, I remember wondering at the expanse of the site and promising myself I’d return. I returned one February afternoon, camera in tow, and ended up spending hours just wandering around the entire complex.  It was beautiful.

Calligraphic inscriptions on the Qutub Minar
Calligraphic inscriptions on the Qutub Minar

Some historical background now, for those who are not familiar with Delhi’s history.  Delhi is said to have been built not once but seven times, at different periods in history. One of these seven cities was Mehrauli (now an area in south Delhi), capital of the Slave Dynasty. The first king of this Sultanate, Qutb ud din Aibak, started the construction of the Qutub Minar in 1199 AD. His successor Iltutmish finished the job some 25 odd years later. At 73m high, this was the tallest brick minaret in India. Depending on which theory you believe, the Minar was either a victory tower or a place for the muezzin to send out his call for prayers.

qutub minar

Today, the Qutub Minar complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later rulers (including the British) added to it, making the complex quite a mix of influences. The original sandstone tower suffered damage on multiple occasions due to earthquakes and lightning strikes; in fact the two upper stories are later additions. Apart from the Qutub Minar, the complex also has the Quwwat ul Islam mosque (said to be the first mosque to be constructed in India), various tombs and arches, and the famous Iron Pillar.

Iron Pillar
Ancient inscriptions on the corrosion-resistant Iron Pillar

The Iron Pillar of the Qutub Minar complex was originally constructed in the 4th century by Chandragupta, one of the most famous kings of ancient India and the founder of the Gupta empire. Constructed of an iron-alloy mix, it’s highlight is that it has resisted corrosion for these thousands of years. A later king brought the pillar from Central India to Delhi, and it now stands near the Qutub Minar in an unusual juxtaposition.

You don’t need to hire a guide to visit the Qutub complex. Just pick up an audio guide from the ticket office and you’re set. You can wander around at your own pace and choose how much – or little – you want to know. The complex is open from sunrise to sunset, except on National holidays. If I were you I’d go in the morning or late in the afternoon, since that’s when the light is best for photography.

If you are ever in Delhi with a couple of hours to spare and have even a little interest in history, I would recommend a visit to this medieval remnant of the city’s past.

Getting there – if you are in South/Central Delhi or in Gurgaon, the Yellow Line of the Delhi Metro will take you to Qutub Minar. Alternatively you can take an Uber/Ola cab, or get someone to drive you over.

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Exploring the Qutub Minar in #Delhi

 

Photo Challenge: Transformation in Ladakh

This is my first attempt at participating in one of the WordPress challenges I have been following lately. The subject of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is transformation.

This picture is of Pangong Tso, the most famous lake in the Ladakh region of India, popularised even more after it was used as a shoot location for a hit Bollywood movie.

In summer, the tourist season for Ladakh, the lake is known for its beautiful blue-green waters that keep changing in hue, depending on the time of the day and cloud cover. It is an incredibly beautiful lake, and offers gorgeous shots of sunrise and sunset amidst the surrounding mountains.

Fewer people have been lucky enough to see the transformation of this blue water to a frozen sheet of ice. Unlike the usual Pangong images, this picture shows the lake in its fully frozen state. The lake freezes over during winter and you can easily drive a car over the frozen waters to the other side. I shot the picture in late Feb, on a day when the temperature at Pangong was an incredible -30 degrees Centigrade. Apart from the four of us, there wasn’t another soul around except for a military post some distance away. Walking on the frozen lake was an awesome experience, although the ice was so slippery that it was less of walking and more a combination of sliding, falling and stumbling, much to the enjoyment of my companions.

Someday, I hope to revisit Pangong in winter. Till then, pictures keep the memories alive.

via Photo Challenge: Transformation

Foodie Friday – Amritsar

This is the first post in the Foodie Friday series. I hope to make it a regular one. This post is about a foodie-delight city called Amritsar. Amritsar, apart from being the home of the revered Golden Temple, is also an absolute heaven when it comes to Punjabi cuisine. I recently had the good fortune of spending a day and a half here with my parents. While the primary aim of the trip was a visit to the Temple, the side attractions of various food outlets that we tried out were equally enticing!

So here’s a quick run-down of the places I tried out (too many on the list were left out due to paucity of time and inability of the system to handle so much food):

Gian Chand Lassi – Delicious lassi served in metal tumblers, topped off with butter and cream. People struggle to finish one serving, and once done, you are sorted hunger-wise for hours together. They also have something called “pede waali lassi” where they add bits of sweet pedas to the lassi! Located near the Temple in the narrow market lanes.

Bharawan da Dhaba – The place to have a vegetarian meal in Amritsar. While my parents raved over the dal and bharta and the crisp tandoori rotis, I went straight for the one thing I wanted here – the onion kulcha thali! The kulchas were hot, crisp, nicely stuffed and accompanied by some very delicious chholey. While most people head to the outlet near the Golden Temple, we went to the newer branch at Ranjit Avenue. Comfortable seating, good ambience, decent service. My dad still remembers this meal fondly!

Kanha Sweets – The Sunday brunch here is legendary – a fixed menu of pooris, potato curry and chholey. The potato curry is like nothing you would ever have tasted before – tangy and sweet-spicy. It’s a challenge to stop at two pooris, and you will definitely ask for refills of potato curry as well as chholey. Don’t go here for ambience, there’s none – just focus on the amazing food! The sweet shop outside also sells a variety of traditional mithai (sweets), of which the most famous seemed to be the pinnis. After having eaten one, I could see why.

Prasaad at the Temple – While the Gurudwara visit was not food-centric at all, I cannot help but mention the kara prasaad here. It’s one of the best suji halwas you will ever have, and even though we were not able to join the Langar, I am glad I could have this famous prasaad and be blessed.

Lubhaya Ram – Different from the Ram Lubhaya shop, this is a small kiosk under a tree near the Girls’ College on Lawrence Road. We tried out a range of delicious aam papad, choorans and interesting mouth fresheners before settling on a few to buy. Worth a visit if you’re there. Chef Vikas Khanna’s list of food recos for Amritsar includes this little cart.

I realise the list is way too short given the scores (hundreds?) of amazing food joints in Amritsar. Unfortunately we barely had 24 hours, and of course being vegetarian means that I did not try any of the fish and meat dishes that I’ve heard people rave about. A second visit (soon, I hope) would be needed in order to scratch the surface further.

What are your favourite places to eat in Amritsar?

Getting there: Most airlines now fly to Amritsar; there are also multiple convenient Shatabdi trains at different times of the day.

Stay:We stayed on Ranjit Avenue – good restaurants around, calm and quiet, and only a short Ola ride away from the bustle of the old town.

If you are planning a visit and looking for tips on places to visit in Amritsar, then Shivani at The Wandering Core has some helpful tips here, take a look.

 

Rediscovering spirituality in Orchha

“Photo? Take my photo?” he says, walking after us as we stroll towards the bridge on the Betwa. I oblige, and the sadhu baba gives me a beatific smile. I wonder if money is now expected, realise I’m not carrying any cash to give him and say something to that effect. He smiles and says, “Beta I will never ask you for that.” I feel ashamed to have suggested it.

This small town has more than its share of saffron-clad men and women, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise because this is after all basically a temple town. Jhansi, the closest big city, is a mere 25 minute drive away – but the difference is dramatic. Orchha is small and still retains the innocence of a place untouched by the hectic nature of modern life. Oh sure you have the Tata Sky dishes and motorbikes and even – so I hear – a local radio station. The market has signboards advertising Italian cuisine, B&B’s and shops selling kitschy souvenirs. But the pace of life here is slower, gentler. The locals in the market all seem to know each other. Life revolves around the temples and the daily aartis. Nobody hurries, nobody has deadlines. Nearly everybody has a smile on the face.

A group of young boys watches as Christine and I walk across the bridge, get some shots of the Chattris , and walk back – just about managing to escape being pushed into the river by a truck that has rumbled too close past us. When we reach them, one of the boys shyly asks if we’d like to share a soft drink. We smilingly refuse and continue on our way.

Orchha is a medieval town, established in the early 16th century by a Bundela king . The palaces and temples of Orchha are reason enough to visit, especially if you are a history buff like me. The fort here has a number of palaces built during various periods of its history; Jahangir Mahal for example was built as a welcome gift for the Mughal emperor Jahangir when he visited. There is also a Sound and Light show held here every evening which acts as a good introduction to the history of the town, though a touch melodramatic.

There are many famous temples in Orchha but to me perhaps the best sight here were the cenotaphs (Chattris) standing in a row like brooding sentinels; these riverside memorials to former rulers are now in ruins and still starkly beautiful. I stand and watch the sun disappear behind them.

Cenotaphs (Chhattris) at Orchha
Cenotaphs (Chhattris) at Orchha

At night, the stars come out. Standing by the river I look up and try to identify constellations. I think I see Orion. I know for sure that it’s been a long time since I saw so many stars in the night sky. The night is quiet, peaceful and I could well be all alone – except for the half-full hotel just behind me.

We decide to attend morning Aarti before leaving Orchha. The Ram Raja temple is the only temple of its kind – Ram is worshipped here not as a deity but as a king. In deference to his royal status, a pair of cannons is posted at the entrance of the temple. Sentries are on guard duty outside and inside. We go in, a few minutes before the morning Aarti is to begin. The temple courtyard is full mostly of locals, who from the looks of it seem to be regulars here. There are of course also a few gawking tourists like us. I have a vague sense of unease, feeling like an intruder – I never visit temples if I can help it – but I soon start feeling better.  Finally the sanctum doors are opened and the Aarti begins; the devotional song being sung is one that I’ve never heard before, but the entire congregation seems to know it well. They sing loudly, un-selfconsciously, with all their hearts. A mother picks up her toddler son to allow the priest to touch his forehead in blessing. An old man is getting a wedding card blessed by Ram Raja. The hymn goes on, soothing yet cheering. I look around. I feel tears running down my face that I can’t stop. And finally, after years of declaring I don’t believe in prayers, I find myself saying one….

(Written in 2011 and published on an earlier blog. Migrated here now)

Picture Post: Andaman

Just a few of my favourite shots clicked over the last two or three years during multiple trips to the Andaman islands. More coming soon.

Andaman beach Havelock
Vijaynagar beach, Havelock
North_Bay_island_Andaman
Looking out at the North Bay lighthouse from a ferry near Port Blair
Laxmanpur_Neil_island_Andaman
Natural Rock Formation, Neil Island
Bharatpur_beach_Neil_island_Andaman
Bharatpur beach, Neil island