Dainkund & Jot Valley Trek

My friend and I knew that we had to do at least one trek while at Dalhousie, didn’t want a place that would be packed with other people or one that would be a bit too difficult for us. (We never pretended that we were expert hikers)

When the people at the hostel we were staying at suggested Dainkund Jot Valley trek my interest peaked, especially when they convinced us that it was a beautiful but ‘easy’ trek.

What they didn’t do was over sell it. Cause what I saw was so beautiful that it filled me with this really positive and happy energy.

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At a point I remember standing away from my small group of 6 people and take a long breath and think nothing. My mind blank in a good way. Cause all I was doing was soaking in the moment.

The Dhauladhar range looked at me closely as I started walking, with the thick forests all around me, but my path was clear ahead promising me an easy enough trail. Our friendly guide started explaining how Dainkund got it’s name. Something about how this hill was a place for witches who used to sing but then one day all of a sudden a ‘Devi’ (goddess) appeared and saved the village from these ‘Dayans’ (witches) – the temple dedicated to this Devi is on top of Dainkund peak.

But of course why it’s called ‘The Singing Hill’ is also because of the breeze that passes through the trees and echoes a musical when it passes your ears. I felt like Julie Andrews and almost even sang ‘The Hills are Alive’ till I notices my fellow trekkers looking at me like I’ve gone mad.

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This walk from Dainkund through Jot valley was the most beautiful 4.5 hours of this trip. I walked and took photos and sat and then walked again. Got hit my hailstones at a point and sang out loud old bollywood songs because I was in my happy place. It felt like it was us and nobody else in the world (the beauty of a trail uncrowded with rowdy manner less tourists)

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The Dainkund – Jot was a little more than a half day trek, approximately 15 odd kilometers and truly offered some breathtaking landscape of the ‘Peer Panjal’ range and the ‘Chowari Jot’ Valley. It felt pure. And it filled us with that pure energy that at least I desperately needed. It reminded me why I feel the need to escape and travel. It assured me that no matter how lonesome I get or what life brings to me, if I have a new place to explore I will be okay.

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Another birthday trip! Dalhousie first impressions…

Turning 25 was no joke. We all have a plan that we try to follow through but life doesn’t wait. I was not excited about another birthday. Especially one that was supposed to be a landmark! Last year I traveled for the first time on my birthday to a place as wonderful as Bali and it was an incredible experience. An experience, that got me to make a vow to myself; to travel somewhere for all the other birthdays I have left.

I badly wanted to go somewhere this year with my best friend. She and I had never really gone beyond our little neighborhood in our hometown and this I wanted for us. Both of us have changed so much in the whole ‘growing up’ process that this was almost like a ‘Fre-naissance’ like Phoebe Buffay called it.

After a lot of back and forth on which place to visit, we finally settled on Himachal Pradesh. A cooler climate in the peak of Indian summer was indeed tempting. Dalhousie was a hill station I had heard a lot about and had always wanted to visit. So we booked those tickets. I’ll be honest, after booking those tickets and the hostel I started having doubts about the hill station. No pictures that I saw on Instagram from what others were posting looked appealing enough. But you know what’s good when you visit a place without having too many expectations? You are pleasantly surprised and taken aback by the beauty it has to offer.

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When we reached our hostel in Dalhousie it was like we were surrounded by a Microsoft wallpaper – as my friend called it. Deodar trees all around and snow capped mountains in the distant view. The weather was perfect, with a little chill to it and sunny enough for us to get some nice photos out.

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That day all we did was walk from our hostel to the city centre, Gandhi Chowk, which was about 4km away. The Chowk itself took us not more than 20 minutes to explore. It’s a tiny circle. That’s when we decided to walk another 5km to a waterfall called ‘Panchpula’.

The road and the walk was pleasant and didn’t feel tiring at that point. Once we reached ‘Panchpula’ and climbed the stairs the fatigue (at least for me) started to set in. After that little hike I did hope to see some gushing water. Now, I wasn’t expecting Niagara falls but what we saw was like someone forgot to turn off the knob of a tap in a washroom.

Of course since we did take effort to reach here we decided to sit there with a cup of coffee and a plate or two of Maggi. (Maggi is an instant noodle brand that is synonymous with every hill station in India. It’s there to rescue you even when there is nothing else around.)

It was a good start.

As I snuck into my bed that night I was finally feeling the excited about the trip. About the next few days, the trek we were going on the next day and even that 25th birthday.

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Monasteries, Coffee Shops, a Church and My Friend – 2 days in Mcleod Ganj

Let’s start with the title. Have been meaning to write a bit about Mcleod for a while, but with non stop working weekends I just didn’t have the patience to sit in front of a computer anymore, even if it was something for myself.

So when I finally got down to it and opened this page, I was wondering what to put as the title to this blog post. So, I asked my best friend, who was my summer travel buddy this year and was with me in Mcleod.

This is what she suggested – ‘Exploring McLeod with Miss Super-Grumpy-in-the-mornings’

To which I had a counter suggestion – ‘Exploring Mcleod with She Who Must Not Be Woken Before Noon’

The story behind it? As our not so creative titles above suggest, my dear friend was a scary person to drag out of bed in the mornings. Hence, I decided (co-decided) to leave the beautiful Dalhousie on the day of my birthday even if it meant spending the whole day in a old local bus, so I reach Mcleod in time for Budh Purnima.

My wish was to be in Dharamshala and visit the Dalai Lama palace on 30th April (a day after my birthday) , on Budh Purnima, but there were 2 buses from Dalhousie to Mcleod. One early morning and one in the afternoon.

So of course we took the afternoon bus, since my best friend wasn’t a morning person. 😛

The title suggestion made me realise how this trip wasn’t just about Mcleod, but also about my first trip ever with my best friend. ❤

After that long bus trip, once in Mcleod we realised our hostel was not exactly what we pictured or what Hostelworld’s website pictured. The Backpacker’s inn in the photographs and reviews had shut down and re-opened in a nearby building. Not the same.

So long story shot. My 25th birthday was – interesting.

Which meant the next few days in Mcleod had to be good. And I feel…. despite everything, the spider on my bed, the water scarcity in the hostel – the couple of days were good.

30th morning come, my plan was to find a good breakfast spot and I just to drag both of us to the famous Illiterati cafe

Now, I knew my dear friend was vegetarian that day and I just assumed (of course) that the cafe would have veg options that could tempt her. But I was wrong.

So the guilty me, just quietly sipped on a cup of delicious coffee and gorged on beautiful crepes with chocolate orange glaze….

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Yes, I was feeling terrible that my friend was hungry. But the beautiful breakfast in front of me was a good distraction. 😛

Next stop of course was the Dalai Lama palace.

Now I’ve been to monasteries, and at the Dalai Lama’s residence I was expecting grandeur but I was pleasantly surprised to see a community. The two of us just strolled the campus a bit to hear monks chanting. The voices combined echoed through the halls and it felt like something powerful moved inside us. Moments like this, make me believe that a soul truly can be independent of my physical being.

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No, we didn’t get to see the Dalai. Yes, I did go to the office and inquire (and yes, I had tweeted, emailed and Facebook dm’d His Holiness’ office)

But apparently the office lists down requests of people who want to meet him, and once they have a big enough group they host a teaching session. Well, hope there is a next time for me.

After this, my attention went to my hungry friend again. We found a local restaurant within the temple campus itself and for once I didn’t care if it was from my list or not. I just needed some vegetarian food to feed my friend. And we got it.

The noodle bowl was nothing special, but it was delicious, and wholesome and everything a hungry person needs.

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They say our personality, mood and everything around it changes when we are fed. I witnessed the smile that spread across my friend’s face the minute she tasted her food. Minutes later the large bowl in front of me was licked clean. She even photographed the empty bowl to show her mother. Proof ^

Of course now that the food was in both our systems. The next few hours flowed in quite well. We walked along the hill station. Commotion, cars, bikes, tourists and monks. All around us. A stark difference to what we saw in Dalhousie but Mcleod Ganj had it’s own charm.

We walked towards the St. John in the Wildnerness church and I admit the reason I wanted to visit the church was the name. It was so aptly named. In the middle of the Deodar trees, an old cemetery and the 166 year old church that survived the 1905 earthquake was like one out of a story book. And with it’s own story, the bell that was destroyed in the earthquake was replaced by one specially bought in from England. The Governor general who loved the church and Dharamshala so much is buried next to it, his wife who loved him took back Deodar trees back to Scotland as a souvenir….

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So many stories. The tombstones didn’t have epitaphs that struck me, but I’m sure that they had stories of their own… I wonder if the few minutes I spent there counted as a story of my own?

Sure… Didn’t the two Goan girls find fellow tourists who sang Christmas carols (with the wrong words) inside the church thinking it’s a ‘Christian Prayer’ – (Yes people like this exist)

Didn’t the two Goan girls, best friends walk around the churchyard taking photos and wondering what to do next? A small story, a travel memory, but a story still.

Next stop was coffee of course. Don’t even remember what the coffee shop was called. Just remember that I managed to get a photo I like… Do you?

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The next day, we stopped by for more pancake and coffee for breakfast.

This time the Crepe and Pancake Hut.

This time I wasn’t the only one feasting on delicious looking crepe’s and coffee.

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After that breakfast, we set out to explore a couple of places around Mcleod that called out to me when I was planning our trip.

One was the Gyuto Monastery It had an interesting structure and on a sunny day promised a snow capped mountain background view, it was a nice stop over but the highlight for me that day was the second thing on my list.

Norbulingka 

Norbulingka is a Tibetan cultural centre, to preserve and protect the rich Tibetan art and culture. It’s a beautiful place and deserves a couple of dedicated hours. The place has restaurants and cafe and a beautiful monastery inside.

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The temple itself was peaceful and a nice place to just sit down and close your eyes.

But what gripped me were the workshops. The guides from the institute show you the different workshops that Norbulingka hosts, including wood carving, painting, metallurgy and weaving. Watching these artists hard at work, with such focus and precision is inspiring even to a lazy, talent less soul like me. All I could afford to purchase were postcards and incense sticks for my mother. Maybe one day I will go back with a little more money to spend and purchase something even more beautiful.

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This already feels like a long enough blog post, I don’t even know if more than 2 people will read this. But it will stay with me. As a small travel memoir, of my first visit to Mcleod Ganj. One I would read and reignite memories of the monasteries, coffee shops, the old church and of course my cranky but my lovable best friend.

Some people stay with you forever…

My mother has been telling me for the last few months to write down something about my grandfather, her father, my Dadu. Time passes,  the physical being of people fade away but not their presence. I have been meaning to write something on my grandfather for my mother, for the last couple of months, (she dropped me reminders) but with work I never got the time. Today after a crazy day at work, I realised I needed to put down my thoughts somewhere.

After an age, we think we mentally prepare ourselves for the fact, that those who are precious to you might someday not be around. But can we really? My mother has always spoken with pride when she described the man her father was, and I know why. Because he was a man who was strong, intelligent and highly admirable. Someone who still has a very very important place in my life and heart.

I vaguely remember the day we got the news that Dadu was sick. I remember my mom with tears flew miles to reach her father and take care of him.  I don’t even remember the moment when I was told that he was no more. I don’t remember shedding tears. All I knew was that I had to go to be with my grandmother and my mother. I was about to leave to study in the UK and leave my hometown for the very first time in my life and it didn’t strike me at that moment that he wouldn’t see me to that.  I was concerned for my mother, I was concerned for my grandmother, but the reality that I will not get to see him again didn’t hit me.

I step into the house and I still didn’t cry. Only when I walked into that room where he usually sat among his ink pens, parchments and old books is when I realised that he will not sit on that chair anymore, and that is when I started crying. It hit me that he won’t get to see me achieve something in life.

Dadu taught me a lot of things, and just his memories still teaches me so much.

Be calm even when there is a storm brewing inside you. Read to understand the world better. Pray when you need someone to hear your wishes. And many other things.

My summer vacations while growing up had a lot of moments with my Dadu weaving fish nets and catching fish in the pond, correcting my homework, and many other things. But my favourite moments were when he would ask me to bring him a book from his collection and get me to pick one to read, and we would just sit reading alongside each other through out the afternoon.

Even today, every time I open a book I think of him. I can only imagine what he meant to his children, what he meant to his wife and his brothers and sisters, knowing how much he meant to me.

Ma, I’m sorry I can’t put down better words. But hope reading this makes you realise one thing. I love him. And I love you more because you are a part of him. I like to believe that he knows the person I have become today. And that he knows that the parts of me that are good, have come from him too. He was the most important person in the world to you,  just like you are to me.

I love you.

 

Mercado Madness! Our first #Madrid Market Experience

KHAANA & COCKTAILS

Upon arriving in Madrid, I found myself reading a lot about the various markets the city had to offer. Our first morning, we ventured out to find Mercado de San Antón for some lunch. The market’s three levels include mainly food to take away and cook at home, a food court-type area with some fresh meals, and a bar and a terrace on top for finer dining.

While some of the options on the lower floors were tempting (and I ended up getting a slice of Bailey’s cheesecake at one of the stalls for later, which was delicious), I wanted to sit down with a full meal and relax before venturing out and exploring as much as we could see of Madrid in a day. We arrived right around noon and the terrace was lovely, but nearly empty. It slowly started to fill up a bit as we dined, perhaps…

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Finding something within a crowd

This is going to be a few random paragraphs. I want to be a real writer but right now all I do is jot down what I feel. Travel blog or not. Today I feel an urge of emotions. So I choose to jot them down here.

Have i changed or just the way I look at people and relationships? Something I ask myself every other minute of the day. I don’t know whether it’s that phase in life where you start to feel lonely and unsure or just PMS.

I think it’s the earlier one.

 

Lonely despite having people in your life, yes. Cause the way relationships alter and change; nothing else does. A friend who you have always turned to for support may not actually care as much as you thin they do. A parent who you keep going back to despite multiple fights may love you more than anything else in the world, but will still not understand what you are trying to tell them.

People either surprise you or move on with their lives. In this scenario you are just stuck in the big crowd trying to find something that will make you feel better and reassure you.

The truth is, you will share a friendship and a relationship with those who are in the same boat as you, who understand what you are feeling cause they feel it too. It’s empathy that bonds. But when the tide of life takes them forward and you stay in the same place anchored, it almost feels like you have ended back on the shore again. Right where you started. Not knowing where you belong. It lasts for a while till you manage to move forward yourself.

What I mean is maybe people only really empathize with similar situations and never with the person. Maybe that’s why you feel everything and everyone around you change.

Sometimes when you find yourself on the shore, feeling like you’re the only one who isn’t moving, it fills you with different types of emotions. The hopeless romantic turns into a cynic. And sometimes struggles with themselves cause they feel like they are a bit of both.

Whether it’s a perception, a belief, an opinion, people will not understand you. Not even those who are supposed to know you the best. Because the tide has taken them elsewhere.

So I guess all we need to do to survive is find people who can empathize with you in the moment – who can be in the same boat as you at least for a while till you find the person you can actually build a house on the shore with.

Until then day dream.

 

23 Things I Learnt About Myself – Part 2/5

2 years down the line and still feel like things haven’t changed much

My Travels : Memories and Moments

I know this blog is a year old now technically, but I still think of myself as a writer who mainly writes for herself. I don’t yet have the time and investments to make this blog commercial and join the bigger ‘ blogger universe’, but still when I see someone liking the post, I know there are at least a handful of people somewhere out there who read what I write.

The last post on this ’23’ series I have decided to do had a comment saying that I wrote was relatable. And that’s just it. These are 23 things I know about myself and my life, but there are so many out there who probably feel the same way about their lives and personalities. It’s a very connecting to people experience too, when you read and write something like this.

So continuing –

6.A people person?

I am talkative…

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Glimpses of India’s Blue City – Jodhpur

Jodhpur.

It’s been ‘THE’ city on my bucket list when it comes to places I want to visit in India, and by chance, thanks to my parents planning a Christmas getaway I ended up spending a weekend in this city.

What do I feel about it?

Honestly, I am not sure.

The Mehrangargh fort is one of the best in the state of Rajasthan, which is saying a lot considering it’s one of India’s most ‘royal states’. The palaces and the tombs and the many havelis have their charms and will make you fall in love with the culture and vibe. But the city itself needs work. Jaipur for example is a city that is maintained and is live able. Jodhpur on the other hand I felt had parts like the bazaar which were last built by the kings that lived here 400 years ago. It’s easy to escape these things while sitting in a luxury villa or hotel but when you really step out in the city, the dust and traffic gets to you.

But having said that, I want to share the things I loved about Jodhpur.

Like the blue walls in the ‘purani sheher’ which is the most iconic bits of the city. Whether romanticized in cinema (both Indian and International) or just the flood on Instagram by travel bloggers who seem to know how to capture the most tempting travel photos.

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I loved how photogenic every detail of the fort was. Not kidding. Every detail. From the jharokas to the birds nesting in every corner, to the ‘balconies’ to even the famous opium man. It’s the like Mehrangargh was born to tell stories for an eternity. I like to think of myself to be an imaginative person. And boy did I imagine. I imagined how the palaces inside would look in its prime. I imagined the costumes and the people inside the halls 500 years back. It’s charming, vintage, royal and very elite.

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I loved how the city looked from the fortress walls…

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I loved how beautiful I felt while in such a beautiful place…

(might just be that imagination again)

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I loved that I walked through the bazaar and the old market just to find the ‘Toorji Ka Jhalara’ a popular step well in the city that once upon a time must have been a beautiful sight and loved that now even in it’s ‘not so great’ days it stood out.

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I loved visiting Raas Haveli at night for dinner with my family just because it was one of the most beautiful places to be. Foothills of a lit up Mehrangargh, small fires glowing in the candles all around. It was stunning.

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I loved that it was a weekend where I got to know a bit about a city I really wanted to get to know for a long time. I loved that it was another place that I got to visit. I loved that I got to spend some time with my family. Most of all I loved Jodhpur showed me more than the ‘blue’ to it… It showed me a bit of reality as well.

How I Spent ‘Solo Time’ While Traveling

I am not close to being the wanderer or the expert backpacker or the solo traveler that every other person including me stalks on social media and feels like their lives suck. When I see pictures of travelers jumping into a waterfall or writing about how they traveled for months alone – I feel like an under achiever, but it also makes me want to strive towards something…

I have traveled alone before. But never for a long time enough time that can make it commendable. But sometimes I do get asked ‘Don’t you get bored?’ – well I have come to realise there is a huge difference in being ‘solo’ and ‘lonely’.

I can be lonely in a crowd and at the same time can also enjoy some ‘me time’

Get what I mean?

Well here is how I spent some ‘me time’ during my last solo trip (which lasted only 3 days)  – feat Siem Reap

Start with finding yourself a good property to be comfortable – travel hostels are great fun but every once in a while a big room in a nice resort is even nicer. I was lucky enough to find a good affordable property this time and I tried to make the most of it –  Tanei Resort and Spa 

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Spa time always helps ❤

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Immerse yourself in local culture – I for example love local theater! This time I checked out the ‘Bambu Stage’ in Siem Reap – it was something quite unique. Sipped a glass of wine before the performance started – the local artists explained how they make the leather puppets and the shadow puppetry narrated some local folk stories that sounded all too familiar to me. It was a very nice way to chill.

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Find the perfect souvenirs! I love collecting food and art related ones and the Sombai liqueur shop provided the perfect opportunity for me. They make local rice wines and put it in hand painted bottles. Give you a free tasting of 8 different flavours and also let you sample their jams! I loved this place and spent more than what I intended there!

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Eat some delicious local food!

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Or even better take a cooking class! I enrolled myself into the Countryside cooking classes and had a great time. I was the only one that day for the morning tour so got a personalized experience! The local markets were thriving and the market place is so much more than the produce, its about looking at the true local life, meeting people, learning about their livelihood and culture and the whole time my host telling me stories. He told me how he was funded by an American who not only taught him English but literally helped him get his life on track. I think I will write a full story just on this! I learnt how to make 3 dishes and I had a great time cooking and eating and then eating some more. The best thing for any traveler who loves food.

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Discover the city the way you want to. No peer pressure. Of course I checked out the famous Pub Street of Siem Reap – I took my photos, I wandered around but I decided to stop at the fish pedicure place and spend my evening there playing with puppies!

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Not kidding. Puppies.

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Solo traveling means a lot of things and this time it was just me taking a break. Doing things I want to do, when I want to do. Not having to worry about anything else. Sure everyone likes company but knowing that I can be okay on my own means so much more.

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