Friday, 29 March 2013

Garud Chatti Waterfalls in Rajaji National Park

I have been to Rishikesh innumerable times but had so far missed this area. Next to the Garud Chatti temple on the road to Neelkanth is a path leading to a series of waterfalls that is called as Garud Chatti waterfalls.

Surreal Waterfall

As we were camping nearby in the Brahampuri area three of us decided to go for a trek in the Rajajji National Park. We started from the road head next to the temple and the Neelkanth bridge and it was a beautiful path with stream on one side and the forested area on the other. 

Rajaji National Park

The area falls in the Rajajji National Park which is spread over 820 sq. kms. This part of the park falls under the Tehri Garhwal region of the state of Uttarakhand. Due to steep gradient at places and a fault in the topography one can see multiple waterfalls on this stretch within a short distance. 

The First Waterfall

The first waterfall is very small, though still beautiful. As we went there in the evening the light was very good for the photography. However, it is not advisable for novice trekkers to go very late as it would be difficult to return to the road head in darkness. Also the forest guard would not allow you to go in the park if you are very late in starting the trek (for your own safety).

The Second Waterfall

The path is reasonably good. One may think after reaching the second waterfall that they have come to the top but there is a way on the left, which is not clearly visible, to go further up.

Wild Flowers on the way

Throughout the trek one can see different kind of wild flowers blooming. The trek is not tough and surprisingly was not littered with soft drink bottles and empty chips packets which is the hallmark of some of the other trek paths that I have seen.

A Limestone Cave

Also near the third waterfall there are some limestone caves which can provide shelter, if need be. We sat next to all the three waterfalls to enjoy the beauty of the nature.

The Third & Final Waterfall

The third and the last waterfall though has a shorter fall than the second one but as the gradient is slightly less it gives the impression of being surreal and is really beautiful.

The trek inside the Rajaji National Park

As it was getting dark we had to turn back after going only a bit further up from the third waterfall. The trek is recommended for all nature lovers. It is a short trek that can be completed in couple of hours, including breaks.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Happy Holi

On the occasion of Holi I wish all of you a very happy, colorful and enjoyable Holi!

Happy Holi!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Hyderabad on My Mind

I visited the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundrabad a long time back. I can now recollect only a few things about the trip. It was an official trip so searching for hotels in Hyderabad was not my job. This trip also belonged to a time when finding information on the net was not that common. If I have to now find information related to Hyderabad hotels internet would be my first stop.

A clean hotel room is a priority

What do I remember most from the trip? Obviously the biggest draw was the Charminar. I wonder how the area would have changed in the last 10 years or so. Or maybe it has not changed that much? The second most prominent thing was the food. Even though I did not have much time I did try local cuisine. As I can eat non vegetarian food I had much more options than my vegetarian friends.

But coming back to hotels not much have changed in the Indian scenario. It was difficult to find a clean budget hotel then, it still remains so. It has become a bit easier to locate offers (like makemytrip offers 3 star hotels in Hyderabad) and many travel booking sites are grouping hotels by stars or price range but the ground reality hardly seems to have changed.

My experience in other countries tells me that Indian hotels are way too overpriced and are no where comparable in providing services. For example in UK I have stayed in B&Bs starting from pound 39 and they were spotlessly clean. They included free wifi for the guests and served breakfast that was really a feast.
Now in India if I spend three to four thousand rupees I am still not sure about the cleanliness or the quality of the service or food. I am not saying that there are no clean mid range hotels in India but finding them feels like such a task!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Wise Guys and the Maharaj Trio for the Butterflies

The German School in Delhi recently organised a concert where the famous German a cappela band Wise Guys from Cologne, Germany sang some very good songs and enthralled the public. The charity concert was held in aid of Butterflies, the programme for the street and working children of Delhi.The band also donated 45,000 Euros in aid of the abused women of Delhi.

The Wise Guys

I have recorded some of their songs and one is presented here -

The Wise Guys

The Maharaj Trio of  Pandit Vikash Maharaj on Sarod, Prabhash Maharaj on Tabla and Abhishek Maharaj on Sitar produced some excellent music as well. Listen to one of their compositions -

The Maharaj Trio

The children from Butterflies also performed on stage on the popular beats of Bollywood music. It was a evening well spent for a good cause.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Another Accolade for Climber & Explorer

My blog Climbers and Explorer has now been listed in the Directory of Best Indian Blogs in the category of Travel.

Climber & Explorer among the Best Indian Blogs

This is on the heels of the blog being listed among the Top Travel Blogs of India. I came to know about the Directory only recently as someone pointed it to me via email that he has seen my blog in the list!

I thank my readers for these accomplishments!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Fatal Mountaineer

Fatal Mountaineer is a story of Willi Unsoeld, American Himalayan legend who in 1963 became a hero by climbing the Everest by the West Ridge along with Tom Hornbien. In fact, Unsoeld is a hero for Jon krakauer the author of Into Thin Air. Though the title Fatal Mountaineer is misleading in the sense that this book, unlike what is publicized, is not a biography on Unsoeld.

Ice climbing

The story unfolds with the death of Willi on Rainier mountain in an avalanche in 1979 and then proceeds on to the 1976 Nanda Devi expedition. Even on the expedition the book is less about Willi but more about the factional fights among the climbers. A lot of content talks about John Roskelley, the man who climbed Nanda Devi by a new route along with Louis Reichardt and Jim States. Also Roskelley was vehemently against any females joining the expedition fearing that it jeopardizes chances of success.

The book, winner of Boardman Tasker Prize for literature, delves a lot on Unsoeld’s daughter whom he had named Nanda Devi at birth for he was enchanted with the mountain. In the end Nanda Devi the climber is committed (dies at 24000 ft on the mountain) to Nanda Devi the mountain or Nanda Devi the goddess as is known in the Garhwal Himalayas. In fact lot many years later also people are questioning whether it was wise for her to continue climbing when she was not fit enough. But I feel that high on the mountains it is you yourself who can take that call and no one else.

Nanda Devi sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains closed for all activities either for the locals or the outsiders and was opened for a short time. But the book also reveals, which I was completely unaware of, that the CIA in connivance with the CBI tried to place a nuclear device on top of this mountain in 1965 to spy on the Sinkiang region of China during those cold war days with disastrous consequences. They were unable to reach the top and dumped the nuclear device to come back the next year to complete the process and when they came they could not find the device as it was completed hidden by snow and ice debris and it is even possible that some radio active leakage may be wrecking havoc in this sanctuary even now.

What is lacking in the book by Robert Roper is that it only delves on two of Willi’s climbs of his climbing life (Everest and Nanda Devi) and more or less completely ignores his other achievements. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

T3 and T1: The Two Airport Saga in Delhi

Did it ever happen to you that you went to pick up someone at T3 where as their flight was arriving on T1C? (Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport has two terminals.)  Personally it has not happened to me but I know people who have done this.

ITC Green Lounge at T3

There are advantages and disadvantages of having two airports in the city. I mean carriers like Air Asia do not even fly out of Delhi as the airport charges are so high here. And all budget carriers fly out of 1D as it helps to provide cheap air tickets to the customers! Booking tickets online is another way to find cheap flight tickets. But I do hope Air Asia comes to Delhi eventually. Otherwise flying to south to take a flight almost nullifies the cheap air ticket I may get on Air Asia.

But getting back to having two airports I still do not have a preference. All international flights anyway depart from T3 even for carrier like IndiGo whose domestic flights otherwise depart from T1D. Is it sounding a little confusing by now? Well not really if you live in the NCR! For domestic flights both airports are close by. So it doesn't matter which airport one is flying from.

There was a time in the past when the eating options at T1D were not that good. Not any longer. There is a food court at level 1 and you get Costa Coffee, KFC etc . However my favorite is a South Indian joint called Vango. I always take their plain dosa combo which has a plain dosa, an idili and a vada along with filter coffee for about Rs 180. I almost never manage to catch up on breakfast even for 11.00 am flight so Vango is a favorite stop.

So as of now I am quite neutral between flying out of T3 or T1. 

Friday, 15 March 2013

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Among the largest forts in India, the Mehrangarh Fort towers 400 feet above the city of Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. Jodhpur is the second largest city of Rajasthan after Jaipur.

The Towering Mehrangarh Fort

The thick outer walls of the fort are made of red sandstone. The fort was built by the ruler Rao Jodha when he decided to shift his capital from Mandore to a safer location. The work started in 1459 and has been built in various stages over 500 years

Mehrangarh Fort with a lake in front

The fort has seven gates or 'Pols' as they are called locally in Rajasthan commemorating  victories by various rulers.

Mehrangarh Fort

The fort is well maintained. Entry ticket to the fort for Indians is Rs 50 and Rs 300 for the foreigners. Audio guides are also available at a cost. For people who do not want to climb the steep ramp the lift facility is available at a charge of Rs 20.

Musicians inside the Fort

When you walk from the outer to the inner gates up the steep ramp there are musicians playing and singing Rajasthani folk music to give a feel of the local customs and music. The fort reverberates with the sound of drums and shehnai transporting you to another world.

Sheesh Mahal

The  fort also has several period rooms like the Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Palace (see the photo above) where the place is full of mirrors. Other rooms like Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) and  Phool Mahal (Palace of Flowers) are equally interesting.

Lattice Work

Inside the fort walls one can see lots of stone lattice work on the windows. The lattice work not only keeps the insides cool in a hot place like Jodhpur but also gives privacy to the residents inside.

Krishna as a motif

Several of the walls are adorned with motifs from the Mahabharata and other Indian epics.

Stained Glass 

Several rooms inside have stained glasses giving the room a look of peace and tranquility. The play of colours inside the rooms due the the stained glasses is very interesting.

Jodhpur City from the ramparts of Mehrangarh Fort

The part of the city near the fort appears indigo blue from the fort as most of the houses use blue colour to paint their houses.

Inside the turban Gallery

There are several galleries inside the fort including a turban gallery which showcases different types of turbans worn in Rajasthan based on region, period and community. In the photo above a staff member poses wearing a turban with various prints for different kinds of turbans displayed in the background.

View of Jaswant Thada & the lake from Mehrangarh Fort

Very close to the fort is Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum built by Sardar Singh in memory of King Jaswant Singh. The entire structure is built in white marble. It is also the cremation grounds of the rulers of Jodhpur.

The Mehrangarh Fort, in my view, is among the best kept forts in India which is kept clean, has a courteous staff and the guides do not harass you constantly. The exit leads you out via the museum/souvenir shop but no one pesters you to buy something. This is among the very few monuments in India where there are clean washrooms as well as cafeterias. They need to address, though, the question of access for persons with disabilities as right now except for the lift at one place this facility is lacking.

To read more about places in and around Jodhpur please see my earlier posts-

Guda Bishnoi
Umaid Heritage:Water Conservation with Beauty
Ratanada Palace

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

I am Not a Plastic Bag

When the Indian government put a ban on plastic bags in November 2012 one wondered how successful would the ban be in the absence of any alternate system. Even several of you must have seen that how when one puts fruits and vegetables etc in a paper bag it rips open and all the stuff gets spilled.

Oranges in a compostable bag  

I noticed that though some people have started bringing their own jute or cloth bags to the market but how do you ensure to pack stuff for weighing and price labeling? Most of the shops still give you stuff packed in plastic bags.

But I was pleasantly surprised to see that recently one of the bigger stores  - SRS Value Bazaar - have started using a bag that is not made of plastic. In fact they have got the bags printed with  - I am Not  a Plastic Bag.

SRS Value Bazaar's Compostable Bag

This 100% compostable bag made from starch based compostable material gets converted to invaluable compost/manure under composting conditions. The bag has a production and a 'Use By' date also stamped on it! These Truegreen bags have been manufactured by Greendiamz Biotech Ltd. The bags can carry weight without getting ripped open unlike the paper bags.

So the plastic ban has had a positive impact that this new technology has been put in daily use and thereby having a huge positive impact on environment  Of course this is only the beginning and only if such  technology is used by one and all - be it the shops or the consumer -  would there be a sustained impact on the environment.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Climber & Explorer Among the Top Travel Blogs

I was pleasantly surprised when my blog Climber & Explorer was rated among the top 30 travel blogs of India in 2013. The Top Travel Blog List 2013 was published on 22nd February 2013. The rating is based on Alexa ranking.

Enchanting Travel Destination 

I am comparatively new as a travel blogger as I started blogging about my travel experiences as late as 2008 though I have been travelling since long. And even then in the initial few years the posts were few and far in between. After all I am not a professional blogger!

So what could be the reason of my figuring in the list? This is probably because majority of my posts are about travel destinations not frequented by too many people and therefore there is a dearth of information about these places.

I am pleased about this ranking and assure my readers that I will continue to share my experiences of offbeat destinations.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Rural Tourism

Whenever I go to the rural parts of India I am amazed at its beauty and then wonder why India does not promote rural tourism as a destination in a big way. As it is India has a minuscule share in world tourism.

Beautiful reflection of sunset on water body

I had gone for a few days to stay at Goad-Balawa which is at the border of Haryana and Rajasthan and is about 175 kms from Delhi. The closest town to this place is Narnaul. During evening walks I saw this pond with beautiful reflection of the setting sun and the clouds.

Mustard Fields

My mornings were greeted with fog and the mustard fields unlike the smog of the cities. The air had the freshness to it and you don't have to worry about getting cough and cold which one catches in the winters of polluted cities.

Tree Art

Even the kikar trees looked lovely surrounded by the mustard crop. The rural areas still have lots of old houses where one can see the work of the artisans which is sadly lacking in the modern houses of the cities as well as the villages.

Carved Door Frames

 In fact now a days one can see such wooden carved door frames being displayed in the living rooms of the houses of some rich people and I have heard there is a whole industry at work in Rajasthan that produces such work and then season it in such a way that the stuff looks old!

Old Cenotaph

I saw some old cenotaphs or chattris also  - some in ruins and others still part of the tube-well structure in fields. They look beautiful under the setting sun.

Beautiful Sunset

And at end of the day the sunset that you get is unbelievable. What more could one ask for if one is looking at having a relaxed tension-free holiday.

There is a huge potential that can be tapped by encouraging rural tourism that will bring in much needed foreign exchange to India and also provide much needed employment and money to people in their villages. This will also stop, to some extent, the mad mush of people to migrate to cities due to paucity of jobs in the hinterland.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Sufi Music by Sabri Brothers

Yesterday evening I was able to listen live the Sabri Brother's Sufi music for the first time and what a performance it was! The Sufi music in the form of Qawwali lifted ones spirits. Among the singers the best was Farid Sabri who had magic in his voice.

Sufi Music by Sabri Brothers

They sang several Qawwali's. Among the best that I liked was Amir Khusro's 'Chaap Talak Sab Chini'. I have recorded it partly here -

The brothers have sang several songs for the Bollywood as well over the years. Another song that they sang was Wohi Fir Hamein Yaad Aane Lage Hain -

Another all time hit was Der Na Ho Jaaye -

Aaja ve Mahi Tera Rasta Udikdiyan was equally famous-

The Sabri Brothers are from Jaipur Gharana and should not be confused with the Pakistani group by the same name.

The event was organised by the TOI as the Times Gurgaon Festival.

I wish there are more such performances on a regular basis in the NCR area.