Changing colours of the City Palace : Shades of light and life!


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Shades of light are as mesmerising as the shades of life. How often they go hand to hand! I might seem like being too philosophical but often loss of somebody very close makes you so. Its not quite very often that you are able to watch the changing shades of light during the course of the day at an off-routine place, more so at a place worth a zillion images.

Morning view of the city palace of Udaipur. Its January but the winter this year is not so harsh.

It happened to be so with me when I was at Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur from morning to sunset for a stretch of more than ten hours at the same place. Udaipur is city of my birth and my education.

It gets brighter and bluer as the sun comes to the top. There are many boats taking tourists to small trip on the lake

City Place of Udaipur is one of the prime tourist attractions of the City of Lakes. This more than four hundred years old palace is located at the banks of Pichola Lake in the heart of the city.

Its the start of the second half of the day and light has started to make changes to the colours

The palace is best viewed from the side of the lake. That is where you get the panoramic view of the old city of Udaipur and the City Palace together.

The brightness of the sky gives way to softer tones

The Pichola Lake has got many ghats and these are the places where the old city of Udaipur exists. Ghats are the stairs on the banks of the lakes to let people have easy access to the lake. These ghats were often used by the locals to take bath.

The shades of white turn to yellow…

Ambrai ghat or the historically known as Manji Raj ka Ghat is one of such ghats around lake Pichola in Udaipur. This ghat has a temple of Charbhuja Ji which was originally stated to have been constructed as a palace for the queen mother after she became a widow.

…and the yellow turns to golden…

These ghats are also the reflection of the cultural heritage of the city. They are part of daily life, they are also place for rituals. They are deeply associated with the history and stye have been the silent spectators to the dramatic transformation of the city.

…and even the gold turns to copper, what we say as तांबई colour in Hindi

Be here and you will find small boats filled of tourists taking a round trip in the lake and amazingly clicking the pictures of life on the lakeside.

As the sun sets, the dusk gathers around, its going to be dark soon

Now most of the old houses around the lake have been converted into heritage hotels, catering to a wide range of tourists coming to the Udaipur. Many of them give fantastic views of the lake and city around. Many of the hotels have got lakeside or rooftop restaurants. There are also a number of souvenir shops around these hotels in the area alongside lake.

…its then the lights come to play and give altogether a new shade to the whole surroundings

The visit to Udaipur is often not deemed as complete unless you visit any of its ghats to feel the pulse of the city. Be there, see, interact and get amused! Its worth a lot, just like this interplay of lights on the City Palace during the course of a single day.

Have you been to Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur? Share your experiences in the comments section.

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Mangalajodi Ecotourism Trust wins UNWTO Award


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Turismo de Portugal I.P (Portugal), Mangalajodi Ecotourism Trust (India), Tryponyu (Indonesia) and SEGGITUR (Spain) are the winners of the 14th Edition of the UNWTO Awards for Innovation in Tourism.   Fourteen projects among 128 applicants from 55 countries were selected as finalists of the 14th UNWTO Awards for Innovation in Tourism. 

Read: A unique effort at Mangalajodi gets nominated for the UNWTO Award

Sanjib Sarangi and Reena from Mangalajodi with Tricolour

Sanjib Sarangi of the Indian Grameen Services (IGS) and Reena from the Mangalajodi Ecotourism Trust attended the award ceremony and were overjoyed with the announcement of the award. They accepted the award and unfurled the Indian Tricolour at the stage. Indian Grameen Services overlooks the Mangalajodi Ecotourism Trust project. Mangalajodi Trust was the only Indian nomination in this year’s UNWTO awards.

The winning projects, divided into four categories – Public Policy and Governance, Research and Technology, Enterprises, and Non-governmental Organizations –, have been announced at the UNWTO Awards Ceremony held Wednesday, 17th January evening in Madrid at the International Tourism Trade Fair in Spain (FITUR).

Sanjib Sarangi and Reena from Mangalajodi trust accepting the award

“Today we honour the vision and commitment of individuals, administrations, companies and organizations that every day build a better future by harnessing the potential of tourism. The work of all the finalists of the 14 UNWTO Awards on Innovation is an inspiration to all of us”, underlined UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, in his opening remarks.

Overjoyed Sanjib and Reena after announcement of the winner in their category

Attended by nearly 500 participants from different countries, the UNWTO Awards Ceremony, co-organized by IFEMA|FITUR, emphasized how the tourism community has embraced sustainable and innovative approaches.

Sanjib Sarangi of the IGS speaking at the event in his acceptance speech

The UNWTO Awards for Excellence and Innovation in Tourism are held annually to highlight and promote the work of organizations and individuals around the world that have impacted the tourism sector. Their achievements have served as an inspiration for competitive and sustainable tourism development and the promotion of the values of the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals.

All the winners after the ceremony

The 14th Edition  of the UNWTO Awards was organized in collaboration with the International Tourism Trade Fair in Spain (IFEMA/FITUR) and supported by:

  • The Macao Government Tourism Office
  • The National Secretariat of Tourism of Paraguay-Itaipu Binacional
  • The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Argentina
  • The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in Colombia
  • The Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
  • Wonderful Indonesia
  • The Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority; and
  • National Geographic
Campus of Mangalajodi Ecotourism resort

In the Innovation in Enterprises category Conservation and Livelihoods: Community managed Ecotourism at Mangalajodi,  Mangalajodi Ecotourism Trust was shortlisted. Other nominated enterprises in this category were from Kenya, Italy and Philippines. Mangalajodi is one of the oldest village coming under Tangi block of Khurda district in Odisha, 75 km from Bhubaneswar towards Berhampur with a huge marshland along the northern edge of Chilika Lake. The area (about 10 sq.km) is primarily a fresh water zone connected by channels cut through the reed beds with the brakish water of Chilika lagoon. The numerous channels that crisscross through the greenery, harbour thousands of water birds, migratory and resident. Part of Chilika, 1165 sq.kms.brakish water estuarine lagoon of international importance. The wetland hosts more than 3,00,000 of birds in the peak season. October to March is the best time to visit this place. This region has is a significant global waterfowl habitat and is declared as an “Important Bird Area (IBA)”.

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Get rewarded for playing Golf in Amazing Thailand!

Wanna play some golf at some of the most beautiful courses in the world! Head on to Thailand to tee off. And, what more, you are going to get rewarded through some loyalty points. All you need is a Thai Golf Passport. It is often said that arguably Thailand is one of the greatest place to visit and play golf. It is already referred to as Asia’s most popular golfing destination. Golf has been played in Thailand for almost a century now. The game was recored at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club as early as 1905. No wonder that Golf Tourism is at a high in Thailand and it is one of the leading golf tourism destinations in the world. There are number of reasons to visit Thailand and play golf. Thai Golf Passport is newest of them.

Amazing Thailand also has Amazing Golf facilities. Ideally located more than 200 golf courses throughout the country, by the sea, by the mountains, by the lakes, inside the cities even besides the airports. Top quality courses, reasonable green fees, friendly caddies. From the beach resorts in the south such as Phuket to the mountainous surroundings in the north, or the bustling cities of Bangkok and Pattaya, there are golf courses to suit every preference.

Banyan-Golf-Course

To bring value to this offering, SLW, the leading Golf Management company has launched the first ever loyalty program for a country. ‘Thai Golf Passport has been launched in india to offer Indian golfers a seamless golf experience in Thailand. Indian golfers can be a part of this Amazing rewards program whenever they tee off in Amazing Thailand’ said Anil Dev, Managing Director SLW.’ A number of quality service providers like Thai Airways, Cox & Kings, Callaway and a number of Golf Courses, Resorts and hotels have come together to partner this initiative,’ he added.

Phuket golf course, blue canyon golf club, canyon course

The Thai Golf Passport was launched in New Delhi by Isra Stapanaseth Director Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi Office, Vani Kapoor, the leading Indian Lady Professional Golfer, Gajendar Panwar, Vice President Indian Golf Travel Association, Rohan Prakash, Associate Vice President Cox & Kings and Prashant Singh, General Manager, Callaway Golf India. Also present were a number of Golf Travel professionals from the travel and tourism trade. Already 30 golf courses in Thailand have joined this programme. The dedicated website of the ‘Thai Golf Passport’ would be launched on 1st February. India is first market to launch a golf passport.

Indian golfer Vani Kapoor

“While Thailand is an Amazing destination, India is the leading market for us. Keeping this in mind and ensuring value added services we have launched Thai Golf Passport in association with SLW Golf Management. This will help golfers to enjoy golf in their favourite destination and help us in connecting with the golfing fraternity in India”, said Isra Stapanaseth. “The initiative will also keep the Golfers here updated on new golf venues, special offers and various events”. Vani Kapoor, the leading Indian golf pro said that, “Thailand is my favourite destination and I travel a number of times every year. I love the hospitality, food, facilities and of course Golf. Thailand is truly amazing.”

“Golf has long been the game of corporate and business people who are also avid travellers. Thai Golf Passport creates a membership that shares common values and interests, and at the same time provide an engaging golfing and networking platform for all stake holders-members and sponsors alike. We are excited to partner with this innovative initiative which helps us reaching our customers directly,” said Prashant Singh, General Manager, Callaway Golf India.

Sanitburi course at Koh Samui

“Thai Golf Passport is a great initiative for golf tourists to enjoy seamless service. We believe in providing quality service to our customer and this will also help in validating this claim. We are proud to be associated with Tourism Authority of Thailand and it would be our endeavour work towards successful implementation of the project,” added Rohan Prakash, Associate Vice President,Cox & Kings.

Grand Prix Golf Club

Gajendar Panwar, Vice President Indian Golf Travel Association said that, “Our association welcomes this move which is a program unique to India. While hotels and airlines have loyalty programs this will be a first of its kind where a Country has created such a program. We support all golf tourism initiatives and are sure that this will really encourage golf travel.”

Alpine Golf Course at Bangkok

When it comes to hospitality no country comes closer to perfection than Thailand offering something for everyone of diverse interest, every age and every budget. From pristine sandy beaches to lush jungles, bustling busy cities to traditional villages, Michelin star menus to roadside noodle stalls, historic Buddhist temples to 21st century sky scrapers Thailand is truly amazing! Don’t wait, just add golf to this fun.

 

Desert to Desert : Old charm continues in New Year

Too late to come with the first post of the New Year! It is never too late!!

Chill is settling down and fog has engulfed almost whole of north India. Its snowing in the hills. Time to pack the bags for some adventure! If you need a reason than there are lot from cold deserts of Ladakh to deserts of Thar (although they will be equally cold this time). First month of the calendar year also comes with a number of festivals celebrating India’s dance and musical traditions. Not to be forgotten that this month also has Makar Sakranti (14th January), considered to be one of the most auspicious days of the year and also an occasion of many travels and pilgrimages. Here are my picks for the month.

Mukteshwar and Rajarani Festivals

Let’s start from Odisha. Mukteshwar Dance Festival (14-16 January), organised by Odisha Tourism is all about dance, especially Odissi dance. This festival is staged in front of the 1100-years-old Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneswar. Renowned Odissi dancers from around the world take part in this festival performing solo, duet and group presentations. Mukteshwar temple, one of the most prominent temples of Bhubaneswar, has been constructed in the style that is quite similar to the one used in the Kalinga School of Temple Architecture. The splendid Torana of the temple, an ornamental arched gateway, is very much reminiscent of the influence of Buddhism in Orissa. This temple is a very important part of cultural life of the people of Orissa as the architecture at the temple entrance is considered to be one of the most beautiful specimens of the Orissan School of architecture. This temple signifies the transitional phase of the architecture of Orissa between the initial and the later stages of Kalinga architectural style. The beautiful architectural works of the temple add to the splendour of the Mukteshwar Utsav. This festival should not be missed by the people who take interest in the traditional dance forms of India. This festival is followed by Rajarani Music Festival two days later. Mukteshwar festival is all about dance while Rajarani festival is about classical music.

Entrancing performances by well-known Odissi and Hindustani vocal and music maestros bring alive the architectural beauty of the 11th century Rajarani temple at this festival. To show case the glorious tradition of Indian classical music, the Rajarani Music Festival was conceived to be organised by the Department of Tourism in association with Bhubaneswar Music Circle.
Celestial music, sublime surroundings and soothing climes of late winter—soul traverses to an elevated sphere leaving you utterly relaxed. The musical evenings are resplendent with excellent performances by the great maestros of Indian classical music creating an allegory of darbari gayans (musical performances in an Indian king’s court) of age old histories. Eminent instrumentalists and vocalists of India have rendered scintillating performance in this festival over the years. The temple, often referred to as the Khajuraho of the east, is famous for its elaborate erotic sculptured figurines. It’s remarkable for the absence any presiding deity in it. The temple is famous for its ornate deul or compass and the statues of eight Dikpals guarding the eight cardinal directions of the temple.

  • When: January 14-16 & 18-20, 2018
  • Where: Mukteshwar & Rajarani temples, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha

Swathi Sangeethotsavam

Photo Credit : imalayalee.org

Continuing with tradition of music festivals, come January and the mighty pillars of the Kuthiramalika Palace in the Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will pulsate with the mellifluous notes sung at the Swathi Sangeetholsavam or Swathi Music Festival. This musical extravaganza lets you listen to the spellbinding compositions of Swathi Thirunal, the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore. Organised every year to pay tribute to Swathi Thirunal, the concert celebrates the brilliant notes composed by this legendary maestro which continue to enthrall music lovers even now. A patron of music and a musician himself, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma has to his credit more than 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. He set a new course and direction to the musical tradition of Kerala. The concert held in the Kuthiramalika Palace adjoining the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, sees musical performances in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles. The musical festival which is attended by eminent musicians from across the country brings together those passionate about classical music and the experts as well. Entry is free.

  • When: January 4-13, 2018
  • Where: Kuthiramalika Palace, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Adoor Gajmela, first of the year

Adoor Gajamela

Well, let’s still be in Kerala. The picture of a huge tusker in all his adornment is something that catches the mind of all. If you are an elephant lover then don’t miss this wonderful elephant pageant at the Parthasarathy Temple in Adoor. Popular as Adoor Gajamela, the festival is part of the ten-day annual celebration held at the temple. Kerala’s first elephant pageant for the year, the end of the 10 day festival at Parthasarathy Temple features a procession of nine decorated elephants. Traditional art forms such a panchavadyam (a musical ensemble with five different types of instruments) accompany the parade. Hundreds of people throng the temple premises to witness this spectacle where nine tuskers come in their ceremonial attire to entice all. Parthasarathy Temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, who is also known as Parthasarathy – the charioteer of Parthan, another name for Arjuna. Arjuna is one of the five Pandava princes, in the Indian epic Mahabharata.

  • When: January 27, 2018
  • Where: Parthasarathy Temple, Adoor, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala

Arthunkal Perunnal

Kerala always loves to give you more. The Arthunkal Perunnal (perunnal meaning feast) is the annual feast of St. Sebastian held in the St. Andrew’s Forane Church at Arthunkal in Alappuzha. The event sees devotees from across the state throng the church to participate in the feast which is held in January every year. One of the main events during the feast involves a ceremonial procession wherein the statue of St. Sebastian is taken out from the church to the beach and back. Another intriguing event is the ceremony on the final day when devotees crawl on their knees all the way from the nearby beach to the church. Church built by Portuguese missionaries in a coastal hamlet near here is a model of religious harmony with a tradition of hosting Sabari pilgrims returning after worshipping Lord Ayyappa. Pilgrims from across the state visit the St Andrew’s Church at Arthunkal here and pay their respects to the idol of Saint Sebastian between the months of November and January during the Mandala and Makaravilakku season of the Sabarimala temple. Legend has it that one of the early priests of the church, popularly called Arthunkal Veluthachan (fair skinned father), was a friend of Lord Ayyappa. The visit of the pilgrims commemorates the bond they shared, especially as the priest was loved by the local people who believed he had healing powers.

  • When: January 27, 2018
  • Where: St. Andrew’s Forane Church, Arthunkal, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station Cherthala is about 8 km from here and Alappuzha is about 22 km from here.

But if you think that that is all from Kerala fo the month, than you are wrong. Actually there are lot more. Kerala Tourism has recently started another unique annual event- Utsavam which is a festival of traditional performing art forms of Kerala. It will be held from January 6 to 12 across Kerala. Simultaneously, from January 7 to 14 Vasantholsavam will be celebrated at Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvanathpuram. It will be basically a flower show. Same Kanakakkunnu Palace will also host Nishagandhi Festival from January 20 to 26, which will be a seven day cultural fiesta.

Jaipur Literature Festival

Photo Credit: dumbbellsanddrama.com

Lets move from down south to west in Rajasthan. From modest beginnings in 2006, the Jaipur Literature Festival has grown into the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific. This is the 11th edition of the festival this year. Both Indian authors as well as those from abroad appear at the festival. The sessions consist of readings, discussions, and questions and answers. It’s possible to buy the authors’ books and get them signed. In addition, there’s a range of stalls selling everything from food to handicrafts. There’s also an outdoor lounge bar, for relaxing. Music performances are held in the evenings, after the literary sessions are over. In recent years, the festival has turned into quite a fashionable occasion, and attracts plenty of socialites from Delhi and Jaipur. Authors will discuss works related to topic. There will also be emphasis on poetry, the literature of Southeast Asia, and the seven states of northeast India. There will be live music events, heritage walks and much more.

  • When: January 24-29, 2018
  • Where: At the historic Diggi Palace hotel in Jaipur. The hotel is located in Sangram Colony, Ashok Nagar, which is just off M.I. Road, around 10 minutes walk from the Old City of Jaipur. Since 2012, the music stage has been shifted to a different venue at The Clarks Amer lawns (around 15 minutes drive south of Diggi Palace).

Colours of desert in Rajasthan

Photo Credit: rajasthanvisit.com

There is lot in Rajasthan this month. January is just the right month for a desert spree, and Bikaner and Jaisalmer are just the right places to see the ships of the desert. In the camel country Bikaner, these desert leviathans pull heavy cartloads, transport grain and even work at the wells. Held on second Saturday-Sunday of January every year, the Camel Festival begins with a colourful procession of bedecked camels against the red sandstone backdrop of the Junagarh Fort, the festivity advances to the open sand-spreads of the grounds, followed by the best breed competition, the tug-of-war contest, camel dance,  acrobatics, etc. The camels display amazing footwork, dancing gracefully to the slightest direction of their trainers. Bridal, bridles, bejewelled necks, jingling anklets and long, lanky camel shadow on dusky sands cast a magical spell. Hundreds of tourists and thousands of locals and dignitaries revel in this man-and-animal affair organised especially for the tourists. The evenings close with a different tenor and tempo altogether: a traditional rendezvous of renowned artistes of Rajasthan and the local folk performers. The jubilant skirt-swirling dancers, the awe-inspiring fire dance, and the dazzling fireworks light up the fortified desert city of Bikaner.

Almost a fortnight later is Desert Festival at Jaisalmer (January 29-31, 2018). Its one of Rajasthan’s premier showcase festivals. Once a year, the empty sands around Jaisalmer come alive with a mesmerising performance on the sand dunes in the form of the Desert Festival. The festival, organised by the Department of Tourism around January-February, goes on for three whole days and lets you enjoy the rich and colourful Rajasthani folk culture. Rajasthani men and tall, beautiful women dressed in their best and brightest costumes dance and sing ballads of valour, romance and tragedy, while traditional musicians attempt to outdo each other to showcase their musical superiority. The high points of the festival are puppeteers, acrobats, camel tattoo shows, camel races, camel polo, traditional processions, camel mounted bands, folk dances, etc.

  • When: January 13-14 & 29-31, 2018
  • Where: Bikaner and Jaisalmer are connected by rail and road with all the major cities. The nearest airport is at Jodhpur (243 kms).

Tribal Kumbh at Beneshwar

From west of Rajasthan, now we move to south of Rajasthan. Almost 70 kilometre from Dungarpur in South Rajasthan, Beneshwar temple at Sabla is located at the confluence of three rivers- Mahi, Som and Jakham. This region is the tribal belt that stretched to neighbouring parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat as well. Every year this place is host to Beneshwar Fair. This festival, held on the full moon day or Magh Shukla Purnima, attracts a large number of tourists along with tribals from the region. On this pious occasion, Bhils travel all the way from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to take a dip at the confluence of three rivers. The number of people coming to the festival often crosses half a million, hence it is rightfully known as the Tribal Mahakumbh of ‘Vangad’ region. A true reflection of tribal traditions and culture. This place has got many mythological associations making it one of the most revered places of the region. There is a fair and a flea market as well. Even the erstwhile royal family of Dungarpur had close association with this festival.

  • When: January 27-31, 2018
  • Where: Beneshwar Temple, Sabla, Dungarpur. Dungarpur is the southernmost district of Rajasthan, accessible from Udaipur very easily or even Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Similarly Nagaur in Rajasthan will also have its Nagaur Fair from 22 January to 25 January. Nagaur Fair is said to be second biggest fair in India. It is basically a cattle fair, where every year around 70,000 bullocks, camels and horses are traded. All traditional colours of Rajasthan are here at full display in dresses, shops, games and art forms. This fair is also known for its Mirchi Bazaar, which is said not be largest red chilli market in India.

Joydev Fair, Kenduli

Photo Credit: flickr.com

Now jump from west to east. For an unforgettable dose of West Bengal folk music don’t miss the Kenduli Mela, where the mystical wandering Baul musicians gather to perform. Dressed in saffron robes, and playing a distinctive instrument called the Ektara, they sing uniquely about life’s philosophy. Joydev-Kenduli is renowned as the birth place of great Sanskrit poet Joydev who flourished in 12th Century and composed the well known Geet – Govinda, a Sanskrit Lyrical poem. Annual- Mela is held in the village Kenduli in the last day of Bengali month Pous and first 2 days of Magh and is attended by thousands of pilgrims including Bauls. The word ‘Baul’  is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Batul’ which means ‘mad’. Baul philosophy emphasises love for all human beings as the path leading to divine love. The Joydeb-Kenduli mela (fair), held every year in West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Makar Sankranti in mid-January. It is a gathering of wandering minstrels (Bauls, primarily) like no other in India. Gathering in almost equal numbers are lay aficionados addicted to the Baul and Fakir ways of life. Joydev Mela is mainly a music festival but as the Poush Mela it attracts craftsmen from the whole region, mainly selling wooden kitchen supplies, handmade covers or cheap jewellery. During five days, the 3 000 inhabitants of Kenduli Village welcome thousand and thousand of pilgrims who come mostly to listen to the bauls, the Wandering minstrels, the Mad Ones, bearers of a unique musical tradition, included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The fair is held on the banks of the Ajay River which is not only of some historical interest – the fair celebrates the great poet Joydev on the day he is claimed to have taken a bath at the Kadaambokhandi ghat of the river around 800 years ago.

  • When: January 14-16, 2018
  • Where: Kenduli village, around 30 kilometers from Shantiniketan in West Bengal.

Uttarayan Kite Festival

Photo Credit: event-carnival.com

Well, looking around for other events on Makar Sankranti, lets come back to west. Gujarat is vibrant with the Kite Festival (Makar Sankranti) which is celebrated with colors of joy, colors of life. The Kite Festival signify Gujarat’s ‘Cultural Strength’ and like the kites, Gujarat soars high to touch the skies to be the ‘best in the world.’ All over the State, in the Month of January, the serene blue sky with colorful kites look splendid and since morning to evening remains dotted with vivid splashes of color with kites in a variety of hues, shapes and sizes. The excitement continues with the onset of night. As the sun sets and darkness hovers over, youngsters continue competing each other in supremacy in the sky, now with the paper lanterns tied to their kite-strings. These lanterns known as tukkal swaying at the mild stroke of wind presents a lovely image while some try to cut off these tukkals and enjoy the fun. Makar Sankranti (Kite Flying Day) marks the end of a long winter with the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere. According to the Hindu astronomy the sun enters the zodiac of Makara (Capricorn). Hence, it is called Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. The special significance attached to the celebration of Makar sankranti, is Kite Flying. The gods who are believed to have slumbered for six long months are now awake and the portals of heaven are thrown open! Uttarayan is celebrated all over Gujarat but the excitement is high at Ahmedabad, Surat, Nadiad and Vadodara. Surat, especially is known particularly for the strong string which is made by applying glass powder on the row thread to provide it a cutting edge. To be in any one of these places during this festival is to feel the heart and pulse of Gujarat and its people.On a night prior to the festival special markets are held and you need a gujju skill for bargaining and clinch a right deal in the crushing crowd of kite enthusiasts. Gujarat Tourism also hosts the International Kite Festival drawing crowds to witness the show of eminent kitists from many states and countries. This International Kite Festival is held at Ahmedabad , to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. People from all over the world display their exotic kites of various designs. It is a splendid spectacular show to see the sky with colourful kites, huge size and varied designs and shapes This gives the people of Ahmedabad the change to see the unusual kites brought by the visitors some of which are truly works of art. Cuisine and Crafts display are also enjoyed by the participants and spectators. The International Kite Festival in Gujarat has become a major tourist attraction.

  • When: January 14, 2018
  • Where: Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Modhera Dance Festival

We will still like to be in Gujarat. Psychedelic hues of red, yellow, green lights illuminating nooks and corners of intricately carved the Sun Temple of Modhera, during dark and breezy nights of January, create a Chiaroscuro effect of time and space! The Sun Temple of Modhera is a masterpiece of the Golden Age of the Solanki Empire, which hosts the annual Dance Festival and flaunts the glory and splendor of that era. The Modhera Dance Festival which is also prevalently known as the Uttarardh Mahotsavor Modhera Utsavis is one of the most famous celebration of art, music, dance and culture, in this part of the country. This unique occurrence showcases traditional dance forms of the region as well as acts as a platform bringing together the cultural ethos of other regions expressed in form of dance or nritya. Modhera, the temple of the Sun narrating the history and grandeur of its patrons, the Solankis, is an architectural marvel. This peerless temple space acts as a grandiose backdrop for the vibrant expression of dancers and aesthetic ethnicity of the country. Dance troupes and performers from all regions of the nation bring along a panorama of varied dance forms and styles, interlaced with the essence of their origins. The performers blend in the ambience and bring life to the sandstone figurines carved on the edifice of the temple, singing and narrating legends of times bygone. The three day festival of Uttarardh Mahotsavis is organised on third weekend of January every year by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL), to venerate and celebrate the inherited treasure of performing arts of the country. The Modhera festival is an ideal opportunity to experience living heritage of Indian dance and music while traversing back in time sitting in the lap of golden history.

  • When: January 19-21, 2018
  • Where: The environs of the Sun Temple in Modhera act a venue and host of this enchanting festival. Modhera is located in the South-west of Mehsana District and is 25 km away from the town of Mehsana.

Gustor of Spituk

Spituk Monastery

Then as I promised, we move to cold deserts of north in Ladakh. Although this time is ripe to have a Chadar Trek, but there is lot more. Spituk is an interesting monastery, on the hill top near Indus about 18 kms. from Leh on Srinagar road. The Spituk monastery offers a commanding view of Indus. It has a totally new Gompa within the monastery as well as the old Gompa has also been restored meanwhile. It is constructed in a series of tiers with courtyards and steps. Higher up in the hill is a chamber which houses the enormous statue of goddess. Its face is covered and uncovered only once in a year during the festival time. Every year, on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month, the Gelukpa order of monks celebrate the Spituk festival known as Gustor. During the festival, the lamas wear the masks of religious deities and perform the dances, which is normally about good and evil and mythological stories related to the Buddhism. The Spituk Gompa was founded in 11th century by Od-De, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub-od. The Gompa was named Spituk (exemplary) by Rinchen Zangpo, a translator came to that place and said that exemplary religious community would rise. Initially the Gompa was run according to the Kadampa school then during the reign of king Gragspa Bumide he converted it to Gayluk Pa order. Many icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas can be visited in this 15th century monastery. The Dukhang Hall is the largest building and has two rows of seats running the length of the walls to a throne at the far end. Sculptures and miniature chortens are displayed on the altar. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas. Higher up the hill is the Mahakal Temple, containing the shrine of Vajrabhairava. The terrifying face of Vajrabhairva is unveiled only at the annual festival in January.

  • When: January 14-15, 2018
  • Where: Spituk Monastery, Leh, Ladakh

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Hanuwantia can be the change you need this new year!


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A bird’s eye view of the Hanuwantia island in days of Jal Mahotsav

On the lines of Rann Utsav of Kutch, Madhya Pradesh tourism has dared to do the unthinkable of bringing tourists to a location as remote as Hanuwantia with nothing to lure them. Now Hanuwantia is a hub for air, land and water adventure activities. Jal Mahotsav is in its third year now and gradually increasing its time span. For ten days two years back, it increased to one month last year and now 80 days. This year Jal Mahotsav specially targets the year-end tourists. So, if you are looking for any new destination this new year eve, why not try Hanuwantia. This year festival started on 15th October and will continue till 2nd January 2018.

One of the clusters of the tent colony

The vision of Hanuwantia Festival was actually inspired by Sentosa island of Singapore. Although these are very early days for Hanuwantia to climb to any comparable league half as good as Sentosa. The main attraction of Jal Mahotsav is water sports in its huge reservoir which will often look like a sea. But there are aero activities too, like paramotoring, parasailing and ballooning. Swiss tents have been put up for the tourists at the Jal Mahotsav. There are houseboats as well. An exhibition focused on Narmada river besides food zone, craft bazaar is being organised.

For all those who have been to Kutch, they will find quite a similarity between the tent colony at Hanuwantia and the tent colony at Rann Utsav of Kutch in Gujarat. Few clusters of tents and every cluster having a tents surrounding an artificially levelled ground.

Away from concrete cities, this is welcome change to be besides an artificial sea of water. Hanuwantia is besides the Indira Sagar Reservoir which is said to be the biggest such inland water body in Asia.

A paramotor at Hanuwantia in evening lights
Closer look of an airborne paramotor
Two paramotors in the sky at sunset, best time to enjoy
You can have fun riding a bicycle around the tent city

But being here is fun, only if you are planning to indulge in some air or water activities. Otherwise it could be boring after some time. Since Hanwantia has got no other activities, therefor the experience of coming to Hanwantia had to be a packaged one with everything under one roof. Hence came the idea of a tent colony and all sort of land, water and air activities.

Jet scooter on waters of Indira Sagar

Water sports is a genre getting immensely popular among Indian tourists and Hanuwantia has plenty of water to play upon. You can find a host of water activities here.

Jungle trek on Boria Mal island
Smaller cruise boats to take you to ride in the lake

Besides, you can also take boat trips to other islands in the reservoir. Some of these islands like Boria Mal has even got tents to stay overnight. Even forest department has pitched some tents on its own for the tourists. These islands can be explored even on non-festival days. Some of these islands have also developed wildlife due to reserved forest land. You can also enjoy trekking in these islands. Some other islands are haven for migratory birds in the winter.

What would have been a top dome of a big temple in its prime is now a testimony of the submergence alone in this huge waterbody!

Hanuwantia is popular as Hanuwantia Tapu among locals, named after a village of same name in Malhargarh tehsil of Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh. Foundation stone of Indira Sagar project on Narmada river was laid way back in 1984, but the work on project started in 1992. This was the earliest project on Narmada river and later the downstreams of the project paved way for more projects like Omkareshwar, Maheshwar and Sardar Sarovar projects. Indira Sagar project reached to its full capacity in May 2005.

Locals in their boats near Boria Mal island

For a reservoir that big, it can be easily estimated that how huge would have been the submerged area. All islands in the Indira Sagar reservoir would have been little hillocks in the past. These islands have been named on nearby submerged villages. A history got submerged in the lake.

Where to Stay:

Inside the Swiss tent
Tents besides the Indira Sagar reservoir!

All tents are Swiss tents, with minor difference in facilities as per the package one opts for. Tents are undoubtedly good, with attached toilet and shower. Beds are comfortable. Tents are spacious, there is a sitting area inside the tent and a covered sitting area, outside the tent giving you the full view of the cluster. Tents also have air conditioners. The ground outside the tents work as a activity ground or playground where you can enjoy cycling. Teas can be served at the tents but dining area is separate, where all guests have to go for breakfast and meals.

Outside the tents

Be watchful to keep you tent door nets zipped, specially in evenings as there can be mosquitos around as there is ample water everywhere. Food is good if not exceptional. Try to taste some local delicacies of the Malwa region. The existence of this tent city comes only during the duration of Jal Mahotsav. SO if you plan to be at the Jal Mahotsav, than this tent city is perhaps only mainly available accommodation in Hanuwantia.

MPTDC Cottages at Hanuwantia

Hanuwantia also has a Madhya Pradesh Tourism resort with beautifully designed lake facing cottages but during the time of the festival these cottages mostly remain occupied by officials and politicians. But if you go outside the festival dates, you can certainly stay in these cottages.

House boats at Hanuwantia

There is another stay option during the festival time and also afterwards and it is Kerala style houseboats, a couple of them at Hanuwantia. These houseboats have three rooms on the lower deck and an open upper deck sitting area. There is a kitchen as well. These houseboats can also take you on a trip inside the lake.

How to Reach:

Islands near Sailani on the Indore-Hanumantia route

Hanuwantia  Tapu (island) is in Khandawa district of Madhya Pradesh. Indore is the nearest airport which is almost 140 kilometres away. Road to Hanuwantia from Indore passes through Omkareshwar and Barwah. This road journey takes around three to four hours, depending on road as well as vehicle. If you prefer train to reach here Khandawa is the nearest railway station on the Main Delhi-Bhopal-Itarsi rail line. Hanuwantia is 48 kilometres from Khandawa. Barwah on the Indore-Hanuwantia road also has a railway station but this is a metre gauge section line coming from Mahu.

A fisherman in the Indira Sagar lake

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Paradise regained : As beautiful as it can be!

With the perils of trekking in rain quite exposed on second day, third day turned out to be an absolute beauty. It started with a dose fog and ended with a light drizzle, but in between it was bright, sunny and extremely picturesque. After having completed the Kashmir Great Lakes trek, I can safely say that out of the six days of this arduous trek, third day’s trek from Vishansar (or Vishnusar) camp to the Gadsar camp is arguable the best- in both the respects- ease of trek and beauty of the trail. As a icing on the cake, the weather also remained favourable throughout the day.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Kishansar lake in full glory!

It is only after the Vishansar or Vishnusar camp that we actually get to experience the lakes part of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. This third day’s trek takes us from Vishansar camp to Gadsar camp. Passing through twin lakes of Vishunusar and Kishansar and to the Gadsar Pass which at an altitude of 13,800 feet is the highest point of the whole trek. There is an steep ascent till the Gadsar Pass and than a descent on the other side. After descending we pass through beautiful meadows laden with blue and pink flowers. Trek takes us alongside other two lakes Yamsar and Gadsar and through an army check post to the campsite.  A paradise regained on the 3rd day.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

It was so charming that it is worth saying just through the images. So lets take the day’s journey through the images.

It all started with dense fog all around, when we got up in the morning. With memories of last day still fresh, this fog was a mood dampener. Vishnusar Lake was bit away from the camp. Many of us who were late to reach the last evening were not able to go the lake as it had got dark. So in the morning many of us went to the lake but it was still misty around, as you can see in the image below.

But only satisfaction was that there was no rain. Hence there was hope that as soon as sun get bright, fog will vanish. And, it happened so. There was a small hillock between the campsite and the lake. Campsite was along the stream which originated from the Vishnusar lake. Here are the three images (below) of the campsite – first one in dense fog, second when it starts getting clear and last one when it is sunny, just before our departure.

While on the other side, mist also started clearing over the Vishnusar lake. As if a dream was taking shape…

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for great lakes trek

So finally group moved on the trek with national anthem (below)

With sun shining everyone one was like in a dancing mood (below)

We had to cross the stream flowing along the campsite and then climb upto the other side of the Vishnusar lake. The lake had by now taken the majestic view (below)

One could feel the feet being reluctant to move ahead. The nature was taking another hue every minute and we always felt like looking behind and capturing the moment. As was this another look of the Vishnusar lake from bit high up (below).

After a brief climb there was a meadow just before the Kishansar lake which is roughly half kilometre from the Vishansar lake.

Kishansar Lake is equally beautiful. Both lakes are connected through stream. Kishansar lake is bit higher by almost 500 feet. This is also a glacial lake and water from this lake flows to Vishnusar lake through a stream. Kishansar lake (below) is at the base of the Kishansar peak.

Colours of water of lakes change as per the light and time of the day. As we cross the lake, the climb to the Gadsar pass starts. You can see the trail taking us to the top of the pass, but it in’t as easy as it looks from below.

As we were on our climb, suddenly there were hundreds and hundreds of sheeps following us up to the Gadsar pass and then to he meadows on the other side. These sheeps and the shepherds had camped close to our campsite in the night. Sheeps were in long queues on every trail leading to the pass (below).

While on other side, you can see the mighty peak shining with moon in the background in bright daylight (below)

Roughly after 45 minutes to one hour in the climb from Kishansar peak, you turn back and see the view which is one of the highlights of this trek- Vishnusar and Kishansar lake together. A frame which is photographers’ delight.

This fascinating view of both lakes together will last till we reach the top of the Gadsar Pass. So after the ascent is deep descent on the other side, but the view only gets better and better with many small lakes visible with meadows on one side and peaks on other (below)

The climb for the day is over and now it is a leisure walk upto the campsite. Just a shortwhile in the descent and we can see a lake which is called as Yamsar lake (below). 

After some descent, we reach the meadows and the entire topography changes. We feel like having reached to the valley of flowers. You can see the entire stretch carpeted with small flowers- blue, purple, yellow, pink, white and all. These flowers growing out of green grass make it a fascinating sight as in images below

There are few more small unnamed lakes after Yamsar, but they all are connected to each other by a stream flowing down from one lake to another.

Looking back you can see the trail from where we came down from the Gadsar Pass and even the mules coming down with the bags and camping equipments (below)It is a trek worth enjoying each and every moment as these two fellow trekkers below are trying to soak themselves in

Even the mules are having some time of breathe before start of another descent to the lake belowFor trekkers, it is time to have some refreshment and packed lunch by taking rest alongside the stream connecting different lakes on the way

After lunch and some well deserved rest, it is time to make final push towards the camp, but wait… there is something else on the way. This is one of the most beautiful lakes on the trek- Gadsar Lake (below). Our next campsite is named after this lake, although campsite is another few kilometres ahead.

After spending some more time in the company of this lake, we move ahead towards the camp.

See the way, the stream is passing below the small glaciers on the way (below)

The valley widens as we move ahead (below)

It is like nature’s playing field, as vast as it can be (below)

Then there is final descent to the campsite. You can see the tents far down in the valley (below). First come few shepherd huts. Just before the campsite is a small army checkpost, where every person has to register themselves with full identities and a proof of identity. This place being close to Pakistan border, is considered to be highly sensitive. Besides authenticated identities, trekkers also need valid permission to trek in the region from authorities in either Sonamarg or Srinagar. Don’t forget to get it before you leave Sonamarg, although normally your trek operator will arrange that for you.

You can watch a video of the day’s trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you been there? Please share your views in comments section below.

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Its now Dualfie time with Vision 3

Smartphone makers are getting as obsessed with selfie features as are the smartphone consumers with their phone selfies. Just a few months back ASUS tried to widen the selfie with a 120 degree FOV (field of view) ’wefie’ and now InFocus mobiles have gone a step further with their Vision 3 smartphone which gives you a ‘Dualfie’, where you can capture in a single shot image from both the from as well as the rear camera. Thus when you are taking a selfie, you can also show what is happening in front of you, i.e. behind the camera! What more, this front camera also gives you 120 degree FOV.

Only catch might be that the rear camera is 13MP and 5MP dual lens and front camera is 8MP, which some people might feel as just OK with current industry trends. But what needs to be considered is that this camera also gives class leading 5.7-inch full vision screen and 18:9 or 82.4% HD High-resolution screen ratio display. When all this comes with just a price tag of 6,999 INR than it is worth a bargain. The phone goes on sale from midnight today i.e. 20th December exclusively on Amazon.

Phone was launched in Delhi today by Dr. Luo Zhongsheng, Global CEO for Sharp & InFocus Mobile. With this launch the US company has put some big goals in front of it for the new year. This company has all its phones manufactured by Taiwanese company Foxconn. Production and assembly is placed in the hands of Foxconn while InFocus handles global sales and marketing teams around the world. Company this year also launched some low cost high performing smartphones like Turbo 5 Plus and is now trying to catch up with other competitors like ASUS and Oppo.

Phone is equipped with a powerful 4000mAh non removable battery tempting enough to enjoy videos on a bigger screen. Supported by a full screen Vision 3 also sports single key split screen to work on 2 apps simultaneously. The larger screen makes this feature more viable to use. Front camera also comes loaded with industry standard beauty features and allows up to 7 levels of beauty modifications. The front camera also sports background blur feature to blur out unnecessary background and give more sharpness to the subjects. Another interesting camera feature of the InFocus Vision 3 is that is allows users to click and share photo stories in a grid. Grid photography allows users to take photos creatively, which can be directly shared on social media and with peers.

As for built, phone is powered by MediaTek MTK 6737H quad core 1.3GHz processor and the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system. Vision 3 comes loaded with 2GB RAM + 16GB variant which is expandable up to 64GB memory (through micro SD). Infocus has also introduced its latest UI with new-look icons and design and named it Smile UX. Vision 3 is a dual SIM smartphone that accepts Nano GSM SIMs in both the slots. On connectivity front, options include Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, USB OYG, FM, 3G and 4G LTE networks.

The smart Fingerprint sensor allows the users to save up to 4 sets of fingerprints and access multiple applications at the touch of a tip. It also has standard gravity sensor, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor. What can be a game changer for InFocus is that it plans to bring face detection ID to Vision 3. This technology was much talked about recently with launch of Apple’s iPhone8 and iPhoneX. If InFocus is able to put it together in its low priced Vision 3, than it can certainly catch a many eyes as it would be first in class and category.

World through my eyes