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Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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Urban wetlands we need : Nela Taalab

Ever expanding cities have engulfed much of the natural habitat in their surrounding areas, including the wetlands, despite knowing it well that how disastrous it is. Thus it was a very pleasant surprise for me to find a haven for migratory birds just a couple of furlongs away from my home at the City of Lakes- Udaipur in Rajasthan.  Actually, I had already seen this residential area surpassing a few wetlands in the course of its ‘development’ in last couple of decades. Similar things would have definitely happened in all the surrounding areas.

Time to rest all together!

Having shifted base to Delhi almost 28 years back, my visits to my hometown are occasional. Thus it was courtesy a childhood friend that I cam to know about Nela Taalab, even though it was very close to my home. Went with him to this place for the first time couple of years back. Taalab is actually the Hindi term for small lake or a bigger pond.

An urban oasis

We went again this year few weeks back. It was a delightful experience, better than the last one. Better actually only in terms of the location we were able to access this year for sightings. I am not sure if it was better in terms of number of birds present this year. That is also because there are more colonies developed around the lake. There are more chances of disturbances to the bird habitat.

Many species right here

The area around has also been so-called ‘developed’ with a bund with lights and walkway often used by morning walkers from nearby areas.

Its really close to the residential area

Urban wetlands are quite important, more so when they have developed themselves into habitat for waterfowls and other avian species.

A flock of shovelers on their morning flight

For developers urban wetlands might be a wasteland but ecologically they are the prized lands for urban areas. They control flooding, they are source of drinking water, they are also source of livelihood, they promote human well-being, they improve air quality and they also naturally filter waste from water.

Painting the sky

They also add to beauty of a neighbourhood, adding to its charm -provided they are protected and preserved as naturally as possible. We need to include them in urban lands planning, besides reducing water consumption and harmful runoff.

Flying high among the high-rise

We have tendency to encroach upon the wetlands whenever we are in need of land. This mindless construction leads to degradation, filling and build upon of the wetlands. Needless to say, if they are restored or preserved, they make urban areas more liveable.

Snipes, Black winged stilts and more

It is also essential to include local residents in the wetlands management as that can check the unsocial use of the area, as often anti-social elements find secluded area around wetlands to their liking.

Few more species..

To my pleasant surprise, I was also able to sight some Egyptian Vultures for the first time in my backyard. Egyptian vulture is one among the globally threatened vulture species found in India.

A pair of Egyptian vultures

Egyptian vultures have been included in endangered category by the IUCN Red List. These are resident birds but they have been included in endangered list due to their declining population and one reason for this rapid decline is mentioned as ‘presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac.

Also read: Don’t we need these hills anymore!

A closer look
…another shot on their favourite tree
Then one of them decided to take a round
…second one was left along for some time
…and then it too decided to follow the suit and join its partner.

It is certainly delightful to capture a bird in such a relaxed manner. But it seemed that tree was favourite place for the raptors. As soon as the vultures left, a kite occupied the place.  It perhaps had the best view of the preys in the area.

This kite was first on a bush
The raptor left the bush and reached for the tree
It took the position, looked around…
…noticed something amiss (a prey or our camera clicks)…
…and flew back.

Than there was a cattle egret watching the proceedings very closely

A cattle egret contemplating its next move

Besides the pintails and shovelers the lake also had a big colony of common eurasian coot.

..running on the water!

However carefree, they might look, but they were quite aware of our moves and took no time to move away from we shutterbugs.

Fly away home

It was a contented walk back home, but also with a worry of how long will this place be able to sustain itself. Lot of efforts will be needed certainly.

P.S. Nela Taalab is just a kilometre and half off the NH 8 on Udaipur-Ahmedabad route in Hiran Magari, Sector 14, Udaipur, Rajasthan. A couple of decades earlier, it was an uninhabited area, but now it is very much the part of the city itself.

DO you have a urban wetland area close to your place? Share your views about it.

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Morning lights at Menar – the birds village!

City of Lakes Udaipur is famous for many things but rarely for its birds. Ironically village Menar, 15 kms from Udaipur’s Dabok airport is known for many things including its birds. Menar is also called as the bird village.  More than couple of lakes in close surroundings of the village are known to host a huge number of migratory birds every year. Menar also has a long history which connects it closely to the Kings of Mewar. Rich in culture, this village also has an honour to produce some of India’s finest chefs who have worked in kitchens of many celebrities- home and abroad. Residents of this village have been known as Menarias.

But my recent trip to this village, roughly around 45 kms from my hometown Udaipur, was purely to catch some morning light. Capturing birds at sunrise (for that matter also at sunsets) has been always very delightful.

The Wild Fire!

And, indeed it turned out to be so. With sun playing hide and seek in the clouds and birds, ready to start their day- it was morning worth every minute.

Lakes around Menar get good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovellers in the winter months.

There are two lakes- one inside the village and another at the far end. Later one is better for spotting birds because of its calmness and undisturbed environs.

Early morning movement of the birds

Menar has always been hosting here birds but it has come to the radar of bird watchers across the world only recently.

Now a large number of bird watchers flock here in winters to capture some memorable images. The local community here has played a big role in conservation efforts and popularising this place as the bird village. Volunteers here are called as Pakshi Mitras (friends of birds). They take care of patrolling, rescue and reporting of any attempts of poaching. Many other steps are taken to maintain the ecology of this place as a safe haven for the birds. Besides regular weeding and prohibition of fishing, locals have also stopped using water from these lakes for the purpose of irrigation. These lakes have no other source of water besides the rains. Hence, it is very significant to use the water judiciously.

The water of gold!

As the light gets brighter, birds are off to their daily routine.

Flying in tandem

Besides waterfowls, Menar is also second home to many other birds, small and big including this Bluethroat-

Among the goose family, these Bar-headed goose make a big colony here every year-

Here these common (Eurasian) coots seem to be having a morning meeting before starting day’s business-

Eurasian coots at Menar

Interestingly, Menar also gets fairly good number of Flamingos. Here greater flamingos look in small number but in another lake close by, there are good number of flamingos visiting every year.

How to reach: Little known village of Menar is 45 kms from Udaipur. It is 15 kms ahead of the Udaipur’s Dabok airport. That means while going to Menar from Udaipur, one has to first cross the airport and than move ahead towards Menar. Menar now has a few homestay options for those, who are serious in bird watching and want to spend more time around. But alternatively, you can always make Udaipur as the base and go to Menar early in the morning for bird watching. There are many young people in Menar village who can be your guide for the bird-watching tour of the village. One of them is Dharmendra Menaria who is also pursuing B.Sc. in agriculture.

P.S. Menar is also famous for some of its festivals which include a grand festival to commemorate the valour of local people. The festival is held on second day of Holi every year.

Have you been to Menar? What was your experience? You can share it here in the comments section.

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Five things not to miss in Jordan!


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There’s so much to do in Jordan that planning is definitely recommended to travelers who want to experience every bit of this fascinating country. These are highly recommended five things that one cannot miss out when in Jordan.

• The Dead Sea – Nature’s living miracle

Jordan’s Dead Sea remains one of the country’s top attractions for its unique water qualities, climate and historical and spiritual significance. Considered the world’s largest outdoor natural spa – Dead Sea has been the holiday and leisure spot of choice for tourists from all over the world for decades. Lie back and float into nothingness with all the goodness of the Dead Sea soaking into your skin. Rich in minerals, vitamins with healing properties, the Dead Sea mud will make you feel your skin will fresh and renewed.

• Wadi Rum – The Soul of Jordan

One of the incredible sites in Jordan is Wadi Rum, which is a beautiful semi desert region in the south of Jordan. Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon. With its many peaks and variety walks that offer endless trekking and climbing possibilities, Wadi Rum is the world’s foremost desert climbing and hiking areas. It is filled with unbelievable rose sandstone mountains, canyons and dunes. One can explore the desert by jeep, camp out in the sands, hike or climb the mountains, take a camel or horse trek or can even go up in a hot air balloon. One should not leave Jordan without spending time in the extraordinary desert moonscape of Wadi Rum. The best time of the year to visit Wadi Rum is either in early spring (March/April) or in late autumn (October/November).

• Fall in love with Jordanian Food

Wherever you are in Jordan, you’re never too far away from a conversation about food. Every meal in Jordan can turn into a multi-course feast where several different small dishes are served for a combination of flavors. Experience new flavors with a fresh palate in Jordan where the combination of spices and fresh ingredients tastes like nothing you’ve ever had before. The spices that are used to make the flavors distinct have also been known to be traded through this region for hundreds of years. It is these spices that are the signature of great Jordanian food. The national dish of Jordan and the most distinctive Jordanian dish is the Mansaf – a traditional Jordanian dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt called Jameed and served with rice or bulgur. The Jordanian lemon and mint drink is refreshing and its desserts are par excellence – Kanafeh with its butter cheesy sweetness to the delicious baklava – there is something for everyone in Jordan.

• Night life in Amman

After the sunset, Amman turns into a bustling city with a thriving nightlife. The city is lined with coffee houses, bars and restaurant to soak in the spirit of celebration. The warm and friendly nature of Jordanians makes it a homely affair to go on with the flow of the night and enjoy the infectious vibe of the city. Be it the amazing Arabic architecture or tempting delicacies, Jordan reveals it’s other side only when the day turns to night.

• Aqaba- Home for Snorkeling lovers

Jordan is imagined to be a country of arid and drear mountains but on the contrary, tourists will find the rich abundant water life in Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is home to 130 species of coral and hundreds of species of fish and other aquatic animals. For the passionate lovers of snorkeling, Aqaba boasts of an easy access to the underwater sport. And for the beginners, it is a whole new adventure without any hassles. It is truly a lifetime experience to participate and bring out the water sport lover in you. The corals look fascinating and photographers can capture the images from the marine camera to take the best shots.

Do these things make you pack your bags already? If you are looking for something different in your travels this year, be sure to give Jordan a try. You won’t be disappointed.

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Birding in a tiger reserve

I am not a birder specifically, but being interested in wildlife I love bird watching as much as I love sighting tigers. Both give you equal chance to play with your camera. All the tiger reserves and national parks per say (other than specific bird sanctuaries) too have rivers, lakes, ponds and other water holes which are shelter for waterfowls and migratory birds. Jungle themselves are best places to see the birds. Having been to few bird sanctuaries, this was first time I specifically kept time to see birds in a tiger reserve and I was certainly not disappointed. Hence, comes this fourth post from Sariska visit.

Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh
Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh

Sariska is a big national park and has many perennial sources of water which in turn become good harbouring ground form birds. Hence, when you are close to a water body, it makes easy for you to locate birds, rather than when you are in jungle as then you are always moving in a safari and desperately looking for bigger animals. It is tough to locate birds while on move, unless you are an expert in movement and sounds of birds. I am neither. Hence I tried to give some time close to lakes to see birds. One is the Kankwari lake, which is right at the base of the hillock on which Kankwari fort is built. Other lake is close to Sariska gate on right side of the main road leading to Pandupole.

The lakes or the water bodies of the Sariska Tiger Reserve also have many crocodiles, as is normal with this region. Ranthambore too has man crocodiles and Sariska and Ranthambore share the same topography.

Sariska Tiger Reserve has almost 225 recorded bird species which makes it ethereal for bird watchers. Among them are many rare species as well. Few are even endangered ones. While there is a large number of resident species, it is also a good wintering ground for many migratory species of central Asia. I was delighted to see a big colony of Bar Headed Goose at Kankwari Lake. This bird migrates from Central Asia and is said to one of the world’s highest flying birds. It is distinguishable by two black bars on back of its head.

There were also Brahminy ducks, as they are commonly known in India. This Ruddy shelduck also migrates from southeastern Europe and central Asia. This is quite distinctive due to its colour.

A Brahminy duck
A Brahminy duck

At Kankwari lake, I was also able to see a group of Black headed ibis on the other side of he lake as they probably didn’t want to get disturbed.

Black Headed Ibis
Black Headed Ibis

There were also painted storks and a black-necked stork high up on a far tree. Clicking storks in flight is very fascinating because of their size and amazing flight.

While returning from the Kankwari fort, we also got to see few spot billed ducks distinctive due to  a yellow spot on the tip of the beak and orange-red spots at the base of the beak.

Also were fortunate to locate a Golden-backed woodpecker on a tree. This bird is so agile that it is tough to click it, still I was able to. Although it is quite common but too beautiful, not to click a photograph.

Golden-backed woodpecker
Golden-backed woodpecker

At the other lake, I was also able to see Eurasian Spoonbill. This migratory birds is identified with its spoon shaped bill.

Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill

Another interesting sight was of Yellow footed green pigeon. They get so camouflaged with the colour of the trees that it is tough to spot them, but they really look beautiful. These common green pigeons are residents of Sariska.

Overall it turned out to be a good sightings in limited time and was quite enjoyable. There were few more like cattle egrets and command pond herons and others.

SO, next time you are in Sariska, keep your eyes open for birds as well. Mansarovar Dam near Tehla gate is also a big wintering ground for migratory birds. So when, you go to Neelkanth Temple, you can keep some time to visit this dam also for a bit of birding. There is a also a lake at Karnakawas.

Any question? Please write me and I will be pleased to answer to best of my knowledge.

 

Tram Experience Season 4 with Lady Chefs

For its fourth season, visit.brussels is bringing back the Tram Experience from 21 August 2015 to 17 July 2016. Throughout the season foodie passengers will embark on a maiden voyage through the heart of cuisine offered by the best lady chefs.

Diner des Vignerons belges - Diner van de Belgische Wijnbouwers (c)VISITBRUSSELS -E.Danhier
Diner des Vignerons belges – Diner van de Belgische Wijnbouwers (c)VISITBRUSSELS -E.Danhier

Many of today’s big name chefs were captivated early in life by the pleasant aromas wafting from the kitchens of their mothers and grandmothers, those humble magicians of daily grub. They definitely knew how to get the most out of a simple stew, a frugal handful of vegetables fresh from the garden, or a comforting sweet, which was all the better for all the love they put into it.

This honest family cuisine inspired many of these chefs to embark on their career paths. While the men and women of today both do the cooking at home, too few women are calling the shots in our best restaurants.

Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

Women’s cuisine is nonetheless rich in the subtleties and emotions we wish to share through the different menus that will be offered on board the Tram Experience during this 2015-2016 season.

In keeping with the spirit of openness to the world that Brussels is known for, besides the kingdom’s best lady chefs the Délice network of gourmet cities around the world were called upon. The line-up will thus combine the best with the best by bringing in lady chefs from extremely diverse backgrounds.

And, as in every year, the Tram Experience also promises a few (heavenly) surprises. All aboard!

A rich and diverse line-up 

Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

As in every year, the season is comprised of a series of menus rotating every four to six weeks. They are commissioned by the lady chefs and cooked on board by chef Denis Roberti who practised the recipes with the appropriate chefs. Each menu is sampled in the studio and validated by a tasting committee sponsored by chef Lionel Rigolet ** (Comme chez Soi, Brussels) prior to being served on board the Tram Experience.

A prestigious ambassador of Belgian cuisine

Arabelle Meirlaen * (Arabelle Meirlaen intuitive cuisine, Marchin) will get the ball rolling this coming 21 August. This almost goes without saying since she is unquestionably Belgium’s foremost lady chef, as evidenced by her Chef of the Year 2014 title awarded by the Gault Millau Guide of Belgium. Her cuisine is extremely personal and largely inspired by the plant kingdom so it seemed logical to open the doors of the Tram Experience to her right away this summer at a time when nature is fully expressing its flavourful richness and palette of many colours.

Local ingredients enhanced by a starred chef

Chef Mariangela Susigan * runs a restaurant called Gardenia, opened by her own mother in the 1970s. Located in Caluso, in the countryside northeast of Turin (Italy), the restaurant has its own garden full of vegetables, herbs, and spices which play an essential role in this chef’s cooking. Her style draws its inspiration from Piedmontese cuisine, while prizing emotion and creativity.

Laurence’s favourites

The holiday season promises to reveal one of the schedule’s big surprises. This woman has away of collecting stars, five in total, and yet she does not cook. Not a single customer of this great Belgian eatery will have escaped her notice, and yet she is hardly ever mentioned. She has spent her life at the side of two of the greatest Belgian chefs, but very few really know her. It’s safe to say that Laurence Rigolet, daughter of Pierre Wynants *** and wife of Lionel Rigolet **, does not like to be in the spotlight. Nevertheless, she is the one who welcomes and takes care of each customer at Comme chez Soi, the famous Brussels institution.

Start-ups of Belgian cuisine

2016 will get off to an auspicious start. Stéphanie Thunus * and Mélanie Englebin, named Discovery of the Year 2014 by the Gault Millau guide Belgium, are well acquainted and even went to school together. One runs Au Gré du Vent out in the country in Seneffe, and the other operates Cécila, a stone’s throw from Grand-Place in Brussels. One draws inspiration from family farm ingredients while the other is decidedly oriented towards the sea. Make no mistake: both run their respective restaurants with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Their cuisine is meticulous, perfectionistic, and inspired. They will author two menus where their dishes will intermingle with harmony and finesse. Two of tomorrow’s greats, the challenge is on!

A culinary icon still relevant today

Another new foray abroad with a legend of world gourmet history. However, nothing foreshadowed that Eugénie Brazier, daughter of modest farmers born in Bresse just before the dawn of the 20th century, would become such a legend. Opening her restaurant in Lyon in 1921, Mother Brazier would be the first woman to earn the highly sought-after three rosettes from the Michelin Guide in 1933. She would also be the first two-time three-star winner with her restaurants in Lyon and neighbouring Col de la Luère. It would take more than a half-century for such a feat to be repeated by the great Alain Ducasse.

Again it would be with her that a young Paul Bocuse, just back from the war, would learn the fundamentals of his trade while minding the cows, doing the washing up, and tending the vegetable garden. Mother Brazier is no longer with us but her image lives on under the leadership of one of France’s most talented chefs: Mathieu Viannay **. Chef Viannay, with his two stars and membership in the Grandes Tables du Monde, bought the La Mère Brazier restaurant in 2008 in Lyon, and modernized it without forsaking its roots. The famous spring chicken in half-mourning, Eugénie Brazier’s signature dish, is still there but now shares the stage with chef Viannay’s more modern offerings.

The Swedish-Mexican menu, a contrast of flavours

The menu – Puebla (Mexico) and Göteborg (Sweden)- will be one of great contrasts. Two cities that seem to have nothing in common, two chefs from very different backgrounds, terroirs combining land and sea, the Mexican sun and the harsh climate of Scandinavia.

Yet now cuisine is universal and these regions some of the most interesting chefs of our foodie world. Menus that will certainly be full of high-flying discoveries with Liz Galicia (El Mural de los Poblanos) for Puebla and Karin Andersson (Toso) for Göteborg.

North and South, an unprecedented collision of gourmet worlds

Next up is a new North-South culinary collision. Dishes coming from radically different places whose only common thread is the gourmet excellence that the Tram Experience requires.

On one side, the Cape Winelands (South Africa) are a cluster of villages located in the heart of South Africa’s most beautiful wine growing region and one of the most beautiful areas in all of Africa, just a few kilometres from the Cape. The village of Franschhoek, once founded by Huguenots who fled France, has kept the French way of life close to its heart. There you can find many vineyards bearing French names and some of the country’s best restaurants. Chef Michelle Theron runs a restaurant in one of these wine-growing areas : La Motte. It is one of the country’s ten best eateries, and for many it will be an opportunity to discover South African cuisine largely unknown to the general public.

On the other side, another woman of excellence, Svetlana Riškova, chef of Elements restaurant in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Svetlana has made her presence felt as one of the shining lights of Baltic cuisine, which is expressive and very close to nature and is full of surprises. Beyond the geographical contrasts, these two menus will offer above all a contrast of terroirs to be discovered right away.

An unparalleled culinary stage designer

To close out the season on a beautiful note, the Tram Experience has called upon a somewhat unexpected individual: the Belgian Bénédicte Bantuelle is not, strictly speaking, a chef. She defines herself more as an Artistic Director, a stage designer whose purview extends well beyond the kitchen. Bénédicte considers cooking to be an entirely separate artistic discipline. Only recently has she started to apply her multifaceted gourmet talent for the benefit of Agence La Bouche, which creates culinary concepts.

She is also Damien Bouchery’s partner. Together they cofounded the Bouchéry restaurant that has without a doubt become one of the most desirable places to dine in Brussels today. At Bouchéry, the approach is reflected in even the most minor of details: house breads and cheeses, natural wines, cuisine that is totally in step with meticulously selected seasonal products.  Bénédicte had carte blanche to write the season’s last menu.

It’s highly likely she’ll be inspired by Damien’s cuisine but also that she’ll surprise with her inspired and unbounded vision of tabletop delights in a 360° approach.

Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

A few key figures

  • 10,000 to 12,000 meals are served on board each year;
  • Nearly 300 tours per year;
  • More than 25,000 km covered since the project was launched;
  • Service is offered year round from August to July, six days a week;
  • Six people on board: 1 driver, 2 individuals in the kitchen, 3 in the dining room;
  • Already more than € 8,000 paid to Samusocial to date.

New for 2015-2016

The “Tram” and “Experience” menus

Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

The major innovation for the next season is the menu which will now be broken down into two plans. The “Tram” menu corresponds to the current version, that is, six courses (three appetizers, first course, main course, dessert, bubbly, water and wine as desired). This menu will however be capped off with after dinner drinks following the meal.

The “Experience” menu addresses a comment made by some customers who would have preferred a longer gourmet experience exceeding the 2–2.25 hours currently offered. As a result, a longer session will be scheduled each Friday from now on. This one will include an additional dish for a total of seven courses (three appetizers, two entrées, a main course, and a dessert), still accompanied with water and wine and served over the course of more than half an hour. The “Experience” set menu will follow a somewhat different route to Dumon Square in Stockel. Here, too, an after dinner drink will complete the set menu.

It is the chef of the Tram Experience, Denis Roberti, who will author this additional dish, allowing everyone to discover the uncommon talent of this chef who has been preparing all of the recipes from the numerous starred chefs represented on board for three seasons.

Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

The guest table

Another innovation has already been tested on a small scale last season and will be fully implemented this year. This is the guest table. This four-person table with host two couples who do not know one another at a discount price. Each seat sells for € 10 less per person than the regular price. Given the success of this configuration, it will be extended throughout the new season.

Rates

  • Six course “Tram” menu € 95 (VAT included) per person excluding booking fees
  • Seven course “Experience” menu 115€ (VAT included) per person excluding booking fees (Fridays)
  • Guest table sold with at discount of € 10 per person
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

What’s included in the price?

“Tram” menu:

  • Six courses (three appetizers and three dishes (first course, main course, dessert)
  • Bubbly, wine, still and sparkling water
  • An after dinner drink

“Experience” menu:

  • Seven courses (three appetizers and four dishes (two entrées, main course, dessert)
  • Bubbly, wine, still and sparkling water
  • An after dinner drink
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier
Tram Experience Visitbrussels _ E.Danhier

Tour duration 

  • Tram menu: approximately 2 hours – 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Experience menu: approximately 2 hours 45 minutes

Menu variations

At the time of reservation, it is possible to select a vegetarian menu.

Tram capacity : 34 seats (7 tables of 2, and 5 tables of 4)

On board personnel

One host, two servers, a chef and assistant, and, of course, the driver. All Tram Experience drivers are volunteers and have been selected based on their great skill at driving appropriately in all circumstances.

On board WC

One WC is available during the tour

A Bougainvillea love story in Almora

Its rare for a Bougainvillea bush to become a landmark. But it actually is. This is one happy, big Bougainvillea bush right in the middle of the market at Almora in Uttarakhand. Its said that more than 35 years ago, this bougainvillea wrapped itself around a deodar tree. Their love story continues. Actually people in Almora consider this as symbol of love. Now it has turned into a massive bougainvillea on Mall Road. So much so that, one has to actually look deep to search for the deodar tree, beneath it.

Bougainvillea1

It has turned itself into an attraction of sort for the tourists coming to Almora. It always fascinated me ever since I had my first visit to Almora, many years back. Its so big, so lush that perhaps it is one among very few things of the city that can be spotted and identified from hills overlooking Almora city.

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There is another beautiful fern leaf purple coloured tree- Jacaranda which adorns hills of Almora. It lays a carpet of purple wherever it sheds its blooms.

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But this at least 35 feet high bougainvillea is the most eye-catching tree in whole city. You can assume its height by proportionating it to height of a man standing below the bush in one of the photographs. Many a people recall it to be the one of the highest bougainvillea bush they have ever seen. For me, it is certainly so.

You can see it from hills overlooking Almora
You can spot it from hills overlooking Almora

Beautiful Orchids at Singapore

When it is Singapore, it has to be Orchids, of different colours and sizes and hues! Orchidarium at the Singapore Botanic Gardens is one of the finest places to see Orchids in full majestic bloom. What else, this might be also an amazing place to get some Orchid based souvenirs- real orchids preserved for ever, gold jewellery with real Orchid petals and much more.  Loved to be there.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

One of the few Botanical gardens outside India that I had privilege to visit and Singapore one was indeed one and the most beautiful of them. Indeed worth a visit. A glimpse of the beauty established in 1859. It has already celebrated 150 years of existence. Fittingly it is Singapore’s only entry to UNESCO World Heritage sites. A good place for tourists, nature lovers and students alike. Go and enjoy!

Hemkund Sahib- Lake & Gurudwara

Located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand in Himalayan India, Hemkund Sahib gurudwara is among those rare places which provide an excellent mix of adventure and pilgrimage. Hemkund Sahib (also spelled Hemkunt) is a Sikh place of worship Gurudwara, known as Gurudwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib Ji, devoted to Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666–1708), the tenth Sikh Guru, which finds mention in Dasam Granth, a piece of work believed to be narrated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It is situated at one end of a glacial lake surrounded by seven mountain peaks and each peak adorned by a Nishan Sahib on its cliff, it is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 4632 meters (15,200 ft).

Just like Valley of flowers (read: http://vagabondimages.in/2013/09/11/valley-of-flowers/) approach to Hemkund is also via Joshimath, Govindghat and Ghangaria. From Ghangaria it is a 1,100-metre (3,600 ft)climb on a 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) of stone paved path leads Hemkund. Overnight stay is not allowed at Hemkund Sahib and so it is necessary to leave by 2 pm to make it back to Ghangaria by nightfall. There are gurudwaras for pilgrims and tourists at Govindghat (at confluence of Alaknanda and Laxman Ganga rivers) and another one at Ghangaria (at confluence of Laxman Ganga and Pushpawati rivers). Laxman Ganga originates from Hemkund, where is a Laxman temple, just behind the Gurudwara.

Although Hemkund has many mytholgical references, but the Gurudwara here was constructed in 1960s by some Indian armymen. Area around Hemkund lake is also known for some very rare flora including Brahma Kamal, which is state flower of Uttarakhand.