Tag Archives: tourism

Kashmir Great Lakes : First day trek to Nichnai

One of the most beautiful upcoming treks in mid-altitudes of Himalayas is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. Though being surprisingly fascinating, it has not been that popular within domestic adventure tourism sector. There were a few numbers of foreign trekkers coming, mostly for fishing in Gangabal, who use to go up from Naranag (Read: Kashmir we know less about: Naranag). Then there were locals who will go there for some fun. But this has now come up as a organised trek, which includes trek to six-seven lakes of Kashmir.

Trekkers on the way

Base for the trek is famous hill resort of Sonamarg, which is around 90 kms from capital and the nearest airport Srinagar on the Kargil-Leh road. There are many places around the Sonamarg town to acclimatise for the trek and most popular among them is the Thajiwas glacier (Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Kashmir Great Lakers trek) .

First day of this beautiful trek in Kashmir is very challenging as we gain the maximum altitude from 7,800 ft to 11,500 ft in almost 9 to 10 kilometres.

Thajiwas glacier as seen in background from the Nichnai trail.

Although it is a moderate climb but can be heavy for all those who are bit underprepared.

You can see the Sonamarg town below located on the banks of Sindh river
Trekkers coming up from Sonamarg
Its a beautiful way upto the top with lots of green

There is a gradual ascent upto Shekdur, which is also called as table top.

Its a well laid out trek, as there are a few villages of Kashmiri gujjars who regularly move up and down
Table top is a mid of the trek resting place, a big meadow.

Actually last of the villages of the trek are around this table top only. You will not find any villages after that, but for couple of army transit camps and camping sites.

My fellow trekkers enjoying some rest at table top.
…but this inhabitant kept looking towards me in a strange way…

Gujjar-Bakkarwal villages are very typical, built to bear the harsh cold weather and snow.

A gujjar village near table top
A gujjar hut meant to bear cold and snow as well as store items

Then there is a walk through forest which takes you to the other side of mountains into the valley.

Another look at the table top from the top

Actually, shortly after the Nichnai Top, the tree line vanishes. Around the hill after top we found some trees in groove style, but as soon as we moved closer to the stream, trees disappeared. What was left were small bushes, flowering plants and grass.

Last of the trees, that we would be seeing on the trek.

Then there is a gradual ascent along a stream up to the Nichnai camp.

Looking back: Trekkers coming along the stream from the table top side.
This stream goes down and meets the Sindh river near Sonamarg.
Being deep inside the valley, it isn’t so hot here. That is the reason that even after harsh months of summer, we can find ice glaciers here along the stream even at this altitude
Two more small glaciers along the stream on way to Nichnai camp
Looks as if somebody has made a slant cut in this huge rock by a powerful sword!

Fast trekkers can reach the campsite in around six hours, while slower ones can take upto eight-nine hours depending on the fitness level. It started raining just as I was half kilometre away from the camp. Couple of other trekkers were left behind me. We all three were walking together. Than I moved a bit fast to locate the campsite as all others had moved quite ahead. Rain become heavier as I reached the campsite and the two trekkers left behind had to take shelter in a shepherd huts. Our guide went back and brought them at the camp later.

Getting closer… You can see a white sopt in the middle of the picture at the base of the hill on left, that is our campsite… You can also see some trekkers moving ahead of me

No lakes on the first day, but good enough to prepare for days ahead.

You can also watch the video of the first day of my trek to Nichnai on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

 

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Time to kick-off: game, music and fair!

It is the month of some of the biggest festivities of the year in north India specially. It is month of festival of lights Diwali and then Chaath Puja. But this year, this month is also special because of one of the biggest international sporting event to have ever hosted by India- the FIFA U-17 World Cup. This month also kicks off a chain of musical and cultural events across the peninsula, some of them the most memorable ones like Pushkar fair. A perfect time to make some quick travel plans.

Cheers for Football

It is indeed one of the biggest sporting events to be held in India. India is hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup India 2017 scheduled to be held at Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai from 6th to 28th October 2017 in which 24 teams, including India, will participate. A total of 52 games will be played to decide the winner of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. For India significance of this event also lies in the fact that after this event we will have India’s only football team to have played a world cup. What more, many of the matches in the event will be played at most popular of India’s tourist destinations like Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Mumbai besides capital Delhi. So, what an opportunity to see few budding top footballers from around the world along with some fanciest of destinations.

When: 6th-28th October 2017

Where: Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai

Enthralling music at RIFF

Jodhpur RIFF, ranked amongst the Top 25 International Music Festivals in the world, is back again this year to enthral music lovers. Begun in 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF brings together more than 250 Musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world to celebrate their musical heritage and create new sounds through innovative collaborations, for five days in October each year. Timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, Sharad Poornima, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort – voted “Asia’s Best Fortress” by Times Magazine. The Festival is a heady combination of Folk, Jazz, Sufi and contemporary music that transcend global boundaries.  Jodhpur RIFF includes performances by master musicians from local Rajasthan communities, sensational headline acts showcased each night on the Main Stage, and cutting-edge global dance grooves that will keep the party going late into the night at Club Mehran. Interactive daytime sessions for visitors, school children and families are staged against the breathtaking backdrop of the Fort.

This year at the festival you can meet the Bhil community from Banswara and get to know their music and tribal culture – with Malini Kale, then there are living legends like Bhika Khan Manganiyar and Ladu Ram Nayak; on the main stage will be Maand with Ghavri Devi Rao;Kamaycha Charm with Ghewar and Darra Khan; there will be a Musical Tapestry of Voices, Pipes and Strings with Ross Ainslie, Angus Lyon, Blue Rose Code, Asin Khan Langa and Smita Rao Bellur. n the desert lounge will be all acoustic, desert music and Qawaali from Rajasthan. On the 3rd day, 7th October there will be a show on the life and music of the Mir musicians of the Bikaner region. There will be an exclusive show by Nihal Khan Manganiyar and BabunathJogi. On the main stage will be Padharo Mahre Des Re – popular and rare songs of Rajasthan; Mexican Guitars with Paco Renteria; The High Road to Jodhpur – Scottish Shooglenifty/ Rajasthani Dhun Dhora collaboration featuring the Dhol Drummers of Rajasthan. In Club Mehran it will be Rootsy electronic grooves with DJs Victor Kiswell and Logeshan Moorgan. On day 4 there will be The Roundhouse Sessions – a Welsh-Indian collaboration of storytelling and music. On main stage will be Woodwind Vibes with Rajasthani maestros; Gypsy Jazz with Nicotine Swing, Afro-Chic Reggae with Rocky Dawuni. Finally there will be RIFF RUSTLE with Rajasthani and international percussionists, musicians and singers from Jodhpur RIFF 2017… and a superb ‘rustler”!

When: 5th-9th October 2017

Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Another festival for the Marwar

Another musical extravaganza at Jodhpur, almost at the same time. Marwar Festival is held every year in memory of the heroes of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the month of Ashwin (September-October) in Jodhpur, for two days during the full moon of Sharad Poornima. Originally known as the Maand Festival, this festival features folk music centered on the romantic lifestyle of Rajasthan’s rulers. Organised by Rajasthan tourism and Jodhpur administration, this festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs. Other attractions at the festival are the camel tattoo show and polo. The government Ummaid stadium, the historical clock tower in the midst of the old city and the sand dunes of Osian village provide the ideal venue for the cultural extravaganza – an integral part of the festival. On first day morning there is a procession from Ummaid stadium to the old city and back. There are various competitions during the day and the camel tattoo show by the BSF. In the evening there is cultural performance by the folk artists of Rajasthan at clock tower. Events on the second day take place at Osian village. Osian is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples. It lies 69 km by road north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur-Bikaner Highway.

When: 4th-5th October 2017

Where: Various places, Jodhpur

Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival

This is the year of 40th Soorya festival. You won’t believe that this festival will run for 111 days and in this edition again around 2000 artists from around the country will take part in this. Every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music of the festival. All music and dance aficionados will have treat at this festival and be exposed to the very best of Indian cultural arts. Held by the Soorya Stage and Film Society, a cultural society which promotes the arts vigorously, the Soorya Festival of Music and Dance presents varied dance performances by artistes showcasing different dance forms like Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Renowned dancers from all over India perform at this festival. Music concerts are also held at this festival and well known proponents in the Hindustani and Carnatic style perform jugalbandis, vocal and instrumental soirees. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. Actually in first week of October Soorya organizes festivals in almost every big city of Kerala as well as in some other big cities of South India such as Chennai, Bangalore and Madurai. Festival has already commenced with an event called ‘Ammu: Saannidhyavum Saameepyaum’ which was a get together of 15 artists who have played the role of ‘Ammu’ the girl who played the central character in all shows directed by Soorya Krishnamurthy.

The first phase will be film festival from Sep 21 to October 10. The critically acclaimed film, Minnaminungu, directed by Anil Thomas, will be the inaugural film. The lead actor of the film, Surabhi Lakshmi, who also won national award for the same is also expected to attend the function. The dance and music festival will be held from October 1 to 10. As had been in previous years, K J Yesudas will perform the inaugural concert at AKG Hall at 6.45pm on October 1. Leading artists Meenakshi Sreenivasan, Rama Vaidyanathan, Nithyasree Mahadevan and Manju Warrier will perform in the festival. For the first time, Soorya festival will feature a Jugalbandi festival this year. The Jugalbandi festival will be held from December 6 to 9. Odissi-Bharatanatyam performance by Sandhya Manoj and Namita Bodaji, Mohiniyattom jugalbandi by Nair Sisters Veena and Dhanya, Mohiniyattom – Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Rekha Raju and Rekha Satish and Kuchipudi jugalbandi by Devi and Girish Chandra will be held. Jalsa Ghar, dedicated to Hindustani music, will be held at YMCA Auditorium from October 21 to 31. Hindustani vocalists Ramesh Narayan, Fayaz Khan, Manjari, Gayathri and Shahbaz Aman will be among the performers. ‘Meet the masters’ programme will be held from November 21 to 25. It will be a tribute to actor Om Puri and five of his films will be screened. The grand finale of the festival will be on Jan 11, 2018 when Chandu Menon’s masterpiece ‘Indulekha’ will be staged as a dance-music drama at Government school, Attakulangara.

When: 21st September 2017-11th January 2018

Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Gustor of Deskit monastery in Nubra

Deskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. Gustors take place at different monasteries at different time of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils. Deskit monastery also celebrates its Gustor festival. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil.

When: 17th-18th October 2017

Where: Deskit Monastery, Deskit, Nubra valley, Ladakh. Deskit is 120 kilometres from Leh and just 7 kilometres before Hunder known for its sand dunes.

The charm of Pushkar

One of India’s favourite fair. The Pushkar Cattle Fair is one of the largest in India and the only one of its kind in the entire world. During the fair, Lakhs of people from rural India flock to Pushkar, along with camel and cattle for several days of livestock trading, horse dealing, pilgrimage and religious festival. This small town, becomes a cultural phenomenon when colourfully dressed devotees, musicians, acrobats, folk dancers, traders, comedians, ‘sadhus’ and tourists reach here during Pushkar fair. According to Hindu chronology, it takes place in the month of Kartika (October or November) beginning on ‘ashtmi’ 8th day of Lunar Calendar and continues till full moon (‘Poornima’). The camel and cattle trading is at its peak during the first half of festival period. During the later half, religious activities dominate the scenario. Devotees take dips in the holy “Sarovar” lake, as the sacred water is known to bestow salvation. This small town is transformed into a spectacular fair ground, as rows of make shift stalls display an entire range of objects of art to daily utility stuff. Decoration items for cattle, camel and women, everything is sold together. Small handicraft items are the best bargain for buying souvenirs. The camel and horse races have crowds to cheer. Camel judging competitions are quite popular with animal lovers. Each evening brings different folk dances and music of Rajasthan, performers delivering live shows to the roaring and applauding crowds. Pushkar fair has its own magic and it’s a lifetime experience for travellers. It has featured in numbers of travel shows, films and magazines. According to the Lonely Planet: “It’s truly a feast for the eyes. If you are any where within striking distance at the time, it’s an event not to be missed.”

When:  28th October to 4th November 2017

Getting there: By Air, nearest airport is Jaipur, which is connected with major cities. A newly built air strip at Kishangarh can cater to small charter flights. Helipad at Ghooghra (Ajmer) and Devnagar (Pushkar) can cater to clients travelling by helicopter. Ajmer is well connected by Rail to all important cities. Pushkar is just 13 kms away from Ajmer.  Ajmer is also well connected to important cities of Rajasthan and country through roads and is on Delhi-Mumbai National highway no 8.

 

Two temple festivals from down south in God’s Own country- Kerala:

A festival for serpent gods

The Aayilliya Mahotsavam at Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple at Vetticode falls on the day in the Malayalam month of Kanni, every year. The celebrations would start seven days prior to the Aayilliyam day. In these days, various special poojas, homas and kalasa poojas are performed so as to increase the deity’s power and the power to shower blessings on worshippers. To please the deity, high sounding instruments are played by a group of experts. The nadabrahma that flows through the pipes of Nadaswara experts, the Kombu and Kuzhal (wind instruments) that are played to the accompaniment of percussion instruments viz. Maddallam and Chenda and the magical notes of the Edakka and the Thakil would transform the devotees to a different level of devotional experience. Soon after this the Ezhunnallathu (ceremonial procession) would begin. It starts from the temple and proceeds to the Meppallil Illam at about 3 p.m. and after the poojas there, returns to the temple. By dusk, the famous Sarpabali begins and concludes by around 9.30 p.m. The temple will remain closed up to Brahma Muhoortha and after that the Shuddi Kriyas (purification rituals) will begin. This is followed by the abhisheka with tender coconut water from thousands of coconuts and pure milk. The festival will conclude with the daily poojas and Panchamritha Nivedhya.

When: 8th to 14th October 2017

Where: Sree Nagaraja Swami Temple, Vettikode, Alappuzha

Grandeur of Alpashi Utsavam

Held at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the Alpasi festival is a grand festival celebrated with much fanfare and sees the participation of scores of people from across the State.The crowning moment of this magnificent festival is the aarattu ceremony or the holy bath of the deities in the sea. The aarattu procession starts from the temple and proceeds to the Shanghumugham Beach. It is, in fact, a magnificent sight to watch the procession which is escorted by the head of the Travancore royal family, bearing a sword. Thousands of devotees will throng to watch the procession which has an elaborate line-up of magnificently decorated elephants, mounted police and columns of armed police. This annual ritual which falls in October or November is one that should not be missed.

When: 19th to 28th October 2017

Where: Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Now two more festivals from Rajasthan, this time from close to Udaipur-

Dance and grandeur at Ranakpur

Ranakpur, a village located in Desuri tehsil near Sadri town in the Pali district of Rajasthan welcomes you all to the “The Ranakpur Festival”.  It’s a splendid opportunity for the tourists to once again gain an insight into the life of people of Rajasthan with the onset of cultural and religious festivals one after another. Just like folk festivals in Jodhpur and Jaipur, the holy town of Ranakpur near Pali will also witness the Ranakpur Festival, a melange of Rajasthani folk performances and classical dances as well as renditions by renowned vocal artists and dance performers. Department of Tourism, Rajasthan, is organising this festival which comprises of holy chanting, cultural programmes, conventional Kathak performances and Classical Odissi performances. Besides, every morning at 8.00 o’clock a jungle safari is also organised for the guests of Ranakpur Festival. Some of the other attractions of this festival would be the food and craft bazaar where a great mixture of several cultures and amazing art & craft would be seen and experienced along with the arrangements for Rock Climbing. Beautifully sculptured Jain temples of Ranakpur mark the glory of this renowned place. Considered as one of the five holy places for the Jain community, these were created in the 15th century during the reign of Rana Kumbha. These are enclosed within a wall. The central Chaumukha [four faced temple] is dedicated to Adinathji. The temple is an astounding creation of architectural splendor with 29 halls and 1,444 pillars all distinctly carved, no two pillars being alike. For the tourism buffs a ride to the outskirts like ‘ Sadari’ – ‘Desuri’- ‘Ghanerao’- ‘Narlai’, will be found to be exciting.

Date: 6th -7th October 2017

Venue: Ranakpur, Rajasthan

Getting there: Ranakpur is just 90 minutes’ drive from Udaipur.  Udaipur is well connected with air, train and bus services from all major cities of North and West India. From Udaipur, one can hire a taxi or a bus for Ranakpur. 

A lantern festival for city of lakes

Lantern festivals have normally been popular in South East Asia, but now Indian cities also seem to be following the trend and evolving festivals of their own.  Among them is city of Lakes- Udaipur. Udaipur Lantern Festival is a unique concept by UdaipurBlog incepted 5 years back in year 2012 to celebrate the pious festivity of Diwali in Udaipur at a common place and sharing joy with others. The festival witnesses amazing live performances by Artists, Buzzing Bazaar that will bring Local Finds and Foods, Art Installations and Fun Activities. This year festival starts with games, food stalls and buzzing bazaar. Start with the local performances & Swaraag – A Indo Western Music Band. Begins the performances of the evening – Papon takes the stage. Music takes the evening – Performances by DJ Kavish. Festival ends with lighting of lanterns, this blissful ending of the fest with a hope of new start. The number of people attending the event has increased from 800 to 4500 in five years.

When: 15th October 2017

Where: Shouryagarh Resort & Spa, Udaipur, Rajasthan

 

Xtreme Adventure in Jordan – Celebrity style!


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Bringing together the ultimate combination of adrenalin pumping adventure, fitness & a healthy lifestyle – five Indian TV celebrities visited Jordan recently on an adventure trip. The celebrities who travelled to Jordan are: Kishwer Merchant, Pooja Gor, Pryanca Talukdar, Asha Negi and Mrunal Thakur. These fit and famous TV stars in their new avatar explored Jordan in the most adventurous way possible.

“The Jordan sojourn trip was planned to take them to numerous places in Jordan which are famous for adventure and their scenic beauty, and will appeal to the Indian audience. We look forward to create an outstanding content from the Xtreme trip,” commented Ashit Taneja, Country Manager- Jordan Tourism Board. The trip kicked off in Amman where shopping for local souvenirs and knick-knacks got the group enthralled. They walked through the amazing local restaurants, coffee shops, shisha (Hookah) bars, local theaters, and loved the night life and souvenirs shops that dot every corner.

The first Adventure activity of the trip started with Jordan Trail – 8 kms from Umm Qais; which includes rough terrain, mountain hike and lot of walking! The Jordan Trail which is a continuous route crossing the entire county of Jordan, offering over 650 kilometres of trail and hiking through diverse terrains and landscapes. “We participated in the trail that starts from Umm Qais and we got a taste of the exciting adventure that the entire trail offers,” said Pryanca Talukdar.

The other activity on the itinerary was Wadi Al Hidan – a 4km Canyoning experience where they had to walk through Rocky terrain, uphill climb & downhill and swim through 12 water bodies to complete. Testing fitness limits, it has been rated as a must-do adventure segment in Jordan itinerary.

“Wadi Hidan is a canyon with a river running through it, which eventually leads to Wadi Mujib, which leads all the way to the Dead Sea. The hike we did consists of hiking along wet/dry trails alongside the river, swimming through slot canyons, and had some optional cliff jumping and natural water slides which were exhilarating and wonderful,” said Asha Negi.

The next stop was a Camp in Wadi Rum for a overnight glamping (glamorous camping) experience; with fantastic facilities, food and fun! The next day, the celebrities started with a grueling mountain rock-climbing which were formed almost thousands of years ago. The scorching heat of 40 degrees and hard façade of the rock mountain was scaled by the passion and enthusiasm of the celebrities to reach the top of the rock. This was further followed by half day tour of Wadi Rum which took the celebrities through the Mars-like landscape of the area.

At Dead Sea, the adventure started when the celebrities went down to the lowest point on earth, which is 420m below sea level and found that they cannot drown due to high salt density. Mrunal Thakur felt that despite the name, “Dead Sea actually makes you feel alive and I am very fortunate to experience its magic.”

Kishwer Merchant favourite spot was Petra which according to her has the world’s best hiking trails. Accessed via a narrow canyon called Al Siq, it contains tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs, earning its nickname, the “Rose City.”

Pooja Gor enjoyed the snorkelling in Aqaba where she was on the wheel of the yatch as well and enjoyed the scuba diving in one of the best diving places on earth. “It was a superb experience being in the crisp crystal blue waters,” she said. For an adventurous trip of a lifetime, follow these stars steps and visit Jordan to experience the adventure style itinerary they followed!

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Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek


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One of the most beautiful places to see around Sonamarg in Kashmir is the Thajiwas Glacier. It is a favourite among picnickers and campers as it is far from tourist chaos of Sonamarg market.

A view of Thajiwas glacier

Thajiwas glacier is located seven kilometres from Sonamarg. One has to trek upto the glacier from the road-head. It is lovely place to relax and enjoy.

Down in the trees is last road-head to Thajiwas glacier

But it is not just for picnickers . It is also for serious trekkers. Trek to Thajiwas is not a tough one, but it is one of the favourite treks for all those who have based themselves in Sonamarg and want to acclimatise for other high altitude treks around including the Great Lakes trek.

Camping around Thajiwas Glacier

Those who don’t want to trek, can also take a pony ride to the glacier. Glacier is at an altitude of 9,186 feet. Trek to glacier goes through a serene valley with meadows around and streams coming from the glacier flowing in it. Song of these streams is what you are going to hear all the way along.

Stream coming from the Thajiwas glacier

Those who trek to Thajiwas glacier to acclimatise themselves don’t take the road-head to get closer. As we did, most of them will trek from Sonamarg market itself.  It is generally an easy walk.

But than many people will camp around the Thajiwas glacier itself. Mostly those who look for either some adventurous stay in camps or want to away from regular tourist crowd coming to Sonamarg. Operators will even arrange for some experience of glacier walks while you camp around Thajiwas.

Glacier walk

Trek to Thajiwas passes alongside meadows and streams.

While on the way to glacier, you will also find many shops selling tea, kahwah, cold drinks and snacks.

Camps alongside the stream

There are many operators in Sonamarg, who organise trip to Thajiwas, whether you are interested in trek, pony ride, camping or glacier walk. You can easily find these operates in Sonamarg, and actually many will themselves approach the tourists.

Trekkers on way to Thajiwas glacier

The area around Thajiwas is covered with snow in the early days of summer. The white gives way to lush greens, as the temperature picks up.

Rising high

Among the places near Srinagar, while Gulmarg is popular among skiers and snow-lovers, Sonamarg is more loved by those who enjoy rather serene nature with rivers flowing through lush green meadows. The meandering Sindh river is bound with trout and mahseer fish.

Sonamarg means ‘golden meadow’ and it is lovely slice of paradise which this whole Kashmir valley is. There are many other adventurous routes with amazing green water and frozen lakes in this region. Thajiwas glacier is just one of those routes, popular among trekkers.

Sonamarg is easily accessible from Srinagar city. You can also come directly to Sonamarg from Srinagar airport which is 87 kilometres from Sonamarg. The National Highway 1D goes from Srinagar to Leh via Sonamarg, Drass and Kargil.

Sonamarg gest inaccessible during winter months as roads get blocked because of snowfall. Work for an all weather tunnel from Gagangir to Sonamarg is already underway. Another tunnel is coming up under the Zozila pass (3528 metres), toughest mountain pass enroute Leh on this road. Once the tow tunnels are ready, Srinagar-Leh route will be accessible almost all the year round.

You can see a video of trek to Thajiwas glacier on my channel on YouTube by clicking on the link below.

A date for foodies this weekend in Brussels!

From 7 to 10 September 2017, foodies have a date at the “eat BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX” festival. Taster portions of dishes or original desserts at the “Masterclass Bordeaux”, passing through the workshops of the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux (Bordeaux School of Wine), the great chefs and wine growers will stimulate the visitors’ taste buds all through the festival.

For its sixth year, the “eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX festival is putting on a marvellous spread, once again calling on a selection of the best Brussels chefs right in the middle of the Brussels Park. Wine lovers can also devote themselves to their passion, thanks to the various workshops offered by the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux. All of which offers the public a delicious gourmet break.

Twenty-odd great chefs
New chefs representative of Brussels are joining the celebration and will be adding their own spice to what’s on offer at the festival. They are offering the visitors a signature dish representing their culinary identity at the fixed price of 9 Euros.

Something new: a sweet note
Several pastry chefs complete the festival’s menu. They are offering sweet lovers delicious plated desserts at the fixed price of 9 Euros.

Perfect match
The Wines of Bordeaux, a key partner in the festival, are once again taking part in this gastronomic journey. Nigh-on 50 Bordeaux wine growers and wine merchants will be coming to Brussels to unveil the history and the secrets of their wine. 3 new gourmet workshops offered by the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux. A rendezvous lovers of wine and gastronomy must not miss, the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux pavilion offers an entertaining and educational overview of the various wines (red, dry white, sweet white, rosé and Crémant de Bordeaux), soils, grape varieties, blends, etc. A wonderful initiation into the art of tasting.

Photo: VisitBrussels/ ©E.Danhier

This year, the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux is offering three new fun gourmet workshops:
– “Choco’ Bordeaux” in collaboration with the chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud
– “Matching wines with pastries” with the pastry chefs Yasushi Sasaki, Baptiste Mandon and Khalil Menzi, to experiment with daring combinations.

Bordeaux “Masterclasses”
This year, the two masterclasses are dedicated to the Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés and the 30th anniversary of the appellation Pessac-Léognan. The visitor will be guided through these two representative regions of the Bordeaux wine growing region.

Photo: VisitBrussels/ ©E.Danhier

Workshops with the chef Bruno Antoine
Visitors will have the chance to create their own TCHIN VITTEL Bistronomy Box in a relaxed atmosphere at a cooking workshop that is just as exciting and gastronomic as it is goodnatured. All under the guidance of Bruno Antoine, one of the most creative chefs on the
Brussels bistro scene.

The festival is changing to a swipe card
To allow visitors to enjoy the festival to the full, “eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX” is moving to an electronic payment system. Visitors can obtain their swipe cards from one of the ticket offices, put money on them and use them as they please throughout the festival. This swipe card will combine all functions for meeting their needs: credits for tasting the dishes they choose and/or their Wine Pass.

Onam to Bathukamma via Ladakh Festival!

It is one of those months, which have festivities right from start till end and that too almost in every corner of the country and with many shades. How wonderful to have all these occasions to supplement the usual zest for travel! And, what a diversity we have, it can be envious for any other country on the planet. Just consider this- the nine days before Vijayadashmi are celebrated as Durga Puja in Bengal, Garba in Gujarat, Ramlila in north and as Bathukamma in Telangana. All these festivals celebrated on same days of calendar have different myths, different customs, different performances, different food but same gusto. Even the ramlilas are different in different parts and so is Vijayadashami.

Festival of prosperity & joy – Onam

Festivities for the month start with Onam in Kerala. Its interesting that in spite of centuries that passed by, various rulers having ruled the land, the mythical King Mahabali enjoys a popularity that no other ruler can boast of! The greatest charm of Onam lies undoubtedly in the coming together of the Malayali folk to welcome the mythical king on his imaginary annual visit to the land. The ten-day long festival begins with atham asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam and culminates grandly on the day of Thiruvonam. The households bubbling and bustling with energy is a sight reserved during Onam days. As per mythology, King Mahabali decided to leave for the nether world, failing to keep his promise given to Lord Vishnu who came in the guise of Vaamana. As for the delicacies of Onam one would wish it to go on and on. Payasam (the traditional Kerala dessert), the show-stopper among the Onasadya (the sumptuous feast) is itself of plentiful variety. It is very interesting to watch how kids make every festival their own. Children dart in the neighbourhood in search of flowers to make floral carpets (pookkalam) that adorn their courtyards. Traditional arts and games throbs the rustic ambience of villages. The inevitable swing is a unique feature of this festivity. There are many Onam special programmes conducted across Kerala including Kerala Tourism sponsored programs all over the state. Atham asterism was on 25th August this year and  Thiruvonam will be celebrated on September 6, 2017.

 

Snake boat race at Aranmula

Onam has lot many things associated with the celebrations and among them are the traditional snake boat races of Kerala. Aranmula has got a unique place when it comes to the cultural imaginings of Kerala. The boat race held annually on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the local Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival is one the cultural hallmarks of this land. Teeming with rich tradition and rituals immersed in splendor, the Aranmula Uthrittathi boat race is considered more of a ritual than a race. Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the Thiruvona sadya (the grand traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day, which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race. This year the boat race will be on 8th September 2017.

Where: Race is held in River Pamba in Aranmula, District Pathanamthitta of Kerala. If you want to be there than nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 11 km while nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 kms.

Regatta of remembrance with Payippad Boat Race

But than Aranmula is not the only boat race of Onam. Two days before the Aranmula boat race, takes place a legendary boat race at Payippad. It is also said to be perhaps the oldest boat race in Kerala. This one is in the northern part of the state though in all famous Alappuzha district. A regatta to commemorate a legend associated with water. The legend is about the installation of the idol in the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple, Haripad. The legend says that the villagers once had a vision, which directed them to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake where they discovered the idol of Sree Subramanya. Held annually on the Payippad River, this boat race is noted for the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy boat race. The boat race is marked by synergy, speed and rigour. Thousands swarm to the banks of Payippad River to celebrate the event. This event runs for three days. So if you can’t make it to Aranmula, then try to be at Payippad. There is another boat race on the same day- Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat race at Kumarakom, one of the best beach resorts in Kerala. Payippad boat race event will run from 4th to 6th September 2017.

Where: Race will be at Payippad backwaters in Payippad, District Alappuzha. To reach there nearest railway station is Haripad, about 5 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.

Pulikali, the tiger dance

There is still something more associated with Onam in Kerala. Come Onam and the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district becomes a hunting ground teeming with prowling tigers and wily hunters. Each tiger has its ferocity writ large on their faces as well as on their bellies. Yes, bellies, for these are not the four-legged tigers you would come across in the wild. Rather, they are all men with their bodies painted as that of tigers with life like vividness. Pulikali (the play of the tigers) is an event that has become synonymous with the festival of Onam in Kerala. Apart from the true colours of a tiger, one would also come across other colours and patterns and even the facial features of lions on the bodies of the performers. The finesse with which the makeup is done with paints is awe inspiring. With the performance being centred on playing hide-and-seek with a hunter wielding a gun, the event is exciting and fun for both the performers and the onlookers. To say the least, it is a riot of fiery colours that is a feast to the eyes. This year Pulakili will be celebrated on 8th September 2017.

Where: Swaraj Round, Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Thrissur, about a kilometre while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 58 km from Thrissur.

Spectacular Neelamperoor Patayani

Onam ends but festivities don’t in Kerala. ‘Neelamperoor Patayani’ is a spectacular event that falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (usually August / September). Visiting Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple during the time of annual patayani festival is a colourful treat to the eyes. The patayani (also called as padayani) celebration at this temple is said to have a history of around 1700 years. The word patayani literally means rows of army. Though patayani is performed in a number of other temples in Kerala, the one held at Neelamperoor is unique. Kettukazhcha (display of deftly decorated effigies) is what makes this festival stand out. A grand procession of huge effigies of swans and other legendary and mythical characters are brought in. The making of the effigies of swans is locally known as annam kettu. At night the ambience is set by a colourful procession carrying the effigies of mythological characters like Bhima, Ravana, and Yakshi, which is a spectacular sight. This year it will be celebrated on 19th September 2017.

Where: To witness this get to Palli Bhagavathi Temple at Neelamperoor in Alappuzha

Glory of Ramnagar Ramlila

Back to mainstream in one of the holiest of Indian cities as per hindu mythology. Varanasi has always been a magnet for the spiritual, the religious, for holy seers and for the hippies. During the ten days of the Dussehra, the city becomes famous for its Ramlila, often considered to be the one of the oldest and perhaps grandest ramlila in world.  Fifteen kilometers from the main city lies Ramnagar, where the Ram Leela is enacted in a unique manner. Unlike the rest of the country, where the enactment is done on single stages, here in Ramnagar the whole town is transformed into a large Ram Leela ground, structures are built and different spaces represent different locations in the story.  The whole Ram lila takes place over a month. For a month, Ramnagar is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold. Permanent structures and parts of the town within a five-kilometre radius are named after places mentioned in the epic, and different episodes of the lila are enacted at different venues every day. On most days, the Ramlila moves – the cast, the Kashi Naresh, audiences and all. Sometimes, the movement is within a larger venue. Sadhus coming to Ramnagar from all over the country during this time and reciting Ramcharitramanas are called Ramayanis and the audience follows the performers all over town.  Even though thousands of devotees, bystanders, tourists throng the town during this month, it is incredible to note that most of the recital is done without the aid of any loudspeakers, electric lights or mikes, and the audience maintains a hushed silence throughout the Ramayani recital. Audiences move around from one location to another in order to see the one of its kind Ramlila. The crowd ranges from a few thousand for some episodes, up to a lakh for episodes like Ram and Sita’s wedding, Dussehra (when a 60-feet high effigy of the Raavan is burnt), Bharat Milaap, and the coronation of Ram (the most auspicious episode). On the day after Dussehra, Varanasi celebrates the Bharat Milaap festival, which commemorates Ram’s return to Ayodhya and his reunion with younger brother Bharat.  This takes place at Nati Imli, and thousands of people flock and gather to see Ram meet Bharat.  People wear tilak on their foreheads and garland the brothers. Watching the entire scene from the background every year is Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) in his regal attire and finery. This year Ramnagar Ramlila will be organised from 5th September to 5th October 2017.

Dussehras of different hues 

Dussehra in Almora, Uttarakhand

A festival so deep-rooted in our mythology is unique in the sense that it is celebrated in so different forms in different parts of country. Dussehra is marked as the victory of Good over evil, but the celebrations have taken various forms at various places. With underlying message the same in all of them, they all are worth a visit to understand the local customs, beliefs and rituals. Mysore Dasara is known for its sheer grandeur and participation. Mysore, or Mahishur as it was called in the past, traces its history back to the mythical past, when Goddess Chamundeshwari of Chamundi Hill, killed the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The city of Mysore has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival and the festivities here are an elaborate affair and attract a large audience from all over the world. Another unique celebration from remote interiors of the country. The most important festival in Bastar is the Dusshera when all the deities from the surrounding villages unite at the temple of Danteshwari in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters. Unlike Dusshera in other parts of India, here it is not the celebration of return of Rama to Ayodhaya.  Dusshera in Bastar is devoted entirely to the goddess, Danteshwari Devi. Then, Kota in Rajasthan has a very popular Dussehra celebration as well, known for a mixed urban-rural ethos of this religious occasion. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, Kota celebrates a number of festivals. However, this festival of Dussehra bears a distinct appeal altogether. Here Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. Then, after the whole country winds up the celebration of Dussehra by burning the effigies of Ravana, then the Dussehra at Kullu begins. The festival commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on Vijayadashmi day itself and continues for seven days. The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill- men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Another Dussehra in the hills is in the top list for its traditional style and culture. In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the Dussehra festival starts with the performance of Ramlila which is unique as it is based on the musical rendering of the katha or story of Lord Rama. It is based on the theatrical traditions set by Uday Shankar during his stay in Almora; these traditions were further enriched by Mohan Upreti and Brijendra Lal Sah. Almora’s Kumaoni style enactment has also been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most representative Ramlilas along with places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Madhubani. This year Dussehra or Vijayadashami is on 30th September.

Cultural renascence through Bathukamma festival

Bathukamma at Lal badhur Stadium in Hyderabad.Photo/P Anil kumar

Bathukamma is one of the many undiscovered facets of Telangana which are now getting popularity with formation of separate state. The nine day Bathukamma festival is a celebration of womanhood and is an ode to the various emotions that woman feel. Bathukamma, a prominent festival prior to Dussehra is a historic festival embedded with the lives of woman in Telangana. Bathukamma represents the cultural spirit of Telangana and signifies the Goddess Maha Gauri, the patron goddess of womanhood. The Telangana government has declared ‘Bathukamma’ as a state festival. There are number of legends that surround this 1000 year old festival. Festival is most renowned for its large flower pyramids or ‘bathukammas’. Larger the better. Women spend hours building their bathukammas all through two week long celebrations. Once done, they offer it to the deities. The celebration is combined with traditional dance and folk songs. This year festival will be celebrated from 20th to 28th September.

Its all bright at Abhaneri Festival

This is comparatively a new entrant to Rajasthan’s festival calendar. ’Abhaneri festival’ is named after the village Abhaneri in the Dausa district which is around 90 km from Jaipur on the Agra road. This two-day festival has gained immense popularity amongst the tourists around the globe. This year, it will commence from 21st to 22nd September with various Rajasthani & local folk performances like Kachhi Ghori, Kalbeliya, Ghoomar, and Bhawai. Festival was initiated by Rajasthan Tourism in 2008, it is of great significance for Rajasthan. The village of Abhaneri was originally named Abha Nagri, meaning “city of brightness”. The place is popular for the Chand Baori-step well, one of the largest step wells built over a thousand years ago. Be a part of the celebrations at Abhaneri and dip into the rustic charm of traditional Rajasthani music.

Peak of season at Ladakh Festival 

So if you are done with all religious festivals than move north to Ladakh for yearly Ladakh festival. The main aim of organising this Ladakh festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual Instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like Traditional Folk dance and songs of different parts of Ladakh. The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year.Ladakh festival is celebrated from 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its villages. The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh Market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival is for 6 days with regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.

 

EAT, DRINK, MERRY! at Ziro

Ziro Festival of Music is probably one of the most happening fun outdoor music festival in the country. It also showcases the India’s independent music scene. This year the festival will be held from 28th September to 1st October 2017. So far ZFM has featured stellar acts from around the world including Lee Ranaldo & Steve Shelley (SONIC YOUTH -USA), Lou Majaw, menwhopause, Shaa’ir n Func, Whirling Kalapas, Sky Rabbit, Peter cat recording Co, Guru Rewben Mashangva among others. This edition will be over four days and will feature 40 performances from across the globe as well as the best folk musicians from the North East on two stages. More than 6000 people are expected to attend the festival. Lineup for this year includes Reggae Rajahs, Damo Suzuki, The Kathmandu Killers, Alaska Snack Time, Alobo Naga & The Band, Bint El Funk, Rizal Abdulhadi, Jambili, Thaalavattam, Dhruv Visvanath and Sofia Ashraf among others. Ziro is primarily home to the Apatanis – simple, friendly and hospitable people with an interesting culture and legacy. They are a non-nomadic, agrarian tribe who share a responsible relationship with nature. Apatanis cultivate permanent wet land cultivations instead of dry land cultivations which involves burning forests. Ziro valley is lush with paddy farms and is known for its unique paddy cum fi sh cultivation where using traditional irrigation methods, farmers rear fish in the knee-deep water. Keeping them company are the adorable, shy, and harmless Indian Bisons. All visitors – Indian and foreigners – to Arunachal Pradesh need special permits to enter the state. Indians need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) and foreigners require a Protected Area Permit.

Getting there: Ziro is the district headquarters of Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and is situated 167km from the capital, Itanagar. It is one of the oldest towns in Arunachal Pradesh in a valley at a height of over 5500 feet above sea level surrounded by misty mountains. The nearest airport is Tezpur. However, flights to Tezpur are often cancelled without reason. The best option is to fly to Guwahati and do the road journey. Guwahati is 450 kilometres from Ziro. It takes around 12 hours on road but lot also depends on weather. The nearest railhead is North Lakhimpur by Arunachal Express from New Bongaigaon. Direct buses are available from Guwahati, Itanagar and North Lakhimpur. You can also reach Naharlagun station by train which is 3 hours from Ziro. Naharlagun has overnight trains from Guwahati.

 

Finding Nemo while walking underwater in Bali Sea

It is indeed one of the most adorable and loved  fishes of silver screen and also of aquariums thereafter. Orange Clownfish Nemo has been craze of kids world over after that landmark film – Finding Nemo. Hence watching Nemo in its natural habitat in the sea is indeed filled with a lot of excitement. But of course, this is not about Nemo, it is about walking under the sea and feeling the nature’s bounty around you. Sea Walking is a gem of an adventure for all those who don’t want to go in nitty-gritty of diving. And there can be perhaps no better place for sea walking than beautiful waters of Bali in Indonesia.

Orange Clownfish ‘nemo’ in its territory

Sea walkers are the latest craze for the under water adventure seekers and what a place can be better than Bali to do this. Tanjung Benoa in South Kuta district of Badung Regency in Bali is the hub of water sports activities in Bali and it has lot to offer. One of the best among them is the Sea walker, where one walks few metres under the sea with the help of special helmets filled with oxygen. While you walk, you see the fishes and corals around you. You can be under the water for 20 to 30 minutes or more. A thrill and lots of fun, if you are not afraid of water.

Boats in the sea to take you down

The host of water sports activities in the region include snorkelling, sea walking and diving besides the regular ones like parasailing, jet-sking, water scooters and lot more. Sea Walking is fairly new but interesting adventure.

Under the sea for a stroll!

For this activity, once at the beachside base, you are registered. After the paper formalities, one has to change-in in special suits. Then they are transported by speed boats to offshore docking stations which are actually boats anchored in the sea away from the coast.

Once you reach at the docking station, you are given instructions on the process, which is mostly related to sign language that has to used with the instructor. Walkers are given a helmet to wear, which provides oxygen supply through pipe attached to docking station. Walkers are supposed to breath normally. It is a walk, not a dive or a swim. Special rubber footwear are also given here (these are not flippers as of divers).

You go down the sea through a ladder attached to the boat. The instructor than pulls you down further from the ladder and parks you on the sea bed, where you can stand holding specially fixed rails and ropes. Now you are ready for the walk.

With directions from the instructor you walk on the sea-bed holding rails and ropes, enjoying corals and fishes around. You will be seeing many of them for the first time in your lives, as was with me.

Enjoying corals

What is interesting that, you even carry bread with you to feed the fishes so that they gather around you and one has the few of being surrounded by the fishes under the sea.

After spending around 20-30 minutes under the sea and walking around, you are taken back to the boat, through the same ladder.

Back to the boat after thrill

Its an exhilarating experience and good one for first timers who don’t have an exposure of going under the sea water. With safety of life jackets and oxygen helmets, it is a safe activity for even those who don’t know to swim.

You can watch a video of my sea walking experience on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below:

With many competitors around in the Tanjung Benoa area of Bali, rates are often bargained. We did this activity for 600K Indonesian Rupiah (roughly 2800 Indian Rupee). Don’t forget to carry your water proof cameras for capturing memorable experience, but if you don’t have it, than sea walking operators will click your images with their cameras, but of course for a handsome amount.