Tag Archives: travel

Silver sand dunes and a double humpy ride


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Silver coloured sand dunes of Hunder in Nubra valley of Ladakh have gradually become a part of the must-see itinerary for tourists to Ladakh. Its a very unusual landscape, no doubt about it. In a single frame, you can see sand dunes, river, forest as well as snow clad peaks. You even have camels for desert safari, albeit double humped ones. Its a rugged landscape all around, but Hunder seems like out of world for this region. It has got so many colours and textures in one place, that you can’t stop admiring.

Colours of nature! These sunsets never fail to amaze you whether it is in hot deserts of Thar or cold deserts of Ladakh. You can see the Karakoram ranges in the background, behind whichnot too far is located the highest battlefield in world at Siachen Glacier. Tree line in the centre left form a part of Karakoram wildlife sanctuary, while you can see the sand dunes of Hunder on the centre right. Than, to complete the painting is an offshoot of Shyok river. Together they create the magic of Nubra valley in Ladakh.

Also read: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Nubra is also pleasing because of its gentle weather which is result of milder altitude. Everyone who feels uneasy at Leh, gets better here. Nubra valley is at average altitude of around 10,000 feet.

Nature’s play! The other day, another sunset and different range. September sunset casts its golden glow over the Karakoram ranges in Ladakh as seen from the Nubra valley. Tough to believe that right behind this nature’s painting, not too far away is world’s highest battlefield at Siachen Glacier, which is also the world’s second largest glacier in non-polar regions. But for now, it is time to soak in this mesmerising colours. Isn’t it!

Sand dunes can be best enjoyed during sunset. The sun light is gentle and colours are beautiful. Actually time of sunset here is also a photographer’s paradise, such is the beauty around.

Largest monastery in Nubra: Diskit monastery which braved the mongolian invaders

Sand dunes glowing in sunlight with forest of Karakoram wildlife sanctuary making a backdrop
All kinds of shapes in the dunes
Silvery powder at 10K ft
A baby camel hiding behind mother’s back


Most tourists will come on a day trip here. They will Leh early in the morning and then reach here before lunch. They will leave back by early evening to each back to Leh. But since this place is best enjoyed during sunset, hence it is better to plan a night halt at Hunder. A less than two day’s trip to Nubra can’t do justice to this place. If you keep two days in hand, than besides Hunder sand dunes, you can have sufficient time to see Diskit monastery on the first day and you can even go Turtuk, the next morning. Although, personally I would like to stay a night at Turtuk as well. 

Also read: Turtuk, beauty of the last bastion!

Wild flowers at Karakoram wildlife sanctuary
Sea buck thorn berries in sand dunes of Nubra. They are now plucked and sold as Leh berries considered to be highly nutritious and rich source of vitamin
Tourist vehicles at parking area of Hunder sand dunes

With ever increasing number of tourists, Hunder now has many offerings for stay. There are many homestays, guest houses and retreats to suit various budgets. 

Everybody is welcome 

Have you ever been to Hunder sand dunes and done a camel safari? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Diskit monastery which braved the Mongolian invaders


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You won’t find much of a difference on either sides of Khardungla Pass, until you reach Khalsar. Here the valley widens. But still, it is only until we reach Diskit, that we get to notice the mixed landscape of sand dunes, Shyok river, mountain ranges as well as Karakoram wildlife sanctuary. Since 2010, Diskit pronounces its existence from a fair distance through the large statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is visible from a distance string on a top of a hill. Due to lower elevation and milder climate, this valley has lush vegetation and Diskit has its own healthy share of apricot and apple orchards in this oasis.

Diskit Monastery

Diskit is administrative headquarter of Nubra valley. Diskit monastery is also the biggest in valley on this side of Khardungla. Diskit indeed has a very strategic location. It is on edge of a mountain, so it has a mountain on its back as a wall to protect itself. It is just around 20 kms from Khalsar from where road goes towards Shyok and further to Pangong Tso, i.e. very close to China. Other road from Khalsar goes deep into Nubra valley to Sumur and Panamik. Another 20-23 kms from Khalsar is Khardung from where climb to Khardungla starts, pass which shields Leh valley. Diskit is also at the edge of the desert. Diskit monastery can be reached via Diskit village through a dusty road that crosses a stream in the middle of the village. We can drive upto the base of the monastery, but then you have to walk up the stairs to the temples. Since the whole monastery is built on a hill it is a a bit of climb till the top. 

Flood plains of Shyok river at Diskit
Mountain ranges surrounding Diskit

Right in front of the Diskit monastery is the vast expanse or you may call flood plains of the Nubra valley. Right there in this plains Nubra river merges with Shyok river. Both these rivers are said to be originating from different tongues of Siachen glacier. Also famously known as the highest battleground in the world, Siachen glacier is right behind the Karakoram ranges seen from Diskit. Thus, Diskit also keeps an eye on all the travellers coming to Leh from the China or the Pakistan side, i.e. the old trading route of the Silk road.

All festivals of the monastery take place here

Therefore the importance of Diskit monastery, located at altitude of 3142 metres, couldn’t have been greater historically. But at the same time, it would also have to face the brunt of all the unwelcoming visitors. Gonkhang or the protector temple at the monastery is testimony to that. Severed head and a hand of a medieval Mongol invader are still said to be kept here, as if the protector deity (Kali) is holding them. It is said that the Mongol resurrected himself, every time he was killed. It stopped only when his severed hand and head were brought to the temple.

A mural of Four Heavenly kings outside protector temple

There is a large 32 metre (106 foot) statue of Maitreya Buddha at the foothill of the main monastery. This statue is a recent addition to this place and was consecrated in 2010 by Dalai Lama. This statue itself sits on top of a small hillock. There is a temple at the base of this statue. Official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra, the photong is also said to be located here.

This monastery belongs to different sect than the one which runs the Hemis monastery. This 14th century gompa was actually founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa who founded the Gelugpa (yellow hat) order of Tibetan Buddhism. The cupola of the monastery is said to be similar to Tashi Lhunpo monastery of Tibet. There is also a fresco of the same monastery here. The historic and culturally important Tashi Lhunpo is said to have been founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama near Shigatse in Tibet. Monastery has a statue of Cho Rinpoche in the prayer hall. There is a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. Well, Diskit monastery is said to have seen a lot of upheaval in four centuries. Lachung temple is above the Diskit monastery, but not very far. This is one of the oldest temples in Nubra valley. There is a large idol of Tsong Khapa in this temple and a Gelugpa yellow hat crowns the idol.

Main prayer hall of the monastery 

Also read: Turtuk, Beauty of the last bastion!

Statue of Buddha inside the prayer hall
Gelupga or the yellow hat

Finally, in mid 18th century this monastery was given to Rimpoche of Thiksey monastery and hence, since then Diskit is considered as a sub-gompa of Thiksey monastery. Monastery houses almost 100 monks. Diskit Gompa celebrated its annual gustor festival on 7th and 8th October this year. This monastery will again celebrate Dosmoche festival on 2-3 February 2019. Many lamas gather here for the festival which is marked by mask dances depicting victory of good over evil.

Outside the prayer hall

Also read: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Foreign tourists going towards the monastery
young monks and approach to the monastery

Tip: Time your visit to the monastery carefully as some of the temples of the monastery remain closed in the afternoon. To my surprise, while there were a large number of tourists at the Maitreya Buddha statue, which is right on the road, but only a handful of them go up towards the main monastery, as it needs a bit of climb and walk. Whereas, it is worth seeing and devoting some time to understand the culture and the history of the region.

Inside the monastery
Temples on the top

Have you been to the Diskit monastery in Nubra valley of Ladakh? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

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Ten ways to rekindle your romance in Greece

Whether you are looking for an ideal honeymoon destination or just a romantic escape, the beauty and diversity of the Greek landscape forms the most romantic backdrop to celebrate your love. Search for your fairy-tale romance in the Greek islands, a perfect honeymoon destination bathed in sunlight all year long. Explore with your other half the islands on a cruise and enjoy sun-kissed beaches, superb natural landscapes, cosmopolitan resorts and traditional settlements alike or taste exquisite local dishes. Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu rank among the most popular romantic getaways in Greece but don’t forget to pay a visit to the rest of the Aegean and Ionian islands as well!

A night out facing the Thermaic Gulf

Enjoy your drink or a glass of wine, on one of the boat bars that sail in the Thermaic Gulf along Thessaloniki’s old beachfront. The cityscape bathed in the moonlight will steal your heart away!

Kerkini Lake

A boating trip in Lake Kerkini

Opt for an unforgettable boating trip in the arms of nature, in the calm waters of Lake Kerkini. This man-made lake is situated only 35 km NW of Serres town, amidst amazing natural surroundings, and it offers a beautiful view of Mt Beles and the valley of Rodopi. Flocks of rare bird species will keep you company while you enjoy your outing!

A swim under the moonlight

Go swimming with your better half under the moonlight in the tranquil waters of Schoinias beach; you can have this unique night swim experience only 50 km away from the centre of Athens. Walk barefoot on the sand and enjoy your cocktail in one of the beach bars along the coast.

Canal D’Amour Beach in Corfu

Natural spa on the Canal D’Amour beach

Visit the well-known Canal D’Amour Beach in Sidari, Corfu Island. Explore the unique geological formations, swim in the cool waters, treat your body with the therapeutic grey mud of its rocks and feel all the goodness of a natural spa by the seashore.

A stroll in the castle of the knights

Hold hands with your loved one and wander along the stone cobbled alleys of the medieval town on Rhodes Island and let the magic of fairy-tale surroundings take you on a journey through time!

A bicycle ride in Nafplio

Discover a new way to get around town that is more convenient, hygienic, economical and environmentally friendly.  Travel to Nafplio and enjoy a bike ride along the coast facing the Argolic Gulf as well as the well-known castles Bourtzi and Palamidi.

A carriage ride on Spetses Island

Take a trip to lordly Spetses Island and enjoy your ride on a horse-driven carriage along the coastline. Admire the island’s mansions and the Old Seaport area. Make a stop at Poseidonio square and taste the local almond sweets that are traditionally offered in weddings and other happy occasions.

Travel by train

Board the train of a bygone era, which crosses the green Vouraikos gully and then climbs the steep mountainsides of Mt Helmos all the way to Kalavryta town. Sit back and relax in the historic rack railway carriages, known as Odontotos. Enjoy with your partner the route across this lovely part of Greek countryside accessible only by train.

Aerial View of skiers at Ski Resort Vasilitsa in the mountain range of Pindos, in Greece.

Skiing under a starlit sky

If adventure is what both of you are after, then why not try your ski routines under the starlight? Every Saturday you can go for night skiing at Vasilitsa ski resort right in the heart of the Pindus range. Ski down the lighted pistes in the company of your loved one and feel the adrenaline rush in your body!

Dinner at Chora, Alonnisos Island

Taste top quality local fresh fish dishes such as lobster spaghetti and kakavia soup (made of a variety of small tasty fish); and make sure you try the Alonnisos prime quality tuna fish, maybe as one of the courses during a candlelit dinner, in a place that for some people is considered to be the loveliest Chora (main town) of the Sporades Islands!

With so many romantic activities to pick from, Greece could be rated as the perfect choice of place to pop the question, to spend your honeymoon, to celebrate your anniversary, to have a great time on your first date, or to find your better half visiting idyllic locations. Next to the amazing Greek countryside, you will find accommodation in traditional guest houses, rural tourist lodgings, youth hostels, luxury hotels, tourist resorts and mansions, offering to you and your partner the opportunity to spend the perfect holidays in Greece!

Have you spent some romantic time in Greece? Share your lovely experiences with us in the comments section below.

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Your own ‘Haven’ at Norwegian Cruise Line’s private sanctuary at sea

Hidden away at the top of the ship is The Haven by Norwegian®, an exclusive enclave accessible by private keycard with Norwegian Cruise Line’s most luxurious and well-appointed accommodation offering. It’s like your private abode within the cruise ship, with access to all that the ship has to offer along with additional benefits such as personal service of a concierge and 24-hour butler throughout your stay. On top of that, complete privacy and tranquility are just steps away on a sundeck reserved exclusively for guests of The Haven. From embarkation to disembarkation, boarding of tenders to shore, award-winning shows to unique specialty restaurants; The Haven will make for a unique and unforgettable experience!

Haven Observation Lounge

Also read: When hulk of a ship becomes an artwork!

Escape to private Haven venues

·         The Haven Lounge: Catch up with your fellow Haven members, grab a cocktail from The Haven Bar, or just sit back and relax with a book. The Haven Lounge is your place to get away from it all.

·         The Haven Restaurant: In addition to the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants on board, Haven members also have private dining options available. Enjoy an exclusive array of dishes in The Haven Restaurant or have your butler serve you meals in the privacy of your suite.

·         The Haven Courtyard and Sundeck: Soak up the sun, take a dip in the pool, then let the world melt away as you relax in the hot tub. No matter how you plan to spend your time, this private sanctuary provides the perfect escape.

Need a choice? Read: Which are world’s most popular cruises!

The Haven Restaurant on Norwegian Bliss

Indulge in exclusive amenities

·         Exclusive access: Haven members are offered distinctive platinum keycard that allows them access to private areas onboard along with exclusive access to The Haven Courtyard area with a private pool, sundeck, hot tub and fitness area. Members are also provided a Mobile phone that can be used throughout the ship; this service is available on Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Epic.

·         Concierge service: The Concierge service will help you book dining, entertainment, shore excursions among other activities. Members can skip lines and be personally escorted on and off the ship at the pier and at ports-of-call. Garden Villa guests also get complimentary limousine service from pier to airport.

·         Exclusive dining: Haven members are given priority when reserving restaurants and have access to special Haven menus along with grab and go breakfast items including parfaits, diced fruit in a martini glass, fresh pastries and gourmet meats. They are the privileged ones to get VIP invitations to exclusive breakfast, lunch and cocktail parties on board.

Also read: Experience bliss on a cruise holiday

Haven Courtyard on Norwegian Escape

Ultimate luxurious stay

The 6,694 sq. ft. Garden Villa is the largest 3-bedroom suite on board followed by Deluxe Owner’s Suite with Large Balcony, Courtyard Penthouse with Balcony, Spa Suite with Balcony and Family Villa with Balcony.

·         3-bedroom Garden Villa: A sanctuary of contemporary design featuring a spacious living room, walls of windows, outdoor terraces with a hot tub and a private dining area; these villas sleep up to eight guests.

·         Deluxe Suite: Floor-to-ceiling windows provide an ever- changing view in this chic suite. Includes a bedroom (some ships offer two) with a luxury bath, plus a separate living and dining room.

Also read: Vagabond at cruise- Super star Virgo

·         Penthouse: Beautiful dining and sitting areas, spacious rooms, and amazing balconies make these penthouses unforgettable. Some of the opulent Courtyard Penthouses with Balcony are designed to be a romantic hideaway ideal for two with a round queen-size bed.

·         Family Villas: Chic décor adds a modern twist to this sumptuous villa. The master bedroom provides you with a retreat, while your kids can have their own room with a flat-screen TV and private bath. A private balcony completes this sanctuary at sea.

·         Spa Suite: The perfect way to experience a total spa holiday, the Spa Suites include a king-size bed and additional bedding to accommodate one guest, hot tub, oversized waterfall shower and multiple body spray jets, spa decor, easy access to the adjacent Mandara Spa and fitness centre, as well as complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suites during regular Spa hours.

Love cruising? Also read: World’s largest cruise ship ready for the first voyage

Haven at Norwegian Bliss

This private keycard-access only for Haven members is unlike anything available at sea, reserved exclusively for guests to relax, dine and enjoy exquisite privacy.

Have you ever travelled in a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ship? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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Turtuk, beauty of the last bastion


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Turtuk is a village like no other. Long before we reached the village, occasional villagers coming our way—while working in the fields or returning from nearby villages or grazing their cattle—gave us the clear signs that we have moved miles away from traditional region of Ladakh. The body features were quite distinct and sharp similar to those of people of Gilgit-Baltistan region. 

Turtuk Village

It wasn’t unusual though. Turtuk is said to be the India’s Gilgit-Baltistan. Besides it is quite far from last large habitat of Ladakh in Nubra valley. Hunder is more than 90 kilometres away. Hunder itself does not have any historic habitat before 17th century, when it was said to be the capital of erstwhile Nubra kingdom. Now it is more of a tourist resort meant to serve the tourists coming to experience sand dunes and a ride on double humped Mongolian camels. In that sense Diskit Gompa further seven kilometres towards Leh is the last historic village of Ladakh before Turtuk.

Streams flowing through Turtuk 

The farther end

There are a few tiny hamlets on the way though. After leaving from Hunder, we pass through Thoise airfield and small villages of Kharu block, Skuru and Yagulung. Before Yagulung is an on-road guest house at Thachung. At Yagulung there is another road that goes to Bikudo, Sunido and Waris across the Shyok river. The whole route from Hunder onwards goes along Shyok river. Shyok river originates from Rimo glacier, which is one of the tongues of Siachen Glacier. In the expanses of Nubra valley right opposite the Diskit village, Nubra river (also known as Siachen river) meets Shyok river. Shyok river than flows through the Gilgit-Baltistan region and meets Indus river at Keris in Pakistan Occupies Kashmir (POK). Road to Turtuk snakes through narrow gorges with turquoise waters of the Shyok River (literally Death River in Uyghur, named so perhaps in the Silk Road-era).

We can see peaks from Pakistan occupied Kashmir

Well, further ahead of Yaglung there are few more tiny hamlets of Chulungkha, Bogdang and Guneshthang. Then we reach Chalunka which is 13 kms before Turtuk. Ahead of Turtuk is Tyakshi almost six kilometres from Turtuk and than Thang another just about six kilometres from Tyakshi. A mountain trail leads up from the main road to Tyakshi village. In between Tyakshi and Thang is also a village named Puchathang. Just two kilometres from Thang is the border to POK. That makes Thang the northernmost village of India.

Hills surrounding the Turtuk region

Tumultuous past

But, that’s not the story. Had it been just a story of landscapes than, perhaps it wouldn’t have made it that unique. What makes it outstanding is the story of overnight change of nationalities. It is also a human story of catastrophic nature. A cluster of seven villages around Turtuk were captured by India from Pakistan after the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Until December 1971, Turtuk was a part of Gilgit Baltistan area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir but following the 1971 India-Pakistan War, India captured seven villages of Thang, Tyakshi Groung, Tyakshi Pachathang, Turtuk Youl, Turtuk Farool, Garrri, Choulungkha. The people of the captured villages went to sleep in Pakistan but woke up in Indian control next morning.

all surrounding peaks have strategic positions occupied by forces

In some families here, fathers are living on this side and mothers on the other side, children are here and parents on the other side and more than a half of the families of Turtuk are divided across the LoC. Villagers studying or working in Pakistan before 1971 remained stuck there after Turtuk became part of India. While their relatives became Indians, they remained Pakistanis. The Indian government has now made it possible for villagers to visit from Pakistan, but only with a lot of expense and paperwork. Turtuk and all the other villages remained closed to outsiders– even other Indians–until locals, weary of their long isolation, petitioned for the remote, scenic valley to open up. Hence in 2010, tourists were allowed to visit Turtuk but only after obtaining an Inner Line Permit (ILP) from Leh. In 2014, even this requirement of ILP was waived off. Now, after better roads and increased facilities, more and more tourists are reaching Turtuk.

rugged landscape on the way

At Chalunka, just before the village is a bridge on the Shyok river. Earlier area across the bridge was under Pakistan. There is still an army check post at the bridge. It will check the identities of everybody travelling further towards Turtuk. Then, there is another check post at Tyakshi, where an army unit is stationed.

bridge on Shyok river

Rich heritage

So, located on banks of Shyok River, Turtuk is 205 kms from Leh. With population of over 3,500, it is also said to be the most populated village of Ladakh. It is a predominantly Muslim area in the Buddhist-dominated cold desert region of Leh, where residents speak Balti, Urdu and Ladakhi.

Turtuk village

Turtuk once served as an important gateway to the Silk Road, the ancient trading route that connected India with China, Persia and Rome. Once a part of the Yabgo dynasty that ruled Baltistan, Turtuk served an active trade route to Ladakh connecting it to Yarkand and Kashgar in present day China and up till Samarkand in present day Uzbekistan on the Silk Route. To the north lies the path to China and Tibet. In the south, we can get to Kargil and then to Kashmir, and to the west, there was a road to modern Pakistan and on to Afghanistan and Iran. But if we try to locate, all we see is tall mountains everywhere around. Before modern borders, Baltistan was a separate kingdom. Until the 16th Century, monarchs from Turkistan ruled over the united province under the Yagbo dynasty, a Central Asian empire whose reign, lasting from 800 to 1800, saw a flourishing of poetry and arts. Their former summer home now serves as Turtuk’s only museum

bridge connecting two parts of Turtuk

“Turtuk is home to a population of Nurkbakhshis, a Sufi order with similarities to both Shias and Sunnis, as well as Sunnis and Twelver Shias. The historian Mohibbul Hasan writes in his book Kashmir Under the Sultans that one of Nurbakhsh’s disciples, Shamsuddin, was responsible for spreading the Nurbakhshiya creed in Kashmir and Baltistan. In the 16th century, the Nurbakhshi Sufis spread out from Iran to Baltistan and Ladakh. The influence of the cult reduced gradually as the Safavid dynasty of Persia adopted mainstream Shia Islam as the state religion and the Sunni Mughals conquered Kashmir, leaving only Baltistan as the bastion of the Nurbakhshis. The Nurbhakshis also freely acknowledge their pre-Islamic Buddhist heritage. They celebrate the Nauroz, or Iranian New Year, in March every year. When Turtuk became a part of India, the Nurbakhshiya creed got added to the country’s multitude of beliefs but left the residents alienated from their theological schools and leaders.”

a local women cooking food at Turtuk

An oasis in cold desert

Turtuk is located at a much more comfortable height than the rest of Ladakh, most of which is a cold desert plateau. Turtuk is instead a little green oasis unlike rest of the region. The tedious journey to reach here becomes rewarding upon seeing the picture postcard beauty of Turtuk. Its green all around with numerous glacial streams gushing down to meet Shyok river. It might at some points remind you the beauty of Pahalgam in Kashmir.

beauty all around in Turtuk

Famous for its apricots, tomatoes and walnuts, Turtuk is divided into two parts – Youl and Pharol, separated by a hump-shaped bridge. Phudinichu, a nourishing stew made with region’s famed apricots, is the local food. Electricity runs only for a few hours a day while cell phone reception is limited to BSNL. People are fair and rosy-cheeked with aquiline features and claim to be Aryans having Central Asian and Tibetan roots. Locals are very friendly and hospitable.

What to do? How to reach?

There are a few places to see around Turtuk which reflect the collective heritage of this place. There are some natural wonders as well such as natural freezers (used mostly to preserve food items like cheese), a water mill and a waterfall. There is a historic polo ground. Yes, the younger generation loves its Polo too much, they even get horses from Zanskar for this. There are ruins of Brokpa’s fort, Balti Heritage house & museum and royal house and museum belonging to the Yagbo dynasty clan. You can also see the historic mosque and a Buddhist monastery.

a ‘tourist’ map of Turtuk at Friend’s cafe

Also read: September fun in Leh with Ladakh festival!

Taxis or private vehicles are the only means to reach Turtuk from Leh. It may take anything between seven to ten hours to reach Turtuk from Leh. It all depends on weather as well as road conditions. Most crucial in this respect is the time taken on both sides of Khardungla pass. The Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) runs a weekly bus service from Turtuk to Leh. A daily bus runs until Diskit, which is 90 km away and is the main town of Diskit tehsil. While there is a primary health centre and a school in Turtuk, the closest hospital and college are in Leh. There are more than 10 guest houses in Turtuk now. As of now the number of tourists coming here is not that thick. Hence staying is not of a problem. You can also look for a stay with some family to know them closer.

driving along the Shyok river towards Turtuk

Balti Bulbul

Turtuk region has over 75 percent literacy rate. Don’t get surprised! Locals are very keen to get their kids to school. Ahmad Shah, a resident of Bogdang village, 25 km from LoC encouraged his daughter, Fatima Balti to take singing as a profession. She is said to be the first female Balti singer from this side and her Balti songs have become viral on social media after a fan put them on YouTube. Even a Pakistani newspaper carried a news story on Fatima referring to her as Balti Bulbul (see one of her recent videos on YouTube below). 

Have you ever been to Turtuk? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

Also read: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Welcoming roads to a distant land!

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TripAdvisor to become Facebook and Instagram of travel


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TripAdvisor is soon going to acquire a full-fledged social media avatar as good as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and FourSquare. It will create a social media platform for travel and makes restaurant critics, travel experts and influencers of every user. TripAdvisor unveiled a new site and mobile experience launching later this year. Currently in beta, the world’s largest crowd-sourced travel platform is evolving to become the most personalised and connected travel community, inspiring and empowering individuals with social assistive tools to plan and book better with relevant advice and information from people and experts they trust. During a preview event in New York organised for press on Sept 17, a demonstration of the new platform revealed that the new TripAdvisor will be optimised for mobile devices and take heavy cues from Instagram and Facebook.

Beta version of the new look

TripAdvisor has set out an ambitious strategy to transform itself into a social media platform for travelers. Users will be able to create personal profiles where they can post reviews, recommendations, photos and videos of hotels, restaurants, and attractions. While this feature already exists, the update will amp up the social media aspect, with users able to follow friends, influencers and major travel brands. Members will be able to save posts that appear on their travel feed, and, like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, social media validation will be possible with the addition of “Like” buttons. The new TripAdvisor expands its community beyond travellers to also include brands, social media influencers, publishers and friends. Travellers can follow and connect with individuals or content creators who share information that is relevant to their interests.

Complementing our more than 661 million reviews and opinions, TripAdvisor members will be able to create and view inspirational and helpful new forms of content including photos, videos and articles. The new platform is also being pitched as a space for content creation, for sharing content, and as a one-stop shop, where users can book their hotel directly from the site. Members will also have the ability to create “Trips,” which can be in-depth travel guides, itineraries or simple wish lists of things to do while traveling. Trips can be made private and saved for personal use or shared with the community to inspire and help others.  

Powered by the world’s first “travel feed,” TripAdvisor members will also be able to discover more relevant information faster when planning travel. Assisted throughout the entire travel planning process, members can draw advice and inspiration from their friends, family and trusted experts. When a member logs onto the TripAdvisor app or site, their homepage transforms into a personalised feed of information. When searching a particular destination, the feed automatically narrows the scope of the information displayed to that particular geographic location. For example, members planning a trip to Paris may see a food critic’s article on the best restaurant in the city, an influencer’s travel guide of “must-do’s,” and a friend’s review of a new hotel near the Eiffel Tower.

Steve Kaufer, CEO, introduces the new TripAdvisor travel feed on Sept. 17, 2018 in New York 

“TripAdvisor is poised to disrupt the travel industry once again as we create a more personalized and connected community,” said Stephen Kaufer, CEO & co-founder of TripAdvisor. “The new TripAdvisor is the one travel site that brings together social-assistive tools, amazing content and our existing booking capabilities to merge the joy of planning and discovery together into a single experience. We are assisting our members at each step of their journey as we become a more personalised, inspirational and useful TripAdvisor.”

A New, Valuable Audience for Brands and Publishers

While in beta, more than 500 social media influencers, well-known consumer brands, publishers and travel partners have joined the new TripAdvisor — with more being added every day. In addition to the many content creators joining the platform, TripAdvisor’s team of destination experts and TripAdvisor Media Group brands, including Smarter Travel, Cruise Critic and TheFork.com, will also contribute to the site experience through unique profiles. These partners have already started to create hundreds of pieces of inspiring and helpful travel content, grow their followers, and provide valuable feedback to improve the experience.

Members will be able to follow favorite brands like National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel Channel, Business Insider & Insider Guides, PopSugar, Great Big Story, Pandora Music, GoPro, Goop, NYC & Company (via their consumer-facing tourism website, nycgo.com), Nashville Music City, and The Knot, among many others. Members will also be able to follow leading social media influencers like television personality and restaurateur Giada De Laurentiis, as well as travel bloggers, like TravelBabbo.

TripAdvisor’s Impact on Travel and Tourism

TripAdvisor has unveiled its new site and mobile experience at a time when the company’s impact on the travel and tourism industry is massive and growing. Two recent studies show a growing reliance on TripAdvisor during the travel planning, booking (pre-trip and in-destination) and post-trip experience. According to a 2017 Oxford Economics Study, the TripAdvisor platform has influenced $546 billion USD (10.3%) of global tourism spend annually in the travel and hospitality industry as consumers sought our review content as a part of their decision-making process. A 2018 study from comScore found that 60% of people booking travel online went to TripAdvisor during the travel planning and booking process, and a full 74% of travellers used TripAdvisor when booking on hotel websites. The new TripAdvisor site and mobile experience is set to come out of beta and launch globally to the public later this year across all markets and languages where the company operates.

TripAdvisor covers approximately 7.7 million accommodations, airlines, experiences, and restaurants and provides travellers with the wisdom of the crowds to help them decide where to stay, how to fly, what to do and where to eat. TripAdvisor also compares prices from more than 200 hotel booking sites so travellers can find the lowest price on the hotel that’s right for them. TripAdvisor-branded sites are available in 49 markets, and are home to the world’s largest travel community of 456 million average monthly unique visitors, all looking to get the most out of every trip.

How excited you are with the new look on TripAdvisor? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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When hulk of a ship becomes an artwork!

Norwegian Cruise Line has revealed that Eduardo Arranz-Bravo, the award-winning Spanish artist, created the hull artwork for the fourth and final ship of its Breakaway-Plus class, Norwegian Encore, debuting in Miami in November 2019. A representation of his modern and abstract style, the ship’s hull will feature a labyrinth of color inspired by Arranz-Bravo’s life by the sea in Barcelona and pay tribute to the vibrant guest experience for which the Norwegian brand is recognized.

Norwegian Encore by Norwegian Cruise Line

“Norwegian Cruise Line is a dynamic, pioneering company known for its innovative experiences and breathtaking collection of beautifully designed ships,” said Arranz-Bravo. “I am honored to not only bring that vibrancy to life even more on Norwegian Encore but also showcase my love for the ocean and my hometown of Barcelona.” Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, played a key role in the selection of Arranz-Bravo as the hull artist for Norwegian Encore, having been inspired by his work for many years. Del Rio’s passion for the arts has helped elevate Norwegian’s on-board experience, most recently with the multi-million-dollar art collection curated for Norwegian Bliss. “We are well-known for our iconic hull designs and know that Arranz-Bravo’s lively design will complement the colorful destinations in the Caribbean that Norwegian Encore will visit when she debuts next year,” said Del Rio.

Also read: Vagabond at a cruise – Super Star Virgo
Spanish artist Eduardo Arranz-Bravo

Recognized for his inventive and humanistic approach to abstract art, Arranz-Bravo’s work is showcased throughout the world and portrays a constant evolution that some refer to as futuristic.  He is highly regarded, having been the recipient of countless awards and accolades, and was one of three artists chosen to represent the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. “Eduardo’s design will be a perfect complement to the collection of hull artwork within our fleet and is a testament to the dynamic experience our guests will have on board,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line.  “We are proud to welcome him to our Norwegian Cruise Line family.” 

Need a choice? Read: Which are world’s most popular cruises!
Norwegian Encore by Norwegian Cruise Line

At approximately 167,800 gross tons and accommodating up to 4,000 guests, Norwegian Encore will complete the Breakaway-Plus class, the most successful class in the company’s history. She is currently being built at Meyer Werft, in Papenburg, Germany and will feature many innovative dining, entertainment and recreational activities that guests have come to expect from the industry-leading brand. Following her unveiling, she will cruise out of Miami every Sunday and sail seven-day voyages to the Eastern Caribbean, beginning with her first journey on November 17, 2019 through April 12, 2020.

Norwegian Encore by Norwegian Cruise Line
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About Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line is the innovator in cruise travel with a 51-year history of breaking the boundaries of traditional cruising.  Most notably, Norwegian revolutionized the cruise industry by offering guests the freedom and flexibility to design their ideal cruise vacation on their schedule with no set dining times, a variety of entertainment options and no formal dress codes. Today, Norwegian invites guests to enjoy a relaxed, resort-style cruise vacation on some of the newest and most contemporary ships at sea with a wide variety of accommodations options, including The Haven by Norwegian®, a luxury enclave with suites, a private pool and dining, concierge service and personal butlers. Norwegian Cruise Line sails around the globe, offering guests the freedom and flexibility to explore the world on their own time and experience up to 27 dining options, award-winning entertainment, superior guest service and more across all of the brand’s 16 ships.

Norwegian Encore by Norwegian Cruise Line
Also read: Experience bliss on a cruise holiday
Have you ever travelled in a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ship? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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September fun in Leh with Ladakh festival

It was 19th September. I was supposed to leave Leh for Manali on my bike next morning. My plan was to go to Pangong Tso and then continue on my return journey. Target was to reach Delhi on 22nd late evening. But my friend and host in Leh insisted me to drop the idea of going to Pangong and instead witness the opening parade of the Ladakh Festival. His argument was that Pangong would always be there to visit the next time I am in Ladakh, but to be here on exact date of opening of Ladakh festival will need meticulous planning anytime next. So, if by chance when I am already in Leh on the day, I shouldn’t miss this event. His argument was strong and I changed my plan. I decided to see the opening ceremony and than move to either Pang or Sarchu for the night halt. Well, visiting Pangong has so far not been materialised but still I don’t regret change of my plans that day. Ladakh Festival is indeed something not to be missed. 

Start of parade from the Leh market
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Monks from the various monasteries
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people from different regions in their traditional costumes
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even their animals including Yaks were there in the parade 
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and, those for whom Ladakh is also known as- its Polo

The Ladakh Festival is a cultural extravaganza and showcase event for the region, held every year. The main aim of organising this 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 dances and songs of different parts of Ladakh. 

reaching the Leh polo ground for the inaugural ceremony
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it was a riot of colours
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headgears of different shapes, styles and colours
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ALSO READ:  Lonely at mighty Baralachala Pass
women from Turtuk village which was decades ago in Pakistani occupation
everybody was enjoying the moment

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 has seen considerable change over the years. Earlier it used to be celebrated for 15 days from 1st to 15th September. Than it was curtailed to a week and dates were shifted to 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its surrounding villages. This year this festival is being organised as Leh Tourism Festival from 22nd to 25th September, i.e. for four days. Even last year there was a four day festival.

flowers on their head
a glimpse of monastic dances
a lady in full traditional attire

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 days have 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.

tourists from around the world enjoying the atmosphere

Ladakh in September

September is often considered to be the one of the best time to travel to Ladakh, especially for those who prefer to ride or drive to Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. Weather is clearer, roads are in good condition and water crossings will have less water. Region would be more green after monsoons, skies will be more blue and since it would already be nearing the end of the season, hence tourist traffic would be certainly less. Since all the hotels in region and enroute Leh operate till the Puja holidays, there would be no risk of not being able to get room or food. And, then witnessing Ladakh festival can be reason good enough to add to all this.

Have you ever been to Ladakh Festival? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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A win for the green at Chilika


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Its a win for the environmental cause. It is also a slap in face for all those who promote mindless fancy projects in name of tourist promotions. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has been forced cancel the water aerodrome project at the Chilika lagoon following objections from various quarter. However in a face saver it has offered to develop the project in Odisha if the state government provides it with an alternative site. Chilika, the second largest brackish water lake in the world, covers Khurda, Puri and Ganjam districts of Odisha. Situated at the mouth of the Daya River, Chilika is rich in biodiversity and a major tourist attraction in the state.

A colony of flamingos at Chilika

AAI chairman Guruprasad Mohapatra said: “Following a request from the state government to cancel the project as it would affect Chilika’s ecology, we have cancelled the project.” Making it clear that the AAI wants development of the state, Mohapatra said: “If the state government gives any proposal to develop a water aerodrome in the state, we will provide them all help. However, they have to submit the proposal within three weeks.” In June, the AAI had announced to set up aerodrome projects in Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. Chilika in Odisha was the preferred site. The civil aviation ministry had given its nod to the Chilika proposal. The ministry also cleared Gujarat’s Sardar Sarovar Dam and Sabarmati River Front for similar projects in the first phase. But it is said that ministry didn’t consult all concerned stakeholders before giving the nod. If sources are to go by, the Ministry only took into consideration data and information related to tourism at Chilika but did not take on board the key stakeholder, Forest and Environment Department of the State. Although there has been claims by the the Civil Aviation Ministry about a joint team conducting a study, Chilika Development Authority (CDA) was apparently not consulted.

Fishermen in Chilika Lake in Odisha, India

In a letter to chief secretary A.P. Padhi, the AAI chairman had said: “The Airports Authority of India plans to set up water aerodromes. For starting amphibious aircraft operation in Odisha, Bhubaneswar airport and Chilika lake have been shortlisted for a pre-feasibility study. The government will identify the site in Chilika.” Odisha initially had not objected to the proposal. A team of experts from the Centre had visited the area and conducted a study. Subsequently, environmentalists and the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) raised objections. BJD leader from Chilika area and Brahmagiri MLA Sanjay Das Burma and Khurda MLA Rajendra Sahu had objected to the proposal. BJP had slammed BJD for opposing the Centre’s efforts to boost employment in the area. However, the saffron party’s own MLA Dilip Ray had supported the BJD.

Also read: Winter Play for migratory birds at Chilika

Everywhere around, you can find a colony of migratory birds at Chilika

In a letter to the state government, chief executive, CDA, Sushanta Nanda had said: “Operation of seaplane and water aerodrome at Chilika, the world’s second largest brackish water lake, is likely to cause irrevocable damage to the ecosystem and livelihood of people dependent on it. The cost involved in the operation of seaplane seems to outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from it. Besides, legally the project is not feasible.” The operation of the aerodrome at any given location in the lake will have far reaching adverse consequences on its fragile ecosystem, the CDA maintained. He had also said: “The legal provisions under Wetland Conservation and Management Rule, 2017, are applicable to the internationally acclaimed Chilika wetland site. The rules strictly prohibit its conversion for non-wetland use. Construction of aerodrome is therefore not legally permissible as Chilika is a wetland site.” Such an aerodrome would require water runway for landing and take-off while associated facilities would have to be developed for docking sea aeroplanes, taxiway, apron, tourists’ entry check-in, re-fuelling, beacon lighting, offices, staff buildings among many things.

An amphibious aircraft

“Chilika is ecologically too fragile and precious for such experiments. Besides direct risks that are associated with plying aircraft in an area known for its mass congregation of birds, fuel and lubricant spills, emissions, noise pollution etc, ancillary development that will precede and follow the setting up of an aerodrome will only negatively impact the lake’s ecology,” says conservationist Aditya Chandra Panda.

Nalabana bird sanctuary

The CDA maintained: “With one million birds congregating in the lake, the operation of seaplanes will be hazardous to winged species as they will either be sucked in the engines or be hit by the planes during its landing. The possibility of bird hit will also pose a threat to air travellers.” For six months between October and March, Chilika turns into a temporary habitat for lakhs of migratory and residential birds. The lake is home to 230 bird species, of which 97 are intercontinental migrants from Arctic and Eurasian regions. It saw congregation of close to 9 lakh birds during the last winter. For a majority of resident bird species, the 1100 sq km lagoon is a prime breeding site. It also holds a notified protected area, Nalabana Bird Sanctuary, which is spread over 15 sq km. The lake supports over 225 birds, 260 fish apart from 37 reptile and amphibian and 18 mammal species besides a large varieties of flora.

Rajahamsa island in Chilika lake

According to CDA, the birds are not only a major tourist attraction, but also help to recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem through “guano deposits”. Guano, the accumulated excrement of seabirds, is rich in nitrogen, phosphates and potassium- nutrients that spur the growth of vegetation. When birds forage the water, the vegetation in it thins and enables free movement of fish. If the bird population shrinks, livelihood of about two lakh fishermen dependent on Chilika is at risk, the report warns. Moreover, seaplanes have limited passenger carrying capacity which means that such a project may not add significantly to tourism. Besides, Chilika is extremely well-connected by road communication.

A sea gull playing around a Irrawaddy Dolphin in Chilika lake

The CDA had cited that noise from the flights would distract the Irrawady dolphins, an endangered species found in the lake, which have highly sensitive hearing. Noise pollution generated by close to 10,000 boats has already taken a toll on the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the lake. The amphibious aircraft operation would have add to the woes. As many as 155 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins were spotted in Chilika, which is the single largest habitat of this species in the world and is also one of two lagoons in the world that shelter them. After clearing the lake of illegal man-made enclosures, dolphins have now started moving freely in all sectors. Meanwhile, the Odisha government has decided to regulate boat operation in the lake following the death of six passengers in a recent boat tragedy. It has made life jackets mandatory for tourists and GPS on the boats.

A fisherman adjusting his net in Chilika lake

Have you ever been to Chilika lake? Do you think it needs a water aerodrome? Share your views in the comments section below.

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Where a train takes you to the Caves!

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Estimated to be over 2 million years old, the Al Hoota Cave is one of Oman’s most popular natural tourist attractions. Located off route 21 between Nizwa and Bahla at the foot of Oman’s epic mountain Jabal Shams, just 2 hours drive from Muscat, it is the first and only cave in the Arabian Peninsula which is open to visitors. With a total length of around 4.5 kilometres, around 500 metres of the cave is accessible to the general public.

The one hour guided tour starts from the Visitor’s Centre with a short ride in an electric train that carries passengers up to the cave entrance. Once inside the cave, it’s a feast for the eyes as you walk on the pathway and witness an enormous subterranean cavern filled with stalactites, stalagmites and colourful solid rock columns. Don’t miss the popular lion’s head, the cat, the old man and countless other intriguing shapes and an 800m long underground lake that is home to the rare blind fish – Garra Barreimiae and many other animal species like bats, arthropods, mollusks, spiders, snails and water beetles.

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While the Al Hoota Cave is made of stone, it was created by water. Like many other caves in Oman, the Al Hoota Cave system was formed by the dissolution of limestone by acidic water. When rainwater dissolves carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or soil, it produces a dilute carbonic acid that dissolves the limestone as it runs over it, thus forming the cave. Every 100 years, the water dissolves through 10mm of rock – so it takes a long time to create something as spectacular as the Al Hoota Cave! Fascinating features such as stalagmites, stalactites and of course the magnificent lion of the cave are formed by mineral deposits as water drips into or moves through the cave system. Some of the columns and curtains you will see in the cave have been shaped over millions of years.

Post the tour; also visit the geological exhibition for an interesting insight into the geology of Oman and an in-depth study on how these caves were formed. Owing to its delicate ecosystem, a maximum of only 750 people are allowed to visit the caves on a day, hence it is ideal to do prior booking. The cave is open to visitors every Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm.

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You could combine your trip with a visit to Nizwa to experience the magnificent Fort and Friday market or see the traditional architecture of Al Hamra and the beautiful atmosphere of Misfit al Abryeen. You could stroll through Wadi Tanuf or do the rim walk at Jebel Shams before lunch at Al Hoota followed by an afternoon visit to the cave.

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Have you ever been to Al Hoota cave? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

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