February 2019

India's Mini Switzerland

India’s Mini Switzerland… 6194 kms.. from Berne

Posted By : Laliitha Aiyer/ 997 0

There’s something about the Mountains….

Something that draws my soul to them repeatedly….

There’s a life lesson in the Mountains, the higher we travel, the sounds and sights get more magical… its almost like they are telling you- ‘Make the effort to know me and you will experience the ethereal’…

My quest to be in the mountains has taken me across some of the most marvelous vistas of India… Himachal, Uttarakhand,  Kashmir, in the North,  the Western Ghats in Maharashtra and Kerala, the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and more recently, the eastern Himalayas in Sikkim. Just like ocean lovers will vouch that there is a uniqueness to each ocean and sea and even different beaches along the same coastline, each Mountain is amazingly distinct and every town, village and pitstop along the ascents and descents, has a view, breeze, ambience that’s its own…

When I ventured to travel solo for the first time, I opted for Khajjiar, a tiny Hamlet nestled in the Dhauladhar Mountain Range in Himachal Pradesh, 25 kms from Dalhousie. A friend suggested the place and I was drawn from that moment onward.

Referred to as Mini Switzerland, there’s a signboard in the picturesque Khajjiar meadow ( where innumerable Bollywood films have been shot) showing the distance from Khajjiar to the Swiss capital, Berne- 6194 kms..

Most travelers on the tourist trail tend to stay at Dalhousie and opt for a mandatory sight-seeing day sojourn to Khajjiar….A gross injustice to oneself, rather than to the location… Experiencing Khajjiar up close by living within its folds, was for me, far more enriching, amazing and uplifting than the time I spent in Dalhousie..

My journey to Khajjiar began with a flight to Chandigarh and then a road journey to Khajjiar.. Had a comfortable vehicle waiting for me at Chandigarh airport that I had pre booked… Since I was travelling by myself, the owner of Saini travels, Kiran Pal Singh ( 9815925310)  who has a fleet of vehicles for Corporates and individual travelers, was thoughtful to the extent of joining the driver and me for the 8 hour journey to Khajiiar.. The journey went off comfortably and in a spirit of camaraderie.. ( the shorter route to Khajjiar is by flying to Amritsar and driving down from there via Pathankot).

For the discerning traveler ( that I am) Khajjiar offers a lone and thankfully one of the best accommodation facilities, in the Deodar Manor Heritage Bungalow. A fairy tale manor set in the midst of breathtaking topography, the centenarian bungalow is owned by the family of Sardar Hanut Singh Bal.

I enjoyed the best of both worlds at the Manor, with a luxury style Room and Bath (they have five rooms with different names based on the view from the room) that opened onto a spacious verandah opening into a sight for tired city eyes.. The warmth of Room service and homely meals cooked in the Manor kitchen made the experience altogether delectable. To my good fortune, I was the lone guest at that time and no intruders to my time with myself..

The lush Khajjiar Meadow is a short descending walk from the Manor… ringed by a circular pathway to amble on, Having taken a half circle of the meadow, I went on to sink my feet into the grass to walk across the meadow.. The Khajjiar lake is right in the centre of the meadow.. Depending on the time of the year that you visit, the lake can be smaller or fuller…There are benches to sit on and breathe in the silence, bird song, and the overall marvel of Khajjiar..  As long as I was in the meadow, tourist cars kept driving into the periphery to offload tourists and take them back to Dalhousie.. It was July and offseason so blissfully not as many people and as noisy as it could have been. But yes, I need to visit Khajjiar once again in winter to experience the snow carpeted views and feel..

Just off the meadow is a temple with a 85 metre towering, beautifully carved statue of Lord Shiva.. Whether you stand at its feet or take in its beauty as you walk through the multiple trekking routes around, or have a one of its kind view from atop as your paraglider soars over, the statue apparently has been spreading its bliss and peace into the surroundings…

One of the most memorable experiences of Khajjiar was going on a trek with a local guide arranged by the Manor staff, taking a rustic, jungle route, off the beaten path…  just the sound of our muffled footsteps in the grass and bramble, occasional birds, the wind as we climbed higher, a few cows and goats here and there…. And the green mountain range and blue sky dotted with pristine white clouds…. We climbed till we got a sort of small flat plateau at around 12000 feet and there were the paragliding team waiting… We waited a short while for the right wind speed and direction.. Then I was strapped… and off we soared….. High above the mountain range, the meadow, the tiny homes, the imposing statue… literally getting a birds eye view…. it was a superlative feeling… and then the safe landing in an open grassy area… Wow! An experience I relive many times over and will always remain treasured..

To those with a passion for the mountains, a discretion for the ‘different’, a yearning for basking in the lap of Nature, in one of its multifarious attractions… I would sincerely recommend a trip to Khajjiar as a standalone destination..

Hike to Triund, Two Rainbows and the Sleepless Night

Posted By : Sumit Singh Jamwal/ 739 0

Life of a travel and hospitality entrepreneur comes with its own challenges. A day is never enough and the nights put up a pause in number of things you can do. There is no weekend, day-off, holiday, as a matter of fact ‘holidays’ are busier than regular days.

Last year, around this time, I managed to squeeze some time out for myself with the sole motive of a reccee trip, which is aimed at discovering a new place, new experience. I managed to finish some work and pushed all pending assignments to future. A 4-day solo
motorcycle expedition across the northernmost part of Himachal around to the amazingly beautiful and smooth Pathankot Mandi route.

Somehow the idea of a solo long motorcycle trip over a new route infuses an amazing sense of adventure in you. Moving away from concrete roads and sights of garbage towards no roads and views of approaching mountains is a happy feeling. The unfamiliar terrains
instilled the same effect as did the Mumbai – Delhi motorcycle ride a couple of year ago. At dusk, the motorcycle headlight was matching its way with the center line markings right in the middle of mountains and deep valleys. With the surroundings being completely dark
and nothing to witness other than an occasional fox, porcupine and wild rabbits, it was kind of getting sheepishly boring. Right at that moment, I spotted it staring at me with such love and a bright off-white illuminance. I have not particularly been an admirer of the brightest and the closest star in the sky, but let us blame it on the past few hours of looking through the helmet blinders, the moon really appeared as if it was talking to me. As I tried to comprehend the exact meaning of our distinguished conversation, I was disturbed by a
panicking honk. As I stopped to notice the disturbance, there was this startled gentleman in his mid 20s staring at me with fear in his eyes and mouth wide-open. As I turned back to understand his agony, it appeared I had lost track of the line markings and was heading
straight towards the drop (moon, if my opinion counts here). With an awkward smile, I turned and rode past that angel while he stood their frozen and dazed to exchange any words or even reply to my awkward smile.

After a fifteen-hour tiring ordeal, Dharamshala welcomed me with such soothing arms that I literally gave in to the comfort of the mattress and white clean linen unmindful of hunger and other formalities. I woke up next morning to breakfast overlooking the Dhauladhars. I met a couple of Australians who schooled me on the best things to do and places to see in and around Dharamshala. Overwhelmed by their detailed itineraries and quest to help me do / see the right things, I deemed it fit to leave the place before they started fighting and set out towards the globally renowned Triund peak; although it was my first time in the vicinity. Mcleodganj is the in-thing they say and it is so packed that you might want to stay on its circumference if you are looking at a date with the mountains. But sadly so, the route to Triund passes through the overcrowded, honk-full cross-road in the main market of Mcleodganj. It is time, we preserve the sanctity of such places by making them vehicle-free.

You are not a ‘traveler’ if you don’t know that Triund is approx. 8kms from the Mcleodganj parking spot, but if you have a pair pf two-wheels with you, you can shorten the hike by another 2 kms. Pleased with my smart move like many others, I started my 6km hike
towards Triund top around noon. I was told that it’s a long a not-so-easy trek. As I walked past the police check-point at the beginning, it was humbling to note the garbage-bins and garbage bags being offered to all trekkers. God bless all our waste warriors.

My garbage bag was soon filled with all the plastic lying on the route and I used my rucksack to store the remaining pieces, till that was full too. It dawned on me that I am probably the most inexperienced hiker in our country as I walked through the ‘travelers’ devoid of
Bluetooth speakers, loud chatting friends, fried chips, cool sunglasses, cold-drink bottles, the occasional hat and the ubiquitous ‘ J-stuff’ in my pocket.

The trek to Triund top is beautiful, thankfully the path is not covered with tiles offering a natural feel just like valley of flowers and few other treks / hikes in our country. A little over couple of hours and I was welcomed at the top with rain and sunshine at the same time
giving birth to multiple rainbows. While I was struggling to click a selfie with the rainbows in the background, a soft-spoken god-sent girl pulled me out of my misery and helped me spoil an otherwise beautiful image of the valley, rainbows and a hill dog. It took a while for the
rain to subside and there was ample time for us to exchange words under a little shed offered by the chai-ki-tapri.

I had not realized till that very moment, that if you do not have a chalked-out itinerary of your trip, do not know much about the place or choose to listen than talk and are just taking things as they come, you are interestingly cool, not strange. After the rain, there was a lot of
work for the limited caretakers and too many tourists as I found my tent for the night. There was suddenly a barrage of ‘travelers’ emerging out of different tents and corners of the Triund ridge as they overtook one huge rock at a time and their partners clicked new profile pictures for their social media pages. Somethings are witnessed better with eyes and the go-pro set to capture the sunset time-lapse didn’t help much, else that and not the sunset would have become the highlight of my Triund video.

I met another lone soul who had lost his friends to another group and was struggling to get a good picture of himself with the amazing background. I helped and the same was reciprocated. My picture went on to get me the highest number of likes on my Instagram till
date, thanks much (really tried finding his insta handle, hope he reads this and helps me update the same). Let’s call him Harsh (pls don’t kill me for this). After a brief exchange of words with Harsh while shooting lightening in the shy, he decided to join me in the latter
part of my road trip. He was warned of all the uncomfortable adventures that could present themselves in the days to come, but looked like Harsh is a risk-seeker. So, he gave up his tent and moved next to mine. The night was pretty much uneventful minus the loud
cheering and singing and tripping over tents by all the party people at The Triund ridge. After finishing the sunrise shot and watching a restless line outside the only toilet at the Triund ridge, we decided to race back to Mcleodganj with our intestines tied to each other
preventing mishap on the way down. We shot the introduction shot for the Triund video on the way down as I had Harsh hold my smartphone for a couple of retakes (P.S. if you don’t like the intro, please remember the situation we were in). We moved on to cover more of Mandi-Pathankot National Highway in the following two days, more on that later.

Facts and information about Triund:

  • The trek till Triund ridge is popular (read overhyped) among the college crowd of North India who would lose their breath while trekking up but will sing loud songs over liquor and marijuana outside their tents all night.
  • Travelers do not care of cleanliness or hygiene, though there are some real warriors who are trying to help preserve the place for the next generation (if at all).
  • A lot of travel agents are overselling Triund as a hot cake and the cost for a tent ranges between INR 600 – INR 1500 per night depending on your vulnerability and their smartness. The local agents’ coterie does not really allow you to pitch your
    tents on the top as also there is no place left.
  • It is a beautiful ridge with amazing views of Dhauladhar and the valleys. It is an easy trek for anyone with average levels of fitness. The height of the ridge is over 2800 meters, 9350 ft.
  • If you are looking for a decent sleep at night, Try and take a tent farthest from the crowd and hope for the best.
  • The trek till Indrahar pass (Altitude 4342 meters, 14245 ft) is ideal but only deal with it if you are serious and prepared for it. It is ideal to take a guide along for Indrahar pass.

Request: If you are heading to Triund anytime soon, please respect nature and try and leave the place as you would like to see it again.

Watch the video for a visual delight.


Venice To Start Charging Day Visitors With An Entry Fee Soon

Posted By : SS/ 583 0

Apart from paying a charge of €3, you will also have to pre-book your day visit to the Italian city.

If a Venice trip is what you have in mind for this summer, make sure to keep your entry permit handy. The island city will soon begin to charge an entry fee of €3 (INR 246/-) from its day visitors, starting May 1 this year. The decision was taken keeping in mind the heavy tourist inflow to Venice every year. However, students and the tourists there for an overnight stay, are left exempted from the same, since the hotel tariffs in the city already include a tourist fee.

Additionally, from next year on, this fee will vary from €3 (INR 246), €6 (490) upto €10 (INR 820/-), depending on the inflow during the day. The levy charges will be incorporated into tickets of tourists who arrive by cruise ship, in water taxis and by plane or train. If caught, the defaulters will have to pay a hefty fine of €100 (INR 8,200/-), which can go as high as €450 (INR 36,000/-). An online system for pre-booking day visits will also be introduced in 2020. Alternatively, you can avoid all the hassle by snagging a Venezia Unica pass that will cover entrance, public transportation, and even pre-paid entry to a few popular spots in the city.

As per records, over 60,000 tourists visit the city during a day without staying the night, and contribute very little to economic growth. Outnumbering the total of 55,000 residents, this huge number of tourists imposes a great stress on transportation, sewage and other services. Hence, the money raised would go after cleaning and maintaining the lagoon city.