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May 1, 2017

Wonderlands around Shimla...

The mountains, when covered with dense forests may look similar, but something is surely in the air. When it comes to driving nothing beats the romance of snaking in the hills around Shimla. Is something actually in the air of Shimla and surrounding places or it is just the unparalleled beauty of this heavenly region...?
Outskirts of Shimla are the places which separates visitors from explorers. If you ask people if they have visited Chail, Kufri, Mashobra and Naldehra; there is good chance to hear that most of the people would have ended on Kufri only. These four locations can be covered in a day if you start from Shimla before the first ray of the sunlight. Though you may also enjoy a night stay of perfect solitude at Chail or at Naldehra.
To explore these out of the world spots where blanket of Pine and Deodar trees grace the landscapes, this eternal vagabond started his early morning drive to Chail (51 km. from Shimla) to get an authentic morning mystic feel of the valleys. Till Kufri (20 Km. from Shimla) you will find many visitors. Once you will move ahead from Kufri, its only nature and yourself, enjoy the symphony of birds chirping, whistling of tree leaves and your camera clicks.

On this road you will get recurring thoughts of leaving the cosmetic world and reclaim the life lost in maddening cities. Submerged in these divine thoughts we reached the end of road at the Kali Mata temple, 6 km. from Chail town.

Praying to almighty for such a beautiful outing:

From Kali Mata temple, one can enjoy a magnificent 360-degree view of the surroundings. You, yourself and the unspoilt nature…

One can also enjoy a royal stay at Chail Palace. While returning from Chail, the first spot at Kufri is the zoological park, Himalayan Nature Park.

Kids will surely have a great time in company with Deer, Black Bear, Tibetan Wolf, Leopard, Sambhar, Barking Deer, Monal and lot of birds.

Horse riding in the mountains is one of the most favourite activity. Horse ride at Kufri will take you to the top most point in Kufri. Negotiate for a return journey and include Mahasu Peak in the itinerary. Most of the horse operators will try to give a miss to Mahasu Peak.

During the horse ride to Mahasu Peak, striking terrace farming is worth mentioning…

Try to get closer to these beautiful mountains, even the tress are too gorgeous...

Mahasu Peak is the highest point in Kufri. On a clear lucky day, you may enjoy snow covered Badrinath and Kedarnath ranges from Mahasu Peak.

There is also a small temple at the top, from where you can pray to the almighty Goddess and continue clicking breath taking views of the surroundings:

In winters this place is covered with snow. Coming back from Kufri a right turn will take you to Fagu village, from here one more beautiful view of the surroundings...

Going further ahead on the road to Fagu, you will reach New Kufri to indulge in some adventure sports.
In the way to Naldehra, we came across a spot where all the vehicles were taking a halt. The spot had a thick green blanket on the mountains. It was so green that the name of the spot is actually “Green Valley”. A view worth cherishing and life time memoirs...

It was late afternoon when we reached at Naldehra (26 km. from Shimla). Evening sunlight peeking from the trees make a perfect itinerary for a romantic walk in the woods. Major attraction at Naldehra is the swanky golf course, which is one of the oldest golf courses in India.

From the drop point one can either take a horse ride or can enjoy a relaxing cozy walk, surrounded by tall pine trees. With such panoramic settings, no surprise Naldehra is also one of the most preferred spot for film shootings. No one has stopped you from running around the trees and singing a song for your beloved and feel like a film star in these woodlands...
You need not be a member of this legendary golf course in order to enjoy its beauty. Also there is a small temple dedicated to Snake God (नाग देवता) Mahunag temple on the golf course premises. Every Sunday lot of devotees come here to worship the deity and a huge fair is held every year on occasion of Makar Sankranti.

There is a passage road which divides this golf course into 2 parts and also serves as a passage to nearby villagers for their daily commuting to other side of Naldehra. Lucky are the people of that village who are entitled for such a daily walk/ ride from this wonderland.
Sorry in my excitement for Naldehra, forgot to mention about the exquisite Mashobra valley, which is in the way to Naldehra when coming from Shimla. Have a look…

With delightful memories of the day and a delicious diner at Mall, our schedule for next morning was to drive to Kullu and then to Manali.
Keep on travelling and keep on exploring, after all “Life is a Journey, not a destination” ...

April 1, 2017

Mesmerized in Shimla

Some of the places are fortunate to be blessed with all-time pleasant weather and unmatched natural beauty. For such spots you need not plan, just pack your bags and go. Located at a distance of 350 km. from Delhi, Shimla is one such destination. No doubt Shimla is always a preferred attraction in Himachal Pradesh for  tourists from every part of the world. 

Snow-covered peaks and picturesque valleys make Shimla a popular choice for a weekend getaway from Delhi. Excellent road condition from Delhi will ensure a fun filled driving till Shimla. But there is a better option, take a night train from Delhi to Kalka and then enjoy the legendary toy train ride from Kalka to Shimla. If you can afford a little extra time, trust me to take the toy train. Lovely stations and amazing natural settings will bring out your camera much earlier than expected. Start with the lovely Toy train, running on the ancient narrow gauge rails...

The lovely Barog station mark, named after Colonel Barog, British engineer who was in charge of boring tunnels in Kalka-Shimla railway…

Once you land in Shimla, first spot to explore is the Mall Road. The Mall Road at Shimla is the most visited, most searched and perhaps the most blogged spot in India. Mall is a hub of social life and has amazing variety of cuisine from every part of the world, no doubt party never stops here.

When it comes to shopping, Mall ranks prominent besides any other fashion street of the world. The location of Mall in the twists and turns of the mountains also provide an ideal venue for a leisurely romantic walk too.

What separates Shimla from other hill stations is splendid colonial structures, old-world cottages and numerous options for charming walks. Likewise, one of the oldest churches in India, Christ Church is at the Mall...

and adjacent to the church is the State Library and a view point to check beautiful nearby landscpaes...
The Gaiety Theatre on the Mall is an imitation of an old British theatre and also serves as a centre of cultural activities. Other spots are State Museum on the Mall.

One can use the passenger lift from the Cart Road to reach the Mall, vehicles are not allowed on the Mall Road. Lakkar Bazaar adjacent to the Ridge is popular for its wood-crafts and souvenirs. 

There is also a spot at Mall by the name Scandal point, from where you can click awesome views of the lavish natural wealth spread on the mountains.

However, there is a story attached with the Scandal point - Maharaja of Patiala and the daughter of then Viceroy were madly in love with each other and both have eloped together from this point. As a result of this daring act, Maharaja of Patiala was forbidden to enter Shimla again. To retaliate Maharaja of Patiala made Chail his summer capital to much envy of British.

Have to move on from Mall now as there other attractions in Shimla; Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, housed in the former Viceregal Lodge building: With old English architecture and attractive lawns, this is one of the most historically significant attraction in Shimla. Located at the Observatory Hill, Viceregal Lodge was built in 1888. The entry in the institute is by ticket. Viceregal Lodge was the summer residence of British Viceroy and the entire sub-continent was administered from here, usually from April to October each year.

If you are driving yourself, please check about the route from local traffic police as some of the roads have been made one way and some of the roads are closed for certain time in order to manage traffic.
After this splendid experience at Viceregal Lodge, it was the time to pray at JAKHOO Temple. Dedicated to Lord Hanuman, Jakhoo temple is situated at the highest peak in the town. Get ready to shake hands with lot of monkeys in the premises. However, don’t worry monkeys will not trouble you at all and will accept anything you will offer to them. Start praying as soon as you step inside the temple, with sacred verses of Hanuman Chalisa painted on the walk way.

The main Jakhoo temple premise...

Also the temple has world’s highest 200 ft. high statue of Lord Hanuman. The temple has connection with days of Lord Ram. It is believed that when Lord Hanuman was going to Himalayas to bring the Sanjeevani herb for curing Laxman, he stopped at this place to know about the Sanjeevani herb from sage Yaksh. Due to weight of Lord Hanuman, top of the hill had got flattened and half of the hill went inside the earth. Subsequently a temple was built around the place where feet of Lord Hanuman were spotted.
Narrow approach road to the hill is a path where can relish the luxury of enjoyable walks and can have beautiful view of Shimla from here.

There is another temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, Sankat Mochan Temple. It is situated towards the outer side of Shimla on way to Kalka. It was dark when we reached this temple, however the illuminated temple at night did not disappointed us. Poor people can have free food on every Sundays.

Continue further for around 11 km. towards Kalka Highways to reach Tara Devi temple. This is 250 years old temple and it is believed that Goddess Tara arrived here from West Bengal in order to protect this place.

Located on a hill top, Tara Devi Temple provides some excellent views of the countryside. Other than mystic peace, one can enjoy 100% clean fresh air.

Vow, every step and every lane is worth lifelong memories. To be honest I feel jealous about people who have got a chance to reside in this heaven. Now I understand why Shimla is so much sought after vacation spot, despite increasing population and traffic; charm of this place is still intact.
Shimla is surrounded by pine, deodar, oak and rhododendron forests. After city tour, it was the time to get ready for next day trip to surrounding locations like Chail, Kufri, Mashobra and Naldehra to check deodar/ pine forests’ covered ranges, valleys with whispering water streams and swaying fields. Please keep one spare day for exploring outskirts of Shimla, before you leave for Manali.
Keep traveling Guys...

March 19, 2017

Painted Shelters of Cavemen at Lakhudiyar, Almora

After crossing Almora town and driving for approx. 16 km. towards Jageshwar, we came across a signboard of Archaeological Survey of India saying painted cave shelters at Lakhudiyar.
None of the passing vehicles were stopping at this point, however putting aside our hesitation, we decided to move ahead and explore this point.
Situated on the Almora-Barechhina road, along the banks of river Suyal, we were just about to check into the secrets of the Stone Age. It is believed that early man or cave men during the stone age used to dwell inside these cave shelters to protect themselves from animals and weather.
While staying here the cave dwellers have expressed themselves by form of artistic portraits on the walls and roofs of the caves. With colours like white, red and black they have depicted their daily life activities like hunting. Red colour is still very distinctly visible, need to appreciate the composition of these colours which have withstood since stone age.

The main subjects which figure prominently in these paintings are human figures, animals, and trees. Going closer we can make out that Deer, fox and lizards are appearing as animal paintings and human resembling figures are like dancing in a row. Paintings are at a height of 3.75 metres. In one group 34 human forms can be identified while in the other group there are 24.

Lakhudiyar means “One Lakh Caves” and has been acknowledged as the best in terms of illustrated scenes and activities of the primitive men in this region. Such cave shelters are also found in some other locations of Uttarakhand and measure up to such paintings found in other parts of the world.
Spending around 15-20 minutes here visualising the times and lives of early men, we continued our voyage to Jageshwar Dham

March 1, 2017

Bodhgaya - Where Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment...

Long back a boy got so much disturbed on seeing the people suffering in the vicious cycle of life and dying. One fine day he left his house in search of divine knowledge which can provide freedom from the cycle of life and death. The name of the boy was prince Siddhartha. He travelled relentlessly across places in search of that knowledge. Finally, he decided to sit in deep meditation to attain that wisdom under a tree. Legend says the demons of darkness, illusion and ignorance were unleashed onto him, but his wisdom conquered all the devilish forces. By now prince Siddharth had become “Lord Buddha”, meaning the Enlightened one. And the place where he attained the enlightenment was Bodhgaya.
Far from the eyes of the popular travel itineraries lies the town of Bodhgaya, the most revered destination for Buddhists worldwide. Mahabodhi temple complex is the spot where Buddha had attained enlightenment. It is one of the earliest built Buddhist temples, still standing.
References found shows that the temple was initially built by king Ashoka around 246 BC and was further revamped in 5th -6th century during reign of Gupta dynasty. The main temple is 50 m. high structure built entirely in brick is a classic example of ancient Indian architecture.

Beautiful statue of Lord Buddha in this temple...

There are also a lot of small temples spread around the Mahabodhi temple complex.

Next to Mahabodhi temple is the giant 25 m. statue of Lord Buddha in meditation pose. The statue took 7 years for construction and unveiled in 1989 in the presence of Dalai Lama.

And of course there is a giant tree under which price Siddhartha attained enlightenment. However, the present tree is the 4th generation direct descendent of the original tree.

Ashoka Pillar at the premises; There were a series of pillars erected by king Ashoka across Indian sub-continent. However only nineteen pillars survive now with inscriptions, and only six with animal capitals as these were a constantly targeted by invaders.

Walking around the temple campus provides references to important events from life of Lord Buddha. Likewise, Buddha had spent 3rd week after enlightenment while walking around at Chakraman Sthal. Wherever he put his feet on the ground lotus blossomed out of the ground. Raised lotus platform depicts the place where Buddha had walked.

Muchalind Tank: Buddha was meditating (6th week after enlightenment) in sitting posture at this place. Legend says that snake king Muchalind protected Buddha during meditation from intense storm and rains sent by dark forces.

Statues of bodhisattvas stand in one of the gardens…

Since Bodhgaya is the most esteemed of the all the sacred Buddhist sites, devotees from all over the world come to this place to seek peace and freedom from life and death cycle, attain “Nirvana”. Countries like China, Japan, Thailand, Tibet and others have constructed temples at this place.
Thai monastery was built by monarch of Thailand in 1956. It is the only Thai temple in India and displays the beautiful Thai architecture.

Check the 2 guards at the entrance of the temple...
Statue of Lord Buddha in the Thai temple...

Beautiful caricatures at Thai monastery premises...

Tibetan Mahayan monastery was built in the year 1938. Tibetan monastery conducts various courses on Buddhism principles and also provide shelter to Buddhist tourists from around the world.

Festivals related to Lord Buddha are celebrated in these monasteries. Especially the Buddha Jayanti (birth of Lord Buddha) festival on a full moon night in the month of April-May to commemorate the Buddha's enlightenment. Prayers, lessons on the Buddha’s life, recitation of Buddhist scriptures, meditation and worship of the Buddha's statues are conducted in these festivals.
Other than Bodhgaya Lumbini in Nepal (Birth place), Sarnath (first teaching place) and Kushinagar (Mahaparinirvana) are important and sacred Buddhist places. After Buddha had attained enlightenment, he went to Sarnath to give his first teachings of Buddhism.
Gaya is situated along the Falgu River, a tributary of the river Ganga, it is also a major Hindu pilgrimage centre. People come here for an offering to free their ancestors from the cycle of birth and death. Vishnupad temple is the main temple which was built by the Maratha princess Ahalya Bai of Indore in 1787. It is believed that temple contain a footprint of Lord Vishnu.

To reach Gaya:
By Train: Gaya is located on Delhi-Patna/ Kolkata route and most of the express trains have a stop at Gaya. Bodhgaya is 16 km. from Gaya.
By Air: Closest airport is Gaya Airport, approx. 21 km. away. Patna Airport is about 130 km and a 4-hour drive by road. 
By Road: Gaya is well connected by roads to all major cities.
To stay in Gaya: There are a number of hotels within the town centre suitable to all budgets.
Keep travelling Guys...
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