Goa

There are many ways in which people look at Goa…the sin city, a perfect weekend getaway, a place to let loose, the best place to party, a place for friends to bond, a place for couples to have a great time…that probably explains why Goa is such a perfect destination. It addresses various needs of various people. For me Goa was an enigma until I actually visited the place for the first time in January 2011. Since then I have visited this Indian equivalent of Vegas a couple of times already.

One should visit Goa only during Oct-Jan. Goa delivers maximum fun in this duration. If one visits Goa during any other period apart from this then one may find clubs and shacks closed, lack of crowd, etc… You will come across a sleeping Goa!!!

I had decided not to write about Goa as it is such a common destination that almost everyone I know has already been there but then repeated requests from a few close ones who wanted to hear about a firsthand experience about Goa compelled me to write about it.

My experience of Goa is more or less limited to the Aguada Fort, Candolim, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Arambol stretch of Goa. So if that is what you want to know about then read on.

All the three occasions that I have visited Goa, I have put up at Baga, as it is the most popular and commercialized beach in Goa. It has good crowd and lots of activities to indulge in. I generally put up at a guest house at Baga which belongs to a person called Prakash, just outside the Tittos Lane but the last time I was there, I stayed at a Villa which was owned by a person called Baba. This was a one storey villa with 4 AC rooms with attached bathrooms. It cost us Rs. 4000 a day for this Villa. One can accommodate as many friends as one wants in this Villa making it pretty reasonable.

For transportation, one can hire bikes/scooty/cars from Goa. I have personally never hired cars. I hire bikes from this person called John, who live at Baga itself. I paid Rs. 300/day for Bajaj Avenger for 4 days. If one books for more days, the rates can be negotiated accordingly.

As far a sightseeing in Goa is concerned, I have generally contained myself to the beaches with a failed attempt to go to Aguada. Baga is easily the most popular beach which houses a decent crowd. It has everything from water sports, to massage, to tattoos, etc… At Baga, one should make sure to have breakfast at Infanteria, which is on Baga road, not the beach. One should also try Brittos which is on the beach itself. St. Anthony’s which is next to Brittos on the beach, hosts Karaoke nights and they are great fun and should not be missed out on. One should also use the alternative route to enter Baga once in a while which is via Tittos lane. The end of Tittos lane also leads you on to the Baga Beach which is also a great place to sit and chill specially around sunset. I recommend water sports at this end of Baga rather than the Brittos end.

One can chose to take a boat ride from Baga to Anjuna. As far as I remember it costs Rs. 100 per head. Keep in mind, the boat services work only till 6 PM. So if you go to Anjuna by boat then make sure you have a boat to come back to Baga because, there is no conveyance to come back to Baga from Anjuna apart from the boat. One needs to have his own car/bike to travel in Goa. If not the boat, hire a bike/car and go to Anjuna which is about 7 KM from Baga. At Anjuna, you just can’t miss out on the sunset. One should sit it in the upper floor of Curlies, which is the most popular shack in Goa and go for a drink and a hookah and just relax there during the day. You can chose to read a book, watch a movie on your laptop, or just sit and chat at Curlies. I also recommend Anjuna as the ideal beach for playing around in the ocean as it has less and a better crowd as compared to Baga. At Anjuna, one should also visit this shack called ‘Tantra’. You need to walk further north, cross the rocks and you will find ‘Tantra’ on your right (See attached picture). It’s a pity, I never got to spend time at this shack though. Then, at Anjuna, one can experience the Wednesday Flee Market at the Big Banyan, it is very expensive though.

At night Anjuna is the place to be. Every night one of the shacks hosts a shack party for which the entry is generally free. My opinion is that when one is going to a beach destination, he should make it a point to attend as many of these beach parties as possible because one can go to regular clubs in the city anytime. I have attended such beach parties at Curlies, Shiva Valley, Hippies. All these three are on Anjuna. ‘Hippies’ is on the far end of the beach and is totally not worth it. But both Curlies and Shiva Valley rock. Owing to my last two visits to Goa, I would give Shiva Valley a upper hand as far as the beach parties are concerned. The parties there are crazy, I hope you know what I mean. Anjuna is the ideal destination if one is looking to commit a sin, any sin.

There, however, is one club in Goa that no one should miss. It is called Club Cubana and it is on the Arpora Hills, about 5 KM from Baga. It is a club that is built on a small hill. Once you are on your way to the club, just follow the laser lights in the sky to reach your destination! Make sure you take the safari ride to reach the club once you have parked your vehicle in the Cubana compound. Once you enter the club, you will see a pool on your left, so you can go for a pool party if you are game. Just after that you will cross the VIP area on your left. After climbing further, you will see a small building on your left which is the dance floor and on the right hand side is the drinking area. Cubana is extremely low priced, especially in context of the experience it gives. It charges in the vicinity of Rs. 700 – Rs. 1200 per couple with drinks on the house. There are a few more clubs which I have heard are great and deserve a visit being 9BAR, Hype, etc… but I have personally not been to any of these. Also from what I here, avoid going to Tittos or Mambos as they are extremely popular and play typical Bollywood style music, I am guessing you are not going to Goa to attend such parties. Cubana, however does not function throughout the year. It is shut during the summers and during the monsoons.

We had put of visiting Aguada Fort for a long time but decided to finally give it a go the last time I visited Goa, but it wasn’t meant to be. Aguada shuts at around 5 or 6, and that is exactly when we reached there. So we could not see Aguada, as it was closed. On the way back from Aguada, you come across the famed Kingfisher Villa on the left. Trust me, it deserves a good look, it is awesome. It is like a kilometre long and runs into the beach with a obviously a private beach.

After riding for another couple of Kilometres, one will come across the Candolim Road on the left. This road leads to the Candolim Beach, which is one of the prettiest beaches in Goa. It is calm, serene and ideal to sit down and have conversation against the backdrop of the sunset. For some reason this beach stand out, so far, I have not been able to figure out why. Let me know if you do.

While on your way back from the beach, on the Candolim Road itself, one comes across a restaurant that goes by the name ‘Inferno’ on the right. It is my favourite restaurant in Goa and a must visit. It serves continental dishes, if one likes continental, it is a must visit. Candolim is, by the way, also the beach where ‘Sunburn’ is hosted.

Calangute, I have heard is the most crowded beach but does not boast of a very good crowd and since it falls absolutely in the middle of Baga and Candolim, I have never felt the need to go to the Calangute beach. Having said that, I have always found the Calangute market and the city area pretty inviting. It is buzzing with energy, especially during the winter season.

The last destination I wish to talk about is Arambol beach which is a white sand beach and is yet another beach that is beautiful. It is however a little far off from Baga, I guess around 20 KM away. Arambol is the current favourites for the hippies, like Anjuna was earlier. So Arambol is set to be the next Anjuna. Beyond Arambol, it is rumoured that one can come across hippie settlement and the famed Russian Mafia in Goa. Arambol has a small private beach kind of a section, one should definitely go to that part of the beach if one visits Arambol. When one reaches Arambol, at the northern end of the beach, there is a small hill, on the hill is a small market. One should enter the market and keep walking which seems like as if one is climbing the hill, after walking for around 15 minutes, one can see a small secluded section of the beach, which is the place to be in when one is at Arambol. Make sure you don’t venture out into this section of the beach after dark.

Make sure you get down at ‘Thivim’ station to go to Baga and not ‘Madgaon’ in case you are going by train. The cabs take fixed rate in the vicinity of Rs. 500 for a ride to Baga. Auto Rickshaws are available for around Rs. 350.

I hope you have a great trip to Goa, I would be glad if my blog could be of any help.

Contact Details:

Curlies: +919822168628

Club Cubana: +919823539000

Baba: +919373902380

John: +919860272954

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Calcutta > The City Of Joy

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine who has an otherwise high awareness about things around was surprised when I told him that Calcutta is the best place for street food, actually, any food. It is at that point that I decided that I will write an article on Calcutta, concentrating on the lip smacking street food found in beautiful city, which I can challenge, is better than any other place in the world!

Calcutta is that city where one can have a filling meal for Rs. 10 to Rs. 10,000. My concentration in this article will be on the lower end of the spectrum! However, since I am a vegetarian myself, I will not be able to help much with the non vegetarian options!

No matter what one calls it, ‘Pani Puri, Golgappe, Gup Chup’…it is called ‘Puchka’. Puchkas are small round balls made out of flour or wheat (Acts as variety). They are filled with mashed potato mixed with a range of spices and tamarind water. It is generally very spicy and is found all over the city but if you are looking for the best try this one in Alipur. This hawker stands right opposite State Bank of India in Alipur next to Red Lounge (Get Directions). He keeps variety in terms of various flavors of water/sauce and is extremely tasty and unmatchable. There is another hawker on Russell Street who is very good and is actually the most famous Puchkawala in Calcutta. Look for him Bang opposite Teej, the restaurant, on Russell Street. (Get Directions)

If one is looking for Aloo Chat which is a yet another spicy dish prepared with sliced potato mixed with lots of spices, he should try this hawker on Camac Street outside Vardhan Market. You will find him right in front of the building next to Vardhan Market with his humble setup but trust me that will be the best Chat you will have ever had! (Get Directions)

While you are still at Vardhan Market, why not just take a walk towards the main entrance, cross it and take the first left. Just as you turn, you will see this store called Shibuji on your left. Now here is the thing, Shibuji is a very famous name in Calcutta especially for its various combinations of soft drinks and juices etc. but there are various copies of the original, this one, though, is the original. Try the Masala Thumbs Up there! (Get Directions)

If you are into Momos which is a Tibetan dish then the best by far is this place called ‘Hamro’. Hamro is near Elgin Road crossing. In fact when one is going from Elgin Road towards Exide Crossing, they need to take the first right and about 100 m into the lane, they will see Hamro on their right, it is just after Momo Plaza (Get Directions). This place is divine for someone who likes Momos. They serve Vegetarian, Chicken, Pork, steamed, fried, pan fried. Make sure you taste the ketchup that they serve at Hamro. It is the real reason for its success. They serve other food too but are just too famous for Momos. The restaurant looks kind of unhygienic but hey, who said that best places to eat are hygienic. However, you can drive up your car and get the ordered delivered to your car!

For tea, you will have to go to Tea Junction which are small eateries set up by Ambuja. A few places where you can find them are Park Street (Get Directions), City Centre, Vishvakarma Building, etc…they are all over the city. Also you can try this really small stall on the crossing of Hungerford Street & Shakespeare Sarani called Arun Tea Stall, fondly called ATS by the students of St. Xavier’s College & J D Birla College, the two most common represented institutions at ATS (Get Directions)!

If you are looking for cheap Chinese food then you may want to try Golden Dragon which is in the lane opposite to Music World on Park Street (Get Directions). Has the old Chinese feel to it and the food is awesome!

For Samosas or Singhara one should go to this store called ‘Deshbandhu’ on Bada Bazaar, Raja Katra. They prepare singharas the Bengali way and is just too delicious also try the Sweet Curd, ‘misti dhoi’ there, it is the best meal you’ll have all day (Get Directions).

For the ones who wish to try something outlandish and new, try ‘Doodh Cola’ at ‘Balwant Singh’ in Bhawanipur. It is near the gurudwara in Bhawanipur (Get Directions). It is basically a drink that is made by mixing Milk with Cola (Either Pepsi or Fanta generally). It is heavenly, it sounds like such a weird combination but trust me you don’t want to miss this! It is served in a jug and the vintage ‘Bhaandh’ (Earthen Cups) and one jug is good enough for 4 people.

While you are still at Balwant Singh, just walk across the street and find yourself standing at ‘Sharma Tea’ (Get Directions). This Sharma is the original of the famous ‘Sharma for Kachori Sabzi’. You will see a massive number of cars parked there every morning as people of all ages come to Sharma in the morning to have breakfast. You may also want to try the Lassi there! The Kachori-Sabzi, though, is served all day!

If one is looking for really cheap option for a filling lunch, they should try Kaka Tea on Mangoe Lane near Dalhousie (Get Directions). It is basically an eatery for all the office goers as the area has a high density of offices there. They serve wide variety of cuisines from Punjabi to South Indian to Chinese to snacks. One can have an amazing Punjabi Meal there for less than Rs. 60!!! The place though has no option to sit and one has to stand and eat, also during summers it gets unbearable due to the heat!

For South Indian food, one may try Jyoti Vihar on Ho Chi Minh Sarani (Lane bang opposite Pantaloons on Camac Street) (Get Directions). It is very reasonably priced and is pretty famous for its South Indian Food.

For Pav Bhaji which will make you bite your fingers, try Mayaram’s on Lord Sinha Road (See Directions). It is an extremely popular destination for Pav Bhaji.

Also there is something called ‘Aloo Dum‘ which is India’s answer to ‘Chilly Garlic Potato’. These are more popular in South Calcutta in areas close to Kalighat. One place which is very popular for chat in South Calcutta where you can find excellent Aloo Dum is Lake Kalibadi in Southern Avenue. This is right outside Vivekananda Park in Lake Gardens. (Get Directions).

That is all I can recall as of now, I am sure I am missing out a lot since you can never get enough of Calcutta. I hope I have been able to do some justice to the title!

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Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Important Contacts, Research & Information

My Itinerary:

Planned

10th morning – Reach Delhi

10th evening – Leave for Manali (14 hours journey)

11th morning – Leave for Jispa from Manali, cross Rohtang pass by at the earliest, reach Jispa

11th – Rest in Jispa for the rest of the day

12th morning – Leave at 5 AM from Jispa for Leh reach Leh at around 6 -7 PM

12th – rest in Leh try and get your inner line permit from the agent we hire to do the same

13th early morning – Leave for Nubra valley, Diskit (stay) and Hunder (7 KM from Diskit has sand dunes, Buddha statue and camel ride), reach Diskit before 4 PM so that monastery is not closed.

14th morning – Leave for Leh and travel Sumur, Panamik, crossing Khardung La we reach Leh

15th – Leave for Pangong lake day trip

16th – Visit local places and take rest

16th night – 1 AM leave for Manali

17 night – Reach Manali at around 7PM

17th night – Leave for Delhi

18th morning – Reach Delhi

18th night – Leave for ahd

Actual

10th morning – Reached Delhi

10th evening – Left for Manali (14 hours journey)

11th morning – Reached Manali

12th early morning, 2 AM – Left for Ladakh

12th Night, 7 PM – Reached Ladakh

13th – Traveled in and around Leh (Local Area)

14th Morning, 5 30 AM – Left for Nubra Valley, Diskit (One should make sure to reach Diskit before 4 PM so that monastery is not closed) and Hunder ( which has sand dunes, Buddha statue and Camel Ride)

15th Morning, 7 AM – Left for Pangong Lake (One can chose to stay overnight, we did not)

16th – Did shopping in the markets of Leh and left for Srinagar at 4 30 PM

17th Morning – Reached Srinagar

17th – Roamed around in Srinagar a little bit, went to Dal Lake, etc…

17th Evening – Left for Jammu

18th Morning – Left for Ahmedabad

19th Afternoon – Reached Ahmedabad

 

Other Options:

Full Day sightseeing of Indus Valley till Lamayuru

Adventure Sports: Zanskar valley – river rafting, rappelling

Local Options:

Visit Leh Palace, Shey Palace, Thiksey & Stok Palace, Hemis Monastery.

Visit Hall of Fame and Spituk Gompa as well in the evening.

Go to Shanti Stupa, do not use stairs as it will exert the body, go by Taxi to the top

Sunset at Changspa road and a nice dinner on varied cuisines offered in & around Changspa road.

 

Important Contacts:

Phoonsuk – +919622964136 Best Driver for local travel in Leh

Ravi – 09816508774 for travel between Manali and Leh [I didn’t use his service though]

Dorjey – 09419372742 For travel in Ladakh [Can arrange bikes as well, didn’t use his service either]

Lobzang Visuddha – 9906971808 [Travel Agent in Leh], sales and operations head, Ancient Tracks [Gave me a lot of info over the phone], tel: +91-1982 – 251583, mobiles: +91-9419862542/+91-9906971808, email: lvisuddha@yahoo.com, info@ancienttracks.com, web: http://www.ancienttracks.com

Himachal tourism development corporation

Dharamsala: +91 1892-224212

Manali: +91 1902-252116

New Delhi: +91 11-23717473, +91 11-23325320

Shimla: +91 177-2800073, +91 177-2652561

Email : shimla@hptdc.in or tpthptdc@hptdc.in

Taxi Union – Manali – +91 1902-252450

 

Cheap Accommodation:

Shanti Tours & Travel

Zangsti Road, Leh – Ladakh

Phone: 0091 – 1982 – 253084/250023

Mobile: +91-94191 78760, 99069 82118, 94198 88833

E-mail: info@shantitours.com, Website: www.shantitours.com

 

Medicine: 

Acetazolamide Diamox – Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) (mountain sickness – start 2-3 days before trip, allergic – consult physician for doze), Standard: 125 mg every 12 hours

 

Imp. Websites:

http://leh.nic.in/

http://devilonwheels.com/

http://www.holidayiq.com/destinations/reviews/Ladakh-Leh-Reviews.html

http://www.bcmtouring.com/travel-guides/ladakh-travel-guide/manali-leh-travel-guide.html

http://www.thrillophilia.com/leh.php

http://www.gonomad.com/transports/0511/ladakh.html

http://reachladakh.com/tour_operators.htm

http://www.60kph.com/interact/manali_leh_tips.htm

 

Distances:

Delhi to Manali: 534 km

Manali to Leh: 475 km

Manali to Dharamsala: 217 Km

Dharamsala to Delhi: 483 km

 

Innerline Permit:

http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/inner-line-permits-for-leh-%E2%80%93-ladakh/

For inner line permits you can go through the link below and download the application form. Completely fill the form and attach the photo copies of the photo ID proofs with it for all members in the group.. Write a request application addressing Leh – Ladakh DC showing your intent to visit places and request the issuing of inner line permits to you. If you are in group you can write the names of all the members on the group and attach copies of their photo ids proofs. Staple the bundle including inner line permit application form, request application you will write and photo copies of photo id proofs from here only. Then, go to Leh DC office once you reach Leh and submit the bundle along with the required fees. Get the permit signed from the ADC office and you are done. On the way back to hotel or sightseeing ahead, get 8-10 photocopies of the permits issued to you. You need to submit these photo copies of the permits at the check posts while going to Nubra, Pangong and Tso Moriri. This will save a lot of time for you up in Leh as there you will need to keep running up and down to photo copy shop for one thing or the other. Check the sample application form on the same link which we filled and you will get similar permit stamped and attested from DC office once all formalities are done.

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Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Ladakh > Kargil > Drass > Srinagar > Jammu

We saw a couple of Military battalions on our way out of Leh. We crossed the Magnetic Hill, where on a particular point if you leave your car; it defies gravity and starts rolling uphill. Soon we left the landscape of Ladakh behind us and entered started seeing patches of greenery. The entire while the driver played tribal music of Ladakh which to us after a point got really unbearable!

We stopped in a really small village to have dinner. We did this fairly early as it would be difficult to find food at night. We ate at this restaurant which was in a garden and the vegetables used in the food were grown in a farm right behind the seating area. The food was very good. We then carried on towards Srinagar. Once it was dark, we could see the moon which was unusually beautiful, it was so beautiful that next time I go, I don’t mind sitting in the open for a couple of hours to catch just one glimpse of that beauty! Also we had been told earlier that the mountains in this region reflect the moon’s light at night and we can see the mountains as if it were day. That was a little exaggerated but the reflection did happen and we could fairly make out the mountains even at night, it was magical. The route to Srinagar though is very muddy and it makes the journey uncomfortable. I feel asleep, and woke up straight away when we reached Drass at around 2 30 PM, I keep cursing myself to have missed out on Kargil but then, the moment was gone. I really wanted to get down in Kargil and talk to people of that town which had suffered such horror 12 years ago.

Drass, however, is another amazing place. It is the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia in Russia. The temperature in Drass was an astonishing -60 degrees on 9th Jan, 1995. Also, as told to me by a local resident of Drass who runs a tea shop for travelers early in the morning that this was the place where the militants had started their operations during the 1998 Kargil War. He told me that Tiger Hills, one of the major peaks captured by the Pakistani Army was just behind his shop, (I could not see the hill in the darkness) and the Indian Army had set up bofors guns to fire at the peak on the hill which was right in front of his shop. He also told us that the Pakistani Army had come down to this very village after their capture of Tiger Hills and that was when the Indian Army figured out the Pakistani operations and retaliated. I felt a sense of pride in being in a place of such historic importance to India, too bad it was still dark.

At exactly 4 AM, the Indian Army allowed the cars to pass by and that is when dawn broke, slowly, the mountains started being visible and it was astounding. In less than an hour we crossed Zojila Pass which seemed like the gateway to Srinagar. As soon as we passed the Zojila Pass we were treated to a vast expanse of snow and greenery combined. We had reached Srinagar. From there on, till we entered the main city a gushing stream of water accompanied us all along, along with beautiful green mountains. I just could not take my eyes off the landscape. We, however, were struck by reality every 5-7 minutes when we saw a bunch of Indian Army men carrying guns patrolling the area, it made us lament on the sadness of what Srinagar had become due to all the disturbances from the other side of the border.

We reached the city in a few minutes at around 6 30 AM and decided to check out a little bit of Srinagar before carrying on to Jammu as we had our train only next morning. We hired an Auto Rickshaw to take us around a spot or two. We first went to Dal Lake where we took a ride on a Shikara [Dal Lake special]. We went around for an hour during which we went to a floating cafe where we had ‘Kawa’, a specialty drink of Kashmir made out of dry fruits and had snacks there too, we also did a little purchasing from the various vendors who sell everything from everyday utilities to ornaments in their Shikaras. We checked out the floating market and the hanging garden before heading out of the Lake. We saw a glimpse of Shankaracharya, a very famous temple of Srinagar from the Shikara itself. We then went to the Mughal Garden Pari Mahal, which was not really our kind of place, but we went there just because Srinagar is famous for gardens and we just had to go to one.

We then came back to the parking lot and hired another shuttle service to Jammu. While on our way to Jammu we came across a beautiful hill station called Patnitop, a place I am planning to visit very soon. It is one of those beautiful small hill stations which have not been as commercialized as places like Manali and Nainital have become. Once we climbed down from there, we crossed a crossing from where one can go to Vaisno Devi, a very famous shrine in India and entered Jammu. Once we reached Jammu, we were sure the trip is over, the crowded city and the screaming people were back, we found a hotel for a night’s sleep and left for Ahmedabad by the early morning train Jammu Tawi express the next morning.

We resumed classes the very next day.

Next Post: Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Important Contacts, Research & Information

Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Last day in Leh

Next morning Aditya left for Delhi early morning and the rest of us woke up at around 10, since we had no specific plans for the day. We got ready and decided to explore the local market and do some shopping. Now, even though there was a cool breeze, the sun was really beating down upon us. We first went to the ATM, where we saw the most unusual of sights, it was a really long queue. It took us around an hour to withdraw cash. Post which we shopped for a short while before taking lunch and going for a final nap before we began our journey again. I bought a couple of the trademark Ladakh t-shirts with comments like ‘My friend went to Ladakh and all I got was this stupid T-shirt’, ‘Hard-Yak Ladakh (written in Hard Rock Cafe style)’, and I bought for myself a t-shirt which had the map of the route that we had taken to reach Ladakh and back home. One of the very sweet incident that explains why the people of Ladakh are so nice was when I had bought a t-shirt from a particular store but then found a better one in another store. I went back to this store and asked him to exchange it because I had found a better one in another store. I took it for granted that he would exchange because that is what shopkeepers in cities do but the shopkeeper told me at once that I did not need to exchange as he could refund the money!

We were scheduled to leave at 4 30 PM since the driver we had hired had insisted for the same. It is important for the car to reach Drass before 4 AM as that is the only time in the entire day when civilian cars are allowed to pass through the area. The military is very strict in the Kargil area even today, it has been 12 years since the Kargil war. The car came on time and we hopped on and off we were. I felt like I was leaving a part of me in Ladakh and carrying a part of Ladakh with me. At that moment, I knew, I don’t need excuses, Ladakh is heaven and we don’t need excuses to go to Heaven!!

Next Post: Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Ladakh > Kargil > Drass > Srinagar > Jammu

Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Pangong Lake

On the 15th morning, we left for Pangong Lake. Pangong Lake is that spot where the last scene of 3 Idiots, a Bollywood movie was shot. We decided to leave a little late so as to be amongst people this time and not lonely rangers. Pangong Lake is a 145 Km long lake with 45 Km in India and the rest 90 Km falling in the territory of China. We could literally see mountains in China from Pangong Lake.

We left around 7 AM  after having tea at the hotel itself and having a heavy ‘aloo paratha’ breakfast at a dhaba just outside Leh. We were already very tired and were expecting a nice drive to The Pangong Lake but were surprised when the driver told us that the route to Pangong Lake too is treacherous and cold. Pangong Lake was around 200 Km from Leh and it took us around 5 hours to get there. On our way to Pangong Lake we ended up crossing the Third Highest motorable road in the world when we reached the Chang La Pass which is at a height of 17,586 ft. (5360 meters) but we did not feel AMS the way we felt at Khardung La the previous day, maybe because we had acclimatized to the altitude.

Once we came down from Chang La Pass, we found a huge slab of ice in the middle of nowhere. We got down there and spent about 45 minutes, playing around…making ice balls and throwing at each other. We reach Pangong Lake at around 2 PM. The sight was breathtaking, it is without doubt one of the most beautiful sight one can come across. The lake, the landscape, the mountains, the sky, the ducks, perfect!

We sat down at one of the small restaurants there and had our lunch there in the midst of the heavenly beauty. We just could not have enough of the place, it was mesmerizing. We kept staring.

The exact spot where Indian Bollywood Star Amir Khan shot for his film ‘3 Idiots’ was still around an hour’s travel from the spot where most tourists come, the spot where we were, we decided to give the ‘3 Idiots spot’ a miss.

After sitting there for a couple of hours and clicking loads of pictures, we left for Leh. Initially, we had planned to stay there overnight and soak in the beauty of the place the entire day and the night too but Aditya had an early flight to catch the next morning to Delhi. We therefore left for Leh. On our way back, we came across a car that had broken down and it was carrying a family from Mumbai. Since we had the space we decided to help them as it is very difficult to find a mechanic in such a deserted route and cell phones don’t work in such areas. We reached Leh and once again saw the beauty of the place, when towards the west the Sun was setting and the sky was almost brightly lit but the Eastern sky had already announced nightfall with the moon shinning as bright as ever. It was at that moment when we realized that it was a Full Moon, I so rue the fact that we could not stay over at Pangong overnight but then, it just adds itself to the list of excuses that I making to visit the place again.

We reached Leh, and got our bookings done to leave Leh next evening. We had initially planned to come back via the Manali-Delhi route but the route is too difficult to travel and we were told by people in Leh that the route via Kargil is much better. The Manali route is heavenly but it has its drawbacks and also since we had already seen the Manali route, we decided to give Jammu a chance. So we booked a car service at the rate of Rs. 1000 per seat which would take us to Srinagar. This time we went for a shuttle as Aditya was flying down, leave us down to 3 only and a private car would have been a lot more expensive. After this we decided to go for dinner and all of us wanted to go to a rather exotic restaurant as it was the last evening that we would spend in Ladakh. We went to this restaurant called ‘Pizzeria’ which also happened to be on Changspa Road. The restaurant had a similar ambience as ‘Elements’ except that they did not run any movie and that business seemed a little better there. We had a good experience there too; however, it was almost too expensive for no real reason.

We came back to the hotel knowing that we had experienced an awesome trip which was going to come to an end tomorrow and just contemplating on it, we fell asleep.

Next Post: Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Last Day in Leh

Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Nubra Valley

On 14th early morning, we left for Nubra Valley. We were suggested to go early morning so that we could avoid the traffic. We did. In order to reach Nubra Valley one has to cross the highest motorable road in the world which is the Khardung La Pass at a height of 18,380 ft (5,602 meters.), just for a frame of reference, Mt. Everest is at a height of 29,029 ft. (8,848 meters.). It took us about one and a half hours to reach Khardung La Pass which was like really cold…it was so cold that flowing water had become frozen. Just before reaching the pass we crossed a door like natural structure with ‘India Gate’ written on it. Ladakh has such natural doors just before almost every important tourist location. One experiences AMS once they start nearing the pass; it is advisable not to indulge in too many physical activities once you reach there. An amazing attraction of the pass is the Rinchen Cafeteria which is the highest cafeteria in the world. It is a different high knowing that you had tea at such an exclusive cafe as this!

We climbed down from Khardung La and came across an army camp which invited tourists to their cafeteria to dine with them. We took up the opportunity and had Maggie with a few soldiers of the Indian Army. It was such a different experience being with them, listening to them, their stories, etc… The entire canteen was filled with posters of Bollywood celebrities, if I remember correctly Hrithik Roshan & Katrina Kaif were the most popular. After having breakfast at the camp we carried on with our journey towards Nubra Valley. Apart from Khardung La, the roads that lead to Nubra Valley were pretty good.

On our way to Nubra we crossed some amazing landscapes, we crossed a small creek where the car has to get into the creek and then come out of it, that spot is generally where tourists stop over to have a meal, we did too but I’ll talk about that latter. The spot where Abhijeet Sawant’s ‘Junoon’ video was shot was also very close to this creek.

While on our journey to Hunder which is a desert in Nubra Valley, we came across a landmark that took us by surprise. It said ‘Siachin Treadmasters’. Siachin is the highest inhabited glacier in the world, it is inhabited by the Indian Army. It is above Kashmir and in between, China & Pakistan. India occupied Siachin in April 1984 When Pakistan gave permission to a Japanese expedition team to scale the important Rimo peak in 1984 which was strategically not good for India.  India launched Operation Meghdoot (named after the divine cloud messenger in Kalidasa’s Sanskrit play) on April 13, 1984. Lieutenant General PN Hoon, the then commander of the Indian Army’s Northern Command based at Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir, led the assault. The operation pre-empted Pakistani operations by 4 days as Rawalpindi was to launch its operation on April 17, 1984. Currently The Indian Army controls the heights, holding on to the tactical advantage of high ground. Pakistanis cannot get up to the glacier while Indians can’t come down. Presently, India holds the entire glacier and commands the top of all three passes. (Read more about Siachin here: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/what-the-siachen-conflict-is-about/155981-3.html)

I have always been mesmerized by the idea of the highest peaks and Siachin is one that really excited me as it is one of Indian Army most remarkable achievements. Siachin was actually just about 80 km away from where I was standing. There is another tourist destination very close to Siachin called Panamik which is famous for hot springs. It is about 35 Km from Thirit which is where one turns in order to go to Diskit. Panamik is the point until where civilians are allowed and is the base camp for Siachin. Panamik is also sometimes called the world’s highest dhobi ghat as the soldiers of the Indian Army wash their clothes there in the hot springs as it is impossible to do the same on the glacier. Siachin Glacier if only about 45 Km from Panamik. We could not go to Panamik as the package we had taken did not include Panamik while we were under the impression that it did. So we had to miss out Panamik (An excuse to go to Ladakh again). Make sure that Panamik is part of your package when you are taking up a package. Siachin is at a height of 6,400 meters.

While on our way to Hunder, I kept starring out of the window guessing which one of the high snow covered peak was Siachin, I obviously had no way of knowing if I was guessing correctly, but I was not wrong in trying to guess as Phoonsuk, our driver had shown us a few mountains and told us that they lie in Pakistan’s territory. So if Pakistan was visible, Siachin was in between India & Pakistan.

I got over my fixation over Siachin and reached Hunder, it was beautiful. The idea of seeing a desert at approx. 10,000 ft. above sea level was itself magical. The first view of Hunder is when you start seeing the vast lands of sand and sand dunes. Hunder is a desert surrounded by snow covered peaks and with camels around. These camels are however special in their own rights, they are (two-humped) Bactrian Camels. One can take a ride on the camels but I am not sure of the rates for the same as we did not go for a ride. Hunder, by the way was very warm, it was almost impossible, it was just too hot. The sand was boiling hot, so keep your shoes on. There is a small stream of water that runs in between the desert; the water in it is very cold though. So we have a desert in the middle of snow capped mountains with camels and sand dunes and a small stream of water running through it, how much more exotic can you get?

We then left Hunder after an hour or so. A lot of people stay overnight at Hunder and cover Panamik on their way back the other day.

We then went to the Diskit monastery. The driver almost insisted us to go to this one. It was indeed beautiful. Here we had a climb a lot of stairs, we actually never made it to the top as it was too high and we were already very tired, we were at a very high altitude after all. There is one corner in the monastery where one can hear a waterfall but we could not find it. At Diskit we went into the main temple and for the first time we actually got to know a little about the mythology and about Buddhism from one of the priests who was more than happy to tell the stories about his religion. The face of all the deities was covered with a piece of cloth. The priest told us that it is done because, these deities have very powerful and angry faces which is covered so as to protect the planet from their rage. These covers are removed only once a year on a special day which is sacred to Buddhism. Buddhism celebrates that day with great pomp & show.

Buddhist monasteries are built in the most unusual of places and are enigmatic to say the least. They seem to have so many secrets and in them and seem to have such rich history. The life of the Buddhist monks seems difficult as is evident by their lifestyle and choice of location but then, they still have a huge following and rightly so!

There was another part of this Monastery which was a huge statue of Buddha on a small hill right in front of the monastery. This particular statue had no cover on the face and the face was not even in rage. It was massive, like say around 200 meters high.

We finally left Diskit and started on our journey back to Leh and took the same route back. We reached the creek which I had mentioned earlier where people used to stop over for meals, this time it was crowded as most people were on their way to Nubra Valley, so this was the traffic. We, however, felt that we should have been with the traffic as when we went, we seemed to be the only ones. There was hardly anyone around; it would have been nice to have a few people around, we got bored being the only car as far as we could see.

While on our way back, we saw snowfall behind us, the place where we had just left and hoped that it would travel to us too but it did not. We kept staring at mountains peaks getting a fresh doze of whiteness but could not experience it ourselves. We crossed the Army camp again and this time they were playing cricket, I clicked a few pictures but I have a feeling it was not allowed as I heard a few of them passing directions to confiscate my camera, that’s when I stopped. On our way to Khardung La, we were interrupted due to some work which was going on of widening the roads, we had to stop for about 40 minutes before we were given a pass. We reached Khardung La in a few minutes and climbed down to Leh in an hour or so. The top was less cold this time for obvious reasons.

We reached Leh fairly early and went straight to the travel agent to discuss the plan for the next day. We had small dispute with the agent as he had misquoted the price of the trip to Diskit and wanted us to pay more than what was decided upon. We came to settlement and decided to not hire his services any further. The name of the store was ‘Ladakh Adventure’; it is very close to ‘Gesmo German Bakery Restaurant’. The owner is forgetful, in case you hire his services, have everything in written.

We spoke to Phoonsuk and hired his services for the next day to take us to Pangong Lake. Drivers generally don’t get into personal deals as they are not allowed but Phoonsuk had taken a liking towards us and we, towards him, so he agreed to take us to Pangong Lake the other day.

At night, once again we went out hunting for ‘Elements’ since we had received more recommendations for the same. Phoonsuk had also suggested us to try out ‘Elements’. This time all four of us went inside looking for the restaurant. We went into the dark lane and after walking for about 100 meters, we saw a really small bulb which was lit right in front of a door on our left, we went and opened that door and on the other side stood ‘Elements’. As told earlier ‘Elements’ was in the open with a large screen and a movie playing, in our case it was ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, behind the screen was the lovely backdrop of the beautiful mountains of Leh, and on top was the open sky covered with stars. Apart from the electricity playing spoilsport and a limited menu, the place is awesome, a must visit. It is very cold though, since it is in the open, so carry warm clothes. It is the kind of place where you want to go, have dinner and relax for a while. There were a few rumors that this restaurant hosts ‘special’ parties every now and then, if you know what I mean!

Next Post: Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Pangong Lake

Ladakh > A Dream Come True > In And Around Leh

We stayed at this hotel named ‘Kesar’, which is very close to the Market. Since we were very tired both Dhawal & Me decided to sleep early and skip dinner. Devang & Aditya, however, chose to go out for dinner and they went to a Tibetan restaurant which was in the market itself and very close to our hotel. Now here is the thing about Leh, in Leh, the food and the hotels are really cheap. The hotel we stayed at cost us Rs. 600 per night for 2 per room and it was a fairly large room with a good view, however, there was no room heater, the lights were kind of dim and the TV did not work. So on an average, a good hotel with all these facilities should not cost more than 1K/night. Food in Leh is very cheap; we used to have wholesome meals, Indian mainly for less than Rs. 500 for 4 people. For breakfast too there are good cafes available like ‘Sun Beam Cafe’ & ‘Gesmo German Bakery Restaurant’ which are really great, both in terms of price and the food. Try the French breakfast at the German Bakery. One should make sure they go to ‘Elements’ which is on Changspa Road (most foreigners prefer to stay in hotels on Changspa Road) for dinners. They screen movies and have a very good ambience. We had an opportunity to watch the Brad Pitt starrer ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, though business was down when we went there and there were a few electricity problems (There is a lot of problems with electricity in Leh, you can enjoy electricity for only about 15 hours each day). Also you can get custom made t-shirts made there for real cheap but make sure you order well in advance and give the designer enough time to make them, such stores are found all over the city,  there were a lot of such stores around the hotel we stayed at. Also there is only one ATM Machine which is always crowded, so it is not such a bad idea to carry reasonable amount of cash.

Now back to our trip. The next morning, 13th June, we woke up, all of us feeling a little hangoverish and decided not go out anywhere the entire day, but after having an awesome breakfast at Gesmo German Bakery Restaurant, we started feeling fit again and decided to go to places close to the city which could be covered on bikes, like the monasteries and all.  We left at around 2 PM, hired bullets from the local market for about Rs. 700 a day and were off. Our initial plan was to go to Nubra Valley, Diskit and Hunder on the 13th stay there overnight and come back on the 14th visiting Sumur & Panamik but we had to change our plan taking into consideration the situation.

We first went to the Hemis Monastery which is the richest Monastery in Ladakh, it was nice to be there but we soon figured out that all Monasteries will be almost the same and decided to not go to all the Monasteries considering the fact that we were short on time. One Monastery that I personally wanted to go to was the Shey Monastery which is on route to the Hemis Monastery but did not. We also planned on going to the Leh Palace which is in the city itself, it looks really inviting & it can be seen from anywhere in Leh but owing to how tired we were, we decided to postpone it to a later date. We then decided to go dining and decided to try out ‘Elements’ but could not find it, we actually could not find it. We found the banner which claimed to be the entrance to the restaurant, but when Devang & Aditya actually went to try and find it, they could not, they said, they went in really deep into the dark lane but could not find anything. In the meanwhile we found a cyber cafe. In Leh, the cyber cafe rates at that time were Re. 1/minute. We sat down as Aditya wanted to see if flight tickets were available out of Ladakh as he did not want to go through the pain of traveling via road anymore, he found a few available really cheap and booked his own ticket as he was not carrying that much cash to book four at once. Now here is the thing with flight ticket booking online, the moment a ticket is booked, the price of the ticket goes up, so, as soon as Aditya made the payment, the ticket prices went up and went way out of our budget and that is when we decided to let Aditya fly and that the rest of us would still take the road ways. We did however still look for flight tickets in the vicinity of the price for which Aditya got it for but could not manage it.

While we were busy booking tickets, it got late and most restaurants closed down, Dhawal and me left a little early and found this restaurant open which I do not remember the name of, we got food packed and ate it back in our hotel rooms.

On the 13th itself we took care of hiring services of a travel agent to book the car for our trip to Hunder & Diskit the next day and also made our Inner Line Permit (Since Ladakh is too close to the border, all tourists are required to get a Inner Line Permit made in order to visit places like Hunder, Diskit, Sumur, Panamik, Pangong Lake amongst others. This permit takes one day to make and the local travel agencies charge about Rs. 200 to get the permit for each person for all the locations. It is therefore advisable to get the Inner Line Permit made from one’s home town itself by getting in touch with some travel agency in Leh if someone has a very tight schedule and come and collect it from the travel agency once they reach Leh. Or else one should make sure to give the required documents to a Travel Agency as soon as they reached Leh, It takes one entire day from morning to evening to get the permit. You can choose to travel in an around Leh on Day 1 to not waste any time.) We too had hired an Agency to do this for us from our home town but it didn’t quite work out due to a communication gap and we got our permits made on the 13th while we traveled areas near the Leh city.

Next Post: Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Nubra Valley

Ladakh > A Dream Come True > Reaching Ladakh

We decided to reach Delhi on the 10th of June, 2011. We had bus tickets booked for Manali from Connaught Place. We had a detailed itinerary which had all the information that one would need for such a trip. The budget was finalized at 13.5K.

However, a few days before we were supposed to leave we got two shockers. Avinash, who was working, did not get a sanction for his vacation and he cancelled. Krishnan too did not get approval from the company where he was doing his summer internship project and he backed out too. Both of them dropped out just a few days before we were scheduled to leave but luckily Aditya, who had cancelled even before the planning was started, agreed to come along making us 4. Owing to Avinash’s cancellation, the entire wolf pack was now made up of my college buddies. This last moment cancellation, however, pushed our budget upwards. The cars that we had booked proved expensive for us and the overall expense of the trip jumped by 3K per head.

We were scheduled to leave for Manali from Delhi at 6 PM in the evening but the bus service that we booked from a very reputed website was 4 hours late. The service was called ‘Himachal Holiday India’, never book their buses, horrible service. Now since this bus started late, it reached late too and it kept on getting delayed and we reached Manali 8 hours late. We reached at 3 PM when we were scheduled to reach at 7 AM in the morning. Our entire plan got upset. We were scheduled to leave for Jispa which is a small village on route to Leh and stay there overnight.

Manali to Leh, which is 475 Km takes 18 hours to travel by car. It is the most heavenly route that I have ever taken and you are bound to be smitten by its beauty too but, the route is equally treacherous, it is a very difficult terrain to travel on. Manali is at 6,398 ft. and Leh is at 12,000 ft. besides, you cross The Tanglang La Pass which is at 17,582 ft. It is not advisable to climb more than 4,000 ft. in 24 hours or else one ends up suffering from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), so a lot of tourists break their journey by traveling to Jispa which is 5-6 hours from Manali, stay overnight and travel the rest of the journey the next day. It is advisable to leave for Jispa early morning like 5 AM or so, so as to avoid the traffic to Rohtang Pass, which one has to cross in order to get to Jispa. Now, due to this delay our plan changed and we decided to drop Jispa and go for the 18 hour straight journey. We decided to climb a height of 18,000 feet in less than 48 hours!

We stayed at a hotel for the next 12 hours, roamed around in Manali and left for Leh at 3 AM in the morning. Manali, by the way, is too commercialized, one is advised to stay in Manali for about 24 hours so as to get acclimatized to the altitude. We reach Rohtang Pass in a couple of hours but it was too dark to see anything and it was very very cold up there. We were disappointed to miss the view but our driver who was a regular assured us that we are going to a place far more heavenly as compared to Rohtang Pass which was after all only at a height of 12,000 ft (approx.), in fact Leh is itself at around 12,000 ft. (approx.), so we moved forward. As we moved forward, the sun started to rise and slowly the huge mountains came to life giving us our first real view of what we were getting into, it was breathless, we could not stop ourselves, we got out of the car and started clicking pictures. As if the scene was not picturous enough, it started to drizzle. It was absolutely amazing, about 5 AM in the morning, really chilly weather, in between those beautiful mountains with no one else to be seen for miles, this was as romantic as it gets, and probably the only time we missed the girls…!

We reached a small village where we ordered for Maggie and tea and while it was being prepared we went down to the creek that was flowing just behind the house/cafe. We went as close to the water as possible and it was just so natural, so beautiful, we stayed there for a while and had a lot of fun there before it started raining heavily and we ran back to the cafe. We sat in the tent outside and could feel the chill in the air along with every bite of Maggie or sip of tea we had. It was like we were in a dream, such situations don’t always actually happen. (Imp.: In Ladakh, you always find Maggie, for some reason Nestlé’s Distribution is just too good in the hills). This Maggie amidst the rain was the most wonderful moment for me during the entire trip, it was just so beautiful, the moment!

We then moved on with our journey in the beautiful weather playing hide and seek with the clouds, sometimes, they hid themselves, and sometimes they engulfed us and sometimes, just made for an awesome view hiding the beautiful mountains in an almost musical manner.

We then stopped at another couple of destinations for tea and snacks etc…Each location prettier than the previous one. At about 12 O’clock, we crossed an area which seemed to have been the place where Jab We Met was shot with snow covering both sides of the road as high as 10 ft. Once we crossed this region, we started seeing the kind of landscape that Ladakh is so famous for. The huge rocky mountains in different shades of brown and the clear blue skies.

All of us had already started experiencing AMS by now, we were all having a little headache and dizziness (None of us had resorted to Acetazolamide Diamox which is a medicine that should be taken from about 48 hours before one starts climbing such heights after consultation with a general physician). We stopped over at this small tent for some lunch, at Pang where the sun was really beating down even though the wind was chilly.

After this we started the final climb which was the most treacherous climb yet, by the time we reached the top of Tangla La Pass we were all feeling sick thanks to AMS and to add to that, we did a little running around on the top, just about 50 meters or so and we paid a huge price for that, I was completely down after this. Tangla La Pass is at a height of 17,582 ft. (5,359 meters.) and is the second highest motorable road in the world after Khardung La Pass which too comes in Ladakh when one travels to Nubra Valley from Leh. We started the climb down from Tangla La Pass, which takes one straight into Leh, the city. The time was about 5 PM in the evening. We started seeing small settlements in between, a few monasteries, a beautiful sunset & a few of our cell phones started working again (In Jammu & Kashmir, only post paid phones operate and amongst ours only Idea was working. During the journey, however, only the local post paid connection works and that too only up to a certain distance, for most part of the journey from Manali to Leh, there will be no network at all). We reached Leh at around 7 PM.

Next Post: Ladakh > A Dream Come True > In And Around Leh