Sunday, May 28, 2017


I had visited Jaipur during the last week of September in 2014. It was an official visit for me. I had gone to an engineering college as part of the Campus Placement Team. My flight and hotel expenses were covered by the company. It was our first time to Rajasthan. I completed my two days work in the college and then extended the stay to explore the city and to visit Taj Mahal. Sathya and Tan accompanied me.
We stayed at Hotel Amer View. The host was very friendly and treated each guest like family.
The only negative thing was the complimentary breakfast. One week of eating aloo parathas and bread-butter drove us nuts.

There was just no other option. When we requested for a change in the menu, we would be generously served omelette!

It took several months for us after we returned to Bangalore to be able to even look at parathas again without being disgusted.

It was reasonably priced, and had comfortable, spacious rooms with beautiful wall decors and traditional paintings featuring kings and queens adorning the corridors.

The first morning I went to the hotel terrace and witnessed this beautiful sunrise.

And just as I stood there soaking in the atmosphere and savoring the slow break of dawn, I noticed something in the sky.  I was shocked to see, in the distance, a hot air balloon in flight. When I inquired around and realized hot air ballooning is held in the city, the first thing I did was arrange money (Rs 10,000 for a one hour ride). But the office that handles the bookings was located somewhere else and even though I tried very hard to contact them and make the payment and go on the ride, I couldn't.

The hotel was walking distance from the take-off site of the balloon ride. As a last resort, I thought Chalo, let me request them and pay at the spot of the take-off. Early next morning, I woke up, (what I thought was in the middle of the night), got ready and literally ran the whole distance to the site. But the staff refused to take me on saying the ride had to be booked through their office. I remember begging them. I remember crying the whole way back to the hotel. I was so sad that morning. I missed going on such a unique adventure.

From our room, we could see the famous Amer Fort. That's why the name Hotel Amer View. It was a mere stone's throw away.
The palace and Jaigarh Fort are one complex connected by a passage. The passage was used as an escape route during war to help the royal family and others in the Fort to move to the Jaigarh Fort. 
The Amer Fort is a must visit.The fort overlooks the Maota Lake, the main source of water for the Palace. 
It was built from red sandstone and marble by Raja Man Singh during 967 CE. Imagine that! So long long back! It is laid out on four levels. Each level has its own courtyard.  
The Fort is known for its beautiful Hindu style elements. It gets its name from Amba, the Mother Goddess Durga. It houses the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is created artificially. The winds blow over a water cascade inside the palace. It was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas.
Nearly 5000 people visit the Fort in a single day. 1.4 million visitors were reported during 2007.  In 2013, the Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with 5 other forts of Rajasthan.

Across our hotel, was the site of the cremation ground of the Kachwaha Kings.  From 1733 onwards the final rites of every Kachwaha king were done here. It is now used for morning walks.

Jaipur is a historical city founded by Sawai Jai Singh in the 17th century. The Kachwaha rules built many wonderful monuments dotting the length and breadth of the city. Indulge in a casual stroll through the streets and you are most likely to bump into some monument or the other. The city throws back history at you at every corner. A must visit for all lovers of Indian history. Truly, the land of the Rajas and Maharajas. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


The last lap of our 7 day Sikkim tour package was a day of sight-seeing in Darjeeling. And the first event was the famous sunrise over the Kangchenjunga peak over Tiger Hill. To see the sun rise over the majestic Mount Everest is a surreal experience. Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. It lies partly in Nepal and partly in Sikkim.

We had to wake up at 3:30 for this. We were at the hill by 4:30, one of the first ones to be there.

We were shivering in the cold.

There was nothing on the hill top except for people selling gloves and scarves and coffee. 

But in less than an hour, the whole place was teaming with people and there was not an inch of spare space to set foot.

The construction of the new observatory is under way and the outcome sure looks exciting. 

The Kangchenjunga peak glowing with the first rays of the sun. This pic from my mobile camera does no justice to it. Wish I had a super fantastic professional camera.

The sight of the changing hues of the peak in the span of 30 minutes or less makes it worth the suffering in the early morning ruthless chill and the dazed eye from lack of sleep.

The reverence to Kanchenjunga is palpable. Hotels and houses are routinely named after it. As tourists, every place we stop, every bend we take, we catch ourselves constantly trying to catch a glimpse of the peak. 

While in Darjeeling, the adventure sport you must try is white water rafting in the Teesta River. 

Entrance fee to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is part of the MMT package but we had to pay from our pockets as they did not inform us. Both these places are worth a visit. The zoo is very well-maintained and quite unique in the way the cages are built. As we walk up the hilly slopes of the zoo, we peer into the cages that are dug out far below. It's an interesting view for us even as the animals are blissfully unaware of people staring at them like fools.

This gorgeous tiger gave us all the sighting of our life by pacing back and forth and roaring.

I hardly saw any clinic and hospitals both in Sikkim and in Darjeeling.

The driver said there are actually very few.

They mostly use traditional herbs and the rest is taken care of by walking. 'Pahadi log' (mountain people) do not have much use for the doctor. So I couldn't resist taking a pic of this clinic that I found inside the premises of the Tsuk Druk monastery.

Darjeeling is famous for 3 T's - Tourism, Tea and Timber. Justifiably, Happy Valley Tea Estate is a spot in the MMT itinerary.
Here is the picture of the cup marking the marriage of Princess Diana sent to the Tea Estate.

Japanese temple built in 1972. There is a large prayer room upstairs. We were lucky to be just in time for the ongoing prayers. We were given a small drumming pad and a stick. We chanted a Buddhist verse to the beats of the drum. The temple was founded by Fuji Guruji for world peace. He is believed to have witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The Peace Pagoda is the tallest structure in Darjeeling and gives a beautiful view of the town surrounding it. It is believed to have taken the Japanese architect three years to build it. 

The Peace Pagoda has four avatars of Buddha - sitting, standing, sleeping and meditating. All the statues are polished in gold color. This one below is my favorite:

The Tibetan  Refugee Center is on the itinerary too. Skip this in case of shortage of time or if you are not too much into the history of the Tibetan-Chinese territorial conflict. There is a display of photos tracing the events of the illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet & the tragic loss of Tibetan way of life.

You can buy lots of interesting things from here but all the items are expensive. It is better to buy from any of the shops in the town selling almost the same things. However, a board like this will melt your heart and you will be tempted to splurge for the 'cause'

India has been a land of acceptance. Many of those who suffered from religious persecution the world over have sought solace here - from the Jews who settled in Kerala to the Buddhists. Many Buddhist refugee camps dot the length and breath of this great nation.

The Druk Sangag Choling Monastery is a must visit. It is a beautiful structure. You can be a part of the prayers or simply watch the monks and pupils as they scurry around their daily work in their long saffron robes. The monastery houses an orphanage. Poor parents leave their little boys on the footsteps of the monastery to be raised as scholars and monks. 

The beautiful women selling mostly non-vegetarian fare in the evening market.

Most of the small shops, hotels and eateries are run by Nepali origin people. The ethnic tribes like Lepcha, Nepali and Sherpas run the show here and it is evident. Eve-teasing is almost not heard of here.

Darjeeling is already partially autonomous and there is a demand to be separated from West Bengal. They harbor a great disdain for Mamata and her cronies.

You might hear from other people that Darjeeling is congested, a modern slum, too commercialized and so on. But from what little I saw of the city, I didn't feel that way at all. Maybe that's because as tourists on a short visit, we stick to the main lanes and rarely venture into the squalor of the city's underbelly.

I actually really liked the place and if Kubera (the Hindu Money God) continues to smile upon me, I might go back there again. I enjoyed the food, the walks, the tourist attractions, the people's smiling faces and just the fact that I was so far away from home and family and yet the place felt all too familiar and easy to get along with. Except for the cold! The cold is treacherous!