Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sikkim in a nutshell



Guys, thank you. I have received quite a few "Thank You" mails from some of my regular readers. Your mails really touch my heart and I have no words to express my gratitude. All I can say in return is wish you lots of happiness, good luck and good health along with lots of travels that makes good memories.

In the same post, I would like to address some of the queries that some of you have raised regarding travelling to Sikkim. Since the questions seek more information so I thought of assimilating the ones I have received so far in this post. I will keep on updating this post with more questions and answers if I get more.

1. I want to visit Sikkim, I will first visit East Sikkim and then North Sikkim. Do I need permit for East Sikkim? - Bimal Ghosh

[Soma and Ankur] : Hi Bimal
Yes you need to have permit to enter East Sikkim which your tour operator can easily arrange for you provided you provide him with a xerox of any of your Government of India approved photo ID card and two copies of passport photo. Alternately you can also get it at the first checkpost at Rangpo on submitting your forms and photos along with the photo ID copy.

I assume you are an Indian citizen, and in that case you do not need any permit only for West Sikkim.

2. Is Sikkim expensive for travellers? - Anonymous

[Soma and Ankur] : Hi Anonymous
Sikkim is expensive if you avail a lot of private transportation. There are syndicates for private transportation and they do a lot of monopoly. For instance a car with North Sikkim registration will not be allowed to enter West or East Sikkim and vice versa. Similarly to move around in Gangtok city you need to hire cars that are authorized to ply only in the city.So its pretty taxing on any tourist.

Also for North Sikkim you need to book a package from an agent and there the costs go high.
Alternately you can choose a shared North Sikkim package, but in that case, your comfort will be highly compromised. They squeeze 10 people in a old shaggy bolero for a 2/3 nights trip of North Sikkim where the road is bad all round the year.

Contrary to the popular notion you can also make your own North Sikkim itinerary without going to any agent. In that case costs will be much less but then you need to take a lot of pain. You need to arrange for north sikkim permits, book the local homestays( none of them are online), and also get a car and driver.

Food is also expensive in Sikkim compared to most other hill stations in North India although hotel price is nothing extravagant.

3. I am taking my parents for a trip to North Sikkim. Will senior citizens be allowed? - P.B Sukla

[Soma and Ankur] : Hi P.B Sukla
Yes and No. It mostly depends on the army person issuing the permit on that day. Senior citizens are not encouraged to go to North Sikkim.The reason is there is hardly any health care available at such high altitude.So if your parents have any of the problems such as asthma, heart/walking/breathing problem  its better not to take them. If your parents are less than 65, is hale and hearty with a young heart and is eager and excited to travel, you may take a chance.

4. Will I get vegetarian food in Sikkim as we are pure vegetarian brahmins? -S.Swamy

[Soma and Ankur] :Hi S.Swamy
I do not think finding vegetarian food will be a problem, especially in the popular tourist locations. Please get it confirmed from your tourist agent/hotel while you are planning.

5. Can I plan a tour of North Sikkim on my own? The operators I have contacted are asking for over the sky amounts. -Moloy Kanti Biswas

[Soma and Ankur] : Hi Moloy Kanti Biswas
As I have already stated before, contrary to the popular notion you can also make your own North Sikkim itinerary without going to any agent. In that case costs will be much less but then you need to take a lot of pain. You need to arrange for north sikkim permits on your own. You can get it done by your driver or hotel in exchange for some money although it is free of any charges.

You also need to fix your home stays in the places you wish to halt for night. The problem here is most of the budget home-stays are not online so you cannot directly book them. Either you must have their numbers or you need someone who can do it for you.

You also need to get a car and driver, which you can easily get from the North Sikkim taxi stand. If you book your package from them instead of hotel, you will save some money on your hotel's commission.

6. I will be on a very short trip to Sikkim. I am confused between West and East Sikkim. Which one should I do? Do I need to book hotels beforehand? - Ms Kabita Sanyal  

[Soma and Ankur] : Hi  Ms Kabita Sanyal 
Both East and West Sikkim are beautiful in their own ways, you can't compare. But since you can only visit either of the two let us try to talk of both so that it becomes easier for you to choose.

If you are concerned about the availability,  more options (stay), culture and nature choose west Sikkim as it has some of the beautiful waterfalls,monasteries and valleys.On a clear day you can see Mt Kanchenjunga very clearly from Pelling. Also there lots of options for hotels and food.

East Sikkim is more virgin, less forgiving but strikingly beautiful. A tour of the silk route will surely be a lifetime memory, but then you must go in the proper season, else it will not look the best.Also stay options are very very limited and nothing special. A complete tour of East Sikkim will also be a little more expensive since it is remote. Also there are no activities to do after sunset.

If you are travelling as a young group, then you do not need to pre-book hotels for West Sikkim except in the peak season if you are staying in places like Pelling or Ravangla.
In East Sikkim , yes you need to pre-book, there are very few options for staying

Hope we have answered all the questions that came our way. Let us know if you need any more information for planning your perfect Sikkim trip. Enjoy the pictures from Sikkim!

Pelling












Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Dev Bhumi ~ Himalayan Shrines




The Hindus consider the Himalayas as 'Dev Bhoomi' or the 'Abode of the Gods'. The Himalayas are so strikingly beautiful and difficult to conquer that a human mind can only perceive it as God's home.
Every year thousands and thousands of pilgrims go to the Himalayas to meet God in God's own home. Some of the very popular 'jatras' or pilgrimages are 'Char Dham' ,'Panch Badri','Panch Kedar' and 'Panch Prayag'. Though ardous but undertaking any of the yatras will surely reward the pilgrim/traveller with a new perspective of life and with a bountiful of nature.

Below are some of the yatras that I am listing for reference. I would love to hear from you if you have been to any of these.

CHAR  DHAM

According to Hindus,the CHAR DHAM are the houses of four Gods. Each Dham is presided by a ruling deity.

1. Kedarnath (3584m)
2. Badrinath (3096m)
3. Gangotri (3048m)
4. Yamunotri (3185m)

Kedarnath is dedicated to Lord Shiva , Badrinath is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Yamunotri and Gangotri are dedicated to Goddess Ganga and Yamuna rivers respectively.

PANCH BADRI

The five Badries are considered as the main places of worship of Lord Vishnu.

According to mythology,this place originally belonged to Shiva but Vishnu just like any other Hindu god came here to offer penance. He loved the place so much that he plotted to unseat Shiva from his meditation here. He took on the form of a beautiful child and began to wail. Shiva's wife, Parvati picked him up but could not calm the child.

Since his wailing continued to disturb Shiva, Shiva shifted to Kedarnath in exasperation, leaving the spot free for Vishnu to occupy.

1. Badri Vishal - Sri Badrinath (3584m)
2. Yogdhyan Badri (1920m)
3. Bhavishya Badri (1380m)
4. Vridha Badri (1380m)
5. Adi Badri (1630m)

PANCH KEDAR

The Panch Kedars are places of worship all dedicated to Lord Shiva. As per folk-lore, it was the Pandavas who went to the Garhwal Himalayas in search for Shiva. Bhima or the second of the five Pandava brothers spotted a beautiful bull and immediately understood it as Shiva in disguise.

Bhima caught the bull, but it disappeared from his grip although it appeared again as a gigantic one with the hump raising in Kedarnath, the arms in Tunganath, the nabhi (navel) and stomach  in Madhyamaheshwar, the face at Rudranath and the hair and the head appearing in Kalpeshwar. The Pandavas pleased with this reappearance in five different forms, built temples at the five places for venerating and worshipping Shiva.

1. Madhmaheshwar (3490m)
2. Tungnath (3680m)
3. Rudranath (2286m)
4. Kalpnath (2134m)
5. Kedarnath (3584m)

PANCH PRAYAG

Prayag meaning "confluence" in Sanskrit, constitutes a group of five sacred river confluences in the Garhwal Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand, India.

According to the Hindu Mythology, King Bhagirath prayed day and night for Ganga to descent on Earth.When Goddess Ganga started descending to earth,Earth was not able to face the force which Ganga came down. To lessen her force, Lord Shiva allowed Ganga to first fall on the cusp of hair on his head.After falling on Shiva's head, Ganga was splitted into 12 channels. These channels or flows again gets united into single stream after Devaprayag. These five prayags are the places where the confluences occur.

1. Vishnuprayag (1372m)
2. Nandaprayag (914m)
3. Karnaprayag (832m)
4. Rudraprayag (610m)
5. Devprayag (813m)

DEVI DARSHAN

There are almost 50 Devi temples in Uttarkhand. Out of them the most popular four are

1. Kunjapuri (1665m)
2. Surkanda Devi (3030m)
3. Chandrabadni (2278m)
4. Anusuya Devi (2000m)




Monday, 24 April 2017

Nandi Hills ~ Highlights


Whenever we are in mood for some really short but awesome trip from Bangalore, we hit the roads for Nandi Hills. With temperatures in Bangalore making us all sweat, there is nothing better to have a quick day outing at Bangalore's own hill - Nandi Hills ( although not theoretically since Nandi Hills is some 50 kms from Bangalore...but who cares!)

Incase if you are interested in knowing about the route and related details please go through our very first and off course special blog here
http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2011/09/nandi-hills-yet-another-ancient-hill.html.

We started our travel blogging after visiting Nandi hills and thereafter there has been innumerable number of times we have visited Nandi Hills, and it has been pleasant every time.

Also please check out our new video on Nandi Hills. The detailed one will be coming soon and we are working on that. Also please do SUBSCRIBE to our youtube channel and shower us with your love as you have done for our blog.



Thanks and much love ~ Soma and Ankur

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Valparai ~ In search for Lion Tailed Macaque



A very beautiful and magnificent looking monkey it is! You may ask why? Imagine a monkey having a magnificent mane of hair surrounding its face like that of a lion and a black shiny hairy coat on its body. And also it has a long tail bearing an uncanny resemblance to that of a lion's.

Lion Tailed Macaque

But sadly due to human's encroachment on forest areas, deforestation, scarcity of fruits the population of this wonderful looking animal was at one time declared as critically less. They now live in isolated pockets only in the Nilgiri region in India and are rarely spotted.

Some of my friends who wanted to catch a glimpse of this elusive beauty had to stay in the Nilgiris for about a week before they finally got a look at this animal. However we were lucky. We visited Valparai and on the same day we saw two separate groups of lion tailed macaques(LTM). We saw one group on our way to Valparai from Pollachi. The group was about 6-7 member strong and were high up on the canopy.

Lion Tailed Macaque

A group high up in the canopy

LTM

While just entering Valparai, we heard some noises in the jungle and some calls. We stopped our car and whoa we saw an enormous group of around 30 LTMs. A lot of babies,females some males and one alpha male. The alpha male was horny on that day, chasing one female after the other. But thankfully his efforts will help in ensuring that one of the very beautiful creatures on this planet do not disappear fast.


Alpha male


We also saw a lot of monkey bridges, created by the forest department so that monkeys can use them while crossing the roads and the monkeys are clever enough to understand that. We did not see a single macaque cross the road, they all used the bridge.

LTM on tree bridge

On getting to know that a group of lion tailed macaques has arrived, a good local samaritan came out from his house holding a placard reading "Go Slow". All the cars that were passing simply stopped and everyone came out to see these beautiful creatures. This simple gesture of people and government shows that we can achieve anything if we really care about, and thankfully the lion tailed macaques are endangered but not critically endangered.

Go Slow- LTMs crossing




With this s major point in bucket list ticked, but again a new point is added. The Hoolock Gibbons in North East India.

Travel Titbits:

Nearest Airport: The nearest airport will be Coimbatore. Alternately you can also reach from Ooty which is a popular hill station in South India by a car.

Stay: There are not too many budget stay options in Valparai. So to stay in Valparai you need to book a homestay or bunglow. Also there are not too many food shops on the way so its better to have some packaged food and water for the way.

You can take the services of the locals for spotting the lion tailed macaques. Your homestay should be able to assist you in that.

And finally be a responsible tourist. PLEASE PLEASE do not litter, do not throw plastic.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Talsari , a rare beach



From Digha, we booked an auto-rickshaw for half a day that will take us to Talsari and back. The auto rickshawas will charge around INR 400 - 1000 depending upon your negotiation skills, the season and also the length of the time you want to keep it reserved.

The ride is a mere 30 minutes ride, through semi concrete and muddy roads passing through paddy fields, casurina plantations and under-developed villages. The path was rustic , the air very calm but the sun god too harsh.

On the way we also saw shared autos, but they were mostly for local people's commute.
Talsari is not as popular as Digha or Puri, so at anytime there are fewer tourists than the other two, but sadly the beach is not that well maintained. Once you go near the beach there is a strong smell of fish all around, I saw a lot of people returning back to their cars because they could not stand the smell. I think the beach is slowly developing as a tourist destination.

 But once you start tolerating the smell and heat, you slowly start enjoying the place. There are so less people, no hawkers, no touts...only a handful of local fisherman and some temporary shops scattered here and there. So this reminds me of another think, there are no such places for lunch. Either you pack your own food or better still is to have it on your way.

Talsari is unique because apart from the quietness,you can see the river estuary as well as the sea beach. If you go during the high tide, then you need to take a boat and that will take you till sea. The boats I think take a very nominal charge of  INR 30 per person to take you till the sea.Whereas during low tide, you can walk on the river bed and walk till the sea beach. By the time we reached Talsari, it was low tide so we got down on the river bed, walked through the sand dunes and the little puddles filled with water and reached the beach.

There are motorbikes available for as little as INR50, however we preferred a light stroll. Low tide has a big advance than high tide, you can walk on the river bead , can do beach combing. Also you will see red crabs, tiny white crabs, jelly fish, star fish, live shells and very rarely sea cucumber. We were lucky to find a few fiddler crabs.


A perfect shell

what a cute mini crab

star fish

red crabs

river bed

fishing boat

A massive jelly fish on the beach

Squid

sea shells

sea shells

Shell
A crab and its hole


I got to know from the locals that the sunrise looks pristine on Talsari beach, but for that one needs to stay at Government Panthanivas which is a government guesthouse very close by. For pre-booking you may contact through OTDC website. Apart from that there are not too many options for staying.

Almost after an hour and half on the beach, we came back to our auto. The Sun was getting unbearable. We came back to our hotel in Digha. We thanked our auto- driver and he thanked us back with a note requesting us to hire him only if we again come to Digha.

Information Titbits:

Talsari is a less known beach in Orissa. It is very near to the popular beach known as Digha in WB.
Half a day trip can be arranged from Digha by renting an auto rickshaw.

There are no such places  for night stay except the OTDC Panthanivas. Charges are nominal and food is simple yet tasty.
Not an ideal place for shopping.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Top 4 Summer Destinations in South India


Now that the mercury is nearing to 40 degree Celsius, I am certainly getting crazy to pack off my bags and head for some cool destination.

Here are our top four pics for summer destinations in South India and the numbering has nothing to do with preference.

1. Ooty

The first name that comes to mind whenever we think of any proper hill station in South. Though Ooty is very touristy now a days, still it is an awesome place to relax, breathe some fresh air, do boating on Ooty lake and watch the warm orange tinge on the coniferous trees as the sun sets in.

Nothing beats the sweet Ooty chocolates and the chocolate coffee on Mall Road. Also travelling from Ooty to Coonoor on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is such an amazing experience.

For people like us who love more of solitude, Coonoor is another fantastic sister hill station very close to Ooty. There are ample of homestays in Coonoor and most of them are nestled in the tea plantations.

It is always good to pre-book hotels in Ooty or Coonoor during the peak season.

Ooty in Summer

Ooty Lake

A part of Emerald Lake in Ooty

2. Kodaikanal

Kodai looks so green and vintage. I absolutely admire Kodiakanal. The last time I went there was during my anniversary. Kodai lake is one of the largest lakes in South India and is so picturesque. The lake is surrounded by a road that has the lake on one side and huge high walled mansions belonging to the very rich on the other side.

Spices and  eucalyptus oil are sold in almost all shops in Kodai. A boat ride in the evening or a stroll around the lake is pure bliss. While in Kodai, no one should forget a visit to Pillar Rocks and Cloaker's Walk.

Kodai lake

Pillar Rocks

Liril Falls

Beautiful road

Kodai

In Kodai

Kodai Lake

Kodai Lake

Kodai Lake

3. Valparai

A place that is very fast making its mark in the tourist map is Valparai. Also if you coax me to spell out my favorite summer destination in South India, then it is no doubt Valparai. Valparai is a beautiful place with unending tea and coffee plantations, one or two old bunglows of the British era, cheerful villagers and clear blue sky.

This place is amazing not only for its bountiful natural beauty but also for its wide flora and fauna. It is a tiny pearl on the Nilgiri biosphere and is home to some of the endemic animals and plants only found in this part of the world.

We were very fortunate to spot two huge groups of lion tailed macaque which is very rare and endemic to Western Ghats. We also saw Malabar Grey Hornbills, Pied Hornbill and the Great Indian Hornbill only at Valaparai. And also not to forget the Nilgiri Tahrs that were grazing on the hills.

Nothing much to buy here. Hotels are less so its always advisable to pre-book before hand in any season you go.

lion taol macau

Tea Gardens

Tea Gardens


Valparai

4. Munnar

Since I am not ordering the places as per my preference, so I am justified in placing Munnar at the last.  Munnar is not just beautiful its awesome and splendid, and infact its so beautiful that I always suggest everyone to visit Munnar twice. You cannot assimilate all the beauty in one visit.

Beautiful tea and spice plantations, undulating roads, an unblocked vision, amazing food and above all very lovely people are things that makes Munnar amazing. There is also the icing on the cake that is culture. You can witness a mesmerizing kathakali dance performance or the very graceful mohiniyattam dance show at Munnar.

Spices, tea, coffee are some of the things you can take back home.
Munnar is a very popular tourist destination both for Indians and foreigners, so even though there is no dearth of hotels but its a good idea to pre-book if you are planning to go in the tourist season.

Munnar

Tea gardens at Munnar

Cattle Point at Munnar

Munnar

Munnar








Do let me know if you have any other hill stations in mind.


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