Monday, May 11, 2009


Reaching Agra in the wee hours of morning amid the silent bylanes of Agra city, with only few chai wallahas to keep your company, local cycle rickshaw pullers and some vendors shouting "Agra Peti" (Its a famous sweet in Agra) you know for sure you've reached Agra. yes, The land of Taj Mahal.
As a kid i always had read in the textbooks, general knowledge classes, seen it on TV and heard more about it when Bill Clinton visited and Yanni performed live. so far my knowledge about Taj Mahal was limited.
Reaching early morning without a plan of future course of journey is sometimes not a good feeling. I spent nearly two hours having a chai at the local bus stand and chatting up with rickshaw pullers and geeting soem information about the place. It is always wise to speak to locals when you are travelling as they dish out some really interesting information free of cost.
I found a passenger rickshaw and hitched a ride for 20 rupees to Taj Ganj area, as that is a place for cheap hotels and food. Upon my arrival to Taj Ganj I bumped into two Spanish tourists namely Ursula and Mifua at a local coffee shop. We had some conversation about general stuff till we became familiar. I freshened up at the local restaurant and set off to see Taj Mahal with these Spanish tourists. After the conversation I found out that Taj Mahal looks different during sunrise and sunset. So I also decided to see the spectacle with these folks. The auto wallah realising the urgency and need of our sunrise took us around the city and later told us that this is a shortcut and charged us 200 rupees. I was stunned. Meanwhile, Mifua intervened and said in broken English only 40 rupees if you want you can take it or else leave. The idiot auto guy just took 50 rupees and vanished.
We walked through the banks of Yamuna River to see the sunrise but unfortunately it was partly cloudy and had to be content with streaks of sunrays. We sat on the bank for sometime waiting for the boats to cross us over. We crossed the river to reach the North entrance of Taj Mahal at 6:10AM.
As soon as I entered TajMahal I really didn't feel any different. It was a plain white building with Mughal architecture. I stood for a moment to see what is there in this building, but honestly it was average. I walked around the monument to discover the place. I saw the four minarets they reminded me of lighthouse in Mahabalipuram. I spent time looking at the intricate paintings on the walls which depicted about Mughal architecture in India. I spent time looking at foreign tourists, holding hands with their partners and getting the best picture clicked. So it will look nice in their drawing rooms. It was a nice feeling as I finally saw Taj Mahal.
I left the place soon with these guys and took a train to Mathura. I spent time chatting up with these guys about India and their experience. I did receive dirty looks from fellow passengers as Mifua was wearing weird dresses and smoking beedis. I gave some tips to handle the looks and dress moderately when you travelling in India as you invite troubles unnecessarily.
I reached Mathura by 10AM and bid a good bye to those Spanish tourists. Mathura is a small town and a holy place for Hindus with narrow roads, friendly people and humid temperature. I took a place at Sri Krishna International guesthouse at 75 rupees for a night. The rooms were clean and common bathrooms. Very well maintained and suits travellers like me who live on a budget.
I went around the town visiting all the temples under the hot sun. I was really tired going around the temples as the temperature was hovering around 44 degree. Despite the heat I did manage to go to Vrindavan 12 kms from Mathura. Honestly these places were dry and there is nothing, which really catch your attention. I mean to say it's just a sleepy town filled with temples and pilgrims.
I was really tired by the end of it, mainly due to humid weather and dehydration and decided to call of my trip to Fathepursikri. I had a good dinner at guesthouse for 50rupees, which serves hot butter soaked rotis and nice vegetable curry with the best dal. The food is unlimited and try it out for yourself when you visit the place. I slept early, as I didn't have any energy to venture and explore the place.
Next morning I took a early train and returned to Delhi.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chronicles of McLeod Ganj

Desination McLeod:
Arriving at ChakkiBank train station at Patankhot at 5AM after a long 8-hour journey of travel on the floors of Indian Railways, as I didn't have a reservation ticket for my journey I was really tired traveller. I took Himacahl Pradesh local bus to reach McLeod Ganj, which is 90 kms and consumed nearly 3.5 hours to reach my destination due to the hairpin curves and the ghat sections of Kangra district. I arrived at McLeod Ganj by 9:40 AM.
McLeod is a sleepy, chilled out, cool and laid back town filled with Tibetan settlements coupled with Burgundy coloured robe Buddhist monks who swear by Dalai Lama, the local hilly people and filled with western tourists, who flock to learn yoga, trek and smoke up and attain nirvana.
McLeod is a blessing for a traveller from Delhi given the harsh weather conditions in Delhi. I found a place to stay at Green Hotel on the Bagsu main road after a hard bargain and charming the Tibetan lady owner at the counter at cheap 150 rupees per night. After a cold shower and freshening up I decided to explore the town on foot, because I believe that talking to locals and walking around the place helps you understand the city and culture much better. After walking around I the town it was time for a brunch at a restaurant called Qigy, a small restaurant filled with western tourist, which offers one of the best European and Tibetan food at a cheap price. I had Tibetan fried rice with some egg garnished on it, very well prepared and stomach filling at 40rs per dish.

I visited Bagsunag mandir 2kms from McLeo. It is situated below a mountain with Bagsu falls above flowing in full form. The sweet water of Bagsu falls is really respite for the water starved McLeod. I walked 1km to the top hill to see the falls and spent time standing in the cold water and giving my foot some good treatment. Enroute the falls you find many cafes, all you need to do is stop by and ask "bai,kuch special milega" and there you get some good dope at decent price. It depends totally on your negotiating skills. I returned to my room by evening still not knowing what to do in the city.

I walked around the narrow lanes looking at the shopkeepers selling Tibetan wares, cooking momos, massage parlours, cooking classes, yoga centres, shops selling Buddhist beads, Indian shopkeepers trying to lure foreign travellers to make some purchase. It was 7:30PM at McLeod and time to retire after a hard day roaming around and exploring the place. I hit off to the famous and a very good restaurant named McCello Restaurant, which serves chilled beer on the rooftop with a good view of the hillock town, ambience, crowd and nice service. I returned to my room at 10 and slept early.

I really did not have any idea as what to do on second day. I visited the local Tibetan monastery, which I think is really nice. It gives you an insight to Buddhism and their religious teachings. I spent time looking at Burgundy monks reciting shlokas from old scriptures and their devotion to their religion. It got me thinking, as how religious people can be. You should never miss out this monastery if you are visiting McLeod.

I never had any plan of trekking this mountain, but I had heard lot about it from one of my friend Hari. I went around the town asking if there is any village called Dhauladhar? I got only one reply NO there is no such place. Only later, when I bumped into a mountaineering guide Onkar I found out that Dhuladhar was a mountain range and not village. I bargained hard with Onkar and settled for 500 rupees charge to accompany me to Dhuladhar Mountain. The minimum going rate for a guide is 1800-2000 rupees per person. I got a good deal all thanks to my bargaining skills. We set off to Dhuladhar at 9AM with another trekker Navneet with a chai break at Dharamkot. The mountain range is 30 degree steep with full of boulders surrounded by dense forest and temperature drops every step you go further. We began to trek slowly so that we could acclimatise to the high altitude and feel normal throughout the trek. The trekking got tougher as we moved up the hills as path was filled with heavy boulders and the route being very narrow.
My fellow trekker Navneet was going through excruciating pain in his knees due to the steep mountains. I could see the pain and agony he was going through poor fellow but we had told our self that we would complete the trek. We stopped by a café enroute for 10 minutes and then we continued the trek. We reached the first base point called Tirund, which is 9kms from McLeod by 1:30PM. I was really tired but I still had 4.5Kms trek still ahead of me to reach Snowline or Dhualdar range.
I was badly in need of water and a Japanese tourist Ying offered me some, which gave some energy.

After a break off 45 minutes I set off to Snowline with Onkar as Navneet dropped out as he was suffering severe cramp. I trekked along the steep boulder filled path with temperature dropping every step ahead. I kept asking fellow trekkers how far is the café? They all said replied just nearby, but nearby seemed really far. I was getting exhausted with energy drained out of my body. In midst off all this I saw few shepherds who live in this region-grazing sheep. The sheep's reminded me of my village but these were a little different and huge compared to what we see in south. But it was nice interacting with them. After a long trek we finally reached the Snowline or the Dhauladhar range. It was a crazy feeling seeing snow for the first time in my life. I stood for a minute dumb and looked at the snow-capped peaks sitting pretty. I sat alone for sometime in peace and observed the mountains. I loved every moment of it and my mind couldn't think straight for a while.
We returned back with a German tourist Robin and his girlfriend, we discussed about Indian politics and time flew by. I reached McLeod by 8PM.
The entire consisted of 13.5 km one way so we had trekked 27 kilometers by the end of day. I felt fit great about it.

Me and Navneet went to Jimmy's Italian Kitchen for a beer and some Italian dishes late in the evening. We caught up with lot of sundry issues and discussed about our previous girlfriends. We bonded really well. It was a nice experience.

I went around McLeod shopping for my friends. I found some things really pretty but didn't have the cash to pick them up. But next time I plan to do something about it. Well, I reached Delhi by 5AM, I didn't have a reservation ticket but bribed the TTE with 50 rupees and got a berth and reached home.

I loved every moment of McLeod Ganj trip and wish to keep going back.