Monday, February 22, 2010

Poonch Valley Travel Guide

Poonch district has a distinct historical background, rich cultural heritage and charming natural vacation spots. This track is located exactly on the foot hills of Pir Panchal range, therefore there is a series of mountain ranges, snow covered lofty peaks, thick belts of fir and cheer forests on the slopes, a number of beautiful valleys, gushing streams, lush green pastures with multi colored flowers, milky water falls and crystal clear lakes. This natural atmosphere and unique type of life style of Poonch district can easily attract Indian and foreign tourists if the government takes up these tourists spots under tourism development programme.
A number of forts, sarais and ruins of historical values are available in this area. The caravans of Mughal emperors were traveling towards Kashmir in the beginning of 17th century AD through Mughal road which passes through Poonch district. There are various memorable places and monuments on this road including renowned Noor Chamb milky water fall. With the construction of 84 kilometers Mughal road from Bufliaz to Shoopian, the Mughal monuments and scenic spots along side the road shall come in the lime light and past glory of Mughal road shall be restored. The attractive Dhera Ki Gali, Bufliaz, Behram Gala, Noor Chamb, Dugran, Poshiana, Ratta Chamb and Chandimarh are expected to be the charming tourist resorts along side the Mughal road in Poonch district. Proper publicity of these hill stations at National level can certainly prove this area as the destination of tourists.
Some important shrines with deep religious backgrounds are also existing in Poonch district. These shrines includes Swami Budha Amarnath, Lohar Devta, Nangali Sahib, Asthan Chote Shah Sahib, Ram Kund, Asthan Sain Miran Sahib, Asthan Sain Ellahi Bakash and Asthan Sain Faqar Din. Thousands of devotees from outside the districts are visiting these places with great devotion, but the accommodational facilities are not sufficient on these sites. These places can also be exploited for religious tourism purposes.
Apart from the above, a number of foot routes, passes and peaks in Pir Panchal range are important from trekkers, climbers and hikers point of view. There is a renowned Girjan Dhok, Panjtari Marg, Pir Merg, Chooti Merg, Valley of Seven Lakes like Nandan Sar, Chandar Sar, Bhag Sar, Sukh Sar, Neel Sar etc Peaks like Tatta Kutti (15560 ft), Ganga Choti (10013 ft), Rattan Pir Choti (8500ft) and passes like Panchal Pass (11400 ft), Chooti Gali Pass (13500 ft) and Noor Pur Pass (13486 ft) and trekking routes like Sawajian-Chor Panchal-Gulmarg, Loran-Noor Pur-Tang Marg, Chandimarh, Peer Gali-Shopian. But due to lack of infrastructural facilities and accommodational problems at base camps and non availability of effective publicity, these areas remain out of site for outsiders. There is the need of development of takeoff points and bridle paths leading towards the valley of seven lakes and huts and fast food centers at Girgan, Panjtari and Tatta Kutti Marg. The details of some places of tourists interest located in Poonch area is given here.
Noor Chambh:- This beautiful water fall is located on the north east of Behram Gala village. Mughal Emperor Jahangir visited this place 13 times when he was on the way to Kashmir or Lahore. He was such a lover of this water fall that he named this place as Noor Chamb after the name of his beloved wife Noor Jahan. Later on the name changed from Noor Chamb to Noori Chamb. In the past the water of Hussan Thumb stream was falling from 90 meters elevated mound and the whole stream was converting itself into milky vapours. At present the fall has gone inside the mound after cutting the rock. Even then the milky vapours of this beautiful water fall scatter around the area which gives pleasure to visitor. There is the need of fast food centre, public convenience and a viewing deck for visitors. A chair lift from main road to Noor Chamb mound will also attract tourists.
Behram Gala:- It is 45 kms on the east of Poonch city and connected with motorable road. This place is surrounded by mountains and forests and situated on the foot hills of Peer Panchal pass on Mughal road. Power and water supply are available at the site. The climate is very pleasant and cool. There are two important shrines (one of Hindus and other of Muslims) located in the village. The village is just 500 meters away from the famous water fall Noor Chamb. This spot is also important from trekker's point of view because the main bridal path leads towards the valley of Girgan and the valley of seven lakes starts from this very place. There is a need of conversion of Behram Gala into a tourist resort by constructing tourist huts and trekkers sarais.
Surankote:- Surankote is the most beautiful valley on the south-western side of Panchal range. It situated in between snow bounded peaks. This place resembles with Pehalgam. Power, water supply, road communication are available at site. The climate is very cool and pleasant. The maximum temperature goes to 32 degree C. This place can easily be converted into a tourist resort.
Gagrian Sawjian:- This considerable village is lying at the extreme of Mandi valley of north-western side at the foot of Chor Panchal Pass. This place is 43 kms away from Poonch. The village is surrounded by forest belt of devdar and fir trees. Road communication, power and water supply is available at site. This part can be developed as a base camp for trekkers/climbers because from this very place bridal path leads towards Chor Panchal Pass and then to Khilanmarg, Gulmarg, and Tangmarg. There is a need of tourist huts at Gali Maidan and Rangwar.
Budha Amar Nath/Rajpura Mandi:- Budha Amarnath temple is situated about 25 kms north-east of Poonch on the left bank of Pulsta stream. The village lies on the foot of a step hill. This place has great religious importance due to the temple of Swami Budha Amarnath. It is said that this temple is older than Swami Amarnath of Kashmir. Legend goes that Lord Shiva had visited this place. There is a natural Shivlinga of white stone inside the temple. Thousands of pilgrims with great devotion come to this place from different parts of the country. The main religious function is held on the occasion of Rakasha Bandhan festival. A tourist bunglow and a sarai is existing at the site. There is a need of more such buglows in the periphery of Swami Budha Amarnath because this place is also a scenic resort and this place can also be converted into the nature lovers tourist resort.
Ziarat Sain Miran Sahib:- This is a Ziarat of great Saint Sain Miran Sahib who died recently. This shrine is situated in Guntrian village which is 10 kms away from Poonch city on northern side. This Ziarat is very important from religious point of view because hundreds of devotees come to this Ziarat every day. There is a need of tourist bunglow near Ziarat Sain Miran Sahib.
Nangali Sahib:- Nangali Sahib Gurudwara is situated on the left bank of Drungli Nallah, which is four kilometers away from Poonch city. This Gurudwara was established by Sant Bhai Mela Singh Ji. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had paid a visit to this shrine in 1819AD, when he was on his way to conquer Kashmir. This place is of great religious importance. Thousands of pilgrims of all religions throughout the country travel to this place every year. A tourist banglow is existing at site but there is a need of more accommodation for the convenience of pilgrims.
Ramkund:- Ramkund is 68 kilometers away from Poonch city. This ancient temple is situated in the village Narol which is 11 kilometers on the south of Mendhar town. As per Raj Tringani, this temple was constructed by Raja Lalita Ditya. This old monument is having great religious importance. Legend goes that it was constructed for the first time by Lord Rama when he was on his way to Kashmir. Later on it was renovated by Raja Lalita Ditya. It is proposed that a tourist hut be constructed near Ramkund temple for the convenience of pilgrims.
Ziarat Chotay Shah:- This Ziarat is 58 kilometers from Poonch and is situated in the village Sakhi Maidan which is at four kms. distance from Mendhar town. Hundreds of pilgrims come to this place every day. It is proposed that at least two tourist bunglows and a tourist sarai may be constructed near the Ziarat for the convenience of the pilgrims.
Ziarat Hazrat Sayed Pir Habib Shah Pamrote:- Ziarat Hazrat Sayed Pir Habib Shah Pamrote is one of the famous religious shrine of Poonch district. The Ziarat is located about 12 kilometer in the north of Surankote town across nallah Suran in the village Pamrote which falls on the slopes of Ranjati range of mountains. Thousands of pilgrims from Poonch, Rajouri, Kashmir and POK visit this shrine every year. There is the need of upgradation of motorable road upto Ziarat Sharief. At least three tourist huts and a tourist sarai is urgently need at this religious shrine for the convenience of the pilgrims.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Madhya Pradesh Tourism Travel Guide

Several cities in Madhya Pradesh are extraordinary for their architecture and or scenic beauty. Three sites in Madhya Pradesh have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO: the Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986) including Devi Jagadambi temple, Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (1989) and the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka (2003). Other architecturally significant or scenic sites include Ajaigarh, Amarkantak, Asirgarh, Bandhavgarh,Bawangaja, Bhopal, Chanderi, Chitrakuta, Dhar, Gwalior, Indore, Maheshwar, Mandleshwar, Mandu, Omkareshwar, Orchha, Pachmarhi, Shivpuri,Sonagiri and Ujjain. MP being very large geographically, and the history being spread over several millennia, a developing a comprehensive picture of heritage and architecture is a monumental task.
Surrounded by the northern fringe of the Vindhyan ranges, Bhimbetka lies 46 km South of Bhopal. In this rocky terrain of dense forest and craggy cliffs, over 600 rock shelters belonging to the Neolithic age were recently discovered. Here, in vivid panoramic detail, paintings in over 500 caves depict the life of the pre-historic cave-dwellers making the Bhimbetka group an archaeological treasure, an invaluable chronicle in the history of man.
Did you know ?
Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow, with themes taken from everyday events of eons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders, animals fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes.Animals such as bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes, dogs, lizards, crocodiles, etc. have been depicted in some caves. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently.
Believe it or not
The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden coal. Sometimes the fat of animals and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. The colours have remained intact for many centuries due to the chemical reaction resulting from the oxide present on the surface of the rocks.

Must see
The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods:
Period I - (Upper Paleolithic)
These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bisons, tigers and rhinoceros.
Period II - (Mesolithic)
Comparatively small in size, the stylized figures show linear decoration of the body. In addition to animals, there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used - barbed spears, pointed sticks, bow and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mother and child, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement.
Period III - (Chaleolithic)
Similar to the paintings of Chaleolithic pottery, these drawings reveal that during the period, the cave dwellers of this area had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains and started an exchange of their requirements with each other.
Period IV & V - (Early History)
The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style, and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots.
Period VI & VII - (Medieval)
These paintings are geometric, linear and more schematic, but show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style.
Sanchi is known for its Stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. The most famous of these monuments, the Sanchi Stupa 1, was originally built by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the then governor of Ujjayini, whose wife Devi was the daughter of a merchant from adjacent Vidisha. Their son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra were born in Ujjayini and sent to Sri Lanka, where they converted the King, the Queen and their people to Buddhism.
Did you know ?
A Chunar sandstone pillar fragment, shining with the proverbial Mauryan polish, lies near Stupa I and carries the famous edict of Ashoka warning against schism in the Buddhist community. Stupa 1 was found empty, while relics of the two disciples of Buddha enshrined in the adjacent Stupa 3 were carried away to England. The nearby modern temple has a reliquary containing the remains of a Buddhist teacher from another Stupa outside Sanchi.
The four gateways
Early Buddhist art has no finer expression than these toranas that surround the Great Stupa. The Buddha according to the tenets of early Buddhist art, is portrayed in symbols; the lotus representing his birth, the tree his enlightenment, the wheel derived from the title of his first sermon, the footprints and throne symbolizing his presence. These have been carved with such inspired intensity and imagery that, taken together with the surrounding figures, they are considered the finest of all Buddhist toranas and counter - balance the massive solidity of the stupa they encircle.Carved with stories of the Buddha's past and present lives and with incidents from the subsequent history of Buddhism, the gateways are the finest specimens of early classical art, which formed the seedbed for the entire vocabulary of later Indian art.
Two of the moving stories told on these portals are those of Prince Vessantara, who gave away his wealth, his wife and children out of charity and compassion, and of Buddha who, as the monkey king, sacrificed his life to save his companions.The inscriptions on the gateways mention donors from all over northern India and special mention is made of the ivory workers of Vidisha who sculpted the stone with the precision of jewellers.

Must see
The Sanchi hill goes up in shelves with Stupa 2 situated on a lower shelf, Stupa 1, Stupa 3, the 5th century Gupta Temple No.17 and the 7th century temple No. 18 are on the intermediate shelf and a later monastery is on the crowning shelf. The balustrade surrounding Stupa 2, carved with aniconic representations of the Buddha, was added in the late 2nd century BC under the Satavahanas.The adjacent Gupta temple no.17 was hailed by Sir John Marshall as one of the most rationally organized structures in Indian architecture. Though small, it was a herald of all the principles which went into the engineering of an Indian temple in the early medieval period. The Buddhas in the perambulatory surrounding Stupa 1 are not contemporary with the Stupa but belong to the Gupta period in the mid 5th century AD. The monastery and the temple with the tall pillars adjacent to Stupa 1 and the temple near the monastery on the crowning shelf illustrate the evolution of the architectural form after the 5th century Gupta temple.Below the hill, the Archaeological Survey of India Museum houses some of the earliest known stone sculptures in Indian art from the 3rd to the 1st century BC.
Great Stupa No. 1
The oldest stone structure in India. 36.5 mt in diameter and 16.4 mt high, with a massive hemispherical dome, the stupa stands in eternal majesty, the paved procession path around it worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims.
The Eastern Gateway
Depicts the young prince, Gautama leaving his father's palace on his journey towards enlightenment and the dream his mother had before his birth.
The Western Gateway
Depicts the seven incarnations of the Buddha.
The Northern Gateway
Crowned by a wheel-of-law, this depicts the miracles associated with the Buddha as told in the jatakas.
The Southern Gateway
The birth of Gautama is revealed in a series of dramatically rich carvings.
Stupa No. 2
The stupa stands at the very edge of the hill and its most striking feature is the stone balustrade that rings it.
Stupa No. 3
Situated close to the great stupa. The hemispherical dome is crowned, as a mark of its special religious significance, with an umbrella of polished stone. The relics of Sariputta and Mahamogallena, two of the Buddha's earliest disciples, were found in its inmost chamber.
The Ashoka Pillar
Lies close to the Southern gateway of the Great Stupa, and is one of the finest examples of the Ashokan pillar and is known for its aesthetic proportions and exquisite structural balance.
The Buddhist Vihara
The sacred relics of the Satdhara Stupa, a few km away from Sanchi, have been enshrined in a glass casket on a platform in the inner sanctum of his modern monastery.
The Great Bowl
Carved out of one block of stone, this mammoth bowl contained the food that was distributed among the monks of Sanchi.
The Gupta Temple
In ruins now, this 5th century AD temple is one of the earliest known examples of temple architecture in India.
The Museum
The Archaeological Survey of India maintains a site museum at Sanchi. Noteworthy antiquities on display include the lion capital of the Ashokan pillar and metal objects used by the monks, discovered during excavations at Sanchi.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carnival Time in Goa

February is Carnival time in Goa. For three days (from February 13-16), the streets will be awash with colour, noise, parades and floats. King Momo will take over the state and there will be music, rejoicing and much revelry.

Called 'Carnaval' in Portuguese, this festival occurs immediately before Lent, the 40 days of prayer and fasting before Easter. While the starting day of Carnival varies across the world, the festival in Goa starts three days before Lent and ends on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday (February 17 this year) which marks the beginning of Lent.

The origin of the name 'carnival' is disputed. One popular theory is that it comes from the Italian 'carne levare' or similar, meaning "to remove meat", since meat is generally disallowed during Lent. So the festival became an opportunity to enjoy oneself before the austere period began.

Following the King's orders...
for the next three days and allows his people to have fun and enjoyment during this time. Traditionally, in the years gone, this would be the signal for revellers to go around the main Carnival areas singing and dancing, dressed in colourful costumes. Mock fights would take place between local 'gangs', where rotten eggs and tomatoes were the weapons of choice. 'Cocotes' or bombs made with paper and filled with clay were used during mock-battles between various groups of local boys.

In more modern ways
These days, the boys on foot are replaced by groups of entertainers on spectacularly decorated floats, most with larger-than-life images of flora, fauna, issues of local interest and other newsworthy items. In 2009, floats depicted the Mumbai terror attacks and global warming. The floats carry massive speakers, the likes of which most of us will not see (or hear, thankfully) normally. These echo live and recorded music for the entertainment of the thousands who gather to watch the spectacle. Keep your earplugs handy if you are close to the action.

While the quiet village fun and games may be long gone, the masked men selling colourful wares are still around. The 'khells' or street plays that were performed in villages during the Carnival have died out. The talcum and indigo powders used to 'colour' the hair of women have been replaced with hair-braids, caps and of course, more masks, all targeted towards the hordes of tourists, both domestic and international, who'll come visiting.

While you're there
Goa's big carnival parades are held in four cities -- Panjim, Margao, Mapusa and Vasco. Local papers will have the listings for start times and other events that will be held. Besides the carnival parades, also look out for the various dances organised at local 'clubs' in most cities and villages. The 'Red and Black' dance at Clube Nacional in Panjim is one of the more famous ones.

For once, ignore the masala-dosa-chole-bhature fare that has cropped up in every nook and cranny in Goa and head, instead, head to one of the little Goan restaurants for a bite of local 'chourico-pao' (pronounced show-rees-pav), which is a spice-infused Goan sausage cooked with onions and stuffed in loaves of local bread. If you are a vegetarian, try sukhi bhaji -- finely diced potatoes cooked in thick gravy, seasoned with mustard seeds and chillies and served with local bread.

A whole big world of fun
The Goa Carnival, much like carnivals celebrated around the world, calls into being a whole different universe. Much like the Rio carnival in Brazil, you'll find revellers dressed to the nines dancing their way into the wee hours of the morning. The tradition of wearing masks probably comes from the Carnival of Venice in Italy that has been around since the 13th century. The famous hand-painted leather or papier-mache masks of that carnival turn into the feathery half masks on Goan lanes. So go make your tour packages or shack bookings immediately, and don't miss it for the world.

Getting there
From Mumbai, you can take a flight to Goa and then hire a pre-paid cab from the airport counter to head into town. Else, if you're feeling adventurous, you could drive down to Goa taking the NH 17 (also called the Mumbai-Goa highway). A/C and non-A/C buses to Goa leave from Dadar and Bandra every night.

Getting around
A cheaper alternative to taxis are bikes and scooties that can be rented for as little as Rs 300 a day. (A litre of petrol costs Rs 60 and you'll have to pay extra for that. You won't need more than 2 litres a day.)

Were to eat
For authentic chouriço, try the new Ernesto's (0832 3256213) or George Bar near the Panjim church. ato or Café Bhosle, both in Panjim, serve delicious sukhi bhaji.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Valentines Day Vacation

One can never outgrow the charm of Valentine's Day. No matter what people say, it is a occasion to celebrate love. Add to it the fact that this year, it happens to fall on a long weekend with Friday, February 12 being Shivratri and a holiday for many. So pack your bags this Valentine's Day and take a weekend break to one of these magical places in India, perfect for a romantic getaway.Valentine's Day (February 14) is a great excuse to take a break from the daily grind and spend some quality time with that special someone. And with V-Day falling on a Sunday this year, it's the perfect opportunity to skip town and head out. So we asked readers to send in their most romantic vacation spots that would make great V-Day getaways.

The Misty Hills of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

How much ever people try to dissuade you, do not listen. Shimla, about 370 km from Delhi, is the eternal favourite honeymoon spot in North India and for good reason too. The nip in the air, the misty skies, the breathtaking views and evening walks on the Mall road make it the perfect romantic location.Must-do: Walk hand in hand with your beloved while devouring a softy ice cream from the famous stall near the church. The toy train from Kalka to Shimla is also a must do.

Where to stay: Unless you want to go the luxury way and stay at the Oberoi, be adventurous and walk down the mall towards a campsite called Potters Hill. The Swiss Tents are comfortable and the location in the middle of the pine forest perfect.

Marvelous Matheran, Maharashtra

Leave the hustle bustle of city life behind and lose yourself in this tiny hillock called Matheran, about 108 km away from Mumbai.The only hill station where there is no vehicular traffic allowed, spend leisurely afternoons taking pony rides or treks along the unused railway track.Matheran is delightfully accessible from Mumbai and Pune by local trains that don't need prior booking.

Must-do: Take a walk along the lanes that wind their way through the forests, buy a guava from the stall on the way and hear the birds twitter.

Where to stay: Maharashtra Tourism has excellent cottages at throwaway prices.

Gopalpur-on-Sea, Orissa

It may sound like a description but Gopalpur-on-Sea is actually the name of this sleepy town located about 180 km from Bhubaneshwar in Orissa.Once a busy sea port, it is now a quaint and quiet beach side town. There is a lighthouse for some sightseeing but besides that, there is just the sand, the sea and you. Perfect for a quiet romantic weekend vacation packages .The waters of the sea here are a pleasurable deep blue which is rare to find in the ever crowded Goa.

Must-do: Walk barefoot in the sand and watch the sun go down on the sea.

Where to stay: Swosti Palm Resort is a nice and clean but affordable stay option here.

The Spice Route through Kerala

One would never think of Kerala as a weekend vacation. But if you happen to be in that part of the country, this is the perfect answer to your Valentine's Day plans.What could be more romantic than a cruise in a houseboat down the backwaters at Alleppey and fresh prawns for dinner!Plan a 2-day trip to Cochin and go down to Alleppey (2 hours away) for a day's cruise.Must-do: Visit the Mattancherry Antique market in Cochin and pick up a 200 year old souvenir to remember your trip.

Where to stay: Book the houseboat for the night and return to Cochin the next day.

The epitome of Love - Taj Mahal, Agra

It would be sacrilege to talk of romance and not mention the monument of Eternal Love, the Taj Mahal in Agra, about 203 km away from Delhi.As hyped that the monument may be, a visit to the Taj will convince you that it still remains magical in its power to amaze.Club a visit to the Taj with a tour of the magnificent Agra fort and you are in for a treat. Immerse yourself in the romance of years gone by and rediscover each other.

Must-do: When you visit the monuments, do make sure you hire a guide. They may charge an extra Rs.50 but they will help you appreciate the beauty much more than you otherwise would.

Where to stay: There are plenty of 5 star options in Agra, the best of which is the Jaypee Palace.

Seeped in history - Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

This may not be an obvious choice but it is merely a lack of marketing and not of potential. Madhya Pradesh remains one of our most unexplored jewels and Orchha may just be the crowning gem.A town seeped in history and culture, Orchha, about 170 km away from Khajuraho, is a historian's dream.You don't necessarily need to appreciate architecture to pay this town a visit though. The quiet little town on the banks of the Betwa river is as romantic as it gets. Orchha is best reached by taking a train to Jhansi (16 km away).

Must-do: Watch the sunset over the river.

Where to stay: Book the Orchha Resort and stay in the Swiss Tents instead of the rooms. You will have your morning tea literally in the lap of the ruins.

Coorg (Kodagu), Karnataka

Referred to as the Scotland of India, nestled between teakwood and sandalwood forests, Coorg is beauty that must be experienced.A popular destination yet so abundant in natural beauty that it seems untouched. The region is known for its stunning scenic beauty and undulating coffee plantations.A comfortable drive from Bangalore (252 km)/ Mangalore (135 km), Coorg is the perfect Valentine's Day weekend if you live in these cities.

Must-do: The Abbey Falls, near the main town of Madikeri can be reached by hiking through the cardamom and coffee plantations.

Where to stay: The best part about Coorg is to stay in the midst of the plantations. For a luxury option, the best recommended is Orange County. But if you want to save the dough, experience Coorg by staying in one of the homestays like Ashraya Homestay or the Palace Estate Homestay.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Though Udaipur is rumoured to be the romantic capital of India, take a cue, bypass the city and plan a trip to Jaisalmer instead.There are few things more romantic than endless sand dunes till the eye can see, villagers dressed in the colours of the rainbow and a camel ride watching the sun go down.All this and more, only at Jaisalmer the desert capital of India Tours.

Must-do: Take a guided tour through the ancient fort of Jaisalmer, once an important stop on the trade route between India and Persia and Egypt.

Where to stay: Fort Pokaran has fabulous location and completes the Rajasthani experience. For a more budget option, stay at the lovely Hotl Fifu. Despite the strange sounding name, the hotel is well located and has tasteful rooms.

Getaway: Lansdowne, Uttarakhand

If there is heaven on Earth, it is here. Lansdowne offers majestic beauty, serene surroundings and lovely atmosphere, perfect for a couple to share their best moments with each other. It truly is one of the most romantic getaways for special occasions.

Sights: St Mary's Church and Tip-n-Top are two of the most reknowned tourist attractions. Though Lansdowne also boasts of a quiet lake where you can find swans and ducks swimming around.

Eats: There isn't much to offer as regards Lansdowne in terms of eateries. Almost all the hotels provide good food included in the package of your stay there. Though the ultimate fun is cooking your own food on a fireplace.

Shopping: Lansdowne has shops operated by the Garhwal Rifles from where you can buy cheap leather goods and other winter accessories like bags and boots.

How to get there: Lansdowne is about 250 km from Delhi. It is roughly a six-hour drive. The highway till Kotdwar is good. After that, for the last 40 km, the hilly terrain is really enjoyable with pines and cedars on both sides of the road.

Amid mountain mists
Getaway: Amboli, Maharastra

A great weekend destination worth visting.

Sights: If you like silence, if you like nature, Amboli is for you. The best thing about this place is that unlike other hill stations, this one is not yet commercialised, hence Amboli offers you natural beauty. Amboli is highly recommended if you like to spend some time in peace and would like to relax in nature. Amboli has not much to offer in terms of entertainment, but it's a real paradise for nature lovers. Some facts about Amboli: receives the highest rainfall in Maharastra; has the largest green cover; is home to around 30 species of animals, around 129 species of birds and over 350 species of medicinal plants; is a great location for adventure tourism; has cool and pleasant pollutuion-free climate round the year.

Eats: Vegetarian food at Vithal Kamat. We were there for lunch and the only option available was Veg Thali. We asked for some other options but they had none so we had to go for the thali. They charge around Rs 35 per thali. The food was simple and good with great dessert. It is on the main road, near Sunset Point.

Green Valley Resort: This resort has an in-house restaurant. The menu offers a wide choice of veg and non-veg food(including Chinese). This restaurant has no bar. Though I tried only the veg food here, I am sure they serve good non-veg food also. Prices seemed to be on the higher side. Service was good.

Shopping: The small Amboli market has nothing much to offer except for some local masalas at Narvekar (opposite Sailee Hotel).

Sights: If you are not travelling by your own vehicle, you can hire an auto (Rs 400) or a taxi (Rs 700). It takes around 4- 41/2 hours to cover the 5-6 spots. The siteseeing locations are Hiranyakeshi Temple (a small temple where the river Hiranyakeshi originates, a beautiful location but the approach road to the location is pathetic, it is around 4 km from the Green Valley Resort); Kavalesaad Point (beautiful location with awesome views; if fogs allow, you can see the beauty of the Sahyadri range from this location; it is around 9 km form the Green Valley Resort on the highway towards Belgaum; here too the approach road is quite bad); other locations to be covered are Madhav Ghad, Raghaweshwar (Maruti Mandir) and Nagarthas Falls. The last one is the waterfall ahead of Sunset Point. Make sure you are ready to get yourself totally drenched in this beautiful waterfall. It is located 3 km away, at the Sawantwadi-Belgaum road. Thirty minutes in this fall will make you feel awesome. Have a cutting chai with some hot pakoras while you are wet, I bet you will love it.From Belgaum, Amboli is about 68 km which is covered in two hours. You can either take the NWKRTC or the MSRTC bus heading towards Sawantwadi at the main bus station. Fare is about Rs 45.Please make sure to make advance reservations if going on a weekend.

Tucked away in peaceful hills

Getaway: Writers Hill, Himachal Pradesh

Description: Romantic and peaceful

Sights: Renuka lake, zoo, campfire

Shopping: Local antiques, small carvings

Activities: Visit to Renuka Lake and Zoo, picnic by the river, fishing, trek to Churdhar.

How to get there: Writers Hill is 220 km from Delhi. Take a right turn from Ambala flyover and go upto Nahan. Writers Hill is 20 km drive from Nahan.

Accommodation: There are three cottages with a central kitchen. Two of the cottages have a study attached and each of the cottage looks into the Jalal river valley. The mountain in front gives you a breathtaking view. With all the cottages having bay windows, it's an unrestricted view.The cottages are large, airy and offer a simple yet very comfortable stay.Each study has a collection of books both fiction and non-fiction and in the days to come the collection will only increase and improve.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Alappuzha Venice of the East

Alappuzha, the Venice of the East welcomes you to the backwaters of kerala. The Palm fringed canals and shores bustling with glimpses from the day to day life in the country side, the mirror still lagoons, picture book lakesides and its long sandy beach has blessed Alappuzha, the water locked district, to become one of the best Backwater tourism destinations in God's Own Country.

Alleppey Backwaters

With the Arabian sea on the west and a vast network of lakes, lagoons and fresh water rivers crisscrossing it, Alappuzha is a district of immense natural beauty.Referred to as the Venice of the East by travelers from across the world, this backwater country is also home ot diverse animal and bird life. By virtue of its proximity to the sea, the town has always enjoyed a unique place in the maritime history of Kerala.Today, Alappauzha has grown in importance as a backwater tourist centre, attracting several thousands of foreign tourists each year. Alappuzha is also famous for its boat races, houseboat holidays, beaches, marine products and coir industry. A singular characteristic of this land is the region called Kuttanad.

History of Allepy:

Before the Dutch took over this place, the Portuguese were the predominant rulers of this place. Later Maharaja Marthandavarma came into power and he gave ample importance to the developmental works of the place. Slowly it became a very busy commercial place attracting merchants from all over.

This resulted in the establishment of a number of coir factories producing coir-related goods of quality. The first coir factory was developed by an English sea captain and soon others followed suit. The first Anglican Church was built in 1816 by the Christian missionaries whose headquarter was in Alleppey.

Major tourist attractions in Allepy:

The most important tourist vacation packages attraction in Alleppey is the leisurely boatcruise through the stretch of backwaters fringed by coconut palms. Alleppey, one of the exotic sites of backwater tourism in the state of Kerala is better known as the "Venice of the East" for its labyrinth of lakes, lagoons and freshwater rivers crisscrossing it. This tiny town in Kerala attracts tourists especially during the time of the annual boat race.

For tourists Alleppey is the pivotal point for boat cruises into Kerala's famed backwaters and the state's lush rice bowl, Kuttanad. The boat cruise along the backwaters of Alleppey give one a first hand experience of the simple life style of the people which is a far cry form the bustle and ratrace of people in the cities in India.

One of the most popular cruise routes are from Alleppey south to Kollam (Quilon) for about 8 hours including stops for lunch, chai (tea), a temple visit and a kathakali (dance drama) apart from enjoying the most entrancing scenery of palm-lined banks, quiet water-bound villages, Chinese fishing nets, prawn farming and coir manufacture.

There are several places and tour packages of tourist interest in and around Alleppey.

Punnamada Kayal, the must-visit place of Alleppey where the annual Nehru Trophy boat race takes place. During the month of August-September, the backwaters become crowded with thousands of spectators and a large number of competitors who come to participate in the famous Nehru Trophy boat race.

Krishnapuram Temple, the two-storied building of Alleppey, displays the typical Keralan style of architecture. The largest mural painting, Gajendra Miksham, is displayed in a museum here.

Ambalapuzha Temple, where Lord Krishna is worshipped, is also an important place to visit in Alleppey. Here one can see the typical temple architecture and culture of Kerala along with the chance to taste the Keralan delicacy, payasam, which is served to the visitors in Alleppey during the festival times of March/April.

St. Andrew's Church, established by the Portuguese missionaries in Alleppey, celebrates the feast of St. Sebastian in a fun-filled, festive way.

Situated in the heart of Alleppey, Mullackal Temple, dedicated to goddess Rajarajeswari, is also a place worth visiting.

Surrounded by thick-green forests, Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple of Alleppey is a holy place where the king of serpents is worshiped. Number of devotees from all over India and abroad visit this place every year.

The Chettikulangara Bhagavathy Temple of Alleppey is believed to have miraculous powers and hence visited by number of pilgrims every year.

Kottamkulangara Mahavishnu Temple and Devi Temple are the oldest temples of Alleppey and are sites worth visiting, especially during the time of festivals.

Hotels in Allepy:

Allepy Prince Hotel: At Prince Hotel, you will experience the royal grandeur and resplendence of the regal life-style of ancient Indian princes and princesses. Each and every room is crafted in luxurious manner and are rich with their elegant interiors. Their unique designs and relaxed ambience create the ideal atmosphere for you to enjoy holiday.......

Kayaloram Lake Resort: Amid this scenic setting lies Kayaloram (meaning lake side), the exclusive lake resort. Kayaloram is a harmonious blend of the ambience of rustic Alleppey and the amenities of a modern resort. Situated on an exclusive stretch of prime water front, fringed by coconut palms and caressed by a gentle breeze.

Marari Beach Resort:Mararikulam is a sleepy fishing village located between the port city of Cochin and Alleppey. And here, amidst the coconut groves is the Marari Resort. Like the other resorts in this hotel chain viz Spice Village, Coconut Lagoon etc, Marari Beach Resort is also constructed with a strong ethnic flavour......

Shopping in Alleppey

Among the locally available products of Alleppey are the coir products and carpets. The fine quality, variety and reasonable price tag make these products stay high in the demand list of tourists. Besides Alleppey is also famous for its pepper, coconut oil, areca nut, cardamom, sugar, etc. There are several markets are available in Alleppey.