Category Archives: India

Havelock- In a Tropic Love

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Every one inherently has a “happy place”. It can be the place you mentally transport to from your desk at office, a state of mind that can instantly calm you down and encompass you with a sense of serenity no other place can provide. Physicality begins to matter less when it comes to places like these.. and over time one starts to develop a real sense of belonging to this one place, this one point in time, this one feeling that dimension brings and this one sensation that is unique to anything one may ever feel in the crossroads of time spanning across our lifetimes. In simpler words, its the place you find yourself in when you’re sitting in counselling sessions with your shrink ūüėČ

My happy place can be described in one word- Havelock.

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Imagine palm tress swaying in he mellow summer breeze while you lay in the sand, just staring up at the emeralds in the sky. It is a sense of freedom that comes to stay deep in the depths of ones dark soul, lighting up the shadows and letting the gentle crashing of waves carry away the weights from our hearts and mind. This is what Havelock is to me.

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My tryst with Havelock has been a story of a lifetime..virgin, untouched lands growing in the middle of the ocean. I would like to think I’am meant for the island life, but something tells me anyone that has been to Havelock will probably feel the same way. the ferocity with which the locals protect the islands is something to watch and imbibe. It is incredible and almost surreal to be in a place so isolated from the usual driving forces in the world, ambition, success, greed, desire. Havelock just is. It simply exists, transcending time and everything that it brings along with it.

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Beach number 1 / Beach 2

Goving Nagar beach, welcome to kayaking through swamps to the mouth of the open sea and descending into the depths of ice blue coral reefs  for Scuba! Barefoot at Andaman is located on this beach, and my day with them was spent exploring the shallow depths of the crystal waters with team Barefoot.

DSCN1920We watched the sunrise at this beach and then headed through dense swamps standing glorious and proud here since ages, to the open water. The walk itself was mesmerizing. Everything you pass will tell you a story, you have got to listen, you absolutely must. For adventurous souls seeking thrills across the world this walk is a remnant of the stories we read as kids, stories of untold stories, unsolved mysteries, characters and creatures deep in hiding, layers under layers of ancient heritage, open skies watching over all that you will probably never know of.

DSCN1919Once you cross the mangrove swamps spread out over white crystals of sand, you magically come across the dark rocky patches in stark differentiation from the scene you just encountered and you know its time to get acquainted with the most diverse range of creatures just beyond the surface of the water patiently waiting to show off and stun the life out of visitors.

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The Day I forgot to breathe.

The dive was absolutely enchanting. we graduated from the shallow waters into the the world of corals, rainbow fishes, sea anemones and creatures I never thought even existed until now. I remember my first thought when I finally immersed myself completely. Ive always been an emergency quad, you know the kind of person that always has a back-up. a plan B always exists in my mind and I was ready to end my game if needed. With this thought in mind, I went ahead but the moment I looked down it took me 15 seconds just to take in the massive hills of corals that lay waiting for me. There was no looking back. Its like when you fall in love, once it happens.. there is no other way. no matter how you roll the dice, its got to be. from then on, I remember feeling I could live there. There was a point in tine down under when I actually forgot to breathe, it just seemed very trivial compared to what was around me.

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Finding Nemo!

Large boulders of corals in surreal colours, shapes and massive sizes. Stunning. I have always had a very vivid imagination, but here it seemed like my imagination was coming alive in HD! the corals were breathing! That is exactly what it looked like and I do not exaggerate. the pored in the corals were lined with clams, opening and closing rhythmically with time- like a flower opening and closing in all its delicacy and discipline. Wherever I went, they were alive. They were all around me and the life in them took my breath away! That is when I came across the clown fish.. Neon, chrome, interactive. The clown fish lives in a web of tentacles that it uses as a defense mechanism against predators. the tentacles are meant to sting the hunters while having no effect on the clown-fish itself. I love animated films for the simple reason they are closest to the imaginative filter I was earlier talking about. The moment I say the clown fish I looked at my “buddy” and gestured- I’ve found Nemo! He gave me sometime with Nemo almost as condolence to the death of humor and sanity and then the inevitable happened! I spotted the fish that was NOT supposed to be there, that everyone wanted to see but no one was expecting the superstar to show up during that time. But he did, despite the high tide, despite the irregular water flow, despite the odd time of travel for it- it appeared in all its glory and size- the Hump-head parrot fish!!!!! Every second under water was accounted for, increasing its worth and value continuously with the appearance of the seven colored Parrot fish, scallops, blood cockles and soft, hard corals, brain corals, Black Corals!!!!

Beach number 4- Kala Patthar

Dont let the name fool you. The beach may have massive black rocks lining its shore for most of its coastline which gives it its name, but kala patthar beach is predominantly an array of whites and the brilliant blues. Broken pieces of corals make most of this beach almost impossible to walk on, and yet the entire stretch of what remains is visually stunning. The Kala Patthar beach is one of the best beaches to swim into the sea and crash into incoming waves.I remember the afternoon spent swimming into the open waters and feeling the sand softly, silently slipping beneath my feet.

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IMG_7385Beach Number 7- Radhanagar beach

Saving the best for last. The Radhanagar beach, also one of the most beautiful beaches of Asia is unbeatable. When I say Havelock is my Happy place, I mean beach number 7. Flawless. Radhanagar beach is the treasure of Havelock which is protected ferociously, and with reason. The sun rays play with the ocean here like nowhere else. The waves change hues in a spectacular array like never seen before. The sand here is pure white and a swim in the sea is like a dip in the divinity of untouched nature embracing you like you’ll never know again.¬†Elephant beach is a ferry ride away, but here’s a secret you need to know… if you must go there, walk into the rarely treaded mud trail leading through the forests of Havelock.

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The Radhanagar beach is spectacularly clean allowing no use of plastic or any other consumables, and all that is found for miles is heaps of fruits, coral accessories and wildlife. We were lucky to be staying in cottages by the Radhanagar beach and the walk down to the beach and back in stark darkness only guided by the stars and almost visible milky way (clearly visible from Neil Island) was one of the highlights of the stay.

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Havelock is one of those places you may go to but never really come back from. Not sure if it is the irresistible calling of the Island life, the golden opportunities to star gaze, the peace and serenity that transcends into the soul from everything around it, or the sense of unity one has with nature….. or maybe all of it. Once in Havelock, I was in a tropic love, and to be honest I never really fell out of it. So yes, everyone has a happy place. so far and up until Andaman Islands, it was a sense of “fernweh” I related to, but after falling in love with Havelock I knew I had found my happy place. Finally, I was home.
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Andaman Islands : Port Blair

Fernweh… the first time I came across the term I immediately fell in love with it. The power of words is often underestimated, a commodity used less, not enough or maybe more than required. Every word carries a certain amount of accountability with it.. and consecutively each word holds within itself a magnitude of power. I believe its crucial each person finds their “word”, I believe mine is “fernweh”. The longing and painful desire to be some place I don’t know yet, to experience some thing I never have before.. and there are very few places that ignite the core of this storm¬†within me. One such please was¬†Andaman Islands, a magical land furiously challenging the Indian ocean everyday and sustaining in the only way it knows how- through persistence. And then, one day.. I was there.

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My trip to Andaman Islands was full of surprises, and experiences that have still not evacuated that space of longing in my head. It has been a month since a got back to¬†my beloved busy city of Traffic and speed, lights and WiFi , and yet A see myself seeking the stars that i seemingly left behind in the Andamans. The islands have the tendency to land you in an existential crisis, coherently making the concept of keeping up with Time a challenge. Vacuum drives philosophy, and since I’am already one to philosophize more than necessary, in Andaman my imagination caught FIRE!
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A number of people asked me why I was heading to Andaman for 6 full days. I usually forget to sleep or shop and almost never turn to the usual touristy activities when I’m out to explore a new place..For me its all about seeing all that the place possibly has to offer and attaining a level pf peace within myself where I can confidently and without any excuses convince myself that I didn’t visit, i existed..¬†like I belonged there.

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6 days on the island convinced me that no amount of time will ever be enough to watch the infinite stars, dive into the open ocean, trek through mushy forests and indulge into emerald blues at the end of every route, no matter where it leads. Andaman Islands is a lone ranger, standing tall and proud in the middle of a vast, angry ocean.

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My trip included visits to Port Blair- the capital, Ross Island, Neil Island and Havelock! Lying at the North- Western edge of the Island, Port Blair comes with its fair share of tourism-centric day to day activities. a small almost unreal toy town, the city is predominantly inclusive of the navy base with their holdings and base camps occupying a major part of the town. Port Blair is a small town mainly centered around the water sports complex where most of the tourist activities take place. This is where the main jetty is from where one can embark on a ferry to jet off to one one of the neighboring islands- Ross Island or North Bay Island and more. A number of things that one must not miss when in Port Blair include the following.

A visit to the Cellular Jail

Port Blair is home to the stoic Kala Pani jail, famous for unspeakable horrors and ironically standing  in the midst of the most beautiful expanse of golden blue one would ever have the luxury of laying eyes on.

“Hello Prisoner. Welcome to the cellular jail. We tame lions here. ¬† Do you see these walls? Do you know why they are so low? Because no one can ever escape from here. ¬†And Now, Look at me. Over here, I Am God.- David Barry (Jailer)

34-001 Almost spearheading this topic is the Cellular jail. The prison that has stood testimony to a monstrous past has endured its own set challenges to sustain and exist. Subjected to massive destruction when bombed by retreating Japanese forces and consecutively hit by major natural disasters which reduced the once towering structure from 7 to 3 wings as of 2016.

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The jail was famous for its status of an exile prison where notorious criminals and gradually relevant freedom fighters were sent in order to live out their last days.

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Walking past the cells of Vir Vinayak Savarkar,¬†Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, Nani Gopal Mukherjee, Nand Kumar, Putin Das and more and hearing of the atrocities they endured all in the name of freedom for their country was a moving experience. How many of us in today’s times would be able to commit to a cause like they did, How many would actually be as selfless as them in this time where everyone is driven by greed, ambition and money. A change in perspective is sometimes necessary, and a trip down memory lane in a place which speaks volumes can do wonders. the top tower offers spectacular views of the open sea and neighboring smaller islands while the government has sent up a huge hospital in place of the fallen wings of the jail, destroyed during the Japanese war bombings and in honor of the comrades who lost their lives there.

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However, what was supposed to stand as a structure of unspeakable torture instead became a beacon of silent resilience and ultimate courage as the batch of “revolutionary freedom fighters” came, saw and conquered.

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The trials and tribulations endured by the inmates, the lives sacrificed, the brutalities endured under Jailer David Barry are all on display and in the winds that echo from one cell to another. If visiting the jail, make sure you complement the visit with the light and sound show which takes place every evening at 6 Pm and 7 Pm respectively.

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A visit to Corbyn’s Cove
Away from the hustle bustle of the small town of Port Blair, on the non-tourist end lies a serene, small beach called Corbyn’s cove. A relatively peaceful evening would include a gorgeous view of the sky, sea and “snake island”- smallest island of Andaman in the distance. The beach is usually dominated by locals playing football and families enjoying a stroll along the clear waters. The beaches in Andaman are lush with stalls selling coconut water, fruits and instantly cooked foods in returnable containers. The beach is gorgeous and good for a few hours of respite but it is the drive to the cove that truly steals the show. The drive is immensely stunning and all the way by the sea. The road is a thin route sandwiched between the mountain and the sea and provides spectacular views of the coastline until one reached the beach.

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The Water Sports Complex
The sports complex is located right by the jetty and is home to all water sports activities possible in Port Blair. The Sports activities take place in the neighboring North Bay Island and include Snorkeling, Scuba Diving and Sea Walking. When driving past the highs and lows of the city, don’t forget to watch out for the massive swimming pool located on top of a bridge at the water sports complex, visible to the naked eye against the sharp backdrop of the open sea itself.

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Open sea dives and Coral Hunting

I would highly recommend sea-walking at the Water sports complex in Port Blair, which would take place at the North Bay Coral island. However, I would advise Scuba diving to be done only in Havelock. Its pristine gorgeous reefs remain unmatched and truly divine.

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Enroute Ross Island

Ross Island
A day’s trip from Port Blair, Ross Island is probably my number 1 rated destination in and around Port Blair. Ross Island has a solitary history, one could even call it dark and tumultuous.

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I may not be necessarily talking about the war bombing or the earthquake that devastated any hint of infrastructure or potential life on the small Island. The British sepoys loved this little Island and used it to build clubs and halls and even the Viceroy’s bungalow which stood at the very top of it providing spectacular views of the open Indian ocean.

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However, they underestimated the proximity of the little mass of land to the open ocean and this became more prominent than ever when the Ross Island was directly hit by the Tsunami, holding off the force and bearing the brunt of the impact thus saving the entire city of Port Blair which lies directly behind it. The Ross Island was devastated and what remains today are creepy and dark hollows where once life thrived.

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The area is completely desolated except the navy camps which is mainly uninhabited. the Island is home to hoards of deer, peacocks and other wildlife. It is however, prohibited to stay here after 5 PM. The island has the remains of a cathedral in the center, a cemetary with the graves of women and children who died of Malaria when the island was hit by an epidemic and the famous grave of 22 year old Lawrence.

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Rumor and folklore has it that the cries of the women and children can still be heard at night. I may not be a believer but the thrills that chill down my spine when visiting a place that may have some multi dimensional planes are hard to ignore. The front face of the island is evidence of remarkable town planning by the Britishers and its sole satisfying to see the deathly remains of a once upon a time swimming pool lying by the open sea, the water loading house and the hospital all standing in despair and in remembrance of their prime glory.

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The entire time in Andaman, we stayed with the TSG group of hotels and consecutively landed in the TSG emerald and TSG grand resorts of Port Blair. The service was immaculate and the locations absolutely strategic. The first day in Port Blair we were caught in a torrential rain storm and what happened as a result of that goes down in memory as one of the best travel experiences I have had.. We walked through the entire land of Ross Island in the rain, crusading through the wind and not letting the pouring torrents dampen our spirits of adventure in any way possible! Thus we walked through the alleys and dungeons of Ross and came out absolute champions. The icing on the cake being a stunning rewarding view of the Indian ocean from the Navy High point.

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The view that made the climb up Ross island absolutely worth it

Next we moved on to Havelock. Sweet Havelock where dreams come true, where magic resides and where my I left my heart. But before that, a few snippets from my explorations in Port Blair..

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At the cellular Jail, used by prisoners to grind oil and produce mass produce within impossible hours. failure to produce the required amount of oil lead to shaming, flogging and beatings on a day to day basis
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The gallows. The horror.
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View of the Indian Ocean from ROss ISland
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At the angelic church, or what remains of it: Ross ISland
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The advent of time and the cries for help that fell on deaf ears.

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Next: Havelock

Spectacular Lucknow- Nawabon ka Shaher!

I was in Lucknow on a business trip and wanted to make the most of my time so I could pacify my itchy feet to travel! I was determined to make time to see the city i had heard so much about in the limited time that I had.

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I ended up going alone one free morning around the city. From the first step I took into the Bada Imambara, I was amazed. the bada Imambara constitutes of a grand mosque, a Bowli or water tanker with a deep dark history and a huge Maqbara surrounded by deep, twisting tunnels and secret passageways called the Bhul Bhulaiya!

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Nawabon ka shaher- A day in the tomb of & with the martyr. From the Persian Hall, Bada Imambara surrounded by the Bhul-bhalaiya, a maze with innumerable tunnels twisting through the dark, the walls speak here, you can here a sound of a matchstick lighting from across the hall, whispers travel through time, and once lost in the dark tunnels hidden in the surrounding walls There is no way out. And there in the middle of all this magnificence, lies the man that made it all.

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A day in his tomb will shake up the darkest hollows of your soul.The Bowli is a cold dark place, place that has seen more death, more fear, more torture than most others. A mighty salute to Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah, once Nawab of Awadh who lost love, life, family in the name of truth, honour and duty and landed up on display with his head on top of a spear outside this very place. Also listed in the 35 most haunted places of India, the walls and the dungeons of the the Bara Imambara speak in silence, so loud that it is impossible to ignore.

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I stayed at Gemini continental which is strategically located in Hazrath Ganj Lucknow, close to the prime shopping and food properties yet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The staff is very cooperative and I say this with full confidence as they supported me majorly during the set up and execution of a very high tech conference for my company last month.

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The rooms are great and the service is highly commendable. I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone looking for great quality¬†accommodation, However there are several heritage hotels here closer to the hotspot of cultural attractions like the Teela wala Masjid or the Rumi Darwaza. These hertage sites are a part of and blend beautifully withhtyh. The roads and infrastructure is impressive and so is the variety in food and eateries across the city, especially Tundey’s Kebabs!

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One of the most graceful cities I have been to, I stand truly mesmerized by Lucknow !

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Rann of Kutch- The Infinite streak

The Rann of Kutch has stood the testimony of time for centuries now, with ancestral heritage ruins and ancient deserts that refuse to acknowledge worldly rhythms. Barren land for miles, Rann of Kutch has an old world appeal with virgin, untouched territories spanning as far as one can see and quaint, beautiful villages that exist in oblivion. If seeking peace of mind, a conversation with the stars and introspection Rann of Kutch is the path that will lead you to it and here are a list of absolute Must Do’s in my humble opinion that must be added to your bucket list immediately! 3

  1. Lesser Rann

I have to admit I highly underestimated the Little Rann as I had no idea what to expect from this place. A potential Biosphere reserve, the Little Rann is rich in Biodiversity and considered to be the last reserve for wild asses all over the world, having a population of over 5000 wild asses, Nilgais, Foxes, wolves, etc. When in Little Rann, it is highly recommended to stay at Mr. Devijibhai Dhamecha’s Home-stay, also called the Eco Camp which is located in the sanctuary itself. The Koobas (Huts) are gorgeous, food authentic and the best part is one has the opportunity to simply walk out exploring into the sanctuary at any given point of time. 14 13 2

Mr. Dhamecha is a wildlife photographer himself and a conversation with him can give one great perspective about how the rest of the trip should be planned. The route to Eco camp is tricky, but worth the detours! The evening safari is an absolute must do! The jeep drives you into the depths of the desert and gives one amazing opportunities to capture wildlife at its best. Sunsets over the lesser Rann are brilliant. I would personally recommend a good camera to be carried along. Other than that one needs nothing else. For as far as one can see, there is not a soul in sight, the solitude is enchanting and it is a great time for introspection as one drives through the gruelling dry desert.The flamingo nest is a highlight here as it consists of several mounds containing eggs which may or may not have hatched yet. This view is stunning, as is the sunset over the Lesser Rann, the animals against the marshy backdrops and the incredible view of the sun and the moon over the desert in one frame!

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Link to Devijibhai Dhamecha’s Homestay: http://www.littlerann.com/index.html

2. Dholavira

Dholavira, Like Mohenjo Daro and Harappa was once a city part of the Indus Valley civilization. You know you’ve got to sit up and listen when is the ancestry that talks to you. Dholavira itself is an archeological site of the Mohenjo daro and Harappan civilization and exhibits spectacular insight that our ancestors had in terms of planning and resource utilization. The site/ city ruins lies in the middle of nowhere, atop high ground with no access to water and the survival story of this city that sustained in the absence of water is an architectural marvel. The incredible detailing that is evident here with respect to water conservation, drainage, storage, reservoir planning, water filtration and recycling can only be believed when seen! the basics of the modern-day water systems lie here, and the secrets to an age that existed thousands of years ago and saw multiple cities transition into one another lie in the heart of the site -the Citadel.

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Dholavira has a small village located close by, and for expert knowledge on the site one can get in touch with Mr. Jamal, the tour guide who even arranges for lunch and refreshment in the area which is a major plus as there is no civilization for miles around the site. 

Mr. Jamal (Dhola Vira Tour guide: 08141461264)

Another reason to do Dholavira is the road journey to this place! for about 80 Kms all one sees on either side of the excruciatingly straight road is farms and barren land when all of a sudden, out of NOWHERE comes the salt desert! Suddenly, for a miraculous 3-4 Km stretch all one can see is white on either side of the road, the contrasting landscape changes with the equally surprising weather change and within seconds, this becomes the Best Road-trip you might have ever done in your life.

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3. India Bridge and Kalo Dungar

Kala Dungar is a black stone hill located in the Rann of Kutch and is the highest point of Kutch, Gujarat offering panoramic views of the white desert. However, I would not recommend a visit to the Kalo Dungar if you’re only objective is to catch a glimpse of the view as the view is average and not very satisfying. A good eye can spot the India bridge from here but other than that, I would suggest to spend some time taking in a view of the beautifully decorated camels, eat some Gujarati style papdi bhel and kachodi, and see the 400 year old Dattareya temple that houses a statue of Lord Dattareya, who as per legend cut off parts of his body to feed hungry starving jackals once upon a time. These jackals can still be spotted here when they come to eat prasad fed to them after the 5 pm evening prayer. Another mystical fact associated with kala Dungar  is the strange effect it has on cars by pulling them down the slope with uncanny strength even when the engines are off. The magnetic entities dominating this phenomenon are currently under study.

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Highly recommended is a trip to the India bridge, just a few kilometers ahead of the Kala Dungar. The India bridge is the last point where the advent to the Pakistan border begins and the territory is under the control of the Border Security Force, Indian army. Photography is not permitted here but the experience is incredible. On request, the BSF may allow you to go 12 Km further up till the War Memorial where the last village of India is located 68 Km from Pakistan. The 12 Km stretch provided stunning views of the white desert, army bunkers, shooting ranges and war scenes. An absolute yes to this!

4. Great White desert

The primary reason why I wanted to visit the Rann of Kutch was to experience the solitude which is only born out of a union with nature, but I ended up getting much more. Accommodation while in Rann is primarily village housing and home-stays with a few dependable ones being the Rann Rajwadi, Toran resort, Hotel Desert Kind, etc; The white desert seems to be located at the end of all civilization where you seem to be leaving all behind as you walk deeper into the white marsh. Once part of the Arabian sea bed, this is the largest salt marsh in the world taking up 30000 Sq Km of the Thar desert. While is has several rivers draining into it carrying water from Rajasthan, the marsh is covered in water throughout the year except in the winter months of November-February when the water evaporates leaving behind salt that hardens because of the cold. This phenomenon is surreal. It is unbelievable to experience something as seemingly impossible as this, and yet as one walks deeper into the desert away from all signs of civilization you cannot help but realize that there is way too much to take in than you thought possible. The view is stunning, with white on all sides till as far as the eye can see. The skies are clear, stars are bright and close and the sun set over the Rann is magical.

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5. Moon Rise over the Great White Rann

It is the first time that we ever witnessed a Moon rise, and that too over the Rann- it did not disappoint. Moon- rise occurred as expected at 7:19 PM and from the moment that it began it was difficult to take our eyes off it. Initially appearing as a faint flicker of scarlet, a blood moon slowly and steadily rose from behind the clouds and over time escalated to deliver the promised view of the silver desert in the Moonlight. The last time I have witnessed Moonlight strong enough to cast Moon shadows was in Ladakh and I dare say, the Moonlight over the Great Rann blew my mind! We spent a good 4 hours out on the desert, even helped pull out an army officer’s vehicle stuck in the desert, walked for miles into the unknown and took our time taking in the incredible expanse!

Rann of Kutch in one word is surreal. Welcome to the “Infinite”- surpassing Time, distance and everything in Between.

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Hampi- The Lost Empire!

Giants among men do exist. If you have any doubts feel free to take a day off your schedule and walk around exploring a vast cohort of “could be’s” and “would have been likes” while you walk around what remains of a mighty magnanimous empire. Covering Hampi in 1 day may not be the ideal way to uncover the “secrets of the stones” that live here, but it is do-able.

Finding your way around these mighty remains is actually as simple as made out to be complicated. If you’re the aggressive, over enthusiastic type of traveler (which I am).. this plan could work wonders for you. Alternately, If you prefer the passive approach to sightseeing, then this plan would work equally well spread over 2 days. What follows is my attempt at breaking down a 3 day Hampi tour in simple steps which we spent more time than necessary contemplating over.

Hampi- How to get there?

We flew to Bangalore and hired  cab from the airport to the village of Hampi about 300 Kms and 6 Hours away. The transport to and back from Hampi is varied and frequent- buses, taxis, trains- Name it you got it. The route is fairly average, up until you come across the first glimpse of the Tungabhadra river which works as a genuine build up to what lies ahead. The highways connecting Bangalore to Hampi are spectacular and the entry to the main Village- Grand! The moment you’re past the entrance the scenery becomes spectacularly stunning, to the point that every way you look, youdsee your mind registering an eccentric painting- surreal, avid and buzzing with the slightest vibrations that the mind conveniently overlooks.

The village of Hampi lies on one side of the Tungabhadra river, and most of the guest houses lie along the other side which is that part of the national reserve of Karnataka that buzzes with Reggae music, soft chatter over drinks and crowds of young people drifting animatedly up and down the street, in and out of shops. For a second, the scene almost reminded us of a supremely relaxed Goa scenario- The colors are subtle, the music is amplified just enough and the winds blow just as fervently across the rice fields as it does across the skins of people it touches. As custom would have it, one would be required to cross the river to get to the guesthouses, a short 4 to 5 minute ride that brings together cohesive images of the famous ruins, even in the water. Submerged temples, Statues peeking over the water and an endearing Nandi statue that never fails to catch anyone’s attention while on the boat.

Hampi in 1 Day

As promised, Here’s my steadfast guide to covering Hampi in one day!

Hampi, located on the southern bank of river Tungabhadra was once the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, and the seat of culture, literature and knowledge for one of the longest spans of time seen in history. The kingdom was ruled by 4 dynasties over time, the Sangama Dynasty, the Saluwa Dynasty, Vijanagara Dynasty and the Tulu dynasty and over time became the standing testimony of varying cultures, beliefs, rituals and implementations miraculously bound by common roots and the unshakable love for knowledge. This is important to know because this is exactly what the remains talk about- in glimpses and snippets. Uncovering the stories is passable but the process of the brain taking in the grand remains and contemplating “what could have once been” is FANTASTIC!

Wake up early in the morning, have a hearty breakfast at one of the several eccentric cafes along the street or simply sitting by the rice fields and then walk down to the river. The first boat leaves at 8 AM. once on the other side, the simplest way to go about things is to follow a streamlined approach and literally covering everything that comes along the way- A map would be handy and be ready to walk, walk, WALK!

Virupaksha Temple

The oldest temple in Hampi, the Virupaksha temple tower also called the Bistappaya Tower is an 11 storey tall magnificent structure. The temple has 2 towers and 2 compounds and is dedicated to Lord Virupaksha or Pampapati. The temple is massive with steps leading into it from 3 sides and has a major middle hall and inner sanctums with temples dedicated to Pampadevi, Goddess Bhubaneshwari, Navagrahas, Shiva and Ganapati. The queen of this temple and a star attraction is Lakshmi, the endearing and captivating elephant that gracefully accepts eatables in return for her blessings, not to forget the perpetual residents of this place- the Monkeys and black faced langurs!

  1. Achyutaraya Temple

This was probably my favourite tourist spot in Hampi. The temple is set against a gorgeous location, nested in the middle of the mountains surrounding it! The Achyutaraya temple is surreal, large arches, vast madapas, gigantic pillars- all lying in absolute ruins. Its so beautiful its truly hard to explain. For this once, I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Valley View of the Achyutaraya Temple

  1. Temple of Kondan Rama

Located by the river, in my opinion the temple with the most beautiful view in all of Hampi. SIt is one of the temples that come along the way while walking from the temple of Achyutaraya, through the remnants of bustling carnival alley ways towards the Vitthala Vijaya temple. As opposed to the Haara Rama temple which was built as a private temple of the kings complete with a royal center of attraction this temple is delicate, elegant and highly basic in comparison.mall simple temple compound sprawling with Black faced langoors is the perfect setting for some self reflection and photography.

Matunga Hill

Once you have seen all of the Virupaksha temple, you can walk to the foot of the Matunga hill. Here there are two options- you can either walk all the way up the hill, a 45 minute hike that ends in a breath-taking view of the surroundings OR take option number 2, walk up the stairs on the left! The stairs to the left of the hill lead up the hill through a series of smaller temples built into the rocks ages ago. The walk continues through demolished gates, Hanuman temple nested in the rocks, cacti and  giant scenic stones only to lead to a brilliant view of the Achyutaraya temple, that lies at the end of the walk down the hill.

  1. Sri Vitthal Vijaya Temple & Stone Chariot

The Vitthala Vijaya temple complex is a sight to behold but what I will remember the most is the walk towards this temple through sprawling boulder hills and ancient structures that meet you along the way, be it the king’s balance which still stands today where once upon a time the current king was weighed against sacks of gold to be distributed amongst the poor. A kingdom of Heart Indeed. Even so, nothing beats the view of the spectacular barren hills against clear crystal skies and the wind whistling in your ear. The Vitthal Vijaya Temple complex is gorgeous surrounded by tall mounting walls and grand gateways, with multiple mandapas dedicated to each of the crucial rituals that each of us undergo in life. The detailing is sincerely shocking, with each and every curve and chisel mark on the structures telling a story. Everything holds significance here. the stone chariot stands right in the middle of the temple complex summarizing the mandapas around into the structures built into the chariot driven by the Lord Vishnu while the mandapas stand around it in grandeur, each stone structure a beauty on its own. These structures include the Kalyana Mandapa (Wedding hall), Ranga  Mandapa, Utsava Mandapa and the Sabha Mandapa! The Utsava Mandapa is truly a sight to behold as one witnesses the presence of 56 singing pillars, each producing the sound of a different instrument which were used in the days of Krishnadevaraya to create an ambiance of celebration. Suddenly, an evening lit up with radiance comes to life where dancers rejoiced to the tunes of these singing pillars being struck in harmony. The architecture is intelligent and it is astounding to see the kind of depth and insight builders had into the sciences at the time when the world was still coming to terms with development.

  1. Queen’s bath and Old Palace

Ok so by now, youhave walked alot. Probably more than you would normally in weeks. But stay rest ensured the sights that await are worth the efforts. The Queen’s bath is what remains of a wealthy, larger than life lifestyle. The old palace remains are extensively spread out, complete with the tower of judgment, secret meeting halls under the ground, horse stables, soldier hostels, messes for the workers and celebration enclosures.

The first sight of the old palace itself are two massive doorways spread across the ground as the structures to support it no longer exist. A sight like this can truly haunt and excite Anyone with an imagination, especially when one comes across the beheading station where so many countless lives were executed and disposed off.

Zanani Enclosure- Lotus Mahal, Elephant stables, Watch tower

The Zanani enclosure is a pleasant walk, much needed after the window into the life that once was within the old palace halls. The Lotus mahal is symbolic and majestic while the watch tower stands tall and solitary at the corner of the yard. the tower overlooks the old palace, queen’s bath as well as the much guarded royal treasury, a panorama of all that the kingdom held dear. Just beyond the tower stand the huge elephant stables, once home of the royal elephants and every bit as majestic as one would expect.The special thting about Hampi is that the entire village stands testimony to the spectacle that this kingdom once was, and the weight that carries is probably why it is called the ghost town- it leaves you with mixed emotions and the weight of neglect through the centuries.

Underground Shiva temple

My favourite place in Hampi, this spot is a gem! The underground shiva temple is literally a shive lingam located in the womb of an astounding temple complex located in a cave habituated by bats and creatures of the night.  The highly regarded and revered lord Shiva was once celebrated here with pomp and splendid display, today it stands neglected but powerful. The energy is high and so is the sense of adrenaline rushing through your blood as you hop and skip your way into the cave to take one good look at the majestic god.

Badavi Linga temple

Another spectacular shiva temple located right next to the Narsimha Statue is the Badavi Linga. Surprisingly one of the only structures that escaped any damage through time and natural consequences, the 3 feet tall Linga statue is the largest structure of its kind in Hampi. It is an overwhelming monolithic black stone statue that stands immersed in a naturally flowing water and is highlighted by the sunlight consistently streaming in through the top. Legends of the Badavi Linga are ripe and for all to indulge in, and the experience of seeing it yourself is unmatched.

Badavi Linga Statue, Hampi
Ugra Narasimha Temple

Located right next to the Badavi Linga, the Narasimha statue minus the Lakshmi statue which disappeared over time is a visual delight. Built in 1528 AD, the statue was destroyed during war and lakshmi was separated from Narasimha even though her hand can still be seen resting on his back. The largest monolithic structure in Hampi, the statue is covered by  the snake hoods of adishesha and this statue celebrates the fierce form of Lord Narasimha. The Lion face based atop a human body is truly a symphony of expressions.

Ugra Narasimha statue, Hampi
Hemakuta Hills

The Sacred center of Hampi, Hemakuta got its name from a legend associated with Hampi where Shiva agreed to marry his devotee Pampa impressed with her penance and will to marry him. It then rained gold on this hill, therefor Hema which in sanskrit means gold. The hills flattened unique structures spread out with temples dedicated to Shiva and Ganesha. The view from the top is worth the 15-20 minute climb and the silence and peace attained once on top is worth all the sweat and blood lost. One can see almost all of Hampi from the top and the hills offer great opportunities for photography, especially during sunrise and sunset. The main temple located here is the main Virupaksha temple dedicated to lord shive and his Pampa devi with the more interesting yet highly underrated Ganesha idols lining the second entrance to the top of the hill from the other side.

In Summary, All there really is left to say is that you have a holiday coming up and want to explore some place where magic may or may not have existed, Hampi is where you need to be. A perfect balance today between the old and the contemporary it is the perfect short holiday to spend with your friends, for reasons you need to be IN Hampi to decipher!

Shanti Inn, Hampi

Lakshmi Bathing by the Tungabhadra river and waving as we pass her by
With Love, From Hampi!

Sweet Sweet Pondicherry!

Pondicherry- fondly called Pondi is that it is a sweet endearing town which seems to be immersed in a summer slumber, lifetimes old. It is small, simple and almost so charming one would simply fall in love innocence and simplicity.

Incredible Pondicherry
Incredible Pondicherry

The fastest way to get to Pondicherry is from Chennai, where it lies about 2.5 hours away in the sleepy hollows of Bay of Bengal. While there are two routes to get to Pondi, my favorite is the one by the sea with ever blowing coconut trees, cloud covered fields of rice and never ending roads lined with saturated heaps of salt to complement the view.

En route Pondicherry
En route Pondicherry

At first glance Pondicherry is vibrant. Commercial, densely populated and heavily packed with vehicles especially two wheelers. However, the contrasting elements as you enter deeper into the city are stunning as the city slowly transforms into a sleepy, colourful summer town where people are mainly trying to escape their own realities.

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The locals are forever smiling, helpful and extremely comfortable with tourists in their lives. Tourism being the main trade of the city, everyone is oriented towards guiding tourists around the city. The best way to travel around this gorgeous place is by hiring a kinetic which comes at the rate of Rs. 250/- per day while the magic lies in getting lost around this town only to discover that almost all roads are inter-connected!

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Le Cafe on Rock Beach Promenade

If in Pondicherry, do try and stay at one of the hotels in White Town, the most beautiful part of Pondicherry also knows as the French village. My top recommendations would be Le Dupleix, Palais de Mahi, Villa Shanti or even Hotel Promenade.The little french cafes, bistros and restaurants pull strings at your heart which make you immediately thankful to be there and then.

Never ending days of summer in Pondi
Never ending days of summer in Pondi

The beautiful Le Dupleix, located just off the Promenade is incapable of ever disappointing. Its gorgeous and down right my favorite place in Pondicherry. Beautifully structured, elegant in design the feel of the place is magical. If there do try the crab frittatas and Lobster Thermidor!

Le Dupleix!
Le Dupleix!

Le Cafe is probably the most aesthetically located restaurant/ cafe in pondi. Located right on the promenade rock beach and the only one on the entire stretch, this cafe is elegant and has a stunning view! A perfect place to relax and forget who you are and where you come from. Places like Le Cafe make me philosophical almost because of its sheer elegance and this kind of beauty cannot go unnoticed.

Le Cafe
Le Cafe

When on a kinetic, you’re never out of options and on our trip we got a chance to explore a number of eateries, some similar and some very different. Cafe Xtasy serves the best best Pizzas and these pizzas are absolutely huge!! Do NOT order a large pizza unless you have at least 5 people sharing the pizza! Le club is another open air bar and restaurant which feels a lot like Goa to be honest. One place that must absolutely be visited is Villa Shanti! Elegant and ethereal, this place calls for a pre-booking or reservation..

At Villa Shanti!
At Villa Shanti!

Chocolatarians must visit Zuka! The mousse cakes are absolute delights. another recommendation would be to try the sunny Prawns at Le Club and maybe some Mutton soup and samosas by the street across Pondicherry railway station which my friends seemed to love.

Prats and I <3
Prats and I <3

Alcohol lovers can head to bars like Pudou Pudou or de Bussy, which are not very beautiful but serve extremely reasonable alcohol.

Zuka!
Zuka!

The best part about being on a kinetic is that we have the liberty of alighting and exploring as per our wishes. It is so important to have that kind of freedom when travelling, and this proved to be the best decision we took when there.

DisDis boutique cafe..one of the manby stops along the way :)
DisDis boutique cafe..one of the manby stops along the way ūüôā

Immaculate conception cathedral, one of the largest and most beautiful monuments in Pondicherry stands tall and stuns with its symmetry. We were lucky to be here during Easter and I must say witnessing the Midnight Mass on that Moonlit night was absolutely magical.

Immaculate conception cathedral, pondicherry
Immaculate conception cathedral, pondicherry

Another beautiful structure is Notre Dame des Angles church located just off Promenade and you get the most gorgeous view of the sea from inside the chursh. Frost glass windows, calm interiors and ancient architecture, the church is absolutely gorgeous. The streets of Pondi are lined with churches, temples and mosques and each nook and corner of the city seems to have a story to tell.

Notre Dame des Angles
Notre Dame des Angles

Pondicherry in general is a small commercial town which has a number of gems along the streets which CAN be easily missed. An example is the Kofi Barr along the corners of MG road street which serve mind blowing coffee, called Kofi or Mini Kofi by the locals.

Kofi Bar delights
Kofi Bar delights

The botanical gardens are just off the main road of white town. Riding or Walking around town one finds great photo opportunities at places like the Aurobindo ashram, Pondicherry bus station and even along water canals within the city. The drive by the Pondicherry Railway station is beautiful and one can cross over to the Fishing harbours on the other anytime.

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If in Pondicherry, try and get yourself to indulge in some Scuba. I am highly claustrophobic myself and so I was unsure about being able to handle the kind of pressure which would inevitably come with the dive. However, PADI temple adventure in Pondicherry provides an opportunity to train individuals and help them indulge in an open sea dive in the middle of the ocean with some of the most experienced divers, at one of the best sites available in India.

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My Scuba experience was incredible. We dove 40 feet under water and stayed under water for 37 minutes. We got out to the main ocean reef through a private harbour located at the backwaters of Pondicherry. Even if you are not planning to go diving, try and visit this area to get stunning views of fishermen catching fish and old ships stashed along the old harbours. While I was overcome with sea sickness on my way to the ocean, the dive was a spectacular experience. My partner in crime Ak actually ended up being a natural at this, and we slowly made our way down past groups of Moonies and tiger fish. More than anything, it is the endlessness under water as the sun seeps in through the world underneath that amazes you, especially if its your first dive. My Advice would be to stay as calm as possible and just let go. You will be okay. ūüôā

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Scuba dive with the favorite- 40 feet deep ūüôā

Auroville is located outside the city just off the toll point and is about 20 minuted away from the city center. The roads of Auroville are beautiful, green and wind around in circles so I suggest use Navigation whenever possible. Auroville, also called the city of Dawn is a world of its own.

Auroville Road, Pondicherry
Auroville Road, Pondicherry

The main Auroville temple is beautiful and world famous, and the surrounding village is one which will make you reminisce of long winding roads, canopies of trees, sun streamed forests and places far far away from the concrete jungles we have been raised in.. If visiting Auroville preferably travel in the morning.

Welcome to the city of Dawn!
Welcome to the city of Dawn!

The beaches are average, especially Serenity beach which I was expecting a lot more out of. However, a walk by the rock beach Promenade takes one along several ages as one witnesses the serenity of the Gandhi statue, the long forgotten air circumventing the lighthouse, the ancient and iconic promenade boardwalk and the simple people of this sleepy town who never forget to smile at someone they know is new to their home city.

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So thats my Pondicherry for you. I hope you love it as much as I did.May you be overwhelmed by the smell of sea and taste of salt on your face, and may all your thoughts and ideas get re-alligned as you walk by the inspiring yet lazy streets of this city forever drenched in love and magic! ūüôā

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Leh, Ladakh- 2009!

My cupboard has always been full of innate postcards and city maps from several cities around the world, most of which I did not recognize for a long long time. You see, the love for travel runs in my genes..My father was a traveler at heart, and one of the ways i feel the most connected with him today, after him having gone for 19 years- is through travel.

My first ever experience that made me a traveler- Ladakh trip 2009
My first ever experience that made me a traveler- Ladakh trip 2009

Standing in remote places, staring out at the evening sky and wondering- Was it like this for him too?

Incredible Ladakh!
Incredible Ladakh!

One of the first real travel anecdotes of my life occurred in 2009, when I jumped at the opportunity to visit Ladakh- The frozen desert with my friends on a much awaited college trip. Little did I know that I was leaving my city, never to be the same again.

The beautiful Chandrabhan valley beyond Rohtang pass on our way to Ladakh
The beautiful Chandrabhan valley beyond Rohtang pass on our way to Ladakh

We traveled from Mumbai to Ambala by train, and then by road from Manali to Leh. Let me take the liberty to assert that If you are thinking of traveling in India..You absolutely must do the road trip from Manali to Leh. One of the most beautiful journeys of my life, the road trip turned out to be one full of adventures. If you do travel by road, make sure you drink lots of water.

Along the Mountain curves
Along the Mountain curves

With an average decline of 30% Oxygen, acclimatization is a gradual and necessary process. We stayed the night at Keylong, one of the only bigger towns on the Manali-Leh highway but the real icing on the cake was the temporary lay over at Pang!

Sarchu, on the border of Ladakh and HP
Sarchu, on the border of Ladakh and HP

Once we crossed Sarchu, which is at the Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border, one of my friends developed hypothermia. Yes, it was that cold.

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Stunning views alone the route through the frozen desert

The delay led us to an unplanned halt at Pang, which was a little settlement made by trucker wives in the mountain tops. It even had a very infamous “loo with a view”.

The view from the loos at Pang
The view from the loos at Pang

May I say, that the night spent at Pang had me waking up at 3 AM, unable to breathe and extremely hungry. I ran out only to find one of the ladies sitting there and she said- “Ah, Finally!”. I still dont know what she meant..but two bowls of Maggi later, I found myself having conversations with the mountains in the middle of the night.

Pang, The night adventure
Pang, The night adventure

The Manali-Leh highway is open to travel only for 4 and half months, but take it from me- each of the 475 kilometers of that journey comprises the journey of a lifetime.

Along the passes through the Himalayas
Along the passes through the Himalayas

Having crossed the Lachung-La pass, Naki-La pass and finally the second highest motorable road Baralachala Pass, we finally descended into the green valleys of Ladakh!

Thikshe Monastery, Leh
Thikshe Monastery, Leh

I instantly fell in love with Leh- Its people, Its markets, the German bakery, the Monasteries- I remember feeling, and knowing peace. Pangong lake, the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers had us awestruck followed by a trip to Khardung-la, the highest motorable road of the world.

At the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers, Ladakh
At the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers, Ladakh
Khar dung-la Pass, the highest motorable road in the world
Khar dung-la Pass, the highest motorable road in the world

The trip to Ladakh has given me memories and friends that will last a lifetime.

My little local friend :)
My little local friend ūüôā

I remember walking the streets of Leh, guided by nothing but milky moonlight and I remember feeling so much, so much love in that city- that till today, I feel like I would have gladly stayed back there. Soon.. ūüôā

Pangong lake, Ladakh
Pangong lake, Ladakh