Dark, Delicious Scotland!

Scotland is known to many as the land of Bagpipes,  stoic castles and impressive landscapes. It was through my trip to this incredible country that I learnt of the lesser known attributes of Scotland- Its gritty, grimy, bloody history which the city of Edinburgh evokes through the darkest corners, hidden dungeons and mysterious closes!

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland

My trip to Scotland has been incredible.. real, yet surreal..being in Edinburgh made me feel like I was part of something larger, like being a part of a story which just refuses to succumb to silence. Edinburgh at first glance appears as a gorgeous town- grey and majestic.

When in Edinburgh
When in Edinburgh

 

Cobbled, well lined streets, eccentric colored walls lining the otherwise grey architecture, traditional bagpipers and the little local kilt shops- this is how I remember Edinburgh.

 

Bagpipes and Kilts- Ah Scotland!
Bagpipes and Kilts- Ah Scotland!

Walking along Edinburgh is like wandering in a maze.. the city interwines into itself at several junctions. History claims that the city was rebuilt several times, mostly structured one platform on top of another. As a result of this, several buildings we see are actually  built over once existing settlements, which at that time had colonies of people living inside them! Travel guides often descrive Edinburgh as the “city buried alive”and this arrangement over time has given birth toan even more unique concept- of the closes!

 

Edinburgh
Edinburgh

Not to miss is the little Elephant house cafe, where J.K Rowling is said to have conceptualized the Harry Potter series. Edinburgh is an amazing concoction of  an urban city lined with underground dungeons and graveyards hundreds of years old.

Edinburgh in levels
Edinburgh in levels

National geographic has listed Mary King’s close in Edinburgh is one of the most haunted places in the world. Walking down the flights of stairs into cooped up dark rooms where hundreds of families once lived in hiding was an extremely numbing experience. The tour was so fantastic that one would believe we were back in the war ages, as we walked through torture chambers, rooms of plague victims, medical wards, human body disposal gutters..all under ground!

File photo of Mary King's close
File photo of Mary King’s close

The most interesting experience was walking into the room of the little plague stricken girl who was left behind by parents who never came back for her, and it is said she is still seen there from time to time.

Closes and hidden alleys wait for you around every corner of Edinburgh
Closes and hidden alleys wait for you around every corner of Edinburgh

After the Close tour, we walked down to the Princess Gardens. These gardens stand beautifully fertilized today. However,  a lesser known fact is that this garden once used to be a lake, or a loch as the Scottish call it, which eventually filled up with organic matter from dead bodies disposed off in it over time!

The view from Princess gardens
The view from Princess gardens

The history of this town is dark, and it is what makes Edinburgh absolutely irresistible! The walk to Edinburgh castle is beautiful and very informative. The castle stands tall and strong atop the famous Castle Rock hill and hosts the most breathtaking views of the city.

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Edinburgh castle can be seen from all parts of Edinburgh and is one of the most celebrated tourist spots in Scotland. It is a stoic stone structure resembling a mighty fortress and home to war museums relaying age old Scottish tales of bravery and victory.

Edinburgh castle atop Castle Rock hill, Scotland
Edinburgh castle atop Castle Rock hill, Scotland
Bird eye view of the city from atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh
Bird eye view of the city from atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh

The iconic Grass market, Greyfreir Bobby’s grave, the city council chambers, war museum, occasional Scottish ale breweries, Whiskey distilleries are a few tourist spots that I highly recommend. The traditional pubs and “beer cafes” of Edinburgh are divine as well.

The Whiskey distillery, Scotland
The Whiskey distillery, Scotland

Edinburgh is a classy town offering a wide range of activities. When in Scotland you must try the Scottish delicacy Haggis- primarily containing sheep meat.  The people of Scotland are extremely nice and genuine, and love tourists.  The best way to see Edinburgh is by walking around the city, through the shifting levels of the streets and dark tunnels leading to underground closes. Walking around the city is a marvelous experience and I highly recommend it.

The streets of Edinburgh
The streets of Edinburgh
The Royal Mile street, Edinburgh
The Royal Mile street, Edinburgh

It is commonly believed that the night life of a country is probably the best way to understand its culture. The most interesting spot was pub Frankenstein, which boasted of a dark yet extremely exciting atmosphere! Edinburgh is primarily a student town and one has many options to hang out, giving rise a popular culture amongst travelers called “club hopping”.  Clubs, lounges, pubs and streets scaled with party hoppers-Edinburgh is an absolute delight!

The dynamic and super friendly city at night
The dynamic and super friendly city at night

I look forward to visiting the highlands at some point, and maybe I’ll go look for Nessie- The Loch Ness monster next time I’m there. Until then, if you’re visiting Edinburgh don’t forget to walk around as much as possible, as the real beauty of Scotland lies in imbibing not what it shows, but the stories it has to tell.

Until my next post, Guid cheerio the nou! 🙂

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Kadinche, Bhutan :)

Bhutan, better known as the last Shagri-La- Bhutan is a divine country.

Incredible Bhutan!
Incredible Bhutan!

It wont be wrong if i said that Bhutan is magic! I remember feeling very unsure about what to expect when “the explorers” first broke it to us that we would be visiting Bhutan next ! The thing was, I knew nothing about Bhutan, quite literally. This is the reason why what happened in the next ten days blew my mind.

Gateway to Bhutan
Gateway to Bhutan

We flew to Sealdah, Kolkata and then travelled by road to Jaigaon, a little town in Bengal that shares the border with Bhutan. One look at the Majestic gate of the Royal republic of Bhutan mermerised us. we had our permits checked and moved into the town of Pheuntsholing.. and might I say, it was incredible. Colourful, grand and absolutely majestic. It was hard to believe that we had moved into another drastically country just in a span of 2-3 minutes.

First look of Bhutan
First look of Bhutan

If you are traveling to Bhutan, do not come back without trying every variety of momos they have. The food in Bhutan comprises alot of red rice and curries, but the momos are absolutely incredible. Definitely a must try.

Bhutan- Paradise on earth!
Bhutan- Paradise on earth!

The locals in Bhutan are very like-able. They love smiling at foreigners, making them happy, and before you know it, you get into the habit of smiling a lot too.

Colours of Bhutan
Colours of Bhutan

We left after lunch for Timphu, the capital of Bhutan. As you leave Pheuntsholing, one can see the tiny lane snaking up the hills to Thimphu.

The hills snaking towards the city of Paro
The hills snaking towards the city of Paro and Thimphu

Bhutan is a land of stories, beliefs and faith. One instance which led me to believe in this was the presence of hundreds of little pots along the mountains of Bhutan, which as per Bhutanese culture bore the remains of its ancestors.

Bhutanese people offer great photo opportunities :)
Bhutanese people offer great photo opportunities 🙂

The people of Bhutan believe that these “tshakas” protect the country and its people from the evil forces. The “land of the thunder dragon” or Druk yul as referred to by the people is a monarchy and is represented by the Dragon.

Tsakhas- the ancestral remains that are believed to protect the country
Tsakhas- the ancestral remains that are believed to protect the country

The gorgeous town of Thimphu was quite, peaceful and a hub of the political buildings of the country, one of the most important being the Tasiccho-dzong or the parlimentary house.

The Parliamentary building
The Parliamentary building

We visited the beautiful nunnery called the Drubthob Goemba, followed by the Tango Monestery and  Chery Monestery. The lower markets turned out to be a delight as we shopped for natural creams, powders and what-nots.

Tatsang monastery, Bhutan
Takhtsheng monastery, Bhutan

Our next stop was the serene town of Paro, and it was here that we started our trek to the Taktsheng monestery- better known as the Tiger’s nest! The climb up to the monestery is steep and extremely dangerous. Alot of people climb the monestery half way and then turn around. It is believed that the Monestery holds so much divine power that even if a person starts the climb with the genuine intention of reaching to the top, he is blessed. What comes after the “half was climb” and what we noticed to our horror was the “valley of death”! Literally known as the Valley of death, The climb was followed by a tricky and very slippery descent into a valley with no barriers and safety nets!  I still feel the thrill of the experience, even today. A good 3.5 hours later, we finally made it to the top of the Monestery, and the feeling was non comparable to anything I have experienced before. I don’t know whether it was the satisfaction of having done something that will make me proud for life, or whether it was the sheer divinity of this sanctuary where little girls and boys were training, studying to be monks.

On the trek up to the Tiger's nest
On the trek up to the Tiger’s nest

A life of sacrifice and selflessness, so high above everything else in the world.. You have to experience it once to know what that feels like. We did end up catching the take off routine of one of the only three flights which would fly from Paro airport (The only airport in Bhutan) from the Bird’s eye view.. but nothing after could top the Taktshang Monestery and what it had left me with.

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Little local at the Drubthob Goemba

Today, when I remember Bhutan, I smile..What comes to my mind if the happy faces of children, the lovable demeanor of the locals..even the animals there seemed affectionate, kind of polite. 🙂

Inside a local house in Bhutan
Inside a local house in Bhutan

 

If you do happen to visit the last Shangri-La at some point in your life, remember to carry a very good camera.

Beautiful people
Beautiful people

The country may be geographically isolated but its got some of the most beautiful sceneries I have seen in the world, and whats incredible is that, even though you will try to capture every bit of the beauty there, you will most probably come back with a camera filled with happy, shiny faces of the people. They love to smile, and even the little children love being on camera. All the best 🙂

Happy Bhutan :)
Happy Bhutan 🙂

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 🙂

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.. 🙂

Pangong lake, Ladakh
Pangong lake, Ladakh