The mother of all road trips: Mandalay to Bangkok. From Mandalay to Bagan with a few pit stops…


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The trip continues to Bagan with some interesting traffic rules!


The road to hell (and heaven) is always paved with good intentions! So also was my intention to wake at the crack of dawn and run up Mandalay hill. Instead I barely made the scheduled departure time.

To keep our itinerary varied and out-of-the-boxWonderful Worlddecided to start the first full day on the road with a boat trip to Mingun (a little village on the irrawady river). Mingun is most famous for an unfinished pagoda and the largest ringing bell in the world.

The boat ride to Mingun For our first day of driving, our route was Mandalay – Mingun – Sagaing – Bagan. It’s about 200 KM . The roads leading out of Mandalay were awesome….4 lane highways with almost no traffic. The other vehicles on the road seemed to be tourist cabs and vans, a few Chinese-made motorbikes and local buses (very few). The buses here…

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The mother of all road trips: Mandalay to Bangkok. Musings from Mandalay


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The ladies traipse across Mandalay at 3:00 am!


What happens when your flight is delayed and lands in Mandalay at 3pm instead of noon? Nothing drastic, except you get 6 decidedly ragged looking women making a mad dash straight from the airport to visit the tourist attractions in the city! We saw shwenandan monastery, kuthodaw pagoda and mandalay hill (a favorite sunset viewing point for the tourists).

If I had to pick a favorite out of these three, I would pick Kuthodaw pagoda, also known as the worlds biggest book. White washed silhouettes of 729 pagodas against a rapidly darkening night sky makes for spectacular imagery.

WhenWonderful World planned the roadtrip the idea was to see stuff at each place we drive to/through to add value to the over all experience. So, you will find a little bit of cultural tourism sprinkled through my blog. 1000 apologies!

I thought I would jazz up this post with some…

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The mother of all roads trips: Mandalay to Bangkok. Getting to base camp.


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Continuing the epic road trip series written by Lianezlenz – The actual kick start to the trip!!


Some trips just call your name. And so it was with me and this one. There were the usual obstacles, but the biggest were the dates…. Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Who travels solo around this time of the year? Wonderful Worldwasapprehensive that no one would sign up. I was jittery about leaving the folks at home around the holiday season. Then, we had issues with government permits and had to change our plans. We could no longer drive from Imphal. We moved to plan B which was to start from Mandalay.

The route to Mandalay seemed long and convoluted. We had a flight via Singapore. Were there no direct flights? It seems not. Apparently the average Indian tourist has not yet made a beeline for Mandalay.

With a 5 hour layover at Singapore, I wandered around the terminal before finding a chair and trying to get some sleep…

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The mother of all road trips: Mandalay to Bangkok. The before!


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I take a break from my Spiti Chronicles to share with you all a historic travelogue by Lianelenz. She is one of my first traveling buddies and fellow crazy and a dear friend! Over the December holidays she took a once in a life time road trip from Mandalay to Bangkok, with the ever wonderful Wonderful World. I share with you her travels, her experiences and her joy as she treads into a lesser known world!


And so the day is almost upon us. What started as a wisp of an idea. A maybe, a could be, a most likely, is now a certainty. It’s more than a dream, an almost reality. And yet, it still seems covered in the mists that will be Myanmar. A country shrouded from the world. And waiting. Waiting for change, waiting for dawn, waiting, eager to bear the hopes and expectations and dreams that I have build up in my head.

WhenWonderful Worldbegan planning this roadtrip, I looked at the map. It sure seemed many days of long drives but hopefully good music, some laughs and the ever changing scenery will keep us engaged.

The map says 1288.6 km but our route might be different. We will go from Mandalay to Bagan to Inle to Yangon to Tak and then finally land up at Bangkok.

And so, as…

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The Spiti Chronicles – Day III


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The next  day start was early at 7:00 am in the morning! In a weird change of habits, in this extremely cold climate, I seemed to have developed a habit of bathing at 5:30 in the morning, a thing that I would never do in the plains. But in the plains, I would be soon be dirty, sticky and sweaty and would turn into a quivering mass of melting butter, within seconds after a shower. However, at this altitude, while convincing yourself to get out of the bed to take the damm shower is a herculean mental challenge; once you are done, the freshness lasts for hours. Shower done, I woke up Mentallynailbiting and finished packing. We all trundled downstairs, after exchange of stories on hot water running out and no bed tea and picked up our packed breakfast. The idea was to eat it on the way, near a roadside dhaba. After a quick session of photoshoots and hugs to our warm hostess and host, we set off for the actual Spiti leg of the journey.

As we slowly moved away from Chitkul, the very last village on  this side of the the north-eastern border separating India from Tibet, the change in landscape began to become obvious. Though for most part, we had to travel back via Kancham Dam, there was a subtle shift from the verdant green to rocky deep browns. Even the Pagal Nala, so called because of its arbitrary, non-casual, unexpected flooding, looked distinctly brown.We drove through some beautiful greens, leaving behind the lovely crayon colored fields and moving into awe inspiring brown rock monoliths.

Despite the wondrous landscape, there was only so much one could admire, on a hungry stomach. The much expected way side Dhaba was LOOOOONG in coming and though P tried to help is negotiate the distance with plentiful supply of delicious Kinnaur apples, they only seemed to add to the increasing appetite. After much driving, we finally stopped at a lonely, tiny little hole of a Dhaba. In ordinary circumstances, in road trips between Delhi-Rajasthan, Delhi-Shimla etc. I would have blinked past such a little eating hole, but things are very different en route to Spiti. The land is sparsely populated with minimum or no vegetation and whatever is the available is the best option, simply because it is available. We trouped inside the little Dhaba and never had cold parathas and tea with heaped sugar tasted more delicious as in that hour. After satiating our appetites, some of the girls went in search of restroom, which was not to be had. Our kindly drivers finally found a little mobile toilet some distance away for everyone’s convenience.One of the few but major trails of this journey was the lack of washrooms, especially for woman. I understand that this region has low habitation, but there still should be some public facility. Unfortunately, whatever is available is designed for men. Are women not expected to travel on these roads? Kind of telling on the psychology of the authorities!

Our drive post the breakfast, truly heralded the Great Himalayan Desert. We crossed Kinnaur Kailash on route as the roads became rockier, until they gave way to what can only be defined as dirt track. Kinnaur Kailash is among the 3 Kailashes, the other two being the Mount Kailash in Tibet and Manimesh Kailash in Chamba. Tauji told us that Kinnaur Kailash is unique because of the kind of shapes it takes during the winters. Apparently it takes on the shapes of Shiv, Ganesh etc with snow freezes over. Not only that, apparently it changes colors as well.I am not sure how much of all this is true, but nature I know is quite whimsical and takes on shapes that the simple folks may associate with higher beings!

By now, green was a forgotten color and rocky terrains surrounded us. Large, brown monolith structures, enclosed the road we drove, while Sutluj, way below, continued to give us company, along the way.We stopped for lunch at a clean and grand joint and the pahari rajma and dal and chicken was a much appreciated sustenance after a jolting ride. What was even greater luxury was to find a clean modern and covered washroom with running water and liquid soap! Never had we appreciated the amenities so much as we did on this trip!

Post lunch, a 30 minutes drive finally brought us to the border of the land, we had actually set off in search off. We saw the BRO signboard,. welcoming us to Lahul & Spiti on the banks of the confluence of Jhelum and River Spiti. The distinct personalities of the two rivers were apparent, though both were brown with the soils brought down from the higher reaches post the monsoons. Sutluj is loud, with churning waters, telling tales of deep consequences. Spiti on the other hand is fast and regal, giving a curt nod to the lesser mortals, with a warning of not messing with her!

The Spiti Chronicles -Day II Contd.


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Photo Credits : Mentallynailbiting and D

Author Credit – Cirtnecce

Within a drive of 15 mins, we stopped again. This time so that the drivers could have their breakfast at this small wayside joint. Most ladies got out of the car to stretch their legs and imagination and take some photos of what was was yet another marvelous scenery all round, something we just could not seem to get enough off!

Mentallynailbiting and D went off with their cameras in search of some unique shots and P came over to chat with me. We spoke of many things –  Delhi, relationships, our love for travel, common friends and our mutual admiration for Shibani Vig and the Wonderful World. Chatty me was content to sit near the edge of the road and gossip away the wait, when Mentallynailbiting and D came running all excited and bursting with laughter! We were in the heart of the Apple Country and apple trees grew to the left of us and right of us; turns out Mentallynailbiting decided to fulfill her childhood ambition and climbed an apple tree with the help of D and stole some apples. Kinnaur is famous for its orchard, but I bet my bottom dollar, that none taste so good as those stolen in the very heart of the Kinnaur orchards!

The drivers soon returned to take charge of the car and their wayward passengers. We began to drive through yet another magnificent miracle of nature with vistas that simply take your breathe away! Our awesome organizer had thoughtfully compiled a playlist to give us company through the drive and it was a perfect match with the drive. It was at this point I got my first glimpse of Sutlej, the longest of the five mighty river that flow into Punjab and made the Indus Valley Daob possible about 4000 years ago. This was the river of whose glory hymns were wrtten in the Vedas, some 3000 years back and around which historians believe had sprung the legendary Tibetian civilization of Garuda valley. However my I first sighting of the river was not terribly impressive – its seemed like a brown muck-slush weighed down by the silt that was brought down by the monsoons and seemed to snake through the mountains in a semi-tedious pace.We stopped again to take some photos much to the exasperation of P who wanted us to reach Chitkul in time to enjoy the beauty of the last Indian village, across which lay China.

We drove to through Kotgarh, watching new age bikers on road trips and Sadhus with  goggles driving Bullet bikes pass us by! Sutluj gurgled one one side and the soon changing landscape of deep rock cut mountains on the other side kept us oohing and ahing, until we reached Tapri and stopped for lunch. This time, it was an even smaller wayside Dhabha, which had a fixed menu and served us hot piping rajma, curry and vegetables with white rice and soft chapattis. This was the first time I came across what would provide us much entertainment through the trip – the unique dietary practices of AD  She would not consume wheat due to some personal religious beliefs and her only indulgence was a cup of coffee – with milk and coffee, no water or sugar! Unfortunately, J who also drank coffee but with water only, would be served AD special variety through the trip, finally forcing the latter to only ask for hot water while she mixed coffee into it herself!

It began raining again by the time we left and we crossed dams after dams after dams; built all over Sutluj in an effort to bring India and Indians to 21st century. There were naturally some lovely sights, but P’s dire warning about missing the beauty of Chitkul, kept the shutterbugs closed and in check! More importantly, D, Menatallynaibiting and I agreed that no matter how hard we tried, there was no way, no matter how sophisticated the camera, to actully capture the absolutely unearthly beauty that passed us by and the only way to retain it was to soak it in and retain it in our memories! For the first time, I found myself agreeing to the term that was associated to this place “Dev Bhoomi” – the land of the Gods! It could only be the land of the Gods, because only some powerful force could have created these magnificent/awe inspiring nature. We crossed Sangla and somewhere in the middle of the drive, tired of the English playlist, P asked Tauji if he had any pahari songs in his collection. Tauji obliged and we spent the next couple of hours, listening to the simple folklorish songs of the land that we were crossing, the most perfect accompaniment to what was already perfection.

We reached Chitkul, a pretty, green plateau on the banks of Sutluj early evening, with mountain tops rising all round, covered in snow from the last season and clouds of the departing monsoons. Fields and fields of pale pink flowers that seemed to suddenly burst in the middle of green fields; like someone took a crayon and drew it over the foliage. Waterfalls that suddenly tricked from nowhere and turned into a gushing gurgling stream, that ran free and with what seemed to me unbridled joy! It humanly not possible to describe such beauty and unless you see it in for real, there is no way to quite grasp it grandeur. I have often heard people, especially my fellow countryman talk about the beauty of the Black Forest and the lakes of Switzerland and so on; but I do wonder, if they have explored their own backyard, where heaven came down to earth in a wild untamed beauty!

We disembarked at the hotel, run by M, whose life we all agreed was exactly what we wanted for ourselves! M had taken the same tour with Wonderful World more than 2 years ago and inspired and touched by the beauty of the place, she had convinced her husband to come up here and together they ran a hotel in the very edge of the town at the very banks of the river. After settling our luggage and warming ourselves over cups of tea and piping hot Maggie, our mainstay for the road trip, we finally wandered down to the river. On our way, we were stopped by a couple of drunks who warned us that no matter what we should not go down to the banks and it was absolutely shameful what was happening there. This sudden verbal aggression knocked D, Mentallynailbiting and me off the perch for a minute, but D, the epitome of what can be considered aplomb, quickly recovered her equanimity and said, well AD is already at the river bank and she is lawyer, and we have you,  as in moi, the resident hoodlum and therefore should be fine. This was very good logic and even better humor and laughing, we tread our way to the banks.

Nothing horrifying or scandalous met us on the banks, except a couple of young boys, bikers smoking one odd joint! They looked interested as our resident fashionista – Pre traipsed down, but the very matron like appearances of moi, AD, Menatallynailbiting and D cut off their social intentions and we oohhed and ahhed and wowed our evening in peace on the banks of mighty and now much cleaner Sutluj. After a session of photoshoot, we headed back to the hotel,  me huffing and puffing during the climb upwards. Upon reaching the hotel, we were advised that some of the girls wanted to go see the village and we waved them off cheerfully, happy to rest under warm blankets, while chatting away the evening.

Dinner was served at 9 and we gobbled our way through the it, before returning the brisk cold of the open surrounding, all for the sake of a bonfire. The wood unfortunately did not burn, despite very hard attempts by our host and hostess, with petrol and cardboard and sawdust. But we were merrymakers on a trip of a lifetime and happy to warm ourselves in the momentary heat that came with the addition of paper or fuel. After some gossip and loads of laughter and some amazing desert of besan barfi, we finally retired for the night!

My last thought before I slept off was – could I stay like this forever? Away from home delivery and restaurants that served the most delicious world cuisines and constant high speed internet? I guess I could, as long as I had my books and my dogs, I would quite like it, even luxuriate in it!

The Spiti Chronicles – Day II


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Photo Credit – Mentallynaibiting

Author Credit – Cirtnecce

The next day dawned bright and early. In a startling change to my city life, I had slept straight for 8 hours; a deep, blissful, dreamless sleep. If the sleep was blissful, I woke up to even greater magnificence; the sun streamed into the room through the picture windows and outside was a brilliant vista of glittering snow tops of green mountains, shining in sun, like it does only in this part of the world! It was much too beautiful of day to spend in the bed and I got up, had a shower and was all dressed before menatllynailbiting was up. While the latter got dressed, I walked across the hall to check on D who was sharing the room with one of the late arrivals of previous night. I was curious as to who our fellow travelers were and a little angsty that D should get a normal and relaxed roommate so that her trip remains enjoyable.14115028_10153857314863097_3276621284032089724_o

I tentatively knocked on the door and D opened. She too was almost done with her morning toiletries and as she opened the door wide, I saw sitting on the bed, looking a bit bemused with her surroundings a young girl. D introduced me to Pre and my first impression was Bengali (as in from the same DNA region as Menatllynailbiting and I ), easy to talk to and shy. Pre shared her adventures of the previous night with me – how her flight was the last one to land and how she, another traveler and P were the last ones to set off from Chandigarh, the landslide which made them take a detour from Kasauli, finally reaching Tethys after midnight. Despite instructions by menatallynailbitng and me, there was no food and all our fellow travelers had gone to bed without the meal. Pre however assured me that she had been suffering from a bout of mountain sickness, so the apple she ate was sufficient for the night and now she was feeling much better. After empathizing with her situation, I left her and D to get ready and headed back to my room. After much hustle and bustle and D not finding her socks and whatnots, the four of us reached the dinning room for our breakfast and P introduced us to rest of the gang.

We shared our breakfast table with two lawyers, one from Mumbai and one from Chennai. While we breakfasted, AD who was the lawyer from Mumbai, came across as women after my own heart – she talked straight and she talked a lot, but always something sensible or absolutely hilarious! I knew instinctively, that I would enjoy her company. She and Pre had flown to Chandigarh together from Mumbai and only discovered on landing in Chandigarh that lived 15 mins away from each other. Talk about the rushed lives of big cities. L was the other lawyer was from Chennai and she worked in the capacity of a Corporate Lawyer. She seemed quite nice, easy to get along with, though a bit quiet. But I was realizing, in the company of D, AD, Pre now that her shyness had worn off and of course moi, almost everyone would be quiet, simply because they did not get a chance to actually open their mouths because there was no time in-between our chatter!!!

The rest of group also seemed suited to each other’s company. There was J, a full time Mum from Ahmadabad, S a techie from Bangalore, Su who seemed to take on the role of group mommy, was in fact a working mum from Delhi and AM. After a quick breakfast, P hustled us into our cars, making us duly check our luggage to ensure the right owners had the right car with the right luggage. I was beginning to get some understanding of incredible organization skills that P possessed from this exercise and if it was possible to be further impressed with Wonderful World and Shibani Vig, P with all her calm and sensible execution style just did that! Even when she was perhaps screaming inside her head ,especially thanks to mentallynailbiting and D choosing to take pictures when we should really get going, she was a testimony to great leadership and composure! I was absolutely in awe of her ability to not be frayed by the going ons and manage things without any angst. A trait I might never learn but admired nevertheless.

After much back forth between the hotel and parking and double checking of the luggage (our car carried a hefty but absolutely marvelous purple colored wonderfully designed suitcase, which I later realized belonged to AD and which all of us loved!), we were off, on our way to Chitkul.

The Spiti Chronicles -I (Contd.)


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After all the ado about everything and nothing, we were off. The route from Chandigarh to the foothills of Himalayas is beautiful. The highway curving between two low lying hills that suddenly opens on to the vista of distant mountains is always a favorite moment of a Himalayan Road Trip. It signals the end of the crazy city life and heralds the feeling of freedom and home coming. We drove through all kinds of roads, stopping to take pictures at some of the more scenic locations, while rushing through others, especially where the Himachal Pradesh government decided to build roads and the hilly countryside was covered with tar, charcoals and steam rollers. Not quite the idyllic bucolic scene one associates with the green mountain side!

After we had covered some 100 km, we stopped for lunch at Dharampura at a small local road side food joint. The first thing the ladies did was to bustle towards the ladies room and immediately come back disappointed; apparently the door to the lady’s room was broken. I thank my body’s ability to survive such long trips without collapsing or too much discomfort. Food was also on our mind and it is a testimony to how hungry mentallynailbiting and I were that we decided to split whatever dishes D ordered though she was a vegetarian with a capital V. The service fortunately was fast and the food once we had tasted it, was unanimously voted as delicious!Though that could also be because of sever hunger pangs, but we did really relish the spread of Dal, Roti, Paneer and Rice. It was fresh and piping hot and we did full justice to it! After satiating our appetites, mentallynailbiting and D went back to use the ladies room in a hope of using the facility while the other guarded the door. A also solicited their services but I chose to pass the whole adventure!

For the next couple of hours we passed through some of most beautiful roads in the world! (I have not seen the world, but I am convinced that the Himalayan roads are something unique and unmatched!) The weather being that of the wet monsoons, the skies were often clouded and these clouds like puffs of white cotton candies came down on the hill tops. We literally drove through the clouds, feeling the damp on the window screen and seeing the tall conifer heads abruptly disappear into a white puffs that melted into the sky. We made several pit stops on the road as both mentallynailbiting and D are avid photographers and lugging their respective Cannons and Sonys, they were determined to make most of this opportunity. Since we were ahead of the remaining cavalry, we could take our time and take pictures and admire the landscape at our own pace.


The only hitch in our aesthetic endevours was the lack of washrooms. The journey was long and the nature of the topography demanded that we keep consuming sufficient water and naturally, this required adequate use of facilities, which were not to be had! After many failed attempts, Tauji, our all-knowing driver, said he will take us to this up market resort to use their facilities, however being upmarket, we may have to use their catering service as well. At that point, D and mentallynailbiting were so far gone, that they would have traded with the very devil and using the restaurant was hardly a concern. We finally drove into the very posh resort and the joy of finding a ladies washroom with all modern facilities and highest hygiene standards brought us such joy, that we not only ordered tea/coffee but also french fries and some other snacks! After finishing the tea, followed with yet another visit to the ladies room (to be safe for the rest of the journey!), and a photoshoot, (including some very glamorous shots next to a vintage Ford)we were finally off again!




We faced some traffic along the Shimla city, where droves of Delhi population had driven up to spend the long independence day weekend! However Tauji really negotiated this part with great skill and soon we were free of the mad city traffic and noise of Shimla and out in the open highways again! As we climbed higher and higher in the mountains, it began to get cold and we had to make a pit stop just to get some woolens out of the bags. But the beauty of the roads we were travelling along remained undiminished and infact grew by considerable proportions! Dark green foliage peeping through the white mists and nature in all its glory looking down upon us; that God or whatever superpower had intended this earth to be a beautiful place was never more apparent than this drive from Gellu Valley to Narkanda. Even the cold was of refreshing and invigorating variety that made you want to explore and seek out new adventures! We stopped at small wayside shop for some hot tea and though it was sweet like the tea of northern Himalayas are, it was hot and filled me with a sense of bliss! It seemed like I could finally think those thoughts that had been escaping from me and which lay hidden in my subconscious. Thoughts about things that go beyond the mundane and ordinary and more ethereal in nature! No wonder, in the days of yore, the ancients chose to escape to the Himalaya in search of peace, spirituality and enlightenment!

We reached Tethys at Narkanda, our stop for the night, sometime around 8 and the lights on the path leading to the hotel had broken down due to the rainstorms that have deluging this area for last couple of days. We had to negotiate our path in darkness among slippery stones and sliding mudpits, and all noble thoughts of spirituality and the greater good of mankind evaporated from my mind as I cursed and negotiated the treacherous path! However we did go the distance and the constant jokes between mentallynailbiting and D kept my bad humor at bay. The room was clean and comfortable and decorated with simplicity, with every luxury that the Tethy’s brand brings to the table. After a quick wash and a delicious dinner, my equilibrium was restored. Mentallynailbiting made a call to P and discovered that the rest of the team was still on its way and a landslide had prolonged their journey. We thanked the absolutely horrid Unchar Express for getting us to Chandigarh on time, which in turn ensured that we reached Narkanda in relative comfort. After giving orders for food to be kept ready for the remaining group, we called it a night and I finally sank into a deep and for a change dreamless sleep!

Day 2 beckoned soon!

The Spiti Chronicles – I


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Photo Credit – mentallynailbiring

Author Credit – Cirtnecce

Spiti Valley has been on my mind as a destination for years now! Growing up in Delhi, Himalayas and the truly majestic Himalayas were only 7-8 hours’ drive, east or north of us. I remember vacations after vacations as a child and later as an adult, planned around exploring these mountains! They were place of comfort and they beckoned to me, like home coming after a weary exhausting day at work! And while I have traveled the length and breadth of Himalayas, I  had experienced only the green mountains; what I had never ever ventured into was the harsh and majestic north-western Himalayas, the rain shadow part of this long mountain range, the desert at 16500 ft from the sea level. I was intrigued, I was curious and since my college days nearly 12 years ago, I was looking for an opportunity to travel to this fabled land!

Opportunity finally came my way in 2014 when my flat mate found the wonderful Wonderful World and Shibani Vig who organized some very interesting tours. They had a Spiti Valley road trip planned in August of 2014 and no way were we passing up this golden chance. However as I have mentioned in one of my last post, things happened and at the last moment, I and my flat mate had to withdraw from the planned tour. So Spiti became something of a challenge, something I had to do, before I could do other things!

Clichéd as it may sound, time and tide truly awaits none! Years passed and early February this year, I saw Wonderful World bring out yet another proposed road trip for 10 days to Spiti Valley. Here was my second chance and no way was I missing this one up come hell or high water! I got my flat mate, mentallynailbiting, to sign up (not much of a challenge as she is always up for almost all kinds of traveling!) and more importantly, I got my second cousin and soul sister, D to agree to join us all the way from Chennai, more than 2000 km just to kick start the actual road trip! We wrote our confirmation notes to Shibani, paid up and then started planning the details, across 3 states, hectic work schedules, personal crisis of one form or other and various other minor and major obstacles. After 5 months of back and forth, D finally arrived in Delhi and landed up at my place exactly a day before we were to meet the remaining group in Chandigarh.

My never ending work continued practically till the very end. Despite D being here and all the packing that needed to be done, I worked late into that Friday night, finishing off only about 4 hours before our departure to the station to catch the train to Chandigarh. However we did have a wonderful send off as some friends dropped by and we had an impromptu party with Pasta, Pizza, home-made chocolates (D’s Specialty) and of course drinks of the non-alcoholic variety. After all this, I rushed about packing like one possessed. It’s a good thing I had mentally planned what all I needed to take, so the actual packing did not take time; what did take time was trying to stuff it all in one suitcase. After many grunts and grimaces and D telling me how she needs to pack and re-pack atleast 3 times, before she gets it right, I was finally done! The taxi arrived just in time and we set off for the station.

Upon reaching the Old Delhi Station, almost an hour before the train’s departure (I am a Project Manager with an OCD complex, I will ensure we will reach super early than even a minute later than once a train has been stationed on the platform!), we found out that the train was actually running about mins late. Thanks to my OCD, we three had 1 hour and 40 mins to kill before we actually boarded the train. Like I said time and tide await for no one and time did pass in conversation and some cribbing on waiting on a platform in the humid weather of August at 4:30 AM. Mentallynailbiting and D had a common Alma Mater where they had respectively completed their MS and MBA, albeit a couple of years apart and a lot of time were spent in telling me stories about their small university town!

Finally the much awaited train did arrive and we began the hunt for our coach; the ticket said our coach was A1, but we could find practically all coaches except A1. Since the stop time was limited, we boarded a dubious Coach AB which one of the passengers advised us as A1 and then began the second phase of hunting for our seats. Our seat numbers were 18, 19 and 20. Lo! And Behold! We found 18, but that’s where the seat rows ended and another coach began with seat #1. What the hell was going on here? Most of the passengers, who had boarded from other stations, were already asleep and there was no Train Supervisor in sight to advise us. As we three tried to find some coordination among other headless chicken antics, a kindly gentleman informed us that the original A1 coach had developed some mechanical fault and had to be replaced last minute by this make shift coach. Therefore the seat numbers were not aligned and the Supervisor will soon come and sought it out for us. In the meanwhile, he asked to use the empty seats in the berth in front of him. Tired of waiting and completely exhausted with the confusion, we gratefully accepted his offer and squeezed into the empty birth, luggage and all. Trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, we somehow managed to settle down and soon the other two had nodded off in what I considered extremely difficult positions, turning their backpack and handbag into make shift pillows. Sleep in such cramped quarters was impossible for me and I tried to read. Somewhere in the hazy hours of the morning, the supervisor came and went, without bothering to check our tickets and without assigning us our seats. I tried to get his attention, but he seemed to be sprinting along, which I understand, since there must be more passengers like us, braying for his blood! My antics woke the other two up and realizing that this is was going to be the norm for the remaining 3 hours of our 6 hours journey, we settled down with pillows and another empty seat and tried to chatter away the blues. We also managed to demolish couple of bars of chocolates to keep our spirits up and made plans to replenish food supplies once we disembarked at Chandigarh. (The believer would say this journey had not started on an auspicious note. I had bought a bunch of chocolates and cookies for the road journey and then left it all on the kitchen rack! Then the whole train fiasco! Fortunately, I am not a believer, at least not a star gazing time calculating type!) During all of this, mentallynailbiting who was coordinating with P our troupe leader sent the latter a text that the said train was running late. The reply added to our existing discomfort, P informed us that it was all ok and this particular train was known for never ever reaching on scheduled time! Yay!

But I am no believer in signs and all that gizmo and in this particular instance, I proved to be in the right. We reached Chandigarh only 30 minutes later that the actual arrival time, a miracle for Indian Railways! However negotiating the Chandigarh platform was a whole different story! It was crowded and crazy and only one stairway led to the exit; which meant the crush of the crowd was enough to kill anyone and should one falter, there was every reason for a stampede. Somebody seriously needs to project plan this station and its logistics! With curses and grunts, both issued mainly from me, the other two maintained a better equilibrium; we finally reached the parking and mentallynailbiting called P who was at the station to receive us. This was the first time I was meeting P, though I had heard much about her from other coordinators! She was one of the oldest and much loved troupe leaders of Shibani’s team (To be very fair, all the three troupe leaders that I have traveled with from Wonderful World are much loved and are extremely efficient and effective leaders). She greeted us with a warm hug and a sympathetic smile, of one who had survived the infamous Unchahar Express and and led us to our car. We were the first of 4 teams to leave; each team consisting of 3 women each. Just for the first leg of Day 1 journey, A, another co-traveler would be joining us in the car since she too had arrived early and it did not make sense to keep her waiting. Our driver named Vijay Sharma aka Tauji was an experienced driver who had driven these roads multiple number of time and while he piled our luggage, we made beeline to the café nearby to pick up some snacks and use the washroom facilities!

Finally, we were off!

Udaypore Unwinding II


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lake-palaceAuthor Credit : Mentallynailbiting

This was our first full day at Udaypore, and we wanted to make the most of it.  Precisely at seven (the time for breakfast to commence) we were seated at our table (armed to the teeth with our laptop gear) as soon as the breakfast buffet was laid out. Netsurfing and breakfasting, we managed to put away a stack of couple white- bread toasts, some eggs (sunny side up), a plateful of crisp fried bacon and two cups of tea between ourselves.  Stomachs quietened, we proceeded to book a car for the day’s journey to Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh and back, amidst the din created by families and children of bathers at the pool below.  Our cab was eventually booked over the phone (Google recommendations again) for a total of approximately seventeen hundred bucks inclusive of a hundred and fifty rupees driver allowance and toll and parking charges along the way.  We came back to our room, preparing ourselves mentally and physically for a five to six hours drive and back.

The cab duly arrived at 9:30 am; a Mahindra Renault Logan with a pristine cabbie at the wheel.  Javed was the name he answered to, and he was a welcome relief from our previous day’s cab experience; he was courteous and polite, spoke only when he was spoken to, and without an iota of ego or attitude, stopped at all the random places I requested (for the purpose of taking photpgraphs).  On more than one occasion, he was also proactive enough to point out vistas which he felt were worth capturing on camera.  We proceeded to Ranakpur first, and the awesome weather was a boon.  The landscape was surreal with miles and miles of open farmlands and hills, their luscious, mellow green emitting a glow of their own under a slightly overcast grey sky.  It was more like Nainital and seemed to be miles away from Rajasthan, the ‘desert’ state.  Several tiny streams, rain-water fed, kept us company on our journey, to end their short sojourns as glistening pools of water wherever there were rocks piled high on their way. As Ranakpur came closer, the green of the hills changed from short shrubs to dense woods, which, according to our cabbie, were home to cheetahs. Sure enough, there were signboards on the road warning passers-by of the potential danger from cheetahs. We also saw several white monkeys as commonly visible around Haridwar or Hrishikesh, and at one point, renegade cows and bulls.  Here an incident happened that merits some detail.

Javed had stopped the car at an idyllic location with a pool of jade green rainwater surrounded by emerald hills, recommending a picture perfect capture. Slightly wary of some white monkeys sitting at a distance, I got down from the car, taking no notice however of a herd of cows and bulls coming down the road, and got busy with the shutter.  Just at the point of the ‘click’ my heart, along with the camera,  gave a wild jolt and jumped to my mouth as something cold and moist nudged me at my elbow from behind!  I whirled around to discover the herd of bovines practically encircling me, the wet nose of the guilty one inches away from my face.  I moved away to the front of the car, waiting for them to pass through the cleared space. Imagine my discomfort when instead, two muscular, horned males made their way towards me with distinct ‘not going anywhere!’ looks.  I tried to swerve. They came after me. I tried to shoo them away. They came after me.  I tried to run to the car door. The whole herd came after me. At this point, I finally might have screamed for help, as Cirtnecce opened the car door and I leapt inside, managing to close the door by almost brushing the horns of the persistent bulls in the process.  Significantly unnerved at the curious phenomenon (bulls trying to follow me home was a definite first) I barely managed to hear Javed trying to soothe my ruffled nerves attributing the incident to ‘hunger’—the bovines, apparently, thought I had foodstuff with me. I silently thanked my lucky stars that I, at least, was not the one considered as edible.

Ranakpur approached with no further incidents, and the sun had finally come out of the clouds when we parked at the temple complex.  We were thankful to have escaped the heat right in time as we stepped into the cool shadowed portals of this 15th century marvel of Jain architecture.  Long ago, a venerable friend had vetoed the internationally famous Dilwara Jain temples in favour of this one at Ranakpur, and looking around the temple, I could now understand why.  This 1444 pillared edifice dedicated to the Jain Tirthankar Adinath is actually a successor of the celebrated temples of Dilwara, and yet, manages to look more ancient and somehow, more authentic. The smooth, gleaming polish of the marble of the Dilwara temples is missing at Ranakpur, where the building material, despite being the same, wears a rougher, uneven look.  The abundance of human figures in the Dilwara sculptures is also less common here.  Possibly this is also the reason why the temple looks less showy.  The sculptures on the numerous columns, dense and beautiful, are primarily symbols representing facets of Jainism, human figures rarely depicted.  A remarkable example would be the circular motif of intertwining snakes forming a semi-circular halo and a complete circular chain around the Tirthankar Parshvanath (whose symbol in ancient Jainism is the snake), a unique work of sculpture, overwhelming in its beauty and complexity.  The heavily ornate circular pendants hanging from the rooftops, though, are common to Dilwara, as are the half-human figures doubling up as supports to the pillar shafts, and the statues of the twenty four Tirthankars within separate niches around the temple complex. It is remarkable that the main deity, that of Tirthankar Adinath, is worshipped regularly even to this date, a fact we witnessed, which again, sets it apart from Dilwara as the latter are primarily works of art than places of religion.  Forty five well spent minutes and several photographs later, we found ourselves out of Ranakpur and heading towards Kumbhalgarh, our next destination.

The journey from Ranakpur to Kumbhalgarh took us through a different route and a trifle tired, I took a power nap in the car, waking up directly as Javed was parking before the fort.  It was around two thirty in the afternoon, and while the breeze was still cool and abundant, the sun was high up above our heads, beating down mercilessly. The fort, a heavy, looming affair, however, was no major impact after a Chittorgarh, an Agra Fort or even a Tughlakabad fort.  Looking at the steep inclines leading to the top which we were supposed to negotiate by no means other than our feet, Cirtnecce refused to accompany me point blank; so I set off by myself.  This 15th century fort built by Rana Kumbha proved to be a disappointment all the way as I huffed and puffed to the very top, climbing the steep walkways and staircases, with nothing special to see except the view around, and that too, was not anything extraordinary (as I later found out).  Return was even more dangerous and I had to constantly buckle my knees and walk on tiptoe so as not to lose my balance and roll all the way to the bottom.  The fort was one of our biggest disappointments and our only consolation was that we did not waste too much time and money on it.

Ravenous after the climb, we had lunch at a place called Devi Restaurant right outside Kumbhalgarh, a smallish property, clearly constructed only recently, with not too many takers as we were the only ones eating out there.  The food, however, was economical and tasty, the besan gatta, paneer butter masala and dal fry taking care of more than our dietary needs.  The return journey from Kumbhalgarh was via another slightly shorter route and took us lesser time to reach Udaypore, but it was only when we wearily rested our heads on the ultra-comfortable pillows, knowing that dinner would again be the meal we would not be having, did we realize how tired we were.  In hindsight, there was some rigorous climbing involved both at Ranakpur as well as Kumbhalgarh, which probably was the reason for our lethargy.

Our second day was a rest day, as we decided to spend our day without venturing outdoors.  It was a much needed relaxation, as after our gorgeous American/South Indian breakfast, we sat down to write, me my Udaypore experiences and Cirtnecce the synopsis of her book.  Settled comfortably on cushioned settees with our laptops plugged in, we wrote our respective pieces sipping mocktails and overhearing snippets of conversations around us.  After spending about four hours in a similar fashion we came back to our room, watched some telly and then went for lunch for the first time at the hotel.  Lunch with Missi Rotis, Dal Makhni and Murg ka Mokul (a preparation of chicken in yogurt) was sumptuous, and we had distinctly overeaten.  The remaining day was spent inside the room chilling out either reading, writing or watching more television, till it was time for dinner. We were not particularly hungry, so we ordered a burger and some pasta with some dessert afterwards in our room.  Barely managing to polish off the food as we were, surprisingly, nodding with sleep, we decided to call it quits with our second day at Udaypore.

We were supposed to leave the next day evening, and we had kept our sightseeing for Udaypore and around for this day.  However, when we woke up in the morning, neither of us was in a mood to leave just yet—we wished we could stay another night.  Then, with typical impetuousness, we extended our hotel stay by another night and booked return flight tickets back to Delhi for the next day as we were supposed to join work on July 5 evening.  That done, with significantly lighter hearts (and wallets), we proceeded to our best-loved part of the day—to breakfast, post which we wrote some more till it was time for our cabbie to come and take us to our tour of Udaypore.

Our first destination was, naturally, the City Palace, and the edifice, once we reached there, took our breath away. Though parts of this architecture belong to as early as the 11th century, the overall structure is remarkably well-maintained even to this date by the royal family of HRH Arvind Singhji of Mewar, primarily with the aid of revenue generated from his eminently profitable hotel chain (including the Udaypore Lake Palace Hotel of national and international acclaim) and from renting out portions of the palace for events like celebrity weddings and James Bond movie shoots.

Throughout our guided tour of the palace, I wished I had eight more eyes to take in the sights and sounds of artefacts around me; the original battle armour of the legendry Rana Pratap and his horse, the elephant’s trunk which was supposedly grafted onto Pratap’s horse’s nose as a ploy to conceal the horse among the enemy elephants during the battle; a four-hundred-year old painting depicting every minute detail of the battle of Haldighati between Rana Pratap and the Mughal Emperor Akbar; a two centuries old miniature painting depicting the entire layout of the City Palace; an entire roomful of miniature paintings depicting the Rana Bheem Singh playing Hori (Holi) with his sixteen queens or going on a hunt or listening to Bhagwat Katha; the Peacock pavilions and Dewan-e-Khas built by Amar Singh II; the once-bejewelled-now-stained-glassed Manek Mahal (supposedly a bedroom for newlyweds) and several such other rooms/areas where the king and his royal entourage rested, ate, slept and lived.  This five-level palace also offers beautiful views of the Udaipur city and the Pichola Lake, several of which I managed to capture on camera.

Climbing up and down the five levels of the palace had drained us considerably, so after bidding adieu to our guide we spent some time nursing a Chamomile Iced Tea and a Chocolate Fantasy at Palki Khana, a restaurant within the City Palace complex.  Sufficiently restored, we went to our next destination—the Vintage Cars Collection of the royal family of Udaypore.  The visit was an automobile ecstasy  as we ooh-ed and aah-ed while happily clicking away the bevy of vintage Mercs, Cadillacs, Rolls-Royces, Fords, Morrises, Austins and Chevrolet trucks, not to mention the Royal Bugghy utilised for public processions.  The time of purchase of these cars range from the 1930s to the 1960s, and most of these vehicles are still active and running, frequently used by the royals even to this date, the eight-cylinder-120-kmph giants a treat to the eyes.  Our next destination was not exactly on our agenda but our cabbie gently insisted that we visit the ‘Saheli ki Baadi’, a garden-fountain combination apparently constructed for the hundred-something strong women who had accompanied one of the royal brides to Udaypore. We spent barely five minutes out here, as it was nothing but a tiny park, which, though well-maintained, was no novelty.  After having lunch at a roadside restaurant named ‘Rajwada Bites’ (!!!), we moved to the Pichola Lake for a couple of photos, and then proceeded to our last destination, the Sajjangarh Fort on the outskirts of Udaypore.

The fort is located slightly on the outskirts of the town, on a solitary top of the Aravallis, and the drive to it is a dream. Steep and narrow, the road is however, conveniently motorable, with lush green forests on either side, a portion of which, we were told, is still maintained as a game trail and wildlife sanctuary open to the public for a safari.  We decided to content ourselves with the fort, the jungles being an entity to be admired from a distance and not courted in intimacy.  This, however, was not a decision we would regret, as moments later, we got down at the fort, craning our necks to take in the huge structure looming before us.  A guided tour of the building took us through the several mythical intricacies of the construction of the fort, especially its unique water conservation system with the gargantuan water tanks cleverly sunk within the base architecture and spread across the gigantic fort foundation.  This building, though starkly huge, is, in reality, an unfinished monument, constructed by a ruler who had originally conceived thirteen more storeys to the existing structure, which, however, could not be completed due to his untimely demise.  Standing on the tall rooftops of the unfinished ruins today, once can breathe in the beauty of the Udaypore city with its numerous lakes spread for miles around, the hunting towers, seemingly tiny from this great height, nestled cosily in the dense green hills, a dirt track encircling the fort running parallel to the dark road in a perfect winding symmetry of red and grey, the evening sun melting the surrounding hilltops into an alchemy of copper, silver, bronze and gold.  There are spacious lawns with well-trimmed grass and seasonal flowers within the fort complex, along with strategically located seats/wooden benches where tourists can rest their travel-weary limbs while drinking in the natural exotica all around.  We lingered for half an hour at the fort, me clicking away happily at all angles of the inclination.

While preparing for our return, I realized with an abrupt emptiness the reality of leaving this enchanted vale for the drudge and drear of Delhi once again.  Yet, strangely enough, the emotion was not as overwhelming as I had feared it to be.  Because, while we once again meandered the streets to Udaypore negotiating our return back to the hotel, coming in and packing our stuff with listless resignation, rubbing sleep from our eyes in a desperate attempt to stay awake and savour our last few moments at the hotel we so loved staying at—all this while, I knew that the memories of Udaypore are now snugly secured within the deepest recesses of my heart like a beautifully watered emerald hiding in the dark earth, a jewel I can take out whenever I want and make it glow forever in the limpid lights of my nostalgia.

Lake Palace Picture used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License