Monday, 29 December 2014

Hindustan ka Dil dekho- Jabalpur

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The advertisements by Madhya Pradesh Tourism had set my expectations soaring high of Hindustan's Dil (that is what they refer to MP in their commercials). I planned a short family trip to MP in June'14. This trip started off with Bandhavgarh then Amarkantak and our last destination was Jabalpur.

Jabalpur is a small but beautiful city of  Madhya Pradesh. The halt in Jabalpur was for just a day. As there were very specific places I wanted to see like Bhedaghat, Dhuandhar Waterfall and Chausat Yogini Temple. All of these are very close to each other and about 25kms from Jabalpur City. After a scrumptious South Indian meal at Indian Coffee House, we headed to our first destination Chausat Yogini Temple.


Chausat Yogini Temple, located on a hillock is one of the oldest heritage sites in India. The temple was built in the 10th Century by Kalachuri Dynasty. The temple is abode of Maa Durga and the Chausat Yoginis. Chausat means 64 and Yogini is a female attendant of Maa Durga. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Parvati. The view that the temple offers is mesmerizing! This place is filled with a  lot of positivity. The peace and calmness felt there , I hadn't experienced it in a long time.




Shiv Parvati idol


Marblerocks, Bhedaghat:

River Narmada has carved beautiful formations out of the huge marble rocks in Bhedaghat which stretch for approx 3kms. To enjoy these formations you should take a boat ride. However, boating remains closed during monsoons.

Marble Rocks

Marble Rocks
  

As the sun began to set, the sky turned into a beautiful coral shade....



Sunset @MarbleRocks



Dhuandhar Waterfall:

At one end of Bhedaghat, where Marble Rocks end, is Dhuandhar Waterfall.  It's again a beautiful spot. However, it's overly crowded and the place has become more of a picnic spot. Tourists have polluted it to a great extent by throwing leftovers, empty cans, plastic bottles into the water and around. I was extremely disappointed at the sight.



Dhuandhar Waterfall

 There are a lot of hawkers in Bhedaghat selling different marble souvenirs.  My personal favorite were the Name Souvenirs.

Marble Souvenirs


There are various other places of attraction in and around Jabalpur like Madan Mahal Fort, Rani Durgavati Museum and Bargi Dam. But I strongly feel before inviting the nation to explore MP, the State Govt should take charge and improve the cleanliness, condition of roads and state of MPTDC Hotels. No doubt Madhya Pradesh is oozing with natural beauty but if such carelessness of tourists and ignorance of government continues, it might soon turn into a trash bag.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Chenchpur Waterfall

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While planing my trip to Bandhavgarh, I was searching for places I could see, activities we could do in and around the place. It was then that I came to know, just 60kms from Bandhavgarh was a picnic spot called Chenchpur Waterfalls.


It was a pleasant morning and with our packed breakfasts we headed to the spot in an open jeep. The drive en route the spot was a refreshing one with hardly any vehicles on road. The cool breeze was lightly brushing our faces.



 An hour later, the driver cut through the main road and took the kaccha raasta into the forest. Fifteen minutes and we were still zip zapping inside the forest.

Irritated I asked the driver, "Where is the waterfall? Did we get lost?"

He replied, "Madam just 5 more minutes"

And in exactly 5 minutes he stopped the jeep in front of an open space. Overlooking this space, amidst the asymmetrical pieces of rocks was a huge waterfall.

Red Beetle

First sight of the waterfall and I was awestruck! Surrounded by lush green forests on all sides, the pristine water was flowing in middle. I didn't realize how magnificent it was until I got closer. There was hardly anyone in its vicinity. It seemed like a hidden treasure.



We had just began trekking to the waterfall slowly, trying to balance ourselves over the slippery rocks when mom noticed that dad was already far ahead of us. Nature somehow brings the best out of this man. As we reached half way he had almost reached the waterfall.  He now wanted to descend to its base and take a fresh water bath. The waterfall was approx 40ft high and water was gushing at its best speed. Mom was in no mood to take chances and she ordered him to get back. Like a gentleman he obeyed his wife and came back after posing for a few clicks. :)

Mom realizes dad was on his own trekk! :P



Dad and Me



After enjoying the breathtaking view of waterfall we ate our breakfast and headed back to Bandhavgarh all excited for our next safari.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A Wild Encounter: Bandhavgarh


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My dad is a wild life enthusiast, an ardent fan of channels like Discovery and Animal Planet. Undoubtedly, I have inherited the same likings. I have grown up watching wild life shows starring Steve Irwin and Bear Grylls. 

A place which had been for long on my mind was Bandhavgarh National Park! This national park located in Madhya Pradesh is believed to have highest tiger density in India.


Bandhavgarh was declared a national park in the year 1968 having an area of 105km square. It is believed that Bandhavgarh hillock was gifted by Lord Ram to his brother Lakshman with the expectation to keep a watch on Lanka. Hence the name Bandhavgarh i.e. Brother's Fort.

It has four main zones: Tala, Magadhi, Khitauli and Panpatta. Panpatta is not open for safari's. Tala is the premium Zone and the rest two are non premium one's. The best time to visit Bandhavgarh is between Feburary to early June. The park remains closed  between July to September. The nearest airport is Jabalpur and nearest railway stations are Jabalpur & Katni.

I reached Bandhavgarh on the morning of 17th June 2014. After an extensive research and a lot of contemplation I had booked my 3 Nights 4 Days stay in TigerGarh Resort. This resort overlooks the boundary of the National Park and is very close to the Tala Zone gate. For once there was a place which tremendously outdid my expectations. 

Mr Gagan, a wild life enthusiast and nature lover owns and runs the place. There are close to 14 cottages in the Resort. Each cottages is called a den and named after a Bandhavgarh tiger. He has done the place meticulously keeping in mind the smallest of all things. The place is truly rustic and wild. But at the same time comfort isn't compromised! The interiors are well decorated and every small little thing in the resort accentuates the village theme.

Gagan has a great team to his backing. Both, the house keeping and kitchen staff are well groomed, trained and efficient. They are humble, polite and available at the drop of a hat. There is a separate dining area which is equally beautiful in design. Each meal is hygienic, lavish and scrumptious. Moreover, everyday you are treated to a new menu. Ranging from Continental to Italian and Indian to Chinese.

 



Deluxe Rooms


Day1 (17th June 2014):

The resplendent sun greeted us on our arrival. With our high energies and overflowing excitement we geared up for our tryst with tiger. We treated ourselves to a hearty breakfast and explored the resort a little. Post lunch as we started to get ready, we got face to face with our worst nightmare ever... Rains! Tiger sightings become difficult when it rains. Water is available everywhere hence tigers prefer relaxing in their dens.

Our evening safari starts at 4pm . By the time we started, rains were almost gone. Just a little drizzling continued. As the jeep went deeper and deeper into the forest. We kept feeling the tiger would appear suddenly out of the grasses. But it never did.

All we could spot were the Sambhar and Spotted Deers. Our spirits weren't tamed by the day's experience. We were still happy that we enjoyed a rainy ride into the Jungle. We were hopeful of sighting tiger in the next day's early morning safari.

Sambhar Deer


Day2 (18th June):

Day2 began with an early morning safari to the premium zone: Tala. The morning safari's are from 5am to 9.30am. We woke up not to the alarm ringing but to the sounds of rain and thunder storm. This was our second and last safari booked. We were determined to trace the wild cat.
By the time we were ready to leave, rains had completely stopped. My dad pointed that this was the perfect weather to spot a bear.

My dad's word actually came true and deep into the forest we descried a bear. The guide pointed that bear sightings were rarest of rear. We were all the more elated. The Bear was just a feet away, digging the ground searching for termites.


Bear searching for termites


Ahead in our safari we espyied Bisons, Wild boars, Monitor Lizards, Peacocks, Vulture and a few other birds.


Wild Bison


Open Space @ Tala Zone


Even though we didn't see the tiger I was happy we spotted a bear which was something no safari anywhere guaranted.

Tiger's Message brought a smile on my face.


Day3 (19th June)

Day 3 began with a morning picnic to the beautiful Chenchpur Waterfall.  My gut feeling was we would surely spot a tiger today. Haven't you heard of the saying: Third Time Lucky! However, the problem was we didn't have a safari booked for that day.

In Bandhavgarh the safari's are limited and pre-booked months in advance. Few Safari's for each day are reserved for VIP's. Half an hour before the safari, the reserved safaris if unused are given to the people public on first come first basis.

We checked at the counter an hour prior to the evening Safari. There were safaris available for the Magadhi Zone. Without giving it another thought we purchased the tickets. As the safari began, our eyes scanned the forest as far as we could.

"This is serious business. Lets Focus" demanded the guide. He further added, "Tiger ko track karne main hi toh asli mazaa hai". The guide took our jeep to every possible spot trying to trace the wild cat.

It was already 6pm and we had nearly covered the entire permissible region of forest. We started to move towards the main gate. We were sulking but the guide said we shouldn't give up til the last minute. Just then, a few kms before the gate, far in the open fields, camouflaged by the tall dried grass, the majestic Tiger was walking. He walked pass the entire length of the boundary and disappeared in the forest again!

We started moving ahead and just about 2 kms from the gate we saw a jeep halted and the people looking into the fields. Voila! Another tiger hiding behind the grasses. He popped his head up checked us out. Hearing the commotion he decided to be there for some more time until we were gone..

The park was to close down in next 5 mins, so we didn't bother him much. I couldn't capture them in my lens. The first one was too far and the second one didn't give me much time. But at the end it didn't matter if they were far or close. It didn't matter if I was able to capture them or not. I was relieved we we weren't going home disappointed. We had managed two tiger sightings!

Bandhavgarh was an out an out amazing experience. The jungle has an extensive species of animals, plants and birds. Each zone of the forest has a different terrain. Although its a lesser popular park, it is rich in beauty, wildness and diversity.

Do visit for a truly Wild Experience!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sky Watch.......Bandhavgarh


For hours I can keep gazing at the sky. Wondering what is it, so intriguing and mystical about it! When the sun transcends it's light, on to the clouds, the sky changes it's color dramatically. As if God is painting the sky crimson using the various colors from his palette.

 I captured  these pictures while enjoying an evening village walk in Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh.



 




Smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly.

 ~~~ Van Morrison ~~~

 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Alluring Kashmir.......Part2


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Read the previous part here: Alluring Kashmir-Part1

Well , in this part, I would let the pictures do most of the talking. Some jaw dropping scenic places of Kashmir coming up in this post.

 Pahalgham

Pahalgham the shepherd's valley is approximately 77kms from Srinagar. On the way you could see the Saffron fields and visit the Awantipura Temple. You could also treat yourselves to the Kashmiri Kahwa by stopping over at a dhabha. Kahwa is basically a tea prepared by boiling green tea leaves with Saffron strands , Cinnamon bark and Cardamom in water. This aromatic drink leaves you completely refreshed.

Awantipura Ruins




Pahalgham, one of the picturesque towns in Kashmir, is the favourite place for shooting of bollywood movies. There are various spots here like the Chandanwari, Baisaran, Aaru and Beetab Valley.  If you have less time you should atleast visit the Baisaran valley which is also called Mini Switzerland. You could hire a pony to take you there or trekk enjoying the pine trees and snowclad mountains around.

On the way to Baisaran, you would meet locals willing to let you pose with their white rabbits and sheep in return for some money. I got myself a picture clicked with a cute rabbit.



Gulmarg

Gulmarg is the Skiing destination of India having a two stage Gondala ride. As the Gondola (cable chair) moves up, you leave behind the greener pastures and get closer to the whiter, snow covered regions of Himalayas. Everywhere your eyes go, there is just snow, snow and only snow. As if vanilla ice cream was spread unevenly over chocolate brownie! :P

Stage 1 of Gondola is very crowded. There are various activities for tourists like skiing, snowboarding, sledging etc. Amidst this crowd and hurry to try out all activities, you might forget enjoying the view. If at all you manage sneaking some time to look around you would realize the place is so beautiful that for a moment you forget you are in India. I couldn't do the 2nd stage but I have read it offers a breath taking view and is relatively less crowded than the stage 1.




Sonmarg 

Sonmarg meaning the 'Meadow of Gold' is a hill station at distance of 87kms from Srinagar. I stayed in Hotel Snowland which was surrounded by huge magnificent mountains on all sides and  Nallah Sindh flowing in its backyard.





In Sonmarg there is an exciting trekk to Thajiwas Glacier... However, I gave it a miss. I didn't want to end my trip with another over crowded tourist spot. Instead I started walking towards the adjacent hills. Attempting to let the beauty of Kashmir sink in. As the sun prepared to set, I trekked to the nearby hills enjoying some blissful moments alone.

The dried trees still add to the beauty of the place.


Horses grazing on hill top, Sonmarg
  





The back side view from Hotel Snowland, Sonmarg

There are myriad things that will again draw me to Kashmir. But undoubtedly the peaceful, serene & untouched beauty of Sonmarg has won over my heart. :)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Alluring Kashmir.....Part1

My heart skipped a beat as I switched on the television set. Kashmir, the Switzerland of India, was hit by unprecedented floods. I felt extremely helpless seeing that the place which gave me an experience of a lifetime was struggling hard to survive. Almost 400 villages in the Kashmir valley were submerged in water.

Today, as I write this post Indian Army has managed rescuing 1,34,000 people so far. Relief material is being passed on to every village in need. The entire nation owes a debt of gratitude to the army men.

My brain flash backs; Exactly to the time when I was smitten by the beauty and mesmerizing aura of Kashmir. Kashmir exhaled love, warmth and peace in its every particle. Every minute I had spent there got etched in my memory. Every nook and corner of Kashmir is like a canvas beautifully painted by GOD.

The most common tourist places in Kashmir are Srinagar, Pahalgham, Gulmarg & Sonmarg. Each one equally vibrant, aesthetic and mesmerizing. Srinagar is the center point of the four.

I travelled to Kashmir this year, in the month of May on an all women group tour. Generally it doesn't rain in May but this time it did. Well, I wouldn't lie, it did became a spoiler. But overall the trip was just close to perfect

Srinagar, the summer capital of JnK is known for its Dal Lake and Mughal Gardens like Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh,Cheshmashahi and Pari Mahal. One would need atleast 2 days to enjoy Srinagar. Adi Shankracharya Temple is one of the ancient temples of India situated on the mountain top. Delight your eyes to the breath taking view of Dal Lake from the Temple. Pari Mahal meaning fairy's abode is a beautifully build garden on the ruins of a Budhist monastery. It is a 7 terraced garden overlooking the Srinagar city and some parts of Dal Lake.
 

Nishat Bagh





Pari Mahal


Living on a House Boat is a lavish and must not miss experience.  The House boats are finely designed with Deoder wood which doesn't decompose in water. There are close to 4000 house boats on the Dal Lake. The House boats are anchored in the water. They might tilt a little here and there but it's altogether a different experience to live on water. Each house boat has 3-4 rooms along with a common room having a dining area.

Dal Lake, Srinagar
 
House Boats


The house boat owners have their boats just behind the tourist houseboats. They are very warm and welcoming people. On the house boat  we were served home cooked hygienic but extremely delicious food. The food was a mix of Kashmiri and Punjabi Dishes. They use a small boat called as Shikara to commute in water. You could shop for amazing paper mache articles and jewellery on the floating market while enjoying the Shikara ride.  However, for authentic Pashmina Shawls and Kashmiri embroidered suits you should go to some government recognized shop.
 
Old Man selling vegetables on his Shikara


There is an uncanny thing I came to know about the people of Srinagar while I was chatting with the house boat owner. The kashmiri's like the house boat owners and staff , who stay on water are the water community and the one's from the land are the land community. The water people don't marry the land people and similarly the land people don't marry anyone from the water community. The water community spends almost their entire life on water. Their weddings as well happen on a Shikara. They shop, live and do business on Water. Ain't is amazing!

Women rowing on the Dal Lake


Coming to my favourite part of travelling, Local Food!

Ahdoos

When in Srinagar don't miss to savour your taste buds with Kashmiri food in Ahdoos. Adhoos is one of the oldest and finest restaurants serving authentic Kashmiri Wazwan. If you are a vegetarian like me don't be disheartened. There are some amazing dishes you could try like Kashmiri Dum Aaloo and Kamal Kakdi. Kamal Kakdi is a vegetable prepared using lotus stem in curd curry. In desserts try out the Kashmiri Phirni. Its is basically a rice pudding. I just couldn't resist having another bowl of it! It had the perfect sweetness and right flavouring of kesar and cardamom.


Kashmiri Phirni

You have a lot to see in Srinagar. But I would say, hold on , capture the beauty of Dal Lake as much as you can. I indeed lost my heart to its calmness. :)

Sunset @Dal Lake

Me ..@Dal Lake
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