Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Kashmir-ey Kelenkari , Himachal - e Shanti and Punjab e Langar (2016) !


09/07/2016


We (Arun, Barun and family and I) took 5.15 am morning Indigo flight (from Dum Dum Airport, Kolkata) to reach Srinagar via Delhi. Normally the fare is around Rs 11,000 - 15,000 from Kolkata. We left home from Deshapriya Park at around 3.45 am  and in 3 minutes we got Uber! We paid only Rs 167/- (Barun also got it in 3 minutes). I have been told by my friend who takes this flight that this is the normal fare at this point of time. A normal non AC taxi ride during the day costs around Rs 280 and pre-booked taxi was charging at least 3 times the more. Hail Uber !


We reached Delhi 7.15 am and got the boarding pass. I was very hungry and went to use free lounge facility ( in Delhi airport ) from my credit card, to have some quick breakfast. Arun was very hungry and could not resist the sumptuous free breakfast at the airport ! When we reached the counter only 15 minutes were left for the 8 am flight. They denied us entry, since we are late. I know for sure that people enter even after that. In spite of our repeated pleading, we could not get inside. Barun and family are already in the plane waiting for us! 
Lesson 1 : Sometimes last boarding time of 25 minutes before departure is sacrosanct. 

We took the next flight at 9 am and paid a fine of around Rs 3000 and reached Srinagar at 9.45 instead of 8.45 am. Barun and his family were waiting for us at the airport. I did not know that from the airport, there are different types of buses/MCV/SUV which takes you to Sonmarg, Gulmarg.

One interesting thing in Kashmir is, pre-paid phones doesn't work: only the post-paid phones work; since we had some post-paid ones, we did not face any problem.

Our driver Latif (+91 94 19 068721) was waiting for us at the airport. [some other phone nos. of drivers are Kamalesh (also goes to Lay) - 98 31 138379 , Javed - 95 96 097772, Sikander - 9797 88 28 83, Rohit (Tempo Traveller) - 9697 36 17 70 ] 

The deal was Rs 2400 for the day, till 8 pm for his SUV. Our destination is Houseboat at Gate no 7 - Ambassador Houseboat 
Mob 0194-2501569 , 9906 472 045 ; Proprietor : Husam ud Din
houseboatambassador@yahoo.com

On reaching the airport we learnt there is curfew in Kashmir. Burhan Wani, a commander of the Kashmir-based Hizbul Mujahideen, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by India, the European Union and the United States, was killed in an encounter with the Indian security forces yesterday night. Luckily, we did not face any problem to reach Dal Lake. Our houseboat (normally does not move and is anchored. For all practical purpose, it is a stationery hotel, which is floating. But many Kashmiris stay in these house boats and rent out part of the houseboat - which is true in case of our houseboat) has an arrangement with a shikara (small boats - which are like water taxis to commute in the Dal Lake) to drop us to the houseboat from the Gate no. 7 - one of the most important gates in Dal Lake from where you can hire shikara to roam around Dal Lake.  There are houseboats on Dal Lake and Nagin Lake.
View from our houseboat


Understand Jammu and Kashmir

Actually J&K consists of three regions: Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and LadakhSrinagar is the summer capital, and Jammu is the winter capital. Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population.
The Kashmir valley is famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape, and Jammu's numerous shrines attract tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year. 
Ladakh, also known as "Little Tibet", is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and Buddhist culture.


Division
Area km2
Percentage Area
Kashmir
15,948
16%
Jammu
26,293
26%
Ladakh
59,146
58%
India-administrated Jammu and Kashmir
101,387 km2
100%
The area of West Bengal is 88,000 Sq Km, for the sake of comparison. 
The population as per religion:


Division
 % Population
Population
 % Muslim
 % Hindu
 % Sikh
 % Buddhist & others
Kashmir
54.93%
6,888,475
96%
3%
1%
Jammu
25.93%
42.89%
5,378,538
33%
63%
3%
Ladakh
58.33%
2.18%
274,289
46%
12%
1%
40%
Jammu and Kashmir
100%
100%
12,541,302
68%
28%
2%
1%


In the first half of the 1st millennium, the Kashmir region became an important centre of Hinduism and later of Buddhism; later still, in the ninth century, Shaivism arose.

In 1339, Shah Mir became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, inaugurating the Salatin-i-Kashmir or Swati dynasty.

For the next 5 centuries, Muslim monarchs ruled Kashmir, including the Mughals, who ruled from 1586 until 1751, and the Afghan Durrani Empire, which ruled from 1751 until 1820.
That year ,  the Sikhs, under Ranjit Singh, annexed Kashmir. In 1846, after the Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-Sikh War, and upon the purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler of Kashmir. The rule of his descendants, under the tutelage of the British Crown, lasted until 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh became the ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1925, and he was the reigning monarch at the conclusion of the British rule in the subcontinent in 1947. 

With the impending independence of India, the British announced that the British Paramountcy over the princely states would end, and the states were free to choose between the new Dominions of India and Pakistan or to remain independent. But the the former princely state of the British Indian Empire became a disputed territory because of the sabotage of politicians, who never allowed the referendum.


After keeping our luggage in the house boat, we again took the shikara to reach the Gate No. 7. We quickly took our lunch near gate no. 7. Most of the restaurants were closed. So, we had to settle for a vegetarian meal. The restaurant is closed from outside (because of the curfew). But you can enter the restaurant through the side gate.

At Srinagar, our plan was to go for a half day city tour that includes visit to the famous Pari Mahal, Mughal gardens of Nishat and Shalimar, the Chasma Shahi Garden, Shalimar Bagh (Abode of love) and Shankaracharya Temple. But because of the curfew we could not go some of the places. However, the effect of curfew is much less around the Dal Lake which is the main tourist area.

The gardens in Srinagar are mostly made by the Mughals and are collectively called Mughal Gardens.

First, we went to Pari Mahal. Entry fee is Rs 20/- .  It is really fascinating. Pari Mahal was initially a garden founded by Dara Shikoh in mid 1600s, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's eldest son for his Sufi teacher, Mulla Shah. It served as a library and an abode for him. Dara Shikoh was said to have lived in this area in the years 1640, 1645, and 1654. It was further used as an observatory, useful for teaching astrology and astronomyPari Mahal or The Angels' Abode is located at the top of Zabarwan mountain range over-looking city of Srinagar. The architecture depicts an example of Islamic architecture and patronage of art during the reign of the then Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It is five-minute drive from Chashma Shahi, Srinagar.
The view from Pari Mahal is without doubt the best I have seen in Srinagar. There we met some Bangladeshi groups.



Our next destination is the Chasme Shahi Garden. Chashma Shahi is one of the Mughal gardens built in 1632 AD around a spring by Ali Mardan Khan, a governor of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as per the orders of the Emperor, as a gift for his elder son Prince Dara Shikoh. The garden is located in the Zabarwan Range overlooking Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. There is also a small shrine, the Chashma Shahi, close to the gardens, which also has a fresh water spring. 

We could not go to the other two famous Mughal Garden -  Shalimar Bagh (Abode of love) and Nishat Bagh due to the curfew. 
Shalimar Bagh is the largest Mughal garden in India located at northeast of Dal Lake near Srinagar city along with other famous lake garden. 

Nishat Bagh is the second largest Mughal garden in the Kashmir Valley located on the bank of the Dal Lake with the Zabarwan Mountains at the back and offers a magnificent view Pir Panjal mountain range - the most important mountain range of J&K.

Shankaracharya Mandir is our next destination. It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on a hilltop. Some historians report that the temple was actually a Buddhist temple during Buddhist era which was then changed into Hindu site of worship by Adi Shankaracharya. Persians and Jews call it Bagh-i- sulaiman or the Garden of King Solomon. Persian inscriptions are also found inside the temple.

 It can be reached by a car or taxi. No cameras or cell phones are allowed within the temple and you are supposed to leave them in the vehicle before entering the temple premises. 
You have to climb around 250 steps to reach the temple but the view from the top is worth the effort probably. We could not take any photo. The view from a point on the way to the temple is quite breathtaking.



Since we could not go to any other place we went to see an apple orchard. 




We could not go to 
Hazratbal Mosque and Jamia Masjid Mosque(Middle of Nehwatta district, old city). The old city is apparently a very tensed and nobody wanted to take us to that part. I have been old city is a very interesting part of Srinagar and there are walking tours in the old city.

After coming back to our houseboat by shikara we went to a restaurant to buy the packed dinner for our group. Since most of the restaurants were closed due to curfew, we had lot of problem to buy the packed dinner. The one which was open near the pier was really full of customers. Then we went to the only other restaurant open and got it without much hassle.


10/07/2016

In the morning, we had wonderful Kawha tea (famous traditional Kashmiri tea - actually it is not a tea - it a tea made of kesar, cardamom and other herbs) for only Rs 15 and some aloo paratha at the houseboat, which is part of the package. Then we bought some Kashmiri wooden handicrafts from the vendors who sales from their shikara/boat and came inside our houseboat. It was a bizarre experience.

Even more bizarre is the experience of meeting Mr Basheer who has come to our house boat to sell stoles but the moment he saw me, he said do you stay in Triangular Park and started talking in Bengali! Sensing the intensity of the curfew he sold the stoles at a cheap price - so I bought 10 stoles from him and I took his number, so that I can buy stoles from him in Kolkata. He seems to be a nice person like most Kashmiri and he comes to south Kolkata to sell his goods. His number Kolkata number is 98 74 517666.
Basheer inside our house boat

The Shikara owner who is supposed to take us for a tour has already come and we quickly got into the Shikara.
Today we planned to go for a Shikara ride in the Dal lake which costs around Rs 150 - Rs 500 per hour. There is a signboard which says Rs 500 per hour is the official rate, though in reality it is not fixed. For a cheaper rate talk to any shikara little away from the Gate no. 7 (say). At around the main gates, the rates are higher. Make sure you bargain. We hired the shikara for the typical 8 points tour. We (6 in one boat/shikara) spent around 4-4.30 hours and paid approx. Rs 1100. 


Shikara ride is one of the most enjoying experiences for tourists visiting Srinagar. It is like Venetian Gondola. Any tour to Srinagar is incomplete without Shikara ride. Dal lake is a market itself, during your cruise on Shikara, the boat man will take you to various other services offered by different vendors.

You can take photo with traditional Kashmir dress and for this, different boat man with all accessories are available, in between the lake, they can take your photo and those photos will be delivered at your hotel or houseboat. Charges are bit higher side, where they will be insisting you to take minimum 3 photos each costing Rs 150/-.

Villages by the side of Dal lake grows vegetables. Here water level is low and you can see various types of vegetables while travelling on the Shikara. There are shops selling traditional Kashmiri dress and shawls. Shikaras are used for selling varieties of flowers and handicrafts that are quite popular among tourists residing in houseboats. The glimpse of floating boats full of colourful blooms is definitely an eye-catcher. We even saw a shikara selling kebabs. We saw India's only floating post office in the Lake.










A relaxing ride while enjoying the surrounding views around Dal Lake and Nagin Lake is truly a worthful pleasure.  

Shikara in Kashmir is also used for other purposes apart from leisure. Locals mainly use this low rowing boat for transportation, sea weed harvesting and fishing.  

Traffic jam !





There will be Shikaras selling Keshar (from Pampore), chips, biscuits etc. A peaceful Shikara ride can be enjoyed at Nagina Lake. Dal Lake area remains crowded during tourist seasons. There are some houseboats in Nagin Lake only. Initially I was contemplating staying at Nagin Lake, but later decided to stay near Boulevard Road along Dal Lake. Boulevard Road is equivalent to Marine drive of Mumbai or Swargadwar of Puri. 

Along with these, the fun associated with Shikara also includes bird watching. The white breasted kingfisher, pariah kites and little grebe are some of the common birds that can be easily spotted while enjoying a Shikara ride in Kashmir.

After 15th July Lotus and Lilly flower can be seen in the lake. Lotus will available for 2 months and Lilly will remain for 3 months.
We also went to Nehru Garden, it is a well-maintained park with the lake by Dept. of Floriculture. The park occupies a large area and has a beverage shop run by the J&K Tourism department. They serve hot and flavoured "Kawha" A cup costs Rs 25. Fishing is another enjoyment here; several locals use boat to fish in this lake. The nearby Tulip Park only has seasonal access. 



Then we went to see the floating market and went to buy some spices from one of the shops. We also went to a handicrafts shop. 


I would recommend taking 4 hours ride instead of customary 1 hour ride. Some people hire the shikara for an Evening lake trip to 'Char Chinar' i.e. four big chinar trees standing in middle of the whole lake. Chinar or maple tree is the state tree of Kashmir.


During our stay in Srinagar, we have talked to many people, who says that the Hindustani army is causing all the problem, as if this is not India! All of them wanted independence of choice or to take their own decision, if they wanted to be part of India or Pakistan. They wanted to be independent actually. Since I knew the history of Kashmir quite well I could sympathize with them.

Here many people asked are you going for Yatra.? Since this is the time for Amarnath Yatra, they meant actually, are going for Amarnath Yatra?

After the ride, we went to have lunch at the famous Lhasa restaurant. From outside it seemed to be closed and were initially bit reluctant to serve. In Srinagar, all over the place you will find Vaishno Dhaba. I felt frustrated that the only restaurant that was open during these trouble times are Vaishno Dhaba. We were lucky to find it open.

Most of the good restaurants are located in Lal chowk or on Boulevard along the banks of the Dal Lake. Make sure you try dishes like Rogan Josh, Gushtaba (soft meat balls cooked in natural yoghurt), Rishta (Soft Meat Balls in delicious Gravy), Yakhni, Tabakmaaz (deep fried ribs of a lamb) and Kanti (small chunks of meat cooked with a lot of onions). All these Meat Items are usually eaten with Rice. 


Wazwan is the famous multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. In the Kashmiri language, waz means 'cook' and wan means 'shop'. All the above dishes (around 36 in all) are part of Wazwan. Influenced by Mughals, Kashmiri cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, with mutton, chicken or fish used as prime ingredients but there are a few delicacies for vegetarians too!

We had Gushtaba - which is really good and Rogan Josh with rice. Rogan Josh is similar to the one we have in Kolkata. 

After the lunch Barun's family left for the houseboat. We tried to plan our tour for next few days, by talking to the SUV owners. Latif has already declined to go. We have good contacts - but all of them declined to go because of the risk involved. Then we went to the office of SUV stand for booking - but nobody was willing to go. The standard reason " Pelting ho raha hai" i.e. Stone pelting. Their car gets damaged. It soon became clear, it is impossible to venture out of Srinagar. 

So, our plans to go to Sonmarg (90 kms/ 3 hrs) (we were told in Sonmarg - there is no requirement to hire a horse, which normally people do) were dashed.  From Srinagar people go to Kargil, Leh, taking the route of Sonmarg - which is on the way. It is in the North East of Srinagar. 

Similarly, next day, our plan was to go to Pahal-gam (3 hours) via Pampore, Avanti-pura and the village of Bij-behara (which remains famous as the bread basket of Kashmir). We were supposed to drive through the second largest city of Anantnag. In Pahalgam, one must visit Betaab Valley and Chandan-wari. People often take a horse riding trip to Baisa-ran meadows. You do not have to stay there. In Pahalgam the horse takes Rs 700 per head to reach Baisa-ran meadows. Pahalgam is South East of Srinagar. 

On the last day of Kashmir valley, we had planned to go to Gulmarg (3 hrs drive). Normally people take a Gondola cable car ride in Gulmarg. Descend back to Gulmarg after an hour and later indulge in some horse-riding. The Gondola ride for 2nd phase is Rs 800 per ride. Gulmarg is in the South West of Srinagar. Thankfully we did not book any hotel. Though people normally tells you stay a day in either of these places - but because of paucity of time , we planned to make Srinagar our base. These are three places people normally go in Kashmir.

All these plans were abandoned. Since we did not book any hotel (even for the houseboat we did not pay anything), we did not incur any loss. 

We had no option but to book a Tata Winger or SUV which will take us to Jammu. The price sky rocketed more than 2 times. We paid around Rs 10,000 for 6 persons. The plane fare from Srinagar to Jammu has gone up to Rs 11,000/- , we were told. Our car will leave at 11 p.m. and takes around 10 hours.

After paying some advance, we went to the market to buy some food for the dinner.  Since not much is there to buy, we had little option, but to buy Maggi. When we were buying, suddenly there was a big commotion. Somebody started saying Darwaja bandh Karo…shut the door. Apparently, he was a militant or Bandh supporter. What he wanted to say is “close down the shop” this not the time to sell your goods and suddenly people panicked and started running and Shoppers started to pull down the shutter immediately. I got inside the shop. Barun and Arun started running on the road, before I could tell them to come inside the shop. Thankfully nothing happened and after some time again, the shutters were up and we had the first-hand experience of what is happening in Kashmir. At one point of time there was real panic. 

After that we went to the house boat with Maggi. Interestingly the houseboat owners did not charge anything for cooking Maggi for us. Then we called Latif our SUV driver to take the money and he said it won't be possible for him to come. He told us to send the money to his bank. He will send me the bank account through WhatsApp. I was quite surprised, that they have so much faith in the tourists. After having our dinner, we took the shikara to go to Gate number 7. While Arun and Barun’s family was waiting at Gate no. 7, Barun and I decided to go to the bus stand, just in case the bus leaves without taking us – more so, since we have given an advance and there is so much demand for the seat, but luckily nothing of that sort happened.

We took the Tempo Traveller and we all waited along with other Bus/SUVs. The SUV / bus started at 12 am, because at night the chance of militant attack is much less and we were told that a military convoy will leave at around that time - and we will follow the military convoy. I can feel the tension in the air. Everybody is tensed, because nobody is sure what is in store. While we were moving along the highway, we can see stones on the road, which made me think that probably something happened in the day or probably the police intentionally kept the stones to make sure that cars cannot move very fast. But the way up stones were kept (in a haphazard manner) it seemed to me that there was a fight between the militant and police/military.

After moving some time, at certain point there was checking of all the cars, apparently, it is the point where Kashmir ends and Jammu starts. Barun and Arun bought some Kawha tea at the Dal lake (during our shikara ride), but I did not buy it, because I thought it is quite expensive. But the place where the car stopped inside Jammu, I saw the prices for Kawha tea much less. So I bought one for my house.


11/07/2016

In the morning, we reached Jammu at around 10 am. On the way, we saw Patnitop. It looked quite nice. We did not have any booking there. But many people stay at Patnitop. After reaching Jammu, our team members had some breakfast at a restaurant near Auto stand. I did not have time to have breakfast. Jammu is also known as City of Temples, one can visit Raghunath Temple, Ranbireshwar Temple, Peer Kho Cave Temple, Bawey Wali Mata, Mahamaya Temple.
 
From Jammu, our next stop is Dharamshala. Interestingly Dharamshala is in Himachal Pradesh and we are in Jammu, so the car first need to pass through Pathankot in Punjab and finally to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. So, it has to cover 3 different states and they have to pay for the road permit and that comes at a cost. So, I understood the reason why this GST is so important. After GST comes, there will be no need to pay taxes in two different states. In fact, there is no SUV (shuttle) goes from Jammu to Dharamshala, because of this. There is a bus service - which is quite infrequent. They are charging around Rs 11,000/- for 5 hours journey by car - which I thought is too much. I met some people who were also returning back from Kashmir, because they could not finish the “yatra” and intends to go to Himachal Pradesh. Since we are going to the same place, I convinced to hire the same car with us and after lot of effort finally I found one travel agent who will take Rs 7500. 

We reached McLeod Ganj at around 5.30 pm. Dharamshala or Dharmasala is a hill station in Himachal Pradesh, famed for its large Tibetan community centred around the activities of the Dalai Lama. Dharamshala came on the world map in 1959 with the arrival of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. Currently, it is a very popular hang-out for foreigners, backpackers and students of Buddhism. Indeed, it is now perhaps a little too popular. Dalai Lama stays at Dharamshala. Some of my Butoh dancing friends stays in Dharmashala. But Honza or Soti were not there, when I was in Dharamshala.

Hindi, Pahari, Punjabi and English are the main languages found in the state. Pahari is a dialect more closely related to Dogri language in lower Himachal. In upper Himachal, language of Tibetan origin are used in daily conversation.

Orientation

Dharamshala is divided into two distinct areas that are separated by a 9 km ,10-15 min bus or jeep ride. 
The Lower Dharamshala, consists of most of the government offices, Schools, the local Hospital, and commercial areas. It also has a few tea gardens. Most importantly the bus station is here - so you have to come here to catch the bus. There are few hotels also. 
But tourist stay in Upper Dharamshala and the main area of interestUpper Dharamshala, known more commonly as McLeod Ganj is named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod the once the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab. 

We got down at Kunga Guest House. Under the guest house is Nick's Italian kitchen - owned by the same management. It is on, one of the most important roads of McLeod Ganj and quite famous.
The hotel is quite decent and restaurant is very nice indeed with interesting menu - their Quiche is especially good. 
One can also stay at nearby  Tibetan Ashoka guest house, Jogiwara Road, 
Mc leodganj - 176 219 ; +91 1892 221763 / 221 635.


After two hectic days, we decided to call it a day, but not before having a look at the new place.

12/07/2016

We hired an SUV (one can hire auto rickshaw also) for Rs 1000 (for 4 hours) for 6 of us. Actually you can walk to almost all these places except Dal Lake and Naddi village (which is around 3 Km). They take you to Bhagsu-nag, Dal lake, Naddi village, Church of St. John & Dalai Lama's Temple.

First, we went to Bhagsu-nag temple. Bhagsu-nag has a waterfall, an ancient temple, a public swimming pool, numerous slate quarries and a fresh water spring. From the Bhagsunag temple, the waterfall is at a trek of 1 km. The view from the waterfall is magnificent.  We skipped it for want of time. The temple is of course uninspiring.

Our next destination is Dalai Lama temple. Just beside is Tibet Museum. Small but interesting museum on the history of Tibet and its people. When we visited Dalai Lama Temple he was not there.

Our next destination is Dal Lake. After walking for sometime sometime it started raining. The Lake looks nice.

When we visited Naddi village it was raining. There are many hotels in Naddi village. One of my friends stayed here. McLeod Ganj has become very crowded and lost its charm to a large extent. It is difficult to walk around and most of the viewpoints are blocked due to numerous hotels. I strongly recommend staying in Naddi village where the charm is still there.

Our final destination was St John's Church. It is quite nice and the ambiance of the place is quite charming. It is not very far from the Taxi stand. 

Since we did not have lunch, Arun, Barun and I went to have lunch in a true blue Tibetan restaurant (their family had their lunch in our hotel). We saw some Tibetan monks eating there. We had Momo and Thupka. It is quite different from the one we normally have. We really liked the taste. They normally close the shop by around 6 pm. 

After that we started walking around the city - to have a feel of it. Here everything closes by 8 pm more or less. We saw an interesting cinema hall (50 seater), on Jogiwara Road. We saw a shop, where they are asking for volunteers for teaching English to Tibetan Refugee. I remember many of my friends go to Dharamshala, for volunteering.
Today we (Arun and I) had dinner at a very nice rooftop restaurant at the main crossing or Golchakkar of McLeod Ganj. The name of the restaurant is The Clay over restaurant, https://www.facebook.com/clayovendhasa1st floor, Tipa road, 98161 16862

We had Tingmo (steamed bun) and soup. Highly recommendable. Barun and his family mostly had vegetarian food. 

13/07/2016


Today we left for Khajjiar and Dalhousie. Actually, Khajjiar is on the way to Dalhousie. Dalhousie is around 6 hours from McLeod Ganj. On the way to Dalhousie our tyre got punctured. Our driver could not take out the tyre from the car (in this car tyre is attached at the bottom of the car) after wasting lot of time. Arun miraculously did it in 2 minutes! The same problem was faced when replacing the tyre. Again, Arun came to our rescue by sheer black magic!! Mind it Arun does not know how to drive! Without Arun our tour to Dalhousie would have been cancelled.


The route to Khajjiar is quite stunning and we saw Step or terrace farming in the hills.



First, we reached Khajjiar. It looked like Gulmarg. I think it is worth going to Khajjiar. The hill station is surrounded by meadows and forests (thick pine forests). It is known at mini Switzerland because of topographical resemblance. It appeared to me just like Gulmarg. Khajjiar is a hill station in Chamba districtHimachal PradeshIndia, located approximately 24 km from Dalhousie. 





Then we left for Dalhousie. Dalhousie like McLeod Ganj is quite crowded. 
We went to the St John's church and went to the waterfall nearby. 

After spending some time there, we left for McLeod Ganj. 
Today we went to a new Punjabi restaurant today for our dinner.

14/07/2016

Today our plan is to see the most picturesque cricket stadium in India at Dalhousie. Barun and his family skipped the tour. So, we decided to go there by local bus. First, we went to Dharamshala to catch a bus to the stadium. From Dharamshala we took a bus to reach the stadium around 30 minutes from Dharamshala. It is indeed beautiful and one can have a wonderful view from the stadium. But since it is very cloudy today we cannot see much. These days the stadium is open to the tourists without any fee.


Almost opposite to the stadium is a road leads to a tea garden. However, buses to that road is very infrequent and it has already left. So, we started walking and soon found a mini school bus going along that way. We got up along with the students and driver dropped us at the right place near a temple. There was not much to see in the temple. From there we started walking back along the same road. There is no car or bus in sight. After walking for few minutes, we reached the tea garden. It really looks stunning and it is quite different from the tea Gardens which I saw in Darjeeling. The trees which gives shade to tea bushes are much bigger and numerous.


The tea Gardens is on the both the sides of the road. Anyways after walking for quite some time we got a lift (after some refusal) from a car,passing by, and he dropped us at the Dharamshala bus station, without taking anything from us. 

After reaching the Dharamshala I was in two minds whether to go to Kangra Fort or not. I was thinking it was too late. Bur Arun was insisting that we should go. Anyways ultimately, we took another bus to go to Kangra Fort. From the bus station, you need to hire an auto to go to the Kangra Fort. We were lucky to go there, otherwise we would have missed a lot. 


We saw many birds too







The Kangra Fort was built by the Royal Rajput family of Kangra State (the Katoch dynasty), which traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom, mentioned in the Mahabharata. It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India. The fort of Kangra resisted Akbar's siege in 1615. However, Akbar's son Jahangir successfully subdued the fort in 1620. Kangra was at that time ruled by Raja Hari Chand Katoch of Kangra (also known as Raja Hari Chand II). 

It has some amazing piece of architecture and their views from the Fort is probably the best I've ever seen from any fort, more so because of almost 270-degree view from the top. 

After spending some time, we decide to come go back to the bus stop. we hired a car to take us to the bus stop. Normally people make cars wait for them, because it is difficult get a car or auto to go back to the bus station. We were lucky once again (the car was waiting for somebody else, who has just got inside the fort). When we reached Dharamshala, it is already late and there are not too many taxis which will take us to the McLeod Ganj. The last bus will not go due to some technical problem. So, we had to hire a taxi along 2 more people (after convincing them) to reach McLeod Ganj. Today we had our dinner at the Nick's restaurant.

15/07/2016

In the morning, we had tea from a restaurant beside our hotel. We had Pocha - salty tea churned with butter, a Tibetan staple. I found it interesting, but nothing great. It appeared to me a buttery and salty tea. Today we decided to have our breakfast at the Tibetan restaurant once again and them roam around the streets of McLeod Ganj, since were generally going to different places around McLeod Ganj. Today we had Thenthuk - similar to Thupka but with thick, square handmade noodles. We met a Tibetan woman inside the restaurant - from her I got to know that she has not been able to go to Tibet (Lhasa) for last 15 years - nor been able to meet her parents. She stays in Delhi and every year she has to report to Tibetan refugee association. We heard, how every corner of Lhasa, capital of Tibet, is being monitored by Chinese authorities. 


Barun and his family decided to go to Kangra fort by hiring a car, after getting our feedback and we decided to explore the city. We bought some souvenirs and ate some street food. We dont know the name of that. 
Today we had our lunch at Jungle Hut; it is located on the road which goes towards Bhagsu. It is undoubtedly located at the one of the best locations in McLeod Ganj and the food is very good.

After lunch, we were joined by Barun (they have already come back from the tour to Kangra fort) and then proceed towards Bhagsu village. After reaching near Bhagsu temple we took left. To our surprise, we saw a place full of Israelis. Even the sign boards are written in Israeli. We had famous Bhagsu Cake over there. It is quite interesting. More of a Peda or Pera. 



Today we bought the bus ticket to go to Amritsar. After reaching hotel Arun and I booked one hotel through Oyorooms - https://www.oyorooms.com.



16/07/2016

We left early in the morning to take the bus to Amritsar. The bus takes around 7 hours (300 Kms) to reach Amritsar. After reaching Amritsar, we booked Ola for around Rs 100. Before that auto rickshaws were charging more than double. After we got the Ola, they reduced the price to half for Barun. From the map, I knew the hotel is not very far from the Bus station. The Hotel turned out to be very good, but inside a small alley. Normally we would not have found this hotel, but for Oyo. Hail technology! We reached the hotel at round 1 pm.  We stayed at Hotel Sukhman International, located at Queens road, Hotel Lane,Amritsar, 98141 075 05 ;94175 51515 ; 0183-2222 077 , 5003 031, hotelsukhman.in. Arun and I paid around Rs 1000 for two, with breakfast. The crystal chowk is only 250 metres from our hotel.

We made the booking from the hotel. Cardinal mistake ! But we did not have any other option.
One can also stay at KC classic at 9-10 Queens Road,Amritar , 0183-2213 696 / 2400 623. It is 40 metres from the  hotel.

We quickly made plan for the Wagah border (Pakistan border) tour.  Since we were hungry, we went to have lunch at the most famous Restaurant in Amritsar Brothers Dhaba. We took an auto to reach the Dhaba. While going there we found Amritsar completely chaotic and even Kolkata pales into comparison in every civic parameter - cleanliness, following traffic rules etc. I was extremely eager to have the food at the Dhaba, since apparently, it has the most authentic food in Amritsar and Punjabi food is my favourite Indian food. It is also the most famous Indian food worldwide. We had butter Nan at Rs 40 and Dal Fry at Rs 135. We also had some famous Faluda of Amritsar (everywhere to be found). The food is quite good. I was also very happy to note that food in Kolkata belong to a different planet and food in Ballygunge Phari Dhaba is actually much better (if I compare the Dal Fry). 


We had rush back to hotel since we will leave for Wagah border at 3.15 pm. Wagah is a border town straddling the line between Pakistan and India, 29 km from the town of Lahore on the Pakistani side and 27 km from Amritsar on the Indian side. From Amritsar, Wagah is about 45 minutes away by car. 


We hired a Taxi for Rs 1000 through our hotel for a round trip, which includes the waiting time at Wagah. There is daily flag raising and lowering ceremony at Wagah Border, done with fascinating pomp and ceremony that involves soldiers in massive turbans goose-stepping about and slamming gates. Both the Indian and Pakistani border forces do this and it has become a tradition for people from both sides gather and see this. Both sides synchronize their parade and the entire event is meant to create a feel-good/patriotic fervour amongst the crowd. It is called the beating retreat ceremony. The flag lowering ceremony which happens around 4:15 PM everyday, has become the main event for tourists. The border gates allow people in the crowd to get a seat in the gallery but it is not uncommon to see up to 500-1000 people standing at the periphery. Ideally, one should reach the border gates by 3:30 PM to get some seating if you're going on a rush day. We reached there at 4 pm. 

We had to walk for quite some time (around 15 minutes) to reach the gate. There is a very strict Security Check and there's a huge crowd.You have to walk along with the crowd and it might appear to you that you are going for a cricket match or football match.

 This tour is sold every very in Amritsar and agents will sale the tour saying Wagah Wagah Wagah Wagah Wagah Wagah.
Later everything turned out to be farce. After so much Security Check, when we reached, the doors are closed. There is nobody to inform that the doors are closed, so there is no point going there!
From the Main Gate one can see the Gallery. That is, it. You cannot see anything beyond that almost. 



For the senior citizen, there is a golf cart which takes them to the gate. The door closes at 3:30 approximately, after that one cannot go inside.  It's quite hot when we went there, if you want to come back there's a security issue. The program will start at 4:30 pm (and you have to go inside before 3.30 pm) and the program will be over at 5:30 pm, so it's quite difficult for old people. So you have leave your hotel at around 2.15 pm. I was not very interested to go to the border, but since the people in our group wanted to go, we went there. Unfortunately we couldn't get inside,since we were late, so we went back to the parking lot, to take the taxi which was waiting for us. But instead of going back to our hotel, we decided to get down near Golden temple.  

Just before Golden temple is Jallianwala Bagh. It is a short 2-minute walk from the Golden Temple and is the site of the 1919 Amritsar massacre. On 13 April of that year, British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. 
The firing lasted about 10 minutes killing 1579 people. A memorial was built on the site. To this day, the bullet holes can be seen on the walls and adjoining buildings. 
The well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the hail of bullets is also a protected monument inside the park.


 After that we went to Golden Temple.  we reached Golden temple just before sunset.
The Golden Temple is the main attraction in the city, and the most important religious place to the Sikhs. It's a stunning complex, and always full of thousands of pilgrims from all over India,
Cover your head, remove your shoes and wander around one of the most amazing places in India. The complex is open almost 24 hours (06:00-02:00 the next day) and is worth visiting twice: once during the day, once at night, when it's beautifully lit up.
As you arrive near the complex, you will more likely than not be accosted by hawkers trying to sell you bandannas to cover your head. It's not a bad souvenir for Rs10. Deposit your shoes at the building to the left of the entrance, wash your feet at the entrance and head in.

It was a good experience, since it is different from what we have seen in the pictures. In the picture, you only get to see the Golden temples but there are number of temples around the place.
Ghanta Ghar". This is the main entrance, sporting a distinctly Victorian clock-tower. Wash your feet in the water at the entrance in order to keep the temple clean.
Amrit Sarovar. The giant pool of water that surrounds and reflects the Golden Temple. Sections (marked off by ropes) are set aside for (male) pilgrims wishing to bathe.
Hari mandir Sahib. This is the Golden Temple itself, floating above the Amrit Sarovar, housing the sacred Adi Granth scripture which is recited out loud during the day. This is the most crowded point, accessible by a bridge from the edge of the pool, and entry here is regulated by traditionally dressed Sikh guards. It's a 2 storey structure where Sikh saints are seated on each floor.
Akal Takht, directly opposite the Hari mandir Sahib. Meaning "The Timeless", this is where the highest council of Sikhs sits and deliberates. At night, the Guru Granth Sahib is taken to the Akal Takht.
Central Sikh Museum, 2nd floor (entrance on the right side of the main side of the main entrance). Devoted to large gallery of paintings, mostly showing the gruesome ways countless Sikhs have been martyred, and various knick-knacks from the gurus.


















All Sikhs are expected at some point in their lives to volunteer for a week at the temple, and everyone you see working here is fulfilling that duty.

After spending some time there we went to have dinner , at a place recommended by old version of Lonely Planet and the name of the restaurant is Punjab Dhaba, but honestly the food is not bad - but not exceoptional.


It is located at Chowk Goal hatti, Gali Arorian, Hall bazar, Pritpal Singh

098152 70332

We went back to our hotel to take rest. When we reached Amritsar many places where waterlogged. At night, again it started raining like anything and water was leaking and falling into our room, so some of our items became wet. We were shifted to some other room.

17/07/2016

We had ours free breakfast in the hotel : the breakfast is nothing great. Anyways after that, we went to see Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is in the Ram Bagh park. Now the palace houses a museum, exhibiting oil paintings, miniatures, coins and weapons from the Sikh period. Ranjit Singh Museum in Amritsar is really well kept and better than most of the museums, which I have seen in India.



After that we took a rickshaw to go to Durgiana Temple. 

Durgiana temple is for the Hindus. Although Durgiana Temple is a Hindu temple, but its architecture is similar to the Golden Temple of Sikh religion. It is located near Hathi gate and near railway station. 







After that Arun and I decided to go to the Golden temple to have langar.


View in the morning












































The Golden Temple has a dining hall (langar) serving free basic meals to all. A definite must for visitors. Plates and spoons are handed out near the entrance, then follow the crowds inside and take the next vacant spot in one of the rows on the floor.
Servers come by with large buckets of daal, chapati and rice. Make sure to finish everything on your plate and then take it outside to volunteers at the washing area. It's inside the complex, which means no shoes and cover your head. The daal is actually quite tasty. The way dishes are cleaned is a unique experience itself.

After spending some time in Golden temple and taking pictures in the day light (unlike the pictures after sunset) we decided to go back to hotel.We booked an Ola from our hotel and left for airport – which is quite far from our hotel. We reached in time to catch our flight back to Kolkata.

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