Friday, March 26, 2010

Mumbai to Leh and Back - ( Part 1 Mumbai to Shrinagar)

I had great desire to travel on the world's highest altitude motorable road and to see Kargil where war was fought. When I discussed this idea with my friends three of them joined me for the journey. Shashank and Nitin were to join me from Mumbai and Naved was in Himachal setting up his ecotourism lodges at Kangra

We decided to take a my car right from Mumbai to Leh and come back. After many debates on e-mails route was planned and packing was done. There were suggestions like we should take a gas stove, survival kit etc. ; however finally everybody was convinced that travelling light would be the best option.

Unlike my previous journeys where I have explained sight seeing places in every area in great details; this post is going to be a different one. This is going to be mainly the journey, largely as pictures. In my view the Leh and Ladakh journey by car is far more enticing due to climate changes and rough terrain; than due to gompa's and forts. This in my view is similar to Char Dham yatra I had done way back in 1999. In that tour also I found my treks to Kedarnath and Yamunotri far more spiritual than the temple itself.

As we had to experience the stress of the journey we had decided to complete the journey as fast as possible. This meant very little scope for acclamatization, but thats how it was going to be adventurous.

Mumbai to Ajmer:

We left Mumbai at 7.00 am sharp and after picking up Nitin at Kalyan we moved on the touch Mumbai Ahmedabad Highway. We kept travelling and after a brief stop after Vapi for Breakfast and after Baroda for lunch, we kept moving towards Udaipur. Our target for the day 1 was to reach Ajmer by night.

When we left Mumbai, it was drizzling and till such time we reached Udaipur; the monsoon clouds followed us. We stopped on the outskirts of Udaipur at 6.00 p.m for our first long tea break( 40 mins) and moved towards Ajmer. By now every body had started feeling fatigue for the first day journey.

We reached borders of Ajmer at 10.00 pm; we stopped for fuel and further directions. At this time our first problem was faced. Nitin walked towards truck parked in the petrol pump to find place to release himself and in the dark and banged against a steel rod protruding from a truck. He was bleeding badly and we had to find a doctor in that hour to get him stitches. It was 1.30 by the time whole thing was over and we checked in the RTDC hotel. Our plans for leaving early the 2nd day had gone for a toss; and we decided to give nitin some rest.

Mumbai to Udaipur - Post monsoon greenery of western India

Ahead of Udaipur just beginning of desert

Ajmer to Ludhiana - Day 2

We got up at 8.30 a.m and took good 1,30 hrs to get ready. We then visited Durgah Shariff and paid our respects. At 12.00 noon we started onward journey towards Kangra. We wanted to avoid getting into Delhi for two reasons a) we wanted to save time by avoiding traffic in Delhi city b) we wanted to explore lesser known roads. We enquired at Ajmer and found out a wonderful road which goes from Ajmer - to - Ratangarh - to Hanumangarh.

This was probably the best decision we took. After first day of monsoon experience; our second day was experience of scorching heat in the thick of dessert. We also saw few sand dunes and large plains in sand on the way. Enjoy pictures and do leave your comments.

Camels and desert folk

Colours of Dessert

By the evening we reached Hissar in Haryana. We then continued our onward journey thru state highways towards Punjab. As per our earlier plan we were supposed to reach Kangra by end of 2nd day; but with changed plans we decided to cover as much as possible till late in the night.

Biggest Flag post in Hissar - Just compare size of the flag with car belowWelcome to Haryana

By 1.00 a.m. on we reached Ludhiana and decided to take a break over there. Day 3:

Ludhiana to Kangra to Jammu - Day 3

After getting ready in the morning we left for Kangra by 9.00 am. We first moved to Jalandhar and from there on we kept going towards Hoshiarpur. After which the road became really narrow and our travelling speed dropped. We also started climb on foothills of Dhauladhar of Himalayas. By 11.30 p.m we had entered Himachal Pradesh and first beautiful view of Chohal Dam came in sight.

On the outskirts of Goraya - Manchester of Punjab ?????

Jalandhar City

On the way to Himachal - Remembering wife - who was back home

View of Chohal Dam
Pilgrims on the way

Changing Flora and Fauna in mountains

Approaching Kangra

Once we reached Kangra we spent some time with Naved had lavish lunch and after some rest moved on to Jamm. His site for Aamod is one for the finest locations in Kangra. It is on a hill top with river flowing by its side and Kangra Fort just opposite in the view. If you wish to stay please visit aamod website.

We moved on pretty late as Naved had a meeting which got delayed as per Indian Stretchable Time. We started from Kangra by 5.00 pm and decided to make to Jammu (as reaching Shrinagar was out of question). Enjoy pictures clicked

View of the river from Aamod

View of Kangra Fort from Aamod

Leaving Kangra- Route planning with map to save distance and time

On the way to Jammu

On the way to Jammu

It was almost 9.30 p.m when we reached on the outskirts of Jammu. We decide to take break and start early in the morning. There was a cheap lodge on side of the road where mostly security personnel were staying. We decided to stay there save some money and also time for the next day; as could have bypassed the Jammy town from there.

Day 4 - Jammu to Shrinagar:

We moved towards Shrinagar; as decided early in the morning. The journey was fantastic every body was charged with the thought of having made it to Shrinagar and also because of fact that after 4 days of Journey in the car we were going to get first long break of 2 days in over there.

We decided to enjoy this journey and not to rush up. After crossing Jawahar Tunnel we had the first view of the heaven on earth - Kashmir Valley. We stopped for almost 30 mins taking pictures, sipping hot tea and enjoying the view.

Bypassing Jammu- View of the City and River Tawi

On the way

Entering Jawahar Tunnel - You can't stop so picture taken in moving car

In side the tunnel
Leaving the tunnel.
First View of the valley behind me.
First creature we saw of the valley

Coming up next - Shrinagar to Leh

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Delhi - blend of Modernity and culture- Finest structures and homestays

On my way to Uttarakhand I went to Delhi. Though I had travelled to Delhi almost 40 times before for business purpose; I could not spend anytime for sight seeing. The only monuments I had seen was India Gate from windows of my car and once I had visited Rajghat.

This time I decided to visit Delhi only for sight seeing purpose. I spent two days only as I had to move ahead to Uttarakhand. This is therefore not an article in detail; which I normally write; rather this is highlights or in better words essence of Delhi. This is also my understanding of this city its culture and people. I am also listing here some special issues about our capital which are not known to many.

Delhi is probably the only city in India where size of anything is BIG; may it be Roads, Flyovers, Forts, Homes, Parathas, kathi rolls or even people. As soon as you get out of station heat, dust and noise hits your senses hard. Added to it is honking and lane cutting by autos and the usual response by car drivers with punctuation marks (bc /mc/ch*#@ ) typical to northern India.

I stayed with my friend in south delhi and thus started with Qutub Minar for sight seeing. It would be interesting for readers to know that town centre of Delhi; kept on shifting around with different rulers. While you travel from South Extension to Mehrauli and then to Qutub, you cross capitals of five different dynasties. Starting from Siri Fort (Khilji Dynasty (AD 1290 to 1320)- mostly known for Mohammad Khilji) then to Quila Rai Pithora (Prithviraj Chauhan-AD 1000) to Mehrauli (Ghori - AD 1190 to 1206) and also Aibaks (1206 to 1290).

The most interesting part to observe is the change in architecture over this period. You would see construction of walls with uncut stones to neatly cut sand stones and finally with carving. The ultimate however comes out as Qutub Minar. The sheer size of the structure is baffling(see the picture below and compare height with electricity pole).

In my opinon there were two reasons why emperors created this monuments 1) To promote construction and hence create jobs; it is impressive to see the vision and efforts of artisan in the days when JCBs and poclains were not available. 2) The sense of achievement every king used to feel after conquering this city. This was capital of the then richest nation on earth and once that treasury was in your hand every king wanted to make statement of this strength. Thus most of the mega structures are around Delhi.

While I was meeting people; one of them told me that Salary of Akbar's Kotwal (guarding delhi) was more than the income of many european kings. I don't know whether it is correct or not; so more informed souls pleas comment.

Buildings is Qutub Complex
The next day I visited central Delhi. While you travel towards Central delhi, plan to go via Nizamuddin. Here you can visit Durgah and also tomb of Rahim Khankhana( he was prime minister to 3 kings and to my utter surprise urdu poet "Rahim").

The Lotus Temple of Bahai Faith

Tomb of Rahim Khan Khana

While you visit central Delhi from here , you would pass along capitals of 6 different dynasties a) Firozabad ( Tughlaqs, sayyids, lodhis and mughals). When Humayun lost his kingdom to Sher Shah Suri he made capital at Shergarh (Puran Quila) and then Shahjahan shifted capital to present day Old Delhi (also known as Shahjehanabad). I visited red fort, whatever I write to describe the beauty and magnamity of Red Fort would be less and also most of us know that.

Chaotic Streets of Delhi

However, it is important to mention that I found true spirit of Delhi in Old Delhi area. The temples and Jama Masjid and Sisganj Gurudwara all are so close to each other. Cuisine of every community in its original form in retained here- where Paratha galli or seekh kababs or Rabari. And the chaos on the streets is worth experiencing, I had previously experienced such chaos only in lanes of Benaras.

Sisganj Gurudwara

While I know that most you would have seen Red Fort; I do recommend to see Humayun's Tomb in detail. Before I start with it, one more advice " do not miss the light and sound show in the evening at Red Fort".

Red Fort

Humayun's Tomb probably was the greatest structure made before Taj Mahal was constructed. A glimpse of Taj can be seen in every buidling here. It was also for the first time Persian and Hindu arcutecture of combined to created magnificient combination of Minarets, curves and Hindu motif. There is brilliant work of glazed tiles along with combination of Marble and Sandstone.

This was preemble to Taj, which was constructed with Marble alone. There are around 100 graves of Mughal family and it looks like a big family get together.

Humayun's Tomb

Graves of Mughals inside Humayun's Tomb
Isa Khan Niyazi's Tomb (See influence of Hindu Architecture)

Intricate work inner side of dome

Intricate Jaali in Sand Stone
It is also worthwhile to mention that now network of Metro is in place and hence do not waste money in hiring cabs unless absolutely necessary. It would save you time and you would be able to get essence of real Delhi by foot.

From here I moved to Lutyen's Delhi which was built by British and houses our democracy. Though buildings are nice, there was so much of security that I preferred to see Rashtrapati Bhavan from a distance and them made final visit to India Gate to pay my respect to unknown soldiers who gave their life to make us safe.

Rashtrapati Bhavan
India Gate
Finally the most important monument of India - Amar Jawan Jyoti

I stayed with my friend but I met a lot of people while surveying for Homestays. It is very interesting to know that people from all linguistic background run homestays here right from Punjabi, Jain, Marwari, Bengali to south Indians. Delhi as a city is melting pot of cultures if you wish to really enjoy staying in Delhi, stay in homestays. You would experience their big decorated homes, home cooked food, gardens around and would learn a lot more about culture.

The homestays come at all price points but they are not as cheap as the Pahargunj hotels. However the ambience and service is so nice that you would find worth for your money. To know about homestays in Delhi follow this link

One pretty disturbing issue that I found on visit to Delhi was about auto-rikshaw drivers. I asked one of th drivers that why do they charge more while in no other city it happens - especially Mumbai. The answer was very interesting - he said in Delhi autos are owned by Fleet Owners and not drivers. The permits are controlled and hence are so expensive that to get one Auto on road it takes Rs 4.00 lacs min. So how does one recover that money. If this is true then this is probably the worst government has done to tourism. Normally permits are given to local youths to earn their livelyhood and not to mafia cartels. If any of you know more on this issue do comment and on every forum possible raise this issue; so some day govt changes it's mind. Which is really difficult given the fact the our great democracy has peoples representatives as central part and people themselves(for them, of them and by them..........)

Thanks for reading ...coming up next ..............journey from Mumbai to Leh and back by Car........