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Updated: 2017-09-07T15:46:42.016-07:00


Vacation - Summer of 2010 - Part 5 : The Mandakini - She who flows calmly


April 21st, 2010

Woken up by the sounds of myriad birds in the morning. Another visit to the river, which looks even more beautiful in the morning light. Today, we would be following the course of the Mandakini as we visit the temples of Guptkashi and Ukhimath, followed by the Chopta valley, before our nightstop at Joshimath. Another place of interest nearby for those who are fascinated by these tales is the Triyuginarayan temple, which is apparently the site of Lord Shiva and Parvati's marriage. The eternal flame around which the marriage was solemnized, still burns here, it is said. As this was off our planned route, I reluctantly agreed to skip this temple, but made a mental note to visit at some point in the not too distant future.

So, we set out after a hearty breakfast, to Guptkashi (1319 mtrs), set against the scenic backdrop of the Chaukambha peak.  The story goes that the Pandavas, seeking salvation for the fratricidal crime of killing their cousins - the Kauravas, went in search of Lord Shiva, who not wanting to oblige, went into hiding at this very spot, and hence the name - "gupt" meaning hidden. The Pandavas are said to have used their arrows to pierce the land here, resulting in the Ganga and Yamuna emerging at this spot and the place is now called the Manikarnika Kund. Today, there is a tank with two spouts - one with a bull head and the other with a elephant head, from which the streams of the Yamuna and the Ganga are said to be flowing into the tank.

Guptkashi's main temple is the Vishwanath (Lord of the Universe) temple  - another legend has it that when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb demolished the Kashi temple at Varanasi in the 17th century, the idol of Shiva was shifted to Guptkashi for safe keeping and has remained here ever since. 

There is also an Ardhanareeshwar (half man-half woman) temple next to the Vishwanath temple- this is said to be the form in which Lord Shiva finally appeared to the Pandavas, after much persuasion by his consort - Parvathi.

For the above reasons, Guptkashi is considered next to only Varanasi in terms of religious significance for Hindus. The architectural style of the temple is typical of the temples in these parts and akin to the Kedarnath temple. In winter, when the Kedarnath temple is closed because of inaccessibility, the priests of the Kedarnath temple migrate to Guptkashi and stay there until the temple opens again in the month of May.

We crossed the Mandakini to go over to the other side where the winter seat of Kedarnath is located - Ukhimath.

Vacation - Summer of 2010 - Part 4 : Bhagirathi & Alaknanda - The rivers that become the Ganga


April 20th, 2010Early morning (3 am) arrival in Haridwar by train from Delhi. Our driver - Sarvesh (what an appropriate name for this man, who turned out to be an all-in-one package - driver, guide, raconteur, advisor, friend), who was to be our companion for the next 12 days, was waiting at the station to drive us to our first destination - a camp by the side of the Ganga. The Kumbh Mela, celebrated once in 12 years at Haridwar, was drawing to a close, but we could, even at 3 am in the morning, glimpse the elaborate arrangements that had been made for a event of such magnitude. As we drove away from the station and through the town, we caught our first glimpse of the Ganga or Ganges - sacred river of the Hindus. In fact, this town was called Gangadwar in ancient times, as this is where the Ganga makes its entry into the plains. An hour later, we were passing through the holy town of Rishikesh enroute to the camp at Brahmapuri.Apart from the many religious reasons to visit it and the fact that it is now known as the Yoga Capital of the world, Rishikesh is becoming a popular spot for white water rafting enthusiasts, both from India and abroad, as it offers medium to rough rapids in the course of river Ganges, with rapids rated class 3 and class 4. And that is what we were headed to do on Day 1 of our Uttarakhand tour...It was still dark as we reached the campsite and descended in near darkness from the road down towards the river. What a place to stay - right next to the river, with the soothing sound of water being a constant reminder of its proximity. We had two tents to ourselves and the kids jumped into bed to catch some more shuteye, while I, mesmerized by the scene around me, started shooting pictures, as the dawn broke. Sandhya and I also explored a small cave near the camp, which turned out to be the meditation spot of a holyman.The first of the rafts attempting the rapids, floated past the camp and we cheered the team on the raft, as they paddled their way past us. After a hearty breakfast, it was time to drive to the startpoint of the white water rafting adventure - Shivpuri. As the stretch from Shivpuri to Brahmapuri had some difficult rapids which were not suitable for children of Dhrithi's age, she had to reluctantly stay back with Sandhya to keep her company while Akash and I boarded the car that took us to Shivpuri. And so, we buckled up the life-jackets, grabbed an oar each and listened intently to our guide as he gave us a Rafting 101 lesson. Soon, the raft was inflated, we had taken our positions (you have sit on the edge of the raft instead of in it !) and we were off. Considering it was the first time that Akash and I had rafted, I think we did very well as we passed through rapids called, rather ominously, "Return to Sender" and "Roller Coaster". On a hot day, it was quite pleasant to have the ice cold water splash over your body. An hour after we had started, we had reached the Brahmapuri camp - we stopped there for lunch and it was time for Sandhya and Dhrithi to board the raft for the less dangerous part of the 16 km ride to Ram Jhula in Rishikesh. More rapids followed - Double Trouble, Terminator - and Dhrithi sitting at the front end of the raft got a real splashing. Brave girl - she not only didn't flinch, but also happily jumped into the river whenever our guide told us it was okay to do so.We floated under the Laxman Jhula and caught a glimpse of all the ashrams on the banks of the river. Our ride came to an end at Ram Jhula, and we changed into dry clothes at the office of the Camp Organiser, and set out to explore the town. Mention must be made of the fabulous restaurant adjacent to the Krishna temple, where we had snacks. Rishikesh is a vegetarian city - a fact that made Dhrithi very happy. Alcohol is also banned in the city.And then we hung around until it was time to view the evening Ganga Arathi, an evening ritual at Rishikesh.  We plonked ourselves on stone steps on the opposite side of the river to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram where a crowd gathers e[...]

Vacation - Summer of 2010 - Part 3 : The trail of three rivers


(image) For us, the Uttarakhand trip turned out to be a trail of three of the longest rivers in the state (Bhagirathi, Mandakini and Alaknanda), following them almost to their source. In the process, we nearly covered the whole state, or atleast the Garhwal part of it, traveling atleast 1500 kms by road over 12 days - but then, this State has so many natural riches, anything less would have been injustice.

Uttarakhand was carved out of the Himalayan districts of the Uttar Pradesh state and came into existence on Nov 9, 2000, becoming the 27th state of the Republic of India. The state was referred to as Uttaranchal for a period of about 6 years before a bill was passed by Parliament in 2006.

Called 'Devbhumi' for its many religious (Hindu) sites, Uttarakhand is a place of plenty as it has :

a) Panch Prayags (5 confluences)
b) Panch Badri (5 holy shrines dedicated to Lord Vishnu)
c) Panch Kedar (5 holy shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, supposedly built by the Pandavas)
d) Char Dham (4 holy Hindu Yatra destinations - Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath & Badrinath - the order being important)
e) Multiple Hill Stations (Nainital, Almora, Mussorie, Ranikhet, etc.)
f) Multiple rivers (Ganga [Bhagirathi], Yamuna, Alaknanda, Mandakini, Pindar, Dhauliganga, etc.)
g) Multiple National Parks (Jim Corbett, Nanda Devi, Valley of Flowers, Rajaji,  Gangotri, etc.)

Apart from the religious visitors, Uttarakhand also attracts the adventure sports enthusiast and the casual holiday seeker - taking a summer break in one of the many hill stations in the state.

To be continued : Part 4: Bhagirathi & Alaknanda - The rivers that become the Ganga

Vacation - Summer of 2010 - Part 2 : Tryst with History


April 17th, 2010Woke up at 3 am to catch the 6 am flight to Delhi. Sleepy eyed family rushed through security check to board the plane. Hit by heat wave as we stepped out of plane at Delhi airport. Family did not like breakfast served on Kingfisher flight, which is a first for the family. Fortunately, trip to hotel was shorter than anticipated and we were able to order brunch, which was fulfilling. As family was still sleepy, we dropped the morning plan and went to sleep instead.After a short nap, headed out to see the Red Fort. Very impressive and provides lots of scope for the trigger happy photographer. Has a nice archeology museum with exhibits from the Mughal era. Interesting shops inside the fort selling costume jewelery and other handicrafts.Took the eco-friendly cycle rickshaw to Raj Ghat and paid reverential homage to the Father of the Nation. Heat was too energy sapping to continue with itinerary, so returned to hotel.Turns out that it was the hottest day in Delhi in 50 years (see pic of dog lying in puddle taken by daughter Dhrithi).Went to Nirulas for a pizza dinner to keep Dhrithi happy. Travelled by Metro (a station hop) just to get a feel of what the Bangalore Metro will be like, when it is commissioned.Photo of the day : A gnarled tree in the Red Fort Compound, taken by son AkashApril 18th, 2010World Heritage Day – what a day to choose for a trip to Heritage City (Agra). Sheer coincidence – but it gave the family an extra shot of adrenaline to handle one more hot-as-hell day. Entry to all heritage monuments were free this day, and we spent the money liberally on guides instead. Day started with sumptuous breakfast at the Andhra Bhavan Canteen – Idly, Vada, Dose and Coffee. A welcome change from parathas and paneer.Caught a glimpse of the two sides of Delhi as we started, an image quickly captured by Akash in the photo on the right. In case you cannot make out from the resized pic, those are two homeless men sleeping on the footpath in front of the Delhi Stock Exchange.Longish drive to Agra with a midpoint break at a dhaba for tea for us and breakfast for the driver.Passed Mathura and Krishna Janmabhumi with a long distance darshan of the Krishna Mandir. Stopped at Sikandra on the recommendation of our driver and bless him – it turned out to be fascinating place – the location of Akbar’s tomb.Here lies one of the greatest emperors in the history of India, beneath a simple tomb in a mausoleum that he started work on himself to ensure that it was in line with his religious tolerance and secular views. However, he died before it was completed and his son Jehangir is said to have made a number of alterations to the original plan, ultimately converting the mausoleum into a more fanciful structure than the simple one that Akbar desired.As our guide pointed out, the difference between the lower levels and the upper levels is stark - the lower level being a simpler design (Akbar used sandstone) and the upper levels incorporating arches and columns with the highest storey being built by Jehangir in white marble.Then onto lunch at Quality Restaurant at Agra which seems to be a popular lunch destination in Agra, judging by the number of cars parked at the entrance. A long tour of the Agra Fort followed, ably guided by Shahid, a part-time guide – he made the whole Agra Fort trip so engrossing and provided a history refresher course to all of us.We saw the Jahangiri Mahal which incorporates Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture. The Khas Mahal and Mussamanburj are other prominent structures within the Fort.Standing inside the Mussmanburj, one could visualise an imprisoned Shah Jahan lying here on his deathbed and gazing at the beautiful monument he built for his wife - Mumtaj.Got a peek into the Sheesh Mahal – the dressing room / bathroom of the queen. Talk of royal indulgence! Mirror, mirror on the walls, roof, everywhere; who is the prettiest queen of them all ? Mumtaj must have been able to admire a million re[...]

Vacation - Summer of 2010 - Part 1


The topic of a destination for our annual holiday came up once more a couple of months ago. Sandhya and Dhrithi wanted wildlife and snow respectively; Akash was keen on places of historical significance and I wanted a combination of experiences. On the shortlist were Jim Corbett National Park, Rajasthan and Ladakh. After enquiry with people who had been there, Ladakh was ruled out because of the requirement of acclimatisation. We also thought Rajasthan would be too hot and hence settled for the Jim Corbett National Park. I promptly started my research on travel and stay options, which is when the broader picture of Uttarakhand as the destination emerged. We decided to take a longer holiday than we had attempted before - 2 weeks. A trip to the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam office in Bangalore settled the issue. We could combine adventure, monuments, nature and with a bit of luck, snow too. Based on this list of requirements, Anurag of GMVN drew up a tentative itinerary, and issued a warning - this one is specifically for nature lovers and not for the couch potato type. Places I hadn't heard of before figured in his itinerary - Khirsu, Harsil, Dhanaulti, etc. I googled them up and was pleasantly surprised. Anurag showed me pictures from his trip to these places and I was hooked. Although, the list contained mainly places in the Garhwal region and ignored the Kumaon region (understandably, as Anurag represented Garhwal), we okayed the itinerary and firmed up the dates. The only place in the list that was not 'off the beaten track' was Mussoorie. Even this was planned as a day visit with night halt at Dhanaulti. GMVN had rest houses / hotels in all the places we were to visit and Anurag was able to confirm bookings the same day.

And so, the vacation plan for the summer of 2010 was drawn up - we would fly to Delhi from Bangalore on April 17th (Saturday), spend a couple of days in Delhi and visit the tourist spots, and devote one day to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. We would then catch a train to Haridwar where our 12 day exploration of the state described as the "Abode of Gods" would begin. On May 1st (Saturday again), we would fly back to Bangalore from Jolly Grant airport near Dehra Dun via Delhi. This would give us one day on Sunday to recover and plunge back into mundane city life.

Some more time spent on the Net and the flight and train reservations were done. The Outlook Traveller Uttarakhand Guide came in handy as a source of vital information. A list of 'must see' places at each of our stopovers and on the route was compiled with the help of this Guide and the Internet. Had a hard time remembering some of the legends associated with each place, because this state has so many stories associated with it - like they say in these parts - "Jitne Patthar, Utne Shankar"

To be continued : Part 2 : Tryst with History

Andamans Holiday - Part III : The most beautiful beach in Asia


I just realized that I have not completed the Andaman story. Reminds me of the state of stupor that the Barefoot resort induced us into … no TV, no mobile connection, no internet. Lounge in the sitout area of the wooden cottage with tiled roof and listen to the myriad birds. Laze at the Radhanagar beach which was a hop, step and jump away from the resort. Build sandcastles out of pristine white sand. Not see another human being for long stretches of time. Watch the different shades of blue of the water. Play board games at the resort’s restaurant, with its floor seating. Trek through the mini forest that separates the resort from the beach. Gawk at the sight of the resort elephant – Rajan swimming majestically in the sea. Climb the hillock behind the resort and get an ayurvedic massage for the recently exercised limbs. Pure Bliss !Attentive & helpful staff, some good food and interesting co-vacationers all added to the overall holiday experience.The resort organized a trip to Elephant Beach, which is a good place for beginners to go snorkeling. Expert swimmers guided us to the sections that offered the best underwater displays and even a non-swimmer like me was able to enjoy the colourful coral reefs and underwater life. Snorkeling is easy after the first 10 minutes and once you get used to the idea of breathing with your mouth.Another place that offered good value entertainment on the island was the Elephant Training Camp. They had these 4 feral elephants (2 adults and 2 calves) that were brought to the camp every morning, trained to pull logs and carry out related activity and then released back to the forest in the evening. We were offered rides which we took up eagerly – but riding on an almost bareback elephant was a little uncomfortable as you could feel every muscle in the elephants back as it made its way around the camp.After 4 restful days at the resort, we headed back to Port Blair to catch the sights there. Some very interesting museums and a watersports centre – but the place to visit remains the Cellular Jail, now a National Memorial. We went once in the morning to look through the jail and its exhibits and returned in the evening for the sound and light show – where the old tree in the jail recounts the stories of the cruelty of the British Jailer in the gravelly voice of Om Puri. The unique starfish shaped architecture of the prison, cleverly designed to keep prisoners isolated and preventing them from being able to communicate with each other, reinforced the feeling of patriotism that I am sure strikes every Indian who visits Kaalapani, the ominous name by which the prison was known.After some handicraft shopping, we ended our holiday and returned to Mainland India. Could not go to Barren Island, which is the only active volcano in South Asia. The Nicobar Islands remain out of bounds as a special permit is required to visit these islands. The Resort Manager at Barefoot was mentioning that these Islands offered even better sights and when they do open to tourism, I intend to go back to A & N.[...]

Andamans Holiday - Part II : Arrival at Barefoot


We caught the afternoon ferry to Havelock Island, a distance of 24 nautical miles covered in 2 hours. It gets crowded on the lower deck and we quickly discovered the upper deck where most people were willing to just stand or squat on the deck and watch the water and the landforms. We saw quite a few flying fish and the two hours went by quite quickly. I must add here that I found the porters who hang about the docks were quite helpful and completely trustworthy. Barefoot Resorts had organised for a jeep to pick us up and we were soon on our way down a newly laid road towards Radhanagar Beach. Interestingly, the President of India had visited this remote part of her empire only a couple of months before our trip and the islanders benefited from that visit in the form of a brand new road.

Havelock Island is only about 100 sq km and you can travel from the western part of the island to the eastern part in less than 30 minutes. The island receives its electricity from a solar power generating station and hence power supply can be a little erratic.
(image) Most of the 'eco-resorts' are located on near Beach # 3 and Beach # 5 (that's how the beaches are named), but Dolphin (run by the Government) and Barefoot (managed by the Aitken Spence Group) are located near Beach # 7 on the other side of the island.

Spread over an area of 7 acres, Barefoot has 18 cottages, built with indigenous materials. No concrete jungle this - if you want to earn green credits, this is the place to stay !

To be continued : Part III : The most beautiful beach in Asia

Andamans Holiday - Part I : Emerald Islands


(image) The first thing I learnt about the Andamans when I started exploring it as a possible candidate for a family vacation destination is that nobody really knows how many islands there are - but everyone agrees that less than 10% are inhabited. The total area is about 6400 sq kms, so that's a lot of real estate in limbo :-)

What swayed me was this description from the A&N Tourism site : "Here the white beaches on the edge of a meandering coastline have palm trees that sway to the rhythm of the Sea. The beat of tribal drums haunt the stillness and technicolour fish steer their way through crystal clear water." Just the thing for a family fed up of pollution and noisy traffic jams in bustling Bangalore ... so that was that - I announced to the family that the Andamans was to be our destination for Family Vacation circa 2008.

Then came the decision on the choice of 'home away from home'. After a couple of googling sessions (How did we survive in the days before Internet & Google ?), I discovered Barefoot Resorts based on Havelock Island (

and was smitten. The fact that it was within hopping distance of what Time Magazine once described as the "Most Beautiful Beach in Asia" raised its suitability a few notches. Its most famous resident - a swimming elephant - made it a 'one of a kind' place. A couple of mails later, our reservations to stay at Barefoot were done.

Getting there is quite easy(image) - flight options from Kolkata and Chennai to Port Blair (even LCCs like Deccan operate flights to Port Blair) and then by ferry to Havelock. Total travel time from Bangalore : 4.5 hrs (8 hrs if you include waiting time at the airports). The alternative is to travel by ship, which can be boarded from either Chennai, Vizag or Kolkata, but travel time goes up a factor of 10.
To be continued : Arrival at Barefoot - Part II

In my blog, you will come across ...


a) Travel stories of actual trips undertaken
b) Travel books that are a must read
c) Memorable captures (photos)
d) Recommendations of places to stay