Friday, May 25, 2012

City of the Golden Temple- Amritsar

Think of Amritsar and what comes to mind is the Golden Temple. My wife and I visited Amritsar for a couple of days in April 2012(16th and 17th).

The temple is extremely clean and volunteers ensure that it is kept that way by regularly washing the marble floors. People stand in queue to gain entry to the “Harmandir sahib”(the sanctum sanctorum) but there is hardly any jostling for position. Chanting of prayers by the priests goes on the whole day but the noise level is minimal.  I am not a very religious person but no temple has evoked so much of inner peace and tranquility in me as the Golden temple. There is orderliness in every activity inside the temple.
Majestic temple-180 kgm gold used.

Clean temple

After landing in the Airport, we got into a free bus pick up to the Golden temple. The moment one approaches near the temple complex, one can see the difference in attitude. People are friendly and very helpful. We were taken to the baggage room and left our luggage in the locker. Everything is free inside the temple, be it the baggage locker room, the shoe-stand, water or the food they serve (called “Langar”). A lot of planning by the temple management has gone into ensuring tourist friendly arrangements. Every detail like baggage trolley and wheel chairs for the physically challenged are provided free right at the point where the bus delivers the visitors. Small things like a foot rest to unlace ones shoes are provided.

Wheel chairs and baggage trolley
Lakshmi using the foot rest.

We were so impressed that we visited the temple on both the days of our stay and had “Langar” there. The food was simple but tasty with chapatti, daal and kheer. The free food is served 24x7 and caters to 20000 people a day.
Lakshmi partaking in the "Langar".

People waiting for the free lunch to be served

Chalk marks showing the bullet marks.

Jallianwala Bagh- the site of the massacre by Brigadier Dyer on April 13,1919, the Punjabi new year day- is situated very near the temple. 389 innocent citizens died and more than 2000 wounded during the indiscriminate firing. The scenes from the movie "Gandhi" showing this incident flashed through my mind and i felt so terrible standing where the firing took place. People were shot when they were trying to escape by climbing the wall and there were others who jumped into the well and lost their lives. The chalk marks in the walls capture the bullet marks.  

View of the crowd in the Wagha border ceremony.
The much hyped Attari-Wagha border was our next visit. This is about 23 kms from Amritsar and is the border between india-Pakistan. Every day evening they conduct a flag lowering ceremony with March past by the Border security forces (BSF). Similar function happens simultaneously on the Pakistan side by their army. This function is more of grandstanding and dramatization by the military and i did not feel any patriotic fervor by this exercise.Also, they have separate enclosure for men and women and when the gates were opened for entry to the venue, people rush in pushing others almost causing a stampede. We also visited the Attari Railway station which is the last station in the Indian side before the Pakistan border.   

The nest visit was the Rambagh museum. This houses the paintings on Maharaja Ranjith Singh who was called the Lion of Punjab.
Ista hotel with Alpha one mall.

We stayed in Hotel Ista (  which is a business hotel right next to the Alpha one city center Mall in the main G.T Road.The hotel is famous for its spa and Ayurveda massage. This is the only hotel where they offer a "pillow menu" where in one can choose from a variety of pillows to suit ones preference. I had one of the most wonderful sleeps with the cozy pillow. A console box is kept near the bedside table from where one can control all the electrical functions of the room. No wonder they pride themselves in calling a hi-tech hotel. However, a major drawback was in not providing a health faucet in the toilet.

As a city, Amritsar is quite dirty. The approach road to the temple is so narrow and it was a miracle how our bus maneuvered through these. These streets also form the shopping center and one can imagine how crowded the narrow streets would be. However, it really was fun to go through shopping among the crowds. Amritsar is famous for its Phulkari dress material and Patiala salwars. But, the thing that captured Lakshmi's taste buds was the "Kulfi" she had in a road side shop. It was probably one of the best kulfi we have had.

Delicious kulfi with rose syrup.

Lakshmi in a cycle rickshaw.
We tried all forms of transportation during this visit. We came by flight from Delhi and then boarded the bus to go to the temple. After the temple visit, we took a car to the Wagha border and back to the hotel. The next day we took an Auto rickshaw to the temple and wound up taking a cycle rickshaw to go to the museum and our shopping visits. That is vehicular variety at its best.

A wonderful trip and would surely like to come back another time to visit the temple and of course to try the kulfi.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Travelogue- Visit to beautiful Kullu / Manali

As part of my 60th birthday celebration, my son and daughter and their spouses offered us a trip to Kullu/Manali. My wife had never been to Himachal Pradesh(H.P) and hence we were only too happy to accept the offer.

Lakshmi in the hotel balcony
The tour package was from Delhi and was done through Bharath Booking Holidays ( ). Delhi to Manali ( about 520 kms ) was done in a Volvo bus in 13 hours. The route wasDelhi-Karnal-Panipat-Kurukshetra-Ambala-Roopnagar-Bilaspur-Mandi-Kullu-Manali.

The bus journey was comfortable but the dinner stop at Kurukshetra was in a road side Dhaba which had very poor toilet facilities especially for women.

Perched at an altitude of 1950 m (6400 ft) in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh state is the small, picturesque town of Manali. The Kullu/Manali valley is full of apple orchards and Ber trees. 

Manali is about 250 Kms from Shimla, the capital of H.P and we visited  from the 11thApril, 2012 to 14th April, 2012.In Manali, we were received by our cab driver/guide Kuldip and were put up at Hotel Naina Resorts. This is a decent hotel and offers a breathtaking view of the mountains and the River Beas from our room(see pic).

Day 1:  It was cold, raining and suddenly snow started falling. Mid April was not really snow time but i guess  we were lucky. Our guide suggested that we go to the “snow point“ which is in Solang valley, about 20 kms from our hotel. We rented some snow outfit and “ear cover” to guard us against the cold. Tourism being the main source of revenue, shops do mint money from the visitors. We paid an exorbitant rent of Rs.600/snow outfit and bought the “ear cover” for Rs.40. (we later found out it was available for Rs.5 in other shops). But, we forgot all about it when we reached the snow point.
Enjoying the hot corn cob
This was a beautiful place with snow covered mountains and ice banks on both sides of the road.  There were a lot of people trying their hand at skiing. We had our share of snowball fight. Lakshmi bought a “hot corn cob” and really relished it in the biting cold weather (see picture).

After an eventful experience in the snow, we visited the “Saint Vashisht temple” with it’s hot-springs. The water felt so hot for the initial touch, but you start feeling comfortable after some time. After the icy sojourn, this felt very soothing.
Day 2:  After a sumptuous breakfast of Poori, Chole and fried eggs, we set out for Kullu which is about 40 kms south of Manali. We were to have another adventurous day in the Beas waters. We went for “white water rafting” and the feeling of joy is to be felt to be believed. Lakshmi was initially a bit scared, as she didn’t know swimming, but minutes after setting off for the 7 kms ride(25 mins), we were soaked with excitement and fully drenched in water. The water current throwing the raft off the water and sometimes the raft bumping against the rocks in the water was really a thrilling experience. This was the place where the Ad film for “Mountain Dew” drink was shot as also the film “Krish” with Hrithik Roshan.( see video of our rafting).

Right across the river was the Vaishno Devi temple. After worship, we sat down for lunch offered by the temple. This is called “Bandaar” (free lunch). It was simple but delicious with rice, daal and a side dish.

Kullu district is famous for shawl manufacture and we did visit a factory producing shawls. Woolen sweaters and pashmina shawls are famous in H.P. 

Many would not know that Manali houses the famous “Nicholas Roerich” arts gallery. Roerich was a famous Russian painter, environmentalist and a philosopher. He spent a lot of time in the Himalayas as a mystic and his paintings depict this aspect of spiritualism. The museum also showcases the house he lived.

The remaining part of the day was spent in visiting the Naggar castle, Gayathri temple, Tripurasundari temple and a Tibetan Monastry. Naggar castle was earlier a Royal residence but since turned into a hotel and is now frequented by Bollywood for film shooting. Was a long day but enjoyable.

Day 3 & 4: we visited the “Van Vihar”( like a Botanical gardens). This place is full of Deodhar trees valued at about Rs.230 million. A lovely and cool place which reminds us to preserve our environment and be eco-friendly. It has a small lake where one can use the pedal boats.

We also went to the Hadimba temple located in the midst of the Deodhar trees. Like most houses in Manali, this is also constructed using slates as a roof cover. Slate has a low water absorption index and hence resistant to frost damage.

We did spend some time strolling down “The Mall”. Mall is a strip of road that has all the shops and restaurants. Bargaining is a way of life for shoppers and one can be happy to find that 40-50% discount can be had from the original price.

Plenty of roadside restaurants and Dhabas line up the Mall and food generally tastes good in most of these places.

A trip we would cherish for a long time. It gave us a chance to be young again and try our hand in adventure sports. Last but not the least, we also tried the traditional H.P dress and kinda looked nice in the outfit.

Dressed in traditional Himachal Pradesh attire.