Agra (India)

April 2010

I just concluded a different kind of weekend trip – I went to Agra with my parents and two more families, both the uncles being schoolfellows of my father. I’ve not gone for such big fat family trips since my childhood, but the old fellas wanted to catch up and I wanted to see Agra. I had seen the Taj Mahal once before on a school trip when I was 10; I had a hazy memory and no pictures of the same.

We booked a 10-seater Tempo Traveler (a sort of mini-bus; Google for pictures) for the road trip and rolled off on Saturday morning. We started at my parents’ place in Delhi and went via Gurgaon, picking up the two uncles & co. The logical route from Gurgaon to Agra is via Palwal in Haryana, which we decided to take. The road condition turned out to be poor and the traffic was bad, making the journey long and tiring. A better way would have been Continue reading

Dharamsala, McLeodganj, Triund (India)

December 2009

We decided to celebrate the New Year at the popular and scenic hill station of Dharamsala/McLeodganj, located in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. McLeodganj is 9 km further from Dharamsala and is the bigger tourist center of the two. It also houses the Government in Exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Number of travelers: 9

The itinerary:
Day 1: Take night train from Delhi to Pathankot
Day 2: Take a taxi from Pathankot to McLeodganj early morning, spend the day in McLeodganj (New Year eve)
Day 3: Head for a trek to Triund (9-10 km from McLeodganj), stay overnight in Triund
Day 4: Trek from Triund to Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India)

July 2009

Vehicle: Toyota Innova taxi

No. of people: 4 + Driver

What was planned:

Trip duration: 16-26 July (11 days)

Planned itinerary:
Day 1: Delhi to Manali
Day 2: Manali to Sarchu (midway between Manali and Leh), via Rohtang and Baralacha La passes
Day 3: Sarchu to Leh, via Tanglang La pass
Day 4: Leh – shopping, sightseeing
Day 5: Leh – day trip to Pangong Lake
Day 6: Leh to Nubra valley, via Khardung La pass, night stay in Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 1 of 10: Delhi to Manali

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Delhi to Manali

We started from Delhi at around 5am in our Toyota Innova taxi. We were carrying an unmanageable number of bags for luggage, but the carrier on our taxi’s roof proved to be a life saver. We even stuffed along a bar-be-cue grill – if we’re able to use it on our trip, it’d be a dream come true.

We had breakfast at Karnal and then we headed for Manali via Ropar. It had rained heavily in Delhi a day before, but today the sun was upon us with a vengeance. The heat and humidity were draining.

We reached Kullu in the evening, and on our way from there to Manali we stopped at a fantastic Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 2 of 10: Manali to Sarchu

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Manali to Sarchu

A tiring day indeed – we covered a lot of ground today.

It generally takes two days to cover the 500 kilometers between Manali and Leh. We left Manali at around 8am and took the Manali-Leh highway to try and reach Sarchu (approximately midway) by evening via Rohtang Pass. A number of taxis and tourists were headed with us, though only till Rohtang. Day trips from Manali to Rohtang are quite popular and these tourists usually head back to Manali in the afternoon.

The moment we left Manali, the scenery started unfolding around us. Grass-covered mountain slopes looked great with the numerous tiny purple, pink and yellow flowers mixing magically with Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 3 of 10: Sarchu to Leh

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Sarchu to Leh

I had thought that I would have a sound sleep since we were so tired with all the traveling yesterday. However altitude sickness got the better of me and I could sleep only intermittently and kept turning in my bed. A gust was blowing outside and the tents fluttered violently. The tethers did a good job to keep them in place all night.

I woke up with a bad throbbing headache, the kind you have after a night of heavy drinking. I had to gather all my strength to get ready and go to the kitchen tent for tea. As I left my tent I saw the view around our campsite for the first time. It was breathtaking – we were in the middle of nowhere with huge barren mountains all around and a smooth straight road extending from infinity to infinity on either end. The tents looked so meek surrounded by Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 4 of 10: Leh town

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Leh town

Now I can boast that I drove an Enfield Bullet motorbike for the first time, in Leh.

We had a good night’s sleep and woke up hale and hearty. After grabbing some random breakfast we packed our stuff and shifted to the bigger guest house we had booked yesterday. Soon we were ready for our relaxed day in Leh.

Leh is a small town and motorbikes are a popular means of getting around. I took an Enfield Bullet on rent for Rs. 500 for the day. The bike was not in the best condition but I got used to handling it in a while. I’d never driven a Bullet before – it is 500 cc of pure muscle and is damn heavy. Plus, the brake and the gears are oriented opposite of the regular motorbikes. It is not easy to tame the beast on plains, and here I was trying to reason with it on the slopes at 12 thousand feet.

Of us four friends, only two drive a motorbike. We two went off zipping around the Leh streets while the other two went sightseeing to Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 5 of 10: Pangong Lake

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Leh – Pangong Lake – Leh

A most extraordinary day indeed. We saw the craftsmanship of Mother Nature, cooked noodles on our grill near the most remarkable lake in the Himalayas, risked drowning while crossing an angry gushing stream, and our taxi almost toppled while negotiating a steep diversion from the blocked road.

Agenda for the day was to visit the Pangong Lake, 150 Km from Leh. Permits are required to go to the lake, as also to the Nubra Valley via Khardung La pass. We got ours from Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 7 of 10: Leh to Sonamarg

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Leh to Sonamarg

Sonamarg is located between Kargil and Srinagar.

We started at around 7am from our guesthouse in Leh to try and reach Srinagar by evening. It generally takes 10-12 hours to cover the 400-odd Km distance. Kargil is the midpoint.

The road was excellent as we started. We reached the Gurgudwara Patthar Sahib, a Sikh place of worship made and maintained by the Indian Army. It is among the world’s highest-located Gurudwaras at 12 thousand feet.

We had a great breakfast at Khalste, around 100 Km from Leh. We reached Kargil at noon, however we did not stop there. 40 Km from Kargil is Drass, the second coldest inhabited place on earth after a town in Siberia. Though at this time of the year and the day, the temperature was high enough to keep us comfortable in T-shirts. Here we also sighted Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 8 of 10: Sonamarg to Srinagar

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Sonamarg to Srinagar

Today we saw first hand why Kashmir is called Paradise on Earth.

We woke up early and decided to take Sonamarg’s famous pony ride to the Thajiwas Glacier. We were told that the ice had mostly melted, but the place is famous for its views of the slopes and the stream rather than the ice. The cottage caretaker arranged ponies for us at Rs. 300 per person for a 5-6 Km round journey to the glacier. Before that we had a quick breakfast at the guesthouse’s cafeteria.

As the ponies slowly marched ahead from the cottage, the beauty of the valley started unfolding around us, trying to prepare us for the spectacular climax of the journey. The ponies had to cross a gentle stream on the way where Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 9 of 10: Srinagar to Patiala

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Srinagar to Patiala

Today was all about covering kilometers.

One of my friends from this trip hails from Patiala. We had decided yesterday that we’ll try and cover the 500 Km distance between Srinagar and Patiala in one day and will start early morning to accomplish this. We had given standing instructions to the driver to wake up early for we’ll be ready with our luggage at 5am. When the driver knocked at our hotel rooms at 5:30am, our rooms were resounding with our snores.

We got ready and packed quickly and left without breakfast. We could see how Srinagar looked like a military zone in the morning with army men with red flags and sniffer dogs patrolling every nook and corner of the city and the outskirts. It was scary enough for us to not stop anywhere for tea. Later we came to know that the ongoing holy Amarnath Yatra was the reason for such heavy security, to keep the terrorists at bay.

Between Srinagar and Jammu is a place called Pida which is famous for Continue reading

Road Trip to Leh (India) – Day 10 of 10: Patiala to Delhi

July 2009

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 10-day road trip to Leh progressed)

Patiala to Delhi

We woke up late to the scent of Aloo Paranthas and Halwa being cooked in the kitchen. When you play ungettable your loved one wants you even more. This is exactly what the Aloo Parantha had been doing for the last ten days. We devoured the heavy breakfast and felt at peace.

Then we went sightseeing with our local friend who showed us houses of some friends from college and office, some palatial bungalows, the State Bank of Patiala’s headquarters, the National Institute of Sports and Continue reading

Neemrana Fort, Rajasthan (India)

May 2009

This trip resulted more out of the urge of an early-morning long drive at high speeds with open car windows than our curiosity for the Neemrana Fort. As such, we did not study the destination very deeply and rolled off at 5 AM from our place in Gurgaon.

The fort is located around 100 km from Gurgaon, in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. The direct route is to drive 90 km straight from Gurgaon to Shahjahanpur on the Delhi-Jaipur highway (NH-8), and then take a right turn. The locals don’t know it by the name Neemrana Fort, so just ask for the ‘quila’ – Hindi for fort.

Actually the building is not just a fort; it has been made into a plush hotel with room tariffs ranging from Rs. 2000 a night to upwards of Rs. 20,000. So it is known as the ‘Neemrana Fort-Palace’, quite like Udaipur’s Lake-Palace. They say one of the luxury suites here is Kate Winslet’s Continue reading

Lansdowne, Haridwar, Rishikesh (India)

February 2009

Lansdowne (also spelled Lancedown) is a small hill station in Uttaranchal – perhaps the closest one to Delhi. I and my colleague Amar were looking for a weekend getaway and this little-known scenic town looked like a good option.

It is located 250 km from Delhi, in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas. Considering the manageable distance we initially planned on hiring a car for the trip but had a last minute change of plans. The Indian Railways online booking system might not be the most user-friendly, but I’ve slowly gotten good at using it. So we booked return tickets from Delhi to Kotdwar, the closest rail head to Lansdowne. The train was Continue reading

Patagonia (Chile)

June 2008

Patagonia forms the southern part of Chile, referred to as ‘sur del mondo’, south of the world in Spanish. I had the opportunity to spend a week-long vacation there last month. It was last week of June and hence in the middle of the winters. There were not many tourists around.

I started from Santiago and took a flight to Punta Arenas, the second-southernmost city of the world, next only to Ushuaia of Argentina. The flight lasted 5 hours and had two stops in between.

There are regular transfers to the city center, Plaza Muñoz Gamero, via taxis and buses. Several hostels are located Continue reading

Goa (India)

December 2007

Four of us friends started from Delhi for a Christmas vacation in Goa. Direct flight to Goa was quite expensive, and direct train was fully booked. So we decided to take a flight to Mumbai, and from there, a train to Goa.

We reached Mumbai late in the evening. Two more friends were to join us for the trip from Mumbai; we stayed overnight at their place. Early next morning we boarded the train to Goa. The track is part of the Konkan Railway zone which is famous for its tunnels and scenic landscapes along the way. After a long 8-hour journey we arrived at the Thivim station, which is Continue reading