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My Quest for Spirituality at the Holy Lake of Pushkar

pushkar, holy lake, rajasthan, twilight, temples

“If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.” 

~ H. P. Lovecraft

I have never been a religious person. I never go to the temples to worship or to pray. However, I am not an atheist either. I believe in God my own way. My quest for spirituality has always been focused towards nature. I find the divinity in the unspoiled beauty of nature. But a few years ago, during my stay in Pushkar, a small town in Rajasthan, I felt that spiritual connection right at the Holy Lake of Pushkar.

silhouette, birds, pushkar, lake

It was a spectacular sunset by the lake. Standing on the ghats (steps) of the lake, hearing the sound of temple bells, watching the orange fireball sinking into the horizon, the temple structures fading into the twilight, and the silhouettes of the birds ‘contemplating’ amidst the still waters (perhaps, they were still in search of food…   🙂  ), I felt eternity in those magical moments.

Published in response to The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Quest.

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Prayer Stones: The Cherry on Top

gurudongmar, lake, north sikkim

This is a snap from my Sikkim Tour photo-story series. The clear reflections of the snow-covered peaks in the still waters of the sacred lake, Gurudongmar could make a decent picture. I think, the heap of prayers stones in the foreground works like the cherry on top to make this frame look more interesting and meaningful. What do you say? 🙂

gurudongmar, sikkim, lachen

Published in response to The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Cherry on Top.

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Sikkim Diaries: Visiting a Piece of Heaven Called Gurudongmar

lake, Gurudongmar, Lachen, North Sikkim

Gurudongmar was on my bucket-list since 2011 when I planned with my friends for North Sikkim travel for the first time. Unfortunately, due to a devastating earthquake in Sikkim in the same year, we had to cancel our trip. Nevertheless, visiting Lake Gurudongmar was my destiny. I finally made it after 5 long years. 🙂

Selfie, Lumia 540, Gurudongmar, lake, north sikkim

Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, at approx. 17,800 feet above the sea level, the holy lake is about 3.5-hour drive from Lachen, a small village where tourist can halt for the night.

We started early, at 4 am. It was a terribly bumpy ride on the rough mountain roads till the army check post after Thangu, which was our only halt during this hectic journey.

mountain roads, north sikkim

north sikkim, mountain, desert, road

26641876673_f105988cca_hThe road gets better from here, offering a smooth ride, which is a rarity in North Sikkim. 😛   😀  mountain, road, desert, north sikkim

North sikkim, lachen, gurudongmar, landscape, mountains

As we were nearing the lake the landscapes changed drastically without any trace of trees and plants. It looked more like a desert with dune-like formations visible at the horizon. Exalted and overwhelmed, one of our group members commented that the landscapes reminded him of Ladakh. 🙂

road, gurudongmar, north sikkim

mountain, desert, north sikkim, gurudongmar

Whatever it might look like, the mountain desert looked outlandish and fascinating to me. I was spellbound with the sights of such exotic landscapes.

way to gurudongmar, north sikkim, himalayas

mountains, himalayas, north sikkim

snow, mountains, north sikkim

We saw herds of yaks grazing on the fields, totally indifferent about the tourist vehicles that were running past them.

yaks, north sikkim, mountain desert, himalayas

27150318012_3e53ac0ac2_hFinally, we reached our destination, Lake Gurudongmar, at 7:30 am. That’s how the holy lake looked like in the morning light – still, calm, and unspoiled.

lake gurudongmar, north sikkim, reflection

The first few moments were speechless in silent admiration to such divine beauty.

gurudongmar, lake, north sikkim

There is a temple on the bank. I didn’t find time to enter as I was too busy in absorbing the beauty of nature all around.

gurudongmar, holy lake, north sikkim, himalayas

prayer flags, colors, north sikkim, gurudongmar

lake gurudongmar, north sikkim

Gurudongmar, north sikkim, landscape

And of course, posing for the camera with the lake on the backdrop. 😉

gurudongmar, holy lake, north sikkim, nature

However, amid this clean and clear environment, the taxis/rental cars were the direct agent of air pollution. These rental cars are so poorly maintained in Sikkim. I wonder why the local administration is so indifferent about them while it is so strict about keeping Gangtok clean.

environmental pollution, north sikkim, gurudongmar, mountains

In addition, there are the “litterbugs” who never forget to throw off their disposable belongings anytime, anywhere. If you zoom into the picture (below) you’ll see the discarded water bottles. Is it not the responsibility of the visitors, too, to keep the environment clean?

mountains, gurudongmar, environmental pollution, north sikkim

Our Tour Plan

We were lucky to have the weather in our favor during our tour from May 7 to 12, 2016. Our North Sikkim tour included 2-night 3-day Lachung-Lachen package. We stayed at Hotel Meylong in Gangtok and booked the Lachung-Lachen tour package through our hotel. You can check out my review of Hotel Meylong on TripAdvisor for more information.

Our North Sikkim tour plan was like this –

Day 1: NJP (New Jalpaiguri) to Gangtok (We reached NJP from Kolkata at around 9am by Padatik Express)

Day 2: Gangtok to Lachung (Night stay at Lachung)

Day 3: Visit Yumthung Valley and Zero Point – Back to hotel at Lachung for lunch – drive to Lachen (Night stay at Lachen)

Day 4: Visit Lake Gurudongmar and drive back to hotel for lunch – return to Gangtok by evening

Day 5: Gangtok sightseeing

Day 6: Visit Changu (Tsomgo Lake), Baba Mandir and Nathu La pass and return to Gangtok

Day 7: Start for NJP after lunch and reach there by 7:30 pm and board the train to Kolkata

Some Important Info

Please note that if you are an Indian citizen, you should carry your Voter ID card/PAN card/driving license as photo identity proof along with 4-5 photocopies of the same document and an equal number of passport size photographs for Lachung-Lachen tour. You may need to submit these documents to get the travel permit. However, you cannot rent cars on your own and arrange the tour directly. You have to go via a local tour operator or your hotel’s travel desk. They will arrange everything for you.

Finally, don’t forget to pack an umbrella if you are visiting in the May-June season. You may need it anytime. 🙂

To be continued…

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A Memorable Trip to Nainital – The Lake District of India

The boat pier at Naini Lake, Nainital

I always have a penchant for hill stations. The Himalayan Mountains with their magnificent snow-capped peaks and green pastures, standing tall in silence always attract me. So… when I got the proposal for a trip to Nainital I readily accepted it. The magical charm of lakes was bonus with the beauty of mountains. And now, when I am writing this post I feel happy about the decision I made in haste.

Nainital, the City of Lakes at the heart of Kumaon Himalayas in Uttarakhand is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. The scenic landscapes dotted with emerald-green lakes surrounded by mountains and pleasant weather almost year-round attracts tourists from all across the country.

Nainital - the 'Lake District' of India, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Nainital – the ‘Lake District’ of India

Nainital district, also popularly called as the ‘Lake District of India’, consists of several naturally created freshwater lakes and mountains. Tal means ‘lake’ in local language. They say there were more than 50 such lakes most of which now have disappeared. The effect of human civilization!

Sometimes the thought of ‘how fast we are losing our forests and natural resources’ dreads me.

Where to Stay

At Hotel Shalimar in Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
At the hotel in Nainital

We stayed in Hotel Shalimar, a budget hotel with a strategic location ensuring quick access to the town’s mall as well as spacious rooms overlooking the Naini Lake. The boat pier was visible right from the hotel’s veranda.

(You can read my review on TripAdvisor for a better idea of the hotel)

But if you are looking for a luxurious accommodation there is Grand Hotel on the Mall Road to offer you magnificent view along with high-quality service. . However, these are examples only. Hotels are aplenty in Nainital.

We reached the hotel at around 1 pm and took a much-needed shower and had lunch. After that we set out to explore the town.

Things to do

In my opinion there are five must-dos in Nainital District which are –

#1 Boating

You will find two types of boats in Nainital for recreational purposes – paddleboats and rowing boats. The view of white swan-shaped paddleboats lining up the wharf at Naini Lake was simply inviting.

The boat pier at Naini Lake, Nainital
The boat pier at Naini Lake

However, we finally went for a rowing boat since it can accommodate up to four people at a time excluding the boatman. Charge is Rs 210 per boat for a 30-minute ride. As we were enjoying the ride on the pristine water I looked at the promenade along the lake. It was lined with maple trees. There yellowing leaves were looking fiery in golden streaks of afternoon sun.

Nainital, Lake District of India, Kumaon Himalayas, Uttarakhand
A boat ride in the lake and soak in the beauty of the place

On my asking the boatman said that the depth of the lake in 128 feet which, I thought, is formidable! Fishing is allowed but you need special permission from the concerned authority. As we returned to the dock a wonderful sight caught my attention. A gaggle of geese gathered along the bank where some tourists were standing and throwing foods at them. It seemed like the ducks were asking – Hey! What do you have for us? 🙂

A gaggle of geese at Naini Lake, Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand, India
A gaggle of geese at Naini Lake

#2 Ropeway

From my experience I think this is the first and foremost thing to do when you are in Nainital town. The ropeway or the cable car takes you to the Snow-View Point situated at a height 2270 meter from where you’ll not only get a panoramic view of Naini Lake but also a breathtaking view of the snow-capped peaks far away. One ride (to and from) costs Rs 150 per head for adults and Rs 100 for kids.

Ropeway at Nainital, Uttarakhand, Kumaon, North India
Ropeway at Nainital – Image: journeymart.com

The board on the counter says the timing to buy tickets is from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. But when we reached there by 4 p.m. the counter was already closed. The ropeway is operated by the government. As we inquired we were told that there is a quota for daily tickets. As soon as the quota for the day is full the authority closes the booking counter. Unfortunately, that was the thing happened with us. We had to return disappointed because we did not have the time to go back the next day.

#3 Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Nainital mainly includes visits to Bhimtal, Sattal, Naukuchia Tal, Nainital Zoo, Waterfall, Sunset point and Khurpatal.

Bhimtal is situated at a lower altitude than Naini Lake. The aqua blue water beckons onlooker to have a boat ride or at least spend some time by the waterfront. Fish lovers may like to see the aquarium situated in the middle of the lake. Although the tickets for boating and aquarium are separate you have to collect them together from the waterfront office in case you wish to find out what’s in store at the aquarium.

Bhimtal, Nainital Lake District, Kumaon, Uttarakhand, India
Lake Bhimtal

It was a bright sunny day and we thoroughly enjoyed boating under the sun. The smell of fresh water brought by the cool breeze rejuvenated my soul. It was the serenity of the place that I liked the most.

Sattal Lake, Nainital, Lake District, Uttarakhand, India
Sattal Lake

Sattal is a combination of three lakes joined together naturally. Apart from boating facility there is one more attraction. It offers a 15-minute trek to the church on top of the hill on the other side of the lake.

I enjoyed trekking along the narrow, steep walking trail with giant pines and other coniferous trees creating a canopy over my head. The trail ends in front of a Church. I sat down in front of the closed door of the church and tried to feel the silence and sanctity of the place amidst the constant chirping of crickets.

Church, Trekking, Sattal, Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The trek ends in front of the church by the lake Sattal

The lake Naukuchia tal is comparatively smaller than the previous two and to me the most beautiful one. The place was much quieter than the other two spots…probably because of lack of crowd. The boat wharf here is built with floating buoys. I stood at the end of the ramp facing the lake and felt like I was floating away – it was amazing! 🙂

Naukuchiatal, Nainital, Lake District, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Naukuchia tal

On our way back we halted at the temple of Hanuman ji – Hanumangarhi Temple. The huge statue of the ape god standing like the guardian of the hills inspires awe and admiration.

Hanumangarhi Temple, Nainital, Uttarakhand
Hanumangarhi Temple

Your Nainital sightseeing is not complete if you don’t visit the Waterfall; take a bird’s eye view of Khurpatal and watch the sunset from the sunset point there. We rented a small car for Rs 500 that will take us to the waterfall and return to the mall from where we started. The waterfall is about 15-20 minutes drive from the town center. It was nice sitting by the waterfall under the towering pines and listen to the sound of rippling stream.

On our way back we were to see Khurpatal and sunset point. 

Khurpatal, Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Khurpatal

The sun was nearing the horizon. So, we left the waterfall behind and arrived at the Sunset Point, which awaited us with a grand surprise. I peeped down the cliff to discover the scenery that swept me off my feet! The sun was about to hide behind the mountain and I could capture only the following image in poor light. 😦

“It’s almost impossible to watch a sunset and not DREAM” – I read this quote somewhere. When we were watching the sunset at Khurpatal these lines occurred to my mind … so true!

Sunset, Nainital, Lake District, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Sunset at Nainital

Nainital Zoo, official name Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant Zoo, is one of India’s few high-altitude zoos. Here you will get a hint of Kumaon’s rich flora and fauna. Be prepared for a face-to-face meeting with some of Himalaya’s rare animal species such as snow leopard and black bear. In addition, there is leopard, Siberian tiger, wolf and wide variety of birds.

Leopard at the zoo, Almora, Nainital, Uttarakhand
A leopard at the zoo
Adventure, Paragliding, Bhimtal, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Paragliding – Image: skybirdadventures.com

#4 Paragliding

This one is for adventure lovers. If you have a strong heart and feel the urge to fly like a bird go for paragliding at Bhimtal. The cost for a single trip is Rs 1500 per person. I thought I need some more time to gather the courage to take up the flight. However, here is a glimpse of the Bhimtal paragliding site for your perusal … 😉

Paragliding site, Bhimtal, Nainital, Uttarakhand, Kumaon
Paragliding site near Bhimtal

#5 Shopping

Even if you are travelling on a budget, shopping is UNAVOIDABLE.

To me, shopping is a part of travelling, especially in a place like Nainital where you’ll find so many things worth buying. The mall road is lined with stores offering woolens, candles, woodcrafts and ornaments. There were trendy woolen caps, scarves, stoles, ponchos, cardigans and jackets for kids, women and men. Price for women’s caps range from Rs 100 to 500 depending on the knit quality and design of the items.

However, I could not resist buying a few sets of woolen cap and neck-scarf for my sister and me.

woolen cap and neck-scarf, Shopping in Nainital
My new woolen cap and neck-scarf

Well… how do you like my new accessories?

The Mall Road leads to the main chowk (‘market’ in vernacular term), flanked by a Gurdwara and Nayna Devi Temple at one side and a Mosque and a Church on the other. The chowk is the recreational center of Nainital town. There were Tibetan and Cashmere stores as well in the main market.

Nainital is also famous for candles. You’ll find a variety of candles at the stores. In fact, candle making is an art here. Diwali was round the corner and I bought some colorful pieces of candles as a souvenir to take back home.

Eating in Nainital

After shopping we had some snacks (Aloo Tikki) and a cup of hot chocolate from a street-side eatery. There is no dearth of food outlets in Nainital – from full-service multi-cuisine restaurants to small street-side food stalls there is something for every budget. You’ll get a list of eateries in Nainital here. If you want to relish a cup of coffee in the afternoon while enjoying the view of Naini Lake Café Coffee Day on the Mall Road would be the right place for you.

Just like every good thing has an end, our Nainital exploration came to an end and we left for Kausani the next morning. But deep inside my heart I felt an urge to coming back in the city of lakes someday.

To be continued … 🙂

Autumn in Kolkata: One Evening by the Lake

Rabindra sarobar, Kolkata lake, autumn, kolkata

Hi friends…this is my very first post and I thought I should begin with Kolkata. What could be better than a multifarious theme like Kolkata? It is the place where I was born and brought up; lived happily and experienced some of the best moments of my life! But Kolkata has changed a lot with the passage of time.

I think you all will agree with me that the City of Joy is not the same any more that it was in our childhood. Still one thing I feel the same way. It’s the arrival of autumn. Though it’s officially the time of monsoon I saw the glimpse of autumn in the blue sky and in the stretches of thin white clouds. It reminded me that the Durga Puja is only one and half months from now (and I should start shopping… 😛 🙂 ).

It was one bright afternoon… recently… I was passing by the lake (Rabindra Sarobar of course!) with a friend of mine (Deblina). Though we were in hurry yet could not evade the smell of fresh calm waters and beckoning of deep blue sky. We spent some quiet moments by the lake. I was spellbound. It felt like those moments were eternal… permeating my senses and touching my soul! The view was awesome. I tried to capture it with my mobile cam and could not restrain myself from sharing it with you. Hope you like it too! 🙂

Rabindra sarobar, Kolkata lake, autumn, kolkata

Rabindra sarobar, Kolkata lake, autumn, kolkata