An unexpected day in Khibber Village






By Neetole Mitra



To be in Khibber is to be vulnerably close to nature. At 14,200 ft, this village is nestled amidst the folds of the Himalayas, on top of a limestone rock, in the surreally beautiful Spiti Valley. The local bus from Kaza purrs into motion at about 4 p.m. and then takes two hours to roll up the edgy and snaky road, first past Ki monastery then Chichum’s exciting ropeway and finally, to Khibber.

It gets really off road here. 

View from the roof of my homestay.

Earlier in the evening, when the bus from Kaza pulled in at Khibber (the second highest motorable village in the world) the driver offered to help find me a place to stay for the night. But before he could proceed to tell me about his friend’s very comfortable homestay, I had jumped down the cluttered stairs with my backpack and shamelessly asked the woman with the egg crates if I could stay with her for the night. Sita, with her meticulously done braid and unforgettable freckles. The woman who pays up in case you run out of change. The one who needs help figuring out how to undo the silent mode on her phone; peering into the small screen through her pink glasses. For her the trust is built. I can stay. From the bus station (which is just at the entrance of the village) I follow my local host Sita on an earthen trail that borders someone’s pea field on the left; balancing a crate of eggs she has purchased from Kaza. In Khibber one doesn’t find these essential items of daily necessity. There are no grocery stores here. What comes, comes from the forest or the fields or off the animals. For the rest, go down to Kaza.



The Potato Momos

I never get used to the breath-taking view over the duration of my stay; neither the breathlessness. Altitude sickness is a bummer here. Someone like me can’t simply trot off for a trek at Khibber. In fact, life is rather unusual here and makes me feel like a real privileged spoilt brat and I’m almost put in my place. Like when I have to cram my neck at a correct angle to catch the elusive BSNL network near that nail by the window. I wait diligently trying again and again. Not angry, just praying. Then there are the frequent power cuts that punctuate Govinda’s films and give me a chance to chat with Norzom (Sita’s eldest unmarried daughter).For dinner, Padma (the third eldest girl), Tanzin (the eldest son) and Sita make momos. Atta was kneaded in the evening and kept aside. The aloo was boiled simultaneously and later mixed with onions, salt and local garlic. Fat round chapattis stuffed with boiled aloo and steamed. Along with the dumpling there’s spicy chutney made of tomatoes, chillies, onions and dhania, stored in a small plastic container, that was passed around from plate to plate. 

The living room of the home.

There probably wasn’t a better way to spend my time at Khibber than with a family of five. The day is short lived here and one is limited indoors after sunset. A valley so exposed to nature can be isolating for a solo traveller, but with Sita’s family I experienced home. With a TV playing out in the corner, a toddler romping about on a plastic cycle, siblings running about, Sita chatting with Rinzin chachi and me over occasional sips of chhang – I almost didn’t notice the whooshing of wind and the impenetrable darkness outside. 



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Author Bio: Neetole Mitra is a travel storyteller at Living Unplanned. She roams the streets of India in search of humour and to celebrate trivial events no one else cares about. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter



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Garli - A place less travelled



By Priya Goswami

Once called the Switzerland of India for its beauty and wealth, Garli is now a notified heritage village tucked in the Kangra valley. A treasure of architectural marvels-Kangra, Colonial, Portugese, Rajput and Islamic, it is a beautiful mix of all these influences.

The lanes of Garli
This village was set by the Soods, an enterprising merchant community, in the early 19th century. Way ahead of their times in planning, they built their own houses and brought their own craftsmen and servicemen with them, including the cobblers, barbers, carpenters, etc. They also established the schools, hospitals, sarais, roads and the waterworks making Garli the epicenter of Punjab’s economics and politics by the 1920s. It is said that the location of village was also carefully chosen to receive good astral influence as the three shakti temples are also locatenearby-Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi and Brajeshwari (Kangra). 

Market of Garli
Garli is believed to have enough European influence and is also credited to its proximity to the summer capital (Shimla) of the British Raj back then. It was in the late 1950s that the village was completely abandoned, and when visited today, one can still see many buildings and mansions lying in distressed state. Some are as old as 200-300 years but speak of the village’s wealth back in those days. And this is evident in the grandeur of these structures made of exquisite wood, expensive balconies and intricate wall work. Garli has a small market for grocery, bakery, bangles, shoes and tailor shops. The village has a small taal as well.

The Abandoned House
Local Attractions

For Heritage enthusiasts-

The buildings and mansions all have a story. You can stop anytime and enjoy the architecture of these grand houses such as Bishnu Niwas, Bhagwan Niwas, the ‘Hidden House’, the ‘Mystery House’, and so on.
The Chateau Garli - A restored building

Hub of Temples-
Apart from the three shakti peeth- Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi, Brajeshwari (Kangra), one can also explore heritage temples within a radius of 50-60 kms like the Dada Siba Temple and Masroor Rock cut Temple. The Dada Siba is also called the temple of Radhe Karishna and is revered for its mural paintings all across, which have been restored and delicately coloured. The rock cut masroor temple is the only monolithic rock structure in northern India and said that to have been made by the Pandavas in just one night during their "incognito"exile. 

For Nature Lovers
Just 20 mins away from the Garli main market is the Chamba Pattan Bridge over Beas where most of the people tread to enjoy the sunset. Another nature lover's delight is the wetlands of pong lake, an hour and a half drive from Garli,  is a seasonal habitat and stopover for migratory birds that enter India from Central Asia. It is also one of the 25 international wetland sites declared in India by the Ramsar Convention. Needless to say, it’s a photographer’s dream destination as well.


Sunset at Beas
Food & Stay
If you like to discover the local flavours, you cannot miss the malai barf sold by Mr. Satpal Sharma. His forefathers have been selling this since 1890. On a leaf plate for mere Rs. 30/, it is made of milk, khoya, cheeni, and badam. Other local delights included Mandra (kidney beans in gravy of kaju & kishmish), Chana Daal with amchoor, Mhani (black chana, jaggerry & amchoor), Maa ki dal, Mittha (made with urad dal).


Famous Malai Barf of Garli
The Chateau Garli-a 95 year old heritage boutique hotel in Garli has all the modern amenities you can ask for. 
 Naurang Yatri Niwas-also known as Naurang Sarai and  The Judge’s Court-a 300 year old heritage property built in a country manor style in Pragpur are a few options for one to stay.


A Local Bakery Shop




Author Bio: Priya is a  professional baby and portrait photographer who left her full time corporate job as a marketing and brand professional with an MNC to follow her passion. When not clicking, she loves to travel and explore places. You can follow her on  Facebook  or visit her website: http://priyagoswami.com/






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A Misty Evening In Coorg



By Priyanka Das


Anybody who has lived in Bangalore knows the tale of this fabled little hamlet in Kodagu district. Coorg has lured unsuspecting travellers into its abyss for decades. With an impressive list of must-see tourist attractions, Coorg does come around as the Scotland of India. The Talakaveri, Tibetan Buddhist Temple, Iruppu falls are only to name a few. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that a bunch of overworked ITians had very high expectations from this little town when we embarked on the happy-go-lucky trip from Bangalore on one fine Friday.

We were gravely mistaken.

Turns out, Coorg was no shy maiden that day. She was in no mood of being courted. She had no desire of being the cold, foggy princess that day. She smelted in the summer heat, breathing fire, its relentless battering and beating down he poor travellers who were unprepared for this indifference. There was not a single cloud in the sky, not a single wave of cold air relieving us from the hot summer day. Needless to say the impatient six that we were, we decided to cut the whole adventurous city-trotting facade by half and run for shelter before Coorg’s ire broke our very stance.

After what seemed like an exaggerated eternity, we finally breathed deeply as our car went off road on a dirt path leading into a wooded earthy forest which can only be described as magical. The car bobbled up the road as the playful sun’s ray meticulously tried to find their way around the labyrinth of lime green leaves, splattering ruthlessly over the olive grass blades that stood in attention watching the strange procession passing them on the rickety road.



After about a 15 min drive, we reached our homestay.  To say that the place came as a mild surprise to us would be a serious understatement. The homestay or to give it its rightful place, resort, was located on a spawning swathe of land, encompassed entirely by manicured lawn and peppered with numerous flowering trees. The guesthouses were tiny log and thatch cottages that dotted the elaborate landscape instantly trapping one into a fairy tale where one almost certainly expects a talking rabbit to jump out of the many shrubby floral bushes.  But, the most striking feature of this landscape is the enormous lake. At first our mind wouldn’t believe that a lake of this magnitude can possibly be hidden in this enchanted forest; maybe it was the trick of the sun? But it was there. A secret covertly held by the gentle slopping hills and cascading trees. As we caught our breath, the gentle waves of the enormous lake lapped on the shore reflecting the numerous shades of orange that the setting sun was throwing its way. We didn’t know how long we stood there, outside of the cabins trying to keep up with the changing hues of water, but the orange orb of sun had grown dimmer and a ethereal mist had engulfed us. My eyes scanned the shimmering water coming to rest on a wayward bird which was lazily picking on grains of earth on the expansive roots of a nearby tree. 



 That night as I lay beneath the pewter sky gazing at the dancing stars, their shimmer reflected on my face, taking form of a smile; a smile that I carried with me all the way back to Bangalore.


                             

Author Bio: After working in the software industry for four years, Priyanka has quit to commit full time to her former fling of writing. She is passionate about offbeat traveling, food for soul, meeting new people and sharing their stories, recycling, and yoga. You can follow her stories on Instagram , Facebook , Blog



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Ramblings of a lonely girl - Days spent in tiny village in Uttarkashi


By Priyanka Das


“Aapka gaon bahut sundar hai...” I said smiling.
 (Your village is very beautiful)

“Hai na? wohi toh.. Pata nahi aap sheher wale kaise rehte ho? Humko toh soch ke hi ajeeb lagta hai ki roz ganga maa ke darshan nahi honge!” she said.
(Yes, how do you city people live? The thought of not seeing Mother Ganga every day is so uncomforting!)


 Between the gasping for breath and trying to find my foothold, I braved a glance at the old wrinkled face of the lady sprinting and hopping across boulders making her way through the lush fields flaunting its abundant harvest of soybean and paddy. The turbulent Ganges flowed beneath us, roaring, marking its territory. But there was no turbulence on this lady’s face. It was calm. It was happy.
I had just met her that morning in the little village of Siror on the banks of Ganges and she had offered to take me uphill to see her fields. This little unassuming village was to be my home for 30 days.
As we stopped for breath, overlooking the gorgeous landscape dotted with clear white waterfalls, I thought of the sequence of events that had led me to this spot.

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Very often in our lives we take a quick decision that changes the entire course of life. Taking a solo trip to Uttarkashi was one of them. When I boarded my train from Delhi railway station after saying goodbye to my friend, for the first time it dawned on me that I was going to undertake this 12 hour train journey followed by a 6 hour bus ride all on my own... I was going to be Alone.

My mind was filled with apprehensions and possibilities seeded by endless stories of crime shown on TV. I spent the entire train journey clinging on to my bag eyeing every passenger in the train with suspicion and as a potential rapist. Then  I spent another 6 hours on a rickety bus, making its way through narrow foggy roads occasionally flying through tiny water streams, hoping that there is no landslide on the way that would entraps us! Needless to say it was an arduous journey. Once in Uttarkashi, I boarded a taxi for the final conclusive leg of the journey and reached Sivananda Kutir, Netala.
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The Ashram


“Madam aap Sivananda ashram ja rahe ho?”

 (Madam, are you going to Sivananda Ashram)

“Haan". (Yes.)

“Aap thak gaye lagte hain. Par aapke wahan pahunchte hi sari thakan door ho jayegi” proclaimed my taxi driver.
(Don't worry, the moment you reach there, you won’t feel tired anymore.)

I smiled. This was not the first time I had experienced the intense devotion the region has towards the Ganges. She was the solution to every problem from crops failing to SENSEX dropping 100 points. She was the very lifeline of this place.

The unassuming taxi driver was right of course.

The ashram was right on the banks of the river and my room was perched on the river side in a rather precarious way almost floating on the ravaging swirling water beneath.
For many nights thereafter, I lay wide awake in my bed listening to the noisy river flowing right outside my window.

“Has the water level risen?”
“I bet, the river sounds closer and louder than an hour before”
“There was a flood a few years back...maybe this is not the best place to be...”
“Was this the 3rd night? Or maybe the 4th?”


My train of thought was endless.

The River Ganga flowing right next to the Ashram
There is always a ‘chicken little’ hiding in all of us for whom the sky is always falling. My apprehensions were driving me to the point of insanity. With nothing else to do, I got up and walked out of my room into the small platform. The sky was exceptionally clear that day and the moon was full. The Ganges was flowing with more gusto than ever before. I walked closer to the edge of the platform and placed my hands on the railing. There was no other light in entire place but the moon.  The moonlight reflecting on the river was rendering the river a silver ethereal glow. And then suddenly there was complete silence. Something deep in my heart had been released. The water of the river swayed, swirled and flowed with all its might, washing away everything in its path.  But somewhere in all this chaos, there was still this unknown divine energy that moved and united everything around me.



Devotion is a tricky thing. It is staggeringly difficult to find it. But once you do, it is almost impossible to lose it.  If you have ever been a traveller you would know that every journey in life teaches you something. For me this journey was a journey of discovering love and how to surrender. It was a journey of knowing that I am always watched over. It was a journey that taught me that there is immense goodness in this world if only we open our eyes and look.


It was a journey that taught me, no matter where we are, we are never truly “Alone”.

Author Bio: After working in the software industry for four years, Priyanka quit her job to take up writing. She is passionate about offbeat traveling, food for soul, meeting new people and sharing their stories, recycling and yoga. You can follow her thoughts, stories and travelogues on her blog  Postcard from Life 

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Kumarakom – Entering a Time Warp



Kumarakom – Entering a Time Warp


By Sharmistha Sahoo


It was my second vacation and my husband’s first in Kerala, fondly known as God’s own country, and we wholly agree! Leaving the hustle bustle of Mumbai, we travelled to Kumrakom, Kerala in the month of August. Putting our fast lives on a pause, we entered what seemed like a time warp. The trip began with a boat ride in our house boat along the breathtakingly serene Vembanad Lake.



The lake is dotted by palm trees on both the sides. We saw many houses of the locals by the backwaters. They all had their own boats for commuting from one place to another. So exciting no? Everyday would be like an adventure. Also, there were some schools on both the sides. We could even see children studying in their small classrooms. I would have loved to be in such a school where the lake is your campus! We cruised through the lake and even entered many small canals. And then we broke out into the huge lake out of the backwaters and could see the magnanimity of the Vembanad lake, which by the way is the longest lake in India.


 The entire experience was very humbling. To see local people enjoying their lives in simple activities gave us an perspective and the much needed break from our hectic lives.  After the idyllic backwater ride, we made our way back to our hotel.Next morning, I woke up to the sound of camera clicking, from the attached balcony in our hotel room. My husband was already up, taking in the backwaters view at the crack of the dawn.  I was fully mesmerized by the view of backwaters from our balcony.


I couldn't believe the calmness that the view was eluding. We could just sit there doing nothing but gazing for hours.


After taking in the view as much as we could, we finally bade goodbye to Kumarakom with a promise to return soon as we had left a piece of our heart back there.


Author Bio: The author is a banker by profession, and is always craving to travel. She loves reading, writing, reviewing, photography and ofcourse exploring new places. She is documenting her life stories including her personal, travel and corporate life in her blog 

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In Awe Of The Avian Wonders!



By Rashmi Gopal Rao


It was the end of April and a totally impromptu decision by us as we did not want to miss the river terns that religiously visit Bhadra each year for about three months. Nestled in the midst of the Western Ghats and surrounded by the Baba Budangiri hills of the Chikamangalur district in Karnataka, the place is a perfect weekend getaway from the hustle bustle of the city.


On reaching the river we boarded a fairly large boat along with another group.  The waters were calm and the skies were clear.  As we approached the tiny islands in the river, we could see buzzing activity of hundreds of birds on them.  The grey-dull black colour of the river terns perfectly blended with the soil and rocks of the islands making it rather inconspicuous from a distance.

But as we moved closer, one could not help but wonder at their large numbers.  Our boat man cum guide was a friendly chap who explained to us that the numbers peak in May as the young ones hatch.   We could see the females busy warming the eggs while the males hovered around and occasionally swooped down into the waters catching a fish or two with their bright yellow beaks.  The prey is for the female birds that are stationed to protect the eggs that are likely to be attacked by other species like ibis and herons.  I must admit that this kind of coordination and so called ‘division of duties’ between the genders had me awe struck and is definitely worth a lesson or two!


The bird which is a part of the tern family typically visits the island between March and June before flying off to the Himachal.  During the monsoons the islands also get submerged making it a lull season for visitors.  The ambience is serene and you can also treat yourself to leisure bird watching, trekking and also take nature walks in the serene ambiance.



One can also visit the Bhadra Wildlife sanctuary which is located about a kilometer away.   The sanctuary is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna including the tiger, elephants, Gaurs, wild boars, leopards etc. Avian species include the Grey Junglefowl, Painted Bush Quail, Emerald Dove, Southern Green Imperial Pigeon and Great Black Woodpecker among others. The Bhadra dam which has created the Bhadra resorvoir is also worth a visit!






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AUTHOR BIO: Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance content writer and journalist. She is from Bengaluru and her hobbies include travelling, reading, writing and  photography. 
She is also passionate about home decor and gardening. You can follow her on her blog https://rashminotes.wordpress.com.

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                       Have you visited a wildlife destination on your travels recently?

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A weekend Tour of Hampi- The Boulder City of India


By Trinetta Fernandes

Five Female Travel Enthusiasts. One Weekend. That’s all we needed to set out exploring yet another place. We were clear about discovering a piece of ancient India and we zeroed in on Hampi.

Hampi is located in North Karnatak on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, approximately 709 kms. from Mumbai. It was once the capital of the Hindu Vijaynagar Empire which ruled South India between 14th to 16th century AD. The ruined temple city is famously known as the ‘Boulder city of India’. It is a labyrinth of temples, busy market places, narrow streets, ancient monuments surrounded by boulder strew mountains. It also features among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. 

First sightings of boulders
The friendly rickshaw guys who picked us up from the Hospet Bus Stand offered to take us around after we quickly checked into our guest house. Finding an economical place to live is no mammoth task. Tiny lanes lined with rows of houses with extra rooms attached are a common sight. Tourism has helped generate a source of revenue for the locals.

Our rickshaw drivers doubled up as our guides and thus we began our exploration. Our first stop was the magnificent Virupaksha Temple, which is believed to be one of the oldest active temples in India. It dates back to the 7th century AD.  The temple complex was filled with people performing prayer rituals along with the tourists queued up to admire the carvings on stone at the entrance of the temple. The intricate designs on stone along with the precision would have been quite a task in the times the temple was built.
  
A view of the Virupaksha Temple entrance

 Filled with admiration after visiting the temple complex, we headed onwards. While there are local tourists, Hampi is also a common destination with international tourists. Our next stop was the royal enclosures and the elephant stables.
The stables served as a home to the royal elephants. It is a long structure spread across a garden. Every stable is big enough to accommodate a minimum of two elephants. Within the same premises is situated the Lotus Temple. It is an ornate structure with a mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. Our guides informed us it was used by the queens during their leisure time.  

The Elephant Enclosures

The Lotus Temple

The Lakshmi Narsimha
Famished by now, we headed to have a meal at a rather quaint restaurant ‘Mango Tree’ after which we went to see the Lakshmi Narsimha. The statue of a ‘half man and half lion’ carved out of a single rock is 6.7 m high. It is said to be one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu with detailed carving. The complex houses the Badavi Linga Temple, which is largest monolithic Linga in Hampi. It is filled with water throughout the year and the temple priest spends his entire day in waist deep water- such is his devotion!

 Early next morning, we set off to catch the sunrise at Matanga Hills, from where one can have a bird’s eye view of the entire town. Our last stop was the Vittala Temple Complex. This temple complex has various shrines and is noted for its intricately carved pillars, some said to be musical pillars. The mighty stone chariot, in the same complex is believed to be a shrine. On closer inspection, mythical battle scene can still be seen carved all around it.




The Vittala Temple Complex

The Stone Chariot
The complex offers a spot for every tired traveller to rest. One can find their quiet place and sit back to admire the vast temple complex or indulge in a coracle ride across the river, just behind the temple. (A coracle is a small round traditional boat)
A quiet spot in the Vittala Temple Complex

The weekend had ended and so had our trip. We headed back home with sore feet, happy hearts and content smiles. We cannot wait to go explore another place soon!
Happy Us!
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AUTHOR BIO - Trinetta works in the Development Sector as a Social Worker. An animal lover, she loves heading out of the out at every given opportunity. She enjoys solo traveling as well as exploring places with her girl group.  


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