Thursday, March 31, 2016

Darjeeling Vacation : Queen of the Himalayas (part 4 of 5)

(Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - This page - Part 5)

Day 3 was more luxurious. Late rising and breakfast and walk up to the "Mall"
The Mall Road

This is a good place to hangout. Every hill station has one. At the centre they have a short pony ride for kids/adults.

At the end of the open expanse, there are 2 small streets - each has a shopping area

Theres a tea shop called Nathmulls where you can taste and buy exotic teas. They also have an online system - I found the owner to be very enterprising. (If you are desperate for Coffee , theres cafe Coffee day)

Our train was at around 1 , so we kind of landed at the station a little early to see the shunting of the rakes. For more information google up DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway)

Only the first 2 stops are covered and then they loop back to Darjeeling. The Batasia Loop offers a beautiful view of the mountains - don't miss it. The gardens etc are very poorly maintained.

But the train is very very interesting. It is a steam engine and still the same. Difficult to operate but a lot of fun for passengers on a short ride.

They stop at Ghum station for about 20 mins and you can get down to see the Ghum Railway museum (One more engine and a few cargo rakes)

(Quick Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5)


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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Darjeeling Vacation : Queen of the Himalayas (Part 3 of 5 )

Touristy places (The standard tour Day 2 - Continued)

(Quick Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - Part 2 - This is Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5)

From the Tenzing rock, we went to the ropeway. The queue was about 3 hours long to get in. So we ditched it and went to the tea plantations

Happy Valley Tea Plantations

I expected to see a plantation, a processing factory, some tasting, factory shop for purchases etc. It was a complete let down. They took us to some corner of it where Tourist could dress up as locals and take photos as if they are picking tea.

It was a let down. To put in context, what Juhu is to Beach after you've seen Marina Chennai. MaPro Mahabaleshwar and Ooty Tea gardens do a wonderful job of showcasing the tea /local produce experience

Buddhist temple and peace pagoda

Our last stop was Buddhist temple and peace pagoda. This place is quite interesting. They had some chanting and we were allowed to participate by drumming. See my out of the world pics of Buddha with a natural halo below.

On the way back to the hotel, we booked the tickets for Darjeeling to Darjeeling - I think there a 4 trains that do the round trip every day - 2 are diesel (costing about 650 per ticket) and 2 are steam (costing 1100 per ticket) - Very steep considering that its about 2 hrs, the scenic ride is spoilt by awful illegal constructions throughout the way, they serve nothing or explain nothing - Please try to book in advance - I was just plain lucky. You can try online, but for some reason I could not get any booking.

Day 3 in next part

(Quick Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5)


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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Darjeeling on Vacation : Queen of the Himalayas (Part 2 of 5)

(Quick Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - This is Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5)

We did not do much the day we landed except go for a walk to the mall road. Glenarys was open - so ate some really good pastries (and ugh Coffee). The shop was lit up and decorated for the christmas and new year celebrations (Theres a steep walkable shortcut from the hotel to the shopping area and Glenarys- should take no more than 5~10 mins max!)

Glenarys (Day 1)

The Touristy Places (Day 2)

I fixed up with the hotel for a standard sightseeing trip - They will organise a Sumo and at a little more an Innova.
Some tips:
1. They will have Tour 1 (with some 7 places) Tour 2 (with some 7 places) and each will cost you about 3K and almost 3/4ths of a day. When you look perplexed at him, they will sell you a combo (the one he always wanted to) with the best of both worlds for about 3000 and throw the Innova as a bonus
2. Try to do Tiger hill on a separate day and not back to back- Sunrise at Tiger hill - the day starts at 3 am!
(B in Bengal stands for Bargaining and I do it too poorly)

The places we saw were only a few but we had a lot of fun (I believe its not the number of places..... aka Grapes are sour.....)

Zoo and Mountaineering institute (Same location)

The first place was Padmaja Naidu Zoo - It was fab. Some of the animals that you've seen on TV actually exist (goes to prove that some reporters actually write the truth!) - Will take you about an hour to warm up, tickle the animals with your exaggerated disbeleif, catch the sun and come out for street shopping

Wilder animals (other than humans) were in cages.

The entrance to the Himalayan mountaineering institute is from inside the zoo. Quite an interesting place - Tensing Norgay now has a special place in our family

Once you've seen the museum and are about to conclude there is  nothing to it and you too can do it too; the cabbie will take you to training hills. Tenzing rock is the first exercise in Mountaineering 101.

Thats when you decide, "who wants to do it anyways......"

(Quick Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5)


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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Darjeeling on Vacation : Queen of the Himalayas (Part 1 of 5)

This winter holidays we planned to go East and had no clue where. From Shillong to Bhubaneshwar, finally settling in on Darjeeling

As usual my plan is for lazy vacationers - It will take 4 nights, provide time for siesta and early morning means 9-10 am. (This rule is flouted for 1 nite - will explain that later).

This milestone on the way to Darjeeling sums up the mood for the vacation. (It is West Bengal :-))

How to get there

Chennai* to Darjeeling and Back
(*My trips are usually indexed to absolute origin of the universe 0,0,0 - Mylapore)
  • Chennai to Bagdogra (Hop over without changing planes at Kolkata) - Indigo (And obviously returned via Kolkata with a 4 hour wait). 
  • Took a car up there from Bagrdogra to Darjeeling - plan 4 hours! comfortably one way to Darjeeling (including eating for about 30 mins, light traffic jams ). Theres a place called Kurseong thats somewhat midway and is the head quarters of the Darjeeling railway . Just before Kurseong is a restaurant called the Kurseong Tourist Lodge that serves hot food (momos and fried rice etc) . Its an interesting point to lunch at (replete with wooden flooring, an age old bar and self service station). The food is average but hot, so if you are hungry its a great place.

The train line comes alongside the road and its fun to see the steam loco struggle up the tracks

Most darjeeling roads and places are so chock-a-block, it is best to take a local cabbie. (The hotels can usually set you up for a decent deal)

Where to stay

A view from the hotel restaurant
We tried booking ourselves between Christmas and New Year and every good hotel was booked except Central Heritage. Have heard and seen better places. This place is as its name says (a) Central - Excellent location - you can walk to the mall, Glenarys' (a nice bakery and restraunt), Station (about 15 mins) and more (b) Heritage - Really old - stay in the club or premium rooms and you feel it. (c) Decent food for a hill station (My theory is that no hill station can usually get its food right) (d) Good crowd - families with children and quite helpful staff

The cons (a) Felt cramped out despite taking the premium rooms (b) bathroom fittings were dated - clean but could do with a lot of makeover (c) caught a small mouse (the staff used a glue pad) on one of the nights
(Part 2 - What to do at Darjeeling )

(Quick Links to the Darjeeling Travelogue : Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5)


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Monday, March 7, 2016

Neerja : Movie review

Touching tale of the girl-next-door who rose to the calling - beautifully taken - am happy that positive things like this are being filmed. I see a move from values of "extroverted I-me-myself" to "introverted-mindful-intergity"  being welcomed by society again. (Bhaag Milka to this)

Definitely worth watching once.

Neerja (19 February 2016) -


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Thursday, March 3, 2016

How to plan a trip to the mystic mountains Tiruvannamalai from Chennai (Part 2 of 2)

(See Part 1 for How to get to Tiruvannamalai and where to stay)
In this section, we cover What to do , shop and eat

3.What to do and Places to see

These things can be organised around 2~3 days depending on how aggressively or lazily you want to travel

a.Temple - About 2 hrs to see the temple - best time is evenings as it is less hot (early mornings is a tall order for me and family during vacations)

Tiruvannamalai temple and town - From route to Skandashramam
Tiruvannamalai temple gopuram at Dusk

b. Ramanashram - anytime when they are open. There are peacocks and monkeys. Children will enjoy the visit. They also have a beautiful book shop - I loved their note pads

Peacocks dancing freely at the Ashramam

c. Skandashramam - trekking is the one fun part of this trip and is entirely worth it. Carry water if you want. We were not much of a trekking family, but what started as a small climb to the ashram proved to be a very interesting climb. We went up with shoes and were glad we carried it across the Ramanashramam - there were several who went up bare feet too. The best times to trek up are mornings - check the timings at the Ashramam. They close at 6 pm I think and we just made it in the nick of time. Theres a beautiful place to meditate and some caves further down.

Skandasramam - Trek path
Skandasramam - Meditation rooms

d. Gingee fort (Raja Kottai and Rani Kottai) -will take you almost half a day from Tiruvannamalai. The place looks a little desolate from the outside but is actually very well maintained by ASI (Archeological Survey of India) . They collect a small fee but entirely worth it. It is also reasonably crowded so you feel safe once you enter it. (Obviously go during day time 10 am + and return before 4 PM - avoid Noon time climbs) The monkeys are a riot and someone should do something about it - they are a little unruly and sometimes snatch your camera or food packets - Take care
View from the top of the garden - ASI does a great job
Army Gymnasium

Raja Kottai - From the base

e. Girivalam - Not recommended if you cannot walk about 14 kms on concrete road around the temple/mountain.(Mt Arunachal) Usually people plan this in the evening/night. I did not do this round except by car to get a feel for the route, so I don't know how it feels

The Mystic mountain - Grows in reverence on you

4. Shopping and eating out

a. Shopping area for local handicrafts - Shanthimalai is a local handicrafts shop in the main road outside Ramanashramam. It was started by Dr. Hugo Maier. The shops nice for an evening out shopping.

b. Food at Ramanashramam/Sparsa

We ate mostly at Sparsa. Their restaurant is good but several people have told us that Ramanashramam is a great place to eat and you can donate whatever you feel like against stay and food.

d. Lonely planet gives a lot of eateries - will probably try them on the next trip

Post 1: 1. How to get there and 2.Where to stay
Post 2: 3. What to see 4. Where to shop and eat


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