Saturday, October 8, 2016

TRAVEL BLOG OR TRAVEL GUIDE BOOK : WHAT WORKS AND WHEN ?

Adequate research for an upcoming trip is central to make it more efficient. Often this is coupled with a choice between the source for that information:

Travel Blog or a Travel Guide Book ?

I've seen people glued fanatically to the travel guidebooks. Places, Hotels, Dos and the Don'ts to name a few. On the other side are subscribers/followers who would rely heavily on blogs for authentic inputs. So there is an abundant need to understand what works and when !



Travel Guide Books are an important starting point. They are work of professionals, result of dedicated research and would practically cover all aspects of the travel to a particular place. Yet, they are not specific to the kind of traveler you are. The guides are reflection of traveler's style of travel. Luxury, Value for Money, Backpack. But either one of them. Further, at times they are dated. Things change swiftly these days. And it's important to stay updated. Precisely these are the aspects where the travel blog scores. Suitable to the style of a traveler and the content's contemporariness.

Bottom-line:

Begin with blog. Refer a Travel Guide. Fine tune again using a Blog.

Books hold their special  charm though !



*****

**** Which one do you like/refer. Have I missed an important detail ? Look forward to your feedback and comments.****

Sunday, September 18, 2016

ACROSS THE SKIES : MOUNTAIN FLIGHT TO THE EVEREST

Few things in life can enthrall as much as the thought of mountain flight to the highest peak of the world. During my maiden visit to Kathmandu in March 2016, I had the opportunity to board this 50 minutes odd flight to the top of the world. An overwhelming experience to say the least. The breathtaking panorama was spiced with a chance to visit the cockpit and a Window seat to soak in the majestic heights.

It for sure feels like ticking off an item from your bucket list and to put it straight in three words,

A lifetime experience !

Mountain Flight to Mount Everest
Mountain Flight to Mount Everest - A lifetime experience


Sun Kissed Himalayan Range
Sun Kissed Himalayan Range - Simply Amazing
Off and On Again !

But before that, let me share how the journey was off and on in matter of just two days.

As it happened I had to miss early morning flight to Mt. Everest as it was cancelled.

The Culprit - Weather. Fog to be precise.

But hoping against the hopes, I tried my luck, the very next day despite similar weather conditions as I woke in the morning. The glimmer of hope led to eventuality, as the rays of the sun criss-crossed the skies almost suddenly. The golden hue of the slanting rays covered the mountains, and there I was.

The visibility was just enough for the flight to take off after 3 hours of delay from the scheduled departure. There were last minute jitters as the airline staff were hooked to their transmitters and travellers to the sky for the final nod to go ahead.

And there it was, announcements that led to stamping of the Boarding Pass(held till this date as a souvenir) and we were even more excited to be :

On the way and above the Everest !!

Mountain Trip to Mount Everest
Happy Souvenir - Boarding Pass for the Mountain Flight

Weather Report for Mountain Flight
Weather Report on the Announcement Screen - Nervous Wait

Golden Rays on the Everest
Golden Rays on the Everest - A Sight to Behold


Eclectic Airport :

The mountain flights operate from the domestic airport of Kathmandu, viz. the domestic terminal of Tribhuvan International Airport. The early morning sights of this airport is more of a flux of over-energetic foreign nationals and contrasting calm locals. There is some method to the madness here. One, the foreign nationals were either like me, the people taking one of the mountain flights or they were on their way to Lukla, the nearest airport to the Everest base camp. The locals were heading to Pokhara. That somehow explained the reason for the contrast.

The Airlines :

Several airlines operate mountain flights for Everest. I had taken a Buddha Air Mountain flight for this trip and indeed it was every bit worth it. Their customer handling, quality of information off and on air, and the views of the panorama during the flight were wonderful. (Every seat being a window seat in the 24 seater carrier.) However, the views were better from the seats at back because of the wings mid-way. Their safety records are also quite good, if not the best in the league. The refunds in case of cancellation are prompt and without hassle.

In the nutshell, I'd recommend the airline. 

Mountain Flight to Everest
Wings of Panorama

The Experience  : Journey is HEIGHT of Specialty:



Golden Sight of Himalayas
Golden Array of Himalayan Cousins
The mountain flight goes around Everest and as close to it, as the weather permits.

  1. The mountain flights passes through several of the top 15 mountain peaks (eight thousanders as they say) of the world. 
  2. Apart from that, there are several glaciers and  landscapes that is sure to transport to a fairy tale dream like world.
  3. There is an opportunity to visit the Cockpit from a distance, which is an amazing experience in itself.
  4. Travel hostess was friendly and introduced us to the peaks that were passing by.
  5. At the end of the flight, the travelers are given a certificate of completion. As a memoir, it was a nice idea.
Visit to Cockpit - Mountain Flight
Cockpit Adventure

Tips for YOUR Mountain flight:
  1. Safety First: Generally all the carriers adhere to the basic safety norms. However, the reputed carriers have better aircraft and maintenance.
  2. Weather the Weather. Yes, the weather is the most important factor beside the safety. The best season to travel is from September - December. Next Best: March - May (Generally post local 'Dushera' festival). The reason being the rains. With clear skies, as in the above seasons, the views would be the best. Remember how I ended up missing my flight.
  3. Time it. The best views are on the offer in the first flight of the day. More to do with the dispersion of the sun rays. So the first morning flight is highly recommended. Check in Early to ensure that the first flight is not overbooked.
  4. Have ample juice in the camera batteries: The views in the mountain flight are simply amazing. So make sure you have spare batteries to support videos. PS: The views are even better through the cockpit.
  5. Air pressure all the way is well regulated, but it's always better to take general precautions.
  6. Note: In case of poor visibility, domestic flights are given preference.
  7. It's better to schedule taking mountain flights in the middle of your Kathmandu itinerary to allow cushion for some bad weather days (or rather not so good weather days). Many people miss it because of their last day attempt not having enough blessings from the weather gods.
  8. The flight is priced in USD, and it generally varies from season to season. There are many booking counters across Kathmandu, particularly near the city center.
  9. The best way  to book is through the counter on the airport, for efficient refunds, if need be.
  10. Mountain flights are also available from Pokhara but to a different mountain range.
Views from the Mountain Flight
Sun and the Peaks - Great Symbiosis

The Bottomline: 

The mountain flight was truly highlight for my Nepal trip and I'd recommend it without hesitation. There aren't many mountain flights that I've heard of, globally. So although some people may find the pricing a bit steep, the experience is every bit worth it.

Views from the Mountain Flight
Panoramic Views of Himalayas



Views from the Mountain Flight
Panoramic Views of Himalayas


Disclosure - The mountain trip to Everest for the author was hosted by Buddha Air.   As usual, views above are bonafide, impartial and author's own.

Monday, June 6, 2016

AN EVENING ACROSS BEGNAS LAKE - POKHARA, NEPAL

Beautiful Lake at Lekhnath
Picture Perfect

The expectations had been laid on the Prithvi Highway. At Lekhnath, the notches were set even higher.

While the earlier journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara seemed to be a destination in itself, Lekhnath was truly a bliss in itself.

Calm water of the lake. Himalayan ranges on the backdrop, A slow and content local life. Small farms just on the other side the lake. Sky full of birds. Array of colorfully placed boats.

Almost everything about the place seemed like a surreal, and set in different time.



Mountains and Lakes
Harmony - Evenness of the Farm and Wilderness of the Mountains

At one point, even the evenness of the farms on the ground harmonized with the wilderness of the mountains and eclectic melancholy of birds. The lush green mountains paved way for the mightier grandiose of the snow capped Himalayas.

At one point, it appeared as if the reflection of the dancing tree leaves had created waves in water!

Lake and the Mountains
Ridge demarcates the lake and the farm. 

A ridge across the lake demarcates the farms from the water. This ridge is also perfectly suited to take a fulfilling walk across the lake to immerse in the exquisite surroundings as also to catch a glimpse of the setting sun and the chirping birds.

Ridge across the Lake
Ridge - That takes you to the mountain across the lake

Ridge across the Lake
Another View of the Ridge

The quaint picturesque setting is amplified with the restive boats lined up across the shore. The visitors can undertake boating in the lake which is highly suggested.

The twirling curl of the lake across the mountain is going to catch your attention.

Restive Boats in the Lake
Restive boats that amplifies the beauty of the place

As one heads towards the lake, a few rock formations are also to be witnessed. These structures definitely add to the beauty of the landscape.


Rocks across the Lake
Rugged Landscape - Rocks with their scaling

A picture is worth a thousand words. And landscapes like these, worth a million pictures !


Great Views at Lekhnath Lake
Now that was breathtaking !



Your's Truly
Practical Tips:
  • Pokhara is famed for 7 lakes around the city.
  • The Lake at Lekhnath and Phewa lake are different and therefore they may be included in the itinerary.
  • The place is good for relaxing and watching the nature at best.
  • Boating may be done in Phewa, if that is already your itinerary.
  • There is a provision of a municipal parking available around the lake.
  • There aren't many options for quickbites/snacks around, so pack your bags accordingly.
  • The best time of the day to visit the place would be evenings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

JOURNEY WORTH THE DESTINATION - KATHMANDU TO POKHARA


On the way from Kathmandu to Pokhara
Excellent Scenery - Straight To The Postcards

The gyrating routes cut across the stellar mountains and misty air as the scenic landscapes across the 200Km Prithvi Highway, stretch connecting Kathmandu and Pokhara. The views it lays forward are though, simply breathtaking !

To say it plainly, this journey across the Middle hills was every bit worth the destination. There are ample opportunities to 'look in the face of the mountains', while you move across the rivers running playfully beneath (and sometimes alongside). The quiet rural life of Nepal is unperturbed by the business of  the road and there are times that makes you feel the distinctness of two worlds of the farm and the road.

Apart from being an excellent tourist destination, Pokhara also doubles up as a hub for several mountain base camps, and thus, there is a case of plenty of mountain bikers to be witnessed flowing across the route.

Road trip to Pokhara from Kathmandu
On the way on Prithvi Highway

The burly roads en-route the beginning of the journey paves way for pristine rivers with whispering woods to play you company on the sound of the water hitting the riparian banks. Pebbles dot the landscape adoring the nature's delight that's plentiful and untouched !

The water is quite clear and the gushing sound resonates with the quietness of the lush green hills. 

Rivers across the highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara
Riparian Beauty 

River across the highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara
Riparian Beauty resonates on the banks
The flora relax gleefully cushioned in the laps of grass, spreading colors and bliss (and sights as below) with plenty of shades and varieties on offer, all across the journey.

The flowers in their bloom appeared to garland the trees.

Beauty of the Flowers
Flowers relaxing gleefully on the cushion of the gaps

Beauty of Flowers
Flowers garlanding the Trees

The currents of the river are primly suited for the several water front activities including the popular river rafting. There are scores of rafting beaches that are manifested by the artificial beaches and basic infrastructure developed and maintained by the respective rafting companies.

As a suggestion, it is highly recommended to take the river rafting exercise en-route. These are coupled with excellent rapids, clean shores and inexpensive tour costs.

(The lush green settings and playful river currents like below are as inviting as rafting itself !)

Rafting around Kathmandu, Pokhara
Rapids and Natural Beauty - Couple that with Rafting for a great experience

One small landmark that is sure to catch attention is the bridge that is encountered on the way.

Beneath, sights of spectacular gorges and river flow in its might with twists is sure to behold on the senses, that cut across by lush green forests.


Bridge between Kathmandu and Pokhara
This bridge is sure to catch the attention.

Beauty of River Trishuli
Gorges and the Gorgeous Settings

Beauty of Trishuli River
Trishuli River - Beauty at its Best


There are sights and memories to be treasured across the route. Those moments are so precious that, there are times you wish to remain oblivious of the existence and soak the nature and its delights in the background!


Shadows
Nature's Delights forcing you to Soak in the Background
(Do you have a memorable road trip experience as one above ? What makes a great  trip ?
Looking forward for your feedback/comments.)

Practical Tips:
    • There are a very few options to travel overnight between the cities, so for all practical reasons, one needs to travel during the day time. (Trust me with the type of landscapes on the offer, you won't complain a slightest bit)
    • There are no road lights, no hill dividers across the entire highway!
    • Count 7 + hours for the journey. That takes in count the odd travel jams.
    • Hitchhiking is possible and would be fun on the way!
    • There are a many places to hang around.
    • A group of 7-8 people may come pool together to hire the local favorite, 'Hi Ace'. There is a substantial cost to be saved on the local sightseeing in Pokhara, that at times, may get exorbitant !
    • The route across Kathmandu and Pokhara is also a common place for some arterial detours to major cities including those in the Terai region.
    • Rafting is a seasonal activity and depends on the rapids and the temperature of the water.
    • Update on Earthquake 2015 : The effect of earthquake in 2015 did not to seem to have a bearing as in March 2016. Most of the roads were in pretty good shape.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Nagarkot, Nepal - Cradled in the Mountains

The ornate pines that stand guard en-route the journey from Bhaktapur, seemingly whisper  about the beautiful hills that approaches you !

Nagarkot, lying barely 32 Kms. away from Kathmandu, is a different world in itself. With ascent from Bhaktapur, the weather changes dramatically. The clean but cool air flowing across the mountains can blow your fatigue away and can catch you by surprise ! ( Indeed a welcome and pleasant surprise.) 

Newari Architecture
Architecture at the Nagarkot
The beautiful valley filled with dense pine trees paves way from the dust bowl that would be encountered on account of an ongoing road construction. Swiftly, the air keeps on getting pleasant with real freshness. Nagarkot, that is regarded as a 'Hill Station' (terminology common to the subcontinent and to an extent,  the Anglicized world) stands nestled and cradled among the Himalayas.

While the morning trip from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur is a pleasant surprise in terms of beating the city traffic, the trip to Bhaktapur, in true sense is a respite from the weather in Bhaktapur.
Lush Green Pine Valleys
Lush Green Pine Valleys

The Kathmandu Valley below is associated with unique history and architecture however, Nagarkot is more about stunning landscapes and guess what, even better sunrises and sunsets!

It is common for visitors to come to Nagarkot for sunrises and even sunsets, but trust me even the scenery and landscapes on offer across the day can take your heart away!

The astounding resilience and determination witnessed across Nepal was rightfully captured in the poster below which as seen at Nagarkot.
Nepal, Determination and Resilience
Nepal : Story of Resilience and Determination
The beauty of Nagarkot grows on you, so much so, that to an extent, the beauty itself becomes a monotony. A monotony that you'd wish to get more monotonous than ever. The undeterred flags of faith splurge colours while they stand guard to un-wavered conviction in ever-wavering winds.

Unwavering flags waving in the crystal clean air
Unwavering flags waving in the crystal clean air
Smiling sunshine sit atop the densely populated pine trees and mingle with clear flowing breeze around. And the biggest bonus is that all of it comes with exquisite views.

Lush green Forests criss-crossing the sunshine and the wind



The prayer flags apparently spray colors in the air as the wind progresses under the spotless blue skies, almost persuading the clouds to clear up the mountains !



Eventually, I had the opportunity to view the Langtang valley as the mountains cleared up for the views ! And as the luck got better, couldn't believe that Mount Everest (locally known as Sagarmatha) lay ahead for the views, sneaking through the white clouds.

That feeling of witnessing the Everest is simply inexplicable ! Way more than Amazing, a truly lifetime experience !



Tips for the Place :
  • Nagarkot is definitely more than worth a day trip, best to reach during evening stay overnight and then decide as per your schedule.
  • At times, you need to be patient for the views of the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest.
  • Even you are moving from Kathmandu Valley, the chill in air at times can be a big surprise.
  • Needless to say, Nagarkot has access to excellent sunrises and to an extent sunsets as well.
  • Definitely do go to the Nagarkot 'Tower', known locally as 'Tower'. The views up there are really amazing.
  • I'd suggest Club Himalayas for food and stay as I had been to the place and found the services to be quite good, but then it is on the higher side of the economics !

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Golden Gate to Faith - Taleju Temple of Bhaktapur, Nepal

The reflection of the golden gate of the Taleju Temple situated in the Bhaktapur Square, on the 'Durbar' was as inviting as its marvelous frontal architecture.  The golden hue matched the scintillating rays of the winter skies. The Taleju Temple is devoted to worship of goddess and many construe the word to be a connotation of the goddess 'Tulja Bhavani', revered deeply in the Indian subcontinent. The Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple is prohibited for the visitors and is believed to be mystically open to select religious faiths and only on the select days of a year. 


Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
The Golden Gate of Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur


The inner architecture of the temple, comprising intricately designed wooden windows and army of golden hued bricks appear to add to the harmony. There were visible impacts of the destruction caused by the earthquake with scores of idols lying for want of resurrection, however they were definitely not as grave as those of the square outside.

Architecture at Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Idols wanting for restoration beneath the intricate architectural design

The architecture appeared to be a conflux of several forms of with balconies having reflection of jharokhas and major usage of bricks, also a common feature across other temple of the Kathmandu valley.

Architecture at Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Wooden Architecture - At its Best !


Architecture at Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Priceless Idols demarcated temporarily


Architecture at Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Amazing Architecture - Continues

Architecture at Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Splendid Architecture

The internal sanctum leads to a stepped pond that stands opposite to the main temple and the water is considered to be quite pious by the worshipers. There are multiple statues of snake gods, the most prominent being that of the bronze statue, that stands guard outside the pond, facing the premises of the main temple. There is a shiva linga present as well on an elevated platform.

Stepped Pond - Inside the Taleju Temple
Stepped Pond - Inside the Taleju Temple

Bronze Snake Statue, Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Bronze Statue that adores the Pond

Bronze Snake Statue, Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Bronze Snake Statue, Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur

Bronze Snake Statue, Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Bronze Snake Statue, Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur

The photography is prohibited inside the main temple and its entry is restricted to only practitioners of Hindu and Buddhist religion. The temple inside is adorned with exquisite carvings and a square for offering 'pashu bali' to divine goddess. Inside the security guarded gates of the main temple, there are several other small temples adorned with excellent architecture. The setting is sure to erupt the images of the rituals that would be offered to the divine that is pivoted across a massive bell that is firmly placed in the courtyard of the temple. 

Architecture in the Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur
Architectural Delights - Taleju Temple, Bhaktapur

Overwhelming Curiosity and Innate Content

Leaving the temple for next destination of Nagarkot, there was as much overwhelming curiosity for what we didn't see, as much the innate content for what we did !