Friday, February 26, 2016

Konkan through MSH 4 (Sagari Maha Marg)

Soon embarking on yet another road journey to Konkan belt. So what is so new about it? New is will travel to Murud Harnai and Ganpati Pule through regular route but return leg will be trough M SH 4 (Sagari Mahamarg) inclusive of two / three RO / RO boat crossings.

Despite research I could not get much information about road condition (for the whole trip) of maharsastra SH 4. Hence expect a post from me on completion of my Journey about the road and the drive.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Seven days trip to Bhutan - A Travelogue - VII and Concluding Part

The seven days trip to Bhutan that we made in Nov 15 was a wonderful time spent with family. I re-lived the whole trip while writing the blog. I hope my readers on my blog and also on FB, G+ and twitter (through links posted there) also enjoyed it as much as me writing it. It is my sincere hope that my attempt to take my readers on virtual tour of Bhutan succeeded in some measure.

This VII and concluding part is essentially about our return leg travel from Paro to Phuntsholing. Let the travel begin.

Day 7 and Final Day in Bhutan – 27th Nov 15 – Paro – Phuntsholing and Phuntsholing Sights

This day was practically and return journey day with in Bhutan. Today we were travelling from Paro to Phuntsholing, the gateway in to and out of Bhutan. After a leisurely breakfast at Mandala resort we left Paro around 0900 and travelled to Phuntsholing. The travel was uneventful.

Only interesting site enroute was  Karbandi Monastery also known as Richending Gompa. This Gompa comes just about 10 km before Phuntsholing. Established by Queen Grandmother in 1967 this gompa is set inside a lush green tropical garden. The Gompa was locked when we reached there but even then the colourful Gompa and stupas around were worth visiting. Another reason everyone should visit this place is that a very good semi aerial view of Phuntsholing town and adjoining Indian plains. One may feel, after a long trip of Bhutan, to skip Karbandi Monastery but my suggestion to all such travelers is, it does not take too long to visit and this place should not be skipped.

We reached Phuntsholing at 1500 hrs and checked in (yet again) in Park hotel. Now the Indian mind was at work. We had almost six hours to utilize at Phuntsholing. Post check-in and tea we asked the direction to Crocodile Conservation Center (Amo Chuu)  which is behind the Bus Station of the town not far from Park hotel. We walked down to this place. It is a very small place and it has Gharials and Magars. There is a small entry fee and you are treated to visual delight of seeing Gharials,Magars and also babies of both these species. It is a place worth visiting and remember our meager entry fee also adds to the conservation efforts of Bhutan Government.

Grown up Magars


One More

Baby Gharials

Magar / Gharial Eggs
Next on our trip was the Buddhist temple in Phuntsholing. It is called Zangtho Pelari Lhakhang. It is a three story temple within a beautiful garden. This place is visited by locals regularly and has lots of Pigeons around it. If I remember correctly, it has eight status of Avatars of Rimpoche in a circular structure.We did not visit two upper stories of the temple. Next was the usual thing that all women love to do and that is to do window shopping and actually shopping if they like something. My wife had a Kira and Tego (Lower and Upper of the dress).was bought.

This day was my brother in law and sister in law’s marriage anniversary. We wanted to surprise them but my sis in law is vegetarian.  We scouted this small market in Phuntsholing and found few cake and pastry shops. We were recommended the ultimate cake shop in Phuntsholing named Kizom café. 

We visited this place and quickly agreed to the view of the shopkeeper in the market who recommended it to us. It was by and far the best of what was there in this market. The requirement to pick up a cake that is vegetarian was fulfilled by picking up Pastries (only egg less product in cakes and pastries collection). The surprise was achieved and celebrations were done in the hotel room. It was dinner time soon and post dinner we all slept with the fond memories of the trip.

Surprise Anniversary Celebration
Next day we were to leave for Darjeeling. The travelogue of Three day trip to Darjeeling is in the making and would follow soon (break ke Baad). While leaving Phuntsholing, we clicked this splendid photo of Bhutan gate in the day light.

Bhutan Gate in the Day Light

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Seven days trip to Bhutan - A travelogue part VI

Day 6 – 26th Nov 15 – Tiger Nest Monastery and Paro Sights

Even before we had a glimpse of Tiger Nest (Paro Taktsang) yesterday we had (self and son) made up our mind to do a trek up the mountain to  Tiger nest Monastery. The urge to climb up became acute after viewing it through binocular yesterday.

Glimpse of Tiger Nest, White Spec on the Hill
Others in our group were happy not to try. For both of us the day started at 0600 (early as per traveling standards). After a quick breakfast at 0630 we started for tiger nest base by 0700 and were dropped there by 0725. We started our climb at 0730. During our research it emerged that if the plan is to climb up in about 3 hrs, it is a comfortable trek. We thought we will keep that as a target. We got going. Initially the climb was gradual till we came across a group of three water prayer wheels in very colourful structures being run by water gushing down the tiger nest hill.

Start of the climb

Water wheels

The route after that had increased gradient. Though we kept the target of climb in 3 hrs, soon we got in to the concurring spirit and started climbing full steam. This part of the climb till cafeteria up hill around mid way is not only steep; it also does not have much of plain walk between climbs to recuperate. With in about 30 minutes I started getting the complex of growing old. Well the climbing party was self at 50+ and son at 23 years so complex was not required but frequent need to stop for gathering breath made me feel so. My son very smartly told me on the return leg of our trip that the climbing up was tough for him too but he did not utter a word going up because he was getting to rest complimentary on my account of requirement to rest.

Waiting for the rest time
View of the rolling Hills as we climbed up

Most rest was not more then 2-3 minutes. We reached the café by 0845 hrs. Stopped for about 15+ minutes had a cup  of tea and biscuits at Rs 120 per cup and did not grudge it. Getting tea at that height itself made up for high cost. Another interesting part was biscuits were part of the cost whether you ate them or not. Post the tea and rest, we restarted our climb which continued to be steep but henceforth the steepness was punctured by leveled walks every now and then. At 0930 we reached the point from where the descent of about 450 stairs leading to a bridge across a beautiful waterfall. Here one gets closest view of Tiger nest and get a feeling as if it is just at a arms length.

Still too far

Valley below

The efforts to descent those many stairs gets compensated by the beauty of the waterfall and the chime of the bell of the Prayer water wheel. Again we took a small break of 5 minutes to enjoy the beauty of the fall and the commenced our accent of about 200+ stairs leading to monastery.  We reached the Monastery gate at 0955.

Entrance Door (No more photography beyond)
First thing first, once inside the gate, no photography allowed. No bags can be carried inside the monastery. Everyone is frisked. As for bags, the police on duty give a locker to keep your stuff. We were advice to carry a lock for the locker but everyone was provided a lock by police.

This was clicked before we entered
Even more closer
After this formality we went inside. There were people who had come with guide but we did not take one. The luck was on over side. We met a group of young Bhutanese boys and girls who were moving around and one enthusiastic boy became our unofficial guide and took us on the whole tour of various temples, temples of guru Padmasambhav, his next avatar Guru Rimpoche, the cave where guru Rimpoche said to have landed flying on a tigress from Tibet. It was the kindness of this group that we got a nice tour. Our return trip commenced at 1050 hrs. Climbing up 450 stairs was tough but by now our body was conditioned.

Staircases going up
King of Tiger Nest (or was it Queen?)
Once the climb was over, the move was quick and we reached the start point (and also finish point) by 1235 hrs, As indicated by Strava App on Pranay’s mobile, we took a total time of 5 hrs including 15 minutes at café, 55 minutes at Monastery and various stoppages for photography, catching the breath, etc. Actual walk time going up was 2 hrs 10 minutes and coming down was about 1 hour. At the end Strava indicated that it was --- best time and I was happy with state of my fitness.
Since our driver had not arrived to pick us up (had had taken our balance party to national Museum and Paro Dzong) we could do detailed cooling down which helped us to avoid cramps later.

Down hill with some prayer stones
 The driver picked us up at 1300. We straight went to Kyichu Lhakhang (Temple). A very important place for Bhutan Buddhist. This temple was built in 7 th century by a Tibetan king, this place has seen renovation and expansion. The last one was in 1971 by Queen of Bhutan. It is a beautiful temple from outside and inside. It is believed that orange trees, two of them, in the temple bear fruits through out the year. There is an exclusive area for the Queen inside the temple where none is allowed to go.

Kyichu Temple Courtyard (See the orange Trees)
Decorative Pattern on Windows
Ornamental Butter Lamp
Thereafter our next stop was Pema Gift Shop because my wife had asked him that she wants herself photographed in Bhutanese dress. This place happens to be on the banks of Paro Chu (river) right next to Kyichu resort. They have both men’s dresses (Gho)and Women’s dresses (top called tego and bottom called Kira). They charge RS 100 per dress (Indian and Local currency works at same cost interchangeably) for men and women. The concept is very simple. They will drape the dresses and thereafter it is for you  to take as many photos as you want by mobile, camera and what have you. So we did.
Looks like Just Migrated to Bhutan 
They also have an indoor archery range (archery is the national sports of Bhutan) where one can shoot 15 (+5 for trial) arrows. All these arrows need not be shot by a single person. Whole party can share the arrows. Between all of us we shot 20 arrows and only one (shot by Pranay) hit the bull’s eye. It was fun.

Taking a Shot (could not find target)
Only Shooter to hit the target and the arrow on target
After this trip me and Pranay rushed to National Museum. Originally housed in a circular traditional building, it was shifted next door to a modern building after the original building was damaged in 2011 earthquake. The old building is being repaired. The museum is a treasure of information about Bhutan including its Dances, animals, birds and culture. Photography is not allowed. We were happy to have made it

Entrance to National Museum
View of Paro Valley from Museum

national Library old building
Present location, New building
Our other people in the group who visited the Paro Dzong, which like other Dzongs, also serves as administrative HQ and a Monastery, were very impressed with it. It is a massive structure with courtyards and and beautiful buildings.

Way  to Paro Dzong
Entrance to Paro Dzong
from out side

Panel of Gods
Wall Paintings
Colourful Buildings inside

Massive Courtyard

Another impressive view
National Museum Old Building as seen from Dzong

Post National Museum visit we had lunch in the market. Roamed around there for some time and then returned to hotel to nurse our tired legs and prepare for tomorrow’s departure to Phuntsholing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seven Days Trip to Bhutan - A Travelogue - Part V

Day 5 – 25 Nov 15 – Punakha – Paro and Paro Sights

Yesterday, while talking to my daughter, who is a avid traveler in her own right, I mentioned about the valley, river and hills. She felt that the sunrise there may be fun. With that, me and my son had little choice but to get up and be outdoor with our camera at 0610 hrs (Sunrise at 0621 hrs) to see if there is something that we can capture in the sunrise. But before I start, remember my last part, Hotel Vara is overlooking a valley with a river flowing through it. See the photo below. 

Valley view from Hotel Vara
As we walked out to camp fire site of the hotel we were in for a marvel. The whole valley with the river flowing through it was covered in thick fog. Mind you only the valley, not the hills across, not the hotel area, just the valley and the river over its full length. 

The magic in he valley

We were so excited that first we woke up every one in the group to watch this wonder. Next we got busy clicking the wonder. Sunrise was a non starter being behind the tall hills but as the sun rays started falling on certain areas around the river, yet another beautiful sight emerged, the fog started slowing rising and started covering newer area. We spend soaking in to this marvel of the nature for about 45 minutes. 

Fog Covered Valley, A Buddhist temple Jutting Out
Fog Lifting up - Adding to Magic

One More of it

Time lapse Video of the magic
As the fog mostly lifted, we returned to our room and started working to get ready to depart from Vara, Punakha at 0830 for our trip to Paro via a visit to Royal Botanical Garden.

Leaving Hotel Vara, Punakha at 0830 hrs we reached Royal Botanical garden in about 30 mins (enroute to Paro via Dochula pass and Thimphu). After taking entry ticket we went in. This place is very good. We were impressed with it. It has all the varieties of Rhododendron of all the varieties available in Bhutan. This garden is spread over 45 sq KM with varied terrain  having a 1000 m differential in height. There are trekking tracks where cycling can also be done. There is a provision of camping also. However, all these activities are booked through local Bhutanese travel agents and not directly.

Royal Botanical Garden Board
We went round the Rhododendron garden and also visited their Tourist  Information center. This place was repository of information the Park, the vegetation in it and also the animals that can be found here and in Bhutan. They also have a informative video film for tourists but I guess we were little too early from the show time. We would up the visit in 45 minutes, just not enough for Royal Botanical Garden but that is what we could do in a touristy trip to the park.

Let me Peep and see who is that Specie
Oh, Its me

Bambu Forest
Rhododendron Garden
Continuing on our journey to Paro via Thimphu  we reached Dochula shortly. The Himalayan ranges that were clearly visible yesterday were partially obscure today due to clouds. It reiterated to us as to how lucky we were yesterday. After having a cup of tea at the restaurant there we recommenced our journey to Paro and reached there at 1400 hrs. As we entered Paro, our driver took us through an upper road from where panoramic view of Paro Airport (only international airport in Bhutan). Paro has a wide and extended valley and thus is able to have a international airport.

 Paro Airport Panoramic View
First activity after reaching Paro was to have Lunch as all of us were hungry. We had lunch at Hotel Peljorling in the main market. Why this hotel? Because this place has an Indian cook. The food was good. After lunch we left for a old and out use Dzong (and this time it was not seat of government plus a monastery and a fort)  which was a pure fort used in war between Bhutanese and Tibetan. On the way we stopped at a point on the road. From this point on the road the Tiger nest monastery view is available. Our binoculars were of good use to have a look at Tiger nest.

From there we went to Drukgyal Dzong, a old and crumbling fort with a great history. As we reached the parking and started going towards the fort, a local told us to take the left  side fork out of the two heading towards the Dzong. The left side fork took us around the fort through very isolated and less used path, though a very beautiful trail. As we reached around the Dzong we came across a trench running from the Dzong door to the lower protective wall. 

On the way to Dzong
The climb to fort using this trench was very steep. Looking at the steepness only me and Pranay decided to climb up to the fort. The climb was tough (and we took it as a practice climb as we both had made up our mind to climb to Tiger Nest Monastery tomorrow) but rewarding.

Steep Way up to Dzong through Trench
Entrance to the Dzong
The Courtyard

Second Courtyard
View of Second Courtyard

One more view
The Dzong, though not as grand and colourful as other operational Dzongs was strong and impressive structure though not preserved and breaking down. We went round it and realized how strong it must be in its prime days.

As we decided to return, we found a very easy ramp going down, much less in gradient and we realized that if we had taken the right side fork in the beginning instead of left fork, every one of our family member could have climbed up to this Dzong and enjoyed its ruins. See the graphics below:-

Post this visit we went to our Hotel Mandala Resort crossing Paro Town by about 1700 hrs. It takes about three tight hairpin bends to quickly gain height to climb up to this hotel which is on situated on some height at the edge of the town. We wondered where are we going. Any doubts that we had were put to rest when we reached the hotel. 

It was beautiful. It has its reception and dining hall (on first floor) in the center and the rooms (really cottages) on the right flank (called new block). On the left flank is the old block but since we did not stay there I cannot comment about it. The new block cabin cottages are on three levels with first two levels (middle and lower) offer fabulous view of Paro town and Paro valley. The top level cabins have only partial view as their view is obscured by middle level cabins. 

Panoramic View from Balcony of the Room
We were welcomed by the manager Mr Nobeen (Navin) and were provided a good cup of tea. After tea we placed our dinner order (typical Bhutan style with restaurant closing by about 2100 hrs) went to our cabins and relaxed.

Inside the Room
We went for the dinning hall for dinner at about 2030 and enjoyed a well cooked dinner. After dinner we briefed the manager about our requirement of self and son to have breakfast at 0630 tomorrow as we two had made up our mind to climb to Tiger Nest Monastery. After spending some time chit chating we slept off.