Manali has become like a crowded city of Himachal Pradesh. The people from almost the whole of country head to this place, especially in summers. And most of the visitors find it a dirty, noisy and jampacked place where you don’t even have a place to walk freely. Moreover, the loud music and parties at most places might deprive you of the real charm of the Mountains.
For all those who go to Manali to relish the fresh snow, you can expect the cottony soft snow here and can take some superb shots without the crazy crowds around. The places are also perfect for honeymoon planners 😉 Read more
Warm cozy bed, soft light and mild soothing cold; a perfect setting to make me lazy enough not to move out my bed despite being aware of an interesting village outside, that might be wide awake busy with their daily chores. Gathering all my strength, when I opened the door of my room’s balcony, I was wished a lovely morning by the hazy fog spread over the garden. The smell of the wet mud and misty air were all the more refreshing. And the fresh dewdrops made the red roses in the garden look glittery. And to fulfil the need of the background music to this fanciful scenery, Indian Magpie, sunbirds and Indian Rollers chirped in the sweetest way and reminded me of the imaginary fairyland described in some childhood stories. Read more
Munching on a special bhel near the Lumbini bus stand, I was irked by the strong taste of mustard oil in it and was also preparing myself to travel in a jam-packed bus to Kathmandu. And at the back of my mind, I was praying God to send a lady passenger in the next seat so that I can have a peaceful sleep without much worry. Though, Nepal is quite safe when it comes to solo female travel no matter which country you are from, what you are wearing.
“ I arranged girl sit with girl sit, ok mam?” a person in charge informed us in ‘his’ English and did this without even asking for it ! (God really listens? Hahah) Read more
Tranquility and spirituality in the air and the flooding divinity can not only be seen but can also be felt deep within your heart. It doesn’t matter if you are the believer of the faith or not, it would lure you just get a corner along the central canal or in the wilderness of the bird sanctuary.
I didn’t really understand the chanting going on outside the Lumbini Palace, but sitting under the Bodhi Tree, the chanting really felt to be soothing to my mind. The background music of the rustling leaves seemed to be notifying its presence and contribution in invoking the divine energy.
What I loved the most about Lumbini was its blissful surroundings and the desolate trails that led to the pastures spread till my eyes could see. Read more
While devouring the inordinate tranquility in the Buddhist Town of Shravasti, a Srilankan coupled created enough excitement for me to visit Lumbini. I was just a few kilometers away from Nepal border and had no plan of crossing it. But the destiny had different plans. The only train moving to Gorakhpur from Shravasti was delayed by 5 hours and there was no chance I could reach Kushinagar before midnight.
And thus was born an impromptu plan to visit Nepal. Considering that I had no internationally valid ID proof, I was a bit skeptical about the entry. After reaching Nautanwa, I took an auto to reach the border and realised that it wasn’t really a border but looked more like a busy crossroad near Bhindi Bazaar in Mumbai. Read more
Palaces, Forts , luxury and a vivacious culture of the Royal State of India are flashed upon the screen of your mind when you read the word ‘Rajasthan’. The state gives you a glimpse of the Royal Rajputana empire that was known for its gallantry, tradition and extravagant lifestyle. Though tourism has brought most of its colours out to shine, there are many experiences that you miss while just following your fixed itineraries. And this article is aimed to bring before you the hidden jewels and fantastic experiences.
Clicking the iconic step-well with 3500 steps
When the directors of The Dark Night wanted the best geometrically designed prison for the adventure of Batman as a savior, they couldn’t find a better match than this beautiful well constructed centuries back by the Rajput Kings in India’s Rajasthan. The well isn’t only a perfect selfie spot but also the best spot for architecture and sculpture lovers. The step-well, known as ‘Chand Baori’ is located at Abhaneri village. The actual purpose of the well that has a three-storied quarter on one of its sides was to serve as the Summer Holiday Home for the kings of that time. The architectural brilliance keeps it cool during the summers and warm during winters. The step-well even served as a source of drinking water till very recently. The complex around the well has some ancient idols of Hindu Gods and carvings.
It is altogether a different experience roaming around the village of Abhaneri adorned with tiny mud houses where the ladies cook on traditional stoves wearing yellow saris.
Regular buses and private cabs ply Abhaneri which is around 95 km on Jaipur-Delhi Highway.
Walk around India’s Ancient Open Art Galleries
Not too far from the royal city of Jaipur, inhabited the richest merchants who dealt in the business of opium and zari (golden thread) through silk route. The group of villages where they lived came to be known as Shekhavati group of villages. Each of the merchants is said to be richer than even the kings of the then Rajputana Empire. They showed off their richness by decorating the walls of their havelis (royal house) with the frescos depicting the foreign lifestyle and the characters or stories of Indian mythology. A few of them have the ceilings embellished with the real gold sheets. The village of Churu, on the other hand, has a huge haveli with around 11,000 windows. Each village would thus present before you, a new surprise as you walk around the streets awestruck at the paintings.
The merchants had abandoned their havelis when they got the opportunity to settle in the big cities like Kolkata and Mumbai during the British Era. One of the havelis also belongs to one of the richest businessman of United Kingdom, Laxmi Mittal. The best villages to stroll around are Churu, Mandava and Nawalgarh. Rajasthan Tourism Board as well as many travel agencies provide a special package of a tour to these villages. Or else, you can book your stay at Castle Mandawa or ‘Malji ka Kamra’ and ask them to arrange for the heritage walk around these villages. Click here to read more about these havelis if you wish to visit.
Explore the City of Lakes – Udaipur
At the heart of the otherwise a barren land of Rajasthan lays a city adorned with a number of lakes. Udaipur can be called an epitome of luxury and royal beauty. Apart from the splendid palaces, havelis and hotels, the city provides you an excellent ethnic experience. The traditional puppet shows, listening to the folk music at Gangaur Ghat on the lake, visiting the temples are few of such experiences.
Moreover, this is the only city that lets you enjoy a stay right in a middle of a lake. The Taj Lake Palace Hotel at Udaipur is located in the centre of the Lake Pichola with a grand view of the palace on one side and a sprawling range of Arravali Hills on the other. For all the hippie budget travelers, a number of arty hostels are available in the centre of the city.
Sleep under the Stars on the Golden Sand Dunes
Ever wished to wake up to the view of a star-studded ceiling in the middle of the night! That’s exactly what you must expect while camping in the dunes of the Thar Desert in Jaisalmer. While the city itself reflects the golden granules in its pastel yellow architecture, the Thar Desert makes you fall in love with the aridity of the place. Besides camping, the Youth Hostel Association of India gives you option of trekking in the desert and camping on untouched and inaccessible dunes every night.
This would certainly be a lifetime memory and should not be missed at any cost. And my personal recommendation for the backpackers would be to stay in the Free Backpackers’ Hostel run by Dilbar Jaisalmer and he would take care of most of these amazing experiences in Jaisalmer. Or you can contact a local named Kheta for a complete rural experience. Read My Guide to explore the Golden City of Jaisalmer.
Heritage Walk to see the Opulent Havelis in the Lanes of Bikaner
While the haviles at Shekhavati villages would take you on a historic trip of the bygone era, the Rampuria havelis at Bikaner would give a glimpse of the lifestyle of a rich family. It is said that the family was so rich that even the king used to ask for loans at the time of urgent needs. Many families in Bikaner had their own palace like havelis and led a royal life. With intricately carved wall and the doors and style inspired by the British architecture, the Rampuria Havelis makes for a unique antique structure and also resembles the old buildings of the New York City. For some stunning pictures, it should be visited early in the morning.
Get Amazed at the Vibrant Palaces of Bikaner
Grand corridors with artistically painted walls flanked by elegant windows pillars and the antique artifacts add to the aesthetic feel of the Junagadh Palace. The palace is an epitome of artwork and is certainly a masterpiece when it comes to wall-art. The colourful rooms at Lalgarh Palace and Lakshmi Niwas Palace are also equally astonishing. Staying at one these palaces converted into luxury hotels can be an imperial experience.
Witness the Marvelous Marble Architecture of Ranakpur and Mt. Abu
The man-made marvels of Ranakpur and Mt. Abu would definitely leave you awestruck with its delicate designs carved on white shining marbles. The temple is a perfect specimen of dedication, hardwork, patience and spirituality. Both the temples located at a few kilometers away from each other, have been completed only due to the dedication of their builders. The work continued even while their builders came and bade goodbye to this earthly home. The temples would startle you with its flowers, devil faces and other symbols of Jainism carved on pillars, doors, and walls of this place of worship. The audio guide would entertain you with interesting stories behind each figure and carving of the temple. And you would not get enough of it in just one visit, and the sculptures would lure you to keep gazing at them.
Walk Around the Second Longest Wall of the world
The fort , that is the birthplace of the Legend named Maharana Pratap , the brave king of Mewar, is still guarded by a mighty wall fringing the fortified area for 36 kilomters. A walk on this wall, on an early morning, would give you a panoramic view of around 360 Hindu and Jain temples built across the fort and the lofty palace overlooks the vast area at the other end as if guarding the premise that once flourished with the devoted subject of the Rana Kings. The view outside the fort is equally mesmerizing with acres of green fields spread as far as your eyes could see.
Dance on the beats of Folk Music in an Old Haveli
As the sun bids adieu and paints lake Pichola with its vigorous colours in the city of Udaipur, the traditional dancers are all ready in their vibrant attires to give you a glimpse of the astounding culture of Rajasthan. Bagaro ki haveli, tucked on the bank of the Lake Pichola seems abandoned and quiet from its exterior, but the moment you enter, you are welcomed by the soothing sound of the ‘shehnaais’ accompanies with the resonating sound of the ‘dholak’. And the evening is filled with joy as the dancers amaze you with their graceful moves and the jingling anklets. ‘Kalbeliya’, ‘Ghumar’ , ‘Terataali’ , Matki Bhavai’ and other folk dances performed here would take you back to the declined era of Rajputana kings.
Devour the Spiritual Vibes at Pushkar
When the petals of the Hindu God Brahma fell on earth, the town of Pushkar was blessed with the formation of the lakes at the very places. The main lake in the town of Pushkar is now fringed with the serene ‘ghaats’ painted in white and completing just a circle around the lake would acquaint you with the customs of the people belonging to different corners of Rajasthan. While the evening ‘aarti’ the atmosphere turns all the more divine. And in case you choose to be here on a Diwali night, you can expect to see the Ghaats illuminated by thousands of earthen lamps.
The spiritual vibes and the devotion of the people in worshiping the mighty river of Ganga was both astonishing as well as amazing for me. The dark blanket of night was all ready to embrace the dark blue sky, the pundits were all dressed up in saffron, chanting the mantras, offering flowers, garlands and diyas to the flowing Goddess who is the sole beauty amidst the green hills surrounding the valley of Rishikesh. As the aarti started , the flames of hundreds of lamps could be seen spreading the divine charm as the gushing river sparkled in its light as if blessing all her devotees.
The sound of the bells creating a crescendo effect along with the melodious words praising the goddess added to the spiritual aura of Triveni Ghat. But wait, Rishikesh isn’t just about what you think it to be, it is not just a pilgrim, it is a place that leads you to your inner self that might be weeping behind the doors of your mind wrapped around by stress or sadness or an overload of expectations from the society. Read more
“My name is Dolkar and I am from a remote village of Padum region in Zangskar,” said a student who was given the responsibility of taking us around a school campus in Ladakh. “Initially when we joined here, it was too tiring to even take one round of the school, but now, as it is ‘my responsibility’, I got used to it,” she continued. I was surprised to see a young girl like her being so conscious about her responsibility. Moreover, she had just come from a village that is hardly connected to the other parts of the Ladakh region and was now confidently conversing and showing the school campus to the strangers.
The school building seemed quite small and on its entrance I could see a tag that said, ‘The Winner of the Global Awards for Sustainable Architecture’, as I read it curiously, Dolkar clarified that the building was made completely out of mud and it also had the temperature control technique. As we entered, we were stunned looking at the usage of the waste products in making the building. The tetra-packs and the waste papers were stuffed in the glass boxes that can receive at least a little sunlight. This system naturally controlled the temperature of the building mostly at 15 degrees. When I asked who constructed the building so creatively, quickly came the answer that it was the ‘responsibility’ of the students of solar power study.
It was unbelievable that the students of such simple school in the outskirts of Leh doing such unbelievable tasks. It really seemed like ‘3 Idiots’ fame Rancho’s school. And yes. You guessed it right. While most of the tourists flood at the Lotud Druk School where the shooting was done, the real school of Sonam Wangchuk AKA Phunsuk Wangdu is missed by many travelers.
The school accepts only the students who are failed by the conventional academic system. Here, the students are taught in a different manner considering their visual, auditory and motor skills. The moment you enter, you would not find the students with books in their hands but experimenting with the things of their choice.
Let’s take a photo tour inside this campus of the School that focuses more on reading, conversation, creativity, business and science. Challenging the conventional system, these students of Sonam Wangchuk are proving their capability in front of the world.
The school isn’t just a school for the students here, it’s a movement, a revolutionary movement of the Ladakhi students in the field of education and culture. They don’t study to become an engineer, doctor of CA. They just learn to bring change in the barren land of Ladakh. They don’t move away from their culture in race of being modern and avoiding agriculture, but aim that the Ladakhis are benefited by their education and can achieve something without renouncing this barren land.
The 3 R’s is the main motto of the school and the real education for them is being able to create something useful out of the waste brought in by the tourists at Ladakh. And the exercise of their brain begins from here. I remember teaching my VI Grade kids, the meaning of waste, types of waste and waste segregation merely from the textbook, discussions and mere examples . But, this school believes in putting all textual theories into practice. The students back in Mumbai, studying in reputed schools mostly fail to understand it completely, but the Ladakhi students here don’t only understand but also deal with it like a boss. And for your info, students here don’t have to pay a single penny for education. How?? How does the School survive then? Scroll down to know the answer.
This is where it all starts from. Each child listens to the objectives of their school and is vested upon with a ‘responsibility’. The responsibilities range from guiding a campus tour, looking after the kitchen, cleaning the campus, maintaining the green house or the natural refrigerators, manage the electricity supply to the school through solar panels and so on. The school, thus hardly need any employee for the maintenance work and on the other hand, it makes the students feel that the school as their own home and responsibility.
The students are not only taught main subjects but are also taught the values like helping, not lying or cheating, being dedicated to the given task and no gossiping.
As the picture says, the area is of the students, by the students and for the students. The recreational activities range from indoor games to singing and dancing on the traditional songs of Ladakh. The school has the cultural committee that learn the songs from a Ladakhi teacher and later performs in front of the other students, volunteers and guests. Mostly, new students are given the chance to perform so that they develop the confidence and the appreciation of others cab break the ice between them. The dinner which they enjoy together is followed by a news watching session and discussion on several issues.
The students have to decorate or beautify their own rooms along with cleaning and maintaining the same.
At first, the onlookers might be surprised to see the mirror pieces forming a huge concave mirror. Only when you move down in the kitchen, you realise that the sun rays are reflected on the smaller pieces put instead of firewood in a stove. Once you keep a huge vessel of water on the same, the water would remain hot throughout the day. No coal, no wood required ! And what is the investment? just the waste pieces of mirrors from a hotel that opts for renovation and discard the old mirrors. Who created? The students themselves with the guidance of the teachers. Isn’t it what we call ‘education’?
A car house which has a cool balcony in the form of a cozy car seat and the windows. And the cabin is certainly not so tiny as you think. The real room lies under the ground which also keeps it cool in summers and warm in winters. The interior too is really fascinating, check out the next picture for the same.
The mud house has the shelves to keep the things and colourful ventilation window too. And the Tyre has been used the best way. The water in the underground tank doesn’t freeze even in winters, and thus is the most sensible way to have the running water in your cabin.
But, the children here are certainly educated well to make impossible ipossible. During the springs and summer in Ladakh, the green house is built and maintained by the newly enrolled students. The produced vegetables are then directly supplied into the school kitchen and the excess are stored in the natural underground fridge where the temperature is always maintained below eight degrees. The veggies that are the monopolies of hotter regions are thus easily grown in these make shift low-cost green houses.
The system isn’t only practised by the school but is also taught to the farmers all across Ladakh. If you would ever opt for a home stay, such green houses are specially found in all Ladakhi homes. While the students in the city just draw the Green House Effect diagrams and score ten on ten, these kids are able to put it into practice. And even teach it to their family members.
This is done apart from other scientific methods used in normal farms in the school. The students maintain the poultry farm and the cows that provide fresh milk to them. And when you end the campus tour, you would be served the tea made of such fresh cow milk !
The ancient system at Shantiniketan having open classrooms amidst the nature is well-known, but in the barren land of Ladakh creating such a shadowy place in a school is a challenging task. It might have taken years to create such a wonderful arbour of huge trees but this place must be the most memorable one for most of the students and volunteers who spend their evenings in English conversation classes under these thickets.
Won’t you love your job when every morning you are greeted by a blooming flowerbed and bushes right out of your quarter at your work place? So, being a teacher in this school is equally wonderful as being a student.
Those cabins were just the quarters of some solar studies graduates in the school, but, wait till you enter the rooms. The rooms are now the power stations which transmit the electronic energy generated by the solar panels installed in the campus. Obviously, you can’t expect the usual solar panels in this school. The panels here detect the direction of the sunlight and rotate itself in order to make the most efficient use of the available sunlight throughout the day.
Yes!! That bottle filled with sand is the door closer with ‘Zero’ investment. And you can even try doing the same with your office doors.
The school students have brought laurels by setting up successful start ups under the mentoring of the school faculties. One such well-known example is Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company that has also been appreciated by BBC Travel. A team of students have also been successful in making artificial Stupa at Phey.
Sonam Wangchuk is soon coming up with a new institution named The University of Alternative studies – Ladakh. The business studies students here would be running their own business firms while the architecture students will design and construct the buildings for people and for themselves. Isn’t it how we all wish to learn the things?
Certainly, the future of the Ladakhi kids is too bright.
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Volunteering at different organizations in India can be a way of traveling on a budget while you contribute to the betterment of the future of this country. There are many famous organisations that receive a huge number of volunteers and also charge for the same. While others, who are not so famous on internet, go unnoticed. While managing travel expenses is the problem for most of the backpackers, such organisations come to their rescue who provide them the basic necessities in exchange of their service to the institution.
Here by I would try to put forward the needy institutes that provide the best volunteering opportunities for the travelers in India. Please note that I am putting only those organisations which are not too famous with people and really need the volunteers.
While it would help you spend less along with a great experience, it is a moral responsibility that you devote to the work at the institutions sincerely. Those who would be identified as taking the opportunities for granted and not working sincerely shall be immediately dismissed. Read more
I had specially chosen Smanla Guest House apart from Goji Villa for my stay at Leh. It would probably be the best place away from the hustle and bustle of the market. Only the beautiful location and views do not make it the best place to stay, but also the expertise of the owner in Tibetan medicines makes it an interesting place to stay. So, if don’t want simply roam aroundLeh-Ladakh and spend your time in learning something, then call up Amchi Tsewang now and you would be all set to go in search of medicinal plants in the high hills of this desert land.