Har ki Dun uttarakhand

Har ki Dun

I rounded a curve and stopped in my tracks. From left to right stood peak after peak, slopes covered in thick green pines; here and there a slash of white to announce a frozen waterfall. My eyes weren’t used to seeing such things – a scene that looked untouched since the time of creation.

This was my first trek up North. We were heading to Har ki Dun (loosely translated as the Valley of Shiva), located in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Our guide, Srichand Rana, would smile and say “Bas, chalte raho, chalte raho,” when one of us, in more mental agony than physical, would ask him “How much further????” I must have asked him that question many times on the first day of the trek. I reminded myself of a child in the car, incessantly asking “Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet??” Our first day started in Taluka, and we followed the course of the Supin river as it led us through deep forests and rocky climbs, to the small village of Seema.

By the second day, my body seemed keen to start walking. The crisp, fresh air and bright sun called to every bone in me – get out and get moving! From Seema, we set out to reach our campsite, Har-ki-Dun. The second day’s climb was tougher than the first, but I enjoyed the view much more. We followed the trail as it wound around the mountain, traversing fields of wheat, forests of birch and pine, and the occasional flock of goat and sheep; the beauty cannot be described.

In the mountains, a whole year passes in a day; and a day stretches endlessly. Summer, Monsoon and Winter came and went in a span of 24 hours. I learnt how to tell the weather by looking at the sky, instead of my phone. I learnt how to smell the rain 30 minutes before it came down. I learnt how a clear, baby-blue sky dotted with cotton clouds, could turn dark and cold in under 10 minutes. I learnt that the best way to wait out a small hailstorm was to wait under a thick tree, while hugging my freezing hands under my armpits. I learnt that a poncho is useless in a mountain shower – the wind blows it up in your face and you often can’t see where you’re placing your foot. I also learnt that you can keep going, long after you think you can’t. And believe me, I was close to giving up on the first day, after a hailstorm.

On the evening of the second trekking day, we reached our campsite.

As we were sitting in the kitchen tent and having some much-needed chai, one of us saw a big, white mist come rolling down the plain. “What’s that, what is happening?” someone said. Turns out it was a cloud, making its own climb to the ice-capped peaks. For close to an hour, we were dipped in a thick white mist. It was like something out of a supernatural movie! This was also the first time I saw snow fall! Our third day, spent at camp, was a peaceful one where everyone was free to do what they wanted. Towards sunset, the weather suddenly turned very, very cold, with a chilled wind cutting through my face. A group of us were sitting inside the kitchen tent, huddled together for warmth, and we were all sharing stories and chatting. Suddenly, it went quiet outside; the wind had dropped and not a sound could be heard. I stepped outside to see the most magical sight I have seen – soft snow, falling silently. The tree tops, the tents, the grass beneath my feet – everything was white.

After a brief snow fight (toooooooo much fun!) we all snuggled into our warm tents and slept soundly. The next day, we were to pack up and start our walk back the way we came. This time, the trek seemed much shorter and more enjoyable, mostly because we were familiar with the route.

While walking back, the one thing I kept thinking was “I wish I could bottle up this crisp, clean air and take it back with me.” The weird smell that city air carries with it was not something I was looking forward to. The water that we drank during the trek came from the river – sparkling clear, with a chilled, crisp taste of the kind that no bottled water can ever give.

In short, the mountains left their mark and I’m absolutely sure I will be visiting again soon. Thank you, WeGoBond, Sejal Mehta Srichand Rana and the entire crew for making it an unforgettable experience.

Image credit – Amita Major and Jyothi Jayan Warrier

Meghalaya diaries

I signed up for the Meghalaya trip blindly due to my faith in WeGoBond(having done the unforgettable Bhutan trip with them) and the trip leader and good friend Sejal.

Day 1:

Ganga and I landed in Guwahati at 18:00 PM. I always fancied having someone stand at the airport holding a placard with my name on it. So eagerly I scanned the jostling placards…no luck…apparently I am quite recognizable… not sure which vital statistics of mine were described to the charming guide Kulen who was waiting.

Serpentine roads, pleasant weather and lots of wine bars dotted the 3 hour journey to Shillong. I suffer from motion sickness and sure enough began to feel nauseous. Prayers to Goddess Hygieia (health) and we reached the charming Aerodene cottage; our stay in Shillong. We could not meet the rest of the group who were out exploring Shillong as we were the last to arrive (why…a story to be told for another day…do I hear Sejal sniggering as she reads this). A simple yet delish meal awaited us. Got introduced to the vegetable squash and I am a fan for life.

Day 2:

Come morning and looked like the rain gods responded instead of Goddess Hygieia…you think proxy works in the heavens?? The skies opened and heavy rains showered. My heart sank…all my lovely clothes more suited for the beach were now in vain. Out came the really ugly rain poncho which made me look like a cross between superman and bat man. I am vain and make no bones about it. So the rain poncho gave me a lot of grief.

At breakfast we met up with the rest of the group. Few were WW repeaters. Over the course of the trip we bonded over our fondness for laughter, wit, travel, tomfoolery, food…the list is endless. We were 12 in total split between 4 Innovas. The incessant rain accompanied us to the Mawphlang Sacred forest. The entrance is guarded by megaliths or giant stones believed to be centuries old. These are protected forests and a lot of stories and legends abound the area. We walked in to the canopy of trees and were transported to a different world – the velvet moss covered fallen logs, little brooks, shrubs glistening with water droplets, ancient burials and the veil of the mist was a picture to behold. We spied a pine tree (I forget the name) an endangered species which seeds once in 300 yrs. It is now 273 years old.

The guide updated us on the Khasi culture. I asked the guide if he would wear the traditional attire for his wedding, he said, “Nope! I will wear a tux.” J So much for traditions!!!

We then decided to embark on the David Scott trail which is a 16 km trek….. Too ambitious, the rains had made the grounds slippery…we lost a couple of members as they had encountered the ground rather painfully and decided to return to the warmth of the vehicles. The rest of us decided to trudge along. The valley looked lovely and I am sure it would have been awe-inspiring on a clear day. But this trek is probably not for amateurs. We collectively decided to abandon the trek, took the obligatory pictures and returned to our vehicles.

We lunched at Café Shillong Heritage, Tripura Castle. Great ambience, good food (Bastenga- local food) and totally recommended. I got talking to the manager and was told that the Tripura prince loves dogs and the castle is home to 147 mongrels. It’s a dog’s world I guess!

Post lunch some opted to repose and the rest visited one of the oldest churches in Meghalaya – All Saints Cathedral, a charming church rebuilt in the early 1900s. We also visited Shillong Catholic Cathedral but we could have given it a miss unless we wanted to sound out the Weather God.

We dined at the rooftop nightclub Cloud 9. Live music, good food, whiskey sours (thanks Shilpa J) and laughter – great combination so fun times it was.

Day 3:

The weather was the same…rains…by now we were getting kinda used to it. After breakfast, off we went to the local market, Bara bazaar. It was wet and dirty. Only the vibrant vegetables added color to the drab atmosphere. Plus in the narrow alleys, I was trying to maneuver with a large golf umbrella and ended up dripping rainwater into the local folks’ hot chais…the dirty looks I got…I scuttled out pretty quick. Stopped at Bata for rain proof sandals as both my sets of shoes were sodden and stank to the heavens.

We proceeded to Elephanta falls which is a waterfall in three stages. Due to the rains the falls were in full force. The falls are lovely but the crowded area, touristy and cemented look around it took away the beauty. The weather was a bit of a dampener so we circumvented and did a quick tour. Sonia and her daughters Nadine and Mallika hired the traditional costumes and made a colourful picture.

Cherrapunji: I was excited…my geography lessons and now I get to see the wettest place on Earth and it totally lived up to its title. We lunched at Orange Roots which was a South Indian restaurant. Being from the South, I was like… seriously rice and sambhar in Cherrapunji!!!

We reached Polo Orchid Resort our accommodation for the next 2 days. This resort is located opposite the famous Nongsithiang Waterfalls (also called Seven sister falls). A breathtaking sight I am sure but the heavy mist totally obscured our viewing. The hotel had comfortable large rooms but lacked the character of Aerodene Cottage. The food was good and the staff courteous. That day was wasted due to the heavy rains. We were a bit tired from the road trip. By this time I had discovered Avomine tabs and my serpentine journeys were now enjoyable. In the evening, we grouped in one of the rooms as was our customary habit to chill and listen to Dia belt out yet another song which was always a delight. Another day ended.

Day 4:

This day turned out to be one of the most memorable days for us. At 6:00 AM we ventured out to see the Seven Sister falls. For our luck there was a break in weather and briefly the veils of the mist parted to give us a glimpse of the magnificent falls. I could see about 5 strands before the mist covered the view. But I was elated.

We then proceeded to see the fourth highest waterfall in the world. Falling from a height of 1,100 feet, Nohkalikai Falls are spectacular. But no luck, the mist decided to play hide and seek. Armed with hot chais, we stared intently in to the mist hoping for a glimpse but the viewing proved elusive.

Our next stop, the Mawsmai caves. The tourists are allowed to access up to 150 mtrs of the limestone caves. The caves were not lit so we used our mobile flashlights, kicked off our shoes though I hung on to my “Bata” sandals and entered the caves. It involved a lot of body contouring to proceed through…I thanked my yoga teacher…to his horror it took me a month to touch my toes J We all loved the experience and the challenge. The stalactites formations were interesting. Hats off to Jyothi who lugged her heavy camera in to the caves to take the pictures.

We returned to the hotel, breakfasted and set off to view the double decker bridge. The double-decker and single-decker root bridges are unique to Meghalaya, some are believed to be about 500 years old and are grown not built!

Now, I had not done homework before I embarked on my Meghalaya journey. So I went to see the living roots bridge with no pre-conceived notion which according to me is the best thing I have ever done. Usually I read up or do a lot of research before a holiday that I am constantly correcting guides and get dirty looks for my earnestness.

We reached the starting point of our trek. We were told that to reach the bridge we need to cross 3500 steps. Gulp!!! A sprightly young guide Frederick joined us. He has sometimes made the journey more than a couple of times a day. Goodness!!

Rough cemented steps are created for the tourists. But I am thinking they miscalculated the average foot size and I found myself walking sideways. The steps are almost vertical on the way down and if you look at it…your head may reel. So we literally just concentrated one step at a time. Mild showers helped cool us down. Liane who is in to fitness and I whose idea of exercise is looking at other people exercise went ahead. The vista was fantastic and the climb challenging. Not many tourists attempt this climb so most times we were alone in the rain forests. After about an hour, we came upon a steel cable bridge. It was a sight to behold. The rapids and rocks that we could view under the bridge were scary. I set off and the bridge got wobbly. I absolutely loved it. We crossed yet another cable bridge.

We began to tire and just when we thought we need to rest and take a breather…through the branches of the trees…we suddenly had our first glimpse of the double decker bridge. We instinctively looked at each other and with a renewed burst of energy scrambled up the steps to view the bridge.

The sheer rawness of nature, the stark beauty…. I do not have words to describe the visual treat, the click says it all. The rest of the team joined us at varied intervals. We soothed our feet in the swirling waters. The trek back to the starting point was a test to our endurance. Climbing 3500 steps….I was lucky to spot an eighty year old man ahead of me and with this inspiration I was able to reach in record time. Arpita was the last to reach but a hot cup of tea revived her pretty quick and she was back to her bubbly self. Needless to say, that was our last activity for the day.

Day 5:

After the trek the previous day, we were in agony, unused muscles made their presence known. Most of us were walking in a disjointed manner. Even lifting the foot to take a step forward involved a lot of effort. We left Cherrapunji and drove to Langkawet a remote village. We stayed in rustic cottages and bonded over hot food.

Baccardi resulted in “new” friends much to Suprr’s disgust. J The rains followed us. Some opted for a short trek in the rain. I opted for the warm bed and sank in to oblivion only to be rudely awakened two hours later by Sejal because she was bored and wanted to talk. I had a good mind to push her out in the rain and continue with my sleep. But I am ‘sweet’ as is often told to me, obliged and probably bored her with my outbursts J

During the trip, my aunt often referred to me as ‘Princess’ which loosely translated to – get off your high horse and come down to earth girl. But the term caught on and I was teased mercilessly. I have a problem… if someone gives me a pseudo name I begin to act like one. So many had to put up with my “princess” behavior but I am not to be blamed. I was just living up to my name J I am now called pumpkin but optimistic me is behaving like Cinderella at the ball rather than look in to the mirror and get a reality check.

Day 5 was at leisure which is good after the amazing treks the previous day.

Day 6:

We proceeded towards Shillong. En route we stopped to see the single living roots bridge. It is a short trek and the bridge is spectacular. We visited the cleanest village in Asia; Mwallynong. It was a lovely stroll through the mist. I fell in love with the quaint church there. The cute children playing in the lanes warmed our heart. We had the option of trekking to an abandoned village but by now I had removed the word ‘trek’ from my dictionary. I was like there must be a good reason that the village is abandoned let us respect that and keep away.

Post lunch we reached Shillong. The rain had lessened and we had brief dry spells. Evening we roamed the bazaars for keepsakes for family and friends. A good night’s rest followed by breakfast, it was now time to bid goodbye.

Day 7:

As we sped to the Guwahati airport, we glimpsed the impressive Umiam lake which is a reservoir. We stopped at Ri Kynjai, a luxury getaway resort. The unusual architecture, interiors and scenic beauty makes it a must visit. We had authentic Assamese food at Paradise in Guwahati.

I like travelling and now that I do not have as much responsibilities as my kids are all grown up I indulge. I had never been to the North East of India and Meghalaya seemed like a good start. I came away with a lot of memories. Yes, the rains inconvenienced us…yes…our clothes and shoes were constantly damp…yes we could not view some of the falls which was a bummer. But what I experienced was a way of life. As we sit in our AC cabins and crib away at little things, school kids brave the rains and go to school. They have 2 sets of clothes with them always; wet and dry. People are out in the rain doing their chores. Wheel barrows are fashioned out of wood and used. Bridges are grown. The roads are so well maintained. If there is a landslide within hours it is cleared. I never imagined that I would do the 7000+ steps in record time, I totally impressed myself. Of course it does not take much for me to get impressed J but I surpassed my expectations. Old friendships just got stronger. The visual treat that is Meghalaya was soothing to the soul. I appreciate vegetarian fare now. I learnt from my fellow travelers and have tucked away all the little memories which will remain etched in my memory for a long time. I did not think I would miss my hideous rain poncho but I did.

So thank you WW for providing yet another memorable holiday and so much more…muahhhh!


I found my mecca – memories of spiti valley

Some places touch the eyes…and some, the heart!

It was a February night when I lay on my bed, checking my Facebook alerts, etc., and I came across this group called WeGoBondthat was conducting a 10-day trip to Spiti Valley. I have to confess, I had not even heard of this place before that moment. But, you know, how they say that there are some people who you may meet for the first time, but it still feels like you’ve known them forever…I felt this convinced about and connected to Spiti Valley as soon as I just read the name and saw a couple of pictures of the place. Yes, it, indeed, was like a ‘love at first sight’ kind of an affair!

And, things were just meant to be and let this love affair click. Within just a couple of hours, I wrote to Shibani, got the details…and…I was set to take the trip.

The entire experience of Spiti Valley is way beyond words, and definitely beyond the photos that the best of photographers could capture. You simply can’t get enough of the place. The extremes and extremities of nature’s wonders — from the enormity of the mountains, to the silent, yet strong rivers, to the lush greenery — this journey has it all. It’s impossible to fathom the extremities that this place brings with it. Also, there is this huge element of raw and rustic flavour — from the food, to the simplicity in the lifestyle — that, literally, makes you realise how far away you are from the basic, untouched, yet beautiful realities of life. This place doesn’t just simply let you breathe fresh air, it, literally, makes you breathe simplicity and the pure and untouched side of life.

Of course, ironically, once I was back from the trip, I was back to the hustle and bustle of daily life…making me miss the peace, calm and simplicity even more. Even today (practically two months after the trip), whenever I am relaxing while doing yoga, I, literally, have the breathtakingly beautiful view of ChandraTaal lake right in front of my eyes. It’s like a bout of withdrawal that I experience so often.

While I can get into the details of each and every place that we visited, I would prefer not doing so, as it may just act like a spoiler and give away so much about the place. One of the 13 lovely ladies on the trip aptly said, “Dil hi nahi bharta hai” (the heart just can’t get enough of this place!). And, I totally echo that sentiment. There is just something about this place that makes you want more, more, and lots more of it.

The one other really amazing thing that Spiti has done to me is that it has reawakened my love and passion for travelling, which had taken a backseat because of the way one runs around in life and is constantly keeping pace with a number of personal affairs, professional commitments, and just that unknown, unexplainable thing that stops you from packing your bag.

I would go far as saying that Spiti is like the Mecca for all lovers of nature and peace — it would be a sin if you miss being here, at least, once in your life.

To conclude, all I can say is — Spiti, thank you so much for making me realise that finally, it’s time to stop…time to pack…and time to soak in the joys of travelling and the wonders of nature.

WeGoBondAndretta, Himachal Pradesh tour

I had always wanted to travel, but as a single woman I had no idea how to go about it. Then I saw a post by WeGoBondin a Facebook group regarding an all-women tour to Andretta, Himachal Pradesh. The funny thing is, I have never travelled before, and had never even heard of this place Andretta! But I got this positive gut feeling about this tour, so I immediately booked my spot. My excitement grew day by day as the date of our departure neared. I would be travelling with a group of other women travellers, and the idea of this all-women trip sounded so much fun!

And finally it was time to leave! There is no doubt that there was magic in the air the night we left. I got my favorite berth–the side upper—in the train from Delhi to Pathankot. Yeah!! Andretta is a four-hour drive from Pathankot and there were Innovas booked to take us there. The atmosphere had a feel-good element to it, and of course I was happy and excited… But when we reached the home-stay booked for us, I was left breathless…

It was drizzling lightly, and everything looked so bright and fresh… The cheerful chirping of the birds… Dainty cottages set in the foothill of a small hill… The narrow footpath leading to the cottages lined with flowering shrubs on both sides… The air heavy with the scent of spring blossoms and the fragrance of the wet earth… Wow!! Just how surreal everything was! I felt as if I had walked right into some children’s fairy-tale!

I kind of went into the real-life mode at the meal time. I am a vegan, and how convenient would it be for me to get a decent vegan meal? I need not have worried! To my surprise, the kitchen staff, and even the owners of the cottage took extra efforts to ensure that I felt at home. Over the course of our stay, they actually made many special vegan dishes for me in addition to what were by default vegan–ratatouille, apple crumble with coconut flakes, raw fruit cake with spicy ginger syrup, banana ice cream with choco sauce n almonds, vegetable pie, and sandwiches with home-baked vegan bread!! Wow!!

Andretta’s such a beautiful place, all calm and peaceful—away from the hustle-bustle of city life. I went for long walks and discovered a couple of streams, trekked over a small hill, observed the greenery and flowers, watched the birds, and took a lot of pictures. WeGoBondhad also booked pottery classes for us.

Andretta’s such a beautiful place, all calm and peaceful—away from the hustle-bustle of city life. I went for long walks and discovered a couple of streams, trekked over a small hill, observed the greenery and flowers, watched the birds, and took a lot of pictures. WeGoBondhad also booked pottery classes for us.

The highlight of the tour was the paragliding. I will never forget the drive to Bir-Billing. Those narrow, precariously winding www.viagrasansordonnancefr.com mountain roads… The light drizzle, the wispy white clouds floating by… The Rhododendron trees in full bloom, studded with blood red flowers–a pop of color in the dreamy, misty atmosphere of the hills… The excitement kept on building until it was time to actually paraglide—what an awesome experience it was! Floating above the green hills, with snow-capped mountain ranges glistening silver in the background, the huge Rhododendron trees looking like rose bushes below you, the cool mountain air caressing your face… So exhilarating-totally out of the world!!

By the time we boarded the train back to Delhi, I was totally exhausted but deeply fulfilled. The experience was so rejuvenating and spiritually uplifting. I sincerely feel blessed to have been on this trip, and am eagerly looking forward to travel with WeGoBondagain.

WeGoBondHimachal-Pradesh tour

I recently had a chance to spend a long weekend in the small artisan’s village in Himachal Pradesh called Andretta. Let me start off by saying it was wonderful! A perfect weekend getaway which offers a variety of activities ranging from Paragliding to simply lazing around at the home-stay with absolutely nothing to do other than imbibe the beauty around you and hope to carry some of it back with you at the end of the weekend.

We started our journey by arriving in Pathankot via train and then started out on a four hour drive to Andretta village. I love the mountains. They make me feel calm and content with life and help me forget any troubles that I may have in my everyday life. I felt the familiar calm settled over me as soon as we started our drive to Andretta. The drive was stunning to say the least! Himachal Pradesh was seeing unseasonable rain for that time of the year and so, as far as I was concerned, the overcast skies simply added to the beauty of the journey.

As lovely as the journey was, my joy was doubled once I saw the home-stay that we were going to live in for the weekend. The Mirage is a beautiful place set in a lane off of the main road in Andretta and is surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers. The home-stay is made up of several lovely cottages; all done up beautifully and in good taste. The owners, Dennis and Dolly, make you feel right at home with good home cooked meals and great company. You can go for breakfast to the dining are and spend the morning looking out for beautiful birds and a great view of the snow covered mountains around you.

Himachal Pradesh saw unseasonable rain in March. So we arrived in Andretta in the midst of a lot of rain that carried on for a better part the three days that we were there. I am not sure, but that may have been a reason for the amount of snow that we saw on the mountains around us. Honestly, while I was there, a whole lot of conversation was not on my mind. It was just too beautiful to ask for a lot of information on the place. I was content to sit back and enjoy the beauty around me. However, with the weather being what it was, we were a little worried about whether we would be able to go through with the paragliding program or not.

Andretta is a lovely place to go on walks and treks. I chose the former and got to see some lovely little spots hidden down unassuming paths. During our stay there we walked through some fields and got an even more stunning view of the snow covered peaks. on the whole a very pleasant couple of evenings spent walking around the village.

Very close to The Mirage is Andretta Pottery, which is what Andretta is famous for. They make some of the most amazing blue pottery and have won several accolades for it. Our trip organiser, WeGoBond, arranged for one day of pottery classes with them. Sitting for those pottery classes was a revelation in itself. Surprisingly, pottery is a very calming process. Our teacher, Shubham, told me that unless you are feeling calm and focused, it was very difficult to get any step right in the process. And it was really believable. Centering that lump of clay felt like I really needed to be centered. The whole process makes you think of nothing other than the task at hand and it was oddly liberating. I did manage to create my first bit of pottery (though I admit it was with a lot of help from Shubham). It was amazing how we would all struggle with all our might with every step and de-shape the clay and he would just come along and set it right with one hand – ONE hand!!!!! All thanks to Shubham though for making the experience so amazing!

After a lot of crossed fingers and toes and various limbs and several prayers offered to the weather Gods, we finally got a beautiful bright and sunny day to go paragliding! We left early on the morning to get to the Paragliding sight in Bir-Billing. Bir and Billing are two villages in the Dauladhar mountain range in Himachal Pradesh that are known as the second best site in the world and the best site in Asia for Paragliding. You take off from Billing at a height of 2400 meters and land in Bir, which is about 1000 meters lower. It is only an hour and half’s journey at best from Andretta and was our final destination before leaving for our home towns. The Gods had finally smiled upon us and we were going to get a chance to go paragliding.

An what an experience it was! We were of course going to go tandem with more experienced pilots. And they really seemed to know what they were doing. We were harnessed up and ready to literally run off a cliff! I take a pause here to tell you about the amazing Rhododendrons that we saw all the way to Billing. Apparently, due to the crazy weather there weren’t as many flowers as there usually are during that time, and having seen what I have, I cannot imagine what the mountains would look like when in full bloom. It was spectacular. They say that entire mountain sides turn red during the season.

And then we took off! It felt like I was flying! The wind was rushing all around me and there were no sounds to be heard 2400 meters up in the air. The view was amazing all around us and all we had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride quite literally. I didn’t want the ride to end! And to make it all a little more interesting our pilots did a small trick and took us whirling down almost to the base at Bir. Then, touch down. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I can only compare it to going scuba diving in the Andamans which was just as amazing!

And just like that our trip was coming to an end. We packed up and got into our cars for the four hour drive back to Pathankot railway station to get back to Delhi and then onto our hometowns. Thank you Andretta for giving us such a wonderful time. And yes, Thank you WeGoBondfor organizing such a fabulous tour for us and making it all so easy for us. I hope to do another trip with you soon. As for Andretta, I am definitely going back again, even if it is just for another weekend!

Blog reproduction from Neha Sharma’s blog at www.amfootlooseandfancy-free.blogspot

Windswept galle

When I was about seven, I think, and it was my first time visiting Mumbai (then Bombay), I believed that every alley and every street would somehow dead-end into the Arabian Sea. Imagine my disappointment, then, to find that most of Bombay dead-ended into a snarl of traffic somewhere instead of dead-ending into the ocean!

Finally, donkeys’ years later, to my utter joy, I discovered Galle Dutch Fort – a UNESCO heritage site of a fortified city surrounded by ramparts on all sides, built by the Dutch somewhere in the 17th century. And here was at last, a childhood dream come true – where every street, yes, every street and every alley dead-ended into the Sea! Even streets like these, with mildewed, sepia-toned walls…!

But first the Dutch fort itself – colored ominous grey on a rainy afternoon in October. And what is the first edifice to be built by any race to inhabit a new land? It is usually and always a Church, or a temple – in other words, a place of worship.

So here it was – the Dutch Reformed Church – standing tall against a rainy sky.

So, if you like me, love Europe, for all its cobble-stoned beauty, you would find yourself mesmerized by Galle. As holiday romances go, this is one such that you would want to keep coming back to. All of cobble-stoned Galle is lined with pretty little cafes, restaurants, knick-knack stores selling all sorts of things you don’t ever really need, but want (and how badly!!), and gems, of course (for which Sri Lanka is so famous). While I had the propensity of spending another half a day inside the Barefoot store at Galle, what really had me like a kid in a candy store was the ‘Stick No Bills’ Village poster store. (I have been a stationery addict for as long as I can remember!)

As atmospheric little seaside cobble-stoned towns go, there is little that compares to Galle. SO much so, that I decided to come back for one more day’s worth of stay, after Tangalle! And here’s where we stayed at – Fortaleza Hotel. What’s not to like about a hotel that has a cafe with distressed walls that look like this and a room with muslin mosquito nets hanging from a four poster and a porthole of a window?

Galle, you little charmer of a seaside town, you. You have me under your spell. Who says charm is the Irishman’s middle name? The title, you gentlemen, now belongs to Galle – undisputably.

And all of this made possible by my wonderful friend, and the intrepid little travel venture she leads, by the name of WeGoBondgetaways

Blog reproduction from Mohana Talapatras blog at www.itinerantgirl.com


The train was moving out of the station and there they were – waving goodbye. What was I doing, going off alone with a bunch of women I had never set eyes on before? But now it was too late to back out from this only-women trip to Khajuraho, Panna and Bandhavgarh organised by WeGoBond. An advertisement on Facebook two months ago had prompted me to sign up for it on a whim.

The group was split into two locations in the compartment, in an unequal ratio. The sound of laughter guided us to the larger group where we were invited to sit till it was time to sleep. A round of introductions later I was surprised to find myself at ease with these unknowns. They all seemed very much to be PLU (People like Us). This little group of nine women (one had dropped out at the last moment) had a loud voice, though! Our neighbours however, did not seem to be complaining…in fact, we made friends right away with two other women in the same compartment who were foreigners, immediately had an oops! moment, realising they could follow Hindi, and followed it up with an exchange of cards.
So, well begun is half done, they say. The chatter continued the next day when we reached the Ken River Lodge, about 25 kms away from Khajuraho. It was picture perfect! The dining area had a superb view of the river and was populated by friendly dogs, some abandoned, some stray. And out came the cameras-first for the cute doggies and only then for the view 🙂 The cottages were mud coloured and blended seamlessly into the overgrown jungle-like surroundings. But the insides were modern (thank God!), with facilities you’d find at any modern hotel and delicious food at every meal to boot!

And then we were off to see the temples. And they didn’t disappoint! The thousand year old temples build by the Chandelas had carvings on them that were so intricate we could see the folds in a dress and visualise each dancer. The group of temples remained hidden till the 19th century when a Britisher accidentally chanced upon it. The erotica of course seemed overrated and the few images we found were repeated in patterns. Being in a women’s only group kept the comments coming, though!

The evening saw us taking a boat ride on the river in the mellow evening sun which set in splendour. The river is home to crocodiles or magars but we were told that the water level being low, they had migrated upstream for the season. Nevertheless, we kept an eye out for the one that did not follow the crowd! The iridescent wings of the stork-billed kingfisher caught our eye as it flew past our boats as also a crow pheasant. A number of snake birds or cormorants could also be seen as well as herons and wagtails. We got off mid-river at a little rocky outcrop and what a view of the sunset it was! Cameras clicking away furiously, we tried to capture the beauty of nature.

Later in the night, while having our dinner out above the river, the subject somehow turned to ghost stories. Ajeet, the manager of the lodge, obliged us with some chilling tales. Sitting in the darkness (we had switched off the lights to discourage insects), listening to the night sounds of the wilderness with the river glistening below us in the moonlight, it was the perfect end to a lovely evening.
By the second day, the group had become comfortable with each other. The two sisters, the pretty one, the garrulous one, the silent one, the loud one, the granny with an attitude…we all had our mental pictures about each one. The plan was to visit the Panna sanctuary to try and see the tigers and be at Khajuraho for the dance festival in the evening. The group was in two jeeps in the cold morning as we entered the sanctuary. Friendly banter about who in the group would be our lucky charm to be able to spot the tiger kept us warm. The contest was between two ladies, both of whom had had tiger sightings multiple times. Luckily for us, both were in separate jeeps and both of us got to watch not only a tigress but two cubs too as bonus! Our luck held and we were able to see a croc also as well as two cute chinkaras. The good mood continued as we discovered we had a birthday girl in our midst! An impromptu cake and a terrace party with the gang were the highlights of the day. We tried to get a gift from the local village but discovered the markets were closed on account of elections but perseverance paid and we were able to get a locally made ghanti. The whacko idea of ringing the bell and singing “Tune maari entry aur dil mein baji ghantiyan..” was unique to say the least.

The evening saw us at the temples once again where we were treated to beautiful renditions of Bharat Natyam and Chhau/Kathak. The gentle evening with a balmy breeze, sitting in front of ancient temples that formed the backdrop for the performances left us mesmerised. And of course, a bit of souvenir shoppping kept our spirits up! Dinner at Raja Cafe rounded up a perfectly happy day.

And then it was time to move to Bandhavgarh for the final leg of our trip. We started leisurely and reached our home for the next two nights in the afternoon. And what a resting place! The King’s Lodge lived up to its name. The unobstrusive but luxurious surroundings in the midst of a carefully cultivated jungle took our breath away. And none of those buffet lunches; we were served at an enormous table and ate our fill of the most delicious foods. A little paddle pool near the entrance looked cool and inviting which everyone noted for later. Even the 500m walk to our respective cottages seemed exciting! Stories of tigers and leopards straying into hotel areas, sightings of snakes etc kept us on our toes while walking to the dining area in the night. The light of the lanterns hardly seemed enough.
The Gang of Girls became notorious with the other diners though for our uproarious laughs and loudness. The noisy game of guessing sun-signs, the heated no-holds barred debate on Amitabh Bachchan did not endear us to the rest of the visitors, I guess, but we were having so much fun it didn’t seem important enough.

After a night punctuated by jackal calls and owl hoots, it was at the crack of dawn that we were at the Bandhavgarh National Park. The lushness of the surroundings, the purity of the air and the flora were like soothing balms to our city sensibilities. The two jeeps again kept up the banter on who is going to be the lucky one but it turned out that neither of us were able to spot the great beast -the tiger. However, the spotted deer, the blossom headed parakeets and boars and an almost invisible sand grouse kept us entertained. The strangler vines, the ‘ghost’ gum tree and the stories of animal-human interaction added to the atmosphere.

A surprise awaited us that evening-dinner in the outdoors with a bonfire. What fun! And as the logs burned, songs were played and dance was done and as we moved towards the table, another surprise- a memento of the trip! A mug with our names printed on it and the WeGoBondlogo on it, with a little note that said a few words about each of us and asked for our feedback on handmade paper. It was so sweet!

And it was almost time to go back. We were already feeling nostalgic – about Parul’s coffee press, Charu’s bandana, Vandy’s inimitable dancing style, Asha and her cat stories, Medha and Chandra-the two sisters, Rohini’s ghost imitation and most of all Shibani’s gentleness. The ride back to the station saw us exchanging numbers and forming a WhatsApp group, with promises to meet again.

I felt like Goldilocks-the group size was just right, the age group was just right too and the trip duration was the correct fit. Hats off to WeGoBondfor getting it all correct. I now have a group of people I know much more about than so many of my so-called friends, I had a great time and went to all the places I wanted to. Looking back, I wonder why I had any misgivings in the first place!

madhya-pradesh tour

Great company, fun adventures….
The Journey

We were nine ladies – cutting across ages, cultures and cities but united in our determination to enjoy our little holiday together. We chose the night train to Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh for its convenience and by 8:30 we had set off.

Imagine a compartment full of enthusiastic strangers getting to know one another, snacking, assessing their sleeping arrangements and chatting up other travellers (hi Elisabeth and Antara) – all at the same time! I had been a little apprehensive at first about holidaying with strangers (I had never done that before) but was at ease very soon. Everyone was chatty and friendly.

By 9 the next morning we were packed into two Innovas. After some strategic jostling for the ‘best’ seats, we set off from Khajuraho for Panna. The easy camaraderie made way for colourful conversation on rurban India, lush mustard fields, milch cows and the quality of roads. After navigating an impossibly bumpy stretch, we reached our destination two hours after we set off from Khajuraho station.

Panna, Madhya Pradesh

The Ken River Lodge was a beauty. Think of a resort overlooking a river, tucked among a forest, boasting a tree which doubles up as a dining room and lounge bar. It was a stunning first exposure to nature for us city types.

We would go on to stay 2 nights in comfortable and large huts with noisy tin roofs, and pig out on impossibly delicious food – I still dream of the aloo puri breakfast. And I definitely www.viagrasansordonnancefr.com can’t forget my new friends singing and dancing on my birthday. But the show stopper in Panna had to be the tigress and her family the following morning. We watched in quiet wonder as she majestically emerged from the forest, ambled up to the river with her two cubs and then lazed in the sun by the river bank before walking away. Life was wonderful after that – the pre-dawn start was so worth it, the morning cold didn’t matter any more, and the packed sandwiches never tasted better!

Khajuraho,Madhya Pradesh

The Chandela Rajput rulers clearly loved their temples because the dynasty kept contributing to this complex over a period of 250 years between the 10th and 12th centuries. Some 25 of the original 80 survive and they are dedicated to the Shaivite and Vaishnav schools of Hinduism and to Jainism.
The main (western) complex is easily explorable on foot with beautiful landscaped gardens. The temples themselves
are stunning examples of art, architecture, scientific prowess and local culture, depicting life as it was about a thousand years ago : We saw Gods, animals and human forms ; courtship and love making, war, music and dancing, wrestling and hunting.

Our extremely thorough guide informed us that only 10% of the carvings were erotic art. Yet, I was struck by the unabashed celebration of sex and womanhood. The kamasutra poses were prominently displayed at eye level on the main walls of the temples and panel after panel showed gorgeously proportioned female forms putting on makeup, doing their hair, playing games, tying and untying their girdles, playing musical instruments etc. Wish our self-styled guardians of Hindu culture could be equally chilled about the pursuit of pleasure and women’s role in society.

I should say that the temple town seems to relish its tourist appeal – there were plenty of souvenir shops, Internet cafes and restaurants, motels and hotels, guides and touts. The dance festival performances on our day in town were underwhelming as was the food at Raja Cafe. But what it lacked in food, it made up in ambience – we thoroughly enjoyed our evening under a neem tree in the courtyard.

Bandavgarh, Madhya Pradesh

Or Bandargarh as we may as well call it. We took two jungle safaris – in Magdhi and Tala zones – but lucked out both times and that too at a park where, they say, every visitor is guaranteed a sighting! We saw plenty of monkeys, and also deer (cheetal, chinkara and sambar) and birds, nilgai, sloth bear and wild boar. We dutifully followed the alarm calls of deer and monkeys and waited patiently (and silently) for the big cat to show up. We even sent up a few silent prayers but it wasn’t meant to be.

Yet, the safaris weren’t a total waste of time. Tala zone was very striking in its terrain and natural beauty: mostly plateaus and hills and copses of flaming palash trees. We saw the stunning ancient Shesh Shaiya statue of a reclining Vishnu and shivling, and the memorial to Charger – a legendary male tiger who earned his name after he charged at an elephant carrying tourists. He was fearless, apparently commanded the largest territory in the park and was quite the hit with the females. We booked our safaris through King’s Lodge where we stayed and the resort was perfect with luxurious rooms, very friendly staff, and delicious food.

Soon it was time to go home but each one us would have happily stayed on for a bit longer ….. in a WeGoBondof great company and fun adventures.

WeGoBondAmritsar trip

I have to confess (sorry Shibani!) I was mildly apprehensive about the Amritsar trip. I have never travelled with a group of strangers before, mentally relegating it to the kind of thing that scarey cat people did, who were nervous about dealing with new things and places, whereas I liked to see myself as an intrepid traveller who ventured forth and did things.

However, I had always wanted to go to Amritsar and see the Waga border. And frolic amidst the mustard fields of the Punjab, which have always seemed a different country, known only through hearty images in films and ads. And the timing was perfect. And maybe I am a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to travelling with my son, so I signed up.

We all met at the station—four sets of mothers with accompanying children (the fifth set was flying in from Mumbai). And Shibani turned up—bulging minorly in front as she had Krishna, her one-plus son, in a sling and majorly at the back from a gigantic rucksack about four times the size of Krishna. The children, ranging in age from about six to twelve, eyed one another cautiously and decided that they would not be mortal enemies. The mothers sighed and put their feet up as the Shatabdi chugged out of early morning Delhi.

Many pretty mustard fields later, we reached Amritsar (the Shatabdi turns into a bit of a local train beyond Chandigarh) and hauled ourselves into taxis on the road to Punjabiyat, a drive punctuated by a fabulous meal at SK Dhaba. The butter naan had pools of butter; the alooparatha had pools of butter; the chholey had pools of butter—we knew we were in Punjab!

Punjabiyat is five quiet rooms—built as separate buildings—and a couple of common spaces, set amidst the farmland. It was almost eerily quiet for us city types, and almost equally beautiful in limpid green during the day and in the quiet pools of lamplight at night. There was a quick bullock cart ride for the kids after we reached, and a disco tractor to admire. And tea and pakoras. The rooms were gorgeous, with high beds, and the bathrooms were dreamy. The children bonded by the bonfire and in sessions of dark room, and the mothers drank quiet whiskies and wines and ate gargantuan meals. Yes, we were strangers but I guess women who go on holidays with their kids have a certain amount in common—financial independence and a disposition to travel on their own—and we bonded and laughed together after the kids went off to bed.

The following day was a buzz of activity. We went to the Golden Temple, ate at a dhaba and went to the Wagah border for the evening lowering of the flags, a bizarre and slightly disturbing ceremony.

The third day was a delightful slump of inactivity. We sat around, read, chatted. The children flew kites and made cow patties and ran through the fields. Desultory badminton was played. Random art happened. A few naps here and there. We luxuriated in doing nothing in the winter sun—surely, there is no greater pleasure!

And then a massive lunch in the woods later, it was sadly time to go back—on the Shatabdi with a bunch of very aggressive fellow passengers.

The trip was a perfect mix of activity and inactivity. Shibani organized enough stuff to keep us all entertained, but also left lots of time for us to hang around, which is surely the most delightful part of the holiday. The stay and food were gorgeous—and her impeccable handling of the red tape at the Wagah ceremony made our visit very smooth and trouble free. And I loved my fellow travelers—it was a great and entertaining group—and would love to go on holiday with them again!