Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rajasthan

November 2004...

We landed in Baroda at 3.00 am....thanks to my cousin who took the pain to pick us and get us home to his place.

Baroda has changed.........looks more like a metropolis (not as bad as Mumbai tho')

Our bus ride from Baroda to Ahmedabad was quick.....three cheers to Vajpayeeji!!!...the express way couldn't have been better. Ahmedabad dint meet our expectations.........highly polluted and sickening...our eyes were watering. We spent the evening at Mc Donalds (the most familiar and comfortable place we could find). Were we relieved to get out of Ahmedabad?!

The journey from Ahmedabad to Jodhpur was comfortable(except that I got tossed around easily like a lone noodle in a pan). Began at 9.45 pm on 9th Nov and we reached Jodhpur at 5.00 am. Toured around the place

Jodhpur - the blue city. All houses here are painted blue. The story goes that the paint containing a pesticide was used in the good old days to ward off insects, and this was blue in colour. So the blue city!..... Today however, it is simply a trend to get your house painted blue....if you live in Jodhpur.We did pick up Jodhpuris back there :)

... the Umaid palace, which has 365 rooms of which only 16 are still with the royal family as residence. The rest have been converted into a Hotel (which is still run by the royal family) and a few other rooms now function as a museum. This is one of the most recently built Asian palaces. Earlier the Raja used to reside at the Meherangarh fort...but later he got the Umaid palace built and moved there - interestingly as the folk tales go....he got the Umaid Palace built to provide livelihood to the inhabitants of Jodhpur........some say that the artisans who built it did so for a meagre meal a day...that's how bad the situation was.

The Meherangarh fort (the spot used in many ads ...where women are shown peeping out of he 'Jhankis' (little windows all around the central chowk.) We had a lovely time at the fort...a rooftop candlelight dinner (the food was tasty, simple....but a little pricey)

The local bazaar vends typically rajasthani stuff - handloom, leather joothis and bags and artefacts. We opted for joothis and leather ware.

That night we set out to Jaisalmer . A 6 hour train journey which gets one off at the Jaisalmer station by 5.00 am. There was a chill in the air while we made a quick beeline to the Jaisalmer fort where we were put up. One of the only forts (~850 yrs old) that we have seen which has an entire city based within it. With growing demand for space, Jaisalmer city has extended outside the fort. To get a real feel of what Jaisalmer is all about we decided to stay within the fort, in a haweli which is partly occupied by the original inhabitants and partly lent out to tourists.

Jaisal castle....the haveli where we stayed...is really intricately carved out of sand stone and a lovely place to simply sit, eat...relax. The structures in Jaisalmer are mostly sandstone structures (very little concrete). The old hawelis use the interlocking system to hold the sandstones together. All hawelis exhibit ' fine jaali' work which are simply beautiful. The sandstone remains cool all day and all night.So even when it is really hot in summers the homes remain cool due to the sandstone.

We shopped for camel leather bags and some neat bedcovers at great bargains. Living inside the fort has a charm of its own. Infact some resident of the fort actually told us that they felt good having fellow Indians inside the fort, since it is largely phirangs who are found here. Primarily because when Indians are out on a holiday they believe in luxurious living....not one among the local folk which has an added local flavour.

There is a really old Jain mandir inside the fort! (about 250 yrs old).

We took a guided tour of the Patwaon ki haweli, Salem Singh ki haweli and Nathmal haweli. Patwaon is beautiful - no wonder that Indira Gandhi got the govt, way back in the 70s', to purchase one wing of it for a few lakhs.(they say around 5lakh of Rupees!!!).This is indeed not much given that it would cost a couple of crores to set up something similar today. Right now there is restoration work being carried out there.

The synotaphs. These are little stone umbrella like structures created over the tombstones of the dead during the British era.Against the backdrop of the synotaphs, and well beyond can be seen the Jaisalmer fort. Ghari sagar dam. A famous spot for hindi movies in late 80s. (You could actuallly visualise a Sridevi or Jayaprada dancing inside one of those sandstone structures with a dome top.)

Below are pictures from the Camel safari that we embarked. The journey on camel back began late afternoon and we reached the Sam-sandunes in time to watch the lovely sunset.
This was followed with a ride to the Swiss tent, where we stayed overnight and got up early enough to watch the sunrise in the Sam-sandunes.
Some pics below :


These pics were shot by Pari in a matter of few minutes at the same spot, while the sun set beyond the Jaisal fort.....among the Sam sand-dunes.

After witnessing picturesque Jaisalmer, what remained was some tummy delights. Our all-time favourite is the tall-glass of makhniya lassi available for Rs.15/- at the most exotic of places.
It is sweetened curd, whipped well and garnished with saffron, pistachio and almonds. For the less health conscious, it comes with a layer of cream on top! :))

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Taarkarli beach


"Known as the Tahiti of Konkan"
We took this trip in 2004. It was a weekend trip in the month of January. Taarkarli is a virgin beach on the Konkan coast, a few hundred kilometers before one hits Goa. It takes ~8 hrs by road to get there. We however opted for a ~6 hr train journey to Kudal and an hour and a half drive down to Taarkarli. The road journey is through the villages and offers a flavour of the native culture, homes, people whilst getting there.
We stayed at the MTDC "Konkan huts", as the cottages are fondly referred to. The cottages are ~60 in no. , each complete with a hammock and a palm tree by its' side. We landed there at around 10.00 am, refreshed ourselves, got into swimwear and walked right to the ocean, which is only a few steps from the cottages. After a refreshing bath, we lay in our hammocks with a book and the quiet sea breeze and graceful waves making it to the shores; for company.
The food, is made to order. It is best therefore that one tells the cooks a little in advance, since otherwise you might end ravenous with nothing to eat :)

The next day was reserved for a river cruise upto the Karli river,

Bhogve and Deobagh beaches which are a just a few kms on either side of Taarkarli. Virgin indeed! we could hardly see another soul in sight ; and the popular Sindhudurg fort, where "Dil Chahta hai" had been shot. At the Deobagh and Bhogve beaches, we caught some seagulls hunting for food.

We made the trip to Sindhudurg fort by ferry. It was a Sunday, so we had a few locals, and a few weekend picnic goers for company. The fort is situated in the sea, and spread across a few acres. Like all sites in Maharashtra, this too has its history linked to the valiant Chatrapati Shivaji, although it is now yet called the CSF (the Chatrapati Shivaji Fort!!!).
We were shown around the place by the guide,
and he made special reference to some hand prints (which looked more like a 14 yr olds) in the concrete, which he said belonged to Shivaji Maharaj. Pari managed to find some eco wonders like 2 palms on a single trunk

When we got back in the afternoon, we grabbed a quick lunch (which we had ordered for when we left early for the tour) and proceeded to the market area.The market area is not as crowded as a city market, but the shops are well stocked. We managed to pick up some cashews - that the Konkan belt is known for and some Kokum syrup flavoured with local yummy spices. It was late in the evening while we walked back from the markets, and so we grabbed some pakodas and chai to go with it. The pakodas were simply delicious - they were made of fenugreek leaves ("methi") and were so fresh that they simply melted in the mouth.

We caught the shimmering yellow skies with hues of orange, while the sun set. Before we got back home, we headed for a local restaurant that served yummy "solkadi" (made from kokum) and varieties of the fresh catch.

Special thanks to Hemant and Ajit without whom I would not have been able to upload the pics. Tnx Guys!





Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ladakh


"
A dream becomes reality"
With few words to express the ephemeral, unreal, celestial experience, I choose to resort
to my normal style of writing, which is "dramatic". However no words could do justice to what we experienced........you gotto be there to believe it!

In the month of August 2005, after having always had to sadly let go the idea at the last minute, on account of several reasons, we managed to embark on our journey to the beautiful land. We were in all 29 ppl (yes that includes us).We had for company, a small group of photographers, doctors, architects and.....corporate zombies like ourselves.

The last few weeks had aroused many anxieties, owing to the relentless rainfall paralysing the city and it's rail services, and also owing to the past experiences of having to cancel the trip at the last minute.....we were to say the least 'simply hopeful'

The rain Gods blessed us......the waters had subsided allowing us to carry on with our "mission" of visiting the land of The Buddha.......quiet, serene, peaceful and compassionate........I fall short of words here.

The packing took a while - it was simply because the temperatures could vary from -5 deg celcius to 25 deg celcius and we needed to be equipped for it. The cameras were all set to roll, we carried with us more rolls than we had imagined........a recharger for the batteries......a few woolens and warm clothes thrown in......jacket, scarfs...hmm quite a 'bagful'.

Our first destination was Chandigarh, after travelling ~27 hrs on rail..... we had an evening to ourselves before we proceeded to Manali.

At Chandigarh, on the evening of the 9th, we visited the Rock gardens and the Pinjore gardens. Nekchand's marvel is definitely an architectural delight....our very own botanical gardens with 'stuff from the attic & basement' thrown in....old tiles.....faucets.....broken earthen ware....

We arrived at the Pinjore gardens by ~10.00 pm enroute to Manali, it was lit and we had crickets and glow worms for company. It is a huge park which is being underutilised - that's our take!

It was a comfortable night in the bus.....the driver was speeding initially and was then instructed strictly to follow speed limits laid down ; to avoid any mishaps. We touched Sundernagar at ~6.00 am...it was chilly...really chilly....we spent a few minutes there and then proceeded to Kulu /Manali. It was our first visit to Manali.....the drive was indeed beautiful with lovely apple orchards and waves of coloured glories (the sight of the flora was refreshing).....apples, sunflowers, cosmos, asters, dandelions.... We got off at Manali on the morning of 10th and spent time until the morning of 11th there.
Here is where we visited the Hadimba temple and Manu mandir. We are not much of 'temple ppl' (if you understand what I mean). My personal belief is that only a handful of temples can be referred to as 'sanctum santorum' .....and these in my opinion were not the sort.

Evenings were meant for shopping.......keen to pick up a monks garb I realised that I wouldn't be able to display it anywhere...and on myself....the idea seemed far fetched. However we visited this little shop across the monastry which stocked some 'lucky charms and souvenirs' and picked up a few.

The next morning, 11th August we took off in our respective jeeps for Leh.........11th Aug night halt at Keylong,

12th Aug night halt at SARCHU (yes you are right....I have indeed mentioned Sarchu in "caps"......not without reason ....will explain a little later when I get there....patience!) and 13th August is when we finally hit Leh after spending the afternoon at Pang.

What is indeed important to remember is that the group was all Mumbaites....used to living and surviving at sea level and , Leh is at ~10000 ft above sea level. The three day trip to Leh via Keylong (dist Lahoul Spiti), treacherous Sarchu and Pang were a means to acclimatise our bodies to the high altitudes.

11th night at Keylong......was .......hmmm....unexpected. We turned lucky when we got to meet the Head Lama of the Dugkpa sect. (the buddist religion has four sects - the Nimma Guligkpa, Dugkpa, Karjut...the last one I cant quite recall). Dugchen is the head lama for the Dugkpa sect while the Dalai Lama (currently Tenzin Gyatso) heads the Gilugkpa sect. He blessed us all.......I think that was the reason that we got past SARCHU :)

Next on our tour map was the journey to treacherous SARCHU, around 15000 ft above sea level. We reached there on the 12th night. By evening time ~90% of us were breathless, heavy headed and felt nauseatic. Most of us had thrown up and hallucinated through the night through temperatures of -5 deg cel, in swiss tents.....the night seemed endless.......shivering, throwing up, bandanas tied around heads to prevent them from throbbing. The locals insisted that this will pass and that we should consume lots of water (blech!.... you would understand what I mean if you had tasted the waters there........POISON........) so the body acclimatises faster.

Pari was completely sick....he threw up a couple of times on the evenining of the 12th......while I managed to hold fort despite feeling really terrible. However at 2.00 am i couldn't hold back any more and threw up. We could hear ppl throwing up in their respective tents. There were ppl who had begun to hallucinate and talking about how this may be their last night after which they will join their loved (dead) ones. Well, I am not kidding and nor was anybody else. It must have been the worst night of our lives.

We were told by Soul (our leader) that things would only get better. We (Pari and me) decided to do something smart....we decided to proceed on an empty stomach with only a bottle of mineral water to help us acclimatise.......we needed to reach some 'sane place' fast where we could refurbish our supply of mineral water.......
On 13th morning we keft Sarchu for Leh........we ate nothing.......despite that I still threw up once more at Pang.
The only hitch in this entire journey is that between the the time one sets out in the morning from one destination to the next.......the only relieving spots (loos) available are at the destination you set out from and the destination you reach in the late evening. All places in between are only ranges.......rocks......arid land......with no humans for company. Often the lunch breaks are at the only spot you find humans however there are no loos there!!! So it is a real challenge........to relieve oneself in the wild.

Pari and me were functioning on empty stomachs ....this in our opinion was the best thing to do. But with temperatures hovering below 10 one feels really hungry. ...This is exactly when one starts wondering if we city breds are rotten spoilt.........we find it so difficult to adjust!

During those three days from Manali to Ladakh we passed Barlacha la, La Chang la (these are passes at high altitudes). The landscape is simply beautiful.........but if the body is not acclimatised one is too busy trying to get over the giddy headedness to observe the beauty around.


On the 13th....we finally reached Leh. It was a relief. Our bodies had begun to get acclimatised to high altitudes


There are a lot of Israeli and European tourists who cover the route on bike.....believe me this is no joke........it's a tough ride up there. We pass through some really high passes (referred to in Ladakhi as 'la'). So we passed Rohtang La(~13000 ft), Baralach La(~16000 ft), Lachang la(~16800 ft) , Taglang La (~17000 ft).
These are long winding roads which are surrounded by beautiful landscape - ranges of various shapes, sizes and shades......the terrain too is very different from point to point. We could see the snow capped peaks during our drive, glaciers melting into to streamlets....which run parallel to the long winding roads. There are few spots which are green.......largely it is a rocky landscape....leaving little to imagination......

Leh - a district well equipped to cater to its vast tourist population. It is a neat and clean place with most activity happening in and around the Main street/ Main market. One sees a lot of the armed forces here. There are two kinds of well defined faces here - the Ladakhi face and the Lahoul spiti face......also there is the typical Goncha wearing crowd and the newer generation which like us, wears jeans and salwar suits. The Goncha wearing crowd ....has very well defined pahadi features and their dress is a woolen gown with a broad colourful belt....the women wear a lot of jewellery....silver, pearls. One finds them often with prayer wheels chanting the famous 'Om Mani Padme Hum' or busily moving from one place to another to sell their wares (Our opinion is that the Goncha wearing traditionally dressed ones are largely the labourers or craftsmen,m in short the poorer class). The salwar suit clad ones are more urbane.

In Leh, we spent ~3 days - we looked around the popular monastries - Hemis and Thiksey, the Shanti Stupa and the ruins of the Shey and Leh palace. My personal opinion is that the Thiksey monastry is more colourful and well maintained compared to the Hemis. The palaces have not really been maintained too well. We were actually wondering where the funds that the Lamas get from Holly wood biggies go.....the monastries are definitely not opulent....leave alone opulent they are not even very well maintained as I would have hoped they would be.

The second day was spent at the Independence day celebration at the Thak Thok monastry and the evening thrown in for shopping. At the monastry there was a mela and some cultural dances.....I picked up some earrings for myself while Pari purchased some colourful bandanas. The stalls had a lot of Tibetan jewellery but they quoted exorbitant prices.

The third morning we took off for Nubra valley , saw the Diskit monastry and the monastic schoool. The monastic school conducts classes till class V for fresh monks who then proceed to Kushal nagar in Karnataka for further studies. We got there via the Khardungla pass (the highest motorable roadway at ~18600 ft). There were no signs of mountain sickness now since our bodies had acclimatised rather well at Sarchu, Pang and then Leh. The little monks in the school looked cute.......will share with you a pic with one.......I was glad the little monk relented to taking a picture with me :)

On our way to Nubra (which means green valley), we rode double humped camels. Unlike the Rajasthan camels, these look tougher, healthier and are more comfortable to seat oneself. They are infact shorter than the rajasthani camels. Pari decided to take the ride while I stayed back to photograph the Great Dogra!.......the warrior ;). I simply posed next to the camel hoping it does not sneeze while I assumed my ' I am ready to be photographed ' pose. I fleed the moment the snap got done, while another poor tourist got showered down !

The Nubra valley is an interesting spot.........the mountains above.......some snow capped, green pastures below and further away there are sand dunes - Hundar with double humped camels.It looks more like a film set where there is EVERYTHING.......grass, mountains, streams, sands.......couldn't ask for more.



There was delight at Khardungla.......the weather which is most unpredictable in the hills (like in Mumbai), decided to play games - a bright and sunny day turned to a snowy, wet one. We were all excited. I hadn't seen snow before ........it was AMAZING........I loved every moment. I was wrapped in a black shawl on which the flakes emerged out like chocolate chips in a cookie! (some simile eh?) Our group of 29 had to split while going to Nubra......the youngsters ~12 were all bundled into a mini bus while the older ones took the jeeps. We all had similar energy levels and could relate well.........this only made the trip more memorable. We all posed on the world's highest motorable road with faujis and snow flakes to watch on us!


On the trip back we agreed to drop some locals back to the city........(although we kept wondering what the locals were doing there in 'no man's land' at a height of ~18000 ft with none other than faujis to keep company)

Something that we will never forget........the roads from Manali to Leh are not the best and are really tough to maintain. They are hilly....treacherous and subject to constant landslides. There are constantly melting glaciers which change course and come onto the roads. All this makes the ride really bumpy, slippery ........And guess what...the roads are maintained by the GREF (General reserves and engineering) which belong to BRO (ie the Border Roads organisation). The workers however are Biharis (whose life after they begin working here is only ~15 yrs). The conditions are terrible.........huge amounts of dust on the roads, no water, no greens and treacherous mountains all around.....these poor souls are definitely not immune to mountain sickness.
The locals, apparently, do not like to do this kind of work and so it is the poor Biharis fm Laloo land who are willing to be in high altitudes...get breathless, in the chilly biting cold willing to fix (tar) the roads for the BRO. It is indeed a sad sight. That's reality.......in a dream land.........dream for us.......nightmare for them

After the first 3 days at Leh......we set out to Pangong lake.........lakes are called Tso in the local language...and so we visited Pangong Tso.It is 130 km long and is the largest brackish lake in Asia. It feels like paradise around this spot. A part of the lake extends in to the mountains of Tibet and so belongs to China. It is a secure zone with a huge core of armed forces deployed here.We halted at Tangstse for some tea and to grab a bite.
While we sat on the rocks by the side of the lake.......we remembered Wordsworth's ......"this is a life so full of care.....we have no time to stand and stare"....I had often wondered what he wanted to stand at stare at ?!........am sure he had visited Pangong!!!. I have never before seen skies so azure.......a lake so blue.......rocks so perfectly ensconced on the bed of the lake........a few terns and seagulls looking for food.......the breeze creating ripples which cause unusual reflections of the mountains and sky in the lake.........this is how paradise :) may look like, I said to myself.........

For those curious.........Leh is one place where one gets to see many gompas and stupas........gompas are monastries with idols...where Gods like Yamakala, Mahakala, Taradevi, the various forms of the Buddha - Gods of compassion, wisdom are worshipped. The monks too stay around there.
However stupas are structures which are created by ppl when their wish is fulfilled or just as a memorial ......simply put it is a monument. You cannot really enter a stupa since there is no real entrance there. Some families store hair, nail or some remembrances of their ancestors there and it is sealed. .....looks somewhat like a temple........it could be any size......that's what we gathered.They are mostly made of white lime (so it appeared).

In case I failed to mention - Pari and me have really clicked a host of photographs......right now we are waiting for the right labs to develop them. We dont want to lose any. We photographed just about everything .....lest we forget. The monuments, the mountains, streams, grasslands, snow, country folk, sunrise, sunset......ourselves :)))) too....the gompas, stupas, ladies in Gonchas, with prayer wheels. While I broach the topic of the prayer wheels, I think I should explain it's significance. These wheels come in various sizes. They contain a roll enclosed within a cylinder. The roll has inscribed on it the sacred words "Om mani padme hum". When one turns the prayer wheel , the roll is automatically turned (in the clockwise direction) and signifies chanting of the sacred words over and over again. We picked up a prayer wheel for our sacred corner....also I was enchanted by a Buddha statue and picked that one up too. Our luggage had increased by the end of the trip (in case you are wondering).

Every evening while in Leh, Pari and me made it a point to go to the market and purchase some fresh luscious apricots - just ripe and really yummy. We must have looked like 2 chipmunks sitting munching away at the tiny fruits......with as much fervour and zest as chipmunks would munch on their walnuts.

It was now time to say goodbye to Leh and proceed towards the valley......Kashmir (there is a urdu couplet which says - if there is paradise on this earth....it is Kashmir!!!).The journey commenced on 19th August morning.....at around 9.30 am.....we all were accomodated in Spacios (similar ones that we took fm Manali to Leh......these are Sumos which are more rugged and belong to the Tata stable).
The itinerary read - Leh to Kargil (on the way we were to do Moonland, Lamayaru - the oldest monastry, Al Chi - yet another monastry). By now I was wondering whom we would lose to Buddhism by the end of the journey......luckily a few who had thought of converting too had second thoughts!!!

We arrived at Kargil late in the evening on the 19th. Faces had changed, so had the terrain. The locals here largely spoke either Ladakhi or Balti (since they are from Baltistan, an area which now lies in Pakistan). They look like a cross between Kashmiris and Tibetans. We spent until 4 am in Kargil.......food was interesting - mah ki dal, rice, phirni (the typical kashmiri sweetdish). We took off at ~4.00 am on 20th for Drass (the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia). Luckily for us it was not winter.......otherwise you would have found our fossils in ice a few decades down the line. While we moved from Kargil to Drass, our driver kept informing us about the various spots that had been bombed and also spots where we were still under enemy vigil - since while we drive around one mountain, our neighbours watch us closely from the adjacent mountain which belongs to them. Infact, there are signs during the ride that read ' u are now being watched by the enemy' (talk about being nosey?!)

After Drass came Batalik.....the Zozilla pass which has only one way entry during one half of the day and the other way entry in the second half. In short if we dont get there on time then we are likely to be not allowed to use it, in which case we are stranded and cant move to Srinagar. However we got there on time........it's a dusty mountain road with strict vigilance by the army.......every 100 mts there is an army personnel in uniform waiting to obey the word 'Fire'.........After the long journey via Sonamarg (absolutely stunning place), we reached Srinagar and our cosy houseboats in Nagin lake. The next two days were spent around there - taking the shikara around, blowing up a couple of 1000s on the beautiful walnut handwork and ofcourse the well embroidered garments. We also visited Gulmarg (which has the world's highest cable car)...we dint miss it for the world We also visited Shankaracharya (which owes its popularity to the Amarnath yatris and Mission Kashmir). Kashmiris are a very rugged looking lot of people......with their harsh features....the women have a peaches and cream complexion though and one could get really envious of them.

At the fag end of the journey.......we came back to Mumbai with a well tanned body....the only solid proof of all that we had been through while India celebrated its' independence period!

That was the end of the splendid journey!

Juley (as they say in Ladakhi - its' a greeting) and Khuda Hafis (in Kashmiri)



It’s a beautiful life

Monday, August 21, 2006

Nainital

"The hilly lake town"
Away from the humdrum of city life, lies the town of Nainital amongst the hills in Uttaranchal. Nainital, they say, was home to Jim Corbett.
As always, in India, for every monument/ landmark that exists, there is a legend, mythology or history to support its existence :) "Naini" tal gets its name from the "eye of Sati". As the tale goes, Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva burnt herself in a pyre to avenge the insult that her father inflicted on her beloved, Lord Shiva. While she burnt herself, Lord Shiva tried to rescue her, and helplessly carried her burning body through Bharat (India). Her eye (hindi : nain), they say, fell where the Naini lake stands today.
Nainital is situated at ~6270 ft above sea level. The day we arrived, we were in for a surprise. We experienced a downpour, like in Mumbai. However, we were here to holiday and not to sit indoors wondering about clogged drains and rivers running over danger marks (like we do in Mumbai), so we decided to take the bold step and carry on with our site seeing...and holiday
We reached this beautiful town from Delhi. A train from the old Delhi railway station to Katgodham in Uttaranchal, followed by an hour long drive to Nainital. Thanks to Brig P.Charak, our generous uncle and enthusiastic papa, a retired WgCdr himself, we stayed at the MES.(army rest-house)
The bazaar area, referred to as the 'maal' by the locals, is abuzz with activity like any other city market. This is located right around the Naini lake and the heart of town. The local authorities have developed a lovely promenade around the lake and have located benches there. The benches are interestingly located between the 2 maal roads and not right by the lake. This allows one to watch the bypassers while enjoying the lush pine lined hills of Nainital.
The main attraction of Nainital are the lakes,which dont freeze in the winters. The locals mentioned that they have some natural sources (viz springs) which prevent the lakes from freezing. In addition to Nainital there are other lakes too viz Garuda tal, Bheem tal, Naukuchiatal (with the lotus pond, see pic below), Saat tal....to name a few.The most beautiful among these was Saat tal. While we took a boat ride on a ferry - the 'swishing sounds' that the oars made, the light showers that kept one from opening ones eyes wide (yeah, we dint take an umbrella with us) made one relive the Srinagar experience. The difference however was that the lake here was surrouded by dense hills, while in Srinagar, from the Nagin lake it is the houseboats which provide a panoramic view. We visited the place in monsoons, off-season, and so we turned lucky by having the lake to ourselves!!
The attraction at Bheem tal was the "bhutta-walla" (corn cob vendor. For the uninitiated....it's a human who vends the corn cobs and not a machine! :). The bhutta was roasted/ tandoored, and then a special spicy mix was rubbed over it. The mix contained green chilli, salt, garlic and dash of lemon.....we were informed by the vendor. Yummy.....!!! ...i haven't tasted such tasty bhutta before. The regular mix that is used in most parts of the country are salt, red pepper and lemon. Kudos! to the bhutta walla for his ingenius mix.
We moved on to a botanical garden which had some natural caves. These caves were rather treacherous.....one had to almost crawl through them ....in the dark........and at times one couldn't see the light at the other end. That was some adventure!
At Naukuchiatal we did the unthinkable - we got some "nashpati" (a fruit belonging to the Pear family) plucked freshly for us, and had it with some delicious chat mix ;)

Few hard truths - In Nainital, after formation of Uttaranchal, they say tourism is the key source of livelihood. What puzzled us is why don't they cultivate fruit and vegetables, like in Himachal, and use horticulture for a living ?
Some of the towns in and around Nainital are Jeolikote, Haldwani, Almora to name a few. Haldwani is known for its famous "non meetha" potatoes ....I was introduced to this unique vegetable when in Delhi :) The tragedy about Nainital is that it houses only one public hospital which is neither well equipped nor has adequate no. of doctors. Emergencies are usually referred to the hospitals in the potato town of Haldwani.
Given that the state capital for Uttaranchal is Dehradun, Nainital definitely does not deserve a step daughterly treatment! You need to go there to believe it.
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