And we're back :-)
I'd managed to escape the mad rush for a few ticks last time to drop you a line on my vacation plan. Let me tell you more about what we accomplished on the trip, just like the last time when we went to Binsar, Leh Ladakh, etc.
(Wish I could travel so much more than I actually do... Sigh.)
So, we flew out of Mumbai to Jammu and arrived at Katra in time for dinner. The weather was cold, and our woollens got a chance to breathe the free, cool and fresh air. Out hotel Van Durga was scenic and the rooms were cozy with heaters, decent food and all required amenities.
Vaishnodevi is a 14 km journey which some choose to walk and others ride a mule. Senior citizens and the differently abled are fortunate to have palanquins, battery operated cars and helicopters to ferry them across the distance. I liked the fact that no meat or alcohol is allowed inside Katra, and people are awake and meeting Vaishnodevi at all hours of the day or night.
I'd decided to walk a few miles and hitch a ride when exhausted, whereas hubs and Mom were 100% sure they'd walk up and down the entire stretch, that too with the baby. The other members of the family all opted for their preferred modes and we started the hike at 6 am. Thanks to my hubby's perseverance and motivation, I huffed and puffed it all the way to the top in close to 3 hours. I was so proud of myself, and even more of Akhilesh for his fitness and determination - he did not sit for a second, and he carried Aarush all by himself up the rise.
The first half is steep, and it's smarter to take the slopes than the stairs. Also, helicopter rides need to be booked months in advance and the battery cars run only after Ardhakumari (that's halfway). So, if you're planning a trip, plan well.
The Boba 4g carrier that I'd purchased a year ago came in mighty handy during this hike, and rendered my buy paisa vasool. Aarush cooperated immensely and there was no trouble at all as we walked up or rode down (to save time, though we were not really tired).
We were lucky to pass the Shiv Gufa (cave) which is open between 8 am to 4 pm, and is a very adventurous passage with jagged rocks and tiny openings. What irked me a bit was the behaviour of the army / security chaps at the temple that are rude and inhumane for no apparent reason, and the fact that we hardly got to spend 2 minutes in front of the deity before we were shooed out. So much effort and expense for so little benefit, not a great investment in my opinion. Visiting the Vaishnodevi temple in Pimpri (Pune) is a far sensible option, as far as I think. It's almost identical (minus the walk, adventure and rudeness) and you get to experience everything more pleasantly: cave and deity.
We also visited the Kal Bhairo temple another 3 kms away, which most people skip. Apparently, your darshana is successful only if you greet both the deities, else it's incomplete.
We left for Jammu the same day and onward to Dharamshala the next morning. The drive was slightly boring, but then all pretty destinations take hours to reach. We put up at Mcleodganj in a shady hotel called Oak valley - Please avoid at all costs. The staff tried to be helpful but the location and amenities were disappointing.
Since it was raining, we missed seeing the Bhagsu Nag temple and falls as well as Kanga War memorial, but we did shop in the market and enjoyed some junk and confectionery. We visited the Baijnath temple, supposed to be the oldest Shiva temple in the country, and we also saw Dalai Lama's abode in Dharamshala. He was traveling for his health so we missed meeting him, unfortunately. The Kangra fort was exciting and I recommend no history lover miss this spot. Our driver asked us to strike Dal lake off the itinerary since it was no better than a dirty pond, and we accepted his advice. Let me know if we made a mistake!
The next day was again spent in traveling from Dharamshala to Dalhousie, but this time what awaited us was breathtaking. Snow capped mountains and a delightful retreat called Grand View welcomed us. Our suite was palatial and the service was par excellent. Mrs. Chadha - the owner of the property, herself hosted the bonfire party and ensured all guests were comfortable and happy. Hats off to that sweetness and professionalism, and at her age! Inspiring.
The market was some distance away, and really not much to write home about; an hour of just window shopping was sufficient. Temperatures varied between -2 and 11 degree celsius but we were pleased with the heaters in all the rooms of our suite, and the royal jacuzzi in the master bath. Everyone was pampered, and the karaoke made the dinner interesting.
Diankund peak was on our list, and it was mesmerizing! We hiked on mud, stone and ice with the baby in tow, for 3 kms and prayed at a temple on top amidst snowy hilltops. Khajjiar was a waste of time though it's famous as "Mini Switzerland" due to the pine trees on all sides. The lake and Nag temple have a history, but we found nothing to do there apart from munch on some Maggi and take a few pictures of the horses. We skipped the temple and market at Chamba as we were in no mood to sit in the bus for another 3 hours, everything is so darned far! And there are barely any shops or restaurants on the way, unlike Maharashtra and other states. So, you need to carry food and supplies, especially if you're traveling with children or cranky adults.
We had a wedding to attend in Jammu, and post that we went to Amritsar, which should ideally have been on the cards immediately after Dalhousie. We could have saved some time and travel, but well, we got to do what we got to do. A dear family friend had invited us for his marriage, and that is where this complete travel idea sprung from, so obviously we could not miss it. Punjabis are such warm-hearted people, and good hosts, too. All the best, Amit, for a happy married life with Samriti. God bless you guys.
I did not get much time to read on the trip: Aarush kept me busy as did the commuting. I did, however, start With a Pinch of Salt by Jas Anand and Shikhandi by Devdutt Patttanaik. Plan to finish them off by the time I get back home.
Finally, Amritsar! It is a food and shopping paradise, and we made the most of both! The famous Brothers' dhaba and Golden temple were memorable, so was shopping for Phulkari suits and dupattas. Lassi and parathas regaled us, and the langar was brilliant in terms of planning, implementation and efficiency.
The Wagah border flag lowering ceremony was not as awesome as I'd expected, but of course we did not want to miss it as my mum was eager to go there. It was all a show put on to entertain the audience who lapped up the aggression and competition. A mini war could have broken out right there since the MCs on both sides of the border were coaxing the onlookers to yell their national slogans louder than the opponents. The display of strength and muscles, the sprinting walk of the soldiers met with hoots and applause, but the parade was (sorry to say this) worse than our school parade. There was no coordination, and little passion - could be coz this is a daily act for the Border Security Force. For me, it was disappointing. I was looking forward to a more memorable Beating retreat (that's what it's called internationally).
A little more for the sake of history: It is a practice followed every day since 1959 at Attari, and talks about both, the rivalry and brotherhood between the two nations - India and Pakistan. For more details: read this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagah_border_ceremony.
The trip concluded as we flew back to Mumbai and then I took off to Hyderabad, which is where I am now for work. Another week here before I finally reach home. Homesick already. Missing my baby, and home food. Eating out everyday is no fun. Life's tough!
I do, however, plan to accomplish a lot since I will be interacting with my colleagues from across the world and learning lots of new stuff - Fierce Conversations, Thinking like a Customer, a revised Feedback course, and of course going through a TTT on all these topics. I shall also get some time to relax and catch up on reading, blogging and sleep as I spend my time alone at the hotel. When I am not socializing with the team, obviously!
Sheraton, Holiday Inn and Hyatt - here we come!!
Hope you doing well, dears. Stay calm, be safe.
Always remain happy. Ignore those who jinx your peace.