Must Do In India

As mentioned in our previous post, India gave us a terrific experience. Although we were born here, we learnt and saw so much. It was sometimes too much to take in all.

So here we have compiled a list of must do in India.

Must See

Monuments

Taj Mahal is a must visit.  Pictures can never do justice. Once we walked through the main gate, we were mesmerised from the first glance.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Qutb Minar is Shruti’s favourite monument after Taj Mahal. The pillar was erected in 12th century and is really very tall. One can only imagine how was it constructed back then.

Qutb Minar, Delhi, India

Buildings

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur is truly a fine building that represents Rajasthani architecture. We stood in any corner of the building and felt the cool breeze. Also, the building’s view from across the road is marvelous. I wish we had spent some more time just gazing at it.

Hawa Mahal, Rajasthan, India

Amer Fort, again in Jaipur, was one of our favourite forts in India. The pond at the entry, climb up to the palace, the open area over looking the Aravali Hills and the architecture of the doors, windows and building was just beautiful. I would love to come back here with a book and picnic basket to take in everything at the fort.

Amer fort, Rajasthan, Insia

Spiritual & Religious

Varanasi is one the most important religious town in India. We had assumed it to be similar to Haridwar but this city was different. There were over 80 ghats and each of them have their own story. People of all age groups, religion and background (read white travelers) were seen on the ghats. While some enjoyed the cool breeze of Ganga, others were busy chatting up with friends. This place had something to offer to everyone.

Varanasi, Bihar, India

Bodhgaya is the place where Budha gained enlightenment. Upon reaching the temple, we felt the calmness and peace within ourselves. It was almost like time stood stagnant and we could concentrate on our breath.

Bodhgaya, Bihar, india

Golden Temple is the most important religious temple for Sikhs. When we got there, the sun was high, there was cool breeze and lots of people queuing up to enter the main temple. But for some reason, the environment was very calm. Although we were in the middle of hundreds of people, there was no usual pushing, pulling or talking. It was like everyone there just wanted 30 mins of silence!

Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

Natural Beauty

Kerala, ‘God’s own country’ has a beauty like no other place in the world. Coconut trees, backwaters, blue sky and greenery everywhere makes Kerala picture perfect. Unlike everywhere else we visited, Kerala looks dazzling in all climates.

Munnar, Kerala

Gangtok, Sikkim, and the surrounding areas’ natural beauty was made better by the colours and culture of Buddhism. The prayer flags hung from flag poles or trees against the green foothills made the beauty unique.

Tsomgo Lake, Sikkim

Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, is a hilly rainforest with a reputation of highest rainfall in India. The waterfalls and the rivers flowing down from Meghalaya hills to Bangladesh made us realise just how much water passes through this land. Moreover, the tribesmen have learnt to live with the land and invented root bridges to cross waterfalls.

Root Bridge, Meghalaya, India

Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, was once the mouth of river Indus in Gujarat. An earthquake in 1819 changed this land greatly. We saw the salt pans, parched land and migratory flamigoes in a space of 50 kilometres. At night, we saw a clear sky full of stars and star constellations without any other light in the sky. There were no clouds in the sky and we could see the milky way. Sublime!

Salt pan, Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

Culture

Hyderabad in one word: courteous. Hyderabadis were well-mannered from our experience. The dialect, the manners and respect of women was universal in Hyderabad.

Rajasthan should be a synonym for colour. Despite being dry and colourless in large parts of Rajasthan, the colours are simply stunning. The ladies wear colourful blouse, skirts and shoes, the men wear colourful turbans and camels are dressed up colourfully as well.

Rajasthan Coloures

Must Experience

Aarti in Varanasi

No where in the world (as far as I know) people gather around a water body in hundreds and thousands, twice a day, for prayers. I would recommend witnessing the Ganga Aarti from a boat.

Aarti in Varanasi, India

Durga Pooja in Kolkata

Durga Pooja was an absolute shocker. We had expected lots of pandals and lights but didn’t expect to see the whole city on ecstasy. It was mental, we had never seen anything like it before.

Durga Pooja in Kolkata

Punjabi Wedding in Punjab

When we were returning from Amrit’s wedding, Shruti said, everyone should have at least one Punjabi friend so they can witness the craziness at a wedding. I can’t describe it, you have to attend one for yourself.

Punjabi Wedding

Relaxing houseboat in Kerala

Various bollywood songs were shot in houseboat which made Shruti really excited. When we got on ours, we experienced a different kind of relaxation. Cool breeze, right speed of the boat, green everywhere, water below us and sky above. It was just perfect.

Kerala Backwaters

Desert Stay in Osian, Rajasthan

We spent a day with Gemar Singh in Osian village, close to Jodhpur. We rode camels, watched sunset from dand dunes, watched wildlife and spent a starry night in a hut without electricity or running water. It was an amazing surprise. We enjoyed every second of it, especially when we were woken up by the call of peacocks in the morning.

Fresh Food

There are plenty of options for food in India, but the best are small, local outlets that cut, cook and sell daily and quickly. We don’t recommend restaurant visits in India, instead eat from where the locals eat. Some of our best meals were:

  1. Eating a meal from banana leaf in Kerala
  2. Hot thukpa noodles at Tsomgo Lake Sikkim
  3. Rotlo (breads) in Gujarat
  4. Sandesh and Rasgulla (sweets) in Kolkata

Unexpected hits

Hampi in Karnataka

It took our breath away. Apart from the kingdom ruins, the natural backdrop is just unique. Plenty of massive boulders and trees and farmland to add green to the brown. Although it was monsoon when we visited, I felt it was the perfect time to be there. Very dramatic scenic as the sky grew darker and we experienced downpour on top of a hill.

Sikkim

Secondly, Sikkim was another place which hit us hard. It is a mountainous kingdom with natural beauty all around. The prayer flags flying in the air, Shruti’s favourite, alongside the mountains and pin turns created a very peaceful environment.

Gujarat

Finally, Gujarat incredibly surprised me. While people claim Modi as a development man, none of this is evident until one visits Gujarat. The industries have taken over ensuring jobs, water and electricity for locals. The people continue to follow their culture and traditions while the nature and wildlife is well preserved in this land.

Special Mentions

If there was one place I would go back and live in, it would be Gangtok. The beauty and civility of the people was just amazing.

Having said that, Varanasi was special too. I could imagine going back on regular basis to unwind and connect with reality.

We Will Be Back

Although we visited a lot of places, there are plenty that we had to skip. Shruti and I have promised each other to be back to travel more. Because, India can never be enough. It engulfed us and we enjoyed the ride.

Like ‘they’ say, you either love India or you hate it. There are no questions which side we stand.

Feedback?

Hope you enjoyed the post. Do let us know what you thought. Did we miss anything? Or is there something you need to know?

Darjeeling

We left Gangtok and headed towards Darjeeling, famous for it’s tea. Instead of taking the main highway, we traveled on a village road. The drive was stunning as we saw terrace rice fields in full bloom facing the Teesta river which itself had a deep jade colour. As we were entering the city way past sunset, we saw thousands of stars above us and the lights of Darjeeling all across the mountains. It was a great start!

Tiger Hill

Since it was a clear night, we decided to see the sunrise from Tiger Hill. It lies just outside the city and is must see. The issue though is that the crowd is too big so you need to get there by 4am to get a good spot to see the sunrise.

Therefore, we woke up at 3am and were ready by 3:30am but the driver was nowhere to be seen. He turned up at 3:50am after a wake up call from us and drove crazy to get us to the hill by 4:30am.

Tiger Hill Adventure, DarjeelingOnce there, we realised that we hadn’t rugged up enough and it was absolutely freezing. After a couple of coffees and wearing our scarves on our faces, we grabbed a spot on the balcony in the cold. Although we had a expensive ticket, the seats were full by the time we arrived.

Tip: If you don’t want to stand outside in open balcony, we recommend getting to Tiger Hill by 3am. Hopefully then you would get a seat at level 2.

The sunrise time was 5:30am and we were clicking pictures of the sky till 5:15am. The crowd came in by this time and the viewing area was packed like a Mumbai local train. There was tension in the air about the clouds and whether we will see the mountains. At 5:20am, someone shouted “Look! The Mountain”, heads turned to the west, people started whistling and we saw the first rays of the sun hit the Kanchenjunga and other mountains in the Himalayan range.

Kanchenjunga, Tiger Hill Adventure, Darjeeling

Sunrise, Tiger Hill Adventures, DarjeelingIt was the first time, I had seen something beat the sun and the sky – no one was interested in the sunrise anymore. A faint sun showed up at the horizon  and although there were clouds, nothing matter because the white snow covered peaks were now golden. Being sleep deprived and cold was the last thing on our minds and we were glad we decided to see it that first morning.

 

Kanchenjunga, Tiger Hill Adventure, Darjeeling

Darjeeling Sightseeing

Tours by car run on stop-off point system. Darjeeling has 7 points, i.e, tourist stops. We first visited the Zoo and the Mountaineering Institute. Now, Shruti and I aren’t particularly keen on zoos and parks. We feel that zoos are generally the same everywhere and parks are mostly boring. We would rather walk in a National Park which provides both these things.

Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling

However, the Zoo and the Institute were a combined ticket and the Zoo had Red Panda. If you grew up in India in the early 90s, the ‘Jungle Book’ animation was on TV every Sunday morning. As kids, you just couldn’t miss it. The main character Mowgli had been raised by animals and had friends like wolves, bears and a cute Red Panda. Since then, I had wanted to see a Red Panda. To see one in the wild is tough as they are endangered and live in trees in thick forests.

We finally saw two of them sitting on branches of trees looking rather cute but a bit sad. Once done with getting our panda on, we saw Himalyan birds, bear, deer, sheep, wolves and several cat species. The mountaineering institute was interesting as it showed the history of mountaineering in the Himalayas and several attempts on Mt Everest made by mountaineers from the Institute.

Red Panda, Zoo, Darjeeling

We saw the Tea Garden, Rock Climbing, Japanese Pagoda and Ghoom Monastery before heading back to the hotel. We left some of the flower garden and parks – can’t be bothered!

Ghoom Monastery, Darjeeling

We also had the opportunity to try a traditional Nepali Thali for lunch. The food is served in brazz utensils and a chilli is must. Yum!

Nepali Thali, Darjeeling

Temple of Unity

Mall road is the main shopping area of Darjeeling and we walked around it after lunch one day. We found a sign pointing to a Hindu Temple there and decided to follow the trail up a hill.

Other than the mighty pine trees, we noticed Buddhist Prayer Flag on the trees and temple itself. While we noticed this, we heard temple bells, a sure sign of a Hindu Temple. This left us confused and our confusion increased as we saw prayer wheels outside the main complex.

Mahakal Temple, Darjeeling

As we took off our shoes, we noticed a trident and 2 deers with a wheel. Both these signs are of Shaivite Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism respectively. As we entered, we saw a Hindu priest to the left and a Buddhist monk to the right. We paid our respects and spoke to the Hindu Priest to calm our curiosity. He confirmed that the temple has always been for both religions, perhaps a sign of the mixed Gorkha Nepalese community.

Mahakal Temple, Darjeeling

We left quite happy after ringing all the bells and spinning the prayer wheels. Maybe India needs more of these religious places to avoid confrontation.

Please take note Mr Modi!

Reliving the good ol days

As we finished from the temple, we walked back to Mall Road area and noticed a lot of people looking at a screen. We thought they were watching a film when we noticed it was just songs. It was then that we realised that Darjeeling Govt had put up a screen to show songs that were filmed in Darjeeling. We grabbed a seat, ordered some tea from a hawker and sat watching songs.

We sat watching for over an hour in the cold. Bollywood songs had been shot in Darjeeling for over 40 years and there were a lot of songs to go through. In addition, there were some classics like Mere Sapno Ki Rani which showcases the Famous Darjeeling Train and recent ones like Barfi which anyone seriously into Bollywood will remember.

Bollywood Songs, Darjeeling

Mirik & Nepal Border

In the initial research, I had been reluctant to go to Mirik as they was not a lot to do. In addition, at the time we had planned to go to Nepal so going to Nepal border again would be useless. We told the driver in Darjeeling that we didn’t think we had enough to do on the day and he combined a few things within Darjeeling with it. We visited the Batasia loop on the way and it was beautiful.

Batasia Loop, Darjeeling

Once on the road for Mirik, we stopped at Seemana View Point which was a mountainside which divided India and Nepal. The people were Nepalese on both sides but their nationality was different depending on the side of the road which they lived on. We stopped again on the same viewpoint for sunset and we were glad we did. The colours were absolutely amazing and there was a thick cloud drifting through the valley which was a first for us.

Seemana Viewpoint, Sunset, Darjeeling

Pashupatinagar is a town on the border of Nepal and India but most famous for the market which is in Nepal. Shruti signed up with her Indian ID and we were able to get in to Nepal without a visa. The market itself had a lot of winter clothes with fashion similar to western countries. Most importantly, we had been looking for winter pants to wear in 0 C and lower weather in Europe or US and we found it in this market. Thankfully, we had enough money for it and grabbed a bargain!

Nepal Border, Darjeeling

Nepalese Lunch, MirikThe rest of the journey passed through tea gardens so beautiful that words cannot describe them. Mirik itself is a small town with not a lot to do. We grabbed some Nepalese lunch and walked around Mirik lake. The view across the lake was beautiful and we took lots of photos. At the end, we though the day was a success at least for the shopping.

 

Mirik Tea Garden, Darjeeling

Summary

Transport

As part of the tour, we had Dheeraj, our driver driving us everywhere. However, taxis are readily available from NJP train station or Bagdogra airport to Darjeeling and within darjeeling itself.

Accommodation

We stayed in Seven Seventeen which was a boutique Tibetan hotel. Staying close to Mall road but far enough to the main road as there is a traffic problem in Darjeeling.

Final thoughts

We had a great time in Darjeeling seeing the main attractions. However, it appeared that the city was a bit dated. Its hayday was probably in the 1980s and it now suffered from traffic problems and fake clothing in the market. However, there are still enough places in the city and nearby to give a great 2-3 days of activities.

Darjeeling Gallery

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4 Days in Hong Kong

This post comes to you from the KLIA2 departures hall. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur after spending 4 days in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong on the 12th August and took a cab from the airport to Shruti’s Uncle’s place who offered us to stay with them during our time in Hong Kong. The Geography of Hong Kong amazed us. It is a series of islands with amazing hills connected by tunnels and bridges.

Geography of Hong Kong

Tip: Look up public transport to get to your location. The city is very well connected with trains, buses, mini buses and ferries. Download the HK Transport app and use the free WiFi spots around the city. Get yourself Octopus Card (initial payment of $150 required, $50 is deposit) which works across all public transport and also in grocery / small eatery stores, such as 7-11, Gong Cha, etc. Remember to return your card at the Airport MTR station to get your deposit and value on card back.

We didn’t know this earlier but we had landed in the rainy season of Hong Kong. There was warm drizzle which occasionally got heavy. During our entire stay, the island had low lying clouds that made the city even more beautiful though the humidity was high.

Day 1

Our first day out in Hong Kong was in the Central area of Hong Kong. Once we got off the bus, we tried to find The Peak Tram so we could get to The Peak. Though we could get there by bus or taxi, the tram is much recommended for the experience!

helpful local in Hong KongWe were kind of lost until a delivery man (in the pic) told us to follow him. We had to communicate with him by pointing to a picture of ‘peak tram’ and he pointed us in the direction of the tram station. He saved us at least a half hour of walking.

Tip: Always ask a local :) They may not be able to communicate well but will definitely try to help. We asked for directions and local food suggestions from locals quite a few times.

Enjoying The Peak at Hong Kong Being a cloudy day, we did not encounter lot of tourists at the Victoria Peak. There was hardly a queue and we got on the first tram. Victoria Peak is Hong Kong’s biggest tourist attraction and though it was misty, we were not disappointed. The temperature was comparably low (~26°C) and so was the humidity. Although only part of the Hong Kong skyline was visible occasionally, it didn’t affect our enthusiasm as we were literally in the cloud! I am sure the the view would be even more beautiful on a sunny day though.

Aberdeen Street, Hong KongAfter this, we walked from the tram station across the suburbs of Shuen Wan with its antique shops, Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) with its bars and Causeway Bay with its high-end shopping. We walked up the very steep hill of Hong Kong, along the Aberdeen Street. We visited a local temple called Man Mo Temple as well.

Day 2

On day 2 we visited the Lantau Island, home to the Po Lin monastery and Big Buddha. We took a train from Central to Tung Chung for the cable car to Lantau Island. As it happened, there was a thunderstorm warning and we had to take a bus to the Island. It took us around 40 minutes on the bus and we were mesmerised by the beauty along the way.

Once there, we first saw the Ngong Ping village which was a mock Chinese village with souvenir shops and restaurants from all over the world. It was very touristy but enjoyable nonetheless. As the clouds were constantly drifting, wWisdom Path, Lantau Island, Hong Konge decided to do a little walk along the Wisdom Path and visit the monastery later. The path itself was beautiful with mist through the greenery and deserted houses and shops. Although the visibility was low, we got a couple of good shots.

We then headed to the monastery which also serves strict vegetarian food. The interiors of the monastery were beautiful and the food was very tasty and cheap! We did overeat a bit ;)

Big Bhudha, Lantau Island, Hong KongBy this stage, the Big Buddha was visible clearly and we decided to walk up the stairs. It was an atrocious task to do after heavy lunch! We somehow managed it and the view of the Buddha, the valley below and the bay ahead was gorgeous despite the weather.

Following this, we took the cable car (must try, even if just one way) down the hill and caught a bus to the Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei. The area is famous for its markets, namely the Ladies market and Temple St market. These markets basically sell everything under the sun! The weather turned bad at this stage and we walked undercover through the markets and took a train to Tsim Sha Sui area for the Hong Kong skyline. Hong Kong SkylineWe happened to get there just in time for the light and sound show which takes place between 2000 to 2200 on Fridays and weekends (if I am not wrong). Hong Skyline itself was beautiful but the show was quite touristy and boring. We later did a quick walk along Avenue of Stars and took a photo of Bruce Lee :)  We rushed home to meet Uncle, Aunty and their 3 boys who had returned from a long flight from the other side of the world. We stayed up with them till late just chatting away.

Day 3

StanleyOn day 3 our plan was to go to Lamma Island and do some trekking but there were thunderstorm warning and it would be impossible in the pouring rain. Therefore, we took a bus down to Stanley area and chilled there till late. Stanley was a quiet fishing village until it was taken over by expats in Hong Kong. Now, it is a mix of the local fishing community, expats and tourists. The bus from the South of the Island dropped us to Aberdeen and we decided to walk to Uncle’s home.

Day 4

Our final day in Hong Kong, We again went to the Central area. We had left a few ‘Hong Kong’ things the first day and we decided to finish them off. We rode the mid level escalator from top to bottom of the hill which was a unique experience.

Tip: The escalators function in one direction only. They usually run downwards from 0600 to 1000 and then upwards for remaining day.

Next, we went to Yum Cha and quickly googled Cantonese numbers so we would know when our table number was called out. The food was amazing, and relatively cheap, though Shruti has trouble getting vegetarian food. A quick Star Ferry across the Victoria Harbour and we visited the Hong Kong Museum of History. The museum provided us with an insight of the story of Hong Kong, its past as fishing villages of Guangzhou province to being ceded to the British in the Opium Wars and finally becoming a huge financial centre and merging with China.

Family

Finally, we took a bus home, packed and said our goodbyes to Uncle, Aunty and the boys. On the way to the airport, we decided to change buses instead of taking the Airport Express train. And, we did keep our fingers crossed for our baggage weight as we were flying with a budget airline.

We had dinner with Shruti’s family friend and later boarded our flight to KL. That was it for our first destination – 4 days in Hong Kong!

In Summary

Highlights – Victoria Peak, Central and Causeway area, LKF for bars and night out, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Sui and Lantau Island.
If you are keen to shop, I’ll recommend you to carry an empty suitcase and filling it up there. Also, brush up your bargaining skills ;)

Transportation – Hong Kong has a immaculate transportation system. Buses / mini buses are available to most places and trains are also fast and cheap.

Weather – August may not be the best month as it is monsoon season. However, it wasn’t so much of an issue for most people here. In our 4 days here, it only rained heavily once.

Cost – HKD 100 would be enough for a decent breakfast and lunch from local eatery while for dinner you would probably spend around HKD 300. Alcohol is available in convenient stores and most dinner places are BYO – you just need to carry the receipt for the alcohol. Otherwise, you would be paying around HKD 50 – 70 for a drink as average.
For transport, we spent about HKD 175 for 4 days, so that should give you a bit of a gauge.

Recommendations – Qi – House of Sichuan, Tim Ho Wan at IFC Mall Airport Express level, Po Lin Monastery

Final Thoughts

We had an amazing time in Hong Kong. It is a beautiful city with a great culture and character. The geography is straight out of Kung Fu Panda and you don’t have to go very long from concrete jungle to misty trails. The food and alcohol are not the cheapest but transportation, environment and activities make up for it.

Hong Kong Gallery

Bye bye Australia

We were at the airport yesterday to drop mum off and we decided to leave our bags in the Smartecarte lockers at the carpark. It costed us $14 but we didn’t have to worry about making our way to the airport in the morning. Take note, these guys also have outlets at the airport, but the self lockers are cheaper. We jumped on the train and had a pretty relaxed train ride to airport. Overall, economical and stress free.

Dropping off our bags was quick – very quick! We didn’t even get a chance to take a pic! We also changed some cash.

Tip: post immigration there is only Travelex Currency Exchange around. They charge a flat fee of $12 and the rates they offer are sort of reasonable.

Anyway, we are now grabbing a quick small bite before our boarding to Hong Kong.

PS – the international airport is under renovation so the food options are really limited at the moment.

Planning World Trip

For a year we have spent lots of time browsing tons of sites for planning world trip. Sometimes we found what we were looking for, while other times we had wasted our time. There were times when we found found ourselves coming back to some really useful sites and I thought it great to share them with you.

Flight Tickets

Round The World: http://indie.bootsnall.com; www.airtreks.com

Individual Tickets: www.kayak.com

Accommodation

www.flipkey.com; www.airbnb.com; www.booking.com; www.couchsurfing.com

Places & Activities

www.lonelyplanet.com; www.tripadvisor.com; www.wikitravel.org; www.expedia.com.au

Equipment

www.quechua.co.uk

Others

Visa: www.visahq.com.au

Vaccination: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list