Vattakanal – The Southern Parvati

The new-year eve was approaching and the wait to my first ever excursion to the southern nook of India was rather lengthy as it was increasingly getting challenging to convince my friends for it. Saurav was his usual confused self and Shresthi was fiddling between the ideas of Parvati and Kerala. I tried convincing them to the best of my prowess and eventually booking tickets for no use at all. So, with little options in hand, I packed a few t-shirts and boarded the first train moving towards Trivendrum from Jaipur, unclear in terms of my final destination or initial stops. All I knew clear was that I was going South; Deep Down South. 

Kodaikanal is a popular tourist destination stranded in upper Palani hills on the border to Kerala in Tamil Nadu. It is best known for its scenic beauty and chocolates which interests tourists from all parts of the country, especially, the southern parts. A very few of them actually know about what lies 6 kms north to it in dense forests. My anti-civilizational travel instincts brought me to explore this jewel in the Palani hamlet known to the world by the name of Vattakanal or just Vatta. The name Vattakanal is derived from the apparently circular setting of mountains around the valley with ‘vatta’ meaning round in local language. Vattakanal happens to be the ideal backpacker destination, with a darling mix of ample verdure, myriad mountains, dirt-ridden pathways, welcoming locals and sweet intoxicants – it is a village right out of fairytales. It is placed along a region that is touted as one of the ‘Top 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world’. 

Things to do

Vatta is majorly a spiritual forest and there is not much you can do in terms of adventure except for the transcendental muses and attaining internal serendipity. But if you are laid-back-holiday kind of a person you’ll be amused by the eye-ravishing view-line and ear-soothing bird-chirps given you accompany them over a cup of Nilgiri coffee. The forest is open to explore and the hills are welcome for hikes – Vatai offers a lot of exquisite viewpoints such as the Dolphin’s Nose. The region is lined by a number of unexplored waterfalls and sunset points making it a dream laid-back destination. Four kms away deeper into the forest, there is a century-old observatory, owned and operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Though you don’t get to see the main building, it is still worth a visit. 
Bottom line – Do the Shrooms. This is the best place in this country to get ‘the’ best shrooms. 

Where to eat – Where to stay 

Altaf’s Place is technically the only café in Vatta. There are various other small eateries which provide you lipsmacking local delicacies on the go. While talking about a bed to halt, Vattakanal doesn’t brandish any good hotel except for ‘The Kodai Heaven’. Though it fills that void by numerous homestays like Edwin’s Place, Ruban Cottage, Michael’s Place, Pink House, etc. You can expect a basic-amenities room in one of these at around 300 bucks in most times of the year. 

Altaf’s Cafe is brimmed with large crowds all round the year

How to reach 

By Air: The 126 Km distant Madurai Airport is the nearest Airhead to Vattakanal. It serves daily flights from Kochi, Trichy, Bengaluru and Mumbai. 

By Train: Kodai Road Station is the nearest railhead to Vattakanal at a distance of 86 kms. Due to low connectivity, it is suggested you get down at Madurai or Dindigul and take a drive from there. 

By Road: Kodaikanal is easily accessible by roads from Coimbatore, Madurai and Dindigul. From there, it is a tense 6 km ride to Vatta where road ends abruptly.

Perched at an approximate elevation of 7200 ft above MSL, Vattakanal is your thing if you’re looking to travel to Kodai region and experience it in raw. Bestowed with sharply cool temperatures (owing to its geography), mercury bordered the mean line at the time of my visit on 2016 New Year’s eve. With mist-rolled hills, green valleys and spectacular woods, Vattakanal is swiftly becoming a tourist hotspot of the south. Visit it, before the crowds flock it, and destroy its underlying essence.


Kasaar: Peace, the Bob Dylan – Vivekananda way | The Window Seat

I remember sitting on roof of a local general store in front of Kempty Falls, Mussoorie. As I chilled my spines off my final beer for the night, my mind began exploring for a next stay in Uttrakhand. After travelling to Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Mussoorie and Dhanaulti, I already had my complete fill for adventure and mountains. What was absent (and common) in all these destinations was what a nature lover essentially seeks – peace. These were heavily-packed tourist destinations having a distinction on world map. That was when I heard of Kasaar Devi from a locale who had accompained me for the drink. The idea and description seemed apt, I decided to find the reality for myself. I laid rest to my back with my eyes wide open, exclaiming at the mesmerising beauty of the night sky and wandering through thoughts of a tiring unknown journey the following day awaited.

Kasaar Devi is a small village located on one of the narrow ridges of Almora district, 8 kms north of the main town. The place derived its name from the famous Kasaar Devi temple, which is believed to be one of the 108 shaktipeeths in Hindu mythology. In the popular hippie trail to Kathmandu in 70s, Kasaar served as a popular station for hippies from around the world. It was then, this place derived its popular name ‘Crank’s Ridge’. 

As I reached Kasaar, with knowledge and spirits in equal but opposite proportions, I begin searching for an ideal-budget place to stay. Sparsely populated, Kasaar doesn’t offer vast variety of stays to visitors. If you’re looking for a budget stay, Dolma’s guesthouse is highly recommended. A few other budget accomodations like Freedom Café, Hotel Himsagar could be explored along with a number of cafés downhill which provide rooms as cheap as INR 150. Standard stays include Mohan’s Binsar retreat (Great food!), Kasaar Jungle Resort and Imperial Heights resort. You can find variety of food in decent cafés at normal prices.

Although what makes this tiny village noteworthy amongst travellers is not food or stay. Kasaar is famously known as a centre of alternative meditation. Every year, meditators from all globe arrive here for imploring their inner-selves. Kasaar holds the legacy of being the place where people like popular songwriter Bob Dylan, Hindu saint Vivekananda and countless other mystics sought refuge in calmness. One can hear chants of psychedelic hymns as your pass nearby Buddhist Centre. 

So, if you’re a backpacker travelling on tight budgets and crave for untouched nature’s bounty, this place is sure to fill your soul with inner peace. 

Places to visit: 

Kasaar Devi Temple, Buddhist Monastry, Binsar Wildlife Sanctury, Jogeshwar Mahadev Temple. 

How to reach:

Nearest Railway station is Haldwani. Regulars trains move from New Delhi to Haldwani. From Haldwani one can take bus to Almora (90 kms). Shared cabs at nominal prices ply at regular intervals from Almora to Kasaar Devi (only at daytime). If you happen to arrive in Almora at night, you’ll have to book a personal taxi or cover the distance on foot. 

Review: Apple Garden, Pulga 

Looking forward to holidaying in Pulga, Himachal Pradesh? Apple Garden could be your dream spot to stay and chill. Upon entering the Pulga village, you are greeted by a number of cafés on your way across this tiny village. These, coupled by a few homestays, are Pulga’s only means of accommodation and food for travellers. Once into the main village, take a left up-hill. A climb of about 50 mtrs would bring you to the Apple Garden. 

Apple Garden might look like a routine café to the regulars in Parvati Valley but a stay guarantees to distinguish it from the rest. 
The main building is a customary wooden house with a beautifully embellished café. It provides splendid views and can accommodate medium to large groups. Rooms, with tandoor and without, are available at nominal rates. The magnificient wooden house here features a naturally adorned garden in vicinity. If you’re not the one who favours room, go for the deluxe camp. Enjoy warmth of bonfire just outside the camps holding your coffee cup with frozen fingertips. This entire property is layered with a blanket of snow in winter months making the entire scenery breath-takingly delightful. 
Food menu is great, carefully crafted with a vivid amalgam of Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Israeli cuisines. White penne tastes amazing, so does the cold coffee (if dark is your thing, definitely go for it). 
Apple Garden is a deserving drop in your backpacking-bucket list. Your host to-be at Apple Garden, Pankaj, is a brilliant guide himself for affairs relating to Pulga and around. So if you happen to hit Parvati, you now know a place to definitely go. 

About Pulga: 
Pulga is a small village nestled on one of the narrow ridges of Parvati Valley. It is blessed with unmatched serene beauty. If you’re looking for a run from the heavy crowds of Kasol, your search for a peaceful destination ends here; Pulga is a bliss. 

How to reach : Pulga has to be trekked on foot from Barshaini which is the last point on road network in Parvati valley. Barshaini is a 2 hour drive from Bhuntar Airport via Kasol. It can be reached by Himachal Road Transport Buses or by private coaches. 

Langas: Hymns of desert

I had just entered my house after my month long industrial training in Ahmedabad. I couldn’t help but notice two men sitting coyly in corner of the hall. Dressed in cultural bard dresses with their harmonium on one side, ‘dholak’ on other, they carried a heavy smile on their rugged lips. Khamma ghani’ he greeted; ‘Khamma ghani’ I replied with a smile. Smile, which only grew wider, sensing the joy and excitement of the session that was about to begin. These were langas, the famous ‘dammamis’ who paid occasional visits to a few homes in the city.

Rajasthan is the land of exquisite culture and traditions. The fables that inhabit the land of kings and queens are no less. These stories have always been of great intrest and importance to common public and recorded mostly through folk songs and ballads instead of books. From these emerged the greatest of folk singers in all lands and one of them are the ‘Langas’.  

Langas are a nomad community originating in Sindh region in modern day Pakistan, but settled in erstwhile Rajaputana. They were highly credited in singing ballads in praise of erstwhile chieftains and kings. Marvelled by the great music langas composed, and flattered by their praises, these chieftains gifted them lands to settle in Rajasthan.

A langa singer sings at an exceptionally high pitch usually added with sudden short drops. Langas carry a variety of musical instruments. Along with harmonium, they carry ‘sarangee’ (compatible violin like instrument), dholak and wooden claps for those who can afford extra men. The amalgamation of these instruments added to the thundering voices of langa group leaves the listener spellbound. Although historically dominant, langa music is not constrained to singing praises of Kings and Queens alone. Langa music also involves culture and tradition of Rajasthan. In a song ‘Gorband Nakhralo’* the artist fascinates about how the colourful strands of camel decor look beautiful while intermingling each other. In the other, ‘Bana re baghan me Jhula’, the singer jests the chieftain’s son to share the swing he has put with girls too! The culture of Rajasthan is so minutely embodied in langa songs that it often leaves the listener in eternal bliss. 

It is easy starting a tradition, but difficult continuing it. Despite being terrifically talented, this community suffers drain of manpower. The guy at my home had just finished singing and was collecting his presents. “The younger generation is more intrested in city jobs as compared to singing. If they leave in desire of comfortable city life, the continued community traditions are certainly going to die one day.”, says Dawood Khan, proudly patting his son, who accompanies him to almost all places and concerts.  

*Gorbandh :

This video link is for educational purpose only. The author does not claim any right over the content. 

Chapter Kalga: the himalayan stories

The best incidences in our life happen by accident. One such accident occured when I was sipping my coffee at Aunty’s cafe in Barshaini, googling for my next stop in Parvati Valley. The cafe seemed more like an old wooden box with the fragnance of Indian curries locked in. I had already paid visit to almost all major villages in vicinity and was thinking of heading back home. Halfway down the coffee cup, lady who owned the cafe enquired, “Bhaiji” she said, in a crisp Nepali accent, “Kaha Kaha ho aaye?”, translating to where all have you been around. I bothered not to tell her as it was my maiden trip to Parvati lands and I was a bit reserved to people asking random questions. “Kalga gaye?”. Have you been to Kalga, she added, with a smile that looked so permanent on her face. I nodded in disaproval. She handed me a card that read ‘Holy Cow Cafe’ and strongly suggested a visit. From the small window of her cafe, I peeped and looked towards a small village made up of a few wooden huts on the opposite side of river. It was Kalga, she informed. I couldn’t help but show more intrest in what looked like a rather more peaceful settlement then ones I’ve earlier been. I grew curious, a calm breeze waved my senses. “Kya hai wahan dekhne laayak?” I asked, shedding away my restraints a little. Her answer made me rather amused and more curious, “Sab kuch hai” (Everything). She continued to smile. I paid my bills, gathered my belongings and left immediately for Kalga. 

Kalga is a small village located approximately 18 km north of Kasol, in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, India. A road from Bhunter lead us to Kasol, followed by Manikaran and Barshaini. Barshaini being the last point of that road and the last point where buses regularly run. From Barshaini, one has to cross the river and trek uphill for about 20 minutes to reach Kalga. 

Kalga is situated on top of a hill with relatively flat terrain. Upon arrival, Kalga is a fair treat to eyes as one is welcomed by Apple orchids, beautiful farms, tidy wooden houses and some great picturesque surroundings. White coloured flowers adorn the whole village in springs and it looks like a perfect replica of what heaven may look like. The local people are helpful and greet every visitor that passes through their farms with an astounding smile. Sounds of river flowing tumultously, combined by the giggles of kids, chirping by mountain birds and the feel of fresh air, makes up worth more than all the effort put in the trek. 

There are a handful of cafes in Kalga that provide cheap and comfortable stay. Food, as everywhere else in Parvati is delicious. Other than that, Kalga has a few dozen houses and two departmental stores keeping amneties of daily use. The primary occupation of people is farming and livestock breeding. A very few tourists make up to this point (untill now), most of whom are Israelis. 

THINGS TO DO : Go strolling around the small mud lanes, play cricket with village boys, or let your imagination handle it, Kalga offers you great amount of freedom and inner peace. Holy Cow Cafe is a must go place if you happen to drop here. Pulga and Tulga are villages in vicinity with Pulga having pretty decent cafes to visit and stay. Rest assured, I’ve been here more than a couple of times and Kalga never fails to surprise. 

HOW TO REACH : Though Kalga is not accesible through roads, nearest route is Manikaran-Barshaini road. Buses from all major metros of North India ferry tourists upto Bhunter via Chandigarah-Bilaspur-Mandi. From Bhunter one can easily find buses and taxis upto Barshaini. Nearest Railway Station is Chandigarh. Nearest Airport is Kullu Domestic Airport, Bhunter. 

Imagine yourself being on top of a hill, with a handful of people around. People who form nice company to sing songs with, and chit-chats over experiences. Or you could just gaze up at the night sky, cozying in your quilt, with a warm coffee to sip and literally no one to disturb your gaze! Kalga truely dissapoints no one and is an experience of a lifetime. 

Manali : How your favourite childhood dream is not equally fascinating today

Manali is one of the few stops in mountain state of Himachal Pradesh that has turned out to be a  household name. From honeymoons to full-family trips, people from all parts of the country visit the mountain clad beauty for a stay in cozy hospitality this town offers. Whether it is about escaping the summer heat, or celebrating a snowy new year, Manali always retains a favourite spot in visitors’ cookbook. But is Manali still the same abode we grew up listening praises of? Is Manali the very same ‘India’s best hill station’ as many still entitle it? This blog tries to answer these questions and tries to find if we need to revisit our summer trip plans! 

Manali is a busy town in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, India. Located 40 km north of the district headquaters, Manali can be reached by road from Chandigarh via Bilaspur-Mandi-Kullu. Thanks to the heavy tourist turnout, regular buses ferry tourists from almost all major metro cities in North. 

So where is the problem with Manali? The problem lies in the same heavy tourist turnout every year. Every year, tourists come around in large numbers to enjoy a week or two in Manali. The numbers increase manifolds in summers when people seek refuge in mountains from the scorching sun across the country. Manali, being the tourist sweetheart, attracts an overwhelming amount of visitors, just to overcrowd the streets further. 

This has lead to heavy commercialisation of this place-electronic shops, routine cafes, cloth market, eateries, Manali looks like just another Indian tourist town. The heavy commercialisation has taken the very natural charm of Manali from it leaving back large marketplaces and luxurious hotels. 

The markets are becoming a costly affair with every passing day because everything from eatables to garments have adjusted their rates to the tourist fanfare. Garbage and rotten food can be seen around the main town even after hard work the people of Municipal Council put in to retain cleanliness. In the end period of June, the streets are so full with people, one might hardly get a place to walk freely on the main Mall Road Square. People, who are rather more intrested in clicking selfies then admiring the scenic beauty and attaing mental peace the place once used reverbrate. 

It definitly concludes that you might want to alter you travel plan if it includes Manali. Himachal Pradesh is an abode of sceneic beauty and many new destinations await to be explored. 

The haunted lanes of Kuldhara

The vast deserts of Thar are full of stories. Stories of valor, hard work, irreplicable courage and unmatched sacrifices. But along with the folklores of great proud men and women, there are a few mystries that have remained unsolved over time. Stories that are percieved as haunted by common people. 

One such tale is of the ancient town of Kuldhara. 

Kuldhara is a clutter of abandoned villages 30 kms south to Jaisalmer. It beholds a thousand odd houses, a few temples, a small fortress, a lake, a seasonal river that flows throught it. Despite the sorry state of houses and other buildings in Kuldhara, the magnificient architechture of those times on yellow sandstone is still evident. Once on the terrace of village headman’s house, one can easily makeout the neatly laid houses, lanes and vastness of the village. 

But today, sadly, all of it is in shambles. In a glimpse, Kuldhara is a devastated ruin that lies beneath the scorching sun. But what led to the extinction of a town that was once bustling with culture and activities? Where are the people who made and inhabited this great town vanished? 
A popular folklore tries to answer these questions. It is said that Kuldhara was once a large town with many nearby villages dependent on it. It was headed by village chieftain who was a ‘Paliwal Brahmin’. It is said that about 200 years ago, the evil diwan of Jaisalmer state, Diwan Singh, set his eyes on the chieftain’s daughter. Diwan Singh warned him of a massacre if he refuses to lend the hand of his daughter in marriage. Fearing of the worst possible outcomes, the entire populace of Kuldhara is said to have migrated to distant lands overnight. Leaving behind no jewels, no belongings, but only empty homes and a curse- that whosoever tries to inhabit their ancestral village would die! Since then, no indivisual spends a night in Kuldhara fearing wrath of the curse. Locals who have tried to do so have heard horrible noises, disturbances and unusual negetivity around. 

A team of Paranormal Society of Delhi visited Kuldhara and are said to have experienced unsual activities. Diluting shadows, distorted voices and sudden temperature drops were some of the many irregularities that the team experienced. One of the team-member said he felt a touch on back of his shoulder only to turn back and find no one! It could seem like the script of a bollywood drama but the Paranormal Society of Delhi really had a terrible night at Kuldhara. 

In mornings, Kuldhara is just another tourist spot, managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. The government of Rajasthan is planning to convert Kuldhara into a full fledged tourist spot with all facilities for tourists. Although, even the gaurds at the village gates warn against staying in night. 

HOW TO REACH : Kuldhara can be reached by road from Jaisalmer-Sam road by driving 20 kms on the main road and then taking a right to rugged village road leading straight to Kuldhara. Many taxi options are available from Jaisalmer. 

EXPLORE : Kuldhara is near to the popular desert circuit of Jaislmer and one can visit nearby Sam sand-dunes for great desert experience and parasailing. The heritage city of Jaisalmer is also worth a one time visit (atleast). 

The local kids at Kuldhara will narrate you the whole story of Kuldhara in 10-20 rupees and the narration style will surely give you a chill off your spine!