It all started with a face book post by a friend ranting about her not having a travel partner. Meanwhile I was just wondering if I should do a solo travel because all my friends were held up with some chaotic schedule. It was a Himalayan intervention that made me ping back to the Facebook post and we ended up being fantastic travel buddies. This friend, being the adventurous spirit, suggested the Nag tibba trek, but both of us being novices in the domain decided to do a maximum of two-day trek with a doable trail and thus ended up deciding on the Triund Trek (but were so wrong!!! more later in the Triund section).
Having heard raving reviews on Dharmashala and McLeodganj proved as a cherry on top and the deciding factor to go ahead with the trek. However, being the greedy wanderers we are, we decided to extend the holiday by adding a visit to Amritsar too. So, our plan was set, bookings done and we were anticipating the date of trip. The excitement was further intensified and rocked when we heard about the lashing rains in the state shutting key destinations like Manali, pouring uncertainties of the trek happening. However, the Himalayan goddess was kind enough to restore balance and so began our voyage.
The entire trip is divided into four sections as each leg of the trip was an adventure in itself and demanded an elaborate pen down. Our vacation started with us reaching Delhi and ended with us taking a flight back from Amritsar.
Our flight was to Delhi from where we were to take a overnight bus to Dharmashala. We planned to reach Delhi in the morning/noon to do a bit of sightseeing and explore shopping. Our 8.20 am flight was delayed by 20m. We were hoping it doesn't delay any further as our 'explore Delhi plan' was at stake. We landed in the capital at 11.30 am and had a solid 8 hours until our bus to Dharamshala. For all those transit travelers looking to spend less than a day in the city, the below information will be immensely helpful.
First thing to know about the city is its well-connected metro system. We were thoroughly impressed with the Delhi Metro and the Airport express which connects to the local metro. You might rather rely on the metro than any other mode of transport considering the traffic and pollution levels in the city!! Personally, from a user point of veiw, the Delhi metro system is extremely efficient and no less comparable to the systems at other developed countries. Some of the best things we loved when using the Metro were
The Airport express (orange line) connect to the City Centre - Delhi Metro from where you can use the yellow line and other lines to connect to major sightseeing destinations and shopping districts. You can buy a one day smart travel card which is moderately priced and saves a lot times when you hop on and off between stations What happen when you are in transit at Delhi and have a good load of luggage? Delhi Metro comes to the rescue here too! It has an efficient cloak room both at the Airport and at the Delhi Metro station. We preferred to chuck our luggage in here as opposed to taking a day room or a hotel which saved us a lot of travel time. If you have a return flight, use the cloak rooms at the Airport. If you have a connecting train or bus for you onward journey, we advise the Delhi Metro cloak room The metro stations are well defined with adequate direction markers and indicators and are super traveler friendly. They are on time even in peak hours with adequate frequencies of shuttles across most directions.
Is Delhi doable in 8 hours?
For the non-travel bugs - one needs more than a week to really see Delhi in all its glory and gory! We had less than eight hours in the capital and we were initially flummoxed. The first thing to do in such a situation is to shortlist what you want to do and see if it can be done within the time on hand. My friend was keen on exploring the shopping districts and the food while the greedy me wanted to do all - shopping, food and sightseeing. So, we ended up picking a place which offered both in close quarters -"Chandni Chowk".
After we landed, we took an airport express to Delhi Metro, chucked our luggage in the cloak room, purchased a one day travel pass, changed to yellow lines and were on our way to Chandni Chowk for a local lunch affair and an afternoon of shopping.
Okay first things first-"Demystifying popular belief" - most of the paranthes in the paranthe wali gali are fried and is not everybody's cup of tea. However, don't ignore the small corner shops or the cycle shop in the corner selling Kulche- Chole, Dhal-Chawal etc. We found these are the hidden treasure which are not rated/ reviewed and added an element of surprise and excitement in our travels. Do try the espresso in a foam cup offered in small stalls selling other stuff like juices etc. We had a couple of hits and misses with the food - overall it was a discovery that not all online reviewed things are a must try and one must explore on their own to find things that matches their taste!
In terms of shopping, if you are looking for traditional and festive, Chandni Chowk has a lot to offer - sarees, lehengas to other festive accessories. The chowk is laden with history in every corner, people thronging with shopping bags, tourists with cameras, vendors using the old cart to transport things in the narrowly narrow lanes. Its a world of its own and is one which is intriguingly interesting.
When you get bored with too much shopping at Chandni Chowk (Really?? is there a thing called too much shopping!!!) exit the chowk via the chawri bazaar and the Jama Masjid road and head to Red Fort - popularly called as 'Lal Qila', a 10-minute walking distance from the chowk. It is a UNESCO heritage site and was the ruling home of Mughal dynasty for over 200 years. For Architecture lovers, it is an interesting place to visit and revel upon. The architect who built the fort also built the 'Taj Mahal' under Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's rule. Once you enter through the fort walls and enroute the public audience hall you will see stalls selling various antiquities and trinkets. The insides of the fort have well maintained gardens in between the structures. Take a respite in these gardens and enjoy the architecture, the history under the evening sun.
Ok- fact- there is nothing called too much shopping! Going to Delhi and not visiting the Connaught place is nothing less than a crime, even if you have less than 2 hours in the city. Take the metro (yellow line) from red fort to Rajeev chowk to reach the many markets hosted there. A couple of pointers when you take the metro from Red Fort
there are two metro nearby Red Fort - Chandni Chowk Metro and Jama Masjid Metro. When you exit the main gate, take a tuk tuk to Chandni Chowk metro where you can board the yellow line directly to Rajeev Chowk If the tuk tuk takes you to Jama Masjid metro station, you need to get in the purple line towards Delhi Metro and change into a yellow line in the nearest changing station heading towards Huda City. The best thing is that the indicators in the train are well marked and is quite easy to follow. All we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open!
Hit the cafe coffee day at the Rajeev Chowk station to have a quick refresh and reboot and step out. The connaught place is a huge circle and has many markets including the popular one's like Janpat and Palika bazaar. For good quality daily wear and casual wear, head to Janpat. Every market is walkable from the station. Get help from the google map or ask people for directions if you are lost. It is best to do this place at leisure with no strict deadlines to return and start early to explore better!
How efficient is the Delhi Metro
We had to board our bus to Dharamshal at 8pm from Majnu ka Tila which is about 4 km from Vidan Sabha Metro and 12kms away from Connaught place. We boarded our train from Rajeev Chowk at 7.20pm, got down at Delhi Metro to collect our luggage from the Cloak room and then run back to the yellow line platform to catch the train again to Vidan Sabha. We were at Vidan Sabha station at 7.51pm. From there we took a tuk tuk and reach our bus at 8.05pm. Phew!!! one hell of a journey.
This petite hill side town, located in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, is a 12-hour bus journey away from Delhi and is located just below Jammu & Kashmir at an elevation of 1,457m. The buses stop at the main Dharamshala bus stand and also take you further up till McLeod Ganj which is around 6km ahead. The town is popular among the Tibetans, followers of Buddhism and is the residence of the Dalai Lama. The taxis (mostly altos) and auto are very expensive and are hard to bargain as they have a union which fixes prices.
Now for some hard facts -
Sightseeing in Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj can be done in one day. Spots like the Namgyal Monastery, the Thekchen Chöling Temple Complex and Bhagsu Waterfalls are a must visit. If you are cricket fan, then the Himachal Pradesh cricket stadium is a must visit place. Places like Masrur, Kareri lake, the Kangra fort needs a bit of travel and should be planned for the second or third day If you are the kindred spirit who thrives on adventure, then head to Bir Billing which is located a couple of hours from Dharamshala. Here you can treat yourself to paragliding across the mountains. Dharamshala too offers paragliding but if you want to glide over untouched wilderness and picturesque views instead of concrete jungles and clogged up road, then Bir billing is the place to be now the harsher fact - if Dharamshala is not your first or second hill station travel, you will not be as charmed with the destination. Especially if your hotel room does not come with a nice view, then you are surrounded by concrete which defeat the purpose of the vacation. I would personally recommend Dharamshala as your base if and only if you are looking to do the trek to Triund. Also in such a case take a flight to Chandigarh or Amritsar (if you are not from Delhi) from where you can reach Dharamshala a lot quicker
Now for some doable vacation tips in Dharamshala - plan a minimum of 2-3 days if you intend to visit the town and sight see around it. Ensure to take a day to just relax, stroll through the main markets and have a relaxing meal at one of the many cafes/ restos there. To sketch down what we did, we had a day free after we returned from our exhausting trek (more below). We had a lazy day - waking up late, we had breakfast in bed and exhausted us further with sleep. For lunch, we walked down to a cosy little cafe and book shop 'illeterati cafe', picked up a book, found a cosy place to enjoy a laid-back afternoon and ordered a scrumptious meal. Then we headed out to the Dalai Lama complex one last time to soak in some serenity and calmness before beginning our stroll in the markets for our souvenir shopping. The market begins just outside the Dalai Lama complex and stretches further down with the central square on the way, thus making it a very enjoyable stroll amidst the setting evening sun. Don't miss out on a couple of nice pastry shops in the central square, selling delicious pastries and other nic-nacs for you to quell your small hunger pangs
Worthy buys from the market
The markets are like any other Himalayan towns offering Tibetan souvenirs, colorfully knitted wool wear, artificial and semi-precious jewellery and semi-precious stones. If you want to indulge like us, pick up Dharamshala teamed T-shirts which come's in printed as well as embroided forms along with nice accessories made of semi-precious stones and the colorful knitted wear.
Worthy places to eat when you visit the Dalai Lama complex, you will see a small cafe at the entrance called 'Kora Kitchen'. Although the name board is not prominent, they have an authentic menu consisting of Tibetan and Bhutanese specialties. We tried their Thukpas (Tibetan noodles in clear soup) and Kemo Datse (potato and beans in a cheesy soup sauce) along with the infamous Tibetan salt butter tea. Personally, would say to keep an open mind while trying out new cuisine but it is essential to try them when you are there. The 'illiterati Cafe' is a cozy place maintained by foreigners and has a warm feel to it with walls full of books and a homely atmosphere for one to chill and cut themselves out of the physical world and into the world of books with great view to sip your coffee or relish a well made meal Snowline Cafe - From the central square the market divides into two mini lanes. In one of the lanes (behind the central square pastry shop), you can spot the snowline cafe a few building further from the Tibet Kitchen. The cafe is a real cozy place, with low seating made of wood and a nice decor onlooking the market outside. After a exhausting stroll in the market we ended up having a break here. Do try their Irish cold coffee and Lemon Ginger Honey
Tibet Kitchen - one of the few authentic joints in town, situated in the beginning of one of market lanes behind central square. They serve both vegetarian and non- vegetarian local delicacies. When we had visited, the restaurant offered only vegetarian food on account of a local festival. We tried their fried momos and the house specialty of fried rice with gravy. The dimly lit restaurant offered a warm feel with different quotes adorning the walls with some tasty food. Central square Pastry Shop - When you reach the central square, you will see two pastry shops opposite each other at the beginning of the road, which is hard to miss. They offer a wide variety of pastries which will leave you astounding and surprised. They had variety of cakes and mousses which were no less comparable to a high-end cake shop in a cosmopolitan city. The taste matches up the looks leaving you satiated as well as amazed. During the Dharamshala sightseeing, you will visit the sunset view point. When you walk further down the road don't forget to spot a brass telescope which can be used for a mere Rs.10/-. The operator will patiently show you the view including a waterfall, a small temple, other areas around Mcleodganj and the Naddi village. Walk further through the road and you will see a charming old lad selling momos, maggie and soup. He has been there for over 17 years selling homemade momos and vegetable soup.
Also keep your ears and eyes open to spot any genuinely interesting things and is worth a try - when we were strolling through the market, we spotted a cafe with a Golden Flower tea in its menu. Being a tea buff, I was so intrigued to try it and was definitely worth a shot.
Trekking to Triund can be a unique experience. It is advisable to do it as a 2D/1N trek which includes camping at the top, which is at an altitude of 2800 mts. The best part is, the trek can be done throughout the year sans Jan- Feb when there is snow and June- July and some parts of September due to Monsoons.
The amazing part is, you can have the fantastic views of the Dhauladhar ranges on one side and the valley of Kangra on the other. Dhauladhar is a part of the lower Himalayas or Himachal with elevation up to 3,700 - 4,500 mts, paralleling the greater Himalayan range. For amateur trekkers, these ranges remain easily accessible and gives a satisfaction of trekking on the Himalayan ranges and act as good practice grounds for levelling up.
Personally, for non-trekkers, this trek is moderately challenging and is eased by the views of the rhododendrons and the oak forests and the night camping at the top. By starting early, an average trekker can complete the entire trek up and down in a day.
The Triund trek has two popular trails - 1) through the Gallu devi temple route and 2) through the Bhagsu village route
Gallu devi route
The Gallu route is the most popular route with a well-made trail. The trail can be done individually without any guide and is more traveller friendly with the existence of small cafes at frequent intervals on the route. The trek distance from McLeod Ganj in this route is about 8-9kms with Gallu devi being the first check post point and the official start of the trail. There are taxis plying from McLeod Ganj till Gallu devi temple which will save around 1-2 hours, however be mindful this portion of the trail entails a smooth walk while not so good for vehicles. Overall it is a 6-7 hour trek to the top
The Bhagsu route is an alternate route which is more rugged and steep without a proper trail. From McLeod ganj to the top, in this route, would be around 10 kms including 7km from McLeod Ganj to Bhagsu village and 3 km from there on to the top. The route becomes steep when you hit the German Bakery and take the left towards Bhagsu temple leading up to Bhagsu falls and the village. Once you reach a point above the Bhagsu falls view point, you must cross the falls to reach the opposite site and trek up through there. Essentially the trek route is opposite the Gallu trail while being more steeper and is better done with a guide. Once you have crossed the falls, this route has no cafe's or rest points except two - a small cafe followed by a main cafe cum camp base called 'Mannah' before you reach the top. Mannah is a rest camp and the midpoint of the trek from the Bhagsu temple. Apart from food and snacks they also offer overnight camping for trekker who prefer a bit of solitude and calmness as camping in Triund during peak seasons is generally crowded
What we recommend - The Bhagsu trail is more steep, hence is difficult and not crowded at all. This trail is a good option for people looking for adventure and a good plan is to take break at Mannah for the day to enjoy the solitude before trekking up to Triund the next day. When doing this make sure you reach Mannah to enjoy the sunset followed with a nice dinner and bonfire for the night while enjoy the starlit sky and the Dhauladhar peeks offering calmness and serenity with a good night's sleep at the camp. Make an early start the next day to trek up to Triund which should take around 2 to 3 hours. Mind you that the trek from Mannah becomes more difficult as the steepness increase as you near the top. Take a break at the top in one of the cafes, enjoy the views at the top with closer views of the Dhauladhar and the eagle views of the valley before trekking down via the Gallu route. This ensure that you have covered a wider circle and have captured the spectacular mountain views on trekking up and the rhododendron and oak forest while climbing down.
Holidaying in Amritsar can be a unique and odd full off beat experience for some. This destination does not scream out to tourists due to its climate and religious inclinations. However, from a historical and architectural point of view, the place commands a strong reverence with many travellers.
Even though the city attracts tourists mainly for the sacred dip in the Golden temple, the other popular 'Gurdwara's in and around the city and witnessing the flag ceremony at Wagah border, the city is house to many other historical and aesthetically beautiful sites thus requiring to dedicate at least 2-3 days to explore and soak up.
Being inside the Golden temple can be one of the most humbling experiences. The premise is pristine with peace and tranquillity inside and around the temple and is both contagious and reflective. While in the city, try visiting this beautiful architecture both in the mornings, evening especially at sunset and at night where the Golden dome is beautifully reflected on the manmade pool with the starlit sky. During our two day visit we visited the temple premise three times and still wanted to visit more.
A couple of tips when visiting the temple
The entry to the sanctum sanctorum is generally filled with large queues and will take you an hour or so. If you plan to visit the Wagah border on the same day, kindly plan your temple visit accordingly i.e a 1.5hr for the worship and about 30 minutes to have the Langar prasad leaving you enough time to get a cab around 2.15 pm for Wagah
A must do activity when you are in Amritsar. Although the entry to the program is free for general public, if you do have a recommendation from some in the army, you get to enjoy the front row seats with chairs laid out to privilege those select few! Nevertheless, the atmosphere was electric and certainly the program arouses the forgotten patriotism especially when you live the globalised world sans boundaries. What's more interesting is the fact the program is not a strict BSF run program, though their parts being the core, the BSF have been creative enough to involve the public spectators elevating the involvements by more than a few notches.
Don't forget to get yourselves the goodies (flags, caps etc) to show your support and take back memories apart from the photographs. And not to forget get a click with one of the many devilishly handsome BSF jawans. Us being the literal fans, were weak on our knees the entire time in their vicinity and made some fairy tales plans involving them!!!
The drive from the Gurdwara to the border takes more than 1.5 hours. You can find many taxis in front of the Gurdwara offering to take you exclusively or on a share basis. Some do offer to show a couple of other places like the Vaishnov Devi temple and the wholesale clothes market while returning back.
The Vaishnov Devi Temple is again an interesting place of worship and is a literal maze to seek the blessings of the very many deities before leading to the sanctorum of the devi. However, what took us by surprise in the most redeeming form were the pani puris store adjacent to the temple
The tale of the crazy search to find a redeeming 'Pani Puri'
Ok - we all know that north, especially Delhi is known for its 'Gol Gappes' apart from the myriad varieties of chats, junk food and the traditional delicacies. However, we were disappointed with what we tried in the chandni chowk markets and decided that we will try to find one which overwrites this not so memorable one during the course of the travel. The next test was scheduled in Dharamshal, although were not that hopeful to find the redeeming one, we wanted to give it a try. And we found a few stall outside the Dharmshala Himachal Pradesh cricket stadium and decided to have them. We decided to remain optimistic and continue our search of having a better one despite an underwhelming outcome in Dharamshala. We also found the typical pani puri wala, selling his puri's on top of the cycle, outside the gurudwara markets. While we were sceptical on whether they would beat the previous (not so good) one's we had had, nevertheless gave them a try. So the search was still on......
After our Wagah trip, we were taken to the Vaishnov Devi temple. Does patriotism kindles religiousness and spirituality?? Well, we probably wanted to give our gratitude to the universe for making our trip a memorable one so far and probably wanted to be guided to finding that 'Pani Puri' which will be the next new benchmarks for all the future one's to be eaten ;0
Alas!! Our prayers were answered immediately - we found the redeeming pani puri right outside the temple adjacent to the main road, where one could spot a lot other shops selling various Punjabi chat like the potato chops etc. Having pani puri in this chat shop called as the'Ambala pani puri' is an experience in itself. The puri's were fresh, crisp and savoury while the pani (water) was a story in itself. The shop had five matka (terracotta) pots of pani with different flavours(black salt, sweet, Lemon &mint, asafoetida, Cumin) and can be customised as per individual taste. And finally you are given a dahi puri - a puri filled with potatoes, yogurt and some chat masala to quell the after taste of the spicy pani puri's. We fell in love with it so much so, that when we departed to airport for our flight back home, we requested the driver to take a diversion to have this pani puri once more even at the risk of missing our flight!!!
Other places of interest
The partition museum, which is located in the town hall, at the recently renovated Heritage plaza end of the markets surrounding Gurdwara can be a good option for people looking to stroll through after a moderate lunch affair. The partition museum hosts a variety of materials, artefact, stories and documents from the period when the partition took place between India and Pakistan. India's independence struggle is a long drawn one, with many twists and turns and deviations. One of the most emotional and sensitive parts of the struggle was the decision to partition India and Pakistan because of British's divide and rule policy, which created non-reconcilable conflict between Hindus and Muslims. The museum takes you through the events which led to this conflicts along with stories of the very common man who was impacted from this event in the history. The stories both visual, words and audio gives us a strong idea of the dichotomies that existed and exists between the political ill will and perceptions of common peoples and the impacts of the same.
Punjabi food for the novice
For most, Punjabi food contains a lot of potatoes, dhal makhni, black dhal laded with garlic and onions, ghee laden parathas and kulchas along with a glass of malai lassi ending the affair with a hot jalebi or gulab jamun.
Kesar dhaba can be missed
When we read reviews on the curiosity killing internet, Kesar da dhaba was a highly-recommended place. It is at a walkable distance from the Gurdwara and mind you not to take the ricks as the roads are small, clogged and thronged with people - so better take a stroll down. After our long 25-minute trip in the auto rickshaws, we had our lunch at the kesar da dhaba only to be disappointed a notch further - given the long annoying ride pressing for our time to take the taxi to wagah border, we ended up not enjoying the meal of chopri roti (roti laden with no-palatable amounts of clarified butter/ ghee), paneer butter masala, rajma and lassi. Aside from the roti, even the gravies were seen floating under ghee and requires an acquired sense of taste to enjoy them as such.
Some places which blew of our mind away
Shopping at the market lanes surrounding the Gurdwara can be fun but also do check out the wholesale markets if time permits. The markets are known for their clothes with 'Phulkari' work, 'Patiala' pants, Punjabi 'moharis'. Do look at as many shops as possible to learn about the authentic phulkari work and check out on shawls, dresses and sarees with such intricately done embroidery both by hand and machines. And don't forget to bargain - while many shops would say it's a wholesale fixed price, there will be some, where the bargaining can get you a real good deal. While doing so take a break and have a glass of Lassi at the Sudarsan milk centre, next to café coffee day at the markets near Jallianwala bhag and Gurdwara or stroll to the 'Gurudas' jalebi walas, especially in the evening where you can see hot fresh jalebis are made right at the shop front and heavenly looking gulab jamuns dipped in the sugary concoction of goodness. Be open to trying food at the various dhabas and street stalls which sell food of incomparable variety including momo's, potato chat, burgers, kulfi's, flavoured milk served hot in matkas and what not!
Amritsar proved to be a vibrant melting pot of culture with the Gurudwara being the torch bearer of the same with resounding peace, tranquility and serenity.
PS ps: This is a diary of a novice traveler. We sincerely advocate travelers to explore and find things they genuinely enjoy as every experience in themselves are unique and mutually exclusive