Gateway to two pilgrim destinations Kishangarh!

The ghats around Pushkar Lake

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Thank God both my partner and I see what we see. I travel to make memories, rejuvenate and feed my inner soul!

Since we had to plan a quick trip for the weekend, most of the places in the ‘to cover’ list which were further away had to be crossed out. By the end, we were only left with Kishangarh (Pushkar and Ajmer). I have always wanted to experience the Pushkar fair. Since it happens every year around November, we were not too sure if we should plan a trip now in February. Nonetheless, we went ahead with our plans. And, we did not regret our decision!

Rajasthan, to me, is all about colours, vibrancy, music, forts, tales and the people! I have covered many parts of the region. Had done a family trip to Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur back in 2012. Had traveled to Udaipur on New Year’s Eve in 2016. Have visited Jaipur multiple times. Been to Bharatpur Sanctuary too. Kishangarh was my seventh destination within Rajasthan.

Kishangarh is a city in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. The city also known as Marble City of India, is famous for a special kind of painting called ‘Bani Thani’. There are many tales about this style of painting which originated from Kishangarh. While there are quite a few things to see in Kishangarh, like the Kishangarh Fort, Nepheline Syenite, National Geological Monument, Nine Planets Temple, we decided to head straight to our stay (which was closer to Pushkar/Ajmer and around one hour away from the airport) as soon as we landed in Kishangarh. Before the Kishangarh airport was built, people had to travel to Pushkar and Ajmer by road which was time-consuming. People either directly traveled to Pushkar or flew to Jaipur and then traveled more than 100 kms to reach Pushkar/Ajmer.

On our way to the resort

We stayed at a beautiful ‘Ananta Spa and Resort’, which was surrounded by hills and hence had a picturesque view in the backdrop. We were quite happy with the place. The rooms were spacious, comfy and clean.

The next morning we set off for Pushkar city which was just 4 kms away from our resort. Pushkar is in the central part of Rajasthan and on the western side of the Aravalli Mountains. The city is known for its annual fair, which is the largest camel, horse and cattle fair in India and maybe the world. Every year traders, tourists, pilgrims and locals flock to the city in the month of October/November. Supposedly the Pushkar fair alone attracts over 200,000 visitors every year.

Just another day for me!

Pushkar is also famous for its temples. The most significant one in the city is the Temple of Lord Brahma. It is one of the very few existing temples dedicated to the Hindu creator, Lord Brahma in India and remains the most prominent among them. The Brahma Temple has many mythological tales about its origin. We heard a few interesting ones from the locals.

Next, we visited the Savitri Mata temple. This temple is located at the top of the Ratnagiri Hill and is dedicated to Savitri, the wife of Lord Brahma. One would need to use either the cable car or the steps to reach the temple. You get a beautiful view of the city from the hill. There is an interesting mythological story behind its origin. It goes like – once, Lord Brahma was performing a yagna on the bank of the Pushkar Lake where the presence of his wife (Savitri) was required. But because she was late in arriving, Brahma married another girl (Gayatri) to complete this ritual on time. When Savitri arrived, she was upset to see someone else in her place and in her anger she cursed everyone present there. Later, she went to the Ratnagiri hills to atone for her deeds. The temple was hence constructed in her remembrance.

View from Savitri Mata Mandir

Next on our list was the beautiful Pushkar Lake, one of the most prominent spots of pilgrimage. The beauty of the lake is because of the ghats surrounding it. There is a total of 52 ghats around the lake. Out of the 52 ghats used by pilgrims to take a holy dip, 10 important ghats on the periphery of the lake, have supposedly been declared as ‘Monuments of National Importance’. It was a beautiful experience to witness the serene, calm atmosphere at the lake, with devotees offering prayers, taking holy dips, birds silently making their way in the stunning blue and bright sky.

Pushkar Lake

We then headed back to our resort and decided to relax for the rest of the day but only after we had our share of mouth-watering Rajasthani food. We were quite ambitious and thought we had the appetite to devour a whole Rajasthani thali. But we were wrong! The most common Rajasthani food are ‘Besan Gatte ki Sabji’, ‘Daal Bati Churma’, ‘Laal Maas’, ‘Rajasthani Kadhi’, ‘Ker Sangri’ and our thaali had it all and more!!!

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On the last day, we checked out and headed to Ajmer, one of the oldest cities in Rajasthan. Ajmer is famously known for the ‘Ajmer Dargah’, the Mayo College and its lakes. We stopped at the Ana Sagar Lake which is spread over 13 kms and is the biggest in the city. The lake is surrounded by hills which makes it visually attractive.

Ana Sagar Lake - Ajmer

On our way to the airport, we stopped over at the Nareli Jain Temple. It is a complex comprising of 14 temples built recently. It is known for its architecture and intricate stone carvings which gives it both a traditional yet contemporary look.

Nareli Jain Temple

Though Pushkar and Ajmer are mostly destinations for pilgrims, I think it has something for all travelers. I am not a very religious person but what my grandmother once told me made a difference. I remember I used to make faces whenever she asked us to accompany her to the temples. But one day she told me that I need not visit the temples for any religious sentiment but may visit it for its tales, architecture, views etc. That definitely made sense to me!

Kerala is alive and kicking!

Trips which are not planned are the best because the whole process then becomes about discovering!! And, we just went with the flow – booked our tickets last minute, booked a hotel a week before leaving and we were all set…to visit Kerala (Kochi)! Honestly, we were a little unsure if we should visit Kochi after the devastating floods but, we were pleasantly surprised to see the city so alive!! By the end of the trip we were quite happy with our decision.

Cochin, another name for Kochi means “like-China”. When the Chinese migrated there in the 14th century, they thought that the region resembled China and therefore they named it Cochin. We were quite intrigued by the history of this city. It was invaded time and again by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and finally by the British. It was not just the invaders, but because the city was an important spice trading center, it was also often visited by the Arabs, the Jews and the Chinese. The city thus has had an influence of many cultures.

We arrived at Kochi on a Saturday morning and took a cab directly from the airport to Fort Kochi (which was 1.5 hours away from the Kochi airport). Infact, we were ferried to Fort Kochi while we were in the cab. This was quite fascinating! The name ‘Fort Kochi’ is derived from ‘Fort Emmanuel’ which was the first Portuguese fort built in Asia in that area.  But we could hardly see any remains of the Fort now.

That's how we were ferried to the other side

We stayed at the Towerhouse (a Neemrana property) located at the Vasco da Gama (Fort Kochi) square and that’s where you get the best view of the famous Chinese nets that were introduced during the 14th century. After settling down, we picked up the map and zeroed down on places we wanted to visit. Though local transport was easily available, we decided to walk around Fort Kochi. The weather was lovely and every place we wanted to visit was approximately 1-2 kms away.

Since it was a three days trip we decided to stay in Kochi and not venture elsewhere. People advised us to travel to Munnar, Alleppey, etc but we decided not to. There is a lot you can do in Kochi.

So here is my take on what you should not miss during a visit to Kochi:

  1. Trying the local food and cafes – We tried a variety of food during our stay and everything was just perfect. We tried the fish wrapped in banana leaf with rice at a local restaurant at Fort Kochi. We tried some lip smacking biryani at Kayees Rahmathullah near Mattacherry area. Kashi Art Café (at Fort Kochi) had a great vibe. As you enter you will find a lot of interesting artefacts. On another day we discovered this small but cozy café named Fusion Bay, which served local food. We were so hungry and ended up finishing everything we ordered. We left the place with a big smile. This place is a must visit!Local food
  2. Visiting the Kerala Kathakali centre – if you want to get introduced to Kathakali as a dance form (an important part of Kerala culture) then this place is a must visit. It was a great experience for us. The intricate make-up was done right in front of us. We were also given a translation of the story which was presented that night and it helped us understand and enjoy the performance better. It was an overwhelming experience!
  3. Taking the ferry ride/boat jetty to Ernakulam – Although it was a nightmare because we had to stand in a long queue for almost 1.5 hours to buy the tickets, by the end of the ride I realized it was all worth it. The sunset, the waves, the glimpse of the INS ‘Vikramaditya’ made it worthwhile. It was all so serene. Serene views
  4. Indulge in some shopping – Since Kochi has been at the center of Indian spice trade, spice shopping is a must!! We bought some very aromatic spices from the local spice market at whole sale price. Most of the spices are grown in Kerala so there is no way you can miss the spice shops. We also picked up some Kerala cotton sarees from Jayalakshmi (located at MG road in Ernakulam). Spice shop
  5. Witnessing fishermen at work – While walking around the streets, we also spent some time watching fishermen at work. They were using the Chinese fishing nets for fishing. Fishermen at work
  6. Getting to know the city by visiting the museums – There are quite a few museums in the city. We visited three –
    • The Mattancherry Palace (which is also a museum) – The Palace was built and gifted by the Portuguese to the king of Cochin around 1555. The Dutch carried out some expansions and renovations in the palace in 1663, and thereafter it was popularly called the Dutch Palace. This was the best museum because it had a lot to offer- information about the history of Kerala and its people, wildlife, culture, handloom, architecture and murals.
    • Indo-Portuguese museum – located inside the Bishop house. We got to see some old maps of Kerala which is of historical and geographical importance. This museum also showcased the Portuguese influence on the city.
    • Indian Naval Maritime museum – As we entered the gate, a gentleman told us that two sturdy bunkers to store arms and ammunition (built by the British) were after many years converted into this museum . While this museum showcased a lot of information about the Indian navy, do not miss the documentaries screened inside. You get to learn a lot about the Indian navy’s glorious past.
  7. Visiting churches, synagogue, beaches – During our stay we also visited many other touristy places. I’m listing down some of the names here.
    • Cherai Beach located on the northern tip of the Vypin island
    • Paradesi Synagogue
    • Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica – The Dutch invaded and conquered Cochin in 1663. All Catholic buildings were supposedly destroyed but the St. Francis Church and the Cathedral were spared. The Dutch made the cathedral their arms storehouse. Later it fell into the hands of the British who demolished it when they took over Cochin in 1795. One of the decorative granite pillars of the destroyed Cathedral is still kept as a monument at the Basilica premises.
    • St. Francis Church – The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon.
    • Jewish cemetery and Dutch cemetery – Although you won’t be able to enter the cemeteries but you can definitely get a glimpse from outside.

Suddymoody tips

  • Try getting an Ayurvedic healing massage – During my search for good Spas I came across some names which might be useful to you – The Fort Ayurveda spa, at the Fort House hotel in Fort Kochi, Ayurville, Agastya Ayurveda Massage and Wellness Center on Princess Street. I did not try any of them so please do your research well before going for a massage.
  • Visit Spice bazaar on Broadway. Broadway is opposite to marine drive (Ernakulam). Though you will find spice market in Fort Kochi area, those might be expensive. Jew town also has a Spice market.
  • Do go for the ferry/jetty rides but to avoid long queues make sure that it’s not a national holiday or during peak hours when people use ferries to commute the most!

Goa, the place for every season

Candolim beach
The connect with Goa and the ocean!

I have visited Goa eight times in all. This may not be a big deal for many but I also know people who have never been to Goa. So this post is an attempt to help them make a plan. Goa is beautiful in every season so you need not wait for a December. I have been there in winter, summer, spring and monsoon!

I am a beach person and hence visiting Goa has become almost like a yearly ritual for me. I feel a connection with the ocean. The vastness of an ocean amazes and scares me at the same time. It amazes me to witness that at one moment the waves are wild and the next moment it’s all calm. It gives you many life lessons.

My first ever visit to the city was in 1999. This was during a school excursion when we were visiting Mumbai, Pune, Lonavla and Goa. This was also my first ever trip with my school friends and my memories are still very fresh. This trip was during the new year’s eve of the millennium year. It seemed as if everybody was in Goa to celebrate the New Year. It was over-crowded. It was supposed to be fun but I hated Goa then and only because of the crowd. During that visit, I tried ‘feni’ (a local drink made of cashew); again I hated it because I tried it neat. It was quite bitter in taste. We visited the ‘Basilica of Bom Jesus’, a beautiful church which is a UNESCO listed world heritage site. It is located in old Goa and holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier (one of the greatest Roman Catholic missionaries of modern times who was instrumental in the establishment of Christianity in India).

Old Goa
Basilica of Bom Jesus

I left Goa that year to not return ever, but who knew that from the next visit it would become a ritual?

The next visit was an offsite trip arranged by an organization I worked with in 2010. Employees from across India came to Goa for this trip. Day time was dedicated to presentations, case studies, learnings and conversations. Evenings were reserved only for fun! During this visit I started exploring Goa in its real sense. We visited shacks at the Anjuna beach and Baga beach. We tried sea food and drinks. By the end of the trip I had bonded well with my colleagues across India and with GOA!

In 2011, I returned with my school friends. This was a fun trip. I drove the scooty for the very first time. Exploring Goa on a scooty is the best thing to do. Every lane has shops which offers scooties on rent. Just make sure you carry your driving license with you. Other than scooties you also get four wheelers on rent. It’s not a great idea to hire taxis (with drivers) as it’s costlier and you are dependent on them. I tried the local curry dish ‘Vindaloo’. It’s quite popular and you can find both veg and non-veg variants.

2014 onwards I visited Goa every year with friends. And with each year I have realized that my bond with Goa has deepened. That year I visited Goa with 20 friends and it was one hell of a trip! We stayed near Candolim beach in North Goa. We visited Fort Aguada (popularized by the movie ‘Dil Chahta Hai’). This Portuguese fort was built in 1612 to guard the city from the Dutch and the Marathas. The fort also has a light house standing tall. Entry is free of cost and you should try to visit it in the morning to avoid the heat during the day.

During a few of my visits, I also went to the Saturday night bazaar (flea market) in Arpora. You will find all kinds of things in this night market (it starts at around 6 pm and is open all through the night) from food to clothes to live music. We also went to Curlies which is a popular shack on Anjuna beach. Aviation enthusiasts should definitely visit the Naval aviation museum. Its located quite close to the airport and showcases a collection of vintage and current aircraft. You can also buy some souvenirs for friends and family back home.

By the end of these trips, I have realized that there is something for everyone in Goa! You can plan a trip to just party in Goa, try club hopping, or you could opt to beach hop, or you could just go there for a relaxing weekend and, take walks in the lanes, eat yummy food and drink to your heart’s content. I am sure nobody has ever come back from Goa without having a good time!

suddymoody recommendations and facts:

  • When in Goa try fish and pork dishes
  • Do try the grilled/masala king fish
  • Trying Port wine is a must
  • Visit Curlies at Anjuna beach before the sunset. You will get to witness a beautiful view of the sunset on your approach to Curlies
  • Stay in North Goa if it’s your first visit. That’s where all the action is (if action is your thing J)
  • Don’t drink and drive! Rules have become stricter – but not just because of rules, na?
  • The cashews there are not cheap but of good quality. You can take some home for your friends and family
  • Vagator and Arambol beaches are beautiful
  • Shacks on the beaches can charge you more but it’s worth it because of the view
  • You can try the Goan pork sausages. You will find it in the bigger departmental stores if you want to carry some home
  • For good food you can visit Fisherman’s cove and Fat fish
  • You will find many vegetarian restaurants too
  • Goa airport also serves as military airbase (air station of the Indian Navy)

The charming city…Kolkata

I keep going back to Kolkata as (No prizes for guessing! No I am not from Kolkata. But like most Bongs I have family in Kolkata :-D) my sister lives there. But that’s not the only reason. Each time I go back, I find something very charming about the city. But, just as my romance with the city begins, something tells me not to tread that path. I guess I share a love and hate relationship with the city!

Kolkata is a very vibrant city. You come across people who are always on the move and in contrast there are people who you see are just lazing, playing cards or carom. The streets are always bustling with vehicles, trams, and street hawkers. There are sweet shops and food joints in almost every lane you pass by.

Food is another major pull-factor for me to go back to the city each time. Right from the puchkas (golgappe/paani puri) to aloo chop to Chinese food – everything is just out of this world! I would recommend ‘China Town’ for authentic and cost-effective Chinese cuisines.

As much as I like the city, there are certain drawbacks too. I feel the city is too crowded, life in general moves at a slow pace, traffic is pretty bad all the time and most of the times the weather is humid.

My love for Kolkata has developed over the years. From not wanting to go to the city at all, to visiting the city every 6 months (on an average), I have come a long way!

Some things that really stand out are…..

  1. Passionate people – People in Kolkata are passionate about a lot of things. They can talk endlessly about literature, culture, food, and football! During the world cup season (and otherwise too), every person (from kids to adults) talks and discusses about football with much passion. During my most recent visit, I got into a conversation with a cab driver who was dropping me off at my sister’s place. All throughout the way he kept talking about the world cup. I was happy listening to him till the time he said ‘bolun to didi Argentina harlo keno?’ (please tell me sister why did Argentina lose?). And I had no answer (as I don’t really follow football). I thought he is going to judge me but I played along ;-).
  2. The Ganga boat ride – Two years back I had visited Kolkata with a group of friends. I was entrusted with the task of taking them around the city (because they assumed, being a Bong, I will be an expert city guide ;-)) and that’s when I got to actually explore and know the city. We visited the Victoria memorial and walked around the streets. We took the tram ride (for the first time ever) and I was quite excited about it. I made them have all kinds of Bengali dishes which they quite liked. The main attraction however was the boat ride on the river Ganga. We took the ride from Princep ghat. During the ride, we could see both the Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu with the sunset as the backdrop and it was a breath-taking view! You may bargain for the ride if you want. But, by the time you finish your ride I am sure you will end up tipping the ‘majhi’.
  3. Street food to go with the ‘bhar er cha’ – Every time I visit the city, I make sure I don’t miss out on the street food and the tea served in clay cups. This is a must have for all tea lovers. The tea tastes even better when served in these cups. And with the monsoons setting in, this is the ideal time to grab some cutlets, pyaji (onion pakoras) and tea.
  4. Visiting ‘Kumortuli’ before Durga puja – I had read many articles about this place called the ‘Kumortuli’ in Kolkata but it’s altogether a different experience when you actually visit this place. During your visit, in those narrow lanes, inside dilapidated houses, you will come across several artisans/traditional potters working hard to give shape to Durga Protimas (idols) of all sizes. In case you have any queries for the artisans, please wait for their tea breaks. This is where all the idols you see at the Puja Pandals come from. Depending on the time you visit this place (closer to puja or much before puja) you will witness the different stages of the idol making. This is a paradise for people who are into photography. Even amateur photographers like me would get beautiful shots from one such visit!

I am sure you must be wondering being a Bong and while talking about the Bong city, I did not mention about sweets at all. This is because I am one of those rare bongs who has a missing sweet tooth hence I don’t enjoy talking about it too.

More pictures…

6 must-dos in Bhutan!

Hello readers! Hope my previous post was helpful to many of you. Thank you for taking time out and reading it.

Excited and motivated with the response, I am now sharing with you my second post!!

My obsession with the number ‘6’ continues. Another reason for this obsession is the fact that I like being an average human. That doesn’t however mean I am not ambitious :-). When I was in school, my mom used to tell me that if I studied a bit more, I had the potential to secure the first/second position in class. But purposely (and I am being very honest here), I used to make sure that I secured the 4th or 5th (position). This is because I did not want to take on the pressure of excelling each time. I was happy being an average student then. With time, I guess I’ve changed and become a part of the rat race ;-).

Now coming back to Bhutan…I really think that you should include the following in your itinerary. Please note that I visited Punakha-Thimphu-Paro only and the post is therefore based on my experiences in these places.

  1. Do visit the Thimphu central post office – You must be wondering why would someone suggest a visit to a post office!!! Yes, I am a little crazy otherwise but let me explain why. This is because you can get your customized stamps made at the Thimphu central post office. Select a picture and share it with the staff there and the next thing you see is your personalized stamps!! Now how cool is that?? I find the idea of receiving a post card (a handwritten letter) that too with a personalized stamp quite ‘nostalgic’. We actually used those stamps to send postcards to our family.
  2. Do visit the Punakha Dzong – it was love at first sight (literally) for me. The drive from Thimphu to Punakha is around 3 hours (with a break for lunch). I remember I was feeling miserable during and after the drive because of the hilly terrain (read motion sickness). So ideally, I should have rested that evening. But we decided to step out and I’m glad we took that decision. Our super sweet driver took us to the Dzong and what a view it was (I have posted a picture in my previous article). We couldn’t take our eyes off from that magnificent structure. Over the next two days during our stay in Punakha we tried clicking pictures of the Dzong from all possible angles (and I am not kidding ;-)).
  3. Do try river rafting in Punakha – This was not a part of our itinerary initially but I’m glad we did it. While gazing at the beautiful Mo Chhu river we saw a couple of rafts coming our way. Hence, we enquired and cracked a deal for the next day. So, the next day after our visit to the nunnery and the Dzong we went for river rafting with a few local people. It was fun interacting with them while braving the rapids. It was not as adventurous as the Rishikesh rafting but it’s a must do for first-timers, senior citizens and people who are generally scared about the idea of rafting.
  4. Do try ‘phaksha paa’ at the Damchen resort – People in Bhutan mostly eat red rice (locally grown there) and cheese-based dishes to go along with it. ‘Ema Datshi’ (prepared with just cheese and chilies) is a very common dish there. What I really loved was the ‘phaksha paa’ served at the Damchen resort. We were not staying there but would have loved to as it’s located near the river. ‘Phaksha’ means pork and ‘Paa’ is the recipe. If you don’t like pork, there is a chicken variant too for you. I like experimenting a lot when it comes to food (I also experiment quite a bit with by hair) so this dish I thought is worth mentioning here.
  5. Do go for the Tiger’s Nest trek – This particular activity deserves a separate post which I will eventually write. This is definitely a must-do for all people traveling to Bhutan. I don’t think travellers should care about the time taken to complete the entire trek but it is definitely a good idea to complete the trek! Trust me on this, the feeling of exultation after you complete this trek is beyond description! I have never ever trekked in my entire life and if I could complete it, I think anyone can. More details in my next post.
  6. Tiger's nest
  7. Exuberant!
  8. If shopping is in your agenda do shop at Paro – While Thimphu has many shops for touristy shopping, I would recommend you save your money for Paro as you will get lot more options there. There is a single lane with quaint shops all around. You may wish to bargain a bit. Some shops offer you a discount too. You can look out for baby yak stoles, beautiful masks, souvenirs (I personally like collecting fridge magnets). Happy shopping!!
  9. Paro
  10. The shopping street

And just to let you guys know…I am not getting any commission from the Bhutan King 😉