INDIA TRAVEL - 5 MUST SEE PLACES ON MY BUCKET LIST IN 2019

Hi friends! I hope you must have planned or started to plan your adventures for this year. After all, new year means new explorations and new learning. I am sure you must be looking forward to traveling to some of the most exotic places on earth. I, for one, have my bucket list of must see places this year and I sincerely hope that things move as per the plan and I am able to visit all these beautiful locations. So, here I am going to share my bucket list for the year 2019 with you all.

1. KUTCH RANN UTSAV - First up on my list is Kutch Rann Utsav, which I had to postpone last year. Organized by Gujarat tourism in the Kutch region of Bhuj district every year, this is a celebration of the local culture and a display of ethnic pride. Held every year from 1st November to 28th February, the Rann Utsav is an extravaganza of ethnic food, dance music and crafts. The Rann of Kutch is one of the largest salt deserts in the world and the Rann Utsav is a festival to be enjoyed under the open skies. The magnitude of the festival can be gauged from the fact that entire Bhuj district goes festive during this period and for the finale of the festival, a special big tent city is set up near a village called Dhordo. This tent city comprises of 400 AC and non AC tents. The shear scale and grandiosity of the celebrations is enough to leave you awestruck. The white sands  of the desert shining through full moon nights gives a thrill of a different kind. 


Rann utsav, Kutch
GLITTERING RANN UTSAV
Image - gujarattourism.com


Kutch Rann Utsav, Gujarat
TENT CITY AT NIGHT
Image - visittnt.com

Rann Utsav Tents
VIEW OF TENT CITY
Image - rannutsavonline.com

And the best part is enjoying amazing performances by local artists, sitting around a bonfire outside your tent. You would cherish every moment of it.


Rann Utsav celebrations
FOLK DANCERS AT RANN UTSAV
Image - weekendthrill.com

2. KHAJJIAR - Second on my list is breathtaking Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh. Also called the Switzerland of India, this heavenly place is located near Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh in north India. This is a unique place in the sense it provides you a rare combination of lakes, forests and pastures. At an altitude of 6500 ft., the beauty and landscape of Khajjiar is sure to mesmerize you. Khajjiar lake, encircled by green pastures and lush green Deodar forests will leave you spellbound. The serenity and natural splendor of the lake will rejuvenate your body and mind. You can get a very good view of Dhauladhar range of Himalayas from here along with snow covered peaks. The green meadows and dense forests add to the charm of the place. For adventure seekers, there are enough options like horse riding, trekking, zorbing and paragliding. The nine hole golf course in Khajjiar is situated in the midst of lush green landscapes is simply breathtaking. The picturesque village around Khajjiar are an added attraction. You can just go exploring the naturally beautiful country side life, their culture and enjoy the local cuisine with them. Roam around in apple orchards of Khajjiar and surrounding villages.


Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
KHAJJIAR
Image - andhrawishesh.com

Khajjiar near Dalhousie
KHAJJIAR IN IT'S FULL GLORY
Image - india.com

Khajjiar Lake, Himachal
KHAJJIAR LAKE
Image - wikipedia.com

Zorbing at Khajjiar lake
ZORBING AT KHAJJIAR
Image - traveldglobe.com

3. SURAJKUND INTERNATIONAL CRAFTS FAIR - Next up is Surajkund International Crafts Fair. This is one event, I don't want to miss for two reasons. First, it is held in my hometown and second it has such an amazing assembly of craftsmen from around the world,who showcase their craftsmanship and wares to the world audience through this fare. This is an annual fair held in Surajkund in Faridabad near Delhi. The fair is organized in the first fortnight of February every year. It is a 15 days affair. Artisans from various countries participate and display their products. The fair ground is a sprawling complex spread over an area of 40 acres. There are cultural troops from different countries which enthrall you with their live performances. And then there is multi cuisine food complex to satisfy your testebuds. Here, you will not only get to eat dishes from different states of India but from the participating countries also. You can pick up what you like from handicrafts, garments, home decor, utensils, display items and even some innovative gift items from here.


People at Surajkund international crafts fair
MEDAGASCAR STALL

Folk artists at Surajkund
FOLK ARTISTS PERFORMING

Handicrafts at Surajkund fair
MOROCCAN HANDICRAFTS ON DISPLAY 

4. BERINAG - This beautiful hill destination is next on my list. Also known as the "town of snake temples" (Nag in the name means snake), Berinag is an epitome of natural beauty. Situated in Pithoragadh district of Uttarakhand, Berinag is a serene hamlet, away from the hustle bustle of the cities. It is located at 160 km(100 mi) from it's more famous and bigger cousin, Nainital, at an altitude of 1860 m(6100 ft). It is an ideal place to connect with nature. You can get a majestic view of some of the crowning peaks of the great Himalayas loke Trishul and Nanda Devi. You can even get a view of Nepal Himalayas at a distance from here. A hidden jewel of Berinag are it's lush green tea gardens. The Nag Devta temple is the main snake temple erected here and is quite popular. There are not many tousist spots around Berinag but this is a place to soak in as much nature as you can and spend some quiet and relaxing time. Unwind and connect with your inner self at Berinag.


BERINAG, Pithoragadh
BERINAG
Image - euttaranchal.com

Himalayan peaks at Berinag
SNOW CAPPED PEAKS AT BERINAG
Image - tripsuggest.com

Nagdevta temple, Berinag, Uttarakhand
NAGDEVTA TEMPLE
Image - uttarakhanddinman.com

5. RAVANGLA - And Ravangla in Sikkim is ultimate. Visiting some of the most beautiful temples and monasteries, indulging in adventure sports, going for trekking, exploring the surroundings and then relaxing with a cup of coffee. That is Ravangla for you. Located at an altitude of 7000 ft, Ravangla is a small town in Sikkim, in north east India. It is 65 km(40 mi) away from state capital Gangtok. You are sure to fall in love with the landscape and tranquility of this place. With Kanchenjunga peaks in the backdrop, it presents a breathtaking sight. The exotic flora and fauna of Ravangla is making it a very attractive destination. The quaint town serves as base for many treks. Some other Himalayan peaks visible from here are Mt. Sinalchu, Mt. Kabru and Mt. Pandim. Ravangla is also a bird watcher's delight as it attracts a lot of Himalayan birds. And if you are a photographer, then head straight to Ravangla to click unending number of pictures of mesmerizing surroundings.


Buddha park, Ravangla, Sikkim
BUDDHA PARK

RAVANGLA, Sikkim
RAVANGLA
Image - guide4travel.in

Tea garden, Sikkim
TEA GARDEN AT RAVANGLA

You may also like - SIKKIM BEYOND GANGTOK, A PLACE FOR ALL SEASONS - PELLING

So what is in your bucket list for 2019? I would love to add to my list above. So do let me know in comments.

HAPPY TRAVELING!!

INDIA TRAVEL - HOW I MANAGED MY TWO DAY TRIP UNDER 2500 INR (35 USD)

Hello friends! This is the beginning of the new year and my best wishes to all of you for wonderful explorations during 2019. Welcome to my first post of the year. With explorations come the money matters and in that respect, I am pretty sure that each one of you would love to spend as little as possible to explore as much as possible. For a compulsive and inquisitive traveler like me, it becomes imperative to go with a tight budget. It not only enables me to manage my finances rationally but also gets me out of worry for my next trip. I hope you all would agree with me on that.

But traveling on a shoestring budget comes with it's own set of problems. There would be some hardships that you must be willing to endure. I know some of you are already saying, "been there, done that" :). But there are many among us, who would love to get new ideas on saving money and traveling on a tight budget. This is as true for solo travelers as for family or group travelers. Nobody wants to splurge money unnecessarily but everyone likes to get most out of whatever they are spending.



Travel budget
CHECK YOUR BUDGET

So, when I was planning for my last trip, I decided to set a very tight budget and check myself if I could manage within that. And it involved letting go of some of the comforts, which I could have had otherwise. And then there was the question of amount of time that I would be able to spend in the budget I had planned.

After considering all factors, I finalized a two day trip to Bikaner in Rajasthan. Bikaner is not a very big city and is a border city. It is about 500 km(312 mi) from my native place, Faridabad, which is again about 40 km(25 mi) south of national capital New Delhi. 

I booked an overnight train from Delhi to Bikaner as the train route doesn't pass through my city. Although it was peak winter (I traveled only last month i.e. December'18), I purposely booked a non -AC coach ticket. So I saved both the ticket as well as night stay. I knew it would be tough to travel non-AC in peak winters but I was prepared, both mentally as well as physically. I did the same for my return journey also. So the total train ticket cost for return journey came to just INR590.


Bikaner junction railway station, Rajasthan
BIKANER RAILWAY STATION

Then I checked and found that there was accommodation available at Bikaner station itself. So I never thought of booking a hotel room and instead booked a bed in the dormitory of the railway station. I made this booking online. I was not sure about the condition of the dormitory so booked only for one night. Actually the dormitory bed is booked for 24 hours slots beginning at 8 o'clock  every morning. And my train was scheduled to arrive at Bikaner station at 7.10 am. So it suited me perfectly. And this 24 hours bed booking cost me just INR200. There are non AC rooms also available at the station, which would have cost INR500.(There are AC rooms also available at major railway stations).


When I checked into the dormitory, I found it pretty decent. Nead and clean with comfortable beds and not much crowd. There were two washrooms attached and hot and cold water running(who would have expected that in a dormitory?:) ). Beds were quite comfortable. So it more or less justified my decision. Now the question before me was that should I extend the booking for another 24 hrs, considering that I was to catch my return train next night at 10.30. Which meant, paying for additional 24 hours but availing the facility for only 14 hrs (since my early booking expired at 8 am next day). But after doing cost benefit analysis, I concluded that I must keep the accommodation till the time I left Bikaner. So I got my dormitory bed booking extended by another 24 hours by paying additional INR200. So far, the cost of my to and fro train journey and my stay in the city - INR990.

Now coming to traveling intra city. Traveling in Bikaner is fairly cheap. The main mode of transport being autorickshaws and owing to short distances, they don't cost much. However, if you wish to travel to spots outside the city, then you have to shell out bigger amounts. But traveling inside the city will cost you not more than INR10-20 one way. So in two days, that I was in the city, I spent about INR160 in two days on local travel and further INR80 on entry tickets to monuments. So, the total spend so far INR1230.


Local travel cost
SAVE ON LOCAL TRAVEL
As for food, it is again not very expensive in Bikaner. And me being a veggie, made it easier for me. You can have a fullsome veg meal(and the city primarily serves veg meal), for INR150. Therefore, I spent roughly INR400 per day on three meals, including breakfast. This adds upto INR800 for two days. My total cost so far INR2030.

And finally, my cost for travel from my city to Delhi Sarai Rohilla station and back was INR270, which included the metro train fare to and from Delhi and autorickshaw fare to and from metro station to railway station. The grand total adds up to INR2300 (which comes to 32 USD roughly). I hope my maths is correct because I was never brilliant in maths :).

So INR2300 is all that I spent on a trip from Faridabad to Bikaner and back. I left home on Tuesday evening and was back on Friday morning. 

You may also like : Very Useful Tips to Save Money on Travel

Looking back, I feel I did fairly well. I don't only hope but I am sure that some of you will take a cue and plan your next adventure keeping the above economics in mind. And let me stress the fact that not once during my journey, did I ever feel uncomfortable or deprived. On the contrary, it turned out to be very enjoyable and refreshing experience.

All the best to you for your next travel.
TRAVEL SAFE, TRAVEL ECONOMICALLY!!

CHEERSSSSSS!!!!

INDIA PLACES TO VISIT - MY 48 HOURS IN BIKANER

Junagarh fort, Bikaner


Hello friends! Winter is at it's peak now. And there are a few preferred places one would like to travel to, in this season. I had been contemplating a trip for some time but wasn't really able to decide on my destination. I am more of a mountain lover, so I always love to head to hills at the first opportunity. However, this time, owing to severe winter and continuous snowfall in the hills, I decided to look for a place to travel in the plains. Now the big question again was - where? After lot of thinking, permutations, combinations and brain storming, I zeroed in on one Bikaner.

I have always been fascinated by Rajasthan and it's vibrant colors. And I had never been to Bikaner but had heard a lot about the place. I wanted to explore the unknown. So I got my tickets and hopped on to an overnight train from Delhi Sarai Rohilla station directly to Bikaner.

The train was supposed to reach Bikaner at 7.10 next morning, but to my surprise, it touched Bikaner Junction station before time, at 6.45 am. Most of the passengers, including myself, were still in sleeping mode and did not realize that train had reached it's destination. It was only when a few fellow passengers announced that we had reached Bikaner, did we get out of our slumber. I quickly packed and picked up my belongings(which was just a backpack) and moved out of the train compartment.

Bikaner station
ARCHITECTURE OF BIKANER STATION

On landing at the Bikaner station platform, the first thing that greeted me was the chilly wind. It was extremely cold. Temperature at that point in time mustn't have been more than 4-5 degrees Celsius. I had not anticipated that Bikaner will be so cold. Thankfully, I had my woolen cap and jacket on, so could bear the chill. It was still a little dark, the beginning of a new dawn. I went directly to my place of stay and relaxed for a while in the cozy quilt. 


Bikaner junction railway station
BIKANER RAILWAY STATION

After relaxing for a little while, I got up and got ready to explore the city. Bikaner is not a very big city but it has it's own old world charm and some of the most enchanting historical landmarks. And slowly, it's trying to catch up with modern times too.

JUNAGARH FORT - My first stop was Junagarh Fort, which is only 3 km from railway station. It is a sprawling complex which consists of many palaces. It was known as Chintamani Durg, when it was built in the year 1589, by the then ruler of Bikaner, Maharaja Rai Singhji. From outside it looked like an imposing structure but there was not much inside. But his successors decided to beautify the fort and built various palaces inside it. Originally, the fort was built of red sandstone but later, materials from around the world were used to build structures inside the fort and subsequently, it was renamed Junagarh Fort.


Door of Junagarh fort
JUNAGARH FORT DOOR
The door of the fort is itself a huge structure. From the look of it, it seems very heavy and I wondered how many people would have been employed to open and close it.

Once inside, I could only admire the architecture. The boundary wall itself is made from red sandstone and consists of gallerias and places to watch over.



Junagarh fort from inside
INSIDE JUNAGARH FORT
JUNAGARH FORT, Bikaner
WALL OF JUNAGARH FORT FROM INSIDE


Moving further inside, I found myself in a big courtyard. This was Vikram Mahal, first of many palaces in Junagarh Fort.



Vikram Mahal, Junagarh Fort
VIKRAM MAHAL


Vikram palace lobby, Bikaner
LOBBY OF VIKRAM PALACE


Vikram Mahal canopy, Junagarh Palace
CANOPY IN VIKRAM MAHAL LOBBY


Windows architecture, Junagarh Fort
ARCHITECTURE OF WINDOWS

I could see a beautiful jharokha (window) from the couryard, made of blue and white imported marble.



Jharokha, Junagarh Fort, Bikaner
JHAROKHA WITH BLUE AND WHITE TILES

Next in line was Phool Mahal.



Phool Mahal, Bikaner
ARTISTRY ON PHOOL MAHAL DOOR


Phool Mahal, Junagarh Fort
PAINTING ON THE DOOR



Floor of Phool Mahal in Junagarh fort
PHOOL MAHAL FLOOR

From Phool Mahal, I was taken to Rai Niwas.



Rai Niwas, Junagarh Fort
RAI NIWAS

Next to Rai Niwas is Anup Mahal.



Pillar of Anup Mahal, Bikaner
GOLDEN PILLAR IN ANUP MAHAL


Maharaja's throne, Anup Mahal
THRONE OF MAHARAJA IN ANUP MAHAL


Bedroom in Junagarh fort
MAHARAJA'S BEDROOM


From Anup Mahal, there are stairs leading to top of the fort. From the ramparts, one can have a good view of the city.





Junagarh fort, Bikaner
RAMAPARTS OF THE FORT


Gallery in Junagarh fort
GALLERY ABOVE VIKRAM MAHAL


Junagarh fort ramparts
VIEW FROM THE RAMPARTS

There are beautiful parks in the backyard of the fort.



Junagarh fort back view
BACKYARD OF JUNAGARH FORT

You get amazing view of the parks and the city from the ramparts of the fort.


Junagarh fort
VIEW OF PARKS IN THE FORT AND THE CITY FROM RAMPARTS


Junagarh fort lawns
ANOTHER VIEW FROM THE RAMPARTS


Junagarh fort wall, Bikaner
FORT WALL IN THE BACKGROUND




From the ramparts of the fort, I was led back to ground floor to the amazing fort museum. This museum has a really incredible collection of many articles of bygone years. This includes cloths, arms, furniture, paintings, miscellaneous articles presented to royals and many more.


This big vessel is called Degchi and was used to store water or cook food.


Vessel in Junagarh museum
DEGCHI


Drum in Bikaner museum
THE DRUM USED TO MAKE ANNOUNCEMENTS


Arms of Bikaner kings
DIFFERENT SHAPED SPEARS


Swords of royals in Junagarh fort
SWORDS AND CONCHES

Furniture in Junagarh Fort Museum
DINING TABLE AND SOFA OF ROYALS


Bikaner Maharaja Throne
THRONE OF MAHARAJA
This is the actual Palki used to ferry queens and princesses.


Palki, Junagarh fort museum
PALKI

These paintings depict King George V interacting with Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner.


Junagarh fort painting


Painting in Junagarh fort museum

Junagarh fort Museum has beautiful ceilings with carved arches.

Junagarh fort museum ceiling


After enjoying the amazing Junagarh fort, I came out and went straight to Prachina Museum.

You need to purchase a ticket to enter Junagarh fort. Ticket is valued at INR50 for Indians and INR200 for foreigners.

PRACHINA MUSEUM - This museum is located in the Junagarh fort complex only and houses many articles used by royals. It was established in the year 2000 and traces the culture of Bikaner. 

Prachina museum, Bikaner
PRACHINA MUSEUM

Silver cutlery in Prachina museum
SILVER CUTLERY USED BY ROYALS

There are numerous items, which were gifted/imported by royals.

Prachina museum, Bikaner glasses
ROYAL GLASSES


Prachina museum, Junagarh fort
ROYAL TEA SETS
Items in Prachina Museum, Bikaner
MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS INCLUDING A TELESCOPE 



Decoration items in Prachina Museum, Junagarh fort
VARIOUS DECORATION ITEMS
Prachina museum also has an entrance ticket, which is priced at INR30. This ticket can be purchased along with ticket to the fort.

The visiting time to the fort is 10 am to 6 pm.

BHANDASAR JAIN TEMPLE - This is a Jain temple in the old city, famous for fabulous paintings on it's walls and pillars. It is really marvelous and I could not help admire the artistry. It is situated just 4 km from railway station.

SANCTUM SANCTORAM OF BHANDASAR TEMPLE, Bikaner
SANCTUM SANCTORAM OF BHANDASAR TEMPLE


Bhandasar Jain temple, Bikaner
BEAUTIFULLY MADE FLOOR OF THE TEMPLE


Bhandasar jain temple wall painting
PAINTING ON THE WALL
Beautifully carved walls of Bhandasar Jain temple below.
Bhandasar Jain Temple, Bikaner, architecture
Work on the ceiling of the temple is simply amazing.
Bhandasar Jain temple, Bikaner, ceiling


Carving in Bhandasar Jain Temple, Bikaner
CARVING JUST BELOW THE CEILING
Adjacent to Bhandasar Jain Temple is LAXMINATH TEMPLE. It has a lot of religious significance for the locals. The evening Arti is something not to be missed. Done with loud beating of drums, the whole atmosphere is full of energy. This temple again consists of many small temples, dedicated to different deities like Ganesha, Shiva, Raam Sita etc. 

LAXMINATH TEMPLE, Bikaner
LAXMINATH TEMPLE

I was stopped from taking the pictures inside the temple by the priests as photography is not alloed inside the premises.

RAMPURIA HAVELIS - For me, the biggest draw in Bikaner were the Rampuria Havelis of old city.
There are five havelis and this is the biggest of them.

RAMPURIA HAVELI, Bikaner picture
RAMPURIA HAVELI




Windows of Rampuria Haveli
WINDOWS OF ANOTHER HAVELI

There were originally seven havelis but five of them are still prominently visible. They have traditional architecture and each one of them has elements like Jharokha, Chajja and Jaali. However, some elements have been borrowed from English architecture also, like those of doors and Ox eyes.

Door of Rampuria haveli, Bikaner
DOORS OF BIGGER HAVELI

Picture of Rampuria haveli, Bikaner
CLOSE UP OF HAVELI

Although owners of the havelis don't live here anymore but still they are very well maintained and there are very less signs of wear and tear.


Architecture of Rampuria havelis
HAVELI ARCHITECTURE


Bikaner Rampuria Haveli Door
DOOR OF ANOTHER HAVELI

Rampuria haveli, Bikaner windows
WINDOWS OF ANOTHER HAVELI

The main market here is at Kot Gate, hardly a kilometer from railway station. I preferred walking to Kot Gate to enjoy and explore the shops in the area. There were a few eateries and hotels. Then there were shops selling general stuff. But my attention was caught by a very clean and organized sweet shop named Chotu Motu Joshi. And I was told that the shop was famous for it's Kachoris and Rasgullas. I tried some and it was amazing. I would surely recommend it to you.

Kot Gate is a congested place with lot of traffic coming from all directions. However, if you are looking to get some Bikaneri Bhujia, this is the place for you. You will get all kinds of Bhujias and papads from this place. And yes, on the way from station to Kot Gate, there is a small original Haldiram shop, near Lalji restaurant. 

I am not a foodie but for food lovers among you, there is a food street here named Junagarh Chowpatti, just opposite Junagarh fort. This food street comes alive in the evening and you can savor all kinds of delicacies here. Of special interest should be Rajasthani Dhaba which serves choicest Rajasthani dishes.

Local travelling in Bikaner is quite cheap. Main mode of transport is the autorickshaw, which charges about INR10 for a travel of 3-4 kms.

So all in all, Bikaner is a small city with big attractions. I had most entertaining and informative 48 hours in the city and enjoyed every minute of it.

So when are you visiting Bikaner?

Any queries regarding the place, you can ask me in the comments section.

Big Rampuria Haveli, Bikaner


I WISH ALL MY FRIENDS, READERS AND FELLOW BLOGGERS 
A VERY HAPPY, JOYOUS AND PROGRESSIVE NEW YEAR 2019.