INDIA TRAVEL - A MUGHAL ERA MARVEL - YADAVINDRA (PINJORE) GARDENS

Hello friends! Hope you are having a good time traveling and exploring. Today I am going to serve a slice of history.

India's most beautiful city, Chandigarh has a number of tourist attractions in and around it. But there is none to beat the historical Yadavindra Gardens, popularly known as Pinjore Gardens for their splendor, architecture, greenery and enchanting scenery.

HISTORY - It was built as Mughal Gardens for Aurangzeb, as a summer retreat by his foster brother and architect Muzaffar Hussain (also known as Fidai Khan) in the 17th century in the foothills of mighty Himalayas. Later mughals abandoned this garden and it came under the rulers of Patiala dynasty in the 19th century. They used the terraces of the garden to grow roses for making fragrances/perfumes for the Maharaja. Later Maharaja Yadavindra Singh restored it to it's erstwhile glory and so it was renamed after him as Yadavindra Gardens.

Yadavindra gardens
PINJORE GARDENS
LOCATION - Yadavindra or Pinjore Gardens are located on Ambala Shimla road on highway no. 21,  in Pinjore city of the Panchkula district of Haryana state. It is near to 8th century Bhima Devi Temple. It is just 22 km(14 mi) from the city of Chandigarh and 255 km(158 mi) from Delhi, the capital of India. And the best part is it is just 5 km(3 mi) from world heritage Kalka - Shimla railway. It is very easy to travel to this place from Delhi as well as Chandigarh. It has been used for shooting many Bollywood films.

ARCHITECTURE - Yadavindra garden has a layout in the shape of seven terraces. All at different levels. The main gate of the gardens opens in the highest terrace. Spread over an area of 100 acres, it has a central waterway with walkways on both sides of the waterway, which is in a channel shape. Both sides are covered by greenery and flowers and are provided shades by trees. The sloping ground has water fountains, which are located inside the waterway. Water channel runs along the entire length of the garden. All these give added charm and elegance to the gardens.

A palace called Sheesh Mahal(palace of glass) is built on the highest terrace. You can see the water channel from the glass floor of this palace. It has bedrooms and double bathroom. It is said that ladies of Patiala royal family used to stay in sheesh mahal during their sojourn here. It is adjoined by Hawa Mahal(airy palace), a romantic place.

Yadavindra gardens waterway
WATERWAY AT PINJORE GARDENS
Next terrace has another palace called Rang Mahal(palace of colors). It boasts of an arched doorway. 
In the third terrace you will see cypress trees and flower beds and further down it leads to dense groves of fruit trees.
Next terrace has another palace called Jal Mahal (water palace). A square fountain bed and a platform for relaxing are situated here. It also has a bedroom and a bathroom. Maharajas of Patiala dynasty used to stay here. This terrace provides a panoramic view of the Pinjore gardens along with orchid and beautiful mountains. Full moon nights here will leave you spellbound.
Next terrace is again full of fountains and tree groves.
The lowest terrace, which is designed as a disc, is provided with an open air theater.

PINJORE GARDEN SITE MUSEUM - The garden and Bhima Devi Temple are in an open air museum complex and are joined by pathways, which are well drained to remove any waterlogging. In the evenings, whole complex is very well illuminated.

OTHER ACTIVITIES AT YADAVINDRA(PINJORE) GARDENS :

1. Pinjore Baisakhi Fastival - Baisakhi is the harvest festival celebrated in North India, particularly in the states of Haryana and Punjab and union territory of Chandigarh. It is usually celebrated in the second week of April. In Pinjore gardens there is a two day festival during this time. You can see live folk arts and cultural festivals. These are spiced up with regional gourmet foods and traditional handlooms.

Pinjore gardens near Chandigarh
A PANORAMIC VIEW OF PINJORE GARDENS
2. Pinjore Mango Fair - This is again a two day affair, held during second weekend of July every year. This summer mango festival helps in promoting India as the largest producer of mangoes. People from as far as Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and also from Haryana, Punjab , Himachal Pradesh come here to participate with their produce. There are hundreds of varieties of mangoes on display and they delight everyone with their fragrance, taste and shape. There are anumber of activities during this festival which include mangoes competition, cultural programmes and a crafts bazar. There is also a cart competition for school students. And of course there is a food court also to satisfy your appetite. This festival receives almost 4000 entries every year, out of which around 3500 are for varieties of mangoes and rest are for mango products like pickles, jams, chutneys, squashes and juices etc. Various awards are given to the winners like Haryana Kesari(champion of Haryana), Hind Kesri(champion of India) and Aam Kesri( champion of mangoes for foreign participants). They are provided with shields and certificates. From this year i.e. 2018, Pinjore mango festival has been accorded international status.

3. Pinjore Heritage Festival - This is again a two day festival, celebrated in the last week of December every year. It is held to showcase and celebrate the cultural heritage of Haryana. You can see cultural festivals, music and dance competitions and crafts bazar displaying local crafts. Then there is food court and evening performances by various artistes. Whole Yadavindra garden is decorated with cutouts and lights. Gates are decorated and it is very well illuminated at night.


Illumination at Yadavindra gardens
AN ILLUMINATED PINJORE GARDEN
HOW TO REACH - Pinjore gardens are very easily accessible from all parts of India, particularly from Delhi and Chandigarh. It is well connected by road, rail and air. Nearest airports are Chandigarh and Delhi. Nearest rail station is Kalka. You will easily get taxis from Delhi as well as Chandigarh for Pinjore. Buses are also available to reach Pinjore.

WHERE TO STAY - There are number of hotels in Chandigarh and Panchkula to suit every budget.

So next time you visit Delhi or Chandigarh, don't miss a visit to Pinjore Gardens.

Cheeeers! Happy traveling!!




INDIA TRAVEL - SPITI VALLEY(THE HIDDEN PARADISE) - EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GOING

Hello Friends! I hope you must have heard about Spiti Valley. This is a hidden paradise in the lap of great Himalayas, with virgin beauty and natural splendor. Surrounded by huge mountains on all sides, it's rustic charm would take your breath away. Add to it adventure options, and you have a dream vacation waiting for you.

ABOUT SPITI VALLEY -  This is basically a desert valley located at a very high altitude in Himalayas, in Himachal Pradesh state of India. Word Spiti means "middle land" and it has been given this name because it separates India from Tibet. Located at a height of 12500 ft(3800 m), it is a part of Lahaul and Spiti district, with it's headquarter at Kaza, which is around 5.5 kms(3.4mi) from Spiti. Kaza is located on the banks of the river by the same name i.e. Spiti river. The Spiti river originates from Kunzum range and it's tributaries are Tegpo and Kabzian. After travelling for about 150 kms(94 mi), it meets river Satluj in Kinnaur.

Spiti valley and it's surrounding areas are very sparsely populated and infact have the least population in India. The local people here follow Vajrayana Buddhism and the valley serves as a research and cultural centre for Buddhism. It has the oldest Buddhist monasteries which include Tabo monastery, which is favorite of the Dalai Lama. A few surviving Bachen Lamas of Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism can be found in the Pin valley nearby.
Since it is a mountain desert, there is scarcely any vegetation. However, fluttering of prayer flags and monks in their robes will mesmerize you. You will find similarities with Tibet. The crystal clear rivers, snow capped hills, glaciers, architecture of ancient monasteries, the forests and the quietness will leave you spellbound.

Picture of Spiti Valley
SPITI VALLEY

ROAD TO SPITI VALLEY -  High mountains surround Lahaul and Spiti and it is separated from Kullu Valley by Rohtang pass which is at a height of 13054 ft(3979 m) and are cutoff from each other by Kunzum pass which is higher in altitude at 15059 ft(4590 m). Due to heavy snow, the road connecting these two is frequently closed during winters. Also, during winter storms, from November to June, the southern road is also closed but is restored within few days after the storms and valley is accessible via Shimla and Satluj in Kinnaur district.
Spiti valley is accessible via Kinnaur from Shimla throughout the year. The road is difficult and is 412 km(256 mi) long. Foreign nationals are required to get inner line permits to enter Spiti Valley via Kinnaur. However, during summers, it can be reached through Rohtang pass and Kunzum pass via Manali, which is about 201 km(125 mi) from Kaza, the district headquarter of Lahaul and Spiti. There is a 8.8 km(5.5 mi) long tunnel in Rohtang pass, which is open in all weathers, which reduces the travel distance by 48 kms(30 mi).

ADVENTURE IN SPITI VALLEY -  There are quiet a few trekking trails and mountain biking sites available in and around Spiti. Some of the popular trekking trails are Pin-Parvari, Parang-La and Pin Bhaba. Kunzum pass, which serves as an entrance to Spiti Valley, leads to Bara Sigri glacier. It is the second highest glacier in the world.


WHAT TO SEE IN SPITI VALLEY -  There are a number of Monasteries and gompas here, which represent the traditions and ancient culture of Spiti. Apart from these, there are many other spots to visit, which will enthrall you with their sheer beauty.

1. Komick Village - This is the highest village of Asia. It is very sparsely populated(estimated to be just around 120). But the picturesque mountains surrounding it make it a must see place. It also is famous for Lunduptsomo Gompa Monastery.

Village Komick in Spiti
KOMICK VILLAGE

2. Losar Village - The first village you find on entering Spiti from Kunzum pass is Losar village. It is situated at a height of 13400 ft(4100 m). The houses here are mostly made of mud and have prayer flags of Buddhism fluttering atop them.. Surrounded by colorful mountains, it provides a very scenic view. The village has it's own monastery.
3. Chandra Taal lake - It means moon lake. Situated at a height of 14100 ft(4300 m). Taal means a pond or a pool. It is called so because it has a crescent shape. Though it is in barren land but it is very beautiful. But during spring time, it has vast stretches of green and a variety of wild flowers. It houses the best camping sites.

Chandra Taal Lake in Spiti Valley
CHANDRA TAAL LAKE

4. Udaipur of Himachal - The most famous spot here is the Marikula Mata Temple. This picturesque hamlet is located on the banks of river Chandrabhaga. Both Hindus as well as Buddhists consider it a holy pilgrimage site. It is situated at a height of 8500 ft(2743 m). Udaipur and Keylong are the two important pilgrimage sites in Lahaul and Spiti. This temple is a mix of Hindu and Buddhist architecture. Add to this the greenery and breathtaking views, it becomes a very charming place. It is one of the more popular camping sites.
However, you have to carry your own food and water if you wish to visit this place. There are no hotels or restaurants in Udaipur and the nearest place is Keylong.

Marikula Mata Temple in Spiti Valley
MARIKULA MATA TEMPLE

5. Key Monastery - This Buddhist monastery is over 1000 years old and is the oldest learning cebter of Lamas. Situated at a height of 13668 ft(4200 m), it is famous for it's architectural style called Pasada style. This style often plays the role of Fort Monastery. It has three floors. A basement, ground and first floor. Basement serves as stock store. Ground floor has a large meeting hall called Du-Khang and some small rooms for monks. Rooms are decorated with murals called Tangyar and are must see. Ancient weapons and rare thangkas are other attractions here. A sizeable collection of musical instruments like trumpets, cymbars and drums can also be seen here. And don't miss the statue of Buddha in dhyana(meditation).

Again, no restaurants or hotels are available here. You must carry your own food and water.

Key Monastery in Spiti Valley
KEY MONASTERY

6. Pin Valley National Park - Situated at an altitude of 11500 to 20000 ft(3300 to 6000 m), Pin Valley National Park is spread over a core zone of 675 sq. km and has a buffer zone of 1150 sq. km. Located in the cold desert area of Lahaul and Spiti, it was constituted in the year 1987.

Pin valley National Park houses over 20 species of animals and birds. The main among them is the endangered snow leopard. Other animals found here include Siberian ibex, bharal, weasel, red fox and marten. The species of birds found here are pika, golden eagle, snow cock, bearded vulture, chukor, griffon, Himalayan chough and raven. Best season to visit this park is in winters as animals migrate to lower regions because of cold weather.
Besides wildlife, park also boasts of floral wealth. It has over 400 species of plants including herbs. Two rare species of plants namely Juniper and Birch are also found here.
The park's periphery has 17 villages, all of them thinly populated. The total population of these villages comes to about 1600 only.
Foreign nationals are not allowed inside the park and even Indian citizens also have to get a permit to enter the park.
Once again, you have to carry your own food and water with you.

HOWTO REACH - 
By Air - Nearest airport is Kullu, which is about 247 km(155 mi) from Spiti Valley. From here you can hire taxi.
By Rail - Nearest rail station is Shimla on the narrow gauge. However, the nearest major rail station is Kalka which is 90 km(56 mi) from Shimla. Spiti Valley is about 445 km(278 mi) from Shimla. Again, you can hire a taxi from Shimla.
By Road - Spiti is connected by road with Shimla, Kullu and Manali.

WHERE TO STAY -  There are some hotels in Spiti. But not many. A few rest houses and tourism guest houses are available along with some hotels in Kaza. A lot of accommodation is available in Keylong, which is the headquarter of Lahaul. Guest houses are available in Kaza, Tobo, Losar, Poh and Sagna in Spiti.
You can look for homestay options also, if you want to acquaint yourself with local people and culture. The best part is that your money doesn't go to owner only, part of it goes to community also. You can find homestays in six villages. They are Langza, Komick, Demul, Lhalung, Dhankar and Mikkim.
You can get Indian and Tibetan food in and around Kaza. And there are some ethnic restaurants in Spiti, which specialize in Tibetan and local delicacies.

FESTIVALS -  Locals celebrate festivals like burning the devil, Chaam dance and Pauri festival. During winters, even locals don't venture out of their homes. They stock the food for this period and engage themselves in making handicrafts.

WHEN TO VISIT -  The best time to visit Soiti Valley is May to October. Usually the weather is good and the temperature ranges from 10 to 22 degrees Celsius.

So whether you love adventure or are looking for peace, inclined towards spirituality or are admirer of nature. Spiti Valley is the place to be in.


INDIA TRAVEL - SURAJKUND INTERNATIONAL CRAFTS FAIR, FARIDABAD - 2018


Hello friends! This is the month of spring, full of colors and excitement. So why not travel to a place full of music, dance and colorful ambiance. And all this forming a segment of a big collection of art and craft. Let me take you to cultural bonanza that is Surajkund International Crafts Fair.


Architectural entrance to Surajkund Crafts Fair
One of the Entrances to the Fair

This is an annual fair held in the first fortnight of February in Faridabad, Haryana adjoining Delhi. Spread over an area of 40 acres, Surjakund International Crafts Fair the largest crafts fair in the world. This year is the 32nd edition of the fair. It started in the year 1987 and has been gaining in size, participation and footfall since then. This year more than 20 countries, apart from all the Indian states are participating in the fair. More than 1100 artisans are displaying their crafts here.


HISTORY OF SURAJKUND - Surajkund literally means Lake or Reservoir of Sun. It was built by king Surajpal of Tomar dynasty in 10th century. Surajpal was a devotee of Sun God, hence the name. It has an embankment shaped as an amphitheater and it is built in an arc resembling movement of Sun, that is from east to west.


WHAT TO EXPECT AT SURAJKUND INTERNATIONAL CRAFTS FAIR - India is a diverse country and each of it's states has a unique culture of it's own. and it is here that you find all the cultures merging along with those of participating foreign countries. The main aim of the fair is to promote craftsmanship of different regions and to give a platform to small artisans to reach bigger markets. It is a celebration of the skills of the craftsmen and showcases to the world, the wide range and high level of creativity present in India. It is difficult to find so many different cultures and crafts at one place.

It is a riot of colors all over the fair premises. Folk artistes and dancers from Indian and foreign lands enthrall you with their performances. And cuisines from different territories are there to satisfy your appetite.

People enjoying Biscope at Surajkund Crafts Fair
People Enjoying the Good Old Bi Scope

But the best part is the different crafts displayed by artisans from different regions. You will be simply astonished to see the kind of  craftsmanship on wares on display. You can see variety of items on display and sale. From amazing handicrafts to furniture, from garments to home decor and from utensils to carpets, you will find everything here, all made by local craftsmen.
Every year, fair has a theme state and a partner country. This year Uttar Pradesh is the theme state and Kyrgyzstan is the partner country. Apart from this, all other Indian states are participating. The foreign participants include countries like South Africa, Thailand, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia etc.

Brass handicrafts from Morocco at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Moroccon Handicrafts made of Copper

Turkey Lamp Shades at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Lamp Shades made from cut glass from Turkey

Stalls are built in the shape of huts and have a floor of mud. It gives you a country side feeling and ambiance. All participants are dressed in their respective traditional attires. You can easily get intoxicated by this cultural cocktail.
The crafts displayed at the fair broadly fall under the following categories :
1. Woodden Handicrafts
2. Textiles
3. Pottery
4. Home Decor
5. Mud Craft
6. Brassware
7. Natural Cosmetics
8. Food items like locally made pickles

Tunisia stall at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Olive Wood craft from Tunisia

Handicrafts from Madagascar at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Handicrafts from Madagascar

You can shop till you drop but still you wouldn't have had enough of the stuff available in the fair.

The fair has an amusement park also where children as well as grownups can delight themselves with joyrides.

Handicrafts made of Fiber at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Handicrafts made from Fiber from India

Indian Craft at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Earthen Utensils from India 


FEEDING YOUR TASTE BUDS - Fair has a food court, where you can enjoy delicacies of different regions. While you can have Dosa, Idli or Meduvada from south India, you can have Litti Chokha from Bihar in east India. If you want more variety, go to central India's Rajasthan food stall to relish Dal Baati Churma, Missi Roti or Bajra Roti or you can have Pav Bhaji from western India. Then you have spicy food from north India by way of Rajma Chawal, Chole Bhature etc. Apart from this, there are many more options available by way of sweet dishes, ice creams and shakes. Then there is a stall put up by Institute of Hotel Management, where students of the Institute serve you delicacies prepared by them.

CULTURAL EXTRAVAGANZA -  Surajkund International Crafts Fair has two Chaupals(open air community places). A Badi(big) Chaupal and a Choti(small) Chaupal. Folk artistes and dancers from different regions and foreign countries enthrall you with their performances throughout the day. And at 6 every evening there are special performances and programs. Here you can see different cultures mixing with each other effortlessly.


Local Rajasthani boy playing drum at Surajkund Crafts Fair
A small boy in traditional Rajasthani dress playing a Drum


Holi with Radha and Krishna at Surajkund Crafts Fair
Folk Dancers from Uttar Pradesh, India performing at the Chaupal

TICKETS - Tickets for the fair are very nominally priced at INR 120/- for weekdays and INR 180/- for Saturdays and Sundays. These can be booked online from the site www.bookmyshow.com or can be purchased from the fair site.

HOW TO REACH - Surajkund is located in Faridabad and is around 40 kms from central Delhi as well as Gurugram(earlier Gurgaon). Haryana government runs A.C. as well as Non A.C. buses from designated spots in Delhi and Gurugram to the fair site. Otherwise you can hire private taxis to reach the venue.

WHEN - This year Surajkund International Crafts Fair is being held from 2nd February to 18th February and is open on all the weekends falling during this period. Time is 10.30 am to 8.30 pm daily.


So if you want to celebrate different cultures, enjoy the riot of colors, want to see, appreciate and buy the amazing handicrafts created by some unknown but highly skilled craftsmen don't miss a trip to the world's largest crafts fair, Surajkund International Crafts Fair at Faridabad in Haryana, India.


INDIA TRAVEL - VALLEY OF FLOWERS NATIONAL PARK UTTARAKHAND


Hi friends! Spring season is around the corner and each one of us looks forward to seeing flowers blooming to their full glory. What if I take you to a place not only filled with amazing flowers in full bloom but also complete with stunning natural beauty and rare wild animals, coupled with all the adventurous stuff you may want to have.

I am talking about Valley of Flowers National Park. As the name itself suggests, it indeed is a valley full of beautiful flowers in full bloom. So whenever and wherever you are in India, try not to miss it.

Valley of Flowers was found accidentally by three British mountaineers in 1931, when they were on a trekking mission and lost their way. Until then it was completely unknown. But today it is a world heritage sight.

Beautiful Valley of Flowers
A Scenic view of Valley of Flowers

LOCATION - Valley of Flowers is located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand state in Northern India. Situated in west Himalayas, it is about 500 kms(312 mi) from New Delhi and about 300 kms(188mi) from Haridwar. It is situated at a height of around 3600 metres(app. 14000 ft).

It comes in the Zanskar  and Himalaya mountain ranges and is complemented by Nanda Devi National Park in the east and together, both of them cover a unique transition zone between these mountain ranges. Both parks form part of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, itself a part of UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2004.
It derives it's picturesque beauty from a diverse range of endemic flora. Besides floral postures, Valley of Flowers has plenty of running streams complemented by beautiful backdrop of green mountains. Green meadow, white clouds and mountains blend and it becomes a location, one often dreams of.

Valley of Flowers at it's full glory
Flowers in Full Bloom
During winters, it remains covered in thick snow. However, flowers are in full bloom during July-September period. Pushpawati river's water splits the valley into two. The musical sound of flowing water, the fresh breeze and dew drops on flowers make for a very romantic view. Locals believe that fairies used to live in this area. That is why this area looks like a fairyland.
Apart from rich floral wealth, Valley of Flowers is also home to many rare and endangered species of animals. Some of them are Asiatic black bear, red fox, snow leopard, musk deer, brown bear and blue sheep. Birds found here include Monal Pheasant and many other high altitude birds.

CLIMATE - Climate is generally moderate here with maximum temperature touching around 19 degrees from April to June. July to August are heavy monsoon months.

Stunningly beautiful view of Valley of Flowers
Stunningly Beautiful


HOW TO REACH - As described earlier,Valley of Flowers is about 500 kms from Delhi and 300 kms from Haridwar. You can take a train from Delhi to Haridwar. From Haridwar, the nearest motorable town to Valley of Flowers is Govindghat near Joshimath. You can reach there by bus via Rishikesh or hire a taxi. Alternately, you can hire a taxi directly from Delhi to Govindghat.

From here it requires a trekking of about 17 kms(10.5 mi). From Govindghat shared taxis are available for upto a distance of 4 kms and then the trek begins. After a trek of 11 kms you reach Ghangariya which is 3 kms from the valley(You can also hire porters, mules or helicopter to reach Ghangariya). From here, trek is common for both, the valley as well as Sikh temple of Hemkud Sahib. It takes 3 days to reach the Valley of Flowers from Haridwar.

Togedr.com provides you the best opportunities and options for trekking, camping and other outdoor activities.
On reaching Ghangariya, you will be welcomed by fields containing perfumed wild roses and wild strawberries.
Here, you have to take a permit from the Forest department to visit the valley. This permit is valid for 3 days. You can trek only during the day time as night trekking is not allowed here. Further, you have to stay at Ghangariya as staying is not permitted in the valley.

TIMING - It opens at 7 am every morning and last entry is at 2 pm in the afternoon. And it closes at 5 pm. You must reach there by 6.45 am to get the tickets. Tickets are priced at Rs 150/- for Indians and Rs 600/- for foreigners. This is valid for 3 days and for every additional day, Indians have to pay Rs 50/- and foreigners Rs 250/-. 

WHEN TO VISIT - Although Valley of Flowers is beautiful all the time, to see the flowers in full bloom, the best time is from late July to September. But if you love glaciers, best time for you is in June. If you want to see Brahmkamal flowers in Hemkud Saheb, visit in August and September.

WHERE TO STAY - You have to stay in Ghangariya. It has plenty of guest houses and hotels. Checkout Fabhotels for best hotels and deals. Food can be an issue at the valley as not many options are available. So you must pack some food with you when you go to valley.

So it has something for everyone. Whether you are a nature lover, an adventurer or a wildlife enthusiast, Valley of Flowers is the place for you.