Sunday, 23 June 2019

Top Ten Restaurants in McLeodganj, Dharamshala

When you visit a place you also like to eat the best food available there. McLeodganj has plenty of dining options at affordable prices specifically if you are interested in Tibetan, Chinese and Italian foods. The listing below is not in order of preference or ranking but in the simple order that I visited them.

Blue Cheese Pizza at Om Restaurant 

Om Restaurant – It has a good ambiance and beautiful location and you can sit for long and enjoy the view of the undulating mountains. The Blue Cheese Pizza that I had was very good.

Thukpa, Tingmo & Phigsa at Norling Cafe

Norling Café- Not a very big place but has been maintained nicely. However, it has no views as it is in the middle of the market. The Norling Café Special Thukpa was good with lots of meat in it. The Phingsa and Tingmo were also well prepared.

Rewa Cafe

Rewa Café – They may not score high on ambiance, location or view but the Thukpa (Rs 80 for a mutton Thukpa) and Momo (Rs 90 for a plate of mutton Momo) score highly. The Momos were really juicy. On top of that they kept the hot water in a thermos for drinking without being asked. The Tibetans prefer to take hot water throughout the day to keep them hydrated and therefore keep hot water in a flask.

Commonground

Common Ground – This restaurant is five minutes away from the main market, has been beautifully done and also has a good view if you sit outside. They specialize in Chinese (not Tibetan). I had ordered Dawa’s Sweet & Spicy Sizzler (Rs 200 for a plate), Sha Tag (Rs 230 for a plate), Momo and Tingmo. Both the sizzler as well as Momo were excellent.

Tuna Pizza at Family Pizzaria, Dharamkot

Family Pizzaria, Dharamkot – This is not in McLeodganj but in Dharamkot. Lots of foreigners and Indians who come for longer stays stay in Dharamkot to do Vipasana etc. The walk to Dharamkot is also nice. The restaurant is located amidst a small orchard and one can enjoy the food in this beautiful setting. The Tuna Pizza and Tea that I had here were good.

Veg Cheese Bhakleb at Peace Cafe

Peace Café – This place is good for breakfast. The inside ambiance is good but the location is nothing to write home about. Has only vegetarian options. I am seeing that over the years more and more vegetarian-only outlets are coming up in McLeodganj as it is becoming fashionable in the west. The Veg Cheese Bhakleb (Rs 150 for a plate) that I ordered with banana shake was good.

Momo & Shapalay at Palden

Palden Tea Shop – This place has no ambiance or view. It is a very small place with just two tables. I has ordered Shapalay and Momo and both of these were without doubt the best that one can have in Mcleodganj. It was manged by just one person only who managed to make the food, serve, clean utensils etc single handedly. If you are not fussy about going to glossy looking places then choose such small ones to get real authentic and delicious Tibetan food.

Shifan Pautse at Kailash Kunga

Kailash Kunga – This place is good for breakfast etc. Again the ambiance and location are not good but the Shifan Pautse that I had were delicious.

Meat Ball Thukpa, Momo at the Clay Oven

The Clay Oven – The place is located near the Main Square and has very well done interiors with real live clay oven working where you can watch your food being prepared. The Meat Ball Thukpa (Rs 130 for a plate) was well prepared and the Momo (Rs 120 for a plate) were very juicy.

Chicken Garlic Steak & Dessert at the Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem – I had an excellent Chicken Garlic Steak with rice, chips and butter veg (Rs 240 for a plate) followed by dessert called Hello to the Queen (Rs 130 for a plate). The place is spread over two floors and has good ambiance, western music and is popular with foreign tourists. The place also serves liquor. Comparatively expensive place but it is still value for money.

There are several vegan cafes also coming up as the demand is rising for such cafes.

The food in all the restaurants that I visited was good and comparatively much cheaper than in Delhi/NCR. The Momo prepared by all of them are fresh and juicy unlike the ones you get mostly in Delhi. So be prepared to give some time for your Momo to arrive! The best point about all these restaurants are that either they don’t charge GST at all or is part of the printed price so you know exactly what you would end up paying at end of the meal.

Also read:

Things to do in Mcleodganj: The Kora Circuit
Places to visit in McLeodganj: Bhagsunag Waterfall
McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal
Why I love to go to McLeodganj
Skywatch Friday - Sunset at McLeodganj, Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Bharatpur National Park - a Birders Delight

A Snake Bird in flight at Bharatpur National Park

Barely 185 km away from Gurgaon, a four-hour drive can take you to the birders paradise of Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, also known as Keoladeo Ghana National Park.

Flamingos & Ducks at the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary

The best time to visit the Park is in winters when the place is swarming with migratory birds from as far away as Siberia and even Africa! 

A Deer & an Egret at the Bharatpur National Park

There are plenty of stay options at Bharatpur including the hotel inside the park as well as several hotels and guest houses at a walkable distance from the Park. 

A huge Sparrow Hawk at the Bharatpur National Park

Owls at the Bharatpur National Park

Best time of the day for bird watching is early in the morning as the birds are more active then. The entrance fee is Rs 50 per person. 

All the way from Africa - Egyptian Vulture at the Bharatpur National Park

Once you reach near the entrance of the Park you will notice that there are lots of cycle-rickshaws. It is a huge Park of 29 sq km. So it is advisable to take some form of transport. 

Darter & Cormorants at the Bharatpur National Park 

Mother comes to feed its Kids at the Bharatpur National Park 

Avoid taking a rickshaw from outside. Rather take one from inside the Park as the rikshawalas inside also serve as guides (they have done the guiding course and are experienced and competent). 

Flock of Birds being watched by Cormorants at the Bharatpur National Park

In 2018 the Cycle cum guide rent was Rs 150 for an hour. They also have binoculars for which you pay extra but it is definitely useful as the birds like to keep their distance from the tourists. 

A Glossy Ibis watching another bird at the Bharatpur National Park 

Several of these guides are Sikhs (as was mine) who were given land near Bharatpur when they migrated from West Punjab (now Pakistan) in 1947 at the time of partition. 

A Purple Pond Heron at the Bharatpur National Park

One can also hire cycles inside the Park but as my partner could not cycle, I therefore took the rickshaw for 5 hours. After that I let the rickshaw go and explored further on foot going on trails not visited by too many people. For bigger groups there are options of battery operated golf-carts and horse drawn carts as well. 

Glossy Ibis at the Bharatpur National Park

The rickshaw pullers cum guides know the routine, the nests and the favourite spots of birds and they can also identify them for you. Our guide knew exactly the nests of owlets, eagles and kites, snakes taking siesta in the sun etc. They also tell you anecdotes, so it is worth the money. 

An eagle about to attack its prey at the Bharatpur National Park

It is advisable not to hurry. See the birds and the wildlife at leisure. 

Kingfisher at the Bharatpur National Park

However, keep in mind that if you are going to spend a long part of the day inside the Park then do carry sufficient water bottles and eatables (please do not litter) as inside the Park the two canteens serve miserable snacks. 

Bharatpur National Park has a huge colony of Storks

Storks displaying themselves at the Bharatpur National Park

Let's take 'Stork" of the Situation

I sat for half an hour at one place and was rewarded by this - absolutely still like a statue -  Pond Heron catching a fish. It was a delight to watch. 

Nice catch - A Pond Heron with its prize - Bharatpur National Park

A Pelican at the Bharatpur National Park

Besides the birds that I could identify like the Egyptian Vulture, Green Himalayan Pigeon or the Ghuggi (in Punjabi), Common Babbler, Dove, Sparrow Hawk, Goose, Oriental Magpie Robin, Pelican, Herons, Cormorants, big colonies of Storks, various types of Kingfishers and wildlife like the Deer, Wild cows (there were some domestic ones also roaming around. Villagers get rid of unproductive cows by dumping them in the Sanctuary over the boundary walls), Wild Boar, Snakes etc. There were several others, which were a delight to watch.

Ajgar Snake sunning itself at the Bharatpur National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site incidentally was earlier was a royal Duck game reserve where the local royalty use to come and shoot the ducks as a game.

Perched high on a tree at the Bharatpur National Park

Purple Swamp-hens at the Bharatpur National Park 

Do remember to have good walking shoes, water bottle, snacks, good binoculars (if not then good zoom camera) so as to enjoy your birding experience!

Also Read:

Monday, 4 February 2019

Places to visit in Narnaul: Shah Ibrahim’s Tomb


Shah Ibrahim’s Tomb, Narnaul

Most of the times while crossing Narnaul I do not make a detour and pass through this town without looking at the local attractions. However, this time I factored in couple of hours extra to visit few monuments which are the heritage of the area and architecturally important.

I decided to visit the Shah Ibrahim’s Tomb located in the Piran Mohalla of the town. To reach there either put on Google maps or ask for directions from a local as it is situated in the middle of a inhabited colony and there are no markers to guide you there.

When I reached there I was surprised that how well it has been maintained over the years as it has been built by Sher Shah Suri during 1540-45 in memory of his grandfather Ibrahim Khan Sur who died in Narnaul in the year 1518. The square structure made of red and grey sandstone is built on a platform and is entered from the east gate. The monument is surrounded on all sides by houses.

The tomb of Shah Ibrahim, Narnaul 

The structure is two storey high. On the ground level besides the main tomb of Ibrahim Khan Sur there are also few other smaller tombs as well. The light filters in through the trellised grills. 


One of the cupola at the Shah Inrahim Tomb, Narnaul

One can go up by means of narrow (and dark) stairs. On the second storey besides the main dome there are four cupolas giving the structure a symmetry and elegant look. One can get a 360 degree view of the city from here. 



The Pir Turkman Dargah as seen from the Shah Ibrahim Tomb, Narnaul

Close to the Shah Ibrahim’s Tomb is the Dargah of Pir Turkman. I was told that the building of the Pir Turkman predates the Shah Ibrahim’s Tomb by nearly 200 years! The buildings of the Pir Turkman though are in a dilapidated state.


The backside view of the Shah Ibrahim Tomb, Narnaul

An advice to the Archaeological Survey of India and to the Tourism department of the Government of Haryana is to provide road markers so that this important heritage site is easy to locate and reach.

Narnaul, a small town in Haryana, is about 170 km from Delhi on the Delhi-Rewari-Khetri route and can be reached by road in about three and half hours. It is also the district headquarters of Mahendergarh District

Also read:
Places to visit in Narnaul: Chor Gumbad
Dhosi Hills
Rural Tourism

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Things to do in Mcleodganj: The Kora Circuit

I have been visiting Mcleodganj since the year 1987 but somehow had been unaware of one important facet of the Buddhist tradition – the Kora. Kora is a form of pilgrimage wherein you circumambulate a holy site (Parikrama in the Hindu tradition). In Mcleodganj Buddhist, young and old, take the Kora circuit around the hill that has the residence of Dalai Lama and the monastery and therefore considered holy. Surprisingly it is little known.

The Kora in Mcleodganj

This tradition on circumambulation is common in both Buddhism and Bon. However, in Buddhism the walk in a circle is clockwise whereas in Bon it is counter clockwise. Two famous Kora are the Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.

Huge prayer flags on the Kora route, Mcleodganj

The route in Mcleodganj is well paved and away from the town’s honking traffic amidst pine and deodar forest. The route has stringed prayer flags small and large. Buddhists believe that the fluttering of the flags carries the prayers written on them onwards.

The Kora route has benches placed all along for people to take rest

If one gets tired then one can sit down on one of the benches lined up along the route. The older people do sit down to take rest and chant prayers.

Prayer wheels of all sizes on the Kora route in Mcleodganj

The path is lined with prayer wheels in different sizes. Some are made of metal; others are of wood. Some are very small and look antique as if they have been brought from Tibet while there are others that maybe be 8-10 feet in height. The prayer wheels are always on the right side of the devotee.

A Tibetan lady at the prayer wheels on the Kora in Mcleodganj

On the Kora route there are stones carved with the Buddhist prayer Om Mani Padme Hum. The stones are in various sizes and some of them are brightly painted.

Artistically carved stones with Om Mani Padme Hum written on them on the Kora in Mcleodganj

Apart from the serenity and the beauty of the path, the dense forest is a paradise for the birdwatchers. I saw several birds and one could spend several hours just observing them.

Kora route in Mcleodganj is a Birdwatchers paradise 

Langurs come down the mountains in winters and one comes across them in this area. Unlike monkeys they do not trouble people. They are busy with themselves.

Langurs preening each other on the Kora route in Mcleodganj

I liked the Kora circuit so much that I performed the Kora twice in three days. I thank my Tibetan friend who introduced the Kora to me and took me around explaining things on the first visit.

Prayer flags and prayer wheels on the Kora in Mcleodganj 

This route is, fortunately, little known to most tourists and therefore not crowded.  There is something special about it.

Wind carrying the prayers written on the flags

The cleanliness is impressive. Jute bags function as dustbins.

The serene Kora route in Mcleodganj

All in all the best part of McLeodganj, for the devout as well as the curious tourist.

Also read:
Bon Monastery in Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: Bhagsunag Waterfall
McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal
Why I love to go to McLeodganj
Skywatch Friday - Sunset at McLeodganj, Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness

Monday, 30 April 2018

My Experience of Digital India: A Case of UCO Bank

UCO Bank is one of the Nationalised Banks of India

I worked at a location near Chandigarh for about a year and my organization’s salary account was with the local UCO branch. After a year, I moved to NCR Delhi. At that time, I did not close my UCO account, as the final salary was yet to come in my UCO Bank account. Once all my financial transactions were complete, I decided to close my UCO Bank account, as there is no point in maintaining several bank accounts. In addition, one has to mention all bank accounts (irrespective of whether it is operational or not) when you are filing tax returns.

Since all banks are nowadays connected with each other digitally, I went to a local branch of the UCO Bank in Gurgaon. I went there sharp at 10 AM which is the timing of their customer dealing but had to wait for at least half an hour for the ladies and gentlemen of the bank to start dealing with customers. Then I was in for a shock when they told me that I cannot close my account like this and I will have to physically go to the branch where I have the account to get it closed. This despite the fact that I was carrying all documents to prove my identity as well as Original Pass Book, unused chequebook etc.

Well I did not give up. A friend of mine was going back to the place where I had worked and he had his account in the same bank branch. Therefore, I gave him an application for the Bank Manager along with the Pass Book and the unused chequebook so that my account can be closed. He called me from the bank and said that the bank is not accepting the documents. I called the Manager from my registered mobile number with the bank asking them why my account cannot be closed despite presenting all documents and that the person carrying the documents also is an account holder with the bank. The manager told me that I have to be physically present to close the account. They expect me to “physically” make a round trip to 700 km spending two days and five thousand rupee only in order to close an account.

I did what any sensible person would do. I withdrew whatever little money I had in the account by making some purchases. Now the UCO bank can do whatever they want to do with the account with Rs 4 that is now left in the account!

Digital India with rules from colonial times!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Places to visit in Manali: Jogini Waterfalls

At the Jogini Waterfalls

During my last trip to Manali I stayed at Vashisht which is about 3 km from Manali. It is less crowded and has better views of the mountains. But it was only when I had gone to Old Manali that I noticed from far off there is a big waterfall above Vashisht.

View of Jogini Waterfalls from Old Manali

So I decided to go trekking there. The trek to the lower base of the Jogini waterfall is an easy one from the Vashisht temple. Beyond the temple you pass through the narrow lanes of the village and then once you come out of the village the walk is very pleasant among the pine woods and small rivulets.

The trek to Jogini falls goes through beautiful Pine forest

There are a few eating joints also on the way till the Jogini shrine. The shrine and the area are considered holy by the locals. To reach the lower waterfalls there is a slight climb after the shrine.

The Jogini shrine near the waterfall
Majority of the locals and tourists come only to the lower Jogini waterfalls as it is easily approachable.

The lower Jogini Waterfall
At the lower Jogini waterfall I met a gentleman who runs a hotel in Manali who discouraged me to go the upper Jogini waterfall stating that it will take me at least 45 minutes of hard climb to reach the top as I am a city dweller. Fortunately I did not heed to his advice and went up the path.

The lower Jogini waterfall as seen from above while climbing higher up
The trek from the lower waterfall to the upper comes in the category of a moderate climb. On this stretch there are no kiosks and no water till you reach the waterfall so it is advisable to carry your own water and eatables. While climbing one can see the lower waterfall as well as the scenic view of the valley and the Beas River and the snow clad mountains. There are plenty of wild flowers blooming making your trek more pleasant.

The upper Jogini Waterfall
I reached the upper Jogini waterfall in another twenty minutes and was mesmerized by the view. Unlike the lower Jogini waterfall the upper one falls over an overhanging rock and therefore has a free fall.

Rainbow at the Jogini waterfall
As it was the second half of the day the sun created beautiful rainbows on the falls. The spray from the waterfall also cooled me after the climb. I spent about an hour there soaking in nature at its best and then it was time to head back.