One day in Chandigarh

While travelling to Himachal, we spent a day in transit at Chandigarh and decided to explore the place. With limited time, we zeroed in on a few must-visit landmarks of the city.

Also Read: Places To See Near Kasol, Himachal

Rock Garden
Also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden after its founder Nek Chand, a government official, who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. It is spread over an area of forty acre. The installations in the garden are built of industrial and home waste and discarded items. All the sculptures here are made of used bottles, glasses, bangles, tiles, ceramics and waste items which makes the garden unique. The waterfall inside was in full flow as it had started raining during our visit. With a few food stalls spread around, we spent a leisure time admiring this quirky wonder.

Rock Garden

Sukhna Lake
A five minute drive by an e-rickshaw brought us to Sukhna Lake which is a chill-out spot for the locals and tourists. With nice views, boat rides and a couple of hotels and fast food joints, this place is perfect to spend an evening leisurely. For those interested in shopping, there are souvenir shops located nearby.

Sukhna Lake

Sadar Bazaar Sector 19C
After some sightseeing, it was time to visit the local market. After consulting with a rickshaw-wala, he took us to Sadar Bazaar, a local market filled with countless shops selling everything. Be ready to bargain and have patience. The market is like a huge maze that one can get lost in. Right from first copies, to all types of quality of clothes, there is nothing that you won’t get here.

Sadar Bazaar

Pal Dhaba
At the end of the day, it was time for Chandigarh’s famous Butter Chicken. Pal Dhaba is known for their chicken dishes. Gorging on the chicken with Amritsari Kulcha and a large glass of lassi, we ate to our heart’s content. The Dhaba has indoor as well as outdoor seating, plus a good parking space.

It was now time to call it a day in Chandigarh. Leaving with some beautiful memories, we were ready for our next adventure.

The mountains were calling us.

*****

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*****

Sanjay

Seafood Festival at Courtyard Marriott

Sassoon Docks is one of the oldest docks and fish market in the island city of Mumbai. Constructed in the year 1875, every day tonnes of fresh catch from the Arabian sea is brought and put up for sale at this historic dock.

By the time, the seafood reaches our homes, the freshness is lost and all we get in the market is stale, frozen fish. A regular fish eater would know the difference in taste.

MoMo Cafe, Courtyard by Marriott, Pune, Hinjewadi, has organised a ‘From Sassoon Dock To MoMo Cafe’ festival where the fresh catch is directly brought and served at the hotel. As you enter MoMo Cafe, you will be transported to the Dock with the lively decor. Specially made fishermen baskets carry a plethora of fish variety. A small fishing boat is adorned with a fishing net, an ode to the fishing community.

Decor

The themed decor

Executive chef Rounak Kinger said, “As the temperature of the water is not too cold, this is the best season to get seafood.” Emphasising on ‘Responsible Seafood’ as their theme and need of the hour, Kinger explained that worldwide, Marriott hotels have stopped using over-fished, rare and on-the-path-to-extinction seafood in their menu. “There is a list of around 50-55 varieties of fish,” says used in the menu in Marriott anywhere across the world.”

Taking a tour of the festival, I was highly intrigued by their live counter. There were a variety of fish on display (all sourced locally around Mumbai) including Silver Fish (Mandeli), Calamari, Mackerel, Pomfret, Bombay Duck, Tilapia and Surmai, among others. Just beside them, there were marinades and accompaniments, Indian as well as international, right from Ghati masala to Teriyaki, Cajun Spice and everything in between. All one had to do was choose the fish, the marination, and the cooking method (shallow fried or deep fried). The chef will prepare your choice right in front of you!

Platter

The super tempting platter

Greedily, I tried a platter of different combinations and all of them tasted heavenly. If you are unsure about experimenting, just ask for chef recommendations.

Though highly unlikely, if there is a vegetarian accompanying you, fret not, there is an amazing Chaat counter to gorge on.

Moving on to the salads, there is no dearth of options — Glass Noodles with Prawns Salad, Poached Fish with Orange Segment, Couscous with Crab Meat Salad and Green Peas with Squid Ring Salad. We tried the Crab Meat Salad and loved every bite.

The seafood display counter had prawns, mussels, clams and octopus, for the adventurous eaters, served with a variety of dressings.

Seafood Display Counter

Hungry, yet?

For vegetarians, there is a separate salad counter which also has a variety of options.

The main course is an elaborate spread of coastal Indian, Asian as well as Continental preparations. In Indian preparation, we tried the ever popular Malvani Fish Curry and Fish Mangalorean Masala. Both the dishes had distinctive flavours with the local masala with coconut as its base ingredient. The Indian preparation is served with your choice of roti. We chose to order a Ghavan (a typically coastal dosa-like pancake) from the live counter that goes best with fish. In the Asia culinary section, the fish in sweet and sour preparation was to die for! In Continental, the Greek Fish, marinated in special Greek herbs was a completely different flavour and delish. For vegetarians, there is an equally elaborate spread.

Curry

The many curries to choose from

With a heavy stomach, we moved to the tempting dessert counter. The latest crowd favourite, the Baked Rasgulla, had no difference in taste and was as delicious as the original one. Along with the Rasgulla, there was an array of Chocolate Truffle Cake, a very delectable Tiramisu, Lamington, Kiwi Pastry, Indian sweets — pedha and barfi and Blueberry Ice Cream.

Tiramisu

Delicious Tiramisu

If you are a seafood lover and want to devour some absolutely fresh seafood, Courtyard By Marriott Pune, Hinjewadi, is the place to be!

*****

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*****

Nupur

 

Restaurant Review: Deewan Khana

Situated in the most happening area of Pune — Balewadi, Deewan Khana is not just another restaurant. The speciality of Deewan Khana is Maharashtrian cuisine. There are many restaurants serving Maharashtrian food but the menu at Deewan Khana is probably the only one that is not limited to any particular area or community of the state.

The entry wall of the restaurant is covered in graffiti depicting the Maharashtrian way of life during the olden days. The decor of Deewan Khana is traditional and has an old world charm, yet is modern and classy in approach.

Deewan Khana Decor

Deewan Khana’s stately decor

As we made ourselves comfortable, our server brought us some delicious Solkadhi which was refreshing after the heat outside. A traditional drink, Solkadhi is a blend of coconut milk and kokum topped with coriander leaves and is a popular drink in the Konkan region. We also ordered a Shahala Twist, a combination of fresh coconut water blended with lemon which gave it a unique and refreshing taste.

Shahla Twist

The super refreshing Shahala Twist

The restaurant boasts serving popular as well as some long forgotten recipes from the interiors of the state. The main objective of the restaurant is to bring forward and popularise Maharashtrian cuisine and its legacy among people. The restaurant’s journey from conceptualisation to execution has taken the owner Shivraj Kale approximately two years. He, along with his team, visited towns and villages across Maharashtra to search for old recipes that are cooked only in some households today.

Glancing through the menu, I could see why. There were some dishes I had eaten as a child and some preparations that dated back to the Peshwa era that I had not even heard of. Asking for recommendations, our server suggested us DK Special Chicken for starters. While contemplating whether to order a masala papad, my eyes caught something interesting — a Sukat Masala Papad. Fish eaters would know sukat, it is basically dried prawns and has a very strong and off-putting odour. Without thinking further, we ordered one. An ordinary masala papad was turned extraordinary due to the sukat topping on it. Not only did it taste delicious, the sukat was fried in masala and did not even emit any strong smell. Being a fish eater, the sukat topped papad was over within a few minutes of it being served.

Sukat Masala Papad

The Sukat Masala Papad is a must have if you are a lover of sukat

The DK Special Chicken had soft, succulent pieces of boneless meat with, as the name suggests, Deewan Khana special masala. This unique homemade masala is on the spicier side and the meat cooked on a nikhara gave it a beautiful smoky flavour. It was one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had in a long time!

DK Special Chicken

The delicious tasting chicken was well plated too!

The Sukat Masala Papad and the chicken starter was consumed in a jiffy and left us wanting for some more scrumptious food. There are options of soup and mutton and fish starters. For vegetarians, there is Kothimbir Wadi and Kurkurit Bhendi, among others.

For the main course, we opted for Vegetarian Maswadi, a dish I had eaten as a child. This traditional dish consists of a special mixture of masala, dry coconut, chillies, onion and other ingredients rolled into besan and then cooked. The spicy maswadi is then dipped in its special gravy and served with hot bhakri.

Maswadi with Bhakari

Maswadi is rarely served in restaurants and requires skill to prepare. 

Non-vegetarians are sure to have a feast with the meat available in kheema, Nagpuri preparations, Dahi Chicken, Varhadi Kharda preparation, Pathare Prabhu preparation, Sangameshwar Kombi, among many others.

For vegetarians there is Pithala, Shev Bhaji, Akkha Masoor and other dishes to try from.

Post a heavy and delicious main course, we decided to try out a dessert we had earlier never heard of — Purnaloo. According to historical story, when the Peshwas attacked the Nizam of Hyderbad, the troops had carried raw food along with them. Wherever they took a halt, they used to cook with the help of locally available ingredients. In one such instance, the puran that the troops were carrying was fried in the Medu Wada batter that the locals ate. And thus was born Purnaloo — steaming hot puran fried in batter. The dish is still prepared in Telgu households during festivals but it not very popular in Maharashtra. The crispy and hot Purnaloo served with ghee was simply irresistible and makes for a perfect comfort food.

Purnaloo

The Peshwa-era Purnaloo

Those who like to experiment with their food can also gorge upon Chikki ice cream and Chirote ice cream, something I would like to try the next time I visit.

Never before did a menu of a Maharashtrian restaurant seem so appealing. Deewan Khana is the perfect place for people new to Maharashtrian cuisine and would like to get acquainted with it, and also those who are not aware of the rich heritage and history of the cuisine.

Deewan Khana also serves Chicken, Fish and Mutton Thali, and will soon be serving liquor to its guests.

Address: Deewan Khana is located at S2/S3, Elite Primio, first floor, Dasra Chowk, Balewadi Mitcon Road, Balewadi, and is open from 11 am-3 pm and 7-11 pm.

*****

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*****

Nupur

Places to see near Kasol, Himachal Pradesh

‘The mountains are calling’ is what I used to tell myself every time I came across photos of my friends vacationing up north, be it the mighty Himalayas, Ladakh or the stunning north-east.

After years of unsuccessful planning and travel announcements, I finally made it to Himachal Pradesh with a few friends getting together and planning a super awesome trip.

With a weeks’ time in hand and some places on our mind, we set off to the mountains. A railway journey from Pune to Chandigarh and a cab for our further destination was booked.

Prashar Lake and Camping
Our first stop was Prashar Lake. It is around 64 KM from Kullu and roughly 49 KM north of Mandi. Our first night here was spent camping in a tent, a 10-minute walk from the lake, overlooking the mountains full of Deodhar and Pine trees. Camping at the lake is not allowed but people can camp a little further from the lake.

The temperature hovered around 13 degree Celsius in the morning as I woke up. The golden light radiating from behind the mountains filled the sky and I witnessed one of the best sunrises of my life. After a simple breakfast of parathas and chai, we headed to Prashar Lake.

 

Sunrise

Camping near Prashar Lake

Located at an elevation of 2730 m above sea level, Prashar Lake is famous for its three storied pagoda like temple dedicated to sage Prashar. In the midst of the Dhauladhar ranges in the Kullu Valley, the lake has a charm of its own. There is a floating island on the lake which is known to change its position and move around the lake.

Prashar Lake

Prashar Lake

While interacting with the locals, they informed that the actual depth of the lake has not been found out yet. There have been efforts to find out the depth but nobody has been successful till date.

Kasol
Our next stop was the ever buzzing Kasol. Once a tiny hamlet, it has now grown into a tourist hub and is filled with people, specially from Israel. Situated in the Parvati Valley, many youngsters prefer travelling here.

The Israeli influence is high here as the boards of shops and the menu card of hotels is also written in their language.

Kasol

The peaceful town of Kasol

The town has a lot of options for accommodation. Be it tents, cheap hostels or budget to luxury hotels, there is something for everyone. Kasol can also be used as a base to travel around. There is decent public transport (buses belonging to HP tourism or private contractors), private cabs and bikes available on hire.

Malana Village
On the second day, we hired bikes and headed to the famous Malana village, a 21 KM ride from Kasol. After riding for an hour with an uphill climb, we finally made it to the village famous for ‘Malana Cream’, which is know as one of the world’s best hashish (cannabis).

Isolated from rest of the world, Malana has its own lifestyle and social structure. The villagers believe they have Aryan genes and are the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander The Great.

As we reached the end of the motorable road, we trekked (climbed downhill, crossed a river and climbed up again) ahead for around two hours to reach our destination.

Malana Village

A word of caution it is believed you can’t touch the locals or their belongings. Actually, you are not allowed to touch anything in the village. Even in the shops, the money and goods are to be placed on the counter and taken without any physical contact. In case an accidental physical contact, the villagers go have a bath immediately. The villagers have their own set of rules which they follow.

After spending a few hours chilling and admiring the natural beauty of the mounatins there and relishing some piping hot chai, parathas and maggi,  we decided to return to Kasol before it got dark. On our way back, there was sudden rain (it can rain any time in this region) due to which we had to drive slowly.

Manikaran
The next day we made our way to Manikaran, just 4 KM from Kasol. Famous for its hot springs, temples and a gurudwara, Manikaran attracts a lot of pilgrims throughout the year. Once inside the gurudwara, taking a dip in the pond was a soothing experience as it was fed water by the hot springs present in the area.

Manikaran

Interacting with people inside we came to know that people from all around make it here and this place is always on their mind. We had plans to eat at the langar but because of too much crowd we had to cancel our plan.

Tosh Village: Our most beautiful stop
After the hustle and bustle of the bustling towns, it was time to head to the silent part of Himachal – Tosh. An hours’ bus journey from Kasol to Barshani and a 4 KM trek brought us to the beautiful Tosh village.

Also Read: Why Camping in Tosh should be on your bucket-list

A small trek through the village and crossing mountains brought us to our camping site – our home for the next two days. The sight of the snow-laden mountains right from our tent was mesmerising and the definitely best view of our entire trip.

After crossing Tosh village, one can find plantations of cannabis all across the place. It is one of the revenue sources for the locals. The mountain range is a trekkers’ paradise with many options available.

IMG-2676

Vegetarian food is easily available here but you might have to shell out more for a non-veg plate. There are quite a few budget hotels and camping sites here and bargaining can get you a good deal.

A few things to remember while travelling in the mountains:
1. Always carry warm clothes and your rain gear. It tends to get cold throughout the year.
2. Put your bargaining skills to use as it will help you save quite a lot of money.
3. When on a trek, carry water, torches, rain gear and some food. Listen to the instructions of locals as there is a chance of getting lost in the mountains. It is always advisable to hire a local guide as they know the area in and out.
4. When in two minds, return to your base. Don’t risk your lives in the dense forests, there is barely any phone network coverage for you to call for help.
5. Respect the locals and what they tell you.
6. When looking for hotels on the spot (especially during weekends), make sure you bargain and check the room before you finalise the deal. Some hotel staff tend to get rude at times due to increase of tourists.

*****

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*****

Sanjay

 

 

Why camping in Tosh should be on your bucket-list

Tosh, a pristine village near Kasol in Himachal Pradesh, is the last village in that belt.

An hours’ bus journey from the town of Kasol and a small 4 KM trek through the village and mountains will bring you to the camping site. The sight of the snow clad mountains right  your tents will be a mesmerising one.

A trek across this village one can find plantations of cannabis all across the place as it is one of the sources of revenue for the locals. Various trekkers stay put here and go for treks on the surrounding mountain ranges. The views for all which are breathtaking.

Here is why camping in Tosh should be on your bucket-list.

Trekking up to the Tosh village surrounded by mountains is an experience in itself. Specially for the magnificent views, the snow clad peaks and the silence.

IMG-2721

 

Trekking through the mountains rewards you with views like this.

IMG-2590

 

You will wake up with views that will make you forget your city life.

View from the tent at Tosh village

 

A walk in the park will be like this.

Tosh camping 3

 

Sunrise will never be the same again.

IMG-2690

 

Not everyday you have clouds to keep you company as you try to snuggle in a blanket with a book.

IMG-2676

 

You have probably never seen so many shades of green.

View of pine trees

 

And your life will be sorted.

Weed

 

*****

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*****

Sanjay

Restaurant Review: Mamagoto Pune – The fun Asian resto

Mamagoto’s tagline ‘fun Asian eating’ couldn’t have been more apt. With a bright decor featuring a collage of hip and quirky East Asian elements and a casual laidback vibe, Mamagoto ­ — a new entrant among the restaurants serving Asian cuisine in Pune — is sure to make your dining experience a lot more fun and enjoyable.

Mamagoto

Mamagoto’s casual decor

Mamagoto meaning ‘to play with food,’ is, as the owners say, ‘not authentic Asian food’ but the restaurant’s take on popular home and street food from the region. In the name of fusion food, a lot of eateries are mixing up cultures and continents without giving it a second thought but Mamagoto has hit the mark by keeping it simple and delicious.

After going through the extensive menu of soups, salads and starters, exhausted and unable to decide, we asked for recommendations. The staff readily agreed and after asking our preferences, suggested Chicken Basil Cups and Pak Choi wrapped Chicken Dumplings. For drinks, we had Passion Fruit and Orange Cooler and Blueberry Pop Rock.

Blueberry Pop Rocks

My Blueberry Pop Rock with a paper straw!

The drinks came first and were pretty looking and delicious. Passion Fruit and Orange Cooler, thankfully, wasn’t sugary and had the perfect citrusy zest. Blueberry Pop Rock was a sophisticated barf-ka-gola which was flavoursome.

Shortly, our starters arrived. Chicken Basil Cups were an absolute treat. Small pieces of chicken cooked in basil was served along with little round bite-sized pieces of lettuce. One has to stuff the chicken in the lettuce, wrap it and take a mouthful. Along with tiny drops of hot sauce inside, they tasted heavenly.

Chicken Basil Cups

The supremely delicious Chicken Basil Cups

For me, dumplings always meant fillings wrapped in flour but these dumplings were wrapped in pak choi — a cabbage mainly used in Chinese/ Oriental cuisine. Served along with four different types of sauces — schezwan and soy among the four — the chicken, which was perfectly cooked, tasted awesome. The sauces provided a lot of flavour to the dumplings.

Though we ordered non-vegetarian starters, there are plenty of vegetarian options too like Vegetable Basil Cups, Cheesy Tacos, Spring Rolls and so on. I really wanted to try Thai Puchka Bite and I will be going back soon to try it.

Moving on to the main course, if you are visiting the place with a group of people, we highly recommend Mamagoto’s Signature Bowls.

There are plenty of options for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians, and the portion served is enough for a couple to comfortably share. We ordered Spicy Bangkok Bowl, Mamagoto Goreng and Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles. All the dishes were distinctive in taste and equally delectable. Spicy Bangkok Bowl with vegetables cooked in fresh Thai spices and herbs was flavoursome and not very spicy as the name suggests. Mamagoto Goreng is Mama’s take on the classic Indonesian rice — Nasi Goreng. The Mama’s version is served with Chicken Satay and is a bit tangier and spicier than the original but tastes good. The rice is also served with Prawn Poppadom and sauces and one does not need a curry to go along with it.

Mamagoto Goreng

The Mamagoto Goreng – Mama’s take on the traditional Nasi Goreng

My favourite of the three was the Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles. Thai cuisine has a lot of coconut flavour in it and the noodles with coconut milk curry had the perfect blend of coconut milk and spices, and tasted a lot like Burmese Khow-suey. Mamagoto also has a Wok menu and a Sushi menu.

Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles

The Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles are to die for!

After contemplating for sometime whether to order desserts or not, we finally asked for some Mama’s Banana Split. The bananas deep fried in coating of toasted coconut and panko — to give it crispiness — was served with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. The ice cream balanced the flavour of coconut and banana superbly and was a delicious end to our fun meal.

Mama's Banana Split

Mama’s Banana Split – delicious fried banana with ice-cream! 

*****

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*****

Nupur

Restaurant Review: Lord of the Drinks, Pune

Lord of the Drinks (LOTD), a popular hangout place for the folks of Delhi and Mumbai, has now opened its doors to Puneites. After visiting their Hauz Khas outlet in Delhi, I was looking forward to gobble their delicious food in Pune and the place did not disappoint me.

The Pune outlet is situated in the happening Kalyani Nagar area of the city. As the name suggests, LOTD serves an array of local and international cuisines and has a massive bar menu to choose from.

The restaurant decor is urban and elegant, well furnished with wood and royal blue colour on its walls. Guests can choose either chairs or the more comfortable sofas near full-length windows overlooking the bustling main road below.

The food and bar menu has a plethora of options, from authentic North Indian cuisine to Continental food along with some quirky bar food. From the bar menu, we chose LOTD House Specials of Mint Papaya Rita and a very tempting Smoky Chocolate Martini. The unusual Mint Papaya Rita was made of fresh papaya juice with mint and a sour mix topped with tequila. It tasted refreshing in the summer heat.

Mint Papaya Rita

Mint Papaya Rita

The Chocolate Martini had copious amounts of delicious homemade chocolate syrup with a combination of whiskey, vodka and Kahlua, and was served with a chocolate stick that transported me back to my childhood days. The LOTD bar menu is extensive and it includes house specials, classic cocktails, molecular cocktails, along with regular liquor options for those who do not wish to experiment with their drink.

Smokey Chocolate Martini

Smokey Chocolate Martini

For appetisers, the chef recommended Ajwaini Tempura Prawns. Tempura, a Japanese speciality, has batter-fried vegetables or seafood. The crispy LOTD dish had an Indian twist with the addition of ajwain (carom seeds) mixed in the batter. The pungent taste of ajwain and the fresh prawns which also had galangal (spice used in traditional Asian cuisine), lemon and chilli cream was an instant hit.

IMG-7207

The delicious Ajwaini Tempura Prawns

For vegetarians, Barbecued Dhokla Chaat, Tempered Ricotta Vada, Spring Rolls, among others, were pleasant surprises.

Moving to the main course, with a little assistance from the chef, we chose the very popular Lord’s Black Dal, which is LOTD’s version of Dal Makhani with Pudina Paratha. From the non-vegetarian menu, we ordered Pepper Pistachio Mutton Korma. Sounds intriguing, right? Well, it was delicious. The Dal Makhani reminded me of Delhi and the one served at LOTD is definitely the tastiest one I’ve had in Pune. Perfectly creamy, the dal served with two mini hot and fresh Pudina Paratha was a perfect lunch treat and the portion was sufficient for two.

Lord's Black Dal

Lord’s Black Dal with Pudina Paratha 

The mutton pieces in the Korma, unexpectedly, came with bones but they were big and almost had a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. The Korma was a delicious mixture of spices, pepper and had an understated taste of pistachio which was rich and flavorsome. The Korma was served with two small parathas and the portion was quite filling for a couple.

With a full tummy, we contemplated ordering desserts but the options were so tempting that we ended up requesting our server for a chef recommended Nutella Chocolate Panna Cotta! This delicious looking dessert came with a cherry on top and looking at the presentation we did not feel like slicing the Panna Cotta and taking a bite. But we could not resist the temptation and devoured the entire plate within minutes. Not too sweet, the dessert is a blessing for people who like to dig in but are calorie conscious. Other desserts include Tiramisu and Blueberry French Toast.

Nutella Chocolate Panna Cotta

The tempting Nutella Chocolate Panna Cotta

LOTD with its stately decor is a wonderful place to spend your time with an array of drinks and food to choose from. With an extensive food and bar menu, the best way to decide your order is to choose the chef’s recommendations which are marked on the menu card. Also, we must mention that LOTD loves families with kids and they are entertained on their rooftop section. And the restaurant though located in the busy Kalyani Nagar junction provides valet parking!

 

*****

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*****

Nupur

Offbeat Thailand: The Bridge on River Kwai

Wanting to skip the usual and touristy Bangkok-Pattaya-Phuket itinerary, our plan to drive through the country led us to the western Thai town of Kanchanaburi (pronounced by locals as gaanjanaburi). The town is a gateway to historical attractions, national parks including Erawan Falls and the infamous Death Railway.

If you are fond of classic movies, you may have watched The Bridge on the River Kwai. It is based on the novel Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai by Pierre Boulle, which in turn is based on the historical events of the construction of the 400 odd km Thailand-Burma Railway line. It is believed that the Japanese wanted to invade Burma (now Myanmar) and take control of the region from the British. Hence, the Japanese built it to support its forces during World War II. More than three lakh labourers and prisoners of war were put to work under inhuman conditions. More than a lakh died during the construction of the railway line.

The lit up bridge on River Kwai
The lit up bridge on River Kwai

One of the most famous sections was the bridge built on the river. The original name of the river was known as Maeklong river. It ran through the Kwai Noi River valley. The author of the book, Pierre Boulle mistook it as Kwae river and thus was born River Kwai.

The first bridge that was constructed was wooden and was completed around 1943. Soon, a more modern concrete-and-steel railroad bridge was built. Parts of the bridge remain, and trains still run from Bangkok to Nam Tok station, mainly for tourists and a few regular local passengers. The super slow moving train provides breathtaking views of the valley and flowing river. Running on a hilly terrain, it is a stark reminder of the efforts and sacrifices of the workers who built the track in harsh conditions.

Walking on the River Kwai bridge
Walking on the River Kwai bridge

The renovated bridge also includes a walkway and viewing platforms for enthusiastic visitors. The bridge can be crossed on foot to go to the other side. During our evening stroll on the bridge, we were treated to lovely views of the river and also, unexpectedly the train! A hooter was sounded off informing people on the bridge of the oncoming train and a cue to move away from the tracks to either sides of the platforms.

A pretty and colourful train lazily passed by us, its occupants jutting out their heads and waving back. Back on the track for countless photos and selfies, the crowd started to disperse as the sun slowly began to set. Not having got enough of the view, we walked towards the numerous restaurants that line up on the river-front. The Floating Restaurant, which literally floats on the river provides a panoramic view of the bridge.

The Floating Restaurant on the river provides a scenic and panoramic view of the Bridge
The Floating Restaurant on the river provides a scenic and panoramic view of the Bridge

Witnessing the setting sun and the bridge being beautifully lit up, along with some authentic Thai drinks for company, we retired to our hostel looking forward to our next day in this picture perfect little town.

Getting there
Train: Two trains leave daily from Bangkok Noi station and you can directly go to the station and pay for a ticket. The train is clean but slow moving, slow enough to walk alongside in a few sections. There is a special tourist coach which is a little expensive but provides a more comfortable seating option with light snacks.

Car: We hired a self-drive at the airport itself and planned to drive down to Kanchanaburi. Though the time taken is approximately 2 hours, it took us more than 5 hours to reach the destination, thanks to no proper sign boards in English and lack of English speaking skills among local people. If you are comfortable with the local language and have decent internet connection or GPS in your vehicle, the roads are a treat to drive. There is parking available a little walk down the road from the bridge.

Day Trips: There are countless travel operators in Bangkok who provide day trips to the Death Railway. Pick any one of them that is suitable to your pocket.

Stay 
Kanchanaburi has a plethora of options to stay, right from luxurious suites to cheap bunks. Many aggregator sites like Booking.com and Airbnb offer accommodation for all budget types.

Eat 
There are many restaurants and hawkers serving Thai cuisine near the bridge. For an authentic experience, visit the night market on the main road, just outside the Kanchanaburi railway station. Traditional, local food is best served at roadside stalls.

Local food stall at the night market. Varieties of Pork, Chicken and Fish are served with sticky plain rice
Local food stall at the night market. Varieties of Pork, Chicken and Fish are served with sticky plain rice

Vegetarian eaters will have to take extra effort to find anything that does not include seafood. Restaurants serving international cuisine (veg too) are also available.

 

*****

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Nupur

*All pictures are mine.

7 Best Hill Stations Near Pune You Must Visit

A city that is quickly becoming a preferred destination for both businesses and youngsters, Pune is both traditional and cosmopolitan. Of course, it’s not just the culture, but the proximity to several hill stations near Pune is making it a preferred tourist destination. Whether it is historical glimpses or summer getaways, this Indian city has much to offer to its guests.

Hill stations near Pune in the Western Ghats are home to the most scenic and spectacularly brilliant hill retreats in India. The rolling green slopes are strewn with brooks and water cascades that can energize even the most discerning traveler. Lonavala and Matheran are well known as weekend getaways, but there are others that are worth visiting.

To help you plan your next vacay to best hill stations you must visit, Skyscanner has picked a few favourite hill stations in Pune for you with complete details on the weather and best time to visit.

1) Lonavala
A gorgeous hill station near Pune, Lonavala is located at the height of 622 m in the Sahyadri mountain range that separates the Deccan plateau and the Konkan coast. One of the most visited and favoured weekend getaways for people in Mumbai and Pune, this hill retreat boasts of caves, forts, lakes, and waterfalls amidst dense timberlands and verdant greenery. It’s also known for its variety of ‘Chikki.’
Ideal Trip Duration: 2-3 days
Base station: Lonavala
Nearest City: Pune-67 km
Best Time to Visit: July-Oct
Peak Season: Aug-Sept
Weather: Summer: Max – 31°C – Min – 18°C Winter: Max – 25°C – Min – 12°C

Lonavala
Lonavala

2) Matheran
One of the smallest hill stations and favourite monsoon getaways in Maharashtra, Matheran lies at an altitude of 800 m in the Western Ghats. The place is eco-sensitive and is the only automobile-free hill station in Asia. Offering plenty of panoramic views of the mountain range, you can hike, trek or rock climb. You can even enjoy a toy train ride up the mountains.
Ideal Trip Duration: 2-3 days
Base station: Matheran
Nearest City: Mumbai-94 km
Best Time to Visit: July-Oct
Peak Season: Aug-Sept
Weather: Summer: Max – 38°C – Min – 21°C Winter: Max – 34°C – Min – 13°C

Matheran's famous Toy Train that will take you up the hill
Matheran’s famous Toy Train that will take you up the hill

3) Khandala
If you travel another 5 km from Lonavala station, you will reach Khandala, another popular weekend retreat hill station near Pune. Khandala is known for its exquisite views, deep vales, lush vegetation, waterfalls, and lakes. It is a popular hiking destination where the Rajmachi Fort, Duke’s Nose, Visapur Fort, Korigad Fort, Tung and Tikona Fort are the chief trekking zones in Khandala.
Ideal Trip Duration: 1-2 days
Base station: Lonavala
Nearest City: Lonavala-5 km
Best Time to Visit: July-Sept

Scenic view of the Pune-Mumbai expressway at Khandala
Scenic view of the Pune-Mumbai expressway at Khandala

4) Panchgani
With the Wai, Bavdhan and Nagewadi, Gureghar, Khingar, Rajpuri and Dhom dams surrounding it, Panchgani lies 1334 m high between five hills north in the Sahyadri mountain range. A favoured summer retreat, the Rajpuri Caves, Table Land, Parsi Point, Kamalgadh Fort, Devil’s Kitchen, Sydney Point, Mapro Gardens, and Dhom dam are must-visit attractions.
Ideal Trip Duration: 1-2 days
Base station: Panchgani
Nearest City: Pune-104 km
Best Time to Visit: Sept-Feb
Peak Season: Sept-Dec
Weather: Summer: Max – 31°C – Min – 18°C Winter: Max – 25°C – Min – 12°C

Cascading waterfalls at Panchgani
Cascading waterfalls at Panchgani

5) Bhandardara
An enchanting village on the banks of the river Pravara at the height of 750 m in the Western Ghats, Bhandardara is a hill station near Pune. It is famous for its green cover and tranquil environs, stunning waterfalls, and refreshing air. Home to Mount Kalsubai, the highest peak in Maharashtra, Bhandardara’s rocky landscapes make it a fantastic trekking point.
Ideal Trip Duration: 1-2 days
Base station: Bhandardara
Nearest City: Pune-157 km
Best Time to Visit: Sept-Feb
Peak Season: Sept-Nov
Weather: Summer: Max – 41°C – Min – 20°C Winter: Max – 30°C – Min – 9°C

Bhandardara
Bhandardara

6) Mahabaleshwar
One of the most evergreen places in the world, Mahabaleshwar in the Western Ghats lies 1,353m above the sea level. Once the capital of the Bombay province, this picturesque hill retreat offers a pleasant climate, captivating views, lush greenery and several tourist attractions you can explore. A boat ride on the Venna Lake is a must-do when in Mahabaleshwar.
Ideal Trip Duration: 2-3 days
Base station: Mahabaleshwar
Nearest City: Pune-123 km
Best Time to Visit: Jun-Oct
Peak Season: Aug-Sept
Weather: Summer: Max – 31°C – Min – 18°C Winter: Max – 25°C – Min – 12°C

The picturesque Mahabaleshwar
The picturesque Mahabaleshwar

7) Malshej Ghat
A delightful hill station with its beautiful lakes, magnificent waterfalls, and lofty mountains, Malshej Ghat, is famous among explorers, trekkers, and nature lovers. Malshej Ghat is another hill station near Pune perfect for a weekend away from the crowds and pollution. Harishchandragad, Malshej falls, Pimpalgaon dam and Ajoba Hill are must-visits in Malshej. It’s a trek zone and bird watcher’s paradise.
Ideal Trip Duration: 1-2 days
Base station: Malshej Ghat
Nearest City: Pune-119.7 km
Best Time to Visit: Jun-Oct
Peak Season: Aug-Sept

Malshej Ghat
Malshej Ghat

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Nupur

*This post is in association with Skyscanner

 

Wanderers – Arun Nadar

Meet our wanderer, Arun, a self-confessed petrolhead. An auto journalist at ZigWheels, Arun loves motorcycles & Diecast. A certified foodie, he appreciates good music and exploring new destinations, preferably on two-wheels.

Arun Nadar

1) What got you hooked to travelling?
Ever since I was a kid, I would always look forward to family vacations as it was a great opportunity to bond with my parents and make new friends along the journey. As I grew up, travelling to new destinations meant I could indulge in varied cuisines and since I am a born foodie, I always look forward to trying new local cuisines wherever I go. Last but not least is the history part, every city or town has its own colourful past and interesting story which is intriguing to me.

2) Which is your favourite travel destination? Why?
Since motorcycles is my passion, any destination that has great twisting roads makes them appealing for myself. Just for the joy of riding, I will rank Bhutan highly as you are welcomed by butter smooth tarmac winding through beautiful mountains and it is a place where you would relish driving or riding. And if you’re a more adventurous kind of person, I will highly recommend a trip to Muktinath temple in Mustang Valley, Nepal. The terrain is hostile and it will test your mettle, but absolutely worth it and don’t forget to enjoy the natural hot water springs in Tatopani on your way. Also, I am a beach person and just fell in love with the pristine coastline of Andaman islands and will urge everyone to visit this heaven on earth soon before commercialization ruins its beauty.

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3) Which is your least favourite travel destination? Why?
Most of the metro cities in India and popular tourist places. I feel these destinations have been over done and over commercialized. Also, when I am on a vacation, I need peace and tranquillity as being from Mumbai which runs at the speed of light, I prefer a place where I can sit back and relax.

4) Scariest thing that happened to you while travelling?
I and few friends of mine were riding down to Goa and were caught unaware by thunderstorms on the outskirts of Sawantwadi. It was pouring heavily and low visibility meant we had to take shelter underneath an old abandoned hut. We were stuck there for more than an hour and to add to our woes there was no network or any person nearby. Once the rain had subdued a bit, we started riding cautiously on the back roads drenched completely with hardly any visibility as the sun had set. Luckily for use we made it through without any unwanted incident. The above experience gave me an important lesson, always check the expected weather before venturing out for a ride.

5) Weirdest thing you did?
I am usually a very reserved type of person, but, on my first trip to Barcelona, I tried flamenco dancing on stage with the professionals. Although, I was completely offbeat, but I had a gala time and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

6) Which is you favourite travel photo? Why?
The one I clicked on the Valencia race track. I have been a MotoGP (a type of motorcycle racing) fanatic ever since I was a teenager and used to religiously watch every race on weekends. So, when I finally got the opportunity to see a race live, it was magical. I had access to the press area which was above the pit boxes of riders, but, I chose to sit with the Spanish fans in the grand stand and cheer for my favourite rider Valentino Rossi. The fact that I accomplished my life-long dream of witnessing a MotoGP race live still remains amongst the most happiest moments of my life.

At Valencia
At Valencia

6) Must have packing item?
Chocolates and water. Most of my journeys are on a motorcycle and somehow whenever I am riding, I don’t prefer to eat much as it makes me lazy . Chocolate bars are a good source of energy and are easy to carry as well, so whenever I ride or travel, I make sure to carry some Snickers bars. Also, it is easy to dehydrate while riding a motorcycle as you try to avoid halting and this kind of drains you especially in our harsh summer conditions. I carry a 2-litre hydration pack filled with water and sometimes add electral powder to keep me hydrated while riding without taking any extra halts.

7) Favourite travel experience?
There have been many sweet memories but the one that really left a mark was in Bhutan. I had fallen off my bike and the bike was in an unrideable condition. I was stranded on the outskirts of a remote village and was tired and dehydrated. There were no shops around so I had no option but to wait till the backup vehicle arrived. Suddenly, one kid who was around 10-12 years old walked towards me and gave me a bottle of Coke. I was a bit surprised and gave him money for the drink, which he refused. He didn’t speak English, but gestured that I was injured and that I should keep the drink and just walked away. I am pretty sure the value of the drink for that kid would have been much higher, but his generosity and kindness touched me and still today I get goosebumps thinking of that experience.

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8) Your dream vacation?
It is hard to say just one. My dream vacation will be riding across Europe on a motorcycle. Have been lucky enough to ride on some gorgeous Spanish mountain roads and I feel they are the best roads to ride on the planet and also a great medium to explore and make new friends.

9) Any upcoming trips?
Given my hectic work schedule, I haven’t really decided anything yet. But, I plan to go to Indonesia and Thailand for sure this year. And, if everything pans out maybe Australia. Also given my profession as an automotive journalist, few surprise tours are perks of the job.

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