Animals too get lost in the beauty of silence.
Animals too get lost in the beauty of silence.
Tandoori mushrooms: Tangy and spicy mushrooms which are juicy as well.
Dahi ke sholey: They are deep fried yes but airy and light at the same time. Not to forget the creamy insides with the balance between the sweetness of yogurt and the scovian factor of green chillies.
Cheese Burst Soya Chaap: As if the mellowness of this soya chaap wasn’t enough, these guys dipped the same in a cheesy sauce to entice our bellies.
Zaffraani Paneer: Paneer and assorted colourful bell peppers compliment each other in an excellent way. But when served in a hot onion based gravy and topped with carom seeds, do provide a tantalizing experience.
Paneer Tikka Lasagna:
I could never understand the fondness associated with Mussoorie amongst the hearts of the north Indians. In the 29 years of my not-so-boring life, I had never been in Mussoorie for than an hour and that too whilst visiting some village while crossing it.
And the title of “Queen of the Hills”? Maybe the Britishers gave that title. But I had to find out, enough years had already passed.
A friend’s reception at Dehradun brought the perfect opportunity Dehradun, Mussoorie and Dhanaulti. A mutual friend and travel buddy had some exigency, so I was left solo to wander these lands.
2018 winters bloomed early and below 10 degrees temperature was expected to hover on. After bidding goodbye to Nanda Devi Express, the biting cold welcomed me at 5:45 a.m. at Dehradun. I took the local taxi from the railway station to J.P. Manor, Barlowgunj which comes 4km before Mussoorie.
The taxi driver was a local Pahadi and kept on assuring me that I will be able to withstand the chill as I was shivering like hell despite the fact that only my eyes were visible. I was alone so slightly scared of catching the commonest of all colds.
It took me just an hour and a half to reach J.P. Manor and the journey from the taxi to the hotel reception was a battle between my body and the morning chill. Ask my knees, they will tell you better.
The staff at J.P. Manor was extremely helpful and courteous. Since the rooms were not available as the check out time is 2pm, they offered me the spa facilities for refreshing myself. They also upgraded my booking with least charges when one of the rooms got an early check out at the Valley View Tower.
And trust me, the room was fabulous with French windows, shared lawn and a view to die for. The only caveat was or were the monkeys who were monkeying around the lawn premises. I could only open the curtains and not windows. Sigh!
And these naughty apes got more excited as my heavenly English breakfast came. The sight of omelette, bacon and sausages must have excited them and they kept on knocking on the window.
An hour’s sleep and I was ready to visit Dhanaulti. The local taxi stand at Mussoorie has a good amount of experienced drivers who know the ways in and around. I was advised to visit the Eco park at Dhanaulti and the Mall road considering the shortage of time.
The road connecting Mussoorie and Dhanaulti is a winding one and offers spectacular views of the Greater Himalayas. I constantly bothered the taxi driver to stop at such locations and he told me eagerly about the various peaks visible. Kedarnath and Badrinath being some of them.
I expected the Eco park to be just another playful park for kids, but the sight surprised me. The area is pretty close to a virgin forest where the vegetation is left in its most natural state. The greenery reminded me of the Maphland Sacred Grove at Shillong. The towering Deodars and Pine trees were in full bloom and the air was cold but fresh. The silence of the park was broken down by our footsteps and the monkeying around of the monkeys.
I wished to go deeper into the woods but was scared of the monkeys. I have already gone through the Rabipure series against a cat bite. Hell no I am going for that again!
There were many gazebos and swings on which you could relax and revel in the serenity.
After the tryst here, I requested the driver to take me to those step farms where cauliflowers are planted. I expected a vibrant scene but got a very dry terrain. The locals told us that monsoon is the time of fully bloomed cauliflowers. Better luck next time.
The journey from Dhanaulti to the Mall road was slightly dreadful as my altitude sickness came back and the heaviness in my head increased fourfold. I was dropped at the Picture Palace from wherein I started exploring the bylanes of Mussoorie. The road is dotted with a plethora of cafes, bakeries, woollen apparels shops and of course the Maggie & the momos vendors. My first destination was the ropeway to the Gun Point hill so had to keep an empty stomach.
While the ropeway vault was full of newly-wed couples stealing a selfie or an embrace (which I tried to overlook), the underlying view was refreshing.
Gun Point hill was slightly disappointing because of the clichéd outlets there. Or rather I played those games in my childhood that they no more the charm anymore. But if you have a book to read, an empty belly to hog on to the piping hot Maggie and ample time to bask in the blazing sun, then please take a table for some time.
The Maggie definitely warmed my insides and the sunlight the exterior of course. My altitude sickness also got relieved. I could not see the Camel back road from there although I was advised that it will be visible from there.
My target was to reach the hotel by 5pm because I had no intention of facing the zero degree temperature after an eventful day. I got free earlier though, at 4pm, after having a freshly brewed cuppa of Earl Grey tea at a café.
Since I had not slept in the train because of small berths and cool temperatures, I went into a short lived slumber before heading to Café Manor – the hotel’s Italian dining restaurant.
I ordered my favourites – chicken ravioli in white sauce and vegetables loaded pizza. The ravioli was freshly prepared and had the right quantity of cheese and cream. The veggie pizza when brought for the first time was slightly burnt but after a request by the manager, a second version was provided which was perfection. The quantity and quality both are excellent here.
The second day was reserved for the journey to Dehradun and trust me it was not an easy one. The winding roads wreaked their havoc again and deep breaths were my only respite. Though when the cab driver took the car through the greenery loaded area of Garhi Cantt, I was in for a peaceful drive.
I checked into Saffron Leaf (where my friend’s reception party was due) and ordered a chicken sandwich. I was extremely surprised by the quantity of the breakfast – the potato wedges and the coleslaw were the icing on the cake! After a brief period of reading and resting, I was ready for the Buddhist Monastery in Clement town.
After a drive of about 4km, prayer flags greet you as are en route to the monastery. It is a huge complex having a slew of stupas, temples, rotating drums and gardens. The setting sun casted a beautiful shadow around the huge Buddha statue and it becomes worthwhile to take a snap before it gets dark as well as late.
The evening was spent at the Singh Sour Bar where the myriad variety of momos will baffle you. Vegetarian, paneer, chicken, mutton and cheese – you name it, they have it. We explored the vegetarian, vegetarian cheese, chicken and mutton momos and they were all food gasmic. The cheese ones tasted as if a small portion of Domino’s pizza had been enclosed in the momos sheet.
And the evening would have incomplete without grabbing a sweet bite at Ellora’s Melting Moments. We tried Cinnamon Danish and Christmas Brownie and somehow I felt that the place is over rated. The Danish is supposed to be flaky & airy and instead it was doughy & chewy. The brownie was good but could have been better.
The second day began with a visit to Sahastradhara. It is situated on the outskirts of Dehradun and is usually thronged by Hindu believers. There are sulphur springs situated here and the waters are believed to heal one of diseases. But somehow I felt that this place would have been picturesque a few years back but is now marred by garbage and people bathing in it. The streams have a lesser amount of water which sometimes stagnates because of the underlying garbage. Nevertheless, the place is tranquil and the numerous tiny cascades with the music of flowing water provide a serene atmosphere.
It is advisable to be wary of the transportation issues while visiting this place. Ola/Uber does not work here and a solitary auto came to our aide when we wanted to go back to city.
Dehradun is known for many cozy cafes serving comfort food and who am I to turn down the delicious affairs of these outlets? We wanted to explore The Orchard while enjoying the view of the mountains but unfortunately it open at 1pm. We decided to visit Café Marigold instead and the visit reminded us of our college days.
The menu is not very extensive but the quality is to die for. The penne alfredo was beyond perfection and the maple syrup pancakes were charismatic save for a few raw bites. The honey lemon ginger tea actually tastes like the ingredients used for preparing it and Marigold special Coffee is their unique offering, which I did not taste because of my aversion to caffeine.
Overall the visit to Dehradun was refreshing and I fell in love with the ubiquitous greenery. The bougainvilleas in myriad colours, the sunflowers and the enormous roses are charming and beckon you to come here again and again.
A traditional cuisine specific food festival has a special place in my heart. Especially when that cuisine is from the Punjabi heartland of our country. So when JW Marriot, Aerocity comes up with an Amritsari Swaad Tadka at their famed K3, could I have said no? Absolutely no!
Starting from perfectly smoked Kandhari Paneer Tikka, juicy and tangy mushrooms – Tandoori Khumbh, spicy Highway Tandoori Kukkad (chicken cooked in hand pounded spices) and meat de tikki (chewy mutton prepared in aromatic spices), your belly does get filled after these appetizing appetizers.
And what is a Punjabi meal if it is not relished with Makke di roti, Sarson da saag, chhole and stuffed kulche? Though the chhole could have been spicier although the texture was excellent.
And for vegetarians, there is a dearth of varied options – Paneer Taka Tak (loved it!), Kadhi Chawal, Hare moong ki daal (now that is something new!) and Matar Vadiyan di sabzi.
And for non vegetarians, the Mutton Chawal is one dish worth experimenting. The mutton pieces are succulent although the rice could be more flavourful. Do not expect Biryani, this is Amritsar special.
And the best one is always reserved for the last. Ever heard of mutton keema halwa? Yes you read it right, the keema halwa. This was warm and heavenly and tasted like moong daal halwa.
So when are you visiting next? The festival is on till 25th November.
Call it co-incidence, but I have been travelling more frequently to Uttarakhand this year than I ever did before. And although I am not really fond of the pebble laden trails here, the distinct Pahadi culture never fails to baffle me.
And the fact that the magnificent views here are still hidden from my prying eyes, I yearn to return here more often.
This unique experience was curated by the Transforming Travels and the organizers Chandni Aggarwal and Mihir Panda were their usual informative and cheery best.
We, a group of six travellers, boarded an Innova from Mandi House Metro station at 11pm in the night. After getting acquainted with each other, we retired for the day in our car seats.
This day started early at 6:30 a.m. as we reached our hotel Grand Galaxy, a few kilometres from Mussoorie. Since road journeys tend to leave you exhausted, I preferred to sleep till 8:30 although that comforting sleep felt like eternity.
The breakfast ritual was performed in the blazing sun at the hotel courtyard from where you could get a magnificent view of the Mussoorie-Dehardun landscape. The usual poha, poori and aloo sabzi tend to become tastier in the mountains, I feel.
Corn Village was the first place in our itinerary and before visiting the village, our first stoppage was at an elderly couple’s place. The husband Mr. Kunwar is the head of the village and his lady is a Canadian who decided to adopt the Pahadi culture. The lovely couple greeted us with a freshly prepared lemongrass tea and to sip it in the lap of the mountains while listening to the twittering of mountain birds was priceless! The couple have opened an English medium school for the children of Corn Village and are working tirelessly for literacy here.
The vibrant yellow hues of the sweet corn cobs welcome you as you traverse through the village. The smiling villagers while going around their daily chores make you forget the tiredness from the road journey. The smiling children will pester you to play with them while the elderly ladies will oblige when you ask for a photograph to capture their earthy beauty.
Lunch was a delicious affaire with make ki roti (corn chappatis), spiced wheat pancakes, sautéed pumpkins, mixed lentils, rice and sautéed greens. Each and every item was lip smacking to say the least.
After Corn Village, Landour was not far behind. It is at a greater height than Mussoorie (some 2000m) and delicate cold winds will hit you abruptly. The colonial touches are more prominent here – stony pathways, wooden cottages, British conifers, deserted lanes and of course the bakeries.
And I forgot to mention the very sophisticated boarding school kids scouting the Landour bakehouse. The bakery is pretty old – the puny roofs, the wooden interiors and the bone china cutlery will remind you of the bygone days. There is an extensive dessert menu with fresh bakes though I preferred to take chicken croissant sandwich which was ohh-so-warm. Not to forget the fresh ginger lemon tea with organic honey.
Sunsets are not to be missed when you are in the mountains and the view from Lal Tibba is unforgettable.
The day ended with a late dinner in the courtyard at the hotel and a sleep full of snores.
The trek towards the origins of Kempty Falls had to begin early though we started late at 9a.m. A half an hour journey from our hotel to Cloud’s End where George Everest’s home stands tall. The building is in a dilapidated state with some hideous caricatures of undying love drawn on the walls. Nevertheless, the views are a thing of beauty at the canyon. The short hike to the top was a warm up for our trek and we successfully passed it.
The trek towards the Kempty Falls origins is a descending one so expect sore calf muscles. You have to trudge very carefully as the well defined trail does get slippery in between. But the dense forests and the meadows encountered leave you breathless, quite literary. The trail foes through the Mussoorie Wildlife Sanctuary and we were told by some officials that bears and leopards are regular visitors there. Not to mention my chance encounter with a tiny snake that preferred to ran away instead of biting me.
When you finally reach the gushing crystal clear blue-green waters of the many streams which ultimately form Kempty Falls, you can not help basking in the enchanting music. The long journey of 11km lays forgotten in the quiet of these streams.
After snacking on sweet corn and chai, we geared ourselves for Dehardun where we decided to have a grand dinner at Kalsang Ama café. I somehow never understood how these mountain cafes are able to dish out better pizzas, pastas and sandwiches than our high grade Delhi restaurants. The café scored excellent on quality as well as quantity.
And as usual, we decided to retire for the day in our car seats and reached Delhi in the morning hours.
Such rural explorations with unchartered trails are a speciality of Transforming Travels. Not to forget the comfort factor involved during road journey as well as hotel/resort stay.
We yearn for the mesmerising landscapes of Scotland and Europe which are sans the human presence and reflect the nature in its pristine glory. But do we ever wonder that similar geographical escapades are very much present in our country as well, we only have to seek them to relish them.
Time and again, I hear many travellers eloquently describing the wonders of the north eastern India. The seven sisters with a plethora of geographical spectacles have plenty of eye-soothing destinations. So when the opportunity came knocking on my door about a visit to Shillong and surrounding sights, I could not say nope, no time!
An early morning flight to Guwahati from Delhi initiated this memorable journey. I preferred to take a power nap in the flight as the ensuing road journey to Shillong will be very tiring.
Our Air BnB owner in Shillong, Mr. Lam had sent a cab for the three of us and a local lady at the Guwahati airport ad there started our eventful road journey on NH206. The local lady, Tanya, took us to a restaurant where authentic Khasi cuisine is served. The non vegetarians amongst us had a platter of boiled sticky rice, dal, Doh-Neiong – pork cooked in a light watery gravy of tea leaves, fried chicken pakora and mutton curry. The pork was the best – mellow to the core and not the chewy variety we have in the restaurants.
It was raining cats and dogs on the whole national highway and hence we could not savour the beauty of Umian lake or the Bada Pani.
It took us approximately four hours to reach Shillong. The traffic in Shillong is hell crazy – slower than Mumbai’s during the peak hours. We finally reached our Air BnB Thrift Inn Homestay and met our very gracious host Mr. Lam who guided us about the restaurants in the Police Bazaar.
We were assigned the apartment set on the third floor of the homestay and the view from the terrace was beautiful. The apartment is very well maintained with simplistic interiors and pamphlets posted on the walls regarding the do’s and don’t’s. There is a small living room, a lobby, two bed rooms with two beds each and cabinets, a dining area with a kitchenette and a balcony with a washroom.
We explored the area of Police Bazaar in the evening with a visit to a local fine-dine restaurant Déjà vu. The food was great there but since we longed for something north Indian, we knocked the doors of the nearby Amma restaurant and had a homely meal there.
The second day started early at 7 a.m. because we had to depart for Cherrapunjee to start the Living Roots Bridge trek. We were greeted with a delicious breakfast of aloo paratha prepared by Mr. Lam’s mother and we hogged onto them like voracious beasts because the coming journey and trek would rob us of calories.
Our host Mr. Lam took us on the two hour drive explaining about the weather and the surrounding landscapes. Since we were driving through the heaviest rainfall area, the visibility was low. We were practically driving through the clouds and had to be slow.
The original name for Cherrapunjee was Sohra and the locals still use this name. You can see the sign boards mentioning the name while you traverse the narrow lanes there. As Lam elaborated the history, we got to know that Cherrapunjee was the first town to be established by the Britishers in the north east India as it connected well with Bangladesh. Shillong and Guwahati were established much later. Therefore you will see some vintage Catholic churches en route to the Living Roots bridge trek.
We finally reached the place where the trek begins. The clouds had cleared by then so we started in good conditions. There are bamboo sticks available at the nearby shops with water bottles and light snacks. Washrooms are also situated there and are payable, so expect spot on cleanliness there.
There is a plethora of Living Roots Bridges in and around Cherrapunjee but the most spectacular and the oldest one is the Double Living Roots bridge which is a actually 300-400 years old. Fashioning these bridges is an art and is passed down through generations. The aerial roots of the fig trees are guided through bamboo or wood over the river streams by twisting them together time and again. Over time, more roots grow and strengthen over time. It takes about 40-50 years for a young bridge to be functional.
The trek is easier on the terrain side because you just have to climb up/down the steps. The trouble is that there are 3200 steps on one side and you first have to climb down and then up. Additionally, we are not used to climbing so many stairs, so it takes time for your body to get acclimatised. The minute you stop for rest breaks, you can feel your legs shaking because the body takes time to stop the momentum.
It is soothing to breathe the fresh air of the surrounding forest and feast your eyes with the enveloping mountains and the dispersing clouds.
There are two suspension bridges en route to the double bridge. The first one, a steel wire suspension bridge, is darn scary because it starts oscillating if more than two people traverse on it. But the view of the river ferociously flowing over huge boulders is fearlessly enchanting.
You can also spot a lot of epiphytes/fungi stuck on the trunks of dead trees.
Two hours of arduous trekking finally comes to a wonderful site of the double living roots bridge and the surrounding musical waterfall. It is advisable to relax there and maybe take a dip in the clear water to soothe your tired nerves.
We had our lunch at a local homestay and were served the usuals – boiled rice, dal, sautéed potatoes in turmeric, egg fry and bamboo shoot pickle. The bamboo shoot pickle was lip smacking – sour with the spiciness of black pepper.
The trekking up part is really difficult because the staircase is way too steep. We were saved by the juicy pineapple available at kiosks.
The whole trek takes about five hours and is tedious. So it is better to stay at a local homestay/inn/hotel.
But as adventurous as we are and with the able guidance of our host, we decided to visit the site from where the Seven Sisters fall is visible. The clouds had finally cleared and with no sign of rainfall, our DSLR’s were out.
We had booked La Kapur Inn for our stay in Cherrapunjee and were pleasantly surprised by the helpful staff there. The owner and the one of ladies there – Teesta helped us in every way possible. The dinner was a simple affair with chappatis, dal, makhani chicken and salad.
Lam asked us to go easy on this day as we were super tired from the trek. We started at 9 a.m. and went for a 100km drive to Dawki – the India Bangladesh border. The skies were comparatively clearer today so we could see the vibrantly green rolling hills.
We halted for a short time to buy organic black pepper, coffee and honey from a local shop and trust me, these are better than the ones you find in the super markets.
The journey is smooth but there are so many photograph spots en route that you would want to get out of your car time and again. The flowing streams, the English pines and the surrounding greenery beckons you to keep capturing them.
As soon as you enter the Dawki village, you can spot the towering betel nut trees. The surrounding flora changes to evergreen forests so expect extreme humidity which will severely drench you. If you are fond of boating, then better to board the rustic boats sailing over the muddy waters (monsoon specific) of Umngot river. Since the river was murky unlike its clear avatar, we decided to ditch boating.
Lunch was simple with the usuals and a pleasant surprise in the form of channa or back gram curry. It reminded me of my Mom’s special black gram gravy.
Lam had discovered a hidden falls by the name of Byrdaw near Dawki which are bewitching to say the least. There is a small 15 minutes trek to the falls through a deep forest. The melody of the falling waters can be heard from a distance and the when you actually behold the copious amounts of water falling from such a height, your heart does skip a beat.
Next up on our list was the Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia. The village although clean, has been beautified with ornamental plants and creepers and does give an appearance of “made up beauty”. Nevertheless, it is a soothing place to visit after suffering the harrowing humidity of Dawki. You can also buy bamboo handicrafts from local shops here.
The day started slightly late at 9:30 am as we had to roam around Shillong only. We first drove to the Laitlum village which is again surprisingly clean and eye-soothing. But the real beauty was waiting for us when we finally reached the Laitlum canyon. The moving clouds, the green hills & canyon, the wild flowers and a serpentine river make this a wonderland. People usually visit this place for old school picnics. The best part is not the natural beauty but dustbins at every few metres so that the pristine surroundings are maintained.
And travel to Shillong is never complete without a visit to the Maphlang sacred grove. Lam called this a magical place and it is rightly so. There are trained guides available at the entrance and the visitors have to go with them because there are certain rules to be followed while going for the scared grove walk. For instance, you can not take anything from the forest. It is believed that if you kill an organism or pluck a leaf/fruit/flower, this action will affect 1000 lives. So it is better to soak in the surroundings of the lush and dense forest and observe the flora and fauna.
There are two treks through this forest – one for half & hour and another for two hours which finishes at the famous David Scott’s trail.
Special note about our host Mr. Lam – he is extremely helpful and understanding. He took care of every aspect of the trip and even pep talked to us when we were too tired during our trek. He guided us about the spots to take photographs from and the places to visit. He also talked elaborately about the history of the places we visited and the cultural aspects present here. Here is the link to his homestay: https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/22151957
After the Maphlang sacred grove trek, we started for Shillong and en-route had a hearty meal at the ML05 café.
Lam arranged a cab for us for Guwahati from Police Bazaar and we reached the Assam capital by 8pm. Our stay was at an Air BnB near the Guwahati airport and it was not in the cleanest condition as the owner Mr. Tathagat was away. He eventually made up for it by dropping us at the airport in the wee hours of the morning without any charge.
Special thank you to my friends Anjali and Pratibha with whom it is always a pleasure to travel. All my pictures are clicked by Anjali through her Iphone X.
Veg Shikampur kebabs: Mellow and fibrous kebabs with a dominant sweetness, the first bite will keep you wondering and the subsequent ones will flabbergasted you with a multitude of flavours. Not to be missed: the hotness of green chillies and garam masala.
Dum Ka Murg: I was honestly surprised by the number of chicken pieces in this dish. Usually restaurants provide only two pieces in a curried dish and that factor takes the excitement away from hogging to cursing.
The chicken is succulent and lavishly drenched in a thick gravy of yogurt, spices and cashew nuts paste. The icing or rather the icings on the cake are the caramelised onions topping this dish thus lending a smoky flavour.
Malabar paratha: Soft and chewy, this goes well with the chicken dish.