Kazan Cathedral, Saint Petersburg

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Colombo, Sri Lanka
We returned to Colombo from Sigiriya on a warm afternoon. The drive was pleasant and our hotel was in the middle of the busiest district of Colombo. Hence it was in no time that we were on the road moving towards the famous Gangaramaya Temple. It was one of the three places we had finalized to visit on our short stay in Sri Lankan capital.

Gangaramaya Temple 2

Friday, 22 December 2017

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Lion Rock is not just a tourist attraction. History says it was seat of the most powerful king who ever ruled the island nation. Add to that the buddhist monastery in the caves of the gigantic monolith and a view to behold from the top. The result is an unmatchable structure that may very well have cake-walked into the Unesco World Heritage Site list. While the front view of Sigiriya is intimidating, the trek and the experience is equally exhilarating.

View from middle, Sigiriya Lion Rock

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
The ruins of Polonnaruwa are famous. The fact that an entire city dedicated to the worship of Lord Buddha in Sri Lanka was astonishing for us coming from India. It was this curiosity and the fame that drew us to the ruined city on the very first day of our stay in the central province. The one hour drive from Sigiriya was pleasant and scenic. We came across a massive Buddha statue beside a lake on the way which set the tone for the city.

Parakramaabahu Palace Complex, Polonnaruwa

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
We started early morning for Hikkaduwa. We had enquired for scuba diving at Unawatuna the previous day but I had read somewhere that Hikkaduwa is better. We immediately hit a scuba centre and negotiated a good rate. It was time to learn the first steps of breathing and releasing water from nostrils. We failed miserably and hence were told we cannot continue into deep waters. While it was disappointing, an inviting beach was in front of us under the warm sun.

Sunset @ Hikkaduwa

Monday, 18 December 2017

Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Unawatuna is a quintessential beach. It has an independent personality and proximity to Galle is just a coincidence. It has the buzz of Calangute and the serenity of Kovalam. It has a long beach line and yet the curve ensures everything is within eyesight. When we first visited it, our hearts were won over and over again, so much that we had to come again just to say goodbye.

Surfing @ Weligama


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Our first morning in Sri Lanka was going to be a hectic one. Our driver had suggested a whale watching tour early morning and we decided to go for it. Hence at 5 in the morning we were racing towards a beach called Mirissa. By the time we reached the sun was about to rise. It was glorious. Early morning beach view is generally amazing - the small sandy beach of Mirissa takes it to the next level.

Sunrise @ Mirissa Beach


Saturday, 16 December 2017

Galle, Sri Lanka

Google Maps: Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle (pronounced Gaulle) is a seaport in southern Sri Lanka. We chose it as our base because of its equal distance from Weligama and Hikkaduwa. The fact that Unawatuna beach was a mile away was a bonus. The plan was more or less a success as we were able to easily nevigate through major beaches in southern province. However a better approach would have been to stay at Unawatuna itself, watching the sunrise and enjoying the buzz of the commercial beach.

Lighthouse, Galle Fort

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Udaigiri Caves, Vidisha

Google Maps: Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, India
We were in Vidisha for Prateek's wedding. The journey itself was interesting. It was not since the dreadful night train to Rameswaram that we had taken a train trip. However the group that accompanied us was fun. We reached Vidisha early morning and got transferred to our respective rooms. Management from bride's side was impeccable. Breakfast was equally good with the variety and a hint of Madhya Pradesh. We ate sumptuously and then rested for a while at room before starting again.

Varaha statue, Udaigiri


Monday, 21 August 2017

Hill Fort, Kesroli

Google Maps: Kesroli, Rajasthan, India
Hill Fort Kesroli is a Neemrana property and inaccessible to outsiders. You need to book a room to even enter the premises which is on high grounds and not at all easy to reach. It was my birthday and so we decided to spend a night at the resort. The August sun was bright as we drove from Gurgaon to Kesroli near Alwar in two and half hours. We checked in and roamed around the property. While the entrance is a climb, the fort is an easy navigation with rooms on two levels.

Swimming pool at lower levels, Hill Fort Kesroli


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Himeji Castle

Google Maps: Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
We covered Himeji Castle on our penultimate day in Japan. It would have been big miss had we not decided to go for it. The architecture, construction and accessibility is unparalleled even by the open standards of Japan. Given that it is in opposite direction to Tokyo from Osaka, we took some effort and it paid off handsomely. While the castle is visible from railway station itself, it hardly justifies what's inside.

Himeji Castle, Himeji

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Kyoto

Google Maps: Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Kyoto is beautiful. At the heart of Japan, nestled with temples, spotted with shrines and bifurcated by a river, the city is duly called the spiritual capital of Japan. We reached Kyoto through a super fast train from Osaka early morning and immediately started moving towards the Kinkaku-ji Temple. It is one of the showstoppers among the famous temples of Kyoto. Known for the gold-leaf structure and located at the centre of a placid lake, the temple was indeed teeming with selfie lovers as we arrived.

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Monday, 26 June 2017

Universal Studios Japan (USJ)

Google Maps: Universal Studios, Osaka, Japan
First thing first. You cannot cover all at Universal Studios Japan (USJ) without a plan. So here is step by step guide to help you.

1. Reach USJ by 8.30AM. Based on inbound crowd, the entry time changes between 8AM and 9AM. Avoid weekends & holidays because they attract both tourists and locals. Best days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Buy tickets in advance through www.usj.co.jp or in worse case counter. There are two tickets. One is the Studio Pass for entry, the other is Express Pass (optional but strongly recommended) for selective rides.

Universal Studios Japan Map

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Google Maps: Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima
A grim reminder of human ineptitude to be the dominant species on this planet, the Atomic Bomb Dome of Hiroshima was nothing but graceful in its presence. We were in Hiroshima on a sunny Sunday afternoon without much fuss or spend. A distance of more than 200 miles was covered in a bullet train in less than two hours and then a loop bus took us to the Imperial Palace for free thanks to our JR Pass.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Miyajima, Japan

Google Maps: Miyajima, Japan
The ferry transported us to another world. The matter-of-factly Japan somehow vanished across half the mile of sea as we entered Miyajima. In front of us was a green island with lofty mountains that invited you for a trek. The foothills were not bad either - the gigantic orange coloured Grand Torii Gate being the crown jewel. We were told this was one of the top three most scenic spots in entire Japan. I believe it now.

Grand Torii, Miyajima


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan)

Google Maps: Kaiyukan, Osaka
Osaka Aquarium was unplanned. We had kept a day for Osaka but we learned that the aquarium is only a ferry ride away. So we took it. To our surprise the aquarium was gigantic and contained seemingly infinite varieties of sea life. The tickets look a bit costly but once you are through, you will not regret an iota.

Shark Whale @ Kaiyukan

Friday, 23 June 2017

Diabutsu, Kamakura

Google Maps: Daibutsu, Kamakura
It always makes sense to visit the nearest beach-town on a sunny weekend and that is what we planned during our stay at Tokyo. Yuigahama Beach is an hour away from Tokyo. There was a direct train from close to our hotel to Kamakura and a 15 min walk from Kamakura station to Yuigahama. On the way we got feedback from a friendly lady on how wonderful the walk is from Kita-Kamakura to Kamakura. It was a good idea. The series of temples and a garden dedicated to the hydrangeas were delightful.

Daibutsu, Kamakura

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Toshogu Shrine, Nikko

Google Maps: Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
Toshogu Shrine, deep in the hinterlands of Japan, was a perfect beginning of our first trip abroad in seven years. A spiritual centre in a natural habitat and rich with cultural heritage to be listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the shrine near Nikko is a landmark in northern Japan. We started early and thanks to our JR Pass, we reach Nikko without much fuss in no time. A bus would take us to Toshogu from the train station.

Toshugu Shrine, Nikko

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Disneyland, Tokyo

Google Maps: Disneyland, Tokyo, Japan
Disneyland was a dream destination. Since our JR Pass was not getting activated till next day and this was a top attraction in Tokyo we went for it. It didn't go too well. Firstly Disneyland is for kids and secondly it rained. Although some of the rides like the roller coaster became more fun, the whole experience was a bummer.

Disneyland, Tokyo

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tokyo

Google Maps: Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is among the most sorted capital cities that you will find on this planet. You land at Haneda or Narita and you will start finding visual aids to help you in right direction. Displayed on floors, walls or electronic boards, you just need to have eyes and a mind to find these instructions and you can cover entire city. Google Maps is handy in a broader way. There are information centres at almost every busy node to help you out in case. We landed at Narita and took a Skyliner to Nippori. Another train to Kanda from Nippori and we were checking in at our hotel room within three hours of landing - which included immigration checks, baggage checks, collecting data sim & pocket wifi, getting our JR Pass and collecting our pre-booked Skyliner tickets from airport.

Tokyo from Metropolitan Building

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Devprayag

Google Maps: Devaprayag, Uttarakhand, India
  • Devprayag is a half day trip from Rishikesh although to be fair, it needs a full day to appreciate the drive and the point. 
  • Roads are in perfect condition and well managed. There are very few good restaurants and no petrol pump before Devprayag so plan accordingly. 
  • The river Ganges flow to your right all the way to Devprayag which throws multiple viewpoints to saviour. Take a break now and then and appreciate the work of mother nature on these hills.
Devprayag is one of those gems that are not hidden but surrounded by bigger gems and hence ignored. In itself it is worthy of a day trip as we figured while standing at the merging point of two distinctly coloured rivers. The holy incantations and energetic crowd only help create a captivating zone around this point which is in a shape of cake slice.

View of Devprayag from top

Monday, 10 April 2017

Shivpuri

Google Maps: Shivpuri, Uttarakhand, India
  • Shivpuri is home to rafting. White sand river-side used to be perfect for camping as well although recently that has been prohibited by Green Tribunal.
  • Stay at a nearby resort or makeshift camps close to Ganges. It is better than Rishikesh for those who come to avoid the hustle of city.
  • Rishikesh is 20 minutes drive from here. You can plan for evening aarti and dinner at chotiwala and comfortably come back by 9.

We reached Rishikesh at 2 and immediately hit traffic. The way Rishikesh has developed, a bypass merges into the city right at the middle of the busiest road. We crawled and reached Shivpuri at 3. To our utter disappointment, the riverside camps were moved sideways away from the Ganges. Now it attracted mostly bachelors. We decided to go back to Rishikesh but found a good resort called Bull's Retreat close by.

View from near Bull's Retreat Resort

Monday, 6 March 2017

Chail

Google Maps: Chail, Himachal Pradesh, India
  • Visit during March-April for 3 days. Nights are cold but it is less crowded and more pleasant weather wise.
  • Stay at Chail Palace for a royal experience. Plan a visit to nearby market for lunch as the lazy morning and cold evening are mostly to be spent inside the resort.
  • Drive / trek to Kali Tibba, Cricket Ground and Wildlife Sanctuary. Chail is small town for a relaxing weekend. 

Taking a detour from Kandaghat, it takes one hour to reach Chail - a small hill town near Shimla. Being small works in favour for those seeking seclusion amid a decent infrastructure. We had booked two rooms in the Himneel Block of Chail Palace which is an actual palace converted into a hill resort by the Himachal Tourism. We were the only ones staying in this block and the sense of freedom this gave us was a very happy one.

Sunset from Chail Palace

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Top 5 travel circuits from Delhi

Google Maps: New Delhi, India
  • Delhi-Agra-Fatehpur Sikri-Bharatpur-Mathura-Vrindavan-Delhi
  • Delhi-Sariska-Jaipur-Ajmer-Neemrana-Delhi
    • Delhi-Haridwar-Mussoorie-Kanatal-Tehri-Rishikesh-Delhi
    • Delhi-Jim Corbett-Nainital-Mukteshwar-Delhi
    • Delhi-Chandigarh-Kasauli-Shimla-Kufri-Chail-Delhi

    Delhi-Agra-Fatehpur Sikri-Bharatpur-Mathura-Vrindavan-Delhi
    • Can be covered in 2 days flat 
    • Includes 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites 
    • Stay overnight at Bharatpur, near the gates of Keoladeo National Park

    Bharatpur Bird Sactuary