Another Year, Another Lifetime || So long 2014

After our Baramati visit, we came back to pune and had 3 days in hand. It was amazing to know about plenty of weekend destinations around Pune, but it made difficult for us to decide on 1-2 of the destinations we could plan for. A day trip to Lonavala & Khandala was something that we planned on day one. This Photo Journey shares more about this one-day road-trip to Lonavala & Khandala from Pune.When we were deciding one-day destinations around Pune, we had a very long list and with time, it was getting difficult to decide. We hadn't enough time to go through blogs and decide the best options as per our taste of travel. Lonavala was most familiar name in the list and it was easily approachable through Pune-Mumbai highway. So we chose to drive to Lonavala and explore this part of Maharashtra state. So picked car of our cousin, who stays there in Pune and moved towards Lonavala. We started from Pune and followed Pune-Mumbai highway till the point which tells you to take left for Lonavala. Above photograph shows the exact point where we took this left to hit Lonavala.Just taking this left from the highway, we stopped at one of the shops to know what exactly is there in Lonavala and where should we go now :). I know that it sounds odd that we were not even sure that what we would be doing in Lonavala. Somehow we had no clue till we talked to the shopkeeper. And the response from other side way - 'There is hardly anything in Lonavala, especially in the month of Feb, During Monsoons you can see hundreds of waterfalls all around the hills of Lonavala'. This was quite disappointing and after a short chit-chat, we were wondering if we should spend more time around this town or drive towards Mumbai. After a quick thought we thought of going towards the hilly part of Lonavala which was 20 kilometers from main town. After few kilometers of drive, we reached on top of hills which were looking beautiful from Pune-Mumbai highway. These hills of Lonavala was quite different with hundreds of marks of waterfalls, which were inactive during winters.Soon after we hit a picnic spot called Tiger-Point, which was a typical point which are marketed very well in most of the tourist destinations :There was a huge parking space on roadside, with few stalls around the corners, camels and few other things to keep tourists engaged. We also thought of parking and see what's there. Various groups were sitting around the other side of this parking lot. As we moved towards these groups, we realized that other side of this hill had huge valley full of different elevations making beautiful formations. This was one of the views from Tiger-point around these hills in Lonavala. Although I am not sure if this part is also considered in Lonavala or not. These views were breathtaking and I had never seen something like this.Tiger's Point is a cliff-top with a sudden drop of over 700 meters giving an amazing view of relatively lower hills spread over a huge area around Lonavala. It seems that buses for Tiger and Lion points are available to this place from Lonavala town. I also noticed few Auto-Rickshaws coming to this place from main town. It seems that during Monsoons, the view from Tiger's point is phenomenal with lot of waterfalls. During monsoons, tourists prefer to sit around these waterfalls instead of Bushy dam which comes on the way to Tiger point from Lonavala Town. The place around Bushy dam didn't seem that exciting so we skipped stopping there. One needs to park the car on road-side and need to walks for few minutes to hit Bushy Dam. Just next to Tiger Point, there is another point called Lion point. I didn't understand of point of these two different tourist spots nearby and didn't even bother to figure out. The only thing on my mind was the location on other side of this hills, the amazing views of gorges all around.  After spending some time around these hills, we planned to drive towards Ambey Valley, which is 20 kilometers away from Tiger Point. When we asked folks at Tiger Point, they described Ambey Valley as a place where you can find big houses and villas of all Bollywood actors and big personalities of India. Since we had some time in hand, we thought of driving till Sahara City in Ambey Valley. I will be sharing a separate Photo Journey from Ambey Valley, which is a city developed by Sahara and has a private Airport as well. Lonavala is a town and a hill station is part of Pune district only. It takes around 1.5 hrs to reach Lonavala from Pune. It is located around 55 kilometers from Pimple Saudagar part of Pune city. and Mumbai from here is around 90 kilometers away.Lonavala is known for its production of the hard candy known as chikki and Chocolate fudge. It's one of the major stations on the rail line connecting Mumbai and Pune. Both the Mumbai-Pune Expressway as well as the Mumbai-Chennai highway pass through Lonavla. We explored both these highways and opted for the other route while going back.Having tea while travelling is a very special experience and a short conversation with Tea-stal owners makes it special. You get to know a lot about the place, culture and local things. We had few cups of tea and some maggie at this shop which is located around a Shiva temple which comes on the way from Lonavala to Ambey Valley in Maharshtra. The Journey of our day didn't end here. After a quick drive to Ambey Valley, we moved back to Loanavala Town and then Khandala. I shall be sharing the next part of the Journey in upcoming post


We barely blinked and suddenly another year has gone by. It seems that time is running faster and faster. Just like all of us. And with each passing year, we seem to be able to pack more and more into the 365 days.

I can't believe it has already been one year since you came into our lives. Time has flown so fast, and you have grown into a naughty little toddler.Each moment spent with you is a blessing. Your smile makes us forget our worries.Your angelic eyes are bright and curious. Your gaze is full of love and trust. You try to please us all, but it is clear that nana ji is your best frienThe way you get excited about the smallest of things, ignoring the brightest of toys to go after the dullest of objects, you teach us important lessons about life.You interact with birds and animals as if you understand them... they are your friends, your playmates.  You are a wild child, baby Urvi. Happy in the city, and in the village, as well as in the wilderness...you are our little mowgli...Technology is at your fingertips -- even though you have your own toy phone and laptop, you still want to grab the ones that we are using...and we have no choice but to yield. :)Now that you have started crawling and standing, we are waiting desperately for the day when you will take your first step...we want the time to move fast and yet move slow...We don't want to miss a single moment of this phase of your life...May God Bless You Dear Urvi...May God shower you with choicest of blessings on you andmay you lead a long, healthy, and happy life..You are our angel, our joy, and charming princess.Happy Birthday Dear Urvi !!!

This year has been huge and in more than one sense. While we and our guest writers did what Travelling Camera does best - Travel and Click - there were other aspects that we cannot ignore. 2014 saw terrorism and extremism raise their ugly heads once again. With the unrest in the mid-East, the rare act of terrorism in Australia, and the killing of children in Peshawar, the year can hardly be called a great year. In fact, this year saw humanity stoop to new lows.

Reached this huge campus of Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati region of Maharashtra. Above photograph shows the view of vineyard from reception area. Not sure if you would be able to figure out the gate on other end which shows the boundry of this 55 acres vineyard. Different types of grapes were hanging all around the place with exotic name tags around the boundaries. After having a quick sight of the place, we headed for refreshing welcome drink at reception. It was time to head towards our rooms and gear up for lot of exciting activities.Lunch was arranged at the vineyard and Chef Hitesh Gautam had come from Hyatt Banglore to Baramati to meet the bloggers & help them understand the wine-food pairing. He introduced us to different types of Indian preparations and did appropriate wine pairing for us. Dining sessions with appropriate wines was one of the exciting things during this visit and I personally loved the way Chef Hitesh put his best efforts in making things rock every time. Probably I would share a separate post on the food served with various Four Seasons wines during lunch and dinner at the vineyard.Here is the gang of Delhi and Banglore Bloggers with Mr Bala. Chef Hitesh Gautam is there on left image, who offered great food-wine pairings during the lunch. And Mr. Datta on right image, who served us all the wines while Mr. Bala was explaining us about various Four Seasons wines. Apart from Four Seasons, we also tried 'Ritu' wines during the lunch. After some rest, we headed to understand the 5 step wine making process. Grapes are harvested and brought to the winery. Some grapes are grown in this campus and lot of material is brought from other farms as well. Next step is to sort these grapes and pass through crushing machine to get juice which is transferred to these huge stainless steel tanks for fermentation. After fermentation process, wine is stabilized and then filtered.This filtered wine is transferred to barrels for maturation, but not every wine is put in barrels for maturation and also the quality of barrels varies for different kind of wines. Finally this wine is bottled and distributed to the customers through various channels. This is a very top level overview of the way wine is made. But there is a long process to be followed to produce good wine and that's what we understood from this visit. Each of these stages of creating wine have various quality assurance steps.The huge fermentation tanks you see in above photographs are temperature controlled. Pneumatic Press machine is used for crushing wine grapes. Supposedly this machine is considered as one of the best machines to handle grapes in gentle way, in absence of oxygen to maintain the quality. During these conversations Mr Raghu clarified lot of our confusions about wine. The way wine bottles should be put, why/why-not, type of wines, the way they should be consumed etc.All the barrels at Four Seasons Winery are imported from France. These are made up of oak, which is considered as best wood to make barrels for wine-making. It seems that maturing & aging of wine in oak barrels smoothen out the tannins. During the visit, Mr Raghu also shared various facts about different types or barrels and difference between barrels used for whiskey & wine. Wine is kept in these barrels for long durations and duration varies from one type of wine to the other. Throughout the process, wine is monitored on regular basis to ensure that things are going in right way. With time, quality team also figures out that some of the barrels are doing pretty good, which are used for premium wines later and some needed to be discarded as well. On regular basis, wine is taken from these barrels and tested in lab for acidity & other relevant parameters to ensure that it's maturing in the way team wants it to be.Bottling unit in this wineyard is also used for Golconda premium. When we entered into the bottling hall, Golconda was being bottled & labeled. This bottling unit is imported from Italy and has a capacity of bottling 2500 bottles in an hour. It's fully automated. At each stage, people ensure that each bottle is properly cleaned, filled, closed or labelled. If there is some problem, bottle is removed form the queue. Apart from that few bottles go to the lab to check that cap/cork is appropriately put on top of bottle. There are some standards to ensure the pressure. Idea is not to have them loose or very tight on wine bottles. During this whole session of understanding wine making process, we tried 6-7 more types of wines - some from barrels with 4-5 year old wine, few from fermentation tanks & grape juice. Personally I hated the grape juice and wine from fermented tanks. One of the old Shiraz wine was amazing. This was first time when I was really able to appreciate the aroma of a wine. This one had subtle aromas of oak wood with decent smoothness. Also acidity was perfect for me to consume. I was about to ask if I can have a bottle from that barrel, but stopped my emotions :) . At the end Raghu told us that more wine will be served with bar-b-Que and especially the sparking wines :) .. It was the time, when we already had 12-14 glasses of different types of wines. Of-course, some of them were kept aside after few sips.After a brief tour of the winery, we took an extended tour of the property. This Vineyard has 10 rooms and 4 suites, all of them beautifully done and give a feel that you are living in a Vineyard. There is a huge palace like complex in the vineyard which has all these rooms and there are plans to expand the capacity so that larger groups can also come and enjoy the experience to spend time in a vineyard. Apart from that, this vineyard has a swimming pool, party deck with lawns,  terrace and a spa which is not yet functional.In this winery, wines are made from grapes grown in Sahyadri valley of Maharashtra State in India. This Four Seasons Winery is located at ~65 kilometers from Pune and ~30 kilometers from Baramati. There is a multistory tower in this complex which gives amazing views of the vineyard and forest area behind it. In this tower, plans are to make a sports room on one floor, Library with wine lounge on another floor and some exciting plans under discussion with hospitality partners, who were there at the property when we visited. In long run, idea is to open this place for tourists to come and have an unmatchable experience.During night, this campus looks awesome. I should admit that I could not do justice to the beauty of the place and I also have series of excuses ready with me :) . Anyways, I will not discuss them here but want to share the fact that night photographs are shot by using a plastic table as tripod :). I forgot take my tripod with me.These series of fountains in front of Four Seasons Winery look amazing and at the same time, I wish that grass would have been maintained in better way :) . These lawns are looking worse in the photographs and that's one of the main reason that I have included very few of the shots I took around these fountains. This was the time when everyone was enjoying high tea on the front balcony of main restaurant. Few of the bloggers had stepped down to meet two attention seeking dogs in this vineyardSoon after we headed towards the swimming pool and lawn areas around it. It was getting windy, so we had to grab some warm cloths before hitting the next venue for enjoying wine with snacks served by Chef Hitesh Gautam. All the snacks were served on terrace gardens by the pool with live music performance. I thoroughy enjoyed the performances. Different wines accompanied us during this evening but Shiraz was the one that was there with me till 1:00 am. It was great to interact with Chef during the evening and know more about him & his profession. The beautiful evening ended with empty glasses all around and most of us were excited about morning walk in the grape farms with different varieties of grapes growing. We also planned to visit the forest on back side because Mr. Bala had shown us some photographs of forest having dears and hyenas.Next day started for us at 7am and as per plan, we were late. So first we walked around the grape farms having different varieties like - Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz etc. Apart from these various other types of grapes are used to produce Four Seasons wine at this Winery. These include - Viognier, Merlot, Zinfadel, Sauvignon Blanc.These grapes were not very photogenic, but as we moved we came across some decent sized Zinfadel grapes. Finally we ended up spending lot of time than what we had planned, but it was all worth. We had fun in grape farms. We tasted few of them but believe me, none of them tasted like what we consume in our routine life. It seems these particular grapes are more acidic and of-course they were not ready to consume yet.Four Seasons has a good range of wines including -  Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Sauignon Blanc & Blush. My personal favorite is Four Seasons Chiraz which has a ruby-red classic shade with it's unique blend of violets & raspberries infused with spice & smoky character. Shiraz makes it an ideal accomplishment to Indian cuisine, particulary tandoori meats and biryani. It's always fun to have Shiraz with friends over bar-be-que. We also tried 'Ritu' wines which is an award winning international brand. 'Ritu' is a hindi word which means 'Season'.India’s most experienced wine maker Abhay Kewadkar joined us on last day. After having lunch with Mr Kewadkar, we moved our journey back to Pune. It was time to rewind the Vineyard memories during 2 hours drive with other bloggers. When we thought again about these two days, everything looked very hectic but it was all worth it. It was a great opportunity to learn, a special experience to stay in a Vineyard and lot more. I am sure that it would be one of the special experiences of 2014 for me.  Thanks to Four Seasons Team for wonderful stay at the Vineyard and to all the bloggers for great company.To know more about the Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, check out - http://www.fourseasonsvineyards.com/

While we condemn what has happened and pray for those who lost their lives, we will also need to look within and search for and cull those thoughts and feelings that are capable of transforming us into monsters that can kill mindlessly. Terrorism emerges from humanity and we have to examine each aspect of our existence today to find a cure.

This was the first time I was driving on mountains, and I was shaken to the core after the car I was driving, borrowed and unfamiliar, had stopped in the middle of a steep incline and had started rolling back. I quickly pulled the hand break. For a while, my husband Vijay and I, sat still without uttering a word. Then I gathered some courage, started the car, put it in the first gear and slowly released the handbrake while giving it steady race. And thankfully, the car started moving forwards. It was the worst way to learn a lesson, but I did and we moved on. Nevertheless, by the time we arrived at Tiger Point, I was still trembling a little, and wasn't in the best of the moods. Snapping at Vijay at the slightest provocation and dreading the fact that we still had to drive further, I barely registered anything in the fifteen minutes we spent at the popular view point. We were wondering whether we should go on or turn back. Vijay suggested that we drive on and if we find that the turns are getting worse, then we turn back. I agreed and we proceeded. Thankfully the trip ahead, right up to Amby Valley, was not so bad and I didn't repeat the mistakes I had made earlier. And by the time we were back at Tiger Point, I was in a much better mood and was on a high with a sense of achievement. But then it was the time to start the descent, and we would have to cross the same spot where we had got stuck a couple of hours earlier. I was getting a bad case of nerves, so we decided to take a break and enjoy the view for a while. Right next to Tiger Point is Lion Point. Even though it was off-season, Tiger Point was very crowded so we had moved towards the more peaceful Lion's Point and had continued to walk a little further until we reached a small shack , where a family had set up home and were selling tea and snacks such as Maggi, pakoras, and bhajia. The shack overlooked the Sahyadri valley on one side and a lake on the other. We ordered tea and Maggi and requested the shack owner, a young woman, to deliver it to us little down the track. We trekked down and soon found a rock that offered great views of Sahyadri cliffs and valleys. We sat there quietly listening to the birds chirping and the wind blowing. Our Chai and Maggi arrived soon. Till now, we hadn't realized how hungry we really were, and at the first sight of food, we felt blessed. Maggi was nice. The shack owner had taken the pains of chopping onions into it and had put in just the right amount of Masala. As for the tea, here is the review:Colour: dark golden-orangeTemperature: hotConsistency: light- could have been creamier Sugar content: Slightly higher than normalStrength: Just rightAdditional flavor: A dash of gingerAfter the much needed refreshment, we started drivig back. And thankfully everything went well. We crossed THE point with some trepidation, but once we had crossed it, we felt much braver. And we even gathered courage to scale some more mountains, and even visited Khandala the same day.



Anyways, hopefully the worst is behind us. And the sun that will rise on January 1st will bring with it warmth and hope. And in the meanwhile, we will continue doing what we do best - Travel and Click.

A beautiful shot by Arpana from Gulmarg region of kashmir, India

So, as everyone would suspect, 2014 meant travel, and lots of it. You can look at the list below and judge for yourself. 

We went on Religious tours:
7 Badris, 5 Kedars, 5 Prayags,
Rewalsar,
Naina Devi Hills

Black and white photograph  UB's Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India

Many of these temples are very important historically, architecturally, and culturally as well. How we wish people would request these structures for other aspects too apart from religion. It is so much more enriching and these aspects are an inseparable part of our heritage too, just like religion.

We explored culture:
Desert served with shiraz wine at Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India. Chef from Hyatt was there to host the party for bloggers

Ritu wine store at UB Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India

There are as many cultures in India as there are people. But of course there are some traditions that have persisted through centuries. These caught our attention the most.

Scaled hill stations:

Ladakh
Manali
Kullu
Rohtang Pass
Solan
Marhi

Wine barrels at Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India


Terrace  Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India


Empty wine glasses around the pool on the Terrace  Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India

Reviewed Gadgets, Restaurants, and Properties:
Full Frame DSLR

Wine bottles shot at Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India

Wine bottles shot at Four Seasons Vineyard in Baramati, Maharashtra, India

In spite of us visiting hill stations almost every month, we can always go to one more. Such is the charm of the majestic hills that they beckon photographers and storytellers alike.

Surveyed Heritage:


Little giraffe at Delhi Zoo.

However much you explore a city, there's still something else yet to be explored. One can never run out of things.

Tracked wildlife:


Colorful dustbins in Lodhi Garden, Delhi, India

Monuments in Lodhi Garden, Delhi, India

When this wasn't enough, we broke the boundaries and explored other countries as well:

Bali

Cloud view from airoplane while travelling to Mumbai from Delhi

Himalayan berried on the way to Shrikhand Mahadev Trek

Camel trader at International Camel Fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

Surfed waterbodies:


Urvi after installing her tent and inviting others to join in  - Kids photography

Few weeks back one of my friends pinged me over Facebook to ask if I can join in one of his Photography Trip during Holi. Idea was to join the group of Photographers and help them utilize the basic techniques of Photography. And when it comes to learning and travel, I am always ready. Leading a group of enthusiastic explorers and Photographers is a very good learning experience and, hence, I agreed to join the gang for Hola Mohalla 2014. This Photo Journey shares some moments from the visit to Hola Mohalla, an event that occurs every year at Anandpur Saheb, Punjab (India).We started from Delhi on 16th March at 7am in a Tempo Traveller. Ramit from 'Delhi by Foot' shared some quick facts about Hola Mohalla & its history. It was quite useful to know the background and why this event is called 'Hola Mohalla'. Here is a summary -- Sikh Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa at Anandpur Saheb and he asked for 5 volunteers to lead. These 5 leaders are popularly known as 'Panj Pyare'. Hola Mohalla isn't related to Holi at all, and therefore colors are hardly used here. However every year it is celebrated on same day. After a quick introduction to the place by Ramit, most of us chose to take a nap till we arrived at a place to have brunch. After a while, Roli started a conversation about photography basics. We were mainly talking about different shooting modes in DSLRs and what should be used when & associated subjectivity of choice. Apart from Photography we touched upon Softwares & Literature as well :). Jona also heard some of our conversations and planned to join us. By this time, most of the folks were sleeping.After driving for a few hours, we hit Ambala and stopped for a break. We took a 45 minutes break here and enjoyed tandoori paranthas and some pakoras with tea. It was time to refill fuel tank and move ahead towards our destination, Anandpur Saheb. We bypassed Chandigarh and took the shortcut which hits Kharar via Greater Mohali area. Roads near Anandpur town were badly jammed with trucks, karts, buses, cars & bikes. It seemed that whole of Punjab has come to the town for Hola Mohalla Fair. We had to spend approximately an hour in this traffic jam and then we got to know that Punjab chief minister was visiting, which was the main reason for stopping the incoming traffic.We had booked a hotel called 'Simran' with very basic facilities. It seems that Anadpur Saheb had only a handful of hotels because during normal time, one can stay in Gurudwara. Guradwara has sufficient arrangements to accommodate hundreds of folks at any point in time. So there is not much demand for hotels in Anandpur Saheb. The streets were full of people and there were tens and thousands of Sikhs there. After having some rest at the hotel, all of us headed towards to the ground where Nihang Warriors were showcasing their skills to public.We encountered few langars on the way, where Jalebi, Pakoras and food was being served. Before hitting the main ground, we thought of having something at the Langar. We had to put off our shoes before entering into the langar areas and also got to know that everyone of us needed to cover our heads. Everyone had something to cover the head except me and Madhu. There were various shops nearby to buy stuff, Initially it looked quite odd and lot of questions were coming to my mind. I was not able to relate to things which were communicated by leaders on stage and I was wondering about existence of such community in country like India. I was not able to control myself and thought of talking to the Nihang singhs sitting around the corner of main stage. Asked various questions and the way he replied made me feel a bit relieved. Especially when I asked - 'Are you ever tempted to use your weapon wielding skills when you get angry or not in right state of mind', he replied this in detail. It seems that training grounds are there in almost every town where Sikhs are living. They go to these training centers called as Akharas and before the actual training starts, each of them is trained by Jathedar (leader/coach) about ethics of using these weapons and related skills. As a basic principle, no one of them can use these weapons without permission of their guru, except one of the situations. And another thing is that using these weapons for  personal use is restricted. If someone is found using the skills and weapons in undesired way, the community has defined appropriate punishment. More than all these details, I loved the way this guy was explaining all these things to me. Now I was confident that all this is happening for some reasons which this community experiences over time and it;s harmless for overall Eco-system. In fact, I found this a very good way to be united and teach youth about some of the religious values. Whole evening was full of action, music, poets and Khalsa stories. Some parts were boring,  but overall the action filled activities by different groups from various parts of the country were definitely worth experiencing. Some of their leaders and sponsors had come for Hola mohalla from different countries. Apart from demonstrating these skills, few other games are organized during these two days of Hola Mohalla. We had also planned to go for Kabaddi & kho-kho but couldn't find time for that. It seems polo is also played in one of the grounds in Anadpur Saheb during Hola Mohalla. All these events keep happening throughout the night. Some of us moved for dinner at around 9pm and also left at around 10:30pm. Again we preferred to have dinner at Langars only. After dinner, we moved towards Anandpur Saheb market which was full of people moving towards main Gurudwara. We couldn't visit the Gurudwara during these two days because there was significant waiting time involved to reach inside and we were only there for a very short while. We found a sweets shop, had some besan barfi and moved back to our hotel to have some rest and gear up for the most exciting day - Hola Mohalla. While going back towards the hotel, we noticed that most of the folks around these grounds were sleeping in tempos/trucks they had arrived in. Activities were still on at around 11:30pm and many of the folks were sitting on top of buses & trucks to have a clear view. Next day started with delicious breakfast at hotel and then we moved towards Gurudwara campus where various processions go from main Gurudwara to Sheeshganj Gurudwara. While going towards Gurudwara, Ramit took us to a ground full of swings and maut-ka-kuan. All of us watached Maut-ka-Kuan show, which was awesome. Some of us chose to have some snacks and then we moved towards Gurudwara. It was very crowded and at times it was getting difficult to move.Smoking and drinking is strictly prohibited in Anandpur saheb and there is no liquor shop in this town, but bhang was available at every 100 meters in different forms.We kept walking and it was hot outside. There was hardly any action in the market before noon. There were lots of people but hardly anything was happening. Processions were yet to start. Some of us were tired and wanted to get under shade. We chose to have lunch and take some rest.It was quite an experience to walk around these markets in Hola Mohalla fair. While walking around the streets, I observed a very interesting thing. The foreground, where all groups had to gather was occupied by significant numbers of bikes. There were 6-8 policemen who had to ensure that ground gets empty soon to avoid chaotic situation. One of the policemen approached boys and requested them to do some 'seva' by moving these bikes on one side of the road to create a queue. And it was amazing to see a group of 15-20 young boys clearing the space in few minutes. I was super impressed with this act by youth at Hola Mohalla. Then we thought of moving towards the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated in presence of all Nihang singhs and folks from different parts of the country.The above photograph gives a quick glimpse of the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated. This was less than 1% of the crowd around this ground. Folks were settling down and there was not much action when we reached main ground. Still people were coming in and real action was yet to start. Some of the Nihang groups were performing in the middle of this huge ground. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that performances were hardly visible to people sitting on surrounding hills, because many of the folks including media & photographers had surrounded these performers from all the sides. I am sure that folks sitting at a distance would have major difficulties in watching the action happening on ground.Some of the bikers started showing stunts on Hola Mohalla ground znow horses, camels, elephants had started coming in. Final evening on the day of Holi festival is considered as main Hola Mohalla, when real action happens. Horse ride is one of the popular sport of Hola Mohalla. Some of the folks were riding on 4 horses as well. During this race, grass bundles are put in the middle of the ground and these riders have to pick a bundle with a stick when they were racing at a very high speed. It was crazy to see that people had created a narrow lane around the place where these horses run. There is no boundary defined for this race, which means that horses can easily hit folks standing on both sides. Initially I was very uncomfortable going to the front and some photographs and then Ramit encouraged me to go & experience something very special. During this many people step over each other and situation may get chaotic and everything during this time happens instantaneously.This Holi was the most unique one for me. And Hola Mohalla is an event worth experiencing at least once. The warmth and large-heartedness of Sikhs shines through the frenzied activities and unbelievable crowds. A visit to Hola Mohalla can help in getting to know the Sikh culture more closely. Thanks for Ramit, Delhi by Foot & all participants for great company during this exploration !

Then we went one step ahead and experienced celestial events:

And as if all this wasn't enough to intoxicate us, we got drunk on wine: 

We also summed things up for you:
Around Delhi
Around Shimla
Around Jaipur
Around Mcledoganj


Few weeks back one of my friends pinged me over Facebook to ask if I can join in one of his Photography Trip during Holi. Idea was to join the group of Photographers and help them utilize the basic techniques of Photography. And when it comes to learning and travel, I am always ready. Leading a group of enthusiastic explorers and Photographers is a very good learning experience and, hence, I agreed to join the gang for Hola Mohalla 2014. This Photo Journey shares some moments from the visit to Hola Mohalla, an event that occurs every year at Anandpur Saheb, Punjab (India).We started from Delhi on 16th March at 7am in a Tempo Traveller. Ramit from 'Delhi by Foot' shared some quick facts about Hola Mohalla & its history. It was quite useful to know the background and why this event is called 'Hola Mohalla'. Here is a summary -- Sikh Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa at Anandpur Saheb and he asked for 5 volunteers to lead. These 5 leaders are popularly known as 'Panj Pyare'. Hola Mohalla isn't related to Holi at all, and therefore colors are hardly used here. However every year it is celebrated on same day. After a quick introduction to the place by Ramit, most of us chose to take a nap till we arrived at a place to have brunch. After a while, Roli started a conversation about photography basics. We were mainly talking about different shooting modes in DSLRs and what should be used when & associated subjectivity of choice. Apart from Photography we touched upon Softwares & Literature as well :). Jona also heard some of our conversations and planned to join us. By this time, most of the folks were sleeping.After driving for a few hours, we hit Ambala and stopped for a break. We took a 45 minutes break here and enjoyed tandoori paranthas and some pakoras with tea. It was time to refill fuel tank and move ahead towards our destination, Anandpur Saheb. We bypassed Chandigarh and took the shortcut which hits Kharar via Greater Mohali area. Roads near Anandpur town were badly jammed with trucks, karts, buses, cars & bikes. It seemed that whole of Punjab has come to the town for Hola Mohalla Fair. We had to spend approximately an hour in this traffic jam and then we got to know that Punjab chief minister was visiting, which was the main reason for stopping the incoming traffic.We had booked a hotel called 'Simran' with very basic facilities. It seems that Anadpur Saheb had only a handful of hotels because during normal time, one can stay in Gurudwara. Guradwara has sufficient arrangements to accommodate hundreds of folks at any point in time. So there is not much demand for hotels in Anandpur Saheb. The streets were full of people and there were tens and thousands of Sikhs there. After having some rest at the hotel, all of us headed towards to the ground where Nihang Warriors were showcasing their skills to public.We encountered few langars on the way, where Jalebi, Pakoras and food was being served. Before hitting the main ground, we thought of having something at the Langar. We had to put off our shoes before entering into the langar areas and also got to know that everyone of us needed to cover our heads. Everyone had something to cover the head except me and Madhu. There were various shops nearby to buy stuff, Initially it looked quite odd and lot of questions were coming to my mind. I was not able to relate to things which were communicated by leaders on stage and I was wondering about existence of such community in country like India. I was not able to control myself and thought of talking to the Nihang singhs sitting around the corner of main stage. Asked various questions and the way he replied made me feel a bit relieved. Especially when I asked - 'Are you ever tempted to use your weapon wielding skills when you get angry or not in right state of mind', he replied this in detail. It seems that training grounds are there in almost every town where Sikhs are living. They go to these training centers called as Akharas and before the actual training starts, each of them is trained by Jathedar (leader/coach) about ethics of using these weapons and related skills. As a basic principle, no one of them can use these weapons without permission of their guru, except one of the situations. And another thing is that using these weapons for  personal use is restricted. If someone is found using the skills and weapons in undesired way, the community has defined appropriate punishment. More than all these details, I loved the way this guy was explaining all these things to me. Now I was confident that all this is happening for some reasons which this community experiences over time and it;s harmless for overall Eco-system. In fact, I found this a very good way to be united and teach youth about some of the religious values. Whole evening was full of action, music, poets and Khalsa stories. Some parts were boring,  but overall the action filled activities by different groups from various parts of the country were definitely worth experiencing. Some of their leaders and sponsors had come for Hola mohalla from different countries. Apart from demonstrating these skills, few other games are organized during these two days of Hola Mohalla. We had also planned to go for Kabaddi & kho-kho but couldn't find time for that. It seems polo is also played in one of the grounds in Anadpur Saheb during Hola Mohalla. All these events keep happening throughout the night. Some of us moved for dinner at around 9pm and also left at around 10:30pm. Again we preferred to have dinner at Langars only. After dinner, we moved towards Anandpur Saheb market which was full of people moving towards main Gurudwara. We couldn't visit the Gurudwara during these two days because there was significant waiting time involved to reach inside and we were only there for a very short while. We found a sweets shop, had some besan barfi and moved back to our hotel to have some rest and gear up for the most exciting day - Hola Mohalla. While going back towards the hotel, we noticed that most of the folks around these grounds were sleeping in tempos/trucks they had arrived in. Activities were still on at around 11:30pm and many of the folks were sitting on top of buses & trucks to have a clear view. Next day started with delicious breakfast at hotel and then we moved towards Gurudwara campus where various processions go from main Gurudwara to Sheeshganj Gurudwara. While going towards Gurudwara, Ramit took us to a ground full of swings and maut-ka-kuan. All of us watached Maut-ka-Kuan show, which was awesome. Some of us chose to have some snacks and then we moved towards Gurudwara. It was very crowded and at times it was getting difficult to move.Smoking and drinking is strictly prohibited in Anandpur saheb and there is no liquor shop in this town, but bhang was available at every 100 meters in different forms.We kept walking and it was hot outside. There was hardly any action in the market before noon. There were lots of people but hardly anything was happening. Processions were yet to start. Some of us were tired and wanted to get under shade. We chose to have lunch and take some rest.It was quite an experience to walk around these markets in Hola Mohalla fair. While walking around the streets, I observed a very interesting thing. The foreground, where all groups had to gather was occupied by significant numbers of bikes. There were 6-8 policemen who had to ensure that ground gets empty soon to avoid chaotic situation. One of the policemen approached boys and requested them to do some 'seva' by moving these bikes on one side of the road to create a queue. And it was amazing to see a group of 15-20 young boys clearing the space in few minutes. I was super impressed with this act by youth at Hola Mohalla. Then we thought of moving towards the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated in presence of all Nihang singhs and folks from different parts of the country.The above photograph gives a quick glimpse of the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated. This was less than 1% of the crowd around this ground. Folks were settling down and there was not much action when we reached main ground. Still people were coming in and real action was yet to start. Some of the Nihang groups were performing in the middle of this huge ground. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that performances were hardly visible to people sitting on surrounding hills, because many of the folks including media & photographers had surrounded these performers from all the sides. I am sure that folks sitting at a distance would have major difficulties in watching the action happening on ground.Some of the bikers started showing stunts on Hola Mohalla ground znow horses, camels, elephants had started coming in. Final evening on the day of Holi festival is considered as main Hola Mohalla, when real action happens. Horse ride is one of the popular sport of Hola Mohalla. Some of the folks were riding on 4 horses as well. During this race, grass bundles are put in the middle of the ground and these riders have to pick a bundle with a stick when they were racing at a very high speed. It was crazy to see that people had created a narrow lane around the place where these horses run. There is no boundary defined for this race, which means that horses can easily hit folks standing on both sides. Initially I was very uncomfortable going to the front and some photographs and then Ramit encouraged me to go & experience something very special. During this many people step over each other and situation may get chaotic and everything during this time happens instantaneously.This Holi was the most unique one for me. And Hola Mohalla is an event worth experiencing at least once. The warmth and large-heartedness of Sikhs shines through the frenzied activities and unbelievable crowds. A visit to Hola Mohalla can help in getting to know the Sikh culture more closely. Thanks for Ramit, Delhi by Foot & all participants for great company during this exploration !

JK Tyre Motorsports event in Budhh International Circuit

JK Tyre Motorsports event in Budhh International Circuit

JK Tyre Motorsports event in Budhh International Circuit

And above all, we had fun:


Jatoli Shiva temple in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India

Jatoli Shiva temple in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India

Witnessed miracles:

Our young birder make us win a trip to Kerala.
This year saw some of our stories going viral within a day. One such example is Shimla Vs Mussourie.

Wetlands of Pong dam lake in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh

Birders around Wetlands of Pong dam lake in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh

Whenever we build something today, we should keep in mind that it is a heritage we will be leaving behind for our future generations. Imagine the quality of material and the skill that must have gone into the building of these historical monuments that they still stand proud today.

Rediscovered Cities:

Recently we were in Pune for few days and the only agenda was exploring this part of the country. This was my second visit to Maharashtra state and was very excited about the same. After going through different options to explore, we finalized on Lavasa for a day trip. This Photo Journey shares some photographs from India's first planned hill station and some of the interesting facts about it. So join us in this journey to explore something special and different in India.When we were exploring the options around Pune for a day trip or 2 day outing, there were plenty of options contrary to Delhi. All this made our job difficult to finalize places we could explore. Our base was pune and we wanted to make best of each day there. So for one day, we thought of driving to Lavasa from Pune. Above photograph shows the view of Lavasa town in Maharashtra. You see the town something like this after a drive of 55+ kilometers from pune. Road from Pune to Lavasa is average and has some bad patches and has decent hilly terrains. Vibha was driving in hills first time and it was a good experience for her and she thoroughly enjoyed it. I am sure that it was a good learning experience as well.After a long drive from Pune, you hit a hill-top where main gate to Lavasa town is situated. After this gate, things suddenly change. Road becomes neat with sufficient street-lights throughout, colorful flowers surrounding these roads, toilets, places to sit and what not. Above photograph shows the very first view of Lavasa town from entry gate of the town. It's beyond imagination to see such township in the middle of nothing. There are very small villages around this part of the state and hardly any major development. All this makes Lavasa more special. Surprisingly there were security guards on each turn inside the town and there were plenty of turns on these hills. Not sure if these guards are permanently appointed on these location or it was just for that day, because a women car rally was also happening on same day. This rally also started from Pune and ended in Lavasa. All big brands were on this road on same day.This town is located around the lake. These colorful apartments are located on the shoreline and all beautiful villas are strategically located on different parts of the surrounding hills with brilliant views of lake and green hills around Lavasa town. There is enough parking space in the town. Vehicles can be parked on one side of the road and there are proper markings. Apart from these covered/paid parking is also available in different buildings around the lake. Initially we felt very uncomfortable in the town because in other Indian cities, you don't see such discipline culture. It was quite unusual to keep track of all sign-boards in the city and act accordingly.Luxuy of the city was high on our minds and soon after we noticed a chopper roaming around the hills. After a few rounds, it settled on one of the hills. Later we got to know that many of the residents of Lavasa use choppers and private planes to commute to this place from Delhi and other distant town of the country. While going back towards pune, we saw this helipad on the hilltop surrounded by beautiful gardens.After parking our car we climbed down towards the lake. We descended upon the lively promenade and discovered that it was lined with restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. Most of the options are quite expensive and many were also closed. Some of the popular restaurant chains are present here in Lavasa.On regular intervals, a musical fountain keeps entertaining visitors. These are huge and perform dance on music. Suddenly people go to the shoreline as fountain starts and whole environment changes for some time.Lavasa is a private planned city, which is stylistically based on the Italian town Portofino.There are few adventure sport options available in Lavasa, including lakeshore watersports. One can opt for city tour via tourism buses. We also thought of taking bus tour but we couldn't figure out the way to buy tickets. We went to tourism information center and they asked us to visit Town-hall. And we went to town-hall, they directed us to Tourism Information Centre. This weird. So finally we dropped this idea and thought of driving around the place in our car.Lot of resources have been used to ensure that water inside the lake is clean and well preserved.A photograph from Sales office of Lavasa town. We also thought of doing some timepass by looking at the offerings they have in the city. We were really impressed with the options available and the plans of the town. It seems that Lavasa town aims to provide space for .3 million permanent residents. And at the same time offering facilities to take care of 2 million tourists in an year.While in Lavasa, we though that we should have planned a night stay in Lavasa. I am sure that it would be worth to spend whole day and night to experience the hues of nature & the way this town lit up during night. There are some very good options to stay in Lavasa. Apart from hotels, there are options to book service apartments and it seems that service apartments are quite reasonable. In my opinion, these apartments are good options as they are very close to the lake. Some of the villas on hills are also available on rent. So if someone wants to have more peaceful place to stay, these are definitely better options as compared to the apartments. After spending few hours at Lavasa town, we thought of heading back before sunset. We wanted to cross the hilly area before it gets too dark. Water in the lake was shining beautifully under sun. This photograph shows extended part of the lake and it seems that similar city is being developed in this stretch as well.A view of lake from other side. We drove to the opposite side where lot of villas are located. In above photograph you can see roofs of the villas. These villas are located brilliantly with amazing views of the lake and hills. There is lot of green area around this place and I am sure that place would look far better during monsoons. Probably monsoon would beAnother photograph with clear view of Lavasa lake from one of the villas on hill topRoads in proximity of Lavsa town are very well maintained.There is not much to do in Lavsa and if something is available, options are expensive. But it's a highly recommended destination for folks who love to explore something different. Lavasa is unique in India and it's worth a visit. Next time, when I visit Lavasa I will make sure to stay here for a night and leave early in the morning towards konkan beaches. Few more Photo Journeys are planned from Lavsa, so keep looking this space for next few weeks to check out more stuff from this beautiful destination for folks in Pune and Mumbai.
Rohtang Pass around Kullu-Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India

Few weeks back one of my friends pinged me over Facebook to ask if I can join in one of his Photography Trip during Holi. Idea was to join the group of Photographers and help them utilize the basic techniques of Photography. And when it comes to learning and travel, I am always ready. Leading a group of enthusiastic explorers and Photographers is a very good learning experience and, hence, I agreed to join the gang for Hola Mohalla 2014. This Photo Journey shares some moments from the visit to Hola Mohalla, an event that occurs every year at Anandpur Saheb, Punjab (India).We started from Delhi on 16th March at 7am in a Tempo Traveller. Ramit from 'Delhi by Foot' shared some quick facts about Hola Mohalla & its history. It was quite useful to know the background and why this event is called 'Hola Mohalla'. Here is a summary -- Sikh Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa at Anandpur Saheb and he asked for 5 volunteers to lead. These 5 leaders are popularly known as 'Panj Pyare'. Hola Mohalla isn't related to Holi at all, and therefore colors are hardly used here. However every year it is celebrated on same day. After a quick introduction to the place by Ramit, most of us chose to take a nap till we arrived at a place to have brunch. After a while, Roli started a conversation about photography basics. We were mainly talking about different shooting modes in DSLRs and what should be used when & associated subjectivity of choice. Apart from Photography we touched upon Softwares & Literature as well :). Jona also heard some of our conversations and planned to join us. By this time, most of the folks were sleeping.After driving for a few hours, we hit Ambala and stopped for a break. We took a 45 minutes break here and enjoyed tandoori paranthas and some pakoras with tea. It was time to refill fuel tank and move ahead towards our destination, Anandpur Saheb. We bypassed Chandigarh and took the shortcut which hits Kharar via Greater Mohali area. Roads near Anandpur town were badly jammed with trucks, karts, buses, cars & bikes. It seemed that whole of Punjab has come to the town for Hola Mohalla Fair. We had to spend approximately an hour in this traffic jam and then we got to know that Punjab chief minister was visiting, which was the main reason for stopping the incoming traffic.We had booked a hotel called 'Simran' with very basic facilities. It seems that Anadpur Saheb had only a handful of hotels because during normal time, one can stay in Gurudwara. Guradwara has sufficient arrangements to accommodate hundreds of folks at any point in time. So there is not much demand for hotels in Anandpur Saheb. The streets were full of people and there were tens and thousands of Sikhs there. After having some rest at the hotel, all of us headed towards to the ground where Nihang Warriors were showcasing their skills to public.We encountered few langars on the way, where Jalebi, Pakoras and food was being served. Before hitting the main ground, we thought of having something at the Langar. We had to put off our shoes before entering into the langar areas and also got to know that everyone of us needed to cover our heads. Everyone had something to cover the head except me and Madhu. There were various shops nearby to buy stuff, Initially it looked quite odd and lot of questions were coming to my mind. I was not able to relate to things which were communicated by leaders on stage and I was wondering about existence of such community in country like India. I was not able to control myself and thought of talking to the Nihang singhs sitting around the corner of main stage. Asked various questions and the way he replied made me feel a bit relieved. Especially when I asked - 'Are you ever tempted to use your weapon wielding skills when you get angry or not in right state of mind', he replied this in detail. It seems that training grounds are there in almost every town where Sikhs are living. They go to these training centers called as Akharas and before the actual training starts, each of them is trained by Jathedar (leader/coach) about ethics of using these weapons and related skills. As a basic principle, no one of them can use these weapons without permission of their guru, except one of the situations. And another thing is that using these weapons for  personal use is restricted. If someone is found using the skills and weapons in undesired way, the community has defined appropriate punishment. More than all these details, I loved the way this guy was explaining all these things to me. Now I was confident that all this is happening for some reasons which this community experiences over time and it;s harmless for overall Eco-system. In fact, I found this a very good way to be united and teach youth about some of the religious values. Whole evening was full of action, music, poets and Khalsa stories. Some parts were boring,  but overall the action filled activities by different groups from various parts of the country were definitely worth experiencing. Some of their leaders and sponsors had come for Hola mohalla from different countries. Apart from demonstrating these skills, few other games are organized during these two days of Hola Mohalla. We had also planned to go for Kabaddi & kho-kho but couldn't find time for that. It seems polo is also played in one of the grounds in Anadpur Saheb during Hola Mohalla. All these events keep happening throughout the night. Some of us moved for dinner at around 9pm and also left at around 10:30pm. Again we preferred to have dinner at Langars only. After dinner, we moved towards Anandpur Saheb market which was full of people moving towards main Gurudwara. We couldn't visit the Gurudwara during these two days because there was significant waiting time involved to reach inside and we were only there for a very short while. We found a sweets shop, had some besan barfi and moved back to our hotel to have some rest and gear up for the most exciting day - Hola Mohalla. While going back towards the hotel, we noticed that most of the folks around these grounds were sleeping in tempos/trucks they had arrived in. Activities were still on at around 11:30pm and many of the folks were sitting on top of buses & trucks to have a clear view. Next day started with delicious breakfast at hotel and then we moved towards Gurudwara campus where various processions go from main Gurudwara to Sheeshganj Gurudwara. While going towards Gurudwara, Ramit took us to a ground full of swings and maut-ka-kuan. All of us watached Maut-ka-Kuan show, which was awesome. Some of us chose to have some snacks and then we moved towards Gurudwara. It was very crowded and at times it was getting difficult to move.Smoking and drinking is strictly prohibited in Anandpur saheb and there is no liquor shop in this town, but bhang was available at every 100 meters in different forms.We kept walking and it was hot outside. There was hardly any action in the market before noon. There were lots of people but hardly anything was happening. Processions were yet to start. Some of us were tired and wanted to get under shade. We chose to have lunch and take some rest.It was quite an experience to walk around these markets in Hola Mohalla fair. While walking around the streets, I observed a very interesting thing. The foreground, where all groups had to gather was occupied by significant numbers of bikes. There were 6-8 policemen who had to ensure that ground gets empty soon to avoid chaotic situation. One of the policemen approached boys and requested them to do some 'seva' by moving these bikes on one side of the road to create a queue. And it was amazing to see a group of 15-20 young boys clearing the space in few minutes. I was super impressed with this act by youth at Hola Mohalla. Then we thought of moving towards the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated in presence of all Nihang singhs and folks from different parts of the country.The above photograph gives a quick glimpse of the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated. This was less than 1% of the crowd around this ground. Folks were settling down and there was not much action when we reached main ground. Still people were coming in and real action was yet to start. Some of the Nihang groups were performing in the middle of this huge ground. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that performances were hardly visible to people sitting on surrounding hills, because many of the folks including media & photographers had surrounded these performers from all the sides. I am sure that folks sitting at a distance would have major difficulties in watching the action happening on ground.Some of the bikers started showing stunts on Hola Mohalla ground znow horses, camels, elephants had started coming in. Final evening on the day of Holi festival is considered as main Hola Mohalla, when real action happens. Horse ride is one of the popular sport of Hola Mohalla. Some of the folks were riding on 4 horses as well. During this race, grass bundles are put in the middle of the ground and these riders have to pick a bundle with a stick when they were racing at a very high speed. It was crazy to see that people had created a narrow lane around the place where these horses run. There is no boundary defined for this race, which means that horses can easily hit folks standing on both sides. Initially I was very uncomfortable going to the front and some photographs and then Ramit encouraged me to go & experience something very special. During this many people step over each other and situation may get chaotic and everything during this time happens instantaneously.This Holi was the most unique one for me. And Hola Mohalla is an event worth experiencing at least once. The warmth and large-heartedness of Sikhs shines through the frenzied activities and unbelievable crowds. A visit to Hola Mohalla can help in getting to know the Sikh culture more closely. Thanks for Ramit, Delhi by Foot & all participants for great company during this exploration !

Hues of Lahual and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India
Friends at Mukteshwar, Punjab, INdia

Qutub Minar - Monuments of India

Qutub Minar, Delhi, India


Ramgarh Frescos in Rajasthan, India

Meet the tiger at Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Birds around lakes in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India







Recently we were in Pune for few days and the only agenda was exploring this part of the country. This was my second visit to Maharashtra state and was very excited about the same. After going through different options to explore, we finalized on Lavasa for a day trip. This Photo Journey shares some photographs from India's first planned hill station and some of the interesting facts about it. So join us in this journey to explore something special and different in India.When we were exploring the options around Pune for a day trip or 2 day outing, there were plenty of options contrary to Delhi. All this made our job difficult to finalize places we could explore. Our base was pune and we wanted to make best of each day there. So for one day, we thought of driving to Lavasa from Pune. Above photograph shows the view of Lavasa town in Maharashtra. You see the town something like this after a drive of 55+ kilometers from pune. Road from Pune to Lavasa is average and has some bad patches and has decent hilly terrains. Vibha was driving in hills first time and it was a good experience for her and she thoroughly enjoyed it. I am sure that it was a good learning experience as well.After a long drive from Pune, you hit a hill-top where main gate to Lavasa town is situated. After this gate, things suddenly change. Road becomes neat with sufficient street-lights throughout, colorful flowers surrounding these roads, toilets, places to sit and what not. Above photograph shows the very first view of Lavasa town from entry gate of the town. It's beyond imagination to see such township in the middle of nothing. There are very small villages around this part of the state and hardly any major development. All this makes Lavasa more special. Surprisingly there were security guards on each turn inside the town and there were plenty of turns on these hills. Not sure if these guards are permanently appointed on these location or it was just for that day, because a women car rally was also happening on same day. This rally also started from Pune and ended in Lavasa. All big brands were on this road on same day.This town is located around the lake. These colorful apartments are located on the shoreline and all beautiful villas are strategically located on different parts of the surrounding hills with brilliant views of lake and green hills around Lavasa town. There is enough parking space in the town. Vehicles can be parked on one side of the road and there are proper markings. Apart from these covered/paid parking is also available in different buildings around the lake. Initially we felt very uncomfortable in the town because in other Indian cities, you don't see such discipline culture. It was quite unusual to keep track of all sign-boards in the city and act accordingly.Luxuy of the city was high on our minds and soon after we noticed a chopper roaming around the hills. After a few rounds, it settled on one of the hills. Later we got to know that many of the residents of Lavasa use choppers and private planes to commute to this place from Delhi and other distant town of the country. While going back towards pune, we saw this helipad on the hilltop surrounded by beautiful gardens.After parking our car we climbed down towards the lake. We descended upon the lively promenade and discovered that it was lined with restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. Most of the options are quite expensive and many were also closed. Some of the popular restaurant chains are present here in Lavasa.On regular intervals, a musical fountain keeps entertaining visitors. These are huge and perform dance on music. Suddenly people go to the shoreline as fountain starts and whole environment changes for some time.Lavasa is a private planned city, which is stylistically based on the Italian town Portofino.There are few adventure sport options available in Lavasa, including lakeshore watersports. One can opt for city tour via tourism buses. We also thought of taking bus tour but we couldn't figure out the way to buy tickets. We went to tourism information center and they asked us to visit Town-hall. And we went to town-hall, they directed us to Tourism Information Centre. This weird. So finally we dropped this idea and thought of driving around the place in our car.Lot of resources have been used to ensure that water inside the lake is clean and well preserved.A photograph from Sales office of Lavasa town. We also thought of doing some timepass by looking at the offerings they have in the city. We were really impressed with the options available and the plans of the town. It seems that Lavasa town aims to provide space for .3 million permanent residents. And at the same time offering facilities to take care of 2 million tourists in an year.While in Lavasa, we though that we should have planned a night stay in Lavasa. I am sure that it would be worth to spend whole day and night to experience the hues of nature & the way this town lit up during night. There are some very good options to stay in Lavasa. Apart from hotels, there are options to book service apartments and it seems that service apartments are quite reasonable. In my opinion, these apartments are good options as they are very close to the lake. Some of the villas on hills are also available on rent. So if someone wants to have more peaceful place to stay, these are definitely better options as compared to the apartments. After spending few hours at Lavasa town, we thought of heading back before sunset. We wanted to cross the hilly area before it gets too dark. Water in the lake was shining beautifully under sun. This photograph shows extended part of the lake and it seems that similar city is being developed in this stretch as well.A view of lake from other side. We drove to the opposite side where lot of villas are located. In above photograph you can see roofs of the villas. These villas are located brilliantly with amazing views of the lake and hills. There is lot of green area around this place and I am sure that place would look far better during monsoons. Probably monsoon would beAnother photograph with clear view of Lavasa lake from one of the villas on hill topRoads in proximity of Lavsa town are very well maintained.There is not much to do in Lavsa and if something is available, options are expensive. But it's a highly recommended destination for folks who love to explore something different. Lavasa is unique in India and it's worth a visit. Next time, when I visit Lavasa I will make sure to stay here for a night and leave early in the morning towards konkan beaches. Few more Photo Journeys are planned from Lavsa, so keep looking this space for next few weeks to check out more stuff from this beautiful destination for folks in Pune and Mumbai.



Started new initiatives:
Great Indian Chai Experience - Teasta -The Tea Shop , Chai Tapri LonavalaInfosys Tea stall, 

Recently we were in Pune for few days and the only agenda was exploring this part of the country. This was my second visit to Maharashtra state and was very excited about the same. After going through different options to explore, we finalized on Lavasa for a day trip. This Photo Journey shares some photographs from India's first planned hill station and some of the interesting facts about it. So join us in this journey to explore something special and different in India.When we were exploring the options around Pune for a day trip or 2 day outing, there were plenty of options contrary to Delhi. All this made our job difficult to finalize places we could explore. Our base was pune and we wanted to make best of each day there. So for one day, we thought of driving to Lavasa from Pune. Above photograph shows the view of Lavasa town in Maharashtra. You see the town something like this after a drive of 55+ kilometers from pune. Road from Pune to Lavasa is average and has some bad patches and has decent hilly terrains. Vibha was driving in hills first time and it was a good experience for her and she thoroughly enjoyed it. I am sure that it was a good learning experience as well.After a long drive from Pune, you hit a hill-top where main gate to Lavasa town is situated. After this gate, things suddenly change. Road becomes neat with sufficient street-lights throughout, colorful flowers surrounding these roads, toilets, places to sit and what not. Above photograph shows the very first view of Lavasa town from entry gate of the town. It's beyond imagination to see such township in the middle of nothing. There are very small villages around this part of the state and hardly any major development. All this makes Lavasa more special. Surprisingly there were security guards on each turn inside the town and there were plenty of turns on these hills. Not sure if these guards are permanently appointed on these location or it was just for that day, because a women car rally was also happening on same day. This rally also started from Pune and ended in Lavasa. All big brands were on this road on same day.This town is located around the lake. These colorful apartments are located on the shoreline and all beautiful villas are strategically located on different parts of the surrounding hills with brilliant views of lake and green hills around Lavasa town. There is enough parking space in the town. Vehicles can be parked on one side of the road and there are proper markings. Apart from these covered/paid parking is also available in different buildings around the lake. Initially we felt very uncomfortable in the town because in other Indian cities, you don't see such discipline culture. It was quite unusual to keep track of all sign-boards in the city and act accordingly.Luxuy of the city was high on our minds and soon after we noticed a chopper roaming around the hills. After a few rounds, it settled on one of the hills. Later we got to know that many of the residents of Lavasa use choppers and private planes to commute to this place from Delhi and other distant town of the country. While going back towards pune, we saw this helipad on the hilltop surrounded by beautiful gardens.After parking our car we climbed down towards the lake. We descended upon the lively promenade and discovered that it was lined with restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. Most of the options are quite expensive and many were also closed. Some of the popular restaurant chains are present here in Lavasa.On regular intervals, a musical fountain keeps entertaining visitors. These are huge and perform dance on music. Suddenly people go to the shoreline as fountain starts and whole environment changes for some time.Lavasa is a private planned city, which is stylistically based on the Italian town Portofino.There are few adventure sport options available in Lavasa, including lakeshore watersports. One can opt for city tour via tourism buses. We also thought of taking bus tour but we couldn't figure out the way to buy tickets. We went to tourism information center and they asked us to visit Town-hall. And we went to town-hall, they directed us to Tourism Information Centre. This weird. So finally we dropped this idea and thought of driving around the place in our car.Lot of resources have been used to ensure that water inside the lake is clean and well preserved.A photograph from Sales office of Lavasa town. We also thought of doing some timepass by looking at the offerings they have in the city. We were really impressed with the options available and the plans of the town. It seems that Lavasa town aims to provide space for .3 million permanent residents. And at the same time offering facilities to take care of 2 million tourists in an year.While in Lavasa, we though that we should have planned a night stay in Lavasa. I am sure that it would be worth to spend whole day and night to experience the hues of nature & the way this town lit up during night. There are some very good options to stay in Lavasa. Apart from hotels, there are options to book service apartments and it seems that service apartments are quite reasonable. In my opinion, these apartments are good options as they are very close to the lake. Some of the villas on hills are also available on rent. So if someone wants to have more peaceful place to stay, these are definitely better options as compared to the apartments. After spending few hours at Lavasa town, we thought of heading back before sunset. We wanted to cross the hilly area before it gets too dark. Water in the lake was shining beautifully under sun. This photograph shows extended part of the lake and it seems that similar city is being developed in this stretch as well.A view of lake from other side. We drove to the opposite side where lot of villas are located. In above photograph you can see roofs of the villas. These villas are located brilliantly with amazing views of the lake and hills. There is lot of green area around this place and I am sure that place would look far better during monsoons. Probably monsoon would beAnother photograph with clear view of Lavasa lake from one of the villas on hill topRoads in proximity of Lavsa town are very well maintained.There is not much to do in Lavsa and if something is available, options are expensive. But it's a highly recommended destination for folks who love to explore something different. Lavasa is unique in India and it's worth a visit. Next time, when I visit Lavasa I will make sure to stay here for a night and leave early in the morning towards konkan beaches. Few more Photo Journeys are planned from Lavsa, so keep looking this space for next few weeks to check out more stuff from this beautiful destination for folks in Pune and Mumbai.




Swiss trip by Vibha Malhotra

Swiss trip by Vibha Malhotra
Birds in Delhi Zoo, India

White Tiger in Delhi Zoo, India

Birds in Delhi Zoo, India

Leh Ladakh Diaries by Jitendra
Cocktails of India
Few weeks back one of my friends pinged me over Facebook to ask if I can join in one of his Photography Trip during Holi. Idea was to join the group of Photographers and help them utilize the basic techniques of Photography. And when it comes to learning and travel, I am always ready. Leading a group of enthusiastic explorers and Photographers is a very good learning experience and, hence, I agreed to join the gang for Hola Mohalla 2014. This Photo Journey shares some moments from the visit to Hola Mohalla, an event that occurs every year at Anandpur Saheb, Punjab (India).We started from Delhi on 16th March at 7am in a Tempo Traveller. Ramit from 'Delhi by Foot' shared some quick facts about Hola Mohalla & its history. It was quite useful to know the background and why this event is called 'Hola Mohalla'. Here is a summary -- Sikh Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa at Anandpur Saheb and he asked for 5 volunteers to lead. These 5 leaders are popularly known as 'Panj Pyare'. Hola Mohalla isn't related to Holi at all, and therefore colors are hardly used here. However every year it is celebrated on same day. After a quick introduction to the place by Ramit, most of us chose to take a nap till we arrived at a place to have brunch. After a while, Roli started a conversation about photography basics. We were mainly talking about different shooting modes in DSLRs and what should be used when & associated subjectivity of choice. Apart from Photography we touched upon Softwares & Literature as well :). Jona also heard some of our conversations and planned to join us. By this time, most of the folks were sleeping.After driving for a few hours, we hit Ambala and stopped for a break. We took a 45 minutes break here and enjoyed tandoori paranthas and some pakoras with tea. It was time to refill fuel tank and move ahead towards our destination, Anandpur Saheb. We bypassed Chandigarh and took the shortcut which hits Kharar via Greater Mohali area. Roads near Anandpur town were badly jammed with trucks, karts, buses, cars & bikes. It seemed that whole of Punjab has come to the town for Hola Mohalla Fair. We had to spend approximately an hour in this traffic jam and then we got to know that Punjab chief minister was visiting, which was the main reason for stopping the incoming traffic.We had booked a hotel called 'Simran' with very basic facilities. It seems that Anadpur Saheb had only a handful of hotels because during normal time, one can stay in Gurudwara. Guradwara has sufficient arrangements to accommodate hundreds of folks at any point in time. So there is not much demand for hotels in Anandpur Saheb. The streets were full of people and there were tens and thousands of Sikhs there. After having some rest at the hotel, all of us headed towards to the ground where Nihang Warriors were showcasing their skills to public.We encountered few langars on the way, where Jalebi, Pakoras and food was being served. Before hitting the main ground, we thought of having something at the Langar. We had to put off our shoes before entering into the langar areas and also got to know that everyone of us needed to cover our heads. Everyone had something to cover the head except me and Madhu. There were various shops nearby to buy stuff, Initially it looked quite odd and lot of questions were coming to my mind. I was not able to relate to things which were communicated by leaders on stage and I was wondering about existence of such community in country like India. I was not able to control myself and thought of talking to the Nihang singhs sitting around the corner of main stage. Asked various questions and the way he replied made me feel a bit relieved. Especially when I asked - 'Are you ever tempted to use your weapon wielding skills when you get angry or not in right state of mind', he replied this in detail. It seems that training grounds are there in almost every town where Sikhs are living. They go to these training centers called as Akharas and before the actual training starts, each of them is trained by Jathedar (leader/coach) about ethics of using these weapons and related skills. As a basic principle, no one of them can use these weapons without permission of their guru, except one of the situations. And another thing is that using these weapons for  personal use is restricted. If someone is found using the skills and weapons in undesired way, the community has defined appropriate punishment. More than all these details, I loved the way this guy was explaining all these things to me. Now I was confident that all this is happening for some reasons which this community experiences over time and it;s harmless for overall Eco-system. In fact, I found this a very good way to be united and teach youth about some of the religious values. Whole evening was full of action, music, poets and Khalsa stories. Some parts were boring,  but overall the action filled activities by different groups from various parts of the country were definitely worth experiencing. Some of their leaders and sponsors had come for Hola mohalla from different countries. Apart from demonstrating these skills, few other games are organized during these two days of Hola Mohalla. We had also planned to go for Kabaddi & kho-kho but couldn't find time for that. It seems polo is also played in one of the grounds in Anadpur Saheb during Hola Mohalla. All these events keep happening throughout the night. Some of us moved for dinner at around 9pm and also left at around 10:30pm. Again we preferred to have dinner at Langars only. After dinner, we moved towards Anandpur Saheb market which was full of people moving towards main Gurudwara. We couldn't visit the Gurudwara during these two days because there was significant waiting time involved to reach inside and we were only there for a very short while. We found a sweets shop, had some besan barfi and moved back to our hotel to have some rest and gear up for the most exciting day - Hola Mohalla. While going back towards the hotel, we noticed that most of the folks around these grounds were sleeping in tempos/trucks they had arrived in. Activities were still on at around 11:30pm and many of the folks were sitting on top of buses & trucks to have a clear view. Next day started with delicious breakfast at hotel and then we moved towards Gurudwara campus where various processions go from main Gurudwara to Sheeshganj Gurudwara. While going towards Gurudwara, Ramit took us to a ground full of swings and maut-ka-kuan. All of us watached Maut-ka-Kuan show, which was awesome. Some of us chose to have some snacks and then we moved towards Gurudwara. It was very crowded and at times it was getting difficult to move.Smoking and drinking is strictly prohibited in Anandpur saheb and there is no liquor shop in this town, but bhang was available at every 100 meters in different forms.We kept walking and it was hot outside. There was hardly any action in the market before noon. There were lots of people but hardly anything was happening. Processions were yet to start. Some of us were tired and wanted to get under shade. We chose to have lunch and take some rest.It was quite an experience to walk around these markets in Hola Mohalla fair. While walking around the streets, I observed a very interesting thing. The foreground, where all groups had to gather was occupied by significant numbers of bikes. There were 6-8 policemen who had to ensure that ground gets empty soon to avoid chaotic situation. One of the policemen approached boys and requested them to do some 'seva' by moving these bikes on one side of the road to create a queue. And it was amazing to see a group of 15-20 young boys clearing the space in few minutes. I was super impressed with this act by youth at Hola Mohalla. Then we thought of moving towards the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated in presence of all Nihang singhs and folks from different parts of the country.The above photograph gives a quick glimpse of the main ground where Hola Mohalla is celebrated. This was less than 1% of the crowd around this ground. Folks were settling down and there was not much action when we reached main ground. Still people were coming in and real action was yet to start. Some of the Nihang groups were performing in the middle of this huge ground. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that performances were hardly visible to people sitting on surrounding hills, because many of the folks including media & photographers had surrounded these performers from all the sides. I am sure that folks sitting at a distance would have major difficulties in watching the action happening on ground.Some of the bikers started showing stunts on Hola Mohalla ground znow horses, camels, elephants had started coming in. Final evening on the day of Holi festival is considered as main Hola Mohalla, when real action happens. Horse ride is one of the popular sport of Hola Mohalla. Some of the folks were riding on 4 horses as well. During this race, grass bundles are put in the middle of the ground and these riders have to pick a bundle with a stick when they were racing at a very high speed. It was crazy to see that people had created a narrow lane around the place where these horses run. There is no boundary defined for this race, which means that horses can easily hit folks standing on both sides. Initially I was very uncomfortable going to the front and some photographs and then Ramit encouraged me to go & experience something very special. During this many people step over each other and situation may get chaotic and everything during this time happens instantaneously.This Holi was the most unique one for me. And Hola Mohalla is an event worth experiencing at least once. The warmth and large-heartedness of Sikhs shines through the frenzied activities and unbelievable crowds. A visit to Hola Mohalla can help in getting to know the Sikh culture more closely. Thanks for Ramit, Delhi by Foot & all participants for great company during this exploration !

Pushkar International Camel Fair, Rajasthan, India

Creative Writing Workshop in IIT Delhi by Literature Studio

This was the first time I was driving on mountains, and I was shaken to the core after the car I was driving, borrowed and unfamiliar, had stopped in the middle of a steep incline and had started rolling back. I quickly pulled the hand break. For a while, my husband Vijay and I, sat still without uttering a word. Then I gathered some courage, started the car, put it in the first gear and slowly released the handbrake while giving it steady race. And thankfully, the car started moving forwards. It was the worst way to learn a lesson, but I did and we moved on. Nevertheless, by the time we arrived at Tiger Point, I was still trembling a little, and wasn't in the best of the moods. Snapping at Vijay at the slightest provocation and dreading the fact that we still had to drive further, I barely registered anything in the fifteen minutes we spent at the popular view point. We were wondering whether we should go on or turn back. Vijay suggested that we drive on and if we find that the turns are getting worse, then we turn back. I agreed and we proceeded. Thankfully the trip ahead, right up to Amby Valley, was not so bad and I didn't repeat the mistakes I had made earlier. And by the time we were back at Tiger Point, I was in a much better mood and was on a high with a sense of achievement. But then it was the time to start the descent, and we would have to cross the same spot where we had got stuck a couple of hours earlier. I was getting a bad case of nerves, so we decided to take a break and enjoy the view for a while. Right next to Tiger Point is Lion Point. Even though it was off-season, Tiger Point was very crowded so we had moved towards the more peaceful Lion's Point and had continued to walk a little further until we reached a small shack , where a family had set up home and were selling tea and snacks such as Maggi, pakoras, and bhajia. The shack overlooked the Sahyadri valley on one side and a lake on the other. We ordered tea and Maggi and requested the shack owner, a young woman, to deliver it to us little down the track. We trekked down and soon found a rock that offered great views of Sahyadri cliffs and valleys. We sat there quietly listening to the birds chirping and the wind blowing. Our Chai and Maggi arrived soon. Till now, we hadn't realized how hungry we really were, and at the first sight of food, we felt blessed. Maggi was nice. The shack owner had taken the pains of chopping onions into it and had put in just the right amount of Masala. As for the tea, here is the review:Colour: dark golden-orangeTemperature: hotConsistency: light- could have been creamier Sugar content: Slightly higher than normalStrength: Just rightAdditional flavor: A dash of gingerAfter the much needed refreshment, we started drivig back. And thankfully everything went well. We crossed THE point with some trepidation, but once we had crossed it, we felt much braver. And we even gathered courage to scale some more mountains, and even visited Khandala the same day.

3 comments:

Mahesh Divya said...

u make me confuse always , ur pics & text both are awesome .....kiski tarif karun post ki ya pics ki :-)

Bhavani Nandan said...

Truly Awesome....!!!!

VJ Sharma said...

Mahesh - Thanks for unique compliment :)

Bhavani - Thanks :)

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