Why Rural Tourism

What exactly pulls tourists to our villages ?

– The clean air & pollution free environ thats hard to find in cities
– The “poor, hungry people” as highlighted by Circuit in MunnaBhai MBBS
– The slow pace of life & the simplicity of living
– Gandhiji’s words that India lives in her villages
– Low cost way to see the natural beauty of India (I had home stayed with farmers during my Sikkim visit)

I have been watching this industry grow considerably, but am still not sure whats the puller?

Mukhteswar- an ideal hill station

December was almost gone & I had not done any serious trips in the whole of 2009. The guilt was really high & I was asking some friends if they were keen on a road trip – anywhere from the hills to the deserts. After a lot of SMS, I realised by the evening of 26th that this was again going to be a solo trip- probably the best way to see a new place.

I spoke to my bro , who is a self-proclaimed authority on Himachal & Uttaranchal- and asked him for some recommendations & his top one was Mukhteswar.

I had heard about this place very often, coz almost all of my cousins had visited this small hill station in the last 3-4 years. I was also told that this time of the year, the winters would be severe- which added to the thrill. So Mukhteswar it was.

Within the next 3 hours, I got my bags packed, got a reservation done at IVRI campus & was aboard the State transport bus to Haldwani- the bus junction for most places in Uttaranchal.

Mukhteswar

The trip to Haldwani takes about 7 hrs from Delhi’s Anand Vihar ISBT.Reached Haldwani at 5.00 am only to realise that the connecting bus to Mukhteswar(a 4 hr ride) is only at 7.00 am and so I spent the wee hours of the morning strolling up & down the closed market place.

The journey to Mukhteswar winds thru some of the most picturesque landscapes you would find in this part of the country.The fields were all covered with a sheet of white dew and we were mostly shivering through the uphill journey.

Mukhteswar is a small town with the whole local economy revolving around the IVRI campus that was built during the British rule. The sprawling campus is spread across many hills and houses some of the top labs & Indian scientists.
I stayed at the Lingard House- a 140 year old bungalow, now used as a Guest house within the campus. The bungalow had all the charms of the colonial era, and one could imagine the lifestyle the senior profs would have had at this place.

My room was on the first floor, reached thru a rickety wooden staircase which creaked with each step. I dumped my bags, took a quick shower, had a bite and went off to explore the campus. I went from the admin office at the top thru the animal labs on the slopes to the cattle breeding station down below. And did i mention how lucky I was that the sky was clear & sun was shining ever so brightly- this meant that when I was walking in the sun, it was almost burning thru my clothes, but every time I walked under the shade of a tree, I realised how close I was to the Himalayas 🙂

The sun sets early and it starts getting cold around 4ish. I was sitting at the top of the water tank watching the Himalayas change colors under the setting sun, when I saw these wood cutters chopping up timber for fire.We started talking & they told me that this is what they do during winters, when there is mot much work in the fields. Also realised that the campus alone gives contracts to chop off 1300 Qunitals of wood every year in the 3 winter months.After another 40 minutes of chat with them and sharing a glass of really sweet tea, I went back to the Lingard house to kill the rest of the evening ahead of me. And boy was that a challenge !

I had unfortunately not brought any interesting books along with me, the TV didnt work and I wasnt too tired to sleep early. So I asked the care taker to light up the fire place & did what I enjoy the most at new places- listening to the local stories.
The caretaker it seems has been with the campus for almost 20 years and has been at the Lingard house for almost 4 years.Though he has a separate quarter in the compound, his family doesnt stay with him. His wife is at the village (probably to look after the land etc) and his son is studying engg at Haldwani.Imagine spending weeks after weeks at a place like this without your family just so that you ca support them. I then checked with him about the places which have the best view of the mountains, so that tomm could be spent doing just that.

Got up early to catch the sunrise & the snaps were all out-of-focus- coz of the numb fingers. I walked up from the IVRI gates, towards the PWD guest house, which has probably the best view in town. They have this small garden out in front, which doubles up as a view point. The garden entrance is barricaded but with no one around, I climbed over & started clicking the Nanda Devi & Trisul peaks to my heart’s content.

Well if you think I had the perfect break at the hills, you are mistaken. My unplanned trips are almost always accompanied by some mis-adventures. With this trip, it happened on the journey back home. The ride back to Haldwani was pretty comfortable but at the bus stand, realised that there is no AC bus back to Delhi for the next 4 hours, so my only option was to take a state transport bus. I told myself, its ok, coz I would be saving around 2-3 hours …. but that was not to be.
The bus I took had some engine trouble, we had barely reached Udhamsingh Nagar when there was smoke coming out of the gear stick 🙂

I was not so much afraid of this thing catching a fire, as of being stuck in the middle of no where when it broke down. So I got down at the next stop, somehow got myself a refund (that in itself was a test of my negotiation skills …. he he)and boarded the next decent looking bus. Here, the bus was in top condition, with the conductor flashing a handheld ticket dispenser & all- but it seems that the driver used to drive a road-roller in some past life… He just wouldnt go beyond 40-45 Kmph !

Sikkim- Gods own garden

Nestled between China, Nepal, Bhutan and West Bengal is the small and beautiful state of Sikkim…
With a population of barely 6 lakhs residing in 7000 sq Kms, its indeed one of those few places (in India) where man has not yet tarnished the natural beauty. Infact in Sikkim , it seems we have found the right way to co-exist. The state has been completely organic in its agricultural activities since a long time and the level of vegetation & afforestation shows the awareness in the local population.

My trip was like most others, quite an unplanned one. A friend of mine is doing some ground level work in terms of certification for organic farming and he was planning a trip to various parts of Sikkim to take stock of his team’s performance- I just decided to tag along…. and what a trip it has been !

Sikkim has just four districts- North, West, South, East and the respective district HQs are the biggest towns in that area, namely- Mangan,Gyalshing, Namchi, Gangtok.

My favourite experiences during this short trip were:
Gurudongmar lake– high up in N Sikkim at an altitude of 18000 ft, when your breathing becomes laborious with low levels of oxygen- you get a glimpse of an almost frozen lake… nature’s own painting with only twin colors of blue & white..

gurudongmarlake
Gurudongmar lake

– The kanchenzonga view from Pelling – esp during sunrise the mountain glows orange with everything else around it completely dark. its this 3rd highest peak which is probably the biggest tourist mascot of Sikkim.

kanchenzonga from pelling
kanchenzonga from pelling

Monasteries @ Ranka & Rumtek- Like all monasteries these are also high up in the mountains and are adorned with some really bright & colorful paintings…And not to miss the much colorful Pemayangste Monastery at Pelling

ranka monastery
Ranka monastery

– The numerous waterfalls– the most famous and probably overhyped being the 7 sisters fall. Once we found the logic behind the name, we spent almost two days trying to christen the other waterfalls we encountered– from joint family to family planning… you can see em all here

Suspension bridges– sadly in a few years these would all be completely gone and replaced by concrete bridges- which are no doubt safer but lack the charm of the wood and iron suspension one.

– The beautiful women 🙂 its hard to miss the fact that almost all women of this small state are gorgeous and you end up saying “wow” a little too often….

Sadhus- Most Photogenic Indian Models ?

If you have travelled extensively in India and you love to capture those moments on your Canon/Nikon…… I am sure you would agree with me- that some of the best potraits are those of Sadhus.

These men of god have long been the ambasadors of our country(the land of mysticism) & they surely havent disappointed.

sadhu1

So what is it with these sadhus- that makes em so photogenic
– their bright colored clothes
– the “Blessing Buddha” pose
– the wrikled faces
– the rockstar kinda hairstyle
– Salman khan inspired shirt collection- here now, gone tomm

What do u think?

sadhu2

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

bharatpur
North india’s famous bird sanctuary is having a tough year. With lower than normal rain, most of the Bharatpur’s lakes etc have dried, which in turn has resulted in a steep fall in the visitor count.

Informed people at the park say that it has been one of the worst seasons they have seen….but we didnt know any of this when the sudden weekend trip was planned 🙂
All we knew was Bharatpur needs to be ticked off & its close by…so off we went on a Friday evening knowing that this place is close to Agra/Mathura.
Luckily for us- theres a mall on the highway just before Mathura & we asked the people there for route to Bharatpur.And read acrefully coz its tricky- you need to go past this mall & two flyovers, take a U turn & then find a road that goes towards Bharatpur once u r back on the 2nd flyover.
Bharatpur is just 35 Kms from this mall but what doesnt help is that there are no signs on the road – so ask & ask again !
Another word of caution-there are no signs in Bharatpur – so make sure u reach at a decent hour when you can find some people on the road.We reached there close to midnight & had real trouble finding a hotel.FInally the map in Lonely planet came to the rescue- i guess i should have added “As always” !
The best way to see the park is by renting bikes. The seats are completely uncushioned so you would need to take regular “bum breaks” 🙂

 

Jim Corbett National Park

JCNP is the most celebrated of the Tiger Reserves in India but we failed to see the celebrity cat… all we managed were a few pugmarks and the warning calls of the barking deer- rubbing it in, that we missed yet another close encounter.

Jim Corbett National Park

But the beauty of the jungle & the numerous other species (birds,deers,elephants,reptiles etc) more than makes up for the elusive Tiger. If you ever go there make sure to have your reservation at Dhikala camp. Dhikala is situated on the banks of RamGanga river. The other side is an open ground about 1 km wide which provides good view of the animals coming to quench their thirst.

The park is really well maintained & the camps have good facilities, but what I was unimpressed with was the lack of knowledge about how the tiger census is done. I asked quite a few officials as to how do they get to the exact count of tigers- & i was told it was done through pugmarks. Apparently their pugmarks are as unique as our fingerprints !- I personally dont buy that 🙂

But anyways my doubt was- that howd the officials know that a tiger has died- coz they wouldnt see the pugmarks or the tiger & would assume that the cat is in hiding. I fear its this logic through which they claim that there are 400 tigers @ Corbett! If there were even half as many- we would have surely seen one.

Once inside the park you are not allowed to venture out of the camp between 11am & 4pm- coz thats the time the jungle gets back to normal after all the jeep & elephant safaris.If you have the interest you can get yourself parked at the machan for these 5 hrs- but make sure you take enough water & food with you.

I only wish there was a way to volunteer as a Forest guard for a month…

Jallianwala bagh

Situated right next to the holy Sikh shrine of Darbar Sahib – Golden Temple is the Jallianwala bagh.The board within the complex says it all….
But what was really depressing was that the insensitive visitors to this place- have left graffiti on the walls which are still riddled with the bulltes that were fired by Gen Dyer’s troops ! At least show some respect to the martyrs!

The Victory Tower


Finally !!! got to see the tower @ Chittorgarh… this was one of the few images etched in my mind about Rajasthan.
This 8 storeyed construction is as amazing from inside as from outside. My apologies for not having any snap of inside as I gave my camera to a frnd who stayed down, while I climbed up…hoping that I would step into one of the balconies & wave to her to get a pic that would say “I was there !”… but no such luck…. all balconies and wannabe-balconies (windows etc etc) are completely offlimits 🙁

Thrice the residents of this fort committed “jauhar” in face of imminent defeat, hence its said that for a Rajput its either victory or death !! Its hard to believe the kind of intense emotions those times would have seen…

Udaipur- Venice of the East

 

udaipur1 udaipur2

Having a good breakfast on a roof-top restaurant with a lake view….. one of the finest way to start ur winter mornings in Udaipur…

Make sure to
– catch the sun-set at Sajjangarh….just picture perfect !
– see the introduction to Rajasthani dances at Bagore ki Haveli @1900 hrs
– Walk around the various ghats… will get a glimpse of real India..