5 things not be overlooked in your Kerala trip

My birthday week couldn’t have been better when I switched from partying with booze inside four walls of a pub to celebrating amidst nature and cultural spectacle of Kerala. My birthday this year reminded me to celebrate the beauty of the world, the beauty in minutest action and minutest things that workaholic people often tend to overlook.

So, here are five things of my Kerala trip that I would reminisce about:

  1. THE COSMOPOLITAN AMALGAMATION OF CULTURE:

As my ‘tuk-tuk’ (the autorickshaws are named so!!!) took me through the streets of the aromatic Malayali spice market in Kochi, I came across Gujarati signboards giving me the feel of cultural brotherhood.

If the Paradesi synagogue stands testimony to the Jewish connection with Kerala, the St. Francis Church (the oldest European church in India) also reveals Portuguese influence. And while the Dutch Bolgatty Palace transports you back into time, the cantilevered fishing nets will give you the Chinese pull. Long story cut short, the weighty presence of various ethnic communities emphasizes on the pan-Indian nature in the Kochi neighborhood.

The presence of Cheraman Juma Mosque (built in 629 AD and believed to be the first mosque in India) in Thrissur, the Bhagvathi temples and the Jain temples – all signify the multicultural secular inhabitants living in peaceful coexistence.

  1. THE ART CAFÉS IN FORT KOCHI:

The streets of Kochi would make you hark back to time as you see lines of old houses built by Portuguese, Dutch and British in the colonial periods. Most of these old houses has been restored, renovated and converted to hotels, heritage buildings and art cafés.

Of late, the art cafés in Fort Kochi has become cynosure for anyone who has an appetite for both tasty food and creative artworks.

One of them is an age-old Dutch house transformed to Kashi Art Café. It is a place where you can appreciate contemporary art at leisure without compromising your peckish belly. It is also one of the sites of 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale – an international exhibition of contemporary art which ends on 29th March this year.

  1. THE GRAND DRAMATIC STORY RECITAL CALLED KATHAKALI:

It was one of my best birthday evenings when I spent it at Kalamandalam Vijyan and witnessed world’s one of the greatest art forms – Kathakali.

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Kathakali is an operatic performance where an ancient story is presented theatrically. What I found beautiful in this musical art form is that even though no words are spoken during the whole play, one can comprehend the whole story through their hand signs (mudra) and facial and eye expressions.

And how can you identify who is playing what character through the vividly painted faces???

Well, the elaborate make-up follows an accepted code.

Red colour portrays evil character and green portrays noble and heroic character. Half red and half green means a hypocrite/ an anti-hero and yellow is the code for monks and women.

 

  1. THE ALLEPPEY BACKWATERS AND THE VEMBANAD LAKE:

Relaxing under the starry night sky on a roof-top bed of a kettuvallam anchored near the serene green paddy fields vastly spread along the backwaters is a lifetime experience.

In olden days, kettuvallams/houseboats were used as grain barges to transport the rice reaped in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters. Now, these are used for backwater cruises to make you fall in love with nature again and again.

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As your Kettuvallam meanders through the watercourse, you begin to cherish the verdure and placidity of and around the Vembanad Lake.

  1. THE MAGNIFICENCE OF THE ANNUAL POORAM FESTIVALS:

Procession of 21 caparisoned elephants with display of Kaalavela(bull effigy spectacle) and Kuthiravela(horse effigy spectacle) and the stupendous cadence of drums, horns, and cymbals together created a unique ambiance drawing crowds from all over to the Pariyanampetta  Pooram festival in Palakkad on 19th February this year.

(P.S. Festival dates are decided in accordance with the Malayalam calendar).

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Dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathi, these festivals, hauled with cultural craftsmanship and entertainment, are celebrated every year in different temples of Kerala mostly after the summer harvest.

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One should attend at least one Pooram in Kerala to feel the gloriousness of the event.

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Ever been to Kerala??? What are the five things in your Kerala trip that you’ll always remember?

Leave your comments below…

 

Image credits: Anirban Tamuly and Anna Tamuly

Perks of work travel – Epicurean Mumbai signpost

The gourmand traveler in me feels blessed when at times my work demands tour and I take this as chance to use the time out of office for fueling my passion of travel. But, it was until my last November’s official trip that I thought of jotting down the benefits of work-travel.

  1. Opportunity for recreation

Just imagine you’re being sent on official tour to a city where your favorite rock band happens to perform in the evening !!! Cool, isn’t it? You can take this as a chance for your rollicking affairs.

 In my case, I got the opportunity to be part of India Cake Fest 2016 held in Mumbai, which gave a platform to students and local bakers to get exposed and showcase their talents in the bakery industry. It fell during the dates of my trip.

Being a passionate homebaker, what more I needed.

  1. Meeting up people

I always believe nurturing new relationships add to healthy human experiences. An official trip offers you interaction with new people.

As I think back now, travelling on a Mumbai local train or bargaining at fashion street or the kaali-peeli ride from Colaba causeway to Nariman point at midnight wouldn’t have been fun if it weren’t for my bunch of amigos I met at my official trip.

I was in my mid-twenties’ crisis when I met these people who were in their late thirties but carried themselves as jolly teenagers. I used to feel old until I met them who made me realize age is just a number.

Most importantly they gave me reasons to jot down my next two travel benefits.

  1. Introduce your taste buds to many flavours

If you’re an experimental ardent foodie, then this kind of job is a blessing for you. Visiting different places let you know the culinary trademarks of the places.

This trip of mine introduced me to different eateries and joints that formed the food culture of Mumbai.

Juhu Chowpatty – The food stalls of Juhu Chowpatty  have churned out one of the outstanding street food of India – Bhelpuri. It has set as the benchmark for all other bhelpuris in the future.

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Originated from the food stalls of Mumbai, this recipe of Bhelpuri  has spread to most parts of India

Colaba causeway – A major land link between Colaba and Old Woman’s Island in the city of Mumbai holds some of the iconic eateries.

Café Mondegar – Who says only tranquility and calm can doff the tiredness of the day. Come to Café Mondegar where you can feel the mood of cheer by the sight of bustling mixed-aged crowd and the sound of music wafting out from the jukebox.

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Cafe Mondegar is the first restaurant in Mumbai to have a jukebox.
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Mario Miranda’s murals depicting ‘Life in Mumbai’ and ‘Atmosphere in Cafe’ adorn the walls of Cafe Mondegar. And here we’re depicting both in one frame… 🙂

It was love at first bite when I first tasted the onion rings with schezuan sauce. Not to mention the hotness in chilly garlic sausages that went superbly well with my pints of beer.

Bademiya – The sight of oil dripping, hot and spicy Desi food being devoured by people holding plates in their hands or at the car bonnets is not uncommon in this eatery’s alley. Try the Mutton Keema with roomali roti and you’ll know why this tiny roadside stall, which is filled with smoke and offers no place to sit, is legendary in street food cult.

Eddies Bistro, Bandra West – The demure husbander of European viands in the heart of ‘queen of suburbs’ Bandra , Eddies Bistro is an example of ‘café meets the bar’.

The miniature lamb burger and chicken roulade were the perfect accompaniment to the fine wine served. You won’t realize how pleasantly your evening will pass just by savoring every bite of your food.

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Chicken roulade

TAP Resto Bar – Leaving Mumbai without digging into seafood isn’t possible.

Deviled prawns with two house-special cocktails – Bull Frog and Seven Wonder were my company the night before my flight departure.

A fiery yet smooth concoction of Vodka, White Rum, Dark Rum, Gin, Tequila, Triple Sec, Whisky and Orange Juice – Seven Wonder hits the back of your throat without deterring you to appreciate the irresistible drink.

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Deviled prawns
  1. Knowing places

The best part of work-travel is that you can tourist places. Besides, if you’re a history buff or shopping aficionado or a souvenir collector, exploring a new place is a bonus point for you.

As far as I’m concerned, sighting the historical Gateway of India at my company’s expense is what my work gifted me.

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Quick fact: Erected to commemorate the landing in India of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, the Gateway of India was designed in Indo-Saracenic style.
  1. No run-of-the-mill weariness

Once in a while you need a break from your routine chores of your humdrum existence. There is no need to worry for food to be cooked or dishes to be cleaned or laundry to be done.

My life couldn’t be better when my evening is spent reading my favorite book and getting my food and wine served at my table while my manager sings to me instead of switching to boring motley TV soaps.

  1. Whet your adaptation skills

The quality that is admired profoundly by your employer, family and friends is your ability to adapt with different situations. Your work-travel does put you in some unwarranted and uncalled-for situations like – your flight being cancelled or have your luggage misplaced during transit ( and end up going to office in ripped jeans and T-shirt that you wore on flight !!!) and much worse, inhale ‘fart-induced’ oxygen inside an airplane.

If Charles Darwin would be alive, he would have mentioned ‘work-travel’ to be one of the key points in his evolution theory of ‘survival of the fittest’. 😛

  1. Frequent Flyer Points

Oops! How can I forget the obvious perk of work-travel – the opportunity to augment your FF points?  If you’re invariably flying from one location to another and you’re adhering to your preferred airline, the points will bucket up. What ensues is an opportunity to exchange them for upgrades and free flights, just like I did while flying from Dehadun to Delhi at only ₹900 and from Kolkata to Jorhat at only ₹1400.

  1. Stories to tell

Last and not the least, you would come back not only rich in professional skills but in travel experiences. Soak up those experiences – they’re memories in the making. And that’s what life’s all about.

My ‘un’travel diary of Mussorie

Are we defining our existence with an ideal corporate job, a cosy 2BHK flat, gizmos, technology, long hours of meetings and traffic gnash and a night that put your hopes, dreams and aspirations to sleep?

This question would intrigue me often and that’s when I take a chance to escape from the asphalt jungle to the Queen of Hills – Mussorie. Just 35 kms away from my place of residence in Dehradun, Mussorie became my habitual getaway to where I would take a relaxing but mind-boosting drive or a chilling yet ironically comforting bike ride. Be it with my friends or my family or my former beau, I travelled there so many times that I have lost count. 😛
Mussorie, like all other hill stations, has a different story to tell each season.
Summer – to beat the hustle of tourist spots, we would often take a detour to Dhanaulti 24 kms away from Mussorie, or further 15 kms ahead to Kanatal. At times, city-life frets our souls so badly that the lush green hills, the chittering birds, the serenity of the place and the view of the far-flung snow-capped mountains provide perfect rejuvenation.
The bike ride to Sir George Everest’s Park Estate House was also one of my citable trips in the early summers. My biker colleagues and I started early in the morning, to avoid the scorching heat of the sun, to the Hatipaon Hill where lies the remains of the building of Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843.

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Sir George Everest’s Park House resting on the edge of the Hill. Pic courtesy : Anna Tamuly

About 6 kms away from Gandhi Chowk/ Library Bazaar, this place provides a gorgeous vista of the Aglar river valley, the Doon valley and the Himalayan range.

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Even the colourful flags couldn’t distract the view from Hatipaon Hill. Pic courtesy: Dhriti Das
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As I sit pondering on top of the hill. Pic courtesy : Dhriti Das

Those captivating views appeased our peckish souls but what about our starving belly? The answer was Rose’s Diner Restaurant at Cloud End Forest Resort , just 3 kms away from the Park Estate. We biked to the Colonial style rustic resort which has 400 acres of private wildlife estate of thick vegetation, 104 species of fauna and 44 species of flora. Built in 1838, the hotel is surrounded by benedictory pines, old oaks and tall fir trees.

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Cloud End Forest Resort. Pic courtesy : http://www.cloudend.com

Aranyani, the Hindu Goddess of Nature cited in the Rigveda, seemed to have blessed the place with abundant natural beauty. I could see my skin soaking up gentle sunshine; I could inhale the freshness of nature, hear the sleepy murmurs of the forest.

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Rose’s Diner Restaurant. Pic courtesy: http://www.cloudend.com

To top it all, the restaurant’s long glass windows trotted out exhilarating view of the Himalayan range to the east, the Doon valley to the south, the Winter Line to the west and the Benog Wildlife’s sanctuary sprawled to the north. While we enjoyed the view, we also loved the sumptuous hot meal, the price of which were very reasonable. I especially loved the chicken curry with the flavours of fresh whole authentic Indian spices which made me feel at home.
It is a must-visit place where one can put up for the night also as it provides beautiful suites as accommodation.

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Groupfie with my biker gang

Come winters and Mussorie hills will be covered with dull grey mist. Many a times, it happened that in the winter evenings we drove out after office hours to grab a burger or roll at the Rajpur road of Dehradun and ended up relishing hot chicken momos of Kalsang at Mall Road of Mussorie. Since it is off-season, the Mall Road, the chief promenade of Mussorie, wears a desolate look where occasionally we catch a glimpse of one or two shopkeepers or bystanders warming themselves by the fire. I find it the best time to walk by the Mall Road as I can see the clouds floating down from the hills and spread over the city of Dehradun.

Take a kulhar of piping hot tea and a roasted ‘bhutta’ ( corn on the cob flavoured with lime, salt & pepper) – and you’re all set to enjoy the wintry evening of Mussorie.

The rainy season is what the tourist guides advise to avoid in Mussorie. But I redefined the rainy season in Mussorie.
As I drive my car between 25-35 km/hr and operate the wipers to clear the windshield, I can see the green colour of the hills turning into emerald; the rainwaters washing away all the dirt and dust. Dense fog and heavy rains giving us driving woes??? – What we do is park the car by the road side with the parking indicators on, recline our seats and experience the mesmerising sight of rainfall flowing down the window panes. Those were the times when I realised that all nature seems to bespeak works of God.
As the rainy season retreated and autumn crept in, we once made a thrilling full circle drive.
Dehradun – Kalsi – Mussorie – Dehradun

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Following Google Maps

Adventure drivers and nature lovers would love this trip as we drove amidst the greenery, seeing river Yamuna flowing through the valley and giving us company halfway through the drive. I didn’t take any pictures during the whole drive as I felt photographs won’t be able to justify the ethereal beauty of Mother Nature.
Being a touchy traveller, I have had amusing and icky memories too – memories of trash and traffic, horde of boozehounds and honeymooners littering the Mall Road with plastic packets and bottles. Hotels have become hideous excrescence on the once-lovely hill slopes, giving serious problems of garbage-collection, water scarcity and parking shortages especially during the summer tourist season. Given its relative proximity to Delhi, Ambala and Chandigarh, the hill station becomes the summer retreat of the people. Throughout the season, Mussorie echoes with the sound of honking cars occasionally with the Hindi swear words of the party roisters. Mall Road gets filled with pot-bellied men in tight T-shirts, women carrying ‘see-I’m-holidaying’ handbags, dressed up like Christmas trees and children running and screaming to buy play-things at the shops.
The sightly Kempty Falls and the Company Garden fell prey to commercialisation, unaware of the ecological disbalance.

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Restaurants and hotels mushrooming around Kempty Falls, natural waterfall being barricaded for artificial swimming pool. Pic courtesy : Rajeev Kumar

Though tourism is the most significant segment of Mussorie’s economy, I hope it doesn’t fail to preserve the old and pristine hill station.
Whether you’re a tourist or a traveller, here’s some of my important tips for you:
1. For winter – as the temperature goes below zero degrees, do deck yourself up in winter gears.
2. For rainy – unless you’re a pro and a patient driver, do not venture as there are chances of skidding your vehicle down the valley. Don’t drink and drive; keep your mobile phones handy to call for help if you experience road blockade. Don’t panic.
3. Respect Mother Nature and don’t litter around.
4. If you want to celebrate weekend party, go clubbing. Mussorie is not the right place for you. Don’t disturb the birds, animals and the tranquil state of nature.

The Golden Dragon – a taste of authentic China in Mumbai

Celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme once said, ” You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food” 

My gastro-travelling friend proved it right when she reached the height of food indulgence by pampering me with a delectable and mouth watering four course meal at the Golden Dragon – one of the jewels in the crown of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel,  Mumbai (India).
As we entered the hotel and made our way to the Golden Dragon, our eyes fell on the quaint historic treasures as well as contemporary ones being showcased behind the glass panels. Recollection of the splendour makes me feel so naive to describe more about the Taj Mahal hotel. All I can say that the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is the perfect amalgation of nostalgic classiness, rich history and modern facilities.
Our host of the evening was a cheerful and chubby gentleman. He made us comfortable with seats near the window overlooking the majestic Gateway of India. I looked out over the lively street with people enjoying the gentle sea breeze. The moon seemed to be playing hide-and-seek with the clouds in the sky. Everything around me perfectly set the tone for the luxurious evening.

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Rejoicing moments of indulgence. Pic courtesy: Dhriti Das

For the starters, our host lead us to order chicken sui mai & flying fish roe and pepper and salt crispy prawns. While we waited for the starters to come admiring the decor that spoke of the oriental trend, he served us with cocktails, names of which slipped out of my mind. 😛
For the uninitiated, roe is basically a mass of fish eggs. I love it specially when my mother deep fries it in mustard oil with sliced onions and green chillies with a dash of turmeric powder. However, I was quite skeptical about flying fish roe steamed cooked. My doubts were cleared when the succulent steamed dumplings came in a small and pretty bamboo steamer. The roe and chicken together wrapped in wonton skin had a mild smoky flavour and crunchy texture. I didn’t become quite a fan of it, still relished it.

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Sui-mai(Dumpling) and Prawns served on our plates. Pic courtesy: Dhriti Das

Being a prawn lover, pepper and salt prawns became my instant favourite. They were beautifully served in edible baskets with hot and spicy dip.
The Golden Dragon became our absolute sea-food haven when we tasted our main course – Chinese sticky rice and jumbo crab meat.Subtle tastes and fresh ingredients cooked in relatively mild sauces were highlights of these delicacies.

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Showcasing Sichuan and Cantonese food- Jumbo crab meat and Chinese sticky rice. Pic courtesy : Dhriti Das

A fitting finale to the meal was mango fruit flambé with vanilla ice cream topping. Interestingly, this dessert has only three major ingredients – mango, sugar and dark rum. It was quite a spectacular display when our host ignited the rum and sugar mixture in the glass and poured, still flaming blue, over warm mangoes.

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Toothsome mango flambé. Pic courtesy : Dhriti Das

I got the ultimate foodgasm when I tucked a spoonful of that dessert in my mouth. My friend could see my eyes gleam with delight as I was living one of the moments of intense gratification.

” There is no sincerer love than the love of food. “ – George Bernard Shaw’s felicitous quote defined my moment.
Our evening ended with a hot cup of Taj signature tea. We bid aideu to our host and the golden dragon placed over a soothing water feature – a perfect vignette to end my culinary journey with.

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My friend and I posing with the Golden Dragon

 

Quick facts:
1. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a “Heritage Grand” class five-star hotel located in the Colaba region of Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, next to the Gateway of India. It first opened its doors to guests on 16 December 1903. And the Golden Dragon – whose live kitchen plating of authentic delicacies like Peking Duck and Beggar’s Chicken is crowd-pleasing – was opened in 1973. Cost for two ( with alcohol) ₹7000- ₹10,000
2. Flying fish roe / Tobiko( in Japanese) are very nutritious due to high vitamin and protein content and large ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids
3. Flambé is the cooking method where alcohol is added to a hot pan and then ignited to create a wonderful display of blue-hot flames. The term comes from the French verb flamber, meaning to burn or flame. Flambéing burns off the alcohol, leaving the dish with the flavour of the spirit, but eliminating any harsh bite.
Chemistry behind it:
Alcohol boils at 172 degrees F. While water boils at 212 degrees F. And sugar caramelises at 338 degrees F. When flambéing, you combine all three of these reactions at the same time, since the surface burning the alcohol can reach 500 degrees F.

Chakrata – Unplanned getaway…

“Travel acknowledges the impermanence of things: the rejection of the familiar, the constant embrace of the unfamiliar… And when we keep travelling, we end up returning to the place from where we started: the Parikrama ” –  aptly quoted by Devdutt Pattanaik in his essay ” The Idea of Travel” gave some peace to my restless mind.

And so I agreed to my friend’s wish to ramble through Chakrata, which is 98 kms away from my first place of posting, Dehradun ( Uttarakhand, India)

Ditching my weekend household chores, I along with my friends headed for the mountains, or more appropriately the Lesser Himalayan Range ( Shivalik Hills). My friend, Dhriti Das, a tyro-socialite and a gastro-traveller, shouldered the task of driving her Maruti 800 uphill. As we passed through Selakui – Herbertpur – Vikasnagar – Dakpatthar, the picturesque views brought solace to my otherwise gloomy soul as I was to leave this beautiful place in a month’s time.

Sitting on the navigator’s seat, I made myself useful by capturing this timeless picture.

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Passing through Vikasnagar

 

Well, I personally feel that a journey is incomplete without traversing the geographies of the past. So, we stopped by Kalsi where lies one of the rock edicts of Asoka, the great Mauryan emperor.

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Out of 14 edicts, it is the only Asoka’s rock edict located in North India. A pear-shaped quartz rock with a 10ft height, 10ft length and 8ft width at its base, reflects the king’s reforms and policies. Unfortunately, we couldn’t click a picture of the rock as ASI was doing maintainence work. Looking at the rock edict, I wondered how much efforts were put inscribing on the huge rock. F@€£, here am I feeling lazy to even type on the keypad. 😛

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Description of the edict

 

 

We drove further ahead constantly soothing our eyes with beautiful landscapes.

Terrace farming and minuscule villages filled the topography of this Garhwal range. The few villagers we encountered looked content in their cosy little cocoon of serenity.

Three hours of driving made my friend so hungry that sooner we reached Chakrata, we started searching for a place to eat. Our eyes fell on a small tea-shop where hot veg momos were being served too. The cute tea-shop was so beautifully located at the end of the ridge overlooking the mountains that I took out my camera to capture the view. But sadly, I was prohibited for doing so by one of the armymen.

Let me tell you Chakrata is an access restricted military cantonment military town at an elevation of around 7000ft. Notably, it is the permanent garrison of the secretive and elite Special Frontier Force, also known as Establishment 22 ( called “Two-Two”), the only ethnic Tibetan unit of the Indian Army, which was raised after the Indo-China War of 1962.

Finishing off the hot momos with lip-smacking spicy chutney, we went for Chilmiri neck top which was known for its unspoilt viewpoint. Reaching there made me realise that it was a good decision to escape the urban clamour into a spectacle of rising peaks and quiet forests. Even though the place was cooler, but it was a heart-warming sight.

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As I was experiencing tranquility and seclusion, Dhriti broke the news to me that she forgot to fill up her fuel tank. Quite a bad news because petrol and diesel are hard to come by (for civilians ) being a cantt. area and the closest petrol pump is at Vikasnagar ( 50kms from Chakrata). Moreover, it was close to dusk.

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So we decided to cancel out the Tiger falls, which was 20kms from Chakrata and we finally headed back home.

So, if you’re a nature enthusiast, give Doon’s concrete jungle a miss and embark on a journey to Chakrata. It’ll provide you the perfect setting for some relaxation and exploration. 

FACTS:

1. Best season: Apr-Jun, Sep -Nov

2. Nearby places of interest: Tiger Falls, Deoban, Budher, Kanasar, Hano Mahasu Temple, Lakhamandal.

3. Fill up your fuel tanks . :p

4. No restaurants in Chakrata, only hotels and resorts are available.