About this blog: A Photo blog that sends an odd to the land of high passes, Ladakh. I get goosebumps even looking at these pictures. Ladakh, the cold desert beyond the high Himalayas that connects this part of the land to Central Asia and eventually transcends into the world of west is an intriguing destination! Ladakh is beautiful. It is harsh, barren, lifeless. Ladakh is also a Pandora’s box, filled to brim with surprises.
The ice cold gusts of winds ruffle my hair. Unfiltered sunrays scorches my skin, giving in unforgettable tan lines and scars that i shall cherish for this lifetime! The long stretched roads of Ladakh send an allure to touch the heaven! It is unfathomable to stand at a bend of the road and imagine this vast land belongs to a country that is home to a billion and some more people! But then, that is the beauty of Ladakh! It is tough love, but it is love in its best form indeed!
I am creating this blog post and simultaneously my cousin is making this epic journey in Ladakh. His travel snaps, as he shares them on the family group, makes me restless and longing to take this epic road trip yet again! I look at these pictures and pleasant memories fill my heart! I am born to a middle class Bengali family where women are encouraged to get married and produce children in the late twenties! While growing up, I would have never believed i would be experiencing this distant and stunning parts of the world!
But then, life is beautiful! Here, I am, sharing with you snapshots from Ladakh Road trip, one of the most intriguing road journey that one can experience ever!
I clicked this on the way to Chiling village from Leh city, somewhere close to the magnetic hill! I do not know if the Magnetic hills really pull the vehicle down without ignition. However, I sure know these roads pull you towards Ladakh like any other destination that seldom does! The roads in Ladakh acquire prime importance in the oropolical position due to strategic position between India and China. Pakistan is close by as well. These roads have been prime enablers since the days of ancient caravans in the prime of Silk Routes!
These is a short lived natural wonder a little ahead of Lamayuru on the way to Kargil from Leh. I shot this in February. Harsh sunrays of the day was about to melt this formation in a few more weeks. I had visited Lamayuru in September as well but did not have a chance to find this ever again! You may walk inside the cave too but beware of the slippery floor. Please pack proper shoes when you are visiting Ladakh! They should be covered and should be able to give you a good grip!
The majestic Suru river. We were heading towards magical Suru valley from the densely populated Kargil town! This was a pitstop near Trespone resort and we were drawn towards the river bank for this transparent and royal azure hue!
Visiting Chiling village was quite an experience! A village inhabited by a few coppersmith families, chiling remains cut from the world for a larger period of time. A few yards ahead, the famous zanskar Chadar trek starts at the peak of winter! Chiling village was filled with apricot coves and men at work who had thousands of stories to tell! One of the men had prepared a trumpet for an English man five years back. His customer had paid a flimsy advance. He never returned the finished product. The trumpet stands at the corner of his workshop. It was such a mellow encounter!
We drove past Chiling and the ice sheet over Zanskar river was too much to let go! We stopped, came close to the river, walked on the ice sheet and made merry. All this under the supervision of a guide who kept a close eye whether the ice cover was about to break or not! It was the advent of spring in Ladakh. White Ladakh was waking up from a prolonged slumber!
Not everyday you get a chance to walk on top frozen rivers. when you do, you make the most of it!
Posing at the Ladakh roadtrip with the long stretched roads is a must!
Zanskar river. In her frozen avatar. I had the fortune to witness strong ice cover as well fragile ice sheets that were floating on the cold water of Zanskar!
Spituk Gompha is worshipped by the Buddhist. A few steps on top of it, you have the Kali temple that is frequented by a few Hindus. Tantrik practices are observed here. At a distance, road to Khardungla stands!
Marmots, or the fat rats or rodents you meet on the way to Pangong tso, the most beautiful destination in Ladakh!
The ultra marine hues of Pangong Tso reflects the bright sun against a barren lifeless backdrop and makes up for a spectacular view!
At the doorstep fo ALchi monastery. One of the oldest and most beautiful monastery in Ladakh which has a medley of of Kashmiri, Dogra ruler and Ladakhi architectural styles!
A bright pink rose in full bloom in late autumn in Ladakh. This is the month of apples being ripened!
Devotees stand at the footstep of Naropa Photang and worship this treasure, the Thangka painted with the face of Guru Padmasambhava! I saw this while attending the Naropa festival, Ladakh!
Aryan tribes is believed to be descendent of the army of Alexander. They usually do not marry off their small community. They have a high literacy rate, exceeding 90%. These two women posed for my camera who have also been in Bombay for higher studies. Due to lockdown, they headed back home! Visiting the Aryan Valley in Kargil is quite an experience!
Covered woolen shoes being sold at the Balti market of Kargil. This is a must have to trudge through the prolonged winter in Ladakh. please note, Kargil is an essential and huge part of Ladakh which is not barren land and sparsely populated.
Leh airport is administered by Indian Armed forces. Post 12 noon, commercial flights are not allowed to alight to fly away except for some drastic rule change. Keep your eyes and camera ready as you start to touch down. Please note, photography at the airport is not allowed by rule, like it is the case with other army airports like Goa or Bagdogra. Please be responsible in what you post on the social media.
The Mahakal deity as I clicked at Thiksey Monastery. His face remains covered for the year around. Once in a full moon the deity is worshipped and is taken out of the sanctum! This reminded me of the Kal Bhairava statue I saw at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, Nepal.
The most profound face of Maitraya Buddha that I witnessed at the Thiksey Monastery! If you watch closely, you will be able to find the inevitable influence of Gandhara art on the face of this Maitreya Buddha. The Indus valley area is filled with historical anecdotes that paint a vivid picture of Alexander and Kushana period despite the real events taking place a few thousands of years back!
Start early a day from Leh and visit the Thiksey monastery as the crack of the dawn. As the valley gets awash with plenty of Sunrays, somber drum and trumpets resonate in the air from Thiksey monastery, also known to be a replica of the famous Potala palace from the forbidden land! It reminded me of the early morning alms ceremony of Luang Prabang. Traveling to the UNESCO heritage temple town of Luang Prabang is incomplete until you have seen the Buddhist monks collecting alms from the locals!
At Thiksey monastery, children and young monks from nearby villages visit and pray at the start of the day. A procession heads towards the village shortly after. The day starts with a high note from Thiksey monastery as you experience this beautiful positive vibrancy!
Towering Poplar trees dot the horizon dominated by high passes that connects Ladakh with central Asian plain land. At the end of December, the high passes are covered with a blanket of snow! Look closely. At the center stands a monastery. It is Thiksey monastery where I visited at the start of the day with Grand Dragon Hotel to witness a somber early morning prayer.
These are just a handful pictures from a month in total that I have spent in the high Himalayan land! I feel I have not even been able to put a scratch on Ladakh’s surface! Stay tuned as more blogs will come n your way!
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You might be either waiting for Friday to enjoy your weekend or planning out how to spend your Christmas and new year Holidays on a coastal hill station. Anyhow these short breaks are not enough for you to cope up with the mind. Your workaholic nature needs to be scattered to pop you out of stress and hypertension. Imagining yourself as the perfect office man might give you an additional rent for your apartment but not the peace your brain or the family need. For that, you will need a perfect break from your work routine. With such consideration, we have come up with numerous suggestions that would complement your taste of travelling, and you will definitely book yourself a ticket within an hour. Few of them are really affordable, while others might be pretty hefty in your pockets, Much to the extent that it will cost you the latest Mercedes or an additional monthly instalment on your salary.
Travelling to such places might be difficult, but not if you win the lottery ticket or grew up eating Kinmemai rice in a golden spoon. Let’s find out the travelling places that suit you the best to explore an entirely different world within itself.
Pride of Africa: Most Luxurious Train in South Africa
Travelling by train might not amaze you but travelling on an elite class Pride of Africa is a dream for many. The rail line is not only the fastest, but also it incorporates the ancient ambience within itself of the golden age when travelling by train was only affordable to the kings, and the governors and people would drool overstepping into it. It covers almost the whole of Africa within a minimal time, making it the most rapid mode of transport.
You might be surprised by the fact that The Pride of Africa purely depicts the colonial glamour within its bogies. From Private lounges that are stocked with minibars and exclusive scotch to get you served, Pubs to have meeting sessions. Victorian spa and sauna baths, first-class hotel rooms giving a feel of a cruise is just a minimal introduction of what the train serves. You will be awestruck to see a portion of food made up of local ingredients and served with the wines. The train opts for the Pretoria – Cape Town route taking you through the Victorian villages that are highly preserved and diamond towns in just 3 days. If you are more into safaris than towns like Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania are on your route too.
You might consider such an adventure to be out of your taste, but it does give you a whole lot of new experience. Don’t be the one waiting for NASA to approach you and ask for the favour of sending you to space. That’s not happening but what you can experience is nothing less than that; the Balloon flight might be slow in the area, but it would give you the extreme experience of what you dreamt for the space. Imagine yourself at the surface of the earth getting the maximum earth view in a helium balloon. This spacecraft would not be less than a state of the art that would take you to the maximum height of 100,000 feet from the surface, costing you just $75,000. Although it is considered to be a small price for the life-changing experience but for some, it may be the annual saving.
Royal Scottish Castle
Royal Scottish Castle is a must-visit place if you have geared up to spend a hefty amount on travelling. That not only gives you the royal view but also serves you like a king if you are one of the premium visitors. Apart from watching the castle in animated fairy tales, it is important to have a live you and experience it first hand. The buildings are A-listed, depicting the aura of the ancient monarchy, and elegant architecture that is rarely found, interiors that are opulent to the past, manicured tiles with exclusive pattern designs.
Imagine yourself surrounded by the blue ocean and coconut trees on the top and mountain, throwing away its shadow on your face. You might regard it as the view of paradise, but such a view does demand a great cost. With top-notch facilities, an iridescent tropical view and warm white sand is nothing less than a dream come true. You surely are investing a considerable payment for this view and realizing once you are out of it in a motorboat.
National Geographic Expedition
We all have grown up watching National Geographic, and watching it on screen and live to do variates, planning to travel across the National Geographic Expedition is the most immersive travelling experience one could have. Soaking up yourself into different cultures, exploring new food, seeking through the traditions, enjoying the hospitality of the tribes all come in such a package. Such a package is designed by the national geographic experts and would cost you around $2000 – $85000 inclusive of all the facilities that a tour demands: accommodation, free tours, hoteling and food.
Southeast Asia is known for having the best beaches and islands and it is where you should go if you are a backpacker on a budget. However, there is more to the region than what has already been shared by many travellers. The entire Southeast Asian region is rich in history and culture, and it is also the best place to discover the best that nature has to offer. If you are planning a trip to any of the Southeast Asian countries, here are some of the things that you can do.
Try the local street food
Everyone needs to eat, so what better way to spend your time in Southeast Asia than to try the local cuisines? Everyone knows that the most authentic cuisine you can get when you are in Southeast Asia is street food, so go ahead and try all the interesting food that you can find while on your trip. You can also get some tips from the locals to find the best food stalls and restaurants in the area, or search online for some listings and reviews.
Southeast Asian cuisine is known to be flavourful because they do not skip on the seasoning and the food will always be filling. You can find almost any type of cuisine for any tastebuds when you are in the region so there will always be something that suits you. Even if you have a dietary restriction, you can still find something to eat; however, if you are concerned about the ingredients in the dish you want to try, it is best to ask before you consume.
Southeast Asia may have some amazing hotels and luxurious resorts, but if you want to try something new, you can try going camping for a night or two. Many Southeast Asian countries like Thailand have incredible beaches that you can camp on, and some national forest parks even have designated campgrounds for those trekking through the woods. You can even camp in caves like in the Son Doong cave in Vietnam but that will require a booking in advance because it is a multiple-day expedition.
If you plan on camping while in are in any Southeast Asian country, it is ideal that you do some research before your trip. Not all places allow for camping and some might require a booking or deposit before you set up for your tent. Therefore, it’s better to research the place before you make any plans to camp there. Once you have all the information necessary, you can begin packing for your camping trip. However, if you find yourself missing a few camping supplies on the day of, there is nothing to worry about because many of the beaches and local campgrounds are very accommodating to beginners and they have supplies like air beds and tents in stock for you to rent or buy.
Go shopping for traditional and handmade crafts
All the countries in the Southeast Asian region have their own form of handicraft, which has been passed down through generations through the use of traditional tools and skills. To many Southeast Asians, these crafts are very important to their culture and tradition because it the proof of skills and knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. As a way to preserve this part of the local heritage and a way to help the economy grow, many Southeast Asian countries promote the sales of these traditional crafts to both locals and tourists alike.
Buying local handmade crafts is a much better way to support the economy and you can also get to keep a piece of the culture when you return to your home country. Many of these traditional handicrafts are skilfully made by hand, so they are much nicer than a magnet or a keychain. You can visit locally-owned clothing stores to purchase traditional garments, like a baju kebaya from Malaysia or ao dai from Vietnam, another great way to keep a memory of your trip.
Go diving or snorkelling in the ocean
If you enjoy swimming deep in the ocean to see the thriving marine life, you can always try diving or snorkelling during your Southeast Asian trip. Almost all of the region’s beach and island destinations offer diving or snorkelling sessions, and some are even free (except for the equipment). If you choose a pre-planned trip through a travel agency, you can also request that diving or snorkelling be included in your itinerary.
Since there are so many amazing diving spots in the region, it can be difficult to choose but the top 3 diving spots in Southeast Asia, according to avid divers and enthusiasts, are the Sipadan Islands in Malaysia, Raja Ampat in Indonesia, and the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar. Some of these diving spots can be tough for beginners, but there are professional diving instructors to guide you through your journey. The best time to visit these locations will vary, so do your research before booking your plane ticket to make the most of your trip.
Go hiking and trekking
If the sea and ocean are not your style, maybe you would prefer the lush forest and breath-taking hills and mountains. Southeast Asia has some amazing flora and fauna that rest in the many national parks and mountains, going hiking and trekking would be one of the best ways to discover the natural beauty of the region. You can easily look up forest trails that you can complete on your own, or if you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can sign up for group expeditions for mountain climbing.
Most of these trails will require some sort of fee or a booking before you begin your journey so be prepared by doing your research. For example, in Malaysia, there are several spots that are not widely known to people, so, if you want the visit the greatest trails and treks, you will have to dig deeper when researching. Make sure the equipment you bring along and the apparel your wear can handle the trees and rocks, as some of these trails and treks can get a bit rough. There are several sports brands of items, like Puma bags and Patagonia jackets, make great options for this type of activity because of their durability.
Visit historical buildings and cultural landmarks
Not all trips require adventure or skilful movement, but rather than sitting around in your Not all trips require adventure or skilful movement, but rather than sitting around in your accommodation, you can try visiting the many historical and cultural landmarks that are in the area. Southeast Asia is a region with rich history and culture and since many of us might not know about the country we visited, you can take this time to learn more about the region and country we are in. Every country will have a museum that you can visit for a few hours so it is a great opportunity to learn the history of the country and the people and expand your knowledge of this part of the world.
You will be able to learn more about the histories of the countries by visiting their local buildings and landmarks, which usually have a lot of meaningful stories behind them. Cultural tours are also offered by each country’s local tourism board and are frequently available every day, so feel free to participate whenever the opportunity arises. These tours will take you to various cultural sites and events, as well as opportunities to try your hand at traditional arts and crafts.
Visit the places of worship for different religions
You can also pay a visit to the local places of worship, which are an important part of the country’s culture. Malaysia and Singapore are melting pots of culture and religion, so there are numerous places of worship throughout the country. Many of these places of worship are built in a specific way for a reason, so visiting them will allow you to learn about how religion and architecture are intertwined.
Even if it is not a place of worship for your own religion, it can be a great way to learn more about the similarities and differences between the various religions. This will also allow you to learn more about the region because religion has heavily influenced the culture and history of many Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, which is why visiting these places of worship can help you learn more about their countries.
About this blog: Durgapuja is knocking at the door. This is the time of buying sarees in Kolkata and West Bengal. As Bengali we have a few favourite saree shops in Kolkata. They have been running the show for a little more than eight decades. These are some of the heritage saree shops that we love and adore and keep going back to, every year during festive season or for wedding shopping. I listed the best saree shops in Kolkata for your ready reference. they are located in North Kolkata. Some are in South Kolkata. I have personally gone to all these places and have brought sarees which I have worn all these years during my travels.
Saree is not just another attire for the Bengali community. It is an emotion. It is an art form that spans over eons and has evolved with the best of the artisans experimenting, designing and surviving the gnaw of time.
We buy saree to celebrate every occasion, big or small. My father has been benevolent with me the most about sarees and sarees only. He has never gifted me with mobiles or laptops as expensive as the sarees! I cherish the attire, I adore the stories associated with them, I recognise the emotion and I wear saree with absolute pride, even to the farthest corner of the world! I intend to do so till the time the Universe allows me to!
I was a fifteen years old girl when I got my first saree. It was a zardosi Benarasi with plenty of stone work, something in line with the style of Devdas movie. During my childhood, they would come up with various dresses and name them after Hindi movies. I went to Adi Monihi Mohan Kanjilal at College Street and bought it. It cost me INR 1500 back in 2005. It was a lot in those times.
I remember the saree (I still have it in my Kolkata home) to be of a lighter shade of coffee with lots of sparkle and glitters. The blouse was woven in golden brocade. It has been more than 10 years, I have outgrown it.
That was the start of it and till date, buying a saree is a temptation which I find hard to resist. Traveling, eating Birya
ni and buying saree are some of my weak points that would not let my bank balance get fat!
Since I live in Behala and sometimes in New Town, I have seen the best of the world! Both North and South Kolkata and their saree shops have had me as frequent visitors. For my cousin brother’s wedding or making a new trip to Africa or the customary Durgapuja shopping, I have visited many market areas in Kolkata where sarees are said to be the best in Bengal. I found some shops to be overrated. Some of them were underrated gems! Some of these saree shops had me pondering if I should change my career and move to investment banking or sorts! There are just so many varieties of sarees. I can have them more than the number of times I have occasions to wear them!
In this blog post, I will share a few of these rare Saree shop finds with you. They range from the well known places to the hidden obscure gems of Kolkata! By the virtue of social media, many of these shops are present online and are selling sarees. Their stocks do not last for long. I am old school when it comes to buying sarees! I feel I need to go and see the sarees, put them on my soldier and get a feel of it and compare between 10 more sarees and then buy one! This is what the New Markets or the Gariahats of Kolkata has taught me. In Bangalore, I try to satiate my saree hunger with Nalli and occasionally Chickpet but my heart longs for Kolkata, the best city in India to shop for sarees!
There are different types of weaves in India. The Bengal cotton tant sarees can give a side eye to the Begumpuri saree! The timeless Jamdanis can put the linen handloom sarees for a run for money! The Benarasis and the Paithanis are iconic sarees of India. The Orissa Ikat woven of tussar are some of the finest sarees of the world!
Adi Mohini Mohan Kanjilal, College Street
Swarnali Kanjilal is the owner of this stunning heritage saree house. For a wedding trousseau of a North Kolkata bride, there is no looking beyond the Kanjilal’s saree! My first saree was bought from the Kanjilal’s shop.
The Bengali mothers call it, ‘College Street er Kanjilal!” It is a brand. Undisputedly one of the oldest and leading brands of saree sellers in Kolkata. Adi Mohini Mohan has evolved their strategy with time, by incorporating trendy and modern outfits including Lehenga and costi=ume jewelry. Mens wear like sherwani and clothes are available here as well.
Adi Mohini Mohan Kanjilal is famous for selling the most beautiful Bengali wedding Benarasi sarees. Brides’ favourite banarasi sarees are available from different price ranges, from 5000 to 50000. If you ask for pure Kanjivaram or pure Benarasi with exquisite weavings, they can make it for you.
I love the Tussar benarasi and Dhakai Jamdani they sell along with colourful Katan sarees. Price range of Adi Mohini MOhan is usually in the higher range however Tant or Bengal cotton sarees are reasonably priced. Those who are not keen on buying sarees with silk marks, can also find artificial silk sarees for half the cost. However, Adi Mohini Mohan Kanjilal specializes in pure handloom sarees and provides authentic silk mark and stuff.
If you are heading for the Kanjilal Shop, head towards College Street afterwards and indulge at the old Coffee House or the Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel, one of the best Pice Hotels of Kolkata!
Priya Gopal Bishoyi, Gariahat (Also at Borobazar)
My wedding Saree is from Priyo Gopal Bishoyee, Borobazar. I had heard many of my friends say this with a certain amount of pride. Inquisitive, I wanted to see what they make and visited the Gariahat Brunch.
Surprisingly, I found their Benarasi collection to be mundane and repetitive. By Benarasi, they were selling Katan sarees in various tones and gold thread works. They look rather petty. Sighing, I looked at other counters where a beautiful surprise was waiting for us!
I suggest heading to Priyo Gopal Bishoyi for beautiful Silk Sarees! Silk in Baluchari, silk in Murshidabadi or Bishnupuri style. Tussar silk with Madhubani paintings. They have a decent range of tussar silk sarees starting from 4000 onwards. I especially loved the Kantha Stitch sarees Priyo gopal sells. The seller was an experienced middle aged man, who sensing my disappointment after the Benarasi experience made every effort to showcase the best of silks for which Priya Gopal Bishoyi is famous! Their Gariahat Branch is a huge shop sprawling over three floors. The Tant sarees and shawl counter had reasonably priced products starting for as low as INR 500.
Vyasdev Tolaram, Triangular Park
If you want to head to one place where your mind would be blown, especially after seeing 1000s of sarees of the same design and pattern, head straight to Vyasdev and Tolaram. It is a tiny family run shop who owns a loom in Benaras and brings sarees directly from the old city! I found a few beautiful exclusive pieces of Benarasi sarees at Vyasdev and Tolaram. I wanted to own them all. They are expensive. Price starts from INR 12000 and more. I got my first banarasi Saree in deep marron and real zari from Vashdev Tolaram and I absolutely adore this.
Vyasdeb is a lot like a boutique store. They do not have a lot of supply of similar products. However whatever they have, chances are you will end up loving all of it! I loved Vyasdev’s Kanjivaram too. On brocade thick saree, they had beautiful temple border details running. Price ranged from INR 8000 onwards.
For a discerning saree lover who wants a different saree for D Day I recommend a visit to Vyasdeb. They sell the best Benarasi saree in the city according to me. It is a blink and you miss the shop[ located right at the Triangular Park. Price is on the higher side. However, truth be told it is worth it!
Adi Dhakeswari Bastralaya, Gariahat and Rasbehari
Right on the opposite side of Vyasdev Tolaram, you will find another soaring saree shop appearing in all the glitters and pomp. That, my friend, is another stalwart of Bengal’s saree industry. The Adi Dhakeswari Bastralaya.
The original shop was located at Gariahat Mor. It was a tiny shop with everything old school. The decor. The small wooden stools. The show case.
I recall visiting Adi Dhakeswari original store as a kid. I remember being overwhelmed and almost on the verge of tears.
Despite that I remember Adi Dhakeswari Bastralaya at her prime. The most beautiful Tanchoi Benarasi or Pashmina Benrasis adorning the glass enclosure with pride. Peacock blue shimmering in the glitter of golden lights! It was a beautiful experience!
The new shop of Adi Dhakeswari at Triagular Park has owned up the heritage brand and has build up on it substantially. The sarees on sale here are usually spanning over three floors. One floor sells only In Cotton sarees and tant. One floor specialises in Baluchari. There is a lift in the shop. I also spotted few lehengas as a sign of changing times. The third floor department had stunning sarees, dupattas, stoles and shawls on sale. Pashmina shawls are available? I remember asking. The man said no supply from Kashmir is thwarted. It was the year of 2019, after th 370 was called up and Kashmir was under virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Trade demands peace and prosperity to flourish.
My mother is a die hard fan of Nijaswi Boutique and the owner, Mohan da. With black and white curls, Mohan da occasionally appears on his Youtube Channel and shows some of the finest picks of quality silks and Bengal cotton sarees. He owns a shop at Madhyamgram. Earlier he had a shop at Gariahat but he closed it down. Eventually, I happened to visit there on the day of closing itself. He does not sell Benarasi per say, not the typical wedding couture. But for tussar Benarasi or tant benarasi or the most beautiful Balushari and Swarnacharis, you should try Mohan da. His sarees are very sober in colour and perfect for corporate wear!
Being a boutique, Nojawsi sells saree at a relaively higher price point however sarees are amazing in quality.
Dhakeswari Bastralaya, Gariahat
One of the oldest shops located right at the junction of Gariahat, Dhakeswari is a small family owned shop which sells some of the finest tant Jamdani sarees of all times. For Bhagalpuri tussar or murshidabadi silk, you may visit here. There are beautiful fancy sarees available at the store as well. Price range starts from 2k INR. for Silk sarees, you should start anywhere from INR 5000 onwards.
One of the oldest saree shops in Kolkata, Basak in Gariahat is a proud contender who upholds the heritage of Bengal tant in their products. Basak is known for selling reasonably priced and authentic handloom Jamdani sarees. Basak sells a number of affordable cotton and linen sarees as well. The set up is a bit archaic, with floor sitting arrangements in front of piled up sarees. It may be a bit overwhelming for a first timer. The employees do not usually take a lot of time to show what you want to see. But you need to find your pick and at Basak, you can do so with a little bit of saree shopping experience. A lot of wedding families visit Basak to get their Pranami sarees from the shop.
Saha Textile, Barasat and Amar Bari, Gariahat
I had heard rave reviews about Saha Textile. That they are the best at selling reasonaly priced beautiful sarees. the owner is a gem of a person. I only came to see their products during lockdown when the lady took it to Facebook. And boy oh boy am I in love? My phone is full of screenshots from her show!
The sarees she shows range from Bidharva Tussar to handpainted Kalamkari and exquisite Chikankari and stunning Paithani silks. I wish I could own all of them! Someday!
Saha Textile also takes pride in reviving a lot of old weaves of bengal. For example, Noakhali Muslin Jamdani has made a comeback with their effort. They have been effortlessly working at promoting Bengal’s own Baluchari and swarnachari weaves as well! The elaborate ramayana or Mahabharata stories woven on the paad and Anchal of Baluchari and Swaranachari have gone through a lot of experiments with elaborate colonial scenes and likes.
One of the new age saree shops of Kolkata, Saarang sells very stylish designer silk sarees. Plenty of Instagrammers have adorned their products. If I recall correctly, Subhashree, the Bengali Tollywood actress wore a yellow mustard Katan for her baby shower. Later, the market was inundated with replicas. However, I have seen Sarang sarees. I found they do not shy away from drastic experiments with traditional weaves which often yield stunning results. Price range at Saarang starts from INR 10k at least and goes upwards.
Jayalakshmi Heritage, Golpark
A lot like Saarang, Jayalakshmi heritage at Golpark targets the affluent segment of the saree lovers. The Sarees are exclusive, trendy and exquisite in threadwork and weaves. The staff are courteous and cooperative. The silk sarees are some of the finest collections of the city. Price is high, so is the quality of the product. This is not where you go to buy trendy regular wear sarees. For a special occasion, or a choice-able gift for your loved one, Visit Jayalakshmi Heritage House.
Within a reasonable price range, P Majumdar at Rashbehari sells some of the finest sarees in Kolkata. I remember buying at least 5 silk sarees based on Bishnupuri Katan from them. The sarees shed colour heavily the first time I tried washing them. Naive me had no clue they needed dry washing. Nonetheless, it was cheap. It didn’t burn a hole in the pocket.
At P Majumdar, I recall seeing some beautiful Begumpuri and Dhaniakhali sarees as well as crepe fabric with beautiful prints. Overall, if you want to buy a fancy saree which can be styled easily, head for P Majumdar.
Almost on the same range of P Majumdar, Bhojraj at Ras Behari is a beautiful saree shop where you can find plenty of trendy Bengali sarees at a reasonable price rate. I love the raw silk sarees they sell in neon hues. I loved the organza collection as well. For the best South Indian Silks in Kolkata, I trust Bhojraj. It is one of the oldest shops in Gariahat Rashbehari area. The staff are kind and always have a warm smile!
Located at the second floor of an old shop at the Gariahat Junction, Balaram Mallick sells some of the most beautiful sarees of Bengal. The decor is old school. You will sir on the floor or low lying stools while the sellers will sit on the white Gadi. Sarees are well kept inside glass doors of wooden almirahs. I felt like I was transformed into another era! At Balaram mallick ,we picked up some linen sarees. The price was in a slightly mid budget range however the products were very beautiful. I wore one of the sarees at the Taj Mahal.
A 75 years old shop at Gorabazar, Dumdum, I was introduced to Ramprasad by my fiance’s mother. She wanted to give me the saree I was going to wear for our engagement day. We visited Ramprasad, one of her favourite places. Next places to visit on our checklist were Indian Silk House and Jashoda.
I was surprised to find the beautiful Linen saree they brought out for us from the store house as we were disappointed seeing the regular Katan Sarees. We bought two Linen Benarasi. The price point was perfect. Later I learnt, the sarees sold at ramprasad are particularly cheaper during Chaitra Sale. Plan your trip accordingly.
For more sarees, you may wander aimlessly at the prime market places of Kolkata. The shyambazar area and college street have more than plenty of saree shops. I saw them at length but I found my heart to be firmly set on Gariahat and south Kolkata Saree shops only.
For beautiful blouse pieces that go well with these traditional silk sarees, trust Handloom house. That is yet another shop near Rashbehari in SOuth Kolkata. From Brocade to Chanderi, they have every kind of material available on sale. Choose what you like and design a blouse for yourself which will complement the timeless sarees of your wardrobe!
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About this blog: If you are looking for recommendation on things to do in Leh or searching for offbeat day trips from Leh, this travel guide will help you plan a trip to Leh. Read all travel articles on Ladakh by Madhurima.
Blessed are those who visit Ladakh for a couple of weeks and more. They explore every inch of ethereal landscape of Ladakh, rightly known to be the barren roof of the Himalayas! Then there are the less fortunate mortals. We are either short of time or physical capabilities. Have I told you before? Traveling in Ladakh could be intimidating. It is a cold desert and the weather Gods exercise their wrath without mercy! In Ladakh, you will have a riot of adventure for the first few days, gliding through the high passes on the roads built by BRO until one fine morning when you wake up with AMS and would not dare cross Khar Dung La pass (also termed as the world’s highest motorable road) to witness what is there on the other side.
It is possible. It happens. It is wise to know your physical capabilities and agreeable boundaries with the body and aspirations when you travel. Ladakh is known to be the world of high passes. But there are many more places to visit and things to do in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh if you are shy of crossing those high passes. Tourist attractions in Leh ranges from markets, museums, ancient monasteries, Indus river valley which would mesmerize a cultural traveler to no extent!
In this blog, I shall write about the things to do in Leh. These are day trips conducted from Leh. You can come back to the comfort of your hotel room by night and tuck inside the warm blanket as icy gust of wind reigns the world outside. These tourist attractions around Leh are more suited for a cultural traveler who would not want to put too much strain on physical capabilities. Leh is a relatively new capital city of Ladakh with a decent amount of modern amenities, improved healthcare facilities, thriving marketplace, quaint homestays and beautiful cafes thanks to the influx of inquisitive tourists.
I liked staying in Leh. It is a wannabe urban set up amidst the vast rudeness of arid barren mountain land that remains bereft of rainfalls for almost 12 months a year. By the virtue of being army headquarter of IAF, Leh boasts of highly developed highways and a few industrial areas. People of Leh are usually a bit overwhelmed with the influx of tourists which is dangerously balancing vices of over-tourism on high seasons of summer. However, they remain kind, jovial, hospitable and proud people. Land of predominantly Buddhists and a sizable amount of Shia Muslims, Ladakh is a peaceful and safe tourist destination in North India.
In the previous couple of trips to Ladakh, I stayed in Leh for the entire week and made multiple day trips from Leh to the glacial lakes, ancient monasteries and obscure Himalayan hamlets. It is possible to make Leh the primary base of the trip and experience Ladakh at its best since the region is well connected with paved highways. Leh is situated at a high altitude. Based on the time of your travel, you can experience many faces of the mountains in Leh! In bitter winter, Leh is white and scarily stunning. The city will make you sweat profusely at the peak of the summer. A drop of rain in Leh is swallowed readily by the scorched Earth.
In short, Leh is a little manmade oasis amidst the stark arid high mountains of Ladakhi Himalaya!
Pros & Cons of Leh as a base of your Ladakh Travel
Traveling in Ladakh and making a base in Leh? That is a delightful decision. For full disclosure, I would like to add in the pros and cons of choosing Leh as the base of your much awaited Ladakh travel!
Since Leh is the capital city of Ladakh, you get easy access to medical facilities and shared taxi and occasional public transport.
Leh has some of the best hotels of the region and that is an important factor given you would be spending a large part of your day in the nature. You would ideally like to make your way back to the comfort and relaxation of a cozy inn!
Leh has a thriving market place and exciting cafe-culture at the heart of the market. This makes Leh city itself a very interesting tourist destination in the evening if you are traveling solo and are keen on meeting new people in the trip. Apart from Leh city, I am afraid there is hardly much to do at night in Ladakh. Unless you are a keen astro-photographer! Kargil town is different though.
Leh has the single most operational airstrip that is used for commercial passengers in entire Ladakh.
Since Leh has experienced a steady influx of tourists in recent years, the travel infrastructure is pretty well developed and centrally controlled by the unions. For example. Leh Taxi Union has a rate chart beyond which the drivers would not charge you. Part of it is due to the innate honesty of the people being raised in the generosity of the mountains.
Now coming to the cons of making Leh your travel base for 5 days, my honest observations are written henceforth.
Thanks to increasing number of tourist footfall, Leh becomes extremely crowded at the peak of the season. So much so, getting accommodation at a decent hotel could be a problem. Many friends of mine had been to Leh in summer and ended up sleeping on borrowed mattress at the spare room of a guest house.
Leh has witnessed a rise of unplanned real estate market. From the many hotels and guest houses around the town and I have stayed at 4 different hotels in Leh, your view of rolling hills and towering poplars would invariably get hindered by hotels and guest houses on the make. The skeletons of these “let’s quickly make a hotel” flash a bitter smile.
Leh looks clumsy and haphazardly done, even a bit untidy compared to other parts of Ladakh from a distance. However make a trip to the Spituk Gompha which shares its wall with a Kali temple and the sweeping view of the air strip and Khardungla pass renders Leh a beaming smile. If you happen to make it to Leh during autumn, your eyes will greet the valley decked up in bedazzling yellow-orange foliage of fall colours!
The further you go off Leh, you shall come across offbeat and unknown destinations of Ladakh. You can witness some of the charming anecdotes of yester years when Ladakh played a pivotal part in the Old Silk Road. The Gandhara arts, the mystique gomphas, the Buddhas inscribed on the mountains (like what you saw in Bamiyan), legends of many monasteries, the quaint villages that have been long subjected to border skirmish.
The further you move from the city of Leh, the closer you will come to the astounding nature of Ladakh. The river Indus, the frozen valleys, the mountains folds claimed by the elusive snow leopards, the border villages. All the elements that make Ladakh and her communities cash poor but happy people with abundant access to nature’s blessing.
Weighing the pros and cons, I suggest you can design your trip mostly based on Leh but make a few days detour to the distant Turtuk village beyond Nubra Valley. Make a pitstop at Kargil and Suru valley. Head out to the ancient monasteries and the villages of Aryan community. This way, you get to experience the best of the both world. For this to happen, you should ideally plan a couple of weeks vacation in Ladakh!
I intentionally made this a bullet pointed “glance at me once” kind of list with the most prominent things to do in Leh. Will delve deeper in each Tourist attractions as I add details in the 5 days in Leh itinerary section (which you may customize for a week in Leh or more)!
Make a Day Trip to Pangong Tso from Leh
Trip to Khar Dung La, one of the highest passes in the whole world! Khar Dung La is always accessible due to its military importance for the battle troops commuting to Siachen from Leh! On a good day, you can cross the pass and proceed towards Nubra valley and further to Turtuk. But in that case, you need to stay in Nubra Valley!
Explore the Indus valley area and its numerous ancient Buddhist monasteries! Hemis monastery, Thiksey Monastery, Shey Monastery, Stakna Monastery, Spituk Gompa and more!
Explore Leh City: the museums, Leh market, marshlands by Indus river, Central Asian museum, Old Leh City Tour, Shanti Stupa etc.
Make a day trip to the Aryan Valley at Darchik and Garkon and Dan, Hanu.
Explore the ancient Lamayuru Monastery and the moonland located right opposite.
Visit Basgo Monastery, where Sat Rangi Re song was shot from the movie Dil Se.
Visit Alchi, one of the oldest monastery in Ladakh with intriguing arcitecture.
Visit Chiling Village after Crossing Nimoo River Confluence. It is Sangam of Zanskar and Indus two large rivers of Ladakh. During winter, Zanskar river is usually frozen and you can even plan a picnic on the frozen river with a mindful guide (we did all thanks to the Grand Dragon Hotel, Ladakh)! The copper village of Chiling is home to many coppersmiths who practice generational knowhow of making copperware. I loved this tiny village named Chiling! More story on that coming soon!
If you are feeling adventurous enough, you may even make a day trip to Tso Moriri from Leh city. You start as early as 5 am in the morning and return Leh by 10 pm.
How to spend 5 days in Leh (a suggested week long Itinerary for Leh)
You have to have at least five days to experience Leh at her best. I am considering one day as rest as you need to acclimatize with Leh’s soaring heights. Leh is situated at an altitude of 11,500+ feet.
This Leh Itinerary spans over 5 days. I will give you a rough idea on the best things to do in Leh and a few offbeat day trips from Leh beyond Pangong Tso. You can easily extend your stay in Leh by a couple of more days and indulge in many activities. If you can manage, consider spending at least a week in Leh. To see Ladakh at leisure and experience the best of it, plan a trip for at least a couple of weeks!
Day 1: Day trip to Chiling Village from Leh
Indus & Zanskar river Confluence (Sangam), Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Chiling Village, Magnetic Hills
Time taken 4 to 5 hours. Leh to Nimoo: 34 km. Leh to Chiling: 60 km.
On a clear sky day we started from Leh after breakfast. The car made a smooth glide on the long stretched pitched roads. At a distance, tiny army barracks kept vigilance. Soldiers marched past our vehicle against the backdrop of a barren land, reminding us of the grim reality of Ladakh. Despite being excruciatingly beautiful, Ladakh also happens to witness passive aggression in the politics of South Asia.
A new University of Ladakh is being built at a distance. Acres of land and not a person to live. This, I am talking about within a 10 minutes drive from downtown Leh. This felt unreal for the urban heart of yours truly.
We headed for Chilling, a tiny hamlet inhabited by the coppersmith. Where the village ends, you have the iconic Zanskar trekking point.
In a twisted tale of universal conspiracy, we happen to visit Ladakh in end-February. Climate change is a real concern, you know after a hearty conversation with the Ladakhi people. It used to snow in Leh. Winter used to be more bitter. This is nothing. All the conversation eventually points to the fact the Earth is warming up, unbearably.
I was traveling with the Grand Dragon Hotel in Ladakh. The kind hotel staff had packed us a picnic breakfast. Our driver was observing Lent, the Buddhist month of fast and devotion. He pointed out an ice sheet, jumped on top of it, made a keen observation around the area and assured us we could take steps on the sheet of the ice.
I have seen a number of rivers in my life. However, this particularly felt surreal. We were walking atop a river covered with a sheet of ice. We could listen to the mighty Zanskar running with a volume of water under the ice sheet. The ice sheet was thicker than a few meters and was slowly melting under the sunlight. By noon, the ice sheet changed its color of ivory white to a tint of aqua marine. Sensing danger, we jumped back to the river bank.
Chiling village was a sleepy habitat of a small community who would make a monthly visit to the Leh market with their commodities. They deploy age-old know-how to their generational art and bring shape to the copper ore. The ornate samovars that pour in steaming Kahwa are made by these skilled hands. So are the trumpets used by the Buddhist monasteries.
The man showed me a Buddhist trumpet and said an Englishman had ordered this piece some 5 years back and paid partly for the make. He never returned but the man had finished making the instrument and had kept it safely, hoping his customer would find his way back to the village someday. This story made my heart mellow.
On the way back from Chiling, we stopped at Sangam of Indus and Zanskar. The guide cum driver had turned a friend and seeing my unbridled happiness as we closed into the bank of Indus, he said Indus brings in a lot of life forms with the volume of water whereas Zanskar remains barren. Indus rears various water plants, trout and more and thus directly contributes to natural resources of the villages situated on its bank. Sangam is the place where a number of water activities, rafting take place during summer.
On the way back, make a pit stop at the Magnetic hill. They say the car automatically drives in reverse gear at the Magnetic hill. Honestly, I did not find much of a difference. However, do jump out of the car and take a few pictures of the mountains. I found the colour of the mountains to be an interesting mix of maroon and green!
Closer to the city of Leh, an old Sikh Shrine stands atop a small hill. It is known as Gurudwara Pathar Sahib. An interesting mythical story is associated with the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib where a demon pushed a massive stone on Guru Nanak but in vain. As with the case of every Gurudwara of the world, Paththar sahib allows visitors of all cast and creed to join the Langar. I felt calm inside the cold shrine where military convoys make frequent stops on the way in or out. It is indeed one of the most profound touristy things to do in Leh.
I suggest visit Chiling first so that you get to spend the most of the time in the beautiful countryside. Make pitstops on the other tourist attractions as you head back to Leh town.
Exploring Old Town of Leh, Gufuk, Leh Market, Museumfor a balmy afternoon
Leh market is a tapestry of interesting age-old cultural finds of the region. I found a number of beautiful Ladakhi cafes near Leh market that served delectable local cuisine. Visit the Thabtsang cafe for an authentic Ladakhi meal prepared in Tandoor. The steamed dumplings and lamb stews are exactly what you need to add fuel to your otherwise uneventful evening. Walk to the market with a couple of hours in hand. You will find all sorts of commodities.
Candy packets branded with Chinese letters remind you people love to eat similar stuff across the disputed borderline. Dried herbs and potatoes reigned the market by the end of winter. The last lot of apples gracefully stayed still by the street side vendors’ stalls. I found the jewelry shops to be the most interesting. There were yaks made of apricot wood, camels with double hump made of topaz and other colorful stones, lockets made of wild cats’ teeth. I gasped, is it legal even?
Prices are reasonable. You may bargain if you think the price sounds ridiculous. Leh market is situated at the foothill of Leh palace. Often compared with the Potala palace of Lhasa, Tibet, Leh Palace has an intriguing history. The cobbled pathway is steep and demands a certain level of physical fitness to climb atop. The Palace is now abandoned and partly open for tourists. Leh palace lets you take a beautiful view of the high craggy mountains at a distance, the allure of which is incomparable. The lesser mortals live in the city, constantly wondering what is there beyond the mountains.
On the other hand of the Leh palace, you have the old neighbourhood of Ladakhi people. Centuries have passed but lifestyle reminds us of nature’s yield. Leh palace has a museum adjacent where the remnants of the heydays of Silk Route and regal Namgyal dynasties are safely stored. It is known as the Central Asian Museum.
Ornaments, hand painted Tibetan Thangkas, Silver cookware and elaborate dress dresses are to name a few. Headgears studded with jewel stones, feathers and pricey metals are distinct features of Ladakhi communities. Earlier, sheepskins were dried and used to keep the human body warm.
I suggest visiting the Leh Palace by the end of the day during golden hour to get the best view of the town. You may alternatively choose to spend your evening at the Shanti Stupa. Both are located at a high point and lets visitors take a sweeping view of the city.
Sunset in Leh brings in cold gushing wind directly from the height of the mountains. Before you even know, it is freezing outside. Wind blows vicariously. Take proper woolens to protect yourself.
I happened to make a friend in Leh by serendipity. An army doctor. He was kind enough to take us to some of the unknown yet favourite spots near the city. One such place near Leh is Gufuk. Gufuk is a waterbody which often freezes in the cold winter and doubles as a winter hockey ground. Winter hockey is a cultural thing in the whole of Ladakh.
The Indus river took a horseshoe bend and left behind the water body a few millennia before. We meandered through dense grass, stepped on sharp branches and reached the bank of river indus. The ice cold water made my toe nails wrinkle but the joy of meeting Indus at a forlorn point was incredible! In summer, a number of migratory birds, especially ducks, call Gufuk their home. You do not need to seek any permission as Gufuk is mostly frequented by the locals keen on smoking a joint. Visiting Gufuk and birding is one thing to do in Leh if you are keen on spending some lone time with nature. You also get to meet mighty Indus from close. I think that is extremely special thing to do in Leh!
Day 3: Visit to Pangong Tso Lake from Leh Town
Day trip to Pangong Tso Lake: Crown Jewel of Ladakh. You need an entire day!
Famed as the three idiots Lake of Ladakh, Pangong Tso is the sole reason a number of people visit leh.
If visiting Pangong Tso is one of your highest priorities for the Ladakh trip, I suggest planning your trip in summer. In winters, due to snowfall and dicey weather conditions, the road to Pangong may remain closed.
Three idiots was just the beginning. Pangong Tso saw a surge in tourist influx with the release of movies like Jab tak hain jan and rumored shooting of GOT prequel. The locale and otherworldly scenic beauty of the place does justice to Pangong Tso!
We started at the wee hour of the day for the day trip to Pangong tso. Many tourists stay back by the makeshift tent accommodation by the beach to witness an ethereal starry sky lit with milky way and far away galaxies. The mornings at Pangong Tso are rewarded with stunning sunrises.
We headed back to Leh during sunset due to uncertain accommodation by the lake. To safeguard the fragile ecosystem, the Ladakh government sometimes shuts down tourist business by the lake. A lot like what Thai tourism has done to Phi Phi island. Make a day trip but allow the night to restore balance somewhat.
It took us 5 hours to reach Pangong Tso from Leh town. Enroute, we crossed the mighty Hemis monastery. The Indus river danced throughout the course of the journey until we started our ascent to Chang La. Another high pass of Ladakhi Himalayas, Chang la pass often remains closed due to heavy snowfall in winter. Even in the summer, the wind was gutsy. At the highest point on the road, a temple, a memorial in memory of the martyrs of 70’s war and a DRDO office caught our attention.
The road towards Pangong Tso is arid. Dried up white barren river beds frequent the route. It evokes mellow memories of an apocalyptic world. Sometimes, you stop by the lush green meadows that found a way by the marshland. The fat rats of Himalayas, Marmots live here. Please refrain from feeding Ladakhi wildlife. Nature has provided them enough. The least they need is a piece of merry biscuit under the garb for your photo op!
Situated at a height of 4000+feet Pangong Tso resembles an ink pot flowing in youth from a distance. It dazzles your eyes as you approach the narrow course of road through white mountain scape, bereft of any sign of life.
I filled my lungs with mountain air and breathed in just to let my mind slowly savor and indulge in the stunning views of Pangong Tso. Once a part of the Indian ocean, and I am talking about eons ago, Pangong Tso is shared between India and Tibet (now under the rule of China). In recent history, Pangong tso has staged a number of political discourse in the subcontinent and unnecessary bloodshed took place. However, permits to Pangong tso are given since Indian armed forces are stationed and often patrol the waterbody with boats and helicopters.
Light refreshments are available by the shore of the lake. Swimming is prohibited. Please do not open your shirt and pose by the water. Like most of the glacial lakes of Himalayas (Bum La and Madhuri lake is an example), Pangong Tso is a sacred waterbody for the locals as well. Watch the waterbody change its colour with the gradual movement of the Sun. The glass-like water perfectly reflects cotton clouds and craggy mountain peaks in yellow ochre hues!
To return safely to Leh Town, start by 4 pm. It is a good idea to cross Chang La pass as early as possible. If you get stuck on these roads, your only rescue option is the army. Only a handful of nomadic shepherds live in this terrain who help their yaks feed or herd on the sparse vegetation. Electric, grocery supply, running water are essentially considered luxury beyond Chang la. Visiting Pangong Tso, one of the most important tourist attractions in Leh, and entire Ladakh is an essential thing to do while traveling Leh!
Day 4: Visiting Indus Valley and Exploring the Monasteries from Leh
Day trip to Indus River valley & exploring the ancient Buddhist Monasteries
On the way to Pangong Tso, we stopped at Hemis Monastery first for a while. The first time I was traveling in Leh, I was actually invited to the Naropa Festival. Hemis is one of the most prominent day trips from leh city as well. If you are spending 5 days in Leh, allow a day to explore the ancient monasteries of Indus valley.
Hemis monastery is known to be the richest among all the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the region. A lot of old world artifacts, thangkas, gold jewelry, and antique products found a place on display at the adjacent museum. Hemis has been attacked quite a number of times. To save the priceless and timeless historical anecdotes, Hemis monastery was rebuilt at the fold of the mountains.
Sometimes, it snows if the wind blows strong. A few villages are located nearby. Population is sparse.
On the way to Hemis, two more prominent monasteries come on the way.
Stop at Shey monastery. The view from Shey is astounding. Lush green patch of meadow reminds you of the alpine terrains. Right next to Shey monastery, you shall also find a stupa dedicated to Tara, the female form of Buddha. Tantric Mahayana Buddhism is practiced in the region.
Close to Shey monastery, another beautiful gompha stands, known as Thikshey monastery. Thikshey monastery is famed to be a mirror image of Potala Palace of Lhasa, Tibet (now under Chinese occupation). Thikshey houses the most beautiful statue of Maitreya Buddha. However, I found the sanctum of Mahakal to be the most intriguing part of the monastery.
Head to Thikshey monastery at the start of the day. If you reach there as early as 7 am you can witness the serene morning prayer at Thikshey.
Chanting and various religious ceremonies are practiced here on a daily basis. The air at the gomphas are usually filled with the aroma of yak butter. Topaz and precious stones are used to adorn the statues.
You may also stop at the Stakna monastery. Stakna is located at the bend of the Indus river. Ask the locals and visit the animal rescue center on the way. A number of Bactrian camels used for various Government projects (fair, exhibition and likes) are kept as an enclosed area. Their numbers are drastically coming down since locals in Nubra often hunt them down for meat.
Another beautiful destination on the way is Stock palace. It will take a couple of hour’s detour if you want to experience the erstwhile Ladakhi king’s new palace. Closer to Leh, visit Spituk Gompha which shares its wall with a Kali Mandir. Although, the Kali statue differs to a great extent from the usual Kali idols of Kolkata!
Lamayuru Monastery, Moonland, Aryan Valley. An entire day is needed for this.
For a cultural traveler, Leh would never run out of tourist attractions. By the virtue of being one of the most prominent trade routes to central Asia in line with the ancient Silk Route, Leh had been a sprawling ground where Buddhist ideology and practices spread among the locals. As a result various monasteries are found in the valley.
Lamayuru is one of the ancient monasteries of Leh. Its history dates back to 11th century. Originally a cave, Lamayuru monastery has now grown and how! Close to Lamayuru, you may also come across another high pass named Fotu La. Today, Lamayuru monastery houses at least 300 monks of various age groups from surrounding villages. many abandon the regular life in search of spiritual fulfilment. many go back to their village after their education has been completed. Lamayuru hosts two annual mask dances, also known as Yuru Kabgyat.
From Lamayuru, you can view moonland. It is an intriguing terrain of bright yellow colours made of river or lake deposits (many geologists argue there was a waterbody in the area at least 40000 years ago). It is known to be the “Moonland” of Ladakh.
Kargil is the second largest district of leh. While most of the tourists use Kargil as a one day stop over on the way to Leh from Manali or Srinagar, I urge you to consider traveling in and around Kargil at least for three nights. Its beauty can be compared to that of Kashmir excpt the people are happier with Indian governance.
However, half way on the way to Kargil, you shall come across the Aryan villages. Known to be descendants from the Alexander’s army, Aryans are a tribe who adhere to age-old norms and traditions in the society. They believe in Buddhist or Islam alongside worshipping nature as their forefathers did. A performance at an Aryan village is a treat to the eyes!
With careful planning, you can very well extend you stay in Leh for a week or even more! There is never a dearth of thigs to do in Leh! Day trips, museums, markets, cafes, trips to the high passes: Leh offers endless tourist attractions. In case you have to extend you stay, and it happens due to sudden change in weather.
Khardungla: Day trip from Leh
You need to cross Khar Dung la to visit Nubra valley and Turtuk in Ladakh. That can not be a part of a day trip. However, visiting Khar Dungla from Leh city takes only a couple of hours.
One of the highest passes of India, Khar Dung La holds immense importance in India’s strategic position in the region. through Khar Dung la, supplies to Siachen and border areas are sourced.
Even during the peak of winter, the road to KharDung la remains open, even for civilians. Army is at work all the while to take care of the road and to clean it. If you are keen to see snow and white ladakh but have planned your trip during summer, trust KharDung la to astound you!
Alchi Monastery: Offbeat tourist attractions near Leh city
Located closer to Leh, you may visit Alchi monastery for a day trip. Alchi Monastic complex was built at least 1000 years from today and showcase a distinct architectural style. River Indus remains constant by her side. Hindu and Buddhist artistic features are prominent as well as the influence of Kahsmiri and Himachali kings in the complex. Of all the existing temples, Manjushree temple is the finest in terms of art and cultural value.
The movie Dil Se was filmed here. To be specific, a specific song of the movie Dil Se, Sat Rangi re was filed here. It is a dilapidated monastery with few ruins and an operational mosque which shares its boundary with a long standing Buddhist Gompha. Not a single living being was seen anywhere close by except for a monk. I could sense Ladakh’s vast wildness for the first time standing at the feet of Basgo Monastery. I recommend a visit to Basgo if you appreciate pristine place all to yourself!
Should you visit Tso Moriri from Leh as a day trip?
While Pangong Tso has hit the limelight thanks to Bollywood, Tso Moriri or Tso Kar remains obscure from the mainstream tourist gaze so far. To reach Tso Moriri and return to Leh on the same day, you need at least 18 hours a day. You start as early as 5 am and you will return by 10 pm. It is an undue risk and takes extreme toll on your health thanks to Ladakh’s extreme terrain. it is better to slow down and explore at peace. however, if you are too keen to see Tso Moriri, I would say it is not exactly impossible to visit Tso Moriri lake!
Staying Healthy in Leh
Numerous articles and social media posts suggest Leh is dangerous due to oxygen scarcity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me explain.
Leh is located at an astounding altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. High mountains and stark sunlight flourish the region. It is a drastic change from the natural habitat of most of the tourists.
It is possible you will find your oxygen level dropping in Leh in the first few days. Breathing could be a bit of a challenge when you find yourself climbing the staircases. With a mask as the new normal demands, it is possible that you will pant occasionally.
Please note, this is normal. In fact, I was speaking to this doctor from the Indian army posted in Leh. I had measured my Oxygen level because I can and I found it to be 87. I was alarmed and informed the doc and he suggested waiting till it drops to 70 when he would send me Oxygen cylinder! So, there you go!
Usually, your oxygen level would hover between 90 to 95. On occasions and extreme physical activities like trekking and all, you may experience oxygen level coming down. Many doctors recommend carrying small oxygen cans to provide extra support in such cases.
Acute Mountain Sickness
More than Oxygen scarcity, what really is troubling for Leh-Ladakh trip is AMS or acute Mountain Sickness or HAPE. The only way to safeguard yourself from AMS is to acclimatise and allow your body to adapt as you climb the soaring heights. ALways listen to your body, allow it to rest enough times before you start a new journey, and never rush. AMS leads to terrible headache, nausea and insomnia in mild cases and can be fatal if the condition remains untreated.
I was recommended to carry and eat a diamox and a paracetamol. I remember popping a diamox everyday at the breakfast table as we geared up to travel for that day!
For Covid and related precautions, please remember to mask up and carry a negative RTPCR report, especially if you are headed towards the remote parts of Ladakh! A mask can do wonder for you and for the world outside.
To buy the best souvenirs from Leh, I recommend heading for the Leh market. It is a thriving market place with plenty of products on display. The sellers journey from far off places and carry along homegrown or handmade organic food and herbs and artworks.
If you are keen on buying gourmet items as souvenirs please pick almonds and walnuts and the creme de la creme of Ladakh’s organic produce, apricot! Apricot bloom in Ladakh is one of the best seasons to witness nature’s colours in the mountains! Sea buckthorn juice and tea are some of the clever finds in Leh which helps one fight the tolling altitude gains.
I look out for antique masks in Leh. I often pick Topaz studded silver jewelry from the tiny shops. Many shops are inundated with produce from Kashmir. Leh relies on Srinagar for an unhindered supply chain, especially during the harsh and prolonged white winter months. Many Kashmiri families have moved to Leh and started with business in the city.
If you are keen on buying woolen products, Leh has plenty of options. The one I prefer the most is thrift shopping from the army barracks. These are products specifically designed and made for the army guys. Sold at throw away prices, these products are the best protective gear against the pressing cold you will face during a trip to Leh. prices for a good quality of socks starts from INR 50. Not even Decathlon can compete with the price point. I also particularly love the wooden yaks sold at antique markets. These walnut wood yaks are worshipped as totems in old villages of Leh!
Where to eat in Leh
Lei grows and abundance number and variants of berries protein rich nuts and fruits are available at the Indus valley villages as well apart from that thanks to high altitude and Ladakh primary being a cold desert a hardly sees fertile agricultural lands. Whatever is produced in le is organic and fruit of hard soil.
Usually gets its own share of supply from the plane lands through Manali Srinagar and Chandigarh. What the this cross gets transported through the high passes and reaches the furthest of secure rural corner of Ladakh.
However Le has a long-standing culture of tandoor where daily bread is baked at the local bakeries and then the household gets their share of weekly supply. The cafes in Leh market are carefully e desktop to remind you of the olden days when Leh was thriving place melting flower pot of many cultures and thread traders. Do try the seasonal fruits apples, dried mint, overwhelmingly flavourful lamb to cooked with yam and rich in fragrant organic spices. Short grained red rices is a specialty of Ladakhi cuisine. To cater to the tourist influx however Leh has trained hospitality partners with various types of food. I was pleasantly surprised to see a big spread of Burmese khao suey at The Grand Dragon Ladakh.
Try the following cafes at Leh market:
Lehvenda Cafe: Local and continental food are available. Great wifi speed to work from.
Amdo Cafe: Try momo and thentuks. Mostly Tibetan food
Ja Khang: Run by an NGO group, serves coffee and great place to read a book and spend an afternoon
Namja Dining: Great Local Ladakhi food and a very kind owner
Metta cafe: Funky vibes and best coffee in nLeh city
My Cafe: Great Location and great View. Try coffee with homemade desserts
Where to stay in Leh
During my second time traveling in Leh during winter months of February, I stayed at the Grand Dragon Ladakh! It is one of the few Luxury properties Leh has in the city.
It is extremely important to choose a comfortable stay in Leh as you explore the city and the rest of ladakh.
Comfort might be a good thing to have at various other destinations but in the case of Leh, comfort is an essential thing. I say this after traveling to Leh more than once. The first time, I stayed at a homestay. While it was a very decent and cosy experience, nights were excruciatingly painful.
In the evenings we used to sit by the bonfire and munch on onion fritters. Apart from those few hours nights where task to deal with. I remember eating with spoon and gulping down a glass of warm water being mindful of not in taking too much water lest I need to get up in the middle of the night.
You need a place in Leh which is centrally heated. Specially when travel fatik gets the better of you you need a comfortable space to to spend the night. The Grand Dragon hotel Ladakh perfectly fits the bill it racist experience a few notches above with a touch of luxury and thoughtful editions and a minute is like high speed Wi-Fi and a lavish buffet.
Indulge for a few nights of luxury stays in in a because as you leave the city and venture into the hinterlands of rural Ladakh chances are you will have to spend your nights at makeshift tent where electric supply is limited only for 3 to 4 hours each day.
What to pack for Leh trip
While packing for Leh, you must consider it is a cold desert. While the mornings are long and sunny, nights are bitter cold and chilly! Winds will sway you when you stand at the edge of the craggy hills.
You would ideally be visiting Leh during summer. The adventurous souls would venture into Leh during winter. If you ask me, I choose to visit Leh and the rest of Ladakh during October, at the start of fall colours or in Mid March, when the spring makes apricot blooms adorn the mountains.
Either way, you should pack enough woollens for the prolonged cold nights of Leh. Let me list down for your convenience:
Sweater (at least 2)
Cap that cover your ears
Enough sun block
Socks at least a couple of pairs (in case one gets wet when you dip your feet in lakes)
Long boots protecting against snow and helping you to trek in hilly terrains
Jackets ideally waterproof in case it snows
Snacks that will come handy on the road journey
Your favourite playlist for the road (prepare beforehand)
Things to remember while traveling in Leh
I have given you all the tips I have gathered while traveling in Leh. These are practical travel experiences that I learn from many trips to the beautiful mountains. I have added a lot from my personal research as well. To reiterate, and make your 5 days trip to Leh a grand success, I will highlight the things you need to remember while traveling in Leh-Ladakh!
Ladakh is the state (Union Territory to be specific). Leh is the capital.
You may visit Leh, stay for 5 to 7 days and conduct many day trips to the nearby attractions if you are not keen on traveling to further distant land with less amenities.
Ladakh is a beautiful place however due to low air pressure, traveling is mostly reserved for physically fit and younger travel groups.
Acclimatize, acclimatize, acclimatize.
Visit Leh market.
To travel around tourist attraction from Leh city, you should ideally go with the taxi union in the city. The drivers are mostly courteous and honest. Tourist rip-off in Ladakh is not heard of much however the destination is indeed expensive!
Carry medicine, the essential ones, Diamox, paracetamols and if possible, small Oxygen cans.
If road to Pangong Tso or Nubra is closed due to heavy snow fall, head towards the villages of Kargil from Leh. Do not forget to explore the ancient monasteries. Plan your trip to a monastery where annual Cham dance practice takes place to experience beautiful culture of Ladakh!
While Leh may not be as beautiful as many other parts of Ladakh thanks to increased human presence, do not let that take away anything from experiencing this destination. Just a few kilometers drive from Leh city you can experience wild vast nature at her best!
It snows in Leh in peak winter season. It can be scorching hot in Leh in the summer months. Either way, the nights are ice cold.
It is imperative to travel responsibly in Ladakh, not just Leh specifically. It is an extremely fragile region of Himalaya with ecology vulnerable to various changes. Global causes and the raging issue of climate change have imprinted their demonic presence on the mountains that guard the land of Ladakh. You would see that as you alight at the Leh airport from a flights. Locals lament of the non existence of cold weather. They say Leh used to be different twenty years back.
While tourism has been one of the predominant ways to make money and grow business for the locals of Leh, it has brought in its own vices as well. For example, there is rampant plastic pollution. Even at the height of Pangong Tso I saw plastics encroaching the pristine marshland which was once owned by the migratory birds. Increased risk of geopolitics have exposed the region to an ugly face of diplomacy. Bunkers and army strongholds are present everywhere. These construction sites are essential for the nation’s safety yet they pose a danger for the world!
I am just a girl who loves to travel. I try to put forward my best efforts to conserve nature and set off my carbon footprint as I plan my travels. For Ladakh too, I was mindful and tried my best.
To begin with I cut down on consuming water from plastic. I do not drink tea. But if I would, I would only trust paper cups. I eat mostly vegetarian meals on long travels, not because I like it but because I feel my body rejects meat cooked outside after a couple of days in a row. I love my dal and rice. I eat fish though, if available. In Ladakh, fish is a rarity.
Being a responsible traveler also means knowing one’s limitations and taking Covid scare seriously. If you feel you are going to be sick, and you shall bring the curse of infection on other people, albeit unknowingly, stay away from visiting distant places. Medication and hospitalization are luxury in certain parts of the world, including Leh.
Ask permission before taking pictures. Do not pluck fruits and flowers from orchards unless you are allowed permission (I can not believe I am to write this but yeah).
Please please please do not pee at the mountain streams while traveling in and around Leh. They are essential source of water for many locals and small villages. Your litters and biological waste could be lethal for the locals of Ladakh.
Buddhist lent is observed with reverence in Leh. Many devout men would not utter a single word and eat only vegetarian meals during this times. Leh town also sees elaborate procession during Muharram. Please be respectful to the local customs and rituals.
While Leh enjoys mostly unhindered supply of electric, many homestays relies on solar power. Please be mindful how and when you decide to consume electric in Leh.
Traveling in Leh brings in deluge of mellow memories in my mind. I always come back with a promise to return to this vast obscure landmass, full of possibilities. Sparse populace, risk of geo-political shift, ancient monasteries, cultural and trade routes and many more layers of hidden chapters of history- Leh safeguards all of these and more! Plan your trip to Leh during fall colors or in spring, by mid march when the nature is beaming with apricot bloom, quite a phenomena!
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About this blog: We traveled to Chikmagalur after Bengaluru unlocked. It was a weekend trip from Bangalore. We stayed in Chikmagalur for 4 days, relaxing in the lap of the Western Ghats dazzling in the warmth of monsoon rains. An apt weekend destination, Chikmagalur is a rewarding road trip from Bengaluru, with plethora of cultural experiences, ancient temples of Belur and Halebidu, sumptuous Benne Dosa doused with butter, aromatic filter coffee and rolling hills covered with a blanket of evergreen forestland! If you are planning a trip to Chikmagalur, read this blog with essential travel tip sand secret finds!
Nights roll into days slowly as we count yet another spin around the Earth’s vertebrate. Homo Sapiens around the world patiently await normalcy. Nature reclaims the sprawling fields. Monsoon clouds roar. White night illuminates the poles and yet there is no “chaser” posing and rejoicing.
Visiting Chikmagalur was our frantic and desperate attempt to break the mundane and get closer to nature. As close as we could.
The second wave in India was nerve-wracking. After a prolonged slumber of a few months, we were slowly coming out of the shell. Bangalore unlocked. First for the weekdays, then for the weekends. The night curfews are still in place? Are the pubs and bars open yet? Are they serving alcohol? Is Coorg allowing tourists? Eager questions floated around. The state buses painted in red eventually hit the Karnataka highways connecting state’s hinterlands to the city that boasts of India’s info-tech prowess, Bangalore.
We were hesitant to move out of Karnataka. What if we get stuck in Goa? What if Delhi undergoes the same eerie silence once again? What if we end up in a hospital without an oxygen cylinder? The what ifs are a scary zone, forever ruining the travel space. In current circumstances, they are all the more pressing.
Let us go to Chikmagalur!
We chose Chikmagalur. Not because we were keen on Chikmagalur. But the rest of the options were weighing heavier. Coorg, Goa and Pondicherry, the hot favourites of weekend destinations from Bangalore were cut off the list due to accessibility issues.
We had little to zero expectations from Chikmagalur. We knew the small hill town tucked away in the western ghats is famous for lush green coffee trails. But that is more or less the usual story of all of Western Ghats. What more? We searched the world of web and found a few trails and monsoon treks which were again off the list due to the small kid accompanying us. What more? There was no answer but we had no other options. “At least Chikmagalur lets us get away from the bustle of morose Bengaluru.” We said to ourselves. “At least this will be a holiday!” We thought.
Boy oh boy, couldwe have been more wrong?
S had been to Chikmagalur before. He said it is a place located right at the heart of nature. You do not have much to do there. You do not need much to do here. He stressed the last sentence but I did not quite trust him.
Preparing for a road trip to Chikmagalur from Bangalore
At the wee hours of a monsoon morning, we started from Bengaluru. Driving to Chikmagalur requires you to drive the car for about 5 hours covering 243 km. In between, you come across a few toll gates and pit stops serving Mangalore special fish dishes or Bengaluru famous Empire chains.
The sky was overcast. The roads were long stretched and empty. The birds chirped sitting on the swaying palms dotting country roads. I felt elated as soon as we crossed the city boundary.
We had rented a car from Sawari rentals. The driver, Sai hailed from Hassan, a tier two city located midway between Bengaluru and Chikmagalur. He was blind at the heart of Bengaluru but manoeuvred the car like a trained stallion on NH 75.
We rented an Innova. The middle sit was perfect for a toddler who usually stays protected on a car seat. For 4 days it charged us 14 thousand INR. That included driver’s stay and food and a total commute distance of 900 km. Sai was a nice man who hardly spoke a word and surprisingly did not play music while driving. At the top of Mullayanagiri, he was more eager to click a selfie than the rest of the group! I recommend Sai highly if you are traveling with a family.
The Western Ghats had packed a Surprise for our trip to Chikmagalur!
We say Chikmagalur but we were heading for a holiday at the foothills of Western Ghats. The iconic and ancient bio reserve, a UNESCO heritage sight that stands tall along the west of the Indian peninsula and an important factor for deciding climate factors for the rest of the country, Western Ghats is a minefield of experiences for a keen observer! The snow-capped Himalayas (think Tawang, Sikkim, Ladakh, Kargil and likes) steal the limelight on the gram but monsoon in the Western Ghats elevates the region to an ethereal aura. We had rented a hotel at Chikmagalur. The idea was to explore tourist attractions, a few peaks, plantations and beautiful lakes but head back to the usual comforts of a town by the end of the day.
Chikmagalur is a small town that came to prosperity with the boom of coffee trade. Baba Budan Giri’s Coffee plantation produces export quality coffee. It also happens to be the oldest plantation area in India. It has an interesting story of travel and pilgrimage associated with it. We will come to that later.
A little of it remains for local filter coffee consumption and the rest seamlessly gets shipped internationally. In early days, a few plantations opened their doors for experimental travelers. A family looking to spend the summer in the hills. A writer looking for a peaceful nook. A heartbroken lover seeking to deal with grief in the silence of towering trees. Chikmagalur was the secret gateway for all of them. The city grew. More footsteps followed suit. A few luxury properties bloomed in the dense forests of Chikmagalur. The Serai. Java rain resort. Trivik.
The hotels were beautiful but not prettier than the small town. It had a lot of characters. Two parallel roads run simultaneously with a thriving marketplace. I could walk there all day! A few small cafes. Coffee selling shops. Bakeries. Several silk saree shops. Old buildings with distinct architecture. A number of Canteens for a quick refreshment. Chikmagalur surprised us with the number of eateries. Arabic food was found in plenty.
I have previously stayed at a Rainforest Resort in Madikeri. The Taj Madikeri Resort is one of India’s finest and I remember the couple of days I spent in the absolute splendor of nature’s bounty. Vacations like them are tailor cut for the royalty. For the traveler keen on exploring local society, it is important to find a balance between nature and a semi-urban set up. I recommend you stay at the heart of the Chikmagalur Town if you are traveling on a budget.
We stayed at Hotel Aadrika Chikmagalur. This was a three star property located right at the heart of the city. Here is my honest review.
Pros of staying at Hotel Aadrika:
Centrally located. The bus depot is located right next to it. The auto stand is walking distance.
Market place is very close. So is a bakery and super markets.
Plenty of eating joints are operational outside. Swiggy and Zomato make food delivery a smooth experience.
The Service is nice and prompt.
Rooms are large enough. Rooms had large TV for Netflix and chill kinda days.
Food was decent. They allowed us to heat food for the child.
Cons of staying at Aadrika
They charge for water beyond two bottles of mineral bottles.
They charge of ice.
They charged for cutlery. That was a new thing!
Wi-fi was weak.
Overall, if you have your own wifi and carrying disposable plates, Aadrika was a decent hotels. We chose rooms with balcony. One had a view of the main road. the other one was looking at the hill ranges afar. Nothing outstanding though.
You may choose to watch my 4 part long travel vlogs from Chikmagalur. We traveled to Chikmagalur in July end, at the peak of monsoon. These travel vlogs are created in Bengali.
One day, the driver Sai said, most people come here to relax. I could not agree more. If you have seen our travel vlog series from Chikmagalur, you would know. We were mostly inside the hotel for four days. Except for a few hours when we were driving around the town or the hills. It was a nice little gateway with curated experiences that spanned from culture to nature to gourmet delights. I am gonna list out my favourite things to do in Chikmagalur so that when you plan your next trip to the hill station with family, you can add some of these to your Chikmagalur bucket list!
10 Beautiful Cultural Experiences from Chikmagalur Roadtrip!
List of the best things to do in and around Chikmagalur!
Chikmagalur lies in close proximity to the ancient western ghat hills. The protected bio reserve has a rich history of flora, fauna and cultural ties of the region. Let alone coffee, the hills are often frequented by the Royal Bengal Tigers. Did you know Karnataka has the highest population of Royal Bengal tiger in India (and not the Sundarbans of West Bengal)?
Explore the ancient Hoysala temple clusters of Belud and Halebidu
On the way to Chikmagalur from Karnataka, you will come across the stunning Chennakeshava temple from the days of the Hoysala dynasty. It is located at Belur, a little ahead of the Hassan city. Hassan itself is famous for the Gorur dam on Hemavathi river. The fish dishes we eat in Karnataka are mostly procured from Hassan.
Belur is often referred to as the Varanasi of south India in ancient texts. The Hoysalas ruled the region in the early 11th century and Belur was the state capital. In recent times, the Chennakeshava or Keshava temple of Belur and Hoysaleswara temple of Halebidu have been proposed to be included in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites from India.
The massive Gopura of Kesava temple of Belur city can be spotted from a distance. The Hoysala emblem of a lion is very much visible at Belur temple. Chenna Keshava temple is made from soft rocks. The finery and intricate detailing on the temple walls are comparable to that of Ajanta Ellora.
You need at least a couple of hours to study all the details engraved on the walls of these temples. The stories date back to contemporary life, courtroom, reign of the rulers, kings and queens, dancers and mythical depictions of Mahabharat and Puranas! Keep an eye open for the music instruments depicted through the stone work. It is a wonder how these artworks sustained the gnaw of time through thousand years and remained intact!
Pro tip: For a rather unusual experience, head to the Amrutesvara temple located in Shimoga district, closer to the town of Chikmagalur. The ancient Hoysala temple is dedicated to Vishnu. It was established by Amrita Dandanayaka, an army general from the king’s troops.
Explore the Stunning Coffee Trails of ancient Mountains, Chikmagalur
Located in the Malenadu region of Karnataka, the land of rain, Chikmagalur has a perfectly moderate climate for growing coffee! The plantations and estates are found everywhere as you leave the city behind and head towards the hills.
In India, coffee was first cultivated in the hills of Chikmagalur. Precisely the reason why the rolling hills in this part of the Western Ghats are specifically known as “Land of Coffee”.
As we approached the base of Mullayanagiri, we came across sprawling acres of coffee plantation. Estates and plantation workers have claimed the lower parts of the hills, somewhat reminding me of Darjeeling and the road to Kaziranga.
Variants like Arabica and Robusta grow here in tonnes. The finest Coffee of Chikmagalur is exported from India. Price of coffee in Chikmagalur ranges from 200 to 11000 per kg.
To experience the best of coffee trails of Chikmagalur, you need to spend a few nights at an estate. Ideally, choose to stay at one of the old estates, to taste the authentic old world charm of the land of coffee. Most of these estates are family run properties. You may come across a few guns in the living room. This is to scare away the wildlife, I was told.
“Wildlife frequents here?”
“Yes, many. Elephants, deer. Sometimes tigers. Though they shy away from humans.”
Buy Filter Coffee when Traveling in Chikmagalur
Traveling to Chikmagalur and not buying a packet of filter coffee equates to blasphemy! Many brands sell myriad varieties of coffee but try to get your pack from either Jayanthi cafe or Panduranga. Running since the days of India’s independence, Panduranga coffee is a family run business. The shop is centrally located at the market. It is run by a group of efficient local women.
At Panduranga Coffee experience center, I even found a classic filter kapi mug, dazzling in the glitters of gold! Perfect for a discerning traveler to collect as a souvenir. The lower bottom of this set is to help you blend the filter concentrate with that of a thick later of milk.
Glide to the Western Ghats, Especially in Rainy Chikmagalur
It is always a delight to be in the Western Ghats during the monsoon. The Monsoon in the Himalayas could be scary with shooting stones and sudden cloudbursts. Western Ghats are relatively tolerant. The clouds come down to kiss your cheeks. The greens soothe your eyes. The air breeze smells of fresh pollens. Mist and drizzle come hand in hand to romance you on the road. Nameless streams trickle down the tall mountains and the roads get inundated with overflowing fountains.
During the monsoon, taking a bath in these mountain streams is a thing here. In Vagamon, I had seen a few water trucks filling up at these fountains. The higher up you go the purity of water becomes more desirable!
The rainforest on the Western Ghats becomes a living thriving form of a whistling being! It is a world afar, from the world known to mere mortals. I can go on with the praise but the truth is you need to be there to understand! Riding in the mountains of Western Ghats during monsoon feels a lot like a green dream. A little hazy with the mist. A little risky with the constant shower. But fresh and alive! I felt like being one with the world!
The forest being a protected area and home to a number of rare wildlife, visiting Mullayanagiri may require you to cross a few check point. Carry your vaccination certificates if you are fully vaccinated.
At 6300 ft, Mullayanagiri Peak is the highest hilltop of Karnataka. Standing at the edge of it, your eyes will sweep through vast acres of green rolling hills. Being a soothing climate area, you will always find a cold breeze reaching the top of the hill. However, you can also start the day early and reach the top as soon as the day breaks for a cleaner view. It felt a lot like visiting the sky cable bridge of Langkawi.
Many choose to trek through the mountains, follow the marked trail and reach the top. It is easily accessed by car and then followed by 200 steps. Due to excess mist and absolutely zero visibility, I did not climb further. Men standing a few meters ahead were whistling and blowing yet I could not see a single face. By the way, many rowdy groups of young men were playing music in high volume. I would have shrieked had I had seen their faces!
On the way back, stop at the Siri Cafe and enjoy a soothing cup of coffee and snacks from the comfort of a pretty decked up eatery.
The Shrine of Baba Budan Giri
Baba Budan is a famed Sufi preacher. He is the man who brought the first grain of coffee from his Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The story goes back to the 16th century. He is known to have brought 7 seeds of coffee plants which clearly started a new era of coffee plantations in Karnataka and the rest of India gradually.
Baba Budan giri hill is located at an elevation of 1800 meter. It is known as Dattatray Peeta among the Hindus who visit there as a part of a pilgrimage. Caves and waterfalls adorn the area. However, every 12 years the hills see a spectacular phenomenon of Kurinji flower bloom.
Witness Mesmerizing Sunset at Hirekolale Lake
About 9 km from the center of Chikmagalur, located is a beautiful freshwater lake named Hirecolale. The ride to this lake is a short distance. It is a beautiful ride crossing a number of quint little villages. Life unfolds in myriad colours at the local houses. Try to visit during sunset on a sunny day and find the lake coloured in bright red hues! It is a pleasant walk and much suited for a family holiday.
Head to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary: One of th eoffbeat Tourist Attraction in Chikmagalur
While the way to Mullayanagiri was dotted with marked trail announcing frequent tiger crossing or deer areas, for a close encounter with the elusive tiger, head to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. Safari takes place from morning 6: 30 to 9 am and in the afternoon it starts from 3 pm for 3 hours. Stop at Hebbe (Staircase waterfall) on the way.
The best time to visit the sanctuary is from October to April. In the monsoon months, roads are often inundated with overflowing mountain streams. Do opt for a night stay at the jungle lodges.
Cafe Hopping at Chikmagalur
Chikmagalur has a number of beautiful cafes. I assume the cafe culture in the town slowly grew with more number of tourists flying in to the city.
We chose to visit cafe Agape but that was closed. Cafe Agape had good reviews. We headed for Jayanthi Cafe instead. More than a cafe, Jayanthi cafe was an experiment center elaborating on the history of coffee arriving in India. Despite looking stunningly beautiful, Jayanthi Cafe was extremely slow in providing service. They had interesting stuff like blue berry cheese case and Vietnamese coffee in the menu. It was a hang out zone for the young and enthusiasts of Chikmagalur. I say this by looking at the crowd!
Binge Eat Bene Dosa at Town Canteen, Chikmagalur
In normal circumstances, I would have never paid attention to benne Dosa. Sorry, pardon this naïve Bengali girl. But then Town Canteen Happened to me and the one thing I look for in Bangalore these days is a good meal of Benne dosa. The crispy fried dosa with crunchy outer layer and beautiful dollops of butter dripping through its side is a beauty to behold. the Town Canteen in Chikmagalur is famous for serving the best Benne Dos and aromatic strong Filter coffee for half a century (or more?) and attracts customers from all over the globe! The menu is simple, in fact non existent. It is either masala dosa or crispy dosa with extra bene (butter). You can order for more sambhar and you will be served!
Heaven cometh to your plate!
Things to eat at Chikmagalur
For the four days we were at Chikmagalur, we made it a point to order in on a daily basis for our dinner. We chose to eat Arabic cuisine mostly because the kebabs were lip smacking. they did try to smuggle some of the North Indian Mughlai dishes in the name of Arabic. But they belonged to nowhere yet managed to taste decent. I will list down a few must try food items when you are in Chikmagalur.
Order in Mutton biryani from Maharaja restaurant. A variant of donne biryani with bright yellow rice grains, the Dum Biryani of Maharaja restaurant was generous to feed 4 hungry souls for breakfast. need I say more?
Do order Mutton Chatpata Kebab from Table Top restaurant. It is one of the finest kebabs of the world. Overwhelmingly good!
The Chicken Shawarmas are generally a safe bait if you are a picky eater.
The bakery served a beautiful milk cake. But the pasties were horrible.
We traveled to Chikmagalur from Bangalore right after the second lockdown. The rules were a bit relaxed but not entirely loosened. There was makeshift RAT testing camps as you approached the road leading to Mullayanagiri Peak. Shops were closed after 9 pm. Delivery was also scheduled within 9 pm. Night curfew was in place and widely followed. The cafes had locals incoming when we were visiting Chikmagalur. Needless to say, mask and sanitization is being carried on every step of restaurants, hotels, cafes, shops and everywhere.
Have you visited Chikmagalur? Traveling to Chikmagalur proved to me a beautiful surprise where we chanced witness the splendid nature of western Ghats during monsoon. We crossed multiple streams and fountains as ice cold wind caressed our hair! Visit the mountains before the lockdown is eased out completely and thousands rush. The charm of Chikmagalur is reserved for the first few.
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One of the regular Bengali idioms goes, “Mache Bhate Bengali.” A Bengali is ideally grown with a staple diet of rice and fish. In recent times, I have been binging a lot of YouTube Vlogs by Bengali lifestyle creators and I eagerly look forward to seeing the day’s fish cooked at their house. It is one of the most delightful experiences of their daily life!
Traditionally, the man of the house goes to the fish market at the start of the day. The earlier you go, the better fish you get. As the day progresses, only the leftover fishes remain at the shop, ogling at you to be taken, lest they end up raw in a cat’s stomach. The man brings the fish home. The woman sits in the courtyard, uses a handful of ash and cleans those fishes.
Her responsibility is to cook a fresh fish curry and serve it with piping hot rice just before the man leaves for office, Aapish. I have read a lot of similar accounts in Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee’s short stories from 60‘s Bengal. I have seen a somewhat similar life at my grandparents’ home.
My dida, the maternal grandmother, was a school teacher. However, she would be very particular while cleansing and cooking the fresh fishes that my retired Dadu would bring home from the morning market. One particularly intriguing thing was to see her cleanse the Jiol fishes, a type of catfish that remains alive in the air for a certain period. I would sit by her side, along with a few cats. The cats waited for the discarded parts of the fish. The wiggling bodies of the fish intrigued me the most, even after they were cut into halves.
In a hurry, the fish curries were made aided by the least amount of spices. The aroma of freshwater fish and a few fiery hot chillies blended superbly with a dash of mustard oil that melted better than ghee with the steaming hot rice.
For elaborate fish affairs, like Paturi or Bhape or Kaliya, we had to wait for a special occasion. Say a Bhai Fonta or a Jamai Shashthi. Or the annual family meet held right after Bijoya Dashami, Durgapuja. A couple of fish followed by slow-cooked Mutton accompanied with white rice. Life seemed good!
Gone are the days when we had to wait to cook a feast for a special occasion. I can do it any day I want to. But I refrain. I count my calories. I count the time I need to burn them by running on the treadmill. Or I just conveniently skip a meal or two. Sometimes, I just cook in volume on a weekend. Weekdays are for work. How will I do more? I wonder how dida juggled between a full time job, rearing hobbies like Bangla serials and library and maintaining a family. She helped my mother bring up two kids too. She was indeed a super woman.
Fish is a staple in our Bengali household. In some places, it was evident, like Kolkata and her suburbs. In some places it appeared in lesser volume but it appeared nonetheless! My father’s family hails from Bankura. The rivers in Bankura, a region located at the meeting point of Chotonagpur Plateau and Gangetic plains, was devoid of the water originating from the glaciers of the Himalayas! Fishes were found but they were less in number and very little in variations. I remember the beautiful Onion and Tomato rosha that my paternal grandmother used to cook frequently which used a little to no spice mix.
Both sides of my family can trace back their origin in Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan. They migrated to India after the partition of the subcontinent. The fish items I eat have a heavy influence on all these regions. The fish I cooked today, with a little help from my partner, also has heavy influence from the cuisine of East Bengal.
In this blog post, I will highlight a few fish dishes deemed to be all time favourites by the Bengalis beyond borders. Food doesn’t understand politics, geographical boundaries, or international diplomacy. It understands intangible cultural heritage and traces back the invisible footprint of each family, together who make a clan and form a community. The Bengali fish dishes testify to that fact. Born to the resourceful soil of Gangetic plains, they have withstood the gnaw of a turbulent political upheaval yet remained steadfast in their distinct smell and taste and style of cooking. This makes for an intriguing study of the human race!
Bhetki Paturi: Sea Bass Wrapped in Plantain leaves and Steamed
The much acclaimed Kolkata bhetki or Sea bass actually finds an easy entry to Bengali cuisine. The British colonists also became fond of the fresh fish with white odourless flesh that was suitable to be cooked in French dressing.
White Bhetki is cooked very well with cauliflowers, the fresh yield of winter fields, a special feast demands Bhetki Paturi. Answering to Patrani macchi, which is dear to every Parsi household, Bhetki Paturi uses Posto and Sorshe mix (Poppy seed and mustard paste) along with grated coconut and a slice of green chili. The mix with a fillet of boneless Bhetki is wrapped carefully in a leaf, ideally a plantain leaf. In the absence of plantain, you may also use pumpkin leaves.
Steam the paturi on a slow flame and use a little bit of mustard oil to ensure they do not stick to the pan. Bhetki paturi serves best with rice or Basanti Polau!
Daab Chingri: Mellow Prawn dish cooked inside the shell of a green coconut
Daab chingri is a mellow prawn curry cooked in a very rustic way. I have tasted a similar dish in Saigon, at the Mekong delta. Just the spices used were different.
Earlier, the Bengali kitchen had widespread use of an earth oven in the kitchen, fueled by coal or woods. You could easily take a daab, a green coconut. Deshell a few prawns. Saute them for a few minutes with a paste of poppy seeds and mustard. Put the mix inside a coconut shell and close the mouth with flour. Slow cook this beautiful dish inside the lusty fire of Unun, the earth oven. After 20 minutes, take the coconut shell out of the heat.
Days have changed and I have adapted newer ways to cook Daab chingri at home. I use the pressure cooker instead. Sometimes, I trust the microwave. Nonetheless, Daab chingri turns out to be a favourite across generations!
Katla Kaliya: A delectable carp curry served at Bengali weddings
Katla or Rui is often called Pona Mach in bengali households. Many say they can make a difference in taste. To be honest I can not. However, I love both the fishes, hailing from the carp family. The bigger they are, the tastier they become. For a traditional Bengali wedding, a large katla is usually sent to the girl’s house. Katla fish is used as a whole in Bengali cuisine. The fish head goes in vegetables medley or daal. The egg is made into fritters. The oil is made into Bora.
Katla Kaliya is a beautiful rich spicy gravy made of onion, tomatoes, green chilies and a lot of spices, Kashmiri red chili being the dominant one among them. I always make sure to pick my prized piece, a peti with white oil bordering the side. S likes the Gada. These two are the prized pieces of a Katla fish. If you opt for a large Katla, the fisherman often gives you the Lyaja (tail) of the fish for free!
Chitol Macher Muitha
Chitol is a freshwater fish which is largely popular in North Bengal and parts of East bengal. Chitol peti is a prized cut of fish which has the right balance of white fish flesh as well as ample amount of oil.
To make Muitha, a side of chitol is ideally scooped. The technique is a secret skill of Bengali fishermen. I have not found anyone else who prepares chitol with that mastery. Everyone is keen on selling Chitol Peti instead which is decent nonetheless.
Scoop them, make a ball with some spices, boil them in hot water, fry them until they merge well into a gravy. This is how Chitol Muitha is made. It is often served with steamed rice. A spicy dish, Chitol Muitya is slowly getting lost in the list of the lost recipes of Bengali cuisine!
Mourola Macher Chochori
Mourola is a tiny fish. However it sells at a high price since the availability is rare. If you know Puti, Mourala has also come to your radar. Usually they are sold from the same lot where they are farmed. However, Mourala is way tastier than Puti in my opinion. Mourala is often served fried in golden brown. You may also choose to cook mourala into a chorchori style, with ample amounts of onions, tomatoes and topped with generous amounts of coriander leaves! Amodi, Kajori are fishes of similar shape and taste which can be turned into a beautiful chorchori too. Use more oil and refrain from frying the fish. It enhances the taste!
Boal Macher Kalo Jire diye Jhol
I have recently found my love for this extremely beautiful fish curry. To make the best of this dish, opt for Boal fish as large as you get. Nothing less than 5 kg will do justice to this dish. Make large steaks. if you have found a black boal, you are a fortunate soul. If it is a white boal, it is still okay.
Temper mustard oil with generous amount of nigella seeds. This process will be the crux of the taste of this particular fish curry. Slowly add in a paste of tomato and onions and green chilies. Add in the boal. Are they fresh? You do not need to fry them then. If not fresh, Fry them briefly. Finish the dish with a handful of coriander leaves. Serve Boal macher Rosha with piping hot rice for lunch!
I have heard a lot about Shutki, the dried fish of Bengal. The practice of drying fish is widespread in East Bengal, especially in the areas closer to the sea. We have seen similar practices in Tamil Nadu, Goa (dried prawns with coconut chutney), and some parts near Ganga Sagar and Sundarban area in West Bengal.
However, it took me ages to start appreciating the quirky smell and taste of Shutki, as they call it in dried fish. It is often used as a derogatory term to depict a thin person.
S has his family from Dhaka, who loved cooking shutki, dried fish. They run marathon experiments with the dish and surprisingly Shutki turns out triumphant, never letting us be disappointed! We have added pumpkins and drumsticks to the extremely spicy connotation, thrown in some half boiled eggs, and made the spice quotient excessively high. We had a one pot meal bowl with shutki and quinoa. Shutki smiled and said, “See, how mind blowing I can be!”
The only challenge I found in the process of cooking shutki is to deal with the nauseating stench of dried fish. Over time, I have become used to it. You will, too if you are a real fish lover! Do not forget to cleanse dried fish in boiled water once you have received the packet. the fish is often dried by sea side and the sand gets stuck like sugar drops stay glued to a bag of candies!
Sobji Diye Macher Jhol, Fish Stew cooked with vegetables (Winter Special)
This is my happy meal of fish curry and rice. A green basket of vegetables gets poured into the kadai that cooks this mellow fish stew, ideally with small sized carps (Charapona). The fish curry remits an inexplicable aroma of the fresh vegetables of winter, looks delicious with all the crunchy pieces of Sobji. Cauliflowers, potatoes, peas, carrots, radish: whatever you find make sure you add them to the stew. The vegetables them their own aura, and when that gets mixed with the fishy smell, the whole thing just gets elevated to a different level! Heaven will be brought to your plate. This is a great accompaniment with a bowl of steaming rice however I think this makes for a great one pot meal too if you are on a protein heavy & zero carb diet!
Tel Koi, Climbing perches cooked with Mustard Oil
At the beginning of winter, the Bengali fish markets witness the slow and shy appearance of Koi mach, climbing perches. Many Bengali mythologies tell the tale of Koi fish climbing a towering banyan tree on a rainy afternoon!
In Bangalore, I have spent my hard earned money and ended up having Chinese Koi (Hybrid of some sort I reckon) which broke my heart and I stay away from buying Koi altogether. However, in Kolkata, Koi is a winter staple, just like Hilsa is a monsoon staple!
To prepare Tel koi, choose the freshest yields of the day. Fresh Koi fish ensures the fish secretes enough oil that actually infuses heavenly aroma in the dish. Cook them in mustard oil in a mix of ginger and tomato paste. The oil is to be tempered with kalo jire, nigella seeds.
Pabda has a buttery white flesh that blends very well with any mix of spices. You can add little water and make a stew with negligible amount of spice or you may make a rich gravy of mustard paste and add the cat fishes in it. Pabda stands apart either way.
To identify a desi breed of pabda, which is tastier than the hybrid gigantic looking ones, look for a tiny black dot near its gill. This is also known to be Kani Pabda.
Mustard is used in abundance in Bengali fish items. Mustard paste is made of an equal amount of black and rai (white) mustard grains. Make sure you add in a little bit of salt while preparing the mustard paste to ensure it does not taste bitter. To cut the sharpness of mustard it is a good practice to add some yoghurt or poppy seed paste.
Begun Diye Tengda Macher Jhol
A type of catfish, Tengda is a great tasting freshwater fish In Bangalore we only find white Tengdas. In Kolkata we used to find these dark black desi Tengdas, tiny in size and often sold live from a shallow pot of water. They taste exquisite!
I love Tengda. They make for excellent light jhols cooked with a little addition of turmeric, chilies, ginger paste and coriander leaves. Mother used to cook these tengda with a gentle amount of eggplant slices cooked in long shapes. You can also cook tengra tel jhal, an iconic Bengali fish item where the fish is cooked alongside the spice mix directly on the kadai. In both cases, ensure you get very fresh fish. If you find frozen fish, the best practice is to fry them a little beforehand!
Ilish Mach Bhape
The crown jewel of the class of Bengali fish of all times, steamed Hilsa or Ilish Bhape is not just another fish dish. It is an emotion. It is a celebration!
“Padmar ilish”, the hilsa of Padma river now a part of Bangladesh, is a much coveted treasured item. People seek Padma Ilish as it has appeared multiple times in literary references of Bengalis. The government has taken legal steps to cut down on the supply of Khokha ilish, tiny hilsas sold for a cheaper rate that takes a toll on the hilsa population in the long run.
Steamed Hilsa demands fresh, very fresh Hilsa. We usually mix in all the ingredients, with mustard being the primary binder and a copious amount of mustard oil. We also throw in a generous amount of green chilies. We use a double-boiler to cook Bhapa Hilsa.
I remember during my stint with covid and home isolation, I lost taste and smell and had a difficult time eating. S went and bought me a large Hilsa, cooked the thing in mustard paste and this whole thing gave me so much joy during those tiring 15 days!
In this blog, I have written about the most famous fish dishes of Bengal. There are many more variants of fish, cooked in interesting manners. Many times, fish is offered to the Hindu Goddess on a Puja. For example, offering Jora Ilish (twin hilsa, denoting a couple) for Saraswati Puja is an important trait of certain families of east Bengal. Many techniques are slowly getting forgotten. Many dishes are being reinvented. Fish is an extremely important part of Bengali culture, intertwined with the cultural and political aspiration of the community.
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Visiting Europe is on most people’s wish lists, especially if they’re yet to venture over to a European country of any kind. It’s a continent with a diverse cultural heritage, a range of stunningly beautiful locations, and vibrant cities known for their restaurants, nightlife and architecture.
The options are extensive for the average holidaymaker. As a result, knowing where exactly to go in Europe can be tough to decide on. From the historical sites of Rome to the romantic vibes of Paris, the potential trip of a lifetime is there. Once you reach Europe, the means by which you can travel are evident also. Alongside the usual option of going by plane, there are trains and buses which are generally well connected. It’s certainly a part of the world where adventures can be had. Not everyone is sure on where exactly to go, though.
London tops the list
First up, it’s London. Whether you’re keen to brush up on your historical knowledge with a visit to the British Museum or you’re tempted to take in a West End theatre show and boogie the night away afterwards in one of the city’s top nightclubs, the options are comprehensive. The Tower of London is another popular choice, so too is the option of eating a traditional Sunday roast in an old pub steeped in history. Perhaps you’re a casino goer usually sampling slot games at an Indian online casino, and you’re tempted to showcase your skills to a London audience at The Empire Casino. Alternatively, visiting the Queen’s Buckingham Palace home is another popular option, alongside taking in an Arsenal or Chelsea Premier League match. Whatever you want to do, London can most probably accommodate it.
Another go-to location for many people on a European adventure is the aforementioned Paris. With its superb museums, monuments, and churches, it’s a truly magical city to spend a period of time in. Iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower is a must-see, alongside world-famous exhibits such as the Louvre. Luxembourg Gardens and its gorgeous array of flowers is worth taking in also, alongside a whole host of quirky architecture and excellent shopping areas. On top of this, French food is extremely tasty too. From fine wine in the evening to fresh croissants in the morning, Parisians know good food. Overall, Paris is well worth visiting.
Barcelona has unique experiences
Barcelona is another favourite city to check out for many people. Home of arguably the world’s greatest soccer player in Lionel Messi, the city’s football stadium is a favoured option for many. There is so much you can do in what is a stunning city full of diverse architecture that you’ll struggle to see anywhere else on the planet. Visitors tend to rush to see beautiful sights such as Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell and Basilica de la Sagrada Família, but are equally pulled in by the city’s range of tasty tapas bars at popular venues such as Boqueria Market. Las Ramblas is another well-liked area of Barcelona also for its culture and shopping.
Usually associated with its famous coffee shops and Red Light District, Amsterdam is another European city well worth experiencing. The Dutch capital has far more to offer than most people think, too. For starters, the Van Gogh Museum is a popular choice alongside the Dutch Resistance Museum and the Rembrandt House Museum. Perhaps learning more about the remarkable Anne Frank and her story at Anne Frank House appeals also. A romantic and relaxing boat ride along the city’s canals is a perfect way to wind down a busy day, too.
Other must-see European cities include Rome, Prague, Venice, Athens, Dublin, Madrid, Stockholm, and Berlin.
আগের সপ্তাহে ঘুরে এলাম পশ্চিমঘাট পর্বতমালার ভা৺জে অবস্থিত চিকমাগালুর। দীর্ঘ তিন মাস পর বেঙ্গালুরু তথা কর্ণাটক ধীরে ধীরে আনলক হচ্ছে। এখনো রাজ্য অতিক্রম করে ঘুরতে যাওয়ার অনেক হ্যাপা। কর্নাটকের বেশ কিছু অঞ্চল এখনো দৃঢ়ভাবে নজরে রাখা হয়েছে, যেমন কুরগ বা মাদিকেরি।
তবে মৌসুমী বায়ুর আগমনের সাথে সাথে পশ্চিমঘাট পর্বতমালা এক অপরূপ রূপ ধারণ করে। সেই দৃশ্য দাপটের সাথে পাল্লা দিতে পারে হিমালয়ের দুর্গম পাস গুলির সাথে। বর্ষাকালের সেই মনমোহনী রূপ চাক্ষুষ করব আর সেই সাথে কিছুদিন শহর থেকে দূরে থাকবো এই আশা নিয়ে আমরা চারজন প্রাপ্তবয়স্ক আর একটি খুদে মানুষ বেরিয়ে পড়েছিলাম এক ভোর বেলায়। সাথে একটি ইনোভা গাড়ি, সভারী রেন্টাল থেকে ভাড়া নেওয়া। চার দিনের জন্য আমরা দিয়েছিলাম 15000 টাকা।
আমাদের গন্তব্য ছিল আদ্রিকা হোটেল। চিকমাগালুর একটি ছোট টাউন, কাছাকাছির মধ্যে বড় শহরগুলোতে হাসান। প্রসঙ্গত জানিয়ে রাখি, বাঙালোরে যত বড় বড় রুই কাতলা পাওয়া যায় সব কিন্তু আসে হাসান নদী বাঁধের থেকে।
চিকমাগালুর টাউনে দুটি রাস্তা। একটি সাধারণত one way হয়ে থাকে। রাস্তার ধারে সারি সারি দোকান, সিল্ক শাড়ি, কফি, ফিল্টার কফি মেশিন, দোসা ক্যান্টিন, আর দু-চারটি নতুন ধরনের ক্যাফে এই নিয়েই টাউন টি তৈরি। দেখেই বোঝা যায়, বেশকিছুদিন টুরিস্ট না আসার জন্য দোকান গুলি ধুঁকছে। আদ্রিকা হোটেলের পাশে ব্যাঙ্গালোর থেকে আসা লাল রঙের সরকারি স্টেট বাস গুলি দাঁড়িয়ে থাকে। তবে হোটেল থেকে ভিউ বলতে সেরকম কিছু নেই। পরিষ্কার-পরিচ্ছন্ন হোটেল, বেশ বড় রুম, ইন্টারনেট খারাপ নয়, আর প্রধান সুবিধা হল বাজার একদম হাতের কাছে।
ইচ্ছে করলে আপনি টাউন পেরিয়ে চলে যেতে পারেন পাহাড়ের ভেতরে অবস্থিত বেশকিছু বিলাসবহুল রিসোর্ট অথবা সুন্দর করে সাজানো হোমস্টে গুলিতে। অসুবিধা একটাই, বাজার অনেক দূর। তো রোজ আপনাকে ওই রিসোর্টের একই ধরনের খাওয়া খেতে হবে। অবশ্যই জনপদ থেকে দূর অবস্থান জনিত কারণে, খরচা অনেক বেশি।
একদিন আমরা গাড়ি নিয়ে চলে গেছিলাম মূল্যয়নগিরি শৃঙ্গ তে। বলা হয় এটি কর্নাটকের সবথেকে উচু পাহাড়। পথে একটি চেক পয়েন্ট পড়ে যেখানে RAT কোভিদ টেস্ট হচ্ছে। তবে আপনাদের যদি দুটি ভ্যাকসিন হয়ে গিয়ে থাকে তাহলে আটকাবে না। পাহাড়ের নিচের দিকে ভর্তি কফি বাগান। সুন্দর রাস্তা দিয়ে কিছুদুর ওঠার পরে অনেকগুলি ঝরনা দেখতে পাবেন। দক্ষিণ ভারতে বর্ষাকালীন পাহাড়ি ঝরনা গুলিতে চান করা যাকে বলে is a thing.
মেঘ ঝরনা কফি বাগান মন্দির এই সমস্ত পেরিয়ে আপনি যখন পাহাড়ের চূড়ার কাছাকাছি একবার গাড়ি দাঁড় করিয়ে নিন। একটুখানি নেমে দেখুন সুদূর উপত্যকা, বিঘার পর বিঘা জমি ঘনসবুজ জঙ্গলের ঢাকা। যদি ভাগ্যবান হন এই জঙ্গলে দেখা হয়ে যেতে পারে বাঘ বা হাতির সাথে। প্রসঙ্গত জানিয়ে রাখি, কর্নাটকে কিন্তু সবথেকে বেশি বাঘ থাকে পুরো ভারতবর্ষের মধ্যে। হ্যাঁ মানে আমাদের রয়েল বেঙ্গল টাইগার।
মূল্যয়ন গিরি চূড়ার কাছাকাছি গিয়ে আমার মনে পড়ে যায় হিমাচলের কসোলের কথা। বেশকিছু গাড়ি দাঁড়িয়ে আছে, লারেলাপ্পা গান চলছে, মেঘ আর কুয়াশার জন্য 2 মিটার দূরে কি আছে আপনি দেখতে পাবেন না। শুধু শুনতে পাবেন অজস্র সিটির অত্যুৎসাহী শব্দ। 5 মিনিট থেকে আমরা নেমে এলাম বাবাবুদান গিরি র দিকে।
এই পাহাড়ের চূড়া তে একজন সুফি সাধকের কবর রয়েছে। বহু মানুষ এখানে আসেন মানত পূরণ করতে, ধর্ম নির্বিশেষে। তবে আমাদের কপাল খারাপ। রাস্তায় শুরু হল তুমুল বৃষ্টি। আমরা ফিরে আসতে বাধ্য হলাম। তবে সেই অসাধারণ দৃশ্য কিছুটা হলেও আমি ভিডিও ক্যামেরা তে ক্যাপচার করেছি।
পরের দিন সন্ধ্যেবেলায় আমরা গিয়েছিলাম হিরেকোলালে লেক। কফি বাগান এর মধ্য দিয়ে বেশকিছু হোমস্টে পেরিয়ে আপনি এসে পৌঁছাবেন এই জলাশয়। সূর্যাস্ত ভালো সময় এখানে আসার, তবে বর্ষাকালে আর কি সূর্যাস্ত আর কি দুপুরবেলা।
ফেরত আসার সময় আমরা দাঁড়ালাম টাউন ক্যান্টিন নামে একটি পুরনো ক্যাফেতে। এখানকার বেনে ধোসা কর্নাটকের বিখ্যাত। ধোসা তৈরি হয় বিশুদ্ধ মাখন ব্যবহার করে। চাইলে, এক টুকরো বাটার ওপরেও দিয়ে দেয়। মানে সে কি আর বলব, মাখনে মাখামাখি কান্ড।
এইবেলা বলে রাখি বাবাবুদাঙ্গীরি পাহাড়ের কফি কিন্তু জগদ্বিখ্যাত। চিকমাগালুর এসে কফি না কিনে আপনি ফেরত যেতে পারবেন না। উচিত ও না।
টাউন ক্যান্টিনে, লাঞ্চ শেষ করে, চলে আসুন পান্ডুরাঙ্গা কফি দোকানে। সুসময়ে আপনি এদের কফি বাগানেও যেতে পারেন। তবে এখন নিরাপত্তাজনিত কারণে কফি বাগানে সেইভাবে টুরিস্ট ঢুকতে দিচ্ছেনা। আমি অবশ্য ঢুকে গেছিলাম একটি নির্জন কফি এস্টেটে। কফি ফলগুলি এই সময় সবুজ হয়ে আছে। কাঁচা থেকে পাকা অবস্থার মধ্যে এগুলি লাল হবে, তারপর রোদে শুকিয়ে রোস্ট করা হবে, তারপর সব থেকে ভালো কফি বীজগুলি চলে যাবে বিদেশে।
এখানে জয়ন্তী কাছেও যথেষ্ট ফেমাস। সেখানে তো সেখানে উড়ে কফি উৎপাদন এর ইতিহাস বড় করে আঁকা আছে দেওয়ালে। তবে জয়ন্তী ক্যাফের সার্ভিস অত্যন্ত ধীর গতি।
এছাড়াও মহারাজা রেস্টুরেন্টের মাটন দম বিরিয়ানী ট্রাই করতে ভুলবেন না। টাউন টেবিল রেস্টুরেন্ট থেকে সুইগী করে নিতে পারেন মাটন চটপটা। এছাড়া বিভিন্ন ধরনের এরাবিক রেস্টুরেন্ট তো আছেই। আমরা রাতের খাবারটা সাধারণত ঘরে এনে খেতাম। ন’টার পরে চিকমাগালুর সবকিছু বন্ধ হয়ে যেত।
চিকমাগালুরে সাধারণত দুই ধরণের মানুষ গিয়ে থাকেন। একদল অত্যন্ত ল্যাদখোর, যেমন আমরা। দিনে দু ঘন্টা গাড়ি নিয়ে বেরিয়ে একটু ঘোরাঘুরি করে কতক্ষণে হোটেল রুমে ফিরে আসা যায়। আর এক দল যারা ট্রেকিং করতে পছন্দ করেন। পছন্দ করেন পাহাড়ের ধারে সূর্যোদয় থেকে সূর্যাস্ত দিবসে প্রকৃতিকে দুচোখ ভরে উপভোগ করতে। দু’দলই যেতে পারেন আরামসে। তবে হ্যাঁ, মুখোশ করতে ভুলবেন না। লোকজনের ভিড় এখনো এখানে মারাত্মক হয়ে ওঠেনি। Social distancing is not a problem in Chikmagalur.
Bengali Cuisine is rich in taste and culinary heritage, bearing a turbulent memory of partition of the subcontinent, displacement, and a longing to stay connected with the origin through distinct flavours. As a descendant of a Bangal family whose ancestral roots are deeply spread in East Bengal (now sovereign state of Bangladesh), I have always preferred my Macher Jhol doused in green chilli paste. I have seen my high school friend, hailing from a respectable Bonedi Bari of Kolkata, prefer her sweetened Basanti Polau more than a box of caviar! It took me a while to outgrow the usual and appreciate the myriad taste of Bengal. The batas and bhortas of east, the Posto of wild west, the Borali of North and the fresh catch of Sundarban delta that can bring heaven down on Earth and the quintessential beauty of Kolkata’s cosmopolite elite trying out a medley of experiments: I have grown to appreciate all the fantabulous food of Bengal!
In this blog, I would be detailing 20 most popular Bengali dishes that you must try when in Bengal. I would tell you where to try them, unless you are keen to make them at home. This is a healthy mix of fish, meat, vegan friendly and vegetarian fair. This list of Bengali food would inspire a gourmand to try out Bengali cuisine, if nothing else. I am also planning to write about the lost recipes of Bengal soon! Currently researching on that!
A derivative of a yogurt based drink, Ghol is a refreshing summer cooler. The taste is further enhanced by adding a dash of Gondhoraj Lemon! The aroma is magical. It truly does channelise a sense of respite in your body as you sip from a large brass tumbler. Ghol is gradually losing its sheen from the Mojito loving Calcutta population but remains an eternal go to remedy for every grandmother of Bengal!
Goalondo Chicken Curry
Chicken Kosha is nice and dandy but have you tried the Goalondo Chicken Curry yet which finds its origin straight from the heart of river Padma? The Goalondo steamers ferried between ports, housing sailors who rustled up a quick chicken dish with ingredients available easily from around!
In a classical kadai of Goalondo chicken curry, in goes a bowl of prawns, made into a paste. The aroma of prawns gives this dish a distinct taste that no other chicken curry of the world has ever acquired!
The puritans may not approve but the sailors on Goalondo steamer apparently chuckled and poured in another bowl of shrimp paste in the pot! I understand prawns were easily available as the sailors float along the course of the river. They made best use of the available resources. Goalondo Chicken Curry is fiercely hot and bright red in hue. It is best served with a bowl of hot steaming short grained rice that retains a certain amount of flavour of the earth!
Who knew plantain flower could turn heads? That is good old mocha for you. An almost neutral blend of high fiber diet, Mocha blends magically well with prawns and coconuts and renders a spicy curry that will never let you say no to that extra serving of rice!
It is indeed a task to cut the Mocha, banana flower. You need to take care of the stigma and style and cut the core into thin slices. You need to pressure cook and then make it into a paste either with hands on in a mixer. Remember to soak your hands with mustard oil all the while. Cook on a kadai with mustard oil and Garam Masala and add coconut and fried prawns at the end step. Serve hot with a scoop of ghee!
Dhoka. the name itself indictaed cheating.
Dhoka is a Niramish bengali dish which is traditionally cooked without using onion and garlic. They named it dhoka so that people eat these small diamonds made of Bengal Gram, poppy seeds and coconut paste without being offput by the lack of meat. I have not made Dhoka R Dalna yet but many a shops actually sells Dhoka pastes these days. Usually when S visits home, his mother gives him a few boxes filled with Dhoka diamonds to be cooked later and we usually have them as is! It is indeed a delicacy!
A similar tging is Echorer Dalna, a beautiful dish cooked with raw jackfruit which is often marketed as mutton from a tree (Gachpatha). If I ever decide to be plant based, Echorer Dalna would be my everyday favourite!
daal or lentil is a staple of Indian household, let alone be bengal. But the Bengalis add their touch to it by adding an entire fish head, macher Mudo to it. The bengali kitchens often run on the principle of zero waste. I have seen many cultures discarding fish heads but I wonder why would you not want to indulge in Macher Mudo, the fish heads that is rich in various minerals and other nutrients.
We use Moong Daal to cook daal with fish head. The fish head is cooked separately and then added to boiled daal and the entire ensemble cooks for a while which is then served with rice. An extremely nutritious dish, Macher Matha Diye Daal is often served at bengali weddings as a dish fed to the guests in the afternoon!
A typical breatfast item, Kochuri is a puffed bread cooked with a laye of stuffing. In winters we often indulge in green peas Kochuri, when the stuffing in the flour dough gets made with green peas! It is one of the best breakfast you may have. Just to not complain about carb overload.
Like Luchu goes hand in hand with begun Bhaja, Kochuri goes very well with Cholar Daal. Cholar daal tastes all the more better when you cook this with a few spoonfull of coconut. the creamy aftertaste of fresh coconut is a thing Gods are envious of!
Labra is a medley of vegetables made into a shapeless smiley form which tastes like magic. The lame and the look of it may be doubtful but the first bite of Labra with a spoonfull of hot Khichuri as they used to serve in good old days during Saraswati Puja in School and you can not get enough of this goodness! In olden days, Bengali wedding menu used to feature Labra too. Gone are those days of serving a laddle full of Labra and hot rice. Labra becomes all the more good when you add Fish head or Macher Tel (not what you understand by Fish oil) to it and it tastes all the more different!
Pui Shak is cooked with all sorts of vegetables and often with fish heads or prawns. The medley is known as Chochori and tastes amazing when served with steaming rice. Pui Shak can be cooked with Bodi as well, the little lentil balls deep fried in oil and added in the dish to enhance its taste!
White Gourd is known as Lau in Bengali Kitchen. .It is a humble ingredient but tastes amazingly good when cooked in cube forms and made into a ghonto with prawns or as is! Prawns as usual makes the taste go up a few notches!
For cooking a delicious Lau Ghonto, you need to steam the Lau a little to ensure it is soft and mointurised from inside. It gives you a creamy buttery flavour in mouth as you start to chew it. Lau Ghonto is ytraditionally eaten with rice or roti. I ate the best Lau Ghonto of my life at Kasturi, A Bangladeshi restaurant in New Market until I had the privilege of growing a small kitchen garden at mu home. My small Lau plant brore 4 5 kg heavy weight white gourds. We cooked Lau all our hearts wanted and finally sent some to our friends!
Soft boiled eggs are coated with a generous amount of cooked mutton keema and deep fried: That is Dimer devil for ya’ll which the Guardian tries to sell as Scotch Egg but I do not accept! Each bite at Egg Devil reinstates the goodness in humanity TBH! Dimer devil is best cooked with duck eggs for the creamy texture of the egg yolk. It is served with mustard paste or Kasundi. Dimer Devil sells like hot cakes at the Old Cabin Style Restaurants of Kolkata!
Mutton Biryani is a guest to Bengal who reached the banks of Ganga a couple of centuries back and refused to leave. Bengalis welcomed this dish with more than love and today in 2020 Biryani is a part of Bengal as much as Durgapuja is!
Once a stronghold of Bengali Muslim Households, Mutton Biryani is now made at every other house, of course with the essential addition of potato, added as an exquisite Delicasy in Wajid Ali Shah’s regal kitchen. The nawab of Awadh was exiled in Kolkata by the British at the advent of their two century long colonial reign in India.
I have made Mutton Biryani more number of times I can recall and I wonder why I do not write about the recipe. I prefer Rezala over Chicken Champ to go with my biryani but then many would not agree with me. Mutton Biryani itself can be savoured as the one and the only without the push of any side dish!
But end it with a pot full of Phirni, a milk and rice desert frozen in a clay pot!
Love for potato in Bengali cuisine easily surpassed Biryani and became a staple with every dish from Chochori to Labra to Ambal to meat Kosha! Not just that ,the potatoes easily absorbed the goodness of each main ingresient and remitted aroma of the same! In today’s world, we can not imagine a meat curry without adding potato.
Chicken is cooked in myriad ways in Bengali households. The most basic way to cook chicken is to marinate medium sized pieces with lemon juice, salt, red chili paste, ginger and garlic paste and onion juice for about an hour. Cook the whole thing in mustard oil which has been tempered with whole Garam Masala. After 10 minutes add fried potatoes. Served with a side of steamed rice or roti! This is how Egg Curry is also made.
The ANglo Indians in India had left a long standing legacy in Indian Subcontinent which is best manifested during Christmas celebration. However, a glimpse of it you may find in the Railway Mutton Curry, a dish invented during the colonial rule while the Great indian Railways was connecting the distant parts of the region through steel lines and steam engine powered by coal.
The Anglo Indians initially took over all the jobs available in the government where native Indians did not have easy access initially. One of the available jobs were of becoming a chef on running trains. Mutton was an acceptable food to all sorts of Indian who ate non veg and mutton cooked on a running train needed delicate balance of spices and just about the right time to be put in pressure for quick cooking time.
In Bangalore, I tried this at Salvaderos, a rooftop restaurat and I felt the Railway Mutton Curry is not neseccarily a Bengali dish but indeed it originated in Calcutta hence I added it in this list.
Ilish or Hilsa is deeply ingrained in a Bengali subconsious as the best fish in the culinary history. It is Hilsa and Dhakai Jamdani that connects the entire Bengal which has been wrongly partitioned in 1947. I think it is wrong. You can have your own political conviction.
Hilsa can be cooked in 10 different ways but what I love the most about Hilsa is it blends with a thick paste of Mustard and coconut gravy with its supple flesh and excessive oil when cooked in a steaming procedure. My dida would put a tiffin box filled with hilsa directly inside a rice pot but I do it in double boiler. Yet to gather the expertise to cook the pricey fish with that nonchalance!
Bhapa Ilish is a delicacy that is essential for any celebration at a bengali household.
An extra mellowed down prawn curry cooked in the green coconut shell itself, Daab Chingri is one of the most rustic ways to cook prawns in Bengali household. My dida remembers cooking Daab Chingri in her youth. She would stuff the green coconut shell with prawns and put them directly in Unun, the clay oven used in erstwhile Bengali household. In 20 minutes of so the green coconuts to come out filled with the cooked goodness of prawns melting with Daab, green coconut flesh. It is a rustic way to cook and very low on spice count unless you go gentle on green chilies.
The winter special Sobji Diye Macjher Jhol is probably the healthiest meal I have ever had in my life!
Imagine the goodness of winter vegetables, freshly plucked from the beautiful fields going staight into a fish stew. The flavour of fish magically transforms the otherwise bland Jhol of cauliflower, carrots, potato, and radish. I love this particular fish curry with a bowl of rice. You may have this fish stew for your dinner too! I often decorate with a bunch of fresh coriander leaves and boy oh boy it turns out sumptuous!
I have recently made a youtube video on this and my fatehr loved it so much that he went to bring Tyangra from the market the next day. Tengra is one of the most popular small cat fish variant widely available in Bengal. Tengra is made into a Tel Jhal, with abundant use of mustard oil and a little onion-tomato paste or made into a jhol with gentle indulgences of eggplant! I like both!
If you get Desi Tenga, the fresh ones straight from the pond, do not dare fry those fishes. Tyangra itself has a beautiful aroma with only gets enhanced when used in the curry! Frying tenga also leads to the fragile head getting dislocated.
Use nigella seeds and sliced onion as Foron in hot mustard oil. ry a little and mix in a paste of tomato, onion, green chilies. You may use ginger paste and cumin powder or cumin paste for a better flavor. Cook till oil leaves from the side, pour in half a cup of water, add the Tyangra fishes (assuming they are fried, otherwise add with the onions in the first step during Foron) and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle chopped coriander leaves on top and serve with steaming rice!
Bora or fritters are often served as starter in a traditional Bengali meal. You may have it as is or combine it with rice and daal as a delicious starter or first course of the menu. Fish roe or macher dim is often sold separately in Bengali fish markets, unless it is Hilsa roe, which is pricier than even caviar in the mind of a Bengali!
For a good Macher dimer Bora, use only the freshest of ingredients and clean them till water runs clean. Mix in a lot of chillies, onions, coriander leaves, red chilies, turmeric and salt. Deep fry small fritters in mustard oil.
To cook Macher Dim or Fish roe in Bengali style many even boil the entire Dim in warm water first till the material has taken a firm shape and cut it into pieces and proceed as usual Fish Curry Jhol! That is often a main course, a delectable one at that and comes within good budget!
Poppy seeds feature heavily in the regional menu of West Bengal. People of the western districts of West Bengal swear by Posto like Bonedi Babus would swear by Luchi and Mihidana for a lazy Sunday Brunch!
Take a handful of poppy seeds, mix in some coconut paste and chilli paste and besan (gram flour) and fry them briefly till a thick crust is formed. Serve it with steaming rice and masoor daal! You are prepared to welcome guests for the day! Many cook Posto Bora with Posto seeds as is, with a few sprinkling of sliced onions. That turns out good too.
Imagine soft balls made of a dough of chena, Indian cottage cheese (for the lack of a better word) and cooked in warm sugar syrup and served straight out of the oven! Rosogolla is the damsel in distress from Grimm brothers fairy tales that needed to be rescued with a state identity between West Bengal and Orissa! A man named Nabin Chandra Dass walked all the way from Orissa to the old narrow dinghy lanes of North Kolkata centuries ago and invented the art of Rosogolla which would become an essential part of Bengali’s cultural identity, aspiration, heritage and every small celebration! Rosogolla is something dreams are made of!
You get those packed tin cans from Haldiram’s if you are not anywhere close to Kolkata and I suggest do not eat those. Travel to Kolkata, wait patiently in front of an old sweet shop in North Kolkata at 6 pm when the day’s lot is made, taste it and fly away to heaven! I am not exaggerating a bit! And bring some home and have after a hefty dinner of rice and fish curry or Kosha Mangsho and thank me later!
in this blog post, I could pinpoint only a handfiul of bengali delicasies which by no means makes it complete! There are so much more to explore in Bengali cuisine, starting from great mutton dishes, Niramish dishes the bengali widows cooked without using onion and Garlic, dairy based fish curries and more! I would write more as I explore and learn and experienment. Stay with me in this journey!