Uttarakhand and Amritsar 14 – 23 Nov 2018
The motivation to take up this trip came from invitation to the wedding of a close friend’s daughter in Rishikesh, on the banks of a river. So, the travel had to be planned around the wedding date. We decided to cover Amritsar on this trip as it was long overdue. As we were making the booking, an invite to attend a friend’s 60th birthday in Delhi came. So, we decided to re-rote our return through Delhi.
14th Nov 2018 – Bangalore to Dehradun Flight
There is only one flight daily from Bangalore to Dehradun. We reached Dehradun at 4:00 pm. The Airport is midway between Dehradun and Rishikesh and the drive is beautiful. A number of taxis are available at the airport including Ola Cabs. We called one and drove straight to the hotel which was booked in the city centre. The hour long drive is beautiful! We rested a while and decided to take a walk around to get a feel of the place. Like any other city the traffic is high in the evening. But we decided to walk to the Tibet Market via Subhash Marg. The murals on the walls of Uttarakhand Police head quarters are beautiful and worth a visit during the day time. The Tibet market is very well organized with all the shops numbered. However, the only stuff available was winter clothes. Tired, we look the local electric auto to Crossroads Mall, had a good dinner at Anandam restaurant and headed back to the hotel. Before turning in, we fixed the cab to take us around the following day.
15th Nov 2018 – Dehradun, Rishikesh
The breakfast at Hotel Shiva Residency was fairly good though delayed. We checked out and started off for sight seeing at 8:30am. The first stop was Robber’s cave – on insistence of the driver! It was barely 15 minutes away and we were just the second set of visitors to reach there. We walked down to the point where the only way forward id to get into the river to see the cave. It was cold and neither of us were keen to get wet early in the morning! After bird watching for a while we started for Tapkeshwar temple. This is a Shiva Temple on the bank of river Asan which gets it’s name as the water droplets drop continuously on the Shivling. The temple complex it beautiful and am sure the place has great significance for the devout. It is enough to keep 30-40 minutes to visit the temple.
Our next stop was Forest Research Institute ( FRI). The Institute was founded in 1878 and has been in the current campus since 1929. The sprawling campus occupies 450 hectare ( 1112 acres) of land and is lush green. An extremely well maintained campus – one of the best I have ever visited. The main building is completely constructed out of bricks and I believe holds the record of being the largest brick only construction. The corridors of the building were very enticing and I must have clicked each one of them a dozen time. The architecture of the building including the clock tower is marvellous. The complex also houses a number of museums. We saw three of them but with our limited knowledge about trees and forests could not make out much. The campus also has a number of large bungalows, build in the British era, they are all painted red. We spent over an hour in the institute and could not get enough of it! This is a must visit place for anyone having even a couple of hours to spare. Our next stop was Wild Life Institute. The place was a complete let down. While the architecture is good, the place is very poorly maintained. Not worth the detour we took.
We reached Mindrolling Monastery post noon. The temples had unfortunately closed by then and we could only take a tour from the outside. The ongoing construction work also was an obstruction to photography. One should ideally visit the monastery in the morning. In most places in Dehradun the mountains at a distance provide a great backdrop.
We drove straight to Rishikesh. It took us around 2 hours to reach the hotel in Tapovan. We checked in and went for a late lunch to a restaurant called “Ayur Paan” which is located in an old building and it’s garden and has very rustic decoration. The food was healthy and tasty. Since it was fairly late we started off for Ram Jhula. We wanted to get a view while there was some light and later see the Ganga aarati. The weather was good and we decided to walk. In order to take a short cut we took a staircase to reach the Jhula instead of going on the road. This could have been avoided as the steps were steep and not very safe.
We crossed the river on the Jhula and walked further to reach Parmarth since this was the place we wanted to see the aarati from. We were there at 5:15pm and after having bought one diya and flowers settled down in a good place. The aarati singing started exactly at 5:30 and continued till 6:00 when the aarati was performed. If one is looking at experiencing aarati, Rishikesh is certainly a much better place than Haridwar. The pandits and volunteers are more dignified and professional and even the crowd is better disciplined and decent.
By 6:15pm it was all over and everyone started to return back. The road side shops and restaurants are buzzing with activity as most people have an early dinner and turn in. We found a place that looked decent enough for chai and then started back for the hotel. We took the main road and soon realized that it was an uphill task! So, finally took an auto and went back to the hotel. It is better to take the auto from the stand itself especially in the night. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant and went to bed as the next day plan was to go for an early morning trek.
16th Nov 2018 – Rishikesh
We had planned to leave at 6:00 am but by the time we started it was nearly 7:00 am. The trek to Neer Waterfall is about 3.7km one way from Tapovan. Except the last 900m or so the walk is completely on the highway. This is the route to Badrinath so the traffic is high. The last 900m after the entrance t is very calm and beautiful. The ticket office was closed so we walked through. The fall is visible from the road. The walk up the fall is steep and a wee bit tough. Fortunately a good Samaritan had left a sturdy branch right at the start of the climb.
The fall is very beautiful and the walk was every bit worth it. Funnily, as we started coming down around 8:30 we met two guys coming down from further up. Their first question was whether we had bought the tickets. We answered in negative and said the office was closed. They said they were going to open it and we should buy the ticket on the way back! After spending sometime watching the waterfall we started back. It had become warm and the sun was up. We reached the hotel around 9:45, just in time to catch some breakfast before it was wound up. In the afternoon, Meenakshi and Sandeep were to join us, so we went to get ready right after breakfast. Once they arrived, they got ready and we chatted for a while before having lunch.
Rajaji National Park was on Meenakshi’s agenda. We had also not been there so we happily agreed. We called a can and started at 2:00 withone hour drive time in hand. Unfortunately we got caught in a traffic jam and it was 3:30 by the time we reached there. We learnt that only 10 jeeps are allowed per shift and the last couple were leaving. No amount of pleading could get us on another jeep. The rule changes had happened just the previous day. The ranger recommended that we could take a jeep to the Binduvasini temple.
He assured us that we will enjoy the ride and trek. All four boarded the safari jeep and we started off. The ride to the temple was through the river and we drove through water in many sections. It was a thrilling drive. The temple is located on a hillock. Kannan, Sandeep and I decided to trek up but Meenakshi refused to come along. The hike up was beautiful and so was the view from the top. We came down and had chai in the tea stall and headed back. It was 6:30 pm when we reached back the hotel. After some rest we started off for Lakshman Jhula. The place is well lit and we walked across. After a leisurely walk we got back to the hotel, had a nice dinner and turned in.
17th Nov 2018 – Rishikesh, Antaram resort
As per plan, we started for our morning walk at about 6:45 am. We first went to Lakshman Jhula, then Ram Jhula and Paramarth ashram. It is really nice in the morning. There are few people on the roads and the hanging bridges. We reached back around 8:30 am, had breakfast and got ready. The agreed plan was to reach Antaram resort by 11:00 am but we got there only around noon.
Antaram Resort is located on the bank of a feeder river to Ganga about 8km from Rishikesh. This was the venue for our friends Sanjiv and Anshu’s daughter Himali’s wedding with Kiran. The cars do not go upto the resort so the luggage has to be lugged for a fairly long distance and on a steep slope to the resort. Once you reach there the beauty of the location takes over everything else. The rooms are not well maintained and we had to spend a fair amount of time getting the place cleaned up. With that done, we got ready and joined the Haldi function which had just started.
After Haldi and lunch Sandeep, Kannan and I decided to take a walk up the river while Meenakshi chose to stay back for Mehendi. The walk in and along the river was nice. Various resorts on the way have created interesting river crossings. We used all of them to criss-cross. The feel of walking in a river bed, mountains on both sides is great. The river bed was full of stones of different colours. Sandeep was collecting few for his aquarium, we chipped in. After about an hour and half we returned to the resort, in time to get ready for the Sangeet ceremony.
The dressing up for Sangeet has gone Indo Western mostly these days. Meenakshi and I also decided to follow the norm. The Sangeet was one of the best I have attended in recent years. While most Sangeet’s across the country have Bollywoodised, this one was full of folk songs and “Banna Banni” songs sung by family along with a “dholak”. The youngsters though wanted their share of fun with dancing which followed the traditional sangeet. The bonfires lit in the resort provided much relief from the chill in the air, especially since we were on the bank of a river. There were some very nice chaats for dinner, besides the regular food. Dinner was followed by some more ceremonies conducted by the boy’s family. After which we turned in as the next morning rituals called for a very early morning start.
18th Nov 2018 Antaram Resort
The wedding band stared off at 6:30 in the morning. That was the indication that we had to get up and get ready. The wedding ceremonies got start on time around 7:30 am and went on until around 11:00 am. This was followed by photography session. More about the wedding in a different blog.
Since Meenakshi and Sandeep were planning to leave by 3:00 pm we decided to have a quick lunch and trek up to a small waterfall near by. The distance was less than a km but the climb was steep. The late afternoon was spent in relaxing and another walk up the river. The reception was scheduled for 7:00pm. We got ready once again and joined our friends for the reception. It was cold so most of older folks either sat close to the bon-fire or inside the closed dining area and chatted. We turned in by 10:30 pm.
19th Nov 2018 Patna Waterfall, Haridwar
The wedding guests had started leaving from early morning. We were also scheduled to leave around 10:00am and had booked a cab for the day. Before breakfast, we made another dash to take a walk along the river. After breakfast and goodbyes all around we started from the resort. Patna waterfall is about four km from the resort. This was a first stop. The climb to the waterfall was fairly difficult. The only people we met on the trek was a foreigner and his guide and some locals. The walk up is along and across the water flowing down from the waterfall, very rich is fauna and beautiful. So is the fall once you reach up. The total trip took us over a couple of hours. We had tea in the tea shop on the foot hill. Chatted with the tea vendor for a bit and started our drive to Haridwar.
We had lunch at a restaurant in the outskirts of Haridwar and proceeded to Mata Chandi Devi Temple. We took the ropeway to the temple around 3:30pm. It was perhaps an odd time to go to the temple and we did not face much rush or long queues for the ropeway. The ride is beautiful, thought morning or evening would be better. The temple by itself is poorly maintained and lots of so called sadhus to pester you for donation. The place also has monkeys on the route which is pretty entertaining. Not a place I’d go back to!
The next stop was Har ki Paudi for Ganga aarati. The car has to be stopped at quite a distance and then we had to walk. The approach to the river bank and the river bank is full of beggars and shop keepers asking to buy food to feed the beggars. Then there are “pandas” who offer you place to sit if you buy the pooja items from them. Overall I felt completely frustrated with the constant pestering. We finally found a place to stand and waited for the aarti to start. By the time it did, there were thousands of people on both sides of the bank. There is complete chaos during the aarati as everyone present there wants to be able actively participate. With all the pushing and pulling that was going around we decided to leave before the program got over. I felt that we could have skipped the aarati part in Haridwar as the experience in Rishikesh was much better and serene. We had an early dinner and went early to the station since the driver wanted to attend a family wedding at night.
20th Nov 2018 Amritsar
Our train reached early morning and we headed to the hotel in a cab. The hotel allowed for early check-in on extra payment. We had picked a hotel close to the Temple complex since the plan was to shift to the temple run hotel for the following two days. We rested a bit, got ready and then walked to the chowk area to find a place for breakfast. The breakfast was parathas and kulchas. Kannan has lassi. After a couple of failed attempts in getting the hotel guy to make black tea we started for Partition Museum.
We entered the Partition museum around 11:45am and were there until past 2:00 pm. One of the best museums we have seen in the recent past in India. The museum covers events, British responsible for historic events, all aspects of life and people before partition, during partition and post partition. Besides the artefacts and description boards there are working audios on almost all the stands. The museum is very well organized across multiple floors. The museum has collected a number of real life stories from people and children of partition and those have been represented with artefacts, creations and videos. A must visit place. At the end of the visit we even recorded a testimonial for the curators.
We had a nice lunch at “Bade Bhai ka Brothers Dhaba”, one of the recommended restaurants. The food was excellent! We had some time in the afternoon, so headed for Maharaja Ranjit Singh museum. The electric auto driver, a young fellow told us that it would not take too long so he’d wait for us. Later he also joined us to see the museum. The museum has the scenes from the life of the revered king made in 3D life size models. Mostly done well and realistically. A small museum, it took us all of 15 minutes or so. It was just about 3:30pm.
The driver suggested that we visit the Hindu temple called Sri Durgiana Temple, also known as Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Durga Tirath and Sitla Mandir, as it had similar architecture as the Golden Temple. This was a good decision. The temple has Goddess Durga and Lord Vishnu’s idols. The architecture is beautiful and with very few people around, it was a pleasure to visit.
Our auto guy waited and took us to Gobindgarh Fort. The maintenance of the fort seems to have been given to a private group which has organised for a number of programs, has shops and dinner arrangements in the fort premise. The fort was built by Gajjar Singh in 1706 and later enhanced by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It has a a kilometre long boundary wall/ periphery. Inside this there are a number of buildings, now housing different museums. Some parts of the fort are not open to public. The entrance ticket to the fort includes tickets for the museums and shows.
We started with the exhibition on the various head gears/ pagadis. The figures used in this museum as well as the armoury are very realistic. I almost wondered if they were real people wearing the head gear and posing. The next was the Toshakhana or the coin museum. This is housed in the original Toshaknana. Most of the structure make of red bricks is still well preserved. As we came out of the Toshkhana we saw the sun setting. We walked up the fort wall to get some pictures. The guards however asked us to come down as those areas are no open for public. The 7D show called Sher e Punjab based on the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, has limited shows and we wanted to catch a show in English, so we went there next. Though a bit amateurish, it is worth a watch. It was dark by the time we finished. We did not want to miss the Ancient Warfare museum housed in the Bunaglow. The museum has several replicas of instruments and attires of warfare. The figurines are very realistic life like and you are tempted to pinch and check if they are real people. Just below the bungalow is the stage where the dance performances take place. We saw some Bhangara and Giddha performances. The stage and the backdrop lighting is very beautifully done. There is a huge lawn between the stage and the seating. It was cold in the open. We briefly entered the Haat Bazaar. It is fairly expensive and the item we were interested in was not available. The light and sound and laser show was the last item before we exited. We had not planned for dinner at the fort. On the weekends there are many more shops and food vendors I was told. We also experienced the Punjabi hospitality at one of Kannan’s colleague’s house. He picked us up at the fort and drove us straight to his house for a dinner which was a big surprise for us since he was supposed to have dinner with us that evening.
21st Nov 2018 Amritsar
After breakfast at the hotel. We started the day with a visit to Jalianwala Bagh. We have read so much about this place growing up that I had goose bumps entering the gates. The temple and the side walls with bullet marks have been preserved well. A monument has also been erected in the premise as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives in the incidence. The highlight of course is the well, in which many women jumped, some with their children to save their life and respect. In my mind I was expecting to visit a place that was serene and quiet perhaps to reflect the violence it had witnessed. In contrast, the place was full of groups of people who were there with friends and family to enjoy the sun and have a picnic. By 10:00am we were done with the visit. We were close to the Saragarhi Sarai and decided to check if we could check in early. After a bit of fuss they agreed. While we were waiting for them to get back to us we went to the coffee shop. I finally got a good cup of black tea. On our way to the hotel, I stopped at a Bari, Papad shop to make some purchases and Kannan went back to the hotel and checked out.
We took a rikshaw and checked in at Saragarhi Sarai. This is an excellent hotel run by the SGPC, extremely well maintained, very close to the temple complex and very economical. The only catch is that the stay is limited to 2 nights and you have to book it online in advance. Interestingly they do not provide towels!! Having finished the check-in by 11:30, we went to the Golden Temple.
We wanted to see the Golden Temple Basement Plaza. This digital plaza was opened to public in 2016 and uses the latest technology to help visitors explore the history of Punjab and Golden Temple. The shows are in Punjabi, but translation devices are available for all languages. We picked two for English and were ushered into the first gallery. This gallery describes the ten Sikh gurus and their teachings through a 10-sided glassed inverted pyramid using fibre optics and a laser show. The translator device is blue tooth triggered and gets activated as soon as the show begins. After the show we were guided to the second gallery which uses 270-degree projection technology. In the third gallery 3D technology is used and the visitors explore the Golden Temple complex on 72-inch screens. The fourth galley uses ‘holographic projection’ to describe teachings of Guru Granth Sahib. We learnt that two more will be added over time. This is a must visit plaza. Ideally before visiting the temple since it gives a very holistic description of the temple complex including the history. The officials who had taken our ID proof to give us the translators were at the exit and the process of return was seamless.
We then proceeded to the Central Sikh Museum which is housed in one of the buildings around Shri Harmandir Sahib. The museum has lots of excellent paintings and sketches by great Sikh artists of Sikh gurus, saints, warriors and leaders who have contributed to the enhancement of the Sikh religion. It also has a collection of old coins, old arms, musical instruments, manuscripts etc. From the verandah one gets a beautiful view of the Golden Temple through the jaali. I enjoyed taking a few pictures from there and wished we were allowed to the next level for even better view and pictures.
With all the walking around we were hungry and decided to go for lunch. This time to Brother’s Amritsari Dhaba. It was a rushed lunch as we had to call a cab and go to Wagah border post lunch. Getting Ola was tough. One car cancelled booking and we had to find another.
It took us over 2 hrs to drive and we reached the VIP parking of Wagah Border only around 4:30pm. One has to walk quite a bit before reaching the stadium. Having the VIP passes helped. We got seats very close to the gate and sat in the third row from the road. As the stadium filled with people the atmosphere became more and more electric. Vendors sell caps and flags and most people buy them as expression of patriotism. It was interesting to see that on the Pakistan side men and women still sit separately. The two sides try to out do each other by shouting patriotic slogans. One of the Border Force personnel was doing a good Job in motivating the spectators to should the slogans. He also encouraged folks to dance on few patriotic songs while everyone was waiting for the actual ceremony. The ceremony was lead by women officers on both ends that specific day. After which the Parade and the Beating Retreat Ceremony took place. The whole ceremony is well rehearsed together by BSF folks on both sides. Once the flags are lowered, folded and taken away the border is officially closed. The ceremony is phenomenal to participate in. The environment is completely electric and one feels very patriotic. We must have taken a zillion pictures and videos but none to justice in capturing the feel of the place. A must visit place for all Indians!! The entry, exit and the whole ceremony is extremely well organised and professionally handled. The drive back was again 2 hrs plus. By the time we reached back the hotel it was 7:45 pm. We freshened up, had dinner also at Brother’s Amritsari Dhaba and headed off to the Golden Temple.
We had decided that we would visit the temple in the night to see the lighting for sometime. However, when we reached there we found the queues were very small and decided to enter the temple. As a coincidence we reached at the time when they were preparing for the granth sahib to be brought back to Akal Takth for the night. We has seen the ceremony in documentaries many times but to experience it in person is a completely different feel. Even more interesting was to watch how lots of devotees immediately got into the act of cleaning and polishing everything in the temple, right from the chandeliers to the walls, railing, carpets etc. All the cleaning happens in complete silence and yet there is great coordination among the sevadaars. The massive carpets are lifted and rid of all the dust. Most of the carpets around the Sarovar are cleaned and rolled and the floor mopped before a fresh set of carpets are laid. The cleaning is done not just for Harmandir Sahib but all the surrounding buildings and area. No wonder the place is always spotless. Wish we could see the same in all temples! At 10:30pm we headed back to the hotel for some rest. It was a long day with lots covered. We were tired but absolutely satisfied. We had plans to get up early to watch the process of bringing back the holy book to Harmandir Sahib.
22nd Nov 2018 Amritsar
We got up at 3:30am, got ready and were at the Golden Temple by 4:30 am. We could witness the Granth Sahib being brought in in the Golden Palki. The way the Palki is prepared before taking it to bring the Granth Sahib and before it is kept back safely for next use is quite intriguing. None of the process is done in a hurry. Every step, even folding of the cloth which covers the pillow on which the granth sahib would rest is done slowly with great respect and precision. Kannan even got an opportunity to be one of the bearers for a short distance! We spend sometime inside the Gurudwara, went up to the terrace with hope of catching the sun rise but later came down both due to growing number of pilgrims and the chill. As we exited, we had the prasad which was very tasty. We hung around for a while, watched the complete procedure before storing away the palki Sahib. Then took pictures of the sun rise, went around the sarovar one time and by 7:45 am left for the hotel
The breakfast at Haveli restaurant at Saragarhi Sarai was excellent. I had the best kulchas and landed up over eating. After breakfast we spend some time in the Fawwara Chowk area taking pictures. The old city area has been given a very nice uniform façade with red bricks and paint. Even the sign boards of the shops have been done uniformly. I found this was a great way by which the old shop keepers had not lost their business and the place had got a lift up like any tourist town. The place is very tourist friendly and safe as no motorised vehicles are allowed. So one can walk without having to be wooried about getting hit. Also, there is noise pollution due to honking! I thought, having come to Amritsar I should also visit the Digambar Jain Temple. Unfortunately there was no temple in the location indicated by Google Map.
We were anyway in the market area. So spend some time shopping for phulkari chunnis and shawls for gifting. While the juttis were very attractive and cheap I decided against buying any given my knee problem. We continued our search for the Jain temple and found one right across the entrance of Golden temple. The temple is on the first floor. By this time a number of processions had started towards the Gurudwara because of Guru purab the following day. With a great view from the first floor, we watched the processions for a while. It was nearly lunch time and we proceeded to the Gurudwara langar. This is a must do on one of the days that you are at Amritsar. The food was simple but tasty. Sitting on the floor and eating was certainly challenging for me.
Post lunch we took another round of the Sarovar and entered the temple again to take pictured of the intricate inlay work that dots the entrance and walls of the Gurudwara. We did some more shopping in the cloth market area and in the evening went back to the hotel to relax. We had dinner in the hotel’s Haveli restaurant. The food was excellent. Kannan’s friend had joined us for dinner and he offered to take us to some great dessert places. The first stop was a Kulfi joint. After this we went to the famous food street where these guys had gulab jamoons in a 150 year old shop! Apparently the food is great in all the restaurants in the food gali. However I am not so sure about the hygiene.
We then walked back to the Golden temple. This time with someone who had worked in SGPC and was knowledgeable about Sikhism as well as the temple and its history. He gave us a complete guided tour of the temple as well as the Akal Takth. The temple as well as all buildings were well light up due to the festival and the number of tourists was much higher. Even with that the peace and serenity of the place could be felt. We stayed back until about 9:30 pm and headed for the hotel since we were scheduled to leave Amritsar early next morning.
Overall the trip to Punjab was superb from all aspects. One place which was on my bucket list for long had been visited!!
Food The food in Uttrakhand as well as Punjab was phenomenal. While I relished aaloo parathas and missi roti and Jalfarezi and potato curry in Uttarakhand, Kulchas were my favorite in Punjab. Being a vegan, I did not try the Paneer sabzi or Paneer Parathas or the curd and lassi but Kannan was all appreciative and thoroughly enjoyed them. In a land known for its milk products getting black tea is near impossible. Vegan food is a bit tough as paneer and cream is used abundantly in everything but the restaurants agree to customize and make curries with requested ingredients. ( I do not have cauliflower and Kannan does not eat mushrooms so the choices do get narrowed a bit). The plus in all the places we visited was most restaurants were vegetarian and whatever they cooked was extremely tasty.
People The people in Punjab are very simple and highly hospitable and helpful. In Uttarakhan, except for the pestering by the pandas we had a good experience
Local Travel We used all modes of transport for local travel. In Uttarakhand, cabs are easily available but expensive. Electric autos ply at very economical rates within the city. In Amritsar Ola is easily available. No motorised vehicles are allowed in the temple complex area. Rikshaws are available for short distances in some places. Walking is the best way of getting around