Prashanth shares his travelogue with us on what can only be described as an transformative Indian adventure. This from a guy who loves to see life from different points of view and understand different cultures. With a firm belief that there is much to see in beautiful India read on for more.
This is a story of my 3 week vacation which covered 17 UNESCO sites across the length of India. The plan was made when I came across the Go-UNESCO challenge. This was a competition to visit all 30 UNESCO sites in India within 1 year. Once I was registered for the challenge, I somehow managed to get a 3 week vacation from work, and from there started my journey to cover as many UNESCO sites as possible. My journey first took me from Bangalore to Hyderabad, where I spent a day catching up with relatives and filling up on some yummy biryani.
As part of the Go-UNESCO challenge, my first stop was Bhopal. Early morning, I booked a cab to Bhimbetka Rock Shelters. I was surprised to see the greenery in Madhya Pradesh. The state has some of the largest green fields I have seen. The entire drive was scenic. The Bhimbetka rock shelters have paintings which are around 10,000 to 30,000 years old. The paintings depict the life of the Stone Age people along with paintings of animals from that period. These cave paintings have been well preserved and the landscape around the rocks is beautiful with no noise from the city or the roads around. You could easily lose track of time admiring the rock paintings and the forest around.
After a quick lunch along the highway, I was off to the stupas at Sanchi. It is known to be one of the oldest stone structures in India commissioned by Ashoka the great. The place has a very spiritual feel to it even today. Situated on a hill top, you can spend hours meditating here. The main stupa has four gates and all of them have one of the most exquisite inscriptions I have seen. The carvings at the gates depict the story of Buddha and some principles of Buddhism.
The next stop was the famous temples of Khajuraho. I took an overnight train from Bhopal to Khajuraho. On arriving at the station early morning, I realized that I was the only Indian tourist at the station. This place has always been a taboo for Indian tourists. The reason was of course obvious but once I arrived here, I was surprised about everything I had heard about these temples. They have infamously been spoken about for their erotic sculptures, but there is a lot more to these temples. The sculptures have perfectly sharp features and have been beautifully carved. The artists working on these temples were definitely passionate about their work. The carvings on the temple walls depict the everyday life of the local people which includes taking a walk, removing thorns from feet, looking into a mirror, dancing etc. What really surprised me was that all these monuments were made of sandstone, with blocks placed one above the other held together with gravity only.
After spending the day in Khajuraho, I took the evening train to Delhi and once again I felt like an alien in my own country surrounded by only foreigners in my compartment. Delhi was a stop to spend some time with friends and feast on some of the most amazing north Indian food. You can never go wrong with food in Delhi. After a heavy lunch, I was off to visit Humayuns Tomb and Qutab Minar. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I was in love with Qutab Minar. It may seem like a simple tall pillar, but the detailing, use of stones and the area around it were just beautiful.
The next morning I took the Kalka Shimla toy train to reach Shimla. The train is one of the three mountain railways still operational in India. I got to experience some amazing weather and scenic landscape on the train ride to Shimla. Shimla is the perfect place to take a break from your everyday rat race and to take a casual walk around town, eat some juicy fruits and run around like you are crazy.
The same evening I took the toy train back to Kalka and then to Rishikesh. I had always believed Rishikesh to be extremely crowded and dirty, but on arriving it was just the opposite. The river Ganges was clean, lots of open space to enjoy the cool breeze and sound of the River flowing and a perfect place to contemplate the purpose of life. The next morning I was on a bus to Govindghat.
This was my first encounter with the mighty Himalayas, and I just could not keep my mouth closed. The mighty green mountains, with the river Alakananda flowing right beside me. I have no words to explain the feeling. You have got to be there to experience pure bliss and the magic of the Himalayan Mountains. After a lucky 8 hours of not getting stuck in any landslides we reached Govindghat. These roads are not exactly safe and during the monsoons there is a high probability of getting stuck in landslides. After a night stay at Govindghat, I started trekking early morning towards Ghangria. It’s a 13KM trek which takes about 8 hours to complete. It may seem like a long trek but the beauty of the land of Gods would never let you feel the tiredness. The trek was right along the river Pushpavati and was not very steep, but for those who can’t trek, there are options of using ponies or porters.
For the first time I was off to bed really early, as the weather gets really cold by sunset time and the best I could do is to fall asleep. The next morning, I was off to the most beautiful valley in the Himalayas – the Valley of Flowers. You can feel the air and the beauty of nature here. I was surrounded by sounds of flowing water, chirping birds and the whispering breeze. None of my photographs can do justice to what you feel when you get to the valley. It did not matter whether I got to see a lot of flowers, all I wanted was to pitch a tent and settle down here. But unfortunately you are not allowed to stay here. Time stands still when you get here and nothing in this world would matter anymore.
The next morning, I was on my way to visit Hemkunt Sahib. Most people here are Sikhs who come to visit the Gurudwara which is a popular pilgrimage amongst the Sikh religion. Hemkunt Sahib is situated at a height of 13500 feet above sea level. The trek here is a little steep and can take some time to complete. As I was in a hurry, I hopped onto a pony. There is a beautiful lake outside the Gurudwara, where you are supposed to take 3 dips in its freezing water before entering. I had no guts to get into that water, so after saying my prayers to God, I was on my way back to Govinghat.
Having come so far, I did not want to miss the visit to Mana – the last Indian village. It’s a tiny village situated near the China border. The village was surprisingly clean and the people here lived simple happy lives. Most people here are refugees from Tibet during the China takeover. After visiting the source of river Saraswati and the Vyas Gufa, I was on another trek to Vasudhara. As per the Mahabharat, the Pandavas stopped last under this waterfall before continuing their journey to heaven. I recommend that everyone visit this part of the Himalayas at least once in their lifetime. It is sheer beauty. I have no words for how awesome this place is. Like someone once said, the beauty of the Himalayas can never be seen or touched, it can only be felt. Beyond Vasudhara is called Devbhumi, which is the land of the Gods. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to continue on this path and had to head back. The next morning after a quick visit to the Badrinath temple I managed to catch a bus to Haridwar.
This time I was not too lucky and was stuck in a landslide but I was glad I got to experience the feeling of screaming “dum laga ke” with 10 other people to get our bus out of the slush and in return get covered with slush all the way up to my waist. Suddenly all the people sitting beside me who I thought were dirty seemed way cleaner than I was. Once in Haridwar and all freshened up, I was on a bus back to Delhi. After a relaxing two days in Delhi eating at as many places as I could, I took a train to Agra. Like any other tourist, how could I be in Agra and not visit the monument of love – The Taj Mahal. No matter how many pictures you have seen, you will always be awed by the magnificent Taj. Also when in Agra, don’t miss the surprisingly beautiful Agra fort. The architecture of the rooms in this fort is one of the best you might see in India.
From here I made a quick visit to Fatehpur Sikhri and then reached Bharatpur to spend the night. The next morning, I took a cycle rikshaw around the Keoladeo national park to click as many different birds with my camera. It’s the perfect place for wildlife photographers. After capturing the various migratory birds in my lens, I was off to Jaipur – the pink city. As my goal was to only visit the UNESCO sites, I did not have enough time to go around Jaipur. I spent a comfortable night at a heritage hotel with beautifully painted walls and colored glass windows. The next morning, I went to visit the Jantar Mantar. Here, you must take a guide to explain how these huge cement structures were used to accurately tell time and day of the year. It’s a marvel as to how someone could think of making such perfect instruments of measurement back then.
After a quick run around Jaipur Palace and a wholesome Rajasthani thali, I caught my train to Vadodara. From here I took an auto to take me to the Champaner and Pavagadh Archeological Park. This park is studded with forts, temples and mosques. Surprisingly very few tourists come this far west. In Vadodara you realize how honest, safe and helpful the people are here. Strangers will trust you and go out of their way to help you. There are no touts trying to irritate you here and everyone works with honesty. Just one day in Vadodara and I was in love with the people and the city.
The same evening I took a train to Mumbai where I had to visit the Chatrapathi Sivaji Terminus. I have been here multiple times, but due to the crazy crowd never really observed the beautiful architecture inside this train terminus. The crowd here did not let me stand in one place and just stare as I would always get pushed or carried away. Wish I could just sit in one corner and observe every little detail of this place. I wonder how many people in Mumbai have really observed the architecture of this building.
Finally, I was out of holidays and had to take a flight back to Bangalore. Many of you may not want to rush through all the places the way I did, but this holiday gave me a glimpse of the variety India provides for any kind of tourist. To summarize my vacation:
Bangalore -> Hyderabad -> Bhopal -> Khajuraho -> Delhi -> Shimla -> Rishikesh -> Valley of Flowers & Hemkunt Sahib -> Badri -> Mana -> Haridwar -> Delhi -> Agra -> Fatehpur Sikri -> Bharatpur -> Jaipur -> Vadodara -> Mumbai -> Bangalore.
21 days, 17 destinations, 14 sleepless train nights, and an unforgettable experience!