Last year on my wife’s birthday and we decided to celebrate it in Yarra Valley. It took us over an hour, to drive 62 kms; from we are staying in Melbourne through beautiful hilly roads and reach De Bortoli a family owned winery.
In 1928, Vittorio De Bortoli bought 64 acres of land in New South Wales and later moved to Victoria in Yarra Valley.
Today the 3rd generation of De Bortoli family owns 500 acres and is one of the larger privately owned companies in Australia.
Their restaurant, is built at a height giving a very good view of the vineyards and the food is fresh and fabulous.
We thoroughly enjoyed our food @ Locale consisting of a selection of salumi and seasonal savoury antipasti for starters and for the main course, Potato gnocchi with pork shoulder ragu, Saffron and cuttlefish risotto, Fresh spaghettini with diamond shell clams & mussels and Potato & mascarpone tortellini. For dessert we ordered Frangipani Cake and Pichasto ice-cream. We also enjoyed their Pinot noir wine and light beer. Their staff is amazing & very helpful.
After lunch we spent some very good time in their garden.
Later we went to Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery set on 16 hectares amongst one of Australia’s premium wine regions. It was passionately set up by foodies Ian and Leanne Neeland. You can delight in the experience of tasting, seeing and indulging in quality chocolate products. You can also watch the art of chocolate making from handcrafting to hand packing.
There’s plenty of free chocolate and ice cream tastings to keep us interested.
Later on way back home we spotted Alpaca, a domesticated animal of South American origin in a farm. An adult alpaca generally is 81-99 cm in high and weighs between 48-84 kgs. In South American countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile they bred specifically for their fiber used for making knitted and woven blankets, sweaters etc similar to wool.
I understand that recently they have been imported to Australia and are being bred for their meat.
And so our day in beautiful Yarra Valley came to an end.
On way to Wagah Border, 35 km from Amritsar on Amritsar-Lahore highway, near the Daoka and Dhanoa Kalan village lies the historical Pul Kanjri. It is a World heritage site and is one among the many buildings built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
He would stay here with his royal troops, on his way to Lahore from Amritsar. The story goes that a dancer, from nearby village Makhanpura called Moran would often perform for the king. Once while crossing the water stream, built by Shah Jehan to carry water to Shalimar Bagh in Lahore, she lost her Silver jooti (slipper) and complained to the king.
He then built a pul (bridge) across the stream with a fortress containing a bathing pool, with a separate enclosure for women. He also constructed a temple, a Gurudwara and a mosque at this site. People later named that pul as Kanjri Pul.
It later became an important trading centre. People would come from far-flung areas, including Amritsar and Lahore, for shopping. The main inhabitants were Arora Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus who lived here happily till the partition of Punjab. The historical town has now been reduced to a tiny village.
During the Indo Pak war in 1971, this area was captured by Pakistani troops to be later reclaimed by India. There is a war memorial where on 22 August each year, people come to pay their tributes to their ancestors and perform Akhand path in the memory of those who had died.
It is a beautiful place to spend an evening. You can combine it with your visit to Wagah on your return journey.
When weather improved this Sunday, we got out of our quilts and headed straight to Mehrauli with our friend and local Delhi monument expert, Vikramjit Singh. It was a fun filled morning with lots to see and learn.
Interestingly in Delhi there is history at every step as this city was probably inhabited before the second millennium BC. It is believed to be the site of Indraprastha, the legendary capital of the Pandavas and according to Mahabharat, this land was initially a huge mass of forests called ‘Khandavaprastha’ which was burnt down to build the city of Indraprastha.
A study of earliest architectural relics point to an inscription from Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273–235 BC) and remains of eight major cities have been discovered here. The first five of them are in the southern part of present-day Delhi.
In 736 AD, King Anang Pal of the Tomar dynasty founded the city of Lal Kot. In 1180 AD, this was conquered by the Chauhans, who called Qila Rai Pithora. In 1192, Mohammed Ghori, a Tajik invader from Afghanistan defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan and assumed control.
After Ghori’s death, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, became the first Sultan of Delhi, after breaking away from the Ghurid Dynasty. He later built the Qutab Minar and named after the great Sufi Saint Qutabuddin Bhaktiar Khak, whose shrine is nearby. He also built Quwwat-al-Islam (might of Islam) mosque.
Thereafter for the next 300 years, Delhi was ruled by a succession of Turkic and the Lodhis.
During our walk we covered the Mehrauli Archaeological Park spread over 200 acres near Qutub Minar. There are over 100 historically significant monuments in this area known for 1,000 years of continuous years of occupation. The main ones covered by us are –
Azim Khan’s Tomb – It was built in 17th century AD on a small octagonal structure. Not much is known about Azim Khan and this tomb.
Khan Shaheed’s (Balban’s son) tomb, who died fighting the Mongols in 1285A.D. The floral designs on the inside walls are magnificent and reminds us the grandeur of that period.
Jamali Kamli Tomb. It is a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture, built in 1535 by a Sufi saint, who lived in the court of Sikander Lodi, called Shaikh Hamid bin Fazlullah, also known as Dervish Shaikh Jamali Kamboh Dihlawi or Jalal Khan Jamali. On the northern side of the mosque is tomb of Jamali & Kamali. Not much is known about Kamali.
Balban’s Tomb. The Slave dynasty ruler of Delhi, Ghiyas ud din Balban’s is not in a very good condition though it is of great significance. It was in this tomb that the first true arch was built in India. Sadly by the time it was discovered in the mid-twentieth century most of the tomb had been destroyed.
Rajon ki Baoli. During Sikander Loghi’s reign, in 1506, this baoli was constructed to store water though it is now completely dried and is now known as Sukhi Baoli.
Gandhak ki Baoli. It is the largest step well to be built in Delhi. As the water here smelled like sulphur it was called Gandhak (sulphur) ki Baoli (well). It was constructed during the rule of Emperor Shams-ud-din Iltutmish who was also the founder of the slave dynasty. He was of Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak’s slave who later became his close confidante and later married the Sultan’s daughter.
Zafar Mahal is the last monument built as a summer palace during the last years of the Mughal empire. The Mahal was built first by Akbar Shah II in the 18th century while the entrance gate was reconstructed in the 19th century by Bahadur Shah Zafar II. He had selected a site for his burial next to the famous Dargha of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. Unluckily he was deported by the British to Rangoon, after the 1857 First War of Indian Independence where he died of old age without any honour. The site he chose still awaits his mortal remains.
Saddened he wrote :
Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye,
Do gaz zameen bhi mil na saki kuye yaar mein
This area requires a visit whenever you are in Delhi next or next Sunday. Unless people start visiting these monuments, I doubt if they will exist for long.
This was my fourth visit to the holy city of Amritsar and Wagah border. A lot of people (who have obviously not witnessed it) have asked me, “what is there to see at the border?” Actually nothing but the sheer thrill you witness while flags are raised and lowered is something to be felt and not described.
The daily ritual is followed by India and Pakistan in front of hundreds and thousands of citizens of both countries, with Indian side witnessing far great crowds. On weekends and holidays you can see a sea of humanity here.
The ceremony takes place every evening before sunset at the Wagah border, which as part of the Grand Trunk Road was the only road link between these two countries before the opening of the Aman Setu in Kashmir in 1999.
The ceremony starts with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both the sides, and ends up in the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations’ flags. It is called the beating retreat border ceremony on the international level. One infantryman stands at attention on each side of the gate. As the sun sets, the iron gates at the border are opened and the two flags are lowered simultaneously. The flags are folded and the ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, followed by the closing of the gates again. The spectacle of the ceremony attracts many visitors from both sides of the border, as well as international tourists. Both sides synchronize their parade and the entire event is meant to create a feel-good/patriotic fervor amongst the crowd. These days even BSF lady officers take part in this parade.
The border gates have a visitor gallery on each side, basically concrete steps created around the border main road. This allows most people in the crowd to get a seat but it is not uncommon to see up to 500-1000 people standing at the periphery. There are metal fences to help direct and control the crowds in and out of the seating areas.
Ideally, you should reach the border gates latest by 3:30 PM to get some seating if you’re going on a public holiday.
The seating is as follows:
• VIP seating – closest to the gates and requires a special pass which can be made from the BSF station near the Amritsar bypass road a couple of days in advance.
• Foreign tourists – a section, after the VIP area, reserved for foreign nationals (passport has to be produced). Foreigners of both sexes are kept together in the same area after going through the separated security lines.
• Ladies exclusive – only ladies, and small children are allowed. A little further from the gates (about 80m away)
• General seating – tends to get very crowded and congested during rush days.
Except Cell phones, Cameras (any kind) and small wallets no covered bags (including ladies purses & handbags) are allowed inside the visitor areas. The restrictions are usually dependent on the crowd and perceived security alertness on that day.
For tourists coming in to see the ceremony, the taxis/cars need to be parked about 500m away from the entry gates to the border area and you need to walk in and reach the visitor gallery. There are no tickets to see this event, it is free for viewing for anyone on the Indian side.
Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks in northern India, covering an area of 392 km. It lies in Sawai Madhopur district of south eastern Rajasthan. Originally, in 1955 Govt of India established it as Sawai Madhopur Game Sanctuary.
In 1973 it was declared one of the Project Tiger reserves and in 1991 it was enlarged to include the nearby Sawai Man Singh and Keladevi sanctuaries.
It is one of the best places in India to see tigers in their natural jungle habitat. There are other wild animals too like leopard, nilgai, wild boar, sambar, hyena, sloth bear and chital but everyone’s focus is tigers.
We started from Delhi early in the morning to reach Ranthambore by 2 pm. It is about 360 kms from Delhi and we drove via Alwar – Dausa- Sawai Madhopur stopping a little before Alwar for breakfast of Aloo parathas. This route do not have too many places to eat but you can get some exceptional shots of rural life in Rajasthan.
Since it was a long weekend Sawai Madhopur was bustling with tourists and most of the hotels and safari were over booked. We had booked earlier so we went straight to the hotel, had lunch and headed straight to the Rantambore Fort.
The Fort, lies within the Ranthambore National Park on top of a hill at the heart of the Park and is known for the glory and valor of Hammir Dev of the Chauhan dynasty. In 2013, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the group Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
The name Ranthambhore comes from two adjoining hills – Rann and Thambhore offering some breathtaking views of the Park. The walls of the fort are about 7 kilometers in length and include an area of nearly 4 square kilometers. All around the fort, one can see many old ruins, including palaces, temples, cenotaphs, step-wells and houses.
The fort is surrounded by massive stonewalls which are strengthened by towers and bastions. The stone for the masonry was mined from inside the Fort and the mines were later turned into ponds for water storage.
The main approach to the Fort lies through a narrow valley, which had four fortified gateways. Of these, only the first gate – Misradhara gate, is still standing. There are many ruined buildings inside the Fort, with Hammir’s Court, Badal Mahal, Dhula Mahal and Phansi Ghar being the most prominent of them. The Fort also has many cenotaphs, temples and gates.
The Ganesh Temple, which lies very close to the main entry gate to the Fort, attracts a steady flow of pilgrims, mainly from the rural hinterland. During the annual Ganesh festival, tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the temple, from all over the country.
A small perennial stream called Gupt Ganga flows in this part of the Fort where you can see a large number of birds, Langurs, the odd small cat and sometimes, even leopards.
The next day we took two safaris. Amongst all the people staying at our hotel, some saw one, some saw none. Some saw 3 tigers including 2 cubs, I think we were the luckiest as we saw a tigress (No T 19 we were told) carry HER kill. It was an awesome site, truly like an audience with GOD.
Once she moved into the bushes, where we were told her cubs were waiting (we did not see them) we waited for a long time for HER to appear but we were not obliged.
When visiting Chand Baoli in Abhaneri do not miss to visit Harshat Mata Temple.
In 8th century King Chand was the ruler of Abhaneri which was then called Abha Nagri. He built a temple and dedicated it to Harshat Mata. The temple has mandap based on the pillars and the outer walls had carved images of gods.
The statue of goddess Harshat is protected from all sides by boundary made of iron by the department of archaeology. In front of the temple is the Lord Hanuman temple which is between Harshat Mata temple and Chand Baori. The stairs in front of the head gate is formed in such a way that they immediately leads to the surface and also the above shiver of the temple. On the right hand side of the shiver is the Shiva temple including the Shiv-Panchayat situated at the same place. on the other hand, the second shiver is an open round place on middle of which is the cell and Mandap of the temple is established.
This temple was destroyed during the Mughal and Turkish invasions. It was rebuilt by locals after collecting the small pieces but the temple was not the same. It is around three thousand years old and is a must visit to see the fragmented temple with the same conviction of people towards it.
If you are driving to Jaipur from Delhi or back or between Agra and Jaipur or else you can go for a day’s trip to Abhaneri in Dausa District in Rajasthan, I promise you will not be disappointed.
Chand Baori is one of the oldest step well and most attractive landmarks of Rajasthan. It was built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty between 800 and 900 AD in Abhaneri village in Dausa district and was dedicated to Hashat Mata, Goddess of Joy and Happiness upon completion. The village of Abhaneri is believed to have been established by the Gurjar Pratihar King Samrat Mihir Bhoj, who in mythology, is presented as King Raja Chand.
It is 95 km from Jaipur, on the Jaipur-Agra road and is located opposite Harshat Mata Temple. It consists of 3,500 narrow steps over 13 stories and extends approx 100 ft into the ground making it one of the deepest and largest step wells in India.
Since Rajasthan is extremely arid, and the design and final structure of Chand Baori was intended to conserve as much water as possible. At the bottom of the well, the air remains 5-6 degrees cooler than at the surface, and Chand Baori was used as a community gathering place for locals during periods of intense heat. One side of the well has a pavilion and resting room for the royals.
On a relatively hot late afternoon 5 of us got together in Gurgaon and headed straight to Lajpat Nagar II in New Delhi. Our aim, to explore the by-lanes of the Afghan Colony in Lajpat Nagar and enjoy Kebabs.
The location was not a surprise, as after India opened up medical tourism large number of Afghans started visiting New Delhi for medical treatment and today Lajpat Nagar is home to over a hundred Afghan families, including many of whom came to Delhi in the early ’90s to escape the chaos of post-Soviet Afghanistan and also who came for medical treatment but stayed on.
To give families a flavour of their home several eating joints came up, many of them exclusively makes Afghani naans. In Afghanistan, there is a tradition that families cook the rest of the meal at home but get the bread from a nearby Naanwai (baker). These Naans are quite different from the Mughlai one we’re used to as they are largely made of fermented wheat flour (Atta), not maida.
After patting a large chunk of dough into a squat ball, a man dimples it in a grid-like pattern by stabbing it with his fingers and puts it on one edge of a long cloth-covered tablet, and stretch to about half a metre long, to give the Afghani Naan its distinctive shape. Then he slaps the Naan onto the inside of the clay oven, where it bakes like any tandoori bread. You can see stacks of Naans piled up on small tables from where a stream of customers buy them before meals.
We started our food walk with an Afghani Burger, which in reality was boiled eggs on a naan with a whole lot of potato fries and dollops of sweet tomato ketchup giving it a very unique taste.
Next stop was Afghan Kebab House, where we tried Kebab Chopan, Kebab Bhakhtiyari and Mutton Kebabs. Chopan kabob is a bit of a regional specialty in Afghanistan and is supposed to be named after shepherds (Chopan) who rubbed chunks of lamb on the bone with plenty of salt, skewer the meat on twigs or small branches, and roast them over fire while watching their flocks. Kebab Bakhtiari is a combination of Chicken and lamb in a decussate form and its name comes from the Bakhtiyari people.
The kebabs were cooked to a perfect tenderness and the burnt charcoal smell makes you chew the bones too. It is small place without any fancy trappings the focus being on food alone. Apart from the tables the restaurant also has a traditional “dastarkhan” laid out where you can either sit and eat or offer Namaaz, or just swap tales with friends. For music the Afghan TV plays in the back ground.
Each plate of Kebabs has 10 pieces and most of the Kebabs are reasonably priced. They are served with a salad consisting of Capsicum slices, tomato and cabbage shreds and their traditional Naans.
Our next stop was Mazaar Restaurant, which is also a small place but the decor was slightly better than Afghan Kebab House. We ordered Uzebki Naan, Qorma Kofta and Mangtu. Mangtu is momos Afghan style but the difference was the sauce which was made of tomatoes and yoghurt, and wasn’t spicy at all. The Qorma was again pure Keema balls in tomato gravy which was sweet rather than spicy. We also tried their salted Lassi which had shredded Cucumber in it. Since only Phirni was available in sweets, we avoided the dessert.
Understated spices and the absence of oiliness was common to all the dishes we had, which made them both easier on the palate and lighter on the stomach than the typical Mughlai meals you get in Delhi.
So strong is the Afghani influence in this part of the city that at times you forget that you are in India as signboards appear as if they are in a foreign land.
Prices: Expect to spend about Rs. 350 to 400 per head.
Lansdowne, was originally called Kaludanda after Kalu (Black) and Danda (Hill) in Garhwali. After the British came to India, they called it Lansdowne, after Lord Lansdowne, the then Viceroy of India (1888-1894).
On 5 November 1887, the first battalion of Garhwal Rifles shifted to Lansdowne from Almora. In the late 1870s Lansdowne was the only city after Almora and it was developed as a Recruits Training center for Garhwal Rifles. Presently Garwal Rifles has its command office here. During the freedom struggle it also became a major place for activities of the freedom fighters from British Garhwal.
It is one of the closest (from Delhi) and quietest hill stations of India in the Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand and is well connected with motor able roads. It is situated at an altitude of 1,706 mts above sea level surrounded with thick oak and blue pine forests.
People of different culture and states came to do business in Lansdowne after it became popular. Most of the buildings and church of Lansdowne was built during British period.
It is an ideal location for eco-tourism as it is well preserved by the Government of Uttarakhand and the Garhwal Rifles in an area of 6 sq km.
How to reach
The drive to Lansdowne is beautiful with not much traffic. The route goes through small hamlets and thickly forested countryside roads. The first view of Lansdowne is breathtaking, tall oaks and blue pines raise like spires off the mountainside. The forests are lovely, dark and deep, just ideal for those long walks and for rejuvenating oneself.
Stage 1: Delhi to Meerut 70 kms. If you leave Delhi by 0600 hrs then one can go right through Meerut town up to Begum Bridge and turn RIGHT on the Mawana road ( NH 119 ). If starting later get on to the Meerut by pass and after going 9 kms take a right turn at the fly over (under construction at the moment) toward Meerut Cantt. After 3 kms turn left and proceed for 2.5 kms and take a right turn cross the railway line and turn left to proceed towards Sadar bazaar, Sofia Girls Higher Secondary School and onto the Mawana road.
Break: Stop over at Monty Millions a restaurant just 2 kms out of Meerapur. It has clean rest rooms & you can have breakfast / lunch depending on the time you reach there.
Stage 2: Take a RIGHT turn from here to the barrage over the Ganges 15 kms away then onwards. Bijnor to Kiratpur is 16 kms and from there to Najibabad is 15kms and then another 25 kms to Kotdwara.
Stage 3: 2 kms out of Doggada there is a T-junction. Take the LEFT turn on the PAURI road (the right turn goes to Lansdowne which is 23 kms from this point ). 15 1/2 kms from this turn one has to take a RIGHT turn for Lansdowne and Oak Grove Inn at Jaiharikhal is just 5.2 kms away.
By Rail (nearest station Kotdwar) – about 8 hours travel (7 hrs train + 1 hr road)
Take a train to Kotdwar railway station (40 km/1 hr from us). The best option is Mussoorie Express (Departure: Old Delhi 10:15 pm; Arrival: Kotdwar 5:20 am) Hire a cab to Lansdowne, approx Rs 500.
We chose to stay in a beautiful guest house, Oak Groove Inn, run by Rawats, Retd Col Rawat and his wife Mrs Neelam. It is small property but with a big heart. They serve simple vegetarian food, just like home, and on request they do provide you with non-vegetarian food also.
The Rawats are warm and hospitable, with a small but efficient team as staff. The highlight for me was an evening when we sat down for drinks with Col Rawat in the ‘Hang-Out’. The rooms were clean and comfortable. It was a short holiday but the behavior of the hosts (Rawats) make me want to go back again. It was definitely one of my most memorable vacations in a very long time.
This weekend we decided to visit Bateshwar, 278 kms from Gurgaon and happens to the birthplace of our former PM Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Friday morning was very foggy and it was tough to drive on the DND and by the time we reached Agra it was 1.30pm. So we decided to stop for lunch at Trident Agra. It was a wise decision as the Lal Maas we ate at The Restaurant, Trident was cooked very well home style with not too much oil or spices. Thanks to the team of Chef Ashutosh Awasthi and Chef Praveen Madhukar it was a memorable lunch.
After lunch we headed for Bateshwar which is about 72 kms from Agra. The road is a single road and needs massive repairs as at some places there was no road at all and even though we were in a SUV, we had a tough time. We finally managed to reach Bateshwar, a small UP village with nothing to boast about at about 5.30 pm.
The village town is on the banks of Yamuna and is one of the oldest towns with a rich history, famous for its 101 Shiv temples and as a place of pilgrimage for Jains. The 22nd Tirthankar Lord Neminath was born here and in those days it was called Shaouripur after its founder Yadav King Shursen, great-grandfather of both the Hindu god Krishna and of the 22nd Tirthankar of the Jains – Neminath.
According to the locals a devotee of Shiva lived here under a magnificent Banyan tree (which is called Bat in Sanskrit). He raised a shrine which became known as Bat-Ishwar which later got corrupted as Bateshwar.
The excavations done here suggest that it was a thriving settlement in 3000 BC, during Lord Krishna’s time. According to Jain scriptures this place was abandoned by the Yadava clan for strategic reasons leading to its decline as the river Yamuna changed its course causing the settlement to move twice, ending at the site of present day Bateshwar.
Aundha Khera or overturned city and the Purana Khera or old city were also identified during excavations here. Sufficient proof of habitation has been found here during the Maurya period (around 300BC) and during the mighty Kushan Empire (First century AD). Some of the buildings and the incomplete fort have been found to be built by reusing Kushan era bricks.
King Badan Singh Bhadoriya who ruled here was a dynamic king who changed the flow of Yamuna river from east to west towards Bateshwar and built 101 Shiva temples in a sequence along the banks of river.
These temples are mentioned in Ramayana, Mahabharata and Matsyapurana and comprise of Bateshwar Nath Temple, Bhimeshwar, Narmadeshwar, Rameshwar, Moteshwar, Jageshwar, Panchmukhishwar, Pataleshwar and Gauri Shankar’s Nemi Nath Jain Temple. In Bateshwar temple there are idols of Shiv, Parvati and Ganesh carved out of a single stone.
For the last 400 years, an annual cattle fair is held here in the month of November in honour of Pasupati, another name for Shiva.
In the name of accommodation in this village town is Rahi Tourist Bungalow, run by UP Tourism. The bunglow is absolutely run down place and is in bad shape requiring major repairs. We were the first guests in the last 6 years so you can imagine how run down the place would be. Generally the pilgrims stay in the Jain dharamshala in the temple complex.
Next morning we left for Pinahat to see the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus). We were told that you can spot Gangetic Dolphins too but when we reached the banks of Chambal river we were told that no boats are avilable for that day. Typical of government departments, I wonder why they are known as Tourism Department when they try their best not to promote tourism or help tourists. A private party, Chambal Safari runs tours on Chambal but they are quite expensive, about 13,000 rupees per person as it includes accommodation also. Sadly we had to come back disappointed as they too refused to entertain us as they prefer foreign tourists only.