Saturday, April 14, 2018

Balle Balle in Apple town

When the alarm went off by 12:15 AM, I could not fathom as to why it was going off at that unearthly hour when it is not even Diwali, to get up so early. Some stabilization brought sanity in the thoughts and I leaped out of the bed realizing that we need to catch the 5 AM flight whose check in closes by 4:15 or so! It was heartening to see another 30 pairs of bleary eyed people with back packs and blue caps at the Kamaraj domestic airport at Chennai. Though deprived of sleep, there was no dearth of cheer as the entourage was all set for a six days sojourn in the land of apples and Bangra.

Chennai Airport
Despite the unearthly hour of takeoff, the team was quick to devour the tasty Idlies and caught up with the lost sleep when the Indigo pilot deftly eased the big bird on the tarmac of Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi. After capturing some parts of the tastefully decorated airport into the meager storage of our cell phones, we moved on to proceed to the bus, waiting to take us to Chandigarh.

New Delhi Airport
New Delhi Airport
The (very) early morning breakfast by then had become a thing of the past but the thoughtfully arranged sandwiches and Patties were enough for the group to munch through the bumpy Delhi highway, which seems to have been more patched up than laid. The road to Chandigarh was wide but void of trees and if only some one had thought green, the ride would have been enjoyable. After a tea stop at the 'much found'  Haveli near Sonepet we sped aimlessly on the North Indian highways that was distinctly different from their southern counterpart more on the road signs and kilometer indications, until we reached the picturesque Velvet Clarke Exotica hotel   ( ) by around 3 pm.

After a hurried lunch that stretched into the evening , we set out to the first tourist spot of Chandigarh namely 'The Rock Garden'. Though I had seen this elaborately in 2013, the thoughtful park by Nek Chand again created awe in the minds of the tourists as to how every scrap could be made into a piece of art !

Rock Garden, Chandigarh
The tiresome journey through the bouncy road to Chandigarh and the subsequent leg work did not permit the group to venture out anywhere else other than the delicious dining hall before retiring for the day.

Day-2: (02-Apr-2018):

Chandigarh hotel Dining area
Having rested the aching heels under the embrace and comforts of the linen of the well decorated Velvet Clarke Exotica, the team was up early and to cover the vast expanse of road travel planned, we set out early on the road to Amritsar, after a filling breakfast at the tastefully decorated open dining area of the hotel. With the road better than the one from Delhi, the satiated crowd looked ahead to plan for the day at Amritsar, little realizing what has been ordained just few minutes ahead. The nightmarish experience that was experienced as we sped past Phagwara could better be read , more in detail, at my exclusive blog post: Cabbana, the Savior

Stunning Brilliance 
Having lived out the nightmare under the protective arms of Cabbana, we set out to Amritsar at last, to reach the gleaming Golden temple by around 7 PM. The place in addition to its reverence is always a photographer's delight and a visit late into the evening is merrier for the eyes behind the camera. The sheer brilliance of the gleaming golden dome under the powerful arc lamps, the hovering security intercepting women the moment the duppatta round their heads slip and the smell of ghee soaked prasad inviting the devotee's second glance even before dharshan is a sight to behold and an experience to undergo. But, all these fade into insignificance the moment one enters the main pathway leading to THE place where the revered scripture is placed, to the soothing voice chanting the holy hymn with the actual words also being shown on the closed circuit TVs placed around.

Feeling Blessed 
After a day of myriad experiences-some scary and some delightful to the soul- the cool comforts of  Golden Tulip Hotel  embraced us to put us into sleep the moment we hit the sinking foam of the King sized bed.

Day-3 (03-Apr-2018):

Adding to the excellence of the hotel room and a breakfast that was challenging the taste bud, is the sense of celebration around. Generally around Amritsar, one could see quite a number of colorfully  decorated marriage halls and the floral arrangements at the hotel enticed the group to have an extended photo session, before we hit the road for Dalhousie.

 Buoyed by the numerous memories captured,  the team sped through the dusty roads of Amritsar and the scenario improved for better on the road to Dalhouse with more greeneries.

After the customary forty winks supported by the rich breakfast, there were gossips to the earful from those we couldn't keep their mouths closed even away from the dining hall, but all was done in good spirits.  A Punjabi 'Chaai' en route was gulped more for the grandeur of a cane furniture shop nearby and again the cameras went overboard with clicks and flashes.

As the bus panted its way through the steep hill, there were scenarios galore that begged to be captured and that deterred the people from dozing off again!

En route to Dharamshala
Given the high standards set at earlier places, the room as well as the food were a mild disappointment at Dalhousie we realised, when we checked in to Indraprastha resort at Dalhousie  by around 2 PM. After a quick lunch of whatever available, we set out to Khajjiar , where the picturesque and green carpeted viewpoint reminding one of the greens of the Ooty Botanical garden enthused all. The team merrily went on a photo shoot spree until a light drizzle drove them to the cover for a hot tea that tasted heavenly in that chill.

Khajjiar, Dharamshala

Khajjiar, Dharamshala

Khajjiar, Dharamshala

Khajjiar, Dharamshala

After visiting a pitch dark Nag Temple, the group rushed back to the warmth of the van , the cold being aggravated by a mild drizzle.

Nag Temple, Khajjiar
 Any thought of visiting a temple on the way was quickly dismissed as the team went ahead to the Mall road for a shopping spree.

The mall road is similar to any other mall road on a hill station with the quickest to buy an article for Rs 150 was left to rue his speed as the last one bought the same article for less than hundred rupees !!

But the weather did not disappoint , as the temperature kept falling and the hot and delicious soup at the dinner table was the much sought after item over others. The gossip session that followed amongst the bankers around was one to be remembered at all times, as only the next day early departure drove the reluctant gossipers to bed.

Day-4 (04-Apr-2018):

After a slightly better quality breakfast , we set out early as we had to catch up with a missed spot of the previous day. The Punchpula water falls disappointed as there was neither water nor anything other than the rolling rocks under the tourists legs that fell. But the place amply compensated the disappointment with some exquisite photo spots that warmed the hearts of the guys while the women folk chose to visit the nearby rickety shop to burn some holes in the pockets of the folks posing for photographs blissfully ignorant of the silent loot happening nearby.


Clearing the arrears of yesterday, the bus set on a long journey when it climbed up and down the hills and at times went through mountains but the varying altitudes also brought in some warmer temperature and by the time we stopped for a tea, we were even mildly sweating. But the deft handling of our driver needs appreciation as he kept on whistling and maneuvering the tricky turns  as we at times sped past some breathtaking views too.

En route to Dharamshala

After deceiving us of having reached many a times at the sight of a bigger looking town, we finally reached Dharamshala by around 4 PM and despite a mild rain dampening the spirits, for fear of impeding our already tightened schedule, we had a hurried but filling lunch at the rich looking and promising  Indraprastha spa  .

As we finished the lunch, the rains relented and we immediately set out for sight seeing  the first being a place called Naddi, which provided a wonderful sight of snow capped mountains

Naddi, Snow view

Naddi, Snow view

Realizing that we need to catch up with two more spots before they close, the jeep sped through narrow alleys of Dharamshala and the Bagsu Nag temple we visited next was small but attractive temple made of marble with a swimming pool view behind.

Bagsu Nag Temple
Bagsu Nag Temple

Then we hurried to the Dharamshala Tibetian Monastry with barely ten minutes for the closure time but then on seeing the visitors, the place rolled out a carpet and to our surprise there was no restriction on taking photos too !!

Tibetan Monastery
Having completed the itinerary for the day, we relaxed to a luxurious dinner and wandered through the superbly maintained poolside and lounge for some customary photos!!

Dalhousie Hotel Lounge

Dalhousie Hotel Poolside
Day-5 (05-Apr-2018):

With the tour entering the final lap and body protesting due to unprecedented travel almost every day, the fifth day dawned with the renewed hope of heading home, though still far off. 

Dharamshala Balcony View

Dharamshala Balcony View
The team after a healthy breakfast, had another flurry of flashes and headed for the Dal Lake at Dharamshala.

Dal Lake, Dharamshala
The War memorial at Dharamshala is a cool green place to visit at any time and the early morning weather added to the gaiety of the mood. 

War Memorial, Dharamshala

War Memorial, Dharamshala
While it was certain that we could never hold the bat or ball and stand in the middle, the team decided to atleast pose in front of the beautiful HPCA cricket ground at Dharamshala, one of the best cricket grounds in the world and a dream for any cricket lover. Personally for me, my disappointment of not being able to enter Sydney ground (due to maintenance closure) was somewhat satisfied by this visit to one of the world's best cricket ground.

HPCA Cricket Stadium, Dharamshala

HPCA, Cricket Stadium, Dharamshala
The bus then proceeded towards Chandigarh with the temperature rising higher as we sped past every bend and though we were touching distance of Jwalamuki , the tight schedule did not permit a few hours of detour and as if to compensate the disappointment visited the Bagaladevi temple, a simple but beautiful one and later came to know that it is a Siddhar peetam !
Bagala Devi Temple
We were lucky to spot a hotel that served good south Indian items , a surprise packet at that remote place in the northern part of the country. Though I was not looking for it, the coffee served reminded me of the filter coffee back home!


With a sumptuous lunch, we were unable to sleep in the speeding bus, due to the strange rule prevailing in some parts around here that after the tragic Nirbhaya incident, vehicles were not allowed to have curtains !! Appeared to be cruel in that people exposed to the sunny side of the travel are roasted in the afternoon sun and the driver was very insistent on this as booking for violation could invite a hefty fine ! As we touched ground level at Unna and passed through Nangal, it was also a pleasing sight to see the water gushing out as we reached the last of the Havelis of this tour with more attractions for the tourists than the Punjabi chaai !

Haveli Attractions !

Haveli Attraction

Energized by a hot tea, as the bus crawled through the evening traffic towards Chandigarh we utilized the time to have introductions and an useful discussions and feedback to the tour organizers , as we reached the attractive Velvet Clarke Exotica for the second time in this tour. After a leisure dinner, the IOB trio managed to have a chat session , one last time on this tour. 

Day-6 - (06-Apr-2018):

Eager to catch up with the lost time on the first day of the tour the team hurried through Breakfast and took some customary photos at the hotel lounge before rushing to the Lake.

Chandigarh hotel Lounge
At the Sukhna Lake, with the cool breeze flowing across and the Chandigarh sun yet to rise, we chose to walk along the lake while a section took to boat ride. The lake pathway and the adjacent park were well maintained with neatly pruned garden making the walk a heavenly experience that also gave us some more time to remain close knit.

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh
The last visiting spot was the famous Rose Garden of Chandigarh and it was astonishing to see so many types of roses across a vast expanse of land, right in the midst of the town. Not willing to be deterred by the blazing sun, we managed to take some wonderful pictures of the garden.

As the entourage prepared to part , there were hugs and parting back pats and it was time for the trio , not only to have a frozen memory, but also the delve deep into the past six days.

The trio that made the tour a better meeting experience
Over these six days when we covered some wonderful spots of Punjab and Himachal Pradhesh, we were exposed to the high standards of comforts carefully chosen and the food too was nearing the top notch. Kudos to the Tour organizers, Sree Janaki tours , with whom we have been travelling since 2012 and I am able to notice some niche areas of comforts being carved by them for their customers. I am sure  this is bound to increase in the days to come putting the customers in a spot wondering what more to ask for. A week well travelled, well exposed to the vagaries of nature, emotions of people across my own country but more importantly enabled me to add some more to by friends list which is happily swelling !! 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Cabbana, the Savior

The group on a tour of Punjab and Himachal Pradhesh, after a hearty breakfast at the Velvet Clarke Exotica , Chandigarh was speeding through the Chandigarh- Amritsar highway, with the tough looking but graceful with the wheel driver gunning the AC bus, desperately searching with his tongue for the last crumbs of the delicious pastry devoured in the morning.  The team was happily passing through 'the smart city, Ludhiana' as the huge name board suggested and were toying with what to do with the time when the 100 odd KMs were covered in the next few hours , on reaching Amritsar ! Though few passengers who grabbed the Daily at the hotel lounge and those who managed to stay awake despite the speed of the bus,  hovered over the headlines of a nationwide bandh, little did they realize about the impending roadblocks until they crossed Phagwara, a still sleeping town. As the vehicle climbed the long over bridge it suddenly started losing speed on seeing vehicles coming in the opposite direction , but in the same lane and within meters, the driver decided to reverse the bus and take a detour , as there were some problems reported due to bandh, on the road ahead. But even the alternate routes were promptly plugged and soon all roads out of Phagwara, were reported to be closed due to the nation wide bandh and our bus was stranded mid way, not knowing where to go. When the driver attempted to drive further we were warned that the locals in that area are aggressive and not to venture into anything that could provoke them as the damage to the property and also people could become imminent. This was proved right when we were looking to proceed and were sternly warned and when the driver took some time to make the turn, the cold look of some young Turks before the roadblock sent a chill down our spines. If only the looks could kill.....!!!

We hurriedly obeyed the majority command and started knocking at some of the major hotels in the area looking for a place to stay until the evening  but most of them had employed heavy security people looking like boxers and when our bus slowed down to make a request , we were sternly waved away , not even allowing us to explain our predicament. The bus made  a slow move to a nearby petrol bunk, which though was closed had its washroom open for the senior citizens, who had by now had a full bladder matching the fear that has filled their hearts.

With every major hotel closing their doors on us and not willing to accommodate, we were at our wits end to find solutions for a safe shelter, lunch and a resting place to escape the heat that has started prevailing through Punjab.  A passing good Samaritan on a motor cycle did try to divert us through another road, but we learnt that the bandh organizers have blocked that too, tightening the noose around the hapless travelers through the rich state.  When the bus driver made a mild attempt to escape the scene under the guise of looking for better place by going on foot, the alert tour organizer and a few in the touring party stopped him and on our prompt he slowly wheeled the vehicle looking for a safer haven, when we saw the grand looking Cabbana Resort and Spa ( ).

The Majestic Cabbana
(Thanks to the Hotel Website for the nice photo)
Awed by its grandeur, overawed by the prevailing atmosphere, few of us chose to carefully trod to the front desk, where a smiling Front office Manager patiently listened to our predicament and immediately assured us of a shelter , without bating an eyelid. Unable to believe it, we explained that we are a party of 33 proceeding to Amritsar as part of a Punjab and Himachal tour, when we were hit by the sudden bandh call and that we are concerned about the safety and shelter of the team , mostly consisting of senior citizens. Still smiling, the official summoned the F & B Manager, who ushered the group into their spacious air conditioned hall and the welcome tea served really warmed the cockles of our hearts and it took sometime for us to believe that amongst hotels that prevent entry with some burly boxers , there are also people like Cabbana , who opened up their hearts for the hapless elders to enter.

Settled team

With calmed nerves, the grey matter to the fore for some healthy discussion
The entourage not only settled into vantage points in the hall with a nice cool atmosphere, but also set out to explore the beautiful ambiance and were surprised to know that many popular cricketers including M S Dhoni had dined there and their souvenirs acknowledging their delectable food triggered their appetite and after an elaborate photo session capturing the lush greens into their mobiles to munch the scenario later along with their loved ones in the safe confines back home .

Lush green backdrop invited photo session
                        Certified quality !

Friends catching up !
The lunch served was a delight and the group also indulged in a siesta , blissfully ignorant of the situation brewing outside. But the hotel officials assured us that we could stay there until complete safety is assured and when they had some news of the bandh drawing to a close they took pains to personally verify with the plying of some large trucks in both directions, and only then they allowed us to leave, with some almost in tears.

This brought a stark reality in front of everyone that though the business is emerging as a dog-eating-dog scenario, there are some soft hearted people too, who care for the welfare of the people in distress even though we had difficulty in understanding their language and vice versa, with the much hated language of the people who left us 71 years back helping us to bridge the communication.

Only when we later came to know that Punjab was one of the places where the bandh was observed in all severity and that  there were some violence too involving loss of property and damage to moving vehicles , did the magnitude of the support offered by the Cabbana Resort and Spa, Phagwara and also the smart and quick decisions of the front desk officials, descended on the team.

With Ms Kripa of Front Desk and Mr Kamal, F & B Manager
Hats of to the hospitality and timely help rendered and the team with Sree Janaki Tours, Chennai bow their heads to the staff and more importantly to M/s Kripa and Kamal along with their support staff. With such warm hearts around, we realize that not all is lost, despite growing business competition and that Indian hospitality Industry still holds a lot of promise !

When you are near Phagwara, it is worth visiting Cabbana, where not only they serve food hot but also add spice with their warm hospitality.  Thank you, Cabbana !!

                                                   Kapaleeswaran & Shreekalah, Chennai, India