Red. Hot. Spicy.

FLAVOURS OF PUNJAB

THERE’S MORE TO PUNJABI CUISINE THAN THE OVER-HYPED BUTTER CHICKEN AND THE PANEER DISHES. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO Even 22 years after seeing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I can vividly…

THERE’S MORE TO PUNJABI CUISINE THAN THE OVER-HYPED BUTTER CHICKEN AND THE PANEER DISHES. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

Even 22 years after seeing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I can vividly recall the song Tujhe dekha to and the beautiful mustard farm it was picturised in. The sight of the yellow flowers amidst verdant greenery has always been stuck in my mind. Imagine then, my joy when I recently went to Punjab to explore the state’s culture and cuisine – and landed there in the midst of the mustard harvesting season. I was treated to rows and rows of unending yellow and green fields that instantly uplifted my spirits on my maiden visit to the Land of Five Rivers.

Say Punjab and the immediate association is of food. As much as it is a cliché, I always think of Punjabis as people who love food. While I found this to be true, I also discovered that there is so much more to the cuisine beyond the done-to-death butter chicken and paneer dishes. It is no coincidence that Punjab has always had a rich food culture. It is said that the Maharaja of Patiala was a food connoisseur who ensured his cooks write out their recipes in detailed manuscripts.

I started my food trail in Amritsar at Pul Kanjari close to the India-Pakistan border and followed it up with a pind or farm visit. The first thing that caught my attention was the amazing array of pickles from carrot and turnip to cauliflower and even quail meat. There were also items like Shikar da Achar and Dehu da Achar as well as amla and apple murabbas – they make for a compelling sight and taste awesome too. While the ubiquitous lassi is always a big favourite, I suggest you try the Kaali Gajar Ki Kanji made with seasonal black carrot, mustard seeds and asafoetida allowed to dry under the sun in a container and fermented for a few days. The tangy drink has a sweet sour taste and is brilliant pink in colour.

The best part is that the inherent nature of the cuisine is simple and focuses on using traditional methods of preparation that retain the taste, flavour and nutrients. The spices are robust and coarsely grounded. They are never pureed in a mixie and it is always about cooking the food slowly and allowing it to cook overnight on a low flame. Gurpreet Singh, Corporate Chef, Punjab Grill, explains, “Most often Punjabi cuisine is synonymous with North Indian cuisine and it is limited to butter chicken, dal makhani and butter naan. However these are not Punjabi dishes at all. There are many dishes that are unexplored. In Punjab it is all about farming and the focus is on seasonal food. So while in Italy you have olive oil, you have mustard oil here. In winters, you have the divine sarson da saag and the ghobi shalgam achaar and makki (corn flour) and bajra (a millet) that make the food special.”

Lal Lobiya

So you have mouth-watering nonvegetarian delicacies like Tawa Tikka (a cutlet cooked on slow heat), Mutton Chaamp (spicy mutton mince cutlets), Amritsari Machchi (a river fish called Singhada cooked in traditional spices), Bhunna Ghosht (a mutton dish) and Charga Kukkad (a pan fried chicken dish). The vegetarian fare is equally extensive. The Methi Paneer (a fenugreek based dish), Gajar aur Gobhi di sabzi (a curry with carrot and cauliflower), Lal Lobiya (a kidney bean preparation) and Harra Cholliya Pulao (a rice dish with fresh green channa) figure high on the list of must-eats. Also, the wadi is a key feature of the food. These are lentils that are soaked, pureed and sun dried and can be used to enhance the flavour of the food – in the curries and even in rice. The variety of desserts is also amazing and the Malpua is made without dipping it in chashni (sugar syrup). Likewise Amritsar has its unique fruit cream and also Ganne Wale Chawal (rice cooked in sugar cane juice). The Khoye De Barfi, Gajjar Halwa and Makhane Di Kheer are also great options to try while you are in Punjab.

Chargha Chicken

The key feature in the cuisine is to keep the food fresh and literally have a farm-to-fork experience. Delving deep into the cuisine, I chat with Rama Ranjit Mehra who is a Medical Practitioner and founder of Ranjit’s SVAASA, a heritage boutique spa haveli in Amritsar. She explains, “Cooking in a handi put on a fire overnight especially the sarson ka saag and maa ki dal is the traditional way of cooking.

Methi Aloo is also famous here and the interesting part is that the potato is cooked with the skin as it is rich in nutrients and is specifically cooked in mustard oil. The old Punjabi folks like food that is served just off the flame. Also, the atta (wholewheat flour) is never put in the fridge. It is always kneaded fresh, first half done and then rested and again kneaded so that the rotis are fresh.”

In fact the aroma of the food cooked in this manner is captivating and the use of pure ghee is extensive. Also, a variety of digestives or churans are mandatory after the meal. So you have the pomegranate or Anardhana Churan that is a must after a heavy meal.

In fact the Yajur Veda (an ancient Hindu scripture devoted to the worship of the gods) has a verse that beautifully encapsulates Punjabi food: “May I prosper through the sacrifice and have plenty milk, ghee, honey and enjoy food with my kith and kin. May I have freedom from hunger and have my bins full of wheat, lentils and all other grains.”

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HOLIDAYS UNDER A CANVAS

STUNNING OUTDOOR LOCATIONS, A DEEP CONNECT WITH NATURE, A LIFE AWAY FROM THE ONSLAUGHT OF 24/7 TECHNOLOGY AND A SENSORY EXPERIENCE WHICH ENGAGES THE MIND, BODY AND THE ADVENTUROUS SOUL……

STUNNING OUTDOOR LOCATIONS, A DEEP CONNECT WITH NATURE, A LIFE AWAY FROM THE ONSLAUGHT OF 24/7 TECHNOLOGY AND A SENSORY EXPERIENCE WHICH ENGAGES THE MIND, BODY AND THE ADVENTUROUS SOUL… WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT GLAMPING? BY NEETA LAL

Glamping – a portmanteau coined from `glamorous’ and `camping’ – is the latest buzzword in vacationing. The concept fuses luxury with nature in the most seamless way possible. The eco-friendly activity puts people in touch with nature without destroying it or building on it. An immersive experience that allows one to not just go to the destination, but also become part of it.

Glamping experiences can be unique and enchanting in all terrains – deserts, valleys, mountains, even on treetops. Accommodation options too can run a gamut from farmhouses, cabins, eco lodges, huts, tents and villas to tree houses. The holiday is perfect for those seeking al fresco experiences without getting their feet wet at a traditional camp site.

Glamping also allows you to dive into a welter of activities (some quite literally) including hiking, biking, rafting, swimming, animal interactions, scenic walks and wine tasting. With several upmarket hotels joining the glamping bandwagon, the traditional holiday under the canvas has also got a five-star twist.

To tempt your travel binge, here are a few interesting glamping destinations across India.

THE ULTIMATE TRAVELLING CAMP (TUTC), KOHIMA, NAGALAND

How about living in billowy luxury tents on the outskirts of Nagaland’s capital city Kohima with the craggy Japfu Range as the backdrop? This is the campsite of TUTC, the pioneers of tented luxury in India. Though the company also operates popular glamping sites in Ladakh (Thiksey and Nubra Valley), its Kohima offering has won rave reviews.

The capacious tents come outfitted with en-suite bathrooms, a private sit-out deck, four-poster beds, leather chairs and even a tiny study. There is also a living room with books and free Wifi. You can enjoy gourmet meals and the services of a private butler who will wake you up with bed tea and cookies.

Nagaland – known as the Switzerland of the East – is tucked away between Tibet and Myanmar. The Kohima camp coincides with The Hornbill Festival (November 29 to December 12), the largest celebration of the indigenous tribes of Nagaland when all of them come together to showcase the richness and diversity of their distinctive cultures. Guests can embark on a tribal exploration experience in the lap of luxury. Each day brings forth the tribes’ vibrant performances, crafts, sports like archery and wrestling, food fairs, games and religious ceremonies.

TUTC guests can also partake of local Naga cuisine, quaff the local rice beer called zutho and shop for beautiful bamboo baskets, beaded and bone jewellery and handwoven tribal shawls. The intrepid can participate in fun events like chilli eating contests or climb a greased bamboo pole. As the day winds down, you can return to the warmth of your sybaritic camp. Excursions can also be organized to the Kohima War Cemetery, the Khonoma village and the local Naga markets. If you are seeking a bigger adrenaline rush, try trekking up to the Japfu peak. Standing tall at 3,048 metres, Japfu is Nagaland’s second highest peak with breathtaking views across swathes of the Dzukou Valley.

BANJAAR TOLA LODGE, KANHA NATIONAL PARK, MADHYA PRADESH

Sprawling over a 90-acre private concession and overlooking the core zone of Kanha National Park, Banjaar Tola lodge hotel, a part of Taj Safaris, boasts two elegant camps of nine suites each, as well as a lavish tented guest area. Built in a chic, glamorous camping style, each tented suite features glass doors leading out onto a floating verandah overlooking a tranquil river. All tents have baths/ showers and a small library and interpretive space. Apart from a swimming pool, the lodges have dining decks with dramatic views of a waterbody. Naturalists fill you in on the region’s rich biodiversity, its exotic flora and fauna, especially barasinghas which are unique to Kanha. Experience the thrill of spotting tigers, great gaurs and the star birds of Kanha.

Adventurous souls can opt for elephant-back safaris. Open 4×4 jungle safaris are organised twice a day. Visit the nearby Pachdhaar village and experience local pottery-making. Bush dinners can be organized in the sal forest upon request. Pool deck dining, in-room or private deck dinners are the other options .

AMAN-I-KHAS, RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK, RAJASTHAN

Perched on the edge of prime tigerspotting territory in the Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, Aman-i-Khas showcases the opulent history of the Maharajas’ hunting parties with 10 luxe tents, butler service and the exciting chance to spot a Bengal tiger in its natural habitat.

With soaring six-metre-high canopies, elegant interiors, sunken marble bathtubs and custom-made teak furniture, the tents are seriously luxe. Creamy cotton curtains divide the spacious rooms and a private entrance area where tea is served every morning. All guests have their own ‘batman’ or private butler to take care of their every need. At the heart of the camp, the fireplace can also be the setting for informal meals or simply a place to bask in the serenity of nature and a starspangled sky.

Open-top jeep safaris transport one to the heart of Ranthambore National Park, home to over 50 tigers, crocodilefilled lakes, leopards, jungle cats, sloth bears, wild boar, sambar and more. Immerse yourself in local culture, history and legend by visiting local sights. Climb to the top of the 1000-year-old Ranthambore Fort, one of the oldest and most majestic fortifications in India. The fort still houses the remains of barracks used by defending garrisons, and there’s even a small armoury complete with swords, rifles and gunpowder.

The mighty Banas River flows near the campsite. Fringed by water grass and lilies, it is an excellent feeding ground for wading birds and waterfowl and is a bird lover’s paradise. Strolling along the banks of the river with a naturalist or enjoying a riverside camel ride is highly recommended. Get a picnic lunch packed for yourself. Brush up on your flora and fauna with a guided walk through the low hills, or bring out your binoculars on a trip to Surwal Lake where indigenous and migratory birds fill the skies. The lake side along Aman-i-Khas comes alive during evenings with chefs rustling up local authentic delicacies cooked on wood fire from the kitchens of farmers, shepherds, hunters and royals

DERA AMER, KUKAS, RAJASTHAN

Tucked away near the Pink City of Jaipur in Rajasthan, lies a unique glamping experience at Dera Amer, Kukas. Involving `luxury camping with elephants’, it is indeed one of the world’s most amazing glamping sites in the finest traditions of the bush. Situated behind the hills of the famous Amer Fort, it offers outdoor recreational and adventure activities. The elegant tent suites are located at the foothills of the Aravali Range surrounded by the wilderness of a reserved forest with just a few hamlets housing the local villagers, their fields bordering a pretty lake.

Dera Amer is an organisation run by a local Rajput family who have converted their 160-acre land into a wilderness camp, surrounded by the Nahargarh National Park. The forests are home to the leopard, caracal, jungle cat, jackal, fox and birds like the Siberian Ruby Throat, Paradise Flycatchers and Marshal’s Iora. The family’s love for nature, wildlife and animals, has led them to resist real estate developments in the region and instead protect the wilderness and their adopted animals. The Rajput family once brought some elephants out for a picnic to a particularly picturesque spot on the family estate. The grand experiment never ended; today the quietly elegant ‘Dera Amer’ has become synonymous with the great pachyderm.

From Living with the Elephants – True Glamping, Elephant Rides to Elephant Trails to Elephant Safaris, Elephant Bathing to Drinking Champagne-On-Elephant Back and Jeep Safari to Horse Safari and Camel Safari, the camp provides the most spectacular setting for vacationers to get to know; and indeed, to learn, from the gentle beast. Spend quality time with one of the adopted elephants, feed them, scrub them and camp with them in the bush jungles of Amer.

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MEMORIES FOR A LIFETIME

A STATE THAT HAS MOUNTAINS, BEACHES, VALLEYS, ISLANDS AND MORE, THERE IS SOMETHING NEW TO DISCOVER IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF BEAUTIFUL KARNATAKA. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO “One State Many Worlds”, the tagline…

A STATE THAT HAS MOUNTAINS, BEACHES, VALLEYS, ISLANDS AND MORE, THERE IS SOMETHING NEW TO DISCOVER IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF BEAUTIFUL KARNATAKA. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

One State Many Worlds”, the tagline of Karnataka’s tourism department, cannot be more apt. The state has something for every kind of tourist. The best part of touring the state is that you will stumble upon several gems that are relatively undiscovered which makes it an attractive tourist destination.

The state has declared 2017 as the Year of the Wild and the Tourism Department has identified nine eco-trekking routes along the scenic Western Ghats for both tourists and trekkers. According to Deepika Kapoor, Project Director, The Golden Chariot & Hospitality and Consultant, Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC), “While we do not have a defined policy, we do something almost every day to attract tourists to the state. In fact, we would like to let people know that there is so much more to explore beyond the surface. So we are promoting Dasara as a festival across the state and not necessarily restricted to Mysore. We are also focusing our attention on eco friendly holidays and medical tourism as well and we recently also had a conference around this too. Likewise, we want to promote our other forests as well that goes beyond Kabini and Bandipur as the abundance of wildlife here is something that people must know about.”

We take you through four well known tourist getaways in Karnataka – Bengaluru, Mysore, Mangalore and Belgaum, before guiding you to some other fascinating and yet relatively unexplored places.

An infrared version of Lalbagh

The capital city, Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan metropolis that blends tradition and new age technological advances seamlessly to make it one of the most preferred cities to live in India. Arguably the city with the best weather in the country, Bengaluru also has several interesting sights. Living up to its tag of ‘Garden City’, are the two large lung spaces – Cubbon Park and Lalbagh – that are home to various botanical species of plants. Lalbagh also hosts a much awaited flower show twice a year – during Republic Day and Independence Day.

The simple summer palace of Tipu Sultan, used by him as a summer retreat, is a two storey teak wood structure with exquisitely carved wooden pillars, arches and balconies in Indo-Islamic architecture. The fort nearby is said to have been built by the founder Kempe Gowda (after whom the international airport is named) and has five sculpted arches and a Ganesha temple in its precincts.

A major landmark the city is the Dodda Ganesha temple that has an 18 feet high and 16 feet wide idol of Ganesha. Adjacent is the Basavana Gudi (or the Nandi Temple), that has a massive bull and this is where the annual ground fair called Kadlekai Parishe is held in the last week of November. The adjoining Bugle Rock garden has several rocks dating back to many centuries. The State legislature building Vidhan Soudha and High Court Attara Kacheri are buildings that are must be seen for their amazing Indo Neo-Dravidian, Indo-Saracenic and Dravidian styles of architecture. Shopping, eating out and having a good time is second nature here and this is a city that will never disappoint the traveller.

MYSORE IS OFTEN CALLED THE CULTURAL CAPITAL OF KARNATAKA

Mysore Palace

The cultural capital of the state is Mysore being home to the stunning palaces courtesy the Wodeyar royals who once ruled the state from here. Located just 130 km from the capital Bengaluru, the ride is a breeze courtesy the beautiful four lane road that connects the two cities. Taking centre stage is the Mysore Palace or the Amba Vilas Palace that sees more footfalls than many other monuments in India. This palace has a Public Durbar Hall with imported French lamp representing Egyptian figurines and a Private Durbar Hall that was used by the king for private audience. Carved rosewood doors inlaid with ivory, opulent gilded columns, stained glass ceilings, ornamental steel grills and chandeliers with delicate floral motifs, the royal throne and the wooden elephant howdah decorated with 84 kg of gold reflect the grandeur of days of the past.

Shrichamundeshwari Temple in Mysore

While in Mysore a visit to the 12th century Chamundeshwari temple atop the Chamundi hill houses the presiding deity of the Wodeyar kings is a must. The Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, St. Philomena’s Cathedral, Jaganmohan Palace and Brindavan Gardens are other important places here. This apart check out the Regional Museum of Natural History, Rail Museum, Indira Gandhi Central Museum and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan while you are here. However if you are here during the annual Dasara festival, you can witness the grand 10 days that culminate in a grand procession called Jumboo Savari, a parade with decorated elephants, colourful tableaux, dance groups, music bands and other floats that originate from the palace grounds to Banni Mantap (a locality in Mysore). Set amidst the sparkling waters of the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the coastal town of Mangalore is the main port city of the state. Surrounded by verdant hills, ancient temples and Jain basadis, this is the chief maritime city of Karnataka.

MANGALORE IS NAMED AFTER A GODDESS CALLED MANGALADEVI

Kadri Manjunatha Temple in Mangalore

While you are here start your trip at the ancient Mangaladevi temple dedicated to the Goddess after whom the city has been named. The oldest Shiva temple in Mangalore perched on the Kadri hills is the Kadri Manjunatha temple that has an elaborate entrance arch and multiple carved pillars and a spire covered in brass. Also pay obeisance at the St. Aloysius Chapel whose walls are covered with the paintings of artist Antony Moshaini of Italy and dates back to 1899. The Thannirbavi Beach, part of the Mangalore Port Trust, is one of best beaches of the city and a great place to watch the sunset.

The Panambur beach with stunning views of the light house and sailing ships, the Surathkal beach and the nearby temple of Lord Sadashiva and the Ullal beach close to the ruined fort of Abbakka Devi are some other beaches that you must see while you are here. One of the best things about Mangalore however lies in its delectable cuisine from Mangalore Buns to Goli Bajji to Mangalorean Fish Curry that you must sample. Also try the Gadbad, an ice cream sundae that is a speciality of the region and is a mix of different flavours with nuts, fruits, jelly and cream that will leave you asking for more.

Officially called Belgavi, Belgaum is a city that is akin to the second capital of the state and is home to the administrative building Suvarna Vidhana Soudha. The Belgaum Fort at the centre of the town dates back to 1519 and has been rebuilt over time and is one of the oldest in the state. The entrance has shrines of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganapati and this area also has two old mosques – Jamia Masjid and Safa Masjid. The structures inside are a blend of Deccan and Indo – Sarcenic styles of architecture. The Neminatha idol made from black stone is located inside the Kamala Basti here is a must visit.

Ramakrishna Mission Ashram mandir at Belgaum

Also check out the Mukhamantapa, a lotus carved on the ceiling. A visit to the building where Swami Vivekananda stayed for 12 days in 1892 is today the Ramakrishna Mission in Belgaum. The Kapileshwara Temple is referred to as Dakshina Kashi and it is widely believed that visiting the 12 Jyotirlingas is incomplete without paying a visit here. The one place that you must not miss seeing however is the Kittur Fort and Palace located about 50 km away and is associated with the heroic Rani Chennammawho ruled and protected this place. This is the place from which the queen carried out an armed rebellion against the British rulers and today you can visit the ruins of this place. The local handloom and cottage industry is well known and the silk weavers located in Vadgaon and Angol are known for the designing exquisite saris.

Beyond the big four just described above, there are some other hidden gems as well. If you want to get a good understanding of the state of Karnataka, you can start from the North. Bidar for instance has several monuments and mausoleums that attract historians, offbeat travellers and those who love architecture. This place offers a pleasant stroll down a land of medieval memories that glimmer like the silver etchings of bidriware, a craft unique to this city.

The world famous Gol Gumbaz that adorns the skyline of Bijapur is a splendid architecture visible from any part of the city. Built in IndoSarcenic style, the symmetry and grandeur make it possible for the monument to be seen in its entirety. Bijapur has other fine examples of architectural prowess. Likewise in Bagalkot there is a Jain basadi of Parshwanatha, a Virakta matha and several mosques of which Panka Masjid is a sterling structure in stone.

Hampi ruins on the banks of the Tungabhadra

The twin cities of Hubli and Dharwad also in the northern part of thestate are home to rich musical heritage and also some ancient temples that are stunning examples of Hoysala architecture. And how can you not visit the UNESCO site Hampi which is in close proximity. Located on the banks of the Tungabhadra, the Hampi ruins cover about nine square miles; but the fortifications and the outposts of the city include a larger area. The Virupaksha Temple, Vittala Raya temple and Hampi Bazaar are amongst the several important monuments here. An Archaeological museum maintained by the Central Government at Kamalapura near Hampi is a good place to understand the art patronised by the royalty here.

If architecture is your calling, you must stop at the Aihole which was once the commercial capital of the Chalukyas. There are several massive stone tombs on the expanses of the spread over two acres of land. About 30 temples here are within the fort and the abundance of red sand stone is seen here. The Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples of Aihole are an architectural delight. Close by along the river Malaprabha, is an isolated cluster of rust-tinged, golden sandstone temples of Pattadakalal that have an array of ancient temples that are a perfect ode to the artistic legacy of the Chalukyas.

The 10 major temples display interesting architectural features and are also an important site for the study of the development of temple architecture in South India. Go further ahead and you will reach the rocky ridges of Badami. Located strategically at the mouth of a ravine between two red sandstone cliffs and overlooking the aquamarine toned waters of the Agastya Lake, Badami was the mythological land where saint Agastya killed the demons Vatapi and Ilvala.

Badami has four cave temples carved out of rocks dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and also Jain Gods. The Banashankari Amma Temple is a Hindu shrine located at Cholachagudd near Badami and is also a popular stop. The Central Archaeological Department has maintained a museum here and has preserved many valuable relics.

Detailed carvings on statues at the Chennakeshava temple

As you travel to the centre of the state, you arrive at Davangere, that is home to some ancient temples like the Aanekonda Nandi, Eshwara Temple, Bethuru Kalleshwar Temple and the Neerthadi Ranganath Temple, among others. While you are here, you must sample the famed Davangere Benne Dosa, a culinary delight as well as the Nargis Mandakki which is a spiced puffed rice that is best enjoyed with chilli fritters!

Close by is Chitradurga known for its fort that has 18 ancient temples inside including the Hidimbeshwara temple. The fort has several gateways and entrances, granaries, oil pits, four secret entrances, a palace, a mosque and water tanks. Stop at the Chandravalli Caves located close by when you are here. Further away is the town of Hassan which has several fine examples of Hoysala architecture and sculpture. India’s second largest earth dam is here — at Gorur formed across the Hemavathi reservoir and was built in 1979.

The Golden Temple also known as Padmasambhava Buddhist Buddha Vihara

The twin temples of Nageshwara and Channakeshava in Mosale have intricately designed architecture and scriptures and are widely believed to be prototypes of the famed temples of Belur and Halebid that are also located here. The Shettyhalli church built on the banks of the River Hemavathi in the 18th century submerged in water during the monsoons is another place that you must see.

And if you are looking for cool vistas, green coffee shrubs, pepper plantations and nature at its best head to the Scotland of India, Coorg. While you are here visit Virajpet known for its Ayyappa temple and Shiva temple atop the Malethirike hill. The 220 years old St. Anne’s church built in Gothic architecture has two massive bells and its blue spire is hard to miss.

Bylakuppe is home to one of the largest Tibetan settlements in India. Bylakuppe is the Tibetan Refugee resettlement in the west of Mysore district. The Golden Temple in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, is a home for thousands of Tibetans who are living in exile and is also a centre for Tibetan Buddhism in south India. The district headquarters at Madikeri has the Raja Seat from where you can see stunning views of the entire valley awash in hues of green. The famed Abbey Falls are a sight to behold in the monsoons as the water is in full stream as is Talacauvery the birth place of the much revered Cauvery River.

As you head further South, you reach the district of Chamrajnagar that is home to the Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta is a scenic spot that has religious significance and is also part of a reserve forest. The temple is on the slopes of a hillock with grassland all around. The hill is mostly shrouded in thick fog and the morning mist is famed here. You will also find the Male Mahadeshwara Hills is a celebrated pilgrimage centre which attracts thousands of devotees from all over South India in South Chamaraja Nagar District.

Nanjangud Temple in Mysore

In the South is also Shivanasamudra in Mandya district, an enchanting island created by the branching out of the Cauvery into two streams and has two beautiful temples – Someshwara and Ranganatha. The Shivanasamudra Falls is the second biggest waterfall in India and the lush green valley forms a perfect setting for the Cauvery River, as it hurtles down from a height of 75 m into a deep, rocky gorge to form two picturesque falls, Barachukki and Gaganachukki. Close to Mysore is Nanjangud home to the Nanjundeshwara or temple that goes back several centuries and also has an idol installed by Tipu Sultan.Further down are the forests of Bandipur, Nagarhole and Kabini that have the highest density of tigers in the country.

THE SHIVANASAMUDRA FALLS IN SOUTH KARNATAKA HAS THE DISTINCTION OF BEING THE SECOND BIGGEST WATERFALL IN INDIA

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MY TOWN – AHMEDABAD

Our ongoing series where we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month, Dhara Shaileshbhai Joshi, Cabin Crew, holds forth on Ahmedabad Connection to the…

Our ongoing series where we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month, Dhara Shaileshbhai Joshi, Cabin Crew, holds forth on Ahmedabad

Connection to the city

I am originally from Ahmedabad and have been brought up in the city.

Best things about Ahmedabad:

The city ranks high in job opportunities, business opportunities and standard of living. We have 24×7 electricity – in fact, we export power to other states. It is a very safe city for women – they can step out any  time without any fear. People here are lively by nature and cherish each and every moment of their lives. Full of energy and enthusiasm, you’ll never find Ahmedabadis sitting idle.

Favourite eating places:

Manek Chowk is my favourite eating area in Ahmedabad. I discovered this place when I was in college – some of my friends had taken me there. The quality of the food here is simply awesome. It is famous for its Gwalia Dosa and different-flavoured sandwiches (Chocolate Sandwich, Ice Cream Sandwich, Pineapple Sandwich, etc.), Pav Bhaji and Balan no Gotado (Dosa with spicy flavoured gravy and a variety of dips).

Best places to hang out

The Adalaj Stepwel

Apart from Manek Chowk, Bhatiyar Gali and Law Garden Khau Galli are famous for their food outlets. Delhi Darwaja is well known for its almond and pista coffee. The Sabarmati river front is a great place to hang out at night. Other Ahmedabadi hang-outs are Kankaria Lake, Vastrapur Lake, Victoria Garden, Parimal Garden and Teen Darwaja.

Local attractions

the Hutheesing Temple

The Gandhi Ashram, Hutheesing Temple, Ahmed Shah Mosque, Adalaj Stepwell, Kite Museum, Gujarat Science City, Bhadra Fort, Auto World Vintage Car Museum and Thor Lake are places favoured by tourists.

Recommended places nearby

The Gandhi Ashram

Akshardham Temple, Indroda Nature Park, Thol Bird Sanctuary, Nal Sarovar, Zanzari Waterfalls, Tirupati Rushivan Adventure Park, Lothal, Polo Forest and Maniar’s Wonderland are places not very far from Ahmedabad and each one of them has its own uniqueness.

Ahmedabad when compared to other cities

Apart from Ahmedabad I have stayed in Mumbai and Delhi. But I like Ahmedabad the most. Compared to many other cities, it is very calm and quiet, people here are very helpful by nature and the civic infrastructure is one of the best in India.

 

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On The Heritage Trail

INDIA HAS A RICH TREASURE OF UNESCO HERITAGE SITES. WE PROFILE SOME OF THE BEST. BY RHUCHA KULKARNI The declaration from the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) sums…

INDIA HAS A RICH TREASURE OF UNESCO HERITAGE SITES. WE PROFILE SOME OF THE BEST. BY RHUCHA KULKARNI

The declaration from the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) sums it up best: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to the future generations.” India has been long since regarded as the epitome of cultural and natural wealth, for its diverse history has fuelled many distinct ways of life.

Be it architectural marvels, or natural havens, religious relics, or political landmarks, these heritage sites continue to awe and inspire us even today. Very recently Ahmedabad was declared as the first UNESCO World Heritage City of India, an impeccable feat owing to the medley of experiences that the Gujarat capital offers.

In fact there are 36 (28 cultural, 7 natural and one mixed) World Heritage Sites in India that are recognized by UNESCO as of August 2017. These are the treasure troves of the country, carefully preserved and propagated as traveller destinations. Indians and foreigners alike are choosing to experience their glory by taking in large numbers to these destinations during their holidays.

Here is a closer look at some of these enchanters that are sure to ignite the wanderlust in you.

ELLORA CAVES, AURANGABAD

Some 30 km from Aurangabad lies an ancient architectural marvel in the form of manmade rock-cut temples of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu origin. Dating reveals that these 34 caves, called the Ellora caves, were created over a period from the 6th to 11th centuries A.D. Of these, 12 caves are Mahayana Buddhist caves that date back to 550-750 A.D., 17 are Hindu caves of the 600-875 A.D. era and five caves are Jain caves belonging to 800-1000 A.D. This was the time when Buddhism was declining in India and Hinduism was resurging. Much of the work at Ellora was overseen by the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta kings who
were great proponents of the Brahmanical movement. The most recent works took place somewhere near the 10th century, when these rulers started embracing the Digambara sect of Jainism. Shrouded in secrecy since ages, it was only in 1819 that these caves were discovered by a British Army Officer, John Smith.

Its awe-inspiring aura is accredited to the fact that these rock-cut structures were created by artisans with their hands, using just chisel and hammer. A must-visit is the Kailasa Temple (cave 16) dating back to the 700s and illustrating Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. It is the largest monolith rock excavation in the world. Other highlights are the 15-foot long preaching statue of Buddha, the sitting Buddha in the 10th cave, the Naga Queen (outside cave 10), the Shiva Lingam along with his Nandi bull (Nandi Mandap), the Jain Indra Sabha (cave 32), and the seven incarnations of Buddha (cave 12).

RED FORT COMPLEX, DELHI

The vibrant Red Fort looms over Delhi, its bulky bastions and red sandstone walls reminiscent of the majestic Mughal era. Built in 1638 by Shah Jahan, the “Lal Qila” or Red Fort has been an iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. Its detailed architecture is inspired from Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions, as seen in its majestic Lahore Gate. One can imagine the royal celebrations in the “Naubat-Khana” (Drum house), once an important courtyard of ceremonial music. The “Diwan-i-Am” (‘Hall of Public Audience’) welcomes one and all with its nine-arched facade and marble tapestry. There is a taste of real Mughal opulence at the “Diwan-i-Khas” (‘Hall of Private Audience’), believed to have once housed the beautiful Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan before it was usurped. Other mustsees are the “Tasbih-Khana” (prayer chambers), “Rang Mahal” (painted palace), and “Nahr-i-Bihisht” (‘Stream of Paradise’), “Mumtaz Mahal” which now harbours a museum and the “Hammam” (‘Bath’). Each of these comes to life with intricate motifs in marble and jeweled stones. All these architectural specimens are woven together through the Mughal style lovely gardens, the Hayat-Bakhsh-Bagh (‘Life-giving garden’) being a nature-lover’s delight.

Today the Red Fort is synonymous with strategic and political milestones; after all it was from this vaulted structure that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had given the booming Independence speech of India. Every Independence Day sees the Indian tricolour fluttering tall and proud on this iconic landmark.

CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI MAHARAJ RAILWAY TERMINUS, MUMBAI

This busy railway station of India’s financial capital was first declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Its Victorian-Gothic architecture welcomes and bids goodbye to one and all, and has been doing so since its establishment in 1888, during the British era. The British architect F.W. Stevens, rebuilt and renamed the erstwhile “Bori Bunder” railway station as Victoria Terminus, after Queen Victoria. It was only in 1996, that it was rechristened to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in honour of the great Maratha warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji. More recently, it was renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus . The humongous structure of sandstone and limestone is a stark yet pleasant antithesis to the bustling surroundings of the Mumbai Central Business District. Its Italian-styled architecture is interspersed with Mughal-era detailing, with some of the best materials imported from Europe, for example the Italian marble interiors. The central high dome is an iconic landmark of the maximum city. Its entrance gates are adorned with the statues of a lion and a tiger, representing Great Britain and India, respectively. Much of its work is attributed to the late 19th century, but enthrals everyone who visits the maximum city.

Whether passing through the railhead, or just peeping in for a historic immersion, this is one landmark that is not to be missed.

JANTAR MANTAR, JAIPUR

Jantar Mantar Jaipur

Jantar Mantar bestows an opportunity to travel into space, in thought and mind. An ancient astronomical observatory par excellence, Jantar Mantar literally translates to “instruments for measuring the harmony of the heavens”, and rightly it does. Built by the extremely skilled Rajput ruler, Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh in 1738, the observatory was restored in 1901. The ruler built a total of five observatories across India, of which the Jaipur one is considered the largest and was included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. A walk amidst the bizarre yet beautiful structures is enough to put one in awe of India’s rich ancestral knowledge and expertise. The grounds consist of huge astronomical instruments  of stone and masonry meant to accurately capture and predict celestial movements. A case in point is the Samrat Yantra, the world’s largest sun dial, which can measure time intervals as small as two seconds based merely on the motions of its shadows. Other mind-blowing devices include the “Hindu Chhattri” and the “Jaiprakash Yantra”. What makes the site interesting, is that it converges expertise from the areas of art, science and religion to measure, time-track and report constellation movement. Even today Jantar Mantar attracts tourists from all over the world, thanks to its unique architecture and purpose.

TAJ MAHAL, AGRA

The rippling reflections of white marble and motifs stir the soul, as the sun’s first rays stir the waters of the Yamuna River to life. Think India and what comes first to mind is Shah Jahan’s tribute to his lady love Mumtaz — the Taj Mahal of Agra. Regarded in high honour as the zenith of Mughal art and architecture in India, this majestic mausoleum was built between 1631 and 1648. Ustad-Ahmad Lahori was the key architect, but the Mughal emperor commissioned artists such as masons, dome-builders, painters, carvers, etc. from as far as Iran. There was literally no stone left unturned to make this stone structure the undisputed ruler of relics. In line with typical Mughal architecture, it was housed in a beautiful Mughal garden with a quadripartite layout and a central waterway, which till today presents the typical Taj Mahal photo opportunity with a grand reflection. But its true splendour lies in its Indo-Islamic architecture with high geometrical accuracy. The large central domed chamber is octagonal shaped and its lower-level crypt contains the cenotaphs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. These are surrounded by the portal halls and four corner rooms from which the archetypical four minarets rise up into the air. A closer look reveals the unparalleled craftsmanship that went into making this epitome of architectural beauty. The marble lattice screen that encircles the cenotaphs has exquisite jewelled flowers and leaves that appear highly realistic. Superb balance of composition and exceptional symmetry accrued this jewel of India the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site way back in 1983.

RANI KI VAV (THE QUEEN’S STEPWELL), PATAN, GUJARAT

The origins of this beautiful stepwell lay in the Solanki dynasty, when Rani Udayamati commissioned this “vav” or stepwell, in 1063, in memory of her husband King Bhimdev I. Residing on the banks of the then Saraswati River, it was silted in a great flooding. The Archaeological Survey of India then excavated it in the 1980s, unleashing one of the most famous landmarks of the city of Patan. It was a site for water collection, but also held spiritual significance as a protector of the sanctity of water and medicinal uses in helping cure diseases.

Depicting the neat proportions and symmetrical construction of the “Maru- Gurjara” architectural style, “Rani ki Vav” is replete with carvings and sculptures that depict the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the “Dasavataras”. The pillared pavilions lead one from groundlevel through seven storeys some 30 metres down to the water level, where stands a statue of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, the reclining pose of the Protector on the thousand-hooded serpent Sheshanaga. Mythological lore comes to life in this heritage site, with more than 800 sculptures in its seven galleries. A visit to this unusual architectural monument is a tryst with timelessness. Rani Ki Vav was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

HISTORIC CITY OF AHMEDABAD

Recently, on July 8, 2017, Ahmedabad was declared the first Indian city under the UNESCO World Heritage City tag. As the thriving Gujarati city on the banks of the Sabarmati River, Ahmedabad upholds the architectural style of the Sultanate period, for it was founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century. An eclectic old charm oozes from the boundary walls of this walled city, consisting of traditional housing areas called “pols” in gated traditional streets called “puras”. Being home to more than 2,600 heritage sites and more than 20 protected monuments made it an ideal choice to become the first UNESCO World Heritage City of India. Some of these sites like the Bhadra citadel, Hathee Singh Jain temple, Dada Bhagwan temple, Akshardham temple, and the Sabarmati Ashram are worth visiting.

It holds great significance in India’s freedom struggle too, being the hot spot of non-violence, thanks to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Religious equanimity too is strongly associatedwith the walled city, which has seen the peaceful co-existence of Hindus, Muslims and Jains over several generations. In fact, a number of architecturally brilliant mausoleums and tombs stand alongside Hindu and Jain temples, creating a kaleidoscope of architectural distinction.

KAZIRANGA, ASSAM

The UNESCO World Heritage list does not restrict itself to architectural and cultural sites, but also acknowledges the important role of natural history elements in the overall milieu of a nation. Rightfully, the abode of the one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga National Park came under the UNESCO radar. This national park and tiger reserve in Assam extends over an area of about 430 square kilometres and is home to more than 2,000 of these unique species. It also takes pride in having a sizable population of the national animal of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger. A Gypsy ride through the wonderful wilderness can afford one glimpses of the Asiatic elephant, wild water buffalo, swamp deer, leopard, and a number of colourful birds. Its rich biodiversity stems from the fact that it lies in the biodiversity hot spot of the North Eastern Himalayas, with a variety of flora— semi-evergreen forests, swamps, elephant-grass meadows and deciduous woodlands. But the true value of the park lies in it being a successful conservation epicentre, since a long time. From a dismal population of about 75 in 1905, today more than 2000 one-horned rhinoceros roam free in its nurturing habitat. This makes it one of the most sought after wildlife holiday destinations in India. One can observe and enjoy wild animals in their natural homes by going on a morning or evening safari in its four zones. Kaziranga was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.

MAHABODHI TEMPLE COMPLEX AT BODH GAYA, BIHAR

Known primarily as the site of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex is one of the four religious sites associated with Buddhism. It boasts of an ancient elegance that goes back in time to the 3rd century B.C., when Emperor Asoka built the first temple. Since its construction the temple has been subjected to the test of time; it has seen various rulers and dynasties come and go, and yet stands  tall and strong as a symbol of unwavering faith in the Buddha. The present-day temple is believed to date back to the 6th century B.C. after much renovation. Every year believers and nonbelievers flock to this revered site to get a glimpse of the famed Bodhi tree and the 160-foot tall Mahabodhi temple. A peep inside the temple reveals a gold painted statue of Buddha, made of black stone and seated in the Bhumisparsa Mudra, touching the Earth. This statue was originally built by the Pala kings of Bengal.

The temple’s distinct design is a delight to watch, with its pyramidal design and the “pancharatha sikhara” on top which is seven storeys tall. Intricate carvings of the bhumi-amalakas adorn this top part. To the west of the temple stands the holy Bodhi tree, a pipal tree which is believed to be a direct descendant of the original Bodhi tree under which Buddha sought enlightenment. It was natural that this religious and spiritual landmark was declared as a World Heritage Site way back in 2002.

BASILICA OF BOM JESUS, GOA

Amongst the most revered churches and cathedrals of Portuguese rule in India, the Basilica of Bom Jesus has an unassuming air about it, at first glance. However this Roman Catholic Church is a must-see when in Goa, primarily because it contains the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier.

The church itself was constructed over a period of 11 years, from 1594 to 1605, inspired by the late Renaissance period. The Church introduces one to various art forms and styles, the Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art can be seen in the intricate carvings and paintings that adorn the Church walls altar and columns. A walk along the aisle brings one to the central quadrangular pediment, embellished with the Jesuit emblem ‘IHS’ or “Iesus Hominum Salvator”— Latin for “Jesus, Saviour of Men”. The church exteriors are made of laterite stone lending it a rustic feel; it isthe only church in Goa without plastering. In fact much of its external face combines five styles i.e. the Roman, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian and Composite.The main highlight is the preserved body of St Francis Xavier himself. It was moved here in 1622, and renowned artists from the world over were commissioned to create the three-tiered structure and the casket that contain it. Scenes from the life of the saint himself embellish the mausoleum and precious stones line the casket itself. A great time to visit is during the devotional “Feast of St Francis Xavier”, held every December. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

It is clear that these UNESCO World Heritage sites have much to offer — art, architecture, nature immersion, historic hiatus, religious absorption, spiritual seeping and so much more. Many of these are just a flight away or a couple of hours of drive away. So the next time you plan a vacation or even a city staycation, consider decrypting the conundrums of our rich lineage by visiting these sites.

 

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INDIA’S BEST WEDDING DESTINATIONS

IF YOU WISH TO GET MARRIED IN A STORIED PALACE OR AGAINST A SPECTACULAR SUNSET ON A BEACH, THERE’S MUCH TO CHOOSE FROM WITHIN THE COUNTRY ITSELF. BY BEVERLY PEREIRA…

IF YOU WISH TO GET MARRIED IN A STORIED PALACE OR AGAINST A SPECTACULAR SUNSET ON A BEACH, THERE’S MUCH TO CHOOSE FROM WITHIN THE COUNTRY ITSELF. BY BEVERLY PEREIRA

DESTINATION WEDDINGS have become one of the biggest trends in the Indian wedding industry. Instead of tying the knot in their place of residence, couples are opting for interesting places across India that make for a memorable wedding week not just for their families but also for their guests. One of the main reasons for this surge in popularity is the easy availability of wedding services such as florists, mandap decorators, wedding planners and caterers in destinations such as Kerala, Goa and Rajasthan.

TRANQUIL KERALA

Kerala is a popular choice in the destination wedding segment. Kovalam is the first destination most couples look to when planning a beach wedding. If the conventional hotel-lawn setup doesn’t catch your fancy, there are other locations to choose. Resorts and hotels in and around the beautiful backwaters of Vembanad Lake in Kumarakom cater widely to the needs of destination weddings, too, and some even go so far as to offer intimate wedding setups on a traditional houseboat. “The estuaries and lagoons of Alappuzha, the waterfront venues of Poovar, Kollam and Ernakulam, or the plantations of Munnar are a few more coveted destinations for weddings in Kerala,” says Anil VS, Deputy Director (Marketing) of Kerala Tourism.

Three international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode and more than 80 railway stations add to the ease of organising weddings in Kerala. “Wedding guests have so much to do, including enjoying elephant rides, visiting a hill station or wildlife sanctuary, indulging in Ayurvedic therapies, or even taking in a festival or snake-boat race,” he says.

BLISSFUL GOA

No other Indian destination offers delectable cuisine, legendary hospitality, the choicest venues
and ample leisure activities quite like Goa does. It’s no wonder then that the sunny state continues to rank high as a popular choice for destination weddings among couples in India. While weddings at an unspoilt beach with the sunset for a backdrop never fail to draw in couples-to-be, sprawling setups on hotel lawns, or even tranquil riverside weddings, are just as enticing. “With its relaxed vibe, mix of cultures and rich backdrops, Goa is the perfect destination for a bespoke wedding,” says Sanjeev Dessai, Director of Goa Tourism. When it comes to venues, Goa has something for all tastes and themes. While the state has a range of luxurious five-star hotels and boutique resorts to choose from, many couples are opting to tie the knot at heritage locations, including the Reis Magos fort and lighthouse in North Goa.

REGAL RAJASTHAN

Weddings with a royal touch are a given in Rajasthan, and palace-chic as a wedding theme is the
rage at the moment. “Rajasthan is a state with a rich royal history and a tradition-rich style of hospitality, where the guest has always been accorded a royal welcome,” says Parthip Thyagarajan, CEO of WeddingSutra, an immensely popular online wedding planning resource for Indians around the world. Rajasthan’s forts and palaces make for some of the choicest wedding venues that exude a regal air. With The Leela Palace Kempinski Udaipur, Taj Lake Palace, Fateh Garh and Devi Garh in Udaipur; Jai Mahal Palace and Rambagh Palace in Jaipur; and Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, Rajasthan provides a royal backdrop for couples wishing for a fairy-tale wedding. Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur are the most popular among couples that have always dreamt of an opulent wedding, but, adds Thyagarajan, Jaisalmer, Ajmer and Bikaner are fast emerging as the new destinations for weddings in the state. Rajasthan, known for its rich history and culture, is reputed as a wedding destination across the world, thanks to the many celebrity weddings that have taken place here.

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Gift of Travel – SpiceJet gift cards allow your loved ones to choose when and where they want to travel

GET FREE PRIORITY CHECK-IN AND 50% OFF ON MEALS PRE-BOOKED WHILE BOOKING FLIGHTS ON WWW.SPICEJET.COM WITH SPICEJET GIFT CARDS Continuing with its much-appreciated practice of introducing innovative products and services…

GET FREE PRIORITY CHECK-IN AND 50% OFF ON MEALS PRE-BOOKED WHILE BOOKING FLIGHTS ON WWW.SPICEJET.COM WITH SPICEJET GIFT CARDS

Continuing with its much-appreciated practice of introducing innovative products and services for the benefit of flying passengers, SpiceJet has just launched an exciting product that will allow your loved ones to associate great memories with their air travel. The SpiceJet Gift Card is meant to be gifted to loved ones – it allows them to travel to destinations of their choice at a time convenient to them. The cards are valid for air fare as well as add-ons on SpiceJet. As each one of us has experienced at some time or the other, buying a gift for someone is not always an easy task. Often we have no idea about the recipient’s likes and dislikes. But the SpiceJet Gift Card is a winner from the word go – for everyone who loves to travel. So whether it is a birthday, anniversary or any other occasion, you can choose a SpiceJet Gift card and your loved ones can fly. The Gift Card is personalized. It can also fit into any budget. SpiceJet gift cards are available in denominations spanning from Rs 500 to Rs 50,000. They are valid for a period of 12 months from the date of purchase, unless mentioned otherwise on the cards. Availing of the gift cards involves a series of easy, hassle-free online steps. At the outset, you choose the occasion and theme. The menu will then allow you to select the value of the card and add a personal message. Within a few minutes, your e-gift card will reach the recipient’s email inbox. The very next instant, your gift recipient can make travel arrangements online. Recipients can redeem the cards very easily, in a series of smooth steps. They can select the flight and other addon services and fill the required details on the SpiceJet website. The ‘SpiceJet Gift Card’ payment option has to be selected as the payment mode for the flight booking and add-on services. The customer will then enter the 14 digit Gift Card number and 6 Digit PIN number. He/She will next click on the ‘Make Payment’ option and pay the balance amount, if any, by using other payment modes available on the SpiceJet website. A customer can use a maximum of three Gift Cards in one transaction for booking of flights or services. The Gift Cards are redeemable only on Spicejet.com.They are not redeemable at SpiceJetMobile App, reservations, call centres and ticketing counters. They can be used to add services like Meal, Preferred Seat, SpiceMax, Priority Check-in, Extra Baggage, etc. through Manage My Booking. Companies can use it to reward their employees and/or for their corporate gifting needs. Finally, in case you are worried about forgetting any special occasion associated with your loved one, help is on hand – you can schedule the e-gift cards.

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  • Instant discount of 100% on the selected Priority check-in and/or 50% on the selected meals shall be automatically applied.

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VARIOUS CATEGORIES OF CARDS

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  • Raksha Bandhan
  • Eid
  • Diwali
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  • Wedding
  • Anniversary
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THE GREAT MONASTERY ESCAPE

The Ninth Edition of the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape in Ladakh tool participants on a 10-day adventure to some of the world’s highest motorable roads. “IT IS A MISTAKE TO…

The Ninth Edition of the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape in Ladakh tool participants on a 10-day adventure to some of the world’s highest motorable roads.

“IT IS A MISTAKE TO BELIEVE that the crucial moments of a life when its habitual direction changes forever must be loud and shrill dramatics, washed away by fierce internal surges. This is a kitschy fairy tale started by boozing journalists, flashbulb-seeking film-makers and authors whose minds look like tabloids. In truth, the dramatics of a life-determining experience are often unbelievably soft. It has so little akin to the bang, the flash, of a volcanic eruption that, at the moment it is made, the experience is often not even noticed. When it deploys its revolutionary effect and plunges a life into a brand-new light giving it a brand-new melody, it does that silently and in this wonderful silence resides its special nobility.”

As I sit down to pen my journal from the ninth edition of the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape in Ladakh, a couple of weeks after returning to urban life , I’m reminded of Pascal Mercier’s wise words above from his gripping 2004 novel Night Train to Lisbon. And on the pretext of not belonging to the sensational cadre, the voyage to the enchanting valleys of the Himalayas now comes across as a subtly, yet deeply, life-changing experience; matter-of-factly, it didn’t accompany a figurative bang or a flash.
But before getting to that, let me first draw a picture of the adventure that the Monastery Escape was. The 10-day motorsport-standard event gives both Mahindra and non-Mahindra owners the chance to experience the terrains en route some of the world’s highest motorable roads. Flagged off from Delhi, the convoy of 26 expedition-ready vehicles reached Leh via Manali, Jispa and Tso Moriri, at the half-way mark in the drive. I was a part of the contingent that joined the convoy for the second part of the trip, which was slated to then travel higher up the Jammu & Kashmir mountains — we were already around 10,000 ft above sea level, FYI.

The eclectic mix of participants on the journey had folks from all walks of life sign up for this exciting expedition. From newly-married couples and gentlemen who became friends after meeting for the first time on the trip to petrolhead neurosurgeons and female drivers who expertly steered these brawny 4x4s through the journey, you couldn’t have asked for a wider variety of people. We were introduced to the convoy, at our accommodation — Hotel Shangri La in Leh — where we were garlanded with traditional white khadasks (like stoles), before heading out past the Potala Palace to the Thiksay monastery next morning.
At a distance of 19km to the east of Leh, the largest gompa in Central Ladakh offers stunning views — sit down for a brunch here and you can thank us later for the recommendation. Another great option for your mid-day meal could be the delectable thin crust pizzas baked in wood-fired ovens at the nearby eatery Cafe Cloud. Warning: The area doesn’t serve any non-vegetarian food on no moon days (Amavasya); so foodies please plan your visit accordingly.
My assumption that I’d already clicked the best possible photographs for my Instagram feed was dispelled the minute I stepped out from the hotel later that evening. The sight of the gorgeous dusky skies made it easier to walk uphill to the old town local bazaar which, at first sight, looks like any other ‘Mall Road’ from North India’s touristy hill stations. It’s when you tread deeper into its maze-like lanes that you actually discover the soul of the desert city. Locals help you find the best places for momos and thukpas — quite literally run out of domestic kitchens — and the tiny bakeries owned by Kashmiris from further up north, who introduce you to fascinating new bread varieties that people of the neighbourhood consume during the course of the day.
Fetch a few of these to accompany the piping hot tea from one of the popular tea shops back in the main market, and the dropping temperatures, prompted by Easterly winds, would feel like an old ally. Talking of bakeries, there are a few more well-established ones on the other end of the market. Amusingly, some might pride in branding themselves as German bakeries, but their bread rolls are actually not bad.

Back at the accommodation, all participants were greeted by a delightful cultural show before they retired to their rooms. Local performers showcased various dance and music forms of the region. The jabro, usually performed on festive occasions, had the men and women groove to the tunes of a flute and a regional percussion instrument called damman. The centuries-old DrugpaRches dance had everyone tapping their feet alongside the dancers.
Having acclimatised for two nights, we were raring to lay our hands on the SUVs on offer the next morning. Our friends from Mahindra Adventure had handed out AWD Scorpios to each set of participants while there was a Getaway pick-up truck, the all-alluring Thar and a brave KUV100 for the media. As climbed into the Getaway, some fellow (automobile) journalists were certain that the best part of the drive was already behind them. Little did they know what lay ahead.

As the convoy bunched up to head towards Khardung La Pass (K-Top), the highest motorable road in the world, we came face-to-face with some treacherous terrains. As if the climb all the way up to 18,380 ft wasn’t tricky enough, the journey down proved to be even more challenging. I could almost hear my butt say thanks when the car’s tyres finally hit tarmac over the sand dunes of Nubra Valley, after hours of struggle on broken (sometimes nonexistent) roads. The day’s efforts paid off with some more striking views awaiting us as we retired at our serene campsite, with the Diskit Monsatery watching over us.
The convoy was supposed to take the same route back to Leh, but we were fortunate enough to get necessary permissions from the authorities to drive around the other side of the mountain past the Shyok Valley, which is otherwise a protected wildlife area. The lunch halt on the rocky banks of the Shyok River has to be the highlight of my trip. In the company of only nature, the meal, though without anything fancy on the menu, could easily have been among the best ones of my entire life.
The testing drive, in the KUV, thereafter culminated in truly breathtaking views at the top of the snow-capped Warila Pass, located at a staggering 17,427 ft. While we were running out of oxygen due to the altitude, there was no shortage of inspiration among the service and medical teams of the convoy to iron out the creases in testing times.
The final stretch of my journey rolled in the Thar,with a kickass off roader behind the wheel. In addition, we also encountered road repair and construction activities being carried out by the Border Road Organisation, famously known as BRO, whose prominently quirky signboards kept us entertained en route to Leh.
At the end of this phenomenal adventure, which also happened to be my first visit to the state, I’d been on two of the world’s highest drivable roads, driven through snow, gravel and off-roaded to the best of an SUV’s capabilities. The 2017 Monastery Escape was an escapade that stayed true to its rugged nature and induced the most amounts of adrenaline in my body in the longest time.
While on the flight back to Mumbai the next morning, a retired Wing Commander, who was also a member of the convoy, occupied the seat next to mine. We discussed the challenges in taking off at high altitude and even the daunting beauty of the mountains. As the aircraft looked over the exquisite Himalayas through the clouds, in a dreamlike state, moments before dozing off, I heard the peaks echoing the contents of a cheeky BRO signboard – ‘Dear I like you, but not your speed.
And while the adrenaline levels have certainly gone down a fortnight after the trip, what has subconsciously stayed with me is the slow-paced spirit of the mountains that has enlightened me to step back and breathe; look at my inner demons in the eye and make peace with them, with a ‘wonderful silence.’

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WHEN AHMEDABAD COMES ALIVE WITH THE MYRIAD HUES OF NAVRATRI

Devoted to Goddess Durga, the festival of Navratri symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Each of the nine days is dedicated to a specific form of goddess Durga and…

Devoted to Goddess Durga, the festival of Navratri symbolises the triumph of good over evil.

Each of the nine days is dedicated to a specific form of goddess Durga and begins with the performance of aarti. Devotees believe all their prayers will be answered especially during this auspicious festival. On the first three days of the festival, devotees pay reverence in different ways. On the first day, Durga is worshipped in the form of Shakti. This day also witnesses the growing of seeds and farmers closely watching them sprout. Goddess Parvati is worshipped on the second day to signify triumph of good over evil. The third day of Navratri is for Goddess Kali, who represents a mature woman. The fourth and fifth days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi when she is worshipped for wealth, prosperity and peace. The sixth day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. I saw many households collect books and place them in front of Goddess Saraswati, and pray for good education and success. On the eight and the ninth day, kanya puja is performed when nine young girls representing nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped. Many of my friends in Ahmedabad sast during Navratri as it is believed that the body’s immunity is at an all time low during this time. The main highlight of this festival is the folk dance of Gujarat called garba. A dance form that originated in Gujarat, it is mainly performed during the nine day festival of Navratri in Ahmedabad. Garba comes from the Sanskrit word garbh (womb). Many traditional garbas are performed around a lamp or a picture or statue of the Goddess Shakti. Modern garba is heavily influenced by DandiyaRaas, a dance traditionally

There is an air of festivity, pomp and gaiety during Navratri when the city of Ahmedabad comes alive in a myriad hues. I am not from the city and am visiting friendsduing the festival. So I am all the more delighted to see the streets drenched in colour, and shops full of colourful costumes and ornaments. People are busy shopping for the nine nights of Navratriperformed by men. This is a highenergy dance that is seen at most venues in Ahmedabad. Many lawns and clubs in the city host DandiyaRaas which sees people from all walks of life dance away through the night. It was amazing to see both men and women dance away, decked in colourful costumes. Women wear ghaghracholis — a three-piece dress decorated with beads, shells, mirrors, stars, and embroidery work and paired with a choli. The choli is teamed with a ghagra — a flared, skirt-like bottom and dupatta, which is usually worn in a traditional Gujarati manner. The men were wearing a short round kurta, pyjamas above the knees and pagadis made of bandhinidupatta. The women adorned themselves with jhumkas (earrings), necklaces, bindi, kamarbandh, payal and mojiris. It was a colourful sight to behold.

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HOW THE PINK CITY SPARKLES AT DIWALI

The festival of lights, Diwali or Deepawali, brings cheer and warmth to Indian households as it symbolizes the victory of light (goodness) over darkness (evil). But as I was to…

The festival of lights, Diwali or Deepawali, brings cheer and warmth to Indian households as it symbolizes the victory of light (goodness) over darkness (evil).

But as I was to discover, nowhere is the “Festival of Lights” celebration as opulent as in the Pink City of India, Jaipur. Maybe because Jaipur is largely a trader’s city, and the auspicious occasion is used to honour the icon of prosperity and wealth, Goddess Lakshmi. I noticed all the Rajasthani royal lavishness coming to life during the Diwali days, with the city going berserk over sweets, lighting and festive cheer. Since times immemorial, Jaipur has followed a tradition of observing a fiveday Diwali celebration. It starts with Dhanteras on day one, Roop Chaudas on day two, Lakshmi Puja on day three, Govardhan Puja on day four and Bhai Duj on day five. I could see the aura of celebrations in every corner of the city during these days, be it the majestic Amer fort, or the busy streets of Johari Bazaar. Marigold garland vendors lined up on the pavements to sell their vibrant wares that were decked up in households in the traditional style for the festive days. The delicious aroma of sweets such as Mawa Kachori’, TilLaddoo and Piste ki Launj made one want to indulge in the rich culinary life. The quintessential markets of Nehru Bazar and Bapu Bazar bustled with vivid buntings and flashy lightings, a must-have for home décor. No Rajasthani celebration is complete without a religious and spiritual immersion, and the Diwali Maha-Arati is sure to take you on a spiritual ride. Sri Ramchandra Mandir in Chandpole Bazaar is one of the historically important temples built by the wife of ruler Sawai Ram Singh II. Dedicated to Lord Ram, it is a great place to witness the Diwali Maha Aarti. The fact that it is one of the few temples depicting “Ram Darbaar” or the “Court of Lord Ram” on its wall paintings, makes it special. But Diwali here is not just for the ardent worshippers, it holds something for everyone. In fact, the festive atmosphere takes on a grander aura with the Deepotsav festival being organized by the Rajasthan Tourism Department Corporation over the past few years. The ‘JalmahalkiPaal’ comes alive with traditional Rajasthani decoration as Diwali props, hangings, lights and rangolis woo one and all. A number of Rajasthani performances elevates the festive mood as dancers and singers rejoice to the tunes of the Kalbeliya dance, chakri dance, chari dance and other traditional dances. Jaipuri songs add a touch of melody. Amazing fireworks displays are the typicalculmination of this extravaganza, making the young and old alike truly invoke the festive mood. I have seen Diwali in many Indian cities. But what makes the festival in Jaipur stand out is the large-scale lightings and decorations. Many localities organize a contest and the best lit and best decorated residential area is even presented an award. Jaipuris put their heart and soul into decking up their homes and establishments, and this has built a tradition of “decor-watching”. Nights are a fun outing, as families flock to the best-lit monuments to enjoy the majestic illuminations. The JalMahal appears resplendent, with its shimmers reflecting off the waters of the Man Sagar Lake. The HawaMahal glows with the light of a thousand candles, a surreal sight indeed. We took a drive up to the lit-up Nahargarh fort – it offered fabulous panoramic views of the city, glittering like gold. Other must-visit landmarks to soak in the lively splendour are New Gate, Bari Chopar, Chaura Rasta, City Palace, World Trade Park, Akshardham temple and GovindDevJi temple. Shopping is an integral part of Diwali in Jaipur, which is known for its bustling markets full of life. Johari Bazaar is amongst the most popular jewellery markets, and people let loose their shopaholic side on the occasion of DhanTeras, an auspicious day for investing in gold. With the wedding season just around the corner, Diwali is a great time to indulge in one’s shopping cravings.

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