Cenotaphs in Orchha,Madhya Pradesh.
Located on the banks of the tranquil Betwa river, Orchha is a historic village testament to a brilliant display of Mughal and Bundelkhand architecture. The prominent cenotaphs, also popularly known as ‘Chhatris’ in Hindi, are memorials dedicated to the rulers of Orchha built around the 17th and 18th century. The atmosphere here is quite laid-back and stress-free. There are plenty of homestay as well as luxurious options available. Amar Mahal is one of the best properties in Orchha, which offers some spectacular views of the cenotaphs.
The fact that the Bundela heritage is so well preserved even till date is a good enough reason why the ancient monuments still breathe life into this part of the town. The best way to enjoy the countryside is either on a cycle, or walking as the average distance between places is around 2-3 km. Also, do consider trekking along the banks of the river to see the village in all its glory. Orchha is an ideal getaway from New Delhi, Bhopal and Kanpur.
While people gush over their Ladakh sojourn, the journey to the ‘middle land’ is at once exhilarating and unique, and dare we say, a lot more challenging that the former. The might Kunzum- La pass rising up at 4551 metres above sea level separates the lush Lahaul valley with the spartan Spiti, which almost feels like a different world altogether. Given the fact that there are almost no proper roads leading up to the valley, reaching Spiti itself seems to embue a sense of pride among travellers.
Devoid of trees, much like Ladakh, Spiti is a land that resides underneath a clear, starry sky clustered with white-washed mud brick villages huddled amidst dreamy barley fields and a jaw-droppingly beautiful Spiti river. In the recent years, Spiti has attracted a steady stream of motorcycling enthusiasts, much like Ladakh did almost 7-8 years back.
Travellers increasingly pick Spiti because it is not only less touristy than Leh-Ladakh, but it’s cultural centers such as Key, Tabo, Kibber, Kaza monasteries are well preserved. Key Monastery is the largest Buddhist temple in all of Spiti. They also offer travellers an option to stay to experience the lifestyle of monks and lamas. Founded in 996 AD, the Tabo monastery is one the oldest continuously functioning monastery in India. It should definitely be on your travel to-do list.
Valley of Flowers
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Valley of Flowers is a national park in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. This is exactly what dreams are made of: lush carpet of colourful flowers rippling in the cold breeze, cotton clouds shape shifting every few minutes, snow-capped mountains in the backdrop, a narrow, broken path that leads you deeper and deeper into the valley’s bowel.
It’s home to some of the most endangered species of animals such as snow leopard, musk deer, red deer, brown bear, blue sheep and red fox. The national park is a part of the Nanda Devi biosphere reserve. The national park was cut off from the outside world due to its inaccessibility until 1931 when British explorer Frank Smythe lost his way from a mountaineering expedition and stumbled upon a valley full of colourful flowers. Mesmerised by its beauty they named it ‘The Valley of Flowers’.
The beauty of this place is still intact owing to the fact that very few travellers have been here, and much less talk about it still. If you’re looking at peace and tranquil, Valley of flowers is a haven for such experiences. While travellers are not allowed to stay/camp inside the national park, just 6 km from where the trek starts a place called Ghangaria has a government forest house which lets you stay. The ideal season to visit the valley is during the monsoon season in July and August when most flowers bloom.
Nagaur cattle fair
It was 8:00 am and a thick blanket of fog reduced visibility to less than 100 m in Nagaur. We walked out of our camp, a make-shift luxury tent with 24×7 hot water, cushy beds with all the paraphernalia one can imagine, and we’re struck down by the scene outside. The temperature is around 8 degrees, and an invisible sun throws dim light through the overcast sky. As we go deeper into the fog, we discover an entire settlement of camel herders huddled up close, rubbing their palms around a small fireplace. Their only shelter was a small, 5m long blue tarpaulin sheet hung loosely from one edge of their camel cart to the other. Two people slept in the space between the two tires, while the rest prepared tea in decrepit steel utensils. The scene was so rustic especially because as they rubbed their hands fervently, they collected camel droppings into a big heap and burnt it for warmth. Such is the beauty of the Nagaur fair, it’s very real and truly authentic in its entirety. As we approached the villagers, they looked up at us with their raddled faces and offered tea. At first, it seemed they were a little annoyed to see camera-toting people clicking their pictures, and invading their privacy, but it soon became clear that they’re used to such kind of attention from visitors who find them ‘photogenic’.
The 10-day-long Nagaur fair is one of Rajasthan’s biggest annual cattle fair that takes place in the month of January-February. It falls midway between Jodhpur and Bikaner. Since the area is located along the dry Thar Desert area, villagers are mostly involved in cattle breeding rather than farming. Legend goes that Baba Ram Dev had miraculous powers and his fame reached far and wide and five Pirs (saints) from Mecca came to Nagaur to test his power and after being convinced paid their homage to him. Since then he is venerated by Muslims also as Ram Shah Pir.
Much like the Pushkar fair, this one too is a very vibrant affair with villagers and cattle herders sporting colourful turbans and long moustaches. And because the whole point of the fair is cattle trading, people make sure that their own livestocks look as attractive as it possibly can to potential buyers. The cattle displayed at the fair are magnificently accessorised. In terms of the scale of the event, it spans acres at a stretch and is definitely a lot bigger than the Pushkar fair.
Here, villagers get their cattle including camels, horses and bullocks for trading and every year, around 70,000 – 100,000 livestock are traded. For first timers, the entire scene might appear chaotic at best, and for all purposes it is. But once you get used to the environment, of camels, horses, sheeps, goats, bullocks passing you by, and people swearing at their cattle to make them fall in line, the whole experience feels unadulterated for some reason. The entire place is throbbing with life, only if you learn to accept it for what it is.
It’s a small village in the Allapuzha district. The most awe-inspiring place here is the Marari beach with its white sand. It’s clearly a nature lover’s paradise with over 97 species of butterflies, over 350 species of endemic plants, birds and a variety of turtles.
The best way to experience Marari is by hiring a naturalist who can guide and inform you about the various flora and fauna of the Malabar’s unique ecosystem and its myriad charms. As an icing on the cake, it’s also been rated as one of the world’s top five beaches according to a National Geographic survey. Almost the entire Mararikulam is an extension of a seafront. You could also spot ancient ‘four pillared’ houses in Mararikulam. All you need here is a hammock and a book. The rest, as they say, is history.