Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exploring Sea Caves & Hidden Lagoons In Phuket

Phuket is cut out for beach lovers, and is less populated by tourists compared to Pattaya. Phuket offers beautiful beaches, mesmerizing island tours, & plenty of adrenaline pumping activities. Take a couple of days to soak in the sun, enjoy turquoise blue waters and white sandy beaches. There are numerous tour operators offering multiple tours, however, we recommend Phuket Travel Company. Their service is outstanding & flawless.

The highlight of our trip to Phuket was taking John Gray's Sea Canoe excursion - where one gets to experience the stunning beauty of the ocean, explore sea caves and hidden lagoons by kayak during the day and at night. We learnt how to make flower kratong and got back to the caves after sunset and offered them to the sea god, a custom followed by Thai people. (Yes, we picked the kratong back from the sea!) The best part of this trip is the natural light emitted by the bio-luminescent organism in the lagoon, making it a romantic and unique experience. It is an adventure one can't simply put down in words.

The most sought after tours being the Phi Phi & James Bond Island trip is thronged by tourists. No doubt the place is stunning & picturesque, however, the sheer volume of tourist activity here takes the crux out of the trip. One can reach the island either by speed or long tail boat. Snorkeling at monkey bay is stellar, the marine life gives you a feel of being on the sets of Finding Nemo. The ocean world that is so less explored leaves you in awe with its abundant marine life.

One thing that you should definitely not miss while in Phuket is the Simon Cabaret Show. The transgender community perform a stellar show that will be etched in your memory for a long time. The glamorous costumes, extravagant sets, pretty dance moves, good music and an option to click pics with them adds more beauty to the experience.

Bangla Road: Gets alive and electrifying after 10pm, dotted with pubs & bars it is a different world in itself. Party goes on throughout the night. There are lots of street artists entertaining the tourists.

 Patong beach area is the perfect place to stay, one can enjoy the beach couple of yards away, Bangla road is at walk-able distance, plenty of restaurants around.Do not miss out on the weekend fair at the beach- You can experience live bands playing music, street food, street shopping and much more.

While in Thailand, definitely try out on the ice cold tender coconuts and different varieties of pancakes.

During our stay in Phuket we checked into 'Holiday Inn Express' The property is only a few minutes away from Patong beach. There are plenty of restaurants and spas around. Bangla road is at walkable distance. Almost all tour operators provide free pick up and drop from the hotel. Service standards and rooms are pretty good. Free WiFi is a plus.

Best of Bangkok

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bangkok - Enough Said!

The Grand Palace
Sin city of Asia, offers a mix of two extremes, dotted with lovely temples by day and post sunset the wild side of the city is on display. Party goers are to be seen all over in their best attire & funky dance moves. Nothing is a sin in this city, by nightfall Soi Cowboy lane is lit up with neon lights, all pubs are full with people sipping their drink, enjoying life & setting aside their worries & living for the moment. Everything is on the menu!

If retail therapy is what you crave for, Bangkok is the place to be. All top brands are available under one roof, The Siam Center. However, if you want to own all these brands at a fraction of their original cost, you can find the replicas right opposite on the numerous stalls setup on the roadside.

Bangkok never seizes to surprise one. Apart from shopping, booze & sex, it is rich in history. The temples with brilliant finesse architecture, stand as a testimony. The Royal Palace, Wat arun, Wat Pho, Emerald Buddha, massage school at Wat Pho are things one should not miss.

Tiger Temple: Park a day aside & visit this controversial place. 150 km from Bangkok is Kanchanburi, founded by a Monk to give refuge to orphaned cubs, this place is now home for over 150 Tigers, cubs & other animals.

Here you can get up close with tigers. From walking tigers, to feeding cubs & watching them play in a pool- you can do it all. To get the most of it make sure you reach by 11 am. Start with walking the tigers to the canyon, get your pics clicked with them & another 1000 Baht will buy you time to feed cubs & see them play. This is a must do!

After spending considerable time with the cubs head to the canyon & 500 baht will put you behind a steel enclosure from where you see the young tigers fight it out & play in a pool. This is a fabulous experience to see the wild cats play. We felt the theory of these tigers being drugged was debunked.

En-route do stop over at World War II cemetery & iconic Bridge On River Kwai. This bridge was built in record time by Prisoners Of War.

If the regular itinerary does not excite you, head to the old city to see the Palace & old temples from Chikri dynasty.

The best area to stay would be Soi 10, you will find hotels to suit every budget. There are several Indian restaurants around, Mrs.Balbir's Restaurant is highly recommended. BTS station is a 2 minute walk.

During our stay in Bangkok we checked into Galleria 10 Hotel great value for money. Only a couple of minutes away from BST station. Hotel offers spacious and clean rooms, great roof top pool, kickass spa, friendly staff and great food.

Bangkok is a tourist hub & could well be a breeding ground for scamsters, popular ones are Precious Gems, & guys claiming Palace or Temples are closed for tourists and recommending Tuk Tuks for city tour.

Bangkok has no beaches to offer, but don't you sweat, hop on car & Pattaya is only a couple of hours away.

The best of Phuket

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dhubela Museum

Chhatrasal Museum, the largest museum in the State of MP, on the Khajuraho - Orccha highway is a must visit. In this very site there stood a Palace, the ruins of which still stand in bits & pieces. This was not in our itinerary, but we made sure we stop over as this was highly recommended by the locals.

The museum, divided into 8 sections, houses artifacts from the 3rd century. Relics displayed are from Gupta, Kalchuri & Chandela periods focusing on art, painting, antique sculptures, arms & artillery.

Don't miss the canon of Adil Sher Shah from 18 century AD.

Within the museum compound stands the Mastani Mahal built 1696 AD, which was once a beautiful palace. It was built by the Maharaja for a beautiful dancer and now stands as a monument which says who loves whom!

Around the museum are many more ruined monuments, one can spot the 18th century  tomb of Sawai Singh from the highway a little before the museum.

Even in the most unexpected corners of India lies priceless treasures! Oh you Incredible India. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bhimbetka - Cave Dwellers

Day 42 Sanchi to Bhimbetka

Distance: 50 km
Road Condition: Good

Cave dwellings
Bhimbetka caves, lying in the lap of the Vindhya ranges, are a gift from our forefathers, aka cavemen! These long lost rock shelters were discovered by Dr. Vishnu Sridhar in 1957. This World Heritage Monument offers a pictorial representation of how our ancestors lived their lives during the Stone Age. The rich paintings and art depict day to day activities, it is hard to believe that plant extracts used as colors centuries ago look amazing even today.

These caves were inhabited by human race from Paleolithic time up-to Medieval period. The bright green and red colors extracted from plants and minerals have been dated to 100000 B.P. The quality of the paintings and art forms are splendid. Scenes from celebration, warfare, hunting, & figures of humans, animals, mythical creatures are portrayed with great precision.

Though the outside temperature was at 42 degree, as soon as you enter the caves the temperature drops significantly.

The following piece of art depicts a scene of two elephants with long uplifted tusks. You can see a caveman standing on one of them holding a spear and wearing a sword on his waist.

Among the figures of various animals, pay close attention and you will be able to spot the hand print of a small child.

A Royal procession is depicted here, horsemen & soldiers armed with bows, arrows, swords & shields. The horsemen are accompanied by drummers.

 Men in formation and a peacock next to them.

Hunting scenes - you can see men hunting deers with bow & arrow.

Ginormous Boar
Men in Battle Formation
Children Playing
We end our MP trip with this place. With great memories we head back home- Hyderabad.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sanchi, Vidisha & Udaigiri Caves.

Day 41 Bhopal To Sanchi, Vidisha & Udaigiri

Distance: 50 km
Road Condition: Very good

The Great Stupa
Sanchi Stupas, the first stone monuments in India leave you spellbound! Built in the 3rd century BC, atop a hillock, these magnificent stone structures are nothing less than a feat of engineering ingenuity. These breathtaking Stupas built by Emperor Ashoka mark the birth of Buddhism. These World heritage monuments stand as a fine example of Classical Indian Architecture.

The Stupa 1, towering over 16 mt in height & 36 mt in diameter, embellishing triple umbrella on the Dome is the center of attraction. One can find intricate carvings depicting the 'Life Of Buddha.'

Stupa 1
Stupa 2
Stupa 3
Every ruin has a sad story to tell and this place is no exception. Walking across the Stupas, one comes across a ruined pillar.  As the story goes, this pillar which was erected by Ashoka was destroyed by a local Zamindar. Only the lower portion of the pillar stands while the remains are now preserved under a shed. This pillar carries a strong message from Ashoka warning the Monks & Nuns of expulsion, if found to create schism within Buddhist Community.

The Britishers did not leave empty handed, the contents of the Stupas were shipped to England.

Vidisha & Udaigiri Caves

India is a treasure trove & never fails to amuse even the most seasoned Traveler, Vidisha is a fine example. This quiet town teleports one to the 3rd century - the structure, ruins, caves & pillars leaves one speechless. It gives any Indian immense bragging rights. Once a thriving town, this most sought after trade destination was abandoned during 6th century and till date continues to remain in an antique state. The ruins of Brahmanical Shrine here, reveals that the foundation bricks are cemented together with Lime Mortar, the first known example of use of cement in India.

Close to the ruins still stands 'Khambha Baba/ Heliodorus Pillar,' a free standing 20 feet pillar. Helio Dorus an ambassador from Taxila constructed this pillar to pay homage to Vasudev, Lord Vishnu. This pillar is strikingly similar to that of Ashoka pillar.

In 4th century AD came into being Udaigiri Caves, a series of rock cut carving with emphasis on the preaching of Hinduism & Jainism. These caves established by Vikramaditya stand as testimony of the craftsmanship during that period. Udaigiri caves represents great Indian craftsmanship, imagine such carvings done at an era when stone was the only tool available. I think it would be safe to assume that human race was much more smarter, better skilled & naturally gifted before modernization & fancy gadgets kicked in. The most significant features are the carving of 'Varaha,' the 3rd incarnation of Lord Vishnu & the statue of Vishnu resting, both carved out of single piece of rock.

Irony is Gods, the creator & protector of the human race, are now locked behind steel enclosures in order to keep them safe from humans because it is important for Pinku to express his eternal love for Tinku on centuries old monuments!

Checked into Hotel Samodhi at Sanchi- the property is value for money. Pretty spacious & clean rooms, the service & food is very good. Stay options are very basic & minimal, it is advisable to stay in Bhopal.

Our next stop- Bhimbetka.