June 2012 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wayanad’s Rain Country Resort: Dropping in standards!!

The belt of Lakkidi-Vythiri-Banasura Sagar is one of the most beautiful areas of Wayanad. And thus, this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in god’s own country of Kerala. A lot of diverse accommodation options are available to cater to this year-round tourist in-flow. There are tree-houses, up market resorts with pools and spa, private home stays and the normal budget hotels. Out of these, the Rain Country Resorts, located close to Vythiri comes in the ‘up market resort’ category. But, based on my recent experience, I would definitely not put this resort in the ‘up-market resort’ category.

Rain Country Resorts, Wayanad
In the last decade, I have been to this resort multiple times either alone, with friends or along with office colleagues. Over the years, I have seen a drop in quality and service at this resort, while the cost has steadily gone up. What was once a chic Ayurveda resort is today a glorified corporate getaway with sub standard facilities. The nearby Vythiri and the tree-houses offer much more for the same price range. Since this place is about 10 kilometers from the nearest shop, one is completely dependent on this resort for food. The food, is certainly very sub standard here and the service times can certainly test your patience. This is something that really irks me given the fact that there are no other options. Even the cottages, which once used to be built in tasteful style is now built using local wood, is not maintained that well and has lost the ‘immersed in nature’ tag. A quick walk around the property will show the huge garbage dumps lying around. Personally, I have seen a lot of deforestation around this property. What was once a paradise for tropical birds is today a measly reflection of its past.

Common Dining Hall at the Rain Country Resorts, Wayanad, Kerala
I totally know the fact that the people of Kerala, especially the ones living in the hills, love their relaxed lifestyle and their afternoon siestas, but it is here that you see shoddy attitude with the staff and their total lack of interest. To me it looked like that the resort management hardly cares about its customers. They charge a premium and somehow manage to rope in the corporates who send in their employees on team bonding or off site sessions. Guess, they are able to fool in other first timers too. But, if you wish to listen to my opinion, I would recommend that you look at this place only if you don’t have any other options left. To me, this place doesn’t offer any value for money. If I were to rate this place out of 5, I would give it 1 to 1.5. I hope you would have got the message.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guest Post: Trekking Patagonia's Torres del Paine

Patagonia is quickly becoming one of the most popular trekking destinations in the world, and those who are already familiar with the South American region will know why. The area stretches out towards the bottom of the earth, and in its reach proudly bears some of the world's most breathtaking scenery. It is often described as one of the world's last few places that truly feel undiscovered, an observation justified by the rich greenery and snow tipped mountains that tell little of human interference.

A popular destination in many unforgettable gap years, many use the iconic natural offerings of Patagonia as a wonderful backdrop for a relaxing break, while others choose to experience the dramatic mountain ranges and lakes up close and personal.

While South America is usually praised for its rich culture, the Patagonian region doubtless provides scenic beauty in its natural assets. Trekking these often testing pieces of nature is a popular activity among visitors from around the globe, and one of the most popular trekking routes is in the Torres del Paine National Park.

The Torres del Paine trek physically guides participants through what is to many others just beautiful scenery. Trekkers are guided through valleys and along mountain ranges, witnessing lakes and glaciers along the way. The 'W' route (named after the 'W' shape from a birds-eye of the route) is the most popular of all the options, often taking around four days to complete. In this amount of time, participants will face the elements as they trek the dramatic ranges and camp overnight in various exciting places. Patagonian activity authority 'Swoop Patagonia' mention that guests often stop for lunch next to the crystal blue lakes. The trek passes through some of the natural assets that allow for various activities, these include kayaking in the area's testing rivers and ice hiking on the iconic glaciers.

Part of the Torres del Paine's charm is that it caters for different types of holiday makers. While many trekkers enjoy the adrenaline rush of the aforementioned activities, others prefer less strenuous pass times within the journey. This could include horse riding on the ranges or simply taking in the scenery from an advantageous perspective and relaxing.

Trekkers that use the national park are among the few that get to closely observe Patagonia's wildlife. Among the mountain ranges can be witnessed the mighty Condor, that boasts the largest wingspan of any land bird, stretching to an impressive 3.2 metres! Also roaming the region are Pumas, the largest of the area's predators, the endangered Huemul deer, and Guanacos, of which there are thought to be 1,500 in Torress del Paine alone.

It's clear that this particular trek can be enjoyed by both adrenaline junkies and those who are looking for something less challenging. Other treks and timeframes are available, for example, some treks offer a larger circuit that last as long as eight days. For more information on these options visit Swoop Patagonia . It is recommended to visit the park in the Patagonian summer, which is between late December and February, as this is when the weather isn't as harsh and the daylight hours are longer.

About the author: This guest post is written by Luke Thomas, on behalf of Swoop Patagonia, a leading online authority on all things Patagonian. From trekking guides to the best Kayaking spots, these guys can help you plan an amazing adventure holiday in this beautiful area of South America.
The photos in this post have the rights reserved, and are not available for purchase on this website (beontheroad.com).

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Holidays in Fuerteventura

The eternally sunny Canary Islands are still very much a top pick for a warm winter escape but which island to go to? The far flung Spanish archipelago offers up seven enticing choices, each with a distinctive atmosphere all of its own, from the hectic beach life of Tenerife or Gran Canaria to the soothing desert island tranquility of La Gomera. For a Canary Islands holiday that combines a little bit of everything, water sports-crazy Fuerteventura should fit the bill perfectly.

Closest to the African mainland and the second largest of the Canaries, Fuerteventura’s perpetual sunny days revolve around world-class windsurfing and kite boarding or simply getting horizontal on glorious sands. There are over 120 miles of coastline dotted with sugary white and volcanic black sand beaches and there is little to detract from the chilled out mood. The island is also noted for its liberal sprinkling of sheltered naturists’ beaches where you can work on that all-over tan. You can get all your information for your next holiday and airport at Flight Hub reviews who review every airport in the world.

The resorts of Caleta de Fuste or Corralejo are the places to be for a little after dark action with a wide array of happening bars and classy al fresco dining, although it’s generally more low key than the fleshpots of Tenerife or Gran Canaria. Holidays to Fuerteventura offer a culinary awakening too; you will find wide choice of traditional Canarian bites on menus and a profusion of quintessential tapas bars frequented by friendly locals. Dive into hearty papas arrugadas con mojo potatoes or rancho canario beef and chicken stew.

A Fuerteventura holiday has so many more possibilities if you can bear to drag yourself away from the beach. Of course kids are always going to be happy playing on the sand and in the surf but won’t need to be asked twice to go to Fuerteventura’s wet and wonderful Baku Water Park or a fun camel ride at La Lajita Zoo. A more sophisticated escapade is the Alcogida Eco-Museum in Tefia, featuring traditional country life, art and crafts and costumed dancers specifically aimed at culture-curious kids.

The whole island is classed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve covering diverse ecosystems. Aside from the arid volcanic interior, towering sun dunes surround Corralejo and the west coastline is awash with rugged cliffs and coves. There are plenty of recognised hiking trails or you can go native exploring on horseback, 4x4 jeep or even on a camel safari.

There is a great mix of accommodation options on the island in all price ranges from no frills €25 rooms to classy 5 star beach resorts. Caleta de Fuste is a good base for all-action family holidays in Fuerteventura while Corralejo has a livelier atmosphere and is a perennial favorite with British travellers.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Post: Top 10 Treks in Ladakh

Ladakh is a land of varied experiences. There is spirituality to be explored, adventure to be had and the bliss of nature to be felt. While you can explore Ladakh in plenty of ways, trekking is one of the best ways to do it. Trekking in Ladakh brings together all the different experiences to be had in Ladakh- a trip to monasteries gives you a spiritual experience; walking through varied landscapes lets you be with nature; and trekking to the top of challenging peaks gives you an adventurous experience. There are plenty of trekking trails in Ladakh to explore. However, here is an arguable list of top 10 treks in Ladakh which you shouldn’t miss:

1. The Frozen River Trek
The name says it all. You get to walk on a frozen river and make your way through remote areas of the land and enjoy the bliss of nature. The trek happens in winters, when the Zanskar River freezes and is the only route to get from Kargil to Padum. Also known as the Chaddar trek, this 20 day trek is meant for professional trekkers and not for beginners.
Best time to trek: January to February

2. Sham Valley Trek
While the Chaddar Trek is meant to be adrenaline pumping, the Sham Valley Trek is meant to be a spiritual experience. It takes you through various beautiful monasteries of Ladakh, including the ones which date back to the 11th century. This 5 day long trek is not too demanding and includes a visit to the monasteries of Alchi, Lamayuru as well as Thiksey.
Best time to trek: June to October

3. Stok Kangri Trek
If you love scaling heights and feel adrenaline pumping through your veins, the Stok Kangri trek is meant for you. This majestic peak, with a height of about 6137 meters above sea level, can be quite a challenge to scale. It takes about 9 days to reach a summit, and you encounter steep climbs as well as some gorgeous camping locations on your way. While the trek can be quite demanding, the views you get from top of Stok Kangri simply take your pain away.
Best time to trek: July and September

4. Rupshu Valley Trek
Lying in the south-eastern region of Ladakh is Rupshu Valley. A trek through the valley takes you varied terrains, with the altitude ranging between 4500 and 5500 meters. The valley has green pastures every now and then, but largely, the land is not suitable for agriculture. That makes the region sparsely populated. However, it is a popular route for nomads, and you can spot quite a few of them while on this trek. Watching them make their way through the arid land with their sheep and yak gives you glimpse into the local life of the people of Ladakh.
Best time to trek: June to October

5. Indus Valley Trek
The Indus River has carved some gorgeous gorges in the valley, apart from some other beautiful sights. The valley has scintillating mountain peaks in the background, which give it the awe-inspiring factor. Located at quite an altitude, the trek can be difficult in parts. That’s why, it is necessary that you have basic levels of fitness before embarking on this trek. On the way, don’t miss the Spituk Monastery, which is one of the oldest in Ladakh. Likir offers nice camping grounds, and an opportunity to interact with the locals.
Best time to trek: May to July

6. Kang Yatse trek
If the Stok Kangri trek sounds exciting to you, the Kang Yatse trek is even more so. The peak is a little higher than Stok Kangri and requires considerable level of fitness to reach the summit. However, the trek to the top is not technical, which means you don’t have to be a trained mountaineer in order to reach the summit. Nevertheless, as you continue rising to the top, the ascent keeps getting steeper and more challenging. But despite the hardships, it is must have experience if your fitness allows it. The top of Kang Yatse gives an amazing view of Himalayan peaks, including K2, which is the world’s second highest peak.
Best time to trek: June to August

7. Nubra Valley trek
If you would rather have a more relaxing trek than being too adventurous, consider taking the Nubra Valley trek. Nubra valley is known as the valley of flowers, and it has a variety of blossoming flowers in the summer season. Along the trek, you get to cross the beautiful rivers of Shyok and Siachen, visit the Esna monastery, which is a remote monastery of Ladakh, as well as visit the hot springs of Panamik. Finding hot springs in such a cold destination is one of the many delights of nature.
Best time to trek: In the summer months

8. Lamayuru to Alchi trek
This trek could easily be called the spiritual trek of Ladakh. Lamayuru and Alchi have two of the oldest monasteries of Ladakh, which dates back to the 11th century. Along the way, you get to see some other Ladakh monasteries of Ladakh as well, such as those of Thiksey. The trekking route from Lamayuru to Alchi is pretty undemanding, which makes it perfect for beginners who want to enjoy the joys of trekking in Ladakh.
Best time to trek: May to September

9. Markha Valley Trek
Walk alongside the mesmerizing Markha River and make your way through some really high mountain passes, including that of Stok La and Kongmaru La, which lie at a height of 4,800 meters and 5,200 meters above sea level respectively. As you make your way through the valley, you get to explore the diverse terrains of Ladakh. You can even spot ibex as well as blue sheep along the way, as Markha Valley is a part of Hemis National Park. If you are lucky enough, you could even spot the majestic snow leopard. Watch the terrain change from green pastures to barren lands, with towering peaks in the background.
Best time to trek: June to September

10. Zanskar Valley Trek
Trekking through Zanskar Valley isn’t just a delight in the winter months only. It is equally exciting in the summer months as well, when the Zanskar River is flowing in full force, and remote villages of the place have bustling activity. A trek through Zanskar Valley takes you through some important monasteries of Ladakh, some remote villages as well as some wild canyons. There is rafting in Zanskar River to be done too.
Best time to trek: June to August
About the Author: Divij is an adventurer, a budding photographer and a writer. He has been to various trekking trails and to many offbeat destinations in India. His passion is to explore all the offbeat destinations in India. Currently, he writes articles on travel for Thrillophilia’s blog.

Note: All the photographs in this post belong to the author.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tawang: India’s True Shangri-La

Ancient and rich Buddhist culture, unparalleled Himalayan beauty, kind people and lots of hidden treasures are the things that come to my mind when I think of Tawang. Tawang, is a remote, diverse and special hill station that is located in the Eastern Himalayas of Western Arunachal Pradesh. Cheap flights are available to this region of India from all over the world.

Eastern Himalayan peaks overlook the city of Tawang
Tawang’s rich Buddhist culture stems from it’s proximity to neighboring countries of Bhutan and China occupied Tibet, which are one of the oldest Buddhist centers in the world. And its current political setup also stems from the same closeness to its neighbors. Tawang, which is just a couple of hours away from the China border has seen its share of wars and enemy infiltrations and that is why a lot of this town is under the control of the Indian Army, very much like how Leh is in the Western Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir.

Tawang Gompa
It is here that the Monpa and the Sherdukpen tribes are found. These tribes are the followers of the Gelupa sect of the Mahayana School of Buddhism, which is preached at the Tawang monastery, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the world. These tribes and their bloodline, who make up for the large part of Tawang’s population are colorful and make for very interesting interactions. Their cuisine, their dressing style, their religious beliefs, their business sense, et al, make for a fantastic study. A visit to Tawang gives you the rare opportunity to explore the Buddhist lifestyles of the unique and remote Himalayan tribal culture of the Monpas.

Decked up Tawang Gompa entrance - as the Dalai Lama had just visited some hours back
And to top it off, this place is a virtual Shangri-La of snow capped peaks, high altitude lakes, lush forests, smiling valleys, gurgling streams and picture postcard villages with lovely people. It is here that one can see the heady mixture of breathtaking vistas of Himalayan uplands, Monpa villages and the rich monasteries.

The Colourful entrance door to Tawang Gompa
So, if you are looking at a holiday in a hill station and don’t have qualms about traveling a bit too far to explore new cultures and vistas, then do keep Tawang right on top of all your options. The Tawang monastery, the high altitude lakes of PT Tso and Sangetsar, the India-China border at Bumla pass, the high mountain passes and snow capped Himalayan mountains, the famous Ani Gompas, the rare Monpa tribal culture, the exotic Tibetan cuisine, the rich handicrafts and ubiquitous natural beauty is something that you will get to enjoy during a Tawang holiday.

The pride of Tawang - Tawang Gompa
For all those who are interested in traveling to Tawang, keep in mind that the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh needs an inner line permit, which can be got at Guwahati or though a travel agent in Arunachal Pradesh. The only way to reach here is by road via Bomdila, Dirang and Sela Pass unless you feel real lucky and wish to fly in the Pawan Hans helicopters.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ugyenling Monastery: Birth Place of the 6th Dalai Lama

The Ugyenling monastery was built around 1487 by Ugyen Zangpo, the youngest brother of Terton Pemalinga, the great treasure revealer. In addition to Ugyenling, he is credited with founding two other Nyingmapa temples – Sangyeling and Tsogyeling, in its vicinity, about two centuries later, i.e. in the year 1683. Tsanyang Ghatso, the sixth Dalai Lama, was born here to Tashi Tenzin, a direct descendant of Ugyen Zangpo and Tsewang Lhamo of the royal family of Berkhar.

Ugyenling Temple - Birth place of the 6th Dalai Lama
This temple is situated about 5 kilometers from Tawang and close to Tawang’s war memorial. The place is neglected by the locals, but it still has a charm about it even in its small temple compound.

Ugyenling Temple - Description stone
I am sure it was a grand place prior to 1706 when Lajang khan and his forces invaded Tawang on their fight against Bhutan. During this fight, they destroyed the temple to obliterate the memory of the sixth Dalai Lama.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Midday Skyscape from Eastern Himalayas

This might come across as a tricky question. How many of us have seen the midday sun? It is not the sunlight that I am referring to, but the sun itself. Well, I have. And I found this moment in the high altitude of the Eastern Himalayas.

Midday sun blocked by the clouds
I was exploring the area around the India-China border of Arunachal Pradesh when I looked up and saw the sun through the clouds. Initially, I thought it was the moon, but a short while later when the clouds moved, I realized that it was indeed the sun.

Clouds cover the sun
May be, it was the 12,000 feet that did the trick or may be it was the moon that I saw through the clouds. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic midday sky that I came across in the high Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh in North East India.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Penga Teng Tso: A High Altitude Himalayan Lake

Penga Teng Tso or PT Tso as it is locally known, is a high altitude lake that is located at around 12,000 feet in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh. This serene looking lake is located amidst sensational natural beauty with snow capped mountains surrounding it on all sides.

PT Tso Lake - a fantastic white setting
It is situated at about 23 kms from the city of Tawang, which is basically a 45 minute drive from the city. 2 wheel drive vehicles easily do the commute on all days except for when there are sheets of ice on the road, which would require a four wheel drive vehicle.

Penga Teng Tso Lake
Apart from a great photo shoot location, this place offers an interesting trail to walk around it. And that trail becomes a lot of fun when it is covered in snow. This place is scenic in nature, but lacks even the most basic of facilities. So, if you do plan to be here, be prepared to rough it out.

PT Tso Lake
And while you are here, do remember not to dirty this place as this lake holds spiritual importance to the Buddhist community.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Landscape Photography: Confluence of Hill Streams

A Himalayan drive throws up some spectacular views. While the winding roads, the rarified air and the snow capped peaks offer a thrilling experience, the Himalayas also offer some splendid views of its rivers.

Merging of Hill streams
These fast flowing streams and rivers cut through the gorges and valleys and pass through dense pine ad other temperate forests.

Hill streams join enroute to Tawang
I came across such a moment when I was making my way to Tawang, in the western part of Arunachal Pradesh. Thee photographic moment was the confluence of two rapid rivers, one slightly larger than the other. The entire confluence was surrounded by evergreen forests and made for a remarkable aerial view during my drive through this part of the Eastern Himalayas.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jaswantgarh War Memorial, Nuranang, Arunachal Pradesh

A great pit stop enroute to Tawang would be the Jaswantgarh war memorial located at Nuranang, about 25 kms from Tawang. This war memorial, set in scenic terrain just below the Sela pass commemorates the bravery of the martyred Indian soldiers of the 1962 Indo-China war. 

The famous BRO sign board
This war memorial stands in memory of rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat, Mahavir Chakra Awardee (Posthumous) of the 4th Battalion of Garhwal Rifles Infantry Regiment. Jaswant showed his valor by fighting and holding the invading Chinese back for 72 hours all alone during the 1962 India-China war and remained at his post at an altitude of about 10,000 feet before succumbing to an enemy bullet during that bloody winter war. The post that he held to repulse the Chinese troops has been renamed Jaswant Garh in recognition of his valor and sacrifice.

At Jaswantgarh War Memorial

This temple-like Jaswantgarh memorial has a garlanded bronze bust of Jaswant Singh, a portrait of the war hero and his belongings including the Army uniform, cap, watch and belt. The Garhwal Rifles are today deployed on India’s western borders, but the unit makes it a point to keep at least half a dozen personnel here to take care of Rawat as if he were alive. He is served bed tea at 4:30 am, breakfast at 9 am and dinner at 7 pm. Five Army soldiers are at his service round the clock. There are no chores to be done. Life couldn’t be more comfortable for ‘Baba’ Jaswant Singh Rawat, but for the fact that he is no more.

Jaswantgarh Fort
These soldiers not only serve Baba. They render yeoman service for travelers along the hazardous portion of mountain terrain. Besides coming to rescue of travelers in trouble, they run a snack store where they serve tea, coffee and delicious samosas and pakoras to refresh the tired tourists, charging a nominal price that goes to upkeep of the war memorial. It is quite a special moment to encounter such a heroic saga of someone who has made the supreme sacrifice to protect our motherland.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Snow Scenes from Sela Pass, Arunachal Pradesh

The current sweltering summer heat makes me yearn for the cooler climes of the Himalayas. I am sure a lot of you might feel the same way. And as I was going through my photo library, I came across these wonderful snow-filled moments from Sela Pass.

The winding and snowy roads of Sela pass
Sela pass at 13,800 feet, is one of the Arunachal Pradesh’s high mountain passes that connects the Tawang district to the rest of the state. This pass is known for its atrocious weather and that is why there is a very high probability to see here.

Fresh snowfall
This pass, apart from being a high altitude military post is also a spiritual area for the Buddhists. The entire area with its high altitude lakes look magnificent when covered in snow. And that is precisely how it was when I was last there.

Snow snow everywhere
What would I do to get back to such snowy places in the Himalayas?

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