Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jammu & Kashmir At A Glance

jammu and kashmir detailed map

A photographer paradise, wildest and 'aggressive' mountains and perhaps the most controversial destination of the world, Jammu & Kashmir has the absorbing capacity of traveler with its sublime beauty and there is as much hidden as revealed. The land has an ancient history of invasion because of its borderline location with Western and Southern Asian countries and charming landscapes. The state is located in the northernmost state of India and shielded by Himalayan mountains. The land is in the midst of conflict and controversy for long but after almost 20 years of isolation, situation comes at a normal point and overland travelers are again drifting back to the state and enjoy houseboats, skiing, trekking and other activities.

Jammu & Kashmir shares a border with the states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab to the south and internationally with the People's Republic of China to the north and east and the Pakistani administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, to the west and northwest respectively. Jammu & Kashmir is divided into three parts; Jammu, majority of population is Hindu, Kashmir, the conflict place, which is often termed as Paradise on Earth, mainly a tourist hot spot as well as Kashmiri insurgency. And the last and most calm place is the Ladakh region also known as 'Little Tibet'. Ladakh is absolutely secluded place and far behind from Kashmiri insurgency. The place is covered by rugged snow-capped mountains wedged in by roaring rivers.

History of Jammu & Kashmir



In Hindu mythology Kashmir is mentioned and later on the valley was a center of Buddhist religion. The relics of Buddhist and some significant temples in Jammu & Kashmir testifies the fact. During the Mughal reigns most of the temples and Buddhist stupas got destroyed but lenient Akbar (1556-1605) protected Kashmiri pandits and acknowledged the Kashmiri style of painting. During the Colonial rule, Kashmir valley was under the loose grip of Sikh rulers of Jammu and soon British snatched the land from them and Kashmir was handed to Hindu Dogra dynasty, who ruled the state from 1846 until independence. The main conflict started after the partition and it gained the momentum when Pashtun tribesmen attacked Kashmir, backed by the new government in Pakistan. The then Prime Minister Mr. Nehru sent troop to secure the border and resulted first India Pakistan war.

The Kashmir Valley has had been a reason of conflict for two countries and in 1949, the UN established a tenuous border known as the Line of Control but Pakistan attacked the land in 1965, and continued the conflict. The Hindu and Buddhist population in the valley are with the Indian but the Muslim demand autonomy and thus in 1990, Kashmir was placed under the direct control of Central Government. This led to bloody war between terrorists and Indian Army and unexplained massacre of innocent lives. Although a general election held in 1996 led to calls for the division of Kashmir along religious lines, but subsequently rejected by Delhi.

Geographic & Climate of Jammu & Kashmir


snowfall in kashmir valley

Jammu & Kashmir lies at a high altitude and this affects on its geography and the climate. The most of the vegetation of the state is covered by thorn scrub forests and Himalayan subtropical pine forests. On the high elevation, the broadleaf forests and western Himalayan subtropical pine forests are found. This makes it a biogeographically diverse land.

Because of its rugged topography, the climate of Jammu & Kashmir varies greatly. During Summers Jammu city experiences hot and humid weather and can reach up to 40 °C (104 °F). The regions of Ladakh and Zanskar experience extreme cold and dry. Annual precipitation is only around 100 mm (4inches) per year and humidity is very low. The region perches at the height of 3000 meters above sea level and winters are nearly impossible to access the place. In Zanskar, the average January temperature is -20 °C (-4 °F) with extremes as low as -40 °C (-40 °F).

Demographics


Muslims is the major religion of the state. Other religions in the state are Buddhist, Hindus and Sikhs. The people of Ladakh are of Indo-Tibetan origin, while the southern area of Jammu includes many communities tracing their ancestry to the nearby Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, as wll as the city of Delhi. 95% of the total population of Kashmiri Brahmins are also called Kashmiri Pandits. In totality, the Muslims constitute 67% of the population, the Hindus about 30%, the Buddhists 1%, and the Sikhs 2% of the population.

Culture & Heritage of Jammu & Kashmir


Jammu & Kashmir has a distinct and colorful culture that attract travelers from all over the world. Kashmiri festivals are colorful and organized with much fanfare. The famous dance called Dumhal is performed by men of the Wattal region. The traditional folk dance Rouff is performed by the women of Kashmir. The valley is famed for its fine arts, music, poetry and handicrafts. Ladakh is famous for its Indo-Tibetan culture. The lifestyle is Buddhist and form an integral part of their culture. there are number of festivals celebrated in Ladakh throughout the years but annual masked dance festivals, weaving and archery are an important part of traditional life in Ladakh.

hemis festival in ladakh hemis monastery kashmir culture

For your Information

Like any other states of India, capital city of J&K Srinagar follows normal business hours but most shops, banks and offices shut for several hours at lunchtime on Friday for Muslim prayers. It is advisable to finish all urgent work on Thursday. Srinagar generally experience dead silence after 8 pm, so there are less possibilities to find a rickshaw or shikara after hours.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Making Goo-goo Eyes At Nature - Photo Essay of First Camping Trip

* Do not think I travel to future. These dates were wrongly set in my camera.

This is the first photo essay of my first solo camping trip 6 years ago. Over the time, I feel I've got to understand camping and solo trip a better than before, but the excitement and impulsiveness I have lost. It is not a bad thing after all because I am now more aware of my surroundings, with certain cautiousness, which is important at certain stages of traveling. It is natural I guess, over the years of traveling evolution and changing circumstances, my thought process has been adapted to certain level of realty of this world, so it is not a surprising fact that I am now quickly able to accept the adverse situations and adapt myself in changing situations.



It should not be denied…..that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our mind with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led west. - Wallace Stegner



himalayas in uttarakhand garhwal

Mountains always bring a complete silence in the mind.


bedni bugyal lohajang village

His traveling down to hills is always a haphazard affair. With a heavy backpack and lots of cigarette smoke in the lungs, it’s difficult to walk on the mountainous terrains. However, his philosophy is quite stern that you should carry as much as you can on your back at a dead run.



He stays at a small village perched at a height of 2500 meters.



Last night heavy rainstorm and intolerable cold wind have almost swept away his tent. Now, the whole day wait and wait to dry the stuff. Nevertheless, everything has a good side and he has understood yesterday that there is no greater fear than the fear of death. At night he was running, screaming but only darkness everywhere. It seemed he was searching help in midst of dead people. By God’s grace he ultimately found a room though filthy and stinky but at the moment that was nothing less than heaven. The whole night nightmares came and he woke up with excruciating tiredness and lethargy.


lohajang camping garhwal

He is now sitting alongside a French group, trekking to Joshimath via Bedni Bugyal. He is now thinking that he perhaps comes at wrong time. The hills are still covered up with snow and venturing into a frozen jungle without much gear is nothing less than suicide. Depressed!



It is quite impossible to see the real picture of this existence. whatever we see actually behind the shadow of 'Iness' but today he has realized there are certain subtle things always working behind the gross. it's a faint imitation of his pure consciousness.


ajan top lohajang uttarakhand garhwal

Ajaan Top…some haunted place!!




The mountain is the environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensorily austere, and aesthetically abstract. It is always bold and suggestive, though sometimes terrible as if it shows its temperamental nature. From hills sky seems un-obstructive and clouds seems take various living forms.
Since thousands of years, prophets and hermits through rough terrain of hills have sought the therapeutic and spiritual value of retreat, to seek the TRUTH.

He is now dipping in a cold stream…
camping in forest garhwal uttarakhand

A few moments back, a shepherd woman tried to scare him by talking all weird stories of ghost and animals. He himself the Ghost of ghosts!
camping solo forest garhwal kumaon

At last find a good place to pitch his tent.
forest in kumaon uttarakhand

He talked at a length with the sadhu. It seems the babaji is greatly impressed with his internal conflict and his childlike behavior.

In India those burned brinjals make an excellent cuisines named ‘Baigan ka bharta’. Maggie, some loaf of bread, chocolates and lots of water. Malnutrition?? But spirit is soaring….

Studying...

Errr… Some noise in the woods..leopard he believes…

Dry meandering river…way back to home..
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Friday, April 3, 2015

When travel inspires fashion - Lakme Fashion Week 2015 reflects on world fusion

Travel inspires writers, travel inspires philosophers, travel inspires even entrepreneurs, but how many times we see travel translates into fashion designs. Well, there are some designers in Lakme Fashion Week 2015 who show how impulsive traveling can create best of their talents.

rimi nayak fashion in lakme fashion week 2015

Rimi Nayak is coming up with her latest ‘Travel Trails’ Lakme Fashion Week 2015 where her impromptu traveling experiences resulted into cartography elements of the prints. She has beautifully translated her imaginations on cotton, Georgette and satin. She uses saris, gowns, blouses and every imaginable dress where she creates excellent cartography.

from russia with love neha agarwal lakme fashion week 2015

Another designer Neha Agarwal first time comes up with James Bond movie title “From Russia with Love’, telling the story of two entirely different cultures in her own fashionable style. The dresses are surely inspired by Russian silhouettes and motifs, featuring on Indian fabrics and crafted by Indian techniques.  Her intricate fashion presentation is in the form of hand-embroidered applique on Georgette, ahimsa, dupion, tussar and pattu silks. The style is of course from Russia, which was prevalent in the early 1900s, but the technique is purely Indian. An ambitious attempt to create a fusion that might be received well by critics.

sonam & paras modi collection lakme fashion week 2015

Suave craftsmanship, vibrant colours and Indian aesthetics; these three attributes are the main pillars of Sonam and Paras Modi who travelled to Turkey in 2014 and overwhelmed by the style of Istanbul. The latest collection reflects their muse called it ‘Istanblu’. The collection is dramatic no doubt about that, but it is also elegant, which captures the rich heritage and architecture of Istanbul. The collection is a fine impregnation of two entirely different civilizations.

anushree reddy collection in lakme fashion week 2015

Anushree Reddy doesn't need a foreign inspiration but her travel inspiration has led her to royal Nizam palaces of Hyderbad. The latest collection of this fashion designer called ‘The Royal Courtyard’ draws inspiration from the home of the Nizams. The dresses are royal with sublime prints and intricate designs. The simplicity of the dresses captures the eyeballs. She uses Zardosi, beads and crystals in her collection of attires, which tries to create a balance between medieval and contemporary.

Photographs courtesy DNA India

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Munsiyari Travel Chronicle – Panchuli Aura & My Solo Camping

panchuli range from munsiyari

(I couldn't reach Khalia Top because of excessive snowfall, so I am not able to describe how beautiful Panchuli range of Himalayas would be watched from the top, though I could understand the feeling of Panchuli magic where I spent my days in the mountain.)

“Don't you scare of living off the land alone?”

“What you do alone the forest?”

There are some questions randomly shoot at me ( I say randomly because most of the people do not think while asking) whenever I return from my camping trips. When I show my pictures of camping or tell them my (brief) stories about my experiences, there is an air of disbelief, a sort of mixed feeling of amazement and disgust. If I remember correctly, I never felt any type of trepidation so far. It is also a fact that I do not feel any extraordinary feeling in those places as people may imagine seeing my pictures.

Winding roads in Kumaon
A peculiar sense of emptiness grasps my whole being, a power that is inconceivable by reasons and logical gymnastics. Every place has its own energy and when you place yourself with a little quietness, the place reveals itself slowly the secrets. Perhaps, that is the outcome of my travel or living off-the-land for sometimes. It cuts down from my usual self, usual thoughts, but attached with something that heightens my perception, can feel things from a different level of life.

I like Himalayas, more than anything else, because the energy is so wholesome, too complete. If I have to strictly tell what part of the Indian Himalayas I prefer, I would say Garhwal. This is the land where great souls buried, not essentially in a sense of last rite or incinerate, but the energy buried here for hundreds of thousands of years. After so many years have been passed, even today you can sense the subtle energy if you are sensitive enough to feel to that. The silence is exquisite, but many people can't contain it because they aren't accustomed to it. The tranquility of the region may bring a familiar sense of sadness and remorse. Nevertheless, within this peculiar sense of sadness, one can find a direction.

Travel journey to Munsiyari


Munsiyari in March
I noted down most of things during my journey, lest things I can't recall. Sometimes, small things can turn out be a crucial part of the journey. For example, my night bus journey was unmentionable but became a part of my note because of an incident.

A girl was sitting beside me. She was quite noticeable for two things – her continuous hard efforts to sleep in the bus, and her strong scent and hard-bitten good looks. The more she moved position, more she created disturbance, not essentially irritation but a peculiar attractive disturbance. At one point of time, she literally rolled down to my shoulders with her hair slightly touched my body. I had this experience before when I was coming back from Dharamsala and a Tibetan girl fell asleep over my shoulder with her hair all over my face.


Anyway, this miniature love story ended soon when she dropped at Rudrapur and my ordeal thankfully concluded with a sweet sleep for 40 minutes. When I reached Haldwani, I was utterly disappointed with the fact that I came at the wrong time. Because of Holi, a few buses and shared taxis (with double fare) were only plying to distant places. I had been warned by a fellow in the bus about this possibility. This bright young fellow, working with Indian Oil Corporation was patiently listening to me while we were waiting at Dominoes. We had a long or rather one-way conversation about travel where I was speaking about travelling and he was patiently listening to me.

I was standing at the bus stand, thinking what to do. I wanted to go to a new place but there was not a single vehicle going to Munsiyari or any elevated mountain range. Once again absence of cohesive thoughts had fallen for a gentle yet forceful invitation from a taxi driver who was supposed to go to Pithoragarh.

I and two soldiers

From Munsiyari
I was travelling in a small hatchback with five people, two were soldiers returning to their homes in Didihat. It was again a long journey and quite painfully sandwiched between big sized soldiers. I was reading and sometimes talking to one of the soldiers who was quite friendly. They were returning from Siachen and looked like totally jaded. I was contemplating why for a small piece of land two governments spending lots of money. The average temperature of Siachen is 2 degree and in the winter months, temperatures can dip to -50 degree.

We reached Pithoragarh around 4pm. I already realized that it was nearly impossible to find any commutation to Munsiyari because the market was desolated and only one jeep was there to Dharchula. At one time I though I must take a ride to Dharachula and then decide what could be done. However, after taking suggestions from the soldiers, I had decided to stay in Pithoragarh for the night.

Final journey to Munsiyari and failed Khalia Top trek



Next day early morning and my travel mate who I met in Pithoragarh started the journey. He is 16-18-year old guy with unbending intent to go to Munsiyari to find a job. He was carrying 300 rupees, out of which I lent him 150 rupees of his bus journey. I also paid tea and breakfast without any problem because I liked the attitude and nerve of that teenager. He already talked to some hotel in Munsiyari and told twice that he would pay me when he reached the destination. So, I had to pay the taxi fare from Thal. I already knew that and had no issue in paying.

We had reached Munsiyari in the afternoon, and he dropped in some hotel. I didn’t have to pay the fare as he borrowed it from the hotel manager. I took a picture of him and he left. I spent the whole evening, night and half of the day with this guy, and probably will never meet him again, but this small incident, selfless friendship remains very valuable to me.

pithoragarh town
Desolate Pithoragarh town
I had my lunch in a small restaurant and with some guidance from locals took the journey to Khalia Top. Well, I took the shortcut and soon I realized that I did a mistake. At one point of time, I simply lost in the forest, thinking to camp and next day started again. However, it was quite dense and there was a source of water very nearby. I don’t camp near the source of water because animals generally come in the night to drink water.


Finally after a long and tiring hike, I ultimately came to the main road. At that point of time I couldn't walk anymore, so I preferred to wait for any transportation. Fortunately, I didn't wait too long and got a shared car, which dropped me to my destination. 

Evening looming large and I had to climb at least 2 hours to reach the top. It seemed impossible because of snowfall, so I decided to climb till I got sufficient sunlight. Finally, I found a nice place to pitch my tent, which was in a good height and mountains were nicely captured on my camera.

My journey stopped there. I didn't feel anything more, no tiredness, no hurry to reach the destination, not a single thought came to my mind, except to stay in that special moment for at least some hours.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Journey to the center of heart

I have wandered quite a length and breadth in India, especially in the mountain ranges, but I feel it’s pretty much infinitesimal to expand the horizons of my experiences. I have this burning desire to roam around, at least in India, as nothing is more fulfilling than experiencing your own country, an amalgamation of diverse culture, and more importantly, to feel the sublime pulse of spiritual energy that flows throughout the nation, irrespective of changing trends.

In my small, but deeper spiritual pilgrimages throughout the country, I have met some extraordinary people. Some have forsaken their old lives in the West to gain something more meaningful in India. Some people came with a temporary objective and found a permanent one. Some people don’t abandon their identities but make great efforts to arrange their finance to come back again and again here, to find something new every time. There are not only western people but Indians who were from affluent families, left their opulence behind and began searching of their purpose.

What is the most important thing in life? Some people say love. Some say freedom. But I believe its purpose through which we all earn our freedom. Whenever I met people who left a so called secured life, I felt a certain peculiar aspect in them; you can say a certain type of irony where they were searching but with a happiness and focused approach. It is not that they were not facing difficulty sustaining their lives, climatically, psychologically and financially, but the approach towards life was so simple yet profound in their own ways.

Yann Vagneux



I was sitting on the ghats in Varanasi, and suddenly I felt my confusion, discomfort, doubt, everything went away. Ganges in Varanasi what people feel so dirty, I felt so pure in midst of filth and constant cacophony. Then I met this guy in pajama and kurta with a shawl nicely wrapped around his body. Our eyes met, perhaps for 10-20 seconds or so and he came to me with a smiling gesture. I liked him instantly and we went for our morning tea. Next seven days we used to meet every day at ghats, spending time with lots of talk and roaming around Varanasi.

Yann is older than me, a Catholic priest and a student at Banaras Hindu University. He has been staying in Varanasi for 4 years or so and never said anything against that city. Although he is a priest, still has a strong inclination towards Hinduism, and I was quite surprised to know his knowledge about India. At certain times I felt he knew Indians lots better than me, at least in Varanasi. After Varanasi, I met him again in Haridwar, from where we both began our journey towards Gaumukh, and Tapovan. He has inspired me to live a simple life, seeing things more clearly through religion and compassion.


Philip Zudi



First time in life I received a Christmas gift. Philip presented me a book written by Sri Aurobindo, and two music CDs that he brought it from Rajasthan. I met Philip in Dharamkot, a nice, and offbeat place, 2 km from Mcleodganj where human psychology plays in a different role. One side of Dharamkot is infested by hippies and dope smokers, and another one is longed by aspired meditation students and alike. One side you can find people party hard till the morning, and another side you will find Buddhist meditation centers like Tushita and Vipassana. I generally used to go to a restaurant every day, had my breakfast cum lunch and sat there for whole day, watching distant Dhauladhar range. In the evening, I walked in the woods, sometimes went to Mcleodganj to savor excellent momos. I met lots of people there but Philip was different. We had instantly grown a bond of friendship between us. We used to dine every day together, and then chatted for an hour or so in the same restaurant. (Picture below).

restaurant in dharamkot, mcleodganj

He was practicing Iyenger Yoga there, and the common thread between us the same yoga he used to practice every day. One day, we had decided to trek to Triund together. I think he was a bit hesitant to trek together at first, but ultimately he asked me to join him.

I met him two years back in Delhi when he briefly stayed in my place. At that time we shared certain personal thoughts and I was quite surprised with the wisdom he had. He taught me Spanish for two days, played guitar and inspired me to travel, even without money.

A Sadhu in Chopta


sadhus in himalayas

He said he was an engineer in his previous life (before sanyasa). He wasn’t concerned about his food, but he got his food unexpectedly from a villager that night. He smoked hell lot of smoke, and coughed like a TB patient. He walked inhumanly, covered almost 100 km in mountain terrain. And he was almost 70 years old. I met him during my trip to Chopta. He was not powerful as it seemed, but there was a certain honestly in his eyes that drew me close towards his talks. We spent the night together, talking and discussing about life. He was more interested in making chillum and smoke, and in between talked about him a little.

Omprakash

He was not Omprakash by any means. He was white, tall and extremely creepy in attire. I was sitting at German Café in Rishikesh when I saw him, dressed like a tantric, full black with at least 10 rings on 10 fingers, 3-4 stone necklaces with long hair. He told me he was 50 but looked like 70. He was extremely fond of girls, always commented of any girl he saw and told me lots of tale about his sexual adventure during his stay in Thailand. He married thrice, had one son, no occupation as such, and took money from his mother. On the top of that, he had experienced Kundalini with his queer description. He had his guru who initiated him in Tantra, he stayed in Varanasi and capable of spending lots of money in whisker (that I saw while roaming with him for 4 days.)

german cafe rishikesh

One thing for sure, he liked me very much. He even sent me a letter after one year, with typical American lingo and style. He was American, left his country and lived a life that I was confused that he really wanted to. However, he really gave a damn about things and did lots of things that I only imagine as a conservative Indian.

There are lots of people I met during my travel, but I think that will take a book to complete and I am no mood to write anything but to write a little more than 1000 words.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

A day well spent in Digha beaches


I wish to speak about some sauntering, in fact some sort of Bohemian spirit, albeit for a brief moment, imprinted a long-lasting memory. The first time when I heard about roaring waves of sea, I felt a bit strange because in that roar I found a peace. I am a mountain man. I love mountains for various reasons but the principle reason is of course a peculiar sense of calmness and a feeling of freedom, to clear some rust that I acquire during my tedious duty of work and daily living. Nevertheless, rolling sea waves created such feeling inside that I confessed I was astonished at the power of endurance – said nothing but to awkwardly look at the waves for couple of hours.

It was a day trip from the village, escapade in rural Bengal. It was couple of hours journey to Digha – the quintessential beach destination of Bengalis. Earlier I never found such places very exciting, simply because of rush and atmosphere that typically smells commercial. Perhaps I was fortunate or  I went at the wrong time of season. Digha was totally empty, not literally of course, but the amount of rush I was expecting, not quite visible.


Digha is divided into parts – old and new Digha. New Digha is relatively calm and beaches are not too crowded. It is also near the railway station and for fun loving people it has lots to offer like adventure sports, eating joints, souvenir shops etc. Old Digha on the other hand has that rustic charm, with hordes of food joints, cheap hotels, some cheap bars and people of course.

Beaches in Digha

Talsari Beach

It is nice and pristine beach, 9km from New Digha situated in Odissa border. Talsari Beach is a sea hinterland where fishermen bring fish to sell. There are small boats taking tourists from beach to a nearby island, it’s a nice experience during low tide when many people reach the island by mere walking through the sea. If you have time then walking is the best way to explore things, otherwise there are hired bikes that take you inside of the sea.

Udaipur Beach

This is another solitary beach, 3km from New Digha along Odissa border. There are small tea joints where you can enjoy the sea waves along with tea. There is no such rush like Old Digha and if you wish, you can visit the nearby Kaju Forest.

Mohana


River mohana ( Subarna rekha river with Bay of Bengal ) is a place of fishermen, walking distance from New Digha. Summers when fishing activity is stopped, so if you go at the time, there is no point going there.

Shankarpur Beach


The beach is out of town, around 15km from main Digha town, so you need to hire a cab or own a car to drive to that place. If you are coming from Kanthi, Shankarpur Beach comes first near Choudamiles area along the Digha Kanthi Road. The morning time is generally high tide time, so you can watch some ferocious waves of Bay of Bengal. The place is quite serene with one or two hotels. It is better if you pack you lunch and spend some time near the beach.

What to do in Digha

  • Enjoy Bengali customized seafood in different food joints spread across Old Digha. The food is cheap and prepared well. You can also enjoy good Continental food in expensive restaurants. Try Bengali fish cuisines like Pomfret, Bhetki, Tiger Prawns and crabs.
  • Enjoy evening walks along with gusting sea winds. Don't forget to capture incredible pictures of Digha sunset.
  • Shop shell jewellery, local hand-woven mat in vibrant colors, cottage crafts and conch shells, favorably from near Chandreshwar Temple.
  • Pay some money to a local fisherman and venture into sea for fishing. These fishermen most of the time go deep inside the sea for fishing, so you can enjoy the thrill of fishing and depth of sea.
  • New Digha Beach is the best place for swimming. The beach is flat and water is not so turbulent.
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