Friday, April 18, 2014

Pragpur – Plan a trip to India’s first heritage village in Kangra Valley

Located in the exotic Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh in India, this small and enchanting village is renowned for its traditional and cultural values. Founded in the 16th Century by the Kathiala Soods to remember the Princess of Prag Dei of the Jaswan Royal Family, Pragpur is India’s first Heritage Village. Preserved by traditional and cultural values, it’s enriched with shops dates back hundreds of years, cobble stoned streets, old water tanks, walls plastered with mud and houses with slate roofs. 

Plan your weekend vacation for Pragpur and take home memories that you are sure to relish all your life! Its name is derived from the Sanskrit word Prag which means Pollen and pur which means full of. To translate with more meaning, the land full of pollens! The name in itself highlights the beautiful blossoms that bloom especially during the spring season. The Garli Village located nearby is also included in the heritage zone. The rich flora attracts tourists from across the globe that plans their weekend vacation for Pragpur.

Village tank in Pragpur
Located in the heart of the Pragpur Village, The Judges Court is an ancient mansion which is now a hotel maintained by the second grandson of Justice Sir Jai Lal who was the second Indian to become a Judge of the Punjab High Court. This ancestral house dates back to over 300 years. This heritage hotel with its traditional infrastructure and Anglo Indian styled architecture is surrounded by rich landscape, exotic flora and hills. Preserved and well maintained by its caretakers, this resort is surrounded with 12 acres of flora and is a short walk from the village core and Taal. 

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The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage is another famous tourist attraction that is well preserved for over a decade with its traditional values. The values of this village are protected by its heritage community to preserve the traditional essence and its uniqueness. All construction activities can only commence with the approval from this committee and recently the village inhabitants have donated over 10 acres of land to the state government to preserve the Sanskrit Veda Preet. Houses also have a special code of color which enhances the ambience of this village. 

judge court in pragpur village kangra valley
Judge's Court in Pragpur Village
The Lala Rerumal Haveli built in the year 1930 by the Rais of Pragpur is another famous tourist attraction with its Mughal Style Garden, a beautiful water reservoir and a terrace to relax and enjoy the fresh air that surrounds. During your weekend vacation for Pragpur, ensure that you do not miss out on the Butail Mandir where you can pray, the Chaujjar Mansion, the Courtyards of the Sood Clans, The ancient Shakti Mandir and Atiyalas that preserves the essence and heritage of this village. Your weekend vacation for Pragpur is sure to enrich you with memories that you can share with folks once you get back! Pragpur is home to natives and ensure that you respect the village tradition as your own and follow all practices that do not hurt their sentiments. 

How to reach Pragpur

pragpur heritage village in kangra valley map
Pragpur Map
The place is easily accessible through trains, buses and even flights. The nearest railway station is Una, which 67km from Pragpur. From there you can either find a taxi (cost approximately Rs. 1200 – 1500) or bus, which directly comes to the village.

The nearest airport is Dharamsala but you won't get so many flights from various cities of India. So, it is better to land in Shimla, which is 203 km from Pragpur, from there you can take taxis to reach the destination. 

You find regular buses from Chandigarh, both AC and non AC types. You can also take buses from major cities in Punjab such as Amritsar. The government bus fare is inexpensive around Rs. 140-170 and takes around 4 hours to reach there.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Birds in their little nests (dis) agree

“Behavior of these birds is similar to humans – steal twigs from each others nest, fight with each other for food, show their dominance and caring for their own children”.

“ This jungle intoxicated me. Once smitten by this intoxication, it's difficult to get  out of it, same like alcohol.”

Chatting with Babulal
Babulal is an illiterate cowherd, working in Keoladeo National Park from last 25-30 years as a guide. He frankly admitted that he was an 'anghuta chaap' (illiterate) but his knowledge about birds and plants landed him for a job in University once. Talking with him for a brief period was quite enjoyable as well as educational. He is not alone though, like Babulal there are various guides who take the pleasure of this enjoyable duty to teach and show people the life of birds. Babulal in my eyes was a bit different. He has a special individuality, sported an unadulterated smartness, with his small telescope he was roaming around with a French family when his image caught my attention.

indian darter at keoladeo national park
Lone Indian Darter resting on a tree top
The best time to visit the park is in early morning and late afternoon, though I was not in any of these times. I also feel if you go to some place, you need to spend at least 2-4 days to absorb the beauty of the place. There is a single resort inside the park but quite expensive. Although there were plenty of hotels outside the park, I preferred to keep my excursion for one day only. The first call I heard in the park was a strident voice of a peacock, welcoming me to the park. As I entered this birds' paradise, some eerie chirping of some unknown aves compelled me to realize how much ignorant I was, entering into a haven without knowing anything about it.

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Over-friendly unusual & Unknown birds
The biggest attraction to me till that time was to ride bicycle inside the park, but after entering the park I realized there were much more to enjoy beyond the usual riding. I booked a bicycle and bought a book on Keoladao National Park flora and fauna. The heat inside the park was soothing, but sun was already blazing guns. The sound of gusty winds was pleasant, and suddenly to my surprise, I heard a huge flapping wings, a blue heron seemed to watching me from a distance.

Earlier in my jungle expeditions, I learnt a valuable lesson: you never know what's going to happen, so keep your eyes open. I was riding my bike slowly and just watched a python was basking under the sun.

Large Cormorant group keoladeo national park
Large Cormorant group
While winters are the best time to watch birds here, the monsoon season is the ideal to observe breeding and mating of resident birds. While riding I stopped to see a girl was watching quite meditatively somewhere. I edged closer towards her, she was not aware a guy stood beside her and then I witnessed the most beautiful thing so far. Scored of Painted Strokes on a single tree on their nests. There were at least tens of colonies and sometimes when they flapped their wings, it was clearly evident that this part of the earth was theirs. For the first time, I felt a sense of respect for this beautiful creatures. After standing for almost half an hour, I moved to discover something more.

Information on Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Bharatpur)

Keoladeo National Park, previously known as Bharatpur National Park, or Ghana Bird Sanctuary, is home to almost 400 bird species. The park is one of the best earth's bird-breeding lands, with extremely rich flora. The park attracts lots of foreign tourists as well as students/researchers.

How to reach there

keoladeo national park map guide

It is recommended the park in the early morning or late afternoon. In both cases you have to stay in Bharatpur, so plan accordingly your transportation. If you come by rented car, from Delhi it will take less than 6 hours to reach there (including buffer time for breakfast, small breaks etc.). There are also buses plying from Jaipur, Agra and Deeg to Bharatpur depot. From there you need to take auto rickshaw to rich the national park. There is also a railway head, but very limited train from outside, including one from Delhi.

Seasons in Bharatpur

Summer: Bharatpur is very hot and sultry in summers started from March and lasted end of June. The lakes turns into puddles and finally as soda crack, soft-back turtles start leaving lakes or sink deep for hibernation. In the month of May and June ‘loo’ (hot winds) are common. The day temperature touches around 48 degree Celsius.

keoladeo national park rare birds

Monsoon: The welcome arrival of monsoons brings a significant change in the rhythm of life in the park. The healthy fragrance of the monsoon wins thrills all forms of life. With the very first shower, biological activities start in the park. With the onset of monsoons, bird starts their search for nesting on the trees. The life line of birds’ activity is the water from the Ajan Dam, an earthen dam on the eastern boundary of the park. It is fed by seasonal rivers, Gambhir and Banganga, which drain water into Ajan Dam. This water governs the activities of the birds all the yearlong.

Winter:  As winter approaches, the day become shorter and nights get longer. By now nesting activities get over and almost all the nesting birds start abandoning their nests having used them for pro-creation during the monsoons. Now onwards, the migratory birds start arriving from the Northern hemisphere and European countries. The swarms of various kind of birds flying, fighting, honking and having fun – create a breathtaking enchanting sight, particularly during the morning and evening.

General Tips
  • Visit the park in winters (November to early February)
  • If you stay in hotel outside of the park, ask the manager for a bike because rented bikes in Bharatpur is too pathetic.
  • Wear light color clothes.
  • Carry good camera and a binocular.
  • There are many unrestricted places inside the park, try to explore those.

Keoladeo National Park Ethics
  • Guides are available at the entrance of the park. A guide knows the park well and can answer your countless queries. Carry home a memorable experience by engaging the services of a registered guide.
  • Most animals have a keen sense of hearing and alien sounds startle them. Do not talk loudly. Control children. Small groups are ideal.
  • Animals can locate their own natural food. Do not feed them yours.
  • A forest has its own particular sounds. When in forest then why listen to any other? Do not play music and talk unnecessary with others.
  • While on excursions, avoid smoking. This wetland is vulnerable to fire, especially during spring and summer months.
  • Litter bins are provided along the roads. Do not throw litter around the park.
  • Always carry a small notebook to note down the flora and fauna you have watched. It will make things more interesting. Travel light.
  • Maintain a distance from the animals. Respect their privacy.
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Friday, March 21, 2014

10 ways to save money while traveling in India

Well, if you are a backpacker, whether you are in India or anywhere else, a factor that always peeps in your back of your mind – budget. I experience in most of my travel that saving money during travel paved way to such paths, which opened some incredible experiences. For example, I stayed in village homes instead of hotels, ate food that otherwise cost me lots of money in some restaurant. In Dharamkot, I asked my hotel lady to cook for me because in restaurant the cost of one meal was around Rs.150, whereas I gave her Rs.50 and relished some home-made food.

So, there are many ways you can save money while traveling in India, only thing is you need to know the smart way, and aware of your surroundings.

1. Bargaining is mantra in India

Whether you are booking a room or buying something on streets, bargaining is the weapon to save money. If you are smart enough to deal with people, you can bring down the price of many things. Only thing, make sure you research the place and culture before traveling.

2. Experience Indian Railways

A fellow traveler once eulogized the Indian railway system. I was first amazed to hear that because I never liked Indian Railways for various reasons, but his logic was quite correct. Indian Railway has almost every imaginable trains traveling to nook and corner of the country, and most of them are damn cheap. Only thing is you need to fight hustle of railway, book a ticket and carefully look after your belongings. Do not make friends in trains and talk to any suspicious person. Follow your guts and believe in your instinct, and you save a lot of money.

Read more about travel tips for India

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3. Carry your own food

Although Indian restaurants are not so expensive, still it is better to carry your own food. Sometimes it happens you are stuck in someplace where only restaurant there and they charge exorbitant amount for food. Also carrying food is healthy plus a food security, especially in mountains I always carry some sort of dry food and some chocolates.

4. Aware of car rental and hire diesel cars

Ignorance is certainly not a bliss when you try to hire a car in India. There is no fixed price and it depends on same day return, night halt and other factors. Diesel cars have less rental charge than petrol.

5. Travel overnight or sleep on night

It is an excellent way to cut off cost of staying hotel. This also helps to buy more time to see things and activities. However, make sure you travel by train or at least good sleeper buses. For the record, don't buy tickets from shady people for deluxe buses in night.

6. Do not touch your mini-bar

Many hotels in India have mini-bar in the room; it is a temptation whose result comes with a huge bill.

7. Use budget hotels for stopovers

If you spend most of your time outside, then it is better to opt for budget hotels, mostly backpacker hotels where you will get minimum facility, but in excellent cheaper price.

8. Mix with locals

Mixing with local people to know more about the destination, and also find ways of cost-cutting is a great way to save money in your travel. Learn a bit of local language and also don't fall into the trap of rogues.

9. Spend more time in one place

Instead of quick hopping from one destination to another, stay in one place for longer period of time. This will curtain your cost because Indian hotels give heavy discount for longer staying tourists. Moreover, you can learn more about the place, imbibe in the local culture, understand many things, which anyway you will never understand by traveling in various places in quick succession.

10. Share transport costs

When you travel, trying finding fellow travelers who are in the same destination. This way you can share taxi cost and also find interesting conversation en-route. Also refrain yourself from phone calls; cut your roaming cost.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lost In Time - Baolis Of Delhi

 “Baoli” means step wells, which were constructed mainly to cope up with the blistering Indian summers and fluctuating water availability. The concept of creating Baoli dates back in time to 600 A.D, however, it flourished during the medieval times in India. The meticulous architectural concept and detailing with which these ancient water reservoirs are constructed even beats the present day technology.  “Baoli” were much more than just a water reservoir in its golden days; it was candid retreat for the locals from blazing summers and a gathering place of evening gossips. Delhi alone is believed to have more than 100 small and big Baoli, but most of them are ruined to such an extent that it cannot be recognized and nearby residents have transformed them into natural garbage bins.

Below are the few remaining “Baolis” of Delhi which are still recognizable as step wells but have lost its importance and prominence in time.

The “Baoli” is located exactly at the rear side of the world renowned shrine of Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. It was given a facelift in 2009, when it was cleaned for the first time in 800 years (built in 14th century). During the process of facelift, it was discovered that water from seven underground streams feeds this reservoir. However, in spite of its holy character and enjoying a protected monument status under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the nearby residents often throw garbage into the Baoli precincts.

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Apart from having a sacrosanct and holy status, it is famous among the locals for an interesting anecdote associated to it. It is said that when Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya commenced the construction of the Baoli, then Emperor Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was building his fort at Tughlaqabad and he required workers. But the workers chose to side with the Sufi Saint in construction of Baoli. The annoyed king threatened to punish Nizamuddin on his return from Bengal. However, king could never reach Delhi and died at Afghanpur, a one day march from Delhi. The renowned Hindi phrase “Dilli abhi dur hai” also has its origin from this story.

Picture Courtesy Shweta Berry
Built in 1516 by Daulat Khan, the governor of Punjab during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, the Rajon Ki baoli is the one of jewels of Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It owes its name to mason who used the same for some time.

The Lodhi’s are accredited to be immaculate architectures and the fact stands proved. A distinct feature of the baoli, is one cannot see the flight of steps which narrows down as you go deeper into the well until he/she stands just above the first step. The beautiful symmetrical colonnaded arch opening on both side of the baoli add more elegance to its beauty. The water in the baoli has almost dried up and lump of garbage, leafs and wrappers could be seen in it. It also has a mosque adjacent to it. It is believed that in its glorious time, it was favorite halt for the travelers, businessman etc. who could enjoy, relax and pray in its vicinity. Although, its glory has long gone, but it still manages to attract passerby and some wanderers like old times.


Also known as the “Diving Well”, the baoli is the second jewel of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Built during the reign of Iltumish, the step well is located at a walking distance from the first tree tower of Islam in India i.e. Qutub Minar. The name Gandhak (Sulphur) is attributed to the mild odour of sulphur in the water of the baoli which is also believed to have healing properties.

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It is a simple yet well-designed five storied structure and one can easily sense the drop in mercury as he/she moves down into the well. The architecture does not have arched opening on the sides as seen in other baolis. Both the ledges on the sides of baoli culminate at a cylindrical well at the end which has niches in the walls for lighting torches in night.  The monument lies in dilapidated state with crumbled walls and broken steps which make it little difficult to access but still locals enjoy its ambiance in summers.


The Tughlaq Dynasty is often credited for building of number baolis in and around Delhi. Among the distorted ruins of Ferozshah Kotla fort, also known as “City of Djinns”, the circular baoli located near the Jami Mosque needs no recognition.

It is the only circular shaped baoli existing in present times in Delhi. The architecture of the baoli is bit different from the other baolis in Delhi. Made out of red stone, it does not have any steps but circular porch around the main reservoir. The circular porch is circumscribed by the symmetrical arches. It also has first floor exactly on the same pattern.

The water is used by the authorities for the nourishing the park and it has a number of plump fishes flourishing as no one bothers to toast them. The access to baoli was recently closed for general public as local boy fell from the first floor and sustained major injuries.


The baoli which we today see in a clean and pristine form served as garbage dump by the local army personnel ever since Independence. Few years back, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took it from the Army and restored it. It has a distinct structure with stairs from two sides at 90 degree capping at the circular water pit bounded by the rectangular ledges. The stairs of the baoli are slightly elongated as compared to other making it easier and comfortable to access.

It is widely mistaken to be built by the Mughals, but was actually constructed by Tughlaqs. The question is extensively baffling as both Tughlaqs and Mughals ruled in different centuries. But it is an accepted fact that Red Fort was built on the ruins of earlier city, hence, there are many chances of its existence prior of construction of Red Fort. It was also used as prison by the British for members of Indian National Army (INA). Names of INA soldiers were found while restoration by the ASI.


Agrasen Photograph captured by ace photographer Raghu Rai
I saved the best one for the last. Tucked amid the busiest commercial arena of Delhi i.e. Connaught Place, the baoli still remains mysterious among the locals. This is an intelligently carved 60 meters deep and 15 meter wide piece of architecture built from rubble and dressed stones. The stairs (103 stairs to be accurate) endlessly goes deep down into the well to its base and leaves everybody stumped when looked up from the base. All the three levels of the baoli are accompanied by arched corridors and chambers on both the sides.
Till late 70’s the baoli was filled up to all three levels and local boys used to dive in to beat the summers but extensive construction around area has dried it up and its almost forgotten by Delhites. 

The historians are sceptical about its creator but when it comes to attractiveness, it’s a unanimous winner. The fluttering of pigeons who have nestled themselves in the cavities of the wall of baoli further enhances its elegance.


Well many of you must been wondering I might not have been in my senses to include this one in the list. The mere name of it recalls the strong aroma of spices which might sneeze out many. But back in time, the area had a baoli in its precincts. Nothing of the baoli remains on date but its name is derived from two Hindi words meaning a step well with saline water. This one was just for the knowledge.
The baolis today attract only handful admirers which often bump in here for some solace from the hustle-bustle of the city or just simply spend some time with friends. But people/tourists who are looking for some unplumbed and offbeat places to explore in Delhi, it will turn out to be heaven for them.

Kaushal Mathpal is an Advocate practicing in Delhi Courts in India but also has a flair for traveling. When he's not in a courtroom, he enjoys exploring various parts of India and the surrounding region. He blogs his travelogues at RediscoverYour Dreams. You also make contact in his Facebook ID.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Explore Lodi Tombs in Lodhi Garden

Lodhi Garden is one of the biggest heritage parks in India, earlier it was called Willingdon Park and very close to Prithviraj Road. If you enter the Lodhi Garden by the main entrance in Ratendone Road you come first to the tomb of Sikander Shah Lodi. The tomb stands inside a large walled enclosure, and it has repaired by the government. Sikander Lodi was the second of the Lodi kings and under him the empire of Delhi recovered some of its former glory. He lived mostly at Agra and built a city there which he called Sikandarabad. Nowadays it is a village which is famous because Akbar’s tomb was built there.

The next building you come to is mosque. Close to the mosque is a great square building with a big dome that looks like a tomb. But it is really the gateway to the mosque. Because it is so large it is called the Bara Gumbad. It was built by Abu Amjad, a Mughal noble in the service of Sikander Lodi. Near the Bara Gumbad is another tomb very much like the tomb of Sikander, some people called this the tomb of Bahloi Lodi. But as it has no inscription we do not know for certain. Probably it is the tomb of one of Sikandar’s nobles. In Chirag Delhi is the tomb, which scholars believe to be the tomb of Bahloi Lodi.

Some distance away, near the road that runs from Nizamuddin to Safdarjang, is another tomb. It is like Sikandar Lodi’s tomb and is the tomb of Mubarak Shah Sayyid. He was the first of Sayyid kings and his tomb is the oldest of the Lodi tombs.

Style & design of Lodi Tombs

All these tombs are very much alike. They form a separate style of their own. Some people call this the Pathan style, but the best name for it is the Lodi style, for the Lodis were not frontier Pathans, but Afghans. This style grew up in the 15th century after the invasion of Timur, and it lasted until the time of the Mughals.


If you see carefully tombs are not square but octagonal. Around the tombs are verandahs that are supported by strong square stone pillars. The domes are low or half domes. Around the domes are a number of little chhattris. Each chhatrri has a little dome, so that the little domes gather round the big ones like chicks round the hen.


The mosques have a special feature, which no other mosques in India have. If you go to the back (or west wall) of the mosque you will see at each corner a round tower or minaret. The tower is fat at the bottom and becomes thin at the top. The tower is divided into five storeys or stages. What does this remind you of? Look at it again and you will see that it is a little copy of the Qutub Minar. The building of these mosques used the Qutub Minar as a model for their minarets.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A unique homestay in Dalhousie to bond with a family and charm of hills

Escaping from the daily grind of life and lost in the wilderness of hills could be a fancy for romantic idealists, but these days in urban milieu daily struggles force people to do stuff that earlier considered as an oddball activity. While you may think of evading some hills but don’t forget contemporary world thinks alike, so when you think of invading hordes, the thought is enough to turn you off. 

So, why I choose Dalhousie? Dalhousie is a place where you can really aloof from your daily world. Although in recent times the place has become popular among North Indian happy-go-lucky crowd, and in weekend the locals witness a large number of crowds due to its proximity to Punjab. Although it nowhere comes near Shimla and Dharamshala, still the place is pretty much crowded these days. 

A fairly recent convert to the unique charm of this place is staying in homestays. There are small rooms rented by villagers, just outskirt of main Dalhousie, or if you want to stay a bit comfortable with a decent hospitality you can opt for some old private estate. For example, Silverton Estate invites a limited number of guests every year. This 150 year old private estate built by its present owner Vickram Singh’s grandfather located on Moti Tibba, a small hill with great views. 

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Pristine lawn of Silverton Estate
Every place has its history and certain offbeat things to explore; Dalhousie is also not an exception. Kalatope wildlife sanctuary, a pristine jungle of gigantic deodars that dwarfed every other living thing around it, is a nice place to venture in. with hills on one side and drops on the other, the 3km path snakes its way through serious brown bear territory. So, it is advised not to intrude their territories, however, you can colorful butterflies and sneak peek into birds’ tenements.

If you are in Dalhousie and you can’t afford to miss a trek to Dainkund Hill. It seems a fairytale world of mountains slopes speckled with thousands of wild yellow and white daisies bobbing their heads in the breeze.

Dalhousie is more about laid-back and long leisure walk. The town is named after Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856, right till before the Indian Uprising. While he continues to be a controversial figure much criticized by historians for his callousness and neglect, the hill station of Dalhousie has prospered. Being a cantonment town has helped it retain its unspoiled charm and a semblance of order.

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