Updated: Apr 10
Unexpected, the kindness of strangers - Mumbai
Returning to India is always a trip down memory lane...full of nostalgia. This time even more so, as I came back to India after three and half years due to covid. Landing in Mumbai from Singapore, I had my sights set on my home city of Ahmedabad. For a change, to travel between the two cities, we took a train 'Shatabdi Express'.
Unexpectedly, one of the very memorable experiences of this trip was the spirit and kindness of the people in Mumbai. An unforgettable showcase of this occurred as we were waiting for our train in Mumbai Central:
Having an hour or so to spare, my son and I had sat down for some nice railway station coffee (the "best coffee [my son had] ever had") and a quick paratha to munch on. It was a modest little cafe, with one or two young cashiers and people coming and going for a quick bite before departing; it must have been difficult for the staff to keep up with the orders of the many customers. After finishing our coffees, the time for departure was slowly creeping closer. Getting a bit impatient, we were wondering where our parathas were. We waited and waited, but at 10 minutes to our ride, we decided to forget it and leave; at least we'd had a drink. As we hurriedly lugged our bags to the train, weaving in and out of the (maskless) crowds, we heard a voice from far behind calling out to us. The cashier from the cafe had run after us to remind us of our paratha that we abandoned!
"Ma'am ma'am! Aap paratha chod aye!?" I told him not to worry, and to give away the parathas, as we had to board the train in a hurry. "Don't worry ma'am! I'll look for you" (I was a bit sceptical, how exactly would he find me on such a long train?)
The young man was so determined to get us the food we paid for, and to my surprise 7 minutes later, he appeared in our cabin just as we were about to leave. In his hands; nicely packed hot aloo parathas accompanied with yoghurt and pickle... and my god, what a tasty paratha it was.
This just shows that despite being such a packed busy city, with seemingly no time or care for the individuals, the people of the city were pure of heart and some of the kindest people I have come across. We were simply amazed.
Dust, heat, ice cream, and a touch of nostalgia -Ahmedabad
The focus of the trip was meeting my dad in Ahmedabad, but along with that my son and I had a great time exploring the city, (one that has changed so much in such a short time) and re-visiting the places of my childhood. For example, we had an awesome time devouring the iconic and delicious Derani-Jethani Ice-cream, an almost 40-year-old establishment started by two sisters-in-law, that serves ice cream with seasonal flavours. This small but popular parlour is a world of fun and flavour and is a must-visit when coming to Ahmedabad.
"Adalaj ni Vav" - Stepwell
This time, as most of our trip was spent with my dad, I didn't get to sightsee much or go around the city. Despite this, I still have fond memories from my last trip in 2016, wherein I visited the historic and beautiful stepwell "Adalaj ni Vav". I managed to get some pictures back then, which you can see below.
The stepwells are usually seen in the semi-arid regions. Stepwells stored rain waters and provided shelter to the pilgrims and traders. The Adalaj stepwell has a surprisingly dark history. It was commissioned by queen Rudabai, the wife of Vaghela dynasty’s Rana Veer Singh in 1498. who died in the battle against the Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada. Post Rana's death Begada fell in love with Rudabai and wanted to marry her. She put a condition to accept the proposal: He must complete the construction of the stepwell. Upon completion, she jumped into the well to avoid the marriage. As Begada did not want any replica of the stepwell, he ordered the killing of the six artisans responsible for building the Vav. Their tombs can be found near the stepwell.
A fairy tale of forests and mountains - Himachal Pradesh
We said our goodbyes to hot Gujarat and proceeded on a much-needed vacation in the mountains of Himachal. After an early morning flight and a long car ride, we were inching closer to our destination; the views were getting increasingly breathtaking. After a traffic jam and a flat tire, we finally reached our destination; Sai Ropa village, in the gorgeous Tirthan Valley.
The Tirthan valley is the main gateway to the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). The name of the valley comes from the Tirthan River that flows from Tirth, its origins located in the GHNP, and ends at Larji in the Beas river. It is the national park that has bought attention to the valley, otherwise, it would have remained hidden. While economically it is a great thing that has happened to the people of Tirthan valley, however, our hearts ache to see the indiscriminate development that in a few years will completely ruin the virginity of this beautiful valley. It is set to become another Shimla-Manali type of situation. Yet compared to other destinations in Himachal, the valley is still well preserved and offers the perfect environment for those who are looking for a peaceful holiday.
Sai Ropa village
I started my Tirthan experience by checking into an awesome place called 'The Forest Edge', in Sai Ropa village. The place was fantastic. My husband booked the place on Airbnb after extensively researching. Not only does the place have a great vibe and atmosphere; but the staff, food, and ease of access to nearby places are also amazing. To top it up this place is a treat for any dog lover. They have three adorable mountain dogs; Gulab, Jamun, and Ladoo (The parents and their pup all named after tasty Indian sweets), and a sheep dog named Sheru. We also had a great time playing various games with the chef's lovely kids (Bal Krishna & Terya - 7 and 5 years old respectively).
From our hotel, we visited Sarchi Village. It is a stunningly beautiful village with many Himachali style houses. Two-storied structures with colourful roofs, breaking the monotony of an otherwise green valley. I must say we started quite a bit late for Sarchi village and it became too hot for me to explore the village comfortably. Starting early morning and avoiding the afternoon sun would be the best way to get the most out of this beautiful site.
We were running low on water, so I asked a lady from the village for the nearest refill, but instead she very kindly offered us juice that she had prepared from the 'Buransh' (Rhododendron).
Second to explore on the list was another quintessential village called Chehni Kothi. I must say that this was my favourite due to the rawness of the entire experience. The village is really small and cut off in a real sense. The only way to reach there was to hike up - it took us an hour. The hike is moderately challenging and has a breathtaking vista. The scenic hike takes you through the sprawling apple orchards.
The Chehni Kothi is an impressive tower made of stone and wood. The age of the structure remains a mystery. Upon asking and researching, I got mixed estimates of 1500 - 500 years old. The Himachal ecotourism site's estimate feels more reasonable, which is based on the age of the wood used in the structure - approx 200 years old. The tower has withstood the major earthquake that had taken the lives of 10 thousand people in Himachal Pradesh in 1905.
The villagers are SUPER nice and welcoming. We chatted, made friends, and got invited to join them for tea. I am hoping to go back to this village one day, and spend some more time.
An offbeat place in Himachal Pradesh. What we had heard was that "Jibhi is untouched by industrialisation and surrounded by nature. The dense pine forests, tranquil freshwater lakes and pristine temples make this place worth visiting. You will be spellbound after visiting this place and would not want to leave it". This was quite true to an extent, however, the current road works (or lack of it with increased traffic) all around Jibhi made a mixed impression on us. While it is very rich in nature, however getting to such areas is a constant battle with the dust, bad infrastructure and cow poop. What was most concerning, however, was the careless slew of unplanned home-stays and construction at every turn.
The above phots are Kulhi Katandi, It was just 1km trek on main road towards the towards Jalori pass from our stay. Once you see the board on the right, carefully trek down for around 200 metres till you reach the pond where you can take a dip. I totally chickened out as the water was too cold.
Despite its flaws, Jibhi did impress us with its abundance of surrounding nature, hospitality, and simple & amazingly welcoming people. The village has an influx of young professionals who have made Jibhi their base for their 'workations'. We met some lovely young people who instantly became friends.
Our Jibhi trip would be incomplete if I didn't mention the cafe 'Book and Flowers'. Run by Hamid and Praneet. It was just 2 days since they had partially opened the cafe. But oh boy what an amazing place it was with such a cool vibe. Their food is delicious with outstanding service and breathtaking views. an another charming addition was the 2 months old puppy girl, Ubuntu (a mix breed of mountain husky and labrador), she is just a cuteness overload. Below the cafe there is a small shop selling Himachali siddu and Momos. Himachali siddu is essentially a local steamed bun with different sweet and savoury fillings. We tried potato and peanut filled siddu, it was absolutely awesome and a must try. If you are visiting Jibhi, this cafe is a must.