Tarun and Yogita's Travel Blog

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Location: New Delhi, India

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Where footprints of indiscriminate development are still dim, chirping of the birds louder than noise of cars and peace mightier than bustle, Naukuchiatal is such a pearl preserved in the shell of nature. Actually no words can do justice to explain the heavenly beauty of Naukuchiatal, or the lake with nine corners that no one has counted nine so far. It is for experiencing in real the many breathtaking hues of the lake in one single day. We (we both with parents) stayed right by the lake in an ideal holiday resort, Lake Resort. To be back in the hills after Simla was a respite for our souls parched from the heat of the city. The resort was surrounded by lush green forest and our natural instincts (well, instincts that were developed in the US) took us into the forest and we measured many inches observing big trees, many birds and yes! insects.
End of June may be the best time to visit as we saw plenty of varieties of birds around. Sadly they are anonymous as none of us was a bird specialist, though we all enjoyed the magical symphony created by them. Occasionally one may also see a crab and we saw one with its younger one. Temperatures are naturally cool and the drizzle pleasing and yummmm what goes best with it :). Earth is no less than heaven when you are served chai and sumptuous pakoras on a rainy day.
Boating in the lake was fun as well. We got to see a couple of kingfishers (I think they were kingfishers) up close. Of course seeing the hills around is another delight. We also did a side trip to Bhimtal and were glad that people do not venture to come slightly further and have not yet polluted Naukuchiatal similar to Bhimtal.

By the way, one must try avoiding NH 24 when traveling from Delhi. It is under construction and that stole precious 4 hours each side from us that could have been better spent relaxing at Naukuchiatal.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A trip to real paradise on earth

... Himachal Pradesh (HP).
We might have been a little late to visit Himachal, late November, yet we liked the biting cold after scorching heat of Rajasthan. The mersmerising beauty of the formidable Himalayas and small colorful homes built anywhere amongst those is a surely a tempting invitation for anyone.

Shimla: There is something really attractive about Shimla. Either it is the immaculate Mall and the Ridge or numerous people just sitting on the ridge enjoying the day's sunshine before taking off for work or the bright houses of Shimla or even the very steep uphill climb from the main road up to the Mall. Shimla has its charm and we were bought by it.

Tattapani: the place where hot sulphurous springs emerge from the river Sutlej. We stayed at Hotel Spring View that is right besides the beautiful river and offers some amazing Italian food. The hotel will be soon uprooted in the wake of a dam construction on the river. But we hope that the hot springs still remain. Worth a visit is a cave of Lord Shiva, about 5 kms from Tattapani. We just walked to it as we never wanted to miss even a single glimpse of this heavenly place.

Kinnaur: No words can describe this place's beauty, it is just breathtaking. Right in the middle of the Great Himalayas, whose majesty humbles you down, we were at about 2700m above sea level. Even though the cold was nerve chilling and a drive to kinnaur bone-rattling, we truly enjoyed our trip to this gem of the tribal circuit of HP. We were in Kalpa, 7 km from Reckong Peo, a small village where life is slow and fulfilling and people revere Dalai Lama a lot. The small stone roofed huts of Kalpa do stand well against the mighty Kinner Kailash. Mount Kinner Kailash is said to change 7 colors in a day and we also got our share of some wonderful glimpses. We stayed at the HPTDC Hotel Kinner Kailash that offered the best view of the Kinner Kailash and some great service.

We would like to complete our trip of the tribal circuit, especially the Spiti Valley for which Rudyard Kipling said "where gods live".

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

What else in Rajasthan?

certainly not to be missed, Udaipur, the Venice of India. And try staying at a modest guest house and you may never know you might be taking care of the baby in the host family or become friends with the friends of your host family. And while you are in Udaipur and have done whatever many guide books say don't miss the 7 pm dance show at the Bagore ki Haveli.

In a small program they introduce you to the exuberance and the joy for life every Rajasthani female has in abundance. The hardships of a life in desert are a nonentity when they sway with the tunes of the vibrant Rajasthani folk music. And watch the program till the end as it ends in an exotic, courageous and a tremendously poised dance by a female who can sway her whole body in motions, even when she's on top of broken glass and not drops even one of the nine pots she is balancing on her head.

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A dream fort, an 850 years old legacy, a little world inside the fort, exquisite golden sandstone carvings and jaisalmeri natives who speak french , the golden city of Jaisalmer is there to spellbind you. Inside the fort it is an entire city that sees all of its days and nights inside the fort when the tourist season is in. The fort has truly discovered tourism where musicians and folk artists display their talents and the main cuisine available apart from Indian is Italian. Services are not expensive due to competition and there are plenty of options. Persuasive sellers are still there but we found our experience there to be pleasant.

The temples and palaces of the fort are charming while the narrow lanes passing through are a riot of colors and the traditional art on display quintessential (at least at the face of it :)). I find Rajasthani art to be delicate and attractive and all of it is there for us to make our own. We particularly like the Jain temple inside the fort for its breathtaking art.

Beauty of this city is the golden sandstone that is used to make havelis and modest house alike and is left unpainted by the residents understanding the charm of its majestic color. Some may and will always differ but Jaisalmer is relatively cleaner and less noisy than all the cities of Rajasthan.

Worth a visit is the Desert Cultural Center, next to tourist reception center, a single man's effort to preserve the traditional art of puppeteering. The uppet show in the evening brings you face-to-face with this dexterous work of hands and a melange of folk music and songs.

The lack of water and so the vegetation can certainly not be mistaken for the lack of life. The vibrant colors of turbans and chunris contrasting again the desert gold (the sand) is a sheer joy to watch.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Desert Safari

This was our first desert safari and our first camel ride and while we are at it let's state the conclusion first "It was a lot of fun, but it hurts one's a*s a lot".

Our desert safari was organized by Vino desert safari and our travel partners were a very lively couple Robert and Nekane from Spain. We started with four camels, three for riding and one for pulling the cart that was loaded with supplies for two days. We were really impressed by the punctuality and the completeness of their services. Our guide was Mr. Harphul Singh and others like Mr. Sampat (the sensible), Mr. Annaram (the joker) and Mr. Rameshwar (the serious one).

Mr. Harphul and Anna ram ji had some sense of humor (good or bad is debatable) that kept us laughing. They made good food (but very spicy) and chai for us right in the middle of the desert.

It was a chance for us to see the desert up close, scanty vegetation, antelopes, vultures, sand dunes and desert life. Once in a while our camel seemed to be interested in getting a back scratch so we had to protect ourselves from the thorny trees that they would brush against. But, desert does not have only thorns to offer, one can enjoy tangy desert apples, small berries, that can be found pretty much everywhere.


Yet another Rajasthani town, Bikaner, may not be any special in terms of administration, roads and cleanliness (meaning nowhere near good and the reason -- Dharmendar is the MP from this area and has not visited the city since his elections). But, Junagarh fort, bhujia and rasgulla from Chotu motu joshi and typical desert landscape makes it worth a visit.

Junagarh fort was one of the few forts in India that was never conquered. It is huge and very delicately decorated. One of the interesting aspects of the forts of Rajasthan is that the work on the windows is never the same. The king of Bikaner, Sri Ganga Singh ji, was a very progressive and diplomatic leader who worked for the welfare of the people. Most notable is the canal built by him that brought water and so life to Bikaner. A rare quality of the Indian kings of his time was his shrewd diplomacy, for instance he was adept at making the Raj bend to please him by offering concessions to his state and at the same time supported the freedom fighters of his kingdom. So much was his influence with the Britishers that he was the only Indian present in the signing of treaty of Versailles that ended world war I.

We also visited a unique research center for camels and a camel farm. A museum inside the farm displays a variety of artifacts about camels. In the farm there were so many camels that we have seen together in our respective lives. There was also a camel milk parlour that serves tea, coffee, kulfi (indian ice cream) and flavored milk -- all made of pure camel milk. Camel milk is supposed to be the best of the different kinds of milk. It has various medicinal properties especially its efficacy in treating type II diabetes.

Our day ended in the dusk of the old city where evening dawns on the abundant havelis and traffic grows out of control while you cannot count the number of mithai shops in the area.

The painted towns of Shekhawati

Along side the dusty streets of Shekhawati region, the treasure of Rajasthan is struggling to keep its identity against the perils of over population and misadministration (that one can see in abundance in India).

Shekhawati region has its true heritage in beautifully painted exquisite Havelis, with ignorance and growing needs of the villagers taking a toll on them. We visited Bissau, Mehansar, Fatehpur and Nawalgarh villages of the Shekhawati region. We were still objects of wonder in those remote villages but our language helped us through. A fort sold to a family for a mere 1.60 lakh rupees has dilapidated to dirty and unattractive ruins. But, the families in Bissau are nevertheless welcoming allowing us to take a look at more than a 100 years old art.

Mehansar is another gem of a place, but here we found that people are slowly becoming aware of their priceless heritage. Narayan Niwas Castle, a heritage hotel, is one such attempt. Although a fort turned into a hotel bereaves tourists from just viewing the art, it is still an attempt preserve the art. This ofcourse assumes that the guests of the hotels are sensitive to the heritage. A gold room in Mehansar is a relatively well kept exquisite piece of art where every inch of the wall is painted delicately with fruit colors and real gold. The toll of time is visible here too, but the fact that the room is kept locked is reassuring.

Meandering into the narrow, dusty and filthy streets we found about a haveli in Fatehpur that is an exemplary effort by a French artist, Nadine Le prince to protect Shekhawati. She bought a dying haveli and with amazing dedication and tireless efforts restored it and added an art gallery to the same. After a long day experiencing a dismal state of affairs and disappearing art it was quite a relief to see some activism even though by a foreigner to preserve our heritage. And, all those who know the psyche of common Indians, we are sure that the copy cat attitude would ensure that many other havelis would be restored and turned into museums :). And a testament to this is that another haveli in Fatehpur is on sale for restoration and museum if interested please let us know we will put you in touch with the right people.

Jhujhunu and Sati

Today, we are in Jhujhunu, the land of Sati practice where the wife of a dead man burns herself on the husband’s funeral pyre. Sati is banned in India by the activism of Raja Ram Mohun Roy. But, people pray Sati Mata very religiously in the biggest Sati Mandir in India (in jhujhunu).

The temple is huge and a work of art. Ceiling of Rajasthani fabric, main temple compound and pillars of carved silver and painted walls with the story of Sati are a joy to watch. There are small temples for some women, who were Sati and people worship those as well. The temple administration has put up boards that they are against sati practice and we too have not heard any news of practicing of Sati (though Mark Tully writes about that in one of his books about India) of late.

It takes long in India to get rid of bad practices and superstitions, but eventually the cause is just and well championed, things do change for better.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Old city of Jaipur, the real Pink City

Today we had a rendezvous with the Jaipur that is a heaven for tourists both domestic and foreign. Yes! You would have to negotiate with one of the craziest traffic in the world, but Jaipur, the old city, is a true treat beyond that. This is the Pink city, the city of royal heritage.

We visited the Hawa Mahal, a foundation less palace, which stands strong based on the air passing through its hundreds of windows. Onto from there, we visited an eye opener to the highly advanced 18th century observatory, Jantar Mantar of Jaipur built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. Our guide was very helpful who explained the visionary observatory that is still used as a laboratory for current astronomers. It is impressive to know how scholarly was Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The laboratory showcases some of the most advanced instruments to measure time and the activities of the celestial bodies.

City Palace may be one of the best kept palaces. The current king of Jaipur is one of the progressive kings. He took care to decorate and display their heritage for the tourists. A workshop for upcoming artists at the palace is another unique initiative for not letting the traditional art to die. While in the palace one comes across the life and times of one of the most progressive kings of Jaipur Raja Man Singh II and one admires him for his vision to make Jaipur a cherished place to visit.

We then visited the Jaigarh fort, the home of world’s largest cannon on wheel, Jaivan. Jaigarh fort is maintained by the current Raja of Jaipur (mentioned above). Tarun is probably scanning any administration in India for good management and he found that of Jaigarh fort at par. We used a local guide book sold for INR 30 at the ticket windows to navigate around and were spell bound by the magnanimity of this fort. Here, we were served Royal Veg Biryani by the cheif cook of Maharaja Man Singh II. It was quite an experience to talk to a person who is the real connoisseur od food and has really made his cookking available to common people. At 96, he still cooks for the royal family and surprisingly looks not older than 60.

Jaipur, the pink city

The pink city is no more a pink city, yet the effort to retain the art is still there. The new buildings and walls are neatly decorated. This is a developing city and the problems of a developing city exist here too. We were already tired from our 4 hour journey from Bharatpur to Jaipur through poor villages, dirty streets and ponds and sites of tirelessly working laborers (India shining my foot). We walked from our bus station on the busy streets of Jaipur and pondered on the dismal traffic situation. It seemed like a Herculean task to change the mentality of people to start adhering to the rules.

After having lunch, we were picked up by our guest housekeepers. From then until we woke up after a short siesta, I do not remember anything. Travel in India can be tiring but we wonder the plight of all the rickshaw pullers and other laborers who work long hours in heat and still are barely able to manage two meals a day.
Anyway in evening we decided to watch a movie in the world famous cinema hall, Rajmandir. I may not have words to express the sheer delight of watching a movie there. This cinema hall is an artistic creation and is definitely unparalleled. The cinema screen slowly rolls up as the ambient green light from behind the beautiful patterns on the walls dims. We watched a crappy Shahrukh Khan film Don (this guy has been doing a same role from day one) and were thoroughly bored by the movie. But, we made it a point to stick around until the intermission when the reception or the common area lights up to conjure a magnificent display. The very creative inlay of the mirrors and strategically placed lights gives it a look no lesser than a palace. This surely is one great initiative for promoting tourism.

Chanda Vyas: The lady who never gave up

Chanda Vyas, an old lady aged above 60 years, runs Vyas Meal Service single handedly in the interiors of Jaisalmer Fort. Her modest restaurant runs solely on the integrity of the guests as Chanda cannot read and write and cannot prepare a bill for her guests.

But, she cooks with true love and devotion and it reflects in her divinely delicious food and special ‘masala’ tea that has a distinct aroma of freshly ground spices. After the death of her husband, Chanda is still fighting, all alone, against the rigor of life. Her son has abandoned her but she is still holding on to the meal service, which was her initiation. Had it been someone else, she would have given it up a long time back and become a burden on the society. Rather, her one-woman army meal service gives employment (both direct and indirect) to a few. She can manage to understand the needs of her guests and provides such great food that she finds a mention in the highly regarded Lonely Planet ‘India’ guide book. One look at her drooping back evokes pity that she needs to work so hard at such an age for a living, but once you know her enterprising spirit and her self-confidence you are completely awe inspired. She does it not for money but for the joy of serving people with food and spending her time.

At dinner time, the restaurant is usually full of guest having varied needs, which in any way is Herculean task, but for a woman of her caliber it is merely an everyday chore. People return to their work with their tummy full, satiated soul, a pair of loving eyes to remember and an immense lesson of courage.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bharatpur, Rajasthan

We are in bird paradise!

This year there was no rain and the Keoladeo National Park (KNP) was dry not suited for its typical migratory birds. Still with the help our guide (Mr. Sharma, +91 9414026396), we were able to spot many beautiful birds and understand KNP's importance as a world heritage site. This was our first national park visit in India and we were truly impressed by the Indian forest services work there.

Swarovski invested some money in the park to build a visitor's center. At this center, they make you take the enviornmental oath, which made us realize that we (human beings) supposedly the most intelligent species on the planet have a responsibility towards our mother nature. And, we need to fulfill that through all the everyday choices that we make.

Bharatpur, the home of KNP, is a small town. The local transport (rickshaw and autos) are no different than Agra here. I don't know what it was, but we received treatment of a foreigner here as well. On our way to Deeg (a small town about 35 Kms from Bharatpur) in the evening, we met a curious man, who was really excited to see foreigners (non Rajasthanis). He offered us to visit his home and have dinner with his family. We were again in the Rajasthan roadways bus and it was a joyride again (cheap and a lot of fun). The bus would even stop to pick up a man hurt on the road in an accident to take him to a hospital.

The gentleman we met on the bus was our guide to the Deeg. It was dark and we regret we could not enjoy the Deeg Palace, but our guide had interesting stories for us (not sure about their genuiness). He even treated us to some tea and help us catch our bus back to Bharatpur. We came to our neat little guest house (Kiran guest house) hungry and tired to some great home cooked meal and great service.

Trip to North India

On our way to explore the still traditional Northern India, our first stop was the pride of India, the TajMahal. On our first travel in India, after a long hiatus, we both were pleasantly surprised by the commencement of our journey through the Indian railways. An AC chair car ticket not only buys you a comfortable seat for the journey, but also a water bottle, a newspaper, some tea and a sumptuous meals. The trains are no less in comparison to any European train (atleast the first class).

We got down at the Agra Cantt station. May be it was our backpacks that introduced us to changed group of rickshaw wallas. They talked to us in good English as if we were foreigners. However, due to our stay abroad we were not expecting their persistent pestering on picking up their services. We settled on one of them for the travel to Taj Mahal. It is interesting for a hindi speaker to note the differences in dialect and rhythm of language as one moves between places in the North India. The rickshaw wallah dropped us at the Taj while entertained us with his stories along the way. It was heartening to hear his daughter going to school for a better future.

Just a side note, the pestering of many Indian rickshaw pullers though really annoying has a reason behind it. It's the failure of the state to provide safety net or opportunities to those who need it the most. This is not a problem that could be solved in days, however, would be solved in our lifetime, but in any case having a perspective that these guys are forced to pester us to ensure their family eats may subside this annoyance.

At the Taj, we found great security measures being followed which was good. Nothing apart from our wallet, a bottle of water and a camera were allowed inside. After depositing our bags here we were at the beautiful monument of true love. Taj's eternal beauty is awe inspiring, gaping at the monument, we enjoyed the beauty of its perfect symmetry, the gardens (char bagh) and the reflection of the Taj in fountain waters. As we got closer the enormity of the tomb dawned on us. Shoes were not allowed inside the Taj, however, it was neat to walk on the cold marble bare feet. Frankly, the beauty of Taj up close may not be unparalleled, but the monument is an architectural master piece. We ate at Zorba the Buddha, a very nice pure vegeterian restaurant in Sadar Bazar, Agra.

Our next destination is Bharatpur, Rajasthan and we decided to take the state roadways bus. This may not be a great idea if one wants a hassle free journey, but a great way to get acquainted with the real people who have a great sense of acceptance for everybody (unfortunately the status quo dismal transport system as well).

Detour to India

Details to come later, however, a quick summary -- due to an emergency (a good one ;)) we had to come to India before plan i.e. on Oct 31st. We now are continuing our trip in India travelling through Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttranchal.

We will write more details about the reasons for the detour and a big Indian wedding soon.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Venice, Oct. 27 – 29, 2006

Venice is an elegant decay as Rick Steves points it out. The moment we stepped in Venice we realized why it is the city of Romance. The beautiful Grand Canal, the decaying buildings soaking their feet in the canal, the beautiful gondolas and striped shirted gondoliers and small channels of water for the streets, Venice is certainly one-of-its-kind city. For every car, bus, bike, motorcycle and even a chauffer-driven car, there is boat (vaporetto) in Venice, its primary mode of transportation. A single ride is costly but a 24 hour pass is cheap as we planned on traveling all around Venice in one day.

Venice was crowded another touristy city but its narrow streets, the glass art and it masks make it unique. Piazza San Marco may be the biggest square in Venice and it was flocked with tourists and pigeons. Rick Steves had warned us enough for pigeon dropping. However, we saw pigeons charging tourists who had bird feed in their hand. Pigeons are harmless so it was neat. I tried the same and somehow so many pigeons wanted to sit on me. It was scary but now I have many pictures with pigeons all around me.

Next we decided so sit in the front seat of a vaporetto and just tour Venice. We realized how Venice is slowly sinking. The city is very costly and so the population is slowing dwindling. In the evening we toured the Rialto bridge area, a typical tourist market. I was totally awestruck by the artistic Venetian masks. Anyway, after that Tarun had planned for us a pub crawl, not for the drinks but for “cinchettes” (special fried snacks). We visited two places and tried 6 different cinchettes. After countless days of pizzas and pastas, the cinchettes were blessing and that too the tasty one.

In the night Venice is even more romantic and so are the gondola rides and the occasional gondola with music on them. This surely one place every one must visit.

Cinque Terre, Oct. 24-27, 2006

Cinque Terre, five villages (English translation), is a National Park in Italy. We wanted to visit a non-touristy lesser known place after visiting the busy favorite tourist destinations. Rick Steves ranks Cinque Terre just after Venice and Florence and even before Rome. We decided to skip Florence and visit Cinque Terre instead. It was truly a pleasant surprise in a cute little village with friendly people and nice Italian Riviera. We reached there in the night at a very small train station at Monterosso (one of the five) and as soon as we started walking into the town we knew we were along side the sea. With the sound of the tides we got to see people fishing in the night with big nets, probably they were professional fishermen. A couple came along and saw us with backpacks and offered room to stay. The price was good and the room surprisingly came along in an apartment all to us. We grabbed the room and crashed into our beds.

Strolling into the town we realized the beauty of this town. Everyone seem to know each other and stopped for a little chat along the way, anybody could walk in to a restaurant even if they don’t want to eat and a nice elderly gentleman stands on the street to just chat whole day. However, this place was also full of tourists. We saw many Rick Steves’ and knew why. We even hiked into another town called Vernazza through the park. It was a tough hike with mostly stairs but the place that it leaded into was all worth it. Vernazza is even smaller than Monterosso and has no cars and is probably touristier. Due to lack of time we could not visit the other three which are equally or even more beautiful.

We both loved Cinque Terre and even though people drool over Florence (as the best place in Italy) we were glad we chose Cinque Terre.

Pisa, Oct 24, 2006

Pisa is probably a small little town and only the field of miracles to boast about. But, the leaning tower is worth the visit. Somewhere someone had named it one of the wonders and truly so. The first look at it evokes a feeling of how cute it is. The tower is not very tall but is appreciably leaning. It was good to see fewer crowds after Rome. Every one tried to stop the tower from leaning and some even tried to push it further to make it fall, all so for the pictures. We both decided not to climb up. We had met some Indian people in the hostel in Rome we kept meeting them every now and then in Pisa between train station and to the tower site. They were students with IIM Bangalore doing an exchange program in a business school in France. The field of miracles has a few more buildings and all of them were neat although they seemed to leaning as well. Even the trees seemed to be slanting a little. This was our little stop over for a lesser known place in Italy called Cinque Terre.

A.S. Roma Vs Chievo, Oct. 22, 2006

And then we decided to take a bite into the slice of Italy, the national obsession, football. The Olympic stadium in Rome was full and energy was high. The game started with A.S. Roma team’s anthem (I think). We secured good seats behind one of the goal posts high enough to see all the players. And, just a minute into the game we realized the passion of Romans for their team. People were so charged up that the already crisp Italian sounded even more passionate and harsh. We liked the atmosphere there and enjoyed comments by the Italians even if we did not understand them. Someone said the scene is deadly when two teams from Rome compete and fans stand at loggerheads against each other ready to even kill each other. May be the scene was dull due to the even game that day.

The Vatican, Oct. 21, 2006

It was Saturday and we decided to go to the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. It was neat to visit another country out of Rome itself. Rome had been a hubbub till now and there was never an inch to set a foot in the Metro and station but on Saturday we were wondering where all the people went. We reached the Vatican Museum at around 10 and we knew that all the people were here J. That was the longest line for tickets we ever saw starting at the museum to the Saint Peter’s Basilica, well more than 700 people. We dropped the idea to visit the museum that day instead went to the Basilica, the greatest church on earth. It was truly a great church but not very impressive. The pieta by Michaelangelo at the start of the church was one of the best sculptures we had ever seen. One could also climb up the Basilica and get to the top. So we decided on that. There were warnings every where about the 390 steps to the top and about the claustrophobic feeling that people may get. It was not until we were inside climbing up that we realized how hard it was. I was short of air and had to take a few stops to catch some breath. The steps were very small and the passage very narrow and tilted as well. But the view of the Vatican City at the top makes it all worthwhile.

On Monday, we made another failed attempt at the Vatican Museum. That place seems really popular.

Remains of the Roman Empire, Oct. 20, 2006

This was the day of our rendezvous with the glorious past of Rome, of the Roman heroes, Julius Ceasar, Constantine, and gladiators. We started with the walk around Roman forum in the shadows of the Colosseum and the Arc de Triumph (Arch of Constantine). We took an audio guide which was more confusing than guiding us. Nevertheless, we were at the place where once the greatest of the kings and warriors lived. Next on our list was Palatine Hill, a not so glorious place but required to beat the line at the Colosseum. A ticket to Palatine Hill would take you into the Colosseum as well. From the top of the hill, actually some palace, we could clearly see our Roman Forum and by that time we even found out Rick Steves guided tour of the Forum. We read the history of it again while placing the monuments in the forum.

Compo Di Fiori Walk

This walk starts at heart of Rome’s morning time produce market and evening time get together place. A café “La Carbonara” had been there since last 100 years. Following Rick Steves, we visited many famous Piazzas (a square), Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, all in rain. We bought an umbrella from a street seller who seemed to be really cashing on the rain. Pantheon is apparently called the “Umbrella of Rome” and for all the valid reasons. Many people were just waiting inside the Pantheon for the rain to stop. We too stopped there for some time. For dinner we stopped at one of the “Tavola Caldas” (hot table in Italian). You get real authentic Italian pizzas, sold by weight. There are lots of vegetarian options but Margherita (simple tomato and mozzarella) is the best and really cheap as well. We even tried a fried rice, peas and mozzarella balls.

Rome, October 19, 2006

After a night journey, we reached Rome early morning and took really antiquated metro to our hostel. Rome gives a feeling of Delhi. No artsy buildings, hidden mom and pop stores and no rules on the road. Our hostel was also very ordinary and the hostel keeper very uninterested. We managed to ask him where to go for breakfast while we waited for the check in time. Later, we ventured into a small café run by a family. Struggling in Italian we managed to ask some pasta for lunch. What we got instead was some bread, mushrooms, artichokes, tomato and mozzarella. While this was a surprisingly very tasty entrée there was no pasta anywhere. Few minutes later the café owner comes and tells us that your pasta is on the way. That was the time we were introduced for real with the many course Italian dining. This was antipasti, a pre main course entrée. Pasta is the first course usually followed by a second course of a meat dish followed finally by dolci (dessert). Phew, Italians do spend a lot of time eating and the bill comes only when you ask for it.

Nice, October 16-18, 2006

Out of the station on our way to our hostel on the night of 16th, we pass the under construction yet very busy avenue with all the big stores, Jean Medecin. Our hostel was not very far off from the train station and we even picked up groceries for dinner. We come to our hostel “Les Camelias” to find it to be the best one so far, jazzy and invigorating paint, bar at the reception, nice shower in the dorm room, beautiful kitchen, (so expensive) laundry inside and wi-fi. We were in no doubt that we will spend most of our vacation in Nice relaxing indoors. Anyway, we need to whet our appetite after Paris for all that Italy has to offer.

Our dorm mates this time were, Tanya and Harout, a very beautiful and nice couple from Canada. They were on an all France trip this time. The beach was also 15 minutes a walk away. So in the morning we woke up early, 7 am (early??? Well it is a vacation and we have no alarm), took a shower and headed for the beach. It was almost deserted but that only enhanced the beauty of this Mediterranean beach. The azure blue waters are always pleasing to the eye. We sat down for a short Sudarshan Kriya (which we were not able to do for a long while). Wow, that was really invigorating.

The beach was so inviting that in the afternoon we headed again for the beach. The next moment to when we were there Tarun was in the sea and was calling me as well. With some hesitation I also went inside and in some time I was also enjoying only because my hand was in safe hands. But the waves seemed to not like us and were throwing us away on to the coast.

On the last day in Nice we decided to just stroll around a while. We tried an Indian restaurant close to our hostel succumbing to the desires of our taste buds for desi food. The food was good but the desire still remains. We walked back again to the beach and this time to find a French woman, Maryse, along the way who stopped to chat with us on the street to tell us here experience from her India trip. We chatted quite a while on the street and then over a cup of coffee, with my minimal French knowledge and pictionary style communication, about India, French people and Italy.

There might be many things to do in Nice but this was our vacation idea for Nice and it was nice.