Desert Festival Revisited

Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Desert Festival Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. On this journey in early 2014, travel beyond the Golden Triangle, into the heart of the ancient lands. Visit the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and explore colorful cities of Rajasthan, visiting its many iconic sights. See Jaisalmer at the threshold of the great Thar Desert, where color and life blooms in winters; blue city of Jodhpur; fairy tale city of Udaipur; and benefit from a visit to the largest Camel breeding farm in Asia, in Bikaner. Submerge in the essence of India on this pulsating sojourn with the Desert Festival – experience the rich and vivacious Rajasthani folk culture, which is on display here for a few days. Rajasthani men and tall beautiful women dressed in their bright costumes dance and sing lingering ballads of valor, romance and tragedy. Snake charmers, puppeteers, acrobats and folk performers are the high point of the festival. Camels, the lifeline of the desert, play a major role.

Start the tour of Delhi with a visit to Birla House, where Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, lived before his assassination. Then view India Gate, the Houses of Parliament and the Presidential Palace. Visit Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and later go to see Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. End with a Rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, the busiest bazaar in Old Delhi. Savor lunch at one of the oldest Delhi restaurant. Continue to Humayun’s Tomb, the first garden-tomb in the Indian subcontinent, finished in 1572. Visit Qutab Minar and the monuments surrounding it. Built in the 12th century the red sandstone tower is 72.5 m high. This evening attend a welcome cocktail dinner party.

Mandawa - Miniature Paintings. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Delhi – Shekhawati
After breakfast, drive from Delhi to Mandawa in the Shekhawati district of Rajasthan. Mandawa was settled in the 18th century and boasts a fort dating from that period. The architecture of the havelis focuses on the interior courtyard, to ensure the safety and security of the womenfolk, and to protect the wealthy merchants living there from the heat of the desert. On arrival, check-in to the hotel and enjoy lunch before spending leisure time. Later, explore the town with the guide and see the beautiful work on the exteriors of the houses, which is why it is often referred to as the ‘Open Air Gallery’. Return to the hotel for dinner.

Bikaner - Camel Breeding Farm. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Shekhawati – Bikaner
After breakfast, drive to Bikaner. Bikaner city has a 16th century fort that includes old palaces, temples and a mosque. Founded by Rao Bika, the fort features 37 pavilions, several balconies and windows of varying designs. The old walled city itself includes dark red sandstone havelis and exquisitely painted Jain temples. Check in at the hotel on arrival. Lalgarh palace, built of red stone by Maharaja Ganga Singh (1881-1942) is a memorial to his father Maharaja Lal Singh. It is an imposing building, with overhanging balconies and delicate latticework. Then view the Junagadh fort, constructed between 1588 and 1593 by Raja Rai Singh, who was a general in Akbar’s army. End with a visit to the largest Camel breeding farm in Asia!!
Jaisalmer - Camel Cart. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Bikaner – Jaisalmer
Early morning take a rickshaw tour of Bikaner and visit some rare sites. Return to hotel for breakfast and then drive to Jaisalmer. Time permitting, en-route visit Deshnok – popularly called the Rat Temple, dedicated to Mother Goddess. Check in at the hotel on arrival. In the afternoon, attend the Desert Festival, which is a three-day extravaganza of color, music and festivity. Enjoy watching Gair and Fire dancers swaying to traditional tunes; witness various competitions that are held from time to time. Return to the hotel and savor dinner.
Jaisalmer - Local People. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Jaisalmer
In the morning, tour the city of Jaisalmer, visiting the fort built by Maharawal (Maharaja) Jaisal in 1156 AD, one of the oldest and living forts in Rajasthan. Go to Gadisar Tank, a scenic rainwater lake and also view the 11th century Jain temples. Savor lunch at a local restaurant. Enjoy the afternoon at the Desert Festival, exploring the activities of the day or choose to spend leisure time at the hotel. This evening go for a sunset viewing of the Royal Cenotaphs before enjoying local cuisine for dinner at the hotel.
Jaisalmer - Camel Safari. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Jaisalmer
In the morning, visit the Patwon ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli and Nathmalji ki Haveli. Later, attend the Desert Festival to explore more of its many wonders before enjoying lunch at a city restaurant. This evening, visit the sand dunes and enjoy the pleasure of a camel ride and even watch the folk dancers and musicians perform. Spend a night in a tent at the dunes – A real Desert Experience!!
Jodhpur - Puppets. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Jaisalmer – Jodhpur
After breakfast, drive to Jodhpur. Founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha of the Rathore clan, Jodhpur prospered from trade in opium, sandalwood, dates and copper. Check-in at the hotel on arrival before proceeding for sightseeing. Visit Mehrangarh fort, built in 1459 by Rao Jodha. The fort consists of several palaces designed around courtyards, which are decorated with terracotta lattice work. The fort houses a museum, with a splendid collection of elephant howdahs, miniature paintings and the inevitable Rajput armory. After lunch at the fort, visit Jaswant Thada, a memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, a peaceful array of domes, about 1 Km from the fort. Continue to the museum at the Umaid Bhawan Palace before arriving in the colorful markets of Jodhpur – famous for their textiles, handicrafts and spices. Return for dinner at the hotel.

Udaipur - Lake Pichola. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Jodhpur – Ranakpur – Udaipur
After breakfast, drive to Udaipur via Ranakpur. Ranakpur, known for its marvelously carved Jain temples, is amongst the five holiest places of pilgrimage for the Jain community. These temples, constructed in 15th century, have over 1444 marble pillars, carved in exquisite detail, no two alike. Enjoy lunch at a scenic resort before continuing to Udaipur. On arrival, enjoy a boat ride on Lake Pichola. Check-in at the hotel and enjoy leisure time before a delightful culinary experience this evening.
Udaipur - White City. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Udaipur
Visit the City Palace, known for the Mor Chowk and its stunning peacock mosaic and the Bhim Vilas Palace with its lovely wall paintings. View the Lake Palace in the water of Lake Pichola from a distance. Visit the Jagdish Temple, Fateh Sagar Lake and Saheliyon Ki Bari, the Garden of Maids. Enjoy lunch at a city restaurant. End the tour at Crystal Galley at Fateh Prakash Palace followed by tea. Return to the hotel and enjoy leisure time before dinner.
Jaipur - Hawa Mahal by the night. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Udaipur – Jaipur
Start early, after breakfast and drive to Jaipur and on arrival, check-in at the hotel, enjoy lunch en-route. Early evening, go shopping in the bazaars, Jaipur is known for its Textiles, Jewelry and Blue Pottery. Continue for dinner with a local Rajput family that organizes elephant, horse and camel safaris in the jungle, using their beautiful home and camp as base. Enjoy dinner around the bonfire, savoring the most authentic Rajasthani delicacies in a personalized environment while the elaborate bar serves the most exotic cocktails in a rustic yet luxurious atmosphere.
Jaipur - View from Amber Fort. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Jaipur
Enjoy an elephant ride to Amber Fort, located in a valley formed by the Aravali Range known as Kalikho hills. The palace and fort are located on top of the hill with the city on its slopes. This palace fortress, which was never invaded, features gardens, courtyards, and palatial spaces, many of which illustrate the influence of Mughal architecture. Also stop at Artchill, a gallery that displays Indian Art! Enjoy lunch at a Haveli (old mansion) that serves home-like food. Continue to visit the majestic City Palace, which houses rare collections from the past. See Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built in the early 18th century that includes a set of fixed instruments designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye. Glimpse the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of the winds, one of the most photographed facades in Jaipur and the country before returning to the hotel for leisure time and dinner.

Agra - Pink hues at Taj. Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Jaipur – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra
After an early breakfast, drive to Agra, visiting Fatehpur Sikri en route. Built in the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire for over a decade. The complex of buildings, all in a uniform architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India and the artistically designed mausoleum of the revered Sufi saint, Salim Chisti. Enjoy lunch at a wayside garden restaurant before continuing to Agra. Check in at the hotel on arrival. After a short rest, visit the Taj Mahal, known for its beauty, grace and exquisite workmanship. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan built this magnificent monument as a memorial to his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal. Later proceed to the demonstration of the marble inlay work and learn about the complex art of inlaying precious and semiprecious stones on the marble from the Makrana Mines. Enjoy the ‘Saga of the Taj’, a musical performance, before returning to the hotel for dinner.


Agra – Delhi
After breakfast, drive to ‘Mehtab Bagh’ for a distant viewing of the Taj Mahal in the rising light of the Sun. Visit Agra Fort, where Shahjahan was imprisoned by his son in the later years of his life. After lunch at a city restaurant, drive to Delhi. On arrival in Delhi spend an hour in an upscale mall before enjoying a farewell cocktail dinner at an authentic Indian restaurant. Proceed to the airport to catch the flight back home reminiscing the memorable journey through incredible India. Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes.


(*) To book your own travel experience, do not hesitate to contact me either by email or phone # 917.754.5515. Check our schedule bespoke groups, escapes and retreats at Coups de Coeur. I am an experienced Travel Agent with over 25 years of experience, member of LGTNetwork, IGLTA, First in Service Travel, TZELL Travel Network.


(**) Follow me around the world curating the best on Luxury Travel and Lifestyle by subscribing to my Facebook Page Carlos Melia Recommends, liking my Facebook Page, following me on Twitter, InstagramYouTube and/or pining me on Pinterest. And if you want to travel like me, or would you like to join me, check Coups de Coeur.

Vibrant Western Sojourn Revisited

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedVibrant Western Sojourn Revisited  |  India  |  Guest Blog Post by Pink Escapes. Embark on this much sought after journey in early 2014 to explore India’s rich heritage, culture, cuisine, wildlife, textiles, tribes and traditions – start in Mumbai and continue to explore the fragrant Gujarat – an experience to love!! Visit many vibrant cities: Ahmedabad, the hub of India’s textile industry; Palitana, known for the Patola weavers; Bhuj, famous for its colorful textiles and many tribes; Vadodara, a former princely state known for its patronage of education and Lothal, a port and trading post of the Harappan age. Also visit the Gir Forest, home to the Asiatic lion and leopards.


Day 1 Mumbai
Arrive at Mumbai International Airport. Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, is the business hub of India. Mumbai is a lively city, with its people constantly on the move. It is home to millions of people from the country and the world, who come here as tourists, workers, students, businesspersons or actors. It has been heavily influenced by the liberalization of the economy. Upon clearing Customs and Immigration, welcomed by a Pink Escapes’ representative and assisted with transfer to the hotel. Check in and spend the rest of the day at leisure.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 2 Mumbai
After breakfast go on an orientation tour of the city and visit the Dhobi Ghat, a well known open air Laundromat in Mumbai and the largest in the country. Make a photo stop at Haji Ali, the tomb of the famous saint set amidst waters. Stop at a bustling café for lunch. Admire the exuberant Gothic buildings especially Victoria Terminus (World Heritage Site), which looks more like a lavishly decorated cathedral rather than a train station. Spend time at the Prince of Wales Museum. In the evening get introduced to the fellow travelers over welcome cocktail dinner at a famous Indian restaurant.

3Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 3 Mumbai – Ahmedabad
After breakfast make a photo-stop at Gateway of India, located on the waterfront in Apollo Bunder and then take a short ferry ride to the Island of Elephanta. The caves on the island house 7th century rock-cut temples dedicated to Lord Shiva that epitomize the ancient heritage of India. Return to the main land and savor lunch at a restaurant nearby. This evening, fly to Ahmedabad. Proceed to hotel and unwind after check in. Gujarat offers breathtaking landscapes, a vibrant culture and a rich heritage. It is known for its textile industry and its contribution to the diamond trade, as well as its beautiful temples and mosques, and its abundant wildlife.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 4 Ahmedabad
Early morning, start with the full day sightseeing tour of Ahmedabad, ‘The Manchester of the East’. After a leisurely heritage walk in the old quarters of Ahmedabad, visit the famous Calico textile museum to observe the rare collection of tapestries. Continue to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram at the bank of River Sabarmati, where he spent 12 years of his life. For lunch indulge in traditional Gujrati Food, perhaps the most balanced meal amongst all Indian cuisines. Later drive through the multihued Law Market before returning to the hotel for leisure time. This evening submerge in the essence of India with a delightful culinary surprise at a royal home.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 5 Ahmedabad – SidhpurPatanModeraDasada
This morning, head north to Sidhpur to see the homes of the Bora Muslim community and take a walk through the colorful bazaars to experience the local life. Take a short drive to Patan, which is famous for its incredible step-well Rani Ka Vav and superb textile work by the Patola weaving families. Enjoy lunch in Patan before visiting Modhera’s Sun Temple, designed such that the first rays of the sun falls on the image of the Sun God at each equinox. Late afternoon, arrive at Dasada, a small village occupied mainly by farmers, nomadic cattle herders and artisans. Explore the scenic resort at leisure and in the evening enjoy folk music and dance by the local tribes over dinner.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 6 Dasada
Dasada is the perfect base to explore the Rann of Kutch, the last refuge in India of the Asiatic Wild Ass, an elegant member of the horse family. In the winter it becomes home to many migratory birds such as Flamingos, Macqueen’s Bustard, Pelicans and Cranes. Take a morning safari across the Little Rann to observe desert wildlife and magnificent birds around the lake. Visit the Kolis at the salt works and watch salt production. Early evening go on a village safari on a camel cart to observe the rural life and meet the local tribes. Return to the resort for leisure time and dinner.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 7 Dasada – Bhuj
Set out early this morning. Drive to Bhuj en-route visiting the village of Dhamadka to see the block printing. Enjoy a packed lunch on the go. Bhuj is the district headquarters of Kutch, the second largest district in India. On arrival, check-in at the hotel. Late afternoon visit one of the first Swaminarayan Sampraday temples, built in 1822. Explore the Bhuj Museum, the oldest museum in Gujarat, housing the largest existing collection of Kshatrapa inscriptions dating to the 1st century, as well as examples of the extinct Kutchi script and an interesting collection of coins. End with a sunset viewing of the Royal Cenotaphs.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 8 Bhuj
After breakfast, visit Nirona village to view Rogan art that will is beguiling with its brilliant forms. Meet a metallurgist, a traditional maker of cow bells. Visit the next community, the Vadhas, whose skill lies in coating wooden implements and toys with lacquer in variation of hues. Benefit from a visit to Kala Raksha Trust at Sumrasar Sheikh, a NGO run by an American Lady. Enjoy home-like traditional food for lunch. Visit the Aina Mahal or ‘Palace of Mirrors’, that was built in the middle of 18th century and Prag Mahal, a 19th century palace designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in the Italian Gothic style. Stop to see Sharad Bagh Palace – the King’s residence right up to 1991 when the last king of Kutch died. End the day in the colorful markets of Bhuj before returning to the hotel.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 9 Bhuj – MorbiRajkot
In the morning, visit Shrujan, a non-profit trust which began modestly in 1969, showcasing the traditional embroideries. Continue to Morbi and arrive in time for lunch at Darbargarh Palace that is reflected in the Macchu River and later walk around the famous hanging bridge. Continue to Rajkot and see Watson museum which is amongst the largest and most comprehensive museum in the state of Gujarat, displaying human history and culture, and a rare collection of precious objects from the colonial period and History of Rajkot. Arrive at the hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 10 Rajkot – Gondal
This morning take pleasure in a leisurely breakfast and then drive to Gondal arriving in time for lunch. Late afternoon, visit the 18th century Naulakha Palace, housing a rare collection of antiques and princely relics and the must see Vintage and Classic Car museum. Gondal state was one of the eight first class princely states of Kathiawar Agency during Bombay Presidency – founded in 17th century. Walk around the town exploring its rich heritage.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDAY 11 Gondal – Sasan Gir
Drive to Sasan Gir and en-route visiting a century old Pharmacy producing traditional medicines. Continue to Junagadh, an ancient fortified city that lies at the foot of Girnar Hill dating back to 2500 BC. It rimes of the legends of the emperor Asoka who’s fourteen Rock Edicts can be seen cut into a great rock outside the city. Make a photo-stop at the memorial to Junagadh’s Babi Ruler, the majestic Mohabatkhan Maqbara, which is an architectural delight!! Move on to Sasangir, known as the last bastion of the endangered Asiatic lion and enjoy a late lunch on check-in at the resort. Spend rest of the afternoon at leisure soaking in the vistas. Early evening make a visit to the crocodile park.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 12 Sasan Gir
Gir is also home to one of the largest leopard populations in India. The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1965, with a total area of 1412 km². It is the sole home of the pure Asiatic Lions and is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species. Enjoy morning and evening safari in the Gir Forest National Park.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 13 Gir – Bhavnagar
After breakfast drive to Bhavnagar. Nilambag Palace comes as a pleasant juxtaposition with its lush green lawns and beatific foliage surrounding the imposing Khakhi stoned structure. Check into the hotel and enjoy lunch. Later go sightseeing and start with Takheteshwar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, visited by thousands every day. Go on to 19th century Barton Library, one of the oldest libraries of the city. Barton Museum houses a private collection of Colonel Barton and showcases weapons, coins, agricultural implements, wood carvings and fossils.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 14 Bhavnagar – Palitana – Bhavnagar
Start very early this morning after breakfast to see the magnificent Jain temples located atop Mount Shatrunjaya in Palitana. The peak is a 3.5 km climb of over 3000 steps from the town. A visit here is considered the holiest of all pilgrimages by the Svetambara Jain community. The main temple, on top of the hill, is dedicated to the first Tirthankara (Prophet) of the Jains, Rishabha Dev. On return, enjoy a sumptuous lunch at a heritage home and then return to the hotel for leisure.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 15 Bhavnagar – LothalVadodara
After breakfast, drive to Lothal, a 4500 year old Harappa archaeological site. The major attractions in Lothal are the museum and vast ruins of the ancient city like dockyard, the acropolis, the lower town, the bead factory, the warehouses, and the drainage system. Enjoy packed lunch before continuing to Vadodara and on arrival check in at the hotel. Evening is at leisure to explore the town at will.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 16 Vadodara – Champaner – Vadodara
In the morning visit Champaner, a historical city in the state of Gujarat. It is located in the Panchmahal district and known for Pavagadh Archaeological Park (World Heritage Site) studded with forts, with bastion starting from the hills of Pavagadh and extending into the city of Champaner. After lunch, visit the Fateh Singh Museum housing paintings by European and Indian artists including a collection of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, who was specially commissioned by the then Maharaja of Baroda. Proceed to the spectacular Laxmi Vilas Palace, an extravagant building of the Indo-Saracenic school built in the end of 19th century. Visit its ornate Durbar Hall, an Italianate courtyard of water fountains, a remarkable collection of old armory and sculptures in bronze, marble and terracotta by Fellici.

Vibrant Western Sojourn RevisitedDay 17 Vadodara – Mumbai
Morning is at leisure to immerse independent SPA activities, and get ready for the return journey. After lunch proceed to the airport and fly to Mumbai. On arrival, Pink Escapes hosts the farewell cocktail dinner before a drop to the international airport to take the flight back home. (Photos supplied by Pink Escapes. This is a guest post, the comments and recommendations of this post, do not represent my own. ) CM @ Carlos Melia Recommends


(*) To book your own travel experience, do not hesitate to contact me either by email<> or phone # 917.754.5515. I am an experienced Travel Agent with over 25 years of experience, member of MLGTPP, IGLTA, First in Service Travel, TZELL Travel Network.


(**) Follow me around the world curating the best on Luxury Travel and Lifestyle by subscribing to my Facebook Page Carlos Melia Recommends, liking my Facebook Page, following me on Twitter, InstagramYouTube and/or pining me on Pinterest. Also check out my new page Carlos Melia Recommends.

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesTen Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes  | Journey to Leh, India |  Guest blogging by Neeta Gupta. Travel services by Pink Escapes. No one said this was going to be an easy journey but Pink Escapes made it comfortable, fun and special!

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 01
3 AM alarm/ With great difficulty made it to the airport at 5 AM. Ate Idlis, muffins and drank coffee out of sheer nervousness, shopped at the M&S store and boarded the plane by 6.30 am.
8 AM / Landed in Leh. Happy [note the sarcasm!] to report – absolutely no signal! The guide informed us that only BSNL SIM cards work in Leh. Thanks to the company’s foresight we had local working SIM cards kept ready for our use.
9 AM / Our moods became upbeat like children with their candies, having found out about the new SIM cards . Also there’s an Internet-WIFI café at every corner. Breakfast: omelets and Aloo Paranthas, coffee and melons. And what melons, man. So sweet!!!
10 AM / Took the doctor’s advice very seriously. We went to bed after breakfast. Nobody messes with this high altitude thingie in Leh. Each one of us was given our individual oxygen cylinders. One puff of cigarette before one puff of oxygen. You can’t be too careful here. Relax. Just kidding! Mesmerized by the view from the window.

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes1 PM / Lunch: fresh spinach and garlic veggie, daal, rice, egg curry and poppadums. Back to bed.
5 PM / Drove to Shanti Stupa for the fabulous vistas. Felt incredibly jealous of Gujarati PYTs roaming around in strappy tops and sandals, while we oldies were muffled in woollies.
8 PM / Dinner. Special Chinese meal served by the hotel for Korean tourists – them being special invitees of the Ladakh Buddhist Association for Buddh Purnima celebrations. “Indian food, very good!” they told us later. At dinner we met this young and lovely American girl, traveling with some friends. She was however “monasterised” out of her brain. She gave us a couple of good tips: including where to eat authentic local food; about this fabulous traditional Ladakhi home in Stok run by Paldan and Yangzes and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Tsering Chandol, called Gyab-Thago; she also advised us on how to get “running” hot water in the restroom. Made a mental note: not to get “monasterised”; eat at Summer Harvest on Fort Road; call 213 for “running” hot water and get a taste of traditional Tibetan hospitality at Gyab Thago.

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 02
5 AM /
 Body clock had re-adjusted to getting up early. And what a delight it was actually to watch the sunrise over the mountain tops in Leh.
9.30 AM / Done with breakfast. Watched the Buddh Purnima procession as it passed right outside our hotel – with people chanting, waving white prayer flags, carrying scriptures, singing and wearing yellow hats. Floats depicting scenes from the life of Buddha were the highlights of the day. The procession winds its way through the city and ends at the Polo grounds for a grand finale. This year, as I mentioned, the Koreans were the special invitees. Ministers were in attendance, many speeches were made and a huge community lunch was served.

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesIn the meantime, we caught up with our high-altitude acclimatization – meaning, lazed in bed after a sumptuous lunch. Doctor’s orders, remember! [The doctor had also advised us to eat lightly…but never mind!] It’s very important to take Diamox pills every night, at least a couple of nights ahead of your departure for Leh-Ladakh, and then continue to take a tablet every night while you’re there. Many people we met hadn’t done that and they truly suffered—you get intense unexplained frightening headaches that don’t seem to abate no matter what medication you take.
7.30 PM / This was an evening dedicated to mooning around .Starring: One full moon.

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 03
7.30 AM / Thikse Monastery belongs to the Buddhist Yellow hat order. What distinguishes them from the other orders is their discipline. This famous discipline was however not on display when we visited them today for the morning prayers. This was a relief actually because I would have been very sad to see the little Lamas being straight jacketed into solemnity so early in life. The prayers began with a ritual breakfast of pound barley and butter tea. There was a sense of joy and fun at the Dukhang or prayer hall — even as the older Lamas recited and chanted solemnly, the little ones [one of them was as young as three – four years of age maybe] fooled around with their food. It is customary for families in Ladakh to give their second son to the monastery. But now they prefer to hat their sons than join the Indian army.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesThe Thikse monastery is built on the lines of the Potala Palace in Lhasa and was established in the 13th century. What amazed us were the extremely clean sanitary facilities for visitors — which is a little hard to come by anywhere in India.

We then drove to the Hemis Monastery which belongs to the Drukpa lineage. They are known for their ritualistic practices. It is one of the few monasteries in Ladakh which wasn’t invaded during the Dogra invasions and has managed to retain most of its treasures, which are displayed beautifully in their subterranean museum in the Temple precincts. There are beautiful Tangkhas – some made with threadwork, old photographs of Nehru visiting the Monastery in 1949, the remains of a baby dog born of a vulture mother and a very sacred symbol in the deeply tantric order of this sectAlthough the monastery was established in the 11th Century, it was re-established in the 17th century by the kings of Ladakh. One of the famous stories of Hemis monastery is that the Russian journalist Nicolas Notovitch visited Hemis in 1894 and claimed that this was the origin of an otherwise unknown gospel, the Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men, in which Jesus is said to have traveled to India during his “lost years”. According to Notovitch, the work was shown to him by the monks at the Hemis Library, while he was at the monastery recuperating from a broken leg. Although later this was never proved. And the story has generally been dismissed as a prank played by Notovitch. An annual festival is held in Hemis honoring Padmasambhava in early June. Padmasambhava, an Indian tantric teacher, called Rinpoche in Tibetan, was responsible for spreading Tibetan Buddhism. On the day of the festival the protectors of the world come out onto the quadrangle outside the Hemis main prayer hall and dance to the beats of the drums. The locals believe that if one glimpses these frightening deities at Hemis, their passage to Heaven becomes easier as you are now able to distinguish between the truly bad spirits and the protective ones, who will guide you to the right path. I couldn’t help thinking how useful these discerning powers might be on Earth too – with the people around us and their frightening masks!

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes From Hemis, we drove to Stok. When the Dogras of Jammu invaded Ladakh in 1842, the Namgyals abandoned their palace in Leh and fled to Stok, on the other side of the Indus, and established the Shey palace. The main palace and monastery are under renovation at this time. But the elevation still affords a fabulous view of the valley.
We then proceeded to have lunch at a heritage home with the Gyab-Thago family in Stok (as was advised by the young, beautiful American). When I asked the guide what we would have for lunch, he said, or did I not ‘ear’ correctly… did he say…Donkey’s ear soup! I almost gagged—but turns out these are little donkeys’ ear-shaped dumplings stewed with vegetables. The broth is called Chhutagi locally. We also had some excellent momos, both fried and steamed, along with an interesting type of bread called Khambir, followed by stewed apricots and green tea. The locally brewed Chhang beer was optional.
After lunch the family took us around their beautiful 200 hundred years old home, with their traditional family altar, hearth, some wonderful stone utensils—which they were using until 2 years back — and traditional headgear displays.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes
DAY 04
8 AM / Drove to Nubra Valley, via Khardungla Pass. Within 45 minutes of leaving the sunny Leh valley, we entered the land of the snow queen. Cameras were out to capture what we thought was sheer delight. Snow all around, fallen fresh on this barren land, welcomes you in this arid zone — glacial ice and fresh snow are the only drinking water sources. But now suddenly a fog began to envelop us as we approached the checkpoint at South Pullu.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes9 AM / Arrived at South Pullu checkpoint. The distance to Khardungla from there was not much. Maybe 6 kilometers? But it seemed as if only a prayer could get us there in such snow storm. We were advised to await the arrival of a tipper truck with news of whether the pass was open to traffic or not.
11 AM / Stuck at South Pullu for 2 hours now. So still, so still, so still, this snow. Cavafy came to mind. “As you set out for Ithaka hope your journey is a long one…”
2.15 PM / Still stuck at South Pullu checkpoint. It had been five hours since we got there. Every hour or so a car would turn around and drive back to Leh. Not us. We were too strong-willed; and besides we had Cavafy to keep us going… ”But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way…” We were also very hungry. Fortunately the tour operator had provided us with chips, Kurkure, chocolates, boiled eggs, juices and couple of bottles of water each. But what we really needed was a cup of hot tea, even Maggi…
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes
2.45 PM / Gave up. Drove back to Leh. Sorry, Cavafy!
3.15 PM / Word was out that Khardungla Pass was now open to traffic. Drove back to Khardungla.
4 PM / Crossed Khardungla and started our descent to the beautiful Nubra Valley. What a pity that the world’s highest roadside café was shut! We weary travelers could have done with a cup of tea and a pee.
8 PM / Drove into Sumoor Village in Nubra. Passed some amazing valleys criss-crossed by Shyok [pronounced Shayok] and Nubra river [also called the Siachen River], sand dunes and stunning sunsets against stark mountains. Nubra is a high altitude cold desert. Our cabbie incidentally hailed from there and was happy to show off his village. They grow wheat, barley, peas, mustard and a variety of fruits and nuts, including blood apples, walnuts, apricots and even almonds. The region is home to rare species like snow leopards, brown bears, marmots and ibex.
You get the picture, right? Nubra is really green compared to the rest of Ladakh (although this didn’t quite explain why our campsite owners had planted fake flowers in their garden!!! But still it painted quite an appealing picture in this cold desert. Refer to picture.)
A little detail that spooked me out was the fact that we were less than a hundred kilometers away from Siachen—the highest battleground in the world. Most locals aspire to work as coolies in Siachen. They say it’s very risky [many lose their lives every year], but that is too lucrative to resist.
9.30 PM / Dhaba dinner at camp: paneer butter masala, pindi chhole, tarka daal, roti, rice, dahi, salad (yes, salad!), followed by gulab jamuns. It is a bit surprising that none of the hotels or camps we stayed at served us local food. However, the food was hot, freshly prepared and tasty, enough to bring a smile on our chilly faces.
Interestingly, of the seventeen camps which were fully booked for the night, we were the only guests to have made it. Be warned that there is absolutely no phone connectivity in Nubra. And no electricity either. The army provides these campsites with 4 hours of power between 7 and 11 pm, and that’s about it.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes
DAY 05
10 AM / After a fairly sumptuous breakfast – who eats choorma laddoos dunked in hot milk in Nubra? — We left for Hundar village where Bactrian camels roam. These camels hark back to an era when there was a flourishing trade between the region and Central Asia. However, since trade ceased in 1949, these animals became redundant, until the tourists arrived more recently to revive their dwindling numbers.
The sand dunes of Nubra should really be another story, in another medium, told by a painter, preferably.
The massive 32 metres Maitreya Buddha statue at the Diskit Monastery towers over the Nubra valley. No matter where you are, it is impossible to miss its serene divinity. At the Diskit village, however, I am happy to report the availability of more mundane things—its long and narrow bazaar full of trinket stores, stationers, you can buys prams, toys, sleeping bags, Pashmina shawls, hardware, software, “hi-fashion” wear, vegetables, bananas [they must come from very far off], digital photo studios (and the girls here are very pretty).
Around lunch we drove back to Leh. This time crossing the Khardungla pass was so smooth. Fine weather is a fine thing, and very rare in these parts, I am told.
What fascinated me during these drives were the Mani walls — the miniature Great Wall of China-like structures found along the hillsides. Legend has it that kings would make prisoners carve or paint prayers on each of the stones that made up these walls, as a kind of penance. And weary travelers could stop here to pray.
Oh, these stones on which time has etched a story…
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 06
11 AM / I set off to meet a young niece who works at this unique school in Phey, 18 km from Leh. Set on the banks of the River Indus, The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, SECMOL, was founded by a group of young Ladakhis who wanted to reform the educational system of Ladakh.
The campus wore a festive air today. They had a presentation later that afternoon and students were scurrying around — putting final touches to their songs, dance performances, speeches etc. After a much needed cup of tea with the volunteers in the school’s warm kitchen, a student was assigned to take me around the campus.
The student proudly showed me a set of solar panels, and illiterate that I am, I assumed these were for electricity. The young student gently chided me, ‘For Boiler, for water!’ Then we passed another shiny panel with reflecting mirrors, I asked whether these were for electricity? ‘No, this is for cooking!’ he was exasperated by my idiocy. Now we walked to a row of solar panels parked by the banks of the Indus. These were connected to the batteries in a shed. Clearly this was what kept the entire campus warm and well-lit. Ladakh has over 300 sunny days a year and it makes perfect sense to rely on the sun for energy.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 07
8 AM / Crossing Changla pass at 17000+ feet, on our way to Pangong Tso lake, was a breeze after having conquered Khardungla pass two days ago. We stopped on the way and had a little picnic by the River Indus. We saw some wonderful wild horses on the way, and a few mules, also some ‘love’-ducks who swam in pairs, marmots, squirrels and golden eagles.
Had tea and Maggi at a stall in Tangtse. This picturesque village is the last halt before you enter the border area, for which an inner line permit is required. We also drove past the Chemdey Monastery.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes4 PM / What can I tell you about the beauty of Pangong Tso that you don’t already know…words fail me and even now, as I picture it in my mind’s eye, I skip a beat in my heart. However the place is windy and cold and my first reaction was to feel a deep sense of pity for Kareena Kapoor, who had to dance here in a bikini and even fainted during the shoot for the flop Bollywood film, Tashan. Just to give you a perspective: we were wearing 5 layers of clothing! And our teeth were still chattering…

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesThat night we were the only guests at Camp Water mark, which should rightfully have been named: Camp Water-less Mark, for there was no water. There were 14 tents that made up this campsite. Suffice it to say that we left ‘a little part of ourselves’ in each of those tents that night…

Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 08
5 AM / Sunrise at Pangong. These magical mystical waters keep changing color all day long — but early in the morning I felt a certain stillness, clarity and calm as I have never witnessed in my life. And you can hardly be prepared for when the sun stealthily climbs over the mountains and turns these stunning blue waters to molten gold…
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink Escapes 8 AM / We left for Leh soon after feasting on tea and toast. What saddened me as we were driving away from here was that these pristine waters at Pangong may no longer remain as beautiful as fly-by-night campsites and developers descend here in the name of development. And we might see a repeat of what happened in Uttarakhand.
On the drive back to Leh we stopped briefly at the Druk Padma School, which featured in The 3 Idiots movie. They now conduct tours of the school and have named their canteen for visitors – Rancho Café!
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 09
11 AM / This morning we visited the vegetable market in Leh—laden with bokchoy, palak, pudina and fresh green onion saplings. In fact, we had noticed that most places in Ladakh served vegetarian food. We could only ever find cabbage momos. It was only later that our guide explained — apart from the strong Buddhist influence on the cuisine there was the fact that most Ladakhis thrive on meat all winter and hence revel in their vegetables through summer.
There was such an organic wholesomeness to the fruits and vegetables there that we ended up haggling for greens we didn’t even need.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesSince we had a free day to roam around in Leh, we ended up discovering the little trinket stores, the Pashmina shawl outlets and fabulous restaurants tucked away in the city. It was lovely to walk around the old part of the city, calling out “Juley!” to all the warm Ladakhis! We had lunch at a place called the World Peace Café. Fantastic pizzas and lasagna in a lovely garden ambience.
Ten Days in the forbidden lands with Pink EscapesDAY 10
5 AM / Transfer to Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport in Leh. Strict security standards, so we were advised to be here 2 hours before the flight. Then on to Dilli meri jaan. Landing in Delhi at 9.30 am was a shock to our senses. It was one of those zero-to-fifty-degrees-in-fifty-minutes kind of situations. Un – effing – believable. What a Leh Experience!! ( Photo Credits: Ramu Ramaswam ) CM @ Carlos Melia Recommends


How to get there:
Planes, trains, automobiles
However convenient it is to get there by air, nothing can quite compare driving down via Manali – Leh highway or alternately from Srinagar. You need extra days to do that but I have been assured it is totally worth it! Also the high-altitude sickness doesn’t hit you if you choose to drive up.


Hotels in Leh:
Omasila Hotel [best views]
Druk Ladakh [best showers]
The Grand Dragon [5 star!]


Local Hangouts at Leh:
Summer Harvest Restaurant-must try ‘muddonchowmen’
World Peace Café – great lasagna
Himalayan Café [internet and WIFI heaven]
La Pizzeria-well, lovely place to hangout. Food ok ok!


Playlist included:
Mainly Beatles
Gerry Rafferty
Neil Diamond
Gym Playlist [even Akon if you please]
Driver Gurmet’s latest Hindi hits
Richard Wagner – Ride Of The Valkyries


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Pink Escapes Bespoke India Experience

Pink Escapes is a ground breaking and affordable ‘Bespoke Pink Luxury’ travel boutique. They are committed to show the Indian Subcontinent in style whilst entwining Pink Experiences to make sure travelers have well-rounded and enjoyable ‘Experiences to Love’ forever. They are passionate about putting together a Signature Dream Journey for their clients and while doing so their Experience Designers take care of client’s interests and travel preferences to create an exceptionally enchanting lifetime experience!

Pink Escapes focuses on: Indian Subcontinent. Just Pink. Simply Bespoke. Ultra Luxury Choices. Exceptional Experiences. Extraordinary Service. Local Flavors. Vibrant Promotions.

Bhuvan Mehta, the inspiration behind Pink Escapes, wants to share his enrichment through numerous travels with travelers to India, by creating a brand to anticipate. According to him, “Communication is not a problem!! A majority of Indians speak English and have a lot to share with travelers from around the globe. India is conducive to year round travel; since the country is so vast there will always be a place which will be ‘in season’! Home of many traditions, religions and lifestyles, India’s heritage and culture holds the interest of both adventure and comfort seeking travelers. Let me assure you that the trip to India will be a trip of a lifetime – certainly bringing you back several times to immerse in the Essence of the Indian Subcontinent, a land of many wonders!” Above is a video of me and Bhuvan during my last visit to India. He was my host during my entire stay covering New Delhi, Agra,Varanasi and Jaipur.

If their clients can dream, Pink Escapes can help them realize it. They value the time and every desire of their clients; hence work closely with them to create a Dream Experience. They address the LGBT travelers’ concern while considering Indian Subcontinent for travel, and assure a discrimination free trip by using the services of Gay-Owned or Gay-Friendly establishments and individuals, whether it is Hotels, Guides or Drivers.

Pink Escapes is extremely focused and well oriented to manage the highest end of the market. Travel like the Maharaja; in case the clients prefer to stay in the most opulent accommodations or a Jet Escape or simply want the very best of everything; they have to go for ‘Ultra Luxury Experiences and Services’ — even sky is not the limit. Their advice is not to miss the Kerala House Boat Experience which is voted among the world’s best travel experiences. Also, they highly recommend the Luxury trains, which offer an illuminating journey – bringing to life the bygone era in sheer opulence, and talk of the luxury travel circuits across the globe.Explore the ancient lands with ‘Experiences to Love’ by Pink Escapes! CM @ Carlos Melia Recommends

(*) Check OUT all my videos of my last visit to India guided by Bhuvan Mehta.
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Varanasi, luxury on life experiences

Varanasi, luxury on life experiences  |  429 MAGAZINE  |  by Carlos Melia Varanasi, is a city located on the banks of River Ganges, known to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India. A destination were tradition, legend, mysticism, and deep religious believes by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Muslims all coexist right before your eyes. Varanasi is also known as Benares or Kashi. Continue reading Varanasi, luxury on life experiences

Varanasi Luxury on life experiences by Carlos Melia

Varanasi Luxury on life experiences by Carlos Melia  |  429 MAGAZINE  |  Hi there everyone, like every week, my column on Luxury Gay Travel for 429 MAGAZINE is OUT and  ONLINE. This week I take a different meaning of luxury, the life experiences, and where better than India. Read my chronicle on my last visit to the holy city of Varanasi and mother River Ganges. Varanasi, Luxury on life Experiences. Hope you like it. Till next adventure in full luxury. CM @ Carlos Melia Recommends

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My 07 days in India portrayed by 30 Postcards Project

My 07 days in India by portrayed by 30 Postcards Project  |  India  |  Great video by friend and colleague Kevin Richberg on his project 30 Postcards around the world. This time of our trip together to the north of India. You can see me in a few scenes, specially the one being harassed by the street vendors ” Hawkers “, just look at my face priceless. After a week of travel, I was kind of OVER them. Great work Kevin. Cheers CM @ Carlos Melia Recommends

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Ganga Aarti Ceremony at Varanasi

Ganga Aarti Ceremony at Varanasi   |  Varanasi, India  |  India always has that way to challenge, move and shock you with its harsh reality and traditions. During my visit to Varanasi, almost a month ago, I was lucky enough to experience a true Aarti ceremony, a Hindu religious ritual of worship, which took place over the stream of the holly river Ganges thus Ganga Aarti. One of the most interesting things I have seen and experienced during 2011. Varanasi is a very special, spiritual destination. I have never felt so much peace, mysticism in one place, but at the same time I connected with a very dark and evil side of the Hinduism believes which far from scaring me, created a very particular bond with their believes. Continue reading Ganga Aarti Ceremony at Varanasi

Street Indian magician pulls two Rupees from my pants

Street Indian magician pulls two Rupees from my pants  |  Jaipur, India  |  Tell me he is not talented and extremely cute. He came into our bus, while touring around Jaipur in the northern region of  India, and performed to amaze us all with this tricks and charm. For the rest of the trip we were all playing his voice and the constant YA!!!!. What amazed me by this kids in India, is the power to survive they have, which indeed I call, quoting Herbert Spencer‘s , “The Survival of the Fittest concept. I think I should hire him to pull coins and bills out of my pants  everyday and make me rich. All the way from Jaipur in India. Continue reading Street Indian magician pulls two Rupees from my pants

Air Asia left me behind in Delhi

Air Asia left me behind in Delhi  |  India  |  Hey Bangkok, it seems that I won’t be arriving tomorrow as planned, same as many other passengers of flight FD 3797 from New Delhi to Bangkok. Air Asia arbitrarily decided to move their flight schedule without letting us know. Yes you read right they literally left us behind, but trust me…. not stranded. I mean what would be the point discussing this… I am not stupid and I think none of the other passengers are either, why would I show up to a flight, which was supposed to depart at 11.40PM, if I knew that the flight was being moved to a new earlier departure time at 08.20PM. These are the moments in life when I truly appreciate being a travel agent, having a strong voice into the international travel media, and most important knowing my rights as a full paid passenger, regardless the airline being a low cost or  premium. Of course Air Asia immediately tried to blame it on me, but I told them differently straight out. Left behind maybe, but stranded NO WAY Air Asia. Big disruption into my itinerary, and I was really looking forward waking up tomorrow at my beloved Bangkok, but instead I have to stay one extra night in New Delhi. Lucky enough and due to my demands, my flight was modified and I was given a complimentary stay at a five-stars hotel, late check out, transfers in/out, free WiFi access and breakfast. My dear followers, please learn your rights as a traveller and check all the conditions on your tickets upon purchase and before departure. Much better, use a trustworthy Travel Agent, that is what we travel experts are here for. Good Night everyone, once again and unexpectedly from New Delhi. Hopefully Air Asia tomorrow will decide to stick to their regular schedule. CM @ Carlos Melia Recommends


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