When women and mountains meet!

Part 2 of the women-only Tirthan valley trekking trip : around JIBHI

There’s some sort of magic in the unexpected ! We had planned many things on this Tirthan valley trek, but the two that surpassed all our expectations were

  1. Jalori House
  2. Raghupur Fort Trek

JALORI HOUSE : ‘Where Mountains Meet the Mystic’

We operate like a ‘Big Joint Family Home’ and our endeavour is to make your stay as informal and comfortable as in your own home : they say ! And I couldn’t have said it better myself !

An intoxicating cocktail of breathtaking views, tastefully decorated yet simple interiors and food that tantalises each tastebud, Jalori house is by far the best place I have stayed Every little need and desire is taken care of by their staff as well as the owner Amit Vaidya himself.

You can spend all week sipping adrak wali chai here and soaking (and bathing) in the views (The bathrooms have glass on the valley view walls !)

DAY 3: We reached Jalori pass which is at a height of 10,000 feet, after a very scenic 45 mins drive from Jibhi.

 We had 2 options for trekking on arrival at Jalori pass.

  Option 1 – Easy trek of 5 km to the Selosar lake.This is a more popular option because it’s an easy trek with not much of an ascent.

  Option 2 – A more difficult trek ( 3 km one way ) to the Raghupur fort where the last half an hour involves continuous climbing.

And it was on the insistence of our hosts that we decided to do the Raghupur Fort trek instead of the Serolsar Lake trek as was planned in our itinerary. Albeit more difficult, it was far more rewarding in so many ways!

The initial trail is a comfortable walk on a flat trail that traverses through dense coniferous trees.

The beauty of this trek is that you get a sneak peak of the snow clad mountains as you begin and then as you climb the slightly steep inclined patch through rocks, you catch your breath in awe as the majestic Himalayas unravel 30 degree at a time around you at the horizon.

Green meadows greet you at the top and by then you have a 270 degree view of the snowy peaks.

We were also lucky to have a very good guide, Roshan who not helped us on the climb, but also had a keen eye for photography. Thanks to to him we have some excellent pictures and videos, memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Raghupur fort itself is a ruined fort with hardly a few walls standing. But the views and photo opportunity it offers is outstanding ! A complete 360 degrees view of Himalayas all around from Kinner Kailash -Spiti- Pin Parvati-Shrikhand Mahadev – Deo Tibba -Dhauladhar range- Pir Panchal – Lahaul – Dharmshala to Shimla ! Simply magnificent feast for the shutterbugs, insta lovers and reel makes (like us !)

We enjoyed our packed lunch with with the great Himalayas as our backdrop and the azure blue sky above ! Raising a toast of fresh apple juice, we declared our love for the mountains and vowed to meet again, on yet another mountain top !

Heaven has no greater pleasure than a mountain conquered, we say !

DAY 4

Another day well spent exploring Jibhi

An early morning short hike to refreshing stream just below Jalori House before breakfast with the adorable dogs !

Breakfast was a scrumptious array of stuffed parathas; onion, paneer, radish ( Didn’t i say right at the beginning I love this place !) and then we explored Jibhi with a short trot to the Jibhi waterfall (selfies galore !)

Later we went for a short trek through the Deodar forest to a clearing that housed Balo temple. An oasis in the heart of nature!

The meals, cosy bonfire nights and the hospitality of Jalori house have left an indelible place in our hearts. Our only regret is that it is so far away from home that we cannot visit more frequently !

Yet visit again we shall. it was not “adieu” but “au revoir” that we said to our gracious hosts at Jalori house ! Phir milenge zaroor !

Women-only Trek @Tirthan VAlley


Out of the many setbacks I faced during the Covid pandemic, cancellation of 3 Himalayan treks from April 2020 to October 2021 was the most anguishing. Yet I was determined to ensure that I set foot on the Himalayas in my trekking boots before 2021 ends.

Himachal Pradesh is not just Kullu-Manali/ Shimla, it is has many more undiscovered valleys. I realised this when I went to Parvati valley in October 2018.(Read all about it in the blog https://wordpress.com/post/meetimein.wordpress.com/1916)

My quest to explore Himachal further led me to extensively research and Google search till I found a natural untouched paradise called Tirthan valley that had earned a reputation as “Himachal’s Best Kept Secret”. Mid-November 2021, I got my “Girl Gang” together and planned a trip there before it got too cold.

Find someone who shares your passion and the trip becomes even more amazing ! Dr Sangeeta Agrawal, Dr Mamatha Shriyan and Vaidehi Rajpathak : The Feisty Four !

QUICK FACTS:

Nearest Airport : Bhuntar (but flights are expensive, connections via New Delhi are not very convenient ) Chandigarh is the best option, although the drive is 8-10 hours from here, the amazing food at the highway dhabas makes the journey so worth it !

Tirthan valley has many villages along the Tirthan river from Gushaini to Banjar. The accommodation here is mainly home-stays and cottages along the riverside. After spending 2 nights here @ Riverwalk, we moved to Jibhi @ Jalori house higher up in the mountains.Let the adventure begin !

Part 1 of the women-only Tirthan valley trekking trip : around GUSHAINI

Riverwalk (aptly named) by the gurgling river has quaint rooms and cosy cottages,clean and comfortable. They offer a gorgeous view of the azure waters and jagged mountains.The meals were served as a buffet or a la carte option by the warm fireside.

The next 4 days were planned in such a way so as to enjoy nature by getting as close to it as our trekking boots would take us

Our trekking plan was split into alternate days of long (5 hours) and short (2 hours) treks.

TREK 1 : to GHNP Gate

The Great Himalayan National Park is a protected zone of over a 1000 sq km, a biodiversity treasure house.

Since there is no road to the GHNP gate, the route is an easy 8km trek from Gushaini village.To really explore GHNP well, one can spend a few days inside, a “camping in the wild” experience, various treks and trails at hand.

For those like us who want to sleep in a warm bed with a heater every night, the trek to the gate has delightful vistas of the Tirthan river, autumn foliage, some sleepy villages and friendly villagers en route

Traipsing over wooden bridges, we trod on. The Tirthan river sparkling in the valley below us, racing through the countryside. The trek is gradual, signs are available so a Guide is not mandatory but useful nevertheless. Our lunch stop was at the Hippo falls so named, as you can see because of the large glistening boulder that unmistakably looks like a Hippopotamus is bathing here, surrounded by icy waters of the falls casting shimmering shadows around.

And then finally the gate of GNPH, which holds many secrets within and we may explore those on another adventure later on !

DAY 2 : Chhoie Waterfall TREK

Next morning we were up bright and early, exploring the riverside along our cottages, warming up the Quechua boots for yet another day of clamouring over the rocks.

The trek to the waterfall is only 3 km walk that begins from Village Nagini which takes about 1 hour. The latter part is a bit steep, but manageable.

The waterfall and the fern foliage around paints a pretty picture. Stopping for a rejuvenating ginger tea in the village, we had to get back and check out of Riverwalk for PART 2 of thr trip : Jalori House and Jibhi !

COVID safe Getaways near mumbai in the HILLS

Covid-19 changed so many things in our lives, especially the way we travel and also the where, how, when of it? It wasn’t so simple anymore, was it ? Advance booking, multiple destinations and also international travel was a challenge.

First we had to get used to a “lockdown” or restrained in one’s own house, only going out when absolutely necessary, for 2 months. Then when travel was allowed did we feel safe catching a flight, living in a hotel ???

Spending quality time with family and close friends became the priority. And so started Dr Wanderworld, not venturing on any long trips but finding safe havens within driving distance.

Some of the protocols we followed were

  • Choosing a property where we knew the owner so that a strict sanitisation process was ensured.
  • The villas were usually unused in the week, sanitised and locked up.
  • The staff lived around the property with minimal contact with the nearest town.

LE FARM : KAMSHET

I had heard so much about this place from friends and it was completely worth visiting. A family owned farm and villa, a labour of love for Shivani Borade Shah, Le Farm is the place to breathe in that fresh air you longed for.

The view of the lake and the valley from the villa

Distance from Mumbai: 110 km (approx 3 hr drive) https://g.page/lefarmluxuryfarmstay?share

Website : https://lefarm.in/

Category : Boutique luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 6 bedroom (usually all booked together, esp. weekends. Weekdays could book lesser rooms)

Amenities : Pool, lake view, 15 acres farm, indoor games

If you were looking for a place to seclude yourself with your extended family or a big group of friends look no further.Perfect as a WFH option, great farm fresh food, immaculately styled rooms and relaxing views. There could never be a dull moment, indoor and out door games, kids play area, books; something for every age!

Being so close to water and surrounded by fruit and vegetable orchards has a soothing effect here. One can just sit and take in the beautiful vistas or go for walks and short treks.The living room is the main event of the house, large and spacious. All bedrooms face the water and the rays of the sun make magical reflections on the glass. Every angle is so picturesque. Definitely the place to come to immerse yourself in nature!

Meals : in house chef, set menus (veg/non veg)

VALLONE VINEYARDS, IGATPURI

This place is like second home to me, we have come here so many times B.C.(Before Covid), especially in the monsoon. But I still can’t decide which is more intoxicating here…. the wine or the views?

Vineyards and lake view

Distance from Mumbai: 160 km (approx 3.5-4 hr drive) https://g.page/VallonneVineyards?share

Website : http://www.vallonnevineyards.com/

Category : Boutique luxury vineyard stay. Bedrooms : 4 bedroom (can be booked separate)

Amenities : Lake view, vineyard and wine cellar tour,

I am a totally morning person and the walks here really make me happy. The entire region is the mecca of wine making in Maharashtra, producing the best species of grapes. The Pai family forayed into wine making here, successfully producing some truly exceptional and award-winning wines.

The 4 bedrooms are on the top floor, tastefully done with rustic furniture and Jaipur print linen. Two are valley facing and two garden facing, but the common area in between has a large valley facing balcony for you to savour the view. The restaurant on the first floor serves the most amazing pan asian food with a larger balcony attached, so you can drink in the view from every angle (if you did resist the wine). Also the best place to enjoy the rain if you are here in the monsoon !

Meals: A la carte from Malaka spice restaurant (veg/non veg)

PAWANA LAKE

When you want to get away from the ever so madenning crowds at Lonavla and Khandala these days, the shores of Pawana lake offer some really tranquil places to stay. We had the opportunity to stay at 2 different villas

INFINITY by DREAM VILLA

Step down to an Infinity Pool that overlooks the golden fields around the lake. Could you ask for a more blissful location for a getaway weekend ?

Distance from Mumbai: 120 km (approx 2.5 hr drive)

Website :https://www.dreamvillas.co.in/

Category : Mid range villa.

Bedrooms : 5 bedroom

Amenities : Pool, lake view, kids play area

Meals: in house cook, can choose options within the set menu (veg/non veg)

JADE AMBROSIA by VISTA ROOMS

This 5 bedroom villa is located at a height to offer mesmerising views of the lake from the verandah. The lush green expanse of lawn in front of your eyes, the Balinese decor, the cool breeze that lulls you into a trance, the ultimate place to relax.

Website :https://www.vistarooms.com/villa/4-rooms-at-jades-ambrosia

Category : Luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 5 bedroom

Amenities : Pool, lake view, kids play area, indoor games

Meals: in house cook, can choose options within the set menu (pure veg)

The area around the lake is perfect for walks, be it in morning or evening. Monsoon is definitely the best time when its all clouds are misty and the waterfalls flowing all over the valley. There are treks to Lohagad and Visapur fort possible from here for the adventurous and water sports on the lake.

PARSI MANOR, MATHERAN by SAFFRON STAYS

Fancy spending a time in a bygone era, surrounded by colonial architecture and artefacts. Top that with finger-licking Parsi meals, and you have yourself a fantastic weekend.

Distance from Mumbai: 90 km (approx 2.5 hr drive to the car park and then 5km on horseback or walk )

Website : https://www.saffronstays.com/view/the-parsi-manor-a-100-year-old-quaint-heritage-stay-7LAWThR4QHMDBIEH

Category : Luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 4 bedroom

Amenities : you don’t need anything: Just be with yourself (Mai aur meri Tanhai )

Meals: in house cook, can choose options preferably Parsi delicacies (veg/non veg)

Having a cup of tea in this verandah, has a whole new meaning ! The house is tastefully decorated with stained glass windows, paintings, artefacts, Ming vases and lamps.There is nothing modern here and that’s the beauty really ! Every piece of furniture is vintage too, like old wine one has to savour this place slowly.

The staff is so courteous and cooperative , it’s hard to leave this place!
The food was exceptional. Mutton dhansak had succulent pieces cooked to perfection and the dhansak gravy was too good to be true (Believe me I am a lover of dhansak and cannot tolerate imperfection in this glorious dish). The Caramel custard too was just perfect!
The white bed linen and Jaipur print rajais in Muslin make the most amazing companions for a good nights’ sleep.
Here you can just put your feet up and do nothing, listen to the chirping birds while you sip a cup of tea or take a walk enjoying the beauty of nature ( Charlotte lake and Echo point are not too far away)

FALCON HILL, Aamby Valley Road by SAFFRON STAYS

Solitude and serenity gets a new meaning here. Far away from civilisation a mesmerising morning sunrise awaits you each day. A dip in the pool, “garam bhajiya” in the rain, karaoke and board games to entertain.

Distance from Mumbai: 100 km (approx 2.5 hr drive)

Website : https://www.saffronstays.com/view/falcon-hill-6-bedroom-luxury-villa-with-infinity-pool-in-near-lions-point-in-lonavala-yB7o6HpEK4YZVCb7

Category : Luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 6 bedroom

Amenities : Pool, Karaoke, board games

Meals: in house cook, can choose options within the set menu (pure veg)

Drive 25 min ahead towards Aamby valley and trek up to Korigad fort. You will be aghast to find such picturesque sights at the top.Did we get magically teleported to the Lake District, you may ask? The views of the surrounding valleys from the top make the climb so worth it.

JUNGLELORE FARMSTEAD, Navghar, near KHALAPUR

6 rustic cottages in a rugged environment, yet the farm offers a comfortable stay of a different kind. Simple delights that we miss because we live in the city. Farm fresh food and the best way to enjoy outdoor life.

Distance from Mumbai: 90 km (approx 2.5 hr drive )

Website: https://www.facebook.com/Junglelorefarm/

Cottages: 6 bedrooms, eco friendly

Amenities : Nature all around

Meals: in house cook, veg/non veg local thali.

Be it with friends or family, this place will be enjoyable yet relaxing for all. Don’t miss the recycled tyres and bottles used to make unique wall hangings and lights.A reminder that we must be kinder and closer to our Mother Earth.

Last but not the least

STRAWBERRY COUNTY, BHILAR {Between Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani}

Everyone goes to Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar but the real fun is in the strawberry fields of Bhilar and Kaswand where you can pluck your own juicy fruits in winter.

Distance from Mumbai: 250 km (approx 4 hr drive )

Recommended place to stay : Red Stone Casa https://red-stone-casa.business.site/

“Once a year, go somewhere you have never been before.” –Dalai Lama

Thanks to Covid, I discovered and rediscovered some hidden gems around me !

Umkar Living Root Bridge: Marvel of Meghalaya

What a natural wonder it truly is ! Bridges made by the local tribes in Meghalaya by entwining the strong secondary roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Whenever and wherever the need arose, they simply grew their bridges. Helping the tribals to get past rivers and streams, these trees helped sustain life yet again.

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The most famous one is the Double Root Tree Bridge of Umshiang located in the village of Nongriat. But its quite and arduous trek, 2500 steps to reach Nongriat and this takes about 1.5 – 2 hours each way easily (maybe bit more depending on your fitness).So thats more than half a day gone. My friends who have been here say its definitely worth the visit. Don’t forget, you need a lot of energy to get there.

But if you are pressed for time, like us and yet didn’t want to leave Meghalaya without witnessing this marvelous phenomenon, here is another easy but lesser-known option: Umkar Living Root Bridge. I had a been in my bonnet to see any bridge in the short span of 4 hours that I had (6am to 10 am to be precise after which we had to leave Cherrapunjee for Guwahati airport for our flight). The local drivers and Hotel guys surprisingly didn’t have much information to offer. But extensive Google searches revealed bits of information that I put together to set off on our quest of Umkar Living Root Bridge.

A morning cup of tea in the clouds with a view of the sunrise and Bangladesh border like this from our room at The Polo Orchid Resort really gives a new meaning to life! It energizes you to get out and seize the day.

Our group of enthusiastic doctors boarded the jeep and it was a beautiful downhill drive from our resort to Siej village though thick tropical rainforest on either side. The wettest place is also definitely blessed with nature’s bounty. Just before Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, it’s another 3km drive by taking a left turn. Its not well sign-posted so one has to ask for directions to Umkar Living Root Bridge.

Once you see this sign, walk through the Betel grove for about 10 minutes, past gushing waterfalls to reach the bridge. This 40 year old bridge is now considered to be “under construction” as it was washed away due to massive floods. Hence the the villagers are actually now rebuilding it.

The roots are light brown and green compared to older bridges and Umkar Living Root Bridge is a perfect example to learn the process of building living root bridges.

The bridge was strong enough for us to walk across it already. See how the floor has been formed with entwining branches around the scaffolding of the hollow betel nut tree trunks. Since this region gets heavy rainfall which results in innumerable streams and flowing rivers, the trees are well adapted to the soil erosion and the roots grow down towards the water. This one will take maybe another 15 years to be ready.

We were back in time to shower, have a delicious breakfast and check out of the Polo Orchid Resort with a heavy heart. A final “Adieu” to the Seven sisters waterfall, unmistakable seen from the resort all day. The next 5 hour we drove back to the airport through mountains and waterfalls, and it was such a pleasurable drive. We echoed the words of E.E. Cummings in our hearts “I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

Mesmerising Meghalaya: Beyond Shillong

More unchartered destinations get added to our travel map on a wondrous discovery of our country that has unsurpassed beauty as we travelled to Shillong in September 2018. I haven’t yet seen the famed rainforests of South America, but the more I’ve travelled in the North east of India, I’m convinced we can give them a run for their money. And so the journey to the wettest place in the world begins…

You can’t take your eyes off the ubiquitous rain-washed terrain from Guwahati airport towards Umiam lake. As we ascended up the green Khasi hills, overcast grey skies above and the serenity of the lake imbues a new energy that only culminates into pure bliss when we reached “Ri Kynjai” for lunch.

The resort and especially the restaurant with its unique location offering majestic views of the lake and should be the place to stay, instead of Shillong city, for that perfect getaway. Placid and tranquil as its name implies.

The delectable local food, rustic cottages and ambiance in the midst of nature really took my heart away. But we were headed to Shillong for the night and had to move on.

Shillong really has nothing exciting to offer, especially the traffic can be a huge nuisance. Living in Mumbai and waiting in bumper to bumper traffic-borne misery is not something I enjoyed on a holiday.

Tripura Castle hotel built in the early 1920’s by the then Maharaja of Tripura boasts of the grandiosity of the Colonial era. It houses such an amazing collection of historical memorabilia, prompting a journey to a by-gone era.

What adds to the uniqueness of this a hotel is the room Rabindranath Tagore used to spend his time while visiting Shillong and one can be in unison with the thoughts behind why the the state Meghalaya was named “the abode of clouds” 

A morning walk along the flowering blossoms was followed by a flavourful breakfast in the garden. We then jostled through narrow lanes to get out of the city towards Laitlum gorge.

It was not the ideal day to visit the gorge for the views, but definitely to frolic with the clouds and in the rain.

We got some sun on our was back as we headed south towards Cherrapunjee. The landscape has a distinct resemblance to the Tuscan countryside, don’t you agree?

Pit stop for a local lunch thali ….food coma again !

 

We reached Cherrapunjee by tea time, just enough time to explore the underground world of caves. The hills of Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia have a labyrinth of more than 750 caves in Meghalaya, out of which only 150 have been explored. The Mawsmai Cave is open to visitors and the lime and sandstone patterns and formations due to erosion by water will leave you awestruck.

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We reached our resort the Polo Orchid , just in time to catch last rays of the sun and unwind. The rooms are pleasantly decorated in wood, with a distressed blue finish.

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All the three hotels described in this blog are truly unique in their location, decor and ambience and we would recommend none other if you visit this part of the world.

” We are all travellers in a way” – George Whitman

Exploring Georgia: Borjomi, Uplistsikhe,Mtskheta

“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,

to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks….” 

 

Helen Keller

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The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is a treasure trove of nature’s bounty. Astoundingly beautiful in this month as the foliage changes color, the coniferous park is also famous for its mineral water from springs in the Borjomi Gorge. 

 

 
I was particularly mesmerised by the charms of the autumn season as various shades of red, yellow, orange and brown could be appreciated here
We took a cable car ride to the top and wandered through the dense forests.
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,
to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks….” Helen Keller
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  Kahlil Gibran

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes  e.e. cummings

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.  Edna Jaques

 

 

I am in love with this world . . . I have climbed its mountains, roamed its forests, sailed its waters, crossed its deserts, felt the sting of its frosts, the oppression of its heats, the drench of its rains, the fury of its winds, and always have beauty and joy waited upon my goings and comings.  John Burroughs

Serenity in Sikkim

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My visit to Sikkim, the first to a Buddhist state is still etched in my mind. The land of monks and monasteries where one is greeted by fluttering prayer flags all along the mountainous route that give tranquility a whole new meaning. The name of Sikkim is derived from the term “Sukhim” meaning new “house” or “place” and the wanderbug in me was only delighted to discover surprises at every bend.

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The journey from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok winds through verdant green valleys and mesmerising vistas of the Eastern range of the Himalayas. One could just spend the day rejuvenating in the fresh mountain air and discovering amazing local food options on M G road> Must include places in your itineray without which no visit is complete

 

Rumtek monastery

 

 

 

The Dharma Chakra Centre is the largest monastery in Sikkim exemplifying the great Tibetan architecture and is almost a replica of the original one in Tibet.

 

 

The blizzarding snow and yaks at Nathula pass

 

 

 

The frozen lake of Gurudongmar

 

 

Lachung Valley

 

 

 

227080_10150238016852744_3212355_n.jpgChang is the local brew

Beyond sushi; Foodie trail in Japan discovering okonomiyaki, gyozas and more

Japan really has a treasure trove of food options to explore, each town has some culinary specialities of its own. Let me take you on a gastronomic journey, sampling some authentic fare that was really a feast for the senses at pocket-friendly prices.

Vegetarians, hang on, there is a lot for you here too. Just make sure that you download this very useful picture and save it on your phone so you can show it as soon as you enter an restaurant and they will guide you with appropriate options on their menu. This is an important part of your survival kit, then life is sorted !

Hiroshima

Hiroshima-style onomiyaki actually a delicious layered Japanese savoury noodle dish topped with cabbage, green onion, bean sprouts and seafood with pork. Vegetarian options also available. The chef will make it in front of you and the traditional way is to eat it is with a spatula.

Quaff off with some Kirin beer. Crunch on some kaki fry (deep-fried) oysters fresh from the sea that Hiroshima is famous for. There are many food joints to chose from. We had our lunch at Nagata-ya restaurant, not to far from the Hiroshima Peace Park. You will leave satiated, smacking your lips. Trust me.

MIYAJIMA

The island of Miyajima is a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, a picturesque spot to spend the evening.

It has a reputation for the best seafood (for obvious reasons). Strolling along the waterfront, snack on some scrumptious oyster curry bread here.

Vegetarians can relish the Miyajima croissant rusk with a hot coffee. Many sake shops and other local Japanese souvenirs here to buy as well

BULLET TRAIN BENTO BOXES

Whilst dashing from one city to the other on the super fast bullet trains, don’t forget to try the ekibens.

You can grab one at stands on the station platform or on the train itself. Vegetarian show your sign but chances are you will be declined and you may have to settle for a beverage and chips instead.

KYOTO

Wagyu (Japanese cow) beef

This is the star of gastronomy of Kyoto.There are different varieties, all so delicious and come with step-by-step instruction card on how to eat them. Food court at the top of Kyoto station or Yodabashi store has many eateries with hearty meals.( Vegetarians have other options !)

Osaka

An evening in Osaka isn’t complete if you are not in Dotonbori. The electric streets with neon lights has a lot of food options, especially for crab lovers.

We chose to get away from the glitter and glow to amble along the canal that gives you a bit of a Europe-like feel. Dinner at this family run restaurant was a real treat and the hosts made you feel at home. Even though their English wasn’t so good, the smiles and hospitality made up for it.

Top places to see Cherry Blossoms in Japan in Spring

The cherry blossom flowering in spring or the Sakura season is dependent on the snowfall, temperatures of the preceding winter and the geographical location. Generally, the milder the climate, the earlier the blossoms open. In most of the major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place from the last week of March to early April and that is really the time to be in these cities for Hanami (cherry blossom festival).

TOKYO

Imperial castle:

The grounds and the moats surrounding the grand palace is the most grandiose setting for Hanami. There are more sakura trees in the inner parts of the gardens as well where the former Edo Castle was present.

Chidorigafuchi Moat:

Memorise this tongue-twisting name as you cant afford to miss the mind blowing sight of the bowers of flowers and their reflections in the waters of the moat to the west of the Imperial Palace. Especially pretty here at sunset.

OSAKA

Osaka Castle:

The symbol of Osaka is undoubtedly the best Hanami spot in this bustling city. There are more than 4000 cherry trees on the spacious grounds surrounding Osaka Castle. Take leisurely walk here or ride the road train up to the castle for the best selfie spots. Nishinomaru Park in the castle’s western part with green lawns and views of the castle tower that light up in the evening is a great place to have a picnic. There is also a plum grove here with over a 100 varieties of plum blooms to admire.

HIROSHIMA

When you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the Atomic Park dome, the woebegone symbols of war and destruction and the whole saga of 6th August 1945 unfolds itself before your eyes and leaves you in a very melancholy mood. Stroll down the riverside and you be comforted to see families of the local people of this city having a picnic underneath the cherry blossoms. Join them or go across the river for the “soul food” of Hiroshima or the piping hot Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for lunch.

KYOTO

Maruyama Park

In the heart of Gion lies the Yasaka Shrine. The park behind offers a green solace and it is the city’s most popular place for cherry blossom viewing. A pleasant place to stroll in the morning as well when there is a cool nip in the air.

Riverside:


The banks of the Kamo River are a favorite place for Kyotoites to relax, stroll, cycle, play ball games, picnic and of course pose for a picture beneath the cherry blossoms. All the tourists don rented kimonos and hairpieces to strike a pose here.

Shijo Dori:

The main street of Gion has many interesting cafes, eateries and of course cherry blossom spots for all the Instagram queens! Some had even hired a professional photographer for an exclusive shoot. Now that’s a good way to preserve these priceless memories forever.

Higashi Hongan-ji or the Eastern Temple :

The grandest head temple in Kyoto is just a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station and the entire boulevard is full of cherry blossoms. Grab some food from the food courts around and have a picnic underneath the trees.

Fushimi Inari :

The pink and white blossoms offset against the bright red of colors of the shrine and the toriis paint a pretty picture. Rendezvous with some more as you stroll along the romantic riverside behind.

HAKONE

The entire route from Odawara station to Hakone is embellished with cherry trees in full bloom.However if you take the Limited Express Romancecar or the scenic mountain railway, as the name suggests, the journey is even more ethereal

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Kodak zen moment: Plum blossoms in a zen garden….

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Spring time is the time for other flowers too…here are some bright yellow daffodils that said “Konichiwa” to me outside my hotel every day !

 

Around Kyoto with Taichi

The red, green and gold tour of must-visit locations around Kyoto was most interesting because of our friendly guide for the day Taichi Asami. A university student, who volunteers with Kyoto greeters to show foreign tourists his city, his way..

A lot of emails had gone back and forth between us to chose these three most popular spots around Kyoto. Yet Taichi had promised we would break free from the stereotype tours here and do the different on his local food tours.

We were excited to met him at the Yamadaya ryokan where we were staying close to the station and he helped us navigate the crowds to reach the platform of the suburban trains we were to board for our tour of the surrounding areas of the city

First stop : Gimme Red : Fushimi inari shrine

A truly remarkable shrine that boasts of 10,000 vermilion red Torii’s (traditional Japanese red gates) that snake it’s way up the hill.At the summit is the shrine in honour of Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity. Hence visited by devotees from the business community and individuals thankful for their prosperity.

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Each torii has the name of the donor inscribed on its left.There is a feeling of bliss as you walk through this long tunnel of torii which is truly one of the most iconic visions of Kyoto.

All that energetic climbing up and down (albeit half way) the hill had left us ravenous for food and it was sheer delight to exit into the food alley. Taichi helped us chose the right food (Vegetarian mochi rice cakes on a stick for Jaydeep). Lots of grilled meaty delights topped with mayonnaise here. Munching on the sticks we walked back to the station to board the train to our next site.

Second stop : Go green : Arashiyama bamboo forest

 

 

 

Third stop : Golden temple : Kinkakuji