Azerbaijan-Things to know

Introduction:

Azerbaijan, the land of fire, the pearl of Caucasus is located in the Caucuses region. It is an ex Soviet Muslim country. This country is a real blend of east and west, all thanks to its interesting location. It is located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. If you want to experience modernity with rich culture that too in a budget, Azerbaijan is the country to visit. Lets see the location of Azerbaijan on the world map:

Azerbaijan on world map

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan combines both tradition and modernity. Azerbaijan shares land borders with Turkey, Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia.

Top places to visit in Azerbaijan:

  • Icheri Seher is the walled City of Baku. Also, a UNESCO World Heritage site which should be a must visit place.
Credits: www.wikiwand.com
  • Maiden Tower-One of the oldest buildings in Baku where the views are amazing from top.
View at Maiden Tower in Down Town of Baku, Azerbaijan
Picture credits: www.spe.org
  • Heyder Aliyev Centre-An arts museum and conference center designed by Zaha Hadid.
Picture credits: Azerbaijan.travel
  • Yanar Dag- Meaning Burning Mountain where you can still see natural gas fire in action.
Picture credits: www.flickr.com
  • Baku Seaside Park and Boulevard-Beautiful walk along the waterfront.
Picture credits: www.dookinternational.com
  • Flame Towers-Inspired by the ancient practice of fire worship, the 3 glass skyscrapers are the tallest structure of Baku.
  • Ateshgah Fire Temple-An ancient holy place for fire worshipers. Was initially famous due to the natural phenomenon of leaking of natural gas. Now open for tourists attracting them with artificial fires.
Picture credits: www.booksfact.com
  • Carpet Museum-The museum showcases rich collection of artifacts and carpets and also operates as a place of extensive research of traditional carpet weaving art.
  • Bibiheybat Mosque-Major monument of Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan.
Picture credits: www.diarystor.com
  • Gobustan National Park-UNESCO World Heritage site known for its petroglyphs or rock carvings.
Picture credits: Azerbaijan24.com
  • Mud Volcanoes-An interesting phenomenon where there is no lava involved, just eruption of mud from deep within the earth’s surface.
Picture credits: Nature.new7wonders.com

The list in Azerbaijan is endless. This modern country with the warmest of people is definitely a place to visit if you are looking for something new. Please leave a comment on how you liked this blog!

Places to visit in St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg is undoubtedly a stunningly picturesque place to visit for anyone who is a history and architecture enthusiast. A city which has its old world charm with Cathedrals and Palaces and an equally rocking nightlife. The city caters to all. I loved the city for its canals, opulent and grand Palaces that speak royalty and for pretty cafes where you can sit and have a glass of beer and Shisha!

So, coming back to what places worth visiting in St. Petersburg, I would recommend certain places that I loved and certain mandatory places that everyone who has landed in St. Petersburg would want to explore.

Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace):

Showcasing the art and culture of the Emperors and Empresses of the Russia. An epitome of brilliant and magnificent architecture.

Winter Palace from Palace Square
The highly ornate baroque architecture - Hermitage Museum
Beautiful archways of Hermitage Museum
Peterhof Grand Palace and Summer Palace:

The beautiful upper and lower gardens with fountains laid out at the time of Peter the Great.

Peterhof Palace on a rainy day
Beautiful fountains at the Peterhof Palace
Summer Palace
Peter and Paul Fortress:

Another great museum to see. I did not chance upon this one due to lack of time. Saw this closely while on our canal ride.

The Peter and Paul Fortress
St. Isaac Cathedral:

Russia by large follows Orthodox Christianity. A look into the interiors will give a splendid and impressive view of the sculptures, columns, mosaics and paintings which dates back to 18th century.

St. Isaac CathedralSt. Isaac Cathedral
Inside view of the marvelous Cathedral

Its all in the details

Kazan Cathedral:

Cathedral with huge stone colonnade and massive interiors. Again a visual delight.

Kazan Cathedral
Interiors of Kazan Cathedral
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood:

The iconic Church that every person must have gone through while planning a trip to Russia. I was thrilled and amazed beyond words to see this humongous Church.

The iconic Church of the Savior on Blood
Beautiful interiors of the Church of the Savior
Nevsky Propect:

For all the entertainment, music bands performing, pretty cafes, bars and canal views. Walk as far as you can for as long as you can!

Nevsky Prospect by day
Nevsky Prospect by night
Canal Ride:
Postcard view of the Canal
Crossing the canal

 

 

10 Tips to travel Russia hassle free!

Russia, the country is synonymous with great Vodka, beers, gorgeous looking girls and ladies, rocking nightlife, opulent architecture and history, Matryoshkas dolls etc. and the list is endless. It is rightly called the gateway to Europe because of its impressive touch of European culture and architecture specially in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the capital city.

St. Isaac Catherdral, St. Petersburg

Being one of the most beautiful countries to visit, the fact remains that it is still one of the most challenging countries to visit. You may wonder why? Here are some tips that can really help Indian travelers to enjoy this beautiful country to bits!

  1. Language is the biggest and by far the most challenging thing in Russia. You may struggle to book a cab, order food in a restaurant (specially if you’re a vegetarian), board a metro etc etc. Russians barely know English and it becomes a daunting task to explain them what you want. So, always keep a translator on and ask them what you wish to know.
  2. The weather specially in St. Petersburg and Moscow (considering the months August and September) is quite unpredictable. It can be sunny and windy in the morning, rainy and wet in the evening and chilly at night! So pack well and always carry an umbrella with you whenever you go.

    Under my Umbrella!
  3. Moscow is well connected with Metro but you need to first understand the Metro route quite thoroughly or you will have a tough time asking people where to go with people giving replies such as “No English” or blank faces in return. Once you go a few places on your own, you will be a champ then!

    A Metro Station in Moscow
  4. Uber and various other Taxi operators run throughout Moscow so you can commute by taxi as well. But booking a cab is also a task as the cab drivers rarely reach the destination. In Moscow specially, you have pickup points for every place so you need to stand at that pickup point for the taxi to come which means you got to walk a lot! Its difficult to explain your location over the phone as you need to know Russian for them to understand. I would suggest not to take taxis as it is one of the spoilers in the trip to this beautiful country. Taxis are advisable only for to and fro transfers to the airport.
  5. Before heading to Russia, you need to read various blogs (like mine!) to understand the dynamics of the country. It is mentioned on various public forums that the crime rates have augmented in recent years and pick pocketing and robberies are a common phenomenon in Russia specially in tourist places and bars/clubs/cafes. Though, we did not witness any such thing and it was pretty safe even late nights but its better to consider these things in mind before visiting any place. Carry less cash to tourist places and drink sensibly when you are in a foreign country is the best policy.
  6. We did not come across great shopping. (Luxury shopping is the same throughout the globe) This is our personal experience. You will just find souvenir shopping everywhere. So, don’t be a hurry to shop them as you will find it just about anywhere and everywhere.

    Matryoshka Dolls
  7. Russia is said to be a Vodka Hub. But you will equally find a lot of options for Beer and Wine too. There are a lot of cafes and bars serving Kaliyan/Hookah/Shishas as well. Night life is great in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is very lively in the evening and you will love to stroll around and see the locals performing music and dance. It is just amazing!
  8. The GUM Mall in Moscow boasts of freshly made ice cream and is quite popular among tourists. You can find this little shop at the ground floor of the Mall. Lemonade of different varieties are also available and said to be worth a try.

    Ice Cream at GUM Mall
  9. The hotels generally do not have the plug point for our Iphones and Samsung phones. You could carry a adapter plug with you or just ask your hotel to provide one.
  10. And lastly, get hold of the maps of the city and if you catch hold of an English speaking guy/gal, just mark down everything you want to ask. This will indeed be of great help to you!

    The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral

I hope the Russian guide for Indian travelers will be pretty helpful for the ones who are looking to travel to Russia!

 

 

Rhino’s home: Kaziranga, All that you want to know!

“This earth was made for all beings not just Human beings.” Isn’t this so true! The flora and fauna around us also live and thrive much like us. The wildlife in India is very diverse in nature and holds great importance in our ecosystem. There are some very rare and exotic species found only in India that are worth a visit. Some of these are:

  1. Bengal Tigers
  2. Asiatic Lion
  3. Black Buck
  4. One Horned Rhinoceros
  5. Nilgiri Tahr
  6. Snow Leopard
  7. Lion tailed Macaque

So, on a trip to North east of India, I opted for visiting Kaziranga National Park, the land of one horned Rhinos. Kaziranga is a UNESCO world heritage site and is definitely a must visit place for wildlife enthusiasts.

 

Credits: Financial Express

How to reach Kaziranga?

The only way to reach Kaziranga is by road either by bus or car. It would take approximately 5-7 hours depending on the roads. The roads in this part of India are bumpy with potholes. There is no railway station in Kaziranga so its better to opt for bus or rental cars.

Where to stay?

There are all sorts of resorts depending on the choice, budget and location(Eastern, Central, Western Ranges have different hotel types). There are budget to luxury resorts to homestays catering to all.

When to go?

Months starting November ending April are the best time to visit Kaziranga’s one horned rhinoceros and other animals. During Monsoons, the park is closed for outsiders. No Safari jeeps ply inside during this time. However, you can walk a little to see whatever you can catch hold of. If lucky, you might see the Rhinos and elephants and other birds in a distance.

What to do?

You can enjoy an elephant ride or can book a Jeep safari at ticket counters of different gates. The best is to contact the hotel to arrange such safaris and elephant rides for a hassle free trip.

Hope you find the blog informative. Comment below to let me know!

Misty Mussoorie-Things to keep in mind for better stay!

What comes to your mind when you think of Mussoorie? The surreal weather that just feeds your heart and soul, the panoramic views with every twist and turns, some good old convent schools and home to writer’s paradise.  Mussoorie is popularly been called the Queen of the hills. The scenic drives with cloudes all over makes you wonder if you are in a fairyland! The weather does some kind of magic here and entralls you.

Mussoorie view

In my case, I just love the Mussoorie vibes, the picturesque views, hill side dhabas serving Maggi and chai, the never ending Mall Road, hotels at every nook and corner, the famous Kempty fall and the list is endless…Mussoorie is definitely an overcrowded, commercial, busy yet beautiful hill station that has its charm.

Few things to keep in mind while traveling to Mussoorie are:

  1. Consider the location of hotel if going by your own vehicle. Hotels located on Mall Road have very small parking generally and there are chances that you get stuck in traffic during peak seasons.
  2. Consider staying near Library Chowk. It is ideally the most convenient location as all important places such as the Mall Road, Bus stand, entry and exit from Mussoorie is easy.
  3. While booking online, look for parking in hotels. Hotels without parking are slightly cheap as compared to the ones with parking. So, if you are not travelling by your own, why pay extra?
  4. If travelling in monsoon season, Umbrella is must. The Mall Road is never ending so its better to have umbreallas on when its pelting with rain.
  5. Bargain at all shops selling wooden items, woolens and all things fashionable. Tibetan market also has a lot of scope for bargain.
  6. Both Mussoorie and Landour are famous for their peanut butter, jams, honey, home made cheese and preserves. Don’t forget to devour these when you here.

I hope these tips come handy for a better stay! Comment below for anything else you wish to talk about on Mussoorie.

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts for first timers in Vrindavan

If you are going Vrindavan for the first time, chances are that you can get stuck in many places. Here are some do’s and don’ts that can help a first timer sail smoothly!

1) If you going by your car to Vrindavan, make sure that you park your car in the hotel/guest house/Ashram etc. Vrindavan is easily accessible by e-rickshaws and autos. The e-rickshaws will take you from one temple to another easily and they charge nominal amount per person. Taking your car to every temple is a headache as you have to first find a parking and then walk as well till the temple.

2) Beware of pickpocketers in the temples specially the crowded ones like Banke Bihari temple. You literally get drifted in the crowd and you may not even realise when your wallet or gold chain is gone!

3) Monkeys at times become a big nuisance for the people visiting Vrindavan. Do not wear sunglasses or spectacles where you see monkeys. These monkeys snatch your sunglasses and you will have to bribe them by giving something to drink or eat. Yes! This is true! We witnessed such incidents where the monkeys took away the spectacles from people around. They literally pleaded the monkey to return it back. The shopkeepers then tell you to buy something and give it to the monkey.

4) Whenever visiting any religious place, make sure that you have enough cash in hand. Debit/Credit cards etc. work less in such places.       Whether you want to try street shopping, eat at dhabas, pay to rickshawalas, pay for Pooja Samagri, everything needs cash. So, keep cash handy.

5) Before visiting any temple, cross check with various sources for the temple timings. There are temples closing from 10:30 am in the morning to 12:30 am in the afternoon and in the same way for evenings as well. At times, people fool you with wrong timings as well and you land you reaching the temple sans Darshan!

6) Never ever come in the influence of people outside temples who say they would help you visit such and such temples and will tell you the history of the temples. Chances are that in the end they will dupe you with making charity for cows, widowed women etc etc. If you wish to pay charity then its fine, otherwise beware!

This is my first hand experience of Vrindanvan. Do let me know in the comments below if you wish to add any!

 

Vrindavan Diaries

Somebody aptly said, “Travel!! Before you run out of time”.

It was a Long weekend and we decided to go to Vrindavan this time, the land of Lord Krishna. Considering the distance, it was the closest outing from Noida which we had not explored! The Yamuna expressway has eased out the traffic and the highway is awesome for riders and four wheelers.

It takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours to reach Vrindavan Dham. We reached at around 12:30 in the afternoon and decided to visit Banke Bihari temple and then head to our hotel. The tiny lanes with huge traffic of e-rickshaws, cars, two wheelers made us reach the temple at around 2 p.m. Little did we realise that each temple has their timings to visit!  Bad luck of ours, we decided to check in into our hotel. There are all kinds of Ashrams, guest houses, low and medium budget hotels spread all over Vrindavan. You can choose a hotel in proximity to any of the temples. We chose to stay near Prem Mandir as we had heard a lot about the temple. The hotel prices were skyrocketing, thanks to the long weekend! Otherwise, you get a fairly cheap hotel.

We had a nice vegetarian meal and took a nap in the afternoon. At around 4:30 pm we decided to visit ISKON temple. We took an e-rickshaw and reached ISKON. The temple was flooded with huge queues and at once we were like how do we get in there. Bravely, we moved in the queue and reached inside. It is pretty much managed inside. We could hear the voices chanting “Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare”. It was just DIVINE. A group of foreigners and Indians with their instruments were chanting and dancing in devotion and they were surrounded by a huge mass all singing in a rhythm. It was mesmerizing, just short of words to describe what it felt like.

 

From there, we went to Prem Mandir, the most talked about temple to be visited in the evening. Prem Mandir looks beautiful and surreal in the evening. The entry is always a tough one in all temples but once you get in there, you wonder, how huge, how humongous the temple and its premises are. Took several pictures here and we were dead tired visiting these two temples only. We roamed around the market in front of Prem Mandir before heading to the hotel.

The next day, early morning, we decided to visit Banke Bihari temple, one of the most popular temple that is on every devotees and non devotee’s list. Like I said, the entry is quite rough in most of the temples but we reached Banke Bihari, it was horrifying! No queues, no management, no one to guide us how to get inside. It was so maddening and the only way to get inside was just bump into the crowd and go with the flow! All our Bhakti was lost as we were trying to make a place to have a five second or even less of Darshan of Banke Bihariji. Thankfully, it was off our list and we had a fairly  good Darshan. After this, we went to few other temples like Nidhivan, Shri RadhaVallabhji temple among others.

Vrindavan truly is a great pilgrimage for devotees and holds an important place in the religious frontiers of India. A must visit during Holi where you see the whole of Vrindavan drenched in colours.

 

How Staycation has changed the idea of traveling!

You don’t need to travel far to take a break! You don’t need to take that extra mile to relax! Don’t we all think this way once in a while. The city life is hectic and frantic and we all need a break to detox our body and just rejuvenate. But travelling 250kms to 300kms or even more one side just to relax is not a good idea either at times! (exception being if you love to go on a drive!) So, what do we do?

Image credits: Common Sense with Money

We take a “Staycation” or a “Holistay”. According to Matt Wixon, a writer, Staycation means a vacation in which the vacationer stays..near home while creating the environment of a traditional vacation. It means getting out of the rut of your daily life.

This has become quite a rage for the urbanites these days who just want to move out of their homes, go on a vacation to chill and relax. Its actually a blend of “Stay” and  “Vacation” at the same time. The idea is to relax and travel in and around your city or vicinity. For people living in NCR, they can choose properties in Gurugram, Delhi, Faridabad, Manesar, Noida etc.

Benefits of Staycation:

-You don’t have to plan in advance as with places which are far off from the city. No bookings needed other than the property you want to stay and experience.

-Travel time is cut short as you choose to stay just in and around the city.

-Comparatively less packing involved as you know your area and climate well.

-Affordable on the wallet as rail/air etc. bookings need not to be taken care of.

-Recreational and sports activities are generally arranged for all age groups to give that feel of a vacation.

-Do not have to spend extra moolah to pamper yourself!

In short a complete value for money deal for each and everyone!! You can check various websites such as Nearbuy, Nightstay, Makemytrip etc for such deals. So, what are we waiting for? Do let me know if you happen to take such a vacation experience in the comments below.

Also read: Lansdowne from a Mountain lover’s view!

Revisiting Rishikesh after 7 years only to find that Nothing has changed since then!

“Traveling is not something you’re good at. It’s something you do. Like breathing.”

Often it happens with most of us that a place we have visited recently goes last on our list of places to visit next. We always wish to travel new places, new countries, new islands etc etc. But then, there are places which we loved and crave to get there once more! Rishikesh and Goa in India are places that are close to my heart and I would love to revisit them time and again. So, it took me 7 years to get back to Rishikesh! I always thought of visiting it in between, but then my mind always said, Lets’ explore a new place, but this very time I thought, No, just Rishikesh!

So, it was a long weekend and the monsoons were at its peak. We started off early morning and covered a good stretch by 9 AM. The weather was lovely as the rains started by the time we reached Khatauli. Stopped at Namaste India group for our morning cuppa tea. It got greener as we entered Roorkee. Plus the rains added to the beauty of Roorkee and places thereafter.

As we came close to Haridwar, I got really excited to see the Holy Ganga and its Ghats, Har ki Paudi, Shivji’s grand statue, Dharamshalas, everything that Haridwar is all about. There is so much faith and religious beliefs attached to the place and you feel so mesmerized at once and chant Om Namay Shivay!! We did not halt at Haridwar as the destination was just few kilometers away!

In about an hour we reached our destination, the Yoga and rafting capital as many people say. Much to my suprise, the place did not change a bit!!! Same old parking before Ram jhula, petite shops of malas and clothing, cows all around, the calmess in the air, chanting of mantras, scenic view of Ganga from every nook and corner, evening aarti at the ghats..nothing has changed since then. I was so nostalgic and spell bound to see the places as it is. It seemed life is still here and will always be. People will come and go but this place has seen the test of time and not left its true identity. I was awestruck all through our stay and the memory still lingers when I write this post.

Rishikesh stay the same for we love you!

 

Also read: 7 reasons why foreigners love coming to Rishikesh!

7 reasons why foreigners love coming to Rishikesh!

Rishikesh is fondly called the Yoga capital of India. With Ganga in the backdrop, this place is a gem in itself. There is smething in the air that gets to you that makes you feel calm and relaxed, such is the aura of the place! You would find spiritual seekers, yogis, trainers, teachers, pandits etc. from all walks of life. Foreigners come here, live like locals, imbibe the spiritual and ayurvedic life and go back home enriched and soul rich. Come lets explore why is Rishikesh on almost every foreigner’s list:

Rishikesh

  • Yoga and Meditation

There are a lot of ashrams with different programs running throughout the year. Foreigners generally enrol for Yoga, Yoga teacher training programs, meditation courses before hand. Then there are courses according to duration of stay as well for both the foreigners and locals.

  •  Music and Dance

People who visit India generally come on a long holiday, so they try to make the best out of it. Rishikesh is full of dance/Kathak classes, vocational singing classes and music classes. People love the culture and diversity of our country and take that piece of learning with them. A good lot of people who come here for a long stay learn hindi and speak fluently giving we Indians a competition!

  • Spirituality and Devotion

Going through the streets of Rishikesh, you would hear mantras and devotional songs sung by both Indians and foreigners in every nook and corner. They chant of the Shambu, the Great Lord Shiva and it feels so divine that words fall short to express. People love Shivay for all reasons and come to Rishikesh to experience it. Evening aarti at Parmeth Ashram, Triveni Ghat and others sways your heart in delight and devotion.

Evening Aarti

  • Cafes overlooking Ganga  (majorly Lakshman Jhula)

Lakshman Jhula is flooded with petite cafes overlooking Ganga which gives a mesmerizing view. Come, sit, enjoy free wifi and repeat! That’s an everyday rountine here with foreigners. You would find lip smacking Italian, Israeli, Lebanese, Mexican food in these cafes. Some cafes have small bohomein cloth shops, junk and antique jewelry and tattoo shops attached to them where you can shop and buy cheap stuff.

Cafe

  • Adventure sports

Rishikesh is also predominently known for water sports. Experience river rafting, camping, hiking, bungee jumping that these companies offer to locals and foreigners. It will certainly charge up for adrenaline! Rishikesh is the best River rafting destination in India.

  • A glimpse of India

This quaint town has a history to know, culture and diversity to experience, adventure sports to enjoy, scenic views to savor, and Yoga and other ayurvedic retreats to cleanse your soul. What else one would want?

  • Ayurveda and Spa

People come here for various types of ayurvedic healing, reiki and energetic healing and then there are Spa of all kinds to relax and cleanse your body. Foreigners are far more aware of the ayurvedic side of Rishikesh and come here to rejenuvate their inner self.

I don’t think any foreigner who came to Rishikesh was ever disppointed! Do let me know of your views about Rishikesh. Until then “Om Namay Shivay”