Chandannagar to Bandel- A day out to remember

Being a bong, feeling restless every few weeks just to go out and breathe some fresh air is a second nature for me. So keeping in mind all sorts of parental curfews and restrictions, I still managed to plan a day out within the curfew limits (think restrictions to how long you stay out and who you go out with to where you are going). Chandannagar seemed to be the perfect place that fitted my criteria and the trip was chalked out soon. I am glad I did not think of a solo trip as usual and went out with a friend who is almost equally crazy about travelling- you will find out soon why having someone as company helped.

The plan- theoretically

We planned to head out really early at around 6am in the morning to make sure that even if any unwanted hindrance does occur, we still have enough time to all the places and come back home in time too. The primary attraction of the town include the Chandannagar museum, the Sacred heart church, Patalbari and the Strand. Chandannagar was the only place we had in mind.

The day out in reality

So, first we reached the Howrah station in record time around 6:45 in the morning and looked for the first Bandel local that was scheduled at the earliest. We ended up on an unreserved train that was supposed to go to Chandannagar but were scheduled to leave much later. The chaos began as we almost forgot our bags on this train as we ran to get on the Bandel local that had arrived on another platform. We finally managed to get on the right train with everything and being the early morning train, it made before time to the destination station. We were at Chandannagar by 8 am.

From the station we took an auto to the ferry ghat. From the ferry ghat the strand, the sacred heart church and the Chandannagar museum and the Patalbari are all in one direction and close by. It is about ten minutes walk from the ferry ghat along the Ganges to reach the strand which is right opposite to the Chandannagar museum. The way to Sacred heart is easy enough. The road beside the Chandannagar college leads to the Sacred heart Church and Google Map was cooperative enough to provide accurate locations so far to us. The Chandannagar college is right beside the museum.

However the real trouble was not with direction but with time- we reached too early even for the church to open. So we had to spend approximately one and a half hour loitering around. This would have been hard enough if any of us had come alone. The sacred heart church opens at 9 am. The major attraction of the church is its history. Some of the oldest recorded graves during the french colonial times in chandannagar are also there within the church compound.

The Strand is a beautiful structure that is a fine specimen of the blend of French and Indian architecture and the serenity of the location make it a pleasant view of the town. The Patalbari is within your visual range from here. The house has its own history and noted as a home where Rabindranath Tagore had resided for a while. However the home is not open to public and someone actually stays in the house and the owner’s family lives across the street. So whether there are rooms below the water level was something we did not get to witness personally. So that was another disappointment.

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Our next stop was the Sacred heart church. Early in the morning we were the only people who came there as tourists. The church is homely and the detailed glass paintings are particularly beautiful. The oldest recorded grave is there right behind the church and the entire church compound is well maintained and beautiful.

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The Chandannagar museum opens at 11am or supposed to be open by 11am officially but it was finally opened around 11:30am when the employees arrived at last. Till then, we spent loitering around the museum lawns and the building itself which is a very beautiful French architecture and a sight to behold anyway. The graveled path, the really thick pillars along a long and sunny corridor was a fine sight indeed. The museum which at first appeared small actually holds quite a large number of artifacts and paintings which are very valuable. There are various manuscripts and specimens of the French colonial period that the museum holds but sadly their conservation and maintenance is not up to the mark. The French library and the duplex room are also part of the museum. The duplex room houses some very valuable and beautiful furniture and antiques from the French era.

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However exploring the museum took us about an hour and by 12pm we had nothing more to explore- not at least in Chandannagar. So we started looking up other places to go along the river and there was Bandel and regions of Hooghly. We chalked out our next part of the trip as we searched around for a restaurant for lunch. One we had lunch; we again head off for Bandel.

One can go to Bandel by train from the Chandannagar station. That is the most straight forward option for a newcomer. But the other convenient option that we found from the locales is by road. Take a tracker to “Khajnar More” and from there one can get auto to Bandel more that is the cross road between the station road and the one leading toward the church. Once you reach here, you would find numerous auto towards the church from this point. The auto we took from Khajnar more actually said that there would not be any option to go to the church and that the best choice would be reserving the auto for going to both the Bandel church and the Hooghly Imam Bara. However the Bandel church is 10minutes auto ride from this region and one would not be disappointed at the grandeur of the structure.

The Bandel church is a specimen of Portuguese architecture dated in 15th century and it is much larger than the Chandannagar church. The church compound is beautiful and one can even go to the terrace of the church. The view of the Jubilee bridge from the terrace and the sparkling Ganges under the midday sun is soothing. Like any average tourist I am not a history buff and I liked the location, the beautiful structure and the overall magnitude of the building no doubt but much of the history has just bounced off my head.

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The next stop was the Hooghly Imam Bara. One can reach the Imam Bara by auto from the front gate of the Bandel church but a more serene and beautiful option are the boats which ferry from the makeshift ferry behind the church. There are boatmen at the gate of the church itself who would ask you to opt for the boat but it is better to go to the ferry yourself and talk directly with the boatmen. The rates they tell starts from 200 approx and then with much haggling settle for 100, which is still expensive for the distance they are covering but it is worth the cost. The Hooghly Imam Bara dates into the 12th century. The location is beautiful right by the Ganga and the Imam Bara has a very serene ambience about it. There is a sun dial outside the imam Bara, though I found the view from the clock towers of the imam Bara overlooking the river and the entire Imam Bara more rewarding, though the climb up spiraling stairs seemed eternal and never ending as I climbed up.

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The trip came to an end as we proceeded to go to the station from here. The Bandel station can be reached from the imam Bara by the battery cars that were on the road outside.  We came back to Kolkata by 6:30 in the evening.

My conclusion

First, I guess we should have started at least 2 hours later to ensure that we did not have to sit or loiter around waiting for the museums to open. The second thing we could have done was plan visiting Bandel first since it seemed more interesting than the places in Chandannagar. Then lastly, I am thankful I planned to go out with someone and not alone- I would have been bored sitting around and would never have had the enthusiasm to plan on the go and keep pushing myself for going around to the new places.  The Chandannagar and Bandel trip is a perfect plan for a day out when you have to be back home within a decent time.

Top things to do in pahalgam- the beginning of the journey

 

Pahalgam was the first place in our trip plan. After the sweltering heat of Jammu, we were more than eager to go to some place cold. Till the journey began, our trip felt like driving o first gear on the highway. Our pickup was scheduled at 5 am but ultimately after some minor tension whether the guy in charge is at all going to turn up, we began our journey around 6:30 am. If you are planning a trip between Jammu and Pahalgam by road, then try and begin the journey as early as possible. It is almost 300km and takes 12hours on an average in ideal situation.

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betaab valley from the top

 

We reached the hotel at Pahalgam around 9:30pm at night as we were stuck in traffic for hours on the way. The road itself is very adventurous but hot during this time of the year and extremely dusty. But as soon as you gain some altitude, the variety of the view from rocky terrains to green mountains compensate the discomfort of the journey. Here are few things we did and I feel is worth doing in Pahalgam.

  1. Picnic by the Lidder River

We were short of time extremely given that we reached almost 6 hours late of what we had actually expected. So as much as I would have loved to picnic there, we did not get the time. But the ambience by the Lidder is splendid- the water is crystal clear and you can spend hours simply watching the water break on the rocks. We stayed at a hotel much higher on the mountains and it was rather isolated from the central commercial area of Pahalgam and we could hear the water gushing down the river at night. The Lidder valley’s main attraction is the natural beauty. Sit by the river or walk down the bank, this is a place you will remember afresh for years ahead.

 

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The Lidder River

 

  1. Chandanwari

This is a point from Pahalgam which, I felt, is notable just because you can see ice-clad mountains here. The road to Chandanwari is beautiful and it is like a spiral curved up the mountain. However, I did not find the spot particularly appealing as such. It was crowded and had a number of shops and hotels and shacks here and there. The snow was rather grimy and muddy. There were facilities of sledging but it looked almost child’s play in so little snow. The view of the river from the snow clad mountain was appealing though, but in all, I did not find the place worth travelling for almost 1.5hours from Pahalgam.

 

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at Chandanwari

 

  1. Betaab valley

Located within the Ananth nag district, about 15 km away from Pahalgam, this place got its name from the movie “Betaab” which was filmed here. Now it has become a tourist attraction that is maintained and almost landscaped artificially. Again, this is another very crowded spot and there is a separate entrance fees for the place which is Rs.100 per person. You can get the view of the entire valley from a height on the road and that is a really beautiful experience. However, we chose not to enter the landscaped area.

Being too concerned about cold, we had made the mistake of layering sweaters and by this time, we were all feeling giddy with heat and our trip seemed to be on the verge of getting ruined. As we roamed about a bit outside the entrance, I located a small trail used by the shopkeepers here to get water from the river. You have to remove the nettle fencing to go on that road. My sister and I soon crossed that fence and we were technically within the boundaries of Betaab valley. At this point, with the pine forest on the banks of the river and less crowd, the true beauty of the place seems to exude thoroughly.

 

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Betaab valley

 

  1. Other places of interest

There were many places which one can cover centring Pahalgam and if we had time enough, I would have liked to go to Aru as well. The hotel where you stay in will have a rate chart for renting cars to these places. The rates are fixed and are rates fixed by the government. But make sure that you ask for this chart and should not entirely rely on the words of the staffs or your guide. Also, if you have a private car arranged for the trip, you would not be able to go on that to these places and it is mandatory that you get the local cars. There are some lakes as well which one can cover only if they are staying in Pahalgam for more than a day.

  1. go for a walk

Ditch the car and go for a walk as this is the perfect place for going on a walk. You never know what view you can come across on the way around this region. For me, it was the stretches of the valley which almost looked white with little daisy flowers, then watching the way the snow mountains seemed to peep through the pine trees or how the brooks break through the yards of people’s home and small make shift bridges over them. Then there were occasional chunks of snow here and there and how vast the valley looked from the top of the mountain and the play of light and shade as sun rays fell on one mountain that cast a shadow on another.

 

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a spot on the way to chandanwari

 

  1. Shopping in pahalgam

The market region is not large and there is no speciality which you can assign to this place alone. Since most of the items come from Srinagar itself, it would be better to avoid shopping here since you can get the same things at a lesser price in Srinagar.

However at Chandanwari, the locals come with baskets of freshly picked walnuts from the villages and the price is dirt cheap here. Understanding the quality is difficult but if you are lucky you can actually get superior quality of the nuts. We did. It was not the best but for 300 per Kg it was a bargain and they ripened completely when kept in the sun for a few days back in Kolkata. There is a place on the way to Srinagar which is notable for the dry fruits alone and the shops there are supposed to sell the best quality of the dry fruits. We stopped at such a place as well. While the product was truly good here, I would still recommend the locals at Chandanwari if you are particularly looking for walnuts.

  1. Sudden stops

We were on the way to Srinagar from Pahalgam and we stopped here and there on the way. One of the best places we stopped was a pine forest by the side of the road on the way to Srinagar. The beauty and the solitude of the place were enchanting. Another place that was truly interesting is the titanic view point which is a view of the entire Kashmir valley, 2 km beyond the Jawahar tunnel. We came across this point on our way to Pahalgam. If you have an eye for natural beauty and places which are still not a conventional tourist spot, then you will be able to spot a number of such stops on the way.

 

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the titanic view- the entire view of the kashmir valley

 

There are dhabas where you can stop by for food, roadside shacks for tea and similar attractions. One can find plenty such eateries on the way and depending on the time you can afford to spent, there are so many things you can do.

So have you been to these places? How was your experience? I feel each place deserved a week at least to truly savour its essence, instead of covering four locations in a week. I have shared what I know to the best of my knowledge and experience and additions are always welcome.

Bye for now and in my next post I will come up with a detailed journal of Srinagar so stay tuned and keep reading.

What You would Love about a trip in Kashmir and my experiences

Though a lover of the seas personally, I love to travel in whole. A trip to Kashmir has been long due and at last, we finally managed to plan it. Kashmir has always been elevated to a dreamland and heaven on earth status- to me, this was a bit of exaggeration until I actually visited the place. Summing up the entire trip into a single post would be impossible and this has been so far, one of my best trips.

Going away

So we started for the trip on 26th of April by Himgiri express and the train was scheduled to start from Howrah station at 12 am sharp. This is the best train that one can avail from the Howrah station to Jammu Tawai. The other train is Jammu Tawai express which takes twice the time to reach the destination. The other option for reaching Jammu and Kashmir is by air from Kolkata. We reached the destination station in 37 hours which is 1 hour more than the scheduled time of arrival.

 

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A view of the Bahu fort from Bahu Bagh- Jammu

 

The tour plan

We had decided to manage our holiday on our own but luckily dad decided against it in the last moment. So we opted for a package tour for 8 days that covered Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Srinagar. The trip started with a sightseeing of Jammu. Though we expected a cooler weather but Jammu in the month of April can compete and exceed Kolkata in terms of the heat. The first-day experience was not really what we were expecting. We met the person who would be taking us around Kashmir for the rest of the days. I would not say we were very optimistic when we met the guy but we were proved quite wrong over the next few days.

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Patnitop- this is a landscaped children’s park really but the views of the hills are splendid on the way

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The Lidder River-Pahalgam

 

Our experiences

There are so many experiences- big and small throughout this trip that it is difficult to compress all of it within a single post. So I would rather concentrate on a few pointers and suggestions that I have learnt from the overall experience of the trip.

The very first is, Kashmir is hot during April and may depending on the places you visit. Every day the road journey from one place to another in the morning almost reminded me of Kolkata. Once we reached the destinations which were above a certain altitude the temperature had decreased, but not on the way. The weather is extremely unpredictable in Kashmir. If it rains, the temperature drops drastically. Luckily we did not get any rain until the very last day of our trip.

 

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the snow clad mountains from pahalgam

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Betaab Valley- Sight seeing from pahalgam

 

If you visit any of the points like ice point in Gulmarg, the zero point from Sonamarg, places like Chandanwari- proper shoes and blazer is mandatory. I guess if we had the jackets suitable for the places, we could have simply rented the shoes alone.

 

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Thajiwas Glacier

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The road to Zero Point from Sonamarg

 

Opt for package trips rather than going on your own. At every point you would have to encounter people with whom you have to bargain about variety of things like rental for horses, for jeeps, for ice sports and the unrealistic amounts they quote cannot be bargained to a sensible price unless you have some local connections.

 

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ice point- gulmarg

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gulmarg

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sonamarg

 

Roads are unpredictable- there are always high chances that you would be held up by traffic or even by herds of sheep, goats and even horses. We had an idea that Jammu to Srinagar or Jammu to Pahalgam would be 8 hour journey roughly. But in reality, it is a minimum of 11-12 hours and by all means, it can be more but not less unless your driver drives like a madman. This is a really adventurous drive but no doubt, a hectic one. Halfway through the trip, there is a place called Patnitop which has a number of resorts and is perfect for resting in. You can even manage rooms on hour basis for just cleaning up and resting for a while but, I guess, this is a settlement entirely dependent on the understanding between the guide or driver you have and the resort managements.

 

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sunset on the dal lake- srinagar

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pine forest- on the way to sonamarg

 

Heavy tips are charged by everybody wherever you go- whether the staffs in hotel or even the horsemen whom you hire and even the drivers. Do not give away a 1000 or a 500 rupees note and expect the change if you are tipping and wish to tip moderately. The trend to keep the change and refuse to give it under several pretence is quite consistent at every place we went to.

Snow fighting is fun but up to a certain limit- you would definitely not enjoy the blisters you get from excessive clawing in the snow. If you want, get proper snow gloves and do not take inspiration from the local people and start clawing the snow bare handed. This can be tolerable for a few minutes but not for hours if you are planning on spending that long in the snow. My sister got blisters and I ended up with numb and stiff fingers.

If you really want to get the feel of ice sports like skiing, and sledging then Sonamarg is the best place- to be precise the zero point. The prices they quote are reasonable and one does not have to bargain and lot and the experience you have is priceless. One can also come across similar sports in Chandanwari and Gulmarg as well but they are like child’s play compared to the experience one has at zero point and they are by far unrealistically expensive.

In short, these are all I could think of for now. I will go down to detailed descriptions of each day of the trip in mu next post. So stay tuned and keep reading.