Delhi's Street Food Hub - The Parathe Wali Gali

The Parathe Wali Gali has been well-known for serving old traditional vegetarian food since long. Some of the shops here are as old as a couple of centuries.

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Himalayan Adventure At Bagini Glacier, Uttarakhand, India

The most difficult trekking patches are the most memorable ones. Read about our 12 day excursion to the Bagini Glacier in Uttarakhand.

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The Baal Dhamaal Experience Made Me A Better Parent

The Sunday of January 10, 2016 was a big day for me and the school students of the various Government Schools of Pune who participated in the unique event called “Baal Dhamaal” organized by the Indian Sponsorship Committee (ISC). The committee has been arranging this event for several years for now. My participation as volunteer in this event has taught me newer lessons of Humanity and a better sense of Parenting our kids. With nearly 650 kids participating from the age groups ranging from six to fourteen years, the event seemed like a herculean task without the support of the Volunteers who volunteered from several Corporates in Pune viz. Zensar Technologies, AXA, Tech Mahindra and Symbiosis . This was my first activity being a Zensar volunteer and as an active member of our Corporate Social Responsibility team. Undoubtedly, after this day long event I walked away as a different, changed and a very improved person. What a way to start the year!

Zensar has been consistently providing financial and volunteer support to ISC for several years in order to arrange and execute this event. This year we had been looking after the kids of 9 and 11 years of age group. Specifically, I was looking after the 11 years group right since their buses off-boarded them at the venue, the Loyola School Grounds, Pashan. Almost all of these kids hailed from the economical weaker sections of the Society. Their parents toiled hard under the sun as laborers at the brick building workshops. The fact these poor parents managed to send their children to School was a great thing in itself. I was informed that during the past few years, these School kids participated in the Baal Dhamaal event, played games without footwear or shoes. This year, the main sponsor of the event had sponsored Sport Shoes for all the kids which was one of the best gifts a Corporate can donate in the context.

Inaugural Briefing at the Baal Dhamaal 2016
 Getting these kids off from their buses, after a long tiring journey from their respective schools was a very soothing experience. I noticed that most of the kids were not trained enough to tie a proper knot to their Shoe laces. A majority of these kids seemed like they had been wearing Sport Shoes for the very first time in their life. It was a touchy experience. After we welcomed the kids and their Class teachers in the every bus that reported to the ground, we provided them with brief instructions to ensure that they do not step on each others’ shoes. Verifying and tying knots on the shoes of these little ones was another great experience. This kind of volunteering really made us build a chemistry amongst these kids. Such an exhilarating welcome really made the kids harmonious with us - the Zensar Volunteers.

Zensar Volunteers for Baal Dhamaal 2016
After the breakfast and inaugural speech, the kids were really excited to exibit their spirit of Sportsmanship with the games that we had arranged for them. The day continued on the sunny playground and we managed to conclude the toughtest task for the day – finalizing the list of winners. With all the energy these kids brought up on the table, it was a very difficult task to choose only a few winners. But, this is what the spirit of Sportsmanship is all about, isn’t it? The kids had a great learning and their faces were filled with delight which spoke it all.

Drenched in the same color
After the lunch and prize distribution ceremony, it was hard to bid a good bye to these awesome little kids. A few of these kids managed to build up a very special bonding with me and several other volunteers. I am sure they would remember me for a few days as an “Uncle” who served me food, a “Sir” who took us to the toilet and brought us back to the group or as that “someone” who tied up their shoe lace. Whether or not these kids would remember me, I am sure to remember this act of humanity for the rest of my life.

Delhi's Street Food | Parathe Wali Gali

The North Indian Food has been an identity of India for ages and nothing can beat the taste of Delhi's street food. Delhi's Parathe Wali Gali viz. Delhi's Paratha Avenue in Chandani Chowk has been serving hungry food loving souls for decades or probably centuries. This place is situated right besides the Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib in Delhi. I traveled explicitly to this place from the New Delhi Railway Station by a local taxi. 

Parathe Wali Gali
A Paratha is essentially made of whole wheat flour and traditionally stuffed with vegetables like Potatoes, Paneer (a milk product), Vegetables viz. Raddish, Methi etc. Apart from the traditional flavors of Parathas, in modern days, there are more than 20 varieties of Parathas available here. The prominent ones being the Kaju (Cashew) Paratha, Chilli Paratha and Papad Paratha. 

The Kaju (Cashew) Paratha
Parathas are traditionally served with sabji (vegetable curry) or curd (yogurt). Other servings accompanied with Parathas may include sweet tamarind chutney, mint chutney, mixed vegetable pickle, paneer and potato curry, potato and fenugreek curry, and a sauteed mash of sweet pumpkin. The curry essentially consists of vegetables such as muttar (green peas), Aaloo (potatoes) and so on. The banana chutney which was served to us added to our amazement. 

Curries Accompanying The Parathas
Kulchas, a type of leavened bread are similar to Parathas but the main ingredient in it being Maida (fine wheat flour). In the state of Punjab it is also known as Amritsari Naan. The Parathe Wali Gali served us a delicious dish of butter filled Kulchas with Boondi Raita (Yogurd Dish) and Curries.

A Kulcha Dish with Boondi Raita, Choley Sabji and Paneer Curry
Although the place is known for Parathas, it was amazing to see several other delicacies served here. The Raj Kachori is something that really caught my attention. The mouth watering huge Kachori looking like the famous Pani Puri (Golgappa) but had a huge diameter. It was stuffed with traditional chat ingredients, curd, sabji, slices of potatoes, sweet sauce etc. 

The Raj Kachori
Rabri was another notable dish I really enjoyed at the Parathe Wali Gali. This dish made from milk is not for the calorie cautious or a weak hearted. Rabri is a famous North Indian sweet dish made with dahi / curd (yogurt), flour, and a combination of bajra floor. Flour of Pearl millet (Bajri) is mixed with buttermilk to make a thick sauce which is kept in the sun to ferment. After about 3 to 4 hours, it is cooked by boiling until the flour is cooked properly.

The Parathe Wali Gali has been well-known for serving old traditional vegetarian food since long. Some of the shops here are as old as a couple of centuries. The owners of these shops are mainly Brahmins by caste and do not use Onion and Garlic in the food they prepare and sell. This may be an added motivation to Jain families who prefer a confined and very picky vegetarian food. 

Grand Himalayan Adventure At The Bagini Glacier, Uttarakhand, India

There is a thin line of separation between adventure and craziness and a real vagabond and a good trekker knows this limit. The thrill lies in knowing this boundary yet attempting to test one’s limits thereby redefining this line of separation resulting in expansion of one’s adventurous space. Our trek to the Bagini Glacier in the Uttarakhand region of India was indeed one such experience. The summit was hosted by Grand Adventures India in May 2015 and was led by Rajender Singh (Raju), the Managing Director of Grand Adventures India. The 12 day event was an amalgam of fun, adventure and wilderness.

Towards The Bagini Glacier With Mr. Rajender Singh
The Bagini Glacier trek was approximately 8 day event which included travel from Haridwar to Jyotirmath (lately Joshimath), Joshimath to Bagini Glacier via. halts/camps at Jumma, Ruing and Dronagiri villages and back to Haridwar via Joshimath. The 12 day of expedition includes rail travel from Mumbai to Haridwar via. New Delhi. There are several rail and road options available to reach Haridwar from New Delhi and back. Several trek organizers provide packages from Haridwar to Haridwar. Our decision to trek with the ever enthusiastic team of Grand Adventures led by Raju undoubtedly turned out to be the best decision. Our excursion team included a team of 8 novice trekkers, 2 cooks, 4 helpers and 6 mules to carry our material and supplies.  

Journey from Haridwar to Jyotirmath (Joshimath), Uttarakhand

Although the journey towards Haridwar was a long and tiring one, the mesmerizing view of the mountains and the curvy roads kept us awake and alert. This 9 hour journey made us realize that we were actually traversing through the land chosen by the Gods. We felt the sense of accomplishment as we crossed each milestone of our this journey viz. Rushikesh, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Karnaprayag, Devprayag, Pipalkoti etc. Watching several small teams queuing for river rafting at the river in Rushikesh was a beautiful experience. All these small towns were well established across the river flowing down from the various Himalayan peaks and we were quite aware of the fact that reaching Joshimath would be just the beginning of our adventurous climb of the Gadvaal Himalayan ranges.

Jyotirmath got it’s modern name viz. Joshimath from the Indian Army men. This is the last town where you could buy supplies and equipments needed for your trek. Joshimath is believed to be amongst the 4 major maths (institutions of religious teachings) established by Adi Shankaracharya. During my course of stay at Joshimath, I visited the Jyotirmath and witnessed that sanctity of the Kalpavriksha (Immortal Tree) where Adi Shankaracharya is believed to achieve enlightenment. The math today is a home for few Sadhus who take care of an ancient Shankaracharya seat with a deer skin on it. We met one of the Sadhus who encouraged us to donate something for the ashram. Later, we also had a chance to visit the Lord Narsimha temple which is just a 10 minutes walk from the Jyotirmath.

We reached Joshimath early evening and rested at the Birla Guest House, inaugurated by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1960. The place was one of its kind with a majestic view of the snow capped mountains and various species of flowers waiting to welcome every visitor of the place. After almost 10 hour of our journey, a place like Birla Guest house was all that we longed for to have a hot water bath and a good night’s sleep.

Joshimath to Ruing Village (via. Jumma)

The very next day was the first day of our trek and we started early morning at 7 o’ clock after a quick breakfast and a clean bath. We knew that this would be the only proper bath we could have for another 6 days. The earlier night we spend few hours in buying small yet crucial things that we would need for our trek at Joshimath. The most crucial amongst them was a battery operated torch. We were about to reach a place which was not trespassed by the urban dirt – the place that lacked even basic amenities like electricity.

Joshimath to Jumma village is approx. 45 kms. travel by road. We took a couple of gypsy vehicles that carried our food supplies, clothes, tents, sleeping bags and cooking equipments. I am grateful to our 6 mules who selflessly accompanied us all throught our trek. Their owners, however charged us Rs. 200/- per day for each extra bag. The road to reach Jumma is well built by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) except a few patches that may need some repairs. After reaching Jumma, each one of us got equipped with their shoes, walking sticks and much required high spirits and will power.

Towards Ruing Village: Crossing the Iron Bridge at Jumma Village
The journey from Jumma to Ruing village begins by crossing a big metallic bridge built across the river Bhagirathi (Ganga). The sheer view of this bridge was so adventurous that it was enough to give us a glimpse of the kind of time we were going to have in the next few days. The winds blowing across the bridge was so powerful that it could have easily swept away a toddler if he had attempted to cross it. With much effort and calmness of mind, each one of us was successful to cross this bridge which marked our first accomplishment.

Camping At The Ruing

Jumma bridge adventure was just the beginning and reaching Ruing village was a 3 kms. trek – a steady climb over the mountain offering serene view of the mountains over the horizons. It was 11 o’ clock in the morning and the walk was rather sweaty but was enough to warm up our bodies.

A Breathtaking View from the Ruing Village Camp
Reaching Ruing was one of the memorable experiences we had. Although Ruing was our first camp site, it was the most beautiful places we camped right in the heart of the snow capped mountains, on lush green lawns.

At Ruing: Is That Just a Ray Of Light Or The God Himself!
We had never expected such a beautiful plain grass land to camp amidst the mountains. The glorious view of Mother Nature, the mountains, the sky wide open and the coniferous trees and the cool breeze blowing from the Himalayas was enough to make us fall in love with Ruing.

With The Local Kids Of The Ruing Village
Ruing To Dronagiri Village - 11,800 feet

The next day we got up early and headed towards Dronagiri. The mountain of Dronagiri has a Hindu mythological significance. It is believed that Lord Hanumana, in search of a herb called Sanjeevini Booti, chop lifted the Dronagiri mountain in order to save the life of Lord Laxmana. It is believed that this act of Hanumana was not welcome by the then villagers of Dronagiri and that they even do not pronounce his name after this ancient event. I personally had a word with a couple of Dronagiri villagers and learnt that they have a firm belief in Hanumana and they are not happy with his act. The villagers showed me a cliff they all venerate till date as a mark of respect to Dronagiri Mountain. Although the mountain is far off from the actual village, this cliff which is venerated is an epitome of the Dronagiri Mountain. The actual Dronagiri Mountain is covered by snow since ages and the snow it is wearing dates back to centuries. After a careful glare of the Dronagiri Mountain, it was rather difficult to figure out which part of the mountain was actually chopped off by the Monkey God Hanumana. Amidst such mythological beliefs, most modern people find it interesting to hear such stories and get entertained.

Moving ahead from Dronagiri was another 9 kms. of trekking experience. It was Day 2 of our excursion and we were exhausted after we reached the village of Dronagiri. This trek spanned every aspect of trekking we had every imagined. Walking through rain forests, waterfalls amidst the Mountains, crossing the deepest valleys, crossing risky landslides on the Mountains, walking over uneven and slippery pavements was very much common by now.

The Most Challenging Patch (landslide) At Dronagiri
The riskiest part of the 9 kms. long trek was the patch with landslide. Any uncalculated step would have landed us more than 200 feet down the valley. This patch was landslide prone and any daily attempts by the Public Works Department (PWD) proved futile to fix the path. This was a real challenge esp. for a first time trekker. The fact that there was no other option than to cross the patch gave the push to each one of us. The sense of accomplishment and grand feeling of achievement after overcoming this hurdle cannot be penned down literally.

A Sense of Accomplishment Engulfed Us As We Headed Towards Dronagiri
I could feel the agony and ecstasy on my wife Priya’s face after She successfully completed this hurdle. Being a first time trekker, She certainly deserved due appreciation.

Camping At The Dronagiri - 11,844 feet

Temperature dropped steeply as we moved and gradually climbed our way. Our next camp was Dronagiri. In the month of May, when the rest of the country is quibbling over the soaring heat, we had started adjusting our bodies with the temperature falls and high altitude sickness.

The village of Dronagiri seemed like a deserted village. It was a home for approximately 50-60 families but most of them had left the village to other places. The villagers here stayed for 6 months of the year and after the onset of the rainy season they stay at other places in Chamoli District.

“What under the sun makes you feel come here?”, I was interrogated by a curious villager.

She stated that Dronagiri was her in-laws place and that She had no choice than to stay in the village. The village lacked basic amenities of power supply, transportation, medical facilities and good schools. It is tough to build these facilities over a Mountain this high. I was speechless and was not able to answer her question. Probably, it was an irony that people who enjoy all such amenities feel like visiting such remote places in the name of camping. I was intrigued by the simplicity of the people living here and their generosity when they offered us tea and rice. It was so tough to get food supplies here and a good trekker would never want to steal away their supplies, I thought. The villagers here grew food esp. Rajma and Potatoes for themselves. Step farming was a common mechanism and most of the farmers grew food for themselves and the surplus, if any was sold away. We unanimously found the villagers here to be very friendly and sincere. Thankfully, the urban corruption was far away from their minds and souls.

The Dronagiri Villagers I Spoke With!
We were tired to the extent of falling dead after we reached the Dronagiri camp. A two hour afternoon sleep was much needed to rejuvenate us back in action for the next day adventure. It was end of Day 3 of our camping and the journey was enthralling so far. Nights were very chilly; our lips had already started cracking and our skins had begun tanning.

Majestic View Of The Valley On The Way From Dronagiri To Bagini 
Dronagiri To Bagini Glacier Base Camp – 14,800 feet

The Bagini Glacier Base Camp was our final camp destination. We reached here from Dronagiri the very next morning after a 5 hour long trek. The Bagini camp was right in the middle of the river Bhagirathi (Ganga). 

The Bagini Glacier Excursion Team
The atmosphere here was filled with beautiful flowers, limestone deposits on the river bed and a majestic view of the snow capped mountains all around us. The beautiful glimpses of the wild deer added to the treat from the nature. The high altitude sickness had vanished by now and the cool breeze blowing from the Glacier was enchanting our minds. 

The Bagini Glacier
We camped at the Bagini Base Camp for 2 nights. The second day, we trekked towards the Bagini Glacier. It was summer time and the Glacier was constantly melting down to offer it’s pure water to the river downstream. Rainy season was fast approaching and it was time for the snow to get replenished. We witnessed the snowfall over the Mountain peaks intermittently. The weather changed drastically as we headed towards the Mountain Glacier. Climbing such a risky glacier was no child’s play. It is just then when a true adventurer has to spot the thin line between the thrill and the craze. The craze may lead a true mountaineer to the Summit and may also lead him below an Avalanche buried for years.

Looking Back: Success Is The Time To Review Our Past Mistakes

On The Road Towards The Aru Valley, Kashmir

Imagine when a Mom asks her little child to close his eyes and think of a fantasy world where nature flaunts it’s best imaginable view to you. Walking down the meadows of the Aru Valley at Jammu and Kashmir was exactly such an experience in this real world. A Vision as clear as a block of crystal, you could almost see everything in high definition almost until the horizon. The decision of visiting the Aru Valley was one of the best decisions we have made during our trip to Pahalgam last year.

A Moment of Joy At The Aru Valley
We started off early in the morning after a remarkable visit to the Betaab Valley and Chandanwadi which took around 4 hours for us. We had almost entire day to spend at Pahalgam. Hence, Instead of spending time at the hotel, we decided to head up to the Aru Valley. Every single inch of the distance we travelled to reach the Aru valley was photogenic and the landscapes that passed by almost took our breath away every single moment. The snowcapped mountains and the cool breeze was enchanting our minds and soul. Certainly, it is not an usual experience in India to see clear river waters flowing through the mountains beside the roads you are travelling on.

On our way towards the valley, we came across a wild life sanctuary and a short glimpse of the spotted deer gave us an opportunity to click our cameras. I wished that we could halt at every single meter of distance to capture the gorgeous beauty of the mother nature of Kashmir! The hilly roads were quite twisted and curved; quite enough to induce motion sickness for few of us. But, the scenic beauty itself was quite enough for us to forget every inconvenience that could have caused for us to reach the Aru Valley.

The Beautiful View Of The Aru Valley
Ponies waiting for tourists and local kids and men playing cricket amidst the beautiful mountains was a typical experience of the Aru Valley. I feel too powerless a writer devoid of words to describe the ultimate view I had after reaching there. Heaven on Earth, as someone has aptly tried to express this feeling is what I could like to second.

The Talking Caves Of Lenyadri, Maharashtra

As old as a mountain – the simile seems so apt after one visits the ancient caves of Lenyadri. In the local language of Marathi, Leni means Caves and Adri in Sanskrit means a Mountain or a Rock. For past centuries, there are several Hindu myths and stories about these mysterious caves which date around the 1st century to 3rd century AD. However, the origin of these mountain caves relate to Buddhism. It was around 2500 years from now when Buddha Shakyamuni the originator of Buddhism gave his teachings to the masses. The human society then was very different from the one we see now. People truly cultivated themselves in religion and meditated for days and months. Several cultivators went to the mountains and carved caves where they cultivated for months. In fact, there are several such caves in certain corners of the world which are even today not trespassed and unknown to modern men.

The Lenyadri Group of Caves
The town of Junnar in Pune District of Indian State of Maharashtra is enriched by a series of hills on all sides. These hills consist of numerous Buddhist rock-cut caves. This is the largest number of caves at one place in the whole country, numbering over 200, spread over these hills All the caves belongs to the Hinayana (Theravada) phase of Buddhism They are date-able from mid 3rd century B.C. to late 3rd century AD. The Junnar cave complex is divided into various groups according to their locations in various hills, like Tulaja caves, Manmodi which is further divided into Bhimashankar, Amba-Ambika and Bhuta Linga - this name is derived from Buddha Lena, Shivaneri and Ganesh caves.

The Octagonal Pillars of the Caves
Mentioned as 'Kapichita' i.e. beloved of the monkeys in the inscriptions, the Lenyadri group is also known as 'Sulaiman Hill' or 'Ganesh Pahad'. This is one of the major groups at Junnar. There are nearly 40 caves in this group, out of which the main group of 30 caves is located in a line and are numbered from East to West, all facing South and overlooking the valley of river Kukadi. Out of these 30 caves, the caves 6 and 14 are the 'Chaityagrihas' (Prayer Hall) and the remaining are the 'Viharas' (residences of the monks) of which cave 7 is the largest. The rest of the caves are small residential caves for the monks that have two or three cells. They range in date from 1st century A.D. to 3rd century A.D. Cave 6 is the main Chaityagrihas in this group. It consists of a pillared veranda and an upsidal hall divided into three parts by two rows of pillars. The Stupa representing Gautam Buddha, is at the end of the hall. The ceiling has vaulted shape. A donator inscription, date-able to 2nd century A.D. is carved on the back wall of the veranda above the doorway. It records the donation of the Chaityagriha by Sulasadatta, son of a Goldsmith from Kalyan. Cave 7 is a huge Vihara and the largest cave at Junnar. This Vihara consist of a large hall with the cells on three sides. Entry is provided by a central door from a pillared veranda which is approached by a flight of steps. There are 20 cells in total with varying dimensions. Two central cells in the back wall have been converted into one at a later date and at present a Ganesh image is worshiped. Cave 14 is also a Chaityagriha, but with a flat roof and rectangular hall. It also has a pillared veranda and the inscription of the donor carved in the veranda. The inscription mentions that it was donation by a devotee 'Anand' who was the son of Tapasa and grandson of Kapila. This cave can also be dated to 2nd century A.D.

Way Towards the Caves of Lenyadri
There are more than 30 prominent caves at Lenyadri that are carved with different architectures. Most of the pillars form an octagonal design and are a wonder to watch. Today, the entire hill is governed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the place esp. the cave no. 7 has been transformed into a Ganesha temple. There are several stories in Hindu mythology about the birth of the Hindu Lord Ganesha who was supposed to be born to Parvati (Girija), the wife of Lord Shiva. Hindus believe that Lord Ganesha was born to Girija who herself is believed to be a daughter of the mountain. Lord Ganesha as per Hindu mythology is known by several names based on his many reincarnations. His reincarnation in Lenyadri is popularly known as the Girijatmaja i.e. Born to Girija. There are prominently 8 such reincarnations of Lord Ganesha recognized by the Ashta Vinayaka i.e. Eight Ganeshas. The Girijatmaja temple at Lenyadri is one of the 8 Ashtavinayakas

A Breathtaking View from the Lenyadri Cave 7
Today, the caves continue to amaze every visitor visiting it. Knowing all the secrets of History, the Lenyadri hill looks so mysterious when one looks at it from the foothills. The caves, right at the center of the mountain look so much like windows on an aircraft or of that of a huge ship. I really wonder, how hardworking ancient men were. They had an amazing sense of architecture and dedication towards what they did. Although, the footsteps towards the caves seem to have been built lately, the Buddhist cultivators are believed to climb the mountain using a rope and cut down these ropes after they reach the cave until they reached enlightenment or failed and died of starvation or a disease. 

The way to reach to the caves is a bit tiring and may be tiring for people with heart diseases and old men and women. As you continue your climb uphill, have a moment to turn back and observe the scenic view of the other mountains at the horizon. The view is much more beautiful if you visit the place sometime in August or September. I just can’t forget the greenery all around during my recent visit this year to this place. Cave no. 7 is well maintained and devotees of Lord Ganesha turn up here everyday. During the two days viz. Lord Ganesha Jayanti and Ganesh Chaturthi, festivals are observed at Lenyadri. These are the two days when devotees turn up at Lenyadri in large numbers. 

Hearing the Caves Talk at Lenyadri
Throughout the course of history, several rulers including the Muslim and Hindu rulers have governed this land. Every ruler had his own vested interest and perspective towards these icons of history. Hence, there may be even more stories about these caves that may be a result of someone’s political interest. In such a scenario, I would like to go by the facts I see. The mighty hill of Lenyadri stands upright there as if screaming to tell me something un-understood. I could hear these caves talking. Something that can be only heard if we could just have a fresh outlook towards the universe around us.

That Was The First Snowfall At Schaumburg

When I reached the United States land for the very first time in July this year, I always wanted to experience the snow. Unfortunately, I was planned to leave for India in August and it seemed that my wish will be unfulfilled. In Chicago, it usually snows in mid November or early December. To my amazement, I was destined to visit the USA again in October. This time I was planning to stay in Schaumburg, Illinois until mid November only. It was a too close call for me to expect the snow during my this stint. 

The winters in Chicago are extreme and last year the temperatures had dropped tremendously. It is an irony that this place transforms into a beautiful paradise in summers and turns into a cold hell in December-January timeframe. As November began, there was a steep drop in the temperatures. And by this time the weather in Chicago was too much to bear for a person like me who had been accustomed to living in a warm, comfy climate. For the past couple of weeks I was living under a temperature that was good enough to harden water. As a matter of fact, the water in the lake outside my hotel had stopped waving. But it was yet to solidify and it would take lesser than 10 degree Celsius for it to turn into ice completely. I knew this won't be so soon. Every day the weather was different. In fact it was such an amazing thing to experience a bright sunny day in the afternoon when you knew it was completely cloudy and cold in the morning. I had started to believe why Americans are so keen to know about weather forecasts. A bad weather could affect your day and plans for the week. I had too started following the weather predictions very closely and it really made me happy to know that the weekends are clear and sunny. I never longed for a sunny day so much ever while in India. Ironically, my reactions to a bright sunny day in India are just the opposite.

Experiencing the first snowfall in Chicago
Well, I knew that I was returning back to India the next week and a sunny day was no more a matter of my interest here in Chicago. It was my last day in Chicago and I was all set to travel back the following night. I had gone through the weekly predictions and knew that it was just going to be another cold day. While I was engaged into a discussion with my co-workers, something dragged my attention. 

"It is too dusty today", I said.

My co-workers pondered at the statement I just made. They stared at me for a moment as if waiting for an explanation. And soon the moment of silence broke into a laughter as they clarified that it was snow.

All That You Could Experience In Pattaya, Thailand

On my quest to travel the world, Thailand was always on my priority list for too long. But this time things were actually executed as planned and our 6 days excursion to this Historic Kingdom of Joy has left a permanent mark on our minds. I am so excited to pen down every minute detail of our tour to Pattaya and Bangkok hoping that my travel experiences will benefit other travelers seeking guidance towards Thailand Tourism. I traveled to Thailand with my wife and three year old. I hope my experiences will also benefit travelers planning a trip to Thailand with their families and kids.

Setting The Expectations Right

Thailand has been a land of awesome culture and Sea food. Most part of the Thai culture seems to be inspired from the Indian culture. But the most intriguing part is the Thai food. We had been a huge fan of Thai food and experiencing Thai cuisines in its very place of origin was one of the greatest expectations of our trip. If you are a Veggie, you will find several Indian restaurants and vegetarian Thai food options as well. But I feel, it is not really worth it to try Indian food in a country known for renowned Thai Sea food in the World.

Pattaya and Bangkok has lots of hookers around and you will find many single men looking around for girls which may be annoying for families. Well, while alone on the street, I remember a local taxi driver in Pattaya asking me for a ride and later offering me some ‘Honey’ (a common term for prostitutes in Thailand). I have also noticed several local Thai girls giving company to tourists around the world in restaurants and bars. This is just normal all over Thailand.

If you truly want to explore some good attractions in Thailand, carry enough money. It is a requirement to carry a minimum of THB 10,000 per person and THB 20,000 per family while you enter Thailand. However, the extent of expenditure really depends on your willingness to spend. Few attractions in Pattaya and Bangkok are expensive and if your tour operator does not cover these, ensure that you carry enough cash.

Shopping in Bangkok is not really that Great. I happened to visit several major malls viz. the Asiatique, MBK and Indra Market and did not really find shopping appealing in Bangkok. If you are an Indian resident from a Metropolitan city like Mumbai, you will find stuff in India cheaper, offering varied options and more affordable. This applies to clothes, garments, souvenirs and electronics too. I would strongly suggest that one should buy electronic goods from your home country as there are hardly any shops who would offer International warranties on electronic items. Bargaining happens at several shops and malls so the final price is left to your negotiation skills.  

Planning Your Thailand Trip

If it is your first International trip it is very obvious for you to be worried of several travel related stuff which primarily includes, Visa, Immigration Procedures, Air Travel, Currency Requirements, Hotels etc. In addition to this, there are many other things that concerns a first time traveler to Thailand viz. What to see and what not to see. Obviously, Thailand has been one of the most commercialized travel destinations in the World for long and one may feel that it is not worth to spend your hard earned money on attractions that do not matter to you or are not worth visiting.

View of the Pattaya Beach from a Speed Boat
Thailand charges THB 1000 (Thai Bhat) for Visa on Arrival to individuals with Indian Passports. Only Thai currency is accepted at the Visa counter at the airport. The same fees is also charged to children. We landed at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok early in the morning. Note that the Thailand time is 1.5 hours ahead of India so set your clock accordingly. You will not really need Thai currency until you land in Thailand. I tried to exchange currency in India a week before however, did not find the exchange rate up to the mark. The exchange rate provided by the bank exchanges at Bangkok airport is a bit better than you will get in India. However, I will strongly advise you to exchange very limited money at the airport for your Visa needs because exchange rates within Pattaya and other cities are the best you can get. This way you could get better value for your hard earned money. 

Visa on Arrival and Immigration Procedures at Bangkok are simple but may be time consuming depending on the crowd. There is an option of express checkout at a premium of THB 200 per person to expedite the process. You will need to fill up a Visa on Arrival form, paste one recent photograph with white background, have a copy of your return ticket ready and get the documents verified by the document verification personnel. Post verification, the Verification Officer will hand you over a token number which will be used by the Immigration Officer to grant you the Visa. 

Hotels in Pattaya and Bangkok are very busy and it is always advisable to book your rooms in advance to avoid last minute chaos. Most of the hotels in Thailand follow the International timings for check-in and check-out viz. check-in time at 2:00 PM and check-out time 12:00 noon. Hotels may charge additional fees if you fail to check-out on time hence, ensure that you check-out before time. Also, before check-in, if you reach early you can plan to keep the luggage at the reception until 2:00 PM and plan to roam around the hotel and explore the nearby shops. This is a good way of killing the frustration of waiting for your room until 2:00 PM at the boring hotel lobbies.

Reaching Pattaya from Bangkok Airport

A road trip to Pattaya is fairly easy from the Survarnabhumi Airport. There are several tour operators right at the arrival counters at the airport. There is a good cafeteria near the arrival gate 10 that serves good Thai food at a good price. Do not miss the spicy Tom Yum Soup at this place. We took a comfortable bus ride from the airport which lasted for around 2 hours. It is mandatory to fasten your seat belts in the bus as there are strict laws of the land over seat belt usage. 

Pattaya is highly commercialized city. We had our hotel just 5 min walk from the beach and just few seconds to several Thai and Indian restaurants. What we needed in Thailand was right in front of us! Most restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, Thai massage parlors operate round the clock. Pattaya has a beautiful night life and the entire city is filled with tourists and local shops serving the tourists. On our first evening in Pattaya, we visited the beach but were not really impressed by its looks and cleanliness. The sea water seemed just like that of the Arabian sea. There were some water sports activities being carried out at the beach but there were no fixed rates.

A young coconut at the beach that will cost you THB 40 is really worth trying as you enjoy the beautiful evening in Pattaya. 

Ko Lan Experience in Pattaya

Ko Lan or the Coral Islands was a fantastic experience. Just 7 kms. from the city by a speedboat, I must say that if you are in Pattaya, you have not really visited it until you have visited the Ko Lan beach. The next morning, we started from the Pattaya Beach by a speed boat towards Ko Lan. On our way towards this beautiful island, we had a stopover to enjoy some unplanned adventure activities viz. para sailing and underwater sea walk.

Ko Lan (Coral Island) 7 kms by Speed Boat from Pattaya
Awesome, awesome and awesome was the only word I murmured while the parachute pulled me over from the platform right towards the sky. I felt the weightlessness of my body as I observed my feet hanging in the air. The tiny speed boat continued to pull me over as it directed my parachute. I was flying like a bird yet without wings. This experience was out of the world, literally. I was almost left with several minutes of hangover even after the parachute safely landed me back on the platform. This was indeed worth the THB 400 spent.

The Coral sea water is full of sea fishes and watching them for 20 long minutes for THB 1200 was an additional great experience. You could actually watch the fish coming around you and observe the coral sea bed. However, most of our fellow tourists did not find it worth the money spent. You may do the underwater diving if it really interests you.

After an adventurous spell of the adrenaline rush, we headed back by our speed boat towards the Ko Lan beach. Wow! Is the exclamation most of us had after we witnessed the clear blue waters of the coral sea. I stood almost speechless as the beautiful morning sun showered its rays over the beautiful water that glittered like the blue topaz gemstone. This was the perfect time to bask in the beauty of the coral waters and fill up your camera memories with some divine pictures. There are several eateries serving fresh sea food on the Island too. If you decide to swim in the sea, there are also paid restroom services available which is why you will also find them clean.

The entire Ko Lan visit including the adventure activities is more than half a day excursion from the Pattaya city. It would be a great idea to end up your weary day with a soothing Thai foot massage. Most of the local Thai massage parlors offer head and foot massages for around THB 200.

Nong Nooch Village Visit

The Nong Nooch village is mainly known for its Thai cultural show, the Elephant show and beautifully maintained gardens. There are several tour operators which arrange your pick up and drop to hotel for THB 700 per person. The village is located around 20 kms from the Pattaya city and will take around 45 min -1 hour depending upon the traffic situation. The services of the local tour operator will generally be included in this package. There is a morning 8:30 AM pick up and afternoon 1:30 PM pickup option available. We opted for the afternoon option as we just wanted to laze around in the morning hours the very next day.

Thai Garden @ Nong Nooch Village
After we reached the village, we walked around 300 meters through the neatly constructed skywalk over beautifully constructed gardens towards the car show. There were several supercars on display that gave us the opportunity to click some beautiful pictures with these wonder machines. Soon after spending few minutes at the car museum, we opted to take a site seeing tour and hoped on an open trolley. The trolley ride costs THB 100 per person for a 30 min ride through the gardens. It is advisable to get into this trolley ride if you do not really want to follow the map and save time figuring out stuff all by yourself. 

Ensure that you reach the Thai cultural show on time. It was very much crowded on the day we were in Nong Nooch. There are some magnificent Thai Art and cultural performances which includes, the Thai dances and Thai Kick Boxing. The show features artists with beautiful costumes depicting the Thai culture, sword fighting and mesmerizing Thai music.

A Glimpse of The Thai Cultural Show @ Nong Nooch
Immediately after Cultural show, the next big was the Elephant show. Frankly, I never believed that Elephants were such Intelligent animals until I witnessed the Elephant show. In fact, this show is something I will permanently remember in my life. The show began with elephants arranged by their sizes walking in a row; holding each other by their trunks and tails seemingly welcoming the crowd. What happened later drove the crowd crazy. Elephants riding a bicycle, another shooting at the balloons, another of an artist genre literally engaged in creating beautiful paintings, a few other dancing in style by nodding their heads and shaking their butts.

The Elephant Show @ Nong Nooch
Wow! That was a show that would last for a lifetime. Few spectators also fed bananas to these mighty intelligent animals. Few adventurous ladies like my wife also posed with these elephants lifting them in their trunks – one lifting her and the other touching her head as if blessing her. These elephants continued to amaze us all and there seemed no end to it. This was one of the best animal shows I had witnessed until that very moment.

Adieu to Pattaya

Although, this would be the most difficult thing to do, if you have additional free time in Pattaya, you may go for a walk at the walking street. This is mainly a place filled with hookers, however, you will find some interesting street shows that will keep you entertained. There are some skillful beggars on the streets who will try to impress you with their artistic skills. This is certainly worth a visit. If you are interested in shopping, I would not really recommended you to do shopping in Pattaya since you will find the rates here 10-15% higher than in Bangkok. The reason being everything in Pattaya gets shipped from Bangkok.

Lastly, while in Pattaya, I had a very grim observation that most of the local shop owners and other locals were not very friendly with tourists, some of these were rather rude to tourists. It was not a good sight to see several other Asian (most of these Indians) sex-hungry males desperately looking for girls. Pattaya is a city with a great package and it has almost everything that a travelling tourist may be looking for. But dignity and a great character is something what money can't buy.

Living In QATAR - An Honest Experience

Qatar, as I remember is a place populated with money hungry or needy expats. Certainly, what really could motivate a migrant worker or a senior working professional live in a climate of scorching heat, a Muslim culture devoid of humane freedom and a land that does not treat it’s visitors with dignity. Money free of tax or a better job role? Although, Qatar does not have anything of it’s own, even the food, groceries and clothes are imported from other countries viz. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, China etc. And this is not only limited to the goods and merchandises but also to the work force who opt to travel to Qatar from these countries in the sheer hope of making their lives better.

Daily Lifestyle in Doha

Doha is the only major city in Qatar and a majority of the country’s population is that of expats. Qataris form a small population and enjoy the apex position in the Qatari society. Qatar does not provide citizenship to people of other nationalities despite their decades of stay in the country. I have noticed that most of the top positions in the local Qatari organizations are acquired by local men and women. English may not be always the official language at work and you may many a times encounter several Qatari co-workers speaking in Arabic language. Qataris are relaxed people and overall work culture is slow. Do not get bothered too much if work is not moving fast or simple decisions take unusually long time. This is the way work happens in this satisfied, rich country.

Life of an average migrant worker in Qatar is boring. If you are single, living in Doha, be prepared for this boredom as neither the climate nor the places outside are that appealing. Expat population is quite high in Doha and you could very well make friends easily here since there are many more expats like you getting bored to death. Walking around the Doha Corniche in the evening may be relaxing but being a single Asian male, I had some bad experiences of being ill-treated by a Qatari guard around Corniche. Well, do not necessarily take this as a humiliation since this is quite common in Qatar as there are several places in the city where single bachelors alone or in groups cannot roam around esp. on Fridays. Most Qatari men can legally marry up to four women and most commonly do not like anyone of them being ogled by other men. Hence, most of the places in Doha are reserved only for families.

A daily life of a migrant construction worker is pathetic in Doha. They are often exploited, overworked and most of the times enslaved by their employers. I have tried communicating with few of these workers and have seen their homes which brought nothing but sympathy in my mind. An average construction worker often stays in Qatar for several years saving money and sending it to their families. For most of such families, their man slogging in Qatar is the sole means of bread and butter yet unsure when he could return home. These construction workers work in extreme and adverse climatic conditions and often die every day yet unnoticed. It is said that work must stop if the temperatures rise beyond 50 degree Celsius but authorities never declare such things to meet their deadlines.

I observed that Non-Muslim Women have a better freedom of clothing in cities like Doha. However, it still needs to be remembered that Qatar is still a part of the Middle East and women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders while in public. Men are expected to avoid a prolonged eye contact with a woman and maintain sufficient distance while communicating with women at work.

Places to Visit in Qatar

Fanar - Qatar Islamic Cultural Center
There are merely a handful of places you can visit in Doha. The best time to go out in Qatar is between November and March since the climate is rather favorable during this period. Between April and October, the place remains as hot as hell. People who have never visited the middle east regions just can’t imagine the kind of extremity of the temperature.

There are several Islamic cultural centers in Qatar and even people of other religions and beliefs are encouraged to visit these places. I would rather encourage you to visit the Fanar, which is Qatar’s Islamic Cultural Center spreading awareness about Qatar’s culture to Non-Arab population. The Fanar is an iconic structure of Qatar with a beautiful Arabic architecture. There are also some Arabic language courses available in case it is a matter of someone’s interest.

The Dukhan beach, around 60 kms. from Doha is the most visited picnic spot among the locals and expats alike. It is by far the best hangout I have found in Qatar. The Dukhan beach is an ideal place to have a barbeque party for families. I have even observed few European ladies bathing in the sea water in bikini here. That is something way beyond the social taboos but how far a culturally different woman wait to break free in such a wicked country? The sea water however, has considerable levels of salt content which will not let you drown for sure. But beware, you may have problems if the water enters your eyes causing irritation and discomfort. The Dukhan beach is a very good place to enjoy water sports. Several rich locals own their own speed boats and other water sport equipment. These may also be rented for a ride.

Dukhan Beach, Qatar
The Pearl Qatar is a well-constructed place in Qatar and is a good place for a weekend visit. It is a home for several International brands the prominent being the Ferrari showroom just at the entrance gate of the Pearl Qatar. It is also said that other nationalities can own their property at the Pearl Qatar however these are too expensive. Visitors can enjoy cruise rides and some adventure water sports at the Pearl Qatar. The view of the Doha skyline offered by the Pearl is just as beautiful as that seen from the Corniche. While in Qatar the Pearl is a place just too good to miss.

Doha Skyline as seen from the Corniche
Souq Waqif is the shopping destination of Doha. Souq literally translates to a market and Souq Waqif translates to a Standing market. It is at a 10 min walking distance from the Fanar and also from the Corniche. Shopping enthusiasts could enjoy shopping traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, perfumes and souvenirs at the Souq. Astonishingly, I also found live animals and birds including lizards, owls, eagles, tortoises etc. for sale at the Souq. The Souq also offers premium range of Hukka bars and I found many locals and expats hooked up smoking at these parlors. In the evenings, you may get a change to enjoy a traditional Arabic folk dance at the Souq. Within the Souq, there is also a small exhibition of paintings depicting the glorious Arabic culture. The shopkeepers are friendly and will be interested in providing information about products they sell. However, this place may be restricted for single men at times esp. on Fridays which is supposed to be a family day in Doha.

A Breathtaking View Of The Sea & The Sand from a Sand Dune
A Half or Full day Desert Safari towards the south of Qatar along the Saudi Arabia border will also come to your rescue if you are craving for a much needed break from the mundane life at Qatar. There are quite a few tourist companies who offer a pick up and drop to and fro the Desert Safari. If you are a group of 4-5 members, you can hire a Land Cruiser or a similar vehicle and get drenched into the wilderness of the white desert along the salty blue sea. Watch the experienced driver inflating the tyres of the Land Cruiser and driving you along the edges of the sand dunes to take away the *hit away from your *ss. This is by far my best experience of being in Qatar. During sunset, the deep blue sea looks breathtakingly beautiful from the sand dunes. During winter days, the desert almost turns into a cold hell. There are packages available for an overnight stay in the desert tents which is an experience in itself.

Accommodation in Qatar

Most of the migrant workers in Qatar live single for a simple reason that it is not so easy to get a Visa for a family. I have recently noticed that for some reason, Qatar has started rejecting Visa for female workers. Moreover, the cost of accommodation in Doha is very high. Most expats in Qatar share accommodation and live in a poor and unhygienic conditions. However, In case you are a senior executive hired by a local Company in Qatar, arranging visa for the family becomes easier. Most of the apartments and condominiums are owned by local agencies or a local Qatari who could charge huge rent for a decent accommodation. Nearly, all places in the country look the same hence, it is worthless to search a locality where you could find your home. I would suggest you could opt a place to live near your office.

Food and Grocery Options

Since 90% of the food and groceries are imported, you would find the same food options that you had in your home country but with a much higher price. There are several high rated food brands and joints in Doha along with local small Malabari restaurants mostly owned by Indians (Keralites) and Nepalis. Sometimes, it may become difficult to find a Vegetarian option in these restaurants. Chicken, Pork and Beef based food items are abundantly available. Khabus and Hamus (Arabic breads) are the cheapest subsidized food options available for the poor. However, they are tasteless and cannot be taken as a daily food option. Most commonly, there are several Filipino and Indian restaurants serving good food all over Doha.

The municipal water supply is good however, drinking water needs to be purchased which may cost you QAR 8 to 10 for a bottle of 5 liters.

Transportation and Communication

With fuel being dirt cheap in the country, owning a car becomes inevitable for another good reason that Public transportation is still in the state of infancy. There are local buses plying in Doha but their frequency cannot be trusted much. Locals and some expats are much fond of cars and tend to spend much on speedy, high end machines on the roads. When it comes to roads, these are the most unsafe places in the country. I have noticed that most locals drive like maniacs almost unbothered of pedestrians walking or crossing the streets. This, just explains their disregard for human life and a boastful attitude of possessing great wealth.

Speaking on cellular phones is very expensive and a single phone call for a minute could cost half a Qatari Riyal. A little study on highly expensive telecommunication industry gave me an answer that the sector like several other sectors is dominated by the King of Qatar and it is him who decides the price you pay for speaking to your loved ones. Broadband Internet services rates are also higher than normal.

Education in Qatar

I believe that it is a good sign that middle eastern countries like Qatar is giving more emphasis on quality education. There are several Public and Private institutions providing good education to the children. However, the Public Schools and Colleges are confined to Arabic curriculum. Private schools and colleges have American or British curriculum in studies. Qatar encourages hiring of qualified teachers and educationalists in its quest to impart good education to its people.

Well, with all those mixed experiences of observing the life of an average expat in Qatar, I conclude that human life is certainly much more than craving for money. The State of Qatar is one of the richest countries due to its enormous natural wealth of oil reserves. Its GDP will remain strong for several decades to come; which is nothing but easy money for sure. Qatar is still totally dependent on other countries for its simple daily needs and I am sure given the adverse climate it will always continue to. It must learn to recognize humanity above materialistic wealth and religious beliefs.

The Transit Tours Of Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong has been attracting transiting tourist for quite a while now. The most crucial question a transiting tourist at Hong Kong will ask is what to visit and what to skip? Well, it really depends upon the amount of time you have in hand for your connecting flight. In case you have a very small layover approximately 2-4 hours, I would never suggest you to go out of the airport. In such a scenario, you can always visit several shops at the airport itself. I would strongly suggest that you can plan to visit places outside the airport only if you have more than 4-5 hours of layover time. In my case, I had a long layover of around 11 hours which was quite enough for me to visit quite a few places in the town. In case you land at the Hong Kong airport in the early morning, you stand a good chance to avoid the crazy rush of city. In my opinion, with such a good layover time, one must not think of skipping the Hong Kong Downtown and the Peak. Trust me, even if you skip any other places at Hong Kong, you won’t regret it much.

The Majestic View of Hong Kong Sky from The Peak
Frankly, as far as my recent travel experiences goes, the Peak is what I would recommend to visit for all transiting tourists. Another close option I could suggest is the Big Buddha on the Lantau Island which is however, an almost half day tour from the Tung Chung Cable car station. I had a glimpse of the Big Buddha which is situated on a mountain peak on the Lantau Island from the aircraft during my landing at the Hong Kong airport. But, to observe the large Buddha Statue, you really need to focus on the mountains. There is a stream of cable cars continually moving towards the Big Buddha statue which is also prominently visible from the airport.

Exploring the Hong Kong City

I reached Hong Kong early morning at 5:30 AM and soon after the immigration check, I bought a round trip Airport Express ticket costing HKD 180. The Airport Express is the quickest mode of transport towards the Hong Kong Central Station and the journey hardly takes 25 minutes. The frequency of the Airport Express Trains is also quite good which assures a nominal waiting time. The journey in the train is very luxurious and speedy. I enjoyed the comfort of a speedy transport through the mountains, the flyovers and the bridges built over the sea. It also provided glimpses of the huge skyscrapers built on either side of the railways.

After reaching the Hong Kong Central station, we boarded a taxi from the train station towards the hotel which costed me additional HKD 35. The taxi driver may charge you HKD 5 additionally for each luggage bag. I would recommend to get this thing sorted with him prior to boarding the taxi. In case, you do not have any luggage with you, I would recommend you to walk towards the Peak Tram station which is merely 20 min by walk from the Hong Kong Central Station. Taxis in Hong Kong are too expensive and are avoidable if you are prepared to walk on the streets to gather an extra fun and adventure.

Hotels in Hong Kong are very expensive too. Overall, I observed that the entire city has been facing a land crunch. Numerous multistoried buildings are just a result of severe fight for land for settlement. You could end up paying almost USD 100 for a hotel room sized that of a bathroom in the city center. In case, you have a really long layover or if your flight is on the next day, I would suggest booking a hotel in advance but be ready to spend more for less.

The Historic Peak Tram
The Peak tram is the best way to reach the Peak Tower. It will cost you HKD 40 just for the tram ride. An additional HKD 40 on the same ticket, will give you access to the Peak terrace which will offer you a magnificent 360 degree view of the Hong Kong City. I would strongly suggest you to go for the HDK 80 ticket as missing the Peak terrace is something not worth it. The journey through the Peak tram is historic one. The tram has a glorious history starting back from the year 1888. Over the years, there have been few changes in its way of operations; however, there have been absolutely no change in the thrill and the fun riding it. The tram could scare you with a tilt of as good as 27 degrees with the horizontal as you experience the skyscrapers almost leaning towards you. Although the Peak Tram journey could last for about 10-15 minutes towards the Peak Tower and back, I can assure you that it will remain evergreen in your mind for the rest of your life after you leave the place.

The Peak Tower
Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck

The Effiel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in New York, the Skytree in Tokyo – every world city has an iconic observation deck. In Hong Kong, it is “sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck”, located in the city’s tallest building, ICC. From this harbor-front vantage point some 393 meters above sea level, you can enjoy incredible day and night Victoria Harbor views, and a stunning 360-degree panorama of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Terrirories. “sky100” offers you an unparalleled viewing experience, from the hustle and bustle of this international city to its visionary urban planning.

View from the sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck
The Peak tower is an architectural wonder and it has experienced several changes in its structure for the past few years. It is a place for entertainment, shops and eateries. Food is expensive at the Peak. A single bottle of water will cost HKD 12. 

Madame Tussauds Hong Kong

There is a wax museum located in the tower at an additional cost. You may plan to visit it if time permits and if it is a matter of your interest to take pictures with wax models of several renowned personalities. But above all, the terrace view of the Peak tower is unparalled and something which you will cherish lifelong. As the one and only celebrity-inspired attraction in Hong Kong, you can meet over 100 A-Listers from around the World in one place at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. Not only can fans get up close with their idols and snap pictures, they can also interact with these celebrities and iconic personalities as they step into each of the specially designed exhibition sets. The new expansion “Fantasy Kingdom” brings more excitement to the star-studded journey with the Super Heroes, Children’s Favorites and Chinese Legendary figures.

Madame Tussauds @ The Peak
Located on The Peak, Madame Tussauds Hong Kong is only eight minutes away from the city centre when visiting by the Peak Tram.

Many people think Hong Kong is only cosmopolitan city with its high-rise apartment blocks and busy roads. However, this is not the case. The New Territories, which lie between the Kowloon hills and the boundary which Mainland China, is an enormously diverse suburban area full of contrasts, a blend of traditional customs and modern ideas, of natural beauty and man-made achievements.

More than a century ago, this area was entirely rural. Small villages and farming fields dotted the landscape, home to people who farmed rice, tea and other crops. Today, the area still abounds in rural beauty. Yet modern developments have made its mark. Sophisticated new towns exist alongside peaceful woodland. “The Land Between” is the land bridging the motherland in China and the city centre of Hong Kong. It stands both as a gentle reminder of Hong Kong’s past as well as hopes for closer relationship with the motherland in the years to come.

A Spectacular View from the Airport Express on the way towards Hong Kong Central MTR
The land between tour visits the Yuen Yuen Institute where you can see the significance of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist contributions to society. Then it’s out into the countryside, going up the Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain. The bus drives past banana plantation, village hamlets and the surroundings of the Tai Mo Shan Country Park. A photo stop is made at the Tai Mo Shan lookout point where you can enjoy panoramic view of the harbor and the industrial / residential town of Tsuen Wan to the south. If the weather is unfavourable, the tour stops at the mountain’s lower lookout point for a view of Shek Kong Valley. The tour continues down the mountain and onto the wooded valley of Lam Tsuen and Fanling. You will visit Fanling Walled Village and walk past the old village wall with gun holes in it and a family ancestral hall where ancestor worship continues to be practised. The village belongs to the Pang family, one of the five great clans of the New Territories.

Then it’s time to head to the boundary with Mainland China by driving on Luk Keng Road. A photo stop will be made at Luk Keng Road lookout point to see natural surroundings of Starling Inlet, and the boundary town of Sha Tau Kok on Mainland, just across the Inlet. Next is a trip through the Plover Cove Country Park. The view is dominated by the water of Plover Cove Reservoir on one side and the massive ranges of Pat Sin Lang Range Country Park on the other. A photo stop is made at Bride’s Pool Falls, which has a constantly flowing waterfall year round. It is a popular place for outdoor BBQ parties in the cooler months.

Hong Kong Heritage Tour

Hidden away among high-rise apartment towers and busy highways, the past lives on in the New Territories – a living museum shaped by the rise and development of the so called five great clans of Hong Kong (the Tang, Hau, Pang, Liu and Man). Taking in historic sites around the New Territories, the Heritage Tour brings to life the customs and cultures of these clans and provides a fascinating glimpse of Hong Kong’s rich heritage.

1.       Tai Fu Mandarin’s Mansion / Fan Tin Village

Located in San Tin, Tai Fu Tai is an opulent stately residence built in 1865 by a senior Man clan member who was bestowed the title of Tai Fu (mandarin) by the Qing emperor. The extravagantly designed interior boasts three courtyards and is a striking example of how high-ranking officials once lived. The visit also includes a short walk into Fan Tin Village, the village where Man clan members live. Many of the village houses still retain their historic architecture, bearing testimony to the historical and social developments of the area.

2.       Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall / Lo Wai Walled Village

Lung Yeuk Tau in Fanling is home to the Tangs, one of the five indigenous clans of Hong Kong. Visit the 16th century Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall, which honors the Tang lineage, including a Sung dynasty princess and her husband. The exquisitely decorated three-hall building is still used for annual rituals and festival celebrations. The structure was declared a protected monument in 1997. A photo stop will be made at the nearby Lo Wai Walled Village, the first walled village built by the Tang clan. The site was also declared a monument in 1997. However, the Walled Village is a private property and visits can be organized only by invitation.

3.       Man Mo Temple / Tai Po Market

Dedicated to the deities Man (literature) and Mo (Martial Arts), the Man Mo temple in Tai Po was built in the style of a central walled compound to emphasize seclusion. Its construction in 1892 marked the founding of Tai Po New Market. Within the temple walls more than a century ago, defiant villagers chase to oppose Britain’s 99-year lease of the New Territories, sparking a five-day “war” that failed to avert the area falling under British control.

4.       Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees

In the Lam Tseun Valley, the two famous banyan trees are a favourite with local villagers who come to burn joss sticks and incense papers hoping their wishes will come true. During Chinese New Year, many Hong Kong people make a pilgrimage to this spot to make a pilgrimage to this spot to make their Chinese New Year wishes. Participate in this tradition and your wish may come true.

The Lantau Island Experience

Whether you are interested in aerial, land or water activities, Lantau has just the right thing to offer – the idyllic fishing village, the renowned Big Buddha, the rare Chinese White Dolphins, local culture and heritage, thrilling water sports. Ngong Ping 360 is where you start your Sky-Land-Sea Lantau adventure.

The Big Buddha at the Lantau Island
Ngong Ping Cable Car

Kick start your Sky-Land-Sea Lantau adventure with a 25-minute, 5.7 km cable car ride. Enjoy the stunning landscapes of Lantau Island, and the warm welcomes from the Big Buddha and Ngong Ping Village. Riding on Asia’s longest bi-cable ropeway, you will enjoy the blues and greens of Tung Chung, North Lantau and the South China Sea. If you opt for a Crystal Cabin, you will experience an uncluttered bird’s eye view through the cabin’s novel glass bottom. Private cabin services are also available to have a privacy for couples and families.

2    Ngong Ping Village

Disembarking from your cable cars, you will arrive at Ngong Ping Village – a 1.5 hectare culturally themed marketplace. In addition to offering visitors with unique shopping and dining experience. You can also enjoy the three main attractions of Ngong Ping Village – the multisensory “Stage 360” and “Motion 360”, as well as the enlightening “Walking with Buddha”.

3.       Completing the Lantau Experience

Venture out to the other parts of Lantau Island by taking a bus at Ngong Ping’s Public Transport Interchange located conveniently right next to Ngong Ping Village. Discover culture, heritage, nature, native wildlife, fresh seafood, local delicacy and more hidden gems of the island.

Big Bus Tours in Hong Kong

The Big Bus Tours offers you the best possible sightseeing experience to visitors and tourists. Their speciality includes a 24 or 48 hour ticket, hop-on and hop-off facility, 4 routes with more than 20 breakpoints, fun and entertaining commentary, complimentary rewards booklet and free earphone and tickets to major attraction. You can explore Hong Kong’s famous landmarks; from the high rise skyline of Central, buzzing Nathan Road to world famous Stanley Market.

A Busy Street at the Hong Kong Downtown
If you are for more than a day in Hong Kong, Big Bus is the best way to discover all that Hong Kong has to offer at affordable price.

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Opened in 2006, Hong Kong Wetland Park consists of a 60-hectare wetland reserve area which embraces freshwater marsh, streams, mangroves, farmlands, fishponds, reedbeds, butterfly garden, floating boardwalk and three bird hides. Visitors will explore various wetland animals and plants, and understand the importance of balanced ecosystem.

By demonstrating the best practices in energy saving and sustainability, the Visitor Centre has won many international architectural awards. Three themed galleries showcase the biodiversity of the wetland ecosystem, cultural development and wetland conservation. Visitors will learn from different perspectives through the exhibits, movies and interactive games too. The wetland park tickets can also be booked online and is operational between 10:00 am to 5:00 pm except on Tuesdays.

Spring and summer times are the best seasons for watching butterflies, dragonflies and flowers in Hong Kong Wetland Park. Apart from the beautiful butterflies, spectacular plants such as Common Melastoma, Fortune’s Cape Jasmine, Lidded Cleistocalyx, Water-lily and Indian Lotus are also major attractions. During autumn and winter time, thousands of migratory birds including endangered species like Black-faced Spoonbills take shelter in the park. The three bird hides and Viewing Gallery are equipped with telescopes for visitors to watch birds. The prime time for bird watching is from November to March.

The Park regularly organizes special campaigns to introduce wildlife, such as the annual “Bird Watching Festival” every winter. Guided activities of various themes are held every day in the park. Yuen Long where this Park is located has numerous famous natural or cultural attractions, such as Tsim Bei Tsui, Kam Tin Tree House, Ping Shan Heritage Trail etc. You can also take a 10-minute taxi ride to Lau Fau Shan, a renowned seafood centre, for delicious seafood and souvenirs. Yuen Long town centre is also a great place for Chinese and International cuisine.

How are the locals of Hong Kong City?

While in Hong Kong Central, I interacted with several local people in the City. I found that language is a major barrier in communication among-st the local population. Keeping the language issue aside, I also found them to be indifferent to questions asked by tourists. In face, I found many of them simply nodding a 'No' even before I asked them for directions. Is this an attitude problem? I am not really sure but several local people of Hong Kong are not friendly at all. Most of them are too much engrossed within themselves so much so that they often behave indifferently or sometimes with a whim of anger.

I Love You The Peak
On the contrary, when I was asking my way back to the Hong Kong Airport Express Station to a local person, an old Filipino lady interrupted us and offered a help with guiding me with directions. Another non-local couple spent almost 10 minutes speaking to me advising me with places and markets I could visit around the area. They also suggested me of some Do's and Don'ts while visiting the local markets. Undoubtedly, you can expect a good helping hand from the fellow tourists while in Hong Kong rather than the locals. While interacting with fellow friendly tourists, you would never know if they would be instantly ready to capture a lovely picture with you too ;-)