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Mountains, Temples And Snow: A Holiday I Won't Forget

Last updated on: December 14, 2023 12:51 IST
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Keisha Santwan, 16, and her travel-obsessed family love the joy of exploring new places.

"Keisha," mom called out to me, "guess what? We are going on a holiday."

This trip to Nepal and parts of India was long overdue for us as a family.

After being forcibly confined to our homes, and then limiting ourselves to Mumbai due to COVID-19 and its aftermath, I was a little less excited than usual.

I'm not sure if it was because I hadn't travelled in a reaaaally long time or simply because I didn't think these places seemed interesting or fun enough to explore. But, boy, was I wrong!

This trip, which was spread over two weeks, gave us adequate time to enjoy each place we visited to the fullest.

Kathmandu's Durbar Square

IMAGE: The Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Photograph: Kind courtesy Alexander Shafir/Wikimedia Commons

We began with Nepal and Kathmandu was our first stop.

We were whisked off in our arranged car to Bhaktapur Durbar Square before we headed off Nagarkot, which would be our first halt.

The Durbar Square used to be the royal palace complex and it has a variety of intricately carved buildings, multiple temples and monuments -- the one I liked the most was the 55-window palace -- that now mostly serve as local restaurants or pretty places to be photographed at.

Right at the centre is a gigantic bell that, if you are not looking, could knock you down.

On the way to Chandigiri

IMAGE: We were a spec in the Chandragiri sky. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

There was not much for us to do at Nagarkot, but Chandragiri, where we went next, more than made up for it.

This beautiful hill station -- we stayed at the Chandragiri Hills Resort -- is situated at an altitude of 2,551 metres.

What all four of us (my brother and my parents) found most exciting was the manner in which we reached there -- cable car!! At one point, we were barely moving due to the sheer height.

Ensconced within a glass enclosure, we were travelling suspended over lush green forests and surrounded by a misty blue-grey sky.

This journey -- considering the steepness of the valley below, the dense jungle and the lonely sky -- is definitely not recommended for people with acrophobia but is perfect for those who want to add to their crazy list of adventures.

I, for one, loved the cable car ride and thoroughly enjoyed every second of the picturesque beauty on display.

Pashupatinath temple

IMAGE: The long, breathless hike to the Swayambhunath temple. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

Kathmandu, in particular, is densely populated with temples, each one unique in its own way.

The Swayambhunath temple complex (which sits on a hill in the Kathmandu Valley) has a beautiful stupa; the eyes of the Buddha have been painted on each of its four sides.

It also has an interesting ritual where you had to put a flower of your choice into a glass of water and keep it there while you circumambulate the temple while wishing for something in particular; it is said your wish will come true.

I won't tell you what I wished for, but if it comes true, I'll be really happy.

We also visited the Boudhanath temple (the stupa here is said to hold the remains of the Kassapa Buddha, the last Buddha before Gautama Buddha) and the Pashupatinath temple (dedicated to Pashupatinath, an avatar of Lord Shiva) when we were in Kathmandu.

While we had to walk quite a distance and climb numerous steps before being able to witness their beauty, the end result was worth it.

The locals have shops in every nook and corner, selling handmade artifacts, cute trinkets and beautiful handwoven carpets.

Nepali food

IMAGE: Our food, literally on fire. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

Going to Nepal and not trying out the local cuisine would have been a sin and so it goes without saying that, by the end of our visit to this lovely country, I was stuffed with one too many momos whether in its normal form or as a thukpa -- where it is served with noodles and a lot of broth.

Another dish, though it is heavy on the tummy, is a must-try for the taste and the experience.

A big, mixed bowl of vegetables, meat, broth and noodles was served with glass noodles or rice, depending on what you like. What was interesting though were the flames that spouted out from the middle, keeping the dish heated and offering an unusual spectacle.

The third dish I really enjoyed was the Thakali Thali, comprising of dal, bhaat, tarkari (vegetables), meat and buckwheat finger chips.

On the other hand, one dish I would not try again is another thaali that consists of a lot of raw food like peanuts, some hard, black pulse, a scrawny dried fish and some rice, rajma and egg. The last three were all I could eat from this dish.

Nepali food

IMAGE: The meal I wouldn't eat again. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

It was time for us to say goodbye to Nepal and fly back to India in the tiniest plane I had ever seen.

We touched down in Darjeeling where India produces some of the most famous teas of the world.

This 'queen of the hills' offered a splendid view of everything that lay at its pretty feet.

Before I proceed, it will be prudent of me to mention that one must take precautions if prone to motion or altitude sickness; the travel in this beautiful destination is through unending, winding, mostly uphill roads.

Tiger Hill, one of Darjeeling's most popular viewpoints, attracts visitors as early as 4.30 am so that they can witness the glory of the sun rising over the Himalayan mountain tops.

We, unfortunately, had no such luck though we had woken up at 3 am and battled the biting cold; it had been raining through the night, making it extremely foggy and wiping out any semblance of a view.

One must visit Darjeeling's magnificent tea estates where you can enjoy the panoramic expanse of the town below while sipping your tea of choice at the tea tasting session.


IMAGE: A glimpse of heaven in Gangtok. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

From Darjeeling, we drove through the long -- and yes, winding -- roads to Gangtok where we stayed for three days.

This was definitely the most exciting part of the trip as far as I was concerned.

We spent a whole day exploring Nathu La (Nathu means listening ears and La means pass in Tibetan, so you just say Nathu La and not Nathu La pass).

This pass, at is 4,310 metres above sea level, still had the last remnants of snow.

I was seeing snow for the first time, so you can imagine how I felt :)

Reaching Nathu La required a long drive in temperatures as low as 3 degrees Celsius, so we were all bundled up in numerous layers. Yet, we were still chilled to the bone.

The steep climb up to the Indo-China border was definitely exhilarating!

We saw a Chinese army post occupied by their soldiers and the no-man's land in between.

The lack of oxygen hit me, making me feel sleepy and groggy even as I climbed and descended those series of steps to get to the border.

I had to be rushed down to a lower level so that I could regain my equilibrium.

My brother, of course, didn't let me hear the end of it.

But it was still amazing; I slid down little snow hills along the road, made snowballs (pelted my brother with them) and enjoyed the freezing weather.

Lake Tsomgo Cho

IMAGE: Tsomgo Chho -- the lake that could be a painting. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

On our way back, a little below Nathu La, we stopped at Tsomgo Chho, a glacial lake that freezes in winter.

Legends say the lamas (Buddhist spiritual leaders) could forecast the future by studying the colour of the lake's water.

The surface of Tsomgo Chho was a perfect mirror for the surrounding mountains and forests, which reflected in the water making this whole scene seem like a painting.

We even got to sit on a cute yak named Baadal who took us around the area.

Badal, the magnificent yak

IMAGE: My friend, Badal. Photograph: Keisha Santwan

Our next stop was Siliguri in West Bengal where our hotel, built in a tea estate, was a highlight by itself. All our sightseeing was within the hotel as we cycled across the expanse of the tea estate.

We then moved to a small, quaint little town called Chalsa.

The boon and bane of this final leg of our trip was that we were staying in a forest lodge in the midst of the Gorumara National Park.

Those creepy crawlies really freaked me out, so much so that I refused to sleep with the lights off.

The flip side -- a really good one at that -- was getting to see a wild elephant, late at night, right across the lake within the property. We were alerted by the trampling sounds in the foliage. It was enthralling to see that massive animal so close to us.

The places we went to, with the breathtaking landscape they offer, the historic significance, the magnificent monuments and temples and overall fun experience, should definitely be a must visit at some point for those who enjoy travelling.

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