Let the B Begin!

B-schools mean business! What better lesson can one learn on the first day at IIMK! I hadn’t even joined college and here I was submitting assignments and following deadlines. And the very first day – the registration day – was a clear indicator of how things worked here. The day had a proper itinerary from morning to night. Talk about an organized and systematic life! Continue reading Let the B Begin!

A Guide to Amman and some Amazing Jordanian Food

Amman is the capital city of Jordan. It is the largest city in the country and lies sprawled across hills and valleys. Our first reaction upon landing in Amman was that of awe – we felt like we were somewhere in Europe with lush green meadows and great roads. The stereotypical “Middle-east” image in our minds was shattered.

It lies on the ancient King’s Highway – the main trade route connecting Africa with Mesopotamia. Neolithic human settlements have been found in the areas around Amman dating back to 7000 BC. The city was named Philadelphia by the Greek when they took over the region around 250 BC.

We checked into our hotel and went straight to the Roman theatre. This was built by the Romans around 150 AD when they controlled the Levant. We did not expect to see Roman ruins of such quality in Jordan!

Next stop – Amman Citadel. The Citadel sits atop one of the seven hills which make up Amman. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Ammon in 1200 BC and was subsequently occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greek, Romans, Byzantines and Umayyads. Thanks to this legacy, the Citadel is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. Inside the Citadel you can visit a variety of sites including the Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace, a Byzantine church and a museum holding some of the ancient archaeological finds. You can also get some really good views of the city from the top.

After this, we went onwards to Jerash – one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman cities in the world. You can read more about Jerash and the Historical Melting Pot that is Jordan here.

Later in the evening, we were back in Amman and out to explore the amazing food scene here. We had one destination in mind – Hashem’s Restaurant! This is one place you cannot miss – in fact, their website claims that “if you haven’t tasted Hashem, you haven’t been to Jordan”. This is one of those places that really lives up to the hype. Before I get into what we ate, let me try to recreate the experience. We sat down at a table (we had arrived early and didn’t have to wait for it) and waited for someone to hand us the menu. Instead, one of the waiters came over and covered our table with a plastic sheet. Within a few minutes, our table was covered with amazing looking dishes. We learnt that Hashem’s has a standard menu – Hummus, Falafels, Baba Ganoush, Ful Medames, French Fries and a lot of salad. We were handed some pita breads which we held and waited for plates. But none came. We looked at other tables and got the cue – the plastic wrap on the table was the plate! It was easily one of the best meals we’ve had on any trip.

Was it the best falafel we had? Yes, at the time of eating it. But we didn’t know that the best was yet to come!

Tummies full, we explored the markets in downtown Amman. We’d read about a sweet shop – Habibah which, apparently, had the best Kunafa (or Kanafeh) in town. We were introduced to this heavenly dessert in our Dubai trip. The one we had at Habibah took it to another level! Crunchy semolina topped with pistachio and sugary syrup. As you bite into it, you get the warm and gooey cheese filling. Absolutely amazing!

On the last day of our trip, we visited the Rainbow street which is lined with restaurants and pubs. It is also home to the famous Falafel Al-Quds – THIS is the best falafel we’ve ever had! Fresh out of the frier, the falafels are packed into a sesame bread with fresh tomatoes, pickles and tahini. We picked up one and walked along the street eating it. The moment we finished it, we wanted more. And back we ran to get another one. It is the kind of food that sits strong in memory and can give you cravings any time of the day.

One thing you would have noticed is that all the food mentioned so far was vegetarian – in fact, it is so good that you don’t really miss meat. However, when in the Middle east, don’t miss out on the shawarma. We headed to Reem Shawarma – a hole-in-the-wall place where you can grab some of the best shawarma you’ll have.

To sum it up, Amman is a foodie’s paradise. Make sure you set aside time specifically to explore the food scene – you won’t regret it one bit!

You can read all about our Jordan trip here:

The Jordan Itinerary

A Visit to a World Wonder and the Red Planet

A Historical Melting Pot and a Sea Where You Cannot Drown

Do leave a comment below if you liked this post! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

A Visit to a World Wonder and the Red Planet

Two of the most iconic places in Jordan are Petra and the Wadi Rum desert.

Petra

Petra is one of the most prominent symbols of Jordan. The name Petra is derived from the Greek word “petros” for “rocks”. The rock in the region is rose in colour, giving it the name “Rose City”.

The capital city of the Nabataeans, one of the nomadic Bedouin tribes around the 4th century BC, Petra is considered to be an archaeological wonder. The city is a masterpiece in rainwater harvesting and stone carving – the smart Nabataeans turning the mountainous barren terrain to their advantage by converting it into an oasis. They used dams and canals to control flash floods and stored water for the dry season.

It entered the list of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007 – we ticked off our second Wonder of the trip, having covered the Egyptian Pyramids just a few days back (blog coming soon). Petra has appeared in many movies, the most remembered one being Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This has, in fact, become a strong tourist hook for the ancient city, with Indiana Jones hats being a popular item in the souvenir shops at the entrance!

We arrived at Petra on the evening of Day 3 of our trip (read the itinerary and trip guide here). After checking into our hotel, we headed out to the town of Wadi Musa (meaning “Valley of Moses”) – this is where you will typically stay when you are visiting Petra. We entered a restaurant that looked local enough (too many touristy ones all over the place) and had a couple of shawarmas. You cannot go wrong with shawarmas in Jordan and this one was no exception – it was amazing! Tummies full and happy with the shawarmas, we headed out to explore the town. The night was starting to get cold and as we suddenly felt a warm gush of air smelling of baked goodies. Like Jerry floating towards a block of cheese, we walked straight into the bakery and ordered Kunafas (or Kanafehs) – the most heavenly dessert of the Middle East! They assembled the cheese and semolina in a pan and heated it over coal. As the cheese melted, we also stole some warmth from the hot coals. The dish was then topped off with pistachios and sugar syrup. Words can’t describe the awesomeness of this plate of dessert – writing about it makes me want to go back just to eat it!

Before you turn in for the night, make sure you pick up some energy bars, biscuits and snacks for the next day.

It was Day 4 of the trip, we woke up early morning and walked to the entrance gate of Petra. The gates opened at 7am and we made our way to Al-Khazneh (the Treasury). We soon entered a gorge (called the Siq). It is the narrow entrance to Petra which runs for almost 1.2 kms – the rocks on both sides have been smoothened by flowing water.

You can also see canals carved into them to channel water. The reveal of the treasury was something out of a movie with the gorge getting narrower and allowing only peeks of the structure.

We exited the Siq and finally got a full view of the magnificent Treasury. The rising sun’s rays had just started falling onto it revealing the intricate designs – it is said that the best view of the Treasury is in the early morning light.

As soon as you get here, a bunch of locals (most of them look like Captain Jack Sparrow for some reason) will offer to take you up to the cliff for a downward looking view. As we had time on hand, we decided to go for it – take a look at the views!

We would not recommend this if you are afraid of heights as the climb is quite steep and the cliff is, well, a cliff!

Moving on, we saw plenty of caves, some tombs, a theatre, temples and a path leading further up towards the end of the trail.

The climb gets steeper and tougher from here but at the end is the Monastery – a gigantic structure (similar to the Treasury).

You can rest here and eat those snacks you’ve been carrying while enjoying the view. On the way back, we got to see a different version of the Treasury – the sun was high in the sky now and gave the entire place a rosy glow (no wonder it’s called the Rose City).

It was also a lot more crowded now as we could see tour groups gathering. We had avoided them all by coming in first thing in the morning. Phew!

We stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants outside the gate. We ordered a plate of mansaf. Mansaf is a traditional dish of lamb cooked in a yogurt sauce served with rice – this is the national dish of Jordan. It was amazing! So simple and yet delicious! Tummies full and happy (I guess this was a constant state throughout our trip), we drove along the King’s Highway  , the Desert Highway and towards the Wadi Rum desert.

Wadi Rum

We reached our desert camp by evening. The tents were nestled in between a tall sand dune and some tall rocks. After a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, we spent some time attempting to star-gaze, but clouds played spoilsport.

The next morning, we were taken on a desert safari. As we entered deeper into the desert, the landscape changed dramatically. It felt like we were on some other planet – thanks to the Red colour, we assumed this was what Mars would look like. In fact, movies like The Martian, Red Planet, Transformers were actually shot here! It is said that the movie Lawrence of Arabia, with scenes shot here, gave the first major boost to the Jordan tourism industry.

There were gigantic boulders strewn all over and we were told that many of them contained inscriptions from over 10000 years ago. In fact, this led to Wadi Rum being classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There were camels wandering about in the distance.

We were taken to a tent where we had tea (part of the package) and returned to our camp for checkout.

Our last stop of the trip was the Dead Sea. Read all about it here.

You can read all about our Jordan trip here:

The Jordan Itinerary

A Guide to Amman and some Amazing Jordanian Food

A Historical Melting Pot and a Sea Where You Cannot Drown

If you enjoy reading our blog, do leave us a comment below – your support keeps us going! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales. Do check out our Insta story highlights to re-live the trip through our eyes!

A Historical Melting Pot and a Sea Where You Cannot Drown

Jordan is a history-lover’s paradise. With its location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, Jordan is indeed a melting pot of history and cultures. Archaeological remains dating back to 10000 years ago have been unearthed here. It is also religiously significant – being situated in the Levant region (with Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine as neighbours) – there are many sites of religious significance here. Let’s explore some of these places.

A Greco-Roman City

On our first day in Jordan (complete itinerary here), we visited Jerash – one of the most well-preserved Greco-Roman cities in the world. It is situated north of Amman – a one-hour drive. The city, originally known as Gerasa, was an important point in the trade route of the region. It flourished for centuries – its decline started when sea routes started gaining prominence. A major earthquake in the year 749 destroyed much of the city.

Our driver, Ameen, got us the entry tickets and saw us off at the gate. Make sure you have some comfortable shoes on – it’s a long walk exploring the ancient city. The entrance is via a large gateway called the Hadrian’s Arch. Inside, spread across a large area, you can find

  • A hippodrome
  • A circular plaza outlined with pillars
  • Temples of Zeus and Artemis
  • A colonnaded street
  • A Byzantine church
  • Theatres
  • A Nymphaeum.

Walking through the colonnaded street was one of the highlights – the stones which formed the street were the same on which people walked centuries ago. There were even marks left by chariot wheels! As we were visiting in March, the valley was a lush green and beautiful – the panoramic view of the city was amazing. We spent around 2-3 hours here before heading back to Amman.

The Place Where Moses saw the Promised Land

Our first stop on Day 2 was Mt. Nebo. A one-hour drive from Amman took us to the historic hilltop where Moses is said to be buried. It is said that Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land from here. On a clear day, you can see Jerusalem on the other side of the valley. We visited the church there – it had some really amazing mosaic floors.

The Mosaic City of Jordan

15 minutes away from Mt Nebo is Madaba – the town famous for its mosaics. We visited the famous Greek Orthodox St George Church. There are some really detailed mosaics inside and the most famous one is the Map of Madaba. The map is so famous that the church is even referred to as the “Church of the Map”.

A Giant Crusader Castle

A 2-hour drive from Madaba brought us to Al-Karak or Kerak, a city famous for the large castle on one of its peaks. It is located on the King’s Highway – the ancient trade route. The castle was built by the Crusaders, a group of Christians who waged religious wars to conquer the Holy Lands from Muslims. As with all other things in Jordan, it didn’t last long in their hands as different kingdoms came and went. We spent about an hour exploring the castle and proceeded on our drive to Petra.

A Sea Where You Cannot Drown

We visited the Dead Sea on Day 4 of our trip. We were super excited for this unique experience – you must have seen photos of people floating on the sea reading magazines. What makes the Dead Sea so impossible to drown in? Well, it is one of the saltiest water bodies in the world! In fact, it is almost 10 times saltier that the oceans! The salinity makes it impossible for plants and animals to live around it. It is also the lowest point on Earth – more than 400 metres below sea level.

As we drove towards the beach, the road sloped downwards, and we passed by a sign which said that we were at sea level. And as if on cue, we heard a loud cracking noise. Every single water bottle we had got compressed due to the pressure change! This is like the opposite of what happens when you travel to high mountainous regions where packets of chips blow up like footballs.

The Dead Sea is unlike any other water body – so don’t jump right in. The first feeling you get when you enter the water is a burning sensation. Due to its ultra-salinity, any scratches or wounds you may have, start acting up. This settles down in a couple of minutes. Take care you don’t get too much water into your eyes – you’ll probably end up running back to shore looking for clean water. (Tip: keep a bottle of clean water on the beach before entering the water for such emergencies). As hard as we tried to sit down, we were getting pushed right back up. In short, it was fun! We spent plenty of time wading and paddling around and clicking some pics (of course!).

We didn’t choose to cover ourselves in the mud there – if you get a chance, give it a shot.

Our skin felt really soft – apparently the high salt and mineral content helps in exfoliation and gets rid of dead skin cells. In fact, an entire industry has come up which uses the Dead Sea mud and minerals to come up with skincare products! There are many shops along the route and you can pick up a few as souvenirs.

We headed back to Amman for the last leg of our trip. Read all about Amman and its delicious food here.

You can read all about our Jordan trip here:

The Jordan Itinerary

A Visit to a World Wonder and the Red Planet

A Guide to Amman and some Amazing Jordanian Food

If you enjoy reading our blog, do leave us a comment below – your support keeps us going! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales. Do check out our Insta story highlights to re-live the trip through our eyes!

The Jordan Itinerary

When you pick up a map of the Middle East, you can see it being dominated by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Zoom in a bit to the north of Saudi towards the Mediterranean and you can spot a bunch of countries squeezed in – Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

We were looking for a place to add onto our Egypt trip. And Jordan was the most logical choice. Home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and one of the safest countries in the region to travel in, Jordan would be perfect for a 5-day trip.

When you think of the Middle East, you usually think of deserts and rugged terrain as far as the eye can see. Jordan is far from that – in fact, we were stunned by the biodiversity and geography as we travelled from north to south!

Jordan is a historically significant region thanks to its location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Humans have been living here for over 200,000 years. The ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, Nabataeans, Byzantines, Umayyads and Ottomans have ruled it at some point in history. Its modern shape started forming after World War I when France and UK re-drew the borders in the region. This gave the British control over Israel, Palestine, Transjordan and south Iraq. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (as it is called today) was finally formed in 1946 as the British Empire started retreating globally. Thanks to all these cultural influences, Jordan is a perfect destination for history lovers as well as foodies!

Best time to visit

Most parts of your Jordan itinerary would include outdoor activities and having good weather really makes for a memorable experience. March-May is considered the best time to visit. September to November is also a good time to visit. Avoid the summer months of June-August and the winter months of December-February. We travelled in March and got beautiful weather throughout the trip.

Getting around Jordan

You can fly into Jordan at the Amman Queen Alia Int’l Airport or the Aqaba King Hussein Int’l Airport depending on where you want to start your trip.

While you do have the option of taking public transport (buses between cities and taxis within them), we would recommend picking an option where you have your own vehicle. You can choose to hire a car and drive yourself. Or you could customize your itinerary with a local travel agency – they will arrange the car and hotels as well as your Visa. We went for the latter option as it was the most convenient one while being very cost effective. Also, we did not want to spend our trip trying to decode signboards and getting used to driving on the other side of the road (in India, we drive on the left).

We picked Sherazade Travel as our agency – they arranged 3-star hotels, a private AC van, Visa and entrance tickets for our tours. Our driver/guide Ameen was the most amazing host as well. We totally recommend them!

Arabic is the main language in Jordan. The currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) which is one of the strongest currencies in the world (1 JOD = 102 INR / 1.41 USD as of Mar 2021).

How many days to spend in Jordan?

Jordan has a lot to offer from the beautiful Roman ruins at Jerash up north to the mesmerizing desert of Wadi Rum in the south. You can spend anywhere between 4 to 10 days in Jordan depending on the activities you’d like to fit in.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Fly into Amman. Explore the Amman town, Citadel. Drive for a tour of the ancient city of Jerash. Spend the evening enjoying local food in the Amman market. Here is our guide to Amman and the amazing Jordanian food!

Day 2: Drive to Mt Nebo (the place where Moses saw the Promised Land). Visit Madaba and the mosaic church. Explore Kerak castle. Arrive at Petra by night. Read about the historical melting pot that is Jordan here.

Day 3: Spend the day at Petra exploring one of the seven wonders of the world. Evening drive to a desert camp in the middle of Wadi Rum desert. Here’s our experience and guide to Petra and Wadi Rum.

Day 4: Desert safari in Wadi Rum – Mars on Earth. Drive back towards Amman and go below sea level to the Dead Sea. Arrive at Amman by night.

Day 5: Fly out from Amman.

If you have additional days, consider adding one or more of the following

  • Wadi Mujib – a water filled canyon
  • Ajloun Castle – an ancient castle a short distance from Jerash
  • Aqaba – perfect place for scuba diving in the Red Sea

You can read all about our Jordan trip here:

A Visit to a World Wonder and the Red Planet

A Guide to Amman and some Amazing Jordanian Food

A Historical Melting Pot and a Sea Where You Cannot Drown

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, please leave a comment below and we’d love to help! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

A Guide to Punakha – home to the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan

The erstwhile capital of Bhutan, Punakha is one of the most beautiful regions of the Himalayan kingdom. Two of the main rivers of Bhutan – the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (Chhu means river in Dzongkha – the language of Bhutan) converge here. There are more plains here and the temperatures moderate to warm – making it ideal for farming.

After our stop at Dochu La, we made our way to Punakha. The road snaked its way down the thick forests and opened up into paddy fields. We stopped at the side of the road and Karma asked us to join him as he walked onto a narrow path in between the fields. We were close to Chimi Lhakhang – the temple of the Divine Madman. Yup! The same one who created the national animal. We made our way through the village of Sopsokha and then the rice fields till we reached the old temple.

Now that we’re at the temple of the Divine Madman himself, who was he? Lama Drukpa Kunley was a Buddhist monk from Tibet and teacher who was known for his eccentric ways and unconventional teaching methods. It is said that a local demoness from Dochula used to harm the people there. The Divine Madman killed her while she had taken the form of a dog with a flaming thunderbolt of wisdom while shouting Chi Mi (meaning No Dog!). The thunderbolt was a reference to his phallus and from then on, it became a protective symbol. The temple has been built over the spot where the demoness was supposed to be buried.

This temple is known as the Fertility temple and it is said that childless couples visit here to be blessed with a baby. Inside the temple was a wooden phallus which women had to carry and walk around the temple thrice. We even saw a photo album of people who couldn’t conceive, visited the temple and had successfully borne children afterwards. We’d never been to a temple like this before and it was a unique story and experience.

It is common to see wall murals and paintings of phalluses in the buildings in this area. In fact, phalluses are worn as charms. You can pick up some souvenirs from the shops in the village on the way back.

We said goodbye to the Divine Madman and proceeded to the Punakha Dzong.

Punakha Dzong

This is easily the most majestic dzong we saw in Bhutan. Sitting right at the confluence of the rivers Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu, you can spend hours admiring the beauty of the dzong and its backdrop. We had to cross a wooden bridge to get to the dzong.

Punakha Dzong is the second oldest dzong in the kingdom and was the administrative centre till 1955 – that’s when Thimphu became the national capital. Karma told us about its legend – Guru Padmasambhava proclaimed a prophecy that a person named Namgyel would arrive at a hill shaped like an elephant. Ngawang Namgyel indeed arrived here and ordered an architect to build a palace for Guru Rinpoche. Namgyel went on the become the founder of a unified Bhutan (about whom you’ve already read in the blogs on Paro and Thimphu).

The dzong is six storeys high and has 3 huge courtyards. The first one is for administrative functions and has a bodhi tree as well.

The second one houses the quarters for the monks. The last one has a temple where the remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel are preserved. The area where the remains are preserved can be accessed only by the main monks and the king himself. Punakha Dzong is indeed a marvel and a must-visit in your trip to Bhutan.

It is one of those structures which you can never get enough of no matter how many times you look at it. Another such structure for me is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The next morning, we proceeded for a trek to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. We passed by Punakha Dzong and followed the Mo Chhu upstream till we arrived at a bridge to cross the river. The hike took us over a suspension bridge, along a creek, through rice fields and finally a steep climb up to the top.

The temple is dedicated to bringing peace and harmony to the kingdom. The temple has four storeys, each dedicated to certain deities, and we walked all the way up along a narrow staircase. We got a magnificent panoramic view of the valley from up there. Have a look!

The trek prepared us for the mega trek that was coming up for us the next day. Read all about it here. And that brings us to a wrap of our Punakha adventures. Punakha is definitely a do-not-miss if you’re visiting Bhutan. Check out our complete itinerary here.

Hope you are enjoying our blogs – do let us know below in the comments. You can follow us on Instagram for all the latest stories and updates. You can also check out our Bhutan Highlights @fridgemagnet.tales

A Guide to Thimphu – Dzongs, Archers, Food and much more

Thimphu is the capital and the largest city in Bhutan. It is home to the Royal family and is the commercial centre of the country – it is a place where you can experience a blend of Bhutanese culture, tradition and modern lifestyle.

We arrived at Thimphu on Day 2 of our trip (check out the complete itinerary here). Our first stop was the Simtokha Dzong – the oldest dzong in Bhutan built in 1629.

We had arrived in time for a prayer session and got to experience it in one of the halls. The hall was decorated with beautiful multi-coloured victory flags hanging from the ceiling. Butter lamps were burning on one side of the hall in front of the 3 statues – Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the founder of Bhutan). The chanting of the monks reverberated inside the hall and it was a truly mesmerizing experience. I had witnessed one such prayer session in a monastery in Ladakh and it was equally amazing. Karma, our guide, took us around explaining the legends and stories.

We then went to the gigantic Buddha Dordenma – the golden statue of Buddha stood on top of a hill overlooking the city.

It is likened to the image of Buddha Shakyamuni. The statue is over 50 metres tall and was opened in 2015. In 2018 when we visited, work was still happening in the complex surrounding it. You can visit the halls inside which has over 100,000 statues of Buddha!

Next up, we were off to visit the national animal of Bhutan – the Takin. Legend goes that the Takin was created by Lama Drukpa Kunley, aka the Divine Madman (more about him in the Punakha post) by placing the head of a goat on a cow’s skeleton. That is pretty much what it looks like as well.

We stopped at the National Textile Museum and the Changlimithang Archery Ground. Archery is the national sport of the country. If you see an archery match going on, do take out some time to watch – it is a spectacle! The targets are so far away that they are hardly visible to an average person. Teams celebrate bullseyes with dances and songs!

This guy hit the target by the way! It was followed with a fair bit of dance and song!

The grounds also have an important history – it stands at the site of the decisive battle from 1885 which led to the unification of Bhutan and ended years of wars.

In the evening, Karma informed us that the founder of Bhutan Travel Guru, Mr Tsheten, would be taking us out to dinner to a traditional Bhutanese place. We were super excited to try out the local delicacies! We were even more amazed at the amount of personal touch being added to our trip – a testament to the Bhutanese hospitality.

FOOOOOD!

Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with the butter tea. As the night gets colder, this warm cup of happiness comes to your rescue. Enjoyed with crunchy rice either as a topping or a side, it is the perfect way to start. We also had some dumplings, pork and ara (locally brewed rice wine) as starters.

For the mains, we had a huge spread – almost all of them containing good amounts of chillies and cheese – both staples in Bhutan. Here are the dishes we had:

  • Mushroom soup
  • Ema Datshi – chilli with cheese
  • Phakshe Paa – Pork Bacon
  • Jasha Maru – Chicken curry
  • Shamu Datshi – Mushroom with cheese
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Khaktem – fried bitter gourd
  • Azey – chilli paste with a mixture of green chilli, onion, tomatoes, salt and cheese
  • Khuli – buckwheat pancakes
  • Red Rice
  • Druna Ghu – nine different grains found in Bhutan mixed together

Let’s see if you can identify them in the pics below!

As we found with other foods we ate in Bhutan, it was simple and delicious! My mouth waters as I attach these pics.

Dochu La

Early next morning, we started on our way to Punakha. On the way, we had to cross the mountain pass of Dochu La. On a clear day, you can see the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas from here. But we were greeted by a thick sheet of fog. This gave the place a mystical other-worldly look!

Right in the middle of the road are 108 chortens (or stupas). These stupas were built as a memorial to Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in a battle with rebels.

Near the chortens, a short walk up will take you to the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang – a beautiful temple with flowers on both sides of the steps leading up.

On the other side of the road, we saw signs pointing towards hidden meditation caves. The mist added to the experience as we climbed up the slope looking for the caves.

We really enjoyed the experience here! After spending a little over an hour here, we proceeded to Punakha for the next leg of our Bhutan adventure.  

Tip: If you happen to be in Thimphu during the weekend, do check out the weekend market!

Read all our blogs on Bhutan here. Do leave us a comment if you enjoy reading our blogs. Check out all our latest travels and stories on our Instagram page @fridgemagnet.tales. Don’t miss out our Bhutan Highlights.

A Guide to Paro and the Legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Our Bhutanese adventure started at Paro’s international airport. Landing here is, in itself, an adventure as it is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The plane spirals into the valleys with no flat land in sight – it is almost like a video game! Finally, seconds before the actual landing, with the plane still tilted, we catch a glimpse of the runway. Before we know it, we touch down at the Paro airport. After we got down the plane, we could see tall mountains on both sides of the runway – no wonder it was considered to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, only a handful of pilots in the world are certified to fly to this airport! Truly an adrenaline pumping start to the trip.

Our guide, Karma (we booked our trip with Bhutan Travel Guru), was waiting for us at the arrival hall. We checked into our hotel and took a power nap (much needed – we had started the trip from Bangalore with an overnight layover at the Kolkata airport!). We headed straight to a restaurant for lunch. We had some fried momos and buckwheat noodles – not recommended.

As soon as we were done, we asked Karma not to take us to any “tourist-friendly” restaurants. We wanted to eat local food at the places where they would go to eat – this is something we do wherever we go and have found it to be better tasting than anything else.

The Oldest Temple in Bhutan and the beautiful Paro Dzong

Our first stop was the oldest temple in Bhutan – Kyichu Lhakhang. The temple was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king of the time, Songtsen Gampo. A beautiful structure surrounded by giant prayer wheels and ancient trees, it was a good place to start the trip.

We then drove to the Rinpung Dzong – the monastery we saw while landing in Paro. Perched at a height above the Paro valley, the monastery cannot be missed. The architecture here is amazing and the murals contain stories from legends. Karma never missed explaining any of these paintings and their relevance to Bhutanese culture and folklore. As we visited more places, we could identify some of the deities and stories from here – it was quite an immersive experience. Karma mentioned that everywhere we went in Bhutan, we would see the statues and paintings of the three most significant people – Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. While Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism, Guru Padmasambhava (or Rinpoche as he is known) was the one who brought the tantric form of Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan. You can recognize him by his characteristic moustache. Zhabdrung is known as the founder of Bhutan and the one who originally unified the kingdom.

After going through the stories, we strolled along the corridors and out into the courtyard. We got some beautiful views of the valley from the Dzong and spent some more time in the courtyards.

We closed the day back at our hotel with some simple dinner and local peach wine.

The next morning, after breakfast, we proceeded to Thimphu.

We got back to Paro late in the evening on Day 4. The next day would be the grand finale of our trip – the Paro Taktsang, popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest monastery.

The Epic Trek to Tiger’s Nest

The morning view from our hotel was a beautiful panorama – the valley with the river winding through it, mist rising from the distance while the mountains towered all around.

I really enjoyed watching the morning planes emerge from the mist and swerve down towards the airport.

After a quick breakfast, we were on our way to the foothills of the mountain to begin our trek. We had just finished a trek the previous day in Punakha to visit the Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten. We hoped that would serve as a warm-up for what was to come.

First up, the legend behind the monastery

It was built in 1692 around one of the caves where Buddhist master Guru Padmasambhava used to meditate. Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, is said to have brought Vajrayana Buddhism (a tantric form of Buddhism) to Bhutan from Tibet. Legend has it that the Guru arrived here on the back of a flying tigress – hence the name, Tiger’s Nest.

The Trek Begins

Now, let’s get to the trek! When you get your first glimpse of the monastery, it seems almost impossible to get to – it looks like it has been etched into a steep cliff with no path visible. The monastery is perched at a height of over 10,000 feet (3000 feet from the valley). The total distance of the trek is estimated to be around 6km.

At the parking, you can find people handing out sticks for a nominal price (these came in handy at the steep parts of the trek especially on the way back!). We recommend you pick up one of these before heading out.

We first passed through a pine forest and some clearings to reach the base of the cliff. You can choose to take a horse to the halfway point – we chose to walk as the real satisfaction of completing a trek comes when you do it on your own.

The Real Trek Begins!

We were now getting into the steep part of the trek. The dirt trail wound its way up with boulders and roots of trees acting as footholds.

As we gained altitude, it got harder to climb. There were spots where the path was winding around the hill – some people had made steep shortcuts to cut across. While it is fun to pull yourself up a few of them, you end up huffing and puffing pretty soon. Our guide Karma, however, was skipping ahead with ease as this was routine for him. About an hour into the trek, we spotted the monastery and it seemed as far as ever! But the beautiful views, the prayer flags (and adrenaline) kept us going steadily.

In about an hour and 10 minutes, we reached the cafeteria – the rest stop midway into the trek. We re-fuelled with some tea and biscuits while enjoying the view. This is also the last point till which the horse/mule can carry you. After this, it is you and your legs all the way.

The climb continued and the monastery disappeared from view. We were starting to take more frequent breaks as our legs started protesting. Our biggest motivation was a group of elderly people who were making their way to the top – we were amazed by their stamina and how they consistently kept walking without taking any breaks. But even they stopped a bit ahead at the next turn. We understood why when we got there – the monastery was right in front of us! In fact, we were looking down at it from a height.

We were finally down to the last part of the trek. We were done with the trail and now, in front of us, stood Nam’s biggest enemies – STEPS! To make things more interesting, we had to climb DOWN before climbing back UP to the monastery. Thankfully, we spotted the elderly folks and the thought of giving up vanished quickly.

At the bottom of the stairs was a waterfall and a bridge covered in prayer flags. The ambience here literally injects energy into you – this is exactly what we needed to make our way up the final set of steps. It took about another hour and 10 mins from the cafeteria to get here.

We Made It!

At the entrance, we had to keep our shoes, cameras and phones with the security. The most powerful feeling you get as soon as you enter the monastery is PEACE! Karma took us on a tour of the temples here. We spent some time sitting on the cold floor next to the windows looking out towards the valley below. It was so quiet and peaceful – you have to experience it to know it! What’s even more striking is the fact that this was despite the place being full of monks and tourists. Being from cities with a busy lifestyle, we savoured every moment we spent in this ancient cave etched into the cliff of a remote mountain in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

The way back was tougher as we struggled to find a grip on the slippery dirt. This is where that stick comes in handy – when your knees give way, the stick comes to the rescue! After a two-hour downhill trek, we were back at the parking! We made it!

We were glad it was November and that the sun didn’t beat us down. Check out more about the best time to visit Bhutan and our itinerary here.

Tip: Do not do this trek on the first day of your trip. Remember – you are at a high altitude and your body needs to get used to the oxygen levels. Even though you will manage to complete it, it might force you to take the next day off to rest and rejuvenate.

A Happy Ending to an Amazing Trip

We reached Paro, had lunch and went back to our hotel. Later in the evening, we went to a farmhouse for a traditional hot stone bath. Can’t ask for anything better after the Taktsang trek! The bath was made of wood and had a partition which led to the area outside where the stones were dropped. As the water got cooler, the operator (who was also the owner of the farmhouse) would drop a couple of red-hot stones into the water. The sizzle of the stones as they dropped in was as much a stress reliever as the herb-infused water.

We then went into the home and joined the family for dinner. They started us off with some butter tea – a pink tea which really warms you up from the inside! The food was a reflection of Bhutan itself – simple yet delicious. Rice, scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes, chillies, dried meat and some soup.

The warmth and hospitality of our hosts continued to make us feel at home. Karma helped translate our conversations as they told us about some of the photos hanging in their hall. It was a happy ending to our last full day in Bhutan.

We bid farewell to Karma and Bhutan on Day 6 at the Paro airport as we boarded our flight back home the next morning. Our expert pilot went round and round and brought us out of the valley and soon we had Mt Everest once again for company for the rest of the flight. It had been an unforgettable trip.

Check out our itinerary and tour details here. For more on the foods of Bhutan and the capital of Thimphu, click right here. Our other trek of the trip in Punakha can be found here. Do check out all the blogs to complete your virtual Bhutan experience.

Do leave a comment below if you liked this post! Do check out our Bhutan Highlights on Instagram to see the trip through our eyes @fridgemagnet.tales.

The Perfect Trip to Bhutan – THE Land of the Thunder Dragon

The country where Gross National Happiness ranks higher than GDP. The only country in the world that is carbon negative and has 70% of its area covered by forests. The mystical kingdom nestled high up in the Himalayas. Bhutan is these things and much more.

Bhutan had been on our travel list for some time. After our usual rounds of research, we figured out that planning a trip to Bhutan was very different from any other place we’d visited so far. Hiring a local tourist guide was mandatory and tourists had to pay a cover charge per day for visiting the country. While this makes it an expensive country to visit, it stays true to Bhutan tourism’s policy of “High Value, Low Impact”. It is a very good way to ensure that tourists come in manageable numbers – the tourism agencies can ensure that you have a great time experiencing the local culture and traditions while reducing the impact on the environment. More on this policy ahead.

Best Time to Visit

October to December is considered the best part of the year to visit Bhutan. The skies are clear, rain is less, and this is an important ingredient to a beautiful trip. March to May (the Spring season) is the best time to witness the valleys full of flowers in bloom. Avoid Jun-Aug which is the rainy season. December to February brings snowfall in many parts which can cause roads to be closed. We went in November and had beautiful weather throughout the trip.

Getting To Bhutan

There are two ways you can get to Bhutan – by road or by air.

Road – you can cross into Bhutan at Phuntsholing from India. The closest airport in India is Bagdogra which is a 4-hour drive from the border. There is usually a long wait time at the border town where you need to get your permits in place before proceeding. It takes another 6 hours to get from the border to the capital, Thimphu. This is the cheaper option, but you will need to add 2-3 days into your itinerary just for the travel.

Air – you can fly into the Paro airport from India, Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh and Singapore. There are only two airlines available – Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines. While this is an expensive option, flying into Paro is one of the most spectacular flights you’ll take in your life! We took the Bhutan Airlines flight from Kolkata (we booked it on their website directly).

A few minutes after reaching the cruising altitude, we could clearly see Mt. Everest gleaming to our left.

The height of the mountain was astounding as it always remained in sight high above the clouds. The best part of the flight is the landing. The plane spirals into the valleys with no flat land in sight – it is almost like a video game! Finally, seconds before the actual landing, with the plane still tilted, we catch a glimpse of the runway. Before we know it, we touch down at the Paro airport. After we got down the plane, we could see tall mountains on both sides of the runway – no wonder it was considered to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, only a handful of pilots in the world are certified to fly to this airport! Truly an adrenaline pumping start to the trip.

Bhutan’s Unique Travel Policy

As mentioned before, Bhutan has a levy of USD 250 per day per person in the peak season (USD 200 in the low season). If you are travelling solo, you will be charged USD 40 extra. At the time of our travel, only 3 countries were exempted from this – India, Bangladesh and Maldives. However, with increasing number of tourists from these countries, a levy of INR 1200 per day has been put into effect in 2020 – this is to continue tourism in a sustainable way. While this does increase the costs for a budget traveller, it is a good method to preserve the ecosystem and culture that Bhutan is famous for. Now comes the best part – this levy of $250 is not just an entry fee – it actually covers the costs of your accommodation, food, local transportation and a private guide!

There are a lot of travel agencies that you can pick from. Make sure you read sufficient online reviews before making the final decision. After our research, we booked our trip with Bhutan Travel Guru and we totally recommend them! The best part was that it didn’t feel like a trip organized by big tour companies (where they mechanically stick to the itinerary and take us from point A to B). We were made to feel right at home and there was a lot of care taken in the entire planning. They took the personal connect to another level – the owner of the company (Mr Tsheten) actually made time to meet us for dinner. He and his company ensured that we had an amazing time in Bhutan. (No, this is not sponsored. We genuinely recommend them! 😊)

Visa, Currency

You will need to apply for the tourist visa when you book your trip. The travel agency generally takes care of it as part of the package. Indians (and Bangladeshis and Maldivians) do not need a visa to visit Bhutan.

The Bhutanese currency is called the Ngultrum. Its value is almost the same as the Indian Rupee (1 USD = 72 BTN at the time of writing this). As mentioned earlier, you won’t need to take out cash too much during the trip as most of the travel expenses are covered in the charges you pay the agency.

How many days to spend in Bhutan

A minimum of 5-6 days (excluding travel) to really soak in the peace, enjoy nature and the local culture. This duration will ensure you have enough time to visit atleast 3 parts of the country – typically Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. If you have time to spare, you can visit Bumthang as well.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Fly into Paro. Visit Kyichu Lhakhang, Rinpung Dzong. Read more about our time at Paro here.

Day 2: Drive to Thimphu. Visit textile museum, Buddha Dordenma, Takin reserve and Simtokha Dzong. More details about Thimphu here.

Day 3: Drive to Dochu La Pass. Hike through rice paddies and visit the Chimi Lhakhang temple. Visit the spectacular Punakha Dzong. The beauty of Punakha is captured in detail here.

Day 4: Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. Drive to Thimphu and visit the weekend market. Drive back to Paro.

Day 5: Hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery. Visit the Paro museum. Enjoy a traditional hot stone bath and dinner with a local family at a farmhouse. More on the Tiger’s Nest here.

Day 6: Flight back to Kolkata

Bhutan was a very unique travel experience and far exceeded our expectations. Things that really stood out and left a lasting impact on us? The hospitality and warmth of the people, simplicity, living in harmony with nature, tasty food, beautiful sights. It is one of the few nations which hasn’t been swallowed by capitalism (and its inevitable impact on environment and culture). We hope this beautiful nation continues to grow and be a flagbearer of sustainable living and happiness.

If you enjoy reading our blog, do leave us a comment below – your support keeps us going! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales. Do check out our Insta story highlights to re-live the trip through our eyes!

The Beaches and Mountains of Seychelles – Part Two (Mahe)

Before we get started, don’t forget to check out Part One here.

Done? Let’s begin!

We took the morning ferry to Mahe (details on the boat and bookings here). We had booked a car with one of the rental agencies here and our Hyundai i10 was waiting for us at the parking.

To get you started, here is a map of Mahe and the routes we took.

Day 1: Explore the Beau Vallon area

Our homestay was close to the Beau Vallon beach. It was up a steep slope and we were glad we got a car. This also meant that we got a beautiful sunset view from our room!

After checking in, we headed straight to the beach. There are quite a few street food stalls here serving Creole food, coconuts, grilled seafood, banana fritters and cakes and many more. It was a beautiful beach, and we spent a lot of time in the water enjoying the waves. In fact, we spent the whole afternoon and evening here!

We picked up some pizza from Baobab pizzeria on the way back and called it a day.

Day 2: Visit Victoria, Hike to the peak of Morne Blanc, Have some amazing Creole food

Our first stop for the day was the capital city of Victoria. We parked our car in the parking area, collected a parking coupon from a nearby store (Sinnasamy Snack Shop) and put it on the dashboard. We visited the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, walked around the Little Ben clock tower and covered most of the city by foot in under an hour.

We grabbed some snacks and headed straight to the Morne Blanc trail. You need to take the Sans Soucis Road to the starting point of the trail – there are boards and maps along the way, so you won’t miss it. We wanted to make it to the top before noon – island weather can be very unpredictable especially with mountain-top viewpoints. The signboard at the beginning classified it as a hard trek which would take about an hour (Nam decided to skip this and went for the Tea Tavern Nature Trail instead). They weren’t kidding – the forest was dense and in some parts the trail went missing between fallen trees. Luckily, I could see a couple of people about 200 m ahead – all I had to do was ensure that I don’t lose sight of them!

In the end, it was worth it – the view was stunning!

We then drove down to the west coast, upto Port Launey and back down to Grand Anse beach. The beach was beautiful, and we spent some time here.

We drove back to Victoria along the La Misere road. Our lunch stop was Marie Antoinette, arguably the most popular place in Mahe for Creole cuisine. In fact, a sign on the wall claims that it was declared a national monument of Seychelles in 2011. They had a wide variety of dishes – fish, chicken and vegetarian.

Some of them we loved, a few did not appeal to our taste buds.

Maps told us that the road back to Beau Vallon had a lot of traffic. So, we decided to take the long path along the North Coast Road – it was a long drive but a very beautiful one!

We grabbed some food from one of the supermarkets on the way and headed back to our room.

Day 3: Drive along the coastal roads covering the south of the island

Our last day in Seychelles – we checked out of our room and drove straight up La Misere Road to the viewpoint of the east coast. This point is perfect to check out the city of Victoria, the port and the small islands on the sides.

Our drive then took us along the West Coast Road all the way down to Anse Intendance. Yet another stunning beach – we spent a good hour here!

We were lucky that most of the beaches we visited in Mahe did not have any annoying seaweed strewn all over the sand. For lunch, we stopped at Maison Marengo and had the most amazing seafood pizza and calamari!

Our last beach in the trip was Anse Royale – it was a beautiful one for snorkelling with many different types of fish swimming around.

Having covered the entire South and East Coast Roads, we headed up the Providence highway to Eden Island – the poshest area here.

It was too posh for our liking and we drove right out. We went back to Victoria to complete our loop all around the Mahe island! Our last stop – the airport for our flight back home!

Though we didn’t know at the time, Seychelles ended up being our only trip of 2020. Considering that, it was definitely worth it – it was relaxing, exciting and had some of the most beautiful scenery we had ever seen. Read all about our excursion to La Digue and our Seychelles itinerary in our other blogs.

If you like reading our blog, do drop in a comment and share with your friends – it will take us one step closer to inspiring more people to travel! Check out more pics and our latest travels on Instagram @fridgemagnettales

The Beaches and Mountains of Seychelles – Part One (Praslin)

Waking up to a sunrise on the beach, strolling along misty hills in the morning, spending the afternoon sighting birds in a tropical forest and finishing the day with the sun setting into the ocean. What if you can have a holiday where all of this happens on the same day? That holiday is Seychelles!

Seychelles is the only group of granitic islands in the world – in fact, it is considered to be among the oldest islands in the world – breaking off when the ancient continent of Gondwana split and shifted 80 million years ago. This also explains how this variety of flora and fauna and the tropical forests got here.

Our 5-day vacation in Seychelles started off in Praslin, the second largest island in the archipelago.

Praslin

We landed at the Praslin Airport and walked to our homestay which was on the Grand Anse beach.

If you have 2 days in Praslin, you can consider renting a car so that you don’t have to depend on the bus timings. There are 3 bus routes on the island – 61, 62 and 63. The bus fares are standard (SCR 7 per person for one trip when we visited in early 2020) – so it would help if you have change. Buses run every 30-45 mins and the frequency reduces in the weekend.

ROUTE 61: Mont Plaisir – Anse Boudin via Vallée de Mai

ROUTE 62: Mont Plaisir – Zimbabwe via Consolation

ROUTE 63: Mont Plaisir – Anse La Blague – Côte d’Or

Praslin has some really beautiful beaches – our first stop was Anse Lazio. To get to Anse Lazio, you can take Bus 61 or 62 till Anse Boudin and walk about 15-20 mins to the beach. The beach was beautiful – however, there was a lot of seaweed washed ashore which made it a bit messy.

Our next stop was the Cote d’Or beach or Anse Volbert. There are quite a few hotels and guesthouses here making it a good base location.

We picked up some food along the esplanade and got back to enjoy the sunset at our “private” beach stretch in Grand Anse.

We woke up and headed straight to the beach for the sunrise.

After a half day excursion to La Digue, we visited the Vallee de Mai reserve – home to the famous Coco de Mer – a rare species of palm tree which is only found here. The reserve is situated right in the middle of Praslin island on top of the mountain.

The male and female trees are very distinct in appearance. The nut is gigantic – the largest seed in the world. Local folklore says that the male tree uproots itself on stormy nights to mate with the female.

We also spotted the elusive Seychelles Black Parrot chomping on some fruit deep inside the reserve. If you are in Praslin, don’t miss visiting here – it may not be the biggest or most dense nature reserve in the world, but the fact that it is one of the best preserved remains of the ancient supercontinent, makes it a fascinating sight.

We took the next bus to Mt Plaisir in an attempt to go to Anse Georgette. There is a trail near the bus stop – look for a wooden signboard (look closely or else you will miss it).

The trail takes you through the thick jungle with some steep climbs. We walked for about 30 mins till we reach the point where the trail started descending towards the beach.

The trail easily takes about an hour one way, so we were roughly halfway there. There was, at best, an hour left before sunset and we didn’t want to risk being stuck there – so we headed back. Something for next time!

We ended the day with dinner at the Paradisier restaurant. Seychelles is not really a foodie’s paradise – there are few restaurants and they are quite expensive. This means you will mostly be looking for takeaways and supermarkets. There was a supermarket called Whole Foods (no relation to the US version) near our place where we got our breakfast. Another option is to buy supplies and cook it yourself – all homestays will have a kitchen that you can use.

Check out part 2 of this blog here.

Creating memories – One Fridge Magnet at a time!