Tag Archives: monastery

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 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!

How to get Leh’d: A Non-Adventurer’s Tale (Part One)

I’m pretty sure you’re wondering why I called this “a Non-Adventurer’s Tale”. For people who have read my other blogs, you must be wondering if scuba-diving in the Andamans, sky-diving in Dubai and river rafting in Kullu are not adventures. They are, of course. But going on a 3000 kilometers bike trip on a bike that you’ve never sat on and taking, what is considered, one of the toughest routes in the world, is something different altogether. And as for the “Part One” – I really wanted to fit everything into one post but then it wouldn’t do justice to the places I visited. So, I’m keeping it to Two parts this time – one for the onward journey and one for the return.

Continue reading How to get Leh’d: A Non-Adventurer’s Tale (Part One)