About Mariam Noronha

Mariam Noronha is a teacher with over nine years of teaching experience. She has taught a wide range of management related subjects and has authored and presented papers at national and international seminars and conferences. An avid reader, researcher and writer; she has authored numerous articles in the copy writing, fiction, web writing and travel writing genre. She has authored four e-books on various genres of writing. Mariam currently writes her own business blog, TheOneOfAKindPreneur and provides consultancy to aspiring entrepreneurs with regard to business planning, branding, product development and promotion.

India’s Unique Holiday Destinations

Do you fancy an idyllic but different break in India? Did you know that there are a host of unique holiday destinations in India that are just a few hours away by flight or road from the tourist traps in major cities?

Here is our take on five unique holiday destinations in India where you will find ample opportunities for everything from quiet getaways to rejuvenation to hectic activity. What’s more these destinations score high on accessibility and exclusivity too!

Dalhousie – Himachal Pradesh

Fly to Jammu or Amritsar or take a train to Pathankot and then drive to Dalhousie, a picturesque locale on NH 33-35 which can be reached from many cities by bus or private tour vehicles. Built in the 1850s on five hills of the western Dauladhar Range, Dalhousie is a hill station established by the British Empire in India as a summer retreat for its troops and bureaucrats. It is a green destination in more ways than one. Blessed with the refreshing climate and warm sunshine its length and breadth are covered with cedar, oak, rhododendron, pine and a variety of shrubs.

Walk and trek to explore Dalhousie which is dotted with English-style cottages, bungalows and churches that emanate the charm of a bygone era. Start exploring the place from Tehra Hill, the centre of the town surrounded by a level walk called The Mall on day one and trek up to the Thandi Sarak and Pangi Hills where panoramic views of the undulating landscape await you on day two.

If trekking is something you enjoy then there are many trek routes on the Dalhousie – Khajjiar – Chamba triangle. If you enjoy leisurely walks then the nearby towns of Khajjiar and Chamba are replete with pine fringed paths, snow fed streams, lakes and temples.

Panchpula is a great picnic spot where small streams flow under five bridges and Jandri Ghat is excellent for a day trip and was once home to the palace of the former rulers of Chamba. You could also choose to stay at the forest lodge at Kalatope Wildlife Sanctuary, 8 kms from Dalhousie, which is home to the Himalayan black bear, barking deer and many species of birds.

It is best to visit Dalhousie from October to May as this avoids monsoon season when the roads can be difficult to traverse.

Rann of Kutch – Gujarat

A short flight from Mumbai to Bhuj and a two and a half hour drive later you arrive in the Rann of Kutch. A safari in the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary is the best place to begin your journey into the Rann. Spread over nearly 5,000 square kilometres, it is the largest wildlife sanctuary in India and is home to a variety of animals like the desert fox, desert cat, jackal, wolf, nilgai, and the Indian Wild Ass which is only one of the three surviving species of Wild Ass in the world and figures high on the list of endangered species.

For bird lovers the sanctuary offers the opportunity to see over 350 bird species. The flamingo, pelican and Common Crane vie for the bird watcher’s eye together with foreign avian visitors during the winter such as the Siberian Crane, the Egyptian Ceraneous Vulture, the European Blue-tailed Bee-eater and Houbara Bustard from neighboring Iran and Iraq. More winged delights await you at the Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, 64 kms from Ahmedabad.

The Rann is inhabited by a number of local tribes like the Kolis, Rabaris, Bajanias, Bharvads, Kutchis and the Gujjars and a visit here is incomplete without a closer look at their vibrant lifestyles.

There is a lot more to explore in the vicinity like Modhera which is famous for its beautiful temples that have been carved out of stone. Zinjuwada, an 11th century fort structure, located on the periphery of the Rann houses one of the area’s largest salt works. A stop in the historic city of Rajkot (famous for its association with Mahatma Gandhi) or at Patan (known for its Patola sarees and fabrics) is a good way to wrap up your trip to the Rann.

Ladakh – Jammu & Kashmir

If trekking and exploration are high on your travel agenda then Ladakh is one of the best places to visit. Fly to Leh (Ladkah’s largest town) to begin your journey into the challenging and exciting destination of Ladakh. Making Leh your base camp to acclimatize to the high altitudes is ideal.

The trek from Spituk to Stok takes 4-5 days during which you can explore remote villages, enchanting monasteries and wildlife at the Hemis National Park. If you are looking for an authentic stay in Ladakh then the Himalayan Homestays programme gives you the opportunity to stay with a Ladakhi family and explore the park with experienced guides.

Other treks like the Lamayuru to Alchi trek through the Kongske La Pass at 4,900 metres and Stakspi La at 4,950 metres give visitors a glimpse of the stark, undulating landscapes and some ancient monasteries like the Alchi Chos-khor known for 11th century murals.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands – Bay of Bengal

For those of you who are water babies the colour blue will take on many hues at the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The islands are a great place to unwind and spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

You can enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling in the blue-green visage and swim alongside colourful marine creatures during night dives. Take a glass bottom boat ride to get a glimpse of the diverse marine life and corals along the Havelock Islands coast in the Andamans and the Lakshadweep.

The best way to get around the islands is on a bike so you can drive around and discover the place and sample local cuisine along the way.

The Backwaters of Alappuzha and Kochi – Kerala

The tranquil backwaters of Alappuzha and Kochi are accessible by flights (the Cochin International Airport is the nearest one), by train from major cities like Kochi, Mumbai, Bangalore, New Delhi and Chennai or bus from Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Chennai, Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore to Alappuzha.

A house boat with a butler, oarsmen and cook to wait on your every need of course while you enjoy the tranquility of the sylvan settings and navigate 900 kilometers of the water kingdom is the best way to enjoy some quiet time. You can also relax, rewind and rejuvenate as you surrender to the goodness of Ayurveda at the Keraleeyam Ayurvedic Resort, 70 kms south of Kochi or the Coconut Lagoon and Kumarakom Lake Resort. Medicated oils and herbal concoctions work their magic on you as experienced masseurs get on the job.

If you want to grab a slice of hectic activity in Alappuzha, then the Snake Boat Festival in August is the best time to go. You could also visit during the temple festivals of which the Ambalapuzha temple festival is particularly impressive. Five elephants carry the Krishna idol from the temple amidst great pomp and splendor to the accompaniment of music. The temple is famous for its rose palpayasam, a traditional very sweet milk-based dish as an offering.

All in all, depending on what you’re looking for India has a lot to offer in terms of quiet retreats and destinations that are replete with frenzied activity. Here’s to a wonderful Indian rendezvous.

Images reproduced from en.wikipedia.org

Perk Up Your Home with Tray Gardens

If you live in an urban high rise and long for the bliss of indulging in gardening then despair not, a tray garden in your home is the best way to perk up your living space.  No matter what your design style or space constraints, a tray, some sand, a few pebbles, rocks and coloured stones with some potted plants are all you need to set up your tray garden.

The advantages of a tray garden are many:

  • Your tray garden comes together in a matter of minutes
  • You can arrange and rearrange it as frequently as you like
  • You can celebrate seasonal plants and flowers in your living space
  • You are required to devote just a few minutes towards maintaining it
  • Just some spray watering is enough while the sand absorbs the overflow

In that way a tray garden is ideal for anyone who is short on space and time but would love that green patch or many green patches in their home.  What’s more the choice of how and where you present it is entirely up to you.

You could play around with trays and platters, an old tray or a new one – it’s your call.  Some African Violets in an old plastic tray or some Succulents or Cacti with pebbles on a metal tray or a wicker tray with a colourful spread of Pansies are all ways to add colour and life to your living room, corridors or bedrooms.

Another variation is creating a moss garden on a tray.  For this you will need  a shallow tray which you will cover with a thin layer of potting compost.  Look around the garden for some moss, dig up or cut out small pieces and arrange them on your tray. If you can find different types and colours of moss it will just make your tray garden more interesting.   Add some mossy stones, pieces of bark or shells and your tray garden is ready!

Your imagination is the only limitation to exploring the use of tray gardens in your home.  Here is an idea to create a tray garden your kids will enjoy:

Place little fairies sitting amongst brightly coloured flowers and rock plants if your little one loves fairies and dreamland.  If your kids have a flair for adventure then a dinosaur garden made of ferns and rock plants with little toys peeping through the undergrowth could get your kids interested and excited about the idea of having a tray garden.

A word of caution though. There is a difference between clutter and a good number of plants and other components you can use to create a tray garden.  Don’t go overboard, keep a fine balance, a minimalistic display has its own charm and you would do well to remember this as you decide to perk up your home with a tray garden.

Image reproduced from freedigitalphotos.net

How to Manage Annoying Colleagues

Mariam Noronha, an experienced Management Educator, has some helpful advice on how to manage annoying colleagues. Read her top tips below which will help those seeking better working relationships with their co-workers.

One of the many reasons why we get stressed out at work and sometimes even resist going to work is because we encounter some annoying colleagues. Such people trigger off negative emotions and make us feel restless and compelled to react.

Working around people who annoy and irritate you can only sap your energy often leaving you seething and upset. While we cannot eliminate such people from our fold, we can try and manage them. Here are 6 tips to help you manage annoying colleagues…

Change Your Focus

Whenever something upsets you, try and shift your focus by thinking about something positive. If you cannot entirely avoid an annoying person at work, try not to focus on them. Instead think of someone you like and admire. Just thinking about a friend or a happy incident might help you shift your focus and lift your mood.

Remember, it takes all sorts to make this world and it is when we come across irritants that we realize the value of our well wishers and loved ones.

Try Talking it Out

Sometimes the other person is not going all out to irritate you or may not even realize the effect they are having on you. Try talking about their annoying habits or traits to them in private and when they are in an open frame of mind. Many a time approaching people when they are in an amiable mood to discuss irritants arising out of their actions is the right thing to do.

However, such a move is not without the dangers of it backfiring or turning that person off even more. So apply this method only if you are willing to take that risk.

Get Them on Your Side

One of the best ways to deal with people who annoy you is to try and get them on your side. This is easier said than done though but it is possible if you try and figure out what the other person is really looking for. If you can demonstrate that you will be able to help them get what they want or how you can help them achieve their goals they might just be willing to get on your side instead of working against you.

Acceptance is the Key

A friend of mine recently read a book which classified people in to personality types based on natural elements. She shared a number of interesting facts and valuable insights but the best thing she said was, “Each one of us does what we do because it comes to us naturally. Beating yourself up about why so and so did this or that is only detrimental to your wellbeing. Accept people as they are and look at the bigger picture.”

This is what I would say might help us deal with annoying colleagues, acceptance of the fact that this person is only doing what he or she does anyways. Why am I letting it ruin my day or peace of mind?

Don’t Allow Control

The moment we let other people determine how we feel it is all about handing over control of our minds to someone else. You won’t hand over your car keys to someone who is a bad driver and let them damage your car, will you?

Then don’t allow an annoying colleague or a bully at work to control how you think, feel and respond to a situation. Start with yourself, feel good about yourself and what you can do, the rest will fall in to place slowly but surely.

Don’t get Angry, Get Tough

Annoying colleagues trigger off a number of negative emotions, anger being a predominant one. Anger burns you and does more damage to you than anyone else could do to you. Instead of getting angry get tough; decide that you will not let anyone else’s behaviour adversely affect you.

Adopt a “no nonsense” approach so other people get the message about what is acceptable and what is isn’t. A steely resolve that you will get through the day without letting other people control your temper is what you need.

Image reproduced from medixstaffingsolutions.blogspot.com

5 Tips to Help You Be Happy at Work

Happiness at your workplace is not something that is born out of a slick work space, well designed office and location at a happening address.  Neither is it about having a great boss and friendly colleagues.  It is about having the right attitude and looking within.  Here are 5 tips to help you be happy at work…

1. Believe in Yourself

Even if you are having a really bad day at work or have been given a really tough assignment, don’t panic or fret.  Instead choose to believe in yourself and your abilities.  Seek help and guidance from friends, family, bosses, seniors or colleagues who might be able to help.  Partner and network with people who have the skills and the ability to get the job done, it is here that your own good self-image will help you approach and elicit help from other people.

Your confidence and calm demeanour will serve you well and help you think clearly and creatively to work your way out of the toughest circumstances.

2. See Opportunities Everywhere

One man’s loss is another man’s gain.  Never lose sight of this universal truth.  Look for opportunities to prove your mettle and your abilities; do this regularly.  If you have a domineering superior who refuses to give you any authority but piles you with responsibilities, see opportunity in that as well.  Let your work speak for you, recognition and appreciation will follow eventually.

Opportunities abound, you just need to recognize them… a dissatisfied customer, unwilling co-workers, bothersome bosses or juniors who need help are all windows of opportunity for you to add value, solve a problem and bond with people.  The only thing you need to do is figure out how to make things work.

3. Keep Working Towards Your Life Goals

Don’t let failures and disappointments deter you.  Keep working towards your life goals.  As a teacher, my life goals include pushing students to excel, think creatively and find their potential while creating a body of knowledge through books, articles and the like.  I am often disillusioned by how casually students approach carefully designed and executed assignments, their reticence and unwillingness to work hard.  What do I do?

I keep trying anyways because I know I cannot lose sight of the bigger picture.  At the end of the year if I have even five students who I have been able to mould then that takes me closer to my goal, one step at a time.

4. Stay Positive At All Times

While a lot of people say this and I am telling you too, positive thinking really is the only thing that can keep you sane, focused and make you approach situations and people with empathy and patience.  Instead of complaining about darkness and wishing it would go away, we need to find a solution.  Can we empty darkness in buckets or do we just light a lamp to dispel it?

If we keep looking at the downside then the glass will always be half empty.  Instead look at it as half full waiting to reach the brim with a little help from you!

5. Remember…You Script the Story of Your Own Success

Once we realize that we alone are responsible for what happens to us then we know that the locus of control is “I, me alone”.  It is you who script your story…the story of your life and career.  If you were a script writer, what would you do?  You would work towards a happy ending, pleasant twists, throw in opportunity to make your story better, right?  Do the same with your life and work and see what a difference it will make.

Eco-Friendly Holidays in India

Are you a travel aficionado who’s wondering what the latest buzz in the travel spectrum is? Do you think you’d like to go “green” the next time you travel? Or perhaps you’re a “green” traveller who is looking for a long vacation in beautiful countryside? Or a city stressed soul who could do with a rejuvenating “green” break? Then an eco-friendly holiday in the Indian countryside could be just the thing for you. Here is a pick of the top 5 eco-tourist destinations in India as chosen by Indian Travel Writer, Mariam Noronha exclusively for City Connect.

The River Tern Lodge, perched a top a hillock on the edge of the Bhadra River adjoins the boundaries of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka. Just bask in the beauty of the surroundings and listen to the birds singing and watch the river flowing by or indulge in some activity at the nearby sanctuary. Try a jeep safari to unravel the treasures of the forest, rock climbing, trekking, mountain biking, sailing, kayaking, fishing and star gazing to put in touch with Nature. Or better still set off on a Tyverekoppa Lion and Tiger Safari and visit the Sakkrebyle Elephant camp.

The Leopard Beach Tented Camp, located near Rishikesh on a sandy beach by the Ganga River is a sylvan retreat that holds promise of quiet rejuvenation and hectic activity. Its proximity to Delhi (it is just 250 kms from Delhi) makes it a perfect destination for a long holiday. The perks of a “natural” break in the Leopard Tent Beach Camp include safari tents equipped with comfortable cots, friendly and efficient staff at your service and delectable cuisine, creature comforts that are otherwise unthinkable in the midst of the dense Sal forest. Things to doinclude indulging in adventure sports like rapelling, river rafting, kayaking, beach games, trekking or day long excursions to the nearby Devprayag and Kunjapuri Temple. Go on long walks or just do nothing! An absolute must do for the Beatles’ fan is a visit to Laxman Jhoola and Ram Jhoola suspension bridges in Rishikesh.

The Devbagh Beach Resort near Karwar is a great place to enjoy some quiet time in the midst of Nature, laze around or explore the vicinity of this idyllic locale. A day at the beach is so much fun whether you choose to go for a swim or chill out at the beach at sunset. You could also build sandcastles, collect seashells, or join the kids as they chase the crabs and waves. On other days just laze in the hammock or play some beach volleyball. If you are quite the explorer then go bird watching, visit the harbour or the village to get a glimpse in to a day in the life of the fisher folk and villagers. Indulge in some bird watching or camp at Kali Wilderness Resort at Dandeli. Head to Yana to catch a glimpse of the rock formations or watch the sandalwood carvers at Kumta fashion exquisite artifacts.

K. Gudi (Kyathadevara Gudi) Wilderness Camp, B.R. Hills in Karnataka is a unique destination that blends the allure of a wildlife resort with the charm of a hill station. Certainly a place for the adventurous traveler, it is here that you can expect the unexpected and bask in Nature’s untamed glory. Staying at the log huts in the Camp is a raw and rustic experience albeit with all the trimmings of a destination retreat. The chirping birds herald the start of a day filled with hectic activity where you embark on your sojourn in to the jungles with a jeep safari. Some creatures you could spot…monkeys, crocodiles, the barking deer and lizards. At the end of the day camping out under a starlit sky in the middle of the jungle or bonding with fellow campers over the bonfire will leave you with unforgettable memories peppered with the sights and sounds of the jungle.

Vythiri Resort, Wayanad is an eco-friendly jungle retreat set in a tropical rainforest spread over 150 acres on either banks of a mountain stream. Your accommodation options include heady tree houses, rustic themed cottages built in native style replete with cane and wood furniture, beautiful fabrics and well equipped with modern amenities like jacuzzis, private pools and a suite. An ordinary day here is filled with possibilities: a walk beside the gurgling stream, forays in to the forest to uncover beautiful tropical birds and colorful butterflies, accompanied tours with the resident naturalist to fill you in with all the details, indoor games, outdoor activities at the resort or pure relaxation with Ayurvedic treatments at the spa or chilling out in your cottage. Recommendations include a leisurely walk across the rope bridge over the stream to the restaurant to have a delectable meal with a sweeping view of the forest!

The Nature Resort, located at Kalladi in Wayanad is set in a beautiful tropical rainforest. You can choose to stay in a tree house, cave house or rain forest eco-lodge. Irrespective of which one of the three options you choose your accommodation will boast of eco-friendly materials, equipped with bio-toilets and kitchens that serve up wholesome organic food. Apart from bird watching and trekking an absolute must do is a walking trail.  Breathe in scented wild flowers, marvel at the indigenous plants, enjoy spectacular views of the valleys, spot a spray of color with butterflies and birds…….you couldn’t be closer to Nature. Don’t forget to try the Periyar Tiger Trail which is an absolute must! Importantly, if you want to go climbing there, it is a must to bring relevant equipment such as climbing carabiners.

The Kabini River Lodge rated among the top 5 wildlife resorts in the world by the Tatler’s Travel Guide is an ideal getaway where you can lay back and relax or set off on Nature’s trail. Nestled on the fringes of the Nagarhole National Park against the backdrop of the tranquil waters of River Kabini the resort is perfect for a short weekend trip or a long vacation. The verdant jungles here are home to the elephant and it’s very likely that visitors will spot a herd or many herds of these peace loving mammoth creatures. Trekking, nature walks or fishing are other activities that you could try out here.

Have you visited an eco-friendly locale in India? What did you like best about the place? Would you recommend it to other visitors? Tell us right here.

Top 5 Luxury Spa Resorts in India

Are you looking for a holistic healing treatment that will rejuvenate your body and soul? Do relaxing massages, bathing in milk and rose petals, sandalwood packs, guava scrubs, chocolate body wraps, aromatic lotions and soothing oils and relaxing massages sound enticing?

Then read on to know where you can find all this and more at the best luxury spa resorts in India and why they deserve to be in the top 5!

Ananda – Himalayas
This world class wellness retreat gives visitors the choice of 79 beauty and body treatments that blend Ayurveda with contemporary Western approaches. Ananda has won international acclaim and is the premier Ayurveda spa retreat in India.

Well connected by road, air and rail Ananda is 260 kilometres north of New Delhi and is located in the erstwhile residence of Maharaja of Tehri-Garhwal. Your accommodation options at this exclusive wellness resort include luxurious suites, villas and deluxe rooms overlooking the landscape of Rishikesh, the river Ganges or the Palace.

If you are game you can also try your hand at rapelling and rafting, trekking in the Himalayas or aqua yoga while you are here. The signature “Ananda Touch” and an absolute must-do is the treatment which uses “Panchkarma”, a five pronged therapy to soothe your neck, shoulders and upper back.

For more information on Ananda Spa Resort, click here.

Soukya - Bangalore
Soukya, derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Soukhyam’, which means wellbeing is the perfect place for city stressed souls to indulge in some holistic treatments. This residential holistic health centre is spread over an area of 32 acres of an organic farm.

Home grown vegetables and fruits are used in the kitchen of Soukya at Bangalore, making the food nutritious and fresh. You can choose to stay at any one of Soukya’s 16 rooms, which include four suites and 12 deluxe rooms. Each of the suites at Soukya has a private garden and open air shower while deluxe rooms have attached gardens.

The therapies and therapeutic programmes on offer include solutions for stress management, weight loss, arthritis, cardiac diseases, hypertension and asthma. You can also opt for various other programmes like smoking cessation, meditation, mud therapy, nutrition, yoga and Ayurvedic treatment.

For more information on Soukya Holistic Health Centre, click here.

The Angsana - Bangalore
The Angsana in Bangalore, is where visitors are assured of an exclusive spa experience under the auspices of the Singapore based Banyan tree. Six massage pavilions, hydrotherapy in Roman pools and adjoining alfresco showers are places on the resort complex where a range of holistic, customized programmes are administered.

Definitely worth trying are some divine skin treatments like the Tangerine Body Wrap, Tomato Body Wrap, Honey and Sesame Scrub and the Blended Brush Scrub that help to exfoliate and rejuvenate.

For more information on Angsana Spa Resort, click here.

The Oberoi Wildflower Hall – Shimla
Ayurvedic therapists suggest the best treatment for your body type at the Oberoi Wildflower Hall in Shimla while you bask in the sunshine and enjoy the pine scented mountain air in this picturesque hill retreat.

A range of treatments and therapies on offer pamper your body and soul but an absolute must try is the chakra head and shoulder massage followed by a treatment called “Himalayan Mysteries” which includes a wild lavender scrub, cleansing facial and a fragrant jasmine bath.

The Oberoi Wildflower Hall is also known for its pressure point therapy, delicious body wraps like germanium cream, honey citrus and Himalayan spice and contemporary Hawaiian massage.

For more information on the Oberoi Wildflower Hall, click here.

The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur
The Oberoi Udailvilas in Udaipur offers a regal rejuvenating experience where you’ll come out smelling of roses and sandalwood (literally)!

With a number of “Royal Treasures” on offer at its spa, you can say goodbye to dull dead skin cells with a turmeric scrub; relax and rejuvenate in a soothing tomato body wrap and surrender to a relaxing body massage followed by a bath in milk sprinkled with rose petals.

Nestled in a picturesque setting, Udailvilas is located by the beautiful Lake Picchola and is the ultimate in regal living experiences in India. Whether you chill out with a drink as you sit by the lake or walk through the majestic corridors of the City Palace, everything you do here will feel like a unique indulgent experience.

For more information on The Oberoi Udaivilas, click here.

With five luxury resorts to choose from, are you ready to experience the healing, magical effects of the treatments on offer at these exclusive spa resorts in India?

You deserve to treat yourself to a deluxe spa break after the busy year you’ve had. What better way to relax and rejuvenate your mind and body than in the luxurious surroundings of an exotic spa resort.

What are you waiting for? Book your spa break now – you know you’re worth it!

Images reproduced from anandaspa.com, soukya.com, angsana.com and oberoihotels.com

The Monasteries of Ladakh

Mariam Noronha continues her alternative Indian travel series with a review of the best monasteries in Ladakh…

Ladakh, an Indian destination known for its undulating landscape, fresh mountain air and the Buddhist way of life is the place you should visit when you want to get away from it all. The monasteries of Ladkah should be on your itinerary because not only are they custodians of wisdom, culture, artifacts and the Buddhist way of life but also melting pots of art, spirituality and education.

As places which once housed one fourth of Ladakh’s population these monasteries hold the key to a bespoke and spiritual way of life as the world stands on the threshold of change and dynamism. Here is a look at Ladakh’s best monasteries…

Hemis Monastery

45 kms South of Leh on the banks of the Indus River stands Ladakh’s biggest monastery, Hemis. Decorated with colorful prayer flags on all four sides, atop a green hill surrounded by jagged mountain peaks it is indeed hard to miss in the stark landscape.

Known for its library which is a veritable treasure trove of rare Tibetan books and its collection of thangkas, the collection at Hemis monastery is both impressive and invaluable from a historical and traditional perspective. The nearby Hemis National Park with its most famous inhabitant, the snow leopard and some rare animal species like Bharal, Shabu and Ibex is worth a visit too.

Thiksey Monastery

The 600 year old Thiksey Monastery, 17 kms from Leh is known for making Mandalas, an activity the Lamas carry out thrice every year. Take a tour to see what the monastery houses… images of Sakyamuni (the past Buddha), the Bodhisattava, Avalokitashwara (the eleven headed form of Buddha), murals, religious figurines, ancient Buddhist texts and 10 temples.

The biggest attraction is the 15 metre tall clay and gold painted image of Maitreya (the Buddha of future), the largest image of Buddha in Ladakh. Step outside to take in the commanding view of the Sindh valley from the monastery.

Shey Monastery

Located atop a high rock 15 kms south of Leh, the Shey monastery was a Royal residence until the 16th Century. The 12 metre high image of Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of future) crafted from copper and brass and studded with precious gem stones is what Shey is best known for. 

A look around the place gives visitors the opportunity to see the palace museum which houses weapons, armoury, royal costumes and jewellery, jade, porcelain and rare thangkas. The victory stupa stands out in the ruins of the palace and fort, giving the place a timeless feeling.

Spituk Monastery

The Spituk Monastery, just 8 kms from Leh, dating back to the 15th Century is home to several icons of the Buddha, 5 thangkas and an intriguing collection of ancient weapons and antique masks. The monastery gives visitors a spectacular view of the Indus River.

A good time to be here and soak in the spirit of Ladkah is on the occasion of Gustor, the festival of Spituk which is celebrated on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month. The spectacular masks and dances apart it is also the only time in the year that the enormous statue of the Goddess is unveiled.

Phyang Monastery

20 kms from Leh, the Phyang monastery is a 16th Century structure that belongs to the Red Cap sect. A special attraction at Phyang is a 900 year old museum that houses a collection of articles from Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian culture.

Phyang’s other claim to fame is that it was the first to introduce the Degungpa teachings of ‘Skyob Jigsten Gonbo’ in Ladakh. The place comes alive with music and color during Tseruk, the festival of Phyang which falls on the 2nd and 3rd day of the 6th month of Tibetan Calendar. On your way to Phyang or back do stop at the Phyang Lake to enjoy in the delightful view.

If you have time then the cave monastery of Shergole is a good place to wrap up your tour of Ladakh’s best monasteries. It is filled with elegant frescoes jutting out of a granite cliff in the middle of the mountain – like it’s suspended in mid air.

Image reproduced from yaatrika.com, encyclopedia.mitrasites.com, johansentravels.com and skyscrapercity.com

Hidden India – Top 5 Tranquil Holiday Destinations

Restful vacations, lazy holidays, quick getaways amidst snow capped peaks dotted with orchards, dense forests and green meadows. Are you looking for all or many of these? Then join Mariam Noronha as she unravels holiday destinations hidden in the Indian landscape. Here is a look at her top five tranquil holiday destinations in India…

Pauri, Himachal Pradesh

If a restful stay at a quaint forest lodge and some quiet time in a beautiful retreat is what you are looking for then head for Pauri, 1814 mts high on the Northern slopes of the Kandoliya hills in Himachal. To get there fly to Jollygrant, the nearest airport, 155 kms or take a train to Kotdwar, 108 kms or drive from towns in Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir.

Your accommodation options include: GMVN Tourist Bungalows at Pauri and Lansdowne and Ramkund Resort both Government approved resorts and The Wild Brook Retreat and Fairydale Resort.

Head to Kandoliya, 2 kms, where you can visit the Kandoliya Devta Temple and catch a glimpse of a panoramic view of the Gangwarsyun valley. The 8th century, Kyunkaleshwar Mahadev Temple, 3 kms offers a breathtaking view of the Himalayas and the Srinagar Valley. A one day picnic at Ransi, 2.5 kms, is enjoyable and restful and if you’re lucky you could catch a game at the famous stadium. Challenging treks await you at Doodhatoli, 100 kms and enjoy the view from the summit.

More quiet retreats at unusual resorts are a few kilometers away. Adwani, 17 kms nestled in dense forests is where you can stay overnight at the Forest Rest House or the Tourist Rest House near Ghandiyal Devta Temple located in the vicinity of Khisru, 19 kms from Pauri is tranquil and unpolluted except for the twittering of the birds.

Nanital, Himachal Pradesh

April to June and September to October are the best times to visit Nainital, a picturesque hill retreat discovered in 1841 by Lord Baron.

Getting there: Your travel options are numerous, a flight to Pantnagar, the nearest airport or a train to Kathgodam the nearest railway station. Luxury coaches ply to Nainital ride from Delhi and buses connect it to Kanpur, Lucknow, Agra and Haridwar.

Where to Stay: The Mukteshwar Himalayan Resort, Mukteshwar, Himalayan Heights, Ramgarh and Van Vilas Camps, Bhimtal are some good accommodation options around Nainital.

Getting Around: Trekking and horse riding are the best ways to explore Nainital its vicinity.

Things to do: Start by exploring the Naini Lake, the landmark of Nainital, surrounded by hills dotted with colonial cottages by day and an illuminated township in its shimmering waters by night is a sight to behold at anytime you choose. Yachting, boating or paddling at Mallital and Tallital both ends of the lake joined by a bridge is something you must try.

Other things to do: Go on a horse ride from Mallital to Naina Peka or China Peak, 6 kms away or a less strenuous hike uphill to Lands End, 4 kms or Dorothy Seat and Tiffin Top also 4 kms away or a ropeway ride to Snow View Peak with tea and snacks while enjoy the view and spend quiet time at the temple.

Bundi, Rajasthan

The sleepy little town of Bundi in Rajasthan can be reached from the nearest airport Sanganer, Jaipur is 210 kms and Bundi is linked by rail to Agra, Kota, Chittar and Neemuch. 40 kms by road from Kota or 170 kms from Ajmer brings you to the land of palaces, forts and lakes.

Landmarks you must visit in Bundi include the Taragarh Fort, one of Rajsathan’s most magnificent forts built in 1354 AD, is star shaped fort stands out stark white atop a thickly wooded hill. You can see Nawal Sagar, an artificial lake from the ramparts of the fort. This lake is the heart of Bundi, where the entire town’s reflection is visible in its clear visage. Dotted with islets, the temple to Varnal, the Aryan God of water stands submerged in the lake. The Bundi Palace, a wonderful example of Rajasthani architecture is where you can see some beautiful murals.

Bundi Palace

Another landmark is Raniji ki Baori, a 46 m deep well, dating back to 1699 A.D. is the place to see intricate carvings on pillars and a gate with a high arch. Chhattar Mahal, The Palace of Towers, can only be described as a rhapsody in stone with Hazari Pol (elephant gate) with its old water clock, Nawbath Khana and the Diwan-e-Aam. Shikhar Burj, a royal hunting lodge and the Sukhmahal Summer Palace are great for one day excursions and visits.

In the vicinity: The Jait Sagar Lake, 3 kms is a great place to drive out to by night. For the spiritually inclined, the cave temple of Lord Shiva in Rameshwaram 20 kms, Dhooleshwar Mahadev Temple, 53 kms at Talwas, 53 kms and the temple complex and foaming waterfalls at Meenal 70 kms are places to head out to.

Lahaul and Spiti District, Himachal Pradesh

The state of Himachal Pradesh is a great place to visit if you like valleys, hills, orchards and beautiful flora and fauna. Keylong village, 3156 mts, is the hub of commercial activity in the remote Lahaul district. It is thickly populated and comes with all the trimmings of city life post, telegraph and telephone. The Circuit House, PWD Guest House, Sainik Rest House or Tourist Bungalow are your accommodation options in Keylong.

Places to see and visit include the Tayul, Kardang and Sha-Shur house to soak in tranquility and see beautiful scriptures and paintings of Buddha and other Gods and Goddesses. Chandrataal, one of the most beautiful lakes of the Spiti Valley is located at 4,270 mts. Steeped in the legend of a mermaid who once lived here the lake is nestled in a broad grassy plain which once was a glacier. At the heart of the kilometre long lake is a brownish peak Samurdai, which is still unconquered. The area is a favorite grazing ground for shepherds, in summer it is filled with Alpine vegetation and you can see the stones at the bottom of the lake that’s frozen in winter.

In addition, Surajtaal, at the summit of the Baralacha la, a little below 16000 ft is where trekkers stop to take a drink of the lake’s cold sweet water after a long trek. Surrounded by flowering cacti it is the place to enjoy the breathtaking view over a hot cup of tea. A tiny monastery and gamboling lambs make a pretty picture against a chain of serrated, snow streaked mountain peaks.


Take the Blue Mountain Train from Mettupalayam via Coonoor to hop on to the magical route to Ooty.

Your accommodation options are numerous but if you want a tranquil experience then the Red Hills, Ooty and Orange Mist, Coonoor are options worth exploring.

Nestled in the Blue Mountains of the Nilgiri range Ooty’s cool and pleasant climate is what made it a preferred hilly retreat for the British in the 19th century.

Emerald Lake

A great place to spend some quiet time in the hills, walking around Ooty is invigorating and enjoyable and undeniably the best way to explore this scenic locale.

A boat ride in the lake and a walk in the Botanical Gardens is a veritable feast for the eyes. If you want to get away from it all then there’s always the option of trekking up to the Doda Betta peak, perched at 8,606 feet for panoramic views of the Nilgiris.

Images reproduced from lonelyplanet.com and holidayiq.com