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When we say duck here, we do not literally mean the yellow feathery creatures. The Seattle duck is a World War II era amphibious vehicle that runs on both land and water. So we decided to take the 90 min tour for Father’s Day and have some family fun.
All of us were looking forward to the duck ride but as we boarded our purple duck, the LO (little one) got a bit whiny and any amount of singing and rocking did not seem to soothe him. We weren’t sure what to expect during the entire 90 min ride now! But as soon as the ride started, the music started to play and the wind blew against our faces through the huge windows, LO fell asleep in mommy’s arms.
Our amazing Tour Guide
Your tour is as good as your tour guide. Helen Joy, our tour guide, was an exuberant young lady, keeping us engaged with her jokes, little general knowledge pieces and some interesting props. She even demonstrated the “Flying Fish” from Pike Place market with a stuffed dummy fish! She also told us stories about the great Seattle fire and the gold rush, albeit in an interesting rap form, which was cool.
When the Duck swam in the Lake
Unfortunately for us, it was the Solstice parade in Fremont and so that part of the tour was diverted to Ballard. Well, basically the duck tour is a family-friendly tour and the solstice parade participants are supposedly cycling wearing nothing on their bodies but some body paint!
What we Saw
Floating Houses: These are multi-storied (Upto 3 levels) houses with one level below the water level. They are not actually floating and are grounded to the lake floor.
House Boats: These are like RVs on land. They can be towed around using attached boats.
Ballard Bridge and Fremont Bridge: These are drawbridges. So when a big vessel needs to pass through below the bridge, the traffic on the bridge has to be stopped and the bridge parts to let the vessel pass through.
When the Duck hopped on Land
What we Saw
We caught glimpses of:
Pike Place Market
The house from the animated movie “Up”
Seattle Great Wheel
Olympic Structure Park
There are tours starting from two locations.
Seattle Center (near the Space Needle) – We boarded from here
Any ride starting from any of the two points follows the same exact route. There are no stops, and passengers remain aboard the duck at all time.
This ride is no Hop-On Hop-Off tour, neither do they give you a detailed tour. It just gives you glimpses into the major attractions of Seattle and a feel of the city, where water is undoubtedly a big part of the landscape. So, take this ride if you want to experience a unique and novel way of viewing the city or if you have very less time and just want to catch the highlights.
An infant below 5 years of age gets a seat at just $5!
Do not worry about entering the water in this vehicle. It is equipped with adult and kid life jackets. Also, it can catch maximum speed of 4.5 knots in water, which believe me isn’t fast at all. It is more of a leisurely stroll.
School and college life is usually associated with fun and mischief by most, more by some than others. Ever imagined how life would have been if there was a special prison designed for students, on your college campus?
Our visit to Heidelberg, Germany, brought us to such an unusual well-preserved museum of sorts (for want of a better word). Heidelberg is known as being Germany’s oldest and most reputed university. It is believed that the US spared Heidelberg from bombing during World War II due to the presence of this university.
During our visit to the town, we came across the unique history of the town and were surprised to discover a Student Prison on the Heidelberg tourist map!
As we traversed up a floor of stairs, we did not know what to expect really, when we started to see these black side faces painted on the walls.
And a lot of other graffiti as well..
As the story started to unfold, the guide explained that during the 19th century the most mischievous of the university students were kept locked up in these rooms as punishment. The prison although called so wasn’t really in any dreadful condition but was only meant to keep these students in isolation and teach them a lesson.
But as kids are, they turned this punishment into a kind of rite of passage. All students wanted to get into the prison at least once before passing out of university! This led to a rush of students into the prison with frequent parties and even more unruly behavior. The prison was eventually shut down but has been well-preserved since then.
The most iconic of the graffiti are the black faces. It is said that the students used to pass time by painting portraits on the wall. One person stood in between the wall and a lamp, while another painted the silhouette on the wall using carbon from the lamp. The different color caps are supposed to represent the various houses that the students belonged to.
Most of the original furniture has been preserved well in the prison.
How to reach
Augustinergasse 2, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg is an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt. The town is best traversed on foot as everything is in walking distance.
Photography is a powerful medium, which incorporates a lot of technicalities and great deal of patience. There are few who have the rare talent of wielding their huge camera lenses and other paraphernalia to capture the essence of their subject. Today we bring travel inspiration in the form of a gifted lad who is a photography enthusiast, nature photographer and amateur rail fan.
Meet Parth Jha who likes to be referred as a wildlife enthusiast, a nature photographer and an amateur rail fan. He is currently a student of Chartered Accountancy, but loves spending time exploring the jungles in India. He claims to find an immense feeling of self satisfaction in capturing nature and wildlife via his camera lens.
Having spent 7 long years in the field of wildlife photography, which he found amazing, he hopes the coming years to be even more so. Lately he seems to have developed a keen interest in aerial imaging and photographing the railway connecting the hinterlands of India. The next few months, he also plans to capture aerial photos of ancient monuments all across India.
Regarding his life-long travel goals, Parth says “I can only say that I want to visit all the places I can before my brain and body restricts me to a bed.”
“I travel to explore and learn, don’t we all? The world is astonishingly diverse, in terrain, culture, landscapes and what not. Each new destination is like unlocking a new level on your favorite computer game. I believe one can learn a great deal by travelling. Each trip will connect you to new people, their culture and ways of life. I have fancied exploring the wilderness all my childhood. To see all those beautiful animals on Discovery Channel in real life was and is a dream. There is so much to explore!”
“This is a very tricky question. I have essentially loved every place I have visited. I haven’t had any bad travelling experiences yet but I am sure it will happen one time or the other.
I particularly liked my experience travelling to and documenting the Satpura Narrow Gauge Network near Jabalpur. We visited in September 2015 and it was fascinating. Only a train lover would understand the joy of seeing a narrow gauge passenger dancing on the track, carrying people from one village to another, with carrying people at least double the capacity, with passengers both inside and above the train. It is like time travel. The slow and relaxed life in the villages is something which most of us will never experience.
The major reason why I loved this trip was because I knew I would never be able to do the same trip again. In fact no one would be able to make the trip. The narrow gauge network has been discontinued and all my experiences of the visit are archived in my photos. The existence of that railway network is part of history now.”
“My bucket list is long and weird. I want to visit Ladakh, not for biking but for the snow leopard. I want to visit Kangra Valley in Punjab, not for snow capped the mountains but for the narrow gauge train running through them. I want to visit the Western Ghats, not for a relaxing holiday but for an elusive species of kingfisher.”
Most Interesting Trip
“I would like to share my trip to Satpura National Park here (not to be confused with the Satpura Railway mentioned above). This was easily the most unexpected experience I had.
So, I have had a very bad luck with wildlife sightings for someone claiming to be doing this for 7 years. I have spent months at a time with no sighting at all when everyone else seemed to have tigers and leopards coming to them for autographs. So naturally I did not have very high hopes for any sightings at Satpura. The park is not the most popular in India, rightly so because of the shy animals and thick forest. My impromptu trip started from Bhopal and we drove for 4 hours to Madhai (near Hoshangabad). We stayed for 36 hours and did 3 safaris and I cannot begin to tell how awesome they were!
The forest is stunning. We saw a leopard within the first hour of our first safari and two sloth bears after the sun had almost set. During the remaining safaris, we were blessed with an exclusive sighting of a huge male tiger in golden sunlight.
Satpura National Park is a traveler’s secret. Go there before the other tourists mess it up.”
Words of Wisdom from a Part-Time Traveler
“Life is utter waste if you spend all of it at your job.”
“Stop convincing yourself that the corner office has the best view.”
“Plan your official leaves in advance.”
“Travelling doesn’t always mean flying to Europe. India has many untouched places to explore.”
“Making weekend trips is fairly easy with the right company.”
Inspired yet? Check out links to more of Parth’s works here:
This is the story of a couple who seeded the passion for travel in me (Purba). And the roots were probably sown subconsciously very early in my childhood. Even though I am writing this post for Mother’s Day honoring my Mom (My Maa), the story would be incomplete without my dad (My Baba) because they have always been a team. And they continue to be a team…
Early Traveling Years
Among the first memories I have, I remember our road trips as a family. Our photo albums at home are filled with pictures of Somnath, Dwarka, Chittorgarh, Mount Abu and other places in Gujarat and Rajasthan. After Baba’s retirement, he always recalls “Even if we just got by from our earnings, not amassing huge amounts of money, we made sure to have a good time and travel as much and as often as possible”.
I remember Maa trying to save on small regular items and not letting Baba spend too much on our childhood whims and fancies, as every other middle class family in India does. But we always traveled! I remember our once-in-a-month day long trips to Chittorgarh (which was 2-3 hrs by road from where we stayed) and almost quarterly visits to Udaipur. It was as if we had combed through every nook and cranny of the cities, visiting there with our extended families when they came over to visit.
Wherever my parents stayed, they made it a point to scan the nearby areas. The most exciting thing was they always preferred road trips, as it gave them more freedom to stop and rest at any place and time they wished. I remember us taking our ever so light Maruti 800 on an 8-hour drive to Jaipur! And this was not 5 or 10 years back, but close to 20 years back!
Lessons in History and Interaction with Locals
My own interest in discovering stories behind the places I visit started with Maa being a history teacher and her interest in historical sites and architecture. Our first stops in any city would be its palaces, forts and other architectural landmarks. Maa would first enrich us with the textbook history of the places and we would then talk to the guides to learn more.
Both my parents loved interacting with the locals, whether it was the guides, the street vendors, drivers or restaurant waiters. They would quickly befriend the locals and Maa would immediately start speaking with them in their mother tongue. By the way, Maa can converse fluently in five languages (Hindi, Bengali, English, Gujarati and Assamese). She can also understand (and speak with some help) three to four more languages (Telugu, Tamil, Nepali) that I know of as of now.
Although I was a rather shy kid when I was young, my parents’ effortless grasp of languages and the more so effortless connection with people made me in awe of them. As any other teenager, I was always embarrassed when they started to speak with someone in their native language, calling them show-offs, I was always pleased inside. Today being a grown-up I am proud of their skills and happy to share their story with the world.
When I moved to a hostel to study Engineering, they still continued their travels more so of Southern India, and I have sure missed so much! Maa was the one who introduced me to Hampi way back in 2007. This was a time when parts of the bazaar were still being excavated and you could hardly spot any tourists. They have covered almost all of India, sharing amazing places with us.
Maa Baba have together covered most of India including certain places like Dholavira, Belum Caves, Badami, Chhipo (West Bengal), Mandu, Lothal that are considered off-beat destinations even today. I wish they would have been travel bloggers; I am sure they would’ve been a riot!
In the international travel scene, there were number of instances where Baba was invited to attend professional meetings and events overseas, but on two instances Maa could not just resist the temptation to tag along, were to Florida (USA) and Germany (where they tried to make the most by covering Cologne, Dusseldorf, Vienna, Paris and Amsterdam as well).
The two international trips that we made as a family together were to: Nepal (1999) and Egypt (2004).
A Family Trip to Egypt
I have come across very few middle class families who would save up to travel internationally and that too to Egypt! Indians generally prefer the more exotic destinations closer home like Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka or our own islands of Andaman and Nicobar.
The love for history is pretty apparent in Maa Baba’s choice of Egypt and well we are their kids, why wouldn’t we love the place! So off we went in 2008 to Cairo, Giza and Alexandria. Although our trip initially covered Aswan as well, due to certain issues we had to drop it at the last moment.
It surely was a trip of a lifetime, and boy do we have amazing tales from the lanes of Egypt! The one time our parents had to accompany their two girls everywhere, with both us sisters getting marriage offers left, right and centre! But the presence of our parents with us did not deter a few prospects, one of whom even offered a hundred camels for my hand in marriage! No, this was no joke and did not just limit to one city.
Years before Baba’s retirement (he retired in 2014), they had started planning a life filled with many more trips discovering other parts of India. But, well not everything in life goes according to plans right? The last few years have been really tough on my parents owing to Maa’s ill health. From getting the diagnosis of a rare irreversible lung disease seven years back to a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis that literally made her wheelchair bound on several occasions, Maa Baba have together endured hard times.
But we fought all of it together, and today, Maa is back on her feet (touchwood) and they are back on the road! Since Maa’s return to relatively normal state of health, they have taken a long trip with extended family to Manali, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Chamba valley, Rohtang Paas and Kangra Valley. They also took another trip to Singapore with relatives.
Discovering Something New Always – Chhibo Trip
One weekend early this year while Siddhartha and I were planning articles for our blog, we get a call from Maa that they will be heading to Chhibo, West Bengal (from their Kolkata home). It is an off-beat destination few hours from Darjeeling and they planned to visit there with friends! I haven’t heard any of my Indian travel blogger friends yet cover Chhibo and I had never even heard of the place before Maa mentioned it!
After hearing their story of the place, I am dying to visit the place. I would love to get an account of their visit to Chhibo and nearby areas from them and hope can publish the story on my blog someday.
When I ask them why they travel so much, Maa simply replies with a shrug “Well we just do it! We need to get out there and see all those places, look into the history and learn more about each place”. She does not think it is a big deal and they are just following their hearts! Well I thank Maa Baba for being the way they are and passing on the vibes (and the genes) 🙂
As if the roads connecting Leh to nearby cities were not pretty and scenic enough, BRO (Border Roads Organization) added a dash of humor to it and gave a fun flavor to our journey. The BRO maintains the roads in this region and have planted some funny and quirky road signs along the roads.
These signs are pretty famous with travelers in this region and even a book has been published, which is sort of a collection of images of these road signs. We are sharing the shots we could get from our moving vehicle during our road trip to Nubra Valley from Leh.
Himank is a special project by BRO to specially maintain the roads for three passes: Khardungla, Tanglangla and Changla.
That is definitely some smart work by BRO! Ending this post with a quote that has become very popular in Leh (owing to Aamir Khan’s 3 IDIOTS) and seems to be omnipresent in the Leh scene today!
Kumbh is a great once-in-a-lifetime experience. For a photographer, more so. With such a huge gathering of people, you are bound to find interesting characters. But what makes for the best shots are the Sadhus at Kumbh Mela. The Sadhus and Naga babas were one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the Kumbh Mela. This post contains some of our shots from the Kumbh Mela.
These two Sadhus were in a happy mood and smoking ganja. Check out their chillum smoking shots in our attached ebook.
As you progress towards the Akhada camps, you can spot numerous Sadhus camped up along the route. Most of them ask for money in exchange for blessing their devotees.
Some Sadhus are private people who do not like talking to people, some like to charge for being photographed. There are a rare few who are plain happy and love to be photographed.
If you are interested in viewing more such shots from our Kumbh Mela visit, subscribe below and get a free copy!
India is supposed to have the third largest concentration of rock art, after Australia and Africa! And yet how many of us have actually heard of these rock art sites, let alone visit one? It does go to show the need to educate people about India’s pre-historic heritage as well as popularize these sites.
While researching about the pre-historic rock art in India, I realized that they are spread across most parts of India: Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, North East, Kashmir etc and yet it was difficult to find information about these sites on State tourism sites. The only information we found were research journals or papers published by Indian historians or researchers. For a traveler, the reports are pretty technical. Also the actual sites are not easily accessible and sometimes hard to find even.
What is Pre-Historic?
We do not want this to be a history lesson but just want to give readers an idea of what we want to convey here. So trying to explain relevance of some technical terms in easily understandable language.
Pre-historic literally means something so old that it precedes recorded history. It would denote an era when there would most probably be no written language, and hence we can learn about these time periods only by other forms like sculptures, carvings, pottery, weapons or art/paintings.
Pre-historic era is divided between different time periods:
•Palaeolithic Age: Early Stone Age; Before 10,000 BC, marked by introduction of basic stone tools
• Mesolithic Age: Middle Stone Age; 10,000 to 5000 BC
• Neolithic Age : New Stone Age; Beginnings of farming
What is a Rock Art?
Rock art is a form of painting or carving that is done on massive rocks or caves as a canvas. Since in ancient times, people lived inside caves and had huge rock formations around them, it can be assumed that they took up painting or carving (using natural colors from leaves and flowers) as something to pass their time.
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Rock art from the pre-historic times are extremely useful in understanding an era of which there is no written record. We can learn a lot about the beliefs of the people, any kind of rituals that they followed, the type of animals found in the area, etc. The most popular Indian rock art is from Ajanta and Ellora, which although ancient are not from pre-historic times.
Bhimbhetka : UNESCO World Heritage Site
The most well-preserved and probably most popular amongst the India pre-historic rock art are those in Bhimbhetka near Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). The rock shelters and cave paintings have been accorded a World Heritage Site status, and have been quite well-maintained by the Archaeological Society of India (ASI).
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There are official guides available who can give you a tour of the site. There are elaborate paintings like the “Zoo Rock” which shows paintings from various eras layered over one another. The paintings evolve from being mere stick figures to elaborate depictions of rituals and war scenes.
Other Madhya Pradesh Rock Art Sites
Madhya Pradesh has a large number of recorded rock painting sites including Shamala hills, Pachmarhi, Panna and Rewa. Dr Meenakshi Dubey Pathak is recognized to have done a lot of research and fieldwork around these sites.
Anegundi, near Hampi (Karnataka)
Before our trip to Hampi we had read about the cave paintings in Anegundi and made it a point to visit them. It was a real task to find the location as the guides weren’t fully aware of them. There are no signs that guide you to the cave paintings site and you are left to the complete mercy of the guide. The approach to the caves is through paddy fields and then trekking up some barren boulder-laden areas. Right up until you reach the caves, you can never tell there are these paintings hidden in these fields.
There are two sets of cave paintings located opposite to each other. The caretaker does not speak English, so understanding the paintings is difficult. We wrote about the cave paintings in a separate post on Hampi.
Recently there have been reports of some unusual cave paintings found in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh. These paintings have been dated to at least 10000 years back. Archaeologist Bhagat involved in researching this site has hypothesised that people from these regions might have been in contact with alien civilizations! Taking a look at the cave paintings sure will make you believe so!
It is believed that there are many such rocks hidden in the forests all over the state. The Chhattisgarh State Department of Archaeology and Culture is supposedly planning to get in touch with NASA and Indian space agency to explore further, if reports are to be believed.
The theory about Ancient Aliens is not new. We have been really fascinated by these theories where certain section of researchers and historians believe that certain structures like the Pyramids or Stonehenge were built with the help of aliens, and pre-historic man was in close contact with aliens. Whether you believe in this theory or not, it does make for some interesting stories! It is the first time that we have heard about Ancient Aliens theory in India, and its fascinating!
Another archaeologist Hari Singh Chhatri has reportedly found unique rock art from dense forests of Korba, which he believes to be from the period of the Ramayana.
Rest of India
There are several other pre-historic rock painting sites showcasing art from tens of thousands of years back. Some other sites that find mention but have not been on the tourist map:
Note: The most consolidated information that I could find on the rock paintings of India was with the Bradshaw Foundation.
We definitely will be planning to visit many of these sites in the future, and hope the ASI and state tourism boards try to assimilate these sites in the Tourism maps and websites, giving history-lovers like us a new aim to explore this different side of India.
Disclaimer: We are not experts in the field of archaeology or history. We are just making an effort to make the masses aware of India’s unique pre-historic locations.
Holi in India, as we know is widely popular. The colors, the festivities, the food and the fun, the complete package. During our childhoods, we used to play with our pichkaris (water pistols), for hours together and splash water balloons at friends. As we grew older, we realized that people indulge themselves in different kind of ‘celebration’ by getting high on Bhaang, which is almost synonymous with Holi nowadays. Well, as long as it’s for fun and does not harm others.
Last year, the day of Holi festival in India was the culmination of our epic 10 day road trip which we took from Mumbai to Hampi and back. Early in the morning we left from our Hotel in Badami towards Koyna in Maharashtra for a pit stop before we proceeded for Mumbai the next day. As soon as we left the small town of Badami, we were greeted with spectacular views of the boulder shaped mountains which are typical of the region, and along with those views we were greeted by some hooligans on the highways. Not once, Not twice, Not thrice…more than 10 times.
They were ‘celebrating’ Holi in their own fashion, stopping all vehicles on the highway using large stones, boulders and even barbed wires on the highway. And once the cars, stop asking money to buy some booze or Bhaang for celebrating more. We stopped once, tried to maneuver our car slowly around the rocks and at the same time not heeding to their request of giving money. Second time around, we politely refused again in sign language as we were scared to pull down our car windows, seeing the drunk angry mob of men. When we used to pull our car away from the roadblocks without giving them money, they angrily threw stones at our car.
After a point of time, we were just furious! They were not kids, not teenagers high on festivities. They were middle aged men, with no common sense or respect. All they wanted was money from strangers for their booze.. and all in the name of such a beautiful, pious festival of Holi.
There is a saying in India – ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai’, which means – ‘do not mind anything, as its Holi’. Well, there is a limit to it. If someone is hurting us, our families, throwing rocks at our car and making all possible efforts to ruin a wonderful road trip; I will mind! Post this incident, we decided not to take any road trips during the Holi time in India. I still want the memories of Holi festival to be fun filled with colors and food, and would want to stay away from any unpleasant incidents.
This International Women’s Day there has been a lot of talk over gender equality. In our last post for Women’s Day we talked about everyday ordinary women. This post is about a group of women also called Sadhavis (holy women) or Sanyasins (women who have renounced the world) whom we met at the Nashik Kumbh.
Before leaving for the Nashik Kumbh I had read in the papers that the Sadhavis were asking for a separate Akhada and a separate location to stay exclusively for women. But their request was denied. We were pretty interested to see how did they then manage to attend the Kumbh and where did they stay exactly!
As we set about in search of the female ascetics at Trimbakeshwar, we came to immediately understand that the locals did not know much about them. Even our experienced guide could not tell where the Sadhavis were staying. But we were determined to find some of them and talk to them if possible. Our guide explained to us that the Sadhus weren’t much into talking and we might have to shell out some money to photograph them. We had somewhat of a different experience. Probably having a female photographer helped!
The first two Sadhavis we spotted (Mahanta Maya Giri ji and Mahant Prem Giri ji) were seated along with two Naga Sadhus inside a hand-built tent. The Sadhus were pretty interested in being photographed and wanted to chat with us but the Sadhavis weren’t much of talkers. They just observed us as the Sadhus carried on with some poses for the cameras. Slowly as we started to chat a bit more, all of them got pretty comfortable with us. They invited us for some tea and even offered us to share their tent if we needed to stay back at Trimbakeshwar for the night.
This interaction made us a bit more confident for our next encounters. The next two Sadhavis we came across, Mahant Shanti ji and Mahant Leela Giri ji, were again sitting in a tent with another Juna Akhada Sadhu (not a Naga). This time we were much more comfortable from the beginning and so were they. The ladies called me into their tent and we share some stories about Madhya Pradesh, as they were both from the state. They told us how they will be spending the whole of 2016 visiting the different Kumbhs and staying at each location for about two to three months. They also gave us tips on where we could get a better photo of the Naga babas, for eg the bhandaras in the morning were a good place to spot the different babas like Jata wale baba (Baba with dreadlocks), Goggle wale baba (Baba who always wears a sunglass), etc.
One interesting thing was none of them wanted to share their names when we started to chat but as they became more comfortable and we gained their trust, at the end of the conversation, they divulged their ascetic given names.
The most interesting thing we noted in our interactions was the part about gender equality. If you note their names, they are called Mahants, which although we would consider a male title, is neutrally used for both women and male ascetics. The “Giri” in the name is one of the four Juna Akhada titles: Giri, Puri, Bharati and Saraswati. The Sadhavis are not treated differently when given their ascetic names.
Also, when we asked the Sadhavis about their living situation they were pretty happy sharing tents with their “brothers” from the Juna Akhada (the oldest akhada). When we asked them about the demands of Sadhavis for a separate Akhada and living area, they did say they had heard of it but even if that happened they would still stay with their “brothers”.
It was a pity we could not meet with other Sanyasins who did not belong to the Juna Akhada to get the complete picture. There definitely is a lot more to it with the struggles of the Pari Akhada for a separate akhada at the Ujjain Kumbh. Also there is so much we cannot learn in such a small amount of time. Still, the interactions did open our eyes to a small part of the Sadhavis‘ worlds and it was an interesting experience.