Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – the Ultimate Experience

The Indian Railways, in many ways, is the lifeline of the country, hauling enormous amounts of cargo and passengers from one region to another. With a total route length of 65436 km, it is amongst the largest rail networks in the world. Established in 1853, it now provides employment to more than one million people of the country. According to reports, the agency carried about 8425 million passengers and around 1050.18 million tons of freight during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Some of its routes, which go through mountains, are quite popular among tourists and special trains are operated on them. One such service takes people to Darjeeling and their Darjeeling tour package cost may or may not be inclusive of it.

The Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is undoubtedly the most famous section of the entire system. It is an 88 km long route, between the towns of New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, in the state of West Bengal. Being built between 1879 and 1881 makes it one of the oldest railway sections in India. A combination of steam and diesel locomotives haul the trains. Due to the steepness of the climb, many loops and Z-reverses are constructed along the line to make the ascension easier. The train begins its journey from the New Jalpaiguri station, from where it reaches the town of Siliguri, which has two stations along the route. Next halt is at Sukna, after which the plains are left behind and climb to the mountains begins. During the 8 km long run between Sukna and Rongtong, the track cuts the winding Hill Carter Road at many junctures.

Moving further from Rongtong, the line goes through the first zigzag or Z-reverse. Chunabhatti, the next town, is reached after circling around the first loop. Two consecutive zigzags are parts of the line between Chunabhatti and Tindharia. The latter is a major junction, having workshops and sheds. Agony Point is the name given to the second loop, which is encircled from Tindharia towards Gaya Bari. It is named so because it is quite a tight curve and is prone to derailments. The last Z-reverse on the line leads to the town of Mahanadi. The journey to Kurseong does not involve crossing or climbing any loops and zigzags. A market is located above the Kurseong station, which the track crosses through. The shops are just an arm-stretch away from the coaches and it is almost like strolling past the market. Further on the route are stoppages at Dilaram, Sonada, Rangbul and Jorebunglow.

The highest point of the trip, Ghoom (2258 metres), comes after the town of Jorebunglow. A museum on the first floor of the station building and exhibits housed in the freight warehouse can be seen by tourists. The Batasia Loop is the last loop on the way and comes after Ghoom. From here, travellers get a panoramic view of the high mountains, including the 8586 metres high Kangchenjunga and the destination city, which is the last stop on the line and its terminus. All through the way, people can look down at the plains or the Himalayas. A holiday package in India can be modified to take this train to the city.

Viewing Exhibits of the Naval Aviation Museum

Maritime trade and warfare have been associated with India since ancient times. The Rig Veda, written around 15th century BC, mentions Varuna as having knowledge of sea routes. Clans such as the Mauryas, Cholas, Guptas, Pandyas, Vijayanagara Empire and others are known to have formidable navies. The modern navy of India has been active since 1947 and now has over 500000 personnel and 181 ships. In 1948, it got an additional boost with the setting up of the Air Arm. This Air Arm has used a variety of aircraft, some of which are displayed in the Naval Aviation Museum in Goa. People coming to the state for beach holidays can consider seeing its exhibits.

 

Naval Aviation Museum

 

Naval Aviation Museum, Goa

Naval Aviation Museum, Goa

The Naval Aviation Museum is situated in Bogmalo and lies at a short distance of 6 km from the city of Vasco da Gama. Opened to the public in 1998, it is one amongst the only two military aviation museums in India. It has been divided into two main sections: an outdoor yard and a two-storey building, housing galleries. The first thing that people notice as they enter the yard is the Super Constellation. It was a passenger aircraft made by the American company Lockheed. With each of its four engines generating 3250 horsepower, it could fly at a speed of 531 km/hour with a total weight of 54431 kg. It was given to the naval air wing in 1976 and was decommissioned in 1983. One of the three surviving specimens of the amphibious plane Short Sealand is also on display. India bought ten Fairey Firefly fighters, which were built to take off and land on an aircraft carrier. One of these can also be seen in the open air section of the museum. HAL HT-2, which was used to train fighter pilots, is also among the exhibits. Also kept here is a de Havilland Vampire, which was armed with guns, missiles and bombs and had a cruising velocity of 882 km/hour. The 4208 kg Hawker Sea Harrier also attracts visitors. Armed with four 20 mm cannons and other bombs and missiles in 6 hard points, it operated from INS Vikrant and destroyed dozens of Pakistani boats and ships during the 1971 war.

 

Another carrier-borne fighter, formerly used by the Navy and now housed here, is the French Breguet Alize. It was made to specifically target enemy submarine, which it destroyed with torpedoes. Dove is a short-haul passenger plane, made by de Havilland, which is also part of the outdoor exhibition. Among the helicopters are the Aerospatiale Alouette III made under license by HAL as Chetak, the Hughes TH-55 Osage used for training and the Westland Sea King. The latter was pressed in anti-submarine operations by India and is still being used. The anti-submarine operations of India were further boosted by the Soviet Kamov KA-25 attack helicopters, one of which is also a part of the display. INS Viraat and Vikrant operate the Harrier Jump-Jet, which is the only VTOL fighter in service with the Indian forces. Visitors coming here as part of their Goa tour package can also visit the indoor gallery, where various missiles, bombs and other weapons are kept.

Goa – A Lot More than Beaches

Goa is the smallest Indian state, located in the south-western region of the country. It is guarded by the Arabian Sea in the west and Karnataka in the east, north and south. It was under the Dutch and Portuguese rule, influence of whom still reverberates throughout the region. The state may be small in area, but is significantly big in terms of tourism, which is the biggest industry here. In the year 2011, almost 7 percent of tourists, who came to India, went to Goa. Beaches are the prime reason behind the huge influx of tourists, with new year celebrations and seaside parties associated with them seeing huge gatherings of people. Apart from beaches, there are many Dutch and Portuguese monuments, which are prominent attractions here. Some of the best wildlife hotspots such as Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary are also situated here. Goa tour packages are required to be retaken in order to enjoy all the charms of the state.

 

Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary


 

This sanctuary is situated in the Sanguem taluk of Goa. It lies in the Western Ghats and is spread over an area of 240 square kilometres. The government labelled it a protected area in 1969 and in 1978, a 107 square kilometres chunk of it was named Mollem National Park. The region has a subtropical climate and the vegetation is mostly evergreen. Tall trees grow close to one another and the canopy, when viewed from above, looks green throughout. Almost the entire land is covered with trees and the grass cover is quite scarce.

 

A whopping 722 species of flowering plants are found in the national park that belong to 122 different families. Around 128 species of plants are endemic to the area. However, the main reason for people to come here is its rich wildlife diversity. Mammals found here include panthers, deer, tigers, langurs, squirrels and wild boar. Apart from these, porcupines, wild dogs, civets and gaurs also inhabit the sanctuary. Hornbills, mynas, bulbuls, woodpeckers and doves are among the different kind of birds people can see here. Butterflies are also abundant here, with common jezebel, crimson rose and jay being among the major species.

 

This hotspot is well-known for its serpents and is a paradise for snake lovers and herpetologists. King cobras, kraits, Russell viper and saw-scaled viper are found here in large numbers. Other poisonous serpents include malabar pit-viper, hump-nosed viper and cat snake. Its constrictors include rat snake and Indian rock python.

 

More Things Worth Seeing

 

A 12th-century temple, dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva, is situated in the northeast of the aforementioned park. It is built in the traditional Jain architectural style and has a sanctum and hall with four pillars. Carvings of elephants are done on the pillars while the roof is inscribed with images of lotus. Images of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati adorn the walls of the shrine. Dudhsagar Waterfalls in the south-western section also attract vast numbers of tourists. It is a multi-tiered fall, with a railway bridge built between the tiers. Tambdi is another set of waterfalls, which can be visited by people. Picking holiday packages India, which get travellers to this amazing biodiversity hotspot, is a great idea.

Andaman – A Honeymoon Paradise

Andaman is a group of 325 islands, which together cover an area of about 6480 km sq. They form a part of the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and are located in the Bay of Bengal. Most of the union territory is covered with deciduous forests and its wildlife includes various species of shrews, birds, horseshoe bats, rats, pigs, elephants, kraits and salt-water crocodiles. The region is in great demand among newly-wed couples, with more and more of them opting for honeymoon packages to this beautiful wave-lashed and sun-baked land. There are a number of hotels and resorts in this destination, and tourists can engage in a number of activities here.

Havelock

Havelock is the most-visited isle in the region and is located in the southern district. It can be reached via ferries, which operate from Port Blair regularly. Ticket prices for these services are between INR 250 to INR 1100. Alternatively, travellers can also fly here from Port Blair in an eight-seater amphibious plane operated by Pawan Hans; the cost for which is INR 4100. The best beach in Havelock is in Radhanagar, which has white sands and is surrounded by lush forests. Swimming in the waters or snorkelling in the coral reefs are popular modes of enjoyment. Two other beaches are in the Elephant and Kalapathar villages. The period between January and May is ideal for coming here as the weather and diving conditions are good. It remains sunny and not much windy during this time while the sea is silent and reflects the pale azure beautifully.

Diglipur

The Diglipur town lies in the combined northern and middle district and is home to the Saddle Peak. At 732 metres, it is the highest point in the region and climbing to its top has become quite a sport. The waterfront in Ram Nagar attracts a lot of tourists who come to see turtles nesting there. Diglipur has an average elevation of 43 metres and is 290 km from Port Blair

Southern District

The southern district is equally sought-after by people and the two most-visited places are the islands of Neil and Little Andaman. Neil is quieter and less congested than Havelock and its beaches are mostly deserted, which makes it perfect for relaxing in the evening with a loved one. Marine shells can be found in abundance on and around the beaches, which also have a cave worth visiting. Radhanagar, Sitapur and Lakshmanpur waterfronts are ideal for snorkelling, swimming or traversing waves on a water scooter. The downing sun suddenly reddens the blue sky and this amazing natural phenomenon is best viewed from the Sunset Point.

Rainforests are widespread in the little isle as are several types of turtles. Other tourist magnets in this area are the White Surf and Whisper Wave Waterfalls. A 4 km long trek is required to reach the White Surf Falls, which are 25 km from the Hut Bay while the White Surf falls are only 6.5 km from there. Surfing and boating are common near the Hut Bay jetty and safaris to see elephants can be taken in the jungle. Many more attractions are located in this group of islets and an Andaman holiday can be planned to enjoy them all.

A Taste of British Hostility inside the Cellular Jail

India has a 7517 km long coastline, flanked by the Indian Ocean in the south, the Bay of Bengal in its east and Arabian Sea in the west. The coastal plains are dotted with hundreds of beaches, many of which are flocked by honeymooning couples. Beach holidays have become quite a rage among newly-weds, owing to the tranquillity and scenic beauty of Indian waterfronts. The silence is only broken by whispering waves and the blue sky is suddenly reddened by the setting sun. Couples like relaxing in serenity, away from the howling traffic and polluted vicinities. Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep are parts of the Indian territory and have splendid beaches. Honeymoon packages can be booked to enjoy and relax in these territories.

Port Blair

Port Blair, the official capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is situated in the South Andaman district and has many activities that tourists can enjoy. Named after a British Lieutenant, it has numerous beaches along with museums and monuments, which can be thronged by travellers. It has a subtropical climate with high precipitation throughout the year. The most-preferred activity here is scuba diving along with other water sports at the Rajiv Gandhi complex. However, the area is not only famous for its beaches and snorkelling, but also for the massive Kali Pani or the Cellular Jail.

Kala Pani

Most tourists in Port Blair visit this British-era prison, which was used to captivate people associated with the Indian freedom struggle. Built as a symbol of the colonial power, it now reflects the paranoia of the rulers because of the political tension created by the countrymen, who stood united in rebellion. The prison was built between 1896 and 1906 and more than 1000 people were held captive inside it between 1906 and 1947. It is a reddish-brown structure and the stones used to construct it were sourced from Myanmar. The building originally had seven rectangular wings arranged like spokes of a wheel, with a watchtower in the centre. The happenings inside every room could be seen by guards from the watchtower. Each wing had three floors and cells were built along their length. A total of 693 cells were built in the building, each measuring 4.5 metres by 2.7 metres. There were no windows in the rooms and the balcony of one wing faced the wall of another, thus eliminating the possibility of communication among the inmates.

Members of the Mughal family were persecuted and kept here. Anyone who tried to escape was hanged immediately and 86 people were executed in a day in March 1868. Hunger strikes were common by prisoners to protest against the inhuman treatment in the jail. After independence, four of the seven wings were destroyed and three were left intact on request by former inmates. Port Blair can be reached by air from Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. Ferries from Chennai and Kolkata can be taken to this beautiful island destination as a part of an Andaman tour package. The temperature is almost the same throughout the year so people can visit the region whenever they feel like.

Exploring the Kapaleeswarar Temple

Tamil Nadu is one of the two southernmost states of India. It is bordered by the expansive Bay of Bengal in the east, the Indian Ocean in the south, Kerala in the west and Karnataka in the north. The European conquest happened here in 1609 with the arrival of the Dutch. A Tamil Nadu tour can be undertaken to savour the Dravidian and the colonial heritage, which are integral parts of its history and culture. The state has many historical sites located in its modern metropolises. Chennai is the official capital of the state and an urban centre, which has many places worth visiting, like scenic beaches, temples, churches, museums and monuments. The Kapaleeswarar Temple is one such site in the city that receives heavy tourist influx every year.

 

Kapaleeswarar Temple

 

This shrine is devoted to Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati. Originally built somewhere in 7th century AD, but was destroyed by the Portuguese after their invasion in the 16th century. The Tuluva Dynasty of the Vijayanagara Empire built the current structure in the late 16th century, about 1.5 kilometres away from the actual site. Legend has it that a ling was placed here by Lord Brahma to please Shiva. The temple is mentioned in many stories in the Hindu mythology. It is a typical Dravidian-style shrine with two conical towers known as gopurams. These are carved with scenes from the Hindu scriptures and topped by a cylindrical structure. Entry is via two gates; one in the east and the other in the west. Several statues adorn its premises; the first of which belongs to Lord Ganesha. Goddess Parvati is also worshipped here and has a separate shrine as does Kartikeya along with his two wives. Next to the temple of Kartikeya is the structure housing Lord Muruga. The Kalyana Mandapa is a 16-pillared hall, where devotees seek the blessing of Goddess Karpagambal, depicted with having four hands. Its steps have elephant models and one of the pillars has a carving of Lord Hanuman. Blessing seekers circle around this pillar before proceeding to see the goddess.

 

The shrine of Shiva is next to the Mandapa where the deity is present as a ling. Other deities worshipped here are Durga, Bhairava and Dakshinamoorthy. Nandi – the divine bull of Shiva – is also housed here and is worshipped by people. A certain spot inside the complex gives beholders a panoramic view of the various buildings and temples. In the north-eastern corner is the altar of Shani Bhagwan and next to it are the Navagraha i.e. nine planets. Vehicles used by gods, such as peacock, bull, elephant, goat and parrot are also housed inside the premises. Priests perform rituals six times every day, with each ritual having four steps. Sound of drums, pipes and the chanting of Vedas accompany the prayers.

 

Information Necessary for Visitors

 

A Chennai tour can be planned in any month as its tropical climate does not make much of a difference in the weather and temperature. Chennai International Airport connects many destinations outside India and has routine flights to and from Delhi and Mumbai. The entire country is connected to the city via railways and national highways.

Official website of temple can be found here.

The Various Charms of Munnar

Kerala is amongst the two southernmost states present in India. It is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country, with visitors from around the world. Its beauty lies in its beaches, backwaters, hill stations, wildlife reserves and various historical monuments. Among the hill stations, Munnar is undoubtedly the most popular among visitors. It is situated to the southwest of the state and is around 1600 metres above sea level. People often go on Munnar tours for getting away from the hectic lifestyle of the congested cities and breathing in the clean air high up in the hills.

Hills

Trekking is perfect for those who appreciate nature and want to live close to it. There are various trek options available in the region, depending upon the length of the route and topography covered. People can either trek through the tea gardens or ascend the high mountain peaks. Rock climbing is attractive for those who like the thrill of dangerous expeditions. There are many waterfalls in the mountain ranges in the region, with their cold and unpolluted waters capable of quenching even the greatest of thirsts. Photography is common in these areas as the water gushing down from high above provides excellent scenes to use as a backdrop for clicking pictures.

Lakes and Rivers

Devikulam is about 7 km from here and has a lake, which is revered amongst people. According to Ramayana, Sita bathed in this tranquil pond in the Treta Yuga. Apart from bathing, swimming and fishing can also be enjoyed here. About 20 km away from the town is Kundala Lake, which is the reservoir of a dam and is preferred by boating enthusiasts. Shikaras, boats which are a rage among tourists in Dal Lake, can also be seen floating on this reservoir.

Mattupetty

Mattupetty is about 13 km away and is famous for its dam and dairy farm. It is at an altitude of around 1700 metres and lies near the Anamudi Peak. Trip-goers can enjoy water sports like speed boating in the reservoir of this dam. This lake also plays host to elephants who come there to quench their thirst. The nearby Shola Forest is also worth exploring and people can enjoy boating in the lake there as well. A dairy farm present here can also be visited by tourists, who like the simple pastoral lifestyle.

Wildlife Hotspots

There are many such places in the region, where animal lovers can come face-to-face with different birds and beasts. Rajamalai is about 15 km from Munnar and is the natural habitat of the endangered Nilgiri Tahr. This rare goat can also be beheld in the Eravikulam National Park, encompassing the former. Reptiles including the mugger crocodile inhibit the nearby Chinnar National Park as does the Indian star tortoise.