Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A memorable road trip - Part 3

Our brief sojourn in the salubrious environs of OYO rooms Hotel in Kathmandu came to an end and now it was time to return to Delhi via Gorakhpur and Agra. Fortunately for us the OYO rooms staff had gone that proverbial mile ahead and found out for us that we would face no road closure when we leave and hence be spared the off roading that we had to do during our incoming drive. They also packed some delicious sandwiches and French fries for us to have on the way to ensure we have breakfast on the go.

A slight drizzle kept us company till we left Kathmandu and soon we were on the Highway to Gorakhpur. This time on, we got on to the highway that had eluded on our drive in to Kathmandu. We

were singing till we reached the patch of 23kms which was under repair. It took us 3 hours to cross

that ‘patch’ of bad roads. But the advantage this time around was we were prepared for the bad roads 

and were comparatively fresh as it was in the first half of the day of our drive unlike the last time

when the bad roads and closed roads were thrown at us without any warning and in the second half of

the day when we were already looking forward to a lovely cup of evening tea in the hotel.
We had lunch in a Nepali dhaba at at the point where the good roads were in sight and started thinking back on the wonderful time we had during our drive to Nepal, in Nepal and now getting out 

of Nepal. But the sight of the arch ‘Welcome to India’ at the border did light up all our faces with joy! After the Immigration and Customs formalities we cheered as we drove into India, onwards to Gorakhpur. We had a comfortable overnight stay at the same OYO rooms Hotel that we had stayed earlier and left early next morning for Agra.
A couple of bloggers who were keen on visiting the Red Fort in Agra were dropped off at the fort 

gates and the rest of proceeded to check in OYO rooms Home stay. After the check in formalities and

refreshing ourselves with some tea, two of us decided to visit the Mehtab Bagh which is behind the Taj Mahal, on the other side of the Yamuna river. It was very peaceful out there with no teeming 

crowds and almost no noise pollution. Got some rare views (for me) of the Taj Mahal and was glad we went there. Within half an hour, the security started whistling and driving out all visitors. Anyway we had our fill of the Taj beauty and made our way to Sadar Bazaar where Team ScoutMyTrip would 

meet and check out the Agra chaat and kulfi delicacies followed by ‘Mama Chicken’ and ‘Mama Franky’.
For me the mango kulfi was the hero of the evening.
Next morning after a delicious in house breakfast of parathas we set out on the home run to Delhi. The drive was concluded in the OYO office premises with a lot of ‘Thank you’ and ‘Great meeting with you’, all around, with all of us having forged new friendships and promises to keep in touch.

Thank you ScoutMyTrip and OYOrooms for this wonderful 2500kms, 2 nations, roadtrip! Travel is such a bonding catalyst!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A memorable road trip - Part 2

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts,  it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you – it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”  So says Anthony Bourdain.
The above quote is very relevant to our journey specifically from Gorakhpur to Kathmandu. Read on to see why.
We started off early from Gorakhpur as we were advised to cross Narayanigadh by noon as that road would be closed later for resurfacing. We also had to get permits for our vehicles at Sonauli, the border town between India and Nepal, and we were not sure how long that would take. So off we drove on lovely roads yet again towards OYO rooms in Kathmandu, Nepal. Enroute we witnessed a 

magnificent sunrise and soon we arrived in Sonauli.

Our Scout My Trip captains got busy in getting the permits for the vehicles and Nepal SIM cards for us. Before we could say #HelloNepal  we were ready to move on and bid farewell to India and once again the decent roads welcomed us into Nepal.

Apparently the Universe was listening to some of us complaining of boredom due good but boring roads and conspired to give us an experience to remember!
The shortest route from Sonauli to Kathmandu was around 280kms but the catch here was that you had to cross Narayangarh before noon. This road would otherwise be closed due ongoing road repairs and resurfacing. And, if we managed to make it, it would take us around 8 hours to cover the 280kms. The roads so far were excellent and scenic too! We made a quick pit stop for breakfast  and reached Narayangarh at 11.30am, half an hour before scheduled time. But then on a road trip barely anything goes as per plan, isn’t it? We saw a queue of trucks parked on the road and in true Indian style overtook all of them to be right in front. When we reached the head of the queue we realised that they had already closed the road. Who were we to ask why as the security personnel told us to get back in the queue as jumping the queue was not done. He also told us to go relax in some restaurant as the wait would be as long as four to five hours! So we did the next best thing, consulted Google maps and got the alternate route which was 365kms and would take us 13 hours. It was then the fun and games started. This route was an offroader’s delight. To add to the adventure thunder started rolling 

and lightning did its best to light up the path forward. And yes, it rained too. But we took it in our stride like veteran travellers, making jokes, singing songs and cheering for every small strip of tar as I was clutching on to dear life as the car rocked and rolled its way!
We reached OYO rooms in Kathmandu at 9.30pm instead of the scheduled 7.00pm. we were received

Pictures courtesy : OYO rooms.

very warmly by the Hotel staff and they did everything possible to ensure we got to our rooms in a jiffy. The efficiency was marvellous!
During our dinner, knowing how tired we would all have been, they suggested we do our sight seeing the next day by a taxi van.

The CMO of Scout My Trip being accorded the traditional Nepali Welcome.

Next morning the CEO of the hotel personally welcomed us with the traditional tikka and shawl, followed by a hearty breakfast.

The bloggers in the van to explore Nepal

The van was at the hotel door on the dot of 10am as promised and took us to the famous 

Pashupashinath temple - Built in the 5th century and later renovated, is one of the four most important religious sites in Asia for devotees of Shiva.

Budhanilkantha temple - an open air temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

Pashupatinath (Lord Shiva) temple ,the BudhaNilkantha (Lord Vishnu is seen relaxing on a coiled 

Swayambhu stupa - is a pilgrimage site for Hindus, Vajrayana Buddhists, and Newari Buddhists.

snake) temple and finally to Swayambhu Stupa.

We were treated to a traditional Nepali evening of rice wine and Nepali thali accompanied by some traditional folk dances of Nepal, to end the day on a glorious note.

Patan Durbar Square - A UNESCO World Heritage site.

Next morning the van again showed us around Patan Durbar and Bhaktapur Durbar. These two 

Bhaktapur Square - A UNESCO World Heritage site.

historic places took all day to explore and was well worth the time. So if the first day was devoted to religious places, the second day was spent in exploring the historic beauty of Nepal. Both were amazing! Some went to Thamel for the shopping buzz too. I gave it a miss and retired early to soak in the memories that were created so far.
A note for roadtrippers – The fuel pumps open only at 6am in Kathmandu so plan your departures accordingly.
Our foray into Nepal would end as we would leave early next morning on our return journey to Delhi via Gorakhpur and Agra. And this time we were determined to take the path that had skilfully avoided us when we came in.

Join me yet again in the next post to know what happened.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A memorable road trip - Part 1

Indian Bloggers

Magic happens when two young startups namely ‘ScoutMy Trip’ a travel portal that is ‘The Ultimate Road Trip Planner’ and ‘OYO’(On Your Own) Rooms, the hospitality portal, get together to give a few bloggers a magical roadtripping experience. The CEO and CMO of Scout My Trip commanded two vehicles with their exemplary driving (Mahindra Scorpio and Ford EcoSport), one an SUV, another a ‘compact SUV car’, on a two thousand five hundred kilometres trip from Delhi to Lucknow to Gorakhpur to Kathmandu and back to Delhi via Gorakhpur and Agra. All the night halts were at OYO rooms that were truly affordable and provided just what a traveller needs on a road trip – clean rooms, clean toilets, clean linen (the emphasis being on clean), excellent service, good food and free WiFi which is a necessity these days to remain connected. Overall they were Efficient, Innovative and Friendly to ensure a comfortable stay.

We met up at OYO Townhouse in Safdarjung Enclave and went out to Rajinder Da Dhaba in the neighbourhood for dinner and an opportunity to get to know each other.

The CEO, CTO and the CMO of Scout My Trip

After an amazing meal all of us were glad to see that we all loved to travel and explore food from all over the country and hence retired to our well-appointed rooms for a restful night.
Next morning all of us met up at the lobby at 6 a.m. raring to set out on an epic drive which would last nine days.

We were flagged off on schedule and were soon cruising on the boring highways and expressways to 

reach Lucknow in time for lunch.

We stopped over at a ‘Dhaba’ along the route for some energising parathas for breakfast.
After an uneventful drive we reached OYO rooms using Google maps.

The rooms were comfortable and air conditioned as the summer heat was making its presence felt strongly.

Once in Lucknow we got into two rickshaws and headed straight for ‘Tunday Kababi’ the best place in town for some excellent kababs. We were well guided by Saumya who blogs at Road to taste and is from Lucknow, hence a master of ‘what to eat’ and ‘what to see’.
After the delicious lunch we were led to a famous ‘Kulfi’ (frozen dairy dessert) shop for some yummy dessert.
Now we were all set to explore the historic monuments of Lucknow and so hired a large autorickshaw called Vikram to Bada Imambra which is also famous for its labyrinth passages called 

Bhool Bhulaiya, apart from the tombs and mosques.

The tonga beckoned to take us to Chhota Imambra which looked very pretty in the dying light.

All this exploration had our stomachs growling so off we went to Royal cafĂ© for some unusual ‘Chaats’ (Chaat is a term describing savory snacks, typically served as a hors d'oeuvre) whipped up

 by the ‘Chaat King’ who also has a Facebook page and loves to interact with all his customers.

Next morning we set out for Gorakhpur but not without a visit to Chhappan Bhog for breakfast 

followed by chai at Sharma Tea stall and a brief visit to ‘The Residency’ and a short detour to the old

The Residency

Tomb of Bahu Begum - Gulab Bari

In the by lanes of Ayodhya

Awadhi capital - Faizabad (Umrao Jaan was born here) and then through the by lanes of Ayodhya. It was actually a wonderful drive made excitingly tedious by Google maps as it routed us via the shortest route through the tiny lanes of a wholesale market to OYO rooms Hotel Upvan.

The journey from Lucknow to Gorakhpur showed the versatility of road tripping by letting us visit and experience so much more than just a straight point to point trip. This is exactly where Scout My Trip helps by highlighting the points of interest on your route.

On reaching Gorakhpur we freshened up, had dinner and crashed out for the night as next morning we were off to Kathmandu in Nepal.

You can read all about it in the next post! I promise you, it will be as exciting a read for you, as it was a drive for us!