An impromptu day trip to Tonto Natural Bridge!

We can never have enough of nature – Henry David Thoreau

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all – Helen Keller

What else can be a great pleasure in life than having a great company, good food and a beautiful place to explore. Just the day before to Memorial Day long weekend, we, a group of ten friends decided to head off to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park for a quick one day trip. We weren’t entirely sure of what all places to go, but we zeroed in on Tonto Natural Bridge as our first destination.

Let’s just go somewhere and not have any expectations can be one of the best escapes one can ever imagine. So, we took quick home prepped lunch and snacks and hit the road towards north of Payson, Arizona. As bright and warm weather welcomed us to the state park, we first had our lunch at the picnic tables and recreation area, before setting foot on the Pine Creek Trail. There are four different viewpoints from the parking lot to view the bridge from its top, but not until we hiked down the short rugged trail surrounded by pine trees, the spectacular view of world’s largest natural travertine bridge unraveled.

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Bridge from one of the viewpoints. PC: Sravan K

The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. The amazing sight of sparkling water spilling off the bridge top is totally worth the hike.

There is some running water under the bridge and it was fun hopping over the boulders and soaking a little bit in the sprinkling waterfall. We took a lot of pictures, spent time hiking through the slippery rocks and admiring the vastness of the bridge.

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Panorama under the bridge – PC: Sravan K

There are three other trails Waterfall Trail, Gowan Trail and Anna Mae Trail. One of the them leads the way back up from the other side under the bridge.

It is a salubrious experience to explore Mother Nature and admire its wonders. Needless to mention the fun we had making our way through the rough trails in a spirit of adventure, this short one day trip to Tonto Natural Bridge remains one of my favourites.

 

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Prescott’s beautiful lakes!

Located in the Bradshaw Mountains of Central Arizona, is the city of Prescott that boasts of mild climate and serene nature, making it a great happening destination throughout the year for vacationers.

Be it a family picnic or a romatic getaway or a recreational trip, Prescott’s wilderness and its gorgeous lakes are a great choice.

The three major lakes that the City of Prescott maintains are Goldwater Lake, Watson Lake and Willow Lake. While the spectacular Goldwater Lake is a small reservoir nestled in the piney mountains of Prescott National Park, Watson and Willow Lakes are man-made reservoirs within the Granite Dells area located in the North of Prescott.

Goldwater Lake located 4 miles south of downtown Prescott in the Goldwater Park Area offers picnic area by the lake and recreational activities like fishing, kayaking and canoeing are allowed. Gentle breeze from the crystal clear blue waters of the lake and the surrounding whispering shady tall ponderosa pine woods enliven the mood and leave you refreshed. There are trails connecting to the Prescott National Forest from the lake area for enthusiastic hikers.

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Amidst the eroded lumpy and rugged granite boulders of the Granite Dells are the man-made Watson and Willow Lakes. The enchanting blue waters of these lakes surrounded by the unique spectacular rock formations makes the vista quite scenic. The reflections of these rocks in the water on clear sky days makes the scene look even more breath-taking. There are hiking trails connecting the two lakes and camping, kayaking, canoeing and fishing are permitted.

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So, if you are looking to beat the boredom blues, or if you want to escape the mundaneness of every day life, Prescott is one wonderful getaway to consider. Go and have a tryst with this great wilderness! 🙂

Shiva, the Limitless and His tranquil Trimbakeshwar!

Ask me what intrigues me the most. My prompt reply would be ‘the transformer, the supreme concept of Lord Shiva‘. I feel that Shiva is there but no where. How simple, soft, compassionate, straight-forward and formless and yet so powerful, infinite and fascinating is He? He is an enigma.

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Ask me where I want to go all the time. In my mind there is this ancient stone Shiva temple tucked away in a deep forest and with a river burbling by its side, bringing me a whole lot of tranquility and inner peace taking me far from this tumultuous world. Yet, the question still remains. Can inner peace be achieved only by running away to a serene place? What is the idea of Shiva telling me..to run away or to flow with life? And I think, the answer is this simple – “Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected”.

My today’s post is about one of my most favourable places on this earth, the ancient Hindu Shiva Temple and one of the 12 Jyothirlingas, Trimbakeshwar.

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Jyothirlinga, the infinite pillar of light means ‘The Radiant Sign of The Almighty Shiva‘. Trimbakeshwar is surrounded by three hills namely Brahmagiri, Nilagiri and Kalagiri. River Godavari originated in these hills and can be seen distantly from the Lord’s abode. A very serene place, it gets more verdant during monsoons. About the temple, read more here on wiki.

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It is a very positive experience visiting Trimbakeshwar. You will be given yourself after the visit. You will be left with some new questions in mind and you will get some answers too. You will be left in a unique peaceful state of mind to continue your quest for the light. The simplicity and stillness of the place combined with the aura and holiness of the formless Jyothirlinga radiates good vibes and shows you the right direction.

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Did you ever visit Trimbakeshwar? Leave a comment with your experiences. Will see you later 🙂

The unfathomable Grand Canyon.

Let me be frank. I don’t get it when people say what’s in Grand Canyon except for the rock. Personally, I get very philosophical every time I visit it or think about it. May be it’s just me, as it is said ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder‘. So, here is my little ode to this magnificent natural wonder that awe-inspires me every single time I visit it.

Standing royal, the Grand Canyon reiterates the power of nature to us. Every glance at its dimensions takes our breath away and each attempt to peruse it reminds us how tiny we are in this Universe. It inspires us to be undeterred by the trivial problems of life and to stand sentinel to protect ourselves and those who trust in us. Here is my Grand Salute, to The Grand Canyon!

This photograph was taken by me a few years ago when we visited the Canyon during winter time. Isn’t it more stunning to see it dotted with snow, and don’t you agree that no camera can beat the naked eye’s view! 🙂

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Do share links of your blogs on Grand Canyon, I would love to read!

 

Dochu La & Chele La – Bhutan’s sacred mountain passes!

Hello! Welcome to the third and final post on my Bhutan tour experiences. If you haven’t already read the previous two posts, please read them here at

Bhutan’s Thimpu and Bhutan’s Paro.

In this post, I am going to brief about our trip to Bhutan’s sacred mountain passes, Dochu La and Chele La.

When mountains call you, there are no excuses. There is a reason behind it, a purpose behind it. And what do the mountains tell us? To stand still and strong against the blustering winds. Mountains are unyielding protectors, they show us the righteous way of life. They inspire us with their patience and perseverance. They are unconquerable, but they leave the passes for us, humans to go closer to them, and reach them for the fillip. I witnessed the same kind of spirit going closer to the holy Himalayas during our Bhutan trip! We visited Dochu La and Chele La, the two mountains passes in the Himalayas of Bhutan.

Dochu La Pass

Located at an elevation of 3,100 metres, Dochu La is located on the road from Thimpu to Punakha. To the east of the pass, the snow clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas are seen prominently and among them is the Mt. Masanggang at 7,158 metres (23,484 ft) which is the highest peak in Bhutan, known in local language as the Mt. Gangkar Puensum. The road further runs into the scenic Punakha valley.

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Druk Wangyal Lhakhang
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Druk Wangyal Chortens

The environment is calm and religious, with 108 memorial chortens called the Druk Wangyal Chortens built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. There is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honor of the fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Also, there is the country’s first Royal Botanical Park located adjacent to the chortens. While this whole scene on the pass is a colorful feast to the eyes, the backdrop is often claded with a moving blanket of fog obscuring and revealing the Himalayas along with the near-by verdant greens leaving your mind and soul in tranquility.

It is an indelible experience for me to meditate inside and outside the Lhakhang overlooking the Himalayas.

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Chele La Pass

Chele La Pass is one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. It is the highest point with an altitude of 3988 metres. The road to Chele La is flanked by dense forests, and the trip to reach the pass takes you on a non-stop jaunt. Chele La, unlike Dochu La is very jagged and is surrounded by hilly terrains covered with vegetation that changes colors with seasons. The pass roughened by the cold gusts signifies a different side of Mother nature. Colorful prayer flags can be seen fluttering on the rough slopes making the view bright and pleasant. On a clear day, there are spectacular views of Mt. Jumolhari, Jichu Drake and adjoining peaks to the North West, as well as the view of the beautiful Haa and Paro valley.

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‘The best dreams happen when you are awake’! And yes, my dream to feel closer to the Himalayas came true this way. I will await to witness this heavenly experience once again in my lifetime.

So, did the mountains ever call you? If yes, please leave a comment and tell me all about it. I would love to connect with like-minds. 

Thank you for reading. More on our interactions and conversations with folks in Bhutan, and why I think Bhutan qualifies for a happy country in the upcoming posts. Stay tuned, and stay connected. See you later!

Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness. (Part 2) In and around Paro!

Welcome back!

I hope you have read about our Bhutan travel experiences in my previous blog here. Now, I am going to share with you more details of our itinerary.

After spending in and around the charming Capital city of Bhutan, Thimpu, we moved to Paro for a two day tour. Along with being a picturesque city, Paro is a historic town with structures with traditional architecture. It is also home for Bhutan’s only international airport, Paro Airport.

The main attractions in the city tour of Paro are Rinpung Dzong, Paro Taktsang, Kyichu Lhakhang, National Museum of Bhutan, Paro Airport bird’s eye view and the shopping streets of Paro.

Rinpung Dzong

With history beginning in the 15th century, Rinpung Dzong is a large Buddhist Monastery and a fortress that now has various administrative offices of Paro within it. Outside of the Dzong is the Deyangkha Temple and inside are fourteen shrines and chapels. It is quite interesting to go around the Dzong and to soak in all the historical and cultural significance. Below are a few photographs taken in the Dzong.

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Paro Taktsang/Tiger’s Nest

Paro Taktsang, the very famous Himalayan sacred monastery is perched on the cliffs of upper Paro Valley. It can be reached either through a trek, or a horseback ride. Guru Padmasambhava who brought Buddhism to Bhutan is believed to have meditated there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. The monastery has a rich and very significant history related to Bhutan and Buddhism. Read more about the world famous heritage site here.

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Kyichu Lhakhang

The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songtsän Gampo. Read more about it on wiki here.

National Museum of Bhutan

The museum of Bhutan documents the cultural dances, flora and fauna, and other historical facts of Bhutan. There is a video played in the museum showcasing the different Bhutanese dances and festivals and their significance. It is quite fascinating to go round the museum. Aerial view of Paro valley from the museum offers breath-taking vistas. Photograph below.

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Paro Airport bird’s eye view

Paro Airport is undoubtedly one of the world’s very scenic airports. Nestled in a gorgeous panorama and in a deep valley is the airport adjacent to the banks of River Paro Chhu. The whole scene is fabulous and it stays with you forever.

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Last but not the least, shopping! What fun is it when you do world travel and not collect souvenirs? Here is my Bhutan travel haul. I bought most of these things on the street bazaar of Paro. They are going to keep all the memories alive to me.

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So far, I have covered Thimpu and Paro cities in my blogs. They are two fascinating places with a blend of cultural significance and nature’s heavenly beauty, thus making travel experience ethereal and memorable. I will be continuing on the sacred mountain passes of Chele La and Dochu La in my last and third blog. I hope you will await it. See you later! 🙂

Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness (Part 1). In and around Thimpu!

A few years ago, the topics during a tea-time confab were Gross Happiness Index, Bhutan, Himalayas and Taktsang Monastery. Like a seed planted grows into a tree, this discussion intrigued me a lot and my fascination to witness the Bhutanese way of living increased by the day. All the enthralling aspects of Bhutan and my all time obsession with nature, and mountains in particular, I added Bhutan travel to my bucket list.

Come 2016, life showed a direction towards pursuing my travel dream. And yes, I visited Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness.

Pristine landscapes, spectacular views, amicable people and their spiritual way of life, rich heritage, comforting food, and everything else so heavenly qualify Bhutan for a Utopia. Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is full of never-ending range of hills, verdant plains, meandering perennial rivers, meditative sounds of the Buddhist chants and colorful prayer flags tied everywhere reminding us that nature and spirituality are inseparable.

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Though the pictures don’t do justice to the real beauty of this paradise, and my words can’t describe the magical experience, I shall try my best to give a brief of how and what it was. Our tour was of four days covering the two major cities of Bhutan, Thimpu and Paro. A further long stay will give you much time and opportunity to explore the country better.

First two days in Thimpu

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The Memorial Chorten

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The Memorial Chorten or Memorial Stupa was built in the honor of the third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It does not contain human remains, but just a photograph of the King. It is circumambulated in clockwise direction like other religious structures. We spent about an hour in the Chorten witnessing the annual recitation of ‘Seven Line Prayer’ to Guru Rinpochhe. The whole milieu was sacred and ingenuous.

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Buddhists chanting peace mantras. Prayer wheels with “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on them

We later visited the Great Buddha Dordenma, a 169ft gigantic Buddha statue and the Takin Preserve. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan.

Rest of city tour had viewing gorgeous vistas and visiting the important places of interest like Changlimithing multi-purpose national stadium, National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Arts and Crafts school), Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar, National Library of Bhutan etc.

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National Institute for Zorig Chusum trains the Bhutanese youth in 13 native and traditional Bhutanese arts like wood carving, statue-making, painting, weaving, tailoring, embroidery etc. Some of the finished products are also sold for good prices.

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Authentic Bhutanese Arts and Crafts Bazaar, Thimpu

The shops had a unique collection of handcrafted house decors, clothes, book marks, key chains, Bhutanese masks, Bhutanese musical instruments, hand bags, jewelry and many more. The place was a kaleidoscope of colors.

Tashichho Dzong

Tashichhoedzong build by the first Dharma Raja, is a Buddhist monastery and fortress on the banks of Wang Chu River. There are thirty temples, chapels and shrines within it. It is the office of Bhutan’s civil government and Kingship together. A few kms near the Dzong is the King’s palace, the Dechencholing Palace. The photograph below is an aerial view of the Dzong and its surroundings.

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Bhutanese Cuisine

Coming to cuisine, red rice and buckwheat are Bhutan’s two main foods. Red rice in Bhutan has an earthy flavor. The Bhutanese make soups and stews out of various vegetables and meats (yak meat being a specialty).  Ema datshi, which is their national dish, is spicy made with large, green chili peppers in a cheesy sauce. It is one of their major comforting and widely made dishes. Momos (dumplings) are also quite famous. Butter Tea (also called Suja) is made of the Bhutanese Tea Leaves, Water, Butter and salt. The Bhutanese also include various spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, caraway etc in their cooking.

Dha/Archery and Traditional Dresses Gho & Kira

The National game of Bhutan is Dha or Archery. We made sure we wore the traditional dresses of Bhutan (Gho for men and Kira for women) and played archery amidst the serene hilly terrains.

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The Kira
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Playing Dha or Archery wearing a Gho
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Making of the arrows

Bhutanese Architecture

Traditional Architecture remains prevalent in Bhutan. Throughout its history, Bhutan has mainly followed the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist architecture. Any new structure construction is supposed to abide the rules. Read more on the Architecture of Bhutan in wiki here.

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Touring Bhutan is not only a way to escape in the tranquility of nature, but also a fun trip getting to know their unique culture and tradition. It opens your heart to simplicity, variety and spirituality.

Revive your body and awaken your soul, go visit this magical Kingdom.

More on the remaining itinerary in next blogs. I will take through our Paro city tour and the sacred mountainous passes.

So..have you ever been to Bhutan? Please share your experiences, and blog links. Thanks for reading. 🙂