Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ramana's Garden: Good Cause, Bad Attitude, Above Average Value

Ramana's Garden
Village Tapovan, Laxman Jhula
Rishikesh 249192, India

Having studied psychology for over 30 years, I will never completely understand the territorial nature of humans, particularly when it involves a very worthwhile charity, but I have experienced this phenomena more times than I can count, including at Ramana's Garden in Rishikesh.

Entrance from Path
I decided to visit Ramana's Garden after reading about the charity and café on TripAdvisor and their website, but the compound was very difficult to find. There are no maps online and the only sign I found was on a gate I spotted while on a path leading toward the Ganga (Ganges) and just happened to come across.

I asked the man behind the counter at Ramana's if they needed any volunteers as I had about four more days in Rishikesh before heading to Delhi, but I was quickly dismissed without further inquiry. He told me that they only accept volunteers for three months or more because the children need consistency in their daily lives. I understand that the children need consistency, but when someone is kind enough to offer their time to your charity, maybe you should ask a couple questions before making them feel unneeded. I could have been CEO of a Fortune 500 company for all he knew, but he did not seem to care.

One of the Residents
In my case, being the author of two popular blogs, producer of a very successful YouTube channel (400,000+ views), a licensed professional counselor, and a retired military officer, I think I could have contributed something to their cause without being an unnecessary stress or burden on the children. I could have taught them how to make my World Famous Orecchiette with Broccoli Sauce recipe in less than an hour, but it was not meant to be.


Menu
In any case, even though I was more than a bit put off by the volunteer in question, I decided to stay for their "set menu" lunch and I am very glad I did. A tulsi (a local herbal tea-like drink), starter (soup or salad), entree, and dessert runs 400 rupees ($6.40), rather pricey by Indian standards, but a good value in this case.

The tulsi was warm, sweet, and tasty and the cup of soup of the day (a creamy kale consommé straight from the garden) flavorful and light, although rather small. Some bread, crackers, or croutons would have been a nice addition, but it was a  good start to a late lunch (they close at 4pm, so dinner was not an option) nonetheless.

Cup of Kale Soup
There were several entrées to chose from, including spinach gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, enchiladas, and momos among others, but I went with the special of the day ... cannelloni. The cannelloni (2) were large and accompanied by a few greens. Unfortunately, the pasta was lukewarm, but flavorful nonetheless, particularly for a vegetarian dish (everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan). 

Canneloni

The chocolate cake, although very small, was decadent and rich, making me wish there were more to go with my coffee and milk (hot from the cow in the barnyard).

In all, coming in at $8 including a small donation, I have to say that the meal was a very good value. The terrace overlooking the Ganges River below was quiet and a pleasant place to enjoy a mid-afternoon meal while helping a good cause, even if it was for just an hour. Ramana's probably would have garnered a 5 or 6 OUT OF 10 TravelValue rating if not for the kids they support and the natural, organic ingredients they use in their foods, so ...

CombatCritic Gives Ramana's Garden 7 Bombs Out Of 10 ... Bombs Are Good!




Cake and Coffee

Café Entrance 

Organic Garden

Garden

View of Ganges from Terrace
Key Words: review, Ramana's Garden, blog, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Ramana's, Ramana, Garden, restaurant, café, cafe, food, menu, lunch, Rishikesh, India, travel, value, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor

Parmarth Niketan Ashram ... A Definite DO NOT MISS in Rishikesh

Parmarth Niketan Ashram
Swarg Ashram (250 Meters South of Ram Jhula Bridge)
Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India



Parmarth Niketan Ashram is definitely worth a visit if for nothing else than the beautiful 5pm ceremony on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges). I had difficulty finding it on TripAdvisor because of the confusing map links, taking me near the Ram Jhula Bridge instead of 250-300 meters south to Parmarth Niketan.


From Ram Jhula Bridge, head south and keep to the right at the junction, taking you through the many stalls along the river and a covered market and continuing another 200-300 meters where you will see the riverfront stage to your right and the ashram to your left (you cannot miss it).

The Parmarth Niketan Ashram is worth a stroll with beautiful sculptures, gardens, buildings (dorms, meditation/dining halls, etc) and shops. I understand that you can stay here rather cheaply (if not free) for meditation, devotion, yoga, and meals, but I will not lead you to believe that I understand the specifics. htto://www.Parmarth.com has much more information, so I recommend you contact them for details. There are also free toilets (western-style sitters beside the "squatting" variety), snack stands, and benches to sit on.

Arrive for the 5:00PM ceremony early (4:30 recommended by locals, but in mid-December space was not a problem) and get a seat near the main steps to join in the melodic and visually stunning ceremony. The monks start arriving around 4:30 and loosen up their vocal chords, singing beautiful Hindu songs and praising Krishna as the sun starts setting slowly in the west on the other side of the river. It lasts about 30 minutes (until 5:30), ending in a fire offering where candles are lit, passed around the crowd for blessings, and placed in the river to float downstream and out of view as darkness ensues on Mother Ganga.

CombatCritic Gives Parmarth Niketan Ashram 10 Out of 10 Bombs ... It's FREE and a Definite DO NOT MISS in Rishikesh ... More Bombs Are Better!



Key Words: Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Parmarth, Niketan, Ashram, Rishikesh, India, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, yoga, meditation, Ram Jhula, ram, jhula

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Avoid Himachal Travels (McLeodGanj/Dharamsala) AT ALL COSTS!

Avoid Himachal Travels (McLeodGanj/Dharamsala) AT ALL COSTS!
Himachal Travels
Jogiwara Road (Main Market - Across from Four Seasons Restaurant
McLeodGanj, Dharamsala, H.P. India



I booked my ticket a day early, originally planning on leaving Saturday night (December 13, 2014), because the bus was fully booked for the 12+ hour trip from McLeodGanj (Dharamsala) to Rishikesh, paying 900 rupees ($14.40) in advance. As you can see from the above receipt (ticket), I was assigned seat number 7 when the owner called and made my reservation 33 hours before scheduled departure.

I said all of my goodbyes during the day and was walked to the bus station by three friends, but when I arrived at the Laxmi Holiday Bus #7583 as instructed, my ticket was taken and a long phone call ensued. Ten to fifteen minutes later, the driver told me "you do not have a seat on this bus", pointing to a seating chart he added "see, someone else has your seat, you cannot go". 

I threatened to call the police, then contacted the owner of Himachal Travel where I had bought my ticket. He came down to the station and unsuccessfully tried to get me on the bus as I watched my transportation drive off into the sunset with no backup plan. Because I had already vacated my room and had a hotel reservation (paid in advance) in Rishikesh the following night, it was imperative that I get out of Dodge ASAP.

The owner and ticket issuer told me that there was a bus leaving for Dehradun, about an hour away from Rishikesh, at 8PM (about 50 minutes later) and asked if I wanted to take that bus. He told me that it would be a semi-sleeper with chairs that recline, so I said "OK", understanding that I would be slightly inconvenienced, but comfortable ... WRONG!

When the bus hastily arrived, it was NOT a semi-sleeper, but a "local" bus, the kind you take across town, not across the country and a dingy, dirty one at that. There were no reclining seats, only hard, cramped plastic ones and I weighed my options as I considered the 12+ hour journey and its impact on my disabilities. I decided to take my chances rather than wait another two days for the next available bus, paying 535 rupees ($8.60) for the one-way ticket.

I got ZERO SLEEP that night, departing at 8PM and crammed in next two two young girls on an overloaded bus that made stops every 30 miles on a nearly 300 mile journey, and with NO HEAT ... I was freezing the entire time!

When I finally arrived in Dehradun at 11:30 AM the next day, I was dropped off on a road with no bus station in sight. Fortunately, there was a very nice Tibetan couple on the bus that took me under their wing, helping me to navigate a route with no English speakers (hey, I thought English was the "national language" in India!) and finding a bus to Rishikesh (51 rupees/83 cents). I had to pee for the last hour and a half, but could not risk relieving myself in Dehradun for fear of missing my connection to Rishikesh, so I sucked it up for the one and a half hour trip (40 miles) ... HOOAH!

I finally arrived at my hotel at 1PM, 17 hours after my departure, slightly hypothermic and extremely sleep-deprived, but alive. Oh well, another adventure in the life of CombatCritic!

CombatCritic Gives Himachal Travels 1 Bomb Out Of 10 For Their Failure To Get Me On The Bus I paid For And 16+ Hours Of Torture ... More Bombs Are Better!

Key Words: Himachal Travel, Himachal, travel, Himachel, Pradesh, McLeod, Ganj, McLeodGanj, Dharamsala, Rishikesh, Dehradun, bus, sleeper, seat, heat, heater, recline, CombatCritic, value, reservation, ticket, transportation

CombatCritic Q&A: "Hill top Swiss cottage, rishikesh"

Hill top Swiss cottage, rishikesh
Has anyone stayed at Hill Top Swiss Cottage? We are staying there for the whole of March 2015. I am wondering what the access is like as it looks very high up.

Helen T. (Nottingham, England, UK)

----------------------------------

15 December 2014, 09:27

Re: Hill top Swiss cottage, rishikesh

I've been staying for 2 of 7 nights and the property seems a good value. Rooms are big and bright, internet fast by Indian standards. 

It is a bit isolated from the Ganges (Ganga) and town, but offers a quiet environment and a few shops, restaurants, yoga/meditation/massage options.  I have bad knees, but the walk to the river takes only about 15-20 minutes and is not a bad climb up or down.

There is a wonderful new Italian restaurant a short walk away, A Tavola con Te (atavolaconte on TripAdvisor) owned by an Italian couple from Milan that make wood-oven pizzas, pastas and desserts. 

Let me know if you have any questions.

Chris S.
aka CombatCritic

Key Words: CombatCritic, question, answer, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor, TravelValue, travel, value, questions, and, answers, Rishikesh, Hilltop, hill, top, Swiss, cottage, hotel, guest, house, India

Hut One, Hut Two ... Crepe Pancake Hut ... YUM!

Hut One, Hut Two ... Crepe Pancake Hut ... YUM!

Crepe Pancake Hut
Jogiwara Road (Next to Tibet World)
McLeodGanj, Dharamsala, India
Prices: $$$$$


I walked by Crepe Pancake Hut probably 70 to 80 times before stopping in. Neither crepes nor pancakes, particularly vegetarian ones, sounded good prior, but I wanted to give them a try before leaving. I am sorry I waited so long!

Like most restaurants in McLeod Ganj, especially the ones with Eastern-style (sit on the floor) seating, this place was filled to the brim with young, Bohemian, hippie-wannabes. If you have traveled in India recently, you know the type ... long, filthy, unwashed dreadlocks, pajamas, nose stuck in their phone or computer and unable to carry on a conversation with anybody over 20 even if their life depended on it.

Anyway, enough of my judgmental attitude (I really am working on it and learned a bit more through Buddhist philosophy classes, but it is obviously a work in progress) and on to the food. 

I ordered a Veggie Burrito with Avocado Pico di Gallo (90 rupees - $1.45) and a pot of lemon ginger honey (50 rupees). The burrito was crispy and tasty, filled with sauteed bell peppers (capsium) and onions, kidney beans, and accompanied by half an avocado peel filled with a combination of mashed avocado, diced tomato and onion, and a bit of sour cream (or yogurt, I could not tell which).

The pot of ginger lemon honey was delicious and one of the cheapest in town at 50 rupees, filling my cup four times at 12.5 rupees (20 cents) a pop. In all, it was a light, healthy, yet filling lunch at an extremely reasonable price.

CombatCritic Gives Crepe Pancake Hut 9 Bombs Out Of 10 ... Bombs Are Great!



Menu







Key Words: Crepe Pancake Hut, crepe, pancake, hut, crepes, pancakes, burrito, wi-fi, free, savory, restaurant, McLeodGanj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, India, Dharamshala, CombatCritic, TravelValue, menu

Once in a Lifetime ... Secret Buddhist Ceremony in the Himalayas!



Title: Once in a Lifetime ... Secret Buddhist Ceremony in the Himalayas!

Key Words: YouTube, Buddhist, Buddhism, ceremony, prayer, prayers, monk, monks, secret, ritual, music, Himalaya, Himalayas, Dalai Lama, dalai, lama, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

CombatCritic Q&A: Dehradun Airport to Rishakesh (Transportation)

Dehradun to Rishakesh
29 November 2014, 15:59

Hi,

Can someone tell me the best way to get to Rishikesh from Dehradun airport & approximately cost? Is it easy to share rides?

I'm arriving approx 7pm.

Thanks in advance,

Josie, Melbourne, Australia



Re: Dehradun to Rishakesh
15 December 2014, 09:38

Josie,

I took a bus from Dehradun to Rishikesh just two days ago for 50 rupees that stopped at the airport on the way. Pay 700 rupees to the taxi touts giving advice if you like, but there are other much more reasonable options if price is a concern. 

I'll be posting (free and objective) reviews on my blog http://www.CombatCritic.com if interested. 

Good luck!

Chris S.
aka CombatCritic



Re: Dehradun to Rishakesh
December 15, 13:32

Since Jollygrant Airport is on the way from Dehradun to Rishikesh, Uttrakhand Roadways has mandated that all buses going from Dehradun to Rishikesh or vice versa has to pass through the airport. So yes ! Bus a cheaper option, but you'll have to wait for a bus....

K_Yogi, New Delhi


Re: Dehradun to Rishakesh
December 15, 14:33

The trip of OP is already over. He had hired a pre-paid cab at rs. 700/-.

CarLink, Mumbai



Re: Dehradun to Rishakesh
December 15, 17:40

Yes ! I saw that...

But the thread might be read by other people....

K_Yogi, New Delhi



Re: Dehradun to Rishakesh
December 16, 09:04

K_Yogi,

It's nice to see someone interested in the benefit of the traveler posting honest information and not touting their or friend's businesses. THANK YOU!

BTW, I'll be in Dehli next week and have some questions about travel. How can I contact you?

CombatCritic, Lawrence, KS


Key Words: asana, ashram, ashrams, bus, buses, cab, CombatCritic. TravelValue, Dehradun, dehredun, Ganga, Ganges, India, meditation, rishakesh, Rishikesh, river, taxi, transportation, yoga,