CombatCritic Takes You To … The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram – Rishikesh, India


The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram Rishikesh, India
Prices: $$$$$

Sign on Wall Leading to Maharishi Mahesh Ashram

In February 1968 The Beatles came to Rishikesh and stayed at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, writing many songs for the White Album and others, including Revolution #9 in the small meditation huts you see in eight of the last ten photos.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr left in March, returning to England, but John Lennon and George Harrison remained until John had a falling-out with the yogi over a rumored sexual liaison with a young westerner, some reportedly thought was Mia Farrow, who had accompanied the Fab Four on the trip. Before leaving, the Maharishi asked Lennon if they could talk to find out what was wrong, but John stated something to the effect of: “if you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why” and they were off, apparently plagued by car troubles that Lennon attributed to some type of “spell” the Mahirishi had put on them before their departure.

Entrance on North Side of Ashram

The “Beatles Ashram”, as it has become known, closed in 1994 and has been taken over by jungle where only the empty shells of the former glorious ashram remain. Only parrots, peacocks, monkeys, elephants, and leopards remain along the banks of the Ganges where music history was made some 46 years ago. 

Follow the path in front of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram south less than half a kilometer until it turns into a sand Jeep trail. You will see the Ganges on your right, where there happened to be a funeral pyre the day I was there, along with an old guest house and makeshift shacks. You may see the “Beatles Ashram” sign on the wall on your left if it is still there. When you reach the end of the path at the dry river crossing, make a left up the riverbed and follow the intertwined paths between the rocks. You will see a park and high wall on your right and about 150 meters further east you will find the gate to what used to be the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram.

The entrance fee will run around 100 rupees ($1.60) per person, but try to haggle. There will likely be  a “guide” waiting there to offer his services for a “donation”, so feel free to partake or not. I did and it was well worth the 200 rupees ($3.20) I gave him, probably twice what he was expecting for an hour of his time.

As you meander through the dense jungle, you will go up a hill past small domed rock two-story structures that served as living and meditation quarters for ashram guests. A little further up on the right (you will see a small entry/exit gate) are three of these that the Beatles “reportedly” used for song writing during their stay. The second, bungalow “#9”, I was told by the guide, is where Revolution (1 and 9) were written by Lennon.

The ashram was a small city at one time, housing up to 2,000 guests and providing banking, a post office, shops, kitchens and cafeterias, bungalows, large single-room dorms (where the Beatles and their entourage lived during their stay), meditation halls, and the quarters of the Maharishi Mahesh atop the cliff overlooking the Ganges, complete with air conditioning and a small swimming pool.

You can see everything in an hour to an hour-and-a-half or you can spend an entire day meandering through the jungle, exploring buildings, or meditating in a mecca of rock and roll … The Beatles Ashram.

CombatCritic Gives Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (The Beatles) Ashram 9 … Number 9, Number 9, Number 9 … Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GREAT!




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Title: The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram – Rishikesh, India

Key Words: Beatles Ashram, Beatles, ashrams, ashram, Rishikesh, rishekesh, yoga, India, White Album, The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Revolution
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His Holiness and I


By C.T. Sorrentino
“His Holiness”. I first saw him on TV, a documentary, 60 Minutes, I forget exactly where or when, but he impressed me with his infectious laugh, immeasurable joy, and extremely profound yet simple message: interdependence and compassion; love and non-violence; selflessness and integrity; dignity and respect … I was hooked. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama had my ear and my admiration from that point forward.
I started listening to His talks, I began reading His books, I visited, His website. I use a capital “H” because this man is the real deal, as close to a God as there is on Earth, plus “His Holiness” is always capitalized, so I capitalize the H here out of respect, but will not do so from this point forward because he is such a humble man that he would likely be embarrassed by it, he would not like it. After all, he often refers to himself as a “simple monk”.
His message made sense to me, enticing me to further explore Buddhism, a religion I was unfamiliar with, having been raised Catholic, only later finding out that it is not really considered a “religion” because there is no “God”, no creator, in Buddhism. Buddha was a man, a prince no less, who lived around 2,600 years ago in India, becoming “enlightened” after 49 days of meditation under the Bodhi tree at the age of 35 in a place now called Bodhgaya. So, back to his message, actually Buddha’s message, referred to as the “dharma” in Buddhism and one of the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings), and the Sangha (the devout followers: monks, nuns, bodhisattvas).
First, “suffering” (or “samsara” in Sanskrit), the subject of the Four Noble Truths, is at the root of human existence in Buddhist philosophy. We all want to be happy, but our ignorance: Our thoughts, our emotions, our desires and our inability to manage them get in the way of attaining happiness.
 
Second, we should observe our body (equated metaphorically to the Sangha), mind (the Buddha), and speech (the Dharma), inhibiting our propensity to lie, cheat, steal, kill, covet, idle gossip, talk badly about others and so on, by enhancing our ability to focus on the present moment and making positive choices while minimizing or eliminating negative ones.
Third, we should be compassionate, empathic, and care about others more than we care about ourselves, letting go of “me”, “I”, our “self” and in the process doing what we can to eliminate suffering in others and ourselves. This is also referred to as “bodhicitta” and those who dedicate their lives to ultimate compassion with a focus on eliminating suffering in all sentient beings (people, animals, insects, etc.) and attaining Buddhahood are referred to as “bodhisattvas”.
So I started reading books on Buddhism, basic books like Buddhism for Dummies, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, and other introductory texts, in order to learn more about what seemed to be a very complex subject. Then, not wanting to spend another winter in the Midwest, I had an epiphany – why not go to India and learn about Tibetan Buddhism at its source, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj to be specific, from His Holiness himself?
The first place I visited was the Dalai Lama’s website, where I checked his teaching schedule and, lo and behold, he was going to perform a teaching for a group of Koreans at his temple in McLeod Ganj from the 11th through the 13th of November 2014. Then I started checking airfares. I found a fare for $1,100 on United, which seemed like a very fair price considering that tickets to Europe nearly always exceed that, usually by a lot, so I decided to run the idea by my wife. I would leave in late October, go to Dharamsala for two months to study Buddhist philosophy, then meet her in New Delhi during her winter break (she is on the faculty at a large Midwestern university) for three weeks of touring, then south to Kerala for some much needed R&R by the sea.
Arriving in Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj actually, on a bright late-autumn day, the skies were a deep Dodger blue, the snow-topped Himalayas steep and jagged, the surrounding foothills raining pieces of shale and boulders the size of garbage trucks, and the trees surrounding the town a deep forest green, literally. His Holiness’s temple is actually in the hill station town known as McLeod Ganj, several kilometers and a 15 to 30 minute ride by bus, taxi, or car from Dharamsala depending on which road you take, the pot-holed “shortcut” or the longer, but much more comfortable “bus road”.  So if you want to be around his temple, attend his teachings, or volunteer with the Tibetan refugees as I did, you must stay in McLeod Ganj, not Dharamsala.
I felt totally at home as I entered McLeod Ganj on the first of November, as if I had somehow been there before, maybe in a past life, and my karma, which had been dismal for the past several years (that is another story, maybe an upcoming book), suddenly took a turn for the better as you shall soon find out.
Forty-five minutes after arriving, having quickly unpacked my backpack in my room at the Pink House Hotel, I decided to go for a stroll around town.  No sooner had I reached the long, treacherous staircase leading from the hotel to Jogiwara Road a few hundred feet above did I meet Thupten Pema Lama. Thupten is a small, slender man who always wears a hat of one kind or another.  His English is excellent and I soon found out that he is the now retired director of the Tse Cho Ling Monastery in McLeod Ganj and a former Buddhist monk.  We walked and talked for a while as he was on his way to get his cell phone repaired at a shop up on Temple Road, one of the two main thoroughfares running the length of the “market” area of McLeod Ganj and the road that takes you to the Dalai Lama’s Temple complex about a kilometer downhill. He pointed out his monastery in the valley below, where he still works part-time, from the second floor balcony of the small shopping center we were visiting. The secluded monastery, a three hundred step trek below the main square, is a peaceful respite where monks pray, meditate, and chant and where tourists can stay in a modest room with en suite bath for just 600 rupees (less than $10) per night. Thupten then invited me for tea at his home the next morning “around 10:00 am” and I enthusiastically accepted this kind invitation from a relative stranger.
Thupten’s small, simple apartment sits on the second floor of a building nearly adjacent to the hotel where I was staying, overlooking the river valley below with a view of the front range as well as the peaks of the Himalayas off in the distance. We had Tibetan bread, which quickly became one of my favorites and a staple throughout my stay, and milk tea, a Tibetan tea mixed with hot milk and a little sugar. As we talked, his sister sat with us, a sweet woman who speaks little English and is struggling with health problems as I later found out. Thupten then invited me for lunch. Unable to turn down such a warm and hospitable invitation, we retired to his living room while he bounced back and forth between there and his small kitchen where he busily chopped fresh vegetables and whipped up a tasty soup which I later found out was a Tibetan dish called “thupka” (pronounced “too-pa”). We watched BBC, his favorite, while chatting and eating our thupka with his sister.
There just happened to be an International Film Festival taking place in town that day, so we jumped in his car, picking up a stray tourist, a doctor from Australia, along the way, heading up the hill to TIPA (Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts) to watch a couple movies. We also had another complimentary lunch with the director of the film we had just seen, a very well known monk and Rinpoche (reincarnation), on the stage in the TIPA courtyard. From tea to lunch(es) to film festival, we had a splendid day and I had made a new friend for life. I later found out that Thupten is very prominent in town and a leader in the local Tibetan community. My karma was definitely heading in a positive direction and all this on just my first day in McLeod Ganj.
Oddly enough, that very same night, I met another very influential and equally well-known Tibetan monk by the name of Bargdo (pronounced “pack-toe”) while having my first restaurant meal at Nick’s Italian Kitchen.  Sitting at a table for two, I saw a monk walk in and ask a woman sitting by the door if he could join her as all the tables in the restaurant were occupied.  I am not sure why she turned him away, but I quickly caught his eye and beckoned him to join me as I was sitting alone and happy to have some company.  Bargdo has written 14 books and given countless public talks around the world about his experiences while being held in a Chinese prison and tortured by his captors, all for publicly pleading for a “Free Tibet” and announcing his devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Chinese.  For someone who was held captive and tortured for years in a Chinese prison, Bargdo was extremely jovial, even joyful, laughing uncontrollably at his own puns and as friendly as anybody I have ever met, including the Dalai Lama himself.  We ended up talking for a couple of hours and I bought one of his books, which he happily agreed to autograph for me before we went our separate ways. Fortunately, his company was much better than my meal, but the evening was an overall success in my eyes. Still day one and more positive karma!
I wanted to attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings, study Buddhist philosophy, volunteer with the Tibetan refugees, and study yoga during my two months in McLeod Ganj, so on the following Monday I made the two kilometer trek down Jogiwara Road to the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, also known as the “Tibetan Library” for short.  As it turned out, they had two Buddhist philosophy courses scheduled each day, Monday through Saturday, one at 9am and another at 11am, taught by two different geshes (a geshe is a Buddhist monk with the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist philosophy), each with his own English translator as the geshes taught only in Tibetan. I registered for both courses for the two months I would be in town, paying a grand total of 800 rupees ($13) for both courses and the texts.
I was too late for the 9am class that day, but the 11am class had just started, so the registrar insisted that I attend.  Entering in the middle of the opening prayer was a bit disconcerting, but none of the fifty or so people seemed to take notice and I quickly found a seat. The geshe was enthusiastic in his speech as he described the day’s verses of Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland in his native Tibetan, so I could not understand a word.  His translator, an American by the name of Julia whom I later came to know quite well, and Geshe obviously had a strong connection, a bond that allowed her to alternate between Tibetan and English all the while bantering back and forth while clarifying key points in the simple yet complex prose being taught. I was hooked … great stuff and positive karma once again!
As I was leaving the class, I overheard a group of people speaking Italian.  Having lived in Italy, being married to an Italian, and of Italian ancestry myself, I speak a reasonable amount of Italian and understand quite a bit more.  One of the group was an older woman with shaved head and dressed in the traditional Buddhist nun’s robes, so I asked her in Italian where she was from.  She told me that she lived in McLeod Ganj, but the rest of the group was from various places in Italy. They were obviously in a hurry to go somewhere, but before they left, the nun invited me to another, more private teaching at a café across from the Dalai Lama’s temple that day at 2pm.  I decided to go and am I glad I did – I was definitely on the karma train.
The small room above the One Two Café seats 12 people comfortably, many of whom sit cross-legged on cushions on the floor with tiny desks in front of them for taking notes. The more “senior” in attendance, those with bad knees like the Italian nun and I, sat in one of the few plastic chairs lining the wall. Our teacher, Geshe Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche of the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics (IBD), is not only a geshe, but also a “Rinpoche”, the reincarnation of a very high Tibetan lama who reportedly meditated in a cave in the Himalayas for 50 years.  I was later told that Rinpoche is also mentored by His Holiness and was reportedly handpicked by the Dalai Lama to study at the IBD, the monastery inside the grounds of the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj.
As Rinpoche entered the room, that day and every Monday through Friday following, all in attendance would bow, with the Buddhists, and even some non-Buddhists who did not know any better, prostrating themselves three times at Rinpoche’s feet (a prostration is a sign of respect or reverence for a high lama and/or Rinpoche where the individual bows down to the ground in four distinct movements, sliding their hands in front of them as their forehead touches the ground before returning to a standing position only to repeat the movement for a total of three times). He would always start with warm greetings and a small amount of banter, normally light and jovial, before his opening prayer.  He would then begin his teaching for the day. His translator, Ben, from Jerusalem is a soft-spoken and very kind man. His relationship with Rinpoche is also obviously very special and they work extremely well together. Ben is also familiar enough with both Tibetan and Buddhist philosophy that his translations flow effortlessly and were quite easy to understand.
What a tremendously compassionate and wise man Rinpoche turned out to be as I experienced over the next 6 weeks or so in his presence. Incredibly positive karma was generated and much Buddhist philosophy was assimilated over the 45 hours we spent together in that small room simply adorned only with seven Tsongas, wall hangings with paintings of the Buddhas surrounded by crimson and gold silk fabric, one behind Rinpoche’s low throne-like seat and three adorning each of the two side walls. Rinpoche was scheduled to leave with His Holiness for several days of teachings in Karnataka, India in late December and I was very sad to have to part ways on the last day of his teachings. He had become my teacher, my geshe, my guru, my Rinpoche.
I had started teaching English conversation shortly after my arrival to Tibetan refugees at LHA Charitable Trust, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), a non-profit in other words, one of several in McLeod Ganj providing free education and services to the many Tibetans who have escaped from their homeland and the oppression of the Chinese government. I taught an hour-long class Monday through Friday at 4:00 pm and had one student that I tutored, a 28-year old Tibetan Buddhist monk named Sonam that I met each night.
Sonam Wangdu is a Buddhist monk, at least six feet, five inches tall, a giant by Tibetan standards, and one of the kindest, gentlest, sweetest people I have had the honor of meeting in my lifetime. He was arrested in New Delhi, shortly after escaping from Tibet in 2012 at the age of 26, for protesting in front of the Chinese embassy over their immoral occupation of his homeland, Tibet. Sonam was only held for a couple days, short by Chinese standards, and the New Delhi Police told him he was “six feet, seven inches”. He is tall, but I think their measurement was over by an inch or two. That was Sonam’s second incarceration, the first being in Lhasa (Tibet or China depending on who you talk to) where he was arrested by the Chinese for protesting in favor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is persona non grata as far as the Chinese government is concerned. Sonam was lucky, he was only imprisoned and tortured for a week while several of his fellow protestors were shot, some killed, by police for speaking out in favor of the Dalai Lama.
Sonam escaped from Tibet shortly thereafter, trekking across the Himalayas in the middle of winter with three other monks. Crossing near peaks in excess of an altitude of 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus forty degrees Fahrenheit and below, it took Sonam and his companions 30 days to cross into Nepal and reach the Tibetan Welcome Center in the capitol city of Katmandu. They were some of the lucky ones because many of their countrymen and women die of starvation, dehydration, frostbite, freeze to death, or are fallen by Chinese snipers who routinely wait perched atop a ridge for escaping Tibetans to wander by.
 
Sonam and I met two days after my arrival, barely able to communicate because of my non-existent Tibetan and the little bit of English he had learned up until then. We continued to meet every night of the week, many times for two to four hours while drinking milk tea, Tibetan herbal tea, or simply hot water, one of Sonam’s favorites along with hot milk. We would also meet one day on the weekend and go for a long walk in the woods or up to the village of Dharamkot, a few kilometers above McLeod Ganj, to talk and spend time together. The other weekend day, normally Saturday, Sonam had reserved for, as he liked to say, “washing my body” where he would hike down to the Bhagsu River, which was very cold in November and December, to wash himself and the few clothes he owned.
Sonam and I became very close and remain close to this day, talking on Skype when possible and texting on WeChat, a favorite among Tibetans in India. He has become like a third son to me and I hope we can meet again very soon, possibly in the United States where he would like to visit one day. Sonam gave me a Tsonga of the Shakyamuni Buddha, the “original” Buddha, formally known Siddhartha Gautama, a prince from Northern India who was enlightened under the Bodhi tree some 2,600 years ago. And he calls me “respected teacher”, a term of endearment that warms my heart every time I hear it.
As I mentioned earlier, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to give three days of teaching from the 11th through the 13thof November upon request from a group of Koreans. Anybody could attend the teachings as His Holiness’s temple can accommodate two to three thousand people comfortably, so three days prior I took my two passport photos and paid my ten rupees (16 cents US) at the Dalai Lama’s Security Office on Bhagsu Road not far from the town square, receiving my security badge in less than ten minutes. I then walked to the temple to reserve my seat using a piece of paper with my name written on it, affixing it to the cement floor with some borrowed tape at a location where I was told His Holiness would walk past following the teaching each day.
When I arrived on the morning of the first teaching, lo and behold someone was sitting on my reserved spot! Normally, it would not have been a problem and I would have simply sat somewhere else, but there was a full-house and not a square inch of available space anywhere. When I informed the intruder of his error, he stood up and showed me his name on a large mat where he had been sitting, but when I picked-up his mat to reveal my name on the concrete below where his mat had been placed, he had no choice but to move elsewhere. Those are the rules, I did not make them up, I only enforce them.
The Dalai Lama arrived shortly after the appointed hour of 8:00am, causing much excitement as he circumambulated, clockwise of course, the temple before entering. As he did, he stopped and talked to several people, touching others and giving blessings all along the way. Upon entering the temple, he made jokes with the Koreans seated inside along with some of the monks from his temple before being seated and getting down to business. As he started talking in Tibetan (translations were available in several languages via FM radio – you have to bring your own), dozens of young monks started circulating through the crowd with large baskets of Tibetan bread and huge steel pots filled with steaming milk tea (you have to bring your own cup), handing out the bread and pouring the tea to everyone in attendance. This is a ritual at every teaching in his temple, followed by a short prayer from His Holiness over the bread and tea before everyone begins consuming them. The teaching then begins in earnest and continues for four hours except for a 15-minute “toilet” break about halfway through. These three days of teaching focused on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, the same text we were studying in my 11:00 am class at the Tibetan Library, so much of what was said sounded familiar. I will not elaborate on the details of the teachings because it would take up too much time and is too detailed to include in this short story, but it was enlightening, pun intended.
The next two days proceeded much the same as the first, except that on the last day there was a large lunch provided by His Holiness for the Korean’s and anybody else who wanted to partake, including Tibetan bread, rice, a vegetarian curry, and boiled vegetables, standard fare for a large
gathering and completely free of charge of course. Another thing that stood out to me was that on the second day there were several young monks navigating their way through the large crowd with stacks of 1000 rupee notes (1000 rupees equals about $16 US), seeking out the Buddhist monks and nuns, giving each of them a 1000 rupee note, not to anyone else, just the monks and nuns. Having vowed to a life of poverty, existing on the simple meals at their monasteries and wearing only the crimson and gold robes of Tibetan Buddhist monk or nun and a simple pair of shoes or sandals, these men and women live on very little, so $16 is a lot of money. A small gesture of compassion by His Holiness to the Sangha, his devoted followers, the Buddhist monks and nuns, but with an enormous impact on those who subsist on less than one dollar a day. Just another example of the compassion of the Dalai Lama
Another teaching, this time for four days in early December, was scheduled short notice after my arrival for a group of Mongolians, so I had the opportunity to attend a total of seven days, nearly 25 hours of teachings with the Dalai Lama during my time in McLeod Ganj. What a blessing and what tremendously positive karma had come my way during my stay.
But wait, that is not the best part of the story! Shortly after I arrived in McLeod Ganj, knowing that the Dalai Lama would be at his residence much of the time, an unusual occurrence with his hectic travel schedule, I decided to request an audience. Why not? The bad news: I received word from Tenzin Taklha, the Dalai Lama’s nephew and personal Secretary, three days after my request telling me that an audience would be impossible due to the Dalai Lama’s strenuous schedule and concerns for his health. The good news: I was invited to a group receiving line on December 8, 2014 where I would have the opportunity to greet His Holiness, receive a blessing, and have a photo taken with him. I was elated!
Thupten Pema Lama told me that these receiving lines were group events where nationalities are grouped together for the greeting, blessing, and photo. Well, that was good enough and just to have the opportunity to be so close to him was blessing enough for me, so I waited for the appointed hour – 8:00am on December 8th.
I arrived early at the temple’s security office that morning where I was checked-in, went through a metal detector, was patted-down (frisked), and had my possessions thoroughly checked. I had brought six mala (Buddhist rosaries) and two khata (ceremonial scarves for blessings) with me to have them blessed by His Holiness. Because nothing can be carried on your person when meeting the Dalai Lama, except a mala or khata, they were aggregated with all of the other’s and my remaining possessions were taken and sealed, all to be returned to me at the end of the visit. I was then told to go to a waiting room at the base of the hill leading to his reception center and living quarters.
There were probably 75 or so people there that brisk December morning and from what I heard, there were people from Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Tibet, China, and America of course. Nearing the 9:00am hour, we were grouped together in a line by nation and led up the hill toward the reception center. The line wrapped around the semi-circular driveway in front of the reception center with the head of the line under the canopy in front of the building. I was about one-third of the way back, number 25 or so. The Dalai Lama arrived shortly thereafter with his entourage, waving to his guests and smiling and laughing as is his way.
 
Just as Thupten had told me, the groups from individual nations were instructed to approach him one at a time. I could not tell you where the first groups were from, but there were from 5 to 12 or so people in each group. He would greet them, chat briefly, give them a blessing, and his staff would then take a group photo. The encounters lasted from one to three or four minutes. The group in front of me was from Japan and there were seven of them. I overheard the Dalai Lama telling them in English how wonderful it is that the Japanese are so forgiving toward Americans for having dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II and that forgiveness is a critical part of compassion and Buddhism. Little did His Holiness know that the next person in line was an American and a military veteran at that.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I was the only American in line that day, so when it was time, I was escorted to meet the Dalai Lama alone – I was the only nationality with just one member present! When I approached him, one of his staff said, “This is Lieutenant Colonel Sorrentino of the United States Air Force”. I then presented the white silk khata to the Dalai Lama between my two outstretched palms, as is the tradition. Taking it from me, His Holiness placed it around my shoulders as I bowed. He then took my hands and we bowed together in greetings. Not letting go of my hands, he asked me, “How long were you in the military?” to which I replied “20 years Your Holiness”. “ Did you serve in combat?” he asked. “Yes Your Holiness, I served in the Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan operations”. “Oh, very good”, he replied. At that point his staff were looking as if it were time to move on, so I took the opportunity to tell him something rather than asking a customary question.
I said, “Your Holiness, I have been fortunate enough to volunteer teaching English conversation to and befriending many Tibetans while here in McLeod Ganj and I have gotten to know your people very well”. I went on, “I have to tell you that I have never met such kind, compassionate, joyful, and wonderful people in my life and if there is ever anything I can do for you or the Tibetan people, please do not hesitate to ask me”. As I was finishing my comment, my eyes began to fill with tears of joy, both for the opportunity to meet this great and very kind man as well as because of the joy that working with my Tibetan students at LHA and my monk Sonam had given me. I have to say that there was a bit of sadness as well, knowing what hardships and suffering the Dalai Lama and all Tibetan refugees had experienced while escaping from Tibet in very harsh conditions, leaving friends and family behind to do so.
His Holiness saw the tears in my eyes and still holding my hands he told me, and I am paraphrasing, about tolerance, interdependence, compassion, and forgiveness.  He said that it is helpful to empathize with and feel compassion toward those who we feel harm us or wish us ill will and that anger and resentment only cause our own suffering. The Dalai Lama added that the ignorant are oblivious to the feelings of others, requiring even more compassion from those with the wisdom to understand their suffering and that those are the reasons Tibetan Buddhists are such compassionate, joyful, and caring people. A few more photos were then taken, I later found out that the photographer had been snapping away the entire five minutes for a total of nine photos, and then it was time for me to let the next group approach. It then dawned on me that the Dalai Lama had not let go of my hands the entire time we were together.
His Holiness says that our enemies give us the best opportunities to practice compassion and forgiveness.  He has every reason to hate the Chinese for what they have done to him and his people, yet he loves them as much as anyone else, if not more, and holds no animosity.  He believes, like all Tibetan Buddhists, that every creature on earth, insects, animals and humans alike, could have been our mother or father in a previous life, so we must treat every living being with the same love, compassion, dignity, and respect we would afford to our parents. In this way, it is much easier to feel compassion toward our enemies. 
I have only a few hundred hours of exposure to Buddhism, having only scratched the surface with much yet to learn and practice. I still find it difficult not to become angry with and intolerant of ignorant people (the Dalai Lama likes to call them “stupid”), but his teachings have allowed me to reexamine my gut reactions and, eventually, soften those reactions with patience, acceptance, understanding, and compassion for all sentient beings, both the good and the bad. That is what I learned in the group and individual encounters between “His Holiness and I”.
Copyright 2015 – 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC – All Rights Reserved
Title: His Holiness And I
Key Words: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, his, holiness, Dalai, Lama, Dalai Lama, Tenzin, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, India, Tibet, China, Chinese, LHA, Tibetan, refugees, travel, value

Clean, Safe, Fair Priced and Unlike Anthony Bourdain … Some Reservations


Hotel Heritage Home

1603/4 Main Bazar, Pahar Ganj

Near RK Ashram Metro Station

New Delhi 110055, India 

Phone: +91-987-352-9223

Prices: $$$$$

New Delhi (Paharganj), India: I found Hotel Heritage Home on TripAdvisor and made my reservation on Booking.com after reading numerous good reviews. The hotel is just a few blocks from the Ramakrishna Ashram Marg Metro station (opposite end from the train station) on Main Bazaar and just around the corner from Café Festa. It was easy to spot because of the good signage in front. It has a clean, open, rustic feel with a long entry through automatic glass doors, a small reception along with a travel office, an elevator and a rooftop restaurant. The area around the station is seedy to say the least, but vibrant, energetic, and colorful although filthy as is the case around much of Delhi.

Arriving at 1:30 AM after a 30-hour journey, I decided to defer to the hotel to pick me up at the airport. My driver spoke little English, but was right where I was told he would be with my name on a sign. The drive took about 25 minutes with little traffic due to the early hour. The trip was quoted at 900 Rupees ($14.65), not unfair by American standards but 500 Rupees more than the “standard” (400 Rupee – $6.50) fare from the airport to Delhi. In fact, when I inquired about my return trip to the airport, I was quoted 400 Rupees, so maybe there was a “late arrival surcharge”, an not totally unreasonable assumption.

I booked a “standard” room (1200 Rupees/night – $19.50), but found out the next say I was upgraded to a “deluxe” (normally 1800 Rupees – $29.25). The room was basic with marble floors, a large king bed, flat screen TV and cable, a small wardrobe, mini-sofa and table, and a bathroom that also serves as a shower due to the lack of a curtain or door. The room was fortunately in the back away from the street with no windows, which is not a bad thing considering I am sensitive to light and noise when I sleep and Main Bazaar is extremely loud due to the crowds below and the incessant honking of horns that Delhi drivers seem to thrive on.

The hotel’s travel office is convenient and helpful, but based on the prices I was quoted you may be better off booking your (train/bus/hotel/sightseeing) reservations online or directly with the provider as travel agents (and most other businesses) in this area are notorious for overcharging tourists. I will defer my opinion until I can compare quoted charges with online/counter prices through the respective purveyors.

Their rooftop restaurant is “relatively” quiet and inviting with plants, three parakeet cages, and local furnishings with several tables sitting below their own canopy for shade from the warm Delhi sun. The waiters speak barely passable English, but are attentive, efficient, and friendly. The menu has few beverage options, including bottled water, coffees (30-35 rupees – 55 – 60 cents), teas, shakes and other local drinks as well as vegetarian breakfasts, appetizers, pastas, sandwiches, and several options from India. There is no Diet Coke or other low calorie soft drinks and the coffee adequate, seemingly instant and likely Nescafe. The offerings are cheap by American standards, but not great. In two visits, I tried the egg and potato breakfast (80 Rupees – $1.30), accompanied by two pieces of toast (butter and jam), and a coffee with milk (35 rupees). It was adequate, but an excellent value. For dinner I went with the butter chicken (170 rupees – $2.75 – normally, one of my favorites) and an order of garlic cheese naan (60 Rupees – $1.00). The butter chicken came in a tomato-based sauce that tasted like sweet spaghetti sauce, not the creamy, savory variety I have come to love in restaurants in the U.S. and England, and the naan was slathered in butter/oil, a bit too much for my taste.

My biggest disappointments were the unexplained airport surcharge mentioned earlier, the horrible and nearly non-existent internet, and the phantom (500 Rupee) SIM card charge for my iPhone. The internet seemed to work OK upon my arrival and I was fortunately able to Skype with my wife and let he know I was alive, but it was “down” the next two days (the manager said it was their service provider’s fault) and accessible the next two, but so slow that my browsers gave up trying to load. Google also locked me out of all my email accounts because they thought someone was trying to hack me from India, but I could not access my ten accounts to resolve the issue due to lack of internet. What fun! When I told the manager that I wanted to get a local SIM card for my phone, he gallantly offered to have a colleague help me out. I was quoted 500 Rupees ($8.15 for a SIM card) and 495 Rupees for 2GB of 3G data. The data is an excellent value compared to American standards, but when I went to the Vodaphone store in Connaught Palace the next day because I could only get 1G data service throughout Delhi, I was told that “SIM cards are free, you should not have been charged for one”. Oh well, live and learn!

There are much cheaper (and more expensive) options available in Delhi, but if you are looking for a reasonably priced hotel, centrally located near the Metro in an area not abundant with clean, modern facilities, then Hotel Heritage Home is a good option, but be careful about add-on services as they are likely highly inflated.

CombatCritic Gives Hotel Heritage Home 6 Bombs Out of 10 

… Would Have Been 8 If Not For the Airport Surcharge, Internet Fiasco, and Extraneous SIM Card Charge .. MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!

Title: Clean, Safe, Fair Priced and Unlike Anthony Bourdain … Some Reservations

Key Words: Hotel Heritage Home. hotel, heritage, home, New Delhi, new, Delhi, metro, train, Main Bazaar, main, bazaar, budget, travel, value, TravelValue, CombatCritic, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor

Varkala Bus Dancer


Energetic … Infectious … Brilliant!

I wanted to go to a beach a few miles from where I was staying in Varkala, Kerala (India) and as I was waiting at the bus stop, a bus full of students stopped and told me to get on. I though it was a public bus, but they were apparently on a school trip to a beach farther north up the coast.

As the bus started down the road, the music went on and the kids started dancing and singing. They all wanted to take a photo with me as we neared my destination and as I got off the bus I asked who I should pay and how much. They told me “don’t worry” as they drove off into the Kerala sunset waving goodbye as they continued singing. 

Enjoy “Varkala Bus Dancer”! 

— Varkala Beach, Kerala, India


Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Varkala Bus Dancer

Key Words: Varkala Bus Dancer, Varkala, bus, dancer, dancing, dances, dance, music, video, Kerala, India, student, trip, road, beach, travel, value, TravelValue

DayTripQuip™: New Delhi to Agra … The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort


Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Day Trip

If you want to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, make a day trip out of it rather than staying overnight in Agra. Agra has few redeeming qualities other than these two extremely impressive landmarks in my opinion and spending even one night should be avoided. Let’s face it … Agra is a pit!

There are bus tours available or you can take a train from the main New Delhi station if on a budget, but I would not recommend the train unless you have confirmed reservations both coming and going. If planning a visit to Varanasi by bus, car, or train, another option is to visit Agra on the way as it lies between New Delhi and India’s holiest city. However, by the time you pay for two or more bus tour tickets, you could hire a private cab to take you to Agra, leaving New Delhi at 9AM, visiting both Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, stopping for lunch and some shopping, and returning to New Delhi by 9PM.

                                    Agra Fort Exterior                                       

My wife and I hired a taxi for the day at our hotel near the New Delhi train station, charging us 7,500 rupees ($120.00) for the itinerary described earlier. We left around 9:30 AM on a Sunday morning, a good day to go to as traffic is quite a bit lighter in New Delhi on a Sunday morning. It took us about two-and-a-half hours to get to Agra Fort, including a pit stop, traveling on the toll road, which costs a little more than the toll-free route, but shaved an additional two hours off the journey … each way!

A foggy morning, we decided to visit Agra Fort first to let the clouds burn off a bit before we headed over to the nearby Taj Mahal. We picked up our “complimentary tour guide” who briefed us on safety/security details upon arrival where “hawkers” and “pickpockets” reportedly would be waiting for us when we exited the taxi. The hawkers were no worse than any other tourist attraction in India and pickpockets are not a problem as long as you use a little common sense and pay attention to your surroundings.

Agra Fort is beautiful, impressive, and crowded. Entry was 350 rupees ($5.70 each) and we spent about an hour walking through the grounds, snapping photos, and learning about its history from our guide. We may have very well missed something as we found out later that our guide was cutting corners and not totally truthful in order to move us along so we had time to go shopping at a marble factory he was “touting” (“receiving kickback from”, a common practice among taxi drivers and tour guides throughout India and elsewhere).

The Taj Mahal is open every day except Friday from sunrise to sunset, not “6am to 7pm” as advertised by About Travel’s “India Travel Expert” in her Taj Mahal Travel Guide: What to Know Before You Go. There are three gates, but we entered through the East Gate (described as the “VIP gate” by our guide), paying 750 rupees ($12.15) each for entry, jumping on a tram for the short ride to the entrance. The lines were short both to buy tickets and enter the grounds, so this may very well be the best available option.

Once inside, there is a large courtyard to traverse before entering through the “Royal Gate”, an ornate red sandstone arch where the enormous Taj Mahal looms in the background as you enter. Having seen countless photos and heard numerous stories about the Taj Mahal for many years, I was very interested in visiting, but until I actually saw it in person, I had no idea how impressive it actually is.

The long, narrow reflecting pond is cut in half by a raised terrace where “Princess Diana’s Bench” or “Lady Di’s Chair” is located, the location of a famous photo taken of the princess during a visit to the Taj Mahal in 1992. We were told, as were many other tourists apparently, that the bench closest to the “Royal Gate” (on the opposite side of the terrace from the Taj Mahal) was where the photo was actually taken. But I assumed it was actually the other bench (closest to the tomb and, oddly enough, ignored by most tourists even though it offers a much better photo opportunity) where it was taken, a hunch that was confirmed the next day when I checked the internet for the photo.

There is a small museum (free) on the West side of the grounds halfway between the Royal Gate and Taj Mahal that is well worth a visit. I knew it was there and as our guide tried to steer us toward the tomb I asked if we could visit, but he said “it’s closed for renovations”. I could see that people were entering and leaving the building, so I insisted on going over to check. “Oh, they must be letting a small number of people in, you are very lucky” he exclaimed as we walked up to the doorway. The museum has four small rooms with artifacts from the site and other interesting exhibits, so take 30 minutes and visit.

You can read about the Taj Mahal in many places, so I will not elaborate here. I will say that it is absolutely breathtaking and a MUST SEE in your lifetime, this coming from someone who has traveled to 51 countries and having seen many of the most beautiful and famous attractions in the World. Even though the tour guide lied to me about the museum, normally a deal breaker, he took 4+ hours out of his day to show us around Agra, so I gave him a 500 rupee tip ($8.20 – he probably would have gotten 1,000 rupees if he had not lied), a small price to pay for an experience of a lifetime.

CombatCritic Gives The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Title: DayTripQuip™: New Delhi to Agra … The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

Key Words: Agra, New Delhi, new, delhi, Taj Mahal, taj, mahal, fort, taxi, bus, train, travel, tour, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, CombatCritic, value

CombatCritic QandA: (McLeod Ganj, H.P, India) Are there places to stay with kitchenettes?


Q:

las habitaciones tienen kitchenette? (Are there places to stay with kitchenettes?)
CLAUDIAGESELL  
villa gesell

A:
 
There are apartments with kitchens/kitchenettes available, but you’re going to have to look once you get there. Stay in a hotel for a day or two and ask locals. You’ll find something fairly quickly at a low price if you like. Gandhi House (below Pink House) has rooms with kitchenettes, but may require a long-term stay (one month or more. Ask the staff at Mountain Lion Cafe, they may know.  Tell them CombatCritic sent you.  Hope this helps!
 

Title:  McLeod Ganj, H.P, India: Are there places to stay with kitchenettes?

Key Words: McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, kitchenette, kitchen, hotel, apartment, dharmasala, dharamshala, India, travel, doubts, concern, question, answer, CombatCritic. TravelValue, travel, value

CombatCritic QandA: McLeod Ganj, India) Solo Female Has Doubts And Questions About Travel


Q:

Hey there,
 
Want to visit Mcloedganj and Dharamshala solo. i have some doubts.
 
1. which place is more appropriate to stay ? Mcleodganj and Dharamshala ?
 
2. Does your hotel provide taxi or cab facility to roam around the city or to go tourist attractions.
 
3. Is it safe to travel alone?
 
4. Any other thing i need to cautious about ?
 
Thanks.
 
Nehadixit, New Delhi, India

A:

Dear Nehadixit,
 
Want to visit Mcloedganj and Dharamshala solo … have no doubts!
 
1. which place is more appropriate to stay ? Mcleodganj and Dharamshala ?
 
Dharamsala has little to offer. McLeod Ganj is where all the action is … the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people, monasteries, yoga, meditation, NGOs, restaurants, hiking/trekking, clean air, beautiful scenery
 
2. Does your hotel provide taxi or cab facility to roam around the city or to go tourist attractions.
 
You don’t need a cab unless you want to travel outside of town. Everything is within walking distance of McLeod Ganj … Bhagsu Village, St Johns, Dharamkot, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive, etc … or a short, cheap bus ride away
 
3. Is it safe to travel alone?
 
McLeod Ganj is extremely safe for men and women, being inhabited by Tibetans primarily. Partly because of their Buddhist beliefs, they are very compassionate, peaceful, and kind people.
 
4. Any other thing i need to cautious about ?
 
Not really, but pick a hotel wisely. There are many to choose from, ranging from 200 to 3,000+ rupees per night depending on your tastes. The Tse Chok Ling Monastery sits on a hill overlooking the valley, is extremely peaceful, and a great value at 600 rupees per night. You can read reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions on my blog and watch videos orienting you to McLeod Ganj on my YouTube channel, so feel free to contact me for details.
 
Good luck!
 
CombatCritic

Key Words: McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, dharmasala, dharamshala, India, travel, doubts, concern, question, answer, CombatCritic. TravelValue, travel, value

India Jones and the Temple of Gloom


Coffee Temple
Varkala Cliff
Varkala, Kerala, India
I had heard that this place was “the best” and being #4 of 59 restaurants in Varkala on TripAdvisor I would have thought it was a sure bet, but nothing is for sure except the grim reaper and the taxman.
 
To be fair, I made several visits at various times of the day and I have to say the service was dismal nearly every time. On at least three occasions I sat at my table for 15 minutes or more and was totally ignored (I many times purposely do not make a fuss to see how long it will actually take), having ultimately had to either get up and ask for or retrieve my own menu. On one occasion one of the servers, who I will call “India Jones” because of his long hair, unkempt beard, tattered shirts, and “local” Kerala dress (he wears a sarong as a skirt even though he is obviously a westerner), moped around, conserving energy I assume, and lumbered past me at least ten times, never asking me if I needed a menu or wanted to order. I sometimes believe that I am invisible here because employees constantly walk by without even acknowledging my existence. 
 
Chicken Salad Sandwich – 230 Rupees
The coffee and teas are good, coming in large (10 ounce) mugs, but are a tad overpriced by Indian standards.  The food looked good from what I saw others order, but is also a bit more expensive than most places. I have to admit that the only things I tried were the the toast, three large, thick pieces of brown bread with butter and jam (80 rupees/$1.30 – I had to provide my own peanut butter even though the menu claims they make a crepe with it), a large bowl of fruit muesli (100 rupees/$1.60 and not so large) which was not bad and a fair deal, and their chicken salad sandwich (230 rupees/$3.75 with cheese), a huge disappointment.  The bread, a small baguette (see photo above) with sesame seeds on top was the highlight, but what little chicken salad there was oddly enough was served warm, the chicken mostly dark meat and full of gristle, and the mayonnaise had a rather disgusting sweet taste like Miracle Whip, which I loathe. Disappointingly small and lonely on the plate with no garnish, it was one of the worst meals and values I had at any restaurant in my nearly four months in India.
 
The place has potential with its incredible view and open air feel, but the servers need to do something about their simultaneously apathetic and arrogant attitudes and start acting like customers are important.  As far as the food was concerned, I was not impressed, but the coffee and masala chai were pretty good. The only reason I am giving them 5 bombs and not 4 is because they are about the only place on the cliff that consistently opens early (6:30), so if you are an early riser like me, not always by choice, you can at least get a coffee or breakfast with a sea view no less.
 
CombatCritic Gives Coffee Temple 5 Out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
 
 
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Title: India Jones and the Temple of Gloom
 
Key Words: Coffee Temple, coffee, temple, Varkala, cliff, beach, Kerala, India, restaurant, cafe, food, menu, tea, sandwich, breakfast, view, sea, CombatCritic, TravelValue, TripAdvisor

Cottage … Maybe, Swiss … Not, But A Fair Hotel Value


Hill Top Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage Complex
Rishikesh, India
Prices: $$$$$
 
View of Ganges River Valley From Room
Hilltop Swiss Cottage sits in its own small self-contained village atop the hills of the High Bank of Rishikesh’s Tapovan area and a little over 1 kilometer from Laxman (Lacksman) Jhula (bridge), the northern most bridge over the Ganges (Ganga) River in town. The “Swiss Cottage” area has seven or eight hotels and guest houses, an equal number of restaurants (Raasta and Nirvana Cafés, Swiss Garden, and Oasis to name a few), a couple of small markets, a laundry, travel agancies, yoga studios, and massage parlors, so you never even have to leave the hill if you desire. It is a relatively quiet area compared to town, but is an easy walk to restaurants, the river, or numerous ashrams and other attractions.
There are cheaper options even within the Swiss Cottage compound (200 rupees/$3.20 per night and up), but I had a nice, large room with a view of the river valley below, flat screen TV with cable (no CNN or BBC), relatively fast Wi-Fi, and a bath with Western toilet, tub, and a great shower with plenty of hot water for 800 rupees ($13) per night.
The staff are not overly friendly and I got the “evil eye” from numerous locals during my stay, but otherwise I would say westerners are well “tolerated”, unless you are an attractive female in which case you are given a great deal of (unwanted) attention.
Their restaurant, The Oasis, was empty every time I walked by and other than a pot of coffee and an omelet my first morning I steared clear because the place was absolutely freezing. There were also a couple of characters there, one Dutch (I believe) and the other appeared to be from the Middle East, that were odd to say the least. The Dutch guy tried to whistle tunes with no melody and went off on a couple of Indian men for no apparent reason and the other guy kept whispering something to me I could not undertsand while looking at me like he wanted to slit my throat. Unnerving, so I ate breakfast at Raasta Café from that point forward.
They have their own yoga studio and meditation hall, but when I stopped by at the appointed times on my first morning, I had apparently awoken the instructor who appeared at the door disheveled from sleep and not ready for a class as advertized. Nothing opens before 8am in the compound, so if you are an early riser be prepared to keep yourself occupied until then. The room did have a small fridge and a boiler (kettle) for hot water, so you can buy some coffee, tea, milk, or soft drinks to have in the room (no alcohol because Rishikesh is a “dry” town).
Being December and in the foothills, Rishikesh is chilly when the sun goes down and the room (and everywhere else for that matter, because India apprently has not figured out central heat yet) was freezing. When I booked the room on Booking.com I clearly saw “heater” advertized in the room, but when I arrived there was none to be found. I asked the manager and he told me that I had reserved the “standard” room without  heat, but when I checked my reservation again I was in-fact correct and he quickly brought me a heater, a small space heater that barely kept the room warm.
CombatCritic Gives Hill Top Swiss Cottage 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!
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Title: Cottage Maybe, Swiss It Is Not, But A Decent Hotel Value

Key Words: Hill Top Swiss Cottage, hilltop, Swiss, cottage, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, jhula, Rishikesh, India, hotel, review, Raasta, Nirvana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook

Rishikesh, India: Raasta Café: Hey Mon, Roll Me A Great Big … Cinnamon Roll


Raasta Café
Swiss Cottage Area
Rishikesh, U.P India
Prices: $$$$$

I ate only one meal other than breakfast at the Raasta Café and it was not great. The reviews on TripAdvidsor were terrific, but the food was underwhelming. It is a nice enough place, like most restaurants in India, open-air and extremely cold in December, and the staff (mostly Nepali from what I gathered) nice enough, somewhat indifferent, and efficient.
The milk coffee (40 rupees/$.65 for a cup, 95 rupees/$1.55 for a large pot) was very weak even though I ordered it “strong”, so I bought my own Folgers instant coffee and spiked the pot each morning in order to get my caffeine fix. On most mornings I had their peanut butter toast (40 rupees/$.65), a nice brown bread with sesame seeds but barely enough peanut butter to cover the toast (sgould have bought my own peanut butter too I guess). I tried their “homemade” pastries (cinnamon roll, chocolate croissant) a couple times, but they were basted with egg and had that definite “raw” egg taste which was not appetizing, so I stuck with the toast.
My one dinner consisted of paneer mata (90 rupees/$1.60), which was supposed to be a spicy spinach dish with cheese (curd) cubes, and some garlic and butter roti (flat bread – 30 rupees/$.50 each). The paneer was obviously the spinach soup from the menu with some cheese tossed in and although not bad tasting was both unfulfilling and not filling. The roti were OK, but reminded me of whole wheat tortillas with some butter and garlic added. Neither were very good.
I found a few good restaurants in town, including nearby Nirvana Café (Indian/Continental), A Tavola con Te (Italian/pizza), and Ramana’s Garden (Organic / Vegetarian /Eclectic), so I was not too upset by Raasta’s boring food. It is the one place in the area where people seem to congregate and the Wi-Fi is reasonably fast, so it is worth a visit if staying in one of the “Swiss Cottages”.
CombatCritic Gives Raasta Café 5 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
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Title: Rishikesh, India: Raasta Café: Hey Mon, Roll Me A Great Big … Cinammon Roll
Key Words: Raasta Café, café, Swiss Cottage, Swiss, cottage, menu, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, Rishikesh, India, review, Raasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook

Consider Yourself ENLIGHTENED: Bitro NIRVANA Is Trendy, Eclectic, and Reasonably Priced


Bistro Nirvana
Swiss Cottage Area Rishikesh, U.P. India

Bistro Nirvana came highly recommended by a friend I met in Dharamsala, but I only had a coffee there until the day before I left because I did not like the “vibe”. It is a very nice place with bamboo, wood tones, and a Polynesian feel, but all but one table is of the “Eastern” variety with low tops, seating mats, and a little too uncomfortable for this disabled Veteran. 

The young “Bohemian” / hippie-wannabe crowd is drawn to this place, the ones with the dreadlocks (not sure why caucasians want to waste their time or money on dreadlocks, but whatever floats your boat) and nose-in-the-phone silence, just like in Dharamsala, so that also put me off a bit. The staff is friendly, but indifferent just like everywhere else in Rishikesh in general and the Swiss Cottage complex in pariticular.
Anyway, the food was really good! I ordered the Dal Makhni (130 rupees/$2.05), black lentils slow cooked overnight with garlic, onions, butter, and crème and a garlic and butter nan (50 rupees/80 cents). The dal were superb, arriving in a good size copper pot, perfectly warm and the best $2 I have spent in a long time at a restaurant. The nan was also very good, not looking enough to get me through my dal at first, but there was more than met the eye and I was satiated … after a piece of their legendary Banoffee pie (60 rupees/$.95) of course. The pie was rich and sweet, tasty with banana cream and toffee (caramel) atop a thick, chewy biscuit (cookie) crust, being almost too rich, but I polished it off just the same.

CombatCritic Gives Bistro Nirvana 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … One Bomb Deduction For Low Tables and Too Many Dreadlocks … Bombs Are Great!
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Title: Consider Yourself ENLIGHTENED: Café NIRVANA Is Trendy,  Eclectic, and Reasonably Priced
Key Words: Café Nirvana, café, Swiss Cottage, Swiss, cottage, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, jhula, Rishikesh, India, hotel, review, Nirvana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook

You Will Not Find A Better Accommodation Value In Goa … Casa Praia Is THE BOMB!


Candolim Beach

Casa Praia

Vaddy, Candolim, 
Bardez, Goa, 403515, India
+91-997-044-4666
Prices: $$$$$

With a dearth of available options over the New Year 2015 holiday in Goa, a last minute cancellation gave us an opportunity to book a room at Casa Praia (4,000 rupees/$64 per night), a relative bargain at a property with an unprecedented 9.9 rating on Booking.com and 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.  I jumped on it and am I glad I did!


4,000 rupees per night will get you a 3 or 4-star hotel in many places in India, but Goa is unlike anywhere else in India thanks to supply and demand, and hotels and taxis are at least triple the price of anywhere else I have been (Dharamsala, Rishikesh, New Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Cochin, Varkala). But this is Goa, Candolim Beach in particular, a beachside party town packed to the gills with Russians and Brits ready to party, and just two budget-minded Americans that I knew of … my wife and I.

Paul (or “Hardip” as he likes to be called) and Sophia, the owners and hosts of Casa Praia, greeted us by email immmediately after our booking and offered to send a taxi to meet us at the airport at the standard government rate of 1,100 rupees ($17.80), so we took them up on it as their property is an hour’s drive from the airport and the hotel/guesthouse is somewhat secluded and not easy to find. Our driver met us outside the terminal as promised with sign in hand and we proceeded to Casa Praia.

Being early evening on New Year’s Eve, Hardip, Sophia, and some other British guests (Brits) were sitting around the pool enjoying a beverage and chatting, and after showing us to our room we were invited to join in the celebration. We enjoyed a wonderful night of conversation and commaraderie with our new friends and former rivals, the Brits plus one Swede (Sophia).
Our room was large, well appointed, and very tastefully decorated with three sets of French doors, one opening onto the garden with the pool not far away. The stone tile floors were immaculate, the queen size bed had fresh sheets, plenty of pillows, and a mosquito net tasefully draped near the headboard and there was plenty of storage space for our clothes and personal belongings. A decent size flat screen TV with cable was provided, along with air conditioner and ceiling fans (2), a small refrigerator, sink, cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, and plenty of filtered water throughout our stay thanks to Raja, a friendly, attentive young Goan that works on the property. The bathroom large, it had all the necessities, including toilet paper (a rarity in Indian hotels), and plenty of hot water thanks to the solar panels on the roof. I have to say that although somewhat expensive by Indian standards, it was the nicest $64 room I have ever stayed in.


Breakfast is included and Sophia and her cook, Jessica, cheerfully greeted us each morning with a choice of yogurt (curd) with granola and fruit (bananas and pomegranite were in season while we were there), oatmeal (porridge to the Brits) with accompaniments, or eggs (any style – I liked the cheese and onion omelete with green chilies), along with fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee or tea, and toast with butter and jam (get some peanut butter for the Americans Hardip – Delphino’s has a nice locally made butter for 250 rupees per jar). Seriuosly, the breakfasts were marvelous, the food fresh and hot, and we never walked away hungry like some places we have stayed.

The property has four buildings, two large two-story structures with four guest rooms each, a small kitchen building, and the Hardip residence where Paul, Sophia, and their two beautiful (and very well behaved) children, along with Feni their sweet cat, live. The grounds are lush and well maintained with a medium size pool (relatively new), plenty of stone tile deck space, lounges, tables, umbrellas, and chairs and is surrounded by a six-foot concrete wall with locked gates for added privacy and security.

Casa Praia sits midway between Candolim Beach (250 meters) and the main beach road (150 meters) in Candolim (not sure if the road has another name), so you can exit one gate and walk to the beach for a day of sun, the Arabian sea and lounge chairs, umbrellas, drinks, and food at one of the countless beach “shacks” along the coast (the place we went to had a 400 rupee/$6.40 minimum, but all the comforts were included if you spent that much, a relative bargain) or through the other gate for a stroll into town.


There are an overwhelming number of restaurants, bars, and shopping options within a stones throw of Casa Praia, so you do not have to venture far unless you are so inspired. We ate at Floyd’s our first day and were unimpressed, The Mango Grove our second and were equally unenthused, but on our third and fourth days we found The Bistro, which was a continental delight, and Tuscany Gardens, an Italian restaurant with nice, relatively authentic food. Please click on the links above to read my full reviews.

And if you staying over a Saturday night, you must go the the Saturday Market, a 20-minute ride (350 rupees for a Tuk-Tuk/500 rupees for a taxi) away where you will find an international food court with numerous options and a maze of countless stalls selling everything from Kashmiri scarves and hand painted boxes to local and name-label clothing, jewlery, and everything in between.

Old Goa is also worth a visit, so hire Garesh, one of the few “Goan” taxi drivers in town, and a very honest and warm person (his English is very good too, another rarity in India where one of the National languages is English BTW) to take you there with a stop by the two local forts on the way back. Old Goa has some nice, old Portuguese (Catholic) churches, one being the Basilica of Bom Jesus where Saint Francis di Xavier (their patron saint whom is encased in a glass casket and brought out for his festival which is only held every ten years – we were there during the festival, but opted not to atttend because of the reported massive crowds and traffic jams), Se’ Cathedral (a large, but unispiring church), Saint Augustine (a Portuguese Catholic church in ruins, but well worth a visit), and Saint Francis Church (adjacent to Se’ Cathedral, smaller, but much more ornate) which has an archeological museum attached (closed on Fridays, the day we were there of course).  Fort Aguada and its lighthouse are also worth a visit, but are not overly impressive, and Reis Magos Fort, a smaller, more attractive option (50 rupees entry, includes van ride to the top) with beautiful views of the river, the Arabian sea, and the cliffs below.  We paid 1,200 rupees/$19 for the six-hour tour (taxi), a bargain by Goa standards, so just ask Hardip to contact Garesh or contact him directly at +91-901-194-8499 if you need a lift anywhere.

Saturday Night Market

On a final note, I was ill during our stay and realizing I had become dehydrated and needing medical attention, Sophia and Hardip jumped to attention and without hesitation rushed me to the local hospital, a large clinic with beds actually, where I was given IV fluids and kept overnight. Hardip returned later that night to drive to five pharmacies to find the potasium I needed (the hospital did not have any), and again the next morning (twice) to pick my wife and I up (she had spent the night in the bed next to me) and deliver us back to the hotel where I spent the next few days recovering. We also needed to extend our stay by three days, and good thing we did because of the unforeseen emergency, so Hardip shifted some bookings (we basically displaced Sophia’s older daughter, who was visiting from Scotland, we found out later … you’re a gem Sophia!) so we could remain the in the same room even though they were “fully booked”. All I can say to Paul and Sophia is “thank you for your unparalleled compassion, extreme kindness, and oustanding hospitality”.


Without a doubt, Casa Praia is “THE BOMB” and deserving of my highest rating, rarely bestowed on a hotel or restaurant …
CombatCritic Gives Casa Praia The Maximum … 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!



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Title: You Will Not Find A Better Accommodation Value In Goa … Casa Praia Is THE BOMB!

Key Words: Casa Praia, casa, Praia, hotel, guesthouse, guest, house, Candolim, beach, Goa, Bardez, India, Arabain Sea, sea, ocean, CombatCritic, review, TravelValue, travel, value

A Slice of Tibet in An Unlikely Place – Pushkar, Rajasthan


Tibetan Kitchen
Opposite Dadudura Temple
Chotti Basti (Main Market Road – South End of Lake)
Pushkar, Rajasthan, 305022, India

Prices: $$$$$

Momos
Having spent close to two months in Dharamsala teaching English to Tibetan refugees, I came to know and love both the Tibetans and their cuisine. My wife spotted Tibetan Café while walking down the main market street next to the lake in Pushkar, so looking for a change from the usual curry, dal, and naan, we popped in.

The restaurant is on the rooftop overlooking the town (away from the lake) and is dark with colorful lamps and bamboo furniture offering some ambiance. The menu is quite eclectic as they have pizza, pasta, Indian, and Chinese, but being called Tibetan Kitchen, our choice was obvious.

It took ten minutes or so for the server to arrive even though we were one of three parties in the restaurant at the time, but I have grown much more patient in my two months in India as nothing happens very quickly here. He was very pleasant and the service excellent.

We ordered the potato and cheese momos (fried – 100 rupees/$1.60) and veggie thenthuk (95 rupees/$1.60), the prices and quality being equivalent to the numerous Tibetan restaurants in Dharamsala.  It took close to 30 minutes for our meal to arrive, but I could hear the chef chopping away in the kitchen so I knew our meal was being freshly prepared, a good sign.

Thenthuk
The momos were some of the best I have had, crispy and flavorful, coming with an onion broth for dipping as well as condiments (chili and soy sauces).  The thenthuk was excellent, brimming with noodles, cauliflower, potato, cabbage, carrots, and other fresh vegetables in a warm, savory broth with just a little more zing than their Dharamsala counterparts.

Coming in at a little over $7 for dinner for two including appetizer, drinks, and main course, I have to give Tibetan Kitchen high marks. Therefore, …
CombatCritic Gives Tibetan Café 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GREEEEEEEEEAT!




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Key Words: Tibetan Café, Tibetan, café, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, restaurant, Tibet, momo, thenthuk, thupka, pizza, pasta, CombatCritic, travel, value, food,

Chinese Fishing Nets Are Worth A Visit, But Some Fishermen Are Con Artists


Chinese Fishing Nets (Fort Kochi, Kerala, India): Well worth a visit. This fishing technique apparently goes back centuries and I assume originated in China, hence the name. You can stroll along the seashore from the ferry terminal headed south/southwest past the numerous street vendors until you see the nets on your right.


It is really quite impressive to watch the fishermen pulling the huge nets out of the water with their bounty, dropping them back in a few minutes later. They only leave them in the water 5-10 minutes before hoisting them using the ropes and the weight of the massive boulders used as a counterweight.


WARNING: Be careful if the fishermen call you over and want to show you how they work first hand. I was approached by a man named Joseph who is apparently a 4th generation fisherman. He seemed nice enough, but wary of the “nice” people that approach you throughout India to separate you from your money, I approached with caution, knowing that he likely had another motive. He showed me how they worked, asked me if I wanted him to take a photo (indication

#1 that he was after my money because I have found that people that offer to take your photo for you are expecting a tip), and then asked me if I wanted to pull the ropes (while telling me how poor the fishermen are at that some tourists offer to pay 500 to 1000 rupees for the “experience”). At that point I said “thank you very much” and offered him 100 rupees ($1.60), which I was planning on offering anyway for his time and attention. But when he started whining about how little 100 rupees is and how poor the fishermen are, I put the money back in my pocket and said “if you want to be greedy Joseph, you get nothing” and walked away. Another man blocked my path insisting on a contribution, but I simply went around him and proceeded down the boardwalk.


LESSON LEARNED: If anybody approaches you in India and offers a “free” service, unsolicited information, a tour, or a flower to make a religious offering … REFUSE … they see Westerners as walking cash registers and only want your money, as much as they can get.


CombatCritic Gives Chinese Fishing Nets (Fort Kochi) 5 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!

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Key Words: Chinese Fishing Nets, Chinese, fishing, nets, fish, fishermen, con, artist, scam, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Cochin, Kerala, India, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

The Name of This Place Should Be … "WE HATE TOURISTS!"


The Mango Grove
Main Road (Opposite Newtons Supermarket)
Candolim Beach, Bardez, Goa, 403515 India
Phone: 982-323-9650
Prices $$$$$
We stopped here because the place had a nice covered patio and was relatively busy, usually a good sign. The man who “greeted” us, and I use that term loosely, grunted out what should have been a “welcome” and we were pointed, not escorted, to a table in the corner. The menu is large and diverse and being our first time here on the first day of a week long stay, they had the opportunity to earn our repeat business. As George Bush would say: “Not going to happen … wouldn’t be prudent.”
I asked a couple very simple questions like “what kind of bread does this sandwich come on”, but the server seemed quite annoyed, looking at me like he despises tourists and our ridiculous inquiries. We were not extremely hungry, so we ordered a couple of sandwiches, me a steak sandwich (200 rupees/$3.20) on a baguette, my wife a simple cheese sandwich, also on a baguette (150 rupees/$2.45), a Kingfisher beer (100 rupees/$1.60), and a mineral water (30 rupees/50 cents). He returned about 10 minutes later to tell us that there were no baguettes (at 1pm) and that we could have our sandwiches on local (pita) bread. Looking forward to a sandwich on some decent bread for the first time after more than two months in India, I was disappointed but we decided to stick around having already received our drinks.
My sandwiches (there were two because the bread was so thin and small) barely had any meat on them, a little lettuce, some grilled onions, a couple of thin slices of tomato and were accompanied by six (6) french fries (or chips as they are called here and in the UK). My wife’s sandwiches had a negligible amount of melted cheese on them, so it was basicly a pita bread and lettuce sandwich … YUM!
The meal was cheap enough, but the value was poor and many menu items are a bit more expensive than many places in India. Granted, this was also New Year’s Day in a party town, so they may not have been at their best after a long night, but we were not impressed in the least and will choose from the many other restaurants in Candolim for our next dozen or so meals. Maybe they will appreciate our business.
CombatCritic Gives The Mango Grove 3 Out of 10 Bombs … After a 2 Bomb Deduction For a Crappy Attitude … More Bombs Are Better!




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Key Words:  The Mango Grove, mango, grove, Candolim Beach, Candolim, beach, Goa, India, restaurant, menu, food, steak, sandwich, CombatCritic, review, TravelValue, travel, value

Good Italian Food, Nice Decor, Excellent Service in Central New Dehli


Caffé Tonino
No-9, H Block
Plaza Cinema Building, Connaught Place
New Delhi, India
Prices: $$$$$

Mobile: +91-9871474753
Landline: 011-23320081

Connaught Place, a very large circle (roundabout) in central New Delhi (a series of concentric circles actually) just south of the main train station, is brimming with shops (shoes, clothes, electronics, you name it), a massive Metro station (Rajiv Chowk), street vendors, a large park, relentless hawkers, and restaurants of all varieties. The large white buildings occupy an entire city block and are labeled sequentially with letters (A-L), making businesses a little easier to find.

We spotted Caffé Tonino while strolling one evening, shopping for a Kindle for my newest family member, a Tibetan Buddhist monk named Sonam who had been my pupil in Dharamsala. The exterior looked more inviting than most and the menu was comprehensive and reasonably priced, so we entered.

The restaurant is nicely decorated in modern earthy tones and brick offset by more colorful and lively décor, giving it a clean and inviting feel. The large wood fire pizza oven sits prominently in the back with a pizzaiolo cloaked in white with his large stainless stell spatula at the ready. We were warmly greeted and seated, one of just three parties in a restaurant with 15 or so tables. We found out that they have only been open a few months and are awaiting a liquor license in order to serve wine and beer, a rarity in India.

The menu items, mostly Italian, are almost all spelled correctly, another oddity in India and a good sign, indicating that they have at least a reasonable understanding of the country and cuisine they represent. We started with the mixed vegetable antipasto, Antipasto della Tradizione con Verdure (440 rupees/$6.90), which came with grilled and/or marinated mushrooms, eggplant, onions, green peppers, and olives accompanied by two small crostini, one with a small slice of pecorino (goat) cheese. The menu claimed that it came with marinated artichokes with potatoes, sundried tomatoes, and tomato mozzarella basil, but we found none of these on the plate. The antipasto was accompanied by assorted breads, spicy diced tomatoes and an olive spread, nice additions, and was decnt, but a bit bland and a disappointment at $7.00, being nearly twice the price of an average meal in India. I also had the Bruschetta (95 rupees/$1.45), diced tomatoes on three slices of toasted garlic bread and sprinkled with fresh basil, which was very good and an excellent value.

For our primi (main courses) my wife ordered the Ravioli Ripieni di Pere e Pecorino con Salvia, Burro e Mandorle(ravioli stuffed with pear and goat cheese in a light butter, sage, and almond sauce – 380 rupees/$5.95). It was very tasty, light and savory, cooked al dente and a much better value than our more expensive vegetable appetizer.

I had the Fusilli Carbonara (also 380 rupees/$5.95), a strange pasta choice as carbonara is normally made with spaghetti or similar pasta, but while tasting good, the bacon and egg were barely noticeable. Being a vegetarian country for the most part, I asked specifically about the bacon and egg and was told that the bacon was “pork” and the eggs, chicken of course. In any event, not tasting like any carbonara I have had, it was still very good and not too heavy on the sauce as has been the case at most restaurants I have eaten pasta at in India.

In all, nice atmosphere, good food, decent prices (for Delhi), excellent service, and slightly above average value. The service was outstanding and the environment warm, clean and inviting. Their bathroom was the cleanest and best stocked we have seen in India in over two months here (Western toilet, clean, toilet paper, soap, hand towels). Hence, …







CombatCritic Gives Caffé Tonino 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!



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Key Words:Café Tonino, café, tonino, New Delhi, new, Delhi, India, Connaught Place, Connaught, Italian, restaurant, menu, review, CombatCritic, travel, value, TravelValue 

CombatCritic’s TravelValue: Rishikesh


Published on Dec 20, 2014

In this episode of CombatCritic’s “TravelValue” we explore the yoga capital of the world … Rishikesh, India. Explore the Ganges (Ganga) River, 80-year old suspension bridges, ancient Hindu ceremonies paying homage to “Mother Ganga”, and yoga ashrams, including the fabled Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram … better known as The Beatles Ashram.

Watch the video, then read the corresponding reviews on my blog http://www.CombatCritic.com and watch other India videos and more on CombatCritic TV on YouTube!




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Key Words: travel, Rishikesh, Rishekesh, India, ashram, beatles, yoga, meditation, Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Parmarth, Niketan, Ganges, Ganga, value, video

Copyright 2014 – CombatCritic and 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC – All Rights Reserved



The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram – Rishikesh, India


The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram Rishikesh, India
Prices: $$$$$

Sign on Wall Leading to Maharishi Mahesh Ashram

In February 1968 The Beatles came to Rishikesh and stayed at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, writing many songs for the White Album and others, including Revolution #9 in the small meditation huts you see in eight of the last ten photos.


Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr left in March, returning to England, but John Lennon and George Harrison remained until John had a falling-out with the yogi over a rumored sexual liaison with a young westerner, some reportedly thought was Mia Farrow, who had accompanied the Fab Four on the trip. Before leaving, the Maharishi asked Lennon if they could talk to find out what was wrong, but John stated something to the effect of: “if you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why” and they were off, apparently plagued by car troubles that Lennon attributed to some type of “spell” the Mahirishi had put on them before their departure.


Entrance on North Side of Ashram

The “Beatles Ashram”, as it has become known, closed in 1994 and has been taken over by jungle where only the empty shells of the former glorious ashram remain. Only parrots, peacocks, monkeys, elephants, and leopards remain along the banks of the Ganges where music history was made some 46 years ago. 

Follow the path in front of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram south less than half a kilometer until it turns into a sand Jeep trail. You will see the Ganges on your right, where there happened to be a funeral pyre the day I was there, along with an old guest house and makeshift shacks. You may see the “Beatles Ashram” sign on the wall on your left if it is still there. When you reach the end of the path at the dry river crossing, make a left up the riverbed and follow the intertwined paths between the rocks. You will see a park and high wall on your right and about 150 meters further east you will find the gate to what used to be the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram.

The entrance fee will run around 100 rupees ($1.60) per person, but try to haggle. There will likely be  a “guide” waiting there to offer his services for a “donation”, so feel free to partake or not. I did and it was well worth the 200 rupees ($3.20) I gave him, probably twice what he was expecting for an hour of his time.

As you meander through the dense jungle, you will go up a hill past small domed rock two-story structures that served as living and meditation quarters for ashram guests. A little further up on the right (you will see a small entry/exit gate) are three of these that the Beatles “reportedly” used for song writing during their stay. The second, bungalow “#9”, I was told by the guide, is where Revolution (1 and 9) were written by Lennon.

The ashram was a small city at one time, housing up to 2,000 guests and providing banking, a post office, shops, kitchens and cafeterias, bungalows, large single-room dorms (where the Beatles and their entourage lived during their stay), meditation halls, and the quarters of the Maharishi Mahesh atop the cliff overlooking the Ganges, complete with air conditioning and a small swimming pool.

You can see everything in an hour to an hour-and-a-half or you can spend an entire day meandering through the jungle, exploring buildings, or meditating in a mecca of rock and roll … The Beatles Ashram.

CombatCritic Gives Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (The Beatles) Ashram 9 … Number 9, Number 9, Number 9 … Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GREAT!





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Photos


Title: The Beatles (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Ashram – Rishikesh, India

Key Words: Beatles Ashram, Beatles, ashrams, ashram, Rishikesh, rishekesh, yoga, India, White Album, The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Revolution

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!




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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!



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

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



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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


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

Lung Ta … KOWABUNGA!


Lung Ta … KOWABUNGA!

Lung Ta 
(Japanese/Vegetarian)
Jogiwara Road
McLeodGanj, Dharamsala, H.P. India 167219

A ridiculously cheap vegetarian Japanese restaurant next to my hotel. I stopped by for an herbal tea to wait for my friend, but decided to try the Potato Croquettes with Salad – 80 Rupees ($1.30). They were great!

The tea was 20 rupees (32 cents), bringing the total to a whopping 100 rupees ($1.62), likely the best value in McLeod Ganj or India for that matter!

CombatCritic Gives Lung Ta 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Great!


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Seven Hills … A Taste of Korea In McLeod Ganj


Seven Hills of Dokkaebi
Jogiwara Road
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India
Prices: $$$$$

I had heard there was a good Korean restaurant in McLeod Ganj and it turned out that when I moved to a new hotel, Hotel Ekant Lodge, Seven Hills of Dokkaebi was right nextdoor.

The restaurant is situated down some stairs and around a corner just north of Ekant Lodge, so ask if you have trouble finding it. The dining room is nicely decorated and has a large fireplace which unfortunately was not lit on the cold evening of my first visit. The menu is large, but I came for the bulgogi, so it did not take long to order.

I ordered a pot of ginger lemon honey (100 rupees/$1.60) which turned out to be a good value compared to a cup (50 rupees/80 cents), having refilled my cup at least four times throughout my meal.

The full dinners are not cheap by Indian standards, but are an outstanding value considering the quality and quantity of the food. My pork bulgogi dinner (380 rupees/$6.15) was nearly enough for two and one of the best meals I have had since arriving in India. Unlike western meals, everything came at once, including assorted cold vegetables, kimchi (spicy, fermented cabbage), rice, a bowl of soup, and close to a pound of bulgogi. Although not the best bulgogi I have had, including meals in Korea and made by Korean friends, it was very good. The flavor was excellent and I was completely stuffed by the time I finished.

My entire meal set me back 500 rupees ($8.00), including tip, an expensive meal in India when you are used to paying $3 for dinner. However, a meal of this caliber in the U.S. would run $15 to $20 minimum, so it was an outstanding value which is what this blog is all about!

CombatCritic Gives Seven Hills of Dokkaebi 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!


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Key Words: Seven Hills of Dokkaebi, Jogiwara Road, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India, seven, hills, dokkaebi, restaurant, Korea, Korean, travel, value, food, menu

One Two, Buckle My "Brew"


One Two Café
Temple Road (Across from Dalai Lama Temple)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, HP, India 
Prices: $$$$$

I have to admit that I have not ordered a full meal here because it appears that is not their forté. The first time I visited One Two Café was for a quick bite to eat and a coffee while waiting for my Buddhist philosophy class upstairs. While enjoying my caffe latte and spinach quiche (more to follow), a friend of an employee brought in a meal (that looked like thenthuk) from another restaurant. Not a good sign, particularly considering that they have thenthuk on the menu.

However, my spinach quiche was quite large for the price (100 rupees/$1.60) and very good although the crust was a bit difficult to cut through and the filling not all that rich, both likely due to a lack of egg and cheese in the recipe. Still, it was very enjoyable and savory.


I have returned for their caffe latte, made from espresso on an Italian espresso machine, which is very well done and an outstanding value at 60 rupees (95 cents) for a regular and 90 rupees ($1.50) for a doppio (large).


If you want an excellent coffee, tea, or light snack while visiting the Dalai Lama’s Temple, then One Two Cafe is an excellent choice.

CombatCritic Gives One Two Café 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

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Woeser Bakery Lives Up To The Hype … Scrummy Pastries, Good Coffee, Excellent Service


Woeser Bakery

Jogiwara Road – Below Black Magic Restaurant- 

McLeod GanjDharamsala 176219India

Prices: $$$$$
Woeser Bakery is not easy to find as it sits down the stairs in the basement under Black Magic (restaurant, bar, and disco) on Jogiwara Road (“market” area) in McLeod Ganj and just south of the large Buddhist temple (stupa). The sign is easy to miss, so look for Black Magic on the east side of the road and the staircase down to the basement.

Small is an understatement, with just two tables and three barstools, 11 patrons and two employees can cram into the tiny space no bigger than a bedroom. The owner and pastry chef busily prepares her sweet delights as patrons come and go. There are a selection of 17 or so pastries, coffees, teas, and assorted cold drinks available in addition to a small menu of breakfast and lunch items (eggs, cereal, bread, and one sandwich).

Chocolate Crisp
I had a Chocolate Crisp (40 rupees/65 cents) and a Café Latte (70 rupees/$1.10) on my first visit. The chocolate crisp was crispy as advertised with chocolate covered corn flakes decadently shaped into a ball half the size of a billiard ball. It was rich and flavorful. The café latte was made from a French press and served in s large cup with a foamy milk topping and a swirl of chocolate. The coffee was not as strong as an espresso-based drink, but was very good and an excellent value. I even got the remaining coffee from the French press to top off my latte!

Panino
I can see why Woeser Bakery is THE top choice on TripAdvisor in McLeod Ganj and only wish that they remained open later than 7pm, had a few more savory options, AND A LITTLE HEAT on a chilly late-Autumn day.


CombatCritic Gives Woeser Bakery An Initial 9 Bombs Out Of 10 and a promise to return again … MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!




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Dal Lake? More Like A Big, Dirty Pond!


Dal Lake
Adjacent To Upper TCV Complex
Dharamsala Bus Road
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India

When I first heard about Dal Lake, I pictured a “sacred” and serene mountain lake as advertized. But when I arrived, what I saw was a large pond contained by concrete, so murky that you cannot see the bottom through six inches of water. 

There are a couple of small “cafés” (shacks that sell instant coffee and tea), but you probably do not want to spend more than a few minutes here. The auto-rickshaw (chuk-chuk) ride from McLeod Ganj Main Square is 90 rupees ($1.45) each way, so I recommend saving your $3 and having a nice lunch instead.

The only reason I gave Dal Lake 2 Bombs (and not 1) is because of the lovely mountain setting, but you can experience that anywhere in the area without spending another 180 rupees.


CombatCritic Gives Dal (Pond) Lake 2 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!



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Just Like Momo Used To Make


Momo Café
TIPA (Dharankot) Road – Just West of Main Square
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India

Prices: $$$$$


Entrance – Dalai Lama Temple (Dharamsala, India)
I have tried to eat at Momo Café since reading the great reviews on TripAdvisor, but until today I was unsuccessful. With just three tables, seating 10 people max, you must be lucky or persistent to score a meal here.
They have all of the standard Tibetan fare … momos of course (Tibetan dumplings, steamed or fried, filled with veggies, cheese, potato, meat, or a combo thereof), thupka (long noodles in a broth with assorted veggies), and my favorite thenthuk. 

Momo Café Looks Dicey, But Is A Great Find!

As I sit waiting for my vegetable thenthuk (homemade sliced noodles in a broth chock full of vegetables – 80 rupees/$1.30), I glance at the young Tibetan women at the next table enjoying theirs and it looks pretty darn good!

Twenty five minutes later and no sign of my lunch, I am wondering if I will make it to Rinpoche’s teaching at 2 pm near the Dalai Lama Temple. Just as the ladies leave, food appears from the tiny kitchen, but alas it is for the three young men at the only other table in the place. I hear chopping from behind the curtain, obviously coming from the preparation of my thenthuk. The good news … my meal will be freshly made … the bad … I will almost surely be late for the second day in a row to my Buddhist philosophy class.

Vegetable Thenthuk – 80 Rupees ($1.30)

When the thenthuk finally arrived 40 minutes after arrival, it was in-fact fresh, hot and delicious, one of the best I have had since arriving in Dharamsala. At 105 rupees ($1.70) including a liter of mineral water, it was also one of the BEST VALUES in India so far!



CombatCritic Gives Momo Café 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!



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Stairway To Heaven … NOT!


Pink House Hotel
Jogiwara Road – Below and Across From Yongling School
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P., India
Prices: $$$$$

Balcony View – Room 204

Javid, the owner of Pink House, was very helpful and friendly, answering questions about my reservation and upcoming visit to Dharamsala. He arranged for a ride from the airport in Gogol for 700 rupees ($11.35) upon arrival, which I thought was a decent price by US standards for a 10-mile taxi ride. Considering that the taxi from my hotel in Delhi (where everything is more expensive than in Dharamsala) to the airport was just 400 rupees ($6.50 for a 13-mile journey), it turned out not to be such a great deal after all. The driver dropped me on the street and pointed to some extremely long, very steep, dangerous looking stairs in varying degrees of disrepair (note to self #1 … is this the only access point?”) and said “look for the sign”.

Second Floor Room (Corner – Room 204)
The hotel is nice enough, not swank and not a dive, with many rooms having balconies and views of the foothills and Himalayas. Javid was updating many of the rooms during my stay, making them more comfortable, but also causing noise problems and clutter while the repairs were being made. The rooms have differing views depending on which direction you are facing and which floor you are on (1st floor rooms have poor views), but all have cable TVs (old CRTs), balconies, large beds, cabinet (no closet or wardrobe), bath with western-style toilet, sink, and a shower with no enclosure (your bathroom is your shower in India), but no heating system in sight (note to self #2 … “it seems awful chilly in here”). There is also Wi-Fi throughout the hotel (note to self #3 … “I hope the Wi-Fi isn’t as slow as it was in Delhi!”), with a router on each floor, so the signal is strong everywhere … WOO-HOO!
Balcony
The first few days I had breakfast at the “rooftop café”, which is just barely that, a roof with a couple plastic tables and chairs, no roof, no cover, and no heat on cold November mornings. Still recovering from jet lag, I was up early each morning watching the gorgeous sunrises and noticed that the servers first arrived to take orders at varying hours, sometimes 7:30 am, other times well after 8:00 am (note to self #4 … “I wonder what time they start serving breakfast?”). The Tibetan bread, which became my morning staple, with locally made peanut butter (70 rupees/$1.15) was tasty and a pot of milk coffee (warm milk with varying degrees of instant coffee added) set me back another 80 rupees/$1.30, so $2.50 seemed fair enough (note to self #5) for a decent, not great breakfast.

Steps – View From Street (Top)
I quickly became exhausted by and very concerned (see note to self #1) about the hundreds of stairs from Pink House up to Jogiwara Road. Being a disabled Veteran with very bad knees and back, the stairs, which are extremely dangerous by day and treacherous by night (very little light), vary widely in height, have loose or missing rocks and bricks (many steps are crumbling), and many are constantly soaked with the water escaping from the numerous pipes crisscrossing the steps (another tripping hazard). I stumbled on several occasions due to varying heights and uneven surfaces, twisting my knee on one occasion and nearly tumbling head over heel down the steep incline on a few others. Having made a commitment to stay long-term (I was visiting for 7 weeks and received a small discount on my room), I decided to stick it out until I felt my health or life was in danger.
Pink House staff are very friendly and helpful most of the time. Rooms can be cleaned if you make the journey to floor number 4 to drop off your key in the morning and inexpensive laundry services are also available ($1.00 to $2.50 for a few shirts, pants, socks, and undies), dropping items off (again on the 4th floor) in the morning and picking them up the same evening.
Steps – View From Bottom
Being November and at an altitude of over 5,750 feet (1,750 meters), days were very comfortable when in the sun (plentiful this time of year) and a bit chilly in the shade, but nights dipped into the 30s and 40s and the rooms quickly became very cold (see note to self #2). In-fact, I had not seen a heater anywhere in India since my arrival, including restaurants, other businesses, and hotels, which may not have been an issue in Delhi, but made for some mildly uncomfortable experiences in the mountains. After a nearly two weeks of freezing my bum off in the middle of the night when I had to use the toilet (loo) and in the morning, I asked about the possibility of getting a heater in my room, but was told “you have two blankets don’t you?”. I decided to suffer a little rather than make an issue out of it because the steps were making it likely I would not be there much longer anyway.

The Wi-Fi signals were great due to the routers on each floor, but unfortunately the internet was extremely slow (note to self #3). Being an avid blogger, TripAdvisor “Top Contributor”, and wanting to upload reviews and photos, as well as keep in contact with my family and friends via Skype and Facetime, the Wi-Fi was woefully inadequate. Beside the numerous and frequent power outages in McLeod Ganj which resulted in no Wi-Fi (or TV), the Wi-Fi quickly became an issue due to the inordinate amount of time it took to do anything and the frustration caused by Skype and Facetime calls home where I could only hear every fifth word being said.

Again, after the first few days, I decided to move indoors to the “relative” warmth of my room for breakfast, not knowing when the servers would arrive on the roof each morning (note to self #4). I asked when breakfast was available each morning and was told 7:30 am, but I found that the staff in general do not seem to awake early because when I called at 7:30 sharp each morning I either spoke to someone who had obviously been awakened by my call (staff sleep in the reception office, which is not on the ground floor, but on the 4th floor next to the rooftop café) or someone else who barely spoke English. Most of the time, my breakfast arrived within 15 minutes and the young men delivering it were friendly and helpful. However, on a few occasions my order did not arrive after 45 minutes to an hour, causing frustration and late arrival to my 9:00 am (not including the nearly 30 minute walk UP THE HUNDREDS OF STEPS and down Jogiwara Road from McLeod Ganj) Buddhist Philosophy class at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive. I also inquired about an early breakfast during the Dalai Lama’s teachings (November 11-13 2014 – 8am – 12pm daily with arrival NLT 7:30am), but was told “the kitchen opens at 7:30am” … maybe), so I ordered my breakfast the night before and drank cold coffee and ate stale Tibetan bread for three days. After 20 years in the Air Force, I have experienced worse conditions.
I never ate anything at Pink House other than breakfast because I avoided navigating the dreaded steps except for a trip up each morning and one down each night. The menu was extensive and from what I saw the food looked pretty good, but the value is questionable based on my breakfast costs and comparable meals in town. Having paid $2.50 for a small pot of weak coffee, a piece of local bread that can be purchased for 10 rupees (16 cents) in town, and a tablespoon of peanut butter, in comparison to the wonderful $3.00 dinners I regularly ate, the food did not seem like such a great value after all.
After 3 weeks, I had enough of the treacherous stairs, painful knees, and risk to my existence on Earth, the widely varying and undependable breakfast hours (they probably got tired of me waking them up every morning at 7:30), and the very slow Wi-Fi, so I decided to find a place closer to the road, the Tibetan Library, town, and my yoga instructor … mostly the deadly stairs … finding a comparable room and view at less than half of the price (333 rupees per night or $5.35), being centrally located between destinations WITH NO STEPS!
At first glance and in terms of western standards and prices, Pink House appears to be an exceptional value at $10-$20 per night, but comparatively speaking in McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala, that did not necessarily turn out to be the case. The longer I stayed in the area and the more people I spoke to, the more I realized that Pink House was one of the more expensive and isolated places in town. A Buddhist monk friend paid 2,00o rupees per month ($32.00) for his centrally located room, a basic but clean room with shared bath, and another was paying 300 rupees ($4.85) per night for a double room at a monastery just off the main market with a private bath, so $15 per night was quite expensive in this neck of the woods.
Like Jessica1100 (TripAdvisor), my 880 rupee ($14) deposit was not applied to my bill at check-out even though it was meticulously itemized down to the rupee, taking close to 20 minutes even though I told them I would be checking out that morning. I am not saying that it was done intentionally, but considering that they do not accept reservations without a deposit equaling one night’s stay, it should be a standard inclusion in the billing process.
If Pink House where in the U.S., Europe, Japan, or Korea (among other more expensive destinations), they would get 8 or 9 Bombs Out Of 10. But in terms of other local (India in general, Dharamsala in particular) establishments, on which I base my “VALUE” determinations, Pink House is very middle of the road. Therefore, if you have great knees, do not mind the cold or paying a bit extra for the convenience of eating in your room, and enjoy beautiful views, fair service, and in-house laundry services, then Pink House is a fair choice. But be warned, there are better values out there, particularly for those visiting for extended periods where significant discounts of 50% to 70% can be had over nightly lodging prices … and make sure your deposit is applied to your bill!

CombatCritic Gives Pink House Hotel 4 Bombs Out Of 10Deductions for Dangerous Stairs, Slow Internet, Varying Restaurant Hours, No Heat, and Missing Deposit … More Bombs Are Better









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Key Words: Pink House Hotel, pink, house, hotel, rooftop, café, menu, wi-fi, internet, laundry, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, travel, value, Yongling

Long Walk (Uphill Both Ways), All For Not


I decided to try Taste of India on a nice Sunday afternoon in mid-November, walking 15-minutes up the steep TIPA Road from the Main Square in McLeod Ganj. 

When I finally arrived, low and behold the door was locked (2:45 pm), the TV on, and the windows looking like they had not been cleaned in years. I had doubts as to whether the place had been abandoned or not, but the TV made me believe that their were inhabitants, food or no food, but they were nowhere in sight.

I was looking forward to some authentic Indian food after reading the many good reviews on TripAdvisor, but it was not meant to be, so I strolled back down the hill in search of other options,

CombatCritic MUST Give Taste of India 1 Bomb Out Of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!

Good, Reasonably Priced Fare In A Country Not Well Known For Great Italian


Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen
Jogiwara Road, Market Area (Upstairs)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India 176219
Prices: $$$$$
Dining Room
Jimmy’s is the only restaurant in town that serves only Italian food … bruschetta (learn how to pronounce it Americans), pasta, pizza, main courses with actual meat and more! You have to look up and on the right as you walk up Jogiwara Road (from the direction of the Dalai Lama’s Temple) about halfway through the McLeod Ganj “market” (shopping area) on the way to the Main Square to see Jimmy’s neon sign up on the third floor.

TV and Asian Style Seating Area
The restaurant is large by Dharamsala standards and nicely appointed with marble-top tables, nice modern colors, plenty of windows, and movie posters on the walls. They have a large screen LCD TV, which happened to be televising a cricket game while I was there. There are two small areas, one in the front as you walk in and another in the back near the TV, where those with good knees can sit at a low table on mats Asian style. Being an old military retiree and disabled Veteran, I went for a table and chairs.
The menu is large with numerous antipasti (appetizers), both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg as they are referred to here, several primi (first courses), including pizza and pasta dishes, as well as homemade ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi, and, finally, secondi (second courses – think meat) where you can choose from chicken, mutton, or pork prepared in a variety of ways. They also have many drinks, including milk shakes and lassi (a yogurt-based drink found throughout India similar to a milk shake, but without the ice cream).
Veggie Bruschetta
For my antipasto, I decided to try the mixed grilled vegetable “bruchetta” (90 Rupees/$1.46 – spelled “bruschetta” in Italy and unlike the pronunciation used by most Americans, pronounced “brew-sket-a”, not brew-shet-a, as the “sch” in Italy is pronounced like “sk” is in English). What I received was four large toasted slices of the best Italian-style bread I have had in India to date with an abundance of tasty grilled veggies (eggplant, mushrooms, onion, and bell peppers) with melted mozzarella cheese on top. Normally, bruschetta is served with cold vegetables (tomato, vegetables) on top and no cheese, but I was quite pleased with the taste. Bravo!
Gnocchi in Pesto Cream Soup, I Mean Sauce
For my primo, I chose the handmade gnocchi with ham in a pesto cream sauce (190 Rupees/$3.10). The gnocchi was excellent and perfectly cooked, not too chewy and not falling apart in my mouth, and the sauce was flavorful, not requiring salt, pepper, or added cheese as is the case with most pasta dishes I have had in India, but with a touch too much garlic (and I love garlic). My only complaint, and I shared this with the owner before leaving, was the same as at many restaurants in the U.S., and that is that there was far too much sauce. Proper pasta is served “al dente” and lightly basted in the sauce just prior to serving by flipping the pasta in the pan containing the heated sauce, but many restaurants outside of Italy overdo the sauce and mine was more like a thick soup with the gnocchi and ham being overwhelmed by the sauce. The owner shared with me the reason it is served this way and that is because his Indian customers are used to thick sauces (think curry, jalfraizi, and vindaloo) and believe that al dente pasta is undercooked, so he is catering to the majority of his clientele. Fair enough.
Chocolate Milk Shake
Feeling hungry and decadent, I also ordered a chocolate milk shake with ice cream (120 Rupees/$1.95) because I had read that they had an excellent peanut butter milk shake (not on the menu) on TripAdvisor. If you order a milk shake in India, do not expect what you normally think of a shake in western countries as they do not contain ice cream unless so stated. Drinks in India are routinely lukewarm as refrigeration is not great and ice is not a good idea because of potential water-born illnesses, so your milk shake will likely not be cold and frosty as you would expect. Mine tasted good enough, but the ice cream was not fully blended and at nearly $2 it was probably one of the worst values in my restaurant experiences here in India.

I spent Thanksgiving in Dharamsala, so because there was no turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie, I decided to have the next best thing … ITALIAN FOOD! Normally eating a bowl of thupka or thenthuk (Tibetan noodle and vegetable soup), I splurged and ordered Jimmy’s Tomato and Mozzarella Salad (“Insalata Caprese” – Salad From Capri In Italian – 120 Rupees/$1.95), an order of garlic bread (40 Rupees/65 cents), and the Penne Romano (al dente penne, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and parmesan cheese – 150 Rupees/$2.40).

Penne Romano
The insalata Caprese was actually very good with an abundance of fresh, sliced tomato, slices of mozzarella cheese, a little lettuce, and drizzled with an light olive oil and vinegar dressing. The mozzarella was sliced a bit too thin compared to the Italian equivalent and you would normally have fresh basil (instead of lettuce) on top with extra virgin olive oil (no vinegar), but it was excellent nonetheless. The garlic bread (the bread is made fresh and in-house) was perfectly seasoned and toasted, and the perfect accompaniment to the tomato salad. The penne Romano, although arriving far too soon and shortly after my antipasto had arrived, was al dente just the way I like it and the olive oil and garlic sauce tasty although a little too dry. A bit more olive oil would have helped, but it was delicious in any case.

CombatCritic Gives Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!


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Palaco Handmade Crafts: Beautiful, Ornate, Handmade Crafts … Reasonable Prices … Outstanding Service!


Palaco Handmade Crafts
Shop #5 Temple Road (Behind State Bank ATM)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, HP, India 176219
Phone: +91 97364 86748
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/PalacoCrafts

I would have missed Palaco Handmade Crafts if i had not started talking to the owner Taj while waiting in line for the ATM. The shop is behind the State Bank ATM on Temple Road about 125 meters from the Main Square, heading toward the Dalai Lama’s Temple, and just 50 meters from the Buddhist Stuba (Buddhist Temple with prayer wheels) in the middle of town (same direction).

The shop is in the back on the left and is small, but filled with beautiful treasures from Tibetan, Kashmiri, and Indian craft makers, normally small families and individuals and not the mass produced garbage you find in many shops.

Silk and Kashmiri (Cashmere if you are American) woolen scarves, bedspreads and carpets, intricate inlaid wood trays, bowls, lamps and other small furnishings and knick-knacks, brass “chakra” bowls, Buddhist “tangas”, purses and bags, and many other crafts are avaialble at very fair prices.

Taj is a wonderful person, inviting me for a cup of saffron tea made from VERY EXPENSIVE kashmiri saffron on my first visit, he is truly a warm and friendly person. Their prices are so low that you do not need to haggle like most stores in India, knowing that you are getting a good deal and an outstanding value.

CombatCritic Gives Palaco Handmade Crafts A Rare 10 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

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Key Words: Palaco Handmade Crafts, Palaco, handmade, crafts, Tibetan, Kashmiri, India, Indian, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, Dharmsala, silk, wool, Taj, purses, inlaid, wood, Temple Road, Shop #5

Mediocre Service, Non-Existent WiFi … Superb Thai Curry


“Mediocre Service, Non-Existent WiFi … Superb Thai Curry

The Clay Oven

McLeod Ganj, Himachal PradeshDharamsala 176219India

The restaurant sits just off the main square on the TIPA (Dharamkot) road and looks nicer than most in McLeod Ganj with wood beam ceilings, earth tones, and a nice terrace. 

The free WiFi was nearly non-existent, so don’t bother if you need to get anything done while waiting to be seated, get your menu or your food.


I stood at the counter waiting for a table for nearly 5 minutes while employees danced around me saying nothing and with just three parties in a place that seats 50. I finally got my menus another 5 minutes after the grumpy guy (owner?) at the register ignored me and I sat myself.


I ordered the green chicken (Thai) curry (200 rupees – $3.20) and waited close to 30 minutes … but IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT! Accompanied by white rice, the curry came in a clay pot, was generous in size, and hot, not scalding. The flavor was as good as any green curry I have had stateside and I have had quite a few. Spicy, but not overly hot, there were chunks of white meat chicken, mushrooms, and onion with just the right curry to rice ratio. Good stuff and at $3+ it was definitely the best value in terms of curry I have experienced!


The food quality and value alone would rate 9 BOMBS, but deducting 1 BOMB for lousy internet and another for mediocre service …


CombatCritic Gives The Clay Oven 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!








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Key Words: The Clay Oven, clay, oven, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Mcleod, Ganj, India, Thai, Tibetan, Indian, curry, coffee, Italian, pizza, pasta, menu, travel, value, CombatCritic

Snow Lion Restaurant ROARS … Good Food, Excellent Value!


Snow Lion Restaurant
Jogiwara Road (Opposite Buddhist Temple – Stuba)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala 176213, India
Phone: +91-1892-221289

Prices: $$$$$

The “snow lion” is a mythical creature featured on the Tibetan flag and I had seen the Snow Lion Restaurant while walking by on the busy main market street in McLeod Ganj, but had not entered because there were normally no free tables. I sauntered in one evening after seeing that the popular table by the front window was free.


No sooner had I sat down than two young Russian girls asked if they could join me, a common practice here in Himachel Pradesh. They were mildly friendly and soon went about their conversation while lounging on the couch opposite me. Many of the tables have double cushioned seats, so many of the young bohemians with unwashed dreadlocks and tattered clothes make themselves at home while surfing the internet (not just here, but in many cafés), feet on the seats and all. The restaurant is clean and comfortable with semi-bright lighting and the staff is very friendly and inviting.

The food is strictly vegetarian and the menu offers a wide variety of appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts. Momos are a Tibetan specialty, a savory pastry filled with vegetables, potato, cheese, meat or a combination thereof and served either steamed or fried. I tried the fried potato and cheese momos (80 rupees – $1.30), consisting of eight large pieces with soy and chili sauces available for dipping. Fresh and flavorful, Snow Lion’s momos are very good and an excellent value.

I had seen “sizzlers” on several menus around town, so I decided to try the vegetable sizzler as an entree, adding some crispy-spicy potatoes and the lemon-ginger-honey tea (40 rupees – 65 cents) I have come to love. The potatoes arrived first, very thin French fries with a tasty seasoning and some VERY HOT slices of red and green chili intermixed. I decided to save most of them to accompany my entrée. The sizzler, aptly named because it is served on an iron skillet, much like fajitas would be served at a Mexican restaurant stateside, sizzling and steaming. The assorted vegetables, including

green beans, carrots, tomatoes, onion, cauliflower, and squash (I think) sat upon large cabbage leaves and was tasty although not well seasoned. I added some chili sauce, a condiment used like catsup here, and tossed the rest of my spicy French fries in for good measure. I have to say that for an all vegetable meal, I was quite full, but not so full that I could not resist the wonderful dessert options.


I asked if they had vanilla ice cream because the “eggless” apple pie looked scrumpdidiliumptious. They did, so I ordered a hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie was lukewarm, not hot, but it was very good as was the ice cream. The crust was crisp and delicious and the filling sweet, but not overly so. A nice finish to a very good, well-priced meal.


The WiFi is moderatley fast, the environment comfortable and inviting, and the service efficient and very friendly, and I understand that they open fairly early, by Indian standards, for breakfast. The only drawback is that the loo (toilet) is upstairs and is NOT the “western” variety, so be prepared to squat and bring your own TP as it is rarely found in public toilets, including this one. Snow Lion also offers rooms above the restaurant, so if and when I have a look, I will update this review.

CombatCritic Gives Snow Lion Restaurant 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!




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