The monastery of Sant Benet de Bages is located in the Catalonia region of Spain and was previously a Benedictine monastery, which means a Catholic religious order which follows the rules of Saint Benedict. The monastery is built in the Romansque style prevent during the time and was restored in the last century to it's former glory by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a famous architect from Barcelona.

Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
Entrance to the Sant Benet de bages
Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
Beautifully lit up interiors 

The monastery has also undergone some significant changes now, and this includes a fantastic audio-vusla 3D projection show inside the church itself. It gives a really good overview of the history of the monastery as well as that of Catalonia as well.

Brief history of Sant Benet de Bages

The first Church of Sant Benet was consecrated in 972, shorty after the monastery was founded in 950 by the noble Salla and his consort Ricarda. Over the 12th and 13th centuries, a new church was built in the style of Romanesque architecture. It features a Latin cross floor plan, a single nave with a pointed barrel vault, a semi-circular apse and two apse chapels that cannot be seen from the outside.

Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
The Romanesque style of entrance to the church 
Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
Ceiling of the church
Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
View form the Bell Tower

At the intersection of the nave and transept stands a two-storey bell tower (sometimes considered a lantern tower, though strictly speaking it is not).

How to reach from Barcelona?

By car: C-58 to Terrassa, once there follow the C-16 until exit 54 (St. Fruitós de Bages - Navarcles) and from there take the N-141 towards Navarcles. At 450 meters there is the indicator of the Monastery of St. Benedict, go right and follow the road to St Benet World.

By Public transport: There is a  combined ticket Railways  which includes roundtrip journey to Manresa FGC halt, the bus ride to Transbages Navarcles and the entrance to the monastery.

Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
We reached just at sunrise and the light was lovely :)

Map for reference:



When to visit?

Saturdays and Sundays. Check the opening times by telephoning 93 875 94 01 or writing to info@monstbenet.com. Advance booking is recommended.

Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
The monastery from outside 

Where to stay?

Hotel Món Sant Benet is located in the Bages region, in the center of Catalonia, near Barcelona, surrounded by magical places such as a medieval monastery, the old summer house of the artist Ramon Casas, and the Alicia Foundation among others.

More than 80 spacious rooms with great views equipped with great detail, latest technology, outdoor pool, gardens, service beauty treatments, massages and many leisure and free time alternatives.

Read more: Hotel Món Sant Benet


Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
View from the bell tower
Sant Benet de Bages travel guide spain catalonia
Looking down at the monastery from the bell tower

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Disclaimer: I was in Spain on invitation of the Catalan Tourism Board. All views expressed above are unbiased and based on personal experiences. 
As a traveler there are things which you are comfortable doing, and then there are things which are not quite sure about. I love driving and going on long road trips, but the one thing that I could never quite try out was off-roading. I always knew of the adrenaline rush that would come with such a trip, but somehow an opportunity eluded me. However, this changed recently when Toyota invited me to try out their brand new Fortuner in Mumbai, and try it out in the roughest possible way! Was I up for the challenge? Of course I was, in fact I had trouble sleeping well out of excitement of doing something new and exciting!

tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
Off-roading with Toyota Fortuner
tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
Getting deep into waters! What fun :)
tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
Foturner comes out a winner, yet again

Cool New features of Toyota Fortuner 

Before I go into my own experience with the SUV, let me give a quick round up about the car itself.

Toyota has designed Fortuner to give the rider unparalleled off-roading experience, whether you are on the uneven terrain on the roads in the hinterland, or on the racing circuit of the Himalayas. As a novice, everything I did was new for me, but I did come back more aware about with a handful of new features which be super useful for one and all! Let’s check them out:

Downhill Assist Control (DAC) & Hill Assist Control (HAC): HAC (Hill-start Assist Control) supports drivers on steep hills, while DAC (Downhill Assist Control) supports drivers when descending slopes. There may be unexpected cases for the driver where the vehicles may slide when starting on sudden hills or slippery surfaces. HAC minimizes vehicle roll-back by controlling brake fluid pressure as the driver's foot is removed from the brake to the accelerator on such steep incline.

Furthermore, DAC maintains vehicle speed at 5km/h to help ensure vehicle stability when descending sharp slopes or slippery surfaces.

tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
With DAC, coming down is so much easier now!

Active Traction Control (A-TRC): Whether it be travelling over loose rock or towing a boat off a wet boat ramp, Active Traction Control (A-TRC) optimally delivers the drive force to the wheels with the best grip to provide outstanding ground covering capability on slippery or uneven surfaces.

Read more about other features: Toyota Fortuner

Now that we know about the cool new features in Toyota Fortuner, it’s time to give you a bit of an overview of what I did in a few hours with the SUV which left me so impressed with the SUV and it’s capabilities.


My experience with Toyota Fortuner 

The Experiential Drive Camp for Toyota Fortuner was set up at the picturesque Film City which is located right on the edge of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and makes for the prefect natural setting for adventures. The camp was divided in three zones - 1, 2 and 3. I had Vidit with me, who was not only a professional racer but also a super cool guy. We hit it off pretty well right in the beginning and ge ensured that I could learn as much as possible about the car, even if I took some time to pick a few thing sup! Coming back to the zones, Zone 1 was simple, but gave a perfect overview of car’s stability even in challenging surroundings. Here are a few videos I made there using Facebook live, so the quality is a bit low!

tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
At Zone 1
tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
Off to Zone 2

However, it’s Zone 2 where things are most fun! There are sharp decent and ascents, along with water pits and slimy and slippery paths. All of these allow the features of the Fortuner to be explored in the best possible way. You may actually never drive into such extreme places, but it’s certainly nice to know that if you ever do get stuck in a place like this, your car will effortlessly pull you through. Check out this video to get an overview of this part of the experience :)



Zone 3 was more of a racing track and Visit gave us an example of thrill that comes with it! With our seat-belts tightened, we went on a ride which was nothing less than a full shot of adrenaline. The last bit was the most complicated climb, which at seventy degrees was simply impossible for the car to go up. Here’s a short video of what it looked like :)

I was not going to let go of Vidit before asking him for some suggestions on where I could do some off-roading in Maharashtra itself. Here are the two places he suggested near Ambey Valley between Mumbai and Pune - Nineteen Degrees North and the off-road trail around Adlabs Imagica. Maybe someday I will go back to my home-state, Uttarakhand, and do some off-roading there as well, but for now on my to-do list :)



Off-roading tips for beginners

But all of this conversation about off-roading would be incomplete if I don’t share some off-roading tips for people like me, who are yet to start on this adventurous journey. Here are five great off-roading tips for beginners!

Safety: Safety is most important when you do off-roading, especially so when you are starting out. Make sure your vehicle is properly prepped before you start on the journey and always take someone along, preferably somehow who has experience in off-roading.

Pick the right trail: It’s easy to get carried away with thrill and you might want try out something which you may not be skilled enough to try. So start with simpler trails and then move on to more challenging ones in progression.

tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
Picking the right rail is important 
tips off-roading toyota fortuner review
So is knowing your call really well!

Drive correct: Drive slow, focus on the road, know your car really well and learn to identify any distress signs in advance, drive in low RPM, if you don’t know the obstacles ahead you can get down and check on it.

Be prepared: We always hope that nothing will go wrong, but it’s good to be prepared in advance about things that can go wrong. Let people know about your plans as well as the track you plan to tackle, so that if you don’t return on time help can reach you.

Stack up your car: A additional tyre is a necessity as well as the skills to change tyres. Apart from this have a full tank, a strong enough rope to tow, water for radiators (and drinking too), radio set if possible and whatever else you think you might need. Be prepared.

—————

Disclaimer: I was invited by Toyota Fortuner to try out the car at the Experiential Drive Camp and share my experiences on the blog. The pictures used here have also been provided by Toyota for use in the article. All views presented are unbiased and based on my personal experiences.
How often do we think about including health as a factor while planning for a trip? Well, for most of us vacations are meant to be fun and health often takes a backseat. Unless, of course, you take ill in an unknown destination far away from home. I have had this experience first hand and so here are some of my favourite tips to stay healthy when you travel. These include preventive tips as well as those which can help you manage health issues on the road. Read on :)

top tips stay fir healthy when traveling
Tips to stay healthy when traveling!

1. Travel Health insurance - this is perhaps the most important thing to do, especially if you are traveling international. Most visa applications require you to already buy in advance, but in any case do not leave the house before you get your insurance in place. Keep a hard copy with you in your bag, email a soft copy to yourself and your family, and save the relevant contact numbers in your phone. This can save your life in future so do not skip this step.

2. Medicine box - We all often have a medicine box at home, and it's even more important to carry one when you are away from home. The box can simply have the basic medicine which you might need - like something for headache, nausea, upset stomach, maybe a pain killer, some bandaid etc. If there are some medications which require prescription, take that along as well. Some airlines are a bit finicky about it.

3. Carry a hand sanitizer - this hygiene tip is essential no matter where in the world you are. Especially if you are in a country like India where eating with hands is often the norm, and clean water isn't always available for washing hands, this is a must have.

4. Stay hydrated - this is one of things which most travelers forget, and it's also one of the most important way to stay healthy. This is especially true if you are traveling in a hot country like India where sun-strokes can hit suddenly and hit van then be in bed for days recovering from it. So drink lots of water, carry lots of water and drink water even if you feel it's not yet the time.

5. Never be empty stomach - My top tip for this is to always carry bananas, or chocolates or whatever works for you. It not only keeps you full, it's also naturally hygienic and hot van simply buy it from a local market and eat. However, to each his own, but do make sure you eat well and on time. Always.

6. Hit the gym/ go for a run - now this is now an easy one, and often I end up not doing it myself because I am lazy. But it's great to have a fitness routine and live by it no matter what happens. It might also be useful to carry small exercising equipment in your travel bag - I always carry a stretching band with me for this exact purpose.



7. Join a local yoga class - these are fun, help you stay in shape and you also get to meet new people. With Yoga picking up across the world, it's not tough to find these classes online, and they are often not that expensive. And if Yoga isn't your thing, join a local sport. Kushti is what I would would recommend if you are in rural India :)

8. Eat local - this is obvious from an experience point of view, but more often than not the local food is often healthier, more affordable and tastier. So skip the fried chickens and burgers, and eat local. And guess what even in a country like India, some of the local food is so simple and healthy that you don't believe it. For example this dosa. And if you visiting my city Pune, you must visit Vaishali to have the best dosa around :)

9. Get up in the morning and go for a walk - not just good for health, it also expires you to experiences which don't be seen during the day. For example some local markets operate only in the wee hours of the day and they area perfect for great local shopping for healthy food too :)

10. Walk the neighbourhoods - its really tempting to see many things in a day, so many of us take  a cab/ bus/ tram and hop places. However, one of the best way to explore a new place is on foot. Get a little lost, ask for directions, find a hidden local cafe, like the one I found in Barcelona, and in the process burn some calories too.

11. Be open to home remedies - in an unfortunate scenario of you falling ill without a doctor around and your medicine box, be open to try local home remedies that you are comfortable with. For instance in India you might be offered a concoction of ginger, cloves and honey for bad throat, or xyz for nausea.

However each of one have our own individual needs, and planning should be done based on that. No list will suffice the requirements for each one of us, but the most important point here is to have a list of things which work for you.

Here's another brilliant article on fitness when you travel. Do check it out - How to keep fit while travelling.

Safe travels folks :)
Built during the zenith of Peshwa rule in Pune, the Ram temple at Tulsibaug is one of the few places which have survived in an almost intact form even after years of neglect. Though the neighbourhood has change dramatically, Tulsibaug wada, where the temple is located, has remained the same and a visit to this temple literally takes you back in time. Located right in the middle of one of the noisiest parts of old city, the ambience around the temple is extremely calm and soothing. By the way, this is also my favourite temple in the city and the one I can visit over and over again and never get bored of it :)

ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
Ram Temple at Tulsibaug, Pune
ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
An old lady praying at the temple
ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
Wooden Sabhamandap

History of Ram Temple

The history of the temple is closely linked to the rule of Peshwas in the region, especially Pune. The Maratha kingdom was a powerful kingdom, especially under Shivaji the much respected and feared Maratha king from the 17th century. While Marathas were in power, their Prime Ministers were known as Peshwa, something similar to how the Nawabs of Lucknow were connected to the the Mughal rulers of Delhi.

Read more: The legend of Bhul Bhilaiya in Lucknow

However, after Shivaji's death the kingdom lost some of it's sheen especially after his son was killed by Mughal king Aurangzeb. However, soon after Aurangzeb also died at Aurangabad (not too far from Pune) and with him also started the decline of the Mughal empire. The local population rose again, this time with the much stronger Peshwas who were based of out Pune. The Maratha kings became more of a figure head while it was the Peshwas who ruled the kingdom and took it to great heights. The Maratha Kingdom finally came to an end in 1818 and the British took over as the rulers of the region.

However, it was during the zenith of Peshwa rule/ Maratha rule that the Ram temple was built at Tulsibaug. This was an era when some of the biggest palaces were also built in the region, like the Shaniwarwada. The temple was built by Jivajipant Khasgiwale when Balaji Baji Rao was the ruling Peshwa, however it was only in 1761 that the temple was finally completed when Madhav-Rao I ruled.

The prominent 150m tall shikhar (the inverted conical structure with stucco work) was added much later in the 19th century, but the wooden temple has otherwise remained unchanged over the years. Surrounded by shops, the Tulsibaug wada is a busy space, but there is a strange kind of calm which still exists here. Unless it's a special day, the temple is devoid of people on most days, especially early in the morning and afternoons when many shops shut shop for a few hours for rest.

ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
150m tall shikhar
ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
Nagarkhana
ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
Another view of the temple
ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
Some art on the walls around the temple...
ram mandir temple tulsibaug pune travel photo
Another smaller temple in the courtyard

As is obvious from the name the temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and has the garbhagriha has idols of Ram and Sita. The other obvious part is the presence  of tulsi (basil) which was present here in abundance and gave the area it's name. Tulsi is an important offering to Lord Rama and hence it's presence around the temple was essential. Now there are a few tulsi plants in pots around the temple, but no tulsi gardens.

Here's a short video form a recent visit to the temple early in the morning when there was absolutely no one there. Keep the volume on to hear the sounds of bird chirping all around me making the place even more peaceful and relaxed. I even sat for a while and read a book there :)




Here is another excellent account of the Ram temple at Tulsibaug. Do check it out.
During the partition of Punjab of 1947 when India attained it's independence, there was mass migration of people across the sudden man-made border which divided families, friends, lovers and also uprooted people from their ancestral land. One such pind in Punjab is Manakpur Shreef which saw a large number of Muslims move to newly formed Pakistan. However, not everyone moved and their legacy in their pind stayed on.

This is the story of Dargah of Sharif Hazrat Hafiz Muhammad Moosa Chishti Saabri - an iconic dragah much loved by all communities which now make the village.

dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Exquisite work on the ceiling of the Manakpur Sharif Dargah
dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Dargah of Manakpur Sharif
dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Details at the gate of the Manakpur Sharif

My visit to this dargah was purely by chance, and was quite unforgettable mainly because I was completely smitten by the beauty of this place in the middle of practically nowhere. After a long day out in the sun and exploring the village markets of Punjab, I was tired and willing to go back to my hotel and crash. In the morning I has asked my companions if there was an old place around, and this is when he remembered to tell me about this place. I knew I would probably never return to this part of the country ever again, so immediately agreed to visit an old dargah.



History of the Dargah

Let me give a brief overview of Hazrat Hafiz Muhammad Moosa to better understand and appreciate the place. From a very young age he was deeply inspired by the divine and spent years alone in the forests meditating and learning. Once he came back to his village his master was pleased by him and he was given the privilege to start his own khanqah, which is basically a designated house of Sufis. Later he settled at Manakpur and this is where the present day dargah is also located.

dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Entrance gate form inside
dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Caretaker to the dargah

How to reach dargah of Manakpur Shreef

The dargah is located at a distance of about 40km from Chandigarh and is actually easily reachable by road. The road that you take off from the highway isn't great, but not too bad either. As you enter the mazaar, the first thing that strikes you is the majestic gate, which in itself isn't a common feature in a mazaar.

Inside there is the main dargah, and a prominent mosque. Each of those are beautifully decorated, especially the mosque. Spend some time praying and meditating at the dargah, and maybe also speak to the caretaker there, he can tell you lots of stories and anecdotes from the time of Hazrat Hafiz Muhammad Moosa.

One of the best time of the year is to visit the dargah during the annual Urs when festivities grip the town and thousands of people from across the region throng to Manakpur Sharif. There is soulful sufi music as well as great vibes of Punjab which can be experienced then. I missed the Urs but was strongly recommended to come visit again just for that.

dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Mosque at the dargah
dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Work on the walls
dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Another view at the entrance of the mosque

The dargah is also a great example of the unity of all faiths that exist in the region. It's auspicious to everyone and is also open to all to come and pray. It's so wonderfully peaceful that it doesn't really matter what faith you follow, it's easy to make the connect with our creator. Such places work great for travellers like me who are fascinated by all religions and happy to explore new things wherever they go.

dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Catching up with the locals in the dargah
dargah manakpur shareef punjab india photo
Beautiful work on the being of the mosque 
Goodbyes are difficult, especially the ones you give to cities that you love. One such city is Leh, the capital of erstwhile Kingdom of Ladakh. My first visit here was about a decade back when I was still a student at NID, always short of money, and always up for something new and adventurous. I have a steady job now and some money as well, yet every visit to Leh has been pretty much the same, as far as budget goes. And every visit also fills my life with memories to cherish.

early morning walk leh ladakh early morning photo
Morning in Leh...

With these thoughts in mind, I took one last morning walk in Leh just a few hours before my flight back to Pune. With no immediate plans of coming back to the city, I wanted to make the most of my last morning and get some more flavour of the city.

For anyone who follows my blog would know how much I love coffee, yet the fist drink of the day has to be adrak chai (ginger tea), or at least the typical Indian masala chai. This habit is fairly new to me and in fact on my first trip to Ladakh during my college days I hated tea and would not touch it at any cost. Times have changed…and so have I :)

Though my hotel was rather basic with barely any facilities, it’s location was great! I was with walking distance of the main market, so off I took in search of a perfect cup of morning chai. All the usual suspects were shut (it was barely six), so I decided to follow a bunch of Kashmiri guys who were on their way to the main mosque. And this is where I found the prefect morning chai place - Kashmire Dabha.

early morning walk leh ladakh early morning photo
Kashmere Dabha
early morning walk leh ladakh early morning photo
My chai shop :)
leh ladakh chai with kashmiri roti
Chai with Kashmiri roti
kashmiri man walking
My chai-mate giving an angry pose :)

As I walked in a smile welcomed me to take a seat. I obviously looked like a tourist and the caretaker was as curious about me as I was about the place. I ordered chai and he offered to serve it with some kashmiri roti, an offer I immediately grabbed. In fact everyone else around me was also eating this bread with their chai, some with butter while others without. My bread came with a thick layer of warm butter and it tasted heavenly with masala chai. It was a cold morning and this surprise breakfast was a blessing for me. And the grand bill for my sumptuous breakfast was Rs 30!

early morning walk leh palace early morning photo
Leh Palace ahead...
early morning walk leh ladakh early morning photo
A walk in the old town...
Happy and rejuvenated, I then decided to do a quick hike to the Leh Palace and maybe capture a few pictures of Leh from above bathed in morning light. It was also soon going to be time to head back to the hotel and then to the airport, and I was doing my best to enjoy some moments in the Leh in solitude.

Now Leh Palace is lovely building located on a small hillock in the centre of the city. You can obviously drive up to the main gate, but that’s obviously not any fun. The fun part of to climb it through the old town. The hike is not really steep, but it allows you so experience how Leh used to be long before it became a popular tourist destination. There is also good conservation work being done in this part of the city, and you will see a sign on the houses which have been restored so far.

In fact a few days back I had stumbled across one such house and after meeting the occupants realised that it was actually this group of young volunteers which was leading Leh’s conservation movement. I also made friends with a couple of young architecture students from Lucknow who had made Leh their home for a few months, along with many other architects from across the world. I hope to meet up with them and see a bit of Lucknow when I visit the city for a friend’s wedding in December. Ah…I digress…

early morning walk leh ladakh early morning photo
Walk through old town...

I walked up almost all the way to the castle, but tried back down when I realised that people will soon start looking for me. In fact it would be more worrisome if they don’t look for me and leave for the airport without me :)

It was time to say goodbye to Leh, until we meet again :)

Starting from the only highly popular and touristy La Rambla to the more charming Via Laietana, the Gothic Quarter is right in the centre of the old city of Barcelona. Many landmark buildings of Barcelona are located in this compact part of the city, famous for it's narrow alleys. My favourite part is a lovely bridge called Carrer del Bisbe, which is not particularly old (it was built in 1928), yet is stunningly beautiful.

photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Carrer del Bisbe
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Time for some music...
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
It's all yellow :)

The Gothic Quarter has some of the oldest buildings in the city, including some from the Roman era. Keep an eye for how beautifully the old and the new blend beautifully here.

So here are 10 pictures from one of my most favourite parts of Barcelona which will surely make you fall in love with the city!

Enjoy :)

photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Lovers in Barcelona
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Looking through an opening...
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
The area is touristy, but you can find quite spots as well...
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Not without my friend :)
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
I simply loved this building...
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Relaxing...
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Christ 
photography photo gothic quarter barcelona spain catalonia
Carrer del Bisbe
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