Stunning Lake District(England) Travel Guide

Lake District,located in Cumbria is the largest National Park in England and famous for its lakes,forests & mountains and picturesque locales. Since 2017, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The major towns in this National Park are Keswick, Windermere,Ambleside & Bowness-on-Windermere. Ullswater , Borrowdale are also scenic places in the Lake District

How to reach : It can be easily visited from London by train or bus.We boarded a National Express night bus from Victoria Coach station in London and reached Manchester in the wee hours of the morning .The bus journey is comfortable and smooth. There was a 3 hour halt at the Manchester Bus station and then a two hour drive to Windermere . There are direct buses too to the towns of Lake District but slightly expensive than a break journey. Trains start from Euston Station of London to Oxelhome Lake District, however the tickets are quite expensive so bus is a cheaper option.

Windermere :The first glimpse of Windermere town is jaw dropping. Typical medieval British homes with grey coarse stone masonry work and sloping roofs. Cobbled streets with narrow lanes and a riot of colourful flowers blooming outside every home and restaurant highlighting the grey stone homes. The clear blue sky in the background makes it all the more captivating

On entering Windermere town ,there is a tourist information centre. The first thing we did after disembarking from the bus was to obtain a Map of the Lake District . (I always recommend keeping/buying a map of a region/ city when travelling. It really helps . You can get the maps for free in Information centres or railway stations ).

Windermere in the evening

How to travel to places in Lake District from Windermere :

By Bus : There are buses which shuttle to & fro from Windermere just at the start of the town ( Bus Nos 555, 505 ,599 ) to Keswick, Grasmere, Rydal, Ambleside on one route and Bowness on Windermere ,Kendall on the other route at the duration of 5 -10 mins. We can take a pass for a day which costs nominal and which allows us unlimited travel the entire day to spots between all these locations . Groups ( 4 or more persons) have a further concession on the pass. Since we were four of us ,we took the group pass.Buses have a partially open roof on the top so viewing the scenic countryside is a dream.

By Ferry : There are ferry rides/Steamer rides between different locations from the Windermere Lake Jetty.

Windermere Lake : is a large lake in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park, northwest England. It’s surrounded by mountain peaks and villages, including Bowness-on-Windermere on one side and Ambleside on the other.

A stunning view of the Windermere Lake in the evening

Ambleside : is a pretty quaint town with lots of cafes.It is on one side of the Lake Windermere. The entire town is picturesque. Potted flower plants in pink,red,purple strategically placed to contrast the dark local stone houses. A stroll around the streets and capture the visual beauty of the place is worth it

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Note the cute miniature stone house in the garden

Bowness -on-Windermere : is a fishing village with old houses , narrow streets and quirky corners.A visit to the Bowness Pier and sit watching the geese which abound on the lake shores , watched tourists enjoying their boat ride and just relax oblivious of the hectic world we have left behind home.

Bowness on Windermere Pier
A beautiful house amidst the greenery

Grasmere : is a scenic village with a lake by the same name and the place of birth of the greatest poet William Wordsworth. He lived in a house called Dove Cottage for 14 years and has called it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found Grasmere” . He is also buried here along with his family in St Oswald’s churchyard. Next to the Church is a tiny shop called the Sarah Nelson’s ‘Grasmere Gingerbread’. It was started in 1854.

Isn’t the sight ethereal ?

A block citing Wordsworth at the entrance of the churchyard where he lies buried
William Wordsworth’ s tombstone in St Oswald’s church

A must visit and a must buy- Gingerbread
The Grasmere stone bridge

Keswick : is a pretty and vibrant market town with lots of cafes. Close by is the Lake Derwentwater famous for its scenic beauty. It is surrounded by hills (known locally as fells), and many of the slopes facing Derwentwater are extensively wooded. A regular passenger launch operates on the lake, and you can hop on and off at various jetties and explore the woods around the lake.

Near Keswick is the famous Castlerigg Stone Circle built around 4500 years ago by pre historic farming communities and served as a place for rituals or ceremonial activities or movement of goods

Lake Derwentwater
The jetty at Derwentwater to take a cruise

Keswick Market

Lunch is delicious bakes from a Cornish Bakery
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Castlerigg Stone Circle

Borrowdale :is a picturesque valley in the Lake District and close to Keswick.

Miniature green slate houses in the background

Ullswater : is the second largest lake in the Lake District . The lake flows in a serpentine fashion and is considered to be the most beautiful lake in Lake District

A meaningful message on every table in the garden near Ullswater Lake

Kirkstone Pass : is a mountain pass in the English Lake District, in the county of Cumbria. It is at an altitude of 1,489 feet. This is the Lake District’s highest pass that is open to motor traffic and it connects Ambleside and Ullswater. There is the Kirkstone Pass Inn built in the 15th Century and is still functional

Kirkstone Pass Inn

A wood seating to view the scenes around Kirkstone Pass

Exotic Vietnam

We being avid travellers with an unsatiable hunger for history and good food, after a lot of research on what would match our preferences we decided to visit Vietnam which has a longstanding history plus is a foodies haven.

It took us months of planning especially calculating the cost factor since ours is always a budget travel combined with visiting maximum places in the tour, in short ‘value for money’ as we call it. We had initially planned Vietnam & Cambodia since we had visited Bangkok & Pattaya previously. But while checking for our air tickets ,we found the return tickets from Cambodia to India were considerably expensive whereas the return tickets via Bangkok to India were cheaper and the cost of travel would be reduced inspite of us having a four day stay at Bangkok/ Pattaya . And thus our trip was finally planned as Vietnam-Cambodia -Thailand .

A brief introduction to Vietnam especially for a first time visitor : Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country sharing its borders with Cambodia & Laos. It is famous for its beaches food and history mainly the Vietnam war The climate is tropical with high humidity. It is recommended to visit Vietnam in February to April ,but we had visited in November and the climate was quite cool and pleasant.

In November we embarked upon our exciting journey to Vietnam. With a stop over at KL International airport, Malaysia we reached Hanoi by afternoon. We normally arrange with the hotel where we are going to stay for an airport pickup. After driving downtown to our hotel situated in the Old quarters of Hanoi which was just a 2 minutes walk to the famous Hoan Kiem Lake and 5 minutes to the Night Market right where the action is.

A Busy street in Hanoi

Old Quarters Hanoi

The Ho Chi Minh Mausolem (Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese Communist Revolutionary Leader and also the Prime Minister and President of Democratic Vietnam) ,One Pillar Pagoda , The Temple of Literature & the Hoa Lo Prison used by French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners are various places to visit when in Hanoi. All places are close by and easily reached by the local tuk tuk (equivalent to our rickshaws) or taxis.

A place of offering in Ho Chi Minh Mausolem

Food Travails : We being foodies , we had hired a Food Guide who took us through the lanes of Old Hanoi into homes of residents to taste authentic Vietnamese food. We had Bun cha ( dish of grilled meats with noodles ) , Pho ( the famous street food of Vietnam which is a delicious noodle soup made with chicken , pork or beef ) , Banh Mi (a hot dog type bread with pork slices/ chicken ,Vietnamese sauces,pork pate) , Banh cuon ( rice crepes with stuffing of meat with sauces ) ,Vietnamese Spring rolls being authentic Vietnamese delicacies.

Relishing Delicious Vietnamese food during our food tour
Vietnamese Spring Rolls

A word of caution for the vegetarians though. You are advised to carry along non perishable food stuff which will last you through your trip,cos though you may get dishes having veggies but the broth is mainly of chicken/beef /pork or fish sauce. Of course ,if you have the time you can scout for Vegetarian hotels which are very rare or subsist on fresh fruits available in the local markets .

A special mention should be made of Cafe Giang 39 a old coffee house since 1946 which serves the most delicious Egg coffee and a variety of unique Icecreams like the Black rice Yoghurt Icecream,Sticky rice icecreams etc etc. Since Vietnamese drink black tea / coffee and we being used to having milk in our tea / coffee it was a tough time intially explaining to the waiter that we wanted milk. After a lot of efforts trying to explain in different ways he finally understood what we wanted and gave us a can of condensed milk which doubled up as milk and sugar for the tea. The rest of our trip in Vietnam was easy. We directly used to ask for Condensed milk

Vietnamese Coffee with Condensed Milk

As night sets, after 10 pm the lanes and bylanes in Old Hanoi get transformed into a Food street. There are small plastic chairs and tables set outside on the pavements and the traffic is cordoned off. The entire place is crowded with locals and foreigners who gather to relish the delicious food over a drink .

Foodie street in Old Quarters Hanoi
Foodie street in Hanoi

The atmosphere is casual and vibrant. Some unique things which I noticed were, after the crowds disperse by the wee hours of night the stall owners wash the footpaths so that the footpaths are clean for the next business day. And there is a garbage truck which stops outside every lane at 11 pm to pick up trash and it continously plays music so the stall owners know that the truck has arrived and they come to deposit their trash .

Currency in Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong (VND) . The exchange rate when we had visited was 1 $ = 250000 VND. The smallest denomination is a 10000 VND note. The initial few days were tough for us while shopping since we were not used to the locals quoting 5 million or 10 million and we used to take back our VND note as a reflex action thinking we were buying expensive stuff . But within a few days we got used to this term and were expert shoppers at the end of the trip

Traffic in Hanoi is chaotic and crazy. The traffic does not stop at the red signal,especially bikers and it is upto you how to dodge the traffic and cross the road.

The Vietnamese people are friendly and helpful though communication is a major issue. Most of the locals don’t know English especially the street vendors so shopping and bargaining is really tough. It was mostly playing dumb charades with them and finally we managed to convey what we wanted to .

Shopping is extremely cheap and curios and sovenirs can be bought in the local market place . Haggling is perfectly acceptable

From chaotic Hanoi,next destination was the beautiful Halong Bay Cruise, which is 170 kms from Hanoi where we arrived by the Cruise Shuttle bus.

The docks from where you board a cruise to Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site with more than 2000 limestone peaks that jut from emerald green waters. We had booked an overnight cruise at Halong Bay
with Lunch /Dinner & Breakfast included

PicturesqueHalong Bay

After a lunch consisting of Sticky rice ,Vietnamese Prawns ,Squid fry,Pork,Pho,Carrot & Yam salad we were transported in a smaller boat from where we visited a island beach called Ti Top named after a Russian captain who helped them in their war against the imperialists . There is a climb to the top of the structure from where we could see the beautiful scenery around Halong Bay. We also did kayaking in the Bay waters

The Emerald Green Waters of Halong Bay and the Tip Top Islands in the background

Next morning after a fitful sleep and a sumptuous breakfast we visited the Sung Sot Caves ( Surprise Caves ) which true to its nickname took us by surprise. The inner space of the caves is large and the ceiling is decorated with stalactites like colorful chandeliers and the floor with plenty of rocks in diverse shapes of elephants,horse to trees and leaves,flowers. It was a sight to behold

Sung Sot Caves

After a cooking session organised by the Cruise boat we disembarked for our return journey to Hanoi. Next day was our 2 hour flight to Ho Chi Minh ( Saigon ) which is in South Vietnam. We had booked a tour for the Cu Chi Tunnels from India itself. Immediately on landing at Ho Chi Minh airport we directly drove to the Cu Chi tunnels site

The tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting tunnels located in Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh and are a part of the many network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.The Cu Chi Tunnels were a location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam war .The tunnels were used by Viet soldiers during combat as well as communication and supply routes,hospitals, food and weapon caches . The tunnels are amazing and is a must see for all history buffs.

Guerilla Warfare methods adopted by Vietnamese Soldiers

Trap Door during the Vietnam War in Cu Chi tunnels

Tourists are allowed to explore some tunnels but they are extremely narrow and have to be explored crawling on all fours

Evening was a walking tour of Ho chi Minh which was equally a vibrant city bustling with traffic like Hanoi and a Night food market and sovenir shops etc

Enjoying Sugarcane Juice in Ho Chi Minh Market place
The Street Food Market in Ho Chi Minh

Next morning we had a full day visit scheduled to the Mekong Delta , 75 kms away from Ho Chi Minh. Enroute to Mekong Delta , the entire countryside was picturesque surrounded by orchards and rice fields. We were given a boat ride in the Delta followed by lunch at one of the restaurants in the islands. From there we participated in various activities like visiting a bee farm, tasting different wines including snake wine,coconut wine, a coconut candy mfg unit, a horse cart ride and a canoe ride amongst the small waterways in the delta.It was an amazing experience. The tour lasted till mid afternoon

Lunch at Mekong Delta

After an overnight halt at Ho Chi Minh, next day we were ready for our trip to Cambodia ( a seperate blog written ) by bus.

Rani ni Vav -Patan-Gujarat,India

Patan is a small village in Gujarat ,a state in India. It can be reached from Ahmedabad which is the nearest airport . Patan is about 100 kms away from Ahmedabad and is accessible by road or rail. We travelled to Ahmedabad from Mumbai and keeping it as a base visited two places with ancient history namely Modhera & Patan .

After visiting Modhera ( do read my blog on Modhera) which we completed by 12.30 pm , we drove down to Patan which is approx a 45 minute drive and 34 kms from Modhera . After having lunch at a dhaba serving Junagadhi food , we drove down to see another architectural marvel Rani ki Vav ( Vav means a Well in Gujarati ) which is one of the finest step well in India and situated in Patan

Step wells were built during ancient times not only for storage of water ,but also for recreational purposes when the Rani or Queen used to come with her maids to escape the scathing sun and enjoy the cool breeze wafting at the base of the well .It also served as a social get together spot for the village ladies when they used to come to fill water in their pots and also for religious ceremonies . Stepwells also made the task of filling water easier since the villagers could climb down to the groundwater level to fill water

Rani Ni Vav

Rani ki Vav or the Queens step well is an intricately constructed stepwell situated in the town of Patan built in the 11th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site .Located on the banks of Saraswati River, Rani ki Vav was built in memory of King Bhimdev Solanki by his beloved wife queen Udayamati. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s. When it was excavated by the ASI , the carvings were found in a proper condition.

It is an architectural wonder and I really marvel as to how the craftsmen must have created such a well with perfect dimensions and carved such intricate carvings and steps in those days when scales or modern tools were not available .

Intricate Carvings on each level of the Vav
Note the footwear worn by the Apsara on the left of the image
Carvings on the sides of the steps

The steps of the Vav begin at ground level, leading you down through several pillared pavilions to reach the deep well below. We had hired a guide because it was just not possible to understand the carvings and the history behind the Vav just by observing it . There are more than 800 elaborate sculptures amongst the seven levels . The main theme is the Dashavataras, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. There are many sculptures of apsaras painting their lips and adorning themselves at each level of the vav. Every level is different from the other and it is with awe and admiration that you appreciate the craftsmanship and the efforts taken by the craftsmen of yore .

However , unfortunately we were unable to go down to the last level which has been kept closed due to security reasons as mentioned by our guide

After completing Rani ni Vav we proceeded to a place next to it called the Sahastralinga
Talav which was a artificial water storage tank constructed by the Chalukya King Sidharaj Jai Singh in the late eleventh century. However it is completely dry now and in the ruins.

Sahastralinga Talav

It took about 2 hours for us to complete sightseeing the Vav after which we drove down to Ahmedabad which is about a 3 hour drive from Patan . There are many budget hotels to stay in Patan but except the Rani ni Vav not much of places to see. Ofcourse Patan is famous for its weavers who make the hand woven and intricate Patola saree. There is a Patola saree making unit in the main town and those interested can go to watch how an Patola saree is woven and also buy them .