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Delhi’s first travel cafe beckons (IANS Travel)

New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) A Himalayan marmot, a large furry creature from the squirrel family, is just the pet to cuddle in the icy heights of Ladakh. And now a dancing mermot, captured in a photograph, is the mascot of the Indian capital’s first travel cafe.

Kunzum Cafe in Hauz Khas Village is the perfect place for travel buffs and writers to hang out and share their globe-trotting experiences. You can browse through travel journals, prepare itineraries, buy pictures and even write books at this one-of-its-kind joint.

The cafe offers a choice of flavoured tea, freshly-ground coffee and cookies to round off the session. But it’s not even essential to eat, as long as you make a contribution to travel in some way!

The motto of the cafe, which opened its doors this week, is to bind the capital’s discerning community of travellers through an eight-fold commandment that hangs from the wall like a holy edict.

‘The cafe is a place to hang out, swap travel stories and anecdotes, draw do-it-yourself itineraries with the help of the crew of travel experts at the cafe,’ reads the list.

One can also browse through travel journals and books in a mini-library, post pictures and travelogues on a wall magazine and on the Kunzum’s writers’ site in Facebook, even write books at the wi-fi compatible cafe and buy travel-related texts, journals and photographs, it adds.

Kunzum is named after Kunzum Pass located at a height of 4,590 metres to the north of Leh. It is the gateway to Lahaul-Spiti from the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

‘This is the pass from where I got my inspiration to become a travel writer and travel photographer,’ photographer-travel writer Ajay Jain, who owns the cafe, told IANS.

He gave up his job to pursue his passion.

The photograph of the Himalayan marmot was taken near Pangong Lake in Ladakh. The boutique cafe wants to christen the marmot. ‘We have spread the word around in the fraternity of travel buffs to hunt for a name,’ Jain said.

Before walking out of the cafe, visitors pin details about their last holidays and the forthcoming ones on a postcard board – for the community to know.

Modelled on the Buddhist haunts of Mcleodganj, the cafe boasts of a rather informal interior. Low cane seats without backrests are strewn across the oblong space to match the wooden coffee tables.

The ethnic crockery reflects the country’s rich tradition of handicrafts.

Handmade stone and choir coffee mugs from Manipur are contrasted by pen mugs from the India Army’s souvenir shop at Khardung la, the highest motorable pass on the Ladakh-Siachen stretch to the north of Leh at 18,340 ft.

The artefacts and sculptures are from Moradabad and Sekhawati.

Framed photographs of Himalayan landscapes, Nepal and Rajasthan pack the walls – the gallery space. The price bands of the photographs range between Rs.750 and Rs.25,000.

‘One does not have to pay for coffee, tea and the cookies – the only edibles the cafe serves. Payment is voluntary. People can drop their contribution in a drop box. It is our business model,’ Jain said.

The cafe can seat 20 people.

Jain, who has driven across all the tourism and heritage circuits in South Asia, has authored two travel books — ‘Postcards from Ladakh’ and ‘Peep, Peep, Don’t Sleep’.

‘Postcards from Ladakh’ is a Ladakh diary that chronicles the writer’s 10,000-km drive through the region with more than 50 anecdotes and accompanying photographs.

‘Peep, Peep, Don’t Sleep’ is the story of the creative signages which dot the Himalayan highways to keep the weary driver alert behind his wheels.

‘I am compiling a travel volume on journey from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh. I drove through the stretch recently,’ he said.

On Saturday, Kunzum begins its calendar of travel events with a ‘heritage walk through the historic Hauz Khas village together with the Delhi Heritage Walks followed by a music concert.

It will be followed by the first Kunzum Cafe driving holiday to Thanedar ahead of Shimla, Sangla in Kinnaur and to Lahaul and Spiti in October.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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