Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Evening at the Market in Leh

‘They have board games,’ I exclaimed seeing the poster of a travel cafĂ© as we finished our superbly heavy and filling breakfast platter. It was our last day in Leh. We would be leaving for Srinagar the next day.

The last week had seen us arriving in this quaint little hill town in the middle of the night. At first glance it looked like a rustic old city with yellow-brown buildings, archaic windows and colourful prayer flags in every direction with a monastery or stupa set on the edge of a cliff in the middle of a valley with snow covered peaks all around it. As we would discover over the coming days, this halt on the ancient Silk Route is full of historic stories and cultural ties.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Back at the White House (House of Cards Season 5) #HOConZCafe

After a 3 month delay from the usual release date, thanks to the recent much-talked-about political setup in the United States, the fifth season of Netflix’s House of Cards is now out. I have just been able to see the first episode due to all the work that is on at home right now, and let’s just say Frank Underwood’s ruthless pragmatism continues right from where the last season left us.

I have been a fan of the show ever since I saw the first season 4 years ago. I wasn’t sure a political drama will be able to hold my attention for long enough, but Frank and Claire sure have cast a spell on my innocent mind. I think apart from Game of Thrones, House of Cards is the only show which can boast of such a long and effortful opening credits sequence and one which I do not skip in any episode. My love for timelapses began right there. (And to think that they removed all humans frame by frame from that 90 second sequence. Wow)

Minor spoilers ahead.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Touch of Kashmiri Hospitality

‘Just wait until we reach his place and you will see the hospitality,’ my friend told me. We were on our way to Anantnag from the Srinagar airport one mid-April evening.  For the next hour I could only wonder what she meant.

Just as the sky grew dark, we reached our host’s place. It’s a custom to hug when you meet someone in Kashmiri households. Usually the elders would kiss your forehead while welcoming you and bidding farewell. And that is exactly how every member of the host family greeted us, as if they had known us forever- we were immediately made to feel at home.

As we entered the Drawing Room, a striking thing came to my notice- there was not a single piece of furniture. From end to end beautifully woven Kashmiri carpets were laid and cushions dotted the wall. ‘Everyone sits on the same level. There is no distinction between rich or poor, higher or lower class. Everyone is equal and everyone is equally served,’ my friend and host told us later. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Social Media while Travelling: Yes or No

In some of the most beautiful places that I have been to in the last many months, I didn't have an internet connection or any connectivity with the world. Be it Lakshadweep, Bhutan or Kashmir, even when I could have got a local SIM or used the hotel wifi, I chose not to.

I usually click loads of photos, make videos, timelapses and notes on my phone, but I prefer cutting off from the internet, social media and to most extent even phone calls completely during the travel duration (apart from the one short call to mom every night because she insists), be it a short 3 day trip or a 7-10 day trip. Somehow not being on the world wide web or not being available to attend calls or reply to whatsapp messages is something I always look forward to. It is kind of liberating (apart from creating the mystery of my whereabouts in the minds of a few people who I think care).

Professionally as a travel blogger, this perhaps isn't good. To increase the social media reach and influence, live updates are the best. I just wonder how people can have LIVE Instagram Stories all through their travel time; I completely fail to find a balance. (Of course on sponsored trips I do the updates, usually way more than what I promise and I don't hate them as long as I am having fun and getting paid to do that)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Vietnam travel tips for Indians

When it comes to budget travel or the first international holiday, we Indians tend to flock to South-East Asia and specifically Thailand. Just next to it is another beautiful and less explored country- Vietnam. Vietnam doesn’t only hold immense natural beauty, it has a rich history and is highly diverse. Best of all, it doesn’t come heavy on the pocket.

There is a lot to see and do in Vietnam- a cruise from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, walking in the Cu Chi Tunnels outside Ho Chi Minh City, visiting the War Remnants Museum, sailing through the Mekong Delta, experimenting street food on the Hanoi streets, partying with backpackers in Ho Chi Minh City, visiting the many historical sites and taking a peaceful walk through the countryside. Here is a list of 10 top travel tips that you would usually be doubtful of if you are planning to visit the country. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

When we met Prema on the train to Chennai

In February I was in the Chennai Express from Mumbai for a trip to Pondicherry. The plan had been impulsive but all my friends and I had managed to get confirmed tickets at the last minute.

In the train, a lady in her mid-40s, Prema, occupied the berth in front of us. When we woke up in the morning, we heard her talking on the phone and realised it's her birthday. She was on her way home in Chennai after meeting her son at his hostel and was disappointed that her entire birthday would be spent alone in the train. I had bought a chocolate bar cake the previous day for the train journey and we decided we would ask her to cut the cake.

As the train passed through an area of huge boulders and windmills somewhere in Andhra Pradesh, we opened the small cake packet, borrowed a plastic spoon from another co-passenger to be used as a knife, and put the cake in front of the lady for cutting. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other until then. She was taken by surprise as we sang the birthday song and with a huge smile on her face, cut the cake, overwhelmed. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Rishikesh: White Waters, Beaches, Adventure and My First Time as a Trip Leader

The rafts were parked on the shore just before the biggest rapid ‘The Wall’.

‘Anyone who is scared or anxious, you can walk on the beach and cross the stretch. You don’t need to raft down. It is not recommended for non-swimmers,’ the guides told us.

I got out of the raft and was walking towards the other one where my entire group stood to check with them. Before I could reach I was told they all were in for it. “We are going to do the Wall. If not now, then when,” they all said in unison. I felt proud. This was a set of complete newbies, first time rafters in this dangerous stretch, and their confidence was unbeatable.

9 out of 10 rafts flip at The Wall or get stuck in the whirlpool after hitting the rocks. But all four of our rafts crossed the huge waves, unharmed, quick. It was over in a matter of seconds. We had crossed the biggest rapid on the Ganga without coming anywhere close to flipping or getting stuck. The confidence level had just received a huge boost.

By the time the rafting ended at Shivpuri after completing a 28 km stretch, we saw the usual rafters getting into the boats to raft till Rishikesh. ‘It’s kids play,’ we thought, having just finished the longest and most difficult stretch on the Ganga. It was past 2 in the afternoon. Over 4 hours had passed, the energy levels had not gone down. Our spirits were soaring high.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Kashmir - The Man Who Belongs to Nowhere

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are my interpretation based on what I saw during my trip to Kashmir. They are of course, influenced by the incidents I witnessed and conversations I was part of, which made me realize how ignorant I was about Kashmiri people in general. This post, in no way, means to harm the sentiments or defame any person or organization at any point.

When I landed in Srinagar Airport two weeks back, I was expecting to see barbed wires everywhere with security forces at every nook and corner. I hardly saw any of it. It was as normal as any other Indian city. The Indian tricolor flies high right in front of the airport. Had I not known that there is a conflict in Kashmir, I would probably have thought I have landed in a beautiful land with the most hospitable (Kashmiri tehzeeb) and kind set of people, snow capped mountains looking down at me, pine and chinar trees standing tall and acres of saffron fields expanding to as far as the eyes could see. I didn’t feel insecure for a second. I didn’t feel unsafe. I felt exactly like a tourist visiting any other new place in the world. I kept wondering what the ‘unrest’ was that was being talked off so much in the news. Until one morning…

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: The Bogus Read by Divyamaan

Title: The Bogus Read
Author: Divyamaan
Pages: 289
Publisher: Leadstartcorp/Frog Books
Genre: Fiction

Getting the book:

I got this book back in December from the author for a review but due to my infrequent travels and impulsive planning, simply kept delaying reading the book. Although I carried it in my bag almost the entire time, this week I finally decided to pick it up and read the whole thing before I get busy again. The only thing I kept thinking the entire time that I was reading it was why I kept procrastinating for so long. It’s a superbly fun read. The title ‘The Bogus Read’ and the illustrations on the cover give the definite first understanding- this is not to be taken seriously. No ‘anti-nationalism’ intended. This is satire at its best.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Travel aficionados, visit the Heritage Transport Museum in Gurgaon

Wait, what? There is a Heritage Transport Museum in NCR? Where? Why have I never heard of it even after living in Delhi for so long?

These were the exact thoughts that went through my head when I read about the museum which was part of the itinerary of the Tigor Drive thismonth.

I checked their website and the first image that came to my notice was that of a rustic train engine at the entrance. I was sold! This place needed a visit right away. 
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