Tuesday, January 17, 2017

10 Awesome Reasons You Should Join This Trip to Odisha

Indian Bloggers

'Who goes to Odisha, wahan to sirf gaon hain,’ my best friend remarked several years ago. Probably you had a similar thought on reading about this trip. And that is where everyone is shortsighted. It is easier accepted that people outside Odisha do not know about what is in the state. Yes, Odisha takes pride in its village culture, but is also a hub of education (IIT, IIM and AIIMS all three have made their presence), has several growing and potential near future metro cities and is rich in history, culture and heritage. Remember Emperor Ashoka? After winning all of India, he was forced to relinquish power and pride right here in Odisha!


I thought I would give 5 reasons but as I started writing I realized there is more awesomeness there. So, here are 10 reasons why you must join us for this weeklong trip to Odisha:

1. It’s going to be an enriching trip

The trip is a mixed bag of sorts- heritage, culture, natural beauty, wildlife and adventure. You will get to know why a 12 year old kid committed suicide when the Konark temple was completed and how the Puri temple deities go through a body-change every 13-19 years (huge mystery there); you will witness the Eastern coast’s waves which are perfect for surfing, even better than Goa; you will sit in a small boat and go 10 kms into the Chilika lake in search of the dolphins and migratory birds; you will also go on a night hike to a beach to spot the largest nesting site of the Olive Ridley turtles- it's the only place in the world that sees them in such huge numbers. From adrenaline pumping to a peaceful beach escapade, this trip has it all.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My First Time on a Cruise Ship- Onboard MV Kavaratti

I don’t know many people who have ever been on a cruise ship. A cruise vacation does trigger a lot of curiosity and when we were headed to board MV Kavaratti for our first cruise vacation, I was definitely ecstatic. I had read everything about it available on the internet (and there isn’t much) and this post explores what my naive and curious mind experienced.

The Check-in Process

We reached the Lakshadweep Wharf and Passenger Facilitation Centre at Willingdon Island in Kochi and got the boarding passes from the SPORTS (Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports) office on the 1st floor. MV Kavaratti is a passenger-cum-tourist ship. Tourists were to check-in by 10 AM so as to avoid the crowd of the local passengers that came after that. The ship was scheduled to depart sometime in the afternoon.

There was a long queue for the security check and we proceeded with our luggage on trolleys. It didn’t take us long to cross this. The security definitely is strict, nowhere close to airport security though. There was a bottle of water in one of our bags and they got us to open the bag to make sure it’s just water and not alcohol. Carrying alcohol is strictly banned on board MV Kavaratti and in the Lakshadweep islands we were headed to.

From here, our entire luggage was tagged with our cabin numbers and was taken separately. We boarded a bus to head to the port, each one of us excitedly looking out of the windows to catch the first glimpse of the ship.

Getting the first look at MV Kavaratti docked at Willingdon Island, Kochi


Friday, January 06, 2017

Exploring Lakshadweep with the Samudram Package

The Samudram package of the Lakshadweep Tourism makes it possible for the average Indian to experience a cruise holiday. It’s not extravagantly costly and is right here in India. It is the only of its kind cruise vacation available in India both for Indians and foreigners.

My father had been planning this trip for well over a year and had done the booking months in advance. Yes, it is rarely possible to get tickets for the Samudram package at the last minute. (There were tourists with us who had paid higher rates to travel agents to book the package. Direct booking with Lakshadweep Tourism by calling or contacting them online is the best way and offers the cheapest rates)

Lakshadweep has restricted tourism and one needs to obtain permits in advance to enter any of the islands. We had booked directly with the Lakshadweep Tourism office and all our permits were taken care of by them. It was to be a 5 day 4 night cruise vacation from Kochi to 3 coral islands of Lakshadweep and back.

Early morning view of Kalpeni, Lakshadweep Islands, from the deck of MV Kavaratti

As the sailing dates came close, our excitement was building up. We had reached Kochi and got on-board MV Kavaratti, the huge cruise ship and our home for the next few days. We went around exploring the ship before the briefing session with the Tour Manager. Jafar is a very friendly and helpful guy, and guided us through the entire plan as per the package.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

When we got lost in Himalayan Forests- The Nag Tibba Trek

We began our trek to Nag Tibba and it was all going smoothly- the same endurance and strength and all of it in the middle of a forest. I was wondering what the different thing about this trek was that I would write on the blog. Guess what happened next? We got lost!

The Nag Tibba trek (3022 m) starts from the village of Pantwari and goes roughly 8 kms uphill. The highest point of the trek is a further 2 kms at a point called 'Jhandi'. We were at The Goat Village (Read about it here) having trekked till there the previous day. So half the route had already been covered. It was to be a half-day excursion to Nag Tibba and back.

After a healthy breakfast of mandwe-ke-roti ka sandwich, Amrit and I were headed for the trek. Mani, the TGV manager and Elita, a fellow blogger were to join us too. 

Panoramic view of the Garhwal region of Himalayas from the Nag Tibba trek, Uttarakhand. November 2016

Manita did tilak of all of us before we started. 'Go ahead with Nag devta's blessings', she told us.

We started from TGV around 10 and the plan was to be back by 2.30-3 for a late lunch. The trail starts off on flat land and slowly turns rocky and slippery. We were taking slight pauses as we walked up taking in the magical view of the valley at every turn.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Indian Village-Life Experience at ‘The Goat Village’, Nag Tibba

Reaching The Goat Village (TGV)

A few months ago I was invited for a stay at The Goat Village in Pantwari, 100 kilometres from Dehradun in Uttarakhand, on the Nag Tibba Trek route. Early one November morning amidst chilling temperatures, I reached Dehradun. I was to be joined by my school friend Amrit for the 3 day trip.

A day earlier, Purnima from TGV had got me in touch with our driver Surendra who told us that the cab would leave for Pantwari at 7 am. Loading our bags on the carrier, Amrit and I took the back seats in the cab, more out of compulsion than choice. (It was a welcome realisation that due to so many people with motion sickness on mountain roads, front seats in cabs are pre-booked and there aren’t many alternate transportation options!)

4 hours later we arrived at Pantwari village after a terrible journey with my motion sickness in full action. It was a relief to get out of the cab.

The view just after sunrise from our cottage. The Goat Village, Nag Tibba, Uttarakhand. November 2016

The Goat Village is a 4 km uphill trek from here. After a delicious vegetable maggi at one of the village shops for breakfast, we were headed to Laser Gaon sitting on top of a jeep along with Magan, our guide cum porter. This is the mid-point on the way to Goat Village and the last point until which motorable vehicles can go. It was a dusty but amazing 15 minute ride. The final 2 kms were to be trekked and a signboard to the Goat Village welcomed us.

‘It can’t be very difficult’, I thought, ‘it’s just 2 kms after all’.

How very wrong I was.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Love Letters from Darjeeling

Sitting silently in the tea gardens, the ropeway passing right over our heads, playing filmy games, we stared at the dark misty mountains in the distance and looked back at the last few days that had bonded us together so well and so fast. It had, after all, begun with one simple question.

Before the eventful morning of 27th November 2016, had someone asked me “What’s the craziest thing you have done in life?” I would have given it a long thought and probably come up with an answer that wasn’t crazy enough. That morning, things changed.

After a beautiful and most memorable trip to Bhutan, we were headed to Bagdogra airport to catch our flights back home. The trip had been emotionally as well as experientially overwhelming.

A late night walk on the streets of Darjeeling leading to poses with the star toy train.
Photo courtesy: Vyshakh. Darjeeling, November 2016
The previous night in the hotel room at Phuentsholing, our last night officially in Bhutan, we played one last round of ‘Ask a Question’. This time we had to say what we felt about each other after being together for a week. While I was speaking, Neeraj casually mentioned, “It would be great if you cancel your ticket and stay back for few more days”. It wasn’t to be taken seriously, but even I was in no mood to go back home. I did check the flight costs for rescheduling before I went to bed that night. The butterfly effect had been put in motion inadvertently.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Book Review: Tale O'12 by Biranchi N Acharya

Title: Tale O’12
Author: Biranchi N Acharya
Pages: 220
Publisher: BecomeShakespeare.com & Blogadda.com
Genre: Fiction

Getting the book:

What intrigued me about this book was the fact that it has been put together by a blogger. Various real life episodes – 12 in this case- are put together in a fictional manner. I believe, at some point, these stories were all blog posts in some form on the author’s blog and were put together coercively in the form of a book and published. Reading the book didn’t take very long- I think it was about 4-5 hours collectively over two days. I do wonder why the book is titled 'Tale O'12'- is it simply because there are 12 tales? Also, initially I thought there would be a co-relation between each story that results in a bigger overall story, but that is not the case and each story stands independently.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bhutan: The Trek to Tiger’s Nest ‘Taktsang’ Monastery

‘Is the trek difficult?’ ‘What if we are not able to do it?’ Similar questions had come up every time the Tiger’s Nest trek was discussed and Captain Nero AKA Neeraj, our team leader, had proudly talked about this fellow tripper of his ‘He was 140 kilos and I had dragged him till the top. So there is no way you won’t complete the trek’.

The Taktsang Monastery trek in Paro was scheduled on the 5th day of our Bhutan trip. The itinerary had mentioned this as ‘the highlight of the trip’ and probably this was the only thing about Bhutan I had known prior to starting research about the country (thank you facebook). No doubt, it is the most popular cultural icon of the country and even British Prince William and wife Kate have done the trek.

Personally I was not much worried having been lost in the jungle during a trek just a week ago. The endurance factor remained; the breathlessness with uphill climb was to be tackled; but definitely there was no way I wouldn’t complete the trek. The iconic photo I had seen of so many people with the Tiger’s Nest monastery in background had to be taken after all.

The majestic view of Bhutan's most beautiful monastery as seen from the trail, Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

Around 10.30 AM, we arrived at the base of the Tiger’s Nest trek, 6 kilometres from Nivanna, our resort (which was a further 6 km from Paro town). A beautiful flea market with local vendors greeted us and invited to shop. ‘We will come by while returning,’ we said and moved on.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

10 Reasons To 'Never' Visit Bhutan

Bhutan is awesome. There, I said it. This is why I will give you 10 reasons to never visit the country because, believe it or not, you will fall in love with the place and wouldn’t want to come back.

1. Getting in to Bhutan is easy

For Indians, getting in to Bhutan is superbly easy. You can, literally, just walk in. You can take the longer but beautiful road journey via the border town of Phuentsholing and get your entry permit into the country at the Permit office. Alternatively, you can take a flight directly to Paro Airport and get a visa on arrival stamped on your passport with hardly any questions asked. The same applies for Bangladeshi and Maldivian citizens too. Everyone else needs to pay a $250 per day fee to stay in Bhutan (this includes stay, food, guide charges etc. but is definitely costly). Perhaps, that is why you wouldn’t see many foreign tourists in the country.

The permit office in Phuentsholing, with the Indo-Bhutan border gate visible on the far right. Bhutan, November 2016

2. Bhutan is gorgeously beautiful

Not that I have been to any other country, but Bhutan is gorgeously beautiful. It’s not just naturally beautiful, its man-made architectural beauty is equally stunning. There is uniformity and there are loads of colours everywhere. You just may not find any other place as serenely beautiful as Bhutan if you visit this country first. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Prologue: A Bhutanese Love Affair

The bus took a sharp turn uphill and the most astonishing sight greeted our eyes. A sea of white clouds encompassed the landscape, a small red dot- the sun- was glowing in all its glory, setting every second, going down the horizon. It was our last sunset in Bhutan. The trip was coming to an end.
Seven days ago, 15 strangers from across India met at Bagdogra Airport for a trip to the Land of the Thunder Dragon- the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.

The trip, for me, was long-planned. After the failed Wimbledon trip, a trip to a foreign destination was way above anything else on my to-do list. Add to it, my curiosity about our trip leader – TL- Neeraj, one person who has highly inspired me for close to 3 years now, and his trips- What makes his trips so special that people say goodbyes with tears in their eyes and then write such amazing testimonials? I had wondered for long.

Every sight you look at, looks like a picture postcard out of the beautiful country. Bhutan, November 2016

After some amazing Himalayan views from my window seat, my flight arrived 35 minutes before time at Bagdogra one Sunday morning in November.

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