Saturday, October 21, 2017

Top 5 Things to do at Bir-Billing, Himachal Pradesh

Bir is a tiny town in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh that we explored during the Gandhi Jayanti long weekend. As we drove there, we crossed several ‘popular’ hill stations on our way including Palampur and Kangra Valley. I wasn’t expecting Bir to be the way we found it. Honestly, I am glad we visited and spent 3 days there.

At first reaching there one might wonder if the place has anything at all to offer since it is hardly commercialised. Here are top 5 things to do if you are visiting Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh:

1. Paragliding

Bir-Billing is considered the 2nd best place in the world for paragliding. (I Googled for the 1st, there seem to be a conflict between places in France and New Zealand) The 2015 paragliding world cup was held in Bir-Billing, yet the place remains unknown to larger sections of the Indian population.

This, perhaps, is the biggest reason why one would want to visit this hilly town. Register with one of the adventure companies in Bir or talk to your hotel manager to arrange it. You would be taken from Bir to Billing, a distance of about 15 kms, in about 45 minutes in a jeep. On reaching Billing, you would paraglide to reach the landing site in Bir anywhere between 10 to 25 minutes depending on wind conditions and your willingness to stay in air. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How I got published in a travel book

Getting one’s story published in a newspaper or magazine is one thing, but it getting published in an international book is something of a different level altogether. I have been published in several newspapers, but the joy right now of holding a real book with my story in it is impeccable. Here is the short backstory of how this happened.

One December 2016 night, I found an online travel story writing contest by a Portuguese company called Navigator Paper. I was high on my recent 'Returning from Bhutan-but cancelled flight tickets-went to Darjeeling' story (Read here) Without much thought, I squeezed the episode into under 2500 characters and submitted it for the contest and forgot all about it. Nothing really ever comes out of these random online international contests. How wrong I was.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Ladakh- Tortured Twice in Two Months

Oh, I love Ladakh. Let the title not misguide you.

When I went to Ladakh for the first time in June this year, I was awestruck by the insane natural beauty of the place. Brown mountains with ice capped peaks all around a desert with sand dunes, a perennial blue lake with no vegetation or plantation anywhere close to it till as far as the eye could see, an ancient town with yellow buildings falling apart in most places- it was beautiful. During the 11 day trip I realized a very important thing- Ladakh’s beauty was in all the road journeys we took and not just in the destination we arrived at. If one can appreciate these changing landscapes within a few kilometers, only then can they appreciate the beauty of this cold desert and that of life sustaining at such a remote place. Apart from this there is little to see there.

At K-Top, Khardungla in June 2017 when it was still snow covered due to a late summer

Friday, August 04, 2017

5 Must Haves in Your Travel Gear

I have been asked a few times in the last many months about the backpack, camera and other things I carry during my travels. I thought I would put them all together in a post here with recommendations so you know what to look for while making a purchase for your travel gear.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Afternoon at the Kargil War Memorial, Drass

If there was one thing I knew I didn’t want to miss on the Srinagar-Leh highway, it was the Kargil War Memorial at Drass. Having seen it so many times on TV over the years, I just had to pay a visit to this place.

The Kargil War Memorial is located 5 kms from Drass town, the second coldest inhabited place in the world, towards Kargil. We had been enchanted with the changing scenery on the highway since the morning that day and when we entered the Memorial, suddenly it was taken over by an unexplained feeling of patriotism. Such is the vibe of the place that stands in the shadow of the mountains that saw the 1999 Kargil War.
The Flag that measures 37 ft x 25 ft is hoisted on a pole 100 ft tall, Kargil War Memorial, Drass

As we were crossing Drass earlier, we spotted a long and high stone wall along the road. “It was constructed overnight during the war, so as to safeguard the highway which was under attack from enemy fire,” our driver had told us. We observed that the wall was crumbling at several places, having taken all the firing in order to not cut off the Ladakh region from the rest of Kashmir and in extension, India. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

10 Awesome Reasons You Should Join This Trip to Ladakh

So much has been said about it, so much has been written about it, so many pictures have been shared on social media from the place, but roadtripping through Ladakh is an experience incomparable to any other. It’s an experience you have to live at least once in your lifetime.

As you see the landscape change from lush green to rustic brown, from green trees to barren icy mountains, the blueness of the lakes to monasteries perched on top of cliffs, none of the pictures you have seen will do justice to the beauty right in front of you.

Join us this August and let the colourful Gompas and Buddhist prayer flags enchant you as we, a group of young travelers, head on a 10 day road trip to explore Ladakh, the land of high mountain passes, and India’s only high altitude cold desert. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Stargazing at Pangong Lake on a Chilly Summer Night

They say Pangong Lake offers one of the most clear night skies for star gazing. The day we reached Pangong, it was superbly windy and even in mid-June, it was freezing to be out in the open during day time. But there was the prospect of innumerable shooting stars being visible; so that night after dinner at our homestay, I headed out into the courtyard and took a seat with my neck craned upwards.

It was a cloudy night but as a few minutes passed, the sky cleared. There were stars, and a lot of them. There was a lot of light coming from the campsites still. I wished the light pollution could be done away with. After about half an hour, the cold was getting unbearable. I won't be surprised if I am told the temperature was sub-zero that night. The wind was making matters worse. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mumbai Memoir: The City That Lives On

When I put up a fun ad on Facebook last month before my short visit to Mumbai, asking friends to host me in their city, I included a few conditions. A prominent one was ‘Go on a walk post-midnight and have idli-sambar’. The freedom of walking around the place at any time without feeling scared, the availability of food at all times, the ease of traveling from one corner of the city to the other in the local train- these defined the good part of life in the fast metropolis for me when I lived there.

Three years ago when I first visited Mumbai for a month long internship, the city had cast a spell on me. The Bollywood town was too fascinating for the filmy me and I wanted to explore every shoot location that I had seen in films shot in the city.

I remember walking around Juhu for several hours just to discover its nooks and crannies- the star houses, the beaches, and the eateries, Prithvi Café, the PVR and Chandan Cinema. Another time I walked around the Fort area, looking around for the rich history and gothic architecture of the buildings. I stood in front of CST for several long minutes marveling at its beauty. I always liked these solo long walks- not a big purpose in mind but discovering the city one step at a time- things tourists probably would never get time to explore.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Evening at the Market in Leh

‘They have board games,’ I exclaimed seeing the poster of a travel café 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.

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