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.

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. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tata Tigor Styleback Pre-Launch First Drive Experience

Last weekend I was invited to Delhi by Tata Motors and Indiblogger for driving and experiencing the brand new offering from the carmaker- the Tata Tigor. Being marketed with the keyword ‘Styleback’, the Tigor indeed has a stylish and modern look that would appeal to the youth.

The Tigors all standing at Andaz Delhi in the early morning hours. Photo: Tata Motors

The Tigor is a compact sedan and as Mr Pratap Bose, the Head of Design at Tata Motors, put it, ‘The car is aimed at consumers who are looking at upgrading from their hatchbacks but are not willing to go into the premium sedan category.’

Friday, March 24, 2017

6 Trending Places Indians can go backpacking on budget

If there is huge growth of one set of travellers in India right now, it is the young backpackers. The ones who simply want to pick up the backpack and leave for a budget holiday with just a basic plan in place. Here I enlist 6 popular backpacking destinations from India and abroad which are in vogue among Indians right now and definitely on my to-do list:

1. Ladakh

A lot has already been said and written about Ladakh in a very short span of time. The unspoilt valleys, the barren mountains, the vast fields, the blue lakes - a place which was almost undiscovered and beyond budget less than 10 years ago, is now already on its way to getting too commercialized. But hey, there is still time! It’s still not one of the cheapest places to visit, nor very easily accessible. But backpacking? Yes, you ought to do that.

Getting there: One can fly in and out of Leh directly. Flights are cheap in the off season. During the peak season, the prices can be notoriously high. Flying in through Srinagar and roadtripping via Kargil and Drass is a better option and also helps in gradual acclimatization. Take the Manali-Leh highway  if you like.

Best Time to Visit: May-August (June-July is the peak season) Winters are too harsh.

Landscapes like these dominate every view of Ladakh

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Traveler’s Odyssey: Meeting Strangers

When he decided to go on a trip with a random group of people, he had no clue what to expect or how things might turn out to be. ‘It would be a new experience’, he had imagined and ventured out without a second thought. Weeks later when he took the train back home, all he could think of was the time spent together with this random group of people and how surprisingly well they had managed to forge a bond.

“What has she studied?”

“What do his parents do?”

And similar questions his mom asked him when he told her about achievements of this random group of people. He had answers to none of them. ‘Why is knowing these things even important?’  he thought and was certain they all would have the same thought. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Post Office in Thimphu, Bhutan

Did you know you can get featured on a postage stamp in Bhutan? Yes, one which is legally valid and can be used for sending letters or postcards!

Receiving a postcard with a postage stamp with your photo on it- can there be a better feeling for any philately enthusiast?

Thimphu, the capital city of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, is unique in lot of ways. It is the only capital city which doesn’t have a single traffic light. The buildings- be it a roadside café or the best hotels- they are all intricately designed. I was in awe of the architecture of the entire country as soon as I first saw it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

How to avoid sea sickness even in mild sea

Before we went on the Lakshadweep cruise trip, the term ‘sea-sickness’ had meant something very vague in my head. For some reason I used to put in the league of ‘homesick’ when I should have put it with ‘motion-sickness’. So a few days before the trip, Google came to my rescue and I read about this menace.

‘Carry medicines and you should be fine,’ came the unanimous response from every web page. Even I wondered how difficult could this possibly be.

It’s one thing to think it’s going to be easy and another to actually face it.

When we set sail on-board MV Kavaratti from Kochi, initially the excitement didn’t let any other thought enter the mind. But soon enough we were to realise what being sea-sick actually meant. Our body takes time to adjust to the swaying motion of the ship. Usually while smooth sailing, the ship doesn’t move much. But in case there are winds and the weather isn’t good, the ship can sway very highly (as we experienced on the last day on board).

‘The weather is great, so it is highly unlikely to get sick. But in case you do, don’t worry. Soon enough your body will adjust to the motion and you will be fine tomorrow,’ Jafar had told us during the briefing on Day 1.

My mom was the most badly affected and we had to get her the strongest tablets from the hospital on-board. The medical staff seemed prepared for this and was distributing the tablets without much questioning.

I have huge motion-sickness, but probably the excitement of being on a ship was psychologically making sure I don’t get sea-sick. (I did feel a little nauseous though and had negligible food on-board while the ship was sailing from that day. You should have seen the huge amount of tasty food that was wasted on that first night- thanks to everyone realising that eating wasn’t easy)

Here are some of the precautions and remedies I feel would help you out in case of sea-sickness. These are all from my experience of those 5 days in the ship and so may or may not work for everyone.

  1. If you usually have motion sickness, you are more likely to get sea sick.
  2. Usually the first day would be bad; then your body would get used to the motion of the ship; there is no guarantee though. My mom remained affected on all days through the trip.
  3. If you are feeling sea-sick, eat less and avoid milk products.
  4. Take medicines, don't avoid them thinking you would be okay if you fall asleep. It just might make the situation worse. Take the doctor’s advice.
  5. A cabin in the centre of the ship is less affected than one on either the front or back ends; similarly the lower the level of the cabin, the lesser the effect of the movement of the ship.
  6. Fresh air is a big saviour, try and get out of your cabin, the fresh air hitting the face helps.
  7. So does staring out at the horizon. I think it helps in making your brain understand the relative motion which isn’t visible inside the ship.
  8. The smaller the ship, the larger the effect of motion and hence more chances of falling sea sick. Go on the Harmony of the Seas hoping no sea-sickness can affect you because it’s so huge.
  9. Don't go to sleep immediately after a meal. It might increase the tendency to throw up.
  10. Sleep with your head facing the forward direction of the ship.
  11. Keep yourself involved in activities. Sea sickness like motion sickness is to a certain level psychological. Staying distracted and not thinking about your churning stomach helps. Just enjoy the experience of being in the middle of nowhere, with water all around, the magical feeling might just keep you occupied and distracted and away from sea-sickness.

I was feeling a little nauseous and so was sitting on the stairs of the top deck of the ship on the second night. And to keep myself distracted, believe it or not, I was writing pointers for this post. My sister clicked a picture of the moment too!

Sitting on the deck of MV Kavaratti, noting down pointers for this post, to avoid getting sea sick. September 2016
And remember, sea-sickness is very normal. Since our bodies are not used to keep swaying with the sea waves, it affects us. And it affects a huge number of people out there. So there is nothing to worry. Don’t let it ruin your dream cruise vacation!

If you have some more recommendations on how to avoid sea sickness, do let me know in the comments below.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

You don’t always need a plan in life

I have always been a person with a well decided plan- Be it what's tomorrow's agenda or what I will be doing in the coming months. While heading for a trip, I would have each and every day's itinerary chalked out- where to stay, options of things to do, the possible commute and so on. Because of how much it worries me, I can never be without a plan, or so I thought until recently.

This past month saw me traveling and going on trips I never planned for. I have been on the road for almost the entire month. All the trips were impulsive and were decided at the spur of the moment. There was never enough time to book confirmed tickets and return tickets were not even given the slightest thought. But the month that has gone by has been crazily memorable.

Kayaking at Dandeli. A few minutes after this my friends thought it would be fun to throw me into the water when I was not even wearing the life jacket (and I don't know swimming). It was fun!

Running on the highway to catch my bus in Mumbai, climbing boulders in historic Hampi, getting dunked in the waters at Dandeli Sanctuary, witnessing the pristine beaches and sunset at Gokarna, conversations till the wee morning hours at the Thalassa beach in Goa and then returning to Mumbai only to start another unplanned trip in less than a week. Clicking photos in front of random colourful buildings in Pondicherry and then sitting by the sea under the full moon, staying over for 3 days in Chennai to see the city and spending all the time talking, playing and at the end bidding emotional goodbyes to people who also decided to stay back. Finally visiting Bangalore, travelling in the upper expensive city bus after figuring out the coding of the bus numbers and staying with friends without informing my relatives in the city until the very last day when it was their anniversary and I arrived at the doors with a cake in hand. The month has seen me witness innumerable goodbyes and emotional farewells at various railway stations and airports…

Friday, February 10, 2017

Scuba Diving in Lakshadweep’s Coral Islands- When I Walked on the Seabed

Scuba diving was perhaps the most difficult to accomplish adventure I always had in mind before it became a reality few months back. It actually turned out to be pretty easy when I got to do it. And you can do it too without even knowing how to swim.

Scuba diving was perhaps the one experience I was looking forward to most, after the ‘travelling on a cruise’ bit, during our LakshadweepTrip. There was as much anxiety as there was excitement. I have never been a very water friendly person, but my interest in everything adventurous starting from rafting in Rishikesh back in May 2011, made sure experiencing scuba diving went into my adventure travel bucket list. I didn’t really care where I did it, as long as I did it.

After having missed scuba on Kavaratti Island, thanks to apprehension, I was first in line at Kadmat Island the next day to enquire about the dive. Kadmat, as per what I had read online, is one of the best dive locations in India. Sadly, there was no dive happening that day due to low visibility. I did snorkel in the beach there, and I would realise the next day that this was going to be of huge help.

Am I on camera under water? Scuba diving in Lakshadweep Islands
The next day on Kalpeni Island, I enrolled myself at the dive centre and filled out the mandatory form that I love calling ‘death warrant’. We were a total of 10-12 people going for the dive.

The instruction session began at the dive centre by PADI certified divers. This was not a certificate programme and we were to follow complete instructions of our guides. They were going to be the ones who control the pressure in the cylinder and take us around underwater. We simply had to follow their instructions, indicate in case there was a worry, and enjoy the views.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Hampi-Dandeli-Gokarna (and Goa): The Tale of a Crazy Roadtrip with Strangers

Indian Bloggers

Two months ago I had gone to Bhutan with This Guy’s On His Own Trip’s Neeraj Narayanan. The trip had been a crazy beginning of things and probably will remain etched in my memories forever. This time three of us- Jyoti, Lavanya and I- from the Bhutan and Darjeeling gang were joining him for the Republic Day long weekend’s Hampi-Dandeli-Gokarna group trip. 18 people, 4 days, 3 destinations, a roadtrip and a lot of crazy adventures.

Running in the middle of the highway

My bus for Hampi was scheduled to leave at 5.40 PM from Goregaon on the eve of Republic Day. Having taken a lot of outstation buses in the last one year, I was standing at the exact spot where the buses stop on the highway. Tracking the bus the entire time on GPS, a few minutes after the scheduled time I saw the bus approaching. Instead of stopping, it continued its journey over the Aarey flyover, unfazed, without caring that it was increasing my heartbeat with every moment and bringing in anxious ‘I missed my bus’ thoughts. I stood dazed wondering how this could be happening for real.

The group at the ruins of Hampi. Photo: Ishpreet

In the next 30 seconds, the emergency helpline calmly informed me over phone that the bus would stop on the other end of the flyover and I should hurry to catch it. As the afternoon sun blared in all its glory and one after the other auto-rickshaws turned down my request citing the just one-kilometre distance, I helplessly ran in the middle of the highway amidst the traffic, my suitcase in tow, sweating profusely and telling the conductor to wait for me. As I neared the bus a grin spread across my face- Not because I wasn’t missing the bus after all, but because I knew a crazy trip had just begun. It was a sign of things yet to come.

Friday, February 03, 2017

A Dreamy Sail aboard MV Kavaratti- Cruise to Lakshadweep

In just about 4 hours of being on board MV Kavaratti, I had gone around exploring the entire ship even before it could start sailing. I was already in love with the experience. Read here.

Around 3 PM, the ship finally started its journey from the port. The entire process of getting undocked and into the main waters took a long time. A smaller vessel first pulled the ship away from the dock and then turned it 180 degrees around so that the nose of the ship faced the open waters. Then slowly the cruise moved away from Willingdon Island and towards the Arabian Sea. Almost all the tourists seemed to be up here on the top deck to see the entire procedure. The blazing heat of the sun was disregarded as fascination took over.

MV Kavaratti stands in the middle of the Arabian Sea at Lakshadweep

We crossed many ships standing at the huge port. None of them were bigger than ours for sure, although some looked classier. I had never seen so many cruise ships so close before this day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

11 Pictures from the Sunset Cruise on the Alleppey Backwaters

In the age of digital and social media today, whether you want it or not, you do look for beautiful sceneries and backdrops for your next social media share or for the long awaited cover photo change.

On our trip to Kerala, the Alleppey Backwaters provided one such opportunity when any angle you look at, any where you focus your camera, you get yet another beautiful setting not to be missed clicking.

One can easily take a short 2 hour ride in one of the motorboats or one of the longer half-day or full-day rides to explore the hidden charms of the backwaters in Alleppey.

Here is a collection of photographs I clicked during our sunset cruise on a small motorboat in the Alleppey Backwaters.

Small motor boats stand at the entrance of the Alleppey Backwaters, Kerala

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. (Read: My First Time on a Cruise Ship- Onboard MV KavarattiWe 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.

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