Sunday, 18 December 2016

6 Best Things About My Year: 2016

It’s always fun to rewind the year gone by. I’m so, so excited to talk about 2016, as it has been a fabulous year for me. After I got married last December, I moved to Mumbai in January. So, I started travelling right in the beginning of the year. What makes me happy about 2016 is that I didn’t plan most of my travels, yet I travelled quite a lot! I relied heavily on what came my way, except for Arunachal Pradesh, which I did on my own.

My different strokes :-)

2016 was an epic year for me in many ways. Besides my travels, I have been on a roll as a blogger, and it has been a year of personal growth as well. I believe travel has helped me in the new phase of my life, too. It has enriched me as a person – I’m more tolerant of people, more respectful of life, and I have learnt to hold on to what is good. Marriage and domesticity have changed my life completely. Besides my journeys on the road, 2016 took me through a lot of new experiences. It is interesting how being with a person can unveil so many varied aspects of life.

But, I’m still a traveller, and I will be a traveller all my life.  

So why was 2016 an epic year for me?

I got to tick off two of my bucket-list countries.

Italy - Venice and Puglia (Southern Italy)
Jordan - at the Dead Sea

I think the best part about 2016 was that I travelled to Italy and Jordan – two international destinations in one year. I mean for me, it’s a big deal! I’m happy like a child.

Italy was so special. Everything about the trip was so exciting – it was my first international holiday with my husband, my foray into Europe, the experience of emirates airlines, the charms of Venice, the offbeat Puglia (Southern Italy) and the delectable Italian food.

I got back to living in Mumbai.

Noshing through Mumbai's street food.

I had sojourned in Mumbai for a few months in 2013, which gave me a chance to experience it like a local. Later, I moved to Hyderabad to stay with my family. And, now I’m back to Mumbai again.

The best thing that I have done in Mumbai after returning is, taste its street food and various cuisines. The credit goes to my husband, who plays my guide and makes me experience the culinary side of Mumbai.   

I reviewed a couple of beautiful properties in India.

Doing nothing at Lakshman Sagar, Rajasthan.
Taking in the beauty of Olaulim Backyards, Goa.

I love experiential stays. I like to stay at places that have some character and charm. Fortunately, this year, I got to stay at a couple of unique properties in India – Lakshman Sagar in Pali, Rajasthan and Olaulim Backyards in Goa.

Lakshman Sagar is a blend of heritage, rusticity and luxury, while Olaulim Backyards is an abode of lushness and wild natural beauty.

I got back to travelling alone with Arunachal Pradesh.

Mingling with the Monpas, Arunachal Pradesh

I hadn’t travelled alone for a while until Arunachal Pradesh happened. It was my long-due trip. Thus, it was important. Plus, I was foraying into the ‘seven-sister’ Northeast India. My travel in Arunachal Pradesh added a lot to my year – I discovered some unique villages, tribes and cultures, tasted a different cuisine and got to stay with a Monpa family. But, I also remember my Arunachal trip for the challenges and the wee hours. I changed four planes to reach Lilabari (Assam) from where I took a taxi to reach Ziro Valley (Arunachal).     

I’d also like to acknowledge the hospitality of the Air India staff on my flight from Kolkata to Lilabari. The air hostess offered me some extra snacks for my onward journey. It was sweet. 
    
I got to unravel the hidden beauty of Chhattisgarh – my new home state.

Soaking in the quiet beauty of Devpahari, Chhattisgarh

I belong to the mountains of Uttarakhand. I have lived a decade in Lucknow, and another in Delhi. I have experienced Hyderabad as a local, and now I’m in Mumbai. I love my ‘nomadic’ life. I can’t really call any one state or city my own. I am proud to have lived in so many different parts of India.

Chhattisgarh, my husband’s home state, is now my new home state. I get a chance to travel there quite often. I have explored a little bit of the state, but there’s a lot to be discovered.

I have been on a roll as a travel blogger.

Enjoying the high as a travel blogger.

I was happy to be featured by quite a few eminent publications and websites as one of the top travel bloggers. The Hindu, Makemytrip, Thrillophilia, and CreditDonkey acknowledged me for my solo travels and blogging. It always feels good to be appreciated for what I enjoy doing.

So, that was my 2016.

What was the best thing about your 2016? Share away!
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Friday, 16 December 2016

9 Food & Brews To Try From A ‘Monpa’ Kitchen

It was my hostess Lei Choren’s kitchen, at Kalden Home Stay, that introduced some of the authentic Monpa dishes to me. At first, my hosts were a little wary of serving me their regular food, as they thought I might not like it. The aroma of cheese used in their food is quite strong and not many people are able to appreciate it. But, I insisted on having their food, and they were happy to prepare different ‘Monpa’ dishes for me. In fact, they didn’t just make me try their dishes, but also taught me a few basic words related to food – Tosang (food), Kamtang (veggies) and Ja (chai/tea).

  

My first evening at their home began with a cup of delicious black tea with a hint of cardamom and clove flavours in it. They were so gracious to offer me tea whenever I wanted. I guess a cup of good tea makes the experience of being at a place even better. Don’t you think so?


Well, before I unravel the Monpa dishes and brews, let me tell you a bit about Monpa gastronomy – their typical food ingredients are chillies, maize, soya beans, barley, local cheese, and fresh home-grown veggies. Also, they like to have a lot of non-vegetarian dishes.  
       


Chicken prepared with Libichura (Soya bean)
I loved Monpa style chicken dishes. Although their chicken preparation was totally different from how it’s usually prepared in North India or anywhere else for that matter, it was delicious. They cook chicken with soya bean and local cow milk cheese. What I appreciate about their cooking is the simplicity. Their cooking, though some of their dishes take hours to cook, is not very elaborate or complex.


Thenthuk
Thenthuk is a noodle soup made with Maida, veggies and pieces of meat. It’s yummy and wholesome, too. I enjoyed having it. 


Phenang Khongba
Phenang khongba is one of the Monpa dishes that take a lot of cooking time. It’s made with maize and beans, and takes around 6 hours to cook. Monpas relish it so much that they prepare large portions of it, so that they can have as much as they like.   


Momos with spicy chutney                        
Although momos are quite popular everywhere, the momos from a Monpa kitchen are a totally different experience. You can have them steamed or fried. My hostess prepared a very nice roughly ground chutney to enjoy with it. 


Fish with green leafy veggies
I’m particularly fond of fish. So yes, I relished the fish preparation that was served to me. It was a watery dish with fish pieces in it, along with saag (spinach).

Monpas mostly eat rice with all their dishes. I guess that’s because rice is easier to cook than chapattis. However, my hosts, at my behest, were sweet enough to prepare chapattis for me on one occasion.

Also, they like to eat a little bit of local butter with rice, which is a delicious add-on.  


Cabbage with Maida chapattis
Cabbage with Maida chapattis was my favourite. The veggie was so simply made with just salt, red chillies and nothing much really, but it was so delicious and homey. It goes really well with Maida chapattis.



The beverages I tried at the Monpa house –

Arak
Arak is Monpa tribe’s local alcoholic brew made with fermented rice that they like to enjoy in the evenings. I didn’t really like its taste that much, but the intoxication was slow and nice. It’s a good nightcap I’d say.

Arak goes well with chicken dishes.   


Bangchang
Bangchang is also a local alcoholic beverage in Arunachal Pradesh made with fermented rice, kiwi or maize. The taste is somewhat sour, which is easier to like. But, I found it a little hard for me. I had a headache the next day.


Butter tea
I was very curious to sip the butter tea popular among the Monpa folks. Well, it’s good to try, but you’d get back to your own kind of tea quite soon. The tea is so full of butter that it barely tastes like tea. But, that’s my opinion. You might like it!


It was a unique experience to try different Monpa dishes and brews at a Monpa home. I’d say it was a total break from what I have on my plate, in my everyday life. Thus, it was interesting and invigorating. Food is the best way to live a different life. It was almost like biting a slice of a different world.

What about you? Have you experienced a totally unique gastronomy on your travels? 
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Monday, 12 December 2016

A Road Trip In Chhattisgarh

Exploring Chhattisgarh on a road trip is a thrilling experience. To be honest, I had no idea Chhattisgarh was so beautiful until I got a chance to visit Korba, a small town 113 km from Bilaspur. The bucolic charms and the picture-perfect landscapes that I got to glance through on my way were just too mesmerizing!  


I believe a road trip is the best way to experience a place. Driving your own vehicle gives you freedom and spontaneity. You can drive at your own pace, get down on whim and spend as much time as you like at your desired location.

Also read Hyderabad-Bangalore Road Trip In 24 Photos


Chhattisgarh is fabulous. I had heard about the Chitrakote Falls, the Bastar art and many temples and palaces of historical significance in the state, but I had no idea about its natural beauty. I’m particularly drawn towards the rural beauty of any place, and Chhattisgarh has plenty of it. You may drive through any part of the state, and you are likely to find sprawling farm fields, scenic water bodies, pretty white temples, mud huts, cattle with their shepherd, and tribal folks carrying out their daily tasks.  


My road trip (along with my fellow travellers) began from Bilaspur station, a very pretty, vintage style building built in 1890. I was hopeful of seeing a lot of lushness along the way, and to my delight, I got to see a lot more than I expected. There were lots of villages on our way. I felt like getting down at every point to take photos.


My first stop where I couldn’t keep myself from snapping photos was at a lotus pond, which had a little white temple near to it. To add some more spunk to my frame, there was also a bunch of young boys playing in the water. Leaving behind that sight, we went farther. Another point where we stopped to admire the landscape was Khutaghat, which is 25 km from Bilaspur. It’s a dam and a river. The whole landscape looks like an island with many birds to spot. Besides, it’s a great sunset point for the locals.  


Well, that was just the hint of what lied ahead. As we drove farther into the heart of Chhattisgarh, there were dense forests, deserted lakes, rivers and waterfalls, rocky hills and mountains. Perhaps the most amazing place in Chhattisgarh is Satranga (at least I think so) – the roads are so clean and beautiful. I felt like getting down anywhere randomly and just spending a lazy day with nothing on my mind. 

Satranga is on the way to Devpahari, which is locally known as a picnic spot 60 km from Korba. Devpahari is a cluster of rocks and waterfalls. It’s a perfect place to take rest after a long road trip – take a dip into the waters or simply recline on a rock to soak up some sunshine with the gurgling harmony of the falls. The idea is to surrender to the beauty of the place.     


Well, I have just begun my tryst with Chhattisgarh. There are many journeys ahead, and I'm excited to share my experiences with you. So, stay tuned! 

What about you? What has been your favourite road trip in India so far?

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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

10 Reasons To Love A ‘Beach’ Holiday

There’s something about beach holidays. They set you free. Although I’m more of a mountain lover, I can’t resist the ecstasy the beaches offer. I believe everyone should experience beaches once in a while. There’s so much within you that needs to be unlocked, and I guess beaches tickle the inner child in you and let you loose.

As the New Year is around the corner, I’m sure all of you must be planning to go somewhere or the other. So, let me gear you up for a ‘beachy’ destination –


Beach holidays are fun.
I know I’m stating the obvious, but I want to stress on the point that a beach destination sets something right in you. Beaches have the ability to extract the ‘true’ you.

Beaches mean relaxation.
The moment you think of a beach, you think of relaxation. Reclining under a shack with your feet up and feeling the wind in your hair… Is there anything better than that?  


Beaches mean ‘do-nothing’.
Yes, beaches mean lazing around. You don’t have to have things on your mind, or a check-list to complete. You can read, talk, gaze or sleep, and it’d possibly be your happiest day!

A stroll or a run by the beach is therapeutic.
Strolling or running by a beach is one of the most carefree activities. It helps you leave behind your stress and simply surrender to the joy of the tides. Besides, there are so many water sports that you can enjoy.


Beaches stir up romance.
Wouldn’t you agree that when you are with your sweetheart at a beach, the love just gets better? If you ask me, it feels like life is an endless poetry.

Beaches are a ‘solo traveller’s best buddy.
I don’t think you can ever feel lonely at a beach. In fact, a beach vacation gives you an excellent chance to rendezvous with yourself and get a little pensive.


Beaches are a great way to connect with your family.
Beaches are not just good for romance and solo time, but they are ideal for a family time too. How about some unhindered time with your mom, dad and siblings?  

It’s great to watch sunrises and sunsets from a beach.
Watching the sun rise from the horizon or fade away in the sky is simply incredible. But, I have a special fondness for sunrises. While I have watched several beach sunsets, I’m yet to witness a sunrise from a beach.


Beaches are beautiful.
As a photographer, I’d say beaches make the best photographs. A beach may look very plain in the first instance, but as you give it some time and soak in its air, there are a thousand possibilities that you can capture through your camera.

Beaches are a writer’s favourite escape.
I’d definitely like to run away to a beach to write. I can picture myself with my laptop under a shack – just my heart, my thoughts and my writer’s ink.


What about you? Do you have a ‘beach holiday’ in the pipeline?
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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Top 5 Places In Indonesia I’d Like To Explore

Although I didn’t mention Southeast Asia on my travel bucket-list, I find Indonesia absolutely stunning. There’s something unusual about Indonesia that evokes my wanderlust. The amazing volcanic islands, idyllic beaches, tropical forests and diverse ethnic groups make me want to visit Indonesia. Besides, I have a feeling that Indonesia is an easy-going country, and it's somewhat like India.  

Since I’m done with most of my travels this year, I’m looking out for new destinations for the next year. If I get a chance, I’d love to explore Indonesia –

Bogor

I just happened to see a few glimpses of Bogor on Television recently, and I found it beautiful. Later, I got to read about it, which just built up my curiosity. From what I have read about Bogor, it seems to be a charming place despite the crazy traffic and the chaos. I believe it's a kind of place that takes time to grow on a visitor, and I love such places.

There’s quite a lot that one can do in Bogor – history and culture to admire in the old monuments - the Bogor Palace, the Cathedral and Masjid Harakatul Jannah to name a few, trendy cafes and restaurants at Taman Kencana Street, the very famous Kebun Raya Bogor (Bogor Botanical Gardens) and some delicious Indonesian cuisines at Suryakencana Street Food. Besides, the locals of Bogor are quite friendly, which should add to the joy of exploring.

Bogor is certainly not a destination that you can explore in just a day. To soak in its true essence, you need to plan a stay of at least 2-3 days, or more. Thus, it’s important to pick a nice place to stay – Hotel Aston Bogor.

Well, it’s always helpful to do a good research on accommodation before a trip. Traveloka.com has some great options.

Image source here

Bali

Of course, I have to visit Bali. To be honest, I don’t really know much about Bali, but I want to visit it for its sheer island beauty. Whatever I have seen of Bali, so far, has left me awestruck. I’d like to spend a carefree, laze-around kind of a holiday in Bali.

Image source here

Lombok

I’d like to visit Lombok because it’s lesser-known and absolutely gorgeous. Who can resist its white-sand beaches, lush forests and fascinating hiking trails? I have heard you get to pass through scenic tobacco and rice fields. I’m sure it’s going to be my kind of a place.

Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is on my wish-list for its old sights and attractions, great gastronomy and culture. I’d love to wander its main street and the narrow lanes to snap photos of pretty street arts, puppet makers, silversmiths and the interesting food vendors.

Image source here

Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo looks magnificent. I don’t think I’d miss it if I’m ever in Indonesia. It would be a totally different experience to witness an active volcano. Besides, Mount Bromo is a fantastic place for landscape photography. I can’t wait to capture the rising sun and the entire landscape bathed in its mellow light.

What about you? Which place has intrigued you recently?

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