Wednesday, 26 April 2017

9 Reasons Why My Itchy Feet Love Rajasthan

Rajasthan is my absolute favourite destination in India. There’s some undefined magic about it. The thought of penning this post birthed while I was going through some of my old photographs of Rajasthan – Udaipur, my first solo trip ever, the epic desert safari, the splendid Mehrangharh Fort, the countryside of Pali and so much more. Even the reminiscences brought so much of thrill to my veins.

Rajasthan is quite a huge state, and I’d say I have seen a very little of it. There’s so much to explore and experience in this fascinating state that I’ll have to take several trips to cover the length and breadth of it.

Here’s why my Facebook fans love Rajasthan and here's why I love it –

The aura of another world
Perhaps the first thing to love about Rajasthan is that it exudes so much of effortless royalty and mystic that it almost feels like another world. It’s about the feeling that you get when you are in Rajasthan that’s just so exclusive. No other place makes you feel the way Rajasthan does.

World-class hospitality of the locals
The Rajasthani folks know the knack of making their guests feel at home. I have always felt loved and honoured wherever I have travelled in Rajasthan. Had it not been their hospitality, I wouldn’t have been so encouraged to travel alone.

The hotels are so comfy
Although I always like to stay at home stays, I have enjoyed my hotel stays in Rajasthan a lot. Whether it’s Udaipur, Jodhpur or Jaisalmer, I have always got perks like free pick-ups (train stations/airports), WiFi and great care of the hotel staff.

I’d like to visit Jaipur this year (where I have never been) and stay at places like Jal Mahal Jaipur for a taste of royalty and Orchid Hotels for its pure blend of class and comfort.

It’s a photographer’s paradise
Yes, I’d like to use the word ‘paradise’ for Rajasthan when it comes to photography. There’s a variety of stuff to capture through your lens. Besides the obvious attractions like palaces, forts, temples and lakes, the ordinary stuff like the narrow alleys and the homes are also so intriguing. It’s like wherever you roam, you get something to hold your attention.

The slow life
I absolutely love the laid-back air of Rajasthan. I feel there’s no need to rush or tick off anything in Rajasthan. It’s a place where one should spend days without a return ticket. I haven’t done that yet, but would definitely like to.

The rusticity
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you should know that I love rural tourism. I like to explore the countryside of a place, and Rajasthan has tons of rustic charms. The best part is that the rusticity of Rajasthan is beautifully blended with its regality, which makes it even more mesmerising.

The ‘traveller-friendly’ atmosphere
Rajasthan has a certain festivity and fervour in the air. The ‘wanderlust’ vibe of travellers from all across the world rubs off on you. It’s fun to see people soak in the beauty of Rajasthan. It’s also an excellent chance to meet like-minded travellers, and know their perspectives on Rajasthan and travel in general.

It’s a place of beautiful sunrises and sunsets
Rajasthan is a place where you’d want to wake up early just to watch the first gleam of sunshine, and hear the temple bells, the morning market buzz and many little everyday nuances…and end the day with a glass of wine as the orange ball of fire hides behind the Aravallis.

It can never get hackneyed
Even though Rajasthan is a tourism giant, it still has an offbeat quality to it. Be it the experience of a desert safari, folk music and dance show or marvelling at the grandeur of a palace, there’s always something fresh to take in for a curious traveller.     

WHAT’S YOUR favourite thing about Rajasthan?

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Monday, 17 April 2017

What You Men Should Wear On The Road?

Every traveller has his own whims and quirks – a certain style of travelling. Some travellers like to be planned and organised, while some are spontaneous; some are introspective, while some are free-spirited and adventurous. Thus, each traveller has something unique to radiate.

Also, a traveller reflects a lot about him by what he wears on the road. Most of us are a ‘comfy pair of jeans’ kind of travellers, because a good pair of jeans has the three most important traits of a traveller – robust, tenacious and cool. Today, I have three amazing male blogger friends of mine, who have some valuable insights to share about their respective travel styles and what they wear on the road. It’s not just a ‘women’s world! Our men have the challenges, too. So, let’s hear them out –      

Also check out what my – Facebook Fans have to say about their travel style.

Tim Blight of UrbanDuniya

Tim’s travel style – I am a fairly intrepid traveller - I love going to off-the-beaten-track places which are often overlooked as destinations. I love to learn about the history and the different customs and cultures of people all around the world, including the quirks which make us different. Some people would say that I'm adventurous, but really, I like things to be a bit comfortable too - I'd rather squash into a minivan filled with locals to go up a mountain rather than trek for days!

What Tim likes to wear on the road – I have a couple of essentials that I pack - comfortable pants (I don't care if I'm the only person wearing cargo pants since 2005; long flights and skinny jeans are a bad combination!!). A couple of T-shirts or shirts, sneakers that are rough enough to explore in, but decent enough to walk into a restaurant with, and a down jacket - it protects from the cold, compresses to fit in a bag, and feels like a blanket on cold early mornings! Finally, nowadays I always pack at least one decent pair of jeans, a nice shirt and shoes - I've been invited to locals' formal events before, and faced the unpleasant dilemma of turning up badly underdressed or simply declining!

R Niranjan Das of Tales Of A Nomad

Niranjan’s travel style – I’m an old school traveller who prefers maps and signage boards over gadgets and phones. Though I travel with friends and family, solo travels on motorcycles are what I love – The freedom that such travels give are absolutely liberating.

What Niranjan likes to wear on the road – I travel as light as possible and roll my clothes while packing instead of folding them as it saves a lot of space. I bifurcate my stuff into small pouches/ bags inside the backpack or suitcase instead of dumping into it. This makes retrieving a lot easier.

Abhinav Singh of A Soul Window

Abhinav’s travel style – At heart I am a solo and rough traveller. I love trekking to high altitude mountains (EBC Trek, Roopkund). I always travel without a plan. I like to go with the flow and accepting to alien cultures, food etc.  On personal solo trips, I prefer travelling in public transport with locals for an immersive experience. I also love to go beyond the guidebooks and discover new place and stories in a new place. I am a no fuss, no frills traveller. I take conscious steps towards minimizing my carbon footprints during my travels.

What Abhinav likes to wear on the road – I pack very light. Comfort is more important to me than style. During summers, I carry flip-flops, shorts and lots of light weight T shirts which do not need ironing. In a cold destination, I carry 2 jackets with few sweat shirts and sweaters for layering. I carry more luggage on my luxury press trips due to the many dressing protocols.

What’s your travel style? What do you like to wear on the road?
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Friday, 7 April 2017

My Favourite Experiences In Odisha

ODISHA is definitely an unsung gem of India. I’m glad that I made it there. When I started planning my trip to Odisha, I knew zilch about it. People usually mentioned the Puri beaches, Konark temples and the like. But, I was curious for more. I was eager to get introduced to the Odisha that not many knew. So, planning and researching for Odisha was tough. I wanted to visit places where I could admire some hilly beauty, taste some traditional Odiya food, and exchange smiles with the tribal folk.

A special note of thanks to my Facebook fans who recommended some lesser-known places in Odisha.

At Khandadhar waterfalls

I began my Odisha voyage with Bhubaneswar, the capital of the state. But, I didn’t really spend much time there. It was more of a transit destination for me. I travelled to Raghurajpur, Kendujhar, Kantabonia Village, and Konark. I wanted to visit Koraput, the heart of tribal culture, but things didn’t work out for me and I had to cancel my trip.

Well, I’m pretty complacent with what I could explore and experience in Odisha. It was one of my smoothest travels. Also, I’d say Odisha is a great ‘solo travel’ destination. So, all those who are wondering where to go solo, Odisha is your destination! It’s absolutely safe (even the interiors, as long as you take care of yourself). People are chilled out and respectful.

So, here’s what I experienced in Odisha –

My amble through Raghurajpur
Raghurajpur is a unique village near Bhubaneswar (60km). The village is too commercialised on the surface – the art and craft retailers begin to invite you to their shops the moment you enter their premises. But, as you breathe and walk a little bit farther, a world of untainted art and traditions rests in the age-old village homes. The most peculiarly fascinating part of Raghurajpur is the array of (reportedly 12) temples in the middle lane of the village with houses on either side.

Each house in Raghurajpur has some sort of artwork on its walls. The white temples blend beautifully with the art-embossed houses of the village. The tribal folks just add to the beauty of it all. The fact that they are far from the ‘urbane’ life makes the experience of visiting their village so much more enriching.

At Raghurajpur art and craft village
Stone carving, Pattachitra painting and Palmleaf engraving
These age-old wall paintings have the real soul of Raghurajpur - a rare gem of India.
White temples, colourful walls and the tribal folks give Raghurajpur a certain atmosphere.

My rickshaw ride from Kendujhar to Khandadhar waterfalls
I don’t know whether it was good or bad, wise or foolish to take a 65 km rickshaw ride from Kendujhar to Khandadhar waterfalls. The Khandadhar waterfall is a picturesque sight, but the landscapes and settlements along the way are far more interesting. It had got dark on my return, and the rickshaw guy was scared and worried about taking a woman in his rickshaw. It was absolutely pitch dark with a little flame or two seen in the huts. What comforted me was seeing the tribal women walk alone as they wound up their day and headed to their homes. 

Although the waterfall was the main sight of the day, the adventure of being alone in a remote place is what I remember more.

It's a settlement around 10 km from Khandadhar waterfalls.
The tribal homes in Kendujhar, Odisha

My train journeys in Odisha
I enjoyed my short train journeys through Odisha. I travelled from Bhubaneswar to Kendujhar, and then Bhubaneswar to Balasore. It was thrilling to sit by the window and sip coffee, while a myriad of landscapes whizzed by. I think ‘train travel’ is an excellent way to get a tinge of a place. So, here’s a travel tip – always choose trains over buses. The latter can get absolutely exasperating and tiring in case of delays or breakdowns.

The views from the train: Kendujhar to Bhubaneswar

My ‘solitary’ village walk
Although I travel alone most of the time, I’m accompanied by my host or a guide for village and nature walks. But at Kantabonia village (near Panchalingeswar, Balasore), I walked the entire village alone. My guide Navin took me to a dam, where we could sit and gaze the mountains. It was about 5:30 in the evening when we headed back. My solo village walk was not planned. It was when Navin stopped to have a small chat with a village acquaintance that I began walking alone. I was too impatient to wait for Navin, so I just walked and walked, stopped only to take pictures. It felt great to find my way back where I stayed without my guide. However, a few village kids did help towards the end of my trail.

I believe that’s the thrill of travel – when you walk alone, get lost and a local helps you find your way.

My nature and village walk in Kantabonia - the village kids are shy. :-)
Kantabonia village
A pond in Kantabonia village
The fervent ritual that goes on the entire night under a banyan tree and then the procession settles at a village home in the morning.

My sojourn at Roopark village
Beginning with my grand welcome to an aromatic beauty therapy at night, Roopark village resort really made me feel like a queen. My intent of sojourning at Roopark was to rendezvous with the rustic nuances of Odisha’s tribal life. I loved my two-day slow travel at the resort. I did nothing. I simply soaked in the tribal culture and living. I attended the fervent night puja (ritual) performed by Kantabonia’s tribal folks. I also had a chance to taste their local cuisine; the most interesting was the red ant chutney. And, not to forget, I sipped their local beverage, Mahua.       

My grand welcome at Roopark village resort.
Savoring the slow travel...
Glimpses of Roopark
The moment you enter the premises of Roopark, you are greeted by such sublime mountains.

Roopark village is an ethnic resort near Balasore. The resort is beautifully built with lots of flowers and trees, and the rooms have attached porticos with rustic elements embossed everywhere. But, my favourite part was to step out of my room to lounge in the garden with a cup of tea and enjoy the fabulous mountain views.

So, did I inspire you to visit Odisha?
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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Solo Travel In India – Safety Tips For Foreign Women

Solo travel is my favourite topic to discuss. It’s been a while since I wrote anything on this topic. I have pretty much covered everything on solo travel on my blog. But, I really feel the need to talk about ‘foreign women travelling alone in India’. Indian women travelling solo in India can be largely different from foreign women travelling solo in India. People’s perceptions change with a woman’s colour and her ethnicity. It’s definitely easier for an Indian woman than a foreign woman to deal with certain situations that may or may not take place on her travels in India.     

Image copyright: BreatheDreamGo

My heart aches when people look at India as an ‘unsuitable’ or ‘unsafe’ destination for solo travel. Well, yes, travelling in India can be challenging for a foreign woman. But, it is not as bad as it’s made out to be by some people. I believe the challenges a foreign woman is likely to face are no different from the challenges that an Indian woman may come across while she travels in a foreign land. So, I guess it’s got more to do with our own unfamiliarity of the other culture and the way of life.

Today, I have roped in four awesome women, who belong to different parts of the world, to share their views and tips on travelling solo in India. These women have travelled alone in India, and have travelled extensively. So, their tips on solo travel carry a lot of weight.

Candace Rardon (Blog: A Great Affair) tells us how to be safe while travelling on a train in India –
Image copyright: The Great Affair

"For me, India is one of those places where the journey is just as much fun as the destination -- and chances are, part of your time there will involve a long-distance journey by train. Having spent over 300 hours on Indian trains, I found it was best to always book an upper berth--this will not only give you somewhere to keep your bags safe and secure during the day, but it will also help you feel safer at night as well, kept out of the fray as you sleep."

Read more about her India travel experiences here.

Juno Kim (Blog: Runaway Juno) tells us how she could deal with the fact that people in India have a different understanding of personal space.
Image copyright: RunawayJuno

“Travelling in India requires a different perspective of the world. First, please know that the concept of personal space is different in each culture, India, especially. I had a lot of people leaning on me in the trains, looking at my ATM screen, reading my book with me in public places, which made me uncomfortable at times. Slowly I realized that the behaviour was out of curiosity and the people’s personal space is smaller than mine. I had the best time and worst time in India. I loved and hated travelling the country for two months. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.” 

Read more about her experiences in India here.

Monica Stott (Blog: The Travel Hack) tells us how to be safe on Indian trains.

Image copyright: The Travel Hack

“My tip for solo females travelling in India is to book 3rd class tickets on trains. First and second class tickets might be more luxurious but you'll be placed in a small, private compartment. This is brilliant if you're travelling with friends or if you're lucky enough to share with nice strangers - but you don't know who these strangers will be. Because of this, it's safer to travel in the 3rd class compartments. In 3rd class you'll still have air conditioning and a comfortable bed but you'll also have plenty of people around you to keep you safe.”

Read more about her India travel experiences here.

Last but certainly not the least, I bring you Mariellen Ward (Blog: Breathe Dream Go) who tells us to be instinctive and follow simple rules to stay safe. 

Image copyright: BreatheDreamGo

“I have always maintained that travel safety is more of a mindset than a destination. Personally, I have not found India to be the unsafe place the media portrays. I find the people here warm, generous and helpful. AND I always practise what I call "safe travel strategies" -- such things as arranging for airport pickup, trusting your instincts and carrying a phone with a local SIM card. If you feel called to come to India, you might want to start with an organized group tour and then venture out on your own as you gain confidence. When you are able to open up to the beauty of India, she rewards you with magical moments you will treasure forever.”

Read more about her solo travel safety tips here.

I hope these wonderful ladies have infused the right confidence in those foreign women who desire to travel alone in India, but have fears.

In my opinion, no place in the world is safe or unsafe. As a rule, you have to be careful everywhere you go. In the end, I’d also like to give a few helpful safety tips for foreign women solo travellers

. Do a lot of research before coming to India. Read about its culture.
. Dress according to the atmosphere and people around you. For example, in places like Goa and Hampi, it’s okay to dress skimpily, but there are places where people are used to seeing women dress in a certain way (like Uttar Pradesh). So refrain from wearing anything that might draw attention.  
. Never wander alone in a deserted place. Always be aware of your surroundings.
. Take help from official tourism board of the state that you are travelling in.
. Stay in a recognised home stay instead of a hotel. Never choose a stay just because it’s cheap. Safety comes first.
. Keep your people back home informed about your stay and whereabouts.
. Always trust your instinct and stay away from anyone who seems weird.
. Be confident, nice and polite, but avoid being too friendly with taxi guys or anybody of that sort.

What would YOU say? Do you have a safety tip for foreign women desiring to travel alone in India?

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Venice – The City Of Love (In 30 Photos)

Love, if it could be personified, it has to be Venice and only Venice. The cliched idea that it’s one of the most romantic cities in the world is absolutely true. Yes, Venice is soaked in romance – every nook and cranny of it. I’m fortunate to have experienced it with my husband. I’m happy that I didn’t care for what the naysayers have got to say about it. No, the canals don’t smell bad (not anymore, if they ever did). I think Venice is a must-visit place for the sheer poetry it exudes.

It rains 'romance' in Venice.
If you are someone who appreciates art, architecture and history, Venice is a treasure for your inquisitive soul. It is, indeed, an open-air museum. But, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for your eyes beyond the historic sites. While the rundown walls of the old buildings whisper sweet nothings of the past, Venice is very much urbane and trendy. So, take in the romance!
Now that gondola ride is true to its hype - slow and romantic. Who doesn't want time to cease when romance is in the air?
The hues of time.
The unfading beauty of the canals.
Hot tip: The best time to visit Venice is during February to March when it's relatively less crowded.  
Choose to dine at a ristorante by the canal.
This is one of the most photographed sites in Venice. 
St Mark's Basilica at Piazza San Marco.
Two's company.
Even the water taxis are a good way to see around.
That's how the city looks - serene, quiet and poetic.
Roaming around is the best thing to do in Venice.
Venice is a secret conversation of the old buildings, the canals and the gondolas.
Grand canal - the main site from where you can catch an overview of the city.
That's how time ceases in Venice.
The vintage nuances of Venice wait to greet you in every alleyway. 
The city has so much of character, so much of magic and charm that it's hard to soak all up in one visit. 
There are so many interesting bridges along the way that make you stop and wonder...
Even the birds squeak love in Venice.
The balconies from the dream era.
A hint of spring - now who wouldn't want to walk those streets?
A square in Venice.
San Giorgio Maggiore - one of the islands of Venice.
Santa Maria della Salute
Leonardo da vinci museum
The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
A cute florist shop in Venice.
Shopping on gondola? Not a bad idea!
The Venice Certosa Hotel, located on Certosa Island, is one of the best places to stay in Venice if you are looking for a romantic, 'away from the crowd' time with your sweetheart.  
That's me looking at the Grand Canal, while 'my love' takes the picture. :-)

Did you enjoy Venice through my eyes? What's YOUR favorite romantic city in the world?
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