Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Other Side Of Travel

Travel is beautiful. It teaches you a lot, refines you as a human being, and declutters your life to a great extent. And, if you look at it on the surface, it’s refreshing, fun and thrilling. But, there is another side to it --- the challenges of travel. Nothing in the world is devoid of pain and so is travel. A traveller has to undergo a lot of hurdles, sweat, dust and disappointments to be able to quench his or her wanderlust.


You have read about my 9 Travel Mistakes and my Worst Travel Experiences. Today, I’m going to brood over some experiences of my Sikkim-Darjeeling trip that taught me a few ‘new’ lessons on travel.


You don’t achieve all that you aim for

Perhaps the biggest lesson that I have learnt lately is that you may set out to achieve a lot, but you don’t hit all your goals. But, the good part is that you achieve a lot of things that you didn’t aim for. So, travel is never a bad deal.

I aimed to spend at least a month in Sikkim --- I had plans to volunteer for an NGO and explore the entire state alongside. But, my plans didn’t work out. I could not visit North Sikkim due to the hassles involved. I had to be satisfied with just East and West Sikkim – Gangtok, Darap Village and Yuksom.


A deep geographical research is worth more than money

Travelling spontaneously is absolutely wonderful, but a weak research pulls out some extra cash out of your pocket. So, you should never be satisfied with your research. Being extra researched is always better. Pelling was supposed to be my next stop after Gangtok. I had booked a stay for me and had inquired about the shared taxis as well. I was contented to know that shared taxis didn’t charge much and I would reach Pelling smoothly. But, when I reached the taxi stand, I discovered that I was supposed to have made the booking in advance. Anyway, I still got a little lucky and joined a couple who was also going to Pelling.

Well, there was a dash of adventure in store for me as I reached Pelling – I wasn’t aware that the home stay that I had booked was not in Pelling. It was in Darap Village, which was a little away from the city. The driver blatantly refused to drop me there. He dropped me in the middle of the road and went away. I had to hire another taxi to reach Darap Village Retreat – the home stay where I had to sojourn.


Anything can happen on the road

I didn’t have any idea about the difficulties of commuting from one region to another in Sikkim. Reserved taxis are almost out of reach, while the shared ones give you a poor travel experience. I travelled from Darap Village to Yuksom and later Yuksom to Gangtok by shared taxis, which were horrible experiences. I call them horrible for the way you have to travel --- you have to be crammed like luggage with other passengers, keep the windowpanes open as the cabs have no air-conditioning, and then absorb the thick layers of dust all over yourself and not to mention, lots of bumps and jerks on the way.

The roads in Sikkim are bad --- some of them are under construction, due to which, there are traffic jams too. Therefore, you should either travel in a group, book reserved taxis and share costs, or should you choose to travel alone in a shared taxi, book two seats in order to get comfier space to sit.


Travel is not just about sunsets and hammocks. It is also about failed plans, bad roads, sickness, and pains. Nevertheless, I had an immensely rewarding travel experience. Despite all the hitches, I DON’T regret anything!

Travel never stops teaching. So, a traveller should never stop learning.

Do you have anything to add? What’s the biggest lesson travel has taught you?

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Taste Of Vintage Era At A Tea Planter’s Bungalow

Heritage is the soul of Darjeeling. When I chose to stay at Goomtee Resort, I had a faint idea about what it had in store for me. I only intended to enjoy Darjeeling’s natural vicinity secluded away from the crowds. I think when you know little about what you are going to experience, it adds to the joy of travel. 


The heritage of Darjeeling is preserved in the most genuine fashion at Goomtee Resort, which was originally a bungalow built by a British planter, Mr. Henry Montgomery Lennox for his own stay with his family. The bungalow was converted into a resort much later to give travellers an exclusive experience of the vintage Darjeeling tea.



The moment I checked in at Goomtee Resort, I was instantly charmed by its daintiness. My room was quite big, and since I was alone, it proved to be even more spacious. I liked its English era wooden architecture, which was nicely blended with modernity. The room opened to a well-kept garden on the other side, which beckoned me for unceasing hours of nature soaking.


To say that I was savouring my quiet time at Goomtee Resort would be stating the obvious. But, there was more to it. The courteous and hospitable staff at the resort made sure that I made the most of my stay. Thus, they insisted that I should quickly take a tour of the Goomtee Tea Factory and the Tea Garden. I obediently followed my guide who took me to the tea factory first, which was vacant at that time, because it was already past 5 pm and the workers had left for the day. Later, we went to the tea garden, which was at the walking distance of five minutes from the tea estate.


The tea-pluckers were still at work. They were a bit amused to see me and they sniggered amongst themselves. I told them jokingly that I understood their language and could make out what they were talking about. Apparently, some of them are a little shy about being photographed. I was super excited about being able to witness the tea-plucking process at one of the heritage tea gardens of Darjeeling, but for them, it was the usual wrap-up working hour.


After I came back to the resort, I was served a cup of freshly harvested Darjeeling Tea. It was delicious. I’d like to admit that I don’t relish black tea at all. But the typical Darjeeling tea, which is served without milk is so rich in flavour that it feels almost addictive. I made sure that I lived each moment at a slower pace and didn’t let time pass so swiftly. 


The following morning, my attendants reminded me of the tea factory visit. Although I had already experienced what I really cared about – the tea garden and the tea itself, I still dawdled my way to the factory with my guide. He walked me through tea-making in the presence of the staff involved in the process. It was interesting to learn about the subtle details of production. The ‘first flush’ is known to be the superior quality tea, which is produced during the spring season. Then there is the ‘second flush’ produced during the early summers, followed by ‘rains’ during the monsoons and ‘autumnal’ during the falls. Different flushes have different aromas and resonances.


Besides being an isolated abode of nature, Goomtee Tea Estate & Resort is an exceptional experience of Darjeeling – a taste of its classic heritage. 
    
Practical Information: Goomtee Tea Estate & Resort is only 40 km from Siliguri. It is easily accessible from both Bagdogra airport and NJP and Siliguri Railway Stations.

Is Goomtee Tea Estate & Resort your kind of stay?

Note: I was hosted by Goomtee Tea Estate & Resort. However, the views and opinions are my own.

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Funny Indian Train Journeys

Indian train journeys and humour go hand in hand. If you don’t have the ability to take all the drama, chaos and the madness with a pinch of salt, you probably shouldn’t travel by a train in India. That said, I would like to acknowledge that travelling on a train in India is an experience. 

I recently asked on my Facebook fanpage that what’s the most annoying thing about Indian trains and I got rave responses. Anybody who has experienced travelling on a train in India has something interesting to share:



No doubt, Indian railways are amusing.

Note: All images in this post are sourced from Google. I have used them to show the contrast between the trains in India. 

I have been travelling on trains since my childhood, so I am used to them and have a bundle of stories to narrate. Here they are in random order -   
   
I reach the train station and discover that the train is cancelled – It’s the most recent incident, which was horrifying when it happened. But now, it’s a funny memory. I had a reservation in Mahananda Express (I wasn’t aware that it had a bad reputation) and I had to travel from Siliguri to New Delhi. As soon as I reached the station, I could sense a chaos. People had queued up at the ticket counters. Everybody murmured that the train was cancelled. Although dismayed, I still went up to the TT to find out what had actually happened. He confirmed that the train was cancelled (with no trace of empathy). Further, when I asked him if there was an alternative, his response left me even more dejected. He said, “NJP jao aur dekhlo agar kahin jagah mil jati hai tou” (go to NJP railway station and check if you can find a seat in any train).


A sari-clad woman slips inside a train through the window – Thankfully, I didn’t have to travel by this train. My brother and I were standing on the other side of this insanely jam-packed train, which had people literally crammed like luggage in the coaches. There was at least a bunch hanging at the door. We thought we had never seen such a crazy sight. But, we had something better in store – in the midst of all the chaos, we saw a man pushing a sari-clad woman inside the train through its window. Can you imagine it?


A man gets his wallet stolen and is reprimanded by his wife - I had never witnessed a pickpocket case before. It was so bad. As the train departed the station, there was a bit of a chaos on the train. Everybody was busy settling down. Suddenly, somebody raised an alarm that his back pocket was cut and his wallet was stolen. The poor guy appeared to be so shocked and dismayed. On top of that, his wife rebuked him (harshly) for his carelessness while all the passengers looked on.

Keeping lots of cash in your back pocket on a busy train in India – he pretty much deserved the rebuke of his wife (though I felt bad for him). I hope he learned the hard lesson the hard way.


I almost miss my train – I was supposed to catch a train from Old Delhi Railway Station to Dehradun. I got stuck in a bad traffic. By the time I reached the station, the train had begun to move. I ran after it in vain. I thought I would manage to get on it. But, my brother, who was with me, stopped me from doing so (he thought I was acting like a Hindi film heroine). After the train had left, a couple of cops advised me to catch it from the next station. So, my brother and I quickly took an auto and reached the next station where the train had stopped for only two minutes. I got on the train and heaved a sigh of relief.

I realized Delhi cops were not all that bad!


A man sleeps under the lower birth – Travel agents make a great deal of money when we don’t book our tickets in time. I, too, had to book my tickets via a travel agent when I had to travel from Delhi to Hyderabad a couple of months back. When I boarded the train, I found nine people in my compartment instead of eight. I kept wondering where the ninth man would settle down when it’s time to sleep. Well, I found him making his bed underneath the lower birth.

Anything can happen on a train in India.

Although I don’t enjoy train journeys anymore, I believe they have added a significant value to my life as a traveller. Train journeys in India exude a lot of character. The stories and adventures that happen on the trains are unparalleled. I don’t think you can experience much on a plane or at an airport.

Have you experienced a train journey in India? Do you have a funny memory or any interesting incident to share?


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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How Has My Blog Changed Me – Celebrating Two years!

The journey started two years back --- I started penning a blog that barely expressed what the voyager in me wanted to say. But, as the time passed by, many stories, adventures and perspectives were unfolded. I gradually began to develop a better voice for my thoughts. Seriously, writing a travel blog has been the most liberating experience of my life so far. I get to blend my passions and create something beautiful and inspiring. Although writing and photography have been my passions for quite a long time, putting them on my blog was a step forward.


Travel can be a cakewalk, but travelling like a travel blogger, photographer and a writer is a challenge. I goof-up so many times. I’m still learning from my mistakes. Sometimes, I regret not taking more photographs, not being patient enough for a shot, or maybe not noting down every bit of information. But, I know that as I continue to travel, I will be a better traveller, photographer and a writer.


When I started this blog, I only had my travel photographs to inspire me. I had a vague idea about my mission as a travel blogger. I just got excited with the thought that I had so many beautiful travel photographs and it would be fun putting them on the blog with short write-ups around them. But, I was hesitant about sharing them with anybody. Although I wanted to showcase my photography, I was still unsure about making my blog public. I was totally oblivious about the term ‘social media’. The bug hadn’t bitten yet. 

   
There was an urge to be known as a travel writer too, but I was totally clueless about its nitty-gritties. I did pitch to a lot of travel editors in hope of getting a chance to write for a travel magazine, but it’s not an easy ballgame. Besides, I didn’t know the right way to pitch. Then I decided to make this blog a portfolio of my travel stories, which would represent me as a travel writer.


Coming back to social media, I’d say that I was completely na├»ve. I absolutely had no idea about how to go about spreading the word about my blog. I didn’t even know that you are supposed to have a fanpage on Facebook, a twitter account or a pinterest board. It took me around three to four months to come to terms with these things. I googled a lot, read a lot and followed all the tips and advice by other big travel bloggers.


Now, when two years have passed, I realize I have explored a different side of me. From being a shy person to a person who inspires so many strangers to travel, I have come a long way. I communicate with so many people across the world through my blog, email and social media. Also, I have done quite a few guest posts and interviews for other bloggers who belong to different parts of the world.


I would like you to read my GUEST POSTS on two of my favourite travel blogs --


And my INTERVIEWS with –

Emily Moyer on Let’s Roam Wild
Flights and Frustration on Travel Blogger Interviews
Michela Fantinel on Solo Travel Junkie
Swati Ramnath on Wego India


Something that gained precedence on this blog on its own was SOLO TRAVEL. My blog is one of the most visited blogs for solo travel in India. Perhaps that’s how I got to be on Indiauntravelled as one of the seven female solo travellers in India.

Here are some of my favourite posts on SOLO TRAVEL ---


My favourite PHOTO ESSAYS ---


My favourite EXPERIENTIAL POSTS ---


POSTS THAT DID REALLY WELL ---


So, that was a summary of Voyager For Life so far. But, it has a long, long way to go. I promise my readers that this blog is going to have even better travelogues, more inspiration, entertainment and information for you in the days to come. So, keep an eye on it!

Have you landed on this blog for the first time or have you been following it for quite a while? What do you like about this blog? What would you like to change on this blog? Please drop your comments!

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Waking Up In Dilaram Village

My host at Kettle Valley home stay had promised a village walk in the morning, while I slept in. Well, the villagers don’t sleep in. So, I could hear the usual murmur outside my room. School children passed by beneath the home stay where there was a pathway, while I was still struggling to get out of bed. My host had knocked at my door twice in vain. He probably thought I had changed my mind about the morning walk.


The morning freshness

But, I couldn’t do that. I shrugged off my sleep, quickly splashed some water on my face and got ready for my day out in Dilaram village. As soon as I set out, I could feel the genial embrace of damp foliage around me and I just wanted to go on. As we had walked a little bit and passed by the small village homes, I was greeted by the blossoming Dilaram Tea Gardens. Although I wanted to linger around and soak in the morning freshness, I followed my host wherever he led me. After a while, we did stop for some photographs and a quick chit-chat with the tea-pluckers, which also enlightened me about their underpaid state.



Hills and valleys hidden away in mist

As we walked ahead, there were panoramas of more tea gardens, hazy hills and dales, and a bird’s eye view of Kurseong – a small town in Darjeeling district. Then I thought to myself that if I hadn’t woken up I would have missed out on so much! It was like wherever I glanced, I had something to admire.


The Stupa of love

Now the little village homes were waiting for me to pass by and learn something beautiful about their lives. Perhaps the most endearing thing that I discovered that day was the love of an old man for his beloved wife. (It’s a tradition in Buddhism that they build a stupa (grave) of their loved ones near the house.) This old Nepalese-Buddhist man had built a stupa for his wife who had passed away eleven months ago. He spent most of his time around the stupa maintaining it and keeping it tidy.


Dilaram folks knew how to recycle the plastic waste

As I walked farther, I had glimpses of several village homes and their morning routine. I was fascinated by their simple and laid-back living. And, something to really commend was the sanitation in the village. The village folks had made dustbins with old plastic bottles and hung them at various places on the pathways, so that nobody throws trash inadvertently anywhere. No wonder I found every nook and cranny clean. 


Breakfast at a gracious home

On our way back, my host had a surprise for me in store. I didn’t know that as I glanced through the smiling faces, the cute little homes, the cattle and the fields, I would also get a chance to taste a bit of their lives. A gracious lady in the village invited us into her home and offered tea and breakfast.


Her son prepared delicious noodles and a poached egg for me. The egg was garnished with mustard oil (quite generously). Apparently, they use a lot of mustard oil for cooking anything non-vegetarian, which is believed to enhance the taste. And yes, the egg did taste great. As we finished our breakfast, the lady brewed the flavorful black Darjeeling tea for us.


I bade her goodbye with much gratitude, not just for the delightful breakfast, but also for sharing a beautiful morning with me – a stranger. Dilaram village turned out to be a lesson for me that I will never forget or even let it fade away.

Practical Information: Dilaram Village is only 8 km from the town of Kurseong in Darjeeling district. It is easily accessible from Siliguri railway station and Bagdogra airport by private or shared taxis.

So, would you choose a beautiful village over a vibrant city for your holiday?

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