Friday, 18 August 2017

My Solo Adventure In South Australia (Part One)

Perhaps South Australia is the best place for solo travel. Well, I say so because I had my first taste of solo travel abroad in Australia – I went to Adelaide and Barossa Valley all alone. So, was the experience any different from my solo travels in India? Nah… I think solo travel is great anywhere in the world. But yes, South Australia will always hold a special place in my heart.

To be honest, I was a little wary of doing certain things in a foreign land, such as walking alone in a deserted place. As an Indian, the part that amuses me about foreign countries is the dearth of people on the road. Their neighbourhoods are so quiet. You barely see a soul around. So, when you walk on the road it gives you a strange feeling that you shouldn’t be seen on the road and should be hiding somewhere like everyone else.

So how did my solo adventure turn out to be?

On the train from Adelaide to Gawler 
On the train to Gawler

Though I landed in Adelaide (from Melbourne), I started my trip with Barossa Valley. The first thing that I loved about Adelaide was its people. The moment I stepped out of the airport, I was embraced by an intrinsic geniality that a solo traveller longs for. I hopped on the bus available at the airport that takes you into the main city. I was still a bit indecisive about going to Barossa Valley, as my trip was a short one. But, I still went to the train station to inquire about the journey. There isn’t a direct train to Barossa Valley. You need to take a train to Gawler, which takes an hour to reach, and from Gawler you need to take a bus to Barossa, which takes 30 minutes or so.

There was something inside me that told me to skip Barossa Valley, but the curious me still purchased the ticket to Gawler. And, I loved my train journey! It was so easy to reach Gawler, and the station was so quiet and vintage. Then, as I hopped on the bus to Barossa, I passed by some mellow landscapes of vineyards and hills.
My ‘edgy’ walk to Bethany

Tanunda, the main town of Barossa Valley, is where my bus dropped me. The moment I got off the bus, I headed to the tourism office to inquire about how to reach Bethany village. The name ‘Bethany’ fascinated me, and so I was eager to visit it. But, to my dismay, I was told that there’s no public transport available for Bethany. I could go there if I had my own car. Well, I still wanted to go. So, I asked them if I could walk to Bethany. To my joy, they said that it would take 40-45 minutes to reach Bethany if I walked fast.

My quick lunch before heading to Bethany

I didn’t follow the Google map. I just asked for direction two-three times from different people and kept walking until I reached my destination. It’s a straight highway road from Tanunda that takes you to Bethany. It’s an easy walk. But, I was scared.

The highway begins here...

Barossa Valley looked so deserted. There was nobody around. I mean it’s strange not to see a single person for 40-45 minutes… Anyway, I kept walking because I was exceedingly curious to see Bethany. My constant thought throughout the walk was ‘I hope it’s safe to walk on this highway all alone, while the weather is also unpredictable’. It was an overcast day with occasional rains. But, I still wanted to do what I wanted to do – visit Bethany.

I kept following the sign boards. And finally, I saw this board –

Finally, I reach Bethany.
Such sign boards relieved me.
A few rustic elements that made my lens happy.
...and some more.
One interesting site that you should visit...
... a touch of spookiness isn't a bad idea on a solo trip. What say?

I was joyous to have made it to Bethany. Although the village didn’t turn out the way I had imagined it, the feeling of being alone in a totally deserted, unfamiliar place was thrilling. Each house that I passed by was shut as if nobody lived there. I happened to sneak inside the backyard of a house for shade when it started to pour suddenly, and I found this beautiful orange tree –

Why did I not pick up those oranges?

Well, orange and lemon trees are a common sight in Barossa Valley. I regret not plucking an orange to reward myself for my solo, edgy walk.

Should you visit Barossa Valley during winters?

No. I’d recommend you should skip Barossa Valley during winters because the vineyards are bare-branched and the hills look dry. The streets and squares are extremely quiet. There’s absolutely no buzz around. So, the voice that told me to skip Barossa Valley was right.

Bare-branched and deserted 
The last few hues of autumn...

But, travel is different for different people. I’m not trying to act like a naysayer here. You might enjoy the dry and deserted Barossa Valley. However, spring would be the best time to visit it when the vineyards are in full bloom. Barossa Valley is known for wines, after all.

Tanunda, a charming little town

Besides the wineries, Barossa Valley has a great history to narrate. So, make sure to visit its old sites, especially the museums and the churches. I didn’t really do anything that a tourist would typically do in Barossa – wine tasting, unearthing its history or tasting the traditional cuisine, because as I mentioned it was not the perfect season. I’d have loved to taste the wines in the midst of a blossoming vineyard, which would have been a real experience.

One of the things to do in Tanunda is to visit such museums...
...and these churches
...and explore some cute, little shops like this.

Besides, Barossa Valley is huge. I just explored a little part of it. So, my recommendation would be to stay there for at least a couple of days to be able to explore it deeply.

I’d like to sum up by saying that all travel experiences are good. The feeling of being alone, talking to locals, wandering, experiencing the weather, the food, the local transport… everything together makes you part of the place that you visit. So, experiences and adventures that you create as a traveller are always better than what you find in the brochures.

HAVE YOU travelled alone anywhere other than your own home country? How was your experience?

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Monday, 14 August 2017

5 Fabulous Years Of Travel Blogging And The Lessons Learnt

Today Voyager For Life turns five. From a modest blog to an influential travel blog, my blog has come a long way, and it’s such a nice feeling. There’s a lot to look back at – years of learning, focus, wee hours, hard work and of course, travelling. So, as I celebrate the fifth anniversary of my blog, I really want to thank every single person who has ever landed on this blog and read it.

Also, I want to apologise for not being as consistent in posting as I used to be. And, that gives me another reason to thank my readers, because my blog still receives traffic despite the reduced frequency of post updates. But, I’m getting back to consistent blogging. In fact, there are going to be a lot of changes and upgrades on my blog soon. So, look forward to a much better blog in the days to come.

My blog’s message
Voyager For Life has always been a blog for ‘curious souls’ like me. It’s from one wanderer to another. I believe anyone can travel if he or she makes travel a priority of life. The sole message of this blog is that ‘anyone can travel’. Just follow your heart. There are quite a few practical tips on saving money on my blog, which you can read and find inspiration from. I have also written about How Do I Manage To Travel and How Do I Plan My Travels.  

My blog inspires me, too.
I’m happy that I have Voyager For Life by my side. It’s my constant source of inspiration. Yes, the blog that I created is my inspiration, too. It has helped me carve out my own niche as a traveller. I travel alone most of the time, which I find convenient and liberating. I like slow travel. I like rural charms. I like culture, nature, people, the food they eat and the way they live. So, there’s so much that I have evolved into over the years, and my blog has captured all of that for you guys to read and get inspired.

The lessons travel blogging has taught me in the last five years –

I can be the person I want to be. Honesty is the soul of blogging.
Perhaps the best thing about blogging is that it allows you to ‘be yourself’. Honesty is my favourite part about being a blogger. I can be my unique self and be comfortable about it. I don’t have to be like ‘someone’ to be accepted. I don’t have to write things for effect. I know that my readers like me for my honesty.  

It’s so important to connect with people.
Being an introvert, I consider connecting with people the most valuable lesson learnt in the last few years. Yes, I am shy. I don’t find it very easy to mingle with people. But, travel blogging has dragged me out of my shell and forced me to reach out to people. And, I really like my new self. There’s so much to learn from various people. I’m happy that I have met some really fabulous people in the travel blogging industry.

Travel blogging is a constant challenge.
After blogging for five years, I’d say blogging can never be easy. You may blog for years and years and still find it hard. I always feel like I’m fighting with my own self and trying to prove a point to myself. After writing so many travel stories on this blog, I still feel I have to go a long way.

Multitasking is a prerequisite.
Writing is just a small part of blogging. To be honest, when I started this blog I didn’t know that it would require me to do so many things all by myself. But, it happens naturally. I don’t think any serious blogger minds it at all. If you love blogging, you will love what it demands.

So yes, travel blogging requires you to know a lot of things other than just writing. You have to write, edit your own stories, proof read, take photos, edit photos, design creatives, update and engage on your social media channels, reply to comments, emails, send out pitches for work, connect with people, brainstorm new blog post ideas and so much more… phew! There’s a lot to do and it’s all fun as long as you are really passionate about it.

The possibilities are endless…
Travel blogging has also opened so many new doors for me. It has taught me that I don’t have to be limited to my own skills and abilities. There’s a lot more that I can do. For instance, I offer travel consultancy to travellers once in a while. I’d like to do that job more often, as I enjoy it immensely. The point that I’m trying to make here is that travel blogging is a much broader field than I thought it was.

What about you? Do you also have a blog? What have you learnt with blogging?

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What Makes Melbourne So Mesmeric – A Photo Essay

Melbourne is like a dream. It’s one of my favourite cities in the world. Yes, I know I have seen only a bit of the world, but I’d still say that Melbourne is the city where I’d want to go again and again. It’s absolutely my kind of a city. When I visited Melbourne for the first time in 2011, I had no idea that I’d ever get a chance to go there again. My first visit was a real short one, so although I was able to grab its essence, it left me curious (or should I say craving for more).

Well, my second sojourn in Melbourne was quite long, which gave me a chance to explore it at a slow pace. I savoured Melbourne. So, as I mentioned Melbourne is like a dream - It’s slow, it’s mesmeric. It’s vintage, yet very contemporary. There’s something so distinctive about Melbourne that you won’t get a similar vibe anywhere else.

Just to give you the facts, Melbourne is the capital of Victoria (south-eastern state of Australia) and the second most populated city of Australia after Sydney.

Enjoy ‘my guide on top things to do in Melbourne’ in pictures –

TAKE THE VINTAGE TRAM RIDE - I'd say traveling on a City Circle Tram is like enjoying the icing on the cake. It's the free tourist tram of Melbourne that passes by eminent tourist attractions in the Central Business District.  
Charming, isn't it? Trams make Melbourne distinctive - the slow pace of life. Some may not like it, but I love it.
There's this 'free tram zone' that you must take advantage of. Travel within the free tram zone and enjoy the glimpses of Melbourne.
Enjoy a carriage ride. But, if don't want to bother the horses, simply take some pretty photos and move on.
SIT IN A LANEWAY CAFE - Your Melbourne experience is incomplete without a sip of great coffee in a laneway cafe. I'd suggest sit there for sometime and notice the little nuances. Though your coffee won't be hot enough to keep you seated for very long, you can still sit and just be... Also, make sure you enjoy the laneway coffee-sipping during the day time, as the cafes begin to shut quite early in the evening (by 6 pm).
This laneway cafe is at Degraves Street - it's really quirky and pretty. 
Make sure to stop and notice the cute elements like this orange scooter. 
DON'T FORGET TO VISIT THE HOSIER LANE - It's just a couple of minutes walk from the Flinder's Street Station. It's a must-visit if you appreciate quirkiness and art. It's so much fun! Besides the compelling vividness, the lane is worth a dekko for the 'selfie' madness of the people. 
WANDER THE SWANSTON ST AND COLLINS ST - One of my most favourite things to do in Melbourne is to wander the streets. Just keep walking and admiring the prettiness everywhere. 
MELBOURNE MUSEUM - Though I didn't go inside, I'm sure it's worth checking out. I just loved the building from outside. It's on Nicholson St, Carlton. It's also a great place if you want to relax in a park after a lot of walking. There's plenty of lushness in the premises.   
SPOT GORGEOUS BUILDINGS - Melbourne has quite a lot of old buildings, too. So, it's not just about contemporary architecture. I spotted this beautiful building while walking through Fitzroy, a neighbourhood in Melbourne. 
This charming old building is somewhere in the City Centre, so you should be able to spot it easily. Make sure you walk a lot! 
DO AS THE LOCALS DO - Grab a take-away coffee and find a comfy place to relax. This is the front yard of State Victoria Library. It's one of the favorite places of locals for soaking in the sunshine and just being...
TAKE A MULTI-CULTURAL TOUR OF MELBOURNE - Enjoy the 'multi-cultural' layer of Melbourne by walking down a street with Middle-eastern and Asian shops and restaurants. This one is Sydney Road in Brunswick. You will find a different style of architecture, the atmosphere of the shops are unlike the rest of Melbourne. So, it's an offbeat Melbourne for you!
HEAD TO YARRA RIVER FOR SOME ROMANCE - It's a perfect place for love and poetry. There's a lot going on around you, but you still find solitude and peace in the midst of it all. That's the magic of this place. Just sit by the riverside, watch the ferries go, sip wine with your favourite people, or simply be alone. Who cares? 
PAINT YOUR SPIRIT WITH THE EVENING HUES - Did you notice the orange sky hidden behind the clouds? That just adds to the magic of  a fun evening at Yarra. 
TAP YOUR FEET TO SOME LIVE MUSIC -  You will find scenes of live music everywhere in the CBD of Melbourne. And, it's really good.   
MAKE AN AUTUMN VISIT - Melbourne is beautiful in autumn. Well, it's beautiful through the year but the autumn colours do add an extra layer of beauty to everything. So, if you are visiting Melbourne during autumn, stroll through the parks, enjoy the browns, reds and oranges...let the dry leaves promise you something sweet. :-)
EXPLORE THE SUBURBS - Perhaps the most offbeat thing to do in Melbourne is to explore its suburbs. I loved my long walks through the streets in Brunswick - spotting pretty houses, cute cafes, old churches and lovely parks.  
WATCH THE SUNSET AT KILDA BEACH - Take the tram No. 96 from Southern Cross Station or Bourke St to get to Kilda Beach. It's a lovely place to take a stroll, romance, sip coffee or wine, watch the sunset and forget about the world... the water is so blue and gorgeous.
Try Kilda Beach for a romantic evening. I'm sure you will thank me. 
What would be your top things to do in Melbourne?

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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

My Peek Into Padavedu

Was PADAVEDU just another village for me? My fascination for rural charms takes me to different villages in India. That being said, I love cities, too. To put it aptly, I’d say cities are my home and villages are ‘picnic’ for me. I love villages. No two ways about it. But, my recent visit to Padavedu (an hour drive from Vellore), a village in Tamil Nadu, made me realise so many things. The moment I got down my car and started to explore Padavedu, I realised a village can be more than a city. So, it was definitely a different travel experience for me.

I was so intrigued by Padavedu that I asked my precious Facebook page fans, too, if they would ever move to a village.

Well, Padavedu is a picture of progressive India. Thanks to Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social arm of TVS Motor Company, who made this trip possible for me, and introduced to me the various works that they have done, and are doing for the development of over 5000 villages in India. What I truly appreciate about SST is that it helps villages develop in a holistic and sustainable manner, and create self-reliant communities. They equip people in the villages to work towards Economic Development, Health & Sanitation, Infrastructure, Women Empowerment, Education and Environment.

So how did Padavedu intrigue me?

Seeing children get their due.
The best part about Padavedu is the concept of Anganwadis for the little children in the village, because “to educate a child is to turn walls into doors.” If each village in India has schools for children, there’s nothing more we would need for a happy, self-sufficient and developed country. The Anganwadis in Padavedu don’t just educate children, but also ensure that they breathe in a nice and clean environment, and eat nutritious food.

Sustainability is a way of life in Padavedu.
The folks in Padavedu practice sustainability by doing things like tree planting, using natural resources sensibly, disposing garbage correctly and basically keeping the environment clean. Being so sustainably aware makes the village folks live a healthy life and be more efficient in their jobs.

The women of Padavedu are confident.
A confident woman is the prettiest. Yes, she smiles shyly, her eyes gleam with happiness, her heart has dreams… the women folk of Padavedu are full of confidence, because their jobs are not limited to their homes. They step out to work and help their husbands to create a better life together.

SST provides training programs for both men and women to help them develop their skills, such as banana fibre making, pottery-making, camphor making, farming, etc.

I’m still savouring the deliciousness of the authentic South Indian platter that I had.
Although I’m not a fan of South Indian dishes, the platter that I was served in Padavedu was fabulous. It was served on a banana leaf, which made the experience even more authentic and exclusive. Of course, you can have similar experiences anywhere in India (if you manage to find a good South Indian restaurant), but to have such a platter in a village in Tamil Nadu is an unforgettable affair. I love their veggies, which are cooked in a healthy, nutritious manner.

SST educates and encourages village folks to grow vegetables and fruits organically. They adopt and implement new methods of agriculture, but without losing out on the authenticity of the produce.

Padavedu is both traditional and progressive.
I believe a village should never lose its true rustic charm. I loved the thatched roof huts, the little doors, vividly painted walls (pink, green and yellow), mud hearth, banana plantations, coconut trees and the beautiful landscapes of Padavedu.

I just loved the carefree vibe of Padavedu.

I hope SST introduces the concept of home stays in Padavedu, so that travellers like me can explore and experience Padavedu more deeply in the future.

What about you? Has any village ever intrigued you, influenced you to think differently?

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