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Nepal’s lesser known gems

It’s no secret that Nepal is the gateway to the Himalayas – hundreds of thousands of travellers come to the Asian country every year, some to challenge the mythical Everest, others just to look at its mesmerizing height and sight from above or the surrounding Kathmandu Valley.

Although best known as the hub of Himalayan Adventure, Nepal caters so many wonderful facets and “once in a lifetime” experiences – it genuinely has something for everyone. Nepal is a country of amazing extremes. Here are five of the country’s lesser known gems.

1. Adventure – not just for the trekkers
Nepal is the known hub for trekking and peak climbing adventures. However, many may not be familiar with the extreme aerial, water and wildlife adventures Nepal caters. The country that hosts the highest altitude skydiving in the world also caters adventures like bungee jumping, ultra-light flights, paragliding, zip flying and mountain flights. The country with more than 6,000 rivers and rivulets also offers diverse water adventures like white water rafting, cannoning and kayaking.

2. Diversity – of culture and nature
Nepal is one of the most diverse countries culturally and naturally. Despite having a total land area of just below 150,000 square kilometres, it manages to enjoy three very different geographical regions: the lowland (Terai), the mid-hills and the high mountains (Himalayan). These offer great diversity in more than one way: topography, nature, scenic views, climate, vegetation, life styles, etc. The altitude of the Himalayan region ranges between 4,877m to 8,848m. It includes eight of the highest 14 summits in the world, including the world highest mountain: Sagarmatha (Mount Everest). The mid-hills region accounts for about 64% of total land area, whilst the lowland Terai occupies about 17%. Nepal’s altitude variation also explains its climatic diversity: conditions range from the sweltering heat of the Terai in the lowland to the freezing cold in the Himalayan highland.
Nepal’s socio-cultural diversity is even greater than its natural/geographical variety. More than 100 ethnical tribes of different heritage, customs, traditions, religions and languages live here harmoniously, a rich and unique cultural mix seen nowhere else. Nepal’s cultural heritage has evolved over the centuries, mostly influenced by Indian, Mongolian and Tibetan culture.

3. Festivals
This multi-dimensional heritage manifests in more than one way, but one that is truly exciting is Nepal’s vibrant festivals and celebration. Did you know that Nepal celebrates more festivals than the number of days in the calendar? In fact, folklore and festivities are an integral part of Nepalese society. Predominantly a Hindu and Buddhist nation, Nepal’s festivals mostly take place during post-monsoon season. However, each festival celebrated here is completely different to another, and portrays the different facets of Nepal with music, food, dancing, singing and a lot of energy. Tours or treks in Nepal during the festivals are a unique and fascinating experience.

4. Wildlife aplenty
Nepal is also home to all manner of rich and diverse wildlife. Although covering less than 0.1% of the earth’s total land surface, Nepal has 35 types of forest, 14 protected parks, nearly 5% of the world’s mammal species and 10% of the world’s bird species. The lowland Terai region is not just the agricultural hub of the country, it is also home to lush jungles inhabited by some of the most exotic and endangered animals in the world. The rarest animals include mammals like the one-horned rhinoceros, the Bengal tiger, the leopard, the four-horned antelope, and the Indian elephant; reptiles like the Burmese python and the Gharial crocodile; and birds like the Black stork, the Hornbill, and the Bengal Florican. Taking a jungle safari in well-preserved Chitwan and Bardia National Park is a great way to experience the wildlife first-hand.

5. Unique & authentic luxury stays
Nepal caters to every traveller’s taste and budget. For those willing to pay a little extra, top-end accommodation includes luxury jungle lodges, converted traditional mansions and wonderful rural retreats. Some of these unique and authentic luxury stays include Dwarika’s in Kathmandu; Traditional Homes – Swotha and The Inn in Patan; Tiger Mountain Lodge and Temple Tree Resort & Spa in Pokhara; and Kasara Jungle Resort and Barahi Jungle Lodge in Chitwan.

Nepal is a country rich in diversity – of people, culture, adventure, experiences, landscape… Make sure not the miss the above next time you visit. And keep looking – there are so many more hidden gems in Nepal!

Happy travels,
Emilie

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Adventure Blog India

A perfect week in Rajasthan

Traveling to India through the Golden triangle is like a dream come true for every traveler. We at Phocus Travel make sure that you get the classic experience as it is meant to be while traveling to India. A hand-picked tailor-made program designed for every individual traveler is what we meant to serve in our intentions.

From the journey to the most beautiful wonder of the world, Taj Mahal of Agra to the colorful street of Jaipur, Pink City, we offer the most exciting and precise programs out of the never-ending crazy puzzlement of colors, diversities, and mixture of culture to food.

A perfect week in Rajasthan while traveling to India surely includes traveling through historical bygone eras in the enchanting monuments of New and Old Delhi; exploring the Pink City, Jaipur in a way that leaves a lifetime impression of intimacy and royalty; witnessing Taj Mahal, the ultimate testimony of love and of course, tasting the delicious food in the bustling streets of Chandni Chowk to the mouth melting spices of Rajasthan.

So are you ready for the most heart fulfilling and oddest experience of your life?

While you are traveling to India, Phocus Travel guarantees commitment, secure travel, value for money, and most importantly guest happiness – as all we need in the end is a smile on a face and a perfect bliss whenever we remember a journey.

Email: contact@phocustravel.com

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Adventure Blog Special

Why you really need to travel solo

SOLO TRAVEL

I’ve heard people saying, “Travelling alone will change your life forever”. It took me some time to realize, “it’s true.”

Travelling alone is not just about packing your bags, booking a flight and going to a different place. Travelling alone is neither a fashion nor a passion. Travelling alone means to step out of yourself & your comfort zone to see the world and then when you come back to yourself, you will realize you are a different and better person already.

SEEKING WHAT YOU TRULY LOVE

Travelling alone will make you learn to explore your own thoughts, ideas and dreams: realizing your own worth.

You will be inspired in a new way – pushing yourself to situations, meeting people, trying new things and seeking what you really love: even small but what you really love. It will sparks your deeper inspirations leaving you with motivation to connect with your hidden potential.

FOCUS

While travelling alone, you don’t care how you look, dress up, you don’t feel conscious about anything, you are not judged, you can be exactly who you are from within, you can connect with other people just as the way you are, thus you will get honest responses just the way you want to receive. It will help you to sink in the positivity around the world because solo travelling doesn’t allow distractions and irrelevant opinions.

KNOWLEDGE

Practical experience is the biggest knowledge in the world. Travelling alone is the wildest and fastest way you can grow as a human being. We often forget the knowledge that we learn but we never forget what we experience on our own because somehow it always remains deep within us. When you travel solo, the perk is that you observe, experience, gain and sink the knowledge yourself.

RESPONSIBILITY

When you are on your own, you willingly or unwillingly learn to take your own responsibility. You learn to step up for everything with courage and enthusiasm which pushes you for bigger challenges in life.

YOU LEARN TO LIVE IN THE MOMENT

Travelling alone makes you see everything from a step ahead, it makes you forget the past and future rigidity, and you learn to live and connect in the moment.

You focus on smaller things: Animals, wildlife, bird watching, sightseeing, details, expressions, tastes of food, other people’s reactions etc. which makes you precise and compassionate in thinking, thus you learn to become comfortable and modest. It makes you feel what a tiny place you occupy in this world and what tiny problems you had before.

LOVE

You will realize your potential. You will start to love and value yourself more, therefore opinions of others will not matter much. You will always see a bigger picture and little things will not make you anxious.

DETACHMENT  

You will feel detached from unnecessary affairs that used to bother you. It teaches you small things. Stopping to feed a dog, stopping to smell a rose, stopping to hear laughter, turning around to listen to bells, following intuitions, giving someone food, participating in small conversations and smiling with a content feeling while you travel solo.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

This is from my personal experience – when you are on your own and you have no one around to put your faith into, you close your eyes and ask for basics in life – what you really want. We don’t know from who, we just do: we all have a belief. Only to realize in the end by travelling alone that if you want something badly enough, you will make it happen.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • Pack less than you usually take
  • Be prepared for anything
  • Don’t plan everything, keep room for spontaneity
  • Prefer walking, you can feel and experience way more
  • Believe in something

Travel because you have to.

Be prepared for it, good things are coming.

Phocus Travel

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India

Things to do in Mumbai

Mumbai (Bombay), is India’s largest city, beautifully placed on the India’s west coast which makes it attractive, enough to attract millions of tourists throughout the year. The heart of Bollywood, the commercial capital, a hub of diverse cultures, traditions and religions. Mumbai is known as ‘city of dreams’ and land of contrasting diversities that can only be experienced.

Explore this amazing city and get ‘aamchi Mumbai’ experience where history buffs can go touring the well-known gateway of India, Haji ali, Chhatrapati Shivajji, Vastu Sanghralaya and Rajabai Clock Tower while the adventurers can embark on some exciting adventures around Mumbai like:

  • Rajmachi and Kondane Caves Treks in Lonavala
  • Treks in forts
  • Explore valley of flowers at kaas Plateau, Satara
  • Monsoon trek to Andharban Forest
  • Monsoon trek to Devkund waterfall
  • Offbeat camping experience near Mumbai
  • Beach camping at Alibaug
  • Street food tou
Matheran, Andherban or go cycling visit in Borivali National Park and so many more exciting things to do in Mumbai. While children can have a fun filled day at the Essel world.

Mumbai is all about experience

Mumbai is a not just a city, it’s an experience in itself where delightful shorelines brings peace to the soul, Siddhivinayak temple adds the spiritual ambience to the city and a night life which will release your stress as the city has the nation’s most acclaimed night clubs.

In your things to do in Mumbai list, if this is not enough, Mumbai offers wide range of shopping options that suits every pocket and the famous street food to spice up your taste buds from soaring malls to street foods. The city is known for its distinctive street food.

Pre-plan your vacation

It’s easy to be distracted during your vacation in Mumbai, ‘the city that never sleeps’ with its vibrant atmosphere, lovely chaotic streets, impressive colonial buildings, food stalls and colorful bazaars (markets), therefore pre-plan your vacation with Phocus Travel for Mumbai in advance.

Last but not the least, Mumbai is the home of Bollywood, or Hindi cinema, the largest film industry in India, therefore you will have a chance to catch wonderful and lively theaters.

So now you have a list of things to do in Mumbai. Grab your shades and experience this beautiful unique city like a local Mumbaikar at your own pace.

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Adventure Blog India ladakh himalaya

What to pack for a trip to Ladakh?

It is not always easy to know what to pack when planning a trip to the Himalayas. Ladakh is blessed with pleasant temperatures, far from the heat of Rajasthan. During the day, expect temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees, but be prepared for once the sun sets, as it can get really cold and it will remind you of how high up in the mountains you actually are. Phocus Travel offers you an ideal suit case for a stay in Ladakh, whether you go by car or by trekking, do not miss the essentials.

We recommend light cotton or linen outfits for pants and short-sleeved T-shirts. For the evening, do not forget a fleece or a relatively warm jacket and a scarf, which you will appreciate. Good shoes and socks so you can wander wherever you want and climb the steps of monasteries without hurting yourself with blisters.

Do not forget a good pair of sunglasses and sunscreen, it is essential for when you are out exploring during the day or while trekking.

If, however, you decide to discover this marvel of India on foot, you will of course have porters and drinking water at your disposal. But we still recommend a small practical backpack to carry your camera, a water bottle and the little accessories that you like to wear.

You are ready for an exceptional discovery of the Indian Himalayas in all its serenity. Have a good trip!

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Adventure Blog India Special

Traveling to India during the monsoon

India and its seasons! The rainy season, also known as the monsoon season, is very popular in India because it provides enough water for agricultural land.

On the other hand, to travel, we are sometimes afraid to spoil our stay in the rain.

No worries, India being a full-fledged sub-continent, the monsoon is a well-defined trajectory each year.

It begins in July in the southwestern region of Kerala, then goes back through Bombay before joining Rajasthan and Delhi, mainly in the month of August. In August and September, the clouds descend to the south, but to the east this time, in the state of Tamil Nadu.

We can expect the showers mostly in the evening and at night, which will not prevent you from visiting the monuments planned in the program.

The advantages of a summer stay are of course the attractive prices, the calm at the sites but also, for the lovers of Ayurveda, the best period for a cure.

If, however, you want to escape the humidity, do not forget the Himalayan part of India: Ladakh, also called Little Tibet. A breath-taking region, with its extraordinary and unique landscapes in the world. You can climb the highest road in the world, discover the life of nomads, rafting or trekking and of course discover the Buddhist religion.

A trip to Ladakh combines perfectly with a trip to the Taj Mahal on the way out or back.

Come and enjoy this multi-cultural destination in the monsoons!

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Blog Culture India

Trip to Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is, without a doubt, the most famous archaeological site in southern India, whose port contributed to the spreading of the Indian culture in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

But what is special about Mahabalipuram? Of course, the temples made of a single rock, the artistic bas-reliefs and the creativity, which is so pure. This city has been qualified as an “open-air museum”.

The site contains a lot of Hindu monuments dedicated to Lord Shiva and Vishnu, but also to Krishna and the heroes of the Mahabaratha. The three main monuments are: the Descent of the Ganges, the Temple of the Coast and the Five Southern Ratha. However, apart from these temples there is much more to discover. Perhaps one of the most interesting thing is the presence of a large, vaguely spherical rock, called the butter ball of Krishna, in a village. Of course it is almost mandatory to take a picture “holding” the huge rock.

You can see temples, temples and even more temples … Given the number of Hindu deities, the truth is that it is justified. And the city of Mahabalipuram, which is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1984, has dozens of them.

If you happen to pass through the south? Do not hesitate to visit this city to learn its impeccable history.

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Blog Special

Traveling doesn’t have to be stressful

Each of us have experienced this at some point in our life – stress of traveling. Traveling is something we do on a daily basis, be it just traveling from home to work and back. Some of us travel quite frequently, while few others travel once or twice a year. Whatever the reason maybe for your travel, wherever you are going and even if it is your umpteenth time, traveling can get complicated sometimes, especially when fatigue in any form invades your body, mind and soul.

But here we are mainly talking about traveling for the sole purpose of a vacation. It is certainly true that packing can be quite a tedious job – if only we could teleport everywhere with the blink of an eye! Going on a holiday can make people very anxious sometimes, which may often lead to rushing at the last minute, or leaving for the airport hours before the actual reporting time. Then comes the next hurdle of standing in line to check-in. All of this put together can leave a very bitter taste in our mouth, doubting our ability to actually have a good time once we reach the destination. Don’t let this ruin your entire trip, it is all part of the experience, and make for fun stories during get-togethers with friends. In fact, we can now take care of the check-in by going on the airlines website to do a Web Check-in, so no more standing in long lines and bickering about it till it’s your turn. This facility deserves a standing ovation for making it so convenient for most of us leaving everything to the last minute!

There can be several unexpected problems along the way, such as changes to flight timings or baggage being misplaced, then comes the jet lag once you reach your destination. We need to start overlooking all of the above and only focus on the positive side to a holiday. Appreciate the beauty that stands in front of you, the new place, the new people, there is so much to explore and so much time to unwind. Before getting back in to your routine life, take a moment to treasure these times that probably come once in 6 months for the larger lot of us.

Let this time be just yours, a time that cannot be taken over by anything or anyone else. A time to feel liberated in your own bubble. We travel to escape the monotony in our lives, to discover new places, to feel that peak of happiness of being in an unknown place, to let our hair down because god knows we deserve it. Whether you are traveling solo or with company, allow yourself to experience and immerse deep in the incredible world we live in. Because at the end of it all everything we endured during these times will be beyond phenomenal.

Every moment is unique and unrepeatable, sometimes we want to go back in time not to change anything but to live those moments twice – so relish and live every part of it.

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Adventure Nepal

What Nepal taught me in three weeks?

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal– Source unknown

Is it relatable to you? I sure can relate to it because I have done both and I honestly feel adventure is more my calling! Life as we know it can be adventurous every day, if you want it to be.

After months and months of contemplating on penning down my thoughts about my 3 weeks in Nepal last year in March, here I am, finally sitting down to write about it. Truth be told, it is not an easy job to do, because it is one very fascinating country sandwiched between China and India. Filled with so much adventure and culture that it can leave any traveler feeling the true immensity of life on this planet.

From the moment you land in Nepal, there is a certain sense of euphoria that enters your soul and reaches so deep that it becomes a part of you for a long time coming. In the three weeks that we spent here, we met some of the most generous people, saw and learnt about their beautiful history, and ate absolutely delicious food. A smile can go a long way – they say, multiply that with the population of the country, now imagine how far we went with that. The big warm smile on every person’s face you pass by and the Namaste that goes along with it, made us realize just how simple life is if you want it to be. My friend and I were lucky to get the opportunity to explore Nepal with a few locals here, who made sure that by the end of the 3 weeks we are left with emotions so high that not even a bottle of rum can fix!

We spent most of our time in the capital city – Kathmandu, as it was our base. A busy city bustling with people, and vehicles equally. The drive from the airport to our hotel should have taken about 15 to 20 mins, but the incredible traffic caused due to constructions all over the city took us almost an hour. Construction of roads and buildings that were destroyed during the devastating April 2015 earthquake that shook us all. It was heartbreaking to see all those half broken walls, which once stood erect with not a scratch on them. It was also very overwhelming at the same time to see the strength of those very people who were victims of a natural calamity that come with no warnings.

Why am I stressing on the people so much? For only the simplest reason known to us – it is us the people who make a nation what it is and it is us who destroy it. But here, it was the people who were building it from ground up, from a destruction caused by a common enemy. The dedication and unity of the people is what made me realize that Nepal is so much more than just the Himalayas – It is so special and there is so much magic in the air.

During the day we would walk through every tiny alley we could find, because there is no better way to explore and this is the perfect way to become one with the place. If we weren’t looking at every exquisite World Heritage Site that this place has to offer, then we were stalking food. We found treasure for food every time, nothing we ate left us disappointed. Rice happens to be the staple here, along with some form of lentils or a curry to accompany it with. Out of all the delectable dishes we laid our eyes and hands on, the Momo’s were undeniably my favorite! The next best thing is, not a soul judges you for wanting to eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I don’t plan on writing endless number of words in this one blog to describe the profound feelings I experienced during my time in Nepal, but I do intend to give you a vivid picture one chapter at a time and perhaps even hoping that you are able to live those ecstatic moments with me.

To be continued..

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Blog Nepal Special

An interview with Doma Poudel – the woman conservationist making a difference!

We were in Nepal exploring and appreciating the beauty of it, when we stumbled upon an article on Parks and Conservation in their local newspaper – The Kathmandu Post. It was about how two women became the agents of change in the conservation of wildlife. Being a true believer of “say no to animal cruelty”, led us to getting in touch with the brilliant Doma Poudel. A woman who started her journey of protecting and caring for animals, plus the environment at a very young age. Her undying love for conserving the wildlife has brought her to the position she is in today, where her voice against animal cruelty is beyond being just commendable.

  1. You were one of the first women nature guides in the country. How is life like as a woman in a male dominated field?
    • – It was not a very easy start to begin with when I wanted to be a nature guide. I have a little bit of social background related to dealing with animals and preserving the eco system in general that probably helped me a little in the start. At that time there were around 20 to 22 male guides, and I was the only female amongst them. They invited me to be a part of their group but only in an office behind a desk. It wasn’t enough for me to say the least, because I wanted to be there in the field. According to the rules of the park there should be 2 guides with each guest or group inside the park. They believed it was too dangerous for a woman to be inside the park and that we couldn’t handle what the job entails. I had to convince them to let me be a part of the nature guides who accompany the guests, and finally one day they agreed to send me on a 3 days trip. During that time we encountered with a rhino, where in I helped in defending ourselves without hurting the rhino and chased him away with confidence. This was what led them to believe in me and broadened their minds of letting me be a permanent nature guide. I went to the park regularly post that and had a team who wanted to go in with only me (she laughs).
  2. We heard that the national park has reached 1000 zero rhino-poaching days! Congratulations! In an area where hunting is more than just a sport or a means for survival, how were you able to achieve this?
    • – The security is very good now inside the park, compared to anywhere else in the world. The revenue that the park gets from the ticket and jeep cost, around 30 to 50% goes to the community level for conservation work. This in turn helps in contributing to the livelihood of the people. And I think it is good policy because it really works, since there are a lot of poverty stricken and landless people. It is of course not an easy job, but we are trying to create awareness among the locals living around the park area. Teaching them about the benefits of the eco system and how the existence of animals is important to us. Tourism has helped a lot in this regard because it helps us generate income for the people. Now the locals are very cooperative, but I’m just afraid that one day they might change their mind or get negativity again. So I am working with the conservation stake holders to keep things under control. On the other hand I am still continuing with awareness or conservation programs for the community at large.
  3. These meetings or awareness programs take place in a school or what kind of venues do you pick?
    • – Yes, we go to schools. I am in the anti-poaching community so we educate the children with legal awareness programs. Some people still don’t know the kind of punishment they get if the animals are harmed.
  4. How does it work? Do you announce a date for these programs for people to attend? How do they join the sessions?
    • – There are 22 different user groups or buffer zones in every national park. Under that there are 1000’s of smaller groups in the community who are connected to the buffer zone groups, who are connected to the council. All of this is connected to the national park. There are 3 different processes, and we are 9 different units in the anti-poaching community. 45 members who are working in the anti-poaching community. But there are also many different groups in the user community – both men and women directly involved in the community. This is how the word spreads among the locals. It is mainly word of mouth.
  5. We admire your passion for the conservation of wildlife. What led you to pursue this?
    • – When I was in school I was involved in the green club, participating in planting trees and training programs. But then I didn’t know much about conservation on the larger level. Then later I started working for women empowerment and joined several clubs for conservation, also did some training to preserve the environment or cleaning the environment. My mom died by an attack of a rhino. People were questioning me as to why I wasn’t angry with the rhino. But I feel animals are innocent and voiceless. So my answer to all those people is simple. Humans are still killing people and going to war in spite of knowing the outcome and circumstances. Humans do it on purpose, but animals don’t know right from wrong like we do. So why should we kill them for doing something that they were not aware of, they were only trying to defend themselves. It is because of these animals that we have thousands of tourists every day. We benefit directly from tourism. But if there is no wildlife how can tourism grow here in Chitwan, how will it run. If there was no national park then how will we live? Cos of the one horned rhino we are popular, but if there are no rhinos then how will we survive, cos there will be no tourists. Though it makes me sad to remember what happened to my mother, I cannot take it out on the animals. It helps me be at ease and feels good and motivates me to help conserve the wildlife. I think I have inspired a lot of people doing what I do.
  6. What are some of the major challenges you have faced in protecting the wildlife?
    • – In 2007 – 2008 around 34 to 37 rhinos were killed each year. In 2009 we found a rhino whose horn was cut, and he was running around in pain. It was 100 meters away from the army post but they didn’t realize. Nobody was helping the rhino. That was really painful for me. Then in 2009, in the national park many rhinos were killed. This happened because the second high court from the government level released 120 poachers. That made me really sad and angry. Then we decided to make a special plea to the government. We had a meeting with the government officials and the conversation stake holders along with the national guide association. I was the secretary of that meeting. We conducted two such meetings or programs – One was in Chitwan, and the other was in KTM. That is when we created awareness about the rhinos. Our questions were straight forward – how are the people getting the guns to kill the animals? I know that the locals are not allowed to enter the park so easily with guns or carry guns. Why don’t they know that the rhino was killed so close by? Why is the security so weak? Nobody could answer us. We made a signature rhino protection campaign and wildlife protection during that time. We went to the official person of the district office. In KTM we did a press conference as well. We collected around 50000 signatures on the campaign for animals and rhino protection. Together with this we went to the government, Prime Minister (Madhav Kumar Nepal) during that time – the chief constitution speaker Subhash Chandra Nembang – we met all the chair persons of the chair party. We also met the 601 constitution members and voiced our concerns. We gave the 50000 signatures, and questioned them about releasing the poachers. Since they were already released we cannot do anything about it, as it is already decided but I came up with a solution. So I proposed that together we can send the natural resource management community in the local level surrounding the park area. I can give the ideas and strategies to make the protection better for the animals. Make a strong crime control bureau or conservation army. That time we had a lack of coordination, where they would blame each other. Good coordination is required for protection of animals, which we have now. We also have a good army and proper GPS connection. Everyone seems to be helping now – Government, police, locals. So it is making very good progress. I did receive a lot of threats from the poachers that time, but that did not stop me. If we work together it can be successful. It is not easy to protect but still possible.
  7. Do you still get threats from poachers?
    • – Now it doesn’t happen as much but still happens in moderation in the western part of Nepal. Our network has become much more-stronger than before so we don’t have to worry much like before. And hoping we stay like that. We have a really very strong team now so I’m very happy to achieve this. I don’t think poachers will dare now.
  8. Would you kindly share one of the most rewarding experience as a conservationist?
    • – I want to continue doing what I do and make it better and better till we reach our goal. We still have to make more policies to make this work.
  9. In a recent interview, you were quoted saying “Conservation is only possible when livelihood of the locals is equally paid attention to. People need an alternative way of life that uplifts their lifestyle and income. And I believe it all starts with education and skills development.” Thousands of tourists from all over the world come to visit this yearly, is there anyway, they can contribute to both the ‘education and skills development’ of the locals? If so, how?
    • – If people want to get in touch directly with the anti-poaching community they can do that. Or they can do it through the government. There are buffer zones or user communities, so we can involve them directly. I have my own office – Nepal Dynamic Eco tours and it was established in 2012 – as I am trying to do something myself as well. We are supporting the local women with their organic farming, and also supporting single women by distributing goods. We are distributing school material to the children. But it will not be enough, we have to look forward to do some skill development and income generation training. And also increase the education among the masses. If they want to contribute then they can come to me and I can help them connect together with the national park. I welcome everyone to my office. It is my dream to make a Wildlife foundation in the coming days and hopefully we achieve success.

We applaud for Doma Poudel and hope she achieves her goals!

Categories
Blog India

First time to Amritsar

Peaceful, tranquil, serene, crowded, beautiful and endlessly mesmerising! Throughout history, art world giants and enigmatic personalities have been raving about this gold building this way but for me it was way beyond everything! As soon as I stepped my foot down the stair from where I could unambiguously see the gold building, silence eloped me, things changed, I didn’t know what to do, to say or ask!

I had never experienced this before in my life and that feeling is inexplicable. White and golden buildings, people taking bath in the river to the beautiful marble walkaway, this ten minute walk to the Sikh temple is something I will remember for about ten generations. The journey to the Golden temple began prior to this, as we started walking along the red cobbled streets with Victorian lights and local shops. This street billowed out liveliness and was as vibrant as the people that walked through it. Not only this, the temples around the streets were all of a different colour! This street without any doubt is India’s Bond street without an LV store, though

😉
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Blog Special

Visiting India during the off-season months

off-season months

The start of May until the end of September is considered off-season for tourism in India. The period is divided into two seasons May to June—summer months and July to September—monsoon season.
May and June are relatively busy months for tourism in the Himalayas as the weather is pleasant.

WHAT IS TRAVELING DURING OFF-SEASON LIKE?

  • Now this totally varies from refion to region. In the Himalayas, you can expect to see a lot less crowd and enjoy great discounts on accommodation.
  • Summer off-season months – Expect extremely hot weather. You must prepare yourself for the heat and pick accommodation with air-conditioning.
  • Monsoon off-season months – July onward the heat gets more bearable, often the weather can be in the mid 20’s. However, depending on which region you plan to visit you will encounter at least a little rain, with heavy showers in several areas.
  • We strongly recommend you to visit North India during the monsoons as the rains are light. All in all, you end up enjoying pleasant weather, light rains, green countryside, off-season discounts and see very less tourists around.

TIPS FOR TRAVELLING DURING OFF-SEASON

  • May and June are the hot months. They’re better avoided unless you plan to visit the Himalayas.
  • July to September are the monsoon months. They are still considered off-season months for travelling in India. Kerala receives a lot of rain during these months  However, we believe it is a great time to tour the North.
  • Across India you will enjoy fabulous hotel deals. Expect budget hotels to be 30% cheaper and upper end hotels to be up to 50% cheaper.  India has an amazing collection of palace and boutique hotels, that suddenly become affordable during this time of the year.
  • September marks the end of the off-season in India. It is increasingly considered as low-season, rather than off-season. While you might see a few more tourists, the monsoon showers have usually receded by then. The countryside is gorgeously green September is probably the best off-season month to visit India.
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Blog India Special

Valentina’s Delhi connection

Hello!

I am Valentina from Italy.

I’m 23 and come from Verona. I graduated in Oriental Languages at Ca ‘Foscari University in Venice. My field of study is the Indian subcontinent. I have studied Hindi language and in general Indian culture. This “strange” choice is due to the passion I have taken from my family. I have grown up hearing about India and its wonderful history. Clearly, my parents have never been fanatic about “oriental cultures” and they were certainly not one of those those who went to India to find themselves or to meditate. BUT, we got several opportunities to explore North India.

After having explored India as a kid with my parents, I came back to India in 2015, with a friend of mine. It was a new and important experience for my growth. I spent a month and a half in a district, south of Calcutta, West Bengal, and then in the state of Jharkhand, in the middle of a campaign, through an association that deals mainly with street children (for those who are interested in “Child In Need Institute “- CINI). The Indian reality I saw and lived was not easy to digest, but I immediately realized that India has so many shades and it’s not enough to see all of them. After this experience, it was time to give wings to the tourists in us, so we visited: Varanasi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Vrindavan and New Delhi.

After this trip I admit that my “desire for India” had diminished: the last days in the subcontinent seemed infinite and I was looking forward to going back to my Country. But, then destiny got me back to India and this time I visited India with my dad. It was wonderful to live in the country with another point of view.

In 2016 I went on to attend a Hindi language course in New Delhi. After staying in the capital for a month and a half with two other girls, we traveled for a month to the following places: Calcutta, Varanasi, Bombay and finally two locations of Goa, Benaulim and Agonda.
In June 2017 I did  an internship at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi (organized by my university). I returned to Italy at the end of September.

My Indian experiences have been completely different, with different people and in different places. When someone asks me (and so many) why this (sometimes crazy) passion, I am out of words. Every time I go back to India I feel at home and every time I leave for Italy I have tears in my eyes.

There are so many aspects I’ve fallen in love with: the smells of the foods you feel when walking on any Indian road (I like to eat and in India you can taste lots of food!); the intense looks of people who are curious about you; the smiles of children, the people on the train (I did some night train trips and you never know where to go); the markets where you can literally buy anything at tattered prices (I’m not a fan of shopping, but in India it’s hard not to buy) But, you know what I miss the most, quarreling with my rickshaw drivers, haha.

But, obviously I also had a few bad experiences in India, but then, India teaches you how to convert these negatives into positives. Probably, this is one of the reasons I feel happy being in India!

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Blog

Travel is in my DNA

Hello!
How do I begin?

Travel is in my blood (not saying for the heck of it, it actually is). It’s just the idea of visiting a new place that makes me want to jump out of my bed and go away. The reason for this: probably the kind of person I am, the circumstances, the opportunities, exposure and experiences. But is this love that I have for travel any different from what others have. I don’t think so, maybe I just got more opportunities that helped me recognise this and here I am writing about this affair.

Initially, traveling was just about going away and having a good time. Now, I see traveling as an opportunity to see a new place, meeting new people and knowing their culture. Traveling is all about change and change is all we need in today’s world, whether in businesses, houses, cars, people, friends, in anything and everything.

The city of New Delhi, that’s what I call home and the city of London, my second home. For me there is a lot in common between the two cities. From hustle-bustle, mayhem, people, fashion, markets and businesses to being a perfect amalgam of the good and the bad, these cities are iconic in themselves. Okay, maybe that’s my love that is making me marvel about these two, but I am sure, most of the people will have similar thoughts.

Coming from an Economics background, it was a complete turnaround for me when I switched to Management for my Masters. What next, here I am thinking about taking up travel as a career. haha! Who knows, whats next 😉

Okay, bye bye

Categories
Blog India

First time to India?

Bustling yet serene and irrepressibly on the move, India dazzles and delights like no other place. Here are some tips for travelers planning their first trip to India.

Where to Travel?

Mumbai
The city of dreams, the city of screams. The city of riches and poor, The city of accidents and cure. Ahem! A city whose energy will only lift you up and make you want to do more. It might sound a bit clichéd to call Mumbai, the New York of India, but that is something that describes this city of dreams the best.
If Mumbai is your introduction to India, prepare yourselves for a wonderful journey and delve down deep into the city. The city with its furious energy is certainly bound to leave an indelible mark on your soul. This city, on the west coast of India is another world altogether. From exquisite colonial buildings, Portuguese architecture, Bollywood and expats on one hand to slums, stray dogs, starlets, fisherfolk on the other. It’s a total maze out there. Some of its most notable places are remnants of British colonial rule, including the spectacular Victoria Terminus, the Prince of Wales Museum and the Gateway of India.

Kerala
If your idea of India includes the rustic serenity of its countryside, then Kerala is a must for you. There is a lot to see here – including the extraordinary Hindu murals of the 16th-century, Sree Krishna Temple– but the main attraction here is that you can enjoy a tremendous variety of local cuisines. Luminescent paddy fields, fragrant spice gardens and verdant tea and coffee plantations are a feast for the eyes.

Udaipur & Jaipur
For monumental architecture, Agra justly steals the show with the Taj Mahal, but Udaipur to the west has its share of treasures, nestled in some of the most beautiful landscapes in India. The City Palace rises from the bank of Lake Pichola like a colorful mountain. In nearby Jaipur, Amber Fort is sprawling and spectacular, but be sure to visit the Eklingji temple complex, located outside the city. The carvings on the more than 100 shrines here have to be seen to be believed; moreover, it is a place of deep reverence and spirituality, an unmistakable part of the fabric of locals.

Agra & the Taj Mahal
If you ever worried that the Taj Mahal might not live up to the magnificence that poets and historians have applied to it, worry no longer. No photograph does the Taj Mahal true justice. It looks as if it were painted onto the sky and is both strikingly simple and graced with fine details. Visit at both sunrise and sunset, and see for yourself. Btw, Sunrise is the most evocative time to view the Taj.

Delhi
This is the city with a heart. Cosmopolitan yet traditional. Delhi is the city with the heart of Rajasthan and the pulse of London. A visit here is likely to include the Gandhi Memorial, Chandini Chowk, Khan market, Rashtrapati Bhavan and Humanyun Tomb. You may also want to take a walk at Lodi Gardens.

When to Go?
Much of India’s climate is tropical, and the summer months can be too hot, so plan to travel in fall, winter or spring. The southern parts of India, including Kerala, are tropical and remain warm throughout. If you plan to travel both north and south, you need to pack for two different climatic conditions.

Who Should Travel to India?
Anyone with a love of history, culture, tradition, heritage and deep spirituality; anyone with a passion for beauty, whether natural or manmade; and anyone with the desire to meet some of the most open and warm people on the planet. In short…just about everyone should experience India, not once but every now and then.

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Blog Special

Why Phocus Travel’s travel experts are the best?

You can book the trip yourself – but why would you want to? Our travel designers elevate every trip. They know how to get the best value for your time and money, and, thanks to their connections, they can VIP you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and much more. With a portfolio of best hotels in and around the Indian subcontinent, cruise lines, and more, we promise you the best.

Phocus Travel travel designers: After some deep research, innovation and exploration, our travel designers have come up with some amazing programs for you.

WHY?

Makes the trip Extraordinary 
A Phocus Travel travel expert can secure special benefits that you can’t get on your own, such as complimentary breakfast, spa credits, value added experiences and upgrades at hotels. Btw, they also see the nuances in every trip. In short, these travel designers will make your journey worth remembering.

Knows the World 
Just as you might use a financial planner, an interior designer, or personal shopper, it makes sense to entrust your most valuable asset – your time – to an experienced travel expert. The best designers spend a lot of time on the road themselves – scouting out hotels, deepening relationships with tour guides, and finding the best restaurants and things to do.

Knows Your Style of Travel
Our travel designer understands what’s most important to you and your traveling companions. You may want to take a cooking class or a private tour, or you may not want to leave the hotel pool! Perhaps you want to use travel to educate your kids about the destination, plan an unforgettable anniversary trip, or celebrate a milestone birthday with friends and family. Our travel experts have plenty of suggestions for one and all.

Expands Your Horizons 
A great travel designer will help you think creatively about where to go and what to do. Rajasthan, Kerala, and Kathmandu will always be popular. But your advisor also knows the best ways, say, to see offbeat locations.

Can Handle Anything and Everything
Have you ever been on a trip where everything went exactly the way you planned? Right – this almost never really happens. Issues are bound to pop up, and your Phocus Travel travel designer is your personal help line and “fixer” who knows how to quickly turn things around. When they follow up after your trip, you’ll surely have an answer to this question: “Where do you want to travel next?”

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Blog Culture Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s must see: Kandy

A sacred Buddhist city, cultural capital of the country and the last royal city of Sri Lanka are just some of its many virtues. A mesmerising tea estate and the lake at the hub add to the charisma of the city. The ancestry of this city traces back  to 1357 CE when Vikramabahu III established the city and named it Senkadagalpura. Its history comprises of several wars and struggle for the throne. Portuguese, Dutch, English and a few South Indian Kings tried to seize this city.

ANY GUESSES, WHICH CITY ARE WE ARE TALKING ABOUT?
KANDY

Kandy was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988 and is considered to be the religious and administrative capital of Sri Lanka.

The city is located in between multiple mountain ranges including The Knuckles and Hanthana mountain range. The artificial centrepiece Kandy Lake and the adjacent Udwattaa Kele Sanctuary along with the picture perfect tea plantation revamp the city.

Top essentials

The Kandy Lake dictates the arrangement of the city. Adjacent to the lake is the Temple of Scared Tooth, where one can witness one of the most significant Buddhist artefacts, a tooth of the Buddha. The temple complex houses many temples and museums.

Kandy monasteries

Are you also influenced by Buddhism? Here we have something for you. Kandy is of paramount importance in the Buddhist religious atlas. The Malwatte Maha Vihar and the Asgiriya Maha Vihara hold significant religious value. The architecture of buildings and life style of the common folks are noticeably affected by the Buddhist culture.

The Tea Museum

Add a different flavour to your visit by experiencing the history and evolution in tea farming and tea processing techniques. A little off road from Kandy, the Tea Museum is restored on a vintage tea factory-The 1925 Hantane tea factory. Conventional methods of tea processing including Thomas Lipton’s are on display here.

Where to hang around

Kandy is unique in itself. In a country full of beaches and sea, it offers you a lot, an attractive lake, a Buddhist pilgrimage, array of museums, mountains and tea estates.

  • The Lake  – Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, that’s what they say. This lake does complete justice to the statement. It is an appealing site of the city and will grab your eye balls at an instant. The temple of the scared Tooth on the north side of it adds to the marvellous beauty of the lake. This is a man made marvel and was created by the last ruler of the kingdom Kandy in 1807.
  • National Museum – The national museum of Kandy features diverse royal possessions of a bygone era along with the remains of the kingdoms and dynasty that ruled the city once. The museum takes us back to the pre European era and helps us visualize the royal and glorious times of the era. Apart from the National museum, Sri Dalada Museum seizes your attention.

Where to shop

Are you a shopaholic and can’t go without it?

Here, we have something for you. Visit the arty markets of this city, they are influenced from the royals of pre European era. Big shopping malls, several street markets and local shops selling original Batik are major attractions. Go buy antique souvenirs at the Kandyan Art Association and Cultural Centre. The Buddhist Publication and the Cultural Triangle are good places to buy books. Also, don’t forget to visit the Kandy City centre.

Where to Eat

Hello foodies, here we have some good news for you. Sri Lanka being enclosed by the sea offers a great variety of sea food. But Kandy is a little different in this context. From five star meals to spiced curries at food joints, Kandy offers a multiplicity in taste. The Empire Cafe, an old relic place to hangout is an excellent place to visit. The Bake House offers you an array of baked goods. Devon restaurant and the Sharon Inn both are high end restaurants with realistic rates. Kandy Muslim Hotel is famous for its samosas and ethnic spiced curries.

Zoom in

  • Trekking in the nearby mountains – For hikers, Kandy provides amateurs to intermediate treks. From the summit, one can witness the panoramic splendour of Kandy. The lake in the middle and the attractive city surrounded with vibrant buildings makes it worth an experience. An early start is recommended and any travel or hike after sunset to remote areas should be avoided.
  • Eshala Perahera: Buddhist Festival of Tooth – For an cultural enthusiast, witnessing a festival celebrated every year for the last 400 years would be a wish come true. The festival of Tooth is held in the month of August, starting from ten days before full moon. The Elephant Parade, dance, drums music and large social gatherings are the highlights of the festival. The relic was brought to Kandy by a South Indian prince for King Megavanna.
  • Peradeniya Botanical Garden – Just a few miles from Kandy is the beautiful Peradeniya Botanical Garden, spread across 60 hectares. It is the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka. A collection of orchids, coconut palm trees, spices garden, bamboos and royal palms add to the bio-diversity of the garden. If you would like to spend your day amidst nature and in peace, a tour of the garden is highly recommended.

Good to Know

  1. The remote areas and mountains should be avoided during night especially if you are a woman. Even a walk around the Lake after dark is not safe.
  2. Commuting around the city can be quite tiring. So, gather all the information about the place before leaving.
Categories
Blog Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Must see: Colombo – Calm and Scintillating

Calm and Scintillating Colombo; A visit to Srilanka

My country and land like no other, just like my mother, I wouldn’t want another. So special to me in different but in every way. I shall bring forth dignity not tomorrow but everyday. That’s what the capital city Colombo means to Sri-lanka.

The city breathes life and vitality into all those who settle here, putting modernism and culture in one shoe, Colombo welcomes heartily all individuals who visit this city. Sri-Lanka also known as the island country, is one the most popular tourist destinations. White sands, beaches, lakes, forests and the Sun, Colombo is a perfect mash-up.

It is the splendid architecture of Colombo that leaves everyone spellbound. With the tagline of the commercial centre and the largest city of Sri-Lanka, Colombo has well managed to execute its historical and modern tales. Being the financial centre of Sri-Lanka, it can be the most expensive as well as the cheapest place on Srilanka, as you will see it. Colombo is a busy and vibrant place with a mixture of modern life, colonial buildings and ruins.

The journey of this city was not easy as we think. From being a mere trade city to the main administrative city of Srilanka, the journey always demands attention. In one simple word, Colombo is the city of vibe. And if you are one of the tourists who wants to feel the vibe, Colombo is waiting for you.

Top essentials

Being a heritage town with a colonial tagline, it has many historical places to visit which will leave you awestruck. Not only that, being the trade centre, administrative centre and financial centre of the country, Colombo demands a great deal, politically as well as economically.

  1. Independence Square –Are you a history junkie? The national monument of Sri-Lanka, this is the symbol of gaining independence from the British in 1948. Purely Sri-Lankan architecture.
  2. National Museum – Do you want to get back in time, into the colonial era? The Italian structures National Museum was built in the British era. It holds the signs of the historic glory of Sri-Lanka as well as pain and sufferings of the people in past years.
  3. Colombo Fort – One of the main attractions for Historians in Colombo. It was made by Portuguese and was later developed by Dutch. It is located on the harbour. Certainly a paradise for history lovers.
  4. Colombo lighthouse – It was established on 1980. It is a clock tower, and, a lantern was added later.

Where to hang around

As I said before, Colombo is the city of vibe. The vibe changes from time to time. In daytime, when this city looks like a busy city with so much political burden. And if you want to grab the essence of that vibe differently, experience the night life in Colombo.

  1. The Barnesburry
  2. The Manchester
  3. Arabian Knights
  4. Sky Lounge
  5. Curve Tapas Bar
  6. Cheers pub
  7. ZAZA Bar
  8. The t-lounge

Where to shop

Shopping in Colombo is one of the highlights of this city. With modern shopping malls, there are many markets spread around this city. Let’s take a look

  1. Odel – The best shopping mall in the city, Odel is synonymous with Colombo. From luxurious things to cheap things, one can get everything here.
  2. The factory outlet – If you are looking for casual outfits, this place is where you ought to go.
  3. Avirate – Stands as sensuality, hello luxury shopping lovers. Louis Vuitton or Jimmy Choo?
  4. Paradise Road – Street shopping at its best, heaven for cheap products, it is all about bargaining here.
Apart from these, there are other places like Cottage craft, Laksala, Arpico and Barefoot for shopaholics. Ahannn

Where to eat

Have you been wanting to visit India only for its food, so here’s good news for you. So obviously, the Indian food style has an impact on the foods of Sri-Lanka. The blend of Indian style and Srilankan culture has created some unique foods, like Fish ambul thiyal, Kottu, Kukul mas curry, Parippu, Lamprais, etc. Want to enlighten your taste buds. Here’s the list.

  1. Upali’s
  2. Tasty.ik
  3. Calorie Counter
  4. The Lagoon
  5. The Fab
  6. Good Market
  7. Cargill’s food city

Zoom in

  • Experience the spirituality at Gangaramaya Temple – A 2000 year old temple, holds Buddhism belief and is one of the calmest and most beautiful places of Colombo.
  • Relax Wolvendaal Church – Established during the Dutch period, this church holds abundance of historical importance with carved wooden pews, chairs, pulpit and lanterns.To experience the scenic beauty of Colombo, visit:
    • Galle Face Green – Looking for some me time? This seaside location is an enormous and elegant place in the Colombo city. A beautiful place to spend time with family or alone.
    • Viaharamahadevi Park – Formerly known as Victoria Park, it is the most beautiful and old park in Colombia. People visit this park for perfect serenity and scenic beauty.
    • Dehiwala Zoo – The only zoo in Colombo city. It has many animals and rare species of animals too. World Trade Centre– The landmark of Colombo established in 1997.

    Apart from these places, there are other famous places too, like Slave Island, Kalani Maha Raja temple, etc.

Good to know

Being the largest city and the central head of Sri-Lanka, Colombo is well connected to other parts of Sri-Lanka. It is the called the gateway of Sri-Lanka. Colombo has two airports– Bandaranaike International Airport and Ratmalana Airport. Not only that, Colombo bus service provides excellent services to different cities of Sri-Lanka. It has big highways like A1, A2, A3, A4, etc., which are well connected to other cities like Kandy, Galle, Matara, Ratnapura, etc. Not only that, by rail too Colombo is well related to the rest of Sri-Lanka.

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Blog India

India’s must see: Udaipur

Udaipur, Rajasthan

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light which heaven to gaudy day denies.
Udaipur, certainly there is not a corner of this place that does not bear the impress of the most romantic city in India. Each building resonates this emotion. Royal attractions, ancient architecture, magnificent palaces, the art and buzz of the old bazaars add an impression of the Rajas and Rajwaras.

Welcome to Udaipur, India’s must see!

Located in the state of Rajasthan, to the south of Aravali Range, the city of Udaipur was founded by Maharana Udai Singh as the capital of Mewar Kingdom. The very old tales and influence of its past rulers is very much alive and so the very air seems to sing ballads of warriors and their chivalry. Mighty forts, ancient temples, Old palace hotels along with traditional folk dance and music; magnify Udaipur’s charm. The city’s architecture boasts the bittersweet stories of the years bygone. Udaipur is also enlisted as a prime wedding location. Tales of royal love boasts the rich history of the city. At present, one can enjoy peaceful boat rides in lake Pichola, witness beautiful sunsets and take pleasure by staying at an 18th century fort palace. Aah!

  • Essentials: As soon as you enter the “city of lakes”, you will appreciate the elegance and radiance of the city. The majestic celebration, traditional fares, and markets, tours of forts, palaces and desert safari; the white city has a lot to offer. So, gear up and our travel experts will tell you the do’s and must do’s of Udaipur.
  • The Lake Palace: Situated in the Jag Niwas Island amidst the waters of Lake Pichola, this striking structure was built as a summer retreat by the Maharaja of Mewar. However, this palace now functions as a heritage hotel. Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur is the most romantic hotel in the world.  It was built in 1746 as the pleasure palace of Maharana Jagat Singh II
  • The Udaipur City Palace: This monumental structure of marble and granite on the banks of Lake Pichola is a true marvel of the royal city of Udaipur. The domes, the arches, the towers specify the merge of Chinese, medieval, and European forms of architecture. The city palace has a total of 11 palaces within the premises. The paintings, the royal furniture, the decorated walls give you a glimpse of the rich history of the Rajwaras.
  • Old City Tour: Well, if you are an adventure freak, Udaipur has a lot to offer. Desert Safari, helicopter joy ride, and cycling tour of the city are a few the activities that get one’s adrenalin pumping. Cycling through the old city takes you back in history. The sprawling bazaar that was built in the mid-1800s will definitely stun you with its handicraft and design arts.

Places to hang around

  • Lake Pichola: This beautiful lake can be summarized as the identity of Udaipur. The 4km long man-made water body offers you a lot. Many of the marvels of the Maharana era, especially The City Palace and The Lake Palace are on the banks of this lake. One cannot give them a miss while traveling to Udaipur. The boat rides in the Lake, a royal ambiance with a touch of grace; romance is redefined here.
    Udaipur is a city with interconnected lakes and if you are with family, Lake Fatehsagar Lake is the place for you. The adjacent Nehru Park and a zoo nearby make it a perfect paradise for children.
  • Museums: For history lovers, this museum offers you a sneak peek in the splendid history of the Royal family of Rajasthan. If you want to expose yourself to the folk art of Rajasthan, Bhartiya Lok Kala Museum is the place for you. On display, one can easily witness the collection of Rajasthani art and music. An insight into the grand and royal life of the Maharana, a very impressive collection of tribal jewelry, music instrument puppets, and paintings will mesmerize you for sure.
    Vintage Classic car museum, a former state garage now a well operational museum has 22 car collections of the Maharajas. A 1934 Phantom (Rolls- Royce), 1938 Cadillac seven-seated, and others are awe-inspiring. This museum gives you a peep into the regal lifestyle of the Royals in Udaipur.
  • Where to Shop: The bazaar of Udaipur reeks with ethnic and ascetic values of Udaipur. If you are interested in a variety of handicrafts and folk arts of Rajasthan then, Hathi Pol Bazaar is the place for you. Famous for its miniature paintings, the place is a delight for art lovers. Nagra slipper, made from camel skin with beautiful embroidery ought to be on your list. Bada Bazaar for traditional Rajasthani dresses and décor jootis is a must-visit. It is the best place to acquire a souvenir. Apart from these markets, go to Chetak circle where you can stumble on puppets, jewelry, toys. Lastly Rajasthali, the one true stop for artistic things. It displays everything from puppets to marbles, textiles, furniture, turban, idols, and paintings and oxidized silver jewelry all in one place.
  • Where to eat: Udaipur offers a variety of options for food lovers. From well maintained high-end palace hotels to delicious and affordable Rajasthani food, one can have numerous mouth-watering prospects in here. The morning tea by the Lake Side, royal lunch at the Fort Palace, evening snacks at the local street markets, evening drinks in the outdoor seating, and finally a romantic dinner at the Lake Palace; you just can’t get enough!
    Ambari restaurant at the banks of the lake specializes in Laal Maas (traditional Rajasthani Meat curry), Devigarh Fort Palace for a romantic evening and Boharwadi Falafils for the taste of Arabian food in the desert is someplace that one can seek. For a street food junkie, Ayad ka Samosa, Lala ki Kachori, and Jalebi at Delhi gate; a few of the well-known street food stalls in Udaipur.

Zoom in

  • Relaxing Boat Ride: A marvel within itself, a city of Lakes within desert; Udaipur offers you a peaceful stay amidst hot surroundings. From lone wanderers to couples on a romantic trip, Udaipur has a lot to offer to one and all. A Sunset cruise at Lake Pichola is highly recommended.
  • Fairs and festivals: If you ever want to grasp the dynamism of the people of Desert, grasp it during fairs and festivals. Mewar festival and Shilpgram Crafts fairs are the two most vibrant and colorful festivals held in Udaipur. Mewar festival is celebrated along with the Gangaur festival in Jaipur. Mewar festival is observed to welcome the onset of spring. The Shilpgram Fair is organized to showcase the traditional arts and crafts of Rajasthan. It is a perfect place to try out handicrafts, handwoven clothes, and mirror work.
  • Arts and Heritage Markets: If you really appreciate the old age art and heritage of Rajasthan, visit all the local markets and witness the beauty in the hands of traditional artists. An ideal blend of modernization and old traditional ethics, Udaipur presents a perfect opportunity for folk artists to showcase their finesse.

Good to know

  • Placed in the deserts, the climate of Udaipur is habitually hot. A visit during monsoons is highly recommended. Enchanting lakes add to the charm of the City. The days here can be hot, so a stroll along the streets in the evening is a delight.
  • Wet face wipes and water bottles should be handy during the day time.
Categories
Blog India

India’s must see: Jaipur- A perfect getaway for Travelers

Brilliant reds, vibrant saffron, ochres meeting bright pink and deep blues come together in harmony in the beautiful garden called ‘THE PINK CITY’. Chaotically beautiful and endlessly fascinating. That’s Jaipur.

AND, WHAT ELSE?

Here, you are sure to be amazed beyond imagination.
Embellished with splendid palaces of a bygone era, this desert city of India is the city to escape to.
Truly has it been written that to look at India is like an examination of a microcosm of the Earth and visiting Jaipur is like romancing India inside out.

Jaipur is one of the most popular destinations in North India and every year a large number of tourists from all over the world visit this place to enjoy its rich culture and heritage. Being the capital of India’s most flamboyant state Rajasthan, Jaipur has a lot to offer to its tourists. Colorful Bazaars, crowded streets, dodge dawdling camels, and the crazy hustle and bustle of the town will traverse you to a completely different era altogether. This city has spontaneous use of color and adornment with unselfconscious grace in the way they are worn.

More about Jaipur

India’s first planned city, Jaipur, was built by Sawai Jai Singh in the eighteenth century, is home to India’s best historical monuments. It is the largest city of Rajasthan and attracts a large number of tourists from India as well as other countries. The city is also referred to as “Pink City” due to its beautifully colored buildings, which were planned to showcase the architecture of the Mughal era. The best thing about Jaipur is that it has abundant to offer to tourists of all age groups and one can take back some wonderful memories for a lifetime by visiting this place.

Top essentials

One of the unique and interesting facts about Jaipur is that this place is a living example of India’s rich and cultural heritage. One can also walk down the old city streets of Jaipur to have a glimpse of the vibrant heritage of India. The age old heritage of Jaipur includes a large number of monuments, forts, temples, and castles.

  1. Amber Fort- Amber Fort is the most magnificent tourist spot, located high on the hills, at a distance of 4 kms from Jaipur. Mainly constructed from pale yellow, pink, red sandstones and white marbles, the fort is divided into four sections, which include Diwan-e-Aam, or “Hall of Public Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (the mirror palace), the Diwan-e-Khas, or “Hall of Private Audience”, or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas, each with a spectacular courtyard. Amber Fort also known as Amber Palance was a residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families and is the perfect place to enjoy the splendiferous Rajputana architecture that brilliantly showcases the glory of the royal family. Ah! Only if these stones could speak. Hehe.
  2. Hawa Mahal- Being in Jaipur, you cannot afford to miss this extraordinarily built fairy-tale honeycombed hive made up of pink sandstone. The palace was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 to provide a regal household to the ladies so that they can also enjoy and watch the life of the city. The top of the palace offers an astonishing view of the Jantar Mantar and City Palace on the one side and Siredeori Bazaar on the other. You can also visit the museum that showcases some amazing miniature paintings as well as ceremonial armor and objects from the royal past.
  3. City Palace- Located at the heart of Old City, City Palace is truly the pride of Jaipur. It is not wrong to call City Palace, the perfect amalgamation of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. The palace has some unique and rare artifacts that often capture the heart of onlookers. The palace comprises of huge courtyards, magnificent gardens, beautiful halls, as well as amazing museums.
  4. Where to shop- If you love shoes and are looking for something traditional, Ramgarh bazar is the place for you. Bapu Bazzar with its eerie Rajasthani architecture will attract art lovers.
  5. Where to hang around- Though most of the tourists prefer daytime sightseeing, but the nightlife in Jaipur is truly breathtaking. It is not wrong to say that if you want to see the true spirit of Jaipur then you should hang around in Jaipur at night. Colorful bazaars, vivid colors, and buzzing town, you will surely make you have a gala time. Visit Madhu shala, Rang Mahal, The Polo (Rambagh Palace), Maharaja Express, and Talab to enjoy your time in Jaipur. You can also visit Chokhi Dhani to enjoy the tradition, culture and mouth watering cuisine of Rajasthan.
  6. Where to eat- People in Rajasthan are complete foodies and the amazing part about them is that they still practice their ancient methods of cooking and enjoy some of the amazing dishes of royal times. To enjoy the lip smacking Rajasthani cuisine, you can visit any of the places:
    • Peacock Rooftop Restaurant
    • Dragon House
    • Sunder Palace Restaurant
    • Natraj Restaurant
    • Handi Restaurant
  1. Enjoy the beauty of Nature at Jal Mahal – Jal Mahal is the most serene and astonishing sight in Jaipur. If you see from a distance, this palace appears like it is floating in the center of the Sagar Lake and is also known as the Water Palace. The light-colored stone walls perfectly complement the deep blue water of the lake. The Palace and Man Sagar lake around it was enlarged by Maharaja Jai Singh II in the 18th century. It is the most photographed and photo-friendly tourist spot in Jaipur. You can also spot the hills with temples and ancient forts around the lake.
  2. Visit Jantar Mantar Observatory- Jantar Mantar is one of the most interesting places to visit in Jaipur. Built by the Rajput King Sawai Jai Singh, Jantar Mantar is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments and completed in 1734 CE. The monument showcases many fascinating masonry, stone and brass instruments that were designed using astronomy and instrument design principles of ancient Hindu Sanskrit texts.
  3. Experience the adventure at Nahargarh Fort- Along with Amber fort and Jaigarh fort, Nahargarh fort was built to protect Amer from any kind of foreign invasion. Built by Sawai Raja Jai Singh, Nahargarh fort is the best place to visit for both art lovers and wildlife lovers. Madhavendra Bhawan and Zenana (Female) quarters is the most amazing section of the fort due to its brilliantly designed and decorated walls, which is the perfect example of Rajputana art and lavish lifestyle.
  4. There is also a biological park located inside the premises of the fort for all wildlife lovers and one can enjoy the sights of tiger, Asiatic lion, sloth bear, deer, leopard, crocodile, gharial, and many other wildlife species. Visitors can also enjoy the sights of many bird species. If you are looking for peace and tranquility, Nahargarh Fort is the place for you.
  5. You can also visit many other interesting tourist places in Jaipur like Jaigarh Fort, Albert Hall Museum, Birla Mandir, Rambagh Palace, and Jaipur Zoo to add more excitement to your trip. Ahem ahem. So much to do!

Good to know

Jaipur is well connected to India’s other major cities by both train and road. You can also take a flight to the Jaipur International airport.

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Blog

If only everyday was like that – A day in New Delhi

Some days are just different from the rest, I don’t know how to give give a more vivid explanation. Okay, what if I give you an example of one? Better idea. Let’s start.

Offices are really good. After all, when you first join, you feel you have all the freedom in the world, you are all grown up. But you know what’s even better? You don’t have to study anymore!
But for how long does this love affair with your office continue? A month, maybe two at most. After that all you see is a wearisome table, dull people, uninteresting work etc etc etc. Just the word, OFFICE, seems like the most boring word in the world. You stray away from the idea of hearing this word. And yes, I am no different.

Do you think I am overreacting? A bit maybe. Anyway, where were we? Oh yea, that day!!

One fine day, we all decided to go around Lutyens’s Delhi in an Ambassador car. The idea thrilled me. So, it was I and four other people in my office going for a work trip. Work trip? Well, it was more a photography trip (if that’s a term). Our first stop was Khan arket. Khan market is just the best thing in India. Okay, if I like it, that doesn’t mean that everyone will. But how can you not like it? You know what is so unique about this market? It so creatively epitomises Indian culture and is yet so international. From kids and teenagers to the middle-aged and elderly, Khan market is Delhi’s favourite. Spread the word. Okay? Not that I own Khan market, but still. Haha..

What next? We finally decided to go to Rashtrapati Bhavan. I am born and brought up in New Delhi. That means I have been here for the past 22 years. But on this day, I had my first close encounter with Rashtrapati Bhavan. It’s beyond fascinating, it’s just something that you need to see in order to understand the city and its past. The President of India is a lucky man, if I may say so!

The last one: Lodi gardens. I don’t think I need to talk about it because who does not know about it? We went, marvelled at its beauty, clicked about a million pictures and then came back to our “wonderful” office. And that was it!

Okay. see you guys soooon!

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Blog Special

Has travel lost its sheen?

When it comes to travel, I’m increasingly with Robert Louis Stevenson. “For my part,” he wrote in Travels with a Donkey in Cévennes, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.” He meant away from himself.

It isn’t the most syrupy observation but as anyone haunted by the siren call of the road knows, it’s probably the most accurate. For despite its touted benefits – usually character-building and the dissolution of prejudice (notions anyone familiar with the Costa del Sol during peak tourist season will dismiss) – travel should really be about escape.

Not to a beach or spa resort, however pristine or dreamy. Certainly not to some design-driven boutique hotel with ‘signature’ cocktails, however high the thread count. That’s just changing the scenery.

Travel is not about escaping the daily grind, although that’s part of it. Nor is it about experiencing the new, the unexpected or the different, although that’s part of it too. Travel is alchemy. It is about leaving the known, escaping who and what you are and for a while – be that a week, a month or a lifetime – becoming someone and something else altogether.

Travel is dangerous. Not because you might not come back (though that is possible) but because you ought not come back at all. Not as you were. Travel is meant to remake and if it doesn’t, it’s only a holiday, regardless of how or where you go.

The UN says 1.23 billion people travelled last year. As a percentage of the global population, that’s probably higher than at any time since our ancestors traded hunter-gathering for agriculture.

But as travel has become more ubiquitous, it has lost much that made it transformative and transgressive. Forget chain hotels and Hipsterification, even the countercultural rebellion of backpacking (a genuine challenge as little as 30 years ago) has been sanitised, with the same mango lassis being served to same soundtrack to the same crowds reading the same guide books at the same ‘traveller’ cafés the world over. It’s so guided and curated and the ‘experiences’ so rehearsed that you wonder what culture, if any, is being countered.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, that ode to the metamorphosis of travel, Tolkien wrote that “not all those who wander are lost” but as cheap flight, package holidays and social media remorselessly turn the planet into a virtual version of It’s a Small World, perhaps it would be better if they were?

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Blog India

My stay at the Oberoi Amarvilas

While India is a country which is multilayered and resplendent, it is widely held that there is a sole reason to visit Agra and I realized its true essence in my trip to Agra. All thanks to the team at Phocus Travel that made my stay worth remembering.

So to begin with, my guide and I walked through the lobby to check in at the Oberoi Amarvilas, and a glimpse from the hotel’s living room came as a breathtaking surprise The hotel is just 600 meters from the Taj and  is separated by a river that affords premium views. My guide took me to Taj that evening for the sunset. I was left speechless to see the magnificence and grandeur of the world’s finest monument.

We came back to the hotel. After refreshments, I had some leisure time to myself. I started exploring the hotel and was splendid to see polished timber floors, hand-knotted carpets, original artwork and handcrafted furniture. The rooms and the public spaces display a celebration of Indian craftsmanship and striking Mughal architecture. The place is filled with intricate marble inlay work, jaali, gold thread and beaded embroidery, woodcarvings and hand-woven tapestries.

Rather than chasing trends, Oberoi has chosen to stick to its timeless beauty. The Amarvilas has its name synonymous with homegrown luxury in India.It has the most spectacular pool in Asia, sundecks with colorful umbrellas, surrounded by striking architecture and terraced gardens. It offers extensive Ayurvedic treatments, an all-day dining with international cuisine, and Esphahan, a gorgeous Indian restaurant that serves some of the best luxury Indian food in Agra.

The Taj can be seen from the hotel’s restaurant, from one’s private veranda and even from one’s bathtub. I feel that one chooses Agra for a vacation for the Taj Mahal and a luxurious stay with a view of the Taj  24/7  is no less than an icing on the cake. I would like to thank Phocus Travel for its immense hospitality and making my stay worth the splurge.

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Conversations with David LeFranc

David Lefranc, journalist, and photographer, has traveled the world and made his passion his profession. Constantly looking for highlights, he offers us the opportunity to see the world through his photographs. In an exclusive interview with Phocus Travel, he talks about his fascination for India, his experiences as a photojournalist, and concepts that inspire his work.

How do you plan your trips?
In an ideal world, I would be an ordinary tourist. I would go on holiday on the roads of India to photograph faces, landscapes and to immortalize the highlights of my journeys.
I am a professional, however, so for me, there are two ways to proceed. Either the magazines contact me and ask me to make photos on a specific theme, or have the idea of a project and submit it to them. If they accept, then I can plan my trip accordingly.

 

You have been a professional photographer for 32 years. What keeps you motivated?
For me, photography represents ‘the journey’, a way of traveling. As a photography enthusiast, I can never have enough and I will continue as long as I can.
I would go so far as to say that without my camera I am not the same person. With it, I am more daring, I venture out and let myself be guided into the spectacles and agitations of the street.


Is there a country that fascinates you more than another?

Each of the countries I visit fascinates me for many reasons.
In India, for example, I could sit for a whole day admiring the “show” of the street before me. India is phenomenal, it is extraordinary to witness the ongoing spectacle of the Indian streets. At the end of such a day, I may have taken more than 500 to 600 photographs.
I am also a fan of Japan, both for its artistic and cultural aspects and for its architecture as well. The approach of each country is different but equally interesting.

One of your favorite subjects is Children of the World. Could you expand on that?
When I was little I had a fascination with the book ‘Family of Man’ by Edward Steichen, in which there is a compilation of black and white photos on the human condition. These photographs were the subject of an art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.
Children are spontaneous, extraordinary and unpredictable. One can immediately feel the sincerity of a child when they are photographed, there is an immediate visual connection.
Women are equally fascinating too, they emanate natural elegance and incredible beauty. Often unaware of their beauty, some wonder why I want to photograph them. Without hesitation, I ask my interpreter to tell them that I photograph them because they are beautiful. There are many different reactions when I say this.

 

The people you photograph can sometimes be suspicious of what you are doing, so how do you approach them?

It is enough to approach them with a smile, to be courteous and above all to explain to them why I wish to photograph them. To better approach them, though, I have to be adept and know the local customs and beliefs.

The journey changes a person, how has the journey changed you?
I have a much more critical view of our society. As a humanist and traveler, I have a more global view of the world. So I see societies evolving. Compared with India in 1950, India is now more open to the outside world. I particularly support the sharing of wealth.

As a great traveler, what would you say to people reluctant to travel?
Basically, I would tell them that the best thing to do is travel to discover the world. Take time to meet local people and enjoy new cultures.
It is true that paranoia has become somewhat present in our societies after the terrible events we have experienced in recent years. People are increasingly hesitant to travel. But this remains the richest and deepest experience anyone can experience.

Do you have an anecdote to share?
Not just one, thousands!
I love the Indian sense of humor. I always travel with Rakesh, a driver with whom I am very close. We have our little habits, Rakesh often takes a coca cola and me another cold drink. My driver, and friend— has the unfortunate tendency of throwing his empty bottles out the window. I told him once I did not like this and put at his disposal a plastic bag. I said, “Give me your empty cola bottles and put them in this plastic bag.” And then on our last trip, we resumed our habits. A Kingfisher for me and a cool Sprite for my friend. On the way, Rakesh opened his window and again threw the bottle out the window. I asked him why he did this, and he replied, “Boss that was not a Coke, it was a Sprite.”

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Conversation with Michael Marquand

Your body of work focuses on travel, people, interiors culture and food. Why these characterizations?

People and Travel came almost automatically as I always had an interest in shooting those subjects from when I first started learning photography. Interiors came about when I started shooting travel features and sometimes had to include certain hotels and restaurants for a piece. The more I photographed different interior spaces the more interesting I found them culturally and aesthetically. I started learning food photography because I was working for a startup that wanted me to do food shoots. Once I learned that part of the industry it dovetailed perfectly with my other editorial work. Travel features almost always involve shooting all four of those subjects. Even a small feature on a restaurant will usually involve shooting the space, the chef, and the food. Culture is the one thing that ties those subjects together.

Tell us something about your initial journey? What struggles did you face when you entered this world of Photography?

I first got into photography in high school. I then ended up going to college at a small art school in Seattle to study photography and major in it. I stayed in Seattle for about a year after graduating and assisted different photographers and then moved to New York. It’s a highly competitive industry and you have to be somewhat entrepreneurial so that didn’t make things easy. I also moved to New York shortly before the 2008 crash which shut down the photo industry for while and it was very slow to pickup, so it was a bit of an uphill battle from there.

I have never come across a photographer with such diverse ideas and concepts. Who/What has been your biggest motivation?

I don’t know if I can speak to who is my biggest motivation. It’s such an abstract idea. I can tell you the photographers whose work I’m most inspired by are Steve McCurry, Sally Mann and Michael Ackerman.

Would you go on a trip without a camera. Why/Why not?

So far I never have. I think I would find something I wanted to shoot and get annoyed that I couldn’t.

Your job is more or less considered to be a dream job. What according to you stands responsible for this.

I’m really grateful that I get to do what I do for a living. However I also think people think it’s more of a dream job then it is. I shoot more boring jobs than exciting ones. I spend at least as much time editing photos as I do shooting. I also don’t have a regular income and have to constantly seek new work. There’s definitely nothing I’d rather be doing but when I talk to people that don’t work in the photo industry I often think they have a very romanticized notion of what I do for a living.

You have captured Bhutan beautifully through your pictures. Could you elaborate on on your trip to Bhutan and what was the driving force in there?

I went to Bhutan to work a Bhutan-based travel startup called MyBhutan, which aims to provide an online portal booking trips to Bhutan. Because Bhutan has so little infrastructure and is so tightly regulated it’s almost impossible for tourists to visit without being part of a guided tour, but the tours all involve the same handful of places in Central Bhutan. MyBhutan aims to change that dynamic by offering trips to more remote parts of the country. My job was to travel to the Eastern districts and create new content for them so that they can promote tourism to new areas.

Which has been your favourite Travel experience? Would you like to share with us.

Bhutan was definitely the most unique and the most off the grid I’ve ever been and that was amazing. My trip to India was probably a close second.

That picture of White horses simply intrigued me. What specifications do you keep in mind before clicking such pictures?

I don’t know that I have any particular specifications in mind when shooting aside from being quick to adjust my aperture and shutter speed which is second nature at this point. That picture was from Iceland. My friends and I were on a road trip and saw this group of horses sort of playing around in a field. We pulled over any my friends started interacting with them and I just started shooting. It was one of those ‘right place at the right time’ shots.

Where are you headed next?

I honestly don’t know. I plan on going back to Bhutan next year to shoot the South. Not sure what lies for me in the meantime.

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Culture India

Feeding my inner flâneur in Udaipur

Despite having lived in Delhi for over a year and a half all told, I have seen precious little of neighboring Rajasthan, aside from two trips to Jaipur. The first time round I took in the sights of the Pink City from a hospital bed while my family had fun exploring, while the second foray was dedicated to attending Jaipur’s prestigious literature festival, allowing no time to explore the city itself. So I was delighted when a weekend excursion to Udaipur was proposed by friends; I felt I could start to fill a gaping hole in my travel-map of North India.

Following an overnight train – during which I communed with a friendly aunty over a bag of almonds I had brought for the journey – the first two days were spent with my friends seeing the city’s famed array of sights and sampling Rajasthani cuisine. I have found throughout my travels in India that the best and most satisfying food is sometimes that which is neither overly-complicated nor necessarily served in the most salubrious of surroundings. Talking to fellow Indophiles, I know I am not the only one to hold this belief.

And so it was in Udaipur; a lunchtime stroll north of the City Palace took us to one such place, a dhaba (road-side canteen), perhaps slightly worn around the edges but welcoming enough, where we enjoyed a Rajasthani classic: kachori, fried discs with a filling of lentils, potato or onion and, of course, spices, accompanied by a rich tamarind chutney. In the midday heat, a few kachori, washed down with my poison of choice (chai, if you’re interested), were more than enough to sate my appetite until evening. I came back again before I left and, over one final round of kachori, managed to successfully summon up enough of my meager Hindi to convey my appreciation to the proprietor, a trivial yet still satisfying achievement in my mind; while visiting the Jagdish Temple the day before I had confidently informed a purveyor of Udaipur’s famous miniature paintings that his work was delicious, but sadly not for me.

Eager to take in some of the local culture however, I spent an evening in the elegant eighteenth-century courtyard of Bagore-ki-Haveli, one of the city’s historic mansions, enjoying performances from across the spectrum of traditional Rajasthani culture. The show began with a dance by women from the Gujjar tribe, whose type of dance – used for felicitous occasions – had gained recent viral fame thanks to a video of two Gujjar women singing and dancing buoyantly in the incongruous setting of the Delhi Metro. Despite the familiarity, it was still a wonderful experience seeing it in person. With the Mewari sitting dance, it was difficult to decide what should command one’s full attention: the fluid swaying back and forth of the dancers, or their deftness in playing a pair of small cymbals simultaneously.

Despite the artful guile of each performer, the most enthusiastic applause of the evening was undoubtedly reserved for a woman who slowly yet surely danced while balancing an eventual total of eleven water gourds on her head, and briefly treading delicately on shards of glass. The acclaim of the audience only increased when the master of ceremonies revealed her age afterwards: 70 years!

Unlike my hard-working friends, I was lucky enough to have an extra day in Udaipur before having to make tracks back to Delhi in the late afternoon. As such, I decided to embrace my inner flâneur and take an unhurried walk through Udaipur’s neighborhoods, ostensibly to visit Sahelion ki Bari, or the ‘Courtyard of the Maidens’. From what I had heard, its tranquil setting of fountains and gardens seemed a fitting destination for a day of leisure. That day was in fact meant to be a ‘day of rage’, or shutdown, in cities across India as a protest by opposition parties against the recent demonetization measures. In reality, as I stepped out of my hostel mid-morning, Udaipur seemed calm and distinctly unperturbed – calm being a relative concept in India of course!

As I roamed, my eyes guiding me down alleyways, towards well-maintained havelis and into the thrum of markets, I was offered a road-side shave, a massage, a smoke, coconut juice, spices…women adorned in the ubiquitous yet dazzling panoply of Rajasthani colors diligently weaved reed baskets in the heat; tourists pawed the leather bags hanging from shops, as the proprietors – very much in business – looked eagerly on; locals offered a hasty prayer as they walked past road-corner shrines. In wanton oblivion to the lofty words of the politicians in Delhi, life was assuredly carrying on.

Turning around a bend in the road, I saw up ahead a rickshaw clatter into another, a sharp exchange of words follow, and the inevitable audience hastily assemble as motorbikes formed an increasingly lengthy queue of blazing horns. A policeman, sporting a fine black beret, spiritedly yet inconsequentially blew his whistle. An elderly man, his beard luridly streaked with henna, walked insouciantly through the commotion, only briefly glancing sideways before shuffling on.

In the end, I never reached my intended destination; I didn’t really mind. In India, there is so much joy, amusement and profundity to be found in the everyday, the mundane, if only you take a moment to pause and watch. ‘People-watching’ is an inexact, somewhat clumsy term for this method of traveling – as if one were going on a human safari. I’ve yet to think of a better name for this fine art, but I’ll let you know someday.

On the train back, I thought about my wanderings that day, as well as my immediate surroundings. For me, taking the train in India is like entering a library…but that’s a thought for another time.

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India

Travel in the times of demonetization

Travel plans are always overwhelming. I jump with joy every time and the excitement persists throughout. I think making a travel plan while travelling is the best way to keep the excitement alive.

Early November, was all about my childhood friend’s wedding and travelling all the way from Goa to Dimapur in Nagaland; it was quite exhilarating to say the least, and even more so as I was taking my friend along who had never been to my part of the world.

The journey started from Goa to Bangalore on an overnight bus, to meet a friend who was accompanying us on this reunion.

Early morning flights and cab rides are the safest routes when you are time-constrained. With limited time in the land far far away, we left for Meghalaya – the abode of clouds – from Lokpriya Gopinath International Airport in Guwahati.

My agenda of reunions was pretty strong. Even though I made phone calls to my friends, I was only interested in reconnecting with the ones I had lost touch with.

Jarryd Warjri used to be my colleague back in Delhi during our agency days. We became friends very fast, and family faster. So it wasn’t a surprise when he invited me to stay with his adorable family in his breathtakingly stunning mountain home in Nongrah, on the outskirts of Shillong town. Being a matriarchal society, the women and their strengths are evident not only in their day-to-day lives, but also in the air. We drank tea and watched the sunset from his terrace. His mother made traditional Khasi beef curry for us after she got back from work, as we panicked about demonetization setting in from the next day. His banker mom assured us that she would take care of our money.

The next day, while the entire country was confused, we took a ride to jaw dropping Laitlum and rolled in the meadows drinking local rice beer that was sold for only thirty rupees in recycled beer bottles. All that I experienced that day made me feel on top of the world. There was some apprehension because we were traveling further to Nagaland, but I was relishing the fact that I was amongst nature at its most striking and not in a queue for the bank or the ATM. The lunch at Smit of pork blood rice with beef balls and chicken curry and radish salad was a highlight amongst all lunches I have had, but nothing beat Mother Warjri’s boiled pork with spinach and rice with fried potatoes for breakfast that morning. It was undoubtedly the kind of breakfast I would like to have every morning. Seeing around Shillong with the locals, eating lots of street food and meeting lots of nice people; we were pumped for the wedding and seeing more of the north-east. Mother Warjri got our money exchanged, and with lots of 100 rupee notes we set off for Dimapur.

The bride and the groom came to pick us up and in between innumerable hugs and greetings we were at the spot of the reunion and the excitement level was on an all-time high. Checking-in to our hotel rooms, everyone was still talking about the banned notes while I was ordering Pork with Bamboo Shoots (Naga Style) and making shopping plans.

The Hong Kong market in Dimapur is very cutting-edge in fashion and reasonably priced too. Even my online-shopping, brand-conscious friend from Mumbai was unstoppable. His face was a delight.
Dimapur town starts to shut down at around 6 p.m. as it starts getting dark. By 8 p.m., it is like an abandoned town. The party continued with my childhood friends however, and nostalgia was at its peak.
The wedding day was finally here and as our bride dolled up in a custom-made gown, we shone no less as bridesmaids. Even though unofficial bridesmaids, the four of us did not leave her side and cried at appropriate moments. Weddings are just so emotional!

The ceremony was short and sweet. My first-time at a Baptist wedding, I was moved at how beautiful the traditions actually are. The groom’s friend, who used to be a vocalist in his band, sang “The way you love me” and the entire church was in tears and saying “once more” under their breath. The ceremony was followed by an elaborate meal by the groom’s family and the spread was opulent. With pork and beef dominating obviously, the menu included rice, lentils, fermented kidney beans and Naga chillis for an extra twist. The fresh apples for dessert took my heart away. So simple, yet so elegant.

The next few days I detoxed myself, still continuing to eat lots of bamboo shoot with pork wherever I went and enjoying lots of shopping from Hong Kong market. Dimapur is a crowded and noisy town. The roads are not in a very good condition because it is remote and neglected. The people and their homes are all British influenced-Assam-style houses and an insight into the lives guaranteed a good heart everywhere. An auto driver even returned a few of my things when I forgot it in his auto after two days.

On the way back, my Mom and Dad traveled 12 hours from my hometown to meet me in Guwahati. As they played perfect hosts and made my friend feel at home, I realized where I got my social skills from and felt so grateful in the way they brought me up, helping me be where I am today. The last day of the trip came, and as most of our 100 rupee notes had been spent, we stood in the ATM line for almost an hour only for the money to run out in the machine once we got to the front of the line. That was a moment of realization that maybe this sudden decision will hit some of us real hard and it is just inevitable chaos that will follow.

Trump winning the presidential election gave me lots to read about on my way back. Americans do perplex me the most and I was really interested in politics suddenly. I realized that, for better or for worse, the political system will always have control over a portion of our lives. We will only be a content nation and citizens by following the law and doing what is right for our consciousness. Travel is still my answer and not even demonetization can stop me from travelling. I am coming back to the North East in February 2017 while, for now, dealing with business in Goa in the times of demonetization is my agenda.

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Conversations with Drew Hopper

    • Tell us about how you got into photography.
      Well, my photography journey began at the age of 18 after receiving my first DSLR camera for my birthday. I had no idea that it was possible to make a career out of photography; I was just intrigued to document the places I adventured around my hometown on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia. I spent the next few years heading out and shooting the lush rainforests and deserted coastlines, always finding something new to capture. This inspired me to pursue my photography by enrolling in a diploma course in digital photography. I spent 2 years and after that I walked away with 2 diplomas in advanced digital photography. This definitely gave me insights into the world of professional photography, giving me a better understanding of the business side of things. After a while I decided I wanted to explore other parts of the world so my girlfriend and myself booked tickets to Southeast Asia – this is when my love for travel photography was born. We spent 3 months backpacking throughout Asia and documenting our trip. When we arrived back home in Australia I realized that this was the path I wanted to pursue so I continued to head back and forth discovering new destinations. Still to this day I feel as inspired and curious as ever, always chasing the light with endless wanderlust.
    • You recently traveled to Asia on a photo assignment. How would you describe your experience in Asia as a photographer?
      Asia is an incredible continent for photography. There’s really something for everyone. What inspired me to visit Asia were the different cultures, it being so culturally rich and diverse. I had always loved the great outdoors and shooting landscapes, but Asia offered much more than that. I began to interact with the local people, focusing on more documentary photography that encapsulated my experiences and shared a moment not only with my audience, but also with my subjects met along the journey. Traveling throughout Asia has taught me a lot, it’s given me a new vision but also made me more appreciative of life in the western world – I feel it has been the greatest gift I’ve received to date.
    • What were some major challenges you had during your trip to Asia?
      There are many challenges I faced on the road as a travel photographer working in a foreign land. For me, the most challenging is always the language barrier when trying to communicate with the local people. Fortunately, it’s possible to work around this barrier with the assistance of a local translator or location fixer. Another common challenge I’m regularly faced with is tight schedules when commuting between locations. Unlike the western world a lot of the transportation is on ‘Asia Time’, sometimes not showing up at all. It pays to be prepared for these times by booking well in advance.Another challenge I’ve dealt with and other photographers would also face is the competitiveness in the photography industry. I find originality one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced as a travel photographer. I see many photographers go about this with the wrong attitude. They follow the ‘trends’ and copy the work of other successful photographers with the belief it will make them successful. We’ve all done it whether we want to admit it or not, but since then I’ve learned it’s important to follow my own vision rather than mimicking someone else’s. Some of the best advice I was given was from another travel photographer who said, “Don’t show me how things are. Show me how YOU see things!” Once I heard this the switch clicked in my mind. Photography should never feel forced, pressured to recreate an image you’ve seen by another photographer.
    • Many of your pictures are candid, could you tell us one of your favorite photographed moments?
      Yes, I prefer the candid approach, as it feels more natural to catch people off-guard. When you photograph people when they least expect it, it can be very rewarding for some nice expressions. I document daily life when I’m wandering the streets so I’m always trying my best to be as inconspicuous as humanly possible. One of my favorite moments was walking up and down the River Ganges in Varanasi, India. I’d head out early every morning and photograph the many morning rituals being performed in the river. It’s possible to grab these candid moments as people are so consumed in their rituals that they don’t even notice you. It’s about becoming one with the people, moving freely and lightly without disturbing anyone. It takes a lot of practice, but in my opinion, it gives the best photographic results.
    • As a travel photographer, is there a struggle between simply enjoying the moment and capturing that perfect shot? If so, how do you find a balance?
      Absolutely! There are times when I forget to stop and appreciate the moment because I’m so immersed in nailing the perfect shot. I was a shocker when I first started, I would go out with my eye pretty much glued to the camera viewfinder. Since focusing on more documentary photography I have learned that it’s important to slow down, pre-visualise the moments before they unfold and take it all into best telling the narrative/story. The best balance I’ve found is to make photography secondary from your travel. I always carry a camera with me when I’m out but sometimes I don’t take a single photo. The perfect balance for me is 50/50 between living in the moment and actually capturing it.
    • Let’s talk about gear. What do usually shoot with? Why?
      I’m currently using Canon DSLR cameras with an array of zooms and prime lenses. My go-to camera for travel is the Canon 6D with the 16-35mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens. I use this lens for most of my landscape work as well as street photography at 35mm (as this focal length I believe is true to what our eye sees). When I want to take the load off I’ll head out with just my Fujifilm X100S, which is compact and light. This allows me to move freely and be more inconspicuous, which is fantastic for street and candid photography. I always travel with a tripod, but this rarely gets used. I only use it when shooting landscapes in low light or when I need to achieve a long exposure for landscapes, cityscapes etc. Another great piece of kit is my smartphone; I use this for taking snapshots as well as booking accommodation, transport and other online activities.
  • You manage to capture emotions with all of your photographs. How do you do it?
    The key for capturing emotion is by being in the right place at the right time, whether it’s a landscape or portrait, it pays to be there when the moment unfolds. By being inconspicuous I’m able to get in amongst the action, which is usually when the emotion comes out. Also, working with a light footprint and respecting people is essential if you want to interact with your subjects. Once people have your trust than their emotions will change, they’ll feel at ease with your presence, therefore giving you greater opportunity to interact and capture those emotion-packed pictures.
  • What are 5 things you wished you knew when you first began travel photography?– Social media is a huge part of travel photography these days. I sometimes wish I got in earlier with social media as an influencer to gain access to certain tourism boards.
    – Break away from your comfort zone. I’m quite the introvert when it comes to interacting with new people, so that’s been a hurdle I face on a day-to-day basis. I suppose I wish I knew how to interact with people from an earlier stage in my travel photographer career, cause I have met so many amazing people with incredible stories but never knew how to approach the topic to document these stories.
    – Downsize on baggage weight. The importance of traveling with less gear. It’s true less is more. My first trip really killed my back. Fortunately, I understand my essentials and leave the rest back at home or in the hotel room. It pays to pack light!
    – Writing things down in a diary. I’m still guilty at times for losing track of things, however, over the years I’ve realized how important it is to be organized and prepared for anything that travel throws at me. There’s really nothing more stressful than a head full of information. I find it useful removing that information from my head and writing it down on paper – it frees up space for valuable creativity.
    – Spend less money. I could have traveled further and longer if I had of kept a tight budget. I realize now that money is best spent on travel and not accessories.
  • Finally, what inspires your art?
    There are a number of things that inspire my photography. Travel itself is definitely inspiring. Visiting new and exotic locations sure gets my senses tingly with creativity. I also find inspiration in music, films, and other art forms. I believe just living my life inspires me to push my boundaries and I usually come up with something fresh from day-to-day life.
Categories
Blog

Conversations with Natalie Soysa

Travel is not only about the place, however, about sensing people, their culture heritage and experiences. Natalie Soysa, a writer, photographer and a consultant based in Colombo, inspires us to travel in every possible way. She grasps every opportunity that she gets to explore new destinations. We recently caught up with her and conversed about her incredibly beautiful journey.

  1. Tell us about yourself.
    I’m a born traveller, restless in my own bed. I spent many years pursuing just about anything I set my mind to from a now-retired 13-years in advertising to managing a national arts programme and exhibiting as a photography-based artist. But I always come back to an innate need to be on the road and I give into it whenever I can. Today, among the many other things I do, I am a passionate traveller, travel photographer and writer.
  2. When did you first catch the travel bug?
    It’s in my DNA. My father was an adventurer, wildlife enthusiast, camper, diver and loved being out at sea for days. I’ve travelled with him around Sri Lanka and around the world, and it made my childhood so much richer. To travel with him was to see everything through new eyes. He lived, breathed and became little bit of the places he visited. I lost him 3 months ago to a battle with cancer. In death, as in life, I will honour him with every new journey I take.
  3. What was your last travel like? What is your style of travel?
    I love travelling alone or at most with one other traveller. I travel intensely, personally and deeply, letting the destination determine my style of travel. If I’m visiting a place for the first time, I’m a little edgy with my travel choices, because I want to see a new place from the inside out. My last journey took me through central and southern Greece. I stayed in quaint little B&Bs, drove around islands, ate local and walked until my feet couldn’t take it anymore.
  4. What interests you the most about photography?
    Moments vanish if you don’t freeze them in time, moments that can teach you a lot about yourself and the world around you. The way shadows dance across someone’s face completely change who they are for an instant. The very moment a military aircraft flies over the peak of a temple, you’re reminded of the new gods of our times. Powerful narratives are out there that happen fleetingly. Being able to be in those moments and capture them are at the soul of what I do.
  5. What according to you, is the relationship between art and travel?
    Travelling is an art. We curate travel plans like we curate exhibitions. And there’s an art to how we travel and what we chose to do on our journey. Travelling is a creative process for everyone, not merely the artist.
  6. Tell us something about your native country?
    Plato got it wrong. Sri Lanka is Atlantis. Our history, and mythology affirm that my island and her people were advanced beyond human imagination, with engineering feats that have left experts baffled to date. We’ve built kingdoms in the sky you can still visit today, with air-conditioning in age before electricity. Our kings, queens, ancient tribes and their psychedelic mythologies continue to intrigue me beyond words.
  7. What is your dream destination? Why?
    The journey is the dream, not necessarily one destination. I want to keep travelling until I drop dead. I can’t pick out one place or one reason. The Himalayas because its existence alone is enough to awaken you. Edinburgh for the fairytale that it is. Tokyo for the mad style and even madder music. Aegina for its too many churches and solitary temple to the goddess Aphaia. New Orleans for voodoo, vampires and the blues. I could keep going….
  8. What is it about a place that inspires you to write?
    Every place has a story neither the guidebooks nor locals will tell you. In Greece, whose gods are among the oldest, I found no believers in the old ways. I come from Sri Lanka where the world’s oldest mythology (Hinduism) is still alive and its pantheon worshipped daily. I found it most peculiar that colonial Christianity is held in higher esteem than the gods of their own land. There was a story there and I wanted to tell it.
  9. How do you think has the style of travel changed over the years?
    Technology has changed everything. We can visit a place before getting there, translate foreign signposts with our smartphones and make the experience easier. I only hope it doesn’t digress to the point where the journey becomes less important than the technology that assists it.
  10. Where are you headed to next?
    I have an assignment in Mandalay coming up in January and plans to visit Kathmandu next March. I also want to spend some time in either Prague or Nairobi soon.
Categories
Blog Culture India

Let’s Celebrate Diwali in Jaipur

For starters, what is Diwali?
Lights, diyas, candles, decorations, bustling markets, traditional clothes, gifts and mithais. Diwali in India is absolute madness.
It is not only an important festival for Hindus but also very popular amongst Indians. Also called the ‘Festival of Lights’, Diwali extends over a period of 5 days. Celebrations include millions of lights illuminating the houses and other buildings in the community.
The history of Diwali dates back to time-immemorial. It celebrates the return of King Rama in the capital, Ayodhya with his wife Sita who had been kidnapped by a demon named Ravana.
Initially, the people of Ayodhya had lit small clay lamps to light up the city from where it all started. Nowadays, there are still some candles but also Christmas lights and spotlights that illuminate almost all houses. Moreover, one can compare Diwali to Christmas in Western countries.
Now that you know what is Diwali for Indians, I can tell you about my experience in Jaipur during this magnificent festival.
First, I must say that I had a chance to be with my parents, which is important, you will understand why later. We arrived in Jaipur on Saturday, the eve of Diwali. We took a rickshaw to get to our hotel. On the way, we observed: the name “pink city” to Jaipur has not been given for not given for nothing. When we crossed the old city, despite the dark, we saw that all the buildings were in pink effect (orange) and Diwali is the festival of lights, hence, many buildings were lit but that was only a glimpse announcing something big.
The next day, we donned traditional clothes: kurta for my father and me and salwar kameez-for my mother. Our city tour started with a visit to Hawa Mahal, known as the Palace of Winds. It is certainly a facade but you can stop for a while and contemplate this magnificent monument of Rajput art.

The best is to go to the shops for an elevated view, that offer an opportunity to see the mountains surrounding the Fort Jaipur enthroned above the city. We then headed to the City Palace, residence of the Maharaja. Despite the small size of the museum, we could still feel the immensity of this complex, a mixture of Rajput, Mughal and European art. Clothes worn by the royal family, weapons used at the time of war, some of the jewelry worn by kings and queens had been on display in the museum. These items certainly made me realize the greatness of the empire. We then went to Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory, dating from the 18th century. Even for non-fans of astronomy and other sciences, this observatory is interesting because it is grandiose includes the Samrat Yantra Brihat, 27 meters high, which is the only equatorial sundial in the world. To finish off the day, we went to the Monkey Temple where we experienced the beautiful sunset over the city of Jaipur.
As the evening progressed, Indians seemed delighted and excited to celebrate the festival, they had already put on their best clothes. The city was overwhelming with decorations. However, the real show was yet to begin. After our busy day of sightseeing, we stayed in the old town. We just strolled in the streets but it was enough to realize the size of the party. Many streets were illuminated with different motifs: “Swastika” symbol of happiness in the Hindu religion; “Shatkona,” the 6-pointed star that represents the union of a man and a woman; white-green-orange of the Indian flag, and many others. So we walked a long time in this festive atmosphere. We met many families and had the opportunity to interact them. Children were amused to see Westerners during this holiday, many people asked us to take pictures with them. The atmosphere was very pleasant, quiet and everyone was looking forward to having a good time with their family. That’s why I was very glad of the presence of my parents, especially as I had not seen them for about five months.
The next day, rich with memories of the day, we were ready to visit other tourist destinations in Jaipur. We went to Amber Fort.

This imposing monument can be seen from the road as it is slightly elevated. From the inside, it seems like is a maze. It is said that this is the largest fort in the world after Gwalior Fort. This fort has a public part including the public hearing hall and also a large private party hall.
First of all we arrived at the private audience room where there were magnificent columns and then went through a door with a Rajput art pediment, where the women of Maharaja threw flowers to their return. This door leads to the garden of the women then continued the discovery of many passages and halls. After this visit, we stopped on the road to observe Jal Mahal, the Water Palace. It is a palace of which we see only the top floor, the rest having fled underwater.
After these two very rewarding days in Jaipur, it was unfortunately time to leave this wonderful “pink city”. However, we left happy and aware of the opportunity we had to be able to attend this great festival of Diwali in this city so warm.

Categories
Blog

Conversations with Rob and Nat of Love & Road

Traveling is truly an incredible experience in itself; it is even better when you get to share the journey with your favorite person. The pair behind Love and Road— Rob and Nat, does this exactly. They have traveled to over 41 countries and counting, embracing fully a nomadic lifestyle. They recently spoke to us about life as a nomadic couple— the struggles and perks of traveling full time with your person.

Who are Rob and Nat?
First things first: we are Brazilians and we used to live in a small city called Itajaí, south of Brazil. To make a long story short, our tale started in 2006, after some months of being together we made our first lovely trip. We went to Buenos Aires to attend an Electronic Music Festival and got bitten by the “travel bug.” One year later we found ourselves moving to Dublin, Ireland.

(Nat) I’m already in my thirties, and finally, I realized that life is so much easier when you smile and stay positive. Don’t waste time with things that aren’t worth it. I’m a journalist, I have worked as a reporter, news reader, TV presenter, shop manager and I have owned a Beauty Salon.

Rob has worked for 15 years in the shipping industry. Vessels, ports, and containers were his universe. It’s so good because he knows where all the ports, cities and countries are; he is almost an atlas book. Patient and a little bit more serious than me, Rob is a sports enthusiast. From surfing to triathlon, from snowboarding to running, he is always involved with some kind of sports activity.

You have been consistently traveling for about two years now. Tell us about your experience.
It has been absolutely great. We work a lot to sustain this lifestyle but we love what we do. The freedom to work from anywhere (as long as there is Wi-Fi) on our own schedule and being together 24/7 is priceless. We have visited incredible places that we had never dreamed about.

What are the high and low moments in your travel as a couple?
To share incredible moments together, this is awesome.
The toughest part of this lifestyle is to be far from our family, friends, and people we love.

According to you, what would be the three most important things to keep in mind for couple travel?
You must absolutely love and respect your partner and must understand that not every day will be a good day. There will be ups and downs, and you have to learn to let it go, otherwise this will affect your relationship.

While traveling, how can a couple balance out individual preferences?
I have to say that we are very lucky to have pretty much similar taste for everything. We both like to party, beaches, sports, to work like crazy. During those 2.5 years of full-time traveling, we went solo in a few trips. It was weird and good at the same time.

We realized how we enjoy being together but also how important is to be alone from time to time.

How are Latin American travelers different from the rest of the world?
We are more concerned about safety; unfortunately, South America is not safe as Europe or Asia. On the bright side, I believe we are up to anything, we will enjoy the beach even if it’s raining, and everything is an excuse to party, drink and meet friends.

Where are you headed next?
Right now we are in Chiang Mai, Thailand, getting work done and planning 2 trips. On December we will travel with friends around the Thai Islands. On Christmas, we fly to Oslo, Norway. It will be 2 months exploring Northern & Central Europe during winter. Can’t wait!

Categories
Blog India Mimi blogs

I Participate series: Finding Bobby

John Galsworthy once said, “Life calls the tune, we dance.” On that sunny day in Agra, 7 of us stood at the entrance of the Taj Mahal taken aback by the number of people crowding the ticket counter for a chance to get a glimpse of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Some of us had seen it once or twice, while others were looking forward to see it for the first time.

Somewhere between the chaotic non-existent ticket counter lines, the number of people and the heat, we realized that we would not make it through. Half-heartedly walking out of the area, we had to find another way to see the Taj and we did. In a peaceful park across the river, we sat in awe of the beauty that has drawn millions of people to India. However, this series isn’t about our quest to see the Taj Mahal, rather, it is about finding a boy who left his mark on us.

His name is Bobby, that’s what he told us anyway. He was about 10 or 12 when we first met him, one of the many kid hawkers in front of the Taj Mahal. Walking up to us, to our surprise, he started speaking in French. “He doesn’t have an accent!” exclaimed one of our friends, a French-speaking native. Our French-speaking friends all gathered around him and started talking to him, they were astounded — we all were. Bobby spoke to us in French, Spanish, English and Hindi, of course, but there was something more to him and we all knew it. We bought his key chains, gave him a hug and move out right after. We met many more like him in that few minutes, but Bobby remained with us. Four months later, we all find ourselves still thinking about him.

With proper education and language classes, these multi-lingual kids and their families can have a better life.

The hawkers at the Taj Mahal are mostly kids. They spend their days talking to foreigners and Indians alike, selling souvenirs for daily living; hence they pick up different languages easily. They speak in almost native French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and many other languages. With proper education and language classes, these multi-lingual kids and their families can have a better life.

“So we’re going back to Agra to look for Bobby, and what if we do not find him? Do we have a back up?” One of the questions asked during our brainstorming sessions. “There are no back ups. We will find Bobby.”

Categories
Blog Nepal

Heading back to school, as you travel

A friend of mine is certified to teach English as a foreign language and could teach anywhere while he traveled. I accompanied him on one such stint in the beautiful village of Kavre, 35 kms off Kathmandu.

For a total of almost thirty days at Malpi International School, at the highest point of the Panauti village in the district of Kavre, I was an English counselor to students from the 4th to the 8th grade.

The mornings were spent with the younger ones, giving lessons in the warm winter sun. We read about Huckleberry Finn and got acquainted with one other. The late mornings were with the older ones in their respective classes, teaching them prose and introducing them to the effects of grammar. Post lunch, I would assist my friend with his sessions with the seniors. My favourite was watching movies with them to make understand the usage of the English language. It was easier to get through to them; and who doesn’t like movies after lunch?

Dusk brought in pretty sunsets. From atop the hill, we saw some spectacular skies. And as the kids got into their sports uniforms and ran around doing their rehearsals and bringing the place to life, every single day; I relished the decision of volunteering to teach while I explored Nepal and its cultures in a totally different perspective.

Nights were frigid. I used to be on duty in the girls hostel post dinner. The duty being: conversing with them and helping them with their projects. As the night grew dark, it got unbearably cold. Sleeping in one position was the only constant.

Early mornings called for running to classes, which has happened before. Only then, I did not know of the homework of a teacher. Skipping breakfast was normal and so was taking baths in the afternoons. Being a part of the annual sports event was a great way of spending time with everyone. Participating in the various preparations leading up to the spectacular big day was like a reward at the end of our experimental volunteer travel experience.

Volunteering during travel is a perfect way of experiencing the culture and making complete sense of your role as a conscious traveler. Considering, everyone you know keeps making comments about your innumerable travel plans; you have a humane angle that they have been missing all this while.

The two months in Nepal were spent in Kathmandu and Pokhara, exploring everything in between. Kathmandu helped us with lots of mountain gear shopping, lots of musical nights with locals, a lot of great Nepali food and hours of walking around Durbar Square. We were also a part of a Nepali wedding ceremony; completely underdressed due to the surprise invitation.

Volunteering during travel is a perfect way of experiencing the culture and making complete sense of your role as a conscious traveler.
Lunch with a view of the Everest and all its peaks in Dhulikhel was one of the most memorable lunches I have ever had. What gandeur! A road trip to Pokhara with our local friends allowed us to eat a lot of highway food and we all know how delicious they always are. Soaltee and curry took my heart away.There, we stayed in a room with the view of Machapichare on one side and the Pokhara lake on the other, where we took long walks, chilled at the Busy Bee and saw shooting stars lying on top of Pame hill.

Meeting your counterparts from other parts of the world always gives you so many things to learn and be grateful about. Volunteering while traveling has given me ample of ideas to travel to more places. Efficiently as it can be, travel is a teacher for life.

Look away from the crowd, travel with your own rules.

Categories
Culture Family India

What happens in a big fat Indian wedding?

Ever been curious about what it is like to be a part of a big fat Indian wedding? I am sure yes in some way or the other. Let me make an effort to take you there with this article. A big fat Indian wedding is all about merrymaking and is celebrated with much fervour with multiple celebrations all over the country. Designer dresses, big banquet halls, bright and colorful decorations, Sherwani, multi cuisine restaurants, glittering jewelry, swarms of guests and expensive gifts are some of its ingredients. It is not a one-day visit to a church or about exchanging rings, this extravagant affair may take up to a few weeks. An Indian wedding is celebrated with numerous traditions and is said to be a union of not only two people but also two families. Hence, Indian parents are always sceptical about their kids going in for love marriage.
States of North India, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are some of the states that host the most glamorous weddings in the country. Rajasthan is the home of Destination weddings. Cities like Jaipur, Udaipur and Goa host about a million destination weddings from India and world over. This wedding costs much more than a normal city wedding but the amazing time you get to spend with your loved ones is totally worth it.
Sometimes event organisers are called for organising weddings. These organisers have to take the responsibility of doing everything from arrangements, booking venues to deciding about clothes.
Pre-Wedding ceremonies:
Each ceremony follows the other in quick succession. After the Bride-Groom finally decide to get married, Rauka ceremony takes place in the Bride’s house where both the families pick up an auspicious date for the marriage and other functions. Then takes place the engagement ceremony where the girl and the boy exchange rings in the company of their friends and relatives. After the engagement, the whole burden of marriage is on the bride’s side. Bride’s family has to book a proper venue and invite their guests. There are many pre-marriage ceremonies which happen before the marriage day. Ceremonies may vary from place to place but most of them have Haldi and Mehndi. Haldi is common for bride and groom, where turmeric is applied over their body. After Haldi, Mehndi ceremony happens. In Mehndi, henna is applied on bride’s palms with beautiful designs and patterns. It is believed that the darker the color of henna, the deeper the love between the couple. Other ceremonies like cocktail ceremony and Tilak also happen. In Tilak, vermillion is placed on the forehead of the groom by the bride’s family.
Wedding Day:
On the day of marriage, the groom mostly wears a Sherwani coupled with a Sehra. Sehra is a kind of an embroidered hat, kept on the head of the groom whereas the bride wears a lahenga which is mostly red in colour with a few gold ornaments. The groom reaches the designated marriage place on a horse. He is accompanied by all his guests that dance all the way to the venue to celebrate their joy. After arriving at the designated location, the baraat is welcomed by the bride’s family and the bride and the groom sit together on a decorated stage which is called Mandap, in front of all the guests. There they exchange garlands with each other and other marriage ceremonies are performed by the priest.
After this ceremony, the guests start eating the different items kept for them from the extravagant buffet. Bride’s side ensures that everyone gets to eat properly. After this, most of the not so close guests return to their homes and those who stay mostly enjoy DJ over there or see the rest of the marriage ceremonies. Then the bride and grooms have to sit for a very long ceremony, mostly three hours and this is the most important of all. This ceremony consists of the essence of Indian marriages. The bride and groom have to circle around fire together, seven times in a clockwise direction while the priest chants mantras. The groom ties mangalsutra around the bride’s neck, which symbolizes that she is now married to him. He also applies vermillion in the forehead of the bride.
Post-Wedding Ceremonies:
After above ceremonies are complete, the bride has to leave her house and go with her husband to his home, forever. This ceremony is called Vidai. When she arrives at the groom’s house she is welcomed by an Aarti. She then, has to topple a metal pot filled with rice, with her right foot. After this, the couple starts living together.
However, this is not the end of the ceremonies. After a few days the groom’s side organizes a reception for family and friends where they come and give blessings to the newly married couple.

Categories
Adventure Blog India

Why is travel the need of the hour?

“I learnt was that we should never lose the faith in ourselves
and in the universe’s way to answer our questions.
It is only through travel that life’s most valuable lessons are
learnt as easily as breathing.
The goodness in you flows out. Let it flow.”

Taking the road less traveled is always a better option. The route was called Tribal Triangle; we took two weeks and did it backwards. We took a small detour to Ladakh to meet a friend half way. This route was opened only about two years back and people are yet to take complete advantage of it. Having said that, we did not meet any other traveller for the first 1500kms.

We spent the first night in Mcleodganj and did not explore it at all. It was in, out and a meal. While we had set our GPS to Keylong, the road left us awestruck that we had to stop and chill almost everywhere, it was only after sunset that we reached Shatrundi Check Post. We were determined to go ahead till Khillar the same day, however, we were advised by the officers at the check post to stay overnight because of the extreme road conditions. This was the very place where the Chamba Massacre of 1998 took place and as we sat around the bonfire and indulged in conversation, I felt the pinch of adventure a road trip entails.

Early next morning we set off on a route filled with glaciers and mountain passes. Sach Pass was the first— 800 sheep, two shepherds and their dog welcomed us. We asked them about the road conditions and where to find food, because food is my best friend while up in the mountains, considering the fact that I am always hungry there. As we stopped to pay our respect at the Lord Shiva temple, they proceeded to their village.

Keylong was to be our destination but mountains and puncture go hand in hand and we had to stop at Khillar before we could travel further. Khillar, with only two hotels, was a really small town and did not have much happening; the most crowded place was the bus stop. With no network for two days now, I was quite enjoying the serenity. The river Chamunda was flowing adjacent to the town and we took a room with a view of it. My friend kept joking about the presence of other energies in the room. The next morning I woke up with a swollen lip and even though painless, I had to agree with him with a grin. These are discomforts you encounter while taking routes hardly partaken because the touristy facilities lack in most places. As a citizen of a developing country, it was not much of a shock for me but my first world friend had to be reminded of it. Both being travelers, we took every incident with a pinch of salt.

We were behind schedule of reaching Keylong by two nights. By afternoon, we finally reached Keylong and were starving for food, Internet and money and we got all these here. Buying lip balm was also high on the list. We were looking forward to camp at 5521metres, a first for the both of us.

Sarchu was the last village of Himachal Pradesh and was a highly sensitive area. Check posts are common when you cross borders, obviously, but this one was extremely strict and had a huge signboard prohibiting travelers the use of satellite phones, which confirmed the sensitivity. You could be fined or worse, taken into custody in suspicion of being a spy.

We chose the last camp for the sole reason that we will be a little closer to our destination, Leh, the next day. There are numerous camps all along the way for travelers to rest before they proceed higher. Acclimation is vital in these areas and because people don’t take it seriously as much as they should, they tend to get nauseous and lose their appetite, which leads to dehydration and severe headaches.We kept strong and left with the first light.

Leh was two days of being a tourist. Sightseeing, hogging and souvenir shopping were the only things we did. My friend was unwell, but that did not obstruct his touring skills at all—traits of a traveler, I reckon.

Morning walks are the idyllic way of starting your day in the mountains. And if you are walking around Pangong Tso, you can well imagine the grandeur of this particular walk. Only 1/3rd of this lake is in India and its magnificence will leave you bewildered. We walked and still in tourist mode, clicked a lot of pictures. We drove and found another spot from where the lake was as breath taking.

That day, we were almost 473kms away from Keylong and as a friend awaited us there, we were partaking a 16-hour journey to travel further with her. That night, social media updates, stories and lots of food were the perfect scene as we prepared for a whole new valley the next day.

We would be on the road every day for about 8 to 10 hours and finding spots for lunches and munchies was our primary objective. Stopping at innumerable spots for photos or to simply stare into the oblivion, we increased our travel-time by an hour or two. It was all worth it definitely. That night we camped at Chandrataal and took a morning walk for five hours around it. I was completely baffled by its surrealism.

Our SUV punctured its tire on the way to Kaza, a village called Losar. Without electricity for the last two days, the mechanics could not help us, but a kind gentleman gave us a lift in his hatchback, squeezed in our tire, and later, drove us back. With a brilliant start to the day, we were quite disheartened with the turn of events, but as we set off, the sights soothed us and upon reaching the Kaza, we found rooms and met another kind gentleman who was letting everyone without network use his phone for free. Regaining our faith in humanity, we were elated to explore further and get to meet more kind souls in Spiti.

Conveyance around Spiti is not feasible. There is just one bus from Kibber to Kaza and none that comes back. So as a solution, all locals always ask for lifts here and there. We met many heart-warming people and had an exquisite English breakfast in one of their restaurants. Walking in the pea and wheat fields around the village was quite a walk. It was just so enriching, a walk always ends in bliss, I have realized.

We had to choose between Nako and Tabo for the last night in Spiti. Going with the flow was our choice and after that hearty meal in Tabo, we decided to go ahead till Nako because of the lake and after our previous encounters with lakes, we will always choose a lake. It was late afternoon as we explored a little for the obvious reason of finding spots and as we saw a spectacular sunset, we reached Nako and the Lake View was the best we could ask for.

A scrumptious breakfast with apple jams was the highlight of that morning. Apart from that, my friends rebuilt the wall of a resident because he nonchalantly said it would take a week and we had to go further. The trip was coming to an end and so was my mission to showcase India to a foreigner. When I saw the contentment, I can well believe that I did a marvelous job. Considering that this was my friend’s first time in India and the other’s first trip to the mountains. The “marvelous” person who drove us around, his first too, on that route and my first trip to the valley; it moved everyone on some level. The most important lesson I learnt was that we should never lose the faith in ourselves and in the universe’s way to answer our questions. It is only through travel that life’s most valuable lessons are learnt as easily as breathing. The goodness in you flows out. Let it flow. I pledge to travel, no matter what.

Categories
Adventure Blog Family

Conversations with Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo

Early morning flights, long drives and crazy tantrums — we get it. Traveling with kids can be quite a challenge, but it doesn’t always have to be. We recently caught up with Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo and he tells us about the different challenges and all the perks of traveling as a family.

Can you tell us more about yourself?
Hi, I’m Eric, and I live in California with my wife and three kids (6, 9 and 10). My wife and I grew up traveling, and it never occurred to us to slow down once we had kids. My kids got to multiple countries by the time they were one, and at this point are up to 43 countries and all 7 continents. We travel frequently as a family, but I also let each of the kids choose anywhere in the world to go with me every year starting at the age of 4. I love the bonding, and every one-on-one adventure has been a lot of fun.

How did you come up with Travel Bobbo?
I had always inspired my friends and family to travel, and I started my website two years ago to hopefully inspire others. The name Babbo is Italian for Dad or Daddy. It’s the only thing my kids have called me since we spent a few weeks in Florence three years ago.

Tell us about your first trip as a family.
We’ve traveled fairly consistently since each of the kids was born so I don’t know that there was a first trip per se – just increasingly more interesting trips. One of our first trips as a family of five was when my kids were 1, 3 and 5 and we did a 2-week Disney cruise in the Mediterranean followed by a month at a villa in Cortona, Italy. That was an easy trip, since we really just based out of the two places (the ship and the villa), very little moving around with luggage.

How do you pick a destination? Some tips for fellow family travelers.
Each of the kids gets to choose anywhere in the world to go every year with me. They’ve chosen Antarctica, Palawan, Easter Island, Belize, Australia and other fun places, all based on what interests them. When we’re picking destinations as a family, it’s always a mix of old and new. We have a long list of places where we want to go and work a couple of those into our travels every year based on timing and seasonality – i.e. what works best for specific school breaks weather-wise or taking into account jet lag. We also love Italy, France and Greece and return to at least one of those every summer.

While traveling, how do you find a balance between activities for adults and kids?
We don’t necessarily try to find a balance. While we always incorporate activities that appeal to the entire family, like cooking classes, all of our trips are based around the kids. It’s not realistic to think that the kids will enjoy 4-hour museum visits or long, leisurely breakfasts, so we’ll save those for when the kids are off to university. If we do want to see a museum or a cultural site, we’ll choose a tour guide who can make the excursion kid-friendly. If the kids are happy and engaged, we’re happy.

How challenging and rewarding is it to travel with your family?
It’s challenging at the beginning, but all travel is cumulative. That miserable 12-hour flight with an 11-month-old makes for incredibly easy flying when she’s four. That really hot, really long day in Rome with three complaining kids makes you a better vacation planner later. Every family is different, so you’ll have to figure out what your perfect trip is through trial and error, but it all goes back to my previous answer – as long as you make the trips about the kids, you’ll have a better time than if you’re trying to take the kids along on what’s really an adult vacation.

It’s been very rewarding. I love noticing every day that we’re raising worldly children, from how they look at US politics and culture from an outsider’s perspective to what they choose to read and eat. Every time our kids have played on playgrounds around the world with kids from other countries, they’ve been able to see that people everywhere really are the same. That’s important. I love who my kids are becoming, and I give a lot of the credit to travel.

What is your most memorable trip?
The most memorable trips are probably the craziest trips, like taking my 6-year-old to Easter Island or my 8-year-old to Antarctica, or flying around the world in two weeks with a 10-year-old. But we always try to incorporate unique activities, especially if we’re traveling somewhere we’ve been before, in order to make every trip memorable.

What is your recommendation for first time family travelers?
Don’t get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan – it’s all part of the adventure. But having said that, do everything you can to minimize the chances that things won’t go perfectly. Take the fewest number of flights that you can and travel early in the morning. Always pack snacks. Pack lighter than you think you need to. And always involve the kids in the trip planning, so they’ll be more engaged during the trip.

Categories
Blog India

10 Indian music festivals you shouldn’t miss

For any music aficionados whose dream is to groove to their favorite artists in some of the most beautiful places in India, here is the opportunity to be a part of the best music festivals from across the country; trust me when I say going will invigorate you beyond measure!

Recent years have seen a rapid development of the festival circuit, thanks to a winning combination of unspoiled, fascinating regions, a passionate fan base, and promoters with a longing to give take-your-breath-away encounters to both the domestic and foreign fan. From EDM to rock music, folk songs to Bollywood (and that’s only the tip of the iceberg), find this out for yourself by going to any one (or all!) of these festivals.

  • Hornbill Festival, Nagaland
    Nagaland is already well-known for its unblemished tranquility and cultural heritage. And when the 7-day Hornbill Festival happens here in early December, then what you get is thrilling! Supported by the Government of Nagaland and organized by the state’s Tourism and Art and Culture Departments, Hornbill festival provides an unmatchable blend of traditional Naga music, art, dance and culture.
  • Enchanted Valley, Maharashtra
    This stylish festival is a three-day jubilee held at the amazing Ambay Valley City, close to the famous hill station of Lonavala. This unique event pays tribute to pioneering music genres like House, Techno, Trance, Drum and Bass, as well as the obvious chart-toppers.
  • Sunburn, Goa
    The biggest and best electronic music in Asia is here, right by the gorgeous beaches of Goa. The Sunburn Festival happens each year in Goa in the last week of December, and regularly brings in tens of thousands of partygoers and fans every year. It has been named the world’s ninth best dance music celebration; with the sort of mind-blowing EDM music you get here, no-one’s surprised Sunburn is such a pull!
  • Ziro Festival, Arunachal
    Nature and music come together as one at Ziro Festival. In the midst of the virgin beauty of the Ziro valley, at 5500 feet what you experience can never be communicated in words. The rush in your body you get while listening to the electric music is a natural consequence of the surroundings – the awe-inspiring mountains, the beauteous scene and the breeze, each plays its own delicate tune, and enhances the aura of Ziro Festival.
  • Escape Festival
    Imagine the perpetually beguiling Himalayas, towering over a serene lake. Now add a cultural extravaganza of music and art, and you have Escape Festival. What began with only a couple of artists has today gained an enormous and well-deserved band of followers. Musicians, painters, photographers, tattoo specialists, potters and graffiti artists all converge on gorgeous Naukuchiatal in Uttarakhand for three days, waking up this normally peaceful seclude. Need any more tempting to come to this different universe or, dare we say it, paradise?
  • Freedom Jam, Chennai
    This yearly festival, which coincides with India’s Independence Day, has been praised by critics for its promoting of emerging acts, as well as its free entry. With numerous stages and thousands attending, Freedom Jam gives punters a chance to break their musical shackles and appreciate music of different varieties from all over the nation.
  • Magnetic Fields festival
    The most up-to-date music occasion, Magnetic Fields is one for your visual as well as your auditory senses. The freshest kitsch festival to hit the music market, Magnetic Fields consistently lives up to its name, pulling in swarms of contemporary acts to its marvelous venue for three epic days of music, dance, art, food and enchantment!
  • Rajasthan International Folk Festival
    In the event that you need a calm occasion to fulfil your musical needs, make a point to go to the International Folk Festival, held at the majestic setting of Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur each October. The celebration is an open stage for acclaimed craftsmen and artists from India and all over the globe to take part in a musical bonanza.
  • Mahindra Blues, Mumbai
    Since 2011, the Mahindra Blues Festival has attracted a portion of the world’s best Blues performers for its two-day affair. As Asia’s biggest and finest Blues festival, MBF takes pride in featuring acts by soul legends, as well as emerging talent.
  • Ragasthan
    Another eclectic musical festival which always brings in crowds is Ragasthan. For three days in November, the brilliant dunes surrounding Jaisalmer play host to India’s self-styled ‘Craziest Music Festival’. Only the adventurous need apply though: fans are invited to camp on-site, in order to best enjoy this joyous affair of folk, classical, rock, pop and electronic music.
Categories
Adventure

Conversations with Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith

Jane and Duncan are the inspiring couple behind To Travel Too, they are travelers — first and foremost — using their blog as a means to inspire and guide other travelers. We recently caught up with them, and in an exclusive interview, they talked to us about their style of travel and gave out some advices too!

Tell us about yourselves.

We are Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith Co Founders of To Travel Too.

Traveling to the beat of two mantras “Chase time – not money’ & ‘Age is no barrier when it comes to travel
The daily grind of corporate life had us ‘existing’ not ‘living’. Working long hours, commuting, earning a salary, paying taxes and putting money aside for retirement – it seemed a never-ending cycle. We began to ask ourselves if we really could keep this pace up for another decade. We worried whether, at the end of that time, we’d still be healthy enough to follow our travel dreams.
Our boys had left home and we’d already taken the step of downsizing our family home to a two-bedroom apartment in Sydney, Australia. Then one of our sons took a gap year and we followed his adventures, travelling vicariously through South America and Europe with some envy. Then it hit us – why couldn’t we have a gap year? And why just a year?!

Jane Dempster-Smith
Co-Founder, Flashpacker, Travel Guru
Over the past four decades, Jane’s passion for travel has taken her to over 44 countries. She has lived and worked in Australia, UK and Singapore. With extensive experience in all aspects of travel from airport ground staff to air hostessing, retail, corporate and group travel, she has flown in two seaters, hot air balloons and even the Concorde. Jane offers her skills to baby boomers who want to change their lives; to travel light and travel far.

Duncan Dempster-Smith
Co-Founder, Flashpacker, Philosopher
Having travelled for both business and leisure, Duncan has lived in Malta, UK, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore. In his past life he held senior roles with global multinationals in manufacturing, distribution and sales. In 2013 he embraced a life change based on the philosophy: ‘chase time not money’. His ambition is to support fellow baby-boomers who want to fly the empty nest – and see the world.

When did you first catch the travel bug?

Duncan: I am English but born in Malta to parents who were in the Military. We have travelled since the day I was born.

Jane: Since working for a small commuter airline back in the Australian Outback when I was 18 and have never stopped travelling since.

What was your first travel like? What was the style?

Duncan: It was super sensory. Initially it was traveling to the UK from Malta overland through Italy, France to the UK mostly by train. Later I was to travel to Hong Kong on an air force VC10, Hong Kong was so different from any UK or European experience and it remains as a cornerstone of my travel vibe.

Jane: My first overseas trip was to Bali back in 1976 for a two week holiday. I flew with Qantas. When I started to work in the travel industry, we would have the opportunity to stay in 4 and 5 star hotels, fly Business and First Class and I have even flown on Concorde from Miami via Washington to London. I was going to backpack around Europe but got as far as Southampton in the UK and stayed there for 7 years.

What led you to choose Flash-packing as a preferred styled of travel?

As we have never backpacked and as we are travelling on a budget, luxury travel will eat away our savings quickly, so flash packing is the way to go. We still get our comforts at a comfortable price. It also allows us to connect with the other travelers of all ages and genres and we connect with the locals rather than traveling between Hotels.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about flash-packing?

What springs to mind is #1 misconception is that we fly everywhere, stay for a short time and move on.

Flash packers enjoy slowing down travel, a lot of us are digital nomads as well and are travelling the world working online, enjoying all forms of transport and staying in a wide range of accommodation.

#2 misconception: another word for not wanting to be put in the backpacking category – or you could say backpacking with luxury. We have found many of the flash packing experiences have allowed us to experience high end outcomes at an affordable level.

Let’s talk about traveling as Baby Boomers, do you meet a lot of baby boomers on the road like yourselves?

Baby boomers are one of the biggest travel markets currently. We are finding more and more baby boomers are downsizing, selling up and travelling the world. You could say SKIDS – spending their kid’s inheritance.

Nomad baby boomers are reinventing themselves, becoming travel bloggers, or getting out of the rat race and working globally online as they travel, offering their skills online.

We also meet a lot of Baby Boomers who are enjoying travel now that they have retired. We were standing in a queue in Stockholm in the Tourism Office and started chatting to two Australians ahead of us who were on a cruise to the Northern Lights, they are avid travellers and enjoying their time now that their corporate lives are over.

Baby Boomers that we meet are in transition. Some wish to travel freely without commitments to house, family, children etc. Others wish to have a mixture; homebase, ventures from time to time. We commend all styles of travel. We encourage these that are in transit to retirement or who have retired to consider travel as a way to keep abreast of world issues, to experience other cultures and to continue to gain mindful experiences that keep us young and relevant to ourselves and others. We do meet a considerable amount of GenY , Millennial and it’s encouraging that these wonderful folk have a good grip on what and who they are.

You have traveled to about 40 countries now, which is the most challenging country you’ve been to? Why?

Myanmar was probably the most challenging. Back in 2013 we travelled throughout Myanmar for a month and chose not to fly but to use local transport everywhere. The country itself was beautiful and the people very friendly and welcome.

Our local bus from Yangon to Pyay was an experience, plastic seats down the middle of the aisle and plastic bags handed out to spit your beetle nut juice in (if you decided to chew like a local), not much comfort, no toilets, toilet and meal stop half way through and then just dropped us on the outskirts of town.
The next journey was the first class train from Pyay to Bagan – more like 2nd class, shared a cabin with another couple, which was fun, but the journey was like a cross between dodgem cars and bungy jumping – we could hardly lie down on the bed without being thrown off. That is only two examples, but it really made the whole month a great experience, as we were slowing down the travel and enjoying a slower pace of life.

What would be your words of wisdom for travelers who wish to travel long term as flash-packers?

Don’t be nervous about staying in hostels, we also stay in hotels and apartments. These days’ hostels are upmarket compared to many years ago. We stay in a double room always with an ensuite. The friendships and information gained is invaluable when you are on the road. They are usually well located and have great Wi-Fi.

We have just spent two weeks staying at the brand new Generator Hostel in Stockholm (it had only opened the week previous). It was well located, had a bar, restaurant, funky rooms and an incredible working space with wonderful staff. They are expanding and catering for all types of travellers – definitely a flash packer type of accommodation.

Also, travel like a local – the buses are a great way to get around and see the country especially the buses in Mexico, Spain and Turkey. We highly recommend bus travel. A great way to keep your costs down, most of them these days offer Wi-Fi as well.

What is your dream destination? Why?

Duncan: Cuba. With the recent USA announcements concerning trade it is our belief that Cuba will become like Miami very shortly . The time frozen ambience, culture and economics will be replaced rapidly and a contrived outcome for Cuba will present so we need to visit quickly to capture the essence as we did with Myanmar.

Jane: Dream destination – wow that is a hard one! I have dream destinations for different types of travel – Maldives for the beach, Sweden for the Northern Lights, India for the food (I am a vegetarian and adore Indian food) and Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.

Where are you headed next?

We are heading off to Bilbao this month to travel on a repositioning cruise to Panama where we will be housesitting in Boquete, Panama for 3 months.

Categories
Adventure Sri Lanka

UNESCO World Heritage Site Hopping in Sri Lanka

By : Phocus Travel

Sri Lanka is considered to be the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. It is one of the world’s most exotic, diverse and beautiful tourist destinations. Here you will find beautiful rainforests, dazzling gems, beaches covered with palm trees, cloudy mountains, and other amazing things! We’re listing eight breathatking sites to see in Sri Lanka which are world heritage sites as per UNESCO.

1. The Sacred City of Kandy:
The Sacred City of Kandy is a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site. Called hill capital of Sri Lanka, this place, nearly 120 kilometres away from Sri Lanka’s capital, is located at an altitude of about 450 meters above sea level. It is famous for ‘Temple of Tooth’, ‘Kandy Lake’, Malwaththa Temple, Asgiri Temple, The Royal Botanical Gardens, and The Old Royal Palace compound. You will find many cultural performances happening at the local hotels, spend one night to experience the culture and hospitality of people of Kandy.

2. The ancient city of Sigiriya:
Sigiriya houses the old fortress of King Kasyapa of the fifth-century; it tops the list in the number of tourist visiting spots in Sri Lanka. A crucial placing facet of Sigiriya is its reflecting wall, which is painted with inscriptions and poems from that era. This fortress is recognized as one of the best examples of historic city planning because of its uniqueness, and was declared a UNESCO Heritage site in the year 1982. Sigiriya is a mixture of urban planning, water handling constructions, gardening, and arts, advanced despite the unavailability of today’s technology.

3. Polonnaruwa:
In the year 1982, Polonnaruwa also received UNESCO’s recognition as a heritage site. If you are a history lover, this place is a must-visit for you. This city had a developed culture and science, and reached a glorious but pitifully temporary zenith in the twelfth century. Although ravaged by way of invasion in the centuries that followed, much proof remains of its historical grandeur and glory. You will find the archaeological park a satisfaction to explore, with thousands of historical buildings – tombs and temples, statues and stupas – in a compact core. Some notable places to visit are Thuparama, Vatadage, NissankaLataMandapaya, The SathmahalPrasada, Gal Potha (Stone Book), PabaluVehera, Lankatilaka, NelumPokuna (Lotus Bath), and Tivanka Image House. Visiting this place will make you admire the hard work and knowledge of the people who made it.

4. Anuradhapura:
Anuradhapura was settled by Anuradha, a disciple of blue blood Vijaya the founding father of the Sinhala race. The ruins of Anuradhapura are some of South Asia’s most knowledgeable sight, the sprawling complex contains a chic collection of archaeological and architectural wonders: huge dagobas, soaring brick towers, ancient pools and crumbling temples, engineered throughout Anuradhapura’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka. Nowadays, many of the sites stay in use as holy places and temples.

5. Galle:
Located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Galle is a beautiful city located right next to the coast. It is one of the must-visit destinations, which is famous for its colonial buildings and amazing architecture. Places to see in Galle are Lighthouse Galle fort, Dutch Church, Maritime Archaeology Museum, Historical Mansion Museum, Rumasalla Mountain, Kottawa Jungle, Kanneliya Rain Forest Reserve, and Sri Lanka Navy Whale Watching.

6. Cave Temple Dambulla:
The caves of Dambulla were occupied in early times by Buddhist hermits. The antiquity of this place has been etched by the presence of pre-Christian inscriptions in Brahmi script right below the drip-ledge of the central cave. Dambulla’s cave temples are made of square measure cut out of a vast granite rock. Places to visit here include Dambulla Rock Temple, Cave No. 1 (Deva Raja Viharaya), Cave No. 2 (Maha Raja Viharaya), Cave No. 3 (MahaAlutViharaya), and Cave No. 4 (PaschimaViharaya).

7. Sinharaja Forest
Sinharaja forest reserve is home to almost half of Sri Lanka’s species of mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians. The forest, in October 1988, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The main nature trails of Sinharaja Rain Forest are the peak of both Moulawella and Sinharaja. Visiting this place will give you beautiful memories of the wide verities of creatures and animals found in here.
You will find many species of deer like Sambhur,the Mouse deer, and Barking deer. Other animals commonly sighted are Leopards, Brown Mongoose, the Golden Palm Civet, and Purple-faced Leaf Monkey.
A lot of colourful birds are also found in the Sinharaja such as the Malkoha, Blue Magpie, Babbler, and the Green-billed Coucal.

8. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka have very diverse flora and fauna. Famous for its Sri Lankan leopard, it consists of three separate protected areas: Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, Knuckles Range, and Horton Plains National Park. This place is covered with beautiful green trees and has many beautiful hill tops where you can relax and enjoy the clouds passing just above your head, along with the calmness and beauty of this place.

Categories
Adventure India

5 Romantic destinations in India

By : Phocus Travel

India is a country with rich cultural diversity, and great history, as well as many romantic and beautiful places to visit. If you are looking for delightful places; want to explore; want to get a glimpse of how kings and queens lived; want to get connected with nature and feel the beauty of it – then here is a list of the five most romantic destinations in India you must visit with your better half.

1. Udaipur
Udaipur is a charming city in Rajasthan, with some of the most amazing forts, palaces, museums, temples and wildlife sanctuaries. With several celebrities and big businessmen tying their knots here, this city has also become a very popular wedding destination for people. There are three beautiful lakes, which add to its beauty, and has also been an inspiration for many famous writers and poets. The three lakes namely Lake Fateh Sagar, Lake Pichola and Lake Swaroop Sagar are must visit places in Udaipur. The city looks absolutely mesmerizing during sunset, and is a great place to refresh your mood.

2. Havelock
Havelock is an island in the Andaman’s, where you can find beautiful coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and dense green forests. One can take the private luxury boats or use the government run ferries from Port Blair to reach there. Helicopter services are also available, which are managed by the Civil Aviation Department of Andaman and Nicobar. The famous beaches in Havelock are Radhanagar Beach, Vijaynagar Beach, Elephant beach, and Kalapather Beach. One can enjoy the underwater sea life and see the rarest of corals by scuba diving or snorkelling. All the beaches here are very calm and have a spectacular blue water view all around. So, if you are going to Havelock, remember to charge your devices to capture the magic of this place.

3. Kashmir
Kashmir is called paradise on earth and is located in the northern part of India. The beautiful lakes, lush landscapes, and big Mughal gardens are the popular tourist attractions here. The famous Hindu shrine – Amarnath Temple is also located here. In Kashmir, you can explore the hill stations, such as Aru, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Aharbal. The popular Mughal gardens are Shalimar Bagh, Achabal, Chashme Shahi and Nishant Bagh. And everybody knows about the enchanting lakes, namely Dal lake, Gangabal Lake, Gadsar Lake, Manasbal Lake, Nundkol Lake, Krishansar Lake and Satsar Lake. People even go for mountaineering in this Himalayan valley.

4. Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is located in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, popularly known as the Golden City, due to the yellow sand and stones used in its architecture. The heart and pride of Jaisalmer is the Jaisalmer fort, which is made up of three layers of walls, and withholds Jaisalmer’s culture and history. Dune bashing and Quad biking are very common activities here. The Royal palaces will take you back to the times when Kings ruled, with every intricate carving on the walls. For entertainment there are dances performed by the local artists at night, which is quite enjoyable. Gadsisar Lake, Jain temple, and Salim Singh ki Haveli are the other famous sights. There is one desert national park where you can find Chinkara, Indian fox, and the Great Indian Bustard.

5. Kerala
Kerala popularly known as Gods Own Country, is a state with a huge coastal line in the Arabian Sea, and is known for its backwaters, elephants, rich culture, traditions, tea gardens and palm-lined beautiful beaches. You can do various adventurous activities like paragliding, aquatic sports, and wildlife treks. Cruising on the backwaters of Kerala on a Houseboat is definitely something to try during your visit. If you want to enjoy boating or fishing, then Kumarakom is the best place to go in Kerala. Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad is also very famous for its dense green hilltops. The Kochi fort in Central Kerala is famous for its Dutch and British impressions. Other famous places to visit are Marari Beach, Bekal Fort, Banasura Sagar Dam, Kovalam Beach, Muzhappilangad Beach, Chembra Peak, and Eravikulam National Park.

Categories
Adventure

12 Hangover remedies: Around the world edition

By: Phocus Travel

It’s the holiday season, your birthday or just a night out, so you end up drinking shots after shots and chugging a can of beer, one after the other, while having a fun filled night. However, the morning after that drunken adventure, you feel like you can’t get up from bed because of a massive headache and stay away from any form of light! We’ve come up with a list of hangover cures from around the world that will make the next day so much easier to handle.

  1. Green tea, China
    Green tea isn’t just for fancy yoga instructors or the health conscious folks because it helps relieve your suffering after a night of excess drinking. This little miracle in a tea bag has been helping the (hungover or sober) world for about 4,000 years and it also helps prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s disease along with the benefits of making you feel like a normal human being after a drunken night.
  2. Bacon sandwich, UK
    Have you noticed that your body craves for some greasy carbs after a night out? It’s probably a sign from the above that that is just the thing you need! Eat up a hearty bacon sandwich, just like the Brits do and feel great; the University of Newcastle even has a research that proves its effectiveness!
  3. Cheesy Maggi, India
    We are pretty sure that a bunch of hungover college kids came up with this after a night of shenanigans and thanks to them! The carbs in the Maggi will help relieve the uncomfortable feeling in your stomach and the protein in the cheese will help your body in recovering fast.
  4. Pickled plums, Japan
    We know that pickled fruit isn’t the first thing that you might reach when your mouth feels drier than the Sahara after all that booze. Umeboshi, as they are traditionally called ­— sour plums, is Japan’s favorite hangover cure. It might give your Saliva glands a sucker punch but it’s worth it to make you feel less like a zombie and more of a human being.
  5. Butter milk, Scotland
    The Highland Fling is a concoction of buttermilk, salt and pepper and corn flour and helps in rehydrating your body and settles your queasy stomach while raising your blood sugar level to make your body feel awake. So do as the Scots do and feel like a highland king ready to take on the day!
  6. Prawn salad, Mexico
    Feel like a member from the Walking Dead show? Some Vuelva a La Vida salad, which literally translates to “return to life” will sort out that awful hangover you woke up with. This zingy combo of prawns, tomatoes, lime and onions may even become your favorite dish even when you are sober.
  7. Tomato juice and raw eggs, USA
    This concoction from the USA gives your body the vitamin boost that it desperate craves for after a wild night out. Add a little black pepper to a tall glass of tomato juice and raw eggs to get back to feeling less hungover and a whole lot better.
  8. Poutine, Canada
    This cheesy greasy hangover cure consists of potato fries drowned in cheese curds and some delicious brown gravy. It’s often served everywhere after the bars shut down in Canada because it wakes up your entire body and the deliciousness will make you feel less like a dead zombie.
  9. Pickled herring, Germany
    The Germans are known for their alcohol but what they are also known for is the pickled fish after a night of excesses. Katerfrühstück consists of herring fillets wrapped around gherkin slices or onions and ends up being an amazing hangover breakfast that restores all the electrolytes you lost (and hopefully the memory of your drunk antics).
  10. Pickle juice, Poland
    Chug down a glass of some pickle juice like the Polish do after a drunken night and though you may feel like your taste buds are dying from the sour taste, it’s also killing your hangover.
  11. Jumbo Breakfast Roll, Ireland
    This trusty sandwich consists of an Irish fry up stuffed into a French baguette and is a delicious hangover cure in all Irish homes. Wake up your senses and feel like you want to paint the down red again tonight!
  12. Beer, Netherlands
    We saved this one for the last because it really is the last resort after everything else fails. The hair of the dog, as it is normally referred to, means that you guzzle some more beer to prevent the nausea you feel when you’re hungover. Be careful however because you might end up needing another hangover cure to cure this hangover cure if you over do it.

 

Categories
Family

7 secrets to make your first family trip a great one

By: Phocus Travel

Planning a trip for the first time with your family can be a little tricky but an extremely fulfilling experience as it can give you and your family a break from routine and also a chance for each member to know more about the other. Spending quality time with one another while exploring a new place can be quite an adventure. So pack your bags and tell your family (however big or small) that some new memories are going to be made on this first vacation together! We bring you a list of 7 tips that can make our first time so much less stressful:

  1. Jot down interests of your family
    If one belongs to a sporty family who enjoys going on hikes, being a part of adventure sports or swimming, it is best to come up with places that have these facilities and are known for it like Spain. If your family loves culture and adventure, places like India can be chosen as it is famous for the perfect marriage of tradition and a plethora of colors and tastes which your family may enjoy. The first and the most important step is making sure that your family’s desires and interests are kept as a priority while planning the trip’s location and itinerary.
  2. Keep your budget in mind
    Defining your budget for the trip with your family is very important: transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost will vary from country to county but its best to look up cheaper options if you’re on a tight budget. There are plenty of apps and websites that provide budget friendly packages which include everything from travel tickets to accommodation to food and activities on the trip.
  3. Prepare the final itinerary
    After booking the tickets and accommodation, plan the activities of all the days you and your family are going to be there. Try not to pack in all the activities tightly in a day, leave some space for impromptu shopping or a visit to some place which you may discover after you reach the spot. Also find out the local cuisine and places you can visit to get a taste of it.
  4. Pack like a pro
    When one is done deciding the location and itinerary of the vacation, the next most important thing to do is pack like a pro for it. Keep in mind the weather and start packing for it a week before the travel date so that you don’t forget the essentials. Instead of packing all your new undergarments, pack old ones so that you can toss them after one use and make enough room in your suitcase for some souvenirs. Roll your clothes instead of folding them and place the heavy clothes on the bottom of the suitcase and a Ziploc bag filled with toiletries on the top for easy access.
  5. Be prepared
    Make a checklist of all the travel documents and other items you will be taking on the trip with you. Keep a small first aid kit with over the counter medication for cold/cough, headache, allergy, muscular pain, anti-bacterial cream, band aids etc. Also make sure to keep a list of all the clothing and other items in your luggage to make sure that you don’t leave anything behind. Keep a small bag or purse to keep your passport and id/travel tickets for easy access if you’ll be going from place to place.
  6. Keep important numbers handy
    The internet is your best friend when it comes to finding out important numbers in the country you’re going to be vacationing in. Instead of saving important numbers on your smart phone, jot it down in case your phone dies when you’re out and about without your charger. Make sure to have numbers of at least a couple of medical centers, police stations etc. numbers in case of any emergency you may have during your vacation. Also, include numbers of family or friends who aren’t on the trip with you and make sure to keep them informed of the places you’ll be visiting and when you’re expected back.
  7. Leave the expectations at home
    You and your family may be super excited to go on this trip and the kids probably have been waiting for it all year long. And maybe your parents are getting all misty eyed thinking about all the intimate bonding moments or great memories that will be made on this trip, but it’s important to sit everyone down before the trip and come to terms with the fact that though everything may be planned, not everything might go the way it is supposed to. You may end up fighting on the trip with one another, get food poisoning or maybe the weather may not cooperate. Nevertheless, it all comes down to the experience you have on the trip even though the ride may be a bumpy one, the memories made will be one of a kind and that’s all that matters.
Categories
India

4 tips for you to beat Delhi’s heat

By: Phocus Travel

The idea of a summer in Delhi may be filled with fun pool parties while sipping cosmos by the water, but the reality is far from it— dehydration, exhaustion and other heat related issues are the realities of the season. With the effects of global warming being felt everywhere, Delhi is showing its signs too with a temperature of more than 40 degree Celsius! Times like this is where you try to come up with ways to stay cool and make summer fun again and our rundown of 4 things to do to beat the Delhi heat and stay calm and cool:

  1. Make hydration fun
    Even though it’s one of the most known tips, it cannot be stressed enough because we often forget to carry a water bottle while going outside and end up buying and drinking over sweetened coffees and colas which do more harm than good. But yes we do agree that drinking water can be sometimes boring and so adding sliced strawberries or cucumbers along with a dash of lime juice and few mint leaves can add some fruity zing to your water making you want to keep sipping it throughout the day. Also coconut water stands are present throughout the streets of Delhi and then can definitely help recharge all the energy you lost in the heat.
  2. Eat right
    You lose a lot of water and minerals when you sweat and hence consuming food like fresh green salads, watermelon, cucumbers etc. can restore the water you lose throughout the day while giving your immunity system the boost it so desperately needs this summer. Say goodbye to oily street food and unhygienic cut fruits sold on the road because it’s been exposed to heat, dust and germs than can ruin your summer and your health.
  3. Look summer ready
    This summer make a style statement while staying cool in cotton clothes that let your skin breathe. Go for whites and light pastel shades embracing the summer season. Avoid form fitting or heavy clothes so that you don’t feel over heated while stepping out. Invest in a good pair of shades that protect your eyes from the heat and while making you look extremely trendy!
  4. When you feel overheated, the best thing to do is practice some yogic breathing. Start by curling your tongue by pulling both the side towards the middle and then continue to take breaths in through the mouth. Inhale deeply and then exhale through your nose after holding your breath for a couple of seconds to bring down your body temperature so you don’t go berserk in the heat.
Categories
Adventure Vietnam

The Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival, Vietnam

By Phocus Travel

The Hoi An full moon festival is held in the ancient town of Hoi An in central Vietnam, every fourteenth day of the lunar month, a new year. The activities of the festival mimic the life of the locals who lived four centuries ago. Electric lights and motorized vehicles are shut down and the magical festival filled with lanterns gives way to a glimpse of an ancient town, once an affluent and booming port, four hundred years ago.

The locals honor their ancestors with altars laden with candles, fruit and flowers, and incense burning outside offices and homes along with the offerings of fake 100 dong bills in exchange for prosperity and good luck. The temples are filled with activities like candle lit ceremonies held by monks, local fishing families fill into the Fujian assembly hall to honor Lady Thien Hau, believed to be the goddess of the seas who is the protector of sailors. Even the street sellers replace their harsh lighting with ambient and soft candlelight and traditional music can be heard everywhere!

The locals play Chinese chess in the streets and in front of their homes, young couples stroll on the moonlight lit streets and the streets are filled with local bands playing the drums, bamboo flutes, fiddles and traditional games. The banks of the river are filled with young women and men singing folk songs and lighting up the atmosphere even more.

The lanterns that light up the way

More than 50 lantern workshops take part in this cultural event, the best lanterns will be lit for the lunar New Year’s even on all seven nights of the year. The five hundred meter long road to Hoai River Square, from Hoi Bridge will be lit by numerous colorful lanterns sporting traditional designs and flickering candlelight. Also, a series of performances that celebrate the art and culture of Vietnam is sure to attract both domestic and foreign visitors during the festival.

The main action happens in the area between Cau An Hoi bridge and the Japanese covered bridge and since motorized vehicles are banned here, walking is going to be an explorer’s best friend throughout the festival area. The small walls along the way can be taken advantage of by sitting on them and taking a break while still watching the beautiful lanterns.

Other good view points are restaurants with balcony seating which overlooks the river or street café’s near the Japanese Bridge.

The one of a kind boat ride through the lanterns

The festivities start at dusk and the activities on the Hoi An side ends at about 9-10 pm but the action seems to continue on the Cau An Hoi bridge side, with locals still celebrating till late in the night. It is best to explore the festival area earlier in the day and reserve the evening for a lovely boat ride to conclude the day.

Sampan boats rides is nothing short of a dream with it providing an escape from the chaotic crowds while navigating through the magnificent maze of lanterns and also a providing a perfect picture opportunity for tourists while lowering lamps into the river. It is a must do activity to have the complete moon festival experience in Vietnam.

 

Categories
Adventure Laos

10 Things you need to know before going on that Laotian adventure

By Phocus Travel

 

Every traveller knows that the world is filled with countries that are so different from each other in terms of culture, people and the way of life. There are things that might come off as shocking and might put one in a difficult spot, so to avoid any such surprises or shockers while going on that Laotian adventure, we bring to you 10 things you need to know before you get there:

  1. Vaccination before the vacation

This is a necessary step before embarking on the Laos adventure, as one should not take chances with catching diseases. It will not only ruin your vacation but also your health. Make sure to have good travel insurance before getting on the plane.

  1. Carry cash

Carry a sufficient amount of money with you as Laos has very few ATM locations in Luang Parang, Vang Vieng, Vientianne and Huay Xai. Even the machines these might be problematic to use and sometimes end up swallowing the card. Also the ATMS charge a hefty five dollars or more per transaction so it is best to withdraw as much as possible to stay within your budget. Thai baht and US dollars are the only foreign currencies that are accepted. It is best to carry change especially when street shopping.

  1. Don’t stray from safety

It is best to stick to areas that are filled with tourists as it was a heavily bombed country and still has land mines. Less risky situations include pick pocketing so expensive jewellery or other items should be left in the hotel room.

  1. Slow Internet

WI-FI isn’t available in most places and where it is, it is competitively slow. So make sure to print out all the necessary documents before travelling and download offline maps to stay on the safe side.

  1. Read about their culture

Laotians are very friendly to tourists despite their history of hardships and war. It is, however, important to remember to stay away from conversations regarding violence, war or the government with the locals. Raising your voice or getting angry and creating an uncomfortable situation is severely advised against while dealing with the locals. Greetings are very important, just like the rest of Asia and remember to say Khawp Jai (thank you) or Sabai Dee (hello) when talking to the locals.

  1. Bottled water to the rescue

It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to water and hence bottled/ sterilised water should be your best friend while you explore Laos. Avoid drinking from the tap and make sure the bottle is always sealed.

  1. Put your bargaining skills to use

Friendly haggling is an important part of the Lao culture which is great news for all travellers as one’s negotiation skills can be put to use from booking a room in a hotel during off season to street food/shopping to the tuk tuks or taxis that are used to explore the place.

  1. Mindful motorcycling

Renting out a motorcycle to explore Laos may sound very thrilling and it is, but a few things should be kept in mind before doing it. Vientiane houses most of the rental shops but the quality varies from shop to shop. Make sure to inspect the vehicle before renting it and ask for a helmet because it is mandatory to wear it while riding a motorcycle. Carry your international license to avoid being fined by local cops.

  1. Nightlife in Vientiane

The city’s curfew makes even the underground places shut no later than midnight. But the famous Beer Lao makes up for that with its quality and cheaper than coffee prices.

Main river street houses Bor Pen Nyang which may not look very impressive from street level but the 4th floor rooftop bar may stun you with its crowd filled with both locals and travellers, scenic view of the river and a wide range of drinks and food.

10.Happy pizza and shakes aren’t what you think!

Laos is filled with restaurants serving “happy” pizza or shakes that in fact contain weed, mushrooms, opium or a combination of all of it that might make you ‘trip’ on your trip to Laos.  So be careful with what you order!

 

 

 

Categories
Adventure India

Rejuvenation holidays in India

By: Phocus Travel

 

Intoxicating. Wonderful. Beautiful. Chaotic. Crazy. Colorful—India can be described by all these words and so many more. This beautiful land is a colorful potpourri of culture and beauty and its massive size and population can definitely teach every traveler a thing or two about how important it is to rejuvenate oneself every once in a while. From a relaxed vacation in the Himalayas to the tranquil South of India, we bring to you 5 places that are a must visit if you want to escape the stress of life and come out as a newer, happier and rejuvenated person:

  1. Ananda Rejuvenation, Himalayas

Ananda is a world famous destination spa located in the Himalayas, India and it constructed on a king’s palace estate. For holistic wellness and rejuvenation there’s no better place to immerse oneself than Ananda. Traditional Indian practices are used in the therapies here, which are also personalized/ customized according to the individual’s needs (to relax, de stress and cleanse). Exploring one’s mental and physical well-being can be done here with the exercise, diet and other activity plans that are available to restore one’s vitality.

Located in the serene and tranquil part of the Himalayas, Ananda offers world class facilities inside the enchanting palace and will definitely make any explorer’s vacation truly unforgettable.

Ananda also takes great pride in combining nature and chic elegant living by offering a varied selection of rooms that offer breath taking views and luxury that will surely make it an extraordinary experience.

  1. Kalari Kovilakom, CGH Hotel

Kalari Kovilakom can be described as a royal road to healing and rejuvenation because of its stunning palatial setting and the intensive wellness programs based on Ayurveda that it offers. Travelers have described this destination as a chance to begin life all over again.

Set in the ancient palace of Vengunad Kingdom in God’s own county- Kerala, this retreat resort provides treatments that the Rajas of Vengunad had in ancient times with its therapy packages that combine yoga and Ayurvedic treatments that are said to transform an individual both physically and spiritually.

Evenings here are unsullied by the sounds of the chaotic city and is brought alive with hymns and chanting that will leave you energetic and refreshed.

At Kalari Kovilakom, detoxification starts from within and the individual is put on a diet of medicated ghee and herbal water along with a light diet to eliminate all the toxins before a treatment is done for optimal results. After detoxification of the body, treatments and massages are done using herbal leaves, medicated oils and powder pouches!

  1. Swaswara Ayurveda, South India

Set in a short distance away from the beautiful village of Gokarna, the serene coconut trees and rolling hills form part of the stunning landscape here which houses 24 villas that offer a one of a kind experience.

The holiday experience here combines Ayurveda, yoga, an organic and holistic diet, music and art, and way of living that is designed to relax, rejuvenate and restore the balance in life. Some of the programs offered here are Shanti (experienced yogis are taught a deeper appreciation for yoga and it’s healing power), Prana (for de stressing and relief from circulation, sinus, arthritis related issues, depending upon individual’s need), Swastha (for cleansing and detoxification of mind and body).

  1. Nileshwara Hermitage, Bekel

This tropical gem is hidden in the secluded palm grove in Kasargode in northern Kerala and is one of the most luxurious resorts in India with its perfect combination of vacation packages that includes Ayurveda and ancient techniques that are sure to rejuvenate one.

The stay here is said to nourish the mind, soul and body with their wellness programs that starts off with a doctor’s consultation, includes 100% organic medicines along with natural spa treatments and yoga.

The yoga program takes place in the stunning Patanjali yoga hall close to the beach and includes Ashtanga meditation sessions, pranayama, deep concentration techniques like Samadhi, Pranic energy meditation, and Prana that is sure to relieve all forms of stress and make you feel like a new, more energetic you.

The meeting table/ Sangam is one of the most unique features here: a meeting table is present in each restaurant where travelers who are alone can meet others like themselves and have amazing adventures together while feeling rejuvenated at the same time.

  1. Amanbhag, Rajasthan

The Amanbhag hotel is a Mughal style Rajasthani retreat nestled a short distance away from the Sariska National park, away from the bustle of the city. The former palace has 40 suites that have colorful gardens and beautiful Mughal architecture with marble interiors.  Each suite has a private terrace and a marble bathtub and faces the stunning landscape that once housed the Maharajas.

The surroundings of the hotel consists of ruins of the ancient forts and empire and is a stone’s throw away from the Sariska National park which is home to the Sambar deer, tigers and jaguars and also very close to the temple town of Neelkanth.

The spa facility here offers everything from massages, facials, scrubs and henna art, all done by skilled experts that is sure to soothe both body and mind and use only the purest of ingredients to rejuvenate and transform a person.

 

Categories
Adventure Cambodia Culture

11 Must see temples in Angkor

By: Phocus Travel

The Angkor temples have been a source of inspiration and mystery for wander lusters all over the globe and it won’t be an understatement to say that it definitely lives up to the hype. The Angkor archaeological site consists of over a thousand temples ranging from ordinary edifices covered in rubble to stunning architectural marvels. These temples boast of one of a kind secretive passageways, endless corridors, intricate carvings, narrow chambers etc. and was the heart of a humongous empire about hundred years ago.

The complex was constructed between 1130-1150 AD by King Suryavarman II, and was intended to symbolize the universe—the moat represented the oceans around the earth, the mountain ranges were symbolized by concentric galleries and the carvings on the wall depict Lord Vishnu (to whom the temple was dedicated to) as well as other parts of Hindu mythology.

Our rundown of the 11 must see temples in Angkor are sure to stun your senses in every way:

  1. Banteay Srei

For most visitors, this is the most beautiful temple in the complex and is also known as the jewel of Khmer art. With its beautifully carved pink sandstone with detailed carvings, some of which illustrate scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata (popular Hindu epics). The name literally translates to temple of the women and the relatively small and delicate artwork may be attributed to its name.

  1. Ta Phrom

If you’ve seen the Tomb raider movie, then you’re definitely familiar with the Ta Phrom as it was featured in it and is a very popular tourist spot. The man-made structures intertwined with gigantic roots and crumbling stones corridors that seems to play hide and seek with the shadows and the sun definitely makes this site live up to the hype. The magical stones make one wish to know the enigmatic tales that surround it. King Jayavarman VII built this structure for his mother and this complex has been used as a Buddhist university and monastery after its consecration in 1186. The Sanskrit inscription on the walls mentions the number of residents that lived there: 615, dancers, 2740 officials, 13 priests and 2,232 assistants.

  1. East Mebon

Restorative work is being done on this temple as is it falling apart, but even that does nothing to diminish its sheer beauty and the mystery that shrouds its intricate carvings. The Hindu god Shiva is guarded by sculptures of lions and elephants at the gateway and this three tiered structure can be explored all day long.

4. Pre Rup

Visiting this temple isn’t a complete experience without watching the stunning sunset from here. Watch the sun set with the other beautiful structures in the foreground along with magnificent trees. The temple combined with the spectacular sunset is what continues to delight tourists and locals every day.

  1. Prasat Kravan

Prasat Kravan is one of the smaller temples constructed in the tenth century. The structure consists of symmetrical towers constructed with red bricks. The muted and subtle color of the stones lends to its magnificence and is usually the first stop in the tour of the temple complex.

  1. Neak Poan

This small temple is set against a small manmade lake and a wooden corridor leads up to it. The literal meaning of Neak Poan is intertwined snakes and is a small treasure tucked in the Angkor complex.

  1. Ta Som

This small root temple has a magnificent entrance which is enough to make one’s heart skip a beat. The secret crevices that are untouched and left to nature is what makes this a must visit.

  1. Bayon and Baphuon

These adjacent temples with gigantic faces (about 216) can definitely make any tourist go through a range of overwhelming emotions and the giant Buddha between the two is a must see!

  1. Angkor Wat

Literally meaning the heaven on earth, this is one of the largest religious building in the world and was once the epicenter of the Khmer empire and now considered as the heart of Cambodia. Watching the sunrise from here is an absolute treat for the senses and the temple is said to possess a kind of spiritual energy that cannot be described.  Make sure to keep an eye for the iconic apsaras (about 2000 of them) that are reaching up to the heavens above along with thousands of other stunning sculptures inside the temple.

  1. Baksei Chamkrong

Located on the road between Angkor Thom and Angkor Vat, this single tower was constructed by Harshavarman I roughly between 910 to 922 AD. It was built to honor his father who was the man behind the Phnom Bakheng.

  1. Preah Ko

Also known as the sacred bull, this temple was the first one to be built in the city of Hariharalaya, an ancient city, and is about ten miles away from the main temples. It consists of 6 small brick towers on top of a sandstone base and is a humble but beautiful structure which should not be missed.

Categories
Adventure Vietnam

Adventure activities in Vietnam

By: Phocus Travel

When one thinks about Vietnam the images of picturesque landscapes, ancient temples, rice paddies, Vietnamese food and culture is what comes into one’s mind. Nevertheless, Vietnam has something more to offer to a traveler: adventure activities! From kayaking to paddle boating to diving to so much more, we’ve rounded up a list of 11 activities that will get your adrenaline pumping and are a must try when you embark on that Vietnamese adventure:

1. Kayak around the islands of Halong Bay
Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam. Picture a misty bay with hundreds of beautiful limestone islands around it and paddling a Kayak between the islands while taking in one of most stunning landscapes in the whole of South East Asia! Rent a kayak and paddle and experience the rush of emotions and adrenaline as you explore the waters.

2. Trek to the top of Mt. Fansipan
If you love the way a trek makes you feel, Mt. Fansipan — the highest peak in Vietnam is the place for you. With its 3,143 metres in height and location in Lao Cai province, a trek here will take you through some of the most gorgeous remote areas filled with stunning view from the highest point of the country.

3. Paddle board in Mui Ne
Slowly gaining its spot as Vietnam’s best beach resorts, Mui Ne is a must visit on your visit. Paddle boarding is a cross between kayaking and surfing and is also one of the most fun ways to get a workout. So make sure to head to Mui Ne and try your hand at paddle boarding on the great waves.

4. Drive a motorbike from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi can be quite an adventure sport in itself with all the mopeds and motorcycles driving about. However renting out a bike and exploring Vietnam on your own terms is an experience you’ve probably never had. Drive to Hue and get a taste of some local cuisine or go to the beach in Nha Trang or just enjoy the beauty of Phonh Nha-Ke Bang. The ultimate freedom of choosing your own route is the perfect way to explore Vietnam and all that has to offer.

5. Cycle in Sapa
Discover the gorgeous green rice paddies by renting out a bike and cycling through fields and farmlands, through local villages and street cafes serving authentic Vietnamese food that will send your taste buds on an exotic adventure.

6. Go diving in Phu Quoc
This island paradise is filled with golden sands, palm trees and turquoise ocean that are home to some of the most exotic marine life. Go diving in this calm and beautiful island and experience the underwater life like you’ve never experienced before.

7. Sail or Kite-Surf on the South China Sea
Sailing and water sports is a must when travelling along Vietnam’s coast, most resort have boats available on rent. Make sure to wind or kite surf in Mui Ne beach or Nha Trang!

8. Cat Tien National Park
This place is halfway between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City and is a paradise for bird watchers. Plan an overnight stay at a rustic accommodation, wake up feeling energized and go for a morning trek while enjoying its stunning biodiversity, ancient trees, rivers, waterfalls make quite an extraordinary sight. Some of the attractions are not even mentioned on travel books because their locations are far away from regular tourist spots. A pair of binoculars and a thirst for adventure is all one needs to spot exotic animals and birds that are crawling all over.

9. Cuc Phuong National Park
Another paradise for nature lovers, the Cu Phuong National park is home to a one of a kind research center and has great accommodating packages with lots of hiking and trekking with guides that can be hired on a daily basis.

10. Cycling the Mekong Delta
The flat routes along Vietnam make it an absolute pleasure for cyclists. Adventure tour groups in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi can make arrangements for a tour with a flexible length and even provides a support van. Cycling along the routes of Vietnam can be quite an adventure with the entire close up views of nature and culture.

11. Multi sports and exploring the Central Highlands
Mountain climbing, biking and trekking are just a few of the sports that can be arranged by the outfitters in Da Lat. A motorbike can be rented or go with a guide to explore some incredible terrain.

Categories
Adventure Nepal

Nepal’s Lesser Known Gems

It’s no secret that Nepal is the gateway to the Himalayas – hundreds of thousands of travellers come to the Asian country every year, some to challenge the mythical Everest, others just to look at its mesmerising height and sight from above or the surrounding Kathmandu Valley.

Although best known as the hub of Himalayan Adventure, Nepal caters so many wonderful facets and “once in a lifetime” experiences – it genuinely has something for everyone. Nepal is a country of amazing extremes. Here are five of the country’s lesser known gems.

Adventure – not just for the trekkers

Nepal is the known hub for trekking and peak climbing adventures. However, many may not be familiar with the extreme aerial, water and wildlife adventures Nepal caters. The country that hosts the highest altitude skydiving in the world also caters adventures like bungee jumping, ultra-light flights, paragliding, zip flying and mountain flights. The country with more than 6,000 rivers and rivulets also offers diverse water adventures like white water rafting, cannoning and kayaking.

Diversity – of culture and nature

Nepal is one of the most diverse countries culturally and naturally. Despite having a total land area of just below 150,000 square kilometres, it manages to enjoy three very different geographical regions: the lowland (Terai), the mid-hills and the high mountains (Himalayan). These offer great diversity in more than one way: topography, nature, scenic views, climate, vegetation, life styles, etc. The altitude of the Himalayan region ranges between 4,877m to 8,848m. It includes eight of the highest 14 summits in the world, including the world highest mountain: Sagarmatha (Mount Everest). The mid-hills region accounts for about 64% of total land area, whilst the lowland Terai occupies about 17%. Nepal’s altitude variation also explains its climatic diversity: conditions range from the sweltering heat of the Terai in the lowland to the freezing cold in the Himalayan highland.

Nepal’s socio-cultural diversity is even greater than its natural/geographical variety. More than 100 ethnical tribes of different heritage, customs, traditions, religions and languages live here harmoniously, a rich and unique cultural mix seen nowhere else. Nepal’s cultural heritage has evolved over the centuries, mostly influenced by Indian, Mongolian and Tibetan culture.

Festivals

This multi-dimensional heritage manifests in more than one way, but one that is truly exciting is Nepal’s vibrant festivals and celebration. Did you know that Nepal celebrates more festivals than the number of days in the calendar? In fact, folklore and festivities are an integral part of Nepalese society. Predominantly a Hindu and Buddhist nation, Nepal’s festivals mostly take place during post-monsoon season. However, each festival celebrated here is completely different to another, and portrays the different facets of Nepal with music, food, dancing, singing and a lot of energy. Tours or treks in Nepal during the festivals are a unique and fascinating experience.

Wildlife aplenty

Nepal is also home to all manner of rich and diverse wildlife. Although covering less than 0.1% of the earth’s total land surface, Nepal has 35 types of forest, 14 protected parks, nearly 5% of the world’s mammal species and 10% of the world’s bird species. The lowland Terai region is not just the agricultural hub of the country, it is also home to lush jungles inhabited by some of the most exotic and endangered animals in the world. The rarest animals include mammals like the one-horned rhinoceros, the Bengal tiger, the leopard, the four-horned antelope, and the Indian elephant; reptiles like the Burmese python and the Gharial crocodile; and birds like the Black stork, the Hornbill, and the Bengal Florican. Taking a jungle safari in well-preserved Chitwan and Bardia National Park is a great way to experience the wildlife first-hand.

Unique & authentic luxury stays

Nepal caters to every traveller’s taste and budget. For those willing to pay a little extra, top-end accommodation includes luxury jungle lodges, converted traditional mansions and wonderful rural retreats. Some of these unique and authentic luxury stays include Dwarika’s in Kathmandu; Traditional Homes – Swotha and The Inn in Patan; Tiger Mountain Lodge and Temple Tree Resort & Spa in Pokhara; and Kasara Jungle Resort and Barahi Jungle Lodge in Chitwan.

Nepal is a country rich in diversity – of people, culture, adventure, experiences, landscape… Make sure not the miss the above next time you visit. And keep looking – there are so many more hidden gems in Nepal!

Categories
Myanmar

The tea culture of Myanmar

By: Phocus Travel

When one thinks of Burma, they think of Aung Sann Syu Kyi and don’t usually associate the country with tea. Even though tea time in Myanmar plays a pivotal role in the day – to day activities of the people in the country.

Camelia sinensis, the tea plant in common language originated in the Southeast Asia and established itself like a drink in the 10th century B.C. Another folklore goes that a king liked his water boiled and one day, while in the forest, he was brewing his water when a few leaves from the nearby plant fell in the boiling water which gave rise to a new drink tea. Many countries in the Southeast Asia drink tea from China, Japan, India being a few but in Myanmar tea is part of its cultural identity.

Regardless of the place in Myanmar, you can always spot people of varying age sitting on plastic stools and sipping tea. It’s a small idyllic setting of a table with a kettle bustling with hot green tea along the road. A cup of sugary black tea with white milk engrosses one hand deep in conversation and laughter. Myanmar has seen a boom in the hotel industry with air conditioned places coming up around town but what remains as the nerve center of the place are small road side vendors selling tea.

In the past with the Colonial rule these shops were the centers for political and intellectual discussions. Now the situation has changed and it is a spot for people to hang out and share changing thoughts and ideologies. Tea culture in Myanmar is a mostly male dominated one. Women are welcome in the shops but this is still not seen in a positive light though the times are changing for the better.

Tea houses of Myanmar
The city seems to be in a state of decay from the British colonial rule trying to change over to new clothes. The tea is a reference to its turbulent past though it has now carved its own Burmese act and cultural identity amidst the British idea of the tea. The tea custom in Myanmar is a way of socializing. It has been a way of relieving tension over a cup of tea. They act as the community centers in the time of despair and war. They are like the old school cafes around the city on every street and corner but with little more generosity and humility. This has percolated from the time of war and the tension, zone of bullet and firings that Myanmar was surrounded in and become its integral part. It is the Burmese way to unwind and share laughter – small tea houses replete with plastic stools and ceramic bowls with smell of brewing tea all day long is the energy booster throughout the day.

The art of drinking this tea is unique to the place. The tea is poured on to a saucer from the ceramic cup. It is then slurped relishing the drink. It is more like an addiction moving with the person’s time clock. Burmese drink around 3 cups of black tea on an average with the green tea. The tea is typically of two types – green tea or the Chinese tea, which is served in unlimited quantity without any charge. On the other hand is the black tea or sweet tea prepared with condensed milk and sugar. There appears to be some kind of ranking involved with who creates, pours, serves and cleans up.

Try and find the spot nearest to the tea making process in the tea house to get a good idea as how it is prepared. They bring along small plate of appetizers that go with the black tea, which is delicious as well!

Eating tea
Most of the South East Asian countries drink tea but Myanmar is amongst the very few countries that have it like food. Tea is grown in Namshan and Namphan on the Shan plateau on the Shan state. Laphet is the most popular tea. It is drunk as well as eaten. Every auspicious occasion is accompanied by tea which is stored in the center of a round circular box with compartments accompanied by peanuts, garlic, dried shrimp, coconut and ginger are arranged in the compartments of the container. It can be served as an appetizer with accompaniments or as a desert. According to the state statistics almost 20% of the tea is accounted for being eaten in the year 2006-2007.

Though Myanmar is forging its own tea culture, which is grounded in the generosity of the people, literature on the same is scarce. Though the public culture has started to undergo change. Restaurants and bars with fancy dining rooms have sprung up across Yangon recently, but the country’s open-air tea shops with their low tables, stand firmly in the midst of the change.

Though other issues have crept up due to this change. Due to the modern outlook more and more youngsters have started hanging out in the tea shops which is seen as time wasting. Elders have an opinion that sitting at the tea shop and whiling away time won’t help. They have a future to build, which they should not waste in mere talks.
However, at the end of the day everything can be solved with a hot cup of tea with loads of sweetness.

Categories
Adventure

How to take pictures on a solo trip

By: Phocus Travel

We’ve all seen blogs or Instagram pictures of travelers who seem to have travelled to exotic locations solo but still managed to click some breath taking pictures of sceneries, food, monuments and of course, themselves. How do they do it? Do they all have secret photographers or extra invisible arms? They have none! All they do have is a little patience and a couple of simple tips that can make that solo trip to your favorite destination filled with perfect pictures and memories. We bring to you a rundown of ten such simple tricks to take pictures while travelling solo:

  1. Asking a Stranger
    This is probably one of the most commonly used ways to click a picture when you are travelling alone. Though we may feel apprehensive about handing over our expensive phones or cameras to a stranger or asking them to click a picture of us, most touristy places are filled with friendly people who are always willing to help in any way they can. Also approach families with children or a group of women, as they are less likely to run away with your camera or phone. Make sure to mention exactly what picture you want to be clicked and also the more number of shots they take will increase the chance of having better pictures.
  2. Selfie stick
    Though they look a little funny when taken out in public, who cares! They are cheap and available in so many colors and get the job done. And not only can you be there in the picture/ video of the amazing place you wish to capture, you also don’t have to depend on anyone and your selfie stick can be your travel buddy.
  3. Self-timed
    Technology comes to the rescue again with this feature available on most cameras and smart phones which are perfect for a stunning solo picture with that wanderlust inspiring background. Even if that option isn’t available in your phone, you can download apps that will do the job for you. All you have to do is find some object to prop the camera or phone up against and angle it properly before you capture that perfect memory.
  4. The Panoramic
    Though this requires a little skill and practice, it is worth it! The panoramic view option makes for some great clicks (after the first few distorted ones). Hold your phone steadily and movie in along the red line on your screen and take some amazing pictures for your facebook or Instagram page.
  5. Ask your tour guide
    The best part about this tip is that he or she has probably been to that spot so many times and clicked so many pictures of tourists that they know where the light is best and which pose will make you look great while posing.
  6. Burst mode
    A lot of cameras and phones have the burst mode option which basically means that the camera will take a bunch of pictures in quick succession, each time the shutter button is clicked. If you’re indulging in any sort of adventure sports or similar travel adventures, this feature will make your pictures look great and make photography while travelling very easy.
  7. Go abstract!
    Unleash your artistic side and go abstract! So what if you’re not in the picture? Next time you’re exploring some exotic place on your own, take time to spot hidden gems and capture them! They’ll surely be inspiring conversation starters!
  8. Befriend other solo travelers
    One of the coolest things about solo travel is the chance of joining other solo travelers who have the same itinerary as you do. Not only will you make a new friend but also have someone to take cool pictures of you while you explore the place with them and bond over photo shoots and other travel experiences.
  9. Invest in a tripod and remote
    If you travel alone often then it is best to invest in a tripod stand so that you can rest the camera on it and use the self-timer to click some amazing shots of your trip. If you aren’t much of a solo traveler, in some places tripod stands are available on rent and can be taken on trips and then returned after it is done which won’t leave a dent on your budget. Make sure to get one which is compact and can easily be folded to fit into your backpack.
  10. Selfie mode on
    And if all other tricks fail, take out that smart phone and capture some adorable selfies of yourself in front of that amazing monument or beach and make sure that your selfie game is strong while making once in a lifetime kind of memories when you travel alone.
Categories
Vietnam

Prayers on the river in Hué, Vietnam

By: Phocus Travel

It is said that a visit to Hue isn’t complete without a boat excursion on the stunning Perfume River. Sông Hương, as it is known is Vietnam, crosses the central province of Thua Thien Hue and gets its name from the fact that the river flows thorough many forests filled with aromatic plants which brings a fresh and pure aroma to Hue.

Source and flow of inspiration

The perfume river has 2 sources: both of the sources meet at Bang Lang Fork and meet at Truong Son mountain range. The left tributary called as Ta Trach starts in the Truong Dong Mountains and flows towards Bang Lang Fork and the right and shorter tributary known as Huu Trach flows to the same point but through the Tuan ferry.

Its flow then goes in the south-north direction and passes the temples of Ngoc Tran and Hon Chen before turning north west and flowing through the Luong Quan plains and Nguyet Bieu. Then the river flows continuously into the north-east direction and passes through the resting spot of Nguyen emperors. The river then continues its path and passes various villages before finally emptying into the Tam Giang Lagoon.

From Bang Lang to Thuan, the river is about 30 kms long and flows at a very slow pace and has served as a source of inspiration for several composers, artists and poets. ‘Who comes to Hue’ is a beautiful song written by Duy Khanh describing the perfume river’s beauty.

During the autumn season, flowers from orchards upriver fall into the river and give it a beautiful aroma which is why artists and poets have fallen in love with the river and the inspiration it provides.

Travelers who have been to Hue have admitted that the Perfume River is one of the most splendid and stunning riverside landscapes they have ever seen, especially at night when all the lights are on. When night comes, the river water glistens under the moonlight and songs from boat rowers breaks the silence and the atmosphere, filled with beauty and romance.

This popular attraction also houses another sacred attraction: Thien Mu Pagoda, situated on the north bank of the river, a few miles away from central Hue.

The sacred spot

This sacred spot is located on the Ha Khe hill on the bank of the Perfume River. The temple complex is spread across the riverbanks in 7 successive tiers (each one representing a step to enlightenment or the 7 human forms taken by Buddha).

The complex of monastic buildings is in the center and it is where the monks are involved in their routine of stacking wood, cooking and whacking weeds. Novice monks can also be seen practicing calligraphy. A building near the complex contains a national relic: Monk Thich Quang Duc’s car which he rode to Saigon from his temple on the 11th of June 1963. He is said to have gotten out the car at an intersection and then went on to sit down in a lotus position and set himself on fire to protest against the violation of religious freedom by the regime.

Tourists from all over come to this sacred spot on the Hue River and observe the praying rituals of the monks here and it is said to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful experiences in Vietnam.

Categories
Laos

13 must try dishes in Laos

If eating is your favorite activity, then Laos is the place you should definitely travel to give your senses a vacation. You know that you’ve met your kind of people when they greet you by asking you if you’ve eaten yet and the people of Laos do just that with their kin khao laeo bor! Even conversations at the dinner table with friends and family often revolve around food and that’s enough reason to pack your bags and your appetite and head off to this foodie’s paradise. Here are 10 dishes that every curious traveler needs to try to feel like there’s a party going on in his mouth:

1. Meat salad (Laap)

Chopped pieces of chicken, pork, beef, fish or duck mixed with some garlic and lime juice and herbs with rice is what this meat fantasy salad consists of. It’s protein rich and easy to cook nature is what makes it a classic at family get together. The meat is either ‘cooked’ by the acidic lime juice or served raw. The crushed rice grains in this fragrant dish take this salad to the very next level.

2. Steamed fish (Mok pa)

This fish dish looks just like a little wrapper present with fish steamed inside banana leaves that are wrapped up with bamboo strings. The amazing combination of kaffir leaves, lemon grass, green onions, fresh dill etc. add zing to this dish which is best served with some delicious sticky rice.

3. Baguettes (Khao Jee)

This crusty baguette is part of the French influenced cuisine in Laos and is one of the most common street foods available. So when you’re strolling on the streets, don’t forget to get a khao jee filled with some Vietnamese sausage, some slices of carrot and cucumber with a dash of chili sauce and mayo for the best breakfast or lunch ever.

4. Grilled chicken (Ping kai)

Imagine a whole succulent chicken marinated with garlic, black pepper, fish sauce and coriander root which is then cooked to perfection over hot coals. Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Pair this with some sticky rice and raw vegetables and you’ll fall in love with Laos more.

5. Spring Rolls (Yall Dib)

The spring rolls consist of fresh greens, noodles and meat  packed into rice paper sheets, dipped in chili infused peanut sauce, can definitely send your senses on a vacation of its own. They are also known as summer roles and come in a vegetarian version too and is deep fried to the perfect crispiness.

6. Beer

Let loose in Laos with some beer lao which is the most favorite drink of tourists here. The variations included black brewed, roasted malt or lao gold which is all equally delicious and the perfect drink for your vacation.

7. Sausage (Sai Oua)

This meat treat is a fusion of minced pork, kaffir lime, lemongrass and chilies, pressed into skins and dried at roadsides in local markets. Served with dry chili dip and some sticky rice, this meaty sausage can take your taste buds to paradise.

8. Stew (Or Lam)

This veggie soup is infused with fragrant herbs and chili wood making it a perfect winter soup because of the smoky, peppery flavor it leaves on your tongue.

9. Coffee (kaa-feh)

The French brought coffee to Laos in the 1990’s and it became one of the largest agricultural exports in Laos. All the amazing coffee that is available in Thailand is the imported product from Laos. When you’re exploring the streets of Laos on a hot day, grab and iced coffee which is served in adorable plastic bags filled with ice and some delicious condensed milk.

10. Coconut rice pancakes (Kanom krok)

If you’re a dessert person, Laos definitely has a treat for you! Kanom krok is made of coconut milk, sticky rice, sugar and flour and looks like cute small pancakes when they are cooked in cast iron pans on the streets of Luang Prabang.

11. Whisky (Lao lao)

With 40% alcohol content in this rice whisky, it’s a popular drink in rural areas around Laos. This clear liquid is made from sticky rice and yeast balls which has a bready taste. If you are looking for a more adventurous drink then lao lao.

12. Noodle Soup (Khao Piak Sen)

This drool worthy noodle dish is a staple dish in Laos and is very similar to the Vietnamese pho. Commonly eaten as breakfast this tasty soup combines chicken or beef with broth and flat noodles flavored with various herbs. Garnished with bean sprouts, cilantro or chili oil, the khao piak sen is a must try when you’re in Laos because of its perfect combination of earthy spices.

13. French Food

Laos is also home to great French inspired food with its wines and Vietnamese crepes which should definitely be on your list of foods to try.

Categories
Adventure

Top 7 tips for a healthy holiday

You’ve worked hard all year long or probably just need to escape reality and experience all the adventures an exotic city or country has to offer. After you are done booking the tickets, packing and counting down to the day of your departure, you may have forgotten a couple of important things that can either make this holiday the best holiday of your life or the worst. No, we aren’t talking about forgetting your passport or your camera, but about the list of things we need to keep in mind if we want to get through the holiday feeling healthy and happy. We love making your life easier and hence we’ve rounded up a list of 7 things you should definitely do on your holiday to stay healthy to go on all those exciting adventures you’ve always dreamed of:

1. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.

This cannot be stressed enough. You do not need to book a fancy hotel with a gym to exercise. 15-20 mins of walking or jogging in place can be done inside the comfort of your room and needs no expensive or heavy equipment which also means that you now have no excuse to run away from a workout. Even yoga can be practiced inside your hotel room and it will do wonders for your circulation and help your immune system function efficiently. Not only will you have more energy to do more things on your holiday but you’ll also look great in all the selfies you click because of the improved circulation. Also when you get back home, you won’t feel guilty about all the exotic dishes you ate because it didn’t turn up on the weighing scale!

2. Drink up! Not the alcohol. Water!

If you’ve hit a party crazy city or country then we know it’s almost impossible to stay away from all the cocktails and the wine but the liquid calories that you are taking in will add up with the solid ones from the increased food intake. Yes, we know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes you everyone’s best friend at the party and is probably the main reason for some of the best nights of our lives but its best to stick with water as a beverage and your body will thank you for it.

3. Disinfecting wipes or sanitizers are your best friends

Whenever you use public transport on a holiday or even on the flight, keep a bottle of sanitizer or disinfecting wipes handy to keep germs away. Also while exploring a new city, your hands are subjected to a lot of bacteria that you may ingest when you eat with unclean hands, so it’s best to use a sanitizer or disinfectant wipes religiously to make sure that you enjoy your getaway without being sick.

4. Pack some sunscreen

We all love gorgeous sun kissed skin but going out in the sunlight can cause wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation and the worst case scenario- skin cancer. It is best to carry and apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, every hour when you’re out and about. Your skin will love you for protecting it against aging and of course no painful sunburns.

5. Pack light healthy snacks

Because of the jet lag and change in time zone, you may end up disrupting your normal meal times by feeling hungry at odd times of the day. Resist the temptation to order fatty food from room service by packing snacks like granola bars, carrot sticks, dark chocolate or nuts to satisfy your craving and hunger without making you go overboard with all the calories.

6. Ditch the beige

By beige we mean those tempting carb dishes like fried rice or pasta that we end up binging on our vacation. Try to consume a breakfast lunch and dinner rich in proteins with a small portion of carbs so you don’t feel guilty when you stand on the weighing scale after you get home, and surely ditch the beige post 6 pm.

7. Give in but don’t fall completely off the wagon

You earned a little indulgence because you’ve been healthy the whole year so give in to your cravings but make sure to compensate for it during the next meal. Also just because you’ve broken your diet after you had a pizza in the afternoon doesn’t mean that you can have pasta for dinner because the ‘damage is already done’. Have a light meal after you’ve had a rich heavy one.

Now keep these tips in mind so you have some amazing memories and also manage to get back home feeling like the best version of yourself!

Categories
Adventure

8 reasons to go on that all girls trip

Just like the trip Carrie and the gang take on Sex and the City or the one the girl gang takes on Angry Indian Goddesses, we’ve all been inspired to pack our cutest dresses and our sexiest bikinis and head off on a girls only getaway vacation, but never got around to do it. A girl’s only trip can help you discover so many things about your best friends and most important of all — a side of you that you never knew existed.

Yes, we love our girl gang because we bring out the best in each other and so we’ve come up with a list of reasons why you should pack your bags and grab your best friends’ hands and head off into one of the best adventures of your life:

1. You can unleash that wild side of yours

In college you might have been a crazy party animal and after getting married or after getting a job, you barely went out or partied and almost forgot that side of yours. When you’re around your girl gang, they remind you exactly how many shots you would drink in college and what a hot dancer you were back then, and let you unleash that wild side of yours. And the best part is there is no judgement because you love each other for every little quirk of yours. So this vacation, slip into that body con dress and party the night away with your favorite ladies and just let go!

2. No judgement

Fart and laugh about it. Drink wine straight from the bottle. Binge on all that creamy pasta at 1 am in the morning and dance like no one is watching.  When you’re with each other, you don’t have to worry about being judged for not shaving your legs or sleeping naked or anything as a matter of fact that you’d feel uncomfortable doing in front of other people. No one judges each other and you become each other’s partners in crime for any crazy stunt you want to pull during the vacation.

3. Complain about the men in your life

You may be 20 or even 40, but you can tell your girls every single detail about how annoying your boyfriend is sometimes or how he keeps forgetting your anniversary because they love to listen to all your stories and offer advice when required. You can even tell them about the time he made you go crazy in bed or that guy at the club who you’re crazy about and can’t stop fantasizing about. Boy talk sessions late at night or while at the beach while sipping cocktails is one of our favorite reasons to go on an all girls’ trip because it makes you feel so much lighter.

4. It changes the way you see or think about things

Travelling makes you see things very differently and see yourself in a whole new light too. When you’re travelling with your favorite ladies, the journey and the people part of it make you see life from a different perspective. The amazing journey and all the adventures with your girls might remind you how much you were missing in life and what exactly you need to do to be happier.

5. Trying new things

From cheese stuffed pasta shells to that delicious slice of apple cheesecake or jet skiing or even mountain climbing, you end up trying new things and making your own adventure. And the best part about this is that you end up trying new things that you never dreamt of doing or always wanted to do but couldn’t do it alone. Your favorite girls will make every day an amazing adventure!

6. All the sharing

Forgot that sexy black dress you thought you’d wear on a night out? Your friend has got you covered. Don’t have a blow dryer? You friend blow dries your hair to perfection with hers. Your job stressing you out?  Blow off all that steam by talking to your girls. From sharing ice cream in bed to sharing clothes to even kajal, your girl gang has your every need covered.

7. Shop till you drop

Having your best friends tell you what you look best in and what doesn’t really flatter your features makes for the best shopping trips. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an expensive store or even a flea market, your girls will shop with you till you drop and let you know exactly what you should buy.

8. Take relaxation to the next level

Not having to worry about your job or what you need to cook for lunch or any other responsibility because you’ve left all that behind and the stress that remains is relieved by endless talking sessions with our ladies. By the end of the trip you’ll feel like a new person who has let go of all her troubles and worries and is ready to take life by its horns.

Categories
Adventure

Being the perfect co-flyer

Who doesn’t like travelling? Let’s rephrase that — who doesn’t like to travel comfortably? Everyone’s looking to travel in the best way possible, with the best possible seats and of course with the best people around. Not everyone has the luxury to travel with the best seats but everyone should have the bliss of traveling in peace.

Everyone wants to cherish good memories of their travel diaries. You want to have a comfortable time, so does your co-flyer. So, it might help if you take a “we’re-in-this-together approach.” And who knows? Maybe you’ll meet some nice people.

So, here are some tips how you could make your flying experience better for yourself and for your co-flyer.

  1. Respect your space and the space of those around you– Always use your space diligently and respect other’s space. No one likes the person who uses the space under all three seats, has a carry-on bag that doesn’t quite fit in the overhead bin, takes over both the arm rests and reclines as far back as the chair allows. The arm rests are narrow, so it’s important that you show some respect to the people either side of you and reclining too much could limit the leg space of the person behind you making him/her uncomfortable. Limit what you take on board the plane to a small bag that fits in the overhead bin and another item that fits easily under the seat in front of yours.
  2. Talking is good, talking excessively is not– Many people enjoy flying in peace, so before you start the talk with the person in the neighboring seat, learn to take a hint. You might want to introduce yourself when you sit down to get the feel of the other person’s mood, but if he/she quickly dismisses you by opening a book/magazine, be respectful and stop talking!
  3. Be aware of your movement– Constant up and down movement can be annoying especially for those in the row whose feet you keep trampling. If you are one of those who cannot hold it for the entire duration, then make sure you don’t drink too much fluids that you’ll have to go again. Choose an aisle seat and let someone have the window seat.
  4. Don’t bring your kitchen to the plane– As much as anyone loves their food, especially home food, it is not cool to open your big box of home made ‘muli ki paranthe’ or any food item with a strong odor. We get it that you absolutely love them, but your co-flyers may not.
  5. Communication with Airline Personnel– When communicating with an airline personnel, it’s important to be courteous. They have big responsibilities to make sure all flyers arrive at their destination safely and on time, and they deserve to be treated with all due respect. Don’t waste your time and theirs by chatting with them for too long as someone else might genuinely need their attention.
  6. Germs– If you are ill, it’s best you avoid taking the flight as the small space in the fuselage of a plane practically insures that your germs are spread, even during a short flight. However, if you cough or sneeze, do so in the crook of your elbow and away from others. Carry a fragrance-free hand sanitizer and use it whenever you touch a common area to prevent the spread of germs.

Follow these golden rules, and you are good to go! Happy flying!

Categories
Adventure

9 Travel Hacks For Women

By: Phocus Travel

You’ve decided on the location, the dates are fixed and you’re ready to make the arrangements for your next memorable adventure. Since we admire and appreciate the spirit of wanderlust that burns within you, we have compiled a list of the handiest hacks to make the entire process so much easier.

  1. Turn privacy mode on in your browser when you browse various sites looking for the best deal on flights and hotels – Web sites track your activity, and they will raise their prices if you visit a site repeatedly. By activating the privacy mode, you can surf through the websites as many times as you want before you finally settle on the sweetest deal!
  2. Free up space in your bags by rolling clothes instead of folding them. This is a very neat trick you can apply to ensure you don’t have to choose between the gorgeous dress you bought last week and your favorite pair of slippers. You will be surprised to discover how much space you’ll save by adopting this hack. If you are packing soft fabric, make sure you protect it by trying it up with a rubber band after folding it.
  3. Wrap your shoes in disposable shower caps. Packing shoes have always been a problem. You want a separate bag just for shoes to ensure your clothes don’t get spoiled. Well, you don’t need to worry about that anymore! Wrap each pair of shoes using disposable shower caps and place them alongside your clothes.
  4. Sunglass cases are a fantastic place to store your chargers and headphones. Headphones, cables, and chargers are a huge problem. They seem to take pleasure in following the law of entropy; which is why they get into a state of chaotic disorder within moments! If you’ve wanted to charge your phone or listen to a song at the end of a long trip but felt too tired to spend the next 20 minutes disentangling all the wires, then you know what we’re talking about. But don’t worry; we have a solution for this menace! Just bundle up the wires and place them inside the sunglass case. They’ll all stay in order and what’s more, you don’t have to conduct a search and rescue operation inside your bag whenever you need them; just take out the case and you get what you need. Neat, huh?
  5. Put underwear and socks inside shoes to save space. It might seem that socks and underwear hardly take up any space inside the giant bag, but you can easily fit another pair of jeans by following this!
  6. Ensure your favorite bottle of perfume doesn’t break by ensconcing it inside a sock. Have you ever unpacked after a bumpy ride only to discover that your expensive bottle of perfume was unable to bear the stress of the journey? Well, that won’t be a problem anymore! Pack them up inside socks to save space and prevent breakage.
  7. This is an important one — safety. Whether you’re travelling alone or with your girl gang, we want you to enjoy the trip without having any untoward experiences. Try to reach your destination before sunset, avoid dark alleys and keep your family and friends updated about your whereabouts at all times. Scan the most important documents (Passport, IDs, etc.) and keep one copy with you at all times. Keep photocopies of all documents with you if possible.
  8. Use travel size containers and keep refilling them instead of buying new ones every time. This will really come in handy if you’re an avid traveller. It doesn’t really make sense to carry around the bulky containers of toothpaste, sunscreen et cetera for only a week or two. Buy the smallest variants of these available in the market and keep refilling them from the regular sized ones you have at home. It’ll be cheaper and free up space inside your bag. You can also use straws as makeshift containers if you want to be really efficient!
  9. And finally, plan your trip out in advance. Finalize your accommodation and transportation before you even start off on your trip. Make a checklist of things you need to do or pack at least a week before you embark on your journey, and ensure every single point is ticked off.
Categories
Adventure Culture Myanmar

4 beaches you need to see in Myanmar

By: Phocus Travel

Myanmar is an unexplored territory with a thousand kilometers of pristine shore lined with beautiful beaches which has in the recent past opened its gate to the world. So when we talk about beautiful beaches in Asia we hardly think about Myanmar being a contender. But beautiful things are always hard to find and are hidden from the popular eye. Such are the beaches of Myanmar – unexplored, raw, spectacular. The best time to visit the beaches is from Dec- Apr since the beaches are closed during the Monsoon.

1.NGAPALLI BEACH

 It is the most underestimated and secluded beaches in the country though the beauty of the beach is unparalleled. The crescent shaped beach is lined with huge palm trees on beautiful white sands stretching into clear turquoise water. Virtually an empty beach to while away time, an ideal dream for a beach lover.

Location:

It is one of the most well-known beaches in Myanmar. This beach is located in the state of Rankhine, in western Myanmar. It is along the beautiful Bay of Bengal and sunsets are pure magic on this beach. The nearest airport is the Thandwe airport about 4miles from this beach and a one side flight ticket will cost $100 – $150. It takes approximately 18 – 20 hours to reach this place by bus from Yangon, which is not recommended.

Exploring the surroundings

Thandwe market offers fresh seafood and is adjoining the rural village.

Zalun Monastery, which houses the relics of the Sayadaw u Sujata can be seen through a glass box. Jade taw fishing village and other fishing villages in the vicinity can be explored on a bike and fresh seafood here is a delight to the taste buds.

Black Sand Island called the Zalat Htone Island is also a popular attraction among tourists.

2.CHUANG THA BEACH

Location

This beach is located around 5 hours’ drive from Yangon and is the closest beach to the former capital, Yangon. It is the most down to earth beach flocked by maximum number of locals.

Local attractions

There are several offshore islands to be explored by hired boats, where you can snorkel around. It is more affordable than Ngwe Suang and Ngapalli. The major attraction is a small pagoda built on a limestone boulder at the southern end of the beach. Surrounding fishing villages and tidal mangrove forests are also popular amongst the tourists.

3.NGWE SAUNG BEACH

If you want to cut yourself off from the online world and absorb the beach beauty this is the place to be. This beach shares a 14kms long shoreline with Bay of Bengal’s turquoise clear waters. This Beach lies little south of Chaung Tha beach but serves a completely different vibe. Most visitors on this beach are foreigners thus this beach offers luxury beach front resorts. It is hard to find budget options in the area. There are high end restaurants along the beach which serve gourmet seafood. It is a place to unwind from the busy city life.

Location

It is located 260kms west of Yangon and can be reached by buses which could approximately take 5 hours to cover the distance. Once there, people can rent motorbikes.

Attractions

You can explore the Lovers Island to the south of the beach when the tide is low. A small boat can be hired for a day for 80 Kyats and fishing could be done in the Bay of Bengal. Snorkeling could be done to explore the corals. Good birding experiences at the Ngwe Saung Dam and surrounding areas are popular as well.

4.KANTHAYA BEACH

This beach has still not touched any sign of development along the seashore and is the most pristine beach in Myanmar catering to very few visitors. The beach is about 4 – 5 km at a stretch with shallow waters. The sand on the beach is yellow and a bit coarse.

Location:

Kanthaya Beach is on the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine State, about 100 km south of Ngapali Beach.

Attractions

Among its main attractions are: the offshore islands and reefs that can be visited by boat; many types of tropical birds that can be spotted from the beach.

Categories
Adventure

10 tips for a successful and fun vacation with your dog

Someone once said, “The journey of life is sweeter when traveled with a dog”. How many of us can relate to this? Methinks – majority of us!

As a child I never owned a dog, so I couldn’t comprehend what it felt like to have one as a companion. Here I am today, 28 years later, with a 3 year old spoilt four legged boy, who responds to the name Ka-lel. I know what you’re all thinking – where have I heard that name before? Well, it is Superman’s birth name in Krypton. It was love at first sight for us – there he was sitting all quiet and only a month old, while six of his siblings were busy making a mess. That is where it all began, and before we knew it, we were doing everything together – except travelling.

I was always skeptical of taking him for a vacation, for reasons of him facing discomfort of any sort. After reading extensively on this subject, I learnt that people from across the globe were traveling everywhere possible with their beloved dogs. So why should we deprive each other of that ecstasy – I thought! And there we were 72 hours later in a hatchback – summer of 2015 – driving to a small hill station, Mussorie in Uttarakhand. Of course, I had my brother and a dear friend driving with us, as we weren’t ready to do this all by ourselves on our first weekend getaway together. It was three days of pure euphoria for my little guy and I.

Now, I know it seems very tempting but there are a few things to keep in mind to make your trip a fun and successful one with your pooch.

Here are ten tips for you:

1. The leash: Getting a good and strong leash is very important. Especially if it is your first trip with your little one. Get one which is long enough for him to wander around while you can still keep an eye on him.

2. Food: Make sure to carry his comfort food, as they don’t like change. Being in a different place other than home, is already very stressful for them. This way they get to eat what they love while enjoying their holiday with you.

3. Time of feeding: Try to stay as close as possible to the usual time you feed them. As I mentioned previously, they don’t like change – meaning they like routine. Feeding them at the correct time is very important to avoid any kind of crankiness from their end.

4. Treats: While giving them their usual comfort food is important, it is also good to carry their favorite treats. If you are traveling by road, the journey can be quite taxing for your pooch. Give them their beloved treats to calm them down and in turn you get a few extra sloppy kisses from them. It’s a win-win!

5. Toys: Like every child has their most precious toy, so do our little ones have theirs. Carry it with you while traveling with them and it will help them feel at home while sleeping in a different place.

6. Blanket or jacket: Similarly, also carry their personal favorite blanket or jacket. Wrap them in that while they sleep and see how peaceful they are knowing their mommy packed all the things they love.

7. Water and food bowls: Since you are going to carry their food along with you or at least making arrangements for it at the place where you’re going to stay, do carry their water and food bowls as well. This may not be true to all dogs but many of them like their own bowls.

8. Medicines: Some dogs might get sick due to change of weather, location, or stress from the journey initially. Nothing to worry about – it is temporary. Make sure to carry necessary medicines and any other if you think your pooch might need it.

9. Prep him beforehand: For first timers, it is very important to prep your little one beforehand. Especially, if they are not used to sitting in a car or even traveling for short distances, like from your home till a friend’s house. Prepare him one step at a time by taking him for short drives. This will be a great way to help them deal with the anxiety while traveling.

10. Hotels: Where would you stay once you reach your destination? Do not make the mistake of leaving this decision till the last minute of you reaching the location. Look for hotels or resorts which are pet friendly before you head out. Trust me – there are many places which are open to pets while being friendly on the pocket.

This is my checklist before I head out for a vacation with my boy. If you have any other pointers which will be more catering towards your own dog, don’t forget to add them to the checklist. I hope these tips help you in making your travel with your most loyal companion a memorable one. And why stop at just one, make it a yearly tradition! My next vacation with Ka-lel is in June – when are you taking your first?

Categories
Adventure Culture Myanmar

10 reasons to love Myanmar

By: Phocus Travel

Myanmar also known as the ‘Golden land’, was off-limits to many wanderlust travellers, until recently. After five decades of military rule and a consequent democratic reform, Asia’s formerly Junta-controlled land has opened its shores to nirvana seekers and has become a favorite holiday destination in Asia.

This ancient land has visitors throughout the year, exploring its majestic temples, primeval jungles, unspoilt beaches, which for so long have remained concealed and gloriously untouched.

Here are 10 reasons to absolutely love Myanmar!

  1. Beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda- A visit to the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda is a must. You wouldn’t want to have an incomplete trip, would you? This is a 2,500 gilded stupa which sits at an impressive 360 feet high and encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond! It is the most sacred and impressive Buddhist site for the locals as it contains the relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa. One among the four relics is the hair strands of Gautam Buddha!
  2. Golden Rock defies gravity- When in Myanmar, do experience something as incredible as this. This 2400 year old miracle Golden rock is called Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. Windy cyclones have blown. Earthquakes had disturbed. But this balancing pagoda on top this golden rock at the very edge of the cliff, survived for several years! According to legends, the golden rock used to be flying in the air, centuries ago at the same spot.
  3. Amazing floating islands and a boat ride in the highest and largest lake in South East Asia- Have you heard of an island floating above water? Is it even possible? The answer is yes! In these amazing islands, people grow vegetables on them and they sell them along with a boat!
  4. Watch a Python give blessings- Amusing right? There is a monastery in Bago where an enormous Burmese python lies stretched out in the room. It is believed that it’s the reincarnation of a monk. You may present an offering of money which it will apparently bless, with a flickering tongue!
  5. Read the largest book that man could ever have created- The whole Buddhist bible was engraved on 729 white marble stones. It was set up in a square, each being protected by small white temples. The 730th pagoda is a conventional temple occupying the center of the square. Each marble tablets are about 3 feet wide and 4 feet high. It’s known as Kuthodaw Pagoda and it lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill, Mandalay.
  6. Ring the largest ringing bell in the world- Ever heard of the largest ringing bell in the world? Well, you can literally ring it! The Mingun Bell is hung in Sagaing and still makes sound when rang. It is 26 feet high and weighs 90.55 metric tons!
  7. Living mummies- There are approximately 20 Buddhist monks around the country, who had died decades or some centuries ago, but their bodies never decayed! Some of their bodies could not be burnt or cremated! Buddhists believe it is because of their supernatural powers. Some are covered with gold today. And few are still growing nails and hair, even today! Now, would you call them living mummies?
  8. Animal Balloons- The Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon Festival, takes place around the Inle Lake between November 20-25, during which you’ll see giant paper balloons, often in the shape of animals, floating up into the sky in a series of competition. Also, in the same month on 25th, the Tazaungmon Festival takes place countrywide. It’s a one day full-moon festival with robe-wearing competitions and parades of community donations to monasteries, including kyat notes pinned to giant wooden frames.
  9. Tasty food and cheap beer!- Burmese food is not only healthy but also, very delicious. As a cuisine, it hasn’t quite made to the menus outside the country. Given its geographical location, the cuisine is a mixture of Thai, Indian and Chinese ingredients. Traditional dishes include Mohinga- rice noodles in an orange fish sauce; Shan noodles- traditional noodles stir-fried with chicken in bean sauce, vegetables and peanuts. Curries and spicy soups are favorites among the locals. Also, it’s a haven for beer lovers! The beer in Myanmar is good and cheap, so eat some tasty food and drink some lovely beer while touring the country!
  10. The People- Last but not the least, the people in Myanmar are not only kind and polite, they are very warm and helpful. Believed to be shy, nonetheless, they are always ready to help you out and make new friends.

These are a few reasons why this country makes such a lovely holiday and travel destination – there are many more but that’s for you to find out!

Categories
Bhutan India Mimi blogs Myanmar Nepal Sri Lanka

How to kill a view

We revel in the beauty of the world around us; we make flimsy attempts to capture a scene, a view, not only because of the view itself but for the intensity of that moment as well. Iconic destinations, mountains, rivers, valleys, and the sea— the world around us simply gives out an energy so enthralling and overwhelming that we feel the need to encapsulate that reverence.

I am reminded of the last time I was on the sea, a year ago at Koh Larn, Thailand. I remember watching the harbor of the island steadily disappear from the horizon. I remember the feeling of being homesick knowing that in a couple of hours, I would be back into finding my way through the chaos of city life, after all, I had called the islands home for more than half my life. Photographs, videos, and journals; I used all of the tools I had with me to freeze time. I needed to be able to one day look back and recall the beauty that surrounded me for days.

It started with one— the other half of a pair of slippers, floating around. In the next 10 minutes, there were different clusters of plastics, soda cans, empty bottles – plastic and glass ­– there was a shirt, coconut shells and some other floating objects my brain could not identify. About 6 seats away from me were a company of tourists singing and dancing with their new friends and across me, a family of 5 with parents trying to calm their little ones. Cameras were flashing everywhere capturing both the deep blue of the sea and the masses of rubbish floating on it, but no one seemed to mind.

I am not entirely sure what was worse, seeing the ocean become home to trash or seeing how unfazed people were towards the destruction of something by nature, pure. However, maybe this is how it was supposed to be. Maybe generations from now, nature in all her indecipherable splendor is meant to be replaced by what seems like garbage today. If so, let us destroy it together.

The size of the garbage does not matter; we will start with one person and one garbage at a time. Take your pick: a candy wrapper, a cigarette butt, a juice box, or a lollipop stick and toss it out in your favorite spot. Do it every day, once a day. Invite your friends to do the same – every day, once a day. While traveling, forget about disposing your water bottles in a trashcan, anyway, littering is the objective, isn’t it? Throw them anywhere you want to! In fact, throw them into the closest river and let the tide take them somewhere else. Starting a “Let’s Litter!” campaign might be a good idea too! Social media is a good way to get the message across, in a few seconds; the campaign would have reached thousands of people. Imagine if thousands of us were throwing waste around without a care? Moreover, when you see garbage around, do not pick it up. This is how we kill a view.

In a few months time, you’ll be traveling to Nepal and you’ll find yourself standing in front of the beautiful Himalayas, home to the highest peak of the world, glorious in all her grandeur and grace. She is the dream of thousands, conquered by few and a mystery to many. She is clothed in white snow, luscious greeneries and rubbish— yes, rubbish. The Himalayas have ceased to be the Himalayas. We killed it.

Mission accomplished.

Categories
India

Seven things to do in Delhi after 6 pm

I came to Delhi in the year 2009, and fell in love with the city’s energy. Everyone I met, or crossed paths with, at some point in the city, always seemed high on life. This puzzled me at first, but then I learnt, there is so much to see and do here, it is inevitable to not be elated.

Have you ever wondered what to do after a long hard day at work? Or you’re probably just visiting, but confused about what to do in and around Delhi, in the evening! Well, your confusion ends here – I have listed a few fun and interesting things, which you can do, instead of sitting home or at the hotel room. And there is something for everyone.

1. Dancing lights at the Old Fort (Purana Qila)

Old fort is easily accessible by road and by metro. It is near the Delhi Zoo, on the Mathura Road, surrounded by greenery. Every evening they organize a sound and light show, depicting the stories of emperors from the bygone days. Some very spectacular array of history, in the form of light and sound, will leave you bewildered. They generally have 2 shows, of which one is in Hindi and the other in English.

2. Indulge in some culture, at Dilli Haat

Dilli Haat is one of those places that offers almost everything, one could long for. There are countless food stalls representing every culture in India, serving authentic and mouth-watering delicacies. Apart from that, you can also find stalls selling – jewellery, handicrafts, furniture’s, and ethnic clothes. Some evenings, they also have dance or music performances.

3. Walk in India Gate

This is one of the most popular or as some may say ‘clichéd’ things to do here. But worth a 100 tries! Take a walk in India Gate, surrounded by several beautiful lawns. Added bonus – ice cream, cotton candy and tea vendors doing their rounds religiously. India gate looks absolutely stunning at night, with brightly lit lights.

4. Cycle around the city

An interesting way of exploring some of the famous spots in Delhi would be by cycling. Spin Monkey can make that possible for you. They are a group of cycling enthusiasts, organizing cycle tours in the city. Every Saturday, they do a cycle tour of New Delhi starting at 10:30pm, which lasts for about 2 hours. Not to miss!

5. Relax at cafés in Hauz Khas Village

Surrounded by a gorgeous park called Deer Park, Hauz Khas Village is a very busy place in the evenings. There are endless cafés, bars, and restaurants to choose from, each with a special character. If I have to name a few – Café Amour; Elma’s Bakery, Bar and Kitchen; Fork you; The Pink Room; Garage Inc; Out of the Box, etc. Few places in the village are facing the lake, which gives a very relaxing setting. Sit back and enjoy, because this place will not disappoint you.

6. Live music performances

I think everyone is a music lover, right? Delhi evenings are bustling with live music performances by talented local artists, at different venues. You do not want to miss watching these artists put in their heart and soul into entertaining the crowd. Enjoy your favourite beverage, while listening to some soulful music. To name a few places – Out of the Box, Bandstand, Summer House Cafe, Roost Bistro, Raasta, The Hungry Monkey, Fatty Bao, The Piano Man, etc.

7. Love for art

Apart from music, Delhi also has some art shows, at the Indian Habitat Centre. For all the art lovers out there, this place is a must visit. They have art exhibitions, theatre, book clubs, and music and dance performances, showcasing different talent throughout the month. Famous personalities can be seen almost every time you visit this centre.

Explore Delhi not only in the day, but once the sun goes down, when the entire city comes to life. So the next time you are in the city, do not forget to try at least one of the 7 things listed above.

Categories
India

10 reasons to love Kerala

By: Phocus Travel

Kerala also popularly known as God’s own country is an abode for foodies, cultural aesthetes, and of course nature lovers. Kerala is an assortment of everything. It is a beautifully crafted land. Travelers and explorers from all over the world have been drawn to this magical land of spices for several centuries! Except now, there are even more reasons to visit enchanting Kerala.

And here are just 10 reasons to love Kerala

1. The Spice plantations– A typical Indian kitchenette is always empty without the key spices stacked in the cabinets. It’s a must have in every single household and now, imagine yourself in a plantation full of these spices! It’s a must visit. Kerala is famous for its pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and so many more. So, don’t forget to leave room in your bag to grab some spices to take home!

2. The Backwaters of Kerala– The backwaters of Kerala are one of the most incredible waterways in the world and cruising in a house-boat which is made like a traditional rice barge, would definitely give you an opportunity to add in your list of the most favorite moments in your life. Relaxing and soothing as it sounds, it’s undoubtedly true in every sense. So, get ready to be mesmerized by the nature and beauty of these amazing waterways.

3. Cochin, Kerala’s historical city– The spice trade, first started by the Arabs and Chinese and later by the Europeans, brought trade, cultural exchange and prosperity to this Arabian sea port. You can still view the multicultural influences here, shop for crafts, spices, souvenirs in the lanes of the Jew town. The oldest synagogue in the commonwealth and Ramayana murals adorning the walls of the Mattancherry or Dutch Palace are one of the main captures of the city. The Chinese fishing nets in operation is yet again, one of Kerala’s iconic scenes.

4. Tropical Beaches– Miss the sands, the sea? Hit the luscious beaches of Kerala at Kovalam, Varkala and Cherai and enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Arabian sea.

5. Refreshing Hill Stations– Is the tropical climate becoming too hot and humid for you? You can escape to the nearest hill station of Munnar and be rewarded with fresh, cool air and stunning views. The hills of Munnar are blanketed in shades of green with a number of tea plantations which is not only a treat to your eyes but also the mind. Indulge yourself in a cup or two while in Munnar.

6. Wildlife paradise– Nature has really blessed Kerala and its national parks are home to some incredible wildlife. Animal lovers would love to visit Periyar for tigers and leopards, and Wayanad to spot elephants in the wild! If you want to click some beautiful shots of these majestic creatures, this is a place to be.

7. Kathakali– Leaving Kerala without seeing a Kathakali performance would be a big regret. The traditional dance of the state with elaborate dance forms, colourful make up, costumes and stunning facial expressions, accompanied by spirited music is an unmissable experience.

8. Ayurveda– Familiar with Ayurveda and ayurvedic massages? Relaxing isn’t it? Due to the abundant supply of spices and medicinal plants, Kerala is the home of Ayurveda, an ancient, natural healing science that has been practiced in India for over 5000 years. Nothing is better than pampering yourself with an ayurvedic massage in the land of ayurveda!

9. Savory Cuisine– If you’re a foodie, then you’ve reached your haven. Spicy, coconutty, the traditional fish molee, (a spicy yellow fish curry) is a delicacy. The non-vegetarian dishes are cooked with gusto and a must try. Also fluffy pancakes called Appam and Toddy- a coconut palm wine are popular and favorites of the region.

10. The main essence- It’s people– Kerala being blessed by nature, is also blessed with the most warm and welcoming people. Kerala without a doubt, is one of the most beautiful places in India but it’s true essence is it’s people.

11. Kerala Kasavu Settu Saree– This traditional cotton sari is a must have in every cup board, ladies! It’s a beautiful, white saree with golden work. Chic and comfortable at the same time. Nothing can beat the simplicity yet elegance that it brings along.

Well, the additional reason is yet another reason to love Kerala!

Categories
Myanmar

The fascinating one-leg rowers of Myanmar

It is 3 in the afternoon, and my mind starts to wander about ten different things at once. Things like a cat hugging her kitten while sleeping and how my diet coke is not cold enough in spite of being in the refrigerator all night. In the midst of all this wandering, I decide to learn about Myanmar, looking for something unusual in the country. I come across the one-leg rowers of Inle Lake – sounds fascinating, right? So my obsession starts and I start digging deeper on this.

Little did I know – for a while now, people from all over the world have been aware of the leg-rowers – and have witnessed them first-hand. While, I was probably still making my plans for the weekend! Inle Lake lies in the heart of Shan State, attracting tourists for its floating gardens, villages built on stilts, stupas, clear water, and the fascinating leg rowers. The leg-rowing technique is used by the fishermen to catch their daily fish, and can be found only in Inle Lake. It is believed to be dated back to the 12th century, and is more of an Intha tradition than just a fishing technique. People living on or by the lake are called Intha, and are depended on the lake for their livelihood, fish being the staple diet.

Now, how do they catch their fish using this unique method? I had to know – believe me, it looked tougher than I could depict. This technique requires them to stand on the stern of their flat bottomed wooden boat, while wrapping one leg around the oar. One arm remains free, which allows them to capture the fish in the cone shaped net, and also to get a better view of the lake, making their job easier. The water hyacinth and floating islands form a thick maze underwater, which makes navigating difficult, but this technique makes it easier to view the waterways.

It is as difficult as it sounds, requires a lot of patience and dedication to master it, which is why they start out at a young age. I can only envisage how much time and energy has been invested into learning this technique. They have been passing on this tradition from one generation to the next, and take immense pride in it. And I thought watching David Blaine, the illusionist, do his tricks is the most intriguing thing I would ever see! Women, however still use the old method of using the oars with their hands, while sitting at the stern.

I write this with extreme regard – with times changing, the Intha’s have still managed to keep this tradition alive till date. And hopefully it continues to prevail in the years to come. A festival called Phaung Daw U Pagoda is a 20 days long celebration, where they parade Buddha images from the pagodas around the lake on a raft pulled by hundreds of leg-rowers. They even have leg-rowing competitions, which is taken very seriously by all the participants. Many of them start practicing for it months in advance.

Reading and writing about it, is making my mind itch, and wander to Myanmar. If you happen to visit Myanmar, do not miss out on getting a glimpse of this fascinating world living on water. A beautiful country open to visitors with some of the warmest people. Happy exploring!

Categories
India

Pondicherry By Cycle

By: Akash G.

Looking for your next cycle trip in South India? Then the experiencing cycle tour of Pondicherry is must for you. 

It was a little past 7 in the morning, the early risers were out on the streets for their morning walks and the vegetable vendors had already laid down their fresh vegetables out on display. There was a chill in the early morning breeze, which gently kissed my face, as I slowly rode through the empty streets of Pondicherry, now known as Puducherry, on my colourful vintage cycle. My 15 days trip to South India had two nights in Pondicherry with one full day for peddling in town of Pondicherry. Mathew, my local guide was a cycle enthusiast, a painter, a photographer and a travel buff himself. He was already waiting for me at my hotel lobby, a little surprising against Indian style of reaching late. Wonderful, I could sense a good move-on-up day.

I had started from the Muslim quarters in Ville Noire or ‘Black Town and explored paths, which would have been very difficult to visit when the city was awake and cars were running down the beautiful roads of Pondicherry. Interestingly, unlike the West, I was crossing the temples and churches as the city was still asleep.

Mathew recommended a stop at a local Tea shop. “These are called gossip corners of the town”, he said. “Will you try Masala Tea?”

“You know, this is the best tea shop of the town, even better than your hotel.” I was not very sure, but tried the tea. More interesting was to see “How to make perfect Indian Tea.

By now we are entered into another interesting part, The White town”. Oh, Ville Blanche! As we crossed the French quarters, I couldn’t help but notice, how much this town was influenced by the French culture. With all the signs written in French, I was pretty glad I had a guide with me.

The plan of the city, was based on the French grid pattern and features perpendicular streets. In the French quarter, the buildings were typically in colonial style, with long compounds and stately walls. The Indian quarter consisted of houses with airy verandas, large doors and carved grills. “These French – and Indian-style houses are preserved from destruction by an organisation named Intact.” He continued.

It was my second day in Pondicherry and I was already immersed into the city culture. “This city certainly deserves two days”, I exclaimed, while I was riding through a contrast of cultures.

It was almost 10, and the roads had started to get crowded again. Though, one can still ride a bicycle during the most crowded hours but we chose to end our wonderful experience. We stopped at a local café for breakfast. I was really amused to see the menu in French. I inquired, and found out that the owner had a French passport and was a citizen of France. At the time of Pondicherry’s transfer to India in 1954, the people were given a choice to become Indian citizen or remain French. Those with a French passport, chose French citizenship. I sat in the café enjoying my breakfast. I was a little tired after hours of cycling.

The beauty of the town was truly in the contrast of its cultures. It made me think about how beautiful a united world could be. Everyone says it can’t work, different cultures staying together. Well, in Pondicherry people make it work every day. The world surely can learn a lot from this place. This city has changed me. It taught me to trust the soul of a man rather than the look of him or the place where he comes from. Sure, there will always be disagreements, but before we reach for hate, we should always remember this small town, “Pondicherry”.

Categories
Adventure

Five big travel fears and how to overcome them

As human beings most of us are so comfortable in our own shell. Many of us don’t like change, especially when it comes to food or waking up somewhere other than your home. This could seem like a small problem, but trust me, it could be a big hindrance between traveling and you. Once in a while order something different from the menu in a restaurant, which is not even remotely close to what you usually order. Start small and conquer the bigger fears, break those walls of insecurity and explore the world!

Fear of being in an unknown place

Traveling to an unknown place can be quite nerve breaking for a lot of people. It is difficult to judge what exactly triggers that fear in someone, but I also believe it is justified. Being in a place where you don’t understand the culture, the language, the food, so on and so forth can be quite scary.

One of the better ways to overcome this anxiety or fear, is by learning a little about the place you are traveling to, beforehand. Learn a few words from their language, just the basics will do – thank you, welcome, please, sorry, etc. Learn the do’s and don’ts, have an idea of the distances between point A to point B and also very important, learn the correct pronunciation of the places. This way no one can take you for a ride!

Fear of getting lost

This is quite similar to the one mentioned above, which is the fear of being in an unknown place. They kind of go hand in hand, but needs to be understood separately. While traveling anywhere in the world, we often fear or have this question in mind – what if I get lost? You have probably done your homework before heading out, but you still have that iota of doubt. Well, it is quite natural.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to overcome this doubt. It will probably remain in your head, but suppressed. The key is to be as confident as you can be, especially if you are doing this alone. When you are with a group it makes the worry a little less. Carry a map at all times, treat your personal guidebook as your bible, and find friendly faces when you need help – this world is full of them. With the right kind of attitude, you will always come up with a solution to overcome this anxiety of getting lost.

Fear of being robbed

We watch the news, listen to the radio, read the paper and also hear stories from people who have travelled extensively. The media can often exaggerate or blow a situation out of proportion to increase their TRP. So don’t believe everything you see or hear on television, or any other modes of information. While some part of it may be true, but not all of it. And what happened to someone else in a trip, doesn’t necessarily have to happen to you.

It is important to be cautious while traveling, but don’t look nervous at the same time. Without realizing it, you might be drawing unwanted attention, which in turn can lead to mishaps. Avoid carrying expensive things, such as – fancy watches, jewelry, bags, cell phones, etc. Especially when you are depended on the local mode of transportation. Keep everything that, you think might interest someone, in a secured bag. Don’t let this worry you, or stop you from seeing the world.

Fear of trying something new

What is the worst that could happen when you try something new? In my opinion nothing really major. It is all in our head – not your fault, because that is how humans are wired. Never tried bungee jumping – what if the rope breaks mid-way? Honestly, this is one question that always finds its way in my head. Don’t get me wrong here now, that’s just in my head, and I am normally a very paranoid person, doesn’t have to be you!

Conquering this fear, for me is the biggest challenge. But, it is completely possible. Watch videos of the things or activities that you would like to try – gives you an adrenaline rush every time you think about it. Seeing the people in the video happy and exhilarated will boost your spirits. Talk to experts or friends who have already done what you have only thought of, and chickened out. When you make up your mind, just go for it, thinking twice is a big mistake. Once you go through with it, imagine the feeling of being liberated, and the number of times you get to narrate the story in front of people. So what is the worst that could happen?

Fear of running short of money

Whenever I plan to go someplace, there is always a certain budget that I work on, for myself. I am pretty sure most of us do that. And why not? It is quite important to be prepared before reaching the place, and then wondering about the money. Do I still fear of running short of money while I am already traveling? The answer to that would be a big YES!

This isn’t rocket science, but it is a fear that most of us need to overcome. Create a proper plan, for instance – book hotels in advance, travel cheap/in budget during your trip (use public transportation), make sure to pay your credit card bills before heading out of home, and lastly keep some emergency sock money. The last one always helps, because we tend to forget that there is money in our extra pair of socks tucked away in one corner of our bag. When you need it most, before panicking, take a moment and then, voila – sock the saviour.

I hope this helps in bringing out the little traveller in you. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch. Happy traveling!

Categories
Adventure India

Tips for solo women travelers in India

“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark.

Women from all across the globe today, are taking this big step of traveling solo, and seeing the world. Why do I say ‘big step’? Well, according to my knowledge, solo travellers have a lot more planning to do than people travelling in groups – friends or family. And when it is the question of a woman travelling solo, it is of a bigger deal because her safety is at stake. So it is, in a way, a ‘big step’!

Traveling in India has always been a big debate for people all over the world, sometimes even for people from India. I am an Indian, and to be very honest I am a little skeptical about traveling anywhere in the world solo, not just in India. Though I would love to see places all by myself, just the thought of it, is so exciting. Every country can be dangerous for a woman, if we are not cautious, not necessarily India. But yes, why the bigger doubts about India in particular. Let’s see why – firstly, men tend to look at women as sex objects, this could be true for other countries as well; secondly, people in India, on an average are dark skinned, and when they see fair skinned people it is somehow exciting for them to stare; thirdly, many Indians think if a person is not a local, they are an easy target to rob; and lastly, some parts of the country are still very conservative. But don’t let this hold you back from planning a trip to India.

India is so vast and diverse, that it is unfair to judge it based on a few unfortunate events. Every country has their share of flaws, and this nation is no different. Give it a chance, it might surprise you. I’d like to share a few tips that I gathered from different women travellers – hope this helps:

  1. Avoid unnecessary attention while traveling in India, by covering yourself properly. We cannot deny the fact that it is a conservative country in so many ways. The lesser skin you show the safer you will feel.
  2. People will stare, it is difficult to avoid that here, and the trick is to not react to it. They will eventually get tired and get busy with their work.
  3. Learn a few basic words in the national common language, hindi – Namaste (hello), dhanyabad (thank you), aap kaise ho (how are you), etc.
  4. Do some thorough research on the places you plan on exploring – the do’s and don’ts especially.
  5. Keep your belongings safe and close to you, as there are many pick pockets in and around the markets and other busy areas like the bus stations, railway stations.
  6. Be friendly but not over friendly. For instance – be careful while you decide to talk to somebody or befriend someone. Don’t go anywhere with them unless you know them well.
  7. People are going to be fascinated when you’re white skinned – don’t get offended or scared when they ask you for a photograph with you. You can refuse politely and just walk away.
  8. Avoid the streets during the wee hours of the night. This is not just for India but anywhere in the world you should try and avoid that.
  9. Be sure of the places you want to see and visit or go to. If you are unsure, there is a high chance, the drivers of auto-rickshaws or cab drivers might take advantage of that and take you for a ride.
  10. Communicate in the right way, body language says a lot, and it might be misunderstood by some.

I spoke to a few women I know, who have traveled quite a bit in India all by themselves. Some very inspiring stories, I might add. A friend of mine quit her job and traveled extensively in India last year, and she says with a smile, ‘it was the best decision I ever took and would do it all over again’.

This country is filled with some of the most beautiful hills, mountains, beaches, villages and cities. Explore it with an open mind and heart, instead of worry and anxiety. Not every man or woman is looking for a chance to exploit you, there are a few who will be the warmest towards you. Some unforgettable experiences and memories will make you want to come back for more. The food, culture, traditions that makes this nation, is going to leave you in awe most of the times. “No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson.

India, as some people may say is completely chaotic and complex, but yet it is one of the most extravagant, exciting and adventurous places to be in.

Categories
Culture India

Hemis festival in ladakh

Ladakh has forever been a ‘must see’ destination, for me. Personally, I haven’t yet had the chance to visit this place. But from what I have heard, seen and read, this place is simply magical. It is an ex-kingdom of the Buddhists, surrounded by the Himalayas, kept away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. Some of the most breath-taking gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) can be found here on almost every nook and corner. Each with a very exquisite design and architecture narrating its story. People who have been to Ladakh, often tell me with a smile, “you have to be there to believe and feel the place.”

Being at a high altitude, acclimatisation is required before going out to explore the place. Now, Ladakh like any other place in the world, has its share of festivals and celebrations throughout the year. One such popular cultural festival is just round the corner – Hemis Festival, which will be celebrated on the 14th and 15th July, 2016. The date changes every year as it is celebrated on the tenth day of the lunar calendar of the Tibetan month. It is a two day festival celebrated in the honour of Guru Rimpoche also known as Lord Padmasambhava’s, birth anniversary. People call him the local saviour who introduced Tibetan Buddhism, during the 8th century.

The highlight of the festival are the dance performances and the plays by the masked lamas, which represents the good over evil. Everyone is dressed in bright coloured clothes and masks while making merry. The Hemis Gompa, which is the largest and richest Buddhist monastery, is the host of this celebration. There are several stalls to look out for inside and outside the monastery, consisting of delicious traditional food and handicrafts made by the locals. It is quite a delight to see people, gather from all across the globe to be a part of this festival.

Definitely something to add to my bucket list this year.

Categories
Culture India

Holi – the festival of colours and diwali – the festival of lights

Colours have always fascinated me, for their ability to make something look so beautiful. Holi on the other hand, may not make everyone or everything look beautiful with its colours, but it is definitely one exciting day filled with love, laughter, happiness and colours. While growing up I always enjoyed playing with colours – mostly water colours, crayons or sketch pens but on paper. I was so easily convinced that almost everything is edible, it became difficult for my parents to trust me around the gulal or powder colour that people use, to play Holi. But, don’t feel too bad for me, things changed when I turned 8, when I felt the joy of this auspicious festival.

The word Holi has been derived from the word ‘Holika’, the sister to the demon king Hiranyakashyap. The king wanted to teach his son, Prahlad, a lesson for being an ardent devotee of Lord Narayana, instead of the king himself. He asked Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap because she had a blessing whereby she cannot get burnt. Surprisingly, she was burnt to death and he came out alive by the grace of god, for his extreme devotion. And that is the history of how Holi came about, a celebration of good over evil.

Every year on the eve of Holi, people light up a bonfire in the honour of good over evil. The next day, people from all different cultural and religious background come together to play with gulal or powder colour, drink, dance, eat and make merry. This year’s calendar marked the 24th of March as the day for Holi. Celebrations began 4-5 days early like every other year with both kids and adults throwing water balloons or just water on passer-by’s, while shouting “bura na mano holi hai”, meaning “don’t mind, its holi”. Positive and maximized energy all around me weakened me to play a little too !

Apart from the festival of colours, India also celebrates the festival of lights – Diwali. Now, this is one festival that completely uplifts my spirits. The air and atmosphere during Diwali itself is so exciting, and it is even better with the smell of winter – my favourite season – approaching. As the description suggests, there is no place or house without decorations on this day. Every house is lit up with earthen diyas (oil lamps), candles and colourful lights. Brings me immense joy and happiness walking around on the brightly lit streets.

Legend says that, this day is celebrated in the honour of King Ram and his beautiful wife Sita returning home to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and overpowering the demon king Ravana. The entire kingdom was lit up with rows of lamps, glistening in the dark night to welcome them home. Like Holi, this festival is also a celebration of good over evil.

Families and friends gather together to celebrate this day with fire crackers and exchange of gifts. My favourite part though, is bursting crackers, keeping in mind that it is very harmful to humans and more importantly, animals, if not played carefully and within limits. Markets are bustling with people bargaining for the best price in clothes and jewellery, both women and men dress up in traditional Indian attires. In some homes women wake up early and make Rangolis with different coloured powders. Well every town, city, or village have their own traditional way of celebrating this day. This year it is the 30th of October when the entire nation is going to be lit up!

Categories
Culture India

Holi: the color festival of india

The most colorful festival of the Hindu calendar.

3 more days and then hooray – Holi, the festival of colors!

Now known worldwide, Holi is also celebrated outside the Indian sub-continent, although, very often, not exactly on the day designated by the Hindu calendar.

But what does celebrating Holi represent? And what icon does it correspond to? It is a feast linked to the Hindu religion, and for this reason is always celebrated in the month of Phalguna, which generally falls in March.

The word comes from Holika Holi — in Hindu mythology, the King Hiranyakashipu, became very powerful, believed to be stronger than God, and claimed to be the only object of worship. However, his son Prahlada differed from him and continued to worship the god Vishnu. Enraged by the insult of his son, Prahlada was punished by being subject to terrible punishments from which he came out unscathed. Finally, the king’s sister, Holika, tried to destroy Prahlada by making him sit by a bonfire beside her, wearing a coat that would protect her from the fire, while her nephew would have perished, nevertheless, he did not. At the right time, the cloak wrapped Prahlada protecting him from the fire, while Holika burned to death. The legend says, in fact, as good always wins over evil and that purity of mind is always rewarded.

To honour this time, every year, the night before Holi, every corner of India is lit with small bonfires called Holi ka Dahan and all dance and sing in honour of the battle between good and evil.

Holi In India, Holi In Delhi

As with all legends, this too has a different version starring the god Krishna, avatar of Vishnu and his love for the beautiful Radha. The girl was so beautiful that the young Krishna, on the advice of his mother, decided to apply color on his face, in order to look more attractive. The fact is that the sympathetic god liked to joke around and was delighted to play with the cowherd Gopi. This is why the festival of Holi is celebrated with a special enthusiasm in the city of Vrindavan and Mathura or those where Krishna is more revered.

Personally, I prefer the version Prahlada because I like the idea of ​​the struggle between good and evil in which kindness is the only winning weapon.

Today, Holi is a time of care-free living and mending relationships, seeing friends or family, it also marks the arrival of spring, the celebration of love, and especially the cancellation of social differences because everyone – absolutely everyone – come out to play Holi!

Following the Hindu calendar, Holi will be celebrated worldwide on March 24, where all will gather in the streets of cities and villages, rigorously dressed in white, to launch the colored powder called gulal, making the world bursting in colors for a full day. There are those who, on the occasion, indulge in a drink called bhang, made with ingredients such as: milk, almonds, spices and marijuana leaves that provide a certain state of mental exhilaration (though, we do not recommend it).

The color festival of India has now widespread and has inspired many other festivals.

In the US, Holi will be celebrated at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, UT on 26 and 27 March, but there will be other events throughout the year in other cities.

In France, 3 April in Sète.

In Italy, there will be an event in June 11, Naples.

In the UK, to be held at Wembley Park; June 12.

In Germany, several dates have already been published since May and, among these: Monaco on 08.06.2016.

All we have to do is have the colored gulal powders, and play color and allow it cover us while shouting “Bura na mano, Holi hai! (Do not worry, it’s Holi!)

Photo Credit Manuela Nessi ©

Categories
Adventure

How to Get Lost

By: Phocus Travel

Yesterday, we were in Greece overlooking a sea so mesmerizing blue, in fact, it was almost enchanting. A couple of minutes later, we were hiking through the mountains of the grand Yosemite National Park only to find ourselves staring at the Great Walls of China! Please allow us to tell you, it was quite an experience — three continents in one evening! We bet you’ve never experienced that, or have you?

When too many images of empty roads leading up to fog-filled mountains appear, that element of mystery slowly fades away and the image becomes just another image. In this age of social media, where one can scroll up or down never ending feeds and see the world through the lenses of friends and random people, there is a chance of losing the wonder in travelling. After all, we’ve seen thousands of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, haven’t we? Perhaps there is no need for us to actually go see it, for all we know Paris could just be a place romanticized by novels and movies like Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen. Or maybe, just maybe, the magic could be true, yet we will never truly know till we experience it for ourselves.

They say, you can travel in different ways; literature, photographs, films, music, visual art, and simple conversations spiced with a little imagination, but is it enough? Is scrolling through our Instagram feed enough? Should we be satisfied flipping through our travel magazines while simply reading the experiences of others when we can actualize travel for ourselves? We say no.

We say let’s pack our bags, book a flight to somewhere, take a road trip, learn new languages, adopt some tradition foreign to us and just embrace travelling. We say let’s not be comfortable simply scrolling down our phones and tapping that heart button for someone else’s photos, rather, let’s take those photos ourselves! We say let’s travel somewhere, somehow, no matter how difficult our circumstances are — travelling changes our circumstances by changing our perspectives.

Categories
Adventure India

Friends Of The Road

As a traveler, I have spent a lot of time on the road. I have moved from one car to another; one bus to another; one mode of transportation to another with friends, family or simply on my own; nevertheless, even when I was traveling alone, was I ever truly on my own?

The plane landed on a tiny airport on a North-eastern state of India, Nagaland. A gust of fresh air, green surroundings and a car welcomed me. As the view of the airport slowly disappeared and was replaced by marketplaces, people and eventually trees, “Perfect! This is the break I needed,” I thought to myself — just I, me and myself.

After about an hour’s drive, he points out, “This is a stadium built by the chief minister. It’s really huge”. He speaks a little more apologizing for the bumpy ride and the unmade roads. “A lot of people drive rashly and get into accidents because of the roads here,” he said. “But I drive carefully. Do not worry.” He was the driver.

Drivers, What in the world will we do without them? They drive all night while we sit at the back seat snoring away to glory; they put our needs first before theirs. Have you ever met a driver who made a stop because he/she was hungry? I have never.

A friend of mine narrated a story of a taxi driver he encountered on a travel to Kerala. First day, the driver was wonderful; he was on time; the car was clean and filled with the sweet aroma of Jasmine flowers hung on the rear view mirror. The second day however, the driver seemed a little preoccupied. After a while, the driver excused himself and made a stop by the roadside. Upon his return, he had a fresh set of Jasmine flowers, which he quickly placed on the rear view mirror replacing the old one — he calmed down right after. Baffled, my friend asked him about his actions, “The freshness of the flowers had disappeared. I want to share with you the beautiful scent of the Jasmine flower while you’re traveling through my country,” the driver replied.

Overly amused by this narration, I quickly wrote to a couple of friends asking them about their road experiences with drivers, and most of them had fond memories. One driver taught his passengers basic Hindi, the other did not sleep or shower because he wanted to be on time for his next client’s arrival at the airport and the pleasant experiences could go on and on.

There are some terrible experiences – sadly, they’re the ones highlighted – there are also beautiful moments. Drivers are our best friends while traveling.

Categories
Bhutan Culture

The Need to Knows before Traveling to Bhutan

By: Phocus Travel

A short guide to planning a trip to Bhutan

Travel is a passion for many of us. We are addicted to that surge of excitement when we book our tickets; board the plane, train, bus or even a cycle! We drown ourselves into that tingling sensation of looking ahead and knowing that we are headed to our ‘unknown’. However, we are all aware that traveling is not all romance. Planning a trip can also be a thorn in the flesh and it can leave us disheartened.

Bhutan, the beautiful mystery of the Himalayas, is on every traveler’s bucket list, but planning the trip might be quite a hassle! So, here are a few things that will help you plan better!

1. You can enter Bhutan only through tour operators.

Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals, rejoice! Not only are you eligible for visa on arrival; you can also book your travels without a tour operator! For everyone else though, you need to book a tour through a tour operator. This is the only way you will be granted a travel visa. Not only that, it is highly recommend that your tours be booked by government recognized tour operators.

Honestly, we like the whole tour operator mandate. True, we will not have the freedom to go anywhere and everywhere we want, as we have planned itineraries, but we get to witness the beauty of Bhutan and understand her story too.

2. Visa on arrival is not an option.

As mentioned above, only three nationals are eligible for visa on arrival. For all other nationalities, you need to have visa clearance before flying to Bhutan. Acquiring a visa will not be difficult if you do it through a tour operator, which is basically the only way you can get to Bhutan anyway.

3. There are only two airline companies flying to Bhutan.

Do not be surprised when you search for flight tickets to Bhutan and end up with none. This is a head’s up! There are only two airline companies and 8 pilots authorized to fly you to Bhutan — Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines.

4. The $250 daily tariff.

The $250 daily tariff is not a myth; nonetheless, it is not as bad as it sounds. It includes a minimum or 3 star accommodation, all meals, a tour guide for the duration of your stay, internal transportation and camping equipment! Of course, $250 is a lot of money for one day, but if considered properly, it is not as expensive as it sounds.

5. And finally, a friendly reminder, be respectful of the Drukpa’s culture.

Bhutan is a country that was isolated from the rest of the world till recently; until 1999, the television and Internet was banned in the country. The isolation was in attempt to protect and preserve the Bhutanese culture, which is fair enough. Two things that we should be sensitive of are the religion, Buddhism, which is considered to be a way of life and the Royal family, who is adored by their people.

We hope you have a lovely time in Bhutan! And if you want, maybe you can tell us of the mysterious adventures you experienced. We would love to hear them! Cheers!

Categories
Bhutan Culture

The Five-Need-to Know phrases in Bhutanese

Phrases to help you converse in Bhutanese

The thought of having basic conversation with speakers of other languages excite the travellers in all of us. It is always pleasurable to learn new languages, especially if you’re planning a trip to a place that doesn’t necessarily speak a similar language. Here are five (or more) phrases that will help you in your visit to Bhutan.

1. Kuzuzangpo La – Hello!

Bhutan is a kingdom where tradition and culture are beautifully preserved, a place where happiness is an aspiration and Buddhism, a way of life. Politeness is cultural and ‘kuzusangpo laa’, also translated as good morning, is the best way to express it. It is the most polite way of greeting a person.

2. Chue ga de be yoe? – How are you?

This is a good conversation starter and also heart-warming for the local you are in conversation with. If anyone replies ‘Nga leshembe yoe’ give yourself a pat at the back, for they understood you and replied that he/she is fine.

3. Ema Datshi- Chilli and Cheese

Ema Datshi is the most famous dish in Bhutan. Considered the national dish, this exotic curry will satisfy your taste buds and will keep you wanting more! Normally accompanied by rice, and meat, this meal is a definite must.

4. Kadinchey La- Thank you

A friendly thank you and welcome are always encouraged in every culture! Kadinchey La is responded with ‘Tsoro bu si ma sung la’ which means welcome. Ending with a La in Bhutanese is always respectful.

5. Lok Sey Jay Gey- Good bye

Though it means good bye, this does not entirely mean farewell, it also means ‘we will meet again’; a beautiful way to part indeed.

Now you will be able to have a 5 second conversation with a local! Do not beat yourself up if you cannot manage to learn all 5 phrases and more! If it is helpful, you should know that not many tourists, I included, manage to learn all of it! I had notes to help me write this post! So relax and have fun learning them and practicing them to the locals on your travel!

Categories
Bhutan Culture

Bhutan: The Festive for Nomads

A Glimpse into the Nomadic Lifestyle

Many of us today have adopted a nomadic lifestyle; globe trotters, citizens of the world, nomads and travelers are some titles we have claimed for ourselves. We move from one place to another feeding our cravings for something new and unexplored— our uncharted territories.

Nomads, by definition, are a community of people constantly moving in search of pastures, also known as the pastoral tribes. But as globalization took over and changed the world, the authentic nomadic lifestyle is rapidly vanishing and rarely seen. Bhutan is home to some nomadic communities, who migrate from one village to another as season changes, yearly, for hundreds of years. The Dorikhas are one of the nomadic communities of Bhutan but unlike many people, they change locations between two seasonal villages— Dhorika, the summer village and Dhorithasa, the winter village. Each year, they move through the breathtaking pastures and meadows of Bhutan towards a warmer escape, a tradition that is slowly disappearing.

The annual Nomad Festival, which is usually celebrated around February in Bumthang, brings in together the nomadic highlanders of Bhutan and allows both locals and guests to experience their unique lifestyle. Grand gestures of ceremonial processions, colorful attires, and cultural sports like ‘keyshey’ the traditional Bhutanese wrestling styles, archery with bamboo bows and arrows and other traditional games like khuru and soksum will be displayed. You might just get to experience playing one of them too!

Another highlight of this festival is the cuisine that varies from the delicious Bumthang noodles, the pink rice with ema datshi (chili and cheese) to the more unusual ones such as livers and intestines! Try it for the experience even if you think that they’re too eccentric for you! At least you will remember that you had an authentic nomad’s cuisine once upon a time.

Categories
Culture India

Street jobs in India: The Wallahs

By: Phocus Travel

A Glimpse on the street jobs of India

Touchdown. India, a land where tradition meets modernity in the most intricate and beautiful way one can imagine. The land where streets are bursting in colors and bustling, crowded with both grumpy and friendly faces. Somewhere down the road you see him, the wallah, and in a sudden gush of observation, you see them, the wallahs, in every corner, everywhere.

Wallahs are literally the ones who take part in some kind of activity. They are an important group of people in the Indian society. They are workers who are seemingly unimportant, but are actually some of the most imperative workers of the society. We are sincerely under the impression that India will not function properly without them. Therefore, today, we will introduce you to ten of the most common wallahs, in our cities!

The chai wallah, they are the one who makes and sells chai, tea. Now, this chai isn’t your average tea, it does not have the slightest similarity to the teas you get from the supermarket or coffee shops. The chai wallahs brew tea with their special recipes which include spices such as, green cardamom, cinnamon sticks, fennel seed, fresh ginger, black peppercorns, whole cloves, coriander seeds, star anise and of course, tea. The result, an aromatic hot tea that will make you keep wanting more. Chai is usually made with milk, but if you’re lactose intolerant like some of us, you can request the chai wallah for black tea.

The rickshaw wallah, these men are the wallahs. They use manual labor and manoeuver through the jam packed streets of India (not the easiest thing to do), with their three wheeled cycle. They are very helpful with distances that are too short for auto-rickshaws, a three- wheeled motorcycle, and yet, too far to go on foot, especially during summer.

The auto wallahs are the men you will interact with almost every day. They are the fearless motorists of the Indian streets who uses auto-rickshaws, the modern version of a rickshaw, as a means of transportation. They are fast, rough and sometimes tough to deal with, however, in my humble opinion, they are the most convenient means of getting around the area.

The taxi wallahs, taxi drivers, are life-savers. To avoid the hassle of, first of all, finding an auto rickshaw, arguing about rates and inhaling all the pollution around you, we call the taxi wallahs. They are normally always available, more expensive than auto rickshaws, but more comfortable and relaxing. The taxi wallahs are perfect for ride to and from late night outs!

The dabba wallahs, lunchbox deliverymen, most commonly found in Mumbai brings hot lunch in tiffin boxes from homes to the work places of individuals. There are also lunch providers, who cook and deliver the food at the same time. This is because most people prefer to eat home cooked meals than the local restaurants.

The istri wallah. The word ‘istri’ means iron. In India we have istri wallahs, people who iron clothes for a living, in almost every street. The istri wallahs set up a small shack in a corner with charcoal irons, they stay there all day ironing clothes for people around the neighborhood with rate that starts with 5 rupees a shirt. They are very helpful for the working people who have no time to do their own ironing.

The sabji wallah, the vegetable wallah, are one of the favorite wallahs around. Unlike market vegetable vendors, they knock door to door every morning with their pull carts filled with fresh greens. They are usually slightly more pricey than market vegetable vendors, but what are a couple of rupees more when you have home service right?

The safai wallah, I knew them as the garbage collectors but just found out that they are the sweepers as well! Now, how in the world can we survive without them! Around 10 am (sharp), every morning, the doorbell rings and the safai wallah yells “Kudha!” he then patiently waits for all the gathered trash and takes it with him. We have the most punctual safai wallah!

The doodh wallah, is the milkman. Milk, is an essential part of an Indian’s everyday life. It starts with the morning chai, dahi or curd usually for lunch, and other dishes like paneer. Typically, an empty pot would be left on the doorstep for the doodh wallah to fill, which he does without fail, every day.

The chaat wallahs, are the last on our list, but definitely not the least. They are the vendors of street food. Like any Asian country, India has a strong street food culture. Visit any market and you will see people swarming the chaat wallahs for their favourite items such as panipuri, papri chaat and aloo tikki!

Categories
Bhutan Culture

Bhutan: The Happiest Country in Asia?

The Gross National Happiness

The last Shangri La, as some have called her, Bhutan, is encompassed with numerous myths such as the flying tiger and lakeside mermaids. She lures seekers with her captivating beauty, mystical monasteries and the endearing nature of her people. One of the mysteries the curious mind strives to solve is the question: Is Bhutan really a happy country?

In the 1970s, The Fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, brought up the idea of a Gross National Happiness (GNH) over the Gross National Product (GNP). This is a holistic approach to contentment; well-being and over all care for the people. The question “How can a country be completely happy?” probably has crossed your mind at least once or twice by now. In an age where happiness seems to be a mere daydream, we encounter not one person, but an entire country striving for happiness. This is a puzzle for many and me, as well.

Honestly though, as bizarre as it seems, achieving happiness does not seem impossible in this landlocked country. A tiny kingdom tucked away in the majestic Himalayan heights, secluded yet adored by the masses. A kingdom where happiness is not just a trifling emotion but a way of life, one can easily spot content in their eyes. It is interesting to see that a Drukpas measure of contentedness is not particularly measured by their economic or social statuses; some of the happiest Drukpas are apparently the young, the unmarried and the unemployed! They are a community of people who adore their monarchy and care for their neighbors.

Now, to answer the question I started with, is Bhutan the happiest country in Asia? I would have to say no. I do not think there is such a thing as a ‘happiest country’. However, I will have to say that the Drukpas radiate a certain atmosphere of joy and peacefulness that is almost enchanting. Let me tell you though, cynicism will blind you of all the beauty you could experience. Take a journey to the last Shangri la, marvel at this experience and take home with you an aspiration for happiness too!

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Bhutan Culture

The Elusive Blue Poppies of Bhutan

The National Flower of Bhutan

On the rocky terrains of Bhutan, around 3,500 – 4,500 meters above ground, beyond the tree lines, grows the Himalayan Blue Poppies. These flowers also called Euitphel Metog Hoem by the locals are especially elusive, too rare, that it was considered a myth before being discovered by the British explorer, Eric Bailey. The blue poppies, which has also been called the ghost of the Himalayas, can be found only during May to July when the annual monsoon clouds bring fresh rains to the mystifying mountains of Bhutan.

Finding a blue poppy in an area where the only other plants that grow are mosses and wild weeds is like stumbling upon golden dusts. It is said to be piercing blue, almost turquoise in color, it captivates one’s eye and its beauty, almost breath-taking. For flower enthusiasts, this is the perfect time to travel to the last Shangri-La, the land is filled with flowers of the wild, with over 600 plant species where 360 of them are species of orchids.

The monsoons make the treks a little more difficult than normal, you will come across slippery rocks, overflowing rivers and not to mention, bugs like gnats, who bite, and of course, leeches. What is a rainy trek without leeches! There is something alluring about trekking in this season, though, despite all the bugs, you will feel one with the mountains, one with the trees, one with everything around you. There won’t be many hikers around you, it could be just you and your group, and this solitude is almost healing in the most unusual way.

Accidentally stumbling upon the flower, has been the experience of a couple of trekkers. I, however, might be one of the unlucky few who has never set eyes on the elusive blue poppies of Bhutan. The fact, though, that I have never laid eyes on this rare flora, heightens my desire to push through the mountains of the kingdom in order to catch a glimpse of this beauty. And even though I might not be the best trekker to ever walk the planet, I will go to the mountains, once more, to bask in all its beauty and to witness the beauty of the blue poppies. May the odds be in my favor.

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Bhutan Culture

A BMX with a Purpose

Bhutan to Nepal on a cycle

It started with a late night scroll through Instagram: #Bhutan. Endless shots, some poorly taken, some perfectly capturing the ethereal beauty the kingdom possesses, and then a picture of a man with a cycle, at what seemed to be a foothill of a cliff— #bmxfornepal. I have been writing about Bhutan for several weeks now, and Nepal, having been part of my childhood has a very special place in my heart, so, I needed to know what the connection was. Thus, like any other Instagramer, I cyber-stalked the hashtag, #bmxfornepal, a hashtag used by the South African photographer, Dylan Ben Haskin. After googling him, in a non-creepy way if I may add, I sent him a message on Facebook, to which he graciously replied.

Dylan and his wife have been living in Bhutan for about eleven months now. Driven by a desire to do some philanthropic work, he and his wife, moved to the beautiful landlocked away in the Himalayas. While his wife serves as a teacher, Dylan spends his time freelancing and doing voluntary photography work for the local community. Then the destructive earthquake hit Nepal and shock waves were also felt in their home; this is how #bmxfornepal was born.

The destruction caused by the earthquake was all over the news and social media, individuals and organizations came together to help in every way, or anyway, they could. Likewise, Dylan wanted to do something to help out the people of Nepal. “I had done it [cycling for a cause] before, for a day… so I thought, why not apply the same concept to this [bmx for Nepal]” he said. It wasn’t an easy journey, cycling through mountains or plains. As a matter of fact, he explained that plains were tougher because of the cycle he was using. He was joined by his father, Ben Swanepoel, and together they cycled for 24 days, 1,674 kms, across three countries! They have raised $840 NZD, as of today, and these will go to the Himalayan’s Trust’s Earthquake relief efforts. Maybe there’s something we all can do, right?

Let me be honest with you, this article was originally supposed to be about the ‘beautiful Bhutan’. It was the direction I had planned for this piece, but as my skype conversation with Dylan progressed, I realized that this cannot be just about the physical beauty of one country. This blog post I am sharing with you today needs to be about a journey, a journey with a purpose and the beauty of one or two countries are secondary. However, if you want to see pictures of Bhutan, go follow Dylan on Instagram @dylanhaskin, he has some amazing pictures that will make you plan a trip right now!

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Bhutan Culture Mimi blogs

Buddhism, A Drukpa’s Way of Life

Sandwiched between mountains, Paro International Airport is one of the most terrifying airport to land into. Apart from having to avoid humungous mountains, balancing wind pressure, the pilot also has to consider how this airport does not have the longest runway. It is said that there are only eight pilots, in the entire universe, trained and certified to land in this airport. This could be the reason the gentleman next to me was busy rolling his prayer beads. I should have said a prayer with him, maybe.

Touch down. We walk out of the plane into a tiny runway, a wind so crisp and fresh meets us, welcome to the land of the thunder dragon. This is a kingdom where culture and tradition, properly preserved ­­­— a living museum, meets and embraces a globalized world. This is a kingdom where happiness is an aspiration and Buddhism, more than just a religion but a way of life; this is Bhutan.

Under a cypress tree lays a sacred monument— a chorten or a stupa, as I later found out, where a lady spins the prayer wheels in reverence. What could she be praying for, I wondered, a child? A job? Or some sort of revelation? Regardless of what it was, I felt the need to go and pay my respects as well.

[Insert your religion] is a way of life, one can only wonder how true the statement is. I am not religious, I was a lifetime ago, but the streets of Bhutan, in all its glory draws me towards their tradition and culture which is deeply embedded in Buddhism. One aspect that fascinated me the most were the colorful flags hung around town and sacred sites. These are not your regular flags of festivity, but flags of the Bhutanese culture, their lifestyle and a representation of the actuality of their beliefs. These flags are called the prayer flags.

The prayer flags are said to bring happiness, prosperity and long life. It is also said to lead the soul of the dead to the light and prevent a bad rebirth. It is usually hung outdoors, bridges, hilltops, places of spiritual value, and at backyards and front yards of family homes, believing that as the wind blows the prayers will move and be answered. If the prayers on the flag fade away, it is believed that one’s prayer is being answered.

There is something about Bhutan, something mesmerizing, which changes a person from being a cynic to believing that religion can actually be more than just a religion. I cannot quite pinpoint what is it, maybe it is the peaceful nature of the drukpas, the happiness that radiates from their smiles, or maybe their utmost dedication to Buddhism. Whichever it is, the drukpas seemed truly have embraced their religion as their way of life, and this, apart from all the picturesque views, is a definite sight to see.