Category Archives: Travel talks

Fun experiences at home during the lockdown

Over the recent years, I have travelled more in seek of new experiences and less to see new places. When the nationwide lockdown happened, I was confined to my house for nearly 3 months. Those familiar with me asked how I coped with not being able to travel. Honestly, if not for the need to be able to stretch my limbs for some physical activities, there wasn’t a day when I felt the need to travel. There were ample things through which I could gain new experiences. Here are some fun experiences during my lockdown.

The first three were motivational experiences that the government of India had assigned as tasks to thank the Corona frontline warriors. All to be performed within the confines of the doorstep of every Indian household. Keeping all the memes and politics aside, participating in them was something I personally enjoyed.

  • Clapping & Clinging of utensils: Calling a day long voluntary Janata curfew on 22-Mar-20 was a preamble to the lockdown. In the evening, Indians were asked to clap their hands, cling plates with spoons or make any sound that would reach the Covid warriors. The outcome had various perspectives from people with varied background. However, our family did our bit by actively participating in it. While I clapped, my mother went a step ahead and blew the conch from our balcony. If not anything, hearing so many types of sounds from the ENTIRE city/ state/ country in unison was a once in a lifetime experience.
  • Flash a light: It was like revoking the real meanings of festivals like Diwali, Christmas or Shab-e-barat by celebrating a day of lights on 05-Apr-20. I personally have a thing for lighting clay diyas and I could not miss this opportunity either. We hung LED lights and mobile flashlights on the outside walls and lit candles and clay diyas on the balcony. And seeing the entire city go off at once and watch the horizon blinking with flashlights was another experience that gave me a high.
  • The flower shower: On 03-May-20, the Indian defense forces took to the skies to salute the Corona warriors. The IAF choppers showered flower petals on various Covid designated hospitals across the country. Also, there was fly-past of various airplanes / jets/ choppers through the length & breadth of the nation. Having an inborn corner in my heart for airplanes, I couldn’t help but run out on the terrace and catch a glimpse of the two C-130 Super Hercules that flew from up north in Srinagar to down south in Thiruvananthapuram.
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The candles in my balcony

The nature bestowed upon me some unique experiences as well.

  • Watch squirrels grow from babies to adults: From a pair of squirrels nesting in our bathroom windows to their four new borns taking over our entire house as grown adults, our family has witnessed it by staying at home during the lockdown. Even as the babies were learning to walk, they had us a hard time. They would try to sneak into the house through the bathroom ventilator and often fall inside the bucket or they would simply forget their way out of the house and wander aimlessly. Lucky that a couple of times, they fell into the buckets with only an ounce of water, got their tails soaked and would just not be able to balance themselves. All we had to do was keep an eye on them by checking the bathroom or ensure they found their way out of the house without touching them, every time they came.
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The squirrels of my house
  • Watch a goat deliver a pre-mature calf: With a farmer who came to my backyard to graze his herd of goats, it was one of those days when one of them sat amid a bush and started to cry. The she- goat was 2 months due to her labor, but the pain had started early and the entire herd had surrounded her. The farmer telephoned a Vet who arrived in a while and helped the expecting mother to have a safe labor. The baby was removed out of her body whom we initially thought was still born. However, the little one wriggled in the hands of the Vet with a wailing cry giving a sense of relief to the vet, the mother goat, the farmer and to our family who watched all this unfold in front of us.
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The farmer with his goat and her new-born calf
  • Watching a million butterflies: With permission from the authorities, it was loss of a family member that drove us to a riverbank to let her mortal remains flow in the holy river Cauvery. But as if it was a soothing balm to our family that was going out for the first time during the lockdown, we were surrounded by a million butterflies around us. Under the canopy of red gulmohars flanking the empty roads, the mighty Terminalia trees (need to fact check the correct name) holding up the banks of the river flowing full, with ABSOLUTELY no one to disturb them in an otherwise overcrowded weekend destination, these butterflies were flying FREELY, literally. It was as if we lived a scene out of a fairy tale.
  • Star gazing: While at the terrace, we even witnessed a meteor shower and a comet. The Lyrid meteor shower is an annual phenomenon that can be usually observed around April. Apart from that, the comet SWAN was a treat for early risers, visible from May 13th through for a week.
  • Watching the sunset: As I worked from home, I was bummed indoors from morning to evening. So, winding up my day by watching the sunset from my balcony with a cup of tea was my excuse to get my daily dose of vitamin-D. Probably, the beautiful evening views from my home was something I had long forgotten as I returned home after dark on a regular work day and went chasing sunsets at fancy travel destinations on holidays.

And yet, there were several experiences that our family created for ourselves. Apart from sharing long conversations and discussions over shared meals, there were several things that we did in collaboration and had our share of fun at home.

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My experience of taking mango delivery through India Post
  • Setting up our own home-gym: With pleasant breeze in the terrace, good night view, ambient music and peppy music under the starry sky (considering that the sky was its clearest during the nationwide lockdown), we set our own gym on our terrace with DIY dumbbells and stands.
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The night view from my terrace
  • Growing our own kitchen garden: Brinjals, green groceries, beans, tomatoes, drumsticks etc. were just a few things from my parents’ own backyard kitchen garden that helped us to reduce the number of visits to the stores.
  • Enjoying homegrown fruits: Watermelons, muskmelons, night shade berries, mulberries, avocados and Papayas are those that our fruit relishing taste buds were able to devour from our own backyard. Not that we have a big space in our backyard, these were all grown in pots with the wet waste from the kitchen that went into composting.
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Homegrown Fruits and vegetables
  • Celebrating birthdays of friends & family members: Baking birthday cakes, making streamers for decorations, sending video wishes and experimenting in the kitchen, these celebrations were fun and different from the usual. In the middle of all this, someone sends a watsapp forward of reminding the pre-Covid situation of how strangely we all ate a cake into which someone had blown air from their mouth to put-off the candle 😀
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DIY birthday decor in the making
  • Mask making at home: I took my mom’s help to learn sewing and that is a new skill I picked up during the lockdown. Apart from making face masks with upcycled fabric, we made new caps, T-shirts and backpacks at home for our personal use.

Oh, I had shared a list of activities that I had planned to do during the lockdown. Have you read it yet? Here’s the link: (Click here to continue reading)

The truth that Travel influencers will NOT tell you

Being an Influencer is a BIG responsibility. It means, that person has the power to ‘INFLUENCE’ people. It doesn’t matter if you are a nano, micro or a mainstream- fully-fledged influencer, it only means that you have the POWER to influence a certain group of people in a domain of your expertise. So, every person with this power has to be EXTREMELY careful and responsible about what you are going to communicate to your followers because they follow you for the knowledge that they will gain from you in YOUR area of expertise. (Click on the below image to know how social media influencing is used for marketing products & services)

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I am a travel influencer. I write about travelling in INDIA!

So, when I write, I shall be RESPONSIBLE to share what is relevant and falls within my forte ONLY. That said, I’m writing this long post because I am deeply saddened about how travel is taken for granted and how the generation is being WRONGLY misguided by some of the top Travel influencers. So, here are some SERIOUS Stuff that I want to discuss about becoming a travel blogger! Let me break them down into parts…

Part 1: Becoming a Travel blogger

1. Myth: They left their high paying corporate job to travel the world
Fact: A paratrooper or skydiving trainer will take you high up in the air and teach you how to jump or fly. But what he never tells you is that if things go wrong, he will have a backup parachute. Similarly, what these top travel influencers don’t tell you is they are ALL from affluent families who have strong financial backup. If their experiment on the road fails, they always have a family to support them financially and to help them start afresh. Ask me- I have a full-time job and I slog my ass through the entire week to make ends meet and to support my family financially. I save up a portion of my salary to travel and build connections with local people about whom, I can then write.

2. Myth: They sold their house and all the belongings and lead a nomadic life with just two backpacks
Fact: Not every monk will sell his Ferrari! Now that all these nomads without houses are not travelling because of Covid-19, tell me which road are they sleeping on? They are ALL back in India, living in their parents’ houses which probably you hadn’t given a thought prior to this lockdown. So technically, they have a house of THEIR own. They did not have to buy one or spend on renting one because they are not going to be using it while they are travelling. But you perhaps thought it was easy to give up everything and go one day.

3. Myth: They get to travel to all fairy tale places.
Fact: No doubt traveling offers surprises at every step, but what a follower doesn’t see is that MOST of these travel posts are sponsored. Hence, the influencer comes under an obligation to write all things nice about the place where they are getting their payments from. Social media influencing is their “Profession” at the end. They must abide by their sponsors’ terms and condition, no matter how natural their smile in the photo may seem to be like!

Part 2: Becoming an influencer

Creating content and manipulating behavioral patterns of followers using data Analytics: This is the single most important factor that brands ask for while working with an influencer. Their target reach and engagement ratio (You can look up on google to learn more on these terms). Take for example, the below graph of the analytics of my Instagram page. It shows the age group that is MOST responsive to feeds from all TRAVEL bloggers. So, the content created will be considering the psychology of people who fall under this target group. These insights are the basis on which these professionals (Social media influencers) try to manipulate the thoughts of their followers and thus influence them into buying whatever they want to sell (or Tell)! Remember, they are showing you what they are paid to sell.

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Part 3: Indian travel influencers on Social media

1. They are not true experts: Yes, they have gained certain experience over time, but they are glasses that are half empty. For example, here is a screenshot (taken on 11-Apr-20) of my reply to a TOP traveler’s post. The person had posted an animal’s photo and said how (he/she) empathized the spotted deer’s death. I corrected the influencer telling it was a sambar deer. Do you see how well informed they are about their posts? If probably wildlife was your forte, you would perhaps know the difference and know how one of the most commonly seen species of wild animals looked like!
PS: You shouldn’t post something that is not from your field of influencing.

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2. They do selective replies and reposts: They don’t like to acknowledge when they are corrected. They get offended when their mistakes are being pointed out. My message above has never been read (even after 2 months!). But every day, I see them reposting stories and appreciation about them that were in someone’s story. (FYI, story lasts only for 24hrs and all the tags get delivered as messages in the inbox). How possible is it that my message went unnoticed, till date? No, they did see it. They chose to keep it unread. I get replies from influencers who probably have 3-4 times more followers and spend most of their lives without network.
PS: Be just and fair to all followers.

3. India and its’ government have NEVER given them enough: Tell me how often do they travel in India, on a self-sponsored trip? As fancy as their life seems, they have travelled the GLOBE on freebies. Tourism promoters of various countries invite them with free tickets, free stay, free food and everything else that’s nice, for FREE. Which happy person doesn’t speak nice things when they’ve been given a free meal? Another country and its people will SURELY seem better than theirs, because their poor country doesn’t give them freebies to explore it.
PS: Don’t mis-lead your followers about India and its capacities.

4. They care SHIT about Indian economy: I took the ‘Dekho Apna Desh pledge’ to travel to at least 15 places within India. It is my service to MY country to promote tourism and thus aid local economy (Click here to read how traveling local contributes to economy). Can you name at least five among the TOP travel influencers of India who pledged this for INDIA’s economy? I save up my leaves (and a portion of my earnings) every year and manage my exploration of INDIA as much as possible. I want to do my bit to promote domestic tourism by writing about how MUCH more my motherland has to offer, that no one place in the world has.
PS: I don’t take free tickets to travel and I promote local artisans in India, sorry!

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5. They never feel ‘belonged’ in India: The feeling of belongingness should start from “HOME”. As the saying ‘Ghar Ki baat Ghar main hi rehna Hai’ goes, ‘we should not bring our family matters to the streets’. We should rather sit at home and discuss jointly and find a solution. But the people who refused to call their parents’ home as theirs, would never feel belonged to a ‘Motherland’. If you feel there isn’t enough justice, there isn’t enough equality, there isn’t enough security in India, will you give up your Indian passport that bears the emblem of integrity and sovereignty? Nope, I’m sure you flaunt around the passport when you are abroad.
PS: I would never let go of the perks and the attention I get of being called an ‘Indian’ after all!

6. They give a damn about India’s image in the global front: They sit in foreign countries either with a free ticket or have fled India to work for another country. But what they do is, call out on mistakes from their home country’s governance. Can you imagine the amount of negativity this is spreading about your home? They sit in a distant country and instigate their followers to participate in protests for which they won’t be able to come. Why? Because their tickets are not sponsored, know? Rather than picking out mistakes, how often have these people suggested solutions?
PS: If you can’t be a part of the solution, then you are the problem!

With reference to influencers off-late posting about politics, You can’t always pick on ONE person in the government for all the wrong that happens. Do you think the team of technical experts across all domains who are in the advisory team of the government are also half empty glasses like you? Do you think the 100+ million citizen of democratic are dumb to have unanimously elected their representatives? And you are the ONLY intelligent alien here?

It is disheartening to see influencers leaving their field and misusing their powers to call out anti-national slogans (against the ruling government) even in this testing times where the entire country is required to stand as ONE! Oh, come on… to err is human. Small minds discuss people, Average minds discuss events, Great minds discuss ideas! As Gurdas Maan sings in ‘Ki Bannu Duniya da’, the lines ”Par pakki vekh ke kacchi nai dhai di” translates to: Don’t demolish the old foundation for the new and fancy.

As responsible influencers, we must subside picking up negativity. This creates sense of differences. Instead, pick up positive stories and try to unite the people. Both are different ways of approaching the same problem!

Five ways to experience travel during lockdown

Continuing my posts on managing anxiety and keeping up self-morale during the lockdown, here’s some more on self help..

Binge-watching on Netflix, Hotstar or other OTT platforms, reading books, Cooking, meditation are so cliched. Doing these things daily too can get monotonous. Doing something for 21 days can lead to a habit. So, by the end of this lockdown period, we all don’t want to become couch potatoes..

Yes, every Sunday evening of our lockdown period has been made interesting by our Honorable Prime Minister. His tasks have made sure that we all came out to our balconies to get some fresh air and break the monotony. The clapping, clanging of plates, bells and blowing the conches from the confines of our balconies with an aim to Thank the frontline warriors of the Covid-19 Pandemic on 22-Mar-20 was a nice exercise to come out of our couches. Similarly, I’m sure the nation showed its unity and solidarity in hard times by switching off lights and lighting up lamps, candles, torches and flashlights on the evening of 05-Apr-20.

But, what about the other days of being locked down at home? Do your itchy feet rare to travel? And oh, those with little kids must be having the hardest time to keep them indoors. So, if you are looking for an offbeat travel experience to break your routine, while being locked up inside your house, here are five handpicked DIY ideas for you 😊

  1. Have your own bedroom rave party: An endless playlist is available either in your collection or on the OTT platform. Use the apps that also provide disco flashlights. Place your mobile screen between two mirrors that are placed at a distance away, facing each other. Switch off all the lights at home and let your playlist take the center table. Voila, you have your own dance floor! Make some drink or look online for some cocktail ideas with whatever ingredients are available in your kitchen and your party is good to go!
  2. Pitch your own tent or pillow fortress: For those of you who are frequent hikers, chances are that you have your own tent. You can pitch it in your own balcony or terrace and experience the outdoors in your own little campsite. For the others who don’t have a tent, fret not. Remember the ‘Pillow fortresses’ we made as kids? Why not let that kid out of yourselves now? Fold up your beds and stack up you pillows. You can even tie a string across your room and hang down a bedsheet from it. You have your very own DIY tent.
  3. Set-up your travel corner: Re-living old memories by digging up the old photo albums itself can be a great way to time-travel. You can pick up some of your favorite photos and hang-it up with lights in a DIY corner of your house. All you need is some strings and clips to hold your photos in place. You can also draw a huge map and mark the places you have been to and have it in your travel corner. Arranging your collection of souvenirs from your travels around this place too is a great idea.
  4. Star gazing from your balcony or terrace: Now that the skies have cleared, it’s a good activity to hone up your skills of star gazing. There are several apps and websites that can help you in identifying the stars and constellations. It’s a great idea to go out to your balcony and admire the vast expanse of the night’s sky. Who knows, you might even get a glimpse of the ISS (International Space Station) which is believed to be going around the earth- 16 times a day! There is usually one major meteor shower every month. Look up on the dates and catch the shooting stars 🙂
  5. Celebrate a festival: Light up your house as if you would do it for Diwali or for Christmas. Make up a mock festival at home. Festivals have always been a great way to bring in fresh energy and pep up the mood. I’m a sucker for diyas and candle lights and totally in love with the positive vibes it brings with it. No mood for festival décor? Why not cook up a nice meal and have a candle lit dinner?

Sounds fair? Let me know how you are dealing with the lockdown…. What ideas do you have to experience travel without leaving your doorstep?

Five ways to manage anxiety during a lockdown

I know the entire world is going through a deep crisis with the outburst of the CoViD-19. But that does not mean that the world is going to end, right? Anxiety can hit anyone, any time… that too when someone is locked up inside the house for so many days and weeks. While ‘How many days more?’ has a very uncertain answer, until may be a proven vaccine or cure is invented, nobody is certain- is all one can say. It is human to get hit by anxiety about what’s going to happen next. But let us see the positive side: nearly 50% are recovering. Let’s not panic and do self-care by staying indoors.

I’m someone who has always found company amid nature. Any problem, I believe ‘NATURE HEALS’. For all the abuse and exploitation that man has done to the planet, it is wonderful to see how nature is healing herself (Click here to see the video). That’s said, I am a “Cliched” travel freak who grows restless when I stay confined to a place for over a few hours. I’m sure I’m not alone in battling anxiety. The whole idea is to keep myself away from social media, from where I’m getting all forwards causing more anxiety. Here are a few things that I’m doing to keep myself calm as I continue to stay indoors.

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The honey bee-box in my balcony

5. Watch the honeybees toil in my balcony: I have set-up a box for them in my balcony and It is therapeutic to watch them work. It is spring season now and no better way to spend a day than sit and watch nature in her calmest ever. The only noise I can hear is the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of my honeybees.

4. Watch the birds flock to the feed and water bowls: The temperature outside has started to rise slowly. As we continue to stay indoors, the birds and squirrels have started to come outside. They will now start frequenting your balconies, only if you’re kind enough to give them a place to sit and take a dip in a water bowl. You will soon become good friends and begin to enjoy each other’s company. I have a good number of sparrows, red-whiskered bulbuls and squirrels occupying spaces in my balcony.

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The sparrows in my portico

3. Learn birding: As I continue to sit in my balcony and watch the flowers bloom outside, I have started to realize that I live in a place that is no less than a bird sanctuary. At least 40 varieties of birds have been spotted from here and I’m continuing to learn their names, habitat, bird calls and behavioral patterns. Some of them have been photographed and the photo-story is made (Click here to view the photo story)

2. Do up a vertical kitchen garden: While going out should be reduced to as minimum as possible, we can grow our own greengroceries in our balconies. I have converted an old ladder / stand, hung old mugs and tied used plastic cups where I’m growing green-groceries and small flowering plants. Some wet waste from the kitchen too is going into these DIY pots for decomposing. Mustard, tomatoes, brinjal, kothimir, beans etc. are some of the seeds you can easily find in your kitchen without having to worry about buying the seeds separately.

The DIY vertical garden in my balcony

1. Re-kindle a dead hobby: Found stacks of water paint that’s been shelved since school days 😛 most of them have dried up in the bottles. I’m finding new ways to make them useful and kill-my time by doing abstract paintings using abstract techniques. Running out of poster colors? Try organic colors. vermillion, turmeric, indigo, leaf extracts… Don’t’ you think its time to explore something new?

Tell me how are you helping yourself to beat anxiety?

How are you killing boredom at home? Share your ideas…

Who am I?

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We are who we are because of the type of experiences we have had in life. The experiences mould us into the personality that we grow into, with age. Some of these experiences (small and big) come once in a lifetime and yet a few- reoccur. Sometimes, in a different avatar. When they do, the first time always sets the bar. If it was bad, we accept anything that is a little better the next time. If it was good, we wouldn’t settle for anything lesser.

I often find it difficult to break the ice with the urban souls. I’m not really sure why, but travel is perhaps the way I connect with the others. I don’t mean I need to travel with them to connect; that’s an expensive strategy. But rake up a topic that is remotely related to travel- You have me there! I will be able to navigate our conversation into a diverse range of topics and things that exist under the sun.

I am an outbound person. Even if that means just stepping onto my portico or the front yard of my house; Or feeding a few squirrels or finding a bird nest in my granny’s attic, it is travel for me! For me travel is seeing things, both same and new with a new perspective each time. It gives me an opportunity to learn and gain a different experience. If not physical travel, I time travel to the glorious days of my childhood by doing little things that are outside a couch. I believe growing old in age shouldn’t stop one from doing what made them happy as kids. The purpose of life is to do whatever makes you happy.

So, Cinema and TV have had the largest influence on me while growing up. They were shot in exotic places and the people danced amidst crazy ass landscapes and that made me want to go there. And then, the cable TV gave me access to jaw-dropping documentaries on everything that is in space, land and underwater. Adventure, wildlife, machines, technology, aeroplanes, rockets, history, art…. Nat-geo and Discovery channel: You sure now know where I have picked my diverse flavors of interests from. Having said that, today as an adult- TV is the last thing that I would ever get myself into, if I were ever bored. That is because I see movies as just a way of slouching on the couch with inactivity.

Physical inactivity grows me restless. And so is with a game of cricket for me. As a child, I wondered that the cricketers always travelled to the Eden gardens or the Lords or the Caribbean for tournaments and after parties. As an audience, I can now only see it as one to five days full of inactivity in front of the “Idiot Box” based on whatever format the game is played in.

My political views too are largely based on my personal experiences from my travel and interactions with people across boundaries. I have grown with a pedigree feed of Toyota concepts of Genchi-Gembutsu. So, it isn’t easy for someone to sell me their opinions about places and people they have not seen.

It is a difficult connection to make with me… In short: I’m not the regular make-up-mascara girl you have seen elsewhere. You will really have to figure your way out to connect with me…!!

Five travel essentials nobody tells you about

These are my top 5 tips I want to talk about which probably you wouldn’t have given a thought about. You don’t have to be a “Traveller” to use these tips and these are applicable to pretty much anyone who leaves home for a short time or on a vacation.

  1. NEVER flash your boarding passes on social media: I know it seems cool to flash your boarding pass and tell your followers/friends that you are heading to your next destination. But what most of us are unaware is that the QR code printed on our boarding passes contained very confidential information about that individual encrypted to it. It contains details of the transaction you have carried out in the process of buying that ticket. This in turn will be linked to your bank accounts, Aadhar, number of times you have travelled, places etc. It is an easy way to get to all your personal data which is otherwise supposed to remain confidential. So next time remember not to post it on social media and ensure you shred it or store it securely once your trip is completed.
  2. ALWAYS carry a candy or a sachet of sugar with you: Low sugar levels can happen to anyone anytime. I have experienced this twice during my travel. Once, I screamed out of panic when a bus conductor fell unconscious holding my hand while he was issuing my tickets. Some passengers travelling in the same bus came to his first aid by feeding him some chocolates. That’s the day I started to keep a sugar sachet in my wallet. It is probably the FIRST aid that should run through your head if someone is fallen unconscious. So, I make sure it is kept in the most easily accessible spot of my luggage or my wallet.
  3. ALWAYS sanitise your washroom faucets before use: I have always been haunted by the fear of getting a urinary tract infection by using washrooms outside my home. While on the road, there are times when I haven’t consumed a drop of liquid for many days just to avoid going to a washroom. These days, there are several toilet seat sanitizing products in the market to help me in this area. I keep a ‘Toilet Seat Sanitizer’ handy, that I comfortably spray on doorknobs, faucets and toilet seats before using them and relieve myself of my fears… quite literally!
  4. ALWAYS carry your own cutlery set: There is enough said and done about reducing one-time usage plastic cutlery everywhere. Carrying my own set of re-usable cutlery set is my way of doing my bit. Carrying a Swiss knife set or a kit with individual metal spoon, fork and knife would be ideal, but these are not allowed in check-in luggage if you’re taking a flight. So, you can use wooden substitutes for these which can be carried in your handbag/ backpack irrespective of the type of travel you are choosing.
  5. NEVER compromise on comfortable footwear: Shoes, shoes, shoes… is something I swear by! Since I’m a slow traveller who does a LOT of walking and running around, I always wear a comfortable pair of SHOES- trainers, joggers, sneakers whatever you call it, I mean SHOES that are flat, light and breathable. This is one thing I don’t compromise for low cost because the effects of poor shoes are long lasting. Along with this, I carry a waterproof sandals or floaters to let my feet breathe if I’m staying somewhere. Also, I have major issues of getting cramps if I walk with wet shoes, so that’s why these waterproof chappals come in handy!

Were these hacks useful?

 

How travel can help your country’s economy?

Indian economy is in a downturn. Everyone is complaining..

The automobile sector is seeing its worst crisis in 2 decades. If automobiles don’t sell, it not only puts my job at a car manufacturing OEM at risk, but has a cascading effect to hundreds of related industries. The steel, the large chain of vendors and sub-suppliers, sales, marketing, advertising agents, dealers to local garages, accessories, insurances, the indirectly dependant canteen, cleaners, gardeners, drivers, IT, so much so that even fuel station workers will lose their jobs. Why am I telling you this? I am no economist, I am no business man, I am no social activist…. I am a Travel blogger and influencer. So why this rant???, one may ask! It is because I want all of you to travel! Explore! Contribute your tiny bit to help our country’s economy.. by TRAVELLING!

It was a casual conversation with a colleague when we discussed about a meeting of his, with one of the top management members of a vendor company, a septuagenerian with over 40 years of experience in the automobile industry.. 4 decades..!! From the day of tariff commissioning to, date where it is more about survival than competition in the industry, he’s probably seen the entire cycle of the “Auto revolution” in India.. His experience and insights were commendable! Most of his qualms with the strategies to boost the sector was to do with the Indian mindset in general. Here is a brief of his insights into what can be done and further elaboration with my own thoughts based on my experience of Thai culture during my maiden trip outside of India!

We Indians have been raised with a mindset to save money. Stash up either in cash or in gold. By doing so, we are pausing the currency from circulation. A country needs monetary circulation for the economy to sustain. There should be buying and selling, both. One way to do that is, to travel.

Ofcourse, there is an endless list of intangible benefits of travelling. From strengthening existing relationships to creating newer contacts, from exposing newer cultures and landscapes to trying new food and meeting new people, travel teaches newer lessons everytime you step out. But the tangible benefit it reflects is that by helping the economy.

Let us start from planning your trip. You browse! So many people out there make up the content on the internet, develop softwares, manage them.. Agents for all your booking needs.. There is a whole lot of people working behind the scenes.

Okay, now you have a plan sorted and are stepping outside your house. You either drive your own car or use public transport. You are in the process, using your automobile.
1. This automobile would need to run. So, you go to a fuel station.
2. Either before, during or after the travel, this mode of transport would need a checkup- you visit a service station.
3. You get some funky accessories for your car/bike if you are using your own mode of transport, or the owner/driver does this incase of a public transport.

Now, you decide to take a pitstop on your journey. You have a cup of chai and some biscuits or let us say hot pakoras by the roadside. You just helped a small business flourish! Oh wait, not one business. He in turn buys the biscuits, milk and the ingredients for the pakoras from several other vendors!

Then, assume you have reached destination ‘X’. You dine at a local restaurant. You stay in a hotel or a homestay. You buy souvenirs. You pay entry fees to so many places of visits. Voila! You helped so businesses  survive during your trip. Do you see how many others depend on him for indirect employment?

Now, you tell me, you are not in a mood to travel to a different place. It’s okay! Take your family out for a dinner. Or even better, go shopping. Go to a spa. Go for a walk and eat Pani-puri. Sign up for a course, buy a book, watch a movie. Don’t stash up the money by staying indoors. Go out and do something! Your contribution to the economy is pretty much explained already.

The Thai people are probably the only ones in the world, who spend so much time with family or friends outside their houses. For most of the household don’t even have a functional kitchen. They mostly have food outside,  because not only does that allow them to explore newer restaurants, it also saves them the time spent on cooking and money on setting up and managing a kitchen. Their personal life is healthier than we Indians. Even a country as small as Bhutan, measures not the GDP(Gross Domestic Product) but the GNH (Gross National Happiness) index for the country’s progress.

When there is consumption, there is demand and supply! With that, the currency flows, in and out. Businesses start, grow, flourish and sustain. This empowers them with money. Money allows them to buy an automobile of their own. They start travelling. And one fine day, the poor vehicle grows old. What do you do? You buy a new one. The cycle continues… In the process helping the sustenance of hundreds of jobs and stabilizing the country’s economy at large.

By stepping outside your four walls, you only grow, you learn, you evolve. I make it a point to spend atleast 30% of my earnings on my travel needs. I feel rejuvenated, more confident and mentally sound every time I get NEW air away from home.

What is your take on this view point?

 

What has the spiritual capital taught me at Banaras?

Kashi for the pilgrims, Banaras for the historians and Varanasi for the modern… How it is religiously important, culturally vital, historically notable… There is enough said and done about this city through literature that is available as early as mythology, history and the modern contemporary. If I had to write about the same stuffs here, then this post would be just another summary with my perspective in it. However, I still use this one sentence to re-iterate the common belief: ‘No time is long enough to be at Banaras’.

The immovable faith of the people, the ever crowded streets, delectable street food, the elusive power of the Naga Babas, the hippie culture of the westerners, the rich history, the mythological importance, the intriguing cultural heritage, dance, music, poetry, handloom, education, art, architecture- The list goes on endlessly that holds so much significance. Hence, keeping it all aside, I wish to make a list of what this city offered to teach me-

1. Work is Worship: This old man agreed to pedal us around for a rickshaw tour of the heritage campus of the Banaras Hindu University. The humility in his speech, the five-o’clock shadow in grey on his weather beaten face and the sinewy legs spoke volumes of his wisdom and hard work for this 60+ someone. He has seen those innumerous people come and go to this sacred land. At the end of the tour, he stopped at the Bharat Kala Bhavan museum complex on the university premises. We told him that we wouldn’t need much time there and would be back in half-an-hour. We failed with our words, and the quickest we could come out is after one-and-half hours. There was no sight of this old man for as long as our vision could stretch. The man did not carry a cellphone and we didn’t know his name to enquire with the people around. We had waited for another 30minutes now. We were uncertain whether to wait for some more time or leave without paying his fees. In just then, we heard the tinkle of his cycle bell as it screeched to a halt in front of us with a little girl in the rear seat. He explained, “I was getting late to go pick up the kids from school and drop them home, they would panic or else”. This man did not worry if he lost the money that we owed him, there was something else he considered more important. As we sat on the rear with the little girl on my lap, I was reminded how for this man ‘Work was Worship’. One has to stay committed to what has been assigned.

2. Solo travel helps in self-discovery but having a travel mate provides security: While we finished the Ganga Aarti, savoured some delectable street food and returned to the hostel at around 10.00.p.m. we found that 3 of our roommates were fallen motionless. We checked with them to know what had happened. While one held on to her stomach and started to cry of pain, the other 2 ran to the restrooms… Having barely any strength to talk or stand, one of them managed to say that they had food poisoning. On being requested for help, the men running the hostel conveniently pushed the responsibility of nursing the girls on us. Since 2 of them were burning with high fever, we rushed them to the hospital (supposedly the best in town) for medication. On arrival, the hospital authorities refused to provide first aid without submitting their passport and paying an advance of Rs.30000. Forget being able to talk, these girls barely had any conscious to tell us where they had kept their belongings. And we ourselves being strangers in the place, it wasn’t going to be easy helping those girls. It was well past 12.00.a.m. while we were running around the dark, rainy streets of Varanasi for the required documentations so that the girls could get their first aid ASAP. With the physical condition they were in, with a no-electricity night, cocky/horny street hawkers who were hovering around and adamant auto-rickshaw drivers trying to make quick bucks out of the helpless situation, it would have been rather impossible for the expats hadn’t they found us! While the attitude of the guys running the hostel, the hospital and one of the girls among the patients itself is a story to write about, this whole episode taught me one thing- The importance of having company while travelling or at least having an acquaintance in the place one wishes to travel.

3. Serving food is divine, do it from your heart: There are eateries in every nook and corner of Varanasi that serve authentic cuisines from almost all parts of the world to cater to the international tourists who throng in large numbers. Any food that is offered with a true heart gets its added flavours… We had found our favourite hangout at the Phulwari restaurant, conveniently sharing the premises of the Godowlia Kaali mata temple. With a traditional ornate welcome gate opening into a casual shack like place with basic cushions and bamboo chairs and a mud-smeared kiln for making their wood fried pizzas, it offered a very warm ambience. And having personal attention from the waiter was overwhelming. He made sure we got precisely what we wanted while we were confused running through the long menu. He even went to the extent of getting some herbal drink from the next street to help me with my headache. He offered us with the best thandai of Varanasi, chilled to perfection and served in clay bowls to retain its authentic flavour; delivered at our hostel on the last day of our visit! There is so much more about providing customer service and hospitality- this man was at his best!

4. Do not question the untold: The Ganges is a powerhouse of inspiration. She’s holy, pure, sacred and selfless. While we took a ride along the shores of the holy river, the veteran boat man patiently answered all our questions about the holy city. While umpteen things can be discussed in lines of communalism, history and science, Not to be debated about: the Ganga at Banaras is a lifeline. It’s a way of life. Irrespective of religion, caste and creed, faith is the only thing that has kept the people going here… Every baby born in this land imbibes it in the genes… It’s at times important to understand the significance and let things be. Do not be overwhelmed to exhibit your education by venturing into a zone to only be littled by the magnificence of the faith.

5. There is no escape from the cycle of life and death: While we were sitting on the steps of the Manikarnika Ghat and watching the flames engulf the body of the deceased on the banks of the holy river, a volunteer sat next to us to proffer his knowledge about the significance of every ritual in Hinduism starting from the birth of a person until he bites the dust. He goes on to explain why Hindu culture does not encourage women from performing the last rites. Women being emotionally weak, tend to cry at funerals. This makes it difficult for the soul to break the attachment and leave the body. With soot from the fumes rising from the burning ghat settling all over us, it was a good long 2 hours of narration of the rituals associated with life and afterwards. At the end of which, I was left wondering with a continuously running stream of questions about life and finding its worth. They were thousands of unanswered questions which I hope to go back to the ghats someday, to find all my answers!

My hotel nightmares in India.

The long list of places I’ve travelled to and stayed at have given me a new insight to life and a new outlook at seeing life through.. The journeys have been enriching and the stays have added a new dimension to the travel. From five-star luxury to shoe-string budget hostels- I’ve stayed there all. While the pleasant ones were many, there is its own share of hopelessly aweful places. So here are a few ghastly and horrendous stays I have opted for during the course of my Indian discovery.

1. It being a pleasant season in the holy town of Rameshwaram, we had checked into a decent non-AC lodge at noon. After freshening up, we went out for sightseeing and returned to our room post dinner. We unpacked all our girly goods and let most of our wet lingerie strewn out for drying. It was around mid-night and I was just about to fall asleep and my friend Madhu screamed out loud. HECK! I jumped out asking what had happened. She switched the light on and started to pick up 1,2,3.. Bedbugs! She was allergic to them and the rashes had spread across her body. We spoke to the hotel manager and he arranged for an alternate room which he claimed would be good due to A/C facility. While we moved in our luggage and shut the doors, my friend lifted the bed to just reconfirm that everything was alright. Alas! More bedbugs were partying around the hemline.. We ran to the reception and asked them to give a permanent solution. They somehow managed to arrange a room in a nearby hotel after having themselves confirmed the room quality. So the next thing we were found doing was- Two girls walking the empty streets of Rameshwaram at well past midnight with half zipped backpacks, untied shoes in our feet, wet lingerie hanging out of the luggage, random plastic bags on both hands and anxious faces searching for a place to spend the night.. It was almost dawn by the time we settled down in the alternate accommodation provided.

2. We can’t blame anyone for this one- there was nothing else for us to expect while being stranded in the middle of a winter trek and the night temperature at 25 below zero!! We were at Leh town in Ladakh. No plumbing would work in that part of the world in that season for obvious reasons. We found ourselves in a homestay where we had to fetch water to do our daily chores. We had to break through the frozen layer of ice just so, that we could get half a bucket of hot (warm) water from the bottom of the same drum placed on fire. The bathroom waste was collected in containers which would overflow now and then making us want to throw-up very often.

3. The overly broken plumbing of the Chidambaram lodge is something that tops the list. It was a place that changed my mind to cutting-short my week long trip on just the 2nd day and making me want to go back home ASAP.. As if the stench from the nearby gutter, the smell of alcohol from the adjacent rooms and the super dirty bed covers weren’t enough, the washroom was moss covered and the faucet rusted as if it would break if operated… And to top it all, We stepped on someone’s barf that was spewed up on the stairs.. YUCK!! This has really given me strong reasons to have apprehensions towards online hotel booking based on guest reviews..

4. This one was a highly recommended budget stay option at Panchgani. It used to be a school hostel until being converted to a hotel which has hosted several movie shoots in the past. After hearing positive reviews, we two girls were surprised to find that the property seemed rather deserted when we arrived there. We were the only guests and that too on a weekend.. Although the room seemed decent for the tariff quoted, we still had some apprehensions for being the only people and our safety.. Just when we were in the process of decision making, both our eyes were caught by some strange thing just a little outside our hostel room.. Some white fur like stuff hung out of a large boiler sort of an equipment. We kind of panicked and asked the warden what that was. He told us it was a water boiler and the hard water had deposited along with some insulating material on the top. It definitely looked strange and scary. We did feel that it was a dog inside the boiler and it was their long furry tail hanging out of the barrel.. If it was our imagination, it is so not possible that both of us had the same thought.. We stared at each other and rushed out of the place without any further discussion..

5. So after a nightmare-ish pursuit of an accommodation, we finally checked into a hotel that evening at Panchgani. Everything was fine until my friend came out running from the bathroom. When asked what happened, she anxiously pointed out at the bucket placed under a running tap with a blood red liquid! The bucket was half full already with what seemed like blood.. I ran down to the reception and they came upstairs to check for facts from our bathroom :p They realized that it was rust particles from the overhead metal tank and pipes due to hardwater being constantly heated. We were somehow convinced with the explanation given, but I had no courage to continue to bathe in that water. However, to our rescue the water from other taps seemed to have a normal colour and we completed our basic chores…!!

Summary:

Do not suggest hotels, places and dishes/food to anybody. The choices and preferences vary from each person based on their character, mood, budget etc. Avoid being blamed later!

Dos & Don’ts for a Monsoon Trek

I’m just back from the monsoon trek to “The DudhSagar” falls… Well this one is which I had circulated just before the start of the trek- but did not find time to update in between all the excitement…

Since, I’m back now with more excitement than what I had left, some more updates to the list circulated before the start of the trek..!!

Do’s:

  • Shoes or floaters: Remember it is a monsoon trek in the Western Ghats.. So you might as well not end up spending 2 days with your feet soaking in wet shoes or walking bare feet and wind up with painful cramps.. None of us are going to carry you for the rest of the walk anyway, we will already be burdened with sufficient baggages to carry. So choose your footwear wisely or else, be prepared to be stranded along the railway tracks
  • Carry your own torches- else find your own way out of the numerous tunnels that we are going to encounter
  • Carry your own towels- Phuleeezz… no compromise and sharing on this one- come what may!!
  • Carry sufficient food for 2 days. Though this one is not a mandate! For all the meat eating fellas: you have ample number of leeches to binge on and a golden opportunity to taste a wide range of human blood. For those of you who are vegans: worry not, there will be twigs, barks and leaves all around us.
  • Own water bottles- or else we’ll push you into the mighty “Sea of milk” – the picture that you have been admiring with your jaws dropped everytime it is circulated.
  • Optional: raincoats / umbrellas or get wet in the rain totally- for you will not get such a pure rain water back home in the metropolis

Don’ts:

Dare not to forget the above..!!

Now the updated version:

  • In addition to the above points: Please carry extra cash- lest be mobbed by the railway police who will catch you and try to buckle you up in the name of causing public nuisance just for keeping the light on for extra few minutes..!!
  • Dare not to talk back to the police even though you are blamed for no fault of yours..!! You will have to spend the night at the police station instead of the train..
  • Carry tents to stay- don’t go just by a word of mouth, be prepared for the worse- You might have to get drenched in the pouring rain the whole night if someone had told you about a shelter.