Tag Archives: Solo travel

The Mountains beckon in the Apple valley of India- Kinnaur

I wasn’t sure if solo-traveling would be safe in Chhattisgarh, the campsite wasn’t ready yet for a Gujarat trip, Rajasthan had the election around the corner albeit having the perfect weather, the public transportation system wasn’t convenient in Arunachal, Uttarakhand had unpredictable weather of late, Jammu was done just last year, Dharamshala stretch would be too mainstream, Lakshadweep was too short a trip for the time I had. Maybe I should just settle down with the Sahyadris in Maharashtra or sign up for a fortnight long yoga session at Rishikesh or a Yakshagana course at Mangalore perhaps! I had tele-travelled almost the whole of India to decide where I wanted to go. And then, this happened! Just 4 days before departure, the mountains beckoned and I had finally decided to visit the Kinnaur valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Nothing was clear to me apart from the to & fro flights to Delhi. People around me were busy and my vacations couldn’t wait, lest they be lapsed without pay or without use. Although not very keen on solo travelling, I think that’s how life threw itself upon me when I longed to go to the mountains! The mountains have always been kind to me and have had me meeting them regularly over the last 4 years. I don’t know the reason for this special bond I share with the mountains. May be because I come from a nature worshipping community, that my connection with them is so instant and strong. The mountains had me amidst them yet again. From being a shy kid at ice breaking in public gatherings to having done a complete solo backpacking in an off-season, to meeting and hanging out with strangers and making new friends from travels, my journeys have brought me a long way! The mountains have been kind and have protected me all the way…

Given that I would be alone and I get muscle cramps when the temperature drops, the one thing I had to make sure while planning my trip was to not push myself too hard to see too many places or do anything that could drain me out. Hence, I decided to do it one place at a time, plan my next destination only after reaching a place and move only when I felt like I had sunk in well in the current place. So that said and Kinnaur had me there! After I had reached Himachal, there was absolutely no fear of being a solo-women traveller and no worries over safety concerns at any point of time. The people were amazing who derive their strength from their deep values… From being stopped by random locals on the road and being offered the juiciest apples from the valley to eating local food and getting invited to houses for coffees, from befriending the locals and then to being invited to attend a traditional Kinnauri wedding, from waiting for the day’s only public bus or hitch a ride to having stuck in a place for 3 days without any electricity or transportation due to snowfall, from meditating in the millennium old monastery to confronting a mummified Llama in the mountains, from driving past a valley of green-rock-and-sand onward to having returned through the same valley painted white in snow, from being seen-off by a close friend at the trip start to I seeing-off a stranger at the end of the trip: Whoa! What a journey it was!

So, the route taken by me was: Delhi-Kalka-Shimla- Sangla-Rakchim-Chitkul-Sangla- Reckong Peo-Kalpa- Nako- Geu- Tabo- Rampur- Sarahan- Shimla- Delhi. Some of the key destinations enroute and things I did were:

• The trip started with the ‘Himalayan queen’ train from Delhi and then I connected to the mountain railways from Kalka to Shimla, a part of the UNESCO World heritage. Stopping at several stations enroute, a ride in the loco thugging along the narrow-gauge through in-numerous tunnels and winding pathways in between the green pine laden cliffs and verdant hills was worth an experience.

• The hustle of the desi music blasting at full volume had filled the atmosphere as the HPSRTC bus I boarded at Shimla cruised through thickets of sweet smelling Juniper and deodar. A solo snow laden peak emerged from amidst the green mountains. Call it layers of dew laden and mist covered hills, they sparkled as the sun’s early rays found their way forming several vibrant spectrums as the morning ride gave me the first glimpse of a horizon that had a never-ending line of snow-capped mountains.

• When the bus alighted at Sangla after making its way through steep gradient, blind corners and breath-takingly scary heights of the snaking roads, the sun was calling it a day. It had cast a golden red glow to the entire range of Kinnaur Kailash mountains. I couldn’t have asked for more as I stood there to be welcomed by this magnificent view right in front of the bus stand. The hike up the Kamru fort to catch the golden peaks up close was a cherry on the icing.

• The next day was an exhilarating bus ride through the Sangla valley, overlooked by the Kailash mountains on one side and the beloved untamed Baspa river flowing below. The ride was adventurous with waterfall and river crossing, cliff-hangers, landslides and occasional sightings of mountain goats or yaks. Quick stop-over at Batseri village painted in shades of crimson, chrome to ochre with the trees of apples, apricots and walnuts was a feast to the eyes. A walk down to the river at Rackcham helped me to connect with the Kinnauris with very warm conversations. They offered me a ride through apple orchards and buck wheat farms before meeting the sole Indian tricolour waving at Chitkul, a village bordering China & Tibet.

• The following morning, I started early to Kalpa- a quaint tiny village with old traditional houses amid the Kinnaur apple farms. A solo hike through the suicidal roads to Roughi village turned out to be special when a random dog decided to accompany me all the way. Again, the setting crimson sun cast its magical spell over the manifestations of Shiva and Parvathi seated conveniently in the Kinnaur Kailash mountains overlooking the village. With the chants from the Buddhist monastery next door and swaying prayer flags as I looked out of my window the next morning, I couldn’t ask for a better start for my day.

• That day, I did a bit of shopping and grooving to traditional Kinnauri music with the locals at Reckong Peo, the ‘Gateway to Kinnaur valley’. It was the annual fair where people from all over the state had congregated to buy and sell local Agri-products and handicrafts apart from sipping the local apple brew. Packets of pine-nuts, dried apples and apricots along with the traditional Kinnauri hats were perfect souvenirs to take back before boarding the bus to my next destination.

• This road is when the landscape starts to surprise you. The green canopies make way to steep rocky cliff-hangers. The on-going construction of the Karcham Wangtoo dam only warns you to be aware of shooting stones where landslides are as common as confronting vehicles from the opposite direction on the single-track road. And then, the Rocky mountains disappears suddenly making way for barren landscapes with sand and loose rock laden cliffs. The blue Sutlej river snaked between the valley and the view of the treacherous roads winding around the steep gradient hills was indeed a sight to behold! It was pitch dark and biting cold when I alighted at Nako, to check into a homestay under the clearest star-studded night’s sky.

• Although the weather had gotten more colder, it was one of the finest mornings so far. A walk around the village of Nako, with mud-smeared walls of houses built of wood and clay is one of the highlights of my entire trip. While strolling through those narrow walkways of the village, I felt as if I was exploring a maze. With the early morning vibes of a typical village with cattle roaming around, children walking down to schools, chants and incense from the ancient monastery rising in the dew laden air, it was an altogether different world there. The view of the distant snow-capped mountains and the barren winding landscape around had me spellbound for the rest of the day.

• Next destination was Geu, a village that can be reached only if luck be by one’s side. Having no direct connectivity through public transportation, I waited on the highway hoping to hitch a ride to a place that is often cut-off due to landslides. It was wedding bells chiming in this tiny hamlet that day… I was fortunate, to say the least! A large family heading towards Geu not only obliged to offer me a ride in the trailer of their crowded goods carrier, they also invited me to be part of the celebrations. From being treated with the finest Kinnauri delicacies to dancing with the baraathies in a traditional mountain wedding, I could not ask for more. It was an all day and all night affair!

• I woke up in the biting cold next morning to hike up the hill and pay a visit to the mummy of a Buddhist monk, believed to be over a 500yrs old. Strangely, it has been there in open atmosphere without any chemicals and among the only few mummies available in India. Quick breakfast at the wedding house and I was good to head out by hitching another ride until Hurling.

• The weather had gotten worse that day with a forecast of precipitation by day end. As I waited at Hurling for my next ride, the guy making rotis at a hotel offered me a cup of free chai and got me a free drive with his customer to my next destination. With a loaded car and a person with a broken leg hanging out of the rear seat, the people who agreed to drop me were more than sweet to accommodate me in the front seat and they carry my backpack on their lap all the way in the rear seat.

• So then… Tabo happened! This was the place I had been looking forward to all the way. Considered to be one of the holiest places for the Tibetan Buddhists, I sunk into meditation mode for good few hours with the soothing fragrance of the Juniper interiors of this millennium old monastery constructed out of clay. It was BLISS and I can’t explain it further. The millennium old paintings all over its inner walls and roofs, the golden manuscripts were something incredible. Since artificial light sources are believed to damage the organic colours, I eagerly waited for specific time of the day for the sun to light up specific rooms to see this wonder. It is called the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’ for a reason, you see!

• The morning when I woke up, the mountains had moved closer to me with a heavy overnight snowfall. This was a sight to which the heart of a snow-deprived-south-Indian-city girl in me had skipped a beat. I had to extend my stay at this monastery due to heavy snowfall for next 2 days and with no electricity, phone connectivity and no plumbing that worked whatsoever, it was ‘THE” time! Amid all this, I had the rare opportunity to relish the Tabo apples (one of the best in the world) every day of what was being offered to the deity at the monastery.

• Finally, after getting my drive back to Shimla- I had plans to stop by at Rampur Bussahr to see the erstwhile palace and stay at Sarahan, one of the Shakthi peethas in the foothills of the Himalayas. But, the mountains had an altogether different itinerary for me for the last 3 days! So, thus was my sojourn in the Himalayas, the mighty incredible Himalayas!

Since Rohtang pass had closed by end of monsoon, I did only Kinnaur and half Spiti and returned the same way back (Although a little hectic with 3 days required only for travel, on the same route). If you are traveling in the summers, then you can start from Shimla and complete Spiti & Lahaul via Kaza and exit from Manali, thereby not repeating your route.

Summary: With the changing landscape throwing surprises at the wink of an eye, each mile was magic. The valleys were overwhelmingly beautiful! When the mountains beckon, just pack your junk and head out! The destination doesn’t count, the journey is worthwhile!

This article is featured in Deccan Herald’s Travel supplement: ‘DH Travel’ on 25-May-2019

Traveling the Toyota Way- 4 things I learnt

Toyota is a brand that the world recognizes for high quality standards. The Toyota Way of doing things is something that the rest of the world still fails to match. These 7+ years of my incredible journey with Toyota may have helped me grow personally and professionally, but here are four key things that I always associate my travel sojourns with.

4. Nemawashi: is the process of discussing problems and consensus building on potential solutions. This will allow to collect ideas of those involved in the event and get agreement on a way forward. I don’t mean that you need to get consensus from many people on your travel plan, but what I mean to say is- Discuss, Talk more to real people! Instead of depending on internet for information(Which are many a times paid articles for promotions), Talk to different people. While you are planning- talk to people who have been there before and take their experience based opinions; while you are on the road- talk to the localites and take their suggestions. You will eventually end up doing, eating, exploring something new and that’s unknown to most people. This way, you can create your own experience based stories.

3. Yokoten: This is something I have been hearing day-in and day-out. Toyota believes in documentation and standardisation of best practices so that these can be used as references by others. Yokoten means to copy/implement good practices from one process to all other similar processes. Also, I guess talking to other travelers let’s you pick and decide what’s good and bad for you during your travel. So I guess, that’s what I have been doing through documentation of my travel stories in my blogs.

2. KeshiGomi: It literally translates to ‘Eraser’ in Japanese. But what they use this for is quite relatable for a traveler. Japanese are strong followers of the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) in all things that they do. As an important part of their planning, they always make a ‘KeshiGomi sheet’ which is a simple ‘things-to-do list’. Keshi here refers to striking off the activity after it is completed for better visualization of activity status. So, how is this related to a traveler, you may ask??? So that’s where I call it a ‘Bucket List’. Its always good to have a bucket list of places you want to see and things you want to do. Whether it is accomplished or not comes second, but it is a great motivation to chase those things!

1. GenchiGembutsu: Literally translates to ‘Go & see’. One of the most important rules that the Japanese follow is to go to the place and understand the case by self rather than depending on facts narrated by others. The facts may be moderated or altered when it is passed from one person to another and is usually based on somebody else’s perception. So stop imagining about how a place could look and get your bums out of that couch, go travel and experience it all firsthand!

Do you have any such weird places from where you derive inspirations? Let me know through the comments below.

A walk in God’s own garden- Mawlynnong

Gandhiji once said, “The Soul of India is in its villages”. Sometimes, It is not about the place.. It is about the people that brings you closer.. And that’s precisely my take on this little quaint village called Mawlynnong.. After a refreshing drive through some breathtaking views and best roads of India, we had alighted at ‘God’s Own garden’ nestled deep in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Although it is being largely promoted by the Meghalaya Tourism Department(MTD) as Asia’s cleanest village after being awarded so by the ‘Discover India Magazine’ in 2003, I feel it holds a different charm in it with the warmest people I have met so far!

Tourists flock to this place in large numbers just because they have heard about it in MTD handouts. These senseless creatures litter the place extensively with chocolate wrappers, chips sachets etc. all strewn around this supposedly cleanest village they have come to see.. But, the humble villagers watch on with a smile and pick up these wastes themselves and put them in the cane trash bins places visibly infront of every household in the village, thus keeping up to its reputation of being clean!

I walked around the laid back lanes of the village in exploring the old church, the floating stone and the water shed maintained by the villagers. The flowers lining the fences of each household added myriad hues to the green village and grey of the cloudy sky.. I climbed up the skywalk laid up with bamboo and cane that threw up a nice view overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.

Finally, I settled down at a locally run restaurant for a cup of chai to beat the chills of the cloudy weather. I caught up on a conversation with a pretty Khasi lady draped in her Asiangyake (the traditional dress of the Khasi women also called Dhara). While she helped me to memorise a few words in her dialect, I learnt about the Khasi culture and customs. Being a matrilineal society, women are respected and are given the preference to choose her husband-to-be. It is considered a bad omen, if a man proposes to a woman. While she was attending to other customers at the restaurant, I called out for ‘Oikong’ (Khasi alternative for addressing ‘Didi’ in other parts of northern India) to help me with some Soh (Khasi for fruit). “Ohhhh” A voice filled with humility came in response… She then sat down with me and prepared a plate of pineapple seasoned with flakes of the ‘Bhut Jholokias’ and salt. It was one of the best snack I had in years!

I then walked down to the playground where the kids were playing. They seemed excited to meet me, talk in English and pose for a few candid photos. It was a warm and a very pleasant evening for me… There is nothing in particular in this village to see or do.. Yet, the nomad in me strongly intended to stay there for an extra day. There are homestays that are available where the warmth of the Khasi hospitality can be experienced.

I would recommend an early morning walk to Riwai village that helps you avoid the chaotic tourists who flock in later during the day. At a distance of about 1km before Mawlynnong, is the most easily accessible living root bridge and hence, a lot of visitors throng down. So after a nice walk, savouring a nice Khasi breakfast and lemon tea, it was time to pack bags to head out to my next destination- Dawki: the last village of Meghalaya on the Indian border!

Request to tourists:
Please remember that the sole reason that you are at Mawlynnong is to see how ‘Asia’s cleanest village’ looks like. How on earth will you ever feel like littering such a place? Do you want to see if you can take off the ‘Cleanest’ tag from the place? Or do you want to just prove that you are only an uncultured educated rich person who could afford enough money to tour the North-east India? Ask yourself… Be sensible and responsible!

The Malaysian Bucket List

The Malaysian travel has been in my mind for quite some time now, However it is not materialising, all thanks to the lack of the right organiser… While most of my friends and acquaintances have visited this small yet beautiful country, I’m not quite convinced with the places they have visited in their bland agent made itinerary covering the usual and the expected spots of Malaysia. Come on..!! This place has LOT MORE to offer.. lot more to explore.. So here goes the top 5 must do things I choose which wants me to go there…

1. A day out exploring the rainforests of Sabah with the endangered Orangutans at the Sepilok Sanctuary: – The orangutans are the two exclusively Asian species of extant great apes. These primates are only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

2. Cave exploring at the Mulu Caves National Park: This place is home to world’s largest cave chamber and one of the longest networks of caves in the world which is capable of accommodating forty Boeing 747 airplanes. The world’s longest canopy walk and seeing the cave swiftlets swarming out into the jungle in great clouds every evening would surely be an experience of a lifetime.

3. Scuba diving the World war II shipwreck sites at Pulau Redang Island: This place is home to about 31 finest dive sites including 2 ship wreck sites and a black coral garden..

4. Waving a ‘Hai’ to the toothless 130-year-old croc at the Teluk Sengat Crocodile farm: This place is a home to over 1000 salt water crocodiles and a nice place to study the habitat of these reptiles.

5. The colourful Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon fiesta: Over 21 countries participating in this event makes it even more special and the name hot air balloon itself gives me goosebumps in excitement….

So now, for the adventure traveller… go there and explore… there is much more that this little island country has to offer.. I choose to re-quote from the contest website: Celebrate, Explore, get Inspired and Escape into a Truly Asian Paradise! 

Malaysia Tourism
Malaysia Tourism

I am participating in the MalaysiaJao Blogathon Contest in association with BlogAdda.com.

An easy guide to the Andamans..

This should be an easy guide to anyone who wants to visit the Andamans.. I would say: please don’t plan your trip if it is not atleast a week’s holiday you are aiming at..

Day1:

10.20.a.m- Depart from Chennai; 12.45.p.m- Check-in @ Port Blair

2.45.p.m- Quick walk through the Science Centre and proceed to Corbyn’s Cove beach

4.00.p.m- Leave for the Cellular jail. Walk around the historic memorial of brave martyrs- the backbone for Indian freedom movement

6.00.p.m- Sound & music show at the Cellular jail

07.30.p.m – A brisk walk through the Gandhi park

08.00.p.m- Water scooter ride @ Rajiv Gandhi sports complex, a speedy walk through the Traffic police park in the same premises

Day 2:

8.30.a.m- Board the ferry @Rajiv Gandhi sports complex jetty for 3 island tour with a seven harbour view

10.30.a.m- Alight for delight @ Ross island– the place of erstwhile British settlement which is now a live museum.

11.30.a.m- Off to Viper island with the gallows of imprisonment established before the cellular jail.

12.30.p.m- Arrive at North Bay island– go snorkelling, walk upto the light house and go SEA WALKING..!!

05.00.p.m- Reach Port Blair

06.00.p.m- Freshen up and leave for shopping at Aberdeen bazaar– the local market.

 Day 3:

08.30.a.m- Arrive at Phoenix bay jetty

09.00.a.m- Aboard Makruzz(a Catamaran) to Havelock islands

11.00.a.m- Off to Radhanagar beach– Asia’s no.7 best beach.

12.00.p.m- Catch the ferry to Elephanta beach: one of the best dive sites in Andamans and home to world’s only snorkeling elephant- Rajan 🙂

02.00.p.m- Begin the explorations deep in the beds of the sea- SCUBA DIVING

04.00.p.m- Onboard Baratang- the government ferry from Havelock

Day 4:

07.30.a.m- Leave the confines of our nest for the day’s work- We’ve got lots to explore

09.00.a.m- Registration for the convoy at the forest checkpost. This is a must for anyone travelling on the Grand Trunk road through the Jarawa tribal reserve. Jarawas are one of the aboriginal tribal group out of the 6 tribes inhabiting in the island groups.

11.30.a.m- Aboard the govt. ferry at Middle Strait

11.45.a.m- Alight at Baratang island

12.00.p.m- Cruising on a motor boat through one of the best mangrove creeks I have ever been to.

12.30.p.m- End of the jungle trek- reaching the destiny. One of the 46 limestone caves in the Islands. A spellbinding experience..!!

1.00.p.m- An 8kms flight(read it jeep ride) to see the mud volcano

02.00.p.m- Back at Baratang jetty, ferry ride back to Middle strait.

06.00.p.m- Walk around Port Blair.

Day 5: 

07.30.a.m- Sippighat horticultural farm visit.

08.00.am.- A quick turn-up at Wandoor beach

08.30.a.m- Walk around the Mahatma Gandhi museum

09.00.a.m- Off for a ride- An un-expressible journey to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park

11.00.a.m.- Glass bottom boat ride, sun-bathing & SNORKELING  in the crystal clear waters of Jolly Buoy island

01.00.p.m- A spicy walk through the Mongluton rubber & spices plantation. ‘Coconut Malai Sharbat’ is a must try drink there.

03.30.p.m- A super drive through a very different part of the Andamans- took us to ChidiyaTapu. We were the last people for the day to get entry into the mini zoo there.

04.00.p.m- I’m on one of the best beaches hitherto- backwaters of the tsunami affected area.. We did not even realise that we had walked over a kilometer deep into the sea- and the water level had not risen beyond our ankles.

04.30.p.m- Exploring the Chidiyatapu hills. An AMAZING place for the landscape photographers

05.00.p.m.- Sunset point – by far the BEST sunset I have witnessed on a seashore.

06.30.p.m- We are at Sagarika– the govt. emporium for shopping for souvenirs

Day 6:

09.00.a.m- Chawtham island– Asia’s biggest timber saw mill and forest museum

10.15.a.m- Samudrika– A museum maintained by the Indian Navy

11.00.a.m- Anthropological museum visit

12.00.p.m- Check out and arrive at Veer Savarkar airport.

Andamans from the air
Andamans from the air

This is the maximum number of places anyone could squeeze into the list for a Sunday to Sunday trip.. The islands has so much to explore that only a month long vacation can do justice 🙂 I’d suggest you take a 2hr motor boat ride from Havelock to South button island- the smallest national park in India for scuba diving known for its shallow waters Tropical coral reefs. You could add Mt. Harriet, Niel island, Cinque island, Barren island, Diglipur, Mayabunder, Rangat, Ross & smith island, Saddle peak etc. among the important places of Andamans. However, a trip to Nicobar islands has to be planned separately as it is special in its own way..

Words of caution:
1. Please adhere to your time schedule strictly because every ferry ride, every museum, every zoo runs/remains open only on a specified time frame. 
2. The city remains awake only between 8.00.a.m and 08.00.p.m. Plan your entertainment well to keep yourself occupied.
3. If you are planning to eat out or take a coffee walk, it has to be before 7.00.p.m. All shops shut down after that.

Fear of Travel.. It is in your Mindset..!!

Agoraphobia is considered the most incapacitating of anxiety disorders. To be more precise- The fear of travelling ALONE.. It is all in your mindset.. What do you think will happen to you if you go out alone? You will die of a road accident or a plane crash..? A bunch of trouble makers will harm you..? A group of bad men will molest you..?

People… Get a life.!!  You need to just come out of your frame of mind.. Harm can be caused to you anytime. What will you do if the ground beneath your house sunk in.? What would you do if a bunch of people barged into your home with clubs and hoses ? Your trusted neighbor of several years might knock at your door for all wrong reasons one day.. Or what if your best friend / family member is battling for life in a distant place.. Will you still step back to remain in the safe confines of your home?

You ain’t doing anything worthwhile with your life if you hesitate to travel. Just step out and explore.. It is just a state of mind you want to leave unchanged.. Rather, think of adventures.. Such incidents may happen; but how you fight it out, what experience you gain out of it is more important. You can have so many stories to tell to your grandchildren when they grow up.. You should at least travel just to know how a car runs on gasoline, how a pull cart is fueled by the mechanical energy of a living being, how a train moves without tyres.. How will you measure the expanse of the sea.. How will you feel the snow on your hand..? You will never know the simple things of everyday life until and unless you travel.. And not always you will find a partner to travel.. At times you will find inner peace only by travelling alone.. It will help you to know yourself better, you will understand what your likes and dislikes are.. You will feel free without having to adjust to somebody else’s way of doing things.. So just get ready, pull up your socks, jump in and have a NICE trip ahead.. 🙂

Use these simple tips when you travel(alone or as a group):

* Use the public transport as much as possible- This is lighter on your pockets and there is a floating population which is much safer than hiring a private taxi.
* Interact with the locals- it helps you to build your social network, learn about the culture, history etc.
* Carry a pepper spray in your bag- it will come in handy at some point of time.
* Always carry a candy/chocolate in your bag. It will help you to regain your strength when your blood sugar level drops and you get semi-conscious. Low-sugar can happen to any normal person at any time.  
*  Learn 1 or 2 kicks and punches for self defense- it will come along a great way..!! 

And this last paragraph goes to all those IDIOTS who poke their stinky dirty leaky noses in my travel affairs.. Ask me of what is the pleasure of traveling ? I first traveled alone when I was  10 .. A distance of 240 kms by a KSRTC bus.. But of course, for several reasons, day travel it was.. My parents and friends are confident about me finding my way out of anywhere in this whole wide world.. What’s the problem with the rest of you to let me go..??  YOU are hesitant, YOU are scared, YOU get petrified, YOU are a loser, NOT ME..!! Let me go..!!