This is the 4th post of my Travel Secrets series. It is a common assumption that someone who travels as much and as often as I do, is a backpacker. And that as per the conventional definition of a backpacker, I carry only a backpack when I travel, I get by with the lowest possible budget, I stay in hostels, I spend a large amount of my time interacting with fellow backpackers, and I swear by a guidebook (most likely the lonely planet). While I have nothing against such a style of travelling, and in fact have a certain sense of admiration for people who travel that way, I have a confession to make: I’m not a backpacker.
In the wee hours of the morning, I manoeuvre my way through the cobbled streets and ancient stonewalls of Safranbolu, a small town in the western Karadeniz region of Turkey. I had been reluctant to leave Istanbul, probably the first big city I’ve fallen so in love with, but as I step back in time into a 300 year old Ottoman house perched on a slope, I’m glad I came! Genghis, my host, greets me with a warm smile and bits of English, and shows me to my quaint room in the part of the house now converted into a pansiyon (pension aka guest house).
Since I moved back to India exactly 11 months ago, a lot has changed in the way I travel. Shoestring budgets no longer decide where I choose to stay, unlike in my student days, and reviews of other people no longer heavily influence my choice of accommodation, unlike in my corporate days. In the last 11 months, I have learnt to swim to the depths of google and take leaps of faith with accommodation options that have struck a chord, review or no review, cheapest option or not. For the most part, I have been pleasantly surprised, sometimes even overwhelmed, with the discoveries of home stays, farm huts and forest camps that are littered in secluded places throughout India, and India Untravelled was born out of these discoveries. My choices have facilitated interaction with native families and communities, helped me travel a bit more responsibly, and let me live like the locals of a place, even if for just a few days.
Dear Turkey, I am at your Ataturk International Airport as I write this, waiting to board my Turkish Airlines flight back to India. You have welcomed me with arms wide open, charmed me with your beauty, and overwhelmed me with the kindness of your people. In the last 20 days, I have picked up pieces of your language, learned to maneuver your territory, indulged my taste buds in your food, and in a moment I didn’t anticipate, I have come to know you as my home in another part of the world. I quickly built my first impressions of you when I got here, and if there is one thing I would change of them, it is that you are more beautiful and your people more hospitable than I could have imagined.
It’s the winter of 2010, and I’m embarking on my most adventurous journey to date, in Northwest Vietnam. Only I don’t know it yet. After failing to beat the crowds in the Mekong Delta, we have pledged not to take the ‘touristy’ circuit again. Instead of taking the train from Hanoi to Sapa (a popular hill station), we’ve set out along the Northwestern hinterlands of Vietnam, and our conviction to make it to Sapa on land via this route rests on the blog of one guy who said the journey is possible. There is no more information to be found online; no bus timings, no trains, no places to stay, not even the names of the smaller towns & villages we may pass by. This is the story of one such village.
If you’ve ever fantasized about living in a remote village in the high Himalayas, experiencing the colonial charm of a hill station minus the tourists, savoring the country hospitality of India’s most hospitable culture, waking up to birds chirping on a farm, or finding the beauty of Europe’s alpine countryside in India, this post is for you.
We Indians are notorious when it comes to packing for a vacation. I remember all the family holidays that started with dragging heavy suitcases out of the house, bargaining with porters at the railway station, asking burly men for a hand to get the luggage up the luggage shelf of the train, and keeping track of all our many belongings. It didn’t matter whether the vacation lasted a weekend or a week; my mom had to pack what she had to pack. I’m glad I didn’t inherit her packing skills… [Read more on Women’s Web] This article was originally published on Women’s Web. Photo credit: Jhong Dizon.
Lately, I’ve been surprised with an inflow of emails & tweets applauding my love for travel. (Thank you for that.) These notes almost always end with a ‘someday,’ in that, someday, you too want to see the world. To everyone with this ‘someday’ in their dictionary, I say, all you need to travel is a backpack & a heart for adventure.
I wrote this travelogue for exclusive publication on Clay, Club Mahindra’s travel portal. As I walk along the green fields of Pin, I smile in delight at the pink, purple and yellow flowers in bloom; I haven’t seen greenery for the last 3 days in the mountain desert terrain of Spiti.
This is The Shooting Star’s first ever guest post. Adnan Bashir, a traveler from Pakistan, who goes by the pen name Delirium, explores one of the most fascinating peaks on the other side of the Himalayas, the Nanga Parbat aka the Killer Mountain.