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Posts from the ‘Offbeat’ Category

My 14 “Incredible India” Moments in 2014!

As I swayed on my hammock, hearing the gentle waves of the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica, India seemed pretty far away. But I only had to traverse the crevices of my mind, to recall the solitude of the Himalayas, the serenity of the backwaters and my serendipitous encounters over the past year.

If 2013 was the year I madly fell in love with the beauty of India (Read: My 13 Incredible India Moments in 2013), 2014 is the year that I discovered its soul, and in it, got a peek into my own:

1) Hiking from Darjeeling to Sikkim

Darjeeling to Sikkim hike, Darjeeling tea estates, Tathagata farm

Hiking along the tea estates of Darjeeling.

I’m not much of a hiker, but when I heard that the tea farmers of Darjeeling often hike to the first village of Sikkim to drink cheap beer, I had to do it for myself. Together with a friend and a local guide, we hiked past sprawling tea estates, dense forests, sleepy mountain settlements and barefoot across the Rangeet River, crossing a rickety suspension bridge into Sikkim. Sampling the delicious local Hit Beer, and devouring handmade momos were a treat at the end of a 5 hour trek.

See: In Photos: Hiking from Darjeeling to Sikkim

2) Kayaking in the rains: Goa

Goa kayaking, Goa offbeat, Cancio house goa

Goa rains are love.

This year, I found out that you haven’t truly experienced monsoon in Goa until you’ve kayaked on its backwaters – in the pouring rain! I rowed along the riverine wilderness of Aldona, maneuvering through mangroves, spotting peacocks and kingfishers, ducking under bridges, and into the sunset when the backwaters joined the river. What an experience!

Read: Offbeat Goa: 12 Mind-Blowing Experiences 

3) Inspiration in the Trans Himalayas: Ladakh

Thiksey monastery, Thiksey Ladakh, Ladakh photos, Ladakh blogs

The stark beauty of Ladakh.

Spiti had been my first love for a long time, and with the number of people traveling to Ladakh every summer, I wasn’t sure if it would do it for me. Then I won return flight tickets to Leh in a Twitter contest run by @eezego1. It was impossible not to fall in love with the stark, pristine wilderness of Ladakh, and it was surprisingly easy to beat the crowds by going just a little off the beaten path. I hitch-hiked with locals, stayed in a traditional village and an eco-luxury camp, and savored being so close to the mountains I love.

See: The World from the Lens of Ladakhi Nuns

4) Meeting the gypsies: Hampi, Karnataka

gypsies karnataka, gypsies hampi, gypsies sandur

The Gypsy women at work.

When Hyatt Place Hampi promised to help me discover lesser-known places near Hampi, I couldn’t say no to a second trip to the region. And so I met the gypsy women of Sandur.  They used to be nomads traveling the country without possessions or a home – but like most of us, they succumbed to the promises of a better life. It was humbling to watch them in their gypsy outfits, settled with a job and home, and left me wondering if it was really that easy to contain their free spirit.

Read: 6 Offbeat Experiences near Hampi

5) Hiking in the Western Ghats: Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Mahabaleshwar photos, Mahabaleshwar hikes

At the top of the world!

On the outset, Mahabaleshwar looked like any other Indian hill station, crowded with weekend trippers. Then we met the folks at Devrai Art Village, who have hiked and mapped these mountains based on old colonial-era maps. A short hike away from civilization, through dense wilderness, led us to the edge of the Western Ghats, with a magnificent panoramic view of the lush valley below. Incredible indeed.

Read: One Year of Traveling Without a Home

6) Awed by Theyyam: Kannur, Kerala

theyyam photos, theyyam kerala

Incredible Kerala!

I finally got a chance to witness one of India’s most ancient traditions – the ritual worshipping festival of Theyyam, in the heart of North Kerala. In the wee hours of the morning, I found myself in the midst of a chanting ceremony, followed by a hypnotic hour of an elaborate invocation in the streets. Mind = blown.

Read: Unearthing Kerala’s Best Kept Secrets

7) Serendipity in Sikkim

Sikkim photos, Sikkim people, Sikkim blogs

Serendipity in Sikkim.

Sikkim was a roller coaster ride for me; I spent half my trip recovering from a draining flu. When we finally made it to West Sikkim, we stayed on a heritage farm and spent our days wandering the mountains. One evening, two young boys invited us to follow them to a secret place – a valley with red rhododendrons in bloom. At the edge of it, we sat on a hill in the light drizzle, hearing the mountains echo with Buddhist chants. Just then, the clouds parted dramatically, giving us our first and only glimpse of the magnificent Mount Kanchendzonga. It was a magical moment.

Read: Sikkim: The Lost Kingdom

8) Swimming in the pristine Pawna Lake: Maharashtra

Pawna lake maharashtra, Pawna lake photos

Waking up to the pristine Pawna Lake.

2014 was my first introduction to Maharashtra’s pristine countryside. The most surprising revelation was the glistening blue Pawna Lake, only 3 hours from the chaos of Bombay. I couldn’t believe we were still in India, with fancy celebrity homes sharing the slopes with humble village homes, and not a speck of litter in or around the lake. If we only we treated the rest of the country with such love!

See: In Photos: Road Tripping in Rural Maharashtra

9) The mountains I never knew: Garhwal, Uttarakhand

Garhwal himalayas, Garhwal photos, Kuflon uttarakhand

By a waterfall of the Asi Ganga.

The views from my terrace in Dehradun and the occasional family trip to Mussoorie were all I knew of the Garhwal Himalayas before this year, when I decided to follow the Ganga up towards Uttarkashi. The terraced mountains, the pristine villages, the river glowing bluer the higher I went, the warmth of the people – it was difficult not to fall in love right away. In the village of Kuflon, I met a couple who were married as children, have lived together for 60 years, choose to live without electricity, and still have laughter in their lives.

Read: The Garhwal Himalayas a Year After the Uttarakhand Floods

10) A million fireflies: Purushwadi, Maharashtra

purushwadi fireflies, purushwadi maharashtra, grassroutes

Fireflies in the dark. Photo by Matt MacGillivray.

5 hours and a world away from Mumbai, the farming village of Purushwadi is the meeting place of mating fireflies in the monsoon months. I travelled with Grassroutes (a community tourism organization), swam and walked by day, and devoured traditional Maharashtrian food in the homes of friendly locals. By night, I sat by the side of the road, watching a thousand fireflies fire beams of light as mating signals – lighting up the entire valley!

11) Revisiting God’s Own Island: Thekkakadu, Kerala

Kasaragod, North Kerala backwaters, Kerala backwaters island

Bliss by the backwaters.

In a state that is as synonymous with tourism as Kerala, I find it incredible that affordable private islands and virgin backwaters still exist. I had first visited this jewel in the Kasaragod district on India Untravelled explorations, and when a tropical longing found me, I went back to discover that it was still as pristine as I had left it. We kayaked under the starry skies, alongside night fishermen, and sailed on a fishing boat to virgin beaches across the coast. Blissful.

Read: God’s Own “Island” by the Backwaters of Kerala

12) High tea in the Himalayas: Bhimtal, Uttarakhand

Bhimtal Uttarakhand, The Retreat Uttarakhand, Bhimtal photos

High tea in Bhimtal.

Even though I grew up amid the mountains of Garhwal, it is Kumaon that really speaks to my soul. When I had nowhere to go, no plans I wanted to make, nothing I wanted to do, I went back to the place that always has answers. I spent my evenings writing on a ridge in the forests of Bhimtal. One evening, I convinced my hostess to join me for hi tea. We carried a picnic basket up the trail, gorging on homemade sandwiches and scones, watching the sunset turn the sky pink, chatting about life in the mountains. An evening to remember.

Read: Bhimtal: Of Forests, Farms and False Impressions

13) The haunts of my childhood: Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Dehradun cycling, Dehradun photos

Taking my new ride for a spin!

On my most recent trip home, my parents insisted on buying me something, anything. I can’t fit more clothes or shoes into my bag (in fact, I’ve shed most along the way, down to 7 kgs and relieved shoulders these days!). So I asked them to buy me a mountain bike instead, and felt the glee of a little kid when they agreed. Most of the forests of my childhood are gone and the rivers are dried up – but I was delighted with the small stretches that do remain, appreciating them more than I ever did as a child.

Read: Thinking of Home

14) Having my heart broken at a nunnery: Ladakh

Ladakh nuns, Ladakh photos, Thiksey nunnery

Helping the youngest nun with her homework.

The days that really changed something in me this year were the ones I spent living at a nunnery in Ladakh. Even in their preteen years, their acceptance of life was both inspiring and heartbreaking. I played, prayed, studied, laughed and cried with them, and learnt that no matter how crappy the cards life deals for you, happiness is a choice you make.

Read: Heartwarming and Heartbreaking: Living with the Nuns in Ladakh

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Your turn, what were your most incredible travel moments in India this year?

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Sshh… A Secret in the Caribbean.

I had to pinch myself as my tiny 20-seater plane with an open cockpit, circled a lush mountainous island surrounded by the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. It looked a little like Isla Sonora from the Jurassic Park movies. The plane descended sharply as the hillocks parted to reveal a tiny airstrip, which ended just a few feet away from the ocean. The airport was only connected to the rest of the island by boat. Read more

My Impressions of Guatemala.

I was a bundle of nerves before I left NYC for Guatemala. I had read enough stories about how unsafe it was, hadn’t travelled solo in another country for a while, and Central America just felt like a world away. My fears were gradually alleviated when I landed here, realizing how laid back the locals are, and in some ways, how much more organized travelling here is than many developing countries I’ve been to. Read more

A Glimpse of Antigua, Guatemala.

In my first tryst with Latin America, I’ve found myself joyfully lost amidst the cobblestoned streets and quaint colonial houses of Antigua in Guatemala. I feel like I’m still in a dream, as I gaze out at the surrounding volcanoes while lying on a hammock from the rooftop of my bohemian apartment. I’ve had conversations entirely in broken spanish, indulged in hand-rolled corn tortillas stuffed with frijoles (black beans), sipped some of the world’s finest coffee, marvelled at the colourful traditional dresses worn by many Mayan women, and well, quite simply fallen in love. Read more

Offbeat Goa: 12 Mind-Blowing Experiences.

On a rainy Goan afternoon, wrapped up in my blue poncho, I drive my bike past verdant rice paddies, abandoned railway tracks and sleepy hamlets, to cross over to little-known islands in the interiors of Goa. On the empty ferry, the surprised driver asks me why I’m going there. Why? Because these islands are covered in mangroves and mist-laden meadows, adorned with old Portuguese homes, and home to large populations of colourful migratory birds and tiny populations of people who, far from the beaches and revellers of Goa, exemplify the susagade (content) way of life. Read more

Romania, You Can Fool The World With Your Smiles, But Not With Your Heart.

Romania had one hell of a way to welcome us. We had dragged ourselves out of the flight after 20 hours in transit, when 3 burly ashen-faced men stopped us the moment we stepped into the airport. Passport, they demanded. Confused and intimidated by these casually-dressed men, we dug around in our bags. A little police badge on their belt was our only solace. They examined us well, comparing our passport photos with our faces for what felt like an eternity, and finally let us enter a country that would stop us from judging people by their stern expressions and lack of smiles. Read more

Snapshots from Romania!

It all began one night, when a friend and I sat staring at the world map. I had landed a fat assignment and finally reached my savings goal for a long overdue trip out of India. After turning down many drab international 3-4 day FAM trips that offered nothing immersive or even remotely exciting, I craved a mix of the east and the west, interesting food and the chance to experience a culture I knew little about. Romania seemed to tick all the boxes. Flights were booked, visa hurdles painfully crossed, and off we went. Into a world that continues to delight and surprise me.

Read more

The World From the Lens of Ladakhi Nuns.

When I went to live at a nunnery in the high Himalayas of Ladakh, I didn’t imagine that I would be interacting with nuns as young as six years! Living with these Ladakhi nuns for a fortnight was beautiful, insightful, heartbreaking and introspective, in that order. But that’s a story for another post. Today, I want to show you the world from their lens, in photos taken by them with my Sony Cybershot camera. Read more

Kinnaur: Of Mountain Legends, Unknown Trails and Wild Beauty.

For centuries, the valley remained cut off from the rest of India. Legend has it that when a road was finally built and the first car drove up, the locals weren’t sure what to feed it. The driver playfully declared that the car likes chicken and whisky. The locals innocently obliged, and the driver had a feast. They also say that when an elderly woman boarded a bus for the first time, she left her shoes on the road as a sign of respect to the bus. Getting off at her destination, she was shocked that her shoes were gone, no longer outside the bus where she had taken them off. Read more

6 Offbeat Experiences Near Hampi.

After my soulful sojourns in the North-eastern and Garhwal Himalayas, I descended to Mumbai for some personal work. Three weeks of sweltering heat has left me craving the rains, and made me nostalgic of my monsoon adventures last year, when I chased the rains from Rajasthan to Hampi.

Over two trips to Hampi, I’ve discovered experiences that go beyond the majestic ruins of the ancient Vijaynagara kingdom. Take my list, stay with the locals, meet the dwindling gypsy community, cycle amid dramatic landscapes, and indulge a little: Read more

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