This story was originally published in The Hindu.
Swarms of people greet me as I alight at the Jaipur railway station, some arriving in the pink city with royal expectations, some transiting through it to seek the desert culture of Rajasthan, and many slyly trying to identify first-timers to the city so they can put their touting hat on. I incessantly nod no to the constant soliciting of Madam auto, Madam taxi and Madam hotel, until I reach the exit of the station and someone’s Madam auto soliciting succeeds. I can see his bewilderment when I ask to go to Surya Vatika Road on the highway towards Chomu, and the fare negotiation is skewed in my favour for once, because he has no idea where we are going. Read more
I have spent long nights in buses, watching forests in the distance get engulfed by forest fires spread by the acidity of dry pine planted on agricultural land. I have stayed at a heritage tea estate nestled in the Himalayas, where 2012 was the first time in its hundred and fifty years that the weather became too dry for the tea to be plucked. I have watched the Ganga wailing in Haridwar, reduced from India’s purest source of glacial water to a mere dumping zone for ashes, dead bodies, litter, plastic, wax candles, and whatever else we feed it in the name of religion. I have met a tribal family in North Kerala, who were forced to destroy their therapeutic home made of mud walls, cowdung floors and a thatched bamboo roof, in lieu of “government-given incentives”, and now sleep outside their concrete house every night because the natural temperature control is gone. Read more
We leave behind the traffic of Port Louis and maneuver our way through a small winding road that leads us uphill for a good twenty minutes. At an unassuming orange-colored French villa where we pull up, the warm hospitality of Jean-Michel and his wife Joan awaits me. We exchange niceties and my request for water quickly gets upgraded to a rum punch. I’m in Mauritius after all, and it doesnt matter that it’s just after mid day or that I’ve just landed here after a sleepless 7.5 hour flight from Delhi! Read more
Thoughts of Kerala often evoke images of dome-shaped houseboats traversing the backwaters, and neatly manicured tea estates covered in mist on the slopes of the Western Ghats. The lush green beauty of God’s Own Country has stolen many a heart, the result of which was 10 million tourist arrivals in 2011, a large majority of who flocked to the familiar tourist trail in the south of the state, along the backwaters of Alleppey & Kumarakom and the hill station of Munnar. The statistic became my cue to journey along the coast of North Kerala, of which Google could tell me little. Read more
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. Read more
We Indians have a strange way of showing our respect to the things (places) we worship. In the name of religion, we build cemented structures in our rivers to install large idols of gods & goddesses. In the name of devotion, we clean our feet, dispose off ashes and run mechanized boats in the same water that we regard as the purest to drink. Such is our relationship with the River Ganga in Rishikesh, and while the river continues to be a timeless beauty, it’s hard to say how long it can sustain our ‘religious’ offerings. From an evening spent in the land that I remember to be almost magical 12 years ago, a photo essay on how our prayers show both love & hate for this magnanimous river. Read more
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.
Loud Hindi music blares through the silence of the valley, carrying the wind with it. Women dressed in their most pink and jazzy attires walk down the path to a village hut below, big smiles pasted on their faces, their eyes fixed on their toddlers who keep running faster than their fancy heels can take them. This is not your usual day in Peora, a small village quietly tucked away in the forests of Kumaon in Uttarakhand. It’s the day before a wedding, and the entire village seems to be rejoicing, dressing up, laughing, singing, dancing, feasting and celebrating. Read more
Sleeping Spotlight is a weekly review of unique & offbeat places to stay.
My first (impulsive) trip to the fruit farms & cotton fields on the countryside of Punjab had me itching to go back and discover, experience & savour more of my Punjabi roots. I remember smiling from ear to ear when I first read about Prakriti Farms. Not only did it sound like a true-blue Punjabi experience, but also its location in the Shivaliks, whose very lap I’ve grown up in, made it a double win. Admittedly, I was in love even before I got there. Read more
My choice of travel accommodation has slowly transformed from anything-cheap-goes in my student days, to pampering value-for-money hotels / resorts during my short-lived corporate life, to anything offbeat that offers a chance to interact with the local people since India Untravelled happened i.e. now. With several of the latter under my belt since I moved back to India almost 9 months ago, I’ve decided to highlight, review & convince you to experiment with such off-the-beaten-track living in this weekly Sleeping Spotlight. Read more