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.
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.
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.
Since my first Euro trip last summer, I haven’t stopped thinking about the dreamy countryside towns & villages I bumped the cities for. While there isn’t a better way to see the European countryside than to hop on the Euro Rail and get off on a whim, After Sunset style, it may not work for travellers constrained by time, money or well, the comfort zone of a plan. Unearthed by traversing the depths of Google and through conversations with the local people & regional tourism boards, here is my choicest list of 4 small towns & villages across Italy, France & Germany, that I fell deliriously in love with.
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.
Of late, I’ve been reading so many thought-provoking, eye-popping, jaw-dropping, smile-evoking travel posts from around the Blogosphere, that I’ve decided to start this ‘Wanderlust in Words’ bi-monthly travel section to collect the best of the lot, and keep myself from losing my sanity (and hopefully yours too). If all goes well, each alternate Monday, you can come back here to find inspiration for your first solo trip, go on a visual journey somewhere across the globe, open up to the idea of long-term travel, indulge in a minute or two of someone else’s reality, and read something stirring on Incredible India, which seems to be on everyone’s travel list these days.
I remember the first time I took a train by myself from my small hometown to the big bad city of Delhi. While dropping me off, my mother announced to everyone sitting around me that I’d be alone for the journey, in the hope that some good soul would look out for me. I felt like a fresh wound exposed to the elements of nature. All stares & smiles I received on that train ride felt sinister. I wasn’t half as mortified to be journeying alone as I was in realizing that everyone around me knew it. Not much has changed for solo trips that start at home (and that’s a story for another day), but I’ve come a long way, stuffing my pockets with solo adventures.