Every stone in Kumaon has a story. It speaks of the fierce spirit of the Kumaoni people during India’s freedom struggle. It carries the whiff of tea gardens that once flourished on this land. It looks humbly upon mighty Himalayan peaks that sit in the distance. This is the story of some such stones, stones that were erected by Sumant Batra back in the nineties, stones that became my abode for a weekend this July. His love affair with travel started while he was still a child, and much like anyone who’s travelled in Kumaon, he was captivated by the charm of the lower Himalayas of Uttarakhand. In his late twenties, he fell in love with the small, obscure village of Dhanachuli. There were terraced valleys here, verdant mountain slopes covered with apple orchards, forests of pine and rhododendron, gushing rivers, small streams and waterfalls, and no development or tourism infrastructure to speak of. The locals were friendly, nay, full of warmth, and the food was delicious. Who wouldn’t fall in love? Not very rich …
Late last year, I visited Bhap village, near Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Despite being one of India’s most travelled states, Rajasthan harbors secrets that take long to find, and even longer to forget. Bhap village, surrounded by a serene village lake, gorgeous salt pans, massive sand dunes, and friendly people, is one such secret. This photo essay is a collection of fond memories from the days I spent there: *** 1. SOAKING IN THE SERENITY OF RAJASTHAN’S LAKES in Bhap village. Bhap itself is a typical Indian village with no proper sewage or drainage system, but after a disheartening walk through its narrow by-lanes, arriving on the pristine shores of this village lake is nothing short of amazing. Across the lake, we could spot several herds of camels trotting along in the desert. *** 2. LAUGHING WITH VILLAGE KIDS in a village near Bhap, where Dalit families are still discriminated against and not allowed to visit the village temple. The smiles of these Dalit children give hope that India’s future will be brighter than that. *** …
A gentle tap on the tent startles me. I reluctantly get up from my cosy bed and lift the flap, to be greeted by a mesmerizing sight. Dark, ominous clouds swiftly cross the sky and settle upon the Knuckles mountain range in the distance. The moon becomes visible every now and then, painting haunting patterns in the sky. A handful of lights glow in the valley below. Fireflies shimmer above the tea plantations. The tap on the tent was just the wind, inviting me for a glimpse of this magical night.
This week, two years ago, I tendered my resignation at my first and only corporate job. I was 23, restless, and ready to chase bigger dreams – of which travel was one. I didn’t know then that becoming one of India’s top travel bloggers was on the cards for me! But there were other things I didn’t know, things that would have saved me so many sleepless nights. As I reflect on my transition in the last two years, from a cubicle dweller to a digital nomad, I hope to give you some practical perspective on what it’s like to quit your job and travel the world (Read: The Story of How I Quit my Job to Travel).
One month ago, when I became one of the four worldwide ambassadors of the #WeGoSolo movement and announced a contest in partnership with Hostelbookers, I didn’t know that it was my turn to be inspired. I received over a hundred entries to the contest, and besides sharing your dream solo travel destinations literally in every part of the globe, you shared your stories and how you faced or plan to face your challenges. As the sisterhood of women travelling alone grows from strength to strength, the time has come to announce the contest results (oh yes, the EUR 150 voucher from Hostelbookers.com) and answer the big questions – why women travel alone, and what is on their list of dream solo travel destinations.
[Updated: February 2016] Forget Ravana; Sri Lanka is now the kingdom of nature. It is here that the Indian Ocean turns a crystal blue and gently caresses a powdery white shore, and waterfalls emerge from deep within the mountains and trickle into little streams through pristine tea plantations. It is here that the influences of the west have stayed at bay, the people are genuinely friendly (Read: My First Impressions of Sri Lanka), and culinary goodness is in abundance. So go now, and take my list of the indulgent yet immersive things to do in Sri Lanka:
I take off my shoes, slip on a sarong, and carefully tip toe into the luke warm water. The village ladies, all clad in colorful sarongs, extend their hands so I don’t get entangled in the weeds and fall. Maulie, our host in Galkadawala, introduces me as “India”; the ladies giggle and say something friendly in Singhala. I wade into the lake with their help, and when my feet no longer touch the soft bed, I start to swim. Maulie points to a tree in the distance, where she spotted one of the lake’s resident crocodiles a few days ago. A soft chill runs through my spine, as brahminy kites appear in the clear blue sky above.