Latest Posts

Shivya Nath, digital nomads india, solo travellers india

One Year of Travelling Without a Home.

Update 2018: After 7 years of travelling the world – 5 of those without a home or permanent address – I’ve written a book about my journey! “The Shooting Star” charts my journey from the cubicle to the road and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. Published by Penguin, the book is now available on Amazon and Flipkart.

What’s life without a little adventure? I asked myself a little over a year ago. I had been living a semi-nomadic life since I quit my corporate job in 2011, with a base in Delhi and an insatiable wanderlust. On the twenty-fifth day of August 2013, as I sat on the roof of my shabby Delhi apartment, staring at the dark starless sky, my heart filled with an unknown melancholy and my spirit craved more adventure. And just like that, I let go off my apartment, sold most of my belongings, stored some for a winter’s day (thank god!), and set out with my backpack.

For one year, I have moved, uninhibitedly, as much within as with my feet, like a bird without a nest, flapping my wings in the vast skies, swooping down on parts of the world that beckoned me. A soul without a compass on some days, a spirit that couldn’t be contained on others. Much has been learnt, more has been loved – and the one thing that has remained constant is my desire to keep moving.

On acceptance

When people ask me about studying beyond a bachelor’s degree, I want to tell them that the road is my teacher. And what it teaches best is acceptance, life’s most underrated lesson. Like anyone who wants to see the world, I’ve dreamt of seeing all of it. But lingering on a little longer in places like South Australia, Northern Thailand, Auroville, Kumaon and the interiors of Goa has allowed me to observe the little whimsies of life beyond just a shallow peek. I have come to accept that I can’t experience everything in this lifetime, but what I can, I will experience deeply.

Aldona fort

Introspective in Goa.

On relationships

I have never been a fan of obligatory or legalized relationships. And this year on the road has taught me that there is no better remedy for a tired, worn-out, misunderstood soul than swapping your deepest, darkest secrets with someone who was a mere stranger days ago. Truth is, sometimes it’s easier to bare your heart to a stranger.

Romania culture, Romanian people

Unexpected friends.

On money 

The one that never gets old – how do I afford this life? I won’t give you a vague answer this time. I currently handle two regular blogging and social media projects for Indian and Singaporean companies, write for atleast two Indian or international publications in a month, run India Untravelled which is gradually sprouting its own wings, and work with travel companies on ad-hoc campaigns and contests. I love most of the work I do, and what I don’t pays for exorbitant flights and my student loan. And knowing the wealth of experiences money has bought me in this year of being nomadic, I rarely think twice about spending what I earn.

Adelaide cycling

Accumulating money or experiencing the world?

On work-life balance

This has been my biggest struggle on the road. Unwilling to delegate, let go or do a half-hearted job, I have spent long, grueling hours staring at my laptop screen while being location independent. I’ve promised myself that this is going to change. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to delegate, working with diligent and committed freelancers, prioritizing work that pays well, and dreaming of a four hour work week!

Novotel Goa

Work-life balance?

On happiness

Despite the wild, unforeseen, unforgettable adventures a year of being nomadic has placed on my lap, I have merely continued to drift along in the bigger picture, not tipping any closer on the happiness scale. Truth be told, I’ve come closer to knowing that I never will, for it’s a mere illusion, much like the higher powers we try to believe in, because life feels more meaningful with something to aspire towards. Mono no aware; a Japanese saying describes it as a longer, deeper, gentle sadness about the transience of things being the reality of life. Life isn’t always about doing something, finding something, being something. Sometimes you just have to drift along and see where it takes you.

New York parks, Sakura park NYC

Summer turning to autumn in New York – transience in nature.

The Next Chapter…

One year on, on a sunny summer afternoon, I find myself sitting above the Hudson River in New York as I write this. Over an unplanned 5-6 months, I am here to explore parts of North, Central and South America, continuing to trade the stability of a regular paycheck and the comfort zone of a familiar bed with watching the sun set halfway across the globe. Because, what’s life without a little adventure, right?

Hudson river sunset, New York sunset

Sunset over the Hudson River.

***

I’m figuring out my travels to Central and South America. If you have recommendations for offbeat experiences, or are a travel company interested in hosting me, please get in touch.

***

Join The Shooting Star on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more travel inspiration.

*** ***

Romania photos, Brasov photos, Brasov Romania

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

Sikkim blogs, west Sikkim, Sikkim himalayas

Sikkim: The Lost Kingdom.

On a late evening, we sat on a steep cliff, drinking the local Sikkimese Beer. Sparse villages and farms lay scattered in the valley below. The River Teesta roared along intensely. The mountains echoed with hypnotic chants from a nearby monastery. We were lost in our thoughts, when the mist slowly rose, and revealed to us in all its snow-capped glory, the mighty Mount Kanchendzonga. Read More

villages India, Garhwal village, Uttarakhand villages

In Photos: The Garhwal Himalayas a Year After The Uttarakhand Floods.

I’ve never travelled in my own backyard. Born and brought up in the valley of Dehradun, I’ve always wondered what lay beyond the mountains I could see from my terrace. And last month, I finally decided to find out. I made my way up to the villages beyond Uttarkashi, and down via Mussoorie, transfixed by the majesty of the Garhwal Himalayas, as much as by the conviction of the locals to move on after the devastating Uttarakhand floods of 2013. I’ll let these pictures tell you their stories. Read More

World war 2 stories, World war 2 survivors, India in world war 2

What a WWII Polish Refugee Taught me About “Hindustan”.

It’s a lazy summer afternoon in Fleurieu Peninsula’s wine country of South Australia. Cycling along the trail of an old railway track, we are surrounded by lush vineyards stretching into the horizon. Every few kilometres, a family-owned winery lures us in, to taste some of the finest Shiraz in the world. We chat with the friendly wine makers, satisfy our hunger pangs at organic cafes, and make our way past signboards that ask us to watch out for kangaroos and koalas!

For our tired feet and drowsy minds, a cosy abode at Linger Longer Vineyard awaits us. We’ve whiled away our evenings here sipping wine on the patio, watching the sun set upon the vineyards at our doorstep. Just as we’re settling in that evening, our hosts invite us for a glass of wine in the main house. They have just returned from a 3-week vacation in India, and in all honesty, I feel a little guilty thinking of the extent of touting and chaos my land must’ve offered them while pristine beauty welcomed me to theirs.

Linger Longer vineyard, Willunga, Mclaren Vale

Sipping wine at Linger Longer Vineyard.

Rosemary pours us a glass of their in-house 2006 Shiraz, while Karol, her husband interrogates us about India, with a tough demeanour I can’t put my finger on. When I ask him, a little shyly, about his own trip, he describes the places he visited, mentioning names like Jamnagar and Kolhapur. I’m unable to fathom why anyone would travel there; the only reason I know of Jamnagar is because it lies enroute to Diu from Ahmedabad.

Before I get a chance to question him, he says everyone in India thought he was a foreigner in the country, and we must too. But, hum hain Hindustani, with a wistful longing he confesses, Jamnagar ka maharaja hamara bapu (I am Indian, the king of Jamnagar is my father). By the time we’re finishing our first glass, he has told us the most incredible story I might ever hear.

The year was 1940, the world was at war. Karol, then a child of six, was one among many Polish kids to be sent to a gulag (labor camp) in Siberia, in the southern Artic in Russia. Karol and his family managed to escape, but he got separated from his mother and siblings. Going back to Poland wasn’t an option, so he journeyed alone, walking and riding on trains and trucks, through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Persia, all the way to Gujarat in India. Jam Saheb, the then king of Nawanagar (now called Jamnagar), who later became the Indian ambassador to the UN, took him in, together with 500 other impoverished Polish children. He gave them shelter, food,  education in a fine school (St Mary’s in Mount Abu, complete with a Polish-speaking teacher), and a place to call home.

polish refugees India, Jam Saheb, Jamnagar Maharaja, Nawanagar Maharaja, World war 2 India

The Polish kids with Jam Saheb. Photo courtesy: Sainik School, Balachadi, Jamnagar.

I can hear Karol’s voice soften, as he tells us what Jam Saheb had told the kids when they arrived. Do not consider yourself orphans, he had said. You are now Nawnagaris and I am Bapu,  father of all the people of Nawanagar, so also yours.

For four years, from 1942 to 1946, 500 Polish kids lived in Balachadi in Jamnagar, under the personal protection of the Maharaja, when no other country was ready to take them. When the war ended, they were sent on a train to England, to start new lives. Karol remembers being on the train the night Gandhi was assassinated. It was in England that he would meet his wife Rosemary, and together they would move to Australia.

The Poles in India have been meeting every year since, swapping life stories and reminiscing about the time they spent in Jamnagar. Rosemary tells us they have all gone on to lead successful lives. She laments though, that the Polish kids are growing old, and this incredible story will soon be lost in time.

I often feel that there are many things we haven’t done right as a country. But in one magnanimous act of kindness, at a time when the rest of the world was on a killing spree, “Hindustan” gave 500 innocent kids a second chance at life.

And what are the odds that of all the vineyards in South Australia, we would find shelter at Karol’s and Rosemary’s?

World war 2 stories, World war 2 survivors, India in world war 2, Polish refugees in India

With Karol and Rosemary, in their house in Willunga.

***

I googled Karol’s story later and found a documentary called A Little Poland in India, that has documented the lives of some of the Poles in India. Also this story written on New York Times.

***

Join The Shooting Star on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more incredible stories from around the world.

Any contributions to my travel fund (in kind or otherwise) will be highly appreciated!

*** ***

Thar desert, Rajasthan India, sand dunes india

My 13 “Incredible India” Moments in 2013.

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is coming to an end. This is the year I truly, madly fell in love with the sheer beauty of India, despite the challenges that travelling here is laced with (Read: 120 Days on The Road). I experienced the “other” side of the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, ventured deep in the interiors of Assam and Rajasthan, and developed an unexpected fascination for life in the wild. In search of an India Untravelled, I met incredible people dedicated to preserving the country’s beauty, ecology, heritage and traditions.

These are 13 moments from 2013 that make me all mushy about how much I love this crazy country. Read More

Safranbolu turkey, shivya nath

My Million Reasons to Visit Turkey.

Dear Turkey,

I left you with a heavy heart, etched with the magnanimity of your people.

A kind lady in the small town of Safranbolu opened her doors to me on a late rainy afternoon, to feed my vegetarian self a special meal of Peruhi (Turkish pasta) and Pasta (cake in Turkish) prepared for a family gathering.

An old man from a bakery in Ordu gave me a ride in his truck to the town’s chocolate factory, after I walked five kilometers and stumbled into his shop for directions for the remaining three.

A family living in an isolated hut on Boztepe Hill invited me in for a meal of home grown aubergine.

Turkey black sea, turkey countryside, turkey, turkey country, turkey small towns, Amasra

Sunflower fields along the Karadeniz countryside.

Turkey people, Turkish culture, Ordu Turkey, turkish customs, turkish food

Inviting entrance to a family home on Boztepe Hill, near Ordu in Turkey.

A blacksmith who found me admiring his creations invited me in for çay and proclaimed his eternal love for Hindistan even though he had never been there.

A young otel (hotel) owner in Cide went out of her way to ensure that I boarded the right connecting buses to my next destination without losing money or time.

A cafe owner in the small town of Ordu, where I impulsively got off the bus on my way to Trabzone without a hotel booking or so much as a google search, treated me to delicious Turkish coffee made with a secret family recipe, then ferried me and my backpack in his car to a lovely boutique hotel which I couldn’t have located myself without speaking Turkish, let aside get the negotiated price he got me.

Turkey people, Turkish culture, Ordu Turkey, turkish customs, turkish food

With my Turkish friends in Ordu, a small coastal town in Turkey.

The airport guy at Istanbul airport who ferries goods gave me a chocolate seeing me struggling to find small change to make a phone call.

A restaurant manager offered me a whirlwind tour of Guzelyurt after I decided his restaurant was too pricey for me to eat there.

An English teacher in a small village in Kapadokya confided in me on how much she misses her mother and told me everything I know about the Turkish education system.

Turkey people, Turkish culture, Turkish women, turkish customs

With my Turkish teacher friend in a small village in Kapadokya (Cappadocia).

So many people offered me rides to my destinations along the Black Sea, indulged me in conversations without much of a common language (after first trying to converse in Arabic), and treated me to Turkish tea at the drop of a hat.

You were good to me, Turkey, and I want to come back. Your people are one of my million reasons.

Read more about my adventures in Turkey.

For more travel stories and photos from around the world, join The Shooting Star on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Where to Find Droolworthy Vegan Food in Chiang Mai.

About this post: I won’t lie to you – some of the world’s best vegan food awaits you in Chiang Mai. I’ve sampled scores of vegan, vegetarian, healthy, organic restaurants in the city, and put together this list of the absolutely best vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai. Go indulge!

Over three years ago, when I turned vegan, I accepted the possibility that someday, I might be confronted with the tough choice of either staying vegan or travelling nomadically. I couldn’t fathom then, as I resolved to say no to animal products, that I’d one day find myself in a vegan paradise, with nearly a hundred entirely vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants and cafes. Welcome to Chiang Mai, Thailand: the land of vegan food porn and my dream for the rest of the world!

pure vegan heaven, vegan food chiang mai, best vegan restaurants chiang mai

Mexican bowl at Pure Vegan Heaven.

I’ve now spent a total of 2.5 months in Chiang Mai over two trips, sampling everything from authentic Thai food, decadent desserts, vegan “eggs” and the best goddamn vegan burgers humans have made yet.

Behold, my personal selection of the best vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai, with all photos shot on my beloved iPhone XS Max:

Pure Vegan Heaven

Must try: Vegan breakfast – waffles, pancakes, smoothie bowls

pure vegan heaven, vegan food chiang mai, vegan breakfast chiang mai

Best vegan breakfast in Chiang Mai? I think so.

Pure Vegan Heaven had just opened in Chiang Mai when I was leaving the city last year. It has since moved to a creative art space near Chiang Mai University, and continues to consistently offer beautiful, healthy, delicious vegan food. For an indulgent breakfast, I love their vegan waffles (made of sweet potato, oats and whole wheat) served with with homemade choco-nutella, coconut syrup, banana, flax and chia seeds. For a filling meal, their Mexican bowl packs in the goodness of vegan chilli, homemade salsa, quinoa, brown rice and a tiny portion of seasonal guacamole. Their huge acai berry bowl is delightful to cool off your body on a hot day!

Eco-efforts: All smoothies and drinks are served with steel straws; filtered water is available to refill your bottle.

Location: Suthep (Freeative Art Space)
Find Pure Vegan Heaven on: FacebookTripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: Why I Turned Vegan – And What It Means For My Travel Lifestyle

Bee Vegan

Must try: Morning glory stir-fry; Khao soi

bee vegan, vegan thai food chiang mai, vegan food chiang mai

Incredible Thai vegan food at Bee Vegan.

There are few places in Chiang Mai that do authentic, vegan Thai food as brilliantly – and affordably – as Bee Vegan, a cute little resto near Chiang Mai University. Last year, I only ever saw local university students eating there, but word has probably gotten out since and led to its gentrification. The quality of ingredients and cooking – locally sourced, organic, free of MSG – remains the same though. My favorites are the morning glory stir-fry, chinese kale, basil with mushroom stir-fry, sunflower sprouts, penang curry and khao soi – all sumptuous, gently spiced and so flavorful. They’ve also recently added chocolate cookies and two ice cream flavors to their menu – but are yet to master these vegan desserts.

Eco-efforts: Bee Vegan not only uses but also sells steel straws; pick up one, especially for times you’re out drinking coconut water and can’t do without a straw.

Location: Suthep
Find Bee Vegan on: FacebookTripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: Why I Don’t Recommend Celebrating The Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai

Reform Kafe

Must try: Green curry fried rice; Mushroom burger

reform kafe, vegan burger chiang mai, best vegan restaurants chiang mai

Mushroom burger at Reform Kafe. SO GOOD.

If I were to eat at only one place in Chiang Mai, the all-vegan Reform Kafe would win, hands down. In a relaxed, outdoor seating surrounded by greenery, I’ve feasted on many a decadent mushroom burger – consisting of a pan-fried patty made of juicy textured mushrooms, sandwiched between vegan mayo slathered buns and veggies – possibly the best burger I’ve ever had! Besides western appetizers and sandwiches, they also offer a selection of Thai dishes, of which the green curry fried rice – rice stir-fried with Thai flavors, mushrooms and tofu – is to die for. Order the seasonal mango juice or the healthier but equally delicious green juice to keep you patient, as it tends to get quite packed (and hence slow) at meal times.

Go with an appetite, take your laptop if you intend to work (there’s fast wifi and charging points) and prepare yourself for a vegan feast that’s astonishingly light on the wallet. And by the way, even my non-vegan friends think Reform Kafe has the best food in Chiang Mai!

Eco-efforts: Full points for using steel straws and biodegradable takeaway boxes, but I wish they didn’t have a koi pond in the restaurant; why keep those pretty fish in that confined space?

Location: Near old town
Find Reform Kafe on: FacebookTripAdvisorHappyCow

Also read: 15 Awesome Hangouts in Mumbai to Enjoy Vegan Food

Feast Society

Must try: Eggplant and tahini sandwich; Dilly beetroot tahini dip.

feast society, best vegan restaurants chiang mai, chiang mai vegan food

Dilly beetroot tahini with sourdough bread. Yum.

Started by the owners of Salsa Kitchen (a mexican fav in Chiang Mai; details to follow), Feast Society lives up to its name. They bake wild yeast sourdough bread fresh everyday – undoubtedly the most satisfying sourdough bread I’ve had on my travels. Though the restaurant serves meat and dairy, it offers a wonderfully creative vegan menu, featuring delights like dilly beetroot tahini dip with sourdough bread, an eggplant and tahini sandwich of “deep flavors”, grilled Carribean jerk mushrooms served with coconut rice and mango salsa, and red lentil stew with garlic sourdough bread and popadums! All vegan main courses come with a delicious beetroot and pistachio butter salad. The portions are big and immensely satisfying; my mouth’s watering just thinking of my next visit.

Eco-efforts: Please remember to refuse the plastic straw – which comes wrapped in a plastic wrapper and more often than not, lands up in the ocean and chokes marine life. Hope Feast Society will transition to steel / bamboo straws very soon.

Location: Near old town
Find Feast Society on: Facebook TripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: On Life and Detachment: A Conversation With Buddhist Monks

ASA Vegan Kitchen

Must try: Beetroot hummus; Vegan chocolate cookies

asa vegan kitchen, vegan food chiang mai, vegan hot chocolate chiang mai

Vegan hot chocolate, anyone?

Just over a month old at the time of writing this post, ASA Vegan Kitchen has a rather small but interesting all-vegan menu, with a lovely floor seating upstairs overlooking the green backyard (the ground floor of the cafe overlooks a busy street). I loved their beetroot hummus with sourdough bread and veggies sticks; the mango and chickpea curry with brown rice was delicious but on the oily side; and I wish I had space to try their blue butterfly pea flower green curry! Also as far as I know, they have the most decadent vegan chocolate cookies in town.

I’m not a coffee person, but apparently it’s the only place in town to offer awesome vegan bulletproof coffee. Whatever that is!

Eco-efforts: ASA Vegan Kitchen offers only reusable straws and biodegradable cups for takeaway drinks. The staff is well-aware of their eco-efforts. Good stuff.

Location: Thapae Road
Find ASA Vegan Kitchen on: Facebook | TripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: Vegan-friendly Restaurants and Cafes to Indulge in Bangkok

Salsa Kitchen

Must try: Vegan nachos topped with two types of vegan cheese, salsa and black beans

salsa kitchen, vegan nachos chiang mai, vegan mexican food chiang mai

Nachos with vegan cheese at Salsa Kitchen!

The sister restaurant of Feast Society, Salsa Kitchen is well-known among the expat and digital nomad circles of Chiang Mai to have the best Mexican food in the city. After 3 years of being vegan, I was nearly in tears of joy trying their famous vegan nachos – topped with black beans, 2 types of vegan cheeses and 3 types of salsa! Finger-licking good. I usually order a side of beans to get my protein fix, although the vegan menu also offers a vegan burritto and baked cauliflower tacos, each with a generous helping of vegan cheese.

Eco-efforts: Like Feast Society, I’m waiting for the owners of Salsa Kitchen to do away with plastic straws and plastic packaging. I made the mistake of packing a burrito once, which came in a box with 3 different plastic bags. The next day, I acquired a steel container from Big C Supermarket, and only take away what fits in there.

Location: Near Maya Mall
Find Salsa Kitchen on: Facebook TripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: Why Long Term Travel is More Like Real Life and Less Like Instagram

Aanchan 

Must try: Penang curry; Butterfly pea flower pad thai; Almond hazelnut vegan cake

aanchan vegetarian restaurant, vegetarian food chiang mai, vegan food chiang mai

Blue pea flower pad thai at Aanchan.

As you walk up the stairs to the second floor of the building where Aanchan sits, the aromas of Thai food will flood your nostrils and make you very hungry. Which is great, because Aanchan offers incredible Thai food, with a big, clearly labelled vegan selection, and serves generous portions. Their penang curry is the best I’ve had in Thailand, and the blue butterfly pea flower pad thai is cooked to perfection. The restaurant tends to get quite packed at meal times, so go early – and leave space for dessert. I tried the almond hazelnut vegan cake from their changing dessert menu, and loved it.

Eco-efforts: It was at Aanchan that I sipped a drink out of silicone straws for the first time!

Location: Nimman
Find Aachan on: Website TripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: Where to Find the Best Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Singapore

Rosy Cheeks

Must try: Japanese bowl, customized without the egg; Pesto tortilla pizza

rosy cheeks chiang mai, vegan restaurants chiang mai, vegan food chiang mai

Vegan pesto tortilla pizza at Rosy Cheeks.

A hip new addition to the food scene in Chiang Mai, Rosy Cheeks offers a small but creative selection of vegan dishes on its menu (also serves meat and eggs). Their pesto tortilla pizza was love at first bite, thanks to the great quality of ingredients, and there’s nothing more satisfying than their huge green smoothie after a workout. I didn’t quite relish the popular vegan pho-rrito (burrito stuffed with the Vietnamese pho), but I absolutely love their Japanese bowl (customized to be vegan without the egg), which comes with quinoa, teriyaki tofu, seaweed, mushrooms and a sesame dressing.

The shop next door serves their ice creams at Rosy Cheeks, of which only the mango flavor is dairy-free – but being a lover of all desserts chocolate, I’ve never been tempted to try it.

Eco-efforts: Full points for sourcing high quality local ingredients, and using steel straws.

Location: Suthep
Find Rosy Cheeks on: Facebook TripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: 5 Simple Steps to Reduce Single Use Plastic – On Our Travels and in Everyday Life

AMA Vegan Kitchen

Must try: The vegan “egg”

asa vegan kitchen, vegan restaurants chiang mai, vegan food chiang mai

Who knew I’d be feasting on vegan “egg”!

Though located in a peculiar location at the base of a condominium, AMA Vegan Kitchen has nailed the art of making a vegan “egg” – with tofu and Himalayan pink salt alone! I don’t necessarily go looking for substitutes or have an opinion for or against them, but that vegan “egg” was surprisingly delicious! This entirely vegan resto sources organic ingredients and offers a decadent selection of Thai food – well worth the detour.

Location: Trams Square Wellness Resort Residency
Find AMA Vegan Kitchen on: FacebookHappyCow

Also read: All the Vegan Food I Loved in Salzburg, Austria

Moreganic 

Must try: Basil leaf lanna 

moreganic, organic restaurant chiang mai, healthy food chiang mai

Organic ingredients served up at Moreganic.

Located inside the Away Chiang Mai Thapae Resort, Moreganic was probably the swankiest place I ate at in Chiang Mai – and it was worth a one-time splurge (considering Thailand prices). All the food is vegetarian, and though vegan options are not labelled, the staff understands what you can and can’t eat. The interiors are charming and romantic, beautiful for a daytime visit. We tried a couple of Thai dishes – including the spicy basil leaf lanna (with different kinds of mushrooms and veggies) – and loved the food – both how it was presented and how it tasted.

Location – Chang Klan
Find Moreganic on: Facebook TripAdvisor HappyCow

Also read: How Responsible Tourism Can Challenge Patriarchy in India

Ice Love You

Must try: Vegan dark chocolate ice cream <3

ice love you, vegan ice cream chiang mai, vegan food chiang mai

Vegan dark chocolate ice cream. LOVE.

And you love ice cream, right? Especially when it’s available in atleast 10 vegan flavours everyday – including Belgian dark chocolate, mint chocolate chip, mango, strawberry, bubble gum and cappuccino – and comes with a vegan waffle cone! Just the idea of licking off the melting dark chocolate ice cream with a bite of the crunchy cone makes my mouth water; possibly the best vegan ice cream I’ve tried yet. And the quirky superhero decor of the ice cream parlour – chances are, you won’t find that anywhere outside of Thailand either 😉

Location – Suthep
Find Ice Love You on: Facebook TripAdvisor HappyCow

Vegan travel in Chiang Mai:

Also check out my vegan food guides to Bangkok, Mumbai, Singapore, New York and Salzburg.

What vegan food in Chiang Mai did you love – or which would you most like to try?

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for my adventures around the world.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

digital nomad packing list, packing for long term travel, digital nomad lifestyle

How I Fit All My Life Possessions in Two Bags as I Travel the World.

About this post: Looking to embrace a digital nomad lifestyle? After 5 years of long term travel, I write about my digital nomad packing list, including my travel gear, gadgets, single-use plastic alternatives and things that make my digital nomad life sustainable. This digital nomad packing list will assist you in packing for long term travel, especially as a minimalist.

A few years after I had quit my full-time job in Singapore and embraced a life of travel, I posted a picture of myself zip-lining above the stunning Indian Ocean. That photo received many comments from friends, one of which startled me. It was from an ex-colleague who tagged my former boss and commented, quite innocently, “Shivya used to wear the same dress in office and look where she’s wearing it now!” At the time, I was a bit embarrassed by her observation of my sparse wardrobe. But now that I recollect that moment, I can’t help feeling pretty satisfied owning nothing more than a few clothes and essentials that snugly fit into my two bags.

Over five years ago, when I gave up having a home base to go back to, I sold or gifted away most of my belongings. Since then, I’ve attempted to fill my life with experiences and memories, rather than materialistic possessions. As I wrote in my recently released book, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we humans own things, or our things own us.

Many readers have asked me about what I carry as I travel, so on popular demand, here’s a detailed breakdown of all my current life possessions and some tips on how you can de-clutter your life too:

My travel gear

Osprey convertible, digital nomad packing list, digital nomad lifestyle

My Osprey convertible rucksack and backpack.

Convertible backpack (rucksack)

Back when I still had a corporate job and started travelling during leaves and weekends, I remember picking out a hardy-looking, affordable backpack (rucksack) in a supermarket basement. I had no idea then about the toll that backpack – and others I’ve tried over the years – would take on my back and shoulders over time, as I ran last minute to catch trains, buses and flights.

These days, I think of most backpacks as the equivalent of flying economy class. So a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to upgrade to a first-class Osprey Ozone Convertible 75L, which can be dragged around on wheels, converted within seconds into a bag with straps to carry on my shoulders (looks a bit bulky but the lumbar support is incredible), is seriously waterproof, comes with a small backpack which I use as my laptop bag and offers a lifetime warranty! Since I bought my Osprey, I’ve had to convert it and carry it on my shoulders only a handful of times – while climbing stairs, walking on mucky streets or crossing uneven mountain paths. I love it and highly recommend the investment if you’re serious about a life of long term travel.

In the past, I’ve also used a  Wildcraft 60L rucksack (good lumbar support) and a High Sierra explorer rucksack, which are more affordable than the Osprey Ozone Convertible.

Laptop Bag

I’ve gone through a range of laptop bags over time, including one with a solar panel that I could use to charge my devices when I found myself off-the-grid (similar to this)! It stopped working at some point though and I couldn’t find anyone to fix it. I’ve tried out bags made by Wildcraft and Mountain Warehouse, and had to supplement them with a rain cover when I chased the monsoon.

I’m glad I finally switched to the Osprey day pack as my laptop bag, for it’s entirely waterproof, has great lumbar support (can’t emphasize how important that is when you travel for extended periods of times) and comfortably fits in all my gadgets.

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining My Digital Nomad Lifestyle

What’s in my laptop bag

digital nomad packing list, packing for long term travel, packing list for women

A glimpse of what’s in my backpack, including my new MSI PS42.

When I began down-sizing my possessions, I wasn’t really sure which things were worth hanging on to. Or which ones I’d miss.

Turns out, those arbitrary decisions on what to keep and what to leave were not life-defining. The components of my bags have evolved with time, as have I.

GADGETS

  • Laptop: I’ve been a long-term Macbook Pro user, but when it began dying on me, I accepted an offer to try the first professional laptop by MSI. Even though the switch to Windows is challenging, I love that my new MSI Prestige PS42 is super sleek, ultra-light (1.19 kg) and looks really cool. The battery life can survive a long bus journey and it has never hung. I’ve been using it for over a month now, and it looks like I’m going to stick with it.
  • Phone: The first ever smartphone I owned was an iPhone 3GS, and I’ve been a loyal Apple user since. I’m currently using the iPhone 10 XS MAX, and love its portrait mode and photography features so much that I use it as my primary camera.
  • Camera: I’ve been a Sony user for a long time, and currently own a Sony RX100 M2 – though I’ve only ever used it for night and astro-photography in 2018, taking all my photos with the iPhone instead.
  • Hard disc, pen drives: Ever since I lost a ton of data and photos to a laptop mishap in Gujarat in 2016, I’ve acquired a Seagate 2 TB hard disc to back up my data weekly. I highly recommend doing this if you work online.
  • Tripod: I’ve been using a small, flexible Loha tripod, but plan to upgrade to a long but light Amazon Basics tripod based on the recommendation of several friends.
  • Headphones: I love my Sony MDR ZX310 headphones – they are light and affordable, look cool and offer great sound quality.
  • Portable USB battery pack: I use a Swiss Mobility Universal Powerpack 4000mAh (similar to this), which is small and lightweight, and allows about 2 full recharges of my iPhone on the go.

OTHER ESSENTIALS

  • Books: 1-2 books to read, 1 diary for notes.
  • Water bottle: I recently acquired a Vinod steel water bottle, and love that it’s leak proof and not too bulky. Mine’s smaller, but I’d recommend a 1L.
  • Bamboo straw: I picked up mine with a cleaner at a resto in Thailand (for the fresh coconut water), but you can easily get it on Amazon or TheEcoTrunk.
  • Wellness: Energy bars, emergency medicines – usually paracetamol and a painkiller – and hand sanitizer. I love the alchohol-free sanitizer by Tree Wear.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

What’s in my rucksack

digital nomad packing list, digital nomad lifestyle, packing for long term travel

A sanitized version of the contents of my rucksack 😉

SEGMENTATION BAGS

Instead of putting my clothes and shoes directly in my rucksack, I segment them to stay sane by using waterproof Quechua bags for clothes (I picked them up at a Decathlon store; can’t seem to find them on Amazon), reusable hotel laundry bags for shoes, and a pouch for toiletries.

CLOTHES FOR ALL WEATHERS

In the span of a few months, I could go from the freezing German Alps to tropical Thailand – which means I need to be prepared with clothes that work for all weathers at all times. I manage this by ensuring I have many layers that can be added on or removed, and choose clothes which are light weight and easily washable. A summary of my current clothes:

  • Shirts: 4 T-shirts and 2 Tops: Of these, two are from No Nasties in Goa and one from TreeWear – both eco-conscious brands that use plant-based, chemical-free ingredients and dyes.
  • Pants: 1 Pair of jeans, 1 harem pants, 1 yoga pants and 1 semi-formal pants for when I need to look a bit more presentable.
  • Summer wear: 1 skirt, 1 pair of shorts and 2 summer dresses.
  • Wind and rain wear: 1 Light sweater and 1 waterproof rain jacket with waterproof pants.
  • Winter wear: 1 winter sweater, 2 heat tech thermals and 1 heat tech leggings from the Japanese brand Uniqlo, 1 muffler, 2 winter beanies.
  • Jacket: I own an ultra-light, foldable down jacket from Uniqlo that works till 0 degrees Celcius; although the brand states that it sources duck feathers from ethical suppliers, I won’t buy a down jacket again, simply because “ethics” are often relative and I’d rather not wear any animal products. I’m eyeing the Save the Duck jackets, which ensure warmth with recycled plastic and synthetic – my friend Kuntal even climbed the challenging snow-capped Lhotse peak outfitted in one!
  • Undergarments and socks: 4 bras, 1 sports bra, 8 underwear, 2 pairs of warm socks, 4 pairs of regular socks.

SHOES

TOILETRIES

  • Shower bars: 1 bar each for soap, shampoo and conditioner, cut up to fit into a little steel box (and the remaining wrapped up dry in paper). I’m so glad I’ve been able to replace single-use plastic bottles with bars without plastic packaging – they last longer, take up less space and are eco-friendly. I always keep a lookout for handmade, vegan bars, especially at local farmer markets. I’ve been using Lush shampoo and conditioner bars – they come without plastic packaging, many of them are vegan and they’re great for the hair. And I recently stumbled upon Soulflower, an Indian brand which also makes plant-based shampoo and conditioner bars; you can contact them to find out which products will suit your hair and request for the bars to be sent without plastic packaging. Can’t wait to try them!
  • Face wash: I like Biotique as well as Body Shop products – and appreciate their commitment against animal testing and animal ingredients. I hope they’ll offer their products as packaging-free bars soon.
  • Lip balm: I love the Lush rose lollipop lip balm which comes in a reusable tin box, doesn’t contain beeswax or any animal product and lasts (almost) forever!
  • Hygiene: Bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, hair serum, nail cutter.
  • Menstrual stuff: Cloth pads – I like mine from AseSnappy in the US, and have heard great things about EcoFemme in India. Menstrual cup – I’ve finally had a breakthrough, phew! I got myself a Lena Cup in the US, and among Indian brands, I’ve heard good things about the Boondh and Rustic Art cups.
  • I don’t use makeup for I prefer it au natural 😉

OTHER ESSENTIALS

  • Portable blender: Ever since I turned vegan and fell in love with healthy and tasty smoothies on the go, I acquired a portable blender by Vitamer. It’s small, very light and ensures I can have fresh fruit smoothies wherever in the world I am, often sparking much envy from hosts and fellow travellers.
  • LifeStraw water filter: I decided to get a LifeStraw filter over a LifeStraw bottle fitted with a filter because I don’t like the drinking (sucking) mechanism on their bottles – and only need to use the filter while hiking or during the rare times when I’m not able to find filtered drinking water.
  • Snack pack: I’m always prepared with energy bars, nuts, seeds, long-lasting vegan goodies and flavored tea bags gathered from around the world.
  • Takeaway box: I bought a collapsible silicone box but it broke quickly. I’m currently using a small steel box to pack leftovers and for takeaways – and saying no to a ton of single-use plastic as a result.
  • Foldable bags: A handy Mountain Warehouse bag for being outdoors, a foldable 30L Quecha bag when I need to carry extra stuff than fits in my bags (like ferrying a whole lot of vegan goodies, gifts, etc) and a foldable cloth bag for any grocery shopping needs.
  • Medical kit: I always have a small set of medicines – Crocin (for fever), Ibugesic Plus (for pain, menstrual cramps), Allegra (for allergies), Burnova Aloe Vera Gel (for sunburns to which I’m so prone), Volini (for muscle pain), Bandaids and Soframycin (for cuts, wounds), Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D3 supplements.

THE EXTRA STUFF

There are some things I need occasionally, that are expensive but just too bulky to fit into my bags long-term. For example, snow boots, a snow jacket and an old faux leather jacket I love but only works for spring / fall weather. I end up leaving these things in the homes of kind hosts, friends and family, hoping to retrieve them as and when needed.

Also read: Why I Turned Vegan – and What It Means For My Travel Lifestyle

Reducing single-use plastic in my bags

single use plastic alternatives, minimalist packing list, digital nomad packing

My attempts at reducing my single-use plastic consumption.

The truth about plastic that’s only good for limited use – like shopping bags, bottles for shampoo and other toiletries, toothbrushes, toothpaste, straws, bottled mineral water etc – is that it harms our environment. Much of it lands up in the ocean, where it enters the body of marine animals or chokes them to death. Some of it goes into landfills and pollutes the soil and groundwater. Some is burnt, releasing harmful toxins, and even the tiny amount that is recycled can only be down-cycled.

So, saying no and reducing our consumption is the only way forward. In my bags, I’ve replaced the following single-use plastic:

  • Plastic toothbrush – with a bamboo toothbrush.
  • Plastic shopping bags – with a foldable cloth bag.
  • Plastic containers for food – with a steel takeaway box.
  • Plastic bottled water – with a refillable steel water bottle and Lifestraw filter.
  • Plastic bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner – with bars for each.
  • Plastic straws – with a reusable bamboo straw and cleaner.
  • Non-biodegradable pads – with cloth pads and a menstrual cup.

You can easily find these replacements on Amazon or TheEcoTrunk (an online store dedicated to sustainable products).

Things I want to replace but haven’t found plastic-free alternatives for yet:

  • Facewash
  • Hair serum
  • Toothpaste
  • I also have a couple of ziplock bags in my bag which I’m reusing till they’re worn out.

Also read: 5 Steps to Replace Single Use Plastic – on Our Travels and in Everyday Life

Joys and challenges of living out of 2 bags

digital nomad lifestyle, digital nomad travel gear, packing list for women

Carrying my life possessions as I say goodbye to the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia.

JOYS:

  • It’s easy to pack and unpack.
  • I never have a hard time deciding what to wear.
  • An uncluttered life means using very little mental space worrying about my things.
  • I have little to no shopping expenses; all that money saved goes towards travelling.
  • This lifestyle is a conversation starter for a minimalist life, wherever in the world I am. We have to fight consumerism, one conversation at a time.
  • By owning few things and sourcing plastic-free alternatives, I’m trying to reduce my carbon and environmental footprint.

CHALLENGES:

  • Laundry – I have to do it atleast once a week.
  • The temptation to buy new things I don’t need; I find the best way is to stay away from malls and fancy stores!
  • Sometimes I feel judged for wearing the same stuff all the time, but I’ve grown to not care.
  • Physical gifts I receive, for there is no space to fit them in and carry them along. So I end up re-gifting them.

Also read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

Can you downsize your possessions too?

MSI PS42, digital nomad packing list, digital nomad lifestyle

The digital nomad life – my sleek MSI laptop, Sony headphones and a creative cafe space.

Absolutely. Whether you travel long term or not, you can make a conscious choice to cut down how much you own. I mean, do you really need 10 pairs of shoes?

Where to begin

Consciously look at everything you own. Things that you haven’t used in the past 3-6 months are probably just extras that you can comfortably live without. Clear out your cupboards and give away things in good condition to people who could use them. Re-purpose what you can, especially plastic stuff you already own. If you’re the organized type, make a list of your belongings. Even writing this post made me feel like I still have way more than I need.

The next time you’re about to buy something, ask yourself, do you really, really need it?

Figure out what works for you

As with anything else in life, competition is futile. Some people can get by on much less, some need to own way more. Experiment and figure out what works for you, what makes you feel mentally at ease.

Choose experiences over possessions

When our possessions occupy less of our mind and wallet space, we can focus on spending our mental energy and money on experiences that have the potential to shape our perspective and sometimes even change our entire life.

I’d like to believe I’m making that choice everyday. You?

digital nomad packing list, packing for long term travel

PIN ME!

Do you think you own more things that you need?

*Note: I wrote this post as part of a campaign with MSI. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine. This post may contain affiliate links; if used, I’ll earn a little off the products I genuinely recommend at no extra cost to you.

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my travels around the world.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

indian travel bloggers, shivya nath, solo travellers india

Highs and Lows of 2018 – And Aspirations for 2019.

In my mind, 2018 was akin to a shinkansen (bullet train) journey in Japan. I immensely enjoyed the ride, but felt like it ended way too soon.

Even though the year wasn’t packed with as many epic travel adventures as I had originally planned, 2018 was the year of a major milestone for me – writing and publishing a bestselling book about my journey so far. Despite this achievement, I’m flooded with bittersweet emotions as I look back at 2018, given the disheartening state of affairs in India and the world.

As I introspect about the year that was, I have also outlined my aspirations for 2019, so when I feel lost or overwhelmed, I can come back here to remind myself:

HIGHS

the shooting star book, the shooting star book launch, shivya nath

Launching my book in Mumbai. Photo: Binal Gala, Vistoria Films.

Publishing my first book!

It still feels surreal to hold a copy of The Shooting Star in my hands or introduce myself as an “author”. My debut book – one that spans my journey from India to remote corners of the globe – took years to come together. I was a bundle of nerves just before it was published, but have since been overwhelmed by largely positive reviews in prestigious Indian publications like The Hindu and Live Mint – and even more so by connecting with so many of my readers on my book tour.

In just over a month of its release, The Shooting Star acquired the status of a national bestseller. It is currently in its third reprint, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the universe for conspiring to help it find its way to the right readers.

Also read: What No One Tells You About Writing and Publishing a Book in India

Falling in love with Japan and Cuba

I only travelled to a handful of new countries this year, and among them, Japan and Cuba – both so different from the rest of the world in their own way – really stole my heart. In Japan, I was introduced to a unique world of bullet trains, onsens (public baths), beautiful food (even as a vegan), plum and cherry blossoms, and secret forests. In Cuba, I felt like I had travelled back in time, discovering the real story behind the legend of Che Guevara and witnessing first hand, the impact of our plastic consumption on pristine coral reefs.

Also read: Why Visit Japan? Because Everyone Who’s a Stranger Was Once a Friend

Embracing the digital nomad life in Guatemala and Thailand

Although I work on the go wherever in the world I am, this year, I based myself in one spot in Guatemala for 2 months and in Thailand for 1.5 months – the longest I’ve stayed “settled” in one place since I gave up my home and began living nomadically over 5 years ago! These periods were extremely productive work-wise and Netflix-wise, and I hope to discover more digital nomad and slow travel spots around the world in 2019.

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining My Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The little things 

I was dreading the idea of turning thirty in 2018, but I’m quite loving the thirties so far! I feel more grounded mentally, strangely aware of my mortality, mature enough to pursue things I procrastinated about in my twenties and bold enough to continue fighting the battles that accompany an unconventional life. I also feel really grateful for having good physical and mental health, all the great vegan food I’ve been able to feed my body and for the people (online and offline) who continue to support my craziness.

Also read: Why You Shouldn’t Put Off Your Travel Dreams For Later

LOWS

denmark sunset, bornholm denmark, bornholm sunset

An introspective sunset in Denmark.

The void after publishing a book

I furiously wrote and edited my book for most of 2017 and part of 2018; then I furiously tried to get the word out about it, hoping that through it, I’ll be able to challenge people across the country to question their life and travel choices. When I heard that The Shooting Star had already sold 10,000 copies, I decided it was time to move on… to what, I had no idea!

At first, it felt like I’d be going back to my blogging and social media life, but my mind, which had been so fired up over the past year, needed more stimulation. It felt like a void that no books or hiking could fill. Like a purposelessness that had surfaced after a period of dormancy. I’m working towards filling it with some adventurous travels and new passion projects in the coming months.

Also read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

Rejected visas and destroyed travel plans

I’ve generally had pretty good luck in the past with scoring visas on my Indian passport, but in the second half of 2018, I hit a bad streak. First, my Kyrgyzstan e-visa got rejected – no reasons given. I had planned the entire journey, even worked out blogging collaborations, but everything fell through. As per their rules, I can’t reapply for an entire year! The same thing happened with the Iran e-visa a month later, leaving me rather disgruntled about why countries are opening up e-visas for Indian citizens if they’re arbitrarily going to reject applications. Sigh.

Also read: How to Score a Schengen Visa on an Indian Passport

Social media burnout

I reluctantly went on a digital detox in Cuba, where internet is scarcely available and people still talk to each other! But in those two weeks, it felt so good to rid my mind of the social media toxins that plague many of us on some level, that it’s been a challenge to embrace the online world (my job after all) again. When I grudgingly returned, I decided to cut down my social media time drastically and even experimented with a 2-3 day work week – something I hope to work towards in 2019.

Also read: Four Years of Travelling Without a Home

ASPIRATIONS FOR 2019

digital nomad lifestyle, digital nomad india, shivya nath

My digital nomad life in Guatemala <3

Greater focus on promoting meaningful and sustainable travel

My mind is forever abuzz with story ideas I need to pen, but lately – especially after cutting down my social media browsing time – I feel like I need more conscious minds, eyes and ears to promote travel that is meaningful and sustainable. So I’ve set up two new avenues for 2019:

  • Guest posts on The Shooting Star: After much contemplation, I’m now accepting guest posts on The Shooting Star – but specifically related to meaningful and responsible travel experiences. See my guest post guidelines if you have an idea you’d like to pitch.
  • Promoting content on other websites: If you’ve created or come across an article or story that strongly supports sustainable tourism, I’d love to hear from you and share it on my social networks. Please use this form.

Also read: How Responsible Tourism Can Challenge Patriarchy in India

Fewer flights

Although I try to ensure that my travels focus on local communities and stay mindful of the environment, I’m extremely guilty of taking far too many flights. That means that despite being vegan and consciously choosing not to pro-create, my carbon footprint on the planet is still immensely high. So for 2019, I’m making the rather difficult resolution to drastically cut down  the number of flights I hop on. I’m trying to think of it as an adventure, and for starters, intend to embark upon an epic land journey in January, from Thailand to India via Myanmar!

Also read: 5 Steps to Reduce Single Use Plastic – On Our Travels and in Everyday Life

New passion projects

In the last couple of years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on two very unique passion projects – I Love Spiti, to create awareness about the harmful impact of plastic bottled water and offer eco-friendly alternatives in this high Himalayan region, and Voices of Munsiari, to enable rural storytellers to connect directly with the world using Instagram. In 2019, I have a couple of new projects up my sleeve, in support of my two fond loves – animals and trees. Details coming soon!

As we transition into 2019, I wish you a beautiful, crazy, adventurous and meaningful year ahead. Let this be the year we question our choices, be more compassionate towards animals and each other, and mindfully discover more of our incredible planet.

What were your highs and lows of 2018? How do you want 2019 to shape up?

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my 2019 travel adventures!

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

Maldives culture | Maldives where to stay | sustainable tourism maldives

Why You Should Stay on a “Local Island” to Truly Experience the Maldives. 

Which island are you from? she asked me curiously. She was 30, wrapped up in a red hijab, sitting under a palm tree on the white sand beach, casually de-seeding wild almonds.

India, I replied with a smile. I asked her about the island that was her home now (the one we were both on), and spent a lazy afternoon chatting about the one she was born on, the one where her husband ran a bakery and others in the Maldives she had been to or heard about.

Just as I was leaving, she asked: Which island in India are you from?

Living far out in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by water and sand everywhere, even I forgot for a while that there is a world where people don’t live on islands!

maldives goair direct flight, maldives local island

First glimpse of the Maldives from the flight window!

A couple of months ago, when GoAir reached out to me regarding their new direct flights from Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi to Male – the capital of the Maldives (and to Phuket in Thailand), I knew I had to write this post. As it becomes easier and cheaper to access one world from another, this is our chance to truly experience local island life in the Maldives – and its fascinating culture, cuisine and underwater world, in a fulfilling yet responsible way.

Here are all the reasons you should choose a “local island” for your trip to the Maldives:

Everyday life on local Maldivian islands is unique and fascinating

maldives local island, maldives where to stay, madi finolhu maldives

Locals who quickly became friends!

Before I spent 2 weeks living out my castaway island dream on a small “local island” in the Maldives, I imagined that all people ever did there was lounge around on the perfect blue water- white sand beach – like in the pretty photos we see in travel magazines and on Instagram! But unlike “resort islands” where most visitors end up staying, the Maldives has designated local islands where the Maldivian people actually live – traditionally in houses made of corals with woven coconut rooftops – work, go to school, chill by the azure ocean and have plenty of occasions to celebrate.

On my tiny local island of Maalhos in the Baa Atoll, women worked under the coconut trees to weave coconut leaves for rooftops; men commuted by the public ferry every morning to work on resort islands; schools girls clad in black hijabs trained at the volleyball court in the evenings; Thursdays were for beach cleaning and Fridays for afternoon prayers. By night, under the stars, half the island was out on the communal jollies – handwoven lounging chairs, somewhat like a hammock – discussing the day’s affairs and playing local drums, with the gentle waves of the Indian Ocean creating soothing music in the background.

maldives jollies, maldives local islands, maalhos maldives

Evening vibes in Maalhos (and a jolly to chill).

One weekend, we got invited, along with the rest of the island, to a local celebration, where a Maldivian band came by boat from the neighbouring Raa Atoll to perform Divehi music all night long! Another weekend, we found ourselves invited to a local wedding celebration. During our stay, ten O-level students on the island graduated… and where do you go for your graduation socials when you live in the Maldives? To an uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean, of course!

Tip: We stayed at Madi Finolhu guesthouse on Maalhos island in the Baa Atoll and absolutely loved it. To get there, take a direct flight from Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore to Male on GoAir, then a public ferry and a private boat transfer to Maalhos.

Also read: How I’m Funding my Adventures Around the World Through Travel Blogging

“Resort islands” could be anywhere in the world

local island maldives, maldives people, maldives travel blog, maldives sustainable tourism

Life on a local island in the Maldives.

So, here’s the thing: There are two ways to experience the Maldives. You can stay on a “resort island” – a fancy resort on a private island. Pay through your nose, experience luxury which is mostly environmentally unsustainable, see only fellow tourists and walk along a sanitised beach without shells, coconuts and the occasional waste, surreptitiously cleared away by resort staff every morning. You can soak in the beauty of the islands, but perhaps in a bubble with no sense of how the locals really live. You could be anywhere in the world – the Maldives or other islands like Mauritius, Seychelles, Andaman or the Caribbean.

But it’s only on a local island that you can get a real flavour of Maldivian life. Witness kids of all ages in their playground – the beach – surfing on their tiny boards. Learn that although the women are expected to cover up fully and wear an abaya at all times, they cycle or play sports in the evenings, hang out on the public beach under the stars and love Bollywood music. Join men as they play local tunes and chat about the island’s affairs. Alcohol is forbidden on local islands, but amid the refreshing sea breeze, fresh mango juices and laid-back life, I hardly missed it.

Tip: When you stay in a local guesthouse on a local island, the money you spend goes directly to the locals – and you can influence them to be more aware of their environmental impact.

Also read: Travelling Abroad First Time? 10 Questions on Your Mind

Maldivian cuisine is delicious – and the real thing is only available on local islands

Maldives cuisine, Maldives culture, Maldives food, Maldives local island

All the incredible Maldivian food we devoured.

Before I got to Maalhos, I was quite worried about surviving as a vegan there. After all, I could walk from end to end of the island in 20 minutes and I imagined all people ever ate was seafood.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that SO many interesting vegetables and fruits grew on our island – green papaya, brinjal, kopifai (a leaf deliciously made into a salad), wild almonds, pumpkin, mangoes, pineapple, passion fruit and my favourite – moringa, the superfood! At the local-run Madi Finolhu Guesthouse, I feasted on different kinds of veggies and curries, along with roshi (a local bread a bit like India’s roomali roti) and fresh passion fruit or mango juices every day. When I explained to locals that I love fish in the ocean but not on my plate, they laughed at first, then nodded solemnly about how the local fish population has been declining.

On the other hand, most resorts in the Maldives serve up a wide variety of cuisines, air-flown from different corners of the globe, with little care for local ingredients and sustainability.

Tip: Check out my food adventures in the Maldives and around the world on my food  Instagram account @nomadicvegan. Inform your accommodation beforehand about your vegan diet, so they can make sure you’re well fed.

Also read: Why I Turned Vegan – And What it Means For My Travel Lifestyle

You can explore the Indian Ocean like a real explorer

Maldives travel blog, Maldives life, Maldives local island

Exploring an uninhabited island in the Maldives.

Instead of snorkeling and water tours offered by most resorts, staying on a local island meant we’d hitch a ride to snorkel off an uninhabited island when our host at Madi Finolhu was on his way to work. On his fishing boat, we’d go to virtually unknown spots in the Indian Ocean to snorkel above the most stunning corals, look for Manta Rays at their cleaning stations, come face-to-face with a black tip shark, observe in fascination a green turtle who would come to the surface every few minutes for a breath of air, and most unexpectedly, spot a  large humpback whale presumably migrating via the Maldives – secretly hoping it wouldn’t topple our little boat!

Tip: No matter who you’re out exploring the ocean with, remember NOT to touch or feed any wild marine animals or get too close to the corals.

Also read: Simple Ways to Travel More Responsibly in Ladakh

This is a real-life climate change classroom

Maldives sustainable tourism, Maldives climate change, Maldives local island

The world’s climate change “school”.

Fascinating though it was to explore the depths of the Indian Ocean with a local islander, it also put in perspective how much our oceans are changing. Our host lamented how many patches of stunning corals have been bleached in the past few years due to the warming climate and increasing plastic trash – the effect of which is very obvious on Maalhos. That inspired him to lead an initiative in his past role as the island councilor to start a waste management program on Maalhos. Each house on the island now segregates waste; organic waste is composted, tin and plastic are compressed and sent to Male, some inorganic waste is burnt but they’re on the lookout for better solutions. Maalhos is also in the midst of finishing up their own tiny desalination plant with a glass bottle facility – so locals no longer have to rely on boiled rainwater or plastic bottled water for drinking!

madi finolhu maldives, local island maldives, maldives where to stay

With our awesome host, Matheen.

I heard some sad stories of fancy resorts that pay neighbouring local islands to take their waste, so they can put up a clean facade for tourists. And of uninhabited islands where trash has been piling up for years – and presumably drifting into the ocean.

As travellers, the islands of the Maldives are classrooms to learn about climate change and the plastic menace first hand – and realise how our travel and consumption choices can have a direct impact on how we choose to experience a destination.

Tip: Please do your bit and opt to drink filtered / boiled rainwater in the Maldives like the locals. Carry a LifeStraw filter or bottle if you must. Say no to single-use plastic like straws and bags; carry your own bamboo straw and reusable cloth bag. Make sure you carry all your plastic trash back to a city with waste management in place; don’t dispose it on the island where it will either be burnt or harm the underwater world.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

You can experience the best of the Maldives on a budget

maldives sunset, maldives travel blog, maldives shivya nath

The castaway island dream!

Budget is a relative term in the Maldives. Even the most basic resorts charge upward of 500-1000$ per night. In comparison, 60-150$ a night at Madi Finolhu (room only to full board) felt like a steal. To be honest, despite receiving invites to stay at fancy resorts with no responsible tourism policy in place, I’d much rather stay on a local island. I mean, we were among a very small handful of travellers on our pristine, beautiful island; large stretches of the empty white sand beach were ours alone to be savoured; each sunset was unforgettable in its own way; we had private dinners on a moonlit beach under the stars; the magical underwater world was just off our beach, with eels, living corals and all kinds of fish; and many nights, while walking along the beach, we witnessed the surreal glow of the bio-luminescent plankton on the shore, mirroring the twinkling stars in the sky above!

Do you dream of travelling to the Maldives someday?

Note: I wrote this post as part of a campaign by GoAir – who now offer direct flights from India to Male and Phuket, as well as flight+hotel offers. As you know, opinions on this blog are always mine.

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my travels around the world.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

solo travel destinations

Unusual Solo Travel Destinations to Feed Your Adventurous Spirit.

As solo travellers, we often tend to take shelter in the same tried and tested places. The ones that rank high on online lists of “safe countries for solo travel”, which have several hostels to choose from, where tourism has made it imperative for locals to speak English and where the presence of other travellers puts us in our comfort zone. Over my solo explorations in the past seven years though, I’ve found that such places often tend to stifle our adventurous spirit. The same spirit that originally made us want to go it alone.

Looking back, my most cherished solo travel memories were made in unusual, offbeat places – and while putting together this post, I’ve considered the following parameters:

  • The locals aren’t saturated with tourism: Despite being an introvert, I found it relatively easy to have authentic interactions and make local friends in these places.
  • There’s plenty to do alone, even on a budget: Although this is very subjective and based on personal preferences, these are places where I found plenty to do using public transport and on a moderate budget.
  • A general feeling of safety: It’s important to keep our wits about us anywhere we go or live, but I never felt particularly unsafe in these places.

If you plan to travel solo but can’t decide where to go, consider my favorite (offbeat) solo travel destinations:

Julian Alps, Slovenia

Best solo travel destination for: Mountains and solitude

slovenia, best countries for solo travellers, best solo travel destinations

Postcard living in the Slovenian Alps.

Although as solo travellers, we’re spoilt for choice in Europe, the one country that really stole my heart is Slovenia. Like every other traveller, I first landed up in Ljubljana – an artsy capital city with incredible vegan food (hello, Barberella Arkade Bistro) – and Lake Bled – a sore disappointment given how commercial it’s become. But further into the Slovenian Alps, I was captivated by the dreamy mountains and valleys, loved hiking and cycling by myself, and ended up staying with Slovenian hosts so friendly, they invited me for home-cooked meals and drove me to their favorite spots amid the stunning rivers and forests. That special connection was so strong that one week after I left Slovenia, I ended up changing my travel plans and coming back to spend the rest of my Europe trip there!

Solo travel recommendations for Slovenia:

Also read: Easy Ways to Take Awesome Photos of Yourself While When You Travel Solo

Hill country, Sri Lanka

Best solo travel destination for: First international solo trip; nature; vegan food

best solo travel destinations, sri lanka, colombo solo travel

Mornings at my homestay in Colombo.

I think of Sri Lanka as a saner, smaller, less chaotic version of India – one that is as full of natural beauty yet feels safer and easier to manoeuvre. The capital city of Colombo always puts me in my comfort zone as I sink my feet into the wet shores of the Indian Ocean, feast at accidentally vegan-friendly restaurants and imagine a utopian future for India with lower population, clean streets and better infrastructure. And when I think of the countryside, I can’t stop dreaming of the lush green hills, the train rides along misty tea plantations and rice paddies, the curious locals who become friends with an ice-breaking smile, the forests with indigenous dwellers, wild elephants and big cats, and most of all, of steamed hoppers served with a curry simmered overnight with Sri Lankan spices. Can I go back already?

Solo travel recommendations for Sri Lanka:

Also read: Travelling Abroad First Time? 10 Questions on Your Mind

Kumaon, Uttarakhand, India

Best solo travel destination for: Nature and the slow life

uttarakhand solo travel, best places for solo travel in india

Hiking in the deodar forests of Uttarakhand.

On some of my earliest solo explorations in India, the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand taught me so much about solo travel. In Peora and Nathuakhan, I learnt to hike alone, put my faith in nature and accept random acts of kindness from strangers. Walking across Himalayan villages in Kumaon, I learnt to embrace the slow life philosophy of locals – sometimes out of choice, sometimes out of circumstance. In Binsar, I learnt of the man-forest conflict and in Sarmoli, I grasped how a small group of committed women can transform their lives and those of many others.

I don’t think I could have enjoyed mere sightseeing in the Kumaon Himalayas. The terraced mountain farms, the pristine lakes, the scented pine forests and the lush valleys are stunning, no doubt. But it’s only when I learnt to club them with a slice of local living, that I truly fell in love.

Solo travel recommendations for Kumaon, Uttarakhand:

Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

Ecuador

Best solo travel destination for: Experienced solo travellers; hiking; culture

Ecuador solo travel, best solo travel destinations, best countries for solo travel

Crazy beautiful hikes in Ecuador.

Hiking alone in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador is definitely one of my most cherished solo travel memories – especially when I throw in my time with an indigenous Quichua family and the jaw-dropping beauty of the rugged Andean trails, forests, lakes, valleys, canyons and ridges. Despite spending a month slowly exploring the country – partly by myself, partly with a friend – I feel like I never really got my closure and can’t wait to go back  someday.

Solo travel recommendations for Ecuador:

  • Visa: Indian passport holders get visa-free access to Ecuador with a valid and used US visa.
  • Stay: I loved staying at family-run Airbnbs across Ecuador, and at Black Sheep Inn in the Andes.
  • Transport: Public buses connect most of the country.
  • Learn Spanish: Speaking Spanish is essential to travel in Ecuador.

Also read: What it’s Like to Travel Solo When You’re in a Relationship

Mauritius

Best solo travel destination for: Nature and beaches – if you don’t mind being surrounded by lovestruck couples!

mauritius solo travel, offbeat places for solo travel, safest places for solo travellers

Black River Gorges in Mauritius.

It’s one thing to read that Mauritius is popular with honeymoon couples, quite another to land on this beautiful island and constantly be badgered with questions of why you chose to travel there alone. But once I learnt to humour the questions, I fell in love with the many faces of the island – hiking in the rugged wilderness above Port Louis and in the Black River Gorges National Park, riding my bike along swaying sugarcane fields, chatting with Indo-Mauritian fishermen and farmers, revelling in the stunning sunrises and sunsets, checking out the craft beer and street food scene, sleeping on a rooftop under the stars, and snorkelling to explore the stunning underwater beauty of the Indian Ocean. I wouldn’t pick it as my first solo travel destination, but I’d certainly go when I’m ready for some sea, sand and solitude.

Solo travel recommendations for Mauritius:

Also read: Solo Travel: To Go or Not To Go?

Cuba

Best solo travel destination for: Experienced solo travellers; architecture; culture

cuba solo travel, offbeat solo travel destinations, best solo travel destinations

The colors of La Habana.

As someone who can’t imagine staying offline for long periods of time, I didn’t know if I’d enjoy exploring Cuba solo. Turned out, the fascinating history, isolated culture, striking natural beauty and endearing locals made me forget all about the internet – even though it could be accessed in public parks! The best thing I did in La Habana (Havana) was sign up for a private “go with the flow” afternoon with Cuban Adventures and spend 3 hours with a young guide who grew up in Cuba – drinking daiquiri, catching a football game, learning about the Afro-Cuban religion, spotting incredible murals and sculptures as we wandered around the by-lanes of Havana and talked candidly about Cuba’s eventful history. 

In an attempt at offbeat and meaningful travel, I also landed up volunteering briefly at a coral reef restoration project run by IOI Adventures in a remote village in Isla de la Juventud. Along with locals from the village and a fellow volunteer, I picked up plastic trash from the ocean floor, saw how corals were being regrown, patrolled a deserted beach for turtle hatching, snorkelled above stunning reefs and pledged to further cut out single-use plastic from my life. 

Solo travel recommendations for Cuba:

  • Visa: Indian passport holders can enter Cuba with a tourist card.
  • Internet: Wifi cards are available for purchase at ETECSA (telecom) shops across the country, and wifi can be accessed at many public parks.
  • Stay: I stayed at Casa Particulares (private homestays) across Cuba – some through Airbnb, some through local reference – and loved interacting with local families.
  • Transport: Buses and shared taxis connect most places across Cuba; homestay hosts can arrange both with some advance notice.

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining My Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Odisha, India

Best solo travel destination for: Mature solo travellers; culture-seekers

Odisha solo travel, India solo travel, solo travel destinations India

Sunset in the eastern ghats.

I only spent a couple weeks in Odisha, quite nervous about exploring the state for the first time. But I quickly fell in love with everything – the local food (easy to veganise), the warm people, the stunning and diverse natural beauty and the intriguing tribal way of life. I did long journeys on state buses, took an overnight train, explored small villages on a bicycle, and felt safe in the company of those I met along the way.

I say Odisha is for experienced solo travellers though, because travel infrastructure is limited, the regular tourist circuit isn’t geared towards solo travel and it takes some ‘jugaad’ (think hitchhiking pillion on a motorbike) to get off the beaten path if you travel alone and don’t have a car. I’ll be writing a detailed post about my travels in Odisha soon!

Solo travel recommendations for Odisha:

  • Stay: I enjoyed staying at Kila Dalijoda along the eastern ghats and Chandoori Sai in the Koraput region. And loved my time at Desia Ecolodge, where thanks to my host and now friend Bubu, I was able to experience the fascinating tribal culture of Koraput in an intimate and respectful way.
  • Public transport: I got around by buses and trains, and although the quality is pretty much the same as the rest of India, I found the locals to be helpful and friendly, and didn’t feel unsafe.

Also read: How to Plan Your First Solo Trip

The United Kingdom

Best solo travel destination for: First solo trip; cities; hiking

UK solo travel, best countries for solo travel

Hiking in the Lake District.

Though not the most friendly on the wallet, England and Scotland are some of the easiest places to navigate without having to get familiar with a foreign language, with plenty to explore for offbeat travellers. I spent my days in Aberdeen and Edinburgh walking everywhere, checking out old churches, urban parks, edgy neighborhoods and hipster cafes. Renting a car or joining a group tour is necessary to explore much of the countryside, but I found that the Lake District was a beautiful exception – the town of Keswick is accessible by train and bus, and is a great base for incredible hikes in the surrounding Cumbrian Mountains.

Solo travel recommendations for the UK:

  • Visa: Apply for a UK visa at VFS UK; the regular tourist visa takes atleast 14 working days, sometimes longer, so give yourself plenty of time.
  • Stay: Find bed and breakfasts, and old country hotels across Britain, on booking.com. If you’re not signed up yet, register with my referral to get 10$ off your first stay.

Also read: Autumn, Adventure and Artful Living in Aberdeeshire, Scotland

Guatemala

Best solo travel destination for: Mature solo travellers; rugged beauty; cultural immersion

guatemala solo travel, unusual solo travel destinations, solo travel blogs

Hate saying goodbye to Guatemala.

I’ve perhaps never been as nervous embarking on a solo adventure as I was boarding my flight to Guatemala – my first time in Central America. But those solo travel fears were soon dispelled in the quaint town of Antigua, in the home of a Mayan family in an obscure town where I learnt Spanish and by the stupendous beauty of Lake Atitlan. I’ve been so intrigued by what survives of the Mayan culture and so delighted by the basic staple food (beans, rice, plantains, cacao, avocados) that I’ve been back for long periods twice since. I recommend Guatemala for experienced solo travellers because you must learn some Spanish to get by, know when to trust your gut, and figure out the country once you go beyond the worn-out tourist trail.

Solo travel recommendations for Guatemala:

  • Visa: Indian passport holders get visa-free access to Guatemala with a valid and used US visa.
  • Stay: Check out my fav Airbnbs across Central America.
  • Transport: The popular tourist spots in Guatemala are connected by shuttles, while other places are accessible by bus.
  • Learn Spanish: Learning Spanish is a must while travelling in Guatemala; very few locals are able to understand English. I learnt Spanish at the pretty remote Bio Itza School in the village of San Jose, and then again from private Mayan tutor Rebeca along Lake Atitlan.

Also read: What Solo Travel Has Taught Me About the World – And Myself

Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India

Best solo travel destination for: First solo trip; mountains; going off the grid; volunteering

spiti solo travel, solo travel destinations india, india solo travel

The stark beauty of Spiti.

The Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh is where my love affair with solo travel began. I still remember my first lonely night in a shabby room in Shimla with some clarity. I had no idea what I was doing, why I was travelling alone, what it was going lead to. But all those questions were dispelled as we drove along winding roads to arrive in one of the most spectacular and fascinating regions of India. Back in 2011, Spiti was a trip of firsts for me – volunteer traveling, hitch-hiking, sleeping under the Milky Way and learning about sustainable tourism. My time volunteering with Spiti Ecosphere impacted me so deeply that I decided to quit my corporate job soon after and began charting a different life for myself.

Solo travel recommendations for Spiti, Himachal Pradesh:

  • Getting there: Take the overnight HPTDC Volvo bus from Delhi to Manali, spend a night or two to acclimatise, then take a shared taxi to Kaza.
  • Traveling in Spiti: I highly recommend traveling with Spiti Ecosphere – their “life as a local” trip is one I want to try myself. You can also base yourself in Kaza for a while and volunteer with them.
  • The “I Love Spiti” campaign: Last year, I partnered with Spiti Ecosphere and fellow volunteers to launch “I Love Spiti” – a campaign against plastic bottled water in Spiti. Consider volunteering in Spiti to take this campaign to the next level!

Also read: Solo Travel Moments That Left Me Scared Shitless

Bahrain

Best solo travel destination for: Experienced solo travellers; culture

Bahrain solo travel, middle east solo travel, offbeat solo travel destinations

With a local friend in Bahrain.

Many countries in the Middle East are shrouded in controversy and oppression, and having heard horror stories from close friends, I’d probably avoid many of them, especially as a solo female traveller. Bahrain (and Oman and Jordan) are exceptions though – some of the more liberal, peaceful ones in the region. I didn’t travel solo in Jordan and I’m yet to explore Oman, but Bahrain has occupied a warm space in my heart since I travelled there a few years ago. Public transport is non-existent and taxis expensive, so I ended up hitch-hiking with the friendliest souls, hanging out in trendy shisha cafes, having heart-to-heart conversations with locals and even finding some surprising Indian connections.

Solo travel recommendations for Bahrain:

  • Visa: Bahrain offers visa on arrival for Indian passport holders.
  • Stay: I stayed at a hotel, but in retrospect, would choose an Airbnb or guesthouse in or close to the trendy Adliya neighborhood.
  • Getting around: Getting around within Bahrain without a car is challenging. I managed with walking, hitch-hiking, being driven around with new friends and the rare taxi.

Also read: Why You Shouldn’t Put Off Your Travel Dreams in 2018

North Goa (interiors), India

Best solo travel destination for: First solo trip; vegan food

goa solo travel, india solo travel, indian solo travellers

The sleepy interiors of north Goa.

I’ve never been drawn to the beaches of Goa – often full of boisterous crowds, aggressive drug peddlers and underwhelming food. But the interiors of Goa have continued to delight me for years now, thanks to my earliest discoveries with my Goan hosts Raquel and Roberto. Theirs is not the Goa you read or hear about otherwise – no beaches, no loud parties, alcohol is not the centre of attraction. Theirs is a Goa of sleepy villages, pristine backwaters, lush paddies and the susegad (content) life. One that you have to experience yourself to believe.

Solo travel recommendations for Goa:

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies Are Changing the Way You Experience India

Germany

Best solo travel destination for: Nature; postcard villages; solitude

germany solo travel, offbeat solo travel ideas, solo travel destinations 2019

Postcard villages in Hessen, Germany.

Ever since I got over my misconceptions of Germany on my first Euro trip (no, most Germans are not uptight and the beer’s fab but there’s so much more to the country), I’ve explored several parts of Germany – a lot of it solo. I love the wine traditions along the River Rhine, the Christmas Markets across the country, the forested countryside of Hessen, the waterways of Spreewald, the lost-in-time villages of Southwest Germany and the stellar beauty of the German Alps in Berchtesgaden National Park. Equally, I love the conscious living embraced by many locals, the long train journeys on the Deutsche Bahn (seriously, when will India catch up?) and the fact that I’m never thinking twice about my safety.

Solo travel recommendations for Germany:

  • Getting there:Lufthansa offers direct flights from India to Munich and Frankfurt.
  • Visa: Apply for a Schengen visa at VFS Germany in India.
  • First time to Germany: See my tips to plan your first trip to Germany.

What are some unusual places around the world you’ve travelled solo? Which were your favorites and why?

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my travels around the world.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

Why I Don’t Recommend Celebrating the Lantern Festival on New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai.

About this post: On New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai in 2017, I found myself at the Chiang Mai lantern festival, flying paper lanterns on 31st December as the clock announced the New Year – something I never should have done. In this post, I’ve penned down the harmful environmental impact of the Chiang Mai lantern festival, and why I don’t recommend celebrating it.  

Last year, when I first heard of the lantern festivities on New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai, I was smitten. I mean, with those gorgeous images floating all over the Internet, it’s hard not to be. So with thousands of others, I made my way to Tha Phae Gate at midnight, scribbled a wish on my lantern, and released it with the midnight countdown to New Year. From where I stood, the sight of thousands of fire-lit lanterns floating in the night sky looked gorgeous. I wrote about it on my blog and hoped to be there again on New Year’s Eve 2018. 

But in the interim, I learnt about the terrible impact of these seemingly harmless lanterns floating in the sky – and witnessed it myself.

Last month, I unexpectedly found myself on a Bangkok rooftop, unaware that it was the eve of the famous Loy Krathong festival in Thailand. From the 41st floor of the high-rise I was Airbnb-ing in, I could admire the entire skyline of this rapidly growing city at sunset. But that evening, the setting sun was trapped in a haze and visibility was drastically reduced. A thick layer of smog hung in the air, obscuring my view – much like it often hangs in the Delhi sky, creating a grim ‘end of the world’ kind of scene. A bad traffic day? I wondered. Just then I saw the cause – a handful of floating lanterns, emitting a dull yellow light, pierced the smog and drifted towards the horizon.

It suddenly hit me that the lantern festival of Thailand is a lot like Diwali in India. On the ground, the lanterns and crackers seem harmless, fun, even beautiful. They seem to light up the sky and our hearts… but both are equally terrible for the Earth and our lungs.

Here’s why I don’t recommend celebrating the lantern festival (on New Year’s Eve or Loy Krathong / Yi Peng) in Chiang Mai and other parts of Thailand:

Sky lanterns are not completely biodegradable

Turns out, even though many of the lanterns are made of eco-friendly rice paper, they also have non bio-degradable parts. A large metal wire and a big chunk of wax, for instance. The wax burns for a long time, emitting CO2, causing air pollution and smog. The kind I personally witnessed in the Bangkok sky.

Also read: 5 Ways I’ve Changed to Travel More Responsibly

The lanterns ultimately land up in farms, rivers and the ocean – and harm animals

The sky lanterns, even as seen from the ground, have a long and unpredictable trajectory. They will travel in the air, with the wind, as long as the wax within propels them. The risk of setting a tree, house or farm on fire is very real. Some will fall in canals, some in fields and farms far away. Some will flow out to the oceans, some will be cleared away. Even the ones that are cleared away, will be cleared from sight, but will probably end up in the ocean someday – as pretty much all non-biodegradable trash does.

The irony is that the Thailand lantern festival – a combination of Loy Krathong (floats on the water) and Yi Peng (lanterns in the sky) – has its origins in paying respect to the water spirits.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

Chiang Mai’s lantern festival is not a traditional festival

When I set my lantern adrift last year, to the beat of drums, with the help of an orange-clothed monk at a small shrine in Chiang Mai city, it felt like I was doing what locals have always done. But now that I’ve researched it further, I’ve learnt that the tradition of lighting sky lanterns originated in small farming communities in rural parts of northern Thailand – where locals would set their lanterns afloat at noon, in their vast farming fields. And presumably account for the minimal trash later during the day.

According to this article by the Bangkok Post, the lantern festival was introduced to Chiang Mai and other parts of the country only in the early 2000s, as a means to attract tourism!

Also read: 5 Steps to Reduce Single Use Plastic – On Our Travels and in Everyday Life

Sky lanterns have been banned in several countries

To put things in perspective, it is worth noting that sky lanterns had begun gaining popularity in many countries around the world – during weddings and other celebrations. But given the risk of the fire they can cause, the waste they generate and the smoke they release, many parts of Europe, South America, China, UK and nearby Vietnam have banned these lanterns.

I’m kicking myself for not doing enough research last year and becoming part of a tourist festival that is creating enormous waste and pollution in a city and country I love.

Even though I’m likely to be in Thailand on New Year’s Eve 2018, I definitely won’t be spotted at the Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai, for those sky lanterns, floating into the night sky, will only remind me of how poorly we’re treating our beloved nature, environment, animals and the ocean.

Have you ever taken part in an environmentally or socially harmful tradition on your travels – and regretted it? It’s time we speak up and let others learn from our mistakes.

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my travels around the world.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

Copenhagen cycling

What Indian Cities Can Learn About Green Tourism from Copenhagen.

On a recent visit to my hometown Dehradun, I decided to take a rickety bicycle for a spin around the neighborhood. The plan was to retrace the cycling routes of my childhood. I pedalled along potholes and pools of water from a broken pipe, ignoring the incessant honking of cars and bikes, trying to reach the river and forests that once used to be our backyard. Much to my disappointment, the river was just a dismal trickle amid a rocky, plundered river bed, and I couldn’t trace the forests at all until I reached a gate with a sign announcing I was entering a private property – I looked wistfully at the old oak trees, now the only green lung in the neighborhood.

Dejected, I abandoned the bicycle ride. As I sat lamenting the lost beauty of the once charming Doon Valley, a local newspaper article caught my eye. The most livable cities in India are not Delhi or Mumbai, it proudly proclaimed; Dehradun is among the top 3 most liveable cities in India. The same city that has lost its rivers and forests to rampant construction. The same city where the streets have become choc-o-bloc with chaotic traffic and the hills have been blocked from view by hideously designed high-rise apartments. Water shortages are common, the air is often dusty and polluted, and the once dark skies glow dejectedly with only a handful of stars. And yet, compared to many other cities in India, Dehradun is probably among the more liveable ones!

Many people I speak to, think this is the price we have to pay for economic development. That high-rises, malls, fancy cars – even on congested streets – and light pollution are a sign of progress. The question is, can economic progress co-exist with green living?

I turn to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, one of the world’s most eco-friendly and developed cities, for inspiration and policies, which if seriously implemented in Indian cities, could transform them into truly smart, green, liveable cities:

No resident lives more than an 8-minute walk away from a green space

While green lungs in Indian cities (think the Aarey forest in Mumbai) are fighting to survive, Copenhagen proudly ensures that no city-dweller lives further than 8 minutes on foot from a green zone. These green spaces include urban parks, gardens with cherry blossom trees, cemeteries with walking and cycling trails, historical monuments planted with seasonal trees, lakes surrounded by green trails, even a theme park with plenty of greenery. Notice what they cleverly did there? In the process of creating green spaces for Copenhagen residents, they also created a vast set of outdoor attractions for travellers. I, for one, fell in love with the seasonal cherry trees in the urban parks, cycling along the Copenhagen lakes and hanging out amid the striking poplar trees of Assistens Cemetery.

A concentrated effort to foster aesthetic green spaces in Indian cities would not only help protect the environment and lower air pollution, but also afford working adults an outdoor space to rejuvenate, leading to a more productive workforce, and boost leisure tourism in cities – both closely linked to economic growth. Oh, and kids with faces buried in their iPads all day could forge a much-needed connection with the outdoors.

Also read: Fun and Alternative Things to do in Copenhagen – Perhaps Europe’s Coolest Capital City

Infrastructure investment and incentives to ensure more bicycles than cars on the streets

On my recent trip to Himachal Pradesh, I heard a local politician proudly share his plan to build a highway to connect remote mountain villages by cutting a pristine primary forest – and in order to protect the environment, he would put a lane for cycling and electric cars.

On a short transit through Lucknow, I drove beside a cycling path that literally broke off in parts with no space to continue the ride.

Cycling infrastructure in India is a bit of a joke. Especially when you compare it to a city like Copenhagen – and let’s not get into how rich they are compared to us, because we have a ton of money to waste invest in statues and other pointless things. I was stunned to see just how far Copenhagen has taken its commitment to supporting cyclists: dedicated cycling lanes as wide as bus lanes, well-laid rules giving priority to cyclists, dedicated traffic lights to regulate cycling traffic, incentives to discourage private cars by making them extremely costly, futuristic cycling bridges that make the commuting time shorter than driving a car, and dedicated parking spaces for bicycles.

Even though solar-powered public buses ply the streets, I was so enamoured by the cycling culture and infrastructure, that I spent a beautiful week – rain or shine – cycling everywhere, including the airport. Believe it or not, even local politicians cycle to parliament everyday!

In Indian cities, where many people suffer from obesity due to lack of exercise as a by-product of endless traffic, health outcomes could be significantly improved by investments in solid cycling infrastructure. I remember reading Ruskin Bond’s autobiography, where he talks about Delhi in the 1950s. In those days, everyone got around on bicycles, even in Connaught Place, and wild animals roamed the forests and fields around South Delhi. Wouldn’t it be amazing to retrieve that Delhi (and other Indian cities) through strategic investment and incentives to transition residents away from cars / uber / ola to bicycles… rather than unsustainable odd-even car schemes or banning private cars altogether with no feasible alternatives?

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies Are Changing the Way You Experience India

Modernise old heritage from within to preserve it

India’s crumbling heritage never fails to dishearten me. Beautiful old houses and buildings, built in traditional architecture and ancient wisdom, are being torn down and replaced with ugly concrete construction throughout the country – and especially so in Indian cities. For that reason, standing at Nyhavn, the old waterfront of Copenhagen and one of the city’s most iconic tourism sites, I was moved to see beautiful old townhouses from the 17th century line the harbor – their exteriors carefully preserved, their interiors refurbished for urban living. Indeed, these are not monuments for sightseeing alone, they are comfortably inhabited and fetch high rents.

My guide proudly explained that Copenhagen owes their preservation to a policy implemented by the municipal government only a few decades ago, forbidding these charming houses from being torn down or modified from the outside. Over the years, this has given residents a chance to live in these aspirational homes, and made them a major attraction that draws thousands of visitors every week.

Luckily Indian cities haven’t lost all their heritage yet. I’m thinking of the crumbling Portuguese houses of Goa and the old townhouses of Bandra in Mumbai – these buildings, hundreds of years old, have survived the brutal test of time. Many of them are abandoned, in dispute or simply in a state of disrepair, and it’s still not too late to institute a strict policy that incentivises their preservation. Economically, it could lead to jobs in traditional architecture, construction, interior design, real estate and tourism – all at once.

I’ve met architects travelling to India from around the world to study the traditional construction in the mountains, for despite being “kaccha” mud, stone and wooden houses, they’ve survived the worst of earthquakes. It’s high time we start appreciating our old wisdom too.

Also read: My Alternative Travel Guide to Goa

People’s movement for organic, vegan food

I know what you’re thinking by now: Copenhagen is lucky to have a government with a vision for economic growth driven by sustainability. But a wise man once said, people get the government they deserve.

Even knowing nothing about the sustainable policies of the government, it’s easy to get a sense of the how the locals are driving Copenhagen’s movement towards organic and sustainable produce, and cruelty-free food and lifestyle products. Hanging out at local food courts, cafes frequented by locals and farmers’ markets, I fell in love with the conscious living embraced and driven by the city’s residents. Some of my favorites were SoulsKaf Cafe and the Torvehallerne Food Hall.

While organic farmers’ markets and the vegan lifestyle are slowly catching up in bigger Indian cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, the movement is restricted to small ‘hipster’ pockets. In reality, consuming superfoods and organic vegetables has long been part of our traditional way of life, so it surprises me when many pass it off as an expensive new trend. These movements – conscious of the planet, compassionate towards animals and good for our health – need to be driven by locals, but can ultimately transform our healthcare and agriculture sectors.

Also read: 15 Awesome Hangouts in Mumbai to Chill, ‘Work from Home’ and Enjoy Vegan Food

Forward-thinking sustainable hotels

On the outset, Scandic in Copenhagen felt like any other fancy hotel in a big city. Although I prefer small homestays when I travel, I was on assignment and accepted a stay in a luxury hotel, with perhaps a tinge of guilt. That guilt soon faded away when I learnt of Scandic’s commitment to go entirely carbon neutral by 2025! The hotel already measures its water and energy consumption to analyse and implement ways to reduce it. Infact, it was at Scandic that the idea of “hang up your towel if you want to use it again” came about; an idea that has been replicated by the hotel industry around the world.

And Scandic is not alone. Sustainable architecture is a key component of Copenhagen’s city policy, and applies to hotels, apartments and traditional buildings across the city. Green rooftops, urban farming and carbon-neutral buildings are becoming the norm.

As high rise hotels and residential complexes mushroom across India, a policy incentivising green-construction could curb water, energy and waste problems that plague our cities – and of course elevate India as a green tourism hub.

So far, India’s commitment towards economic growth, tourism development and environment sustainability (especially our climate change goals) seem to be crawling forward in silos. Copenhagen’s strategy to integrate them as three pillars of the same foundation has made it one of the world’s most developed, green and aspirational cities. It’s not too late to adopt a similar approach and transform the future of Indian cities too.

What innovative green tourism initiatives have you seen around the world that could be replicated in India?

Featured image: Kristoffer Trolle (CC); check out his amazing work here.

*Note: I travelled to Copenhagen on assignment for Visit Copenhagen. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine.

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to follow my travel adventures around the world!

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

Sri Lanka pictures, Sri Lanka photos, Sri Lanka hill country

Incredible Ways to Experience Sri Lanka.

I remember my first trip to Sri Lanka with some clarity. We landed at Colombo International Airport on a nearly empty flight from Kochi, harboring no expectations from this small island nation, of which little was written online until a few years ago. As I walked along the quiet shores of Negombo (a small city between Colombo and the airport), cycled along tree-lined by-lanes, waved hello to young kids who had seen few travellers, gratefully accepted the warm hospitality of my host couple and treated my tasted buds to incredible locals flavors, I knew I was falling in love (Read: My First Impressions of Sri Lanka).

Many years and many trips on, Sri Lanka hasn’t stopped delighting me with its many treasures. Here are a handful of them:

Take the slow train from Kandy to Ella.

train kandy to ella, sri lanka hill country, Sri Lanka photos, train to ella

Chugging up Sri Lanka’s hill country.

I must confess I’m not a train person. But chugging up on the slow blue train from Kandy to Ella (See: In Photos: Chugging up Sri Lanka’s Hill Country), through mist and light rain, was an experience to remember. From the window, I watched colorful umbrellas move briskly across the green tea plantations. I stood by the door, feeling the wind in my hair, waving to kids as we crossed sleepy villages enveloped in clouds. Birds flew in and out of the train, as we munched on spicy peanuts and Sri Lankan “short eats”. We winded along rolling hills covered with lush tea estates, interspersed with small streams, stunning waterfalls, mountain tunnels, pine forests and vast green valleys – one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve done in all of Asia.

The slow train from Kandy to Ella, through Sri Lanka’s hill country, departs twice daily – early morning at 6am, and at noon. It takes 6-7 hours to arrive in Ella. Buying tickets a day in advance is a good idea. 

Swim on the east coast.

Sri Lanka beaches, best beaches in Sri Lanka, Passikudah sri lanka, Sri Lanka pictures

Passikudah by the evening.

We didn’t make it to Galle and the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, since the monsoons were in full swing. And I’m glad we didn’t, because the beaches on the east coast were all I needed. A gentle blue Indian Ocean caresses the soft, white, powdery sands at Passikudah. I’ve swum in the waves before, but never in an ocean so shallow and so gentle, you could think you’re in a swimming pool! Although I sorely missed the sunsets on this coast (and couldn’t wake up early enough for sunrise), the evening skies were always streaked a light yellow, orange or red. And we could snorkel right from the shore, into an aquarium of colorful corals and fish.

Passikudah is located an hour away from Batticoloa, and three hours before Trincomalee. Centara Resort and Spa is a lovely new boutique resort, and offers better value for money than its more expensive neighbours.

Hike in the Knuckles Mountain Range

View this post on Instagram

Up in Sri Lanka’s hill country, there is a “corner office” where the palm trees sway, the hills are mist-clad and inspiration flows endlessly. . . Up in the densely forested Knuckles Mountain Range, there’s a village, abandoned by all but one family. They forage in the forest, grow rice, host travellers, live in solitude. Life goals, anyone? 😉 . . Up in what is now the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, two British men once lost their way, slept in the forest and woke up surprised by how cold the weather could be in this tropical country. The region was christened “Little England” for its chilly nights… and continues to surprise travellers by its misty beauty. . . While I’ve been busy with my book launch across India, Remya from my team is out exploring Sri Lanka ahead of TBC Asia – one of Asia’s biggest travel blogging conferences – in collab with @cinnamonhotels @srilankanairlinesofficial 🤗 . . Have you been to Sri Lanka? What are your fav memories? . . #theshootingstar #tbcasia #cinnamonhotels #srilanka #inspiringmoments

A post shared by Shivya Nath (@shivya) on

Up in the densely forested Knuckles Mountain Range, there’s a village, abandoned by all but one family. They forage in the forest, grow rice, host travellers and live in solitude. Life goals, anyone? On the Pitawala Pathana hike (also called the riverstone area) amid the Knuckles Mountains, lie 32 isolated, self-sustaining villages in the where people live off their own produce and have long life spans, despite nearly no access to modern medicine. They make a trip to the city once a month through roads that are barely motorable. If the mist-clad mountains, refreshing greenery, pure mountain air and spectacular views don’t fascinate you, the solitary way of life in these villages certainly will.

TSS team member Remya hiked the Pitawala Pathana trail which takes 45 minutes – 1 hour, with Cinnamon Nature Trails. A moderate fitness level is recommended.

Get off the beaten path at Galkadawala.

Galkadawala Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka secrets, Sri Lanka ecotourism, Sri Lanka photos

In the lap of nature, at Galkadawala.

If going off the beaten path into a small countryside village is your thing, like it is mine, Galkadawala is your place (Read: Galkadawala: Sri Lanka’s Best Kept Secret). It took a great deal of Google research to find it, and that’s perhaps what makes it Sri Lanka’s best kept secret. Maulie, the owner and hostess, quit her job in the garment industry in Colombo, and bought a barren piece of land in Galkadawala six years ago. Today, it’s an oasis by the village lake (tank) – a forest lodge built with recycled materials, surrounded by a mini forest, home to colorful birds and giant squirrels. Surrounding it are the rice paddies of the village, and the barren and lush landscapes of north-central Sri Lanka. She grows her own vegetables and most of the food is traditionally cooked in earthen pots; the most delicious meals I had in all of Sri Lanka were here. We spent our time swimming and kayaking in the village lake, hiking in the wilderness, hearing stories of her adventures in Sri Lanka, and laying on a hammock under the trees! Blissful.

Galkadawala is located a short drive away from Habarana, in the middle of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. 

Indulge in Sri Lanka’s culinary goodness.

Sri Lanka food, Sri Lanka foods, Sri Lanka dishes, Kothu, Sri Lankan cuisine

Kottu, one of my favorite dishes in Sri Lanka!

It’s a shame that Sri Lankan food is rarely available outside of India, for its gentle spices, often simmered overnight, the diversity of dishes and explosion of flavors makes it one of my favorite cuisines in the world. Being coconut-based, most Sri Lankan food can easily be veganised.

Hoppers appeared on my plate again and again, in many forms – string hoppers served with coconut sambol, potato curry and dhal curry, string hoppers buryani, and plain hoppers served with a slow-cooked cucumber curry – and yet I could never have enough of them. Kothu (a Tamil-Sri Lankan dish made with leftover breads and veggies; ask them to hold the eggs), Pol Rotti, Yeast Rotti, curries and rice, I loved it all.

Begin your culinary extravaganza in the heart of Colombo, where Nuga Gama in Cinnamon Grand is a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant centered around a 210 year old banyan tree! Possibly the city’s first and only carbon neutral restaurant, it employs locally and serves up produce from its home garden in a mouthwatering buffer of 30 local dishes, to be washed down with fresh toddy on weekends.

Live on a tea plantation at Madulkelle Tea Estate.

Sri Lanka tea estates, Sri Lanka tea plantations, tea estate bungalow sri lanka, Sri Lanka hill country, Sri Lanka pictures

The hues of sunset at Madulkelle Tea Estate.

An hour from Kandy, the road winds up along the Knuckles Mountain Range, into some of the most pristine tea estates in the hill country. On this pretty stretch sits Madulkelle tea estate, where a Sri Lankan-French team has erected the most luxurious tents on stilts, overlooking the gently sloping mountains above, the terraced valleys below, and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. It was here that I spent the last leg of my Sri Lanka trip, and it was an experience before which all others paled (Read: Tete-a-tea in Nature’s Lap).

At sunrise, we lounged in our balcony, as the clouds engulfed the mountains in a furry coat, then slowly rose with the sun to reveal the majesty of Knuckles. We hiked through the pristine tea trails, watching women work their nimble fingers on the tea leaves, took a dip in the infinity pool literally in the lap of nature, and indulged in the old-world charm of a planter’s bungalow, with wine by the fireplace.

Madukelle Tea and Eco Lodge is located 30 km  from Kandy, and is an eco-friendly luxury retreat in Sri Lanka’s hill country.

Experience Sri Lanka like a local

College house colombo, Airbnb sri lanka

At the colonial home of a local family in Colombo.

Over the course of my travels, I’ve learnt that there’s no better way to experience a country than through the lens of its locals. Across Sri Lanka, I stayed at unique Airbnb homes, and ended up becoming good friends with many of my local hosts. When I research Airbnbs, I try to pick offbeat locations and look for reviews that suggest that you actually get to spend time with your hosts. Who knows what adventures and perspectives it might lead you to?

What were your favorite experiences in Sri Lanka? Which ones do you want to do most? 

Join me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more travel stories from around the world.

Note: Some of the experiences on this trip were hosted; others I picked myself. Opinions on this blog are always mine.

aberdeenshire, scotland, visit britain

Autumn, Adventure and Artful Living in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Stravaig (verb; Scottish): to wander about aimlessly.

There is a nip in the air, and a familiar scent I can inhale deeply but can’t identify. Cosy in many layers of clothes, my notebook clutched in one hand, my hair ruffled by the light breeze, I tip-toe into the garden, on the bed of fallen autumn leaves. Some yellow and moist. Some orange and crisp. The stream nearby gurgles softly. Under the maple tree I sit, pen in hand, thoughts strewn in my head, an umbrella of leaves sheltering me. The setting sun casts a shadow on my words, as though urging me to look up.

scotland autumn, aberdeenshire, scotland travel blogs

I look skyward, between bunches of leaves, orange and red, aglow with the golden sunlight. The ageing walls of the 13th century stone house that is Meldrum House glow warmly. Hints of the blue sky meet my eye. There is a nip in the air, and a familiar scent I can’t identify.

meldrum house, aberdeenshire scotland

autumn scotland, scotland travel blog, aberdeenshire travel

On this blogging trip through the region of Abderdeenshire, we’re always going somewhere. We’re driving along tiny coastal villages, kayaking in a loch in the middle of nowhere, trying gin – brewed down the road – by the fireplace in an 800-year-old cave bar, hiking up to Oxen Craig (Bennachie) in the light rain, chasing sunsets, swaying on Tarzan swings, fueling up at an organic farm-to-table bistro.

kayaking scotland, adventure travel scotland

Then one evening in Stonehaven, time starts flowing a little slowly, like the cool salty breeze blowing into the vast North Sea, ruffling the tides. On the rocky shore I pause, thinking back to the beginning of our hike. Up to the hills of Bennachie, when the rain finally ceased and a rainbow lit up the sky, an incredible sight.

bennachie scotland, hiking scotland

On the rocky shore I pause, thinking of the connection between slow food and life. At Buchanan Bistro on the Scottish countryside, food is not just fuel, it is grown with love, sourced with consciousness, served with pride. That slow food – delicious, farm-to-table, vegan-friendly – is life.

buchanan bistro scotland, vegan scotland

buchanan bistro scotland, vegan scotland

On the rocky shore I pause, thinking of the ancient woodlands and rolling fields where we stayed the night. Banchory Lodge is a mansion hideaway by the riverside.

My mind feels weary of saying no to plastic bottled water served mindlessly everywhere that finding recycled glass bottles in my room is sheer delight. And outdoors, writing under an old tree, by the River Dee, I can’t help but feel, this is the good life.

banchory lodge, glass bottles hotels

banchory lodge, river dee scotland

On the rocky shore I stand up surprised, for the sky has unexpectedly erupted in the most gorgeous light.

Turns out, you can kayak and hike, quad bike, eat well and keep your footprint light, yet Scotland will let you pause, stravaig and write.

stonehaven scotland, aberdeenshire scotland

sunset scotland, stonehaven scotland

What are your impressions of Aberdeenshire or Scotland?

*Note: I wrote this post in collaboration with VisitBritain, as part of the STS Belfast campaign with iAmbassador. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always my own.

Connect with me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook to follow my adventures.

Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon or Flipkart.

What No One Tells You About Writing and Publishing a Book in India.

I can hardly believe that just over a month ago, my debut book, The Shooting Star, finally hit bookstores. All those years ago, when I scribbled in my diary that my dream was to become a writer someday (among other dreamy professions like astronaut and detective), I never really meant it. I never really imagined that I’d have a published book with my name on it.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve walked into plenty of bookstores, pinching myself as I saw my baby The Shooting Star on their new arrivals and travel / non-fiction shelves. I’ve met plenty of you, my readers, at book launches, feeling a bit spellbound at being called an author and asked to sign copies.

Last night, I received an incredible update that The Shooting Star has already sold 10,000+ copies (in just over a month), acquiring the status of a “National Bestseller” in India!

Also read: My journey from the cubicle to a nomadic life – now in a book

While this journey has been surreal, the challenges of writing, publishing and marketing a book in India are real. Having sometimes cruised (and sometimes bruised 😉) through this journey, it’s time to share some secrets that authors seldom talk about:

Writing a book is a lonely journey

publishing a book in india, the shooting star book

Inner storms only I could brace.

Even though The Shooting Star has been available on Amazon and in bookstores for just over a month, it has been a large part of my life for over two years. While many authors typically pitch to publishers before starting their first draft, I couldn’t bear to deal with the pressure of writing under a deadline. So back when I started working on this book, I had no idea if it would ever be published or read.

As I wrote and re-wrote, edited and re-edited multiple drafts through the years, my mind felt a storm of emotions and thoughts. Sometimes it erupted with words that filled sheets of paper (word docs actually); sometimes it bred self doubt and no words poured out. And yet those who knew me had no inkling of these inner storms… it was my journey and only I could walk it for myself.

Also read: Practical tips to break into freelance travel writing

The chances of making money off a book are shockingly slim

the shooting star book launch, the shooting star book, publishing a book in india

My fav book launch venue – Chhaya Cafe in Dehradun <3 Photo: Devasheesh Pant.

I feel extremely lucky to have been introduced to an editor who understood my work right away – and saw the potential of a book that can seek to challenge societal conventions that many of us have l grown up with. And yet, when it came down to the economics of writing a book, I was quite shocked.

The common perception is that if you publish a book, you can live off the royalties for the rest of your life! Well, turns out, only if you’re Ruskin Bond – and even in his autobiography (Lone Fox Dancing; incredible read), he writes about his struggles as a newbie author. Turns out, you already need to be a celebrity or famous guru for your first book to take off in huge volumes.

The harsh reality is that the royalties offered to authors are startlingly low, publishing budgets are scarce and the book industry is in decline. It blew my mind to learn that only a small handful of people can afford to be full-time authors in India.

Also read: How I’m financially sustaining my digital nomad lifestyle

Yet there is no greater feeling than holding your book in your hands

the shooting star book, shivya nath, publishing a book in india

Pretending like I know what to scribble in there! Photo: Binal Gala, Vistoria Films.

And yet, despite the fact that I spent years working on my book and harbor no illusions of making money out of it, I can’t quite describe the elation of holding a physical paperback copy of The Shooting Star in my hands. It still feels absolutely surreal that the words that poured out of me are inked on its pages, and will burn into the eyes (and hopefully hearts) of anyone who reads it. It still feels absolutely surreal to hear from those who’ve already read it, that this book, my book, made them contemplate a different path in life…

Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

Marketing is a bitch

publishing a book in india, tips for indian authors, marketing a book in india

Living off royalties for the rest of my life? I don’t think so 😉 Photo: Binal Gala, Vistoria Films.

During all that time I spent writing and editing the book, I dreamt of the moment the final manuscript would go to print so I could think about marketing and leverage my digital skills as a travel blogger. But when I got to that phase, harsh realisations fell on me like boulders I was unable to escape.

The first shock was learning that newspapers and publications are bombarded by an insane number of books to review every month – and you have to be really lucky to get a genuine review in the severely limited editorial space. I’m really thanking my (shooting) stars that last week, The Shooting Star got a review in The Hindu – one of India’s most widely read publications – written by veteran journalist Vijay Lokapally!

The second was learning that bookstores in India receive 10-20 new books every week – and the chances of a new author getting prominent shelf space, even in new arrivals, are disappointingly slim. A real low for me was walking into a prominent bookstore and finding the entire stack of my books hidden away in the “adult colouring” section. Yes, hilarious in retrospect 😉

The third, that Indian publishing houses don’t tend to spend sizeable resources (money, manpower, time) on marketing. Not surprising then is the mind-boggling statistic that 90% of books in India don’t sell more than 2000 copies!

Also read: How Croatia compelled me to rethink travel blogging

Writing a book is an addiction

the shooting star book launch, publishing a book in india, travel books india

Will I fight it or succumb? Photo: Binal Gala, Vistoria Films.

After 2 years of working on the book and a month filled with book launches and promotions, I feel exhausted – and full of admiration for authors who are able to create one beautiful work after the next. I’ve sworn many times in the past few weeks that I’ll never write a book again. That I’ve invested too much of myself (and my time) in The Shooting Star and I could never do it again.

But then I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for my second and third books! I subconsciously find myself searching for a quiet place to park myself to work on the next one. I try to visualise how it’ll feel in my hands. Turns out, writing a book is a bit of an addiction; I don’t know if I’ll fight it or succumb.

Also read: How travelling inspired an Indian street kid to chase an impossible dream

Somehow a book reaches the right people

the shooting star book launch pune, travel writers india

The Shooting Star tribe in Pune! Photo: Vikrant Gohiya.

Meeting so many of you over the last few weeks at my book launch and travel meetups in Mumbai, Pune, Dehradun, Delhi and Goa has convinced me of one thing – The Shooting Star is somehow, almost magically, reaching the right people. Those of you who dream of doing life differently, seek meaningful travel encounters and can’t contain your wanderlust. The rebels, the dreamers.

Although I’ve had this travel blog for over 7 years, I feel like it’s only now that I’m finally connecting with my true readers. As I continue to spread the message of the book through talks and travel meet-ups across India, I’m dedicating this blogpost to:

  • The guy who drove early morning from Pune for my Bombay book launch, and back for the Pune book launch.
  • To the girl from Bastar, Chhattisgarh who came to Bombay to convince me to visit her state (promise, I will).
  • To the guy who journeyed all the way from Manali to attend the Dehradun book launch.
  • And to friend and fellow blogger Mariellen of Breathedreamgo, for attending the back-to-back book launch events in Dehradun and Delhi… and penning a heartfelt review of The Shooting Star that had me in tears.

the shooting star book, shivya nath, travel books 2018

A published book with my name on it… 😮 Photo: Binal Gala, Vistoria Films.

Have you written a book or do you dream of publishing one someday?

Connect with me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook to follow my adventures live.

Order your copy of The Shooting Star on  Amazon or Flipkart.