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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Wild, Adventurous and Quirky Things To Do in Jodhpur.

While researching my trip to Jodhpur earlier this year, I came across Jodhpur-focussed blogs and websites regurgitating the same top 10 things to do in Jodhpur, the same Jodhpur sightseeing ideas. So it became my mission to go beyond the typical ‘things to do and see in Jodhpur’ lists and dig deeper for cool and unusual experiences in the blue city.

On a late afternoon, under the warm blue sky, we scrambled up an overgrown trail, past tiny wildflowers and large rocks, until the majestic Mehrangarh Fort appeared before us, glowing in the golden sunshine. On a rooftop adjacent to the old city walls, in the gentle breeze, two young kids flew colourful kites, transporting me to the India of yore. Taking in the awe-inspiring view and the surrounding desert wilderness, I gradually shed the notion that Jodhpur is only about the blue city.

Behold, some wild, adventurous and offbeat things to do in Jodhpur:

Hike the trails of Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park

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Scribbling in my notebook at Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park.

Legend has it that in the strikingly barren desert terrain of Jodhpur, a king once dropped a mix of Mexican desert seeds from his private plane, hoping they would create food and wood for his people. But some seeds grew into bushes that invaded the land and let nothing else grow. So in the early 2000s, a project began to pull out the invasive species without destroying the rocky terrain. Six painstaking years later, the land was replanted with native species and the area is now christened Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park – perhaps Jodhpur’s most underrated attraction.

We spent hours hiking the different trails, taking in the imposing views of Mehrangarh Fort and the old blue city, watching birds dip into the man-made lakes, looking out for tiny desert creatures in the wilderness… with hardly anyone else in sight.

Tip: The 100 rupee (>2$) entry fee is totally worth it.

Also read: Offbeat Rajasthan: 11 Awe-Inspiring Experiences

Have a romantic evening on a candle-lit rooftop

Understated rooftop elegance. Photo: RAAS

Like most visitors to Jodhpur, we first landed up at Indique (Pali Haveli) – a popular restaurant with incredible views of Mehrangarh Fort, but unfortunately, with a rather disappointing choice of food and drinks. So every night in Jodhpur, we tried a different rooftop hangout, like the newly opened Indigo and the rustic Dagley. But it was on our last night that we finally stumbled upon a true gem – Darikhana, a cosy, candle-lit, understated rooftop bar, with stellar views of the fort, sumptuous food with many ingredients sourced from their own organic garden, and a feeling that this is how the royals must’ve savoured the city.

Tip: Prior reservation is required at Darikhana for dinner or drinks.

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

Feast on wild desert berries

ker sangri, rajasthan cuisine, jodhpur things to do, jodhpur food

Ker sangri: healthy and oh so delicious. Photo: Akshrajjodha (Wikimedia commons)

From my first visit to Jodhpur with my family many years ago, all I remember eating is gatte ki sabji (fried balls of chickpea flour in a curry). And while that’s a local delight I still enjoy, what I love more is ker sangri – wild berries that grow all over the Thar Desert. Stir-fried with Indian spices, it is savoury on the taste buds and always evokes wistful memories of my time wandering around the endless sand dunes of Rajasthan’s desert.

In fact, the chaotic street market at the clock tower in Jodhpur was once a traditional market where local textiles were bartered with passing Arab merchants, for vegetables, lentils and other food – because ker sangri was the only thing people could get from their own land.

Tip: I loved the ker sangri preparation – with less oil on request – at Ekatra, the in-house restaurant at Radisson Jodhpur. 

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

Stay in a hotel built like a traditional red sandstone haveli

radisson jodhpur, jodhpur where to stay, jodhpur top 10 things to do

The red sandstone balcony of Radisson Jodhpur.

It would be a shame to travel to Jodhpur and stay somewhere that’s not an original indigo house or a red sandstone haveli. So I was happy to settle into Radisson Jodhpur – using my Radisson Rewards points on assignment – for the hotel is designed to emulate the original red sandstone architecture of Jodhpur, complete with a shaded leafy courtyard and relaxing day beds in the balcony. I loved the restful sleep, lavish breakfasts and the rooftop with a serene view of the fort.

Tip: Say no to plastic bottled water; ask housekeeping to send you a glass bottle with RO water instead. Every bit counts.

Also read: Offbeat Getaways from Mumbai That’ll Inspire You to Rethink Life

Cycle through the old city

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The by-lanes of Jodhpur’s blue city.

I won’t try to sugarcoat the “blue city” of Jodhpur for you. As much as I wanted to see the naturally coloured indigo rooftops, hear water from the catchment area – filtered by sand, an engineering feat to get clean drinking water – trickle into the many baolis (step wells) of the city, and stand in awe before majestic old havelis with intricately carved doors, I couldn’t ignore the trash lining the streets and the stench from the open sewage. I couldn’t ignore the honking of bikes and autos as they manoeuvred the narrow by-lanes, or the flies I had to keep swatting away…

And yet, somewhere in the chaos, the crumbling havelis still stand, elderly men still play cards under the banyan tree at the chowk, the baolis have become the playground of pigeons and a hint of our heritage still lives on. And you want to experience it anyway, right? We took it all in on an early morning guided bicycle ride that took us through the narrow by-lanes to undiscovered gems, and transported us to Jodhpur’s rich history with untold stories of the days gone by. You’ve been warned though.

Tip: We booked our bicycle trip through Jodhpur Cycling Tours, run by Jodhpur locals.

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

Indulge in healthy food at Cafe Filos

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Forever looking for creative spaces to work from.

Let’s face it – Rajasthani food can be pretty heavy on the tummy, especially on a long and hot day out in Jodhpur. So I was delighted to stumble upon a local hangout – The Filos, a cosy 4-storey cafe, which sources organic ingredients and serves up delicious comfort cafe food. The staff is happy to customise dishes to be vegan; I loved their avocado bruschetta and hummus with baked pita. If I were staying longer in the city, it would totally be the cafe I’d work out of.

Tip: Encourage them to say no to straws and plastic packaging. If more of us demand it, they’re more likely to care!

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

Zip line with a panoramic view of Mehrangarh Fort

rao jodha desert rock park, flying fox jodhpur, jodhpur top 10 things to do

Vantage point to see people zip-lining (flying fox) in Jodhpur.

While hiking in Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, I was surprised to see someone zoom past on a pretty long zip line, in the surreal backdrop of the historic Mehrangarh fort and above the rocky desert wilderness. Unfortunately I didn’t carry enough cash with me that day to try it, but I can imagine it must be one of the world’s most unique zip lines – and hey, I could use an excuse to go back and explore more of Jodhpur!

Tip: Book the zip line aka flying fox in Jodhpur online to get a discounted price.

Have you been to Jodhpur or do you plan to visit? Which of the above would you most like to try? What else would you add to my Jodhpur list?

*Note: I wrote this post in collaboration with Radisson Rewards, as part of a campaign to find memorable moments across India. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always my own.

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

Order your copy of my debut 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

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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

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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

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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.
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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.

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Sometimes We Choose Life, Sometimes Life Chooses Us.

I still remember the call that in all likelihood, changed the trajectory of my life. There I stood, in the queue for the gondola ride to the Giant Buddha statue in Hong Kong, earphones plugged in, listening to Death Cab for Cutie, exploring a city all by myself for the first time. I didn’t expect to hear back from them so soon. The female voice on the other end was polite but frank. “I’m afraid you didn’t get the role”, she said as my heart sank.

My book, The Shooting Star, released last week! Order a copy here.

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Fancy dreams. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer (CC)

The year was 2009 and I was in Hong Kong, loaded with the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old determined to crack a job interview with a hot shot bank. Even though I never felt inclined towards finance and banking, I wanted the job so bad – it paid enviably well, promised year-long postings in exotic locations around the world and with the financial recession underway, was one of the few companies still hiring new graduates.

In my business suit, I had breezed and sometimes stumbled through the rigorous 3-day interview process. Now, as I was excitedly exploring Hong Kong, I didn’t expect to receive a rejection so quickly. I didn’t expect to have my dream shattered so quickly.

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The 19th century Man Mo temple in Hong Kong. Photo: Richard Mortel (CC)

But life is a funny thing. When we think we’re failing, we are simply forging a different, often more rewarding path for ourselves. And so it was with Hong Kong.

I left the city in despair, subconsciously never intending to return. Besides, all I remembered were cabbies who never understood where I wanted to go, fake snow on the sidewalks ahead of Christmas and trouble finding affordable vegetarian food.

Also read: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Quit My Job to Travel

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Hunan dumplings, anyone?

But as it turned out, the city wasn’t done with me. On my way to India from California earlier this year, I tucked in comfortably for the long journey on the spacious Premium Economy seats on Cathay Pacific (a collaboration with the airlines), intending only to transit quickly through Hong Kong airport. But several hours, movies and gin & tonics later, I happened to miss my flight connection in Hong Kong. Much to my surprise, I was not only put on the next available flight the following afternoon, but seamlessly checked in to an airport hotel – with almost 24 hours to explore a city that I had never really given a chance to impress me.

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

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Stunning take off over San Franciso.

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Warming up after a rainy day with peppermint tea at The Pier.

As I took the airport express to Hong Kong Island, the scenery changed from industrial estates to the soothing blue South China Sea to lush green mist-laden hills. I spent a rainy day wandering about the by-lanes of the old city, stopping to catch a traditional ceremony at the old Man Mo Buddhist temple, riding the long Mid-Levels Escalator that connects one end of the old town to the other, browsing bustling street markets in the backdrop of high tech skyscrapers. Impressed by the city’s growing vegan movement, I relished a cacao smoothie bowl at the eco-friendly Mana Cafe, feasted on Hunan dumplings and dragon maki rolls at the innovative zero waste Grassroots Pantry (a worthwhile splurge and you get 15% off with a Cathay Pacific boarding pass) and sampled tandoori mushroom quesadillas at Confusion Plant-based Kitchen. Drawn into the city’s eco-friendly movement, I splurged on shampoo and conditioner bars (as opposed to single-use plastic bottles) at Lush and vegan chocolates at Natures Village.

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

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Dragon maki rolls at the all-vegan Grassroots Pantry in Hong Kong <3

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Cacao smoothie bowl at the vegan and eco-friendly Mana cafe in Hong Kong.

On that unexpected stopover in Hong Kong, I couldn’t help asking myself what if that call, all those years ago, had turned out differently. What if I had scored the job I was so keenly eyeing, accepted a career in banking and never failed at life so I could end up forging a different path?

As I warmed up with peppermint-infused green tea at the charming teahouse at The Pier (a stunning lounge at Hong Kong airport) and lay on my full-flat business class seat on the Cathay Pacific flight onward to India, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had actually chosen this life of long term travel for myself. Maybe, this life had chosen me.

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The life that chose me?

Have you ever felt like life has chosen a different path for you? And is Hong Kong on your travel wish list?

*Note: I was hosted on my flight from California to India via Hong Kong by Cathay Pacific. As you know, opinions on this blog are always mine.

Join my digital nomad journey on InstagramTwitter and Facebook!

Get my recently released book, The Shooting Star, on Amazon / Flipkart.

Offbeat Getaways From Mumbai That’ll Inspire You to Rethink Life.

About this post: Looking for offbeat short trips from Mumbai, or interesting places to visit near Mumbai? After years of exploring India, I’ve put together this unusual list of weekend getaways from Mumbai – including Maachli farmstay, Mangalajodi in Odisha, Purushwadi fireflies festival, Devrai Art Village, Hideout Farm, Malji ka Kamra and more – that I’m sure will inspire you, rejuvenate you even on a short trip from Mumbai and introduce you to responsible travel in India.

Lately, there’s been a lot of debate around whether travelling really has the power to change you – to question your beliefs, to throw you out of your comfort zone, to challenge your notions of the world, to mould you into a different person. Most of us like to believe it does.

But if I’m completely honest, my first fifteen or so trips as a young adult didn’t do much for me. Sure, I had some great holidays. But that’s exactly what they were – an escape from my regular life. I didn’t want them to challenge or mould me. So I stayed in resorts with the best deals, hung out with friends, drank and stuck to familiar food. I didn’t bother seeking experiential accommodations, having deep conversations with locals or tracing the journey of my food.

So when we ask if travelling can change us, we should really be asking, do we want our travels to change – or challenge – us?

If the answer is yes, I believe this list of long weekend trips out of Mumbai is a starting point. Over the course of my travels in India, these are environmentally and/or socially committed experiences that compelled me to rethink the way I travel – and live:

Maachli Farmstay: for pristine beaches

Where: Malvan Coast, Maharashtra

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Sunset and solitude along the Malvan coast.

I fondly remember waking up to birdsong and a gentle breeze in my handcrafted cottage, reading Tolstoy in my balcony that opened up to cashew, beetle nut and coconut plantations, bathing with water out of a copper bucket (such a forgotten luxury), and feasting on delectable Maharashtrian food, cooked with home-grown or locally sourced ingredients. Even more fondly, I remember driving and hiking to pristine beaches all along the Malvan coast – soft sands, flanked by forested mountains, covered with palm trees, not another soul in sight. But the lovingly family-run Maachli Farmstay is not just about the untouched Malvan coast… it is about visualizing what the coastline of Goa must’ve looked like twenty or so years ago, and why we need to tread lightly as travellers.

Getting there: Take an overnight bus or train, or fly to Goa from Mumbai. Along the scenic coastal route from Goa, Maachli is about a 3 hour drive away.

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

Hideout Farm: for foodies and animal lovers

Where: Vikramgad, Maharashtra

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Dates, nuts and coconut balls at Hideout Farm – vegan and delicious!

Hideout Farm is one family’s labor of love, who have toiled for years to convert a barren, rocky wasteland a couple of hours outside of Mumbai, into a gorgeous organic farm with alfonso mango trees, pineapple bushes and a kitchen garden full of herbs and salad leaves. Starry night skies, thought-provoking conversations and an ‘away from it all’ feeling aside, farm-to-table food – plant-based, oil-free, sugar-free and spanning Maharashtrian to fusion dishes – is at the core of the Hideout experience. As you nibble on what might be the most delicious pesto salad you’ve tasted in your life, or drink cold coffee that contains neither milk nor coffee, your notions of food, veganism, health and the environment are bound to evolve.

Getting there: State buses ply the route from Thane to Zadapoli village in the mornings. By car or taxi, Hideout Farm is about a two hour drive.

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

Malji Ka Kamra: for India’s incredible heritage

Where: Churu, Rajasthan

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Amid old frescoes and ornate ceilings at Malji ka Kamra.

It is one thing to visit a royal fort in Rajasthan, quite another to rest your head under a hand-painted ceiling in an opulent haveli – with Rajput, Mughal and Venetian influences – built in the early 1900s by a wealthy merchant. The forgotten town of Churu in the Shekhawati region is a reminder of India’s incredible heritage – and its lost opportunities at heritage tourism – with ornate havelis whose plant-based paintings tell interesting stories of a bygone era (there’s even one of Jesus smoking up!) and whose architectural finesse (some have as many as 1100 stunning windows and doors) is fascinating. And you only need to go a few kilometers outside Churu town for brilliant desert sunsets and starry night skies!

Getting there: Take a flight from Mumbai to Delhi, from where Churu is a quick 4-hour train ride away. Malji Ka Kamra – a restored 20th century haveli to host travellers – has literally brought tourism to forgotten Churu.

Also read: How Responsible Tourism Can Challenge Patriarchy in India

Varsoli: for a relaxing staycation

Where: Off Alibaug, Maharashtra

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Flavors of the Konkan and Malvan regions at Kokum & Spice.

Alibaug has long been on the weekend getaway radar of those who live in Mumbai. That means the beaches can be pretty overrun with weekend crowds and holiday homes. The good news is, it takes only a few kilometres to leave both behind, and rejuvenate with a luxury staycation at Radisson Alibaug – located in the little village of Varsoli. Over many Konkan and Malvan inspired thalis at the in-house Kokum & Spice restaurant, cocktail hours with live piano, endless games of table tennis and pool in the entertainment room, morning laps in the grand pool (to prepare myself for the next thali!) and a short drive to a pristine local beach recommended by the staff, I was reminded that travelling is not about going to the furthest place our money can buy. It is also about taking a step back, re-evaluating our state of mind, breaking away from the crowds and pampering ourselves with delicious locally sourced food.

I stayed at Radisson Alibaug as part of my collaboration with Radisson Rewards, using my rewards points for relaxing room nights and lavish breakfasts – and loved that they offer complimentary Biotique products (no animal ingredients or testing) and filtered water in glass bottles on request.

Getting there: The most convenient way to reach Alibaug from Mumbai is by ferry from the Gateway of India. The ferry doesn’t operate in the monsoon months. The drive only takes about 4 hours but the ‘highway’ is in bad shape, though some parts of the journey are beautiful.

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

Interiors of Goa: for culture seekers

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The interiors of Goa – so much to love!

Many people swear off Goa, since its beaches are overrun with shacks, tourists and waste, and I totally get that. But the real Goa lives away from the beaches, amidst the rice paddies and forests and old Portuguese-era houses – and although things are changing fast, we can still steal a glimpse into the susagade way of life, ride a bike along the lush green paddies and pristine backwaters, and feast on authentic Goan food (no, Brittos doesn’t count). And as we ditch the coast for the interiors and get into the Goa state of mind, it is sure to dawn on us how our travel choices impact how we experience the places we visit.

Getting there: Goa is an overnight bus / train ride from Mumbai. My favorite restored Portuguese-style homestays are The Secret Garden and Cancio’s House.

Also see: Road Tripping in Rural Maharashtra

Purushwadi: for a million fireflies

Where: Sahyadris, Maharashtra

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Stars and fireflies in Purushwadi! Photo via Grassroutes.

Imagine if you will: Thousands of stars in the dark night sky above; the valley below lit up with flashing Christmas lights – the mating signals of millions of fireflies! Just as the rains begin, fireflies descend upon Purushwadi, a charming fishing village in the Sahyadri mountains, and put on a show unlike any other for human eyes.

I was surprised to learn that until the 1980s, posh areas like Bandra in Mumbai were nothing but rice paddies and palm trees, and you could see shimmering stars in the night sky. The light pollution in our cities and towns is the worst enemy of stargazing – and turns out, also of fireflies, for light from human sources confuses their mating patterns and messes with their reproduction process. A night in Purushwadi was enough to make me question: is light indeed the greatest invention or an unnecessary evil?

Getting there: Purushwadi is about a 4-5 hour drive from Mumbai; it’s possible to get pretty far with the Mumbai local train. Grassroutes Journeys offers community-based tourism in Purushwadi.

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

Mangalajodi: for birding enthusiasts

Where: Chilika Lake, Odisha

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A serene morning along the marshlands of Mangalajodi.

On a warm spring morning, I glided along silently on a rustic, wooden row boat on the gentle waters of Chilika Lake. The sun rose amid the clouds, migratory birds played along the shores, my guide spoke of how the marshland of Mangalajodi is different from the open Chilika Lake. Beautiful though it was, it was no ordinary boat ride, and Mangalajodi is no ordinary village – over tens of years, Mangalajodi has transformed from a village of notorious bird poachers to a village of bird conservationists; indeed, my guide and boatman were former poachers! The number of migratory birds in the village marshlands has grown from 5,000 to 3,00,000 per year, proving that no feat of human transformation is impossible.

Getting there: Take a flight from Mumbai to Bhubaneshwar, from where Mangalajodi is an easy 2 hour drive. Stay at the community-run Mangalajodi Ecotourism to get an insight into the transformation of the village.

Also read: A Traveller’s Guide to Gujarat’s Best Kept Secrets

Dehna: for monsoon love and village life

Where: Sahyadris, Maharashtra

People often say that travel broadens our mind – and it surely can when the place in question is an obscure little Maharashtrian village, just three hours from bustling Mumbai. Speaking to the village youth can put into perspective our life of privilege – access to good education, learning English at an early age, work opportunities online and offline. As you walk along the rice paddies and hike in the Sahyadris, indulge in the warm hospitality of local families, live a day in the shoes of a rice farmer and gaze at the starry skies by night, think of how it was by a mere twist of fate that we were born in a life of privilege. Chances are, you’ll change the way you interact with those less privileged, right from your house help to the server at the cafe you frequent.

Getting there: Dehna is an easy three hour drive from Mumbai. Grassroutes Journeys has developed community-based tourism in the village and organizes trips and stays in tents or homestays.

Also read: How Travelling Inspired an Indian Street Kid to Chase an Impossible Dream

Devrai Art Village: for artistic inspiration

Where: Off Panchgani, Maharashtra

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A lost trail mapped by Devrai Art Village.

Mahabeshwar and Panchgani mostly evoke images of chaotic construction and sunset points overrun with obnoxious tourists. Until you find Devrai Art Village, an artistic accommodation and project that helps Naxal-affected families relocate to Panchgani and revive the lost Dhokra Art from the Bastar region as a source of livelihood. The art village has also been attempting to map forgotten trails in the Western Ghats that were first charted out by the British; trails that will have you hike in old forests and overgrown wilderness and deposit you at the edge of cliffs with stellar views of the valley below – and make sure the only images Panchgani evokes in you are of stunning natural beauty.

Getting there: Volvo buses from Mumbai take 6-7 hours to reach Panchgani; it is also possible to take a train part of the way, or drive. Read more about the lost art and lost trails at Devrai Art Village.

What are your favorite long weekend escapes from Mumbai?

I was hosted at some of the above places, and paid for the others on my own. I only recommend experiences I’ve truly loved!

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

I vaguely remember the first time I travelled to Bombay. I was still in my first year of college, visiting my cousin who was studying in the city. The only places I had known until then were Dehradun, Delhi and Singapore… and Bombay felt so different from each of them. I immediately fell in love with the way people hung out on the streets, the late night drives along the brightly lit Marine Drive, the quaint little restos we dined and drank at, and just the relaxed, laid back vibe of the city.

But things were different when I went back many years later. Or maybe I was. The traffic had grown, the weather was more sultry, people seemed more frustrated. It took several reluctant visits for Mumbai to grow on me again. For me to look beyond the traffic and pollution, and find green corners, breezy hideouts and cosy cafes. To find a method in the madness, connect with the wild Arabian Sea and seek the warmth of new friendships.

Also read: My Journey from the Cubicle to a Nomadic Life – Now in a Book!

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The cosy interiors of Sante Spa Cuisine, BKC.

So when I had to pick a big city in India to explore during my collaboration with Radisson Rewards, it had to be Mumbai. Behold, all my favorite hangouts in the city to chill, ‘work from home’, use free wifi and enjoy vegan food:

Sante Spa Cuisine

Where: Bandra Kurla Complex
Best for: Organic, farm to table food

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Spinach and beetroot hummus at Sante Spa Cuisine.

I couldn’t contain my delight when I heard that Santa Spa Cuisine – a popular, organic, farm-to-table resto in Pune – had opened shop in BKC, Mumbai. I adored the cosy, dimly lit, cafe-style interiors with large glass windows and the diverse, healthy food options with ingredients mostly sourced from their own farm. So far, I’ve tried the chocolate granola smoothie bowl, the tofu quinoa scramble and the spinach and beetroot hummus – all vegan (or customisable) and delightful. I can’t wait to try the cruelty-free dark buckwheat chocolate slab and dark french chocolate pie!

Also read: Why I Turned Vegan – and What it Means for My Travel Lifestyle

Corniche – At the Waterfront

Where: Carter Road, Bandra
Best for: Shisha and the sea breeze

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Shisha night. Photo: Jan Krömer (CC)

After a day of manoeuvring the chaotic streets of Bombay, there’s no respite like a laid-back night, with the sea breeze in your hair and the aroma of rose and mint flavored shisha in the air. Located across the Arabian Sea on Carter Road, Corniche doesn’t look like much from outside, but is quite an oasis – complete with charging points and a vegan hazelnut dessert (hopefully more vegan options will be added)! As good to hangout with friends as to work late into the night.

Also read: Offbeat Getaways from Mumbai That’ll Inspire You to Rethink Life

A Vegan Airbnb!

Where: Santa Cruz West
Best for: Initiation into Mumbai’s vegan scene

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Breakfast at the Vegan Airbnb in Mumbai.

Slowing down from time to time in Bombay, I’ve made some wonderful friends through the many Airbnbs I’ve stayed in and the growing vegan community in the city. So when my friend who runs Down2Hearth and offers vegan retreats, health consultations and cooking classes, decided to list a room in her beautiful, cosy, spacious, green home on Airbnb, I knew it would become my refuge some day. After all, it’s not every day that vegan travellers can wake up to almond milk coffee, plant-based nutella and enriching conversations!

Not on Airbnb yet? Sign up with my code to get 30$ off your first stay.

Cat Cafe Studio

Where: Versova
Best for: Cat lovers, shakes and snacks

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A refuge for cats and cat lovers. Photo: Cat Cafe Studio.

Cafe Cafe Studio is a special place – a refuge for rescued cats, cat lovers, vegans and those on the lookout for a quiet space with books or a laptop. Years ago, when I visited for the first time, vegan options were limited to bagels, but much has changed since. They offer a dedicated vegan menu now, featuring shakes and coffee with soya, almond or coconut milk; smoked tofu hummus sandwiches; finger foods and good old maggi!

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

Village Shop

Where: Bandra West
Best for: Free wifi in an outdoor green space 

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Tofu scramble toast on a ‘work from home’ day in Village Shop.

When I started to look beyond the traffic, pollution, chaotic construction and crowded streets of Mumbai, Village Shop was my first refuge. The first place that made me feel like I could love this city again. Off a busy street in Bandra, surrounded by bamboos and greenery, this small outdoor space offers the kind of ambience you need every once in a while to clear your head, and a menu with an exciting selection of vegan options – of which the chocolate almond shake, the tofu scramble and the southern sunrise are some of my favs.

Also read: All the Vegan Food I Loved in Bangkok, Thailand

Bombay to Barcelona Library Cafe

Where: Marol (Andheri East)
Best for: A fusion meal with an inspiring story

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The outdoor space with organic herbs at Bombay to Barcelona Cafe.

I first visited Bombay to Barcelona to meet Amin, the owner, for his journey had left me both heartbroken and inspired. What began as a struggle for a child on the unforgiving streets of Bombay culminated into a beautiful cafe (read the full story), full of meaningful knick-knacks and books, its own little space for growing organic herbs and an eclectic menu that mixes Spanish tapas with Indian street food.

Also read: How Responsible Tourism Can Challenge Patriarchy in India

Kitchen Garden by Suzette

Where: Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC)
Best for: Organic salads and sandwiches

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Delicious salad at Kitchen Garden by Suzette.

I’m not the kind of vegan who could settle for a salad in the name of a meal, but Kitchen Garden by Suzette changed that perception! Their ‘make your own salads’ – with choices ranging from quinoa and barley to falafel and avocados – are largely organic and as much a delight for the tastebuds as for the body. I also dig their sourdough sandwiches; I like mine with red hummus, avocados, herb-roasted mushrooms, spinach and micro greens. In a parallel universe, if I worked in one of the corporate offices in BKC, Kitchen Garden would be my hangout of choice (outside of corporate lunch hours when it gets totally packed).

Also read: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Quit My Job to Travel

Radisson Andheri

Where: MIDC Andheri
Best for: New age business travel

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‘Business travel’ and a hint of green at Radisson MIDC.

On shorter transits through Mumbai, when I don’t have the time to settle into an Airbnb and catch up with my host, I prefer to stay in a well-located modern hotel that doesn’t break my wallet. I’ve sampled a fair number of hotels in Bandra and close to the airport, but on my recent collaboration with Radisson, I was glad to have the chance to stay at the newly built Radisson in Andheri East – wooden flooring, cruelty-free Biotique products for complimentary use and a convenient location near the international airport. At 15,000 reward points a night, quite a steal in this otherwise expensive city!

Also read: If I Were a Season, I’d be Monsoon

Birdsong – The Organic Cafe

Where: Bandra West
Best for: A ‘work from home’ day

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Vegan cashew cheese pizza at Birdsong!

If I were to have only one base to work as a digital nomad in Bombay, it would be Birdsong. I still see myself sitting on the corner table, people-watching through the big window, writing furiously on my laptop, sipping a coconut water-rose-chia seeds cooler! A thin crust cashew cheese-based pizza will soon make its way to my table, as all kinds of creative conversations flow around me. Free wifi and plenty of inspiration – what more could you ask for while working from home?

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

Prithvi Theatre

Where: Juhu
Best for: Local theatre 

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The iconic Prithvi Theatre.

As someone who’d always pick a play, film or workshop over a night of drinking, I love Prithvi Theatre in Juhu. Among the plays I’ve caught, I distinctly remember two exceptional ones: 9 Parts of Desire – a one woman show by Ira Dubey about the lives of eight women in Iraq – and The Father – by Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak about a father suffering from Alzheimer’s. No matter the time of year, Prithvi Theatre is always bustling with interesting events (the best way to find them is sites like bookmyshow) and has a relaxed garden cafe to hang out before or after, though vegan options are mostly limited to hummus with mushrooms.

Also see: In Photos: Road Tripping in Rural Maharashtra

Garde Manger

Where: Ville Parle
Best for: A bite before a flight

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Green pea hummus crostini at Garde Manger.

A local friend swears that Garde Manger stirred up the cafe scene in Ville Parle and it’s easy to see why. This small cosy space takes cafe food to another level, especially with a special vegan menu (created by Down2Hearth) featuring interesting fusion fare like green pea hummus crostini (sounds strange but is absolutely amazing), thin crust pesto cashew cheese pizza, quinoa chocolate smoothie and tofu bhurji. Be sure to ask for the separate vegan menu – the staff don’t offer it by default, almost as though they want to hide the best stuff in the kitchen!

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

Doolally Taproom

Where: Khar
Best for: Beer and wifi

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Craft beers at Doolally.

Sometimes you just need a drink or three to get you through an ‘unable to work from home’ day – and Doolally, Bombay’s first craft brewery, is just the place to hole up at. There are charging points, wifi and plenty of good beer to choose from; I like the Belgian Wit, but opt for a beer sampler to try them all and pick your favorite. Vegan options were once limited to fries, but fortunately they’ve added pita, zatar and hummus to the menu!

Also read: Best Places for Stargazing and Meteor Showers in India

Yoga House

Where: Bandra West
Best for: Yoga and working from home

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Quinoa pesto pasta and the digital nomad life at Yoga House.

When I first started falling in love with Bombay again, Yoga House quickly became part of my ‘holy trinity’ in Bandra – along with Birdsong and Village Shop. And it still remains a favourite for its daily yoga classes by talented instructors, a cosy upstairs space with floor seating to work from or read a book, and an interesting menu – of which my favorite dishes are the oven roasted vegetables sandwich with homemade almond pesto, the quinoa pesto salad, the seasonal strawberry almond milk smoothie and the heavenly vegan chocolate mousse.

Also read: The Joy of Slow Travel

The Pantry

Where: Fort
Best for: A hip cafe space 

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The cosy decor of The Pantry.

I can hardly bear to tear myself away from Bandra or brace the long journey to South Bombay, but The Pantry, clubbed with a meeting or event in town is pretty good motivation. This hip space features a tempting range of vegan fare – including smoothie bowls and a vegan ‘cheese’ bowl; so far, I’ve only tried the homemade (chocolate) almond milk shake and vegan pudding, but hope to go back one of these days with my laptop or book and sample more of the vegan-friendly menu.

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

Sequel Bistro & Juice Bar

Where: Bandra West
Best for: Organic vegan splurge!

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The acai berry bowl at Sequel.

We have a long standing joke about Sequel – you splurge on food there, then come home and have a proper meal 😉 Case in point – the food is incredible, right from the Sequel tartine (hass avocado and cashew cheese on a nuts and seeds toast) and the açai berry smoothie bowl to the rustic garden (a melange of sundried tomato, quinoa, pesto and Himalayan black rice). But the portions are insanely small and it pinches the wallet pretty bad. Still, I keep going back and blowing my money, sometimes even spend the day working from there, because no one else in Bombay has ingredients even close to Sequel!

Where in Bombay do you like to chill, work from and indulge in vegan food? Which of the above are you most looking forward to trying?

*Note: I wrote this post as part of a campaign with Radisson Rewards. Opinions on this blog are always mine.

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Pre-order my first book, The Shooting Star; limited copies are now available on Amazon and Flipkart.

My Journey From the Cubicle to a Nomadic Life – Now in a Book!

Last monsoon, I sat holed up in the same room, gazing at the swaying palm trees through the large windows, trying to make sense of the words scattered in my mind and across my notebook. A jasmine-scented breeze wafted in to shake me out of my daydreams. As the pitter patter of rain filled my ears, I worked furiously to pen my words, my stories, my journey.

This monsoon, reliving my susegade digital nomad life in Goa, I am delighted (and in equal parts, nervous) to share that my first book – The Shooting Star – will be released soon! Published by Penguin India, my dream publishing house and one of India’s biggest, this long journey of writing and editing a book is finally reaching fruition after many years.

Limited copies are now available for pre-order on Amazon and Flipkart!

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The book cover!

My first book, The Shooting Star

The book (named The Shooting Star after my blog), charts my journey from the cubicle to the road and from small town India to remote corners of the world, through a series of untold stories – some too bold, some too embarrassing, some too personal. I write candidly about my upbringing, relationships, battles, triumphs, adventures (some illegal) and life-changing.

I wrote and re-wrote many drafts before the current version of the book. I gave up many times. But in February 2017, close to my 29th birthday, something changed. I knew it was time to commit. I had stories to tell, perspectives I needed to share. In cafes, homestays, even monasteries across Uttarakhand, Thailand, Slovenia, Georgia, Spiti and Goa, I wrote. And even though it was becoming such a big part of my life, I didn’t tell a soul about the book because I had no idea if it would really be published someday.

But now that the book is out in the universe, I’m relieved. My secret’s out. This adventure is yours now, this journey is yours.

Sneak peek of Chapter 1

1: Ayahuasca

2016

“I don’t know how I landed up there.

My head was spinning uncontrollably. My body felt like it was on a roller coaster that was constantly changing direction. It took enormous effort to prop my head in my hands, but I had to, for I had the feeling that it was detaching itself from my body, slipping away like a ball rolling down a slope. What was once the soothing hum of the Tena River, cascading down just steps from our makeshift shed, had turned into a deafening roar that grated against my ears; I wanted desperately to shut it out. Hot tears were burning my cheeks, flowing as intensely as the river, for I was convinced I would never regain control of my senses again. After several failed attempts, I managed to force one eye open and saw imposing trees shimmering faintly in the dim moonlight; it gave me a marginally comforting feeling that I was still alive. If only I could pick myself up and somehow find my way out of this vast Amazon rainforest in Ecuador…”

The Shooting Star – Limited Copies Available Now!

A million thanks to so many of you for pre-ordering the book! Amazon just ranked it a best seller in both travel writing and travel (non-fiction), and I’m so immensely grateful.

If you end up pre-ordering your copy today on Amazon / Flipkart, drop me a comment or email so I can send you a virtual hug <3

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A quote from The Shooting Star.

Do you dream of writing a book someday? What would you like me to share about the book writing process?

Connect with me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook to follow my adventures, the journey of my first book and the book/travel events I plan to do across India in October 2018!

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If I Were a Season, I’d be Monsoon.

About this post: For a long time, I ran away from the monsoon in India. I had no idea how beautiful the rainy season could be, how rejuvenating monsoon travel could be. After years of fleeing the monsoon in India, I now chase it with all my heart. This season, I’ve collaborated with Radisson Rewards to seek memorable monsoon moments across the country and can’t wait to share them with you!

I lie on my back, floating alone in the pool, soft raindrops gently falling on my face. Palm trees rustle in the breeze. A peacock cries in the distance. Grey clouds move swiftly through the sky. I close my eyes and deeply inhale the heavy monsoon air, thinking that maybe, the clouds are erupting just to indulge me.

This is my season, the season I’d be if I were a season. This is the monsoon feeling I eagerly came back to India from Cuba to chase…

Over the last three months, I discovered the trendy city of Copenhagen on a bicycle, set sail to Bornholm – the furthest island in Denmark, slowed down on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, lost myself on the cobblestoned streets of  colorful Havana, joined a coral reef restoration project on Cocodrilo – a remote island in Cuba, sampled legal stuff in the Bay Area 😉 and hung out on the Pacific Coast of California.

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

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A rainy day on the countryside of Cuba <3

When it was time to pick my next destination, I could feel the tug of the Indian monsoon calling me to my home country. I’ve come to believe that nowhere else in the world does the rainy season like India. Not Cuba, not Guatemala, not Southeast Asia. The rains in India are laden with an indescribable feeling of joy. The earth bursts into shades of green, the aroma of pakoras waft out of every house, the immense relief from the hot summer is visible on every face.

But even heading back to India, I felt torn. On one hand, I wanted to slow down and drive my bike along the lush rice paddies of Goa and on the other, I wanted to experience the joy of rain in the desert terrain of Rajasthan. I wanted as much to hang out at my favorite Mumbai cafes while it poured outside, as I wanted to walk along the furious sea waves on the Konkan coast.

Also read: Offbeat Rajasthan: 11 Awe-Inspiring Experiences

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Inspired by the rains in Guatemala!

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to choose! In collaboration with Radisson Rewards, I’ll spend the next couple of weeks exploring some beautiful corners of India, sampling new cuisines and familiar flavours, revelling in the rains, seeking memorable moments that make India incredible. Along the way, I hope to introduce my parents to the Goa feeling, indulge in the royal ways of Jodhpur, sample city life in Mumbai and wash up on a quiet corner of Alibaug.

Along the way, I hope to get drenched in the lashing rain, inhale the moisture-heavy breeze and fill my lungs with the smell of wet earth. For this is the feeling I came back eagerly to chase. This is my season. The season I’d be if I were a season.

Also read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

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Cycling under the grey skies in Bornholm, Denmark

Join my journey through the rest of August on social media with #memorablemoments and #wonderfullyrewarding, as I explore India, indulge in the Radisson experience and chase the rains. If you have any interesting, offbeat suggestions for Goa, Jodhpur, Alibaug or Mumbai, I’d love to hear them!

If you were a season, which one would you be?

*Note: I wrote this post as part of the Radisson Rewards campaign by Radisson Hotels Group. As you know, opinions on this blog are always mine.

Join my adventures live on InstagramTwitter and Facebook!

Best Places for Stargazing and Meteor Showers in India.

About this post: After years of chasing dark night skies for stargazing in India, I’ve put together this post with my favorite places to spot shooting stars and catch meteor showers in India – along with recommendations from an Indian astrophotographer. Whether you’re looking to catch the Geminid Meteor Shower in India, sleep under the Milky Way, witness the Perseid Meteor Shower in India or just spots shooting stars, this India stargazing guide will help you find the best spots! 

A few days ago, I read, quite aghast, that a Japanese company has developed new technology to project fake shooting stars and even a meteor shower in the Hiroshima night sky – otherwise mostly starless due to the concrete jungle cities around the world have morphed into. *Gulp*

If you’ve ever spent a clear, dark night lying under the (real) night sky, watching millions of stars twinkling above and spotting shooting stars, you’ll probably share my horror at what Japan is about to do. I mean, half the joy of stargazing is travelling to a place away from everything – pollution, lights, clouds, noise and city life as we know it – and feeling your insignificance under a shimmering sky.

Personally, I think that anyone who has admired the Milky Way in the night sky recognises the need to go off the grid once in a while, protect nature and dark spaces, and shun our materialistic greed.

This post goes out to all fellow stargazing enthusiasts – as well as those yet to experience its magnificence. In collaboration with astro-photographer Saurabh Narang (check out his awe-inspiring work on Instagram), I’ve felt compelled to put together this list of the best places in India for stargazing, meteor showers and astrophotography:

Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh

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3 musketeers and an incredible night sky in Pachmarhi.

On a dark, lonely night in Pachmarhi – Madhya Pradesh’s only “hill station” – I found myself under an incredible night sky with a naturalist from Forsyth Lodge and a local guide from Pachmarhi. The three of us, lost souls in our own ways, stood there watching the crescent moon set behind the hills, deciphering constellations and hearing rustling in the bushes – this is tiger territory after all!

Then a police jeep showed up and demanded to know what two guys and a girl were doing out there in the darkness. The photos on my camera saved us, as we tried to explain we’re out stargazing and that’s only possible in complete darkness. They left us with a warning to “do this stars thing quickly and leave.”

Oh India, under a sky full of stars, your inner darkness is fascinating too!

Practical tips for stargazing in Madhya Pradesh:

  • Stay: Club a trip to Pachmarhi with a visit to Satpura National Park, where I loved staying at the eco-friendly Forsyth Lodge – home to gorgeous dark night skies as well. Experience Pachmarhi with one of their naturalists and preferred guide from Pachmarhi for an immersive wildlife and stargazing experience. Note that budget accommodation in Pachmarhi is very basic.
  • Getting there: The closest airport is Nagpur, from where Satpura National Park is a 3-4 hour drive. Pachmarhi is a 2-3 hour drive from Forsyth Lodge.
  • When to go: Winter months from October to March when the weather is cooler and the skies clearer. Pachmarhi is at a height, so carry some warm clothes.

Also read: Why Satpura National Park is the Most Unique in India

Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

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The only kinds of lights I want in my nights 😉

In an attempt to catch the Geminid Meteor Shower in 2016, I landed up in the Little Rann of Kutch, fingers crossed for clear and dark skies, devoid of light or air pollution. Unlike the Great Rann of Kutch with the white salt desert, the Little Rann sees few visitors, and I was glad to be one of the only people staying in a kooba (round thatched roof hut) opposite the cracked earth desert. When night fell, I lay in absolute darkness and silence, my eyes slowly adjusting to the night sky. Bright stars appeared above me one by one, shooting stars dashed through the sky and big green mesmerising Geminid meteors stole the show!

Practical tips for catching the Geminid Meteor Shower in Gujarat:

  • Stay: Stay at Devjibhai Ka Kooba opposite the Little Rann of Kutch desert. There are no other accommodations in the vicinity, so it gets pretty dark at night. Devjibhai’s son is well acquainted with these parts and has some ideas for really dark spots for intrepid stargazers – inform them in advance about your interest in stargazing.
  • Getting there: The Little Rann of Kutch is a 6-7 hour bus ride from Ahmedabad.
  • When to go: Winter months from November to February see cool temperatures and clear skies. Carry a light jacket for chilly nights.

Also read: A Traveller’s Guide to Gujarat’s Best Kept Secrets

Havelock and Mayabunder – Andaman & Nicobar

[Recommended by Saurabh; see his astro time lapse video shot on Havelock]

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Star trails in Andaman and Nicobar. Photo: Saurabh Narang.

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands offer much more than dreamy beaches; thanks to their remote location and little light pollution, the night skies are stupendous for both stargazing and creating astro time-lapse videos. Lay on the unobstructed helipad on Havelock Island, on a tropical night, for thousands of stars in your eyes and the waves of the Indian Ocean in your ears. Or go further off the beaten track to Mayabunder, to live with a tribal Karen family, so far away from city lights that as the sky above fills with twinkling stars, you’d begin to wonder if the former really exist.

Practical tips for spotting shooting stars in Andaman & Nicobar Islands:

  • Getting there: Take the 2-hour ferry from Port Blair (the capital) to Havelock Island, or a bus from Port Blair to Mayabunder.
  • When to go: November to January is best for clear skies.

Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

Nag Tibba and Raithal – Uttarakhand

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Stars above my hut in Goat Village.

Living without electricity in different parts of Garhwal totally made me question why we need it at all. Days are meant to be spent outdoors and nights under dark shimmering skies. As I lay under thousands of stars, I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood days in Dehradun, when during long powercuts at night, we would sleep out in the garden, in the breeze and under the stars! These days, nights in most Indian households are for television, internet and air conditioning. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider what “development” really is.

Practical tips for spotting shooting stars in Uttarakhand:

  • Stay: The Goat Villages, set up with a goal to encourage the reverse migration of Himalayan farmers, are experiences unto themselves – the fact that they don’t have electricity means that you can see incredibly dark skies right from your balcony!
  • Getting there: The Goat Villages near Nag Tibba and Uttarkashi are 3 and 7 hours from Dehradun respectively, accessible by shared taxi.
  • When to go: The skies are clear year-round except the monsoon months from July to early September.

Also read: Awe-Inspiring Hideouts in Uttarakhand to Tune Out of Life and Tune Into the Mountains

Jaisalmer and Churu – Rajasthan

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Sleeping on the dunes in Jaisalmer <3

Imagine if you can. The Perseid Meteor Shower is going to peak and I make a mad dash with my partner to seek clear skies in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert. We reach Churu close to midnight, and drive out to the farm of our host family where they’ve laid out khatiyas for us to sleep on. Although there is more light pollution here than the further reaches of the Thar, we spot 5 Perseid meteors in literally the first 15 minutes – bluish, more sluggish, closer to earth than shooting stars. Then the moon rises higher and fills the sky with light and the cool breeze puts me into a deep slumber. Sleeping outside is so underrated!

Further out in the Thar Desert, accessible via Jaisalmer, I caught my first Gemenid Meteor Shower, laying on a flimsy mattress on the leeward side of a sand dune with a bottle of rum to keep warm! There’s no joy like seeing the Milky Way in the vast expanse of a desert sky, as large green meteors streak through the sky.

Practical tips for catching the Perseid Meteor Shower in Rajasthan:

  • Stay: Malji Ka Kamra was the base of our meteor shower adventures in Churu – clubbed with discovering crumbling old havelis that have stood the test of time. In Jaisalmer, l loved exploring the Thar Desert and stargazing with Suryagarh.
  • Getting there: Churu is a 5-6 hour drive from Delhi, while Jaisalmer is a long overnight train ride away.
  • When to go: The winter months from November to February are best for clear skies and relatively cooler desert weather. Nights get chilly in winter, so carry warm clothes.

Also read: Offbeat Rajasthan: 11 Awe-Inspiring Experiences

Pin Valley, Himachal Pradesh

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The Milky Way from my abode in Pin Valley.

Although all of Spiti is heavenly for stargazers and astrophotographers, I felt like there was a different kind of magic to stargazing amid the stark mountains, gushing rivers and all-encompassing silence of Pin Valley. On each of the two nights I spent there, I would finish dinner with my host family and slip out onto the terrace, as gazillions of stars lit up the skies above and the Milky Way (the part of our galaxy we can see in the sky) shone like an ethereal apparition in the darkness. I was fully aware of sharing this territory with snow leopards somewhere in the mountains above and red fox somewhere in the valley below – and even jumped at a glowing pair of eyes in the far distance once!

Practical tips for spotting shooting stars in Himachal Pradesh:

  • Stay: The Hermitage, designed by French volunteers, run as a guesthouse by a local family and supported by social enterprise Spiti Ecosphere, is tucked away deep in the heart of Pin Valley. A heartwarming experience with crystal clear night skies.
  • Getting there: Pin Valley is a 2-3 hour drive from Kaza, the administrative capital of Spiti – which is a 14-hour drive up on treacherous roads from Manali.
  • When to go: Pin Valley is most accessible in the summer months from late May to early October; the night skies are always clear (and hope they’ll remain so despite growing tourism).

Also read: “I Love Spiti”: How Travellers Must Help Save India’s Surreal Himalayan Desert

Shnongpdeng – Meghalaya

[Recommended by Saurabh; see his Milky Way cinemagraph shot in Spiti]

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Starry skies amid the clouds in Meghalaya. Photo: Saurabh Narang.

Meghalaya, home to the wettest place on earth, is seldom associated with stargazing. But besides cloudy skies, the lush green countryside often opens up to moments of pure silence with clear dark skies above, full of stars! In the small hill village of Shnongpdeng, close to the Bangladesh border, on a new moon night, find an isolated spot, let your eyes adjust to the darkness and watch the canvas above fill with twinkling lights – a most magical experience.

Practical tips for stargazing in Meghalaya:

  • Getting there: Fly to Guwahati, from where Shillong is 2.5 hours and Shnongpdeng further 3-4 hours drive.
  • When to go: The best time for stargazing and clear, cloudless skies is mid December to mid January.

Gunopur – Punjab

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A charpoi under the stars, in Punjab.

I unexpectedly landed up in Punjab, thanks to a cheap flight from Singapore to India – not knowing that I’d be rewarded with a stellar night sky. The rural countryside of Gurdaspur district, especially the village of Gunopur, home to mustard fields and (mostly) friendly farmers, offers chilly winter nights with little light and air pollution, which meant I could lay out on a charpoi on my terrace and gaze into the twinkling infinity. The sky clarity here doesn’t compare to that of Gujarat or Ladakh and you can’t see the Milky Way, but it’s a fulfilling experience nonetheless.

Practical tips for stargazing in Punjab:

  • Stay: I loved staying at Punjabiyat, sandwiched between the villages of Saidowal and Gunopur, in the Gurdaspur District.
  • Getting there: The nearest airport and train station are in Amritsar, only over an hour away.
  • When to go: The winter months from November to February are best for clear skies and blooming mustard fields.

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

Bomdila and Tawang – Arunachal Pradesh

[Recommended by Saurabh]

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The Milky Way amid the ugly construction of Bomdilla. Photo: Saurabh Narang.

Sparse inhabitation and low light pollution account for incredible night skies across Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, but the best places to embrace the cold and take in the stars are the tiny town of Bomdilla and the famous seventeenth century Tawang Monastery. By day, explore the intriguing tribal culture and hike amid the stellar beauty of the eastern Himalayas; by night, bundle up in warm clothes and gaze up at the Milky Way, surrounded by millions of stars – worth losing sleep over!

Practical tips for seeing the Milky Way in Arunachal Pradesh:

  • Getting there: Take the bus from Guwahati to Bomdila, followed by a shared taxi. The long and treacherous journey is well worth it.
  • When to go: March to October are best for clear skies and warmer weather.

Also read: The Mystical Ways of Arunachal Pradesh’s Galo Tribe

Ladakh – Jammu and Kashmir

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The stellar cold mountain desert night sky.

Like Spiti, all of Ladakh is incredible for stargazing – although unlike Spiti, it is also thronged by mindless tourists who think it’s okay to play loud music at night at the serene Pangong Lake. The bane of every stargazer.

In my little corner of Ladakh (best to keep it nameless), on clear nights, when everyone else had turned off the lights and gone to sleep, I would take my pillow, wear warm layers and lie under the dark night sky – under a million twinkling stars and the Milky Way! I spotted tens of shooting stars every night, and also some strange things… like unblinking star-like objects moving slowly in a straight line (perhaps a satellite?), flashing objects moving in a random trajectory, and faint slow moving objects falling a long way. Maybe it was just my imagination playing games with me. Or maybe someone was watching me from above 😉

Practical tips for stargazing in Ladakh:

  • Stay: Opt for a homestay with traditional Ladakhi facilities. I’ve heard that Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company is great at helping finding those.
  • Getting there: The easiest way to get to Ladakh is flying in to Leh. Set aside a few days to acclimatise to the high altitude.
  • When to go: The summer months from May to August are the warmest, though also pretty busy.

Also Read: Simple Ways to Travel More Responsibly in Ladakh

Koraput region – Odisha

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The real night sky – better than anything technology could create!

On the last night of a heartwarming journey through Odisha, I sat outdoors, all by myself. The air smelt aromatic, sounds of a “kidnap wedding” broke the silence (that story is for another day), the silhouette of tiny mangoes on an ancient tree kept me company. Then a power cut plunged the world around me into darkness, and as silence washed over all my senses, tons of tiny stars dotted the skies above. A befitting end to an journey that I hope to continue one of these days.

Practical tips for stargazing in Odisha:

  • Stay: I saw some magical skies at Chandoori Sai, the home (and homestay) of an Australian guy who made a small village in Koraput his home some 13 years ago; it’s also the most luxurious yet eco-friendly place to stay in the region.
  • Getting there: The nearest train station is Koraput.
  • When to go: The winter months from November to February are best for clear skies and cooler temperatures.

Also read: How an Entire Village Transformed from Poaching Birds to Protecting Them

Have you spotted shooting stars or caught a meteor shower in India? What are your favorite spots?

Join me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for more offbeat travel ideas.

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What It’s Like to Travel Solo When You’re in a Relationship. 

About this post: It is a common assumption that female solo travel is only for single women. That female solo travellers go it alone for lack of company, not because they want to. So I decided to pen this solo travel blog post, on what solo travel for women is like when you’re in a relationship, and why you should travel solo despite your relationship status.

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.

I began thinking of this post while strolling by myself along the brightly coloured colonial houses in Havana, the vibrant capital city of Cuba. Over the last two blissful months in Guatemala, my partner and I spent most of our time together – chatting, drinking beer, hiking, occasionally working, cooking, reading, doing nothing. Then life demanded we go our separate ways for a while, so after crossing the border to Mexico, we boarded flights to different corners of the globe… and I landed in Cuba, a country whose culture and revolutionary history has intrigued me for many years.

When people read about my solo adventures, they often mistakenly assume that I travel alone because I don’t have a “special someone” in my life. That I’m single (I’m not), unmarried (I am), looking for love (I’m not).

And others often lament that their own relationships are a strong reason (excuse?) for not travelling solo. It’s almost inconceivable that we could choose to travel to a destination all by ourselves, without the presence of our significant other.

Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

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The picturesque streets of Havana, Cuba.

So I decided to pen this post – an honest reflection on what it’s like to travel solo when you’re in a relationship – hoping to offer compelling reasons to go it alone despite your relationship status, yet being brutally honest about what it entails:

At first, it sucks

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Figuring out life by myself… but growing to love it. (Cocodrilo, Cuba)

I won’t lie to you: the first few days are the hardest. You’re trying to figure out life by yourself, while at the same time, probably trying to figure out the new place you’re in. When you notice an oddity or feel the rush of excitement surging through your body, there is no familiar person to share that feeling with.

Take me for instance: So much happened even before I got into Havana – the flight captain announced that the weather condition over Havana wasn’t suitable so we might have to take a detour and land on the coast to refuel; while in the immigration queue, the electricity conked off (hello Cuba!); they took away my humble Indian passport for further inspection at immigration (that’s another story!).

And I couldn’t share those moments – of confusion and thrill and curiosity – with the one person I had shared many memorable moments in the last 2 months. I couldn’t share the surreal feeling of driving into Havana with Che Guevara murals staring defiantly back at me, or landing on a forgotten island where Fidel Castro was once sent to prison.

But time fixes that feeling of longing, and dispels the “why am I doing this to myself” thoughts. Time not only fixes it, but let’s you grow to love that you’re doing this by yourself.

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

You end up talking to more people, even as an introvert

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My host family on the countryside of Cuba.

Or should I say, more people end up talking to you? I guess in a way, it helps that solo travellers still stand out like an oddity in most parts of the world.

In Guatemala for instance, I’ve travelled both alone and with my partner. Although people are typically friendly, I ended up having many more conversations with locals while alone. Together, we often attempt to chat with people, but also end up receding into our own little world. And when people see you already have someone to talk to, they are not as likely to approach you or indulge in a deep conversation.

And needless to say, the more locals we talk to and hang out with on our travels, the more adventures we’re likely to get ourselves into.

Also read: Lessons on the Art of Living in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

The anonymity can be rewarding

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Sleeping on the roof of a Mauritian home!

Imagine if you could wake up one morning and transform yourself into whoever you want to be. No one around you knows your past, or how you normally dress, or where you belong. Travelling alone, despite being in a relationship with someone who knows you inside out, is a lot like that.

Often on my solo travels, I find myself in a world where no one knows a thing about my personality or fears. I can challenge myself, surprise myself and experiment with myself, if I choose to. At times like these, I’ve ended up hitch-hiking in the Indian Himalayas, hiking solo in the Ecuadorean Andes and sleeping on the roof of a Mauritian home.

Also read: Practical Ways I’ve Learnt to Stay Safe While Travelling Alone

You start valuing your partner more

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Hanging out together in Slovenia.

I think it’s only human to take someone you spend a lot of time with, for granted. You don’t hold back getting mad at someone you’re always with, or failing to acknowledge how important they are in your life. I know many relationships that have deteriorated over time that way. (And no, having a kid is never the solution, I think 😉)

But when you spend time apart, on your own, introspecting about your relationship and what makes the other person special to you, you are bound to gain perspective. You are likely to value, far more, the time you spend with your partner.

Besides, the road is a great teacher. And among other things, it keeps teaching me that life is too short and unpredictable to spend some of it fighting with someone you love.

Also read: Six Alternatives to Travelling Alone

You notice your weaknesses but gain some emotional independence in the process

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Plenty of perspective when you travel solo. (Northern Thailand)

Not reliant on my partner, or anyone else, when I travel alone, I’ve learnt so many surprising things about myself. Especially the things I don’t do so well. Like figuring out maps and directions, handling stressful situations without being able to control my tears, finding myself unexpectedly without connectivity and dealing with particularly bad travel days.

Learning to identify, accept and work through my weaknesses (although there’s no figuring out directions for me, I’ve realised) has helped me gain some amount of emotional independence. How? By no longer feeling overwhelmed by the things that I expect to feel overwhelmed by or rely on someone else to handle.

Also read: Meet the First Solo Female Traveller From the Maldives!

There are times when you inevitably crave company

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The weird one who wants to revel in her own company sometimes. (Kerala)

As much as I try to stay optimistic about my solo travels, there are days when I inevitably curse myself and my choices. Bad days, triumphant days, days when I’m unable to have a good chat with my partner, days when I realise the geographical distance between us, days when there is no one to challenge me to be more daring, days when I feel selfish about having humbling experiences all by myself… those days make me wonder why I’m choosing to live the way I do. Why I’m that weird person who wants to revel in her own company, who wants to travel alone halfway around the world and live among strangers.

These feelings surface every once in a while, leaving me conflicted. Yet I can’t quite explain why I still continue to push myself to travel solo…

Also read: Solo Travel Moments That Left Me Scared Shitless

Solo travel can change you in unexpected ways

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Learning about life from my solo travels. (Bavaria, Germany)

Travelling alone, especially for a long period of time, has certainly helped me gain confidence in myself, build my self-esteem and value my independence – especially as a young, unmarried girl from small town India.

In addition to expanding my comfort zone in unexpected ways, it has taught me a lot about my relationship too. That we can support each other’s dreams without sacrificing our own. That we can resolve any challenges as mature adults. That honesty is greater than any public certificate of commitment.

That I can be emotionally sufficient and dependent at the same time. That I can chase my dreams without guilt, and yet have a shoulder to cry on if I crash along the way.

Also read: Meet the Courageous Indian Women Travelling the World Solo – on a Wheelchair!

The going is easier when you have someone to trust on the other end

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Someone to trust on the other end. (Caucasus Mountains, Georgia)

There are so many fears, hopes, expectations and disappointments on the road that I just can’t explain it to my family or friends. But having experienced some of them together, I can trust that there is someone I can call who will understand what I’m going through. That when I find myself disappointed or overwhelmed by a place, I will only hear words of encouragement, not worry or panic. That when I want to shorten a trip or walk away from an adventure because I just can’t convince myself to go through with it, I will only hear words of support, not judgement.

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

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Sunset in Havana <3

I watched my last sunset in Havana sitting alone on the Malecon, with the cool sea breeze in my hair and besame mucho (written by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez) playing on repeat in my head, reading a book written by Che Guevara’s wife. As the brilliant orange sun dipped into the ocean and I reflected on the last two weeks spent alone in Cuba, I desperately searched for words to describe how exactly it feels.

Luckily, these beautiful words penned by Che came to my rescue:

“Farewell, my only one
Do not tremble before the hungry wolves
Nor in the cold steppes of absence
I take you with me in my heart
And we will continue together until the road vanishes…”

Would you consider travelling solo while in a relationship? What are your hopes and fears?

Join me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for solo travel experiences around the world.

Where to Find the Best Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Singapore.

About this post: In this foodie blog post, I look at the best vegan food in Singapore – including the best vegan restaurants in Singapore, options for vegetarian food in Singapore and usually hard to find stuff, like vegan chocolates, vegan dessert, vegan ice cream, vegan burgers and vegan brunches in Singapore. I hope to keep updating this list of the best vegan food in Singapore on my trips back to the city!

I remember my student days in Singapore. On a limited budget and palate, I mostly lived off Subway’s Veggie Delight (hint: not so delightful), grilled cheese sandwiches and an Indian food stall (hint: not so Indian). I was unaware of my nutritional needs and being vegetarian, afraid to experiment with new flavours. I was hardly a foodie.

Much has changed since.

I’ve travelled, turned vegan, tried all kinds of cuisines, grown to love unfamiliar flavours, even learnt to cook some of them.

Luckily, Singapore has changed too.

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Delicious greens (kankong) at Whole Earth in Singapore.

Since I last wrote about “must try vegetarian food places in Singapore”, some innovative vegetarian and vegan restaurants and cafes have sprung up across the city. I’ve slowly sampled some of them on multiple trips back to the city, and heard highly of others from friends who live there.

If you’re heading to the little red dot, take my list of must-try vegetarian and vegan food in Singapore and treat your taste buds:

Greendot:

Best for: Vegan Singaporean food, like vegan laksa and vegan noodles.

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Bento dishes at GreenDot. Photo: GreenDot.

For a long time, laksa – synonymous with Singaporean cuisine – was only the prerogative of meat eaters. Enter Greendot, a vegetarian eatery, which offers a piping hot bowl of vegan laksa – rice noodles served in spicy soup, topped with shiitake mushroom, noodles and beansprout. A sort of passage into the local food scene!

If you’re feeling particularly ravenous, make a beeline for the customised bento meal which comes with a choice of rice (pick sesame rice!), a main dish (try the sweet and sour soya nuggets or the Gong Bao fresh mushrooms), two greens and a bowl of hot soup. Perfect for a quick, healthy, reasonably priced meal.

Tip: Vegan dishes at GreenDot are marked on the menu.
Location: Paya Lebar
Find Greendot on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Also read: Vegan-Friendly Cafes and Restaurants I Love In Bangkok

HRVST

Best for: A hearty vegan brunch in Singapore.

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Vegan pancakes for Saturday brunch at Hrvst <3 Photo: Hrvst

A cool vegan cafe and bar meets urban rooftop farming and a boutique gym – a lifestyle concept space straight from a hipster’s ultimate dream. Whether or not you choose to work out, indulge your taste buds in a healthy yet delicious vegan Saturday brunch: think fluffy vegan pancakes, zucchini frittatas and Swiss rosti.

The menu gets even more creative on other days. Sample the BKT barley risotto with fresh daikon (white radish), garlic oil, pink radish, nuts and dough crisps – deliciously crunchy; the King Oyster “Scallops”, a truly delightful plate of king oyster mushrooms with baby corn, hazelnuts and lemon zest; and matcha ice cream with a burst of orange, plum and pistachio flavours. You’d never think of vegan food as a boring salad again!

Location: Shenton Way
Find HRVST on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Also read: Secret Ways to Experience Singapore

Herbivore

Best for: Vegetarian Japanese food in Singapore.

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Vegetarian sushi at Herbivore! Photo: Herbivore.

While many Japanese restaurants in Singapore aren’t exactly vegetarian or vegan friendly, Herbivore, with its meatless bento and sushi promises to satisfy your Japanese cravings! Amid the warm ambiance, wooden furnishing and dimly-lit setting, try the shiitake sushi roll filled with mouth-watering flavours of avocado, shiitake mushroom, teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds (ask them to skip the mayonnaise when you order). The Tonkatsu Vegan Bento with the ubiquitous miso soup, rice paper spring rolls, fried “calamari” and Japanese rice also comes highly recommended.

Tip: Dishes that can be made vegan are marked on the menu.
Location: Fortune Centre, Middle Road
Find Herbivore on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Also read: Why Travelling in Japan is Like Nowhere Else in the World

Original Sin

Best for: High quality Italian / Mediterranean vegetarian food in Singapore.

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Hummus at Original Sin. Photo: Original Sin.

The sinfully delicious food and airy outdoor ambiance make Original Sin a worthwhile splurge when you’re in the mood for something Italian or Mediterranean. Whet your appetite with a mezze platter – hummus, beetroot and almond dip, crunchy falafel balls and homemade pita. Graduate to second course with the Broccolini Pesto Pasta – spaghetti tossed with broccolini (a hybrid of broccoli and kale), sun-dried tomato and walnut pesto! Or opt for the hearty, thin-crust Kashmir Pizza, topped with tofu, hummus, cherry tomato and tandoori sauce.

Tip: Dishes that can be made vegan, gluten-free and Jain are marked on the menu.
Location: Holland Village
Find Original Sin on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

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

VeganBurg

Best for: Vegan burgers in Singapore.

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Delicious vegan burgers at VeganBurg. Photo: VeganBurg.

Despite its ulloo (the Singlish word for obscure) location in the basement of Jalan Eunos mall, VeganBurg – Singapore’s first all vegan joint and the world’s first 100% vegan burger joint – was completely packed when I wandered out there with a friend. Among the interesting variety of burgers, we settled for the satisfying Creamy Shrooms and Tangy Tartar burgers, along with a side of seaweed fries. The patties are soy or mushroom based, extra toppings include vegan “egg” and vegan “bacon”, and chi’kn nuggets are a popular side. I hope to make a trip back for their new Avocado Beetroot burger!

Tip: Get a guilt-free takeaway of vegan burgers – their packaging is bio-degradable!
Location: Jalan Eunos
Find VeganBurg on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

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

Afterglow

Best for: Innovative, hipster vegan food and vegan chocolates in Singapore.

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Avocado kimchi roll at Afterglow. Photo: Afterglow.

Hipster food (think avocados and açai) is all the rage around the world, and this is Singapore’s answer to it. In this cosy farm-to-table cafe, settle for the innovative Avocado Kimchi Roll, made with almond sushi “rice”, topped with avocado slices and 7 days aged kimchi. Or order an Açai Bowl for a hearty second breakfast – topped with bananas, berry compote, salted tahini caramel and coconut crackers. Make sure you save space for their dairy-free, guilt-free chocolates – a treat for all taste buds.

Tip: Vegan options are not clearly labelled. Ask the staff while ordering.
Location: Keong Saik Road
Find Afterglow on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Also read: 10 Awesome Free things to do in Singapore

Whole Earth

Best for: Vegetarian Peranakan food and vegan noodles in Singapore.

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Set in a Peranakan shophouse. Photo: Whole Earth.

Singapore’s Peranakan cuisine was often off-bounds for plant-based eaters until Whole Earth came along – a vegetarian restaurant featuring fusion Peranakan-Thai dishes. Situated in a quaint Peranakan-style shophouse, come here to indulge in the spicy Penang Rendang, their signature dish of shiitake mushroom with marinated herbs and spices. Or order a bowl of hot and spicy Tom Yum soup on a rainy Singapore evening.

Tip: Reservation recommended; vegan dishes are not marked, let the staff know your dietary requirements.
Location: Peck Seah Street
Find WholeEarth on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Follow my new food account @nomadicvegan on Instagram

Din Tai Fung

Best for: Steamed vegetarian dumplings in Singapore

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Vegetarian dumplings at Din Tai Fung. YUM.

One of the two repeats from my 2010 ‘must try vegetarian food in Singapore’ list, Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese chain serving up sumptuous dumplings – so irresistible that I’ve eaten at DTF in Singapore, Bangkok and the original DTF shophouse in Taipei! I love their melt-in-your-mouth steamed vegetable dumplings, packed with mushrooms and greens, dipped into a side of soya sauce, vinegar and chilli. My record so far is 24 dumplings in one sitting!

Tip: The chilli dip on the table sometimes contains shrimp. Check with the staff, and if that’s the case, ask for cut chilli on the side to add to your soya sauce – vinegar mixture to dip the dumplings.
Location: Multiple locations, including Raffles City and Marina Bay Sands
Find Din Tai Fung on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Also read: Not Your Typical Travel Guide to Taiwan

Murugan Idli Shop

Best for: Vegan Indian food in Singapore.

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Soft and fluffy idlis anytime. Photo: Deepikah Arora (CC)

It’s probably impossible to find fresher, softer idlis in Singapore, with tangy sambar and four kinds of chutney to dip them in – and the crowds at Murugan Idli often attest to that. This hole-in-the-wall joint near Mustafa Centre in Little India also offers crispy dosas and tasty uttapams – guaranteed to satisfy all your Southern Indian food cravings.

Tip: Combine a visit to Murugan Idli Shop with shopping at Mustafa
Location: Syed Alwi Road (near Mustafa)
Find Murugan idli on: Website | Facebook

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

LingZhi Vegetarian

Best for: Vegetarian Chinese food and vegan buffet in Singapore.

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Vegetable dim sums. Photo: Ruocaled (CC)

If you dream of unlimited dim sums and a vegetarian steamboat (where ingredients are cooked on the table in a simmering hot pot), head to LingZhi for a vegetarian lunch buffet. Treat yourself to steamed ‘Siew Mai’ and mushroom dumplings, crispy yam croquettes, vegetarian ‘rojak’ and a steamboat featuring atleast five different kinds of mushrooms. An indulgent feast.

Tip: Vegan options are not labelled, so speak to the staff while making a reservation.
Location: Liat Towers; Velocity @ Novena Square
Find LingZhi Vegetarian on: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Also read: How I Quit My Job in Singapore to Travel 

Bollywood Veggies (Poison Ivy Bistro)

Best for: Fusion Singaporean and Indian farm-to-table food.

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Ivy Singh Lim at her farm. Photo: Bollywood Veggies.

The brainchild of Ivy Singh Lim – Singapore’s iconic rebel – Bollywood Veggies is a 10-acre farm in Kranji, a rare countryside experience in a city otherwise filled with concrete malls and manicured gardens. In the farm’s Poison Ivy Bistro, fresh, organic, farm-to-table cuisine fuses Indian and Singaporean flavours. Given the homegrown variety of edible plants – including tapioca, sweet potato, pumpkin and aloe vera – don’t miss the Vegetarian Platter featuring farm tempura (batter-fried veggies) and spring rolls. Along with the spicy kangkong or magic mushrooms, order the unique Blue Nasi Lemak Rice, made with blue pea flowers from the farm!

Tip: Vegan / vegetarian options are not marked on the menu, so check with the staff before ordering. And remember to buy some of the 20 different varieties of bananas grown on the farm!
Location: Kranji
Find Bollywood Veggies on: Website | Facebook

Also read: 5 Weekend Getaways from Singapore to Pamper You 

Bonus: Vegan desserts and vegan ice creams in Singapore

Smoocht

Best for: Vegan desserts in Singapore.

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Vegan ice cream at Smoocht <3 Photo: Smoocht.

This Italian plant-based ice cream joint is a guilt-free indulgence for anyone seeking a healthy treat. Their 16 ice cream flavours are made of brown rice milk and cane sugar, pack in 50% less calories than dairy ice cream and taste as decadent – try the “it’s getting dark” (dark chocolate), “mint mint mia” and “nutella, it’s really you” on crispy vegan waffles!

Tip: Smoocht also does kickass vegan pizzas and brownies.
Location: Jurong East
Find Smoocht on: Facebook

Cocowhip at Sarnies

Best for: Vegan soft serve ice cream in Singapore.

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Vegan soft serve dessert by CocoWhip! Photo: CocoWhip.

Conjured up in Australia, Cocowhip is an innovative coconut-based soft serve ice cream that I just can’t wait to try. Drop by at the otherwise not very vegetarian / vegan friendly Sarnies Cafe, only for a decadent helping of a Cacao Bliss Cocowhip, topped with macadamia nuts or sweet cacao nibs!

Location: Telok Ayer Street
Find CocoWhip on: Website | Facebook

This post is co-written with Remya Padmadas – a journalist by day and dreamer the rest of the time. She aspires to travel the world and become a teller of stories.

What are your favorite vegan / vegetarian restaurants in Singapore? Which of the above would you most like to try?

Join me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for more vegan travel ideas.

*Cover image: Afterglow Singapore.