I often wonder what makes a travel experience truly unforgettable. Take my recent trip to Georgia (the country) for instance. When our plans to travel to the remote Tusheti region got snowed on, we decided to visit a forgotten protected reserve near Georgia’s border with Azerbaijan and the Dagestan province of Russia. I was recovering from a flu, and even on a sunny day, wrapped up in layers and a warm hat. “Cold?” Otto, our potbellied, jolly Georgian host asked me. I solemnly nodded. He turned to search for something in the shelves of his outdoor kitchen shed. I tried to tell him I had already taken medicine, but he wouldn’t stop. He finally found what he was looking for. A bottle of homemade chacha – a strong plum liquor ubiquitous in Georgian households. “Chacha very good,” he said, even as I resisted it at first. Then we cheered to India, Georgia, family, religion (even if mine is atheism) and good health, and downed shot after shot. I guess the flu, hiking to the waterfalls …
On a chilly December night, I lay on the roof of a watch tower in the darkness of India’s stark salt desert – the Little Rann of Kutch.
The lifelong connections we make with people along the way is the very essence of travel.
As the first rays of sunlight streamed through my window, I drowsily opened my eyes to a panoramic 180-degree view of Knuckles Mountains. Victoria Lake shimmered below, as though waking up with me, and my infinity pool beckoned for a morning dip. Laying in bed, I blinked a few times to convince myself this wasn’t a dream in which I had become a billionaire – it was just my incredible (yet affordable) Airbnb in the paradise island of Sri Lanka. Three years ago, on my first trip to Sri Lanka, I wrote: “It’s not a country for flashpackers: Our moderate budget only seems to afford drab guesthouses / budget hotels – average accommodation quality, no local insights, nothing memorable.” Airbnb changed that. I found homes with million dollar views, the design quality of luxurious boutique hotels, and infinity pools that could easily make the coolest infinity pools to swim in before you die list. I got a chance to sample traditional family recipes (adapted to my vegan preference) that feature in no restaurant menus. And I left the country with treasured friendships with local hosts I wouldn’t otherwise have met. All this while staying kind to my …
Deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand, I discovered a secret.
When I dream of Goa, I don’t hear the roar of the ocean or feel the sand on my feet. I hear the pitter-patter of rain on old Portuguese roofs and the chatter of women in their rice paddies. I feel potent home-brewed Urakh smoothly slipping down my throat, a burst of flavors from fiery curries on my tongue and my mind slipping into a susegado mode. Earlier this year, when I landed in India after a six-month sojourn across Central and North America, I knew I needed Goa as much as I needed a cocoon of luxury to call my own. Alila Diwa was the kind of place on my mind, and this is why I loved staying there: Floating on the edge You know that feeling of lounging on a relaxing beach chair, floating in a pool that has no edge, shades on your eyes to keep the sun out, the wind ruffling your hair, a cocktail in your hand, lush rice paddies stretching out into the horizon? Yeah, I didn’t know it either. Until I found myself in Alila Diwa’s …
Airbnb has changed the way I travel. Instead of pouring hours of research into finding unique accommodations during my Central America trip, I decided to rely on Airbnb and found private islands, organic farms and artistic, off-the-grid homes in the lap of active volcanoes – all at prices I could afford!
I had to pinch myself as my tiny 20-seater plane with an open cockpit, circled a lush mountainous island surrounded by the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. It looked a little like Isla Sonora from the Jurassic Park movies. The plane descended sharply as the hillocks parted to reveal a tiny airstrip, which ended just a few feet away from the ocean. The airport was only connected to the rest of the island by boat.
On a sunny afternoon, I sit on the steps outside my room, gazing at the bare, brown mountains and their snow-clad peaks. I’m lost in thought when four kids, wearing maroon sweaters and warm stockings, their heads shaved off, come and sit next to me. Word has gotten around that I speak Hindi, and the curious ones have come to check for themselves. On first glance they look like young boys from the village, so I ask Aap sab bhai hain? (Are you brothers?). They solemnly nod no, point towards the nunnery, and tell me they are nuns.
I groggily board the flight to Leh at an unearthly hour. Waking up irritably to the flight attendant’s announcement, the view outside my window quickly changes my mood. We are flying precariously close to the snow-covered Himalayas, and would soon land in the cold mountain desert of Ladakh. Three years after my first solo trip to Spiti, I am back in the trans-Himalayas, still dreamy and wide-eyed, a little nervous, and hoping to find solitude in the mountains. It feels like life has come a full circle.