Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016... The Year That It Was.

A known: How lucky you are, you get to travel so much
Me: Like really?! Isn't luck just the outcome of genuine effort and intent.

It's been more than 5 years since I started to travel extensively as a writer... blogger... trip leader and an organizer. The journey was not easy.  I had a different challenge everyday and I overcame it just to find another one standing right ahead. I will share the story of my struggle some other time. Today when I look back at these 5 years, I get overwhelmed with joy and pride. I have apparently traveled more than what an average person travels his whole life!

This post is dedicated to the numerous memorable moments 2016 gave me... let me recall and relive some of them.

Jet skiing at Tehri, Uttarakhand.  It was on a trip to Kanatal with +Chalo lets go India. I reluctantly said yes to something I didn't know I would enjoy so much.

A refreshing morning when I woke up to the chirping birds in an old Rajasthani haweli at Lotwara,  also called the peacock village followed by a perfect breakfast prepared from farm fresh vegetables. 

My birthday month... and I celebrated it with lovely locals and the ChaloLetsGo Barot team. Dancing, singing, laughter along with the local wine made from jaggery served by locals with lots of love. 

And I started the 40th year of my existence, paragliding at Billing (very near to my birth place Baijnath). I did dangerously amazing take off at Billing. Check it out in the video.

(Video credits: Vinod Verma)

Experiencing snow when my friends were crying over hot summers in Delhi was surely the moment that wicked-me thoroughly enjoyed. 

Driving on snaking roads through the hills from Kasol to Malana where after a point it felt like I am entering a dream world. The high hills, the bluest sky adorned with milky white clouds and the cool breeze..!

The giggles throughout our trip to Mukteshwar with awesome travel buddies. The one-liners and the jokes we shared and loads and loads of fresh plums, pear and peaches that we had.

 And not to forget the daring photo session we had on the cliff.

A beautiful morning in the lap of Kumaon hills at a beautiful home-stay in Nathuakhan... feeling the Crisp cold breeze on my face and watching little birds play, I myself felt like a bird ready to fly.

That feeling of being a tiny speck in this huge gamut of universe took me over while I was trekking my way down to Chandrataal. I could hear the silence of nature and could feel its power. Amazing moment it was!

Staying with locals in Mudh, a remote village in Pin valley Spiti is something I will cherish throughout my life. I just wished I had some more days to spend with lovely people out there who have done their best in terms of proving comfort to the travelers visiting them. The most I appreciate is the fusion of cuisines they have done to make the meals interesting. Local Pizza is what they called it. It was the local bread stuffed with cheese and veggies. 

Imagine having it sitting at an altitude of more than 13,000ft...!

Have countless memories of the trip to Spiti organised by +Indian Terrains, will dedicate a full post to it. Here I just mentioned the most prominent one.

Got the privilege to be at the height of 13,000 ft above sea level and at the sea level both in the same month.

Jumping around on the waves and playing with star fish at Mondarmoni beach in the day and listening to the waves crashing on the rocks on the shore at night. 

Witnessed mesmerising sunrise at Chandrashila. Standing on the zenith, I could see myself surrounded by layers and layers of Himalayan ranges and  in front was scarlet sky ready to welcome the beautiful ball of fire, the source of all energy - Sun.

My year seems incomplete without visiting Pushkar. So November was dedicated to my visit to Pushkar. I enjoyed my food the most on this small trip. It's heaven for foodies especially for the vegetarian lot.

The year ended with an encounter with the Beast at Dhikala, Corbett National Park.

     (Picture credits: Anirban Dasgupta)

Wish you all a life filled with lots and lots of exploration and travel..!

P.S. - Don't forget to leave a message for me in comment section :)

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Perfect Weekend Getaway Just A Few Hours Drive From Delhi!

Tip tap tip tap... as the drops of rain fall on the ground, on the leaves and on the slate roofs, we sit in a cozy balcony of our cottage sipping hot tea. We are surrounded by forest all around with a few village houses in the vicinity. Just a few moments before the golden rays of setting sun  had engulfed the whole valley creating dramatic patterns on the sky together with clouds.

Just 8 hrs drive from the capital city takes you to this tiny village Nathuakhan. It is a quiet place located at an altitude of 1940mt in Kumaon range of the central Himalayas. Just a kilometer before the market of Nathuakhan is a beautiful cottage that we had booked to spend a weekend in the lap of nature.

The drive from Delhi was enjoyable. We got to experience it all... sunny sky, clouds, rain, fog and again sun. We had no idea what the place will be like, all places look good online in pictures. But we were sure we will have good experience the moment we entered the place. There was warmth in everything. Ever-smiling staff to take care of every little thing; tastefully done interiors, nick-nacks placed in the outdoors; the cozy sitting areas inside and outside the cottage... that's exactly what we needed for a relaxing holiday away from the city.

A nice cup of tea in the lap of nature after 8 hrs long drive refreshed us

It's a paradise for bird watchers
Evening was spent exploring the surroundings. Small meandering path through fruit trees took us to the village. A small village with just a few houses with farms and the livestock. Just a kilometer away from the cottage was the local market.
A short drive little further took us to Sitla from where we got a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Himalayan ranges - Trisul, Nandadevi and Panchachuli. There's a shop here where you can buy locally made stuff that includes spreads, jams, juices, handicrafts etc.

Once back to our nest, we picked our corners to just relax and soak in the serenity of the place. The music from the wind chyme was the only sound we could hear. After a refreshing cup of tea, we all got together and enjoyed chatting in a cozy balcony lit by candle lamps creating a mystic effect.

We picked our corners to relax and soak in the serenity of the place

Had sumptuous dinner cooked and served with lots of care and love.

The living area became our favorite place. The wide range of books and music collection, the wooden interior, cozy couches made it a place you would want to spend days relaxing at. Just a night was not at all sufficient.
The living area 

I woke up to chirping of a bird on the window sill of the attic I stayed at. It was very early in the morning. The same lazy me who would not get up early morning for anything in the city, was up and straight at 5.30 am with no intentions to go back to bed again. Sitting in the small sit-out area of the attic sipping my morning tea, I could see the forest slowly getting lit and the life getting started in the village. The deep breaths of cool fresh air refreshed my body and soul. I was rejuvenated to take on the stress of busy city life again.

Bid goodbye to the team with a promise to be back again
It was a perfect getaway - "A home away from home" in a true sense!

----THE GUIDE----


On Road: New Delhi to Nathuakhan: 340 kms via Moradabad, Rampur, Rudrapur, Haldwani, Kathgodam, Bhowali, Malla Ramgarh, Talla Ramgarh. The journey takes approximately 8 hours. Parking lot available.
Other distances from Nathuakhan: Nainital - 40 km, Bhowali - 30 km, Mukteshwar - 14 km

By Train:
Ranikhet Express runs daily; Departure from Old Delhi at 10:40 PM, Arrival at Kathgodam at 5:20AM.
 Indian Railway Information available here
Khatgodam AC Express runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; Departure from Delhi Anand Vihar at 6:00 AM, Arrival at Kathgodam at 11:55 AM. Indian Railway Information available here
Take a taxi from Kathgodam to Nathuakhan, a hill journey of 60 km.

The Village Stay - Home away from home


The cottage has 5 rooms and an attic.

The Attic: Perfect for a group of 4-5 friends. The attic has an attached bath.

Meals are scrumptious and home-cooked. Local produce sourced from home garden or the neighboring farms is used.
Breakfast is a hearty affair, complete with eggs, porridge, flakes, bread, jams and spreads, and even poha or idlis or upma or parathas.
Lunch is usually an Indian vegetarian spread. Kumaoni/ Gujrati/ Bengali etc. The spread consists of a daal, vegetables, yogurt, salad, rice & chapati/ puri.
Indian, Continental, Mediterranean or Chinese cuisine is served as per choice in dinner. It starts with soup, main and side dishes and dessert. Bar-Be-Que too can be arranged. Non-veg is served for dinner for those who prefer it.

You can book your stay in this cottage at Homestays of India

If you also know places like these, do share in comment section. Would love to know :)

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Monday, July 18, 2016

My Life as a Travel Consultant

Yesterday I visited one of a distant relatives and was asked what do I do for my living. I have a travel group and I plan trips, I replied. Ahhh... so you are a travel agent? Errr....
This got me thinking.

This distinctive career that I have built for myself doesn't have a term yet but I like to call myself a travel expert/ planner or a consultant. Anyway, this post is about my life as a travel....... whatever you may want to call it.

What do I do?

I live to travel and I travel for living!

Travel is what makes me come alive, so I have made traveling my living.
I use my travel experience and expertise to help people realize their travel dreams. I plan, customize and organize trips for people. Be it a group of friends, family, corporate group or a solo person who want to explore with like-minded people, I work with them to help them realize their travel dreams. 

What do I like about what I do?

I love hearing people talk about their travel dreams.

I love traveling with familiar strangers as I call the people I travel with and I love to see the smile on their face when they come back from memorable trips.
And I love it when they thank me for making it happen for them

I love being a trendsetter and being talked about. I have co-founded 2 travel groups ChaloLetsGo and INDIAN TERRAINS. And I love to see my babies grow.
I love the challenges of this unusual journey that I am on. I hate boring routines so nothing can be better than this for me. Different people, different destinations and different challenges everyday!

Spreading smiles through travel

How does my year look like?

Exciting and full of travel!

Typically I travel almost 200 days a year to more than 15 different destinations with more than 300 different people and I just love it. I get to know so many new people, I get to travel to so many unique destinations and I get to know so many inspirational life stories.

The days I do not travel I write about my travel adventures, about the people I meet on my journeys and about life in general. And I get an extra kick when my writings get published.

Writing is my second love, traveling being the first

How much do I earn doing this?

To be honest I do not earn as much as I would have being in the corporate job I was in. But yes I earn a decent amount that takes care of my day to day expenses, I am a person with limited needs so I don't need a lakh a month to live. I just need enough to keep me going and I do earn that through travel. And money can never give me an extra kick and satisfaction I get from traveling with people. So it's all about priorities in life.

Are you also doing something unique? Would love to hear your story. Have some queries regarding what I do? Would love to answer. 

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Monday, July 4, 2016

A Date with Kolkata

If Kolkata were a person…
She’d be confident, warm and decent. She’d be an intellectual and completely transparent about her emotions at the same time. She’d value love and friendship over money and fame. She’d be an extreme food lover. She’d eat biryani and kabab as often as puchka and egg roll. She’d never finish her meal without sweets, Sondesh and Rosogulla being her favorites. And she’d be very fond of Chinese food as well. She’d love to roam around on streets with friends and have long talks (adda) on varied topics starting from politics to books to food. In all she’d be a wonderful company.

Taxi, Tonga and Old Haveli
It seemed irresistible not to go there and get the feel of her myself…
I was first introduced to Kolkata by one of my friends. The way he used to explain her I was quite impressed. I got married in a Bengali family and that was when I got to know her deeply. Finally I was almost in love with Kolkata when I heard about her from a couple from Kerala. As per them those two years that they have spent there had been the best time of their lives. It now seemed irresistible not to go there and get the feel of her myself. So I decided to go on a date with her, and the best time I thought would be when she is in epitome of romance, Puja time.

The smell of moist air welcomed me to Howrah station, a place full of action. Several trains reaching and leaving the station simultaneously; Porters running here and there; people greeting their relatives; Hawkers selling stuff from Jhal moori to locks and chains to magazines. It was bustling with life.

With the feeling of excitement within to meet my date whom I’ve loved in my imagination, I proceeded further. 

The glimpse of Hooghly River on a bright sunny day somehow gave me a feeling that I am going to have an exciting time…
On the harbor of the river, you get plenty of time to view Kolkata’s most iconic sight. As we ferry across the water, Howrah Bridge seem personified as the handsome, muscular and stoic. It was difficult to take my eyes off it. I had not got over the magic of the beauty of Howrah Bridge when my eyes met the sensual ivory curves of the glamorous Victoria memorial. Dedicated to Queen Victoria this memorial provides an insight into Indian History right from the arrival of British to the Independence era. Amazing paintings and photographs by British officers unfold an Indian subcontinent hitherto unknown to many of us.

Beyond the Memorial is the mesmerizing sweep of Maidan where you can witness the romance of life. You will find friends sharing happiness and talking their worries away, families having picnics, fitness freaks of all ageswalking and jogging, political leaders addressing crowds, kids playing, music lovers singing. Life on the Maidan is the quintessence of life in Kolkata.

Stay at an Old Haweli in Sutanuti…
Plan was to visit a friend at Sutanuti, one of the oldest settlements of Kolkata on the bank of river Ganga. Metro took us to Shobha Bazar, Sutanuti. We walked through a labyrinth of narrow streets and lanes with our friend to reach a 250yrs old Haweli. An old wooden staircase led us to a colorful verandah. Light created an optical wonder on the floor of the verandah as it filtered through the glass windows. What would have been a better place than this Haweli to stay at to understand Kolkata in its true sense. A small talk with the host and I knew what I’ve heard about people from Kolkata is absolutely correct. Their love for art, culture, heritage and traditions was quite evident.

Verandah of an Old Haweli in Sutanuti

Drive through Kolkata roads gave me an opportunity to look at my sweetheart closely and company of friends from Kolkata an opportunity to understand her soul...
A long drive to Diamond Harbor was planned for the next day. Drive through Kolkata roads gave me an opportunity to look at my sweetheart closely and company of friends from Kolkata an opportunity to understand her soul. And hence started my romance with this city Kolkata!

Walking through Madhupal lane where people were busy having morning tea with family and having discussions on the day’s plan for puja celebrations and ladies after a fresh morning bath in Ganga waters were about to start their day, we reached Durga Charan Banerjee road. I was amazed to see old buildings in their original form. The Kolkatians’ love for their heritage was quite evident from the way they have preserved these building in their natural form. Yellow ambassador Taxis, hand pulled Rickshaws and trams can’t be seen in any other part of the country except for Kolkata. Morning chai adda was the most common scene at the road sides.

Adda with friends
After spending good time with my Kolkatian friends it was clear to me that it is a city where people judge each other on the things that really matter; where they understand that life is not about money but about culture, ideas, art, and passion.

Kumartuli – Moving from Romanticism to Reality…
At night we walked through kumartuli (traditionally potters’ quarter in northern Kolkata) streets flanked by artisans’ workshops. While the city was busy in celebrations the artisans’ squat on the street giving finishing touches to idols ignoring the attention of curious passersby. For them making Idols of Goddess is only a means of survival. Walking through these streets we reached the banks of Hooghly River where people were washing away the fatigue of the day so they can have a peaceful sleep.

Understanding the Essence of Puja…
Next day was dedicated to visiting Puja Pandals and finding out why there is so much of hype around Kolkata Puja. My sweetheart was decked with elaborate beautiful pandals. I wanted to understand the passion behind this madness that I have witnessed all these years in every Bengali around Puja. No work talks for a week I was told. It’s time to celebrate – new clothes, elaborate food, Pandal hopping, chai adda and lots of fun. The essence of Puja lies in culture, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression. It’s all about the bonding, the emotion, the spirit and the love for life.

Ah! That was my first meeting with this ‘city with a soul’. This visit has made me even more anxious to meet her once again, for a longer duration next time.

With the hope of returning to my beloved soon I left Kolkata with beautiful memories in my heart!
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Get the best from your group travels

"I don't have friends who are as passionate about traveling as me"
"My partner is always busy working, he has no time to travel"
"I don't feel safe while traveling alone"
"I like to travel with like-minded people"

We hear all this so often these days. And glad there is a solution to all these problems - THE GROUP TRAVEL. It is the best way these days to do a trip. Just book your holiday and forget about the rest. Everything starting from your transport, permits, stay and food is taken care of by them. And the best thing is you are accompanied by passionate travelers and photographers who understand your passion and needs.

But how be be sure you are traveling with the right set of people? How to make the group travel experience a good one? What all to be careful about? Below are a few pointers that'll help you get the best from the group trips.

#Chose the travel group carefully.

Don't just go for any group that is organizing a trip to the destination you want to explore, do some research. There are many big and small groups these days to chose from. The popularity or the size of the group does not ensure a good experience. Many big groups fail to provide the experience that a smaller groups can because of the personal touch they give to their trips. Here are the pointers on how to chose a group and the trip:
  • The organizers should be travelers themselves then only will they be able to understand your needs.
  • Talking to your trip leader once before the trip is a good practice. Check his/her profile on fb.
  • Check the itinerary thoroughly and make sure it includes everything that you want to explore in a destination. 
  • Chose the group that gives you the flexibility of exploring on your own too in the safety of a group.

Fun of traveling with a like-minded group

> Once you have chosen the group, have confidence in your choice and trust in your organizer, you are going to have time of your life! 

# Set your expectations right.

 Take all important information before starting your journey. Below is the list of things you can ask:
  • Detailed Itinerary with the amount of road travel (km wise)
  • What type of food will be served - veg/ non veg, simple/ elaborate, local?
  • What mode of transportation will be there?
  • What type of accommodation hotels/ camps/ homestay?  
Be very clear on what you want... do you want to visit tourist spots and shop and are looking for fancy resorts to stay or are you looking for unusual and rich travel experiences. And it's very important to communicate it to your organizer so that he can explain what you can expect.

Be open to new experiences, it can be you best one

> At times you tend to be extra careful and might miss out on some experiences... like staying in a camp can be an experience of lifetime. Don't be too rigid on your expectations and trust that your organizer will do his best to provide you the best experience. Always remember, he knows the place better than you.

# Be a part of the group. 

Always remember you are traveling in a group and how you behave will come back to you. Be a team member. Cooperate with others and others will reciprocate. Everyone is out to have good experience and create pleasant memories. So help yourself and others in doing so. Here's how you can do that:
  • Don't separate yourself from the group by asking for extra favors from the organizers like front seat in vehicle, better view room, food other than what is being served to all.
  • Don't be a cribber. No one likes the company of one. If you are signing in for a road trip there will be long road journeys, if you are traveling in summers be prepared for hot weather... cribbing about the heat or long road travel will not change anything but others attitude towards you.
  • Don't be too rigid. At times there are situations that can't be controlled like due to some landslides the itinerary might have to be tweaked a bit. Being understanding and accommodating in those cases will help you and the group make the best of the situation.
Group travel can be the best experience of your life 
if you are a good team player
> Be a good team player and enjoy the experience.  

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

My 10 Best Sunset Moments

#1. Sitting by the side of the sea waching the golden ball dipping down the horizon at Kumarakom Lake Resort; August 2015. 

#2. Spending night in the Thar under open sky and experiencing the sunset behind golden dunes; Dec. 2015

#3.  I was taken aback to see this gorgeous view in middle of Dudhwa forest when we were least expecting; Jan 2014

 #4. It was a beautiful evening with sun setting on one side and moon rising on the other. Could see the Jaisalmer city below glowing in the golden light of setting sun; Dec. 2014

 #5. That magical evening on the top of the world at Tungnath when suddenly the fog dissappeared to give us the view of Vast Chopta valley being blessed by the rays of setting sun; August 2014

#6. Amazingly beautiful evening on the banks of River Betwa when sun sets behind the Chhatris; March 2014

#7. While paragliding above Bir the areal view of the Kangra valley that I got during evening hours was unforgettable; Dec 2013

#8. One of those gorgeous mela evenings when traders form all over Rajastha come to Pushkar mela ground to sell and buy cattle; Nov. 2013

#9. Playing on the beach where you can walk miles after miles on the sand that was submerssed in water at some other time of the day; Oct. 2013

#10. A beautiful evening by the side of Dal lake during Eid; July 2015

All the above pictures are clicked by me while on trips with ChaloLetsGo and INDIAN TERRAINS
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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Kinnaur in Pictures

Majestic snow-clad mountains, gorgeous green valleys, meandering rivers, small villages with rich culture, orchards and vineyards… that’s what define Kinnaur - one of the most beautiful valleys of Himachal Pradesh. Located in the Northeast of Himachal Pradesh, Kinnaur valley is around 235 Kms from capital city Shimla.  There are three high mountains ranges - Zanskar, Greater Himalayas and Dhauladhar in the district enclosing valleys of Sutlej, Spiti, Baspa and their tributaries.

The trail that can be followed to explore Kinnaur is Delhi – Shimla – Rampur - Sangla – Chitkul – Kalpa and minimum 6 - 7 days would be required to explore the area.

On the way from Simla to Sangla via Rampur. The road cut on the rocky hills is an engineering feat

Himalayan Griffon on the way to Sangla

This is a beautiful valley located in the greater Himalayan range at an altitude of around of 2,696 Mtrs (8,900 ft). It is surrounded by forested slopes and the Baspa River flows into it. The area is rich in apple orchards, apricot, Wall-nut and Cedar trees.
There are many options to stay including budget hotels and camps.

Sangla Valley on the banks of River Baspa

A sweet lady from village Karchham in Sangla Valley

Fields of the pink coloured ogla, a small flower seed grown specifically in the Baspa Valley add to its beauty

Chitkul, small village with population not more than 500 is situated at an altitude of 3,450 Mtrs (11,320 ft) on the foot hills at the bank of River Baspa. It is the last inhabited village in Sangla Valley on the old Hindustan Tibet road.

Chitkul produces one of best quality potatoes and peas in India 

Traditional wooden house in Chitkul, the last Indian village on Kinnaur side with an elevation of 3,450 m (11,320 ft)
The Kingyupa Temple, Chitkul
Snow covered peaks at early morning as seen from Chitkul
Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley located at an elevation of 2,960 m (9,710 ft) and is famous for its apple orchards. The local inhabitants follow a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism, and many temples are dedicated to both Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses. We get a breathtakingly beautiful view of Kinner Kailash peak from here.

Kalpa is a small town  in Sutlej river valley, Kinnaur
At the monasteray in Kalpa. Kalpa is a good mix of Hindu and Buddhist culture
Beautiful wooden entry gate of a temple in Kalpa
In case you want to explore it with professionals check the plan here
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