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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