Sunday, November 26, 2017

How to Prepare Yourself for a Memorable Homestay Experience

Homestays these days are getting quite popular; while home-stays can provide you with an amazing local experience, you must go with a right set of expectations. Here are a few pointers based on my travels and stays with host families that will help you get the best of your vacation at a homestay.

  1. Homestays are the best place to stay if you like to try local cuisine. For instance if you are staying in a homestay somewhere in south India be open to eat idly, upma, dosa or puttu. Expecting paranthas, butter chicken or shahi paneer will not work.
  2. Come prepared to adapt to the menu set by the host. Mostly in home-stays there is a day’s fixed menu. Unlike hotels, home-stays won’t have an elaborate menu to choose from. It is a good idea to discuss with your host in case you have any food allergies or if you don’t eat something.
  3. Also, If you like to eat non vegetarian food please clarify in advance with the host if non vegetarian food is served in the house and if it is included in the cost or not.

  1. Book a home-stay if you want to know more about the place you are visiting. I have spent hours talking to the families and got to know about many hidden places and cultural information that is not available anywhere on internet.
  2. While hotels can provide you 24*7 room-service they lack the personal touch and care that the host can provide in a home-stay. Once on a trip I lost the keys to my baggage; my host was kind enough to take my baggage to the nearest key maker and got it fixed by the time I had my tea.
  3. Don’t talk to the host like you talk to (read order) the house-keeping staff in a hotel. He is the owner of the place and deserves respect.

Home-stays are run by the families and limited staff personally appointed by the host so you can be sure of your safety and security. The host himself, being a part of the locality, will never do anything that can harm his reputation. While staying in home-stays I have never felt the need of locking my room when I am around and I have always ended up being a part of the family.


Home stays may be not be as luxurious as five-star hotels, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be as comfortable. In fact, in some ways they beat five-stars by offering amenities like kitchens and truly personalized service. You will not have to run to the market for small things you might need in emergency. Your host will be happy to get it for you from his place. For instance once I had cut my finger and the host immediately came with his first aid kit, another time I got my clothes wet and the lady of the house dried them in her drier.

But at the same time be aware that you might not get some facilities like power back-up, attached bathrooms, AC, geyser, laundry etc if you are choosing a home-stay in remote area. So you must talk to the host in advance about the facilities available. Also check for its accessibility. Some home-stays are away from the main tourist area and you might have to walk a bit to reach the place. So check that in advance if you have older people who have issues with walking. Also, as already mentioned do not expect the room service in a home-stay.

Home-stay is a family run place. Unlike hotels, every house has some rules. So when you choose to stay with a family you become a part of the family and same rules apply to you too. It’s a good idea to understand that and behave accordingly.
Here are a few things to be kept in mind for a happy memorable experience:
  1. Please check if there are any house timings and follow that. Inform the host in case you intend to come late or stay outside any particular day. Your safety and security is a big concern for the host.
  2. Please take permission before smoking or drinking. And dispose of the leftovers carefully.
  3. Make sure you use the amenities provided to you wisely and leave them in working condition. When using water and electricity, make sure you don’t leave taps running or appliances switched on when you don’t need them.
  4. Most of the home stays unlike hotels do not have a huge housekeeping staff. So, please maintain hygiene and do not litter in your room or common areas.


This article has also been published on blog of Homestays of India
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

An Appeal From a Responsible Human Being

"I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as our defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend."
Read it somewhere and I so agree to it.

It's time we wake up, realize and  understand where are we heading. Our wrong habits have done some alarming damages to the environment and if we do not change it today we will leave a bad bad world behind for our coming generations.

I understand some tough decisions are required to be taken by authorities, so leaving the larger things to them and hoping they will do their best to safeguard environment. But let us not just wait and watch. Let us do our little bit and at least start making a difference. I am putting down some small changes that we can make in our life for the better. Feel free to add on to the list.

Say Complete No to Plastic

Check the video below... Do I need to say more? 

Slight changes in our lifestyle can reduce the amount of garbage we are filling our earth with.
  • Stop using bottled water. This is especially when we are travelling. In most hotels there is an RO or a filter, let's refill a big bottle with filtered water rather than buying a small plastic bottle every time we are thirsty.
  • Don't use plastic bags. Our parents had a very nice way of carrying a cloth bag with them along with the list of things to be purchased. Lets us start doing that again. 
  • Minimize the consumption of packed food. We can't stop having plastic packed junk food all of sudden, but let us not buy many small packets for every member but a huge one and share from that. This way atleast we can lessen our contribution to this huge mass of plastic that is accumulating.
  • Try alternate environment friendly options. Dear ladies, do we realize have much plastic we dispose every month? Let's try some environmental friendly methods. Have you tried menstrual cups? Learn more about it and be inspired.
  • Please do not use plastic disposable utensils. Its easy and convenient to use them but anything that can'e be recycled is hazardous. 
Save Fuel Save Air

Smog in Delhi
  • We all love to have an independent vehicle to commute but why is travelling with others so difficult for us (including me). It was some time back but not anymore. Now the time I spend in metro is one of my favorite time of the day. I get to see so many people, know the latest fashion trends, make friends, and get some business also. Have closed a few deals chatting to people around while traveling in metro.  Using public transport is not that bad after all.
  •  Not a public vehicle person, how about sharing your vehicle with others and reduce your car cost? 
  • Be careful of what you throw in your garbage bin as it will add on to the heap outside your community and might get burnt one day adding to toxic fumes you are breathing.

Plant More

This we have read and heard so many times. What have we done?  How many trees each one of us has planted? And come to think of it.. how many trees might have been cut to fulfill my everyday needs? Do I see a balance there? Definitely no. 

Read stories of individuals who have made some difference by planting trees to get some inspiration.

Today seeing the smog, the bad air that we and our kids are breathing we feel angry and alarmed. But soon after things get a little better, we forget and get into same behavior. We again start choosing comfort and convenience over environment. 

Here's an appeal from a responsible human being... Please make your choices well. Leave the habits that spoil the air that your coming generations will breathe in.
Would love to hear from you all what changes have you made in your life  to leave a cleaner earth and breathable air to your kids?

P.S. - The post is different from what I usually write but the severity of the issue compelled me to write this. Hope we all will be able to make a difference.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Thar Experience

Suddenly in the middle of night I opened my eyes to a "Moon Halo". I had no idea what I was watching at that time but was mesmerized by the sight of it. The moon, in its full silvery glow, was surrounded by a rainbow like circle and two tiny bright stars were playfully twinkling inside the halo as if teasing the moon. I was sleeping on the dunes of the Thar desert under the sparkling star studded sky.

The evening was no less magical. After sailing on camels for an hour we had reached in the middle of nowhere. The golden ball was dipping behind the sand dunes creating a magic on the sky. Our excited souls were transported back to our childhood and we were jumping around and playing in the sand... at times making the dipping sun our ball and at times swimming in the sand. That one hour of craziness seemed too short. But anyhow what followed was no less.

After witnessing this gorgeous sunset and being a kid again, we feasted on simple dal roti made on the fire lit by the side of a bush in the desert. Dal never tasted better. After a while the darkness started to take over. The gorgeous sun disappeared on one side and the stunning moon showed its face on the other. Standing at a point I could see both at the same time.

It is one of the most memorable moments of my travels. Even today when I think of it I get transported to a different world.

I am curating a trip to Thar this Dec. Check the details here.

Image Credits: Vinod Verma
Connect with me on Instagram and Facebook for more responsible travel adventures.
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reasons you must visit Pushkar

There’s a lot more to the oasis town of Pushkar than just the Camel fair that it is mostly associated with. Walk through the labyrinth of alleys and lanes, its bazaars and the ghats to discover the magic of this tranquil town. Below are a few things I love to do when I am in Pushkar.

#1.  Spend Dazzling Evening at Pushkar Lake
The aura around the lake, the reflections of the evening colors of setting sun and the music flowing around all adds up to making a memorable evening. Spending an evening at Pushkar lake always fills me with energy.

Sip hot coffee by the lake side andatch the day bidding adieu and a beautiful evening taking over. As the golden sun dips behind temples, lake water mirrors the changing hues of the sky from blue to orange and then red and slowly black takes over transforming the day into a beautiful night. Spend some quiet hours sitting on the stairs of the lake listening to the music coming from all directions - hymns and bells from the temple, nagara beats from the ghat, strumming of guitar from some cafe and sound of Ravanhatha being played by some bhopa musician sitting just next to you. While you are lost in the music, the lake turns gorgeous with reflection of town lights and numerous stars. I love watching the day end by the lake side and being just with me; slowly pilgrims leave temples, tourists go back to the market or the hotels, sanyasis go hiding into their kutiya and you are left alone on the stairs gazing at the glittering sky and the lake. The calm cool air from the lake fills you with tranquillity.

#2.  Camel Safari
Riding through the desert atop a camel is an amazing experience. I love to have a chat with enthusiastic camel men who are always happy to share their stories. If you want to know about the life in a desert village, he is the best person to talk to. Hear the stories while sitting 10 feet above the ground sailing through the desert. The slow moving camels will take you through dunes to a point from where you can watch beautiful golden ball dipping down beyond the horizon and the sky changing color from evening red to violet and then slowly darkness engulfing the whole expanse.

You can hire camels from the fairground or can ask your hotel to arrange for one. There is an option of camel cart too if you want to enjoy the ride with your friends or family. The best time to go on the safari is before the sun sets.

#3.   Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you are in Pushkar around the fair you must take a balloon ride. I love to glide gently above the crowd over the vast expanse of the dunes to get an amazing bird’s eye view of the fair and the desert.

The balloon ride is usually organised towards the end of the fair. The best time to take a ride is at sunrise when the soft rays of sun slowly lit the temples, ghats and the ancient buildings surrounding the lake. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime experience and capturing it all in morning light is a dream-come-true for any photographer. Advance booking is recommended to get the best time slots.

#4. Drive to Ajaypal ji
Ajaypal ji temple is located 10kms from Pushkar. Raja Ajay Pal, the founder of Ajmer City, founded this temple in 11th century AC. The temple is surrounded on all sides by boulders of marble which makes the site amazingly beautiful. I find the drive to Ajaypal ji one of the most scenic drives around Pushkar. It passes through the forest for initial 3kms which is replaced by the sand dunes and then the valley surrounded by the hills. I like to stop and spend some time with simple villagers talking and clicking. Most of the times when I do so, I am offered tea and local snacks. A mud house, huge veranda, a well, giggling kids, smiling ladies in their vibrant attire busy with house chores and cattle is what a typical home will comprise of. And men folk with colourful turbans can be seen sitting on a platform below a tree having hookah and chatting.

Rent a motor bike or a scooter from Pushkar market; look for the Bitumen road leading from the base of Savitri hill that takes you towards Kharekdi village. This road leads you to Ajaypal ji Temple. Rainy season (August- October) is the best time for this drive when the greenery is at its best and you can see springs, streams and waterfalls all through the drive.

#5.   Evening Aarti
Evening aarti is a not-to-miss experience for everyone, believer or non-believer. People in thousands assemble in the temples across the ghats. As the chants begin the atmosphere gets filled with the fragrance of incense sticks and roses. The sound of ringing bells comes in chorus from numerous temples surrounding the lake. The whole ambience feels divine and transports you to a different world altogether. While the evening sky fills with gold of setting sun, the lake looks gorgeous with numerous floating diyas.

You can attend aarti ceremony at any of the ghats but evening aarti at Varah Ghat is highly recommended. It commences at 7:00 pm during summers and 5:30 pm during winters.

#6.   Nagara lessons at Gangaur Ghat
Music is in the soul of Pushkar. While strolling around the lake in evenings, you can find many people learning and playing their favourite instruments. Around Gangaur ghat, look for coke-studio-fame Nathu Lal Solanki, the master drummer teachiing the beats to drumming enthusiastsYou can join him and learn to play these local drums called Nagara. He still charges a negligible amount that he used to charge some 20 years back To teach Nagara. He considers this place his karmabhumi from where he has achieved the name and fame and it’s his tribute to the place and the art.

#7.  Hiking on Ratnagiri hill to Savitri Devi Temple 
Do hike up the Ratnagiri hill in south-west of the lake if you have time. It’s a moderate hike of around 1.5kms and takes around two hours to reach the top. Located on the top is Savitri Devi Temple dedicated to the wife of Lord Brahma. The breathtaking panoramic view of Pushkar town from here is worth the effort. Evening hours are best for this trek as you get an amazing sunset view from the temple.

If you like hiking and are game for some more, on a smaller hill on the northern side of Pushkar town is Gayatri Devi temple. It takes around 45 min for this trek and offers a lovely sunrise view.

#8.  Shopping
Go for a good retail therapy session once you are done with all other planned activities. A good mix of ethnic and hippie culture reflects in Pushkar market. There’s a lot to shop for, so keep at least half a day exclusively for shopping. Pushkar is known for its traditional silver jewellery, ethnic clothes, leather bags and rose products. T-shirts, harem pants, wrap-arounds, kurtis, bandhanas and funky accessories are also available in abundance at a very reasonable price. Do not forget to bargain to get the best prices. You can also shop for souvenirs like puppets, antique silverware or pottery stuff.

The main shopping places are Baza Bazar, Sarafa Bazar, Sadar Bazar and Kedalganj bazaar.

#9.       Pushkar for foodies
Pushkar is heaven for foodies with a range of roadside restaurants, rooftop cafes and eateries serving wide variety of food. Some of not-to-miss foods in Pushkar are malpua and kachori at Sarweshwar at mithai wali gali, Gulkand Lassi near the steps of Brahma Temple, lafa and falafel at Ganga restaurant near Rangji temple, muesli and fresh fruit juice at Sonu juice near bus stand and pizzas at La-pizzeria.

Pushkar is such a place where you can spend days just having good food and relaxing in cool cafes. Some of Pushkar’s most popular cafes are Honey & Spice, Funky Monkey Cafe and Out Of The Blue Cafe.

#10.  Kalbelia dance performance
The best way to unwind after a fun filled day is to enjoy the Kalbelia dance performance. It is one of the most sensuous dance forms of Rajasthan performed by lively Kalbelia tribe, a nomadic community who were snake-charmers until it was outlawed by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. With their charm, unbelievably flexible serpentine shimmying and their lovely traditional black attire they have the talent to absolutely mesmerise you. The beats and the movements will surely instigate you to join them in their dance.

Many hotels arrange the dance performances in their premises for their guests.

And if you want to experience it all with the experts, you might want to join the group trip PULSATING PUSHKAR with Indian Terrains.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

5 Best Road Trip Himalayan Destinations

If you are in Delhi and have passion to drive, pick your car and head to Himalayas. There are some of the world's most picturesque drives that you can do from here.

#1 Leh via Srinagar 
It's a dream-come-true road trip for every adventure lover. Driving through green pines and then rocky mountains... over the snow covered mountain passes... witnessing vast landscapes that change with every turn and visiting the colorful monasteries and celebrating life with monks, you'll reach the destinations that come straight out of the world of fantasies. The nature's beauty will keep you alert every moment, so much so that you would not want to even blink.

The Trail: Delhi - Pathankot- Patnitop - Srinagar - Sonmarg - Kargil - Mulbek- Lamayuru - Leh (1250kms approx)
Time Required to reach: 3-4 days

The highway drive from Delhi to Pathankot has some of the best road side dhabas offering delicious punjabi food. The first night halt can be taken at Pathankot. From here a scenic drive along river Tawi will take you to Patnitop, a beautiful hilltop enveloped by thickly wooded Cedar and Deodar forests with the breathtaking views of the Chenab basin. The road from Patnitop to Srinagar is dotted by Poplar trees, green fields and small markets. You can take a day break at Srinagar and enjoy beautiful gardens and the Dal lake. The last leg of this journey from Srinagar to Leh through Sonmarg, Batal, Drass and Kargil is the most exciting one. 9 kms from Sonmarg you will reach the first high mountain pass, Zoji La (3,528 m/11,575 ft). The road from Batal to Zoji La is said to be one of world's most dangerous roads. Once you have crossed the pass, the whole landscape changes. Greenery disappears and you will find yourself driving through the vast landscapes. The mountains change texture and color on every turn. Crossing world's coldest inhabited village Drass and Kargil reach Lamayuru, one of the oldest monasteries of the region. Driving through Sangam (confluence of Indus & Zanskar Rivers), Magnetic Hills, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and Hall of Fame, finally reach Leh.
The high mountain pass you will cross on the way:
Zoji La (11,575 ft) located on the Indian NH 1 between Srinagar and Leh in the western section of the Himalayan mountain range.
Namika La (12,139 ft) is in the Zanskar range on the road from Mulbek Valley to the Lamayuru Monastery. In Mulbek you can see an immense rock carving of the Maitreya Buddha and a Gompa perched high on a cliff overlooking the village.
Fotu La (13,432 ft) is a mountain pass in the Zaskar Range. It is the highest point on the highway, surpassing the famed Zoji La.

#2 Leh via Manali
This is the most sought after road trip and takes you through one of the most difficult terrains in the world Manali- Leh Highway. Pass through high altitude passes covered with snow while enjoying the rare beauty of the Himalayas.

The Trail: Delhi-Chandigarh-Manali-Keylong -Jispa- Bharatpur-Sarchu- Pang -Upshi - Karu -Leh (1030kms approx)
Time Required to reach: 3 days

Enjoy some delicious parathas at Murthal on the way to Chandigarh, take a lunch break around Sundarnagar and driving along river Beas reach Manali by night. Manali to Sarchu is a beautiful drive through gorgeous Solang valley, Rohtang pass, Keylong and Jispa. There are tents in Bharatpur and Sarchu where you take a night halt. At Sarchu, Lahaul region, Himachal Pradesh ends and Zanskar region, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir starts. Start early morning for Leh through NakeeLa and LachangLa. Drive to Leh passing through Skyangchu Thang (Plateau on Stretch of 42 Kms) and Tanglang La. Driving along the Indus River, reach Leh.

The high mountain passes you will cross on the way: 
Rohtang Pass (13050 ft) on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas is around 51 km from Manali. It connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh
Baralacha Pass (16040 ft) in Zanskar range connects Lahaul district in Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir
NakeeLa (15,647 ft) It is located between Sarchu and Pang
Lachulung La (16,617 ft) It is located some 54 km from Sarchu
Tanglang La (17,585 ft).

#3 Kaza, Spiti Valley
Located at an altitude of 3650 mt (11,980ft.) on the left bank of the Spiti River, Kaza is the largest township and commercial centre of the valley. Being centrally located, it is a good base to explore the rest of Spiti. Day trips can be made from here to Tabo, Dhankar, Langza, Hikkim, Komic, Key and Kibber. Cut off from the tourist map because of its remoteness, Spiti valley along with its twin valley of Lahaul, has retained its pristine charm. Quaint old monasteries, prayer flags fluttering in the wind and monks in their ochre robes, add to the mystic charm of Spiti. The scenic mountain villages perched on mountain crests, Pristine rivers, the vast landscapes and the harsh conditions are all a part of the package that constitute this adventurous Himalayan journey.
The Trail: Delhi-Chandigarh-Shimla-Kalpa-Tabo-Dhankar-Kaza
Time Required to reach: 3-4 days

It will take around 9-10 hrs to reach Shimla. You can take a night halt at Shimla, Mashobra or Fagu. Drive along picturesque Hindustan-Tibet Road which is carved in rock and goes along the wild Sutlej River to reach Kalpa, one of the most beautiful village of Kinnaur. You can also visit Sarahan on the way. Its around 14 kms off the way. The most fabulous part of the drive is from Kalpa to Nako. On the way visit Ribba. Passing through Khab which is hardly 13 km from Tibbet border reach Nako, situated in Hangrang Valley. The existence of lake formed out of the masses of the ice and snow adds beauty to the village. You can either take a night halt here at Nako or proceed to Tabo and halt there. Flanked on either side by hills, Tabo monastery is one of the oldest Buddhist monastic complex regarded by many as only next to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet. It is also known as the Ajanta of the Himalayas for the caves and the frescoes found here. Next day you can drive to Kaza exploring Dhankar on the way.

#4 Sangla Valley, Kinnaur
Sangla valley in Kinnaur is situated in the northeast corner of Himachal Pradesh. The Baspa River flows in the Valley that is surrounded by forested slopes. Do visit Chitkul, the last village of India and Hindustan-Tibet road which finally enters Tibet at Shipki La Pass, Rakcham, a beautiful village in the valley and Kamru village that hosts one of the oldest forts in Himachal. 

The Trail: Delhi-Shimla-Sarahan-Sangla-Chitkul-Kalpa
Time Required to reach: 4 days

The first leg of the journey starts with a lovely drive on NH1 and later driving through Shivalik foothills you reach Shimla. Night halt can done in or around Shimla. Next morning drive along the fierce Sutlej River on the rock cut road that is a great engineering feat.  From Karchham a road goes towards Spiti and another turns towards the Sangla Valley. This 18 km stretch is a narrow winding road with hair-raising gorges & cliffs high above the Baspa River gushing below. Sangla valley is rich in Apple, Apricot, Wall-nut, Cedar tree orchards and glacial streams with trout fish. Drive another 22kms are you reach Chitkul. Once you have explored the valley including Chitkul and Kamru head to Kalpa. Kalpa is situated at the height of 2758 mtr above the sea level, and is one of the most beautiful village of Kinnaur that offers stunning views of the Kinnaur Kailash.

#5 Chandratal
The Chandratal Lake (4270 mtr.) is one of the most photographed lakes in the world. Once a halting place for traders who went to Spiti and the Kullu valley from Tibet and Ladakh attracts a large number of adventure lovers. This typical high mountain crystal clear blue water lake lies in a broad grassy plain, which in ancient times was a glacier, 7 kms away from the Kunzum Pass now a source of the Chandra River and idles for camping. 

The Trail: Delhi – Manali – Rohtang La – Gramphoo – Chattru – Battal – Chandratal.
Time Required to reach: 2 days

It will take around 14hrs to reach Manali. Its a highway drive followed by the drive along Beas River and then through lush green Kullu valley. Take a night halt at Manali. From Manali Chandratal is around 120kms. Driving through the magnificent landscape of Solang valley you reach Rohtang pass. Post which the road is quite challenging. You need to be an expert driver to drive on these roads. The area has magnificent vast himalayan landscapes. But there is no habitation except for the fixed camps at Gramphoo, Chhatru and Battal. This is where you can have your meals of simple rice dal and sabji or maggi with hot refreshing tea and relax for some time. 

The high mountain pass you will cross on the way: 
Rohtang Pass (13050 ft) on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas is around 51 km from Manali. It connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh

In case you don't drive but love to go on road trips, check our list of road trips and join one.


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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Common Myths About Homestays

As a traveller and a travel consultant I always try to make choices that are environment friendly. For instance, rather than buying plastic mineral water bottle every time I am thirsty, I prefer carrying my steel water bottle and refill it and encourage other people to do the same; I always snack on bhutta, nariyal pani, dry fruits etc that are natural and do not come in plastic packing and on group trips, I always prefer organizing our stays in homestays that are run by local people and are ecofriendly.

But at times I come across people who do not want to stay in homestays. Here's a list of the reasons they give, most of which I feel are misconceptions.

Homestays are difficult to access; It's tiresome, not relaxing

Many homestays are located in remote areas away from the crowd, reaching there can be tiresome but living there away from the crowd will surely be relaxing - spending a few days disconnected from technology, embracing the genuine warmth of hosts and eating food from farm to table can take away all the tiredness of the city life.
Also, not all homestays are far located. You can check beforehand if there is a proper road till the homestay or you will have to walk to reach the homestay and chose according to your preference.

Homestays are not safe for travelers

Safety can be an issue anywhere if you are not cautious so taking a few precautions will ensure your safety:
Before booking a homestay ask the owner if it is a government approved homestay and ask for their license number. In Kerala, Himachal and many other states there are strict rules to get a license. The owner has to obtain police clearance from multiple channels before a license to run the homestay is obtained. These clearance and licensing rules are introduced to ensure the safety and security for the tourists.  Alternatively, book it through a reference, a known person or a trusted platform like Homestays Of India.
On the contrary to this myth, many also feel it's much safer living in a homestay as the host can tell you which areas to avoid or go out with you to places where you might not be safe if you go on your own. They can be a sounding board for any issues you face and help you learn how to navigate a new location.

Homestays may not be hygienic and have our choice of food

Being in the industry I have checked kitchens in both, hotels and homestays, and can vouch for the cleanliness and hygiene of homestays especially if we compere from the kitchens of most of the hotel restaurants. Moreover food served in homestays is mostly prepared from homegrown vegetables and is cooked in the same kitchen in which they cook their own food, so you can expect the best.
Also, there is good variety of food in homestays. As per the availability of non-vegetarian food, you must check with the host before booking if they serve non vegetarian or not and chose as per your preferences.

Homestays are cheaper alternative to Hotels

It is the most common myth that if it's a homestay it will be cheaper than the hotels. No doubt you can chose to stay in low budget homestays if you are on a budget trip but thinking that homestays are always a cheaper alternative to hotel is wrong.
The fact is homestays are available in all ranges as is a hotel depending on the location, area and the facilities they provide. I have stayed in a homestay that charged me 2500 per night for bed and breakfast. And I think it's totaly worth it. The tastefully done interiors, the comfortable stay, the personal attention, the hospitality, the cleanliness and most importantly the fresh tasty organic food made from the produce of the kitchen garden and meticulously cooked by the host was all worth the money I paid. Which hotel could have given me this experience even in 5000/-... I wonder.
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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sandal Suites - A Comfortable Extended Stay Accommodation Option in NOIDA

I could imagine myself staying at the elegantly designed and furnished Studio as I hear Mr. Rattan Keswani, Deputy Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels and Director, Carnation Hotels Pvt. Ltd speaking at the launch of Sandal Suites on 7th June 2017. I could imagine starting my day working out at fully equipped gym; cooling myself down at the rooftop swimming pool; enjoy playing tennis or squash; and relaxing and rejuvenating myself after a long day at Kiyomi, spa managed by O2.

Located within Assotech Business Cresterra, the LEED Gold Certified office complex in the IT hub of Sector 135, Noida, is this property Sandal Suites that is an answer to the growing demand for comfortable and convenient extended stay accommodation options for business and IT professionals in the vicinity. It is the only upscale accommodation available within an 8 km catchment and is the perfect for those looking for a “home away from home” – be it business travellers, project teams or relocating families.

Sandal Suites features 195 suites, extensive banqueting facilities, numerous dining options, and an array of recreational facilities -

Citrus Café, the Lemon Tree Hotels signature all-day dining restaurant, serving the best of Indian, European, Western and pan-Asian cuisine. Citrus Patio, the al fresco dining area, provides a beautiful outdoor extension to the café.
Bitters, the bar, set to open soon, will provide the perfect venue to catch up for a quick meeting over a drink or relax in a cosy and intimate setting, with its eclectic mix of delectable and masterfully blended cocktails.

The Citrus Café

Bitters - The Bar

Each of the elegantly designed and furnished Studio, Standard and Deluxe suites, feature an independent balcony, a separate living area, a well-appointed workstation, and a kitchenette featuring a tea/coffee maker, a microwave and a mini-bar. Deluxe Suites, designed with a focus on extended stays, include a separate dining area, a kitchen equipped with a hob and chimney and a large refrigerator, and washrooms with a separate bathtub and shower area. In addition to this, smoking, non-smoking and interconnecting suites are available in order to provide convenient accommodation solutions.
The Crest Suite, spread over 1,340 sq. ft, is synonymous with modern luxury, featuring a luxurious bedroom, a beautifully designed dressing area, a study, and an opulent bathroom. The expansive suite exudes a sense of understated luxury, comfort, and style, complemented by state-of-the-art technology and personalized service.

Studio Suite

Deluxe Suite - Living Room
I particularly like the fact that keeping Lemon Tree Hotels inclusive policy, Sandal Suites also features a suite for the differently-abled, which has been specially designed for their convenience. In addition, an entire floor has been dedicated for women guests.

With a view to cater to MICE requirements of the business and social needs of the community in Noida, there is an extensive array of well-appointed spaces for business or board meetings, conferences or private events, large or small. The large pillar-less ballroom, Tangerine Grand, spread over 4,000 sq. ft., with a large pre-function area, caters for events of up to 400 guests.

Tangerine - The Conference Room

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pushkar Holi - Festival of Colors in True Sense

It's HOLI the next day and the holy little town is full of festivities. In all major chawks people are lighting fire for the ceremony called Holika Dahan, and rituals are being performed by the locals. People from around the world in their Indian traditional attire are gathered here to witness it. Celebration, fun, laughter and music is in the air. While purohit is busy performing rituals, people are busy clicking and recording to capture the moment. Ceremony ends and atmosphere gets filled with music and sound of dhol. I found myself dancing surrounded by people from all over the world connected by the sense of celebration.

And the big day is here. We all dressed in our best whites start towards the market.
 The first one we met on the street is a sweet English lady who with a broad smile and red color packet in her hand, wishes us. We are going global :).
Little farther we meet some kids who playfully apply color to us all. And that's how meeting unknown people from varied backgrounds and countries we reach warah ghat where everyone has gathered.

The atmosphere is full of colors. Everyone is wishing each other, applying colors and dancing to the tunes of music playing in the background. In the streets, I see local kids smeared in colors and playing with whosoever happens to cross them. Mithai wali gali is open and people are enjoying kachori and malpuas.

And hey wait a minute, what is this that I see!? Some shirts in the air, and many more on the floor. Yes someone did tell me that it's kapdaphad holi were all guys are stripped off their shirts. Some sight it was... everyone was very respectfully wishing holi to the female while stripping the male counterparts. After a point no one was allowed to go with their shirts on.

Kapda phad Holi - It was fun!                                 Picture by Vinod Verma
The streets are full of people, it is estimated that more than 20,000 people visited Puskar on the day of Holi. It was a mega event that left me overwhelmed with joy and happiness.

I had read some articles where it was mentioned girls need to be very careful and that it is not meant for them. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning but believe me not even a single time did I feel unsafe. So ladies feel free and go out celebrate the day that is meant for celebration.
Picture by Vinod Verma

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Simple Girl From The Mountains

The phone beeps early morning and it flashes -

 "On this beautiful day just a few years back a very special person was born with a magical wand which could persuade people to roam around the world freely and understand the love for nature... she is one of the wonder woman in today's world... and I wish this wonder woman a very very happy birthday!"

Another message says "Happiieee happiieee bday to a person who is inspiration to many..."

What a wonderful start to my big day... !
A simple girl from the mountains have made it big... I thought.

Making it big for me is not earning a bomb and having a lot of possessions, but to spread happiness and making a mark on people around you. If you are able to inspire and help people in any way to live better and meaningful life... I think you have made it big.

In the mountains, there was this tiny place called Lohna, Palampur. There lived this shy little girl who was mostly lost in her own world of thoughts. Tea gardens were her second home and pine forest her playground... birds were her friends and air breeze her companion. She grew up eating wild berries (of course not just that) from the forest behind her house.
She was a mediocre student who could manage to secure decent marks and was very fond of participating in activities related to art... rangoli making, henna applying, flower arrangements... These were the things she thoroughly enjoyed. Debates, quizzes and all were not her cup of tea.

After completing her college in agriculture university with flying colors she was offered scholarship for MSc. But she had larger things on mind.... She wanted to see the world, experience life outside the hills, so she made her decision to move out to a bigger city and do a vocational course. She started by staying in a paying guest accommodation but she would not fit in the crowd there. She felt all the talks meaningless and all the actions thoughtless, so she decided to go independent which did not go very well with the relatives. But who cared... her close family was fine with it and that's all that mattered.  And going independent was not just restricted to accommodation, she started doing part time jobs.

By the time she completed her studies she had good experience in sales. She did a direct sales job that again did not go very well with the relatives, but who cares. The sales job taught her good life skills and opened up a whole new world to her. She was very happy with her progress in the city, she started with a language institute inlingua and eventually got job in Google India that is a dream company for almost everyone. Everything was going great, but something was missing somewhere. Again she felt meaningless and empty.

This time she wanted to explore beyond her native place and her city. The hunger to explore more was increasing. So she started her own travel group ChaloLetsGo to connect people like her who want to be with nature and explore as much as possible. It's been more than 5 years now and she is doing great with many more dreams waiting to be fulfilled...!

"Continue blasting your way through life!" another message said.
Yesss... I will keep rocking and enjoying the beauty around till I am there on this beautiful earth. I thought.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rejuvinate Yourself at Aamari Resort Ramgarh

I get invites from many big and small properties but I hardly get time to visit and review them all. This time around when I got the invite from Aamari resorts, a luxury resort in Nainital, something clicked. May be it was the perfect weather for an outing or it's location - the quaint Kumaon hills or it was meant to be like this. The property looked inviting in pictures on the net. So without any second thought, I instantly finalized the plan and headed towards it the very next day.

Started early morning from Indirapuram. Around a kilometer before Gajraula when I was looking for a place to have breakfast, an interesting sign board attracted my attention - "Enroute - The Dhaba". The place looked interesting, so thought of checking it out. A very good decision it was to stop there. The ambiance, the cleanliness, the staff all looked perfect. And the food was just amazingly delicious. (review in another post). Such a good start it was to the trip. 

It was an enjoyable 8 hrs journey through the villages, green fields and small market places. I took a detour from the highway through Suar and Kaladungi to make the drive more interesting. The road condition also is better on this route than the highway. Via Kathgodam, Nainital and Bhowali, driving on the picturesque road through pines I reached Ramgarh.

The scent of pines and the lovely view of the valley and the snow covered peaks welcomed me to my lovely abode - The Amaari Resort. 

Picture by Vinod Verma

The smiling staff showed me around and took me to my room. It's a huge property with 22 rooms and 3 villas located on a hill, Mine was a well designed room with huge glass window overlooking the valley. A hot shower after a somewhat tiring journey refreshed me to the core. A small walk in the woods there after made me forget all the worries and hurries of the busy city life and I was fully in the holiday mood.

The next day was spent exploring the surroundings. There's a lot that can be done in the area. Go to Mukteshwar temple located on a top of the hill, do bird watching at Maheshkhan, visit Sitla for a panoramic view of the gorgeous snow covered Himalayan ranges or just relax at the resort. I went to explore the nearby village Nathuakhan. Had fun time interacting with locals and having local sweets and snacks. After a tiring day, my evening was spent relaxing at the resort and enjoying the play of colors on the sky that created dramatic patterns along with clouds.

Picture by Vinod Verma


The location:
A cozy corner in my room
The place had a welcoming aura to it.  It is placed beautifully on a hill amidst pine forest with a wonderful view of Himalayan peaks and is perfect for those looking for a relaxing vacation in the lap of nature.  Most of my time was spent by the huge glass window in my room sipping tea and watching the sky and peaks changing colors. I wasn't surprised to hear that Aamari is built on the same hill where the famous writer & poet – Rabindranath Tagore wrote the verses of his Nobel Award Winning Epic Geetanjali and also Poetess and Freedom Fighter Mahadevi Verma got the idea of writing her famous story “Lachma”.

The pool
The infinity pool overlooking the Himalayan ranges and the valley is the highlight of the resort. 

The range of activities:
Inspite of its remote location the resort has a wide range of activities to offer for all age groups and interests. The games room for kids, outdoor activities for the teenagers and adventurous lot, a well equipped gym for health freaks, the spa and sauna for relaxing, nature walks and bird watching for nature lovers. This makes the resort ideal getaway for group of friends, families and corporate, precisely everyone!

Activities in the resort

The classy restaurant and the smiling staff:
Tastefully done interiors combined with the tasty food and perfect service made the dining experience something to remember.
The well groomed local staff ever-ready to talk and help was commendable.

Picture by Vinod Verma

My cozy room, sleeping to the sound of wind passing through the pines, waking up to see the valley being slowly lit by warm sun rays, the nature and village walks in the day, the evening snacks and hot cup of tea by the pool side, watching the changing colors of the evening sky and sleeping while watching the stars at night... I loved it all!
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Calm in the Chaos - VARANASI

A humble try it is to understand the phenomenon called  Varanasi, not as an expert but as someone who has visited it just twice.

It is a city full of chaos. Be it the slow paced traffic of cars, cows, rickshaw, cycle and pedestrians all on the same bumpy road with continuous honking from all sides; or the streets and lanes, not even wide enough for 2 people to walk side by side, full of people, cows and even bikes running on them... You can expect anything to come from anywhere and hit you. And mind you, don't expect a sorry. The accused will smile at you and move further.
Inspite of all the chaos hardly did I see anyone getting irritated or shouting at each other. There is a strange calm that drive these people. It's hard to say where it comes from. It can be their faith in the place they live in and the spiritual aura that surrounds it. Or it can be the patience they have developed over time by experiencing the chaos day and night Or have they gotten so use to of all this, it no more feels like a chaos? Whatever it may be, it is exceptional.

Another aspect that attracts my attention is "Thugs of Banraras". I have heard stories about the pandas... how people would give all their belongings to them and get killed at Banaras to attain salvation. I hope it no more exists but till today people are being fooled on the name of salvation. Pandas take huge amounts to perform rituals and collect money. And faith makes them do it all. They get robbed willingly and return happy. Who would decide if they are fooled or they get (bought) what they were looking for - the inner peace, at cost of  whatever. Who cares!

The ghats are no less amazing. While one ghat gives you a calm serene feeling with cheerful crowd hanging around and nice book stores and cafes to be at; some other ghat gives you an eerie feeling with strange looking people hanging around as if each one is carrying a secret within.
At some place on the same river they are dumping garbage and at some other place they are taking holy bath.

There are ghats that are cursed and there are ghats that give you salvation.

Every day thousands of dead bodies come here for burning. I am amazed to see how normal it is for the people here, or so it seems. They seem to be unaffected by the presence of dead, mere thought of which shakes us from within. Again in the chaos of burning the dead, there is a peace and calm. There is a silent understanding that what comes has to go one day.

Strange chaos it is,  full of calm!

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Pangong Lake - A Gorgeous Wonder!

The journey was no less than the destination...
It is an amazingly beautiful drive of around 6hrs from Leh on a dramatic mountain terrain via Karu and Sekti village.

We started early morning with Tenzing, an experienced and cheerful driver from Leh. We drove through the vast barren landscapes with small villages and some greenery appearing every now and then. This was followed by the barren mountains of interesting shades of blue, grey and purple. They soon started to get white with snow and was fully snow covered as we approached The Chang La (17,590 ft.), world's third highest pass. We took a break to have hot meal of maggi and bread omelette at then-highest cafe of the world. Now the highest cafe is at Khardung La.
As the day progressed water on the roads started increasing. Glad we were to have listened to our driver and started early morning.

Travel Tip - One need to hire cab from Leh as taxis from outside Leh are not allowed to ply on this road. Start from Leh as early as possible. Water on roads will keep increasing as day advances.

The view of the road that we came driving on from Chang La

It is always good to start as early as possible from Leh 

The drive was more or less smooth except for a few places near the pass. There are many interesting road signs from BRO that make the journey even more enjoyable. Below are a few of them that fascinated me:
"Be gentle on my curves."
"Don't be a gamma in the land of Lama"
"Darling I want you but not so fast"
"Feel the curves, do not test them"
"Mountains are pleasure only if you drive with leisure"
"Love the neighbor but not while driving" 

A little farther on the road we met these cute little creatures called Marmots. They came out of their burrows as we were passing by. They did not seem to be shy at all. Rather they seemed curious and playful. It was fun playing with them and clicking them.

A curious Marmot spotted on the way to Pangong approaching the camera 

The Gorgeous Pangong Tso...
While we were still in the awe of meeting marmots, we saw a hint of brilliant blue in the barren brown terrains. I could not believe my eyes. The whole tiredness and the cold disappeared and we were filled with a joy, excitement and anticipation of what is in store. The moment is still engraved on my mind. It was surreal to see almost every shade of blue in sparkling water in these barren lands.

Brilliant hues of blue in the barren brown terrain - the first view of Pangong lake
This was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful creations of nature that I had ever seen. The sight of unending expanse of deep blue water and the spectacular Changchenmo range in the backdrop. 

This beautiful Himalayan lake Pangong Tso (Tibetan for "high grassland lake") is situated at a height of about 14,270 ft and is 134 km long. It extends from India to China and around one-third of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point.

Pangong is one of the largest brackish water lakes of Asia

The fascinating fact about Pangong Lake is that it has saline water and even then the water freezes. There is no aquatic life but some migratory birds can be spotted. It was a visual delight to watch the gulls and ducks play over the beautiful lake

Brown headed Gulls at Pangong

The first place we crossed was the army camp at Lukung. From here till Spangmik, the road was merely stone filled dirt track. Spangmik is the last village till where foreigners can go with an inner line permit.

Spending night with the locals at the height of 14,270 ft. ...
The village has merely 5-6 houses of which 2 provide the facility of home-stay. We chose to stay in one of them rather than at the camps nearby; One, because in a remote place like this I want to contribute to the economy of the place and second, I love to experience the local life and interact with locals.

Me with my hosts in the neatly organised kitchen of our home-stay at Spagmik

The evening was spent in the kitchen-cum-common room chatting and having endless cups of tea. There was a biker who had come from Bangalore and was exploring Himalayas from past one month on his bike. I still remember his adventure tales that inspired me to do Leh-Khardung La on bike.
The hot dal-chawal and ladakhi rotis with vegetables tasted heavenly delicious in the chilling cold of Ladakh. We were provided with a cozy room with wooden flooring covered with carpets and wooden roof. The bedding was warm and comfortable. And the hospitality of the hosts made it even better.

The home-stay at village Spagmik
One can also stay in the camps on the shores of the lake. The camps are made of canvas and the floors are covered with jute carpet to provide warmth. Each camp has an attached bathroom with cold running water. Thick blankets and a hot water bag is provided for warmth.
On the way back we visited Shay and Thiksey monasteries.

This was undoubtedly one of my best journeys so far. Have already visited Pangong thrice and every time it seems more beautiful.

P.S.- Pictures are clicked while on a road trip Himalayan Voyage with INDIAN TERRAINS in June 2012 and July 2014

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