Washed ashore with Kafka!

April 29, 2020

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This morning was a true morning after. The book was over. It was the first of this author that I am reading. And it was everything and more than I wanted it to be, hoped it to be. It is slowly sinking in that I have to come out of the enticing world of Kafka Tamura, Nakata, Oshimo, Miss Saeki and Hoshino…Kafka on the shore was a breathtaking experience and I hate goodbyes. The finishing of a book. Knowing that I might not read it again…Even if I do, knowing that it won’t be like the first time. Yes, like every book a reread touches you and grabs you in a different way. Having discovered Murakami, a man who weaves magic with his words and weirdness, I am pretty sure that I would end up trying more of his books primarily for this ecstatical reading experience and for a sly thrill that lowly jealous people derive out of comparison.  I want this to be the yardstick against which I compare what I would read next. And for the same reason I feel I won’t read this particular one again. It is important for me personally to retain the original experience in tact without any mutation that a reread would bring in. This has to be a one night stand. A longer affair or marriage would spoil it.

I don’t like to write or talk much about the story the plot etc as much as the emotion it elicits. The plot simply put is of a 15 year old school boy who runs away from home who may or may not have killed his father and may or may not have slept with his mom and sister and about an older ‘off’ sort of guy who can talk to cats among other weird things. The characters are minimal but so well drawn out that you feel like you are living inside the story and know the characters personally. It was funny how I did not want to move because I feared the characters might sense my presence. Conversations move from completely inane to very deep, to so deep that you have to read twice and yet think ‘Oh did I get it right’. It was downright laugh out loud funny at places too. For some one as less musically inclined as me, the book was able to pique even my curiosity very much with the humongous amount of musical references the book has . So much so that today I rolled chapathis and de-seeded watermelon listening to the spotify playlist of Murakami’s kafka on the shore. (Yes, that actually exists and someone has made it). Probably listening to it today was more like an attempt to hang on to the world of Kafka. I don’t want the book to be relegated to memories. As yet.

I have seen that this happens to me whenever I fall in love with a book. When I reached the last page I could feel the tears pricking the back of my eyes and when it ended, it just flowed. I let it flow sitting through the experience aglow in a strange combination of joy and sorrow. I read reviews and every bit of information surrounding the book. I tried to hold on. It was like a love affair that has ended before time. You hang on to the straws to somehow keep it within your grasp. Not just in the realm of memories…but in flesh and blood. Now. Here.  Chewing the cud of memories is for later pleasure.

A person who enjoys reading than viewing is more fortunate in my opinion. To be able to visualize a premise, a scene, a geography, an event, an emotion, a feeling….all with just words. That is a unique gift. As much as ability to write is a huge gift, ability to read too is. Strangely exhilarating and at times even exhausting. Exhausting just like any fulfilling endevour of yours. Not in a boredom inducing tiring sense. It is this exhilaration that I find amiss when I watch a movie or a show. It is given to you in a platter in a movie. Fed in the right dosage, fed in a way it is subtly forced to be perceived. Imagination has very little work. It’s not interactive. We follow the path that the maker has kept ready for you. Tiled and carpeted. You don’t get inside his or her mind. You don’t take wrong diversions. You don’t get lost. The thrills and the apprehension of a new experience are missing. It is measured. It’s all about instant gratification. That’s what makes visual art less appealing than the written word for me. Not all visual art. But by and large most.  So I can Netflix and chill once in a while but less often than I sometimes wish I could. Hot and bothered is often more appealing.

I am always apprehensive of being underwhelmed by something from which I am told to expect a lot. Classic cases being the entire fantasy fiction or historical fiction genres. I have never been able to go beyond a page or two and in some cases just the summary at the back. Apologies, Tolkien, Harry potter , Amish…..

 I just don’t dig these even when they come highly recommended by discerning readers. Another case of massive disappointment was ‘The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’. Tried the fucking book thrice before I gave up and decided ‘If I don’t get it, I don’t get it, I accept being a tasteless, humorless dimwit’ . Those were times when I felt I had to prove I belong to the esteemed club of elite readers…as conceited as it may sound. This I don’t do now. This trying too hard… Now I read what I like. I leave it at the page I lose interest. I don’t die trying to love it. If you like it, go on, marry it and take it on a cruise. For me? No Thanks. I am good.

Some how, before I read Kafka on the shore I had a fear that I might not enjoy it. For almost a year I had not read fiction and that was also reason for the apprehension. Come to think of it, it’s indeed funny how I approach reading any book. It’s almost like how people approach relationships. Wary, testing the waters, worried if it will be interesting enough. Finally, getting on to the overnight bus for the long journey ahead. Diving deep. Standing at the precipice and wondering what if I jump…then taking that leap of faith, crashing headlong into the mighty river that flows below the cliff, banging against a rock or two, ending up injured and bleeding. Finally alive and happy about having had the adventure and prepped for the next!!!

Why we travel or why shouldn’t we!

February 12, 2020

An honest look inward on our motives to travel and beyond…

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There is the much regaled story of how Kalidas before he got enlightened, sat on the branch of a tree and cut the same branch in a full blown case of near death stupidity. Well, I am treading the same grounds by writing this now. My bread and butter comes because people travel for whatever reason…and now in peak season where I really need people to join my groups it is the worst time to write this. April and May are the two months where I can make some money to fund my whole year of travels…or consider moving ahead from corner bakery bread to multigrain organic bread out of wheat and leather produced in himalayan valleys and from Amul butter to hand made butter made from yaks fed on golden hay  ( have always wtf is handmade anyway..isn’t everything made with hands, or some people use their feet and asses to make stuff???)

‘I love travel more than anything in the world’,

 ‘ I can’t stay in my house for 2 months before getting withdrawal symptoms if I don’t travel’,

 ‘People who don’t travel haven’t lived their lives’, or

‘Only people who travel are broadminded’…

These are all statements which we ourselves would have made at some point and if you are not that entitled an SOB to say this, you would have at least heard someone else saying it and nodded your head vigorously in agreement.

About two decades back, the idea of holidays and vacations and switching off was nonexistent among middle class. The maximum people did was to go to Ooty or Kodai and if you are from north go to Shimla or Darjeeling. If you are quite well heeled then maybe Malaysia. That’s about it. However the primary destination for holidays used to be just visiting grandparents or relatives in different exotic places like ‘the- biggest- steel plant-or- whatever -jamshedpur’ or ‘do -you –know- where- our -money –gets- minted –nashik’

When I travelled to places like Bhutan or Bali, this is something I noticed there too. Most of their citizens haven’t travelled much outside their country. And interestingly they don’t dream to travel much either. They listen to stories about our countries or stories of lands we have visited quite keenly with an innocent fascination pasted on their faces.

Even now a lot of people in smaller villages in India travel local and travel to visit their extended families in closer destinations. They are not unhappy people. If their kids are studying in local private or govt schools, the classmate still don’t deride them for not having gone abroad on a holiday. One off kid might have gone somewhere by flight and the others listen in awe about the details and about food in airlines or toys they give kids or getting beaten up if it is Indigo they flew…(can’t resist that done a million times sad joke).

That makes you wonder. Wonder a lot about our priorities or lack of it. Of we the urban upwardly mobile.

 So why is it that they don’t want to travel and we do. The answer is simple. They are happy where they are. It is not the lack of money alone because of which people don’t travel. They don’t equate happiness to being away from where they are ‘now’. They are not looking at escaping from their realities. For them their ‘here and now ’ is good enough. They are not working their asses off to fund that Alaskan cruise or the Masai Mara safari. I am sure there are exceptions everywhere. But generally speaking, I feel the increasingly spotted wild animal,(and unfortunately not endangered) is the globe trotting Indian, primarily travelling for all the wrong reasons and motives. The other wild animal, the Chinese tourist is a different story altogether. My experiences involving tourists from the corona homeland have been dismal. They are so unruly that it makes the Manikchand gutka incentive group Indian tourist look like chivalrous British gentry. I guess it is the lack of freedom of expression in their country that makes them express in such a wild way when they are outside their country trampling on the basic right of space of others. Well that’s a story for another day…

 The sighting of ‘happy without having travelled’ humans made me introspect a lot on why I wanted to travel also. And as humbling as it maybe, I realized that a lot of my travel has been motivated not by the lofty assertions of ‘attempts to discover myself’ or ‘understand quaint cultures and people’. It has been plain and simple running away from realities. The everyday realities of joyless cooking, cleaning or grocery shopping , bank dealings, relationship work with in family or friends….the endless challenges of life. It was quite an epiphany and the change that brought in was quite profound too.

After I realized this last year in Bhutan, I was able to enjoy travel, plan travel for me or others with an abandon I had never experienced till then. The importance of being comfortable in your own skin and being able to accept a life situation and above all being grateful. Come to think of it how inappropriate it is to reject so many things we have been blessed with. Yes, we live in times of great economical political and social turmoil. But most of us have a roof above our heads, jobs to pay for all our needs, families that love and care about us, decent health…And yet we say, Its all suffocating and I need the fresh air of geneva to make myself feel better. Hell no! You just need to step out of your room, go to the park nearby, walk a bit, watch people walking the dogs or an elderly couple sitting and chatting quietly and watch life. Gratitude seeps in automatically!

By all means travel. Make me graduate to sour dough bread…but travel, not to run away from any life situation but to gain perspectives on how to handle anything in life better. With more awareness and maturity and to feel alive in daily life. Do not reserve ‘ecstasy’ to only when you step out of your home.

I swear I did not mean to put this promotional bit at the last, but let me in all honesty tell this too. There is a huge influx of ladies only groups, friends only groups, colleagues group etc in travel…good and great fun undeniably. I am all for it. But don’t disregard the importance of travelling with parents or sending parents on travels too. Most of our parents have done shit load of stuff to take us where we are in lives. Now they are batting in the second half after the strategic time out. Most of them don’t have as much time left on the planet as we do. So the expensive shirt or saree or watch you buy them doesn’t have much meaning for them. Keeping in touch, taking care of them as best you can, emotionally supporting them, taking care of their mental health and gifting them experiences or urging them to go on travels while you hold fort at home is something you can do to make their remaining time loaded with memories. Travel with them on short trips even if it is to your native village to offer prayers to your family deity, a wedding of an old family friend…they create memories and that counts!!!

Mystical Bhutan

September 17, 2019

While I stood perched on the edge of a precipice and my whole life passed in a flash infront of my eyes, there really were no regrets… Only tears of gratitude!!!

Bhutan has been a destination in my mind for long. There has been a lot of travel happening for me since the New Year started but I never thought that Bhutan would figure in my radar this quick. The travel was supposed to have been just for me and my husband during his work break that happens every quarter. However the economies of scale associated to travelling in a group could not be ignored and just by word of mouth and some Whatsapp forwards we became a group of 12. One person from the group had to drop out at the last minute due to a personal emergency and finally it was a group of 11 who set off from Chennai.

There are two ways of going to Bhutan from India. The first one is the easiest and the most expensive. Royal Bhutan Airlines/Druk air has a daily quota of flights that fly from Kolkata, Delhi or Mumbai to Paro in Bhutan and which is the only international airport there. Indians, Maldivians and Bangladeshis don’t require a visa to enter Bhutan but just a free permit which can be obtained with some basic documentation. The process is even quicker if we choose to fly in instead of arrive by road. Since the number of seats available is limited the cost is also proportionately high.  Bhutan is not too eager to have an influx of tourists. For tourists from countries other than these three Bhutan is even more prohibitively expensive. They have to shell out anything between 200 to 300 USD per person per day as a daily fee. This will include their stay, transportation, entrances etc. The tourism council channelizes most of these funds towards development and education projects of the country.

Because of this fee, you will never see the unwashed western back packer whose stench can be felt a mile away or the rude, crude, elbowing Chinese tour groups with their fluorescent wind cheaters and suspicious looking water bottles of roots and herbs. Only the well heeled can afford Bhutan.

The second way of entering Bhutan is by road. There are three gateways and the southern gateway to the western Bhutan via border town of Phuentsholing is the most popular. Also it is only western Bhutan which has caught the tourist’s eye as a more developed destination in terms of infrastructure. But the beauty of central and eastern Bhutan is unmatched and raw is what I am told.

One can come to Phuentsholing from Bagdogra in West Bengal in about less than 5 hours passing via the scenic tea gardens of Dooars. There are direct flights from almost all Indian cities to Bagdogra. Bagdogra is the hub to travel to many destinations in the east namely Bhutan, Sikkim and Darjeeling and Kathmandu. Central Bhutan is accessed from Indian border through Gelephu and the eastern Bhutan is accessed via Samdrup Jhonkar, both border towns in Assam.

The Indian town of Jaigoan is adjacent to Phuentsholing and there is a big gate which lets you from Jaigaon into Phuentsholing. One doesn’t need a permit to stay in Phuentsholing. We can stay in a hotel there overnight and approach the permit office next day morning. The permit office does not function on weekends and so if you plan to take the road route to Bhutan it is advisable to reach on Sunday or Monday night and never on a Friday or Saturday. Phuentsholing itself has nothing much to offer in terms of sightseeing except a monastery or two and being in plains and maybe because of its proximity to India misses the magic and beauty attached to the other monasteries in Bhutan.

The travel diary

June 24, 2019- Chennai- Bagdogra- Jai gaon – Phuentsholing.

Our group of 11 consisted of two groups in it. One was a five member group who are the cycling buddies of my husband and the other group had we two, another couple and another two senior single ladies. The first group was with us only for a shorter duration and due to leave limits at work were not going to be with us for the final leg of three nights in Paro. We took the 8 am Indigo flight from Chennai to Bagdogra with a stopover (no flight change) of half an hour from Kolkata. We finished a quick breakfast in the priority lounge before boarding and the flight had a huge group of youngsters probably college buddies or work colleagues. They appeared too young so I would go with the first guess. The group joked and monkeyed around without any real disturbance to other passengers much to the irritation of the cabin crew however. I was more amused and a tad envious at both their carefree state and maybe a bit about the ‘hope of youth and future’ that was emanating from them.

Six of us landed at around 11.45 but had to wait for another two guys joining from Bangalore. Three had arrived ahead of us. Bagdogra airport is singularly unappealing to the point of being off-putting even due to the crowd, lack of AC or other facilities. Once the two came we set off quickly out sweating buckets.

What we have been promised by the agent from Bhutan is an 18 seater Toyota coaster for our entire sightseeing trip in Bhutan. But she had also said that it will not be available for the Bagdogra to Phuentsholing leg due to permit issues. So it was two innovas that took us from Bagdogra to Jaigoan and then crossed us over to the Bhutanese border of Phuentsholing. It had started to drizzle by the time we reached around 7 pm or so and Bhutanese time was half hour ahead of India. 5 of us in an innova and 6 in another with our luggages made it a rather cramped journey and as soon as we reached the hotel it was time for just a quick shower and a good big dinner. The highlight dish for dinner was something called a ‘Kewa Datsi’.

Bhutanese have three main variants of Datsi. Kewa Datsi is with Potato and a reasonable amount of less spicy long slit green chillies and cheese. Ema Datsi is the same thing with just chillies with cheese and Shamu Datsi is with mushrooms and chillies and cheese. As usual I washed and put my clothes to dry out since I did not carry too many pairs and washing clothes at the end of the day is a bit cathartic for me and makes me feel like I am showing my gratitude to the divine powers for a day that went well. I hate travelling around with soiled clothes and try to avoid it as much as possible.

June 25, 2019

Today we are supposed to get our permits and move on to the capital city of Thimphu as early as possible. But the rain gods played spoil sport. We had a good breakfast and our guide for the day Tashi came with the Toyota coaster and its driver Suraj to take us to the permit office. There was a lot of form filling and waiting for biometric data capturing before getting the permit ad after about 3 hours or so we got it. Also the initial stamping that we get is only for seven days and we have to renew it again after we are five days into the existing permit. Additionally to visit Punakha there is requirement of another permit. Yes the permit raj of Bhutan can be a bit exasperating but then if you look at it as a wise kingdom’s way of monitoring and controlling the excessive tourist influx, you can appreciate it better. As a traveler patience is a good virtue to develop and especially when you are visiting a slow tourism destination like Bhutan you experience it firsthand.

Meanwhile the visa office kept having announcements saying due to heavy rains of previous two days there has been heavy landslides and traffic blocks on the road to Thimphu. We were advised to stay put till late noon to see if we can still go ahead or stay back in Phuentsholing itself. The second option would have been a bummer of epic proportions. We decided to see some monasteries that are there locally and finish our lunch before taking an informed decision to proceed or not. Lunch was a long elaborate affair and Tashi’s contact persons in the police told him that the roads are cleared and we can start off to Thimphu. There was visible joy in all our faces. It is nearly 175 kms to Thimphu and would normally take about 5 to 6 hours. But with extremely exasperating landslide blocks, traffic jams and congested small roads and a few senseless drivers our journey was significantly longer. Having started at around 2.30 or so we reached our Thimphu Hotel at about 11. Enroute, due to sheer boredom of sitting around and waiting for the block to clear, some of us walked couple of kilometers ahead of our vehicle stuck in the jam and some of us played games and listened to music. Once the roads were cleared Suraj headed off in full speed towards Thimphu and we finished a light dinner enroute itself. We however missed some bit of sightseeing that was planned on the way – a water fall, view point etc. At our restaurant there was a lovely white poodle and a calm cuddly grey cat which stuck to me like glue. It’s here where I tried the local peach wine Zumzin. It is a Lovely sweet wine with about 12% alcohol content. Easy on the throat, silky on the tongue and warm on the heart. A must try if you are in Bhutan and more so if you are wine aficionado. For the red wine fans there is the takin red wine. Bhutan has its own local whiskies, rum and the local liquor called Ara.

We reached Thimphu and found the hotel which to was a bit of a letdown with the property being new and maintenance not taken care of well and staff being inexperienced. The rooms were allocated and a bit of quick washing up and we called it a day.

Our guide Tashi was to be with us only till we reach Thimphu and we are to get a different guide from tomorrow.

June 26,2019

The day started with a big breakfast and the visits lined up was explained to us by Yeshi our new guide. He was the exact opposite of Tashi.  A handsome newly married young Bhutanese, Yeshi was always on the edge. A cat on hot coals. Or rather he made a show of it hurrying us always with threats like “rain clouds are looming”  “the monastery will close early” etc. The whole group realized that it will be just easier to tag along his pace and with quite a bit of things to be covered in the day. He came and met me early morning to fix timing for our start. He was dressed in ‘Gho’ the traditional dress of Bhutanese men. He said that to be seen not dressed in traditional dress could attract a fine of 10000 rs. Not sure how far it is imposed but except for the teenagers in the cities we noticed that most Bhutanese men and women dressed in traditional clothes almost always.

Some other facts he told about his country:

  • No signals or traffic lights on the road and vehicles stopped in zebra crossings. And very minimal honking too on roads.
  • Equal rights for men and women in property rights and even socially. No preference for boy children.
  • Polygamy and polyandry is practiced if not widely. Even the earlier kings had many wives
  • The present king is of the Wangchuk dynasty and is the fifth in the line of lineage. His little boy the prince will take the throne when time comes.

The days sights were the Memorial Chorten– where we chanced to see the ex prime minister having a chat outside with some dignitaries, then the Buddha point – a huge bronze statue of Buddha in Padmasana. While we were there were some festivities going on and a feast of midday meal for all the collected congregation of people. The meal was served in each of the attendees personal plates and bowls which is rather unusual. But I guess it makes sense for the organizers to keep the cost lean and less of work  . It is maybe a cultural thing too. I missed checking that. The food was a simple affair of rice and ewa Datsi. Unbelievably simple I feel. Then we went to see the Takin preserve (a protected sanctuary for the very weird looking national animal of Bhutan called Takin and some injured sambar deers) followed by a view point close to the sanctuary. The day’s itinerary had only so much but then Yeshi said post lunch we can cover more like the textile museum which was beautiful and then the folk heritage museum which was an old mansion converted into its present form. Even for a non museum lover like me it held a lot of interest.

Before we headed to the museum we had our lunch in a nice quaint cafe in the Thimphu town. Post lunch and the museums, Yeshi let us wander about the craft bazaar which was a long row of shops selling identical things made of wool, wood, and fabric. No one did any major shopping and we all returned to our hotel pretty soon. Some members of the group wanted to explore the night scene of Thimphu and headed out to a karaoke bar and pubs. I stayed put with the elderly crowd because the only thing I was craving was some good sleep. However it was a bad decision to order in house dinner. I am quite pardoning when it comes to food I eat outside but this I must say pure nonsense. Uncooked rice, noodles floating in some kind of flavored (rather unflavoured water) claiming to be Thukpa. In Spiti and Leh I have tasted real thukpa and this Thukpa was like Katrina Kaif in the role meant for Madhubala or Nargis.

Washing up of clothes and sleep was all that was left after the first day of real sightseeing. I heard a bit of commotion in my semi slept state when the group including my husband returned from the night crawl. But was too tired and sleepy to acknowledge…

June 27, 2019.

Morning was mildly drizzly. But along with the breakfast warming us up, the city also warmed up and sun shone in. Today we are to move from Thimphu to Punakha which is less than 80 kms away .We did not start too early and the first stop was Dochu-la pass( la itself means pass. So repeating pass after dochu-la is redundant). Being at a slightly higher altitude it was quite misty and the weather, the yellow and purple flowers and the stupas against the misty back ground was of ethereal beauty. There were art and architecture students drawing and sketching in the campus of the memorial and I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful they were. Truly lucky kids too, to be able to do what they love doing in environs like this. We hung about the place for a while Yeshi explained about the place to us. Yeshi is a wildlife conservationist also and has a great love of nature and also appeared to have embraced the Buddhist spirit of ahimsa completely. I have seen in many occasions him lifting moths and little worms from the pathways and leaving them in hedges to prevent them being trampled on. Not just him, I also chanced to see some others doing the same in many places in Bhutan. From there it was a not so long drive to Chimi Llakhang, the temple of fertility in Punakha. Penises abound everywhere there. Paintings, idols, carvings…You would see a life time supply of them. They worship the thing there and people pray and while we were in the sanctum sanctorum a childless woman was given a mammoth wooden penis by the abbot of the monastery to walk around the temple with. Quite a funny scene for us, but maybe not so funny from the perspective of the woman waiting for a child. Well what could be more exciting on earth than bring one tinier human to the already too small a population of 7 billion in the planet? Pardon my insensitivity and cynicism here. You might ask you have a child, why did you have him then. Two pertinent points here. Had I been wise enough at 21 to think that there is an option not to birth a child, I might not have or I might still have too. Those days and even now for a married woman to refrain from having a child is considered sacrilege. Just entertaining such thoughts would be considered sin.  Having said that I would also add, now that I have him I adore him to bits and he is my life and I am happy that he came into my life. What amuses me or rather perplexes me is that in this new age and time when we see and comprehend in its entirety the dangers of over population, we still go on procreating undeterred. So when my son said the other day, he would not want a child I did not find it even mildly offensive. He is just 20 and opinions might change but for now it’s acceptable for me.

We spent some time in the courtyard of the temple and then came out while some of us did some bargain shopping and I bought a beaded japamala which remains my only purchase during the trip and then a rather tacky fridge magnet of Bhutan. We also bought some cucumber cut and salted. Then had a badam milk in a shop nearby. Quickly headed to our hotel for the day. We ordered the meal as soon as we walked in and even before check in, since we were famished and we had a whole lot of sightseeing and activities pending for the day which was left out and we were running short of time.

The food in Bhutan we had nothing to complain about but neither is there so much variety. So if you travel there brace for a monotonous diet of rice, Roti, Dal, Paneer and if lucky curds too. Then there is the Datsis of course which are the saving grace. For breakfasts the fare is Parathas, Pooris or bread and egg. Fruits too are not in plenty. Bhutanese I feel lead a much frugal life than their wasteful neighbors. Having said that flavor wise there is nothing to complain and they serve good quality food if not of variety.

As soon as the luggage kept in the respective rooms which were sprawling and with a beautiful view of the Punakha river from the balcony, we had our lunch and headed out immediately. The first stop was the Punakha Dzong which was the most magnificent fort we had seen till now. In the temple inside the fort there was a rather delicate moment when our guide broke down because he felt he was not transparent with facts with respect to the white water rafting deal that we had fixed. When face to face the Buddha idol he wept and asked our forgiveness though it was not such big a deal for us going from India. It was just that the white water rafting guy he suggested had a quoted a higher amount than the guy we directly contracted. Yeshi’s guy had quoted the inflated amount to factor the small commission that might go to Yeshi. That is a standard practice in the industry but the fact that it might have come across as willful cheating made him feel very guilty. We consoled him and said it was not such a big deal. A guilty conscience is a tough thing to live with. Whichever part of the world. We respected him even more after this

Then a pretty long walk to the longest suspension bridge in Punakha. The elders did have some difficulty in the long trek but then we kept to their pace and heavens they were great company. I still could not believe my luck here that my group is such a warm funny loving set of people. Absolutely cooperative and adjusting.

After returning to our vehicles from the Dzong and suspension bridge the group headed out for an hour of white water rafting in the Punakha river. Except me and one of the older friends who is 72 years.  The other older friend was convinced by the rest of the group and she decided to join as well in the rafting. So we both who did not go, were driven to point where the rafting was to end. We were parked near a beautiful grass meadow and while waiting for the rest of them to arrive, enjoyed watching a group of teachers in the village honing their archery skills. Their car was parked and all the young men had a mind blowing array of archery paraphernalia in their boot. No it’s not a simple bow and arrow. Archery is their national game and they take it bloody serious. They looked super high level badass. Watched them practice while our friends came back from a rather low adventure rafting experience. Punakha river has two branches the male and the female and apparently the female river is more calm which is the one in which they rafted. I say still waters run deep!!!

We returned fairly exhausted from a day high on activity and since the cost differential was not so huge decided to opt for the buffet dinner in the restaurant. Me and a friend then just sat by the river for a while watching the sparse traffic and sparser population that moved about the place. We just let the thoughts flow the same way as the river. Never held on to them. Never wished them away. We talked about things good, things bleak…and I felt I have known her for centuries. Maybe I do. Looking at flowing water can be quite cathartic and just the title of a book I read long back kept coming into my mind while we sat there

‘By the river piedra I sat down and wept’ by Paulo Coelho.

By the river Punakha I sat down and wept….for nothing and for everything…

It was a beautiful few moments spent there and perhaps personally one of my favorite memories and nights in Bhutan.

June 28, 2019

The breakfast and the group photo ops later we set off to our next destination which was also about 80 kms from Punakha which is the Gangtey valley also known as phobjikha valley- the home of the black necked crane. This destination is not one of the usual in a Bhutan Itinerary. Bhutan as a country has three distinct parts – The western, central and eastern. Eastern Bhutan is highly underexplored as a tourist destination and west is the most seen. The highlights of any travel itinerary include Thimphu, Paro and Punakha which are all in the west. To reduce the time taken for travelling and thereby restrict the costs and trouble the agents normally suggest the Haa valley which is just two hours from Paro and can be finished as a day excursion. The Haa valley has its own beauty but then Gangtey in my opinion in the central Bhutan is something else altogether.

Our first stop was a small monastery which housed a monastic school and a bit rundown looking than most places I have seen. But my observation is that in Buddhist holy places the appearance of the place has nothing to do with the vibe of it. The place could be grand, it could be run down, but the peace and joy they emanate is same. There is a strong possibility that in years to come I might even convert to Buddhism by the look of it. I am not particularly religious and I have been to various places of worship – be that temples of churches which gives you the same kind of happiness but the aura of everything Buddhist I feel is carefully designed to make you feel very very different…and good. I felt the same in Thai Buddhist temples too.

From there we were to hike downhill to the valley and our hotel. What we underestimated was the time it would take though. We started on a slow hike and walked through sprawling slopes of meadows with healthy cows grazing. Huge pines overhanging our trail and sunlight filtering through it giving another worldly beauty to the landscape. The hike felt never ending though and our older friend was not finding it as easy as how it appeared when we started. Yeshi kept saying it was only two kilometers or so. But it was easily 6+ kms and the ilayaraja songs and kishore kumar songs we sang kept us in a magical plane. I guess each one of experienced a different level of joy in that walk. Each unique to our mental states but at some level one with the universe. It was nearing 3 pm and when we knew that it would take another 45 minutes of walk to reach where our van could pick us up, we decided to order the food on phone before hand. The trek from there was quite trying not because the terrain was too tough but more because we were all famished and well past the meal time. But all of us soldiered on.

The final stage of the hike was along the periphery of the valley and we could see that the valley formed a bowl and our hotel could be seen on the other rim of the bowl. The whole of the Gangtey valley is a network of many such bowl formations and hence the beauty is also wide spread. I so wished at that point if I could get an aerial view of the whole valley. It must be even more spectacular sight than what we were seeing then. For the final leg the van came and picked us up and then the sight of hotel was mesmerizing. It was a picture postcard place and we were spell bound by the look of it. Mostly made of wood the rooms were big with electric warmers, blankets and huge bathrooms with each room having spectacular view into the valley. By the time we reached the hotel food was ready and we all ate and scraped the bottoms of the wooden vessels in which it was served. To watch the sun rays making straight lines and falling on the distant grasslands and the cows grazing in peace while having lunch. I mean if this is not about feeling gratitude in life, what is?

Some of us took a short walk to the black crane information centre and saw a short video on the back ground and status of conservation of black necked crane that migrates to Bhutan and also saw one guy/girl named karma that is injured and is in the rehabilitation enclosure in the centre. Funnily the authorities themselves do not know if karma is a he or she and has not got any conclusive evidence till date.

Evening was for some card games and our older friend (lets call her aunty since all of us did and she was ok with that) bought us all a drink to celebrate the togetherness and joy. Then was a truly awful dinner. Our expectations were set high with the lunch but then it came down crashing when the piss like soup and rubbery momos among other things graced our table. The dumb charades and the card games that followed made us forget the fiasco. That evening for no reason whatsoever I dressed up big. In the middle of nowhere, with no one except the ten friends and a few waiting girls to see and maybe the cows I dressed in a black designer sheath dress I got in Cambodia. The rare whimsies of womanhood, beauty and hope!!!

June 29, 2019

Today was the day when 5 of the group were to head back to Bagdogra. They were not going to be part of the stay in Paro. Today was going to be one long day for them and even for the rest of the 6 of us who headed back to Just Paro.

So for the 5 of them it was going to be a ride with us just till semothka, a small town close to Thimphu. From there they shifted off to an ertiga with their luggage before noon for a long drive all the way to border town of Phuentsholing – our first night halt town. From there another vehicle change to Bagdogra (they had also booked into a hotel in Siliguri- the closest town with decent accommodation to Bagdogra airport). And it all went through fine. When they departed from semothka Yeshi took us to a small Indian army run canteen for lunch though a bit early for that. We took a chance and ordered idlis which were not bad for something made in Bhutan and quite cheap too. Then it was a not so long drive from Thimphu to Paro.

Our first step was the kyichu Lhakhang monastery. One of the oldest monasteries with beautiful gardens around and peach sellers outside. Here it is important to say that if one is of a touristy sensibility it could well be ‘you have seen one, you have seen it all’ and can be asking things like ‘is there nothing else here except temples and monasteries’ And my answer would be ‘no’ there is nothing that I can add there. But here is my take of it.

It is a beautiful, peaceful ancient country with an all pervading vibration of spirituality and quietude. The country derives them from the many temples, monasteries and the spiritually inclined peaceful people of the land. So when we visit a place like that we hope to imbibe and enjoy the peace of the place. If its action, skyscrapers and casinos and bungee jumping that you want you chose the wrong country mate. I will never criticize of sit in judgment of a place you choose as a holiday destination. I only say make informed choices. Know what you want, choose accordingly. If you have children and you are looking at an active holiday then go for a place with amusement parks, If u r an adult looking at ‘chilling’ (somehow I abhor the word and its connotations. That’s just me. Pls ignore) then go for a place with a great hotel deal, and chill with you mojitos and pina coladas. It’s just about setting the expectations straight. So while the big chunk of my business would come from people who like holidays but who don’t want to spend time thinking or planning it, I would also like folks to spend sometime at least to understand and the answer the question as to ‘what is mine/our idea of a holiday’

After kyichu Lhkhang it was the famous Paro Dzong. The main fortress of Paro is an imposing edifice. Enroute we can also see the very interesting and unique Paro airport and we stopped for a while to see the flights cruising in or taking off too. Paro Dzong was a bit of an irritant with the authorities insisting that men and women should have full sleeved and collared clothes. A bit of a hassle with the climate being hot and the only piece of extra clothing I had was a warm jacket. So was an ordeal to walk around with that. After a detailed tour of the Dzong and some significant amount of time spent there, we headed off to our hotel which would be our stay for coming three nights.

The hotel was new and beautifully done with very friendly service staff. We were shown our rooms and after a good cup of tea in the dining room patio we went back to the room for a bit of R&R. The hotel having very less occupancy and the staff having to return to their homes in the nearby villages was always behind us t give our dinner orders as early as 6 in the evening.  And the peaceful cooperative people we were, we almost always obliged too.  The girls always were so sweet and polite and only an ogre can be rude to them.

I immensely warmed upto the warmth and politeness of the Bhutanese.  Yes, tourism is their main stay and it’s in their interest to be nice, but they were inherently soft spoken and mild mannered people. This probably again is the inherent nature of deep-rooted Buddhist faith. So we in turn also feel compelled to be nice and cooperative.

A good heavy dinner with the usual suspects in the plates…Roti, Parathas, Datsi, Paneer…The discussions the entire day was mostly about the plans for the next day and that is one of the most crucial of our entire trip. It was to be our tiger nest monastery hike. So four of us were decided on going and among the doc and aunty, doc was sort of convinced by us to come and aunty decided to stay back and relax that day.

30th June 2019

The morning dawned to the message of doc that said she has had a head ache in the night and thought it was sensible to stay back. So we were given packed breakfasts and set off at 6 from the hotel to the tiger nest monastery trek starting point. The hotel packed us sandwiches juice and fruit too. So it was just four of us and Yeshi. We rent out bamboo poles for assistance in climbing. And started on it slow and steady. It was not an easy climb but definitely much easier than anticipated. We reached the half point otherwise known as canteen in an hour and a half with frequent photo stops and catching the breath breaks. From the canteen we get a god view of the monastery but it also gives a fairly clear idea as to how tough the remaining part of the hike is going to be. There was an ascend, a descend and again an ascend before we could go there. It could appear close but it was not. The scenery in the half way point itself was spell binding. Whoever chooses to take a pony ride can come only till this point. After this they can choose to stay back and spend more time there and return in leisure. It’s suggested that people continue only if they are sure they are made for the rigors of the rest of the hike. After this the climb got steeper and harder till we reached a point where we had to insist that one of the persons in the 4 member group stay back because he was not handling it in good form. Stunningly scenic but very tough too. Another descend and another final ascend into the monastery. We have to deposit all our belongings before we get to the final climb to the main shrine inside. The sanctum sanctorum we entered was cold, not the unpleasant bone chilling cold but so pleasant and while Yeshi was talking about the back ground and history of the place I could feel myself slipping off into sleep while sitting cross legged on the floor and my knee just about touching my husband’s. I woke up in what I felt was a lot of time but could not be more than 5 minutes and cheeks felt sticky with dried tears. Those very unique moments in life when u feel one with all whom you love, everyone around you and with the universe.

From there Yeshi suggested we can do a bit of an adventurous detour. It was a small cave like entrance and we had to take a just about there staircase down with not even all the steps intact to see the single lighted butter lamp underneath. The sight invoked a sense spirituality and from there we could move edgewise walking on our sides between two rock faces which literally had just enough space for our bodies to move through. If you had a paunch or a hunch or if you were even big made then there was no way you could pass through that. And what waited us at the end of the bending and folding was a spectacular view. Where we could stand on a cliff…a precipice that overlooks the valley of the mountain we were in.

Human mind can behave very unusual and unpredictable at times. There was this overpowering desire to jump off it to embrace the unknown. It is truly a highly irrational thought and I told my husband if he even for jest said jump I would not think twice about it. But he had more sense than that and he knows that when sometimes ‘crazy’ grips his wife it’s better to leave her alone. A bee kept hovering around my face for a long time and then settled on my nose. The moment went by in complete silence and peace …all of us standing in that point completely immersed in their own worlds and their own present. Those moments were for me one of the highlights of the whole journey. Tears come very easily to me and they don’t shame me ever. Being lost in that ‘present’ it was a river of tears. Of gratefulness for being alive, possessing a sane mind, for love and for everything else bestowed benevolently in life.

We started our hike back which was for all of us tougher because downhill on smooth slopes can be trying on the knees and legs. And most part of the hike back was downhill and it was essential that we concentrate on each step and be as surefooted as possible. To add to the trouble we had groups of horses just sprinting downhill after their day job of ferrying people who uses them to go up till canteen. We had to carefully give way because the horses or their caretakers don’t care so much or warn you. Our climb in the morning had started at around 7 am and we finished it around 3 pm. Here again like the hike in Gangtey  Yeshi suggested that w e call and order our food ahead in a known place of his and we did that.

So after we came down and gave back our poles to where we rented it out from and about a good 40 minutes of drive back to Paro city, we reached a small restaurant on the first floor for our lunch. It was a good meal but just the same dishes we have chosen as staples in Bhutan. We realized it makes sense to stick to the things that can’t be screwed up and that call has paid off always.  We finished the lunch and headed back to our hotel to call it a day…but then t was not to be…

All of us were that day of the mood to relax and have a good time. So some wine and whiskies later dinner happened. Probably one of the most relaxed evenings in the whole of our trip since we were all very apprehensive about the tiger nest trek for last two days. So the verdict is yes it’s arduous but not impossible, and if it’s not rainy and slushy definitely a doable task. And as to the experience it’s really unique and a must do if one is in Bhutan. It is the most iconic Bhutan experience and definitely not overrated. I also feel a spiritual quest of even the smallest level which necessitates a physically arduous endeavor somehow enhances the experience. The reason could be that there is a necessity to be in the ‘now’, in the ‘present’ when you do a tough hike or climb. And being with your inner self is just that.

A very enriching and enjoyable experience and day on the whole.

1st July 2019

This is our last day in Bhutan. It was supposed to be a light day with very little sightseeing. Mainly just a day excursion to chele la pass. The pass over looks the famous Haa valley on the western side of Bhutan.

So since the travel expected was less we started also slower than our usual days after a leisurely breakfast. The road enroute to the pass was picturesque and we kept steadily climbing and increasing in elevation. The meadows full of variety of flowers and predominantly full of pretty yellow and violet ones were a sight to behold. As soon as we reached the place and got out of the vehicle to go up a gradient slope it started drizzling. However before it could gain strength  we could get to see the beautiful Haa valley that the pass overlooked. On the other side of course- where we came from was entire Paro.

Many tourists who don’t visit Gangtey valley normally cross over to the Haa valley and often even have an overnight stay there, before retracing their way back to Paro. We came back to our parking to have some tea and fried stuff to enjoy the drizzle and lovely weather. The journey back was pleasant too. We got dropped in the city in a restaurant one of us had been recommended to by her sister who had visited Bhutan earlier. A pizza place where some of us had pizzas, some sandwiches and I had a soupy thing which now I am not able to recollect …not a thukpa. It was too spicy for my liking and eyes started watering. So went down to the baker down to grab a muffin. After that we were given time to spent in the market street. We bought the wines, some souvenirs; aunty bought a Bhutanese skirt…

At the end of it went to a café for some coffee and cake and some marvelous stuff indeed…Paro has interesting food options. After all this was done, Yeshi came back with the vehicle to pick us up from there and dropped us back in the hotel. It was our last evening and it was a curious mixture of relief about a trip that went well and despair at having to get back to reality that stayed with me through the entire process of packing our bags in the night.

There were some of the lovely peach wine bottles that we bought that needed to be packed. Packing bottles is always a delicate task. The worry throughout a journey with bottles is will they break and spoil the rest of my belongings. So the ingenious method that my husband devised was to stuff each of the small 375 ml bottles inside our shoes which turned out of be such perfect fits for the bottles even more than they were for our feet. So I remarked we were becoming literal ‘boot leggers’ (The idea of stuffing it inside the shoe was my husband’s but the joke of course was mine).

2nd July, 2019 Paro- Thimphu-Phuentsholing-Jaigaon-Siliguri

After a hearty breakfast and goodbyes we started on our longest journey of the trip. We stopped on a beautiful waterfall on the road enrooted for some photo ops. The sky was over hung with rain clouds and that also provided us with some spectacular views and pictures. There was a small landslide which kept delayed us a little bit. However this was far miniscule in scale compared to the one we had on our onward journey. There were huge bulldozers and earthmovers that were intentionally breaking some of the dangerously perched stones and rocks. The sudden fall of those rocks could mean grave accidents and I truly appreciate how proactive the authorities were to not bother too much about the temporary discomfort and focus on safety. Well, if I had a flight to catch at the end of the day, maybe I would not have thought so kindly of the inconvenience. Perspectives are so inextricably woven in with circumstances. On a practical note however, it never makes sense to plan flights without enough time to catch them. My preference is always to be reaching the city from where you are flying, well ahead of time or the previous night or day. Unless it’s an emergency or if you have money to burn on rebooking a missed flight.

The main stop was our half way point of the border town of Phuentsholing where we had the lunch and bid our farewell to the big tempo traveler our driver for the journey and Yeshi our handsome and fun guide. We started our travel back to India in two different SUVs. Some stops for tea and lunch for drivers and some beautiful tea estates of Doaars later we were in the super dusty Siliguri. Siliguri is the small city which is closest o the Bagdogra airport. We checked in to our fine hotel which was booked through booking.com and the place was fine. Chugged a bottle of the left over wine and went to a fitful sleep induced by the drunken stupor. We had bought 5 bottles of that peach wine and since between me and him we had only 4 shoes to stuff the bottles inside, one was left over and so decided that its better in the stomach than broken in the bags.

And believe me when I tell you, post holiday depression is a real thing! And sometimes you tend to try to drown that in peach wine. But the bloody thing knows to float…

3rd July, 2019 Bagdogra- Chennai

Woke up early and the six of us met in the lobby and set off by a vehicle arranged by the hotel for us to the airport. A deeply sad breakfast of toast in the airport canteen later boarded our flights back to Chennai….

And life took over!!!

 

A packing guide for travel and a bit of unsolicited gyan…

June 8, 2019
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What’s left really to wear now …when they say such things is when people like me are stumped..

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In normal packing this is not an eventuality you need not pack for…hate to break it to you, but mostly you are not going to meet the tall dark handsome man in krabi nor get married to him there.

packing list

Spread it all out, eliminate ruthlessly and then keep it inside the bag. Take out more again just before heading to airport if u feel so…

First and foremost, I am a die-hard believer of packing light. So I will advocate that always for any travel you undertake. I still have a long journey ahead of me to reach the level of minimalism I aspire in travel and in life.

There are two big reasons why people pack a lot. I am not judging both the motives here. These are just observations.

  • They are permanently thinking in the ‘what if…’ mode. What if it rains, what if I fall and dirty my clothes, what if there is a surprise fancy dinner and I am underdressed and come across shabby.
  • When they travel they need to be photographed in different clothes and look their best for those photos. I dare say the ulterior motive is to make the less fortunate envious or to show the more fortunate that you are having as much fun as them and a force to reckon with in Facebook and instagram.

About the first, think of how many times you came back from a holiday with almost half the clothes unused. Most often when you plan well and pack accordingly, what you carry would be just right. As regards the what if phenomenon, most things you worry about or anticipate doesn’t happen. What might take you by surprise is something for which you never planned. You can never fully plan for every eventuality. A certain level of surprise is what makes the travel exciting and what makes your travel tale interesting. Isn’t it? Also as long as you are not going to Everest or somewhere equally remote you can always buy a T shirt or underwear if you run short.

As regards the second one, in spite of best efforts, there will always be people unimpressed by your picture and there would also be people who have had a better experience than you. More importantly they will be successful in convincing your common circle of people that they had a better time than you and eventually making you feel as a lowly ‘also ran’. This is the problem inherent with things done to impress. So doesn’t it make sense to shift focus on ‘being’ in the place and enjoying the experience and feel of the place than to focus on a future motive? What you truly need are ever lasting memories. Having said that looking good or wanting to look good is no crime. To say your dress or appearance doesn’t define you might be too philosophical and is something one should awaken to naturally and not something to be thrust upon. But, you don’t need to carry three pairs of clothes each for every single day of travel to manage it. Looking good or smart can be managed with just a few carefully chosen accessories like scarves or trinkets or multipurpose reversible jackets etc and by avoiding too ‘remarkable’ or ‘unique’ pieces.

Let me tell you the practical advantages of packing less.

First, you are independent and you don’t need help with your luggage. When focus of travel is shifting from star hotels to smaller, sensible and cheaper no frills hotels and homestays, you might not have uniformed staff waiting on you to lug your stuff. And if you are a lady it’s no fun playing the damsel in distress asking men or other lady travel partners to carry your truck load of clothes.

You don’t waste money shopping for travel and can save it for using for buying an experience while travelling. Most certainly you will have enough in your wardrobe for ten travels at any given time. Remember you might have seen it a million times but others who travel with you haven’t. While we travelled as a family to Australia about 5 years ago, it was on a shoe string budget and stays were booked in service apartments near supermarkets where we cooked basic stuff or put together a sandwich or salad without burning a hole in our pocket. What we splurged on was however a helicopter ride above twelve apostles in the coast of Melbourne that came to a few hundreds of dollars. It was very expensive for us but then we did not exceed our overall budget because there was almost no shopping before or during the travel nor excessive eating out.

When you travel with just hand luggage and no check in baggage you don’t spend extra on buying luggage allowance, Great fares are offered on budget airlines very often when you take a bare bone deal with just free hand baggage allowance. Plus you do not waste time on luggage conveyor belts waiting endlessly for your luggage. If you do shopping in your holiday destination it makes sense to buy baggage allowance for that leg alone.

Below is a list I have made for the group of us going to Bhutan in end of the month. This is a list more focused to the need of women in the group. Men can of course take whatever is relevant to them from the list. I was reading of a guy who actually did a month and a half of travel with just the pair of dress he wore and another pair of quick dry clothes, a tooth brush, paste, passport , money/card mobile and charger all stuffed in the pockets of his jacket. So if guys want to emulate him, this is the time.

This is the packing list for 9 nights. People who have fewer days can adjust accordingly. This need not be a list for this trip alone but for any trip you have with any group in future too. Also it is based on the assumption that you are staying in hotels which provide you with towels and basic toiletries. It’s a list for not very cold weathers but probably mildly rainy and pleasant.

  • Long bottom wear – 2 or 3 ( cotton pants/linen/tracks/yoga pants/leggings/cargoes) in neutral colors
  • Shorts – 3 You can carry just shorts alone if u r not particular about wearing full length leg wear. Most convenient. This can also be used as night wear if u don’t want to carry separate night wear. You can reduce the number of pants to two if bring two or more shorts
  • Top wear – 5 or 6 half sleeves or full sleeves
  • Sleeveless top/ tank/vest – 3 or 4 * if u r not comfortable wearing these u can probably stick to one top wear a day. This helps in layering on days which you feel might get warmer as the day progresses but cold as you start.
  • Night wear – two sets max
  • Undergarments – five sets max
  • Socks two pair
  • Hand towel – I suggest that instead of wet tissues for the negative impact of that on the environment
  • Quick dry/swim wear for water activities or to wear on a rainy day
  • Sturdy walking/hiking shoes
  • Sandals one pair waterproof which can be used for walking short distances, inside hotels etc
  • A jacket/sweater /cardigan for cold evenings – preferably not bulky but lighter
  • Raincoat/ poncho
  • 1 superlight black shawl for flight or for rolling up as a pillow ( light Pashminas are good investments)
  • Sunglasses
  • Fabric cap with wide brim (machine washable)
  • Scarf/stole – one or two- can add color and variety if you decide to take lesser number of clothes than in the list.
  • Water bottle- I try to avoid buying mineral water bottles as much as I can and prefer to refill from hotels. If it’s not available I get the water from bathroom wash basin and heat it in the kettle to avoid and cool it overnight to be taken in the morning. Cost effective, environment friendly and sensible
  • (* optional) Four cans of readymade upma by MTR- I normally abhor carrying food while travelling and somewhere in the corner of my mind find it to be a fuss-pot thing to do. I can manage even if a bit unhappily, the absence of home food for a while. But what can’t be handled is hunger and non availability of any food if I arrive somewhere too late and too tired to go out. It’s just to ensure that I don’t die hungry I carry this.
  • (* optional) sachets of GIRNAR readymade premix tea –You can empty two sachets into a cup and pour hot water for 200 ml of super good tea just like the one made at home elaborately. It has sugar free versions too. But I couldn’t care less for them. The first tea in the morning has to be a power job and sugar rush. It has the tea, milkpowder, the masalas ( or ginger if u choose that option) and sugar all as a single sachet of powder. Waghbakri brand too has the same but for same cost it gives a tad bit less quantity tea and the cheap person I am, will not pardon the brand for it. I understand that now Nescafe has an option for coffee also. Haven’t tried though
  • Toiletries and personal cosmetics
  • A small box of detergent- I wash clothes by putting stopper in the hotel sinks. Very useful. This reduces the need for too many pairs of clothes. You can even buy it there but it’s tough to buy small quantities as my experience is.
  • Essential meds – everything a pad each – Dolo (paracetamol), loparet( loose stools), avomine/perinorm( nausea and vomiting), sreyas (anti cold),augmentin ( antibiotic for cold and stomach bug), allegra ( allergies), neorelax ( muscle relaxant) pan D ( gastritis) bifilac ( good gut bacteria inducing, Bandaids, Volini, vicks or any pain balms. I also carry my specific migraine tablet Naxdom 500 and dart. Then meftal spas for period cramps.
  • Passport
  • Ticket and booking copies.
  • Passport size photos 8
  • Currency and credit card- cas about Rs 10000/- would be ideal.
  • Mobile,headphones, SD cards, batteries and charger
  • Powerbank
  • (*optional) Extra mobile. This is for me to use the international sim. I find changing sim cards too tedious and confusing and prefer to keep my home number and host country sim in separate instruments
  • Camera and all related stuff( I don’t use one so can’t give more info on that)
  • Some waterproof ziplocks for currency
  • Plastic covers for wet things or for taking stuff off breakfast buffets. (It’s technically not stealing. I just believe in extended breakfasts J)
  • (* optional) Book to read
  • (* optional) Note book to keep notes
  • A handbag /messenger bag/small back pack ( to carry docs, tickets,money, cards, power banks, chargers mobile headphones, essential meds, Menstrual cup, a shawl or jacket if u r not wearing it on you)
  • A duffel bag/back pack/suitcase for all the rest
  • Menstrual cup ( fit it, forget it)…for those uninitiated to the glory of the cup, I must say that this is probably the most woman friendly product that has come in recent times. It’s a cup made of medical grade silicon that you fold and insert through your vagina pretty much like a tampon. When u release it, the cup pops open and is held in place by the suction created. It takes anything between 4 to 12 hours to fill depending upon your flow but very  less prone to leakages and accidents. You can feel a certain push and a feeling of weighing down when it’s almost full. Then press at the knob at the bottom of the cup to release suction and remove the cup. Yes your hand could get a bit messy but there is really nothing yucky about it. You empty it, wash it and put it back. In case there is unavailability of water in the loo, you can even wipe it thoroughly and insert it back. Though I have never had the inconvenience of doing it, I don’t think it’s a bad option given its other pluses. Also you can pee, poop, swim, workout, bathe wearing it. For a more detailed tutorial on how to use it check online. I use the brand called shecup. An equally good one is made by boondh. All available online. A bloody simple engineering marvel it is. No pun intended.

Finally, you are the best judge because only you know you, the best and for the longest time. So add or delete as per your personal opinion. This could just act as a guide.

Other important points:

  • For travel carry/wear always something slightly warm since airports are cold and flights too sometimes.
  • Also I don’t believe in hand sanitizers. So did not mention it in list. Feel free to carry one if you prefer to.
  • Don’t keep powerbanks in check in luggage. Keep them in hand luggage. Airlines insist on that
  • Razors are allowed in hand baggage, knives and nail cutters only in check in.
  • If you’re a chronic excess packer I suggest that you weigh your luggage at home so as to make adjustments and not scramble and panic in airport.
  • Clean your phone before the trip so that you have enough space for new pics.
  • Travel is all about camaraderie, new experiences, adjustments and living the ‘now’. So keep that spirit on.
  • Finally, please remember to treat you host country, its environment, its customs and its people with utmost respect.

The almost perfect packing list for the cheap, fuss free traveler

February 27, 2019

packing list

My three weeks of travel starts tomorrow ( 28th feb) evening and goes on till midnight of march 20 or early morning 21st March if there is any flight delays. Not a huge duration by the standards of seasoned travelers but big for me. It’s my first solo trip, and first time where I have taken up such an under planned and under researched trip. But there is always a first time and this is that.

Through the last couple of years of travel, probably most of travel problems faced and hence the learnings too has been in the subject of baggage. Travelling light is not just sensible but a necessary skill that one needs to master. I haven’t yet done that. But couple of more travels and I should be sufficiently good at that. It’s about calculated risk taking and also getting over the panicky feeling of what if I suffer without having ‘it’ . The ‘IT’ could be a million things…starting from essential medicines which is legitimate to a nail filer which is semi important to a spare blue earring to match the shorts in case you misplace the first one – which is way below in hierarchy of importance.

I was very sure before starting my packing that, for reasons like mess and delays created by airlines when it comes to check-in baggage or unnecessary queues and confusion to collect them and more importantly for sheer simplicity of travel that less baggage ensures.

The cabin luggage limit in almost all airlines is 7 kgs and my attempt is to keep it at 4 extendable by an extra kg

This is my travel schedule

1st March- 2 -chennai- bangkok- phuket

3 -4- krabi

5- koh phangan

6 koh samui

7 chiangmai

8 chiang rai

9 Doi Inthanon ( 7, 8, 9 stay in chiang mai)

10,11,12 bangkok and pattaya

13 flight to bali – night in Lovina

14 lovina

15 ubud

16 Kuta

17 flight to Kualalumpur till 20 th stay in KL.

So this is my packing list

  • 5 Shorts – two formal, two quick dry and one for sleep
  • 7 tops – three of them quick dry vests, two pure cotton vest, a satin loose top with long sleeves, a quick dry t-shirt with sleeve and a semi formal black t shirt
  • 2 dresses- one a figure hugging body con knee length dress ( this is my ‘just in case’ purposeless dress but in Bali I like to look beautiful…when everything around me is so pretty I don’t want to be an ugly scarecrow ) and another a synthetic strappy dress with built in bra that I picked up in the Cambodian island shop) to be worn in a hurry and a perfect beach wear or for a hot summer evening
  • 1 jump suit – strapless, shoulder less, super light easy to wear and carry kind ( borrowed)
  • 1 menstrual cup ( fit it, forget it)…for those uninitiated to the glory of the cup, I must say that this is probably the most woman friendly product that has come in recent times. It’s a cup made of medical grade silicon that you fold and insert through your vagina pretty much like a tampon. When u release it, the cup pops open and is held in place by the suction created. It takes anything between four to 12 hours to fill depending upon your flow but very very less prone to leakages and accidents. You can feel a certain push and a feeling of weighing down when it’s almost full. Then press at the knob at the bottom of the cup to release suction and remove the cup. Yes your hand could get a bit messy but there is really nothing yucky about it. You empty it, wash it and put it back. In case there is unavailability of water in the loo, you can even wipe it thoroughly and insert it back. Though I have never had the inconvenience of doing it, I don’t think it’s a bad option given its other pluses. Also you can pee, poop, swim, workout, bathe wearing it. For a more detailed tutorial on how to use it check online. I use the brand called shecup. An equally good one is made by boondh. All available online. A bloody simple engineering marvel it is. No pun intended…
  • 3 washable cloth pads – Since I am travelling and that too with bare minimum clothes I can’t take even the slightest risk of staining. Also while in Cambodia I saw hotels keeping big notices as to the fines, bloodied sheets can invite. So as much as I have supreme confidence in cup, I am not keen on taking chance.
  • 2 bikinis – half my days are in beach destinations and hence two. Also can wear them under clothes for a quick change in places with no serious privacy.
  • 8 panties- 3 granny ugly panties for better comfort during periods/sleep/flight and rest a bit fancy satin and lace ( a girl needs to feel good u see) which dries quick too and needs less soap
  • 8 bras- two underwired and padded, one strapless, two bandeaus, two super light satin ones and one ugly bra (for no reason, probably to avoid feeling homesick J)
  • 1 multicolor georgette dupatta- to work as sarong stole( on top of shorts) or sun protection under cap
  • 1 Kerala thin white towel for stays that doesn’t provide towels or where it comes at a cost. the Decathlon towels are too bulky IMO
  • 1 decathlon hand towel
  • 1 superlight black pashmina shawl ( grey on reverse) for flight or for rolling up as a pillow
  • Sunglasses
  • Fabric cap with wide brim (machine washable)
  • Water bottle- I try to avoid buying mineral water bottles as much as I can and prefer to refill from hotels. If its not available I get the water from bathroom wash basin and heat it in the kettle to avoid and cool it overnight to be taken in the morning. Cost effective, environment friendly and sensible
  • Four cans of readymade upma by MTR- I normally abhor carrying food while travelling and somewhere in the corner of my mind find it to be a fusspot thing to do. I can manage even if a bit unhappily the absence of home food for a while. But what can’t be handled is hunger and non availability of any food if I arrive somewhere too late and too tired to go out. Its just to ensure that I don’t die hungry I carry this.
  • 3 X 10 sachets of GIRNAR readymade premix tea – heaven sent for the Cambodia trip. I empty two sachets into a cup and pour hot water for 200 ml of super good tea just like the one made at home elaborately. It has sugar free versions too. But I Couldn’t care less for them. The first tea in the morning has to be a power job and sugar rush. It has the tea, milkpowder, the masalas ( or ginger if u choose that option) and sugar all as a single sachet of powder. Waghbakri brand too has the same premix but for the same cost they give a tad bit less quantity tea and the cheap person I am, will not pardon the brand for it.
  • Toiletries- A tiny soap in a tiny Tupperware box (for hostels), shampoo sachets, tiny tube of paste, brush, a general moisturize and a body spray and a tiny matte lipstick…of course a comb for whatever its worth. Sunscreen would prefer to buy in destination since we get better spray on ones in beach side shops than here. This is all I carry and nothing more since I don’t use any cosmetics, creams or anything else that comes in tubes or bottles…simply because 1) I find it all a waste of valuable time (just my opinion) 2) have always been uncomfortable with anything more on my skin 3) I consider myself presentable without any of that. But I don’t judge anyone who uses makeup. Go for it sisters, if it makes you happy!
  • A small box of detergent- I wash clothes by putting stopper in the hotel sinks. Very useful. Can manage that stealthily even in hostels. This reduces the need for too many pairs of clothes.You can even buy it there but it’s tough to buy small quantities as my experience is in Cambodia
  • Essential meds – everything a pad each – Dolo (paracetamol), loparet( loose stools), avomine( nausea and vomiting), sreyas (anti cold),augmentin ( antibiotic for cold and stomach bug), allegra ( allergies), neorelax ( muscle relaxant) pan D ( gastritis) bifilac ( good gut bacteria inducing). I also carry my specific migraine tablet Naxdom 500 and dart. Then meftal spas for period cramps. This list was made possible by the tireless efforts of the fabulous doctor friend who gave the medicine list for Cambodia and was also an invaluable member of the group for reasons best known to us.
  • Passport
  • Ticket and booking copies. Visa printouts incase required
  • Currency and credit card
  • Mobile,headphones and charger
  • Extra mobile. This is for me to use the international sim. For a tech challenged person who finds buying and using sim cards too tedious and confusing I prefer to keep my home number and host country sim in separate instruments
  • Priority lounge pass – can’t praise enough the benefit of having one. Long waits and hunger made bearable
  • Some waterproof ziplocks for currency
  • Plastic covers for wet things or for stealing stuff off breakfast buffets. (It’s technically not stealing. I just believe in big breakfasts)
  • A foldable nylon shopping bag for supermarket buys ( read wine, bread, cucumbers and carrots…very odd combo. Yes!)
  • A handbag /messenger bag – Items cup and pads, and medicines to ziplocks goes inside this. The bag was bought by my friend in Cambodia but has no use for it here so I bought it off her. ( I hold a low grade grudge against her though for not give me the second hand discount)..pretty darn user friendly and compact and if the cows in Airasia check in counters doesnt permit a second piece of handluggage it will easily go inside the duffel bag too.
  • A black wildcraft duffel bag ( not back pack) for all the rest – I don’t have a light backpack that opens at the bottom. The one that I borrowed from a friend on Cambodia was a bit cumbersome with too many straps and wasted space though it had an opening at the bottom too which was a good thing. But I have always found backpacks a bit tough to use especially when you are not staying in one place more than a day or two. We have to remove the entire contents out to get a piece of clothing. A duffel bag that way is far easier and less messier to use. Bu then everyone to themselves on this and I have friends who swear by backpacks and would consider what I just said to be blasphemy against travel gods!!!

What will be on me while travelling…

A running tights of decathlon, A full sleeved shirt ( will double as top wear when I go to a temple and wearing only a vest) , sports bra from M&S and granny panties because they are the best( sorry about the TMI ), a crocs lite sling back slipper since it can be worn for walking fair distances and in water. Not carrying or wearing shoe this time.

My detailed travel diary and costing will be shared in the following posts.

How to stop hoping to travel and start travelling

January 25, 2019

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Why am I not able to vacation as much as the cow in my adjacent cabin?

I am sure at some point or the other all of you must have wondered this. How some people seem to travel almost every month or more, posting pictures from obscure European or African countries or a surreal looking Himalayan village while you find it hard to go on even a weekend getaway.

All the following thoughts would be applicable for the general narrative of life itself, but significantly relevant in the context of one’s travel aspirations

It’s not only about money, honey!

You tend to associate a high paying job or a massive bank balance as prerogatives for travel. While money is important to travel you are grossly overestimating its importance. A decade ago the only option for wannabe travelers was to go approach a travel agent with a cubby hole third floor office in a busy market street for a ‘package tour’ or go to the uncle in the next floor who has been in middle east for many years for travel advice and check if the restrooms in Dubai has water in bucket or just toilet paper.

Internet has opened up huge vistas on travel research and options. It has also helped in reducing the costs in a big way. So don’t be surprised when I say u can holiday for ten days in Switzerland for about 50000 rupees as well as 500000 rupees. You can search for options in whatever price range you can afford and choose within that range. The economies of travel thorough sharing of resources are now available through the humungous amount of information online. That brings us to the next point…

It’s about time spent

A friend once said that Europe messes with unplanned travelers and can be a budget travel haven for people who do plan ahead. This rule applies for any destination actually. So it is not lack of money but on the contrary the lack of time spent on planning that is making you take fewer vacations. You just need to have a destination in mind, sometimes not even that. There are sites where you can get options for stay at half the costs you would have got otherwise, blogs with hundreds of reviews on any place of stay you are considering, information on how to get deals in sightseeing, etc.  For people less particular and more adventurous when deciding their lodging there are unconventional options like airbnb or homestays and for even more adventurous people there are options like couch surfing.

For overland transport too there are multiple options. Bloggers and portals worldwide give you detailed information on public transport system in the country you visit, shared private travel options or contact details for vehicle operators in the destination. The only thing required out of you is time and patience to sift through and get the best options for your money spent.

Budget for travel as you budget for school fees or upgrading your laptop

Very often the holiday plans happen random. You plan when your appraisal at work goes bad, when your children complains about how little time you spend with them or spouse tells you how less your travel as a family and how Sharmaji just went to Singapore with family and ‘checked in’ to Marina bay sands. Then you frantically look for some staid holiday option and chuck each of them till you feel you have found the right budget. Or what you think the right budget is. However if you fix at the beginning of the year a budget for holidays you don’t get into this fix. A holiday is as important as budgeting for school fees. You are budgeting for an experience and because of lack of clarity on the financial commitments you have, you end up fearing an over spend or under spend. While we did our travel to Australia, we had gone on a very strict budget which was decided well ahead. We had stayed in service apartments with access to a kitchen and most often we packed and carried our food along so that money or time is not wasted. Also our request to our travel planner was to find us apartments near supermarkets so that buying a can of milk or a loaf of bread and eggs is easy. Once in a while we ate out too and had our share of extravagances too. We did a helicopter tour above the twelve apostles which cost us a bomb. But it was worth every penny we spent. The price paid was having just soupy noodles for dinner for all our nights in Sydney. Among many thousands of good meals you have in your life, this sacrifice means very little. It was a calculated decision. So it’s a fine balance of knowing when to scrimp and where to splurge. This is easier if you have a budget.

Do you really need that latte in Starbucks – or a Facebook post of checking yourself into one?

Your worth is not the iPhone or the brand of dress you wear but what you are as a person and what the experiences in life has molded you into. These experiences include the travels you take, the people you meet and places you see. I don’t have anything against well dressed people. Everyone wants to be liked and looked up to. It is only human to feel that way. But somehow over the last decade or so especially, we have reduced to attaching our importance to what we have and not to what we are. The natural progression of that thought process is an assumption that you would be liked and admired for the brands you choose to use or is associated with. Holidays also kind of follow that pattern. Covering 14 European cities in 14 days and check in to FB from each of these places is mostly aimed at making ‘your friends’ jealous. And not to mention the lacs of rupees you spend on it. Most of your time would have been spent in tourist coaches and packing and unpacking suitcases. You would not have been able to chat up with a local and find out her views on life or what is the best thing to eat in her city or village.

When you focus on experiences and less on things you will have more to spend. There is no reason to feel small for the financial scaling down you make in life. Nor do you have to struggle too hard to fit in. A tea and butter biscuit had with a friend in your local tea shop is happiness too. And you would have just spent 20 Rs on that.

Curbing the tendency for impulsive and random accumulation of things

One big area where priorities get mixed up is shopping. We buy things that we might never use or use so less that we could have borrowed instead of buying. The amount of money spent on fast fashion, jewelry or buying of useless membership cards for that among other things encourages eating out more than its healthy to, are all eating into the money that could very well spent on experiences.  While a certain level of shopping during a holiday is understandable I know people who shop extensively for a holiday. While whimsy in small doses is alright, what use is a down feather jacket that can withstand -50 degrees if you spend your entire life in hot Chennai. You could very well borrow or rent out things like that when you need them for a holiday. As morbid as it may sound what goes with you when you die are the experiences you had. Don’t you want the spectacular memory of the view below a peak you trekked upto to be the last thought that flash through your brain in your last minutes or do you want your last thoughts to be ‘finally I don’t have to see that orange maxi dress anymore in my life’.

No one is indispensable and take work for just what it is.

You will not be remembered for more than a week or at best a month if you quit or die in your seat. Your value after that is just anecdotal. So take your holidays seriously. Most of us attach a lot of guilt to having fun and consider it as something to be done apologetically. The idea here seems to be ‘how can we holiday and waste time which is better spent working and saving more for the kid’s education or probable medical expenses? ’. It then becomes a permanent cycle of planning to live and never living. Very often, when you do a fact checking you must be having enough for most of these foreseeable expenses and you are just in a panic saving mode. Many corporations across the world have something called mandatory leaves or compliance leaves that is to be taken by the employee over a year. Why do they give that? Not to cash them and buy an iPhone 20. Your body and mind needs rest, recuperation and a variety of experiences to feel rejuvenated. A person with a dead soul cannot be productive in their job too.

Don’t wallow in self pity or take pride in suffering and not having time.

Whether it is taking care of your health, eating the right food or sparing time for a walk or run or travelling, don’t play victim. You are just losing out on the precious years of human life. The typical statement that is made grudgingly by some people to me is ‘You are lucky. For you things are easy. You can travel as you have a grown up kid and an understanding partner’ Yes I have all that and it helps but that doesn’t mean all these people have nothing going for them too. It is about working on solutions and a workaround for your particular situation. Focusing on problems only makes you irritable. I know of a girl who has a thriving career, and a very supportive family. But she complains a lot about how she is sacrificing everything for everyone and how she doesn’t find time for anything. I also know a lady who is a professional with a lot going on in her family but still finds a way to have guilt free holidays, short as they maybe. Happiness found in posing to be a victim is such a negative emotion. You end up being bitter and hating people who love you. And of course not having fun!!!

Don’t be guilt ridden on enjoying a holiday.

All of us have people in our lives whose welfare we feel solely responsible for. It could be your husband, wife, kids, parents, in-laws, employees or colleagues who we think are dependent on us. In the story of your life you are the hero/heroine. So is it for them too. No one is thinking of you as much as you fear they do. You occupy a tiny space in their mind space left after accommodating their worries. As long as you are doing a good job of taking care of your responsibilities to the best of your ability and have a clear conscience there is no need to consider yourself as the sole guardian of anyone else’s happiness. They can find their own. Like you find your own.

Don’t sweat the small sweat otherwise known as ‘what will other’s think?’ complex

Anything that will not matter nor will be remembered in 5 years down the line is not worth worrying. So go ahead and buy that ready made idli batter or pack the previous day rotis for your kid’s lunch box. Or give them money to eat in school canteen for a day. It won’t kill them. It doesn’t matter and no one cares. You won’t fall in grace. The only thing compromised here is your own misplaced sense of guilt. Your family is not going to hate you or poison your omelette for having overstayed in Cambodia for 5 more days. Nor will the bank you work for, fire you for taking your eligible leaves. In a human life that spans 70 or 80 years 5 days is so very miniscule.

Never hold on to assets that you have no use for

They weigh your down and make you work for them. Sell them and simplify life. Give up on unnecessary responsibilities. The third apartment you bought ‘just in case…’ or the diamond bangle that you bought after saving a year’s salary is not going to miss you when you are gone. They merely shift hands and stay on. The attachment you have for them is not shared by them. Don’t you feel pissed when someone who you love doesn’t love you back? Why then be lenient to inanimate things that don’t even know of your existence while you slave away to own them?

YES! A wee bit sanctimonious all this sounds! Sorry about that, but there is no nicer way of putting it and better say it as it comes than wasting valuable lessons learnt from experience. No?

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

Sleeping into the green

January 14, 2019

While eyes droop away as the day ends
Weary but happy, dreaming fine wonders,
Flickering images now there, now no,
Of distant lands, of endless meadows,
Shadows of caves, dripping droplets
The fall of them slowed by lush green moss,
Smooth gleamy stones in water, tiny rainbows,
Little whirlpools of water on rocky streams,
Can I be there yesterday, can I be there sometime,
Wishing well somewhere, let me throw a coin into you,
Make it happen please for the love of life!
But then this is not the first time neither last,
Will keep throwing, till the final of breaths
For now, just bracing for the glories tomorrow brings,
Take me away, “I am ready, oh warriors of dreamy nights…”image

Why Srilanka?

January 14, 2019

Ten reasons why the spectacular island nation is a must see for you in 2019…

  1. Personally it’s the people of the island nation that draws me to it every single time. They are super friendly, fun loving and cosmopolitan in attitude. Their relaxed and laid back view of life is so typical of islanders. A couple of visits and you can be sure to land some friends for life in the emerald isle
  2. Amazing food – the hoppers, sambols and finger-licking sea food… I mean who hasn’t drooled at the fabulously appetizing looking stuff dished out by master chef Peter Kuruvita in TLC.
  3. A country that has something to offer for all…
  • The imposing architecture and natural wonders that reflect multi religious and multi cultural heritage of Sinhalese and Tamil like the Sigiriya rock, Dambulla caves, stupas in Anuradhapura, ruins in Polonnoruva, the Katargama and Koneswaram temples,
  • Diverse options like mountaineering, white water rafting, scuba diving and snorkeling, whale watching and dolphin watching, hiking, caving, elephant safaris…. for those seeking adventure,
  • Cricket matches in Galle for folks crazy about ‘the gentleman’s game’,
  • The hill country of central Srilanka with sprawling tea estates to escape to during tropical summer months,
  • The fabulous beaches on all four sides for some ‘fun in the sun’ during cooler months. There are the vibrant popular beaches for active fun or laid back isolated beaches for peace and tranquility,
  • The many national parks across the country with some fabulous flora and fauna,
  • And cycling tours around the beautiful island which is the newest thrill that has enveloped the world cycling community.
  1. Accommodations to suit any budget – from Super premium designer boutique hotels to warm, friendly and cheaper home stays. Retreats which specialize in exclusive Ayurvedic experiences or Yoga are other attractions to welcome the work weary travelers.
  2. Ridiculously cheap flight fares for Indians when you choose to fly to Srilanka, especially considering it’s an international destination – perhaps cheaper than flying to some destinations inland.
  3. Stronger currency- All of us at some point or the other have wailed while coughing up 5 Euros or Dollars when paying for a measly burger when travelling in Europe or America. The trauma of mentally converting the spent dollars into rupees is almost physical. Srilanka is one country which will make you jump in joy in the context of value for money. One Indian rupee gives you more than 2.5 Srilankan rupees. Doesn’t that make you smile and cart wheel?
  4. The woes of not knowing the language or depending on translators don’t exist in Srilanka. English works and works well. Most of the guides and chauffeurs that you engage will be able to hold a very decent conversation in English with you…And what more than a local to give you an interesting perspective of the country?
  5. It’s Visa on arrival for Indians in Srilanka. However if you wish to avoid a queue in immigration you can sit at the comfort of your house and apply for an e-visa and visa would be in your mail box before you can say ‘It’s just 20 $’
  6. At a little less than an hour of flying time Srilanka is probably the closest international destination for Indians and definitely so for South Indians. For once you don’t have to worry about the crammed leg space, whiny kids in the next seat or lack of sleep affecting the next day’s sightseeing.
  7. Did I say amazing shopping? Add to it the benefit of going from a country of strong currency. The best of international as well as authentic Srilankan brands in ODEL and many boutiques that dot Colombo city, MLESNA’s spectacular varieties of tea, famous Srilankan cinnamon and other spices, factory outlets of the top of the line crockery like Noritake and Dankutowa to name just a few.blog srilanka

How to get more out of your travel

January 8, 2019

Getting more out of your travel is about being well planned and prepared for what is in store and at the same time having enough bandwidth for surprises and enjoying them too…

  1. ‘Comfortable vehicle for over land transportation’ is all what they say in your itinerary. Always read the fine print and check what kind of vehicle you are being given, its capacity and how many passengers are planned in each. Understand the condition of the roads in the destination you are visiting before agreeing to the terms.
  2. Don’t fall for the star rating of your hotel. It means nothing really. Review rating is what you should watch for when deciding on an accommodation. You could end up in a four star property with some great pictures online of the place and pay a hefty sum to stay there with poor service and rooms that smell moldy. On the other hand an unrated home stay could give you comfortable rooms, homely and tasty food and some great service by your hosts.
  3. A bottle of complementary water is just that. These are things just added to make the list of inclusions appear huge. More important would be a visa included quote or a half board package where dinner is part of the deal. These are more expensive and can add up to good savings. Also if you pay for it before hand then the currency quantum you need to carry is also reduced.
  4. Breakfast is part of the deal the hotel gives. Don’t feel pampered by it’s inclusion. But having said that make best use of the breakfast and while spending the day sightseeing you will be able to hold on for long without a lunch or go for an on the go light lunch, if u have a big wholesome breakfast. Do have the fruits from the buffet. But don’t just load up on them. Have your eggs and bacon, sausages , bread and vegetables. Fruits and juices will keep you full for a very short while as compared to whole foods
  5. Don’t feel guilty comparing quotes. It is your money and you should see what you are getting for it and its comparative worth. Understand and evaluate what you are paying for.
  6. Please check thoroughly your itinerary and understand the sightseeing and entrance ticket costs for the sights visited. Some places accept only local currency and be aware of that and provision for that in your budgeting.
  7. Make a conscious decision about where to spend and where to scrimp. A jade bangle might be just expensive looking glass if not sold by an authentic certified seller. Spend on experiences than products. Good experiences cost money. So ponder well if you would come back to the place again and experience it before letting go of it.
  8. Do a destination thoroughly. There are so many places on earth that one should travel to. With all the money and time available with you, there is only so much you can cover and definitely there is very little possibility of visiting the same destination twice in a life time unless travelling itself is your job. And for that reason when you have just one week with you, try not to do Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos all in that week. Choose one destination. Add one more country if you have an additional week to spare. Let your travel not be about ticking off ten places but about experiencing one place thoroughly.
  9. Travelling as a bigger group is always cheaper. So try to rope in more friends or family into your travel plans. You get to travel in good company and you save by splitting the costs. However I would not discount the importance of solo travel too once in a while. You can save by sticking to public transport, hostel dorms or home stay options. This ensures safety and cost effectiveness when travelling solo.
  10. Travel in off season. If you are not bound by restrictions like school vacations travelling in off season gets you the best rates. Also choose a destination according to off season period in that place for cheaper deals. But be aware of the weather before you plan to know if it will be to your liking.
  11. Plan ahead as soon as holiday calendar comes out at work or at your kid’s school. The earlier the better when it comes to flight fares and accommodation.
  12. For your onward journey pack light and always over estimate the shopping and resulting increase in weight of luggage that could happen in the destination to avoid excess baggage woes. Focus on carrying the right footwear, right material of clothes. Try letting go of the idea ‘one dress a day’. You can always mix and match and accessorize differently if it is important for you to create a different look. Opt for quick dry material whenever you can which you can even wash in the bath room sink for reuse and not worry about wrinkles. Try not to look at it as a botheration but as a new survival skill learnt. A post on a what comprises a good packing list is soon to follow.
  13. Have a clear idea of the currency used in the destination and have clarity on conversion rates, re conversion policies and about best places to get your USD or EURO converted into local currency. Often entrance fees for places of interest can be paid only as local currency and carrying sufficient amount of the same is necessary.
  14. Good amount of research on transport systems of the place like the metro lines or ferries, ease of connectivity, eating options, call rates and data charges can always come in very handy. More so on a self planned trip.
  15. Learning a couple of words in the local language or having google translate or similar apps handy will help you get around easier.
  16. Clear up your phone before travel to ensure it’s smooth functioning during travel and to create enough space for your new pictures. Mute the WhatSapp groups and deactivate automatic download of media to avoid clogged storage.
  17. Always leave details of your itinerary, places of stay and contact number of your co passenger/s or tour operator with folks back home. Also leave the copies of your passport and imp travel docs back home.It is also advisable to leave the details of credit card and call center numbers for blocking card etc in case of theft or loss.
  18. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, watches or carrying excess money while travelling and whatever you carry, keep them close to your body and not in an easily reachable place. Keep only loose change accessible.
  19. Carry your own water bottle and keep refilling to avoid littering and to do your bit towards sustainable tourism. Respect your guest country, its environment, its people and its customs as much as you would yours.
  20. Carry a light back pack or drawstring back pack for day trips during travel. You can carry your travel docs, money (bare essential amount)and cards, sunglasses, cap or hat, essential medication, water bottle and a light jacket if necessary in the same.
  21. Look through a map of the place you are visiting for an orientation of the place before your travel. This will give you an idea of the distances involved and rationalize the routes you take. If you are travelling to Europe, the Americas or Australia you can follow the local maps which are near perfect especially for places which you plan to cover by foot.
  22. Last but not the least, my favorite topic. This is especially for women travelers. Chuck sanitary pads and tampons. The coolest kid in sanitary world is in town. It has been in town for long but no one took it seriously… The Menstrual cup. A fantastically liberating cost effective, convenient, environment friendly, hygienic option. A detailed post on this to follow …on how it can change your world.

HAPPY TRAVELS Y’ALL!!!

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Defeat smells acrid

August 9, 2018

All big battles, started small,
A small war with the tiniest army of all,
Just some daggers, looking like steak knives,
The little grenades hide in dinner plates.

No one really wants an unseasoned soup,
Suppers for sham being no one’s hope.
Bland fat dumplings were the veiled threats,
Chocolate cake that tastes like leaky eyes.

The skirmish became a war and war a battle,
Ceasefires on, but the battle was back every time.
Though the ammunition larder never went dry,
The tiny soldier never won even once for a change.

The enemy was a wall of mortar over a foot thick,
Ruthless, heartless, never given to weakness.
Never to lose and strong as an ox,
He stood head held high and shoulders square.

Fresh supplies came with Shrapnels of better retorts,
And some singeing bullets of sound hard logic,
The soldier kept failing, nothing would work,
The spirit crushed and with the legs giving in…
The strife torn battlefield starts showing the cracks,
The tired soldier is now ready for some rest,
Weary, beaten, badgered and mowed in.

The fever came raging all guns blazing,
Hot to hands, flushed skin burning,
Days crept to nights, nights crawled back to day,
Lost and quiet, counting the hours of light.

The unused lead has seaped into the blood, they said
Good that the end came before the final defeat.
Or isn’t that after all the coveted trophy,
And in the pyre lies the biggest victory.
We will never know will we,
For no one returns to tell the tale…