The Happiness Kingdom

Travelling with parents has always been one of my favorite things to do. Of course there’s a limit to the drinks that you can pour and hours you can stay out late but the luxury is unbeatable! Dads never compromise on the quality of sleep a bed can offer or the meals that we eat on a holiday.

Bhutan was quite a sudden plan that my father whipped up. He realized that he was retiring soon and his only child was going to get married in a year’s time. He contacted an agent who helped us get our documentation ready which by the way is quite a process. Visa is on arrival for Indians but it’s important to plan well for a trip to Bhutan because 1) no frequent flights from India 2) Tourism has starting picking up in the recent past and hence, not a varied number of options to choose from. Since we were unable to find an airline for our preferred date of departure in the last week of December, we chose to take a flight from Mumbai to Bagdogra and enter Phuentsholing which is the business capital via road.

The journey to Phuentsholing is about 3 hours from Bagdogra. We stopped at a small restaurant which served delicious momos and thukpa. That’s when I marked the beginning of our holiday! Soon, we reached the border and oh, the stark difference will not go unnoticed! You’ll see paan stained walls, posters of Mamata Banerjee on hoardings, semi rusted electric poles and then suddenly you enter Narnia! Clean roads, thatched roofs, typical Asian architecture, well manicured lawns… I love my country, okay, no doubt, but we’ve got to learn! Phuentsholing is a cosmo town with a lot of Indian and Nepalese workforce. We spent the evening exploring cafes, bought a sim-card and some local wine called Takin (named after the national animal of Bhutan) and had suja tea. Suja tea is made of suja leaves, butter and water. It’s more of a soup, it’s savory!

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The weather was cold but not as much as I thought it would be. We visited a monastery nearby before retiring for the night.

We woke up early next morning, had breakfast and met our driver and guide who were with us for the rest of the tour. Sweet chaps, both Bhutanese, spoke decent English and loved to groove to Bollywood music! The first thing that we had to do before leaving the town was to get our passports stamped and that took a while due to peak holiday season. What we noticed is that Bhutan is frequented mostly, only by people from neighboring countries. We saw families and couples from India of course, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Hardly any from Europe or America..Soon after, we left for Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, also where the King resides. The journey to Thimpu was so beautiful! Lush green forests, valleys and waterfalls.. soaking in the fresh air which we’d never get to breathe back home, we felt at peace. By the time we reached the Capital, the sun had begin setting and the temperatures dipped all of a sudden.

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It is absolutely essential to carry warm clothes because even though the temperatures might not go as low as probably in Himachal, the wind factor is what gives you goosebumps. Thimpu was again, green, great roads, lots of public schools, hospitals, embassies, local shops but not one mall in sight. There is no McDonald’s or Burger King or a Nike store in Bhutan. They have not opened up their economy to multinationals so local businesses thrive. We checked into our hotel and had dinner where we were served typical Indian cuisine. There are a couple of Bhutanese dishes which are made with cheese, mushroom and cabbage however, locals prefer eating gobi ki sabji and roti and steamed rice. The eating habits are quite similar to ours.

Next morning after a scrumptious breakfast, we proceeded to visit Buddha Point which is a beautifully built monastery with golden walls and is one of the biggest Buddha Statue in the world. It overlooks a gigantic valley with a breathtaking view of cloud covered mountains.

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We then visited a couple of other monasteries as well. When we wanted to see where the King lives, we were told that he stays in a very regular looking house and not a palace. Also, tourists aren’t allowed to see where the royalties live. If authorities get to know that tour guides are showing them their residence, they could lose their licence! Quite private and non-showy. Finally, for dinner, we got to taste the real food of Bhutan. It was spicy and flavorsome!

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The next day was an adventure – we left Thimpu to travel to Punakha, the old Capital of Bhutan. En route Punakha is the Dochula Pass which is one of the highest motor-able roads in the Kingdom. The view from here is stunning, with snow capped mountains and white clouds teasing the peaks. We got down from our car and the cold wind hit our faces so much so we couldn’t open our eyes! We downed a couple of hot cups of tea to maintain our body temperatures but that didn’t really help! The wind froze us, we had to get back into our car to feel at ease. Also, then was the first time ever that mom and I held naturally formed snow in our palms! It was magical.

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We visited a fertility temple (or monastery) on our way called as Chimi Lhakhang. Married couples who are unable to conceive, seek blessings here. A little amusing in the beginning but realizing that it’s nothing to be giggled about, we noticed a lot of pictures of phallus drawn on buildings, walls, murals being sold at the local market and books about the importance of this temple, with explicit photographs.

We reached our hotel at twilight and the balcony view took our breath away! It overlooked the valley and we could spot tiny dots which were little kids playing with a furry dog! Bhutan, we realized, is such a peaceful country, their main source of income being tourism and hence, courteousness was guaranteed. The commonest crime committed is drunken driving and that’s what the government is working towards curbing.

It was Christmas Eve. We were invited for a special dinner in the hotel lounge. Mom Dad and I leaned against the cold wall of the terrace, sipping Hot Toddy, peering into the darkness of the valley with a casual dog bark or an owl hoot heard in the background. The wind was extremely cold however the growing flames of the bonfire made us feel comfortable. We also happened to spot a satellite among the stars on a fairly clear night!

It was around 3am when I fell terribly sick. I threw up my entire Christmas dinner on Christmas Day and I was miserable! I kept throwing up whatever I ate till about 11am when we decided to not proceed to Paro – another major city. I was instead taken to the hospital where I was declared to be “altitude sick” I kind of figured because 1) of course the height at which we were staying 2) I drew myself a warm bath right after eating a heavy meal. This is something which, in any case, must not be done! Because the temperature was low, my body couldn’t produce enough heat to digest the dinner and hence, I suffered from indigestion the next day coupled with altitude sickness which sucked so bad because I was super excited to drive down to Paro. Although, we did get to see what wasn’t part of our plan. A government hospital in Bhutan! Medical facilities in Bhutan are provided free of cost not just to the citizens but even to tourists and non-residents. I fell in love with the country even more.

Christmas was spent in bed, in the old Capital of Punakha. The next day, we left for Paro which was once again, a very beautiful drive.

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We stopped at a beautiful monastery on our way and learnt a lot of Buddhism as a religion and the culture of Bhutan. Their beliefs and rituals are quite similar to Hindu customs and the founder of Buddhism, Siddharth Goutam was born in Lumbini which is modern day Nepal, then, part of India. We also learnt that water does not come from rivers, instead every tap, every tank, every water storage contains water from underground springs! They believe that rivers must remain untouched and pure. Such a beautiful thought! The government is also encouraging people to have more than one child because Bhutanese population is dwindling.

Our stay in Paro was at serene location, atop a cliff from where we could see the peak of Jomolhari – one of the highest mountains in Bhutan. It is, at times, also called as the bride of Kanchenjunga. Our hotel room was nestled right in front of the peak that was glistening in the dusky sunlight. My parents were sort of cursing me for falling sick; we could’ve stayed here for an extra night! I stuck to a simple dinner of dal and rice and retired early that night.

The next morning, our itinerary said that we will have to climb the famous Tiger’s Nest which is what Bhutan is most famous for; the iconic Taktsang Monastery which translates into the English name given to it. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhav, a Buddhist guru from the Indian sub-continent flew on a tiger’s back and landed here. He built the monastery in 1692. Now, the question was, should we or should we not. Our guide, very honestly, told my parents that their knees are weak and I was on the road to recovery from “altitude sickness”. The choice was ours. We did opt out of climbing to monastery however, didn’t really regret the decision knowing my trekking abilities and my parents’ willingness to deviate from a relaxing holiday. But, the monastery, oh so beautiful!

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Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

We shopped at the local market in Paro. The shopping experience is quite similar to ours in India. Roam the place, scrounge for what you want, select the item and then walk away if it’s not affordable! And then of course, the shopkeeper will stop you and offer it to you at the price you want. Voila! Mum is an experienced shopper and bargainer so worked out pretty well for us.

The next morning, we thanked our guide and driver and drove back to Siliguri with lots and lots of memories!! 🙂

Bhutan is truly the Kingdom of Happiness. The people are so kind, the food is so wholesome and prepared with love, the dogs are so furry and cute, the mountains are so majestic, the place is so peaceful 🙂 So glad made we happen!

Places of stay:

Phuentsholing: Lhaki Hotel

Thimpu: Hotel Migmar

Punakha: RKPO Green Resort

Paro: Tashi Namgay Resort

 

C’est La Vie

“We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical!” —Taylor Swift

Such is life in 2019.

The people I hang out with, my best friends, my peers and colleagues, my classmates, all of us have crossed the age of 25 in the recent past. I don’t know if quarter life crisis is a thing but we are made to feel like it’s a concept that exists. Topics like marriage, career, spirituality, housekeeping, taxes, opinion on the current economic status, the price of onions in the country, sexual assault and what-nots are flung around with a glass of whisky in one hand and a half-burned cigarette in the other, with no one wanting to back down and second a different stance. We then support the same point we once argued against, with a different set of people. We are a confused lot who are sandwiched between what’s taught to us and what we want to believe in. Some confer to their own beliefs and some rely on knowledge inflicted by education. We envisage a world where our sexuality is accepted without batting eye-lids, we want to get paid in millions for scrolling up and down our phone screens, we secretly pray and believe in talismans but are too cool to accept that we do. Our ‘grapes are sour’ game is strong in front of people but we wet our pillows with tears, thinking about the girl who made it in life when we couldn’t. We want to fall in love but are lovers of independence, we want to complain about the government not doing it’s job but are dreamers of earning in dollars. We are hypocrites disguised as preachers. But hey, are we to blame? No! It is absolutely alright to feel this way. To be influenced, to be vulnerable but trying to act too cool to be so. To not have it all figured out. To see your once-upon-a-time good friend ‘killing it’ in some fancy Hogwarts like Uni while you struggle to catch the window seat on an Andheri fast local.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we started out this decade, with a certain expectation, with a dream of how our lives would be like. This decade literally paved way for major life decisions. We gave our last board exams, graduated, post-graduated, earned our first pay check, fell in love, broke up, we made choices that can’t be undone. We discarded keypad phones, we installed WhatsApp and Tinder. We saw death of a grandparent, witnessed birth of a nephew. We’ve been through so much, let’s give ourselves a big round of applause and take a deep breath in. Let’s pause for a while and notice little things like how your father had black hair in 2010 and how they’re all grey if not white today. How your mother used to wake you up each morning and now you’re practically running a fully functional household by yourself. The little sapling below your window has grown into a flowering tree in these 10 years and watchman uncle’s puppy, Tommy, has 5 puppies of his own!

Let’s enter 2020 with a little more acceptance of who we are and what we do. We mess up, we don’t know if we want to switch jobs or study further, hell, we don’t even know if we want to get married yet. But, hey, it is okay. If not, it will be.

It’s the end of a decade but the beginning of an era. Such should be life in 2020 – happy and healthy, strong and calm.

 

The winter of ’18

Do not get fooled by the caption, this quaint little hill station was more like a summer ending of 2018!

Kodagu, also known as Coorg, is popular for its coffee estates and spices. This town was on my travel list for quite a few years and finally, it was made real during the Christmas break last year. Also, since this was the first time I was going on an all girls’ trip, excitement levels were soaring! Interestingly, this was one of the most impromptu plans ever made. We had no itinerary in place, only confirmed airplane tickets and a pre-booked AirBnb.

Our flight from Mumbai to Bangalore was late at night on the 21st of December and we had to spend a couple of hours at the airport before the taxi arrived in the morning. We planned to use our time to decide on an itinerary for our 4 day stay. We chatted at the departure lounge, munched on some junk, napped for a while and still didn’t have a plan in place! At around 5am, we decided to leave the cozy airport to step out for some refreshments and oh boy, the December breeze froze us. We began wondering how cold it must be in the hills and with that, we gobbled up 4 bowls of hot Maggi, 3 cups of tea and a plate of  scrambled egg. Our driver arrived at quarter to six and we began our road trip to the hills!

Bangalore to Coorg was a long, 8 hour drive with multiple stops. The weather was lovely, not too cold, just the right amount of warmth in the air. We stopped for an amazing breakfast of set dosa, uttappa and filter coffee, somewhere ahead of Mysore. What I have noticed in South India is that unlike here in Mumbai, dosa and idly preparations are not something they serve round the clock. These are available strictly during breakfast hours only. We were glad to have figured this out and hence, did not miss out on something so delicious! We entered the Kodagu district post noon and to be honest, we started getting a bit restless. We did not expect the drive to be this long although our driver, in broken English and Hindi, explained that Christmas was falling on an extended weekend and hence the traffic. Nevertheless, we began ascending the hills and to our utter dismay, the air was not at all cold! Our sweaters slowly started coming off and we were a little surprised with the weather. Our accommodation was in the interior of Madikeri, farther ahead of the famous Club Mahindra property in Virajpet. It was a little confusing at first, with no clear demarcations, however, our AirBnb host was a sweet chap, explained to the driver that there was a tiny gate on the right of somewhere which led to the house. With those instructions, our driver ensured that we reach the bungalow safely. And oh, that was THE BEST part of the trip! A huge bungalow, overlooking a private coffee estate, surrounded by coconut trees and hibiscus shrubs, it was magnificent.

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We took a nice, warm bath and changed into comfy clothes. Lunch was a simple yet hearty meal of dal, rice, roti and okra which left us licking our plates! The air was a little colder as compared to Madikeri and we were all smiles as the evening set in. Our caretakers were two young men, we think from Nepal (wouldn’t want to stereotype but guessed with the accent and the features) who poured us some tea and everything just felt better instantly. The place was serene and housed two cute doggies as well! We decided to step out and explore the place a bit. We drove down to the banks of River Cauvery which was across a bridge. It was a nice, quiet place with not many people in sight except a few village boys splashing in the water.

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As we drove back, we picked up some local wine from the a tiny shop nearby. It was awkward with 4 girls, overlooking the counter and deciding what to buy while the locals kept wondering what’s up as this was certainly an unusual sight! Anyhow, we didn’t really pay heed and walked back with the “stock”. It was dark by the time we reached the stay. We sat down to have our dinner and it was amusing as we gorged on home-made food instead of pizzas on a Saturday night and still didn’t mind! Whatever they cooked was absolutely scrumptious. The caretakers, one of whose name was Robby we learnt, set up a bonfire on the outside and believe me, we were floored. The full moon peeka-booed from between the foliage of coconut trees that surrounded us as we sat in a circle around the dancing flames. We said nothing, simply sat there sipping on the wine and humming to our new found love for Prateek Kuhad’s baritone. We amen-d to having more such Saturday nights.

We woke up leisurely the next morning to a game of badminton in the make-shift court on our porch. The weather was pleasant and the skies were clear. A perfect day to visit the Nagarhole National Park, famous for habitation of tigers. We left after another amazing meal of parathas and hot tea! Nagarhole was quite a distance from our stay and by the time we reached, the sun was blazing atop us. It was uncomfortable at the start but soon, we began spotting herds of deer, prancing around! It was quite a sight but upon reaching the main entrance of the Park, we were told that the last jeep into the core forest was allowed to pass just 10 minutes before we arrived. We were pretty disappointed and wondered as to why we missed out on planning this better. The forest officer was a nice guy though, asked us to check out the Irupa falls nearby. The way to Irupa falls was a 200 step climb to a hill from where the water flowed down, into a stream. The ascend was covered with foliage and as we walked uphill, we were welcomed by a fair share of cool breeze that gave us respite from the sultry weather. The waterfall was dense and the light sprinkle of cold water, felt very nice. After spending a couple of minutes, clicking pictures and looking at families enjoying themselves in the water, we walked down hill, back to our taxi.

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Night 2 at the bungalow was once again the best part of our day! We bought some more wine for ourselves and after dinner, the caretakers set up a bonfire for us. This time we danced and celebrated what we had achieved. An all girl’s trip! We probably might have been the first bevy whose all girl’s trip was not Goa! To avoid a repetition of what happened that morning, we decide to ‘plan’ the next day. Dubare Elephant Camp interested us and that’s where we proceeded to go on Day 3.

We left a little later than planned however, still managed to reach the camp whilst it was open. We noticed a long queue for the boat that was meant to ferry visitors across the river, to the camp. We were unable to decide whether to join the queue or to simply leave because the heat was scorching! Someone who noticed our predicament, advised us to cross the river on foot! Seemingly adventurous as the idea was, we decided to give it a try and oh, it was fun! Something we’d never done before. We tied our shoes to our bags, waded the waters, about knee deep and used stepping stones to go across the river. It took us nearly 30 minutes to do so. The minute we reached the Camp, we were greeted by a herd of elephants, stepping out of the river after their bath. We then went over to this ranch like thing where a huge elephant was being fed. And a baby elephant was playing just besides it. Adorable! The Camp was not very well maintained though, the grass was dry and elephants were barely interested in interacting with the visitors. Anyhow, we explored the place a bit and walked back to the banks of the river. Another crazy, fun, walk through the water, we were exhausted by the time we reached the other side. We treated ourselves to sweet coconut water and ice cream and headed to Abbey Falls, another tourist attraction of Coorg.

Abbey Falls was crowded with people and the bridge to the Falls was also broken. We could barely stand there for a while before we walked back. In case you guys are planning to visit Abbey Falls because it is one of the “highly recommended” tourist place in Coorg, don’t. It’s not worth it. It might have been probably as good as Irupa Falls at one point in time but now, it is packed with tourists and you are not allowed in the water. So…. skip!

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The last touristy place we visited was the Rajaseat. This is more like a cliff, fancied with a garden and some local eateries. The weather was slightly pleasanter due to the altitude although we had to use our shades to protect our eyes from glare. We spent about 30 minutes, simply staring into oblivion and wondering how this trip just flew by!

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The sun had started to set by the time we reached the hills and the taxi began climbing up. Our driver, who was shy at the start had begun opening up to us! He told us about a flood, that hit the town a few years ago and ruined the livelihood of many, many Coorgis. He also told us about the weather patterns that have changed since a decade. Coorg used to be very pleasant and the temperatures dropped below 10 degrees in winter and now Mumbai gets colder! Coorg has now merely remained a hill station that neighboring city folks visit. We had come very “far”

Once again, we reached our beloved AirBnb and hands down, the best part of the holiday. It was a pity we were leaving the next day and so asked Robby to cook us some Coorg special delicacies like pork fry and sambar. Once again, lip smackingly delicious food led us to settle down comfortably in front of the bonfire and a moon, now not completely full and partially hiding behind the clouds. We played a mix tape of everything we’d listened to in the past 3 days, from 90s Hindi Pop to Prateek Kuhad to English rap and Punjabi music. It was wonderful to simply lay around, petting a dog, listening to an array of musical numbers with absolutely amazing company.

We left early next morning, back to Bangalore. The road trip seemed less tiring because as they say, journey back home is never too long. We reached the airport and waved goodbye to our driver. We boarded the flight back home on Christmas Day with loads and loads of happy memories, photographs and left some love behind for Coorg to remember us 🙂

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Nostalgia

  • Long time ago, I remember, we were younger..
  • I saw you first, way back in December.
  • Your eyes gleamed, you smiled so sweet.
  • And your books on the table, piled so neat.

  • Friendship bloomed as cold winter melted,
  • There was something about us, I know, we felt it.
  • We met every evening and walked long walks,
  • We spoke for hours, oh, I loved our talks!

  • Summer rolled in and the skies changed colours,
  • We were more than friends, we were young lovers, 
  • Who shared sweet kisses and texted all night,
  • Envisaged a forever, our future in sight.

  • Everything we had, was too good to be true,
  • The months we spent together, I knew,
  • Would be etched in my heart for ever and more,
  • You were everything to me, balm to my sore.

  • But when rains came pouring with lightening and thunder,
  • Situations went bad and made me wonder
  • If all the castles, in my dreams that I had built,
  • Were nothing but painted stones and silt?

  • You were the air I breathed, I choked in my sleep,
  • I was sunk in sorrow, I was six feet deep.
  • The words we hurled, they were curt,
  • We weeped in pain, we were so hurt,
  • By all the things we did, we said,
  • Our bodies fell limp, our minds went dead.

  • We spoke no more, it was winter again,
  • Wounds had healed but scars remained.
  • Sadness so deeply wanted to be felt,
  • Nothing could change now, our cards were dealt.

  • Later one evening, my phone began to ring,
  • Saw your name on the screen, my heart began to sing!
  • I answered, you cried, I choked, I tried,
  • To speak, but in vain,
  • I was drought and you were rain.
  • On me, you showered words of love, 
  • And lifted my spirits high up above!
  • We met that night, you held me close.
  • Love that we lost was love that we chose.

  • Winter melted and summer skies changed colours,
  • We were back again, both friends and lovers.
  • Life moved on and we had a new start,
  • For a year we even lived apart,
  • But nothing did deter our will to be together,
  • This was, we were sure, meant for ever.

  • Seven years and more, I know you’re the One.
  • The shine to my stars, the light to my Sun.

 

Odyssey to the land of furry dogs, snow and everything green

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet” — William Blake

I’ve always been telling people that I’m a beach person and a trip to the mountains isn’t really how I’d define a vacation. I believed that a holiday should not include tedious treks and sweat and uncomfortable bedding. I mean, we work so hard on weekdays right? We deserve leisure, not strain and efforts while holidaying. However, last year I trekked to the highest peak in the Sahyadri and I did feel differently but wasn’t entirely convinced because of severely sprained ankles and bruises and intense body aches for the next few days.

Well, me being me and giving in to the cliched “mountains are calling” and all that jazz, I decided to give the Heights another shot. Trust me, very surprisingly, the state of Himachal changed my perception to a large extent.

My friends and I boarded a late evening flight to Delhi on 27th April. We reached our pit stop by 1am and barely napped for an hour before our driver arrived. Sweet guy with a potbelly, he seemed enthusiastic to spend 9 days with us!

The portal through which we booked our tour cab – Car Riders India

The first day was exhausting! We travelled from Delhi to Parvati Valley which was about 16 hours by car, including tea and pee breaks but oh man, as we began our ascent, the view was exhilarating! For a while we forgot how emancipated we were and enjoyed the view as we breathed in clean air.

The sun had set by the time we reached a village named Jari. Our accommodation for the night was a 750m hike deep into the valley which was one of our first adventures of the tour! It was pitch dark and we had to use torchlights to guide us. Moreover, the pathway was treacherous with sharp boulders alongside and lots of slugs simply lying around! We were barely 15 minutes into our hike when we heard footsteps nearing us. It literally freaked us out because moments before, we were talking about how the woods might be infested with wild boars and bears! My friend and I shrieked only to realise that a huge dog was trodding towards us, wagging his tail vigorously! Phew. He overtook us and kept plodding, stopping every 10 seconds to check if we were following him. Turned out, the doggie belonged to the shack owners! We were relieved to have reached the place and believe me, the sight of beds and a quilt has never felt more comforting. The temperatures dropped considerably low that night and we were glad to have made the decision to carry some extra woollens. Next morning was magical! We woke up to the gurgling of Parvati river right outside our shacks, warmed ourselves with some tea, played with the dogs, walked up 750m and headed to Kasol, a 15 minute drive from Jari.

Our stay at Parvati Valley – Parvati River Cottage

Kasol greeted us with a view of snow capped mountains and delicious breakfast.

Day 2 focused on a trek to Rashol from Kasol. We passed Chalal village, crossed a bridge across the Parvati, hiked a little more, easy right? I was loving it considering my notoriety for steep treks! Soon, the steep inclination began. I was forced to use all fours at places where the boulders were too huge to step over which marked the beginning of my whining and complaining. Somehow, I felt I was doing better than our previous treks as my pains began much later! Although at one point in time, my friends were “coerced” into taking a break for around 15 minutes because I was getting breathless. In case anyone of you suffers from sinusitis or asthama, request you to carry an inhaler during this expedition. On a positive note, the view was breathtaking! Plus there was this really cute dog, Goku, whom we befriended.

With the help of my superstar friends, I managed to gather some courage and pull through the remaining 30 minutes of the trek. The last leg was tough especially because it began pouring and the temperature dropped a few degrees. However, once we reached the top, we were welcomed with warm smiles from JaiChand (JC) and his Uncle who reside in a humble hut with their family. Once settled, we cooked ourselves some Maggi and JC prepared rajma chawal for us. It rained intermittently throughout the evening and then came the night which witnessed a party of huge, really huge spiders in our room that made me squirm in my sleep! And JC was amused to know that such tiny creatures could frighten me. Right! Nevertheless, the view from the porch was worth living with a few crawlies. Ummm.. for one night.

I started Day 3 on a good note because I pranced downhill like a deer! I was loving the jog and we reached the base in half the time we took to climb. All thanks to me! 😉 major motivation was the luxurious stay we had booked for our next stop at Sangla. Unlike Parvati Valley, Kasol and Rashol, Sangla is a lesser known town of Himachal which intrigued us. Also, the resort we had booked was no less than a 5 star hotel! Excited to reach Sangla asap, we drove for about 10 hours straight from Kasol. We voted this stretch of road, the Jalori Pass, to be the best we’ve travelled, on this trip. It was so beautiful, we could see a 180 degree view of the snow capped mountains behind dense coniferous forests! There’s an Army Cantonment near Sangla which ensured that the roads were smooth and wide. Once again, we drove downhill for about a km to reach our resort booked for two nights. It was the most magnificent stay we had!

Our stay at Sangla Valley – Banjara Camps Sangla

We had really nice dinner and slept like babies that night. Day 4 had no agenda and so we spent hours reading, playing board games and basketball and badminton, oh it was wonderful to do all of that again after ages! We also hiked down to the Baspa river which flows down the snow capped mountains and into the valley.

We were sad to leave the resort in the morning as we had very little idea about the next place we were heading to! It took us about 3 hours to reach Kalpa on Day 5 and the view from our rooms was mesmerising and nothing like what we had seen before…

Kalpa had the most amazing sight and we were floored! We spent nearly 10 minutes trying to absorb the fact that we would be waking up to this the next morning. And oh boy, it was cold. I kid you not, we switched on the heater and did not turn it off for the next two days. We had a scrumptious meal and explored the neighbourhood a bit before retiring for the night. As anticipated, our eyes opened to the glistening snow peaks and it was a wonderful morning indeed. I spent Day 6 petting puppies, collecting flowers and rocks while my friends did the same but chose to stay around the property. I met some really interesting children who were on their way home from school. I was surprised to know that they were taught English grammar and composition and knew that Mumbai has a beach. Believe me, it was surprising because no road led to their house, they literally trekked everyday to and fro from school. However infrastructure-ally deprived, I was happy to know that they had access to books and learning. They giggled amongst themselves when I told them I was collecting flowers because they found my hobby rather looney. The eldest one, very seriously, warned me against sniffing a particular leaf because it would make me drowsy. Now I was the one giggling!

Later, we drove down to Reckong Peo with a hope that it would snow (my friend and I had never seen snow before and finally when we did, we wanted to touch it too!) We ordered for Thupka and momos at one of the “poshest” restaurants in town and visited a monastery later. Once again it started pouring and that’s the coldest I’ve ever felt in my life! We were breathing out cold air into visible vapours that disappeared seconds later. We huddled together near the doors of the monastery while this little champion braved the cold winds.

The night was extremely cold, rather the coldest we’ve felt on our vacation. Once again, we were excited to check-out as we headed towards Thanedar, an apple farm located at a height much lower than Kalpa.

Our stay at Kalpa – Hotel Kinner Kailash

We realised that Day 7 was much warmer (I was kind of happy about that) as we drove downhill. We spotted many cherry trees on the way and even plucked a few luscious fruits! We reached the resort by lunch and it was a-maiz-ing! Almost as good as the one in Sangla. The room was conceptualised on the lines of a treehouse and they actually did a pretty good job with that. Our balconies overlooked apple trees and a valley beyond. Post lunch, we began exploring the property and realised they had an array of board games! We played carrom as well along with table tennis. As the sun started setting, my excitement knew no bounds because it was my birthday the next day! I was thrilled to celebrate my 25th at such a beautiful location with gazillion stars shining bright in the sky, we could even spot a few constellations! As the clock struck 12, my darling friends made me cut a birthday cake 🙂 We didn’t really spend much time awake and went to bed almost immediately. The next morning of course called for birthday photographs and left over cake.

Our stay at Thanedar – Banjara Camps Thanedar

We planned to leave after breakfast as we wanted to reach our final destination before evening. So Day 8 was my birthday and along with me-getting-sick day. I have realised that driving downhill always makes me sick and I simply cannot retain whatever I’ve last eaten. If anyone of you suffers from motion sickness, ensure that you drink a lot of lemonade and do not hog on complimentary meals like I did! And of course carry whatever medication suits you. Anyway, I felt better after throwing up and definitely much better after seeing our house at our last stop in Kasauli. All thanks to our friend who knows the owner very well, our accommodation was 1) free of cost 2) had a beautiful vintage theme to it!

We spent the evening eating hot Maggi and once again, playing with puppies! And of course, having a real party that evening with clicking pictures, amazing food and the best company 🙂 sadly, we had only a couple of hours in that beautiful cottage because next morning, it was time to say goodbye to Himachal. Day 9 – We headed back to Delhi which is a six hour drive from Kasauli and boarded our flight in the evening, back home, back to reality.

A little first timer gyaan:

1. We couldn’t ‘touch’ snow so I suggest you can probably take a trip in the first week of April but this might hamper your smooth road travel due to snow-clogged passes. However, you can go on a 3 hour glacier trek ahead of Sangla.

2. Please do not forget to wear sunscreen to avoid sun-burning your nose like I did! My nose is black in my birthday photos 😐

3. Stay hydrated and apply lots of moisturiser and cream on your skin and lips because the weather is extremely dry up there. Mumbaikars make special note, we do not know what ‘dry’ weather means #chapsticktime

4. Do not underestimate the cold even in May which thankfully we didn’t and carried sufficient warm clothes

5. Already mentioned spiders and motion sickness and breathlessness (wow I just realised that all of these were MY issues; my friends are rockstars 🙄)

Overall, it was the BEST trip I’ve had till date! Not that I’ve had many to be honest but this was one of the longest vacations I’ve been on (hence the longest post I’ve written) and definitely an awesome one! Photographs cannot do justice to the feast our eyes had. A big, huge, shout out to my amazing, most wonderful friends who put up with my whining, hunger pangs, sickness and birthday photoshoots! Let’s do this more often ❤️

“Thousands of nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out, going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity” — John Muir

Handsome is what handsome does

Everyone grows up with their mums telling them how beautiful they are. “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” they say and it’s true. Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically is the definition of beautiful. So mums always find us beautiful because we are their babies and no one finds their baby ugly now, do they? Well, I find this concept weird. I believe in the existence of not-so-pretty people and pleasing-to-the-eye faces. Faces with symmetry are soothing to look at and faces with no congruence are termed as unattractive in appearance. In fact, species with “better looking features” are definitely more attractive because of the possibility of having a beautiful offspring. Science. Although the way this concept of “beauty” has taken shape in today’s world is not at all happy.

I knew a friend of my mom’s who always told her daughter how beautiful she was and how angelic she looked. She dressed her up like a doll for parties and never stopped showering her with compliments about her pretty eyes and silken hair. Her daughter grew up assuming that she is undoubtedly an attractive girl and way out of any boy’s league. However, losing out on a top-spot at a beauty pageant and getting cheated on by her high school boyfriend surely made her question her mother’s words. This made me aware of the fact that yes, there are definitely better looking people than me in this world… and our society ensures that me, we see it. We know it. We believe that we are ugly.  Oh being beautiful is so important! And once again, reiterating my statement, yes there are pretty people and not-so-pretty people. These categories do exist. You know why? Right from the beginning, girls are made to play with pretty Barbie dolls with long legs… and if we are born ugly, we don’t get to date football captains and Miss Popular in college, we don’t get to participate in Femina Miss India contests, we are victimized buyers of fairness creams and hide behind umbrellas in the sun. Hence, being beautiful is definitely important because if you are pretty, you surely have better chances to be on TV! Mind you, you need not be a good actor but you’ve sure as hell, got to be good looking!

When will we grow over the fact that being BEAUTIFUL is just so superficial…. when will we understand that being HELPFUL or NICE or GENEROUS or COMPASSIONATE is the real thing. Why can’t cameras come with  features that make us look “helpful” instead of “fair” and “caring” instead of “thin”? I think the adjective “beautiful” should be banned from being used for physical appearances. Banned, stopped, prohibited, penalized. I know that many would read this and wonder how sensitive one can get or just “get over yourself and the fact that you aren’t beautiful” but no, I want to personally, as well, stop using this world to describe someone. I want to talk about how nice someone is or how she helped an old woman cross the street or how he took an injured puppy to the vet. I want people to comment on how good I am as a person by earning that spot. I wish there were awards for “good people” rather than “good-LOOKING people”. Yes there are gorgeous, head turners and jaw droppers but there are beautiful-at-heart people too. The former, you are born with, the latter you can be. You can be handsome by doing handsome. It’s a choice.

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Lust to wander

I was recently reading this article which spoke about how travelling makes you fiercely independent and broadens your wisdom horizons about various cultures. Definitely I agree with the statement especially the latter part – it does teach you so much more about people, who share our sun yet are so different in terms of what they do for a living, their societal norms and even their eating habits!

Puducherry is a place which I have always wanted to visit yet never got a chance to in the past because you know, Goa came my way, a trek cropped up next and then a regular family vacation to another country which only dad could make it happen at this point of time in my life. Anyway, ensuring that Pondy lies in my coordinates this year, we scheduled our flights, hired cabs and booked an accommodation for four days. On arrival in Chennai, we figured that our Airbnb is booked on the outskirts of Pondicherry in a town named Auroville which also happens to be in the state of Tamil Nadu and is not a part of the Union Territory. As the cab driver took a detour, we noticed that the two places were not close to each other and the beach was at a distance too. Disappointment begun creeping into my heart but stopped when I started focusing on how beautiful the town of Auroville was! Lush green, tiny cottages, girls riding bikes (yes, motorcycles) to school, small ice cream parlors and bakeries but what caught my attention and made me the happiest was seeing that all street dogs wore collars which suggested that they were being taken care of by someone, rather everybody in the town! We reached our Airbnb which trust me, was the best part of our four day vacation. Wonderfully maintained property by a couple who live with two Dalmatians and work on the farm – it was certainly a delight to be hosted by them.

We headed to the center, rented bikes, roamed the town, visited the beach which is in Pondicherry, did all the regular touristy stuff that vacationers would do but we decided to stay in Auroville for most of our time because the place fascinated us much much more than Pondy. Unfortunately, the next day, it began pouring and we spent all morning on the farm. Mind you, all morning doesn’t seem to be a long time here but on the East Coast, the sun rises at 5:30am! Thankfully our hosts were amazing people and offered to drop us in their car to Pondicherry. We accepted the gesture and found ourselves in the city again. Well I am not against the place but Auroville enchanted me. However, the cafes in Pondy are worth a visit because they serve only local produce and one such is Cafe Des Arts which is also a garment store with a pitbull lazily sprawled on one of their couches. Constantly! Food was delicious and we also made friends with a nice, Irish couple who were equally distraught by the rains.

We visited another beach (I am not really sure if it’s ‘another’ or the continuation of the one we visited the previous day!) which is the iconic Pondicherry tourist spot. Not entirely clean although definitely tidier than Chowpatty and the weather made it even better.

We were happy to be where we were but happier to be going back. We spent the evening in a cafe in Auroville which served beautiful pan seared fish and chips. Also, since Auroville is an alcohol-free area, we had to go back to Pondicherry to buy liquor!

The next day was bright and sunny and the best day of our trip because we did not go beyond the limits of Auroville. The Library was what fascinated me the most… hallowed halls, unlimited servings of coffee and tea, 10,000+ books under numerous genres, it was wonderland! Serene and peaceful, one could get lost in here. We then went to Matrimandir which was yet again a mesmerizing walk, though we couldn’t go inside because we were unaware of the system wherein passes have to be procured a day prior to the visit. We checked out the Information Center, yet another lovely place with lots of stuff to read, about the residents of Auroville, meditation, The Mother, Aurobindo Ghosh and the purpose behind creating such a community where people from 65 countries live together harmoniously by developing the town, constructing their own houses, farming produce, basically maintaining a self sufficient lifestyle; is that no one owns anything, no one can proclaim any property, any farm, any asset to be their own. That is why even the dogs belong to everyone and not one person! Auroville is a true example of a Utopian Vision yet real. The funniest part was when residents would ride alongside us and suddenly turn right or left in to thin side lanes and disappear among the foliage and inside the woods! Auroville is built like that… it welcomes tourists but ensures that the residents are not caused any discomfort, hence their living quarters are in the interiors and secluded.

Our trip ended with a beautiful journey back to Chennai and lots and lots of memories! Do visit this place keeping in mind certain things – Auroville might not have internet connection all the time, it varies, also, ensure that you travel back to your accommodation before sunset because it gets pretty lonely after dark, especially near Edayanchavadi village where we stayed. We had to deal with a scary (now, funny) incident where we walked for about a kilometer in pitch darkness, not knowing if we were on the right path and hoping that a python doesn’t choke us to death! Most importantly, try avoiding your visit during monsoon but if you do get caught up in torrential rains like we did, rent a stable bike and not a scooty.

Conclusively, I LOVED our stay, all thanks to our awesome hosts, our decision to stay in Auroville, not Pondicherry and my amazing, absolutely crazy travel buddy!

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Power Of Influence

Influence is reflecting your thoughts, opinions and ideas onto another person or people. I realized that influence is a very powerful thing; so mighty that it can make or break us.

We are all social beings that constantly get influenced by societal norms; desire of acceptance makes us pick up idiosyncrasies of individuals who are loved by everyone around. We want to be like them, post photographs on social media like them, eat what they eat, dress how they dress, vacation where they holiday, simply do what they do, because they are verified by the society and the society has wholly accepted them, so hey, we would surely be welcomed too! These individuals can be celebrities or just regular people like us whom we have taken sudden liking for just because of positive perception of them by others.

This is exactly how media giants make money. They get celebs to try out some of their new features and make their videos go viral which is followed by thousands of youngsters imitating them. Although this is the most harmless form of influence, think about what is happening in the world right now. Innocents are dying by hundreds every week because a handful of people were extremely influential and succeeded in convincing a handful more with their Utopian vision.

Think about it. While you are getting influenced by someone, someone looks up to you as well! You never know what habit of yours would get picked up by someone. A colleague might want to address meetings like you do for which you receive applauds, your sister might want to tie her hair in a bun because you look cute that way, a friend might want to start using a word which you frequently do, which she thinks makes you sound assertive or an Instagram follower might want to hashtag his post ‘wanderlust’  because when you do, you receive a hundred likes on your travel pictures.

Hence, it is very important to be the best of you at all times! I understand how hard that can be and the kind of pressure it would put on you, but when you realize that there is someone who idolizes you, ensure that he or she picks up the best of you! You don’t want your kid to get influenced by your constant drinking, you’d rather prefer him being proud of you, volunteering at the animal shelter every weekend. Everyone has good and bad habits, although it is essential to celebrate only the good ones so that people around you know which ones to choose and which ones to filter.

We have the power to influence individuals around us, knowingly or unknowingly, we all do at some point of time in our lives! Make sure you create an individual with the best of your qualities! Scott Adams has quoted and I couldn’t agree more, “you don’t have to be a person of influence to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me!”

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The least appreciated talent.

Every one has a talent, they say. Latent or showcased. Either you are a good singer, a graceful dancer, an excellent chef, a celebrated stand up comedian, an amazing artist, an undefeated athlete, a creative writer and poet, so on and so forth. Oh and if you manage to kill it with your grades, you are a prodigy! But what if you are an average student? What if you just, simply, are a talent less freak? What if you are nominated for a talent show and are absolutely clueless about what to do and how to hide your face from the cheering crowd because you are everything but special?

To those who feel this way, I am with you. Life is a competition, undoubtedly but we never try to make others and ourselves feel otherwise. At least once a year, ‘talent less’ people like us are made to feel insignificant. School Annual Day auditions for who gets to stand in the front row. College parties for who gets to be crowned “Mr and Miss Fresher”. Farewell functions, valedictorian speeches and Roll of Honors. “Student of the Year”, which by the way was uncanniest movie made in 2012. No, I am not saying you can’t pursue your hobby. Hobby is an interest. Talent is a forte.

The annual day fashion showstopper could be the meanest girl in college. Mr. Fresher might be an assailant. The class topper perhaps lets his pets sleep hungry. Of course, they would never get reprimanded for this in public but are showered with respect! Why cannot we have, say, “Nicest Student of the Year” Award? Or maybe, “Most Helpful Senior” Award?

You know why we should? Because being nice and helpful and kind and generous is a talent. It is incredibly difficult to portray and harder to keep up and that is why, such rarities must be celebrated and appreciated and valued. Be passionate about spreading compassion. Throw love around like confetti. Be generous with kindness. So what if these are least appreciated talents? Practice; today, tomorrow and every day 🙂

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The start of something new

With 2017 just round the corner, I am sure there are a lot of anticipated changes in everyone’s lives. A new job, a new semester, a new place, a new house, everything new is very exciting! So when there’s a start to something new, something ends as well and that’s where the problem lies.

All of us are so scared of a new start but it is only because we grieve for what’s about to end. “I am getting married to the love of my life! But oh, I’ll miss spinster-hood…” “New job, yay! Hope my boss is as good as the last one.” “I broke up for the best but I don’t wanna die alone!” Anxiety is pretty normal when something ends, hoping that the next phase, if not better, is similar to what has ended. As Mike Shinoda appropriately raps, “the hardest part of ending is starting again”

But you know what, it’s okay! Soak it in! Oh, something bad ended? Perfect! Good is on it’s way! So what if something good ended?! Better is on it’s way! The best thing that has ever happened to you is over?! Maybe it wasn’t the best, yet! It is the last month of 2016! Start what you couldn’t in the last 11 months, don’t wait for 2017! Welcome the New Year with an already New You! December can also be the Start of Something New! 🙂33822-quotes-on-new-beginnings