The Sailing Bee

Hello people,

My travelzandstories has now moved to ‘the-sailing-bee.com‘.  The aim is to reach much wider audience and give a better experience to readers. Don’t forget to subscribe !

Read my recent article on –  The Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya.  Would love to hear your thoughts on it.

 

P.S. The site is fairly new, some links may not work. I am still working on it :)

Mawlynnong, a perfect village for your retirement

It is true India is not one of the cleanest countries in the world. Leave cities, its villages are equally filthy. But what if I introduce you to a village where you’d be surprised to see no garbage! Yes, no garbage at all.

Mawlynnong, a small village located in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya is about 80 kms from Cherrapunje. The village is home to 90 families with total population of around 400. Having credited as the ‘cleanest village’ of Asia, Mawlynnong was on my list for long when I first heard about it. It was hard for me to believe the existence of such place in India. But it does exist.

The drive to this place is not only picturesque but quite an adventure since the road to it is blanketed by fog all throughout the year that makes tad difficult to drive. I always have a picture in my mind before visiting a place, however this village broke all notions. To reach to the interiors of the village we had to cut through the dense grassland. Since, it was pleasant weather I rolled down my window to feel the fresh breeze of the hills, and I could hear the loud buzzing of crickets.

It was pitch dark everywhere.

I asked our driver if it is always like this or is there a burnout? He replied that village has no streetlights. I was not surprised though.

As we were proceeding towards the village, we encountered men sitting on the road and drinking. Seeing me a bit puzzled, the driver told that it is normal here since there is no source of entertainment; people sit on the road and have ‘fun’.

Suddenly, the car stopped. I asked the driver why did he stop, we want to go to the village soon. He said, “this is it, this is the Mawlynnong village.” I was surprised because first, it was dark and second, it was dead, I could see nobody there. I checked my watch to see if we were late, but to my surprise it was just 7p.m.!!

This is how it looked in the morning

IMAG1883

Photo Credits: TravelsandStories

We approached to our guesthouse that we had booked; the owner of the place was called Henry. Apparently, in Meghalaya, Christianity is predominant and almost all speak basic English! That was a breather. So, Henry showed us our bamboo hut that I was super excited to see. And it didn’t disappoint me a bit. The hut was a quaint cottage with two twin bedrooms, a common bathroom and dining area. Still basic but looked luxury in this small village.

Photo Credits: TravelsandStories

Henry told us that it is good if we leave to see the Riwai living root bridge early in the morning to beat any crowd what so ever.

Since it was too dark, I couldn’t have a first sight opinion of the village. And now, I anxiously waited for the morning. We all retired early after a long day.

The morning was even more beautiful than expected. A dewy morning with drizzle and I was awestruck by the greenery there. It was 6 a.m. and still did not see any village people.

Street of the village

Photo Credits: TravelsandStories

Riwai Living Root Bridge is located in Riwai Village, which is just a kilometer away from Mawlynnong. The bridge is another tale altogether and needs another post to be told.

On our way back to the cottage I finally saw local women cleaning the roads (which were already cleaned) and for the first time I noticed the cute bamboo triangular bins hung all around the village. These ubiquitous bins are the proofs of efforts taken by the locales to keep this place in tranquility with nature.

Photo Credits:TravelsandStories

I am sure you’d be mesmerize by the simplicity of the village to the extent that you might just start plan to spend your after retirement years there. Mawlynnong is an inspiration model to all the villages of India. It is so good to see when people respect nature and live in harmony with it. We have all read in schools about the importance of eco-balance but as we grow this knowledge holds little relevance. I was reintroduce to the concept again in this village and I could clearly make out how happy people there were. I just hope the credits of this village spread worldwide and inspire people to respect and preserve the nature. And believe me we don’t have a slightest idea how much a happy eco-system can give us back.

When to go:

Though it is still rainy season in August but it is the best time to see this beautiful village.

Where to stay:

If you are somebody who can’t leave his or her comfort zone, this place is not for you. There are no proper hotels here. There are only few bamboo huts owned by villagers, which are not advertised on Internet. Contact Henry (09615043027) or Carol (09436104844) for booking a bamboo hut.

Things to know:

  • Since these bamboo huts are like homestays so only option to eat here is with the family. The food is basic but delicious and big portions.
  • If you are a bit finicky about blankets, you can take your own since here the bedding would have a little damp stench. But you can’t complain.
  • Check out the Tree House near the Bamboo Hut
  • Since the village is all green, carry insect repellant.
  • Carry rainproof cloths and footwear.
  • Beware of leeches.

For more pics visit my flickr page : https://www.flickr.com/photos/travelzandstories/sets/72157646359037979/

 

A Walk through Galle district

Galle district lies in the southern most part of Sri Lanka. The district is often visited to experience the Dutch architecture and blue-green rimless coastline. Have your espresso on a breezy evening in those colonial style cafes in the Dutch Fort. I found the Dutch Fort as one of the best places to shop souvenirs, try Mansions for gift packs of flavored tea.  If nothing, just walk on those cobbled streets and enjoy the lazy life of Sri Lanka.

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Unawatuna 

Lazy beach town. Yes, that’s the word for this place. Lined by fine white sand and crystal blue water, you’d be tempted to take a dip in first sight (though I like Nilaveli beach in Trincomalee more).  Stay at Dunes Unawatuna, a place run by a tourist friendly couple. Decored like a jungle, this place in itself is an attraction. Try one of those beach side eateries that offers best Sri Lankan seafood cuisines. Hang around in those evening cool pubs. Try Koh Surf Lounge. End it with a relaxing Ayurvedic massage. The rates of Ayurvedic massage are competitive and you can really try bargaining hard here. I paid just 1,700 SLR as compared to 2,500 SLR  :)

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery

Enroute to Bentota, visit this unique turtle conservation project. You’d be moved.

Turtle Eggs, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

We are twins, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Albino Turtle, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Also Read:

Why Trincomalee worth a visit?

Ella, Sri Lanka

Ella, Sri Lanka

Are you a tea lover? If you are, Ella will certainly enchant you.  As its name, Ella is just like a virgin maiden. Lying in the Uva Province of Sri Lanka, Ella offers serene countryside, misty hills and tea plantations in abundance. Falling in the hill country, the journey to Ella, irrespective of your mode of transport, is stupendous.

sri lanka map

Photo Credits: sunnyside.go2lk

Unlike Colombo, Ella is less crowded, a lot cooler and more Sinahli.  There may be not too much to do in Ella but it will still entrap you in its natural serenity that will make you extend your stay.

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Here’s my list of few to-do things while in Ella.

Homestays

There couldn’t be any other place in Sri Lanka to experience the best homestay with a Sri Lankan family.  Ella has less hotels and more options for homestays.  The locals of this town have opened their homes for tourists.  One such place where I chose to stay is Waterfall Views. As the name suggests, you stay with a splendid view of the waterfalls amidst those dense green forests. I believe a good stay is complemented by good food. And Waterfall View has plenty of it.  Do you long for solitude in your travels, when you can talk to yourself and get into deep thinking, then this is the place for you. Don’t regret not doing this.

Misty View from room, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Waterfall View Room, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

My Sri Lankan Dinner, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

For my tripadvisor review on Waterfall Views visit here.

For booking your stay with Waterfall Views visit here

Visiting a Tea Estate

Sri Lanka is the world’s largest producer of tea in the world. With tea growing everywhere around you, you ought to visit on of those estates that produces the finest tea. There are many reputed tea companies in and around Ella. I chose to visit the Halpewatte Tea Factory, which is one of the largest factories in this region. You’ll enter with the view of arrayed tea plantations while Sri Lankan females picking tea leaves. You can also take a tour of the tea factory and get to see the processes that involves in the making of the final product of tea.

The cost of the tour is about 200 SLR. If you don’t want to take the tour you can just do a tea tasting for free and can also buy some.

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Mythology

Not just a tea town, Ella in fact deeply connects with the Indian mythology. If you have read a Hindu epic – Ramayana, according to which a fierce demon Ravana abducts Sita from India, wife of Lord Rama and takes her to his kingdom in Lanka. It is believed that he hid her in the caves of Ella, as the jungles were there so dense, that it was rather impossible to locate Sita.

As a Hindu, one of my inquisitive reasons to visit Ella was to convince the mythological side of mine. And I must say this place didn’t disappoint me a bit, it is still very dense and even today it would be impossible to scout through these forests. The most famous cave as they say where Ravana actually hid Sita is called Ravana Cave. It is on a height and you need to climb steps to reach to see the cave.  From the top, the views of Ella are pretty awesome.

Views from the Ravana Cave, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

An interesting thing that happened to me at this place was when I started the climb there was neither any ticket counter nearby, nor any information about the tickets for Ravana Cave. When I climbed down suddenly an old man appeared with a ticket book in his hand asking me 150 SLR for taking the climb. There is no doubt that it was fake because I, nowhere read about its entry costs. However, after so much of altercation we gave money for only one person rather than two. It left me with slight bitter experience.

There are Ravana Waterfalls a short distance away from this cave. You can enjoy bathing in it too.

Ravana Waterfalls, Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Trekking

Ella offers several paths along natural trails.  The famous ones are Adam’s Peak and Ella’s Stone. The difficulty level is from medium to tough. I was told that the walk to both the places is strenuous, I decided not to go since I wanted to relax and have a lazy time in my home stay. I also have heard that the sunrise and sunset views from these points are breathtaking.

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Walking around

Even just walking around the town area of Ella is quite an experience. You can try one of those places offering Sri Lankan delicacies or more continental cafes. You can also take an ayurvedic massage or have coconut water for 50 SLR.

Don’t forget to carry your umbrella; it rains quite often here.

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Things to take care in Ella

  • Sri Lanka follows a tipping culture. Don’t forget to tip at your home stays for their good service.
  • Carry an umbrella since it can rain anytime.
  • Since Ella is predominantly a plantation area, wear long pants or boots to avoid the leeches in rains.

 

Related Posts

Why Trincomalee worth a visit?

A Walk through Galle district

Hunder, Ladakh

IMG_0341Photo Credits: A. Mittal

As mesmerizing this picture is, so is the story behind it. I always take joy in telling my enthralling experience on the highest motorable road in the world – Khardung La Pass in Ladakh.  The Khardung La Pass is located 40km away from Leh town, Every rider who loves challenges thrown by nature would find this road perfect for satisfying his adrenaline rush. The road is located at an elevation of 18, 380 ft.  At any given month of the year, you can find the snow mountains encompassing Khardung La.  It is really a nature’s miracle that people use this snow-covered road to reach Hunder, a village amidst  the cold desert of Nubra Valley. Well, my trajectory was no different. Hunder is located 130 kms away from the Khardung La Pass and it is advisable to reach there early in day time since the weather can be really nasty at the Khardung La in the evenings. The other reason that should tempt  you to go to Hunder is riding on a double humped camel.

ladakh-map Photo Credits: flycatcheradventures

We were also set to experience this sudden transition from snow-capped mountains to riding a camel in sand dunes.  As my family and I were proceeding towards Khardung La, our driver-cum-guide informed that many years ago this road was a trade road between India and China.  Ladakh is a very difficult terrain to drive plus you can’t use your private vehicle for excursions for security reasons, hence it is a mandate to hire a local taxi.

We were very much aware of Ladakh’s unpredictable rains, but what we didn’t know was, since it was at very high altitude, it can snow even in summers. In minutes, the whole road was covered with ice not even snow making it whole slippery and difficult to drive on.  As we reached at the check post to begin our memorable ride, we noticed our taxi was slipping towards the abyss. We were aghast for a second. My mother clutched my hand, though for me the whole situation was no less than an adventure. Our driver, however, took control and reversed the car, but every time he tried driving forward, the vehicle would go slanting. Our driver then stopped the car, took out iron chains from the trunk and rolled it around all 4 wheels and tried steering it again. To our driver’s surprise it still didn’t work and this time one wheel of our car went outside the road. My mom screamed with it and started cursing me as usual for jeopardizing all of our lives at that moment.

IMG_0342Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Our driver suggested we start walking down the road while he’d fix the car issue and meet us in the way, to which we all agreed, at least it was better than falling into that gorge. We walked. It was still snowing and the road sill slippery. I was leading the troupe making footsteps for my family to walk. 1 hour passed, we were still walking in a snowstorm on the deserted road, without any shelter in sight. Though some military trucks passed by but didn’t stop because if they did, the vehicle would lose its friction on the road.

I believe that was the best walk of my life stuck in nature, with spectacular landscape all around me, I had a moment of epiphany. Suddenly, this urge of connecting with God ushered in and thought maybe this is the way God wants me to his best creations. It still remains the best experience of my life.

IMG_0370Photo Credits: A. Mittal

My brother kept looking for our driver, but there was no sign of him. It was thundering, foggy and the chills in the air were making all of us nauseating. I was shaking with cold with the fatigue of walking for so long but didn’t show it to my family. Finally, my mom saw a shack that looked like a military bunker. We started moving towards it. Soon we realized it wasn’t near as we thought we still had to walk a lot, a lot I mean. But we didn’t want to die frosting in that snow, so we paced up. It took us another hour to reach to that shade and found it was abandoned and had nothing inside. At that point of time, even roof looked like a blessing. Mostly, my parent would freak out in a situation like this, surprisingly they were quite calm and were enjoying this adventure in their elderly age. We spent at least 30 minutes there, catching back our breaths and stabilizing our swiveling heads. Outside, the snowstorm stopped and everything looked calm. As we decided to head on, saw our driver speeding towards us. That moment was precious for my mom at least. He started explaining his delay but we were just too happy to see him there.  Well, we almost walked through the whole of the Khardung La road and were now descending.

IMG_0371Photo Credits: A. Mittal

I was marvelling in a sense that within 10 kms the whole scenery around me drastically changed from snow to sand, from white to brown, even the texture of the mountains changed. We were in Nubra Valley that homes the cold desert of Ladakh. Our driver took us to Hunder which was just 45 kms away from the Pakistan border. Hunder contrastively was greener with sand dunes and double-humped camel. I know a very odd combination, but it is totally worth it.

IMG_0374Photo Credits: A. Mittal

IMG_0388Photo Credits: A. Mittal

IMG_0380Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Ladakh is truly a wonder of nature. I am still waiting for the time when I can again visit Ladakh and this time going even more remote and feel blessed again in the lap of nature.

About Ladakh

Ladakh lies in the Jammu and Kashmir state of India. Still remote, place is now often visited by nature loving tourists. The capital of Ladakh is Leh town, a buzzing Buddhist town.

How to get there?

To reach Leh you can fly directly from New Delhi. Though drive to Leh is cumbersome, but is worth all the pains. New Delhi to Leh is about 1,300 km and can take about 4 days. It is an experience of life, you won’t regret it. You can either take Kashmir route or Manali route. Both are amazingly scenic. Leh to Nubra Valley can be reached by any hired taxi.

IMG_0657Photo Credits: A. Mittal

When to go there?

Summers are the best. While the Manali route gets cleared of snow only in June, Srinagar route gets open in the end of April. For more details on the routes, you can visit the government tourist site with Leh here.

 

Why Trincomalee worth a visit?

What do you expect from a country that was gripped in a civil war for over half a century?

Since independence (i.e.1948), Sri Lanka had faced sporadic conflicts between Sinhali and Tamil speaking population. In 1980s, the country witnessed serious insurgency by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a focused group that demanded a separate state for Tamil speaking population. It was only in 2009 when Sri Lankan army crusaded LTTE and had put an end to the long saga of retaliation. Like any war, it was reported that in order to achieve peace a lot of civilians lost their lives and means of living.

After reading so much about the uprising and debacle of Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, I was more than intrigued to visit the country to see by myself the current state of the country. However, all my assumptions were washed away as soon as I saw the tarred roads and lush green bounty all around me. Oh! Did I mention it was difficult to spot a garbage bin there? But still the nooks and corner of the streets were devoid of filth.

IMAG1425Photo Credits: A. Mittal

I was still not contend and wanted to see the ‘real Sri Lanka’ and with that I mean I wanted to visit a Tamil town that I thought would portray a clear picture of the country and will give me an opportunity to condemn the merciless killings of Tamil civilians during the combat between Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tigers. Due to time constraints I couldn’t make it to Jaffna, used to be the hub of LTTE operations, and so I chose Trincomalee (“Trinco”).

Located in the east of the island and falls to the south of Jaffna, Trinco is primarily a Tamil-speaking town. My first take on Trinco was that it didn’t look dilapidated as I thought. It was very much a buzzing town with an array of fishing harbors and breathtaking sunset. I did see naval forces around the Trincomalee dockyard, which I came to know, is because the town serves as the major naval base to Sri Lankan Navy.

CapturePhoto Credits: ExotichoildaysInternational [Edited by: A. Mittal]

Slightly hotter than rest of the island, Trinco provides a great location to backpackers due to its non-touristy beaches and inexpensive water sports.

Trincomalee Guide

What should bring you to Trinco?

Beaches. Nowhere in Sri Lanka will you find pristine beaches like Nilaveli and Uppuveli.  Nilaveli being more calm draws more tourist than Uppuveli. Stay beach side for the best experience.

DSCN0322
Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Where to stay

Since Trinco opened for tourists only after end of the war, the place offers only fewer options of decent accommodation around Nilaveli. Though quite pricey by Sri Lankan standards, I stayed at Sea Lotus Park Hotel that was located right on the Nilaveli beach. If you are looking for an offbeat stay try Backpacker’s Cave next to Sea Lotus Park Hotel which is literally just a bed and costs no more than 500 SLR. Other good resort in the town is Pigeon Island Beach Resort.

Backpacker’s Cave 

IMAG1440

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Where to eat

People say being a vegetarian and backpacker is not very good combination, at least not economical. After quite a struggle, I found Annapoorani Vegetarian Restaurant on the dockyard road that serves a delicious vegetarian meal at very cheap prices. The place is run by Tamil females and offers local Sri Lankan/Tamilian food. It was difficult to communicate with them since they didn’t know a word of English. However, I was quite impressed with the efficiency of females managing the place. I ate there thrice and every time I saw a bevy of customers. It was by far the cheapest place I ate in my whole trip to Sri Lanka. There was no menu but display of 2-3 curries, stringhoppers, the famous kottu, roti, stuffed roti, Dosai etc. Try this, you won’t regret. Mind it, Sri Lankan food is very spicy.

ImagePhoto Credits: A. Mittal

What to do in Trinco

Whale watching

Since Mirissa down south is famous for whale watching, not many people know that Trinco in fact is also a good place to spot whales and at much cheaper price than Mirissa. I paid just 2,500 SLR as compared to 6,500 SLR that I would have paid in Mirissa. And I spotted 3 gigantic sperm whales.

The best time to take the tour is early morning, by 6 am. It can take about 3-4 hours depending on your chances to spot a whale.

ImagePhoto Credits: A. Mittal

Snorkel with sharks

If you are somebody who is not afraid of exploring sea life, then Pigeon Island National Park is just a place for you. Located just 15-20 mins away from Nilaveli beach, Pigeon Island National Park offers Coral Sea life and is a nest to blacktip reef shark. It is said to be a good place to swim with sharks and sea turtles.

Koneshwaram Temple

Being a Tamil town, Trinco homes the famous Hindu temple of Lord Shiva known as Koneshwaram temple. The temple is located uphill the Dutch fort – Fort Frederick.  Behind the temple is the peak that overlooks the Gokarna Bay and Indian Ocean.

According to Mythology, when Lord Shiva was mourning the death of his wife and carried her body all the way. It is believed that a piece of her body fell on this place and it is so considered holy.  I learnt that there are other temples like this in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in context of  this story.

ImagePhoto Credits: A. Mittal

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Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Walk by the bays

As the sun starts setting, the gushing cool breeze not only gives respite from the heat but also provides good opportunity for an evening walk by the bays. Trinco has 3 famous bays – Back Bay, Dutch Bay and the Inner Harbor.  You can also go for evening coffee to the colonial style Dutch Bank Cafe on Inner Harbor Road.

DSCN0294

Photo Credits: A. Mittal

To all those who are planning to visit Sri Lanka, Trinco definitely deserves 1-2 days space in your itinerary.

I am sure there would be lot many things to do in Trincomalee which I missed out. It would be nice if you can add more about Trinco.

Also Read:

Ella, Sri Lanka

A Walk through Galle district

Beyond the Veil: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a destination where none of us would travel for leisure. May be because it is perceived as the country with strict principles and imposed policies. To many of us, the country reminds only of oil wells, dates and filthy rich sheikhs with their 4-5 wives in Burqa but there is so much beyond that. Jeddah, the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia lies on the coast of Red Sea in Asia. The place is famous more so because it is the gateway for Muslim pilgrims to their holy place – Mecca and Medina.

My visit to Jeddah was to meet some business purpose, but I couldn’t resist myself from exploring the city’s culture beyond its deemed conservative and fundamentalist nature. It was a quick ride from King Abdulaziz International Airport to my Hotel Red Sea Palace, all thanks to the city’s broad smooth roads. The swanky cars on the roads could not to be missed!!

The city very much reflects as an Islamic country due to its architecture, the tall minarets around the tomb shaped mosques give it a very typical middle eastern facet.

IMG-20111209-00093    IMG-20111209-00064

I was famished after my long flight and left my hotel to discover the city’s local dishes. You can’t miss the refreshing fruit juices that are available at every nook and corner. People love chicken here and you can relish it in the forms of Chicken Biryani and Fried Chicken.

I was stuffed and was set to explore further. Next, I made my way to Al-Balad district which is the shopping paradise. Now, don’t think cheap shopping is available only in the Southeast Asia. You can find anything from branded perfumes to cheap watches and from electrical devices to apparels. The most interesting part is the Souq area which can be accessed through a restored gateway right of the Queens Building.

Al-Bahad

Next on my list was King’s Fountain, a 853 foot fountain that is reputed to be the tallest fountain in the world and looks splendid when illuminated at night.

Other point of interests include Jeddah Aquarium and Al Tayebat International City but unfortunately I missed as I was engaged in work. Being a Muslim I was under obligation to visit the beautiful city of Mecca and Medina. Mind you no other religion is allowed inside these twin cities, that makes it pretty much a Forbidden Cities.

Mecca – The Forbidden City

The holy city of Mecca has its own airport but Jeddah is only 85 Km and only takes 1 hour by car.  Mecca the birthplace of Muhammad and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj and is statutory for all physically able Muslims. Kaaba is described as Islam’s holiest site. Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world’s third tallest building and the building with the largest amount of floor area. A friend told me that as the expansion of the Kabba is taking place the Saudi authorities will demolish the Mecca Royal Clock tower and build more floor with wider area of Kabba which shall accommodate more Muslims for the Hajj period. The expansion plans are taken care by the famous Bin Ladin group which is owned and managed by the famous Osama Bin Ladin’s family. 15 million Muslims visit Mecca annually, including several million during the few days of the Hajj.

IMG-20111202-00028

   The clock towerclocktower

Kabba

kabba

Medina

The holy city of Medina is only 400 km away from Jeddah and only takes 3.5 hour by car. The burial place of the Prophet Muhammad and is known it is the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca. It is the home to the three oldest mosques in Islam which were built in the days of Muhammad. The fascinating thing there was the gigantic umbrellas which are automatic and folds in the night time and opens in the day time.

Mecca  IMG-20111209-00075  IMG-20111209-00077

I am glad to take out some time from my busy schedule and explore these places.  Mecca and Medina made my visit complete and totally worth it.

Note: It’s a good idea to hire a car in the city. If you are not Muslim, you will not be allowed to enter the city of Mecca or Medina.

Author’s Bio

IMAG0516_Fotor

Juned Sheikh can be best described as an ‘Explorer’. He keeps penchant for writing and believes it to be a necessity for rejuvenating the soul. Follow him @ juned11blog.wordpress.com.

Chronicle enroute Budapest

Ripped, mugged, robbed any such adjective could very well taint your holiday.  Regardless of your gender, one bitter experience during your trip leaves you with a firm notion about the country and its people. Though a bitter incident is must for a traveler like me who sees goodness in everything without a dash of skepticism in mind. These incidents not only teaches you but makes you strong and cautious for your further travels.

It was in October 2012 when I debuted my first solo trip to Eastern-Central Europe. Clustered with mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety I began my journey. My route was Prague-Krakow-Budapest-Vienna-Munich. It still excites me to think how I covered my journey. Thanks to social networking platforms such as couch surfing getting connected to other travelers and like -minded locales was quite a piece of cake. It wasn’t the first time that I was traveling alone far away from home but I still had inhibitions. To my surprise the journey started with awesome people in Prague and Krakow who really made my trip worth it. The gala time I had with them further strengthened my belief in goodness of the world. With the same faith I proceeded to my next destination – Budapest, I was brimming with excitement to experience this hippie city. I boarded the night train from Krakow to Budapest via Bratislava. I had booking in comfortable sleeper cabin where I took lower berth and placed by baggage beside me. In only couple of hours I was asleep. Suddenly at 5am I woke up with a jerk only to find my DSLR camera bag was missing with passport and wallet. The discovery rocked me so much that I froze and rubbed my eyes to try to search it again. When I realized it was actually missing I panicked that woke up other passengers in my cabin. I woke up the ticket checker who was in deep sleep himself and told him about the robbery. I was so desperate to find my bag that I didn’t wait for him to direct me but I ran through the corridor barefoot. In between I saw other opened wallets, few Chinese passports and an iPhone, but I was least bothered, I was only worried about my bag and my passport. I ran till the end of the corridor and found my bag lying fully opened without any camera and money but thankfully had my passport and debit cards.  I was not happy with the things I recovered but with what I lost. I was crying incessantly begging to get my camera back. Everybody around me kept giving me sympathy and somebody even told me Bratislava has a bad reputation for thefts and scams. Nonetheless, at the Budapest railway station I reported the incident at the police station to at least get the FIR report to claim my insurance. I was still crying though. Seeing me like that a police man even offered me a lift to my hostel.

Well it wasn’t over the worse was yet to come.

I reached my hostel only to find that entire hostel was empty. Yes I was the only occupant, imagine how depressed that made me. I waited for the hostel owner for more than an hour to check-in since he went out for lunch!! The hostel was good though and owner also calmed me down when I told him about the whole incident. The whole incident made me feel so low but didn’t mind to take a walk around the city and admiring the Danube bridge. By 7 pm I was so tired I went back to my hostel and slept. It was still empty so I locked my door to feel safe. I had to leave for Vienna the next morning so didn’t have much to unpack or pack. It was around 2 or 2.30am that I first heard the door bell but I was in such deep slumber I totally ignored it. But after continuous noise of it for at least an hour, I woke up and kept debating with myself if I should open the door. Door bell at 3 am is spooky..who would ring the bell of a hostel at such odd hour? A guest right. I mustered courage and went to open the door. A young guy in early 20s was standing at the door, who told me that he was staying in this hostel and was out partying. First I didn’t believe him but his looks caught me and I thought he may be genuine so I opened the door. He then asked me to give him the key of the main door because he had a friend or brother I don’t remember exactly who was waiting for him downstairs and he didn’t want to disturb me again but I was adamant. I said you may go and get your brother I will open the door for you again. In no time he returned with his brother who was bald and looked almost like a junkie. All the time both the guys kept asking me the key for the main door. It was then dawned upon me that they are not guests, they are thieves!!!. I strategically made my way to my room, locked it from inside and called the owner to ask if anybody else is booked here. Since it was still 3.30-4am he picked my call after so many trials and told me it’s only me who’s staying there. He asked me to keep everything locked he was bringing cops but it would still take him 20 mins. All the while I was making calls, both the guys were hitting my door to ask me to come out. I would be lying if for a sec I didn’t think that I’d be raped or dead. Though I discovered that in such difficult situations my mind works at its best. I asked the owner for emergency number but he was still in sleep so I googled it. I called helpline and told them the whole story fumblingly. I have bad memory for the names and addresses but for the first time I could remember the whole address of the hostel. I could still hear the bangs on the door. I deliberately started shouting “send police” loudly to let them hear that they can get in trouble. It was after 15-20 mins I again heard the door bell and got a call from the owner that it was him at the door with the cops but by that time the guys had fled away from the window. After giving the owners all the details about the incident and guys, the owner told me these guys have tried to break-in previously also when the guest was actually robbed by them. I didn’t know if to feel lucky or scared or angry that why didn’t the owner warn me of it prior. The owner was so embarrassed by the whole series of incidents that happened with me in his country that he kept apologizing even when it wasn’t his fault. That was the end of my worst 24 hours in a foreign land.

I detested Budapest and promised not to go there again. But sitting now, after almost 2 years I only regret of my lost pictures from Prague and Krakow but nothing else really. I still want to see that beautiful city and walk on the splendid Danube bridge.

I am proud of myself to deal with the situation so well. I learn t so much from it that now I have a checklist of my own to avoid any mishaps like these.

1. Dismantle your camera. Separate the parts-lens and memory card.So that you don’t lose everything.

2. Divide the money in different pockets of your luggage. Keep cards separately.

3. Of course lock your stuff but more than that if you are taking a night train always put the sling crossing your shoulders.

4. Keep SOS ready. Take down emergency numbers.

5. No harm in keeping money in grose but safe areas such as underpants with pockets.

 

Taken from my phone. The only memories that I have of the city.

Beautiful city of Budapest

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Crossing Danube bridge

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Top 4 eating places in Jodhpur

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The city of Jodhpur reflects blue if seen from altitude due to blue painted houses.  The city is known for its small lanes, authentic Rajasthani clothes specially bandhini (a.k.a. bandhej) and Rajasthani food.  You can’t miss Rajasthani food when you are in the city. It’s a feast.  Some very famous Rajasthani dishes are Dal Baati Churma, Ker Sangri, Gatte ki Sabzi, Kadhi, Pyaz Kachori, and the list goes on.

Since the city has a lot of restaurants you may easily get confused. Here is a list of my places where you can enjoy a good meal or time.

1. Gypsy Restaurant

As the name suggests the place is not at all gypsy. In fact it serves the best traditional Rajasthani Thali. Located in Sardarpura area of Jodhpur, the place is always brimming with foreigners and even locales. On any good day you may have to wait in a que to get a table but it is quick serving. The platter consists of mix of best 2-3 curries, 2-3 vegetables and sweets. You need to be really empty stomach before coming here as the meal is sumptuous to fill you for the day. The flavors just burst in your palette. You can even choose to order individual dishes from the menu rather the whole platter. But if you are in the city ou must try their platter as it offers authentic rajasthani cuisine at one place. Plus you can even ask for more, it is like a buffet where you are served at the table.

The mean costs around Rs.500 for two people which I think is quite rightly priced considering the quantity they offer.

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2. Panorma 360 view

Having a good meal and a view of magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, it can’t be nay better. Panorma 360 is a terrace restaurant on Hotel Inn Pal located near clock tower. The place can easily be located. Enjoy your meal on a breezy evening with great ambiance and view. You know I feel eating at such places really make your meal memorable. The place offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian rajasthani cuisines. It’s a good place to try Rajasthan’s famous Lal maas (red meat).  I won’t say it has the best food but not bad at all. Certain dishes were good but some were bit spicy.

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3. Jhankar Choti Haveli

It’s a small cafe in Makarana Mohalla near Mehrangarh Fort. The place is good for snacks and spending good time in evening. You can bring your laptop, the cafe offers free wifi, plays good Indian music. Though I didn’t try main course there but just snacks, I would still go again to that place for its ambiance and backpacker crowd which gives you ample opportunity to indulge in good conversations and make friends for life. The place had a traditional Indian set up and thus gives you a lot to capture in your lens. The place is quite decent for pockets.

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4. Cafe Mehran

There are not many choices of eating joints in the premises of Mehrangarh Fort. One such cafe located in the fort is Cafe Mehran. I had heard a lot about the cafe and seeing the crowd there I was very enthusiastic about it. But unfortunately I think the place is a bit overrated in terms of food. Though the place is always buzzing, well it could be because it is better than the other cafes in the fort. The food it not bad but very ordinary. It’s a sort of fast food place where you can rest after your long walk around the fort and have a quick bite but nothing more than that.

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Getting to Jodhpur

Rajasthan is quite well connected by roads and railways.

There are few trains that goes direct to Jodhpur and even Jaisalmer. To name a few – Mandor Express, Del-Jsm Express, Rajasthan S Kranti etc. You can choose what suits your timing.

For comfortable travel you can book cabs from Delhi or Jaipur to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.

 

 

Five memorable things to do in Philippines

Philippines is an amazing country not just because of its splendid beaches but because of its warm hospitality. I visited the country in November 2013 and totally fell in love with Filipinos. It is unbelieving that such a small county has so much to offer, from pristine beaches to beautiful colonial towns and from natural wonders to irresistible shopping in big city. I am sure the internet is full of “must visit” list in Philippines. Here are five of the things that I believe will etch  Philippines in your memory.

 

Scuba Dive to watch Balicasag Turtles

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This is was my first dive too!! Do not worry just take a dip and enjoy the serene sea life, walk on the sea bed and feel the fishes around you and if you get lucky you may even spot a magnificent Balicasag turtle.  This species of turtles are found only in Bohol which is the best place to experience sea life in Philippines.  You can easily book your dive with any of the diving centers at Bohol beach. The rates are competitive but fair but you need to make your choice wisely. There are no scams as such and are quite safe too.

Get photographed at picturesque Virgin Island

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Any ferry at Bohol beach will take you to this untouched, non-touristy white strip of sand in sea.  Let your feet feel the warmth of soft white sand on this beautiful piece of land amidst the mammoth sized sea. This place is heaven for photographers. Since it is not so deep around this island, you can enjoy wading in the sea. You can get yourself clicked with star fish in quirky poses and be embarrassed for life.

Eat, Drink and Dance with midgets

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The Hobbit House is one of its kind eating place located in Station 2 near D’mall in Boracay Island . Very easy to locate. The best thing about the place is that from furniture to its staff everything is dwarf, so eating there is quite a fun. The staff was  super friendly and served great cocktails. Well I can only comment on the vegetarian Italian food which I found was pretty decent and priced on par with other restaurants in the vicinity.

Get drunk and famous in Boracay

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Boracay is famous for it nightlife. Although there are umpteen places to get drunk on the island, one such place where you can try your hands to get famous is Cocomangas. Located in station 1, the club is famous for its upbeat music and gimmick “Still standing after 15″. If you are still standing after 15 shots of different liquor and spirit, you get a number for your country, you win a t-shirt with Cocomangas written on it and your name gets engraved on the club’s Hall of Fame!.  The other cool places in Boracay where party never ends are – Summer Place, Juice Bar, Epic, Area 51 etc.  You can never get tired of getting sloshed at Boracay.

Get dirty in Burgos street in Makati

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P. Burgos street is the prime red light area of Makati city. The street is strategically located near all posh hotels. It is a long street with dazzling neon hoardings that say dirty names, expats, half naked girls and lady-boys.  You can enjoy a drink at Cafe Cubana which is a decent pub with live band. The street has a very lively feeling.

There are a lot many things that I couldn’t do in Philippines which is definitely a reason to visit it again.