This year has been uncertain for everyone. Needless to say, all our plans specially travel plans have been indefinitely put on hold. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. In addition to all the numerous trips I had planned, I was specially looking forward to two trips- my birthday trip with my mother to Sri Lanka (which I had almost booked the tickets to) and another with my dad and brother, probably to the Andamans during the later half of the year. Ofcourse it’s been disheartening but I did not wish to sit and crib about it. And since I haven’t written a travel blog in a long time, I was like I should probably trace all the little trips that shaped my love for travel.
I have been fortunate enough to have parents who love travelling and ever since I have been a toddler, they have made sure we take one trip a year and that ritual followed util my brother and I got into college. It’s difficult to trace every trip to their minutest details but it was extremely nostalgic to go back to the albums and relive some of the moments with my parents all over again. I have tried putting the trips in a chronological manner but more often than not I may have jumped the order.
I was around 1.5 years old when I went on my first trip to Mussoorie. I have absolutely no memory of it but my mother describes me as an easy fuss free child and that experience instilled confidence in them that they can plan more trips with me.
My father used to travel a lot for work. During one of his trips to Calcutta, my mother and I joined him and we went to Darjeeling from there. This was in the month of October 1993 and my first winter vacation. I remember this trip for a lot of reasons- experienced snow for the first time to how my father always chimes while describing the incident where a 2 year old kid was stuffing her mouth with as much as 15-20 paani puris (popular Indian street food with potato filling and spicy water).
Another thing that I used to do was that I hated walking and Darjeeling had a lot of stretches where my parents had to walk for miles cause of bad roads that didn’t allow vehicular movement. So after every few steps, I used to just stop walking and stretch my hands towards my father and insist of being carried on his shoulders. And I used to only enjoy being carried by him cause it gave me the feeling of being tall and the joy of viewing things from that height and since my mother had always been skinny, her bones used to poke me. Again, I can’t really contest the facts here, just presenting everything verbatim that’s being shared with me.
We went to Tiger Hills, Nathu La Pass (my favourite and a place I vividly remember), Mirik lake, Changu Lake and the beautiful tea estates of Darjeeling.
We happened to visit Darjeeling and Sikkim again after my brother was born.
This again is one of my favourite trips. We were celebrating New year in Nainital. My parents chose a lot of places based on their favourite Bollywood films cause my mother absolutely loved posing in the same locations as her favourite actresses . Nainital during the 90s was really famous as a popular Bollywood spot for a lot of films like Kati Patang, Gumrah, Masoom etc.
A striking memory I have from this trip has to be the visit to Nandankanan National Park cause I remember this was the time in school when we were taught a lot about wildlife, sanctuaries and national reserves. Also after every summer vacation everyone had to share their experiences so trips like these made it easier for us to tell stories.
The only time I have got the opportunity to eat dollops of white butter on all kinds of exotic parathas and douse down lassi has been during this trip.
This was also the time when I was being dressed in embarrassingly funny clothes and my brother used to wear all my clothes from childhood. Oh and that milton bottle; a constant!
My first Goa trip happened in 2000 or so. It was obviously unlike any of the Goa trips I go on now. But the best part about it was that we chose to cover South of Goa which is really the best part of Goa if you want to be away from crowds and enjoy the beauty of the beaches in their totality.
After a lot of Bollywood films including my favourite, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak were shot in the pine forests and pristine locations of Ooty, Kodaikanal, my parents took us for a trip there right till Kanyakumari. We visited the beautiful Nilgiri Hills, Kodai Lake, Shola Falls, Thiruvalluvalr’s statue in Kanyakumari (I was quite mesmerised by the grandness of the statue to be honest).
I think this has been the only time I visited Rohtang pass in Manali. Also as a teenager, got to experience snow peaked mountains from such proximity.
There were a lot of other trips I took with the family but for some reason once we transcended to digital cameras, all the pictures from those trips are buried somewhere I have no memory of. More than anything I just wanted to go back to these trips as a reminder to myself that how every little thing has shaped and contributed to my love for travel. Till I get to travel next, I am going to dream of beautiful beaches and snowy mountains in the hope of getting lost in them, soon!
Virginia Wolf in one of her earliest essays of 20th century A Room of One’s Own had pointed that how writing a prose, few paragraphs of fiction or poetry were things of imagination for women who were only to be brought to life in fiction written by men; splendid and sordid: beautiful and hideous; as great as a man, some would say greater. But these were women in fiction. In reality, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room. She was the property of her husband.
Things might have drastically changed but even today we continue to remain objects of fantasy before one realises that we have feelings and opinions on worldly matters. You might not own us any longer but you don’t look at us as a person without first objectifying us at different levels in your head. If we are able to shake your foundation, we are hardcore feminists, if we speak for ourselves, we are asking for too much, if we stand for the underprivileged or the exploited, we are inviting trouble. If we don’t dress sexy, you won’t pay attention to us. If we don’t talk feminine enough you won’t listen to us.
We are done with your emancipatory expressions attempting to protect us from the oppression that you created to begin with. We are done serving as looking glasses reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size. We now have money and a room of our own. We will write our own stories and rewrite popular notions according to our rules.
It’s been 24 days since I am under house arrest thanks to the pandemic that has brought all our lives to a standstill. So instead of losing my mind I am trying to make it as productive as possible and since I suck at watching movies during my regular routine, I thought this is a good time to watch all the movies.
So I watched Hamid last night, a movie that also made me be thankful and question my privilege that lets me watch a movie on Kashmir but the people whose lives the movie is based on have been in dark for months, without access to even basic information, forget entertainment.
It is a heartbreaking movie about a 7 year old Kashmiri boy whose father disappears one night and like zillions of other Kashmiri men never returns. Later he figures that 786 is Allah’s number and somehow tries a permutation and combination of numbers in an attempt to speak to Allah and request him to send his father back. Coincidentally, the number belongs to an army soldier (who is also struggling with his own baggage) and over the course of the movie we see a bond developing between them, a bond that transcends all man-made barriers and politics that straightjacket right from wrong. The innocence and perseverance of Hamid is enough to move even a stone to tears, for he is only seeking answers that will lead him to his father. He wants to know why has his father mysteriously disappeared one night and will never return? Who will tell him that he is too young to understand the price the likes of his father have to pay for being caught in a quagmire so big that all of us fail to comprehend its tenacity?
I was crying bucket full of tears and for people who know me they know that it might not have to do entirely with the film but how deeply I am invested in Kashmir and Kashmiris. I was pausing every now and then, bawling cause every moment stirred so strongly that I felt like I am running out of breath. It is also a story of triumph of the age old adage of good over evil cause Hamid does not give in to the evil of radicalisation and tries to be a boy of good words and character, something that his father always wanted of him. I was wondering is it just me who feels so strongly about this? Or if anyone who only knows about Kashmir through movies and news articles also feel the pain? Will they also question their privilege and acknowledge that people in the valley often suffer at the hands of an uneven power? There is so much I can go on and on about but since this post is about Hamid and how an indelible mark it left on me, I will conclude the post with the following thoughts and hope that you’ll will watch the film and question your privilege as well.
Last night I was hankering you,
For you had forgotten the cell of my remote
I had waited patiently all day to watch the match.
You immediately sprang out to fetch it for me.
For days turned to months.
But you never returned.
I would sit by the window sill
And wish for you towalk in through the door,
hold me tight and,
take me on a ride to the Dal singing our favourite song.
Since it had been a while,
a while that I felt the magic of your smile,
piercing through the deepest pore of my skin
and taking away all that had been weighing down on me.
I spoke to Allah and asked him to send you back,
To give me another chance,
Another chance to be a better son,
so I could show you my good character.
But you never returned.
I was angry, broken and directionless.
I kept pleading to Allah to send you back,
even then you never returned.
I wanted to run away,
to a land across the mountains and seek revenge.
But Allah told me you may never return,
but you’ll still want me to be a man of good character.
And in that moment, the pain turned into strength,
Strength that would propel me to finish the Shikara that you had started,
Last night I watched my first best film of 2020. I know the year has just begun and there will be so many great films that will come to the fore but no matter what, Little Women will top the list for me even then. Even though it’s an adaptation of a well known novel by Louisa May Alcott that many of us have read while growing up and there have been numerous adaptations of the book in the popular media but this one surpasses them all by a huge degree. For all those reading ahead, there might be spoilers and if you haven’t watched the film, I suggest exercise restraint before you read further.
The story is about a modest family going through the challenges of domestic life centred around the March sisters in ways that are relatable, inspiring and empowering in its portrayal. The film moves through the perspective of Jo March, who is hellbent on carving an identity for herself and not succumb to the pressures that a woman often caves in and eventually gives up on her ambitions. She works as an anonymous writer in New York where she keeps visiting a publishing house often submitting her work under the name of another friend cause she feels like her mother wouldn’t be happy with the kind of gory writing that she is into to earn some money in order to support the family. Friedrich who is another professor at the house where Jo lives happens to read some of her writings and on giving her an honest feedback, Jo is hurt and breaks their friendship. Soon after she also receives a letter from her mother informing her that her youngest sister Beth has gotten sicker. The story keeps cutting between past and present. As Jo returns home and Amy has met their childhood friend Laurie (played by the gorgeous Timotee Chalamet) again, the movie goes back to the time when they all met for the first time. There are some tender moments in the movie where Laura Dern who is playing their mother (fondly called as Marmee) comes home one Christmas morning when the girls are excitedly waiting for their mother to join them for breakfast requesting them to give their food to their needy neighbour and her starving kids. She tells them their father (who is at the American Civil War during that time) would’ve done the same and reads a letter from him to them.
As the film continues, Laurie starts to befriend the March sisters since he is the only and a lonely guy in the neighbourhood. Beth, the youngest of them all finds a fancy with a huge piano at their house and Laurie’s grandfather even lets her play it since she reminds him of his dead daughter. During one of the times, Jo, Laurie, Meg and Laurie’s professor go to the theatre which angers Amy and she ends up burning Jo’s writing that leads to a huge fight among the sisters. Amy soon realises her mistake and tries to make up to Jo but she doesn’t give in. Next day, Jo and Laurie are out skating when Amy follows them and ends up falling in ice cold water. This saddens Jo who realises that how could she be so selfish that she didn’t care about her sister’s well-being. Her mother explains to her that how she reminds her so much of her younger age and Jo is surprised to know their mother who she has always known to be so patient and resilient could have been temperamental ever. To that Laura Dern tells one of my favourite moments between a mother and daughter, “There are some natures too noble to curb and too lofty to bend.” This is followed by Meg (who has always been a good actress) falling in love with Laurie’s professor and deciding to get married which Jo tries to resist since she thinks that her sister shouldn’t be giving up so easily on her dream of being an actress. She tries to convince Meg by telling her that both of them will flee to New York where Jo will work as a writer and Meg can pursue her theatre and both of them will never get bored of each other. Meg then tries to assure her that just cause their dreams aren’t similar doesn’t mean that they are unimportant.
One of my another favourite moment is when Beth makes a shoe for Laurie’s grandfather as a token of gratitude for letting her play piano at their mansion regularly. This makes his grandfather so emotional that he ends up gifting Beth the piano with a heartfelt letter of how even after owing so many pairs of shoes, hers make him feel the best. Throughout the movie one wants to see Jo and Laurie end up together but you also know that somewhere that’s not going to happen. Laurie confesses his feeling to Jo and she simply turns him down saying if they get married, eventually he will get bored of her writing and she wouldn’t be able to adjust to his lifestyle and then they will squabble and it’ll be horrid. And in that moment Laurie tries to convince her by saying that they’ll be enough but Jo simply isn’t prepared to give in yet. It makes you sad cause you want to see them together and you are like why is she giving up every good thing coming her way cause she thinks it’ll hamper her personal liberty. After this they go their separate ways and in the present Laurie’s path intertwines with Amy who has always loved Laurie but never wanted to be a second fiddle to her sister.
Beth and Jo spend a lot of quality time together since she is trying to help her sister feel better. Beth requests Jo to write something for her and thus begins a serious of heartfelt stories and the subsequent demise of Beth that pushes Jo back into resuming her novel. The grief of her sister is too much for her to bear and she starts finding solace in writing. During this time she also realises that love and companionship is probably what we all eventually need and she tells her mother that perhaps she was too quick in turning down Laurie and if he asks her again, she will probably say yes. To which Marmee asks her, “Do you love him?”. Jo responds “I care to be loved. I want to be loved.” Marmee: ” That’s not the same as loving.” This is followed by a powerful monologue by Saoirse Raonan, one of the best I have watched in a long long time.
Amy finally comes home with Laurie to announce that they have gotten married and this hits Jo like a rock but she pretends to put up a happy face for her sister. During the time when the entire family is spending good time together they have an unexpected visit from Friedrich (the professor from New York who likes Jo). And somewhere you know where the movie is headed and although Jo and Laurie do not end up together, but she eventually finds her happily ever after in Friedrich, under the umbrella 🙂
I personally loved how Greta Gerwig has portrayed every character so strongly that it makes you feel empowered and you simply cannot help but marvel at the way small yet important nuances have been highlighted. Little Women for me is a winner in every sense. Too bad the Oscars didn’t see the beauty of it.
Winter vacations are my favourite. Infact, the season is my favourite time and rightly so cause who isn’t looking forward to wearing hoodies and sweatshirts after the scorching Bombay October wave? I always make it a point to plan my winter vacations 6 months in advance so I can get good deals on flight tickets thereby keeping the budget of the trip in check. Since last year was all about beaches, I thought let’s experience the touted Christmas markets in some of the favourite winter cities of Europe. I started looking for tickets and Air Italy had just launched in India and was giving a lucrative return airfare from Mumbai to Milan for just 28000 INR per person (35000 with luggage). Since my to and fro destination was the same, the entire itinerary had to be planned accordingly.
We booked a flight to Rome on the same day we were landing in Milan since the plan was to celebrate Christmas in Florence and New Years in Vienna. Since we covered quite a number of cities in 15 days, I will write about each city in detail, places I covered and tips for travellers.
Rome, hands down has become one of my favourite go-to cities in Europe after Paris. I am sure this list will become bigger with every passing trip to a new European country but now I know why people say even 15 days is less in Rome. It has so much to offer that you will need time to simply bask in the vibe of this historical marvel. We were staying in Generator Rome which was in the central part of Rome. The first evening we just walked around to familiarise ourselves with the surroundings. Italian cuisine is one of my favourite all time mood boosting cuisines and I was really excited for trying everything for the next 15 days. My first evening meal was pasta in white sauce and wild mushrooms.
Breakfasts are really important for me during any trip so the pursuit to hunt for the best breakfast place is even greater. Panella was a cafe which was close to our hostel and the walk to the cafe was through a beautiful garden. It’s one of the oldest cafes in Rome that houses all kinds of organic pastas, risottos and every flour on earth possible. I had gotten hooked onto the Marochhino and that was going to be my coffee during this trip. We went for three different kinds of croissants: one filled with nutella and other with custard cream. I had never ever tasted such fine custard cream ever and everything was being served fresh from the kitchen.
We finally started our day by walking through the pretty lanes of Trastevere which is a bohemian funky mosaic tiled neighbourhood in Rome that houses some of the cutest cafes and gelato centres. We passed through some of the iconic places such as Spanish steps, the Roman Forum and finally ended the walk at the most historical marvel I have ever seen- The Colosseum. I didn’t know much about its history until I went there and read about the kind of patience and hardwork it had taken to build, maintain and preserve this amphitheatre. There are a number of amphitheatres around Italy but this one particularly stands out cause of its design, size and the number of people it could accommodate at that time (around 80,000 people).
The day ended with yummy cheese pizza filled with spinach at Farine la pizza and gelato at Verde Pistacchio. Both the places are must visit on your Roman trip.
After visiting the Vatican City in the morning we arrived at our second stop; Florence where we were going to celebrate Christmas. We were staying at Hostel Gallo d’Oro and hoping that there would be some Christmas party at the hostel but to our surprise there wasn’t any so we decided to head to the Piazza Duomo which was very close to our hostel and witness the mass during Christmas eve. The Duomo is another beautiful sight in Florence with really intricate and beautiful Gothic artwork. It’s truly marvellous, both inside out.
Since the hostel wasn’t planning any activities, Couchsurfing proved to be a really helpful app. There are a number of events and parties listed in the city that you are currently in. We became a part of a group (which had two fellow Indians and a fellow hostel mate). We all decided to watch the sunset by Piazzalle Michelangelo which offers a beautiful panoramic view of the entire city of Florence. It was one of the most serene views with the cold winter breeze making its presence felt on your skin.
Next morning we left for Pisa since it was just an hour and a half by train. I had a choice between either Pisa or Cinque Terre and since we had only limited daylight available and Cinque Terre in itself required 2 days to be explored at ease, we chose Pisa. I didn’t want it to be a touch and go kind of an exploration so I decided to keep Cinque Terre for summers. Pisa, again is a small beautiful town situated by the Arno river and the walk from the station to the structure was really beautiful.
For me the walk through tiny lanes leading to Pisa was beautiful than the structure itself since it was really crowded. But it’s an architectural marvel in itself which leaves you wondering in amazement with the kind of tilt it actually has.
Our next stop was perhaps one of the places I was really looking forward to during this trip- Venice. We were staying off the canal in a hostel called Anda Venice which was just a station away from the canal. The evening we arrived in Venice it was really cold (around 1-2 degrees) so we decided to relax in the hostel. We walked to grab some dinner and came across Via Viaggio, a road side stall that you must try for yummy hot pumpkin soup and mozzarella fritter.
Next morning was also foggy but we left for the canal city to see all the pretty canals and bridges that I had seen only in pictures so far. Venice has over 400 bridges that connect its several tiny lanes. It felt like the entire place belonged to us since it’s only in summers that tourist flock the canal land. After seeing the Bridge of Sighs and St. Mark’s Square, we decided to head to the neighbouring islands of Burano and Murano.
Burano is a small island located about 7 kms from Venice and has an array of colourful houses, each so different from the other that it looks like some of the best artists came together to paint the town. The women in the town earn their living through embroidery whereas the men rely on fishing.
After this we headed to another neighbouring island, Murano which is actually in between Venice and Burano. It’s famous for its glass factory but by the time we got there it was already dusk and the factory had shut but we decided to quickly stroll through the town before catching our next ferry. We came across a very pretty glass Christmas tree that was constantly changing its hues and I’m so glad we got to witness it.
The next day we planned an impromptu trip to another medieval town in Italy’s Veneto region, most famous for the setting for Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet. After checking in at our pretty hostel, Hostello which is located in the centre of the town, we went to the famous Juliet balcony which was thronged by tourists who had relentlessly queued up just to get a picture clicked in her balcony.
There is also a Colosseum like structure in Verona called the Verona Arena. We ended our day by enjoying the sunset by the beautiful Castelvecchio. We had made some friends at the hostel with who we later headed to Osteria Sottocosta, which is a massive city square with tons of eateries and pubs around it.
We had an afternoon flight next day from Venice to Vienna, our New Years destination. We were staying at the city centre at Wombats which is again one of the best hostels in Vienna. My only problem with huge hostels is that you rarely get a chance to mingle with others cause most of them are already travelling in groups. We reached pretty late on 30th so we decided to take it slow.
Our hostel was located at the periphery of Naschmarkt which is one of the most famous markets in Vienna selling all kinds of food (Lebanese, Turkish, German etc.), souvenirs and clothes in addition to the famous German vin brule, which is a saviour in the cold weather.
Next we went to Praters Amusement Park since one of my favourite movies, Before Sunrise is shot there.
We had joined a Couchsurfing group for NYE and it was fun to meet so many different kinds of people from all over the world, drinking and enjoying themselves. We went to watch the midnight firecrackers at the City Hall in Rathaus, which was an extravagant event in itself.
Next day we went for a quick day trip to Bratislava, the capital city of neighbouring country Slovakia. Honestly, we wanted to go to Salzburg but it wouldn’t have been possible to squeeze that in a day trip. That’s how we landed in Bratislava, in the hope for some snow. Although it did snow when we were at Bratislava Castle but I guess it’s only in January that you get to see actual snow all around. We decided to take shade in a 150 year old cafe L’Aura and took a stroll around St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Another place of historical relevance that you should visit in Bratislava is the Slavin’s War memorial which has the graves of over 6000 Soviet soldiers.
We came back late in the evening to Vienna and ended our day with a pizza at our favourite and highly recommended place in Vienna, Frascati followed by the most important dessert that one mustn’t miss in Vienna- the Sachertorte at a vintage cafe, Kleines. The cake consists of two layers of dense chocolate sponge with a thin layer of apricot jam between them, all covered in a thick layer of shiny chocolate ganache. That’s not it. It’s served alongside a dollop of sumptuous serving of whipped cream. Tempting right?
We had a flight early morning for our final destination- Milan. We were staying off the centre and after we checked in, we left for the famous attraction that floods every search of Milan- the Duomo di Milano.
Just behind the Duomo is a famous street food joint that you shouldn’t miss on your Milan trip ever- the panzerotti at Luini. It has these different kinds of breads that are filled with a variety of fillings ranging from mozzarella and tomato, ricotta, olive, salami, vegetables etc.
We spent the day shopping in the city centre buying gifts and souvenirs for our friends.
Next morning we decided to go Lake Como, which seems to be the wedding destination for a lot of Bollywood couples off lately. The only thing I kept wishing to myself was the fact if we had stayed there cause it has a lot of pretty villages which takes an entire day on foot to explore. But whatever little time we had it indeed was marvellous.
And we ended our day by a quick stop in Turin cause we wanted to buy the chocolate from Guido Gobino where we also had this amazing coffee topped with thick chocolate and whipped cream and took some mouth watering chocolates to reminisce over the next few weeks.
Another pizza joint that you mustn’t miss if you are in Turin is La Pinseria. It’s a small joint which had some of the best pizza toppings I have ever had. Starting from the simple cheese and pesto to vegetable and mushroom pizzas. We stuffed some 6 pizzas since it was our last meal and I just couldn’t get over the taste of the crust that I had tasted in Italy throughout the trip.
And that was how my eventful winter vacation that will go down as one of the best vacations I have ever had came to a beautiful end. Or perhaps started a new love affair with yet another European country. I am sure I am going to return to Italy, soon.
PS: a tip for all those who really want to shop at Christmas markets. Make sure you plan your trip towards November and before Christmas so as to experience them in their full glory. Christmas and New Years Eve are extremely private affairs for Europeans and they prefer celebrating with their families. So make sure you keep that in mind before planning a vacation in Europe or anywhere in the West.
As another eventful year draws to an end, I want to reminisce and remember the best trips I took this year before the much awaited winter vacation (I don’t want to talk about it right now and take away the glory of this post). We will wait for January 2019 to read about it 🙂
One of the life changing, best trips I took this year hands down has to be Kashmir, which was a trip I gifted myself during my birthday in March. I knew this was coming for a while and there was no auspicious time than the birthday month to do it. I love Kashmir and Kashmiris. Period. Anyone who knows me, knows for a fact that this blog exists cause of my romance with Kashmir that started back in 2012 when I went there for the first time and the trip inspired me to start blogging. So I follow a photographer, Aamir Wani who is now a dear friend, based in Kashmir and I have been following his instagram page @kashmirthroughmylens for a while now. He is a poet, photographer and supports a lot of causes in Kashmir and I have been doing as much as I can to support it too. He started organising trips for people who’d love to explore Kashmir the way he does last year. I was really looking forward to witnessing Autumn in Kashmir when he did the first trip in September 2017 followed by a winter trip in January but I couldn’t due to work commitments. I was really sad that I’m not able to be a part of these trips but he kept promising that’ll organise one again and I should be a part of it. So when he put out the post for his Spring trip, without thinking twice I signed up for it.
My parents were a bit averse on me going on a trip with a bunch of strangers but I assured them about its authenticity and told them it’s all going to be safe after making them go through the itinerary in detail. I was quite thrilled and anxious to go with 10 new strangers, for the first time in my life. Being a finicky person, I was just hoping that we all blend well. Here’s a tip for people traveling to Kashmir for the first time- always, always take a window seat cause the view of the snow-capped mountains when you are about to land is one of the best views that you’ll ever see.
The first day was a day to know your fellow travellers since all of us had arrived at different times so after a quick lunch, I was assigned a room with a girl, Niveditha from Hyderabad. We left our room immediately to proceed for an evening Shikara ride at Dal Lake, which was a 5-7 minute walk from our hotel. All of us got acquainted with each other during the ride.
It was a beautiful sunset evening where we crossed the floating market, met interesting saffron, flower sellers who find the most interesting ways to sell you their products that one can give-in to their pitch due to their sheer innocence and cuteness. One thing that I missed doing is experiencing the vegetable market that opens at 6 am in the morning and shuts around 8-9 am. It is supposed to be India’s only lake vegetable market.
After the initial introduction, we all walked to Zero bridge which is this wooden arch bridge running over Jhelum river. It was calm, beautiful and we were still getting used to each others’ company. We decided to head to our hotel and played our favourite coke studio songs. Little did we know that this was soon going to become an evening ritual for the remainder of the trip.
After a sumptuous breakfast we left for Gulmarg, which is one of my favourite places in Kashmir. I have been there twice and got to enjoy the Gondola (cable car) ride once during summer which is also one of the best cable car rides in the world. When we reached there, the atmosphere was quite different from what I have witnessed before. Seeing a big group, the local guides who ply the sledge started hackling us insisting that the walk we wanted to do can be done on sledges only and when we told them we wanted to walk, they refused to comply blaming Aamir and his friend accusing them of being tour guides who were taking their money away. We still started walking and a bunch of 10 sledge carriers kept following us and refused to let go until we decided to finally leave the place (we also took the sledge ride for some time so they could back off but didn’t help).
We finally decided to go to Drung which was around 20-25 mins from where we were. It’s another beautiful spot with icy trails which has not been discovered by everyone yet. I think we must’ve trekked for an hour and a half crossing precarious frozen pipelines to climbing steep hills, slipping on the way, getting drenched in ice water while crossing tiny rivulets to finally reach the beginning of a river.
We were like this one big group helping each other while crossing the river, looking out for one another. It got us all closer and the fact that there was nobody there except us, made the trek special, exclusive and beautiful.
We left really early in the morning to go to Pahalgam. We were supposed to stay at Aru Valley for the night which again is a small trek from Pahalgam but unfortunately the cottage we wanted to stay in was not available. So we decided to stay in Pahalgam. After checking in and having lunch, our driver dropped us to the beginning of Lidder river in Pahalgam from where we started our walk to a secluded spot in Aru Valley to catch the beautiful sunset over the Lidder. With so many interesting people forming company, the hour and a half walk seemed like a breeze. When we reached uphill, it was calm, pleasant and meditative. I remember finding a spot inside a conical tent and sleeping there until the rest of the people reached. I could only hear the birds humming and the sound of the river, which gave me so much joy that it’s hard to describe in words. We stayed there for about an hour until sunset and began our descent.
Infact during the walk, we stopped at various points just to admire the beauty of Lidder river. The sunset from Aru Valley has to be one of the best sunsets I have witnessed.
It got dark by the time we descended and even then the view was gorgeous.
We returned to Srinagar around afternoon and after having a hearty wazwan at a Kashmiri restaurant in town we headed for a walk around the Old Town. The old side of Kashmir is raw, simple and very different than what the other side of Jhelum has to offer. We visited the Khanqah mosque situated on the banks of Jhelum built by Sikander Butshikan built in the memory of the Persian preacher Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who is responsible for the spread of Islam in Kashmir. The spire of the mosque was under repair from a fire that broke out a couple of weeks ago and an interesting trivia about the mosque is that the shrine has caught fire multiple times since 1480 AD but somehow has always been rebuilt and managed to hold its original charm.
After this we headed to another beautiful mosque, Jamia Masjid.
After this, Aamir took us to a secluded spot at Dal Lake to witness the sunset, all away from the crowd and again it was just us who were left alone to enjoy the magic of the colourful rays of the setting sun.
Today we were supposed to go to Sonmarg and Naranag but due to some tension there and roads leading to Sonmarg being shut and vehicles asked to return midway, we decided to go to Doodhpathri in Budgam district since we didn’t wish to risk our last day and it was quite a drive. Sometimes things are just meant to be and I am glad that Doodhpathri happened. It has been the highlight of my trip. I couldn’t get enough of that place. The drive was beautiful and we met so many interesting people on our way.
Doodhpathri literally means valley of milk and the river actually resembles like one, it’s so white. It was quite a walk of around 4 kms that too in thick sheets of ice to reach the river. Every time we were tired, we used to simply sink into the ice sheets and cool ourselves. Once we reached the river, it was beyond beautiful. The famous bridge, which since then has been seen in a lot of Bollywood movies become our spot for the next two hours where we were just sitting, chuckling, breaking into snow fights and everything in between. After every few minutes one of us would just go, “Oh my god! Isn’t this too pretty. Can we just live here?”
It started to snow and rain while we were walking back and the colour of the sky, though a little dark was gorgeous and every now and then I was slipping into the thick sheets of ice, wanting to forever get lost in the solitude that had engulfed me. I couldn’t stop admiring the beauty of Doodhpathri and feeling gratitude for this beautiful world that we live in.
I dream of living here!
After returning to Srinagar, we had our farewell dinner and continued playing coke studio songs until late at night, saying goodbyes and promising to be in touch. Those 5 days were genuinely the most beautiful days I experienced with people who are now my best friends (I took a trip with few girls I met on the trip recently to Uttarakhand). I was initially skeptical about how I am going to feel in an alien group but we were like a house on fire. And to all those thinking if it is safe to plan a trip to Kashmir, a big YES to that. If you’ve been planning a trip to Kashmir for long, it is never too late to just do it. The place and the people will surprise you with their beauty, goodness and warmth.
I know it has taken me long to pen this down and there is absolutely no reason except that I had been procrastinating and been on back to back trips ever since I returned from Thailand. I promise (like always) to be more regular and share everything in the coming weeks about where I have been till now. In my last post, I shared my Thailand itinerary, all the places I went to, where I stayed, what I did. Since it was already too extensive, I thought of doing another post only on the places I ate at. So without further ado, below are some of the best places to eat around Thailand and trust me you will not regret experiencing them:
The Velo Cafe, Hua Hin
Hua Hin was our first stop after landing in Bangkok. It is a small, lazy town and while we were there it was raining so we had to spend most of our time indoors. Velo café was very close to our hostel (Jetty hostel) and it was a newly opened cafe (just a few weeks old) run by this young guy who was making everything fresh. We called for one cold mocha and affogato along with a grilled tuna sandwich. Trust me when I say this, I haven’t had a yummier tuna sandwich before because I somehow don’t like the taste and smell of uncooked, cold tuna and I went for this because it was going to be grilled and it tasted amazing.
Because I enjoyed my first meal here so much I went here again the next day to have breakfast. This time we called for some cappuccino along with croissant and pancakes, which again was really tasty.
The Coffee Club, Hua Hin
For people staying at Hilton, this could be a cheap alternative for the breakfast buffet since it is walking distance from there. I honestly, did not find it very cheap or pocket-friendly due to the addition of VAT in the bill (which was a first for us in Thailand) cause of which this breakfast proved to be a little expensive (around 900 baht for 4 things). Nevertheless, I urge you guys to go for this one if you want to have a sumptuous, filling start to your day. We went for the feta cheese mushroom omelette along with regular pancakes, mocha and ofcourse our favourite coffee dessert these days, affogato. Although in hindsight, I now feel I should have gone for the coconut pancakes since they are the most famous there, so if you happen to visit there, keep it in mind to order the coconut pancakes.
Lion and Shark Cafe, Krabi
Our next stop was Krabi, one of the busiest islands in Thailand and given the population of tourists at any given point, the place is flooded with restaurants and cafes every few metres. We went for Lion and Shark cafe for our first night’s meal. We had a nice mushroom pepper soup along with a mexican veggie pizza. The place also has a hostel alongside and hence you will always find some backpackers sitting around, lazing, absorbed in their books.
Tom Yam Ton, Ao Nang, Krabi
If there’s one place that gets completely booked out for dinner in Krabi, it is Tom Yam Ton thai food restaurant which was right next to our guest house Ao Nang Guesthouse. The place apparently gets booked out for dinner one day before so the day we reached Ao Nang we couldn’t do dinner there so we made a reservation for next evening. If you are a thai food lover, you will definitely love this place. I went for the classic pad thai noodles along with thai green curry and rice which was absolutely worth the half an hour wait.
Since we enjoyed the place so much we had our next day morning breakfast there which was this really yummy bowl of muesli with fresh fruits and yoghurt.
Tanya’s Cafe, Koh Samui
We celebrated New Year’s at Koh Samui and spent maximum time here. This is another tourist friendly destination which is flooded with a lot of restaurant/ cafe options and we were looking for a nice breakfast cafe on New Year’s Eve and stumbled on this cafe through TripAdvisor rating. Tripadvisor reviews have been a saviour for us on this trip and all the places that we ate at were thanks to lovely reviews and ratings on TripAdvisor. I strongly suggest you guys to use that when you are travelling internationally.
Since I wanted to eat fruits, which by the way you get in plenty in Thailand. Whether you are in Bangkok, Krabi or any island, the choice of fresh fruits and coconut water that you get here is unparalleled. I went for fresh fruits with cream and chia seeds along with some vegetable omelette, mocha and cappuccino. Everything is freshly prepared by Tanya and her family. She is extremely warm, friendly and would suggest you dishes if you can’t make up your mind like me 😛
Fresh fruits with cream and chia seeds
Wile Tribe Cafe, Koh Samui
Another really good cafe for breakfast in Koh Samui is the Wild Tribe cafe, thanks to a wide array of vegan, gluten-free and healthy options on the menu catering to people of every palette. They have a lot of options for smoothies and juices as well. We went for gluten free strawberry pancakes and cheese omelette.
Tree House, Koh Tao
Our next stop was Koh Tao where we went specially to dive after seeing all the beautiful pictures and reading so much about it. As compared to Krabi and Koh Samui, Koh Tao is a relatively smaller island where there aren’t a lot of options so while walking one evening we spotted this colourful place and decided to have dinner here. The place is managed by a couple and it is famous for thai food. We called for pad thai noodles along with some hot noodle soup.
The Road Less Travelled, Koh Samui
Another interesting, colourful cafe cum hostel that we came across was The Road Less Travelled near the ferry pier at Koh Samui while we were really hungry one evening and wanted to have a quick munchie. Although we couldn’t really eat here anything since they were preparing the place for New Year party, the owners were really sweet to offer us some hot croissants along with coffee. The cafe is really beautifully done and has a great dessert menu so I would highly recommend you to try it since it’s walking distance from the ferry pier.
Paper Butter, Bangkok
One of my favourite food places on this trip has to be Paper Butter in Bangkok which was inside the vicinity of our hostel, The Yard Hostel where we stayed during the last two days of our trip. They serve these yummy veg and non veg patties in charcoal burgers which are apparently really good for digestion. I went for the beetroot patty while my partner went for their famous beef burger. I have to tell you that it was perhaps one the best burgers I have had in my life. It was soft, juicy and the charcoal burger added this nice burnt flavour to the patty and sauces. Must must go-to place while you are in Bangkok.
I strongly urge you guys to have local thai food as much as you can along with lots of fruits and coconut water, which is available for really cheap. Even while we were driving around, we used to pack fruits for snacking and they proved to be healthy and filling. I would recommend going local and simply entering these tiny restaurants wherever you are since they would serve the most authentic food along with lots of love and warmth.
Couldn’t have gifted myself a better end to 2017 than a Thailand trip. 2017 has been a year of travel for me, of which Seychelles and Thailand will top the list without an iota of doubt. Earlier I thought I was equally inclined towards mountains and beaches but now that’s beginning to change and I feel I am more of a waterbaby. Thailand will also be memorable for ticking an important thing off the bucket list: SCUBA DIVING. Yes, I finally dived in the middle of a beautiful ocean only to be surrounded by colourful fishes. In this blog I will mostly be writing about the entire trip, where all I went and stayed. I will also be doing another post soon on all the cafes, restaurants I visited during the trip.
Day 1: Bangkok. We reached our hostel Here hostel in the heart of Bangkok city around 2 pm after a long journey only to crash in our cosy room for a while before we headed to explore some night markets and the city life. We wanted to take it slow and retire early so as to be fresh for the drive next day. Yes, Thailand has been a first legit road trip for us. My boyfriend and I drove to the different islands through road, at some places we had to ferry the car. It was a fun, tiring drive.
Slide your way through hostel dorms at Here
We went to the popular Platinum Shopping Mall and the Saphan Phut Night Market in Bangkok as we wanted to stock up on some beach essentials. Platinum Mall has a lot of options for women and just one floor for men (that’s a pity) but you have to have the patience to scout the best shops and bargain for everything that you buy. There are some cute shops such as Moshi Moshi where you can buy things like headphones, neck pillows, stationery, mobile covers, hand bags etc. Saphan Phut is the street parallel to Platinum Mall and it had all kinds of stuff at half the price than inside the mall but the quality of clothes was rather ordinary and didn’t seem long lasting.
After roaming the streets for a while, we wanted to have a good meal and while driving around in search of some eatery, we accidentally took a wrong route and ended up reaching Sukhumvit area through a toll road. Bangkok is full of toll roads and if you are not careful you will end up spending so much money on tollways. But I am glad we reached Sukhumvit cause we got to eat authentic pad thai noddles and a hot broth full of veggies at Tamnak Isan Ekamai where the meals are prepared by traditional Isan people of Thai region.
Day 2: After having a sumptuous breakfast of waffle and fruits at Here (don’t miss the breakfast), we started our drive towards Hua Hin, which is touted to be a romantic destination in Thailand. We don’t know why but I guess the laid back vibe and the pleasant weather kind of makes everyone cosy. The weather in Hua Hin was cold as compared to Bangkok with cold winds and rains, for which we were unprepared for. The weather didn’t let us do anything except indulge in some refreshing massage. The location of our hostel was right in the heart of the busy street which was in proximity to all the popular cafes and restaurants. We walked to the night market on the evening we arrived and bought a bunch of stuff, including these really comfortable trainers for just 500 baht. The streets are lined with crepe and coconut stalls every few mins and that was our dinner for the evening.
Jetty hostel in Hua Hin is a newly opened hostel and the owner Cap, being an architect has designed the interiors himself. In the entrance lobby are these beautifully designed suitcases that adorn the wall that he has cut from old suitcases of his grandmother. Throughout the hostel there are these pretty corners with wooden work. The view from the terrace is the uninterrupted ocean view.
Day 3: We went to the historical Hua Hin railway station which is considered to be one of the attractions in the town. It’s a small station where hoards of tourists had gathered just to click pictures. A must visit if you enjoy old architecture.
Pretty. Isn’t it?
Day 4: We started our drive to Krabi early in the morning around 9 am since it was a long 6-7 hours drive and we wanted to reach before sunset. We had a great breakfast at Velo cafe (more information on this in my next post) and headed straight to our next destination. The drive to Krabi is the most prettiest drive in the entire Thailand. We found ourselves driving amidst huge palm trees and limestone mountains that glow at night. We were staying in this beautiful guesthouse Aonang Guesthouse and the owner, Tin was really sweet to help us with kind suggestions and places to visit nearby to make the most of our limited stay. Again this guesthouse was very close to the popular sunset point at Ao Nang Beach and the entire market area in Krabi. On our first evening, we just walked to the market, had a nice meal at a cafe nearby and retired since we were tired after all the driving.
Drive to Krabi
View from Ao Nang Guesthouse
Day 5: We woke up and went to the popular hot springs which is an hour’s drive from Ao Nang. It’s advisable to rent a bike if you don’t have a personal mode of transport since cabs are quite expensive in Krabi. We thought that the Hot Springs will be crowded and full of people but when we reached there, we were surprised to find only few people. It’s located in a secluded place amidst a huge fancy property. There are these mini pools before the actual hot springs where you can start by dipping your feet and then once your body has gotten used to the temperature, you can proceed to immersing yourself in the pool. It’s really fascinating as to how a certain part of the pool is warm and then the lower bottom where the water opens is cold. It’s also advisable not to be in the warm water for a prolonged period since it can drain you.
A mini warm pool
We were here for a good two-three hours before we arrived at Ao Nang beach for the beautiful sunset.
Ao Nang Beach
Day 6: We left Ao Nang shortly after breakfast to start our drive towards Donsak from where we had to take a ferry to Koh Samui. The ferry port at Donsak is huge and beautiful. We had to wait there for an hour for our ferry. We managed to reach Koh Samui only by late evening and the hostel where we were supposed to stay (P168) missed our booking and we were transferred to another hotel which was on the party street of Chaweng Beach in Samui.
Donsak Raja Ferry port
We went to party at the famous Ark Bar on Chaweng beach. I really enjoyed being there. The music, fire show and the vibe was really good.
Day 7: We moved to another hostel Chill In near Lamai beach in Samui and before heading there we had one of the best breakfasts of our trip at Tanya’s cafe. Chill In hostel was situated right at the beach and during evenings and early mornings, the waves used to hit the edge of the parapet. On our way to the hostel, we passed this beautiful viewpoint from where you could see the entire ocean and it was a pretty sight. We spent the day chilling at the hostel and playing some interesting card games with fellow hostel mates.
Chill In hostel
Day 8: This was New years eve day and we wanted to rest it out as much as we could so as to be all pumped up for the night. We were going for the full moon party to Koh Phangan. We paid 2300 baht for a couple that would take us by a speedboat to Phangan and bring us back at any time in the wee hours. The speedboat ride was quite bumpy and we were glad to have made it alive. The full moon beach was crowded with thousands of people and it was difficult to even walk your way to the beach. I don’t think I will ever be back to a full moon party because one has to be completely drunk to enjoy these kind of parties and I realised that it’s not my thing.
Day 9: We had an early morning ferry to catch to Koh Tao, which was going to be our last island destination for the trip and we were particularly very excited because we were going to be diving for the first time ever. Koh Tao is a relatively smaller island as compared to the rest of them that it almost feels like a small town/ village. There might not be as many 7 Elevens (a popular supermarket chain in Thailand. You’ll find them every few metres wherever you go) in Koh Tao as there are diving schools. We just relaxed the day we arrived as we were very tired from partying the earlier night so we just walked around, had thai food at a popular restaurant right next to our hostel. We were staying at a great hostel, The Dearly hostel in Koh Tao. I think it’s the biggest hostel in Koh Tao, also walking distance from the ferry pier. It is huge, spacious and has clean rooms.
Day 10: And the D- day was here. I had contemplated diving so much only because I was suffering from a severe toothache which was making it very difficult for me to even talk but the people at Ozone Diving School assured me that if I did everything slowly, it wouldn’t affect and since I was in Koh Tao to dive, I couldn’t have not done it. We arrived at the diving school at 11 in the morning and our instructor, a South American guy now living in Thailand explained us few basics before we left to go to the island. He was a sweet and motivating instructor and it’s important to have a good instructor who will just motivate you to have fun under water. We went to another island Koh Nangyuan to dive, which is an extremely beautiful island.
As usual, we were having the pre-dive jitters like everyone does and since there were too many things to remember, we kept clarifying them again and again before we actually jumped. While wearing the suit and the gear before the dive, the oxygen cylinder that goes on your back is the heaviest and jumping with that weight was quite scary but if you follow the instructions it’s pretty simple. Once we jumped, I was like that’s it? Is that all we had to do. The marine life underwater is absolutely breathtaking. From beautiful shaped corals to different varieties of fish ranging from angelfish to barracuda, neon damsels, parrotfish, horsefish etc. I saw all kinds of fishes at Japanese Gardens in Koh Nangyuan. It is considered to be one of the best diving destinations in the world. No wonder there are tons of diving schools in Koh Tao and each school is equally competitive than the other. After doing this try dive, I am very sure of going for a full fledged diving course so that I can dive anywhere in the world.
Enjoying the sunset post diving
Day 11: We were on the road the entire day driving back to Bangkok which was in all a 16 hours journey, two ferry rides over 4 hours and then 11 hours of driving. It was the longest and tiring drive of our lives. We finally reached the Yard Hostel in Bangkok late in the night. This is another hostel which is beautiful. They serve basic yet filling breakfast in the morning and they have this fancy burger place in their premises, Paper Butter which is famous for their charcoal burgers.
Day 12: This was the final day of our trip which was spent shopping on the streets of Bangkok, buying gifts for family and friends.
Some tips if you are planning a Thailand trip:
One mistake we did was not calculate the distances between two destinations and in the process when we reached a certain place we were so exhausted by the end of the it that we just wanted to crash. And eventually we were left with just one day or one and a half day to spend in that place.
One thing I learnt the hard way was: never ever forget to carry your medication. Although you get the basic paracetamol tablets there but antibiotics are difficult to find and they are very expensive.
It’s better to have your own mode of transport since taxis around islands is expensive so once you take a ferry to a certain island, just hire a bike. We hired a car from the airport since we wanted to do a road trip and it still proved to be extremely cost effective.
There are great hostels in Thailand, one of the best I have experienced so far in any country. So don’t waste money on hotels, stay in hostels while in Thailand.
Stay in each island for atleast 3-4 days so as to enjoy it to the fullest.
Lastly: eat local. Thai food is one of the best cuisines in the world.
Recently, my girlfriends and I got the chance to take off during the long Diwali weekend and we wanted to go for a quick short trip. After some considerable research of places to go near Mumbai, we finally zeroed on Sula Vineyards in Nashik. I was really excited for this since I had only heard about the vineyards and seen pretty pictures of it online or on friends’ social media feeds. This place is famous for the Sula fest that takes place during the harvest season in February every year. We had booked a hotel near the vineyards. We left on Saturday morning in a rented cab and checked in to our hotel at 3 pm. We quickly got ready and rushed to Sula since we wanted to finish the vineyard trip and head to another nearby winery, Soma to see the sunset as a lot of people had written about pretty sunset views from Soma.
When we reached Sula, it suddenly felt like some fair. It was crowded and like how. There was hardly any place to walk in that huge property. We were really disappointed and decided to directly head to Soma and do the wine tour the next morning before heading back. Soma, on the other hand was empty and pleasant to explore. We directly headed to the terrace restaurant since we were there mainly for two things- wine and sunset, both of which were quite a delight.
Sunset from Soma Vineyard
The wine at Soma was quite nice. They had the Chenin Blanc Dessert which was a mixture of peach, dried apricots with lushness of melon and pineapple. It had the perfect balance of sour and sweet with an after taste of apple-honey which made it absolutely palatable. They have another variant in this: the Dessert Sauvignon Blanc which is high in its acidic content with more of pineapple flavour. We spent the entire evening at Soma, drinking wine, walking around the vineyard before calling it a night.
Next morning, we made sure we reached Sula at 10.30 am (that’s when it opens) so that we get to do the wine tour before the crowd pours in. For spice lovers, there’s a very famous restaurant near Sula, called Sadhana Restaurant where you get charcoal made misal (lentil stew) which is loaded with spice, so much so that my friends had to pour bowls of curd in it to douse the spice. Our wine tour started at 11.30 am, before which we were touring Sula vineyards, which is a huge property. It has an open amphitheatre where the festival takes place, surrounded by lush green gardens.
From understanding the entire process of grape harvest to what kind of grapes go in making each kind of wine to holding a wine glass properly followed by a finale of wine tasting, the tour was quite enjoyable, so to speak. There were a few myth busters as well like how wine should not be stored for years. It starts to oxidise which eventually makes it completely sour and inedible to drink. Also the fact that Champagne is Champagne. No other brand can use that name. Just like you cannot call France as India, you cannot call sparkling wine Champagne in India. Champagne is the name of a village in France and that’s how the sparkling wine that’s made there is called that.
Cylindrical tanks in which wine is made
In all we tasted six different kinds of wine: white, red, rosé sparkling wine (my favourite) and three other types of red wine which were late harvest and hence dry in taste.
Obviously a vino trip is incomplete without wine bottles, so I ended up buying tonnes of bottles to stock them for all the upcoming year end celebrations. Before coming here, I was not sure how the place is going to be cause Nashik is still an orthodox developing town but the vineyards felt like a different world altogether. A must visit place. In fact I plan to visit there again specially during the harvest season between December to March so that I can also do some grape stomping. Will be a lot of fun, I am sure 🙂 Till then happy vining guys!