Trip to God’s own country!

Kerala is called ‘God’s own country’ but I had heard that in the monsoon season, it looks even more beautiful that it looks in the other seasons. The beauty and serenity makes it feel like heaven. It’s so clean and green.

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Weather in Kerala is pleasant throughout the year due to nearness to the sea and Western Ghats on other side. There are two monsoons seasons -: South-West Monsoon and North-East Monsoon. South-west monsoon starts from May-June and continues till September and Western Ghats gets the 1st rainfall.

Obviously watching sunset over the Arabian Sea while sitting on the Kovalam beach would be a romantic idea, but getting drenched under the cloudy sky and being in the huge tea estate will revitalize the mind, body and soul. So I chose to go to Kerala in the monsoon.

From Delhi to Kochi it was 3-hour flight journey, which was spent with half-sleepy eyes. By the time we reached Kochi or Cochin it was 9:30 am, and a cab was already waiting outside. We made a small halt for quick dosa-idli and filter-coffee breakfast and we were off to the mountains taking rounds & rounds that led towards Munnar. Some 135 KM away and at 6000 ft height, we were in between the misty sky and waterfall flowing among the greenness. Via a quick trip to spice garden (quite like our Sri Lanka trip, where the cab driver takes you to spice garden, elephant ride & shower) we entered Munnar. Quick tip – if you are in Munnar, buy some tea for sure and spices too.

Our hotel was overlooking the tea planted mountains and a small school, where bells rang every few hours and there was a cuckoo that woke us up at exact 6 o’ clock! Weather was cool and rain was just perfect to enjoy the vacation. (Especially if you were carrying the umbrella).


We did a mountain trek at Eravikulam national park and, funny enough, saw just 1 mountain goat! While coming back from park, one should try tree tomato or corn on the cob or have fried cashew nuts with a mug of coffee and not to forget homemade chocolate sellers along the way! Next we went to Mattupetty dam, it was a nice sight but nothing much. So we headed to echo point, which was 6 km from Dam. We absolutely loved the panoramic view with the mild rain-fall while sipping the masala tea with chilly vada-pav.

 

Next was driving down to Thekkady. It was some 110 KM drive amongst the most beautiful green patches made due to the grand Tata Tea Estate. We checked-in at our beautiful resort in the heart of Kumily with 8 acre of greenness, canopy of tall trees and a tree house café. BLISS. Soon we had to head to Periyar lake, where boating starts at 3:30 in evening and makes one witness one and half hour of cruising among flora and fauna with few sights of wild pigs, tortoise hugging the trees, sambal deers and wild elephants. Later we spent the rest of evening by watching Kalaripayattu (the martial art of Kerala) and Kathakali performance.

Next early morning we headed to Kumarakom, which is near Kottayam city. It’s set at the backdrop of largest fresh water Vembanad lake. Started a 4 hours shikara ride along the bird sanctuary with a break in between at some small resort along the Vembanad lake. The fresh homemade style food was heavenly. Well, shikara ride was different as it took you through small canals where houseboat couldn’t go. Later we checked-in at our resort and did some fishing at the resort private lakeside. The best part was Allepey’s nearness to Kumarkom, which meant we didn’t have to rush for early morning checkout.

 

We had heard so much about the backwaters of Kerala and when experienced, must say, one should plan a houseboat vacation in Kerala for sure. After driving through canals and lagoons and passing through villages when your houseboat comes to rest near a paddy field in evening, all you want to do is run towards that small church on the other side and return back to your houseboat living room only for freshly prepared traditional kerala food. Waking up on a houseboat with sun peeping through coconut leaves and some music coming from another boat was another world’s experience. As we went in July, we also saw the preparations for famous Nehru trophy boat race or Vallam Kali (which happens in August). These boats have 50 to 100 people seated in the Chundan Vallams (snake boats) and row hard to cover 1.5 Km in 3 minutes!

Before taking flight back to Delhi, we had a quick city tour of Kochi that included visit to Mattancherry palace or Dutch palace, Synagogue. Both places have Rs. 5 entry fee, so better carry the change. Chinese fishing net was another good place (if only visited at sunset time). We concluded our trip with a visit to St. Franchis, an oldest European church and a trip to private collection of interesting antique pieces at Folklore museum.

So when are you visiting Kerala? In monsoon or soon

Unofficial travel photography tips.

We have lots of photography material to read on how to get best frame – technical as well as composition related. But all these hardly matter when we reach a travel destination.

Ps: Im writing this for not so professional travel photographers, who spends day & night on research and after lotsa sweat get that one great. It’s for wanna-be-pro-photographer.

Mostly, when we are traveling, we are with friends or family or if alone than also on a short trip and have time constraints. This lack of time makes us cover all the tourist attractions in that certain time frame. Though we do research about the place, read about the tourist spot, and also check the weather conditions,

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when we reach we get a different story! (Also adding my own personal experience)

  1. If it is an Indian temple, we have to take off the footwear few meters away and that stone floor on a hot day just makes it difficult to go an extra meter to get that wide-angle shot. Or the marble floor is too cold on a winter morning. (Like Tajmahal, Agra)
  2.  Most of time, we don’t get a single photograph from the particular famous attraction because we didn’t check the signage ‘Photography not allowed’. And you have to deposit the camera / iPhone at the entrance. (Most of Indian temples like Dilwara Jain temple, Mount Abu)
  3. If it’s related to water or a beach vacation, we don’t have rain jacket for camera or forget to carry underwater camera. (River rafting at Rishikesh)
  4. Just when you are about to shoot a masterpiece, the monk who was busy in meditation politely asks you not to click. (Bodhgaya)
  5. You are in flip-flops and sand at beach is just too hot to walk. (Puri Sea beach)
  6. You are in a group or some facebook-photographers are standing next to you and as soon as you get the interesting angle or a subject, they too come and click the ditto and post it on facebook ASAP (no need to give example here :D)
  7. Time taken to change a lens and subject moves from its place in that time-frame – one of the common things. (Pinnewala elephant orphanage, SriLanka).
  8. Guy is ready to give a priceless smile but there is a price for it and you are out of local currency or not having small bills. (Musician at Statue of Liberty, New York).
  9. You captured the moment and some goon comes to you and asks you to delete all the photographs. No reason! (Gandhi Ashram, Ahmadabad)
  10.  Weather is unpredictable. So if you are planning for shoot with sunlight then keep in mind the other option to shoot too. Sometimes overcast sky does wonders too. (Napa Valley, California)

Handy tips:

– Wear a comfortable dress, especially if you are a girl and traveling in India.

– Carry 2-3 different types of footwear for travel.

– Apart from sunscreen, carry a scarf, hat or best would be an umbrella.

– Leave the extra lens at hotel room; you might need it for other tourist attractions – next day.

– Keep a water bottle, some snacks in backpack always for the instant energy boost.

Happy traveling and come back with lot’s great memories.

Go Goa.

Goa is a favorite tourist destination. But somehow I was not in favor of visiting Goa because I thought it would be crowded or beaches would not be clean. But when I went there, such doubts were clear. I would have made a mistake, if I didn’t come to Goa.

Goa for sure a fun place, as soon you land there you know you are going to have fun. Either you are looking for complete relaxing holiday or some water adventure based package fun & food would be there by default.

 

We stayed in South Goa and rented a cool bike. Tip 1– if in Goa, better have own vehicle else you would be paying a lot to rude auto rickshaw guys or expensive taxis. Anyway bikes/ scooters are cheap to hire.

 

Travelling on bike from south to north goa in itself was a fun filled ride. Narrow but traffic free, clean country roads for sure ignite the lost youth passion of riding a bike with glares on and bandana on head. Tip 2– before getting out from hotel room- put enough of sunscreen. Anyway, you are going to get tanned.

About water sports– You can do from water scooter to parasailing to going on boat to see dolphins or if dare than go for a scuba drive when in Goa. There are enough activities to keep you busy for a day that you would not mind warm sun rays on beach. Tip 3– being little apprehensive about water is normal. Once you are in water with your life jacket on, you will only flow and fear will go away slowly 🙂

 

If in Goa, and not going for a mid night walk on beach than there is something missing in your romance life. And ya, don’t be ‘kanjoos’ to have a nice candle light dinner. Also don’t mind having sea food in beach shacks too. Tip 4– forget about diet when in Goa. Just enjoy the food. Dieting can wait.  😉

 

Goa is also famous for hand painted tiles. I couldn’t do that during my visit to Goa in early march 2010 so whenever I go next, will do. BTW I loved my hotel (Zuri, South Goa) – their staff was very courteous and we even got a surprise cake but best was their own beach, we went their in night time only. Waking up early on a holiday is little tough thing so what I could not click sunrise shots. 🙂

Dubai dreams.

Dubai is a global business hub with 90% expat population, which makes it very unique. Recently I got a chance to visit Dubai. It is one of 7 emirates of UAE. It is a city that has so many things to offer from petroleum to real estate to one of the best malls and sand dunes for adventurous desert safari including harsh sun.

Burj Al Arab- Resembleing a billowing sail, a luxury Hotel, looks great in Dubai skyline.

Dubai to live.

Affording a home in Dubai is not cheap if you are not staying from few years. The rent of homes cost a lot of Dirham (Dubai’s currency). But it has few great residential properties like Dubai marina, which is the second largest man made marina in world. Aspiring to own a villa on Palm Jumeirah is only possible, if you are either born with a silver spoon or are a celebrity.

Cost of living in Dubai is not very high – it is just that water costs more than double of what petrol costs. You can get all the vegetables, fruits as well as Indian brands packaged items. Best is there is no personal income tax in Dubai.

Malls & Souks.

Aquarium at Dubai mall

Skiing at Dubai Mall

Name a brand and you will find it in Dubai. With so many huge malls in every corner, if they really have to stand out, have to offer something different. That’s how Dubai Mall,  world’s largest shopping mall has an under water zoo & Aquarium, ‘Mall of Emirates’ has Skiing, yeah can you believe skiing in such hot weather of Dubai.

one of gold shop in Gold souk area

Souks, which are traditional Arabic markets, are one of the more popular word in the city. Gold souks are more popular due to cheap price and varied options availability, which is why it is also known as the city of Gold. Though, I didn’t find it any less expensive than other places. Other popular souks are Spice souk and textile souk.

Fun

desert safari

If you went there and didn’t go for desert safari, then your visit is not completed. A humpy ride on golden sand dunes while sun is setting followed by Arabic barbeque and belly dancing and smoke flavored sheesha (hubbly-bubbly/water pipe) is just the right way to enjoy the time there.

Tip– don’t opt for over night safari unless in a huge group. We chose that and we were the only person left after meal so we had to come back.

a kid having fun with a belly dancer

Go for a night walk on Jumeirah beach, if you are lucky and all those tall buildings Burj al Arab, Burj Dubai are well lit you can click nice night shots. (I didn’t get any pic, so I was disappointed.)

deira creek area

After having a tough day at Media city; Dhow cruise really came as a relaxing option to spend the evening. Or just watch Hindi cinema in one of the multiplex. Reel cinema in Dubai mall has 22 screens with lots of movie choices. We watched 1st day show of London Dreams there.

 Something more.

You will like the men and women roaming around you in white and black dresses. (Men wears traditional dishdasha / khandura with ghutra and agal and women wear abaya (a long black cloak) with sheyla or hijab (a scarf).

Special parks for ladies are common there, and even in amusement park or Jumeraiah beach you will see a day especially for women and kids or family.

Cars are cheaper compared to India. Toyota is market leader followed by Nissan and Honda. Cabs are quite nice, most are Camry, Innova or Lancer. Before hopping in the city bus, make sure you got pass from some terminal or metro station as most of time bus drivers would not carry tickets/pass.

Now metro service is also started in Dubai, take a ride. In fact I got a better view of city from it.
Do some shopping at Dubai Festival city, can get good deals at IKEA store. Taste some Arabic sweets too; I liked it a lot. Most important, don’t forget to have as many dates as possible. 😉

Can find more Dubai’s shots here.

China travel.

China is one country I wanted to visit from a long time. The thought started when I was in the design school, for getting easy and cheap prototype for my brilliant idea. The same persisted in 2008 August when I wanted to go to watch Olympic live. Finally, the same materialized in December 2008 as I got the chance to travel with one more country added to the Places-I-Have-Traveled map.

take-me-around

The Shanghai city
Shanghai, the largest populated metro of world is somewhat similar to Mumbai. Busy fast life and tall buildings and so much lost in that fast pace. Maglev is just one example- a magnetic train runs from Shanghai’s Longyang Road subway station to Pudong International Airport at the maximum speed of 431 Km /H. Here cab system is also good, as long as you are careful to be able to explain to them that they have the meter on and running.

midnight-magic

People
People are very colorful in all senses – right from their clothes like colorful jackets, wrapped mufflers and colorful shoes to their colorful actions. One very interesting fact was to see the young people and teenagers holding their favorite gizmo (PlayStation mainly) and playing while having a 10 min ride either in metro train or bus.

color-trendsstreet-life

Food.
Getting vegetarian food is a challenge and I don’t count leaves as food. The problem gets compounded because of the language barrier – explaining something is real hard task. Even for non vegetarians, if you don’t eat beef or pork then choices are limited. But one must try Hot-Pot, it’s very nice especially on a chilly day.
Be careful of timing- here dinner starts getting served from 5:30pm and get finished by 9:30 or so.

hotpot-near-people-square-shanghai

Shopping
Bargain, bargain and ask for more Bargain. 🙂
Being a foreigner in their land, you must master this art else you will get cheated (that you will anways, but you can avoid the extent of it). And yes, don’t expect original or all stuff working when you come back home. The idea of bargaining is to master the art faster as compare to martial art. 😀

shanghai-with-my-chinese-friend

So much to explore that words would be few so check the picture gallery.

The Beijing City
China’s capital that recently hosted the Olympic 2008, is really a city with a difference. On one hand, you have great structures like Great Wall of China, Forbidden Palace and Temple of Heaven and on the other hand, smell of awesome tea and herbal medicines attracts many to visit this city. This city has better signage system as compared to Shanghai. Of course lots of development happened in recent past to make it bit tourist friendly.

olympic-nest-water-cube
You would definitely like the old monument and new structures like Water cube and Bird nest. For night out, you could try Kung Fu show at Red theatre. Its worth watching if you don’t have great expectation.
If you are taking guided tour, she will take you to tea house, pearl market and where not. And if you don’t buy anything, be prepared for a cold look.

chandni-chowk-to-china

I will end my blog with a line about The Great Wall – it’s really a wonder. We were awestruck with the grandness that it offered, it has taken humongous effort and has been well worth it – possibly more.

Chal Chalein Himachal (Lets go to Himachal)

After having a hard time at work, a break is very important. Not only does it help unwind, it also gives exposure to other parts of the country. We also took a similar break, from the heat of Delhi to the cool weather of Himachal.
Manali, Himachal pradesh, India
Manali-Abode of Manu (Manu, who recreated the human) in Himachal Pradesh, India. This town also has a way to Ladakh via Rohtang Pass. It’s a peaceful place famous for apple orchard and woolen shawls and nice cool excursions.

We started our journey from New Delhi National Highway -21 via Panipat, Chandigarh and Kullu. Taking a Volvo bus has advantages as you could relax in the night, and you would be somewhere in Himachal when you wake up the next morning for having a cup of hot tea. You will reach the city shortly thereafter.
Temples, manali
Shooting in temple

We reached Manali at 11am and after check-in to our hotel (Manali heights, which we found very good) took brunch and cab to see city attractions.
The local attractions, namely Club house, Tibetan Monasteries are just ok type. It is advisable to carry an extra pair of cloth, if you plan to go to Vashisht Hot water springs. Hadimba temple is nice specially for taking a walk around. It is apparently also famous amongst film-makers and we also witnessed shooting of a film when we were there. Manu temple in old Manali is also worth a check-out, to see old homes and walk down on narrow lanes.
Mountains and more

This place and its surroundings have loads to offer in terms of activities like para-gliding and skiing. Solang valley is a must-visit place, do indulge in paragliding other than good sightseeing. And if you are on a long trip, just keep half day time solely for this so that you can do this from greater heights (3-4 hours activity in total).
paragliding in Himachal
The road to Rohtang pass has lots of Nallas (or waterfalls) and you will like to stop there while driving on the broken narrow roads. Once you reach the destination, you can take a walk around, climb the snowy mountains or do skiing. Ginger tea and noodles is a good way to relax after a tiring walk. This place has small local shops for all these. Just beware of Kesar (saffron) and Kasturi seller, who will go all out to con you.
rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh
Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh
When we visited, snow was there but not enough to really excite you (particularly if you have seen snow before). But it was more of wholesome experience, the journey that made it interesting.
On the way back, some dynamites were kept to clean up the road and our cab stopped right before that, so that way it was bit real adventurous. While coming down, we stopped at Mandi (which is a small village) and saw sunset.

And yes, before I forget to mention, I must advise you on keeping one day just to explore market and have lazy lunch at Johnson café or Casa Vella café. Both these places are highly recommended to have good food.


Point to keep in mind- don’t buy Chingu (kind of quilt but it is all a fraud) though the locals have pretty interesting story about the same, don’t buy saffron (you can’t get 15gm for Rs. 100 anyway).
Carry enough cash- there are just 2-3 ATMs and they hardly work.
Wake up early- go for walk, have nice food with tea/coffee, do activities- there are many options (trekking, rafting, paragliding, skiing etc)
flowers, Himachal Woman
And yes, don’t forget to carry woolen clothes. It’s cold there in any season.