Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Interview with Wego India and A Yatra Feature

During the last one month or so, I was contacted by two different places in the online world for a feature. Participating in both these opportunities has been an absolute delight, a blessing mainly because both of them highlighted the word yatra for me in their own unique ways. Now that they are live - I am extremely thrilled to share them here with all of you!

Here they go:

1. Interview @WegoTravel:

First in line was an interview with WeGo India which asked questions revolving around me, my travels and My Yatra Diary... I loved answering the questions, because one, they gave me a chance to break away from my usual travel writing routine and two, they helped me to pause, reflect and understand my own self, my yatras and my little diary a bit more deeper.

Here is an excerpt:

"I love that feeling of walking in the footsteps of my ancestors. My yatras help me to slow down and I feel more connected, more settled in my heart. My parents are my inspiration and I am grateful to them for passing on this wanderlust gene to me."

A group enjoys boat ride in Varanasi

2. Guest post @Eli

Next to come was a guest post request for Eli's ExpatLiv. A Greek-Norwegian expat living in Mumbai since the past 2 years, Eli chronicles her myriad expat-life experiences on her blog in a fun, lively manner. Eli has been a warm wonderful friend in the online world ever since I have known her. Keeping in line with her most recent of challenges that involved thematic blogging for a complete month, taking one letter for every single day, she offered the letter Y to me with the topic 'Y for Yatra' and that was enough to get me excited!  I really enjoyed writing this!

Here is an excerpt:

"Y" for Yatra... 
But, what is a Yatra?
"I was nervous as I had seldom seen crowds of such huge intensity, let alone be a part of it. But I was mentally prepared for the battle, if ever there was one and my gut feeling told me this was going to be deep and exciting."

Thank you so much for motivating me to write this, Eli.
I am not sure if I would have written this otherwise.


Please do check them out and let me know your thoughts. Always very eagerly wait to hear from you. Thank you. :-)


Monday, April 28, 2014

Public Transportation in India: An Overview and Tips to Getting Around in the Country.

One of the best ways to become acquainted with a country’s culture and landscape is to identify with the many different ways that residents of that country get around in their homeland. Transportation is a big part of every person’s journey and your perception of a country can change immensely depending on which window you’re staring out of, who’s sitting next to you and how comfortable the ride is. Comfort and preference are relative, but making an informed decision will surely ease the process.

Trains:

Train: the widely preferred Public mode of transportation in India
An overcrowded train, one of the most widely used transport while travelling in India.
Image Credit: Telegraph.co.uk

“One seat on the roof coming right up!”. Don’t worry. This isn't likely to happen on an ordinary day, nor is it encouraged, but this picture does get you ready for the masses!

If you’re new to the country, your source of information is just as important as the ticket you purchase. A governmental source can always be trusted because you know that you’re getting the most up to date information on reservation enquiries and availability. Traveling by train is the preferred method of travel for most people because it’s quick, efficient and reliable. India is a huge country and there’s far too much to see. A train ride will take you far and to several locations like Jaisalmer, Simla and of course Delhi in a short amount of time. If you think you’re going to be taking the train throughout the duration of your trip, it’s also probably a good idea to consider purchasing an Indrail Pass. You’ll want to make all your reservations far in advance if you want to be lucky enough to find a seat as last minute bookings are not allowed or common.

Bus:

Locals will tell you that buses are one of the better ways to get around in India as well, especially if you’re on a tight budget. There are definitely a lot more services for bus booking than trains which also makes it slightly more challenging, but narrowing down your search to the most popular names like Goibibo, MakeMyTrip and redbus is easy peasy – I just did it for you, in fact. Most agents will boast having the best service or offering the most number of routes you can take, but at the end of the day, hopping on to one bus is not all that different from hopping onto another so make sure you grab anaffordable deal with redBus for instance.

Bus- An Indian mode of transport
A State transport bus in India

Buses are crowded, hot and chaotic, but that fits right in to the general climate in India anyway. This is how you can really dive into getting to know the culture. Knowing when to choose a bus over a train also depends on where you plan on going. In most cases, a combination of train and bus is needed. Trains will take you to all major cities and boarders, but you can’t count on a train to take you high up into the mountains. The same rules apply though. Bookings are only possible with some agents and only done in advance. If you plan on taking a bus on the go then you’ll just have to race to your seat!

Boat / Ferry:

Why not visit Port Blair in the Andaman Islands by ferry? Most ferries happen to stop there so it’s an opportunity worth taking for some historic sightseeing. Just be sure to avoid this way of travel during the monsoons unless you’re a fan of getting wet and staying that way for hours.

Ferry - An Indian public mode of transportation
A ferry packed with people, on its way.

Cab:


Believe it or not, but contrary to logic, hiring a private cabby can be quite cheap if you’re travelling with a large group of people. This is also preferred over renting a car yourself because you will probably waste a lot of time and money on gas just figuring out the streets and getting around traffic. The reason we opt for public transportation is always because we know that at least the drivers know where they’re going! Nevertheless, if a car is how you want to do it then do make sure that you have an international driving permit if you’re willing to drive yourself. It’s a lot easier to hire a car from within a major city like Delhi. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

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What are your favorite modes of transport while travelling?
Do share your experiences in the comments section below!

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About the author: Joanna Jaoudie is a content editor from flipit.com, a site dedicated to helping travelers travel cheaply within India using travel related deals and discounts.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A stroll along Melbourne's River Yarra: 5 things to watch out for!

St. Paul's cathedral Lanes and alleyways: Melbourne art culture - Tram rides - Queen Victoria Market Eureka sky deck / The Edge - Captain Cook's Cottage - Flinders street station - MELBOURNE MEMORY # 7: YARRA RIVER - MCG - Federation Square - Cuisine - Extras.

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To witness two lovers is a spectacle for the gods. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I love walks, especially when you have a wonderful someone for company: the whispering of the waters, the rustling of the leaves, the absence of the honking vehicles and the silence of the environs; universe has its ways of conspiring and magically transforming an otherwise lifeless body of water into a wonderful companion. The River.

My meeting with her was inevitable. I was in Melbourne. And apparently, she was 'the one' settled in his heart. I met her at different points in the day, with no prior appointments, in different climatic conditions, and for brief lengths of time. Each time I met her, I saw her in her many different avatars: shivering in the freezing cold in chilly rains pouring down, or dazzling as a diva, the center of attraction, in bright afternoon sunshine or even blushing as a coy demure bride in vibrant colorful lights of the evening. Every time I saw her, I was daunted; I now knew why Melbourne was in love with the Yarra. She was gorgeous, a source of life to many.

The Yarra River walk in Melbourne, Australia
The trail of the Yarra River: Get ready to fall in love with the Yarra, in love with her.

For the uninitiated, the city of Melbourne, situated on the shores of one of the largest bays on the Australian coast, comes to life at the Yarra River. Here, you can find cafes, restaurants, scenic views, cyclists, tourists, travelers, festivals (if you are lucky) and a lot of people all around the place. Melbourne’s love for Yarra can be gauged from the fact that it has been decked up over the years so that today it has a dedicated trail to its name - The Yarra River trail - a must do for most travelers visiting Melbourne.

Still, I could never complete walking her entire circuit no matter how much I wished to, no matter how much she wanted me to. And still, for all the time we spent together, she offered enough for her new found friend to take back home so that later someday… you and me - we both can sit down and relish her treasures together. 

So, here they go - 5 gifts from the Yarra River – 5 sights you should look out for the next time you are off to the Yarra River in Melbourne! 

1. Locks of Love!

While walking my way across the Southbank footbridge running over the Yarra, I realized something unique about its handles. They were heavy: not with the weight of steel or iron but with a bundle of emotions and memories, which two committed souls had left behind in love, in abundance.

"I'm gonna lock up my heart and throw away the key,
because there is no other in this world for me.
I'm gonna lock up my heart and throw away the key,
because no one else in this world can do the things you do to me." ~ Unknown

Love locks along the Yarra River footbridge, Melbourne in Australia
Love padlocks along the Yarra River footbridge, Melbourne in Australia
Love Padlocks at Southbank footbridge over the Yarra River

2. Icons of Melbourne.

Melbourne is a city of icons, carefully spread and scattered all around. And River Yarra has a way to bind them all. Step on the Southbank footbridge to see the Eureka Sky Deck touching the sky. The yellow colored historic Flinders Street Station can be seen from the Princes bridge while the grand stadium of the MCG comes into view while walking towards the north of the river. Even if you are in no mood to step inside the MCG, this should still make for a pretty sight. It rises up gradually with each step that you take eventually decorating the Melbourne skyline with its entire majestic splendor. 

Eureka sky deck from the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia
Eureka Sky Deck, SouthbankIt’s one building of Melbourne that is visible from just about everywhere!
Flinders street Station seen from the Princes bridge in Melbourne
The Flinders Street StationWhile standing on the Princes bridge, the yellow colored building.
MCG view from the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia
MCG: The greatest cricketing stadiums of all times to the north of the River.

3. Artworks.

Melbourne is city so quirky that artworks was something I found everywhere in Melbourne, not only in the lanes and bylanes but also down the Yarra river. Since it was raining very heavily on this day, I couldn't explore as much as I would have liked and this is all I could capture for my diary.

Art works along the Yarra River trail, Melbourne in Australia
Artwork along the Yarra trail

4. Melbourne Panoramas from its bridges, Southbank and Princes.

There are few vantage points in the city if you wish to see the city in its full blown brilliance. 88th floor of the Eureka sky deck is one point and the others, I discovered, were the bridges of Melbourne namely the Southbank footbridge and the Princes bridge spanning across the Yarra River. All I had to do was step onto the bridge, open my camera lens and then take a deep breath simply to see how a gorgeous city rises towards the skies in glory.

Yarra southbridge from under the Princes bridge along the Yarra River trail in Melbourne, Australia
Southbank footbridge (in the background) as seen from under the iron arch of the Princes bridge
Melbourne from the Yarra Southbank footbridge River in Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne from the Southbank footbridge
Lamp post on the Princes bridge framed by the Eureka sky deck and the Rialto towers, Melbourne
A lamp post on the Princes bridge framed by two of Melbourne's tallest buildings:
The Eureka sky deck to the left and the Rialto Towers to the right.
The Yarra River, not in the picture, runs below.

5. Reflections: Melbourne with Yarra at night.

There are fewer ways better than this, that I know of, to end your day in Melbourne. This is how I had wished to end my day in Melbourne and this is how I did:  Walking leisurely by the river, under the canopy of a thousand twinkling lights,

... watching Melbourne and Yarra unite…

Melbourne Views at night in the Yarra River, Australia
Melbourne and Yarra River: United in love!

... like two one armed lovers,
inhabiting two different bodies,
walking hand in hand,
locked in a single soul.


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Tips for travelers and other fast facts:

1. Yarra is focal: The river from the Yarra provides 70% of the city’s piped water and its valley is world renowned for its vineyards and natural beauty. It is the focal point of many cultural and nature-based events.

2. Attractions to watch out for: You can either choose to take the upstream trail or walk the river downstream, along the Northbank or the Southbank. Both ways, you will be treated with wonderful scenic views to savor all along. I had taken the Northbank trail walking towards the north of the river covering MCG, Federation square, River cruises wharf , Melbourne Park and Birrarung Marr. Some of the other attractions that I missed were Royal Botanic Gardens, Crown Entertainment Complex, Arts Centre, Melbourne Aquarium, Olympic Park Sports Venue

3. Take a cruise: Another great way to enjoy the river is by taking a cruise. You can take an inexpensive boat trip down the Yarra from Southbank in Melbourne. Ticket counter is there. However, due to the harsh climatic conditions during my visit, I found all jetty’s and cruises docked neatly in the harbor area and missed out on this as well.

Getting there:

There are a few entry points to the Yarra walk which follows the course of the river. I chose the stairs going down from the Flinders street station. Easily accessible and very convenient for all those wandering around the central area of Melbourne, the CBD.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Star Attraction in Melbourne: Flinders Street Station

St. Paul's cathedral Lanes and alleyways: Melbourne art culture - Tram rides - Queen Victoria Market Eureka sky deck / The Edge - Captain Cook's Cottage - MELBOURNE MEMORY # 7: FLINDERS STREET STATION - Yarra River - MCG - Federation Square - Cuisine - Extras.


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You just can’t miss out on some places. Not even if you want to. Not because they are famous, or that you have heard so much about them, or had people recommend them to you. But, simply because you discover them right out of your hotel!

Flinders street station from Citigate, Melbourne Australia
My first sight of the Flinders Street Station: Through the window of my hotel, Citigate.

I couldn't have been luckier.
Flinders Street Station, one of the star attractions of Melbourne
and one in my list of places to seestood exactly opposite to my hotel, Citigate!

Standing bang in the middle of the city, at the corner of Flinders street and Swanston Street, Melbourne’s first railway station and the oldest of Australia, the Flinders Street railway station resonated with a certain vibe, a certain charisma, leaving me overwhelmed in the first impression itself.

Flinders street station clock tower, Melbourne Australia
The clock tower of the Flinders Street Station

The busiest railway station in the southern hemisphere, Flinders street station gave me that feeling:

Hey you, you are standing in the shadows of a special place right now!

View of Flinders street station, Melbourne Australia
Flinders Street Station: An important city landmark.

.. Leaving me wondering, where was this aura coming from? Perhaps it was a lingering effect: the buzz left behind by billions of people who were running across its streets every minute of the day, a billion echoes resonating as conversations that had ensued during their 'meeting under the clocks' or the mysticism hidden in the chapters of history?

People watch at the Flinders street station, Melbourne Australia
A swarm of people crosses the Flinders streets

I don’t really know what exactly made this busiest railway station appear star-like to me. All I could gather was that it left me awe struck for all the time I was there. This brilliant piece of concrete, this historic yellow colored building with a distinctive green dome was attractive to me and never for once failed in commanding my attention – no matter how the weather, which part of the day, what direction of the road.

Flinders street station in night lights, Melbourne Australia
The same place, from where has originated the popular catchphrase of the Melburnians,
'Meet me under the clocks'

Flinders street station at night, Melbourne Australia
Flinders Station: All bright in the dark of the night.

Even when I had no trains to catch or no one to 'meet me under the clocks', I made sure to pause, almost every time I passed by it, if only to discover the varied sights, smells and activity of a railway station... not an ordinary one but one that had metamorphosed over a century of years to become a prominent city landmark, establishing an identity as someone who believed in not just standing there but also adding a lot of richness and character to its beloved home city.

Oh and yes. Besides my star station gazing, there was one more reason why I stood there, in front of the Flinders street station in admiration; I had one major request to fulfill.


"Get me a picture of Flinders with a tram passing in front of it, will you?"

Flinders street station postcard, Melbourne Australia
A picture postcard of the Flinders Station from Melbourne...  With love.

... Here it is, my dear brother, this one’s for you ...


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Tips for travelers:

1. Do step inside the station and take a train ride if possible; with the Myki card in your pocket already, this should be free. (More on that in a later post!)

2. Look out for free Wi-Fi available on the station courtyard and from every platform (select Metro Wi-Fi).

Getting there:

At the corner of Flinders street and Swanston Street, overlooking the Federation square, St. Paul’s cathedral and Yarra river with the Eureka Sky Deck in the background.

Location:

207-361 Flinders Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Phone: 9610 7476

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Previous stories from Melbourne:


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things to do in Melbourne, Australia: Fitzroy Gardens, Captain Cook's Cottage, etc.

St. Paul's cathedral Lanes and alleyways: Melbourne art culture - Tram rides - Queen Victoria Market Eureka sky deck / The Edge - MELBOURNE MEMORY # 6 CAPTAIN COOK'S COTTAGE - Flinder's street station - Yarra River - MCG - Federation Square - Cuisine - Extras.

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My entry to one of the oldest gardens of Melbourne -The Fitzroy’s Gardens couldn't have been lovelier – after a steady whiplash of chilly showers and intimidating grey skies in the morning, the afternoon sun finally gave a glance, peeping out from behind a skyscraper.

Entry point of the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Entrance to the Fitzroy gardens: A sanctuary of peace.

The hustle bustle of a city as chaotic as Melbourne soon faded away as I briskly crossed the briefly sun tanned skyscraper, to step out of the city traffic and into the wide open spaces of the Fitzroy gardens: long meandering avenues lined with files and files of beautiful majestic pines, deodars and English elms on either sides.

Meandering avenues of the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
The lush green carpet of the Fitzroy Gardens

Set in classic Victorian-era design and covering an area of 64 acres since 1860, the Fitzroy gardens along with the other gardens like Royal Botanical gardens occupy a healthy part of the Melbourne city and reflects its thoughtful belief in cultivating a culture of green in a place as concrete as itself. Hidden beneath and beyond these veils of quiet foliage, however, are significant attractions of the city, cherished by the people and the tourists alike, thus ensuring something for everyone stepping on its land.

Pathways of the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Meandering pathways, all for you to discover.

Green as it was; my first glimpse of the garden was inviting, and the enveloping quietude only helped the impression. As I started walking along the perfectly manicured corridors, a sense of déjà vu gripped me and left me smiling silently, reminding me of Hibiya Park in Japan: a carpet of green, a floral paradise, away from the maddening crowd... I felt familiar to the gardens, I felt like I had known them after all.

Dense tree canopy in the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Dense shaded canopies: The only window to the outside world.

With a gloomy weather in full bloom, the dense umbrella of the trees weaved a dense shadow obliterating the place in a mystical aura, also blocking out all the noise and chaos that Melbourne is famed for.

. . . . .

Let’s take a walk down here, and see what’s in store.
(A Photo  Essay on the Fitzroy Gardens):

Captain Cooks Cottage:

First attraction in sight was Captain Cooks' Cottage, a pretty small house believed to have been owned by Captain James Cook's parents and subsequently brought by a wealthy Australian businessman from it's original location Yorkshire to it's current location Melbourne to commemorate Victoria's centenary in 1934. 

Captain cooks cottage, Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne Australia
Captain cooks cottage, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Captain Cook's Cottage: A major attraction of Melbourne.

Take a peek from the outside, you can see a life size statue of Captain Cook standing in the garden, and a cardboard face-cut placard for souvenir photo takeaways. Inside, three small rooms and a gift/souvenir shop, promises to take you through to a tour on his voyage of life and death.

Statue at the Captain cooks cottage, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Captain Cook: The 'discoverer' of the east coast of Australia.

Postbox near the Captain cooks cottage, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
A postbox near the cottage entrance.

Though I love history, one of the reasons I had put this place in my Melbourne itinerary, but with the help of suggestions given by Melburnian blogger friends and from my own first hand idea, I dropped the idea of taking a complete tour and instead just appreciated the cottage from the outside.

After discovering the cottage, take a turn where you may like, and if you were to follow in my trail, 

Streets of the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia

Step on this wooden bridge to crossover flowery beds and other rock outcroppings making themselves known...

Bridge at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia

... And stride along a stream housing a boy resting on a turtle.

A boy on a turtle at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Boy on the turtle

Conservatory: Then take a few moments out to admire the statue of Diana and the hounds and step into this Spanish Mission-style Conservatory, dating from 1930 and housing changing exhibitions of magnificent floral displays.

Diana and the hounds at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
The figurine of Diana and the Hounds at the entrance to the conservatory.

Conservatory at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Backside-view of the conservatory.

Fitzroy Gardens conservatory, Melbourne Australia
Pink Floral display at the Fitzroy Gardens conservatory, Melbourne Australia
White Floral display at the Fitzroy Gardens conservatory, Melbourne Australia
Floral delight inside the conservatory.

Follow your heart or take the help of signboards or better still interact with the locals, help them guide you towards the most beautiful and eye catching key points in the gardens. In any case, trust the paths that you take, there are gifts with each step that you take, once unwrapped, revel in their charisma.

Bunch of flowers at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Green carpet of the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia

And if you feel you have walked enough, have a seat, and let the arms of the canopy of trees embrace you in a deep calm slumber. Here, try listening to the sounds of the outdoors, and spend some quiet moments with yourself… 

Bench and tree at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Would you like to have a seat?

Here, try expanding your sights and broadening your vistas, maybe there are new friends to be made?

. . . . .

Having walked for a good thirty to forty five minutes on my clock, I stood there near the noisy fountain, savoring the marvel of being completely alone in it. The tree cover was now silhouetted by a sheath of concrete buildings and glass windows in the backdrop. I was searching for the exit.

View of the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Somewhere near the exit area

Suddenly, a group of birds singing somewhere distracted my vision and this little family of ducks caught my eye, perhaps they were hungry and were searching for food (?). They made beautiful sounds, preening and chattering among themselves, following the eldest in the group in a pattern as disciplined and rhythmic that could easily put my school assembly obedience to shame.

Little family of chicks at the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia
Say hello!

I left the garden through the nearest exit, now in the company of gigantic skyscrapers towering upon me, looking for a tram to the main city; with memories of the small lake busy with the army of ducklings marching their way towards the garden, still making noises under the canopy of the pine trees.

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Tips and tricks for travellers:

- Captain Cook's cottage is a pretty small house which looks quite beautiful from the outside; if you are travelling on a budget (like me) and not really intent on exploring the history, consider giving the interiors a miss and spending that much more time in the garden instead, it's a nature sanctuary.

- If you love nature, and flowers, then the conservatory is something not to be missed. What's more, it's free!

Besides the cottage and the conservatory, also look out for: several fountains and sculptures, a band pavilion and rotunda, a miniature Tudor Village and the Fairies Tree carved by Ola Cohn. These are some of the other things I missed due to paucity of time.

- The gardens are a short distance from the MCG cricket grounds; try clubbing the two together in your itinerary.

Getting there:

Fitzroy gardens is very close to the city center, the CBD. To get there, you can either catch a city circle tram and get down at the nearest stop St. Vincent Plaza. Or if you have no qualms walking, you could walk all the way down the Yarra river course from the Federation square and reach the gardens via the MCG cricket grounds.

Location, Contact, opening and closing hours and entry fee:

Address: East Melbourne VIC 3002, Australia.

Entry fee for Cook's cottage is $ 5; rest of the gardens is Free.

Phone: +61 3 9658 9658

Visiting Hours: Mon to Sun; 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM; closed on Christmas day.

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Previous stories from Melbourne:



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