Friday, December 12, 2014

A Weekend Getaway to Pune (via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway)

29 - 30 Nov’ 14:

It was 6 to 7 years back when I last visited the twin sibling of my city, Mumbai… Pune. Thus, when the prospect of visiting Pune came forth in November, even if it was only for a day and a half, it got me all excited.

Lord Ganesh in the car - India Travel
With an excited call out to Lord Ganesh, here starts our trip to Pune!

The balmy afternoon sun roiled above our car as it busily sped past the hustle bustle and skyscrapers of Mumbai to take the wide speedy roads of the six lane Mumbai-Pune expressway. The 90 odd KM long expressway (officially the Yashwantrao Chavan Mumbai Pune Expressway) connecting the two cities is the shortest road link from Mumbai making it the most preferred among the other alternative available routes to reach Pune today including the old NH4.

View of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway from the window of my car, Maharashtra India

The road conditions spanning the entire stretch of the expressway are excellent, and the sights so charming that they make the high toll charges totally worth it. The drive saw me glued to the window seat of my car gorging at the scenic vistas unfolding outside. It’s good to see nothing much of this expressway has changed in the past few years. The car still zooms past sweeping all those sights that I had fallen in love with when I had first taken the road years back. These are things I look out for and enjoy every time I hit these roads.

What are they? Well, here they go - sit back and enjoy!

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR WHILE DRIVING OUT TO PUNE (VIA THE MUMBAI-PUNE EXPRESSWAY)

The mighty range of the Sahyadris on one side and half vegetation, deep gorges on the other side for company...

6 lane high speed Mumbai Pune Expressway, Maharashtra
Mumbai-Pune Expressway

Dark tunnels - look at the sparks of light flying around!

Crossing one of the tunnels - Mumbai Pune Expressway, India
The --- tunnel – among one of the 5 tunnels along the expressway.

Monkeys! who squeal and jump with hopeful eyes pierced through the windows of your car, feasting on the bananas received...

Monkeys eating bananas along the fence, Mumbai Pune Expressway, Maharashtra, India
Monkeys along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway

And, the changing colors of the horizon...

Sunset on the Mumbai Pune Expressway, Maharashtra India
Sunset on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway

At around 6 PM… after travelling for about 3 hours and covering close to 200 kms., the sky began changing moods. As I saw the evening sun cast its orangy gleam over the urban facade of the city, I wondered about our meeting the next day. With no fixed plans and just a day to explore ... how was she going to treat me? Were there any surprises planned? or was one day too short a time to know a multifaceted personality like her?

All answers were revealed through the events of the following day, in their own time and in their own way.

-------------------- * -------------------- * -------------------- * --------------------

How to Reach Pune and Other Traveler Tips.

Pune is well connected with Mumbai and most of the other Indian cities through all the modes of transport like air, train and roads. Most travellers from Mumbai, however, prefer taking the roads as the journey takes only about 2 to 3 hours (approx. 200 KM.) depending on the traffic. Hiring a cab or taking your own are undoubtedly the best options in this case.

- For those who prefer air travel instead, Pune airport is located in Lohegaon, which is about 20 KM. from the city.

- While going to (or returning from) Pune to Mumbai via the expressway, you can take a detour to Lonavala-Khandala which is situated midway through the route. So if you do have a bit of time at hand, you can try exploring a new area.

- You won’t find any dhabas or eating shacks across the Mumbai-Pune expressway, so look out for the ‘Food Mall’ located midway to have that quick bite or even a cup of coffee.
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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Celebrating 5 Years Anniversary of 'My Yatra Diary'

I’m not sure what I’ll do, but— well,
I want to go places and see people.
I want my mind to grow.
I want to live where things happen on a big scale.
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s been a long time... But today, for some reason, it doesn't feel so. I don’t feel the depth of time. Not before, I sit down and flip back the pages. Like the colors of a morning sun slowly splashing its magic on the chalky canvas of the twilight sky, the grainy hues of nostalgia come creeping in...

Precious moments, fleeting emotions, countless memories flutter across…
shaping 290 posts, 1840 days, and God knows how many words.

Even as this occasion calls for a gala celebration of words itself… the irony remains: words betray, as was the case some 5 years (and 13 days) back. I confess, even when the entire world might look like moving at a lightening speed, nothing really changes for me. Words are still not easy to come by, they are greased just like moments; slipping away faster than they arrive. Seems like mind finds joy in its own little games that it has got to play.

Anyway, the fact remains. 5 years and I have managed to continue writing. Something. And, all credits go to her: She’s really been a wonderful companion all these years.



Meandering down the paths, crisscrossing turns left and right and dodging speed-breakers up and down, it’s a good feeling to have finally reached somewhere. She’s been a great company all along, someone who’s managed to melt the crust of my exteriors away and shown me a new perspective for life… something I am yet to fully uncover and explore. It's going to take a lot of time, considering my snail speed but even for the tiny glimpse that I see, I will always be eternally grateful to her.

Here are a few doodles I managed to scribble while thinking about things learnt, also unlearnt in my 5 years journey with my blog and travel blogging...



The practice of art isn't to make a living. It's to make your soul grow. ~ Kurt Vonnegut



There is no footprint so small, that it cannot leave an imprint on this world. ~ Unknown



I would like to travel the world with you twice. Once, to see the world.
Twice, to see the way you see the world. ~ Unknown



In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you,
but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art. ~ Rumi

Can't really thank you enough... for all your time, visiting and gracing my little diary with your priceless blessings, footprints and well wishes through all these years. It was only because of your motivation and constant encouragement that I have survived this long perhaps. Thank you, for filling colors on the chalky canvas of my sky... Thank you, for adding beautiful melody and music to my otherwise common song...

... THANK YOU ...

YOU, touched a part of my soul.

---------- * ---------- * ---------- * ---------- *---------- * ----------


Since we are celebrating the completion of 5 years of this diary, I thought of compiling a list showcasing the power of 5! So, here it is, the TOP 5 posts of 'My Yatra Diary' based on pageviews of all time (November 2009 to December 2014).

5 POSTS WHICH HAVE STOOD THE TEST OF TIME - ALL TIME HIGHEST PAGEVIEWS:




ISKCON Temple, Delhi : 44823 pageviews




TIME FOR AN ANNIVERSARY GIVEAWAY!

Just a quick note to say that the #MyCollegeDiaries Contest is still on! Participate NOW and you could win your share from cash prizes worth Rs. 10,000!
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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

AIRBNB: Save Rs. 1500 on accommodation for your next trip!

Who wants to save some cash on hotel bookings
the next time you are going tripping?

I, for one, certainly want to! I mean, there are fewer things than saving money on accommodations that can really give your trip that much needed jumpstart. And if you are one of my types too, make sure you are staying with me and reading on.

Because today, I am going to pass on an Airbnb credit chunk in your pocket, right here, in this very post to help you save the next time you travel and book.

SAY HELLO TO AIRBNB!

Airbnb is a community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique accommodations at any point in time, at any place in the world. Thriving on the traditional host-guest relationship in a sustainable fashion, it aims to connect people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 190+ countries. 

Impressive with tonnes of pictures and accompanying reviews for the listed accommodations, the website worked like a breeze the first time I browsed through randomly. And some of these properties – they made my jaw drop, literally!

These are homes I have always dreamt of, living in someday… a cozy rustic hideout in the midst of a jungle, a lot of woody interiors, the music of the birdy chirps wafting in the air, tea drinking sessions with stunning mountain views in the distance and a lot of creative and arty stuff to keep me occupied… It’s good to know that with Airbnb, such homes actually exist!

Moving ahead, I went on and created a wishlist consisting of 5 interesting properties that I would like to visit someday. Check them out below:

1. "A-Frame" Rustic Off-Grid Cabin: Forest Route 17N, Gasquet, CA 95543, United States.


I love anything old, rustic and remote. Add some wood in there and you make sure, you get me - totally. This is how the property managed by the hosts Jane, Dan and Nick caught my eye. They describe their property as a small, rustic, hand built cabin deep in the Northern California woods, part of a remote, off-grid "village" including a few other cabins, dogs, frogs, permaculture gardens and all kinds of cool, sustainable, DIY infrastructure which is something I would definitely like to check out someday!

2. Cottage on private island near Ottawa: Ottawa, Canada.


Ever imagined living in a funky old cottage on a private island? I have. And this next property in my wish list speaks just that. Boasting of spectacular water views all round, yet secluded from other people, this 100 year old base, now renovated still shines in original charm, and looks promising enough for a great Canadian cottage experience.

3. I SETTE CONI - TRULLO EDERA: Ostuni, Brindisi, Italy.


The next property took me to the enchanting surroundings of the town of Cisternino... The picture of the property with the branches of olive tree in the background was enough to entice me in. Set in an elevated position with a stunning view, the home looks like a heaven of peace and tranquility seated in the lap of nature. It's the kind of place where I would like to pick up a good book, or take a short walk to explore the small country streets or the nearest beaches and then - blog about it!

4. Tree Sparrow House, Cornwall: St. Keverne, England, United Kingdom.


Magic! Always fascinated for all things magical right since childhood, there was no way I was going to miss putting this one on my wish list. Hosted by Outlandish Holidays known for creating magical holiday experiences, I particularly loved this tree house as not only was it enveloped in a lot of greenery but is also close to the sweeping sea making it a a perfect place for a cozy, relaxed and an unwinding experience!

5. Mountain Octagon: nature-views-art!: West Augusta, VA, United States.

And, last but not the least. This one is my favorite. Why? Because it combines all that I love in one house, in one place and in one destination - Nature, views and art! Really, there is nothing more I could ever ask for.

Mountain Octagon -- nature-views-art!
These are homes where I would love to stay someday...
What’s your idea of a dream home away from home?

(All images courtesy https://www.airbnb.co.in)

HOW TO EARN YOUR $25 AIRBNB TRAVEL CREDIT?

Okay, coming back to our topic again, let me tell you more about the $25 discount you can gain the next time you make a booking through Airbnb. Please follow the steps below:

  • CLICK HERE to enter my special Airbnb invite for you.

  • Once you are in, do you see a page saying, Arti invited you to join Airbnb? Below that, there is a button that says Sign up to claim your credit. Click that button!
  • Here, you need to sign up via Facebook, OR your email address.
Note: If you are already registered with Airbnb, choose the 'Sign up with Email option' and create a new Gmail account for yourself as this $25 Airbnb promo code offer is only valid for new account signups.
  • Sign in. Click on your Name on the top right hand side of the toolbar and click on Edit Profile. Fill out your profile completely for authenticity.
  • Hurray! You are done! Time to plan your next trip!

Remember! HOW TO USE YOUR AIRBNB CREDIT AND AIRBNB COUPON TERMS & CONDITIONS

As with just about any discount or deals, there’s got to be an asterisk pointing to its terms and conditions. Below, I’ll quickly highlight 2 very important points you need to know now that you are ready to avail the $25 discount you have just received.
  • You must book a qualifying reservation in order to take advantage of this deal.
A qualifying Airbnb reservation must have a total value of $75 dollars or more.
  • Your reservation must be booked and paid for via the Airbnb platform.
All reservations must be booked and paid for via Airbnb in order to receive or redeem travel credits. What this simply means is that, Airbnb doesn't want you dealing with landlords or homeowners outside of their domain as this comes under terms of service violation. Simply roam around in Airbnb and book your stuff while you are there.

Well, that just about wraps up this short guide on how to save $25 on your first Airbnb reservation. Till next time then, hope this travel coupon helps you in your travels and if you have got some personal Airbnb stories to share, please do so in the comments section – since I am yet to try their services myself, I would love to hear them out from you!
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#ToiletForBabli: In search of hope, hygiene and health

Let me be honest about it. As a young girl who’s spent most of her summer vacations on the highway tagging along with her traveler parents, I understand what this means.

No Mummy. Let’s wait for some more time… we might just spot a petrol pump nearby.

Sometimes, we did. But not every time have we been lucky. Driving across long barren Indian national highways through small archaic villages, with vast jungle lands stretching into infinity and no life in sight, the basic action of answering nature’s call has not always been easy.

Occasions like these have been rare but not totally non existent. As much as these have been embarrassing, in a way I am also thankful for them. For someone who's lived in the suburbs of Mumbai all her life, enjoying the basic comforts in life (and more), instances like these have been nothing less than an eye opener. For they have inspired me in a certain way, and empathized me in a way I am not sure if anything otherwise would have.

Today, I am only glad because I understand and can completely relate to a campaign like #ToiletForBabli. Babli is a young village girl who is forced to walk out in the open everyday in the company of the night, not to gaze at the moon or the stars, but to perform a very basic activity, a necessity of life – of reliving oneself.

While the misery of travellers like me is still short lived, it is heart wrenching to think that of Babli's is permanent. What's even more shattering is the shocking reality that Babli is not alone.

According to a survey by the World Bank, over 600 million people, roughly 60% of Indian households, still have to head to the fields or other open spaces to use them as makeshift bathrooms. Clearly, lack of proper sanitation and shortage of basic bathroom facilities is a major crisis throbbing in India. Not surprisingly, it is girls and women, being the more vulnerable of the two sexes, who pay the heavier price. Venturing out in the dark for defecation exposes them to the risk of horrific, even deadly, attacks of sexual violence like molestation, rapes and verbal and physical abuse. That apart, not being able to access toilets raises threats on health and hygiene leading to a variety of serious infections and ailments impacting the overall health of not just the womenfolk but the entire family and nation dependent on them.

What’s saddening to assimilate is the fact that it’s not a one day ordeal but a trauma that they have to face each and every morning of their life. Just imagine. My heart shatters into pieces just by imagining the shame, indignity and embarrassment they have to bear. Simply put: it’s totally cruel, brutal even life threatening to not have the privacy to perform a necessary bodily function.

In a grim situation like this, what rings hope are awareness campaigns like the recent Domex intitated #ToiletForBabli.

Those days when issues like these were spoken in hushed tones and better preferred to be swept under the carpet are now passé. It’s inspiring and energizing to see such a sensitive issue of eradicating open defecation addressed in innovative ways that could not even be imagined a decade ago when the word 'toilet' was still a taboo, forget speaking about it.

The country’s Prime minister Narendra Modi addressed the cause of proper sanitation in an epoch Independence day speech where he resolved to put ‘toilets before temples’ and urged every citizen to get together for the cause.

Not to forget, real heroes like a 5th grade dropout Savita, who took the bold step of walking out of her 7 year old marriage as her husband was not ready to have a permanent toilet at their house in Mundlana village in Madhya Pradesh.

Savita was still a woman… think of all the Bablis out there. Simple young village girls filled with big dreams in their small round eyes. All they want for now is to lead a healthy, hygienic, dignified life. To accomplish this, they are here along with Domex seeking your help and mine.

Together, we can bring about a change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing our support for the Initiative "You Click, Domex Contributes" at www.domex.in. All we need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on our behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

I just clicked! Will you also join in and help Babli lead a dignified life?

Just a click. And, Babli's face beams up, instantly. I saw it. You can see it too. It’s a glow that shall light up your soul.
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Monday, November 10, 2014

'My College Diary' Contest: Cash Prizes Worth RS. 10,000 to be Won!

Are you fond of your college memories and love rekindling them once in a while? Do you love speaking about the memorable times you spent there and wish you could go back and relive them again?

Well, then this giveaway cum contest is for no one else but YOU!

My Yatra Diary… along with collegedunia.com is very excited to host ‘My College Diary’ contest where we are giving away cash prizes worth 10,000 INR (~ 150 USD) for the all the stories that you have got to share.

All you have to do is take a dive back in your college memories and then let your pen do the talking. That’s it and who knows next thing, you could be walking away with your share of prizes!

What are the prizes?

  • The best entry wins INR 5000 Cash.
  • 2 runners-up win INR 2000 Cash.
  • 1 lucky winner for helping with 'Social Media Outreach' will win INR 1000.

What is the topic?

Got an interesting college story to tell in pictures or words? Excited to take us around and show us your college campus from your perspective? Discovered something new while bunking classes and going out for a stroll?

If you found yourself nodding like a little kid, now is the time to flip back all those pages from your #CollegeDiaries, put your writing hat on and blog about it!

A few ideas to help you get started:

  • College Backpack: Been a courageous traveler all along? Have memories of that short field trip you took with your classmates or the impromptu jungle expedition you embarked on with your friends or that first taste of freedom when you decided to venture out alone? Tell us your story. Write about your experience there – what you saw, what you ate, interesting people you met, and what you did. 
  • Around Campus: What was the most favorite spot to hang out while not spending your time in the classroom? The silence of the library? The nearby sea shore? Canteen? Food joints? Quaint little temple you always stopped to pray before going to give your exams? Walk us through around your campus by writing about it on your blog!
  • Festivals and Events: Attended the college festival? Have stories to share? A memorable incident perhaps? Share your experiences and get all nostalgic.
  • Not great with words? No problem, pictures speak volumes. Blog your college memories as a photo story and team it up with interesting captions.

Social Media Outreach Bonus:

Besides writing the blog post, you can always help me spread the word on social media by sharing this banner on your blog/personal FB pages along with a link to this post:


 Share this banner along with the link of this post on your FaceBook page;
one lucky winner wins Rs. 1000

Drop the link to your shared FB post status in the comment section below / on my Facebook page / on twitter. Alternatively, you can also email me the screenshot on 22arti@gmail.com. As a token of gratitude and appreciation, we will be giving out one Rs.1000 cash to one lucky winner!

Mandatory points to follow –

1. All entries should mention this line in the post --> 'This post is my entry for 'My College Diary' contest held by travel blog My Yatra Diary in collaboration with Collegedunia.com' 

2. At the end of your post, tag atleast 3 bloggers or more who you think would be interested to participate in the contest and let them know about it by commenting on their blogs or on social media.

3. Only fresh entries written for the contest are allowed. Submit your entry link through the linky tool embedded below so that we can evaluate all the entries once the contest is over. Multiple entries are not allowed.

4. The winner will be chosen by me and College Dunia. Judges decision is final.

Eligibility?

Everyone who blogs and is a blogger, is eligible to participate in the contest. Nationality does not matter. If the winner is not from India, then the equivalent amount of prize money as USD to his/her Paypal account. This contest is open for all.

Contest Deadline:

Last date for the contest: 7th 11th December, 2014 (12.00 Midnight IST)*

*As I have received many entries on the 7th, I am extending the contest for 4 days so that those tagged at the last moment get a chance to participate too. Please submit your entries soon, there will be no further extension now.

Declaration of Winners

Winners will be announced as soon as possible (tentatively before the beginning of the New Year so the winners have something extra to celebrate!) on my blog and my social media pages; so do keep an eye on them.

Happy Blogging and Good Luck! Eagerly looking forward to receiving your entries soon. :-)

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