Friday, October 28, 2016

How to Plan the Perfectly Happy Road Trip in India!

Imagine sniffing fresh air, open vistas, rolling meadows, sturdy rivers, hanging cliffs, meandering slopes, humble hutments and cheerful village folk: yes, that’s just a small part of the entire picture that road tripping in India can paint for you.

Road trips are always exciting as they give you an amazing opportunity to step out into the unknown! However, with miles of highways and long stretches of monotonous landscape to stare into, they can sometimes be pretty challenging too. You really don’t want to start out thrilled but come back feeling drained and exhausted, right? A bit of effort from your side in planning before the trip starts can take you a long way ensuring that you come back happy – with so many memories to savour and even more stories to tell. As I am all set to embark on my much awaited road trip to Pandarpur on the banks of Bhima river in Solapur district, Maharashtra this Diwali season, I thought why not share my top tips for planning the perfectly happy road trip in India with everyone? Here goes my list!

How to plan the perfectly happy road trip in India.
May Lord Ganesha remove all the obstacles in our journey.

1. Choosing a destination that is right for you.

This is perhaps the most exciting part of planning a road trip and one point that is usually picked up by my dad. Being the traveller that he is, he loves to pick up that map and filter places where he might like to take his next yatra leaving us with ample of alternatives to choose from. Not only is the scuttling among the varied travel options a fun activity but also a very integral part of your planning board.

Significant factors have to be taken into account here like the budget you will be allotting for your travels and the number of days that you are having in hand. For example, if you are travelling from Mumbai like we do, a destination like Pune would be a better option for a short weekend trip over a destination like Dwarka in Gujarat which requires a good 5 days to cover all the places around.

Choosing the destination that is right for you can truly set the tempo making for a far more happy and fun road trip.

2. Do your research so that you are not completely lost.

Once the destination is zeroed on, the next thing that counts is the research that you are going to do. Trust me, it’s one of the most important things to do if you dream of having that happy, fun and fulfilling road trip for yourself.

This is not to say that getting lost or being spontaneous is not a good thing, in fact it’s a great thing getting lost and experiencing the unexpected especially during your drive on road trips. Taking that interesting detour and chancing upon something totally new, changing plans so as to explore that route that seems to be beckoning you or drinking chai with the locals in their homes and swapping stories that strike meaningful conversations and heartful laughters – these are what makes a road trip so exciting as it sounds. But all the laxity taken into account, you should still ensure you are in the driver’s seat while enjoying the flexibility on the plans.

Take a detour Dharamsala
Taking the road less travelled in Dharamsala.

Research can check this point for you. There are several apps and websites out there to help you that come loaded with information for free. These planners allow you to create a customizable road trip itineraries and plans within minutes covering information on places to see, places to stay, things to do - all laid out as one complete schedule for you based on your travel preferences! The point here is you don’t really have to plan everything out to a T. All you have to do is get a fairly organised idea on everything that you wish to be covered from your end and then leave it open so that you can change it according to what you discover along the way!

Consider answering these questions for example:

What are the places I’d like to see?
Are there any amazing viewing points enroute that I would never want to miss out on?
How about browsing alternative plans to the same destination for more ideas?

3. Stack up your food but don’t forget to stop at a roadside dhaba.

Roads make me hungry… for more sights, more smells, for the highway, the valleys and the cliffs and for FOOD!

Talking of food, one of the things I love about driving on the open roads, on the stretches of our highways are the roadside shacks, the dhabas as they are popularly called that more often than not dish out fresh, homely food for my growling stomach. Good food and happy stomach are two of the most important ingredients for an awesome road trip.

Connectivity can be an issue when driving through the remote interiors of India so don’t be surprised if you find your eyes pinning for the sight of a dhaba on the highway for long stretches of time but are unable to find one.

Dhaba Himalaya Road trip mountains
A dhaba was a rare sight when driving through the hilly regions in the Himalayas.

That’s when your own bag can come to your rescue. Stopping at a roadside dhaba is a must but do not forget to stack up on some food from home.

You don’t want to go hungry when you are soaking up all the wonderful sights along the way really, do you? Fruits are a good bet and so are some good old biscuits. That way you are ensured of a happy stomach and a well nourished ride all along the way.

4. Be curious, gear up your adventure spirit and enjoy the journey.

Things can go wrong anytime. Actually, it’s not even a wrong. Wrong is nothing but a calling of a change in the original plan. Remember, we never know what’s best for us. The road is wiser; knows it better. Be flexible enough to change your plans according to the demands of the moment, and relaxed enough to enjoy the journey. Embrace the uncertainties that are strewn all along the path and be curious about everything that comes in your way.

Talk to the locals Rajasthan road trip
Talking to the locals on the road in Rajasthan.

Serendipity is a beautiful thing and when you couple it with your adventurous spirit – you are guaranteed memories for a lifetime. Trick here is to go with the flow without sweating about the small stuff – look around, be aware, take the help of the locals if need be, study your map and turn on the GPS system – Trust your instincts, trust the road - the universe is there to guide you. Trust it to show you something really wonderful. You never know what’s around the corner.

5. Talk. Listen to one another. Spend quality time together.

This is my favourite part of road trips. Life is so damn busy, isn't it? We’re always plugged in to something or the other, thanks to the advent of the 'plug and play' digital age, our mind is often moving fast, eager to know everything that’s out there and trending or we are too busy working through our daily affairs to stop, pause, breathe and spend quality time with people who are dear to us.

A road trip enables us to roll back to our intrinsic nature. Spending long periods of time together gives us the opportunity to unplug from our busy schedules and (re)connect affectionately with each other on a completely different level. That’s when we realise there is so much to actually talk with each other. We love listening to their stories and love telling them ours in turn learning so much about our own selves and the world in return. That's also when we realise that how a fresh perspective to life is never too far away especially in a road trip  - it could spring forth from as far as the horizon beyond or as near as the person sitting just next to us.

What are your best tips to plan a happy road trip?
Where has your BEST road trip been?


Disclaimer: This post is written in association with Go RoadTrip. All the opinions are as always my own.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Why Returning Home is an Important Part of a Travel Adventure?

home həʊm noun :

1. the place where one lives permanently,
    especially as a member of a family or household.
2. A family living together in one building, house, etc.

This is the result Google threw up when I typed in the words 'home definition' and yet what is most fascinating is how the word home has a different meaning for many of us today. Especially for all those of us who love to travel or spend a considerable amount of time travelling in the wilderness outside.

The context of our definitions has changed, so have the norms traditionally accepted in the society and the dictionary. Today, home can mean a lot of different things to different people… for some it is a state of mind, for some it could be the place where they can relax, escape or just be who they are, it's where they find comfort after a weary tired day in the world outside or for some others the idea of home could be as wide as the whole world.

Have a look at this latest video released by Asian paints which expresses how and why there is #NoPlaceLikeHome:

So, what does 'home' mean to us - to you and me?
How would we describe what it feels like to feel at home?

For me, home is a sacred feeling I cherish in my heart. It’s a warm cocoon ballooned with memories, fuzziness, joy, peace and laughter created when kindred souls meet at a specific moment in time – touching one another in such inexplicably unanticipated ways on their respective isolated islands that it makes them and everyone around them feel alive, valued, loved and dear. That feeling makes me feel at home. In this case, the geography or the location does not matter nor does it necessarily have to come into the picture.

Home is where the heart is.
That feeling when you are among the people you love and the people who love you back!

Having said that, I cannot stress enough on the importance of returning to my "earthly abode" after that all consuming travel adventure (that I never really wanted to end!) – Something that cannot be denied or ignored neither should it ever be. And that is what this post will be talking about. Returning home after travelling to a faraway place opens up yet another vista, another landscape, this time more personal, more familiar and more recognisable, and yet abounding in growth, adventure and possibility in our everyday lives albeit in a different way.

Beauty in the wilderness.
Get lost in the wild;
but don't forget to find yourself at home.

I am sure we have all heard the saying which goes like this – A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

I totally second the thoughts here. Being on the road teaches us (in a fun and exciting way) many life lessons that we may never otherwise learn back home but it's not until we step back into the chartered backyards of our own home that we really begin to become something more than what we already were before embarking on the journey on the road outside.

Home helps me appreciate the things missed and express gratitude for all that I have.

Life for me is one big adventure where each moment, every day holds innumerable surprises for us to throw our self into. In that sense, if I have the opportunity to travel today, it forms just one leg of my exploratory journey of life.

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt through my yatras over the years is appreciation. To see the world in all its glorious splendour and revel in its beauty, as it is not as you think it should be, is a thing, a feeling of pure joy. And so it is for when I come back and embrace the familiar warmth of the lovely people at home and fuzziness of the favourite things I missed while my time on the road.

View from my balcony I can never tire watching.
Sitting by the balcony and staring into the infinite is one of my favourite things to do at home.

The times I spend with my family – the wonderful people who continuously shape me into whoever I am; and for which I feel eternally grateful in life – aren’t they an integral part of my travel adventure?

Home is the place where souvenirs reside.

My home is also the place where my souvenirs reside... souvenirs or keepsakes collected in my travel journeys are not mere objects to remind of that fabulous place I once visited but are priceless keepsakes to incite treasured travel memories that are deeply personal to me.

My souvenir of a hand made origami bird - Japan
Souvenirs are priceless treasures to be cherished in the heart.

These souvenirs – each holding a tale of its own - double up as sacred reminders of precious moments of kindness, smiles, love and warmth collected through people I connected with to be cherished dearly in my heart. But it’s not until that I share these souvenirs, each tale ringing bells of joy within my heart, with my own family, the people that are closest to me that my journey feels complete.

Home is where I get my perspective!

The trajectory of our sojourns might be laid out differently but I am sure there are lessons laid out there for each one of us more often amid the situations closer home – how often do we forget to appreciate the things / qualities about people that are closest to us? Reasons could be many but this is one beautiful realisation that travel brings along with itself. The many experiences that we have in our travel journey puts a lot of things in perspective back home, most importantly our own mindset, so that now we have a new pair of eyes that helps us see our surroundings in a new light: for me that means to be more aware and to appreciate all the things I might have missed seeing before and a new heart that helps me to say ‘Thank you’ for all that I have.

My blogger desk at home.
Blogging at home puts a lot of things learnt on the road - in perspective.

Travel, on the road as in life, has to always take us closer home, towards our most innate core, our own self, towards that sacred love, never away from it. The transformation that the journey brings along has to be intense, even overwhelming so that you don’t feel like the same person you were like before. It is a renewed sense of awareness of your own being and the world that you see, often different than what you thought you would normally be. And then you are in a perfect position to appreciate all that is around you. Like that simple plate of rice, roti and dal cooked by my mom and served in good time along with this motherly nudge: Arti I don’t think you have had an opportunity to look at yourself in the mirror lately. Let me tell you, you’re growing thinner by the day, and you desperately need to eat more healthy stuff.

Confession be made, I secretly smirk when she says that. But at the same time, I understand she cares and it’s feelings like these I cherish that keep bringing me back home and make me realise that there truly is no place like home..

What about you?
What are the things that keep bringing you home?
Share your thoughts, would love to hear them!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Navratri Special: She's A Woman!

Ma Durga at a Durga Pandal in Kolkata

[Photography by Saumy Nagayach from Saumy's Bag]

She made broken look beautiful
and strong look invincible.
She walked with the Universe
on her shoulders and made it
look like a pair of wings.
― Ariana Dancu.

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The annual nine night festival of Navratri is upon us and we are in the midst of celebrating the nine forms of Mother Durga or Shakti, the Feminine Superpower in her various forms celebrating victory over evil. In the course leading to the festive fervour, I was constantly struck with this thought of who actually is she that we bow our heads in front of, only to be inundated with oodles of love, care and comfort in return? What compels us to call her the Mother of the Universe, the power behind the creation, the preservation and the destruction of the Universe, the one who remains unperturbed in the face of difficulties and the one who rises above all odds to shine in her innate beauty, wisdom and power.

These thoughts led me to this idea on the collaborative post which now leads us to this years festive season special: My Yatra Diary… in an humble endeavour to bring none other but that Supreme Goddess alive, profiles some of the gritty woman pioneers we encounter - often momentarily but almost always leaving a deep impact in our psyche through their natural undying qualities of fortitude, faith, love and many more - in our countless journeys that we take through the road of life. My deepest gratitude to all the wonderful people who took out some time from their precious schedules and came forward wholeheartedly to send me their wishes, pictures, poem and anecdotes that has made this close-to-my-heart piece 'She’s a Woman' what it is, perhaps even better than how I had initially thought it out to be.

I hope the heartfelt stories (coincidentally there are nine!) that we read here coupled with the enlightening poem towards the end will enable each one of us to dig deeper for facets in our own character that we never knew we had... and if we are lucky enough to discover one, let's consider that as a blessing by The Mother herself meant to expand our spirit, enlarge our heart and enrich our life for all the years that are to come. Happy Navratri everyone!

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Malana woman

"Be careful while in Malana, don't touch anyone"... everyone warned me. But the first Malana people I came across during the difficult, snow covered trek through the longer route was this group of women. They were just like any other Himalayan women, cheerful, and hardworking. I was somewhat lost but they showed me the way through knee-deep snow and mud. My inhibitions disappeared and I started observing the place with a new pair of eyes.


A woman Chandravali, UP

A random lady walking towards Bhrahma temple at Pushkar. I complimented her on her nose ring and with such warmth she said "do you want it?"

Stunned , I said , " no no! It looks so pretty on you!" And she gave me the most fabulous smiles ever!

A shy girl at Brahma Temple, Pushkar

Met Heero a shy girl outside a village school near Chandravali, UP. She told me she doesn't go to school but wants to and will do anything to be educated.

When I wanted to click her million dollar smile she shied away, her eyes still giving away!

PRASAD NP - desi Traveler:

Portrait of a construction woman worker

She is a construction worker from Chattisgarh, and was working on a construction project in McLeodgunj in Himachal. When I first saw her she was on her break from the back breaking work she does and I instinctively clicked her picture. But as I normally like to talk to people so I walked upto her and requested her if I can click her picture. She was very surprised but her friends joined in and they said it is okay and persuaded her to say yes.

Construction worker woman

As I pointed the camera she was still blushing and I clicked her pictures. You can see the contrast in the facial expressions and the sparkle in eyes. I had a feeling that just by talking to her and not clicking from a distance I made somebody happy and brought a smile.

Portrait of a woman at a construction site

Also inspite of her poor financial condition and hard construction work notice she is wearing delicate glass bangles, this speaks volumes about her ability to do tough work while still keeping her feminine qualities intact. That to me is the quality of a real strong woman she can be tough as well as delicate at the same time. Just like Maa Durga, she is a warrior and a mother at same time.


Thimpu, Bhutan

Thimphu, Bhutan. It was a monastery where I saw her. She said she spent a lot of time there. And she was right, I could find her there every time I went there over that week. I liked looking at her. I can't say it was inspiration that I saw in her. No. It was beauty, beauty in its purest forms. It was also a realisation that beauty has everything to do with peace and clarity: peace of mind and clarity of heart.


I met this woman during my trek to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib this year, in the remote village of Ghangaria.

Inspirational woman at a village Ghangaria enroute Hemkund Sahib

She is Waheeda and she lives with her two kids in Ghangaria for 4 months every year when the village becomes habitable and tourists flock for the trek. For the rest of the year, she lives in a village in UP.

She is 27 years old and lost her husband when she was just 23. She works in the Gurudwara while in Ghangaria and does odd jobs and as a single mom, she has been raising her three children, the youngest son being 5 years old. 

What inspired me was her will to live the life to the fullest, her love and dreams for her children and the way she carried herself with a smile. Being able to a raise a family independently after having gone through tragedies takes immense strength and I was moved by her emotional strength. Her indomitable spirit to face the hurdles of life and brace the challenges that it throws made me respect her even more.


Her name - Sharmishtha Mondol, studying in standard 4th, from Sundarbans. 

Sharmishtha Mondol, Sunderbans

On a random walk through the lush farms on one of the islands, I came across her, collecting live crabs from mudpools in the fields for lunch! And may be some meagre sales too. The day her school was to begin at half day, hence she was helping her mother by collecting crabs in the morning. Muddy hands and face, bare-bodied, the morning sun threatening to roast our skins, she had this serenity about her. Life was sorted - once the crabs would be collected, she'd scurry home with her younger brother to get ready for school. The struggle so obvious seemed lost on her, for life was what I saw brimming in her eyes. Her poise, her spirit, her spark stays with me, egging me on to look beyond the travails and find my silver lining. It's after all in the mind, isn't it?

Crabs picked by Sharmishtha Mondol in Sunderbans

Backdrop: The islands had been destroyed during the cyclone Aila in 2009, when the ocean broke the island's embankments and destroyed the fields and all establishments within. Sources of income ravaged, boats broken, fishing areas out of reach, already meagre belongings lost - in such times, continuing school might be the last thing on a parent's mind. And yet, boats rolled out soon, ferrying the kids to their schools on nearby islands!


Kamini Lakhani, SAI Autism

She is a woman who inspires me every day. Kamini Lakhani has spent over 23 years working to enable children with autism to lead dignified lives. She is a parent of a 27-year old with autism, and a professional. While most parents of autistic children take care of one child, she has dedicated her life to empower hundreds of parents to build a meaningful relation with their children. While most professionals teach skills to children with autism, Kamini, through SAI Connections (an autism treatment centre she founded) helps them develop the abilities needed to navigate everyday life and live independently.


Parvathy Baul

She is Parvathy Baul, I clicked her picture in 2014 at Upvan Art Festival Thane. I was visiting the festival for clicking pictures with friends, was totally amazed by her performance. She creates an incredible world where you totally lose yourself and dive in a to search another of you. A little google search, I could find what an icon she is in the Baul Music and Cultural tradition.


Nanneshawara temple at Lakkundi, Karnataka

Against the intricate sculptures in the background, she sat there all alone, and got up when I walked in. With a beaming smile she welcomed me to Nanneshwara temple at Lakkundi. An official guide at the temple, she then took me through the history of the temple, the stories behind the art works and enthusiastically asked me about my bike ride across North Karnataka. She also made sure that she captured a photo of mine against the temple on my camera. Despite the fact that I was the only visitor at that time and the temple lacks frequent tourists as it isn’t as popular as its neighbours (Badami, Aihole, Pattadakkal), she was all welcoming and eager to show me around. Her exuberance in her work was absolutely inspiring.

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~ Poem by Mohini Puranik - Narayankripa.
(inspired by her Grandma)

She is a woman.
A woman
Power, strength, resilience
In soft loving heart
She defines strength by her love
She defines her existence by her sacrifices 
She is  sister, wife,  friend,  daughter, mother

She is giving, 
She is caring,
She is loving
In every form, she meets us.

She is a woman
Supreme reverence she knows is love, 
Supreme faith she follows is her duties,
She lives for the happiness of her loved ones
She is a woman.