Tag Archives: Travel

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Vietnam: A few first impressions

This was a different kind of trip. I didn’t do much research since my fellow traveller and photographer Hema took control of everything including the planning and organising (which I usually enjoy doing for my trips). For a change, I took a backseat as I was already busy planning an all girl’s trip to Wayanad. So I didn’t really have any notions/impressions except a guide book that I’d borrowed from a friend.

The guidebook indicated there were a few scams in some parts of Vietnam. But we didn’t come across any such unpleasant experiences. However, another group we met did tell us that cab drivers purposely take long routes even if the places are close by, just to make an extra buck. But after dealing with auto drivers in Bangalore, I think one is armed to take on a few greedy errant taxi drivers.

At no point during our trip did we actually feel threatened or unsafe in Vietnam. (In fact, I have at time felt more unsafe in some parts of India). The people are quite stoic but once you converse with them (or try as their English is very limited), they are quite friendly. Except for one very surly cab driver (he was definitely unhappy with his life) people were generally quite nice. English is not their strong point, but with a lot of effort (and gestures) usually we got our message across. Sometimes not successfully. But no matter. We managed to navigate despite all of these issues.

Streets of Hanoi

We walked out of our hotel located in District 1, Saigon on our last night and there were people everywhere. This was at 1130 pm at night. There were people singing, eating, drinking, chatting and generally lounging around till 3 am in the morning. Unlike Bangalore, where you feel like a criminal at 11 pm, this was place was just the opposite. Many street side pubs were also cashing in on football fever.

Night life in Hanoi

There are millions of motorbikes in the cities, especially Hanoi and HCM which we visited. Interesting though the fact that even despite heavy traffic, there is lesser (noticeable) aggression. In India, we’d be punching one another and bringing our dear departed generations into our brawls. However, the Vietnamese all congregate in the center of the road, at the same time, and then make their way around each other. Magically, everyone finds a way. In the few times we went out, we didn’t see too many folks lose their temper. The honking is relatively lesser too.

Two wheelers rule the streets

And then there are cyclists. Even in the middle of this chaos, cyclists of all ages made their way on two wheels. And they didn’t seem to be bullied into corners or edges of the street, unlike what happens in India. They were very much a part of the ecosystem, demanding an equal share of the road. No one was treated as a lesser mortal on the road because they happened to be on a cycle. And there were so many women, girls, older folks cycling even in peak hour that I was quite amazed. I even saw a dad with two of his young sons cycling on a busy road (a sight that you’ll be hard pressed to see here).

Everyone cycles - old and young

Everyone is a moving market!

Masks are a fashion statement. And supposedly keep pollution at bay. I’m not sure about the efficacy of these masks, which mostly women wear. They adorn every second face. A young university student called Ly I met on a bus said women are very beauty conscious and basically do it to protect their skin from the sun and pollution. I was tempted to buy one for myself, but couldn’t find a mask with cats on it.

Street corners and roads are relatively clean. I saw a lot of sweeping going on in the mornings. This might also be due to the fact that the Vietnamese eat on the streets all the time so they probably want to keep it clean. Except some parts where there was littering (like the China town area in HCM), largely the garbage disposal system seems to be working. And people seem to be a bit more conscious of littering than us Indians.

Street food is a way of life

There is excessive use of thin plastic bags everywhere. They possibly don’t know how much harm all this will do to their environment (yet), but shopkeepers are only too eager to flash out the bags even for the smallest purchase. Whether it’s water, chips, biscuits or anything you buy, the first thing you get is this flimsy plastic bag. And tourists are equally responsible for accepting these despite the fact that everyone is carrying a rucksack or a bag they can carry the stuff in.

Packing it in

Clean rest rooms (and no smell!). What a boon. Especially coming from a country like India where the level of sanitation can drop to dismal lows, I was really thrilled to find clean loos. And most of them didn’t smell. I’m not sure how or what they did, but they didn’t announce their presence the way Indian loos did. Even in remote villages and towns, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness and accessibility of restrooms, a major concern for travellers in India. And hardly anyone pees on the road (if it’s practiced, it wasn’t as noticeable as in our country).

Connected everywhere!. This was surprising as we were gearing up to be off the network for a few days. In fact, my fellow travellers armed themselves with local SIMs, which I decided not to go in for. And there was connectivity everywhere – whether it was the hotels, cafes, restaurants, a rustic home stay in a remote village or even our cruise boat on Halong Bay. Wi-Fi is a given and most places will let you use it for free. We actually weren’t off the network anywhere at all!

There are no overweight/obese people in Vietnam. This is actually true. In all our travels there, we didn’t come across one overweight person. Everyone seems to come out of the same sized mould! Despite the fact that their portions are generous and everyone is eating all the time. They’re doing something very right. I want their secret!

Enjoyed the trip immensely and wouldn’t mind returning to see parts of the country, which we missed out this time around.

Six reasons why you should travel in the monsoons

I’m sure there are more, but let’s start with six. In fact, while many tourists shy away from travelling because it’s raining, true travellers will tell you that a place can be enjoyed despite the rain. It’s a mindset that you need to avoid a destination when it rains. Unless, it happens to be a big city. In which case I would say avoid it like plague. You don’t want to deal with clogged roads, drainage overflowing, traffic jams and all the associated issues that the rains bring to our very well planned cities.

A little piece of paradise
The view from a tea garden in Pozhuthana, Wayanad

Anyway, this is about the monsoons. And why it’s a great time to travel. Any place takes on a different hue during the rains. I was in Goa last year for 3 weeks and had the time of my life despite the torrential downpours.

It’s lush and green

The valley before you spreads out like a lush carpet. The roads are framed by green trees and grass on both sides. The hills are showing off their full foliage, again in green. It’s so green that if you’re not used to it, you’d probably need tinted glasses to tone it down. But seriously, green is definitely the colour of the season and we all know that it’s the best one to get your relaxed and rejuvenated. Nature really wears this colour well.

boys having fun
A sight for sore eyes!

You get better deals

You might need to look around a bit and even ask for discounts, but this is a season where you will get lower prices from a lot of home stays, resorts, hotels. If you’re not sure, just ask them. We are spoilt for choose today in the array of options available. And in this era of social media, even if we don’t look for them, they will probably land up in our stream anyway.

Lesser people to fight with for space

So one of the reasons I travel is to get away from the city (where I clearly see the alarming impact of producing a billion and more people) to smaller destinations and locations where you’ll see a soul once in a while. Get away from the madding crowds, the hoi-polloi and give yourself some breathing space. I love the feeling and I recommend it to everyone (at least once in a while).

Nestled in between
Choose places a bit away from the main towns – usually they’re much more peaceful and calm

There’s colour everywhere

Just before the onset of the monsoons, it’s a pretty sight all around. While on a walk outside today in Wayanad where I am currently, I saw so much variety in foliage that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking everything in sight. From vivid reds, to oranges, to colourful yellows and pretty pinks – there are beautiful blossoms everywhere adding to the prettiness quotient of your frames.

A time for blossoms
It’s amazingly pretty this time of the year and you need to step out to witness nature’s gorgeous hues

Carrying a torch for you
A flower called ginger torch that I saw for the first time

Rediscover the joy of getting soaked

I remember as kids, we loved getting wet in the rains. In fact, we would wait impatiently so we could all rush out and do our rain dance. Our parents had to cajole us to come indoors since we would just be out for hours on end. But what a feeling. Do it sometime. Just get wet. Feel the rain on your skin. Instead of running for a raincoat or an umbrella, soak in the sensation of a rain bath. I can tell you from experience – it’s true joy. Last year, on a trek in Wayanad, I got soaked to the skin as it started pouring cats and dogs. But once I gave in to it, began to enjoy the feeling, I realised that I need to let go. (And yes, we will eventually dry off.)

Comparing notes
With or without rain gear, have some fun

Smell the coffee. And the flowers

The monuments are done and dusted. The hectic sightseeing has been completed. Now, just sit on your balcony and watch the rain. Meditate. Open the door of your room and just relax. Do yoga. Listen to the birds. The rains are a great time to just not venture out and give yourself the “me” time you so badly need (and you didn’t even know)!

A welcome view
I totally believe in doing nothing holidays – they are good for the soul

ADDENDUM:

Another reason, contributed by a friend

Monsoons are the best time for ayurvedic massages

So, during the Kerala Blog Express, we met a doctor at the Manaltheeram Ayurvedic resort who told us about how the ayurvedic massage is the most effective during the rainy season. In fact, many guests come specifically during this period for treatments. A combination of the temperature, rains and other factors all adds to increasing the effectiveness of the oils. So, isn’t this reason enough?!

So there – I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to step out this rainy season. And if you did, or plan to, do share your “getting soaked” experience!

More photos on Flickr

(NOTE: On this trip, I am using the Canon 500D body and the 17-85 mm lens. All photos [except no 3 and 7 from an earlier collection] in the post are with this equipment provided my photography gear & equipment partner, “Book My Lens”. I’m happy to announce them as a partner and I’m quite impressed with the kind of services they provide. They are a photography equipment rental service based in Bangalore which provides quick service for photography enthusiasts who want to experience all lenses and accessories from Canon and Nikon. Their aim is to provide the best in class, at affordable prices. Do check them out on bookmylens.com)

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And here’s presenting the world richest temple!

Well, we’re told the jury is yet to come in on that one. But what we’re sure is that it’s a really, really, really rich temple.

So in case you thought you were visiting a poor nation, steeped in poverty, with lots of homeless people (possibly also true); the other side of the story is that we also possess not one, but two of the richest temples in the world.

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Between, the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple and the Tirupati temple, we could potentially have enough to feed the entire nation for a few years.

The temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, and it shot into fame when in 2010, the news broke about all the wealth it was holding, deep within it’s vaults. An NDTV 2011 report says: “Last July, the world’s attention turned to the temple when the committee unearthed what one of its members said was gold, diamonds and precious antiques worth up to $40 billion.”

A kid running excitedly towards the temple.

A kid running excitedly towards the temple.

40 billion dollars! Now that is no small sum. And a little ironical coming to think of it. At least, if God does actually exist, he’s having a big laugh about all the wealth he’s collected over centuries. And it’s not like he hasn’t got enough already.

Anyway, if you (like me) were sleeping (or distracted by other things) while this news broke, in 2010, it was ordered that the contents of the vaults of the Padmanbhaswamy temple be made public. And that’s when all the jewels, gold and silver came (literally) tumbling out.

According to another NDTV report: “The four vaults already opened in recent days at the temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern state of Kerala, held a vast bounty that unofficial estimates peg at Rs. 90,000 crore. Other treasures unearthed so far include statues of gods and goddesses made of solid gold and studded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones, crowns and necklaces, all given as gifts to the temple over the centuries.’

A couple getting ready to enter the temple premises

A couple getting ready to enter the temple premises

They’re now in lengthy discussions (where I would love to be a fly in the wall!) about what to do with all the wealth and going by our record for debates, this one is going to be a very long one.

The wealth they’ve unearthed is apparently enough (of course, after many months of assessment) to wipe off India’s debt. But of course, they’re not going to do that. Someone suggested a closely guarded museum. That makes so much more sense right? Get people to admire all these riches from a distance. Hmm… Some have suggested the treasures being sold and the money being used for development of Kerala.

Coming back to these riches, the $40 billion dollars is only an estimation. I am rather curious to know what’s going to happen with all the riches. I know I’m not getting a cent, though some spare change would always help.

Security was ramped up when the news about the treasures was revealed. There are hidden cameras and black cat commandos all around. Apparently, some of the bare torso-exhibiting priests might also be security staff. Not surprisingly. You wouldn’t want someone to break in and suddenly run away with a lot of India’s (or God’s as the case might be) wealth.

Men need to be dressed in a mundu and women in a saree to enter the temple. It is also only accessible to Hindus.

Men need to be dressed in a mundu and women in a saree to enter the temple. It is also only accessible to Hindus.

Outside the temple, there are vendors who do brisk business renting sarees (for women) and wrap-around (mundus) for men. Garbed in this gear, and of course sporting your Hindu identity you are allowed to enter. We admire it from the distance, and there’s a road around it which you are allowed to walk through. But no photographs are allowed. I spot a shop there where two men are carving intricate wood sculptures of different gods. He starts to show me a few of them, but I have to tell him that I’m not really out to buy anything.

What I came away with is of course the million (or billion) dollar question: what will happen to all this wealth? But I doubt I’ll get an answer. Probably, not in this lifetime.

More news about Padmanabhaswamy temple
Official site

(Note: This trip is part of the 15 day Kerala Blog Express organised by Kerala Tourism with 25 other travellers, which started in Thiruvanthanpuram and makes it way around to Kollam, Kumarakom, Alleppey, Thekkady, Munnar, Wayanad, Calicut and then Cochin.)

Follow the trip on:
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: #keralablogexpress

Personal:
Twitter: @anitabora
Facebook: Anita Recommends
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anita

The Kerala Blog Express

Boarding the Kerala Blog Express in Trivandrum

So it’s been a rather hectic 4 days – a variety of sights, sounds, monuments, hotels, beaches, backwaters, museums and anything else you can think of – have been clicked, blogged about, tweeted by 26 bloggers, writers and photographers who have converged in Kerala from all over the world.

We started our journey in Trivandrum on March 10, spent the next day in Kovalam beach and then travelled to Kollam via Varkala on March 12. On March 13, we were in Kovalam. Four days on the road, and I’m trying to get used to the “fast” pace of the trip in the meanwhile.

How to follow the travellers as they continue the journey over the next 10 days:
Twitter: #keralablogexpress
Instagram: #keralablogexpress
Website: Kerala Blog Express

On the Kerala Blog Express

It’s been an experience that is a first for me. I don’t think I’ve travelled in such a big group. Usually, it’s solo (evolving as my favourite mode!) or with a smaller group (which when like-minded, makes for pleasurable travel). For example, in a large group, it takes time to know everyone. With so many people, from different nations and continents, it’s a bit hard to keep track.

Anyway, we got introduced to our bus and our driver Ron, who will be driving us around Kerala for the next 15 days. And the team of Rutavi, Kenny, Sooraj and Manoj who will be with us as we traverse God’s own country.

I’ve had a chance to interact with some of the fellow travellers and still getting to know some of them. But Vijay Nambiar’s put out a list of who’s on the bus in case you’re curious!

I’m slowly getting to know some of the travellers and am quite impressed with their travel experience. Edgar is from the Philippines, a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Manila and Cebu in the Philippines. He’s travelled to 80 of the 81 provinces in his country (quite a feat!) and 11 nations in Southeast Asia, chronicling people, places and perspectives on and off the beaten path. Then, meet Emmanuel of thesiracusas.com, who is one half of a travelling couple. This is what they write on their blog: “As passionate lifelong learners and independent-minded travellers, we live to satisfy our curiosity about the world, its people, its cultures and traditions. Travel is for us a source of continuous inspiration and it provides us with many opportunities to put ourselves and our values in perspective.”

Got some time to chat with Daniel, who is from Brasil, a very experienced travel writer. Over breakfast in Kovalam, he gave me some interesting insights into life as a writer, both freelancing and working for other people. Daniel is on his own now, but he says it largely depends on many external factors as to which side he works for! I’m hoping to chat more with the rest of them, over the next few days.

A photo snapshot of the many experiences on Day 1 of the trip.

On the Kerala Blog Express

My first view of the backwaters as I land in Trivandrum (Thiruvanthapuram). We have lunch at the Poovar Island Resort – I am deposited right at the boat jetty, after which there’s a short ride and I join the rest of the travellers who have already reached.

On the Kerala Blog Express

This resort has some really great “floating” cottages on the waterfront. A perfect way to enjoy the backwaters, the sea and just relax for a few days.

On the Kerala Blog Express

After lunch at Poovar, we head to another part of the area called Chowara and to the Somatheeram Ayurveda resort (the first in the world it claims). The location of the resort is rather gorgeous, with a view of the beach and a vast expanse of green coconut trees to one side. I definitely wouldn’t mind spending a week here, relaxing and getting rejuvenated.

The same property also has a place called Manatheeram, and we enjoy the views there with high tea.

On the Kerala Blog Express

The sea views, greenery all around, a hammock and time to while away – the perfect spot to be in! This is part of the Somatheeram property.

Kerala Blog Express

The property has ayurvedic treatments for many different ailments, besides a wellness package. Mr Chandrashekharan Nair also told us a bit more about the principles of Ayurveda. Also, was surprised to know that this form did not originate in Kerala, though now practiced widely in this part of the country.

On the Kerala Blog Express

Location is everything they say and we got a glimpse of one of the most beautiful properties around – The Leela, Kovalam. I remember, many years ago coming on a family trip, looking at this property from the beach (it was then an ITDC property). It was a nice feeling, so many years later, to experience the view from the other side! The sunset was magical and I think everyone was quite sad to leave this property – one of the best so far.

On the Kerala Blog Express

Sunset at the Leela, Kovalam

Enjoying the sunset views from the Leela, Kovalam.

A hectic start to the day I must say, as we retired at The Estuary Island Resort. It was too dark to really enjoy the hotel, but we were just happy to end the day on a good note.

These are the links to the places we visited:
Poovar Island Resort
Somatheeram Ayurveda resort
Manaltheeram
Leela, Kovalam
The Estuary Island Resort

Munnar and God's own country

Two weeks in God’s own country!

A month or so ago, I came across the Kerala Blog Express and on a whim, decided to give it a go. Why not, I thought? I have travelled quite a bit in Kerala, but a chance to go back is always welcome.

So, was quite pleasantly surprised, when the results came out and I was chosen to get onboard the Express, which departs on March 10. Two weeks going around Kerala with a bunch of enthusiastic, well travelled bloggers, who will converge in Trivandrum from different parts of the world (including a few from India) and then set out together.

Here’s to a different view of Kerala. More experiences, and many more pictures and stories!

(This photograph taken in Munnar a few years ago, on another trip).

South India

My top 5 picks in the south

Something I wrote a while ago, published by rediff.com.

The places I’ve listed (some of them are possibly pretty familiar to most of you) and yet I was surprised when a very dear friend today confessed that she has never been to Pondicherry. So there goes! I take it for granted that these are relatively popular places, but if you haven’t visited yet, now is a good time.

I’ve also listed some of my favourite places to stay in each of them.

My picks: Pondicherry, Tharangamvadi (though I believe even Tharangampadi is an acceptable spelling), Nersa, Goa and Havelock (in the Andamans). Not sure if the last one technically can be called south India, but it’s still the deep south.

Top 5 Must Travel Places in South India

Enjoy :-)