Monday, December 9, 2013

Singapore

<Updated after the 2015 visit>

Six degrees of separation. Flat world. Blah blah. World's become a small place you say? I think its become a difficult place. Close ones don't just move to different cities, but move to different countries altogether. Its not easy keeping in touch anymore. More the means of communication, lesser we communicate. Stupid ironies of life. So, a get together with some of these friends is so rare. And so awesome. :)

A long weekend in Singapore with Sri, Dips and Sam. The planning was watertight. Almost military-like. Excels were printed. There were schedules to be followed. And instructions to keep in mind. The whatsapp thread was bordering on frenzy. Now, I am going to keep this post simple. Singapore is a small place. Yet, we didn't quite see/do everything. Way too much time was spent catching up over glasses of beer and scotch.

Quick list of the places we visited - 
  • The Flyer - Time really stands still in the flyer! Possibly, the slowest way to see a city skyline. Way better idea to probably just go to the Marina Bay Sands rooftop and take in the view in a jiffy. And the only good way to see the flyer is from a distance when it lights up in the evening. The high point of the visit to the flyer was the gelato that we had after the ride (if you can call it a ride). 
Forlorn folks in the flyer :P
The flyer from a distance

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Of sunsets and small towns

In the last three days, the setting sun has left us in awe.

First was Kas. It is a small town by the bay with an extremely happy vibe. We reached Kas around 4 pm, checked in to Santosa Pansion and immediately left for Kaputas beach. The beach was a good 30 minute drive from Kas and the view was breathtaking. You have to climb down  around 160 steps to reach the beach. From the top, it is an awesome sight. Blue waters, mountains by the side, and all the people and the colours. The sky changed colours to different shades of orange. There were jets leaving trails in the sky. I spent over an hour sitting in the water and just staring at the sky. We left around 7.30 pm with no mini buses in sight. The good thing about traveling with friends is that every situation can easily be turned into a joke. So, we started walking in the moonlight. We could see a fish restaurant in the distance. Fish trumps no transport, by far. :P  Kas town square is brilliant. Small cafes and bars dot the entire place. There is music everywhere. Sitting in the open is the norm. The place is full of small bylanes with green creepers growing on walls and roofs. Looks very idyllic.

Kaputas Beach

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Along the Turkish Coastline

In a bus on our way to this small village called Kas. The sea is in different shades of turquoise. View is absolutely awesome. Crappy photos I know, but that's all my phone could manage. Roads here are super. Taking a bus to anywhere is extremely complex! For our journey from Cappadocia to Antalya, we had to change 5 buses! Indian buses run far more efficiently.

The Turkish bayside deserves 2-3 weeks. Dotted with small villages and towns, it is the kind of place where you hire a car and stop where you want. Then pull a beach lounger and laze away the day. Pretty much what a lot of people seem to be doing here. Cannot wait to reach Kas and hit the beach. Supposedly, there is a gem of a beach there.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Sunrise in Cappadocia

We woke up at 5 today morning. Yes, 5 am! Last night's dinner was at this quaint Turkish restaurant called Old Cappadocia Cafe & Restaurant. Ordinary chicken and excellent lamb. We had pottery kebab, a turkish special where chicken is cooked in a clay pot and brought to the table on flames. And Moussaka, which is a Greek special, lamb cooked over a layer of aurbergines. Bread, aurbergine and lamb seem to be the mainstay here. That was accompanied with Efes, the local beer, Raki and a cappadocian wine. Stuffed to the hilt, I was out like a light yesterday.
Pottery Kebab

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Turkish Roads

In the past 24 hours, we have been on four flights. Chennai to Bombay, then to Doha, then to Istanbul and finally to Kayseri. It is 7 pm right now and we are on the last leg before we halt for the night. In a shuttle bus from Kayseri to Cappadocia. Around an hour's journey. Listening to some Moby song which goes well with the roads zipping by. The place looks pretty barren. There is a crispy wintery chill in the air. Like Delhi in early December. There is wi-fi in the bus, so conversations have been stalled. The next ten days look promising. Cappadocia, Antalya, Fethiye, Pamukkale, Izmir and ending with Istanbul. With some very close friends. The customary beers started last night. I have as usual become the butt of many jokes. Seems like routine warmth. :) Today we stay in Falcon Cave hostel. And tomorrow, I start clicking. :) More later!

First view of Istanbul


Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Outsiders' Guide to Madras



Madras. The fifth city I have stayed in. Well, sixth almost, if you count my omnipresence in Bombay during my Pune days. I came here in 2009 and there's been no looking back since then. Quite a few people I know don't get it. The city has bad weather; Tamil is not the easiest language to understand; and well, the naysayers have a pretty long list! Changing people's opinions can be a futile exercise and there is absolutely nothing in this whole wide world, without a few cons. I say change your perspective. Happiness too is just a point of view, at the end of the day. :) Now, getting down to business.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

After Chaar Dhaam: Notes from hindsight

Two weeks after we completed our 10 day trip, there were cloud bursts and flash floods in Uttarakhand. The worst hit places were Rudraprayag, Kedarnath and Badrinath. The very same places I stood with Ma and Baba. They say thousands have died. The calamity was of an unimaginable scale. My first thought as I read the news was what if..what if I was standing there with my folks. What if while I made them smile for the hundredth photo, a massive roar caught us off-guard. And one of us was swept away. While everyone watched helplessly. I cringe at the thought of a dear one getting a mild scratch. Then, what if I had lost one of them in front of my eyes. I know I wrote about how praying at Kedarnath was life changing. But we pray for our well being right? You know the laundry list - take care of our family, keep us in good health, keep everyone happy and safe and so on. Of all the places, the shield of protection should have been the strongest in Chaar Dhaam right? The holy abode where thousands go walking through awful roads. Some without shoes. Some without warm clothes. Children in tow. Then what happened to all the prayers and all the faith? I am not making any point here. Just that writing about my trip almost seems monstrous now. And sometimes keeping your faith intact can be a tough task.

While we were on the road, I remember Ma saying innumerable times - they should do something about these roads. One heavy downpour and these roads will be wiped out. She did not know then how close to the truth she was.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top of the World - Day Three at Kedarnath

The most spell-binding moments in life happen in the least expected places. And when it happens, there's a sense of calm that comes over. You're standing amongst thousands, yet in that one moment you could probably be the only person in this world. These moments just take your breath away. It struck me with such a force today, I almost had tears in my eyes. We were standing in front of the Kedarnath temple. Ice capped peaks towered over us. Last remnants of sunlight glistened on the ice. And suddenly, candles were lit and everyone started singing. A single voice of devotion. The kind of music that just seeps inside and becomes a part of you. I was humbled. I am not god fearing and I stay away from temples. But today, when the bells chimed and om jai jagdish hare drifted over the mountains, it was life changing. Maybe, these moments happen to make you realise that life should be a culmination of such amazing things, and not a constant rant of all that's wrong.
Evening Aarti at Kedarnath

Sunday, May 26, 2013

From the mountains - Day Two

We're sitting in this place called Chowranghikhal. The wolf like dog refuses to leave our side. As a family, we are not very dog-friendly you know. So, am watching Ma make half hearted attempts at shooing Mr. I-want-whatever-you-are-eating. Its just a town square, this place. Lined with tea shops and a few knick knacks. Just the kind of place where you stop for a tea and stretch your legs. 

We reached Gangotri yesterday at around 6 in the evening. The roads were horrible. After doing leh, srinagar, manali and so many other places by road, this came as a rude shock. The Indigo rattled our bones with no mercy. By the time we were close to Gangotri, I was dust smeared and well, not very happy. The good thing about ice capped mountains is that the ice melts in summers. And there are small trickles all along the way. I got off the car and walked into one of those ice cold trickles. Just stopped short of taking a full on shower!  Amazing how these small things can just make your day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

From the Mountains - Day One

Woke up to chants today. Walked out of the room, and took in the view slowly. A marble white temple and the Ganges right behind it. And the smell of incense. Ma walked to me with a steaming hot cup of tea. And baba said predictably - we are running late already. Ma and I smiled and ignored.
Ashram in Rishikesh

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Goa: The Frequent Traveler's Guide

Now, I have been to Goa so often, that if and when I start working as a guide there, there would be a queue of takers. From the engineering days of little to no money to the current days of well, a little more money on a relative scale, I have been there. All seasons. All sorts of budget. I am not a fan of luxury trips. They just seem so easy! Like the true middle class Indian that I am, I love value for money. So, here's my list of stuff to do in Goa without burning a hole in your wallet. I might miss out on quite a few things, but the ones that are written here are all tried and tested.

1. When to go - I'd say try all seasons except summers. I remember we used to make it a point to go to Goa right when the monsoon begins. I think first week of May. Prices used to be dirt cheap. Seeing monsoon hit the beaches used to be beautiful! The only time when even Baga used to be empty. We used to stay drenched and drive around the entire city in Activas. New year ofcourse is the usual time to go, but it is a tad hard on your pockets. We did go for News Years this year, and it wasn't so bad. Try the places we tried and you might end up a little less poorer too. October, November, Feb and March are by far the best months if you want to call it even between weather and money. 

2. Stay away from Calangute and Baga. I really don't get it why people flock there. And flock they do! In season, you probably would have to push away a couple of people, remove a few kids from your way and then step into the sea. Okay well, a bit of exaggeration, but some days, it is truly like that! I like my beaches empty and serene. I'd say stay in extreme South Goa (Agonda, Palolem) or extreme North Goa (Ashwem, Morjim). 
Baga during a March sunset!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Couchsurfing Guest Post: [The Perils of] African Overland Adventures

My list of guest posts grows longer. Well I admit, people are traveling more than I am. :) Kathleen couchsurfed at my place for a couple of days. I hope you know what is Couchsurfing by now, else refer to the post by Anne. So, Kathleen is on this amazing Michael B. Keegan Travel Fellowship, thanks to which she gets to travel around the world. I don't remember being more jealous. Ever! Meeting travelers and hearing their stories is always an eye opener. Sort of reminds you that life should not just boil down to the eight hours in office and meetings. Life will always compel you to do the mundane. These people teach you otherwise. :) Oh, and she writes beautifully too! Do visit her fellowship blog when you find the time. This story is a tad scary one. The kind which you can only enjoy on hindsight with the knowledge that it has a happy ending.
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I hug my knees to my chest, trying to relieve the pain in my back. A cockroach runs across my feet. I shudder, knocking into the legs of the man behind me. I have extended beyond my allotted space in the aisle of the bus. I know the beauty of Tanzania – the reason I decided to travel overland – is just out the window. From my spot on the floor, I see only legs. I look at my watch: 11 hours left to go.
This journey began over three days ago in Livingstone, Zambia, home of the wondrous Victoria Falls. Graham, a traveler from Ireland, and I met on a 22-hour bus ride to Livingstone from Windhoek, Namibia, and stayed at the same hostel – Jollyboy’s Backpackers. We both intended to go to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but had loose plans for getting there. After talking to several travelers at the hostel who came from Dar, we decided to team up and take the Kilamajaro Express – an epic 48+ -hour train ride starting in Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia, and rambling into and across Tanzania.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guest Post: Naren's Death Valley Roadtrip

+Naren - our runaway friend. The guy who was a part of all our plans crappy or super! Our rasam maker during fever days. The ass who is sitting in Sacramento now. Well, this one's a post by him about his roadtrip during new year week to Death Valley, California. Needless to say, the photos are a stunner. :)


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Sometimes, unplanned trips turn out to be the best ones. Mostly because you have zero expectations. This was one of those trips.

I'd been on the Pacific Coast highway (more popularly known as the California 1 highway) before and remembered very pretty sights, but I was not on the driving seat back then. So, I decided to take that road this time around and experience the drive. But this is just an 8-hour drive San Francisco to L.A, and I had almost a week's time. So I started looking for other "scenic" drives. That's when I stumbled upon the "Death Valley scenic byway". The suggested route to take for this road was from Las Vegas, and so I planned my route from San Francisco down to L.A and then to Las Vegas, coming back home by driving through Death Valley. I had not ordered the camera when I planned this trip, and I knew I had to get the camera before it happened. And so I ordered it right away. The 4 year long wait to buy the DSLR had come to an end, thanks to the last-minute planning! :)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Couchsurfing Guest Post: Anne

Couchsurfing. A verb which can make you go around the world. At no cost. And you end up gaining a lifetime of friends and a whole lot of stories. Thought I'll share a few with everyone. Straight from the horse's mouth! Anne was my first couchsurfing experience; and a brilliant one at that! Wonderfully warm and sweet, we hit it off almost instantly. Here's her guest post! 
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Hello all! My name is Anne, and I’m a dear friend of Suravi’s. I’m from the United States, but I’ve had the great fortune to be able to travel to several interesting places – including Austria, India, Togo, and Madagascar! Much of my traveling has been made possible through an organization called CouchSurfing, which is, in fact, how I met Suravi.



Friday, February 1, 2013

Leh Road Trip - Pangong Tso

And here's the last one for the road. The much hyped Pangong Tso lake. Our last stop before we left for the arduous journey back to Srinagar. We had been amply warned to expect a hoard of happy picnicking tourists, posing for photographs everywhere. 3 Idiots has really put this place on the map. There are reminders of the movie all around the lake! Anyway, more of that later. Pangong Tso is about 150 kms from Leh. Its a saline lake with a length of almost 135 kms! More than half of it is in China. 
Pangong Tso lake

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Leh Road Trip - Tsomoriri

This is one of those posts where I am going to let the pictures do the talking. All I would say is when you go to Leh, Tsomoriri MUST be there on your itinerary. Around 230 kms from Leh, this place will just blow you away. We started the day with a hearty Punjabi breakfast - aaloo paratha, rajma and curd and then, geared up for a long day of travel. It takes almost 7 hours to get there.
All the aaloo parathas!
The route is scenic as usual. But Tsomoriri beats the rest hands down. Just before the main lake, as our car weaved up and down the hills, we saw this small pristine blue lake peeking between the hills. That one view is probably what I'll remember about Leh for years to come. It was unbelievable!

The lake before Tsomoriri

Monday, January 28, 2013

Leh Road Trip - Khardung La, Nubra Valley and Panamik

After yesterday's journey and a good night's rest, the plan was to head off to Nubra Valley on Day 4. Around 150 kms from Leh (5 hours), the route goes through extreme ups and downs. The famous Khardung La pass is on the way. We started the morning with a walk through the Tibetan market and then a quick visit to the Shanti Stupa.
Shanti Stupa

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Leh Road Trip - Kargil, Lamayuru, Leh

From Srinagar, we hired a cab till Leh. Can't really recall how much did he charge, but it was a nominal amount. The distance to be covered was more than 400 kms, and considering the terrain, taking it nice and slow was the sensible thing to do.

The scenery changes dramatically as you move from Srinagar towards Leh. The rich shades of green on the mountains speckled with ice get replaced with rocks and sand. Till you reach Kargil, the greenery follows you. I managed to lose all pics of the drive till Kargil because of a virus mishap, but the view is definitely eye-catching! Right after crossing Drass, we reached the Kargil war memorial. The place has a backdrop of jagged rocky snow covered peaks. The view is beautiful, till you get reminded that those were the peaks that our soldiers climbed. In the dead of night at sub-zero temperatures. With hostile fire from top. And nowhere to run for cover. It was a very sunny day and still, there were goose-bumps on my skin. The music of 'Ae mere watan ke logo' drifted in. And in that one moment, I think we stood taller with patriotism and bowed down with humility. There is a massive tricolour hosted right in the middle of the memorial. None of us talked. Stood in silence, looked up, looked around. Respect. Period.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Leh Road Trip - Srinagar

The lag between the trips and the journals has been increasing exponentially! So, lets see. Where were we last? So in April 2012, we were in Thailand for a week. A blissful week at that! Guess I wrote too much. But well, that's how much I liked the place! Next we had Leh on the radar. The year we went to Europe is the year when most of my friends went off to Leh. Europe had wiped out my finances. So we solemnly promised ourselves that next year same time we shall be headed off to Leh! And there we were - Independence Week - 10th to 20th August, 2012.

Plan A - Delhi -> Manali (volvo) -> Leh (car) -> Srinagar (car) -> Delhi (flight)
Plan B (in case of cloudbursts/landslide in the Manali route) - Delhi -> Srinagar (flight) -> Leh (car) -> Srinagar (car) -> Delhi (flight)