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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taling Chan Floating Market: Perfect Weekend Getaway in Bangkok

Nearly all the tourists visiting Bangkok plan a floating market visit in their itinerary. While, the daily floating markets are a bit out of Bangkok (around 2-3 hours drive (one way) depending on traffic conditions), I found out a beautiful weekend floating market much closer to the city when I traveled with the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently.

Vegetable Seller at Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
This weekend floating market is called the Taling Chan floating market and can be visited either from the water or on land. I generally try to avoid land travel as much as possible in Bangkok owing to its snarling traffic and hence don’t recommend the land route, but if you wish to take it, it should take you between 2 to 3 hours to reach the Taling Chan floating market.

Bangkok View from the Chao Phraya River
Exploring Bangkok from over the water is one of my more preferred routes and say for example, you are in Silom, the heart of downtown Bangkok, you can reach the floating market in less than 60 minutes. And these 60 minutes will be eventful as they will offer you lovely sights of local traditions and some great buildings like Wat Arun, Chinatown and more. If you are coming from Silom, you can head to the Sathorn pier. Here, you can either take a through long tail boat (a slightly expensive option) or take the Chao Phraya Express to Tha Thien and then take a long tail boat for the smaller canals.

Tender Coconut Water - one of the best thirst quenchers
It is best to visit the floating market in the early hours of the evening as that is when the market is at its active best and the weather is also the most conducive to lots of walking and outdoor travel. If you take the river cruise route, you will see a lot of canal life and realize why is Bangkok referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’.

Traditional Music being appreciated by Thai people at Taling Chan Floating Market
There will be sights of a postman coming on a boat and delivering mail to the houses located by the canals, pork sellers on boats, vegetable sellers on boats and much more. And once you reach the floating market, you will see an exponential increase in the floating life with vegetable sellers, flower sellers, meat sellers, fish sellers and all kinds of other eatables being sold in boats floating on one of the canals.

Monk at the entrance of Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
My favorite way of absorbing the smells and sights of such a floating market would be to start off with an ice old tender coconut water and then slowly walk through the myriad of boats and stalls selling everything from fruits to flowers, plants to fishes, meats to peanut candy, herbs to snacks and juices to small gift items. Depending on what appeals to your mind and taste buds, you can buy from any of the stalls and keep munching and exploring more.

Thai Herbs on sale at Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
If you feel like you need to give your legs a rest, head into one of the floating restaurants, order a drink or a snack and watch the floating life in live action in front of your eyes. You can also listen to some of the local music being played there. There is so much happening that as a visitor, you will never get bored.

Food Stalls at Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok
A 2 to 3 hour visit would be ideal for a stay in the weekend floating market, but you can stay longer if you feel like it. You can go back into town by boat or take the land route. This weekend floating market is a must see on your itinerary if you cannot visit the other floating markets located outside Bangkok.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Travel Photo: Giant Roots and the Temple

This is possibly the most photographed place in the whole of Cambodia. And the credit goes to Angelina Jolie, who made this site immortal through her movie ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’. It is insanely popular with South Koreans and Chinese especially and also the rest of the world. I visited this place, the Ta Prohm temple for a second time this year and was happy to get lesser crowd here, which helped me click many frames and shots.

Photographing the giant roots of Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia
While I took photographs without any one in the frame, I like this one better where my travel blogger friends Mridula Dwivedi and Lakshmi Sharath photographed these giant roots and in turn got photographed by me. Thank you for being my models!! And thank you to Tourism Authority of Thailand and Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia for inviting us on this trip.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sizzling Cyprus

If you've got Cyprus holidays on your agenda this year, you'll already know that this is a sizzling destination with a cracking holiday climate. The summers are, indeed, scorching - with temperatures regularly reaching the 30s and above during the peak holiday season. In spring and autumn Cyprus holidays are often pleasant, and are generally warm without the scorching temperatures associated with the summer months. Even in the winter, there are warm and sunny days which are perfect for getting out and about to see the sights.

As for the sights, there are plenty of those to enjoy! There's the famous Aphrodite's Rock, which according to local legend is said to be the very place where the goddess herself stepped out of the ocean. There's the fabulous city of Nicosia, which is famous for its split personality - literally. It's a divided city, straddling the two halves of Cyprus - North and South. You can visit the southern part and even see the famous 'green line' which divides the two, and wander around the lovely churches, shops and cafes that adorn the city.

And of course if you're here for the beaches, you won't be disappointed. From Ayia Napa to Coral Bay, Cyprus holidays boast tons of beautiful beaches, many of which are made up of glorious golden sands and pristine shores. Take a look at a tour operator like Thomas Cook to find out more about the island's beautiful beaches, and to read up on the many different resorts and hotels available. Plus, when you choose a package holiday, you can expect to have all of your flights, accommodation and local resort transfers included in the cost of your holiday, which helps to make things that little bit easier.

So, when will you put sizzling Cyprus on your holiday wish-list?

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Essential Things to Pack with you before going abroad

Are you planning to leave for a holiday abroad anytime soon? Have you packed all your stuff and booked your flights and accommodation already? No panic, we are here to help you, one step at the time. Start by making a reservation for your flights and hotels, if you are heading to Turkey, for example, take advantage of sites like venere.com to book a hotel in Istanbul, then check the list of the essential things to pack with you below in order to have a stress free holiday.

Suitcase - Xray view
Documents

First things first: you cannot go anywhere without your documents, so you'd better check you have yours and those of your family before leaving the house. When organizing a trip, be sure to know ahead of the time if you will need a passport, visa or just an identity card, and check if they are still valid and can be accepted in your destination country.

Universal plug adapter
This is one of those things you underestimate when you are in your country, but that is essential when going abroad. How are you going to charge your mobile phone? How are you going to use your blow dryer? There are different plugs and electricity sockets all around the world! Buy an universal plug adapter before leaving for your holiday and you will never have this problem again.

Medicine
No one wants to feel sick on holiday, but you never know what might happen! So better remind yourself to bring some over-the-counter medicine with you during a holiday abroad, such as pain relievers and an anti-diarrheal. And don't forget your medicine, especially if you're on prescription: of course there are pharmacies everywhere, but the dosage may differ, so play it safe.

Guidebooks and dictionaries
Buy a guidebook and a dictionary before leaving for your holiday abroad. If you are traveling on your own, you might want to know more about the places you are visiting, their history and their background. Also, guidebooks give useful information about hotel, restaurants and things to do. Moreover, dictionaries often have a section with idiomatic expressions in the local language that will help you communicate easily abroad.

Small travel bag
It might be useful to bring a small travel bag with you, one that doesn’t take too much space and that you can easily fit in your backpack or baggage (especially before security check at the airport). There you can put and carry all your travel documents, your passport and visa, your cellphone, guidebooks and wallet so that you have all at hand.

Follow these simple recommendations and your holiday will not be ruined because you forgot something important at home!

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Interviewed by Wego India

This morning, Wego India, a popular travel booking portal in India featured my interview on their website. I am the first travel blogger to kick off their travel blogger series. I hope this interview helps you know more about Sankara, the traveler and travel blogger. To read the full interview, click here.

Here is a quick screen shot of that interview.

My interview on Wego India

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Featured in DNA Newspaper

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that I have been featured in today’s edition (Oct 24, 2013) of the DNA Newspaper, Mumbai edition. The article is titled ‘Blog It’ and it is in the DNA of Escape section. This article written by Shashwati Shankar talks about travel bloggers who share their experiences of exploring India and the world. There are five other awesome travel bloggers in this article with me and each one of us share our passion for travel and blogging and answer the important question of ‘why we travel?’. I recommend you follow those 5 travel bloggers too as they each of them travel voraciously, click amazing photographs and write great stories.

Blog It article on DNA Newspaper 
Have you read this article in today’s newspaper? Below are screenshots of my profile in that article.

Featured in DNA Newspaper - Mumbai Edition 
Featured in DNA Newspaper - Oct 24, 2013

Featured in DNA Newspaper in a travel blogger articleFor the full article, where you can read the entire story along with profiles of the other 5 travel bloggers.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Batad Rice Terraces: 8th Wonder of the World

This place is a UNESCO world heritage site. So are two other places in close vicinity. But, this place gets the cake as it is also the 8th wonder of the world. This place is the tiny village of Batad and the 8th wonder are its stone walled rice terraces.

Batad Rice Terraces, Philippines - 8th wonder of the world
Located amidst dense tropical forests and mountains in the northern part of the Luzon island of Philippines, the amphitheater styled rice terraces of Batad has a glorious path and a spectacular setting. It is managed by the citizens of Batad who are less than 1500 in number.

Rice terraces enroute to Batad from the Batad Saddle, Philippines
These Ifugao traditional rice terraces are amazing irrigated rice paddies carved into the mountains over two thousand years ago, but their beauty is visible even to this day. To see these wonderful rice terraces, you have to engage in a bit of physical work as you will walk the final 3 kilometers through dense tropical trails.

Batad village and the amphitheater rice terraces surrounding it
The easiest way to get to Batad is to take a jeepney from Banaue (the largest town in the vicinity) to the saddle. It takes about one hour for this journey, but can take much longer if the weather worsens and leads to landslides. At the saddle, you begin your short downhill trek of 3 kms. It would be ideal to wear good pair of footwear as generally the trail is wet and slippery.

The stone walled Batad Rice terraces - a UNESCO world heritage site and eighth wonder of the world
The trail crosses a couple of streams and a couple of view points before leading you to the junction where you pay the entry fee of 50 pesos. This money goes in supporting the local community. After this fee junction, 10 steps lead you into the village and it is here you can find a lot of small guest houses and home stays to stay.

The majestic Tappiyah falls of Batad, Philippines
You can either explore Batad over a full day trip or through a 2 day leisurely trip. Even though Batad is a tiny village, there are lots of sights to explore around it. To start with, one can walk along the rice terraces, climb the steep flight of steps to the view point that offers a panoramic view of Batad, go and take a dip under the sensational and tropical Tappiyah falls and/or indulge in dense tropical treks around Batad.

Tappiyah Falls - lovely setting near Batad, Philippines
The place is ideal if you are a nature lover and hiker. The options to explore beautiful sights are tremendous and the wholesome healthy food of Batad is a great way to recharge and the splendid rice wine is a great way to relax in the evening.

Batad Rice Terraces surrounded by lush green tropical forests
To get out of Batad, you have a couple of options. Option one is to take the steep uphill climb back to the saddle and then to Banaue. The other option is take the longer hike over rice terraces to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Baangaan, which are beautiful rice terraces on the other side of the dense mountains.

Aerial view of Batad and its surroundings
If you ever happen to visit Philippines, don’t miss out the chance to see this 8th wonder of the world!

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How to communicate with family and friends while traveling?

One of the biggest needs while traveling anywhere is to keep in touch with family and friends who are staying home and not traveling with you. In this era of a flat world and technology, there are a lot of options out there that can be used to communicate with your folks back home. Personally, I have tried all of them during my travel days and this post aims to put together their pros and cons. The idea is to find that mode of communication that allows you to communicate as you would if you were back home.

Skype
I think Skype is the traveler’s best buddy when it comes to communication. It is my go to choice and here are the reasons why.

Pros
1) You can make a call from Skype to any phone number, just like how you would do back home. All you need is to buy some Skype Credit or buy a subscription. To give you an example, I have a India subscription, which gives 120 minutes of talk time to India (mobile and fixed line) every month for 3 months for 5 US Dollars ($5). I choose a subscription as most of my family and friends are in India. If I need to call anyone outside India, I put some Skype Credit. This costs a bit more, but still works out cheaper than local mobile phones.

2) Skype calls cost as much or less than local calls (I am comparing this to telecom tariffs in India, which is very low)

3) Skype works with even low bandwidth. Personally, I have successfully made Skype calls even with the bandwidth being less than 128 kbps.

4) Skype works across devices (PC, tablet, phablet, phone)

5) Skype allows you to make video calls, though for this the other person has to have Skype installed on their smartphone or be next to their computer.

6) Skype allows you to send a SMS to any phone number across the world. Charges for this go from your Skype credit account.

7) In some countries, Skype allows you to get your own personal number, which means that it is a local call for your family and friends, but the call rings on your Skype application in whichever country you are. You need internet connectivity for this. Even data connectivity on mobile phones will work.

Cons
1) Skype needs internet connection

IM, Chat and Voice Applications
In today’s era, there are a whole bunch of apps like Google Talk, Google Hangouts, MSN Messenger, Whats App, and other IM,chat and voice applications through which we can stay in touch. While this is ideal for text messages, voice takes a bit of a back seat.

Pros
1) These applications are free and all we need to use them is a device and some internet/data connectivity.

2) Some of these applications allow making video calls.

Cons
1) These applications work only when my family or friend also have these apps installed and have data connectivity.

2) The voice features are good, but are not that effective on a low bandwidth.

Local Mobile Connection
This is the most sought after mode of communication. As soon as I land in a new country, I buy myself a sim card and plug it into my phone. I do this mainly to make local calls, for data connectivity on the move and as an emergency contact for friends and family.

Pros
1) Allows you to connect with local friends and contacts. Can also make those calls to hotels, travel agents, et al to make or confirm your bookings.

2) Allows you to avail data services on the move.

3) Can be used as an emergency for international calls. Works the other way too as people can reach you as long as there is network coverage.

Cons
1) International calls work out real expensive. To make it cheaper, you might have to buy or activate international call packages, which you are not aware of as you are new to that country and telecom tariff plan.

2) Most countries have a limit for their sim cards, which means that if they are not active for a given time period they expire and you will have to buy a new sim card for your next visit to that country.

3) You have to email, text or call your family or friends and update them about your new phone connection.

4) You need to do research to understand the costing model of this country and specifically this tariff plan.

International Roaming on Home Phone Connection
Personally, I haven’t activated international roaming on my phone, but I know a lot of travelers who do so. This method works out expensive, but can be used on a need-to basis and works out good especially in emergencies.

Pros
1) You are always connected and the phone number is the same as your home country.

2) You can make emergency phone calls.

3) Cost benefit analysis works in its favor for short trips.

Cons
1) Voice and data are both every expensive, when compared to the other options and more so during longer holidays.

International Calls from Hotels or Phone Booths
An archaic and time tested technique that still exists today even with so much ease of telecom access. I have hardly used them.

Pros
1) You can make a call to anywhere from the comfort of your hotel room.

Cons
1) Generally, they work out to be expensive

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Must-visit Christmas Markets in Europe

With the summer season sadly over, the gloomy winter months are looming ever closer. However, November is an excellent time to consider a city break in Europe, as famous destinations throughout the continent transform into a collection of winter wonderlands. Traditional Christmas Markets, some that have existed for centuries, will start to appear, providing an array of hand made crafts, gingerbread and piping hot mulled wine to stave off the winter chill.

Christmas markets rekindle a sense of tradition a world apart from the increasingly commercialized view of the festive season that appears every year on local high streets. Visiting Europe during the Christmas period offers a unique vacation experience where bad weather can actually improve the festive mood. Nothing beats taking shelter in a log cabin and warming your hands around a hot mug of Glühwein, while the wind and rain pounds down outside. Here is a selection of some of the best markets throughout Europe that will leave you yearning to don your old knitted Christmas jumper and head on over to Europe this winter.

Dresden, Germany
Germany is renowned for their Christmas markets and it is difficult to just select one “must visit” location. However, the annual festivities held in Dresden are truly unique and imbued with a sense of tradition, as accounts of Christmas markets in the city date back as far as 1434. When the night draws in, the lights begin to twinkle and the hot drinks on offer are essential to warm you up as the temperature drops. Dresden is worth a visit just to see the 3,500kg Christmas Stollen fruit cake. This giant fruit pudding is made in the city and paraded through the streets before being cut up and distributed amongst the crowd once it reaches the market.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Though perhaps not the first choice if you are after the ultimate Christmas shopping experience, the Tivoli Christmas markets can certainly stake a claim to be one of the prettiest in Europe. Tiffany’s chief designer John Loring was employed to design the arrangement of the Christmas lights within the park and for good reason. The Tivoli Christmas markets need 1,800 individual light chains to illuminate the surrounding willow trees and a further four miles of lighting for the central Christmas Tree and nearby buildings in Tivoli gardens, Europe’s oldest amusement park. These markets in Copenhagen are an essential trip for a true Scandinavian Christmas.

Manchester, United Kingdom
The Christmas market tradition flourishes in the United Kingdom, with some impressive markets in London, Birmingham and throughout the rest of the country. However, the Manchester market offers something a bit different. Capturing the essence of a Dickensian Christmas, the Manchester markets are a series of 8 unique markets that spread throughout the city centre including King Street’s French market and the craft orientated market on Exchange Street. Of course, the highlight is the mass of stalls in Albert Square, complete with a large nativity scene and enormous Santa Claus sat in front of the Town Hall.

Strasbourg, France
This is one of the oldest and most famous Christmas markets in Europe and has incredibly been running since 1570! Heavenly aromas waft from each stall and a chorus of carol singers enchant visitors around the impressive Strasbourg Cathedral. With the introduction of the TGV to Strasbourg, visitor numbers have swollen in recent year and it is now a firm favourite amongst tourists as well as locals.

Trento, Italy
Italy perhaps is not the first country to spring to mind when thinking about possible Christmas market destinations, yet the selection is surprisingly varied. Open from 23rd November and continuing throughout December, the Trento Christmas Market offers a Mediterranean twist to the traditional Christmas market style. A small medieval city nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Trento’s Christmas market supplies typical local food and wine as well as a slight German influence due to the city’s close proximity to the German border.

Skansen, Sweden
Set in the open air museum of Skansen, this 110 year old market sets itself apart from the rest with the vast number of activities available within the market. Not only can you find the usually fare of festive goods and produce but there are also pony rides for children, freshly brewed beer testing, craft workshops and live music, for which dancing is heartily encouraged.

Vienna, Austria
Whilst, Salzburg is arguably of the oldest market in Austria (15th century), Vienna is a hot contender for the title of Christmas Market capital of Europe. With multiple different Christmas markets throughout the city and over 2 million visitors each year, it may be worth booking an apartment in the city so you can spend a few extra days exploring the Christmas markets that spread through all four corners of Vienna.

Rathausplatz market, whilst quite crowded, is definitely worth visiting for a glimpse of the Town Hall, where every window is decorated by local artists to create one giant, multi-storey advent calendar. If you are looking to enjoy the markets at a more leisurely pace, then one of the many other smaller markets in the city are ideal to grab some waffles or hot roasted chestnuts as you peruse the different stalls looking for the perfect present. A trip to Austria this winter is essential if you want to experience the warm, friendly atmosphere and unavoidable magic of a traditional European Christmas.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Inle Lake: Unique Burma can be found here

Burma, as a country is pretty unique and interesting as it has been locked from the outside world for a long time, but if you wish to sample something that is exponentially unique in this beautiful country, then head to Inle Lake in the Shan state. This lake and the people living off it have their own unique traditions.

Iconic Inle Moment from Burma
It is here that you will discover Hyrdoponic farming, a very special type of fishing, some of Burma’s most unique tribes, a textile industry made from lotus stem threads, Burma’s Cheroot industry, a floating life and some very interesting cluster of temples. Sounds surprising right? How can one place and that too a lake have so much? This is precisely the reason why Inle Lake rivals Bagan for the top tourist attraction in Myanmar.

A hut in the floating gardens of Inle Lake, Myanmar
A lot of tourists only spend a day at Inle Lake, but I would recommend that they spend at least 3 days if not more. There is so much to do and see here and you will never get bored. To reach here, one can either take a bus from Bagan, Mandalay or Yangon or fly to the airport close by. The entry fee for tourists at Inle Lake is USD 10. This is valid for one week from the day of entering.

A Fisherman on Inle Lake, Burma
Inle Lake Cruise

For 2 days you can different cruises across Inle Lake and neighbouring Sankar Lake. Here is a list of all those things that you can do and see in those 2 days.

Parking fee collector on one of the markets of Inle Lake, Myanmar
Floating Market

A lot of products get sold in the markets around Inle Lake. Outside people come to buy products grown/made locally, while the locals come to buy outside products. It is here that one can see a lot of local action, eat a lot of local food and drinks and take tons of interesting photographs.

Near the floating gardens of Inle Lake, Burma
Floating Gardens

Inle Lake grows all its vegetables on water. This type of farming is called hydroponic farming. They grow eggplant, tomatoes and other greens here. I have personally stood on one of these floating gardens and the feeling is no special as you sink because of your weight, but the ground protects you from sinking any further.

Old Burmese Woman weving longyi from lotus stem threads in Inle Lake, Burma
Lotus Stem Textile Industry

The people of Inle make their longyis, scarfs and other clothes from threads they weave out of lotus stems. The process is painful and requires a lot of skill, but the women of Inle Lake have perfected this skill. They also design their own natural vegetable based dyes.

Burmese Cheroots look like Bullet Shells at Inle Lake, Burma
Cheroot Industry, Blacksmiths and Silversmiths

The people of Inle are into making iron products, silverware and Burma’s favorite cheroots. All of them are skillfully manufactured here.

Long Necked Karen Women of Inle Lake, Burma
Tribal People

The famous long necked Karen and a whole bunch of other tribal people live in and around Inle Lake. A cruise gives you the opportunity to get close to them.

The Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda Complex as seen from a neighbouring hill
Shwe Indein and other temples

The most famous temple in Inle Lake is Shwe Indein, a cluster of beautiful golden pagodas. One can see this and other temples during their cruise.

Inle Fisherman Silhouette at Sunset from Inle Lake, Burma
Sensational Sunsets over Inle Lake

Sunrises are not quite popular in Inle, due to the tall mountains on the eastern side, but its sunsets can create some spectacular visions.

Group of Inle Fishermen during sunset
The unique Inle Fishing Style

Finally, the most important reason to do this Inle cruise are to see its fishermen who fish with their legs and paddles and then use a spear to trap the fish in the thick undergrowth along with their conical fishing net.

Colourful Headgear of the tribal people of Inle Lake, Burma
Taunggi Market and the Tribals

Taunggi is the largest town located in this belt and its scenic mountain setting, its colourful markets and its tribal culture make it very interesting for the tourists. Situated at about 1 hour from Nyaung Shwe, this place can become a great day trip.

Floating restaurant on Inle Lake, Burma
Trek from Inle to Kalaw

For those who seek adventure, one can do the 2-3 day from Inle to Kalaw over mountains and through forests. This is generally ideal for those people looking to spend a week in and around Inle.

Wooden Inle Fisherman Boats sold as souvenirs
In addition to the above sites, one can discover the markets of Nyaung Shwe and enjoy rich Shan culture through its tasty foods and interesting traditions. Inle Lake is very special and unique. Discover it and know for yourself!

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Off the beaten track in Goa

Goa is a popular tourist destination with plenty of five-star hotels, expensive cocktails, and wild nightlife to keep most visitors happy. However, most stunning Goan attractions are just a short walk off the beaten track, if you’re willing to investigate that little bit further.

It’s not hard to find magical beauty spots in Goa, but it’s sometimes difficult to fight your way through the crowds to enjoy them! The good news is that although tourism to Goa has increased in recent years, fuelled by an increase in tour operators and online travel agents, package holiday-makers are mostly restricted to built-up resorts and well-known stretches of coastline. Therefore it’s relatively easy to find yourself somewhere beautiful and unspoilt.

Goa's beautiful coastline
Anjuna was the legendary hippy hangout of the 1960s and 1970s, but is now a quiet, clean resort with a relaxed vibe. It really comes alive on Wednesdays, when hundreds flock to the famous flea market. Here you’ll find jewellery, curios, musical instruments, tie-dye t-shirts and traditional Rajasthani clothing, trance music and all flavours of people. It used to be that a full moon meant parties on the beach, but these days the authorities have clamped down and you’re more likely to find people enjoying the evening in a friendly beach-front bar.

Some of the local villages like Vagator have stunning beaches – Chapora Fort near Vagator is renowned for its sunset views. These places get pretty busy with tour groups during the day, so you might struggle to get a good spot. For a more unspoiled and peaceful experience, check out the beach at Mandrem, where you can stay in a cool and beautiful coconut grove.

Inland, you can head to the Chapora river, where there’s a Zen-like retreat, or the fishing village Britona, with its 17th-century guesthouse.

Dudhsagar Waterfalls, Mollem National Park, Goa, India
For unparalleled lushness and beauty, you should head West. The Western Ghats are a chain of hills extending over 1,600km alongside the border with Karnataka. This part of Goa has been designated one of the world’s 18 bio-diversity hotspots and it’s easy to see why. Tropical rainforest, grasslands and scrub are home to a rich collection of flora and fauna, including the Indian flying fox and the fruit bat.

A definite highlight to any trip to the Western Ghats is Dudhsagar Falls. At 2,000 feet, this spectacular waterfall is the highest in India, and is named ‘sea of milk’ for the white foam created by the force of the water as it falls. You can swim in the beautiful freshwater pool at the bottom, and if you’re feeling generous, share your lunch with one of the monkeys who live in the area!

About the Author:Emma Norton is currently travelling round Asia, paying for her travel with the occasional blog and part-time job, and delaying her return to reality for as long as possible!

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to plan a long motorcycle trip across India?

Since my all India motorcycle trip in 2008-2009, a lot of you have asked me how I went about this trip, how did I plan it, how did I fund it and more. And off late, these questions and enquiries have gotten more common. I am happy to see that a lot of people today are adventurous to explore India on a long motorcycle trip and to help such people, I am putting together this post of tips that will help you plan your long motorcycle trip in India. These are all tips that I have learnt from my personal experiences and mistakes. I hope they help you plan your dream motorcycle trip across India.

At a pit stop enroute to Jabalpur
How to pick a Motorcycle?

A lot of people think a long motorcycle trip means getting themselves a Royal Enfield Bullet. While, the Royal Enfield motorcycles are great for long rides, I would recommend that you ride a motorcycle you are comfortable with and not a motorcycle that others recommend. Make sure that you have good riding experience on this type of motorcycle so that you will know how to control it in tough conditions.

How do I plan the itinerary?
India is a massive country and it will be a daunting task to build an itinerary. So, my recommendation in such cases would be to pick a theme of travel. For example, the golden quadrilateral highway, wildlife destinations of India, tribal locations in India, beaches of India, mountains of India and the likes. Picking such a theme would help you get an idea of the destinations and all you have to do then is chalk out the route.

So called National Highways of India which offer a great roller coaster ride....enroute to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh
What all do I need and how much will the trip cost?

Here’s a list of the various things that you would need to carry and an estimate of their costs. For a full packing list, click here.

1) Motorcycle: If you have a motorcycle well and good. If you have enough money, then buy a motorcycle of your choice (Royal Enfield, Hero Motorcycles, Yamaha, Harley Davidson, etc.). If you don’t have enough money, buy a used Royal Enfield Motorcycle. This will cost you between 30,000 to 60,000 INR depending on its condition.

2) Motorcycle Luggage Gear: More than the carrier system of loading luggage, I personally prefer a saddle bag and a magnetic tank bag. Both these can be easily removed from the motorbike and transported to the hotels easily. These can be bought online from Cramster for about 6,000 INR.

3) Crash Helmet: It is compulsory to wear a helmet in India and it is also one of the reasons I am able to write this post to you. Hence, never under estimate the importance of a good crash helmet. Buy a ISI approved helmet from one of the following brands (Vega, Steelbird, Globe, etc.). Make sure that the helmet is a good fit, allows enough air to go in, covers your entire head and teeth and has a clear visor. Do make sure that you put on a brand new clear visor without any scratches on your helmet before starting on your trip and change it at periodic intervals. This will enable you to see clearly during rain and during night drives. A good helmet should cost you between 3,000 to 5,000 INR.

4) Motorcycle Spares and Tools: It is absolutely important to carry some basic spares like a clutch cable, accelerator cable, tubes, battery fuses, headlight bulb, etc. You never know when and where you existing bike spares will run out. An estimate of such spares and tools is 10,000 INR. For a full list of spares, click here.

What a beautiful parking spot...with the Dhaula Dhuan Himalayan range in the background!!
5) First Aid Kit: Like a lot of adventure travel, even motorcycling travel comes with its set of accidents. It is good to remain well prepared. Carry a full blown first aid kit. Such a first aid kit, if procured locally in India, should cost you between 3,000 to 5,000 INR.

6) Motorcycle Insurance: It is mandatory in India to carry a motorcycle Insurance policy. It will also come in handy in case of accidents. Personally, I use ICICI Lombard, but to get a better idea of all policy costs and benefits look up PolicyBazaar.com. Such a motorcycle policy should cost you between 1,000 to 2,000 INR.

7) Medical (Health) Insurance: It is good to be prepared for the worst case scenario when it comes to Motorcycle Travel. Carrying a health insurance policy makes you travel in peace. This will help you take care of any medical emergencies with ease. If you are a Indian citizen, look up PolicyBazaar.com for a list of health insurance providers. If you are a foreign national, do remember to carry an international health insurance and travel policy to take care of contingencies. This should cost you about 3,000 to 5,000 INR per month depending on cover taken and your age.

8) Gear for the Rider: This is purely optional and depends on the rider. I prefer to wear an armored jacket, riding gloves, knee guards, riding boots and a pair of sunglasses. While I prefer to buy my polaroid and shock proof pair of sunglasses at Sunglass Hut, the rest of the rider gear can be bought online at Cramster. A good pair of sunglasses can cost between 4,000 to 20,000 INR depending on brand and the rest of the rider gear can be bought for 10,000 INR.

9) Basic Motorcycle Repair Class: It is always good to know how to fix small repairs on your motorcycle as you might have to fix a flat, change cables, change your battery fuse, fix your chain, tighten your brakes, clean your air filter, etc in some remote corners without any help. I recommend taking a 7 day class with any mechanic or shop at least 2 months prior to your actual travel and practice this at home at least a couple of times. This class should cost you between 1,000 and 3,000 INR depending on the quality and schedule of your motorcycle mechanic.

10) Day to Day Expenses: These expenses can be broken into food, accommodation, petrol, water and miscellaneous.

Food: 200 INR and upwards per day depending on your standards.
Accommodation: 300 INR and upwards per day depending on your standards
Petrol (Gasoline): 500 INR per day assuming a daily ride of 200 kilometers
Water:

On my way to Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, India
I am a foreign national. Is India safe? What pointers should I keep in mind?

India is mainly a safe country, but there are some things that one needs to keep in mind while travel India. I have elaborated more on these pointers in my article “India: Do you love it or hate it”.

Are there any best practices that I should keep in mind?

1) Always carry your driving license, motorcycle papers and motorcycle insurance with you at all times. If you are a foreign national, carry your international driving license. This will help you address questions asked by the traffic cops.

2) Stay within the prescribed speed limits to be on the safer side.

3) It is best to ride between sunrise to sunset. Most of the accidents in India take place in the night and it is also the time when a motorcycle rider has to bear the high beam lights of the bigger vehicles.

4) Motorcycle travel has to ability to dehydrate you a lot as the wind wicks away all the moisture. Always stay hydrated and carry enough drinking water with you at all times.

5) Take breaks (pit stops) every 60 minutes, even if it ends up being only a 5 minute break. This will help your muscles and joint get some movement and your motorcycle enough time to cool down.

On top of the impassable Jalori pass, Himachal Pradesh, India
6) Don’t fill gasoline when your engine is hot. Fill it in the morning when the engine is cold. This will help you minimize losses.

7) Always stretch your hands, legs, neck and hips during pit stops and at the end of your riding day. This will help you keep joint and muscle stiffness and injuries away.

8) Let your engine run at idling on the first start of the day for about 5 minutes before taking it out on the highway. This will help your motorcycle engine function smoothly.

9) Initially, you will feel like you can ride every day. But, based on my personal experience, I have seen my body react slower after 10 days of continuous riding. Hence, I would recommend enough rest between 2 riding days and that means more than just a 8 hour sleep.

10) It is good to carry a GPS and/or a phone with Google maps. But, I prefer more old school as it allows me to travel easily in regions without any internet or phone connectivity. An Eicher Road Atlas map book should be with you on your motorcycle at all times.

11) It is good practice to keep a riding limit of 200 kms per day. There can be some rare exceptions to the rule.

12) It is always good to carry some food (biscuits, nuts, chocolate bars, etc.) with you at all times. This will help you in times of need like a bike repair or any contingencies.

13) Fuel is a prized commodity in motorcycle travels. Hence, it is sensible to carry some spare fuel (5 to 10 liters) in some mountain areas and during days of strikes or local bandhs. 

14) Stay abreast of local news and plan your ride accordingly.

15) Pack all your gear in trash bags and have a rain cover for yourself and your luggage. This will help you keep your stuff safe from rain, dust and dirt.

16) Ensure that the motorcycle’s tires and tubes are brand new before embarking on your journey. This will reduce punctures (flats) on the way.

A fabulous experience to ride through shifting sand dunes in WINTER; supposed to be ATROCIOUS in SUMMER when heavy winds blow across the desert
How do I get a sponsor for my motorcycle trip?

This is a question that a lot of people have prior to starting on their motorcycle journey. I will answer this in simple terms. Create a crisp plan and pitch and use your contacts and networks to take to your sponsor. You need to have a good cause and show good marketing potential for your sponsor to give you financial help. If you are not lucky with this, you can try funding sites like kickstarter.com.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Train Trips for All Tastes

We’re all in such a jolly hurry these days. We tap our feet in the airport queue and prefer to sit in our cars on the ferry so we can drive off immediately. But if you're in accordance with T.S. Eliot, that ‘the journey not the arrival matters’, there surely can’t be a more relaxing way to enjoy the journey than by train. Here’s some trips long and short to start you scheming.

If you fancy…

…28 days on a train: Pride of Africa (Africa)

flickr: Pascal Parent

Photo Courtesy: Pascal Parent, Flickr

You’d better fancy five-star luxury (and associated costs) too, as this train bills itself as “The Most Luxurious Train in the World.” No pulling any punches there! The four week journey includes a luxury air safari and lake cruise, combining to show guests sights like the Victoria falls in Zimbabwe, chimpanzees in Uganda and pyramids in Egypt. Start planning now – the trip departs only once every two years, with the next scheduled for January 2014.

…6 days on a train: Trans-Siberian Railway (Russia)

flickr: John Pannell

This is the world’s longest single service railway, around 8,000 kilometres across the barren expanses of Siberia. There are three main lines; the classic trip runs from Moscow to the port of Vladivostok, the other two end in Beijing. You can opt to do it all in one hit, but breaking up the trip will give you a chance to explore forests, plateaus and traditional villages along the way. Winter is a beautiful time of year to take this journey, although keep in mind that temperatures outside will drop to below zero and daylight hours are as sparse as the plains rolling by…

…5 days on a train: Dibrugarh - Kanyakumari Vivek Express (India)

flickr: Robin Baumgarten

You can’t mention train trips without mentioning India. Trains are the arteries of the country, pumping travellers, stock, pilgrims - just about anyone and anything through its hectic body. The longest trip on the subcontinent is the weekly train from Dibrugarh in the north-east to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of the mainland. Sip sugary chai sold by Chai Wallahs regularly walking through the cars and marvel at the chaos of colours whipping past the window.

…4 days on a train: Tren Crucero (Ecuador)

flickr: Frank_am_Main

Recently reopened after extensive restoration, the Tren Crucero runs from Ecuador’s port town of Guayaquil up to the highland capital, Quito. Along the way the train undertakes the dramatic feat of ascending from 970ft above sea level to nearly 10,700ft in just 80 kilometres. It does this by navigating several switchbacks up the ‘Devil’s Nose zigzag’, reputably the most difficult railway climb in the world. There's plenty of side trips along the way to help stave off cabin fever, giving you the chance to explore national parks and cloud forests, eat at markets and haciendas and meet indigenous communities.

…3½ days on a train: The Canadian (Canada)

flickr: jurvetson

You’ll certainly get a feel for Canada’s sheer size on this trip, but take along a pack of cards. After the train has trekked its way through forests and then the central prairies, the spectacular Rocky Mountains will be a welcome sight and make the seemingly endless trees of Ontario worthwhile.

…3 days on a train: The Ghan (Australia)

flickr: 123_456

The Ghan is named after Afghan cameleers who traversed the route in the late 19th century while helping settlers explore the harsh interior of the continent. The red heart of Australia certainly isn’t hospitable to hikers, but viewed from the comfort of your carriage it’s spectacular. Running up the centre of the continent like a zip, the Ghan will take you from the Adelaide Plains and Flinders Ranges in the south, through the outback town of Alice Springs and to the tropical city of Darwin in the North.

…2 hours on a train: Flåm Railway (Norway)

flickr: fakepeterpan

It’s a big jump down in time and temperature from the Ghan, to a trip that is a mere 20 kilometres. So brief you might think that if you blink you’ll miss it - in truth, you won’t want to blink at all for fear of missing out on the spectacular scenery as the train winds its way past Norwegian fjords, rivers, ravines and tiny mountain villages.

About the author: Susy Peddie is from New Zealand, now based in Berlin, working with GoEuro and taking as many train trips as possible. All the photographs in this post have been picked by her from Flickr – creative commons.

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