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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Choosing the Right Footwear for Hiking

Any hiking enthusiast knows the importance of choosing the right outdoor footwear before heading out on an exciting adventure. With the proper hiking boots, you can easily traverse any rough roads and steep mountains. The great outdoors can be very unpredictable. Even if you start your trip on a sunny weather, there is still a big chance that it might rain. This sudden change can greatly affect your trip.

When it comes to choosing the right boots, it is highly recommended if you start by determining what kind of hiker you really are. Will you be crossing a terrain that is light and has less vegetation? Will you be taking your trip on a summer day? Are you climbing rocky and steep mountain rangers? These are just some of the questions that you need to consider when choosing the right shoes.

Check out this short post to learn more about the choosing your next hiking boots.

Selecting the cut and weight
Hiking boots are usually categorized based on their cuts. The rule of thumb is that the higher the boot cut, the heavier the footwear.

Low-cut
As a lightweight boot, this one is perfect for casual strolls on your local woods during a dry weather. Its main characteristics are soft, flexible, and breathable. These boots only reach slightly above the ankle, so it offers great support to your feet.

Mid-cut
These are medium weight shoes that are ideal for longer hikes on tough terrain with higher vegetation. It has a higher level of ankle support, and most products are water-proof to help hikers survive sudden weather changes.

High-cut
This is the heaviest boot among the three categories. Commonly known as mountaineering boots, these are specially designed for extremely difficult terrain and tough weather conditions. They offer great protection to your feet, but they are not as breathable as low-cut shoes.

Choosing the Fabric
These are commonly made from leather or synthetic fabric.

Of course, leather is more expensive than its other counterpart. They are also more durable and well-suited for longer trips across tough terrain. Unfortunately, they are not that breathable. You might feel some discomfort while wearing it on a hot summer day.

Synthetic shoes, meanwhile, are lighter and cheaper compared to the former. These are ideal to wear during casual day trips.

These are just some of the factors that you need to consider when choosing the right hiking footwear. If you know other useful tips, feel free to share them in the comments section!

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My Photo on the Cover Page of a Book

In the past, my photographs were featured in newspapers, magazines and on websites. This is is the first time it has ended up being the cover page of a book. And hence this one is very special for me. The photo is of a sunset sky over the Mahanadi Bridge in Orissa. I took this picture during the summer of 2009. This book, 'Love - A Reason to Live', is a travel story of Ivan and Daphne who travel the globe while serving the needy. Samuel C Cowgill, the author of this book has portrayed their journey in this book through a story that shows how orphanage despair turns to family joy and give them a reason to live. On a quick flip through, it looks like a moving travel story.

My photo featured as the cover photo of a book

Cover photo acknowledgements in a book

I haven’t read this book as yet, but plan to read it at the first possible opportunity. If this interests you, do look it up either online or at your nearest bookstore. Happy reading!!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tips for Staying Connected When Traveling in India

If you are planning a trip to India, whether it is for a gap year adventure, a vacation or a business trip, you have probably already taken care of things like checking if you need any vaccinations or malaria medicine for the region you are going to, and finding out the places you want to stay in and visit. One thing you may not have thought so much about, however, is what you are going to do about your phone and internet access.
   
Connectivity tips for India

Photo by Reuben Strayer

If you are planning to visit remote places and experience India, you may not even really want to have to be bothered by things like checking your email, but the fact is that a phone and an internet connection can be a lifesaver when you are far from home. If you are going on business to one of India's professional hubs like Chennai, Bangalore or Mumbai, connectivity will be an essential. Here we look at a couple of things to do before you go to help you stay connected.

Use a VPN
A VPN, or 'virtual private network', is a network you can access that is secure, and can make it seem that as a network presence, you are actually in a different location to where you are. When you use things like hotel Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi hotspots at places like airports or restaurants, a VPN protects your data. Not just in India, but all over the world, data gets hacked in public networks, so before you go, it is well worth subscribing to a VPN service you can log in to every time you access the web on your trip. Another benefit of using one of the many secure VPN services that are often used in India by travellers is that you won't have any regional issues, for example with web content like videos not playing because while they are accessible in your home region, they are not available in India.

Hire a Phone
If you don't like the idea of paying roaming charges or if you want to use your regular mobile phone in India, you can hire a phone before you go to use there. This will allow you to choose the level of service you need (calls, SMS and/or data), and pay a predictable rate each day for the phone, rather than the often confusing roaming charges. With many providers you can choose the model of phone you want, and can also insure it (if insurance isn't included in the package) for a small amount each day, meaning you don't have to worry about taking your own phone somewhere it may get lost, stolen or damaged.

You can stay connected in India fairly easily, but it is worth making sure you have taken security and potential cost into account in your plans ahead of your trip. Simple things like using a VPN can save you a lot of trouble down the line in terms of security, and avoiding roaming fees by renting a mobile can make staying connected more affordable.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Silk Road Hotel: Lovely Environment to stay in Yazd, Iran

Yazd is one of those places of Iran that has a calm, relaxed and archaic feel to it. It is one of the highlights of Iran and is steeped in deep desert culture and great desserts. During my stay at this lovely city, I stayed at a place called the Silk Road Hotel, a traditional house turned into a hotel for 3 nights and 4 days. The below review is based on recent experience of staying here.

1) This place is located right opposite the Jame Mosque and is hence located right next to the old city, which gives it prime location. And because of this prime location, most of the places to see, visit, eat, buy, etc. are all within walking distance.

2) This traditional hotel offers a great local ambience that comes with private rooms and dormitories. The rooms are great, while the dormitories are a bit smelly, due to lack of ventilation. But, their prices are very attractive and hence the stuffiness is easily forgotten. The dormitories don’t have heating and sometimes get cold early in the morning. The shared bathrooms are great and provide lovely hot showers.

3) The hotel serves great food. This is one of their top attributes. Their breakfast is possibly one of the best I have had in all of Iran and their in-house restaurant dishes out some delicious local and Indian food. The food prices are also very reasonable.

4) The people running the place have an Indian connection.

5)The people running this place are very friendly and always eager to help. I feel like a friend or a member of family here.

6) The wi-fi in this hotel has great coverage and the speed is good, but when there are more people accessing it, the speed drops terribly.

7) The hotel also has an in-house travel agent who helps with all bus, train, tours and flight ticket bookings. They are very professional and helpful too.

If you are looking for a great budget hotel in the heart of Yazd, look at the Silk Road Hotel. If I return to Yazd, I would definitely stay with them.

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tak Taku Homestay: Rustic Living close to the Sand Dunes of Iran

A trip to Isfahan is not complete without exploring the beautiful rolling sands located close to it in Verzaneh. One can either explore it as part of a day trip from Isfahan or stay at a village called Toudeshk Cho and explore it the more rustic way. I chose the later and ended up staying at a family run place called Tak Taku Homestay that is located on the way from Isfahan to Yazd. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying here.

1) This is a good family run place located by the mountains in a small village of Toudeshk Cho. The place is homely, comfortable, has heated rooms and offers shared bathrooms. You sleep on mattresses laid out on the floor, but in a traditional and cosy setup. Costs vary depending on whether you take bed and breakfast, bed and breakfast with dinner or full board.

2) The place serves food, but it is necessary to book in advance.

3) The place comes with free wi-fi.

4) Since it is located close to the highway, one can easily find buses to Esfahan, Yazd, Na’in and Tehran.

5) The owner of the homestay also allows you to cook in their kitchen if you do not wish to eat their home food.

6) For sightseeing, you can hike in the mountains around, do a walking tour of the village or explore the Varzaneh sand dunes located 45 minutes away. The homestay owner arranges taxis that you can hire to visit the desert.

7) While a lot of things are good about the homestay, I would have preferred if the owner had a nicer attitude towards his customers. To me and my other traveler friends, he sounded brash and arrogant. May be, he is featured on lonely planet and wikitravel, but that doesn’t mean that he treats his customers badly. In my stay here, I found him hostile sometimes and speaking at the back many times, which I did not appreciate one little bit. However, he was helpful at many times, which was good for us.

While the location of the homestay and the homestay itself is good, I would return to this place only if the owner improves his attitude towards his customers. Having said that, you should may be give this place a try and see for yourself if things have improved.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Intricate Frescoes from Chehel Sotun Palace, Isfahan

The world over is aware of Persia’s rich past and at the helm of this past was the city of Isfahan that portrayed all this glory through its beautiful gardens, intricate miniatures, poetry, rich architecture, great carving, fie weaving and much more. I have been getting a good idea of this as I have been exploring their squares, bazaars, mosques, churches, bridges, gardens and palaces. I saw this beautiful fresco painting today at the museum inside the Chehel Sotun palace that is situated in the heart of the city.

Colorful Paintings inside Chehel Sotun Palace, Isfahan, Iran

The paintings inside this museum (and including the one above) portray the life of the king, his subjects, and the war with India, Turkmenistan, etc. Through these paintings, one can see the clothing, entertainment, foods, musical instruments, mannerisms, culture and much more. In my last 4 days at Isfahan, I have to say that these miniatures and paintings are one of the top highlights of this beautiful city.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Travel Photo: Street Food Shop at Tehran Bazaar

Iran is known all over the world for its rich history, beautiful carpets, vibrant landscapes and great food. However, its most prominent feature is its people, who are warm and ready to help you with a big smile and heart. So far, in my 8 days in this amazing country, the people have made all the difference. 

Street Shop Owner - Tehran

In this case, this was an elderly gentleman at Tehran Bazaar at whose shop I sat down to have my simple vegetarian lunch of local bread, thick bean soup, boiled eggs and tea. He was friendly even though we did not speak a common language. He made room for me at his roadside shop and made me feel very comfortable. I ended up having a hearty lunch at his place.

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Travelers Flock to State and National Parks This Winter

Visiting a state or national park might seem like old hat to you in the spring or summer. You know that you can take a dip in a river or lake, cook food over an open flame and watch the stars at night. You might think that these parks are only suitable for vacations that take place in the warmer months. State and national parks offer just as many activities and attractions during the colder months as those parks do in the summer.

Great Views
The views that you see during the spring and summer at state and national parks have nothing on the views that you'll see in the winter. Imagine seeing that huge lake completely empty with a thin coat of ice across the top, or think about how gorgeous those mountains and hills will look when covered in snow. With a pair of snowshoes strapped to your feet, you can up close and personal with those views. Take plenty of pictures to show your friends and family back home before you relax with a mug of hot chocolate or coffee.

Plenty of Activities
Hiking with snowshoes is just one of activities that you can enjoy in the winter. Some state and national parks have partnerships in place with skin mountains and resorts that let you ski or snowboard down the mountain. If you need some help, you can take lessons from an expert first. You may also have the option of horseback riding through the wintery mountain trails or ice skating right on that frozen lake. There are plenty of other activities that you'll enjoy as well, including ice fishing and backcountry skiing.

Special Activities
Before planning a trip to a state or national park, take a look at tweets by Bluegreen Resorts and other companies. Many travel companies and websites use Twitter as a way to tell travelers about special activities and events taking place all year round. State parks often offer activities designed for the whole family. You might have the chance to take a hike and learn about what native animals do during the colder months, take arts and crafts classes to make ornaments and holiday decorations or go caroling with a group. Some parks even offer sleigh rides and bring in Santa for the little ones.

Heated and Equipped Cabins
Winter is the perfect time of year to leave your camp stove, sleeping bags and other equipment at home. Instead of sleeping out under the stars, you can enjoy a stay in a heated cabin with a private bathroom and private bedrooms. Most cabins also come with a fully equipped kitchen, a television for those days when it's just too cold outside and a screened porch or patio for watching the snow fall. The only things you need to bring with you are your kids and some warm clothing. Always check with the park first to ensure that it has cabins available before you leave.

State and national parks exist all across the country. While these parks offer plenty to do in the warmer months, you can still have fun in the winter. You can learn about local animals, make holiday decorations and enjoy other activities, and you can fall asleep every night in a comfortable heated cabin.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nobel Hostel: Hostel with a View at Istanbul

Normally hotels that have a stunning view are either 5 star, 4 star or insanely expensive. It is very rare to find a budget backpacker hostel with a view. But, I am so happy that I found that in Nobel Hostel, a budget hostel located in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. I stayed here recently for 4 days and 3 nights and the below is a detailed review based on this recent experience of mine.

Sultanahmet blue mosque from the terrace of Nobel Hostel

1) The Nobel hostel has top location. It is located right behind the Sultanahmet Blue Mosque, a couple of steps away from the Arasta Bazaar and easy walking distance to Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia.

2) The hostel comes with a stunning view. Most of the rooms either offer a view of the Blue Mosque or the Bosphorus. The terrace offers insane views of both. On a clear day, you can enjoy your tea and/or beer at this terrace while soaking in the views.

3) The hostel is just a 5 minute walk from the Sultanahmet tram station, which means that the ferry stations of Eminonu (for the Bosphorus cruises), Taksim area (for shopping, eating and drinking) and the Grand Bazaar (for local shopping) are just a few tram stops away.

4) The hostel offers cosy dormitories and private rooms at budget prices. They charge 10 or 11 Euros per bed for the dormitory. These dormitories come with views, windows, heaters, safety lockers, great soft beds, towels and a shared bathroom that has hot water and heaters.

5) They offer free breakfast in their neighbouring restaurant every morning. They also offer food and drinks on their open terrace restaurant.

6) Supermarkets, ATMs, travel agencies, booking offices and other important traveler needs are all located close by.

7) The hostel offers good speed wi-fi on all its hostel floors.

8) The hostel comes with round the clock security, reception and CCTVs.

9) The hostel doesn’t have a lift and has narrow spiral staircases. This might be a problem if you have to carry heavy suitcases.

10) The hostel reception is very helpful and resourceful with information and tips about everything. I had so many questions directed at Mustafa and he calmly answered them nicely and clearly for me.

11) Since the hostel is located in the touristy area and close to the mosque, do prepare for some sounds especially during prayer time and during the day when traffic moves around.

If you are looking for a good and comfortable budget hostel in the heart of the tourist area of Sultanahmet and would like to see a view every day and night of your stay without paying anything more, then this is the place for you. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here.

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Sony Xperia Z3: A Sleek, Super Effective and Rugged Travel and Photography Phone

The world of travel has evolved by leaps and bounds. Today, there is hardly anyone who travels without a smart phone. They have become the essence of travel as they are used for everything from booking flight tickets and hotel rooms to navigating on maps, sharing updates and pictures on social media to keeping in touch with family and friends, using it as a camera to using it for watching movies and listening to music and for all other online communication to entertaining us with those many games.

I work on the go as I am continuously traveling and hence my smartphone becomes my inseparable companion. I use it for blogging, managing my startup business, use it as camera, manage my blog’s social media network through it, watch movies, listen to music and so much more. Recently, I upgraded myself to the new Sony Xperia Z3 phone that runs on the Android platform. I have been using it for a good while during my travels across India and Turkey and below is a detailed review of why I think this phone is a great choice for travel, photography, blogging and entertainment.

Sony Xperia Z3 - the latest Android phone by Sony 
A Phone Camera that puts Big Cameras to Shame 
Once I have started using the Sony Xperia Z3 as my phone, I have started using my DSLR camera less. That says a lot about the quality of this phone’s camera. With a mind boggling 20.7 megapixel camera and with great Sony photo and video technology, this phone camera has ensured that I take top quality pictures in good and in low light. Even some of my travel videos have been taken using this phone and I have been pleasantly surprised at its quality and detail. With image stabilization, high ISO, LED Flash, Auto Focus, Geo Tagging, Object Tracking and Red Eye Reduction, this camera has it all.

Waterproof and Dustproof
With most of our smart phones, we are worried about keeping it away from water and that limits us a lot from using it in all situations. However, this phone is waterproof and dustproof. I have used it in rain, sun and snow to great effect and am very happy that nothing happened to the phone. Same with dusty environments, especially in most of our Indian cities.

Blogging on the Go
Earlier, I used to use my laptop to use most of my blogging. These days, the blogging work load is shared between both my laptop and my Sony Xperia Z3 smart phone. It’s 5.2 inch full HD screen along with its SnapDragon 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Quad-Core processor and 3 GB RAM have ensured that it is a pleasure to write a post quickly, effectively and publish it seamlessly through the various blogging apps available on Android. And since most of the photos have been clicked using the phone, I can easily upload them to the cloud and link the post images to their location on the cloud.

Sony Xperia Z3: A stunning looking Smartphone
Entertainment has never been Better
As a frequent traveler, I have a lot of time to kill at airports, flight, train and bus journeys. During this time, I usually catch up with movies, TV shows, my favorite music, audio books, language guides and much more. The very first time, I heard the sound effects and saw the rich video of this phone, I was hooked. I think it has the best sound effects of any phone available in the market and that includes the iPhone 6. Watching a movie on this phone makes me feel like I am in a theater with Dolby Surround Sound. The visuals are also very rich. Listening to music has never been better and more rich. Even reading is a pleasure. And what do I say about playing games on this phone. It takes gaming to a whole new and different level.


Sony Xperia Z3: Great Travel and Photography Companion

Great for Video Calls 
I use Skype for staying in touch with my family, friends and business associates. The Sony Xperia Z3’s large screen, great processor and great front camera ensures that communication has never been better. It also seems to catch better and strong wi-fi connectivity compared to my earlier phones.

Great Battery Life
I do so much with my phone that I need great battery power. This phone offers so much juice (3100 mAh) that I don’t have to use my power backup much and I am very happy about that. I have used it for watching more than 2 movies, listening to lots of music, lots of time on the internet, some gaming, some work, some photography, some blogging, some phone calls and the battery still lasts close to a day and that according to me is pretty impressive.

Lots of Space
One of the main limitations with a lot of smart phones is the space factor. These days, we consume so much space with movies, photographs, music, books, documents and so much more. I seem to be always space hungry and hence am insanely happy with my phone’s 16 GB internal memory and the 128 GB micro SD card that I put into it additionally. This gives me enough space for all my current and future needs.

The phone also comes with many other great features. It is also incredibly stylish and comes in great colors. If you are a person who works on the move, looking for a good phone camera, looking to blog on the move and or looking for a rugged smart phone, this phone should be one of your top choices.

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55 Random Things about Turkey

It has been 29 days of pure joy traveling across Turkey for me. In these 29 days, I have seen one of the world’s most dynamic cities in Istanbul, some of the world’s oldest civilizations in Ephesus, Aphrodisias and Mesopotamia, some of nature’s best rock formations in Cappadocia, travertines and Roman civilizations in Pamukkale, sensational beaches on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, very original local culture amidst great hospitality at Sanliurfa and Mardin and tasted one of the world’s top cuisines. During this incredible journey, I came across many different aspects about this country that I found very interesting or enlightening and these have been mentioned below to make an interesting read for you. Hope you enjoy it.

1) The language of Turkey (Turkish) finds its roots in Western China, Mongolia and Central Asia.

2) The foods of Turkey and India are very similar. Both of them love their yoghurt, their sweets and their spices.

3) Gasoline price in Turkey is one of the highest in the world.

4) Some of the earliest civilizations can be found in Turkey. 7,000 and 9,000 years old are common for this country.

5) Cost of living is fairly high even for the locals. This is due to its high taxes.

6) People in Turkey are very fashionable. I guess it is their proximity to Europe and frequent travel to Western Europe.

7) At many times, travel by air is cheaper than travel by bus in this massive country.

8) The world’s first place of worship (Gobekli Tepe) is present in today’s Turkey. It was built more than 11,000 years ago.

9) It is compulsory for every male child from the family to serve in the Turkish army for 2 years (if you have an university degree, it is only 6 months). These men are sent off to the army with great gusto and celebrations.

10) Raki is the national drink of Turkey and a Raki sofrasi session is like its pride.

11) A lot of Turkish and Kurdish words are similar to Hindi. This can be due to the fact that all these 3 languages have borrowed heavily from Persian (Farsi) and Arabic.

12) Road infrastructure of Turkey is on par with the rest of the world.

13) Buses in Turkey offer great luxury. They offer in-bus entertainment with internet, free w-fi, toilets (some buses), free in-bus snacks and drinks.

14) Turkey is a very mountainous country, especially in its south and east.

15) Turkey is a great destination to travel as a couple or as a family.

16) Turkey has been home to many ancient civilizations – Roman, Greek, Ottoman, Byzantine, Mesopotamian and much more.

17) Outside of the tourist areas and large cities, people do not speak any language apart from Turkish, Arabic or Kurdish.

18) In the Kurdish areas of the South, the people speak more of Kurdish and less of Turkish.

19) The Southern Eastern part of Turkey is more middle eastern in nature, poorer, cheaper and a little dirtier than the rest of the country. They have stone houses that are similar to those seen in the desert part of the middle east.

20) A lot of places in Turkey receive snow every winter.

21) One can indulge in a lot of adventure sports at Turkey – Hot air balloons, paragliding, scuba diving, snorkeling, yachting and much more.

22) Turkish economy is on a upswing.

23) Clothes and Shoes are surprisingly very cheap in Turkey.

24)  It is a myth that vegetarians cannot survive in Turkey. In fact, the opposite is true. Vegetarians have so much choice that you will have to watch what you eat else your waistline might start bulging.

25) A Sunday Kahvaltsi (breakfast) is one of the grandest breakfasts you can ever do.

26) Istanbul is a far cry from the rest of the country. The rest of the country is more laidback and relaxed.

27) It is very difficult to identify the people of Turkey by their surnames or family names. This is because after they got independent, the government allowed them to choose new surnames. However, it might still be possible to find out if they are left or right wing.

28) Istiklal street of Istanbul gets close to 3 million visitors every day making it one of the busiest streets in the world.

29) Turkey is extremely rich in agriculture. It’s olives, fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices are some of the best in the world.

30) A game of Backgammon and a hot cup of tea is a favorite past time of Turkey.

31) Most of the men and some women of Turkey smoke. Public smoking is not banned and sometimes drivers smoke inside the buses.

32) In spite of Turkey being a Muslim country, most of its citizens consume alcohol.

33) The Muslim women of Western and Northern Turkey dress liberally without any religious hurdles.

34) A lot of men sport a moustache and a beard in Turkey. And that is why barber shops are ubiquitous in this country.

35) Shoe shine vendors can be found almost in every city of this country, especially in the smaller ones.

36) An authentic Turkish Hamam Bath with a good scrub, massage and bubble bath is a rejuvenating experience.

37) There is more Greek history in Turkey than in Greece.

38) There are more cats in Turkey than dogs. In fact, locals tell me that cats are not neutered and their numbers are increasing at an alarming pace.

39) Turkey has snow capped mountain peaks.

40) A lot of houses in Turkey have red tiled roofs.

41) Most of the bank ATMs in Turkey allow you to withdraw Turkish Liras, Euros and US Dollars.

42) Turkey gets a lot of visitors even during its low season.

43) A lot of Turkish people speak Korean and Chinese due to the increasing number of tourists from China and Korea.

44) Most of Turkey has great public transport.

45) Bollywood movies and its Khans are quite popular in Turkey.

46) South Eastern Anatolian region of Turkey is still pretty unspoilt when it comes to big tourist crowds and thus leads to lots of meaningful exchanges with the local population.

47) Kurdish numbering (1 to 10) pronunciation is nearly the same as the numbering in Hindi.

48) The boys and men of Turkey seem to have a fascination for sweaters that have reindeers prints or weaves.

49) The women of South Turkey, especially the South Eastern area are drop dead gorgeous.

50) Hinduism as a religion is a mystery in many parts of Turkey. In fact, a lot of India is still a mystery to most of the country.

51) The man twirling his moustache while maintaining eye contact with a woman indicates that he is interested in the woman and wants a sexual favor.

52) Musical instruments are very cheap in Turkey and gets a lot of customers from neighboring Europe where the same instruments cost a lot of money.

53) Cars are very expensive in Turkey. Due to the high luxury tax, larger cars become more expensive.

54) Tipping is not a common practice in Turkey, but if given, it is well appreciated.

55) Most of the people of this country are very warm and are keen on having a good conversation with you.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Aslan Guest House: Homely Kurdish Styled Hostel in Urfa, Turkey

This guest house is part of a 270 year old Armenian building located in the atmospheric town of Sanliurfa in South Eastern Turkey.  This town is a bit off the typical tourist trail of Turkey and is located close to the border with Syria. It is steeped in a lot of history and still retains an unspoilt and original look and feel. I stayed in this town for 3 days and 2 nights and during my stay parked myself at the Aslan Guest House. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying with them.



1) The hotel has great location. It is located at 10 to 15 minute walk from all the top sights and attractions that include the bazaar, the museums, the mosque, the fish pond, the castle and others.

2) The ambience of staying in an old house done up tastefully in local traditional design is a bonus.

3) The guest house is located right in the middle of a residential area and hence there might be some trouble finding the place, but directions to the guest house can be found at many places and the locals are really helpful.

4) There is a school located right opposite the guest house. Sometimes, sound levels were more, but it did not affect my sleep in any way.

5) The dormitory is located in an ancient cave room which stays warm during the night and cold during the day.

6) Free breakfast is served in their open courtyard. They serve a local delicacy that is like chilly and scrambled eggs, which is absolutely delicious. It is however a bit on the spicier side.

7) Free tea is served all through the day. Water, Beer and cold drinks can be purchased from the kitchen. Lunch and dinner are provided for at an additional cost if ordered during breakfast.

8) The owner Aslan is very helpful with directions, local places to eat, top places to see and the likes. However, he tries to sell tours to every customer, which is not received well by many.

9) Free wi-fi of good quality is available all throughout the guest house.

10) The guest house is a bit far away from the bus station and the airport. But, that is because, they are located in the new city or in the outskirts.

11) Many restaurants, local dessert shops, super markets and shops are located at a walking distance from the guest house.

12) The guest house did not have any maps, but they compensated by giving me excellent directions.

13) The people running the place are very kind and always serve you with a big smile. I really liked talking with them.

14) The place is also very clean and provides all basic and important amenities like heater/air-conditioning, hot water, breakfast, guidance, etc.

If I return to Sanliurfa and which I intend to on my next trip to Turkey to see Gobekli Tepe and Mt.Neemrut, I will definitely stay here again. In my mind, they are a home in Urfa who offer hotel like amenities.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Boomerang Guest House: Lovely Family Run Guest House at Selcuk

If the ruins of Ephesus is on your Turkey holiday itinerary, then in all probability you will be staying at the small laidback town of Selcuk, where I ended up staying for 2 nights at a family run Guest House called the Boomerang Guest House. The below property review is based on this recent experience of mine.

1) Selcuk is a small town. So basically, everything is within walking distance. The bus station is right opposite the property thus giving you easy and quick access to long distance buses and the dolmuses (to Efes, the beach and other neighboring towns like Sirince).

2) The property is run by a Turkish man, his Chinese wife and his family. They used to live in Australia and hence there is a lot of Australian flavor in this guest house. They offer a lot of Australian dishes and even their favorite vegemite.

3) The place is tastefully done up and they take good care of you while you are there. The owners are very resourceful in giving you information and guiding you to the right place. They are also located in a very quiet neighborhood.

4) Ephesus is just a 10 minute mini bus ride away and the rest of the sights of Selcuk town – the castle, the church, the mosque and the temple of Artemis are just a short walk away.

5) The guest house has an in-house restaurant. Their free breakfast is great and so is the rest of their food.

6) They have a nice dormitory with in-suite bathrooms. But, the dormitory is mostly cold through the day and night and does not have any safety lockers. The showers are very warm and the dorms are also very quiet.

7) They have free wi-fi on their property, which works great in all their rooms and restaurant area. The speeds are one of the faster ones I have encountered in Turkey.

8) The property is located close to restaurants, super markets and the train station.

If you are looking for great family run budget accommodation in Selcuk, this place is a great bet.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Travel Photo:Gozleme Cook from Pamukkale, Turkey

The last three weeks in Turkey has been a gastronomic delight for me. The food is so delicious here that sometimes I feel like I should settle here for good. While everyone knows of the kebabs, Turkish delights, Baklava and other desserts, I would like to bring special mention to the humble Gozleme. This Turkish pancake is a lunch favorite and is consumed with hot tea, yoghurt and tomatoes. Made from wheat flour and cooked on a hot concave iron plate, the Gozleme is typically stuffed with cheese, spinach, chillies and potatoes and with the meat option, some dry beef is added to it.

Gozleme - a favorite pancake dish of Turkey

This Turkish pancake is cooked in front of you, is easy to digest, costs very few liras and takes only a short while to be ready. I gorged on these pancakes especially in smaller towns where they seem to be the rage(unlike the larger towns where doners are the preferred fast food). They are easy to eat and make for a very healthy picnic lunch that you can take on treks and explorations. In this photo is the mother of the family who makes these gozlemes for the family restaurant at Pamukkale in the Anatolian part of Turkey.

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Aztec Connection at Mexico City

If there is a history and culture lover in you, you are bound to love Mexico City, a unique combination of a bustling metropolis and a world heritage city. One of the oldest American cities and the federal hot seat of the Mexican Republic, this city has a lot to offer for the culture lover. And it gets even better if you are looking to explore its rich Aztec history as it is one of those cities with the best Aztec connection. This ancient civilization was discovered and revealed to the Western society by the conquistadores that explored the monumental ruins looking for priceless treasures. For this reason, Aztecs became a symbol of mystery and charm and inspired great adventure movies and even slot games for those who are dreaming about finding the secret of their everlasting splendour. While there are many places to explore the Aztec history, the top 3 are Teotihuacan, Templo Mayor and the Zocalo, which is home to the ancient city ruins of Tenochtitlan.

Teotihuacan – City of the Gods
Known as the ‘City of the Gods’, Teotihuacan is an archaeological site located 40 kms from Mexico city. The Aztecs believed that the gods created this universe in this ancient city that once flourished as the epicenter of culture and commerce during Mesoamerica’s classic period.

Believed to the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, it is home to some of the largest ancient pyramids in the world. While there are many pyramids located in this area, the main pyramids here are the ‘Temple of the Moon’ and ‘The Temple of the Sun’. The Temple of Quetzalcoatl, decorated with manoy stone serpents is one of the most sacred temples in the complex. The museum at the park has outstanding displays and is worth a visit too. A unique way to experience this Aztec city is to see it from inside a hot air balloon early in the morning.

Templo Mayor – The Great Aztec Kingdom
Under the hustle and bustle of modern Mexico city lie the ruins of the pre-Hispanic Aztec capital, once known as Tenochtitlan. At the center of this ancient empire lies the Templo Mayor, the most religious area for the Aztecs. It is here that you can see sections of the two main religious temples (dedicated to the god of war and rain god), serpent carvings, pyramids and shrines. You can also see a ceremonial platform where ancient Aztec rituals were held. All the unearthed structures can be seen at the Templo Mayor museum, which houses clay pots, corals, figurines, urns, masks, skulls, obsidian knives and much more. The historic complex of the Templo Mayor and its museum are part of the UNESCO world heritage site and make for a stunning visit.
 
The Zocalo
The historical heart of the city, the Zocalo is the largest square in Latin America and the third largest in the world after Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Once the main center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, this is the heart of this busy city. It is here that you will discover pre-Hispanic ruins and pre-colonial buildings. Home to civic and cultural events, the Zocalo is a great place to study and interact with the local people as you will meet business executives, workers, fashionistas, vendors, buskers, Aztec dancers and many more. The National Palace is located here too at the very spot where the palace of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma once stood. The ideal way to explore the Zocalo is by weaving in and out of its ruins, its restaurants and by soaking in its rich life.

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The Hundred Foot Journey: A Great Travel Read

I was gifted this book (The Hundred Foot Journey) on my birthday by my friend and it turned out to be one of the most entertaining travel books I have read in a long while. A work of fiction, this novel is about the story of a Indian restaurant family from Mumbai who move away from Mumbai due to trouble in Mumbai before finally settling in France. The book is about food, the Indian and the French cultures and a bit of travel.

I am a foodie, love the French culture to an extent and love traveling and hence when I started reading this book, it kept me captivated till I finished it. An easy read, Robert C Morais, the author has done a lot of research into the foods and cultures of India and France and through this book brings out a very alluring story, especially through a rich gastronomical journey.

The Hundred-Foot Journey Book Review
There is drama. There are fights. There is good food. And there is a nice story. The book also offers a great insight into the French culture, its foods, its places and a lot of its culture. The Indian family also travel a bit in this story, so you get a good idea of Western Europe and their favorite foods.

Now that I have read the book, I would like to watch the movie next and see which one is better, the book or the movie. If you have a long flight, a long layover, a long journey or a relaxed holiday, I would definitely recommend you this book. It is so good that you will not be able to put it down. Or at least that was the case with me.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Yildirim Guest House: Excellent Budget Accommodation at Fethiye, Turkey

There are many guest houses, hostels and hotels that are good out there, but a few fall in the category of home away from home. The Yildirim Guest house falls in the later category. During my recent visit to Fethiye on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, I stayed here for 5 nights. I absolutely loved my experience of staying here and extended my initial 2 night plan to 5 nights. Below is a detailed review based on this recent experience of mine.

1) The guest house is located right opposite the marina front along with other guest houses. It is a 15 minute walk from the city center and market area.

2) The guest house is run by a man, who is a traveler himself. Omer is extremely resourceful and helpful. He helped me with details about the Lycian way, local sightseeing information, best restaurants to eat in the town, and much more. He helped others with tours, hamam baths, tickets, etc. Basically, a very resourceful local contact.

3) The guest house has simple and comfortable rooms and dormitory. Both of them come with hot showers. The dormitory doesn’t have safety lockers, but their 24 hour security provides some comfort.

4) They serve free and great Turkish breakfast every morning. Breakfast is of great quality. They also serve free coffee and tea all through the day and night.

5) Free wi-fi is available all through the guest house. However, during bad weather, the wi-fi kept playing hide and seek.

6) The family atmosphere of this guest house is what I really liked. You meet fellow travelers, share travel stories, travel together and get tips from Omer. Sometimes, we even cook together. On one night, I was invited to cook Indian food for the interested customers.

7) The guest house doesn’t have an in-house restaurant and most of the restaurants are at least a 10 minute walk away, but if you manage the walk, you will come across a wide variety of restaurants and bars. Supermarkets and ATMs however, are located very close by.

8) All the tourist attractions are located outside Fethiye and will require you to either rent a motorcycle or car or take the public mini-bus (dolmus). The mini-bus station is a 15 minute walk through the market area of Fethiye.

9) Pick-ups, tours and bookings are arranged by the guest house, in case you wish for help.

10) The guest house provides laundry service, for an additional fee.

11) The dormitory is comfortable and warm, but when it rains heavily, you can hear the sound of rain in the room.

I really had a great time staying here and exploring the beautiful Mediterranean coast of Turkey along with its spectacular hikes. If you are looking for quality, homely, budget and comfortable accommodation, then I would recommend that you give this guest house a try.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Weekend breaks in Florence

Florence is a great option if you're looking for somewhere to get away for the weekend. Exuding European charm, culture and history, this is a city that has what it takes to give you a holiday to remember. Among the hundreds of things to do, here are some that will give Florence a place in your heart for years to come.

Weekend breaks in Florence

Climb Giotto's Tower

You should visit Duomo Square anyway – it's a fabulous place to watch the world go by, preferably with an ice cream or two – but, while you're there, make sure you take the chance to see Florence from another angle up Giotto’s Tower. This remarkable bell tower designed by the man whose name it bears, gives you the best of both worlds: a sweeping panorama of the city's streets and an up close and personal look at Brunelleschi's magnificent Dome close by. You do need a head for heights, and there's an admission charge, but you won't get a view like this anywhere else.

Visit the Bargello Museum
The Florence gallery everyone knows about is the Uffizi. Its paintings are undeniably superb, but the long waits to get in make it a poor choice for weekend breaks: you don't want to use up half your precious time in this wonderful city on one attraction. Instead, head for the old prison block that hosts the city's extraordinary collection of sculptures. You can see Donatello's bronze version of the famous David – without the crowds that plague the original – and several remarkable works by Michelangelo himself. A world-class museum without world-class queues? This is it.

Cross the Ponte Vecchio

It's noisy, it's sometimes unbearably busy and much of the merchandise on offer is of poor quality – but there's still something about Florence's most famous bridge that demands a visit. The medieval architecture of the shops that sit upon its stone arches is undeniably splendid, while walking a little way along the river will take you away from the crowds. Go in the early morning, when the bridge has room to breathe and then relax at a nearby café with a cappuccino made as only true Italians can.

Stroll in the gardens

Florence is blessed with several green oases, which make ideal places to get away from the city's crowds for a while. The Bardini Gardens in the Oltrarno Quarter are peaceful and elegant; there's a restaurant on site, but not a lot else – other than some truly spectacular city vistas. If you prefer your greenery combined with something a bit more varied, the larger and better-known Boboli Gardens will see you pass grottoes, fountains and even a porcelain museum as you wander along its sweeping paths. When time is short on a weekend, simply walking around and taking in the gardens, architecture and general atmosphere of Florence will leave you feel rejuvenated and inspired. Promising to come back and see all the attractions later in the year is just another reason to revisit.

Image by Putneypics, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Turkey’s Favorite Alcoholic Drink

A trip to Turkey is not complete without being a part of a raki-sofrasi session. This is when you taste the national drink of Turkey and consume it alongside meze, a great assorted selection of hot and cold appetizers. A raki-sofrasi is like the norm with most Turkish people all over the country. It is a great way to sample this strong alcoholic drink with some great vegetarian and meat appetisers that go so well with this drink.

Raki - Turkey's Favorite Alcoholic Drink
This drink, which is made from grapes and flavored with anise is ideally had dry with normal or sparkling water separately. Some people are also known to mix it with ice and water. When raki is mixed with water, it becomes milky colored and tastes a tad different. Depending on your personal preference, you can try either of these drinking techniques. Irrespective of the technique, all people enjoy the meze that is had along with this drink. Raki is a bit stiff with 45% alcohol content and one needs to acquire a taste to enjoy it. It is one of those few drinks that doesn’t burn your throat. Rather, it makes your ears feel unbelievably warm.

The Mezes of Turkey
If you visit Turkey, I would heavily recommend trying this local drink. If you don’t consume alcohol, you should at least be a part of the raki-sofrasi session, enjoy the moments and the great food. A trip to Turkey is not complete without taking part in this iconic tradition. And when you do take part in this tradition, do remember to say SEREFE!!

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Subrosa Station: Comfortable Budget Hotel in the Sultanahmet Area of Istanbul

If you are a tourist to Istanbul, you are bound to stay either in the Taksim or the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul as they are close to all the key attractions. On my first visit to Istanbul, I stayed in the Sultanahmet area at a hotel called the Subrosa Station. I stayed at this budget hotel for 3 days and 2 nights and the below is my review of this hotel based on this recent experience of mine.

1) The hotel has great location. Situated just 200m from the Sultanahmet tram station and short walking distance to the Blue Mosque, Ay Sofya, Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cistern, this place is close to all the main attractions of Istanbul. And since the tram station is located close by, all the other places are also easily accessible.

2) The hotel has comfortable rooms that offer heating/cooling, attached bathroom with hot water and great wi-fi.

3) The people running this guest house are great people who are always happy to answer the various questions that the travelers have. They also speak good English.

4) There are many restaurants near the hotel, but most of them are very expensive as they cater primarily to the tourists. If you walk a bit further, you will find authentic and cheaper local restaurants.

5) The hotel is also close to the grand bazaar area and the spice market in case you are interested in shopping.

6) If you have an evening bus, this hotel allows you to use their common room, wi-fi, toilets and also provide you with access to a luggage storage room.

7) In terms of access from the airport, you can do a combination of metro and tram (if you are coming from Attaturk airport) or get a bus (if you are coming from Sabiha airport)

8) Even though the hotel is located right in the middle of the busy area, it is awfully quiet in the night and ensures good sleep. The only problem is the early morning call for prayer, which you can hear almost from everywhere in Turkey.

9) The standard rooms cost about 40 Euros. They don’t offer breakfast or any other meal. But, they offer hot tea, coffee and water all through the day.

If you are looking for a good budget hotel in the tourist hub of Sultanahmet, you should give this place a try. It is simple, clean and comfortable.

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Fun and Cultural: A Worldly Holiday in Malta

When you visit Malta, you'll be tapping in to at least seven thousand years of history. Traders and soldiers, from Phoenicians and Romans to Muslims and Crusaders, have all helped to create its character, with the influence of diverse cultures still apparent today. You'll find reminders of the past everywhere, right up to relics of World War II, when Malta played a role as a base for Allied forces.

However, it's more than just a historic location, and offers today's tourists a variety of attractions and activities. This Mediterranean archipelago is made up of Malta, Gozo and Comino. The latter, the smallest, is mostly uninhabited, with just one hotel to tempt those in search of solitude. Gozo relies on agriculture, fishing, tourism and crafts, while as the largest, Malta itself is a centre for commerce, culture and administration.

A holiday in Malta

Malta holidays guarantee you a traditional vacation experience with good weather, pretty beaches, lively nightlife, and plenty of sightseeing. Head for Comino's Blue Lagoon, a sheltered cove close to the islet of Cominotto, or try diving and snorkelling around the Azure Window, an arc in the cliffs of Gozo. Nearby is the Blue Hole, a limestone chimney that connects with the sea via an underwater arch. If you prefer to avoid potential crowds around these marvels, check out instead the collapsed cavern of Dwejra Bay, and enjoy stunning views from Qawra Tower. Cruise around Valletta, or if you're around on a Sunday, browse the busy fish market in Marsaxlokks.

St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, built between 1573 and 1578, boasts a couple of paintings by Caravaggio, who fled here to escape punishment in Rome, throwing himself on the mercy of the Knights of the Order of St John. In 1693, an earthquake destroyed Mdina’s Norman cathedral of St Paul's, and Lorenzo Gafa's baroque replacement features serpent and fire motifs on the two bell towers, to commemorate the saint's first miracle here. The same natural disaster felled the Cathedral of the Assumption, also rebuilt by Gafa.

Time your stay to take in one of the many festivals in arts, the baroque, opera, choirs, and July's International Jazz Festival. Music from pop to classical rocks the island, and the clubbing scene thrives. Bands are a local tradition, with each town holding an annual fiesta. Plays, performed either open-air or within the eighteenth century Manoel Theatre, are another popular diversion.

The family-friendly beaches are safe for the little ones, and there are activities for all ages. Kids will also love the Splash and Fun Park with its wave pool, tunnels, water slides, and a "lazy river" to be negotiated on a rubber tube. Malta provides spectacular scenery, quality entertainment, delicious food, and awesome history, all in an ideal climate, making it the perfect destination. And it's that's a little bit different.

Image by Beatriz Garcia, used under Creative Commons license.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Travel Photo: Hierapolis Theatre, Turkey

Seating close to 15,000 people and nearly 2000 years old, the amphitheatre at Hierapolis is a sight that leaves you speechless. It is part of the ancient holy city that is a UNESCO world heritage site and one that is situated among the beautiful hot water springs and travertines. This was the place where plays, gladiator fights and other performances were played in the hey days. It is located on a hill and is designed with great acoustic taste.

Roman Amphitheater at Hierapolis
Even today, if you sing a song here, the sound booms through the theater and which showcases the knowledge of acoustic engineering even in that age. In my mind, that is truly amazing. In fact, every bit of this ancient holy city captures one’s imagination. It is no wonder that this place is immensely popular with all tourists visiting Turkey.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sahlep: Tasty Winter Drink from Turkey

The Turkish tea and the coffee (Kahve) are very popular drinks in this beautiful country, but come winter, another drink joins the popular list. In fact, it is so popular in the winter months that this drink can be bought at every street seller and at every cafe in the country. Made from the tubers of an orchid, milk, water, vanilla, rose water, cinnamon and pistachio nuts, this thick drink called Sahlep is like the perfect drink you can have on a cold day. The only thing to remember is not to drink it too fast (even if you like the drink a lot) as else you might burn your throat and tongue.

Sahlep with Cinnamon powder at istanbul 
Personally, I indulged in them whenever the cold wind picked up speed or the temperatures plummeted. Not only does this drink warm you instantly, it also feels so good to drink and comforts the throat too. The recipe of this drink is believed to have been created during the reign of the Ottoman kings, but its use today is spread across Turkey, Greece, Central Asia and even Europe, which imports this ready to make drink from Turkey.  The locals do not use the ready to make powder to make this drink, but rather prepare it in the painstakingly original way with the raw materials. And, the end result is an of the world taste.

Street seller selling Sahlep at Istanbul, Turkey
If you visit Turkey during the winter months, do not miss to try out this drink especially on a cold and grey day. And if you like it, you can buy a box of Sahlep as a souvenir for your friends and family back home. I am going to indulge in this drink a bit more while I am traveling through Turkey.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Monks Valley from Cappadocia, Turkey

When people talk of Cappadocia, there is an element of awe and wonder in the conversation, but when you see it in person, that awe and wonder increases exponentially. This central Anatolian region has to be one of nature’s rarest and best creations. Take these mushrooms for example that stand in the middle of flat lands at Pasabag or Monk’s valley near the Zelve open air museum area of Cappadocia.

Mushrooms from Pasabag, near Zelve in Cappadocia

During my 4 days in Cappadocia, I did many hikes and this area was one of my favorite as the day was bright and sunny and the views were un-paralleled. I definitely intend to return to this beautiful region of Turkey soon. This area is so good for lonely and yet insanely scenic hikes.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

5 Flavor-Filled Vegetarian Restaurants in Vancouver

Whether you’re a strict vegetarian or like to choose meat-free cuisine as often as possible, it can be difficult to find tasty vegetarian meals when you’re traveling around in an unfamiliar city. Happily, Vancouver is not a spot lacking in dining delights for those who like to abstain from animal products. From cool cafes to happening restaurants, there are venues around the city that are serving up fresh, quality vegetarian meals on a daily basis.

VancouverWhether you’re keen to sample some veggie burgers, want to taste a fresh salad, or need your fix of Asian cuisine, you’ll find something to suit your appetite in Vancouver. Read on for five top vegetarian restaurants you can add to your itinerary.

1. Tera V Burger
Burgers at Tera V Burger
When you begin to feel the craving for a burger, don’t worry about finding a great vegetarian option in Vancouver. Tera V Burger serves up healthy yet appetizing veggie burgers that aren’t like those found at other fast-food joints. Rather than using patties made from low-grade beef mince or caged-chicken fillets, the restaurant utilizes quality vegetarian ingredients instead. Tera V has a mission to provide diners with great food that not only satisfies strict vegetarians, but also helps turn meat eaters onto the benefits of going meat-free. Even Vegan diners will find great-tasting food options here.

The owner of the venue, Jagmohan Basran, believes in running a business that works to alleviate not only human health problems, but also environmental degradation and cruelty to animals. He aims to expand his single restaurant into a worldwide chain that provides top vegetarian food to people around the globe.

The menu includes a range of burgers, as well as salads, sandwiches, wraps, and smoothies. The restaurant sources local ingredients as much as possible, and makes use of biodegradable and compostable packaging. Tera V has a bright, clean, modern interior that features plenty of wood and a striking photographic mural.

2. Heirloom Vegetarian
Another fresh, exciting location can be found at the Heirloom Vegetarian restaurant. If you’re vacationing in Vancouver and want to dine on items designed by a high-profile chef, this is the place to go. The Heirloom Vegetarian chef has past experience cooking for a variety of notable names, including Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Sting, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, and even Kermit the Frog. At this purely-vegetarian restaurant, you’ll find a menu that features raw, vegan, and gluten-free choices, all made from local, Fair Trade and organic ingredients. The business also provides customers with late-night dining, craft beers, generous portion sizes, a comprehensive wine list, interesting musical playlist, and free Wi-Fi. Vegetarian food from local produce

3. Dharma Kitchen
Vegans will love dining at Vancouver’s Dharma Kitchen. This Buddhist restaurant is completely vegan, and serves up fresh, healthy, uncomplicated food with a focus on Asian cuisine. At Dharma, diners can enjoy “the food of mindfulness,” as they munch on menu items that include curries, burgers, tofu dishes, and their famous homemade chai tea. With a name that comes from the fundamentals behind the Buddhist way of life and philosophies, Dharma is set up to honor sustainable development and good karma.

The restaurant aims to benefit the environment and its customers by mixing ancient wisdom in the ingredients used, with modern cooking techniques. The venue is the perfect place to go for healthy food served in a calming, meditative dining atmosphere with friendly service.

4. Panz Veggie
For good-value, fresh, and tasty vegan Chinese cuisine, head to Panz Veggie. The restaurant uses only local, ethical and healthy ingredients and provides a range of light dishes that are great for sharing. Located in downtown Vancouver, the venue has a Chinese name that translates to the word “compassion,” so you can understand why many diners frequent Panz on a regular basis. The restaurant’s atmosphere is laid-back and relaxing, with staff that do not try to rush customers out the door. Instead, diners are encouraged to sip their tea refills, digest their meal, and finish conversations in an unhurried manner before leaving.

5. 3G Vegetarian Restaurant
If you love a good yum cha meal on a weekend, take a trip to 3G Vegetarian Restaurant in the Cambie Village. The vegan-friendly venue features an all-day dim sum menu with its own vegetarian versions of popular items like pork or shrimp dumplings and pork buns. 3G was voted the “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” in the 2013 Diner’s Choice Awards, and also received top honours in 2012 from VegNews Magazine, when it was ranked as the “Best in the West.”

With all of these delicious restaurants you won’t have to worry about having trouble finding vegetarian meals in Vancouver. The next time you’re looking for a vacation destination where you can maintain your meat-free lifestyle, check prices to Vancouver on Flights.com. Even those in your party that haven’t converted to vegetarianism yet will be able to enjoy the food here, so there’s really no downside.

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Aarti Ceremony at Pashupatinath: A Rich Spiritual Experience

Along with the Muktinath Temple, the Pashupatinath Temple is one of the top religious sites of Nepal and definitely the top Hindu temple in the country. Hence, it is a given that as a tourist, you would visit this temple for sure. However, there is a catch here. Only Hindus are allowed into the temple (they get in for free) and all non-Hindu tourists are not allowed even though they have to shell out NPR 1000 rupees as an entrance fee. And for the entrance fee, you just get to see the temple exteriors, funeral ghats and the river.

Maha Aarti at ghats of Bagmati river, Kathmandu 
If you plan well, you can see all of this for free. All you have to do is reach the other bank of the river Bagmati. From here, you can see the Pashupatinath Temple, see the ghats where the cremations happen, meet the Sadhus and participate in the Aarti ceremony that is held every evening at 7 pm.



Held on the river bank that is opposite to the Pashupatinath Temple, the Aarti ceremony is similar to the Aarti ceremony that happens by the Ganges at Varanasi. The concept is the same. Offerings are made to Goddess Bagmati (the river Bagmati), the Lord Shiva (Pashupatinath), his consort Parvathi and to all the other Hindu gods and goddesses who are at the temple.

Maha Aarti and a cremation in the background at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu
The best time to get to the other bank is at 6 pm and to find yourself a nice seat from where you can see the entire Aarti ceremony, listen to the chants, hum with the locals, dance with the Sadhus and make a connection with your spiritual self. And before the entire ceremony starts, you can watch the cremation ceremonies taking place at the opposite bank. And if the crowds are less and you are not in any threat to lose your favorite seat, you can even indulge in some photography.  


The Aarti ceremony lasts about 60 minutes and takes you through the customs and traditions of Hinduism in a very structured way. When I was there for the Aarti ceremony, I felt a stronger connection with the local people who sang their heart out and danced in the steps of Lord Shiva. Let me warn you that you will definitely find the energy levels high and infectious here. And hopefully, you will experience a rich spiritual connection.

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Tana Toraja: Scenic Countryside Of Sulawesi

In my earlier article about Tana Toraja, I had spoken about their unique culture and how they celebrate death. In this post, I want to show you how kind mother nature has been to this region of Indonesia’s South-Central Sulawesi.

Scenic Tana Toraja Countryside
Like most of Sulawesi island, Tana Toraja too is blessed with rich volcanic soil and great equatorial weather, which means that greenery is absolutely everywhere and in abundance. It rains almost every day. Hence, there are lovely mountain streams and waterfalls. Some of these waterfalls are deep inside the forests and make for great treks. Some of them are right beside roads and make for great picnic spots.

Terraced Rice Terraces of Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
A lot of tourists who visit Tana Toraja indulge in nature therapy here before or after understanding their culture. Typically, tourists prefer to stay with the locals in their houses amidst lush green paddy fields and surrounded by equatorial and tropical rainforests. A lot of people simply prefer to put their feet up and enjoy a hut cup of Torajan coffee, while the adventurous few decide to explore the region.

A Tana Toraja paddyfield landscape at Lemo
If you are one of the adventurous bunch, you can explore the terrain by foot, bicycle or motorcycle. You can chart a route depending on your interest. If you were to ask me, I would build a route that is a mix n match of culture and nature. This means that I would visit remote burial sites, smaller villages, great view points, rice terraces, waterfalls and much more.

Beautiful view of Rantepao from Batutumonga
If you are exploring the region by motorcycle, keep Rantepao as a base and explore the area to the north on one day, the south on the other and keep juggling. If you are exploring by bicycle, you will need to stay in villages. This will be more interesting as you will get to see the true rural countryside and spend the night with the locals, who are very friendly and helpful. If you are exploring on foot, you will take the lesser known trails over mountains and crossing streams to the remotest and most beautiful corners of Tana Toraja. This will require you to have at least a week if not more and you should find a Torajan local to guide you as you might get lost.

Rice fields of Tana Toraja
Irrespective of the mode of exploration, do make sure that you carry a good pair of shoes, a rain cover, torches or headlamps and some warm wear with you at all times. Torajan weather is pretty unpredictable and the last thing you want is to fall sick in the middle of pristine nature.

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Changu Narayan: A Story of a Beautiful Temple and Lovely Valley Views

There are many sensationally beautiful places in the Kathmandu valley. Changu Narayan is one of them. What it lacks in size (it is a very small town), it makes up for in character. It is home to one of the oldest temples of Nepal and offers some very beautiful valley views from its hilltop view point. I think it is one of the most scenic heritage sites in the Kathmandu valley.

Hindu priest at the entrance of Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
Perched on top of a hill and overlooking the Bhaktapur valley is located the small village of Changu or Dholagiri. This village is home to the Changu Narayan Temple, one of the heritage sites of Nepal and one that features pillars and statues from the 5th to the 7th century.

Green rice valley as seen from Changgu Narayan Temple view point
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Changu Narayan temple, a traditional Nepali temple is revered a lot by the Hindus and is quite an experience to see up close. When I was there recently, I was blown away by the statues of the various incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Till before this place, even in India, I hadn’t come across so many beautiful and ancient sculptures of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu anywhere.

Beautiful Vishwaroopam statue at Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
Here, you can see Vishwaroop, Trivikram Vishnu, Vaikunta Vishnu, Sridhar Vishnu, Garuda, Garuda Narayan and Narasimha all located a few feet from each other. Most of these sculptures date back to the 7th century and still exist in pristine condition even today.

Different Avatars of Maha Vishnu at Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
Whether you are a temple lover, a history lover, a believer in Hinduism, Changu Narayan will offer you enough and more. Even if you are a regular tourist out to see interesting things, Changu Narayan will offer you some breathtaking views from around its temple.

Large garuda statue in front of Changgu Narayan Temple
This means that once you finish your temple tour, you can find a view point, order yourself a hot cup of tea or coffee and soak in the lovely green views of the valley below and the Himalayan mountains surrounding them.

Maha Vishnu in Ananatasayanam mode at Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
All tourists are allowed into the temple and can photograph any area of the temple from the courtyard. However, only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple sanctum and no photography is allowed inside.

Maha Vishnu with Maha Lakshmi at Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
An entrance fee of NPR 50 (SAARC) and NPR 150 (Foreign tourists) is charged to enter the temple. It is a short 5 minute climb from the entrance booth to the temple. The stairs to the top are wide enough and you have lots of shops to keep you company in case you run out of breath or need to hydrate yourself.

Sculptures of Hindu gods at Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
In terms of access, one can either reach Changu Narayan by bus from Kathmandu and/or Bhaktapur or trod the hilly path to the temple. I opted to trek the way to the top from Bhaktapur. The climb took me 2 and a half hours and on my way back I took the bus to Kathmandu. Buses ply every 30 minutes from the bus station near the entrance booth.

Lovely valley view as seen from Changgu Narayan Temple
Since this area gets a lot of sun and rains, it is advisable to carry an umbrella with you at all times. Infrastructure is scarce here. However, you can find yourself basic food, beverages and souvenirs here. The nearest stay option would be in Bhaktapur.

Various avatars of Lord Vishn at Changgu Narayan Temple, Nepal
If you are culturally inclined, interested in Hinduism or simply want to enjoy some beautiful views, Changu Narayan is the place for you. Its rustic setting, remote access and less crowds are just the icing on the cake.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Traditional Vegetarian Food Trails of Mumbai

I am a foodie and a vegetarian. Sounds like a tough combination to pull off, but I have been managing to get lucky so far. I am more interested in the traditional foods than the foods that have become the norm these days. Everything about our original and traditional foods appeal to me – their cooking, their smell, their presentation and of course their taste.

Tasting Traditional Foods of Mumbai
In all my travels across India, I have been trying to explore such traditional food trails. So far, I have explored the traditional food circuits of Bangalore, Chennai, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Amritsar, Kolkata and Hyderabad. For some reason, I had kept missing Mumbai even though I knew of its immensely big, popular and proud food circuit. This was one trail that I definitely wanted to sample. Hence, I planned a short 2 day trip to Mumbai just to experience its traditional foods. The idea was to meet friends and enjoy simple, authentic, iconic and delicious Mumbai food.

Delicious Kothimber Wadi
There were many places that I could check out, but then I did not have the luxury of time. In my 2 days, I did a mixed bag of iconic places and off beat places within close range from each other. This logic helped me sample some very special Mumbai food while not wasting too much time traveling from place to place. And the credit for chalking out the plan goes to my close friend and cousin brother, both of whom are Mumbaikars.

Super Delicious Bharli Wangi
Here is how my gastronomic journey went. From Thalipith to Misal Pav, Pav Bhaji to Bun Maska, Akkruti Roti to Vada Pav, Kala Khatta to Irani Chai, Apple Butter Tea to Sugarcane Juice, Gujarati Thali to Sabudana Vada and from Falooda to Chilli Ice Cream, I had it all. It was simply a epic treat for my palate and an absolute reward for all the running I had done preceding to this 2 day foodie journey. For your assistance, I have mentioned all the restaurant names or eating zones, the area in which they are located and a link to their zomato page where available. This will help you trace these foodie trails easily.

Thalipith at Prakash, Dadar
Let the treat begin…

Kanda Poha at Home
I got a taste of Mumbai even before I stepped out of home. It all started with some nice spicy Kanda Poha, a perfect breakfast snack to start off my Mumbai foodie trip.

Prakash Restaurant – Dadar

Sabudana Wada, Sabudana Khichdi, Thalipith and Batata Wada at Prakash
Prakash was possibly the best beginning I could have had to my gastronomical food journey. This iconic place has such delicious Maharashtrian food that it took me 3 hours and many kilometers of walking before I could even swallow a tiny morsel of food. The place is tiny and located in the heart of Dadar, but the food is totally delicious.

Solkadhi at Prakash
While I tried nearly everything on their menu, I absolutely loved their Misal, Bharli Wangi (Oh! This was deliciously out of the world), Thalipith, Kothimber Wadi (Deep Fried, but who cares!) and Sabudana Wada. Piyush and Solkadh were great to beat the Mumbai heat, but you need to acquire a taste for them, else you might not take a liking to it.

Shree Thaker Bhojanalay – Kalbadevi

Gujarati Thali at Thaker Bhojanalay
Be warned! This is not the place you should go to if your appetite is less. The food here is fit for the truly hungry and the ones with a super appetite. Coz the food keeps coming here till you pass out because of eating or because of tiredness. But, it is definitely a grand Gujarati treat in Mumbai. Where do I start? The Dal Halwa or the Kheer, the Bajra Roti, Jowar Roti or Missi Roti, the Pakodas or the Cheese Roll or the Kadi, they were all out of the world. The vegetables were normal. Nothing special about them, but simple and good. The biriyani and kichdi is also good here. Again, go here only if you can manage 3 meals in one meal.

Bachelorr’s – Charni Road

Iconic Bachelorr's for juice and ice cream
This iconic juice and ice cream shop is a part of Mumbai’s iconic food circuit. The who’s who of Mumbai visit this roadside shop in the evenings and late nights to sample its delicious juices and ice creams. Their specialty here is the custard apple ice cream. Personally, I think their green chill ice cream is worth trying at least once. It is an unique combination of chilli flavor and an ice cream, a rare combination.

Chowpatty Khau Galli – Chowpatty
Opposite Bachelorr’s lies the Chowpatty Khau Galli that is extremely popular in the evening hours. Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji, Misal Pav, Bombay Sandwich, Bhel Puri, Juices and much more are the craze here. This is cheap street food and an ideal way to calm your pre-dinner hunger while soaking in the gentle sea breeze.

Cannon - Churchgate

Pav Bhaji at Cannon, Churchgate
Ideally, Mumbai’s best pav bhaji is made at Sardars, but since Sardars was a bit far away, I opted for Cannon’s Pav Bhaji, which is like the second best in the city. Located bang outside of the Churchgate station, this place is easy to find.

Alu Wadi
Their pav bhaji is nice, but I really liked their Alu Wadis served with spicy hot chutney.

Khala Khatta - Churchgate
Rich and refeshing fruit juice with dry fruits
This is possibly the most refreshing cold drink to have on a hot Mumbai afternoon. Located beside Cannon Pav Bhaji, this is a small shop that sells Kala Khatta and other popular cool drinks. One of my favorite drinks from Mumbai.

Sugarcane Thela Gaadi near Fashion Street
Iconic Bombay Sandwich
This is a non-descript thela gaadi located on fashion street and next to the large maidan entrance. The sugarcane juice for some reason was really top class here. I would really recommend this gaadi wala if you can locate him.

Khau Galli - Churchgate
Khau Galli, Churchgate, Mumbai
Initially, we were supposed to do the Ghatkopar Khau Galli, but later zeroed in on the one at Churchgate. This is a street with eateries on both sides. Be it Bombay Sandwich, Frankie Rolls, Juices, Pav Bhaji and other popular street options. A definite must-do on the Mumbai street food trail.

Tea Centre - Churchgate

Apple Butter Tea at Tea Centre
Apple Butter Tea. This is the specialty here and a truly refreshing experience. The tea and snacks are great here, but what is even better is the price. You can get great pot of teas in an air conditioned environment and in the middle of the city for about 150 rupees. Now, that is a great deal in my mind. This place was not on my radar initially, but we chanced upon this place as we needed a respite from Mumbai’s heat while we were exploring the Churchgate area.

Kyani and Co – Marine Lines

Parsi Akkruti toast at Kyani and Co
Great Parsi food and Mumbai go hand in hand. No Mumbai food trail is complete without tasting some of their iconic Parsi food. Running operations since 1904, Kyani and Co is an iconic Parsi food outlet that is located in the busy Marine Lines area of Mumbai.

Parsi cookies at Kyani and Co
While the food is not necessarily vegetarian here (In fact, they serve great meat dishes), they have some great vegetarian options that are worth trying. If you eat eggs like me, I would recommend the Parsi Akkruti on toast. In my 33 years, I have never head better eggs, butter and toast. The Bun Maska and Irani chai is one of the most favorite snacks on the menu here.

Iconic Bun Maska at Kyani and Co
The Mava Cake and the Cherry cold Parsi custard were 2 desserts that I liked. Their menu is huge and would require at least 20 visits to sample all of them. They also make some great cookies and cakes that make for great takeaways.

Baadshah – Crawford Market

Falooda at Baadshah, Mumbai
Like Prakash was a great start to my Mumbai food trip, the falooda at Baadshah was a fitting end. The Baadshahi Falooda with the Malai Kulfi was so good that I indulged (some of you can say sinned) in one more of this very high calorie dessert. And while we were eating the Falooda, the only sound that came from our mouth was Mmphhh! Mmphh!!

Baadshahi Falooda with Malai Kulfi in it
Really top class Falooda it was.

Custard Apple and Green Chilli Ice cream are famous at Bachelorr's
I know that I just scratched the surface with this short food trail of Mumbai, but my experience was so good and so rich that I am very excited about planning another one and this time hopefully for a longer time. Till then, 3 cheers to Mumbai’s traditional food trails!!

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