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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Trongsa Dzong, Bhutan

Trongsa Dzong, Bhutan

Bhutan is all about its Dzongs, monasteries and temples (lakhangs). This one, located in Trongsa, is the largest dzong of Bhutan. Unlike other dzongs of Bhutan, this one is located on a mountain curve and is set amidst dense greenery and a fast mountain stream below. The current king of Bhutan hails from Trongsa, a gorgeous mountain town located in Central Bhutan. Do make sure to visit this place on your next holiday to Bhutan.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Kabini National Park, India

Elephant in Musth, Kabini National Park, Karnataka

Every wildlife lover in Karnataka will swear by this national park. It is home to a huge reservoir and runs adjacent to the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve of Karnataka and the Tholpetty wildlife sanctuary of Kerala, but its specialty is that is open all round the year and it is the best place to spot leopards in India. Be it leopards, tigers, wild dogs, elephants and others, I seem to have been always lucky at this wildlife destination. It definitely features in one of my top wildlife destinations in India.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Bayon Temple, Cambodia

Bayon Temple, Cambodia

One of the most astonishing works of art in the world, the Bayon temple located in the Angkor temple complex of Siem Reap, Cambodia is an absolute stunner. It’s massive scale, its 56 faces and its amazingly planned architecture have kept me scratching my head the 3 times that I have visited this temple. My favorite is the smiles on these faces. There is something about them that I can’t seem to place. I mean it is just a mystery, those faces. May be, you will relate with what I am saying when you stand in front of these faces.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Puri: Where art, architecture, natural beauty and spirituality come together

One of the significant and the most visited religious sacred sites in India, Puri is a city where the best of art and architecture come together to form an awe-inspiring association. History and heritage are the defining attributes that have significantly contributed to making Puri one of the key centers of tourism in the country. With magnificent and alluring temples and majestic natural beauty, it is a definite treat for locals and tourists alike.

Located in the state of Odisha, the city is also famously known as Jagannath Puri, dedicated to the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The central temple is a massive structure protected on two sides by high walls. The nearly 60 meter spire in the middle has a flag and wheel of Vishnu, and impressively crafted two stone lions and a pillar. The annual Rath Yatra witnesses hoards of devotees and travellers flocking to the temple, where the yatra concludes.

Sahi Yatra of Puri, Orissa

Photo Courtesy: Vishal Bhowmick, Wikipedia (Borrowed under Creative Commons License)

The three main cities of the state – Konark, Bhubaneshwar and Puri – constitute the golden triangle of Odisha. While it undoubtedly finds its significance in the religious context, Puri has grown to become an important industrial hub. Industries like rice milling, fish curing and handicrafts are housed in the city. Additionally, the city’s picturesque beaches highlight its majestic and wonderful beauty, something that tempts travellers and vacationers from the world over.

Places to visit

ITripTo notes several attractions that tourists should visit during their stay in Puri. The first and most important of these, needless to say, is the Jagannath Temple. Enshrining the Lord of the Universe, the temple is more than 1000 years old. It is the only religious site where the sister of Lord Krishna, Subhadra, is worshipped along with her brothers. The temple is also where the famous Rath Yatra, which attracts several devotees and tourists, concludes.

Close to the Jagannath Temple is the Puri Beach, a beautiful stretch of sand and water where tourists and pilgrims come to unwind, relax and enjoy. It is a popular site to fish, with several fishermen that can be spotted here. The beach also houses a line of kiosks that sell food and souvenirs, which adds to the overall charm the city has to offer. While the cleanliness of the place makes it an ideal place for sunbathers, it isn’t advisable to venture too far into the sea because of strong undercurrents.

If you’re looking to relish the innumerable sweets and savoury culinary delights of Puri, one should definitely head to Anand Bazaar. Located just outside the Jagannath Temple, it is essentially a line of shops along the street where one can relish some delightful delicacies. One shouldn’t miss the mahaprasad, served by the deities of the Jagannath Temple. Another lovely delicacy is the khaja, which is prepared from sugar, ghee and flour.

Around 14 kilometres away from the city of Puri is the Raghurajpur Crafts Village. The village is known for Pattachitra paintings, a form of scroll painting traditionally done on dried palm leaves or cloth that depict famous mythological scenes, and is an ideal spot for art lovers and those who want to admire the mesmerising creativity of the state of Odisha.

Weather

The ideal time to visit the city is between the months of June and March. During winters – December and February – Puri experiences cool weather with mercury levels normally ranging between a low of 10 degrees and a high of 18 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, summers, from March to May, are not recommended for a visit as the temperatures have been recorded to reach scorching levels of 45 degrees Celsius. During the monsoons, which last from June to September, the city experiences moderate to heavy rainfall.

Where to stay

Serenity, quaintness and exquisite beauty are what vacationers look for in their accommodations when they visit the spiritual town of Puri. Sterling Holidays’ Golden Sands, located near the Brahma Kumaris Temple, is an ideal accommodation for those seeking a tranquil and sophisticated environment from their stay in Puri resorts. A scenic delight, warm hospitality and luxuriousness round up the mesmerising charm that Golden Sands has to offer.

Guests and members can indulge in a range of activities offered by the resort, including a boat ride to a private beach, playing outdoor sports like cricket, volleyball and table tennis in the club house, and dancing to the latest tunes in the discotheque. A variety of rooms are available for members, including 2 Bedroom Apartment, 1 Bedroom Apartment, and Studio.

How to reach


According to OrissaTourism, Biju Patnaik Airport in Bhubaneshwar is the closest airport to Puri. There are regular flights from major Indian cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai.

Those choosing rail as their most preferred medium of transportation, Puri Railway station serves as the primary railhead for the city, and is connected with major cities across the country, including New Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, etc.

For those taking the bus, the stand close to Gundicha Temple has a well connected accessibility from Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack; with buses plying every 10 to 15 minutes. Direct bus transportation from important cities like Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam are also available.

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Travel Photo of the Day: Ramakrishna Beach, India

Ramakrishna Beach, Vishakhapatnam, India

We normally don’t associate scenic beaches with India’s East Coast. As Indians, we think that India’s best beaches exist in Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands. While these places sure do have many scenic beaches, there are few gorgeous beaches on the East coast too. Take Visakhapatnam’s (Vizag) Ramakrishna Beach, a beautiful long beach slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city, as an example. It offers a fabulous marine drive experience along with visits to the famous Borra caves, Kailashagiri Shiva temple and the Submarine museum.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Top 6 Winter Treks in the Indian Himalayas

As a thumb rule, most people prefer to explore the spectacular Himalayas in the summer months, but if you are willing to brave the elements, the winter treks in the Himalayas offer the best views. And those are the kind of views that we see in magazines or the television and ones that we often gape in wonder. Here are 6 of my top winter treks in the Himalayas that will make you experience a slice of heaven, if not heaven as a whole.

1) Chadar Trek, Ladakh

Frozen Zanskar River

Chadar, which literally means a carpet, is an ancient winter walking trail over the Zanskar river. Historically, the Zanskari people used to walk many days from the Zanskar valley to Leh to buy food supplies and for trade. This walk would be over the frozen Zanskar river, which is literally like a white carpet.

This is one adrenaline packed trek in icy conditions. You walk on the frozen river, take selfies next to frozen waterfalls, camp overnight in caves, see interesting Himalayan wildlife like the ibex, bharal and may be even the elusive snow leopard, listen to stories of the ancient Zanskaris who walked this trail and simply enjoy the feeling of living and breathing in a white world.

As this is going to be one really cold trek, it is best to pack the right gear.

2) Singalila Trek, West Bengal and Sikkim

Snow covered valley seen on the Singalila Trek

One of my favorite Eastern Himalaya treks, the Singalila ridge separates India from Nepal. This trek which begins in Manenbhanjang near Darjeeling goes all the way up to Sikkim, but most trekkers go up to Sandakphu and Phulat to catch a glimpse of the first rays of the sun on some of the highest peaks of the world, especially Mount Kanchendzonga and Mount Everest. These sensational sunrise views that I mention here is best seen in the winter months of December and January when the air is clear and the morning mist stays away. This trek will also take you close to some rare flora such as the rhododendrons, orchirds and primulas and some of the most beautiful and colorful birds of this region.

3) Eaglenest Trek, Arunachal Pradesh

Sunrise over the Himalayas in Eaglenest

A fairly off-beat Himalayan trail, this trek begins in the Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary in western Arunachal Pradesh and goes all the way up to an abandoned army camp on the India-Bhutan border. This trek takes you through tropical forests, bamboo thickets, pine forests and finally dry alpine lands while allowing you to get close to the diverse wildlife and bird species of this region. As the terrain and trails are fairly confusing and given the fact that is the chance of human-animal conflict, it is best to embark on this trek with a local guide.

4) Kuari Pass Trek, Uttarakhand

Snow covered Auli - enroute on the Kuari pass Trek

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License (Photo linked to host page on Wikipedia)

Discovered by Lord Curzon, the viceroy of British India, the Kuari pass trek is one of the more famous winter treks in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.  The reason this trek is pretty famous as a winter trek is because it offers spectacularly clear views of some of the highest Himalayan peaks in India, most notably the twin peaks of Mount Nanda Devi and Mount Trishul, Mount Chaukhamba and Mount Kamet. Starting in the temple town of Joshimath, this trekking trail takes you through Bugyals (Himalayan meadows), rhododendron trees, the skiing slopes of Auli, Vinayak pass, Tali Top and finally to the Kuari top, which is located at about 14,000 feet.

5) Namdapha National Park Trek, Arunachal Pradesh

Dense canopy at Namdapha National Park

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License (Photo linked to host page on Wikipedia)

An Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot, the Namdapha National Park is located on the eastern fringes of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Myanmar. This third largest national park of India offers one of the remotest trekking trails in the country that takes you through lowland evergreen rainforests, tropical moist forests and alpine meadows. This trail offers you the opportunity to come in close contact with some of pretty interesting flora and fauna of this region like the ‘Sapria Himalayana’ (close relative of Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower), clouded leopards, red panda, hoolock gibbons, stump-tailed macaque, wren-babblers and many more.

6) Dayara Bugyal Trek, Uttarakhand

Famous Bugyals of Uttarakhand

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License (Photo linked to host page on Wikipedia)

This winter trek takes you through the high altitude meadows of Uttarakhand, some of which is considered the most beautiful in the entire country. It takes you through clear water bodies before offering you panoramic views of the Bhagirathi and Bandarpoonch peaks. During the winter season, one can also indulge in Nordic and Alpine skiing. The trekking trail starts at Barsu and makes its way through Barnala, Dayara Bugyal, Bakaria top and Pichikiya.

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Travel Photo of the Day: Samburu Tribals of North Kenya

Samburu Tribal Woman, North Kenya, Africa

Considered as cousins of the Maasai tribe, the Samburu tribals are found in the northern part of Kenya and Southern Somalia. Located in this arid region, I spent time interacting with them both at Lake Turkana and at Samburu Game Reserve. Like most people located in dull surroundings, this tribe too dons a lot of color. And this applies more to their women. I absolutely loved their colorful jewellery and how nicely it filled the frames of my photograph. 

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Nameri National Park, India

Nameri National Park, Assam, India

Happy Republic Day to all the people of India!

Today’s travel photo is of a very beautiful national park in Assam that is famous for its elephants and birds, especially the Great Hornbills. Located on the banks of the Jia-Bhoroli river and staring at the mighty Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh is the dense jungles of Nameri National Park. The best part is that this place is easily accessible from Guwahati and is enroute to Tawang in Western Arunachal Pradesh. 

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Monday, January 25, 2016

5 Off-Beat Experiences near Bangkok

These days, most of us international traveling Indians have visited Bangkok and Thailand. The usual Bangkok itinerary for a regular Indian includes a visit to the Grand Palace, the temples nearby, the famous shopping malls, a cruise on the Chao Phraya river, the floating markets and the Chatuchak weekend market before they head to Pattaya, Phuket and Krabi. But, Thailand is so much more than this cliche itinerary that most travel agents plan for their customers. Personally, I have been to Thailand many times and have explored from the extreme north to the extreme south of this country. If you ask me for an off-beat holiday itinerary for the same 5 days/6 nights package that involves flying in and out of Bangkok, I would include these 5 off-beat experiences near Bangkok.

Traditional Benjarong village

Benjarong bowl being made at Ban Amphawa, Thailand

If you want to experience the ‘Thai way of life’, stay in a traditional Thai home, immerse yourself in a Thai countryside experience and see the famous Benjarong artisans at work, head to the Benjarong village located in Bann Amphawa, about 63 kilometers south of Bangkok. In this heritage village, you can relax amidst gorgeous greenery and see the making of the famous Benjarong ceramics, which make for great gifts from Thailand. The famous Damnoen Saduak floating market is located close by if you wish for a colorful floating market experience.

Risky Market at Mae Klong Railway Station

Mae Klong Railway Market also known as the Risky Market of Thailand

This is a top off-beat experience from Bangkok for me. Like the floating markets, this market on the railway tracks in the Samutsongkram province is a sight to behold and an even better sight when the entire market disappears to make for the trains. And shopping here for vegetables, fruits, spices, herbs, meat and other fresh produce with the local Thai people is quite the experience. If you are into local markets, traditional Thai atmosphere, great food and a smiling Thai population, the Risky market and the town of Mae Klong has to be it.

Thailand’s Biggest Stupa at Nakhon Pathom

Phra Pathommachedi - the tallest stupa in the world at Nakhon Pathom, Thailand

Nakhon Pathom is one of those places located a couple of hours from downtown Bangkok that offers a stunning countryside experience. From housing Thailand’s tallest stupa to great night markets and from a stunning riverside experience to a family run rose garden, organic farm and museum at Sampran Riverside, this small town has it all.

Making of Khon Masks

Hand made Khon Masks and that too with real gold

There is an ancient tradition in Thailand that involves dance, drama and khon masks. This ancient art of khon mask making is still practiced and followed in a small village near Amphawa. Here, you can interact with the mask artisans, learn about the ancient traditions and may be, even see an actual khon performance to help connect all the dots. This village also offers you a rustic Thai experience that is totally off the radar of any kind of travelers. This belt is great if you are into cycling.

Mangroves and Blood Cockle Farms at Baanmaichailane

Crab eating monkeys seen at the mangroves enroute to the Blood Cockle Farm at Baanmaichailane, Thailand

Baanmaichailane is a place where you can see floating villages, mangrove forests, crab eating monkeys, lots of terrestrial birds and beautiful blood cockle farms. A favorite with the locals, this village located on the backwaters offers a pretty different experience to the rest of Thailand. For me, the highlight is going on a longtail boat through the small creeks on the backwaters and looking for crab eating monkeys on the low hanging branches. Luckily for me, I got to see 2 large groups of these macaques. This is another of those off beat locations that offer great relaxed getaways and a rustic experience.

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Travel Photo of the Day: Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, India

Sunrise over the Eastern Himalayas, Arunachal Pradesh, India

This was the view that greeted me when I opened the door of my tent on a bitterly cold winter morning at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh. This gorgeous sunrise over the Eastern Himalayas was one of those rare moments when I was up at 4 AM and I was so happy with the view that I refused to head back into the cosy tent and back into the sleeping bag in spite of the freezing weather. In case you are wondering, Eaglenest is a fairly offbeat place for birding in Western Arunachal Pradesh.

Have a great week ahead! 

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Cappadocia, Turkey

Monks Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

There is more to Cappadocia than hot balloon rides and the natural rock formations. It has underground cities, ancient churches, rock houses and so much more. This is one place in Turkey where you can easily spend more than a week. It has so many varied trails that all kinds of travelers stay captivated. This photo is of the formations in the monks valley. Some locals also refer it to as ‘love valley’ owing to the abundance of rocks that resemble the male reproductive organs, but the actual ‘love valley’ is in a different part of Cappadocia, not so far away from the Monks valley.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Hogenakkal Falls, India

Hogennakkal Falls, Tamil Nadu, India

Considered by many as the Niagara falls of India, the Hogenakkal Falls straddling the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka state borders is a combination of 36 horizontal falls on the river Cauvery. This picture was taken during the monsoons, but it is said to carry more water during the floods. The coracle rides here during the non-flood season is legendary and offers for a great family picnic with a picnic lunch, oil massages and lots of fun and laughter.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Patan Heritage Zone, Nepal

Patan Heritage Zone, Nepal

I love to be in Patan during the Krishna Jayanthi festival! The Krishna temple and the rest of the heritage zone wears such a joyous and colorful look during the festival days. Unfortunately, this entire belt bore a lot of damage during the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Hopefully, it still offers an interesting combination of Indian shikhara styled roofing along with the traditional tiered roofing of Nepal. 

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Bryce Canyon Country: American Wonderland

Feel like some good ‘ol adventure? Why not explore Bryce Canyon Country, one of Mother Nature’s amazing creations and one of the most photographed places in the United States. With 70 million year old sandstone cliffs forming eye catching formations such as the Thor’s Hammer, Sinking Ship and other monstrous hoodoos, the Bryce Canyon, popularly called as the wonderland of the Southwest offers a plethora of adventure avenues that appeals to visitors of all age groups and types.

Tons of Adrenaline Packed Adventure


Stunning Bryce Canyon Panorama

Be it canyoneering, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, multi-day horse-back riding like in the days of the Wild Wild West, off-roading, mountain biking, backpacking or plain simple hiking, you are bound to be captivated by the gorgeous scenery of the red-orange-pink amphitheatres of Bryce Canyon.

Adventure in Bryce Canyon

And in addition to these fairy tale rock formations, you can enjoy hundreds of plunging waterfalls and indulge in some star gazing as the night skies here are possibly some of the darkest skies in the United States.
The best part about Bryce Canyon country is that it offers endless exploration opportunities and hence the list of activities that you can indulge in is infinite.

Family Adventure


ATV Rides in Bryce Canyon

Adventure in Bryce Canyon Country is not limited to adventure junkies. Rather, it is a huge favorite with families too. From panoramic helicopter tours to fun-filled ATV rides, from comfortable jeep tours to fishing trips, from traditional backcountry camping and hiking to horseback riding and from rodeo photo sessions to scenic road tours, the young and old alike irrespective of fitness levels find their adrenaline rush.

There is more to Bryce Canyon


If you are the ones who like to take their time on their holiday, you will be happy to know that there is more to Bryce Canyon country than the stunning Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon in winter

1) Grand Staircase – Escalante National National Monument - This pristine wilderness between the Bryce and the Grand Canyon is a virtually empty playground of hanging plateaus and slender gorges for you to explore. You can find knowledgeable guides and great outfitters at the nearby towns of Escalante and Boulder, which act as ideal basecamps to explore the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

2) Dixie National Forest: Located near to Bryce Canyon, Dixie national forest is famed for its 20 mile long connected and well-groomed ski trails that will sure up the action quotient on your adventure holiday this winter.

Scenic Highway 12

3) Scenic Byways 12 and 143: In addition to being one of the most scenic roads in this region, this belt of the canyon offers great off-beat trails for the adventure enthusiast. And with the towns of Boulder and Escalante not far away, you need not worry about supplies, warm showers and guides. Even the Capitol Reef National Park is located close by and offers more variety.



Stunning snow covered Bryce Canyon Country

If you are a slow traveller and backpacker like me who craves for lots of adventure, make your way slowly from Zion Canyon to Bryce Canyon and eventually to the Grand Canyon while you explore, enjoy and soak in all the adventure this rich wonderland has to offer. Even if you don’t attempt all of this, I would recommend that you definitely spend serious time in Bryce Canyon Country as this region is such that you run out of adjectives to describe it. You have to experience it to believe it!

Disclosure: This post and the video and photos has been brought to you by Bryce Canyon Country.

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Costa Rica: Why it features in my bucket list?

Costa Rica…This country simply takes my breath away. I haven’t been to this country as yet, but I just took a look at this ‘Discover Costa Rica’ #justsayyes video and all I can say is ‘WOW’. This video makes you wanna say ‘YES’ to packing your bags and visiting this exotic destination. Abundant nature, volcanoes, gorgeous bird watching, rich overland and underwater wildlife and great adventure…Costa Rica seems to have everything that I like in my holidays. May be, I will pack my bags soon and head to this country. If I do, these would be the broad attractions for me.



Bio Diverse Forests




I am a sucker for pristine nature. And Costa Rica seems to have this in riches with rainforests, cloud forests and dry forests. It’s national parks and protected areas cover 23.4% of the country’s land area, which is the largest for any country in the world. It is home to the mighty  Arenal volcano, other active volcanoes like Poas and Irazus, stunning waterfalls, beautiful beaches on both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts, volcanic lakes and spectacular coastlines.

Rich Wildlife and Bird Watching


The wildlife enthusiast and birder in me is all ready with his prime lenses and binoculars when he senses the potential to see gorgeous rare bird species like the chestnut-mandibled toucan, scarlet macaw and green parrot, the bright colored poison dart frogs and/or the elusive jaguar. Costa Rica possesses  the greatest density of species in the world and that in itself is reason enough for me to visit this country.

Adventure Activities



Zip lining through the tropical rain forests, Class II, II and IV white water rafting, scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, stand up paddling, mountain biking and many more high adrenaline activities are on offer here. Zip lining over the rainforest canopy is something that appeals to me the most. How can I forget the volcano treks? The volcanoes are one of the main reasons for me wanting to visit and explore Costa Rica. I am in total awe of this raw and powerful creation of mother nature.

Pristine Beaches

Who doesn’t like a long stretch of pristine white sand with swaying palms and lapping waves? The Caribbean and the Pacific beaches are where I would head to when I feel the need to get some rest after all the high energy activities. My friends who have been to Costa Rica tell me that the beaches near Corcovado National Park on the South Pacific coast and the ones on the Caribbean side offer a more exotic and off-beat beach holiday.

By now, I hope you can understand why I am so excited about this Central American tropical gem. May be, you should add Costa Rica to your travel bucket list while I start planning my logistics to visit this amazing country. And just so you know, Costa Rica, with its great tourist infrastructure is not just for backpackers and hardcore travelers like its neighbors, but it appeals to everyone from honeymooners, couples, families with kids, elderly and basically all kinds of travelers!

Note: The images in this post have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License. All images have been linked to their respective source page on wikipedia.

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Travel Photo of the Day: Shettihalli Church, India

Shettihalli Church, Karnataka, India

This is one of those rare monuments that is located in the middle of a reservoir. Located close to Belur in Karnataka, Shettihalli Church is located bang in the heart of the Shettihalli reservoir. During the dry months when the water dries out, one can visit this church in ruins and when the rains arrive, all you can manage to see is the very top of the church and that too with a pair of binoculars. Do remember to visit this place the next time you are headed towards Belur, Halebid or Chickmagalur.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blue Elephant: Gourmet Thai Food in Bangkok

Are you a food connoisseur? Do you like fine dining? Is Thai cuisine one of your favorites? If you answered yes to these 3 questions and if you are headed to Bangkok, you should definitely experience the royal Thai cuisine at the iconic Blue Elephant restaurant?

Starting my multi course meal at the Blue Elephant restaurant, Bangkok

I got to experience this culinary delight on my recent trip to Bangkok. From starters and traditional Thai drinks to the main course and desserts, I thoroughly enjoyed the fine dining experience. And in case you are wondering how a vegetarian like me enjoyed the food at a traditional Thai restaurant…They have a great vegetarian menu and if you have any special diet restrictions, all you have to do is let the chef know and he will be keen to create a special dish just for you, like he did for me. But, if you are a meat-eater, you will absolutely be spoilt for choices.

Blue Elephant - Iconic Address in Bangkok for Thai Cuisine

From Duck salads to Chicken satays and from Tom Yum soups to stir fried morning glory with garlic, their classic menus are legendary. They offer a different set menu for all days of the week. In addition, they offer a Chef’s special, a Thainess menu and a A la carte menu for vegetarians. And all these are accompanied with the choicest of wines and fine spirits.

Accolades received by the blue elephant

All you need is a will to spend (this is quite a pricey restaurant) and a will to indulge (their food is delicious) and this iconic restaurant housed in a century-old building in the heart of Bangkok will take you on a blissful Thai culinary journey. If you really like the food, you might want to join their cooking school so that you can take the recipes and learning to your home and continue the practice of the culinary arts.

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Travel Photo of the Day: Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Little Green Bee Eater at Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

One of the true wildlife gems of Sri Lanka, the Yala National Park located in its South Eastern corner is known for its leopard, peacock and land monitor lizard sightings. It is equally a rewarding experience for birdwatchers. This photo is of a little green bee eater that is quite a popular bird in this national park. Don’t you love its rich colors.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

10 Must-Dos on your next Holiday to India

Traveling in India is hands down cheaper than some of the most cheap destinations on our planet. Historically, there were 2 issues that prospective travelers faced while traveling to India. One was the visa and the other were the actual safety issues. The visa issues have come a long way from the days of red tape. In fact, with the Indian government offering visa on arrival to citizens of over 140 countries, traveling to India has never been easier.  And with a lot of focus on areas such as treating our guests well and creating better safety standards for women, safety standards in India are showing a marked improvement.  And with India being positioned as the next China in terms of growth, things are changing for the good and the bad (by this I mean infrastructural development, traffic and pollution) at an alarmingly quick rate. If there was one time to visit this sub continent, it has to be now, before the famed villages, traditions and cultures get morphed into the new era.

If you do get convinced to explore India (either on a business trip, a short holiday, a long backpacking trip or a gap year), I would recommend that you try some of these 10 must-dos. These are some of the things that most of us Indians can vouch for and they are also what is uniquely, originally and truly ‘INDIA’.

1) Take a ride in the Indian Railways

Himalayan Mountain Railway of Darjeeling, India

Did you know that India has the world’s largest rail network and that Indian Railways is the world’s largest employer? Did you know that traveling by train in India is one of the cheapest modes of transport in the world? I don’t want to steer this conversation towards money, but towards the sheer number and variety of people who use this train service in a poor country such as India. Think about the exposure you will get as a train traveler in India. Think about the people you will meet, the cultures that you will interact with, the sights that you will see, the sounds that you will hear and the aromas that you will smell. There is no better place to truly experience India than from inside a train. Ideally, the best way is to go for the 2nd class option so that you come more in contact with the common masses of India, but even the air-conditioned coaches give you a pretty awesome experience. If you are brave, try giving India’s longest train journey (Vivek Express) a shot at 5 days and 4 nights.

2) Celebrate a Festival

Holi huranga Dauji

Photo Courtesy: Siddharth Joshi of Sid - The Wanderer Travel Blog

With a pretty old culture and a very diverse set of people, traditions and religions, India is the melting pot of cultural interactions. And what better to experience this all than a rich and vibrant festival. All of India’s festivals are joyful occasions with lots of delicious food, colorful clothing, interesting traditions and lots of fun and laughter. Depending on the time of your visit, you can pick and choose the ones that you would like to experience. The key festivals are Holi – the festival of colors (usually in the month of March), Diwali or Deepavali – the festival of lights (in the month of October or November), Dussehra or Navaratri, which means nine nights (usually in September or October), Kite Festival (Jan 14 or 15), Pongal (Jan 14 or 15) where you can experience Jallikattu (similar to the traditional bull fighting of Spain), Onam (August or September), Ganesh Chaturthi (August or September) and many others.

3) Eat Street Food
Freshly made Lassi on the streets of Amritsar

Indian street food may not always have the best hygiene levels, but it offers a special experience if you are armed with a strong stomach and a will to go that extra distance. Street food in India is diverse like the rest of the country and possibly offers the most authentic flavors served in the most unique way. Be it the lassi of Punjab, the masala dosa of Karnataka, the idli of Tamil Nadu, the vada pao of Mumbai, the Egg Roll of Kolkata, the Puri Chana of Amritsar or the puttu of Kerala, India’s street is full of traditional culinary flavors that you have to taste on your Indian holiday.

4) Stay with a Local Family

In India, we touch the feet of our elders to take their blessings, we worship the cow, we live with our parents even after becoming adults, arranged marriages are still popular, we cook most of our meals at home and eat most of our meals together with our family. If you stay with a local family, you will get to learn these interesting and unique cultures and so much more. And if this stay of yours couples with a local festival or an important family event, you will be exposed to a side of India that you will never get to see as a regular traveler.

5) Watch a Live Cricket Match
Beach cricket at Goa, India

Hockey is India’s national sport, but the game of cricket is like a religion. When India plays Pakistan, nearly all of India’s 1.3 billion people are clued in. If we go by the Statistics, the India-Pakistan world cup cricket match  in 2011 was watched by over 2 billion people across the world, making it one of the most followed games of all time. The energy inside a cricket stadium is unparalleled, the noise levels go over the roof and the excitement levels are so high that you can sense it in any part of your city. If you can’t catch an International cricket game, you can see if there are any club games taking place during your stay. The Indian Premier League that takes place every April and May is one of the most lucrative club games in the world.

6) Watch a Bollywood Movie

The second richest movie industry of the world is from India. ‘Bollywood’ is known for its tacky stories, amazing dance sequences, innumerable songs in the movie and lots of melodrama. A standard Bollywood movie lasts anywhere from 120 to 240 minutes. And if you happen to watch a Bollywood or even a regional movie in a movie theatre, you will experience the crazy adulation of Indian movie fans. An opening release of the movie is usually preceded with unique fanfare and the actual movie dance scenes while screening in a movie theater bring about dances and whistling from its fans.

7) Groove to Indian Beats


People the world over seem to find joy in mimicking India’s dance moves. You can do that and more on your holiday to India when you join with a group of locals. Be it bhangra, Bollywood dance moves, or dappankuthu of the South, grooving to Indian songs and beats is bound to make you smile from ear to ear. You can try this at a night club, at a family gathering, at a wedding, at a festival and on many other occasions.

8) Shop in our Colorful Bazaars
Shopping in the bazaars of Rajasthan

Indian bazaars are all about colour, glitterati, rich aromas and and sheer energy. From clothes to spices, from desserts to souvenirs and from footwear to local goods, the Indian markets offer a great traditional shopping experience. In addition to the traditional bazaars, one can also indulge in some retail therapy at the modern shopping malls in the various Indian cities.

9) Experience India’s Sweet Tooth

Famous Falooda of Mumbai

Indians love their desserts. In fact, it would be totally appropriate to term that India has a ‘Sweet Tooth’. A trip to India cannot be complete without indulging in this sweet tooth. While each region of India dishes out their own sweet concoction, they are all deliciously good and can transport you to a special world. The famous desserts are Rasagulla (from West Bengal), Gulab Jamun (from Punjab), Rabri (from Bihar), Payasam (from Tamil Nadu), Halwa (from Kerala), Chiroti Rava (from Karnataka), Rasmalai (from Odisha), Cham Cham (from West Bengal), Mysore Pak (from Karnataka), Ada Pradhaman (from Kerala) and the list goes on. Some popular ones like Kaju Kathli, Badam Kathli and Anjeer Burfi are available all round the country.

10) India’s Famed Wildlife

Elephant Family at Kabini National Park, India

After East Africa, India is the next best wildlife destination in the world. Tigers, lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, wild water buffalos, gaur, deer, antelopes and more than 1000 species of birds can be seen in India’s wild. Whether you are on a jeep safari, sitting on top of a jumbo elephant or on foot, India’s tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and bird sanctuaries offer a special treat to all kinds of wildlife lovers.

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How to Make a Travel Budget in 3 Steps

How to make a Travel BudgetTraveling more is probably one of your top resolutions this year ― but if you also have a resolution to manage your money better, you might struggle to balance fulfilling your travel dreams and saving and spending responsibly.

Travel can be both untenably expensive and unbelievably cheap; it all depends on how you plan for your trip. To keep your expenses low and your excitement high, you must create and adhere to a balanced travel budget. Yet, most travelers abhor the thought of the B-word, believing it requires unending hours of research to compile a correct account of costs. However, building a feasible vacation financial plan takes no more than three simple steps; in no time, you will accomplish two resolutions with one travel budget.

The three steps come down to this simple fact: All travel consists of three categories of expenses: transport, accommodation, and entertainment. No matter where you go, you will always need to pay for a way to get in and get around, a place to stay, and the activities and events you want to do. Thus, your travel budget depends on understanding the intricate costs of these three categories for every destination you plan to visit this year.

Budget Transportation
Travel necessitates going, and these days, you can’t get anywhere without a ticket on some form of transportation. Unless you are road tripping (which comes with its own litany of expenses), you will need (at the very least) a plane and a means of exploring your destination, be it rental car, public transit, taxi cabs, or your own two feet.

To start your budget, use Expedia or some other fare finder to find the average ticket price for your destinations. Often, plane tickets tend to be cheaper during shoulder seasons, like late spring and early fall, so you might save money planning your trips during those times. Additionally, carrying one of the best rewards credit cards helps you accumulate points that make some plane tickets easier to afford.

You can also use discount travel sites to learn average car rental prices for your destinations, so you can have freedom of movement during your trips. There are a number of tricks to lowering the cost of a rental car to make travel savings easier, but you also should investigate the quality and price of local public transportation, which is usually safer and more convenient in tourist-heavy cities.

Even if you opt to be a pedestrian for the duration of your travels, you must invest some of your budget in comfortable, durable footwear. Aching feet and joints will cost you more than a high-quality pair of shoes.

Budget Accommodation
Every night, you need a safe, comfortable place to sleep ― especially while you are busy traveling. Inexperienced travelers often go straight to booking hotel rooms, usually at well-known international chains, but these suites can be some of the most expensive options, especially if you lack travel rewards or other discounts.

Instead, you can sacrifice some luxury amenities for the sake of your budget by looking for alternative accommodations in your destinations. Hostels aren’t just for dirty backpackers; many hostels around the world provide cozy private rooms and warm showers ― which is really all most travelers need. For extra savings, you can try home swapping or couch surfing, both of which pair you with a local looking for foreign connections.

Budget Entertainment
Admittedly, the last step is going to take the most time and energy to research ― but most travelers hardly consider it work. It is exciting and easy to use the Web to explore the entertainment possibilities at your chosen destinations, and including price-checking into your investigation takes little extra effort. You can use your favorite travel blogs (like the one you’re on or any of our partners) to find inspiration. As you solidify your itinerary, you can look online for admission prices and more to help balance your budget.
 

Planning your Holiday BudgetAn Example

Let’s say you want to make it to Maui this year. To ensure you have enough time to plan, you should schedule your trip for the fall shoulder season. According to Expedia, round-trip plane tickets for the last week of September average about $650 (if you are departing from LAX). The public transit options on the island aren’t superb, so a cheap rental car is going to cost you at least $30 per day.

A four-night weekend stay at a top-rated hotel will run you well over $900 total, but you can find a spot at a relatively well-appointed hostel on Maui’s north shore for less than $50 per night. Alternatively, using AirBnB, you can find a perfectly located bed for about $135 total.

The possibilities for entertainment are nearly endless on Maui; you can snorkel, scuba dive, hike, or just relax on the beach. A day driving Maui’s legendary Road to Hana will cost about $8 worth of gas, as well as maybe $10 per person for lunch along the way. To rent a surfboard, you will shell out about $30 per day, or less if you want to surf throughout your trip. You can find an estimate for nearly any activity in seconds on the Web.

Even with a generous amount devoted to entertainment, your travel budget for Maui doesn’t have to exceed $2,000. So, you can fulfil your financial resolutions and your travel dreams in 2016 with a well-made budget.

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Travel Photo of the Day: Chennakeshava Temple, India

Candid Portrait at Chennakeshava Temple, Belur, Karnataka, India

One of the best standing examples of Hoysala Temple architecture, the Chenna Keshava temple of Belur mesmerizes one and all with its intricate attention to detail and gorgeous symmetry. This photo is a candid shot of a man who seemed to be in a world of his own amidst such mesmerizing architectural beauty.

Note: Click on the photo to share it or to download a higher resolution as your desktop wallpaper.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Wahiba Sands, Oman

Inside a Bedouin Tent, Oman

Happy Monday!

Today’s travel photo is of a mundoos, some traditional coffee jars, the Sultan in the background and other traditional utensils from inside a Bedouin tent in the gorgeous Wahiba Sands desert of Central Oman. While I absolutely adored the desert with all the dune bashing, dune boarding and starry nights, my precious moments here were having a cup of bitter Arabian Coffee (Kahve) with really yummy dates offered to me in this very Bedouin tent.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Kaziranga National Park, India

Wild Water Buffalo from Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India

Another of my prized wildlife photos. I love how it looks like a painting. This wild water buffalo seemed to follow me for close to three hours. A strong heavy set fellow, he had that menacing look with those massive pair of horns that could send shivers down your spine. I shot this picture just 2 minutes before the end of my evening safari at Kaziranga National park in Assam. It was past dusk and a mist was beginning to descend into the approaching winter night. And the beauty is that you can sense all of that in this picture. Some of the raw joys of being a wildlife photographer!

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

The King from Maasai Mara, Kenya

This is one of my favorite photographs. I love it so much that I have a big canvas version in my office. I loved the raw thrill, nervousness and fear of staring into the eyes of the king of the African jungle while I took this photograph. As a wildlife enthusiast and as a photographer, these are some moments that you live for. The golden light at Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve also helped. I saw 32 lions and lionesses on this wildlife trip to Maasai Mara, but the proud stride of this handsome male has to be my ‘best king moment’!

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Travel Photo of the Day: Ummaid Bhavan Palace, India

Ummaid Bhavan Palace, Jodhpur India

A great looking palace and museum from Jodhpur, my favorite city in the state of Rajasthan, which is famous all over the world for its palaces, colorful bazaars, big fat Indian weddings, great food and so much more. A part of the Ummaid Bhavan palace functions as a five star hotel. So, if you have the money to spend, you could live kings and queens or princes and princesses here. This picture is of a rare rainy day in this desert city. Don’t miss out to indulge in the Halwayi breakfast while you are here.

Note: Click on the photo to share it or to download a higher resolution as your desktop wallpaper.

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