September 2015 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Spiti Valley Trekking and Backpacking: My Upcoming Trip

I am headed to the Western Himalayas after a gap of 6 years! The last time I was in this part of the country, I was on my India motorcycle trip and I was traveling solo. This time, the agenda is more #backpacking and #trekking and giving me company is a good friend of mine and a great travel buddy. Today, we are flying to Chandigarh from Bangalore and Hyderabad respectively, where we plan to indulge in a traditional Punjabi lunch, before we make our way to Shimla. The original plan was to take the toy train from Kalka to Shimla, but as the train tickets are not available, we are taking the bus from Chandigarh to Shimla.

From Shimla we make our way to Sangla and Chitkul in the Baspa valley for our first pit stop enroute to Spiti valley. If required, we might go to Recong Peo, though I don’t intend to go to this busy town in the Kinnaur region. The plan is to spend more time at Chitkul (considered the closest Indian village to the Tibetan border) and enjoy the Kinner Kailash view, the apple orchards and the Baspa valley.

From here, for the next 3 weeks, we intend to spend in the Spiti Valley, where we will explore the following places:

1) Nako

2) Tabo and Tabo Monastery

3) Dhankar, Dhankar Lake and possibly some volunteering at the monastery

4) Sherkhang Gompa

5) Trekking in Pin Valley

5) The villages of Mulche, Demul, Komic, Hikkim, Langza and Tashigong

6) Kaza, Ki and Ki Monastery, Kibber and Chicham

7) Batal, Kunzum Pass and Chandra Taal Lake

8) Gramphoo and finally Manali

Weather and road conditions permitting…The idea is to walk most of this loop from Shimla to Manali, especially in the core of Spiti valley, between the high villages, the Pin Valley and Chandra Taal Lake. In between, we will be taking public transport to commute between the long distances. 3 weeks won’t do enough justice to all these places. Hence, depending on weather conditions, we will choose between the high villages and the Pin valley trek.

Stay in touch with me through my social channels and join me virtually as I trek and backpack through the scenic high Himalayas of Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Like always, I have made no plans, which means no hotel bookings, no trekking bookings and no fixed itinerary. If any of you have any suggestions: hotels, homestays, places, attractions, conservation efforts, volunteering, etc., please be kind enough and share it with me through your comments below.

P.S. If any of you happen to be in the vicinity, do give me a shout. I would love a meet up! You can find my email and phone coordinates on my 'about me’ page.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

LG G4 and Ganesha Habba: A Photo Story and Review

Last week, right before Ganesha Habba (also known as Ganesh Chaturthi or Pilaiyar Chaturthi), I received the classy looking leather wrapped LG G4 phone for testing. Usually, when I receive a phone for testing, I test its functionality and talk more about its features, but as I received this phone right before one of India’s iconic festivals, I decided to do a photo story of Ganesha Habba through the super awesome camera of LG G4.

I will take you through the Ganesha Habba photo story first and then talk about the features of this phone.

Note: None of the photos below have been edited in any form. Each photo is straight out of the phone camera.

Ganesha Habba Photo Story 

Clarity of LG G4 is fabulous - street photo bangalore

Photo Story: A week to a month before the festival day of Ganesh Chaturthi, shops like this mushroom all over Bangalore. They sell both Ganesha and Gauri idols. And both these idols come in organic or chemical paint form. They also take special orders in case you wish for a special design, special type of clay, shape or size. While my friends booked their Ganesha and Gauri in advance, I bought an organic clay Ganesha from this lady on the spot.

Camera Performance: I was really super impressed by the detail captured in this photo. Even after zooming in quite a bit, the lady’s face was in sharp focus.

Clay Ganesha Idols for sale before Ganesh Chaturthi in Bangalore

Photo Story: Organic Ganeshas are on display at this street side shop. The ones in color that you see are organic colors made from vegetable dyes. Organic is the need of the hour as otherwise our city water bodies will be negatively affected. Eco friendly idols cost a bit more, but they help in keeping our city water clean.

Camera Performance: Sharpness of this image amazes me. I purposely shook the phone a bit, but in spite of that, the image came out very well. Credit should go to the excellent image stabilization feature of this phone.

Gauri and Ganesha Idols in full detail captured by LG G4

Photo Story: These are Gauri idols. Gauri is an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi and Ganesha’s mother. Gauri Habba is celebrated one day before Ganesh Chaturthi and is popular with newly wed couples and the women of the household. 

Camera Performance: Again, this image quality is so good that I am surprised that it was taken using a phone camera.

Gauri Idols for Gauri Habba in Bangalore

Photo Story: Generally, during the Ganesha festival, people buy both Ganesh and Gauri idols and celebrate Gauri and Ganesha Habba together at their homes.

Camera Performance:  I can’t seem to get enough of this camera. Each picture turns out to be a stunner.

The Ganesha at my home - shot at low light and with LG G4 flash

Photo Story: This is the eco friendly Ganesha idol that I brought home.

Camera Performance: As it was taken in low light, I turned on the in built flash of the phone and again, a top quality image. 

Kozhattai offerings to Lord Ganesha during Ganesha Habba

Photo Story: From the morning of Ganesha Chaturthi to the time I immersed the idol at the Yediyur Lake, we offered flowers, fruits and delicacies to the lord. Even though the offerings were made to the lord, they entered the stomachs of me and my family. On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, we offer a traditional dessert called Kozhakattai. To the far left is the paruppu kozhakattai (made in my home) and to its right is coconut kozhakattai (made by my sister). This is one dessert that I really look forward to and it is one of those reasons why I dig this festival a lot. 

Camera Performance: The large aperture of the LG G4 phone camera ensured that even in low light and without flash, the image quality is top class. 

Small girl offering prayers to Ganesha and Gauri just before immersion in Bangalore lake

Photo Story: A young girl offers the final prayers to Ganesha and Gauri just before they plan on immersing the idols at the Yediyur Lake in South Bangalore. It is such traditions that make our festivals so much more interesting.

Camera Performance: I shot this in manual mode with a high shutter and that is why there is no motion blur, which is the norm with other phone cameras. Oh! I forgot to tell you that this phone offers a camera where you can shoot in both RAW and manual mode, which makes it a special gadget for all professional mobile photographers.

Yediyur Lake to immerse Ganesha and Gauri idols

Photo Story: This is the Yediyur lake, a popular place in South Bangalore where idols are immersed after Ganesh Chaturthi. A certain portion of the lake has been separated from the main lake and allocated for idol immersion. This ensures that the entire water body doesn’t get polluted. Idols are immersed here after prayers and with lots of traditional music. There are a group of people who are in charge to carry out the immersion. This solves the problem of people drowning while immersion of idols.

Camera Performance: Even though the picture was taken in bright light, it hasn’t come over exposed. So, the phone has a feature in which it compensates exposure.

Detailed Camera Review

In addition to doing the photo story during the Ganesha festival, I got many opportunities to test this phone thoroughly. Everywhere I went, the phone definitely turned heads. And its excellent camera kept me wondering if I had a phone in my hand or a DSLR. Below, I have mentioned the top features of this phone.

LG G4 Phone and its camera
Photo Courtesy: LG India

1) This sleek phone with its leather back is definitely a head turner. Gives the phone a super rich look.

2) The LG G4 has a bright screen with a gorgeous contrast. Watching pictures and videos and playing games on this phone is an absolute pleasure.

3) It comes with the latest version of Android with a LG layer on top. If you are an Android user, you will get used to it real quick.

4) With a 16 MP back camera, a 8 MP front camera, a fast 1.8 lens, the ability to shoot in manual and raw, solid image stabilization and many more such handy features makes the camera of this phone a powerhouse. The performance is excellent and is one that I would recommend in case you are looking for a solid camera phone.

5) Replaceable battery and expandable storage are good to have features.


If you are looking for a phone with a top camera, the LG G4 is a definite runner. And if you also want a rich looking, large screen, powerful Android phone, then, the LG G4 becomes a solid contender. I would recommend it to all those mobile photographers who like to share selfies or other pictures on their facebook, instagram and other social channels. It’s top quality camera will ensure that your pictures stand out from the rest.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

How to Travel the World as Safely as Possible

The world isn’t necessarily a dangerous place – it’s more the fact that there are some very desperate people out there, or people who will take advantage of opportunities to gain something from vulnerable people.

You shouldn’t be nervous about travelling, but you should definitely be careful to help avoid problems as best as possible. We’ve listed some tips for travelling the world as safely as possible.

Take copies of your important documents Scan your passport, your travel docs, booking information, visa info, etc. to your computer so you have them on file. Then print out a number of copies of each of them. Keep one in your hand luggage and one in each suitcase/holding bag you have. Make sure someone at home has access to the files should you need them.

Don’t keep all of your money sources in one place
At home you’d tend to keep your bank cards and your cash together in one place. It’s not the best idea to do that while you’re travelling. Instead, keep a source of cash in a few different places, so that if one should go missing or get stolen, you won’t be completely stuck without cash.

Don’t forget your travel insurance and vaccinations
It’s so vital that you have substantial travel insurance that will cover you for any problem that might occur in any country you’re going to. It’s also incredibly important that you have all of the required vaccinations ahead of travel, especially as some countries won’t let you enter unless you have proof that you’ve had them. You can find out about holiday vaccinations here.

Stick to the safest forms of transport
Certain forms of transportation when travelling can leave you more vulnerable than others; whether you’re alone or not. If possible, why not consider renting a car? This will not only make your travels safer, but also you’ll have the convenience factor and comfort too. Check out for great deals on vehicle hire abroad and whether it will be an option that can work for you.

Try to blend in as much as possible
Tourists are easy targets for opportunist criminals as they will be more vulnerable than local people, usually, and tend to carry most of their important (and valuable) belongings with them at all times. Therefore, it’s advisable to not stick out like a tourist would – don’t carry your camera around your neck, don’t consult a map in public and be wary about who you ask for advice or help.

Make sure you’re on the same page as your travel companions
If you’re travelling with someone or in a group, it’s important that you all have similar ideas when it comes to staying safe. If you’re concerned that they’re putting you in danger or at risk, it might be a good idea to consider parting ways.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

USA Coast to Coast Train Journey: My Story as I lived it!

This summer saw me embark on one of the best train journeys that I have undertaken till date. Close to 5000 kilometres of diverse terrain in just over 2 weeks sounds awesome right? Add to the mix, a classic 1950s train car, enterprising company and surreal destinations and you have a magical concoction that I was privileged to live and experience on my trans USA coast to coast train journey.

If you had tracked my journey through the trending hashtags #RoadTripUSA, #DiscoverAmerica #MTPTrain on social media, you would know what I am talking about. In case you do not know what I am talking about… I was invited by Brand USA and Discover America to be a part of a train journey called the Millennial Train Project. This project, a start-up incubator and guidance forum took selected individuals on a train journey across Southern USA. Each individual had a role to play. My role was to experience the diverse destinations of the United States of America.

And thus I traveled with this MTP Team in classic 1950 era train cars that was fitted with open domes, dining cars, kitchens, bedrooms, wi-fi and so much more. Traveling in that train made me feel like royalty. It was on this train ride that I got to experience a bedroom with an attached bathroom. I have traveled countless number of times on trains, but this luxury experience was my first.

The journey took me across 8 lovely destinations. My experience in each destination was so good that I always ached to spend a longer time at each place. Be it the Hollywood experience of Los Angeles (California), the Route 66 culture and history of Santa Monica (California), the riverside charm of San Antonio (Texas), the bustling energy of Austin (Texas), the French connection in New Orleans (Louisiana) and definitely my favorite city in the USA, the port city of Baltimore (Maryland), the capital city of Washington DC or finally the bustling metropolis we all know as the Big Apple – New York City (New York), I felt like I was living a dream. Each day, was a high for me.

In this one minute Travel Video, live my surreal coast to coast rail journey

If there was one thing that captivated me the most on this trip, it had to be the sheer size and diversity of this nation. The landscapes, especially were sensational. From the beaches of California, the arid desert of Arizona, the riverside atmosphere of San Antonio and Austin, the swamps around the mighty Mississippi at New Orleans, the organized capital of Washington DC, the quite port side action at Baltimore to the eclectic, high energy glitter and bustle of New York City, this journey offered me delights all along the way.

My Favorites from this Trip

Favorite City: New Orleans

Favorite Show: The Chicago – Broadway Show, New York City

Favorite Dessert: Bourbon Bread Pudding - New Orleans

Favorite Visual Moment: Crossing Lake Pontchartrain by train – Louisiana

Favorite Awe Moment: Standing at the base of the Statue of Liberty – New York

Favorite Drink: Woodford Special Reserve Bourbon

Favorite Funny Moment: When I thought the White House had a dome and was searching for it while standing in front of it

Favorite Skyline: View from the Rockefeller Center, NYC

Favorite Music: Street Jazz Music from New Orleans

Favorite Outdoor Atmosphere: Lady Bird Lake Trail, Austin

Favorite Monument: Lincoln Square – Washington DC

Favorite Nightlife: Bourbon Street, New Orleans

Favorite Beach: Venice Beach, California

Favorite Walks: Hollywood Walk of Fame – Los Angeles and San Antonio River Walk

Favorite Street: Bourbon Street, New Orleans

Favorite Snack: Fresh Guacamole Salad – Olvera Street, Los Angeles

Favorite Crazy Moment: Watching tourist play and pose with the balls of the charging bull, New York City

Favorite Memory: The train journey in itself

To know more about this trip, read my interview on Discover America website. This Q&A might just help you plan out your USA road trip.

In this 30 second video, discover 5 exciting places to visit on your next USA road trip.

Below are photo collages, videos (in some cases), places I visited and my personal favorites from each destination.

Pit Stop 1 - Los Angeles, California
What better place to start your trip than Los Angeles. This was my first visit here and I visited everything from Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, Olvera street, Universal Studios, LA Downtown, Staples Center, Grammy Museum, the famous Hollywood Sign, Rodeo Drive and some more.

Personal Favorites: Hollywood Walk of Fame, Madame Tussad’s Wax Museum, Olvera Street

Me and Charlie ChaplinTypical day on the Hollywood Walk of FameCaptain Jack Sparrow at the Hollywood Walk of Fame
A Hollywood souvenir shopFresh Guacamole Salad at Olvera Street, Los AngelesTequila, Salsa and Chips at Olvera Street, Los Angeles
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los AngelesMadame Tussads at Los Angeles, great family getawayThe Hard Rock Cafe inside Universal Studios, Los Angeles

Pit Stop 2 - Santa Monica, California

If you are a motorcycling lover, you will know the importance of this trip. Route 66, the iconic route that starts in Chicago ends here. You can see everything from big motorcycles, beautiful beaches, the pier, the famous muscle beach, great restaurants and street music at the 3rd street promenade, the roller coaster, Malibu and great restaurants.

Personal Favorites: Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier

Gorgeous street stall at Santa Monica Pier, CaliforniaHistoric Route 66 that ends at Santa Monica PierHistoric Santa Monica Pier, California
Me at Route 66, Santa MonicaSwinging about at Muscle Beach, Santa Monica

Pit Stop 3 - San Antonio, Texas
This city in the heart of Texas has great riverside culture. Everything here revolves around the river. River cruises, riverside dining, riverside bars, the Alamo and the micro breweries nearby.

Personal Favorites: San Antonio River Cruise, Riverside dining atmosphere

Badges from the old westLots of great music at San Antonio riverwalkYou don't mess with Texas
The iconic Alamo of San AntonioArtist at work - San Antonio RiverwalkExplore San Antonio on a boat cruise
Want to know why I am raving so much about the riverside charm of San Antonio. Get a sneak peek through this 15 second travel video. 

Pit Stop 4 - Austin, Texas
This college town and the capital of Texas is known for its young culture and for its music scene. During my stay here, I explored the 6th street, Capitol Building, Lady Bird Lake and most of Austin downtown.

Personal Favorites: Bars on 6th Street, Street Art, Lady Bird Lake Hiking Trail

Austin Street GraffitiCapitol Building - a popular tourist attraction in AustinLadbird Lake and Downtown Austin bathed in golden sunset rays, Austin
Colorful atmosphere on Austin's 6th streetKeep Austin Weird

Pit Stop 5 - New Orleans, Louisiana

My favorite city in the US, I absolutely love New Orleans. Be its French culture, super active nightlife, sizzling street music or its great food and drinks, this home of jazz is a must visit destination. During my stay there, I visited the French quarter, spent a lot of time on the famous Bourbon street, the original Frenchman street, took a cruise on the mighty Mississippi and checked out the local music scene.

Personal Favorites: Live Street Music, Bourbon Bread Pudding

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, New OrleansAwesome Jazz Bands of New OrleansDelicious Beignets of New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans Famous Mardi Gras Masquerade MasksNew Orleans Street Musician playing Kora African Base HarpPedicab from the French Quarter of New Orleans

Enjoy my favorite city in the US through this 15 second travel video.

Pit Stop 6 - Baltimore, Maryland

This port city is known for its crabs, sea food, aquarium and colonial buildings. The Inner Harbor area is a must visit. Go sailing if you get the opportunity.

Personal Favorites: Cruise on the waters of the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore waters - great for sailingClassic Volkswagen van parked on the streets of BaltimoreInner Harbour and the Baltimore Skyscrapers
National Aquarium, BaltimoreAt the heart of Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Pit Stop 7 - Washington DC

The Capital of the United States is possibly one of the most organized cities that I have visited in my entire life. The National Mall area that houses the Lincoln monument, the National Monument, war memorials and more is a must visit. While I was there, I also explored the White House, the Capitol Building, the happening Dupont Circle area and many of its museums.

Personal Favorites: Dining at Dupont Circle

A Washington Monument Special Admiration MomentThe White HouseClassic painting at the Smithsonian Art Museum
Abraham Lincoln Memorial at Washington DCVarious license plates of the USA

Pit Stop 8 - New York City, New York

My last stop on this trip was the Big Apple. I visited quite a few attractions here: Brooklyn bridge, Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, World Trade Center Memorial, Statue of Liberty, Broadway and the Broadway Show, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, New York Grand Central Station, Central Park, Wall Street, SoHo and Greenwich Village.

Personal Favorites: Walking on Brooklyn Bridge, View from Rockefeller Center, the Iconic Statue of Liberty, Walking 5th Avenue, Broadway Show – Chicago and its parks.

A Brooklyn bridge momentA Brooklyn Bridge traffic and pedestrian actionNYPD 3 wheeler cop car
Iconic Statue of LibertyIconic Brooklyn Bridge of New YorkIconic New York Manhattan Waterfront View
One of the many green spaces in New YorkPier A, ManhattanNew York Skyline from Downtown Manhattan
The chrng bull on brodwayThe glamour of Times Square best seen in the nightChicago the musical on broadway

To read more about this journey of mine and to check out some more awesome pictures of the destination and me having fun there, look up the following posts from the Discover America website:

Our Cross Country Train Journey in Pictures

Coast to Coast by Rail

Our Favorite Experiences while Traveling Across the USA by Rail

Coast to Coast Train Journey

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Logo Credits : Jobi T Chacko. UI/UX Credits : Murugan S Thirumalai
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