August 2016 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

8 Easy Visa International Destinations for the Budget Indian Traveler

Are you a budget traveler? Have you been procrastinating on your international holiday because of cumbersome visa policies? Well, if you said ‘YES’ to both the questions, you will find this article helpful as it talks about 8 International Holiday Destinations that offer the simplest of visa requirements for the Budget Indian Traveler. Either these destinations are visa-free or they offer visa on arrival. And they don’t affect your bank balance that much. Sounds like a dream, right?

Note: The budget numbers mentioned below against each destination is per person per day and it includes food, stay, logistics, entrance fees, et al. It doesn’t include shopping, alcohol expenses or any splurging. And it doesn’t include flights to and from that country.


Chalok Baan Kao Bay and Thian Og Bay from John Suwan Viewpoint at Koh Tao

The eternal favorite for all Indian travelers, Thailand, very much deserves this prestigious tag. From endless shopping to vibrant festivals, from gorgeous beaches to misty mountains, from delicious food to relaxing massages and from culturally rich temples to a very hospitable set of people, this kingdom has it all. Countless Indians have had fabulous holidays here. So have I. My favorite places are Ko Lanta, Ko Tao, Mae Hong Son, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Be it live-aboard scuba diving trips, iconic full-moon parties, the festival of floating lanterns, the best rock climbing in South East Asia and so many more, Thailand bound travelers are truly spoilt for choice.

Visa Process for Indians: Visa on Arrival valid for 14 days for a fee of 1000 THB. All you need is enough money and a return flight ticket.


Backpacker Style: USD 15

Mid Budget Style: USD 50


Punakha Dzong at the confluence of Mochu and Pochu rivers

Like I have mentioned before in my Bhutan articles, this Himalayan Kingdom is the best perk of the Indian Passport. We don’t have to shell out 250 US Dollars per day like people of other nationalities. Rather, we pay as the locals do, which is lower than expenses in India. We can visit Bhutan as an overland trip or simply fly in and the whole kingdom of happiness lies in front of us. From the iconic Tiger’s Nest to the Switzerland of the East in Bumthang, from the cantilever bridges of Punakha to the sunrise over the Eastern Himalayas at Dochu La and from the culturally vibrant capital of Thimphu to the remote valley of Haa, this country possesses all the ingredients to captivate one and all.

Visa Process for Indians: Bhutan is visa free for Indian citizens. If you travel overland, you get a permit of 7 days that you can renew at the office in Thimphu. And if you fly into Paro, you usually get a permit for 15 to 30 days.


Backpacker Style: USD 20

Mid Budget Style: USD 45


Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Another hot destination for Indian travelers! After all, it is home to the largest Hindu temple in the world. Most visitors to Cambodia visit Angkor Wat and Siem Reap and return home, but this South East Asian country offers so much more. It has the floating villages at Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in the region. It has some of the most pristine beaches, islands and coral reefs in its Southern coast. It has a laidback riverside hamlet in Kampot and a bustling riverside capital in Phnom Penh. In terms of activity, you can shoot kalashnikovs near Phnom Penh, trek in the sultry jungles of the north, cycle through the mountains of the South and listen to atrocities from the Pol Pot era.

Visa Process for Indians: Visa is easily available on arrival or in advance as an e-visa.


Backpacker Style: USD 12

Mid Budget Style: USD 40


The tiered roofs of Bali's Pura Ulan Danu Batur Temple

The world’s largest archipelago is a country of amazing wonders. Adventure lovers will find everything from active volcanoes, the best surf breaks, dense rainforests, exotic animals such as Orangutan, Sumatran Tiger and Komodo Dragon to some of the best dive sites in the world. Lovers of hidden tribes will find riches on every island. Each island offers it own unique flavor and that’s what makes it so special. My favorite islands in Indonesia are Sulawesi, Papua and Sumatra. They are a bit off the track, but totally worth the extra effort. The world over loves Bali. I guess I don’t need to talk much about this gorgeous island. And the riches of Java are known to all.

Visa Process for Indians: Visa on Arrival valid for 7, 14 or 30 days depending on your proposed duration of stay. This visa can be extended for one more similar term.


Backpacker Style: USD 20

Mid Budget Style: USD 50


Souvenir shop in the old quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam

From Ho Chi Minh city to Hanoi, this long country has been spoilt with riches. Be it the islands off the south coast, the capital Saigon itself, the limestone karsts off Halong Bay, the stunning world heritage site of Hoi An, the red sand dunes of Mui Ne, the beaches of Nha Trang and the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam is quite a special country. Add to it the exotic noodles, the cheap beer, the extremely cheap travel budget and you have a prized gem of South East Asia.

Visa Process for Indians: Visa on Arrival valid if you get an approval letter from an authorized travel agent in advance.


Backpacker Style: USD 14

Mid Budget Style: USD 35


Fishing at Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal

When you think Himalayan treks, you think of Nepal. After all, it is home to the one and only Mount Everest. But, the list doesn’t end there. It has cultural gems in the Pashupatinath temple, Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu. It has many stunning treks. Two of the more famous ones are the Everest Base Camp trek and the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Pokhara and its near-abouts is known for its solitude, spectacular nature and remote countryside. The South is known for its rich Buddhist connection, fast rivers and steamy jungles. Jomsom and beyond is famous for its cold desert type mountains. And who can forget the super hospitable, friendly and ever-smiling people of this lovely country. It is these very people who make Nepal the safest country in South Asia.

Visa Process for Indians: There is no visa required for Indian citizens. The immigration officials do not even stamp your passport. And you can stay for as long as 6 months on one trip.


Backpacker Style: USD 11

Mid Budget Style: USD 60


Busy Senado Square of Macau

This might come as a surprise to many, but Macau is indeed a budget gem in East Asia. Travelers usually associate it with 5 star luxury hospitality groups and casinos. But, they are not expensive to see. They are only expensive if you wish to live that life. And then, there is the rich Portuguese cultural attraction of Macau with Senado square, the ancient churches and the narrow alley ways of the old town. All you need to do is dress well, chomp on some of the famous egg tarts of Macau, blow a small amount of money in the casinos to keep the gambler in you satiated and avail the free shuttle bus service of the luxury hotel groups to explore all the hot hotel properties of Macau at no extra cost.

Visa Process for Indians: Visa free for Indians. A simple stamp at entry allows stay up to 30 days.


Backpacker Style: USD 25

Mid Budget Style: USD 100


Crazy Jumping Stunts at Vang Vieng's Blue Lagoon

One of the most peaceful countries of South East Asia and by far my favorite destination in the region, Laos is totally off the beaten track and that's what makes it so special. From the fairy tale city of Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, the adventure capital of this country. And from the thousands of islands on the Mekong river in the South to the lofty mountains of Luang Namtha in the North, Laos is all about relaxation, off-beat and pure adventure. This is one of those countries that I would visit again and again without battling an eyelid. My favorite places in this country are the Bolavan plateau and Muang Knoi.

Visa Process for Indians: Visa on Arrival valid for 30 days.


Backpacker Style: USD 12

Mid Budget Style: USD 30

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Heidelberg: Fairy tale Town of Germany

Who doesn’t love fairy tales? I sure do. Books, movies and stories make our imaginations run wild. But, what joy would it be to experience it in person and up close. Imagine the thrill of standing on a cobbled path near a decorated bridge surrounded by baroque buildings and staring at a majestic castle in a picturesque river valley. Sounds fantastic right?

Heidelberg Castle and Karl Theodore Bridge

This is the city of Heidelberg in the Baden-Wurttemberg state of Germany and one that was completely untouched during the bombings and chaos of the second World War.

Walking the beautiful Karl Theodore Bridge of Heidelberg

This is the city that feels like it came straight out of a fairy tale. Located in the Neckar river valley, this is where the legends of Odenwald begin.

Baroque architecture at Heidelberg Altstadt

Like most of the German cities, Heidelberg too is split into the Altstadt or Old Town and the New Town. As a traveler, you definitely want to explore the Old Town as this is the fairy tale kingdom that comprises of the beautiful Karl Theodore Bridge, the Marketplatz, the gorgeous churches, the amazing baroque styled architecture, the picturesque Philosopher’s way and the imposing Heidelberg castle. And for all party lovers, the new town is home to some of the best pubs and clubs in this region.

Beautiful Neckar river view from the top of Heiliggeistkirche

From the moment I arrived here by train from the culturally rich Black Forest region, I went into some kind of a state of daze as never before had I laid my eyes on a place that felt like a figment of my imagination. As I walked along the banks of the Neckar river with my backpack hanging on my shoulders, there was a spring in my step and I felt like a young boy at heart.

Beuatiful glass work inside Heiliggeistkirsche, Germany

It might have been partly due to the gorgeous surroundings and partly due to the younger denizens of this city most of whom were students of the famous Heidelberg university, one of the more reputed universities of Germany.

The dreamy city of Heidelberg, Germany

Either way, I happily marched into the cobbled paths of the old town and to my place of stay right at the bottom of the Heidelberg castle and just a stone’s throw from the action-packed Marketplatz area.

Fairytale Heidelberg as seen from Philosopher's Way

Even though Heidelberg is blessed with all forms of modern public transportation, I feel the charm of Heidelberg is best experienced either on foot or on a bicycle. As I had lots of time at hand, I opted to explore the town on foot with nothing more than a map and my camera.

Fairytale Heidelberg view

As I was staying right at the bottom of the Heidelberg castle, my first stop was to take the steep hiking trail to the 14th century Heidelberg castle that commands a surreal view of the entire old town, the Neckar river and the green hills beyond. This castle that reflects both Gothic and Baroque architecture has seen many fights, destruction and resurrection. Today, its lawns and surroundings are a fantastic place for a relaxed picnic especially on a bright summer day.

Fountain Statue at Heidelberg Castle

My next walk was through the cobbled paths of Hauptstrasse or main street that runs the entire length of old town. More or less everything in Heidelberg Old town is accessible through this main street. Be it the shops, the churches, the restaurants, the libraries, the tourist visitor center or the bridges, everything can be easily accessed from this main street.

Heidelberg Marketplatz - a popular place on summer days

My favorite building on the main street was the Church of the Holy Spirit, a Gothic church that offers a lovely 360 degree view of the Heidelberg city including the Heidelberg Castle. I totally loved climbing its narrow, steep and spiraling stairs to the roof of this church. And when I was inside the church, all I could do was admire at the colorful glass work and soak in the peace and tranquility.

Heidelberg Schloss Lawns - great getaway during summer days

The next stop on my walking trail was the fairy tale like old bridge with baroque style tower helmets. I absolutely love standing on bridges for long duration of time and watch the passing action. This action included pedestrians walking on the bridge, cyclists passing by, ferries going under the bridge and the shifting of clouds over the Heidelberg castle and the old town.

Heidelberg view from the castle

Once you cross the old bridge, you can easily find a narrow steep trail that leads to the philosopher’s way. It is said that Heidelberg philosophers and university professors would walk along this path and discuss subjects and other topics. Hence, the name. This philosophenweg offers scenic views of the old town and castle. And as you keep climbing the trail, you will come across ruins of the 11th century St. Michael Monastery, a Nazi era amphitheater, a prehistoric fort and more stunning views as you climb up to Heiligenberg.

Heiliggeistkirche as seen from the Schloss, Heidelberg

And in a similar manner, I walked to different parts of the old town, explored its different churches, its different view points, its iconic attractions and sometimes simply ambled by. When I felt like I needed a break, I took a book, ordered a nice cup of coffee and parked myself at an open-air restaurant in the Marketplatz.

Honda city bike on the streets of Heidelberg Altstadt

And when I felt like some different kind of action, I took a ride on the ferry soaking in the charms of the Neckar river or visited the medieval Dilsberg castle. Sometimes, I even went for a run by the riverside.

Inside the gorgeous Jesuit Church of Heidelberg, Germany

Post sunset, I opted to watch plays at one of the many theaters in the city and explored some of the 300 plus bars, pubs, clubs and discotheques of this university town. Keep an ear open for the location of the famous student parties or even better try and get invited to one.

Statue at Marketplatz and Heidelberg Castle in the background

Whether it is day or night, the fairy tale charm of Heidelberg never diminishes. As a traveler, all you want is for time to stop in this fairy tale land, but unfortunately, reality kicks in and you have to return one. Thankfully, the rich experience stays!

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Friday, August 26, 2016

4 Of The Top Gaming Havens Around The Globe

These days, many people opt to gamble online, choosing to take advantage of convenient, internet-based options like Euro Palace casino games. Slot machines, blackjack, roulette and all your other favorites are waiting for you, and you can even get a welcome bonus of up to €500 for free. Still, land-based gambling has its charms, so you would be remiss if you ignored the leading gambling destinations around the world.

1. Las Vegas

Freemont Street Experience - Las Vegas

Not for nothing is Las Vegas known as Sin City: There are around 100 gambling venues in the Las Vegas area. Poker players especially will find their needs catered to with the many well-run poker rooms open to the public. Originally centered on the old, downtown area, the hotspots in Vegas are now located along the Strip -- Las Vegas Boulevard South. Many themed resorts and casinos allow you to play within diverse environments. Las Vegas bills itself as a center of entertainment, so you will find a wide selection of fine dining, shopping, theatrical performances and other diverting amusements.

2. Macau

Casinos of Macau at Night time

Macau, a special administrative division of China, has benefited from economic growth in the country and the rest of Asia in recent decades. In fact, it now generates more gambling revenue annually than any other city, including Vegas. More than 30 casinos would like to earn your custom, and the trend is toward huge establishments that spread almost any game you could think of. The "Big Game," as poker fans call it, runs regularly and features many variants of poker played for astonishing stakes by frequently drunk competitors with deep pockets.

3. Monaco

Monaco City - Panoramic view

The casino in Monaco offers an upscale setting for ladies and gentlemen who enjoy high-stakes thrills. Since its opening in the 1850s, this center of iniquity has been the downfall of many an over-optimistic aristocrat. Despite the age of the casino, the gaming here is up-to-date, and the accommodations are first-rate. When you need a break from the tables, you can hang out by the French Riviera, check out the museum of vintage automobiles or visit the Prince's Palace.

4. London

Tower of London

London's other interesting elements often overshadow its gambling action, but you should be aware that a couple dozen gambling halls serve the capital of the United Kingdom. Most of them are open to the public, but there are a few exclusive clubs that maintain strict membership lists. London casino staff members have earned their reputation for being more polite and respectful than those in many other gambling destinations although they can be a bit reserved at times. Many professional gamblers, from England and abroad, call London home because gambling income is completely tax-free in the United Kingdom.

Pack your bags, and head to one of these highly regarded gambling destinations for a memorable getaway. Whether you prefer North America, Europe or Asia, you will be bound to find games that interest you as well as relaxing pursuits away from the tables. You deserve a break from your everyday routine, so make your arrangements today.

Note: The pictures have been borrowed from under the Creative Commons license and each photo has been linked to the host page.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Janmashtami: Krishna Paintings from Raghurajpur, Odisha

Happy Janmashtami and Gokulashtami to all my readers. On this joyous birthday of Lord Krishna, let’s all enjoy Krishna Leela through these beautiful Patta Chitra paintings from Raghurajpur in Odisha. May the digital generation of today enjoy these paintings and the associated stories as much as I enjoyed it by listening to my mother and grandparents.

Krishna and his Gopikas Patta Chitra created by the chitrakaars of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Tusser Silk Paintings of Krishna and his gopikas at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Raghurajpur Pattachitra in different forms, colors and depicting different stories

Beautiful Raghurajpur Pattachitra of Krishna and his gopikas in an elephant and horse form

If you wish to buy these paintings, you can directly reach out to the artisans whose contact details are mentioned in my article - Raghurajpur PattaChitra: India's Miniature Art Honed for over 2500 years


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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hemis Festival: Unique Celebration of Incredible India

India’s sheer vastness in diversity makes it home to thousands of colorful and vibrant festivals and hidden among these are a few that are neither national holidays nor are they known to the general public. But, their grandeur, charm and aura is second to none. One such unique festival of Incredible India is the Hemis Festival of Ladakh.

Imagine this…Mighty tall Himalayan mountains with the Indus river flowing downstream, spectacular landscapes all around and the richest monastery of Ladakh. This is the location of the Hemis Festival. Belonging to the Drukpa or dragon lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Hemis Monastery celebrates Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche and his divine teachings as the Hemis Festival on the 9th, 10th and 11th lunar days of the 5th month every summer.

When I attended the Hemis festival this summer, it was a doubly special event. Not only was it the annual Hemis Festival, but it was also the Kumbh Mela of Hemis Monastery, which takes place once every 12 years. This momentous occasion celebrates the birthday of Guru Rinpoche, which occurs on the 10th lunar day of the 5th lunar month in the Tibetan Monkey year.

This Guru’s day is celebrated with the grand display of a silken thangka (about 4 storeys high) of Guru Padmasambhava that attracts people in hordes from all over the world. This marvelous silken image is a patched work of the finest Chinese silk in various colors and it was prepared between 1750-1760 under the guidance of Gyalras Mipham Tswewang, the royal monk regarded as the third incarnation of the great Dragon yogi Stagtsang Raspa. And then there are the famous masked dance performances that cater to a special flavor on this Guru Rinpoche birthday.

I was here primarily for the dances, but got to learn and experience so much more. Depicting the life and activity of Guru Padmasambhava, these tantric dances aim to bestow health and pacify disease and all kinds of negative energies. In short, it aims to spread happiness and peace to all the people who visit the Hemis Monastery and see these dances in person.

The atmosphere was a heady mix of sweet incense fragrance and resounding music coming from traditional instruments such as gyalings (ritual clarinets), trumpets, drums, cymbals and bells. Add to it the performers in colorful attire, the sea of monks and tourists and you had all the ingredients for a gala event.

Once the silken thangka was launched from the top of the Hemis Monastery and all the prayer sessions were complete, the dance performances began. It all started with the sacred dance performed by the 13 black hat dancers. These monks wearing a complete tantric dress evoked divine wrath through their spiritual power and ritual gestures and dancing. This is believed to cut off all evil spirits and negative influences.

Next came a group of sixteen copper masked dancers who aimed to purify the place, the teachers, the disciples and bring down blessings that transform the whole scene into a pure Buddha land. These divine fairies or celestial daikinis performed this Vajra Guru dance where they melodiously chanted the invocation mantra of Guru Rinpoche and giving their mantra musical company were their damaru (hand drum) and bell.

The next dance performance was possibly the longest and the most elaborate. It was called the Eight Manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava. These manifestations include Guru Tsokye Dorje (Padma Vajra), Guru Padmasambhava, Guru Lodan Chog Sred, Guru Padma Gyalpo, Guru Nyima Odzer, Guru Shakya Senge, Guru Senge Dradong (the roaring lion) and Guru Dorje Drolod. This performance involved musicians, actual monks, religious ceremonies, felicitations, group dances and then finally solo dance performances by each of the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava.

As a spectator, I loved the semi peaceful and semi wrathful dance of Guru Tsokye Dorje where he is holding a Bell and a Vajra (symbols of wisdom and compassion) and the wrathful incarnation of Guru Dorje Drolod where his face is dark red and he is holding a vajra in the right hand and a phurba (an iron dagger) in the left hand.

The post lunch session saw more incredible dance performances that included the Twelve Zhing Kyong, Serkyem, The Four Goma, The Four Lords of the Graveyards, the Five Chemchog Heruka, The Five Tshog Len (five daikinis) and the Ten Great Ging (Heroes ad Heroines). I could not catch all of these post lunch performances as I had opted for a steep trek to the Gotsang caves. But, in what I saw it in bits and pieces, they blew my mind with their energy and fervour like they did in the morning session.

While the performances were taking place, all the eyes were riveted on the masks, the colorful costumes, the musical instruments and of course the tantric dance. Each one of these captivated the attention of the spectators in their own way. The gentle, but mesmerizing music only added to the deep spiritual feel.

These tantric dance performances take place on all 3 days of the Hemis festival, but the 2nd one or the 10th lunar day is the most important as this is the date when the most important ones are performed. All the actors, dancers, singers, musicians are monks from the Hemis Monastery. You can see them training without their costumes if you arrive a day or two earlier.

This is one of those incredible festivals of India that will allow you to see her in a different light. It certainly touched my soul and I am pretty sure that it will touch yours too! If you are planning to visit Ladakh next summer, do remember to keep this festival as one part of your itinerary.

How to get to Hemis Monastery
: Leh is the nearest international airport. Hemis Monastery is about 45 kms from Leh and it takes about 60 to 90 minutes to reach by road. It is best to hire a car for the entire day to reach the monastery.

How to book seats for the Hemis Festival: Seats are limited and hence it is advisable to book your tickets in advance. All popular travel agents in Ladakh can make bookings on your behalf.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Why and How of Travel Insurance: My Best Practices

Do we travellers need travel insurance? Is it worth paying that insurance premium every time we go on a business trip or holiday? Well, in my personal experience, it definitely helps. In fact, I advocate having a travel insurance plan for all your trips. I am sure you might have a lot of questions regarding buying an insurance plan for your travels and that is precisely the idea behind this article. This article aims at breaking down the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of the travel insurance ecosystem while providing you with a list of best practices based on my personal travel experience. Hopefully, through this article you don’t have to lose your passport, miss your flight or face an emergency to learn about the benefits of having a good travel insurance.

The Why and How of Travel Insurance

Why do you need Travel Insurance?

1) To Leave your Headaches Behind

Like most insurance plans, the idea of travel insurance is to cover your backside in case of any trouble or emergency. Such an emergency may or may not happen, but having a travel insurance plan will solve most of your worries in case an unforeseen event takes place. Such an event could be theft, flight cancellation, lost baggage, loss of passport, natural calamity, medical emergency or even death as a worst case scenario. Having a travel insurance plan could provide you with a helping hand and/or financial assistance.

2) To Mitigate the Risks of Flight Cancellations

Long flight delays or even cancellations are not within our control. But, this might lead to missing connecting flights, losing out on hotel bookings and causing financial turmoil. We all go on holidays to relax and have a good time. Financial headaches are the last thing we want to deal with during our holiday. The right travel insurance plan compensates financially for such events and thereby returning some peace of mind in tough situations.

3) To Handle Medical Emergency

No one wishes to fall sick or meet with an accident during our holiday trips, but such events do take place from time to time. In my travels, I have been bitten by a dog, cut my leg on a coral reef, been badly bitten by sand flies, fallen from a mountain, contracted mysterious fever, suffered umpteen bouts of stomach flu and many other instances where I had to seek urgent medical help. And this kind of medical help was way beyond the purview of my well stocked travel first aid kit. I have even known friends and fellow travellers who have suffered road accidents, been stung by jelly fish and some who found themselves at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Thankfully, all of them had a good travel insurance plan to bail them out.

A travel insurance plan with solid medical coverage is a no-brainer if you have any known medical conditions that might surface during your holiday.

4) To Help with Emergency Evacuation

You might be stuck on top of a mountain with a broken leg or be stuck at sea on a cruise ship or need urgent medical help that is available only in a different country. All of these situations call for emergency evacuation. Not all travel insurance plans cover this in depth, but depending on your destination, the type of activity that you intend to indulge in and some other parameters, you can take a call on including this in your insurance cover.

5) To Provide Help to your Family and Friends in case of your Accidental Death

Death is a mystery. We all know that. We hear of plane crashes, train or road accidents and many other terrible events. God forbid if something happens to you during your travels, your near and dear ones will definitely be worried. Travel insurance cannot give your life back, but it can give some peace to your family and friends by transporting your final remains from the place of death to your home city/country. And depending on your insurance plan and cover, your dependants might also receive a financial settlement in a manner similar to having a term life insurance plan.

How to Choose your Travel Insurance Plan

Now that you have decided to buy a travel insurance plan, choosing one is definitely a big headache. There are so many insurance service providers out there with each one offering so many features and functionalities that we tend to get utterly confused. Add to it the financial and legal jargon and the so called fine print and we have a travel planner’s worst nightmare. It is easiest to choose the cheapest service provider, but it might not be the most prudent choice. The below best practices will certainly help you nail the travel insurance plan that best suits your trip’s needs in a matter of a few minutes.

1) Find out if the Insurance Provider services your Destination Country

This might sound like a lame best practice, but it is something that I would check properly and not take for granted. I learnt it the hard way. There are many countries where mainstream insurance players do not have coverage. I do not know why this happens, but it most certainly does. For example, while buying the insurance for my holiday to Iran, I found out that only 2 of the 30 travel insurance service providers from India provide coverage there. And neither of them were the companies that I usually opt for.

2) Citizenship versus International

Certain insurance players only service citizens of the country while others service the citizens of the world. Let me explain with an example. In India, certain insurance players are allowed by law to provide insurance plans to Indian citizens only. A foreign national cannot come and buy himself an insurance policy from a domestic insurance service provider. However, these insurance players provide coverage across many countries.

3) Yet to Travel or Already Traveling

Again, a complicated rule that is applicable in some countries. Some insurance service providers cover people only if their trip has not begun as yet and do not cover trips that are already in progress. Depending on your requirement, choose wisely.

4) Choose an Appropriate Financial Coverage

Most travel insurance companies provide a wide range of financial coverage. Some call it bronze, silver, gold or platinum, while others are transparent and put the actual $$$ sums next to the coverage value. It is important to choose the right coverage as an increasing cover increases your insurance premium. My standard practice is to start with the basic plan and bump my financial cover up if I say ‘YES to the following:

a) If I am traveling to an expensive country. Expensive countries mean expensive healthcare, expensive hotels, expensive flights and expensive other things.

b) If I am traveling with an existing medical condition. An existing medical condition might need urgent medical assistance during your holiday.

c) If your financial liabilities towards the trip is high. Business class tickets, 5 star hotel rooms and/or expensive tours, especially if non-refundable call for a higher insurance coverage as you will stand to lose the most in case of an unforeseen circumstance.

d) If you foresee any emergency evacuation. It could be the weather, your health or simply your gut feeling.

One can always opt for the highest insurance coverage for peace of mind. But, it might not be an option if you are budget conscious.

5) Round the Clock Customer Service in the Language of your Choice

This is a requirement that most travellers take for granted, but this is one area where I have faced the most hurdles. In times of dire need, the last thing you want is to come across a customer service representative who doesn’t seem to speak your language of choice. It has happened to me quite a few times and it has left me fuming and scratching my head in frustration. Personally, I prefer an insurance provider who offers 24x7 customer support, 365 days a year and in English language wherever I go.

6) Adventure Travel or High Risk Activities

As a thumb rule, standard travel insurance plans do not cover any high risk activities such as scuba diving, sky diving, mountain climbing, rock climbing, snow boarding, racing, sailing or the likes. If you think you will be indulging in an adventure or a high risk activity, it is best to mention that to your insurance service provider and opt for a separate insurance plan. This will definitely cost you more, but you will offer you peace of mind. After all, it is not worth the headache of legally jostling with an insurance company over your claim. If your insurance company does not provide such plans, opt for ones that specialize in high risk insurance plans.

Final Words

Hopefully, you are a self acclaimed travel insurance expert by now. Go on and enjoy peace of mind while going on your next holiday by leveraging these best practices. And, if you think, you have a few pointers in choosing that perfect travel insurance plan, please do share it with me and all the readers.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Travel Photo: Stakna Gompa, Ladakh

Happy Avani Avittam and Raksha Bandhan to all of you! On this auspicious day, I bring to you Stakna Gompa, a gorgeous Buddhist monastery perched on top of a hill overlooking the mighty Indus river. This 16th century gompa of the Drukpa order is located on the right bank of the Indus river and is easily accessible from Leh.

Stakna Gompa and the Indus River, Ladakh

If you are one of those who love quiet monasteries tucked away from the mainstream tourist trail, the Stakna monastery will definitely fit the bill. You can even stay here and embrace the tranquil atmosphere while living among the monks and the stunning surroundings.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

5 Haunted Attractions in India by JustFly

It is said that our world is dotted with places that test our understanding of logic and science. Places that seem to sit at the edge of our known reality, making us question the integrity of our minds. Such places are often labeled as mysterious or haunted, and while many people would rather avoid these zones, there are others that deliberately seek them.

5 haunted attractions in India

India, a country of rich culture and perennial traditions, has no shortage of these bizarre spots. For brave travelers looking to test their courage, steel your nerves as we look at the 5 haunted attractions in India, brought to you by online travel agency JustFly.

1. GP block Meerut

GP Block - Meerut - a haunted area

Meerut, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is known for being one of the oldest cities in India.

One particular house in the GP block area is said to be haunted by numerous spirits. People reported seeing four men sitting around a candle-lit table, drinking alcohol. A woman was also seen sitting on the rooftop at night. Surprisingly, the sightings looked so real that people initially thought that the
spirits were live humans.

2. Jatinga Valley

North east India - ridge, waterfall and dense green foliage

Found in the north eastern Indian state of Assam, the Jatinga Valley houses a small village surrounded by a breath-taking view of the surrounding mountains filled with dense, green foliage. This, however, is not the main reason tourists flock the area.

Between the months of September and November, a strange phenomenon occurs in this beautiful valley — a phenomenon known as the Bird Mystery. During these months, countless native and migratory birds seem to ‘commit suicide’ by sharply descending from the skies and hitting the ground, rocks, and trees head on. Some people speculated that this is caused by an evil spirit while others believe that the birds are simply blinded by the fog.

3. Ramoji Film City

Ramoji film city, hyderabad

Recognized as the world’s largest film city, the Ramoji Film City is a well-known tourist attraction that features both manmade and natural landmarks. It is a 1,500-acre (6,070,285 square meters) land area in Hyderabad, Telangana.

Strangely, despite the influx of film sets and tourists in the recent years, the Ramoji Film City is said to be haunted by countless lost souls — some of whom are said to be quite malevolent. Tales of actors and actresses being harassed by ancient spirits, stuntmen getting into accidents, and light operators being pushed from their platforms while working several feet off the ground are quite common here. Certainly not a safe place to visit at night.

4. D’Souza Chawl

D'souza chawl - haunted story of Mumbai

First of all, what exactly is a ‘chawl’? A chawl is an apartment complex that usually has 4 to 5 floors and one that houses many families and individuals. The D’Souza Chawl is one particular complex that you would not want to live in. Found in the Mahim neighborhood in Mumbai, this tenement is said to be haunted by the ghost of a lady who met an unfortunate fate.

The story goes like this: once, there was a well located around the area. Unlike most wells that you see in movies, this one doesn’t have the stone or brick boundary to surround the hole. For some reason, the people of the village never thought about the risks that an uncovered hole in the ground could create, so nobody bothered to build a border around it. Several years later, a woman was seen gathering water from the said well when the soil she was stepping on collapsed into the hole, taking the poor woman along the way.

Her body was seen floating in the water, and was retrieved and dutifully cremated. The people can no longer fathom gathering drinking water from the well, so they filled it up.

A couple more years later, the chawl was constructed and the story was forgotten — almost. In the place where the well-used to be, an ethereal lady is said to make appearances. Sometimes, people say that they can hear her ghostly cries in the middle of the night. Fortunately, she seems to be harmless. Creepy, nonetheless!

5. National Library

National Library - haunted destination of Kolkata

The National Library of India found in the Belvedere Estate in Alipore, Kolkata may not be as creepy-looking as the other entries on this list, but don’t be fooled, this place can be just as scary. Some guards are said to do everything they can just to avoid the graveyard shift. The library staff usually avoid disclosing any of the ghost stories that they personally experience, but some tales still manage to seep through. Ghost of labourers who lost their lives while building the huge structure, the mysterious death of a certain student from England, shadows appearing and disappearing in thin air, and student who was said to have disappeared while searching for a book are only four of the many horror stories that happened in this library.

India has countless of rural and urban legends hiding in its underbelly. From intriguing hearsays to terrifying real-life events, the country is teeming with scary stories.

If you have the wits to personally witness these events, book a flight to India and tell us about your experiences.

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