February 2018 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

5 best places to visit in the Caribbean while you study online

A Special Caribbean Sunset at Barbados

Completing a degree used to require laying down roots close to the classrooms of your chosen institution. But modern tech means more people are studying online in order to change careers and the flexibility means they can continue to work or travel while they complete coursework.

So if you’re planning some time on the road while you expand those little grey cells, here are the five best places to visit in the Caribbean while you study online.


Spectacular beaches of Barbados

Barbados is home to stunning seascapes, dramatic cliffs and luscious rolling hills. And the Bajans love to party — if you’re plugging your laptop in here for a spell, you might even bump into Rihanna during a trip back to her homeland. But for something a little different, try surfing in Barbados — the island has three coasts suitable for the sport, each with plenty of wonderful waves, cool restaurants and lively bars and clubs.

Beach Volleyball at Varadero Beach, Cuba

When you’re yearning for a Caribbean location that’s full of good vibes, it’s hard to beat Jamaica. High-crime areas are best avoided, but prior planning and advice allows you to pick the right locations with confidence. Capital Kingston is party-central, with clubs, bars and cultural attractions aplenty. But parishes like Portland, St Mary and Westmoreland combine beautiful beaches with breath-taking mountains and waterfalls.


Varaderos Beach, Cuba

Cuba and Jamaica arguably have the most valuable cultural currencies in the Caribbean — but those with a revolutionary mind-set should definitely head to the former. The iconography of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro is emblazoned across walls island-wide, so you can’t escape reminders of the coup completed in 1959. But Old Havana takes pride of place on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its Baroque architecture, large plazas and beautiful cathedrals — well worth a visit.


A stunning Caribbean land and seascape

If you’re lucky enough to drop anchor in Trinidad in February, you’ll feel the full blast of the famous Mardi Gras in capital Port-Of-Spain — it’s famous for elaborate costumes and wild dancing to high-energy Soca music. But culture vultures can also find lots of arty activities in post-Carnival Trinidad, including the Alice Yard contemporary arts centre, the Bocas Lit Fest held in April and stilt-walking sessions at the 1000mokos project.


Pristine Martinique Beach

The larger Caribbean nations are dominated by English and Spanish speakers, but the region is also home to some stunning destinations where French is the main language. Martinique might be the pick of the bunch — activities range from tree bathing in the exotic Jardin De Balata to swimming with dolphins in the island’s warm, crystal clear water. But if you really want to unwind after submitting your latest essay, head to Habitation Ceron to refresh yourself with a wide choice of delicious rums.

If you haven’t started studying yet, Anglia Ruskin University Distance Learning offers a wide choice of online degrees that can be completed from anywhere in the world.

But when you’re planning your study sabbatical, be sure to sample as many of these five best places to visit in the Caribbean as possible.

Have you visited any of these Caribbean locations? Share your reviews in the comments section.

Note: The photographs are courtesy of wikimedia commons and have been linked to their host pages.

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Brisbane: Queensland’s Heart Beat

Story Bridge and the Brisbane River

A crowd favorite in the world of international travel, the continent of Australia happens to be one of my favorites too. And my favorite within this favorite is the lovely state of Queensland that offers us everything from the surreal underwater life of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the oldest rainforests in the world in Daintree rainforest, rich tribal cultures, spectacular coastline in Gold Coast and Sunshine coast, unique wildlife experiences, action packed lifestyle, torrential waterfalls and so much more. Most travelers head straight to the Gold Coast or to Cairns to begin their Queensland sojourn, but I feel it is a great experience to arrive and spend some time at Brisbane, Queensland’s capital.

Reef Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

Not only is Brisbane a fantastic gateway to the gorgeous coastline on the East or the stunning reefs, rainforests and waterfalls of the north, the city in itself has all the ingredients for a vibrant holiday. Be it a fabulous riverside, an active lifestyle with energetic people, rich history, an amazing bridge climb, an iconic cricket stadium, many avenues for adventure and even holding a Koala or feeding a Kangaroo, one can do all of this in Brisbane itself long before you head to the well- known destinations of Queensland. So, all you have to do is book your flight tickets to Brisbane, get a solid travel insurance plan, find a good accommodation in the heart of the city and you are ready to begin your dream Australian holiday or maybe even a power-packed long weekend trip to experience the gems of Queensland. A good travel insurance plan not only takes care of unforeseen contingencies including passport loss, baggage loss/delay, flight delay/ cancellation, medical emergencies, which would potentially not only spoil your holiday but also cause serious financial distress. This is especially true in an expensive country like Australia. So find yourself a good travel insurance online to cover all your bases and enjoy a great holiday in Queensland.

When you are in Brisbane, do ensure that you get to indulge in these five special experiences.

1) Climb Story Bridge

Iconic story bridge of Brisbane

Like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Brisbane also has its own iconic bridge in the Story Bridge. It spans the Brisbane River and connects the central business district with the panoramic Kangaroo viewpoint. This heritage listed cantilever bridge is not only a beautiful engineering feat but also offers a well-supported adventure climb similar to the ones offered at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and at Gold Coast’s Sky Point. The Story Bridge adventure climb not only gives you a solid adrenaline rush but also offers you a 360-degree view of Brisbane from an unparalleled vantage point. You get to see the central business district, the Ferris wheel of Brisbane, the mountain ranges and sometimes even the Moreton Bay Islands. This climb is well-secured and there is nothing to worry about when attempting this adventure. All you have to do is feel the adrenaline hit your head, soak in the moment and the panoramic spectacle.

2) Watch a Cricket Match at the Gabba

Feeding a Kangaroo at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

We Indians love cricket. After all, that is one of the few sports that we excel in. The iconic Gabba finds its home in Brisbane. Thus, if you are a cricket lover, it is a no brainer to visit this cricket stadium and watch a live game, whether it is Big Bash League or international cricket. Even if there is no cricket match, you can simply soak in the ambience of its hall of fame, the changing rooms, the player’s pavilion and the overall stadium.

3) Cuddle a Koala and Feed a Kangaroo at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Cuddling a Koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

A lot of us love Australia for its exotic wildlife. I certainly do. Just 15 minutes from the city is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Home to over 130 koalas, this is the world’s first and largest Koala sanctuary. Here you can cuddle a Koala and feel how it slowly hugs you back. It is pretty much like holding a baby and that feeling is totally mind blowing. You can even feed a kangaroo with your hand and see other terrestrial wildlife of Australia. Overall, a great wildlife package real close to the city. You could either drive there or take a boat ride on the Brisbane river. If you wish for a more elaborate zoo like wildlife experience, then head to the Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, which is about a couple of hours out of Brisbane.

4) Walk Brisbane

A Brisbane CBD street moment with the Treasury building in the background

Brisbane is a very pedestrian-friendly city making it perfect for those who love to explore cities on foot. Whether you love art, history, architecture, nature, coffee, gardens, restaurants or just wish to connect with locals, Brisbane by walk is a perfect way to see the hidden charms of this city. You can start at the city’s main landmark, the Brisbane City Hall and King George Square, and make your way through Ann, Adelaide, Melbourne, Elizabeth, Albert and other streets till you reach the riverside on the Central Business District side. Then, you can make your way to South Bank, the Ferris Wheel and all the way to Kangaroo viewpoint and then back to the city centre via the story bridge and the other side of the central business district. All in all, it is a great way to soak in the charms of this city at your own leisurely pace.

5) Indulge in some adventure on the Brisbane River and the Riverside

Sailboats moored on Brisbane River

The whole country of Australia leads a pretty active lifestyle and hence you can see many avenues of adventure sports and other physically indulging activities. If you like adventure sports, then you will definitely enjoy stand up paddling and kayaking on the Brisbane river, rock climbing and abseiling on the cliffs near Kangaroo Point, go roller blading by the riverside or simply go bicycling. The Brisbane river and its banks offers enough adventure for all kinds of people.

Day Trip Ideas

The beautiful beaches of Queensland

For those on shorter trips or on long weekend holidays, Brisbane offers the perfect chance to hit popular getaways such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Tambourine Mountain and Moreton Island. Look up this article for the top holiday experiences in Queensland. That might help you plan your Queensland holiday itinerary much better.

Best Season

While Brisbane is a year round city, its summers can be a bit stifling at times. Winter months are the preferred choice for lush green surroundings, head right after the rains.

How to Reach

Brisbane has an international airport that is well connected with the rest of the world. In case you need an alternate airport, look at the Gold Coast airport.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bhirandiyara: The Embroidery Village of Kutch

Colors, mirrors, rich weaves and more - the handicrafts of Bhirandiyara, Kutch, Gujarat, India

You have to love India for keeping its ancient creative traditions alive. For that offers a fascinating perspective in modern day’s fashion and a pleasing experience for the off-beat countryside traveler. One of India’s creative hubs, the villages in and around the largest salt desert of India, the Greater Rann of Kutch are such stunning destinations.

The man from Bhirandiyara and his handicraft collection

Not only are the Kutch people colorful in their attire, but their work is an absolute treat to the eye. Each village in Kutch is home to some amazing creative work. One such village is Bhirandiyara, that falls enroute during a road trip from Bhuj to Kala Dungar (the highest point in Kutch) or to the Rann Utsav Tent city at Dhordo and to the White Rann.

Gorgeous wall hangings hand made at Bhirandiyara village

Consisting of 20 something houses, this village made up of the Meghwal community is known for its fine embroidery work, its beautiful mud houses or bhungas and for its maavo dessert. Nearly every one in this village is some kind of an artisan. While the women rule the work with threads and mirrors, the men work with leather. While the women create colorful, vibrant, intricate and absolutely fascinating designs of clothes, bedsheets, wall hangings, table cloths, jewellery, toys, hand bags and more, the men create footwear, leather bags, umbrellas, leather wallets, leather bracelets and some more. The raw materials they usually use are cotton, silk, wool and leather (camel mostly, but sometimes lamb or goat).

Colorful handmade toys of Kutch

The women usually work inside the village, while the men travel outside to do all the sourcing, exhibiting and selling. Agricultural avenues are pretty much limited due to the brackish soil, so most of the time is spent nurturing their creative skills. Most families also own cows and goats to give themselves a healthy supply of milk and that’s why this village churns out some of the best maavo dessert (thickened, condensed and sweetened milk) in Kutch, which tastes best when fresh and hot.

Jewelry handmade by the women of Bhirandiyara, Kutch

While it is certainly fascinating to pay a short visit to this village and see them work at close quarters and even buy some embroidered souvenirs for back home, I think the best kind of offbeat rural holiday is when you stay in one of the bhungas with the local Meghwal family, interact with them, get to know their practices, culture, food habits, favorite past times and then see them work on their different creations. May be, if you find their work to be interesting and if you have something specific in mind, you could request them to design that product for you. That I think would be a sweet souvenir and that one would treasure for a lifetime.

Beautiful creations of Bhirandiyara, Kutch

Bhirandiyara, the embroidery village of Kutch packs a serious punch when its comes to authenticity, humility, creativity and is one amazing destination for an incredible India rural holiday. Do make sure it is a part of your Kutch holiday itinerary the next time you are headed to either the Rann Utsav or the White Rann.

Women weaving her magic at Bhirandiyara village, Kutch

How to reach Bhirandiyara:
The nearest airport is Bhuj and the nearest railway station is also Bhuj. You can hire a taxi or take a bus to cover the 52 km distance from Bhuj to Bhirandiyara. This usually takes an hour of commute time.

Applique and more designs at Bhirandiyara village, Kutch

Nearby Attractions:
The spectacular white rann salt desert, the Kala Dungar view point and the surrounding other creative villages of Kutch.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Mentioned on Deccan Chronicle about Cellphone Photography and how it is influencing our lives

See Change - Mobile photography trends on Deccan Chronicle

I am very happy to let you all know that yours truly has been mentioned on Deccan Chronicle along with other eminent mobile photographers and bloggers in an article titled See Change on the Sunday Chronicle (dated Feb 25, 2018) that talks about the world of mobile photography and how it has evolved into one of the most popular modes of expression. This article dissects the positives and negatives of cell phone photography and talks about its powerful presence in one’s hand, how the complex world of photography is getting simplified and more accessible to the common man and also the obsessive nature of clicking selfies and pretty much lots of photos that add nothing but clutter in our lives. If you use your mobile camera a lot, you might want to give this lovely article a read through.

As someone who is slowly using the phone camera more and more often instead of my DSLR, I am definitely making the switch and I think phone cameras these days make for fabulous photography tools. They are not only easily accessible, but simple to use, less intrusive and aid in faster post processing. But, I also believe that sometimes we should live in the moment, instead of thoughtlessly clicking more and more selfies and pictures. That way, it is a win-win for you as well as others!

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Working Remotely While Traveling Out In The Wild: Pearls of Wisdom from Travel Blogger Cal Bailey

Working on the go allows you to visit exotic destinations

Thanks to the internet and the growing number of jobs which can be done remotely, working whilst you travel around the world has never been easier. If you like the challenge of where to set up your next office - by a lake in Switzerland, a beach in Bali, or the jungle in South America - take a look at the following tips for living the digital nomad lifestyle.

Choosing your accommodation

Depending on where your travels take you, your accommodation costs will vary greatly. Although you’re likely to spend very little on a beach hut in Thailand, renting an apartment in a large city is likely to cost much more. So, there are a few things to think about before you choose somewhere to stay:

How long are you planning on staying in one place?

You can usually get a better deal on short-term rentals if you’re planning on staying somewhere for a month. AirBnB tends to be the go-to site for people who travel long-term, and it’s always a good idea to ask for a discount for longer stays.

You should also research as much as you can about your host, especially if you’d like tips about a new destination you’re visiting or opportunities for socializing. Take a good look at the comments on their page to see if they offer what you’re looking for.

If you’re just planning on a quick stop-over before moving on to your next destination, then a budget hotel or hostel will help make your money go further.

However, giving yourself enough time to settle in and get into a good work rhythm is also important. It can take time to find the optimal work environment, figure out transport in a new place, and get to know other travelers. If you’re constantly on the move it will be harder to stick to a good schedule and you might find yourself getting stressed out about completing work on time.

How comfortable do you need to be?   

Working remotely gives you great freedom

Before you embark on a digital nomad lifestyle, you need to have a few figures in mind; think about how much you’re able to earn and what your average monthly costs will be.

As you adjust to working whilst you’re on the road, it may take a while to hit your weekly or monthly targets, so it’s best to keep your costs as low as possible until you find a good rhythm.

Consider how much time during the day you’ll actually be spending in your accommodation. If you plan to work from home, then it’s essential you find somewhere with good Wifi - but this will often increase rental costs.

If you’re happy working from cafés or co-working spaces and planning on sightseeing at every possible moment, then opt for cheaper accommodation as you’ll hardly be there. (Although you’ll probably use the money you’ve saved on co-working membership fees and internet access).

Finding a place to work

Apart from finding somewhere with a reliable internet connection, finding a good place to work will depend on your personal preferences. Some people prefer to set up a laptop-friendly space wherever they’re staying and working in peace and quiet, whilst others thrive in busier spots such as workspaces and cafés.

If you’re traveling on your own, workspaces are often the ideal place to meet other travelers who are in a similar position, and most set up periodic events to make it easy to socialize and get to know people.

Also, consider how easy it will be to carry around a mobile office. If all you need is a laptop, then you can work virtually anywhere - yes, including on a hammock overlooking the water. But if you need extra things like a notebook, camera, printer, or external hard drive, it may be easier to set up a small office space wherever you’re staying instead of lugging everything around.

Establishing a routine

Traveling and working is a skill that needs some learning and honing

Although being location independent gives you an incredible amount of freedom, it can be hard to strike a good work-life balance. If you’re constantly glued to your computer trying to meet deadlines, you won’t have time to go exploring. But if you don’t schedule in enough time to get work done, you’ll run out of money pretty quickly.

To find a good balance, you should create a work schedule (and stick to it as much as possible). This doesn’t mean you have to follow the same routine everywhere you travel, but rather try and fit in your work hours when you’re likely to get the most done.

Whether that means doing all your work in the morning and using the afternoons to sightsee or splitting your hours between early morning and the evening is really up to you. But when you are working, try to be as productive as possible. That means no checking Facebook, no chatting with friends, and no reading the news.

Being disciplined may not come easy at first, there will always be plenty of distractions to pull you away from your work, but give it time, and you’ll figure out ways to get as much done in as little time as possible.

To help you focus, you can try using noise-canceling headphones, tracking your work with an online-timer app to make sure you’re being as productive as possible, assigning daily work goals, and of course, drinking plenty of coffee (or tea, whatever your go-to drink is).

Final Thoughts

If saving up for a few vacations a year just isn’t enough to put your travel bug at rest, then you might want to consider working remotely and seeing the world at the same time. Being location independent can be an incredible way to live and work, but it does have its downside.

You need to be incredibly strict with yourself when it comes to the working part. Other people you socialize with might be enjoying a week off from their 9 to 5 job, but you’ll need to stick to a good routine in order to sustain your nomadic lifestyle.

About The Author: Cal Bailey blogs at Mountain Leon - a travel blog he started after a two-year journey around the world. If you are interested to read more about his travel experiences, you can do it here.

All the photos used in this article are courtesy of Cal Bailey from Mountain Leon.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

11 Top Things to Experience near India’s Largest Salt Desert

Colorful handmade toys of Kutch

One of our country’s stunning natural wonders, the Greater Rann of Kutch, is India’s largest salt desert and one of the largest of its kind in the entire world. A holiday to its white world is much sought after, especially during the winter and early spring months and more so during the Rann Utsav festival, which is a world in itself. Not only is there surreal nature to see, but there is a lot of art, culture, handicrafts, food, dance, music and endless shopping to experience in this north western corner of India.

The colorful creations of Kutch as seen at the weaving village of Gandhi nu Gram, Gujarat, India

And with a pretty easily accessible airport in Bhuj and daily flights from Mumbai, you are not too far away from our own Kutch holiday. And if you and when you decide to visit the Greater Rann of Kutch and its gorgeously artistic villages and creative denizens, do plan around a no moon or full moon time to make it that spectacular holiday.

Below are 11 things that you should experience to have that special holiday to Kutch. These are all based on my personal experiences on prior visits to Kutch.

1) Watch Nature’s Pyrotechnics at the White Rann

A winter morning sunrise from the White Rann Salt Desert

The vast expanse of salt and pretty much nothing else to see till the horizon other than salt, the Great Rann of Kutch is quite an experience. To stand barefoot on the salt crystals of the White Rann and to watch the sunrise or sunset here is a humbling experience. If you wish, you can also explore the White Rann while sitting on a camel. If you can brave the cold, I would recommend staying on post the sunset and watch the moonrise and later on a view of a star studded sky. During the full moon, the entire salt desert glows white in the moon light and during no moon, the stars can be seen glittering like never before. Whatever day you choose, the White Rann is definitely one of the top experiences.

2) Bite into a Delicious Dabeli at Bhuj

The man who creates Dabeli, the burger of Kutch

What Vada Pao is to Mumbai, the Dabeli is to Kutch. Popularly referred to as the Kutchi burger, this local street food is your simple bread or pao that is toasted on butter and stuffed with a secret tomato vegetable gravy, sweet sauce, tangy sauce, nuts, pomegranate fruit and spicy peanuts. You can either have this as a snack or as a full meal coz that is how delicious they are. The place to try the best dabelis is Kishan Dabeli and bhel on the main market street. And once you have had your fill of Kutch’s iconic street food, wash it down with a lip smacking glass of chach or butter milk.

3) Be a part of the Festive Atmosphere at the Rann Utsav

Local cop admires the pottery of Kutch showcased at Rann Utsav Tent city

The Rann Utsav is one of the most well orchestrated local events where they seamlessly bring together the art, culture, handicrafts, people and food from the region of Kutch into one vibrant and colorful environment that is located right next to the White Rann salt desert. Perfect for families and couples, right from being put up in luxury tents and ferried along in golf carts, this Rann Utsav tent city run by Gujarat Tourism is packed with lip smacking food, local folk music, endless shopping opportunities, adventure activities, tailored tours to the top sights of the region and so much more.

4) Try your hand at playing the Morchang

Kutch as a region has many unique musical instruments. One of them that is my absolute favorite is the Morchang, a humble instrument that was historically used to call cattle back home from the field. This percussion instrument made from iron is held between your teeth and using your tongue and your inhaling and exhaling of air, you cause the instrument to vibrate and thus produce sound. A trained Morchang player can play a few hundred sounds with this instrument and some of these can be heard as far as 5 kilometers away.

5) Take a ride in a Chakda

The colorful Chakda of Gujarat - Must Experience on a holiday to Kutch

You have to love India for its jugaad mentality and more so Kutch for converting an ancient 500 cc diesel Royal Enfield motorcycle into a colorful public transport option for the desert and its surrounding villages. Designed as a tri-motorcycle with a carriage at the rear, the Chakda is Kutch’s Jugaad invention and that you should definitely experience during your Kutch holiday. Even if you don’t get to ride one, you should at least travel in one.

6) Watch how scrap is turned into musical bells at the Sound Lab of Nirona

Scrap metal turned into amazing bells at Nirona, Kutch

The Hussain family of Nirona turn waste scrap iron into amazing sounding copper bells. I call them the sound lab of Kutch! This family art has been passed down through generations for the last 400 years and it is quite something to see them at work where they are shaping scrap metal, giving it color and finally giving it the desired sound. Their work is so good that technically qualified sound engineers would be proud of their work.

7) Shop for Embroidered Goods at Bhirandiyara Village

Beautiful creations of Bhirandiyara, Kutch

You are never too far away from rich colorful embroidery work in Kutch and what better way to see and buy these amazing goods than right at the source. You can do this at Bhirandiyara village, where the women are masters of embroidery. Their clothes, wall hangings, bags, table cloths, bed spreads, purses and many other items will appeal to all kinds of handicraft shoppers. Made from cotton, wool, silk or leather, these colorful handicrafts not only make for great handicraft memento purchases, but make for fantastic gifts too.

8) Watch the magic of Rogan Art unfold in front of your eyes

The colors and the 400 year old traditional Rogan art painting of Kutch

Only one family in the whole world makes this kind of art. How cool is that? The Khatri family of Nirona village in Kutch have somehow managed to keep this awesome art form alive. Influenced by Persian art and made from castor oil and locally sourced colors, this traditional Rogan art is so special that one of it can be found in the White House when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted one to then President of the United States, Barack Obama. A visit to the Khatri house in Nirona will not only allow you to see the creative action at close quarters, but you can also buy some of this prized art as a special show case for your living room.

9) Eat a Home Cooked Traditional Kutchi Lunch

A delicious home cooked Gujarati meal at Nirona, Kutch

With its war like names, the foods of Gujarat are definitely popular. Khakhra, Thepla, Dhokla and Fafda are the favorites. Then add street food like Dabeli, Kadak and Bhel to it and you have a certain mouth watering proposition. I think the best taste of Kutch lies in its simple village homes and their cooks. Whatever they prepare, be it Undio, Sev Tamatar, Dal, roti, pulao, Sukhi Bhaji or desserts such as Kansar, Sukhadi, or Shiroo,  everything seems to have such a true local flavor. A must experience according to me and a taste that you will treasure for years to come.

10) Take a Selfie with a Colorfully Dressed Kutchi Family

Selfie with a Kutchi Family

Kutch is so full of vibrant colors that sometimes I feel it should own the title for the most colorful region in the country. Even though the region of Kutch is dry, bleak, harsh and unforgiving, the people of Kutch seem to be colorful, cheerful, creative and a definite treat to the eyes. And with such colorful people, a selfie is mandatory. It would be your colorful Kutchi selfie.

11) Listen to the soothing Kutchi Folk Music

Rawan Hatha Musician from Rann Utsav Tent City, Kutch, Gujarat

With traditional musical instruments such as the Rawan Hatha, Dholak, Morchang, Khartal and Khanjari, the musicians of Kutch create some amazing folk music that is so soothing to the ears. Their music is so popular that Salim and Sulaiman Merchant, the Bollywood music composers have leveraged them in a lot of their music. You can either hear it up close at the Rann Utsav tent city or at any of the village homes or events.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Humans of Kutch: Creativity and Color Overloaded

Innocence personified - Girl child and her puppet toys

As someone who has traveled a fair bit in our incredible country, I know that we have creativity laden in every nook and cranny of India. And not simple creativity, but a rich one at that. However, it is quite rare to see a rich array of creativity in one small region. Right from weaving, embroidery, traditional oil painting, rogan art, leather work, pottery, black smith, making of musical instruments, mirror work, lacquer ware, applique to toy making and so much more can all be seen in the many villages of Gujarat’s Kutch region. That so much color, art and culture exists in a dry and un-forgiving salt desert is mesmerizing and sometimes difficult to fathom. But, what I learnt during my recent holiday to Kutch is that it exists for real and there is so much color in these villages of Kutch that sometimes I think it is possibly the most colorful part of India, may be even more so than Rajasthan, which is the place that we think of when we think of a color packed destination in India.

A journey through these rustic villages of Kutch and into the lives of its creative denizens is an absolute treat to the art connoisseur, that family holidaymaker, that culture lover and basically for many kinds of travelers out there. The above video will give you a sneak peek into the color, culture, art and handicrafts of these Kutch villages through my eyes and experience. The itinerary for this Kutch holiday of mine included staying at the festive environment called Rann Utsav tent city at Dhordo village during full moon, spending significant time at the surreal White Rann to see sunrise, sunset and moonrise, being bowled over by the the humility and the creative faculties of the handicraft specialty villages of Nirona, Bhirandiyara and Gandhinugram and the capital city of Bhuj which was also my point of entry and exit due to its airport. If you wish to know more about this region, its villages, its handicrafts and its people, read on and discover the different shades of some of Gujarat’s most vibrant and skilful people.

Rawan Hatha Musician from Rann Utsav Tent City, Kutch, Gujarat

The Rawan Hatha Musician at Rann Utsav

The region of Kutch has its own traditional folk music and musical instruments. The Morchang for example is an instrument that is used by the farmers to call out to their cattle and up on hearing it they would return home. This percussion instrument with a history of over 1500 years creates sounds that can be heard as far as 5 kilometers away. Playing and listening to it is an absolute must experience during your Kutch holiday. Similarly, there is the Rawan Hatha, an ancestor of the violin, and was played by the demon king Rawana himself. Made from humble materials such as the coconut shell, stretched goat hide, bamboo and horse hair, the Rawan Hatha creates music that is an absolute joy to listen.

Hussain Family and their musical bell creations

The Acoustic Family of Kutch

For over eight generations, this Hussain family has been creating bells and musical instruments from scrap metal. Their work is so precise and good that modern day acoustical engineers would be proud and they do all this with a hammer in hand, genetics and years of family training. I call them the sound lab of Kutch and a visit in their humble sound workshop in Nirona is an absolute must and here you can see for yourself how scrap iron is morphed into brilliant shiny copper bells that each emit different sound.

The woman who found herself on an Indian Postage Stamp in the year 1997

Her Face was on a Indian Postage Stamp

Khetaben Desarji Marvada, who hails from Ludia village and who currently lives in Gandhinugram village used to create handicrafts with her husband right from her younger days. Back in 1997, when they were exhibiting their work at an artisans gathering in Delhi, she attracted a press photographer’s interest who was absolutely moved by her colorful attire and traditional jewellery. They wrapped up their handicrafts exhibition and returned to their home in Kutch only to realize a year later that her face, courtesy of the photo clicked by the photographer in Delhi was on a 6 rupee Indian Postage Stamp. Today, she lives in this laurel with her family who do embroidery and wood designing.

Sumar Khatri and his Rogan Art creation, Nirona, Kutch, India

The Art that can be found in the White House

Their call to fame is that the Prime Minister of India gifted one of their traditional rogan art, a tree of life painting to the then president of the United States, Barack Obama, while visiting the White House. A 300 year old ancient art form, the Khatri family of Kutch’s Nirona village painstakingly kept this art alive in spite of very difficult financial conditions that forced them to find employment in other avenues. Today, this Khatri family has not only done an admirable job of keeping this art alive, but are doing more by training budding artisans to keep this Rogan art thriving for many more years to come. Influenced by Persian art and made from Castor oil and natural colors, the Khatri family definitely got a boost by Narendra Modi ji and Gujarat Tourism. I guess we can do our bit too.

Pakistani art form lives in Nirona, Kutch - handmade lacquerware

The Lacquerware artisans of Kutch

Living today in the Nirona village of Kutch, but hailing from the Sindh province of Pakistan, this poor Hindu family, has kept the ancient art of making lacquerware with hands and basic tools alive and kicking. While the women collect the laak (gum from the ber tree) and create the raw ingredients and the colors, the men do the physically intensive work of actually making the lacquerware using different kinds of wood. They make kitchen utensils, beer glasses, wine glasses, toys, puppets and much more. While the toy artisans of Channapatna are similar in art and craft, these artisans from Nirona do not use machines and are still following the ancient method of making everything by hand. Again, a very humbling experience and a great way to see an ancient art form up close.

A Nirona kid and her colorful puppet dolls, Kutch, Gujarat, India

The girl in the above photograph, she belongs to the community of lacquerware artisans from the Nirona village. She goes to school, but from time to time helps her parents sell their creations and goods when prospective customers visit them. Here she is sitting on the street along with other girls and showcasing the colorful puppet toys by her family.

The pottery makers of Kutch

The Pottery Artisans of Kutch at Rann Utsav

The Rann Utsav tent city is a great place to see a fabulous collection of local art, culture, music and handicrafts. Mohammad, hails from a family of pottery makers. Like his father and grandfather, he knows how to use his hands to turn clay into something that he visualizes. Not only is his work great to see, but his final work products make for great mementoes to take back home.

Women weaving her magic at Bhirandiyara village, Kutch

The Iconic Embroidery Artisans of Bhirandiyara

Bhirandiyara is one of those Kutch villages that is quite popular on the embroidery and stitching map of Gujarat. The women of this village are known for their rich embroidery skills. They make everything from traditional wear, purses, wall hangings, table cloths, bags, umbrellas, bedspreads and so much more. Whether it is rich vibrant embroidery designs, mirror work, good old stitching or applique work, the women of Bhirandiyara know how to make the female shoppers swoon.

The man from Bhirandiyara and his handicraft collection

While the women of Bhirandiyara are known for their embroidery, the men are known for their leather work. Using camel, lamb and/or goat leather, they design footwear, bags, wallets and more. And what’s better is that the women add their colorful embroidery to their men’s leather products giving it a special appeal. The men also take care of the merchandise selling and travel to various cities across the country to promote their handicrafts.  
Lakshmi Bain - the master weaver from Nirona, Kutch, Gujarat

The Master Weavers of Kutch

Lakshmi Baen and her son come from a national award winning family. Their family weaves magic using the traditional hand loom. Whether the threads are made of cotton, silk or wool, these artisans from Nirona village create magic with their hands to make shawls, scarves, bedsheets, wall hangings, towels, dupattas and so many products with rich colors and eye catching designs.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

10 Insanely Gorgeous Train Journeys of India that will make you want to book your tickets right away

Top Train Trips of India

There is no better way to explore and experience the diversity, culture and charm of India than through its exemplary train network. The train journeys of India are so romantic that people from all over the world find themselves attracted to it and we know how much it has been immortalized in Indian movies and deeply entrenched in all our childhood memories. From toy trains and narrow gauges to mountain railways and plying under waterfalls, from deserts to thickly vegetated evergreen forests and from the most affordable rides to the most opulent, train journeys in India spread the length and breadth of the country to provide an enthralling experience like no other.

But before you pack your bags, make sure your term insurance is current and up-to-date. Reason? According to an IndiaSpend analysis, the death toll from train derailments in 2016-17 is now the highest it has been in a decade in India. This means an unforeseen event can strike you anywhere, and leave your family high and dry. That’s why, getting a term insurance is the first step towards creating a safe and secure future for your loved ones.

By investing in a term insurance plan today, you are securing your family’s tomorrow. Plus, term plans offer affordable premiums for high life cover. This way you are preparing for life’s contingencies without disturbing your existing financial or travel goals.

To find out more about how much premium you need to pay, look up the premium calculators. And then let your hair loose and enjoy these gorgeous train journeys without an iota of worry in your head.

1) India’s Longest Train Journey - Vivek Express (Kanyakumari to Dibrugarh)

Vivek Express - India's longest train journey

A journey of epic proportions, this Vivek Express train trip is for the serious train travel lover. 4,233 kms, 4 nights, 5 days, 8 states and about 90 hours takes you from the southern tip of the Indian sub continent to the tea estates in the far north eastern part of India and close to the Myanmar border. One of the special train trips in the world in terms of experience, length and duration, this train journey shows you the incredible beauty of India in fast forward mode. Be it the green paddy fields and coconut plantations of Kerala, the dense elephant forests of Alipur Duar, the tea estates of Assam, the mighty Godavari bridge of Andhra Pradesh or the lush Indian countryside of the North East, Vivek express lets you see it all in just one quick trip.

2) Luxury on Wheels - Golden Chariot

Golden Chariot - one of the top luxurious train journeys of India

Old world romantic charm, regal luxury, sumptuous food, great service, gorgeous destinations and a train trip is what I call a mind blowing holiday. India offers three luxury trains that provide such a holiday – The Maharaja Express, The Golden Chariot and the Deccan Odyssey. Of these, my personal favorite is the Golden Chariot, the train trip that gives you that amazing vacation in South India, its temples and history, its forests and wildlife and its churches and beaches. If you have the money and yearn for a trip of a lifetime in India, this luxury on wheels has to be one of the top picks.

3) The Green Route - Hassan to Mangalore

The green route from Hassan to Mangalore

One of my favorite train routes in India, this train trip gives you a sneak peak into the rich beauty of the Western Ghats. With about 54 tunnels, some 70 odd bridges and 100 plus waterfalls, this train trip meanders its way through some of the lushest terrain of Karnataka, especially its evergreen forests and tropical rainforests. This rail route was closed for a very long while and that allowed me to experience it during a weekend trek from Bangalore, which is how I got to know about it in the first place. In the last few years, this rail route has been modernized and upgraded to a broad gauge and many trains ply this route daily. Opt for a train that crosses the Hassan –> Sakleshpur –> Kukke Subramanya stretch in day time.

4) The Monsoon Special - Konkan Railways

Whether you are going from Mumbai to Goa or from Ratnagiri to Mangalore via Madgaon and Honavar, the Konkan Railways will wow you with the green effect. Traversing the Western Ghats and more specially the Sahyadri mountain ranges, the trains that ply this route criss cross mountains and forests while intermittently providing you stunning views of the Konkan coastline, the Arabian Sea and the surrounding greenery. And during the monsoon season, not only is this route covered in fresh resplendent green, but it is covered in waterfalls and misty clouds giving you a surreal experience.

5) Nilgiri Mountain Railway – Mettupalayam to Coonoor and Ooty

The Nilgiri toy train ride

2018 is the year of the Nilgiri mountains as the Neela Kurinji, the flower that gives the mountains its name is going to bloom this year. This flower that blooms once in 12 years will envelop this entire region in blue. Hence, the Nilgiri toy train from Mettupalayam to Ooty is bound to be doubly special as not only do you experience its colonial charm, steep incline, laidback villages and mountain views, but also the view of the rare Neela Kurinji flower that will be blooming all over the various mountain ranges.

6) Himalayan Queen - Kalka to Shimla

Kalka Shimla Railway in Winter

A UNESCO world heritage site and one of the more scenic rail journeys of India, the journey from Kalka to Shimla takes you on a narrow gauge for 96 kms while you cross 102 tunnels, 82 bridges and deodar, pine and oak forests. Lovely all through the year, I think the views are best during the winter months when snow covers all the valleys and meadows and may be spring when the first shade of green sneaks out.

7) Darjeeling Mountain Railway Toy Train

The Darjeeling mountain railway toy train chugging its way to Ghum

Toy trains have that unique quality that it becomes endearing to people of all ages. The Darjeeling Mountain railway toy train is one such example. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this journey takes you from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling via Ghum, one of India’s highest railway stations as you slowly chug along mountain highways, rhododendron forests, pine forests, Buddhist monasteries, tea estates and deep into the Eastern Himalayas of India. In a couple of hours, you are literally transported from regular Indian chaos to a mountain paradise and all this while you are sitting inside of a heritage train with a steam locomotive.

8) Green Villages, Forests and the Dudhsagar Waterfall – Hubli to Madgaon or Londa to Vasco Da Gama

Dudhsagar Falls, Goa

Do you remember the scene from the movie Chennai Express when the train Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone are traveling in stops under a waterfall? This is Goa’s Dudhsagar Waterfall and it is an absolute treat to watch during and right after the monsoons. You can stand under this multi-tiered sea of milk when you travel from Hubli to Madgaon or more specifically from Londa to Vasco da Gama. This train journey will take you through the lush green forests of Goa and Karnataka, the laidback Goan villages and the highlight of the journey, the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, which is located right in the heart of the Mollem National Park in Goa.

9) Desert Queen – Jodhpur to Jaisalmer

The desert beauty of Rajasthan

It is not often during a train journey that you get to experience sand being blown into your train compartment. Not just into your hair, but also on to your luggage, seats and basically everywhere. Covering vast stretches of the Great Indian Thar desert, the train journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer takes you tantalizingly close to sand dunes, the desert villages of Rajasthan and vast open land. Even though, there is not much to see in terms of views, but I think this desert experience is an added bonus while you explore Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, two of Rajasthan’s gorgeous gems.

10) Over the Sea - Mandapam to Pamban to Rameshwaram

Pamban Railway Bridge Rameshwaram

Considered to be one of the most dangerous train rides of India, this journey from Tamil Nadu mainland to the island of Rameshwaram is special on many counts. First, you are literally traveling on sea here. Secondly, this sea bridge is India’s second longest rail bridge. And third, this bridge opens up at scheduled times to let ships pass through. If that ain’t special, then I don’t know what is. And the icing on the cake is the sea of blue view.

Note: Some pictures in this article are courtesy of wikipedia.org and used under the creative commons license. Each photo has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.

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