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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Best South African Honeymoon Destinations

Best places in South Africa for Honeymoon Holidays

For newlyweds, choosing the perfect honeymoon destination can be problematic. Some couples prefer traditional rest and relaxation at a sun-drenched beach location, whilst others pine for something a little more adventurous.

Luckily, South Africa offers both and each year a growing number of starry-eyed lovers head to the ‘cradle of humankind’ to experience its rich culture, diversity and beauty in grand style. With an array of fantastic destinations, South Africa will make your nuptial holiday a memorable one.

South Africa offers an exciting and romantic honeymoon experience that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. With a safari in Kruger National Park, beautiful evenings in Cape Town and the Cape Winelands to choose from, you will have plenty of fun and the memories will last a life time.

Here are our top South African honeymoon destinations:

Kruger National Park

Kick off your day with a safari in Kruger National Park, one of the best safari parks in Africa, and be dazzled with the majestic sights of the wildlife; then enjoy a romantic night dining under the dark starry skies. Just by Kruger Park you will find the Sabi Sand and Timbavati Reserves where you can lodge in comfort-just be sure to check availability and find an accommodation option that suits your budget at safari travel specialist sites like www.africaodyssey.com.

Though the lodges are quite different to what you might expect, the warm hospitality and friendliness of the people will make you feel right at home.

Elephant Plains Game Lodge

Honeymoon ideas in South Africa

For couples who may have spent a bit too much on the wedding reception, Elephant Plains Game Lodge and Arathusa Safari lodge are ideal lodges you will want to stay at. For those who prefer more luxury dwellings, Kings Camp, Chitwa Game Lodge and Leopard Hills Game Lodge offer exquisitely- furnished safari lodges that provide all the amenities tourists require.

Cape Town

Cape Town is a magnificent city and no trip to South Africa would truly be complete without making a visit. Its rich history, excellent landscapes, breath-taking beaches and unique vibrancy make it one of Africa’s leading gems.

From hiking Table Mountain to relaxing on Boulders Beach, there’s so much to see, do and experience in Cape Town so make sure you set aside at least a few days so you can take it all in.

Cape Winesland

Spending a few nights in Cape Winesland is also a great idea for newlyweds. It is home to Stellenbosch, which boasts of some of the finest vineyards in the country, as well as Franschhoek, the gourmet capital of South Africa.

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Motorcycle Ride through the Vineyards and Farms of Rural Chikkaballapur

Testing Bokeh mode of my pixel phone at a vineyard in rural Chikkaballapur

With mainstream destinations becoming more and more crowded and chaotic, a lot of us are looking are looking at alternate locations for our holidays. We prefer destinations that have lesser traffic, has kept its roots intact, offers authentic local food and that is close to nature. I personally prefer rural holidays, forests, mountains and lots of nature. I don’t run away from civilization per se, but I try to visit places where the people are not trying to mirror the urban way of life.

Clicking the gorgeous Chrysanthemum flower gardens of Rural Karnataka

Last Sunday, I did one such trip through rural Chikkaballapur. At just 100 kilometers from Bangalore, this region is the ideal weekend getaway or day trip from Bangalore. It is best to explore this belt in your own vehicle, though I would recommend a motorcycle or a bicycle over a car to enjoy the narrow village roads that offer a bit of curves and off-roading.

A ride through the agricultural paradise of Rural Chikkaballapur

I was on my motorcycle and so were my friends. We took the Bangalore airport – Hyderabad highway till the detour to Gudibande fort and then we criss-crossed the various village roads from Gudibande to Avalabetta, Kethanahalli waterfalls, Chikkaballapur, Bhoga Nandeeswara temple and all the way to Nandi hills.

Gorgeous Marigold flowers at Rural Chikkaballapur

This entire region is full of vineyards, farms, flower gardens, vegetable gardens and fertile agricultural land that is tucked in between rocky outcrops, hills, lakes, ponds and small hamlets and villages.

Video Note: Watch this video of the rural Chikkaballapur vineyard in 4K for best quality and resolution.

The vineyards are definitely the highlight of a visit here. Not France, Italy, Spain or California, but just an hour away from Namma Bengaluru are kilometers of vineyards. Green grapes are mostly grown in these vineyards. When I was there, the grapes were still pretty unripe, but it was a surreal experience to be standing under millions of grapes hanging from the vines. Most of these vineyards are located by the village roads. While some of them are fenced, a lot of them are free to access. I would however recommend that one do not pluck any of the grapes (however tempting they might be) and simply enjoy the beauty of these vineyards and these gorgeous looking fruits.

Grapes from a vineyard in Rural Chikkaballapur

In addition to the vineyards, you can see lots of color strewn across the entire landscape in the form of flower gardens. Orange Marigolds and roses and chrysanthemum flowers of all colors were the ones I spotted. Not only are these flower gardens a treat for the senses, but they make for great photos. No need to visit fancy Tulip gardens in Europe, we have our own photogenic lane of flowers in our rural India fields. I am sure there are other flowers that are planted here in different seasons.

My Custom Motorcycle posing next to Ragi fields at Rural Chikkaballapur

Then, there are ragi fields and farms where tomato, ridge gourd, pumpkin and other vegetables are planted. There was also a lot of land that was being tilled manually with bullock carts and with tractors. So, I am pretty sure that more vegetables and grains will be planted as the second wave of the monsoon arrives here.

A Vineyard in rural Chikkaballapur

Friendly locals, a supremely quiet environment, panoramic view points and lush nature is what one can find all over this rural Chikkaballapur belt. Do remember to wear a good pair of shoes as this region offers interesting short hikes to the top of forts and hills. The hike might not be too hard or long, but the panoramic vistas are certainly worth it.

Sheep grazing in rural Chikkaballapur

If short hikes and treks are your thing, I would recommend the 17th century Gudibande fort, Avalabetta, Nandi hills, Chandrayana betta and Skandagiri that are located in this region. If you like waterfalls, I would recommend the Kethanahalli waterfalls that is a short drive from Avalabetta and that carries a lot of water, especially during the monsoons. For temple lovers, there is the 9th century Bhoga Nandeeswara Temple at the foot of Nandi hills and the 16th century Veerabhadra temple at Lepakshi, a town close to Hindupur, but that comes under the purview of the Andhra Pradesh state.

My Custom Motorcycle at a vineyard in Rural Chikkaballapur, Karnataka

Overall, rural Chikkaballapur offers a hell of a getaway from Bangalore. Its forts, hills, farms, vineyards, villages and temples ensure that there is something for all kinds of travelers. Do give it a visit on your next weekend getaway this monsoon season.

Ragi fields at Rural Chikkaballapur

Possible Routes:
In terms of routes, there are two main ones: One is the 4 lane Hyderabad highway where you can take detours as appropriate. And the second option is to take the old highway from Yelahanka to Doddabalapur and Chikkaballapur via all the villages. You can also opt to take any small village road that you see on the GPS for some additional adventure.

Beautiful Chrysanthemum gardens in Rural Chikkaballapur

Best Season to Visit:
There is no particular season as such, but I find this region a sight for sore eyes, especially after the rains.

Grapes, grapes, all the way at a vineyard in rural Chikkaballapur

Places to Eat:
There are quite a few restaurants on the highway that offer decent food and good quality restrooms. But, if you wish to taste local food, I would recommend trying out any of the tiny restaurants and shacks that you find in the villages.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

12 Stimulating Sights of Rupin Pass Trek

Rupin River, the main path of the Rupin Pass Trek

The week long Rupin Pass Trek in Himachal Pradesh offers changing scenery almost on a half day basis. It boasts of being among the top 10 Indian Treks. Full of adventure and surprises, this hike keeps you anticipating what follows next.

This is a moderately difficult trek. The route is patched with scree, snow, swampy ground, moraines, sharp ascent, and descent. To enjoy the amazing sights, you need to be an experienced trekker with good cardiac stamina. Else, the terrain can take a physical and mental toll on you.

Colorful flowers seen during Rupin Pass Trek

The journey begins from Dhaula Village (5,100 ft.) in Uttarakhand and ends at Sangla Kanda Village (8,900 ft.) in Himachal Pradesh. Here are some spectaculars you will find in your journey in the order of beginning to end:

River Rupin:
Gushing over the bed of rocks and boulders, this beautiful river stays with you near or far until the Upper Waterfall Camp on day six. As you trek towards Sewa Village on day two, just around half an hour out of Dhaula, you see a full stretch of River Rupin flowing below in the green valley. Looking down from that height it makes for a picture perfect scenery. The river culminates in the legendary, high-altitude 3-fold Rupin waterfall.

Sewa Temple:
Sewa owes its identity to an ancient Lord Shiva Temple, which is opened just once in 12 years. This wooden temple’s architecture has typical Kinnaur influence. The double storied building is like a clock tower or light house in shape with slanting mountain style thatched slope top. It stands tall amidst wheat fields and apple orchards. You fix your first camp at this very fascinating Sewa village (6,300 ft.).

The 2 States:
On day three en route to Jhaka, you cross an old log bridge over a fast flowing Rupin stream. And you won’t believe that in traversing that bridge, you crossed from Uttarakhand to Himachal Pradesh. Yes! This dilapidated wooden bridge connects the two states!

Hanging Village seen during Rupin Pass Trek

Hanging Village:
The same day you climb to the Hanging Village of Jhaka (8,700 ft.). A difficult day, but totally worth it. Towards the end of the hike you pass through thick forest of deodar and walnut. As you hike further you will see village huts dotted over the slope’s edge in an incline. The whole hamlet looks suspended on the hill side and so the name. Even the guest houses and home stays have balconies resting at the border of the cliffs!

Days 2-4 of the trek involve cruising through beautiful thick forests of Pine, Deodar, Fir, and Walnut with over 100 foot-tall trees. Some woods even host you with several streams and waterfalls.

Burans Kandi Meadows - Rupin Pass Trek

Buras Kandi and Saruwas Thatch (11,150 ft.) Meadows:
On day four, as you set out for Saruwas Thatch, past Buras Kandi, you reach an incredible meadow with multi-colored rhododendrons adding vibrancy against the green mountains. River Rupin flows nearby. As you reach the Saruwas Thatch Camp you are standing again among velvety green, majestic mountains on lush grassland with yellow wild flowers contrasting it.

Waterfall seen during Rupin Pass Trek

Rupin Waterfall:
Rupin Waterfall is spotted in May-June and in September-October. That’s also the time to trek in the region. The waterfall thunderously flows from a height of over 1,500 ft. in three levels according to visibility – upper, middle, and lower. You get the first glimpse of lower waterfall on day five as you trek for Dhanderas Thatch Camp (11, 680 ft.). On day six, you climb to Upper Waterfall Camp (13,120 ft.) and you see a massive Rupin River falling down in full force as a raging waterfall from the middle of the lush green grassy mountain slopes. The view is just spectacular!

Glacial Valley Meadow:
See the beautiful glacial valley meadows on day four when hiking for Saruwas Thatch.

Snowfield seen during Rupin Pass Trek

This trek gives you snow in full measure. On day five, you negotiate over natural snow bridges when heading for lower waterfall at Dhanderas Thatch Camp! Stretched through the valley, the frozen rivers help you cross the flowing river underneath. You also see a lot of snow slopes here. And the sense of adventure that brought you here in the first place pulls you in to glide down them. Cross three waterfalls to reach very splendid and amazing snow fields on day six at the Upper Waterfall Camp. They are vast stretches of snow with several river streams passively running across the white basin. Black mountains around add to the contrast.

Rupin Pass Trek, Himachal Pradesh

Rupin Pass (15,380 ft.):
You traverse through Rupin Pass Gully to reach Rupin Pass. The climb and deep snow make the stretch arduous as well as interesting. You get to spend just 15-20 minutes at the saddle shaped Pass, from where you see massive mountains all around, including Dhauladhar and Kinnaur Kailash Ranges. You come sliding down from the Pass to descend, which is pure unadulterated fun.

Kinnaur Kailash Range:
On the last day of the trek (day eight), you lose height quickly due to steep descent. On your way down, you see Kinnaur Kailash Range standing tall in front of you. The trek ends as you reach Sangla Kanda.

Note: All the photographs in this article are copyright of Bikat Adventures and used here with their explicit permission.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top 10 Things to See in the Philippines

Island hopping off El Nido is a total fun packed water adventure trip

Philippines has seen a steady growth in the number of Indian tourists traveling into the country over the years. The Department of Tourism is confident that this trend will continue as they improve on their aggressive marketing campaigns to attract more tourists from all over the world.

For Indian travelers, the visa application is difficult because it is offline and so whoever wishes to apply for a Philippine visa needs to download the form and submit it to the nearest embassy or consulate along with the required documents. Visa-on-arrival is only available to Indians who hold valid visas for countries like USA, Schengen countries, Australia, Japan and the UK.

This country of more than 7600 islands offers discerning travelers numerous opportunities that are both unique and enriching. Whether you travel for business or for leisure, you will always find something interesting in the country. Here are the 10 must-see places in the Philippines.

1. Bohol – This laidback province is packed with natural historic sites, tiny primates and thousands of hills that look like giant chocolate chips during dry season. Bohol is an all-in-one travel destination because it has everything a traveler is looking for. From beaches to mountains and rivers, Bohol has got you covered.

Don’t forget to try the province’s delicacy, peanut kisses, which is very similar to Hershey’s kisses with a delicious peanut flavor and a distinct shape of its famous chocolate hills.

2. Cebu – Cebu is the queen city of the south and it is very adjacent to Bohol. You can easily combine Cebu and Bohol tours which is perfect for a short vacation.You can fly directly to Cebu and then go to Bohol by ferry which will save you a lot of time and money as no additional flights are necessary. Here, you will find the best roasted pig belly in the country. Lechon and Liempo are two most popular delicacies and are sold anywhere in the country. Cebu is also home to the most colorful festival. Every year millions of tourists from all over the world come to Cebu to witness and partake in the Sinulog festival held on the 3rd Sunday of January.

3. Pampanga – The culinary capital of the Philippines, Pampanga offers numerous gastronomic options for foodies around the globe. Here, you can sample the best sisig (a sizzling local dish made of parts of the pig head and liver seasoned with chili, lime and topped with raw egg) in the country.

Batad Rice Terraces, Philippines - 8th wonder of the world

4. Cordilleras
– The cordillera region is rich in history and culture mirrored by the famous Ifugao rice terraces. The climate in this region is much cooler and so this is the perfect place to buy vegetables and fruits like strawberries and cauliflower fresh from the farms. You can also get inked by the oldest tattoo artist in the world who uses nothing but charcoal, stick and a thorn from a lime tree. This experience is truly one of a kind as you will never get it anywhere else. For more adventure, you can hike the mountains and explore the deepest cave in the country while the ancient coffins hang above your head.

5. Bicol – Another all-in-one travel destination, Bicol is home to the most beautifully-shaped and most active volcano in the country. Apart from its beaches and geological landforms, Bicol is also popular for its spicy foods. As the chili capital of the country, most dishes in Bicol are spiced with chilies and have varying degrees of hotness. Laing and Bicol express are some of the local delicacies that you must not miss.

6. Ilocos Region – Home to one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the world, Ilocos Region houses Vigan City which is the most extensive and the only surviving historic city that dates back to the 16th century of Spanish Colonial period. When you step inside Vigan city, you will be taken into a different time where horse-drawn carriage was still the form of transport. Cobbled stones and old Spanish houses adorn the streets and local antique furniture is everywhere. Here, you must sample the famous Vigan longganisa (local garlic sausage), empanada, pinakbet (mixed vegetable dish), bagnet (deep-fried crispy pork belly) and Igado (an Ilokano dish made with pork tenderloin and innards with green peas and paprika).

Sabang underground river - one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world

7. Palawan
– Apart from the scenic natural wonders of Palawan, it is also famous for its local delicacies and rich culture. Palawan has the best danggit (sun-dried and salted rabbitfish), crocodile sisig, and the exotic tamilok (a kind of woodworm mollusk ceviche served with chili and vinegar). There are also numerous karst limestone cliffs protruding from the waters, Japanese shipwrecks for diving and plenty of secret beaches to explore.

A Historical Manila Moment from Inta Muros

8. Manila
– Contrary to what most people would like to believe, the country’s capital is teeming with character, culture and color. When you venture away from the city center, you will find Intramuros – the old walled city in the heart of Manila with all the preserved historical sites. Manila is also home to the oldest and biggest Chinatown in the world where you can sample numerous authentic Chinese cuisines.

9. Batangas – Just two hours away from the capital, Batangas is a significant part of the country’s history as it is home to some of the most famous and well-respected heroes of the revolution against the Spaniards. Batangas boasts of the biggest Catholic Church in Asia and its people are incredibly religious. Some of the local products that you must try are bulalo (bone marrow soup with corn, potatoes and cabbage), lomi (savory noodle dish), panutsa (sweetened peanut much like the peanut brittle), barako coffee (strong coffee for brewing from Liberica variety and tawilis (a freshwater fish only found in taal lake).

10. Pangasinan – This is not a very popular tourist spot internationally but Pangasinan is a gem on its own. It is where you can find the locally sought-after hundred islands national park - a place you can very easily tour on your own. Only 6 of these islands can be explored though. Pangasinan is the milkfish capital of the country and here you can join the Bangus Festival known for the longest barbecue grill event in the world. It was previously featured in Guinness book of world records and they also have more than a thousand ways of cooking their favorite fish – the milkfish.

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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Dodda Alada Mara: Bangalore’s 400 year old Banyan Wonder

The gorgeous root structures of Dodda Alada Mara (Big Banyan Tree)

The garden city of Bangalore might have seen massive urbanization leading to increasing temperatures, water shortage and most of all appallingly slow traffic, but I still love the fact that it has a lot of green lung spaces that are somehow managing to offset the damage. These green spaces not only provide us much needed oxygen, they are also so pleasing to our senses. One such green space that is not only relaxing for the body, mind and soul, but one that leaves us totally stupefied is Dodda Alada Mara, a giant Banyan tree located on the outskirts of Bangalore.

Video Note: Watch the above video in 4K if possible to get a virtual tour of this Banyan wonder in full 4K resolution. Photos were not giving justice to its sheer magnanimity and hence this video. Hopefully, it gives you a true feel of this place.

Dogs enjoy a relaxing Sunday at Dodda Alada Mara, Karnataka

Dodda Alada Mara (which literally translates into Big Banyan Tree) is a 400 year old Banyan tree that is located in the village of Ketohalli, a little distance away from the busy Mysore road. Over the years, this single tree, which is still growing has spread itself to an area of 3 acres, making itself one of the largest of its kind.

Dodda Alada Mara's roots take position everywhere

It has been 20 years since I have started living in Bangalore, but this was the first time I saw this tree up close. The funny thing is that I have visited the nurseries on the Doddaladamara road a good many times, but somehow managed to give this Banyan wonder a miss. And this time when I visited it, I was very happy that I did.

Man on a phone at Dodda Aladamara

Not only does it offer a great day trip or picnic from Bangalore, it also makes for an interesting pit stop when you are either taking the Mysore road for a weekend getaway or if you are headed towards Manchinebele Dam, Savanadurga, Shivagange or Antaragenge. The Dodda Alada Mara is a well maintained campus that offers facilities such as parking, toilets, etc. There are shops and restaurants located right opposite it so you are never far away from food and beverages. There is a small temple being constructed in the middle of it, so you can offer your prayers there too.

Big Banyan Tree and its many roots, Bangalore, Karnataka

There is no entry fee and the place is open all days between 8 AM and 5 PM. The only thing to worry about are the monkeys who steal food packets and fruits from the visitors. As long as you are not carrying any open food, you should not have any trouble from the monkeys. There are a lot of chairs in the campus for you to sit there and soak in its relaxed aura.

Dodda Alada Mara - a popular weekend picnic spot for Bangaloreans

How to get there:
Head straight on Mysore road and when you come to the traffic light next to Raja Rajeshwari Dental and Medical College, turn right to a small road that leads you directly onto a railway crossing. Dodda Aladamara is about 7 kms away from this railway crossing. There are a lot of nurseries located on this road and it might be a great place to stop by if you are interested in gardening.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Baya Weaver Nests with Babies: Another Monsoon Magic in Mother Nature

Baya Weavers and their nests near Manchinebele Dam, Karnataka

Last Sunday, I was out on a relaxed morning motorcycle ride through the quieter and greener countryside roads of Karnataka. I was headed towards Savanadurga via the Dodda aladamara and Manchinebele dam route when I spotted this very appealing dirt track leading to the top of a nearby hill. The dirt track turned out to a dead end after a bit, but it led me to this tree by a small stream that had an active baya weaver colony with their famous well woven nests.


Video Note: Watch the video in 4K for best quality and for all the details. Shot on Google Pixel 2 XL Phone.

This weaver nest colony piqued the interest of the birdwatcher in me and off I went closer to them. I could see both the male (bright yellow) and female (Dull dirty yellow grey) species of this Baya Weaver bird busy fluttering in and out of their nests. But, I was kind of stupefied by the incessant tweeting and chirping of the birds and that’s when it suddenly struck me. The monsoon season is when the Baya weaver gives birth to her young ones and the chatter that I could hear near the tree were actually the little ones shouting for food or for their parent’s attention. The baya weaver birds kept going in and out of the nests. May be, they were feeding them or taking care of them.

A Baya Weaver Colony in rural Karnataka

These well engineering nests that are made of a combination of grains, clay, mud, twigs and leaves are a sight to behold and to actually see a full colony with birds fluttering in and out and the sound of the young weaver chicks is more than what I could have asked for. The birdwatcher and the nature lover in me definitely returned happy. If you like such birdwatching, keep an eye for their nests next to water sources on your next trip to rural India.

For those who wish to know, the Baya Weaver, is found all across the Indian subcontinent and their nests are found especially on thorny trees near water sources. They breed during the monsoons and it is the males who build these well engineered nests.

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