August 2019 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Offbeat Goa: 5 Best Monsoon Experiences

Best Monsoon Experiences in Goa

We all love Goa for its beaches, beer, parties, flea markets, churches and sea food, but do you know that there is a side to Goa that is equally beautiful, if not more. I am talking about the tropical forests, national parks and mountains of Goa that are a part of the biodiversity hotspot called the ‘Western Ghats’. This part of Goa is a hot bed of adventure during the monsoons when this belt is drenched by plentiful rains and thus making the alive ecosystem go into hyperactive mode.

These are 5 of the best monsoon experiences in Goa that you should indulge in during this monsoon season.

1) Go on a motorcycle ride through Chorla Ghat

Motorcycling through the lush green Western Ghats of India during the monsoons

Beautiful butterflies, rare wildlife species, panoramic green vistas, stunning jungle walks and umpteen waterfalls adorn this nature hot spot. Add to it winding mountain roads with hairpins and waterfall crossings and you have a dream motorcycle holiday destination. Chorla ghat is all this and more. Located in the lush Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats, Chorla ghat is located at the intersection of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The lush omnipresent nature, the mist on the roads and the consistent pitter patter keep you company during your monsoon ride here.

2) Try your luck on a delightful casino cruise

How about going on a luxury river cruise when it is raining? Not only do you get to see Goa from a different perspective, you get to enjoy the rains from a different vantage point and last, but not the least, you get to indulge in some gambling at one of the few casinos of India. You heard me right! Yes, you can legally gamble in India and that too at a popular holiday destination such as Goa. And one of the most popular monsoon ideas in Goa is to gamble when you float on the mighty Mandovi river in a lovely cruise boat.

Be it baccarat, roulette, andar bahar, poker, black jack, mang patta, Indian Rummy, Indian flush, slot machines or any of the other games, these casino cruises offer you innumerable avenues to spend your money while living in some luxury and enjoying some lovely monsoon spectacles from on top of the river. Big Daddy Casino, Deltin Royale, Casino Pride and Deltin Caravela are some of the popular casino cruise boats of Goa.

3) Trek through lush tropical forests that lead to pristine waterfalls

The pool at the bottom of Dudhsagar Falls, Goa

Tropical jungle treks and abundant water is the norm in the Western Ghats. One of the famous waterfall treks in Goa is the one that leads to the mighty Dudhsagar falls that literally falls like a sea of milk from the heavens above. This trek crisscrossing railways tracks, jungles and mountain streams is best experienced during the monsoons when the waterfall is in full flow and the picture perfect green views are legendary. A couple of points on this trek offer the perfect view of the waterfall, the dense Western Ghats and the train that periodically passes right next to the waterfall. For those who cannot trek, you can opt to take a jeep through Mollem National Park and head straight to the bottom of the waterfalls.

Other popular waterfall treks in Goa are the ones on Chorla ghat, Hivre falls, Arvalem falls, Netravali falls, Valpoi waterfall, Tambdi Surla falls, Kuskem falls and Charavane waterfalls.

4) Cycle in the rain through cashew plantations

Cycling through the green roads of Goa

Most of Goa’s forests and national parks are flanked by beautiful plantations and spice gardens that make for a lush and aromatic getaway. Since most trails here are narrow, it is best explored on a bicycle. That way, you can experience the beauty of the cashew plantations, the paddy fields, the small streams, the rich birdlife and a quaint village atmosphere, slowly as you ride in the rain. This is as romantic and authentic as a rural monsoon holiday can get.

5) Soak in nature’s Dr Salim Ali Bird sanctuary

Cormorant at Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary, Goa

An estuarine mangrove habitat lies on the Western tip of the offbeat Chorao island along Goa’s Mandovi river. This mangrove forest is home to a diverse ecosystem of birds, crabs, mudskippers, plants and flowers. Herons, bittens, avocets, fiddler crabs, mudskippers and a whole bunch of water birds can be seen on this island. This island and the bird sanctuary make it a perfect place for solitude seekers, nature lovers, bird watchers and water lovers. Go here during the early hours of the morning to revel in the divine sounds of mother nature.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Tips on How to Travel as Lightly as Possible

Packing for a gap year trip

Travel is a wonderful experience; the old cliché is true - traveling broadens the mind. However, if you don’t prepare properly beforehand then traveling can end up being stressful and uncomfortable. The following travel tips can be used by any traveler who wants to take a load off and travel as light as possible.

Find a Smaller Suitcase

Perhaps the simplest thing you can do to travel light, other than not bringing any luggage at all, is to find a more compact suitcase that enables you to easily carry your clothes and other luggage in a smaller package. A smaller suitcase will usually mean less room (although there are some suitcases that are remarkably efficient in terms of space usage), but this in itself is a good thing if you are trying to travel light.

When you have only a limited amount of physical space to work with, it forces you to think more carefully about how you use whatever space is available. Only permitting yourself to work with a smaller volume of space means that you will have to travel light.

Use a Packing List

The bare essentials of travel

Many of us will begin packing our holiday bag by gathering up all the obvious essentials. After that, we go through our wardrobe and pick out the things that we think we will need. This is a perfectly logical way of approaching your holiday packing, but it is not a perfect method. Even if you rub your eyes over everything that you own, you will inevitably, and literally, overlook something.

A much better approach, and one that minimizes the chances of your forgetting something is to use a packing list. As the name suggests, this is simply a checklist of everything that you think you will need to bring with you on holiday. Once you have put together your list of what you need, it is much easier to check both it and your luggage to make sure that you have remembered to bring everything with you.

Only Pack the Clothes You Will Need

A common packing mistake when preparing for a vacation or business trip is to try and account for all situations. If you are going on a relatively long trip, it is tempting to pack a set of clothes for every eventuality. However, this is rarely necessary and usually just means that you end up bringing a whole bunch of stuff that you don’t need.

Instead, do some research before you leave. Check what the weather forecast is for the time you will be there, as well as how likely the weather is to deviate from the forecast. In some places, the weather is very easy to predict and the forecasts are reliable. However, there are some places where the weather is more unpredictable. If you need to pack clothes for other weather conditions, try and pack as few as you can.

This is especially important when it comes to footwear. It is well worth investing in a pair of shoes specifically for traveling that is lightweight and resilient. Unless you need specialized shoes for the terrain or activities you are expecting to encounter on holiday, try to stick to only one or two pairs of shoes in total.

Prioritize Lightweight Items

How to pack for day trips

If you are traveling somewhere cold and wet, the temptation is to bring big thick clothes with you that will obviously keep you very warm. The drawback is that these clothes often require a significant portion of the space you have available in your suitcase. Instead of bulking out your luggage with bulky clothes, look for lightweight alternatives.

If you are planning a backpacking holiday and won’t be staying in a hotel or similar, you will inevitably need to bring more equipment with you than you would otherwise. However, if you shop around you can find what you need without adding too much to your overall weight. For example, a backpacking tent should be lightweight, otherwise, it will limit the amount of traveling you can do in a day.

Wear Your Largest Items

If there are any large items that you need to bring with you for your travels, a simple way of minimizing the impact they have on your overall space is to simply wear them as you travel. Of course, this won’t always be feasible, but it is a simple and effective tip you can use with many types of bulkier clothes.

Don’t Pack Laundry Items

Another simple way of reducing the number of clothes that you need to bring with you is to do some laundry while you are there. Washing the clothes you bring with you means that you can wear them again, meaning you won’t need to pack as many with you. Obviously, make sure that there are laundry facilities available at your destination.

However, if you end up having to pack a whole bunch of extra stuff just for doing your laundry, this will negate the benefits of not bringing extra clothes with you. Naturally, if the extra clothes take up less space and weigh less, you should just bring them instead.

Traveling light means that will be more comfortable and have greater freedom. The more stuff you bring with you, the more you will need to remember and the greater the chances of something going missing. Once you have some experience under your belt, traveling light will become second nature.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

The Traditional Lacquer Artisans and Toy Makers of Kutch

The innocent smile of a Nirona Kid, Gujarat, India

India’s cultural heritage is so rich that it sometimes boggles my mind. A case in point is the traditional art of making lacquerware. Lacquer, which finds its roots in French, Latin, Arabic and Persian is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit word ‘laksha’, which represents the number 100,000, the lac insect (because of their enormous ‘laksha’ numbers) and the scarlet resinous secretion that is produces. It is interesting how this simple art form using lacquer evolved in ancient India, China and Persia. Each of these three mega civilizations had their own form of making lacquer ware and then through trade (silk route, spice route, etc.), they picked up tips from others and improvised on their crafts.

Pakistani art form lives in Nirona, Kutch - handmade lacquerware

What we see today in our modern world is a sum of all these worldwide improvements. But, somewhere amidst all this modernization lie some hidden pockets where artisans still use traditional techniques and tools to build their craft. One such hidden cultural heritage of India are the traditional lacquer artisans and toy makers of Kutch, who might even be the forefathers of toymaking in Channapatna, Karnataka, another heritage hotspot of India.

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

Located today in a tiny village of Kutch called Nirona, these artisans are Hindus who migrated from Pakistan to Kutch many centuries back. Theirs is a family craft that has been passed on for many generations. Due to tough living conditions, remote location and lack of money and exposure, they hardly modernized their tools unlike the others who apparently learnt their craft and have mechanized the entire process. Which means that they still create their crafts using basic tools that they themselves have built by hand. The entire setup resembles a vice to hold the wood, a wooden rod based manual belt drive to turn the wood and metal based cutting and shaping tools.

Women from Nirona village, Kutch

Through these traditional and ancient techniques and tools, they create beautiful kitchen ware, toys, puppets and many other wooden decorative items. While the men in this family create the tools and the craft, it is the women who do the hard work of cutting wood, making the laak resin, making of natural colours using natural stones and materials and the making of adhesives using the gum of the babool tree. The end result of the efforts of the men and women of this family are natural wooden products that are look great, feel smooth to touch and that are an outcome of our ancient cultural heritage.

The lacquerware artists of Nirona, Kutch

From the outside, this Hindu toy making family look as colorful as the other people of Kutch, but they have a slightly different story to tell. If you happen to be visiting Kutch on your Gujarat holiday or if you are on a culture and heritage trail through Kutch, do not miss the opportunity to interact with these traditional lacquer artisans and toy makers of Kutch. Their humility, story and crafts deserve to be shared with the world.

The innocent smile of a Nirona Kid, Gujarat, India

How to reach here:

The nearest airport is Bhuj, which has daily flights from Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad. Bhuj to Nirona should be about 60 kms and you can cover this distance in an hour by road. Local buses are available, though it is best to have your own mode of transportation if you wish to explore nearby villages.

Bhuj also has a railway station that has good connectivity with the rest of the country.

Bhuj also enjoys good road connectivity with the rest of the country.

Where to stay:

If you like traditional homestays, stay with the locals in their traditional homes in Nirona village. This will allow you to be in the midst of all the action while getting to experience the authentic life of this creative village.

If you prefer luxury, stay at Rann Utsav tent city or any of the many properties located in Dhordo. If you prefer beach luxury, opt to stay at the Vijay Vilas palace.

If you like city hotels, opt to stay at Bhuj.

Portrait of a Kutchi man from Nirona, Gujarat, India

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) The family schooled sound engineers of Kutch who turn scrap into music

2) Rogan art, the 300 year old art form of Kutch

3) White Rann salt desert

4) Bhirandiyara village, known for its embroidery

5) Mandvi beach

6) Rann Utsav tent city

7) Gandhi nu gram weaving village

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Thursday, August 08, 2019

Yala National Park: Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Gem

The Sri Lankan Leopard walks on the jeep track and towards us

It has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. It is one of the 70 important bird areas in Sri Lanka. It harbours 215 bird species including 6 endemic species of Sri Lanka. It is a treasure trove when it comes to an overall wildlife experience. I am talking about Yala National Park, Sri Lanka’s second largest national park that borders the Indian Ocean to the south of the country.

All pumped up Indian Pitta

Home to many ancient civilizations, Yala and its surrounding forest has existed for over a million years and this legacy can be seen in its rich flora and fauna. Exotic wildlife such as the land monitor lizard, Sri Lankan elephant. Sri Lankan sloth bear, Golden palm civet, Sri Lankan leopard, Red slender loris, Fishing cat, mugger crocodile, Sri Lankan grey hornbill, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, Crimson fronted barbet, black-capped bulbul, blue-tailed bee eater, brown-capped babbler, Sri lankan flying snake, Wiegmann’s agama, Bahir’s fan throated lizard, common mormon butterfly and many others can be found here.

Land Monitor lizard hanging on the tree trunk

A wildlife safari in Yala National park gives you a sneak peek into its many diverse riches that could be anything from a dancing peacock, sunbathing crocodile, strutting leopard, social langurs, colorful butterflies, bright birds to its majestic elephant herds. The longer you stay inside this forest, the richer your wildlife experience becomes. And this experience is different and unique at different times of the day. And that’s what makes this place so special.

Sri Lankan Grey Langaur - A mother and her baby

Yala was once part of King Ravana’s kingdom and it was an important location on the sea-faring route of Sri Lanka. Today, it is a safe haven for Sri Lankan wildlife and is a paradise for all kinds of nature and wildlife enthusiasts. I have been to Yala National park on 3 separate trips and have absolutely enjoyed each stay thoroughly. I personally feel that the true colours of Yala can be experienced during the rains when the denizens of the forest are celebrating the abundance in the nature around them.

A serious looking Green Bee Eater

Whatever season you choose to visit Yala in, it is bound to blow your mind with its diversity and depth of animal and bird sightings. If you are going to Sri Lanka on a holiday and if you happen to enjoy wildlife holidays, then Yala National Park has to be an important part of your Sri Lankan holiday itinerary. It is Sri Lanka’s wildlife gem and I absolutely love the place.

A mighty tusker

Things to keep in mind while visiting Yala National Park

1) Days can be usually warm and humid. Do ensure to carry your sun protection hear and water.

2) Do remember to stay quiet to get the best wildlife experience.

3) Do carry mosquito repellents to combat the mosquitoes that might pay you a visit during the evening and night.

4) Do not get outside your safari vehicle unless and until your forest guide tells you to.

5) Carry beach wear when visiting Yala National Park so that you can enjoy its beaches at its southern extremes.

A peacock just finishing its unsuccessful mating dance

Best season to visit:

Yala national park is open all through the year. If rich wildlife sighting is on your mind, the dry summer months from Feb to May would be fabulous. If you like lush nature and rainfall drama, visit during the monsoons. For a relaxed and pleasant time, visit during the winter months.

Malabar Pied Hornbill at Yala National Park

How to reach here:

The closest international airport to Yala National Park is the Mattala Rajapaksa international airport near Hambantota, but due to extremely low number of flights, it has been dubbed as the world’s emptiest international airport. If you find a flight operating to this airport, Yala National Park is just an hour or so away.

A Leopard's glaring look

The other more popular option is to fly into Colombo international airport and do a road trip to Yala National Park. While one route is the coastal route (Colombo –> Galle –> Unawatuna – Tangalle –> Hambantota –> Yala), the other is the mountain highlands route (Colombo –> Kithulgula –> Nuwara Eliya –> Ella –> Buttala –> Yala). Both routes are about 700 kms long and should take you about 12 to 14 hours.

Common Kingfisher at Yala National Park

Where to stay:

If you don’t mind shelling out a bit of moolah, stay at the beautiful beach side properties inside Yala National Park.

For a unique experience, stay inside tree houses in the periphery of Yala National Park.

The famous crocodile of Yala National Park

For budget, yet luxury accommodation, opt to stay in and around Thissamaharama lake.

Changeable Hawk Eagle at Yala National Park

Nearby Tourist Attractions:

1) Thissamaharama Lake, a great destination for birding and relaxation

2) The beautiful beach destination of Arugam Bay

The eyes of Changeable Hawk Eagle at Yala National Park

3) Horton plains National Park for grasslands, mountains and waterfalls

4) The beach destination of Tangalle

5) Rawana Ella waterfalls, one of the tallest waterfalls of Sri Lanka

Land Monitor Lizard enjoying the rains at Yala

6) The mountains and tea estates of Nuwara Eliya

7) Sinharaja rainforest for a rare rainforest nature experience

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Monday, August 05, 2019

Monsoons in Malnad Countryside: A Photo Story

A Malnad Countryside view during the monsoons

Monsoon in the Western Ghats is nothing short of a dream come true for nature, waterfall, rain. dirt biking and trekking lovers and photographers. The dark menacing clouds seem to be always forming some kind of drama in the sky. The surroundings are clean and always dressed in fresh green. The consistent pitter patter washes the air and the earth and leads to an abundance of growth from all quarters. In short, the entire view and experience is nothing short of magical.

As the monsoons have again picked up in the Western Ghats of Karnataka after a long gap, my heart yearns to be back in the Western Ghats to discover more dirt biking trails, to see more waterfalls in full flow and to enjoy the rains in one of the best places on our planet. Here are some monsoon scenes from my last monsoon trip to the Western Ghats a few weeks back. This trip was to the gorgeous countryside of Malnad. Hopefully, you will get a feel of the monsoon magic through this photo story. Can’t wait to return to the ghats!

Above photo: Beautiful monsoon atmosphere in a remote Malnad village with the Kaginahare forests in the background.

Monsoon magic and dirt tracks - perfect for a monsoon ride in the Western Ghats

Above photo: The dirt trail that leads to Malnad home stay in Athihalli village that is tucked somewhere between Sakleshpur and Bisle Ghat.

Beautiful monsoon atmosphere in Malnad, Karnataka

Above photo: Muddy waters, fresh green and dark clouds – the three common spectacles of the monsoons in the Western Ghats.

Gorgeous Mookana Mane Waterfalls of Malnad, Karnataka

Above photo: Mookanamane Falls, a hidden waterfall in the Malnad region of Karnataka.

Monsoon scenes as seen enroute to Mallalli Falls, Coorg

Above photo: Dark monsoon clouds descending on the route between Mallalli falls and Bisle Ghat.

Monsoon Scenes from Coorg

Above photo: Indian villages and their surrounding farms are in the thick of action during the monsoons.

Forests and green rolling hills as seen during my Malnad Motorcycle ride

Above photo: Clouds form all kinds of drama on the way to the Yedekumeri railway bridge, one of the iconic railway bridges of India and part of Karnataka’s green route.

Mallalli Falls - Prettiest waterfall of Coorg

Above photo: The gorgeous Mallalli falls surrounded by lush forests and moisture laden monsoon clouds.

Lush greenery all across Malnad

Above photo: The rolling hills of Kaginahare in the background and coffee and pepper plantations in the foreground.

A Monsoon Motorcycle Ride to the Western Ghats in Malnad, Karnataka

Above photo: A monsoon pitstop at the border of Coorg and Malnad, two magical monsoon destinations of Karnataka.

Dirt road leading to Yedekumeri Railway track, Karnataka

Above photo: Dirt tracks turn to slush during the rains and offer the perfect platform for some dirt and slush biking. This particular trail leads to one of the prettiest treks of Karnataka.

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Saturday, August 03, 2019

Iran’s Maranjab: A Scenic Pit Stop on Ancient Silk Road

Leaping high on the salt desert of Maranjab, Iran

It is one of the most beautiful desert areas of Iran with a stunning combination of massive sand dunes and long stretches of salt flats. It was an integral part of the ancient silk road and is home to a 415 year old caravanserai that used to host traders and travelers during their long and arduous journey in the years gone by. I am talking about the Maranjab desert and the Maranjab caravanserai that all visitors can experience during their Iran holiday and re-live some of the ancient silk road moments.

Rolling sand dunes of Maranjab Desert, Iran

Even after 415 years, the Maranjab caravanserai and its fortified brick walls and watchtowers still exist in all its ancient glory. May be, Maranjab, which is absolutely in the middle of the wide desert corridor of Iran, was chosen as a location for a caravanserai in order to provide food and shelter to the tired travelers and their animals and thus keep the trade on the silk road alive and kicking. Watchtowers and fortifications were built around the caravanserai to protect the travelers from bandits. In simple words, it was an important pit stop on the ancient silk road.

What is truly awesome about the Maranjab caravanserai is that travelers can get food and shelter here even today. The facilities are simple and basic (bedding is basic and water is salty), but the experiences are priceless as the caravanserai has not seen a lot of modernization. During the day, you can go about dune surfing and off-roading in the desert, while in the cold night, you can huddle around a fire drinking tea and watching the absolutely magnificent starlit desert sky. In simple words, you can literally transport yourself 400 years back and visualize yourself as a traveler traveling on the ancient silk road and stopping at this caravanserai for some well deserved in this tough desert terrain.

Stunning Blue Mosque near Kashan, Iran

Some of the top highlights of this Maranjab desert tour experience are the rolling sand dunes of Maranjab desert, the shiny white Dasht-e-Kavir salt lake (similar to White Rann of the Great Rann Of Kutch in Gujarat, India and Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia), the gorgeous shrine of Hilal Ibn Ali, the Nooshabad underground city (though it located closer to Kashan and not to Maranjab) and staying at the caravanserai. Each of these top attractions of Maranjab are located about 30 to 90 minutes from each other and can only be accessed through a 4 wheel drive and a knowledgeable local guide or driver.

Desert sky during sunset at Maranjab, Iran

If you wish to pack desert adventure and ancient history together, then Maranjab is your place. It’s amazing natural habitat of sand dunes, salt deserts and shrub forests, a 400 year old caravanserai, its importance on the ancient silk road and its beautiful traditional villages on its frills are enough and more reason for a fabulous desert holiday to Iran’s Maranjab. I would recommend this place with many thumbs up!

Walking carefully on the salt flats of Maranjab, Iran

How to reach here:

Maranjab is located right in the middle of Qom and Kashan, though it is closer to Kashan than Qom. It is located about a few hours north of Kashan, though it takes a much longer while to explore the different attractions in this desert.

The nearest airport would be Tehran. From Tehran, you can either take a bus, train or drive to Kashan. From Kashan, you can either rent a car with a driver or go with an authorized local tour operator.

Pink Maranjab Sky

Where to stay here:

If you want a taste of history and rustic life, I would recommend staying at the Maranjab caravanserai itself. Stay is basic, but you can be in the thick of things. If you crave luxury, but wish for a caravanserai experience, then you should stay at Abouzeidabad Caravanserai hotel

If you prefer homestays, Abyaneh, Na’in and Verzaneh would have plenty of options.

If you want something more upmarket and comfortable, it is best that you stay either at Kashan or Isfahan and make day trips from there.

Entering the blue mosque near Maranjab, Iran

Important things to keep in mind:

1) Maranjab has typical desert weather. So expect it to be hot during the day and cold during the night. Make sure you carry a good pair of sunglasses, enough water with you at all times and clothes that can allow you to handle the temperature extremes.

2) Phone and GPS connectivity can be non-existent in some parts of the desert and since there is a high scope of losing your way here, it is best to go in the company of a knowledgeable local guide and also have a local desert map handy just to know your bearings.

3) Usually SUVs and 4 wheel drives are preferred on this desert terrain. Do ensure that the vehicle that you use is in decent condition and has a spare tyre for emergencies.

The salt desert highway of Maranjab, Iran

Nearby Tourist Attractions:

1) Verzaneh sand dunes, one of the tallest sand dunes in Iran

2) Kashan, an architectural beauty

3) The mountain village of Abyaneh, where time stands still

4) Isfahan, Iran’s most culturally rich city

5) Na’in, a beautiful city located by the desert

6) Dasht-e-Kavir, a beautiful salt desert

7) Kharanaq, a photogenic mud brick village

8) Yazd, an ancient city known for its wind towers, Zoroastrianism roots and desserts

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

4 Important Health Insurance Facts and Tips for Travelers

Health Insurance Facts and Tips for Travelers

Traveling is supposed to be a time to unwind and disconnect, but one thing you can’t neglect is your health. The truth is that your body doesn’t care if you’re on vacation or not, and being in a foreign country can sometimes increase your chances of coming down with something. Then there’s the reality of having to deal with a whole different healthcare system. Thankfully, this is why travel health insurance exists. But you have to understand how it works and its limitations before you leave. Here are some important health insurance facts and tips for travelers.

Make Sure that You Read the Policy in Detail

This may sound obvious, but it’s important that you read your policy and understand what type of coverage you’re actually getting. Some travel health insurance plans will have limitations, so you have to know what those are first. This also goes for people who are getting their insurance from work or their credit card. Check for how long it is valid, or if there are some age restrictions. You should also know if you’ll have to pay the expenses first before they reimburse you or if they’ll pay upfront.

Honesty is Key

One of the most common reasons why many claims end up being rejected is because people either omitted some details or flat out lied when filling out their medical questionnaire. That’s why it’s essential that you are as truthful as possible and consider talking with your doctor if you’re confused about anything. Also, some policies have what is called a “stability period”. If your medication or health conditions have changed since taking out the policy, it is your responsibility to let them know.

Understand the Local Healthcare System

You also have to consider where you’re going and how much you can expect to pay for procedures. And don’t be fooled by places with seemingly cheap healthcare, like China for instance. If you’re going to China for an extended period of time, we strongly suggest you get more than just travel health insurance and get a great Chinese health insurance plan.

While some procedures in China may seem cheap by American standards, major surgeries can get really costly. And healthcare in public hospitals, while being adequate, is very different than what you would get at other establishments. Services like China Expat Health will connect you with multiple insurers and compare them so you can find the best plan. If you want more details about their services, contact them for health insurance in China.

Type of Accident Could be an Issue

Many people might not be aware of this, but the type of accident and the circumstances surrounding it could have an effect on whether you’ll be covered or not. In some cases, if it was deemed that you suffered an injury by engaging in risky activities, you might not be covered.

If you like to engage in extreme, or even not so extreme sports like scuba diving for instance, some policies won’t cover you in case of an accident. Others won’t cover you if there was alcohol involved. So there again, it’s very important that you review your insurance policy in detail down to the fine print to know if some activities could end up excluding you from coverage. There are some cases where you could also upgrade to cover you for adventurous activities, but it will cost more.

Your health is important, and you have to be extra vigilant when you’re in a whole different country. Make sure that you get the proper coverage before you leave, and know exactly to which extent you’ll be protected.

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Chitkul: Himalayan village with cleanest air in India

Chitkul - the last village on the Hindustan Tibet highway

It goes by many titles. Some call it the ‘last inhabited village on the Hindustan-Tibet highway’. Some refer to it as the place with the cleanest air in India. Others call it the ‘gateway to Kailash’. Whatever its title may be, this tiny village in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh packs a serious punch when it comes to snow capped Himalayan mountain peaks, beautiful meadows, wooden houses, farm land, apple orchards and a pristine blue glacier fed river. I am talking about Chitkul, the first village in the Baspa valley and the last village on the Hindustan-Tibet highway.

Chitkul and the snow capped Himalayas

The last point on the Kinnaur Kailash parikrama circuit, Chitkul is a tiny Himalayan village that is situated at an elevation of 11,320 feet above MSL in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. Flanked by mighty snow capped mountains of the Himalayas, this village located in the Baspa river valley is full of potato fields (these potatoes are mighty famous and fetch a pretty price), buckwheat fields, apple orchards and pretty little wooden houses. There is also a 500 year old wooden temple that is located right in the middle of this village and that enjoys a very pretty setting.

Scenic forest trail from Chitkul to Sangla

Relaxation, pure air and detox are usually on the mind for most visitors and rightly so as this beautiful Himalayan village seems to have everything from a pretty riverside, lush fields and orchards and surreal panoramas. This place is ideal for anyone thinking of a digital detox. Organic food, pristine atmosphere and long walks offer a perfect avenue to rejuvenate yourself. But, there are a bunch of people who visit this village as part of a trekking expedition. Some of them are following a religious trail, but the others are simply on an adventurous trip.

Buckwheat harvest at Chitkul, Himachal Pradesh

The remote and tough Lamkhaga pass that connects the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh with the Gangotri side of Uttarakhand is one of the more popular trekking routes here. This ancient trekking route, located to the south-east of Chitkul was the way the locals carried their temple deity to Gangotri for religious events. The other popular trekking routes around Chitkul are the Chitkul-Charang pass trek that is part of the Kinnaur Kailash parikrama circuit, the Borasu pass trek (an ancient trade route between Har Ki Doon valley of Uttarakhand and the Kinnaur valley of Himachal Pradesh), the Ranikanda meadows trek and the Baspa river trek that connects Chitkul with Raksham, Sangla and Karcham.

Trekking trail from Chitkul to Sangla by the Baspa river

You can also trek to the Rangrik Rang mountain peak, but since this peak is close to the Indo-China border, this would require special permissions. There are many other different mountain trails around Chitkul that you can also explore, but do remember to stay clear of the east of Chitkul as the Indian army camp, a few kilometers away is the last point that you can enter in this region unless you have special military permissions.

Traditional wooden houses of Chitkul

In late autumn, winter and early spring, Chitkul turns into a white fairy tale village. In August and September, the apple orchards come alive. And in October, the last potato and buckwheat harvest can be seen. In spring, wild flowers adorn the Baspa river valley and in summer, it turns into a mesmerizing hill station. Whatever be your interest and whichever time of the year you happen to visit Chitkul, this Himachali village on the extreme corner of Kinnaur district is bound to blow your mind with its pristine nature and simple, laidback life. The place is so beautiful that I would return here in a heartbeat!

That way is the riverside trekking trail from Chitkul to Sangla

How to reach here:

By road: From Shimla, head straight on the Shimla – Recong Peo highway till you arrive at Karcham, the confluence of the Sutlej and the Baspa rivers just before Recong Peo. At this junction turn right towards Sangla, Rakcham and Chitkul.

By rail: Shimla would be your nearest railway station. You can take the famous Kalka Shimla heritage train to reach here. From Shimla, you will have to go by road to Chitkul.

By air: The nearest airport would be Chandigarh. Kullu airport is also an option, though flight options would be lower. From Chandigarh, you can complete the remainder journey by road or take the train to Shimla and then drive to Chitkul.

Chitkul kids dance to traditional music

Where to stay:

If you don’t mind simple homestays and hotels, you can stay at Chitkul itself. If you want slightly better facilities, head to Sangla, Recong Peo or Kalpa.

Backpacking to Chitkul - a heavenly villages in the high Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh

Best season to visit:

Except the peak of winter, when there is extremely heavy snowfall, Chitkul can be explored the rest of the year. Apple season (August and October), spring (late February to April) and summer (May to July) are perfect to experience this Himalayan village.

Basking in the early morning sun of Chitkul, Himachal Pradesh

Nearby tourist attractions:

1) Rakcham village for its lovely riverside atmosphere

2) Kinner Kailash trek

3) Kalpa village for the Kailash view

4) Sangla village for apples during season and also for lovely views of the Kailash mountain

5) Nako village for its lake and monastery

6) Tabo village for its monastery

7) Baspa river trek, a riverine forest trek flanked by the Himalayas

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