A Rejuvenating Weekend At Shathayu Retreat, Bangalore

Imagine waking up to the melodious chirping of birds, amidst hills and greenery. To witness the chunky clouds float above a lake casting photographic reflections in it. To relax and reconnect with yourself; to experience peace and tranquility, as you take a step towards wellness with Ayurveda. Well, I’m just back with all this (and more) after spending the most relaxed weekend in a while.

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Sunrise behind the Meditation Hall at Shathayu Retreat. PC: Shathayu Retreat

I was at this beautiful location on an invitation from Shathayu Retreat, an Ayurveda & Yoga retreat set at a picturesque location, about 36 km from Bangalore. The retreat is located very close to the popular tourist destination of Nandi Hills and is just about 12ish km from the Kempegowda International Airport.

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Sunset, hillock & the entrance to the retreat. PC: Shathayu Retreat

On a fine Saturday morning, we started from Bangalore. As we crossed the toll and took a left turn, following the signboard for Nandi Betta, we left behind the sounds of highway and the hustle-bustle of the city, entering a quieter place. Following the directions on maps for the last bit, we reached at the sole structure standing in the middle of a sprawling piece of land, surrounded by hillocks on two sides. At first it looked like any other resort, but in no time we realised it was more than what meets the eyes.

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Statue of Lord Dhanvantari, at the entrance

At the entrance, one can see a huge brass statue of Lord Dhanvantari – the divine God and founder of Ayurveda. And I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is that this field of medicine is so widespread in the world attracting people from not just India, but worldwide. As the world has come to accept and recognize the potential and health benefits of Ayurveda and Yoga, I feel Shathayu Retreat is a perfect place to experience the journey to good health with it. I haven’t been to any other Ayurveda facility before, but this one surely caught my attention with its simple yet elegant architecture, location and great vibes.

After sipping on a glass of the cooling welcome drink, we went around to look around the property. The place offers a comfortable and luxury stay with options to choose from standard, deluxe and studio rooms. There’re consultation rooms with certified doctors & a number of, well-equipped, therapy rooms, with experienced, well-trained and courteous staff. The restaurant serves a decent variety of healthy food, no non-veg or liquor is served, for obvious reasons. I’m a vegetarian so this worked perfectly for me, but my husband gorged on the egg dishes (eggs are served, yes) whenever the menu had it.

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View of the little lake and resort from the hilltop. PC: Shathayu Retreat

We woke up at the crack of dawn to watch a beautiful sunrise, and needless to say, clicked a lot of pictures while admiring the play of colours in the morning sky.  So while a typical day at the retreat begins with meditation and yoga sessions facilitating a great and positive start to the day, we skipped that routine. I was more interested to go on a small hike to the rocky hill opposite the retreat. This place is also the venue for many adventure activities, like cross country race, Downhill Mountain biking, etc. Recently, the retreat was the venue for the Bangalore Mountain Festival.

I must confess, I wasn’t quite sure about what to expect before going there. But I’m so glad that the weekend turned out even better than what we had imagined. Plan a visit to Shathayu Retreat and embark on a journey to wellness with Ayurveda. Watch the magical sunrise & sunsets, eat healthy, indulge in yoga and meditation for peaceful and calmer mind, connect with your inner self, relax and just be.

 

A Late Post From Cartist – A Creative Art Festival For Car And Art Lovers

While on a trip to visit family in Pune, happened to come across Cartist – a creative automobile art festival and roadshow. So, these car and art lovers are on a road journey across India showcasing the work of talented artists. The festival provides a platform, encourages and promotes the artists, art students and creative individuals. You can read more about them on their website.

Though this is a late post about the Pune venue, the Cartists will still be journeying across India and you could catch them at their next destination.

My brother-in-law, who is a Professor at the Agriculture College of Pune told us about this colorful art festival that was happening on his college campus. The Agriculture college is a beautiful, stone building with a lovely campus. When we strolled in at the venue in the afternoon, some of the artists and art students were at work with their creative hats on, armed with brushes, colors, and paints.

If you someone who appreciates art & creativity or an artist yourself, take a look at these. If you have missed them at Pune, don’t worry they will be going to more cities in India where you could catch the artists at work or maybe participate.

For now, enjoy these pictures from the art show in Pune.

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Agriculture college campus, Pune

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Colours and creativity

 

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Artist at work

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Blooms And Blossoms: Lalbagh, Bangalore Flower Show 2017

It was a good day for a walk in the city. The day was clear and not too hot, and since I wasn’t doing anything significant (apart from lazing around on a Sunday afternoon) I decided to stroll off to the Flower Show happening in Bangalore. Every year, on the occasion of Independence Day, Lalbagh hosts a flower show. This year the garden city is celebrating the 206th flower show and it’s dedicated to the great Rashtra Kavi (national poet) Kuppali Vekatappa Puttapa who is fondly called as Kuvempu.

Flower Show Bangalore

A gallery showcasing the poet’s photographs, literary works, books, etc., can be visited. Stalls showcasing flower, fruits and vegetable arrangements can be seen around the area. You will see a huge arch welcoming the visitors to the flower show. Do look out for the 3-D visualization of the poet’s portrait on the left-hand side as you walk inside the arch.

The road from the arch leads to the glass house which is inside the Botanical Garden. Here is where the many beautiful flowers and plants are exhibited. One can see a huge replica of Kuvempu’s house made out of flowers at the glasshouse. There are beautiful flower arrangements inside the glasshouse. One can also see Cymbidium flowers here, that are grown in Sikkim and Darjeeling and which are originally from Australia and Netherlands. My favourite was the Gerberra and Pansy gardens and the colourful cacti pots.

Flower Show Bangalore

Outside the glasshouse, several stalls and booths are set up. Stroll past these or shop for the varieties of seeds, plants, gardening products and more. I chatted up with some of the exhibitors who gave informative insights about agriculture, horticulture, along with the unique/useful products they were exhibiting. For the first time, I tasted Areca tea and Stevia leaf (Stevia is a natural sweetener and a healthier alternative to sugar).

Later, I strolled off to the Peninsular Gneissic Rock Hill or commonly known as the Lalbagh Rock or Lalbagh Hill. This rock hill is a geological structure that is identified to be billions of years old, by the Geological Survey of India. A tower is erected on the hill top and a placard next to it suggests that it is one of the four watchtowers built by Kempegowda marking the predicted limits of the Bangalore town.

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The Lalbagh Flower Show is celebrated for 10 days. It was inaugurated on the 4th of August 2017 and will conclude on the 15th of August 2017. The flower show is open to visitors between 9 am – 6 pm. The entry fee per person is Rs. 60 (on weekdays it is priced less) for adults and Rs. 20 for children.

So are you going there? Tell me your observation if you have already been there.

Experiencing the Kerala Monsoons at Wayanad

The nonchalant rains made the drive on the private roads through the tea estates of Wayanad slightly bumpy and rough. Had it not been the wee hours of the day, the lush tea estates would have proved to be a pleasant distraction. We were in Wayanad to see ‘Splash’ – a Monsoon Carnival organized by Kerala Tourism and Wayanad Tourism Organization. This week long Monsoon Carnival includes fun and exciting rain games and sports like mud football, volley ball, off-roading jeep rallies, marathon, and more. There was so much excitement and enthusiasm in the air as the vibrant town relishes the rains.

God’s own country Kerala is known for its beauty but the monsoons enhance it manifold and one should definitely travel there to experience the lovely Kerala monsoons. The monsoon carnival gave me that opportunity, as I had visited Kerala a couple of times before, but this time and this place was a totally new experience and it won’t be too much to say I enjoyed every bit of it.

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Lush Tea Estates

Monsoon travel is not for everyone, true, but it opens up the treasure trove of beauty of a place that is otherwise hidden. Wayanad forests have been known to be inhabited for thousands of years and many regions still flaunt the rich thickets even today. And so, you can imagine how beautiful such a landscape would look when pampered by the rains. For a traveler who seeks to experience the true essence of a place, travel for a meaning with an open mind – I think, it couldn’t get any better than this, honestly.

Our stay in Wayanad was arranged at the Greenex Eco Resorts – one of the best places I have stayed at so far. A simple and polite man, Mr. Thomas, received us and drove skillfully through the bumpy roads while chatting and sharing some interesting bits of information about the place, the weather, and likes.

Stay At Greenex Resort

It was still dark when we had checked in.  But later during the day, I was so happy to see that the resort was completely set amidst the trees and coffee plantations. It took me some time to get acquainted with directions and paths amidst so many trees. All the cottages here have different themes and each had lovely names like Tulip, Petunia, and Marigold. Ours was called Orchid. There’s a treehouse for the more adventurous ones. And the best part is this place also has a dorm! With all the sprawling greens, the view from our cottage was quite refreshing.

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Our cottage – Orchid, with four rooms. We had occupied the bottom right.

Set amidst thickets of greens, the plush cottages are all solar powered – a great mix of nature, luxury and technology. The swimming pool here is a natural pool that uses bio-filters and zero chemicals. They also had an organic farm, most of the fruits and veggies that you will eat here would be straight from the farm! Isn’t that cool?

A small lake here allows you to go rafting on the traditional bamboo rafts. It is a relatively small stretch but quite a refreshing one. While you row your way, more often than not pretty swans and ducks swim past you.

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On entering our cottage I couldn’t help but notice how meticulously it was designed, and how spacious, tidy, and minimally but aesthetically decorated it was. We made ourselves some coffee and chatted with the background sound of soft, morning rain that was falling outside the window.

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After a while, as a result of the soothing environment coupled with the weariness of travel, I dozed off. At the break of dawn, suddenly I woke up to a loud knock on the window. It was really loud and we wondered why on earth would anyone knock at the window and not the door?! We pushed the curtain aside – and the doer of the action – a beautiful bird, got startled and took a flight hurriedly. We burst into laughter, wide awake now. The pretty birdie kept coming back for some time, and I did manage to get a pic. Over the three days of stay, we had more of those pretty visitors, who just made us go WOW! each time.

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The visitor who came knocking at the window 🙂

I absolutely loved staying at Greenex Farms. I like quiet places, greenery and close-to-the-nature feel. If you are like me, you’d know what I mean. From my personal experience, here’s what I’d say the pros and cons of the place are:

PROS

  • It’s absolutely safe for solo travelers. And therefore, safe for solo women travelers, as well. However, it is always one’s own responsibility to be careful and not careless enough to let the guard down.
  • Greenex is one of those very few resorts which are pet-friendly, and with all the open space to run around and the channel to swim in, rest assured the pets are gonna love the place too!
  • Cut-off from the bustling town, and surrounded by thickets, the place is absolutely peaceful. I found it great for writing. So if you practice any form of art, write, read or do yoga, you will be happy to be there.
  • The staff is polite and prompt. And the management is very helpful and friendly.
  • There are a lot of activities to do within the premises, including nature walks, birding, rafting, indoor-outdoor games, swimming, cycling, or you could just jump into the hammocks and chill.

CONS

  • It’s thickly covered with trees, like a mini forest. You may, therefore, find insects, bugs, crawling but isn’t that obvious if you are looking for an eco-friendly place?
  • Some cottages have weak connectivity (only for certain providers) inside the cottage – like I had an Airtel connection which was weak inside the cottage but worked just fine around the other places. I also had a Jio connection that worked fine both indoors and outdoors.
  • Food is simple, clean, good, and mostly organic. I am a little selective about my food choices but all I need is clean and hygienic veg food. If you are too picky or too foodie, you may find it quite simple.
  • The natural pool is designed in a step-well kind of structure, and the central part is quite deep (I guess about 7-8 feet). So non-swimmers (like me) cannot utilize it well without inflatable tubes or swim rings. Goes without saying, make sure little kids don’t jump in the pool without an adult supervision. There’s a separate kiddie pool for them.

You can find more about Greenex Farms here.

Exploring Wayanad’s Beauty

We met the resort owner – Mr. Poyyal, an ex-Merchant Navy Officer at breakfast. He is a very friendly person who made us feel comfortable with his warm hospitality and sharp-wits. He spoke to us at length about his life on the sea, his amazing travel stories, about the resort, his ideas and vision for it, over a sumptuous breakfast.

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After a while, it stopped drizzling and sunshine sparkled over the fresh, green, rain-washed leaves. We set out to explore Wayanad. The first stop was at Pookode Lake. Nestled amidst the slopes of hills and green forests, it is the natural freshwater lake in the region. There’s an aquarium in its premises, which I didn’t visit but I’m sure those with interest, will find it worth visiting. Boating facility is also available in the lake.

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Pookode Lake

Given that the region is filled with lush tea estates, it is obviously a heaven for tea-lovers. I am not a chai person, but I don’t mind it occasionally. My sister, on the other hand, is a hardcore tea-lover and so, was naturally happy to visit the tea factory. The entire process of tea making was explained and demonstrated here, which was quite interesting and a good-to-know stuff for me.

Fun And Adventure

Ever since my arrival in Wayanad, I was lured by the sight of Chembra Peak engulfed in mist and clouds. I had made up my mind to hike up there, as soon the visit was planned. But unfortunately, one of the guides informed me that the trail was closed for trekking since the forest fire in the region last year.

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Finally got a glimpse of the Chembra Peak

Apart from trekking, Wayanad has many options for adventure sports. It was also here that I tried my first zip-line activity. At 300 meter, the zip line at Pozuthana is known to be the longest in Wayanad. Slicing through the cool air, over the verdant tea estates, suspended with the safety harness attached to the zip-line rope – I must say it was fun. The activity by arranged by Muddyboots.

While speaking to the Manager, I learned that they conduct a lot of adventure activities all around Kerala and even in the Aravallis, that includes trekking, camping, wilderness expeditions, birding, biking, zip lining, and more. I found them very professional and passionate about what they do. I think I would try my hand at another adventure activity with them sometime.

There’s so much more you can do while in Wayanad. I was short on time but there are so many other places that you can visit when you do plan a visit to Wayanad. Edakkal Caves – ancient caves with carvings from Stone Age, Soojipara Waterfalls – that is especially beautiful in the monsoon, ATV/Quad Biking, rafting, off-roading, cycling, trekking, camping, wildlife safari at wildlife sanctuaries, boating and much more.

I feel there’s so much I missed out on, and with that, I think I will go back soon to experience the trek, the wildlife, and so much more. And you?

Please watch a short video montage I have made in an attempt to capture this experience.  

Trek to the Enchanted Nagalapuram Forests

Inside Nagalapuram forest
Inside Nagalapuram forest

The best part about traversing the unpopular trails has its share of unbiased fun and the power to enjoy at your own discretion. The Nagalapuram forest trek is one such fairly uncommon, 1-day trek in the Eastern Ghats. Even at a moderate pace and stops to refill bottles or clicking photos, one can complete the ascent in about 3-4 hours. More often than not trekkers descend and camp at the base. The Nagala hill with their rocky faces and beautifully sliced gorges have levels of hills – the easiest peak being approx. 650 meter high. The trail can be trekked in several ways, by crossing the range from East to West or vice-versa, or trekking to and fro from the eastern/western side.

Getting There

The Nagalapuram village is located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, near Tirupati (a famous pilgrim place), about 90 kilometers from Chennai on NH5. However, the trek begins from the Arai village, which is around 15 km further from the Nagalapuram village. A motorable road can be taken up to the Koni reservoir, which also serves as the parking ground maintained by the local villagers. The parking fees range between Rs. 50 – Rs.200, depending on the vehicle.

We traveled from Bangalore for about 5 hours and took a pit-stop at Narayanvanam, that’s around 30 kilometers from the Arai village. After relishing on a hearty South Indian breakfast we geared up for the trek and headed towards the starting point.

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The trek begins from the open grounds near Koni reservoir

The Trek

The trek path winds up through a dense canopy of trees, gurgling waterfalls, refreshing streams, and crystal clear water pools. The rocky gorges that jut out are nothing short of a stunning piece of art. Sometimes the stretches get tricky and slippery and you need to be careful. The chasms get narrower at some points, making one hold on to dear life, like literally. It is not advisable to go without a guide, if you are an inexperienced trekker. Even if you are an experienced trekker, do avoid going alone.

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Break near the first water pool
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Crossing the cascade on the way towards the second waterpool
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Refreshing waterfall

Wandering about the thick forests, accompanied by the babbling brooks, you will see not one, not two, but three refreshing waterfalls cascading down into glorious water pools. These pools, famously known as magic pools, do not dry up even during the summers. The enchanted view gives a feeling of walking straight into some kind of storybook spot. The first two water pools are comparatively shallow, but the third water pool, the guide told, is 30 feet deep. Flowing over the course of time, the water has carved a smooth path on the surrounding rocky walls, forming a natural slide to this pool. Pro swimmers also cliff jump into this pool. Being a non-swimmer & a hydrophobic at that, I found it risky.

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Nagalapuram Forest Trek

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The third pool is near the summit and is the deepest one.

Precautions

The waterholes are considerably deep and non-swimmers, especially, need to be wary of the fatalities. During the monsoons, trekkers have to deal with leeches. Luckily for me, I went trekking in the month of May. We still encountered small stretches with ganon of leeches. The forests also house a large number of bee colonies, so dress up to cover properly from head to toe. Do not trek at night, as some stretches are slippery and narrow. Don’t be reckless or put on a false bravado – it might turn a pleasant experience into a dreadful one. Descend and pitch the tents by sundown, if you wish to camp. It took us about 4 hours to trek uphill, with all the photography & catching-up breaks. After soaking and swimming in the water to our heart’s content and eating lunch by the waterfall at the summit, we trekked downhill and pitched our tents by 5ish.

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Nagalapuram Forest Trek

Nagalapuram Forest Trek

Nagalapuram Forest Trek

Permit Required

It is especially important to visit and get yourselves registered at the Nagalapuram town police station when you are trekking on your own. Not only is it legal to sign in at the police station, but also quite essential from the safety point of view. You might as well be an experienced trekker, but safety is of prime importance.

Fitness Required

Like any other day treks, Nagalapuram trek too requires a minimum level of fitness and stamina, if you wish to enjoy it without any worry or care. And just like a huge dose of mental strength that is required when you step out of your comfort zone, you need a great deal of it during trekking as well. Knowing how to swim will certainly let you enjoy the pools without any anxiety; the non-swimmers too can indulge in it provided they take the necessary care. Always listen to your body and do not push yourself to the extremes.

Things to Carry

Carry a daypack with all the essential stuff for a day/ 2-day trek including items of clothing, toiletries, insect repellent, basic medicines, food and water. Do consider the tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats if you plan on camping. And finally, bring back whatever you are taking along, do not leave anything behind that will affect the place and the environment in any manner.

Happy trekking. Happy travels!

Beginner’s Adventure Guide to Trekking in the Himalayas

This article was originally published on B-Change

A book, a movie or simply for the sweet sake of wandering, whatever may have inspired you to plan your first trek – go for it! It’s never too late to start anything that has been on your mind for long. However, to do something you’ve never done before and because trekking in the mountains is way different from a leisure stroll, you need a fair amount of groundwork.  Inadequate preparations and half-baked knowledge can turn a great experience into an unpleasant one.

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Image by Michael Foley (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Get ready for that first memorable trek of yours, here’s how I did it.

Getting started: Once you have made up your mind for trekking, start training your body as well. Get a medical checkup done to rule out any major health issues. Hit the gym or add breathing exercises, brisk walk or a jog to your routine. Gradually set slightly higher goals and work towards achieving them. Giving up on unhealthy lifestyle choices will work great too.

Choosing the trek: Though no trek can possibly be called ‘easy’, it is very important for a beginner to choose the first trek appropriately. Many who do not consider this point often return disappointed, sometimes even without completing the trek. Walking in the mountains is not same as walking in the plains. Not everyone’s body reacts the same way to factors like difficulty level of the trail and the altitude. Therefore choose an easy trek first so that you do not risk yourself or others in any way.

Also read: 10 Best treks in the Indian Himalayas

Pack light: The key to enjoy that ‘first’ trek is to pack as light as possible. You do not want to be forever exhausted by carrying a heavy load and missing out on all the fun you came for. By the rule of thumb, pack only the things that are absolutely necessary and ditch those that you won’t even need/use in the mountains.

Pack right: The weather in the Himalayas is quite unpredictable. Check the weather forecast before you pack. The winters are especially bitter, so invest in good quality winter wears; freezing up will be no fun. To keep it light, pack a good waterproof rain jacket that will come handy on windy days and also save you from the odd rain showers. Layering is the trick for really cold days and nights. Throw in a down jacket; the nights even on a summer trek are cold. Pack the fleece/waterproof hand gloves, woolen cap, balaclava, etc., depending on the trek.

Also read: How to pack light and travel smart?

The Gear: Most of the trekking gear can be rented. Depending on your trek buy/rent trekking poles, crampons, gaiters, sleeping bags, etc. for these are going to make the trekking easy and comfortable. Get a sturdy backpack with a good shoulder and back support. Get a good pair of dark sunglasses with UV protection and sunblock/sunscreen with higher SPF.

The shoes: Since you’ll be walking most of the time and the terrain may be rugged, it is crucial that you wear the right kind of shoes. Wearing uncomfortable shoes will ruin the trek, not to mention causing pain, blisters or injuries. You don’t necessarily have to burn a hole in your pocket for the right shoes. Buy the best shoes you can afford based on comfort. Also remember to break-in the shoes well before the actual trek. Pack enough liner socks and warm wool socks ensuring fresh, dry pairs of socks are always available.

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Image Source

Fueling the body: Though you may choose an easy trek to begin with, your body is still going to use up a lot of energy while trekking. Pack some chocolates, energy bars or dried fruits (remember to keep light) that you can munch on to refuel the body. Keep a water bottle handy. Take regular sips to stay hydrated and to keep the fatigue at bay.

The pace: Everyone has a different pace of walking and it is perfectly fine. You may be the slowest of the lot and that’s okay. Remember the hare and the tortoise? You are trekking for a reason and not to race with someone. So maintain the pace you are comfortable with and build your rhythm. Do not push yourself. You may want your guide to know about it though, just so that he/she is aware and won’t get edgy.

Walking in snow/ice: The best tip for this is to – follow the guide! No one knows the place better than the locals. Walking on snow/ice is fun but it’s also challenging at the same time. You’ll develop the skill to tap the pole and gauge by the sound eventually, but until then, follow the guide and observe well. If you are not sure, do not step. Do not go to the edge of snow ever – you could be stepping a cornice. Most importantly, do not walk alone.

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Photo: By sush_makj [via Flickr]

You’re about to step out of your comfort zone and follow your heart. So remember to have fun and enjoy the trek. Explore the wilderness and the mountains to your heart’s content. Feel the wind in your hair; get some tan, watch the sun rise and set over the mountains. Be in the moment and leave all the worries behind. Create your memories for a lifetime.

Have a great first trek! 🙂

Visiting the Turtle Village of Coastal Maharashtra

“The mother turtle never meets her babies, and so she takes the utmost care to protect the eggs as she leaves them in mother nature’s lap”, Mohan – my host spoke, as we sipped on the ginger tea. Since my arrival the previous evening, he had shared many interesting facts about the sea turtles. The dawn was breaking, but it would still be some time before the first ray of sun entered this densely covered, remote village; tucked away amidst the Sahyadri mountain range in coastal Maharashtra.

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On the way to Velas
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The bus stand of some tiny village, enroute Velas

After a long wait & planning, finally I was at Velas – the turtle town of coastal Maharashtra, to attend the turtle festival. The trip also served my purpose of going off the radar for sometime. No place is really remote if your cell phone has signals, and so I was happy when I lost the network the minute I entered the village; and my phone didn’t ring until I left the place. Those two days were blissfully spent relaxing, contemplating, meeting new people, learning new things & exploring the place without any digital distraction. I hopped on the pillion seat of Mohan’s bike as we headed for the beach. It was a cool morning and the nonchalant village was slowly waking up from a sweet slumber. The narrow streets were lined with rustic houses and numerous trees. The bike was wobbly on the unpaved and bumpy dirt roads; I tightened my grip on the grab bar.

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Velas Village
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Velas Village
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Turtle nesting facility at the Velas beach

India is a global nesting hotspot for Olive Ridley sea turtles and Velas accounts for 40% of Sea Turtle nests along the coast of Maharashtra. The volunteers check the turtle nests for hatchlings twice every day: 7am & 6pm. During the nesting season, which is between November-January, the volunteers at Velas keep a close check (night patrolling as well) on the shores & track the turtle trails for nests. Goes without saying, these are sand nests, cleverly dug in the safest places on the shore. Once the nest is spotted, the eggs are then carefully transferred to a fenced nesting facility on the beach. This safeguards the eggs from any possible threats. Replica of the original nest is made by taking the accurate width & depth of it. After about 45-50 days the hatchlings slowly start making their way out of the sand nests. They must be released into the waters as soon as they out. Only the volunteers are involved up to this point and the event of letting the hatchlings into the waters is open for everyone – that’s what the famous Velas Turtle Festival is all about. March-April are the months when the nests open. It is said that the sea turtles have strong memories associated with their birthplace and hence will swim over 3000 miles, returning to their natal beach to lay eggs.

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The turtle trail
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The hatchlings. PC: Mohan Upadhye
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Volunteers letting the juveniles into the water. PC: Mohan Upadhye
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The baby turtles making it to their home
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New born Olive Ridley. PC: Mohan Upadhye

It had rained untimely a day before and this sudden change in weather had affected the temperature of the nests. I was disappointed as I had no luck spotting any baby turtles. To cheer me up, Mohan offered to show me the vulture nesting site in a nearby town called Harihareshwar – another beach town. I learned more interesting things there. As we know these scavenger birds feed on the dead/rotten meat; for which they’ve got extremely corrosive stomach acids . Now, they make nests on tall trees like the coconut, but their droppings destroy the trees and vegetation around it. For this reason people do not allow the vultures on their lands/farms. The forest department along with other nature conservationists here, decided to provide a certain amount as compensation to the farmers who owned those trees where the vulture made its nests. Happy and encouraged with the scheme, the people gladly host the vultures now & the environmentalists have succeeded in saving one more species from getting extinct.

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On the way to Harihareshwar to see the Vulture Nesting colony
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Life in a village
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The rustic houses

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My homestay at Velas
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Enjoying the simple, home cooked food by the friendly hosts

In the evening, we went to the beach again with no luck still. I strode away to explore the beach and a nearby hillock. The sun was about to leave the sky. Feeling the wind in my hair, I sat watching the performance of the birds returning home, waves lapping on the shore, and the changing colors of the sky. The feeling of doing nothing and sitting on a hillock in this remote village was kind of peaceful and empowering. I headed back towards the village road when the sun traveled to another side of the globe. It was dark soon & we could hear muffled sounds of many insects. Suddenly I saw a firefly, and another and another and another. Soon I was in the middle of at least a hundred fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight! I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I tried capturing it in my camera, but couldn’t, the camera did no justice to what I witnessed. I finally gave up and decided to enjoy the moment instead. I stood watching them breath lovely fluorescent lights in the ink black landscape, in some kind of beautiful rhythm that could only be felt.

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Velas beach
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Sunset at Velas Beach
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Thanks to the co-host Vaibhavi for this click
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Another click by the co-host, Vaibhavi
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Velas beach as seen from the hillock
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Beautiful sunset by the beach
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The happy feet@Velas Beach

Reaching Velas

Velas is a tiny village in Coastal Maharashtra, with minimal connectivity. Best routes are Mumbai-Velas or Pune-Velas, I had taken Pune-Velas route.

Distance from Mumbai: 225 KM (approx.)
Distance from Pune: 199 KM (approx.)

If you wish to take the state transport bus, try to book it in advance as there’s only 1 direct bus from each place per day, for Velas.

Where to stay

There’re plenty of homestays in Velas. Call on the numbers given on the website & book it in advance. During the turtle festival (again, refer the website for dates), there’s a huge surge of tourists.

Gokarna – The hippie-happy beach town

Each place has its own charm and although I don’t compare one place to another, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Gokarna is to Goa, and yet how different it is. Gokarna trip was a quick weekend getaway to beat the heat and experience the new Zostel backpackers’ hostel. Like Goa, Gokarna has a vast expanse of sandy shores and azure waters, but with fewer travelers. This rustic, predominantly a temple town, is slowly joining the league and is now a popular hippie destination. Unlike Goa, Gokarna is a place of contrasts. Often, while you hear the temple bells ring in a distance, a tanned Caucasian traveler wearing saffron kurta-pajama with Om Namah Shivay printed all over, sporting Rudraksh beads, walks past in his reverie. It is a place where as some people party, others seek solitude and inner peace, coexisting with one another.

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Lonely shores

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Resting at the beach

We had traveled overnight by a bus from Bangalore to Gokarna & checked into Zostel – our beachfront stay at Kudle Beach road. The Gokarna beach (also called the main beach) was the closest from there. So after having a sumptuous breakfast, we donned our sunglasses, daubed the sunscreen and headed for some sun and sand.

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I walked idly on the long shore that was sparsely crowded, letting the cool waves and the salty sea breeze pamper me. We met a local who suggested a boat ride to us. He added we could go beach hopping and catch glimpse of dolphins. Although some travelers have claimed to spot the dolphins and the fact they are found in the Arabian coastline, I was still skeptical. To avoid any disappointment, we decided against it & politely refused the boatman. We visited the local market that was buzzing with people and bright shops selling souvenirs, clothes, bags, accessories, hats, etc. Sounds of Temple bells and people chattering, the fragrance of aromatic flowers & incense filled the tiny lanes. Later that evening, we strolled on the Kudle beach and saw more travelers; some practicing yoga and acrobatics even. I relaxed in the water and stayed there until the stunning ball of fire took a dip in the sea, leaving orange and pink hues in the sky behind.

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The following day we trekked to Om beach and on my friend’s recommendation visited the Namaste Café. This vividly decorated café cum shack is carved out of a rock and has good food with a great view. We didn’t have enough time to explore the Half moon and Paradise beach, so we decided to laze around on Om beach. We spent the remaining day in the relaxed vibes of Namaste café enjoying some great food & drinks, musing and overlooking the waves crash against the sandy shores and rising again from far away at the horizon.

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10 Best Treks in the Indian Himalayas

From snow clad, to stark, to lush green, there’s a myriad of trek trails in India for anyone who is an adrenaline junkie. The mystic mountains of Himalayas in India that are an exotic beauty, have always attracted adventurers and trekkers from around the globe. Trekking in the Himalayas has so much to offer and the experience is sure to stay for life.

Though it is impossible to narrow down on 10 best treks (I personally feel, all the Himalayan treks are kickass), and so I have collated these based on personal experience, reviews from friends & other trekkers I met, terrain of the trail & difficulty levels. Trekking is for everyone who believes ‘adventure is out there’. So go ahead and check out my top 10 picks, plan your next (or first) trek and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime!

Stok Kangri – Ladakh

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Photo: Alberto Bertotto [under CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr]

Stok Kangri is an adventurous trek in the ‘Land of Passes’ – Ladakh. It is one of the toughest treks hence it’s recommended only for seasoned trekkers. The Stok Kangri peak offers grand, uninterrupted views of the entire Zanskar and the Indus Valley.
Difficulty level: Challenging – Difficult
Best time: July – August
Nearest airport: Leh

Goecha La – Sikkim

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Photo: By Denis De Mesmaeker [under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr]

With a breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga – World’s third highest mountain in the backdrop, Goecha La (Goecha Pass) is situated in beautiful Sikkim. Trekking through the dark forests of rhododendrons and ancient oaks to reach the stunning glaciers with panoramic views of Kanchenjunga, will leave you with a desire for more.
Difficulty level: Challenging – Difficult
Best time: April – May, September – December
Nearest airport: Bagdogra

Chadar – Ladakh

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Photo: By Ankur Bose

Chadar, literally meaning a ‘blanket’ of ice is supposedly one of the most adventurous winter treks in India. The Zanskar River freezes up as the Himalayan winter sets in the Zanskar Valley, near Leh. Trekking on this frozen spectacle is the one unforgettable experience.
Difficulty level: Challenging – Difficult
Best time: January – February
Nearest airport: Leh

Roopkund – Uttarakhand

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Photo: Via wetravelsolo.com

Also known as a ‘skeleton lake’ or ‘mystery lake’, Roopkund is the glacial lake located in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand. Wandering through the incredibly beautiful bugyals (meadows) with an unmatched combination of pristine high altitude lakes, deep virgin oak and semi buried rhododendron forests, gurgling brooks and spectacular mountain views; the trek has everything to whet the appetite of any adventure enthusiast.
Difficulty level: Moderate – Difficult
Best time: May – June, September – October
Nearest airport: Dehradun

Rupin Pass – Himachal Pradesh

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Photo: Via blogpipers.com

This high altitude mountain pass, crossing many desolate Himalayan ranges of Dhauladhar, lies on a traditional shepherd trail. The trail throws in surprises around every corner with the landscape varying from wooden bridges, waterfalls, streams and river, glaciers & snowy slopes, open snowfields with semi buried rhododendrons to charming flowery meadows.
Difficulty level: Moderate – Difficult
Best time: May – June, September – October
Nearest airport: Dehradun

Chandrataal – Himachal Pradesh

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Also called ‘The Lake of Moon’, Chandrataal Lake sits at an altitude of approximately 4300metres, amidst the dry and arid desert valley of Spiti in Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh. Accessible from two start points – Kunzum La & Batal, both the trek routes are equally charming.
Difficulty level: Moderate – Challenging
Best time: June – September
Nearest airport: Bhuntar (Kullu-Manali)

Indrahar Pass – Himachal Pradesh

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Photo: Via Thrillophilia

Located near McLeodganj, Indrahar is an ancient mountain pass in the Dhualadhar mountain range of Himalayas. The trail passes though tranquil hamlets, dense forests of silver oak, deodar and bamboo, and lush green pastures, further to offer panoramic views of Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal range of the Central Himalayas.
Difficulty level: Moderate – Challenging
Best time: May – June, September – October
Nearest airport: Dharamsala-Kangra

Valley of Flowers – Uttarakhand

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Included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Valley of flowers National Park is an alpine valley in the Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand. Home to a stunning scenic beauty, the valley gives one a feel of walking in a dreamland.
Difficulty level: Easy – Moderate
Best time: July – September
Nearest airport: Dehradun

Hampta Pass – Himachal Pradesh

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Photo: By Raphael Affentranger [under CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr]

Kuari Pass – Uttarakhand

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Photo: By sush_makj [via Flickr]

Kuari meaning ‘a doorway’ is located in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand. True to its name, the trek opens a doorway to breathtaking views of the Himalayan grandeur. Accessible throughout the year, the spring & winter treks are famous for their splendor.
Difficulty level: Easy – Moderate
Best time: April – June, September – January
Nearest airport: Dehradun

Which are your best ones? Please comment below to share. Happy Travels! 

Trekking in the Incredible Valley of Flowers

“Phoolon ki Ghati” the board read, meaning “Valley of Flowers”. A mountain stood tall behind it with its peak buried in the wispy clouds. The mist moved about slowly with an aim to embrace everything in its path.

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Entrance to the Valley of Flowers National Park

Incredible! I thought aloud, as I stood captivated by the magnificent view. I stood where the path forked after crossing a gorge & a massive stream. I would take the other path the following day to trek along the glaciers to another wondrous place called Hemkund Sahib. The weather had cleared that morning & day was perfect for the much-awaited trek into the Valley. Perfect weather meant no thick fog, light or no rain, but the temperature would still typically range from 15 to 8 ˚Celsius (59 to 46 ˚F); nights being especially cold. Geared up with my day-pack, a light jacket, and a raincoat hanging around the waist I started trekking towards the fabled Valley, breathing in lungs full of freshest-ever air.

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IMG_0274 Magnificent sites while trekking towards the park
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Melting glaciers

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Crossing the glacial stream

The Valley of flowers can be reached by trekking around 16 km from Govindghat to Ghangria. Porters & ponies are available as well, but of course trekking is the thrill most prefer. There are helipads at the base in Govindghat and near Ghangria too, and that apart no other vehicles are available on the top (such bliss!) We halted at Ghangria the previous evening & trekked to the Valley at the following daybreak.

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The enchanting valley

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Slice of paradise

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The guides inspecting a plant/flower

Hidden for centuries, the Valley was first discovered by Frank Smythe & R.L. Holdsworth, when they chanced upon it in 1931. The story of this discovery is quite interesting too. While returning from a successful Kamet expedition – the second highest mountain in Garhwal Himalayas, Smythe & Holdsworth were caught in a thick fog and lost their way, however, they continued walking. But as the clouds cleared away gradually, they found themselves standing amidst a fairyland bustling with zillion wildflowers.

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Garden of gods

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Many species of flora unique to this place is found in the valley. Almost each one of it has great medicinal values.

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As I inched closer to the valley, it was like a fairytale come true. Glacier melted afar, air crisp with assorted fragrance, meandering clouds almost touching the ground, cold stream gushing & freezing the breeze that touched it, and wide stretches dotted with dainty, vibrant flowers surrounded by lush mountains. Half expecting to hear the tinkling of the fairy chimes; I walked amazed by the stunning flowers & enthralling beauty of the place.

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This enchanted land lays frozen for about 6-7 months of the year. As the snow starts melting in April, the seeds start germinating. The valley is in full bloom between July to August (which is of course the best time to visit), after which the plants start maturing. The valley changes its colors every few days as new flowers bloom. By the end of September most plants are bearing seeds & berries, and the valley soon gets covered by the fresh snow as the Himalayan winter sets in. Stretched over a span of 87.5 sq. km, the valley is a glacial corridor about 8 km long and 2 km wide; with an altitude of 10500-12000 feet (approx.). The Pushpawati River flowing in the vicinity is adorned with pink Epilobium latifolium, commonly known as ‘River beauty’ during its flowering season and is quite a sight, our guide told us.

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Few of the flowers blooming in July end (early August)

We wandered deeper into the valley and reached the memorial of Joan Margaret Legge – a botanist who had slipped and fell off and was forever retained by the garden of gods. A memorial with beautiful inscription stands on the burial spot.

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Miss Legge’s memorial with a beautiful inscription

I breathed in a waft of fresh air, and let my thoughts drift away with the valley’s breeze – over the flower beds, into the gurgling streams, among the stray clouds, along the slopes & over the thriving mountains. The Pushpawati meandered gently from afar as I sat savoring the quiet moments of this alpine valley, where fairies reside.

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Important: Valley of flowers is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, please be a responsible traveler. Take nothing but memories & leave nothing but footprints.

~She leaves a tiny part of her heart everywhere she travels and memories from the place fill up the void in her heart and soul.~