The Spring Vibes

The parched landscapes turn picturesque, skies are clear without any traces of the wintry gloom, grass blades sparkle and a countless flowers bloom unfolding Spring in India. This temperate season is a transition between the extreme temperatures of winter and summer. This sublime climate Spring breathes new life into the world by painting the earth with lovely colors.

It is the perfect time for travelers and adventure enthusiasts mainly because it neither too chilly (especially in the Northern parts of India) or hot and humid – as the general climate is in most parts of the country. Apart from being pleasant, another advantage is that it is not exactly the peak season (major holidays/long weekends fall in the second half of the calendar year in India).

Starting sometime in February, Spring in India can be experienced upto April, the period varying for different places throughout the country. Like in Bangalore I have been seeing a lot of vibrant blooms of yellow, pink, and purple flowers, for the last few days, which is fading slowly. But that one March when I was traveling to Chikamagalur I’d seen the lovely blooms of the pretty coffee flowers and vibrant wildflowers while roaming in the Western Ghats of India. While the famous Tulip festival of Srinagar starts sometime in April, a walk through the bright Rhododendron forests of Sikkim is the highlight of travelling to Sikkim this season.

Spring in India is a short lived, transitional season, so head to these stunning spring destinations as soon as you can to witness the breathtaking spring blossoms. Let me know which of these (or any other spring destinations that you have visited) is your favourite.

Rhododendron Blooms at Sikkim

Rhododendron blooms

Tulip Gardens of Srinagar

Tulip garden

Coffee Flower Blossoms in Coorg

Coffee flower

Wildflowers in Western Ghats

Wildflower in Chikmagalur

Goecha La: Rendezvous With Mount Kanchenjunga

October is supposedly the best time for Goechala trek. But the rains hadn’t ceased till early October that year and I was wondering whether I should have waited for a few more days? Walking in the incessant rains and slippery slopes of slush into the wilderness of the Kanchenjunga National Park, I was both thrilled and irritated at the same time.

Goechala trek was the last leg of my 1.5 month-long of solo backpacking in Sikkim. I had carefully chosen the early October dates, but who am I to plan anything anyway? What happened over the next few days was exhausting, challenging, thrilling, and insane, yes, but most of all it was a wonderful, overwhelming, fulfilling and soul-soothing experience that warms my heart even today when I look back and think of it.

Inside Kanchenjunga National Park: Goechala Trek
Inside Kanchenjunga National Park: Goechala Trek

My best friend & a fellow-volunteer I met while volunteering in the Sikkim Himalayan Academy decided to join me for the trek. The trek had begun at Yuksom – a quaint little town that was the first capital of Sikkim. Huddled close to the mountains, the charming town gave an insight into what was coming. The stunning views of the Kanchenjunga as seen from the window, the biting cold mountain wind and the undisturbed tranquillity was like a teaser of the grandeur that we were to experience over the next few days.

We met a team of 2, 20-something local boys who were to be our guide and porter, respectively. I profoundly thank these kind-hearted, genuine and absolutely lovely mountain people because of whom, I have been able to walk in the mighty mountains so far. And of course, the mountains themselves for being kind to me, always.

Icy Stream Inside The Forest: Goechala Trek

The younger one, the guide, whom I ended up naming Chyanu Bhai (meaning younger brother in local parlance, I may have got the spelling wrong though) by the end of the trek, looked so young that I was considering requesting for an experienced guide. Turned out that he actually had an experience of independently guiding groups to Goechala for the last 5-6 years. He had been assisting his elder brother (who is a seasoned trekker & trek leader for some of the reputed travel & outdoor companies) for years before independently taking up the guide’s role.

Entering The Kanchenjunga National Park

After getting the permits checked, we walked through the gate of the Kanchenjunga National Park feeling exhilarated. The walk was comfortable with a gradual climb, soothing forest views and the sun shining all the way up to the point where we halted for lunch. We met a few other trekkers, made way for many ‘Dzo’s – the big yak-like creatures that are used to carry the stuff uphill. Chyanu told me those aren’t really yaks, but a crossbreed of yaks and buffalos/bulls.

Dreamy landscape: Goechala Trek
Dreamy landscape: Goechala Trek

The trail this day involved crossing a few bridges that were laced with the colourful prayer flags, and milky white water gushing underneath with a roar. “It is from places such as these that the wind carries the prayers and the soothing sounds of waterfalls far and wide into the valleys and plains, spreading the blessings of the mountains”, Chyanu said, with a sense of pride when he saw me looking fondly at the waterfall cascading beneath and touching the prayer flags. I smiled and told him I completely agree with him – how could I not? It was true, after all.

It felt cooler as we advanced higher and deeper into the thickets of the Khangchendzonga National Park in the later hours. And in no time, it started drizzling. Chyanu urged us to walk faster, but the slopes were getting slippery with mud & droppings of the dzos (I had accidentally dunked my feet in it once and felt awful the whole time!).

Beautiful Vistas: Goechala Trek
Beautiful Vistas: Goechala Trek

In spite of speeding up the pace, we were not able to reach the camp as the rains got pretty heavy. We saw some makeshift huts about an hour before our actual campsite. We were super tired and it was getting dark too. Our resourceful porter spoke to the locals and managed to arrange for us to spend the night there. We were starting to feel the cold of the mountains now. It was here that I tasted the first local drink of Sikkim – ‘thongba’ or ‘bamboo’ – as it is more popularly known as, with our hosts while waiting for dinner. The thongba is made of millets and is served in a container made of bamboo. I don’t remember well how it tasted but I sure do remember the hearty laughter as we sipped and passed around the thongba, aroma of the lentils being cooked, subtle warmth of the firewood and the sound of rain falling outside.

Misty Mountains: Goechala Trek
Misty Mountains: Goechala Trek

There was rain throughout the day 2 and honestly, I couldn’t look around much while walking as I had to be careful of my footings. It was getting difficult to keep up a good pace but we did manage somehow. On day 3 we woke up to a clear sky and the walk this day was such a relief – not only because it didn’t rain but because the walk was lovely. We hiked through dreamy meadows where the free, wild horses grazed at a distance, made our way through hazy forests, walked along and crossed many icy streams – the walk was just too beautiful! The peaks surrounding us were still enveloped in the clouds, giving the whole scene a very dream-like and unearthly look and feel.

colourful wild flora of Kanchenjunga  National Park
Beautiful Landscapes of Goechala Trek

Reaching Dzongri

By the time we reached our campsite at Dzongri, it had started raining heavily again. I was to learn an important lesson here – never to underestimate the mountain weather – not that I ever did but on the Goechala trek (in the month of October, when it doesn’t normally rain so much) it came as a strong reminder of how unpredictable and so damn powerful it is. Most of our bags along with its contents, shoes & socks got drenched. That night we spent a good deal of time in the kitchen tent drying our shoes and socks (mainly) and discussing whether to move ahead or wait for the weather to clear. Next morning we packed up and started walking towards the next destination – Thansing.

Enroute Goechala In Sikkim
Enroute Goechala In Sikkim

Trek to Thansing was again a pleasant one, though it drizzled intermittently. We were inching closer to the last campsite, the views were more unobstructed and overwhelming, colourful patches of wild flora dotted the stretches, mounds of boulders, and grassy slopes kept the sight of trekker’s huts at Thansing hidden away from us.

Colorful Flora, Icy Streams, Giant Mountains: Goechala Trek - don't miss the wild horses grazing
Colorful Flora, Icy Streams, Giant Mountains: Goechala Trek – don’t miss the wild horses grazing

We were about 1ish km away from the campsite, exhausted but happy with the walk and the enchanted by the beauty. Though the campsite was still not in sight, we spotted our porter walking towards us three mugs and a kettle of hot black tea. He had reached the camp with the luggage, prepared tea for us and walked back all the way to serve us tea in the middle of nowhere – saving us the walk till the camp to have it – such are these kind-hearted mountain people 🙂

Chai in the mountains against a stunning backdrop: Goechala Trek
Chai in the mountains against a stunning backdrop: Goechala Trek

Reaching Thansing

The Thansing campsite is my most favourite one ever, though I was able to see the surrounding beauty only after returning from the final climb to Goechala viewpoint and before starting the return journey. Apparently, there are 3 spots or viewpoints (named so for convenience I believe) – viewpoint 3 being closest to the Goecha pass. But as per the rule put up by the Sikkim government, no one is allowed beyond viewpoint 1 – not sure if it’s still the case. So be sure to confirm this and if you can go further and beyond then I guess nothing like it. I learned only later that you don’t really trek up all the way to the actual Goecha Pass due to restrictions by the government. Now I’m not too sure of the reasons, but only wish it will be allowed some time in the future.

It still rained continuously when we reached Thansing. The thick mist obstructed the beautiful views of the surrounding valley & peaks that you can so clearly see otherwise. Though I was thoroughly enjoying the trek and every experience added to it, I was a little disheartened as continued rain could mean we’d have to turn back without visiting the Goechala viewpoint. We had a buffer day but I dearly wished the rains took a break. That night, oblivious to the snowy peaks that towered the clearing where we camped, I prayed for a clear day before falling asleep to the sound of mountain rains.

Trekker's hut at Thansing: Goechala Trek
Trekker’s hut at Thansing: Goechala Trek

Trekking To Lam Pokhri

Next morning as planned, we set out for the Lam Pokhri lake that is almost to the east of Thansing. It was intermittently drizzling and misty. The mist lifted every now and then to reveal a few smaller, unnamed lakes – absolutely clear and pristine. Halfway through, we met a few European trekkers who had also set out for Lam Pokhri but had to return without visiting the lake, as the weather ahead had turned bad; we too considered turning back to Thansing. The mist cover was getting thicker and though we traced our steps back the same way we came, I couldn’t see some of those smaller lakes that we saw earlier.

A Nondescript Lake On The Way To Lam Pokhri: Goechala Trek

The Final Climb Towards The Goecha Pass

It was the last day, last chance, I prayed fervently. I think every trekker that day at the Thansing campsite was praying for a clear day. Chyanu told us he will keep a check on the weather and wake us up at 12.30 am. We ate and slept early that evening with a mix of excitement and nervousness.

At 12.30 am, we woke up – happy at the sight of clear skies. With head torches strapped to our forehead and geared with a day pack, we finally started trekking at 1.15 am. I looked up and gaped at the millions of stars shining in the dark sky and the many snowy peaks along with Kanchenjunga shimmering in the soft silvery moonlight – no matter how much I try I just cannot put the feeling the whole scene instilled in me, in words here.

Without really knowing how or what the trek path looked like and putting all our faith in the mountains, the guide and his experience, we trekked for 4 hours straight reaching just before sunrise at the viewpoint 1 to witness something extraordinarily beautiful, something grand…

Gold!

A Golden Sunrise Over The Mount Kanchenjunga
A Golden Sunrise Over The Mount Kanchenjunga

I stood awestruck at the grand sight that was unfolding before me. The mighty Mount Kanchenjunga stood majestically as if being crowned by the golden ray of sun, turning the world’s third highest mountain into a golden spectacle. Soon the other snowy peaks too bathed in gold. We can go on without not seeing such sights ever in our life and it wouldn’t change much but seeing something this powerful will guaranteed change something inside you – not being preachy and you’ll agree with me too if you have even once seen a sunrise from the mountain top.

Kanchenjunga Mountain Range
Kanchenjunga Mountain Range

On our way back after witnessing the riches of nature, we saw the actual trail that we took in the dark of the night – and it was a very beautiful one. We halted for breakfast by the Samiti Lake and its lovely reflections. Another campsite – Lamuney is around here and though it is closer to Goechala, Thansing is the most preferred site for many favourable reasons.

Samiti Lake & Reflections: Goechala Trek
Samiti Lake & Reflections: Goechala Trek

Tshoka – a tiny Tibetan settlement was our last camp. You’d see a few houses, trekker’s huts, a monastery, a lake and lots of pretty views. Being back broke the trance and solace of the mountains I walked in the past few days but I was at peace. That day I walked around, stayed up late and woke up early to soak in the essence of the mountains as much as possible, one last time, before we started the final descend, physically leaving the mountains behind but feeling it in every pore of my skin.

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.

 

Scuba Diving In India

Splash! A leap of faith taken! The surface closing overhead, you are sinking in slowly. Buoyancy is working its science but the weights on you help you descend into the colorless waters. You hear the sound of your breath and your heartbeat regulates with the rhythm of the quiet waters. Tranquility takes over and everything becomes still, even the chaotic thoughts go hush. An absolute peace pervades as you glide weightlessly in the vibrant underwater realm.

No, it’s not a dream; it’s a Scuba Dive experience, attempted in words, though some experiences cannot be articulated.

Scuba Diving is gaining popularity in India, given its vast coastline & numerous islands. Land locked on one side & surrounded by seas on the other three; peninsular India offers a whooping chance to experience some of the most unparalleled adventures.The many islands in the Andaman and Arabian Seas with its incredibly rich marine life and pristine undersea world provide boundless opportunities to experience the mysterious world beneath the waves. The dive sites here are some of the best ones in the world.

Also read: Diving In The Andaman Sea In Phuket

Listed below are the places in India where you can go Scuba Diving.

Lakshadweep Islands

Located 300KM off the coast of Kerala, Lakshadweep – meaning one hundred thousand islands, is a stunning archipelago. Closer to Maldives, these palm-covered, sand-skirted coral islands have best of the dive sites. Its pristine turquoise lagoons, unspoiled coral reefs & diverse marine life are diver’s paradise. Bangaram is a popular choice among the travelers. Dive to witness the colorful reef visited by manta rays, turtles, and occasional whale shark.

Lakshadweep

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Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Located in the middle of nowhere, the Andaman Islands are a remote archipelago of about 300 islands floating in the Andaman Sea. Havelock is the most popular one for its legendary beaches and best dive sites. The island’s opaque emerald waters are home to vibrant coral reefs and rich marine life. Dive to see barracudas, batfish, turtles join the schools of snapper amidst the colorful coral & sponges. The pristine snow-white beaches put up a great show at the purple sunsets.

Andaman

Goa

Buzzing with tourists and visitors from all over the world all year round, Goa needs no introduction. Diving off Goa’s Grand Island into the Arabian Sea has a charm of its own. Dive in the crystal clear water here and glide over the lush coral gardens, school of fish and historic shipwrecks of Spanish & Portuguese ships.

Goa

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Netrani Island

Located off the coast of Karnataka, Netrani Island is a remote piece of land floating in the Arabian Sea. It is known for its clear waters, rich marine life and variety of coral. As it’s located further out in the open waters of the Arabian Sea, divers have also spotted humpback, killer whale and occasional whale sharks passing by their migratory routes.

netrani

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Pondicherry

French colony, cobbled streets, faded colonial-era townhouses, Boho-chic vibes, French food, spirituality and Auroville that’s Puducherry (former Pondicherry) located on the southeastern coast of India. Drift Diving off Pondicherry into the Bay of Bengal is gaining popularity due to the marine life spotted here. A great range of fan corals, whale sharks, manta rays, school of jack fish & other rays can also be seen.

pondi

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Written as a Guest post for TheMobo (published on 11 July, 2015)

Roaming in the Western Ghats

Sitting in a sparsely crowded bus station at 5 a.m. and sipping hot tea, I looked around. A few curious faces stared back at me. I was waiting for the daybreak. A sudden plan & I had packed my backpack, journeyed overnight and landed in a new place at the wee hours. And so here I was, waiting for the sunrise to take over the hostile darkness. In about an hour or so, there was light & we strutted in the small town to lookout for a place to stay. After checking some places (read negotiating the tariff) we finally dumped our luggage in an okay-ish room (clean+affordable is always a thumbs up for me).

Without much delay, we set out on the roads to feel the mountain wind in hair. An impromptu budget trip is always fun and comes with a unique experience each time. This time it was an auto ride all over the map of the coffee town of Chikmagalur!

Autorickshaw
Auto adventures

While everywhere else the scorching sun was being cursed, he seemed to have toned down his brightness settings for this part of the country. I was really happy with his decision – as I instantly fell in love with the place. It jogged my memory to the mist covered Himalayan hamlets, which are close to my heart!

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On the way to the mountains of western ghats

A rough auto ride (after an overnight bus journey) followed by a little trek was tiring. But what waited at the end of it was a sight for soar eyes! Abundant earth colors splashed all over, distinct forest scent & refreshing cool breeze stole all the weariness.

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Welcomed to Mulayanagiri

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View from the top

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6000+ feet above sea level

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Such a happy scene to look at!

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Mountain, soil, flowers, greens, mist…

I was atop Mulayanagiri – the highest peak in Western Ghats spread over in the state of Karnataka, India.

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From the top of Mulayanagiri – not so great pan image, though.

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Wandering about…

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Dreaming of heaven with open eyes

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Dark skies, thundering and some dramatic effects, creating a mood

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Beautiful landscapes

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The tired but happy feet

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Pretty flower that was about to bloom in multiples & carpet the entire mountain soon

Deliriously roaming around and clicking pictures and soaking in the beauty of the place, next up was a trek (yet another one) through the coffee plantation to a Jhari (also Jerry) falls. A cascade carelessly falling, its gurgling sound – a song of nature, closely resembled an enchanted place from a storybook.

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Hiking through the coffee plantation & forests

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The coffee flower

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First view of the Jhari falls. Tiny eh? wait & watch!

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A little closer

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There! That’s the Jhari/Jerry falls, falling merrily

We retired for the day as our heart and soul drenched with content.

Following day started early as we headed for the Muthodi forests in a hope to spot tiger! Sadly, we did not spot it 😦 Here’s what you should do for better chances of spotting most animals, tiger (if you are lucky) included – start early, be there by 6 a.m. You can also avail a stay in the forest guest-house by visiting the Bhadra Tiger Reserve office in Chikamagalur (08262-234904). If you are in a bigger group (8-10 people) hiring a Jeep for about Rs. 4000/- turns out to be a better option and you can start the safari right away without waiting for more people to join in. We paid Rs. 1000/- (500 per person) for the safari.

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Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Muthodi Forests

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Enjoying the peace of jungle

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The quiet Bhadra river inside the Muthodi forest

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Crisp air and clear water – nature at its best

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Almost in the centre (little lower) is seen the Giant Malabar Squirrel

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The forest sky

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Pretty in Pink – flower of the bashful ‘touch-me-not’ plant

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Wading through a stream on the Safari

To beat the heat, Chikmagalur is one of the coolest (literally) places to visit. After enjoying some local shopping and purchasing coffee (Chikmagalur is called the ‘coffee land of Karnataka’) I bid adieu to the beautiful place.

~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.~