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Prague- An unforgettable Winter Day

Europe is an old friend and the slightest hint of an opportunity to return to it not only brings back memories but creates an inevitable sense of fernweh. It was in the year 2012 when I set out with a bunch of friends to explore the path less travelled- or what I thought atleast was my motive for the trip. We travelled to Eastern Europe, to the cluster of the most abetted countries, commonly chosen as the culture “represent” of what is vastly the now much scattered version of an empire- Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. Now whether it was the slow clad mountains of Salzburg from “The Sound of Music” or the grit and horror of the Slovakian “Hostel” which generated in us an inclination to go explore these areas, what we did miss out during that trip was to touch the fourth corner of this quadrangle- Czech Republic! Those 6 days we covered the capitals of Hungary, Austria and Slovakia- Namely Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava and yet having done so much, I still carried the feeling that somehow my trip wasn’t complete, and it was only recently that I was finally able to make peace with the incomprehensions in my mind. Anyhoo! So this February, I got a chance to go back to Europe- this time for work.. and miraculously, I found myself in Prague.

Wait there’s a catch. So there I was in Prague- 1. On a cold winter day, 2. just for a day and 3. completely alone (for the day). I have always maintained that travelling alone is often the best gift one can give him or herself.

Travelling alone to a far off country where no one knows your name, no one speaks your language and not a soul cares what you bring to the table (unlike most scenarios in our day to day lives) is …. liberating. I tell my friends all the time.. Going to a place where no one knows you gifts you a sense of freedom. You can be whoever you want, For a few days you can be someone you may never identify with in real life and there is such independence in that… Not necessarily the execution, but simply the idea of it.

Travelling solo is not easy, especially when you don’t speak Czech (or any language other than English) but more often than not, it does turn out to be one of the most satisfying experiences. So yes, There I was.. alone for the day in cold, white Prague and having lost all sense of time. As most would know, European winters can be misleading- The sun sets way too early and the nights seem fascinatingly long. So I got there in the morning, checked into my hotel and from there almost immediately left the hotel looking for the fastest way to cover the city in one day. Equipped with winter wear, a camera and a map as usual I was on the way to the nearest tram station.

Now one challenge I did not anticipate was that people seem to have chosen not to acknowledge English as a first, scone or third language in that part of the world. I am pretty used to now using sign language or picking up local words as and when in order to communicate as a Neanderthal but this time I was completely ill-equipped and there started my journey of finding the kind souls (1 out of 5) who would 1. understand me and 2. invest their time in actually guiding me through the city.

Following different groups of people around the winding lanes of the city, I soon  found myself on the tram (Number 12) to Prague Castle.. and what led me to see more of the city in one day than I could have possibly imagine was how wrong my plan went and how hopelessly lost I was half an hour into my “Not so well planned adventure”.

Unlike most other places I go to, here I had no idea where I was until I actually got there and you’d be surprised how fascinating getting there is, when you don’t know where you’re actually going.

Oh hey, Charles Bridge (& Old Prague market/ square)

I got to Charles Bridge, the most iconic structure in Prague completely by accident. I have always maintained that the best way to actually see and understand a city is by getting lost in it, and this theory of mine provide itself worthy when I needed it the most.

I got here while making my way down the shopping market,  literally following the smell of food. Now most people would actually know this if been to or planning a trip to Prague that the lane right opposite Charles bridge is actually one of the most famous tourist attractions full of continental restaurants, shadow theatres, back light theatres, hookah bars, tattoo parlours, street artists, bars and INSANE shopping arcades!

While all of this sounds and looked fascinating to me, following the crowd I actually ended up ON Charles bridge. The moment I Looked at it I knew I had struck gold. Nothing looks like that and doesn’t get famous.

Charles bridge, built in the 14th century is famous for the views it provides of the city built on a river, very similar actually to Budapest which its chain bridges and river sights. The bridge itself is home to street performers, graffiti artists and revellers taking a trip down history with bottles of beer in hand. The views are spectacular, even on a cold, foggy winter evening I got much more than I bargained for.

The statues lining the bridge are mammoths preserved in time and along the river sides one gets a good view of the night life of Prague. Definitely a must go for anyone travelling to this city. I know it  sounds funny coming from someone who landed here by accident, but well.. been there done that!

Oh Hey Fred & Ginger! The Dancing House

Impossible to miss, hard to ignore and completely open to like or dislike, the dancing house is one of a kind. Right on the main road leading out towards the castle and standing by the riverfront, the dancing house is a symbol of modern contemporary architecture and is frankly, really REALLY hard to miss.

Not much to see here, except the sheer creativity of whoever came up with this and more importantly, why!Extremely different from the Baroque, Gothic architecture which Prague is famous for, the building looks completely diverse from the other monuments lining it for acres on both sides. Ironically, it is two buildings away from the Opera House and the National theatre, pointing out even more distinctly the structural variations and obvious thoughts of design.

All the World’s a stage-Opera House, The Prague National Theatre

Come to think of it, a lot of places that Prague is famous for are actually located surprisingly close to one another. Take it from a lost traveler who was surprised at every turn and corner… get out of Charles bridge to run into the dancing house.. take the next turn and come across the iconic Prague National Theatre- The alma mater of Czech history and Art! Truly one hell of a walking tour.

Home to Opera, Ballet and Drama I’d definitely recommend an actual show booking here to understand the evolution of the Czech form of expression through song and art. The theater is lined on both sides by several historic monuments displaying the famous baroque architecture. This road in general is one of the busiest in the city and is a good choice to watch and observe the everyday lives of the people of Prague.

Prague Castle- Old Royal castle, Belvedere castle, New Royal Castle

My entire plan for the day was actually resting on getting to the Prague Castle.I had decided that if there was one thing I wasn’t leaving Prague without seeing, it would be the Prague Castle- the largest ancient castle in the world!

Who would want to miss that?- The Largest Ancient castle in the world according to Guinness book of world records and the seat to the kings of Bohemia, Roman emperors as well as Czech presidents!

Now one must understand that the Prague castle ground is home to some of the most iconic monuments that Prague is famous for – Basilica of Saint George and St. Vitus cathedral amongst many others. The old and New royal castles stand tall, spectacularly surrounded by the Royal gardens and innumerable halls and bell towers. The royal garden tours last all day owing to the magnitude of land covered by these spectacularly maintained gardens.

Enter the castle, and it feels like a town by itself, levels of stone monoliths, stairs and vertical verandahs leading into alleys and more levels of stone structures on either side; cobblestones lining the entire length and breadth of 18th century fortresses cut into rock and panoramic views of the castle grounds from the view point.

I missed my stop at the castle, and so I walked back almost two miles to it in the freezing sub zero temperature only to be welcomed by the most profound sight of the castle hiding behind the dense fog which had now taken over the winter day.

Slowly, and bit by bit the castle walls started coming into view as I moved closer to the Prague castle.

By this point I felt like I had walked majorly uphill over half the city, but as soon as I set foot in the castle ground.. I knew it had all been worth it.

 

St. Vitus Cathedral, Basilica of St. George, Kohl’s fountain

Walking around the enormous structure, leading into grooves and crevices on either side and evert corner of it, I came across the St. Vitus Cathedral- a gorgeous piece of history standing tall and sure through the centuries so far. The visual delight of seeing Kohl’s fountain against St. Vitus cathedral is highly endearing. One of the most important churches of Prague and tomb to several roman and bohemian emperors, the cathedral is crowned by a huge tower. The sight go Kohl’s fountain against the cathedral is one of the most famous pictures clicked by tourists and this spot is definitely worth the time spent in usually getting here.

For many who have been to Spain, it may remind you of the Segrada Familia Church in Barcelona, and believe me, it is equally stunning. Standing right opposite the St. Vitus cathedral is an equally enthralling structure, the crimson red Basilica of St. George.

Between the two monuments lies the kohl’s fountain making this square one of the most prominent ones of Prague and definitely not one to be missed.

Now converted into a house of Bohemian art these buildings represent gothic architecture and are silent memory keepers of the golden age of Czech history. The castle grounds are spread over 7000 acres and it almost seems to occupy all of the city when looked at from above.

Visehrad Fort

This fort actually dominates over an entire region of Prague which is called Visehrad due to the presence of the same. Located within the walls of the fort are the basilicas of Peter & paul and one of the most famous cemeteries of Prague. Built on the river Vitava, it is supposed to be the first settlement which later grew into Prague over the years and is usually open to the public 24/7 owing to its gorgeous and well spread gardens which spread out expanding out of the fortress walls. To be honest, I avoided spending too much time here because 1. A cemetery garden on a cold, winter evening looks and feels far from appealing as the “Night is dark and full of terrors” and 2. Cold winters also mean snow clad, white gardens.. which honestly were the least exciting prospect for my one day travel through the city of Prague.

So long, Sweet Praha..

Prague meant a lot to me as a trip for several reasons, and one above all others- more like unfinished business. I had a desire to visit Prague once upon a time, missed the opportunity having come so close, finally completing the circle I started after 6 years feels like a neat ribbon tied on a beautifully wrapped present. I look forward to going back at some point in life, this time if only to sit with a cup of hot chocolate on a bench in the Visehrad fort gardens, under the warm-warm summer sun. Just me and Praha.. and a Brighter sky.

 

 

 

Havelock- In a Tropic Love

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Every one inherently has a “happy place”. It can be the place you mentally transport to from your desk at office, a state of mind that can instantly calm you down and encompass you with a sense of serenity no other place can provide. Physicality begins to matter less when it comes to places like these.. and over time one starts to develop a real sense of belonging to this one place, this one point in time, this one feeling that dimension brings and this one sensation that is unique to anything one may ever feel in the crossroads of time spanning across our lifetimes. In simpler words, its the place you find yourself in when you’re sitting in counselling sessions with your shrink ūüėČ

My happy place can be described in one word- Havelock.

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Imagine palm tress swaying in he mellow summer breeze while you lay in the sand, just staring up at the emeralds in the sky. It is a sense of freedom that comes to stay deep in the depths of ones dark soul, lighting up the shadows and letting the gentle crashing of waves carry away the weights from our hearts and mind. This is what Havelock is to me.

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My tryst with Havelock has been a story of a lifetime..virgin, untouched lands growing in the middle of the ocean. I would like to think I’am meant for the island life, but something tells me anyone that has been to Havelock will probably feel the same way. the ferocity with which the locals protect the islands is something to watch and imbibe. It is incredible and almost surreal to be in a place so isolated from the usual driving forces in the world, ambition, success, greed, desire. Havelock just is. It simply exists, transcending time and everything that it brings along with it.

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Beach number 1 / Beach 2

Goving Nagar beach, welcome to kayaking through swamps to the mouth of the open sea and descending into the depths of ice blue coral reefs  for Scuba! Barefoot at Andaman is located on this beach, and my day with them was spent exploring the shallow depths of the crystal waters with team Barefoot.

DSCN1920We watched the sunrise at this beach and then headed through dense swamps standing glorious and proud here since ages, to the open water. The walk itself was mesmerizing. Everything you pass will tell you a story, you have got to listen, you absolutely must. For adventurous souls seeking thrills across the world this walk is a remnant of the stories we read as kids, stories of untold stories, unsolved mysteries, characters and creatures deep in hiding, layers under layers of ancient heritage, open skies watching over all that you will probably never know of.

DSCN1919Once you cross the mangrove swamps spread out over white crystals of sand, you magically come across the dark rocky patches in stark differentiation from the scene you just encountered and you know its time to get acquainted with the most diverse range of creatures just beyond the surface of the water patiently waiting to show off and stun the life out of visitors.

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The Day I forgot to breathe.

The dive was absolutely enchanting. we graduated from the shallow waters into the the world of corals, rainbow fishes, sea anemones and creatures I never thought even existed until now. I remember my first thought when I finally immersed myself completely. Ive always been an emergency quad, you know the kind of person that always has a back-up. a plan B always exists in my mind and I was ready to end my game if needed. With this thought in mind, I went ahead but the moment I looked down it took me 15 seconds just to take in the massive hills of corals that lay waiting for me. There was no looking back. Its like when you fall in love, once it happens.. there is no other way. no matter how you roll the dice, its got to be. from then on, I remember feeling I could live there. There was a point in tine down under when I actually forgot to breathe, it just seemed very trivial compared to what was around me.

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Finding Nemo!

Large boulders of corals in surreal colours, shapes and massive sizes. Stunning. I have always had a very vivid imagination, but here it seemed like my imagination was coming alive in HD! the corals were breathing! That is exactly what it looked like and I do not exaggerate. the pored in the corals were lined with clams, opening and closing rhythmically with time- like a flower opening and closing in all its delicacy and discipline. Wherever I went, they were alive. They were all around me and the life in them took my breath away! That is when I came across the clown fish.. Neon, chrome, interactive. The clown fish lives in a web of tentacles that it uses as a defense mechanism against predators. the tentacles are meant to sting the hunters while having no effect on the clown-fish itself. I love animated films for the simple reason they are closest to the imaginative filter I was earlier talking about. The moment I say the clown fish I looked at my “buddy” and gestured- I’ve found Nemo! He gave me sometime with Nemo almost as condolence to the death of humor and sanity and then the inevitable happened! I spotted the fish that was NOT supposed to be there, that everyone wanted to see but no one was expecting the superstar to show up during that time. But he did, despite the high tide, despite the irregular water flow, despite the odd time of travel for it- it appeared in all its glory and size- the Hump-head parrot fish!!!!! Every second under water was accounted for, increasing its worth and value continuously with the appearance of the seven colored Parrot fish, scallops, blood cockles and soft, hard corals, brain corals, Black Corals!!!!

Beach number 4- Kala Patthar

Dont let the name fool you. The beach may have massive black rocks lining its shore for most of its coastline which gives it its name, but kala patthar beach is predominantly an array of whites and the brilliant blues. Broken pieces of corals make most of this beach almost impossible to walk on, and yet the entire stretch of what remains is visually stunning. The Kala Patthar beach is one of the best beaches to swim into the sea and crash into incoming waves.I remember the afternoon spent swimming into the open waters and feeling the sand softly, silently slipping beneath my feet.

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IMG_7385Beach Number 7- Radhanagar beach

Saving the best for last. The Radhanagar beach, also one of the most beautiful beaches of Asia is unbeatable. When I say Havelock is my Happy place, I mean beach number 7. Flawless. Radhanagar beach is the treasure of Havelock which is protected ferociously, and with reason. The sun rays play with the ocean here like nowhere else. The waves change hues in a spectacular array like never seen before. The sand here is pure white and a swim in the sea is like a dip in the divinity of untouched nature embracing you like you’ll never know again.¬†Elephant beach is a ferry ride away, but here’s a secret you need to know… if you must go there, walk into the rarely treaded mud trail leading through the forests of Havelock.

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The Radhanagar beach is spectacularly clean allowing no use of plastic or any other consumables, and all that is found for miles is heaps of fruits, coral accessories and wildlife. We were lucky to be staying in cottages by the Radhanagar beach and the walk down to the beach and back in stark darkness only guided by the stars and almost visible milky way (clearly visible from Neil Island) was one of the highlights of the stay.

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Havelock is one of those places you may go to but never really come back from. Not sure if it is the irresistible calling of the Island life, the golden opportunities to star gaze, the peace and serenity that transcends into the soul from everything around it, or the sense of unity one has with nature….. or maybe all of it. Once in Havelock, I was in a tropic love, and to be honest I never really fell out of it. So yes, everyone has a happy place. so far and up until Andaman Islands, it was a sense of “fernweh” I related to, but after falling in love with Havelock I knew I had found my happy place. Finally, I was home.
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Andaman Islands : Port Blair

Fernweh… the first time I came across the term I immediately fell in love with it. The power of words is often underestimated, a commodity used less, not enough or maybe more than required. Every word carries a certain amount of accountability with it.. and consecutively each word holds within itself a magnitude of power. I believe its crucial each person finds their “word”, I believe mine is “fernweh”. The longing and painful desire to be some place I don’t know yet, to experience some thing I never have before.. and there are very few places that ignite the core of this storm¬†within me. One such please was¬†Andaman Islands, a magical land furiously challenging the Indian ocean everyday and sustaining in the only way it knows how- through persistence. And then, one day.. I was there.

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My trip to Andaman Islands was full of surprises, and experiences that have still not evacuated that space of longing in my head. It has been a month since a got back to¬†my beloved busy city of Traffic and speed, lights and WiFi , and yet A see myself seeking the stars that i seemingly left behind in the Andamans. The islands have the tendency to land you in an existential crisis, coherently making the concept of keeping up with Time a challenge. Vacuum drives philosophy, and since I’am already one to philosophize more than necessary, in Andaman my imagination caught FIRE!
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A number of people asked me why I was heading to Andaman for 6 full days. I usually forget to sleep or shop and almost never turn to the usual touristy activities when I’m out to explore a new place..For me its all about seeing all that the place possibly has to offer and attaining a level pf peace within myself where I can confidently and without any excuses convince myself that I didn’t visit, i existed..¬†like I belonged there.

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6 days on the island convinced me that no amount of time will ever be enough to watch the infinite stars, dive into the open ocean, trek through mushy forests and indulge into emerald blues at the end of every route, no matter where it leads. Andaman Islands is a lone ranger, standing tall and proud in the middle of a vast, angry ocean.

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My trip included visits to Port Blair- the capital, Ross Island, Neil Island and Havelock! Lying at the North- Western edge of the Island, Port Blair comes with its fair share of tourism-centric day to day activities. a small almost unreal toy town, the city is predominantly inclusive of the navy base with their holdings and base camps occupying a major part of the town. Port Blair is a small town mainly centered around the water sports complex where most of the tourist activities take place. This is where the main jetty is from where one can embark on a ferry to jet off to one one of the neighboring islands- Ross Island or North Bay Island and more. A number of things that one must not miss when in Port Blair include the following.

A visit to the Cellular Jail

Port Blair is home to the stoic Kala Pani jail, famous for unspeakable horrors and ironically standing  in the midst of the most beautiful expanse of golden blue one would ever have the luxury of laying eyes on.

“Hello Prisoner. Welcome to the cellular jail. We tame lions here. ¬† Do you see these walls? Do you know why they are so low? Because no one can ever escape from here. ¬†And Now, Look at me. Over here, I Am God.- David Barry (Jailer)

34-001 Almost spearheading this topic is the Cellular jail. The prison that has stood testimony to a monstrous past has endured its own set challenges to sustain and exist. Subjected to massive destruction when bombed by retreating Japanese forces and consecutively hit by major natural disasters which reduced the once towering structure from 7 to 3 wings as of 2016.

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The jail was famous for its status of an exile prison where notorious criminals and gradually relevant freedom fighters were sent in order to live out their last days.

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Walking past the cells of Vir Vinayak Savarkar,¬†Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, Nani Gopal Mukherjee, Nand Kumar, Putin Das and more and hearing of the atrocities they endured all in the name of freedom for their country was a moving experience. How many of us in today’s times would be able to commit to a cause like they did, How many would actually be as selfless as them in this time where everyone is driven by greed, ambition and money. A change in perspective is sometimes necessary, and a trip down memory lane in a place which speaks volumes can do wonders. the top tower offers spectacular views of the open sea and neighboring smaller islands while the government has sent up a huge hospital in place of the fallen wings of the jail, destroyed during the Japanese war bombings and in honor of the comrades who lost their lives there.

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However, what was supposed to stand as a structure of unspeakable torture instead became a beacon of silent resilience and ultimate courage as the batch of “revolutionary freedom fighters” came, saw and conquered.

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The trials and tribulations endured by the inmates, the lives sacrificed, the brutalities endured under Jailer David Barry are all on display and in the winds that echo from one cell to another. If visiting the jail, make sure you complement the visit with the light and sound show which takes place every evening at 6 Pm and 7 Pm respectively.

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A visit to Corbyn’s Cove
Away from the hustle bustle of the small town of Port Blair, on the non-tourist end lies a serene, small beach called Corbyn’s cove. A relatively peaceful evening would include a gorgeous view of the sky, sea and “snake island”- smallest island of Andaman in the distance. The beach is usually dominated by locals playing football and families enjoying a stroll along the clear waters. The beaches in Andaman are lush with stalls selling coconut water, fruits and instantly cooked foods in returnable containers. The beach is gorgeous and good for a few hours of respite but it is the drive to the cove that truly steals the show. The drive is immensely stunning and all the way by the sea. The road is a thin route sandwiched between the mountain and the sea and provides spectacular views of the coastline until one reached the beach.

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The Water Sports Complex
The sports complex is located right by the jetty and is home to all water sports activities possible in Port Blair. The Sports activities take place in the neighboring North Bay Island and include Snorkeling, Scuba Diving and Sea Walking. When driving past the highs and lows of the city, don’t forget to watch out for the massive swimming pool located on top of a bridge at the water sports complex, visible to the naked eye against the sharp backdrop of the open sea itself.

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Open sea dives and Coral Hunting

I would highly recommend sea-walking at the Water sports complex in Port Blair, which would take place at the North Bay Coral island. However, I would advise Scuba diving to be done only in Havelock. Its pristine gorgeous reefs remain unmatched and truly divine.

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Enroute Ross Island

Ross Island
A day’s trip from Port Blair, Ross Island is probably my number 1 rated destination in and around Port Blair. Ross Island has a solitary history, one could even call it dark and tumultuous.

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I may not be necessarily talking about the war bombing or the earthquake that devastated any hint of infrastructure or potential life on the small Island. The British sepoys loved this little Island and used it to build clubs and halls and even the Viceroy’s bungalow which stood at the very top of it providing spectacular views of the open Indian ocean.

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However, they underestimated the proximity of the little mass of land to the open ocean and this became more prominent than ever when the Ross Island was directly hit by the Tsunami, holding off the force and bearing the brunt of the impact thus saving the entire city of Port Blair which lies directly behind it. The Ross Island was devastated and what remains today are creepy and dark hollows where once life thrived.

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The area is completely desolated except the navy camps which is mainly uninhabited. the Island is home to hoards of deer, peacocks and other wildlife. It is however, prohibited to stay here after 5 PM. The island has the remains of a cathedral in the center, a cemetary with the graves of women and children who died of Malaria when the island was hit by an epidemic and the famous grave of 22 year old Lawrence.

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Rumor and folklore has it that the cries of the women and children can still be heard at night. I may not be a believer but the thrills that chill down my spine when visiting a place that may have some multi dimensional planes are hard to ignore. The front face of the island is evidence of remarkable town planning by the Britishers and its sole satisfying to see the deathly remains of a once upon a time swimming pool lying by the open sea, the water loading house and the hospital all standing in despair and in remembrance of their prime glory.

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The entire time in Andaman, we stayed with the TSG group of hotels and consecutively landed in the TSG emerald and TSG grand resorts of Port Blair. The service was immaculate and the locations absolutely strategic. The first day in Port Blair we were caught in a torrential rain storm and what happened as a result of that goes down in memory as one of the best travel experiences I have had.. We walked through the entire land of Ross Island in the rain, crusading through the wind and not letting the pouring torrents dampen our spirits of adventure in any way possible! Thus we walked through the alleys and dungeons of Ross and came out absolute champions. The icing on the cake being a stunning rewarding view of the Indian ocean from the Navy High point.

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The view that made the climb up Ross island absolutely worth it

Next we moved on to Havelock. Sweet Havelock where dreams come true, where magic resides and where my I left my heart. But before that, a few snippets from my explorations in Port Blair..

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At the cellular Jail, used by prisoners to grind oil and produce mass produce within impossible hours. failure to produce the required amount of oil lead to shaming, flogging and beatings on a day to day basis
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The gallows. The horror.
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View of the Indian Ocean from ROss ISland
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At the angelic church, or what remains of it: Ross ISland
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The advent of time and the cries for help that fell on deaf ears.

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Next: Havelock

Fernweh- A wishlist for 2016

2015 has been a spectacular year in terms of travel! Larger than life and a shot at the stars with 4 trips in one year.. I have always been a backpacker at heart, and in my opinion the best way to make use of a 3-4 day long weekend is to go travelling! Not only does it add one more place to your list of conquests but also refreshes you- all ready to take on the rest of the year!

2015 saw a variety of stories unfolding as I travelled to Pondicherry to scuba, Sri Lanka to explore, Middle¬†East to unwind and Rann of Kutch to simply be amazed;¬†I believe that you’re doing it right if you’re today is better than your yesterday, and one must strive consistently towards building a larger future than one may think possible. I am expecting to be surprised with last minute impulsive plans yet again in 2016, and I am super excited about some travel destinations that are absolutely on my mind!
1. Hampi
Hampi has been on my mind for a long time now. Partly because of the reviews I have received from some of my friends who have recently visited, but majorly because I’m an out and out History buff! I can only imagine the incredible feeling of being amongst age old ruins which were once witness to the grandeur and rise ¬†of the Vijayanagara empire!¬†The ruins were once the seat the champion city of Vijayanagara and I believe the ruins hold far more secrets than visible to the naked eye. Star gazing, and looking up at an incredible sky from the seat of an equally incredibleruin city would be surreal, and I definitely intend to visit Hampi and i expect Magic!
2. Sikkim 
The prospect of travelling to Sikkim through Bagdogra or Siligudi gives me goosebumps! Sikkim wears the crown in the North Eastern part of India and is home to glaciers, alpine meadows and monasteries. Having been to Bhutan and Ladakh before, I am aware of the enchanting effect a monastery is capable of having on one, and I cannot wait to fall in love again! My plan is to spend more time in Lachung and Pelling, closer to the heart of mother nature and then visit Gangtok for some mandatory capital time. A visit to lake Tsongmo, that is highly revered by the locals and magically changes color with changing seasons will make me a happy soul this year.
3. Andaman & Nicobar Islands
I have always been a beach bum, ¬†I can affirmatively state this about myself. Nothing better than soaking in the sun and watching the sun go down on the vast expanse of water to give you company. The best conversations with yourself happen along the sea side for me, and I am looking forward to some divine time in the Andamans, Lakshadweep or Maldives. Budget travel requires early planning and keeping in mind upcoming holidays and travel time to get to these gems, I think Andamans would be my top pick simply because of how exotic it is, a delicate archipelago furiously holding its own against the raging Indian ocean. yes, its my Top pick ūüôā
4. Langkawi
Langkawi, the rainforests of Malaysia! Comprising a larger part of Malaysia and rich in biodiversity, this is the perfect place to unwind! Cave diving, Cable car and sky bridges, rainforest trekking are just a few things to start with! Flights to Langkawi may be as reasonable as 22000/- INR return if early and scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts, prepare to be amazed at the “Jewel of Kedah”! The 99 islands together offer a dip into the universal currents and with this, year 2016 is definitely slated for a win!
Some pictures from my trips in 2015!
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Moon Rise Over the Great Rann of Kutch
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Rann of Kutch- That beautiful smile
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Watching the Moon over the desert! #nikonl840
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Love in the White salt desert- Great Rann
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Pondicherry!
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Scuba Diving in Pondicherry
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Ayobouvan Sri Lanka!

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Spectacular Lucknow- Nawabon ka Shaher!

I was in Lucknow on a business trip and wanted to make the most of my time so I could pacify my itchy feet to travel! I was determined to make time to see the city i had heard so much about in the limited time that I had.

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I ended up going alone one free morning around the city. From the first step I took into the Bada Imambara, I was amazed. the bada Imambara constitutes of a grand mosque, a Bowli or water tanker with a deep dark history and a huge Maqbara surrounded by deep, twisting tunnels and secret passageways called the Bhul Bhulaiya!

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Nawabon ka shaher- A day in the tomb of & with the martyr. From the Persian Hall, Bada Imambara surrounded by the Bhul-bhalaiya, a maze with innumerable tunnels twisting through the dark, the walls speak here, you can here a sound of a matchstick lighting from across the hall, whispers travel through time, and once lost in the dark tunnels hidden in the surrounding walls There is no way out. And there in the middle of all this magnificence, lies the man that made it all.

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A day in his tomb will shake up the darkest hollows of your soul.The Bowli is a cold dark place, place that has seen more death, more fear, more torture than most others. A mighty salute to Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah, once Nawab of Awadh who lost love, life, family in the name of truth, honour and duty and landed up on display with his head on top of a spear outside this very place. Also listed in the 35 most haunted places of India, the walls and the dungeons of the the Bara Imambara speak in silence, so loud that it is impossible to ignore.

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I stayed at Gemini continental which is strategically located in Hazrath Ganj Lucknow, close to the prime shopping and food properties yet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The staff is very cooperative and I say this with full confidence as they supported me majorly during the set up and execution of a very high tech conference for my company last month.

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The rooms are great and the service is highly commendable. I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone looking for great quality¬†accommodation, However there are several heritage hotels here closer to the hotspot of cultural attractions like the Teela wala Masjid or the Rumi Darwaza. These hertage sites are a part of and blend beautifully withhtyh. The roads and infrastructure is impressive and so is the variety in food and eateries across the city, especially Tundey’s Kebabs!

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One of the most graceful cities I have been to, I stand truly mesmerized by Lucknow !

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Rann of Kutch- The Infinite streak

The Rann of Kutch has stood the testimony of time for centuries now, with ancestral heritage ruins and ancient deserts that refuse to acknowledge worldly rhythms. Barren land for miles, Rann of Kutch has an old world appeal with virgin, untouched territories spanning as far as one can see and quaint, beautiful villages that exist in oblivion. If seeking peace of mind, a conversation with the stars and introspection Rann of Kutch is the path that will lead you to it and here are a list of absolute Must Do’s in my humble opinion that must be added to your bucket list immediately! 3

  1. Lesser Rann

I have to admit I highly underestimated the Little Rann as I had no idea what to expect from this place. A potential Biosphere reserve, the Little Rann is rich in Biodiversity and considered to be the last reserve for wild asses all over the world, having a population of over 5000 wild asses, Nilgais, Foxes, wolves, etc. When in Little Rann, it is highly recommended to stay at Mr. Devijibhai Dhamecha’s Home-stay, also called the Eco Camp which is located in the sanctuary itself. The Koobas (Huts) are gorgeous, food authentic and the best part is one has the opportunity to simply walk out exploring into the sanctuary at any given point of time. 14 13 2

Mr. Dhamecha is a wildlife photographer himself and a conversation with him can give one great perspective about how the rest of the trip should be planned. The route to Eco camp is tricky, but worth the detours! The evening safari is an absolute must do! The jeep drives you into the depths of the desert and gives one amazing opportunities to capture wildlife at its best. Sunsets over the lesser Rann are brilliant. I would personally recommend a good camera to be carried along. Other than that one needs nothing else. For as far as one can see, there is not a soul in sight, the solitude is enchanting and it is a great time for introspection as one drives through the gruelling dry desert.The flamingo nest is a highlight here as it consists of several mounds containing eggs which may or may not have hatched yet. This view is stunning, as is the sunset over the Lesser Rann, the animals against the marshy backdrops and the incredible view of the sun and the moon over the desert in one frame!

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Link to Devijibhai Dhamecha’s Homestay: http://www.littlerann.com/index.html

2. Dholavira

Dholavira, Like Mohenjo Daro and Harappa was once a city part of the Indus Valley civilization. You know you’ve got to sit up and listen when is the ancestry that talks to you. Dholavira itself is an archeological site of the Mohenjo daro and Harappan civilization and exhibits spectacular insight that our ancestors had in terms of planning and resource utilization. The site/ city ruins lies in the middle of nowhere, atop high ground with no access to water and the survival story of this city that sustained in the absence of water is an architectural marvel. The incredible detailing that is evident here with respect to water conservation, drainage, storage, reservoir planning, water filtration and recycling can only be believed when seen! the basics of the modern-day water systems lie here, and the secrets to an age that existed thousands of years ago and saw multiple cities transition into one another lie in the heart of the site -the Citadel.

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Dholavira has a small village located close by, and for expert knowledge on the site one can get in touch with Mr. Jamal, the tour guide who even arranges for lunch and refreshment in the area which is a major plus as there is no civilization for miles around the site. 

Mr. Jamal (Dhola Vira Tour guide: 08141461264)

Another reason to do Dholavira is the road journey to this place! for about 80 Kms all one sees on either side of the excruciatingly straight road is farms and barren land when all of a sudden, out of NOWHERE comes the salt desert! Suddenly, for a miraculous 3-4 Km stretch all one can see is white on either side of the road, the contrasting landscape changes with the equally surprising weather change and within seconds, this becomes the Best Road-trip you might have ever done in your life.

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3. India Bridge and Kalo Dungar

Kala Dungar is a black stone hill located in the Rann of Kutch and is the highest point of Kutch, Gujarat offering panoramic views of the white desert. However, I would not recommend a visit to the Kalo Dungar if you’re only objective is to catch a glimpse of the view as the view is average and not very satisfying. A good eye can spot the India bridge from here but other than that, I would suggest to spend some time taking in a view of the beautifully decorated camels, eat some Gujarati style papdi bhel and kachodi, and see the 400 year old Dattareya temple that houses a statue of Lord Dattareya, who as per legend cut off parts of his body to feed hungry starving jackals once upon a time. These jackals can still be spotted here when they come to eat prasad fed to them after the 5 pm evening prayer. Another mystical fact associated with kala Dungar  is the strange effect it has on cars by pulling them down the slope with uncanny strength even when the engines are off. The magnetic entities dominating this phenomenon are currently under study.

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Highly recommended is a trip to the India bridge, just a few kilometers ahead of the Kala Dungar. The India bridge is the last point where the advent to the Pakistan border begins and the territory is under the control of the Border Security Force, Indian army. Photography is not permitted here but the experience is incredible. On request, the BSF may allow you to go 12 Km further up till the War Memorial where the last village of India is located 68 Km from Pakistan. The 12 Km stretch provided stunning views of the white desert, army bunkers, shooting ranges and war scenes. An absolute yes to this!

4. Great White desert

The primary reason why I wanted to visit the Rann of Kutch was to experience the solitude which is only born out of a union with nature, but I ended up getting much more. Accommodation while in Rann is primarily village housing and home-stays with a few dependable ones being the Rann Rajwadi, Toran resort, Hotel Desert Kind, etc; The white desert seems to be located at the end of all civilization where you seem to be leaving all behind as you walk deeper into the white marsh. Once part of the Arabian sea bed, this is the largest salt marsh in the world taking up 30000 Sq Km of the Thar desert. While is has several rivers draining into it carrying water from Rajasthan, the marsh is covered in water throughout the year except in the winter months of November-February when the water evaporates leaving behind salt that hardens because of the cold. This phenomenon is surreal. It is unbelievable to experience something as seemingly impossible as this, and yet as one walks deeper into the desert away from all signs of civilization you cannot help but realize that there is way too much to take in than you thought possible. The view is stunning, with white on all sides till as far as the eye can see. The skies are clear, stars are bright and close and the sun set over the Rann is magical.

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5. Moon Rise over the Great White Rann

It is the first time that we ever witnessed a Moon rise, and that too over the Rann- it did not disappoint. Moon- rise occurred as expected at 7:19 PM and from the moment that it began it was difficult to take our eyes off it. Initially appearing as a faint flicker of scarlet, a blood moon slowly and steadily rose from behind the clouds and over time escalated to deliver the promised view of the silver desert in the Moonlight. The last time I have witnessed Moonlight strong enough to cast Moon shadows was in Ladakh and I dare say, the Moonlight over the Great Rann blew my mind! We spent a good 4 hours out on the desert, even helped pull out an army officer’s vehicle stuck in the desert, walked for miles into the unknown and took our time taking in the incredible expanse!

Rann of Kutch in one word is surreal. Welcome to the “Infinite”- surpassing Time, distance and everything in Between.

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Children of the world

When one man dies, it is a tragedy. When thousands die, it is statistics.No one chooses to be a refugee. In a time when humans are proving to be the biggest villains, we have to step up and be the heroes for each other that we know we need. There is no running away from this. It’s time to stop being escapists and start accepting the reality of all that is going on around the world. 

Waking up to a little and then a little more heartbreak every single day, It’s easy to be sitting miles away and browsing through global crises’ and local “intolerance” wars, but the truth is we as a breed are losing our grip on humanity- a little every day. Wherever the stories are coming in from- Lebanon, Beirut, Baghdad, Afghanistan, Peshawar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, gaza, Paris, Syria- remember that this is our story. This is a world our predecessors have created for us and left us to survive in. What we build together is the only thing that will count. We are one with those without a home, without a country and without a god. We can simply not deny ourselves the reality that we are who the refugees will be, and the refugees will be who we make them. 

Acceptance is a funny thing. Dynamics do not offer the possobilities of taking sides. Having lived in Mumbai all my life apart from my time spent our studying, I understand the complicated equations of tolerance and intolerance that Indians from different parts of the country have towards each other. One cannot be blamed for being uncomfortable with people taking over their homes, their cities. With a growing population we face issues of placement and displacement all the time in India. 

However, survival is core. And that is what everything really boils down to. I think it’s imperative to recognise a feeling  of empathy towards those that are suffering. We can not get anywhere till we empathise. It’s pointless trying to decide who is right and who is wrong, this issue is must more complicated than anyone has anticipated with large scale political agendas and missions that have been in the making for decades now. 

I hope I can get the message across to whoever may be reading this, that the point is to not get drawn into the politics of the situation but rather understand the relevance of your own opinions and support towards those suffering at this point of time. We are all children of the same world, the same sky, the same God. #refugeecrisis 

 

The Game changer! The Companies Act 2013 and all that cannot be ignored anymore

“The Business of Business is Business”

Friedman’s fundamentalist theory

The Companies Act or The Act 2013 has been in the making for over ten years now since the time it was drafted by the then government that believed that the current corporate scenario was in dire need of change. The law although only partially implemented is expected to have far reaching effects on the Indian corporate scenario in the years to come. Like everything else, the companies Act 1956 was in need of intervention, having been deemed incapable of keeping up with shifting global market trends and increasing need for protection of stakes in companies. There was a need to ‚Äúraise the bar on governance‚ÄĚ, a step in the right direction which was initiated with the passage of the Act 2013 which as a law is bound to affect each and every one working in Corporates today. Change is coming, although the level of change that may affect your organization may vary and the implications of passing it may differ in scale and complexity.

Passed on 29th August 2013 the Companies Act 2013 has been designed to appreciate the economic environment of India whilst focusing on protection of stake-holders interests and investments in companies. Application of Lean six sigma tools in processes has been seen coming under focus as companies are becoming more process rather than employee oriented, given the high attrition rates in the market today. The act/ law aims at easing administrative burden at several points of a process and is broadening avenues to deal with international market as a direct impact of globalization. With just 470 sections and 7 schedules, the act is much more concise as compared to the 1956 act though it runs hand in hand with more than 300 references to rules in the 1956 act that play an important role in the optimal functionality of the new law, although in my opinion the job of managing the corporate scenario while referring to the companies Act which is actually a co-existence of TCA 1956 and 2013 by the ministry of corporate affairs is commendable.

An act with this much weightage is bound to come with consequences, the following effects in my opinion which everyone part of the corporate scenario today must be aware of:-

Say hello to the rapidly evolving concept of Corporate Reporting!

Corporate reporting framework has been a topic explored vastly even during conception of the Companies act 1956 with introduction of new changes keeping new age objectives in mind like maintenance of consistency and relevance while submitting financial reports, alignment with international protocols and more. Some of the major changes that every corporate has been made aware of and are now in the process of executing are directly affecting the reporting framework internally as well as externally.  Every company that exists as a joint venture or has any subsidiaries now has to provide a consolidated financial statement which is considered as the sum total of all financial statements applicable to the firm and its counterparts. Although this order is applicable only to companies listed under SEBI as of now, it will soon apply to all existing companies as a consolidated financial statement is considered to the only general statement capable of conveying the true state of financial affairs within a company as per international protocol.

A number of people seem to have several interpretations of subsidiaries, joint ventures and associate firms. The new Act 2013 has clarified the terms and implications each association brings in crystal clear terms basically indicating that while a subsidiary is a company ‚Äúcontrolled‚ÄĚ by the parent company due to more than 50% share value in the same. This thing to note is that while several companies will turn to preference shares, this act rules out any significance of the voting power of an enterprise which was not the case in the previous Act. An associate company or a joint venture is one over which the company has significant influence where joint ventures are expected to present a disclosure regarding amounts depending on equity and cannot indulge in joint accounting as per equity method.

Up until now companies were not allowed to revise their financial statements submitted at the end of the annual cycle. In this case any discrepancy from the previous year believed to have occurred due to error, fraud or whatever reason needed to be adjusted in the next cycle as a past year adjustment. The new act however has opened a new gateway which allows companies to revise their financial statements, although the same can be applied only and only under the following circumstances- if there is a genuine doubt on the reliability and authenticity of the financial statements submitted by a company raised to the board either by organizations like SEBI or any person directly concerned with the finances of the company, or voluntary revision or reinstatement ordered by board of directors in the event that they believe the financial statement may not comply with changes in the new act of 2013. The new law expects all companies to adopt a uniform financial year of April 31st to March 1st along with relevant changes to the depreciation regulation and corresponding impact on the cost and recovery regarding useful life of a company or asset.

Don’t keep Calm, The Auditor is here!

Internal financial controls of companies are now under stringent regulation and this can be seen directly through the increase in relevance of and reliance on internal audit programs and reports. Governments have the power to conduct audits at any given time interval while each company is expected to have an internal auditor the band of which post may be decided by the board of directors. While the internal audits are required for all private listed companies and public listed companies with loans amounting more than 25 Cr the act also demands the reports of internal audit controls from Directors with regard to listed companies and auditors for all associated companies on whether the company is compliant and whether it has the funds to sustain.

The new age is seeing changes with respect to the appointment of auditors/ audit companies by companies, breaking the 5 year rotation period of auditing companies and prevention of the concept of staying with the same audit company for more than a two terms of 5 years each. While audit companies catering to partners are out of the running to be considered for appointment the central government continues to have control over the rotation of audit firms as and when they come and go through the standee company. A growing concern is seen regarding non auditor services which although may go unofficially unaudited, yet have seen to benefit the company either through investment banking services or management services. I cannot say I completely agree with prohibition of rendering ‚Äúnon-auditable‚ÄĚ services by the auditor to the auditee in strong legal terms as it may include various dimensions of human and economic factors which need not be regulated all the time.

The importance of reporting fraud, sticking to auditing standards and have been highlighted but the main point to be noted which exhibits how seriously the government is combating corporate crime and fraud is by establishment of the NFRA [National Financial Reporting Association] which not only has the power to guide and advise the central government with respect to laws and strategies for Audit control but also enjoys judicial power with the capabilities to investigate frauds on account of wither companies or individuals.

Organization Restructuring- Control Vs Commitment

The main objective of this in my opinion is to make the process of mergers and acquisitions efficient, easier and compliant with limited timelines. The judicial power and sanctioning authority for re-structuring of companies not lies at the seat of the NCLT [National Company Law Tribunal] and the goal is to maintain transparency regarding the real owners of a company by prohibiting a company from making more than a two level investment in a subsidiary. Restructuring transactions include compromise or agreements, amalgamations, demergers while the valuation of each of these transactions must necessarily be carried out by a registered valuer. The concept of minority buy out is great as this removes the complications that arise from minority stakeholders in the company as the ownership moves back to the parent units although this amendment is also subject to several terms and conditions applicable at the time of the movement.

Cross border mergers are now allowed and encouraged, fast track mergers are available for small units amalgamating while dormant companies which can be proved to be potentially and productively active in the future are now recognized. Pros of this amendment include recognition of small scale companies, limit on number of members in partnership firms, relaxed provision for BOD meetings in smaller companies and so on.

A few good men! Increased corporate responsibility at the Managerial level

Increasing the cap on number of Directors that a company can have, laying down rules for a director to have experienced India for at least 182 days before being appointed and provision for women directors are a few changes which can be expected. Mandatory committees to be involved in the removal or appointment of a director, role of central government in exercising control over unlisted public companies by appointment of leaders, protection of independent director rights, differentiation between nominee and independent directors, managerial responsibilities on part of auditing firm directors and stringent punishment for non-compliance when it comes to inside trading are welcome changes which only go to show how much India is advancing and growing and realizing the need to set some ground rules. However, in my opinion inside trading when performed in defined limits may not always be as harmful as is deemed. Either ways, the new era will see added responsibilities and more importantly, accountability on the part of corporate leaders aiming at creating an atmosphere of transparency.

Corporate social responsibility- The way to Go! 

As per the new act, companies over a specified net worth of 500 Cr are expected to spend 2% of their net revenue on CSR activity [Section 135]. CSR committees per qualifying company are mandatory, required to plan the CSR activity for the company along with the budget of expenditure for the same, whilst also monitoring the activity returns and performance. The CSR committee is crucial to regulate and approve of CSR policies, ensure 2% spend on the program and draft a report on the success of the same while presenting to the board. CSR activity can be anything that deals with Environment sustainability, social business enhancement, women empowerment, infant and women health protection, poverty reduction, socio- economic development, education and so on! Companies can pool together in order to perform CSR and CSR projects or programs may also integrate into existing business models of the company, a recent example being of  General Electric Healthcare where the CSR activity focusing on education and eradication of unemployment grew into an economic structure integrating with the existing business models of GE India and is today a separate entity belonging to GE Healthcare called GE HC Education.

Now, accounting statements will represent more than just numbers- the growing focus on Investor Protection!

This is a focus thought discussed at length in the new Act of 2013. The transactions of companies with related parties which may not be in the order of ordinary business are now to be sanctioned by board of directors and privy to strict compliance standards. Income tax regulations on national and international transactions, provisions to do with caps in inter-corporate loans as well as fraud rick mitigation by defining fraud in clear terms and placing more responsibility on directors, management leaders and auditors has increased accountability and clarity in terms of  corporate investment protection. The Investor Education and Protection fund is also established to engage in reimbursement of funds to investors who may have suffered losses due to fraud. Investor protection is not only given utmost importance but also happens to be the section of the new act with most number of amendments in consideration with growing markets, globalization and increase in corporate fraud with establishment of the Serious Fraud Investigation office [SFIO] and increased responsibility on part of directors through direct reporting, auditing and investment management.

The Company Act, 2013 arrives in turbulent markets and during a time of integration, globalization and strained economic variations. It is determined to inculcate transparency, penalties and governance that can surely not be taken for granted anymore. While most changes are welcome and eventual like the encouragement of Start-ups, lower registration fees for smaller companies, reduction of time wastage on administrative and procedural issues, protection of confidentiality of board decisions and resolutions, one wonders if the extreme fraud penalties are necessary considering the dynamically changing markets and rupee value consideration, especially when it comes to transacting with international entities. Alternatively, CSR which used to be a voluntary activity taken up by companies in good faith, to boost employee morale, make a visible difference to the world, one wonders if making it mandatory loses the basic foundation of the concept. Changing auditor rotation schemes is also something I have my doubts about, as this way one loses the historical expertise that comes with past company rotations. Like I have maintained earlier we are all surviving in turbulent times where one sees a changing India every day in one way or another. Whether we are talking about genetically modified organisms, biotech crops, food labeling or other social, environmental, economic, political or corporate issues, all that matters today is taking responsibility and keeping in mind that this may be a step forward in the right direction, the direction being the betterment of India’s economic investment climate. Only time will tell.

References: KPMG 2013 , E&Y LLP, Translegalllc, The Economic Times

Hampi- The Lost Empire!

Giants among men do exist. If you have any doubts feel free to take a day off your schedule and walk around exploring a vast cohort of “could be’s” and “would have been likes” while you walk around what remains of a mighty magnanimous empire. Covering Hampi in 1 day may not be the ideal way to uncover the “secrets of the stones” that live here, but it is do-able.

Finding your way around these mighty remains is actually as simple as made out to be complicated. If you’re the aggressive, over enthusiastic type of traveler (which I am).. this plan could work wonders for you. Alternately, If you prefer the passive approach to sightseeing, then this plan would work equally well spread over 2 days. What follows is my attempt at breaking down a 3 day Hampi tour in simple steps which we spent more time than necessary contemplating over.

Hampi- How to get there?

We flew to Bangalore and hired  cab from the airport to the village of Hampi about 300 Kms and 6 Hours away. The transport to and back from Hampi is varied and frequent- buses, taxis, trains- Name it you got it. The route is fairly average, up until you come across the first glimpse of the Tungabhadra river which works as a genuine build up to what lies ahead. The highways connecting Bangalore to Hampi are spectacular and the entry to the main Village- Grand! The moment you’re past the entrance the scenery becomes spectacularly stunning, to the point that every way you look, youdsee your mind registering an eccentric painting- surreal, avid and buzzing with the slightest vibrations that the mind conveniently overlooks.

The village of Hampi lies on one side of the Tungabhadra river, and most of the guest houses lie along the other side which is that part of the national reserve of Karnataka that buzzes with Reggae music, soft chatter over drinks and crowds of young people drifting animatedly up and down the street, in and out of shops. For a second, the scene almost reminded us of a supremely relaxed Goa scenario- The colors are subtle, the music is amplified just enough and the winds blow just as fervently across the rice fields as it does across the skins of people it touches. As custom would have it, one would be required to cross the river to get to the guesthouses, a short 4 to 5 minute ride that brings together cohesive images of the famous ruins, even in the water. Submerged temples, Statues peeking over the water and an endearing Nandi statue that never fails to catch anyone’s attention while on the boat.

Hampi in 1 Day

As promised, Here’s my steadfast guide to covering Hampi in one day!

Hampi, located on the southern bank of river Tungabhadra was once the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, and the seat of culture, literature and knowledge for one of the longest spans of time seen in history. The kingdom was ruled by 4 dynasties over time, the Sangama Dynasty, the Saluwa Dynasty, Vijanagara Dynasty and the Tulu dynasty and over time became the standing testimony of varying cultures, beliefs, rituals and implementations miraculously bound by common roots and the unshakable love for knowledge. This is important to know because this is exactly what the remains talk about- in glimpses and snippets. Uncovering the stories is passable but the process of the brain taking in the grand remains and contemplating “what could have once been” is FANTASTIC!

Wake up early in the morning, have a hearty breakfast at one of the several eccentric cafes along the street or simply sitting by the rice fields and then walk down to the river. The first boat leaves at 8 AM. once on the other side, the simplest way to go about things is to follow a streamlined approach and literally covering everything that comes along the way- A map would be handy and be ready to walk, walk, WALK!

Virupaksha Temple

The oldest temple in Hampi, the Virupaksha temple tower also called the Bistappaya Tower is an 11 storey tall magnificent structure. The temple has 2 towers and 2 compounds and is dedicated to Lord Virupaksha or Pampapati. The temple is massive with steps leading into it from 3 sides and has a major middle hall and inner sanctums with temples dedicated to Pampadevi, Goddess Bhubaneshwari, Navagrahas, Shiva and Ganapati. The queen of this temple and a star attraction is Lakshmi, the endearing and captivating elephant that gracefully accepts eatables in return for her blessings, not to forget the perpetual residents of this place- the Monkeys and black faced langurs!

  1. Achyutaraya Temple

This was probably my favourite tourist spot in Hampi. The temple is set against a gorgeous location, nested in the middle of the mountains surrounding it! The Achyutaraya temple is surreal, large arches, vast madapas, gigantic pillars- all lying in absolute ruins. Its so beautiful its truly hard to explain. For this once, I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Valley View of the Achyutaraya Temple

  1. Temple of Kondan Rama

Located by the river, in my opinion the temple with the most beautiful view in all of Hampi. SIt is one of the temples that come along the way while walking from the temple of Achyutaraya, through the remnants of bustling carnival alley ways towards the Vitthala Vijaya temple. As opposed to the Haara Rama temple which was built as a private temple of the kings complete with a royal center of attraction this temple is delicate, elegant and highly basic in comparison.mall simple temple compound sprawling with Black faced langoors is the perfect setting for some self reflection and photography.

Matunga Hill

Once you have seen all of the Virupaksha temple, you can walk to the foot of the Matunga hill. Here there are two options- you can either walk all the way up the hill, a 45 minute hike that ends in a breath-taking view of the surroundings OR take option number 2, walk up the stairs on the left! The stairs to the left of the hill lead up the hill through a series of smaller temples built into the rocks ages ago. The walk continues through demolished gates, Hanuman temple nested in the rocks, cacti and  giant scenic stones only to lead to a brilliant view of the Achyutaraya temple, that lies at the end of the walk down the hill.

  1. Sri Vitthal Vijaya Temple & Stone Chariot

The Vitthala Vijaya temple complex is a sight to behold but what I will remember the most is the walk towards this temple through sprawling boulder hills and ancient structures that meet you along the way, be it the king’s balance which still stands today where once upon a time the current king was weighed against sacks of gold to be distributed amongst the poor. A kingdom of Heart Indeed. Even so, nothing beats the view of the spectacular barren hills against clear crystal skies and the wind whistling in your ear. The Vitthal Vijaya Temple complex is gorgeous surrounded by tall mounting walls and grand gateways, with multiple mandapas dedicated to each of the crucial rituals that each of us undergo in life. The detailing is sincerely shocking, with each and every curve and chisel mark on the structures telling a story. Everything holds significance here. the stone chariot stands right in the middle of the temple complex summarizing the mandapas around into the structures built into the chariot driven by the Lord Vishnu while the mandapas stand around it in grandeur, each stone structure a beauty on its own. These structures include the Kalyana Mandapa (Wedding hall), Ranga  Mandapa, Utsava Mandapa and the Sabha Mandapa! The Utsava Mandapa is truly a sight to behold as one witnesses the presence of 56 singing pillars, each producing the sound of a different instrument which were used in the days of Krishnadevaraya to create an ambiance of celebration. Suddenly, an evening lit up with radiance comes to life where dancers rejoiced to the tunes of these singing pillars being struck in harmony. The architecture is intelligent and it is astounding to see the kind of depth and insight builders had into the sciences at the time when the world was still coming to terms with development.

  1. Queen’s bath and Old Palace

Ok so by now, youhave walked alot. Probably more than you would normally in weeks. But stay rest ensured the sights that await are worth the efforts. The Queen’s bath is what remains of a wealthy, larger than life lifestyle. The old palace remains are extensively spread out, complete with the tower of judgment, secret meeting halls under the ground, horse stables, soldier hostels, messes for the workers and celebration enclosures.

The first sight of the old palace itself are two massive doorways spread across the ground as the structures to support it no longer exist. A sight like this can truly haunt and excite Anyone with an imagination, especially when one comes across the beheading station where so many countless lives were executed and disposed off.

Zanani Enclosure- Lotus Mahal, Elephant stables, Watch tower

The Zanani enclosure is a pleasant walk, much needed after the window into the life that once was within the old palace halls. The Lotus mahal is symbolic and majestic while the watch tower stands tall and solitary at the corner of the yard. the tower overlooks the old palace, queen’s bath as well as the much guarded royal treasury, a panorama of all that the kingdom held dear. Just beyond the tower stand the huge elephant stables, once home of the royal elephants and every bit as majestic as one would expect.The special thting about Hampi is that the entire village stands testimony to the spectacle that this kingdom once was, and the weight that carries is probably why it is called the ghost town- it leaves you with mixed emotions and the weight of neglect through the centuries.

Underground Shiva temple

My favourite place in Hampi, this spot is a gem! The underground shiva temple is literally a shive lingam located in the womb of an astounding temple complex located in a cave habituated by bats and creatures of the night.  The highly regarded and revered lord Shiva was once celebrated here with pomp and splendid display, today it stands neglected but powerful. The energy is high and so is the sense of adrenaline rushing through your blood as you hop and skip your way into the cave to take one good look at the majestic god.

Badavi Linga temple

Another spectacular shiva temple located right next to the Narsimha Statue is the Badavi Linga. Surprisingly one of the only structures that escaped any damage through time and natural consequences, the 3 feet tall Linga statue is the largest structure of its kind in Hampi. It is an overwhelming monolithic black stone statue that stands immersed in a naturally flowing water and is highlighted by the sunlight consistently streaming in through the top. Legends of the Badavi Linga are ripe and for all to indulge in, and the experience of seeing it yourself is unmatched.

Badavi Linga Statue, Hampi
Ugra Narasimha Temple

Located right next to the Badavi Linga, the Narasimha statue minus the Lakshmi statue which disappeared over time is a visual delight. Built in 1528 AD, the statue was destroyed during war and lakshmi was separated from Narasimha even though her hand can still be seen resting on his back. The largest monolithic structure in Hampi, the statue is covered by  the snake hoods of adishesha and this statue celebrates the fierce form of Lord Narasimha. The Lion face based atop a human body is truly a symphony of expressions.

Ugra Narasimha statue, Hampi
Hemakuta Hills

The Sacred center of Hampi, Hemakuta got its name from a legend associated with Hampi where Shiva agreed to marry his devotee Pampa impressed with her penance and will to marry him. It then rained gold on this hill, therefor Hema which in sanskrit means gold. The hills flattened unique structures spread out with temples dedicated to Shiva and Ganesha. The view from the top is worth the 15-20 minute climb and the silence and peace attained once on top is worth all the sweat and blood lost. One can see almost all of Hampi from the top and the hills offer great opportunities for photography, especially during sunrise and sunset. The main temple located here is the main Virupaksha temple dedicated to lord shive and his Pampa devi with the more interesting yet highly underrated Ganesha idols lining the second entrance to the top of the hill from the other side.

In Summary, All there really is left to say is that you have a holiday coming up and want to explore some place where magic may or may not have existed, Hampi is where you need to be. A perfect balance today between the old and the contemporary it is the perfect short holiday to spend with your friends, for reasons you need to be IN Hampi to decipher!

Shanti Inn, Hampi

Lakshmi Bathing by the Tungabhadra river and waving as we pass her by
With Love, From Hampi!

Feature Photography

 Featured in the Asia Europe Foundation Photo Gallery 2015

Featured in the Asia Europe Foundation Photo Gallery 2015

Featured in the CGAP 2015 Photo contest

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Featured in the Eneloop Campaign Gallery for the Eneloop Asia Photography contest in India, Powered by Better Photography Magazine 2015

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Featured in the Eneloop Campaign Gallery for the Eneloop Asia Photography contest in India, Powered by Better Photography Magazine 2015

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Featured in the Eneloop Campaign Gallery for the Eneloop Asia Photography contest in India, Powered by Better Photography Magazine 2015

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Picture Monologues- Bhutan !

A few of my Photographs from Bhutan recently featured in the Eneloop campaign gallery, and are currently in the running for the Eneloop Asia Contest in India powered by Shutterlock and Better Photography Magazine (https://eneloop.shuttlerock.com/content/2nd-photo-contest-in-india)

These photographs are symbolic of the peace and tranquility that I experienced when I was travelling through the Last Shangri-la, as they call it. Expression without words is probably the most effective way to convey to you what I felt on my trip to this country. Some of my favorite shots, compiled into this post..


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How deep is your Love? – #neverstaysilent against animal abuse

“The Darkest corners of hell are reserved for those, who in times of a crisis maintain neutrality.”

It is a little challenging not to wake up and voice your thoughts when mornings begin with “news” like this. A little over a year ago an incident that occured in the Delhi zoo where Vijay the Tiger “maulled” a man to death compels you to question- What is the extent to which one can be held responsible for his or her Reactions? As the “responsible” people in power sat and contemplated whether Vijay had turned into a man eater and should be “put down” , it made many of us wonder if “putting an animal down” or “executing and clearing landmasses because they were potential roads” were options commonly resorted to just because they were feasible and easy actions that COULD be performed.

You see, there is nothing special about us Humans. The greatest advantage that we have over other species is that we have the power to choose. The power to choose what we do with our lives, and unfortunately to choose what we do with other’s lives. Blame it on an age long struggle to ensure survival of the fittest or simply the lack of anything more imaginative, we humans have become a selfish race, a lazy race which would rather get rid of problems than face them. In light of cruelty subjected towards animals in the past year, I would like to take this opportunity to express grief, sorrow and fury… but lets not forget shame over the actions of my fellow humans.

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I have always maintained through my articles that we have been pushed into turbulent, disturbed times where no man and no animal is safe. Seeing acts of atrocities towards animals in specific and this planet in general all over the the world, one begins to question the basic core of his or her own foundations. Are we as a race really so discontent that we look for such outlets to destroy and acquire? I have listed a few events here which in my opinion need to be escalated, need to be pondered upon. Take some time out, click on the links, see whats happening and process it. This happened, but whats important is what can be done about it now that its out there. These events affected me deeply and I cannot wake up everyday knowing this is still happening while I do nothing. Circumstances have made me an activist and I hope that a look into a mere handful of cruelties in the last year will shake your beliefs and awaken your soul as well.

Whale Hunting in Japan, Iceland, Faroe Islands- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/faroeislands/11762447/Horrific-images-show-slaughter-of-250-whales-in-Faroe-Islands-hunt.html

Follow WDC- an organization committed to helping dave whales and dolphins around the world- http://us.whales.org/wdc-in-action/whaling

More than 2000 whales killed every year. (Above) A pic from the whale hunting festival, Farow Islans 2015

Dog Meat festival in China –¬†http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-33220235

Upto 10000 Dogs  Tortured, Mutilated, killed and eaten every year in China. Picture from the Yulin festival 2015

Dolphin hunting festival, Japan

To fight Such hunting practices and to help release ¬†whales and dolphins back into the wild in a challenging fight against Sea worlds around the world, follows Ric O’ Barry’s Dolphin project and be part of a movement which is the need of the hour. Always aiming at #thecoverunsblue.

You can also follow the Ocean preservation society and Mission Blue, which is fighting the never-ending doog fight everyday.

Dolphin killing in Taiji.. Picture from the OVS journalism blog

Lion Poaching in Africa: http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.in/news/un-resolution-tackles-illegal-wildlife-trade-wake-cecil-lion-outrage

Be it Cecil the Lion’s story who was poached within a sanctuary or the the fight against zoos and parks which use lions as entertainment value-ads, You can follow inspiring leaders like Kevin Richardson or follow World Animal Protection to do your bit and help make a difference!

Kevin Richardson- The Lion Whisperer. Follow him to be inspired each and every day!

Shark Poaching, Africa- http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29418983

Shark poaching in Somali

Shark Poaching in Somali

Tiger Hunting: www.savetigersnow.org

Tigers today have advanced towards the endangered species list. There used to be over 100,000 roaming the asian wild with less than 322 left today.

WHY HASN'T THIS MADE IT TO THE NEWSPAPER COVER?
WHY HASN’T THIS MADE IT TO THE NEWSPAPER COVER?

In the name of Fashion?

Canada Seal Slaughter –¬†http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/fur/canadian-seal-slaughter/

Skinning of crocodile and snakes for fashion, All in the bags and shoes- http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/exotic-skins-animals/

Don’t get me wrong, I love my bags and shoes, but in today’s day and age of alternatives isn’t there an ethical way to be fashionable? Be responsible, not callous.

Monkey Kidnapping in india- http://www.petaindia.com/blog/alleged-monkey-kidnappers-arrested/

Poaching of Rhinos- http://www.kariega.co.za/blog/video-thandi%E2%80%99s-inspirational-story-and-baby-rhino

From Poaching victim to Doting Mom, Follow Thandi the Rhino’s inspirational rescue story through wildlife film-maker Adrien Stern

As of today, September¬†2015- Experts claim that there has been a decline in the natural ecosystem and corresponding wildlife by 52%. 52%.. If now is now the time to wake up, I don’t know when is.¬†Animal populations have halved, fresh water species have dwindled by 76 %, marine animals show a decline of 39%. Tigers and elephants are being driven towards extinction while the human population has doubled. What now?¬†It doesn’t really matter what you work for, if you you remain this apathetic towards the state of your own planet, and of the animals on it. Please live responsibly, and work everyday towards making a change. Little changes DO matter. Follow world organizations, almost all of which have active branches in India. Volunteer, make a difference, and more importantly learn to say NO!

I have been to several animal enclosures around the world, The Tiger temple in Thailand, Sea world enclosures in Asia, elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka…but I honestly believe that we are conditioning animals in a way that is against their nature. Before we forget how we are supposed to exist, let us join hands and do the right thing no matter how hard it may seem. Join the movements protesting against the taming of wild animals for the sake of entertainment and focusing on releasing them into the wild, the only right way to co-exist. And if we do take their responsibility lets take better care and speak up for those who do not have a voice. Let us not come to a stage where we lose faith in humanity altogether.Wildlife-population-decline-jpg
Main Threats to SpeciesJoin world organizations today- WWF, PETA, Greenpeace International, Greenpeace India, Change.org, Humane society International India- Something. anything.¬†Our own extinction starts with the extinction of every minute species that has died in the name of humanity. There is so much awareness today, everyone is fighting some or the other battle, whether iit involves freedom of animals from circuses, putting an end to animal sacrifice, preventing destruction of mangroves.. but mostly I’ll probably just request you to go easy on yourselves, take a moment and decide how you can make a difference. the world is well connected today, it is smaller than we think it is absolutely fragile. Its time to stop taking it for granted and show some compassion to fellow humans, to stray dogs, to animals and to nature.

Maybe it is time to Stop acting like we actually have another planet to go to.

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I will #neverstaysilent against animal abuse. #tryme

My Story: Being True to yourself, Despite your Gender!

We are faced with turbulent times as we face a changing India in front of us, in an era where the fight for justice is inherently being fought every day, every second. It is challenging to keep up with a country which has so many changing dynamics where people‚Äôs views and ideals are constantly shifting shapes with the events making ‚Äúnews‚ÄĚ around us. I have been raised in Mumbai and one of the followers of the notion that almost every Mumbaikar carries within him or herself- ‚ÄúYou can remove a person from Bombay but you cannot remove Bombay from a person‚ÄĚ.
In an age where India has become so aware of crimes against women and women empowerment, most girls and women don‚Äôt realize that we are consistently being built around a foundation that we need to fight for equality, raise our voices against the slightest injustice and adopt absolute intolerance towards people who ‚Äúdare to enrage our modestly‚ÄĚ, it may be an eve teaser on the road or one of the guys that gawks and stares till the hairs on your arms rise! In my opinion we women carry a rage inside us, always ready to retaliate and set the world right if necessary. Keeping this in mind, I have a story to share which my friends and family think I should talk about to send across a message to women in general, Society in particular! I have led a sheltered childhood in Hiranandani Gardens, Powai where I live with my mother who is a teacher at Hiranandani Foundation School and has single handedly brought me up in this beautiful city after the demise of my father in the early years. My mother has always taught me to be fiercely independent which might be a good way to start the retelling of my account.
This happened at the Goregaon Oberoi Mall junction, which is known not only for the tediously long signals but also for the notorious lot of eve teasers and pick pocketers who have terrorized people there springing back and forth from the adjacent Pathanwadi slums. It was a weeknight and I was travelling back from work at about 9:30 PM when my auto-rikshaw stopped at the signal junction while I furiously sat inside typing away a message on my phone. This was the same area where my colleague had been harassed by a man two nights ago who tried to snatch her bag from inside the rikshaw. The thing with any unfortunate incident is that one always thinks it cannot happen to him or herself. As I waited at the signal, Suddenly out of nowhere I felt someone pass by me almost like a ghost staring straight at me and then within a second, my phone was snatched away from my hand. I don’t remember feeling anything but instant rage at that point which has led me to opinionate that we have a latent fury that we carry wherever we go. I looked out and saw the man running towards the slums. Instantly on impulse I dropped whatever I was holding, jumped out of the rikshaw and ran behind the man. I followed him into the slums and ran behind him through the turning and twisting alleys of the slum. Soon people in the slum started noticing that something was up, and before I knew it I was joined in my chase by 10-15 other people- men, women and children.
As we ran behind the guy who had my phone, we suddenly reached a dead end where three men were standing having a conversation. Seeing us run into the clearing chasing the thief, the men rounded him up and started questioning me as to why I was chasing him. At that moment all I could feel was fury. So much rage it is almost impossible to fathom. It was then that I realized, I felt this way not because the man had run away with my phone but because he thought he COULD just snatch my phone and run away, not because he ran away with something that was not his but because he thought he COULD just violate my personal space and then run away because a ‚Äúgirl would not chase him‚ÄĚ or a ‚Äúgirl would not risk the chase into a chawl‚ÄĚ or a ‚Äúgirl would rather lose her phone than FIGHT‚ÄĚ!
Fathoming all the strength and rage I could, I slapped the man hard against his face. He was shocked. I will never forget the look on his face, which screamed that he had not expected this and then the people around me took over as I began to catch my breath and understand what it was that had taken over me. I then dragged the man out while the slum dwellers told me how common this had become and that I should hand him over to the cops. Next thing I knew he snatched his hand back and ran into the busy street, and while I stood there holding my phone I realized I have never seen anyone running for their life the way I saw him that day.
As I thanked the slum dwellers for their help I realized that I had left my bag in the rikshaw when I had run behind the man on impulse and just as I was beginning to lose faith in humanity there I saw the auto rikshaw guy, standing on the side of the road searching for me, with my bag in his hands. There is a reason why we love our Mumbai auto rikshaw bhaiyas no matter how much grief they give us they will never lag behind when it comes to honesty. I took the rikshaw and went over to the closest police station where I lodged a complaint. At first none of the police officers wanted to write down an FIR against someone from the pathanwadi slums but on much coaxing and seeing my bruises they agreed and made an entry.
All this while the rikshaw driver waited with me at the police station while I called my colleagues over telling them what had happened. I realized I had dropped my wallet on the street as well and gave up hope on finding it almost as soon as I had realized it was missing. However, about an hour after the incident I got a call on my phone asking me if I had lost my wallet! When I asked the man on the phone where he had found it he said he had found it fallen at the signal but hadnt been able to locate anyone around it or find a number to contact. So he used my shopper’s stop card to call the store, find my number and return the wallet to me! To see someone go through such an effort just to return something to the rightful owner just after seeing someone steal something from me had me overwhelmed, and it was then that I realized the paradox which was this city! A day of so much bad, and yet so much good!
My friends have often debated whether it was right of me to chase the man that day, I know my family would prefer me not pulling stunts but the fact of the matter is that if I had not run behind the man the other day, a part of my would have always carried the weight of that around. Women go through a lot in this country on a daily basis, and I believe that it is the women of today that can change that. We can’t wait for men to come and change the way things are, it is time to take responsibility and to fight our own battles. The answer may not always be running behind a stranger or getting into inadvisable confrontations. But the answer does lie in being true to yourself and not letting a gender bias ever, ever hold you back.

Sweet Sweet Pondicherry!

Pondicherry- fondly called Pondi is that it is a sweet endearing town which seems to be immersed in a summer slumber, lifetimes old. It is small, simple and almost so charming one would simply fall in love innocence and simplicity.

Incredible Pondicherry
Incredible Pondicherry

The fastest way to get to Pondicherry is from Chennai, where it lies about 2.5 hours away in the sleepy hollows of Bay of Bengal. While there are two routes to get to Pondi, my favorite is the one by the sea with ever blowing coconut trees, cloud covered fields of rice and never ending roads lined with saturated heaps of salt to complement the view.

En route Pondicherry
En route Pondicherry

At first glance Pondicherry is vibrant. Commercial, densely populated and heavily packed with vehicles especially two wheelers. However, the contrasting elements as you enter deeper into the city are stunning as the city slowly transforms into a sleepy, colourful summer town where people are mainly trying to escape their own realities.

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The locals are forever smiling, helpful and extremely comfortable with tourists in their lives. Tourism being the main trade of the city, everyone is oriented towards guiding tourists around the city. The best way to travel around this gorgeous place is by hiring a kinetic which comes at the rate of Rs. 250/- per day while the magic lies in getting lost around this town only to discover that almost all roads are inter-connected!

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Le Cafe on Rock Beach Promenade

If in Pondicherry, do try and stay at one of the hotels in White Town, the most beautiful part of Pondicherry also knows as the French village. My top recommendations would be Le Dupleix, Palais de Mahi, Villa Shanti or even Hotel Promenade.The little french cafes, bistros and restaurants pull strings at your heart which make you immediately thankful to be there and then.

Never ending days of summer in Pondi
Never ending days of summer in Pondi

The beautiful Le Dupleix, located just off the Promenade is incapable of ever disappointing. Its gorgeous and down right my favorite place in Pondicherry. Beautifully structured, elegant in design the feel of the place is magical. If there do try the crab frittatas and Lobster Thermidor!

Le Dupleix!
Le Dupleix!

Le Cafe is probably the most aesthetically located restaurant/ cafe in pondi. Located right on the promenade rock beach and the only one on the entire stretch, this cafe is elegant and has a stunning view! A perfect place to relax and forget who you are and where you come from. Places like Le Cafe make me philosophical almost because of its sheer elegance and this kind of beauty cannot go unnoticed.

Le Cafe
Le Cafe

When on a kinetic, you’re never out of options and on our trip we got a chance to explore a number of eateries, some similar and some very different. Cafe Xtasy serves the best best Pizzas and these pizzas are absolutely huge!! Do NOT order a large pizza unless you have at least 5 people sharing the pizza! Le club is another open air bar and restaurant which feels a lot like Goa to be honest. One place that must absolutely be visited is Villa Shanti! Elegant and ethereal, this place calls for a pre-booking or reservation..

At Villa Shanti!
At Villa Shanti!

Chocolatarians must visit Zuka! The mousse cakes are absolute delights. another recommendation would be to try the sunny Prawns at Le Club and maybe some Mutton soup and samosas by the street across Pondicherry railway station which my friends seemed to love.

Prats and I <3
Prats and I <3

Alcohol lovers can head to bars like Pudou Pudou or de Bussy, which are not very beautiful but serve extremely reasonable alcohol.

Zuka!
Zuka!

The best part about being on a kinetic is that we have the liberty of alighting and exploring as per our wishes. It is so important to have that kind of freedom when travelling, and this proved to be the best decision we took when there.

DisDis boutique cafe..one of the manby stops along the way :)
DisDis boutique cafe..one of the manby stops along the way ūüôā

Immaculate conception cathedral, one of the largest and most beautiful monuments in Pondicherry stands tall and stuns with its symmetry. We were lucky to be here during Easter and I must say witnessing the Midnight Mass on that Moonlit night was absolutely magical.

Immaculate conception cathedral, pondicherry
Immaculate conception cathedral, pondicherry

Another beautiful structure is Notre Dame des Angles church located just off Promenade and you get the most gorgeous view of the sea from inside the chursh. Frost glass windows, calm interiors and ancient architecture, the church is absolutely gorgeous. The streets of Pondi are lined with churches, temples and mosques and each nook and corner of the city seems to have a story to tell.

Notre Dame des Angles
Notre Dame des Angles

Pondicherry in general is a small commercial town which has a number of gems along the streets which CAN be easily missed. An example is the Kofi Barr along the corners of MG road street which serve mind blowing coffee, called Kofi or Mini Kofi by the locals.

Kofi Bar delights
Kofi Bar delights

The botanical gardens are just off the main road of white town. Riding or Walking around town one finds great photo opportunities at places like the Aurobindo ashram, Pondicherry bus station and even along water canals within the city. The drive by the Pondicherry Railway station is beautiful and one can cross over to the Fishing harbours on the other anytime.

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If in Pondicherry, try and get yourself to indulge in some Scuba. I am highly claustrophobic myself and so I was unsure about being able to handle the kind of pressure which would inevitably come with the dive. However, PADI temple adventure in Pondicherry provides an opportunity to train individuals and help them indulge in an open sea dive in the middle of the ocean with some of the most experienced divers, at one of the best sites available in India.

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My Scuba experience was incredible. We dove 40 feet under water and stayed under water for 37 minutes. We got out to the main ocean reef through a private harbour located at the backwaters of Pondicherry. Even if you are not planning to go diving, try and visit this area to get stunning views of fishermen catching fish and old ships stashed along the old harbours. While I was overcome with sea sickness on my way to the ocean, the dive was a spectacular experience. My partner in crime Ak actually ended up being a natural at this, and we slowly made our way down past groups of Moonies and tiger fish. More than anything, it is the endlessness under water as the sun seeps in through the world underneath that amazes you, especially if its your first dive. My Advice would be to stay as calm as possible and just let go. You will be okay. ūüôā

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Scuba dive with the favorite- 40 feet deep ūüôā

Auroville is located outside the city just off the toll point and is about 20 minuted away from the city center. The roads of Auroville are beautiful, green and wind around in circles so I suggest use Navigation whenever possible. Auroville, also called the city of Dawn is a world of its own.

Auroville Road, Pondicherry
Auroville Road, Pondicherry

The main Auroville temple is beautiful and world famous, and the surrounding village is one which will make you reminisce of long winding roads, canopies of trees, sun streamed forests and places far far away from the concrete jungles we have been raised in.. If visiting Auroville preferably travel in the morning.

Welcome to the city of Dawn!
Welcome to the city of Dawn!

The beaches are average, especially Serenity beach which I was expecting a lot more out of. However, a walk by the rock beach Promenade takes one along several ages as one witnesses the serenity of the Gandhi statue, the long forgotten air circumventing the lighthouse, the ancient and iconic promenade boardwalk and the simple people of this sleepy town who never forget to smile at someone they know is new to their home city.

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So thats my Pondicherry for you. I hope you love it as much as I did.May you be overwhelmed by the smell of sea and taste of salt on your face, and may all your thoughts and ideas get re-alligned as you walk by the inspiring yet lazy streets of this city forever drenched in love and magic! ūüôā

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My Choice- SPAIN part 1: Barcelona!

Once you’re bitten by the Travel bug, there really is no going back. Familiar with that feeling when you’re sitting at work typing frantically into the computer and all you can think of is lying on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun, or hiking up hidden mountain trails in search of the ultimate paradise?

Travel opens up our worlds in more ways than we know, and as someone who has seen a decent share of this planet with much much more to see and do, I strongly recommend Spain as a potential candidate for the “ultimate Travel destination”.

Sitting at work and evaluating Marketing strategies today, it suddenly hit me that I need to remember. I feel the need to recollect my memories and put them down so that for some reason it seems real again that once upon a time, I was in Spain..and Once upon a time, I was deeply in love with it.

Top tips for anyone travelling through Spain:-

– Travel light.

– If possible stay in hostels, use public transport within Spain and eat ALOT of local food. You’d be surprised to see that most local food and beverage vendors are Indians and Pakistanis. I had amazing experiences talking with many of them while sipping mohitos on the beach.

– Make travel bookings over Internal websites. My recommendation would be RyanAir. I travelled through three flights and 3 countries (London-Spain-Portugal-London) for 85 Pounds, which if you ask me- is truly a delight for any traveler out on a budget.

– Check out hotel/ hostel bookings over www.agoda.com, always helps to elevate your mood if you know you’re getting a brilliant discount on acccomodation abroad. ūüôā

So, If you are travelling through Spain, there is one thing you must know. Spain is not a small country. It can take a while to travel through Spain, especially since it has alot to offer in terms of varying cultures, different fool palates, astonishing traditions and stark differences in general as you head from the north to the South of Spain.

My top picks for Spain are Barcelona, Seville, Valencia and Granada- and these are what my travel story will be about.

My Barcelona! <3

One of my favorite experiences in Barcelona was the “Free Barcelona tour” during which We had the pleasure of having an amazing guide take us around town sharing its stories and therefore making us feel like part of something so much bigger than we imagined. Barcelona is a beautiful city with interesting architecture and a beautiful blend of culture and what is commonly called “metropolitia”. Colorful buildings with uncanny designs and a whole lot of character.

Barcelona port

Barcelona is not just the capital of the Catalonia, but also the seat of modern innovative architecture, Art and design. Just walking by the city makes one feel inspired to create something, feel something, DO something.

Incredibla Barca!

The city is inspiring, colorful and the epitome of variety! I was stunned by the beauty of the Sagrada Famila Basilica, an astounding monument which stand even today Unfinished and yet the finest work of Antoni Goudi!

Sagrada familia basilica- Barcelona: The unfinished masterpiece
The Stunning Sagrada Famila Basilica, Barcelona
Sagrada Familia basilica
Sagrada Familia- The unfinished Masterpiece
Sagrada Familia basilica
Sagrada Familia- All that is Goudi

Sagrada Familia is GRAND. It is huge, beautiful, royal and situated right in the middle of Old Barcelona city! It is the sheer size of the monument that amazes you almost as soon as you step inside the church.A MUST DO if you’re in Barcelona!

Antoni Goudi is probably one of the most well known figures in Spain and the city speak volumes of his work and his passion for art. Goudi’s works include the beautiful and elegant Casa Battlo, an innovative structure with inspiring turns and shafts and an incredible support system. The design is considered “Modernist” and this structure is a UN declared World Heritage site. I remember just walking along the twisted stairs,sloping ceilings and curved walls. An absolute delight!

Casa Mila, Barcelona
Casa Battlo- All that is goudi

All that is Goudi!

The streets of Spain are lined with works of Goudi like the Casa Mila and Palau Guell with its shocking color scheme which adds even more vibrancy to the city of Barcelona and my favorite- Casa Battlo! Must visit for sure!

From from Casa Battlo
View from Casa Mila, Barcelona
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Atop Casa Battlo, Barcelona- an Architectural wonder

Piece of advice: I know when in Barcelona you will probably just want to lie on the beaches and sip on sangria, but take a day off to simply walk around and explore the cultural sights. Use the Barca metro to avoid Expensive cab rides and traffic and make sure you spend quality time with the well preserved and breathtaking cultural sites of the city that the country is so proud of!

The National Museum of Art of Barcelona deserves a special mention! It took us a long time to get to this location and although my friends were more inclined towards walking across the ground to the grand casino I insisted we walk all the way up to this Museum, and it was worth it!

the National Museum of art, Barcelona

This site is also famous for Spain’s famous Magic Fountains! The Magic fountain show is beautiful and worth the 20 minutes of your life you will spend watching it from start to end. An incredible display of music and “dancing water fountains”, this place is so magical it will blow your mind.

The Magic Fountain show

The museum is all the way on top of the hill and is spectacularly built but whats best about it is Bird’s eye view of Barcelona which one gets from right at the top!

The Barceloneta Beach! Ranked by National Geographic as one of the top ten beaches of the world, this beach is incredible! Waters bluer than any blue ever seen!

Barceloneta

St. Sebastia beach with its emerald waters, white clean beaches and beautiful cafes lining the beach serving everything from “cervesa” to tapas is my happy place. Thinking of sitting on the beach and just taking in all that I could in that moment brings me immense peace.

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Walking along the beaches towards the statue of Christopher Columbus on the far end will bring you to my favorite road which leads directly to the Plaza Reaal! The street is lined with local shopping vendors selling authentic Spanish handicrafts, souvenirs, artifacts, fruits, vegetables and every kind of meat you can possible dream of in the central Meat Market! Walking along the street you will come across several street performers and artists which will entertain you or shock you depending on their mood really!

Plaza Reaal! :)
Plaza reaal- my happy Place ūüôā

The Plaza Reaal is where I went one evening in Barcelona to watch the Flamenco dance! Our hostel organized a night out for all of us and a group of us people from several different countries made our way to a show of brilliance, craft and grit. My First experience of the flamenco dance was hard hitting and powerful. The dance represents a play of power, fiery and passionate and all that is beautiful. I loved it so much I actually went for a show in Seville again, and I will definitely talk about that later. The Plaza Reaal has a calming feel about it, pretty, happening, bursting with activity and reminding one of years gone by- all at once.

the Fiery Flamingo ! The Flamengo!

The Nightlife of Barcelona is great.. and the party circuit very active. We went clubbing to Opium on the beach one night and I remember the party ended with organizers distributing sandwiches to everyone the next morning at 7AM!

Opium on the beach!
Opium!

Barcelona has a lot to offer even if you don’t look at it from the point of view of a tourist. I always believe one does not really know a city till one gets lost in it. Walking around Barcelona took me to quaint hide outs, pretty streets with little boys playing football, adult stores and the loveliest bars I had ever seen!

Love in the Streets of Barcelona
Love in the streets of Barcelona!

Another great experience was my trip to the Camp Nou stadium, that too a day after the El Clasico. The stadium was buzzing with crowd chants and one could see heaps of fliers and football accessories all over.

Camp Nou!
Spectacular Camp No- home of FC Barcelona and the largest stadium of Europe

Camp Nou

The tour of the stadium¬†gives an insight into the team dailies of FC Barcelona and the sheer size of it is astounding. If at Camp Nou don’t forget to take a look from the VIP box, you wont be disappointed. ūüôā

VIP Boc, Camp Nou, Barcelona
VIP box stories

It is the experience that will always stay with you and make you happier in trying times. I remember sitting on Barcelona port steps and eating chocolate crepes, listening to live bands perform for the sheer joy of performing. The roman walls that speak stories of goth and beheadings, torture and budding art and love and romance! The Santa Maria del mar church which just like all the other churches of Spain is unique and tells its own story which you absolutely need to know.

Inside the Sata Maria del mar church
Inside the Sata Maria del mar church

Percussionists sitting and playing music by the stairs of museum Barbier or the story-tellers eager to tell you the story of Piblo Picasso over a drink outside the Picasso museum.

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My Barcelona-a snapshot
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My Barcelona- a snapshot
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My Barcelona- a snapshot

Since I was headed to Seville next, I did not have enough time to see a few places I had my heart set on- like Park Guell up the hill or the taking the Monjuic cable car up the mountain to the castle on the other end of the city.. but you never know, with a place like Barcelona, i simple wait for the next time. ūüôā

Barcelona Port
Moving on to the next.. loc: Barcelona Port ūüôā

A trip to the Tiger Temple, Thailand

Thailand as a country is considered one of the best natural wildlife reserves in the world. It was on my trip to the western province of Kanchanaburi when I encountered my first ever one to one wildlife experiences. Kanchanburi is located where the river Khwai Noi and Khwai Yai converge into the Mae Klong river of Thailand. It is mainly a Buddhist town housing primary tourist attractions like world war II cemeteries, the JEATH war museum , Vipassana center, elephant camps and my personal favorite- the Tiger temple!

Our day started early and we were picked up from our hotel at 6:30 AM by the Thai tourism group. A group of friendly, sweet guides -they explained the history of the place we would soon be visiting with so much passion we were instantly motivated to cross some milestones in our lives! Kanchanaburi is a small historical town scattered with silk houses, handicrafts shops, war museums and the famous bridge over river Khwai Noi.

En-route Kanchanburi
En-route Kanchanburi

A good 3 hours away from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi appeared to us as a small, quaint town with a lot of history attached to it. Our itenary included a trip to the war cemetery which till date pays homage to 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the “death railway” over river Khwai.¬†The JEATH war museum is another tourist attraction which helps understand the role of Thailand in world war II, a lesser known angle.

The war museum listing 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the railway during world war II
The war museum listing 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the railway during world war II

The JEATH war museum is one of a kind,¬†It is the “once upon a time” home of the prisoners of war and one cannot ignore blatant reminders of the plight of the victims who once suffered under the same roof.¬†We took the speed boat from the JEATH museum to the famous bridge over Khwai river.

On the speed boar to the bridge on top of river Khwai Noi
On the speed boar to the bridge on top of river Khwai Noi

The bridge was was destroyed by the Japanese during world war II killing hundreds of British soldiers who were building a railway across the bridge that would finally connect Thailand to India via Burma!

At the bridge over Khwai Noi river, Thailand
At the bridge over Khwai Noi river, Thailand

Located very close to the border of Burma it is often referred to as the death railway!

The death railway along the bridge on top of Khwai Noi river
The death railway along the bridge on top of Khwai Noi river

Next, we moved on to the elephant base camp and this is where I met my darling friend Malador!

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My naughty girl Malador

The elephant camp is located in the midst of the Thai jungles and is an absolute delight for anyone who loves nature. The elephants are well looked after, and seem to understand Thai very fluently! ūüėȬ†Riding elephants sounded like a dream when I came across the intenary months before I was in Thailand.. and I remember standing in awe as we watched the elephants gracefully walking around in camp.

My first encounter with Malador!
My first encounter with Malador!

My first encounter with Malador was when she nudged me on my stomach with her trunk! Naughty Maladar was the one I then chose to ride with.. the elephant ride is a walk along the jungle trails leading all the way down to the river! While this sounds fun, I must say we were scared out of our wits as we wobbled on top of the huge animal trying to trek her way down a steep slope.The most gratifying part of the experience is reaching down to the river bank where the elephant calmly washes itself playing in the water.

The river bank along the elephant ride trail
The river bank along the elephant ride trail

Our Mahaut was a shy little man¬†who I casually asked if I could ride Malador myself. As he did not understand English, I was in for a surprise¬†when he crisply jumped off the elephant and gestured at me to take his place on Malador’s¬†neck!¬†Riding Malador that day was an incredible experience, and I felt a deep connection between us as she took me around camp, letting me pet her along the way.

Riding Malador at elephant base camp, Thailand
Riding Malador at elephant base camp, Thailand

The elephant base camp also offers the opportunity to go bamboo rafting, which gives you another chance to be one with nature and take in the stunning landscapes.

The bamboo bridhe leading to the bamboo rafts
The bamboo bridhe leading to the bamboo rafts

The experience costs way less than it is worth as this is one place in Thailand which has to the potential to leave you with lasting memories.

Gorgeous Serene Thailand
Gorgeous Serene Thailand

Finally, we arrived at the place I was waiting to be at for months! The tiger temple is mainly run on donations and tourism funds, and as we made the long walk to the tiger canyon we saw several varieties of deer, buffalos, swine and monkeys! Imagine our surprise when we learnt that the Tiger temple runs on one philosophy and that is of peace.. this implies that no animal is hurt and all animals are conditioned to live together in peace- even tigers and deer!

At the tiger temple, Thailand
At the tiger temple, Thailand

The Tiger canyon is probably one of the most visited tourist attractions of the world, and yet..not many people happen to know anything about it. Let me therefore, take the liberty to take you through the tiger canyon the way I Saw it.

Gorgeous tigers are well looked after and loved like no other place here at the sanctuary
Gorgeous tigers are well looked after and loved like no other place here at the sanctuary

The tiger canyon is the main hub where the tigers rest through the day, usually in the presence of one monk. Tourists are allowed to visit and take pictures with these tigers in the presence of a local staff. As is expected, the tigers look magnificent, and like nothing else you will ever see. To see a tiger up close and personal, to touch it and pose with it is the bravest thing I have done in Thailand.

The tiger temple, Thailand 2014
The tiger temple, Thailand 2014

This royal beast is elegance personified. Surely, the experience of sitting in front of this gorgeous animal is better than the best HD cinematic experience in the world. Take my word for it.

Tiger temple, Thailand 2014
Tiger temple, Thailand 2014

We¬†walked around and posed with several beautiful tigers- some willing, some not so much. One even swatted me with its tail as it sat growling. This, I was told was because feeding time was approaching and the animals were starting to get hungry. Natural instincts are probably the most powerful forces in the world, and yet to see how calm and patient these tigers seemed gave me a sense of joyous inspiration I hadn’t felt in a long time.

With the tiger cubs
With the tiger cubs

The most fun I had was with the adorable young tiger cubs. My favorites, these cubs were playful, patient, curious and kicked and rolled around like little bundles of joy.

The beauty of friendship
The beauty of friendship

If you’re lucky and there at the right time, you can walk along with the tiger and the monk as they make their way to the curb for feeding. If at the tiger temple, do not miss this. Watching a full grown tiger lovingly feed on milk through a bottle is an incredible sight. It is utterly stunning to see this bond of faith and is one of those things which are reminders of¬†how much beauty there is in the mornings and moments that pass us by¬†into oblivion.

A monk feeds a full grown tiger milk through the bottle
A monk feeds a full grown tiger milk through the bottle

I planned my trip to Thailand keeping the ancient tiger temple in mind. The first cub was found and rescued by the temple in 1999, and since then the temple has persisted as a natural sanctuary for Indochinese, Indian and presumably Malayan tigers.

I support the
I support the “Save Tigers” campaign. Do you? www.savetigersnow.org

I urge everyone to make an effort to save these beautiful animals from extinction.Save the tiger campaigns are worth your time and effort and I say this with all sincerity. You can log onto www.savetigersnow.org and be a part of this movement.

We spent the rest of the day and the rest of the trip indulging in Thai delights,¬†but nothing after this compared to the tiger temple experience. I remember my day in Kanchanaburi as a day filled with love, spirit and adventure.. and isn’t that what travel is all about?

7 most exotic experiences Bangkok has to offer!

One of the cities with¬†Visa on Arrival, my first step out of Suvarna-bhumi airport at 2 AM in the night, and I thought I was back in my beloved Mumbai. ¬†That was my first impression of Thailand. It looked very urban, with flyovers and well lined streets, it took us about 25 minutes to exit the widely spread airport district. The roads looked familiar, even the street signs listed district names which sounded very “Indian”. “How is this place any different?” I thought, and BOOM- our first “Thailand experience” came our way.

On the way to our hotel, past 2 AM at night, all cars including ours were suddenly redirected to the fringe of the highway. While we thought it must be a drill common in Bangkok when government officials are passing by, this turned out to be a much bigger affair.

Several cars were asked to line up along the borders emptying the highway. We were asked by government officials to switch off our headlights while they strangely turned their backs to the highway facing us! While this sounds very strange right now, when I explain why this happened you will probably understand the drift of how things work in Thailand. Within 10 minutes, a rally of about a dozen cars and motorbikes sped by us, with members of the Royal family.. the guards wouldn’t face the highway as a mark of respect, similar reasons why cars were not allowed to shine headlights in the presence of the royal troop.

I am not from Thailand, I had never been to Bangkok before.. but the thrill I felt at the mere passage of the royal troop in the middle of the night gave me goosebumps and for some reason, I felt one with the locals in that moment of time.

Bangkok, the city of the Royal seat
Bangkok, the city of the Royal seat

Bangkok, or simply Krueng Thep is fondly referred to as the seat of the king, the city of palaces, the city of angels or the great city of Immortals. For me, Bangkok is simply the city of exotic experiences, my favorite cuisine and unbelievable dimensions.

7 reasons¬†why Bangkok is one of the most “exotic” destinations in my opinion

1. Exotic Tuktuks!

Some of the most fun experiences you will have in Bangkok is probably traveling by the very adorable, and massivke infamous tuktuks! These are like Indian rikshaws, only with horizontal leg spaces and with much more color and character.

TukTuk-ing around town, Bangkok
TukTuk-ing around town, Bangkok

The tuktuk drivers are carefree, very tourist friendly and charge as per their will. They can charge anything between 100-400 baht for a short one way journey and I recommend you travel about with a local incase you’re in the mood for some tuktuk time!

Tuktuks!
Tuktuks!

Luckily for us, we were visiting my dear dear friend from university who lives in Bangkok, and seeing her bargain with the tuktuk drivers probably gave me the highest sense of satisfaction I’ve felt in ages!

2. Tail boats- The backwater experience!

A large and conspicuous part of Bangkok is the Chao Phraya river, which runs along most of the tourist attraction sites of the city.

dingy ports along the river, Bangkok
dingy ports along the river, Bangkok

Water transport is a very relevant part of the daily business and there are several boat cruises which can provide several splendid views of the city from the river.

Bangkok river cruise
Bangkok river cruise

However, once you have cruised along the beautiful river lines on a tourist boat, I strongly suggest you take the tail boat cruise, for the real Bangkok experience!

The tail boats
The tail boats of Bangkok, Thailand

Tail boats are used for transport and tourism along the back waters of the city of Bangkok. This tour provides some amazing visuals and insights into the city’s local life.

The Tail boat experience along the dingy backwaters of Bangkok
The Tail boat experience along the dingy backwaters of Bangkok

 

One can see the low lying boat houses, wood homes suspended less than a feet above water, porches crowded with the most interesting chimes you will ever see.

Local houses one can see only along the backwaters
Local houses one can see only along the backwaters

I may be looking too deep, but I remember seeing low lying houses with uncanny paintings inside, intense graffitis, floating Art houses with real life statues, floating markets and Iguanas basking in the sun casually while children play in the water a few feet away from them! You have to see it to believe it!

Usual sights along the river banks
Usual sights along the river banks

The tail boats are low lying and very close to the water, and the thrill of this experience is unparalleled.

The floating markets
The floating markets

3. The City of Temples

Bangkok is rightly called the seat of palaces and temples. The temples of Bangkok are intricately designed, conventionally run and spiritually inclined. Old Bangkok has most of the temples, and a stark difference is portrayed between the two sects of the city.

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

The three main temples are Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and What Pho! A must visit on the itenary of everyone visiting the city of Bangkok.

The Shrine located in Wat Arun-The temple of Dwan
The Shrine located in Wat Arun-The temple of Dawn

Wat Arun is the temple located directly on the river bank and you can reach this temple using the short ferry service which runs continuously.

Wat Pho, Bangkok
Wat Pho, Bangkok

This Buddhist temple is built in levels and not for the weak heart-ed. Climbing up the first level is easy, the second level is difficult but the climb up to the third level is so steel that one cannot climb up without using the rope railings as the climb is almost vertical. If you do make it up to the third shrine, the climb down is heart stopping and probably one of the most challenging experiences of my life.

The leveled temple of Dawn
The leveled temple of Dawn

The temple is intricately carved, with great attention to detail. The dress code is strict and they assert that all body parts be covered before entering the temple.

Wat Pho, Bangkok
Wat Pho, Bangkok

Each temple has its share of markets and tourist engagement counters but one visit to the stunning temple towering 79 feet above the river is enough to highlight your Bangkok experience.

Temple of Dawn
Temple of Dawn

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace

One of the most stunning temples in the world, the Wat Phra Kaew is located within the grand palace grounds and is a visual treat.

Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra
Wat Phra

The temple is breathtaking at first sight and seat of the Emerald Buddha as well.

At the Wat Phra Kaew
At the Wat Phra Kaew

It is colorful, photogenic and majestic and even has meditation houses where one can commonly sit and meditate with the monks.

Stunning temples of Bangkok
Stunning temples of Bangkok

Walking around the three main structures can take a while and the sheer aura of this temple provides spectacular photo opportunities.

Tourist delights and Photography
Tourist delights and Photography

The Grand palace is the royal seat of Bangkok and common sights are those of the traditional guards, chinese temples and stupas, iconic statues and museums.

An iconic statue of Ravana at the gate of Grand palace
An iconic statue of Ravana at the gate of Grand palace

Wat Pho

The Wat Pho is another stunning temple of Bangkok which is the seat of the “Sleeping Buddha” or the Golden reclining Buddha!

The sleeping Buddha, Bangkok
The sleeping Buddha, Bangkok

The temple house housing this statue is elongated and huge but it is the magnificence of the sleeping statue which has one awe struck from the second you lay eyes on it.

The beautiful peaceful statue of the Buddha
The beautiful peaceful statue of the Buddha

Serene, calm the sleeping ¬†Buddha statue seems to be in a blissfully meditative trance. A must visit if you’re in Thailand!

Stupas around the Wat Pho
Stupas around the Wat Pho

Each of the temple has several of its own cultural rituals, like the shaking of numbered sticks till one falls, following which one must pick the prophesy with the corresponding number to know their fate! Thailand is a land of faith and that is what makes it very very endearing.

4. Thai Food

Thai is my favorite cuisine and I am often found scavenging around town for the best Thai places to eat at! So imagine our delight when we landed in the country from where this food comes! As we were staying in the Sukhumvit area, we got to check out some great eateries and delis along Soi 11, the most dynamic street lined with clubs, pubs, lounges and cafes catering to tourists. Some must tries are:-

Khao Man Kai
Khao Man Kai
Phat khi mao- Stir fried nnoodles with chicken and vegetables
Phat khi mao- Stir fried nnoodles with Crab and vegetables
Phat kaphrao- Chicken, pork, prawns or beef stir fried with Thai holy basils
Phat kaphrao- Chicken, pork, prawns or beef stir fried with Thai holy basils
Kaeng khiao wan - called "green curry" in English, it is a coconut curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs
Kaeng khiao wan – called “green curry” in English, it is a coconut curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs

The food around Bangkok, whether at a restaurant, cafe or along the road shops is rich and delicious. If nothing else, visit Thailand for the food. It is worth it. ūüôā

5. Thai traditional coffee

The concept of traditional coffee really intrigues me. I have had the Vietnamese coffee made from beans grown in elephant dung in London, and that had bestowed upon me a sense of accomplishment. However, I was in for a delightful surprise when I came across the local stall of traditional Thai coffee and tea, which is serves with Milk and Ice and tastes divine.

Thai traditional milk coffee
Thai traditional milk coffee

The best coffee tasted so far, the flavors almost burst in your mouth as you gulp down this strong intense coffee! Definitely makes it to my “exotic Thailand” list.

6. The night market- An unconventional shopping experience

Shopping in Thailand is a pleasure during the day! At night however,there is a more carefree, forbidden feel to the market which happens to be open through out in some places.

Bangkok markets- A shopper's delight
Bangkok markets- A shopper’s delight

While malls like MBK and Palladium are amazing shopping retreats, it is the roadside window shopping which must be indulged in! The streets are lined with several low priced clothes, shoes, accesories, home equipment, sunglasses, tourist gifts and what not!

The floating market- another variation
The floating market- another variation

The interesting bit however, is the Night market which literally sells anything and everything. Adult tourism in Bangkok is very tourist friendly but avoided to a large extent by the locals and the government. Along the night market on open roads one can buy adult equipment, accessories, drugs¬†and films. These shops are more aligned with the interests of foreigners and tourists and the sex tourism industry is probably one of the most lucrative industries of the state. Massage parlors are present after almost every two shops but what is the most incredible thing in my opinion is how easy going and “relaxed” the locals are about this. “It is what it is” is the mantra they have lived by and it seems to be working wonders for them. Also, I definitely recommend Bangkok for Bachelor parties.

7. Our sweet Ladyboy friend- Boi

This brings me to the another reason why I feel Bangkok is exotic and immensely gratifying as a travel experience.

As we were staying at the Ibis hotel in Sukhumvit, we unknowingly walked into the Nana plaza, which is the largest adult playground in Thailand, located three blocks away from us. Walking around in and out of bars and clubs we ran into one of the sweetest travel friends I have made over time- Boi. Boi works and performs in one of the largest ladyboy clubs of Bangkok, and while we sat there talking to her, the conversation flowed from one dimension of her life to the next as she discussed her problems, relationships, work and daily struggles! Boi wanted me to remember her and meet her the next time I visit Bangkok… This is for Boi ūüôā

With Boi, Bangkok
Learning the story and personal struggles of Boi, Nana plaza, Bangkok

Bangkok has an amazingly relaxed aura. Its a land of stark disparities and an equal amount of unity. Grey, monotonous buildings infiltrated with eccentric colorful monuments, adult tourism to cultural delights, river banks ranging from dingy dirty ports to fabulous ones with floating markets, shocking backwaters to gorgeous riverscapes, skytrains to tuktuks..

Bangkok with friends is probably the best way to see the city
Bangkok with friends is probably the best way to see the city

My visit to Bangkok has been incredible and I hope you make it there at some point, hopefully with friends, with an open mind, with a lot of shed inhibitions and well…lots of heart!

Sah wat dee Bangkok!
Sah wat dee Bangkok!

13 reasons why Amsterdam!

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, stated by International travel guides as one of the “greatest small cities” of the world.¬†According to me, what sets Amsterdam apart from the rest of the cities is the presence¬†of extensive canals which superimpose a unique air to this city.

AMsterdam
AMsterdam- the city of canals

These canals are an essential and obvious part of everyday life in Amsterdam.. and contribute in much bigger ways than just adding to its aesthetic value!

Tram delights
Tram delights

When I set foot on Amsterdam, I was alone and all I had was an address to a friend’s house, Phone-less and absolutely clueless about how I was supposed to get there. I slowly made my way from the Schipnol airport into the main city via train, tram, taxi and what not!

Incredible Amsterdam
Incredible Amsterdam

The city projects a strong carefree vibe, enough to establish an affinity with its canals, sun soaked wide lanes and eccentric alley ways filled with a characteristic aroma and corresponding enthusiasm of Amsterdam.

Walking along the sunny streets of Amsterdam
Walking along the sunny streets of Amsterdam

My first adventure in Amsterdam began when I lost myself in the vivacious city. I remember walking past gorgeous parks and beautiful restaurants, my enthusiasm growing by the second. This was a city which at first look excited you!

:)
ūüôā

In my opinion, Amsterdam is one of the cities which must be on the bucket list of every traveler! This city has so many new things to offer, some of the most refreshing and unique experiences! People from all over the globe flock to Netherlands and Amsterdam is a unanimous favorite with families as well as those traveling alone or with friends. I have listed a few reasons why you must make a trip to this gorgeous capital at least once in your lifetime!

1. Amsterdam- the city of Romance!

Move over Paris-¬†Time for some Amsterdam loving! Amsterdam according to me is the city of romance! its gorgeous setting by the canals and sun soaked parks make for excellent landscapes. One can spend countless hours walking along the gorgeous¬†canals, evergreen parks, characteristic benches.. The city is so rich culturally that beauty has become an innate part of every nook and corner here. The people are laid back, good natured and very tolerant. More than anything, the beautiful background of whatever you do here makes any experience a romantic one. Whether you are romancing your better half or simply life, this is a great place to do it ūüôā

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2. 24 hour party circuits

Most important places are located around Dam square, a local and tourist hotspot perpetually alive with stage performances and all night parties! Such a dynamic place the Dam square leads in all different directions to “coffee shops” and multi cuisine delis!

Bands play all day and night at the Liadsepein square
Bands play all day and night at the Liadsepein square

3. Coffee, Cannabis and more

Coffee shops in Amsterdam are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis to anyone above the age of 18, and many of these sell them mixed with cakes, otherwise called space brownies. The first coffee shop I visited was Abraxas coffee shop, a quaint bright eatery in one of the alleys¬†on the way to Madam Tussaud’s museum.

In front of Madam Toussad's museum, Amsterdam
In front of Madam Toussad’s museum, Amsterdam

However, some of my favourite memories lie with “The Bulldog” cafe and hotels¬†present across Amsterdam, my personal favourite being the one at Voorburgwal, Amsterdam ūüôā

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4. The Bulldog cafe

Located just a few minutes from the Van Gogh museum, This cafe is eccentric, beautiful and a serves some excellent coffee. A must visit for all caffeine addicts.

The Bulldog cafe
The Bulldog cafe

5. A hub of Art and culture

Amsterdam has over 50 museums, most of which are art houses holding famous paintings of artists like Van Gogh, modern art pieces as well as art relevant to the medieval ages.

At the Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam
At the Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam

The walk to the Van Gogh museum is short but one tends to get easily distracted with the smell of fresh waffles and roast chicken! Extremely picturesque , the road winds through the canal bridges, the Holland casino, Westerkerk and other old churches which add to the splendor of the city.

Holland casino
Holland casino

The Van Gogh museum is a well conceptualised collection of the paintings of Van Gogh. I remember it for the vast number of self portraits Mr. Gogh has attempted to make of himself and his famous “dab” style which is evident in almost all of his creations. Surely a must visit for all art lovers and anyone else who may be looking for a little inspiration in life.

At the Van Gogh museum
At the Van Gogh museum

6. The most authentic memoir of World war II- Anne Frank’s house

A visit to the Anne Frank house located along the canals was an overwhelming experience for me. The house is located in the attic of an ordinary housing building in Amsterdam, and the climb up the innumerable flight of stairs is enough to get you thinking about how hard it must have been for these families to live in hiding, their entire existence dependent on one book shelf which covered the doorway to the hiding place of the Frank family.

Discover Anne Frank's Amsterdam
Discover Anne Frank’s Amsterdam

The Anne Frank house sums up “the diary of a young girl”, only this time you are actually there to let her walk you through the little things she did everyday, the things she could not do, the dreams she dreamed and the fears she and her family felt everyday of their lives. Truly a marvelous experience.

7. ¬†World’s Most unusual museums

Amsterdam as a city is rich in culture, nightlife and contemporary pleasures. It is an incredibly beautiful city with some of the most interesting people and places I have ever come across. For those who harvest the adventure spirit, do check out the hemp and marijuana museum to know the history of Cannabis in general and its connection to  Amsterdam in particular.

World's most unusual museums
World’s most unusual museums

Another place of interest is the Erotic museum, one of the only ones of its kind present here in Amsterdam. The Torture museum overlooking the Singel canal is located very close to the flower market and is listed amongst the most unusual museums of the world housing the instruments used to torture prisoners, witches and the like during medieval times.

A torture device used in the medieval times- More at the Torture museum Amsterdam
A torture device used in the medieval times- More at the Torture museum Amsterdam

I particularly enjoyed the tour of this museum. A very morbid theme, but a great place if you’re looking to do something different.

8. Largest flower market in the world!

The flower market is an epitome of a happy place! so many colours and choices, it is shocking to see the variety of plants, herbs and flowers which are available in this market.

The largest flower market in the world
The largest flower market in the world

The national flower of the country, tulips are sold here of every possible colour and family strain. buyers can buy flower seeds here and carry these back to grow their own backyard tulips as well. Another interesting commodity available here is “magic” mushrooms which are supposed to evoke hallucinations in those who consume them.

At the Flower market, Amsterdam
At the Flower market, Amsterdam

9. Oldest Red light district in the world

Having stayed in one of the oldest housing buildings of Amsterdam, thanks to incredibly hospitable friends, I can say with confidence that it is an absolute delight waking up to the sound and sight of the beautiful canal flowing by. I cannot begin to assert on how beautiful this looks by day and by night, which brings me to an important part of my tour- the red light area.

The red light district, Amsterdam
The red light district, Amsterdam

A group of about 8 girls, we spent hours in Amsterdam walking by the red light area which is mainly a beautiful arena comprising streets along both sides of a central canal.

 

Amsterdam with my girls
Amsterdam with my girls

The streets are lined with innumerable clubs, pubs and bars that host several above 18 shows, many of which are innovative and well planned. Famously called Rosse Buurt, the red light district of Amsterdam is a world wide tourist attraction, De Wallen being one of the oldest areas offering these services in Amsterdam.

9. Over 50 churches and cultural centers

Amsterdam is made up of old housing buildings as well as modern architecture projects by several famous architects.

Old school Amsterdam
Old school Amsterdam

There are several ancient churches and monuments like the Munterrot and the stock exchange building which is the oldest stock exchange in the world. There are over 50 churches and museums to pick and choose from for anyone visiting Amsterdam.

The Westerkerk, AMsterdam
The Westerkerk, AMsterdam

10. Amsterdam Eye

The museumplain is one the other squares of Amsterdam, and one of the most famous squares of the world. It is surrounded by three of the most important museums of Amsterdam, the Stedelijk museum of modern art, the Rijkskmuseum of dutch history and the Van Gogh museum.

At the Museumplein
At the Museumplein

At the centre of the three museums is the famous Amsterdam I, which offers amazing photo opportunities. One of my favourite spots of Amsterdam, It is a great place to spend a leisure afternoon sunbathing or simply reading time away ūüôā

Amsterdam eye !
Amsterdam eye !

11. The canal civilisation of Amsterdam

What may strike you is the surprising number of cyclists and corresponding cycles in the city. Almost every second person here owns a cycle, and owing to a well knit system of trams and canals, road traffic is to a bare minimum.

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It is an absolute delight to walk along the bilanes of Amsterdam, as every street leads to exotic monuments, world famous churches, heritage sights or extra-ordinary eateries.

Houses of Amsterdam along the canals
Houses of Amsterdam along the canals

12. Foodie delights

I highly recommend the Mennekin Pis fries to anyone travelling to Amsterdam. World famous “Belgiam” fries are available here with a variety of sauces to go with the huge portions! This place is always full and one has to stand in long queues to avail these super delicious fries! Another “must try delicacy” would be the dutch pancakes- My personal favorite ūüôā

Dutch pancakes!
Dutch pancakes!

13. The Heineken experience

A must see attraction of Amsterdam, the Heineken factory is a museum of sorts of the world favorite beverage Heineken beer. The factory stands tall in the city center and is impossible to miss!

The Heineken experience, Amsterdam
The Heineken experience, Amsterdam

Whenever I think of Amsterdam today, I am immediately transported back to those evenings at Leidseplein square, surrounded by people of different ethnicities, music blasting from speakers, crowds chanting for an encore of the band that has just finished playing, overwhelming aromas and a laid-back, careless tune in the air..

At the Leidseplein square, Amsterdam
At the Leidseplein square, Amsterdam

What I wouldn’t give to be back in Holland again..

1 Day: 3 Countries!

I chose Vienna-The capital of Austria and Europe’s darling, as the destination for my 22nd birthday¬†celebration. For a traveler there is no such thing as mediocrity ¬†and keeping this in mind, my friends and I decided to do something different on this trip.. Let me introduce you to our “milestone plan”- an ambitious goal¬†to¬†travel across three different countries in one day, with the objective of having breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Austria and dinner in Slovakia. This may seem like an impossible feat to many, but I’am proud to say that despite several hiccups along the way, we ended up as Supernovas.¬†Here goes how..

Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Austria

For starters, we landed in Bratislava, Slovakia amidst a snow storm. Unable to see much around we immediately took the express bus to Vienna. You can imagine our relief when Vienna came to us with sunshine and colors!

 

Ring boulevard, Vienna
Ring boulevard, Vienna

Vienna at first glance is an incredibly beautiful city. Austria as a country is immensely scenic. For the purpose of recreation, imagine “the sound of music” shot across Salzberg, another city in Austria. Vienna looks like a city that is culturally rooted and yet competitively urban.

city center, Vienna
city center, Vienna

 

The largest city in Austria, Vienna is buzzing with activity throughout the year. Picture well planned streets, colorful markets, eccentric jazz clubs, gorgeous public buildings- especially the public library and historic monuments spread generously across the city.

Gorgeous walks along Vienna
Gorgeous walks along Vienna

The city offers several photo opportunities through day and night, and has especially quaint and  well designed traditional cafes and age old pubs.

Vienna is well connected by its trams which also add to its aesthetic value
Vienna is well connected by its trams which also add to its aesthetic value

The roads of Wein are always  brimming with tourists, students, artists and performers. It is one of the few cities where you can clearly demarcate between large groups of people who are typical office goers and another group which makes its living through art! Walking around the city is easy, although there may be a language barrier for those not fluent with German. An impressive monument expressing the culture of this country is the  Hoffgurg imperial palace.

The majestic Hoffberg
The majestic Hoffberg

The architecture of the palace is intricate and traditional, and today the palace is home to the National library, war museum as well as the Spanish horse riding school.

Outside the National museum of Wein
Outside the National museum of Wein

What intrigued me the most about the Hoffberg was the museum of Ethnography, which accounted the day to day lives of kings and queens that have resided in the palace over time.

National museum of Vienna houses the war museum as well
National museum of Vienna houses the war museum as well

The ring boulevard is another beautiful spot in Vienna which offers great pictures. The Austrian parliament, an imposing building can also be seen from here. The boulevard is scenic, historically rich and home to the Natural museum and the museum of Fine Arts, majorly inspired by the Italian renaissance.

Museum of fine arts
Museum of fine arts

In the heart of the city is the gorgeous St. Stephen cathedral, a magnificent church with an extremely large roof and high tower. The church square is the main part of the city center and is extremely tourist friendly.

St. Stephen cathedral
St. Stephen cathedral

We made lots of local friends here, and even struck upon a lucrative deal with a local vendor selling Opera passes. We were later upgraded to the VIP section of the show leading to a night dipped in the glory of ancient Wein and sparkling champagne.

The Opera
The Opera

We walked past Kalskirche, the building opposite the  cathedral and then down the Blutgassen district road to the ever colorful Naschmarket! The Blutgassen district has intricate, winding roads and many hidden alley ways if you know where to look.

Blutgassen district leading to the Naschmarket
Blutgassen district leading to the Naschmarket

A foodie’s¬†delight, the Naschmarket is like an Indian bazaar- dynamic and full of variety. We bought home a variety of spices and chocolates although a large part of the market caters to fresh meat and pork sausage stalls.

Naschmarket
Naschmarket

The anchor clock hangs proud at the city center, representing the Austrian spirit and culture. For those who love to shop, the street behind St.Stephen cathedral is a shopper’s absolute delight. Mainly a high street you will find everything ranging from¬†Tiffany’s, Mcqueen, Prada to Ferragamo and Ferretti!

Usual sights along the roads of Wien
Usual sights along the roads of Wien

However, moving on to the traditional treasures of Vienna, the Belvedere palace and the peripherally located Schonbrunn palace are tourist delights. The Schonbrunn palace is immensely beautiful and is spread across giant acres of land. The palace provides front and back views of landscapes spread out till as far as the eye can see. We spent hours running across and exploring the snow spread grounds of the palace. The immensity of the property is awe inspiring and I recommend an entire day for this tourist spot if you really want to see every nook and corner of the schonbrunn.

Schonnbrunn palace, Austria
Schonnbrunn palace, Austria

Visiting the Schonbrunn gave us the opportunity to check out the train service in Austria as well, which was a delight owing to the scenic views of the country one gets through the journey.

The view from Schonbrunn palace
The view from Schonbrunn palace

Coming back to my personal ambition, I spent my birthday night at a high profile club of Vienna, Le Babenberger Passage- thanks to my absolutely amazing friends. This club is located under the ground and definitely not easy to find unless you know where to look.

Cosmopolitran night at the Babenberger Passage
Cosmopolitran night at the Babenberger Passage

The Passage hosts great crowds, international music circuits and interesting drink profiles, Absinthe cocktails being one of their specialties. Having spent a large part of our power trip in Vienna, we spent the rest of the trip traveling across Hungary and Slovakia! and this brings me to the goal story:

One day- Three countries

On the last day of our trip, we set out from Budapest in Hungary. We started the day early and left Hungary after a heavy breakfast from the International bus station of Budapest. Yellow buses available from here ride to Prague, Austria and other neighboring countries at hourly intervals.

Lunch in Vienna
Breakfast in Hungary

Next, we landed in Vienna, Austria at around 2:30 pm and absolutely famished, made our way to our favourite street along the city center to Akakiko, an amazing restaurant serving fresh Maki rolls and heavenly sushi! You can find the link to the restaurant in case you’re curious-¬†http://www.akakiko.at/ ¬†ūüôā

Lunch in Vienna
Lunch in Vienna

Post an¬†afternoon lavishly in Vienna, we once again made our way by road- to Bratislava! I must take ¬†a minute here to talk about Slovakia. I had a great experience in Slovakia, especially¬†with the incredibly hospitable hotel staff. The city center of Bratislava is gorgeous! Lit up with fairy lights and theme restaurants, this square is absolutely delightful. Aiming to end the night well with a cuisine we had not tried before, we decided to check out this fabulous Spanish restaurant called Rio.. A must try in case you’re there.

Dinner in Slovakia!
Dinner in Slovakia!

 

Bratislava is often preferred for Bachelor and Bachelor-ette parties and is commonly called the party hub of Central Europe with a wide range of clubs and services to pick from.

The gorgeous city center of Bratislava
The gorgeous city center of Bratislava

Alternatively, Central Europe is a must visit for anyone who might be intrigued by the idea of contemporary influence of art on vanishing cultures. It is especially a delight for people who may love art, music and philosophy.

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This trip made me richer by experience and ensured the birthday of a lifetime. Funny moments are always an integral part of any travel journey, and we had loads of these as well, with “Mom”¬†fits in hotel rooms, best friend-ing locals at dingy clubs and especially this one incident where my friend Hrishi thought he was going to “die” because a taxi driver tried to zoom off before Hrishi was safely seated “inside” the taxi. ¬†Of course, this might have been because Hrishi was infact too slow to get in and the clueless¬†taxi driver miscalculated his entry into the taxi. Irrespective, ¬†threw a raging tantrum only to be instantly pacified with a chocolate from the¬†extremely apologetic¬†taxi driver. This indeed is the story…of how hrishi and “that taxi driver Dave” became best friends.

"No matter what girls, you must never mess with a man's pocket scarf!"- wise words of the funniest guy alive
“No matter what girls, you must never mess with a man’s pocket scarf!”- wise words of the funniest guy alive

So, if you want to visit three countries in a day, or set a similar milestone for yourself- try road tripping through Europe. Having done it myself, I must admit that it will definitely be one hell of an adventure. ūüôā

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