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The Sizzling Taj Mahal, Sweet Petha, and Sahir Ludhianvi [Episode 5]

admiring the taj mahal in bright daylight in agra

Please note: This narrative is the fifth in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. The rest are available on the blog. Staring at the Symmetrical Taj Mahal, Soaking in Sun, and Scuttering Away from Petha Sellers After the Lucknow food tour, we drove on to Agra (Uttar Pradesh). My …

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Lucknow Food Trail: Childhood Memories and a Miss and Hit of Expectations [Episode 4] 

the quint essential Uttar Pradesh tiki on a plate

Please note: This narrative is fourth in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. Read the First: Leaving Sikkim for Himachal, Second: The 500-km Drive Through Bihar — Corn Harvests, Marriage Certificate at Hotels, and Truck Slogans, and Third Episode: Arriving in UP at Midnight — an Eerie Expressway, a Suspicious Hotel Attendant, and a Missing Wheel-Cover, too.  

Also note: If I was a bit calmer — and perhaps had an ice cooler sticking to my head — I would have photographed it all. But for now, we would have to do with this photo-less food tour of Lucknow. I have added some photos downloaded from Google though.

The featured image is of a plate of tiki, taken at my parent’s home but purchased from a street food shop in the town. It is a quintessential UP photo, showing the tiki (though without chutneys) along with the Hindi Punjab Kesari, the everyman’s newspaper of my state.

My Home State Uttar Pradesh (UP) Has Moved On, But I Have Not

We were going to pass Lucknow on our way to Himachal (from Sikkim). So for that afternoon, we had planned a Lucknow food trail: not any guide, but we ourselves were taking us on an impromptu food tour through Lucknow. Neither had I been to the capital before nor did my partner S, and skipping the city’s quintessential delicacies to make it quickly to Himachal sounded like a lame excuse. 

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Arriving in UP at Midnight: An Eerie Expressway, A Suspicious Hotel Attendant, and a Missing Wheel-Cover [Episode 3]

driving through haryana sunflower fields used as feature image in driving through UP article

Please note: This narrative is the third in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. Read the First Episode: Leaving Sikkim for Himachal – Serendipity or Choice? and the Second: The 500-km Drive Through Bihar: Corn Harvests, Marriage Certificate at Hotels, and Truck Slogans, too. Can We Ever Feel Safe in Uttar Pradesh? …

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The 500-km Drive Through Bihar: Corn Harvests, Marriage Certificate at Hotels, and Truck Slogans [Episode 2]

two women farmers carrying loads on heads

Please note: This narrative is the second in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. Read the beginning of the journey here and the onwards drive to Uttar Pradesh here.

Driving Through Bihar: a Test of Our Unrelenting Spirit

Driving through the field-fringed Bihar highway — of which so much was under construction that we were mostly taking diversions — I sat with the car window open, feeling the wind on my face. Eighty’s English Rock played on the car stereo, and the promise of open hours on the road seemed as fertile as the green-yellow country extending to the horizon. 

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Leaving Sikkim for Himachal – Serendipity or Choice? [Episode 1]

our-village-home-in-sikkim-countryside-and-the-jungle-beyond

The Beginning of a 2000-km Road Journey

Please note: This narrative is the first in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey.

After a night of bonfire in a Sikkim country homestay, in the morning, my partner S and I lay in bed, our legs tired from the past three days of aimless hiking with the family’s two dogs. We were deciding if we should do the three-hour trek we had thought of and, after it, drive Northeastward to Yuksom, a mountain town with multiple trails going around it. My mind was relinquishing Sikkim (before the countryside, we had lived in Gangtok for almost three months) and hinting at going to Himachal Pradesh, where we traveled for four months last to last year and would be more familiar with the surroundings and could work and be happy. We even had a home from our previous visit on our minds: it had two rooms, homemade food, and enough seclusion on a hill; work quietly or saunter in the mountains when you like. And I needed a place to bunker down to finish a large travel writing project; everything else was secondary.  

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Two Himalayan Girls Reminded Me of My Hard-Earned Freedom

a photo of me working in pine forests in chindi village in himachal pradesh himalayas

The government guesthouse in Chindi village in Himachal Pradesh was located on the brow of a hill. Below the guesthouse and further ahead and behind it, the village sprawled. 

After being checked in by dour caretakers who reluctantly left the shade of the sycamore tree, I went out the back gate into the forest. My partner S was in meetings. Descending a glade surrounded by pines, I crossed a dirty watering hole and came onto a trail. At the end of the track lay the narrow village mud path. Cows could be seen through the pine and cedars ahead. Pine needles had been swept into piles perhaps to be burned. Further down must be houses. 

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the Pleasing Potpourri that Pondicherry is – in Photos

an old pondicherry woman selling greens on pondicherry streets tiny

What is Pondicherry and What is it not

I fell in love with the energy of Pondicherry — the heartbeat of it — even before I could notice what this coastal city offered. 

The union territory of Pondicherry (renamed to Puducherry) might be popular for the leftovers from French colonialism: ubiquitous bakeries, wine bars and restaurants, narrow lanes studded with monochrome baroque buildings, and the French-speaking Tamils. Or for being the crucial port it became as early on as in the 3rd century of the iron age people. The ancient ceramic burial urns, wine jars, fish garum amphoras, and the Palaeolithic axe discovered around Pondicherry (Tamil Nadu) and now kept in the city’s museum do impress upon one the history of the town that seemed to have existed since time is known. 

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Searched For Big Adventures, Satisfied With a Little Lakeside Picnic – In Karnataka’s Sharavathi Valley

my man and a picnic in sharavathi valley

We Wanted to Visit Sharavathi Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, But Didn’t Know We Were In It; We Looked For a Big Adventure, But We Were On It Already

That day had started late. We arrived at a homestay near Jog Falls in Sharavathi Valley two days ago. The occasion was of the New Year. 

Like always, I had zoomed in and out of Google Maps and found a vast green blotch dotted with blue pools that I hadn’t explored yet. It was Sharavathi Valley. And once again, I overruled my partner who wanted to visit an easy place, such as Gokarna or Hampi. Easy not because of the distance from Bangalore. But he preferred those well-known destinations because the internet didn’t have much information about Sharavathi Valley.

Not that we ever knew more about a place we wanted to visit than how far away it was and where we would put up for the first night. Sometimes, we even booked that first night while on the way or checked out a couple of hotels or home stays upon arrival. But having to navigate a large forested valley without knowing the local language, any information, and the possibility of losing phone signals could intimidate anyone. Though, to me, the journey sounded adventurous, and so my partner gave in, too.

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A Joyful Meander Over a Must-Do Himalayan Hike: Finding Our Own Pleasures

a perfect red magenta flower himalayas (1) feature

In the Rohanda Village of Mandi District (Himachal Pradesh) We Come With an Aim, But First We Just Be

We went to the little village of Rohanda in Mandi district to hike to the popular Kamru Nag temple. The trek to the 3334-meter summit begins at various points above Rohanda. 

On the national highway along which Rohanda lies, many budget hotels cater to short-term tourists who come for a night or two. They visit the temple and leave Rohanda. But most hikers are local devotees. Neither many Indians nor many foreigners know about the temple or pray to it as fervently as the Himachali people do. Let alone Kamru Nag, even the Mandi district isn’t well-known among tourists, and for that, my partner S and I were glad. Because since we had moved from the little villages of Shimla to Mandi, room tariffs had dropped, food had become more local, and hosts were kinder. 

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The Big Lessons a Little Family in Pondicherry Taught Me

a simple pondicherry home

On Being a Family

When my partner and I drove to Pondicherry to stay for a few months, first, we booked a small Airbnb for three days. Though my experience with Airbnb has been poor, we reserved the one-room living and bedroom as no other accommodation on the various booking websites looked good or well-priced. The well-reviewed family guesthouse didn’t have even one poor feedback. Everyone spoke highly of the place and the host family. (You can read more on finding guesthouses in India in the link.)

The house was in the congested neighborhood of Tsunami Quarters — a housing colony made for fishermen whose homes were too near the coast. Tsunami Quarters was occupied after cyclone Thane hit the state of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry on the east coast of India in 2011.  

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Writer’s Notes From Agonda Beach, Goa

a person on agonda beach goa

A Writer’s Diary from Agonda Beach Goa (India)

 

It’s almost afternoon. We have taken a corner table in the restaurant of our Agonda beach (Goa) guesthouse. Sunlight is abundant but we aren’t under direct sunlight.

Indian ocean rush to the sandy shore. When the high waves crash against the beach, I get transported to the balcony of my parent’s home. I close my eyes. Standing in the verandah of my two-storey childhood home, I see our neighbor’s roof. Since I was little I have seen a mound of dry wooden logs and cow dung cakes kept under a blue plastic sheet on their cemented rooftop. In my lucid dream, I hear the sheet rattle in the wind. The covers writhe and clatter under the brittle branches and rusted metal junk but they can’t let loose. Soon my father calls me inside.

I open my eyes. The ocean is free.

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Cultural Differences, a Friend For Life, and Diwali in Chile

in chile in cauquenes with friends teaching english in chile

Covid-Related Travel Update, July 2022: Chile is open to international tourists. Visit the Chilean government’s official website for travel-related information and regulations. Don’t forget to read the government’s rules to be followed in public spaces here. My guide to Chile visa would be helpful for Indian citizens.

 

It is Diwali and I’m reminded of a Diwali I spent with three crazy Chilean sisters in a country home of Chile five years ago. Damn! It has been five years. The narrative tells just how different two cultures can be.

 

In 2016, I had been volunteering as an English teacher with the English Open Doors program in Chile. I was in the south of Chile on the Chiloé island in its capital city Castro. Like other volunteers I stayed in a Chilean home. The house had my bubbly host mother, other Chilean borders, and two more volunteers from England and the US.

It was Diwali and also an extended weekend in Chile. My host mother was visiting her relatives. Other housemates were traveling.

I had made many friends by then but Gabriela, another English teacher on the island, had become a special one. She invited me to a countryside family get-together with her two elder sisters. They were going to their parental home in Cauquenes, a small town in Southern Chile, to celebrate Gabby’s daughter Javiera’s eighteenth birthday.

Either I could’ve gone with Gabriela or traveled with an English volunteer best friend and housemate (and his other friends) to another cool place. (This things to do in Chile travel blog from my experiences will help you plan your trip.)

But spending Diwali with three crazy Chilean sisters sounded much more fun than talking about foreign things with other foreign travelers. So I packed my bags, took a bus to Gabby’s house, and together we took another bus to Cauquenes.

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