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

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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 Himachal 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 (Recommended Read: how to achieve your goals).  

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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

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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

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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 city 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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27 Hopeful Photos From 2022 That Show Nature Defy Climate Change

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While no one can deny that the climate crisis is here, the nature leftover in the corners it is squeezed into is as real, extraordinary, and soul-warming as ever. Some of the animals, forests, and landscapes I saw this year while traveling within India and through Vietnam looked so ethereal, as if someone had painted those scenes. They were moving pieces of art. 

Every moment of my life I wonder how we are even here. The perfection of it all fills me with unprecedented joy. All the big events we plan, prepare, and wait for — graduation, foreign trips, marriages, potlucks, get-togethers, movie nights — happen soon and finish. After all the merriment, we are left with the loneliness of our being. But if we would look around, smell the air, and sit in the grass we would see life oozing out of every grain of soil, stuck to the bark of a tree, or finding its way inside through the little gaps left in the window. Once we are with nature, we are never alone. Once we are ready to be charmed by this wellspring of magic — and it is armed with enough to dazzle us — we would not be bored or think that life is ordinary ever again (this is only one of the life lessons 2022 taught me).

There is much to see, amaze at, and protect. I want to end the year with hope by sharing these photographs from 2022 that show nature defying climate change and not only surviving but also thriving in its own home. If we still let it be, it will recover all that is lost, with just a little consideration, help, and love from us.

Hoping to inspire that love.

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Fish Soup, Crazy Streets, and Night Markets in Saigon

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Adventures in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

When I went to Vietnam in 2016, I found myself in a green paddy-filled country. Under the shadows of their bamboo hats, locals flitted between places unhindered by the large bamboo baskets they carried. Birds sang from their cages hung on balconies. Streets were lined with stalls selling soup, grilled meat skewers, rice paper rolls, and fruits.

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5 Years of On My Canvas: What I’ve Learned

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Thank you for coming along on this journey with me and supporting me always.  If I have learned one thing in these five years, it is that the joy of creating should be enough. When we work hard and persist, we arrive at the goal, destination, or prize we have our eyes on. The much-planned …

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When I Climbed Apple Trees in Himachal Pradesh [With Local Families]

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Plucking Apples in Himachal Pradesh With My Host Family

Our four-month Himachal road trip was more than halfway through. We were in the middle of July 2021. After living in small Shimla villages (such as Mehli, Fagu, and Mashobra), we had driven to Mandi district. There we explored Chindi village and surrounding hills, visited the historic Pangna, and hiked the daunting Shikari Devi and Kamru Nag mountains.  (Even spent a day hiking around the Rohanda village instead of trekking to Kamru Nag.)

I had seen so much in those two and a half months that I wanted to slow down a bit more and write (the start to our indefinite travel hadn’t been easy either). After the big hikes, we checked in to the government guest house (PWD) of Karsog village (in Mandi). Every morning in that PWD guest house was more about finding water to go to the toilet than staying sane. The dusty roads and poor guesthouses of Karsog didn’t tempt us to stay in that village longer (though we did buy shoes in Karsog).

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