Posts tagged traveler

Celebrating 3 Thriving Years of On My Canvas – And Future Plans

And just like that, On My Canvas completed three thriving years on the internet.

Congratulations to us all who have been part of this budding platform through which I want to spread love, life, and hope. I cannot thank my readers enough for sticking with me all the while, for sending me immensely inspirational messages day and night, and for asking me to write more and more. On some hard days, I could not have done it without your endless emails and witty comments.

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Your Guide to Finding Isolated Hotels in Madikeri, Coorg

We all have been stuck inside homes for about six months now. Though usually, I am planning a birthday trip around this time of the year, as September approached I got anxious that I might want to go somewhere. But would I be able to step out of Bengaluru or even my house?

Then I remembered the article I had written on traveling in the Pandemic. For those who have read the guide know that I only suggested traveling by car to an isolated homestay or a guesthouse near the woods. Thus you can change your view, hike around, be in nature, and even work with the lush forest swaying in front of you. 

Remembering my idea, I started searching for isolated hotels in Karnataka (I don’t feel like crossing the border, yet). But as I pored over hundreds of hotels and guesthouses over various websites, I decided to dedicate an entire guide to isolated hotels in Madikeri, Coorg as most of the properties I liked were from this area. 

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Chile Visa Fiasco – When I Was Stranded at the Bolivia-Chile Border

When I Couldn’t Get a Chilean Visa at the Border and Bolivia Wouldn’t Take me Back.

My cheeky Canadian friend Alison walked towards me from the immigration counter at the Bolivia-Chile border in San Pedro de Atacama. Fanning herself with the green Chile tourist card that boasted her free entry into Chile for ninety-days, she smiled.

Now it was my turn. The young immigration officer looked at me and gestured me to come closer. I walked to his desk. He asked for my passport. I slid my blue passport through the gap under the glass that stood erect between us. 

Instead of handing me a green card as he issued to other tourists, the officer turned the pages of my passport and squinted to read the various visas and immigration stamps I had collected over the years. When he found my Chile temporary resident visa stamped on one of the passport pages, he asked for my RUT. 

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A Surreal Drive Up to the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, Bali

A Misty Day at the Ulun Danu Temple, Bali

Located on the shores of the Lake Bratan in the Bedugul region of Bali, the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, or Pura Ulun Danu, is a popular Bali temple and one of my favorites. The road to the temple undulates up and down with majestic views of the Bedugul highlands throughout— the Ulun Danu temple is at a height of 1500 meters.

When I visited the Pura UlunDanu I didn’t know that the drive would be so surreal and that we were driving to the second largest lake in Bali which irrigates the entire Bedugul region’s rice fields.

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A Scooter Expedition to Goa’s Secret Butterfly Beach

In Search of the Hidden Butterfly Beach, Goa

The sunrise at the Butterfly beach is beautiful, said Manveer, our Airbnb host. Then he gulped down his entire glass of orange juice.

But where is this Butterfly beach? Didn’t you say it was hard to find? I exclaimed.

I will show you the directions on the phone

Manveer walked to our table. He swiped right on his son’s photo wallpaper on the phone, tapped on the Google map application, and zoomed in.

I was staying at Manveer’s place, which is on the Agonda beach in Goa, for the second time. The first visit was two years earlier when I had gone to Goa to get some alone time. 

Remembering that fun trip when I had read Hemingway while basking in the sun on the beach and watched India England one-day series with an English traveler, I showed up at Manveer’s Airbnb again, this time with a friend. As soon as Manveer recognized me, our friendly banter began in no time.

Though I wasn’t sure if Manveer was avenging me for my raillery by sending me to this secret Butterfly beach in Goa, the idea of watching a romantic sunrise on an isolated beach thrilled me. 

We decided to go to the Butterfly beach the next morning to watch the sunrise and have a picnic by the seaside.

After devouring a dinner of grilled Kingfish, with charred eggplant, juicy cherry tomatoes, proud broccoli, and crisp zucchini along with a big bottle of Budweiser on a beachside grilled-seafood restaurant run by a Goan chef, we went to bed at ten that night. But not before packing our swimwear, water bottles, a few aloo parathas that we had asked Manveer’s cook to prepare for us, and a towel to spread on the beach.

As my room didn’t have air conditioning and April’s hot air scorched even at night, I sprinkled water on the curtains and the bed and then left the windows wide open. This sprinkler trick from my IIT Delhi days when summer used to be cruel and students weren’t allowed to keep air conditions or water coolers have come handy many times.

Soon I was sound asleep. Our alarms woke us up before dawn.

We put our backpack in the dickie of the rented Activa, and I drove while my friend sat behind. 

If you are from India or have traveled enough in India, you wouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that there were no streetlights. My friend switched on the flashlights of both our smartphones. 

The early morning cold breeze ruffled through our hair and woke us up. We were finally going to see Goa’s Butterfly beach which Manveer had been praising non-stop since the day we had arrived.

Adhering to Manveer’s advice, we followed the Google maps directions to the Leopard Valley gate, ahead of which lay a secret mud path that was to lead us to the Butterfly beach. When I drove by the gate slowly, we both searched for a clearing in the dense forest that fringed the roads on both sides. But we couldn’t see any path. I turned around and drove even closer to the forest to spot a trail while my friend flashed the torches on the sleepy black foliage. 

After a few minutes, we saw a narrow clearing on our left that seemed promising. But a mud trail ran through the dense forest on the right side of the road, too.

Though we couldn’t hear the Indian ocean and we had gone too far from the beach to direct ourselves using the sea’s orientation, I assumed that the ocean was on our right side. A faint recollection that Manveer had somewhere mentioned a right nudged us towards the right track, too. 

My friend spent a few minutes understanding which direction was right and which was left, a conundrum he hasn’t solved in the twenty-seven years he has been on this planet.

When I saw that the mud track was laden with broken stones and bricks, I transferred the driving rights to my friend. While I was a novice scooter driver, he had been driving for eight years. 

My friend clutched onto the left handle of the scooter, over my hand, and I slipped out from the right side. Then he handed me both the phones with their flashlights on, and I leaped onto the scooter seat behind him for when you are in a dark jungle without phone signals or any kind of help until far far away, you cannot be your usual sloth-like. 

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This was the beginning of the path we took.

We drove on the rocky pathway which soon started twisting and curling like an angry snake. The tree branches and bushes that overgrew on the path from both sides suggested that not many people drove on that road(cut) way. If your attention is gone for even a second, you would either skid on a rock or an imposing branch would hit you in the face. 

The beach was most probably deserted. Manveer wasn’t the bad guy after all.

Though a bit disoriented, my friend is a good driver, but I still got down of the scooter whenever the path felt too rocky to not fall flat onto a stone. The blue arrow of the GPS crawled, but the landscape, which would have been clear if we had loaded the map offline, was now blank. When we didn’t spot any landmarks that Manveer had mentioned, we knew we were lost.

Soon, cicadas, crickets, and half-asleep birds started breaking the silence of the South Goan jungle. Indian flying fox bats flitted between trees.  

Every few minutes, our white Activa would screech and grunt as if begging us to take her back to a less hostile path. We could get stuck in the mud or skid on the stones at any time now. We couldn’t see much. We didn’t know the route. Our phones had lost networks a while ago. And the dense jungle seemed to be getting deeper with every meter. 

Even though we knew we were neither approaching the Indian ocean nor the Pacific, we kept driving. In a few minutes, the darkness started slipping away slowly. Sun must have been shining close to the horizon as the tall trees that towered above us seemed to be rooted in the twilight. Birds chirped dissolving away the melancholy of the night. Every pixel was suffused with a light whose source we still could not see.

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Random scenes from the drive when we came out of the wilderness.

Hunger pangs rising from our stomachs now erupted into our throats. We were now driving on a steep trail covered with tiny sharp stones. I kept insisting that we could still find the beach but my friend concluded that to go further was not only a stupid idea but most probable a dangerous one.

My emergency driver declared that he wouldn’t drive any further. And I finally obliged.

We turned around and tried retracing our way through the dense forests. While driving back we stopped a few times to wander into mangroves and plucked yellow and green cashew nut fruits. We also went inside a farm and picked the fallen mangoes. But suddenly a swarm of honey bees surrounded us, and one of the many red ants bit my friend’s arm. And we thought that the farm owners hadn’t employed any guard.

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Exploring the Goan jungles.

Instead of going to the Agonda beach, we went to Palolem to have breakfast.

Palolem beach was lively. 

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Fishermen rushed around the beach in their half-folded lungis, some pushing their boats into the ocean, and some pulling their fish-loaded boats out of the sea. Fisherwomen paced up and down the beach in their half-folded saris and red round bindis adorning their forehead. 

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Silvery wafer-thin fishes gazed with their open eyes while throbbing against the red plastic net hoping to get some water. Crows and kites took turns to pick these tiny ones out of their nets. 

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https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/pw/ACtC-3dOGbsyUFzhJu_XlcxTTXeHa85VKIQOFZPHlUIuZbSz3zAwe9PCWf4pI3CJROTlr8rmYrZM7WXT1dLDnuMB6uDsFGf7quFXi6H1x-u8kX5qVTUzeDucJNYQ9PDlk9Hrn9D1Pl_u_rCyOYo6mJl_yJP31w=w667-h1000-no?authuser=0

Travelers and locals watched the ocean and the beach waking up to the day’s hustle.

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After having a heavy breakfast of some more aloo parathas, juice, and tea at a restaurant, we drove home. Our search for Goa’s Butterfly beach had failed us. 

We handed over the mangoes to Manveer’s kitchen staff. When Manveer saw us handling fruit with so much passion, he asked us if we could climb a papaya tree in his backyard to pluck the ripe papayas. 

Stop teasing us. You don’t know where the beach is. Do you?

Where did you go?

We drove to the Leopard valley gate, then didn’t take the path next to it, as you had told us, and then went further searching for a mud trail. Then we went towards the right side on a rocky path.

Why did you avoid the trail that runs next to the Leopard Valley board? That is where you had to go.

I was finally losing my patience. 

You had told us not to go inside the Leopard Valley ten times. So we avoided that trail and went on another mud path. It was a deadly trail.

You had to take the path going from the Leopard Valley board. That is not the Leopard Valley gate. That is just the marketing banner for the nightclub. I had warned you from going inside the actual Leopard Valley club.

Why would you not tell us to take the path next to the marketing banner? And why would you ask us not to go inside the Leopard Valley if it was not even on our way? 

He smiled. I could have punched him but we hadn’t established fighting rules. 

So we had to take the path that ran adjacent to the obscure wall on which “Leopard Valley” was painted. It was not the gate to the nightclub but just awareness propaganda.

We had no chances of finding the butterfly beach for we had taken the wrong path since the beginning. And we had ignored the correct trail because Manveer had given us puzzling instructions. Or we were just two confused souls in general.

Then Manveer showed us the entire Butterfly beach directions on his phone and my friend put markers on his Google map. Then we downloaded the offline Google maps for the entire South Goa. 

The next morning felt like a Deja Vu. We were driving in the dark again, had flashlights on, there were new aloo paranthas in the bag, but this time we took the Leopard Valley path. This one-hour drive was much simpler and when we reached the end of the motorable trail, we found two bikes parked. 

After a little walk through the forest dense with koronda berry, we were at the beach. 

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Once we were at the butterfly beach, we realized that we cannot see the sunrise from there as the ocean was on our West. Something Manveer had never mentioned when he said that you should go there for the sunrise.

The sea was calm but the sky was cloudy. As expected, the beach was almost empty. Apart from us, there was only a small group of men who had climbed higher onto one of the rocky cliffs that circumscribe the beach. 

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We took off our shoes, climbed up a cliff, and ate our paranthas. The fatigue from waking up so early for two days straight got hold of us and soon I found myself fast asleep on the rocks. 

My friend shook me up. We went into the water a little bit but it was cold in those early hours. 

Well, at least we had found the beach. It would have been nicer if instead of early morning, we had gone there for a sunset or during the afternoon to just sit and relax and swim and play. Taking a boat up there is also a good idea. 

You would see amazing photos of Goa’s Butterfly beach on the internet. Most of them are taken by drones and the photos I share are the best I could manage with a phone(I was camera-free then). 

The beach was empty, the trees rustled, and I could hear the ocean cracking against the rocky cliffs. That was more than one can ask for from a morning. 

And more than the view on the Butterfly beach or its emptiness, I had loved the journey to the beach. After all, it had taken us two days to find it.

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Some hazy pictures as if this was from 1970s.

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How to reach Butterfly beach Goa, India?

You can also go to the butterfly beach from Agonda beach or Palolem beach in a boat. Maybe I would do that the next time.

And if you want to drive to the beach, then follow the route that I am sharing in this screenshot.

I was torn between the idea of sharing the directions to butterfly beach versus keeping it a secret. But I had to give in as a travel writer who wants to share the beautiful places in the world.

Please be respectful. Leave the beach clean. While walking to the butterfly beach Goa I found so much plastic and wrappers at one spot that I was ashamed. It is always a good idea to bring back some garbage from pristine natural places and do our part.

I am only able to share the route to this secluded beach on my blog assuming that we all will help it clean and will respect other travelers there. No loud music, nothing of the sort that could make others uncomfortable.

If we all keep the beach clean, I would assume that I did the right thing by sending you there.

Now it is up to you.

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A close look of the directions.

Where to stay in South Goa? Is there a good place to stay near Goa Butterfly Beach?

Stay at the Forget Me Not Resort on Agonda beach if you are looking for a comfortable and right-on-the-beach stay. Manveer, his wife, his cats and dogs, and his staff will do everything to make you feel comfortable and ensure that you have a good time. Or browse for good places to stay in Goa here.

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Will you go to the Butterfly beach in Goa? Tell me in the comments.

Featured Image licensed under CC BY 2.0 license. Thank you, Nicolas Vollmer.

Image licensed under CC BY 2.0 license. Thank you, Gili Chupak.

Saying Goodbye to Myanmar at Mount Popa Bagan

A Monkey-Filled Hill of Myanmar – Mount Popa, Bagan

Mount Popa near Bagan was my last stop in Myanmar. Just before my friend and I were to take a bus from Bagan to Yangon to fly back to India, we decided that we should see this 1518-meter high extinct volcano on the outskirts of Bagan.

How could we not go when every travel blog about Bagan spoke of the Popa mountain. And the pictures of the panoramic view from Mt Popa looked ethereal.

While we couldn’t see something even close to those gorgeous sunset hues that Google promised, for the sky was cloudy that day, we did have a unique, eye-opening experience all the way from Bagan to the Mount Popa volcano.

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The Pandemic Chronicles  – The Acceptance

On one April morning. The lockdown continues. Bengaluru, India.

 

Hello Friends,

How have you been?

I have been juggling with writing, admin work, personal stuff, cleaning, laundry, cooking, and staying updated with the news.

Different news clips catch my husband’s and my attention even though we both scroll Google News. We share and collate our information at the end of the day during dinner unless he decides to escape to the bathroom. (For context you would need to read the first part of these pandemic chronicles. I can only hint that he avoids a dinner of raw eggplants and bottle gourd still in one piece.) 

Only one morning did we see a video on COVID statistics else we prefer to not distract ourselves at the beginning of the day.

When I shut out the global crisis, I feel peaceful. The atmosphere seems perfect to work and just be. There is no traffic. Most factories have closed down. Office buildings, malls, and stores are closed. Flights are halted. People are at home. Of course, I feel horrible for appreciating the world peace as all these business shutdowns mean lost jobs, unemployment, lack of food, and irreversible life-long changes. 

Irrespective of how bad I feel I can’t help but notice that the skies, the oceans, and the land have been reset by a continuous world quarantine.

Within a month of the lockdown, ecosystems are returning to their old states. After years, Punjab saw the Himalayan skyline from its homes and mustard fields. The birds are louder. Civets and nilgais roam on Delhi roads. In Japan, deers have come out of the park and are now on roads. Someone posted a picture of peacocks in Mumbai streets. Olive Ridley turtles are laying eggs on the beaches of Odisha. Dolphins frolic on Mumbai beaches. There was an elephant in Dehradun. Someone saw wild boars in cities. Then there was sheep somewhere. No, it was not New Zealand.

Would anacondas, tigers, elephants, and sloths come out in another two-three months of lockdown?

Not only environments but people, too, are restoring to their adolescent versions when living freely and taking over the world was a higher priority than being puppeteered by the fear of missing out. We work, read, cook, eat homemade food, meditate, do yoga, paint, clean our kitchens, do gardening, and are taking control of our lives like never before. 

When I go out in the balcony, I see a foreign woman making milkshakes in her kitchen throughout the day. Or maybe she is making lassi to cool down in this Bangalore heat. From the same building, the confident voice of a guy on his team meetings races towards me.

But here I am pacing up and down trying to call my banks’ customer care. I understand that we are in a tough situation but I feel that my bank relationship managers have got more reason to not do their work now. 

If I could be any further frustrated by the dirty tricks that my bank plays, I would surprise myself. I have an account in another bank, too, but they are even more pathetic, if that is even possible. This is the nth time they’ve canceled my debit card (in the pretext to send me a new one) without even asking me. One day I swipe the card at the grocery store, and the machine says invalid card. Once I was traveling in Malaysia, I swiped my card at a store, and the store attendant said something I couldn’t understand. Google Assistant translated the message to say the card was invalid. I have many more stories. If you work at a bank and promise me that you won’t charge me interest on my savings, yes that has happened too, please reach out. (Do message me if you want to know the name of these banks and want to stay away from them. Hint: one of them is synonymous with town. Or should I just write the names here?)

If only systems worked. A car mechanic charged 400 rupees to visit apart from the usual service charges as he claimed that the police are beating the service guys even if they show the identification card especially granted for the pandemic times. I believe him in a blink and pay.

The service industry is suffering. Daily laborers are stuck in big cities, unable to go home. Artists have lost livelihood. The health care industry is overworked. I have still not been able to push away the Italian nurses’ faces deeply lined by wearing masks for a long time out of my mind.

Weirdly, some people are working incessantly while others are losing jobs, businesses, and even future opportunities for at least a few months. Nearly 200 million people are predicted to end up out of work.

Delivery guys must be in high demand right now though.

Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy— the companies that never sell groceries — are now selling essential items, too. After a few weeks of shut down, the portals opened with limited deliveries due to a shortage of staff and other constraints. My husband and I compete amongst ourselves to see who can book an order for milk and bread first, and we are not the only ones racing for an online delivery slot.

When the daily laborers got a chance to go home, they fled. That there was no commute and they had to walk hundreds of kilometers, all the way home, in the rain and the sun, mostly without any medical help and food or a roof at night, didn’t deter them. Some walked for days on highways and railway tracks with their infants, with their newly married partners, with their hungry dogs, with their clothes in a bundle, with their stoves on their backs, stopping by the railway tracks to cook pulses and rice, or waiting in long lines to get some curry and chapati, so that they could continue walking. 

Those daily wagers moved despite their fear. We are all living on despite our fears. The fear of losing jobs, of losing incomes, of losing loved ones, of losing a complete year is slowly creeping up. We clutch onto whatever we have.

The human lot is a restless one though.

A friend said that now when she can’t travel, she wants to travel. 

I prefer not to think about visiting any place right now. More than hiking and breathing in the fresh air and stretching my limbs I would be worried about sanitizing and washing everything from the binoculars to the akki rotis. (More on traveling in the pandemic here.)

But how can we complain about not being able to travel when even funerals are banned. The one who had to leave is gone. Left behind are the friends and the relatives, masked and restricted, even from mourning together. They can’t even complain as the restrictions are for their good. Maybe the events should be strictly monitored to make sure people maintain distance and follow the best practices but does the government has that many resources to spare?

I didn’t know while writing this diary in April but soon I would also attend the prayer services of a friend gone too soon. In the hospital, instead of hugging her mother, I would caress aunty’s arm and then would soon soak my hands in sanitizer. Instead of wiping another acquaintance’s tears, I would imagine how bad it would be if I had to get admitted to the hospital due to COVID. The thoughts of getting sick, without anyone close to help, with my partner on my side, who might be restrained from coming close to me, the imminent danger I could put him in, the thought of all the days I would lose, the breath I would lose, and wondering if my body couldn’t fight the disease and how much my family would worry would keep me on my toes. I would keep distance and wouldn’t complain about not being able to hold a proper funeral. 

The death rate of Italy, the US, Brazil, and the UK has worried us all. 

I wonder how many old people who passed away were prepared to die. How many children and grandchildren were planning their elder’s 50th wedding anniversary or a hundredth birthday or waiting to show them their first published book or excited to have them at their wedding? Those plans must have been buried with the dead ones. 

Old people, pregnant women, children, and people with chronic illnesses — people who have weaker or a developing immunity are advised to stay home.

My parents don’t leave the house, they tell me. They have found solace in their garden, which is fragrant with the Queen of the Night year-round. Their madhumalti vine is pinker than usual, bowed under the weight of the flowers. The tailor bird’s chicks growing up in a money plant leaf nest keep my father and his phone busy.

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This is how I think of trees. Blobs of color and life.

 

While the elders have to be cautious, the young ones are bored at home. 

My friend’s son just received two lessons at home, and his teachers are wondering if they could continue the video lessons. Homeschooling might finally catch up, as work from home is lastly appreciated.

Hilarious work-from-home videos are doing rounds on the internet. Somewhere two furry cats are punching each other in the background while their journalist mother reads live news on the television. Pantless journalists have gotten some limelight, too. Some people didn’t notice their laptops had hung right when they were logging out of a Zoom meeting and undressed in front of their entire team on camera.

Life-long memories are being created.

But not everyone is sympathetic even now. Some Chinese pet parents have been throwing their dogs and cats from their balconies as “cats and dogs can spread coronavirus” news went viral on their social media. 

Stray animals seem better but they must be so clueless right now. What about the street dogs who used to eat out of the restaurants’ trash? Wait. What about homeless people? I am not sure about the homeless but on my rare evening walk, I see bamboo plates, some heaped with rice and some half-empty, on the streets. The dogs are being fed.

There are the homeless, and then there are people with homes. Some of them were moving jobs and homes and cities. Friends were to go to college this year. Parents were returning to India after visiting their children. Someone was selling a house. Someone was buying one. 

Nothing matters anymore. Life is on hold. 

Even crime rates have reduced. But what about those victims who were waiting for their case hearings or whose lawyers were in the middle of collecting proofs? What about the men and women stuck with abusive partners? What about the children who were being molested at homes?

This is an article in which, unlike my usual irritating disposition of wanting to consider every possibility, I don’t want to peek inside the nooks and corners of each and every situation. It is better to be ignorant sometimes. 

To keep my sanity, I avoid most news except facts and statistics that come from high-authority websites. But I read on Facebook that people are drowning in the pools of bad news. Please don’t believe everything you see. Also, we can’t control most of the things that happen.

 

 

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Pizza helps, believe me.

 

People are worried about getting jobs at this time. The US and the UK might establish universal basic pay and pay their citizens 1200$ a month, but would India ever be able to implement a country-wide support system? Let us ignore for the time being that in the US a forgivable debt of about half a trillion-dollar was distributed to big businesses and public companies and hitherto no one knows the real distribution. (Later both the US and Spain would roll out Universal Basic Pays.)

Beaurecracy, corruption, and religion have made the situation worse.

South Korea, Iran, and India — these are countries where religious congregations turned into coronaviruses’ incubation centers. You must have heard about Patient 21 from South Korea. What a shame and what a name!

But strange things are happening all around. Suddenly the movie Contagion is being viewed all around the world. Even though Netizens warned me not to see the movie in these panic times, I watched it and wasn’t gripped by fear, contrary to the popular opinion. Until we face something bad ourselves, we keep believing that nothing would happen to us. My deceased friend’s brother also said that mental health was never a thing for him much less imagining that depression would kill his sister one day. 

So much we don’t know. So much we ignore. As if life would be eternal. As if we are all immortals. 

Before this pandemic, I didn’t even know what pandemic is. I never searched. It was never a thing. But now when it is here, knocking on our doors, waiting to barge in, I wonder what we could have done differently. If you had a chance to go back, what would you change? 

But rather than focusing on the bygones, let us see what we can do now. 

I know that we will find balance out of this chaos. We will move towards equilibrium. We are moving towards equilibrium. But we can’t see it just yet. 

Until then, we need to take day by day. We have to hold hands. We have to let go.

 

Stay safe, stay engaged, and have a nice laugh.

Priyanka

 

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How’s your journey been in the pandemic? How are you coping? Would love to hear from you 🙂

 

A Peruvian Grandmother’s Act of Kindness

 

A gray-haired lady entered the restaurant and turned her eyes to me instantly. Her gaze didn’t surprise me. During the eight months I had been traveling in South America, I visited indigenous Andean villages and remote islands where the locals had never met someone from India before. My earthy complexion and kohled eyes always raised a plethora of questions about my origin.

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The Pandemic Chronicles – The Beginning

Hello Friends,

How have you been?

Dictionary.com tells me that a virus means an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.

A small molecule that cannot be even seen by the naked eye, that needs us, humans, to live and multiply, has pushed us inside our homes and have locked us from the outside. 

Here are some of my observations from the months spent locked inside the house during the pandemic. I wrote these updates as a personal diary for me to look back into the events later. But then I decided to publish the journal entries for everyone. Of course, not before sprinkling a little bit of humor to the otherwise serious matter. I hope you laugh a bit. And if I upset you unintentionally, please forgive me for I am just a die-hard comic. 

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 Travel During Pandemic – Everything You Need to Know

Coronavirus and Travel:

  1. All About International Travel and Coronavirus Travel Restrictions
  2. All About Domestic Travel and Coronavirus Travel Restrictions
  3. How to Move Around in India
  4. Ways to Travel in Your Country
  5. Things to do before traveling
  6. Safe Travel Practices
  7. Travel Resources

 

Traveling in a Pandemic

When I made that one-day trip to Delhi for some essential work at the beginning of March, I didn’t know that that would be the only travel for months to come. Else I would have stuffed myself with the Bengaluru airport’s crispy masala dosas that I so love. 

Or if I had known that my two-day road trip to BR Hills in February was the only jungle vacation I would take in the many ensuing months, I would have extended it by a few days. Seeing those sloth bears sprint in front of our jeep and leopards hiding behind the thickets could never get tiring. 

But I’m not clairvoyant, not yet. 

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Sunrise and Shan Noodles at Mandalay’s U Bein Bridge, Myanmar

A Travelogue of the U Bein Bridge, Myanmar.

 

U Bein Bridge is in a township of Mandalay called Amarapura, which was once the royal capital of Myanmar. 

Amarapura, literally the city of immortality in Pali(अमरपुर in Hindi), was the capital from 1783 until 1857, for almost 75 years. In 1857, when entire India was about to burst in its first revolt against the British East India Company, Burma’s King Mindon was building Mandalay as his new capital.

In the construction of the capital, the King wanted to use the old material from Amarapura as the second Anglo-Burmese war, (in which many Indian soldiers fought as one can see the graves of the sepoys in a Yangon cemetery), hadn’t left the royal treasure in blooming conditions. Elephants obeyed their king’s wish by hauling the building material over the 11-kilometer distance between Amarapura and Mandalay. 

 

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U Bein bridge, a 1.2 kilometer-long teak bridge, spanning Taungthaman Lake, was built during this move by the then-mayor U Bein. He put the 1000 or so Burma teak columns from the royal palace to good use as one can see in the picture above and below.

 

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We are not talking about Mumbai’s sea link or the US’s Golden Gate bridge, but this footbridge is the oldest teak bridge in the world. (And contrary to popular belief, perhaps not the longest wooden bridge as Guinness World Record says Horai Japanese bridge holds this title.). Taking the name from the mayor, the U Bein bridge has already stood sturdy for about 170 years with only some of its wooden logs replaced by concrete. 

U (in the mayor’s name) here serves as a respectful prefix, something like Sir, or maybe Lord. I request the Burmese readers to please let me know the real implications of U in the comments.

 

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I was at the U Bein Bridge on a cold December morning. As it was the dry season of Burma, the water level of the lake was low. I have heard that in monsoon(June-September), the water from the lake almost kisses the bridge. 

I often say, when in Burma, do as the Burmese, and rise before the sun kisses the sky yellow. As my friend and I had decided to spend that December dawn at the popular Burma bridge, we brushed and plonked our sleepy selves in a kind tuk-tuk. 

When we arrived at the West end of the bridge in Amarapura, tourists and locals had already starting to flock. Swarms of crows were flying out and about. The faintly blue sky was studded with light clouds that the rising sun filled up with an orangish hue. 

It was almost as if someone had dropped a dollop of orange on an otherwise white pool.

 

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Related Read: Exploring Inle Lake, Burma

 

I couldn’t miss the hoards of tourists who had stationed themselves on the lake’s west bank to click the pictures of a fisherman. The entertainer was putting on a show by casting the fishing net in the lake. The travelers, mostly Chinese, captured his every move, and one could sync the click-click of the camera shutter with the fisherman’s muscle movement.

On that note let me tell you that more than 220,000 Chinese travelers had visited Mandalay city through January to April 2019: an increase that irritated locals in a way that it was published in the Myanmar Times

 

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Well, we can’t blame the tourists here as all credits for the showmanship go to the Burmese fish guy. Once, I was taught how to throw the fishing net by a Malaysian man on the banks of the Kinabatangan river. And as you can expect, I failed, horribly. My teacher, though, caught small fishes in his first throw just minutes after my embarrassing display of clumsy body movements.

 

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If you see wooden boats on the West end of the bridge, you can request the boatman to take you on a ride on the lake. I don’t know how much the ride costs, but well, you are in Myanmar.

 

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I didn’t hop on a boat. As I moved my attention from the drama, I saw that the sun was coming up the horizon. After taking a few photographs of the sunrise behind the bridge from different angles, I climbed up. 

 

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Soon I was surrounded by the many locals, tourists, vendors, and monks, who were all starting their day, along with me, at the Mandalay bridge. Some were exercising, some were photographing, some paced up to the other end, and the others were just hanging out.

I saw many photoshoots in that hour or two when I was at the top. Couples were getting clicked together. Some dressed in Elvis Presley-ish clothes were photographing each other in turns. And a few, like me, wanted to capture others’ lives on their camera roll. 

 

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Though all the articles on the internet suggest seeing a U Bein bridge sunset, I found the sunrise there quite calming, and, of course, gorgeous. As a result of the internet advice, the number of people at dawn was definitely lesser than the number of people who would head to the bridge in the evening.

 

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For us, travelers, the bridge was all about sightseeing. But the locals have been using the bridge to go from one end of the lake to the other for more than a hundred years now. Children go to school by walking across the bridge. Monks go asking for alms via the bridge. Men and women get to their work, some of them carrying bamboo baskets over their heads, through the bridge. Some locals were even on bicycles giving the photographers a perfect silhouetted shot while the bridge lay spanned across the lake. 

 

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The reflection of the sun and the bridge in the lake water caught my eye. So after we had clicked and rested and relaxed in all lengths of the bridge, we got down to walk around the lake.

 

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While we strolled under the bridge, we found small restaurants and snack shops run by locals. One such restaurant not only served as a quick tea joint but saved two homeless travelers by giving the keys to their bathroom which we used to full advantage. 

 

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The girls from the restaurant helped us wash our hands by pouring water, and I was suddenly sent back to my parent’s home. 

In my small hometown, we lived traditionally and wouldn’t even touch the tap with our potty hands(excuse me for the childish language but I believe I never grew up for that is how I still refer to this business.). And when I say potty hands, I am being literal for we used traditional Indian style, or squat, toilets. Neither did we know about toilet papers nor did we have hand showers that most of us can’t live without. 

In the absence of a better tool, we cleaned ourselves by throwing water from a mug, and if need be, used our hands, too. I would spare you further details as Wikihow has explained this process generously. When one family member would exit the bathroom, the other would come with the precious jugful of water. The culprit would lather her hands with soap, and the helper would pour the holy water.

No one judged because soon it would be the turn of the other person. 

And that happily forgotten childhood scene was repeating now. The only difference being that I had wiped myself with toilet paper, my hands were clean, and instead of my family, two young, benevolent, but giggly, Burmese girls were washing my hand while their mother, also giggly, instructed them from the background. 

 

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Friends, always carry toilet paper in Burma.

After this long toilet saga, I would not feel bad if you leave this travelogue right now. But what are travel stories without a bit of truth? Haven’t you ever been stuck abroad in a toilet without any toilet paper or a hand shower and no one to call? What did you do? And let us not blame Asia. My Airbnb host in Kelsterbach, Germany forgot to keep the toilet paper in the bathroom, and what followed on that period day is a story that I will tell in another lifetime. 

Life was slow in that family-run food shop. And I can’t even imagine how it would be to run a restaurant under a bridge. But with the lake and the stunning nature shows and lost travelers looking for the toilet, it wouldn’t be that bad?

 

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Now feeling fresh, we walked to the Amarapura market near the bridge hoping to eat. 

 

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My friend had been hypnotized by the Shan noodles. So when we asked about them at a family-run food shop, and a little boy nodded, we ran inside. 

I would tell you more about Shan noodles in upcoming Burma stories, but for now, I thank Burma for introducing me to the great Shan noodles. I even bought a few packets of the noodles from the San Bogyoke Market in Yangon and now I make them back home in India. Just fry some garlic in oil, add chunky tomatoes, some spices, and add this to boiled Shan noodles. Voila.

 

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We ate Shan soup, snacked on the tea leaf salad, and sipped herbal tea. Soon the restaurant filled with families and some more giggling and smiling ensued.

 

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What a morning it was! And as if the sunrise and the shan noodles weren’t enough, I caught sight of a Burmese longyi shop that seemed to carry simple designs and none of that floral overhyped.

 

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Not this one. That one. Not brown. Colorful. Not printed. Plain. Not silk. Cotton, please. And a few more this and that later, I found myself wrapped in the perfect, striped, multicolored longyi that would come home with me. And by chance, I am wearing the same longyi while writing this piece.

Some souvenirs and sunrises are to keep I guess. 

 

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Where to stay in Mandalay, Burma?

We stayed at the tall Gold Leaf Hotel in the main Mandalay area. Even though it is a big hotel with the standard, dull check-in and check-out process, not something I prefer as I am a homestay and a small guesthouse person, I liked the place for its view and vibrancy. 

The other, practical reason to stay at Gold Leaf was that in that New Year’s week not many hotels were available. Damn these world travelers. Gold Leaf has a large breakfast buffet with unlimited soup. There, I sold it. 

Click here to see the prices and book the hotel. If you want to avoid the corporate-ness of Gold Leaf, go here to see other hotels in Mandalay. 

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What is the best time to visit Mandalay city and the Mandalay bridge?

Winter is a good time to visit Myanmar, but summers are not. Avoid the months of May to July. 

August would bring a lot of rainfall, so humidity, but lower temperatures.

December was perfect weatherwise. Mornings were a bit cold and breezy but afternoons would be warmer and not hot at all.

 

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Would you love to see the sunrise at the U Bein Bridge, Mandalay? Do let me know if you buy a longyi.

 

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