Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

December 6, 2023

Phuket (Thailand), the Pearl of the Andaman

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 10:52 pm

Buckle up for a detailed recount of my recent odyssey to the mesmerizing destination of Phuket, Thailand—dubbed the “Pearl of the Andaman.” This travelogue aims to unravel the intricacies of my experiences, from the intricacies of Visa procedures to the pulsating adventures and cultural immersions that defined each day.

Unveiling Phuket’s Charms: Phuket, nestled in the Andaman Sea, is a kaleidoscope of vibrant landscapes, cultural wonders, and breathtaking seascapes. From the bustling hub of Phuket City to the serene shores, the island is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.

Navigating Visa Realities: Navigating the intricacies of visa acquisition is a pivotal aspect of international travel, and my recent journey to Phuket presented an interesting decision point in this regard. Normally inclined towards securing my visa well in advance, the constraints of a 2-3 week time frame prompted me to opt for the more convenient Visa On Arrival (VOA) option rather than applying at the Thailand embassy in India. Departing from my usual meticulous planning, the process unfolded smoothly, requiring the standard set of documents and a nominal fee in Thai Baht.

Day 1: Anticipation and Coordination: The adventure kicked off with a surge of excitement as I assumed the role of a Tour Director, along with Andrew, Ramesh, Suman, Arun, Prakhar, Vijaytha, Suresh and his team, for a corporate annual sales conference. The responsibility of orchestrating logistics and assisting 200 attendees with their Visa On Arrival added an extra layer of anticipation for our team. The day unfolded with a lively rendezvous at the airport, followed by a seamless Air Asia flight. However, the in-flight meal, featuring vegetarian Hyderabad Biryani, posed a culinary conundrum. Personally, I’ve always found the combination of corporate e-booking and the ubiquitous mango juice to be a bit overwhelming—like consuming a kilogram of sugar. Both items were swiftly relegated to the ‘no-no’ list. Fortunately, the airport lounge at Terminal 2 came to the rescue. Despite being under construction and offering limited options, the lounge provided a welcome reprieve, allowing me to sidestep the Air Asia in-flight fare.

Day 2: Airport Intrigues and Coral Island Escapade: The early morning arrival in Bangkok marked the commencement of an exhilarating adventure, complete with a series of unexpected surprises at the airport. The stringent security regulations caught us off guard, disallowing even a single drop in our water bottles. Adding to the unexpected revelations, the absence of a smoking zone inside the security area left many in the group agitated.

As Ramesh joined the group from Chennai and the Cochin contingent made their entrance, we navigated through the Visa on Arrival process, followed by biometrics and security checks—a series of formalities that took nearly an hour to complete. The decision to skip the inflight meal left me, and others, with a noticeable pang of hunger. Fortunately, our quest for sustenance led us to a delightful pastry shop, where we found solace in comforting coffee and indulged in some delectable pastries.

Post this impromptu refreshment, we proceeded to the gate for our flight to Phuket, embarking on a journey that spanned an hour and a half. Upon touching down in Phuket, our focus shifted to the exquisite Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort. There, we assisted the group with check-in procedures before embarking on an invigorating speedboat ride to Coral Island Koh Hey.

Despite contending with weather challenges that disrupted our planned water activities, the day unfolded as a thrilling adventure, offering breathtaking panoramic views. The process of landing on the island itself was an adventure, with the temporary road to shore feeling rather precarious. The assistance of the local team proved invaluable in navigating the shaky path. Since the weather didn’t cooperate for our initially planned activities, we decided to unwind with some beer and soft drinks, basking in the serene surroundings, before making our way back to the resort.

Gastronomic Delights and Gala Extravaganza: As the evening unfolded and twilight cast its gentle hues, the entire group assembled for a lavish gala dinner at Le Meridien Resort. However, Vijaytha and I found ourselves excused from the festivities a bit earlier. Seizing the opportunity, we decided to explore the local culinary scene at The Place Bar & Restaurant. Our culinary adventure at The Place was a delight, with standout dishes like chicken and prawn fried rice, seafood soup with tangy flavour stealing the limelight with their exquisite flavors. We complemented with the local beer which was very light. The only hiccup was the squid we ordered, which didn’t quite meet our taste buds’ expectations due to a sweet sauce. Nevertheless, for seafood enthusiasts, The Place Bar & Restaurant proved to be a haven, and I relished every minute of the dining experience. Then headed back to DoubleTree by Hilton Phuket Banthai Resort for a much needed rest.

Day 3: Conference Dynamics and Awards Night: The conference kicked into full gear, resonating with energy and purpose. The climax of the event was the awards night, a heartwarming celebration of the sales team’s dedication. A standout feature was the motivational video, a piece of visual storytelling that left a lasting impact. Ramesh and myself were relieved early, so we had an early dinner at Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort and then headed back to Hilton to rest.

Day 4: James Bond Island Odyssey: The day kicked off with an early start, guiding us into the enchanting realms of Khao Phing Kan, affectionately known as James Bond Island. Our exploration took an adventurous turn with sea cave canoeing in the picturesque Phang Nga Bay. Despite the ticking clock and time constraints, we successfully witnessed the breathtaking beauty of James Bond Island before bidding a fond farewell to the rest of the group.

Following our return, we indulged in a leisurely dinner at a charming restaurant conveniently located next to DoubleTree by Hilton. The cozy ambiance and the array of delectable seafood offerings provided the ideal setting for a relaxed and enjoyable evening.

Subsequently, we ventured to the nearby walking street, immersing ourselves in the vibrant atmosphere, cultural nuances, and the lively nightlife that surrounded us. The experience was enhanced by the beauty of the surroundings. Later, Andrew took us inside Thai Benjarong, a place known for its porcelain souvenirs crafted in China, aiming to procure a memento for all of us. We strolled a bit more, absorbing the surroundings, before finally settling in for a well-deserved night’s rest.

Day 5: Sunrise Serenity, Big Buddha, and Unexpected Encounters: The day began with the gentle hues of a serene sunrise at Promthap Cape, creating a tranquil atmosphere that set the tone for a day filled with exploration. Our journey continued with a visit to the impressive Big Phuket Buddha, situated atop Nakkerd Hill, providing a cultural immersion experience.

As the group’s activities diverged, I opted for a Thai massage at Carpe Diem, seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Meanwhile, some members chose the exhilarating adventure of parasailing.

Adding an unexpected twist to our exploration, we encountered legal cannabis shops, introducing an intriguing element to the vibrant street scene. The day unfolded as a unique blend of cultural immersion, relaxation, and unexpected discoveries, making it a memorable chapter of our Phuket adventure.

Day 6: Bittersweet Farewell and Reflections: As the final chapter of this captivating travel saga unfolded, I bid a fond adieu to the enchanting vistas of Phuket. As my time in Phuket came to an end, I found myself unable to bid a proper farewell to anyone, including my room mate who was peacefully sleeping, and I didn’t want to disturb her. The hotel arranged a cab to drop me off at the airport. To my surprise, I had to pay for excess luggage, and my return journey was booked on Indigo with a layover in Mumbai. The airline only accepted cash in Thai Bahts, so I had to step outside the check-in counter, exchange currency, and then return.

Upon landing in Mumbai, I boarded the flight to Bangalore in the evening, reaching my destination late at night in one piece.

My heart is filled with gratitude towards our team, especially Andrew and Ramesh, for providing such an incredible opportunity of learning. A big thanks to Arun, Suman, Prakhar, Vijaytha, Suresh, and his team for their unwavering support. Throughout this journey, our team has evolved into a close-knit group of friends. These moments will linger as a testament to the multifaceted beauty and delightful surprises that Thailand, particularly Phuket, has to offer. The memories created will forever hold a special place, reminding us of the unique experiences and camaraderie shared during our time in this captivating destination.

Stay tuned for more immersive travel tales and explorations, as the journey continues to unfold.


November 14, 2023

Saudi Arabia – A Journey Through the Land of the Holy Mosques

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 8:06 am

About Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia, officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is a nation situated in West Asia. It stands as the largest country in the Middle East and boasts coastlines along the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Its landscape is predominantly composed of arid deserts, lowlands, steppes, and mountainous regions. Riyadh serves as both the capital and the largest city in the country. Notably, Saudi Arabia is home to two of Islam’s holiest cities: Mecca and Medina.

Visa Process: Applying for a visa to Saudi Arabia has become more convenient, particularly for those with a valid US visa and previous visits to the United States. The option of obtaining an E-visa through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website involves a streamlined online payment process and includes the acquisition of mandatory travel insurance, making the overall experience prompt and efficient.

Day 1: Setting Out on the Journey

My journey to Saudi Arabia commenced with a flight from Bangalore, India. There were no direct flights to Riyadh, so I opted for a connecting flight via Mumbai. This journey also marked my first experience flying with Air India following the Tata Group’s takeover of the airline.

To my surprise, the flight with Air India left much to be desired in terms of service quality, giving the impression of a low-cost carrier (LCC). While the food provided was decent, the packaging resembled what you might expect from street vendors. Despite the international nature of the flight, there was a noticeable absence of in-flight entertainment, making the 4.30-hour flight in economy class less enjoyable.

Unfortunately, it became apparent that Air India would not be my preferred airline for future travel. However, during the flight from Mumbai to Riyadh, I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with two fellow Indian passengers who were working in Saudi Arabia. This brief chat served as a welcome distraction from the airline’s shortcomings and was a reminder of how travel often brings unexpected interactions and connections with fellow travelers.

Arrival in Riyadh: Upon landing in Riyadh, I encountered a relatively smooth immigration and security process. Stepping out of the airport, I found a line of taxis waiting to take passengers to their respective destinations. The Middle East has always felt safe to me, and I had no reservations about taking a cab. The fare was reasonable, and I was soon on my way to Haven Plaza on Al Olaya Street.

My arrival in Riyadh occurred during the evening, and it quickly became apparent that men rarely initiate conversations with women in this country. The atmosphere was reserved and modest, underlining the differences in social interactions compared to what I was accustomed to.

Upon arriving at my accommodation, I promptly checked in and decided to order a sandwich to satisfy my hunger. Unfortunately, the sandwich I received turned out to be rather dry and disappointing in terms of flavor and quality, contrasting with the vibrant and diverse flavors I had hoped to experience during my stay.

With the day’s travels and experiences behind me, I decided to retire for the night. This marked the end of my first day in Riyadh, and I looked forward to what the following days in Saudi Arabia had in store.

Day 2: The HR Leaders Conference

The second day of my journey in Riyadh began with a quick breakfast, which was satisfactory. However, it was during this meal that I started to notice and experience the unique cultural dynamics in Riyadh.

As I made my way to the hotel’s breakfast area, I observed a distinct pattern, there were no women dining alone. Instead, they were typically accompanied by their spouses. This observation immediately conveyed the cultural norms and expectations that governed interactions between men and women in Riyadh.

The atmosphere at breakfast was somewhat unusual for me. It was as if there were unspoken rules about not acknowledging or interacting with the opposite gender in public spaces. Men, in particular, appeared hesitant to look at or engage with women who were not their relatives.

The ambiance in Riyadh was notably quiet, with minimal interactions. As a traveler, I felt somewhat restrained, unsure about how to navigate these cultural nuances. Given the local culture and societal norms, I found myself hesitating to smile or greet others, even with simple gestures.

It was a fascinating and eye-opening experience to witness and be a part of a culture that values modesty and discretion in public spaces. Riyadh’s breakfast scene introduced me to the reserved and distinct social dynamics that shape interactions between men and women in Saudi Arabia. This insight continued to influence my interactions and experiences throughout my stay in the country.

Subsequently, I attended an HR Leaders conference held at the Hyatt Regency. My initial impressions were marked by a degree of awkwardness, as women, clad in abayas, appeared preoccupied with their mobile devices. This initial impression gradually gave way to a sense of relief as more attendees arrived. To my delight, the participants turned out to be warm and hospitable.

The conference I attended in Riyadh proved to be highly productive and enriching. It provided a valuable platform for gaining insights into various aspects of Saudi Arabia’s business landscape and its unique context.

During the lunch break, I had the opportunity to savor a variety of local dishes, and I was delighted to find that they were not only delicious but also a delightful introduction to the local cuisine. Sampling these flavors was a culinary adventure and added a layer of cultural understanding to my journey.

The conference sessions were a significant highlight, offering valuable insights into the Saudi context. Topics ranged from discussions on localization to the intricacies of local laws. The knowledge and information shared during these sessions provided a deeper understanding of the business environment in Saudi Arabia.

Overall, the conference proved to be enlightening and enriching. It not only broadened my perspective but also deepened my appreciation for the intricacies of doing business in Saudi Arabia. It was a valuable opportunity to connect with professionals, learn from experts, and immerse myself in the dynamic business landscape of the country. This experience would undoubtedly shape my perceptions and approach as I continued my journey in Saudi Arabia.

With an additional day to explore Riyadh, I inquired at the hotel reception about possible tours. However, language barriers posed a challenge, as the staff’s limited English proficiency hindered effective communication. Consequently, I decided to explore alternative options for sightseeing on TripAdvisor. I stumbled upon an enticing “Edge of the World” package and promptly booked it, setting the stage for an adventure the following day.

Day 3: Exploring the Edge of the World

The day of the excursion arrived, and I embarked on my journey to the “Edge of the World.” This involved a picturesque drive lasting approximately 1-2 hours, with stunning palm groves along the way, where dates were nearly ripe for harvesting. The scenery was breathtaking, and the drive was punctuated by the presence of camels roaming freely. At one point, the driver kindly stopped to allow me to capture some memorable photos.

Reaching the “Edge of the World,” a cliff with an elevation of 1,131 meters, was a spectacular experience. Situated roughly 100 kilometers from Riyadh at the terminus of the Tuwaik Mountain range, this location is a favored destination for mountain climbers and hiking enthusiasts. The view from this vantage point was nothing short of mesmerizing, offering a stunning panorama of the landscape. To reach the cliff’s edge, a short hike through the desert was required. Arriving just in time for the enchanting sunset, I was fortunate to capture some breathtaking photographs.

The guide led us through the area, providing insights and ensuring a safe and memorable experience. The excursion was an exploration of off-cliff spectacular views and a celebration of the region’s natural beauty.

After this awe-inspiring journey, we returned to our starting point, where refreshments were provided. Subsequently, we were taken to the Swalief Aldira Restaurant in King Salman Road for a traditional Saudi dinner. The meal included rice, chicken fry, and salads. Although the food was somewhat bland and dry, it offered a taste of authentic Saudi cuisine. Following dinner, I returned to my hotel to rest after a day filled with remarkable experiences.

Day 4: Departure from Riyadh to Jeddah

As I bid farewell to Riyadh, my next destination awaited me in Jeddah. However, a minor hiccup at the airport introduced a brief challenge. Confusion regarding the terminal arose, as my departure required reaching Terminal 3 for domestic flights. The flight number on my confirmation didn’t align with the domestic terminal, leading to some uncertainty. Fortunately, the helpful airport staff at the information desk redirected me to the correct terminal and advised taking the coach. Though this added some extra time, my practice of allowing a two-hour buffer before domestic flights proved beneficial. After an hour and a half, I finally reached Jeddah, welcomed by a friend—an immense relief to see a familiar face. Business discussions ensued, and soon after, I retired for the night.

Day 5: Weekend in Jeddah

The day began with a delightful taste of Egyptian breakfast, followed by a blend of work and business discussions. Opportunities to sample various local foods arose, although I found them somewhat bland for my taste. A hectic day unfolded with meetings, eventually concluding with me crashing for the night.

Day 6: Exploring Jeddah

Following a restful break, we reengaged in work and meetings. With some spare time on our hands, we chose to explore the city before my scheduled departure the next day. Our first stop was the Holidays Restaurant in Al Balad Street, renowned for its seafood and Kerala cuisine specialties. After a satisfying meal, we ventured into the nearby souk, although many shops were closed due to the afternoon lull. The city’s landscape was dominated by extensive construction work in progress.

During our walk, we had a fascinating encounter with an Iranian vendor selling local perfumes. Despite the language barrier, the interaction turned into a unique cultural exchange. We wandered through adjacent streets lined with shops selling clothes, immersing ourselves in the local ambiance.

Our next destination was the renowned Jeddah Corniche along the Red Sea. As we admired the coastal road, pavilions, and the majestic King Fahd’s Fountain, the tallest fountain globally, the setting sun cast a captivating glow over the surroundings.

The day ended on a laid-back note with a visit to the Triple Shot Café for some local sheesha, everyone vouches for double apple fakher sheesha and it was the best. Then it was followed by a tranquil night’s rest, preparing for the adventures that awaited on the next leg of the journey.

Day 7: Farewell to KSA

The time had come to bid farewell to Saudi Arabia. I booked an Uber for the international airport, only to realize that my terminal was different—Terminal N, where flights to certain Asian countries depart. With a language barrier preventing communication with the Arabic-speaking driver, I found myself in a moment of confusion. Fortunately, the assistance of airport staff outside proved invaluable as they redirected me to the correct terminal. Despite the additional 45 minutes, my three-hour buffer ensured a smooth departure. Boarding my flight to Hyderabad, India, went without any hitches.

However, upon landing in Hyderabad, a disheartening sight greeted me—waste strewn across the cabin. It was disappointing to witness a lack of civic responsibility, especially when passengers could have easily handed their trash to the cabin crew. Nevertheless, I boarded my final flight to Bengaluru, India, successfully concluding my journey.

Additional Notes:

  • Visa Regulations: Saudi Arabia has introduced new visa regulations, including biometrics for tourist visas. The appointment process for visas may be impacted by these changes, with delays in getting appointments and longer processing times.
  • Alcohol Restrictions: It is essential to be aware that alcohol is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia.
  • Dress Code: While it is not mandatory for women to wear abayas (traditional loose-fitting robes) in Saudi Arabia, it is advisable to dress modestly and consider covering one’s head, especially when visiting public areas where local customs are observed.
  • Visiting Mecca and Medina: Non-Muslims are not permitted to visit Mecca, and while non-Muslims can explore Medina for sightseeing, they are restricted from entering the holy mosques.

Conclusion: My visit to Saudi Arabia was a transformative experience, dispelling many misconceptions about travel to this part of the world. It emphasized the importance of respecting local laws and customs, which ultimately enabled a smooth and enjoyable journey. As I bid farewell to this fascinating country, I departed with a sense of gratitude and an eagerness to return for further exploration.

Shukran, Saudi Arabia – See you soon.


August 28, 2023

Lap of Luxury at Trivik, Chikkamagaluru

Filed under: India,Travel — jani @ 11:23 am

About: Chikmagalur, also known as Chikkamagaluru, is a picturesque hill station situated in the state of Karnataka, India. Positioned to the north is Baba Budangiri, a mountain range within the Western Ghats, characterized by three significant caves that hold religious significance. These caves are revered by locals and visitors alike. The region offers trails that wind through lush forests and grasslands, leading to the pinnacle of Mullayanagiri Peak, the highest point in Karnataka.

The landscape also features the enchanting Hebbe Falls, set amidst coffee plantations that add to the natural beauty of the area. Notably, Chikmagalur is historically linked to the cultivation of coffee, marking the spot where coffee was first grown in India. The hills of Chikmagalur form a part of the Western Ghats, serving as the origin for the Tunga and Bhadra rivers.

One of the prominent attractions in the region is Mullayanagiri, a towering peak that offers stunning panoramic views of the surroundings. Moreover, Chikmagalur is also renowned for the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, a forested area in the northwest, which provides a habitat for diverse wildlife including elephants, tigers, and leopards.

An essential cultural and spiritual landmark in the area is the Sringeri Mutt, a revered monastery that houses the Dakshina Peeta, a seat of spiritual authority established by the great philosopher and theologian Adi Shankaracharya.

Chikmagalur’s serene landscapes, spiritual significance, and natural wonders make it a sought-after destination for those seeking tranquility, adventure, and a connection with nature.

Day 1: Having nurtured a longstanding desire to explore the charms of Chikkamagaluru, the opportunity to bask in the lap of luxury at Trivik was a dream come true. The invitation from our friends to join them on this venture was met with immense enthusiasm. Sur needed to stop his whining about not being able to join me for trips due to recent work commitments, eagerly embraced the idea, as it allowed him to temporarily escape his busy routine and join me on this adventure.

As our journey began in the morning, there was a noticeable departure from the norm—our friends wanted to take the wheel, so Sur has to sit in the backseat which was a bit odd for him. Our friends arrived to pick us up, and with excitement in the air, we embarked on our much-anticipated journey. A pit stop for a local breakfast and a satisfying cup of filter coffee provided the perfect fuel for our travels.

Fortune smiled upon us with clear skies, sparing us from any rain that might have made the journey more challenging due to muddy roads. During the ascent, we couldn’t resist pausing at a breathtaking vantage point, capturing the stunning scenery in photographs. Our destination, Trivik, greeted us with warm hospitality, adorning us with garlands of fragrant mogra flowers. A rejuvenating herbal concoction, sweetened with local honey, awaited us—a gesture that immediately made us feel at home.

With appetites ready to be sated, we decided to indulge in a sumptuous lunch. Our taste buds were treated to a delightful culinary experience before we retreated to our rooms, each of us seeking some well-deserved rest after navigating the roads for the better part of seven to eight hours.

The luxurious accommodations provided a tranquil haven for us to rest and recuperate. As I delved back into my work, the call of the infinity view beckoned me. Although the vista was truly breathtaking, the chilly weather prompted a return indoors after a brief moment of admiration. Our rooms soon became the sanctuary where we ordered tea and snacks, taking solace in the comfort they offered as we slowly surrendered to much-needed slumber.

Day 2: Following a leisurely breakfast, we set out for a coffee plantation walk, excited to explore the lush surroundings. However, our plans took a slight detour as we learned that the previous night’s rain had prompted the emergence of leeches within the plantation. Undeterred, we decided to stick to the safe pathway, which still offered plenty of beauty to behold. A return to the infinity view allowed us to relish the flavors of a rich coffee as we absorbed the stunning vistas before heading back.

Lunch proved to be another gastronomic delight, treating our taste buds to a delectable spread. The afternoon beckoned us to embark on a nature walk, and we seized the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the natural wonders of the area. The weather held up, granting us respite from the rain that had earlier dampened our plans. Our journey took us through the serene forest, where a treasure trove of sights awaited us.

As we strolled along the path, we marveled at the diversity of life around us. The forest floor was adorned with mushrooms of various shapes and sizes, while rare orchids and vibrant butterflies painted a picture of enchantment. Mischievous monkeys swung through the trees, adding a touch of liveliness to the scene. Our eyes remained fixed on the canopy above, occasionally catching glimpses of colorful birds flitting among the branches.

In light of the recent rain, we were cautioned about leeches and advised to avoid damp areas near the edge. Despite these challenges, the beauty of the forest captivated us. During our walk, we encountered a young boy from the group, who eagerly joined us, exuding curiosity and enthusiasm. His presence added an extra layer of joy to the experience as we navigated the natural wonderland together.

Our interactions with the young companion extended beyond sharing the trail. As we encountered different plant species, we took the opportunity to teach him about the flora and fauna that surrounded us. The moment he discovered a touch-me-not plant, his excitement was palpable. We watched as he carefully touched the leaves, giggling as they folded in response to his touch.

With a heartwarming camaraderie, we continued our walk, capturing memories through photographs and relishing every moment of this shared adventure. Eventually, we made our way back to our accommodations, where we ordered a satisfying meal to enjoy in the comfort of our rooms. The day had been a perfect blend of exploration, learning, and connection with nature, leading us to retire for the night with a sense of contentment and gratitude.

Day 3: Another delightful morning greeted us, accompanied by a sumptuous breakfast that energized us for yet another nature walk. This time, we were joined by the father of the young boy who had shared our adventure the previous day. The weather had shifted slightly, rendering the surroundings a touch drier. As a result, we were able to explore additional viewpoints, albeit at the cost of encountering a few more leeches. While some of us fell victim to these persistent creatures, quick action ensured that no one suffered any serious harm. A trusty alcohol spray came to the rescue, earning me the endearing nickname of “Leech Killing Aunty” from the young boy. His playful humor added a lighthearted touch to our interactions, creating a wonderful bond that extended to his family.

Our group dynamics continued to expand as one of our friends, who happened to be petite, connected particularly well with the young boy. Mistaking her for someone his age, they formed a charming duo that brightened our journey. In the process, we also had the privilege of interacting with his parents and grandparents, forging new friendships along the way.

Lunchtime rolled around, and we were treated to a picturesque view that accompanied our meal. A leisurely stroll around the swimming pool and garden allowed us to relish the tranquil ambiance. Our plans for relaxation continued with a spa session, a rejuvenating experience that left us feeling refreshed and invigorated.

As the day unfolded, we found ourselves gravitating towards the coffee shop near the infinity view. There, we were welcomed by a game of tambola, adding an element of entertainment to our evening. The atmosphere was made even more festive by a pair of jubilant kids who were treated to delectable cakes. We too indulged in the sweet offerings of the café, savoring the flavors as we engaged in lively conversation and laughter.

With the day winding down, we retreated to our accommodations, basking in the contentment that comes from a day well spent. The memories we had forged, the connections we had made, and the moments of pure enjoyment were all cherished as we settled in for a restful night.

Day 4: The last day brought a mix of responsibilities and farewells. I had an early online class scheduled by IIM, which was unmissable. To accommodate this, Sur and I opted for a quick breakfast, missing the chance to share our final morning meal together before parting ways. The young boy’s family, whom we had become quite close to, insisted on joining us for breakfast, so our other friends kept them company while Sur and I hurried through our meal. Once breakfast was over, and a short rest for Sur, I settled down for my online class.

As the class concluded, I packed my bags and also took the opportunity to purchase a few locally made items from the village, supporting the skilled work of the local women. With everything in order, we embarked on our journey back. The weather was drizzly, and we hoped the rain wouldn’t intensify until we reached flat terrain. Gradually, the rain began to pick up its pace. At a junction, we encountered police officers who provided us with the correct directions, aiding us as our GPS had stopped working. Our luck seemed to turn when we stumbled upon fresh local corn being roasted over a stove. We relished this treat as we continued on our way, also picking up some Pomelo (bablimas) fruits, reminiscent of grapefruit.

With spirits lifted, we started our drive back. The journey was pleasant, and as night began to fall, we reached our home. Our hearts were brimming with beautiful memories, a testament to the wonderful time we had spent together.

I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Trivik team for their exceptional hospitality and for creating such a remarkable and memorable experience.

August 26, 2023

Nepal – The Natural Wonder

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 10:37 pm

About Nepal: Nepal, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked nation located in South Asia. While its main region lies in the Himalayas, it also encompasses parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

For Indian nationals, traveling to Nepal doesn’t require a visa; carrying a government ID card suffices. However, if you’re flying, it’s advisable to carry your passport.

Initially, I had some reservations about traveling to Nepal due to the frequent news about air crashes. However, my actual travel experience turned out to be quite different. In fact, Nepal provided me with one of the best air travel experiences I’ve had.

Day 1: Embarked on my journey to Nepal, I was heading to attend a PATA event. The flight was scheduled for the evening, and I had a simple wish – to arrive before nightfall, given my concerns about air crashes in a country encompassed by towering mountains. This trip marked a personal adventure for me since I typically didn’t feel at ease traveling alone.

Despite a one-hour delay in the flight’s departure, the overall experience was quite smooth once we touched down. This time, I was on a Nepal Airlines flight, and surprisingly, it turned out to be a positive experience. Upon landing in the evening, I swiftly completed the immigration formalities and was warmly greeted by PATA representatives. They escorted me to my accommodation for the trip, the Manaslu Deluxe Heritage & Boutique Hotel. The hotel was a true embodiment of heritage and provided a unique ambiance. After checking into my room, I promptly succumbed to fatigue and dozed off.

Day 2: I had to wake up promptly and hurry to catch the flight bound for Pokhara, where the PATA event was scheduled to take place. After a quick bite to eat, I set off. Upon reaching the airport, the check-in process took only about 10-15 minutes, and soon I found myself waiting to board the flight. All my previous apprehensions about flying in Nepal dissipated as the airport experiences were surprisingly smooth.

The flight to Pokhara was brief, and upon landing, the PATA team was there to pick us up. They transported us to Hotel Pokhara Grande, the venue of the event. During this time, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Sophy, a Luxury Travel Consultant based in New York, who was also attending the conference. We connected instantly and struck up a conversation. Although the event had already begun by the time we arrived in the afternoon, we patiently waited for our rooms to be allocated. As we got to know each other better, I gained a new friend for life. Eventually, our rooms were assigned in a separate block, conveniently located next to each other. Later she had to change the room and she got allocated in the main building itself.

After freshening up, we joined the conference. The sessions were incredibly productive, focusing on the revival of the travel industry post-Covid. The discussions also delved into sustainable travel, further enriching our insights. I also had the opportunity to interact with students aspiring to enter the travel profession. Following a lunch break, we engaged in one-on-one meetings with various travel partners.  During these interactions, I also met Mr. Boris, an expert in Croatia Travel based in New York, and Ms. Pragya Ghimire from the Nepal Tourism Board.

Later, I had a tea meeting with Mr. TP Bhusal from the Nepal Tourism Board’s Media team before diving into some work. As the evening approached, we decided to dine at Moondance Restaurant & Bar, a recommendation from Boris. The restaurant had a fantastic ambiance, and while the food was delightful, the cocktails left a bit to be desired. We had a wonderful time, and one amusing incident involved Pragya making creative use of the mint growing near the bar entrance, which resulted in shared laughter among us. Eventually, we retreated to our respective rooms and called it a night.

Day 3: Mr. Narayan and his team at Fishtail Tours & Travels organized a sunrise tour that required us to rise at 4 AM – the most challenging part of the excursion. As we awoke, we were all picked up from our respective hotels and proceeded to the Sarangot Top Station for a cable car ride that would take us to the Sarangot View Point. The cable car journey offered stunning views while crossing the Fewa Lake, leading us to a tower with an incredible vantage point to witness the sunrise against the backdrop of the Annapurna Mountain range. The experience of observing the sunrise was simply awe-inspiring.

After returning to the hotel, we enjoyed our breakfast and embarked on a sightseeing itinerary arranged by the Nepal Tourism Board. Our first destination was the Shiva Temple at Pumdikot, a hill station near Pokhara. This locale features a viewpoint perched at an altitude of 1,500 meters above sea level and boasts the second tallest statue of Shiva in Nepal. We traversed through corn fields and tackled uphill slopes, making the journey quite memorable.

Subsequently, we proceeded to the World Peace Pagoda (Shanti Stupa). This pagoda serves as a symbol of peace and holds significance for its location at a height of 1,100 meters on the Anadu Hill. Constructed on September 12, 1973. The Shanti Stupa houses relics of Buddha and is one of the two peace pagodas in Nepal – the other being in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. The view from Shanti Stupa encompassed the stunning Annapurna range, the city of Pokhara, and the serene Fewa Lake.

Our journey continued to Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave, a cave temple situated in Pokhara. The cave’s environment can be slightly overwhelming due to the reduced oxygen levels inside. Subsequently, we visited Devi’s Fall, where the cascading water forms a tunnel upon reaching the base. This tunnel stretches approximately 500 feet in length and is situated 100 feet below ground level. Notably, the water from Devi’s Fall flows through the cave of Gupteshwor Mahadev.

I had initially intended to partake in the Annapurna helicopter ride, but unfortunately, we didn’t gather enough participants to make it feasible. As a result, I had to cancel my plans for that particular activity.

Following our sightseeing adventures, we enjoyed lunch at the restaurant close to the Fewa Lake and later indulged in a boat ride across the serene waters. A few of us took turns pedaling the boat, which turned out to be quite a tiring task. Upon returning to the hotel, we retired for the night. As I had covered most of the sightseeing activities in Pokhara, I spontaneously decided to follow Mr. Narayan’s recommendation and booked a trip to Chitwan for the next day. I rearranged my plans accordingly, including cancelling an extra night’s stay in Pokhara, before finally settling in for the night.

Day 4: After a relaxing breakfast, my driver cum guide arrived to pick me up. I completed the check-out process at the hotel and headed towards the Tibetan Settlement near Hemja. As we journeyed, we crossed the Dhoodh Ganga River, witnessing its pristine white waters. Arriving at the Tibetan Monastery, I offered a prayer and then decided to experience some Tibetan flavors at Kelsang restaurant, where I enjoyed a cup of tea.

Subsequently, my driver dropped me off at the airport, and I boarded a flight to Chitwan. Upon landing at Bharatpur Airport, I was warmly received by the hotel staff, and we embarked on a half-hour drive to reach the Landmark Forest Park. This charming hotel is nestled within the Chitwan National Park, surrounded by lush greenery, abundant birdlife, and a serene garden that created a refreshing atmosphere. This marked the first time I truly relished being alone, immersing myself in the tranquility and fresh air of nature.

Following lunch, I embarked on a village walk. Accompanied by a forest guide, I had the option to choose from activities such as an elephant ride, a boat ride on the Budi Bubhati river, or a village walk. Opting for the latter, I thoroughly enjoyed the stroll through the village. We ventured near the river, where the lively symphony of bird calls greeted us. Among the bird species we encountered were the plover which was making quite a lot of noise, hornbill, drongo, egret, green bee-eater, Bulbul, Stork, Myna, and Peafowl. While the guide suggested waiting for the sunset, I chose to spend some peaceful moments by the river before making my way back.

In the evening, visited Sauraha Tharo village, a museum that beautifully showcases the unique lifestyle of the Tharo people. The Tharo community has inhabited the forests of the Chitwan district for generations, maintaining deep economic, spiritual, and cultural connections with the forest ecosystem. During our visit, we were treated to a captivating cultural program that included performances such as the mesmerizing fire dance, the spirited warrior dance, the graceful Sakhiya dance, the energetic Lathi Nach (Stick Dance), and even a traditional funeral dance.

Amidst the vibrant performances, we had the opportunity to savor one of their delicacies – Ghongi, which is nothing but snail. Ghongi is known for its high protein content and is believed to contribute to the faster healing of wounds and fractures. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique culinary experience and was captivated by the authenticity and charm of the cultural program. After the eventful evening, we returned to the hotel, where I retired to my room, carrying with me a sense of contentment and fond memories of the day’s enriching experiences.

Day 5: The next day began early as I had an exciting morning safari planned at Chitwan National Park. To access the park, we had to cross the Rapti River by canoe, a thrilling experience given the river’s population of crocodiles. The Jungle Safari Lodge team organized the safari, and while waiting to cross the river, we caught glimpses of elephants from a distance. Once we safely crossed the river, we embarked on our safari within Chitwan National Park.

Although our animal sightings during the safari were limited to a bear, hippopotamus, and some monkeys, the incredible variety of bird species we encountered more than compensated for the lack of larger animals. We had the pleasure of observing a variety of birds such as the Common Iora, Drongo, Magpie, chestnut headed bee-eater, Myna, Egret, Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Koel, Stonechat bird, Parakeet, Plover, Stork, and Goose, among many others. The highlight of the safari was undoubtedly the visit to the Gharial Breeding Centre. Gharials are rare and endangered fish-eating crocodiles, and the center plays a crucial role in their conservation. In the wild, the survival rate of Gharial eggs is less than two percent due to predators and human interference. However, at the center, they collect and hatch the eggs in captivity, contributing significantly to their protection.

After an enriching safari experience, we took a brief break at the Gharial Breeding Centre to enjoy our packed breakfast and a cup of coffee from a small stall. With the safari completed, it was time for me to bid farewell to Chitwan and head back to the airport. One thing I began to appreciate about Nepal was the efficiency of its airports. Unlike spending hours waiting at airports, in Nepal, it’s sufficient to arrive just 5-10 minutes before departure due to the convenience of domestic air travel. The hilly terrain limits land transport options, making air travel the preferred mode of transportation within the country.

Upon reaching Kathmandu, I was promptly picked up and taken to the Malla Hotel, where I checked in and settled in for a restful night’s sleep.

Day 6: I had an early start for the Everest Express flight, a mountain flight experience offered by Yeti Airlines. As I entered the airport, I unexpectedly ran into Sophy, which was a pleasant surprise. We had a quick catch-up and then proceeded to experience the same mountain flight but through different airlines. The flight provided a breathtaking view of the Himalayan range, taking us past the Langtang Range, Eastern Himalayas, Gauri Shankar, Chhoba Bhamare Range, Melungste, and Mount Everest, among other ranges.

After returning from the flight, I had a quick breakfast and then embarked on a day of sightseeing. Our first stop was Bouddha Stupa, also known as Boudhanath, a remarkable stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Its enormous mandala structure makes it one of the largest spherical stupas globally. Our guide explained the significance of the prayers, the history, and the symbolism of the prayer flags adorning the stupa. Boudha Stupa has been a place of prayer and rest for Tibetan merchants for centuries. Following the Tibetan uprising in 1959, numerous Tibetan refugees resettled around Boudhanath, resulting in the construction of over 50 gompas (Buddhist monasteries) in the vicinity.

We then visited a Thangka painting workshop, where I learned about and admired the intricate Tibetan Buddhist paintings created on cotton or silk appliqué. Moving on, we reached Dattatreya Square in Bhaktapur, one of the most enchanting squares with its temples, ponds, and museums. It is renowned for its historical and cultural significance, hosting temples like Dattatreya, Bhimsen, and Laxmi Narayan, as well as the wood carving museum and the peacock window.

We had lunch at a local shop recommended by our driver, and then visited a rice paper-making shop where paper is crafted from Lokta bark pulp found only in the Himalayan region. I picked up a diary as a souvenir before heading to Changu Narayan temple. This ancient Hindu temple is situated atop a hill and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is considered one of the oldest temples in Nepal. Nearby, the Changunarayan Change Museum provided insights into the lives of the people of the region in the past.

Later, I caught up with Sophy for dinner at the hotel she was staying which was 15-30 minutes away from Malla. It was good to catch up with her and other few friends joined as well. Then I walked back to the hotel around 11:45 PM. The empty streets were a bit unsettling for me, as I’m not used to being out alone at such hours. Despite the unease, I returned to my room and settled in for the night.

Day 7: After a hearty breakfast, I embarked on a day of exploration. My first destination was Swoyambhu Mahachaitya, an ancient religious complex perched atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley. The Tibetan name for this site translates to ‘Sublime Trees’, which aptly describes the diverse variety of trees that adorn the hill. From there, I proceeded to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, a former royal palace complex that once housed the Malla kings of Nepal and later the kings of the Kingdom of Bhaktapur.

For lunch, I had the pleasure of enjoying a local thali, a traditional Nepali meal known for its variety of flavors and dishes. Following the satisfying meal, I continued my journey to The Narayanhiti Palace Museum, a public museum that was established in 2008 within the former Narayanhiti Palace, following Nepal’s revolutionary events in 2006.

Next on my itinerary was a visit to Kathmandu Durbar Square, an esteemed UNESCO World Heritage Site and a site of immense historical and cultural significance in Kathmandu. Within this square stands the Kumari Ghar, the residence of the Kumari Devi, believed to be the living incarnation of the Hindu warrior goddess Taleju or the tantric goddess Vajradevi. The selection process for the Kumari is steeped in unique rituals and tests.

After this, I made my way to the revered Pashupatinath Temple, dedicated to Lord Pashupati and located near the Bagmati River. This temple is not only one of the oldest but also one of the largest in the world. Its cultural and spiritual importance led to its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Adjacent to the temple is an open cremation area.

Continuing my exploration, I ventured to Kirtipur, an ancient city in the Kathmandu Valley. The local Newar population contributes to the vibrant heritage of this place. I had the delightful opportunity to savor a Khaaja set meal at Newa Lahan, a local eatery, while rain added to the ambiance. The meal consisted of beaten rice, soya beans, and leafy vegetables, and it was a truly authentic and memorable experience.

Later, I visited Chandragiri hills, a journey that required a cable car ride. The ascent provided breathtaking views of hills and dense forests, although the altitude did leave me a bit dizzy. I took my time to navigate the climb to the hill and enjoyed the breathtaking view. Afterward, I made my way back to the hotel and spent some time in Thamel for a little shopping before retiring for the night before making sure to arrange the sightseeing for Lumbini as that got added at the last minute.

Day 8: I dedicated a day to explore Lumbini, a destination that was added to my itinerary at the last minute. Being the birthplace of Buddha, I couldn’t leave Nepal without visiting this significant pilgrimage site. Despite reaching the airport only 15 minutes before the flight departure, I managed to reach Lumbini smoothly.

Lumbini holds immense importance in Buddhist tradition, as it is believed to be the place where Queen Maya gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama around 566 BCE. The tranquil surroundings of Lumbini are adorned with numerous peace pagodas built by different countries. We visited the World Peace Pagoda, where we also had the chance to witness saras cranes near the river. These majestic cranes were a rare sight due to the summer season, and although their numbers were limited, it was a unique experience.

Exploring further, we arrived at Lumbini Garden, where we encountered the Eternal Flame. This flame was established in 1986 to commemorate the International Year of Peace and was brought from the United States of America to symbolize global harmony. As we approached the Maya Devi Temple, we encountered a charming statue of Buddha as a young boy, a depiction I had never seen before and found utterly endearing. Our journey led us to the birth site of Buddha, and we subsequently made our way back. We paused for a local thali meal before I was dropped off at the airport.

Despite arriving at the airport (Bhairahawa) early, the Buddha Air staff kindly accommodated my situation and allowed me to board the earliest available flight back to Kathmandu. Once back in the city, I arranged a meeting with one of the travel partners, enjoyed a quick dinner, and then retired for the night.

Day 9: After a leisurely breakfast, I packed my bags, a task that took a bit of time, and made my way to the airport. The journey was smooth, and I boarded the flight back to Bangalore. This trip marked my first solo adventure where I had the opportunity to explore various places on my own, aided by the guidance of the driver and guide, and to make some incredible new friends along the way.

I want to extend a special note of gratitude to Buddha Air, whose last-minute bookings allowed me to maximize my exploration despite the constraints of time. I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the domestic airports, where I could save a significant amount of time by not having to wait around unnecessarily. Air travel, being the safest option in this region with its towering mountain ranges, is the primary means of transportation.

In Nepal’s domestic airports, there’s no need to arrive hours in advance. Just being there 10-15 minutes before departure is sufficient. This flexibility turned out to be quite helpful, such as when I was able to catch an earlier flight in Lumbini without any hassle.

As my beautiful and personally liberating journey came to an end, I return home with newfound confidence and cherished memories. While this adventure concludes, I eagerly look forward to the next one in a different country. Until then, take care and farewell…


August 16, 2023

UAE – Shukran Dubai

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 8:59 pm

About UAE: The United Arab Emirates or simply the Emirates, is a country in Western Asia (the Middle East). It is located at the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula and shares borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia, while having maritime borders in the Persian Gulf with Qatar and Iran. Abu Dhabi is the nation’s capital, while Dubai, the most populated city, is an international hub. The United Arab Emirates is an elective monarchy formed from a federation of seven emirates, consisting of Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.

It was my 2nd time in UAE and was looking forward to explore the city post attending the Arabian Travel Market conference.

Visa: It’s an e-visa for Indians and all that you have to do is to provide the scan copy of color passport photo copy, passport bio and address page. We had our e-visa in a week’s time as our local partner had helped with that. The visa duration is available 30 days single entry/ multiple entry and 60 days single/multiple entry as well.

If you have a valid US visa, you don’t need a visa as you can get it on arrival. Since we had to apply for Judy, we went ahead and applied for both to save some time on arrival.

Day 1: I didn’t want to travel alone and I am glad in this trip Judy accompanied me and we were excited from day 1 of our planning. Couple of my friends had come from USA and it was not a good day to leave them as I had a flight to catch. It was an early morning flight so had to reach the airport midnight as well. My friends were literally telling me that my flight will get cancelled and I will come back from airport as they were unhappy that I was leaving them and they know when I am back, they would have left the country. How can I forget the whining of Sur, my usual travel partner who missed this time too as he had just joined JP Morgan and didn’t want to take off. Remember he is in his probation period…

After all the drama, I reach the airport so early as there was hardly any traffic. So waited for Judy to come and she had her whole family at the airport came to send her off and it was so beautiful. We spent little time with her family, grabbed a nice tea, chatted for a while and then we had to get in to the airport.

We checked in, cleared our immigration, security and went to the lounge. Since I had some urgent work to complete, I couldn’t enjoy anything at the lounge. Judy had a bite and then it was time for me to leave for boarding. We boarded the flight and I got a window seat and Judy sat next to me.

Usually Etihad is one of the best airlines but those four hours of travel was the most uncomfortable travel that we had as we felt our legs were cramped due to very little space. We felt like our legs were tied, the food was just ok and both of us killed our time watching some new movies and we badly wanted to get out of the seats. Last time I did fly Etihad and I never felt this and I was thinking is it because post covid, travel frequency had been reduced so might I be feeling a little out of practice but even Judy had the same complaint. So I am not sure if it was the old aircraft, whatever that was, it was one of the most uncomfortable flights.

Finally we landed and went to the immigration counter at Abu Dhabi. This was one of the first finest experiences that we started with. There was no officers, since I had already come earlier, Iris scan and face scan was done and I was out of immigration counter without any human interaction. Judy had to go back to the counter since she was coming for the first time, so she did take some time. By then I was collecting the baggage and the process was pretty smooth and we felt like we had a domestic flight and neither we had any physical stamps for entry.

Then we got out but had to wait for more than an hour for the Etihad coach to take us to Dubai. There were very few chairs in the waiting area so initially we had to stand which was not very comfortable, then last 15-20 minutes some of the chairs got empty and we got to sit. Then the coach arrived and we were on our way to Dubai. Since I hardly had any sleep the previous night I just dozed off for the entire two hours of drive.

I woke up once we reached Dubai drop point, our car was waiting for us from Royal Gulf Tourism whom we had booked for the land package in UAE and we got dropped to Majestic City Retreat Hotel. There is a tourism fee, which is a very small amount which had to be paid directly at the hotel.

Every car that came to pick us and drop from point to point was mostly premium and high end cars. I have no clue about them but Judy was so excited and it made her day as every time it was a different high end cars and she was totally into it.

Our hotel was less than half an hour drive, we checked in and freshened up and we thought we will step out for some snacks as we did see some Malayali store next door named Master Café, we had mix club sandwich which had ham and chicken and chicken parotta, chukku (dry ginger) coffee and chicken samosa. Except the sandwich others were just average, then we stepped into the supermarket close by, as Judy picked up some juices, I had to pick up the adapter and we came back to the hotel and crashed. Later in the evening we met our respective friends. While my friend and myself ordered Non veg platter and it came with lot of kebabs. The quantity was so much and we couldn’t finish, but tasted good, finally ended the dinner with curd rice and fish curry, remembering our Chennai Days. it was great and then I bid good bye to my friend and came to the room and crashed for the night and Judy enjoyed an awesome night ride in the city with her friend.

Day 2: After a good rest, it was time for breakfast. The spread was decent and quite a lot of Indian dishes were there, mostly North Indian breakfast items. It was so beautiful to watch mourning dove coming around the guests as we sat outside in the open area. Then it was time to check out and go to Voco.

Our car pick up arrived and it was very close by and then we checked in to Voco. We were a little early however the receptionist found a room for us and we were lucky to check in early. So we checked in and since we had enough time in the hand, we went to Dubai Mall. First we needed to have lunch as I was searching for the Kunafa in Dubai Mall where my friend had introduced last time which was the best. Unfortunately shops had been changed so we got into Bosnian House in the food court for lunch. Had their specialty which was Bosnian Kebabs with fresh Somun (Bosnian Bread). It was good and then went around the mall, picked up few accessories and then we headed to Paul Café for a nice coffee. They had Mile Fuele, which is a type of French pastry made from layers of thin puff pastry that is alternated with a cream filling and topped with a ganache. I ended with a nice cappuccino and Judy had her Latte. Then we headed back to the room to freshen up to go for the Dhow Cruise at Dubai Marina.

We had our pick up Mr. Aarif who also later became our guide for our shopping . He dropped us at the Marina. There was a long queue and we had to wait. We were informed seating at the top was the best when you go for the cruise for the view, since we were early we did get the seat at the top and we settled on our seats. The buffet dinner was arranged in the cruise as it went for a ride around Marina. Dinner was average but it had an amazing view of the city around Marina. There was Tanoura dance, Tanoura means skirt in English and Tanoura dance is a kind of folkloric dance that is very common in Islamic countries Especially Egypt and Turkey. it is usually performed by Sufi men for the Sufi music, who spin continuously and in the night, their skirts are lit with lights and it was great to watch. Once we were done our guide picked us up and dropped to the hotel and we crashed for the night.

Day 3: I woke up late and I had to rush for the Arabian Travel Market (ATM). It was my first time and made it on time for the pick up and reached the Dubai Trade Centre where the event was happening. Started with a networking session and crazy schedule of one on one, meet with suppliers globally. Since it was in multiple halls most of the time was getting wasted in moving from one hall to another trying to be on time for the meeting. It was one crazy schedule and enjoyed every minute of it. Once we were dropped back to the hotel, I realized I hadn’t had anything from morning so was very hungry. Thankfully I met Ms. Basma from Saudi Arabia who was attending ATM and staying in Voco, she also was hungry and wanted to eat at KFC which was next door. I joined her even though KFC is not my comfort food. We ordered our food and then we also found a lady who came inside and was selling key chains, she was dumb and couldn’t speak and she had a card which said all the key chains are made by people of different physical disabilities and if we buy, it will benefit them. Even though I don’t use key chains, I picked up few just to support them and I told her to keep the change but she gave back some small memento for the balance amount which was due. I then handed over to Basma those key chains to give to her younger sister as she loves those and returned to our respective rooms.

Then Judy and I decided to head to Meena Bazaar as recommended by Mr. Aarif and picked up few stuffs and stopped at Madhura Sweets where we enjoyed the Dosa, Idly and filter coffee. It was weird to try Indian food in Dubai however we wanted something light so that worked. It was very late and we booked an Uber, reached the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 4: Another crazy day as I was late again to wake up and rushed to the ATM, after all the meetings, we had a dinner hosted in IHG, Dubai Marina and it was a beautiful sight to behold. Even though it was good networking but my feet ended up hurting badly due to shoe bite and I had to retire very early and I came back to the hotel and crashed, while Judy went to meet her friends for dinner.

Day 5: Had a good rest and I was late again. So grabbed a quick breakfast and rushed to ATM. Post all the meetings we went for a night show at La Perle, Dubai. La Perle is the region’s first permanent show and it features breathtaking fusion of immersive artistic performances, imagery and technology. It is influenced by Dubai’s rich culture, vibrant present and aspirational future, which is brought to life by awe-inspiring stunts and special effects that left us speechless in the aqua theatre. It was amazing to witness the stage flood with water and drain in a matter of seconds as the artists perform mind-blowing aqua and aerial feats, such as diving from 25 meters high. It was a mesmerizing experience and I would highly recommend and thank the ATM for providing the tickets for us. Don’t miss out as it was a beautiful experience.

Then Basma suggested to step out for dinner and we had asked her to take us to an authentic local experience, so we went to Tashrifat Restaurant which was an Iranian cuisine and we had an amazing kebabs, Saffron rice and Tea. We did order Kunafa which was a little dry but the food was one of the best ones.

Then Basma said we should try the shisha (hookah) so we went to Ayoush restaurant for the same. While Basma ordered green apple with mint, Judy reluctantly ordered watermelon flavour and I went in for mix cocktails. These Shisha’s are a way to unwind after a tiring day and spend time with friends. Basma and Judy were so sleepy so we only could spent a little time and then went back to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 6: Woke up with little sleep and rushed for the final day of conference, quickly finished all the appointments and then headed back to the hotel. Ordered some club sandwich and got back to work. Asked Judy to go early as I didn’t want to waste her time waiting for me, so we had the cab pick up and Judy went to the Dubai Mall.

I joined late just enough time to see the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. It has as the name suggests it has lot of Marine animals and underwater tunnel with a huge tank with sharks, rays & crocodile. That was a biggest attraction and it was so beautiful with lot of indoor garden and it was an amazing evening.

Then we headed out of the mail to see the fountains. The fountain show was another attraction and it was beautiful. Then we went to try the Turkish Ice Cream, thankfully he didn’t play any tricks so we got it quickly and enjoyed. it was more chewy compared to the normal ice cream which we are used to and then we headed back to the hotel and crashed.

Day 7: Woke up after good rest, had a quick breakfast and our guide Mr. Aarif took us around the city. We first headed to Deira and went for perfume shopping. If you are coming to Dubai, perfumes are the ones not to be missed, since most of them are oil based which makes it stay longer in your body. Then headed to Jumeirah Mosque, it had nice lawn and after taking couple of pictures for the memories we headed to Islamic Art Gallery for another shopping which our guide recommended. There were beautiful wall hangings done by the local artisans with stones and golden threads. It was one of the most expensive places as well. We did pick up few perfumes and got dropped in Dubai Frame.

It’s a huge garden and as we walked and got it into elevator to go up, it has a breath taking view and since we didn’t have time for lunch we just quickly grabbed a cappuccino and croissant. Then we headed back to the hotel as we were heading out for desert safari.

Mr. Shamsingh came to pick us up and it was a beautiful drive. They stopped in a shop so we ended up buying a Shemagh (Arab headscarf) which helps to protect the head, face and neck from sun, sand and wind before we headed for the sand dunes. It looked beautiful on both of us as the shop folks helped us to tie that scarf and then there was dune bashing which we enjoyed the most. We also stopped on the way to take some amazing pictures amid sand dunes and it was awesome.

Then we headed to the place and they had quad biking. Judy wanted to pick up one and I sat with her and we both enjoyed the drive. Then there was a very short camel ride, even though personally I don’t like to do these animal rides, they insisted. It was pretty short ride and then we headed back for the show. Since we were a little early we had enough time to go around with the small souvenir shops and also they recommended to do the VIP seating, so we chose our seats and I enjoyed the Shisha & Judy enjoyed the fresh juice. The belly dance show, fire show and Tanura show was so good and we also were served dinner. The food was just ok. I felt bad as the amount of food getting wasted there. The quantity was more and it was all packed and given, so most of the foods were getting wasted if you didn’t want to eat those. Then we enjoyed the remainder of the show. After such an amazing time we got dropped back and we crashed for the night

Day 8: Woke up to another beautiful day and Judy wanted to do a bit of shopping, so we headed to Lulu mall but we didn’t find anything interesting. So we headed back to Mall of Emirates. While Judy went to Carefour to do her shopping, I found a pharmacy opposite and picked up few things and then went to Carefour. They did have good options but I didn’t have so much patience to go over, so I just picked up a duffle bag (which was such a bad quality and tore post one use as soon as we landed) while Judy enjoyed her shopping.

Then we headed to CajunGrill at the food court, it was a decent food and we got dropped in Museum of future. This is an exhibition space for innovative and futuristic ideologies, services, and products and it was pretty creative and once we saw everything we came down and there was perfumery where we had to answer questions online and the system decides the perfume for us. It’s a set of 3 bottles. Depending on the answers and our choices, the different cocktails of these oils get added and we could see the mixture being added to the customized perfume, where we don’t choose manually. It was pretty interesting. Then we thought we will grab a quick bite in a nice pastry shop but we ended up going to Jones the Grocer, and we didn’t realize it was in the Dubal Mall again. We had an amazing dinner, enjoyed the view of fountain and Burj al Khalifa, came to the hotel and crashed for the night. .

Day 9: It was another beautiful day and we headed to Veggie Restaurant, it was a south Indian restaurant and we had a good breakfast and then headed to Atlantis. One way we had taken mono rail which dropped us to Atlantis. As we entered we first a saw a huge tank of marine animals and there were divers inside and some of them were snorkeling there as well. It was beautiful to watch from outside through that glass panels and the sheer variety of multi color marine animals was awesome.

Then we headed to the water park, took super pass as we were late to reach and it helped to avoid longer queues which gave us enough time to use as many rides as possible. They also provided the free aqua socks which we needed to collect and then we ventured to the water activities. The only downside was we couldn’t carry anything while doing the activity. It was sunny, our bags were there in one entrance, we were thirsty, not a single water dispenser was available anywhere except to purchase but going to back another entrance to pick up the wallet was a night mare.

After few rides, I had a bad headache due to dehydration and so we headed back to eat and drink something before headache ruins my day. There was McDonalds and soft drinks. We had burger and coke and sat outside on the chairs and took a break to recover from the headache.

On the way Mr. Aarif showed us the 7 star hotel Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf hotel which had golden horses in the front. We were informed that when you check in at this golden horse hotel, you are taken by boat and the beautiful landscapes and river were beyond words. Then we also saw the palace of the king and also enjoyed the Dubai night life view.

We then went to Saravana Bhavan for an idly and filter coffee and it was delicious. Then came down to buy the spice and chocolates which was close to Tanishq showroom. Then we headed to Tanishq, as Judy wanted to check some designs. We then came back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 10: Had a good sleep and woke up to another exciting day. Had a quick breakfast and started packing. We ordered a chicken club sandwich at the hotel. It was good then we went to try the best kebab place which was recommended by Mr. Shamsingh. We went and had their kebabs with saffron rice, the waiter recommended us to try the mutton curry and we obliged. This place had lot of significance as it was one of the oldest places and lot of prominent personalities had been there. Then Judy headed for gold shopping, while I had to get back to work. Towards evening we wanted to go to the Deira City Centre however we got late and went straight to the Mexico Seafood Restaurant. This was one of the best experiences and came back to the hotel and ordered few croissants for the next day as we had to leave early and crashed for the night.

Day 11: we woke up early as we had to bid good bye to Dubai, had a quick coffee and croissant and we checked out the hotel. The check out process was super smooth. We got dropped near Etihad Airlines office in Dubai. We were disappointed as Etihad office in Dubai didn’t have check in counter post Covid. Since we were early, we were just sitting and killing our time. I wish the check-in counter comes to Dubai to make things easier.

Then the coach arrived and we headed to Abu Dhabi Airport. once we reached the airport Judy went somewhere else so had to wait till she got back to the right check-in counter, we lost there at least half an hour there and then almost an hour at the check-in counter as they had some technical issues retrieving our booking which was booked directly from airline website.

Once that was done, we had to get the tax-free confirmation at the counter and we were directed at a wrong counter and so we lost another 10 minutes and then we came back to the right counter which was just near the duty free where it all began. By the time tax refund process was initiated, it was time for boarding and we had to rush. We ran for the boarding so that we don’t miss our flights. Thankfully we were there to board just on time.

Return flight was smooth, leg space was ok and food was good as well. Finally we landed in Bangalore and we needed to browse through duty free shops but due to election next day, it was dry day so alcohol shops were closed. We stepped out and waited for Judy’s gang to arrive to welcome her. However, they were getting delayed so we bid good bye to each other and came back making such fantastic and memorable experience to cherish………….

Few pointers to note in Dubai:

  1. You need not book private cabs in advance, Uber is super fast and cost saving as well
  2. If you are ok to splurge in five star hotels, this is the city you should because first, you are treated like royalty in every sense of the way and second the cost comparing to India is much cheaper. So please go ahead and enjoy those luxury experiences without any guilt as you have earned it.
  3. The safest city in the world and I mean every single word of it. People who know me, are aware how I am when it comes to safety and I am someone who will not step out during travel if I am not comfortable in terms of my safety. This is the first city in 2023 that I can vouch for being safe. I was so comfortable that I traveled alone, no matter whether it was day or night because I was 100% sure I was safe in the city, that mattered to me the most and Dubai, thank you for this and  looking forward to visit when ever I can.

I have no words to express enough how much I love this city and I don’t mind going back again and again to enjoy these experiences. Yes, it can burn your wallet but every penny is worth spent in this city.

Until we meet again on my next travel Shukran Dubai and Stay safe……………

December 17, 2022

Nagaland – The Land of Festivals

Filed under: India — jani @ 4:19 pm

It was a last minute booking to Nagaland as Santosh from Exotic Expeditions had cancelled the Bali trip which we had planned earlier. We blindly trust Santosh, for his experiential trips so we went ahead and booked it. Along with Sur and myself, we had Punita from our residential community and my friend Shankar who had joined this trip as well.

About Nagaland: It is a landlocked state in the north-eastern region of India. It is bordered by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh to the north, Assam to the west, Manipur to the south and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar to the east. Its capital city is Kohima and its largest city is Dimapur. It is home to a rich variety of natural, cultural and environmental resources. Nagaland is a mountainous state. The high-profile Dzüko Valley is located at Viswema, in the southern region of the state. The state has significant resources of natural minerals, petroleum, and hydropower with agriculture as the state’s most important economic activity, accounting for over 70% of its economy. Other significant activities include forestry, tourism, insurance, real estate, horticulture and miscellaneous cottage industries. The state has experienced insurgency and inter-ethnic conflict since the 1950s, limiting its economic development.

Inner Line Permit (ILP): Before travelling to Nagaland, it’s mandatory that you apply for ILP and get the approval. It takes 3-4 days for approval, hence please plan your travel accordingly. This applies to Indian Citizens too who are traveling from other states.

Step 1: Fill up the application form in the following link (https://ilp.nagaland.gov.in/), upload the relevant documents and submit. You will receive an SMS with the reference number.

Step 2: Once your application is approved, you will get a SMS saying that your application is approved and you need to make payment in order to download the approved ILP

Step 3: Make the payment of Rs. 50 and then the ILP is ready for download.

Even though no one has checked for this document when we travelled, its advised to get the ILP before your travel to Nagaland in order to adhere to the local entry regulations.

Day 1: We had a morning flight to catch, so Sur, Punita and myself started on time to go to the airport. Since we slept hardly the previous night, we were sleepy. We reached the airport, finished the formalities, had a little break at the lounge and then started our flight to Delhi. We met Veena and Uma as we waited to board for our connecting flight. Even though Jaclyn was there, we couldn’t meet her so finally after a short haul we boarded the flight to Dibrugarh, Assam. We reached in the afternoon and met Santosh and all of us went to Bhaskar Homestay where we were staying for the night before we proceeded to Nagaland. Finally I met Shankar, it was a happy reunion to meet him after a long time. Then we met other group members Indu, Divya and Sapna. Venkat was still on his way and we finally met him in the evening after he reached. As soon as we reached, the ladies in the group except me went for a walk. I was too sleepy to step out and while they had gone for a walk, Sur and myself sat with Santosh and Shankar and were catching up on the old times. Then we went to a bakery next door Tasty Treat and went for tea and snacks. The Samosas were good, however paneer puff was too dry and the coffee was not great either. However, the samosas made the day and then we walked around close by and packed some duck meat, along with chicken and it was good. We also got few of our favourite Bhutanese Peach Wine (Zumzin) as Nagaland is a dry state, so we don’t get alcohol there and this is our go to wine when we come to North East as we get this wine only here. We came back to the homestay and it was time to surprise the birthday boy. I had already asked Shankar to get a birthday cake to surprise Sur as it was his birthday. He had arranged a nice mango flavoured cake from Tasty Treat bakery. Sur had cut the cake and we all enjoyed it. Then we got our dinner of thali (set meal) of veg and non-veg which had rice, dal and vegetables and Non-veg folks had chicken in addition. We enjoyed and crashed for the night.

Day 2: We woke up after a good breakfast and started towards Longwa in Mon District, Nagaland. Since it was Sunday, almost everything was shut in Nagaland, so we stopped to get some samosas packed before we entered Nagaland for the lunch. Even though it was a small bakery and looked shady, the samosas were one of the best that we ever tasted. It was almost 8-9 hours of drive with loads of dust and bad roads. We stopped for a quick break for tea in Sonari and we also had to literally use the open face for the bio break as there were no public toilets around. Since it was Sunday, hardly anyone was there outside and it looked more of a deserted road. Finally we reached Longsha Home Stay in Longwa (Lungwa) which mostly has Konyak tribes who are the last head-hunters of the warrior clan. These tribes were known for headhunting and now they are doing farming. Head hunting was their pride, bringing heads of enemies and doing a victory dance in front of the chopped head was something special for them. The warrior wears a chain with brass skulls, depending on how many heads he had chopped, that many brass skulls gets added to his neck piece. Also post victory, they get face tattooed, which is another identification for the warrier who had hunted heads successfully earlier. The ladies in the house do farming and also make colourful accessories for the neck, ear etc with the beads now bought from Myanmar. Usually The homestays are adorned with human skulls but now it’s all of various animals, mostly Mithun (semi domesticated gaur) as all the human skulls were taken away by the government.

Pohi was our hostess and she had her entire family to support us during our stay there. She also became our translator to communicate with other people from her tribes. The stay was very basic but rich with the warmth of the family. The people were so simple and good and we ended up spending more time warming ourselves in their house kitchen.

The food was not as per our palette, they had rice which is their staple diet and boiled dal, hardly they used any masalas. Then they had squash (chow chow) and greens (radish leaves) which was always served just boiled. So it was pretty bland food and more of a healthier option. They do have Naga chilli which is extremely spicy so we had to be little careful on that to eat it raw with the food. Nagas delicacy used to be Dog meat but we didn’t see anywhere during the trip, later I heard from Santosh, that they do have but they don’t publicize due to tourists. We were mostly served smoked pork and chicken, the meat served was under cooked and it didn’t have any masalas to enhance the flavour.  It was just sautéed in the oil for some time, then added water and boiled for sometime. So it was a big no no for me and also hardly had any flavours, to which we are used to. I didn’t see any single gas connection in this area, they were still using the old stoves and were doing all the cooking by burning wood. They have a stand tied above the stove, so the meat and others are left there to get it smoked. It’s still the same old method they are following even till today, nothing has affected them. They also had pumpkin which they made well, then there was Chicken pickle, which was overpowered by Ginger and then sometimes the consolation was the naga chilli chutney which was the best.

I also heard they never used to have hospitals there, as they never fell sick. As the sun was setting by 5 PM it was little difficult to track the timing and also it was very very cold. So we had our dinner early, bought some colourful accessories which the local ladies were making by hand which was for sale and then we crashed for the night.

Be prepared to carry your own toiletries and towels as here they don’t provide and also be prepared to enjoy the cold water bath here. Also the drinking water tastes like smoky water.

Day 3: Woke up after much needed rest and followed by cold bath and then headed for the breakfast. We had bread omelette and Poori, then we headed for our exploration. We did a mini trek to go to the view point where you could see Myanmar. The border of Myanmar also has Konyak tribes and they speak the same language. There is a forest which runs between the borders where Mithuns are usually found. The view point of Myanmar was stunning and we could see few huts, each one separated by large pieces of land. But it was barren as I heard, hardly anything grows in this land. The Myanmar border goes right in the middle of the view point and we took some pictures near that border stone. When we came down we saw men were replacing the roof of the hut with the new ones, they use dried areca nut leaves and it was made without a single nail. Commendable..

Then we headed to the house of Chief of Ang tribe, Shri Tonyei Phawang and he was sitting near the stove warming himself. The Myanmar boarder literally runs in the middle of his house, half of it is in Myanmar and other half it is in India. Literally, The king sleeps in India and eats in Myanmar. Their house was adorned with lot more animal heads, wooden king bed and lot more things beautifully decorating the house. There was also a wooden statue of two head-hunters where one is about to cut the other’s head. We went and took the pictures with him and then we left the place. They’re the only Indian tribe to have legal dual citizenship of both India and Myanmar and a lot of them even vote in both elections.

Then we headed to the Gun making place. Even though in India Gun license is restricted, they are allowed to have and there was a man who was making it completely by hand. We sat with him for some time and Sur also tried a bit shooting.

Then we proceeded to meet one of the head hunters who had chopped off five heads, he also did the victory dance which is usually done post chopping off enemy heads. We had goosebumps hearing such stories and imagining it. Then we gave him some tips and left, he was very pleased.

Then we headed back to the homestay and while I was too tired and went to sleep, Sur and others walked around and enjoyed the scenary. There was a helipad closeby and beautiful flowers all around and then there was radish field where they plucked one for tasting and then the group went to play carroms. Then I joined them late for dinner. While others went to crash for the night, Shankar wanted to entertain the host and family with his dance as a gratitude. Santosh joined with him and I was the spectator cheering all of them. Shankar made sure to take everyone to join him in dance and it was so good to see them laugh after their tiring day post taking care of a big group of twelve of us. Then we crashed for the night.

Day 4: We woke up to a beautiful day and it was time to bid good bye to such an amazing family. We had a quick breakfast, took photos with the family and set off to the next destination of Mokokchung. We heard from another group that the roads are bad and it will take longer than usual, we hurried to make sure we reach Mokokchung before it gets dark. The roads were one of the worst and network was completely off. The roads were isolated and there were loads of dust and few feets of mud slush. Thank God it was not raining otherwise you couldn’t go in a car as it will get stuck. There is a little seepage of water from the hills, so even though it was not raining, there was mud slush but manageable since it was not raining. Still we got a flat tyre as the potholes were really deep and bad. Since we were in two cars, both the drivers helped each other to change it and then we moved on. The funny thing was in these roads suddenly you see a patch of thar road and before we start being hopeful, the road suddenly disappears as though someone carried away the entire road. It was little stressful to travel on this road until you reach safe. North East is extremely safe for people. It was more of car reaching safely and before it gets dark because its very difficult to get any help in these routes as its deserted and isolated. Luckily we were relieved once we reached Changtongyeah. It was a small town, girls and boys were playing football in the ground, so we took a short break to buy some snacks before we proceeded to our destination.

Finally we reached Marvel Guest House in Mokokchung. This town is the cultural nerve centre of the Ao tribes and is economically and politically the most important urban centre in northern Nagaland and that was our stop for the night. After reaching the hotel, seeing the clean sheets and proper toilets and geyser we felt a little relieved and girls were only discussing about washing the hairs first as we were not sure about the similar facilities in the next places. So all of us freshened up and then ordered dinners individually. We also enjoyed their lemon tea which was good. As next day we were planning to leave early, Santosh, Shankar and myself joined to help him to pick up the breakfast items to pack as Sur was lazy to join us. The shops were closing in early, it was already dark even though it was only 6 PM, so we went a little further, picked up bread, butter and jam, fruits etc. We also found some street vendors selling pork skewers with fat and meat separately, they also had chicken and pork sausage. Except the port sausage which got over fried so it became rubbery, the pork and chicken was really good and edible to eat. So we came back to the Guest House, enjoyed our dinner and then all of us crashed early as we had an early start.

Day 5: We woke up early and started off to Longkhun Village. This village is a vanguard village of the Ao tribes in the days of headhunting, it is strategically situated and commands a view of the surrounding hills and valleys. There was amazing view point and we sat there for our breakfast which we carried with us and then we walked around the village. The village has beautiful flowers all around, big varieties of roses, Dark red poinsettias and chrysanthemums. Then we headed to the orchid park in the village, however it was not a season for the bloom So we returned back. On our way back, we asked one of the ladies to use the rest room in their house, since you hardly find public toilets here. She obliged and we all went for our bio breaks. It was an old style toilet where there was no commode it was a cemented floor with a hole for the water to go and then we handed over some cash as a gratitude for the lady for her help. She gave us a big smile in response and we thanked her and left for Kigwema.

On the way we stopped at Wokha, had lunch at Hotel Lotha Dish, grabbed some snacks and reached Hills Homestay in Kigwema. Kigwema is one of the oldest villages amongst the Angami Naga villages. Several Angami, Chakhesang and Sümi Naga villages lay claim to the fact that their villages were established by men from Kigwema. During World War II, Japanese troops arrived in Kigwema on 4 April 1944, at 4:00 PM. The Japanese commander, General Kōtoku Satō, was stationed in Kigwema during the Battle of Kohima. This is also closer to the hornbill festival venue. So we got into the homestay but we did have a challenge on rooms as they only had 3 rooms due to festival. Earlier Santosh and Venkat were planning to sleep out on tent. It was so cold to allow them to sleep out. So after Divya and Sapna agreed, Sur joined the three of us in our room, remaining five girls in another, so the third room Santosh, Venkat and Shankar could be accommodated.

The family were so hospitable and the whole family, any time of the day, were ready to serve with a big smile. Most of the time they had to make teas multiple times as it was too cold, as constantly we wanted something hot to beat this cold. We had our dinner including the chicken which was well done and we finally enjoyed a good hot meal and it tasted good too. Then we sat out for sometime for a drink and then the group lead by Shankar were dancing. Uma was adjusted as the best dancer of the group and as usual I was the spectator to cheer them on. Then we all crashed for the night.

Day 6: We had a quick breakfast of Maggi and bread omelette and then walked to the Kisama Heritage Village, It serves as the main venue for the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland. This Heritage Complex consists of a cluster of sixteen houses of each tribe created in the indigenous typical architectural designs. It also houses a World War II Museum, Bamboo Heritage Hall, Bamboo Pavilion and stadium for live shows. It was half an hour walking distance, we got our entry bands and then reached the venue to enjoy the cultural show. The Hornbill Festival is an annual festival celebrated from 1 to 10 of December. The festival represents all ethnic groups of Nagaland for which it is also called the Festival of Festivals

The show started with a pestle dance (bamboo dance) performed by Kuki cultural troupe. It had a tale of an orphan who fell in love with the chief’s daughter, however father wanted to break his ankles as he didn’t want his daughter to be married to an orphan. He planned this bamboo game with his staff, where he instructed his staff to break his ankles when he plays this game as any wrong jump/move can break his legs. When his friends found about this evil plan of the chief, they all came to help their friend by shouting jump at the right time and helped him escape unhurt.

Then we had the Rücechele (demonstration) of ploughing the field by both men and women folks by Chakhesang Cultural troupe, then it was followed by frog jump and they asked volunteers to try as well. It was quite spectacular, colorful and fun. Then there was Bai Jaba (War dance) by Kachari cultural troupe. It was followed by Tsethomari (folk dance) it was a thanksgiving dance for all the blessings that they received throughout the year. Then there was Junglangkak games by Ao cultural troupe which depicted the varios games that men play to keep themselves ready for the war.

Then it was break for the lunch. The vegetarians went to the veg food trail, they had Chinese food options. Santosh, Shankar, Jaclyn and myself went to the different tribe huts and went to try different foods. We tasted silk worm in Garo Stall, along with the rice beer which was distilled. The silk worm was tasty but it was cold, am sure it would have tasted better if it was hot. It was dried first and then would have sauteed, that’s how it tasted and looked.

Then we moved to Satakhami for smoked pork, which was ok, then we headed to another hut for smoked fish and chicken and rice beer which was non-distilled. Rice beer was ok, but most of us didn’t enjoy any other items in this.  we had a nice herbal tea and lemon tea. That made our day as it was good. Then it was time to head back to the afternoon show.

It started with Awura Kwhi (folk song) by Pochury Cultural troupe which is a victory dance only the warrior who hunted heads are eligible to do this dance, then there was another folk song by Angami cultural troupe from Sakabama village which was all about men and women preparing the land for farming. Then there was Ho-E-Eh Zou (Folk song by Khiamniungan cultural troupe, that was another thanksgiving dance. Then there was a traditional game of Ading Oka by Garo cultural troupe which 2 boys hold the bamboo baton, sit opposite to each other and tried to see who is able to take the baton from the other. It was to test the strength. Then we had lover’s dance Zinger Tsungsang by Ao tribe from Dimapur. It was a dance to get to know each one’s partner and learn to communicate. Then there was Aki Kiti which is a semi-contact combat sport involving kicking and blocking with soles. It is a traditional sport originating from the Sümi naga tribe. Then there was Akhakhi Kemvu Khwie (cotton spinning) by Rengma women from Kohima. The women folk used to make different shawls to give to her loved one, while men gave moral support by encouraging them while enjoying their rice beer. The beautiful cultural show came to end for that day and we explored the stalls near by specially wanted to pick up the Naga shawls. Then we headed to the café and enjoyed the soup, noodles and then went back to the venue for the music festival in the evening.

Music festival started by Swarathma, which is a Bangalore-based Indian Folk/fusion band. And The band’s sound draws from Indian Folk and Classical Music, blending it with Western sounds like Blues Rock and Reggaefirst. Jishnu Dasgupta from the band gave an introduction and then the show started, the theme was on Indian tribal songs. First, they had a song from Ho tribe of Jharkhand. They sang the song of Sisir Dah (Dew Drop), then it was followed by Rabha tribe from Asaam, who sang the Chingi Hasong (on preserving rabha way of life), Then it was time for Kandha Piju from Orissa singing on Titli Piju (the cyclone that ravaged them). It was heartbreaking even to listen. Then there was a festive song of Bwisagu by Bodo tribe from Assam. Then there was a song from Jamatiya tribe from Tripura on Bisi Kwtal which is a new year celebration song, one which was peppy and warmed us for the cold night. Then all the artists came together to sing featuring Rhythms of earth. First of all hats off to these folks, who is trying to keep these tribal songs alive. Vasu Dixit from Swarathma, sang few amazing numbers. Then there was another team came which was boring, So that sent us packing as the weather was not helping either. We rushed back to the homestay, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 7: We woke up, had our breakfast and headed to Khonoma, which is an Angami Naga village closer to the state capital, Kohima. It is the first green village in India. We went to the small fort there and as we went inside the village, we saw women weaving the local naga shawls and we bought few, then enjoyed the juicy cut pine apples from the small shops. As we roamed in the village, on the sides of the road, there was money bag and fruits with the cost and there was no person sitting there. All that you have to do is that, if you are taking the fruits put the right change in the money bag. A big love and respect to this village, I can’t imagine if this will succeed in our towns/cities. Huge and huge respect. Then we used one of the rest rooms of a local and then we headed back to the hornbill festival venue.

While Indu, Sur and myself explored the war museum, horticultural stalls, florals arrangements, paintings, others were enjoying the hornbill show. Once we were done, all of us then gathered and headed back to the homestay. On the way we saw the stalls of wild cat and wild birds meat. Since we couldn’t stand out more on cold, we didn’t try it but headed back to the homestay. We  had our dinner and I had logged in to do my office work. Since the network was too slow I had to wait longer. While I was waiting for the emails to be sent, Shankar gave me company and we were chatting. The host were insisting me to have some tea but I was feeling bad to ask anything at the late hours so I declined and asked them to go to sleep as it was too late. It was way past midnight and they saw that I was still working, they came with some hot beverage (looked like Barley Congee water), we couldn’t refuse as they had already made. So Shankar and myself enjoyed the drink, thanked them, by then my emails were sent and it was time to crash for the night.

Day 8: Woke up to the beautiful and cold day, had a teary farewell from the host family members. This was one of the best stays and then we headed to Kohima. First we headed to the war memorial. This is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces who died in the Second World War at Kohima, in April 1944. The soldiers died on the battleground of Garrison Hill in the tennis court area of the Deputy Commissioner’s residence. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which maintains this cemetery among many others in the world, there are 1,420 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War at this cemetery, and a memorial to an additional 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who were cremated in accordance with their faith.

Then we headed to the Cathedral Church of Kohima, the church is noted for its architecture which incorporates many elements of traditional Naga houses, including its facade which resembles that of a Naga house. Unfortunately it was under major renovation. We had an amazing view of the city though and we headed to Kohima State Museum, this was one of the best things that I cherished. It had all the information about various tribes of Naga, their traditional games, the way each tribe constructs the huts, their clothing, accessories, etc. Each tribe had its own uniqueness. It was their past history which needed to be remembered, cherished and not forgotten. This was an eyeopener, I wish if every state had the similar one, depicting their past history and pride of their ancestors. I am sure each of our states in India has a beautiful past to cherish.

Then we headed to Dimapur, On the way we stopped at Manipuri Rice hotel. It was the worst experience for us. They had Axone (fermented beans) dishes which we couldn’t even touch for the strong smell which we are not used to. Some of the chicken curries came with the actual chicken legs with the skin, looking at that my appetite went down. I just had little rice and little dal and I couldn’t touch any of the other items for their weird taste and smell. Some of them got the cold poori which was given in newspaper as they ran out of plate. Shankar had chicken curry along with the poori, since he didn’t have plate, somehow managed to try to eat the chicken in the newspaper and he gave up as the meat was hard. Some fell sick after having this food and we were rushing to reach our last destination, Dimapur. Finally we reached Hotel Acacia, Dimapur for the last night of the journey. We bid good bye to both the drivers for all their support. By now with the roads being bad, I had hurt my neck and shoulder, few of us had cough and cold. So we just checkedin and I took a painkiller, had a nice soup and crashed. While others went to explore the night bazaar, even though some of them felt uncomfortable, Santosh enjoyed the grasshopppers etc, which I missed.

Day 9: Woke up a little early so that we could settle the accounts, then catch up with everyone before we see each others off. So went for an early breakfast and caught up with the group for some time. We settled our accounts and we all left for the airport.

We had one of the best experiences in Dimapur airport and Indigo staffs were extremely helpful. Even other staffs like security were supportive and helpful. Finally we boarded our flight back to Delhi and landed at T3. Since we had to reach T2 for the flight to Bangalore we walked towards T2 and then we boarded. Then we landed in Bangalore, got our bags and reached home after having a really one of the best experiential tours.

One beautiful, memorable, experiential trip came to end but it was one of the best and amazing trips and once again thanks to Santosh for organizing and the entire group for making the trip more memorable.

Until the next trip, signing off………………

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page

November 8, 2022

Agra – The Capital of Mughal Empire

Filed under: India — jani @ 8:17 pm

About Agra: It is a city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Agra’s golden age of the city began with the Mughals and it was the capital of the Mughal Empire under Mughal emperors Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Under Mughal rule, Agra became a centre for learning, arts, commerce, and religion, and saw the construction of the Agra Fort, Sikandra and Agra’s most prized monument, the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite empress. After Independence, Agra has developed into an industrial town, with a booming tourism industry, along with footwear, leather and other manufacturing. The Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Day 1: It had been my wish to visit Taj Mahal for a very long time, however this had been kept delaying. Finally during the Diwali holidays, Sur and myself decided to visit Agra as we were there in Noida for the holidays. We were informed that 2 days are more than sufficient to visit Agra and Friday is not recommended as most of the monuments are closed on that day. So we decided to travel on a weekend.

We started at 6 AM and within 3 hours we were in Agra. It was a pleasant drive and then we decided to go to Taj Mahal first. We got introduced to the guide Mr. Aman Jain through one of the Auto Rickshaw person and from then onwards the guide was there for both the days to guide us through the entire trip. We purchased the entry ticket and then the shoe covers which is needed to wear before entering the mausoleum. In the morning as we entered the campus of Taj Mahal, it was a beauty to behold, and it was all the more worth it. The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died on 17 June that year, while giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself. The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. In 2007, it was declared a winner of the New 7 Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. It is believed over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. It took the efforts of 22,000 labourers, painters, embroidery artists and stonecutters to shape the Taj Mahal. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the Jasper from Punjab, Jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the Carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty-eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Along with being a renowned symbol of love, the Taj Mahal is also a symbol of Shah Jahan’s wealth and power, and the fact that the empire had prospered under his rule. The building appears to slightly change color depending on the time of day and the weather.

Soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan’s death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his wife. It has been pointed out, that the minarets are designed to tilt slightly outwards to prevent them from crashing on top of the tomb in the event of an earthquake.

Then we strolled down in the garden and then headed for a little shopping near Tajganj where we picked up few souvenirs made from the same kind of marble used in Taj Mahal. Since the renovation keeps happening, the smaller marble pieces which are discarded have been used to make souvenirs. Also we visited precious stones stores where you can purchase star sapphire, black star stone etc and then we headed to UP handicrafts art and handloom centre where we found sarees made from Pineapple, banana and bamboo fibre. The prisoners make this and then its sold in these stores. We also found shoes and belts and specially belt made in Deer leather. We were curious as how did they procure deer skin when India has banned deer hunting. Then we were informed that the skin is taken post the natural death of the deer as there are quite a few spotted deers roaming near these monuments.

Then it was time to try the Agra famous Petha (pronounced as Petta) which is a translucent sweetmeat made with cubes or cylinders of ash gourd (white pumpkin), first soaked in slaked lime (chuna) and then slow cooked in Sugar and Kewra water (Distilled from Pandanus flowers) is added later for flavour. We were informed this particular shop uses honey instead of sugar and they also had interesting flavours like Coconut, Chocolate, Butter scotch, Paan and fruit based. We picked up few and left for lunch.

We were recommended to go to Pinch of Salt restaurant, where Sur tried the Paneer and mixed vegetables and I tried the lamb curry and the butter naan. We enjoyed the food and then we headed to the next visit of Agra Fort

Agra fort is a historical fort in the city of Agra and also known as red fort. It was built during 1565-1573 for Mughal Emperor Akbar. It was the main residence of the rulers of Sikarwar clan of Rajputs until Mughals occupied it and then the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. It is about 2.5 km northwest of its more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as the walled city.

Realising the importance of its central situation, Akbar made it his capital and arrived in Agra in 1558. His historian, Abul Fazl, recorded that this was a brick fort known as ‘Badalgarh’. It was in a ruined condition and Akbar had it rebuilt with red sandstone from Barauli area Dhaulpur district, in Rajasthan. Architects laid the foundation and it was built with bricks in the inner core with sandstone on external surfaces. Some 4,000 builders worked on it daily for eight years, completing it in 1573.

It was only during the reign of Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, that the site took on its current state. The fort was the site of a battle during the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule in India, and led to a century of direct rule of India by Britain.

Four gates were provided on its four sides, one Khizri gate opening on to the river. Two of the fort’s gates are notable: the “Delhi Gate” and the “Lahore Gate.” The Lahore Gate is also popularly also known as the “Amar Singh Gate,” for Amar Singh Rathore. Indian military (the Parachute Brigade in particular) is still using the northern portion of the Agra Fort, hence the Delhi Gate cannot be used by the public. Tourists enter via the Amar Singh Gate.

Then we headed to Akbar’s Tomb. It is the tomb of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It was built in 1605–1613 by his son Jahangir and is situated on 119 acres of grounds in Sikandra, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Akbar’s cenotaph inside the mausoleum, the real grave as per traditions lies below it.

In the garden there were quite a few very healthy monkeys, peacocks and deers and we enjoyed the greenery around.

Then we headed to Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Agra where we had booked for the night. This is a budget hotel and it was good. We checked in and crashed for the night as I was too tired.

Day 2: We woke up with much needed rest and then we headed for breakfast. It had limited options. We had a toast and omelette and headed for checkout. Then we met our guide and we headed to Fatehpur Sikhri to see the Tomb of Salim Chishti. This is atleast 1.5 hour drive from where we were. The Tomb of Salim Chishti is famed as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India, built during the years 1580 and 1581, along with the imperial complex at Fatehpur Sikri near Zenana Rauza and facing south towards Buland Darwaza, within the quadrangle of the Jama Masjid which measures 350 ft. by 440 ft., It enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478 – 1572), a descendant of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, and who lived in a cavern on the ridge at Sikri. The mausoleum, constructed by Akbar as a mark of his respect for the Sufi saint, who foretold the birth of Akbar’s son, who was named as Prince Salim after the Sufi Saint and later Jahangir succeeded Akbar to the throne of the Mughal Empire,

As you enter inside, there are mini buses to take you to the top where the tomb is. When you enter the building, make sure you wear clothes which are below the knees. Also you are not allowed to wear the footwear inside the campus. This tomb is believed that if you wish anything and pray to the saint, then the wishes are granted. The descendants of the saint still live there and also they run a school for the local children. We said a prayer for everyone and left from there.

This place being outside the city limits, we were also informed not to go alone or venture alone without the local guide. There was a case of one of the foreign tourists mishandled by the locals and the couple were in ICU for a week or two. Also there are lot of children who come and ask for money and we were asked to just ignore them to avoid any problems with the locals. Since we had the guide throughout, he made sure to arrange local guides in each monuments and they also made sure to purchase the tickets and be ready so it saved our time as we missed the queue as well.

On the way we went to Gopal Das Petha Shop in MG Road for the plain Pethas which are very famous. Then we headed to Taste of India for lunch, it was average and then we headed back to Noida with the great memories.

Stay Safe.

I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list……………………..






June 30, 2022

Rameswaram – The Island of Temples

Filed under: India — jani @ 6:34 pm

About Rameswaram: This island is located in Ramanathapuram district, the town is a part of Pamban Island also known as Rameswaram. This is one of the four pilgrimage places for Hindus (Char Dham of India). This Island is being associated with the legendry temple Arulmigu Ramanathaswamy Temple, built in marvelous Dravidian style of architecture. Situated at the very tip of the Indian peninsula, the island is connected with Indian mainland by Pamban Bridge on Pamban Channel in Gulf of Mannar. Rameswaram is said to be the Varanasi of South. Rameswaram is believed to be the place from where Lord Rama started his journey to get his wife Sita back from Ravana and he was helped by ‘Vaanar-Sena’ army of legendary monkey-humans and served by Hanuman, Lord Ram’s paramount devotee.

Day 1: After a very stressful week, I needed a short break and the moment I told Sur, he was all ready to go on a break to help me destress. For some reason I was thinking the monsoon has started so the only place I felt comfortable to travel was Rameswaram. This has been in my bucket list for a very long time, however since Sur cannot handle the heat, this has been getting pushed further and further. This time as we ran out of options, Sur reluctantly agreed for Rameswaram.

We started our journey as usual by 6 AM sharp, however it had unusual traffic. After few hours, I was very hungry so we were looking for a place to stop for breakfast, finally found Adyar Ananda Bhavan, near Hosur Industrial Complex and I enjoyed the mini breakfast which had Idli, Dosa, Pongal, Kesari and soft fritter (medhu vada) and a nice filter coffee, while Sur enjoyed the masala ghee dosa. Once we loaded our energy we hit the road back and it was a pretty good drive. We just had to do a quick stop for fuel and then we headed back to the road again.

We were looking for a stop for lunch and we found Ammachi mess, near Kottangulam. It was ok for just a quick south Indian veg meals. Then we hit the road.

On the way we stopped for few minutes in Pamban bridge. This is a railway bridge which connects the town of Mandapam in mainland India with Pamban Island, and Rameswaram. Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first sea bridge, and was the longest sea bridge in India until the opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in 2010.

Then we reached the Daiwik Hotel. We checked in to the room and freshened ourselves. We were too tired to step out for dinner so just ordered some tea and chilli cheese toast, as I realized later this hotel was a pure Veg hotel so I didn’t have other options. Thankfully the chili cheese toast was good. I ordered a cup of tea but I got 4 cups of tea instead. I was trying to finish the whole tea as I didn’t want to waste it and Sur was laughing looking at my plight of tea overdose. Then we dozed off.

Day 2: Woke up to a beautiful day and went for the breakfast. The buffet spread was decent and then headed straight to our first stop Dhanushkodi, this town is believed to be the place where Lord Rama had ordered Lord Hanuman to build a bridge which could carry his army across to Sri Lanka, where Demon King Ravana had kept Sita captive. As ordered, Lord Hanuman had obliged and it was here that the Ram Setu was built by the Vanara Sena.

We went straight to Arichal Munai. It’s a Coastal lookout marking the end point of the Indian mainland, popular for viewing ocean sunsets. We enjoyed the beautiful view of the beach, there were quite a lot of crowd and then came to the Dhanushkodi town, which most of the people call it as a ghost town as this was completely destroyed in Cyclone in 22-23 Dec 1964. There is only a church entrance wall standing and a little bit of altar. Otherside the railway station is completely destroyed and you could see skeletons of post office, school and railway station. Even though the Pamban bridge was rebuilt but the town was never rebuilt as this town after cyclone was considered unfit for living. There are few shops and very few houses with a small hindu temple.

On the way back we visited Kothandaramar Temple. The temple is the only historical structure to survive the 1964 cyclone that washed away Dhanushkodi. The temple is estimated to have been constructed about 500-1000 years ago. Rama, the main idol, is depicted as having a bow (Kothandam), and hence this temple is called Kothandaramar temple. The temple has the deities of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman and Vibhishana. The temple is believed to be the place where Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, asked Rama and his vanara (ape men) army for refuge. According to this tradition, after the abduction of Sita, Vibhishana advised Ravana to return her to Rama. However, Ravana did not listen to the advice, which led to Vibhishana fleeing from Lanka and joining Rama’s army. It is also said that after the slaying of Ravana, Rama performed the “Pattabhishekam” (ascension to king of Lanka) for Vibhishana at this place. The story is depicted in painting across the walls inside the shrine.

Then we headed to Jatayu Theertham which is closeby and this is also considered one of the important shrines in Rameshwaram. The road is pretty narrow with thorny trees on both sides of the road. This place is nice to stop for a group lunch/family outings etc. This temple is dedicated to Jatayu, considered to be the King of birds, who was an ardent and loyal devotee of Lord Rama. According to the religious beliefs, when demon Ravana had kidnapped Goddess Sita, Jatayu had helped Lord Rama by fighting the demon. During the fight, Jatayu’s wings were slashed because of which it fell down and died. Afterwards, Lord Rama had buried the Jatayu body at the place where a temple stands now and is dedicated to Jatayu. it is said that the entire place where it was buried, turned into vibhuti, which is the holy ash that is obtained after the yagnas by the saints. It is also believed that Jatayu also helped in getting herbs from mountains to save Lord Rama’s life. We said a prayer there and then headed to the famous temple of Rameshwaram which is Arulmigu Ramanthaswamy Temple.

This Arulmigu Ramanthaswamy Temple has the longest corridor among all Hindu temples in India. It was built by King Rebel Muthuramalinga Sethupathiy. The temple, located in Rameswaram, is considered a holy pilgrimage site for Shaivites, Vaishnavites and Smarthas. Mythological accounts depict the presiding deity, the Lingam of Ramanathaswamy (Shiva), as having been established and worshiped by Rama, before he crossed his bridge to the present-day island of Sri Lanka. Ramanathaswamy Temple Theertham (holy water bodies) is very special. There are 22 theerthams in the form of a pond and a well. These 22 theerthams represent the 22 arrows of Sri Rama. It is said that every devotee should bathe in these 22 theerthams before going to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. You are supposed to stand in front of each theertham and the temple folks will take the water from the holy well through a bucket and pour the whole bucket of water on you. We were not at all prepared for this, so we asked the guide to pour the water in the hand so that we can splash a little water on the head instead of getting fully wet. We completed all 22 theerthams, the final one being called Ganga theertham and then we entered the temple to pray. The floors are completely wet and very crowded, so be prepared for that when you plan to visit.

Then we were looking for a place to have our lunch, unfortunately I didn’t realize until then that most of the restaurants are vegetarian as this being temple town. I came with the expectation to enjoy the seafood as it’s a coastal town, to my disappointment, there were mostly vegetarian restaurants.

The two seafood places we identified to try for lunch. First we went to Coral Casita, after spending almost 45 minutes of drive in a small lane, we realized the property didn’t exist. Then we thought we will give a try to Ocean Paradise Beach Resort & Sea Food Restaurant, after another hour drive and wading through the sand a bit we were informed its only for the house guests. So finally we had to return back and Sur now has given up helping me find my food as he was hungry. So I reluctantly agreed to go to a vegetarian restaurant.

The worst part was Sur wanted to try the lunch in JKR Resort & Spa. Imagine my plight, I would have been totally fine to go to restaurants like A2B and order a south Indian veg thali which I love, and I would have been totally ok with it. But going to a high end restaurant for a vegetarian buffet that I couldn’t handle. With all the complaints and grumpy face that I had till I came out of that place, Sur realized never take me out to a high end pure vegetarian restaurant especially while travelling. You don’t want to face me in that situation, I am sure Sur can vouch for that.

Talking about JKR Resort, this place ranked top while we were searching for a place to stay, however every review in the last few months had been negative. Even though the rooms and views are good, the service was pathetic, that’s what we read about the reviews online. That’s why we didn’t book this property. However Sur thought at least will try their food and see the experience by ourselves. The food at JKR for the veg buffet was decent and Sur enjoyed, while I loved the paneer and papads as I didn’t have an option. Then we decided to try some of their drink in the menu like buttermilk etc. The waiter said chef is not available as he stepped out for shopping so only drink available was butter milk, which also might get delayed. This was during peak lunch hours so we kind of understood the level of hospitality at this high-end premium resort.  We also had a family sitting next to us ordering A la carte, they didn’t get their food on time, finally when the food came, there were no plates, for few minutes waiter was not available as he was busy with other customers.The lady lost her patience and started lecturing the waiter.

I had no interest to be at this place any longer, so we quickly left from the place and went to House of Kalam. This is the childhood home of India’s beloved former president, late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Not many know that late Dr Kalam was born and raised till his teenage years in the temple town of Rameswaram. The House of Kalam was established as museum in 2011.

Then we headed to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam National Memorial in Rameswaram. Here you cannot carry a mobile phone, hence ensure don’t carry any things when you go to visit. The one person I always admire is Dr. Kalam, he  is the epitome of simplicity, powerhouse of knowledge and an inspiration to every person specially the students. So I felt so good and was very glad that I visited this place. Looking at the statue of Dr. Kalam, I felt I was meeting him in person and my heart was filled with respect, love and admiration. We had to hurry as it was time for closure, so quickly went around the museum and then we headed back to the hotel. As usual we ordered for the tea and chill cheese toast and dozed off.

Day 3: We had a good rest, had our breakfast and left to see more of Rameswaram. We also had few places to visit which was few kms away from this town. So our first stop for the day was Hanuman Temple (Sri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir & Floating Stones) which is the five-faced Hanuman Temple. It is said that Lord had revealed his five faces here, The five faces of lord Hanuman are of Lord Varaha that faces the north, Lord Narasimha facing the south, Lord Garuda facing the west, Lord Hanuman facing the east along with face of Lord Hayagriva that faces the sky. In 1964, after the cyclone in Dhanuskhodi, the idols of Lord Rama and Goddess Sita was brought to this temple and placed here.

Another major attraction of this temple are the ‘floating stones’ that have been kept at the temple for the devotees to see. These floating stones were used for building the floating bridge named Sethu Bandhanam, from Rameshwaram to Lanka so that Lord Rama, Lord Lakshman along with others could go to Lanka to rescue Goddess Sita and put an end to the brutalities of demon Ravana.

Then we went to Ram temple and Ram Tirtham, we said a prayer and left.

Then we headed to Agni Theertham, this place holds a significant place among Hindu Devotees, who visit here to offer their prayers to atone their sins by bathing in its holy waters. It is also visited by devotees to pray for the peace and moksha of their ancestors and to perform rituals after the demise of their loved ones. We didn’t step in the water as it was crowded.

Then we headed to Ram Padam (Ramar Paadham – Ram’s Feet). It is situated in the sandy hillock named Gandha Madhana parvatham (The village where this temple is located). The word Parvatham Literally means Mountain. The feet of Lord Rama is engraved in a stone chakra in this place. The Ramar paadham is the highest point in the Rameswaram, one can see the full panoramic view of Rameswaram island by standing on the top of this Temple. It is said that one can view Sri Lanka by standing on the top of the temple. There is a stair on the side to go upstairs to have the view. It is said that Lord Ram Stood on this place and planned for the bridge, Before he built a bridge (Ram Sethu) across the sea.

Then we headed out of town to explore few places of interest which were close by. First it was Ramanad Palace. This palace is in the midst of the busy main road so we didn’t find the place to park the car. When we asked few people around,  they just said to park it outside and go. We were still worried of getting towed away as this was a busy road. Once we went inside the gate, we realized there was bigger space inside to park. The Gatekeeper then assured that car will not get towed away and it’s safe to keep it out, so we were relieved and went inside.

The entrance had a sign in Tamil (Ramalinga Vilasam). Ramanathapuram or Ramanad Palace is the home of the Sethupathy kings who ruled this region in the 17th century and were considered the guardians of the Sethusamudram near Rameshwaram. Pilgrims and travellers were protected by these rulers. The kings ruled parts of Southern Tamilnadu for more than 300 years and it is believed that some parts of the palace complex precedes even that era. This palace portrays the past glory of King Sethupathi. The mural paintings with natural dyes picturing the historical days of King Sethupathi are still intact. The palace also holds complex weapons which were used by King Sethupathi on various wars. The paintings were not just about the gods and goddess but also about the peace treaties with kings and queens from different countries. There is also idols of Ram, Sita, Hanuman & Lakshman. Then as we stepped out, we also saw few houses inside which we assumed they are the descendants of the royalty and we left for our next destination.

Our next stop was Navapashanam temple (Nine Planets Temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to Navagrahas, the nine planetary deities, located in Devipattinam, which is 70 Kms from Rameswaram. The legend is that Ram before undertaking the journey to bring back Sita from Lanka, said to have performed prayers towards Navagraha (9 planets) in this place, installing all the deities by his own hands. Here the temple is located close to the sea and you have to walk through a bridge. Since you have to remove the footwear out, be prepared to walk on the bridge barefoot in the hot sun in order to see the nine deities. There were people taking holy bath where the deities were there as this is the only temple where people are allowed to touch the deities.

Next we went to Darbhashayanam Temple, in Tiruppullaani which is located near Ramanathapuram. It means the sacred forest abode of Pula Maharshi. Ram, took rest on the sacred grass during his penance, for three days and nights, in this particular place. There is a shrine of Lord Rama in the Darbasayana pose, signifying his resting here and invoking Varuna for help in crossing the ocean, enroute to Sri Lanka in search of Sita. Pullaranyam was a marshy land full of grass and Sri Rama chose a bed of Darbha grass, which is held very sacred by all the Hindus. The grass is used on all sacred occasions during the performance of propitiatory rituals in honour of Gods and one’s ancestors. Since it was lunch time, the temple was closed and I also had few work calls to take. So we went around and found few trees where we got a nice shade to park the car as the weather was hot and then attended my work calls. Then we headed to the temple however the sanctum was closed. So just stood out, said a prayer and we left.

Then we headed to Uthirakosamangai Temple (Mangalanatha Swamy Temple). The place got this name Uthirakosamangai from the fact that Lord Shiva taught Parvati the secrets of the Vedas. It is located in Ramanathapuram District in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the most ancient Shiva temples, Sethupathi Maharaja family is the hereditary trustee.The antiquity of the temple is also evident from the fact that the name of Mandodari, wife of Ravana (Emperor of Sri Lanka) is engraved on the wall of the temple. This temple is the place where the world’s first Natarajar appeared. The temple has the Emerald Nataraja Statue (Maragatha Natarajar). The famous Mughal King Alauddin Khilji, who ruled Delhi in the year 1300, found out that there was an emerald Natarajar statue in Uthirakosamangai and tried to loot it but he did not succeed in his attempt. It is also believed to be the first temple in the world.

When we reached the place, temple was still closed. Since I had few work calls to be done we parked in front of the temple and then by the time I finished the call, temple opened. So we were relieved and went inside the temple. First we went to visit the Natarajar temple on the right side which was outside of the main temple, prayed and then came to the main temple. Then on the left was  goddess Parvati temple. Since this is the auspicious place for weddings we did see few newly wedded couples who just finished their rituals in the temple. Then we headed out to our next stop.

We reached Erwadi Dargah which is in Erwadi village in Ramanathapuram District. It is the holiest place for Islam. Here they have the grave and the shrine of Qutbus Sulthan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed Badusha Radiyallh Ta’ala anhu, the then ruler of Madinah Al Munawwara. The four dargahs were built here to commemorate Seyyad Ali Sulthan Ibrahim Shahid, His mother Fathima, wife Seyyad Ali Fathima & son Abu Thahir who migrated from Saudi Arabia and were considered messengers of God. Seyyad Ali performed lot of miracles, hence the King Sethupati gifted this land (6000 acres) as a token of appreciation. After King Sethupathi, Vikrama Pandya ruled this place and he was not in favour of him as the Hindus were converting to Muslims, So war broke out and except son, all of them lost their lives during the war. Here people bring mentally ill patients as they believe, God can cure them as Seyyad Ali had perfomed lot of miracles here. This is also a place of religious harmony which King Sethupathi patranised and that bond between hindus and muslims still continues till date.

It’s near the main road and we went in the afternoon so this was also closed and we saw it from out and left. Then on our way near the junction where we needed to head to Rameswaram, there was a juice vendor, we enjoyed the local drinks like kulukki sharbath, sugar cane juice, kulukki soda etc and then returned to the hotel, had our usual tea and chilli cheese toast and hit our bed.

Day 4: We woke up after a good sleep, had our breakfast and then it was time to check out. Had a lovely drive. We didn’t stop much as we wanted to reach Bangalore as quickly as possible. When we had to stop for lunch, we tried to look for a non-vegetarian place as I was complaining of eating veg food for the last 3 days, however we missed as usual. Then we gave up our search and settled for whatever was available. We found a new restaurant KMH Veg Restaurant near Velambadi. Sur loved the chilli mushroom manjurian and I ordered the south Indian veg thali. The place was very clean  and the food was good. Then we headed straight to Bangalore and reached home by evening.

For me the whole trip looked like a penance but it was worth visiting this place. For all the seafood lovers, Dhanushkodi has few seafood restaurants, since we went in the morning just after breakfast, we couldn’t enjoy it. Once you are in Rameswaram town mostly you have to be prepared for a vegetarian meal.

Until our next trip, please stay safe and wear the mask. Sending all the blessings for world peace and harmony…







June 10, 2022

Travelling to Antarctica?

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:30 pm

This is going to my first blog about my travel diaries, and it’s more exciting to start writing about Antarctica which remains a distant dream for many. I will try to cover as much details as possible to help the readers. Being an Immigration Expert, my target would be to guide more on the immigration/visa part as well for the international travel.

About Antarctica:

Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole, is a virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass. Most cruises to the continent visit the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches toward South America. It’s known for the Lemaire Channel and Paradise Harbor, striking, iceberg-flanked passageways, and Port Lockroy, a former British research station turned museum. The peninsula’s isolated terrain also shelters rich wildlife, including many penguins.

Antarctica is not just one-time life experience and also this is the most expensive one. Hence it helps to plan well in advance. Ideal time for Antarctica is from November to March as that is the summer time there and it’s mostly undertaken by cruise, for which the embarkation point is Ushuaia, Argentina. There are other countries as well but we had settled with Ushuaia.

Cruise: Our cruise was from 9 nights and it was Antarctica – Discovery and Learning Voyage with M/V Hondius (Oceanic Expeditions) and our bookings started way back in March 2019. A friend of mine referred Mr. Prabhat from offbeat travel when we were telling her about our Antarctica plan. Since she referred personally, we went ahead and booked the trip through his company.  By the time we had finalized in April 2019, most of the lower categories of the cabin got sold out and we could get only the top 2nd and 3rd cabin which is Grand Suite with Private balcony and Junior Suite as 4 of us were traveling on a twin sharing basis.

Visa: You don’t need a visa for Antarctica, however you need to apply for a tourist visa to Argentina as the cruise embarkation point is from Ushuaia. It’s a little nightmare to get the Argentina visa from India as you have to go through getting Spanish translations & notarizations etc. which came as a little surprise as even the Spain Embassy didn’t ask for it when I had applied for a visa last year in 2018.

ETA (Online): If the purpose is tourism then, you can apply for ETA – For the holders of Valid B2 US Visa (Valid for 6 months) OR For the holders of valid Category C Schengen Visa (Valid for 6 months)

Link: http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/ave/index.htm

Step 1: Pay the fees of USD 50 and there is receipt generated which carries the sticker number

Step 2: File ETA (login details will be your passport number and reference number which is the sticker number)

Note: When you upload the passport copies, do ensure to scan the entire pages of passport including the blank pages. In the same way if your valid US visa is in old passport then scan the entire old passport and submit. Please note, its recommended that the visa has to be valid for 6 months from the travel end date, otherwise there is a possibility of denial of ETA.

Processing Time: 20 working days

Validity: 3 months from Date of Issue with multiple entries

Contact: ave@migraciones.gov.ar

Tourist Visa at the Consulate: If you are applying in India, then you must apply at the New Delhi (If you are residing in states other than Maharashtra & Karnataka) or Mumbai (People residing in Maharashtra & Karnataka only)

Fee – Gratis for Indian Nationals

Documents Required:

  1. Passport: must be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the intended date of entry and have at least one completely free page left for the visa.
  2. A completed visa application form: (Refer the link below) Answer ALL questions BLOCK letters and fill with Blue Ink (Do enter the Aadhar details in the q.no 10 in application form (local id number details – Mandatory for Mumbai)           https://cnyor.cancilleria.gob.ar/userfiles/fsv_2019_ingles_editable.pdf
  3.  One recent passport style photograph (4X4 cm in white background)
  4. Confirmed Flight ticket (round trip)
  5. Confirmed Hotel reservation
  6. Personal bank statement of the last six months in original with seal and signature from the bank
  7. Cover Letter (English & Spanish): A letter explaining the purpose of your trip and the complete itinerary from the day you land to the day you depart. This letter must be notarized and duly translated into Spanish by a professional translator (the translation does not need to be notarized).
  8. HR letter from the employer (English & Spanish) A letter from your employer, authorizing the trip, confirming that you are currently employed by the company and for how long. This letter must be written on company letterhead, signed by the person in charge, notarized and duly translated into Spanish by a professional translator (the translation does not need to be notarized)
  • Contact for Translation – Ulka Ghorpade – ghorpade@anzsolutions.in – +91 9619622760
  • Notarization – Contact the local notary office, they would attest the English documents as Spanish is not required, if you wish you to do the Spanish, then the translation has to be signed by the translator with the seal and signature so that the notary people can sign as they wouldn’t know Spanish.
  1. Last month salary/pay-slip (Recommended last 3 months pay slips)
  2. Last 3 year’s Income Tax Return – ITR
  3. Company Id copy (Recommended)
  4. Insurance booking details for the entire trip (Neeru Dua – info@travelindiainc.com –9311530053) It’s mandatory for Antarctica, which has to be shared to the cruise while filling up the personal information form. Antarctica’s weather conditions can change in a minute, so its mandatory to get one, Mr. Prabhat from offbeat had recommended to book with Travel India Inc.

In our case there was a search and rescue operations that our vessel got involved while returning from Antarctica, as the Chilean aircraft C-130 Hercules crashed in drake passage enroute their Antarctica base. Our vessel was close by at that time hence Maritime board had asked to do the search and rescue until the Chilean Navy reaches which would take minimum 24 hours to reach the Drake Passage. So our vessel delayed to reach Ushuaia and many passengers had to reschedule their flights on their own as Vessel had issued the letter mentioning the reason for delay so that the insurance can refund the reschedule cost. Vessel had helped with the accommodation only.

  1. Aadhar card copy (Mandatory for Mumbai consulate)


  • Submit all the documents in person, it can be the applicant or anyone who is authorized to submit on your behalf. For Mumbai consulate, would recommend submitting in person as they can come up with varied requirements and even we were informed that the visa application form was incorrect when the same form was accepted by New Delhi. So it helps if the pax is present so that you can clarify if there are any concerns.
  • Submission Time:
    • 10-11 AM (New Delhi – Embassy of the Argentine Republic in New Delhi, F-3/3 Vasant Vihar, New Delhi 110057, India – +91 11 4078 1900)
    • 30-10.30 AM (Mumbai – General of the Argentine Republic in Mumbai (CHANDER MUKHI Building, 10TH Floor, NARIMAN POINT – MUMBAI, 400 021 Mumbai, India – +91 22 2287 1381/1383)
  • Status update within 72 hours on the below (For Mumbai consulate it would be updated in person) on any one of the points as mentioned below
    • If the application meets all the requirements then interview date is scheduled with the time, mostly it might be in person, sometimes it might be scheduled through whatsapp video call (Mumbai: the documents will be handed back to the person who went to ask for the status and it has to be re-submitted in the morning of the interview date by 10 AM)
    • If the application doesn’t meet the requirements, then it would be rejected and handed over the documents
    • If any additional documents are required then that would be communicated
  • Once the interview is done, they would update by when the passport would be ready for collection, usually it’s 5 working days from the interview date
  • Someone who is authorized can collect the passport with the authorization letter.


The authorization letter is required only while collecting the passport with visa, it’s not required for submission/status update

Applicant has to travel in person only if he/she is called for interview in person

Accommodation: It’s recommended that you reach in Ushuaia a day before the embarkation and also depart a day later to keep in mind for any exigencies. We had booked our stay in Mysten Kepen B&B in Ushuaia.

Airport Transfer: Mysten Kepen can arrange for the same for an additional cost, please note from our personal experience most of the taxi drivers in Ushuaia had charged as per meter which came much cheaper. Be prepared that in Argentina, very few spoke in English. Hence be prepared with google translator which would help with Spanish translation. However people are very friendly, helpful and they go out of their way to understand. In return it helps that we try to speak Spanish, that would be much appreciated as we can’t expect them to speak our language in their home country.

Flight: Most of the flights directly to Ushuaia are from New Delhi. We had booked the Ethiopia Airlines which was literally a marathon of almost 29 hours of flight to reach Ushuaia.

Ethiopia – Transit:

  • Transit visa is required only if the stopover is more than 12 hours or more
  • All the flights to Ushuaia goes to Buenos Aires (EZE – Ezeiza International Airport) which is the International Airport and then it goes from (AEP – Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery) which is for Domestic flights to Ushuaia. Do note the airport is different for both locations, please keep at least 2-3 hours as you have to get out and travel for approximately for 45 minutes to 1 hour to go the AEP from EZE by car

Yellow Fever Vaccination: Vaccination is required if the stop over is more than 12 hours or more for Ethiopia

Packing for Antarctica:

  • Boots (Provided by the cruise), ensure it’s filled in the Personal Information Form (individually) once the payment is done, Jacket, Wind Sheeter, Thermal Inner, Sweater, Layer Jackets, Monkey Cap, Muffler, Ear muffs, Gloves, Socks, Pant (Water proof), Goggles, Binocular, Electric Jacket, Water bottle, Torch, Swim Suit, Sunglasses, Adapter, Sunscreen, Lip Balm, Body Lotion, Motion Sickness Tablet (carry as many as you can), Personal Medical Kit, Water proof cover for Mobile/Camera

While landing in various Islands in Antarctica, there might be wet landing hence it’s required that the outer layer is water resistant.

Some of the island, we may not be able to land, hence binocular is mandatory so that you don’t miss out the sightings

Cruise would provide the water proof boots hence you need not carry extra.

While standing in the dock for sightings, most of the time you might get wet hence it’s recommended to wear the water proof clothes on the top layer

Activities in Antarctica: Camping, Hiking, Polar dip & Kayaking

You can either choose hiking or Kayaking and we had finalized for hiking, camping is charged extra which need to be bought while booking the cruise.

Please note if you opt for Kayaking then you will only do kayaking for all the landings.

Cruise: Be prepared for almost 2.5 days on the Drake passage enroute Antarctica which is treacherous and do expect to have a very bad motion sickness. Once you reach Antarctica its normal for next 4 days before we return back through Drake passage. We had landed in Useful Islands, Orne Harbour (Continental Landing), Damoy Point, Port Charcot, Vernadsky Station (Ukrainian Research Station), The Yalour Islands, Deception Island & Whalers Bay. It all depends on the weather conditions and ice conditions. We couldn’t land in Yalour due to ice where zodiac couldn’t land, hence expedition team had compensated with another island which is Whalers Bay which got added later.

Also there are multiple lectures by the expedition team starting with bio security check, mandatory IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) briefing on safety and wildlife regulations in Antarctica, camping regulations, kayaking briefing, on sea birds, acoustics of wild life, seals, whales, penguins, polar bear, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Imperial Transantarctic Expedition,  meaning of the sea in paintings, Introduction to photography and videography, impact due to global warming etc. through which you are kept busy. Would recommend to attend all the lectures which helps to know more about the wild life in Antarctica as many of us hardly read about it unless we are traveling there.

This was such an amazing and informative expeditions and due to delay we reached in the evening instead of morning. Since we had booked the flight next day we didn’t have any problems. We reached in Ushuaia and then took the flight next day. Aerolíneas Argentinas (Argentina Airlines) while boarding from Ushuaia had rerouted our flight to EZE airport so that we needn’t change our airport, that was very thoughtful of them.

Ethiopian Airlines: We had a little stressful experience with Ethiopian Airlines. The ground staff in Delhi could not assign the seat as the website for the second leg of journey was not open for some reason and they said we can get the seats allocated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When we reached the customer service as soon as we reached Addis Ababa, she had said to go to the gate and figure out as she said she couldn’t do anything. There were few more who had the same issue and then when those guys were insisting whether their seats would get confirmed she scared us by saying that the flights are running full and seats would be allocated on first come first serve basis and she was not sure that we our seats would be confirmed. So we got into panic mode as we couldn’t afford to miss the flight and we went to the gate and they said until boarding starts they cannot do anything. So literally we were sitting next to the gate to make sure we don’t miss any chance and every staff came there we were asking for an update. Finally once the boarding started, our seats were assigned to our relief. However since we didn’t go any rest room break/water for almost 3 hours we went to the rest room and it was not well maintained to our surprise. Then we came to the water dispenser which was empty, there was a house keeping lady who maintains the rest room was standing near and I asked her for water, she came and checked and she just ignored saying there is no water. We couldn’t go back to the main where all the shops were there as we had to board. I haven’t seen such heights of bad customer service.

However the airline staffs were good and didn’t have any concerns and when we returned our seats were allocated in Buenos Aires and we also were prepared to be at main gate so that we didn’t have issues and were prepared this time.

Finally we reached back after a marathon of flights.

If you get a chance, please do this expedition, it may be expensive but its worth.

Disclaimer: Please note, the immigration requirements change frequently so please ensure to check for the latest update before travel. Do let me know your feedback and I am reachable at jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com.

Why should you travel to Bhutan, the Happiest and Safest Country in the World?

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:29 pm

When the travel bug bit me, the first country that I visited for a vacation was Bhutan. I was in love with Bhutan from the time I read about it and later when I visited and experienced myself, the love was justified. The Royal family, their leaders and it’s people work together as one family to ensure that the country remains the happiest in the world. This is also the only Carbon Negative country in the world due to their various initiatives to save and retain their environment. My admiration grew multifold when I read about the current King (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck) how he ensures to meet each person from the country during the tea break, to hear their concerns and find a solution to ensure every citizen in their country is taken care of. Bhutan people are lucky to have such a humble King, his family and his team whose only intention is to take care of his people. My love and prayers are with them.

Bhutan people are very warm and hospitable and I have never even heard anyone raising their voice or being hyper. I did have an experience where I was so annoyed when I got an used towel in a hotel but after looking at their smiling face with their apologies I just couldn’t say anything or stay angry with them. I just accepted the apology and returned. Till now I don’t know how did I act so cool at that situation as I knew how annoyed I was. That’s the impact of Bhutan and it just makes you one like them.

I get over paranoid while traveling cause I worry about women safety, this is the country which gave me 100% confidence that you have nothing to worry about. The people behave so responsibly and never take advantage of any situation. They try to help you out of their way. They are not just beautiful outside, they are amazing and beautiful inside too. That’s what sets them apart.

My apologies to the people of Bhutan, this is for the incident where Indian bikers had climbed on a memorial which was a worshipping place for Bhutanese. On behalf of India, my sincere apologies.

My request to every person who travels to this country – people in Bhutan are so warm, full of love and extremely hospitable. Don’t ever take advantage of them and try to hurt in anyway. Be respectful and if you are not sure just ask them, they would be happy to help. But please don’t hurt such beautiful people of Bhutan, instead learn from them to respect, love and welcome everyone with open arms and they ensure everyone has a safe, pleasant and memorable stay in Bhutan.

This would go on and on and I wouldn’t be able to stop writing about them…..So let me put a forceful full stop and discuss other things about Bhutan which I would like to write about.

About Bhutan:

Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia. Thimphu is its capital and the largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial center. It’s a land of snow capped mountains, deep, broad valleys with fertile rice paddies and orchards, tiny villages and bustling market towns. Yet the south is covered in jungle and more reminiscent of India than the Himalayas.

Bhutan is a thoroughly exotic country that stimulates all of the senses. Anyone who visits this Himalayan heaven marvels at its untouched natural beauty and unique culture. Bhutan is mainly Buddhist, as is evident from the many dzongs (monasteries), chortens (stupa’s) and prayer flags scattered all across the country. Bhutan opened to modern development only very recently and tourism is permitted only to the extent that it does not endanger the kingdom’s traditional culture and society. Therefore only a few thousand visitors visit the mountain kingdom every year. In Bhutan, “gross national happiness” takes precedence over economic considerations.

I had traveled to Bhutan few years back through Exotic Expeditions (EE). The entire credit goes to Santosh from EE for making this trip so beautiful and memorable. His contact details are as below..

Santosh Nair – +91 9986450370 – contact@exoticexpeditions.org


Visa formalities:

Indian nationals intending to visit Bhutan are required to carry any of the two valid ‘Travel Documents’ (a) Valid Indian Passport having validity of minimum 6 months; and/or (b) Voter Identity Card, issued by the Election Commission of India. No Visa is required to visit Bhutan.

Indians coming to Bhutan by road are required to obtain an ‘Entry Permit’ on the basis of valid Travel Document from the Immigration Office of Royal Government of Bhutan at Phuentsholing, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal. Similarly, Indians coming by air must posses any one of the above mentioned Travel Document and get the Entry Permit at the Paro International Airport. The ‘entry permit’ allows an Indian tourist to visit Thimphu and Paro only.

However, any tourist going beyond Thimphu and Paro need to acquire a ‘special area permit’ from the RGoB Immigration Office at Thimphu on any working days (Monday to Friday).

Their application is one of the easiest visa application form and you can fill it up directly at the Immigration office (hardly you would take a minute) and wait for your biometrics taken and your approval permit is granted immediately. I don’t think any other country has such an easier and faster process.

Note: Immigration policies keeps getting changed, hence do check for the recent updates before you travel. For few nationalities it’s recommended to book through licensed operator in Bhutan only and they would take care of your permit as well. Always go through the right person, there is no short cuts for being compliant and ensuring you have a safe travel.

Travel Itinerary

Day 1 : We were a group of 13-15 for this trip. The group from Bangalore had booked an Air India flight before we booked, hence we had to book the same to make it easier for Santosh to pick us all together in Bagdogra. As usual after much delay from AI and we finally arrived in Bagdogra (West Bengal) in the afternoon. Santosh was waiting to receive us in 4 Innovas and we started our journey. From Bagdogra to Jaigaon (Indian side of the border), the roads were bumpy and in poor condition.

After a few hours of drive, we stopped for tea and snacks on the way before we hit the road again to reach Jaigoan. Finally late evening we reached Jaigoan and we could see Bhutan Gate lighted up so beautifully and it just felt like we were receiving a warm welcome. As we entered Phuntsholing, it was quieter and more orderly than Jaigaon which was bustling and loud. We reached the hotel at night and had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After breakfast, we had to go to the immigration office in Phuntsholing as we needed the permit to go further which was walkable distance from the hotel. We reached, finished the process quickly. The staffs at the Immigration were so supportive and helpful that made the process even quicker. Then we left to explore the town as Santosh had to get permits for the drivers and vehicles which took a little longer.

So we returned and started walking around the street near the hotel. We entered the grocery shops and then we found the peach wine in Bhutan, we just couldn’t stop drinking as it was too good. We went around to visit Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, which is a Bhuddist temple in Phuntsholing. We had checked out of the hotel, loaded the luggage in the cars and started towards Thimphu (Capital of Bhutan) for the next 5 hours drive.

Since the weather was cold, we had to stop in multiple places for the Suja (butter tea) and then we also got to try Ema Datshi (Chilli & Cheese), Lom (turnip leaves), Momos, Chogo (dried yak cheese, more like rock which is an acquired taste) on our journey.

As we were reaching Thimbu, we wanted to stop for a tea break and it was so foggy and we couldn’t find many pitstops, there was just one house which had a light and when we entered there was a lady and her children. They got us some tea and we picked up some snacks from their little shop which was inside their house. I was shocked that the shop was part of their house, tea was made in their own kitchen, the little grocery shop was set up in their living room itself. I was surprised how could they allow strangers in their house late night  and the house was alone and only women. Also we found men who stopped there for a drink, they just had a shot and walked out so gracefully, also few stopped for tea and snacks.

This is what I love about them, the respect, love and how they take care of each other. Then I realized we were in Bhutan and I wouldn’t have experienced such a safe experience anywhere and I know now, and I convincingly can say Bhutan is the safest country in the world.

After such a wow experience we reached Thimbhu and then I find my suitcase was missing as somehow it got left behind in our previous hotel. So I had to rush to the shop to get the toiletries and other emergency items as it was too late, the shops just had 15 minutes to close and even though we couldn’t communicate due to language barrier, we still picked up and the staff were waiting for us to finish the shopping and they didn’t even show that they are in a hurry to shut the shop and they also helped us by getting us things not available in their shop from the neighboring shops and then had to borrow some clothes from Sur (Friend and now my partner). In the meantime Santosh was trying to figure out how did my suitcase went missing and he assured me nothing will go missing in Bhutan. As he said we later got to know that the suitcase was in the same hotel lobby, as all our luggage were together, this suitcase went behind a vase and got hidden, when we were all trying to load in the vehicles we just assumed all the luggage were taken and then later it got arranged to get back in Paro.

Then came to the room and we discover the dirty towel had been folded and kept and I was so annoyed, it happened for two of us and I had to give a piece of mind to the reception as it was late and only they were available and I had to confront them. I went and complained and there were only two teenagers who was there during the night shift. They started apologising with such a warm smile, I don’t remember how my annoyance disappeared and I accepted their apologies and got a fresh towel and returned to the room. So this is the impact that Bhutan has on you, as people in Bhutan are warm and patient and I have never heard anyone raising their voice and it makes you one like them.

Day 3 : After breakfast we explored the sights of Thimphu visiting the Buddha Dordenma – gigantic Buddha statue, which is world’s largest sitting Bhuddha, that overlooks the city. Then we visited Thimphu National Memorial Chorten, Clock tower square, and then headed to Motitang Takin Preserve to see the rare and unique national animal of Bhutan, the Takin. It’s a small place, so don’t except to see so many animals.

Just out of Thimphu, the road begins a steep, twisty climb to the Dochu La pass at 3,450 meters. We stopped on top of Dochu-La pass  for the breathtaking views of the eastern Himalayas, 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” which had been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother of the country. The top of the pass is visibly marked by a large Bhutanese chorten and prayer flags, an ideal place for photography and such a beautiful place. The road down from Dochu La into the Punakha Valley and on to Wangdi Phodrang goes on for some distance, descending 1,700 meters to the valley floor. We reached Punakha by late evening after 2.5 hrs drive and the hotel was such a beautiful place. Had a great dinner and got some rest.

Day 4 : After breakfast we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple built in 1499 by lama Drukpa Kunley. A short but beautiful walk through the villages and fields takes you to Chimi Lakhang. This city will make you smile, because you would see everywhere the murals of phalluses and the facades are filled with the painting of gigantic phalluses with the spray of sperms which was interesting. You also have accessories with the same which you buy and even the restaurants had a wooden phallus at the entrance where we stopped for lunch, which was overlooking the field. Here again we had lost patience as the food was taking hours and hours to reach the table. Sometimes the main came and the side dish was missing. After 2-3 hours we had to rush out with whatever was given as we were getting late. So I had to go to the kitchen and tell them to hurry up. The only consolation here was beautiful overview of the field.

Later we visited Punakha Dzong, arguably the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan located between two rivers and surrounded by jacaranda trees is a delight to watch. It just feels amazing to walk on that road and awesome place for picture perfect photographs as well.

Also we took a walk across the largest walking bridge in Bhutan. This suspension bridge is beautiful and set amidst the mountains and the flowing river beneath and we also had our snacks break on the other side of the bridge and returned back. After 4 hrs of drive we reached Paro by evening.

Day 5 : After breakfast we drove to the starting point and prepared for our hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) – a magnificent monastery. You can hire a horse half way and then you can hike the remaining distance. Since we wanted to hike the whole way, we didn’t take the horse. Sur was hiking along with me and there was a horse which was coming down, I think it just felt of stretching the leg without any provocation and it kicked Sur on the thigh and by the time we realized what just happened horse went down as usual. Sur somehow managed to hike with his painful leg. It was a very relaxed trek and the monastery was so beautiful and had stunning views. Midway we stopped for lunch and we saw quite a few beautiful birds and then returned back by evening. Then headed to National Museum and went back to the hotel. There I got the good news that my suitcase had finally arrived intact.

Day 6 : After Breakfast we travelled for 3 hours to the beautiful Haa Valley . The drive to Haa valley crosses 3988m Chele-la pass, from where you have a superb views of Mount. Jhomolhari & Jichu Drakey. The quaint valley is enchanting with mountains and apple orchards. It’s like a small township, but a really charming place with traditional Bhutanese houses. We visited the 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo  (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum and then headed back to the homestay, which was a traditional Bhutanese house, it was run by an old couple and we had an amazing hospitality. We went around and everyone was inviting us to sit and spend time with them, was offered tea without even asking us. Mostly there were senior citizens. We just felt we were with the our own grandparents and felt home. After an delicious lunch, laughter, fun and talk we went to rest late night.

Day 7 : We woke up to the beautiful and stunning  apple orchards around. After breakfast we drove back to Siliguri (West Bengal) through the mountains of Bhutan and then got down to the plains of north Bengal. We just chilled and rested for the night.

Day 8 : After breakfast we were dropped at Bagdogra Airport to return home.

Our beautiful and memorable Bhutan trip ended, but every moment we spent there remains a life time experience. If you have already visited, you are lucky, if not make a plan as soon the Bhutan opens it’s borders after the Covid.

Praying for you and your family’s good health. This too shall pass and we will soon be back to traveling. Until then STAY SAFE…..

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