When money bought happiness- Weekender Shillong

One gloomy August morning I sat alone at my workplace watching grey clouds take over the sky while my inbox kept getting flooded with emails after emails, and thought to myself what am I really going to gain by working so hard. Financial independence ensured that I could buy all the materialistic things I ever wanted to but then again it also ensured I didn’t get time to do things I really enjoy doing. Like read, travel, doodle, photography…And then I realised I still had money in the bank and e-commerce at my disposal. Half an hour later my bank account was lighter than it had ever been BUT I had a return ticket to Shillong in my inbox!

For the uninitiated, I work with a growing startup which ensures that I am left with barely any time to ‘chill’. So my Shillong trip too began with a daze with me sending out emails alongside packing woolens and my ‘hippie’ clothes at 11 in the night. Four hours of sleep later, I was off to Guwahati on a jet plane. Seven hours and two flights later, a tired and haggard me reached Guwahati.

Shillong is about a three hour drive away from Guwahati. Thanks to the first ever NH7 Weekender and the shoot of Rock On 2 all the hotels in the city were booked months in advance. We managed to get accommodation at the stunning Royal Heritage Tripura Castle. A heritage property situated atop a steep road lined with trees on either side, wild mountain flowers and rooms replete with wooden flooring and a fireplace took me back to my childhood spent devouring Enid Blyton’s and Ruskin Bond’s works.

The venue for Weekender was right in the middle of nowhere, literally! After a good two hour drive from the city through winding mist ridden roads with trees on either side and clouds that were begging to enter the car window, we reached the Bhoirymbong. On arrival, we were given the coolest wristbands meant to weather every calamity- our pass to the Happiest Music Festival. Giant pinwheels, sky banners with smileys and a larger than life installation greeted us at the massive venue.

NH7 Weekender Shillong

NH7 Weekender Shillong

Day 1

Tokens were bought to fuel our appetite to keep grooving to the fusion of music genres as the crowd went stage hopping. From swaying to the reggae beats of Reggae Rajahs and The Wailers to learning Kannada to sing along to Raghu Dixit’s tunes, watching Monica Dogra transform in a freestyle performance and of course moving to Dualist Inquiry’s rhythm Day 1 had it all. Some pretty interesting food and artefact stalls at the venue too to keep everyone’s spirits up. Buckets of  Breezer helped in keeping the spirits high as well, literally.

Day 2

The rain played a ten minute bummer on Day 1, so we were well prepared with our bright orange ponchos on Day 2. We realised that the Aluminium mugs make cooler souvenirs than the plastic buckets. Too bad everyone else realised that too and soon the bar was out of stock for the mugs.

The lineup on Day 2 was more fun (personally speaking) than Day 1. Whether it was headbanging to Pangea’s music,dancing like there’s no tomorrow to Nucleya’s beats, getting immersed in Kailasa’s music and watching the crowd go crazy when Megadeth came on stage, the second day of the festival left us wanting for more.

And just like that, the happiest music festival successfully completed its first ever edition in the north east. The next day was spent exploring the city, walking by the beautiful alleys leading to the popular Shillong cafe. The Irish coffee served with a shot of Glenfiddich is a must have. Situated atop a hill, you could spend all afternoon there admiring nature while you hear the sound of choirs wafting by.

Bidding adieu to the beauty that is Shillong was difficult. It was done with a #notetoself to be back- this time to explore places around Shillong- the Living Roots, the Mawsmai caves, Cherrapunji…there’s so much to see!

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Jaipur Junket

As the name of my blog suggests, two things I love the most in the whole wide world are doodling and traveling. This year I got a smashing birthday gift, I got to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival over my birthday weekend- a fully sponsored trip at that! The catch- I had to live doodle for Ford India’s  speaker sessions at the Samvad arena. Not a catch really because doodling is what I absolutely enjoy doing.

How it all happened:

A Twitter message on lazy Tuesday morning followed by a call with the folks at Ford India on Wednesday and I was off to Jaipur on Thursday evening armed with a sketchbook, black pens, laptop and a Wacom tablet. Touchdown Jaipur and there I found myself at the Trident hotel overlooking the stunning Jal Mahal.

At the dinner table I found myself in the company of senior executives from Ford India, an explorer poet and photographer, a fashion blogger, movie makers, and a journalist. What an eclectic mix of people! Some pretty interesting conversations took place as we gorged on the scrumptious Rajasthani food. The calories were burned with a stroll on the Man Sagar lake promenade. It was a cold January evening and darkness had descended upon the city with a few street lights lining up the deserted roads. There was a sense of calm.

The Jaipur Literature Festival

Diggi Palace-the venue of JLF 2015

The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) has featured on my bucket list ever since I’d first heard of it. Imagine the joys of attending book meets, hearing your favourite authors read passages of their latest works, a chance to get autographed works and interact with them…I could go on. Basically, my inner pseudo intellectual got her fair share of happiness.

Being Ford India invitees, we got all access Press passes which meant access to author terraces, invite only sessions, private lunch arenas, after parties and a JLF goodie bag! I spent my days soaking in intellectual, insightful and interesting tales recited by some of the best known authors. Devdutt Pattnaik, Shabana Azmi, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to name a few, my afternoons were spent in the company of the elite sipping some red wine talking literature in the gorgeous tents at the Diggi Palace (still can’t believe this happened) and evenings at gatherings attended by the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Suhel Seth and Vishal Bharadwaj to name a few. This was definitely turning out to be the best birthday ever!

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam inspired us to dream big 10931634_1600499230182825_7075776824401383724_o 10945694_1602464123319669_6406613657096714699_n

Other things to do in Jaipur:

Jaipur, being the capital city of Rajasthan is replete with everything you have ever associated with Rajasthan. The colours, the fancy havelis, royalty, food and culture. I didn’t have much time to explore the city at my pace but I didn’t miss out on a visit to the Hawa Mahal, some oxidised jewellery shopping at Johari Bazaar and gorging on ghewar and pyaaz ki kachori at the famous Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar.

Pretty sure I missed out on a lot of things, especially the Amer Fort as well as city hopping. Jaipur is definitely on the cards for a repeat visit!

Pondicherry Moleskine

I’ve always been an avid audience of travel shows even before the TLC era.  I’d pretend to host my own travel show while Deepti Bhatnagar would take you on a trip around the world on Musafir Hoon Yaaron ( Cable TV obsessed ’90s kids would know what I’m talking about). That along with travel shows featuring India on Discovery channel used to be my favourites. One destination that always caught my fancy was Pondicherry, and I finally got a chance to visit the place last year.

Reaching Pondi

Pondicherry, fondly known as Pondi is easily accessible by road, quite scenic a ride actually. The nearest airport is Chennai and you can take a bus or take a taxi from the airport. The taxi drivers will quote exorbitant rates and it’s best to use your haggling skills to bring the rates down between 800-1000 INR.

The moment you enter the French quarters you can see a stark difference in the architecture and the attitude of the people. The town is lined with churches and buildings exhibiting French architecture and the walls in shades of white and yellow. The streets are still named ‘Rue’ highlighting the colonial influence.

Staying there

Pondicherry has earned it’s reputation as a tourist destination and there are plenty of options for travelers to stay depending upon the budget. I happened to stay at the beautiful yet inexpensive Hotel Coromandal Heritage located right in the heart of the city. The manager was extremely courteous and helped us get some great deals on bike rentals. Bikes, besides your feet of course, are the best means of getting in and around the city.

Eat Pray Love!

Let Zomato and Trip Advisor be your best friends in Pondi. Go by their recommendations for the top rated places, they are definitely worth visiting. Spend some time strolling the streets of Pondi, getting lost in the French quarters, finding peace at the Aurobindo Ashram and blessings from the Lakshami, the elephant at the Manakula Vinayagar Temple.

Breakfast at Kasha Ki Asha

Breakfast at Kasha Ki Asha

Pondi is a foodies paradise. There’s something for every palate right from a sumptuous organic breakfast at Kasha-ki- Asha which gives you the best whole wheat pancakes and DIY lemon soda to a delightful lunch amidst kitsch and quirk at Cafe Des Art followed by the heavenly hot chocolate that is served with a solid chocolate spoon at Cafe Ole and finally a scrumptious dinner of woodfired pizzas at Cafe Xtasi. Sipping some chilled beer at Paradise beach without a care in the world is something to be experienced.

Cafe Ole

Cafe Ole

Paradise beach

Paradise beach

Auroville has become synonymous with Pondicherry and for good reason. Hundreds of visitors throng to India’s largest eco friendly township everyday to experience the Auroville way of life. Everything right from the food at cafes to the stuff at boutiques is organic and amazingly amazing! I found some really cool souvenirs as well as the richest handmade chocolates there. If you have time at hand, do apply for the visitor’s pass at Matri Mandir, the beautiful golden dome center and spend some time there meditating.

Auroville

Auroville

My Pondi sojourn came to an end with a stroll on the Promenade followed by a hearty south Indian dinner at Cafe Surguru.

I can’t wait to go back!

Meet the Indian (budget) Traveller girl

For travelling in India is a different ball-game altogether.

Wanderlust poster courtesy Doodle Paradise

Wanderlust poster courtesy Doodle Paradise

She’s one who would not spend hours poring over issues of Conde Nast traveller magazines because those destinations are not yet on her bucket list. She will not subscribe to issues of NatGeo Travel or be in awe of people who host shows on TLC and Fox Traveller because her heart doesn’t desire those luxurious trails; she’s a free spirit. Her most frequent shares won’t include “Countries where Indians don’t require a visa” or “The 10 most gorgeous hotels in the world you must visit before you die.” Her Instagram account won’t be replete with pictures of her in designer clothes at exotic beaches in heard and unheard of lands in other continents; she doesn’t have a camera phone powerful enough, nor does she have the resources to buy that dress you saw at that spring summer collection. Every penny saved is a penny spent on travel.

She’s resourceful, she values time and she knows time management. She knows how important it is to give up on sleep or set an alarm for 0800 hrs to get that ticket on the IRCTC website for a journey she will be undertaking two months later. She’s got her negotiation skills right and she knows people management- the road has taught her that. She knows the importance of websites like TripAdvisor and the importance of tracking every travel story that shows up on her newsfeed because she won’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions when she’s visiting that land. She knows the importance of planning before hand for places she’d like people she knows to accompany her. But if she doesn’t find company that won’t deter her. She might book a ticket on impulse and decide to go!

She is well versed with jugaad. She’s got her travel hacks right. She knows investing in a tablet for those solitary journeys makes sense. She romances paperbacks but she knows the importance of luggage space on the go. She knows those 24 hour train journeys can get arduous and that loading those movies, playlists and ebooks can come as a relief.

She’s a people’s person and she’ll make friends wherever she goes but she knows how to judge people and she won’t give out all information about herself especially when she’s travelling solo. She knows traveling is about breaking free and letting go but she knows there are people waiting for her back home; her friends and her family. She will stay connected. She will not run away from technology but embrace it. Whether it is Google Maps to track that taxi ride in that alien city, Zomato for places where she can eat according to the budget she has, TripAdvisor for honest reviews of hotels where she will put up and Whatsapp to tell her family that she is safe.

She’ll travel the length and breadth of the country. She isn’t afraid of the harsh sun that might scorch her skin in the dunes of Rajasthan, the frigid waters that she will experience when she jumps into the Zanskar river in Ladakh or the unforgiving rains of Goa in June. For her, it is the experience that matters, not the crowds, not the season. She’ll always have stories to share. She’ll always have experiences to narrate. She’ll tell you about the time she stumbled upon that artisan’s village at Raghurajpur in Odisha, or when she was woken up at 7 am by Baul singers while travelling in the second class train compartment, or when she was walking down the streets of Pondicherry and came across a cafe which serves hot chocolate with a spoon made of solid chocolate. She’ll always have a story about how she nearly missed a train or how an unkind low cost airline cancelled her flight last minute leading her to discover another adventure.

She has a conventional career that fuels her passion but she isn’t afraid to let go of that if it restricts her wanderlust. Her life is uncertain, her life is interesting, she may plan a day out at the new cafe in town with you next weekend but she may cancel that owing to her sudden urge to explore that trek she read about. Accept her for who she is, she’ll be your best friend, she’ll enrich your life.

Stories from Ladakh

In 2011, we watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a movie about three best friends who decide to go on a trip of a lifetime to Spain. The movie was a critical and commercial success and is a personal favourite because it fuelled our wanderlust. We made a pact to go on a trip albeit ZNMD post our graduation in 2013. Two years later, this little dream of ours came true. Four friends were off to a trip to Ladakh!

We travelled from Mumbai to Delhi in a Rajdhani with only three confirmed tickets which meant that two of us had to share a hopeless side lower berth in the 3rd AC compartment. We spent the day chilling in the touristy places of Delhi (read CP) and had a 5:30 am flight the next day to Leh, so we decided to spend the night at the airport.

We were so deliriously excited that we couldn’t sleep in spite of the exhaustion from the train journey. This almost seemed unreal partly because of the amount of convincing that had gone into making this happen.

We took the two hour long Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Leh. Enroute, the pilot asked us to look outside the window. There you could see the Karakoram range and the Himalayas in all their glory. We landed at Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport which is one of the highest airports in the world at more than 10,500 ft above mean sea level. The moment we stepped out, we could feel the chill in the air and felt the need to wear our jackets. The Ladakhis, however,seemed unfazed and quite comfortable in merely a t-shirt.

Juley- the universal Ladakhi greeting

Juley- the universal Ladakhi greeting

Juley! This is the universal Ladakhi greeting for Hello, goodbye, thank you and everyone seems to use it, be it the locals or the tourists. We made our way to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) guest house in a pre booked vehicle and were in awe of the surroundings little realising these weren’t half as beautiful as what we were going to witness in the days to come.

Leh is at an altitude of 11,500 ft above MSL, hence it is advisable to take rest the first day to let your body acclimatize to the surroundings. We indulged in some local sightseeing at Leh market in the evening followed by a visit to the Shanti stupa, built with Indo-Japanese collaboration, which offers a stunning view of the city. The dinner at the guest house comprised of piping hot curry and delicious aloo parathas post which we stepped out and could see the night sky covered with a blanket of stars. It was just day one and I wished I could stay there forever!

The next morning we headed out for our river rafting adventure at Nimmu, the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. You can actually see the stark difference in the colour of the two rivers at this point.

Indus- Zanskar confluence at Nimmu doodle

The meeting of Indus and Zanskar rivers at Nimmu

Pumped up, we got into our wetsuits and got into the eight seater raft. Our guide, Raju, was an absolute sweetheart and constantly cheered us to give the much needed enthusiasm to row and so that the raft doesn’t drift into Pakistan or Chinese waters. One hour into the journey, the skies turned grey and it started raining. The deal is that when it rains in regions like these, it turns insanely cold. So, at this point Raju asked us if we want to jump into the river. I don’t know if he was serious about this or not but the next thing we knew, the four of us had actually jumped into the cold frigid waters. Our fingers had frozen by the time we climbed back onto the raft and rowing became a bigger ordeal than it already was…

Ladakh has the bluest of the blue skies that you will ever see in your life. The drive to Pangong lake was beautiful with the sun kissed mountains and the trees gently swaying in the breeze as our car made way to the Chang-La pass, the gateway to the lake. The Indian army runs a tea point here where everyone who stops is given a hot cuppa herbal tea absolutely free of cost. Gestures like these sure brighten up your day especially when there’s snow all around you.

Pangong Lake doodle

Pangong Tso lake and it’s fifty shades of blue

Pangong-Tso is stunning. The waters are brilliant blue replete with every shade of blue you could possibly imagine. If you visit a little early during the day, you can witness a ripple free lake which looks like a painting. I spent my day lazing next to the banks with Murakami watching the clouds and the mountains cast a perfect reflection on the waters. I think I achieved Zen.

We made our way to Khardung-La, the highest motorable road in the world painstakingly and meticulously constructed by the Border Roads Organisation. With snow on both sides and the road in front of us, it seemed like a passageway to a different world altogether. It is interesting to note the many signs put up by BRO along the roads to warn the drivers about the perils of over-speeding and not obeying traffic rules while driving.

Interesting road signs put up by the BRO

Interesting road signs put up by the BRO

We witnessed the changing topography as we made our way to the Nubra valley. We witnessed the endless expanse of boulders, a roadblock by a herd of sheep and then the sand dunes at Hunder. We stayed there overnight to witness the double humped Bactrian camels the next day. Left behind by the traders during the Silk Route, these camels can only be found in the Nubra valley in India.

Double Humped Bactrian camels at Nubra

Double Humped Bactrian camels at Nubra

There is also a huge statue of the Maitreya Buddha at the Thikse Monastery in Nubra which is a must visit and where you can find some really cool memorabilia as well.

While we’d covered all places that the travel books recommend, we still had a day in hand and decided to explore the city of Leh without consulting books and maps. We made our way to the Leh palace and found it shut, then we climbed down and found ourselves in an artisan gallery. From there, we could see a number of horses going in a particular direction and the next thing we new we were sitting in a stadium watching a polo match while a local explained to us what was going on. We then made our way to random cafes and hogged on Tibetan delicacies like a steaming hot bowl of Thukpa soup and Tingmo bread and momos. We rented bikes from the local shop and went around the city looking for souvenirs and postcards and then finally called it a day at a cafe that served us with the best wood fired pizza one could have possibly made.

The land of the Llamas had been extremely hospitable and brought me closer to nature and at peace with myself. Juley Ladakh, till we meet again. Om Mani Padme Hum.

Stupas line the roads of Ladakh

Stupas line the roads of Ladakh

Travel advisory:

  • Prepaid connections don’t work in Ladakh because of security reasons. So if you would like to stay connected, it is best to take a postpaid number.
  • Ladakh promotes eco-tourism and water is precious, thus most public toilets don’t have a flush
  • Travel is expensive. It is best to have your own vehicle or book a vehicle in advance for a fixed rate.

Bhutan Travel Diaries

This March a bunch of us undertook what we nicknamed a “Legacy Trip” to commemorate the successful completion of our B-school story. We called it that because the batch before us had undertaken the same trip and so had their seniors and their predecessors, you get the drift.

The Legacy trip involved two phases: Sikkim and Bhutan. I missed out on phase one due to a dear friend’s wedding (quarter life,you see). So after a cancelled Spicejet flight from Delhi to Bagdogra and paying a bomb to reschedule my ticket to an Indigo jetplane followed by a 6 hour drive to the border town of Phuentsholing, I was welcome by a board that said “Welcome to the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan.”

Now Phuentsholing has a gate that separates the Indian side from the Bhutanese side. The moment you cross the gate, your service provider starts charging you INR 7 for a call that you receive. You also notice that the air smells fresher and the roads look cleaner for people aren’t allowed to litter in Bhutan.

We checked into Hotel Sinchula and were served some inedible and expensive food for dinner because everything in Bhutan seems to shut by 8:30- 9 pm. The next day we made our way to the dingy immigration office. It is nearly impossible to get the formalities sorted unless you have a jack in the form of a travel agent. We had that sorted. Thus began our Bhutan adventure.

Bhutan Travel Doodle

Bhutan Travel Doodle

Bhutan looks like a dream. It is like everything you envision and imagine it to be with the meandering roads and the stunning gorges and sights to die for. The gorgeousness of the sun kissed skies and the patches of clouds literally knocking at your car window has to be experienced to be believed. The mountainside lined with all sorts of beautiful vegetation, the vivid prayer flags and the bridges over gently gushing rivulets all make it a journey to remember.

We made our way to Thimphu, the capital city and put up in the cosy Wangchuk Resort, a beautiful heritage property replete with wooden flooring et al. By now we had realised that eating out in Bhutan is an expensive deal, so we bought some bread, cheese and savouries from a friendly supermarket close by. We also bought local booze namely Misty Peak (attractive packaging, horrible taste), Druk Beer (cheap, good, strong beer) and wine coolers (reasonably good).

Sightseeing involved visiting the local market (artist huts) in the heart of Thimphu which had some interesting souvenirs such a phallus keychains, phallus decoration pieces,phallus postcards besides the usual magnets. Now, you’ll see a lot of penis graffiti all over Bhutan, on buildings, in shops. The phallus is considered a symbol of prosperity in the local culture which might get a little uncomfortable for our sensibilities.

Our next stop was the Folk Heritage Museum where we sampled some authentic Bhutanese food. Ema Datshi or chilli cheese was a winner for me and I hope to replicate it in my kitchen here.

While you must not miss out on the touristy places such as the Dzongs and the museums and the monasteries, it is worthwhile to take some time off and explore the city. Walk down the streets and admire the pink trees lining the roads; stumble upon cafes like the Ambient cafe which served one of the most delicious cheese cakes I’ve ever had; find yourself in the quaint Junction bookstore which alongside having a good collection of books also sheltered dogs, had a man strumming the guitar; and chill with friends at local pubs (open only on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) that serve alcohol at very cheap rates. You might also like to visit the main post office and get your picture printed on a stamp for 200 bucks and send postcards to people back home.

Our next stop was Paro. While Thimphu is atop a hill, Paro is a valley, so you see a stark difference in the topography. I found the drive alongside the runway fascinating and the fact that cars had to be stopped to allow the planes to take off and land. Paro is your quintessential laid back hill town which resonates with peace and calm. The people are ever smiling , just a reminder of why Bhutan is the highest ranked country in the happiness index. Paro is the basecamp to the now synonymous-with-Bhutan Tiger’s Nest trek. The scenic 3 hr trek to the Tiger’s Nest monastery atop a mountain is a must for every adventure seeker. It is breathtaking and will leave you breathless.

Food options in Paro are limited but it is a good idea to follow TripAdvisor ratings and choose restaurants. We opted for Sonam Trophel cafe (good Indian, Chinese and Bhutanese food), Explorers Cafe pizzeria, Yegyel’s cafe and it’s delectable Thai preparations and the coffee and desserts at Cafe Brioche.

Souvenir shopping is expensive in Bhutan and your bargaining prowess will be put to test.1 Bhutanese Ngultrum is equal to 1 INR and the prices aren’t exactly meant for shoestring budget travellers. I bought souvenirs from Taksang Base at the Tiger’s Nest which I found to be the most moderately priced.

Paro was the last leg of our trip. It was now time to bid adieu to the roaring mountains, the gushing streams, the exquisite vegetation and the lap of nature. The dream had ended, it was now time to get back to reality.

Travel advisory:

  • It is advisable to get local simcards from the border town itself, they are cheap, easily available and have superb 3G connectivity in places unimaginable.
  • Smoking is strictly prohibited in public places. Ask your driver or the hotel receptionist about places where you can light up.

On heartbreak

10550955_10153052152896874_1518984238693063277_nSerendipity happens to be one of my favourite words. It means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. The past two years have  been an absolute roller coaster ride for me. I discovered things, passions, people.

But I also realised life isn’t as fair as it ought to. I understood karma doesn’t always work the way you want it to. I realised good things don’t always happen to good people and bad things don’t always happen to bad people. It’s not so simple. I realised people will fail you, no matter how hard you try, people will fail you and that is the bitter truth about life. You will see people you considered undeserving get things you thought you deserved and you will be able to do nothing about it. You will try to be nonchalant but that won’t work because those things matter to you. The heartbreak will always leave that irreparable anguish in your heart, it did for me. Hate, I thought was too strong an emotion and I’d probably never experience it, I thought. I did.

But you know what, good things happen too. That rainbow that they talk about at the end of a nasty storm? That exists. I was rejected from something that I badly wanted to be a part of and wanted to put my heart and soul in for reasons I speculate are true but won’t state for lack of proof. A hobby turned into start-up primarily because there was a point to prove to those people. The heartbreak persists. Guess, I’ll never let go of that. But, boy do I have a great story to tell.