Posts Tagged ‘ travel ’

Solo Trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia – March 2011

I landed in Siem Reap to weather exactly like Mumbai – hot, humid and sultry. That didn’t worry me since I was used to it.

The Old Market (Psar Chaa), Pub Street and all the main restaurants were close to my hotel so I walked there often. Amongst the first few little restaurants I spotted was an Indian one, India Gate, P1040489promising the best Indian food in Siem Reap & an authentic Indian chef. Not that I stepped into even one, though I found there were, in fact, a few more – Curry Wala being another one with multiples branches.

What I found strange initially was men on bikes who stop & ask if you want to hop on. It’s a taxi service of sorts, an alternate to hiring a tuk tuk. But it can seem stalkerish until you read about it in the guide books!

The Old Market area is somewhat reminiscent of Goa. But with better dressed tourists! The women probably make an effort to cover a little more of  themselvesP1050183 after reading the guide books. Strongly recommended online, Khmer Kitchen is run by a local & has 3 restaurants in a 1 Km radius. It’s definitely great food at great value & all the food i had there was excellent. They also have deals such as free welcome drink, cold towel, happy hour till closing, or free beer/ coconut water with lunch. It isn’t that hard to find vegetarian food but if you are concerned about the vessels that it’s being cooked in or its proximity in the kitchen to non-veg food, you would then find it very difficult to eat anything at most places. But otherwise, you can pretty much find any kind of cuisine you want, including the local Khmer curry and rice & amok – fish curried and steamed in banana leaf (which everyone told me was excellent). And how can you wrong with a street called Pub Street! Alcohol is cheap, drinks are potent, and everyone is having a good time.

I bought some souvenirs at the markets, most of which begin at 3 & 7 pm. Bargain, bargain, bargain – just as any other self respecting Indian would! In fact it’s tough to buy things that don’t look like they come from India! P1040492From scarves to cloth bags to carved Buddha heads to jewellery, everything looks like something you would find here except for the Tin Tin posters that abound.. People use the same tricks of the trade to make a sale. “You are first customer” “I give you good discount because you are early” etc. Don’t fall for anything. If you really want to buy something, spend time walking around different markets, you will find prices drastically fluctuate. But unless you choose to buy specific stuff like Angkor printed scarves or the head of Bayon (will explain in a later post), you are better off saving your dollars. USD is freely accepted currency here so you don’t need to change into Rial – in most cases, I even received the change back in USD.

Nikki, an American living in Siem Reap, teaching English to students in a vocational school, who also runs the local Couchsurfing group, very sweetly picked me up from my hotel on her little scooter & took me to this fantastic veg restaurant called Vitking for dinner.P1040500 I would never have found it by myself! It was fascinating to hear about the kind of work she is doing & the aspirations of the Cambodian people, driven by the tourism industry. She came to Cambodia on a trip once and immediately felt at home. She also works with local NGOs to help them get more professional and hence get better funding. A great dinner that, with excellent food. She gave me the very useful tip of visiting Banteay Samre, which is a temple near the more popular Banteay Srei, and one that most tourists don’t visit. Definitely a good tip because I am glad I didn’t miss it.

Walking around the area on another day, I went further up towards the Stung River. A completely different area from the Old Market, this has wide roads, P1050330a huge temple built in the 14th century and the National Museum and a large Park further up the road. With much fewer tourists, it’s quiet and relaxed. Most local Cambodians, however, see you for what you are – a tourist – and hope that you will buy something. If a kid just gives you a trinket saying it’s for good luck, beware, most of the time they do want to sell it to you. I was offered everything from bangles made of cane to paper rings to flowers. Some insisted it was free, others asked for money. Can’t blame them since tourism is the mainstay of their economy. But, in general, the people are very friendly and helpful. They have warm smiles & many know about India. Everyone doesn’t know good English, many speak a basic version. When I tried asking where I could get a SIM card for my phone, I was usually handed a business card of the place!

All about the Temples in the next post.

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Solo Trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia – March 2011 – Getting There

As it has happened in the past, I realised the financial year was nearing an end and I had about 26 days of leave left, of the total 30 that I am entitled to. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that the whole year had gone by and I hadn’t travelled anywhere! Secondly, I would have been miserable had I done nothing about it. So I planned a trip to Singapore and Cambodia. Singapore was a long pending one. I kept threatening friends that I would come over soon, but never did. So I decided to finally make good on the threat! Of course, Murphy’s Law had to prevail. So when I checked my passport, it was just 6 months away from expiring and I wouldn’t be allowed to enter any country let alone stay for a while. So that began a chapter of getting my passport renewed, but was not as painful as I thought it would be. And then I planned again. Singapore for a bit, then to Siem Reap, back to Singapore and then back home. 9P1040467 days in all.

I won’t be blogging about Singapore since it involved meeting friends, enjoying the super nightlife and of course, shopping. It wasn’t my first trip so I didn’t do any sightseeing. As glorious & memorable as it was, its not what you want to hear about, do you? I shall head straight onto Siem Reap.

I have always wanted to visit the Angkor Temples and it’s been somewhere on my mind, thoughts usually ending with a ‘some day’. So when I was looking at what places I could go to from Singapore, I began reading about Cambodia and decided that was it! Fairly easy to go to as well since there’s visa on arrival. March is the end of the high season for Siem Reap (the town close to which all the Angkor Temples are located) since it’s the beginning of summer. This also suited me well as it was not difficult to get flight tickets on days of my choice and hotel bookings too. I booked everything online & I can tell you that there is no need for a travel agent. I don’t believe in them. Spend sometime reading up about your destination online, make your itinerary & just do all the bookings. Simple. My trip started on a fab note when I was upgraded to Business Class on Silk Air.

Was it safe for me to travel by myself? Absolutely. Since I am on Couchsurfing, I got in touch with a few couch surfers and got a few tips beforehand. There’s a great Cambodia forum on CS which answers most questions & any other questions I had, I asked Nikki, who runs the forum. She was extremely helpful and even offered to take me to dinnerP1050309 to a great new vegetarian restaurant when I got there. I would have of course, liked to Couchsurf in Siem Reap but couches weren’t available for the dates I wanted. So after a lot of research, I chose the Steung Siem Reap Hotel, and did not regret it for a minute. It was a fantastic location, right next to the Old Market and Pub Street, the central area for food, nightlife & shopping in Siem Reap. Unlike people who would stay at hotels closer to the temples and have to take Tuk Tuks to come to this area, it was a much better option to stay in this area as the temples only take 30-40 minutes to get to by Tuk Tuk. Being from Mumbai, that’s a breeze!

Why solo? Well, it just so happened this way. I have travelled solo and with friends. Both are different experiences and there’s something good to be said about both. With friends, there’s never a dull moment, you share all your experiences, and enjoy their company. Solo travel gets you to meet different people since you are more open to conversation with people sitting next to you. It’s lovely to speak to people from different cultures, doing different things in life and a welcome change from all the digital, marketing & advertising conversation that I am surrounded by in Mumbai! I met Gerda, a Dutch lady, travelling solo on my flight in, she stayed at the same hotel and was on the same flight out. So the journey to & fro became memorable instead of it being just another airport-flight-airport-hotel experience. Gerda lives with her family in Singapore & was taking her first solo break from her life and kids for a few days. Some ‘me-time’. I didn’t plan any of my temple visits with her but I very much enjoyed chatting with her about my life & hers, India & its culture, and her travels all over the globe.

Next post will be about Siem Reap & of course, the Temples!

I got some great advice from these blogs & forums, so do check these out too.

Traveling Mark, Bombay Nomads, Fodors, Frommers

My Trip to Rome, Italy – History, Art, Architecture, Grandeur

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The second leg of my March 2010 trip, that I am finally determined to finish the posts about, before another destination comes up! The earlier one on France is here.

Rome Day 1

The much panic-stricken running at Nice airport did result in our catching the flight to Rome & we landed well after midnight, so we had arranged for an airport pickup & hotel drop with a private taxi service since there was no public service available at the late hour. After more drama when he took us to the wrong place at 1 am, got upset at whoever had assigned him with much angry yelling in Italian on the phone, & finally found his way to the hotel, we were exhausted and ready to sleep wary of the early checkout. We were only staying one night because our couchsurfing host was taking us in the next day. That was going to be a great adventure, first time for us staying with hosts.

The Trevi Fountain Rome

The Trevi Fountain, Rome

The Hotel Julia was super, highly recommended to anyone for its central location in Rome. We began by seeing the Trevi Fountain was our first halt, walking distance from the hotel, and it was magnificent. Lived upto everything seen or heard including the famous scene from the movie, La Dolce Vita. Like everythingelse in Rome, we just came upon it. We spent a long time there as it was just too beautiful. History at every corner is the best way to describe Rome, cathedrals hundreds of years old are routine & any monument 200 years old is called young!

Rome

Sun setting over Rome, as seen from Castle San Angelo

From there we headed to the Castle San Angelo which is now a museum, and apart from the exhibits, also has a superb view of Rome & St Peter’s Basilica in particular. We also went to Spanish Steps, the longest and widest staircase in Europe leading to the church Trinita Dei Monti where a choir was in full swing. Our heads were buzzing with everything we had seen on just our first day. It hadn’t come to an end yet. We met Giuseppe, our host in the evening, and he drove us back to his apartment (we passed the Colloseum on the way, all lit up & a magnificent sight!) with a super tiny lift – no idea how we fitted us and our bags into that lift! He even cooked us dinner, pasta with mushrooms, served with some lovely wine. Honestly, we were relieved that he was so sweet. It’s not common to be offered dinner in your hosts’ home.

Rome Day 2

Roman Forum

At the Roman Forum - the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Rome has so much to see that a few days are difficult to do justice. The Foro Romano (Roman Forum) is so large that a few hours are not enough. It’s part of the centralised area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed & is an absolute must-see if you like ancient architecture and ruins. Next up was of course, the Colloseum and I had the fight scene from Gladiator playing in my head as I saw what the amphitheatre looked like.

The Colosseum Amphitheatre Rome

The Colosseum Amphitheatre, Rome

The impact of being in a monument built in 70 AD is like nothing else. This was followed up in the evening with a visit to the Pantheon, where we saw the full moon through skylight in the dome. The Pantheon is a beautiful structure, with its Corinthian columns & its gigantic dome. And we also met our second host, also Giuseppe, who volunteered to show us around Rome for the evening even though we were not staying with him. He was just as sweet, took us to some places we would never have been to ourselves. Like a place on a hill with a view of all Rome, we saw it all lit up at night.

Rome Day 3

St Peter's Basilica, Rome

St Peter's Basilica, Rome

The next day was devoted to the Vatican. This was also the most memorable day and a brilliant climactic ending to our stay in Rome. The lines are extremely long for both St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum. So we were prepared to stand for hours but it was well worth it. Entering St Peter’s Basilica, it leaves you spell bound. It’s even more beautiful than any pictures can do justice to. Lined with murals, sculptures, paintings, it has more than you can take in all at once. It’s overwhelming in size and in its architecture. Next up, the Vatican Museum. Passing the famed and oft-seen Swedish Armed Guards in their typical uniform, we headed around the wall of the Vatican City to the Museum entry point. Its great to pick up the audio guides at all the locations as they give you a sense of the history and what’s special about each place. In here, you see the works of Raphael, from his paintings to his frescoes/ murals & of course, works of many other artists. The Sistine Chapel, where photography is not permitted, is an extremely large area with a high ceiling and you can stare at the beautiful panels, of which the central one is the most popular representation, for hours. Though one doesn’t have that kind of time, especially since its crowded and there isn’t enough sitting space.

The Pope, Vatican City, Rome

Yes, that is The Pope at the event at St Peter's Square, Rome

It was late evening by the time we finished and headed for some food. Sitting in an open air cafe, we had just finished our meal when we heard music emanating from St Peters square. Rushing over, we found a concert in full swing! There were popular local singing stars and choirs (from what we could make out since it was all Italian. There were large TV screens projecting this since the square is large. The energy of the thousands assembled there was something to see! There were also armed forces, army, navy present watching the show. Despite the cold wind sweeping through the square, for which we didn’t have enough protection, nothing could get us away! After a while, the Pope came out in a little car, he was driven around, waving at the crowds and finally made his way to the stage and gave a speech. The odds of just walking into something like this, not knowing this was going to happen, really put us on a high!

We met Giuseppe (not the one we were staying with) again at the end of the concert, and he took us to the area with the buzzing nightlife – Trastevere, with its tiny cobbled lanes lined with pubs. Italians also drive and park much like Indians. Can’t find a spot? Park anywhere and hit the distress lights. Live performances in our pub, kept us on a high after that superb evening. Next we went to a place that specialises in shots served in little chocolate

Menu at Trastevere, Rome

Menu for the shots at Trastevere, Rome. Succhiotto means Love Bite.

Shots in chocolate glasses!

Shots in chocolate glasses with whipped cream and chocolate flakes. In a word, awesome.

glasses! All the drinks are named after positions or actions e.g. 69, lovebite, there’s even the kamasutra. After pouring the drink into the glass, it’s topped with whipped cream and chocolate flakes. The bartender also instructs you on how to have it. You have to hold it from the top of the glass, and put it bottom first into your mouth, swallowing it whole! Quite an experience this! And we wouldn’t have had it were it not for Giuseppe! What an end to our stay in Rome.

Couchsurfing is highly recommended, but you do have to tidy up and keep your host’s room & bathroom clean. If you are on your best behaviour, you will find bonding with your host also easy as the last thing anyone wants is strangers messing up their home and expecting them to clean up. As long as that’s taken care of, you will learn more from them about their country & culture than you could by reading guide books. That’s what travel is about anyway. It’s the human interaction that enhances the experience & makes you appreciate your surroundings.

Next up was Florence. So different, but just as memorable. More on that in the next post.

Giuseppe, couchsurfing host

Giuseppe, our couchsurfing host who took us around Rome.

Giuseppe, couchsurfing host

Giuseppe, our couchsurfing host, with the dinner he cooked for us.

My Trip to France – Art, Food, Wine, Beauty

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Long, long pending posts about my France & Italy trip in March 2010. It was so amazing that I wrote this one How to Make the Most of Your Travel Experience just to share my views on traveling! With some 1200 photos, umpteen curios, plenty of cheese and wine and some fantastic people, this turned out to be one of the best trips to Europe that I have ever had. My posts are going to be less about documenting every place we visited and more about the enjoyable moments. Is this for myself or readers? Both, I think!

Aix-en-Provence

Starting with the South of France, where our friends, Tanvi & Julien played gracious hosts to perfection, & their little son, Rohan, was the sweetest face to see every morning with that bright, beaming smile. The town of Aix-en-Provence is picture perfect (as is everything else in the region). Originally called Aquas Sextias & in existence since 122 BC, it has a lovely main street with a large fountain, Cours Mirabeau. We stayed at the Mazarin Quarter which had everything from a cinema hall to proximity to the markets. There’s a lot of emphasis on dressing well, as evidenced by people even taking their dogs for a walk. The clothes, scarves, hats, shoes are all in harmony and the sneakers & rough-it-out pants look makes you really stand out.

Mazarin Cinema Aix-en-provenceThe Market, Aix-en-provenceApart from wandering around the Aix markets (& loving every minute of it!), the highlights of the trip were the visit to Cezanne’s studio & the climb up St Victoire. Cezanne was born in Aix and worked here & the roads are marked with a seal around all the places where he lived/ studied/ worked. His studio (Atelier Cezanne) is a huge room with windows from floor to ceiling, where his clothes & his art tools are still preserved. No photography allowed inside. I just loved seeing that room with large easels and the old furniture. A master artist’s place of work. Climbing the St Victoire, that appears so often in Cezanne’s work added to the charm of Provence. On the way down, we stopped at a cafe where I got locked inside the loo for almost 15 minutes until Louella (my travel partner) came looking for me!  It was not a particularly new occurrence as the waiter opened it very matter-of-factly with a knife and waltzed off.

France is all about wine and cheese and desserts and we had our fill of everything. Multi-course meals with different wines for each course, cheese platters… aah my mouth waters just thinking about it. The sensuousness of Europe is enhanced by the food & drink, such an integral part of the experience. I know the tendency (given our supremely jaw-socking exchange rate) is to eat budget food, & that’s what I have done before myself, but eating more like the locals gave an entirely different perspective to the place. The lunch at Julien’s parents place in particular was lovely,  but more than that the architecture and decor of the home was even more beautiful.

Arles, Marseille, Cassis

We also used Aix as a base and visited nearby towns & villages. We visited Arles, Marseilles and Cassis from here as day trips. Arles is a village famous for it’s Roman Amphitheatre dating back to the 1st century BC. It looks like time stood still here, with it’s quaint square & intricate doorways. It’s charming to walk through and lined with little shops that you feel like stopping at.  Marseilles was very different, the port town, hub of the region and full of life. The walk to the BBoats at CassisasilCalanques at Cassisica of the Notre Dame on top of the hill took us through many of the little streets & houses, a throw-back to scenes from movies made in the 40s & 50s. The port itself is very busy & full of large boats. By this time we were also getting used to the fact that salt doesn’t find it’s way into the food much. Sitting in a cafe watching the world go by was one of our favourite activities. Cassis, which we would not have gone to, had it not been for Julien’s recommendation, was beautiful. The quintessential rich coastal town with mansions overlooking the ocean, majestic boats and fast cars. It’s known for the Calanques – limestone cliffs in stark contrast to the aqua blue waters. They were created around 12,000 years ago & actually surrounding valleys, but the ocean levels rose after the ice age. Going to Cassis & doing the walk up the Calanques is highly recommended. It provides spectacular views of the coastline.

Nice & Eze

After spending a week in Aix & around, we said goodbye to T, J & R and moved to Nice. Since we were visiting in March, it happened to rain on the days that we were there, so we go to see a different side of it. It’s sunny 300 days of the year, we were told… I guess just not when we were there. Nice has lots to see & many parts of it look just like they are out of a movie set, which isn’t surprising given how perfectly co-ordinated everything is. Place Massena, the large square is the hub of plenty of activity including live performances on the street. We saw one by Native Americans & even bought their CDs. The antiques market in Cours Saleya was the most memorable part of the Nice, with curios, art, prints, clothes, furniture. I bought an Art Deco cup & saucer & a few other pieces here, browsing was just as much fun. Nice in the old quarter is full of tiny cobbled streets & old style lanterns but also houses pubs and restaurants, most of which have an open air section. Lou managed to get locked in the loo (ironic, eh?) this time round! We had some delicious salad with goat cheese & also the local specialty

From Nice, we also went to Eze, a charming medieval village through which you can spend atleast half a day walking around. It was covered in mist & we felt like we were in a fairytale. The old structures are intact and homes and shops are all there, housed in stone covered walls. From the Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden), you can see Nice & the Cote D’Azur (The Azure Coast) – there is nothing like it! If there was one place that left it’s mark on us, it was Eze. Dreamland personified (Not the Inception kind).

EzeFrom Nice we flew to Rome, which will be the subject of another post, with much drama at the Nice airport when we almost missed our flight because we were sitting the wrong section. We would have in fact missed it were it not delayed by 40 minutes, a fact we learnt only after much panic stricken running through Nice airport.

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Top 20 Travel Quotes

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Been reading many of these off & on, and wanted to compile them into one place! Hope you like them & do share your quotes too!

  1. “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” ~ Jack Kerouac in On The Road
  2. “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” ~ Dagobert D. Runes
  3. “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” ~ Freya Stark
  4. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” ~ Paul Theroux
  5. “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu
  6. “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”  ~ Susan Heller
  7. “Travelers never think that they are the foreigners.”  ~ Mason Cooley
  8. “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”  ~ Mark Twain
  9. “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.”  ~ George Bernard Shaw
  10. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain
  11. “The road is long, and in the end, the journey is the destination.” ~ from One Tree Hill
  12. “Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” ~ Ray Bradbury
  13. “Two roads diverged in a wood,  and I
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.”
    ~ Robert Frost in The Road Not Taken
  14. “I should like to spend the whole of my in life travelling abroad, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend afterwards at home.”~ William Hazlitt
  15. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
  16. “Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle
  17. “I never called it a “bad trip.” Sometimes other people would call it that when I told them what had happened. “Bad trip” didn’t really describe it. It wasn’t saying enough. It was saying too much. If you had a bad trip it was because you were a bad person. If you weren’t a bad person, then at the very least having a bad trip indicated that work was needed on this or that part of your head; a lack of wisdom or something like it was at the root of your bad trip.” ~ Mark Vonnegut in The Eden Express: A Memoir of Schizophrenia
  18. “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium”  ~ Movie Title
  19. “The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.” ~ Chris McCandless (Into The Wild)
  20. “There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
    There is rapture on the lonely shore,
    There is society where none intrudes,
    By the deep sea and the music in its roar
    I love not man the less,but Nature more.”
    ~ Lord Byron from Childe Harold, Canto iv, Verse 178

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How to Make the Most of Your Travel Experience

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Venice

Been thinking about this for a while. I love traveling myself, and it’s usually solo or with a couple of friends. I abhor group tours. For me, travel is all about the experience. To make the most of it, you need to get out of your comfort zone! Unless you like 5/7 star resort & first class travel. This is definitely not that kind.

There’s a joy to independent travel that, for me, is unmatched. It’s all about discovery & through that, the experience. Of truly soaking in what this unknown place is about, what are the people like, what kind of culture exists.

To really make the most of your travel experience, you need to:

1. Read about your destination: This shouldn’t be a task. It’s part of the process of understanding the destination & understanding your own plan. Apart from the LonelyPlanet guides, there are many online resources for each destination, forums that give you helpful tips, & people you can connect with. It helps to read & can be far better than simply trusting one guide.

2. Make your own itinerary: This sounds tough, but isn’t really. Reading helps you get an idea of the places to see. But no travel agent determined itinerary can ever be as effective as your own. Your travel agent doesn’t know you. Would you ask him/ her to buy you a book, or clothes? An itinerary is all about personal choice. Do you love art, do you love nightlife, do you love monuments or do you simply want to laze? These make a huge difference to what you ultimately ‘see’. After all it’s your holiday, you shouldn’t be groaning about going off to see one more monument if you don’t like it. There are many itineraries also available on the web (which travel agents anyway pick up). You can customise it based on what you want.

3. Don’t run through a country like a train: There are many tempted to do that. ‘We have come hSunset in Florenceere just once, who knows when we will be back’, ‘we have spent so much money on the trip’ Sure, everyone wants VFM. But don’t attempt to measure your money spent by no of places you have been to. It’s meant to be a leisure trip not a balance sheet calculation. There is joy in walking around a town, stopping where you want to stop, chatting with locals, watching that street performer, enjoying that sunset. That’s what you will remember above all the ‘sightseeing’.

4. Meet the locals: Easier said than done… but even if going in a group, try not to just hang out by yourselves. People are friendly. I have yet to visit a place where a majority of the people were surly (unless they were govt employees!) if you smiled and said hello. We tend to forget in our big city living, that people do smile back. In fact when you speak to locals, they may give you different tips or places to see than a guidebook would have. I have had many amazing experiences because of that – which i would have missed otherwise. Of course, don’t go finding a conman!

5. Try the local cuisine: The local food and drink at any place is better than running into Yummy salad with pouches of goat cheesea McDonalds or any such standardised option. Why? Don’t you think Indian food is a big part of what India is? It’s the same for any other country. Am not saying have frog legs or kangaroo meat! But try and have what you can, it adds to the memories. This is coming  from a vegetarian, so good food is there to find. So also the wine and cheese if famous in that region.

6. Allow a few changes in plan: Not everything goes according to plan. You may miss a train, you may want to stay back somewhere, you may run out of time. It’s ok. You are still on holiday in an amazing place. Just enjoy it without guilt or agitation.

7. Put that camera down sometimes!: As someone who takes hundreds and thousands of pictures, I know how tempting it is to keep clicking away, trying to capture every moment in that camera frame. You can’t. Take enough pictures, but don’t forget put that camera down and just take in the view. The mind remembers more than you think. A beautiful landscape is meant to be taken in slowly, immersing yourself into it… so don’t let the gadget come between you and nature.

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Trip to Bhutan – May 2009 – Punakha again & back to Paro

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Leaving Wangdi we felt even sadder. Stopped en route to heading back towards Paro to visit a temple at the border of Thimphu, Punakha & Wangdue Phodrang – Chimi Lhakhang – built in the 15th century in honour of ‘the divine madman’ Lama Drukpa Kinley, a revered saint who taught through jokes and fun and was known for his sexual conquests. its usually visited for children, either to pray for their protection, or to pray for a child. in honour of the divine madman, phalluses are painted on many of the houses. its about a 20 min walk through the rice fields of the village of sosokha to the temple. it was a perfect day, and we enjoyed the walk.

after this we retraced much of our earlier route, stopped at Thimphu for lunch – where the friend finally got the peanut butter and chocolate pastry again (that she had been fantasising about, i have to say the pastry was excellent), that we had at Art Cafe, we also did a little more shopping, and then headed back to Paro, taking the shorter 1.5 hour route this time. it was raining & absolutely dreamy weather. the clouds were even lower than before, and the prospect of catching a plane the next morning was not appealing. but no choice there, so driving through the Paro streets for the last time, all we could do was to take everything in and commit to memory.

the people were calm, good natured and friendly, our guide also had a great sense of humour, all the quaint places and unique culture make this a must visit, and not just once. there’s more to see further east, but needs a longer trip. since the airport is only in Paro, and all the travel in the country is by road, the further away you go, you need as much time to get back.

will leave you with a sign i saw on the back of a truck – words of wisdom:

“reach (sic – rich) man never too old for young girls”

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