Author: Nidhi Bhati

Dear Dolma

Dear Dolma

I never told you the day I arrived at your house was the day I turned 23. That morning after a lazy breakfast at my homestay in Leh I went and bought a ticket for Hemis Shukpachan. The bus was bustling with local music blaring amidst Julley greetings by ecstatic Ladakhis who were returning back after attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Leh.

Watching the flat round faces of the villagers with short thick noses, wide cheekbones and a language akin more to Tibet than of India. I felt lost in translation in my own country. Being the only clueless traveller in the bus who kept wheezing due to the high altitude. I felt a strange sense of exhilaration when the bus dropped me off at a quaint little hamlet. As I searched for a homestay little did I know that they called your village a close contender to the mythical Shangri-La! Defying its surrounding with its green carpet in a valley of brown boulders and rugged mountains in Western Ladakh, India. 

I stood there watching gas cylinders rolling down the road as the people it belonged to slowly started dispersing towards their homes. Which is when I met your daughter who was kind enough to invite me over to stay with you and her. On our way to your house I met you for a brief second while you were sitting with your other female friends near the prayer bell in the lower part of your village.

Never having been inside an old-style Ladakhi house before I couldn’t help but be fascinated with the insides of your kitchen while sipping on my butter tea. Starting with the entire wall behind the stove that gleamed with cookware, burnished and stacked on shelves. Nothing remained hidden away in drawers or cupboards. The hand-painted wooden flour canister, jars of spices, enormous hand-hewn pots and pans, flanked by towers of porcelain cups and not to forget the brightly coloured thermoses lined up in order of height in the lowest shelf next to the eating area. The aesthetics of a traditional Ladakhi life was evident in the way you had arranged it all.

She lives here alone with her four cats while my father and I work in the city.” said your daughter who spoke little English.

What are the cats’ names?” I asked.

Your daughter smiled and replied,
They have no names. But respond only to sounds made by my mother.

At first, I found it strange but when I saw you with them I understood how language becomes obsolete when we step in the realm of love. You were the kind old cat lady.

Your deep pensive eyes spoke more than your daughter’s translated words. They told me you were not satisfied with our small talk. Craving to hear more than just sounds of cat mews in your house. But all you could manage was saying,

Ya ya ya!

Which I’m assuming you picked up from an American who stayed here in the past.

At night when I found an old photo album in my room, I knew it was my turn for craving more. Hoping those moments frozen in time would tell me your story that you couldn’t yourself. That night I time travelled through your photographs. You were once a beautiful young lady who loved getting her pictures taken. Over the years not much has changed. Neither the kitchen nor you or the cats. Photos of family gatherings, village weddings and women spinning yak wool in meadows showed me the age-old-way of life of the Ladakhi culture in this remote corner of the Indian trans-Himalayas that is now slowly fading due to the explosion of modern day tourism.

Next morning when I returned after exploring your village and found you sitting outside your house doing your daily chores. I decided to help you since your daughter wasn’t around. While we sat silently stemming spinach in your courtyard my mind kept going back to that photo album. I wanted to tell you that you were and still are a very brave and strong woman. You managed to live alone in the house for years with no one to talk. No wonder you live with four cats. I’m sure you must be anxiously waiting for the evenings when all other women in the village would gather around the prayer bell. I understood now why you seemed so eager to know how long I was staying and whether I liked the traditional skyu you cooked for me. I know this because your photos showed me how you loved hosting and meeting new people despite the language barrier. 

I wish I could have stayed longer. I wish I could tell you how fortunate I was for spending my birthday at your home. I distinctly remember how those brown solemn eyes would light up meeting your weatherworn cheekbones whilst you smiled and I knew you needed no translation as I took out my camera. You touched your face and the lines on it suggesting that you have turned old now and aren’t really beautiful in pictures. I refused to believe it because your beauty lies in the fact that you live happily all by yourself in a house full of cats year after year. I wish I could tell you how much I admire you and the life that you have lived. I wish I could tell you that I will come back again soon just to spend more time with you and your cats. But all I did instead was smile at you as I adjusted my camera while your photographs from last night flashed in front of my eyes and then finally the moment arrived when I got to click a photograph of you to remember you by.

Dolma, July 2017.

Our silent connection showed me how that which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence sometimes. Or as Ansel Adam rightly said,

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

On 1st of August 2017 I turned 23 while backpacking across Ladakh. Wanting to experience something new I decided not to tell anyone that it was my birthday. I woke up and saw a German girl, who was staying in the same homestay, celebrating her 6th birthday with her family. I smiled to myself thinking what were the odds for that happening. During breakfast I was talking to few people and I remember screaming inside my head, “Do you know It’s my birthday today!!” over and over again. But I kept quiet. After breakfast I started walking towards the bus stand and bought a ticket for Hemis Shukpachan, a remote village in Western Ladakh. 

At night after dinner I remember sitting on my bed and watching the full moon against the silhouette of the mountains, the swaying poplar trees and the sound of the strong winds blowing outside. I knew a storm was coming and it would get really cold at night but I sat there replaying the events of the day feeling older, wiser and calmer. It was while watching that dreamy midnight view that I smiled and finally wished myself Happy Birthday!

If I learnt one thing with this experience was the realisation of how words and conversations have been so badly misused and diluted by everyone around us that we have started to run away from having real talk and conversations with people in our lives. There are times when I crave a genuine conversation with someone but then I choose to stay comfortable in our silence. It feels just like I am back at Dolma’s house and helping her with the chores while playing with the cats without feeling the need of a conversation to make us feel comfortable or closer to each other. Dolma and I didn’t get to exchange many words. But I have to say our time spent together in silence is what I miss the most and sometimes it is all I wish to relive on days when I’m surrounded by people and their never ending words.

A photo story on the sleepy town of Bundi Rajasthan.

A photo story on the sleepy town of Bundi Rajasthan.

If someone asks me to define in one word what was the first lesson that travelling taught me then my answer will be patience or सब्र. As appealing my social media updates may seem to others with a planned grid showing one travel destination after the other it left no room for an update of what took up space in my life in between any two destinations. What most people do not know about those two years of my life on the road as an unemployed traveller was how there would be a period of gap with no next destination, no money, no volunteering opportunity figured out in order for me to hit the road again. A time where I would have nothing to do besides just sitting at home and trying to figure out where to go next and more importantly how. Questioning over and over again whether the path chosen, the decisions made would be worth it or not. Wondering if I was missing out on my time for professional growth by not taking a stable job or worse will I succumb to being an example of how life can go wrong for those who dare to be dreamers in a world full of grown-ups running on the fuel of practicality and crushed dreams.

I had just reached Delhi after spending one month in Ladakh & Spiti Valley back in 2017 when I accepted an offer to work as an Assistant Director for a short budget horror film in Mumbai. Why did I do that? Well because it was a month long project that was paying me and moreover the shoot was happening in Goa. It was like hitting two birds with one stone. Also after establishing the fact that being a storyteller was the purpose of my life, I always wanted to learn and explore the world of filmmaking as part of that journey. So there I was with my backpack straight from the Trans Himalayas of Ladakh to the Arabian Sea in Mumbai trying to live a yet another dream of mine or cheap thrills as Sia would call it.

But like most Bollywood endings which are always too good to be true. After working on the project for a good old month we were told the shoot was postponed and I decided to head back home in order not to exhaust any more money from my travel fund on living in Mumbai. I happily took my paycheck and left for Rajasthan feeling content that at least I earned some money which meant I could now travel more. Unfortunately this plan was crushed when I find out after two failed attempts to cash the cheque that I had been the victim of fraud and been conned. I tried to console myself by saying that many others had faced similar issues when starting out in the industry and if nothing else at least I now have a great story to tell one day about my one time run in with the film industry.

Life Update: After two years of backpacking across India as an Unemployed Traveller. I decided to give the city life a second chance, moved back to Mumbai and started working as an Assistant Director in a yet another Horror Comedy film in April 2019. Only this one is a legit project and has no room for cheap thrills of being conned. But more on that in a different blog post.

It was after this run in with Bollywood that left me nearly broke as I was now trying to look at all available ways of travelling without money that a friend invited me to come visit her for some days in the small town of Bundi, Rajasthan. She lived on a farm a little outside the town where her family ran a small homestay offering a safe haven for people looking for an escape from the big bad world out there.

Read more about my stay with them at Amourcasa Homestay in the below link:

Why Bundi is the perfect town for explorers and wanderers.

Located in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan, Bundi is a destination that a lot of tourists miss out on while visiting Rajasthan. Only travellers searching for an offbeat and a less crowded destination or are simply lost stumble upon this small town that has lots to offer to whoever wishes to explore its old lanes, bazaars, stepwells and the magnificent fort that is completely different from any other fort you may come across in Rajasthan as it show you the underrated world of Bundi miniature paintings that are unique to the city.

Taragarh Fort also known as the ‘Star Fort’ has it’s history dating back to 1345 AD where it was built in green serpentine stone on a steep hillside in Bundi, Rajasthan.
The themes for the miniature paintings are inspired from mythological stories and nature which are then painted in naturally sourced and handmade colour pigments and dyes.
The city also has many shops selling all kinds of miniature paintings and scriptures. Some even offer classes for you to learn the art from artists who have been involved in this for generations.
The Bundi Hadoti region is filled with people belonging to various tribes. If you visit the villages on the outskirts of Bundi you may find people belonging from the gypsy tribe of Kalbelia, Gujjars, Bheels and most commonly Rabari or the indigenous tribal caste of nomadic cattle herders and shepherds.
A nomadic Shepherd belonging from the Bheel tribe which is an Indo-Aryan speaking ethnic group of Western India. The language mostly spoken by Bheels is known as bheeli.
An old man wearing the traditional red rabari safa (turban) selling wheat straw used for cattle feeding in the old bazaar of Bundi.
Did you know about the Hindu tradition of feeding a cow that is considered as a good deed and is believed to bring blessings and good karma in a person’s life?

A City Walk across the walled city of Bundi.

Experiencing the hill and countryside vibes in this part of Rajasthan was quiet refreshing for me. Considering how different it was from the countryside vibe I had experienced growing up as a kid who’s ancestors hailed from the land of sand dunes and camels in Jaisalmer.

But more interestingly I found my unplanned walk around the old city of Bundi to be something that I enjoyed the most. This was because when I decided to ditch the must see touristy monuments and landmarks in Bundi and chose to experience the city in it’s most archetypal manner I did not realise that the city was prepping up for the most celebrated festival of Holi which was starting from the very next day. I saw men and children on the roads, gallis, roundabouts digging up the ground (and in one case breaking the tar road) for setting up the Holika Dahan which is a pyre ceremony celebrated on the eve of Holi as a symbol of the good overcoming the evil based on the story of Prahlad and Holika in Hinduism.

A dry tree branch erected outside a temple in preparation for the Holika Dahan pyre.
The Lanka gate bustling with a colourful array of locals busy shopping for Holi a day before the festival in the old city bazaar.

Celebrating Holi at AmourCasa like a local and with the locals.

Being a history geek I am going to share a little history lesson with you about the Rajput culture and traditions.

Rajputana – translated as the land of Rajputs – was a region in Medieval India that constituted the Indian state of Rajasthan among parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and some areas of Sindh which lies in present day Pakistan. During the glorious days of Rajputana with it’s monarch rule being divided amongst the multitudes of Princely States and Thikanas, the common people, all kinds of artists, dancers, musicians would collectively gather at the palaces and forts of the ruling family of the region to come together and be part of the grand royal celebration of all festivals and auspicious days of the year. This tradition continues to stay alive in the modern day democratic state of Rajasthan where the Maharajas and Thakurs who had been erstwhile state-holders are till date visited by the local villagers, folk artists etc on all festive days throughout the year in order to pay homage to them and celebrate with them like their ancestors did.

I spent my holi at AmourCasa Homestay in Bundi which showed me a total different and culturally inclusive experience of the festival. Something I had not experienced before as a girl who was only used to playing holi within the walls of her city home with the family members. Which is why visiting and staying at AmourCasa Homestay Bundi during the festival of Holi is definitely something that I would suggest to you if a cultural and traditionally immersive experience is something you seek. I can vouch for the unimaginable fun, love, colours and unlimited rajasthani food you will be getting to gorge on along with a traditional fix of entertainment for you.

The Bheel men and woman dancing and celebrating Holi at the house of one of the Thakurs of the village I was staying at near Bundi.

Being a believer of a slow traveller (read about my blog on understanding slow travel here) I did miss out on few touristy things like the magnificent Rani ji ki Baori, Chaurasi khambo ki chatri, Chitrashala-Umed Mahal among other things. But during my citywalk I did manage to accidentally stumble upon hidden gems like old restored havelis in the old bazaar, Dadbhai kund (stepwell), old traditional temples, the intricately carved Hathia Pol, killer rooftop cafes and views and lastly the most interesting, unexpected and quirky tea stall/artwall.

I usually do not take photos, but I just could not help take one outside this pretty hand painted entry to the Haveli Braj Bhushanjee which also happens to be the best place to stay within the old city of Bundi.
The beautiful insides of the restored haveli decorated with antiques.
Though Dadbhai Kund (stepwell) was a disappointment with its unkempt state of being and the scorching sun which almost killed me with dehydration and a heat stroke. But I did manage to get this new perspective of capturing the stepwell. I remember having my head covered with this hand dyed bandhani dupatta while I was trying to take “aesthetic photos” for the gram. Which is when it clicked me. Most women who would come to these stepwell to carry water back home would usually have their entire face covered with their odhnis or dupattas as per traditional dress code for women in Rajasthan. Leaving them looking at the world through a veil. A veil of not just fabric but of old rigid tradition and rules of patriarchy. So in the end I was happy with this thread of thought I had and the shot I got as I tried to imagine looking at not just this frame but my entire world through a veil for a brief moment.
A smaller version of the majestic Hathia Pol I found in the bylanes of old city Bundi.
Nawal Sagar Lake known best for offering a mirror image of the city with the fort being reflected in its waters.
Rooftop Cafe view from Dev Niwas Hotel. The food was not so great but the view made up for it. Though local sources have confirmed that the place to go for the ultimate food experience in Bundi is hands down the Morgan’s Place. A friendly cosy cafe serving the best Italian, Sicilian, Vegetarian and Vegan food. YES you heard it right!
Afternoon napping scenes where such a common sight everywhere I looked. Well no one can be blamed for that because the heat sure did a number on us all.
I always have a wonderful time capturing men who laugh.
The infamous Krishna’s Chai point. I could not believe that amongst the busy lanes and old houses there existed a space like this. Famous for its Special Tea (Chai with Bhaang) which I never got to taste because it was closed every time I have been to Bundi. But the imprinted artwork and graffiti left by the numerous travellers who had been here before me showed me how loved and special this place was for each of them. Every little detail weaving a story of its own which took me forever to read and admire as I sat down in the area outside the shop and let it all sink in.
Just another casual afternoon in Bundi with its Bougainvilleas and hand painted wall art.
Having grown up in Rajasthan I had been privy to many visits to the forts and palaces. Which is why I decided to give the fort tour a miss in Bundi and explore the city instead. Though I later found out that the fort is unlike any other in Rajasthan. Which is why I am going to try and cover it the next time I am in Bundi.
The city has various lakes and pools but my favourite one has to be the Jait Sagar Lake. A 1.5 km long lake that lies encircled with the Aravalli hills and has lotus floating and covering around 3/4th of the area in the months of monsoon and winter. Looking at the wide expanse of green from far, I remember accidently walking right up to the edge of the lake assuming it was land until I was one step away from stepping into the water.

A story about the time when the 23 year old unemployed me got invited as a Chief Guest.

During this trip I also got the chance to visit and attend an Annual Function that was being organised at the local Government School in the village outside Bundi where I was staying. My friend had been volunteering with the school for some time and was therefore invited as the Honourable Chief Guest at the event. The school staff was so kind that when they found out I was a writer and traveller who was accompanying my friend to the event. They were kind enough to make me the Chief Guest as well. I was so overwhelmed and humbled by this kind gesture. I remember giving a speech after the event to the children. Talking about how one must never shy away from doing great things in life no matter how insignificant or small our impact might seem to us or others around us. I remember trembling with joy, excitement and overwhelming emotions as I decided to end the speech with Akhtar Sahab’s words that always deeply resonated with me,

“Kyun dare zindagi mein kya hoga
Kuch na hoga to tazruba hoga.”

– Javed Akhtar
I remember the cheap thrill of getting to live this moment that would make for a crazy story of a time when an unemployed 23 year old backpacker got invited as the Chief Guest at a School’s Annual Function.
School boys bunking and sneaking a peek into the tent where the event was happening.

We even got the chance to distribute bicycles sponsored by the Rajasthan Government to all the 9th standard girls for their convenience in everyday commuting to school. As most of them lived in nearby villages and had to often walk for hours to get to school and back home everyday. It was a beautiful moment for me to see the importance being imparted towards educating the young girls in this small village outside of Bundi and getting to be a small part of it.

The teachers and administration was impressed with my little stint with Javed Sahab’s words during the speech. Which is why we later sat down and had a full swing little poetry session with some of the staff in the office over snacks. I remember sitting in that room trying to freeze the moment in my memory of four school masters reciting poems to one another.

So this trip which was supposed to be my filler in between my actual travel plans. Something I did in order to not stay at home and overthink about the decisions and financials of my nomadic lifestyle as I would try to go with the flow and learn the art of patience. I remember calling this phase of my life as, the Latin philosophical proposition, “Cogito Ergo Sum” by René Descartes that translated in english as “I think, therefore I am.”

At the end of my trip I remember telling my friend later how on a bad day when everything will seem gloom and I might question what I gained or learnt by saying no to jobs, financial security as a fresh Post Graduate who chose to live a nomadic life instead. I told her I am going to remind myself of this day, this moment and remember how magical it all had felt. Like I was exactly where I was meant to be and living exactly the way I should be.

September 2017, Bundi Rajasthan.
How slow travel and living on a farm in Rajasthan helped me embrace self-love and slowing down in life.

How slow travel and living on a farm in Rajasthan helped me embrace self-love and slowing down in life.

As I sit down wondering where to begin from to talk about my journey with embracing slowing down in a world obsessed with hustling, my Spotify playlist of lo-fi moodies plays a song that is called “slow down”. I take a pause, listen to the two-minute-long track with a radio voice saying, “Time won’t slow down because you chose to waste the day.” on repeat. I smile and surrender myself to the present moment yet again.

Before I begin to share my experience with slow travelling, let’s start by explaining the concept of Slow Travel. The basic definition of Slow Travel looks at it as a mindset that rejects traditional ideas of tourism and encourages you to soak in your environments and keep yourself open to new experiences.

Slow Travel for me is…

All about allowing oneself to experience and enjoy the everydayness of life in a new place at your own pace. An experience where the focus of travelling is not to about a list of things to do or places to see but instead is about being open to heading into a new day with no plans. Thus making you ready for new adventures, more authentic experiences and meaningful interactions as you learn to put yourself out there to interact with the local community, culture and their way of life.

I call this process as learning how to live like a temporary local wherever you go. Looking forward to travelling to a place like it was your home. Gaining insights on the place by talking to the locals around. Consuming local produce and helping the local community by buying from local grocery shops, local markets, small businesses, local cafes etc. All these reflect as important aspects of slow travelling as a way to promote and build a new global community of responsible travellers and a local community that grows stronger because of this conscious exchange of not just goods and services but also experiences, stories and mutual respect. Because haven’t we all travelled to some place and wondered what would the locals do, where would they go? The answer to that lies in making local connections while travelling and thus opening yourself to the secret life of the locals wherever you go.

Spending time at the Friday Mapusa Municipal Market in Goa days before Christmas gave me a chance to experience the goan christmas festive vibe that is entailed in the shopping spree.

My favourite part after having slow travelled for two years is how my emphasis when going to a new place is less on the maniac sightseeing or ticking off places on a list and more on taking in my surroundings at a relaxed pace. I have always found this way of travelling to be less stressful for me and more respectful to the locals while also being easier on the environment and the budget if I may add.

Why staying at a homestay is the best way to unplug and explore a new place at a slow pace

It was while I was looking for places that offered me the simple joy of lazing around, living like a local, getting some writing done while unplugging from the usual and diving into nature that I got to know from a friend about AmourCasa Homestay, a place run by her family at their home in Rajasthan’s countryside. Situated near the sleepy town of Bundi which lies in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan. A rocky parched landscape that turns lush green during rainy season. What I love about this part of Rajasthan is that till date it remains less explored by domestic tourists and travellers that flock year round to experience Rajasthan in all its shining glory of old Forts and Palaces of the living Royalty of India.

The 1km off-roading drive that takes you away from the Highway and into the country roads through green fields stretching as far as my digitally tired eyes could see was an experience in itself. It is true what they say in colour psychology about green being the colour of nature that affects our moods and emotions making us feel more restful, soothing and cheerful.  And to think I was already feeling restful when I was yet to reach my destination.

My hosts were this wonderful couple who lived with their two daughters and dogs on this six-acre farm spread across the backdrop of the Aravalli Hills. It was during a long conversation about the history of landlords in Post British India I found out that in 1953 Lt. Thakur Jasbeer Singh Khichi had left Sohangarh, Punjab looking to finding a new home for his family to settle down post the partition. He came across the land of Chambal river in the Hadoti region and loved it so much that he instantly bought farmland and settled down in the small village of Guda Nathawat 15 km away from Bundi, Rajasthan. 64 years later his youngest son Thakur Balwant Singh constructed this house that went on to see the birth of this homestay.

“It was my dream to build my very own farm one day and live the simple farm life and now that I have it. I am what you call content.” said my host Th. Balwant Chauhan.

AmourCasa is the story of this family’s deep love for their home. Nestled amidst the Aravalli hills and green meadows this is a countryside haven. A place to experience the old world charm of a farm stay and the enamour of Rajput tradition and culture. The perfect getaway for anyone looking to slow down in the serenity of nature, relax in style and unwind in the good old countryside. Being brought up in Rajasthan I can easily vouch that if you haven’t experienced the farm or village life in Rajasthan then you really need to ask yourself if you have indeed experienced Asli (Real) Rajasthan or not.

My days at AmourCasa would begin with waking up to the sound of music playing from the antique vintage radio in the lobby. This was usually followed by a lazy breakfast in the sunlit front porch. This was a spot where I would spend my mornings observing and learning to identify the calls of the various birds who would casually be flocking around waiting for the two dogs, Simba, the adorable big boxer and Bliss, the grumpy old dachshund to be done with their meals so that they could finish the leftovers for them. Slowly this became a daily ritual for me as I would watch those birds devour the dogs’ food while I devoured mine. Imagine spending time doing this over breakfast instead of the usual frantic morning scrolling on our phones. Doesn’t it sound too good to be true? If you thought that was an experience worth coming here for then wait until you read about the rest of my day. I had never experienced the joy and satisfaction of picking out and eating guavas straight from the branch until one day my friend showed me the guava trees and then slowly our post-breakfast ritual would involve taking our own sweet time on deciding which guava to pluck and snack on while basking in the sweet bliss of Mother Nature.

The best part of my day would be watching the sunset every evening. On someday it would be from the terrace, on some days from the fields while helping on the farm. I really enjoyed watching kaki ji pluck carrots for our dinner while I just goofed around with them goats who for some reason always looked like they were up to some mischief or were sitting on a secret they couldn’t tell you hence explaining their poker faces and gangsta vibes. Apart from this surprisingly fun farm routine every once in a while I would take the bicycle out and just head out for a ride around the fields with fresh countryside air brushing against my cheeks, making my eyes water with a little bit of happiness from watching that sunset but mostly because of the wind velocity.

Though there are a lot of wonderful and offbeat places to visit in the nearby region. But since this is a blog about embracing slow travel I am going to just stick to sharing my experience of staying at the homestay in this blog and will be writing a separate blog on things to do and places to see in and around AmourCasa Homestay.

Now for those who know me well, know that I live for two things. Sunsets and food. Remember how I told you that watching the sunsets here made my eyes water with happiness well wait till I tell you how the food here made my mouth water every single time it was meal time in this place. And believe me, I am not teasing you when I say that.

Mealtime in my life never got me as excited as it would in this place. I am talking about fresh farm produce and organic meals curtesy living on a farm. Finger licking food was a myth for me until I came here and got a taste of the home cooked meals made by the lady of the house, Mrs Vandana Kumari who has magic in her hands. I come from a family of foodies who love to cook and I am not exaggerating when I say that it was a tough call for me when I had to decide who made better Rajasthani food between my father and my current host.

Here at AmourCasa, you can happily say goodbye to your diet and eating habits of a city dweller. Because in this home you will be eating some of the most authentic delicacies from the Rajasthani cuisine thanks to age-old family recipes passed down from one generation to the other. The traditional recipes which were always slow cooked for hours on an old-style chullah (earthen stove) adding the distinctive earthen and smoky flavour of the chullah to the food. But that’s not where this food journey ends. From dining under the clear night skies and stars while enjoying live folk music with comfort food and gourmet meals to heavenly baked items and quick to make puddings during evening tea I happily ate it all. Saying goodbye to the body I had acquired after living a healthy and fit life in the mountains this past year could not have felt better than this.

My journey with embracing self-love…

There was a time when it used to seem amusing to me how people in their pursuit of finding love and a real connection in life were always so willing to give love unconditionally to others but when asked to channel that love towards themselves and find a deep connection within were often left puzzled with a question of “how?” When did loving oneself become the hardest question to crack. How lost are we in our everyday hustled existence that we have no way of understanding how to give love to ourselves?

Before coming here, I had recently left my job in Himachal and was back home in Rajasthan for a short while trying to give myself time to finally embrace self-love and care. Something I had been ignoring for quite sometime now. What majorly helped me on this journey was my meditation that allowed me to be aware of the impermanence of every moment; spending time on my art journal expressing, acknowledging and breaking my emotional self-limiting barriers and last but not the least singing my lungs and guts out on the Karaoke mic every now and then (all thanks to my host at AmourCasa for organizing it for me).

Back in 2016 I remember telling everyone I want to travel for a while after finishing college because I want to give myself some time. People would in return ask me, “But time for what?” and I would reply saying, “Time to simply live”. And in my pursuit of simply living for the past two years, I feel extremely grateful for accidentally stumbling upon embracing how to slow down and learning to live in what I call as “The here and now of life”. It has showed me how to be mindful even if my mind is full. Discovering Joy of Missing Out way before it became a trend. This was all thanks to my life on the road slow travelling that has helped me discover and appreciate a wonderful way of living my life by slowing down and being self-aware of my lifestyle choices, eating habits, consuming patterns, travel philosophy that reflects a thoughtful and conscious approach towards it all in a world that runs on the idea that we have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Forgetting how important it is to embrace the concept of slowing down, to rest, recover and reflect as part of aligning towards our progress, success and ultimately a more content life.

Which is why I feel no guilt in admitting that I spent the whole month of Valentine on this self-loving, slow-routine living the lazy life that did end up adding a little extra weight on me but left me falling in love with this process of giving love and care to myself as I simply soaked in my environment and opened myself to enjoying the everydayness of living in the countryside on a farm doing nothing.

So if you too have been feeling a little out of sync with yourself for a while now and are trying to find an anecdote for the rat race that you are so busy running in the city, then you need to take some time off from this hustle my friend. And this time travel to go beyond the madness of weekend getaways and Instagram updates. Instead, spend time slowing down in a place like this to finally give yourself that unconditional self-love and care you deserve so deeply. Because if not now then when. And if you still aren’t convinced, then I will ask you to scroll up and read again what my Spotify playlist was trying to tell me when I sat down to write this blog about embracing slowing down in our lives.

Because in the rush of things you my friend have forgotten to do things that make you happy. So slow down, catch your breath and just be here and now.

How I crossed a bridge and walked over to my first foreign country without a passport.

How I crossed a bridge and walked over to my first foreign country without a passport.

Holding my ID in one hand and a gun in the other he asked me “What is your name?” I tried to remain calm as my eyes started examining the stone walls and surroundings of the small establishment where we were standing. Glancing at the posters on the walls I could easily tell that they had been photocopied way too many times. Just as I was struggling to look at the fading black and white printed faces with details of the wanted terrorists, he asked me where I lived. And I fumbled to remember my own address of 23 years. He took a long pause and now it was his chance to examine me. With an inquiring look in his eye he asked me why I was there. And I will never forget how he looked at me with his bewildered gaze and wrinkled nose as I told him I wanted to cross the border and walk over to my first foreign country without a passport.

I was backpacking across the trans-Himalayas in the Northern state of Uttarakhand, India when I found out about the town of Dharchula that served as a major trading centre for the trans-Himalayan trade routes since medieval times. But was now a common passage to cross over the Indo-Nepal International Open Border by locals and tourists to reach Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet. The very next day I was on my way to Dharchula in a local shared taxi with local pahadi music blaring in my ears.

On talking with my taxi driver I found out about a lesser known place an hour before Dharchula called Jauljibi. A small bazaar (market) of Indo-Nepal border situated at the confluence of Kali and Gori Rivers that served as a lesser known crossover to Nepal. Equipped with a new destination and a better storyline than before I was ready for the most thrilling day of my life. But on reaching I realized it was just another day for the people in Jauljibi, a town so small and welcoming that it took me less than 15 minutes to cover the whole place and make acquaintance with a handful of its residents. Being a marketplace of the border it felt I had walked into a fully stocked supermarket cum town in the middle of the trans-Himalayas as I watched a Nepali man buy a bagful of shampoo pouches.

I decided to leave my backpack with a friendly local woman and proceeded towards the checkpoint. After going through routine questions the Seema Suraksha Bal officials were amused to find out about my purpose of visit. For having never encountered a tourist here who wanted to crossover the border to see what is on the other side. They eventually let me through after warning me about not stopping or taking photographs on the bridge. I nodded and started walking. In precisely 290 steps, I finally stepped foot on foreign soil.

Unexpectedly Nepal for me was not that different from India. As the name Jauljibi was derived from the two markets on both sides. So here were two pieces of land sharing a name yet divided by a river and International borders. Where the use and exchange of currency and cell phone tower connections weren’t outlined for or limited to citizens of a particular country.

Feeling lost in translation I tried to make conversation with the locals collecting wheat straws in their field. Only to later find a peaceful place to meditate. Sitting on foreign land watching my country right in front of my eyes overwhelmed me with a new realization. Suddenly the idea of borders instinctively making us perceive others as different from us seemed amusing. Though initially things did seem culturally and linguistically diverse but what transcended these political boundaries was the universal human need to seek and be heard if not understood.

And so I walked back to India with not just souvenirs from an unusual bazaar town but also with a great story to share. A truth about an experience that fulfilled my human need to seek and be heard with my story about walking 290 steps and crossing over to my first foreign country without a passport.

The current 150 m spanned suspension bridge at Jauljibi between India and Nepal replaced the former 30-metre bridge that was damaged in the 2013 natural disaster of cloudburst during the seasonal monsoon.
Early morning scene with the market being set up for the day at Jauljibi.
The bazaar at the Indian side of Jauljibi where both Indian & Nepali currency is accepted for buying goods.
The bazaar on the Nepal side is the first thing you come across when you cross the bridge. The town across the Kali river at Jauljibi fully depends on each other for their survival as the Indian town gets milk, ghee, honey and vegetables from villages in Nepal across the river, while the town of same name and its adjoining villages in Nepal get their essential consumer items as well as educational and medical facilities from the Indian town of Jauljibi.
Crossing the border is a normal affair for many people in this part as their lives and jobs are distributed over the two sides of the bridge.
It takes exactly 290 steps to cross the bridge.
People asked me where I was from and I said Rajasthan. But when they looked at me all confused, I told them Bharat, India. And they eventually start nodding in acknowledgment.
A young newly wed Nepali woman working in her field was highly amused as she watched me take photos of her. Unable to understand each others language the only thing that connected us was when I took out my phone and said, “selfie?” and she nodded on finally understanding something I said.
A strand of wheat from a farm land, a tomato growing near the border checkpost and some mint leaves that I got from the river side were the souvenir I took back home from Nepal.
Dharchula is the last town on the India-Nepal border. It also leads to Taklakot, China’s Autonomous Tibet Region, about 155 kilometres away.  The town has for long accepted the people of Nepal and its currency. And during the demonetisation in 2016, the currency of the neighbouring country was in greater demand and was probably being used more than Indian currency there.
The Indian bazaar town of Jauljibi at the confluence of Kaali & Gori Rivers. The Jauljibi mela, a trade fair happening for the past 144 years on the day of Makkar Sakranti, actually began as a religious fair at the Kali riverbanks. It later took the shape of a trade fair as Tibetan traders started to come with their goods here.
Every year the Jauljibi fair witnesses herds of Nepalese horses from remote Humla and Jumla districts of the neighbouring country that are brought to the fair to be sold off to traders.
The spot overlooking India where I sat and meditated for a while.
My first conversation on reaching Nepal was with an officer from the border force. He asked, “Are you married?” and when I said no he instantly replied saying, “Arey, Why not? You must. Then go wherever you want with him.” I guess no matter how far they travel somethings never change for a solo female traveller.
Things I learnt on my first job as an employed traveller

Things I learnt on my first job as an employed traveller

Being a believer that careers are a 21st-century thing of which I do not count myself as a big fan of, last summer after one year of Unemployed Travelling, several volunteering gigs and few odd jobs later I finally set out on a hunt for my first official full-time job. Now I was clear in my head about two things. I wanted to try my hand working in the travel industry but I did not want a city job with a 9 to 5 lifestyle. Because it was more important for me to determine how the job would affect my everyday quality of life and the time that would be spent before and after my work hours. Set with this idea I started looking for work and being a millennial I took to social media to help me with it. Almost as if having cracked the Facebook and Instagram algorithm, the Universe started showing me job openings on my social feed that fit the description in my head of what I wanted.

In a month’s time after various rounds of applications with few potential companies, I finally had a job which fit most if not all the boxes in my head. I remember it was my 24th birthday and I was telling my friend how I was in no mood to go out that night. With despair, disappointment and defeat slowly seeming like close acquaintances in my life, I couldn’t really see any reason to go out and celebrate. Just then I got the call that I was waiting for with the news I wanted to hear. I was going to start working full time as a Content Manager for a socially driven travel company from a small remote village in Himachal Pradesh called Chaminoo in Chamba valley. Little did I know that with this new journey life was all set to teach me the much-needed lessons at that point in my life.

1.    When you do things that move your soul, the limits of your body and mind are stretched to expand a little every day.

Filled with the enthusiasm of a young soul ready to serve her purpose in this world. I got straight down to work a day after I got settled in my small mud room in a 100-year-old house. I was slowly trying to let the reality of my new life, new home and new job sink in when on the 5th day on the job I was asked by my boss if I would like to join him on a 5-day trek to the Churah Valley. It seemed too good of an opportunity to pass on which is why even though I had no prior experience of trekking, I said yes. My work required me to document the Shodh Yatra which was one of the optional courses offered at IIM-A.  The yatra was led by Prof. Anil Kumar Gupta a Padma Shree Awardee, an independent thinker and the man behind the envision and inception of the initiative called the Honey Bee Network which worked towards upliftment of grassroots regions by making use of the cross-pollination of knowledge and innovative ideas between the Shodh Yatris and the villagers. During the trek, I was exposed to harsh realities, extremities and the beauty of it all in the grassroots. The time I spent walking, climbing for hours every day while simultaneously documenting, observing and taking down notes during daily sessions by the Professor while also making sure I help out my team with other on ground managing during the trek showed me how to push the limits of my mind to overcome and conquer the limits of my body and vice versa.

I have always seen myself as a walker than a climber. Which is why I will tell you the one thing that they almost never tell you about climbing that after climbing a great mountain, one only finds that there are many more mountains to climb in life. So whenever you are climbing all you really need to do is focus on where you are right now and then take the next step forward. If you keep doing this without looking up to see how far you are left to cover, you will reach your destination eventually and then when you finally look back you will be amazed to see all the distance, difficulties and obstacles that you managed to cross and overcome on your journey. If you keep looking up to see how far you are left to cover and climb before you make it, then you would be just limiting yourself by focusing on the “farness” of your destination instead of moving forward with your mind body and soul in sync to help you push the limits of your mind and body with each step that you take forward. Similar to this climb, the more I started doing things which felt in sync with my soul the more I was being challenged in life to push and expand the limits of my body and mind. Which is when I realized that

If life gives you a difficult mountain to climb know that it is doing so because it is offering you a chance to expand your limits and help build a stronger you. Now it all depends on how you decide to make the climb. By always looking at the farness of your destination or by focusing on the here and now of each step that you take.

2. Happiness like knowledge is real when shared.

After taking the plunge from being an unemployed traveller to an employed traveller. Shifting to the mountains. I was slowly learning how to live, travel & work all by myself in absolute isolation from the modern world, with no one to share the difficult days or the small beautiful moments or learnings of my everyday life. With loved ones & friends being only available on calls sometimes. I thought I had mastered the subtle art of being alone over the years. But I was wrong. There is a difference between being alone & wanting to be alone. You don’t have a choice in the first one while the latter is yours to choose. Earlier with college, adulting, unemployment, having to make decisions about travelling & understanding what I wanted. It was easy being alone & by myself for as long as it was needed because that’s what I wanted & that’s what’s required by individuals who are on a journey of self-exploration searching for answers to make sense to the restlessness inside of them. But never having experienced the other side of it, when the restlessness is gone & you are at peace with your old questions & doubts at the moment. I didn’t know if I would still be feeling the same way about being alone now that I was where I wanted to be and was meant to be at that moment in time and life. I realized that the more I was able to understand life & my role in it at a particular point in time. The more I was sorting after the company of my loved ones & like minded people (I like to call them as my soul tribe) around me to share my thoughts & happiness with them to learn and grow with them.

Romeo my loverboy, my roommate and my only companion on the good and bad days in Chaminoo.

The first month of this shift was extremely difficult. Having to deal with all these new changes in my life, new feelings & reactions to some of those changes while my family was away travelling and thus remained out of contact for almost 20 days as I shifted & started working in Himachal, seemed difficult to grasp all by myself on some days. For the first time, I experienced a longing for my family & home. During this time, I re-watched my all time favourite movie, “Into The Wild”. (For those who haven’t watched the movie or read the book. Do it NOW!)  Now until that point I had always been of the opinion that the ending of the movie was a happy one. Because unlike other people, Chris got to choose and chase his idea of happiness he wanted to live by and actually live it for himself. Which is why the few years of his life on the road probably made him more alive and fulfilled than any other person out there who spent their entire time living a life that does not reflect a choice made by their free will which was truly theirs to begin with. This was until someone tried to question my opinion by making me see that the timing of his realization that “Happiness is only real when shared” coincided with the days nearing his death all alone in the wild when he is finally able to understand that the elusive solitary happiness he desired was envisioned with a false sense of happiness. I would probably be over dramatizing if I try to say that after one year of travelling solo followed by the months living all by myself in a remote village that didn’t even exist on a modern day Google map, made me finally understand how Alex’s adventure into the wild all by himself must have made him feel when he had lived his dream but was the verge of dying alone without getting a chance to share the happiness he felt during his life on the road.

 Luckily for me, I didn’t have to be on my deathbed to understand the lesson that cost him his life in the end. I, unlike Alex, still had the time to go out there and give life another chance with this renewed understanding of life, happiness and my role in it. To live, learn and grow in life, all while being able to open myself to sharing my moments of happiness of slowing down as I watch that sunset, that starry night, that walk in the deep forest, the morning chai by the riverside and all the other fleeting moments that we call life with someone else. It took a long time but I finally learnt that

Happiness even if short-lived and elusive is real when shared. You could have understood the meaning of life and happiness but you will not stay that way for long until you do not lean into the happiness that lies within self-disclosure of a particular truth or a moment in time and space with another soul. Because in the end sharing your happiness with someone is what becomes part of happiness.

3. Be grateful to people who show their true selves and their way of life to you, even if it is unpleasant at times.

The more I travel, the more I see. The good, the kind, the bad, the ugly, the greedy, the beauty & the pure. Every shade of humanity has shown its hues and textures to me. The more I see, the more I am better able to understand not only how people around me are but also better understand myself along with the shades and textures of humanity that I want to fill my empty canvas of the self with. One of the most difficult question ever to be asked in the history of man and time is, “Who am I?” The answer to it isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible to get an answer to as well. I realized that who we are is a question that doesn’t really have an answer when we first ask it. The answer is in the journey. You question, you seek & you don’t settle until you finally learn to see the reality about everything surrounding you. And the more you seek & the more you see, the closer you will be to the answer of who you are. Because you see, we were created to create. Everything that’s created by us is us. Be it your dreams, your actions, your decisions, your definitions, and your way of seeing. It is all you. And this is when the answer to who you then slowly start to form a shape, a word and a reality.

Which is why the more you live, the more to seek, the more you see, the better able will you be to get closer to finding or more like curating the answer to that question. In the end don’t shy away from the answer that’s showing itself to you in your reflection because it’s who you are at that moment and whether you choose to stick with that reflection is for you to decide, settle or work on. And while you are at it, try not being so hard on yourself and on the answer, because in the end, it will be the journey that will help you with your question and not the answer to that question itself. So keep calm and just keep looking.

During my first initial months of working on my first job, there were times when I was being shown the unpleasant side of humans around me. A lot of which made me question my decision of being there. But then a friend told me to observe my thoughts, reactions and feelings towards things, situations and people around me. Because observing them would help me understand myself a little better and the world that I live in and then accordingly choose my place and role in it.

If someone is being unfair around you, if someone is being dishonest or unkind around you and watching them be that is making you uncomfortable then know that their being that way is only showing you all the ways that you do not wish to live your life as. If someone’s dishonesty angers you, thank them for showing you their dishonest way of living life and thus assuring that dishonesty is not the way for you to lead your life. If someone shows their strength in difficult times and it moves you, know that observing their strength is something that will help you in all the times that you need to emit strength in your life.

So do not be cross with those who are not kind or fair with you in your life. Instead look at them as a reflective mirror of learning for a human and be extremely grateful to them for showing you how they move in their lives and thus helping you understand and realign your way of moving in life. Which is why I tell myself every day to

Be grateful for everything in life, the good the bad and the ugly because all of them put together are slowly working towards taking you to a better place inside your heart, in the outside realm of the physical world and finding your place in it.

4. Art as a way to express and heal all that lies broken, buried and neglected inside.

One of the few things that I am extremely happy and proud of doing in my life so far includes the idea of organizing an Art Weekend in the Hills with my friend Aastha as the workshop artist. I had just gotten over with the Shodh Yatra trek and was now shifting my focus on curating event ideas to be organized at our various properties around Himachal and Rajasthan.

My first canvas painting of a cloudy day at Mystic Village during the Art Weekend.

Before I tell you more about the event let’s take a flashback into my childhood. Growing up I used to sketch and draw all the time. I was always involving myself in art and craft at school and home. But it all came to a halt when I stepped into my teens. I was still keeping myself involved with extracurricular activities but art came to a standstill for me. Maybe it was seeing others around me who were better at it thus making me question my skills. This only became worse when I got into LSR for under-graduation and then to NIFT for my masters. One of the best colleges in the country where the students excelled at everything they did thus leaving me feeling like a jack of all trade and ace of none.

Which is why years later I was still being hesitant while designing the workshop activities but the only thing keeping me going at it with positivity was my hundred percent confident in Aastha, her love for art, colours and her ability to make people enjoy them both with her. So when the event started and the guests started arriving at Mystic Village, a 200-year-old village near Khajjiar my initial hesitance and nervousness slowly faded away as I too sat down with the participants and picked up the paint brush to finally get back to painting as an adult. And once I did, there was no stopping me. In no time I was using paints and the pages of my little diary to express all that was broken, buried and neglected inside me.

I was discovering a whole new world of colours and consciousness. I started experimenting with meditative art and learning how to let the subconscious power of my mind flow through my artwork. The more I painted or doodled the more I was learning how to experience a state of mindfulness in this process much like the one I would experience during my meditation. Which is why I am really grateful for my first job, my friend Aastha and the Universe for making me realize that

We don’t have to be artists to create art in life. And with that realization, I learnt how to let go of another barrier of self-limitation that I had created in my head for all those years.

5. The universe is listening and miracles are possible.

Sitting in a remote village in Himachal, cut off from people, city life, I noticed that despite being away from some finer things in life, lately somehow life had been extremely generous towards me. Things that I sometimes wished for came true the very next day. Be its craving for a chocolate cake & having a family come down to H2O House to celebrate their father’s birthday with a chocolate cake all the way from Delhi the next day. Or me wishing to have a puppy to play with and the cook bringing a puppy to the house that very night.

I remember one day I was craving for sharing a sunset in silence with someone. It was a busy week for us at the homestay and being in my phase of solace I had managed to steer away clear from any guest interaction the whole weekend. Until one morning I felt like striking up a conversation with two guests who had flown down from Dubai for two weeks in Himachal Pradesh. It was their last day with us and I liked them from the moment we met as they both seemed wonderful & likeminded. They showed me pictures of the sunset they saw the previous day & it struck cord with my yearning from the other day to see a sunset. Suddenly I had a really strong intuitive feeling that I must go with them to catch the sunset. I had work to finish that day but I realised ever since I had shifted to Chamba I had never just gotten out & explored on my personal time. Also since just the other day, I had expressed my love for chasing sunsets & here I had two sunset chasers asking me to join them in doing that. I didn’t know how to say no to this. And that’s how I ended up having an absolutely wonderful day with two kind strangers who turned out to be just the right company I was hoping to go watch a sunset in silence with. The best part was that when I saw one faint rainbow that day I told myself how I had never seen a full double rainbow and guess what I saw the very next day! Yes, you are right. A full sized double rainbow!

Such small miracles left me feeling extremely grateful for every second of my life. It helped me realize what truly makes me happy and content. Yes, I would crave for some city food that I kept seeing on Instagram and would miss spending time with my close friends & family but then I would be reminded of the everydayness of my life here in Chaminoo and the cravings would just go away! Which brings me to the lesson I learnt that

The Universe is always listening and which is why we should never hesitate from asking for what we want in our lives because you never know when the next miracle might happen in your life. So believe in yourself and don’t shy away from putting out in the universe a message of what you wish to manifest and live within your life.

I am currently learning to practicing the power of manifestation and I can’t wait to see how it turns out for me!

6. It is good to take a blind leap of faith and jump into uncertainty with your intuition.

Once in a while, it’s always a good idea to take a leap of faith in life. It’s okay to feel that things might not work out the way you want them to before you throw yourself off the cliff of choices & decisions. But don’t let this limit you from putting yourself out there for all kinds of things to hit & bump into you in life. How do you expect to get where you wish to be if you don’t prepare yourself to take a few risks.

When things finally start working out for someone, we as outsiders will only see that pedestal of success & happiness that the person is currently standing on. But what we fail to notice is how they got to that place just as we fail to count the number of times things went bad for them, decisions turned out to be wrong, disappointment & despair surrounded their dreams with the chance of failure always lurking around the corner for them as they dodged it all, embraced it all, fought it all with each step they took a leap of faith only to finally reach a place they had wished to be at before the jump.

The sooner we realize this whole picture and understand that everything good and worthwhile comes to those who know that life is nothing but a series of one blind leap of faith after another the sooner will we be able to reach not where we want to be but where we are meant to be.

When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense. Because you only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.

So let’s together put what’s reached its end behind us and learn how to sense that which awaits us.

7. Of understanding turbulence and Heraclitus’s Universal Law of Flux

My home in Chamba was a 100-year-old mud and clay house built over various streams and a river flowing 10 steps away from my room. Initially with the sound of flowing water coming from every direction and echoing like a snooze button that goes off every second of the day and night I thought I was going to go deaf with all that noise. Yes, I am addressing the otherwise soothing sound of flowing water as noise. As surprising as it was for me back then, I was in a confused state with the way I was reacting to my proximity to a river flowing in full zeal.

I would tell myself everyday that the river is just 10 steps away, I can go there anytime. But it took me a month to finally go down to the riverside. I clearly remember that morning I woke up, went out, looked at the mountains staring back at me the same way they did every other morning with a realization of the “nowness” of the place I was in. But that morning it felt different to me. I could sense something inside me that was urging me to walk down those 10 steps and go to the riverbed. And so I did.

Trying not to let the sound of the river overwhelm me and change my mind. I slowly took a step followed by another in the clear water of the river letting the cold current send a quiver up my feet, deep into my veins making its way to my chest and finally all the way up to my brain. I stood like that with both my feet in the river trying to let the soles of my feet adjust and find balance on the river stones below them. Letting the energies of the elements of earth and water wash away the dead weight from the flesh on my feet that I had been carrying with me all these years of walking, falling, crawling and running. As if trying to get to a riverbank to find recluse for my tired soul and see an image reflecting like a mirror with the truths of life. A truth that talked about a river that forever flows and a turbulence that causes the flux to its flow.

I sat quietly next to the riverside for some time, meditated for a while and then came back to my room to go on with my daily tasks. But something had changed in me that day. I felt like I had been shown a way to carve my way out of the turbulence that was causing an obstruction in my flow of life. As I continued to repeat this little routine everyday of going down to the riverside and spending time next to it. Much like two rivers and old lovers who were separated by the flow of the river had finally found a way to re-join their course once again and flow as a mighty single river once again.

The more time I spent next to the river the more I started thinking about its nature. I tried to understand this mystery of finding flow by indulging in some mindful painting sessions. What flowed from these sessions were abstract thoughts that I would blurt out on paper after finishing my painting while I was still under the influence of my subconscious and mindful state of mind. I am still trying to put these thought jigsaw pieces together and make this dialogue more structured but I am sharing below whatever I have managed to articulate so far. Let me know if you can relate to it or would like to help me take this dialogue forward by contributing your thoughts on it.  

14th October 2018

Distraction from Turbulence

Turbulence in the flow of this river called life is inevitable but that must not stop us from simply flowing or being. The rock we find on our way forward triggers the friction, the chaos, the rapids that go on to create an obstacle in the otherwise gentle flow of the river. But then why does the sound of the rushing, gurgling and flowing river sound soothing to our ears and soul? How does an obstruction to the flow of one source of life be the remedy to appeasing that which is stuck in our lives?

Since turbulence is inevitable one must learn how to cave out a way over it. Like the river does with the rocks it finds in its course and thus producing the healing sound of flowing water and nature at its best in order to help us sense and learn from the same about our tired souls trying to realign its course to a path meant just for us to walk on. The sound of the flowing water is thus nothing but a distraction from the turbulence in its flow and course.

Universal Flux

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river  and he’s not the same man.”

– Heraclitus

Heraclitus said all things pass and nothing stays and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.

Thus suggesting the inherent impermanence of the nature of everything in this Universe. Everything is shifting and changing around us every passing moment. I am never the same person I was yesterday. So I must learn to not let the past experiences and inhibitions guide my current thoughts and decisions in a situation that has come into my life for a second time around. I must therefore forget all that I thought I knew and understood about that particular situation or person from my previous encounter with them, because owing to universal flux neither me nor them are the same in this very moment thus freeing us from having to stepping into the same river twice. Because it is not the same river and you are not the same person as you were when you stepped in it the first time around.

River of Life & Flux

We can say that the flux and flow happen simultaneously at the same time without ever stopping. That is the law of nature and life. Then why do we feel stuck at times, unable to move forward despite the law of flux and flow. This is where the rocks in the river and understanding turbulence in flow comes in the picture.

The rock obstructs the flow but does it really obstruct it? In some cases, it does. But if you watch the flow of the river carefully and over a long period of time you will notice how overtime the flow learns how to cut and carve through the obstacle and learns how to overcome it to then continue flowing and doing the same with other obstacles on its way.

The sound created with this i.e. the river carving its way (flow) over the rocks produces the sounds of turbulence that seems to be extremely soothing, peaceful and healing to our ears and we call it the sound of the flowing river. Not understanding that it is the sound of turbulence and because we only see the river (life) we attribute the beauty to it instead of doing it to the turbulence who is the actual cause of the obstruction of the flow that eventually creates the sound. Turbulence in the flow of this river called life is inevitable but that must not stop us from simply flowing or being.

The way I see it, the sound of flowing water is nothing but a soothing distraction from the turbulence in its flow and course. Which like I mentioned earlier is inevitable so why feel disheartened when we too can learn to carve a way with our flow like the river does with its obstacles and let this process start the resonance of healing in our lives as well.  

Similarly, if we learn how to treat the turbulence in our lives as an opportunity to learn how to carve our way over it and flow despite its existence in our life, our actions, words and being will also produce the same healing sound of nature that the river does when it starts flowing over the turbulence in its flow.

But what is turbulence? How does one understand it? Let alone overcome it?

And with this question I end my blog about the things I learnt on my first job as an employed traveller. I hope you had a nice time reading it. Because I sure did while writing it. I would love to read your thoughts on it in the comments below. Also if you would want to share with me something you learnt on your job or life which was similar to this then go ahead and write to me in the comment section. I am all ears for it.

Until then stick with people who pull out the magic in you and not the madness. Because they aren’t lying when they say that your vibe attracts your tribe.

Four ways to explore Banaras beyond the ghats

Four ways to explore Banaras beyond the ghats

If asked to come up with a tagline for Varanasi most would agree to go with, “Chaotic city scenes made peaceful by the Ghats!” Because that is exactly how this 3000-year-old city unfolds for most of its people. The moment anyone starts talking about the city of Varanasi, people instantly picture a scene by the Ghats with boat rides & yogi babas puffing away clouds of smoke from their chillams & the magical sounds of the evening Ganga Aarti at Dashaswamedh Ghat.

But that’s not all it is about! Varanasi has so much more to offer to anyone who is not afraid of getting lost in this age-old city & is therefore open to exploring & experiencing Banaras beyond the Ghats! In this article that’s exactly what we are going to do. Help you explore the spiritual capital & culturally rich city in India.

1. Banaras ki Galliyan

Banaras ki galliyan are in a stark contrast from the vibe of its main roads which would always be overcrowded with tourists, locals, rickshawallahs, bulls, tuk-tuks always honking non stop like their lives depend on it. But if you thought the by lanes of Mumbai were confusing, then you need to try out the alleys of Banaras which is confusing like a set of a maze, makes the by lanes of Mumbai look like a child’s play! It almost feels as if these lanes are specially designed to make you feel lost at each turn because you will have no idea where you will end up at, which is the whole point behind taking them. If you are lucky enough you might even stumble upon the lesser known temples & kunds of Banaras which are a lovely spot to spend the afternoon unwinding with your thoughts. In these lanes, you will actually get to see the lives of the people who call this city home unwind in front of you. Don’t be surprised if the locals end up inviting you into their homes for chai! The possibilities of what you see & experience in these lanes are endless which is why when in Banaras it is always best to ditch the main roads every once in a while! And just when you think you have seen enough you can ask people around for the direction to the Ghats that will get you back to the busy main roads & if that doesn’t work out, you always have Google Maps to your rescue!

2. Salivate for Salvation

Photo by Irynka Hromotska

A promise of salvation of the soul is one of the reasons why Varanasi is so popular among the Hindus. It is believed that anyone who is cremated in this city will directly attain moksha & be eternally free from the cycle of rebirth. But if you believe in Salvation as being a moment of pure bliss then look no further than the street food of Banaras! Being a food paradise for vegetarians, even the fussiest person will end up loving it! When in Banaras one should not miss out on any of the dairy products because the milk here is to die for! Banaras has the largest variety of flavoured lassi & end number of shops will be selling them. But for the best lassi experience, one should head out to The Blue Lassi shop near Manikarnika Ghat. On the way back from your evening aarti at Dashaswamedh Ghat don’t forget to stop at Kashi Chaat Bhandar that opens only in the evening for people to gorge non-stop on their chaat. Definitely try the famous tamaatar chaat that you only find in Banaras. This will definitely get you salivating for salvation. Some might find it a bit spicy but there is no spice that can’t be handled with a plate of dahi vada or gulaab jamun! For those early risers, there is nothing better than kachodi-puri-sabzi & mallaiyu for breakfast on the roads. For a taste of the special veg thali or litti chokha look no further than Baati Chokha or Keshari Restaurant in Godowlia market. But wait that’s not it. How can you talk about Banaras & not mention chai? Though almost every chaiwallah has secretly mastered the art of making the perfect chai still one should definitely go try the special “Liquor Chai” from Tinku Chai walla at Assi Ghat. I’m not giving any more spoilers on what to expect here. It is something that you should find out on your own. Lastly, its almost a sin to not try the Apple pie at Vatika Pizzeria in Assi ghat if you are in Banaras & while you are at it, try out their Italian pizzas as well.

3. Lallapura Weaver’s Colony

Now we have all heard & seen the fine craftsmanship of the Banarasi silk sarees & brocade. So how can you visit the original hub of this craft & not visit the weaver’s colony? In order to truly appreciate Indian textile one has to experience the dedication, passion & long hours of hard work that goes behind the expert craftsmanship of weaving one yard of silk.

Being a Muslim colony in a religious city of Hindus, Lallapura will change your perception of Varanasi completely & make you fall all the more in love with it! From the moment you walk into the colony, you can see how different yet same this neighbourhood is from the rest of Varanasi. Ask around for Farooq Sheikh’s shop near the madrasa. He manages the one of the production & export house of silk products from Banaras. They are always open to taking people on a free guided tour of the weaver’s colony, showing the whole process from design to end product! The sight & sounds of the looms with its silken threads weaving beautiful pure brocade textile is something that always leaves one awestruck! This place is a must visit for people interested in documenting the weavers or in shopping for some silk sarees & dupattas at decent affordable prices. This place is also a street photographer’s paradise where the subject himself stops you to come take their photo & offers new visuals of one of the most photographed city in India.

4. Go back in time & explore the birthplace of Buddhism with a day trip to Sarnath

Just a half hour bumpy drive leaves behind the crowded, loud and dusty roads of Banaras & brings you to Sarnath, the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, a place where Shreyansanatha, the 11th Jain Tirthankara was born along with also being associated with an important benchmark in our Indian history with Mauryan Emperor Ashoka being deeply moved by the place’s sense of peace and building the famous Ashoka Pillar at the spot which can now be visited in Sarnath along with the Ashoka Chakra.

Apart from this Sarnath is also an important Buddhist Pilgrimage destination among monks from worldwide visiting the various modern Buddhist temples, Japanese monastery & stupas built around. Sarnath is also visited to explore the sacred ruins that this small town has to offer while taking a long stroll in the beautiful, serene gardens which also happens to be a well preserved archaeological excavation site housing what remains of a monastery, stupa & Jain temple. Which is why a day trip to Sarnath while watching the sunset & monks walking around chanting Buddham Saranam Gachhami. Dhamam Saranam Gachhami. Sangam Saranam Gachhami,” (I seek refuge at the feet of the Buddha. I seek refuge in reality. I seek refuge in the order of monks.) is just what is needed for those unable to find peace & solace in the tourist & pilgrim flooded Banaras.

The secrets of backpacking solo across Ladakh on a budget

The secrets of backpacking solo across Ladakh on a budget

Before I got the chance to visit Ladakh last year, I had no idea about what a road trip & backpacking across Ladakh would be like for a solo female traveller like myself as it was my first time backpacking solo for as long as a month. I used to think doing a road trip to Ladakh would mean burning a huge hole in my pocket. Well, no one can be blamed for thinking like that all thanks to social media and it is over the moon advertisements about tour packages for a trip to Ladakh, which might not really be the ideal choice for someone trying to backpack on a budget. But fear not my dear dreamers, I am here to answer all your questions regarding backpacking to Ladakh.

Before I get started I would like to make clear that the information shared in this article is most relevant to anyone trying to plan a backpacking budget trip to Ladakh solo (can be relevant for a group of backpackers as well). Also, I would suggest that you get your mind rid of all the if(s) & but(s) attached to the various possibilities that could go wrong on the road when backpacking solo. As fun & adventurous it might seem on the outside, backpacking isn’t for everyone. Being a solo backpacker on the road comes with its own set of difficult & fun times. So before reading on, I want you to ask yourself if you are prepared for embracing whatever may come your way on the road or not. If the answer is yes, then welcome to the solo backpackers’ community! Here you will make the best memories of your life and finally get a chance to experience the wonders of what I address as “the kindness of strangers” you meet on the road. Lastly, you have to understand that backpacking solo in Ladakh is:

  • Totally safe for both men & women.
  • When I say “cheap” I mean lesser than the prices compared to those crazy tours with its skyrocket prices you see on social media.
  • Ladakh is now more accessible to explore even for someone who has never been there before.
  • Lastly, if you are planning a backpacking trip to Ladakh with friends then choose your company wisely, as you don’t want to miss out on the best & cheapest way to do it because of the whims & fancies of your friends (well someone had to say it).

Now that the preliminary advice has been given let’s move on to the real information about how I managed to bust the myths about travelling to Ladakh and how after reading this, you can do the same!

On reaching Ladakh

There are two routes for reaching Ladakh; Manali to Leh & Srinagar to Leh. I am going to be discussing the options you have to reach Leh when taking the first route.

Manali – Leh route

The Manali – Leh HPTDC bus services that take two days to reach Leh and costs somewhere around Rs.2400 per seat one way which includes the accommodation cost for the overnight stay in Keylong along with dinner & breakfast meals. It leaves Manali in the morning around 11 am & reaches Keylong in the evening and continues the journey the next day to finally reach Leh in the evening. This is advisable for those who are in no particular hurry to reach Ladakh and would, therefore, prefer taking a halt to also let their bodies get acclimatized to the increasing altitude as you go higher. If you want, you can catch this bus from Keylong as well where it starts at 5 a.m. every day and charges around Rs. 480.

Delhi – Manali – Leh Bus services operated by HRTC costs usually around Rs.1300 and takes a travel time of 35 hours give and take, leaving Delhi at 3:45 pm and reaching Keylong the next night where you halt overnight and then reach Leh by 7 p.m. the next evening.

If you feel the bus ride is not for you then you can book yourself a seat in the tempo travellers that are operated by the various tour travels in Manali & Leh (just ask at the bus stand in Manali about where you can book a seat in a tempo traveller going to Leh). A seat costs around Rs.2000 and takes a travel time of around 16-20 hours depending on the road conditions. Besides being a safe option to travel as a solo traveller, it is also the cheapest & fastest way to reach Leh. The same option can be chosen for your return by booking a ticket between Leh-Manali from the Ladakh Mai Cab/Tempo Operator Co-Operative Ltd situated near the new bus stand in Leh. The tempo traveller leaves every day at 5 A.M and takes the same time to reach Manali.

If you are a group of friends travelling together then you can look at booking your own taxi from Manali which usually costs somewhere around Rs. 16,000 to reach Leh in one day (provided you aren’t ripped off by the tour agent). Contact Mr. Chering who operates a taxi rental in Old Manali. He is a good old man who would love to help you out. (contact details at the end of the article.)

Traveller tip: In order to get a good deal during your travels, always be good to people you meet and strike a genuine conversation with the locals or with the people managing the guesthouse/hostel/hotel/café etc. where ever you are. Treat everyone you happen to meet on your travels with kindness & dignity as you never know who might be able to be the saviour of your day by offering help & best deals in the most unimaginable way.

The same buses & shared taxi services run between Leh to Manali and you can get the latest information about the timings & revised fares for the season from the bus operator/bus stand in Leh/taxi driver once you reach Leh.

Staying options in Manali, Leh and around

Old Manali

With its hippie charm, Old Manali has a lot of backpacker hostel options available to choose from as per your vibe & location preferences. If you are not travelling solo then I highly recommend checking out Hotel Relax near Dylan’s Coffee House in Old Manali (contact detail at the end of the article). This place is a hidden treasure right in the middle of the busy old Manali market and has its own open-air restaurant called Bon Appetite that is run by Sunny, a really cool & helpful chap. The reason why I recommend staying in this place is that the rate for a room here is same as a hostel dorm bed, the staff is always ready to help you with the right information and contacts of people who can help you book a taxi/bus etc. among other things in Leh and around. But if you are rude or too cool for your own good, then you can say goodbye to the kindness of strangers!

Zostel Leh

Zostel is the reason why I was able to go for my first solo trip two years back which is why when one day while returning home from the market, I saw a sign in bright shade of orange with ZOSTEL written on it being put on a new building in my otherwise low key neighborhood in Leh, my happiness knew no bounds. I was happy with the thought that the amazing team behind Zostel is working every day and making places like Ladakh more accessible to backpackers on a budget! If you are someone who has never stayed at a hostel before & are a bit apprehensive about booking your stay at one, then you have to go read The five reasons why backpacker hostels are the perfect pit stop for a solo traveller. Also, hurry up before Zostel Leh get fully booked for the summer.

Guest Houses/Home Stays

When in Leh there are so many guest houses to choose from but if you are travelling in a group of 3 or more people then you should definitely try getting a room at the Blue Sky Guest House (next to the Lamdon Senior Secondary School in Leh). It is run by a lovely local family who is the most helpful hosts one could ever ask for. They are always more than willing to help their fellow guests in getting the best deals with taxis/bike rentals among other things. Call in advance to check for availability. (Contact details at the end of article)

If you are travelling solo & looking for a cheap guest house, then you can find lots of decent options to choose from in the lower changspa lane starting from Rs.500 onwards. It’s a busy little lane with various cafes, restaurants, bike rentals & travel tour shops all co-existing in one never-ending lane. It is a convenient location to live in as a lot of eating places are available to choose from as per your budget & mood. Its walking distance from the main market & has few lanes leading to more guest houses that are cut away from the hustle and bustle of the street & the vehicles. I won’t disclose the exact locations, because where is the fun in that? As backpacking means not having to worry about prior bookings & tickets, its all about going with the flow & trying to adapt with the “we will see what happens as we go” attitude wherever you travel. It is always more exciting this way, not knowing where you might end up at by the end of the day.

If you plan to spend an overnight in other regions of Ladakh then worry not about prior bookings as there are plenty of options to choose from according to your budget and liking wherever you go, all you have to do is explore until you find your humble abode for the night or just ask for suggestions from your current hosts/taxi drivers/bus operators or pretty much anyone. Most people are genuine and helpful with their suggestions and not looking to make a profit or a personal cut out of the place they recommend.

Of local buses/shared taxi services and Inner Line permits in Ladakh

Unlike earlier times, Ladakh is now well connected by either JKSTRC buses, private local buses or local shared taxis and most of the places are now made easily accessible all thanks to the hardworking officials and workers of Border Road Organization who work day in and out in harsh weather and altitude to build & repair these roads so that we can live our dream of doing a road trip to Ladakh. The above-mentioned modes of transport are undoubtedly the cheapest option available and one can easily find out the bus schedule & timings from the bus stand in Leh or take a photo of the bus schedule chart.

If travelling in a large group, you can also book yourself a tourist taxi from the many local tours travels in Leh, but booking an entire taxi or even booking a single seat in a tourist taxi as opposed to a local shared taxi usually falls very expensive. So choose wisely! Also if all fails then you always have good old hitchhiking to your rescue! The reason why I was able to survive in Ladakh for so long on a budget was that I had cut my travel expenses to very low by always opting for local commute/hitchhiking/walking like a true backpacker! Never did I ever feel unsafe or encountered weird people while asking for a lift from strangers in Ladakh. In fact, a lot of time I would shamelessly ask for a lift from the locals in Leh whenever I had to go to the bus stand or market and didn’t feel like walking that much or wanted to save money by not taking a taxi to go someplace inside the city. Sometimes people would be ever so kind that they would drop me wherever I had to go, wait until my work was done & then drop me back safely to my homestay.

Image source:

Next, let’s talk about Inner Line permits and everything you should know about them. Inner Line is an official travel document issued by the government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period. For more information on how to file an inner line permit and which areas are covered under it, you can visit

Image source:

Next, I would suggest that once you reach Leh, you take a day or two to get acclimatized to the high altitude before you start exploring & sightseeing beyond the city of Leh. In those two days, you can go to the bus stand find out the timetable & frequencies of the local buses or talk to the local taxi drivers & gather details about whether they cover the places on your list in their routes & what is the fair for it. Once you have all the information about the buses/local taxis then plan how you wish to spend your time in Ladakh, list out places you wish to cover, mark the places in that list that can be reached by bus/local taxi & fix the dates & number of days you wish to stay at each place.

Once this is ready, you can then get your inner line permit issued at the District Magistrate’s Office. For more information about filling an Inner Line Permit, you can contact Mr. Nima Tamang who works at Mountain Trails (Contact details at the end of article). He helped me out with my inner line permits & even got me a last-minute seat in a local taxi going to Nubra Valley (without an inner line permit but shhhh…don’t tell anyone).

Lastly, I have a piece of secret information that I am going to reveal to you right now that most of you might find hard to believe at first! What if I told you that you can book a last minute flight in Leh and fly between Leh to Delhi at fares as low as Rs.6000. Yes, you heard it right! Before I explain to you how this work, I have to share the story behind how I found this cool travel hack.

One day I was strolling in the local Leh market and if you are observant like I was, then you will come across flyers & handmade posters hanging in the market advertising really cheap flight tickets to Delhi & Mumbai on the following days in the coming week. At first, I thought it was too good to be true, until one day I decided to go and check out the back story of those flyers. It turned out those flyers were 100% legit & that’s how I managed to get myself a flight ticket to Delhi for as low as Rs.6000 two days before I left Leh and this was in the first week of August which is considered the peak season in Ladakh! Unfortunately, I lost the contact details of the travel agency I had found in the market, but you can go find many such travel operators in the market in Leh city. Just look for the ridiculously low airfares flyers & posters and walk straight right in!

The reason why taking a flight back to Delhi is a good option to choose is because even if you do decide to reach Delhi through road via Manali using the most affordable option, you will end up spending somewhere over Rs.4000 including your shared taxi to Manali + overnight halt in Manali + Food + Bus to Delhi + Miscellaneous costs, while also taking a total of two and a half day’s worth of bumpy rides & backaches to reach Delhi. So if you wish to gift yourself a little bit of comfort then you can opt for flying out of Leh using the hack I just gave you!

Now let’s move on to,

The less touristy places you can cover on your Ladakh trip for a more authentic & traditional experience


A village which is 125Km from Leh on the Leh-Srinagar Highway houses one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, dating back to the 10th century. Local legend has it that the place was once a lake that dried up. Besides visiting the monastery, you can also check out MoonLand which is a strange but beautiful landscape next to the monastery. Some say the soil there is very similar to that on the moon, which is all the more reason to go visit this place. Any vehicle going from Leh to Kargil, or on to Srinagar, will invariably pass through Lamayuru. State transport buses from Leh bus stand to Lamayuru leave at 08:00 and 14:00; however, it’s always wiser to visit the bus stand a day before to confirm the timings. If you wish to spend the night there, then you can easily find decent homestays to stay in Lamayuru.


Another beautiful village situated between Leh and Lamayuru. Its set beside the Indus River and its main attraction is the fabulous Alchi Gompa or Buddhist monastic complex. The bus from Leh to Kargil stops on the main road near the bridge where the Alchi road turns off, so there is a 4 km walk from there to the village which you can either walk or hitch a ride. While you are in Alchi I will strongly suggest you spend the night in the village if possible (affordable guesthouses are available) and if not then definitely do not forget to eat the apricots that are in season during the peak tourist season, they look fantastic and make the whole village come alive with colour and are the juiciest apricots I have ever tasted in my life. When leaving, the bus to Kargil stops at 07:00 at the bridge and it takes approximately 1h 20min to walk to the bridge from Alchi or just see if anyone can give you a life till the bridge.

Hemis Shukpachan

A small traditional village in Sham valley in Ladakh. It has often been compared to being the closest example of the mythical Shangri-La and a place where the locals are warm & welcoming and the crowds non-existent. I was fortunate enough to spend my 23rd birthday here in this village far from the crowds of Ladakh. While visiting this village, I would highly recommend you to stay at Pharma Paa guest house to get a taste of traditional Ladakhi village life. The road is in good condition and it is a comfortable pleasant 4-hour drive from Leh where one can get to enjoy the spectacular views from the Tsermanchan-La Pass of the plenty of Apricot orchards and beautiful villages on the way. Buses leave on every alternate day from Leh for this place & leave back for Leh on the following morning. If you wish to extend your stay, then you can either wait till the next time the bus comes back or walk/hitch a ride till the Leh-Srinagar highway & get a bus or a ride back to Leh from there.


Opened to tourist in 2009, Turtuk is situated on a road fairly less travelled beyond Nubra Valley. It is a virgin destination for people who seek peace and an interaction with a tribal community of Ladakh. The local tribe, Balti, follows its age-old customs in their lifestyle and speak a language which is just spoken and not written. India’s last major settlement of India before the Line of Control beyond which lies Pakistan controlled Gilgit-Baltistan region, Turtuk is predominantly Muslim but does have a couple of gompas overlooking the Shyok river. The inhabitants of this picturesque village of Turtuk speak a very ancient language known as Balti which is a mix of Persian and old Tibetan sounds no longer used in modern Tibetan. The mixed ancestry & political history shapes the culture of this village that sets it apart from any other region in Ladakh & is also the largest apricot producing village in the whole of Ladakh region. The incredibly hospitable locals would make you an offer without you asking. Local buses in Leh leave from the bus stand for Turtuk every Saturday at 6:00. If you do not wish to go back to Leh in the same bus on the following day, then you can take a local taxi/hitch a ride till Hunder and then take another local taxi/hitch a ride to Leh from there.

Besides these the usual places that you should visit include the following:

Pangong Tso

Tibetan for “high grassland lake” and popularly known as the 3 Idiots lake. Local bus for Pangong leaves every Saturday & Sunday and takes about 7 hours to reach. Plenty of staying options are available to choose from based on your taste & budget. Though I would suggest you take something a little further away from where the lake starts, as that is usually overcrowded with tourists & crazy 3 Idiots fans.

Tso Moriri

A high altitude lake situated near the small village of Korzok in Chumathang region is one of India’s highest permanent villages at an altitude of 4572mts. Krozok means “middle of the mountains and here one can see how the Changpa tribe live in this quaint & beautiful village. The local bus leaves for Korzok from Leh on every 10th, 20th & 30th of a month & leaves back for Leh on the following morning. Miss the bus back to Leh only if you wish to be adventurous enough to stay for more than one day in Korzok and wait until you manage to get a free ride back to Leh from a local or from the tourist cabs that frequently visit Korzok.

Remember how I told you that a genuine conversation with the locals/taxi drivers can go a long way in helping you. Times like this call for you to remember this & never shy from talking to anyone you come across & asking them for help. Also, there are a lot of homestay/guest house options to choose from. So do not hesitate from staying at least for one night while visiting Korzok. Also, the bus ride to Korzok hands down offers one of the most beautiful & awe-inspiring views, so definitely do not miss this one.

Nubra Valley (Diskit & Hunder)

A place where the deep-cut wild Shayok and Nubra/Siachen River meet to offer tremendous scenery on a grand scale, with green oasis villages surrounded by thrillingly stark slopes and arid mountains. Nubra is the perfect example of a high altitude cold desert with sand dunes & two-humped Bactrian camels grazing & chomping on the widespread forest of seabuckthorn in Hunder. The main village, Diskit, is home to the 12 floored Diskit Monastery which was built in 1420 AD and the largest statue of Buddha in Ladkah that overlooks the mighty Nubra Valley. It is advisable to spend some time exploring the mountain trail that starts from the top of the Monastery to get the best view of the entire Nubra Valley right up to Hunder.

Local shared taxis leave every day from Leh to Diskit via the famous Khardung la pass. But it is advisable to visit the taxi stand near the polo ground in Leh and find out the timings & if possible book a seat a day in advance. After reaching Diskit, you can easily hitch a ride till Hunder where you can spend the night at the various camps, guesthouses. I would suggest you try finding a room in Galaxy Guest House, it is situated in a quiet little corner away from the crowd and has a wonderful staff who can help you hitch a ride back to Leh the next day or else just ask around if there is an empty seat for you in someone’s car/taxi. (Contact details at the end of article)

Okay, so now that I have given you enough information to start planning or not plan & just pack your bag and leave for Ladakh, you seem good to go! Once you are there just talk to as many people as you can in order to get a better idea about the current scene with inner line permits, bus timings, information regarding certain routes etc. Also do not shy away from striking conversations with strangers and exploring new places if you find a cheap way to reach those place as you never know if the person next to you in a café or bus might offer you a free ride to a really cool place or even better, something from your list!

Kind strangers you can contact during your trip:

  • Hotel Relax, Old Manali: Sunny 9418177309, 9418355640
  • Chering Sahab, Taxi Rental Old Manali: +91 9418691119
  • Blue Sky Guest House Leh: Near lamdon school Leh, 095966 56757
  • Nima Tamang, Mountain Trails Leh: 21-26 Lhmao Khang, LBA complex, debitu, Leh. +91 1982 258855
  • Galaxy Guest House, Near Hotel Karma Inn, Hunder Nubra Valley: 094199 96372
From restlessness to restfulness, the journey of a reunion with the self

From restlessness to restfulness, the journey of a reunion with the self

For a very long time now I was what they call as a wanderer and seeker. Someone who was filled to the brim with questions & doubts about myself, my reality & the endless desires of my heart, which most of the times would entangle my heart’s strings each time I tried to understand what it wants. In the summer of 2017, I finished my masters from NIFT Mumbai. Having realized that I was not mentally & emotionally ready to jump into the next phase of my life & seek a job. I decided to take some time off & travel all by myself. Why travel, well because I have always found myself at peace with my own thoughts whenever I’m on the move and I just wanted time in life to simple live while I figured some things in my heart, mind, and soul and understand what they were trying to tell me.

This was a year ago. In all those months I tried to do some soul searching wherever my life was taking me. I trusted & had faith in it to lead me to a place where I am supposed to end up at eventually. A place that will help me gain clarity about all that was troubling me. I adopted the philosophy where I would learn how to embrace whatever life was throwing at me & try to see the lesson it was trying to teach me about life. You could say I was blindly following my heart and following on the path it showed me, irrespective of how foolish, impractical & unwise doing that seemed to everyone around me. I became the very flow of the river called life, that knew nothing besides simply flowing.

Meanwhile, I had been trying really hard to get into meditation. I thought it would help me calm my thoughts, rest my restless mind & help me find peace. But wherever I went, I tried to start meditating and each time I would fail & be unsuccessful at adopting it in my life. Be it applying for the 10 days Vipassana in Leh but never getting to attend it or trying to find salvation by the Ghats of Banaras & failing or considering trying out meditation amidst the hippies of Arambol in Goa. I tried it all. But was unable to experience meditation. Then in March 2018, I happened to be traveling to Uttarakhand for a period of one month and it changed my entire life.

Earlier I used to live life & do things with an open mind but that has now changed to me doing things with no mind, all thanks to a conversation I had on my way to the Himalayan Ashram in Satkhol. I seldom make any plans or an itinerary before traveling to a new place. I instead prefer reaching & trying to understand the place, its people & see what it has to offer me in terms of new experience & places to see. It was exactly this attitude that made my path cross with brother Pranjal, an abhiyasi of Sahaj Marg also known as Heartfulness Meditation, who happened to be part of the organising team of volunteers for the Friend’s & Family program held at the Satkhol Himalayan Ashram which is a three day meditation retreat for new people to come experience & learn to meditate on the heart. Though I was told that getting an entry at the last minute is next to impossible as there is usually a waiting list for over a year just to get in that ashram but somehow I ended up getting a spot as a volunteer cum new abhiyasi in the programme at the last minute. I would call this as a significant coincidence because when things are meant to happen they will cross your path and all you have to do is recognize it for what it truly is & do all you can to grab it & embrace it. That is what I did.

Forest walks & learning how to relax

The whole experience of living in the ashram in a small village called Satkhol that translates as, the opening of the truth in English, was almost transcendental for me. From the moment I finished my first sitting & Masterclass with Daaji, I got to experience a small glimpse into that which I had been seeking all this while. I immediately took a liking towards the practice of meditating on the heart. Over the next few days I got to spend my time doing things that I had never done before as a solo traveller, i.e. travel/explore with a very big & diverse group of people. Everything right from waking up at the crack of dawn to listening to the all the beautiful bird sounds, practicing yoga, meditating, exploring the ashram, enjoying the long forest walks to doing interactive & experience sharing activities amidst the peace & tranquility of nature taught me something new or helped me look at old things/thoughts in a new light. Before meeting my fellow abhiyasi(s) or the seekers of the self, I used to think that I won’t find people who will understand me, now i feel how foolish I was for thinking like that.

In my life I have often been tagged as a rebel without a cause & an extremist of all kinds by people around me, but after heartfulness I realised how its always best to learn how to balance the two extremes of everything in life because only once we aim at achieving harmony & stability in our heart & mind can we even think of getting rid of the restlessness in our soul that knows nothing but to wander, in search of answers to its questions. After a very long time in my life, I learned how to pray again as I realized that my work here is not to question or doubt or be angry. Instead, my work is to simply surrender my self to my heart completely & in doing so I would not just be submitting to its will but would even be submitting to my ego & my old ways in order to give way to the new me.

With the help of heartfulness meditation, I got to experience & learn how to reconnect with my self and how to get rid of all the doubts & restlessness inside me. I learned the importance of balance in life. I realized how I had been wandering everywhere trying to look for answers in people around me or in every place I traveled to, without realizing that all this while all I had to do to get those answers was to simply just close my eyes, look inside and see what my heart had to say to me. After just three days of heartfulness meditation, I was able to feel my life changing for the greater good of my existence. I learnt how the feeling of completeness within can be experienced with just your self. How loneliness was different from solitude. He who seeks the answers of his restless soul in anything & everything besides him is clouded with loneliness, whereas he who seeks for those very things inside of him is blessed with solitude. I was able to understand that humans should be able to see themselves & things around them for as they are and not for what they want it to be. I learnt how each one of us has equal amount of darkness and light inside of us and how it shapes our lives depends on our ability to choose either of them. I chose to see the light inside me and I chose to see the things it showed me in the mirror of my heart. Once i was able to see, accept & surrender to all that i discovered inside of me it felt as if after a long journey with it’s ups and downs I had somehow arrived at a place where it felt as if I was always meant to reach from the very beginning of my journey. As if all the events of my life that I had experienced in my 23 years of existence before the F&F program, all happened with the sole purpose of bringing me to Satkhol & introducing me to heartfulness and thus bringing me from the state of restlessness over to the state of restfulness that went on to become the journey of my reunion with the self.

Five reasons why backpacker hostels are the perfect pit stop for a solo traveller

Five reasons why backpacker hostels are the perfect pit stop for a solo traveller

It had been a month since I took a break from my travelling and decided to move back to Delhi. Soon I was craving for the feeling that comes with being a traveller on the road. So when I was invited by life to come stay for few days at The Hosteller which is an up and coming chain of backpacker hostels for travellers, I just could not say no to that offer. Since I was running low on my travel fund, I decided to go for their hostel in Delhi over their other properties in the mountains. I had stayed at various hostels before this but still this time was different from all my other experiences in the past. Firstly, because it was my first time staying at The Hosteller amidst its comfortable & chill vibe and secondly never had I ever experienced staying in a hostel in a city where I was currently living in instead of travelling or passing through. At first it felt strange but slowly as I started having conversations & making plans with the other travellers staying there, I started feeling comfortable in the very essence of my being. For all the three days that I stayed at that hostel, I got to experience & discover a whole new side to myself. If I look back at my time at The Hosteller, I am really glad they invited me to come stay with them as it gave me the chance to meet other travellers, exchange our thoughts and learnings which helped me remind myself of the reasons why I started travelling in my life and what made me choose this way of living life as an unemployed traveller exactly a year ago. The reason was as simple as wanting to learn from my travels & just letting this journey be guided by intuition & the voice of my heart and see where it leads me and what do I find or discover about life & myself at the end of it. Which is why I always keep encouraging people to travel as much as they can and try travelling with yourself. Because unless you do not give yourself the chance to be in your own company, you might not be able to uncover the mystery of life and understand your purpose in it.

Often people ask me about my first solo trip, how I planned it, how did I manage to ensure about my safety as a solo female traveller & stick to a budget as a student all at the same time. The first solo trip like all my other trips was unplanned & really spontaneous. I had no idea how these trips were done as up until then backpacking solo existed only as a cool concept that I would see other people doing and I just knew it in my heart that this was an experience I had to try out at least once. It has been two years to that and now I am madly in love with travelling & backpacking solo!

Having interned before with a chain of hostel during my college years in LSR I knew how these hostels operated which is why I ended up travelling to a backpacker hostel located in the middle of the tea plantations in the Nilgiri forest on my first solo trip. At that time, I wasn’t really sure about how good the place would be for a solo traveller but I was 100% sure that my decision of staying at a backpacker hostel would ensure that I have an amazing trip. Want to know why? Then read on to know my reasons on why I always prefer backpacker hostels over any other accommodation as a solo (female) traveller:

  1. You call it cheap accommodation; the hostels call it traveller friendly prices:

Photo by Irynka Hromotska

Most hostels aim at providing affordable living with all basic amenities along with security. Going by the typical Indian mentality, a cheap accommodation always screams shady & unsafe for most Indians. Which is were most of you are wrong in your assumption about staying at a hostel and thus often miss out on probably the coolest way to travel. Unlike popular belief staying in a hostel is a great option for those looking for travelling on a budget or worried about their safety while travelling solo and the possibility of getting bored in solo trips. I have seen some pretty cool hostels all over India catering to the needs & pocket sizes of all kinds of travellers, starting as cheap as Rs.100 to Rs.500 or more for a bed per day. You name it & you will find a hostel with the perfect dorm rate suiting your budget. These hostels all have their own story to tell with their modern, stylish & quirky interiors & artworks. With some hostels providing facilities of Wi-Fi, laundry, air conditioned dorms, locker beds, library, indoor games, laptops, snooker table among so many other endless facilities & activities. You will sometimes never feel the need to step out of the hostel & would just prefer to chill & spend all your time in a raasta themed roof top café overlooking the mountains or in a Batman themed common hall with never ending conversations flowing everywhere around you. Which brings me to my second reason for choosing to stay with a hostel while travelling solo.

  1. You might check in as a solo traveller but will never fall short of people to hang out with in a hostel:

Hostels are the best thing that could happen to someone who never plans or researches about the place they travelling to. Because all you really need to do to have a great time in a hostel is to simply just check in & hang out in the common room, strike a conversation with the other fellow travellers and a little later plans are made & you my friend do not have to worry about being alone in your travels any more. Its so much better than traveling with a group of friends as most of the times you are obligated to do whatever the group wants to do as you fear being left all alone while your friends hang out together. But at a hostel you are free to choose whomsoever you want to hang out with, which plan you want to be a part of and in case you do not feel like going out, that’s fine too because you always got the rooftop or the common hall & more travellers to chill with without having to worry about being left out!

  1. Its all about feeling the vibe & making travel memories with the tribe:

Lohri Celebrations with Roadhouse hostel in Goa

When you dream about travelling I’m sure most people imagine encountering interesting people from around the globe who have been travelling for their own reasons. I’m sure at some point we all wanted to cross paths with such wandering souls and would want nothing more than just sitting and hearing them talk about all their travel stories, crazy experiences & learnings. I always enjoy meeting such people. The sense of unity in diversity is what hit me when I started staying at hostels and got the chance to meet & hear stories of people from all around the world. Each with their different ways of looking, understanding life and living. During my first solo trip I was the only traveller in that hostel who didn’t have any travel stories to share. That night I just sat listening while others talked & shared their experiences & travel stories over bonfire on a starlit night surrounded by the overwhelmingly fresh smell of the tea estates. By the end of the night I was thinking to myself about the day when I too would have stories to share with other people, where people would listen to them & be inspired to travel just the way I was when I heard them for the first time that night in Lovedale Ooty. That was just the beginning for me. Two years & over a dozen hostel stays later I have arrived at a point where I am the traveller that others were meeting & listening to while I shared my story with them. In times like these i can see in their eyes the fascination I was familiar with. Since I too had it in me two years ago. Which is why if you want to travel to make great stories with people you never knew until a day ago but somehow feel connected to & end up becoming their friend & exploring buddy, then you have to go experience staying at a hostel the next time you hit the road.

  1. Get off beat & personalised experiences curated just for you:

Happy faces after a food walk by The Hosteller

Has a hotel staff ever recommended you genuinely good places to go eat out at, or accompanied you for a city tour or a food walk or taken you to explore lesser known routes in the mountains just to watch the perfect sunrise/sunset. I am going to go ahead and assume the answer for that is a definite no! Well if you choose to stay in a hostel, then you not only get to experience all of the above mentioned things but also so much more all for free! The hostels don’t aim at only providing you with a comfortable stay but also try and make it a memorable & a life enhancing experience that leaves you wanting to be transformed by the end of it. How else would you gain new experiences & explore new places and be a traveller instead of a tourist?  A lot of hostels have community manager or an activity manager who are just young people like us that happen to love travelling, exploring & sharing authentic experiences with travellers staying at the hostel. Having volunteered as an activity manager for two really cool hostels I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of these people who will go to any length to make sure you have an amazing time travelling & leave with so much more than what you expected from your trip in terms of experiences & learnings.

  1. Be part of a larger community of global travellers & travel to make a difference:

Most hostels aim at building & serving a larger purpose of bridging the interactive gap between the local communities & the growing family of travellers from across the globe while also catering to the needs of the planet and the traveller. Sustainability right now needs to be approached as the core thought in everything that is happening around us whether it is something that is being created or being offered as a service to people. The traveller community is no more limited to the travellers and the people involved in providing hospitality to them. It is now seen as being inclusive of the lives & livelihood of the locals of the place where one travels to along with bearing in mind the consequences of our actions towards the environmental preservation of planet earth during our travels. More and more hostels are now trying to promote the culture of travelling responsibly by using solar energy to power their hostels, promoting organic farming, consuming locally grown food, helping small local businesses grow and feel part of the global traveller community. This is giving rise to the beginning of a new kind of traveller. Someone who understands his/her responsibilities towards the planet and wishes to travel not just to gain experiences but also to give back to the world & make a difference with his/her travels.

Now that you know my reasons for always choosing to stay with a hostel over a hotel as a solo (female) traveller, I will hope that you are able to get rid of all your fears & misconceptions and do not hesitate anymore in choosing a backpacker hostel for your next trip or your first solo trip because RIGHT NOW is the time for you to LIVE MORE, TRAVEL MORE & LEARN MORE!

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