Dilijan

Where time stopped still.

My closest comparison to this sleepy town is the Dalhousie trip I made five years ago.

The August weather of Yerevan was getting a little too hot to be out and about so we weighed our options and decided to drive up to the cooler climes of Dilijan, a little town about an hour from the capital.

En route, we stopped at Lake Sevan. The dad took charge of entertaining the boy by the waters and I made a short trek up to Church Sevanastek.

The route upward was dotted with pomegranate trees. Pomegranate trees galore!! (If you didnt already know, seeing fruits on trees make me go berserk). These fruits are symbolic to Armenians and every souvenir shop I’d come across had something and everything on pomegranates!

Church Sevanastek is archaical and beautiful but what makes it stunning is it’s position atop the hill. It is situated amidst a lake and over time, has risen over. The view from the church was incredible, to say the least, despite the hot sun that hovered over me. I can’t imagine how much more pleasing it would be in cooler weather.

I made it to base in 27 minutes. Yes, I timed it- and time management is essential when a toddler is part of the travel picture. We eventually reached Dilijan late afternoon and checked into, what we realised much later, the popular Tufenkian Heritage Hotel.

Now I don’t mean to advertise a hotel but our Tufenkian stay in Yerevan was so pleasant that we looked up online and saw that their presence in Dilijan so made an impromptu booking the day before heading there. What we didn’t realise is Tufenkian Dilijan is a heritage hotel – that is, the historical site was bought over by business magnate James Tufenkian and restored into a hospitality area. We were put on the ground floor and over our first evening, window-watched tons of passing tourists stopping to take pics of our building.

With a restless 18 month in tow, Dilijan may just be the place to relax with a pint of Dilijan (side note: cheap and cheerful)! However, if you are looking for a lot more activity, I’d suggest staying put at Yerevan. The town had nothing much to offer but we spent a couple of hours driving up to Park Dilijan – a nice place to chill, perhaps even do some adventure sports if you are around earlier in the day. I took a walk to the town square one late evening to search for the nearest grocery store but hurried back as it was fairly deserted despite being a weekend (I would add though that seems like a pretty safe place).

On Day 2 of Dilijan, we asked to move to the first floor of the hotel which had a balcony and a better view. Sitting out, we were witness to an ‘Armenian pop video’ shoot taking place in front of our hotel! With at least 25 retakes of the song, it still rings in my head.

The town also me an opportunity to savour two lovely Armenian dishes – Borani, a pumpkin-chickpea soup and Gata, a warm pastry served with a scoop of yougurt. Delicioussss, to say the least.

As I look back, Dilijan was a great place to relax and bond as a family.

 

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Categories: Armenia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Armenia: Half agenda, double the fun

Indians with UAE residence visa now get ‘visa on arrival’ in Armenia. Best ever travel news of 2017!

republic yerevan

Its July 2017 with an upcoming August-end Eid break and in typical fashion, we have planned travel with no clue on where to go, what to do. And then comes this piece of news that we validated several times over – twice from the Armenian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, from Tripadvisor forums and Google only to be reassured that it was indeed true!

With my love for Georgia still not lost, I was looking forward to see how Armenia would be different, considering how much both countries have in common geographically and culturally. To be honest, my expectations weren’t that high but I was pleasantly surprised.

orthodox church yerevan

A landlocked country, Armenia has an identity of its own but with strong influence of its neighbours. For a start, almost all signs are in Armenian and Russian and while 98% of the population are Armenians, most of them speak Russian as a second language. The architecture, particularly the churches with conical domes are very similar to those in Georgia, reflecting Orthodox Christianity. The food, like Georgian cuisine, is an eclectic mix of Soviet, Middle eastern and Western influence and needless to say, this warrants a separate post!

wine miming yerevanThe weather is extreme with hot summers and icy-cold winters. End- August was still hot in the capital,Yerevan (37 deg C!) but I was told that it was much hotter earlier that month. Thanks to this and with toddler in tow, we couldn’t walk around much but with what we did, I must admit Armenians (the women in particular!) rank very high in appearance! *whistle*

beer yerevan dilijan armenia travelOur trip was over 4 nights; we had booked two nights in Yerevan and like in the past, left the rest to be decided impromptu. As Yerevan reminded us of the Dubai summer, we eventually headed to Dilijan on Day 3, a so-called spa town an hour away. A sleepy place, Dilijan was pretty in parts, but if only the weather had been more considerate, I’d have loved to spend all 4 days in the capital.

There is only as much as you can do with a toddler who is just learning to talk (which translate into screams at every opportune moment) and walk (which means, he doesn’t want to be strapped and if left loose, decides to go on his own trip). And so we had to don the role of responsible parents and manage his mood, food and sleep patterns which meant considerable time was spent within the the confines of hotel room. Of course, we foresaw this and wisely stocked up on every brand of Armenian beer thus enjoying our in-room sampling sessions!

 

 

 

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Sri Lanka 2016

So this is what babies do to you! I was told, forget travel now that Young is here and they were right. Well, almost.

I have had, what I term ‘travel starvation’ in the last year. Our only two breaks were back home to India, both family/occasion related. Being full-time working parents, we have been very lucky to have family support for the baby and now a nanny, however with visa restrictions and other commitments the year has passed within the confines of the emirate.

And so, for the time being, lets e-explore the beautiful country of Sri Lanka that we travelled to exactly a year ago. Oh! How I remember this evening that day in chilly hilly Kandy, sipping on a Lions’ while the boy had just latched on to the bottle! At 6 months, he was the best baby a parent could have travelled with. Maybe we waxed a little too eloquently about it and today, it is a different story altogether.

As with most countries that we have travelled to, typically for a week, we touched 3 cities. Ideally, I’d have liked going to a few places off the grid but with baby in tow, we stuck to more popular ones.

  • Bentota
  • Kandy
  • Colombo

Bentota was the typical beach-holiday goer’s place, sun-soaked, lazy and where life slows down a little. The beaches of Bentota, were no doubt, beautiful, and the weather, although a bit warm for my liking was rainy and a welcome change from the desert heat. I particularly loved our day trip to Galle, the UNESCO world heritage city south of the country with imposing Dutch architecture, quirky cafes and ambience that a day trip can do no justice to.

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Kandy was a last minuter to the schedule – as first-time traveling parents, we were a little paranoid about how he’d endure the road trip uphill- downhill but took a chance and had no regrets. Kandy reminded me of the colourful and busy ‘hill-stations’ of Southern India. We visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic  which hosts the ‘tooth’ of Buddha. Alongside this was the International Buddhist Museum, a wonderful display illustrating Buddhism from across the world.

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Colombo was a typical asian capital city – noisy and busy yet vibrant in its own way. We just spent a day there and splurged on the Galle Face Hotel, a historic colonial hotel facing Indian Ocean. And shopped a wee bit on some great quality but super cheap clothes!

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And food! Rice-heavy and plenty use of coconut, it was very similar to back home (i.e. Tamil/Kerala cuisine). Try the string-hoppers with curry – they are worth every bit of your rupee!

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Buddha is of course, omnipresent.

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In all, Sri Lanka offers a bit of everything and a country that can be easily explored over a reasonable length of time on an inexpensive budget.

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Dubai Water Canal

I must confess that, had I not lived in Dubai, it would never make it in my list of top must-visit places. Simply because it is a man-made city created from a desert and personally, I’d have no desire to travel somewhere to see a bunch of well-made concrete structures.  Having said that, I appreciate and am highly grateful as a resident of Dubai for all the comforts it continues to provide on a professional and personal front. And over the last couple of years, I am in awe of all that the government has done and continues to do in trying to make the city one of the most desired tourist destinations in the world.

On that note, I spent an evening strolling by the recently constructed water canal. The Dubai Water Canal was inaugurated in Oct 2016, three years after it was first announced. The changes made to Sheikh Zayed Road, the arterial road that connects the emirates, is commendable considering all that has been done in a short span of time and within the stipulated deadline.

The water canal is a 12-kilometre waterway that connects Dubai Creek with the Arabian Gulf and will eventually feature a jogging track, restaurants and cafes along the promenade and marine stations with regular ferry of passengers. As always, Dubai wants to make a noise about it –  I even noticed that they have Bose speakers installed along the walkway!! This project will also feature ‘smart’ electric poles and other tech-elements to fulfill requirements of Dubai’s aim to become the Smartest City in the world!

Here’s a first glimpse of the water canal and the bridges, view of Downtown Dubai and of course, Burj Khalifa.

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Categories: Middle East | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New kid on the blog

Presenting Young, new kid on the travel blog.

Young is what happened when Yin and Yang went a little overboard with their travels!

baby travel

He is 3 months old and has already travelled to one country that included 4 cities, 3 flights, one train journey and a few bumpy inter-city car rides!

So we took Young to India as there were a line of grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunties queueing up to see the latest addition. This was his itinerary over a duration of 2 weeks:

While Yang became the typically paranoid mum about how son would cope with the sultry Indian summer and the hectic schedule after a pampered Dubai ‘winter’, Yin was certain he would weather it all. So except for a worrying cough that came along the way, Young responded well by just sleeping! The moment we got onto a vehicle, he’d fall asleep, only to wake up when we reached the destination. We couldn’t have asked for more (and can only hope this trend continues, fingers crossed).

Thus Young successfully completed his first trip.  Travel is never ever going to be the same again! Here’s to a whole lot adventures, madness and fun! Clink, clink!

Just in case you thought otherwise, that was the sound of baby milk bottles.

Categories: India, Middle East, Travelogue | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

And here’s to 2016!

As 2015 ends, I came across an interesting sketch by Sylvia Duckworth. As I embark on a 2016 that is all set to turn my world topsy-turvy (more on that coming soon), I just found this little piece that I could relate to and get more inspired and possibly, inspire some of you as well.

Happy New Year 2016 and here’s to many more travels & adventures!

IM

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Penang’s street art

You can lose weight in Penang! Which sounds a tad ironic because Penang is famed for cheap & good (street) food. But there is so much to see and that is best done walking. So there, you have the best of both worlds!

Food obviously warrants a separate post so in this one, we focus on street art forms in Penang – more specifically in Georgetown, the capital – where most travellers/tourists swarm to and which is the centre of action. Street art is found in missable nooks and corners so to ensure that you see as much as possible, you must walk!

The street murals are quirky and have 2 distinct categories, from the whatever little that I saw: wall paintings combined with real-life objects and art using iron structures. With wall paintings, I learnt that a Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, received worldwide recognition after creating a series of these paintings in the city that have now become an integral part of its cultural landmark. I absolutely loved his works – you can check his Facebook page for all that he has done. With his success, there are other local artists who have followed suit. Most of these murals are centered in and around Lebuh Armenian (Armenia Street) in Georgetown so make sure you don’t give it a miss if you are ever there! As for the iron structures, the idea was initiated by the Penang tourism board to allow tourists to learn about the cities heritage through welded iron wall pictorials.

Below are some of images that I managed to take in those brief seconds when no onlookers were posing near them!

The first image seems to be the most iconic of Penang’s murals and one by Zacharevic – “Little children on a bicycle” (most souvenir shops use this image and I’m told it is the most popular. It’s easy to believe that, I love the expression of the little fella!)

Ernest Zacharevic children bicycle

And as you will see, bicycles & cycle rickshaws that dot Penang’s streets also find a prominent place in these murals

Man Cycle rickshaw penang art

Penang cycle rickshawpenang cycle art mural

tourist cycle rickshaw penang art

A boy teaching how to pronounce hokkien chinese, one of the local languages. The second one is titled ‘Culture Girls’ – it appears to depict the 3 prominent races of Malaysia – Malays, Indians & Chinese.

hokkien boy & culture girls penang art

boy temple penang

penang wrought iron art

Penang wall art

wedding penang art

Categories: Malaysia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Welcome to the rainforest!

Selamat Datang or Welcome to Malaysia.Malaysia flag travel

67% of the country is covered by forests! We flew into Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which features a natural rainforest in the middle of the terminal. Coming from the desert, I was only too elated to see so much green!

Much has happened on the personal and professional front in the last few months since Nepal in April that we deserved a mini-break early September. We chose Malaysia, and agreed on doing a Yin vacation! While initially, I wanted to make the most of the 8 days, better sense prevailed and we decided to take it easy, having a fabulous time in the process.

The itinerary was nothing out-of-the-box but enough to keep us busy the whole length:

  • Flew in to KLIA and directly from there to the island of Langkawi
  • Penang
  • Kuala Lumpur

Langkawi was as beautiful as it’s made out to be. It also helped that we were present during off-season and hence crowds were sparse.

langkawi island travelA considerable part of Penang time was spent in search of vegetarian ‘Malay’ food which, for your information, doesn’t exist (i’m not counting Indian cuisine here, which is available in plenty). And then I discovered the small but popular world of Sino-Buddhist cuisine in Georgetown, the capital!

Pulau Penang travel artKuala Lumpur was as interesting as a big city could be. We had a wonderful view of the Twin towers from our room, feasted on a widespread breakfast buffet and watched a lovely musical of the city’s history.

Twin towers travelThis vacation had a few firsts for us, one of them being alcohol-free!

I loved the little I saw of Malaysia! Like many other places, a week or two just doesn’t justify taking in all that a country has to offer. If I could come again, I would – and it would be East Malaysia and perhaps a trek up Kota Kinabalu!

But overall, a much awaited detox trip. Some pictures below, more coming soon!

The eagle, that symbolizes Langkawi

Langkawi eagle travelLangkawi island seen from Mt. Machinchang

Langkawi island from Essential don’t-do’s in Penang room!

Penang durian travel

Chinese quarter, Penang

Chinese quarter, Penang travel

Malaysia, the asian melting pot

Malaysia travel

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Indian passport & travel issues

Note: This post is not really on travel but rather a problem that I faced because of my travel document. Hence relevant only to those with an Indian passport and living in certain countries outside India.

I made a brief weekend trip to India in July to attend a wedding. On my return, at the Emirates check-in counter of Bangalore International airport, I wasn’t allowed to exit and board the flight to Dubai. Eh, why? Because I had an ‘ECR’ stamp on my passport.

I have been in Dubai for the last 3 years, made a couple of trips to India and never faced this problem. However recently, I moved to my own work visa, having been earlier being on a spouse visa. What I didn’t realize was that my passport when issued and renewed, had an ECR stamp.

Indian_PassportSo what’s ECR?

“ECR = Emigration Check Required and as per the Emigration Act, 1983, ECR categories of Indian passport holders require to obtain ‘Emigration Clearance’ from the office of Protector of Emigrants (POE), Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs for going to following 18 countries:  United Arab Emirates (UAE), The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Brunei, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand, Iraq .

However, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (Emigration Policy Division) have allowed ECR passport holders traveling abroad for purposes others than employment to leave the country on production of valid passport, valid visa and return ticket at the immigration counters at international airports in India w.e.f. 1st October 2007.”

So effectively, I wasn’t allowed to pass immigration and what followed was figuring out how I’d get my passport renewed when all my original documents were back home in Dubai. It meant spending atleast a week in Bangalore, dealing with the Passport Office there and its known bureaucracy, arranging for the papers to be couriered, missing days of work and getting a new passport before I could ‘legally’ exit India.

And then we did something crazy. But legal, I must add.

In short, I used a valid 6-month UK visa and exited India. It was the quickest way out of this unwanted mess. I had no problems at Indian immigration and of course, there was never an issue with entering Dubai. All in all, a stressful 24 hours. And an expensive one too. But all’s well that ends well.

So this one’s for those of you NRI’s, who issued or renewed the passport in the past and not realised that some idiotic passport officer didn’t check your educational qualification and stamped an ‘ECR’ on the passport. Get that rectified now.

I have to get my passport renewed at the Indian consulate in Dubai (which I assume should be far less complicated) so that I can enter my country-of-origin again without fear of being held back again!

Categories: India | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stay strong, Nepal

Taking on from my last post on Nepal, I was looking forward to detail our week long adventure trekking around the Annapurna circuit and the days spent loitering in and around Pokhara and Kathmandu.

But what a depressing last 24 hours it has been. Tuned into news of the terrible earthquake just as it broke where the anchors were speculating possible loss of lives. Went out to buy groceries and 5 hours later, the number was 1400 dead and counting.

2 weeks earlier, we were in Kathmandu. We debated whether to lunch at a local Newari restaurant at Durbar Square, stayed overnight at the touristy area of Thamel and did a brisk 2-hours shopping in its crowded streets before taking the flight out from Tribhuvan International.

Wouldn’t it cross your mind of how it could have been you, how this could have happened 2 weeks back or how we could have taken this vacation 2 weeks later?

Oh unpredictable life.

This only reinforces that tomorrow is not in my hands, not in our hands.

That we need to make the most of life today, to live for the moment and do what makes us happy and spread that cheer around. To travel while we can and make a difference in our lives and hopefully that of others.

For now, yesterday is a bagful of wonderful memories. Of hospitable, smiling nepali people that we encountered. Some of whom we took photos of. Of Rajender & Amrut, our guide and porter. Of a baby that gurgled as I passed by a village where his mom was selling hand-made jewelery. Can only desperately wish that they are safe.

nepal baby travel

nepal travel guide & porter

Stay strong, Nepal.

Links:

  1. Check out this  well-written post/prose on the earthquake by a fellow blogger.
  2. If you are in India, here’s how you can help.
Categories: Nepal, Travelogue | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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