Travelogue

 
 

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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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

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

A week in Nepal

Yin had planned it all and together, they climbed up some mountains in Nepal!

We flew into Kathmandu and after an overnight of noise and dust, got into the mountainous city of Pokhara.

A 4 day trek was the highlight of our Nepal holiday:

  • Highlight 1 – My idea of fitness was put to shame and how
  • Highlight 2 – The locals could go to any ‘heights’ to please palates of trekking tourists
  • Highlight 3 – We were possibly the only Indian trekkers in those 4 days
  • Highlight 4 – An obvious highlight but to re-emphasize, the snow covered mountains were breathtaking (in more ways than one).
  • Highlight 5 – With a disciplined eating schedule (no snacking, none at all) and great deal of physical exertion, my body got into a wonderful detox & purge mode. And for the best interest of you, dear reader, we shall not delve into that any further.

Our schedule went thus:

  • Day 0 & 1 – Kathmandu & Pokhara
  • Day 2 – Nayapul to Ulleri via Tikhegundha
  • Day 3 – Ghorepani and Poonhill
  • Day 4 – Tadapani
  • Day 5 – Downhill to Ghandruk
  • Day 6  & 7 – Pokhara & Kathmandu

Detailed account coming soon; some pics of the beautiful country below.

Billboard at airport

Sherpa Nepal trekking

Pokhara countryside

pokhara trekking annapurna

Trekking path

trekking path nepal

Rhododendrons, national flower of Nepal

Rhododendrons, national flower of Nepal

Buddhist flags along the way

Buddhist flags nepal

Passing village, Nepali children

Nepali kids

One of the (many) handsome looking canines! Not particularly happy, is he?

nepal dog

Mantra: Drink Everest to climb Everest 

everest nepal beer

Categories: Nepal, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tourist or Traveller?

We are planning the next vacation. Which is exactly a month from now. And nothing has been done as yet.

While having an Indian passport is a lot better than many others, it is still a long-drawn application procedure if you want to visit countries around the UAE’s proximity. I have a deadline of 2 days for looking up a list of countries offering visa-on-arrival for Indians and rounding up on the shortlist. Watch this space.

Next comes the quintessential question of how you want to visit a new place. As a Tourist or Traveller?

Yin is the tourist. He believes that with a steady job and limited vacation time, one should fly non-stop and not necessarily on a low-frills flight. ‘2 vacations a year is what we can afford so splurge’ is his mantra. Yin is Mr. Organised and would want his tickets and schedule well before he embarks on the holiday. The idea is to check in to a well-known hotel, not necessarily luxury, but one that has a pool, gym and the works. With a 7 day timeframe, he prefers an itinerary of possibly 2 small countries, flying through the popular and key cities (oh yes, a low fare flight should be fine here), spending a couple of days in each, eating/drinking at a nice restaurant and heading back. If he had his way, it would be taking one of those customized packaged tours during the day and spending the evening sipping over a malt and reading a book. His goal is clear: Only 1 week so make the most of it, have a good time, and importantly, do not compromise on comfort.

Yang is the traveller. Her idea of a holiday is to spend no less than 2 weeks in exploring a small country. But then she cannot afford to get fired from her job. She will spend days monitoring flight sites for the cheapest fare (that said, she likes an expensive direct flight too with the gourmet meal n drink, I mean who doesn’t? If it were free, that is). She could spend weeks researching Bed & Breakfasts and home-stays, eventually taking off with little or no bookings and driving Yin crazy in the process. She doesn’t like an itinerary and wants go with the flow (whatever that means). But don’t get her wrong, she’s done her bit of research and has a general sense of what lies where, what’s good to eat (but indeed) and a few badly mugged up phrases in the local language. If she had her way, she would tailgate those bunch of backpackers with a college tour guide and then loiter around on her own and get lost (which she is excellent at), head to a nearby cafe and chat up with someone over a drink. Her goal is clear: 1 week, no need to rush, just soak up the culture and people and find a local family that serves authentic vegetarian food (oh, the hypocrite).

While I, and the intellectual world in general (club them both if you wish) is biased to the traveller, I don’t see the tourist as having any less fun. The important bit is that both are out there to see a new place in their own way, to take a break from their hectic work-home schedules and to have a wonderful time. Result: both are happy. No conflict.

Unless the tourist and traveller decide to holiday together. They say that Yin & Yang although distinct, show a balance between two opposites with a little bit in each.Yin Yang travel

In this case, if there’s one thing Yin and Yang love doing, it is sipping malt and watch the world go by.

As for the rest, as I earlier said, watch this space.

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mumbai. Or Bombay, if I may.

For many Indians, Bombay is the city of dreams, of hitting a jackpot and making it big or losing it all and barely surviving. It is far less complicated for me. It is the city where I was born before I moved elsewhere, a city that I visited every summer during my childhood and a city that, despite its chaos and madness, has a special place in my heart for all the memories it holds.

And it was with this nostalgia that I visited Bombay to bring in 2015 and after a gap of 5 long years. It was just as I expected it to be – buzzing with people, a lot more traffic and pollution, old colonial bungalows replaced with 10-storeyed buildings and vendors selling street food with old haunts still intact (on a related note, the father thinks that it is the pollution that lends extra kick to Bombay’s street food. I try to take that with an extra pinch of dust, oops salt).

Credit: Rajarshi Majumder (Times of India)

So after a night of revelry on New Years Eve, I spent a quiet day catching up with cousins and helping them get over my surprise visit. By sunset, it was time to head out for a long drive from the city to town (as the local’s say) and after an impressive route (impressive because of a new link road, pot-hole free as of then) we reached Marine Drive. This is a long stretch of road also known as Queen’s Necklace because, when viewed at night from an elevated point anywhere along the drive, the street lights resemble a string of pearls in a necklace. Some more driving around town to show some of the city’s landmarks (Gateway & Taj of course) to a cousin’s friend and we finally headed back home not before stopping for an absolutely gorgeous chocolate milkshake at Bachelorr’s (their strawberry shake aint too bad either!).

This post is meant to be about ‘Bombay – the city’ but it is clearly gravitating towards ‘Bombay – what I ate’. Uh oh. You may stop now if you wish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Day 2 was a lunch-out with the family and since I was allowed to decide, Burmese was the flavour of the day and we headed out to ‘Busago’ a small resto in Bandra that served excellent kaukswe. One of my fav’ areas in Bombay, Bandra is a quirky suburb mixed with Christian/Parsi old-timers, Bollywood celebrities & yuppies and is a great place for shopping and food (street-side, high-end and in-between). It brought back memories of many a summer evening spent on Linking Road, haggling with vendors, buying pairs & pairs of super-cheap shoes and stuffing ‘selves with chaat.

Bombay Pav bhajiTalking about chaat, a visit to Juhu beach was mandatory. This is an 18-km stretch along the shores of the Arabian Sea, horribly crowded on weekends, and dotted on one end with food stalls. And so we went, said hello to the beach and headed straight to ‘Siddhivinayak fast food’ 😀 Do not miss, and I emphasise, do not miss the Cheese Pav Bhaji, a mouth-watering bun & gravy combo loaded with butter and cheese. Another momentary glimpse of heaven. Try everything else they may offer but ensure that you end it on a sweet note with kulfi (cut into cubes on a paper plate and not the usual cone; that’s the beauty).

On Day 3, we visited ‘Elco’, another street stall that started out a few decades ago and has now found its clientele and expanded, with even a branch in Dubai! Post Elco, there was room for dessert and after all the consumption, a stroll along Bandra’s famed ‘Bandstand’ helped in much-needed digestion.

I spent the evening of Day 4 hogging on Vada Pav’s, the famed desi-burger that continues to give Big Macs and their clan a run for their money. On the last day, I went scouting for Dabeli, another delightful burger that I haven’t eaten in years and surprisingly hasn’t found presence pan-India. After a lot of searching, found a sandwich-vendor happy to give in to our demands!

dabeli bombay

I took the flight back as one happy, satisfied kid. There was a 10K run in the offing the week ahead of me and I had gained (more than) adequate energy that I needed for it!

Categories: India, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Travel, New Year & Liebster

The timing was perfect. It was the last week of Christmas and I was in India for a brief holiday, to spend quality time with parents. And to reflect how I’d have to spend more time with the blog in 2015. Just reflect; I don’t make resolutions eh.

Immediately after, I get a wordpress notification from 3weeksandashoestring informing me that I’ve been nominated for the Liebster award! Check out her wonderful travel blog and look out for the post on ‘The Hungry Vegetarian’ if you are a vegetarian traveller!

Okay, so Leibster is not really the Oscars, but enough to make me thrilled and do a little dance. No, seriously. It is a nice little accolade to recognize promising blogs and those with less than 500 followers and works on a ‘pay it forward’ system. That’s enough motivation for a blog-rolling 2015.

leibster-award

As the Liebster rules go, every nominated blogger needs to answers a set of questions given by the blogger who’s nominated her / him – so here goes:

1. What do you enjoy most about blogging?

Even if I am blogging about country X that I have recently travelled to, I do some online research to ensure that any facts I include are correct and end up learning a lot more about the place. As a result, I’m building a mini country wikipedia in my brain.

2. What do you find to be the most difficult part of blogging?

I have this obsessive compulsion to not publish a post unless there are a few photos which in reality, takes much more effort than writing a post. And the occasional phase where I have a blog-block and nothing inspires.

3. What is the last place you traveled to?

Just back from India. Visited Coimbatore (in the South) and Bombay/Mumbai. The trip was for family & food 😉

4. What’s your favourite of the places you’ve been to?

Ah, difficult one. But the one that surprised me the most was Georgia. Being so accessible from Dubai, it is a country I’d want to visit a second time around.

5. Of the places you’ve been to, which would you say was the biggest ‘miss’?

None really. While I was disappointed with Dalhousie & Khajjiar in North India (the former in a state of repair and the latter with a needless reference to Switzerland), I have friends who have seen it during snowier times and raved about it.  So maybe my timing was wrong.

6. What is your least favorite part of travelling?

The return flight/train/bus back to base. No surprises there.

7. Backpack or wheeled suitcase?

Backpack; but with a back that is getting weaker with age, wheeled suitcase is taking priority.

8. Solo travel or travel with company?

Spouse travel! Because the husb allows me to dominate itinerary, planning & such (only on the travel front, if I may add), is not the most talkative person (which gives me adequate solo time) and yet is listening (or at least pretending to) when I jabber away. Can you see my halo?

9. What is your favourite among the blog posts you have written?

Confession time: I just wish a lot more readers would check my post on Spain & Andalusia. Because that post came straight from the heart.

Can I mention a second one, please? The one on Georgian food, which came straight from the stomach.

No more self-promotion now. Promise.

10. What is the last song you listened to?

Nothing Else Matters – Apocalyptica

11. What is the last book you read?

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. Read it for a perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict and for a heart-warming true story that existed amidst it.

11 random facts about me:

  1. I spent 7 months as a English-teaching assistant in Strasbourg, France. From the huge lot of 20-something Indian assistants that left for France, I was the only married 30-something.
  2. Much as I love travelling, I hate packing! I can waste hours sitting aimlessly with an empty backpack or suitcase.
  3. I can be quite cranky during the hours leading to a travel departure. I haven’t yet figured why but I’ll blame this on No.2 for now.
  4. The more number of people visiting a particular country, the lesser my inclination to go there.
  5. My 3rd year in Dubai will include my 3rd 10K run in this city later this month. A hat-trick, inshallah!
  6. I don’t upload travel photo albums on Facebook.
  7. Single child yet, in the words of a wise friend, ‘sorted’.
  8. I have tasted chicken/meat and enjoyed it on 2 occasions. There are several occasions when I get depressed seeing a lone vegetarian option on a menu but that said, I don’t ever intend moving to the other side.
  9. An Indian citizen working in an Arab country for the British Government.
  10. Cold country over warm country. 7 months of Strasbourg and not once did I miss the Indian sun!
  11. Night owl. That’s when all my blogs are written.

Blogs that I will nominate for this Award:

I think the below blogs are great and deserve recognition. I particularly envy bloggers whose pictures speak a thousand words and those with a lucid writing style.

Paper Boats

Salted Print

Afsha Khan

Stéphane at My French Heaven probably has too many followers to be nominated for a blog, nevertheless get inspired by checking out his website.

‘Liebster Award’ rules:

  1.  Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5 –11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have less than 500 followers.
  6. Create a new list of questions for the bloggers to answer.
  7. List these rules in your post. Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
  8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!).

And here are my questions for my nominated fellow bloggers:

  1. When did the travel bug bite you?
  2. The most adventurous thing you have done or want to do?
  3. What do you find to be the most difficult part of blogging?
  4. What’s your favourite of the places you’ve been to?
  5. Any country that you’d want to give a miss, and why?
  6. What is your least favorite part of travelling?
  7. Mountain or beach person?
  8. Solo travel or travel with company?
  9. What is your favourite among the blog posts you have written?
  10. What is the last song you listened to and/or last book you read?
  11. Best travel secret or tip?

Pay it forward!

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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