Taking it slow – Life in Jibhi

I never really understood what ‘slow travel’ or a ‘me time’ trip meant. Even though, I have also spent almost a month in one state; i did things that i wanted to do and have spent enough time for my ‘solo’ self.

My past travels have been to one destination for a long duration but I used to pack them up with places to see, stay, and venture out to a large extent. This time around, I chose a smaller unknown place ‘JIBHI’ (to many) and explore as and what came my way. Jibhi was pointed out to me by another amazing traveller and am glad I went for it.

How does one spend a day, a week or a life in one such small locale? I have often been asked this, what do you do by yourself?

You just be.

With my visit to Jibhi, – I understood deeply the meaning of travelling into a place and letting it lead you.  You feel the air, it is refreshing and pungent with life; you soak in the freshness of the soil; you listen to the sound of the flowing waters; you observe the  selfless life of the locals. You may do all that you do back home, but here you do it with your own choice.

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Out of city habits, I resorted to a routine but only to let Jibhi and its people choose the activities for me.

My days would begin early and I would choose to walk in one of the directions of the main road to cross the same homes, shops and people for the following week.

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My first day was met with eager looks, new face in the town murmurs and by day 4 these were exchanged with smiles, and good mornings. In retrospect, in three days I got to befriend more strangers than I have in a city over the last five years.

My days would be spent reading next to the river, or sitting on a rock at the guest house overseeing the river flow along with ‘chai’ and sidhu- a local delicacy.

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Guddu, the caretaker of the guesthouse I was put up at would enlighten me with the stories of the guest house, his dads work for the town and places I should discover every day. There was a new place on his map for me to walk to for each of the days and I would religiously follow them.

On one of my explorations to the nearby town of Chaini fort, I was over ambitious and decided to walk the whole stretch from Jibhi. While I managed to reach the fort encountering some very sweet elders and specially touched by dimple didi, who invited me over for some tea and apples.

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Dimple didi and moi

On my return from Chaini, I realised i was too tired and couldn’t walk all the way back to Jibhi. Guddu came to my rescue – he rode on his bike – found me and that is how I got my bike ride in the hills. These are a few encounters of what makes living in a place so wonderful.

While staying at this guest house – I also met Isha, a fellow traveller from Delhi and in a matter of those few days – found a friend, travel companion in my solo Jibhi adventures. Trekking to Raghupur or sitting on the bridge and talking aimlessly may not have been as fun or exciting without her.

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Isha and myself at Raghupur

During my wandering mornings, I landed up at the local school in Jibhi and as luck would have it, I made friends with two young girls and one of them happened to be my namesake. Visiting the school, chatting with children and just reminiscing my school days were something I hadn’t done in the longest time – it was like getting a glimpse of my growing up years.

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Days passed by, and Jibhi soon felt like this little hidden paradise that I did not want the world to find. I wanted to soak in its purity and innocence and protect it from becoming another commercial hub that people flocked to.

Meeting people who had left their city lives and settled here and opening Jibhi as an avenue for more than a pit stop to Shimla or for luxury stays was another insight. This was only possible because this place and its people open their doors to strangers.

On one of the days, the clouds decided to bless us with rains like never before. While everyone hustled into shade; I sat in my room balcony and decided to paint and watch the clouds and fog play hide and seek with tall pine wood trees. Spending an entire afternoon watching nature is the best therapy to open our senses.

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On my last day while I was walking by a group of ladies discussing Star plus and our Indian soaps, we got chatting about my life back home. I mentioned to them that I was leaving, and they reacted with the fact that they had gotten used to seeing me around walking, taking local buses, and chatting around.

It was then when it struck me that even though I did not recognise them all, I had become a part of a life of this small town in ways I can’t put in words, but are etched on my soul. May be I was one of the many faces they had encountered but they left an everlasting impression on me.

These are just a couple of reasons that helped me realise the joy of spending time in a place that can be “seen” in a day.

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My 5 favourite adventure activities

Looking back at my 5 most adventurous and favourite outdoor activities through these years along with details on what went down while I attempted them:

  1. Snowmobiling – This by far is my favourite outdoor activity. I had first-hand experience of snowmobiling in Whistler, Canada. Whistler is one of the largest ski resorts of North America. There could have been no better place than Whistler for me to have tasted the adrenaline that comes with it. We were a group of 6 on our snowmobiles led by a trainer. The two hour long ride consists of ridges, narrow turns, slopes and slides. The rush and speed of the ride is exhilarating, to say the least. I crashed my snowmobile twice and my trainer was not very pleased with my skills. The highlight was a short break to indulge in snow fights. While one wishes that one could slow down and admire the beauty of the beautiful surroundings and paths – you are instead racing .This was one memorable, freeze my butt day.IMG_0610DSCN4457

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    Ready for the ride

  2. Bungee Jumping – I bungee jumped a few years ago and I think this was one of my first experiences of adventure activities and a tick off my bucket list. I took this leap of faith in Uganda, Africa over the river Nile. I was definitely the most ‘enthu cutlet’ in my group and decided to take the plunge first. It was all exciting and happy while I was being briefed and prepped. The moment I stepped on the ledge, I was all nerves and freaking out. I have to give it to our instructor as he refused to push me and patiently waited for me to Jump and it was worth it. Those few seconds of the world upside down and your head hitting the water is pure joy. I hope i can put my faith into more bungee jumps.
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    Our bungee spot

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    Ready for that plunge

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    Here I go

  3. River Rafting – Most people in India want to experience river rafting in Rishikesh. In my case, my tryst with river rafting was in Leh, Ladakh.  I am a non-swimmer and yet love water based activities. I was with another friend and this was our last day in Leh. Our driver drove us to the starting point where we surprised my friend who wasn’t all in for river rafting in the freezing Indus. We got on that raft, a total of 4 adults and a kid joined us who was fearless and made us look like scared fools. If it wasn’t for him we probably wouldn’t have had the courage to enjoy as much. Jumping into water has been one of my regular ‘moments’ and the same played out here even before I was asked to. It was amazing, scary and COLD. The experience of being surrounded by the stark beauty that Leh is and rafting in the middle of peaks and ending at the Sangam point has been unlike any other.
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    Sangam point

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  4. Zip Lining I also zip lined for the first time in Whistler. Zip lining in minus degree temperatures amongst forests, snow and over water bodies was the highlight of this zip line. It may not have been the highest or longest but ranged from 400 – 1100 ft. Walking in the cold, crossing ridges and suspension bridges was all a part of it. Hanging in the middle of nowhere overlooking old pinewood trees, trying stunts as you are dangling and flying is surreal. The feeling of your heart sinking every time you are pushed makes me want to zip line again .I think this has been my most fun and chilled experience.DSCN4482

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  5. Fly Boarding – The last but the hardest activity for me was fly boarding. Thanks to a group of friends who decided we must try this in Dubai, I found myself more than eager to give it a shot. The videos and trainers made it look like a piece of cake – all you had to do was stand in water. As each of us started, I realised how difficult and tiring this actually was and even though it is a lot of fun, be prepared for salt water and a lot of falls and splashes. There is a high in getting it right and being able to balance and as soon as you relish it , boom – you fall hard! This one was one thrilling and tiring off bucket list adventure.IMG_2494IMG_2470

Hope you guys enjoyed reading about my adventures , do share your favourites!

 

Self Reflection:Smile Often

During my last trip to Himachal Pradesh, I kept wondering why I was always pulled back towards the mountains of our country.

What is it that gives me this sense of belonging, comfort, a true feeling of home away from home. I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the hilly regions , mountains whether for a week or a month.

I find myself relaxed, aware, and with a sense of peace that feels more like home than any other place.

While introspecting and observing my behaviour, I realised that I would lower my guard,  smile often and be more patient on my travels as compared to being in the city.

On my trip to Jibhi, it dawned on me that some of the most useful and powerful tools one possesses is their smile and sincerity – It is a way into people’s heart and lives.

I was able to befriend strangers, make awkward scenarios more comfortable and get elders to share their adventurous life stories.

I have often wondered how some photographers capture the essence and joy of people through their images; during this trip I discovered the same joys of sharing happiness and conversations from children to elders…

Sipping chai and chatting up with locals, sharing a meal with my hosts, and meeting travel companions on the way was all a part of openness and the idea of smiling at someone along the way. Not that this was new in my travels yet I found myself more open to strangers and meeting people.

I also realised that the warmth and love you are greeted with in our hills cannot be compared.Being a solo female traveller always raises a few questions, curious looks by locals but the smile and honesty soon lets you into their world and stories.

Soon they are a part of your story and not the other way around.

So with that thought …“Keep smiling because Life is a Beautiful thing and there is so much to smile about” – Marilyn Monroe.

P.s. Some of my favourite smiles from my travels.

 

Kaziranga National Park – Trip down memory lane.

As we commence the second half of 2017, I decided to look back to the start of this year. 2017 began in Assam for me. A short trip to explore the National park and Majuli , which had been on my list for a while.

I never got down to writing or sharing pictures of the trip so decided what better time than now to do a quick throwback of my two days at the world heritage site enjoying the safaris and all that the sanctuary had to offer.

 

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My first evening began with a jeep safari into the park. The safari lasted for about two hours taking us through the central zone of the park. The forest in itself is stunning and the water bodies make it even more magical.

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My introductions were first made with this herd of deers , which soon become a common sight and keep you entertained through the entire ride.

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My first sighting of the one horned rhinoceros . At the onset , I was anxious and super excited to spot them but as time passes by and you let the forest take you through its turns and allies, you enjoy the experience of just being there.

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The evening light and sunset create magical hues and are a treat to the eyes , I could not stop myself from clicking through the entire evening.

Wohoo, I did manage a close sighting of these majestic creatures before the evening ended.

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Catching the last light and taking in the vast landscape as I bid adieu to the park for the evening.

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” Some journeys can only be travelled alone ” – KenPoirot.

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I stayed at the very lovely IORA – the retreat and could not have asked for any better hospitality. Since I was travelling solo, they ensured my safaris were tied up with other travellers from the retreat . They went out of their way to make sure I was beyond comfortable and well taken care off.

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I enjoyed the cultural night with bonfire and a scrumptious meal, and retired for the night. I was anxious and excited for the early morning safari at 6am!

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My first view as I entered the western zone at the park. This is one of my fav. moments from the entire trip.

The morning elephant safari is surreal and I urge everyone to not miss it. Catching the first light surrounded by deers and rhinos at an arm distance is nothing short of a fairy tale. My own tryst with catching them up close.

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Just one of the many moments during the morning! It was phenomenal:)

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Bidding good bye to the baby and mommy rhino. I was over the moon and happy to have made the effort of waking up at 5 am in the freezing January cold.

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Leaving you all with some sparkle and magic! Until next time, hope you guys feel  inspired to go and enjoy the wildlife as much as I did.

Glimpses of Arunachal Pradesh

Sharing some memories from my trip to Arunachal through some of my favourite photos that captured the essence of the place. The route was from Guwahati – Tenga Valley- Bomdilla- Sela Pass- Tawang  and return to Guwahati.

En route to Tenga Valley – A cantonment area before Bomdilla was our first pit stop. A beautiful valley that made for a stunning hault with the river flowing through the town.
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Lovely garden at our cottage in Tenga Valley that led to the river flowing below our cottage

View from our cottage at Tenga Valley

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We visited Bomdilla while staying at Tenga and the Bomdilla Monastery was a well kept sight and a great visit  at the start of our trip. The monastery houses over 200 monks. A great time to visit the monastery is in the evening when one can participate in the prayers.

 

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I spotted the rainbow as soon as we had left from Tenga towards Tawang. Truly blessed.

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Jaswantgarh War Memorial, Nuranang en route to Tawang – A great pit stop where one can read and learn about the bravery of Indian soldiers of the 1962 Indo-China war. The memorial has been built in honor of Jaswant Singh who stood alone holding his post for over 72 hours during the invasion by the Chinese. There are also soldiers who are happy to give a guided tour , on request.

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Sela Pass – The entry point to Tawang located at a height of 13700 ft.  We were lucky to witness it on a sunny day and get such majestic clear views of the peaks all around. It was truly the highlight of the trip.

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Our cottage and stay in Tawang – Beautiful location and a warm place, thank god for being an army kid 🙂

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Walking around Tawang Monastery – Largest Buddhist monastery in India, dated to be 400 years old and houses over 700 monks. School, library, museum and meditation halls are some of its features, a great place to spend some alone time.

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A visit to Khinmey Nyingma monastery – This monastery was not on our list nor had we heard about it. A suggestion from our driver took us to Khinmey. We were the only visitors and were greeted warmly by a young monk who not only chatted with us but also gave a personal guided tour and explained to us the difference in sects amongst the Buddhist monasteries. The stupas we saw here were much different from what we had earlier seen. I would recommend a visit here for everyone.

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One of my cherished meals was an authentic traditional Thentuk at the Yak restaurant which also happens to be owned by a really kind person , Tong who was a chef in Mumbai and has now returned back home. Indeed a small world.

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En route to Bum la – Snow ! Snow ! Snow… is all we could see. It was sooo cold that every time we got off to click a few pictures, we froze. I kept wondering how the Indian army survived in these conditions and not only protected our borders but also maintained and managed all these sights.  The pass is located above 16,500 ft. The driver told us that the same paths in summers are filled with greenery and rhododendrons and we should definitely return to witness that.

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Frozen lakes became a common sight by the end of this drive… this one was captured just before the border.

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Frozen lakes enroute to Bumla

Sangestser Lake popularly known as Madhuri Lake , yes named after Madhuri Dixit.  We were really lucky as once again as we were the only visitors allowed to go up to Madhuri lake on this day. The views from the lake are splendid and one must walk around the entire lake. The sounds of  the bells ringing, prayer flags flying and being there alone was as surreal as it could get. Hot cup of chai and maggi made our day. There is a little cafeteria run by the army jawans who prepare warm and quick meals for tourists.

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Tawang War Memorial –  The visit to this memorial took me back to my army days and reminded me of all that my father and others have done for the nation. The memorial is dedicated to all the soldiers who lost their lives in the 1962 war.  The names of the martyred 2420 soldiers are engraved in gold. We were fortunate enough to get a guided tour by the army personnels who explained and shared all the details of the war. Later , we attended the sound and light show which depicted the war and its harsh conditions which not only left me in tears but also extremely proud of their spirit and heroism.

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A special mention to the only nunnery in Tawang – Thukye Chueling Buddhist Nunnery. This was the day when we were greeted by heavy rainfall and yet we decided to carry on and visit the nunnery, and am glad we did. Young nuns greeted and made us comfortable with hot tea and endearing conversations about their lives and routine.

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We visited the Manjushree Vidyapith school which is doing some great work in providing education to underprivileged children from the neighbourhood. The school also has a hostel for these children. We met a lovely bunch of kids and teachers and spent some time with them.The school is funded by NGOs, donations and the army.

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This was our last evening where we sat at our cottage sipping chai and enjoying the mighty rains…

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“It is not the Mountain we conquer but Ourselves” – Sir Edmund Hillary

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A journey within…Trek to Hemkunt Sahib

I believe there is a certain time for some feelings to be translated into words. I visited Uttarakhand a year ago and my trek to Hemkunt Sahib during this trip was one such cherished journey. I wanted to write about my experience then itself, but have finally found words now.

Hemkunt Sahib Gurudwara located at the height of 15,000 ft. and is known as the highest Sikh shrine in the world.It’s setting is by the glacial lake and is surrounded by seven peaks.

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panorama of the shrine

Vaibhav, a dear friend had accompanied me through this Uttarakhand trip. It was our third day into this trip when we were to trek to Hemkunt. To climb or not, will I be able to? Were the questions that haunted me until the night before – I decided if I had walked up to this point I was going to complete the circuit on foot. Vaibhav had decided to take the mule and I knew I was meant to tread this path alone.

At 4.30am with partial moonlight, I stepped out of the Ghangaria gurudwara. With very few people on the path at that hour, and hearing the sounds of the mules being woken up – I wondered if I had made the correct choice.

I had walked around 200 mts when I halted gasping for breath; I questioned myself and my stamina for the path that lay ahead. I also knew that I had to return back in time as we were headed to Badrinath the same afternoon. A few pilgrims passed me in that darkness and without knowing me encouraged with positive words “chal kudiya, saath saath karlenge “(come on girl, we will do it together).

We were all on our own journeys yet we were all connected by the faith that resonated within us.

Step by step, one foot in front of the other, I kept walking. I could hear each breath, feel every muscle on my body, sound of the stones rolling on the path, every sound was heightened yet there was silence. All I could see was bend after bend and an unending path with no idea as to how much I had actually walked.IMG_0626

It was still dark and it helped in a way to not realise how much or where I had been walking.  Dawn was giving way to day and I witnessed breathtaking views of the snow clad peaks, flower beds and floating clouds. Ghangaria town by this time had become a spec in the far off distance. To my disbelief I was not even halfway but extremely exhausted- I still contemplated switching to a mule.

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By this time, more people and pilgrims had passed by and we all greeted each other with ‘wahe guruji ka khalsa , wahe guruji ki fateh’ and encouraged to keep going. Some chatted as to how I was the only girl who was climbing alone and ensuring that I was comfortable. With babas name, faith stronger than my fears I decided to continue on the path till I could walk no more.

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Vaibhav crossed me at some point and motivated me to keep going and that I wasn’t far from the destination. Strangers became friends; sharing water and food along with other pilgrims and giving strength to fellow travellers were some of the simplest lessons through this trek. I felt it was the hardest for me but when I looked around everyone faced the same difficulties and all we needed was words of kindness.

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I walked, paused, and had conversations with babaji. I was left mesmerized at nature’s mystery and beauty as I climbed further. I could feel the sun’s heat and the cold at the same time as I gained altitude. The last stretch was the hardest and I felt the rush to complete and yet slow down and immerse myself in all those emotions I was feeling knowing that I was going to actually complete the trek.

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With the gurbani in the background, I stood at the entrance –overwhelmed with tears and in gratitude that I had actually outdone my faith and completed the journey. I am a huge believer of Gurunanak ji and to stand there in his presence was no less than an achievement that had enriched my soul.

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At the entrance

I sat in silence observing the changing colours of the sarovar and admiring this gurudwara in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains. A quick darshan inside, conversations with a few guardians of the gurudwara, and a hot cup of tea was all that it took to rejuvenate my spirits and ease off the pain. Each and every moment I spent was special and blessed.

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Keeping the time in mind, I started my descent floating and flying through the same paths that I struggled to climb J  It was 10.30am and the path was filled with fog so much so that I could not even see the bends ahead of me. It was indeed a sight to behold. Even though my knees trembled at a few bends and the tiredness would come by- I did not complain for I was satisfied, overjoyed and free in the purest form.

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Initially, it was a little strange to be solo or the only female traveller but as the day progressed the inhibitions disappeared. I took back one thing from this journey – even though we walked our own paths, we were tied together beyond faith, religion and belief and that was by Humanity and Grace. The entire trip is sacred to me but these few hours, I am most greatful for and I hope that many more travellers experience this journey within…

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A few tips for the trek:

  1. This route is only open between June- September.
  2. This is only a day trek and everyone has to descend  from Hemkunt Sahib Shrine by 1pm.
  3. Carry a light backpack and only essentials- water, nuts, energy bars are of great help. There are a few shops enroute that also provide with water and food.
  4. Carry a poncho as it may rain any time during this season.
  5. Do not rush and take your time during the climb. Everyone has their own pace so enjoy the journey.
  6. Be a responsible traveller and do not litter.
  7. And above all, be positive and hang onto the faith.

 

 

 

 

My 15 cherished travels from 2015

  1. Bhopal – The last day of 2014 was a road trip to Bhopal with my family. New Year’s Eve was spent with family, spreading love laughter and grace. The year began with exploring the city of lakes in absolute fog and cold.1.bhopal
  2. Corbett National Park – Over a span of 24 hours, I saw myself travelling from Bhopal- Indore flying across Mumbai-Delhi and finally ending it at my destination Corbett. Corbett was a work trip but the vast landscapes, the winding roads and the pure nature left me awestruck. Over two days we drove from one end of the jungle to the other and all I hoped was to revisit soon.2.corbett
  3. Dapoli – I have been blessed with friends and family who have been a part of my birthday celebrations. This year, I decided to take off for a two day trip to Dapoli, in the konkan belt. It was by far the quietest and most treasured getaway I could have wished for.4.dapoli
  4. Goa – Goa has been a destination I have travelled more for work and less for leisure. This time in Feb, work took me back to Goa. This trip with friends, colleagues, sunsets and beach therapy made for an introspective last working project.3.goa
  5. Jodhpur Jodhpur holds a special place in my heart. A city I stayed in for a month in 2013 felt more homely this time around. A work stint for 3 weeks with beautiful people, music, and soul left me renewed for the year ahead.                            5.1
  6. Darjeeling – Finally, the mountains called me. I was visiting this part of the east after a decade and I couldn’t have been happier. Tea gardens, pure rivers and the mighty mountains, was all I needed to feel alive again.6.darj
  7. Sikkim – My next destination was Sikkim. The snow, the high passes, frozen lakes were no less than a dream. Sikkim was splendid and truly gorgeous. I travelled with my mother through this belt and it was indeed a special experience of enjoying and learning through each other.7,sikkim
  8. Arunachal Pradesh – A state, I had been longing to visit and now urge everyone to go and explore. Arunachal is truly one of the most untouched, beautiful states of north east. The largest of towns are still developing. A taste of culture, beauty, heritage and stories is what filled my bags when I returned from this soulful experience. 8.arunachal
  9. Auroville – As June progressed, I was urging to take a short trip and I decided it was time for me to visit Auroville and Pondicherry. Auroville was my first solo trip of the year and it was everything and more I hoped for. Cycling across the town, spending time at Matri Mandir, attending workshops, trying out different cafes and meeting new people are some of my fond memories!IMG_20150615_111233
  10. Pondicherry – After Auroville, I spent a couple of days in Pondicherry and enjoyed the quaint cafes, boutiques and the french architecture. Much against my usual trips, I let Pondicherry be a laid back trip and gave myself the time and space to be.9.pondi
  11. Valley of Flower – My next trip was in September to one of my favourite states – Uttarakhand. I had been planning trekking to VOF and Hemkunt Sahib for the last two years and managed to do so finally this year. Trekking the entire circuit has been one of my biggest accomplishments and the most gratifying one. Entering VOF and being in that moment was a forever kind of love with nature. My senses, abilities, and virtues were all tested through this journey.11.vof
  12. Hemkunt Sahib –  This trek has definitely made me a stronger person. The 7km upward climb teaches you some huge life lessons. All I can say about this trip, that it was a journey inward for me in all its glory. I had never felt more blessed and one with my masters.12.hemkunt
  13. Rishikesh – Rishikesh has become one of the places I have grown to love and be fond off. The Ganges, aartis, exploring cafes, some amazing company of dear friends and long drives have made me a Rishikesh loyalist.13.rishi
  14. Madhya Pradesh – I had never imagined myself travelling through the interior parts of MP and camping and exploring places I had not even heard of. Work does have its perks 😉 A road trip from Khajuraho – Kanha. Camping by the Narmada, jungle safari, meeting Tara, the elephant and exploring the ruins of Khajuraho. This trip made for my most challenging and different experience of the year.14.mp 1
  15. Indore – This Diwali break we visited one of my old home towns Indore and Mhow to visit some family.  It brought back some old cherished childhood memories of growing up. This trip also landed up being my food trip of the year where I gorged on all the street delicacies of Indore. Added to that was a quick trip to Ujjain to visit the Mahakal Mandir. Both my MP trips showed me different sides of India that I had not personally experienced in my travels.IMG_20151114_125252.jpg

 

Here is hoping for a beautiful and inspiring 2016!

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