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.

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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GOING SOLO – PONDICHERRY DIARIES

I visited Pondicherry, after spending three blissful days in Auroville in June’15. I was looking forward to relaxing and soaking in this beautiful town during my two days.

Here are a few of my recommendations that could help you further plan your trip:

  1. Stay and Visit – The best decision of my trip was to stay at the Aurobindo Ashram guest house. Even though, they are simple with basic amenities, the promenade view offered by this guest house beats any other accommodation. It comes with the added advantage of visiting the Samadhi from 5 am -11 pm and one can even be a part of the evening group meditations if staying at any of these guest houses. However, if you are visiting Pondy for leisure – Le Dupleix, La Closerie  and Palais De Mahe are a few worth visiting Hotels to stay or eat at , in the French quarters.

    View from my room

    View from my room

  1. Quiet and Peaceful time at the Ashram – My primary reason to visit Pondy and Auroville were for the Shri Aurobindo ashram and the Mother. My days began at the Samadhi and ended with the group mediations in the evenings. This had to be my best spent time across the two days. Photography is prohibited and phones need to be switched off while visiting the Samadhi. I further explored Pondy by visiting a few centres of the Ashram – the Paper Factory being my favourite.

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    At the paper factory.

  1. Morning by the promenade – The Pondy promenade is the Marine Drive of Mumbai sans the cars and traffic. The traffic here in the evening is that of only humans. Best time to visit the promenade is during sunrise and for early morning walks. The view is breathtaking and makes for a refreshing start to the day.
  1. Walk, Cycle and Click! – The French quarter of Pondicherry is best explored on foot. If you are a lover of doors, windows, pop up colors – French architecture will not disappoint you. It is categorised by colonial villas, compound walls and stately doors with the bougainvillea flowers and trees adding to their charm.

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    My fav window frame while walking the streets.

  1. Spend time at the beaches – Serenity beach which is about 8-10 kms from Pondy is a must visit and one can spend some alone time and enjoy the calmness of this beach. Paradise beach which is farther away came highly recommended but I sadly did not have enough time to visit it.
  1. Visiting the Church and Temples – A trip for me is incomplete without visiting its religious centres. I cycled around and visited the two most beautiful churches – Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculate Church. Both the churches have elegant architecture and provide a sense of calmness.                   Get blessed by Lakshmi, the Temple Elephant at the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple. Mornings are the best time to visit this temple and enjoy the hustle bustle of this area.IMG_20150618_140338
  1. The Tamil quarters – The French quarters are the most talked about and photographed area in Pondy. A little deep into the town, you will find yourself amidst chaos and a sudden shift in the setting of the city. The distinctive architecture – open courtyards, verandas and sitting platforms make for a welcoming change. The Maison Perumal property pays a great tribute to this way of life.
  1. Cafe Hopping – Pondy is a foodie’s paradise. I had gone with a huge list of cafes and places to eat at and here are some of my favourites: Cafe Des Arts for most relaxed time and best crepes and coffees, Satsanga for a quiet and wholesome meal, Villa Shanti for the best desserts, Rendezvous and Hotel Promenade for an evening meal. Bakers’ cafe for a scrumptious breakfast, Palais De Mahe for a relaxing lunch and Kasha Ki Asha for a healthy meal with a boutique to shop at.New folder
  1. Shopping and Boutiques – Pondy has some wonderful and slightly expensive boutiques. Kalki, Auro Shri, Habitart and are a few of my favourites. La Maison Rose also has some very unique and designer boutiques. I did succumb and pick up my share of paper lamps, jewellery and pottery products.IMG_20150616_144018
  1. A relaxing massage – I spent the last afternoon getting a traditional ayurvedic massage. I honestly went without too many expectations but returned more than satisfied. I would suggest adding one of these in your trips for a great holiday experience. Palais de Mahe has a brilliant in-house massage centre.

These are some of my reasons as to why Pondy and Auroville were one of my favourite trips this year and I hope to visit them again.

Moving Out of Comfort Zone – Following One’s Passion

The July of 2013, ended my decade long relationship with my home city Mumbai.

I came from an army family and being on the move and changing homes was something I grew up with. Mumbai however was different; a city where I grew up, made bonds for life, spent the best college years. I had an exciting, challenging job that brought the security and comfort that a 20 something year old needed. I was in a familiar territory, independent and in one of the best cities with particularly nothing much to complain about. Yet there was a miss, a fire that needed to be channelized elsewhere, routine that had to be de-constructed.

I was yearning for a change. I decided to quit my job and move out of Mumbai for good. It wasn’t anything close to easy but I knew it was time for something more. My original plan was to travel and explore options of further studies.

I moved to where my parents lived, with no firm plans and decided “to go with the flow”. It wasn’t an easy transition. I came from an extremely demanding, hectic work and social life and here I was, at home with abundant free time. The first few months were bliss, there was happiness and peace in finding my own and doing nothing but slowly, it got to me.

It was during this time at home, that I stumbled upon Spiti and Ecosphere and my first solo trip in India was planned. I have written a lot about Spiti and in a nutshell, nothing was the same for me post this trip.

I returned stronger, with a clearer mind, inspired and with that fire to do something more. This is when I knew, I was travel smitten. I felt alive and at peace.

My life, post the trip panned out much differently than I imagined. I soon began seeking the constant need to travel. The usual work life cycle and the luxury of a permanent job became secondary.

Read about my gifts from travel: https://freespiritedwanderer.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/my-reason-to-travel-earning-5-gifts-for-life/

I decided to postpone the idea of further studies and focussed more on this unrelenting urge to travel. I found balance by taking up a few freelance work projects which ensured a somewhat steady income, kept me on the move and yet connected to my passion.

2014, was definitely my year of travel and exploration. Blessed with a supportive family- I travelled extensively throughout India and a few countries abroad literally every month. The idea was to maintain a flow of journeys and trips, be it short breaks or volunteering and giving back to society – each trip expanded my understanding and perspective of life.

Read more about all my journeys in 2014:  https://freespiritedwanderer.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/adieu-2014/

 These past two years have been transformative. It was not simple to constantly be on the move or live out of a suitcase.

There is a high in exploring, learning, being a wanderer. But the idea is to not lose oneself or drift away in these journeys but to keep pushing, to keep that fire alive seeing the world through different eyes.

Leaving Mumbai was me stepping out my comfort zone. The universe took that one step and turned my life around.I am proud to say that I chose to live life on my terms, follow my passion and with no regrets but only gratitude. I have learnt and grown tremendously and even though I may not exactly know my future goals and plans, I could not have lived any better.

My biggest lesson has been- ‘to learn to balance’ – whether its work or leisure, relationships, attachments. It takes you a long way in life. Sometimes journeys without take us to journeys within.

I am sure this is only the beginning, and there is a lot ahead for me to discover and share.

I hope this urges you to look within and follow your passion with faith; knowing it may not be an easy path but definitely worth it. Travel became my passion, a way of life.

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