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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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.

AUROVILLE – LIVE A LITTLE..

My travels and trips are more or less spontaneous and I consider them to be largely a calling or sign from the universe to go experience something new.

One such experience was my solo trip to Pondicherry and Auroville last month.

I had initially planned a two day visit to Auroville but a few hours into this paradise, I knew one would need at least a week – 10 days to soak into the magic of this alternate community.

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With 3 days in my hand, I set out to explore and experience Auroville to the best of my ability:

I began by visiting the Visitors centre, reading and understanding the working and functioning of this community and booking my visit to Matri Mandir.

This was followed by renting a cycle that made my life much easier in exploring acres of land and forests. Auroville has cycle paths all across the centre and it makes cycling so much more fun and quite exhilarating.

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I was keen on visiting as many cafes, farms, centres, and institutions that I could possibly in the given time.

I started off by spending some time at the Solitude cafe and learning about alternate farming methods and local produce.  A quick chat with the owner Krishna gave me more insight about their day at the farms,  their healthy meals and I discovered we  both shared a mutual love for music, and festivals.

My next few stops were at the international pavilions, namely Indo Tibetan Pavilion, Bharat Nivas– the structure and architecture of each of these places is magnificent. To imagine this township as a barren land with no life is next to impossible.

I then stopped by at the Savitri Bhavan and spent time reading about Mother and her journey in setting up Auroville.  Savitri Bhavan is a great place for  yoga,films, group meditations, reading and group recitations that take place during the month.

Next, I  decided to go and see the Matri Mandir from the viewing point. One can spend hours sitting under trees with the view of the Mandir and the perfectly maintained 12 gardens, each with a separate message by Mother on life.

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Even though, my visit was during peak summer and I was practically burnt cycling during the day, I decided that I wanted to cycle and explore all possible paths .There was  sheer excitement in riding to an unknown destination.

I found myself cycling through the town and onto the highway, passing by cotton trees and flowers… 6 kms on the road and I passed by smaller lanes, houses, cafes enroute to Auro beach. Huffing, puffing and exhausted, I finally managed to  see the beach. I spent some time trying to get my breath back from cycling and the scorching sun shining brightly on my head.

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On my return, I stopped by at Farm Fresh cafe, which I would highly recommend to all for heavenly fresh and delicious food. One can even shop for local products and handicrafts at this cafe.

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You will also find the Auro Bakery, Tantos, Frite corner and Kopi Bar in this vicinity and I would recommend stopping by at all these for a healthy bite and wi- fi.

 I made my way back by late afternoon to the lovely Arka Guest housethe guest house is one of the best places to stay in Auroville. Centrally located with large, airy, clean rooms. They have  a library, yoga centre, wellness and massage rooms and a lotus pond adding to the list of its highlights.

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The view of the guest house from my room.

I decided to cycle and explore other parts of Auroville – cycled through the dense forests, visited the Buddha garden and met volunteers, with whom I shared an evening cup of tea learning about the preservation of this 12 acre farm land and was humbled at the hard work put in by strangers from across the globe to preserve this land. One can volunteer here for long and short term or help out in the farm every morning during the visit.

As most of the town shuts by 6.30 -7.00, you will find very few places open beyond 8 p.m. An early dinner at the kiosk, which serves some of the best dosas I had ever eaten . I met with a few people who had been working and interning in Auroville and the happiness and satisfaction they shared about their jobs was overwhelming.

Back to my room and there was so much I did in one day and yet it was too little. New stories, thoughts and a book, I retired knowing I had an even more beautiful day waiting for me.

The next day began at 6 a.m. and I was off to Auro bakery for a perfect breakfast ride and food. With fresh baked croissants, Danishes and the smell of flour, I could not have asked for a better start. I sat for a while and cherished my long breakfast chatting up with Jena, the manager of the backyard cafe.

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I made my way back into the Auroville centre and decided to go explore another area. and headed towards the Verite centre. The centre offers many working opportunities and a deeper Auro experience. For more details you can look up: http://www.verite.in/get.php

I had heard a lot about the Naturellement cafe in this area, however due to it being  off season; I found many places shut and this was one of them.

My hunt further led me to the Sve- dame residential area and to another cafe I had read about – Well cafe along with an Art shop – Wellpaper. WELL stands for “Women’s Empowerment through Local Livelihood”. This initiative was set up after Tsunami in 2005 to empower women from local neighborhoods to sustain themselves by their skills. I must admit my best meal was at this place – best hummus and homemade cakes I’ve ever had!

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My evening was spent reading and enjoying the views at the La Terrace cafe above Solar Kitchen under a generous Caja tree -lovely place for some alone time, with a large section of coffees and teas to choose from. An Auro card is required for Solar kitchen and the cafe.

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I spent the rest of the evening attending an Om Chanting session at  Savitri Bhavan , it was one my favourite experiences at the centre and I could not have asked for a better end to my last night there.

My last dinner was at the Right Path Cafe with some new friends from the session, learning more about volunteer experiences and life in Auro.

I ended my day with eagerness for the next morning  when I would finally get a chance to visit the Matri Mandir.

For all first time visitors, visiting Matri Mandir is like a guided tour inside the structure and details are shared about each of its pillars, the thought behind each garden, the flowers, the banyan tree and its significance.

The experience of the time spent inside the Mandir is genuinely something I have no words for. All I can say is that anyone who wishes to experience true silence or stillness must visit it once. Very few places actually help us to connect to what’s within us and this was one of those for me.

The  hours flew by and it was time to bid farewell to Auroville. I ended my visit  realizing there was a lot more to soak in, and even though I wanted to learn and see so much more, – the best way is to step back and live a little.

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“The ego thinks of what it wants and has not.

This is its constant preoccupation.

The soul is aware of what is given

And lives in endless gratitude”. – The Mother

       Until next time, thank you Auroville…

MY TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

I have been on the road for the last two months for work and personal trips; and have literally been living out of a suitcase – shuttling from one city to another.

I have been moving around with one packed suitcase – and so I thought why not share a list of MY travel essentials that I do not leave without, which may help you pack hassle free for future trips!

  1. Right bag – Size matters!
  2. Toiletries – I always have a packed pouch with all my basic toiletries – brush, comb, balm, moisturizer, sanitizer, wet wipes and kajol pencil.
  3. I Pod/ music and headphones – Music is my best companion on any travel.
  4. Travel wallet – It is important to have a good wallet for all your documents, cards, tickets, money!
  5. Stole – It not only helps me keep warm but also adds a dash to any outfit.
  6. Charger – Since we are so dependent on our phones, this is one thing I do not miss at all! In addition throw in a battery pack or a portable charger.
  7. Gum and a granola bar/ biscuits – Food is definitely our fuel! A bar or two doesn’t occupy much space and ensures I do not die of starvation.
  8. A pair of extra clothes and slippers – Luggage misplaced or trip extended – these essentials are a big savior.
  9. Notebook and Book – Life would be incomplete without reading and writing.
  10. Camera – A necessity for me as I love capturing my journeys.

So these are the top 10 essentials that you would find in my luggage bag. Hope this helps you in your future travels.

Don’t forget to share your lists 🙂

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MY REASONS TO LOVE UDAIPUR

This was the first year in my life where I decided to take a trip for Diwali instead of celebrating it at home. Picking a place was easy. What better place for a family weekend-getaway than the gorgeous city of Udaipur?

I have been to Udaipur before. I love the city. And I am sure that I will keep going back for more. But this trip with the family for Diwali has a very special place in my heart.

I felt like a traveler who had fallen in love with travel all over again- absorbed in the city, lost in the streets and completely charmed by its beauty and grandeur.

Here are a few reasons as to why I absolutely loved Udaipur and would urge everyone to visit this land of lakes :

1. Old Udaipur – It has its own charm and a vintage vibe that is unique and unmatched

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2. The lakes and the Palace views are breath-taking. They are enough to make you fall in love with life even more. Lake Pichola and Lake Fatehsagar are both visual treats to all tourists.

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3. The City Palace, Jag Mandir, Monsoon Palace, Devigarh – It’s common knowledge that architecture and cultural heritage in Rajasthan is remarkable. But Udaipur is simply outstanding when compared to its neighbours. The monuments here are sure to leave you spellbound.

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4. The Food!– Rajasthani cuisine and specialties like Lal Maas, Gate ki subzi and the Pyaaz ki Kachoris are mouth-wateringly delicious. Make sure to try them all!

5. Havelis and Rooftop Restaurants – I made it a point to visit one Haveli and roof top restaurant for every meal. Lake Pichola Hotel restaurant – is my recommendation for a lovely dinner with the best views and service. Also do visit the Jaiwana Haveli for an amazing view and an authentic Rajasthani meal.

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6. Royal and Budget Stays – All the Lake view facing Havelis are absolutely gorgeous, well-maintained and offer a royal experience at steal-worthy rates. My personal favourites are Jagat Niwas Palace, Madri Haveli and Udai Kothi.

7. Shopping – Fabrics, colors, antiques, clothes, shoes and souvenirs – Udaipur has them all. Moving from one street to another, you can easily spend more than a day shopping. Make sure you visit Hathi Pol and Bada Bazaar for great deals.

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8. Art and Culture – I absolutely loved walking around in Udaipur. Not only is it picturesque and offers great photographic opportunities, but the streets and walls are multi-coloured and filled with art and graffiti.

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9. Stunning properties –The Oberoi Udaivilas and Leela are amongst the most stunning properties in India. These properties offer some of the best spa treatments and ensure that you are rejuvenated for your trip back home.

Once you visit this city, you won’t need reasons as you will surely and steadily fall in love with it. I want to end this post with one of my favorite quotes on travel and I’d like to dedicate it to the wonderful city of Udaipur.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote,

To travel is to live.”

– Hans Christian Andersen. The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography.

MONSOON ESCAPADES – 5 PLACES FOR MONSOON LOVERS IN GUJARAT

The Monsoons are the most loved season for many of us in India. We eagerly await the first showers which bring with them the fragrant smell of the wet earth, the joy of getting drenched and the feeling of renewal and bliss.

The rains for me are synonymous to reading a good book, a cuppa coffee and sit by the window staring as water pours down kissing the ground. I simply allow myself to soak in the beauty of the world.

Having been home during this monsoon; which presently is close to Surat, Gujarat, I am sharing some of my monsoon discoveries from in and around that can be visited to enjoy this season:

  1. My first adventure trail took me to Parnera Hill and Temple a few kms off Valsad To reach the top; one has to make a climb of 486 steps (yes a good exercise for legs). The way up leads to many small temples and an old broken down Fort. The Parnera Top and Fort have a lot of history attached to them from the time of Maharaja Shivaji. The climb is through dense forests with trees on either side. But the view from the top is completely worth the climb. A short and peaceful day trip during the rains!
Morning misty view from top of the Hill!

Morning misty view from top of the Hill!

  1. Saputara – Saputara is known as the only hill station in the Sahyadri range of Gujarat. Saputara is a breath of fresh air, lush with flowers, a pristine lake, thick forest covers and a peaceful location for a perfect weekend getaway. I stayed at the very comfortable & beautiful Aakar Lords Inn . It offers a variety of experiences for all tourists – trekking, sunset points, temples, museums and boating…there are a plethora of activities to choose from.

I had a lovely time walking by the town, relaxing and enjoy the scenic view it offered. The drive to Saputara crossing the Dang Forest is spectacular. . For any more details you can also look up, (http://www.saputarahillstation.com/index.html)

Bird's eye view of the Saputara Valley..

Bird’s eye view of the Saputara Valley..

  1. Dandi beach – This famous beach which came into light when selected by Mahatma Gandhi for the Salt March. The beach is closest to a town called Navsari. The beach is not as crowded as compared to other beaches and yet offers a unique and tranquil experience. I went by, to experience a sunset during the first showers and was completely awe struck by the colors in the horizon.

  1. Gira Waterfalls – These waterfalls was an unplanned discovery during my monsoon adventures. They are breathtakingly beautiful and I was pleasantly surprised to find something as wonderful so close to home. They are located at about 3km from Waghai town and are a 30m natural drop into the Ambica River. Small tea and corn stalls make for a perfect snack while you enjoy the view.

  1. Valsad – Valsad is a popular town in Gujarat and has quite a few touristy attractions. Tithal Beach s a tourist attraction in the coastal region of Valsad. There are some grand temples such as Shri Sai Baba and Shri Swami Narayan along the sea coast. Food stalls – bhajiyas, dabeli, coconut water, dense forests, great architecture and a walk by the sea sums up my monsoon visit to this region of Valsad.

Hope this post pushes you to discover places closer to home.