Glimpses of India’s Blue City – Jodhpur

Jodhpur.

It’s been ‘THE’ city on my bucket list when it comes to places I want to visit in India, and by chance, thanks to my parents planning a Christmas getaway I ended up spending a weekend in this city.

What do I feel about it?

Honestly, I am not sure.

The Mehrangargh fort is one of the best in the state of Rajasthan, which is saying a lot considering it’s one of India’s most ‘royal states’. The palaces and the tombs and the many havelis have their charms and will make you fall in love with the culture and vibe. But the city itself needs work. Jaipur for example is a city that is maintained and is live able. Jodhpur on the other hand I felt had parts like the bazaar which were last built by the kings that lived here 400 years ago. It’s easy to escape these things while sitting in a luxury villa or hotel but when you really step out in the city, the dust and traffic gets to you.

But having said that, I want to share the things I loved about Jodhpur.

Like the blue walls in the ‘purani sheher’ which is the most iconic bits of the city. Whether romanticized in cinema (both Indian and International) or just the flood on Instagram by travel bloggers who seem to know how to capture the most tempting travel photos.

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I loved how photogenic every detail of the fort was. Not kidding. Every detail. From the jharokas to the birds nesting in every corner, to the ‘balconies’ to even the famous opium man. It’s the like Mehrangargh was born to tell stories for an eternity. I like to think of myself to be an imaginative person. And boy did I imagine. I imagined how the palaces inside would look in its prime. I imagined the costumes and the people inside the halls 500 years back. It’s charming, vintage, royal and very elite.

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I loved how the city looked from the fortress walls…

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I loved how beautiful I felt while in such a beautiful place…

(might just be that imagination again)

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I loved that I walked through the bazaar and the old market just to find the ‘Toorji Ka Jhalara’ a popular step well in the city that once upon a time must have been a beautiful sight and loved that now even in it’s ‘not so great’ days it stood out.

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I loved visiting Raas Haveli at night for dinner with my family just because it was one of the most beautiful places to be. Foothills of a lit up Mehrangargh, small fires glowing in the candles all around. It was stunning.

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I loved that it was a weekend where I got to know a bit about a city I really wanted to get to know for a long time. I loved that it was another place that I got to visit. I loved that I got to spend some time with my family. Most of all I loved Jodhpur showed me more than the ‘blue’ to it… It showed me a bit of reality as well.

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How I Spent ‘Solo Time’ While Traveling

I am not close to being the wanderer or the expert backpacker or the solo traveler that every other person including me stalks on social media and feels like their lives suck. When I see pictures of travelers jumping into a waterfall or writing about how they traveled for months alone – I feel like an under achiever, but it also makes me want to strive towards something…

I have traveled alone before. But never for a long time enough time that can make it commendable. But sometimes I do get asked ‘Don’t you get bored?’ – well I have come to realise there is a huge difference in being ‘solo’ and ‘lonely’.

I can be lonely in a crowd and at the same time can also enjoy some ‘me time’

Get what I mean?

Well here is how I spent some ‘me time’ during my last solo trip (which lasted only 3 days)  – feat Siem Reap

Start with finding yourself a good property to be comfortable – travel hostels are great fun but every once in a while a big room in a nice resort is even nicer. I was lucky enough to find a good affordable property this time and I tried to make the most of it –  Tanei Resort and Spa 

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Spa time always helps ❤

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Immerse yourself in local culture – I for example love local theater! This time I checked out the ‘Bambu Stage’ in Siem Reap – it was something quite unique. Sipped a glass of wine before the performance started – the local artists explained how they make the leather puppets and the shadow puppetry narrated some local folk stories that sounded all too familiar to me. It was a very nice way to chill.

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Find the perfect souvenirs! I love collecting food and art related ones and the Sombai liqueur shop provided the perfect opportunity for me. They make local rice wines and put it in hand painted bottles. Give you a free tasting of 8 different flavours and also let you sample their jams! I loved this place and spent more than what I intended there!

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Eat some delicious local food!

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Or even better take a cooking class! I enrolled myself into the Countryside cooking classes and had a great time. I was the only one that day for the morning tour so got a personalized experience! The local markets were thriving and the market place is so much more than the produce, its about looking at the true local life, meeting people, learning about their livelihood and culture and the whole time my host telling me stories. He told me how he was funded by an American who not only taught him English but literally helped him get his life on track. I think I will write a full story just on this! I learnt how to make 3 dishes and I had a great time cooking and eating and then eating some more. The best thing for any traveler who loves food.

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Discover the city the way you want to. No peer pressure. Of course I checked out the famous Pub Street of Siem Reap – I took my photos, I wandered around but I decided to stop at the fish pedicure place and spend my evening there playing with puppies!

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Not kidding. Puppies.

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Solo traveling means a lot of things and this time it was just me taking a break. Doing things I want to do, when I want to do. Not having to worry about anything else. Sure everyone likes company but knowing that I can be okay on my own means so much more.

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A Moment in Angkor Wat

Starting the new year and looking back at a couple of things. Not in any specific order I remembered some of my happy moments this year. Two of them really stood out and surprisingly both moments came from places that are meant to be spiritual. The soul after all takes what it needs from wherever it can. My first moment was my birthday when I was at the Pura Tirta Empul in Bali…and the second one came from my water blessing ceremony at Angkor Wat.

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I was extremely surprised that I found my moment of peace on a day I was quite pissed with God. I waited for Angkor Wat, Thom and the other temples for a while, took the trip only to see the infamous sunrise. Yet what greeted me was heavy rain and grey clouds.

I was upset, I was carrying an umbrella and my brand new DSLR and trying to balance. I did miss the sunrise, but the minute I entered Angkor Wat temple I decided not to care about it anymore. And then suddenly the old monuments in front of me had a different charm in that wet and gloomy weather.

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As I was saying, once I got passed the rain I walked through the temple trying to discover a history similar to ours. The guide I wasted money on was trying to narrate stories to me and it became a situation where I ended up correcting Hindu facts and history. So I basically ended up giving him money to help me with my camera bag and umbrella.

But I was positive. Which is very difficult for a cynical person like me. This day in 2017 stood out for me cause it was one of those rare days that things were against me and yet I was trying to see the silver lining.

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So while I strolled around the area and was about to leave to visit the other two temples, Angkor Thom and Praer Khan. I came across this small stupa where the monk was doing water blessings. I’m not a religious person. Yet at that moment I realized I needed that.

I needed to sit there for those few seconds and let the monk sprinkle that holy water on me. I felt like I needed it at that moment. I felt like it would help me heal. It might just be in my head. While travelling alone, living alone, and just being alone in general we tend to lost. As the monk tied the thread on my wrist I wondered if it would bring me good luck.

Honestly I don’t know if it did. All I know is that in that moment a little bit of faith helped me.

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So as I get myself ready for 2018 and all the things its supposed to bring me, the hope and the prayers I take along with me. The same prayers I have been carrying along for years. The same hope that makes me believe that life might just turn out good.

2018, I don’t know what to expect from you. I don’t know what I am meant to do or be. I don’t know who I am meant to be. But I just hope that its good. Good, is all I can ask.

Cat Ba island- Emerald Waters, my first time Kayaking and more!

Why Cat Ba?

When you hear about Vietnam tourism most people talk about Halong Bay and the limestone. What they don’t understand is that most of Northern Vietnam has these structures, including the Cao Bang area where my mother and I saw some impressive limestone structures. The iconic limestone in the sea is spread across the region and multiple islands and forms many different bays – much prettier and less crowded than Halong – like La Han Bay

From Halong City, we took a speed boat to Cat Ba simply because we were too early for the ferry. And while the speed boat took us to the island in 10 minutes the first real glimpse of the bay was something that jaw dropping.

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My mother and i explored the little town, souvenir shops, cafes and the beaches on our first day and fell in love. Food was clearly not a problem here with so many European options and lots of seafood!

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The next day we booked a day tour with Cat Ba ventures – a tour group whose reputation I had read about from various blogs and sources. It was epic. We were a group with a boat on whose roof we chilled the entire day. They served us an impressive never ending lunch, took us to some of the best spots of La Han bay, took the swimmers to the coolest parts of the Emerland waters and more than anything gave me a chance to be cool. I went kayaking. I cannot explain how epic it was for a non swimmer and an average girl like me who in the traditional sense isn’t up for ‘ thrilling adventures’

I went kayaking with the group and thanks to a good partner I even felt safe. It realised that it took a lot of upper body strength. Though the waters looked calm there was current in the sea. It was amazing. To paddle through this water to hidden grottoes and luminescent caves and finding secluded lagoons.

I did not carry a camera on account of my clumsiness, but I wish I was a good enough writer to describe how beautiful this place was. I could have cried.

Try closing your eyes and thinking about it. Take a minute. Imagine you are regular girl who loves to travel and knows she can’t swim and her mother is waiting for in tension at the dock. Imagine that you open your eyes and you are surrounded by beautiful green water and a small cave is ahead of you and you can see the water reflect in an almost sparkling like its a magical potion.

Imagine you are in the ‘hidden’ lagoon and are waiting for the endangered monkeys to show themselves to you but all you can hear is the chirping.

Imagine.

After kayaking the boat took us to some iconic limestone structures that were either seen in popular films (hint James Bond rock) or  structures that remind you of a sleeping lion.

Suddenly you will find local villagers on their boats.

Suddenly you will find nothing around you.

This was one of the best days of my life. And certainly the best day from this trip!

Check out the pictures below!

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A Little Bit Of Paradise: Ban Gioc Falls

What To Know About Cao Bang as an Indian Traveller?

Food is going to be a problem.

The road trip is going to be a long one.

You will need a translator app on your phone just in case net doesn’t allow Google Translate to work.

And…

A little piece of heaven awaits you.

The first time I saw a picture of the Ban Gioc falls, I was in awe of how something this wonderful exists. It was a drone shot. However while planning the Vietnam with my mom I thought about whether it would be worth going that far into Northern Vietnam.

The journey from Hanoi took us almost and entire day and somehow we ended up in a small local bus (that is another story) – but with 7 hours of road, by the time my mom and me reached Cao Bang, we were grumpy, tired and really pissed off at the foggy and rainy weather.

And though in those hours we blamed God, and the fates and our luck like typical dramatic Indian women. It turned out that the complaining worked. The sun came out the next day for long enough for us to visit the most beautiful waterfalls.

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The Ban Gioc falls is the largest waterfall in the country, and is shared by China. But I don’t have anything to say that you won’t find on wikipedia.

I can only try to express how powerful and liberating something this stunning can make you feel. Like I have said before, there is something about the the force of a waterfall that is truly mesmerizing in nature.

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The best part about these falls are that they are accessible. Yes its a long drive from Cao Bang city and even a longer a drive to get to Cao Bang, but there are local buses to take you literally to a park where you can sit on the grass and stare at the water.  Not like the wild waterfalls in Bali where you need to hike and trek and swim to discover.

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You will see families here, kids at picnic, local vendors, among many other things. I was so impressed with how easily the locals kept the place clean. Everyone who came respected the place. Something a lot of Indian tourists need to learn.

Overall I was grateful for the sun to come out, for the raft that took me close to the waterfalls, the kid who dropped me in the water at the banks, the water drops that fell on me which felt like mini blessings, my mother for being there with me… and to myself for able to keep the promise that I made to myself.

That no matter what. I will try  my best to make me happy, to see the world and collect memories and moments.

For anyone who is reading this. I hope you do the same.

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Hanoi’s Water Puppet Theater

The water puppet theater kept popping up on  my screen every time I was looking up what to do in Hanoi. I love theater and the whole of point of traveling is learning about a place through local experiences. So on my first night in Hanoi, I got my hotel to book me and my mother 2 tickets to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

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We went for the English narration, although that really doesn’t make too much a difference since the real story is right front of you. The puppet show is very unique, with the wooden puppets dancing to tunes sung live by musicians as they tell you stories of daily life.

Water puppetry as an art has been in Vietnam since I believe the 11th century, and I love that I got to experience it. The shows are performed in a waist deep pool with puppeteers standing in the water behind the screen the whole time. What a task!

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The stories are usually based on rural life, farming with a strong reference to Vietnamese folklore. The puppets danced away as they showed us the birth of the Hoan Kiem lake, what traditional dance forms look like and even showed how a bunch of farmers and fishermen tried to save their ducks from a wild cat!

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With the lights, water and the music the puppets truly come alive! If in Hanoi, I highly recommend taking out the time to fit this in the itinerary!

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5 Places On My Hanoi Food Trail

While reading up on Hanoi before my trip all I read was about coffee, noodles and lots and lots of food! And you can imagine that helped tip the scales in Hanoi’s favour for me.  I suddenly found myself get excited about this visit and started making a list of places I can go to in the 2 days I would spend in Hanoi’s famous old quarters.

While I might have gone overboard with the list, I am glad I found time to try as much as I could, and even dragged my unimpressed mother along with me trying to get us the local ‘food’ experience.

It started with me trying to find a little food joint called Banh Cuon Gia Truyen

This little place had gotten some great reviews about their Vietnamese Rice Pancakes and I for one was dying to try it. Thanks to my google map skills we found the place despite the fact that my mother was wondering the entire time (out loud) I was wasting time trying to find food when there are so many options around.

I couldn’t explain that this was as good as sightseeing for me. So I let it go.

The place was small and unfortunately quite unappetizing as it was very unclean. I wish the tables were not dirty and had less waste on the floor, but I found myself liking the translucent rice crepes (mine were stuffed with little shrimp). Was it the best place to grab lunch? Probably not. But the food was a thumbs up in my book.

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My next stop was to the extremely popular Cafe Giang. This was the ultimate stop for me to try the famous Egg Coffee. As weird as that might sound, the coffee is delicious! It tastes like an espresso dessert and looks beautiful! The cafe itself is a very hippie, ‘lets hang out with friends’ vibe. Shared seating and small tables. I found myself a corner and waited for my cup to arrive. If I had company I would forced my companions to order the egg hot chocolate, the rum egg coffee and possibly some other options all so I can keep tasting those as well 😛

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Of course being Vietnam in general you cannot escape certain foods, while Hanoi might have some amazing options, I realized once you leave the cities local foods look alike and guess what you will find almost everywhere?

Pho for sure.

My mom and I came across this pretty little restaurant in the Hoan Khiem area called, ‘The Little Hanoi’ and the place was cute and there was wifi, and the waitress knew English and the food was yumm! We tried the crab fried spring rolls there and of course I got myself a large bowl of pho.

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Next was a place I like countless others visited only because a certain Mr Obama and Mr Bourdian made famous. The little restaurant became famous 2 famous charismatic men went to eat local food there. A place called Bun Cha Huong Lien

As the same suggests its known for a Vietnamese dish called Bun Cha, that is served with vermicelli noodles, pork and broth. I like many others kept this place on my list after Obama made it famous and trust me the restaurant uses it for PR – they even have a special ‘Obama’ menu  – the same meal he had while there. But the food was epic! I think Bun Cha is probably my favourite Vietnamese dish. And I’m usually not even a fan of pork meat! This had the right amount of spices to it which satisfied the Indian soul in me.

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I then come back to Coffee. In 12 days in Vietnam I think I had at least 2 cups a day, I love Vietnamese coffee. And the day I was leaving Hanoi I wanted another cup of Egg Coffee, only this time thought I’ll try a new place. Cafe Pho Co

The place was literally hidden in the market, with a clothing store in the front of it. It took me two circles around the block to spot the board. The vibe is extremely vintage and you have to climb old winding stairs to get to the little terrace where they serve their coffee (I feel bad for the waitresses)

The coffee in Giang as better according to me, but this won’t disappoint you either. Sit on the terrace, sip on coffee and try to spot the lake between buildings.

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That’s all for now. I’m going to try and make myself a hot cup of coffee right now.