Jul’16 – Bare beauty of Ladakh and Pangong

Ever since I saw 3 idiots, I wanted to go to Ladakh. It seemed like one of those isolated destinations where you can be anyone you want to be – just like Aamir Khan who is a teacher cum scientist indulging in innovative experiments. 7 years later, I found the best travel companions to go on this trip and the planning began with https://www.makemytrip.com/

Singapore -> Delhi 6 hour flight + 6 hour stay in airport + 2 hour flight from Delhi -> Leh later, we found ourselves in the midst of this barren beauty.

Day 1 – Leh 

Our lovely hotel

View from the hotel –

Acclimitisation to low oxygen by napping and evening bazaar shopping nearby –

Day 2 – Ladakh Hall of fame, Spituk Gompa, Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers, Thiksey Gompa, Shey Palace

Day 3 – Khardungla Pass, Nubra valley, tallest Buddha

Day 4 – Leh Palace, Pangong Lake

Day 5 – Pangong Lake -> Leh

Tents we stayed in overnight

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Sunrise at Pangong Lake

Day 5 – Leh -> Delhi

Hope you enjoyed this post and hopefully, gives you an itinerary in case you are planning to go there. Please do send your questions or comments my way 🙂

And hope you make beautiful memories like I did !

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May’17 – Xin chao from Vietnam!

With bright sun in the sky, and wanderlust on our feet, we embarked on a week-long getaway to Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay on April 30th 2017. We had a lovely trip, trekking in the mountains, cruising on the sea, baywatching on the beach and walking in the bustling metropolis of Hanoi.

This post will be a photo diary of our wanderings and musings, of food, culture and adventure.

Day 1 – Hanoi -> Sapa

We reached airport and treated ourselves to some banh mi – a traditional Vietnamese sub. Using Google translate and some sign language , we managed to explain we wanted vegetarian – its ‘Chay’ for future reference! It tasted good but not filling enough. So we indulged in some Cajun fries from nearby popeyes:P Then we booked an uber (very convenient especially in a city where regular taxis are super overpriced) to the city .

We gazed out of the window like little kids and admitted that this place is just like Bangalore except for the yellow skin (not racist, Viets take it as a compliment :)) and sleek mopeds everywhere!

We reached the city center of old quarter in about an hour and decided to chill in a Harry Potter themed cafe called Always cafe (After Snape’s famous word of course) !

Harry Potter books in Vietnamese , vintage decor with old Hogwarts house capes and daily prophet posters adorning the walls , it was a quirky humble Cafe in a city of cafes (apparently people tend to gather more in cafes than in houses in Hanoi) . We treated ourselves to some polyjuice potion (which tasted sweet unlike the book) and I caved in  and bought a Deathly hallow chain! 🙂

We roamed the streets with heavy backpacks and went to Mam restaurant for dinner . A posh place where they understoood we eat ‘Chay’ and served us some Super fried spring rolls and half -boiled vegetables and rice. We were amused by the bland portions but ate anyway heartily !

We went to the train station to catch the overnight Orient express to Lao Cai – a foothill village ! It was a lovely train ride and we slept peacefully – tired and happy !

Day 2 – Sapa

We took the early morning mini bus up the foggy beautiful mountain to Sapa and checked into homey ‘Charming Sapa’ hotel. We had two furry friends greet us in to the hotel 🙂

 
After a sumptuous breakfast of chocolate pancakes , cinnamon tea and omelette , we set off to ur first destination – cable car and funicular ride + trek to Fansipan summit at a height of over 3000m . Green paddy field views, tall majestic mountain views in the world’s longest cable car (6 km) was well worth the hype , although a tad expensive !

Onbaord the cable car :

Once we reached the Fanspian station, a breeze of cold wind wafted through the air while vendor stalls sold some hot snacks – we felt peckish, so we munched a cake, bought a fridge magnet souvenier, and proceeded on the long climb to the summit. While we climbed, the fog gave way to sunshine and temples – and I felt like a character right out of an Orient novel.

  

We reached the summit at 3143 m height. Previously the summit took 3 days by well-trained trekkers. With the cable car opening in 2016, technology has once again played facade to an once-upon-a-time struggle.

The downward climb was peaceful in the late morning breeze and we made our way to have some yummy lunch at Muong Hoa Street.  We found this amazing Vegetarian Vietnamese hot pot place with tofu, veggies and noodles. After an hour of cooking and eating the delicious meal, we went back to the hotel for a siesta.

In the evening, we walked through the Sapa town. As Bill bryson put it, “I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

Sapa is said to be a city of 4 seasons in a day – spring in the morning, summer in the noon, fall evening with slight fog and wintry cool nights.

The Sapa lake next to out hotel with duck pedal rides and Sapa Street shopping :

 

The sweet girl who convinced us to buy her embroidered bags (they are super cute!) :

Vietnam’s infamous egg coffee (Milk was scarce back then and they substituted with egg). Pro tip : Mix it well before you have it!

After an Italian dinner (I was craving pizza!), we took a nice walk by the serene lake and lit up trees.

Day 3 – Sapa “Easy trek” -> Sapa Villages -> Train to Hanoi

The nex morning saw us doing some hard-core trekking of 15 km for nearly 6 hours. It was a tiring but memorable day. We walked down Muong Hoa valley to Y Linh Ho village to Lao Chai villages past paddy fields, village schools, tranquil bamboo trees, local shops and lovely streams all while appreciating the simplicity of a village life.

The humble Sapa villagers helped us trek and made sure the climbs up and down were safe and enjoyable. They do this everyday carrying their babies at the backs. One can’t help but admire their tenacity and willpower. It’s their way of life, not in the romanticised and glamourous sense, but in the more banal notion. We thanked them for letting us be a part of their lives for half a day.

One of the village woman made this pretty heart strung out of leaves and love for me :

We had a simple filling lunch by this stream :

We came back in the evening and took the night Orient Express train back to Hanoi, after relishing some garlic french fries.

Day 4 – Hanoi -> Ha Long Bay Cruise

We reached Hanoi early in the morning and we walked by Hoan Kiem lake and Hanoi Temple of literature while we saw people do Tai Chi and play badminton. I love watching cities wake up and go into their normal routines – it gives a new perspective to life!

We had a lovely albiet, slow breakfast at a coffee shop called lotus blanc at a very “Indira-Nagar”ish area( Bangloreans know this!). We praised the waiter for the food and he apologised profusely to us –  we were amused that language differences are at play again! We thanked again and left before he could respond 😛

We boarded the bus to Ha Long bay V’spirit cruise at 10 am, championed by our sincere English speaking  Vietnamese tour guide- Jimmy. He passionately narrated Vietnam culture and history throughout the 4 hour journey and taught us Vietnamese sentences like Xin Chao (Hello)! I forgot the rest 😦 sigh! 

We made a pit stop at a Disabled Artist Center – where people affected by Agent Orange during the war inspired us by the creativity and strength. We bought this beautiful piece of art made by a lovely lady as a token of respect and support :

 

 

We reached the lovely cruise spot and boarded our vintage-styled cruise at noon :


This was our iternary for the 2 days aboard the cruise. A deeply rejunevating cruise it was!

There were around 12 people on the cruise – including some entitled NZ children !).Being the only 2 vegetarians on board, we were treated to some unexpectedly delicious food privately catered to us!

It was a dream – turquoise waters all around, vintage styled dining, emerald limestones standing tall as guardians and heart warming delicious food on a wednesday afternoon!

 

After sunbathing atop the cruise bay area, the cruise stopped near Titop island. The arduous climb to the top was so worth the beautiful view :

Chilling on Titop beach while pondering about life and watching beach volleyball :

We returned to the cruise, watched the sunset, played some wooden block puzzle games with our new friends on the boat, did some squid fishing, ate a sumptuous dinner and retired for the night.

View from our room :

Day 5 – Ha Long Bay Cruise -> Hanoi

Caves,  Cooking Spring Rolls and So long to Ha Long , Xin Chao to Hanoi again!

Ha Long was under the sea years ago and the bumps on the celing represent the crests and troughs of the waves. Each rock represents an animal (its all the imagination :))

There were even rocks representing heart and male genitalia (apparently to attract women to the caves :P)

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We checked into our “Graceful Hotel” with once-again courteous royal service from staff, and walked down the streets of Hanoi. We had a delious Veggie Banh mi (Vietnamese sub) at a local Banh Mi 25 ( a must try). It cost less than a dollar but the taste was oh-so-good!

We walked down the streets, haggled and bought some chilling elephant pants. The street shops were so colourful and bright – it was like being in a carnival! In the spirit of trying out everything, We decided to try a posh European restaurant recommended by a friend – Green Tangerine. It turned out to be very high-end and we pretended to be British for some funny reason. Anyway, as with all high-end restaurants , the food portions were limited and the plates were huge and we walked out feeling broke and hungry! So we bought a huge chocolate milkshake and everything was alright with the world again 🙂

We decided to catch the famous water puppet, a one-of-a-kind show which has been happening for the past several years (kind of like an Asian Broadway show). The dialogues were in Vietnamese but some parts were understandable and funny. The production, stage setting and music were truly different and worth seeing.

We were super tired after this, caught an uber ( yay no more haggling !) back to the hotel and feel into a deep sleep.

Day 6 – Hanoi Museums, Cafe Mai, Hanoi -> Singapore

We got early morning next day to check out Cafe Mai( Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world!), bought some strong coffee and checked out the local museums like Vietnamese History museum. They were interesting but sadly they didn’t have many exhibits regarding the latest history (Vietnam War with America). So we ended up reading Wikipedia inside the museum 😛

Man’s evolution – it cracked me up for no reason :

After this, it was time to go to the airport and bid adieu to Hanoi, Sapa and Ha long where the confluece of buzzling city life, simple village mountain life and serene ocean life brought us peace and joy for 7 glorious days.

I will be back Vietnam! Thanks for all the fish 🙂

P.S Hope you enjoyed the post! Do message me if you need restaurant/site recommendations.

Spring Goan Beaches!

Goa has traditionally been the Indian honeymoon or bachelor party destination. However when we decided to book a trip to Goa, it was mostly to get away from the Bangalore madness and relish the sound of beach waves while lying on a hammock and sip a drink from a shack.

And that’s how exactly the trip was – jello relaxing with unexpectedly delicious food options while immersing in the Goan culture with Portuguese colonial influences. We simply loved our time here!

Here’s a photo diary of some lovely memories :

Day 1 – Goa airport to our Calangute hotel Epitacio’s. Lunch in a Indochinese restaurant. We went jaunting to the Calangute beach which was a street away, had a pleasant evening walk by the beach, watched some beach football and had a lovely candlelight dinner by the sea.

Day 2 – Old Goa exploration, Beach boat ride and feasting on some traditional dishes

We visited Basilisca of Bom Jesus, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered to be one of the best examples of ‘Baroque architecture’ and holds the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. We also visited the art gallery and the museum opposite it – it had some interesting tidbits about the Portguese colonial period.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, Goa. It was closed at noon. So we took a walk around it and had some lunch and did some street shopping.

We went on a rocky boat ride while seeing Fort Aguada, lighthouse and some beautiful hill scenary. Some good old beach posing after the boat ride :

At night, we went to a funky south indian restaurant which had Kerala, Malabar, Tamil and Kannada cuisine. There were dishes which mixed the cuisines – so there were some unique flavours. We were treated like Royals and the service was par excellence. Note the famed Rajni Dosa in the menu – do try it!

 

Day 3 :  Heavenly lunch, Midday beach tanning 

Yummy lunch at a cosy setting next to the hotel (The Culture Kitchen) – Carrot Halwa(the most melting one i have had by far), Melon curry (my mouth waters when i think of it) and the traditional Goan Baklava dessert with icecream. We were in heaven at the end of that meal!


  

 

We returned to the beach, rented beach beds and pondered about life over Pina colada and chocolate milkshake. There were a lot of foreigners who got some soothing oil massages from Goan masseuses.

Late afternoon, we reached the airport as two well-rested happy souls, and this mug totally captured the moment 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post, do message me if you need travel advice on Goa!

Apr’16 – Till United Kingdom come!

Day 1- Arrival in London : Borough market, Harry Potter Studios

From Harry Potter to Harrods to High tea, London has something magical for everyone. As a child, I devoured the stories of London city and British countryside and longed to see it and be a part of it. And boy, do dreams come true! A trip booked on a whim due to amazingly low priced Lufthansa tickets turned out to be the best experience of our lives.

We arrived in London City airport, got our Oyster cards and dragged our luggages on the relatively ( to Singapore) narrow tube to Borough Market. We moved into our quirky hostel St.Christopher’s Inn and set off on a walk along the lanes of Borough Market.

If I could , I would eat here everyday! Street food from world cuisines – I ain’t saying no to that 😀

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After munching Indian chaat cooked to perfection by English chefs,  H and I set off to the la-la land of Harry Potter in Warner Bros studio , Watford Junction. Good that we booked our tickets a month in advance! On a scale of 1-10 how much do I like Harry Potter?

9 3/4 quarters of course! The studio was the workplace of all the actors from 1-8 HP movies. The 1000 odd set designers and artists who worked on it made our real world magical by making the magical world real. Every set piece in the Studios brought back those lovely childhood memories trapped in the deep recesses of my brain. I tried my hand at flying and wand witchcraft. We pretended to be couples flying far far away in Ron’s enchanted car . We pretended to be in Snape’s potions class stirring the mechanical revolving cauldron. On occasions of back-to-reality phases, we learnt how the directors and visual effects artists turned Hogwarts class into a huge living school. Although slightly over-priced, the tour was once-in-a-lifetime experience! We ended our tour caping ourselves in Hogwarts robes and sipping authentic butterbeer.

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Day 2: Warwick Castle, Stratford upon Avon, Cotswolds, Oxford , English Pub

After some sound sleep (and hence conquering jet lag) we zoomed to Victoria station to catch our Premier Tour Bus for a day outside London. Enroute, we saw Buckingham Palace – weekday home of England’s longest serving reigning monarch – Queen Elizabeth 2, Pimilco ( Residence of London MPs – Mostly Promises apparently! ) and a host of other places before making our to the highway towards Warwick castle.

After an hour, we reached Warwickshire where the mighty Warwick castle stands on the River Avon. Hugh, our perfect English tour guide took us down the Warwick history lane. Now owned by Madame Tussads to recreate life-like wax statues from that era, Warwick is a medieval castle built by William the Conquerer in the 11th Century.

Armed with coats, gloves and scarf, we headed out to the castle on what seemed to be a “warm” day in Uk. Little did we know that it would experience April snow showers only a few hours later! But, oh the excitement 🙂 Anyway, I digress.So we started off with a bow and arrow show , walked around the castle, the dungeons, the prisons and the royal chambers and managed to catch the amazing Trebuchet show – one of the world’s largest working siege engines!

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We sat alongside little school students with marshmallow hot chocolate and saw a giant rock weighing less than 150 kg thrown upto 300 m and as high as 25 m. It was a scene seen to behold. After catching a random beautiful fully-open feathered peacock chilling on the grass, we climbed up the castle to catch the terrace view before rushing back to the bus, for our next stop – Stratford-upon-Avon!

The birthplace of Shakespeare – Stratford upon Avon had the quintessential English charm which I loved. A quaint  town situated across Cotswold Villages with honey-colored stone houses, the place beamed with Shakespearean literary energy. The place recently celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare on April 23rd, 2016.

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After exploring the house and some shops, we had yummy food at ‘Food of Love’ Cream tea,scones, lasagna and English salad…”If music be the food of love, play on..”

Next stop, Oxford!

It was 4 pm in the evening when we reached Oxford and it was oh,so cold and windy! We took refuge in the great halls of Oxford ( HP great hall scenes were filmed here!) and i so wished for the beautiful cutlery to be filled with food! We roamed around Christ Church and the lawns. Oxford University is a city university – there is no main campus – the accommodation, faculty and halls are all around the city center.We saw University the Church of St.Mary the Virgin, the Sheldonian theatre. The whole town gave the whole colonial era feel with students dressed in robes and reciting latin verses. It would have been a unique experience to study here.

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We boarded our bus back to London and we arrived there in freezing cold. We met our colleague and friend in a traditional English pub next to Victoria station for pot pie,mashed potatoes and cider – all very English.

Day 3 – Borough Market (again!), Windermere, Lake District

Windermere , the largest lake in Lake District, is also an adorable town right out of the pages of an Enid Blyton book. We checked into a backpackers hostel with complete self service, had a nice walk in the rainy weather , warmed ourselves to French soup and pizza. It was an amazing afternoon – almost felt like I was in Stars Hollow with friendly neighbours whose lives might have intertwined into mine. We visited to the local stores, treated ourselves to some Sticky Toffee Pudding and just people-watched. Everyone was so warm and friendly with beautiful houses and cute dogs – we so wished to come back and retire here.

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A trek up to Orrest Head early in the morning 🙂

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Day 4 – Beatrix Potter Tour by Lake District Tours, Edinburgh – Royal Mile

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Day 5 – Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour, Edinburgh Castle Tour, The Dark Side Tour

View from Hostel – Edinburgh Castle Rock Hostel – funkiest hostel I have stayed in!

Say hello to animated David Maitland – our Sandeman walk tour guide :


Day 6 – Back to London, London Tower Bridge walk, BrakeAway Secret London Bike Tour, Bomb Scares, beautiful walks



Day 7 – Sandeman’s Grand Tour of London , Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner , and food-hopping

Day 8 – British museum, 221b Baker Street, Science Museum , Harrods and Middle eastern dinner


Day 9 – Yummy long breakfast at St Christopher’s Inn and tube ride to Heathrow Airport.

Hope you enjoyed this post !

I will be back , UK 🙂

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