Saturday, December 30, 2017

Book Review: Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

If you must read only one book in 2018, let it be this.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.
"...everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same house our whole lives, because we can't help it. We are all migrants through time."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

This is where you get the best desserts in Hyderabad

I was recently on my very first trip to Hyderabad, and I met some of my university friends for lunch in Jubilee Hills. A couple of hours into the afternoon, we were done eating and were sitting around wondering what to do next, when our friend Saransh spoke up. “There are just three things distinctive about Hyderabad: The heat, the biryani, and Conçu.” I laughed at the sudden proclamation, for it sounded like something one would say as a conversation-starter in gatherings like this. It seemed even reductive, for as I discovered during those 3 days, there are far too many things distinctive about the city of Hyderabad.

But the solemnity with which he had said it made me want to find out what this Conçu place was all about. What if it was something really worth checking out? So that's where we headed next for dessert.

Now I have a huge thing for French decor: the pastel pinks and mint greens, those low-hanging lampshades, the easy sophistication, and oh, the daintiness of it all! So when we walked up to the front facade of Conçu, guess what I might have uttered.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Did you know there is a Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi?!

I asked this question in one of my Instagram stories, and a majority of those who replied said, "No way!" So, it turns out, people really don't know there lies a full-fledged wildlife sanctuary across the road from Tughlaqabad Fort at the far southern edge of Delhi.

It is called Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary and is comprised of nearly 7000 acres of semi-arid forest area in the northern-most extension of the Aravalli Hills, one of the oldest mountain systems in the world.

Historical Background of Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

There was uncertainty regarding the legal status of the region until 1986, when certain areas owned by the Gram Sabhas of villages Asola, Sahurpur and Maidan Garhi were notified as a Wildlife Sanctuary by the Delhi administration.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Stunning Sikkim: A visual journey through the land of the Yetis

"Welcome to the land of the yetis - mythical, dangerous, mysterious"

As we drove up steep mountain roads on our way to Nathu La, this signboard by the roadside made me smile. I was in a land of countless mysteries and unparalleled beauty. Colourful prayer flags and gushing waterfalls, lush valleys and snowy peaks abound in every corner of the stunning Sikkim. Seven days of pure bliss on a relaxed trip through Sikkim (and another 4 days on a previous trip) and I came back with thousands of beautiful memories and an SD card full of pictures and footage.

I wrote about my experiences in Yumthang Valley (the famous Valley of Flowers) and at Tsomgo Lake earlier. I've also finally managed to put together a visual treat for you guys - snatches from my journey through the stunning Sikkim together with all the reasons why you should take the first chance to go visit Sikkim. 

Watch, if only to find out why I am so over-the-top obsessed with Sikkim! 😂😂

Did you like the video? I'd love your feedback (I know how amateurish this first attempt was). I'm off to Hyderabad and Kerala this December, and I've got my hands on a brand new GoPro Hero 5 Black camera 😍 so, much better videos are coming up on my Youtube Channel very soon.

Would you like to see more videos from my travels? Subscribe to my channel here! So many of you have read and supported my blog over the months and years, for which I am forever grateful. My readers reinforce my sometimes-dwindling faith in my writing and blogging journey. It would mean the world to me to have your encouragement and support for my Youtube foray as well now.

Thanks a lot, you who are reading this. I am, because you are. 💗💕

Don't forget to check out my channel and show some love! (Only if you think I can do this.)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Chandigarh's newest gem: Is this place even real?

There are libraries. There are book cafes. And then there's this little cafe in Chandigarh that is set to combine the two into something really cool - really soon.
Chandigarh's newest gem: The Hedgehog Cafe

I was walking the streets a couple of days ago, exploring the local flavour of Chandigarh unguided and on foot. I may have lost my way a couple of times, but that's how I discovered this newly-opened gem of Sector 7.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: Unlikely Tales - Mani Padma

When I was just starting out as a blogger, one of the first things I wrote about was when I thought Afghanistan was following me. Not a person, not a gang, but a whole country. The movies I happened to watch, the books I read, even sporadic conversations and dreams - Afghanistan was written all over them. And this was back in 2010, when the war-torn country wasn't particularly in the news.

Looking back at that blog post gave me fond flashbacks of what a sweet little 18-year-old I used to be, convinced that such recurring references in my life could be signs. Whoever heard of such an absurdity, right? But, fast-forward seven years, here I am again...

...being followed by the Northeast of India.

In recent years, I've made a good many friends who either belong to or live in one of the Northeastern states. I've also written a lot about the culture and tourism of the Northeast over the years as a freelance travel writer. But lately, the region seems to have become the leitmotif of my existence. I've visited Sikkim twice in less than a year, I've started enjoying Bihu music (for the love of Papon ♥), and I just attended the Northeast Festival in New Delhi. In fact, to hark back to the title of this post, the only reason I accepted 'Unlikely Tails' for review was because the author, Mani Padma, is from Assam and I was curious to read her work.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

7 Ways New York City Changed My Life

People from all over the world set foot in New York City every single day. Dreamy-eyed and giddy with excitement, every traveller wants to make the most of their time in NYC. And then there's an entire set of people who have never even visited New York City but seen it in movies, TV shows, and across high-fashion billboards. Larger than life, more diverse than any city, always alive and bustling - is it true that NYC is the greatest city in the world, or is it just something they say? I have first-hand experience, and I can't stress enough on how much New York City has affected my life and worldview. 

But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's a list of the 7 ways New York City changed my life.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Kutch Rann Utsav 2017 | A winter carnival in Gujarat

The nights are beginning to get longer, the moon is shining a little brighter, there's a nip in the air, and the heart constantly yearns for a hot cuppa.

It seems to be that time of the year again!

Time to whip out the woollens, hug a blanket to sleep at night, and plan that winter holiday you've been waiting for all this time. Goa, Gokarna, Hampi, or Kerala - there are countless destinations south of the Tropic of Cancer that offer an escape from the gloom and cold of North India. But two years ago, when I was faced with the same question - where to go for a winter vacation with friends - I chose to take the offbeat route. I headed to a place I knew precious little about - a place not too hot or cold, but exceedingly beautiful and known for its hospitality and rich culture.

In the winter of 2015, I travelled through Gujarat, and it remains one of my most amazing travel experiences ever. We explored the ruins and palaces of post-earthquake Bhuj, we watched the sun set on the westernmost beach of India, we met and dined with the most friendly local families, and we gorged on the famous Gujarati thali. Above all, we caught stunningly surreal sights of the white desert in all its glory on a full-moon night.

Kutch Rann Utsav
Sunset on the white desert.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Weekend Getaways from Bombay | Silvassa, Dadra & Nagar Haveli

Silvassa is a dusty, sun-kissed town in the westernmost part of India. It is spread over a small area with a permanent population of about a lakh, mostly comprising the indigenous tribes of the Konkan region, while another couple of lakh form its transient population - those who come in from neighbouring states for work and trade.

Known mainly for its industries, Silvassa is the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli, an erstwhile Portuguese settlement and now Union Territory of India. Surely you've never found Silvassa on any common list of tourist getaways from Bombay. Must be a rather boring place, right, not to have featured on any popular travel guide or listicle?


Silvassa is a hidden gem that travellers are yet to discover. It is a perfect weekend getaway from Bombay (and nearby areas), and for every kind of traveller too. Whether you want a weekend picnic with family, a solo wildlife expedition, or just a relaxing sojourn from daily life - this town will not disappoint.
Witness the beauty of Silvassa captured on my camera lens (and then I will tell you how to plan).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Gorgeous in Winter, Mesmerising in Fall | Tsomgo Lake, East Sikkim

9th Sept: It was cold and wet outside. I lay in bed, clutching the blanket to my throat, wondering what had gotten the Gangtok weather so drafty all of a sudden. The room was flooded with natural light, and I could see what a mess we all had made the night before in our room. I looked up at the window and, in that one glance, knew the sun wasn't going to be up in the sky today. The next moment, the guys were outside our door, blaring music on the speakers in a bid to get us out and ready to go. So I jumped out of bed, skimpily clad for a chilly morning like that, and rushed to the bathroom to get ready. This day seemed promising.

The view from my hotel window. The clouds are covering the valley, which is otherwise visible on a clearer day.


Permits and permissions: A horror story?

We set out early, for we were told that the security forces didn't allow cars past the first entry point on the road to Tsomgo lake and Nathu La. We even had to arrange ourselves in the cars according to the grouping of names on each of the three permits we had obtained the previous day for our journey. As fate would have it, we reached the first entry point a little after 10 am - the supposed deadline - and we were dreading not being allowed to go ahead. But the officers let us continue our journey without any reprimand, though with strict instructions not to take any pictures in the military area on our way uphill. Like responsible citizens and travellers, we kept our promise and only took pictures/videos where there was no obvious sign of military presence.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Stairway to heaven | Yumthang Valley, North Sikkim

In early September 2017, I went road tripping through North Sikkim with a group of perfect strangers. I'd signed up for it with high hopes from the whole experience. Little did I realise I would end up discovering the stairway to heaven! Why don't you see for yourself? Here is the first of my many heavenly experiences from the trip.

5th Sept: I stood on top of the world

The sky above my head was an infinite blanket of the softest blue. White cotton-candy clouds hung low over grey-blue cliffs. A cow grazed nearby while its little one suckled up to it. A stream of sparkling clear water flowed in the distance, reflecting the blue of the sky. And I stood there, transfixed. I was at the centre of the most exquisite landscape I'd ever seen. To think of all those stories about the beauty of the Swiss Alps and the English countryside that pop culture has fed us for so long! I couldn't help but wonder - why did no one ever talk about THIS PLACE? Was it even real, what I stood before, or was I in a dream?

View of the valley from a height of 13000 feet.

I was on top of the world. Or so I felt, until a sudden shaking under my feet jerked me back to reality and I remembered where I was really perched - atop the luggage carrier of a Tata Sumo Victa. My hands were outstretched and my eyes darted in every direction. I was awestruck. The closest I'd ever come to this kind of awe was back in 1998, when I was a little girl of 7 and had just seen an escalator for the first time. My jaw probably hung loose for a little while on both occasions.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

It is never too late to learn.

I learned to cycle at the age of 24. Shocker, eh?

God knows what crazy looks I get every time I slip this little factoid into casual conversation. Apparently, most people around me had learned to cycle as little children, some even before they could say 'mamma' or 'papa'. Indeed, one had learned to cycle even while still inside the womb. I have rather interesting friends, don't I?

On the other hand, one of the funniest stories I've ever told is of the time I tried to learn to cycle as a kid but failed, only to give up completely. But a decade later, I received a letter that said my career, and indeed life thereon, depended on how well I could wield the two-wheeled monster. Isn't fate a cruel mistress?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

6 reasons why Sikkim should top your travel wishlist

2016 was a beautiful year for me, with a new job in a new city and lots of travel and exploring on my own. 2017 so far has been rough - lots of low points, dilemmas, tough decisions - and it has left me drained of all creative energy and desperate for a new beginning. I'm longing to travel again, to find a place that would remind me of all that's good and positive in this world - beauty, clean air, quiet moments spent in the lap of nature, cool wind in my face, and the sight of still water.

I long to go back to the Himalayas - to the home of my heart. And where in the Himalayan belt have I had my best times ever? Why, Sikkim, of course!

I travelled through South and East Sikkim at the end of last year. As luck would have it, both my SIM cards were out of order for the duration of the trip (for silly reasons), so connectivity was non-existent. But there were some times when I had Wi-Fi, and I made sure to put up pictures and stories on Instagram from all the gorgeous places I was seeing. Little did I know my pictures were inspiring many of my friends to plan their own trips to Sikkim. I was surprised at the beauty of Sikkim coming as such a 'revelation' to so many people. People clearly don't know enough about this tiny Himalayan paradise. So I decided to put together a list of 6 reasons why Sikkim should top your travel wishlist. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: Reminiscences of a Seeker - Kapil Kumar Bhaskar

I haven't written about my literary pursuits in forever. I do read, off and on, but life has been a roller-coaster ride over the last one year. Between a 10-to-6 job, a new home in a new city, and my new venture, 'A Delhi Girl in Bombay', I've had no time to write. But then a book came along that spoke to this overlooked side of my existence, something not many know of, and I knew I had to write about it. 

Reminiscences of a Seeker is, in the author's own words, the story of an ordinary man plunged into extraordinary circumstances of the Dark World. It is a 'true' story about the supernatural world of mystics and higher beings, unbelievable miracles and the parallel worlds of darkness and light, in the pursuit of seeking the 'One'. I picked this book up around the time I heard about it from a book club e-mail list I subscribe to.

Being a public person, most of my pursuits are chronicled online in photos and blogs. But my spiritual beliefs and experiences have remained private and off of my blog. It would indeed come as a surprise to many that I belong to a family of highly trained spiritualists and am also trained in Reiki healing, meditation techniques and other spiritual practices. I began reading this book precisely to see how the author had written about his practices and whether he managed to make it sound believable to a lay reader or ended up writing other-worldly 'mumbo jumbo', which so many people think it is.

The literary market has in recent years been flooded with books on themes of spiritual awareness, mastering the mind, using the energies of the universe to your benefit, and whatnot, but a book of this kind by an Indian author, written in an easy, accessible form, was missing. I think this book bridges that gap, and quite decently too.