Srinagar, the paradise on earth, is rightly called so. Even in the midst of all the turmoil, tourists just can’t resist visiting this place and admiring it’s beauty. Dal Lake is known for it’s Shikaras which you can rent for a ride in the lake to the ‘Chaar Chinars’ and the house boats which have all the amenities you need for a comfortable overnight stay.
Our drive from Pahalgam to Srinagar, close to 3 hours, was not just scenic but also full of apple orchards and farms. We stopped by a couple of them and tasted the most juicy and tasty apples ever. First time I had real apple juice which was not from concentrate or flavours, but squeezed right out of the apples in front of me.
Private vehicles are not allowed inside the park. Only electric golf carts are allowed which you can rent along with a chauffeur at the main gate. He guided us inside the park and was a great company too.
A good 20 mins ride inside the park and we went on a short 15 minute trail to one of the watch towers. The grass was probably taller than us, but once we reached the watch tower, the view was amazing. It’s a very different kind of national park among the mountains where the altitude ranges from 5500 to 14000 ft above sea level. Famous for it’s Kashmiri Stag (The Hangul) and the Himalayan bear, sad we did not see any in the wild.
Srinagar is one beautiful place though where nature has been too kind. Only if we could end this political war, no place on earth would see more tourists than Kashmir valley and admire it’s beauty.
1. Do not miss the apple orchards on the way to Srinagar. Even if you have to take a de-tour, they are worth a visit.
2. Don’t be afraid of visiting this paradise on earth. Media shows way more than what the reality is. Left to the locals, they are more welcoming hosts than any of us anywhere else in India.
3. A shikara ride in the Dal Lake is going to leave you spellbound. Don’t miss it for anything. But again, negotiate hard with the people there if you want to save money! It’ll work out well.
Stopping by innumerable number of times just to get a few shots with the flowing river and the high standing mountains, we passed through Zozilla pass, the pass which shuts down come October due to heavy snowfall. We had tea, coffee and Maggi at point zero. We stop by for the love of Maggi everywhere we can.
We had never seen a more beautiful place than Drass. It somewhere made Srinagar look somewhat less beautiful. We stayed at the D’ Meadows hotel, the only hotel in Drass. During our evening stroll, we met a few army officers who had crazy stories to tell and advised us to visit the Kargil War Memorial which is actually in Drass.
We paid homage to the martyrs at the war memorial and could see all the peaks we had captured during the Kargil war in 1999. Tiger Hill, Batra Top, Tololing – all the peaks looked so calm and serene as if nothing ever happened there. It is only for us to imagine, how many soldiers lost their lives on these mountains less than 20 years ago.
One of the army officers was kind enough to take us for a walk in a local village in Drass. We were amazed to learn the customs and beliefs of the people there. There was not a single girl who did not go to school. The boys give dowry to the girls family at the time of marriage. Everyone works super hard in the mountains day and night. A month before the winter comes, the only job everyone does is stock wood for the winters in there house, since the weather gets so extreme that no one can even step out of there house to collect wood. There is a fire inside the house 24x7 which keeps the house warm. The people up there face the real hardships and they still had nothing to complain about. Everyone lives happily helping each other in every way possible.
1. The drive from Srinagar to Drass is just a 4 hour drive through Sonmarg, Baltal, Zozilla Pass and Point Zero. It is probably the most scenic drive you will ever see in your lifetime.
2. Kargil War Memorial is a must visit when in Drass. You will feel more patriotic than you have ever felt hearing the stories of the brave men and the martyrs.
3. Don’t just hide in your hotel room fearing the extreme weather. A stroll on foot through the villages will teach you a lot more than what you would ever learn in school.
When we started our drive from Drass to Leh, we felt that we have already seen the best and there could not be anything better than this. We had two options for our road journey – go straight to Leh via Mulbekh and Lamayuru, or take a short detour and visit Batalik. The pictures tell you clearly which route we took and we do not regret it even in our dreams. Yes, the roads were not as smooth as we would have wanted them to be, but well, we were not here to just drive on creamy roads.
The landscape is just amazing and we loved every bit of being on the road while on our way to Batalik. There were smooth roads, and rough patches, but all-in-all, BRO has done an amazing job maintaining the roads at such a high altitude.
There was a river flowing with turquoise blue water all through our journey and we just didn’t feel tired of being on the road. We encountered one or two cars throughout on the road from Drass to Batalik. If we had to stop or slow down our car at any point of time, it was either to click some beautiful shots, at some crazy hairpin bends or to give way to flock of sheep.
Around 60 kms north of Kargil and a few kilometres before Batalik is located one of the finest villages we have seen. It is one of the very few ‘Pure Aryans’ village, called the Darchiks. The entrance of the village is guarded by an army post and the village is a couple of kilometres inside from the main highway. The residents are super friendly and live off agriculture as their main source of livelihood. They have the juiciest of fruits and the freshest of grains. We had the opportunity to pick a pear from the tree and nibble on it and I had not eaten a more juicy pear in my life.
The Aryans wear a head gear which is considered holy and they wear it at all public gathering or when celebrating any occasion. One of the women was kind enough to lend Sidhi one to click a shot.
The villagers were so hospitable that they welcomed us into their house and offered us some dry fruit along with the traditional tea which they call Po-Cha, a butter tea primarily made of salt, green tea, water and yak butter. Primary reason for using salt instead of sugar is the availability of the raw materials.
1. When driving from Drass to Leh, do not forget to visit the Darchiks village and Batalik. The road might be a little rough but it is all worth it.
2. Read about the Aryans and the Brokpa community – there is a lot to know about them if you are interested.
3. It might look like a rocky desert, but the fruit and grains available in region are of great quality and taste really really fresh. Don’t miss out on tasting some fruit here.
After spending good 4 nights in Manali, we headed out to our next destination. Kasol, infamous for things that can help you to be ‘happy high’. It is just a 2.5-3 hour drive from Manali through the Kullu valley and Manikaran Road. Majority of this road was a single lane road where if any vehicle comes from the other side, you need to stop. The less aggressive driver (I took turns to show my aggressive side) reverses the car to find a wide piece of road, wide enough to let the other vehicle pass. If we were lucky, we would spot the Himachal local bus from a fair distance so that we have enough time to stop, reverse, shut our eyes and pray that the bus does not hit our car. The local bus drivers don’t usually know that there are three levels down below when you are driving a vehicle, they usually just stick to one while driving – the accelerator.
For our love for trekking, we chose one of the cafes/homestays, located a good 3 hour trek somewhere in a village called Gargi in Parvati hills, just a couple of kilometres ahead of Kasol. It is one of the best options for budget travellers who are willing to take some pain to experience what is out there in unexplored locations like these. The host was nice enough to walk down to the car parking and take us up to the cottage. The cottage dog ‘Koji’ also accompanied us in our trek. The trek was full of flowers and apple orchards which were frequently raided by the local monkeys. Our host and trek leader, Atul, pointed at the naked trees and mentioned that the apples are usually eaten by the monkeys and what is left over are these branches. After a strenuous 3 hour hike, we were there in our room. It was a place in the middle of the mountains with mild winds blowing. For the next two days, we were there in the cottage, did a couple of short hikes around while Teku ji, our caretaker helped us with sumptuous meals throughout.
The tranquility at this place forced us to just sit and read. Both of us enjoyed reading while we admired the beauty outside our window. The snow covered peak, which is called the Parvati mountain and the other smaller lush green peaks could be looked at for hours without getting tired. Our stay in Kasol, or rather, at Parvati valley, at the Gargi village was one to be remembered. Our trek down took us around 2 hours and this time we were accompanied by the other cottage dog ‘Jimmy’. Considering how scared Sidhi is of dogs, she made good friends with this one. In fact at times, she would look for Jimmy when he out-sped us while we picked up our pace to catch up.
Our next stop from Kasol was Jibhi. This drive was a rather exciting one. It is just a 3 hour from from Kasol to Jibhi via Bhuntar. The single lane road continues, and so continues the Himachali bus drivers. We might call them rash, but clearly they know what they are doing. Himachal road bus accidents are less frequent than in cities like Delhi, which definitely tells us something about their skill. We again chose an offbeat place to stay in Jibhi. The last two miles to the destination were rather complicated. It had just rained two days ago and since there was no road, the route had a few swamps. Our car got stuck and was pushed up with the help of 3 locals, of which one of them turned out to be the son of our host.
It was a small treehouse, literally, with the house resting on the tree and thick tree branches passing through the room. It had a nice balcony and all the facilities one could imagine in any modern condo. Another memorable, yet economical stay indeed.
1. When in Kasol or Jibhi, do not settle for the regular hotels or lodges. These are serene places and have some really offbeat places to stay.
2. The hosts go way beyond their call of duty to make you comfortable and arrange for anything you need, anything.
3. Be cautious while you are driving on these roads. They are not for the first time mountain drivers. My experience of driving in the Ladakh region definitely came in handy here.
We drove past the Jalori Pass from Jibhi and reached Dehradun via Simla. We did a one-night stopover in Simla just because the distance from Jibhi to Dehradun was more than what we wanted to cover in a day. We had been to Simla a zillion times and after where we were coming from, Simla looked like a busy and polluted hill station where we did not want to spend a lot of time. We watched a movie in the theatre in Simla in the evening and left with the first ray of the sun.
Dehradun is huge city. It was way bigger than our expectations. I had been to Dehradun and Mussoorie when I was a kid but I didn’t remember anything like this. We had been to a big city after a long time and enjoyed the luxuries of a city, going to a salon and getting our clothes washed at a laundry.
We drove back to Dehradun and stayed there for a couple more days. While in Dehradun, we visited Sahastradhara – A thousand waterfalls. Frankly, it was not as grand as we had expected. On the contrary, a lesser known cafe – Cafe Jalapeños, turned out to be our best find in Dehradun. Their coffee, their sandwich and their pasta was to die for.
1. Dehradun is a much bigger city than you can imagine. You will find the best salons, restaurants and cafes here.
2. Don’t forget to visit Char-dukaan when in Mussoorie. It’s a small drive up but totally worth because of the food and the view you can have while you are savoring it.
3. Try their local fruit when in the region – Chakotra. It is the largest citrus fruit which looks like a large grapefruit and tastes like a Mosambi. One piece of fruit is enough for lunch for a person. There were hundreds of roadside carts selling Chakotra on our way to Dehradun.
Our last article was all about packing tips and tricks. If you are looking for what and and how to pack, just scroll down for all the deets! This article is concentrated on essentials required for a Road Trip. What are the safety equipments? How to quickly load and unload etc.
What to carry
Me and Rit are carrying one big suitcase each. Whatever we can stuff in this suitcase is all we can carry. You can buy any suitcase, but based on our experience, it should have a few important features like:
Then we carry one backpack each with houses our Mac, camera, and charging cables.
Road Trip Essentials
We initially thought that we should have additional headlights on the car but figured from car mechanics and experts that any type of additional accessory is an added weight on the car. One should avoid, any new wires and connections as they would only add to complexity. We just replaced our headlights with high intensity ones and that’s it.
We did a lot of research to come to this list. We spoke to rally drivers, automobile engineers, car mechanics and cab drivers to reach must-have tools, one must have (yeah, read must-must-have) on a road trip. Just one month into the trip, we can vouch that these are completely indispensable. It saved us from gritty situations and helped us settle back on the road.
This post has all the packing Tips and Tricks. You would find these useful irrespective of the duration and the kind of trip you are going on.
How to pack? What are the essential emergency tools? How to travel light for a trip which goes from snowy mountains to barren deserts etc. Rit has some experience in packing for a road trip. He has done many in the US. With his experience, learnings from our past trips and a bit of research, here we compile the perfect list to pack for long term travels. We will post a a 'Road Trip Essentials' section separately, which will be in addition to these packing tips. This list is perfect for any short to long term travel. It covers all weathers and is relevant for both genders. To make it super simple, I have also added online links from where I have procured the mentioned stuff.
Can you wear an outfit 10 times each in 6 months? 10 times is not bad, right? The math says 10*18= 180 days. All you need is 18 outfits. They key is to make sure, they are comfortable. Let your outfits be a combination of jeans, pants, shorts dresses and skirts. Make sure the dresses you carry are long and comfortable, something that you can wear during a visit to the museum, a walk around the city, and even during the night at the bar.
The next set of clothes should be the lounge and workout wear. 2 pairs of comfort wear and 2 pairs of workout wear should be good. Let one pair be a warm nightwear, if you are always cold like me.
Weather Related Gear
Once the basic clothes are sorted, it's time to stock up the weather related gear. By this I mean the stuff from snow jackets to the swimsuits.
I have a tip for snow laden locations, you can only wear as many woollens, the trick is to make sure that the outermost layer is waterproof and windproof. With that in place, a thermal and a fleece, you are good to go.
For snow laden locations: (Links are clickable)
A waterproof snow jacket or puffer jacket
A waterproof lower
Thermal set (from Marks and Spencer)
2 light jackets like sweatshirt and denim jacket
2 medium warmers like a leather jacket and a chunky sweater
For rainy locations:
Thin waterproof jacket
You can borrow the waterproof pants from snowy locations or slip into shorts instead.
Undergarments & more
One can repeat their outfits but not undergarments! I hope, everyone agrees with that. Carry 10 pairs of undergarments, so you wash once in a week. Not all places are conducive for on-the-go washing. Some Homestays in Leh prohibit washing of clothes as water is scarce. Even if you have the facility, the weather god may choose to play a spoilsport, making it impossible to dry in hilly areas and during monsoon season.
Not all places will have towels, specially if you are staying at home-stays. Carry a thin cotton body towel and one hand towel. We especially recommend travel towels from Decathlon, they dry quickly and get bundled into one-fourth the space
One swim shorts set for the beaches.
Six pairs of shoes is all your need for a trip across different regions and climates:
Cosmetics & Toiletries Kit
Medicine & Emergency Kit
A medicine kit with not just the regular medicines we use but,
Our last minute additions to the emergency box include:
While going on a long term road trip make sure you have sim cards of all the important networks of that region. If one won't then the other will catch network. We are carrying 3 sim cards, one each of Airtel, Jio and BSNL.
Trust me, it helped us a lot. Jio has great network and internet in most regions of Himachal Pradesh, whereas Airtel was awesome in Ladakh. On the other hand, in most remote locations of North India, only a postpaid BSNL works.
Don’t forget to pop in:
Hope this list helps you, as for us, this is all we need for a 6 month trip. Lookout for the Road Trip essentials list. It’s shall be live soon. Until then do leave us a comment and let us know, if there is anything else you would like us to talk about.
We started our road trip with a 10-day resident course of Vipassana (pronounced ‘vipushna’). As they say, spreading the word about the true dharma helps you earn some brownie points, so we thought , why not. After all, we truly felt (not ‘believed’) that Vipassana helped us learn something new and useful in life.
If you prefer watching rather than reading, then here is our review on Vipassana:
What is Vipassana?
Vipassana is a very old meditation technique (2500 years old) which has his roots in the holy grounds of ‘Bharat’, however with time the technique was moulded into various facts and forms (which are now preachings of different religions) by learned people. The technique in its original form was preserved in Burma by a small group of people who have been passing on the learning generation to generation, ensuring that the teachings are preserved in the purest form.
The technique was brought back to India (and now being spread across the world) by Sh. S.N. Goenka who conducted his first 10 day session in Mumbai, India in July, 1969. In October, 1976, ‘Dhamma Giri’ opened its doors with its first ten-day course for the public in Igatpuri. You can find the detailed chronology of Vipassana developments here.
What does the course look like and it’s schedule?
First, let me start of by telling you that it is tough and not for anyone who is not fully committed to devoting 10 days of his/her life completely to the course. The wake-up bell rings at 4 AM and the schedule looks like this henceforth:
4:30 – 6:30 AM – Meditation in the hall
6:30 – 7:00 AM – Breakfast
7:00 – 8:00 AM – Rest
8:00 – 11:00 AM – Mediation in the hall
11:00 – 11:30 AM – Lunch
11:30 – 1:00 PM – Rest
1:00 – 5:00 PM – Meditation in the hall
5:00 – 5:30 PM – Tea with light snack (literally, very light)
5:30 – 6:00 PM – Rest
6:00 – 9:00 PM – Mediation in the hall
9:00 PM – Off to Bed
If you are wondering of any typographical errors above, there are NONE.
Yes, you actually wake up at 4 AM everyday for 11 days (its a 10 day, 11 night course)
Yes, the breakfast is served at 6:30 AM
Yes, 11 AM is the time for the last major meal of the day
Yes, for 10 days, you would be meditating for 12 hours a day.
And did I forget to tell you, you have to observe noble silence for these 10 days. (Noble silence means, no talking to your peers, not even in actions or in writing)
Who should go for the course?
If you would have asked me this question in between the course when I would have completed 5 days, I would have said, NO ONE. But luckily I stuck around. My answer did change post that.
I think it’s a course for EVERYONE, but if I have to prioritise, I would put it in the following order:
1. Someone who is superstitious and is too stuck or bound to his religion and believes that chanting The Almighty’s name all day everyday is the key to ultimate happiness and success.
2. A more professional person whose mind wanders a lot and finds difficulty in focussing on the matters at hand
3. Everyone else
What is the most difficult part?
Waking up at 4 AM in the morning – NO
Eating less and bland food for 10 days straight – NO
Not talking to anyone – Hmm.. NO
Dedicating yourself to really learning the technique and not thinking about leaving the course mid-way – Yes, I think this part wins :)
Would you see a different yourself after the course?
In highest probability, NO
Please understand that this is a course, and not a transformation program. It is like going to do and MBA. Do you graduate as the CEO of a multi-national company? No. But at the end of the course, do you think it added value and was useful? Yes.
Similarly, please don’t expect that these 10 days are going to transform you as a person and you will come out sharper and have a different view to life. The course teaches you a lot and you will come out more learned but you have to practice those learnings in real life to actually become a better person. If you practice Vipassana after the course, I feel that 6 months down the line, you would definitely see a better yourself.
In short, don’t think of Vipassana as a 10-day technology free vacation with free food and accommodation.
Think of it as one of the most difficult courses you will do in life which will help you in becoming a better person. But to see the results, firstly, you will have to dedicate yourself to the course for 10 days. And secondly, you will have to continue practicing the technique post the course as well.
We realised way back in life, that the only way to live our dreams is to plan around them.
There was never a doubt that we want to experience the world. That's a dream we have seen individually and it has only grown bigger since the day we have been together. No matter how many travel quotes you may have read like, 'just get started', 'get on a plane', 'get a tan', 'soak in a new culture' 'live every moment', the reality never seemed to leave my mind that one has to buy a ticket to get on that plane, stay at a place to soak in a new culture and practically be able to afford food to live every moment!
So how do we manage funds to sustain our travel? As a wanderlust, I don't dream of roaming around in a Beemer or staying at exotic hotels but what I do seek, is to be able to sit in a dainty cafe and sip my favourite wine. To not think twice before buying a ticket to Disneyland or to not have money as a constraint, if I ever gather the courage to Bungee Jump (hope, some day! God help me with my fear of heights)
With that thought, we got onto some planning. Now there's a thing with planning, it shouldn't be too little that you have not even covered the basic risks at the same it should not be too much that it constrains or scares you off. Imagine, while doing the detailed planning one realises that it's gonna be one hell of an uncomfortable journey and the plan just gets dropped. Every plan has its share of safe bets and risks. Even financial investment plans (the most traditional way to secure future) lays out, that more the risk, the better is the return.
This whole Big Announcement bit, has been both exciting and nerve wrecking. In the past few days, I have received comments, notes and calls from friends saying, "Congratulations, are you having a baby?" to "Travel? Are you sure? You have such a settled life" to "OMG, I want to do this too. I am jealous" to "This will come with washing your clothes yourself!"
We have a basic plan, have enough savings to sustain us for a year of travel. We have unlimited stay and work permit in at least 3 countries- India, Australia and New Zealand. We will work on the go on host of online platforms and location independent projects. Travel frugal to sustain longer. Explore our agility as full time travellers. But beyond that, there is no plan, which is both thrilling and terrifying. Terrifying primarily to Me (the more fattu of the two) and thrilling for Him (the virtual Fear Factor winner)
We don't know, how this journey is going to be and how will we feel after it. But if there any truth in all the god damn "achieve your dreams" quotes then I am sure about one thing, that it will be worth the RISK!!
PS: More coming up soon. Be with us in our journey as we take you through all our encounters and experiences
I have read so many Instagram profiles, which said, "We quit our jobs to follow our dreams", "Left everything", "Started afresh" etc etc. Now here's the way I look at it. To begin with, I hate the word "quit" or "left". One only moves on from one road to another, from one city to another, from one phase to another, the imprints of each place, phase or people we meet builds us as a person along the way.
I and Rit have now been working for 10 years, we are fairly educated (well, he is double masters) and quite successful in our professional lives. We have been together for a little over 4 years, married for three and a half. We have a beautiful family, siblings who would do anything for us and a bunch of amazing friends on whom we can count on even in the middle of the night. We have a sprawling house in Gurgaon, every corner of which is being lovingly laid out and put together by us in the last few years. We literally build this happy, comfortable and decently luxurious life, brick by brick together.
We come from very modest backgrounds. The first time I sat on a plane was on a work trip in 2009. My first ever flight was an international work trip flight to Dubai. Same for Rit, his first flight was to Poland where he went to present a paper in his final year engineering. The star that this boy is, came back with a trophy!
I am sharing this as a perspective that the life we have today, might look basic to some and amazing to some, but whatever place we have reached it is a Big Deal for us and our families (I guess the story of all the self-made young Indians, who had the support but had to painstakingly carve out their own paths). The best way to look forward is not to leave it but to build from it.
We have a wish, a wish we always had but maybe now we have the courage to live it. That's what I meant by moving from one phase to another, chasing a different dream altogether. We want to absorb all the imprints that we have - a successful career, a loving family, a comfortable house, a fair lifestyle to embark on a journey. In this journey, we will have to let go of a lot of bricks and walls that we have built, but the experiences and confidence we have will only make it more exciting. So I won't say, we have quit our jobs, left our house to follow our dream of a full-time travel. I say cheers to a new journey, newer experiences, unexplored routes that await us and there is no better time to do this than NOW.