All posts by BuffyFish

My name is Vidula. I am a student of life.

Ladakh’s Past

Delving into Ladakh’s Past

One of the most picturesque parts of India, Ladakh is a destination that is a beautiful blend of nature and culture. A breath taking view, a long drawn history, fascinating festivals, an intriguing past, colorful monasteries – together make up the land of alluring Ladakh! Delving into the past of this land will bring us closer to understanding its people and culture. Buffyfish takes you down into the past of this region, allowing you to inhale every moment of the trip

History of Ladakh dates back to the Neolithic times with many rock carvings found in the area. During the 1st century, it was a part of one of the most prominent ancient Indian kingdoms- the Kushana Empire, post which the 2nd century saw an influx of Buddhism from Kashmir into western Ladakh. Permanent settlements were established along the Indus where the first settlement was by the Mons from Kullu, and the Brokpas toward the west of Ladakh. Buddhism soon became the dominant religion though the Brokpa tribe still follows Bonism (preceding religion in Tibet). With Gya becoming the first seat of government, he came to be known as Gyapacho. After being annexed by the Tibetan empire in the 8th century, Ladakh was subjected to frequent changes of monarchy between kingdoms of China and Tibet. Nomads from Khotan launched a series of invasion around the 10th century and Gyapacho was successful in fending of fthe Khotans with Skilde Nimagon at this aid. In return, the former ceded the villages of Shey and Thiksey, wherein Nimagon became the first king of Ladakh who chose Shey as his headquarter. He eventually ruled over the entire Ladakh from 900- 1000 CE.

Gradually the Buddhist kings extended their kingdom- stretching from Kashmir to Tibet. The place was dotted with huge Buddhist monasteries and palaces that became a striking feature of Ladakh. The kings who ruled Ladakh were great patrons of art and promoted religious activities. The province fell into the hands of Ali Mir of Balistan in the 16th century but was back on its own feet under Singge Namgyal who founded a new capital at Leh. Finally in 1846, Ladakh became a part of the kingdom of Dogras of Jammu and has since then been a sub-district of Jammu and Kashmir.

During the partition, Ladakh was integrated into the state of Jammu and Kashmir, however in 1948, invaders from Pakistan occupied Zanskar and Kargil. Kargil was always seen as a point of hostility with bloody wars been fought in 1965, 1971 and 1999. The new political set-up continues to distress the Ladhakis where they have in the past launched an unprecedented protest demanding the status of a Union Territory, separating it from the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Irrespective of the unstable past, the mystifying beauty of Ladakh continues to captivate tourists from all over the world. The sheer grandeur of the palaces and monasteries accompanied by the serenity of hills and lakes makes you want to visit this place time and again!

Vietnam, the country

Not many would probably have this little country on their ‘to visit’ places. But, be prepared to get surprised with the amount of offerings this country has. Vietnam, a small country boasts of a treasure trove emblazoned with heroes contributing greatly to the victories against various powers at all times. Mythology states the first ruler to be Hung Vuong, the founder of the nation in 2879 BCE, whilst recent archaeological evidence suggests human habitation of northern Vietnam to have been around 500,000 years ago. The Bronze Age, famous for its drums, is said to have emerged around 3rd century BCE. China has been the longest ruling nation until a period of nationalistic expansion, a time when the Cambodians were pushed out of the southern area. The country has been battling the Chinese, Khmers and Champs. The French brought with them colonialism that made it difficult for the country to emerge until 20th century CE.

A Chronological peek into the history of Vietnam

Always an advantage to know the history of the place prior to making a visit, we have compiled for you in brief the scenario of the country at various times. Let us take a walk through the history of Vietnam to get as closer to understanding the country as it stands today.

The southern Vietnam was a part of Funan- Cambodian kingdom that was well known for its highly advanced art and architecture. An elaborate system of canals was built for irrigation and transportation of rice and the principal port was Oc-Eo in the Mekong Delta. Archaeological finds suggest of contact between Funan and China, Persia, Indonesia and Mediterranean. The late 2nd century CE saw the emergence of the Hindu kingdom, Champa that expanded southward. In a quest for expansion, they often found themselves at war with Vietnam in the north and Khmers in the south.

During the Chinese rule of the country, Vietnam was an important port between China and India. While the Chinese brought with them Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism, the Indians introduced Theravada Buddhism. Vietnam was exposed to new learning which greatly helped in the development of the country. The country gradually started expanding southwards. With a collapse of the Tang dynasty in China, the Vietnamese seized the opportunity and revolted against the Chinese rule in the country- the battle on the Bach Dang River ended the 1000 years of Chinese rule.

A century later, Vietnam saw the arrival of Portuguese who in the subsequent period, set up a commercial colony along with Japanese and Chinese. The French entered the picture in the early 19th century and within a span of 80 years, divided the country into three regions- China in the south, Annam in central region and Tonkin in the north. The French are credited with having unified Vietnam in 1887 and established a transport system of rail and road between north and south. Internal differences within the three regions were mounting, even during the beginning of World War II. The ousting of French out of power by Japan in 1946, exploited the weakened French influence which provoked an independence movement by Ho Chi Minh. The war ended with Ho Chi Minh’s followers seizing Hanoi, thus declaring a republic that ceased to exist with the arrival of French forces in 1946.

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was announced on September 2 1945, following Japan’s surrender, however, the arrival of Allied forced threw the country back to the French. Negotiations between the Democratic Vietnam and French turned out to be futile after which Viet Minh attacked French in Hanoi which led to an eight year war. The result was the historic defeat of the French in 1954.

The War

The tumultuous period did not end here but went on to inviting a war that brought forth greater that lasted until 1975. Vietnam came to be split in two- Communist north and anti communist south that had US as an ally. Political struggle led to a prolonged war which at its peak in 1969 had around half million US troops stationed at South Vietnam. With Paris peace talks, US agreed to withdraw troops, however continued air and sea support until 27 January 1973 when a peace agreement was signed. As a swelling number of troops entered the south, it began a major offensive that led to the fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975. In the following year, on 25th April, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Devastating natural disasters, war with Cambodia, trade embargoes etc. added to the struggles faced by Vietnam in years to come, however, the country managed to come out successfully and become one of the tourist attractions. Replete with nature, history and culture, Vietnam is becoming one of the most visited destinations in the world. Buffyfish arranges a trip to this wonderful place, providing you a closer glimpse of the country’s charm.  We hope we have succeeded in enticing you into making a trip to Vietnam. So what are you waiting for? Book your trip with us for a slice of Vietnamese culture and a delightful experience.

Culture and people of Vietnam

What is it to live in country like Vietnam? How has the war ravaged nation developed and shaped up or retained their culture? With many invasions that Vietnam has had to face, it is simply amazing that it has managed to build a rich culture that is brimming with strange beliefs in animal worship, ancestor worshipping, while also being home to some worlds biggest religions- Buddhism and Christianity. The variety in food habits and the change in clothing from then and now is something to see for yourself.

The culture of Vietnam, although flourished in the first millennium before Christ, is largely a result of the tumultuous history of the country that led to its cultural development. The present Vietnamese culture has been gradually shaping up wherein there have been three layers off culture overlapping each other, namely the local culture, the blend Chinese and local and the other culture that came in contact with the Western region. The foundation of Vietnamese culture developed from the natural conditions which had a prominent impact on characteristics and life of the people, however, history had a deeper influence which showed cultural characteristics of the Chinese due to the long imposition of the Han dynasty.

One of the many contributions to the development of society and culture was the influence of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism that were modified to suit the local culture. In the wake of untold upheavals in the country, Ho Chi Minh became a national hero playing a pivotal role in leading the country up to independence, democracy and socialism.

Vietnam has been subjected to number of foreign invasions and thus the prominent feature of national consciousness and patriotism touched every aspect of the lives of Vietnamese people. Owing to the constant wars, there has been little scope for a continuous social development of the country, which has no artistic or cultural construction to boast of. Vietnam is a blend of 54 ethnicities that is accompanied with its own cultural shade making the culture a diversified one. The people are largely a mix of the Mongal races with Indian and Chinese influence. 85% of the ethnic minority group belongs to indigenous groups like Thai and Hmong, and around 3% is ethnic Chinese settled in the urban centers.

Food Habits and Clothing

Vietnamese food consists largely of rice and vegetables that also include fish and fish products. Boiling is a special way in which food is cooked and although meat and fish are the main dishes, pickled egg-plant is a favourite. Food comes first and they prefer eating heavy food. Clothing in Vietnam has undergone great change. Given the fact that the country is tropical, the people preferred light and thin material clothing in grey, indigo and black. Earlier women dressed in skirts and four piece long dresses which came to be modified to the modern ao dai. Men have transformed from a mere loin cloth to short jackets and traditional Vietnamese trousers. Hats, belts and kerchiefs were among the other accessories that were used in earlier times.

Customs, Traditions and Festivals

This land enjoys festivals all year round, most prominently in spring with minimal farming work at hand. Major festivals include- Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year ), Han thuc (cold food), Mid-First month, Doan Ngo (double five) , Mid-Seventh month , Mid-Autumn Festival and some more. Agricultural rituals are an important part that includes praying for rain, getting into the rice field etc. while trade rituals include copper casting, forging, boat racing etc. Aprt from these, religious rituals are also held in great importance.

The custom of wedding, funeral and other rituals have their roots in the village community. Weddings begin with an official proposal to the bride’s family, the ritual of sharing bridal cup of wine ending with the couple’s visit to the bride’s family. A marriage thus replete with many formalities also sees the bride paying a fine for her acceptance into the village. Likewise, a funeral also is an elaborate procedure. Neighbours lend a helping hand in performance of services to the family of deceased. The custom of worshipping ancestors is widely practiced and they prefer to celebrate a commemorative anniversary for the deceased on the day they die rather than the birthday. The God of the home- Tho Cong is said to take care and bless the house while Thanh Hoang is the God of the village who protects the entire village. They often worship heroes or the ones who have laid down their lives for the village who then becomes the Thanh Hoang. The nation worships the first kings, thus celebrating a common ancestor’s death anniversary. They also worship the Tu Bat Tu, or the Four Immortal Gods- God Tan Vien, God Giong, God Chu Dong Tu and Goddess Lieu Hanh.

Animal species like deer, stag, snakes, and crocodiles- ones that are easily found at riversides are also revered. The people of Vietnam trace their origin to the Hong Bang line and the Tien Rong breed, where Hong Bang is the name of water bird and Tien (fairy) is a venerated egg-laying species of the bird named Rong (dragon). The dragon thus has a special place in the Vietnamese culture.

Religion

Buddhism is undoubtedly the religion with most number of followers in Vietnam, although Christianity too has large followers. There are many groups of people that have embraced theism, animism and ancestor worship. The country’s local religions and sects- Cao Dai and Hoa Hao have coexisted peacefully for all these years.

Abound with memorable experiences, book your trip with Buffyfish to add to an unforgettable trip to Vietnam.

Cuisine of Vietnam

Have you ever had a chance to gorge on a Vietnamese dish? If not, Buffyfish suggests you do because although simple, it is abundant in taste and variety. Vietnamese food can be included in the list of the most healthy and delicious cuisines in the world. Making its mark around the globe, the cuisine is well known by most of the people in the world. It is a mix of rice, noodle, fish sauce, meat and vegetable. Some better known dishes include spring rolls and bread rolls, banh mi thit– a Vietnamese stuffed baguette, bo kho– beef and vegetable soup, goi cuon– summer rolls made of rice paper rolled with shrimp or pork and che– pudding made from sticky rice and beans. Vietnam is home to a variety of plants owing to the tropical climate and the long coast. Fruits and vegetables are produced and consumed on a large scale by the people and yes, you’d certainly be surprised at the quantity consumed! Street food in Vietnam is common and Hanoi is a paradise for street food lovers, so get going now for an awesome gastronomy treat.

 

Geography Influences Vietnamese Food Habits

Every aspect of every country is hugely defined by its geographical location. Thus the geography of Vietnam has played a vital role in the present cuisine of the country. Rice, the staple food is produced throughout especially in Red River delta in the north as also Mekong River delta in the south which is bountiful. Vietnam is the second largest rice exporter after Thailand. The sea coast and the inland waterways provide fish thus, making rice and fish the mainstay of Vietnamese people. However, there are a few variations with cuisines in different regions. The Chinese influence like stir fires, noodles and the use of chopsticks in the north and the Cambodian and French influences in the south are amply evident. Winter months witness families cooking vegetables and meat in seasoned broth while a fish dish- cha ca, cooked in the same way is common too. The charcoal brazier boils the broth sits on the table, keeping the family warm. The southern climate is rather conducive and so there is an availability of variety of fruits and vegetables. This region experiences a widespread use of sugar and sugarcane as compared to the north. Cha tom is a popular dish in the south- shrimp wrapped in sugarcane.

 

Historical Insight into Vietnamese Food Habits

Of course, not only the geography that plays a role in the development of various aspects but a bigger role is the history. Invasions and rulers from outside brought with them their own delicacies that soon became part of the Vietnamese food culture.  The Mongolians who invaded in the 10th century introduced beef to the country while the Chinese who ruled for almost 1000 years introduced various cooking techniques like stir and deep frying, use of soy sauce and use of chopsticks. The south that has Laos, Cambodia and Thailand as neighbours was influenced by their use of certain ingredients like flat Cambodian style egg noodles, spices, coconut milk and chilli. 16th century traders introduced potatoes, snow peas and tomatoes. With French colonization came the baguette, patés, and coffee with cream, butter, cakes, custard and milk. During the period of war, American military introduced ice cream to the country and contracted with two dairies to build ice cream factories. Some common ingredients used by the Vietnamese are black pepper- largely in the north, hot chilli, limes, lemon grass, tamarind accompanied by asparagus and potatoes. Methods of cooking vary from boiling to frying or grilling.

Food and Drink Preferences

Although the staple diet includes rice and its variety, noodles, meat and vegetables with fish or soy sauce, some parts of the country experiences a high demand for exotic meats such as dog, turtle and snake. Green tea is a common drink throughout the country. Although imported beers are available the most popular local beers are Saigon Export and Saigon lager. Ruou- rice wine is widely produced by the people, however the bottles of this wine contain a pickled snake which is considered to be good for health. Ruop Nep cam, a popular rice wine is extremely popular beverage in the mountains. You will also find a variety of fruit wines like apricot, orange or lemon whilst soft drinks are processed from an assortment of tropical fruits.
Celebration and Ceremonial Cuisine and Delicacies

Heavy Chinese influence includes the introduction of Buddhism which has led to widespread practice of the religion and a large population being Buddhists. The most profound influence is the sophisticated style of vegetarian cooking, particularly in Hue. Most people refrain from eating meat, seafood and eggs during the first and middle days of each lunar month. The street vendors too serve vegetarian dishes on these days.

While on your trip to Vietnam you must try the Vietnamese delicacies that are replete with taste and are healthy. Some common words that might help you decode the menu-

pho (fol) = soup

bo (ball) = beef

ga (gaw) = chicken

gao (gow) = uncooked rice

com (gum) = cooked rice

nuoc mam (nook mum) = fish sauce

bun (poom) = noodles

cuon (coom) = salad or lettuce

 

 

World’s Best Beaches

We all love beaches and for all different reasons. Whether it’s a tranquility that draws you, or surfing, or a beach party, this enchanting place is a favorite for so many out there. Whether it’s white or pink sand beaches that lure you, a list here with some of the best beaches will make it easier for you to decide your pick. With exotic beaches spread far and wide across the globe, it definitely is not easy to boil down to 5 beaches. Most of the beaches are the most photogenic with a flawless backdrop of sprawling infinity, while some captivating enough to keep you glued.

Tikehau Island, French Polynesia

The pristine beauty of this small island with clear blue waters tops the list with us. Enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving witnessing a different world under the clear waters. Reach here by a flight from Tahiti Island.

Horseshoe Bay Beach, Bermuda

The famous crescent-shaped beach is an inviting view. The beach is highly recommended not only for the scenic beauty but also to laze around on the pale oink sands especially during the cooler months of November to March.

Whitehaven Beach, Australia

Only accessible by a boat, seaplane or helicopter, it adds to the heavenly experience! The sheer sight of the beach with the backdrop of dense foliage along with Hill Inlet to the north, where tidal shifts give rise to colossal sand art, is nothing less than breathtaking. The collective experience is what goes a long way in creating an unforgettable memory.

South Beach, Florida

Warm and inviting is just what the beach can be defined as! With soft and white sand with the skyline of Miami, the look is complementary. Thronged by visitors and tourists all round the year, the beach is famous with artists, models and the like. Probably not the best one to enjoy the solitude, nevertheless a different side of beach life!

Anse Source d’Argent, Seychelles

An unforgettable sight is what the beach offers. Yes! You can’t have enough of this view and you can never absorb in the beauty completely! Granite boulders on the palm fringed beach make up the scenic view of this white sand beach. Located in the pristine lap of the Indian Ocean, the crystal clear water with hues of emerald and cobalt make up this stunning sight!

Sure enough we have lured you into making a trip to some of the beaches this vacation. Do share your views with us and let us know your favorite beach!

Travel Films

Each of us has a list of places to visit, however each of us also has a list of movies that has inspired us to travel. Movies bring out the best in a place in the way it’s shot. Every time I watch a movie with a particularly interesting place, I wish I could be right there, although movies are also a good medium to momentarily transport you into a beautiful place from where you find returning difficult. Below is a list of movie that is bound to inspire you to take off to the destination shown in the movie.

Motorcycle Diaries-

A story of two medical students who embark on five month motorcycle trip across South America. From deserts to rainforests, the film starring Gael Garcia Bernal shows the rugged life in this region. The heart breaking poverty of the region turns Che Guevara from a doctor to a revolutionary. Brilliantly directed, this movie is sure to make you take to the road across the continent.

Into the Wild

Based on a true story, the story follows young Chris who gives up luxury in search of freedom and wilderness, and changes his name to Alexander Supertramp. Setting on a road trip through US to Alaska, his journey is filled with adventures and experiences, meeting various kinds of people, while he makes his way up to the ‘Last Frontier’. A movie that is a sensitive reminder of how we must enjoy life and travel to get closer with who we are.

Darjeeling Unlimited

A film about three wealthy, warring brothers taking a train trip through India, after the death of their father, to basically bond with one another. With initial hiccups in their journey, the process of bonding and rejuvenation gradually takes place. With boys finally turning into men, the hilarious camaraderie between them and the locations will make you pack for a trip in India.

Wild

The movie follows Cheryl Strayed played by Reese Witherspoon who sets on a journey of self-discovery while walking solo on a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. The beautiful scenery along her hiking route, from deserts to mountains makes you want to visit the places. The movie sends out a strong message of dealing with fear and the way women are looked at.

A Good Year

Starring Russel Crowe, the movie follows his character portrayed as a banker who returns to France where his uncle who passes away, leave him a vineyard. As he prepares to sell the property, he soon realizes how attached he is getting to the laid back and stress free life of the countryside and soon falls in love with a local girl. The movie longs you to visit the south of France and experience a beautiful stress free life that shows you that money isn’t everything.

Seven Years in Tibet

The movie showcases the relation between a German mountaineer Heinrich Harrer and a Tibetan Lama whom he befriended. We get a glimpse of the Tibetan culture on the eve of Chinese invasion and how the mountaineer gradually is shown to change his outlook on life when confronted with new experiences and challenges. The land of Tibet as shown in the movie will lure you into making a trip to this beautiful place.

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A hilarious movie about Walter Mitty who hate his job and often dreams of something exciting and adventurous in life. A day dreamer, he has hardly had anything exciting enough in his lifetime, however a trip to Greenland changes his life forever. In search of the lost photo for the magazine cover, he goes to Greenland and finds his own adventures there. You will fall in love with the place and will definitely want to quit your job and go out to seek your own adventure.

The Bucket List

Two men who are terminally ill land up in the same hospital room and set out on fulfilling their bucket list. Staying at luxury hotels, driving race cars and traveling are activities they set out on. A great movie that spells the fun of traveling and adventures in all sizes and shapes at all ages.

Under the Tuscan Sun

The movie features an American movie who takes a trip to Tuscany after a broke marriage. No sooner than she gets there, does she fall in love with the place, so much that she buys herself a villa and gets on with refurbishing it. Taking the help of locals, she faces challenges- physically and emotionally, little realizing that through the process she is mending her soul as well. The beautiful hills of Tuscany and the stunning images of the little town of Positano fill you with wanderlust.

This is our list of travel movies, picked meticulously from the otherwise long list that lure you into traveling and visiting places around the globe.

Photography Tips

All of us love to capture moments and freeze the timeless beauty we witness, in our lens. Whether it’s a trip to a museum, a nature trail or a mere walk down the old lanes of a city, some sights catch our attention. The mesmerizing alpenglow, the ferocious look in a lion’s eyes or innocent smiles of the local people, there is so much that we’d wish where time would halt and we could absorb the beauty. It is always a good idea to understand the basics of taking photographs that goes a long way in enhancing the pictures taken, trying to bring it as alive as possible.

Rule of Thirds

Get your basic composition right- understand the position of elements in a picture. Never forget the rule of thirds! Break the image into nine roughly equal squares and balance the image by putting something interesting in each part or if it’s one object that you’re focusing, you could move it to a corner rather than having it in the center, which makes it an aesthetically appealing image. A wide angle lens shows the vastness of the scene you’re capturing.

Choosing the Right Mode

Your camera settings will vary depending on the place you’re visiting. The fill in flash is the best option for places with warm weather. You may also consider Neutral Density and a polarizer filter for bright locations. For clicking people, use a shallow depth of field to have the subject stand out against the background. For fast action put the camera into Shutter Priority (“S”) mode and increase the speed at which a picture is taken—setting it to 1/125 second or faster will help freeze motion, and for subjects like birds you may choose the shortest speed possible to freeze motion.

Aperture

The size of the lens opening, often mentioned in the form of f/2, f/5, f/11, etc. matters in the quality of the image. The thing to remember is that the smaller the number, the wider the aperture opening and the wider the aperture, the more light is let in.

Depth of the Field

Changing the aperture setting helps you understand the depth of the field. Smaller the aperture, more you get in the picture, while a wider aperture allows you to soften the background of the picture. For landscape photography on a tripod closing the lens’s iris in order to increase depth of field, will keep everything in sharp focus from foreground to the skyline. Depth of field is also greatly affected by the aperture size.

Adjust Exposure

During the day, it’s better to shoot against the light to avoid a dark image. Set the exposure in such a situation or consider a silhouette. In case of low light, set your camera on a slow shutter speed and make use of the available atmospheric light. Most cameras come with a manual button for exposure composition, shown by a +/- symbol. In case of a dark image, move the scale upwards above zero and if too light, slide it down. In lower light the Aperture Priority (“A”) mode will make sure maximum light enters the lens.

White Balance

Most cameras try detecting the type of light and adjusting the white balance automatically, however if the camera finds it difficult to do so, especially under mixed lighting, you can manually set the white balance, so that the photos look natural.

Set a High ISO

The sensitivity of the sensor to light is mentioned as 100 ISO, 400 ISO, 6400 ISO, etc. A higher ISO allows you to take pictures in darker conditions; however, the flip side is noise which means the picture is grainy. That explains the characteristic spots in photos taken in the dark.

To sum it up, three elements that are critical in ensuring a quality photo are Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed. So, the next time you’re off on a trip, make sure you follow these basic fundamentals to click some amazing moments.

Monsoon in Goa

Monsoon in Goa

A kaleidoscope of cultures that have blended together to bring out the best of Goa! Touched by pristine sun-kissed beaches and sumptuous seafood, Goa is one of the most beautiful places to unwind. Whether it’s the expansive countryside greenery, the colorful market at Anjuna or the hustle and bustle of Panjim, Goa is in every way a bliss wherein the kind smiles of the Goans and the tendency to stop by for a short chat, makes it livelier. Explore this stunning place that’s home to striking Portuguese architecture, forts, and quaint churches and temples.

The advent of monsoons turns most people away from Goa, but who says not to visit Goa during the monsoon, rather ‘off season’ as many prefer to call it? The blooming natural beauty and greenery that goes as long as your eyes take you, Goa offers more reasons to visit during monsoon and witness its breathtaking beauty in abundance. Although beaches are rather quiet and most shacks shut down during this time, you still have better chances of finding some neat accommodation and local restaurants that serve delicious Goan food. The best part is probably the fact that luxurious staying could cost you 50% lesser than the peak months. This is one of the best times to witness the canopy of green covering the countryside. Also known for its trekking trails, these appear luscious green during the rainy season, inducing life into the trek. Probably a trek along the dense greenery that gives you a glimpse of the Dudhsagar falls at its mightiest. Swimming in the seas at this point may not seem like a good idea, with rough waves dominating the otherwise tranquil sea. Although that mustn’t deter you from visiting Goa- if you’re the adventurous one, you must try white water rafting in Mandovi River for a thrilling experience.

Likewise the Chapora fort on the Vagator beach is one of the most pristine sites to catch during the rains. Beaches like Mandrem and Arambol are the best to immerse in the moment and enjoy the rains, while if you want to catch up on some action, Baga and Calangute are probably your bets bet. While accommodation prices are really low, bike rentals too are reasonably low, and surely a trip during the rainy season will save you a lot of bucks. Goa comes alive during this time of the year with its Sao Joao festival that follows young men jumping into the river to retrieve gifts thrown into the waters by the villagers. A fun sight to witness, you’ll agree to the fact that fun in Goa never goes off with season. Few more festivals that continue offering reasons for celebrations are the Sangodd festival that has fishermen pay their respects to Saint Peter, the Touxeachem Feast and Bonderam flag festival. August/ September welcome the Ganesh festival with great ardor and enthusiasm. You’re bound to fall in love with the rains that Goa because they look heavenly and feel absolutely refreshing.

While Goa boasts of beauty in all its splendor during the rainy season, there are some other states too that make a great holiday destination at this time. Munnar in Kerala, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu and, Coorg and Agumbe in Karnataka and Pondicherry are a few places that’ll make you enthrall in the monsoon. The surrounding beauty with the backdrop of a stunning foliage and enchanting waterfall lures travelers into exploring this time of the year.

Destinations to travel to in June

A rather pleasant month to travel around the globe- June is finally here! Neither too cold, nor too warm, this is ideal time to soak in the sun and absorb in the holiday spirit. Whether it is short haul or a long holiday, or a beach that you’re after, there are a lot of places that make June a perfect time of the year for a visit. From places in South America to India, you will find plenty destinations to choose from.

Asia

Beijing, China– With no national celebration or any Chinese holidays falling in this month, the place is rather peaceful with fewer numbers of visitors. The crowds at the Great Wall and Tiananamen Square are far lesser than compared to the peak seasons. A beautiful place with loads to see and experience, enjoy a trip to Beijing that is bustling with vigour and energy, where history and modern times see a beautiful blend.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia- A very hot city otherwise, June sees a bit of rain which seems like a good respite. A modern city, Kuala Lumpur offers a great experience- for starters; the city with its impressive arrangement to get rid of the wet during rains will ensure it doesn’t impact your trip. So plan your trip and book the tickets to a destination well known for a cosmopolitan development, shopping and much more.

Ladakh, India– Clear skies, pleasant weather and a picturesque view, Ladakh is paradise during this time of the year. An ideal time for hiking, trekking or even a road trip to this beautiful place, you will want to visit Ladakh every year. Indulge in the beauty of the place and witness the blend of culture and history, while paying a visit to the oldest monastery, which will make an experience by itself.

Sikkim, India – March to June- summer time is an ideal time to visit Sikkim which is most often a haven for honeymooners, Buddhist pilgrims and tourists. Enjoy the sumptuous cuisine of the place and witness rare species of flora and fauna, of course not forgetting the mesmerizing beauty of the Himalayan ranges.

South America

Mexico city, Mexico- The place witnesses intermittent rains; however the altitude helps keep temperatures low. A beautiful city to visit, and often underrated, hotels in Mexico and flights offer great deals compared to many other places. A safe destination to visit, the city is a pleasant place in mid June.

Cancun, Mexico– Hotel prices and flight rates are particularly cheaper and you can grab a host of good deals in the best hotels at this point of the year. Although one of the rainy months, it barely rains for more than an hour. In fact most times, the showers are refreshing.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil– The summer season (December through February) is extremely hot and slightly wet, although rest of year makes for a perfect weather to visit. The striking backdrop and the comparatively lower prices is something you just can’t miss. Experience the magnanimity of Christ the Redeemer and enthral in a picturesque setting.

Europe

The whole of north is still cold and unbelievably expensive and so the south Europe is an ideal destination to hit this month. Sofia is one of the best affordable places, along with Budapest and Krakow, which are pleasant enough. Although slightly expensive, Prague is ideal weather-wise. Spain and Portugal are the other toppers on our list of enjoying this time of the year.

Africa

Morocco– This time is winter in Africa, while pretty hot in middle parts and over Egypt. Being on the south of Spain, the place is often visited as part of a trip to Spain. Those who happen to visit this place will know of an interesting culture, along with fascinating rates in June.

Middle East

Amman, Jordan- The weather is pretty pleasant and although a trip to this place alone wouldn’t make it to your bucket list, it definitely has loads stored in it to see- The Petra, an intriguing structure absolutely worth visiting. Try tying the place with some other destination, as the rates are quite reasonable as well.

Beirut, Lebanon- Although the weather is pleasant with no rains, the prices are not as low as Jordan. Considering the turmoil in the region, not too many people prefer a trip here, however for the adventurous or the bold ones, the trip is certainly pleasing, since there is quite a bit to see.

Tel Aviv, Israel- Beaches in Tel Aviv are beautiful, although a trip here won’t be as cheap, this is a perfect month with no rains and an enjoyable weather.

Monsoon in Goa

A kaleidoscope of cultures that have blended together to bring out the best of Goa! Touched by pristine sun-kissed beaches and sumptuous seafood, Goa is one of the most beautiful places to unwind. Whether it’s the expansive countryside greenery, the colorful market at Anjuna or the hustle and bustle of Panjim, Goa is in every way a bliss wherein the kind smiles of the Goans and the tendency to stop by for a short chat, makes it livelier.

Explore this stunning place that’s home to striking Portuguese architecture, forts, and quaint churches and temples.

The advent of monsoons turns most people away from Goa, but who says not to visit Goa during the monsoon, rather ‘off season’ as many prefer to call it? The blooming natural beauty and greenery that goes as long as your eyes take you, Goa offers more reasons to visit during monsoon and witness its breathtaking beauty in abundance.

Although beaches are rather quiet and most shacks shut down during this time, you still have better chances of finding some neat accommodation and local restaurants that serve delicious Goan food.

The best part is probably the fact that luxurious staying could cost you 50% lesser than the peak months. This is one of the best times to witness the canopy of green covering the countryside. Also known for its trekking trails, these appear luscious green during the rainy season, inducing life into the trek. Probably a trek along the dense greenery that gives you a glimpse of the Dudhsagar falls at its mightiest.

Swimming in the seas at this point may not seem like a good idea, with rough waves dominating the otherwise tranquil sea. Although that mustn’t deter you from visiting Goa- if you’re the adventurous one, you must try white water rafting in Mandovi River for a thrilling experience.

Likewise the Chapora fort on the Vagator beach is one of the most pristine sites to catch during the rains. Beaches like Mandrem and Arambol are the best to immerse in the moment and enjoy the rains, while if you want to catch up on some action, Baga and Calangute are probably your bets bet.

While accommodation prices are really low, bike rentals too are reasonably low, and surely a trip during the rainy season will save you a lot of bucks. Goa comes alive during this time of the year with its Sao Joao festival that follows young men jumping into the river to retrieve gifts thrown into the waters by the villagers. A fun sight to witness, you’ll agree to the fact that fun in Goa never goes off with season.

Few more festivals that continue offering reasons for celebrations are the Sangodd festival that has fishermen pay their respects to Saint Peter, the Touxeachem Feast and Bonderam flag festival.

August/ September welcome the Ganesh festival with great ardor and enthusiasm. You’re bound to fall in love with the rains that Goa because they look heavenly and feel absolutely refreshing.

While Goa boasts of beauty in all its splendor during the rainy season, there are some other states too that make a great holiday destination at this time. Munnar in Kerala, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu and, Coorg and Agumbe in Karnataka and Pondicherry are a few places that’ll make you enthrall in the monsoon. The surrounding beauty with the backdrop of a stunning foliage and enchanting waterfall lures travelers into exploring this time of the year.

Pros and Cons of Solo and Group Travel

– By Soliya Phadnis

Traveling is known to be the best teacher in life. There is so much you achieve with traveling- it widens your knowledge, fills your bucket of memories with cherished moments, enriches your experiences and transforms you! Are you planning on taking a vacation? Are you wondering whether you should be heading out all by yourself or being a part of group or two, ten or more? It’s best to know what suits your priorities and preferences to make a wise choice here.

Solo traveling has always been a dream for most travelers around the world, however there are so many who wish to take the impromptu trip but are apprehensive of a number of things. With a lot depending on your personality, if you are the kind of person who finds solace in absorbing the beauty of a place all alone, independent traveling is just for you. As nerve-wracking as it seems the freedom that traveling solo brings to you is unparalleled. You may chose to stay back on a hillside simply to enjoy the sunset, rather than zoom to the other end of the city to witness some play. There is no room to worry about going all the way to your favorite art gallery only to see it closed will probably have ruined your partner’s day. It’s your day top salvage and chalk a new plan- all about a learning experience. There is no binding on the amount of time you wish to explore a place, neither a strict schedule to follow. Traveling independently gives you a chance to resolve all problems, take your own decisions, be prepared for the unprepared and makes you a stronger person. There is no wait time for others to get ready and your trips starts when you start- you get to do just what you want and go just where you want! So step out, get lost, find your way and move on with the off beaten track, and find true joys in there! One of the best things about a solo trip is that self indulgence, sometimes delving into the deeper side and make a connection with your soul, getting out of the monotony of life and breaking the bonds for a while. Mistakes are your own and triumphs will turn out to be a mater of celebration!

Of course independent traveling has its perils as well like loneliness, security conundrums.  You need to know that there WILL be problems and you will feel very alone and sometimes may end up feeling lonely. However, with a little planning, preparation and common sense, you can sail safely through rough spots. You will be spending more time on figuring out how to proceed and get most of the experience that you had come for. Safety is a big issue in some countries especially for women travelers, although with right amount of precautions, there would be little hassle. Without someone to watch your back, it may seem highly unsafe, hence, it is better to understand the regulations and safety concerns of your destination. The first trip on your own could be a learning curve, posing more issues, simplest ones being meeting and talking to new people. Thus, understand the advantages and be prepared to face unprecedented events and make a choice. It is rather interesting and enriching to embark on a journey by yourself, fend for yourself, deal with issues and come back truly rejuvenated. Your best counsel is you so if something doesn’t feel right, don’t go for it.

On the other hand, a group tour will take you all over the world, to the destination of your choice, with ten other people having the same choice of place. Shuttling from one to another with a scheduled itinerary and a guide is of course a complete opposite of an independent trip. While travel is simply about exploring different places, knowing other cultures and meeting new people, the medium in which people choose to explore differs. As such group tours come in various sizes and kinds. However, they also turn out to be cheaper than a solo trip as group discounts can be availed for most attractions. Safety is an issue that is well taken care of in groups and lesser chances of things going wrong since there has been a good amount of pre- planning. You will seldom feel lonely as there will be a companion to talk with or share with. You may just find a friend in there! For those who do not see themselves going on a solo trip, organized tours work the best to step into the unknown.

However, there will be differences in preference of areas and interests. The strict schedule of organized trips will leave little opportunity for ‘alone time’ or probably to spend more time at a museum. You won’t get a chance to plan the places and hence not everything on the itinerary will interest you. The hardest part is quick traveling- not getting enough time at a place may seem annoying and you may end up missing out on a number of things to see/do. Clashing personalities and difference in opinions will sometimes give a tough time. Big crowds and lack of flexibility may at some point seem like a hindrance. And one of the most important that you may miss out on is interaction with the locals which is an experience in itself- something worth devouring. There is so much you learn and understand when you interact with people from the place and that is one of the reasons we choose to travel.

Thus, no matter what you choose, it is imperative that you plan wisely and make basic prior arrangements before taking the plunge. But, traveling will cleanse your soul and be sure to come back as a new person, to only plan another trip!

How travel changes you

Travel Changes You – For the Better!!

You have seen every place, every monument and every museum – thanks to the technological advancements that allow you to enjoy any place around the world from the comfort of your home, with a 3D view. This also includes museums and palace interiors most of the times! So, do you feel the need to step out of your home to explore these places by yourself? Do these images and videos entice you into planning a trip or are you simply at peace, seeing them through the window screen of your laptop or your mobile phones?

No matter how many pictures and videos you view, an experience must be experienced to feel it! Travel is transformational to the core. Travel is synonymous to adventure and experience! It lends a different perspective to an otherwise stereotype view of the world and the people. Travel gives you the upper hand in taking informed decisions, making mistakes and learning from them. It is all about leaving your comfort zone only to find comfort in the laps of other parts of the world. The excitement of making a list of things to carry, packing your bags and finally embarking on the journey is an unparalleled one and equally addictive.

Here are some changes in your life that travel can bring about

Confidence Boosted

You develop a better mechanism to do the many intimidating things that you otherwise avoid. You gain confidence to deal with unexpected circumstances, navigating your way through captivating lanes, communicating in a foreign language, manoeuvring your thoughts through awkward situations and trying a variety of cuisine to satiate your hunger and quench your thirst. Is this not enough to make you a better person in your own country?

Widens your Understanding of People

The world will show you how different people around are and yet how identical they are! Your travel to different places will expose you to the fact that irrespective of where on earth you go, people vary only in looks, eating and living habits, ethnicity etc. Deep inside, every human being is the same- they can all communicate even with the barrier of language. They all experience small joys and advocate peace around the world. A conversation over meals and drinks makes you look at the world from a different outlook- probably something you never thought of!

Altered Perspective

Understanding the history of a place, the lifestyle of the locals, the culture and tradition makes you want to know more about the place. Talking with different people and experiencing various countries, you start looking differently at the world around you. There is a sense of empathy and understanding towards everyone.

Irrevocable Desire to Explore

Once you taste the adventures of traveling, you will never want to return to no-travel life. As soon as you return from your first trip, you will start planning your net trip. It is addictive- meeting new people, learning about different cultures, admiring a colossal piece of architectural wonder, marvelling at nature’s miraculous happenings…the list is never-ending!

Curiosity Deepens

How often have you thought about why are the northern lights so mesmerizing or why would ancient men go to great extents to build humongous artistic temples and churches or why do all cultures and religions, though as different as they seem, actually have a lot in common? Travel quenches your curiosity, attempts to answer your questions, giving rise to more questions thus maintaining a long lasting relation with travel.

The Bigger Picture Matters

Once you’ve travelled and experienced different cultures, met a variety of people and absorbed in the expanse of nature and man-made wonders, do you realize how small you are and how small your problems are. There is a bigger world out there, with a lot more things than only us. You learn to value all the things you are blessed with because at the end, what matters is that you had a chance to experience a lot more than only your world based in your comfortable shell.

So travel, as much as you can. Find solace in knowing you have seen so much, but yet there is a lot more left to be seen!!

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness occurs when a human is acutely exposed to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. It normally occurs above 2400meters or 8000feet. Anyone and everyone can be affected by altitude sickness. Most people can ascend to about 2400m without difficulty.

Altitude sickness is also known as altitude illness, hypobaropathy, “the altitude bends” or soroche.

It has 3 forms.

Mild altitude sickness is also called acute mountain sickness. It is similar to having a hangover. It causes nausea, fatigue and headaches. It is very common. Some people are affected mildly while some feel awful.

If a human experiences acute mountain sickness, then there is a chance of it developing more serious forms of altitude sickness like HAPE and HACE, both of which can be fatal within hours.

Acute mountain sickness (or AMS) can lead to HAPE (or high altitude pulmonary edema). Excess fluids accumulate in the lungs. This can be life-threatening and can happen to anyone who goes above 2400m. If you experience any of the following symptoms then you may die soon

  • Difficulty in breathing or breathlessness
  • Cough
  • Weakness or decreased exercise performance
  • Chest tightness or congestion
  • Blue skin color
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Crackles or wheezing, while breathing, in at least one lung field

In some cases, HAPE can cause a high temperature fever and coughing up frothy spit.

One of the main causes of HAPE is a shortage of oxygen which is caused by lower air pressure at high altitudes.

Acute mountain sickness can also lead to HACE (or high altitude cerebral edema). Excess fluids in the brain, leads to the swelling of the brain and this can happen because of the physiological effects of travelling at high altitude. Some of the symptoms are

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Clumsiness
  • Stumbling
  • Laziness
  • Excessive emotion
  • Excessive violence
  • Fever
  • Coordination of movement
  • Discomfort or pain in the eyes due to light exposure or by presence of actual physical sensitivity of the eyes
  • An altered mental state
  • Severe headaches
  • Hallucination in some cases
  • Stupor
  • Blurred vision
  • Paralysis

Drowsiness and loss of consciousness can occur shortly before death.

It occurs when the body fails to acclimatize while ascending to a high altitude. It also occurs because of oxygen deprivation.

Treatment of HAPE and HACE are

  • Immediate descent to lower altitudes is absolutely essential
  • Dexamethasone and acetazolamide should both be given, if available
  • Pressure bags and oxygen gas can buy time

The main causes for altitude sickness are

  • Ascending faster than 500m per day
  • Exercising vigorously at high altitudes
  • Lower levels of oxygen at high altitudes

Every one including a physically fit person such as an Olympic athlete can get altitude sickness.

To prevent high altitude sickness, one must ascend slowly. One needs to acclimatize the body properly and get used to the altitude at every level. The body can acclimatize beautifully however, it needs enough time. It could take up to a week to adapt to an altitude of 5000m.

Only one drug is currently known to prevent AMS and to be safe for this purpose: acetazolamide (diamox). It causes some minor side effects, such as tingling fingers and a funny taste in the mouth.

Content reference

http://www.altitude.org/altitude_sickness.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altitude_sickness

There is no known cure for altitude sickness. Although these methods have been tried and it helps in reducing symptoms

  • Stay well hydrated throughout. Before you hit high altitude ensure that you have had 0.5 litres of water atleast half an hour before. Ensure that every night before going to bed, you have 0.5 litres of water.
  • Force yourself to eat even if you have slight headaches. Having slight headaches is normal.
  • Slow down and don’t force yourself to go faster.
  • Ascend slowly.
  • Go high, sleep low. You can go to a high altitude but ensure that you always sleep at lower altitudes.
  • Stay positive.
  • Enjoy the nature.
  • Breathe deeply if you go breathless.
  • While climbing stairs, go one step at a time. If you feel breathless, stop, take a minute to recover and then start climbing again. Slight breathlessness is normal.
  • Staying fit is also a key. Altitude sickness can hit even the fittest of the people, but that doesn’t mean one should not be fit. It is better to tackle altitude sickness with a fit body than an unfit body.
  • Regular pranayama exercises like simple anulom-vilom if started a couple of months before the trip to a high altitude destination can help in better breathing.
  • Simple 30mins brisk walking, if started a couple of months before the trip to a high altitude destination can also help in improving levels of fitness.
  • Ensure that you are dressed in layers. Even if you are indoors, ensure that you only take off the top most layer. The heat should never escape the body.
  • Don’t stay indoors. Be outside in the cold rather than the warm indoors. It helps in better acclimatization.
  • Some say Coca helps. Consult your homeopath.
  • Don’t drink alcohol as it tends to dehydrate the body.
  • Take the first day to acclimatize to the altitude. Take it easy. Rest for a couple of hours before you go for a short walk the moment you land at the high altitude destination.
  • Avoid caffeinated products as they tend to dehydrate.
  • Have the local food as far as possible.

Descend to a lower altitude if the symptoms get worse. Consult the doctor. Use oxygen to increase oxygen pressure. Diamox is easily available over the counter in Leh-Ladakh and Nepal. Resort to that in case of bad nausea or bad headaches.

40 Safety Tips For Solo Women Travelers

– By Vidula (Founder of BuffyFish)

Vidula is the founder of BuffyFish and has travelled to 27 countries all over the world. She also has travelled extensively in India.

Women who travel solo need to vigilant at all given times and yet learn to have fun!
Here are 40 safety tips from Vidula , for women who travel solo
  1. All it takes is common sense to stay safe. Don’t loiter around in a strange place or a well-known place alone at 12 midnight. It is common sense to not be alone at that time anywhere. Execute common sense wherever necessary.
  2. Carry a pepper spray. They are available at most pharmacy stores, in India, nowadays. Don’t hesitate to use them when the need arises.
  3. Be well informed about the place. For example, know about the public transport system of the destination, know where the ATMs are, know where the police station is, know about women helplines etc.
  4. Always keep someone informed about your next destination and your detailed day to itinerary. Your friends, family, hotels etc.
  5. Always use the smart phone. Don’t be a snob and not carry a cell phone. It is a gadget that you should use and ensure that it is charged at all times. Ensure that your number is given to your family and trusted friends and the hotel that you are staying at.
  6. Ask for help when required. Usually locals tend to help the travelers. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  7. Create a scene wherever and whenever required.
  8. Always have cash, local currency and a few dollars on you at all times
  9. Travel light.
  10. Always have a headlamp or a torch handy. If you are stuck somewhere in the evenings without street lights, a headlamp or a torch can come in handy.
  11. Keep a pen knife handy.
  12. Watch your drinks and food at all times.
  13. Always watch how much you are drinking.
  14. Spend extra money on staying safe.
  15. Get travel insurance.
  16. Always ensure that your accommodation is pre-booked. Never go to a destination without booking the hotels or accommodation.
  17. Dress appropriately everywhere. It takes common sense and research to figure out the culture of the place and dress accordingly.
  18. Always have a phrase book handy. Know some local phrases. Learning a new language is always fun.
  19. Have confidence when you walk and talk.
  20. Don’t look like you are lost.
  21. Try and not look like a tourist.
  22. Take cues from locals and especially local women. Talk to them and get to know them. It is fun to interact with the locals.
  23. Always let the hotel know what your next destination is.
  24. Figure out from the hotel, the areas you need to avoid as a solo female traveler.
  25. If you think you are being followed, stop, pretend that you are tying your shoelaces, walk into a cafe nearby and start talking animatedly to people. With a sly glance ensure that you are not being followed. Talk to the police if required.
  26. Always trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, walk out of that situation.
  27. Always have a plan in place. And even better a backup plan!
  28. Be well informed about the emergency services and numbers of the destination, for example, ambulance, fire, police, women helplines etc. Use these numbers. Save them as speed dials on your phone. Have your most trusted contacts, friends and family on speed dial.
  29. Learn how to read maps.
  30. Don’t hitchhike.
  31. Don’t leave your luggage unguarded at any point in time.
  32. Leave important items and valuables in a locker at the hotels.
  33. Learn to whistle. Or even better carry one with you. Use it whenever necessary.
  34. Don’t disclose your hotel details to anyone during your travels or a stranger.
  35. Know where the fire exits are.
  36. Don’t stay on the ground floor or first floor. If you do, don’t leave the windows open.
  37. Always logout of your email accounts when you are using the services of a local internet café.
  38. Talk to other female travelers and get tips from them.
  39. Scream when necessary!
  40. Always wear good walking shoes! It is easier to run in them.

We women need to learn to enjoy the trip as well while still staying safe and watching each other’s backs.

Wishing you safe travels!

A visit to The Tribal Cultural Museum in Pune

Today is International Museum Day.

I was inspired to visit a museum in my city, Pune.

The tribal cultural museum in Pune is located close to the railway station, next to the police station, right after the blue diamond bridge, on queen’s road.

There are some incredible photographs that depict the lives of the simple tribal people. There is an entire section on jewellery, musical instruments and utensils. There is a room filled with some beautiful warli paintings. Some beautiful papier mache masks of gods, goddesses and demons from the indian mythology are also on display.

The cultures of the warli, gond, and other tribes from the sahyadri region can be seen here. Some old weapons are also displayed. One gets to glimpse into the traditions of the tribal people.

It is definitely worth a visit.

Entrance fees – INR 10/- per head.

It is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm.

Ladakh, the mystery

Ladakh

The land of clear waters, snow capped mountains, shimmering lakes and more beauty as far as your eyesight can take you- Ladakh is a visually stunning and culturally rich region high in the Indian Himalaya. This picturesque region is self sufficient which is a commendable achievement owing to the short season in which crops can grow and the limited arable land where water is laboriously channeled from mountain streams. The rugged wall of mountains around Ladakh lends a spectacular view to the region during all seasons. Buffyfish takes you on a trip to Ladakh through the winding mountainous terrain. With stupas and mud brick houses spread across the region, explore the beauty of nature and culture come together.

Nubra Valley

Indisputably the world’s highest motorable pass, Khardungla is located at 5602 meters and is a gateway to Shyok and Nubra valleys. In ancient times, Nubra formed a part of the overland trade route between Tibet and Turkestan. This Silk Route is also known as the Valley of Flowers and is one of the greenest regions of Ladakh. Unravel the legends of the silk route as you cross the formidable Khardungla along with Buffyfish’s expert guides. The scenic splendor of the region is a visual treat for the visitor.

Diskit

This was a stopover for caravans between Tibet and Chia during ancient trade times. Diskit gompa, situated on a mountain is the one of the most beautiful views. The Maitreya Buddha that stands at a height of 106 feet is another attraction of this region.

Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri Lakes

The striking deep blue color of the lake and the mesmerizing view around is what catches the eye.  The shimmering reflection of the mountains in the ever changing blue and green water of this lake is another striking feature.

A spectacular site in Leh, Tso Moriri Lake is a serene and a beautiful place to be at. Tso Moriri is located in the district of Rupshu, south east of Ladakh. The lake is surrounded by barren hills to which the snow capped mountains lend a striking backdrop. Situated in the midst of mountain peaks, shuting it off from the outside world, Mountain Lake is another name for Tso Moriri. Having no outlet, the water of the lake is brackish however, barely evident. As a matter of fact, the lack was once upon a time a popular source of salt.

Alchi Gompa

Alchi Gompa said to be one of the oldest is more than 1000 years old is situated on the banks of River Indus. The monastery is famous for its murals on the walls although most are in need of restoration. Brightly painted large images on the wall of the monastery along with other miniature paintings of Buddha make the monastery a piece of art. Alchi Du-khang and the Sum-tsek are the two main temples of Alchi, however there are many more that you could explore. Sum-tsek, a three tiered temple is the oldest in the Alchi Monastery.

Lamayuru

Dating back to the 11th century, Lamayuru monastery was founded by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa. This is home to more than 150 monks and has a rich collection of wall paintings, carpets, artifacts. The monastery has some caves that have been excavated from the mountains and are situated on a high cape overlooking the entire village and valley. Also known as yung drung (swastika), it has an 11 headed, 1000 eyed image of Chenzing. The Yundrung Kabgyad festival is held at this place during summer, on the 28th and 29th of the second Tibetan month.

Turtuk

The last village on the India Pakistan border, Turtuk is a peaceful village located in the Shyok River Valley. Turtuk, in every sense is a treat to the visitor- visually and culturally. Untouched by heavy tourism, the place has maintained its charm and a conversation with the locals is a delightful experience. The village is divided into three areas- Chutang- lower area, Yul- oldest area and Farol- most monasteries and guesthouses are located. During winter, the other two areas move to Chutang, which literally means river plain.

A journey with Buffyfish will take you through the enchanting mountainous region that unfolds the beauty within in forms of nature, culture and tradition. Colorful fluttering prayer flags are seen all over that are said to spread spiritual messages with the mountain breeze. Making one of the most beautiful places of India, Buffyfish’s trail through this region of Leh Ladakh will leave you wanting for more of it!!!

When in Rome, do as the Romans!

When in Rome, do as the Romans!

– By Smita Deo

Animish, Sheetal, Abhinay and I were fast asleep in the train bound to Italy from Nice. Abhinay was sleeping towards the door of the coupe.

At around 2:30 am Sheetal and I got up from deep slumber because of the commotion in our coupe only to realize that we were robbed of our money.

Abhinay was calmly sitting with a grin on his face, but the rest of us were in a total state of shock. I was wondering, “How the hell did this happen?” The ticket collector we approached for help didn’t pay much heed to us.

After an unsettled feeling we reached Rome at 7:00 in the morning. Sine we were short of money we quickly opened the Frommers for cheap accommodation and we came across a camping bungalows called “Flaminio”. After we booked ourselves we got on to the bus to get there where an old women cautioned us to be careful with our valuables. My first reaction was to hug my haversack and protect whatever was left.

Flaminio seemed like a good place full of caravans. We were also escorted to one by the manager. The place was neat and clean and the campus provided us a swimming pool, tennis court and restaurant too.

After freshening up and grabbing a bite we took a bus to the Vatican city which is right in the center of the city and where the St Peter’s Basilica stood proud in front of us. It is Italy’s largest, richest and the most spectacular Basillica. The interiors are lavish with spectacular work of art: Michelangelo’s Pieta, his soaring dome and Bernini’s 29m high baldachin over the papal alter. Once you in the nave the enormous size of the church becomes apparent. It has a space large enough to accommodate 60,000 visitors. It was truly amazing to be there.

We headed off to the Vatican museum that boasts one of the world’s greatest art collection. One should not miss going there.

I was too hungry and tired to move without lunch the aroma of freshly ground coffee that comes out of the cafes was amazing.

After sharing a carafe of the local wine and a hearty lunch of Pasta carbonara in a Trattoria we set off to the Sistine chapel. The chapel was outstanding with some mind – blowing paintings all over the ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1508 – 1512.

We headed to the Forum place where the Romans would discuss their political and other issues. The Colosseum was at a walking distance. It was a run down building, which is said to have been a place where the prisoners would have to fight the beast in order to entertain the king. We spent a lot of time there enjoying the beauty of the place.

We called it the day off after the Colosseum. After eating the Pain Au Chocolate (chocolate puff) we returned back to our caravan to crash.

The next morning after a heavy breakfast of fried eggs, toast and some warm coffee we headed to Naples in a train. It is Italy’s largest city and is one of it’s oldest, most artistic city.

Its archeological treasures are among the worlds most impressive, and its swag of palaces, castles and churches make Rome look positively provincial.

The food servs up the country’s best pizza, pasta and coffee and many of its most celebrated seafood dishes, street snacks and sweet treats. We had some amazing pasta and pizza on one such street. The taste of which I remember even today. Naples is a master piece.

We headed to Pompeii from there. It is a vast archeological site in South Italy. Once a thriving sophisticated Roman city. Pompeii was buried in the meters of ash and the pumice after the eruption of the Mt Vesuvius. One must visit this place.

The next morning we went to see the Fountain of Tretie. The myth is you throw a coin in the water and make a wish and its said that it comes true.

We headed for the Pantheon from there. It was beautiful the glass dome showering the sunlight inside was spectacular.

Rome was really beautiful and I don’t think one should miss anything there and must enjoy the place, the culture and the vast beautiful architecture.

Signing on this note I will share with you one of my favorite pasta recipe

FETTUCCINE CARBONARA

INGREDIENTS:

280 gm bacon rashers chopped

375 gm fettuccine

3 egg yolks beaten lightly

1 cup cream

½ cup parmesan cheese

3 tbsp chopped fresh chives

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt to taste

METHOD:

i. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the bacon till crisp.

ii. Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water or as per instructed on the pack.

iii. Combine the pasta in a large bowl with the egg yolks, cream and cheese and cook on a low flame till it turns creamy. Don’t over cook it or the yolk will scramble. Sprinkle the chives and serve along with crispy garlic bread.

About Smita Deo

Smita Deo is a food blogger and loves to cook food and feed her near and dear ones. She often blogs on meatroot.com.

Land of Happiness- Bhutan!!

Land of Happiness- Bhutan!!

Known for its distinct cultural identity, Bhutan is a small country lying between India and China. The magnificence of the traditional ways yet retained can take you back in time, giving you a quick glimpse of the customs that are fast disappearing. Between the thick forests and humungous mountains, you will find a people that are welcoming with a spirit to preserve their cultural heritage amidst the ever changing world. A serene and picturesque view adds to the experience of encountering a unique blend of tourism.

Druk-yul, the official name of Bhutan is something that most Bhutanese still call it. Druk-yul means “Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Early history of Bhutan is woven with folklore and mythology. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism into Bhutan from Tibet. Bhutan was never colonized.  The medieval and modern history of Bhutan is better documented than its early history. This time talks about wars and battles, treachery and feuds with giant forts and castles being a part of the time. A visit to Bhutan will show you the striking Dzongs (fortresses) that are a center of worship. A walk through the past will brilliantly show how the past is a central part of the Bhutan’s present. A political entity was attached to the country in the 17th century with the Tibetan Lamas who established an administrative structure.

The currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum or the Nu and it’s value is fixed to the Indian Rupee. Some of the first tourists allowed into Bhutan were in 1974. Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan boasts of commercial liveliness. You can witness red robed monks, government officials and tourists, all in the same city. The enchanting city offers cafes, club and restaurants and is a perfect mix of the old and new. The national dress for men is the gho, whereas kira is the dress worn by the women. The kira that has undergone many variations, you will yet be able to pick up the traditional one for yourself.

Buddhism is the religion followed by majority of the people and is sponsored by the government. One of the most popular dishes in Bhutan is the Ema Datshi, a mix of Bhutanese red and white rice.

The people of Bhutan are bound by the government to keep at least 60 percent of the nation under forest at all times. Unravel the mysteries of this intriguing country and be there to experience the cultural affluence of the Bhutanese. A welcoming country, Bhutan has all that a historical, geographical and a modern place can offer. Experience culture first hand with a road trip to Bhutan accompanied by highly experienced guides.

FUN FACTS

  • Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan, located at 24,840 feet and was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
  • Birthdays are never forgotten in this country, as all the people officially grow older on New Years’ Day.
  • The barometer for measuring economic growth of the country is based on Buddhist cultural and spiritual values and is measured by the Gross National Happiness, GNH.
  • The internet was a gift to the people from King Jigme Singye to celebrate his 25th year of reign, in 2000.

Harappan Sites

Harappan Sites

– By Soliya Phadnis

 

Let us move to the next destination with a spread-out of Harappan sites. Haryana has a number of sites belonging to the Harappan culture that have revealed a great amount of information about a people who lived about 5000 years ago.

Rakhigarhi has gained a place of great importance owing to the evidence provided through excavations and the sheer size of the site making it a significant place during it’s times.

Farmana, on the other hand is probably the second largest after Rakhigarhi. Considering the fact that covering all the sites may not be easy here, let us have a look at these two sites that have recently thrown much light on the Harappan civilization.

Rakhigarhi

Having read about the earlier mentioned sites on the page, are you not intrigued to know what the Harappan people looked like? The recent excavations at Rakhigarhi, Haryana have given the site the status of being the biggest Indus Valley Civilization site in the Indian subcontinent. This site happens to be one of the few Harappan sites that has experienced an unbroken settlement – Early Harappan, Early Mature Harappan and the urbanized Mature Harappan. This certainly makes Rakhigarhi a site with rich history

The 22 meter deep trench has revealed two different phases of the culture- 4000-2600 BCE and 2600-2000 BCE. This has provided an insight into the economic growth and various other aspects of the culture. Trade and craft of the area suggests use of jewelry from shells and beads imported from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu and eventually progressing to intricate tin glazed pottery and lapis lazuli imported from Afghanistan.

The DNA from the skeletons excavated has been sent to South Korea which can help in reconstructing the Harappan people. This may put to rest the debate whether Harappans were an indigenous lot or migrants.

Farmana

A walk on the streets of the quaint village of Farmana may not immediately speak about the history that it holds. Not too far from Rakhigarhi, Farmana consists of structural complexes, small streets and lanes, all well aligned along the margins.

The number of burials found in the Cemetery area throws light on various burial customs of the culture along with beliefs of life after death etc.

It gives evidence of primary (complete skeleton), secondary (some bones) and symbolic burials with variation in orientation. These variations suggest existence of various groups in the communities with different set of beliefs.

A trip to Haryana would definitely be an enlightening one taking you back in time where a massive Harappan civilization flourished for a long time. Imagining the entire history stand in front of you, letting your imagination take you through the lanes and houses of the Harappan people and watch them work with the pottery, the beads, the toys, the seals, would be one of the greatest moments.

Dholavira and Lothal

Dholavira and Lothal

– By Soliya Phadnis

After a tour to the Indus Valley sites in Pakistan, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, let us come back to our land and look at some of the sites in Gujarat, India.

While most other sites have seen only early or later stages of the Harappan culture, Lothal and Dholavira have passed through all stages of the culture, spanning from 2900 BCE to 1500 BCE.

Dholavira

The Harappan site of Dholavira located in Kutch is known for the enormity and the brilliant planning. The site has yielded some inscriptions in form of large sign boards.

A new light on the socio religious belief is thrown with the funerary structures found at the site.

The excavation revealed a citadel in the center along with middle and a lower town, each fortified separately. The citadel was laid out in the south of the city. The Middle town rises to a height of 8.60 m from the ground level and has two to three gates in the enclosure enabling intercommunication with lower town.

Similar to the middle town, the lower town too had a constructed area with several built up projections.

Dholavira is known to have an excellent water conservation system. Satellite photos have revealed a reservoir underground, without which the city would not have been able to survive with the sparse rainfall of the desert.

Lothal

Lothal developed as an important port and a center of bead industry. Archaeological finds indicate trade with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Floods in the region resulted in large scale destruction, however did not deter the spirit of the inhabitants.

The dominant sight of Lothal is the dockyard which is built on the eastern flank of the town. This has made the site prominent on an international archaeological map. The dockyard displays knowledge about tides and hydraulics. Ships could enter northern side of the dock via an inlet channel that was connected to an estuary of the river during high tide. After unloading of the cargo the gates would have opened allowing the ship to the Arabian Sea.

The warehouse is another important structure at Lothal which was built close to the acropolis. It served as a clearing house for incoming and outgoing cargo.

One of the discoveries has revealed two bodies in a single grave indicating burial to be a common ritual.

Thus a walk through these ancient cities gives us tremendous knowledge about what life would have been then.

Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization

– By Soliya Phadnis

Indus Valley Civilization, an ancient civilization located in Pakistan and northwest India is the earliest known urban culture in the Indian subcontinent. Evidence of religious practices date back to approximately 5500 BCE and around 3000 BCE there were seen the first signs of urbanization.

The civilization was at it’s peak between 2500-2000 BCE. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa suggest a greatly developed culture comprising of a city life with well-built houses having wells and bathrooms and an elaborate drainage system. They were well-planned urbanized cities having established trade contacts with the near east.

Harappa

Harappa was the first of the Indus Valley sites to be found. All cities excavated from here on are also known as Harappan culture considering the similarities in building structures, brick size, pottery etc.

Harappan city speaks of great architectural planning that was unparalled in the ancient world. The city was laid out in a grid like pattern that had the orientation of the streets and buildings based on cardinal directions. Many drinking wells and an extremely well organized drainage system are the characteristics of the city.

Seals are the common objects found throughout the Harappan cities, with various motifs. Some are inscribed with figures which are prototypes to later Hindu religious figures. The use of seals is seen to decline when the civilization declined.

Like other cities, Harappan economy was based on agriculture supplemented by the production and trade of craft and commodities.

The period between 2600-1900 BCE saw the city at it’s peak of economic expansion growth. There was an increase in trade, craft technology and based on evidence; many people belonging to different classes and occupations lived together.

Excavations in 2001 uncovered a workshop that manufactured seals and inscribed tablets. This find was significant in terms of offering a chronology for the development of the Indus script.

Harappa was a city with skilled artisans who could make objects of bronze, gold, silver, glazed ceramic, terracotta and semi-precious stones.

Mohenjo-Daro

One of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization, Mohenjo-daro is situated in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. A high level of social organization is suggested looking at the size of the site and the public buildings and facilities.

The city is divided into two parts- The Citadel and Lower City. The Citadel comprised of the public baths and residential houses. One of the most outstanding structures is the Great Bath which is well preserved. According to most scholars this was used for religious purpose.

The most famed Dancing Girl is an artifact found at this site. The bronze artifact is around 4500 years old and was found in one of the houses.

Another famous statue found is that of the priest king which has a circular space on the forehead suggestive of  being a forerunner to the ‘third-eye’ of Hindu myth.

A gold disc excavated at the same location fits perfectly into the circular space.

Ancient Mesopotamian texts mention trading with two seafaring places – Makkan and Meluha – in the neighborhood of India in the third millennium BCE. These texts refer to Meluha as an aquatic culture, where water and bathing played an important role. Similarity in the seals found in Mesopotamia supports this theory. A number of Indus Valley objects have been found buried with Mesopotamians.

Various theories for the end of the Indus Valley Civilization have been put forth of which drying up of the river which led to mass migration westwards has been unanimously accepted.

Neolithic sites of Indian sub-continent

Neolithic Sites of Indian sub-continent

– By Soliya Phadnis

The hunting gathering characteristic in early man started declining towards end of Mesolithic Age and he became more sedentary which saw the establishment of villages. He started domesticating animals and in due course, there was a beginning in agricultural production.While some took to agriculture, there was a part of the society that took to other tasks like making o bricks, masonry, production of pots etc. This transition from hunting-gathering to food production is referred to as the Neolithic Revolution.

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Neolithic cultures in the Indian Sub-continent

The earliest evidence of wheat cultivation and barley has been found in present day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Excavations in Mehrgarh in Baluchistan have revealed a culture ranging from pre-pottery Neolithic to mature Harappan.

Mehrgarh

Mehrgarh is the oldest agricultural settlement in the Indian subcontinent Agriculture-based Neolithic settlements. It flourished in the seventh millennium BCE. It comprises of majorly two periods- Period I being aceramic and period II seeing the emergence of pottery.

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Map showing Mehrgarh

Kashmir

Burzhahom and Gufkral in Kashmir are other important sites of which the C-14 dating ranges between 2500-1500 BCE. These sites of Neolithic culture of Kashmir are characterized by pit dwellings with floors smeared with red ochre and dwellings in the open as well.

neolithic burzhahom
Neolithic Burzhahom

Belan Valley

Other important excavated sites in Belan Valley include Chopni Mando, Kolidihawa and Mahagara. Kolidihawa is dated as early as 7000 BCE. These sites indicate transition from food gathering to food producing stage and have been assigned to the Vindhyan Neolithic. Evidences indicate a gradual development towards a sedentary life with defined family units living in circular huts made of timber posts and thatch. Other development like domestication, farming and use of various tools indicates the same.

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Map showing Neolithic sites in India
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Pottery from Neolithic era in India

North East

Neolithic culture is also seen in the hills of Assam that includes north Cacher, Garo and the Naga. These are characterized by shouldered Celts, ground axes and cord-impressed pottery.

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Garo woman
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Nagas
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Neolithic stone tools from Assam

South India

Neolithic sites of south India include Sanganakallu, Nagarjunakonda, Maski, Brahmagiri, Tekkalakota, Piklihal, Kupgal, Hallur, Palavoy among others. Dates of southern Neolithic broadly fall under 2900-1000 BCE. The earliest phase is seen at Sangankallu and Nagarjunakonda, a time when people had a very basic knowledge about cultivation and probably did not domesticate animals.

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Brahmagiri
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Maski
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Map showing pre-historic India

Ash Mounds

A distinctive feature of sites in the southern part of Deccan plateau is marked by ash mounds. These mounds are accumulations of ash and vitrified material formed due to the continuous burning of dung and marks the Neolithic cattle pens. Utnur excavations have shown cattle hoof prints in the ash. The Budhidal excavations showed the presence of a habitation that was directly associated with ash mounds. Habitation sites and ash mounds were closely related and some ash mounds are so huge that they probably served as centers for periodic cattle fairs that were attended by locals.

05 Ash Mound Kappagallu
Ash Mounds

Rashtrakutas

Rashtrakutas

– By Soliya Phadnis

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The period from 752-985 CE saw the rise of the Rashtrakuta dynasty in the region of Karnataka. Dantidurga, the founder of the empire, who defeated the Gurjaras and captured Malwa from them, after which he annexed the Chalukya kingdom by defeating Kirtivarman II, became a paramount power in the Deccan region. His successor, equally successful, defeated the Gangas and eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. Victorious in the northern India, Govinda III became one of the important kings of the dynasty.

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Amoghavarsha I, the next in the lineage ruled for a period of 64 years with his reign being popular for an overall cultural development. He was an ardent follower of Jainism, and was a disciple of Jinasena. He is credited with having built the Rashtrakuta capital, Malkhed or Manyakheda. Krishna III is said to have gone as far as Rameshwaram and built many temples. After his death though, the power of Rashtrakutas gradually declined.

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The royal insignia of the empire was the Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. The period of Rashtrakutas saw a great cultural development. Harmony in religions was visible under the Rashtrakuta kings. Shaivism and Vaishnavism, both flourished during this period, however did not hamper the development of Jainism. There also existed some Buddhist settlements like Kanheri, Sholapur and Dharwar. Almost all of their inscriptions began with an invocation to Shiva or Vishnu.

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The Rashtrakutas contributed to the architecture of the Deccan. One of the most striking pieces of art of this period is the Kailash Temple at Ellora. A monolithic temple, it is the zenith of rock-cut architecture and sculpture. Built by Krishna I in the 8th century, the temple was excavated and was elaborately carved with various sculptures. The main temple has a Dravidian Shikhara with episodes from epics and Puranas adorning the sides of the temple. The Dashavatara gallery is a masterpiece of the architecture. The Elephanta caves near Bombay too have been built by the Rashtrakutas. The main cave belonging to the brahminical group dedicated to Shiva is noted for its fine sculptures. It is well known for the huge Trimurti sculpture, depicting Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

The Kailasa Temple of Ellora. Image date: ca. 1913. Started during the 8th century AD, the Kailasa Temple is said to signify Mount Kailash, the home of Shiva.
The Kailasa Temple of Ellora. Image date: ca. 1913. Started during the 8th century AD, the Kailasa Temple is said to signify Mount Kailash, the home of Shiva.

Ancient Universities in India

Ancient Universities in India

– By Soliya Phadnis

Ancient Pushpagiri Univeristy
Ancient Pushpagiri Univeristy

Education in ancient India was always given the highest prominence in Indian society since the Vedic period. During these times, Gurukuls and Ashrams formed the centers of learning, however with evolving times, a large number of centers were established across India. Universities in ancient India often remind us of the two famous universities, Nalanda and Takhshashila. However, there were many more which rose to prominence in different parts of the country under different periods.

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Panorama view of an ancient university in India

Takhshashila University

An early center of learning, Takshashila University is dated back to the 5th BCE. Student s from across the world came to study various subjects ranging from vedas to dance and music. The university is well known for producing great personalities like Chanakya, Panini, Charaka, Jivaka and Vishnu Sharma.  Takshahila is best known for it’s association with Chanakya, the composer of Arthashastra, which is said to have been written in the university itself. The ruins of the university are spread over a large area and are comprised of buildings and stupas. The site is divided into three major cities, each of these belonging to different time periods. The Bhir mound dating from 6th century BCE, Sirkap, built by Graeco Bactrians in 2nd century BCE and Sirsukh, the Kushan kings.

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Ancient Takshashila University

Nalanda University

Established in the 5th century AD, Nalanda attracted students from various parts of the world. The university is said to have had the largest library with thousands of manuscripts on various subjects that included grammar, literature, astrology, logic, astronomy, medicine and many more. More than 10,000 students and around 2000 professors were housed by the university in it’s heyday. The site was a pilgrimage destination due to the link with Buddha who often visited the place and two of his chief disciples, Sariputra and Mogallana hailed from this area. The largest stupa of the former marks the spot of not only the place where his relics are entombed but also where he was born. Heiun Tsang, the famous pilgrim from China studied and taught for 5 years, in the 7th century AD.

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Ancient Nalanda University

Vikramshila University

This university flourished for 400 years, since it was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty, in the late 8th century. The university was well known for it’s specialized training it offered in the subject of Tantrism. One of the popular graduates from Vikramshila was Atisa Dipankara, the founder of Sharma traditions of the Tibetan Buddhism. Curriculum of the two universities, Nalanda and Vikramshila was similar.

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Ancient Vikramshila University

Vallabhi University

Having achieved as much fame as Nalanda, Vallabhi University flourished for almost 600 years. The university was established in Saurashtra in around 6th century. Visited by Itsing, the Chinese traveler, it was described by him as a great center of learning, where, Gunmati and Sthiramati, the Buddhist scholars, graduated from. While Nalanda was the center for Mahayana Buddhism, Vallabhi became the center for Hinayana.

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Ancient Vallabhi University

Pushpagiri, Odantapuri and Sompura were some of the other universities which achieved great importance during their time offering various subjects, attracting students from all parts of the country and world. Most of the universities saw a downfall in the 12th century with the Muslim invaders who destroyed and ransacked the universities. According to many, this destruction was responsible for the end of ancient Indian knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy and many more subjects.

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Ancient Odantapuri University

The rise of Buddhism during Emperor Ashoka

The rise of Buddhism during Emperor Ashoka

– By Soliya Phadnis

1 - stone buddha (519x540)

Most historians agree to the fact that Buddhism originated in the northern India in the 5th century BCE. Tracing it’s origin to Siddhartha Gautam, the Buddha. Hinduism was the prevalent religion prior to Buddhism; however, replete with rituals and traditions, it made it difficult for a common man to adhere to the same. This gave rise to a feeling of discomfort and angst against the religion and the Brahmins, the high caste. The advance of Buddhism is largely due to the contribution and benevolent success of Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty.

Mauryam_Empire_map (640x628)

After the death of Gautam Buddha, the first Buddhist Council was convened at Rajgir under the patronage of Ajatsatru. Soon the Mauryan Empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya would witness a huge response to Buddhism. Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta was the convener of the third Buddhist Council in Pataliputra and played a pivotal role in the spread of Buddhism in and outside India. Various great monasteries came up, and some of these monasteries developed into centers of teaching and research. The great university at Nalanda in north-eastern India is one such example scholars were coming from as far away as China to study.

2 - Nalanda_University_India_ruins

It is said that after winning most of the battles, the bloodiest of them all, Kalinga War in 262 BCE, Ashoka renounced violence and embraced Buddhism which was laid on the principle of non-violence. He then began to spread the religion throughout his kingdom. In order to spread the religion, he erected pillars and inscribed on rock edicts, various laws and principles that were based on Buddhism. The edicts and pillars were dotted all along the boundary of his empire and he left no stone unturned in order to spread the principles of the religion his people. These evidences make it amply clear of the fact that Buddhism greatly flourished during Ashokan times. According to sources, he also sent his envoys outside India to spread the teachings.

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The extent of Buddhism was seen in southern part of India and Sri lanka as well. The latter, until this day, has a stronghold of the earliest form of Buddhism i.e. Thervada.

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Thus, with Ashoka, Buddhism had become more of a state religion, receiving great patronage from the emperor himself. Buddhism did not die with the death of Ashoka. The next great patron of Buddhism would be Kanishka.

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Buddhism in Maharashtra

Buddhism in Maharashtra

– By Soliya Phadnis

Ajanta! Karla!

These are the most prominent names that come to one’s mind at the thought of Buddhism in Maharashtra.

Ajanta (640x428)

Coming from Lumbini in the north, Gautam Buddha spent much of his time in the eastern part of India, particularly Bihar. Buddhism slowly spread to other parts. Maharashtra too was home to Buddhism with the Satavahans and Vakatakas patronizing the religion. The caves built for the monks and nuns were donated by various rulers and Maharashtra is replete with such rock-cut caves. One of the most significant monuments is the Karla caves, in close proximity to Pune. The cave is said to have the only wooden chatra, the only one in India. These caves, often donated by the rulers or rich merchants were intricately and scrupulously carved out with various motifs, images of the Buddha himself etc. Caves were excavated with the help of a chisel and hammer.

Karla 1 (640x480)

Karla (480x640)

Owing to the religious tolerance policy of the Satavahanas, Vakatakas, Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas, there took place a systematic spread of Buddhism in ancient Maharashtra. It is doubtless that Buddhism was introduced in Maharashtra during the reign of Ashoka, leading to the excavation of many caves for the monks and nuns. Some of the caves are found at Pittalkhora which lay on the trade route of Tagara, modern Ter, to Ujjain in the north and Shurparaka, modern Sopara, in the west.

Ajanta, one of the most prominent cave sites lay on the trade route from Ujjain to Pratishtha, modern Paithan. Ajanta is well known for its beautiful paintings and the carvings found inside the caves. The location amidst which the caves are excavated adds to the beauty of the caves.

Ajanta 1 (640x428)

As is known, Buddhism was an outcome of supremacy of Brahmanism and various vices that had become a part of Hinduism and in course of time corrupted the religion, and made it very unpopular. The simplicity of Buddhism was one of the reasons for its rapid growth and spread in ancient Maharashtra. Ashok’s role in patronizing the religion had gone proved extremely beneficial in the spread of it all over the country. His contribution in terms of missions and edicts and pillars greatly strengthened the religion, helping it spread further.

Ajanta 2 (640x428)

With time, Hinduism was revived and the prestige and glamour of Buddhism completely disappeared. Although the revival was not the only reason for decline of Buddhism, various internal factors too contributed. Some of the reasons were lack of royal patronage, defects in the sect and dispute over petty issues, Islamic invasions etc.

Thus it is clear that Buddhism had spread to every part of the country with Ashoka having erected pillars and having Rock Edicts across the boundaries of his empire. What is notable is that, the caves in Maharashtra, majority of them were placed on trade routes which were easily accessible to nuns and monks especially during the rains.

Road trips according to your sun-sign

Road-Trips you need to take according to your sun-sign

– By Greeshma Soley

Road trips are always exciting, mind refreshing and memorable, be it with your friends, family, spouse or strangers or like minded fellow travelers. No matter how old are you, you need to break free from your routine and live a little on the journey.

Certainly your sun-sign defines a lot about your behavior and that is why we bring you a list of road-trips you need to take according to your sun-sign.

So loosen up, pack your bags, gather a bunch of people (or find new friends on the road with us)  and lets hit the road with BuffyFish.

Aries – March 21 – April 20

You are high-spirited, courageous, and independent. Aries demonstrates a restlessness and energy that gives the impression of someone exciting and vibrant. You are the most courageous and independent travelers anyone will come across. Your enthusiasm and optimism make you irresistible and to preserve it like that you definitely needs to go to Himalayas. Its time for you to traverse along the rough yet adventurous side of Himalaya.

Your road trip – Spiti valley in Himachal pradesh or Ladakh region in Jammu & Kashmir. adventure activities like mountaineering, rock climbing, river rafting, trekking and biking are like fiesta for you and Ladakh & Spiti will exactly make you live the way you always wanted. Bring it on!

aries

Taurus – April 21 – May 21

People born under the sign of Taurus are most noted for their dependability, patience and perseverance. Your quiet strength and determination inspires others to trust you. You also loves the comforts of the good life – enjoying good food and plush surroundings. That makes you go to some lavish place and have a leisure road-trip.

Your road trip – Taurus travelers looking for leisure will go for some popular locations like Bangalore – Coimbatore – Madurai. Basically a city hopping tour which will give you comfortable stays + good food.

taurus

Gemini – May 22 – June 21

You are intelligent and adaptive. Gemini people are curious about everything. Your restless nature is always on the lookout for new ideas and experiences. Amusing, charming and witty, Gemini’s are usually surrounded by many friends. and that’s what make you to take a road-trip to explore some places which continuously have something new to keep you busy.

Your road trip – Konkan & Goa. One of the most unique features of the traveler in a Gemini is that you usually get bored sticking to the same place over days. Hence Konkan region & Goa has that quickly changing factors in it.

gemini

Cancer – June 22 –  July 22

Cancer is the sign of home and family life. Often grumpy, snappish, and cold at times, You can be real softies underneath their tough exterior.  Intuitive, imaginative yet cautious, protective and sympathetic behavior of yours make you stay at one place and roam around to explore a bit. It is more of a relaxing and rejuvenating road trip come holiday for you.

Your road trip – Kerala. You love to stick to water and being a water baby, Kerala is undoubtedly the best leisure road trip for you in India. Do not disturb! we are relaxing…

cancer

Leo – July 23 – August 22

Enthusiastic and generous, You have a true love for life and the pleasures it offers. Leo’s are hard workers, and you would definitely take up something that others would not attempt. Though you are enthusiastic, creative & broadminded; everything that you will try out while travelling will reflect royalty and elegance.

Your road trip – Rajasthan. The majestic and royal Leos will search for a luxury holiday and that takes you to the luxury road trip in Rajasthan. After all you are the king!

leo

Virgo – August 23 – September 23

With an analytical approach to life and a critical eye for organization, You are in constant search of perfection. Reserved and shy, it’s hard for you to relax or make small talk with strangers – preferring one-on-one encounters. Logical and rational, yet you are practical and perfectionist. A traveler in a Virgo will always seek to travel unexplored places having some productive purpose. You love to learn something new in everything you do.

Your road trip – Assam, Sikkim. You often travel purposely  as you love to gain practical skills; hence a learning tour or a photography tour in Assamese culture or knowing Sikkim handicraft will enlighten you. Let’s learn something.

virgo

Libra – September 24 – October 23

Born under the sign of the scales, you look for balance and harmony. You love to be admired and respond readily to praise and flattery. Being easy going, sociable & peaceable, you beyond any doubt need a journey for peace and making memories. You love to go to places where things are organised.

Your road trip – Kanha or Ranthambore wildlife tours or Coorg leisure tour. Exotic yet rough but well organised leisure tours are totally your thing; be it Jungle safaris or a relaxing holiday.

Libra

Scorpio – October 24 – November 22

When positive emotions are engaged, your energy, drive and endurance shine through everything. You can accomplish many things in life because of your tenacity in sticking with projects when others lose patience and stamina. A well planned holiday will be your first preference rather than going for an unexpected escape.

Your road trip – Munnar. Rather being rough and rugged on the road, you will go for a luxury beach resort in a secluded and exclusive place. Ahhh! you always want to relax & cherish.

scorpio

Sagittarius – November 23 – December 21

Optimistic Sagittarius appears to breeze through life. Restless and independent you prize your freedom above all. Extravagant and wasteful, Sagittarius lives for today believing in luck for tomorrow. freedom-loving yet philosophical personality makes it perfect blend to explore new culture. You try to learn when travelling and you need peace while travelling.

Your road trip – North Karnataka. You like to pick remote places and won’t even mind trekking and camping. A road trip exploring Jog falls, Yana rocks, a small trek in Gokarna and an amazingly beautiful sunset on the beach of Murudeshwara makes it perfect for you. Explore! Explore! & Explore!

saggi

Capricorn – December 22 – January 20

You are ambitious and motivated by a desire for success and position. Practical and patient, you are determined to succeed one way or another but must learn. You are disciplined, prudent and humorous; you love to explore the history in each destination. Capris like unexpected things and outdoor activities just like a perfect traveler.

Your road trip –  Madhya Pradesh Roadtrip or Hampi & Badami road trip makes it ideal combination for you; for your love of history and planned yet pleasantly unexpected things.

capri

Aquarius – January 21 – February 19

Aquarians are unorthodox, original people who refuse to follow the crowd. You are independent thinkers with ambitions of doing something important and meaningful. Loyal, kind, and easygoing they tend to attract many friends and acquaintances through life. and it makes you head the roads straight in the Himalayas. You love spontaneous, adventurous, less traveled and unexplored places.

Your road trip – Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh offbeat road trip or Kutch. You like to keep it rugged yet planned yet spontaneous. Exploring the new through your way is always exciting, ain’t it?

aquarian

Pisces – February 20 – March 20

Pisces is the sign of eternity, reincarnation and spiritual rebirth. Intuitive and sensitive, you react emotionally and are not afraid to break the rules if the situation demands a more humane approach. You are creative and you like to be in your imaginative world. You are the kindest of the travelers anyone will come across and often you are the one helping out others. You need to break free and relish the experience of spiritual places with a perfect blend of adventurous activities.

Your road trip – Rishikesh & Haridwar. You often look for peace where ever you go &  you like explore things with people. Rishikesh suits your preference of being with people yet being alone. Peace of mind…

pisces

Let’s Go On A Road-Trip with BuffyFish and JustRide!

BuffyFish is a travel platform based in Pune, India where people come together to travel and explore different places together. Michael Palin has rightly said, that “Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life”

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The girls in Tamil Nadu

This is how BuffyFish was born, with an aim to bring people from varied backgrounds together to travel and explore new places. The founder of BuffyFish, Vidula is herself a traveller and has travelled across 23 countries. She quit her safe and comfortable job in the IT industry and decided to do what she really wanted to. She came to a conclusion that a road-trip is the best if you want to explore new places. India has beautiful landscapes, happening cities, giant mountains, valleys, sea-shores, majestic rivers.and a lot more. If one wants to make the most of these beautiful sights, road-trips are a must. We hear people taking road-trips in Europe. Well, we believe that India is just Europe packed in a small back-pack. Since the idea of a road-trip in India is not very well-known, BuffyFish decided to focus on that. With a lot of research and effort, BuffyFish now specializes in planning road-Trips for their clients.

However fascinating the idea of road-trips may sound, it is not an easy business. Safety, knowledge, expertise, planning and strong management is a must. Hence, BuffyFish got in touch with JustRide.

Justride with name - Red

JustRide is a Mumbai based firm launched by alums of IIT Bombay and NIT Allahabad, It is a next generation technology aggregator in the car rental industry. Through its web and mobile based service network, the company links and facilitates transactions between vendors and consumers. Unlike existing market players, JustRide is not the proprietor of the vehicles it rents. The company leases vehicles from individual vendors by providing them a minimum guarantee value. All vehicles operated by JustRide comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle safety Standards of America. JustRide is the only service provider in India which offers dual air bags and ABS in all its cars.

Safety is the prime concern when it comes to road-trips. Because of the strong safety system, BuffyFish decided to tie up with JustRide. The motive behind the tie up was to promote road-trips in India and currently the Buffy Fish team is planning to introduce some really interesting road-trips for their customers.

Together, JustRide and BuffyFish plan to give a unique travel experience and organize memorable road-trips for their customers.

 

 

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Chilika lake in Odisha
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The girls in Chandipur

Interview with Belinda Mueller

Vidula, the founder of BuffyFish, went exploring the coast of the Indian Peninsula, along with 6 other wonderful women, over 28 days, across 8 states, in January 2015. She did this in a vehicle called the Mahindra Scorpio Adventure 4×4 vehicle. This vehicle was sponsored by Mahindra. She started her journey in Mumbai, which lies on the west coast of Indian Peninsula and ended it Kolkata, West Bengal, which lies on the east coast of the Indian Peninsula. Every state that she visited, she interviewed one interesting woman. She interviewed Belinda Mueller, a long distance cyclist, from Goa, India.

Vidula – Tell us a little bit about yourself from the beginning

Belinda – I am a psychiatrist by profession, a Goan, settled down here for the last 19 years or so.

Vidula – Tell us something about your early childhood

Belinda – I had a wonderful childhood in Nairobi. Born in Nairobi and I still remember lots of wildlife trips. I think that is where I developed a taste for adventure. So almost every weekend we would go for picnics and trips into wildlife reserves, camping trips. My father loved fishing. So he had a whole friend circle and they were also into fishing. At that time I just wanted to become a wildlife ranger. At some point I gave up that dream and chose medicine instead.

Vidula – How did you come to India?

Belinda – Actually, the thing is when I did the first Everest base camp trek that is when I met my husband. That was the time I was working as a lecturer in psychiatry at the St. John’s medical college, Bangalore. I had just been offered the assistant professor’s post. It was a dilemma. The heart saying follow passion, follow Richard and the head saying “No career comes first! So stay on and become an assistant professor”. Then of course, heart won. So then I went to Germany. He is from what once used to be West Germany. We lived in Germany. Both the kids were born in Germany. That’s when I couldn’t speak the language so I couldn’t work. Anyways I had always decided that if I had kids, I would be a stay-at-home mum, until the kids started school. So that is when I started writing fiction because I fell into a kind of an academic hole and that is when I started writing. And then when my daughter was 3 years old, that’s when we decided and we thought that India might be a better place to bring up children. And that is when we decided to come back to Goa, India. And anyway I am originally a Goan so we thought why not settle down in Goa. That is how we landed up in Goa.

Vidula – Was it easy for you to adjust here in India when you came here?

Belinda – When I first came to India as a child, I had difficulty adjusting, especially to the school system. But then I grew to love it. So it was an easy choice we made to come and settle here after our children were born.

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Vidula – Tell us something about your father

Belinda – My father was a truly special person – one of the gentlest men I have known, Very kind-hearted, generous, never holding any grudges against anyone, even those who had hurt him, very contented with his life. He was a very good badminton player and loved travelling. We would often go on fishing trips and to wildlife sanctuaries. He loved animals and I have learnt a lot from him.

Vidula – tell us a little bit about your mother

Belinda – I owe a lot to my mother. She was a teacher and she was the one who really taught me to love reading, writing. She took a lot of interest in me with the writing. It was actually because of my mother when we first came down to Goa, she decided to settle in Belgaum, because she had heard so much about the Belgaum schools. The Jesuit school St. Paul’s and and St. Joseph’s and that is the reason we moved from Goa to Belgaum. So as soon as we came from Africa, we moved to Belgaum, and then I did my schooling there, higher secondary schooling there and finally did my MBBS and MD in Bangalore. Right now my mum’s very involved in a home for the destitute that is run by one of her close friends. I lost my father about 10 years ago, and since then she has been very involved in helping with the home for the destitute. Very independent woman she is! And she is also very good at trekking. She joined us on treks, till about 2 years ago. She is in her 70s. And even now she walks daily for about 1 ½ hours.

Vidula – You said that your mum inspired and taught you to write. What do you mostly write about?

Belinda – I feel that in today’s world we need more optimism because everything is so pessimistic. Media just focuses on negative. This creates the whole picture that people are bad and everything is bad. And that is not true at all. If people had to focus more on the positive, people would have a much different take on life and it would increase the optimism. So I just don’t understand, there are so many different stories about people helping each other, but these just don’t make it into the newspapers and it is only the negative. We need a lot more optimism. Not a false optimism but more realistic optimism! Because even in my practice I have seen miracles happen. People, who have been depressed for years, come out of their depression. People with schizophrenia, now are able to live very honest, happy lives. It is just that I feel that realistic optimism is what is missing and that is what I try to instill in my books.

Vidula – Tell us a little bit about your work and the novels that you have written.

Belinda – Actually I would say that, my first novel was “The cry of the Kingfisher”. I would call it a psychiatric novel. It deals with 3 women and the problems that they face. It deals with psychosis. There is one woman called Donna, who is brought up in England, UK. She has a personality disorder and goes through severe panic attacks. Then there is Sukurina, who is a Goan village girl, born to superstition, the 4th daughter, who has a psychotic breakdown. And then there is Mayola, a psychiatrist, who goes through her own turmoil, after the death of her sister. Her sister commits suicide, and she is unable to help her sister. The three of them finally end up meeting and help each other to overcome their problems. People, I am hoping, understand how illness develops and that there is hope and that any illness, if you look for it, you find a solution to it.

Vidula – The other works

Belinda – The others work is a children’s book, “The golden gate and other stories”

These are 3 children stories that I have written for my own children. These are the kind of stories that I wanted them to grow up with. Maybe a little bit of moral as well. And I thought why not get them published. I spoke to my publisher, and he got me in touch with an illustrator. And then my daughter said “Mama, why are you getting someone else to do the pictures? Why don’t you do them yourself? I thought, it is my own book and I don’t have to live up to any standards, so I did the pictures, and my husband who is very critical, said they are good enough.

The 3rd other book is called “Goa Maazaa”. That deals with problems with growing up with a broken family. It deals with a boy. He has an Italian father and a French mother living in Germany. His girlfriend’s cheating on him and he finally gives up everything and comes down to Goa and actually finds happiness. It is a whole search for happiness. How he deals with the whole turmoil of growing up in a broken family. That is “Goa Maazaa”

Now I am working on another book. It is a coming-of-age story about a slum girl, who actually becomes a doctor and simultaneously the story of a rich boy. It is about the differences between the two, as they go through the same process of becoming doctors.

Also working on another book called “The line” which is about parenting!

I am also working on another children’s book. Right now I am busy doing the illustrations for this children’s book.

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Vidula – Tell us about your other interests like cycling, mountaineering. Let’s start from the beginning

Belinda – initially it was about camping, fishing. I had my first trekking experience through the NCC. This was in my 11th standard. I did a camp in Bhowali. We did some trekking over there. Then after I joined my MD in Nimhans, the national institute in Bangalore, there was one of my seniors who would take us on rock climbing trips. And that’s when I really got into rock climbing. I really enjoyed it, so much so, that in my second year I went for this course at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. I enjoyed it very much. After my MD, I went back to St. John’s as a lecturer and I started organizing treks for the students and staff. We did a lot of treks around Bangalore and then organized the Everest base camp trek and that’s when I met my husband and then went to Germany. We did the Everest base camp the second time that was 2 years later. My daughter is 22 so back when she was 14, 9 years ago, and my son was 12, we did the Annapurna circuit, which was the 3rd major trek. I still remember the very first day, there was a group of Israeli soldiers and there was a guide. And they must’ve thought these 2 oldies, and 2 kids, where were they going. They asked us what we planning to do? We told them we were doing the Annapurna circuit. They were like in how many days? We said 21 days like everyone else. They said Thorang la impossible. We were very depressed but then we said, let’s go as far as we can go. The kids were fantastic. We did the Thorang la and the whole circuit in the same time, as the same time as the Israeli soldiers.

Vidula – Have you done any other treks?

Belinda – I have been up to the Pindari glacier. We also went up to Manthalai Lake around Manali.

Vidula How did you transition from trekking to cycling happen? Tell us about that.

Belinda – I took up cycling seriously about 4 years ago. My husband started cycling because of knee problems because of trekking. I wasn’t too keen on cycling but it had always been a childhood dream of mine, to cycle from Goa to Belgaum and back. So I thought if I am ever going to do it, I have to do it now. So I did that trip. We cycled from Goa to Belgaum and back. And that’s when I enjoyed it. Soon after that my husband and I, we did a trip to Munnar, Kerala.  We did about a week’s cycling trip. We started in Kochi. We went to Tathanaad, the bird sanctuary, and from there to Munnar, cycled around Munnar, and then we wanted to cycle up to Kodaikanal but then I had a fall and I injured my knee. So half way, we had to put the cycles on to a taxi and go up there. So then we came back to munnar, cycled around Munnar, and then back to Kochi. And that’s when I think I got addicted to cycling and now it is a lot of cycling.

Vidula – Have you done any long rides other than this?

Belinda – Yes. This Sunday I completed a 400kms called the roller coaster. We started from Panjim at 6 in the morning, went right up to Honavar, that is 200kms, and cycled back to Panjim. We started at 6 in the morning and I was back in Panjim by 3:09. 3 weeks ago we did the 600kms. I did the Super Randonneuring series last year. Then after that I did 1200kms in Rajasthan. Now I just have just completed the second Super Randonneuring series – 200, 300, 400 and 600kms. Now the 1200kms is coming up in another 2 weeks’ time.

What do you think of the cycling scene here in India? Do you think more Indians are cycling these days?

Belinda – Yes, I definitely see a lot more people buying cycles and riding them. The cycling scene here in Goa is expanding as more cycling clubs are born. I think as people get more health conscious, this is bound to happen. However, the road conditions are deplorable and getting worse. The roads are bad, drivers are rash and inconsiderate; there’s broken glass on the roads as well as packs of dogs. So cycling in India can be quite dangerous too.

Vidula – Challenges faced while cycling long distances

Belinda – Cycling alone is a major challenge

I am used to cycling at my own pace. I am not used to cycling with anyone because when I do my rides I do them alone. I like to look at the scenery and go at my own pace. For my husband it is about speed. I don’t like to cycle with him. For me it is like, I see something interesting, I like to stop, look at it, watch the birds, and do that kind of cycling. Sometimes on the long distance cycle rides and it is night riding time and you are alone there is a little anxiety about safety issues.

Another issue is traffic on roads – Unfortunately, Indian drivers have absolutely no consideration for cyclists. Let’s say, I am cycling, they see me, but they will just overtake. I don’t know what they expect me to do. Sometimes there is a little bit of height on the side, one can just fall. That can be very very dangerous. I have very negative experiences cycling on the highways. So that is why the long distance events are usually on highways and that is the problem really. For example, from home to Agonda it is a beautiful stretch. The road is beautiful for cycling. But the long distance cycling events are on highways, people are very inconsiderate. At night you get the headlights. You cannot see the roads. And it is easy to fall on a cycle.

Do you like competing when it comes to cycling? What do you have to say about long distance cycling competitions

Belinda – For me It’s not about the competing. It’s about the experience. I love taking on challenges. I enjoy my solo rides – enjoying the scenery and listening to the birds chirping as the sun comes up. The long distance cycling events just happened. The 300km brevet followed the 200, after which came the 400, the 600 and then the 1200km Daal Baati last year. The same thing happened this season. I finished the Goan Yoyo 1200 km (24-27 Jan 2015) and decided to go for the Daal Baati 2 (18-21Feb), which both my husband and me completed as the only ones. However, I am now retiring from these long distance events and will instead only do shorter fun rides.

I have now completed 3 1200 km events in less than 1 year and 2 1200 km events in less than 30 days. Someone is currently working on getting this into the Limca book of records.

Vidula – How do you prepare for long distance cycling?

Belinda – Lot of training. In Goa, we are lucky to have hills. So cycling up the hills is one of the best training.

Prerna – What is it about cycling when your lungs are hard, your legs are tired and giving up – what do you think about and how do you work yourself up?

Belinda – When I started off with cycling, it is the fun part of it – it’s the exploring. We are very lucky here in south Goa because the scenery is beautiful. For example, my usual ride is from home to Cabo De Rama. It is half way to Agonda. I turn off to Cabo De Rama and I go back. I never tire of the scenery. I never tire. It is so beautiful and I love early mornings. I am an early morning person. So I get up in the morning, and I take off when it is still dark. By the time I reach the hills, it is light. And there is this feeling of freedom, such a feeling of peace. It is a great feeling. These are the fun rides. But you are right – now when it comes to preparing for a long distance event, it becomes training and then it is tedious. You don’t really look forward to it. You don’t really look forward to it. But then you know if you really want to do it, you’ve got to get through this. Sometimes I think, “Why am I doing it?” I wonder. But then for example, I just completed the 400, and there is such a feeling of euphoria and that pushes you on in to the next event. understand and agree that training part is a little bit more difficult part, because when you are in the event, there is adrenaline flowing, there are others, and everything, the whole event pushes you through. I am the type, that once I start something I have to complete it. Earlier, it was like even when I started a book, I had to complete it. Even if I didn’t like the book, I had to complete it. But now I don’t do that anymore. Because, it is more about time now! I don’t like a book I give it up. But for a long time, I would continue reading it just because I started it. And in Belgaum, we lived in the military area and every time I went to college, I passed this board that read “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”. Like my husband says, even when we go trekking, we do a lot of training with the kids as well. We go up and down the mountain nearby. We go up and down the mountain at least twice. It is very steep. So then you build up. And then of course, once you have built up the stamina, the actual event becomes a lot more fun. Then you can enjoy it.

Vidula – Why these disciplined rides?

Belinda – For me it was just the experience. We had gone for a trek. And then we met someone. You know they are doing these trips. He had seen us cycling from Belgaum and back. He got us in touch with the goa cycling group. And then they told us they are doing the 200kms and so we thought let’s take part. We did it. Then the next one was 300. We did that one too. Then since we had done the 300, we did the 400 too. And then the 600! After the 600, I said I was not going to do it anymore. But my husband said he was going to do the 1200. So I thought if ever, let me do it now. Now am planning to retire from long distance cycling. This year and then I will be sticking to fun rides. Up to 200! It is just about the fun, having the experience.

What is your husband’s name and what does he do? How long has he been cycling?

Belinda – My husband is Richard and since we came to India, he has been following his passions of fishing, boating, volleyball, football and now cycling. He took to cycling seriously here about 6 years ago, but we have been participating in the brevet events since the last 2-3 years.

Where did you go for your vacations? With husband and/or with children

Belinda – Before the children were born, we did a lot of travelling, especially in SE Asia. Then a lot of trekking holidays, even with the children. 7 years ago, when our daughter was 14 and our son 12, we did the entire Mt, Anapurna circuit in Nepal, over the Thorung.La pass which is more than 5400 mts high and then to the Anapurna Base Camp which took more than 3 weeks.

We have also done road trips through wildlife sanctuaries in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu with the children. But now we would be concentrating more on cycling holidays.

What are your favorite destinations and where would you like to go back again?

Belinda – The Himalaya, of course. I love the mountains. The South-west US was also a very pleasant surprise. The National and State Parks there are really wonderful. And then Australia too. While I worked there for a very short time, the children really loved it there.

How old are your children and what do they do? What are their names?

Belinda – My daughter Ayesha is 22 and she is now completing her internship in Architecture. My son, Rohan is 20 and studying Mechanical Engineering.

I heard you are a feminist. What do you have to say about that? Any messages for the women here in India

I feel uncomfortable being called a feminist. I would rather be called an egalitarian. It is difficult to have a single message for all women in India. For the vast majority, it is about being aware of their rights and standing up for them. We are half the population! It is mainly women who bear and rear children. So I find it difficult to understand how we raise our boys to oppress and our girls to be oppressed. However, I am now coming across a lot of cases of husband bashing too.

Is your mother also a feminist?

I don’t think my mother would like to be called a feminist either. Both she and her mother, my grandmother, were strong women, who were able to think for themselves and follow their own minds, instead of being blindly conditioned. And of course, I have benefitted greatly from their influence.

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Vidula – What do you think of us?

Belinda – I think it is great. This is something I have often dreamt of doing. But right now my idea would be to cycle from one place to another but of course I would not be able to cover the distances that you all are covering. So I think it absolutely great that you all are doing this.

Vidula – What do you think of women travelling in India?

I enjoyed the munnar trip so much and this year, the trip to the US. It was so much fun to cycle from one part to another! Right now I would like to do cycling, and then when my legs cannot do it anymore, then drive, from one place to another. I love travelling. Now it is great that Indian women are now travelling. That is so necessary in today’s world. Even now, I get people from Goa, who haven’t travelled been from their villages to Panjim. They are so locked up in their own villages. My receptionist, the previous one, always wanted to become a teacher. She had never been to Panjim. So she did her teacher’s training and now she is travelling and really enjoying herself.

Vidula – You have any tips for us to stay safe

You know, anything can happen anytime. But if you are going to let fear rule you, then you are not going to get anywhere. Follow your heart and don’t take unnecessary risks. Don’t let fear restrict you. Anything can happen. Something could happen in your own home, in your own backyard. I was always afraid. The 400 that I did, I left Karwar at 9pm and reached Panjim at 3am and the whole stretch from Karwar at 9pm to Panjim at 3am, I cycled alone, along the highway, the karmel ghat. I was quite afraid of it earlier and this trip helped me overcome my fears. Initially I thought I would wait for the others, the guys, who were behind me, so I thought no, let me see how far I can go and I can always stop somewhere and meet them there. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the sense of freedom. It was a full moon night and I reached Panjim.

Goa is a little better, safer, than any other states. We are fortunate here in goa. Sometimes I take off for my practice rides and I leave my house at 3am in the morning. Early mornings it is a lot safer than night. You are a lot safer. It is the night – 1130, 12, 1, 2 – that is a problem. One of my favorite rides is to the Netravali, the national park! I never realized that there were so many Gaur. And these gaurs are right next to the highways, road sides. My husband, he was cycling in pitch darkness and so he reached the place at around 545 and he was cycling and suddenly he saw this massive gaur right on the road side. He crossed it and he turned, and it had it had moved on to the road. That was a little scary. Next time I stopped and I spoke to the forest guards, and they said that here there is no problem. The gaur had never attacked anyone. And I see the kids also going to school. Nobody has ever been attacked. The fears all disappeared. But then we have stray dogs! They can be quite dangerous. Especially for the cyclists!

Interview with Anushree Gupta

Vidula, the founder of BuffyFish, went exploring the coast of the Indian Peninsula, along with 6 other wonderful women, over 28 days, across 8 states, in January 2015. She did this in a vehicle called the Mahindra Scorpio Adventure 4×4 vehicle. This vehicle was sponsored by Mahindra. She started her journey in Mumbai, which lies on the west coast of Indian Peninsula and ended it Kolkata, West Bengal, which lies on the east coast of the Indian Peninsula. Every state that she visited, she interviewed one interesting woman. She interviewed Anushree Gupta, the singer of Sukanti and Anushree, which is an electronica band project, from Kolkata.

Anushree Gupta talked to Vidula about her early life, training in Hindustani Classical Music, how music is her life, who her influences were, how she is self-made, her 2 albums, and the challenges she faces as a musician, among other things.

Read on for more below…

Vidula – Tell us something about yourself. Your family life and how did you start music?

Anushree – Music started partially on a surprise note because I have been in Kolkata. I was born and raised here in Kolkata. I did my schooling here. I did my graduation here, science honors. I did my post grad in journalism from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. I have always passionate about writing. I am a reader and love writing. But music is something I grew up. My family is filled with people passionate about music and theatre. So theatre is something I always enjoyed watching but acting was kind of a nightmare for me. Music is something I have loved. I used to write songs. And eventually after I was done with my graduation and post grad I thought I don’t just want to write something that gets vomited out the next day in the newspapers. And I didn’t think much. Music just took a toll over me and then I started travelling and learning music outside my training. My training was in Hindustani Classical, for 14 years, ever since I was 6 years old. Then I got interested in folk music because I thought folk is the source of all kinds of music in the world and I might as well delve a little deeper down that side. Then I started with BAUL because it is folk music from Bengal. Then I delved into folk from Punjab and Gujarat and Rajasthan and then it started and then we formed a band and I am one half of the electro-acoustic duo Sukanti and Anushree. And we do music in our own space. A lot of electronica, so it is fusing electronica with folk and our own music, our originals!

Vidula – What is the band lineup like?

Anushree – It is a duo. The sound is massive because we use a lot of high energy electronica as well as ambient depending on the essence of the song and the way we want to treat it. And we do a lot of original compositions as well as a lot of folk from the sub-continent.

Vidula – So you said you had a formal education in Indian classical, how do you value that?

Anushree – It is very difficult for me to comment on Indian classical music because I have grown up with it. The way I looked at it personally is that it has really helped me with the vocal exercises. I do my riyaaz on that. But I can’t be just that. I do respect lyrical content and all that I get in folk. Classical music has come from folk music. Persian folk has a huge influence of classical music and those are about the stories, the rustic sufferings. Even blues – it has come from suffering. IF you have to understand music, you have to understand suffering, you have to understand pain and it is where the best of the musical genres have emanated. Indian classical I would say is great for vocal training. It is great to lubricate your voice and to keep it in shape and for me that is where it should be. I enjoy light classical. I am not a person who would just go to a concert and do the math and ensure that the one is correct. I don’t like that zone. I like the melody side of it.

Vidula – What were you early musical influences?

I grew up on a lot of 70s rock and roll. I love CSNY. I love Yard birds. Beatles of course, that goes without saying. I still listen to them. I listen to the new guys but they are always new. Because they are always ahead of time! They have definitely been the primary source of influence to do music on my own terms.

Vidula – Who were your teachers?

Anushree – My teacher for Hindustani classical music was Ma’am Veena Chaudhari. She taught me Hindustani classical and Rabindra Sangeet. Those were the two formal training zones for me.

Vidula – Who were your Indian musical influences?

Anushree – Major source of information was my teacher. I enjoy Shobha Gurtu ji. I enjoy Girija Devi ji. I love Alla Rakha compositions. But not a range of musicians.

Vidula – What did you grow up listening to?

I listened to rock and roll. There were cassettes back then and that time when you had to buy music it was expensive, Rs. 75 per tape, back in 200. My brother and I used to save money together and used to sign these tapes. It was our property. It was a romanticized possession. We used to get a lot of records and cassettes.

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Vidula – what sort of music did your family listen to?

Anushree – They always were into Bengali contemporary music, Adhuni Bangla. That is what they grew up on. My father just retired last April in 2014. He was working in Bharat Petroleum. He was heavily into music and theatre. He was always into theatre whenever it happened in his office. My mother was a great singer. I love her voice. My grandfather was a very good song writer. He was also into theatre. They listened to a lot of Bangla music from the 50s and the 60s and the 70s like Uttam Kumar and all that music from that time.

Vidula – Do you have any influences in Bollywood?

Anushree – Bollywood it covers a huge world, it covers a hell lot of things. I love good Bollywood music. Just the way I love good music. I like exploring music that is not easily available. Bollywood is something like you get on to an Auto Rickshaw you are over exposed to it. And anything that you are over exposed to after a point it is not. For instance – Malika Sherawat – The guys are tired. I have seen it all. It is just the way good music needs exposure also if you play the same song over and over again it is too much. I find a lot of patterns that are similar. They are producing at such a frequent rate that the quality will drop.

Vidula – What sort of audience does Sukanti and Anushree get?

The useful audience, young crowds, the guys and girls who are energetic, who love to trip on music; the sound is very high energy. Electronica is groovy, it is psychedelic, so people who can catch that groove and feel it in their body and lyrically it is very relevant because we take up songs which have very strong lyrical content and that is why we have songs by Bulle sha and Sultan bahuji and Lalan fakir, who I worship personally because of what he said and he had the guts to speak his mind which no body had, at that time. So that’s what I value a lot along with the sound and all of that.

Vidula – Where were your earliest gigs?

Anushree – The first gig that I did professionally, being a part of a band, was with a project called “Ashram” which was kind of an electronica outfit but their sound and our sound right now are very different which didn’t eventually take off. Rock C at park hotel and that is where we had our first gig. That is where we had our launch gig. That didn’t work out. I hibernated for a year and I was writing songs. Then I came to Sukanti, who was also a part of that project. Sukanti is the lead guitarist of “division”, which is a 12 year old band. It is the pioneer English rock band from India. I had always had a lot of respect for him as a guitar player. And then he is also a beautiful, kickass producer. So then I approached him and told him “I was writing songs. Would you take a look at it? Can you help me audition musicians?” Also he was very busy at the time. And then he was helping me audition and then we landed up together and I didn’t like any guy who was playing for the audition. I loved what he was playing. And I asked him “would you want to play?” and then he said give me a week and if I give you a commitment I will stick by it. So in a week he said yes!

Vidula – how long ago was this?

Anushree – 3 years ago in 2011. In 2011 we were a trio which eventually became a duo. So as a duo, Sukanti and Anushree it has been a 2 years.

Vidula – What was the first tune you ever learned?

Anushree – Rag Yaman was the first musical piece I ever learnt

Vidula – When you are not doing your own music, what do you listen to, these days?

Anushree – Recently, I found a piece by this woman called “Alusha”. She collaborated with M C Zani. It is ambient electronica. What a voice and what fusion! I have it at the back of my mind right now and that is what I have been tripping on at the moment. Otherwise it is Beatles. I might sound closed and locked up. But I am not closed up. It is just that I cannot help it. If I go and listen to’ Sexy Sadie”, it says it all.

Vidula – Do you perform for TV or radio?

Anushree – Yes. We’ve been doing that a lot. Other than performances our recent gig was at Hard rock café, in Pune, on 8th January 2015. And then a week later at Hard Rock Café, in Andheri, Mumbai on 15th Jan!

We just returned the day before yesterday from the North Bengal music festival. Other than that I collaborated for the big boss grand finale. I was not in big boss. But there was a musical performance at the end of it. We did a lot for ETV and Zee Bangla and lot of radio shows in Kolkata and Bangladesh. We had a gig in Bangladesh in 2012. That was a lovely, amazing show. People were very warm and lovely and they really love music from the bottom of their heart.

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Vidula – You don’t hear much about the music scene there. Why?

Anushree – They are in a political and a social turmoil. They want to do a lot of things but they get so crippled because of the system and the administration and so much of violence is going on. They really want to live and live in peace but they are just not being allowed to. And that is very sad. All my prayers are with them. I hope they get out of it and get to music the way they want to.

Vidula – how often do you practice?

Anushree – I practice every day. I do riyaaz every day.

Vidula – Do you practice new tunes or difficult tunes? How do you practice?

Anushree – As a band we obviously practice because we are meeting at the practice pad and sometimes we take a break when we get into the ear fatigue zone. Sometimes we listen to other music or don’t listen to anything at all. Maybe we will make some chicken. Because I have seen personally when you work, work, work and you are creating, suddenly you reach a stagnation point and then you are like “This is something I created 5 minutes ago, it was nothing different.” Then we make some coffee or do something manual it sort of unlocks your head. I see that working for me personally. We do a lot of other stuff other than music.

Vidula – Are you a full time musician?

Anushree – Yes. But I am also a music teacher at a school called baleganj shiksha sadan, BSS. It is a very beautiful school in Kolkata. I cannot do my early morning riyaaz now because school starts in the morning. What I do is when I go back to the practice pad, I do my riyaaz and then we begin practice.

Vidula – How did teaching happen?

Anushree – We are poor musicians. I didn’t have money. I needed money. And we are working for the gigs. I just thought teaching is the best thing that can happen. This job at the school gets over at 1230pm. There is no other job in the world that could get over at 1230pm. And if I do something it has to do with music. I cannot go to the bank and suddenly come back sing. There I will think about the music and when I am doing music, I will think about the bank. I will completely get messed up. But when you are teaching music and a class 8 guy comes and asks you ma’am what is this and what is that, then you realize that I actually don’ know and then I go back and do that research and I feel so enriched. Then you really think you are on the right path.

Vidula – how do you go about getting gigs?

Anushree – Initially you have to really hunt. You have to do a few gigs and get noticed and people call you give you gig. You still struggle because what happens is I don’t know but in this country average sells very easily. I personally agree with this. I don’t want anybody else to agree with me. That’s ok. If you make something very ahead of time, or if you make something really bad, then neither of that works. You have to make something average. It is very difficult for someone who creates something with a holistic perspective. We do it very organically. I am a very raw musician. I like to feel raw about the music. Music is as pure as a baby and as pure as life. I cannot do music with a back calculation or think that if I wear these kinds of clothes then people will come and then if use some kind of prop then people will come. It’s very difficult. Sometimes we do, but we do it in line with our music. There have been best of glam-rock bands and there is nothing wrong with that. But it is only a part of your music. You have to justify the use of a prop in music. I would love to use a lot of colors because our music is about celebrating colors. Even darkness, which is also a color! So as long as it is in line with our music, I am fine with it. But as far as getting gigs is concerned, it depends. You have to send your profile. For that first you have to make your profile. At least for the first few gigs you have to document your music and put it up on YouTube, send your profile, and then, you have to keep updating your profile because what happens is that profiles get old. Two years ago, the profile that we made is useless right now. Because we have evolved! Now the profile we will make will get old in another 2 years. It has to keep evolving. Keep updating it. But whatever is there you have to keep sending it. You have to look out for all the live venue platforms.

Vidula – Do you write your own songs? How do you write your own songs? Do you have an instrument that you use to write your own songs?

Anushree – Yes! I am a song-writer. In fact the first album of Sukanti and Anushree is called Ashmaan. It had all 8 originals that I wrote and we composed together. It actually got nominated for “Radio Mirchi music awards 2014” as the album of the year. I don’t exactly write with a message in my head but some of my songs have messages, some are abstract. There is this song called Dupa which means 2-feet. I wouldn’t want to lie here, but I wrote it for my women friends. I have seen this in some women. I don’t know but guys prolly get the same feeling. It is about these women who try to cling on to someone or something because they are scared of loneliness. It is about breaking free from the fear of loneliness. Even if it is a bad thing it is ok! There is shit in your hand, throw it, and plunge towards the darkness but it is better than questioning your self-respect every day. It is breaking free from the fear of loneliness and to see what it is like outside. Enjoy a cup of coffee by yourself without anyone coming and patting your back. It is ok. That is what the song is about.

Then there is a song which is unreleased. I strum it on my guitar sometimes. It is about this man who was cursed and ever since he was cursed he was scared of the rains. So he wears a raincoat all day and moves around. It is just pure fiction.

So there are these songs. I don’t write with a plan in my head. That time the head space that I am in, gives out a song.

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Vidula – Do you compose the tunes of the songs that you have written?

Anushree – Yes there are songs that I have composed. Then there is a song called “Ishita”, then Dupa. Many songs I have composed. But I am a limited guitar player. And then when Sukanti came into picture, it was so much fun composing together. I tell him a tune, and then he tells me to go to a minor or major 7 then it will sound hotter. So I like to mix and match ideas. But I like to make tunes by myself as well.

Vidula – So now are you learning music theory – as in Western music theory?

Anushree – I am more aware of theoretically aware of the eastern side. Theory wise I know more about Hindustani classical music better.

Vidula – is there a niche kind of audience for your kind of music or is it open to the masses?

Anushree – We have always kept our music open to the masses. It is the masses who decide. Till about now the feeling I have which I have been getting a lot these days is that the urban youth is more likely to listen to our kind of music the most. Also if it is the older crowd like we had a gig at IIT, New Delhi, where the average was about 55. There was a gentle man, my father’s age and he had come with the flute and was jamming with us from his seat. They connected with the soil factor. They didn’t understand the raga bit of it. They connected with the soil factor. Some people connect with the soil factor or some connect with the root somehow they get into the mood. And as long as it works, it is great. Apart from live music, which is a huge part of our repertoire (since, we do it all day), we have also done music for short films. Films that have the independent status right now, and are doing really well in the festival circuit! There again the work culture is very different. We are working in a studio and we are trying to write a tune, based on the visuals. So there of course we do keep in mind, how the audience will respond to that. It is very difficult to identify your crowd initially. When you start with a band you don’t have enough options. You cannot select your crowd. Wherever you get to play, you go play. After playing for 3 years and doing gigs more frequently, now we know and understand. We have figured it out. I hate to say, maybe in the rural sides or rather among the uneducated crowd, where people have no idea about what the folk mystics have tried to say or have spoken about! They celebrated life irrespective of discrimination that people have created. They have no idea! I cannot sing lalon songs or bulle sha’s songs to a crowd that doesn’t respect the very value system that they held. Their limitation is from coffee house song which was like an anthem song from Bengal – from ashiqui 2 to lungi dance. Sometimes we land up with those gigs and then we just play and get the hell out of there. Then it is just about the money. There are gigs where we really feel connected, where people actually exactly know! They are dancing to the music, they believe in what is being sung, and they know and understand the songs. That is the idea!

Vidula – Other than Sukanti and Anushree are you working on any other project?

Anushree – No. I can’t do too many things, because if I do too many things, I will distribute my efforts. This is the zone I want to work in. Why distribute my efforts? Why not look at one way and nurture it and just make it grow

Vidula – When you write your songs or make a rendition of the folk song, do you have access to those folk songs? Are they available on tapes or cassettes or CDs?

Anushree – Yes, we do have access to the folk songs. As far as folk is concerned there are some popular songs, some known and some unknown songs. We do a beautiful song called Katte. We do Damaa Dam Masta Kalandar. We do Jugni Ji. Sultan Lohri Ji’s song and they have interpreted in their way. We do a lot of Lalon fakri songs. I have had access to them because I have been doing my end of research work since 2006. I have been continuously digging these tunes so I try to get songs and feel them, see what is inside. I do the RnD and I never give that access to Sukanti because he is from a classic level background. He is all out western not just that but classic. He is from a different head space altogether and he has a different approach to music. The moment I make him listen to a song on a do-tara, he will be inhibited. Should I do this to the song? Is it ok? I don’t want him to go through that. I just tell him I’ll sing this song. He tells me “Don’t make me listen to the song”. Normally they are sung on a minimalistic instrumental arrangement. If he listens to that he will get a bias. He might back out from going all out. I don’t want that. I want him to be honest with his songs. I sing the songs to him and he gets the core from what I sing. Like morni bagama it is a lovely folk song. I wanted him to go all out and blast it. We have a high-energy, rock rendition! I don’t like the Bollywood way. I like the straight raw hit. I turned the song upside down. I take the lyrics and then I do it my way. And people don’t even remember what it was when we do it. But there they can connect because they can feel the song. So that is the idea!

Vidula – Does music pay well?

Anushree – Music is a difficult job. It is a difficult affair. Problem is that when people who go for it, stick to it, are people who can’t help it. You mind decides. I am not boasting, but I was a gold medalist in college. I am telling you this. I have been good in studies then your parents will tell you “You are so good at studies, then why music?”

I question the question “Did you want me to be an uneducated musician?” I have no regrets. I am fortunate that I have got the education and then I got into music because education gives you the perspective, if you really feel it. For many people who hold degrees, their thinking stops once you get the degree. And you actually take in what you want to, from the education and then pour it out into art that is where the magic begins. I tell every musician. Please study – you have to study. It could be chemistry but that will help your art. That will help a lot. I loved literature. How can I not like literature and write songs? How can I not read the poem on clouds and not think of clouds. It is all connected.

Vidula – Music scene here in India – Is it changing? What do you think about that? Are more people listening and opening up to live music?

Anushree – Well live music is a little on the low side. A lot of people are really trying to get it back. There are a lot of independent artists like Nikhil Udapa, Bobbin, Rishu, Darryl and so on. I might be forgetting some names. Do mention these names and they are really rock stars and they are really trying hard to get the music scene back and we are with them. And these efforts need to be more and more visible that can help people. I think people have to come out of their houses and listen to music. Entire culture has to shift to getting that energy out. I hope it comes back. It is not doing great because for example, in Kolkata there are very few bands that have made it big and are still there and are still playing. And in these 10 years, none of them have recovered. In 10 years, if somebody asks, what are the bigger bands? The names that have been taken in 1990 are the same ones that are taken even today. Independent musicians are not getting platforms. It is on the low or there are no platforms. If one band is called to the same college back to back for 7 years. In those 7 years, people who are actually good and who wanted to make it could not happen. What happens is that these musicians do some odd jobs say in ICICI bank and couldn’t hold up. It is not their fault entirely. It is very sad. People have to get out of their homes and come and listen to music. They have to stop clinging on to something they once find for their entire life. You have to grow. It is not the same music over and over again

Vidula – Do you think there is a need for a platform in India for the independent musicians?

Very few!

We need more platforms. For musicians, they have to feel united and not think about themselves. Think about the scene and the fraternity. I had a problem with the term Indie. What is Independent music?

I had heard someone say – What is it? Is it something that doesn’t sell? No – It is music that you make on independent terms. Mainstream Bollywood, independent this, why are you getting the terms confused. People don’t need to get into categories meaninglessly. I have no problem if my song is being used by Bollywood. I have no problem if I use a Bollywood song but the terms being used. It is pointless. It is not necessary

Vidula – Do you experiment with sound?

Anushree – Yes. Electronica allows you to experiment with sounds, try out diff grooves, and the frequency that actually hits you the right way in line with the song. Of course I would say when you are doing live performance, it is all about experimentation. When you experiment It is about the sound, how the audience reacts. The best aspect is silence. I love silence. It is like orgasm. It is about people sacredly connecting to music every point in diff ways. Sometimes playing low sometimes playing high! Playing with the different frequencies of your head!

Vidula – Are people open to experimentation?

Off late there is acceptance. I hope it gets better. People are getting better. Earlier it used to go above their head. They used to say “What are they doing? – common gaanaa bajao” play a song that we all know. All that happens! I think people who make songs that talk about a lungi or a butt really count on those uneducated losers to get the money out of. It is very sad that such people exist and such music gets played. I am confused. One of my heads tells me – Generate demand for shit. On the other hand I feel how can you generate if people were wise enough not to take it? Maybe if you keep feeding that shit then they will start taking it. It is the average that sells. That is also fair. Also I don’t believe in stealing. How can someone steal every day? I really don’t know. Will I stick to it? I don’t know. Good music can be sellable. You can fuse good music, with good presence with flashy, psychedelic atmosphere. Don’t feed shit.

Vidula – Are you trying to break the stereotype?

Anushree – We are doing it every day. We want to. I just did a few playbacks. Not too many people know about it. But in Kolkata, people say your voice is for Mumbai. I don’t want to. If you call me I’ll go. I am a workaholic because work is something that is closest to my heart and that is music. If somebody calls me to sing a song I will give my best performance. But I cannot go and say after you’ve had 17 coffees then you say “now let’s talk about work today” and then you give me dirty glances and then I think do I have to call home and say “I’m going to be late”. I just cannot get it. I am very lazy and am not interested in anything other than work. I am proactive with work and music. I’d rather get down to doing music rather than spending all that time. Maybe they will call me after 2 years. It’s ok. I am happy. I want to take it in a respectful manner. I want people to call me only when they want music from me. It can only happen when I have a repertoire of my own identity as a musician. I want to make music.

Vidula – Where all have you performed?

The first gig was at Techno India college, Kolkata; There were gigs in Bangladesh; Delhi many times; Mumbai – Hard Rock; Pune – Hard Rock; 34th Kolkata book fair; 3rd year with North Bengal music festival; Few more festivals coming up; Maybe few gigs in Goa this year.

Vidula – Do you like playing old songs or the newer songs that you have written?

Anushree – we actually keep playing the songs that are there in the album. They are songs that we had written a long time ago. We just unearth them. We play them. When you are doing an album it is important to see what sound you want from the album. All the songs are different. I like an album to give out different moods – crying, angry, sad, blissful, zonked out

I like to give that one trip in one album. That is something I like. Also that changes. Maybe this song is contemporary. It’s something that I recently wrote. But the melody is not going with the entire album. It will wait. That makes the decision. I look at everything as my own. We do a folk number or our own music. We start from scratch anyway. We take a bulle sha song and we forget what has been done with the song. Because the person who has composed the song has no idea what the song is all bout. He doesn’t know who kareena Kapoor is. See these girls bitching about who kareena is. It is innocent, ignorant understanding of the Indian folk song. That is what I need. The music to speak through them and be honest! Starting afresh every time! It is very original and that is what people like.

Person who is composing the music, producing the music has no idea about the song. So when he/she is getting the song, it prolly is just like listening to poetry for them. They are feeling it again

Vidula – do you write protest songs or political songs?

Anushree – Yes it is a rap song. Not good at rap song. They don’t want me to sing it because I am bad at rap. I have written that. I am more worried about ignorance in people than politics, because ignorance leads to bad parties. This has to be taken care of. Parties keep fighting. It is about them. What about us. Someone will get ahead and do the same old shit. I am more worried about people. I want to go and ask them why they are listening to “kataa lagaa”.  It is not even fun. It is not giving any information. It is about people. People talk about women empowerment. Women have to stop jeering at women and stop telling them what they are supposed to wear. What is their problem in the first place? Mind your own thing!

Vidula – Where do you think the problem lies?

Anushree – People have to be educated.

Vidula – Does this mean education system have to change?

Anushree – Yes it has to

Vidula – So can you educate people through music?

Anushree – Music has always done that. It has tried to bring about some good change in the world. Musicians always love peace. Music is a source to spread love. Absolute love and honesty! I think music is all about that. And we hope to earn some money. Because that is all we do! That is our bread and butter. People gave to stop discriminating on the basis of different factors right from sex to color. Respect people for who they are. Man, woman, lesbian, homo sexual. Get out of that and just enjoy life.

Vidula – How do you think Media plays a part in this?

Media breeds like a vegetation on people. Till people are uneducated they will make money. When the people get educated, they will stop making any money.

Vidula – People are educated but they don’t apply that

They are minority. People who think like you and me are just 0.001%. It is a very small number.

Vidula – How long will people need to change?

It is a long, long, long process. There has to be a set of people who have to think otherwise. Only then Musicians will make songs. Painters will paint what they want the world to look like. Pottery will churn out a diff form of art. For artists, for travelers, for you, when you go back you will be a different person! You will have different experiences. That is what art is all about- It is a very honest attempt. You have to keep doing that. It is not about the money at the end of the year after gigging throughout the year. It is not done. It is much more than that and when you realize what is wrong with people – That means there is a problem! You have to address that!

Vidula – Describe your music to someone who has never heard it before!

Anushree – Our music is a combination of original compositions which talk about life, its problems, solutions, paints a picture of life the way it is. A huge part of the repertoire is a lot of folk music from the sub-continent, used with electronica. The way we approach electronica, very psychedelic, and very trippy! It is useful, energetic and there to engage people and give them a spiritual lift. That is what Stoned Caravan, the second album, is going to be about.

 

Vidula – what is your personal favorite on both the albums?

Anushree – Chobi gaan from the first album

I wrote it on a number of pictures taken by Deep who is the lead guitar player of Fossils, one of the biggest bands in Kolkata. I never knew him. He is a great photographer and this is a beautiful number. The song is about travelling from one photograph to another.

In the second album, it is difficult to have a favorite. There is a lot of good stuff. Katte I think.

Vidula – When do you plan to release it?

Anushree – Feb or early march for sure.

Vidula – What do you think of platforms like Sound cloud and ReverbNation?

Anushree –they have helped us a lot. When the digital revolution will take place, there will be a lot of business churning out of digital platforms. There is soundcloud, soundhues, ReverbNation etc. These have always been there and just not them but the aggregators who say iTunes, amazon. We also make albums not expecting any money in return out of an album. We do it to ensure that gigs are there. People keep themselves updated about our music.

Vidula – what do you think is the younger generation is listening to in Kolkata and are enough places to play in Kolkata?

I don’t know if other cities have these many pubs where one can play. Kolkata has many pubs. When we play at pubs it is a great platform for rehearsal. When you play music, and I am sure other musicians will agree to it, 200 rehearsals = rehearsal at 1 live show. You need to do that. I am asking the new guys who are coming up with music, forget about the money that you will earn. Play at as many music venues as you can. You have to overcome that fear, stage fright. What you need to do is go up with the guitar and your mike and then you will understand what you have and what you don’t have. It is more important to have live venues and gigs. More of venues and less of malls! One doesn’t need so many malls. It is no more a demand in the economy – these malls.  When the society screams for something that they need, then the demand should be met. Now they are just giving it without the need. People used to be happy with that. You cannot generate a demand for something you don’t need. Just look at it. We are looking stupid with more and more technology. Malls are also not doing well. If there are so many malls then they won’t do well. They are not thinking. Depends on what kind of malls they are. There are few malls don’t look at it as a source of money. They just want to have their brand presence. I just hope too many trees are not cut. Birds still chirp. Those are the basic things of inspiration that an artist needs to create something.

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Vidula – what are the challenges that you face as a musician.

Everything is a challenge.

First challenge is your own family – you try to convince them and then beyond a point you cannot. It is not their fault. Now my family we are upper middle class but my father was from a poor family and he has seen a lot of suffering. For me the lack of luxury is not being able to afford this coffee. For him lack of luxury was not being able to afford a book. He was looking for security. He wants to stick to a stable income. Thankfully I am self-made. I have made myself. Ever since I have been in college I have been on scholarship. I’ve taken care of my own expenses. I did my graduation at St. Xavier’s Mumbai through a loan that I cleared last year. You can do it. Nobody can stop you from being educated and no one can stop you from playing music. But there are a lot of challenges like your family. You have to convince them. Even if you don’t convince them you have to make them come to terms with it. That is what I did. I will do this is what I said. Initially, my father was a little disturbed. I was good at studies. He was worked up and he said “What the hell are you doing?” Then when he saw me on stage, he said “what you need is a hell of a lot of practice. I know what you were doing for those 7 hours every day and came home sweating.” I am very happy that he has respect for my music and work. That is all I’ve expected from my father. There is no other reason for me to be happy. I remember we were out on a trip, when he actually told me – “What the hell are you doing? Baul music? I’ll see how long you can do that!!”  I was very upset. Because of lack of respect for my decision! Nothing else! My father scolding me was fine. Who else will scold? But I had a problem with the lack of respect towards this art form. That much maturity I had. When I came back I was thinking “I can’t see my father hurt, because I am getting hurt. Why should I hurt myself?” So then I wrote a letter. A 4-page letter and I was a letter writing addict. I loved writing letters. For me it was a great job.  I wrote everything in it – exactly what is in my head, what I am, what I wanted, what I was doing and how I looked at music. The last line was somewhat like this “Baba, if you are with me, it will be a great journey. I will feel like you are on this side on the stage with me. If you are not, then this show will go on. Just that I will miss you! You must know that I am doing this with all my heart and I love doing it.” After that I have seen him coming to terms with it. He had respect. I can also tell the guys who are coming into music that if you had a spat with your parents – tell them, communicate with them. You may not get approval to do the things, but you will get respect. They will understand. Because they have all the information!

Vidula – Any other challenges other than family?

Vidula – What do you think about us travelling like this?

Anushree – It is great! It is kickass! Travel makes us grow at an unimaginable rate, not in age. But with spirit! One sees so much. I am sure you have seen a whole lot of change in culture. I have seen that personally. In the villages people are so open to something new and they are modern. And then in the most modern city all people want is some shitty music. It is always a life full of surprises and nothing more than travel makes you realize that as frequently as it gets. It is an amazing initiative and I hope you keep getting sponsors. I don’t know how to drive but I’ll go with you. I’ll try and learn some driving. I have respect for every woman who can. It is not about driving for me. I am feeling a part of this journey already.

Vidula – Any messages for the women in general in India

Anushree – Stop bitching about women. Respect them for what they are. Respect yourself. Let the other person the way she is. Stay connected! Be friends and look at men the way you look at women. Same goes for men too. Just be in love. To all men and women – Stay beautiful. Enjoy life and help each other out.

Interview with Claire Prest

Interview with Claire Prest

Vidula – Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you come from and your family life back home

Claire – I am from Australia. I am one of the 2 sisters and I grew up and spent my early adolescence in Australia. Then after university I started to travel further afield.

Vidula – What did you study at the university?

Claire – I studied Media Arts, which is a funny terminology for learning how to make videos, photography. Actually, it was a multimedia type of a course.

Vidula – Why did you come to India?

Claire – It was just that a friend of mine was going and I thought “Oh that sounds like a very exotic thing to do and a fantastic idea and it is a way of getting unstuck, from working in a fairly corporate kind of an environment.” So I thought let me just jump on that bandwagon.

Vidula – How long ago was this?

Claire – This was 16-17 years ago.

Vidula – Why did you choose to come to India?

Claire – I did not choose India. It just happened. It was not a deliberate decision on my behalf. My friend was going. So I thought let me also go. And so I went.

Vidula – Did you travel elsewhere before coming to India?

Claire – I had travelled to Indonesia and to New Zealand with my family. But it was the first time I was travelling on my own, outside of my own country.

Vidula – Tell us about your travels to Indonesia

That was family time. It was all organized by my parents. I don’t really have much memory of Indonesia to be honest, but apparently, I didn’t like the smell. I preferred the hotel swimming pool than going out into the streets because it stank. So those are the kind of things my parents remind me of even today. They find it amusing now that I have ended up in India. Who would’ve known! We took you to Indonesia and now India!

Vidula – How old were you then?

Claire – 20-21 years old

That is when most people start to get restless and start to travel. A lot of people usually go to the UK and work there and then tour Europe. And I thought that sounded not really that interesting. For some reason India was attractive as just a place to visit and I had no idea what it was about.

Vidula – What did you think of India when you first came here? Was there a culture shock? What was your experience when you first came to India?

Claire – A massive culture shock because I was vastly underprepared! I was expecting my friend who had researched the trip to do all the preparation. But she pulled out at the last minute. I landed up with nothing, with absolutely zero prior information. I was here for 3 months, and it took me a long time to gather momentum. So I didn’t really travel much. I would move to a place and just spend a really long time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I would spend weeks in places trying to make sense of the system. And after my tour was finished I still couldn’t figure it out. When I was back in Australia, I still couldn’t understand what the hell was going on in India. You speak to people and it takes a while. There are so many layers. It was incentive enough for me to save after another year and return to try and make sense of it again. So I took another chance. Because it had captivated me enough, and that experience as a young adult of putting yourself in a situation when you can’t make sense of it, like logical, rational sense of it, you have extend yourself, you have to question yourself, and that is kind of what I just needed at that time to grow. India got under my skin that way so I returned of my own volition a few times before I started working for a travel company that paid me to be here.

Rita_claire_hussey

Vidula – Where in India did you come to, the second time?

Claire – It was Rajasthan again, Kashmir again and Kerala again.

Vidula – Tell us about your travel life when you came here the second time.

Claire – I was slightly more prepared. I was able to move and cover more distance, independently and not rely on other travelers or local people or tour company.

Vidula – Did you figure out the system by then?

Claire – Yes I did. Not entirely because there were things that you remained clueless about. But I had a bit of sense of how I could get around and how I could catch local buses and all of that kind of stuff. Second time was vastly more satisfying because I was much more independent than the first time. The first time, a lot of the times, I was petrified. It would take all of my energy to step outside the door and find out what was going on.

Whereas the second time I was more keen. I was jumping out of bed and getting out there, keen to explore.

Vidula – You chose India over Europe is that right?

Claire – Yes

Vidula – Did you ever travel to Europe before that or after that?

Claire – No. And I still have not.

Vidula – Tell us about the people you met during your travels. How did they affect you and influenced you and changed you?

Claire – There are many influential people that you meet when you travel. Those that take you under your wing! I will never forget the guy who I met at the Delhi airport the first time I arrived. He just took me under my wing.

He asked me “where are you going?”

So I said – I have no idea.

So he said “Well, you are coming with me”

I had been to India before, and that was a big mistake to say “I have no idea”

He totally took me under his wing and for a couple of days. He made it his mission to get me comfortable. He didn’t have to do that but he saw a need and he stepped in. There are people like that and then there are people that have travelled all over the place, incredible places. Sharing their stories, artists that travel on the road, who paint and draw while they are travelling! There are so many people and really anyone that you meet and when you are on the road that can be an inspiration. A lot of local people as well who I had never expected to open their hearts and homes to me and I have done it without any questioning. So they are of course an inspiration to continue travelling.

Vidula – Were you not afraid of that stranger who took you under his wing when you came to India? How could you trust a complete stranger?

Claire – I needed to trust him, the alternative was far worse. I was clearly out of my depth and needed help. He offered his hand and I took it. I have returned the favor to many first time travelers since.

How does one be savvy when it comes to asking random people for help/directions?

That skill has been honed in India only! Always ask a local (not a stander-by) and always verify the information. The more times the better!

Vidula – Why did you choose travel as a profession over Media Arts?

Claire – I don’t think that I chose it so much as a profession as it just kind of just happened. I was looking for ways that I could spend more time in India because I felt that there was so much more to learn here in a country that had much more history than my own. Australia is a relatively young country if you forget about our indigenous heritage which we don’t learn about. But there is so much to gain from that history. And I was just beginning to unravel all that. So I was looking for an opportunity to stay in India for longer. And I just chanced on tourism. I have no training in tourism. But a tourism company somehow saw my abilities so I started working for them. I started leading tours for them. So I was taking people around. Rajasthan and the whole Delhi-Agra circuit, all of that, which allowed me to obviously see a lot of the country. Of course I chose to establish my own travel company which is kind of an extension of the kind of things I have learned – Things that can go wrong and go right with tourism. The whole impetus for founding grass route journeys is that we wanted to implement what could go right, like we wanted to focus on the good stuff that tourism could bring to the locals and for people that are travelling. It is not something that I consciously chose or studied or anything like that. It is just what felt right.

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Vidula – Give an example of the rights and the wrongs in tourism.

Claire – Tourism has the potential to positively or negatively impact a place. You have tourists coming into town, and they can throw their rubbish everywhere, they can disregard the locals, they can demand pizza, when there are wonderful curries down the road. Tourists can be incredibly demanding. They can travel without even realizing that they are in a different country. There can be negative impacts. There are positive impacts, which I feel are overwhelmingly positive if managed properly. You can learn so much from another culture. You can learn about yourself from another culture. Different ways of eating, sleeping, you can do all of that. It can have a very positive impact.

Vidula – When did you realize the travel bug had bitten you?

Claire – When I started working for the tour company it was on a 6 monthly contract because the tourist season in India is basically 6 months. I didn’t have any long term picture. I just kept renewing. I would just work for 6 months and then whatever money that I earned in those 6 months I would think about the places that I could visit in the off-season. I did that for 8 years without any intention of staying for 8 years. It was just like “one more year and there are more things to see!” I haven’t checked that out that yet, there is this and that. After 8 years, I was like hang on a minute, stop! What is happening here? What’s the plan? What is the thought? That is when I started being less of a nomad and started to think.

Vidula – Did you decide to settle down then? Was it like that?

It was this cycle has gone on for a while and it cannot go on forever, so what’s the next phase? What’s the next step? So it was a decision of either I go back to Australia and it was basically like I had no further prospects for a foreigner in India, with a country of too many people. What am I going to do out here? I really couldn’t think of much. I dabbled in a few things. I did a documentary film making course and worked for a documentary film maker for a while. This is all very fun but it is not earning me a living. So basically it all came down to that – I need to be able to make some decisions in order to fund my lifestyle. This was also about the same time that my relationship with my now husband was coming to a point where we thought, what do we do here? We decided that we would live in Delhi. We would stop touring around, and be irresponsible in that sense. We would settle. We would go to the office, have normal jobs and come back and live normal lives. We did the pantomime for 2 years and we were both miserable. In the process we learned that “we could live together”. Prior to that we had only spent like weekends or day excursions. So we could live with each other. In the process, we also learned that we enjoyed travelling but we hated being in the city. We hated being in the office. So we decided that lets do something about it than cribbing all the time. Let’s just do something about it. The whole idea of “grass routes” was formulated around that time. We were in Delhi, frustrated, what we perceived as skills, or experiences that we had accumulated in our work with tourism, in our travels. Why can’t we just implement this? It was finally time to implement it. So we formed this company and shifted out here. We were looking at lots of places in India to settle down. Odisha was not the first place that we decided but finally it won in the end. It is obviously where Pulak, my husband and co-founder, started his travels from. So he already had a network of villages and locals who understood what he was doing. He felt very much connected to these people. He was kind of responsible for it in the sense. He has the language. It is so much easier to go to a place where you already have connections. So we were like Odisha it is.

Vidula – Since Pulak started his travels in Odisha, was he from Odisha?

Claire – Yes. He is from Odisha. When he started working none of this mess was here. It was just a beach and some foreign tourists would come out and he would take them on the back of his bicycle. He had a lot of interesting excursions. Whenever he got money from a tour, the first thing he would do is fill fuel in his motorbike and just take off. He loves speaking to people not just tourists but any one on the streets. He found an audience. People would sit down and listen to him. Everyone out there was happy and he really felt that there was an encouragement from the locals out there. In the state, they really would cheer for him and would say to him keep moving, keep doing. He felt that he owed something to the people, to come back and do something in a small way that could benefit.

Vidula – Family life and personal life

Claire – It is Pulak and me, our little family. Working and living together has its moments. It is not too difficult to create boundaries out there. In tourism there are no office hours. Anything can happen any time. We pretty much just live and we work a lot but we enjoy our work and it doesn’t really feel so hard a lot of the times. There is also a lot of work in having your own company than we also anticipated, the legal aspects, the accounts all of that is a big headache. Since it’s not a strong point for either of us there is a lot of bickering that goes on. I have a different way of doing things and he has a different way of doing things. There are a lot of cultural things there as well. Of course we get along and all of that but there are cultural things behind everything that we do. We are living and breathing it every moment. Sometimes we need time out and sometimes it is a relief when either of us goes on tours and then we get to breathe. Be with ourselves. But for the most part it is a joy to actually doing what we like to do.

Vidula – Do you miss home as in Australia? You never considered going back there? Why? How often do you go back there?

 

Claire – Yes, there are many things I miss about Australia; friends and family of course but also the pristine National Parks and beaches, world class restaurants and cultural venues. I return almost every year and hope to return on a more permanent basis one day.

Claire & Brett (1 of 1)

 

Vidula – Tell us about what you do exactly with grass-routes. Do you actually take people on trips? How many people run the show? How do you do the whole thing?

Claire – I do most of the administration work behind grass-routes. I can take people out for trips but we would generally prefer to have local people in that position simply because the local people respond well. They are more comfortable with having someone that is of their own blood. I am still an unknown factor. I am still Pulak’s wife and we are not too sure. I have observed that people are more comfortable with having a local person for their help. So that is ok. Pulak leads most of the tours that are sub-contracted to larger companies. Then we have a number of casual guides who work for us depending on tour bookings. It is really just the two of us and some casual employees that work for us on need basis.

Sumati – What makes your company different from other companies?

Claire – the thing that makes us different is that we actually travel to these places. When I say that I do the administration, I do administration. But in the off-season or just at the beginning of the season or the end of the season we have discussions, away from the tour groups, away from the show. We talk about tourism.  What they felt about people coming to their village? How is it affecting the scenario? Like Raghurajpur for instance! There have been so many inputs, from UNESCO, that has changed the dynamics of the village. I don’t know of any other tour operator that goes and sits with the artists and talks about the stuff and tells them that “You can stand up in this way. You don’t have to let people into your houses if you don’t want to. You can’t demand that you take your shoe off. You can do all of this. This is perfectly ok. Guest is god in india. But guest isn’t always god when they are behaving like fools.” All of that-behind the-scene stuff is what makes us different. Because for us the behind-the-scene stuff is so important so integral to what we do. We have to nurture the place and the people of the place otherwise the industry is not going to sustain.

Sumati – So you travel to places which are typical tourist places? How do identify where to take the tourists?

Claire – Trial and error! A lot of research! We do a lot of research! In the off season we travel. We take our car or we hop on the bike and we talk to people. Nothing can happen without the cooperation of the people. If there is some interest from some people then we will go and pursue it. If there is no interest then there is no point in forcing the matter. So it is about finding the interest. Somebody from the village might be interested but the rest of the village is not interested, then it is not going to work. It is just a matter of following these kinds of leads. We also would like tourism to happen in a fairly controlled kind of manner. Part of it is educating the tourists on what is appropriate and what is not, especially if they are coming from outside of India. They may have less of an idea of appropriate behavior. It is about educating them. It is about educating the locals and the villages about what is expected and what is ok and what is not ok. In Odisha tourism is not a big industry. So there are a lot of misconceptions and there are a lot of ideas that it will bring in money. The locals think they can stop farming and that will bring them money. No, you can’t expect that and that is not going to happen. It is such a small sector at the moment. It is about dispelling all of those myths. It is about going very very slowly. Very slowly! And starting – we are getting interest here. We revisit. And finally figure out what is interesting about this village. We determine what people would like to show about their particular village. And then we try it and see what the response is. It is a very slow process. But that is what makes us different. We step out of the office and tour the state because we like to and we are interested. We don’t want to visit the same village over and over again. We don’t want to be in a village where there is tourists are being disrespectful. Because we would be tempted to speak out! We have no control over what other tour operators do. So we can educate. We can make suggestions but at the end of the day, people are there to make money so they will do whatever they want to do. A lot of the times we don’t have control on what the industry is doing. We can only really manage how our business is going. We’d like to step out and explore new places, because we feel the place is off the beaten track and far more interesting than the places that are far more mainstream tourism.

Sumati – Most of the tourists come for beaches, landscapes and the nature or historical monuments. What do you pitch to the tourists so that they are inspired to go to these villages that are different, which are not main stream and off the beaten track?

Claire – it is life. Most of the people who come to Odisha and are interested in what we do are people who have travelled in India before. They’ve checked off taj mahal and they’ve sat on the beaches in Goa. They have done all the things that are on the to-do list. Now they are looking for something a bit more fulfilling or interesting or deeper. They want to form a deeper connection. And often they are looking for places that are not mainstream. They are looking outside the box. You can just land up here and go out to any village and expect them to be responsive to you. So you need help, to make that connection meaningful, authentic. You need help to ensure that that connection is understood. You need that. Otherwise one is really lost. So that is basically we come in. We felt that there is a need. It is to go out to the village and go coconut farms, all very nice bullock carts and go yada yada yada.  I can’t speak to people. I need a translator. I need to know what they are doing! What is their lifestyle? I need someone who can show me and to be there at the right time. You know a lot of the mainstream tour itineraries have people arriving at in villages when they are having their siestas or when are out farming in the fields. So you don’t see anything. So it is finding about all of that right kind of balance in timing. All of that

Vidula – What sort of tourists do you cater to – Indians or non-Indians?

Claire – we focus on responsible tourism and because it is a new concept here in India our focus has mainly been foreigners – people who are interested in tapping in that old world India and digging a little deeper – initially foreigners. Not restrictive. But that was our initial focus. We have found that many people form urban India are very interested in this concept or at least escape the cities and seethe rural country side especially those that have grown up or spent their childhood in a rural setup. And then have moved to the cities and have furthered their career and now have small families and they want to share that rural aspect with their children. We have had a lot of families like that contact us. They can understand what we are doing and what we stand for and principles.  They totally fit into our programs and enjoy it and all of that. Our programs are not all that restricted to foreigners. They are there for anyone who gets it, and those who understand that you need to travel slowly in order to be responsible. You can’t expect to zip off everywhere and see everything in 5 days. You have to take things slow. That is why we have taken the kind of trouble to set up our website and say who we are and what we are doing and why we are doing it and if anyone can relate to that they can probably fit in with what we are doing.

Vidula – What do you think about the Indian tourists? Are they travelling to different off beat places nowadays?

 

Claire – I object to large groups bossing about demanding their own cuisine in another culture. But many urban Indian families who have travelled with Grass Routes have been wonderful encounters. We’ve had young families join our journeys to nurture a respect for natural and alternate cultures in their own children and its wonderful to see such considerate parenting. I wish it were the norm.

 

Vidula – What are your messages for the Indian tourists?

 

Claire – Do not impose your ideas; travel to learn and travel with respect. Travel is much more than gaining merit and making memories; travel can broaden your horizons, deepen your understanding and cultivate your compassion. Travel mindfully.

Sidheshwara

Vidula – Do you approach the tourists or do they approach you?

Well we have a small presence on the internet. And we have some connections through our work in the tourism industry in the past. So a bit of both! We do work with tour companies. The individuals – those who are from abroad and those within India – do a search on the internet.

Vidula – Give us an example of a package tour

Claire – We offer week trips, 10 day trips, 2 weeks maybe 3 weeks is the longest that we do and that would incorporate Chattisgarh as well. That is basically the longest trip that we would do. That includes accommodation, transport, some meals and activities. These activities are designed or tailored in conjunction with local communities – villages that we visit on a fairly regular basis. And regular doesn’t mean that it is overrun. It is only us. It is only our company that visits these local villages. So there is that level of trust that has been established and an understanding has been established and a real pride in showing people around. That is there and that is what makes the difference at the end of the day. We include all of the UNESCO world heritage sites of Konark and national parks. The signature things that make the difference are those things people can relate to or connect to villages.

Sejal – What all states do you take tourists to? What are their demands?

Claire – Between the two of us we have travelled everywhere in India. We have chosen to focus only on Odisha because it would be very easy to rip off a Rajasthan package or an Andaman package but then the focus on Odisha would be dissipated. We decided to focus purely on Odisha and then of course we ventured into the neighboring state of Chattisgarh and West Bengal at this stage. We also do Andhra Pradesh sometimes, because the southern tip of Odisha dips into Andhra. Our core focus is Odisha. Some tour might begin in Odisha and finish in Kolkata but those shoulder areas we also cover.

Vidula – What are the significant contributions that you’ve made to Odisha in the tourism sector? Community, the ethics etc

Claire – There is no tangible contribution. We’ve not built any building. We are a small company. Whatever profits we receive we put back into villages like a water pump here, a community dormitory needs a new fresh coat of mud. These small things get done that just build the trust. We don’t make huge profits because we don’t cater to large numbers. In a season we probably could not carry more than a 100 people. Our profits are not large. But whatever profits we do get are reinvested in various villages in various small projects. I think that that is actually very much immaterial at this stage because people forget that sort of stuff. Someone came in and painted the school and all is very nice but they don’t really care. But for me what is more sustainable is that when we go back to that village, every year for a research trip, there are more people that are interested there are more people who show up for the meeting. What are these people doing, what have they got to say, and someone left a binocular here and we are trying to figure out how this thing works. How to use it. Clean it! To me that is personally far more rewarding but it also means that slowly we are making some kind of progress. In the sense that more people are developing an understanding about what tourism is about. If you have the understanding then you’ve got people saying “I get this” I can help or I can get involved and that dialog for me is more important than painting a school or getting these kinds of jobs done. They are done – Yes! Those are the kind of contributions that we have made in a very very small way. I would not say that any of these contributions are recognized by the tourism industry because they are not bothered about it. They don’t care. They are looking at numbers and dollars and profits. Their focus is way too high-fi for us.

Vidula – Website mentions contributions to the culture and environment. How have you made those contributions?

Claire – So with the environment one of the most common trips is out to Chilikha. We don’t use motorboats we use oar boats. We do that on a regular basis to cut the pollution noise pollution. I don’t know why there are so many of those boats out there. It is totally destroying their makeup. They think we are crazy. They think “here they come, those strange people again on the oar boats!” They ask us “Why not take motor boats? You will reach there faster.” We say “We don’t want to get their faster. We are happy going slowly” All of this pollution and what not that doesn’t make sense. Those are the small things that we can in terms of the environment. We’ve organized like a cleanup Puri beach which was met with a limited success. The beach was clean but it was filthy the next day because there was no education behind that. “Why should you not throw all that rubbish?” So we realized that we way too deep there and we could not change people’s habits immediately or overnight. A lot of it is just education. A lot of people are seeing the beach for the first time. They don’t realize how fragile the environment is. They don’t know where it goes out. It goes out to the water and then it goes. They do the same thing to the rivers.

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Vidula – Have you tried to speak to the tourism ministry here in Odisha? Talk to the politicians.

Claire – There are tour operator’s group associations here in Odisha. So we have met with them and we have shared our views and experiences about that.  It is so unusual for people here, it is not for people elsewhere in the world, but unusual for people here to not fathom what we are saying. They feel like this is so counterproductive. We are not talking about profits. We are not talking about anything like that. They don’t understand. And like wise with the ministry. It is a language they cannot understand. Since they do not step out they cannot understand how fragile the environment is or the cultures are. So they can’t see it. A lot of them haven’t travelled beyond of Odisha or they might have gone to vizag for a picnic but they do not have good experiences on the basis of which they can judge what Is a good example and what is a bad example. If you go to Rajasthan or Agra you can see how certain bodies have been successful in elevating their profile of that particular village or town and how that can work with cooperation. But if you don’t have a good example then you cannot fathom it. Since we work mostly with villages you have this cast thing, so if it is a village I am not going there. That obstacle has to be overcome first and that is a huge thing.

Vidula – So how about talking to the main tourism ministry of India

Claire – We have not done that. Yet!

Vidula – The Madhya Pradesh ministry has figured out something right as far as tourism is concerned. I don’t see the same here in Odisha.

Claire – You have pretty inexperienced people at the helm here in Odisha. You have had someone sitting in the department for 10 years and he has done nothing. Now he has just changed. The new guy just is as clueless. This is the major problem.

They get a budget. They spend it on advertising. And they think their job is done. Investing in infrastructure, investing in people is something that is not understood.

Vidula – Are there any NGOs working in conjunction with tourism

Claire – No. There are some wildlife NGOs and we atleast we come together on a common platform but there are many NGOs like 1000s. No one is working in conjunction with tourism.

Vidula – What does Odisha’s economy depend on?

Claire – Agriculture

Sejal – What about handicrafts?

Claire – Well first is agriculture and then mining, water and power are big industries. Odisha supplies a lot of the neighboring states power. So these are big industries.

Vidula – So tourism is just a small thing then?

Tourism is not a big thing. Puri and Konark are on the coast. There are plenty of villages and places inland. But they don’t like tourists going inland because they want to do their mining and their extractive industries without any fuss. A lot of these extractive industries are illegal. So for someone to go see the mess that they’ve made and report on that then they would be in a lot of trouble. That is why they have been discouraging.

Sumati – how has it been for you to accept Odisha as your home? We have experienced the fact that Odisha is a very conservative state.

Claire – Yes

Sumati – Even Andhra was conservative

Claire – Yes that is true

Sejal – this affects tourism?

Claire – yes of course it does. Who wants to engage with people that they don’t know? It does affect tourism. It is that slow process of getting to know people and developing that trust which takes time

Vidula – In today’s day and age, do you think more Indian women are travelling? What do you have to say to the Indian women travelling alone/in groups?

 

Claire – Certainly, I encourage everyone to travel. Travelling with a group of friends can be great fun, but travelling solo is a special skill that teaches you to listen to your own intuition. Often pushes you beyond your comfort zone and resonates at a deeper level.

Claire-@-Dalijoda

 

Vidula – What do you think about us – 3 women, travelling like this?

 

Claire – It’s wonderful! Road trips are always fun and an all women team is bold (especially in the Indian context) and must have been empowering – Kudos!

 

Vidula – Do you have any messages for women to stay safe while travelling?

 

Claire – Stay strong and show no mercy!

Excerpts from the interview with Belinda Mueller

Here is what Belinda Mueller, from Goa, had to say when Vidula asked her

Any tips for women to stay safe?

Anything can happen. Something could happen in your own home, in your own backyard. I was always afraid. The 400 that I did, I left Karwar at 9pm and reached Panjim at 3am and the whole stretch from Karwar at 9pm to Panjim at 3am, I cycled alone, along the highway, the Karmel ghat. I was quite afraid of it earlier and this trip helped me overcome my fears. Initially I thought I would wait for the others, the guys, who were behind me, so I thought no, let me see how far I can go and I can always stop somewhere and meet them there. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the sense of freedom. It was a full moon night and I reached Panjim.

Goa is a little better, safer, than any other states. We are fortunate here in goa. Sometimes I take off for my practice rides and I leave my house at 3am in the morning. Early mornings it is a lot safer than night. You are a lot safer. It is the night – 1130, 12, 1, 2 – that is a problem. One of my favorite rides is to the Netravali, the national park! I never realized that there were so many Gaur. And these Gaurs are right next to the highways, road sides. My husband, he was cycling in pitch darkness and so he reached the place at around 545 and he was cycling and suddenly he saw this massive Gaur right on the road side. He crossed it and he turned, and it had it had moved on to the road. That was a little scary. Next time I stopped and I spoke to the forest guards, and they said that here there is no problem. The Gaur had never attacked anyone. And I see the kids also going to school. Nobody has ever been attacked. The fears all disappeared. But then we have stray dogs! They can be quite dangerous. Especially for the cyclists!

Excerpts from the Interview with Anushree Gupta

While I was on the drive, I interviewed some really wonderful women. You will have to wait for the complete interview to be put up.

But here is what Anushree Gupta, from Kolkata, had to say about one of her songs, from her first album, with the band Sukanti & Anushree. She wrote this song for all her women friends. The meaning is beautiful.

Don’t try to cling on to someone or something because you are scared of loneliness. It is about breaking free from the fear of loneliness. It is not a bad thing. Even if it is a bad thing it is ok! If there is junk in your life, shirk it away, and throw it all out, and plunge towards the darkness. It is better than questioning your self-respect every day. It is breaking free from the fear of loneliness and to see what it is like outside. Enjoy a cup of coffee by yourself without anyone coming and patting your back. It is perfectly normal to have a coffee by yourself.

Adventures galore

28 days of adventure and exploring came to an end as we sat in the Duronto express that led us back to pune.

Some of the things we experienced as women were that we were more careful and cautious on the east coast than the west. Each one of us at every given point carried a pepper spray. Women were still expected to not drive. Belinda Mueller, the first Goan woman that we interviewed on the trip had told us that we were doing a wonderful job. She said “Don’t let fear restrict you. But don’t do anything silly and stupid.” I agree with her. The whole drive was about staying safe and staying safe is only when one applies common sense.  Men had to be more accepting of women. We wanted to be the seeds of change. We had done that!

The featured photo is from the first day, the beginning of the trip! This post really marks the end of an adventure but it is also the beginning of another adventure. Watch this space for more..

Kolkata

We reached Kolkata on 27th jan, and handed over the car to Mahindra. It was the end of a beautiful road trip.

We still had 3 more days in Kolkata. We walked around a lot and clicked random street pictures. The streets of Kolkata were fascinating.We visited the legendary, 100 year old, India Coffee house. We also saw the Rabindranath Tagore museum in Old Kolkata.

 

 

Puri

The car was given for servicing the next day. We visited the Jagannath Puri temple where non-Hindus were not allowed. The women were ululating and the men threw their hands up in the air. The main deity was colorful and beautiful. Half the temple was painted white, while half of it was beautifully clad in the colors of the old stone. Puri is the only beach where you see the sunrise and the sunset on the same beach.

We were beckoned by the priests to go with them. All they wanted was money. One of the priests approached us and told us that for 10 rupees you could visit the shrine; this offer also had underlying terms and conditions, one of them being, we were not allowed to talk to anyone. If we did, then the gods would be angry. If we didn’t go with them, then the gods would be angry. If we didn’t do something else the Gods would be angry. We decided to explore the area ourselves.

The next day we visited the Chilikha Lake, rented a boat and saw some exotic birds. For a sum of 2700 INR we got to see the red crabbed island which was one of the more popular rides. We were told that there were no birds at the Nalbana bird sanctuary. I really wonder how true that was. To me it was just one of their tricks to ensure that they got as much money as possible.

In Puri, incessant honking is what people who drive do for a living.

On the last day in Puri, we visited the Konark temple, in Konark the next day. It is magnificent temple. We stopped by at the Lotus resorts for lunch. The sea breeze chilled us down after the bitter experiences.

En route we stopped by at a handicrafts village called Raghurajpur. It was nice to see everyone from different families work towards a common cause – art.

Gopalpur

We stayed in Gopalpur, a small village I had never heard of. The girls slept through the afternoon. I rested. In the evening, we went to the beach and caught the sunset just in time and the colors were really dramatic. Dinner was chicken burger, at Mayfair hotels followed by cream caramel, which I thought was the best I’d ever had.

Kakinada

We drove for close to 184kms today and reached Kakinada. The river godavari was everywhere in sight as we made our way to visit the forest of Koringa. We later also went to Puducherry-Yanam where we stopped for a coffee at the restaurant of Hotel Regency. Tomorrow we leave for Vizag, the last stop in Andhra Pradesh.

Sullurupeta to Nellore

It was going to be a short day today.93kms from Sullurupeta to Nellore. We woke up early and headed for Pulicat Bird Sanctuary. Pulicat lake is the second largest brackish water lake in the country. We saw in the distance pink Flamingoes. My day was done. My trip was done. This was one of the reasons I was on the trip, to see the exotic side of nature.

We then went to Sriharikota, where we thought we would be allowed inside to see the rocket launching pad. However, we were not allowed inside.

We along with the Mahindra Scorpio, had now completed more than 3500kms. We felt awesome after having achieved so much. This was only the beginning for BuffyFish and I knew there were many miles more to go. We slept through the afternoon and were up at 630pm. We freshened up and headed for dinner to the Food Studio. Dinner was some chettinad chicken with some rotis.

Also, Sumati, the last participant was on her way to Vijayawada. We were ready to crash now. It was going to be a long 293kms day.

Sullurupeta

The next day we had to wait at a railway crossing for almost 40mins because 6 trains had to pass before us. We had to reach Sullurupeta. We reached there around 330pm and freshened up.

We headed for Nelapattu bird sanctuary. Saw some Herons and Pelicans and some storks and some monkeys too. It was crowded, the bird sanctuary. We came back around 630pm. Had an early dinner and tucked in early into bed.

Everyday and night on the trip, we reminded ourselves, that we were here only because of Bijoy and his team at Mahindra. They had been wonderful and kind to let us have this vehicle for the journey.

Kanyakumari to Rameshwaram

Again we knew that this drive was going to be a long long ride, but thanks to the roads in tamil nadu, we made it there in 6 hours. We saw some sun flower fields. We checked into the hotel, stepped out in the evening and headed for a coffee shop. Headed for the beach behind the temple! It was super crowded. Dinner was parotta and some chicken kheema at a local road side dhaba. It was not the best but it was authentic.

Puducherry

Next day we left for Puducherry. Enroute was Tranqeubar. We stopped there for a break and headed for “Bungalow on the beach” that was run by Neemrana hotels. There is an old fort from the 1600s that stands on the shore. We left there after coffee and some caramel pudding at Bungalow on the beach

Reached Puducherry at 230pm. We partied hard that night in Puducherry and it was a rest day the next day.

2 of the girls had emergencies back home and had to leave the trip midway. Now it was down to 2 of us. We decided to continue nevertheless as we were going to pick up the last participant of the drive. She was 2 days away

Rameshwaram to Velankanni

Hats off to the government for maintaining the roads! We made it to Velankanni by 230pm. We left early at 830am from Rameshwaram. We drove and it was a pleasant drive. Scenic throughout! It was beautiful. Velankanni turned out to be a pretty little town. It was a clean town as compared to Rameshwaram. It had the prettiest basilica I had ever seen in India.

Why can’t we keep our temples clean is something I often wonder about? Why can’t people be educated about the a simple thing like “it is not ok to throw garbage on the roads!”?

Why is it that Rameshwaram is so filthy and Velankanni is so clean?

 

Thiruvananthapuram

We drove from Fort Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram yesterday. We covered it in 8 hours. We visited Varkala beach en route and we stopped there for a couple of hours. Varkala is a spectacular beach, better than Kovalam (which where we are staying at, for the next 2 days). We caught the sunset last evening at Kovalam. The beach is extremely crowded. It is a city beach.

Shirley’s Beach Hotel is where we are put up. The rooms are nice and clean and very basic. It was just what we wanted!

Last night we went to this place called Coconut Grove for dinner. We all shared a chicken sizzler, Kerala friend macaroni, seafood fried rice and some red-sauced pasta. It was accompanied by some beer. The ambience at Coconut Grove was lovely too and it reminded me of German Bakery in Anjuna.

We woke up late today as it is a rest day for the girls. Hence, taking it easy.

Breakfast, this morning, was Appam and veg stew, omelette and toast-butter-jam. Some coffee along with it just made our day. We have decided to eat a heavy breakfast every morning. We have been eating fruits on the days when the drives are long and dinner is moderately heavy/light depending on how hungry we are. We also ensure that we are well hydrated.

It is extremely hot here. But we are chilling nevertheless! 🙂

It is time to rest awhile before we hit the road tomorrow!

Day 4 – Agonda to Udupi

The day started at 645am. We had pancakes for breakfast at sea view in Agonda and took off. Day 4 had begun. I was driving today and Subhadra was my navigator.
We were headed for the NH7 and going towards Karnataka. The Karnataka stretch is really pretty lined with rivers, bridges, seas, coconut trees, tiny villages, the fields and nothingness which is so full of mystery. We stopped for fruits and some gajaras that we wore on our hands and necks. fWe stopped at mirjan fort for a cuppa coffee and we were served tea. There was an amma who was really keen to speak to us but didn’t know our language and we didn’t know hers. Very affectionate she served everything we asked for. We then went to the so called time pass fort called mirjan fort. It was well maintained. We spent about 40mins exploring the fort (which apparently was a 16th century fort and was built during the reign of Adil shah! We left and headed for murudeshwar which was a pilgrim site. When we reached there we saw many people from Kerala who were clad in black loincloths. We guessed they were also headed for sabari mala later.
The big shiva statue and the facade of the tallest temple i’d ever seen were the highlights of this place. We then headed for lunch at a kamat’s restaurant. Had some veggie food. There were some Americans who walked in for beer. They were politely were pointed to another restaurant out of the city. We had ice cream post lunch. Temperatures were soaring and it was quite sultry too. Thank fully on this trip we have had good loo experiences as far as Indian standards are concerned.(Not everywhere though!)
Then we headed for udupi. It was about a 100kms from murudeshwar. Subhadra was driving. Prerna was reciting some poetry. Sayali was listening. Backing this was soft instrumental music. Vanita and i recorded some of it. We stopped at marawande beach for a bit. It was a tiny shore but a long beach. We had coconut water and bought us some groundnuts. We will reach udupi in about 20mins from now. More updates later.

Some tips for long distance car driving expeditions

Some of my friends have come back and given the following tips

Bijoy from Mahindra had warned us about 2 things
1. Sleep and driving don’t go hand in hand
2. Closed spaces lead to people not getting along well on long car expeditions. this is what i am most worried about and I don’t want to lose friends this way

A friend warned me
3. It is about the journey and not the destination. I completely agree. One cannot keep worrying about the destination while travelling.
4. Eat light

Some more tips

5. Travel light
6. A good 8-9 hour sleep before the drive is essential before starting the next day
7. One needs to have good reflexes and have a good presence of mind while driving on Indian roads. This is of utmost importance. This is an exercise that I used to do when I was young – learn to catch balls that are randomly thrown at you from different directions.
8. Having a good experience in driving is very essential.