With all that yearning and love, decided to spend my last week in Europe in Slovenia... because life is too short to make promises to come back 😉
And mind=blown by the unbelievably blue Soca River!
“People are like cities: We all have alleys and gardens and secret rooftops and places where daisies sprout between the sidewalk cracks, but most of the time all we let each other see is a postcard glimpse of a skyline or a polished square."
~ Hilary T. Smith
The folks at Matrix Travel Companion recently reached out to me to try their new app. Surprisingly found some great last minute hotel / short term apartment deals in South East Asia (10-15% off in Bangkok & Singapore); can't wait to try it out on a future trip when I revisit these cities and their secrets!
In your teens or early twenties, and itching to travel? My latest blog post has a ton of practical advice.
My "home" above the River Una, handmade by a Bosnian family who wanted to preserve the tradition of wooden fishing huts on stilts, complete with a watermill below for electricity. What a unique experience! -- found on Airbnb
Best thing I've read in a while...
10 words are enough, she said with a laugh, and I agreed. 10 common words between us, in English and Bosanski, to chat without a pause for all five kilometres of our hike along a tributary of the Una River. For her to explain why she & her husband built a wooden hut on stilts on the river, complete with a watermill for electricity, because such were traditional fishing houses in the days of yore. For me to explain why I chose it on Airbnb, and travelled there, alone, because it's what I do 😉 For us to collect elderflowers so she could make tea at home, pluck wild strawberries in the bushes as a hiking snack, hang out on someone's traditional wooden fishing boat parked in the sky blue waters 🚤
We hiked up and down the hill to see the source of the tributary - a big, obscure cave tucked into the mountains. Walked along forested hills, amid purple wildflowers, past mucky paths, marvelling at the pristine blue tributary all along. At dusk, she took out her phone and opened an 'anti mosquito' app that creates a low buzzing sound and keeps mosquitoes away! And for the entire hike, it was just us, two lost souls in the vast wilderness 🐾
On the way to Bosnia & Herzegovina, I read the country's wikitravel page and was a little intimidated when it said you shouldn't venture anywhere off-road, for there are still mines from the war that might not have been cleared out. But all my apprehensions of hiking in this relatively remote part of the country were washed away in those 10 words. Because sometimes, 10 words are all you need for a soul connection 😇
A small collection of some of my fav Odisha experiences, featured on Expedia UK!
Never imagined I'd say this... but I walked across the border from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina 👋 Even as the bus stopped on the Croatian side and asked everyone to walk across with their passports, I wasn't sure I wanted to. But it was love at first feeling. Friendly people, pristine landscapes, heartbreaking stories of war in everyone you talk to... and 50% of the country is still covered in forests 🌳
My original plan was to make a quick trip to the famous Plitvice Lakes of Croatia, but I was worried it might be too touristy and disappoint me like Lake Bled in Slovenia. Two locals convinced me that'll indeed be the case, and tipped me to go to Una on the other side of the border instead 🐾
So there I was, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Marvelling at the unique ecosystem of Una River - its greenish-blue waters full of river islands, connected by manmade wooden bridges. Emerald blue tributaries with not another person in sight. Wildflowers, forests stretching into the horizon, a feeling of far far away 😇
One last sunrise in Istrian Croatia... 😍
So Istria turned out to be hotter and more touristy at this time of the year than I would've liked - especially since I wasn't renting a car. But I got really lucky with my Airbnb - a most charmingly refurbished 400-year-old stone house, with a cute little sit out for people-watching and a beautiful music collection that I listened to for hours. My hosts, who had escaped Bosnia & Herzegovina during the civil war, had some incredible stories to tell. One evening, they even invited me to drive with them to some of their fav spots on the Istrian countryside - a little farm where I could buy olive oil directly from a farmer, the forest where they go to pick wild asparagus, and little gems that made them make Istria home.
Hope to come back some day - when it's cooler and less crowded - and explore more of Istria and Croatia... 🐾
Feel like I travelled back a few hundred years in Istrian Croatia!
In a tiny little village perched on a hill - atleast 600 years old, with a population of only 305 people. Cobblestoned streets, vineyards and olive fields all around, old stone houses, locals go into the forests to look for truffles and wild asparagus...
My "corner office" on the train from Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Buzet (Croatia)... I was literally the only passenger on board!
I've been asking myself a lot lately - why do I travel? These words I stumbled upon somewhat say it...
And you, have you figured out why you travel?
Sunrise from a little hilltop village on the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia <3
Woke up in a WINE BARREL in the basement of a 300-year-old building in the heart of Ljubljana! *checking for hangover* :p
Gotta love Airbnb for the quirkiest experiences!
NEW VIDEO! Ever traced the journey of your food? Experience life, hospitality, starry skies, a million fireflies, the Sahyadris and farm-to-table food in rural Maharashtra, only 3 hours from Mumbai. -- with Grassroutes
This little paradise in the Slovenian Alps was "home" the last few days. Surrounded by wild dandelions and yellow, purple, pink wild flowers. In the backdrop of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. The farmstead of the sweetest Slovenian family I've met yet.
The great grandfather first started welcoming guests in 1931. Then World War II happened, and the entire farm was burnt down in 1944. Three years later, the family picked up the pieces, split the farm among the cousins, and started rebuilding in their traditional architectural style - opening up for tourism again in the 1960s. The old photos around the house fill me up with a strange nostalgia - there's even one of the grandparents with Tito, once the Yugoslavian president, who came to hunt in these forests.
I'm spending my days here hiking and cycling, and hearing stories of the days of yore. The transformation of Slovenia from a socialist to a capitalist country. The changing seasons in the Alps. What made the daughter of the family (and my newfound friend) come back after studying in Ljubljana.
Last evening, I joined the family as they planted chives, a variety of mint called melissa and a young cabbage called sauerkraut in their little garden. Then we got news that the rare Lady Slipper Orchid has just started blooming in the forest... so we went to look for it. Feel like I'm living in a fairytale 😇
My neighborhood in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps of Slovenia! And I thought places like this only belonged in stories ;-)
Live with an aboriginal Truku family, cycle Taroko Gorge, see a million fireflies... all my travel tips for Taiwan, now on the blog!
I'm not the same having seen shooting stars on the other side of the world... oh Slovenia, I <3 you!
Finding vegan food on the Slovenian countryside hasn't been the easiest... but happy to feast on a vegan version of Ajdovi žganci (buckwheat mushroom), sauerkraut soup and the local Loška weisbier - with a slice of the Alps of course ;-)
That end of the world feeling... Logarska Dolina, a remote Alpine valley in Slovenia, home to only about 30 families!
This little house was "home" in Ukanc! Traditional Slovenian architecture, all wooden from inside, a wood stove to keep warm with a fire, Slovenian music on the radio, Alpine scenery all around, and the pristine Lake Bohinj in my nieighborhood. Airbnb <3
Lake Bled... beautiful, but oh so touristy. Hideous hotels and construction on the shores, Thai massage spas, a casino in the centre, selfie-snapping tourists everywhere :(
Slovenia in 2 words: Pure beauty <3
Just a glacial river in my neighborhood this.
živio from a remote little village in the Slovenian Alps! Excited to be exploring the Balkans over the next few weeks with Eurail and Airbnb. No plans, no agenda, just follow my heart...
What an incredible 4 days with the junior Indian football team: Met Alonso & David Alaba, saw the Bayern Munich first team training on the ground next to where the Indian kids trained, the Bayern Munich vs Freiburg game at the Allianz Arena... and finally, the FC Bayern Youth World Cup where the Indian team beat China, drew with Germany, reached sudden death with USA and gave a tough fight to Austria, proving that there's no dearth of football talent in India ⚽️
To be honest, when I took on this assignment with Lufthansa India , I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it... but those action packed days turned out to be incredibly fun and gave me much to think about 😇
Now the team is flying home, and it's time for me to guzzle all this beer over delicious vegan burgers and soak in a bit of Munich 😉
Look who we met today - Bayern Munich legends Xabi Alonso & David Alaba! It's been absolutely surreal to see the Indian junior football team train on the Bayern Munich turf...
PS: I plan to do a Facebook Live today from the Bayern Munich vs Freiburg game in the Allianz Arena. Tune in post 7pm IST! -- with Lufthansa India
Greetings from Bavaria, Germany! I'm accompanying the Junior Indian Football Team for the FC Bayern Youth World Cup... can't say what's more exciting, the enthusiasm of a bunch of 14-16 year olds from across the country travelling for their first international championship (feels a bit like Chak De India) or that we're going to catch a Bayern Munich game in the Allianz Arena ⚽️
This is what the Bavarian Alps looked like the last time I was here in January, and a part of me was still in that stark, winter beauty mode. But it's spring now, a balmy 9 degrees, clear blue skies, people out cycling and drinking beer, and yellow mustard fields in bloom even on the outskirts of Munich. Oh Europe, I can never stop loving you.
Two weeks in Sarmoli went by in a flash. Deeper connections, new friendships, a super fun workshop, ideas for the future, those snowclad mountains... and then it was goodbye.
I'm off to Munich tonight for a special assignment (think football!) for Lufthansa India, then plan to explore Slovenia and perhaps some other Balkan countries with Airbnb and Eurail. Got any cool ideas / recommendations?
Photo --> Throwback to a brilliant sunset in Trinidad and Tobago <3
You can bet that sunrise was worth the wait ;-)
My interview with The Eco Trunk - one of India's leading food blogs - on what it's like to travel the world and attempt to eat/use no animal products.
This is the venue of our Photography + Instagram Workshop in Sarmoli <3
So far, we've played a mix of pass-in-the-parcel and musical chairs; learnt about composition and exposure; taken on simple photography challenges; self-critiqued our photos; feasted on pahari food and conversations during lunch time; dwelt on the urban rural divide; and perhaps the most exciting... spent an afternoon on a scavenger hunt! All in an attempt to make photography more fun and accessible, especially since some of us are using a smartphone for the first time.
Follow VoicesofMunsiari on Instagram to see what we are upto!
It never stops feeling surreal to work in the backdrop of the Panchachuli peaks clad in fresh snow on a clear day.
It never stops feeling surreal to see my friends in Sarmoli again. Casual banter. Deep conversations. Challenging gender stereotypes. Marvelling at their spirit as they manage their house chores, homestays, farms, social issues and shop of local crafts and produce. Yet, we've stolen moments to experiment with making soya milk with locally grown white bhatt (soya) otherwise eaten as dal or dupka. And for playful teasing. And to decode and understand Uttarakhand's Tourism Policy. To talk about traditional foods and those from around the world. To try making hummus sandwich in a crisp roti 😉
But last week was different. Last week, we gathered in Munsiyari town for a small conference on Responsible Tourism in the Himalayas. To look beyond Sarmoli and assess what's happening in the region and the state and the country. A conversation that needs to happen everywhere, but this is a start. And it feels surreal that it starts in this remote part of Uttarakhand.
My latest blog post: A heartwarming encounter in Mumbai!
"Happiness chair" ;-)
Know someone who needs to sit in it right now, tag them in the comments!
I've set out on my most awaited trip this year - back to Sarmoli (Munsiari) for our Photography and Instagram workshop to hopefully take VoicesofMunsiari - India's first (and probably only) Instagram channel run entirely by a village community, to the next level 🐾
I'm breaking the journey at Innisfree at Hawalbagh - Home Stay - a restored Dak Bungalow near Almora - run as a homestay by a family with Kumaoni, Burmese and Latvian roots. Incredible stories, warm breezy days to spend under the blooming silver oak trees, dramatic sunsets, nights filled with stars above and lights in the valley below. Creative, vegan-friendly, locally inspired food - think sting nettle (bichoo booti) pakoras, rose and rhododendron water, red rice, bhang chutney and pahari banana ice cream 😋
And my favorite part - a private natural swimming pool and jacuzzi, thanks to the Kosi River right in the backyard 😍
Oh it's good to be back in Kumaon. And you, traveling anywhere this summer? 🌏
Fancy staying in an ecolodge in Bali, with endless rice paddies and this private waterfall (that also powers it through hydroelectricity)? I'm giving away 2 nights for 2 at the incredible Bali Eco Stay on Instagram. The contest is open to all and ends at 11:59 pm IST tonight 👍
"His parents had wanted him to be a priest, and thereby a source of pride for a simple farm family. But ever since he had been a child, he had wanted to know the world, and this was much more important to him than knowing god and learning about man's sins." ~ The Alchemist
I imagined Santiago - the young boy who became a shepherd in The Alchemist, just so he could travel the world - when I met Sumit, a young shepherd who had come to graze his goats near Goat Village. He goes to school on weekdays and takes his family's cattle grazing on weekends. Like most people growing up in India's villages, he aspires to work and live in the cities some day.
And that's half the reason the Goat Village, 2 hours from Mussoorie, came into being. A lot of people seem to be leaving the villages and their farming culture, because they think their way of life is inferior to that of the cities. The irony is that their traditional diet consists of superfoods like amaranth and finger millet (mandava/ragi), goji berries and chamomile flowers grow wild in these parts, they get pure water from the natural spring, the air is free of pollution (those star-studded night skies are proof) and plastic and junk food hasn't yet infiltrated their lives. So by creating a space where city dwellers can not only escape their chaotic lives but also practice organic farming, feast on local foods and enjoy the simple joys of life, Goat Village is trying to send a message to the locals.
In an ingenious cafe-cum-greenhouse, Green People (who set up Goat Village) are experimenting with premium crops like broccoli, stevia, parsley, etc - so the successful experiments can replace some potato farms which currently only fetch 5 Rs a kg. They've also started retailing produce like amaranth, mandava, rajma and Himalayan red rice collected from local farmers in stores across Dehradun and Delhi, under the Bakri Chaap brand - it's all organic and handpicked and directly benefits the farmers.
A place that reminds me, yet again, that our choices - where we travel and what we eat - can make a difference.
WOOHOO! Just reached 30,000 followers on Instagram. Some cool travel giveaways lined up. Join me there 😉🐾
"Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars?"
~ Nora Roberts
And if you do doubt it, I can promise that the Goat Village, with its wildflowers, music of the wind and the silence of a million stars will make you believe <3
"After over 3 years of being location independent, I can tell you that long term travel isn’t about proving a point, or making someone jealous, or scoring a few more likes on Instagram. It’s about finding your bliss – your travel style, your life philosophy, your perspective."
My latest blog post is about how Instagram often tends to skew the reality of long term travel. Would love to hear your thoughts!
A little something I wrote for National Geographic Traveller India, on how Nicaragua changed the way I travel... and live.
Is there a trip that changed the way you travel?
Spent the last few days blissfully disconnected from everyone and everything at a little piece of paradise just 3 hours from Dehradun - called "Goat Village", started by Green People 🌾 A heartwarming initiative to revive smart organic farming practices in the Garhwal Himalayas and encourage the reverse migration of farmers.
No electricity. No internet. A 2 hour hike from the nearest market. Pure mountain air. Spring water. Large meadows. Apple blossoms. Traditional Garhwali food. A cafe within a greenhouse. Inspiring conversations. Wild chamomile flowers. Millions of stars 💙
Thinking of where to travel this summer? Join us from May 8th-11th for a Photography + Instagram Workshop in Sarmoli (Munsiari), Uttarakhand!
The workshop is geared towards the voices behind VoicesofMunsiari - possibly India's first Instagram channel run entirely by a village community. But we've decided to open it up to curious and adventurous travellers, to share their stories and bond with their fellow Instagrammers. The workshop will end in an InstaMeet on 11th May.
The workshop is free for all, but you need to plan your trip and expenses directly. The nearest train station is Kathgodam, from where you can get a shared taxi (~11 hours) up to Munsiari. I highly recommend staying in the women-led homestays in Sarmoli for fab views of the snow-clad Himalayas and heartwarming hospitality.
See you there? 😇
It was like poetry. We left the selfie-snapping crowds behind and followed an abandoned railway line through the old cypress forest. Up hundreds of steps. A train whistled in the distance. The smell of the earth, after the rain last night, was intoxicating. Past a rickety wooden bridge. Then the landscape changed color. From green, to hints to pink, white, magenta, even yellow. It happens only 2 weeks in a year, and with the weather patterns all haywire, we had no idea of the status. We impulsively got on the train anyway. And finally, as I stood under the cherry tree, I felt like there was something more magical than poetry. Life itself 🌸
Thinking of visiting Ladakh this summer? As travellers, it is upon us to preserve this surreal place on earth... and some simple choices can make a big difference.
Mustard fields. Fresh air. Sarson da saag. Hearty conversations. Starry skies. Ever had that "Punjab" feeling?
-- with Punjabiyat, near Amritsar
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