Touring through east and south Rajasthan on our motorcycle gave us a unique perspective and a greater appreciation of the things we experienced. Here are some glimpses of our experiences in Jaipur, Ranthambhore and Bundi.
Tatva may just be Hyderabad’s best kept secret, as far as vegetarian restaurants go. With excellent Italian, continental and north Indian cuisine, this is a place foodies should try at least once.
In most parts of India, October is all about celebrating Navratri and Dussehra. But some parts of the country celebrate Durga Puja instead. And no one does Durga Puja quite like the Bengalis, wherever they are.
For the people of West Bengal, Durga Puja is arguably the most important and looked-forward-to event of the year. So much so that they mostly just call it Pujo (the Bengali pronunciation of ‘puja’), with no qualifier needed. All other religious ceremonies fade to insignificance in comparison.
A long motorcycle tour will give you a great feeling of freedom, excitement and adventure—if it’s done right. Here are 16 tips that can help make sure you have a great time on the road.
I’ve learned a few things during my years of riding across India, and these tips are based on my experiences. They might not be applicable to every situation, but if you’re planning your first (or even fifth) motorcycle tour, I guarantee that you’ll find some of them useful.
They say the rapids on the White Nile in Jinja give the river its name. And rafting them is an adrenaline rush like no other.
In June 2018, we headed on a three-week visit to Uganda and Kenya. Our itinerary was a week in Kampala; another week on safari in Kenya; a few days in the coastal town of Malindi; and another week in Kampala.
If you think Kenya is just about wildlife, think again. With beautiful beaches, coral reefs, unique heritage and European influence, Malindi is a great place for a break from hectic safari-ing.
Our main reason for visiting Kenya was, of course, the incredible wildlife. But after a week of driving—both from one park to another, and within each one—we knew we would need a break. And Malindi seemed like the perfect coastal getaway.
Every place has some kind of history, with the past of some being longer and more complicated than that of others. But history leaves its mark in the heritage and architecture it leaves behind. And here are places with heritage sites that we found particularly fascinating.
The central citadel of Golconda Fort is one of the most popular tourist spots in Hyderabad. But most visitors don’t realize that there are some magnificent sights among the outer fortifications, too.
Whether you’re looking to pamper your pet, exchange notes with other pet parents or just hang out with pet people over good eats, The Pet Cafe is for you.
Pet-pampering venues are few and far between in Hyderabad. Enter The Pet Cafe, a hangout for four-legged furries and their two-legged companions. With menus and toys for both, and an easy-going atmosphere, this cosy café is one day-long ‘pawty’! Bonus: The Pet Cafe is right above the Allvet Pet Clinic. Does your furry friend tend to have their feathers (and fur) ruffled by a visit to the vet? Nothing some pet-friendly ice-cream won’t soothe!
The Salar Jung museum may seem a little disappointing at first. But look closer, and you’re sure to spot something spectacular in India’s largest museum.
We’ve been travelling regularly for over a decade now, and have had to learn a lot of things about packing right. Here are 17 packing tips that could come in handy on your next trip.
We started travelling in 2007 and, since then, we’ve gone on at least two trips every year, and sometimes more. Along the way, we’ve picked up some useful tricks for packing well. Some we’ve learned from other travellers, and some we’ve learned the hard way. But every one of them is rooted in a real travel experience, and could help you travel more comfortably.
So here are 17 packing tips that you might find useful the next time you travel.
Airlines have different rules for the size, weight and number of pieces of luggage you can take. Some set a weight limit, regardless of how many pieces you carry. Some have a limit on the number of pieces. And some have a combination. So it’s a good idea to read their luggage rules carefully before you pack. Otherwise, you might just end up having to re-pack your stuff at the airport, and nobody wants that!
Very often, our idea of the weather in a particular place is formed by the pictures we see online. Chances are the pictures you’ve seen were taken at a different time—or even a different place—from where you’re going. Checking on the overall climate, monthly temperature and rainfall of the place you’re visiting will help you decide what to pack. Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up wearing light clothes in cold, rainy weather. Or heavy, warm clothes in blistering heat.
Ladakh can be both blazing hot and freezing cold. At the same time!
Whether you’re travelling to a hot or cold place, the weather can sometimes be unpredictable (especially nowadays). So rather than carrying one heavy jacket or only tee shirts, pack clothes that can be worn both singly or on top of each other. That way, you can wear or take off layers, depending on the weather. For example, a light sweater and jacket instead of a heavy jacket, or a light tee shirt and a long-sleeved top, instead of just a tee shirt.
The advantage of layers
Besides a bunch of tee shirts, socks and underwear, you’ll probably need single items like a jacket, a pair of shoes or even a pair of glasses. But what if your jacket tears, your shoes get wet, or you break your glasses? It’s good to have a backup plan for these things. I’m not saying you should pack two of everything. But think about packing things that can be used as a back-up in case of emergencies. Like a pair of shades that you can use instead of your glasses. Or a pair of sandals in case your shoes get wet.
We’ve all heard stories of travellers left high and dry because the airline lost their luggage. Pack a change of clothes and a small towel in your cabin baggage in case that ever happens to you. It’s also great to have a change handy during a long journey. A quick wipe and a change of clothes in the middle of that 24-hour journey can make you feel almost human again.
If you’re not travelling alone, consider sharing packing space with whoever you’re travelling with. For example, if you each have a suitcase, pack some of your stuff in the other’s suitcase and vice versa. That way, if one of your suitcases gets lost, then you’re not left completely helpless. Of course, if you don’t know the other person too well, it might feel weird. But it’s still a good idea.
Even if you’re not planning a long trip, packing some laundry detergent sometimes comes in very handy. If you get muddy during an impromptu walk, or someone spills their drink on you, you’ll quickly be able to wash it out back at your hotel. And many hotels have a washing line or rack that you can use to dry your laundry on. It makes even more sense during a long vacation. You can pack light, and wash your clothes as you go. Just make sure you do so at the right place and time, like not immediately before your next journey, or in the local well.
Blankets being aired outside a neighbor’s house in Iyerpadi near Valparai
Because of the lost luggage scenario—and because thieves and pickpockets love tourists—don’t keep your cash and cards in one place. Keep some on you (in different pockets), and some in different pieces of luggage. That way, if you lose one set, you always have something to fall back on. If it seems like too much trouble, remember that it’s far more trouble to be stranded somewhere without any money.
This isn’t technically packing, but shoes are something you’ll take on your journey, so I’m including this tip anyway.
Airports nowadays are getting stricter with their security checks, and some even have more than one check. You have to take off your shoes at many of these, and having to hop around undoing and redoing your laces is very frustrating. It becomes a nightmare when you have connecting flights, so it goes a lot easier if you wear loafers, sandals, slippers or anything else that’s easy to take off and put on.
Also read: 21 simple tips to be a responsible traveller
While on the topic of shoes, they tend to take up a lot of space when packed in your luggage. This may seem obvious, but you can save on space (and keep your shoes in shape) by stuffing them with things like socks or underwear. You could also give small, breakable items like souvenir liquor bottles an extra layer of protection by putting them inside the shoes.
Pack your shoes, and pack things in them too
If the schedule for your trip is reasonably fixed, you could consider dividing your clothes into daily bundles. For example, you could roll together one tee shirt, one pair of underwear and one pair of socks for each day of your trip. That way, you don’t have to pull everything out individually, messing up your packing. It also saves a lot of space. Some people like using packing cubes to keep things neat, but I think making tight rolls works just as well.
You might want to consider packing liquids like shampoo or insect repellent in a waterproof bag. Differences in air pressure or just being squashed by other luggage could cause them to leak. And you don’t want shampoo all over your clothes, right? You could even use a water-tight box for all your liquids, to give them more protection from being squeezed. If you’re using shampoo bars, on the other hand, you can just carry them in your hand luggage.
Liquids can leak in your check-in baggage. Try and wrap them in something waterproof.
If you have a long layover as part of your journey (or you have a long way to walk during your layover), try and keep your hand luggage light. Carrying a heavy bag or backpack around can be really tiring, especially if you’re already tired from your journey. Just pack the essentials, and you won’t find yourself bowed under your bag’s weight while trudging endlessly through airports like Dubai or Frankfurt.
Losing your passport abroad is a huge pain, and will throw your entire trip out the window. To make it easier to deal with in case it happens, keep a copy in a separate piece of luggage. Having a copy will save you a lot of time when you apply for a temporary travel permit at your local embassy or consulate. If you don’t like printing, you could email it to yourself to download later, or save a copy on your phone. But remember that you might not be able to access your email when you need it.
At most airports nowadays, having your ticket on your phone or tablet is fine. But at some airports, you need to show security personnel your ticket before they let you into the airport. And they sometimes refuse to recognize digital versions of tickets, weird as it sounds. So if you’re sure that carrying your ticket in digital form works at the airport you’re travelling through, then fine. If you’re not sure, it’s probably better to print a copy. And if you’re eco-conscious, you could always print on used paper.
If you’re carrying any electrical appliances on an international trip (think mobile phone, hair dryer or shaver) you should probably carry a travel adaptor, too. The plug points and power outlets could be different where you’re going, not to mention the voltage. So rather than having to hunt for an adaptor when you get there, it’s a good idea to pack one by default.
We would’ve been lost in Uganda and Kenya without our trusty adaptor
When travelling abroad, keep some of your cash in US dollars or Euros, if you can. It can save a lot of space in your wallet, and they make for a handy backup in case you run out of local currency. They can be exchanged quite easily in most places, and locals sometimes accept them in place of local currency. It’s usually more economical to pay by cash than by card anyway—especially at airports. So if you have any spare US dollars or Euros hanging around, take them with you.
Do you have any packing tips you’ve learned on your travels? Leave a comment and let me know!
Riding over river rapids. Trekking through Martian landscapes. Swimming over surreal coral reefs. And, of course, admiring the breathtaking wildlife. This short video has best of our memories of Africa.
If you’re in Kampala and looking to take it easy for a few hours, head over to the cozy Kardamom & Koffee for some delicious, fresh-made eats and brilliant conversation. And maybe even pick up a few things to brighten up your home on the way out.
Nothing says Hyderabad like the Charminar. The 400 year-old monument and mosque was built when Hyderabad was founded, and is still the symbol of the city today. And though it’s impressive at any time of day, we decided to try and avoid the crowds and the summer heat by going at 7:00 AM in the morning.
If you’ve always wanted to visit the Lakshadweep islands but don’t know how to plan your trip, this short video guide will get you started.
The Lakshadweep islands had been on our ‘visit list’ for a long, long time. So, at the end of 2016, we finally started planning a new year’s holiday there. We soon realized that the information we needed for proper planning was frustratingly difficult to find. But we managed to scrape things together, mainly through trial and error. And we ended up having a really good time!
It’s been a little more than year since I started this travel blog, and it’s been tough but fun! Though I’ve enjoyed writing everything I’ve published, here are the top 10 posts I’ve enjoyed writing the most.
The necropolis of the Qutb Shahi kings—also called the Qutb Shahi tombs—is over 400 years old, and still shows you something new with every visit.
The Qutb Shahi tombs near Golconda Fort are one of the most popular tourist spots in Hyderabad, and most Hyderabadis have visited them at least once. But learn a little about the four centuries of history that surround them, and you’ll see them in a different light.
Hyderabad may be known for its meat-centric cuisine, but it’s got plenty of places for vegetarians too. If you’re a vegetarian with carnivorous friends or family, though, eating out can be a problem. So here are four more restaurants that serve unexpectedly great vegetarian and non-vegetarian food in equal measure.
If you’ve always dreamed of visiting the endless African savanna to watch lions, elephants, cheetah and wildebeest go about their business, then here is how to make your safari dream a reality.
The Masai Mara in Kenya is arguably the most famous safari destination in Africa, and the annual migration of the wildebeest across its grassy plains is possibly the most famous wildlife spectacle in the world. This has been on our list for a long time now, and in a few months, we’re finally going to do it! Here’s how we planned it from Hyderabad, India; and even if you’re somewhere else, you’ll still find a few useful tips here. Unless you live in Antarctica, maybe.
Your first step would obviously be to book your safari tour, because everything else revolves around that. There are lots of tour operators in India who can take care of that for you, and toehold comes very highly recommended. We contacted them and found them very open, knowledgeable and responsive, but ultimately a little beyond our budget.
Our relatives in Uganda—who’ve helped a lot of their friends figure out their safaris—recommended that we use www.safaribookings.com instead of using a tour operator in India. This is a great website that helps you find exactly the kind of tour you’re looking for. It lets you filter tours by budget, destination, group size and other preferences. Once you find the right tour for you, you can then ask for a quote directly from the tour operator. You can also ask them to include various add-ons like hotel stays in other places and airport transfers.
We’ve booked with Tekko Tours and Travel, and we’ve had a great experience with them so far. Their representative has been very friendly, informative, professional and responsive, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If all goes well, I won’t have to update this post with a different opinion when we get back!
(Update: We’re back, and it was great, but it could’ve been better. We spent too much time driving, and our driver/guide could have been more responsive. I’m working on a detailed post, but meanwhile, take a look at this quick highlight video.)
Impala, gazelle and topi on the plains of Masai Mara
The peak season for safaris in Kenya and the Masai Mara is from the middle of June until October. This is the best time to see wildlife—including the legendary wildebeest migration—but tour prices and visitor numbers are also highest during these times. Booking just before or just after peak season might be a good idea if you’re on a tight budget. But make no mistake, a safari in Kenya will put a dent in your wallet, one way or another.
Besides the Masai Mara, Kenya has lots of other reserves to visit, each with its own speciality. Lake Nakuru is famous for its hordes of flamingos (though the numbers have apparently reduced over the last few years). If elephants and hippos are your thing, then you might want to visit Amboseli too—especially if you’re looking for a photograph of the moon rising over Mount Kilimanjaro for your Instagram account! And the best part is that they’re all a few hours’ drive from each other and can be combined. Of course, Kenya has lots of other national parks and nature reserves that you can visit. It all depends on what you want to do. And Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is where most tours start and end.
An elephant and her baby in Amboseli National Park
Interestingly enough, payments need to be made in US dollars only. Our operator ended up quoting just over USD 1,000 per head for a five-day tour and two nights in Nairobi. If you’re looking for a mid-range private tour, this is probably the cost you should budget for. If this is too high for you, you can reduce costs by joining a larger group, choosing lower-end accommodation, and asking for a safari van to travel around instead of the more expensive four-wheel drive SUV.
A bank transfer might not be as fast as this cheetah, but its cheaper than paying by card!
Once you finalize your tour costs, and depending on the terms quoted by your tour operator, you’ll have to make your payment. Our operator asked for 30% advance, and the remaining payable two months before the tour. They gave us the option to pay either by credit card or international bank transfer. We did some research and found out that, with transaction costs and exchange rates included, it would cost us Rs. 15,000 more to pay by credit card than bank transfer! So even though paying by bank transfer is a bit tedious, it saves a lot of money.
To transfer the funds to your tour operator, you’ll need to visit your bank branch with a copy of your passport, a printout of your operator’s quotation, and your chequebook. Make sure the quotation mentions the operator’s address, their bank and branch, and the bank’s SWIFT code. You’ll need to fill out a form and answer a few questions, and with luck, you’ll be done in half an hour.
Also read: In the shadow of elephants in Valparai
From what we could make out, Mumbai is the only city in India from which there’s a direct flight to Nairobi. This is on Kenya Airways, currently costing about Rs. 35,000 for a return ticket. Of course, it all depends on when you book. The more in advance you book, the more likely you are to get a good rate.
If you’re booking from another city in India, you’ll probably have to layover for a few hours in Mumbai. Some other international airlines like Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air Arabia might also fly from your city, with a stop at their home cities. We decided to fly Emirates from Hyderabad, with a stopover in Dubai. If you’ve read my post on responsible travel, you might have noticed that this goes against the very first point I mentioned—travelling in as straight a line as possible. But in our defence, we’ll be meeting up with another member of our group in Dubai, and then flying on to Kampala in Uganda. Because, relatives.
Only Mumbai has direct flights to Nairobi (image courtesy Shutterstock/Faiz Zaki)
The easiest way to book your flights would be through an online booking platform like MakeMyTrip or Yatra. To our surprise, we found that MakeMyTrip—our go-to booking platform—didn’t offer the kind of connections we wanted, so we ended up booking through the Emirates site itself, and even got a slightly cheaper rate. So whenever you’re booking, it might make sense to compare offerings between booking sites and the airline’s site. You never know where you’ll get the best deal.
Applying for a visa is quite simple and can be done online at the Kenyan government’s eVisa site. While applying, you’ll need to upload soft copies of your passport, tickets, hotel bookings and your travel schedule. The visa fees need to be paid in US dollars via credit card, and the cost of a single-entry visa is approximately USD 52. The application takes two or three days to process.
In case you’re visiting Uganda and/or Rwanda as well, it would be worthwhile to apply for an East Africa Tourist Visa. This one allows you to visit all three countries, and costs approximately USD 103. Strangely enough, the Kenyan eVisa site doesn’t allow you to apply for this visa online, but only on arrival or at Kenyan consulates and embassies abroad. We booked through the Ugandan e-immigration site instead, since that’ll be our first stop. A word to the wise: if you’re using this site, you might run into a roadblock while filling the ‘duration of stay requested’ section. Enter ‘3 months’, regardless of your period of stay; the site doesn’t accept anything else, for some reason.
Kenya is one of the African countries in which you can get yellow fever, and travellers to these countries need to be vaccinated. You’ll be asked to show an internationally recognized vaccination certificate when you come back to India. If you don’t have one, you might be put under quarantine for up to six days. The Indian government also requires that all travellers to Kenya take an oral polio vaccination (OPV), even if they’ve been vaccinated earlier. Funnily, the Ugandan e-immigration site asks you for a vaccination certificate while applying, but the Kenyan eVisa site doesn’t. Don’t ask me why.
The vaccination certificates issued by the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Hyderabad
The yellow fever vaccination needs to be taken at least 10 days before returning to India, and is valid for life. To be on the safe side, plan to take the vaccine at least 10 days before LEAVING India. We’ve heard stories about travellers being hassled at the airport in Kenya for not having the certificate. The oral polio vaccination needs to be taken at least three weeks before returning to India. Your vaccinations must be administered at any one of the authorized vaccination centers (PDF) across India, and they’ll also give you the necessary certificate.
It looks like the only authorized center to issue these vaccination certificates is the government-run Institute of Preventive Medicine in Himayatnagar. Here’s the location. Before visiting, take a look at their clunky website (the website that shows up on Google is out of date, it seems; the URL still has the ‘AP’ for Andhra Pradesh instead of the ‘TG’ for Telangana). Specifically, take a look at the ‘guidelines for travellers’ link for some useful dos and don’ts. If you have trouble viewing the site, try using Internet Explorer to access it.
The entrance to the government complex housing the Institute of Preventive Medicine (image courtesy Aakash Singh via Google Maps)
To get your vaccinations, you first need to take an appointment at the ‘Registration for Appointment’ link. WARNING: The appointment form is very user-unfriendly! For example, some fields not marked as mandatory turn out to be mandatory after you click the ‘submit’ button. Also, clicking directly on the radio buttons on the date and time selector screen sometimes doesn’t work. You’ll need to hunt around the area with your pointer for the right place to click (watch for the radio button circle to turn blue!). Lastly, the appointment link doesn’t always work. Be patient and keep trying.
When choosing a date and time, remember that you can only get yellow fever vaccinations on Tuesdays and Fridays. You don’t need to take a separate appointment for the OPV; take one for the yellow fever vaccine, and you can get the OPV done at the same time. We found that both the yellow fever and OPV vaccines can be bought at the institute. Total cost: yellow fever vaccine, Rs. 250 + OPV, Rs. 50 + admin charges, Rs. 50 = Rs. 300 in total. Remember to take your passport and a printout of your appointment along when you go.
Also read: 21 simple tips to be a responsible traveller
The institute itself is part of a slightly spooky-looking old government setup that includes other dilapidated buildings. The institute is right at the back and has prominent lettering over the entrance. Actually, the word ‘institute’ is probably too grand. It’s just one hall with two desks, some waiting chairs, one table where the vaccines are administered, and sundry paraphernalia.
This is where the vaccines are administered (image courtesy Ashok Babu Kandula via Google Maps)
Even though we were a little late for our appointment, it didn’t really matter because there was hardly anyone else there. A gentleman at a desk asked for our passports and appointment prints, and spent about twenty minutes reading through them and filling forms. We then had to go out and pay at the cash counter (hidden away in the diagnostics building behind some barred windows). That done, another gentleman at another table put two drops of OPV in each of our mouths and shot a dose of yellow fever vaccine into our left arms. Each syringe was destroyed immediately after, in case you’re wondering.
They then stamped our vaccine certificates, and told us to sit around for half an hour, just in case any of us showed any major side effects. Nothing severe, but we did feel slightly dizzy, a little headache-y and mildly nauseous. Overall, we spent just over an hour there, including the sitting around after. We were told more side effects like fever, body ache and nausea might show up between three and nine days later. Luckily, besides a little fatigue and sore throat, we didn’t feel anything much.
Overall, once we got past the shoddy exterior, the experience wasn’t bad: the people were friendly and helpful, and the vaccination process efficient and professional. Definitely better than I expected.
Now that your safari is paid for, your tickets are booked, your visa done and your vaccinations taken, all that’s left is to pack and sally forth! But before you start throwing things into your suitcase, there are a few things you might want to think about.
Packing well might make all the difference to your safari
Even if you’re not the kind who hauls around a zoom lens for your camera that’s half the size of your suitcase, remember that you’re visiting the wide expanses of Africa and not your local zoo. Take a pair of binoculars or a telescope along so you don’t miss any action that happens more than a few hundred meters away.
Whatever research we’ve done on the weather in Kenya has led to an unexpected conclusion: Kenya is surprisingly cool, with average maximum temperatures in the high 20s, Celsius! It seems it’s warmer on the coast and cooler inland, but wherever you’re going, it’s probably worthwhile to carry something warm. Just in case. Of course, that doesn’t mean the sun isn’t going to be hot at midday. So you should probably carry a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen too.
Lastly, even though you’ve got your yellow fever vaccination, why take the risk of getting something else, like malaria? Take a good insect repellent along, and use it regularly. And try and stay covered at all times. Even if you don’t contract something nasty, scratching itchy welts the whole day is probably not your idea of fun. I could be wrong, of course.
So reserve your safari, book your flights, get your visa and vaccinations, and pack for the safari of a lifetime!
Nice craft beer, a great view, and surprisingly good vegetarian food make Olive Bistro in Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills a great place to eat, drink and make merry.
Reduce the impact of your travels on the environment and communities around you. Use these simple tips and tricks to be a more responsible traveller.
Seeing new places and experiencing new things are probably the most obvious reasons for travellers to travel. But the truth is that, as travellers, we almost inevitably have a negative impact—both on the environment and the communities in the areas we visit. So whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, in luxury or as a backpacker, and in the mountains or at the seaside, using some of these tips may just make your travel a little easier on the planet.
The longer your travel route, the more fuel you potentially burn to get to your destination and the more carbon you emit. So if you’re taking multiple flights, you might want to consider avoiding a zig-zag route, and trying to schedule your stopovers in a straight line.
On approach to Paro, Bhutan
Many airlines these days have some sort of carbon offset program that allows you to compensate for the fuel burnt on your journey by supporting greenhouse gas reduction projects for a nominal fee. The projects are different for each airline, from planting a certain number of trees per passenger and protection of virgin forests to renewable energy production, efficient domestic fuel consumption projects in developing countries and more. So pay a tiny bit extra and take a little of those carbon emissions back.
Once you get to your destination, you’ll probably want to see the sights. While hiring a car or taxi would be the easiest option, it’s also one of the most fuel-intensive. Think about reducing your fuel consumption by using public transport, carpooling with fellow visitors, or hiring a motorcycle instead of a car. You could even eliminate the need for fuel completely by cycling or walking—the last being arguably the best way to see a new place.
Through the fields and into the plantations in Coorg
Most places have things to see and do all over, so chances are you’ll be making lots of trips in different directions. If you are using vehicles to get around, try and plan your time so that you cover everything in a particular direction from your base at once—so you don’t have to burn extra fuel to go in the same direction again.
The planet is reeling under the thousands of tons of plastic we throw away each month, so carrying your own refillable bottle is a great way of keeping a few more plastic bottles from floating around the world’s oceans. Refill your bottle whenever you can, and each time is one less ‘disposable’ bottle that gets thrown away.
In most developed countries, it’s perfectly safe to drink water straight out of the tap. So try and do that wherever you can instead of buying bottled water. If you’re not completely sure, you should be able to use the electric kettle in your hotel room to boil the water for drinking (though how to balance the electricity consumed with the plastic saved is up to you). In many tropical countries, coconut water is easily available, and is a fun, healthy and tasty substitute for bottled water.
A young boy serves us fresh coconut water on the way to Puri from Bhubaneshwar
If you order a cold drink in a restaurant or on the street, chances are that it’ll come with a plastic straw. These straws make up a significant percentage of the plastic that finds its way into the oceans, so the fewer straws the better! Remember to ask your server while you order, though—once it’s in your drink, taking it out probably mean that it’ll get thrown away anyway. And if you can’t survive without a straw, why not take your own along? There are even reusable glass and metal straws available out there!
Street food everywhere is is the best way to get a flavour (pardon the pun) of the place you’re visiting. Sadly, it’s also often the best way to dump loads of single-use plastic cutlery into the environment. If you’re planning on a tasty street food outing, try and carry your own fork, knife and spoon along so one less set of plastic cutlery gets thrown away. Even better, you’ll know for sure that your own set is clean!
Plastic debris washed up on remote Thinnakara, in the Lakshadweep Islands
Most destinations have their big, touristy ‘must-visit’ restaurants with their throngs of out-of-town diners and fancy menus. Instead of eating in a place like that, why not visit a smaller local restaurant instead? Not only would that give you a more authentic experience, smaller restaurants also tend to source a lot of their ingredients locally, and indirectly use less fuel than they would if they were transporting their stuff in from far away.
It’s probably inevitable that you’ll want to—or have to—buy a bottled drink during one of your trips. But because glass is much less harmful to the environment—and much more likely to be recycled—than plastic, you might want to buy a drink in a glass bottle instead of a plastic one. And the same goes for things in jars too. Making peanut butter sandwiches for that picnic on the beach? Buy a glass jar instead of a plastic one.
Most restaurants you’ll eat at will probably serve you more than you can comfortably put away. If you’re willing to stuff yourself, then, by all means! But if not, you might want to think about packing it up to eat later instead of leaving it to be thrown away. Not only could it save you the cost involved in another meal, preparing food takes a lot of energy and fuel. Which means than any food wasted also means energy wasted in preparing it.
More and more hotels are starting to realize that being environmentally and socially responsible isn’t really a choice anymore, and are starting give back. So whether a hotel uses solar power, recycles water, composts food waste or involves the local community, staying there will help reduce your own impact.
The Bangaram Island resort in Lakshadweep is partly powered by solar-generated electricity
Running appliances like lights, fans, heating and air-conditioning takes a lot of electricity (and producing electricity usually involves a lot of carbon emissions), especially when a large number of people are involved. So, unless you’re leaving your room for just a few minutes, turning off all the appliances before leaving will save a lot of electricity, and a lot of carbon. And though it’s understandable to want your room to be comfortable as soon as you walk in, it just takes a few minutes to cool down or warm up, right?
Heating and air-conditioning are extremely energy intensive, so whether you’re burning heating oil to stay warm or using electricity to stay cool, using a little less will make a difference. So if you can turn the heating or air-conditioning down a little, and wear an extra layer more or less to make up for it, why not?
Let’s be honest: do we really need our towels and bedsheets changed every day, the way they do it in lots of hotels? These things use a lot of water, detergent and electricity to clean—especially if they’re white and need to be ironed. So if you’re just staying for a few days, it shouldn’t be a problem to use the same sheets and towels, right? The housekeeping staff might be a little confused, though.
Blankets being aired outside a neighbor’s house in Iyerpadi near Valparai
More likely than not, you’ve used those little bars of soap left for you in your hotel bathroom. If so, then you’re probably realized that even those tiny little bars take a few days to use up. So if you’ve only used one once or twice, why not take it along and use it later instead of opening a new one ? Used soap almost always gets thrown away, otherwise. Even better, why not carry your own soap and shampoo? That way, you won’t have to open any of the little bars or bottles in your bathroom.
Also read: An off-the-beaten-path Goan holiday
Litter is a huge problem in lots of beautiful destinations. Not only does it spoil things for other tourists, but it plays havoc with the local environment. Make sure you throw waste only into designated bins, and carry it with you if there aren’t any. Or you could step it up further by carrying recyclable waste like glass or plastic to a recycle bin or service. Remember that ‘disposable’ is just a nice word for ‘cheap to make and throw away’, and doesn’t include the word ‘safe’.
Doggies nap in roadside rubbish in Thimphu, Bhutan
Water is becoming very scarce in lots of parts of the world. Even in places where there’s lots of it, it takes huge amounts of energy to treat and supply it. So if you’re used to 30-minute showers or long soaks in the tub, ask a local about the availability of water. Then decide whether those are still worth it.
Camels relax on a sand dune near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
A lot of the weight on planes, trains and buses is from luggage. And the heavier they are, the more fuel they burn. So see if you can pack a little less, cut down a little weight, and save a little fuel. Even if the benefit seems too tiny to care about, it all adds up. Using a smaller suitcase might even mean you don’t need to hire a big taxi to get around.
Everyone likes to bring home a piece of the place they’ve just visited, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Was that tee-shirt you bought made in a sweatshop staffed by children? Was that coral necklace made with live coral hacked off a reef? Try and find something to remember a place by that isn’t harmful to the environment or the local communities. If you must buy something, government-run shops usually abide by local sustainability laws.
The on season is what it is because it’s the best time to visit a place. Sadly, for lots of destinations, it’s also the time when the number of visitors becomes almost unmanageable. With the sudden increase in residents, available resources are pushed to the limit. This usually means that the locals suffer while the visitors get the lion’s share. So think about visiting just before or after the on season. The experience will be almost as good, and you won’t be contributing to the resource crunch.
Have any more easy tips to be a responsible traveller? Leave a comment and let me know!
(Cover image courtesy Shutterstock/Faiz Zaki)
Escape the Indian summer heat and the crowds of visitors in these amazing but relatively less touristy destinations.
Summer is here, and you’re dreaming of escaping the blazing heat of the plains and heading up into the cool and peaceful hills. The problem is, everyone else is too! So how do you get away from the heat, and still avoid being suffocated by heaving crowds of fellow tourists? These five destinations are booth cool and low on crowds, making them great options for a quick summer holiday.
Up in the Western Ghats in South India, on the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and just south of the ‘Palakkad gap’ in the hills, lies the little tea estate town of Valparai. With its serene hills, rolling tea plantations and abundant wildlife (the Anamalai and Parambikulam tiger reserves are right next door), Valparai is a great place for a relaxed few days away from the heat. Even better, it’s not very touristy, so you’ll have the hills mostly to yourself. And there are plenty of accommodation options in and around town—from low-budget lodges and homestays to more upmarket garden bungalows and cottages (including the brilliant Sinnadorai’s Bungalow). Just don’t expect posh food, and watch out for elephants and gaur while you’re there. Seriously.
The view from the NCF basecamp
A herd of female gaur and their calves
A bench with a view
A endangered lion-tailed macaque surveys its troop
In the Nilgiri mountains of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, and an hour’s drive away from the famous hill station of Ooty, lies the less-known town of Coonoor. Though not as high up in the mountains as Ooty, Coonoor still has fabulous weather and a great continental food scene (Café Diem comes highly recommended), and has far fewer visitors than Ooty.
There are plenty of hotels, lodges and homestays to suit all budgets here, as well as in its sister-town of Wellington and in nearby Kotagiri, though staying in or close to the less congested upper Coonoor is recommended (The Great Escape homestay is a very nice option). All of these are great places from which to explore the mountains and enjoy the spectacular views. And while the drive up to Ooty is nice too, stay away from the ‘recommended’ sights near Ooty like Doddabetta Peak and Dolphin’s Nose if you don’t like crowds.
A waterfall seen from our spot before Dolphin’s Nose
The mountain train from Ooty to Coonoor in the evening
A bonnet macaque on the Kotagiri road wants to investigate our tea and snacks
The 111 year-old Wellington station
Stopping for lunch at the Silvertip Cafe near Kotagiri
Straddling two hills in the foothills of the Himalayas, and close to the north-eastern borders of India, lies Kalimpong. Though it’s part of West Bengal state, it’s close enough to Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim for its feel to be more Nepali than Bengali. And though it’s a popular retreat for people trying to get away from the oppressive Kolkata summer, it’s not nearly as crowded as nearby Darjeeling.
There are lots of budget accommodation options here, as well as some medium- and high-end hotels. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll probably have to hire a car or taxi when you’re there. And, as far as dining goes, it’s better to do as the locals do and stick to Nepali and Indo-Chinese cuisine. Other cuisines are available, but aren’t anything to write home about (a notable exception is the wonderful Café Refuel, with its automotive theme and continental menu).
A mysterious misty track on Deolo Hill
Trekking along the Sillery trail
A house under construction on the side of Deolo Hill
A little homestay cottage on the side of the hill, on the road from Kalimpong to the Sikkim border
A view of the river Teesta
Up north, in the Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir, lies the Ladakh plateau. And in Ladakh—called ‘the highest desert in the world’—lies the town of Leh. This town is one of the very few urban centers in the whole of Ladakh, which makes it the perfect base from which exploring the area’s rugged, otherworldly landscape. The dry plateau is fascinating in its varying shades of brown, dotted with hill-top monasteries and the occasional splash of green, as are the snowy mountain passes and the deep mountain lakes.
The town itself is charming, with a culture very obviously influenced by that of Tibet, just across the border. This also shows in the cuisine, with Tibetan and Indo-Chinese dominating the local food scene (you definitely need to try the soupy, noodle-y thukpa). Because the Indian army has a major base there, though, you’ll also find decent mainstream Indian food. There aren’t any real low-budget lodges here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find affordable accommodation, and there are a few high-end hotels to choose from as well. Just make sure you give yourself a day or two to get used to the thin air when you land. Altitude sickness is very real here.
An elephant-headed guardian seems to emerge from the mountain
Splashes of green provide some relief from the browns of the countryside
An inviting-looking hilltop monastery
The road is an invitation to keep going
On approach to Pangong Tso lake
If you have an Indian passport, this could well be the best option in this list. A hop across India’s north-east border and you’re in the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan, with its lush green mountains, impressive Buddhist-style buildings, and incredibly spicy food. You can even pay in Indian rupees. But you’ll probably be given change in the local currency, the Bhutanese ngultrum (no, not a typo). If you have a non-Indian passport, though, you’ll have to go on a pricey, tightly-regulated government-organized tour.
Besides admiring Bhutan’s natural beauty, you should also take a look at its majestic dzongs (a combination of Buddhist monastery, government center and military fortress), and its amazing monasteries. The dzong at the former capital of Punakha is probably the most impressive and is definitely worth a visit. And even if you do nothing else in Bhutan, make sure you do the three-hour trek up to the fairy-tale Tiger’s Nest monastery. A couple of things to watch out for, though: the local food is spicy enough to blow anyone’s socks off, so you might want to stick to Indian or Chinese food; and the whole country is no-smoking, so leave any cigarettes behind.
Almost there, on the trek up to the Tiger’s Nest
A towering building in Punakha dzong
The view from Chelela pass
The columns of Dochula chorten
Have any recommendations for less crowded summer destinations? Leave a comment and let me know!
These six great weekend destinations have heritage, modern marvels and natural splendour on offer. And they’re all within a few hours’ drive of the city.
If you find yourself with nothing to do over the weekend in Hyderabad, why not plan one of these short day-trips out of the city? Just a few hours by road, and you can experience ancient forts, places of worship, serene hills and peaceful lakes. All you need to do is decide which of these things you feel like seeing, and get going.
Try these vegetarian dishes for a quick snapshot of India’s enormously varied cuisine the next time you’re travelling around the country.
India has innumerable cuisines, and flavours vary from state to state—and often within states. Here are 12 vegetarian dishes, from 12 different states, that we’ve eaten and loved during our travels.
Of course, there are many more states and many more dishes, but one has to start somewhere!
This thick, dark-brown curry is made from horse gram and has an earthy, sweet-sour taste. It’s often made during special occasions, served with a dollop of cream and eaten with rice. It looks almost exactly like chocolate sauce, so you might want to make sure before you dig in. You also might take some time to get used to the flavour. If you’re in Hyderabad, The Spicy Venue—an unexpectedly good restaurant for vegetarians—does a great ulavacharu.
Check out this great ulavacharu recipe from Foodvedam.
Earthy, chocolate-brown uluvacharu (image courtesy Foodvedam)
Amado, also called amade or ambade, and called hog plum in English, is a sour, spongy fruit that looks a little like a small unripe mango. This fruit is cooked in a light and tangy curry, which is usually made only at home. At least, when we visited Goa, it was only the family with whom we were staying who made it for us. Don’t be surprised if you can’t bite through the whole fruit, though. Only the outer flesh is edible, even though the whole fruit is cooked in the curry. The rest is a bit like a hard sponge, which you can chew if you want more of its sour juice.
Big Fat Tummy has a recipe for amado curry that you should take a look at.
The light and tangy amado curry (image courtesy Big Fat Tummy)
These popular sweet, crunchy spirals are, of course, available all over India. But in Gujarat, where they’re traditionally eaten for breakfast, they’ve been taken to a different level. They’re usually paired with the savoury fafda, which balances the extreme sweetness of the jalebis. The best jalebis we’ve ever eaten were in Bhuj during our visit to Gujarat’s Kutch district, in the upmarket Hotel Prince as part of their lavish dinner thali. But if you’re pinched for time, you can get your jalebi fix at any time of day, anywhere in Gujarat.
Crunchy, super-sweet jalebis (image courtesy Lion.harvinder via Wikimedia Commons)
This dish is actually from the Ladakh region of this state, which—since it’s on the border with Tibet—is probably why this Tibetan dish is so popular. Thukpa is a warm, satisfying soupy dish of broth, noodles and vegetables, and is a meal on its own—which we found perfect for the cold summers and freezing winters of Ladakh. Beware, though: Thukpa has many non-vegetarian versions as well, so be careful when you order. It’s also a little messy to eat, so don’t worry if you’re splashing soup all over while slurping your noodles.
A steaming bowl of thukpa is perfect for the cold (image courtesy Lillottama via Wikimedia Commons)
This is a popular dish served during weddings and other occasions in the coastal Mangalore region of the state. It’s a spicy sweet-and-sour dish that can be made with different kinds of vegetables. The most popular version, though, is made with pineapple, which makes the dish even sweeter and richer than otherwise. This was the stand-out dish for us during our day in Mangalore at the end of our recent trip to Coorg—one bite and we understood why it’s served on special occasions.
Spicy, sweet-and-sour menaskai (image courtesy Kart217 via Wikimedia Commons)
This is a lightly flavoured dish of mixed vegetables cooked with curd and coconut, and is made either with a thin or thick gravy. Avial is one of the dishes served as part of the traditional Kerala ‘sadhya’ or vegetarian banquet, and is eaten with rice. Fresh and light, this is the perfect dish to eat in the hot and humid Kerala climate. Definitely one of my favourites dishes from ‘God’s own country’.
Light avial is perfect for the hot, humid Kerala weather (image courtesy Samphotography via Wikimedia Commons)
The cuisine in the island state of Lakshadweep is heavily influenced by that of Kerala, the nearest state on the mainland. It’s no surprise, then, that the layered, delightfully flaky parotta is found wherever you go on these islands. When we were there, we ate parottas with anda burji (Indian-style scrambled eggs), but they’re usually eaten with a gravy of meat or vegetables.
The flaky layered parotta is great with gravy (image courtesy Charles Haynes via Wikimedia Commons)
Technically, misal pav is a really a snack and not a meal. But it’s satisfying enough for there not to be much difference. A popular street food across Maharashtra, missal is a mixture of bean sprout curry, spiced boiled potatoes and any number of crunchy fried snacks covered with thin, spicy gravy and sprinkled with chopped onions. It is served with pav—small square loaves of bread.
Spicy misal pav is great as a filling snack or light meal (image courtesy The Uncomplicated Cook)
One of the main staples of Rajasthani cuisine, dal baati is a simple dish of baked wholewheat dough balls served with yellow dal (lentils). The fresh baati are broken into small pieces before being mixed with ghee and dal and then eaten. Even though this is a simple dish, it is very satisfying, with the ghee giving it an extra dose of richness—something we experienced a lot during our trip to Rajasthan.
Simple, yet rich and satisfying (image courtesy Sumit Surai via Wikimedia Commons)
Kootu is a lightly-flavoured dish of vegetables and lentils, and is one of the main dishes served as part of the Tamil ‘virundhu saappadu’ or vegetarian banquet. Different variations of kootu can be made with different vegetables and types of lentils, but all are served with rice. We had the opportunity to try lots of different variants of this tasty dish during our trip through southern Tamil Nadu.
Kootu made with vallarai keerai, a leafy vegetable (image courtesy Kalaiselvi Murugesan via Wikimedia Commons)
Roughly translated as ‘uncooked curry’, pachi pulusu is a sweet-and-sour variant of the South Indian rasam. It is made with tamarind water and jaggery, and flavoured with onions, chillies and tempered spices. It isn’t heated during preparation, and is served cold with rice. This makes it perfect during the hot summer months. If you’re looking for great pachi pulusu in Hyderabad, try The Spicy Venue.
Head over to Foodvedam for a nice pachi pulusu recipe.
Cool, sweet, sour and spicy pachi pulusu is great during the hot summer (image courtesy Foodvedam)
These delicate little parcels of dough stuffed with minced vegetables are a staple in the northern parts of West Bengal, and are very popular in the rest of the state too. Light but still satisfying, a plate of steaming hot bite-sized momos served with their typical spicy sauce make for either a tasty snack or a filling meal, regardless of the weather. Make sure you ask for the vegetarian version when you order, though. We had a very pleasant lunch one day during our time in Kalimpong, which we spent eating plate after plate of fresh vegetable momos at a tiny shack overlooking a valley.
Steaming momos are perfect as snack or main meal (image courtesy RMT via Wikimedia Commons)
Here’s an extra tip, in case you want to hop over India’s northeastern border.
The tiny little Himalayan country of Bhutan is known for its spectacular natural beauty, imposing Buddhist architecture—and its fiery national dish, ema datse. Literally translated as ‘chillies and cheese’, this simple but incredibly spicy dish uses green chillies as its main vegetable component, paired with onions and yak cheese. We were curious during our visit to Bhutan, so we decided to try it at a restaurant, and found it too spicy even for our experienced tastes. Maybe the spiciness of their cuisine is a way for the Bhutanese to deal with the Himalayan cold…
Spicy enough to blow the top of your head off! (image courtesy Sunkissedguy via Wikimedia Commons)
If you’re a vegetarian in Hyderabad and running out of places to eat, these six restaurants serve excellent vegetarian food, despite being better known for their non-veg.
We’ve all been there. A group of family or friends wants to go out to eat, but can’t decide on where to go. Why? Because the restaurants being discussed either serve great vegetarian or great non-vegetarian, but not both. Rejoice, because here are six restaurants in Hyderabad that—despite being better known for their meat and seafood dishes—serve excellent vegetarian food, too.
We’ve made our fair share of mistakes while travelling the world, some of them could have turned out much worse than they did. Don’t make these 10 travel mistakes that we did, or you might not be so lucky.
We’ve been travelling around India and the world for 10 years now, and we’ve made our share of mistakes—and learned from them. Most of them haven’t been all that bad, but if we hand’t been lucky, some could have been much worse. So here, in no particular order, are 10 travel mistakes we made that you shouldn’t.
On one of our early visits to Hampi—the ruins of the capital city of Vijayanagara, an ancient and powerful South Indian kingdom—we drove the 400-odd kilometres down from Hyderabad. Not only did we want to see evocative ancient palaces and temples built from solid granite, but also the incredible rocky ridges around Hampi from which the stone was sourced (like the ones in Hyderabad, but on steroids). We weren’t very familiar with the route, but trusted that our GPS would get us there with no problem. Ha.
Everything went fine for most of the eight-hour trip, and the GPS led us faithfully through the South Indian countryside. It was evening when we got to Anegundi, a little village just across the Tunghabhadra river from Hampi. We were relieved that we would soon be there, because the trip had been quite tiring. There was only one problem: there was no bridge. The GPS had pointed us at the river and was urging us to drive across a bridge that wasn’t there!
We finally had to backtrack and find another way across the river from Gangavati, a detour that cost us an extra hour of driving. It could have been worse, though. If there hadn’t been a bridge at Gangavati, we would have to drive down to Hospet and then back up the other side of the river to Hampi—at two hour detour.
(Something similar happened to us during a recent trip to Coorg too, to our irritation.)
When driving long-distance using GPS navigation, carry a road atlas along too and consult it every once in a while. If not, at least zoom into your route and check if there’s a better way.
A close-up of the intimidating statue of Ugra Narasimha in Hampi
A few years ago, we had planned ourselves a long three-week road trip through Germany. After a nine-hour flight with non-functioning reading lights and entertainment systems, we thought nothing else could go wrong. That was not the case.
Frankfurt airport has a railway station underneath, with platforms for both short- and long-distance trains. We were to catch the train to Wuppertal, and spend a few days there exploring the city and nearby Cologne. We bought tickets for the last train to Wuppertal, and got to the platform in good time. Our train arrived about 20 minutes later, and we ambled over to the closest compartment, where we met a conductor. This person told us that only the last compartment would go all the way to Wuppertal.
This wasn’t unusual, so we started walking down the platform towards the back of the train. Suddenly, the train whistled and, to our shock, the automatic doors hissed shut! Before we could figure out what was going on, the train pulled smoothly out of the station, leaving us behind. If we had known that the train doors had an ‘open’ button we might have been able to get on!
As we were trying to come to terms with having to spend a night in Frankfurt, we caught sight of a train on the next platform with the word ‘Wuppertal’ on it. Without hesitation, we bundled in. It turned out to be the train that was scheduled before ours, but which was running late! If it hadn’t been late, we would have wasted lots of time and money overnighting in Frankfurt.
In Germany, get on the train before trying to find your compartment, and use the button to open the automatic doors if you must.
Cologne cathedral, taken from the far end of the square. And it still doesn’t fit in the frame!
One of our most epic road trips so far has been a 2,000-kilometer motorcycle tour from Hyderabad up India’s east coast to Kolkata, passing through Visakhapatnam and Bhubaneswar on the way. We thought we would spend three days riding through the plains to Kolkata, and then another two riding into the Himalayan foothills from there, to Kalimpong. Life had other plans.
We were a group of four bikes, and on the second day, one of them started getting a little cranky. The third day went in the owner trying to get it fixed in Bhubaneshwar, while the rest of us took a look at nearby Puri and Konark. By the time we got to Kolkata, it was clear that the bike wouldn’t make it into the mountains.
In a way, we were a little relieved, because it was much colder than expected in Kolkata. Kalimpong would have been freezing—something we hadn’t counted on. Luckily, we hadn’t made any hotel bookings in Kalimpong, or we might have lost some money there. So we rode down to Mandarmoni instead, and spent a few days at the beach!
On a road trip, build some buffer time into your schedule in case things don’t go completely according to plan.
Contemplating life at sunset on Mandarmani beach
After driving through Germany for three weeks a few years ago, the last leg of our trip was a week-long visit to London and Cambridge. At some point during our time in Germany, we had used travel website Expedia to book ourselves a hotel in London. Just off Bayswater road next to Hyde Park, it was a great location and perfect for us to both explore the city and meet friends who lived nearby. And after three weeks of driving, we looked forward to some rest and relaxation. Ah, well.
Once we found our way out of Heathrow airport, we were picked up by a smart-looking cab driver who then proceeded to stretch our nerves to the breaking point by messaging on his phone all the way to the hotel. I didn’t want to give him a tip at the end, but was too tired to argue. The hotel looked nice enough, though, and we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep. But when we wanted to check in, they didn’t have any reservation in our names. Worse still, they were fully booked!
After much fretting and fuming, they managed to give us one windowless room in the basement. But there were three of us, so they negotiated a room for us in another hotel on the same road. Happily, we were put into better rooms next to each other the next day. We then proceeded to spend a few happy days recuperating in London before heading off to Cambridge.
When booking a hotel through a travel website, always contact the hotel later to confirm that they have your booking. Even if your booking receipt says it isn’t necessary!
A view of Tower Bridge from inside the Tower of London
We had recently planned a trip through southern Tamil Nadu to Madurai, Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Valparai, and the most convenient way for us to get there was to fly to Madurai and then take a taxi to Thanjavur. And we thought that, since we would be landing there anyway, we could spend a few hours thoroughly exploring Madurai’s legendary Meenakshi temple. Not.
We boarded our flight from Hyderabad in good time, and spent it watching the alternating green and brown landscape unfolding below us. It was only just before we landed, and while reading through our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook on South India, that we realized that the temple is closed from 12:30 to 3:30 PM—and that we were arriving at exactly the wrong time!
Our taxi driver confirmed our fears: the temple would be closed when we got there. If we had known, we would have flown in a day earlier. But we resolved to make the best of the situation, and asked him to take us there anyway. And we were happy that we did. Even from outside, the towering gopurams—the gateway towers—of the temple are awe-inspiring, and the intricately carved pillars of the Pudumandapam pilgrim hall are a sight to behold! Having seen the outside, we can’t wait to see the rest of it soon.
Check the times during which sights you want to see are open for visitors, and plan your schedule around them.
An incredibly intricate yali statue stands in the Pudumandapa near the Meenakshi temple in Madurai
When we planned a long weekend stay in Agonda in Goa just over a year ago, we had great expectations. On one of our previous visits to Goa, we had gone a little off the beaten track by staying in a homestay far away from the coast. This time, we were looking forward to some quiet beach time, brilliant sunsets and great Goan food. Two out of three.
We got to our little beach camp in Agonda courtesy a friendly local taxi driver, and were immediately charmed by the quiet and peaceful atmosphere. The beach was great, there were lots of eateries everywhere, and there was plenty to do around Agonda, too. But, for the life of us, we couldn’t find any decent local food. Every restaurant seemed to serve European and Middle-Eastern food, with a few standard ‘Indian’ (read Punjabi) dishes on the menu. And even if they did serve Goan food, we could tell it was a bit watered down.
It was only when we were leaving that our taxi driver—the same one—told us the secret. The best local food in Agonda is in the modest bars on the small roads away from the beach. We were kicking ourselves all the way back home.
If you want to sample authentic local cuisine, ask a local to point you in the right direction.
A couple of cold ones on Talpona beach
We were staying in the little town of Ainring in Bavaria during our three-week road trip through Germany, and we decided to do a day trip to Salzburg. This famous Austrian city was just across the border, and our visas allowed us entry into the country, so we hopped into the car and drove off. We had most of the day, and though we expected some delay at the border, we also expected to have a great time. Reality was a little different.
We got a rude surprise as soon as we crossed the border. The mobile data on our phones disappeared, and with it all but the most basic information on our mobile GPS! We had gotten so used to crossing borders without a problem, we never wondered whether our mobile plans would, too! We initially didn’t let it bother us too much because we were using the car’s inbuilt ‘navi’ to get around. But we felt the loss keenly once we started trying to explore the city on foot. Though we had a basic guidebook with us, it didn’t really tell us how to get from place to place. And that was really what we needed.
We did manage to find our way up to the famous Hohensalzburg castle that sits on a hill in the old town. But when we tried to find a place to eat with a nice view, no amount of trial an error worked. We finally ended up not having lunch at all, to give us time to cross the border. The crossing back into Germany turned out much faster than we expected, though. We finally grabbed a bite to eat back in Ainring, grumpy that we couldn’t make the most of our trip to Salzburg.
If you use your mobile GPS to find your way around, make sure your data plan works everywhere you’re visiting.
View of the old town, with the Salzburg Cathedral taking centerstage
On our recent trip through southern Tamil Nadu covering Madurai, Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Valparai, we decided to book a car and driver for the whole trip of five days, beginning in Madurai and ending at Coimbatore airport. Though it was a little expensive, we thought that—since we were meeting family in Thanjavur and then driving to Valparai, and we couldn’t all fit into their car—this arrangement made sense. Not so much.
We were initially told that we should book a car from Madurai through Thanjavur and to Valparai only. We could then drive around Valparai in the family car for the two days we were there. And on the last day, we could take a local taxi to Coimbatore airport. But because the overall costs were similar, we decided to book the car for the whole trip instead.
What we didn’t count on was lots of miscommunication between us, the driver and the taxi company. We ended up paying significantly more than what was agreed on, despite not really using the car in Valparai!
When people with more local experience give you advice on how to plan your transportation, take it.
The plantation road past the guesthouse and basecamp
A few years ago, we visited Rajasthan and saw Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur. We had been looking forward to this trip, and because we didn’t have much time there, we began planning months in advance. When we finally boarded the flight to Jaipur, we were sure everything would go according to plan. We were wrong.
We had quite a good time in Jaipur, seeing the Hawa Mahal and partying on the ramparts of Jaigarh Fort, but when the time came to catch the train to Jodhpur, we were stumped. Our tickets had been booked months ago, and were wait-listed in the low single digits. Experience told us that our tickets would be confirmed well before our travel date, so we didn’t worry. But when we checked the status the evening we were to leave, we were in for a shock. One ticket was still wait-listed!
We finally had to cancel our tickets and hire a taxi to drive us all the way to Jodhpur. Not only did we end up losing an entire day on our already tight schedule, we had to throw our budget out of the window to pay for the taxi (we also had to drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur because our flight was cancelled, but that wasn’t our fault).
When travelling in India, make sure your train tickets are confirmed before you start out on your travels.
Silhouette of a camel against the sunset in the desert near Jaisalmer
Our recent trip to Coorg in Karnataka was something we had wanted to do for a long time. We had heard a lot about it, and were looking forward to experiencing its pristine waterfalls and quiet panoramas. No such luck.
On the recommendation of a friend, we had booked a room in a homestay in the middle of a coffee plantation close to the main town of Madikeri, and it turned out to be every bit as nice as promised. With that as a base, we hired a motorcycle and started exploring the surroundings. For starters, Coorg turned out to be really hot during the day, and quite chilly at night—a dangerous combination for people like me who are prone to catching cold. We also found that all the recommended sights were overflowing with raucous tourists, which made it no fun at all! And lastly, we read some depressing reviews about the famous camp for retired forestry elephants in Dubare, and decided we didn’t want to find out if they were true.
So instead of doing all the usual recommended touristy things, we ended up just riding through the back roads of the Coorg hills without any real plan, and found that a much more rewarding experience than seeing the sights.
Even if you’ve heard good things about a place, it pays to do some proper research on what things there are really like before you visit.
The fenced-off bridge across the river at Abbey Falls near Madikeri
Beautiful beaches, accommodation for every budget, plenty of eateries and lots of things to do around. These are what make Agonda the perfect base for your next Goa trip.
Humans struggle to live alongside elephants, gaur (sometimes also called Indian bison), leopards and macaques in South India’s Anamalai hills, as tea and coffee plantations slowly replace the area’s ancient rainforests.
After a very interesting few days of temple-viewing in Madurai and Thanjavur (Tanjore), we drove for six hours up into the Anamalai Hills of India’s Western Ghat mountains to the tiny little plantation town of Valparai. A part of us expected that this would be just like Coonoor, Coorg and the other places we’ve been in the Western Ghats. But another part of us knew that Valparai and its surrounding hills are at the forefront of a struggle. Here, man and animal try to live alongside, as their habitat shrinks while ours expands. And we knew that this would be a very different experience.
The jaw-dropping size and intricacy of these ancient temples in South India will leave you speechless. Even if you only see them from the outside.
During a short family vacation through Tamil Nadu over Christmas in 2017, we paid a quick visit to two legendary South Indian temples—the 2,000 year-old Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai, and 1,000 year-old Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur (Tanjore). Though we only had time for a quick visit, the size and intricacy of each complex left us gobsmacked!
Lush green plantations, cloud-topped peaks and dense jungles. Precariously perched monasteries, Martian landscapes and sapphire lakes. These five mountain holiday destinations in India can offer can offer you all that and more.
If you’re in Hyderabad and don’t know what to do with yourself over the weekend, here’s an idea. Spend an hour or two exploring the surreal expanse of rocks at Fakhruddingutta.
With vast sheets of granite, scatterings of surreal boulders, caves under rock piles and three religious shrines, this ancient rockscape overlooking Hyderabad is an ideal place to kick back and relax for a few hours.
We learned the hard way that having a good time in Coorg is not as easy as you might think. Here are nine things that we found out that you should know too, if you’re planning a visit.
Perched in the rolling hills of the Western Ghats in South India, the district of Coorg (or Kodagu) may seem like the perfect getaway. We found, though, that without a little planning, it could actually be a bit disappointing. These pointers should save you some bother.
If you’re planning on visiting India, here are 20 things you need to know. Use these tips to find your way around this ancient land and its many cultures, languages and cuisines.
Go back in time to Hyderabad’s glorious past with a visit to the Paigah Tomb complex, the last resting place of five generations of the foremost noble family of Hyderabad.
Most residents of Hyderabad haven’t even heard of the Paigah Tombs, let alone seen them, tucked away as they are in the by-lanes of Santoshnagar in the Old City. But they’re still some of the most stunning remnants of the city’s past that you can find. Visit these small but beautiful tombs, and you’re transported back to a time to when Hyderabad was the center of a powerful kingdom that held its own against the British Empire.
From walking a protected turtle breeding ground in Goa with two local doggies, and swimming in rock pools in the Seychelles, to riding a motorcycle on a beach in West Bengal, here are 20 evocative beach pictures from our travels around the world.
We’ve been to the seaside quite a few times over the years, we’ve had some incredible experiences and some a little less so, but each were special in their own way. So here are 20 of our favorite pictures taken during some of those.
Seagulls among the rocks at Bondi beach
An evening on Balmoral beach
An evening ride along the firm sands of Mandarmani beach, part of our road trip up India’s east coast
Sunset on the leeward side of Thinnakara island
The sun descends into the calm waters off Thinnakara
The shallow waters off Bangaram island
An old tree along the still waters of Wandoor beach near Port Blair
The old lighthouse
Read more: A flying visit to the Andaman Islands
Robbie the conservationist drags a dinghy into the water for a morning of dolphin-watching on Bird Island
Zebra doves rest on a tiled roof below our rooftop cafe on Mahe
A little rock pool of sorts on a beach a few kilometers down from our guesthouse on Mahe
The sunset glints off a chaffing dish at the Wednesday market on Mahe’s Beau Vallon beach
Two stray dogs accompany us on Galgibaga beach
The rocks below Capo de Rama fort
Looking over Capo de Rama beach from the plateau above
Sneaking a cold beer at lunchtime on Talpona beach
Dusk at Agonda beach
The deserted beach at Mandvi, accessed by a sandy path next to the gate of the Mandvi palace
Read more: The colours of Kutch
The piers at Nieuwpoort
A seagull takes it easy on one of the piers
Thinnakara is a peaceful little resort island with very few visitors, 45 minutes by boat from Agatti (where the airport is), or 10 minutes from Bangaram. Accommodation is basic but charming: 10 thatched-roof tents with fans, lightbulbs and an attached ‘green toilet’ with shower; and homely local food served in the sand-floored dining room.
Surrounded by the Nilgiri mountains, the hill stations of Coonoor and Wellington make for the perfect long weekend, with spectacular views, rolling tea plantations and misty winding roads.
From Germany to the Seychelles, and from all across India, here are 20 spectacular travel photos we’ve taken during our travels so far.
We first started really travelling in 2007, with a trip to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Since then, we’ve been to quite a few places, seen quite a few things and had quite a few experiences.
In 2011, we embarked on our most epic road trip yet. This was a seven-day, 2000-kilometer motorcycle ride from Hyderabad along India’s east coast. And this is what we experienced.
There’s something about hitting the open road on a motorcycle that makes for a completely different road trip from one in a car. Maybe it’s the sense of freedom that the wind gives you. Maybe it’s the oneness you feel with everything around you because you’re not enclosed. Or maybe it’s the feeling that you can ride off in a completely different direction if you want. These things made five of us set off on a seven-day, 2,000 kilometer-long bike trip along the east coast of India in January 2011. And the fact that Rider Mania, India’s most raucous annual biker party, was being held at the end of the line didn’t hurt either.
From snorkeling around the spectacular corals of South Button island and sitting in the still water of Wandoor beach to wandering around creepy Ross Island, here is how we lived the island life for a few days in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India.
Experience an awe-inspiring cliff-side monastery, blazingly fiery local food, incredible mountain views, and more in the remote but proud Himalayan country of Bhutan.
Magnificent architecture, imposing fortresses, colourful locals, complex cuisine, and traditional street art… find all this, and more, in Rajasthan—literally, the ‘land of kings’.
From Martian landscapes, endless roads, and deep blue lakes to extreme temperatures, deceptive distances and strict schedules, you experience some interesting things in Ladakh!
An ancient stone pathway leading through caves and streams. Monkeys sheltering from the rain on a crumbling temple gate. A sage meditating next to a stone companion. And palace ruins dissolving into darkness. These are just some of the magical sights that Hampi has to offer.
We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way).
Mountain views, misty trails, good food and great trekking are just some of the things you can experience in and around Kalimpong.
It was April in 2014, and my wife and I desperately needed a holiday. We were tired of the beach, though, and so we decided to head up into the mountains. After casting about a bit, we decided on Kalimpong in West Bengal, where my wife could re-live some fond childhood memories. Here are six great experiences we discovered while we were in Kalimpong.
Memories of our visit to arid but colourful Kutch in Gujarat: intricate handicrafts, magnificent old palaces, pristine beaches, and of course the endless white slat plains of the Great Rann.
From staying in an old Purtuguese-era mansion and eating amado curry in the family’s kitchen, to taking a ferry and driving all over an island in search of an elusive viewpoint, this is how we had a Goa holiday that was very different from the usual.
There’s much more to dark rum than meets the eye (or the mouth and nose)! Good dark rums have as much flavour and complexity as good whiskey, and can be enjoyed just as much. Here are five great dark rums from different parts of the world that you should try if you have the chance.
I’ve long thought that rum doesn’t get the respect it deserves. In India, especially, people consider rum the ‘poor man’s’ or ‘student’s’ liquor—something to start one’s drinking experiences with before moving up to whiskey. I suppose this is understandable, considering that most rums are cheap and relatively easy to produce. But just because rum is affordable doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flavour and complexity. Or that it can’t be enjoyed as much as any other drink. Subtle variations in the production process—from what kind of sugarcane product is used as a base, to whether it’s spiced or not, and how it is aged—can result in an incredibly sophisticated end product that would arguably not feel out of place among the best whiskeys.
I’ve had the pleasure of sampling quite a few dark rums produced in different parts of the world. While some are nicest when mixed, others are best enjoyed on their own—either on the rocks or with a dash of water, or both. Disclaimer: I don’t really enjoy white or pale rums, though, so I try to avoid them when I can.
Here, then, are five great dark rums from different parts of the world that you should try.
The famous (at least in India) Old Monk rum is something that almost every drinker in India has tried at least once in their lives. Affordable and flavourful with its vanilla notes and caramel aftertaste, this dark rum is arguably the best known rum in India. And while every Indian drinker knows it, most haven’t heard of its premium Gold Reserve variant. Aged for 12 years, Old Monk Gold Reserve retains the base version’s caramel and vanilla flavours, and elevates them to a surprising level of sophistication.
Mix in a dash of apple juice for a complex, warming and Christmasy drink.
This extremely interesting medium-dark rum blends selected regular Bundaberg (or ‘Bundy’, as the locals affectionately call it) rums with reserves matured for eight years in century-old oak barrels previously used for storing port. This gives it a unique, almost whiskey-like tang, while still keeping the characteristic caramel notes of a good dark rum. This is probably the best rum for a whiskey drinker to try, the only bridge between both worlds that I’ve ever encountered.
Bundy and coke is extremely popular in Australia, and for good reason.
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Smooth with rich vanilla notes, Takamaka Spiced is produced in the east African island nation of the Seychelles. Outside the Seychelles, I’ve only ever seen it stocked at the Dubai airport duty-free. If you’re ever there, you might want to pick some up. It even comes in small half-litre bottles, so if you’re not entirely sure, you can pick a small one up as a sampler. I tried this rum in 2012, after which production seems to have moved to a different distillery. I’m not sure if the flavour’s changed because of this. It’s probably still worth a try, though.
I’ve found that the vanilla hit of this medium-dark rum goes best with cola.
Also read: Six discoveries we made in the Seychelles
With its cargo-hold bottle, vintage label and black-as-night colour, The Kraken enthusiastically embraces rum’s pirate heritage. Not so the flavour, though, which is elegant and spiced, with a sweet caramel aftertaste. Besides caramel and vanilla, this very dark rum also has hints of clove, cinnamon and ginger, making it the most complex spiced rum I have come across. All in all, the most thorough embodiment of every aspect of rum and its history that I can think of.
Drinking it on the rocks will allow you to appreciate it for what it is. I’ve heard some like it with ginger ale, though.
A sophisticated sipping rum, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is matured using the solera process usually used for maturing sherry. It picks up subtle flavours from each of its four different aging barrels before spending another year maturing in oak casks. The result is a very smooth, multifaceted dark rum that doesn’t rely on spices for complexity. However, I did notice a distinct drop in sweetness after the brand was taken over by Diageo.
My preference is with a splash of cold water. I find it a little overwhelming if drunk straight or on the rocks.
Here are some other nice dark rums to try, if you get the chance.
There is much more to the Nilgiri hills than the famous (and very touristy) Ooty. We found this out during a wonderful getaway in the misty O’Land Plantation, two hours’ drive past Ooty.
For those not in the know, the Nilgiri hills are part of the Western ghats of India, where the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala meet, and whose most famous tourist trap is Ooty (AKA Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam).