Monday, 31 March 2014

April, Assam And Bihu

                  I begin my April Challenge with my home state Assam. I greet you all with a 'nomoskar' and welcome you as 'alohi' to this land of green valley, blue hills and the red river.


                April is the time to be in Assam what with the entire state caught in the frenzied preparations to usher in the New Year with Bohag Bihu. It's that time of the year when the cuckoo's sweet voice tugs at your heart, tender leaves sprout on the branches, the orchids tied around trunks of areca nut tree burst forth with mauve and lilac blossoms.

                                           You can hear the bihu songs in the air wherever you maybe. It could be from the radio, televisions, the shops or the rehearsals on in full swing for the various bihu functions to be held throughout the state. You will hardly find an Assamese who has been able to resist the rhythm of the dhol or the sway of the pepa at this time of the year. The bihu dancers attired in the muga mekhela sador smile radiantly flushed with with all the twirling and spinning in the bihu dance. 

                                                  courtesy wallsave

               Let me take you to a village where you can hear the click clacking of the looms,women  weaving feverishly to finish the gamusas that will be presented to relatives and friends. And if you go to the fields you may spot some village belles engage in jeng bihu around a tree. A word of caution though, this is strictly not meant for the male eyes. 

                You are in time for Bihu so you will be treated to a variety of pitha ( rice cakes), sira doi gur (pounded rice with curd) and jaggery, sticky rice, wood fire roasted in bamboo hollows, a variety of fish dishes, duck meat with cumin and black pepper paste and a host of other accompaniments and dishes. You could wash this down with the most amazing pink hued rice beer, ruhi,  served in bell metal bowl. And what do you do after this? Feel happy. You might come across some who are too 'happy' for their own good but generally they are  benign.
              Having kick started your visit with a feast you could take the elephant safari in the Kaziranga National Park and sight a couple of one horned rhinos if you are lucky. Or you could combine a river cruise on the Brahmaputra from Guwahati to Kaziranga with a trip to an ethnic village thrown in. That amounts to shelling out quite a bit though. There are host of other places to visit like Orang, Pobitora, Majuli, Nameri Reserve Forest etc. Then there are the tea gardens of Upper Assam some of which offer the garden experience with a tour of the estate and stay in the spacious bunglows.

                    This was just a cursory glance at the state that is home to numerous ethnic groups of people.  I hope to take you through few of these places in my later posts.  For now, thank you for honouring my invitation and visiting my state. Would love to hear about your home town!

Other images were taken from Wikipedia

This post was written for the A To Z Challenge 2014    

Friday, 28 March 2014

Why I Took The Plunge With A To Z Challenge


                         I signed up for the A to Z Challenge. Yes, I did. Then I wondered whatever made me do it when after many days of pondering and cajoling my messed up cranium, an apt theme seemed to elude me. Add to it, the challenge of a post each day according to the English alphabet. The A to Z Theme reveal day came and went. I was still silent, floundering in the deep waters not sure if I could do this. 

                  That's when I decided to pull up my socks and face it squarely. If I have signed up I shall take it to it's finishing line. Although delayed, I see a theme in the horizon. In the month of April I would blog on a list of places I have travelled to or spent some time pitching my tent. Places that have charmed me and continue to do so. April shall be a challenging month. A testing time for a procrastinator like me. Although my blog is not predominantly a travel blog but many of my travel stories have found their way here. I've tried to keep the travel destinations within India, the country I know best with my limited knowledge. I do hope to find many friends in this journey, discover some amazing blogs and learn from each of them.

                   This post is more of  DIY pep talk, invocation of the muses, seeking warm wishes from friends and strength to see me through it especially with a hectic schedule in the Real world too!


Monday, 24 March 2014

Malaysian Dreams

         Over the many travels I've realised I'm a bit of everything. Actually, aren't we all? An adventure seeker, a relaxed onlooker, a foodie, a heritage buff, a cultural sponge or maybe a nature reveller. That sums up the package I come in. Malaysia packs all of these with a resounding punch. When I came across this tantalising " five things to do in Malaysia", the wheels within the head started churning conjuring up a collage of images borrowed from the various shiny travel magazines, advertisements and friends' holiday captures. But five things? Unfair! Why does it always have to be made difficult to choose from the wide array of experiences at all those exotic locations?

Why Malaysia?
           From what I had seen , read in travelogues and blogs or heard from fellow travellers, Malaysia is truly the essence of Asia. The rich tapestry of cultural tableau, the splendour and lusciousness of tropical nature with it's plethora of exotic flora and fauna served in the backdrop of gracious heritage laced with adrenalin pumping adventure. This country offers a platter full of holiday options to choose from for all kinds of travellers in a style true to it's people. It is always better to arrive at a place without any presumptions and take each of them as it comes; letting it gradually unfold to reveal it's beauty just as the bud opens up gently to reveal the true beauty of the flower.Take this from someone who has been to and lived in far flung areas that only the Armed Forces can take you to. Believe me, the best places have been the ones without the trappings of urban temptations of malls, fast food chains et al. So here I go dreamily exploring Malaysia virtually hoping to discover bits and pieces of me via this exotic country!

1. Nourished By Nature 
              The Malaysian Tourism website had me completely intrigued and charmed with the promise of a virginal appeal of  Belum Forest Reserve or the130 million years old prehistoric rain forest Tamang Negara.  I mean, how often does one come across a piece of this earth that has been unaffected by Ice Age? If I could just watch tigers, Sumatran rhinos, Asian elephants, clouded leopard or the tapirs  move around their natural habitat unhindered by human interference at the Belum Forest Reserve with a possibility of camping right there and maybe find myself sharing  the sunrise with an elephant, what more could I have asked for! I could just let nature permeate the soul and probably rediscover what human being lost many centuries ago - oneness. Nestled in the state of Perak, a visit to Belum Forest Reserve would have the added advantage of cave hopping. Gua Gunung Runtun dating back to 540000 years with evidence of Paleolithic age life in the form of tools, food and the Man of Perak that help to draw a picture of life in those times! Then there are others like Gua Kajang, Gua Ngaum, Gua Teluk Kelawar to choose from.
    Or picture this - a canopy walk in the prehistoric rain forest Tamang Negara, Pahang! Given  it's antiquity, Tamang Negara is a naturalist's delight with its many butterflies, insects, animals, plants and trees that rise up to greet the sun and a dense  undergrowth teeming with life. I can imagine walking through the dense foliage peering down at the world below, feeling blessed to be a part of this cosmos.

                                             Canopy Walk 

There are many national parks to choose from Mulu National Park, KL Bird Park, Kinabalu Park, Endau Rompin National Park, Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, and the list continues.

2. Seeking Adventure

     After that recharge amidst nature, I am ready for some adrenalin rush. Malaysia Tourism promised a variety of adventure experiences. Having snorkelled and skimmed  the magic of underwater world in one of our vacations, I am ready for the next big leap with scuba diving. And what better place to explore than Pulau Redang  in Terengganu where the midday sun brings out the colours of the corals in all their vibrancy! I can imagine losing myself in the depths of the marine park surrounded by the unfolding beautiful aqua life with shoals of multi-hued fish passing by, brilliant corals glowing in the dark. Add to it the enigmatic shipwrecks of HMS Prince Of Wales and HMS Repulse, relics of the the First World War.

                                                  Pulau Redang Marine Park 
Sipadan island in Sabah, is one of the best dive sites of the world testified by Jaques Cousteau the world renowned oceanographer. So if I am in Malaysia and deep sea diving is what I have in mind, then Sipadan is where I must head to.
                                                           Sipadan Island- one of the best
                                                            diving sites in the world  

   Duly humbled by the marine wonders I await my next dose of adrenalin charge. So what should it be? Do I have it in me to push  beyond my limits? If so, only a stint at the via ferrata in Mount Kinabalu will decide. I believe they  do have a beginners route of 2-3 hours along the granite surface of Mount Ki nabalu. Well! I could start with that! There are certain requirements though like, being at least ten years of age, being able to hike 3200 m in six hours, of 1.3 m minimum in height and lastly having a fearlessness of height. The last one is what I need to overcome and via ferrata on Mount Kinabalu could be the starting point.

                                                      Via Ferrata on Mount Kinabalu      

3. Soaking in the cultural heritage

  It is the culture of a nation that lends it it's unique charm. In Malaysia, it's individuality stems from the multi cultural ethos- the harmonious braiding of the Chinese, Indian and Malay strands. The British, French and Portugese influences, remnants of the colonial past have further added to the allure.That's my third to do on the list - absorbing the rich cultural heritage of Malaysia. The moment I saw this heritage building with a blue facade in one of my friend's travel photos, it made me scurry to Google to search for more of this aesthetic structure's history. A perfect setting to amble around and fade into it's rich past Cheong Fat Tze in Penang.


                                         The Blue Mansion Of Cheong Fat Tze

This place is a must visit on my list not merely to vicariously partake in it's opulence but marvel at the artistic bench marks of the craftsmen. The Wood carvings, stained glass, porcelain decorative cut and paste shard works, tapestries and other antiques are every man's delight.
  Then there is Melaka. A quaint charm of the yester years is best savoured with the river cruise that takes one along the river that was once the artery for trade. On the banks stand the old buildings, a graceful reminder of the rich past that Melaka has to offer. The Portugese Square here still holds on to the Portugese past although these European settlers have long mingled with the local to emerge with a unique culture true to the roots. Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum is a testimony to the rich Chinese traditions of noble descent that have further enriched the Malaysian culture.

                                         Melaka River Cruise

4. Savouring The Cuisines 

        Isn't a journey incomplete without a taste of it's cuisine? Malaysian bursts with gastronomical adventures having merged the traditional cuisines of all the contributing parent culture with inter marriages between the people of different origins. I believe that Penang is the food capital of Malaysia and so this is the best place to savour the different tastes  with the tantalising aromas. Gurney Drive is further considered to be offering Penang on a platter. So that makes my task simpler. All I have to do is head to Gurney Drive in Penang and let the Satays, Malay Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Nasi Lemak, Rendang and all others take over my senses. I can choose from the street hawkers or proper restaurants to experiment with the palate. It is these tales of wonder at finding familiar dishes on foreign shores, maybe their new incarnation or exotic tastes that I hope to bring back. I've always tried to bring back a new lesson in cooking from my various trips. I am very sure Malaysia is not going to disappoint me. The charm of talking to the food hawkers, discovering new ways of eating as suggested by them, gulping down the morsels as they bemusedly look on with indulgence. Yes, that is one of favourite ways of discovering a new place.

                                                          Courtesy Malaysia Tourism 

5.Lounge Around  

     I was saving the best of my to do list for the last. Having marvelled at nature, culture , gulped down tanatalising dishes and having some heart thumping adventures now is the time to sit on the powdery sands of Langkawi, or Tioman Islands in Pahang. It is time to let all of my experiences seep in. Longing around on the beaches of Batu Ferringhi in Penang, evenings would teem with people in the Ferringhi Walk through the open air bazaar. Browsing through the curios and interesting artifacts, picking up souvenirs. How interesting it would be to walk by as the people of Teluk Nipah in Pangkor Island get on with life! Wiser everyday by what the sea has to teach this fishermen's community. I can visualise myself striking off a conversation with one of them as they unload their catch of the day, face shining with a hard day's work So many stories they hold, waiting to be told . Then there is Teluk Ketapang to stroll by, the Turtle Bay. The salty breeze caressing the face as I watch the turtles moving in to lay their eggs - a promise to the future.

This post was written for Tourism Malaysia with Blogadda
I am participating in the MalaysiaJao Blogathon 
 in association with


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Scanning the Sky for Dream Destination

                                           Holiday Travel Elements Icons Vector Free Free Vector
                                                   Courtesy Free Vectors

    Was I born with the travel bug? Maybe. How else can it be explained that motion sickness notwithstanding, I have been travelling ever since I was a kid. The very smell of the train, the bus or the car still makes me feel nauseous. And you must agree that each of them do have one peculiar to them. And I have tried everything from rubbing the dirt from the tyre onto my forehead (the driver insisted), inhaling citrus fruit to having them, ginger, distraction tactics... and the list is endless. Popping those anti vomiting tablets do es help the best but you snore your way through all those beautiful sights of the journey. My dad once told me I was fit for the bullock cart. Sigh! If only we could travel the world in a bovine chauffeured cart, we would get to see so many of those little surprises around each bend. So has this malady deterred me from travelling? Nah! On the contrary it has only intensified. And now I've my kids for company. So we have  a family support group that leaves the hubby to do all the lugging around as we lug ourselves with lolling heads.

             Back from an international trip last year, we were already itching for the next one- domestic or well! if dreams permits, another sojourn abroad. We were mesmerised by the many quaint villages and the enigmatic cottages on the heights reached by little lanes winding up with flowery meadows for company. Or little inviting homes by the lakes with sail boats moored to the shore. As we passed each of those frames, we promised ourselves 'someday soon'. Just as I did every time I came across those beautiful captures on glossy travel magazines. Actually, this holds good for all the places we have travelled to, be it Kasauli, Chail, Jodhpur, Cochin, Edinburgh, Saputara, Brussels, Shillong or anywhere. Each of these places have enticed us.And each of them have given us somethibng in return. And we have reiterated  for an encore only to finalise another destination the next time.

            In my free time, which has become a rarity, I was day dreaming of our next vacation. This time I was looking for an offbeat track not very far from home, but as usual could not zero down on any. That's when I came across Skyscanner on Indiblogger sponsoring a contest. Curious about this new entrant I scoured the internet for more information and realised that Skyscanner has been around since 2002. Not exactly a new kid on the block. Then there was the Skyscanner's bloggers' meet in Delhi with a team game of treasure hunt involving the use of their unique tools and app that actually made me understand the fluidity with which one could plan a journey.


             Given the present stage of nonexistent conception as far as a destination or time window was concerned, I could play around with it's 'everywhere', 'whole year', whole month' and 'whole week' options to see if I could find something to suit my pocket as well as adjust kids' holidays and hubby's leave. But simply playing around was not the idea. That's when I stumbled upon their Travel Features and News section that carried an article Top Budget Foreign Trips From India. This was an amazing co incidence! Err... was there anyone snooping on me? Maybe they planted a bug or something in the bloggers meet! To you, it may sound far fetched but for me it was a possibility, technology challenged that I am. So I kind of look up at technology with  reverential awe short of prostrating myself in it's presence,  and the ones fluent with it, as the chosen few.

           Scanning their useful article Koh Samui, Malacca, Male and Bali are what caught my attention. It was the price that was going to decide the winning destination. Having travelled around the Alps a bit in our last trip, lounging around beaches was not a bad idea. Reading up on these places swayed my stand on decisive factors. What Bali promised me was a tripartite connection between man, God and environment. This wouldn't be just a trip with the camera capturing the memories of beautiful locales for posterity. It would probably be a journey to help me discover a facet of the self. I hoped to find a strand of me akin to how Julia Roberts found herself in Eat Pray Love. Now I had something concrete to work on. Checking the flight options for Bali, December appeared to be a convenient time to explore Bali. Wait a minute! Could I trust these guys not to be fleecing me with hidden charges? That's when I remembered their promise of honesty in the Indibloggers' meet.While going through their site I found the following claim instead of the usual disclaimer,

If you believe any information on this page is incorrect then please contact Skyscanner.

 The transparency in their website laid to rest any apprehensions regarding their motives.

         So, did I  book ourselves for a vacation to Bali just now? I didn't. Actually, I'll let my hubby do the rest since the groundwork was already done. For our last trip to Germany , I'd seen him sitting wide awake like an owl in the middle of the night scouring the internet for the 'best deals'. Night after night. Week after week. Till I thought why are we even bothering about this trip if the starting point was going to be so painful? We had roped in our relatives at Nuremberg to help join in the search for hotels and flights that wouldn't scorch the pockets. This time it shall be different. All I need to do is gift him the link to Skyscanner and watch him enjoy the joys of planning a vacation. The smart way.

           In the meantime, let me plan my luggage and the attires going into it. Not to forget those anti vomiting pills. Bali! Here I come lolling my head. Travel I shall but the relaxed way, the smart way, thanks to Skyscanner!

 This post was written for Skyscanner's dream destination contest

Friday, 7 March 2014

From the Alps to the Swiss Riviera - Interlaken, Montreux, Lausanne

           Is it the destination that entices the traveller ? Or could it be that the anticipation of the destination buoyed by the imagination lends a romantic feel to the journey? The little incidents and experiences on the way quietly and stealthily so enrich our sojourn that we turn around to thank them for having layered the trip with little nuances.
                                       Golden Pass Panoramic

          It was the second day of our stay in that  Alpine country and the plan was to do the Golden Pass Line from Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland to Montreux perched on the shore of Lake Geneva.  Having done the Bernese Oberland upto Lucerne the day before, we decided to head the other way towards the French border. After skirting the lake Thunersee for a while, the train climbed up the Alps.  Our 'oohs'and 'ahs' were silenced as the clouds lifted gradually to reveal the snow clad peaks and impeccable grassy slopes  thickly forested in many places.

 Then of course the trademark of any Yash Chopra movie worth it's salt, the flowery meadows  teased us around quaint villages with lace curtain windowed timber homes and carved eaves. I wondered what was cooking in those homes? Something with Gruyére cheese, sausages or roasting meat with butter, herbs and potatoes? Or did the homes warm up with the aroma of home made chocolates? That made me want to have something. We asked for some apple juice for the kids and coffee for ourselves. That is a pittance of a substitute I know, but when you earn in rupees and spend in Euros and                                                                                     Swiss Francs, every cent is accounted for. * smile*


         As we trundled on don't trundle on in a Swiss train. As we glided past the serene locales just as Yash Chopra subtly publicised in his shots (that's when the seed was sown in most of us to visit this country once in a lifetime), we came across some homes that aesthetically hung up the famed Swiss cow bells and the bovines benignly grazing in the fields. Incidentally, we never came across a single cow with a bell around it's neck! Guess, all those bells ended up at the memento shops and some have travelled all the way to shops in Dwarka in Delhi too!

        We changed trains at Zweisimmen and so did the weather. It was nippy yet bright as sunshine cascaded into the train through the huge glassed windows; the "Danke Schun"s had changed to 'Merci"s and 'bahnhof ' to 'garé' for we were moving into the French speaking region of Switzerland away from Deutsche influence. GstaadCháteau d'OexRochers-de-Naye...exotic names and picturesque locales. Flowers dotted the sprawling meadows as the mountains in forest cloak stood guard. Every perspective offered a spectacular view. Roads winding into villages, alleys leading to homes and lanes far above in the mountains that reached out to solitary cottages, chalets and then disappearing tantalisingly round a bend or into a thicket. I would have confused many of the train stations to be chalets if it were not for the boards hanging over them announcing the arrival of a place. You don't come across those kinds very often, with timbered structure, heavily slanted roofs and lace curtained windows with bright flower boxes. Only thing missing was an aproned lady peeping out wiping her hands after some baking...There see, my imagination runs away with me...

"Monsieurs and Madames, this train route was carved to give the perfect experience of the Swiss Alps and the Swiss way of life. On both sides of the tracks, you have seen the pretty homes. Very soon we will be crossing one such whose front yard is on one side of the track and the home is on the other. The owner, an old lady,  never fails to wave at the passengers with a smile. Do keep a lookout from around the next bend and do wave back. We only hope that it is not yet her lunch time!"
 We kept our eyes peeled with much anticipation on one side of the train and then the other. It was not a major event but a small gesture that would have added to the warmth to the entire trip. We did cross the home but there was no lady. A little patch of green rose from the track leading to  the steps of the lady's home where she was probably having her lunch. And I am very sure this is not how she keeps herself occupied everyday!

      Destination was just a few minutes away. From Rochers-de-Naye we had a glimpse of Lake Geneva or Lac Léman as it is known in French, the largest water body in Switzerland, shaped like a crescent moon. The second part of the trip entailed a cruise on this lake from Montreux to Lausanne.


 But Montreux  was so exotic that I wished we had more time to explore the place at leisure. It was like the mountains had thrown open it's arms to reveal a vast expanse of blue sky, shimmering waters dotted with sail boats and a pretty city stretching languorously along the lake. The train station itself was a heritage site from where we walked down a slope and crossed the road that brought us to the lake front. The promenade along the lake in Montreux is touted to be among the best. A steady  breeze blew as we took in the lovely park along the shore where artistic roles were given to junkyard pieces of old tyres, broken cars, chairs that transformed into fountains and plant holders. Little sparrows frolicked  around in the water.

     A quaint structure had caught our attention when we were descending into Montreux. A quick peep in at the information desk, confirmed that we could make it to this place, Chateau De Chillon, and in fact board the cruise from there. What luck! So a short bus trip of fifteen minutes brought us to this lovely 13th century  castle set against the backdrop of the lake. We would have loved to walk along the promenade to reach this chateau but paucity of time made us hop on to a bus. Turreted and towered, and said to be a conglomeration of hundred small structures now difficult to discern, it stood on a little island just off the shore connected with a canopied bridge. The sturdy monument is every tourist's delight never having been plundered or ravaged in all its years of existence. Only changed hands amicably from one victor to the other.


Chateau De Chillon

   What is it with Montreux, the nearby Vevey or all those lovely locales that stir the creative minds to find their Muses here? Is it the picturesque  location, the rich history or the sunshine weather? I think it's the combination of the trio and generously cocooned in tranquility. Lord Byron is said to have penned "Prisoner of Chillon" inspired by the tale of the political prisoner Francois de Bonivard, a Genevois monk who was imprisoned in one of the dungeons. Byron is said to have carved his name on the pillar where Francois was chained. Henry James is said to have incorporated the chateau as one of the settings in his novella Daisy Miller. Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin... the  list grows with all of them making homes here. You will find a statue of  Charlie Chaplin in Vevey like the one of  Freddie Mercury we found in Montreux ready to '... break free'  into a Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie Mercury was so taken in with the serenity of the place that when the band Queen acquired the famed Mountain Studios, he adopted Montreux as his second home. He greatly appreciated the townspeople's respect for his privacy.
Bronze Satue Of Freddie Mercury

One can spend hours and hours just strolling around those streets or spending some quiet time along the lake. Montreux was truly bliss. From the Chateau De Chillon we boarded the launch that was to cruise us to Lausanne, yet another pretty place on the Lake Geneva. Sail boats dotted the waters as birds flew overhead. We had a clear vista from the lake, of the Swiss Riviera  region with slopes covered with vineyards gearing up for the next season. Excited voices filled the air. We were a motley crowd of three Indian families, a group of school going local kindergarten kids escorted by their teachers, a bunch of boisterous American teenagers out on an excursion, some Japanese tourists, some well heeled and perfectly coiffured Caucasian ladies. I couldn't help admiring one of them for her coordinated look down to her accessories and nail paint - the lady in pink perfectly in control of the elements while we were wind blown and sunned . After sometime the chatter of the other passengers also died down. It was the whooshing wind, the bright sunshine, the blue sky, and a view of the shoreline. 


Changing Views From the Lake Geneva

When we finally arrived at Lausanne, we took a last look at the shore before we hurried across the road to take the metro to the railway station.



Our short Swiss journey was more of a pleasant discovery of the countryside with their famed little villages and towns, hopping from one station to another, riding a bus or taking the metro, gazing out at the lakes and the waterfronts, marvelling at the preservation of heritage structures and aura and attempting to absorb every bit of the picturesque view. And most of all mingling around with some wonderfully helpful people.

Travel Details

Stay :-    B&B at Dietikon 12km approximately from Zurich
               Pick and drop to the train station arranged by the host.

Swiss Flexi Pass :- Covered all the travel expenses within Switzerland including the cruise.
                              Children travel free.

Time travelled  :-  7.30am to 8.00pm approximately each day with kids.