Aries at HuaShan 华山

Aries are the pioneers of the zodiac, a cardinal sign full of rigor, enthusiasm and energy. This fire sign denoted by the ram is apt, as the ram is unafraid  to enter new unknown terrain and excel in the conquest. Need a new kick-start for a new idea you know who to get in touch with! The ram likes to scale heights and is usually scaling the mountains. Maybe that’s why we three musketeers from different countries ended up at Huashan, to scale these majestic peaks. Michael from Germany, Nimrod from Israel & me from India were climbing up HuaShan with a relentless strong will to hike up all the way and back.

IMG_1706 A pretty steep climb at HuaShan

Hua Shan is one of the 5 sacred mountains in China, has a long history of religious significance. The terrain is quite tricky with vertical climbs and it could be quite exerting even for a seasoned climber. Off late, my fitness regime had taken a hit, and although i knew going up HuaShan involved climbing, I dint really expect what was to come:)

To reduce slips and to ward off unforeseen danger, there are meticulously carved steps with railings and chains for support all along the way. While climbing HuaShan one cant help but appreciate the effort that was taken, to enable the climb with comfort and ease.

The view is breathtaking and weather very pleasant, as you will be hiking among clouds. There are cable cars to reach the peak too. But we chose to climb all the way up. Throughout my climb I met many people who warmly greeted us with Ni Hao & would encourage through sign language us to climb further – they would flex the biceps and tell us to be strong 🙂 You can have a pit stop at various cafes along the way.

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At the South Peak – the highest point.

We climbed up the west peak to a monastery, where we camped the night and in the morning we trekked to the Death Trail – a 50cm wooden plank that is mounted perpendicular to the mountain wall. This trails enjoys a reputation of being the Worlds most dangerous hiking trail. It’s a 2 way traffic up here on this narrow plank, and your safety is in the harness and you have the control as you got to hook the clamps as you cross this wooden plank.

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The famous death trail – Its a 2 way traffic up here! 😉

The view from here is magnificent and gorgeous. You do feel a sense of accomplishment while you have done this climb. It is definitely a must visit while in Shaanxi Province. Its one of the highlights of visiting this section of Mainland China.

We took a bullet train from Xi’An to Huayin, just outside Huayin station we had a wonderful meal and set off to the base of Huashan in a cab. On the way back there is a free bus service from the base of Huashan to the city & we took a bus back to Xi’An as we missed the last train in the afternoon by a few mins.

Back in Xi’An we had sore muscles for the next 10 days. That was by far the most beautiful pain & I loved it because every step I took reminded me of the arduous climb and it brings a smile right back even now 🙂 Aries – the Ram belongs to the mountains – Did we 3 Aries pick Huashan, or did Huashan tempt us to scale it?

Heavenly Abode – Mauritius

“Mauritius was made first, and then heaven. Heaven was copied after Mauritius” – Mark Twain 

I honestly thought this was a wee bit exaggerated, until I saw Mauritius for real. I realised what Mark Twain wrote was really a very subtle attempt to explain what the grandeur of this immaculate country is all about. The whole place is picturesque. The pristine waters have a different tinge of indigo mixed with blue that looks metallic when the waters shimmer in the endless landscape of Africa. 

MahebergThe View from the Boulevard at Mahebourg – South-East of Mauritius.

Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, thousands of kilometers off the coast of the continental Africa this heavenly abode boasts of possessing some of the worlds best visual treats. The air is crisp, skies ink blue, and the lush canopy a deep shade of green. The roads are jet black and the motorways meet the horizon, as far as the eye can see. 

One can’t help but notice the untouched beauty of nature. It’s the energy in Mauritius that makes it such an exotic destination. People across the world secretly hope to reach Mauritius to see for themselves what the media coverage and the hype is all about.

Well, MRU has a lot more to offer than just the scenery. The beaches are pristine with silver sands that feels very soft under your bare feet, the waters are different shades of turquoise and various degrees of blue. Visibility at snorkeling areas in Blue Bay is several meters in-depth with a beautiful shade of light blue that doesn’t just feel beautiful but also soothes the soul. Immediately after being immersed in these beautiful water bodies one can’t help but thank the universe for making it possible to arrive at this destination. I believe the ones who reach Mauritius truly feel blessed to have witnessed something this close to perfection. 

Often I get bombarded with the eminent question – Nam what’s so special about Mauritius….isn’t it just like Maldives? Why this destination…? Well, for starters I’d always say – No two places feel the same, they look-alike but not the same. The place, the energy, the aura, everything feels different and these places have their own secret stories to share.

While in Mauritius, it is really hard to give your camera shutter some rest. You will have an incredible undying urge to click as many pictures as possible because you would want to relish the memories for the days to come. 

What’s so special about this country that grows loads of sugarcane? The view of the fields is magnificent, luscious green canopy covered mountains jutting out of the crystal blue ocean is a sight so splendid that it really did take my breath away! The landscapes look fresh and all over the boulevards are inscriptions of history and very significant events that took place in the country’s rich and entertaining history.

Mauritius is a volcanic island with varying temperatures, at the coast it’s pretty hot and humid but as you scale up  the terrain just a few miles from the coast the temperature drops drastically. My favorite was Vacoas – beautiful residential villas embalmed in a blanket of moisture laden air and the climate in this region is very pleasant – around 20 degrees. 

The view at Casela Nature Reserve is breathtaking – you can see the lush green mountains followed by the motorway and then the ocean, you can’t really tell when the Ocean meets the sky! It’s a beautiful unison, a melodious harmony – a visual treat. 

I would urge everyone to make an attempt to visit this place, it’s exhilarating & rejuvenating at the same time. How about this – save up some dough for treating yourself. Because this gift you give yourself will last a lifetime. 

Mauritius is truly worthy of all the praise and the reputation it enjoys. 

 

Elegance Personified

Smart, Strong, Affectionate, Forgiving, Pillar of strength and one who radiates warmth. We all have women around us we deeply care about. It could be a friend, lover, a mother, sister or a social worker. When a woman has a beautiful heart, she can’t hide her beauty and its visible.

The beauty amplifies when the person is unaware of it, an elegant woman walking going about her chores, or a lady reading a book unaware of her striking radiance. Like a friend once said, “A gorgeous woman who is unaware of her beauty is profoundly beautiful than one who tries to flaunt it with an air of arrogance and conviction.”

Every woman who is close to our heart is worthy to be treated like a queen and I’m pretty sure few dames take this title way too seriously and come across as Drama-Queens 😉 Well, despite the criticism women don’t fail to influence the member of the opposite gender to follow suit. Yeah we’ve all heard about macho men pulling the stunt of being convincing drama queens 🙂

Whats this hype all about one asks, and the joke is that every day except Women’s day is a Men’s Day! 🙂

So Gentlemen put on your best smile and elevate the happiness of the women close your heart, by doing a simple act of kindness or any simple gesture to accentuate her worth. An honest compliment, could set the tone for the rest of the day.

A company once offered to give a small note to all the women at the gate when they arrived at work. And not a single woman went in without a smile on her face! There were euphoric conversations in the lobby and at the breakout areas!

It doesn’t have to be a fancy bouquet of flowers or an expensive gift neither a lunch/dinner date. I witnessed a colleague paying the flyover toll for a woman who was standing in line behind him! She was ecstatic and appreciated the kind gesture.

I am pretty sure we could all think of various little deeds to bring out the best accentuating curve on the women – her smile!

String of Pearls – Maldives

No words or pictures could ever do justice to what one has to experience when visiting the Maldives. Although some might argue that it’s the same sand, same sun and the same beach – there is no other possible substitute for the beauty and serenity of this place. This is a picture taken at the Crown Resorts at the North Male Atoll.

One word of caution though – visiting Maldives will spoil everything else on earth 😉 The waters are crystal clear with an astonishing clarity for several meters.

When you reach the airport you will be transported to your resort by either a boat or a sea plane. The view is breath-taking! The Ocean is gorgeous and the endless expanse looks like a painting where the painter has played with different shades of blue.

It’s a total bliss to be lost in the middle of the ocean – clear air, absolutely zero pollution and overwhelming desire to just stay calm and listen to the ocean, breathe the air, savor the amazing sea food & wake up to sting rays that have come close to the shore.

It’s an excellent place for snorkeling although the reef is slightly bleached. The aquatic fauna is brilliant, the reef sharks and the black tipped sharks do make a regular appearance. The sea turtles are a treat to the eyes and so are the various schools of different species of fish. The spot where the reef ends and the view drops to the endless abyss is mesmerizing and the feeling can’t be emulated no matter what.

It’s definitely a place of relaxation. A wonderful week spent in this paradise is the best bet to pamper your soul.

Biang Biang Mian!

Biang Biang Mian – from the exotic Shaanxi Province of Mainland China is considered a speciality noodle dish, which is scrumptious and makes you come back for more!

Biang Biang Mian is an enigma in itself, famously known as the Belt Noodle – considering its length and thickness.

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Biang Biang Mian is served in a bowl tossed in aromatic sauces, topped with lots of hot peppers to beat the cold Xi’an chills, a generous sprinkle of grated garlic, lots of freshly cut cilantro topped with marinated and barbeque meat of your choice. This is an absolute delicacy, the aroma is rich and the dish only beats the expectations one might have after just looking at it.

It was introduced to me during my backpacking trip to the Famous city of Xi’An by a dear friend Nimrod.  The first comment was about the Mandarin Symbol for this scrumptious dish – it consists of 58 strokes – quite complex even for a seasoned Mandarin writer.

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This is the Mandarin symbol for Biang Biang Mian – its pretty complex with 58 strokes!

The noodle is handmade and makes one wonder about the precision of every other inch of this noodle that transformed itself to perfection from an innocent lump of dough.

Xi’an is a beautiful city, famous for the terracotta warriors, apart from this archeological site the city has lots more to offer! The weather was beautiful and the best place to taste Biang Biang Mian is at the food street, east of the Bell Tower wall.

I hope the food lovers do get a chance to taste this dish and its worth every penny!

Solo Travel

Travelling by far has had the most therapeutic effect on me than anything else. More than just travelling, its the solo travel that I am most nostalgic about. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and courage to plan the next adventure. It definitely is an adventure.

When you travel you must have a Plan-B, that’s the Golden Rule. I learnt it the hard way, but then again, experience is the best teacher, no matter how much you read up on the internet about contingency plans, there is always the surprise element.

I once read a beautiful quote about travel – “There are two types of travelers, some set out looking for an adventure and the others secretly hope that there is no adventure!” I understood what this meant with clarity, when I almost missed my flight back from Colombo due to a new online check-in rule. Believe me it was an Adventure!

My colleagues had seldom heard about anyone who would go backpacking alone. I guess the normal form of a holiday is going out with your loved one, partner, friends or family. When I was asked about my travel, I would tell them enthusiastically about my little adventure. The reaction of almost ever single one would either be of awe, amazement or total conviction that I had lost my mind to travel alone. Many would hurl their opinions at me mostly out of concern about the danger of travelling alone, and few others would react with sheer amusement. Some others would just not understand as to how I could spend an entire month by myself, mostly it would end up with “Dint you feel lonely?” I tell them as a matter of fact, that there is a stark difference between being lonely and enjoying solitude 🙂

I am the blessed to belong to the lot who enjoys their solitude and gains strength from it.

Solo Travel calls for total confidence in oneself, and total confidence that you are going to take care of YOU! You feel extremely responsible, your radar is bound to be at its best, it teaches you to be vigilant, you make sure to get the logistics right, you don’t leave any loose ends, you most definitely will plan the contingencies and become a meticulous planner!

It makes you smart, trust worthy, and makes you feel like you are in total control of how you go about your day, your itinerary for the entire trip and for all the choices you make.

We are really blessed to have all the help we need at the tip of our fingers really, there is information about the place, the mode of transport & the places to stay with ratings and feedback on the hotel websites.

I guess the first step would be to go to a place that you feel safe at, a place where you know the local language & in close proximity to your base camp (city you live) 🙂

The perks of travelling solo for me is the undivided attention I have for myself, for self introspection, meeting amazing fellow travelers, soaking in the culture of the place, getting a feel of freedom and the slight but rewarding strain of responsibility, staying out of harms way, taking precautions and getting back in one piece 😉

Solo Travel also helps you alter your itinerary as you please! You could end up staying at a place you loved for days at end.  Ideally this may not be a plausible situation if your travel buddy has had enough of that place!

With Solo Travel there is No pressure. You could play it by the ear, and move on when you feel you are 0k to go on.

Some countries do not encourage their young women to venture out alone, the taboo is not just for the imminent danger but also because it’s not a social norm. Well – then again Taboos are meant to be broken right?!

A Brand New Perspetive

“To be inspired is great, to inspire is incredible!”

I am blessed with parents who have a keen interest in adventure, and an undying affinity to spend time close to nature.

They are avid trekkers, very different from the stereotype families among our community, the far and distant relatives.

We grew up in a house where our holidays were planned around camping and travel. My mother set the tone by going for national level treks to Himalayas and the western ghats of India & she offered to be the base camp leader thrice. My sister, dad and I were fascinated with this unique idea, although we were extremely apprehensive at first. My sister and I hid it well. My dad helped my mom with the schedule for the next month and a half – lot of planning, booking tickets to the Himalayas and the Plan B to run the show back at home.

The enthusiastic stories she would come back with, left us all mesmerized and we sat around her to hear more and more – soaking in the narration and trying to imagine the scenario unfolded in front of us. From a very young age we were introduced to a unique yet exotic version of life. We heard about a life in the forests, among bears, snakes, how it felt to live in tents for days at end.

None of my friends had ever come even close to hearing about camping back then. We grew up in a town called Mysore – its in the South of India. My mothers adventurous stories brought about a mixed reaction among my friends. Some were fascinated and they were in awe of her, others were judgmental about the hiking and camping because a mother never really did anything close to this! This was a huge shock to others. But i would tell them like it was nothing less of a fairy tale because I was convinced this was magical. I would also turn a deaf ear to the criticism from others who thought this was not usual & they are not wrong – this hiking & camping was totally weird 🙂

My father soon followed suit and the next summer he asked my mom to take care of us while he was off in the Himalayas to validate what his wife just told him. We missed our parents when they were off on exotic adventures like this – but it was a small price to pay for the bigger benefit. They gave us a gift – A Brand New Perspective to life!

When my dad came back – he was rejuvenated, enthusiastic and full of life. He had a sense of accomplishment about being able to scale 12,500 Ft above sea level. His self-confidence soared greater heights post the trek & he relentlessly trained to build strength, stamina & flexibility.

We saw a new rigor in him. His stories were more animated and he inspired us so much that we couldn’t really wait to go there ourselves! My dad was thrilled that he could effortlessly scale the snow-clad the mountains – it’s a big deal for anyone who lived all the while in a tropical country. I guess he also felt altruistic about being able to help the youngsters who were either afraid or were terrified of the relentless terrain.

We kids couldn’t wait to go there ourselves. We had years of mental and emotional conditioning as to what has to be done when we were hiking in the Himalayas. It was a dreamy preparation all along.

When i graduated i received a priceless gift from my parents – a ticket to reach the Base Camp at Himachal Pradesh & a registration at the Chandrakani Pass in the Himalayas! It was by far the most exotic, unusual, thrilling gift anyone had ever received and I am very grateful to my parents for the experience.

This experience set the tone for the days ahead & my life has always had this beautiful streak of adventure & I have been bit by a lethal travel bug!