Emerald Dew Drop – Sri Lanka

My sister and I wanted to go on an exclusive sibling adventure. KK a close friend helped us select Sri Lanka, his personal choice as he loves the Buddha, and for the positive review Sri Lanka flaunts itself with.

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A famous Buddhist abode, flanked by skyscrapers in Downtown Colombo.

The visa is pretty easy with an online ETA costing USD 10. There is an option to obtain it for USD 15 on arrival, but it would be wise to get an online ETA before you travel, its hassle free, simple and easy.

Sri Lanka is popular among tourists for a reason, its refreshing, welcoming, pristine, clean and it has a huge aura of positivity. We were there for Christmas & Sri Lanka boasts of displaying some of the worlds best cribs. The christmas decor all over the town of Colombo was like the biggest party i had attended, it could literally be Santa’s backyard. The weather was pleasant with moisture laden ocean breeze, the tuk-tuks are a very convenient mode of transport.

IMG_6864Colorful Efficient Tuk-tuks for easy commute.

At first we were pretty edgy about visiting a new country, the fear of the unknown and apprehension about the safety aspect. But as soon as we set foot outside the immigration all our fears were set aside and it was time to bask in the glory Sri Lanka had to offer us. And we were very pleased by what we saw at Colombo. We stayed at the Nippon, stones throw from the famous Galle Face. We spent two days sight-seeing and settling in a new place. Early the next morning we took a fancy looking red train from Colombo to Hikkadwa, the best part was the view from the train, as the tracks were along the seashore all the way! 😀

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View from the train 🙂

Hikkadwa is a laid back, relaxed town famous for surfing. The waters are a shade of turquoise blue with a tinge of green, the granules are pretty coarse and you can see the beautiful harmony as the waves scoop the grains from the sea bed while forming beautiful waves. We made this our base camp and travelled to Galle by the local bus.

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View from the resort we stayed at in Hikkadwa.

Galle  is a dutch town, an alien could land at Galle and move around the town effortlessly, it’s so well planned that there is no need to be apprehensive about it being a new city. Since we were travelling by ourselves we were on the lookout for surprises but the city is calm, laid back, and full of people who would help you. The most prominent spot is the Galle Fort. We walked all along the fort, the view of the ocean was soothing yet it reminded me about the wrath of nature’s fury during the 2004 Tsunami, incidentally we were at the memorial on Dec 26, 2012. The stories the locals narrated was hair-raising, real, yet unbelievable.

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At the Galle fort.

We next did a cross-country from Matara at the southern most tip of the island to the central province, by far our favourite place – Kandy! Personal preference is to a place with low temperatures as I love the weather when its pleasant and Kandy satisfied my wishes on various different levels. It was cool due to the topography, the central province is elevated and is several hundred feet above sea level, it’s a city surrounded by dense, lucious forests of the central province. No amount of information about the surreal beauty of this place does justice of being there in person. We had a memorable exploration at the National Park, Botanical Gardens, the tea factory, the spice gardens, table top mountain and we also bought some precious stones – emeralds and topaz for some fine jewellery.

IMG_7419View at Kandy

We missed the famous Kandian dance, but we are soon going back for more! This time we have Nuwara Eliya on our bucket list – rumored to be the England of Sri Lanka!

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Beauty of Trekking 

It feels good to be lost in the right direction!

Going on a trek is great form of exercise, a wonderful way to break the routine of everyday life, and THE best way to meet wonderful people.

On my 20th birthday I went for my first national trek in the Himalayas. Back then, my fitness regime was good, I would do some cardio at least and I had good stamina, but I dint actually do a rigorous boot camp training for what was to come ahead. I treated it like another touristy venture. Oooooops – that was my first bitter lesson about the prominent difference between being a tourist vs being a hiker.

The base camp for the National Himalayan trek was in Himachal, the air is fresh, you can hear the river gushing through the rocks, the place is calm, cool and serene.

One amazing aspect of going on the treks is that you meet amazing like-minded people. There is an aura of positivity, you live with the bare minimum, learn to share dry fruits, biscuits, offer water to a panting team member & help spontaneously. On your treks, you are bound to make friends for life for you see each other in the most unedited way, without make-up, in your sweatshirts, track pants, crying out in pain, panting & cursing – this is the true version of you without any pretense. 🙂

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The Cool Mumbaikars!

We had an amazing time during the Sar Pass Trek and this was a candid click – we saw a tree trunk, all of us tried to fit in the frame & we have a picture to cherish. Nostalgic recollection of the day’s events, even after all this time is inevitable.

Downtown / Uptown Conundrum

Downtown is referred to a city center, a central business district, often in a commercial sense. A geographical location where the heart of the city usually is. Downtown is widely used by American and Canadian English speakers.

The term Downtown is thought to have been coined in New York city in the early 1830’s. Back then, the only possible area of the city’s expansion was up north,the yet to develop region towards the north was called as uptown & the original town, developed, commercial heart of New York  at the southern tip of Manhattan in the south was famously known as Downtown.

A friend of mine visiting Charlotte in North Carolina told me she went to the city center – Uptown & I said “Wait a minute, isn’t it Downtown for a city center?” And then she patiently explained to me how Charlotte’s heart of the city was famously termed as Uptown.

While at Charlotte “Uptown” & “Downtown” do not refer to different areas, it refers to the city center, the commercial heart of Charlotte. During the 1980’s a massive campaign was launched to revamp and bring about a positive upbeat image and hence the term Uptown came into use. My friend who just got back from Charlotte told me that it’s also because the terrain to the city’s center is inclined, and Uptown denotes the heart of Charlotte.

These small tidbits do make a nice topic of conversation, if not for my friend I would have incorrectly assumed that all the city centers across the United States were Downtowns. Now I know what to tell the cabbie when I visit Charlotte in North Carolina 😉

Personal Note of thanks to ‘Moi Eti Jajabor​’ for the insight to this beautiful city in North Carolina, for the new dimension of thought process, for imparting this valuable yet profound tidbit about the famous Uptown!

7 Colored Earth @Chamarel

The earth is seven colored at Chamarel, a total mystery with centuries of secrets. I was flabbergasted when I saw it for real. This is a unique, one of a kind geological formation found at Chamarel – south-west of Mauritius. It is a major tourist destination, attracting almost everyone who sets foot on this mysterious, magical, surrealistic island.

You might wonder if this is a paining, a hoax, and believe me when you take a handful of this earth you can’t really tell if you are dreaming or if it is for real. Because the earth has grains of sand colored red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow! They are formed over centuries from the decomposition of volcanic rock & the various degrees of colors are due to the molten volcanic sediments cooling at varying external temperatures.

The different colored grains spontaneously settle in different layers! When the dunes are formed it acquires an artistic, striped coloring in a layered spectrum. Yet another surprising aspect of Chamarel, these mysterious dunes never erode despite the torrential tropical rains.

The route to Chamarel is beautiful with waterfalls and lush green forests. There is a view of the famous Black River Gorges National park too and you can see the mountains in layers up until the horizon.

IMG_8858A picturesque waterfall on your way to Chamarel.

Small curio shops in the area sell souvenirs of this 7 colored earth. The place is serene and makes one wonder how it really was when the volcano first erupted at that place, and to be witnessing this beautiful phenomenon after centuries only makes one love nature more and more.

Hampi – Stone Art 

Hampi a town in southern India, is of great historical significance & a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What’s beautiful is that the entire city is built of stone! It is an important part of the Vijayanagar Dynasty & the ruins now don’t just amaze everyone it also makes one feel humble standing in front of the Huge stone matap (the picture above).

Many tourists visit this unique architecture built centuries ago to get a feel of ancient India.

Virupaksha temple is beautiful and you will find elephants as you enter the gate, there is a section towards the east wall of the temple where the shadow of top of the temple is inverted. Some physics here. It’s the main temple of the city. The city is built on the river Tungabhadra and you can take a boat ride to cross over to the other side of the river.

I have been to Hampi twice and I loved it when the streets were full of local vendors serving eateries and handmade handicrafts. And my personal heaven was the cafe Mango Tree! A quiet serene place, seating arranged to face the river in front, the only sound would be the birds chirping and the distant view of elephants enjoying a wash by the Mahut. The food was as homemade as it can be, Nutella pancakes with a South Indian Filter Coffee would set the tone for the rest of the day.

You can rent a cycle for about One USD and explore the entire city. The road through the main city gate ia slightly uphill and leads you to the stone mantap, the lotus temple, and the elephant stables. You might want to take a rickshaw ride to the Vittala temple – this section is gorgeous, with the beautiful stone temples the architecture and the famous stone chariot.

When you reach the sunset point you can see that the entire town is built on rocks. It could get extremely hot, it’s advisable to visit Hampi in December & early January to avoid the relentless blaring heat.

This place is a visual treat to all artists and it will definitely turn back the clock to a historic era.

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.