TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHY 4 MONTHS OF NON STOP TRAVEL MADE ME HATE TRAVEL!

TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!

COMPLETE GUIDE TO PARO TAKTSANG AKA TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY IN BHUTAN

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Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

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Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

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I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
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Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

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Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

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Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

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I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

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Offbeat Goa: Unique Boat Festival during Tripurari Poornima aka Dev Deepawali!

This November, I discovered a totally different side to Goa. Not many know that Goa has a sizeable Marathi population and they celebrate their festivals with aplomb and in style. I got the opportunity to attend one such festival. The boat festival celebrated as Tripurari Poornima is one of its kind festival close to the heart of Goans. Its North Indian counterpart is called Dev Deepawali. But the rituals and celebrations are as similar as Bebinca and Gulab Jamun.

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Tens of boats were lined up at the temple campus before their owners decided it is time to carry them to the lake for the final grand ceremony. These boats were lovingly crafted by the artisans from all corners of Goa for the final grand rituals. All roads led to the nondescript Vithalapur in Sankhali which came alive with festive fervor. It is an hour drive away from Panaji. The designs on the boats were unique and quirky.

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My favourite were: A weird looking ‘ugly duckling’, a new age monster and a dragon threatening to spew fire. The largest boat however stole all the thunder. It depicted the tough life of the fishermen of Goa. Life size human figures flanked either sides of the boat and one stood above captaining the boat. Most of such boats were made up of local materials such as coconut shells, palm, paper, wood, thermocol etc.

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All of a sudden my attention was won by a Marathi music concert going on nearby. A fan of all things Marathi, I couldn’t help but run towards the venue to catch local ‘lavani’ songs. I am a huge lavani fan. I thought these were limited to Maharashtra but I was proven pleasantly wrong. I stood there enjoying one song after another, enjoying the camaraderie and rapport of the performers, so characteristic of Maharashtrians. I was overjoyed like thousands other when they played the famous lavani chartbuster, ‘Mala jau Dya Na Ghari, Ata Vajle te bara!’ (Let me go home, it’s midnight!).  Sadly for me, there was no lavani dance, just the songs.

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Next, a food stall nearby attracted my attention in no time. I ran again in search of vada pao and samosa pao. I got both and like an overjoyed kid, filled my face with it. More than I should have. The one thing I miss the most after having shifted to Ghaziabad from Navi Mumbai is the Maharashtrian food and culture (festivals/people/language). The other journalists and the guide with me were Marathis speaking and I spoke in Marathi with them for the 3 days I was in Goa. It was my way of switching on my Marathi soul once again; funnily in Goa.

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This was my 9th trip to Goa and for the first time it was not from Mumbai. When I used to travel from Mumbai, I didn’t notice the Marathi presence; perhaps because I was so used to all things Marathi that I lost all objectivity and didn’t notice the similarity between Goa and Maharashtra. Or perhaps because my stay in the last 8 trips was almost always limited to the touristy spots! Never mind, I am determined to spend my next Goa vacation off the touristy trail.

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After having my Marathi fill (and grinning foolishly from ear to ear about it!), I along with other bloggers and journalists veered off to the main venue where all the boats were waiting for us, calmly floating in the pond. We passed many Maharashtrian style homes. The locals had displayed their own versions of small boats outside the main gates of their house. Rangolis and Kandeels (lamps) added to the home décor.

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Diwali in 2016 fell on 30th October and there I was celebrating Diwali like festival all over again on 14th November. Saree (worn in Maharashtrian style) clad women sat in their lawns scented with customary ‘Tulsi’ planted prestigiously in the middle. Tulsi aka basil has medicinal properties and is much revered by Hindus across India. The venue was filled with people, most of them locals along with few tourists and international media. Within few minutes, the palanquin (palki) procession of Vithal Rakhumai pierced the crowd, stealing all the limelight.

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We settled at a pedestal reserved for media and watched the intriguing proceedings unfold. The looming presence of a benevolent Supermoon made it all the more delightful. Supermoon occurs when the proximity of Earth to Moon is the least. This makes the Supermoon the brightest and largest. The next such moon will appear in 2034. A Ravanasque effigy stood in the middle of the pond, slightly away from the congregation of boats. A drama of good versus bad ensued on a boat and the effigy was burnt. It triggered a series of fireworks up in the sky. This gave the festival a touch of North Indian Dussehra. We looked at the massive crowd and left before everyone started to leave. This saved us from traffic chaos.

Enriching experiences like these unfold in the unknown corners of Goa and India all the time, away from the tourists who are focused on the tested and tried. You know who is at a loss here!

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When: This festival happens during Karthik Poornima. It occurs 15 days after Deepawali, on the full moon.

Where to stay: Hotel Miramar, Panaji. Walking distance from the beach, it is a no nonsense hotel with sprawling lawns, a swimming pool and room in cottage style buildings. The rooms are air-conditioned, basic and neat. It has a restaurant and a bakery nearby.

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NORTH GOA: YOUR QUICK & EASY GUIDE IN TO THE HEART OF INDIA’S PARTY CAPITAL PLUS AN ITINERARY

Pic above – Calangute and Baga stretch 

WHY GO TO GOA NORTH? Goa is the smallest state of India. Yet every few kilometers the character of this beautiful land changes. There are quieter havens in Goa but North Goa has retained the undisputed status of ‘Party capital of India’ where the only time people sleep is in the afternoon, for their mandatory ‘susegad’ (Afternoon nap). North Goa is the most popular Goan retreat especially for the first timers and for those whose idea of a great time is dancing away to loud music at a shack by the beach at 3 a.m.

As a child growing up in nondescript small towns of mofussil India, Goa was the stuff my fantasies were woven of. Adulthood came with financial freedom and opportunities to turn fantasies into reality. After I landed up a job in Mumbai, access to Goa has been a cushy perk. Many of my friends from Pune find it easy to go to Goa too. The flights on this route are cheap. Thanks to good air connectivity, it takes very little time to reach Goa from Pune or Mumbai.  No wonder, I made 8 trips to different parts of Goa in a span of 6 years discovering different aspects of the most unique Indian state. It certainly boosts my ego when Hotel owners, vehicle rental owners and restaurant waiters recognize me and wave at me even if I visit the place after a gap of 1 year!

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Sunrise at Baga Beach

HANGING OUT AT BAGA BEACH:

Baga Beach has the liveliest shacks and offers an amazing variety of international cuisines. Facing the swim friendly beach, the shacks are operational till the wee hours. There’s a lot you can do at Baga beach. Get a tattoo(Permanent/temporary) done, try the many water sports, shop for knick knacks, swim in crystal clear waters, read a book, work on your tan, make new friends, binge on lip smacking food, get drunk (How can you not!), indulge in karaoke night or impress your better half with a late night al fresco candle light dinner often accompanied by live acrobats and breezy air. Baga and Calangute beaches are efficiently patrolled by baywatchers and rescue workers.

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Para sailing at Baga-Calangute stretch

IDEAL FOR A WALK: CALANGUTE BEACH 

Calangute beach is the sister beach of Baga. You will not even realize when Baga ends and Calangute starts. Yet it’s easy to differentiate both beaches at their tail ends. Calangute is as good as Baga beach but a bit more crowded. Rest, it offers everything which Baga does. A leisurely sunset walk by the beach from Baga’s tail end to Calangute’s is rejuvenating.

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Pasta at Anjuna Beach

THE SECRETS OF ANJUNA BEACH:

The scenic Anjuna beach is an easy 6 kms (3.5 miles), 15 minutes ride away from Baga and Calangute beach. Anjunais better known for its parties, picturesque beaches guarded by hills and lastly for its Wednesday flea market. A sunset dinner at the sea facing restaurant at the hill top completes the Anjuna trip.

SOME COOL, ECONOMICAL AND STRATEGICALLY LOCATED STAY OPTIONS

Luxury 

Estrela do mar beach resort : Conveniently located at KhobraVaddo, Calangute, it is just 1 kilometer away from Baga Beach and 500 metres away from Our Lady of Piety Chapel. Most places of attractions are at walking distance from here. It is just 41 km (approx.) away from Goa International Airport and 50 km (approx.) from Margao Railway Station. It boasts of a variety of rooms such as beach cottage, swiss cottages, standard, luxury, executive, family. Rooms are air conditioned and stocked with tea/coffee maker, mini bar, color television, safe, and telephone. What’s more, you can also expect live performances. Think banjo, tabla, guitar, sitar, Rajasthani folk dance, Goan dance, movies, DJ nights, the works! Address – KhobraVaddo, Calangute, Bardez Goa – 403516, Goa.

Budget 

Hacienda Hotel : What attracts me here time and again is the very warm owners, no nonsense accommodation, amazing proximity to all places of attractions and reasonable tariffs. It also has a cozy garden, ideal for breakfasts and lazy book readings. You can return to the room at any time, even at 3 a.m. On the flipside, the restaurant menu is very limited but you don’t mind since most of the pubs, restaurants, discos, bars and beaches are hardly 5-10 minutes walk from the hotel. Its run by Mrs.Lobo, her husband and her son. They make a great host and will even guide you around without you asking for it! That said, be warned it is not a luxury property.

Contact :Bardez, Baga Beach Road, Calangute, Goa, India . Phone : 0832 227 7348

Shelsta Hotel at Calangute is another of North Goa’s affordable hotels. The rooms are cozy, comfortable and you have the option of AC and non AC rooms. The location is its best advantage as its walking distance from all the major attractions. Owner Ms. Sheila is an ever smiling helpful host

Contact : C/o Subway, Cobravaddo, Calangute-Baga Road, Bardez, Goa, Calangute, GA, India.

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GO SLURRP HAPPY IN GOA:

Brittos: Brittos remains the most popular shack on Baga stretch. Often frequented by Indian celebrities, it is known for its sea food and an upbeat vibe. Though a bit pricier than its counterparts, a visit is a must to Baga’s most popular shack. Despite the fact that it’s the largest shack at Baga, it can often become difficult to get a table here. For vegans, salads and some basic pasta, pizzas save the day.

Shree Sagar, Calangute, Goa. : If you are craving for some Indian food or are on a shoestring budget, then Shree Sagar on the main Baga-Calangute road is your ideal find. Not only the food is good and hygienic but it’s one of the cheapest restaurants you will find in the location. A breakfast of South Indian Idli/Dosa/Utthapa is a must. It’s also good for North Indian cuisine. The seating is comfortable but don’t expect much of an ambience.

Infantaria : It’s easy to miss this gem of a restaurant on Baga-Calangute road. But the owner has ensured you take notice with their huge “ALL DAY DINING” banner. It’s great for Italian food but the lesser popular Goan dishes will leave you asking for more. You can round off a sumptuous meal with Goan dessert Bebinca and few glasses of Feni, the local liquor.

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Nice Pasta and Goan food at Infantria

THINGS TO CARRY: Goa is a backpacker’s delight. All you need to carry is few clothes, flip flops, a camera, sun block and an open mind.

HOW TO REACH GOA: Many cheap flights run to Goa from Pune and Mumbai. Thanks to the geographical advantage, one can fly to Goa from Pune and Mumbai on a whim. There have been many instances where I have just showed up in Goa in one day’s notice,sans any planning.

GETTING AROUND WITHIN GOA: Cheapest (but time consuming) way to reach Baga is taking a bus. Taxis are expensive. Best way is hire and self drive a scooter (Honda Activa available for as low as Rs.200/day), Royal Enfields, open jeeps, cars. Not only are they economical, they give you the liberty of enjoying the Goan streets at your own pace and whims. They are easily available at road sides and rentals are always negotiable.

MONEY AND TIPPING: Thanks to the huge foreign footfalls, it’s easy to exchange foreign currency in Goa. ATMs are commonplace too. A 10% Tipping is highly appreciable since the waiting staff at most Goan restaurants are attentive, quick, cheerful and friendly.

PLAY SAFE: Goa is largely safe. I have often loitered around Goan streets and beaches as late as 3 a.m. To 4 a.m. without losing my money or limbs. Still some stray cases of rapes and drug trafficking is reported every few years. Stay away from pimps, dubious drug paddlers. Roaming in group late night shall see you through. Be wary of touts approaching at you promising wild parties and Russian dancers.

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My parents at Anjuna. Lunch is scenic here!

A 3 DAY ITINERARY

DAY 1– Reach Estrela do mar beach resort, relax. Hit Baga and Calangute beaches. Take it easy the first day as most places of attraction can be covered on foot. Walk and explore the nearby area maybe shopping on the way from road side vendors. Indulge in lunch and dinner on one of the sea facing shacks. Take a bare foot walk by the beach from Baga to Calangute. Don’t hire a vehicle yet but check and negotiate vehicle rental rates for next day. Check out party scene in Tito n Mambo, the discos, walking distance away.

DAY 2– Get wet in the beaches. Go food hopping or pub crawling. Indulge in water sports. Get drunk. Have a susegad (afternoon nap). Wake up. Repeat! Stay till late night on Baga/Calangute beach.

DAY 3 – Time to get sober and a bit romantic! Experience sunrise at Baga/Calangute beaches. Have lunch/evening snacks at Anjuna Beach. Return and stay till late night on Calangute beach, indulging in a more sober al fresco candle light dinner. A must!

Tip – You can also visit Alorna Fort, Amthane Dam and Ancestral Goa Museum

The view from my #SoulWindow is upbeat!

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Anjuna Beach

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WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.