There is something about Paro that makes me calm. Maybe it is the size, it didn’t feel big. Maybe it is the number of houses which didn’t seem excessive. Maybe it is the mountains, maybe the small and charming market. But as soon as we started getting out of the airport I said to no one in particular, “now this is exactly what a doctor would order for the frayed city nerves.” After spending 3 nights at Paro, I have still not revised my opinion. It feels as if no one can strike a discordant note in Paro, Bhutan.
The Naksel Resort, Paro, Bhutan #Lumia1020
We stayed at the Naksel Resort which is away from the city. But then in Paro, even the city does not feel like city. My room at Naksel was huge and it had a balcony. The nights were so silent that I would leave a small light on in my room, even though I don’t get easily scared! The only hitch in the paradise? The rooms were at a sharp incline and it was a task to walk back after dinner! But it was good in a way, that way we could digest some of the awesome dinner we would gobble everyday!
The Tiger’s Nest, Paro, Bhutan #Canon550D
The highlight of my trip was the climb to the Tiger’s Nest in Paro. If you are even mildly fit you have to attempt it. The walk is steeply uphill but the location of the monastery is amazing. It is perched on the top of a cliff almost floating up there in the clouds! I will surely like to walk this path again with my daughter one day.
The Traditional Dance at Paro, Bhutan #Canon550D
The Naksel Resort organized an evening of traditional dances from Bhutan. But let me digress for a moment. At college, a colleague asked me to join the ‘Cultural Club’ as a mentor to which I asked her, “Ma’am do I look cultured to you in any way?” That is the truth about me. I miss out on all the finer aspects of dances and such. And yet it is always a pleasure to watch the traditional dances of a country even if I can understand and appreciate so little.
The Market at Paro, Bhutan #Canon550D
They called it a market! For me it was a small place to wander! There is more to the market than I could capture in one frame but it was a small, cozy place. But shopping in Bhutan is expensive. As it has a restriction of USD 250 per person per night on tourists from many countries (but not India), the shopping reflects this. But then who wants to shop when one can roam around and click beautiful pictures! The shops had ornately beautiful windows too!
Rinpung Dzong, Paro, Bhutan #Canon550D
As we were staying away from the city, I could never walk next to the Paro River. It is on my agenda. I also could see the Rinpung Monastery from a distance. But then I have to simply find a way to go back to Bhutan! I am completely smitten by it. I am sure if tranquility had an address it would be Paro!
PS. I was invited by Makemytrip to visit Bhutan and I so thankful that I could easily take leaves and go!
This was a first, Chhavi and I stayed for a night at Ibis Delhi Airport, a newly opened hotel in my own city! We went on the Saturday and came back on Sunday. Now that I have done it, it actually made for a relaxing weekend!
Ibis Aerocity is a newly open hotel in the close proximity to the international and domestic airports in Delhi. When I presented myself at the hotel, there was a big queue for check-out at the reception. Looks like their Pay What You Want campaign is working for them. The campaign ends on September 21. Ibis is an economy hotel from the Accor Group. They have free shuttle service to both the airports.
The Room at Ibis Airport, Delhi
The Room: We had a cozy, clean room with a tea and coffee maker. The room also had a large flat screen TV. The bathroom is designed to economize on space. It was clean and functional. I liked the hair and shower gel as it had a pleasing mild fragrance. As my daughter would use the milk sachets to make milk for her, we asked for more from the housekeeping staff and they always gave it to her! All over the hotel they have posted messages asking guests to help them save the environment. They put two complimentary half liter water bottles in the room. There is a safe in the room.
Good Foos at Ibis Airport, New Delhi
The Food: I was pleasantly surprised by the buffet, both for lunch and dinner at Ibis. I have actually stayed in quite a few Accor hotels- Novotel in Pune and Pullman in Putrajaya, Malaysia. I have visited Sofitel in Bangkok. I have always found their food quite good. The food at Ibis, Aerocity was almost comparable to Novotal in Pune. I found the tomato khus khus and the curd rice quite well done. I liked immensely that they had baklava (among many other things) for dessert both at lunch and dinner. I have tried to cut down on sweet but at dinner I went ahead and had two baklava! For the breakfast I went with upma and idli and both were done well. I asked for milk for Chhavi and they gave it. I saw a mother asking for plain rice and daal for her daughter at dinner and she got it too.
At lunch Chhavi was not eating much and I was worried that she would bother me later for food. The e-commerce manager had joined us for lunch and I mentioned this. He said, “Ma’am there is a whole room service menu at your disposal! Order anything you like!” I wonder why did it never occur to me even in spite of having stayed in many hotels. They have a tea coffee dispenser at the buffet which in my opinion is a really nice touch.
The Swimming Pool at Ibis Airport, New Delhi
The Gorgeous Swimming Pool: Ibis Aerocity has a gorgeous swimming pool. It was our major playground and it was popular with other guests too. On Saturday we spent close to two hours in the pool. I had to finally drag the kid out as she was shivering by the end. But what a gala time we had. I learnt swimming when I was in 4th standard. All through my school and college I had access to a pool. It is only now that I don’t have it, so whenever I get to use one, I go all out.
The kid is learning to swim, she is so hyper that she won’t keep her head in the water for more than a second! We started swimming together at Hong Kong and we continued at Ibis. Ibis has a separate kid’s pool but she wanted to come to the big pool where she could not even stand as the depth is 4 feet. I would take her around and gradually she got the hang of floating. In a way it was good that she could not stand, that way she was forced to do something. I would always remember Ibis fondly as this is where the kiddo started taking baby steps towards swimming!
All Wrapped Up After Swimming!
After coming to the room after the two hour session, I ordered a pizza. She ate three slices, I put on a cartoon on TV and within 10 minutes she was fast asleep. Ibis makes nice thin crust pizzas. With the kid asleep at 6.00 pm I had a lot of free time at hand. I put songs on Sony Mix and read a PG Wodehouse. Oh the bliss of spending a peaceful evening at a hotel in my own city. I woke up Chhavi at about 9.00 pm for dinner. She ate a little bit and fell asleep again in less than hour. I had more free time!
We went swimming again in the morning before breakfast. The swimming pool was the biggest highlight of our stay. After breakfast, which ends at 10.00 am, it was almost time to head back home. My daughter told me as we were walking out, “let us come back again!”
PS. I was invited to the hotel by Ibis. My daughter and I truly enjoyed our stay there.
I am not a big fan of rainy weather. I absolutely detest it if I have to commute through rains. If you live in Gurgaon you know what it means generally. Before traveling to Gulmarg, I checked out the weather forecast and I was not thrilled at all. It predicted rain and then some more for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Mist at Gulmarg, Kashmir
True to the form when I reached Gulmarg, it was raining. I was staying at The Khyber (on invitation) and the property can be a destination in itself. I didn’t mind the rains on Friday as I was anyway tired. I have stayed there in March 2013 as well. I knew if the mist cleared up, there were tall mountains hiding behind it. But the mist just refused to budge!
More Mist at Gulmarg, Kashmir
Day two brought more of the same. It kept raining throughout. Gondola rides were canceled. We eventually went out in the rain around Gulmarg. I have trekked in rains but this was different. When you trek, you have to reach the other place, and only then you get to rest. However, in Gulmarg we had two vehicles at our disposal and we were just a short distance away from the resort. I could get out of the rain whenever I wanted.
I have to say there is something about the rains if you have to take it in short doses. Since I have usually faced it on a trek, I never became a fan. This time when I just started enjoying the rains a little bit, I almost got caught in the Kashmir Floods. I had seen a lot of flood pictures but I never saw it with my eyes. What I saw this time has left me shaken. Nothing comes close to the fury of nature.
It seems to be the flavor of the decade to quit the job to travel! It may work for some and it may not work for some. I belong to the second category. I do think of quitting but it is not to follow my passion. I am able to travel right now. So why quit my job? I work as a Professor at a private college in Gurgaon. And here are 5 reasons why I did not quit my job to travel.
5. That Damn Ph.D: I did my Ph.D. a long time back. I did it from IIT Kanpur. I worked a lot for it. I published, went to conferences and generally enjoyed slogging for it. I know there is something wrong with my head! Now whenever I get the bug to quit, and I will freely admit that I do get it, a bulb goes off in my head which says, “What and leave all that hard work behind?” I have not been able to quell that nagging voice in my head that tells me to hang on, though it is getting weaker with every passing year.
4. My Kid is Small: I have a daughter who studies in primary school. I already travel a lot. But there are times when I have to say no to some sponsors as I can not suit the dates. So far the numbers, thankfully have been small. If I quit, I suspect, I will travel even more, which would mean that my daughter and I will see even less of each-other. I am not willing for this trade off. Or let me say I do not wish to add to it, as I anyway travel a lot. Which takes me exactly to the next point.
Thailand Happiness Street Festival, Bangkok
3. I Anyway Travel a Lot: I have already done 17 trips this year. I was lucky that two major trips came when it was easier for me to take leaves. I was invited to Finland when it was the Holi break and to Jordan when the exams had started so there were no classes to take. It is easier for me to travel on long trips when there is a summer vacation in the college. But the vacations are over now, I have to be content with extended weekend trips, till it is time for winter break!
2. My Risk Appetite: Everyone has a certain type of risk appetite. I am quite risk averse. I do not see what I gain by chucking my perfectly reasonable job! That is how my head is wired. And it is no good arguing with it.
1. Money: There is not a pressure on me to work as we are a double income family, but an extra income never hurts. Also, my husband threatens more than me, to quit his job! So in the end both of us decided to hang on till the kid goes to college. I know, such excuses we give!
In fact, my salary funds the family trips to Hong Kong and Maldives. It lets me go trekking in Nepal, which I love to do. I would love to make more money from blogging/travel writing. But as of now I do not see a good revenue model for me. Coupled with 4 and 5 I am in no hurry to quit my job. I want to quit my job eventually because I get extremely tried of commuting, I wish to quit so that I could watch more sunsets. But I do not really need to quit to travel more, I already travel a lot!
This is a petty post. This is about my difficulties in catching a flight out of Srinagar yesterday, the day Jhelum River breached its banks. However, this minor tragedy collided with the major tragedy of the Srinagar floods, of the #KashmirFloods.
While Going to Gulmarg!
I went to The Khyber Resorts (Gulmarg) on Friday, September 5, as I was invited. Apart from minor traffic jams I did not face much of a problem in getting out of Srinagar even though it was already flooded. A bridge near Gulmarg has collapsed so we had to take a 10 kilometers detour through a village to reach the resort. Gulmarg was misty, it rained but we had fun.
Coming back on Sunday, September 7, was a different story though. When we started from Gulmarg it was not raining, which was a good sign or so we thought. Mohammad Akbar was our driver, he has been with the resort from the early days. There were six of us in two cars. We were making good time and in our inexperience we made an unscheduled stop! Whatever the duration, we did make a stop and in the process got separated from the first car. Akbar at one point told us to hurry up as the situation on the ground was not too good. That made the three of us come out of our stupor. We actually had a smooth sailing till Bemina in Srinagar.
Floods in Srinagar!
At Bemina the water was gushing over the road, I have not seen anything like that in my life. People standing on the way told us that the Scorpio could cross. But Akbar was not too sure. After an initial round of opinions, we decided to follow whatever Akbar suggested, as he was the local and the most experienced. I saw people from the houses nearby standing on the road. There was an announcement going on in Kashmiri. Akbar said it was a call to move the women and children to the local mosque. They had shelter for the animals too.
We hanged around Bemina for a while. Trucks were stranded as the Srinagar Jammu highway is closed. People were burning wood on the road divider to keep warm, it become a social space. We went to the edge of the water. Akbar decided that he would not drive through and we respected his decision.
Oh to be a Child and Sleep through it!
He parked the vehicle sideways and we waited for a while. I got down and walked to the edge of the water. The water was so damn cold. From the comfort of the SUV it never occurred to me that the water would be freezing. There are a few local youths talking to agitated people stranded on this side. A lady wailed, she had a flight to catch and she wanted her vehicle to go through. The boys had put a makeshift barricade. To me the flow looked scary. I said so to them. They pointed out, “Look at that truck full of people at the other end with all its weight? Even then it is moving with such difficulty!”
We decided to head back, at least for some distance, away from the water. I found a wash room in one of the restaurants. I saw army personnel in this area and asked them how was the situation beyond the water torrent? One of them said I would still miss my flight as there was a massive traffic jam after that in the city. I talked to a family which had a flight to catch to Jaipur at 4.00 pm . They said they managed to cross the water at Bemina by getting into a truck with all their belongings. But the truck turned back due to the traffic jam. They are worried about missing their flight, so was I. Mine was at 2.25 pm and it was already knocking on 12.00 noon.
We thought we would have tea. But no one was really in the mood. We thought of heading back to Gulmarg. As we turned back, I feared that my family would badly panic if I got stranded. I also had to be at work on Monday. But all of us agreed that we will not take any undue risks. We also worried about the other car, as our cell phones were not working.
The Devastating Floods in Kashmir
As we were about to pull out, a local came and tipped Akbar about an alternative route which would take us to Badgaon, and to the airport. We were assured by the army people that the flights were taking off, if we could reach the airport. We decided to try the alternate route. I was hopeful that the flight would be delayed as Srinagar was anyway on red alert.
It was a narrow village route that we took. The roads were bad but it had only minor water logging. The paddy crop which would have been harvested in 15 days was washed out. When the water will recede, it will leave other problems in its wake.
Akbar drove with infinite patience on the roads that were bad. He frequently asked for directions. At one point he asked me, “Am I stopping too many times for asking directions?” I told him, “That is not a problem at all, menfolk usually don’t ask for directions and get lost!” Around 1.20 pm we were at the outskirts of the airport. I started feeling hopeful. Phones were still not working. Then I spotted what looked like a traffic jam. Thankfully it was a false alarm.
We finally reached the airport, clearing the outer security, at about 1.30 pm. We gave lift to a father-daughter duo close to the airport. When we got down in front of the terminal Akbar exclaimed “Ham jeet gaye!” We won! After thanking him and tipping him (which would never be enough) I flew through to the Indigo counter and presented my ticket. They accept it without any fuss. I made it to the flight. In a rare departure from the norm, the security at Srinagar was kind to the passengers. They were thorough but not too gruff. In my hurry, I forgot to put tags on my hand luggage. They found two tags from somewhere and stamped my luggage. On any other day they would have sent me back!
As I walked to the waiting area, the members of the first car saw me. We all could finally breathe easy. They took some other detour to reach the airport. Our flight was delayed by many hours as the Prime Minister was in the city. Helicopters doing relief work had priority. Inside the plane every one had a story to tell, about how they reached the airport. The staff of Indigo gave us tea even before the flight took off.
Finally I Got out of Srinagar!
I could see the pilots chatting in an animated fashion, earlier they have always been a voice from the cockpit, highly efficient but hardly human. We talked to the cabin crew who started their day at 4.00 am from Dubai! Life was slowly coming back to normal. I reached home late but I reached home safely.
Unfortunately the same can not be said for the people in J&K. Help them in which ever way you can. This has been my first close encounter with flooding and it has left me shaken!
Hua Hin is actually the first beach I have visited in Thailand, even though it was my third visit to the country. We were staying at the Amari, Hua Hin. It is a beautiful, contemporary property but it is not by the beach. So, we took their golf cart to go to the beach. It was high tide when I visited, so reaching the sandy bank involved some walking and hopping around. But if you ask me, it was fun. Hua Hin is a quiet beach. If you are looking for night life, this is not the right place.
Hua Hin, Beach, Thailand #Canon550D
The day I went to the beach, it was, once again, overcast. By now it has become the dominant recurring theme in my life, at least for the past one year. Sometimes, clouds make the sunset even more spectacular. But on this day they just overwhelmed the sun. The beach is not a white sand beach. But there are things that go in its favor too.
The Peaceful Hua Hin Beach, Thailand #Lumia1020
The beach is absolutely clean, and there are only a few people on it. So if you are looking for a quiet time, reading a book this is the ideal place. There were a few water scooters and a banana boat ride available. There were horses for hire as well. Hua Hin is a resort town which also has the summer palace of the king. So it is more of an upscale place. There are restaurants dotting the shore of the Hua Hin beach. Overall, you are guaranteed a peaceful time by the beach. I did not notice any hawkers on the beach.
Hua Hin is about 2-3 hours from Bangkok by road. It also has many other attractions. I loved the night markets at Hua Hin. There are theme parks and shopping complexes as well in the vicinity. But my best experience was trekking to the Phraya Nakhon Caves, nearby. Then there is the cute little Hua Hin Railway Station as well. Hua Hin is a beautiful and relaxed place for a holiday close to Bangkok.
PS. I was invited to Thailand by Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi and I had a great trip!