Sometimes road chooses the traveller

Sometimes Road Chooses Traveller, A picture from a random ride to Choi Fong Tea Factory in Chiang Rai, Thailand

In the typical human fashion, I believed that most things are controlled by me. Are they? Are we really the person who’s making the choice?

Sometimes I have this crazy thought that there is a world out there in which there are living beings who play a virtual game. They created this world called earth and each of them has an avatar/ game personality which transcends to being humans. So they play this game and all the decisions we make, incidents that happen to us, situations that were created. Am I thinking too much? Definitely but then the question remains the same.. Are we really the ones who are choosing the road..

Didn’t you ever just make an itinerary for one destination but totally changed it in the last minute because you cannot just, not take the other way? I did many a times, be it scuba diving in hua Hin instead of ko Tao, spending time in kep and kampot over sihanoukville, going to cinque terre   Or Seville or Strasbourg or Barcelona during August? It’s not planned but randomly happened and a choice made over other destinations because I cannot just not go! Have you experienced this as well? If so let’s have a chat..

Sri Lanka – Exploring the drop in the Ocean

Sri Lanka and the magical adam's peak

My trip to Sri Lanka and how it all started. When you get early to office on a Monday morning and there is no one in the floor and you are not geared up to answer the 1001 emails that are waiting for you and a 3 day holiday coming right up. What do you do.

Well, I did what I usually do. I opened up skyscanner.net and checked for tickets from Chennai to anywhere in the world in those dates and “Ting” comes Colombo with 9,000 INR as round trip on the screen. As usual, my mind goes on automation, picks up the card details and feeds in. Yup, that’s how it started. Sri Lanka has a lot to offer whether it is wildlife, mountain adventures, romantic getaways or beach bumming.

I have decided some exercise would be good to my otherwise growing waistline. So, off I go to Colombo which takes only 1 and half hours from Chennai. Actually, I landed in Sri Lanka in half the time it takes me to get to Delhi. I wonder why we pay visa fee when it is right around the corner. Then again, a different country and another stamp on your passport makes it necessary I guess. How I dream of getting a global citizenship one day where I can travel to any country without the visa hassle.

Finally getting through the immigration, I boarded a local bus that will take me to the railway station. Bus No. 187 costed me 110 LKR and is the cheapest option that sat well with my backpackers budget. Once after getting to the train station, I took the first train to Hatton and then another bus to get to Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada. Yes, you guessed it right. I was going to climb Adam’s peak in this trip. After a long journey, I reached Adam’s peak in the afternoon. 12718198_10153497584181074_3317448926248552857_n

Clouded Grand Adam’s Peak from the start of the Trek

Sri Lanka is lush with greenery all over the place, growing wild and beautiful. The people are friendly and they seem to love Indians and Indian movies. The food sort of similar in taste to what we get in India and is a bit on the spicy side. The view from the train is so mesmerising that I forgot the long hours it took me to get to my destination. In few words. “I WILL VISIT AGAIN”.

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View From the Train & the Guest House 

After checking into a beautiful guest room nestled in between tea gardens which is located 500 m from the entrance of the Adam’s peak, I explored the place, got some early dinner and went to bed early as it is a night trek. I woke up at 1 am and start my way to the starting point of the Adam’s peak.

Finally, I reached the peak after 4 strenuous hours of climbing. Huffing and puffing, wondering how that 60 year old grandma is faster than me, praying to almighty that if I fall down and break something, my mom won’t forgive him, I finally reached my destination. The trek path is well lit and is lined with food stalls and places to sit. The last one hour trek was the scariest I have had. It felt like I am going to get hit by vertigo if I look down and am holding on to the edges so tight so I will not fall down or rather roll down the hill. After reaching the top, we waited for half an hour for the sun rise. An interesting ritual of drums is performed every morning welcoming the sun here. All in all, it is one of the best sunrises I have ever seen.

Trek Trek cos the end result is awesome!

You know that idiomatic expression “legs turned to jelly”, yep I experienced it. When I am climbing down from the hill, I couldn’t stand or walk slowly as my legs are shaking. I had to run for the most part so I will not loose balance. All in all, I climbed 5400 steps, 2345 m height and can’t move by the end but was so totally worth it!

First Rays of Light

I returned to Colombo the next day. Well I am an Indian and though I might not be a Cricket fanatic, how can I miss a chance to visit the famed Cricket Club. So I hired a tuk tuk and went to the Club. The club is probably the place for cricket paraphernalia collected over the years. It hosted the autographed bats, country flags, world cups etc. Well did I mention I am not a fanatic so don’t ask me any more than this.

After that, my amazing tuk tuk driver made a deal with me. He will show me the least touristy yet most beautiful places and drop me in the airport. I had over 4 hours before I have to get to the airport and this deal made sense to me. Actually, that was a good decision as I got to see this amazing sunset over a canal.

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Finally, Sri Lanka, you have given me memories even as I am leaving. Next time when I am here, I want to explore the beaches, history, adventure sports, the culture etc. Then again, you are just a plane-hop away and I will definitely come back in the future.  Until then Istuti for all the amazing memories you left me with.

 

Panchgani – A love story set amidst strawberry fields

Panchgani - you serene beauty

Once upon a time.. Well it had been so long ago that I have to deep dive into my tiny sized brain to search for the details of this impromptu trip with my best pals. With information overload being the flavour of the season, this is a painstakingly long process :(. Still for all you guys out there who think a weekend out of Mumbai is Lonavala, this post is for you! This little mystery town filled with strawberries (I am wondering if I am being transported into my own version of Hansel & Gretel. P.S. just exchange the dessert house with strawberries) is a must! I am talking about Panchgani.

I diligently flew back to Hyderabad after a week of work in Chennai thinking of relaxing, lazing around and may be getting drunk (On life.. sheesh!). The innocent me didn’t know that my crazy set of people decided to kidnap me and drive 570+ km to Panchgani. We set out at 1 am from Hyderabad, sleeping for a bit, playing music, chilling, cracking jokes and reached panchgani by 12 noon. Guess what’s the first sight you see?

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You guessed it! Strawberries.. everywhere and anywhere. There are strawberries, strawberries & cream, strawberry jam, squash.. you name it. We soon started driving around to find a place to stay. The problem with an impromptu visit to Panchgani during a three day weekend is.. The hotels are full. We are doomed as there is no room, no home-stay and not even a hammock available. Are we supposed to spend the night in the car? No Way! Finally Tripadvisor to our rescue. There is an eco-lodging named Terra available for rent. At the edge of a hill and with beautiful tents overlooking another hill. Though a bit on the expensive side, this was our only option. Soon after we checked in, we brought our wireless speakers out and played some amazing music as the sun started setting in the hills.

Pic: Terra Cottages and view from Terra.

After sunset, we went for a walk, away from the lights and to stargaze. Though a bit spooky, it is definitely worth it. The sky was illuminated with thousands of stars and 5 of us stood there staring in awe. The next day was spent in Panchgani. Exploring the strawberry fields etc., I won’t get into too many details. But one thing that is worth mentioning is about 500 metres walk from Terra Camp is the edge of a cliff, overlooking a dam. it is so serene and peaceful. We were the only people there. We spent quite a bit of time enjoying nature’s bounty.

Pic: View from the cliff.

Pic: Strawberry fields and ripe strawberries.

All in all, I am thankful to those who decided to kidnap me :). Though I wish we had more time here, we had to get back owing to well MONDAY!
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All in all it’s a love story set in the sweet fragrance of strawberry fields, in the beautiful mountains and the serene grasslands that makes you forget that there is this bustling world out there, an email from your boss and a work order with your name on it.

Chasing it or finding it.. A travellers dream!

Travellers Dream

A travellers Dream

So it’s been a while since I put up my last blog post. Most of you must be thinking I have gone AWOL (pardon my urban dictionary language). What actually happened is I have this amazing bigamy with  a corporate 9 to 9 job and travel. I failed miserably at throwing my bow lines away and sailing away from the safe harbour. Many other successful non-corporate job holders are doing it. I need to make money to travel and to make that money I need to work. So, I fall into this vicious cycle of I am doing something that I am possibly good at so I can do something I can possibly enjoy.

How are all you travellers doing this? chasing this dream of yours? How are you finding the means to the end?

While all things said, I did manage to squeeze in some cute little weekend vacations here and there. Be it exploring strawberry fields in Panchgani to the beautiful sunset in Goa, there were many vacations you can take in India. Enjoy all that nature has to offer by trekking through a jungle to enjoying some of the French finest in Pondicherry. it is still possible to keep the dream alive no matter where you are. Cause, this is your choice and your dream and it’s time to make it happen by hook or crook. More detailed blog posts about each of these little adventures will follow soon, meanwhile enjoy these pictures!

Happy Independence Day India.

Happy Independence day India

Happy Independence Day India

In a country I call home, over a billion people are celebrating this day for the past 69 years. For people who think, we are a country that is always in media for scams, population growth, our Swiss bank balance, think again. From now on you will hear us shouting at the top of our voices about our growth, our humanity and our culture.

I am proud to be born in a country with diverse landscape and unique culture. Though it drives me nuts that people has a set timeline (for job, marriage and kids) for their life in this country, it also makes me happy about the many festivals, the togetherness and warmth people seem to have here. I am proud to be born in a country which produces skilled workforce like no other. I am proud of the start ups and the younger generations making a mark in the world.

Then why do some of its own people, without a thought or conscience, are hurting this country’s pride? Let us ask ourselves on this very day which side on the line are we on. The side that’s winning for India, everyday by putting up a struggle to face the challenges this world throws at us. Or the side which is dragging us down and shaming us in front of the world by committing unkindly acts.

On this day, lets make sure India is a better place to live. Lets respect both the women and men. Let us make it safe for our future generations and the troves of travellers that visit us each year. It is time to grow together.

LET US BE A FORCE TO RECKON WITH!

10 places that are worth your while in Cambodia – Visit Cambodia

Visit Cambodia

Visit Cambodia

When tourists think of Cambodia there are only three places you tend to remember or visit. Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Thanks to Tomb Raider, many tourists love to visit Ta Prohm in the Angkor archaeological park, party like a maniac in serendipity beach and take the flight back from Phnom Penh. But Cambodia as a country has much more to offer. Here is the list of 10 places other than the above mentioned, that you shouldn’t miss when visiting this brave country.

  1. Kampot

One cannot understand the beauty of Kampot unless one steps in it. Huge wide roads, amazing guesthouses next to the river, firefly tours, world famous pepper sauce and easy access to Bokor National Park are some of the few reasons you need to visit this sleepy little town with hardly any people.

Imagine a huge roundabout with 6 connecting roads an you are just walking in the middle of the road as if it’s a joggers park, thats Kampot for you. I stayed at a guest house, Tubed around in the river, swing jumped into the river at Arcadia, ate normal meals everyday at “Happy Pizza”, played pool, took a bike and rode off to the Bokor National park, ate amazing cake at Sisters Srey Bakery, got a beer at rusty keyhole and spoke to random people who seemed to have gotten stuck in Kampot for months. Oh and don’t forget the amazing Kampot Pepper sauce at your every meal.

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2. KEP

KEP is a beach town which literally has no crazy party-mongers, serves freshly caught crabs and has a national park to explore.  Just 25 kilometres outside Kampot, this sleepy seaside village has pepper farms, salt farms and riverside fun bungalows as well. As you explore the countryside of Kep, you realise that it is a peaceful place with beautiful landscape and delicious food.

3. Koh Rong

Well any island which is also called “Monkey Island” is worth a visit. Don’t you think so?
Just 25 kilometres off Sihanoukville this island is once a beautiful stretch of sand. Right now, the scenery is changing fast with guesthouses, bungalows and a lot of construction to accommodate the incoming tourists. Still with 23 white sand beaches, untouched jungle and party locations to choose from, It will never bore you.

P.S. If you love the show “Survivor” you know a part of it was filmed here

4. Kratie

All those people who head to far off locations to find extinct species, here’s one with easy access. Kampi, a village 15 Kilometres from Kratie, hosts Irrawaddy Dolphins, some of the very few surviving river/fresh water dolphins. There were only 73 left according to our guide in July 2015. What more? It is an absolute way to get in touch with life on the Mekong.

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5. Sen Monorom

Anybody who is visiting Cambodia and are not visiting the eastern part is missing the glorious waterfalls, hair-raising treks and jungle safaris and a culture so unique to this province. How does a overnight jungle trek sound? Or meeting a herd of elephants in their natural habitat? Trekking near the waterfalls or into tribal villages? Sen Monorom offers all this and more.

6. Banlung

Visit a 700,000 year old volcanic crater lake or a dirt bike ride along “The Death Highway”. Nuff said!

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7. Battambang

If you really want to meet Cambodian people, this is the place to be. Apart from visiting the killing caves from Polpot Regime or watch millions of bats fly away from their cave, this is the place to be. Battambang seems to be a warm community of people who gather around in the evening, exercising, talking to travellers about Cambodia or sharing their stories from the days gone by.

8. Preah Vihear

After visiting Angkor and I was transfixed by the sites, the carvings and the history. But, there is a temple that is almost 100 years older than Angkor wat at the Thai-Cambodian Border.

Situated on a 500 metre hill, this temple has a long-running territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia

9. Krakor (Tonle Sap Lake)

Want to stay with a Cambodian family on the Tonle Sap lake?

Around 5 KMs from Krakor, there are families in the floating village on Tonle sap lake which will host you for a few days and for a small fee. Ever seen an entire village moving from one place on the lake to another every few years? You stay with them, at their house and eat with the family.

10. Kampong Cham

One reason I loved kampong cham was the beautiful countryside and another is the Mekong Bamboo Hut Hotel. Imagine sleeping in a hammock with your own personalized mosquito net and under the stars, right next to the river. The other reason to visit this place was an abandoned US airstrip used by B 52 bombers. This place makes a nice stop between Phnom Penh and Kratie.

You learn to “JUGAAD” – Travelling Asia

Travelling Asia

 

We don’t see the things as they are, we see them as we are. While traveling Asia, there are many things you would learn, experience, create and explore. These things teach you something beyond words and beyond imagination. These are mine.

1. Patience.. (tuk tuk miss?!..)

You wake up, take your satchel and set out to discover that new city/town/village. Everything is perfect until you constantly hear “Do you want tuk-tuk miss?, Motodrop lady?. one dollar only and please give me some money. You cannot move/take your next step/ or breathe without saying “No, Thank you”.

Initially, you keep feeling like the king/queen (well we are all suffering from Attention seeking disorder in various measures you see!), then you start feeling claustrophobic and wish they will let you enjoy your peace in Angkor Wat or the waves in Koh Samui. After a period of time, you become patient, smile and say “No, Thank you” to everyone, may be speak to them, ask them where the best Som Tam shop is. You don’t feel like a king/queen, you wouldn’t feel like yelling at them or asking them to back off, you will learn to handle it, be patient with it and understand they are just doing their job.

2. Genuine vs. Fake

Whether it is that “Thai smile” you do not comprehend or the tuk tuk driver who is overtly helpful or that old lady who sells you awesome coconut pancakes for less than 40 cents you learn to distinguish people. You learn to understand the body language of a person, whether you can trust him/her for a moment.

People love privacy, just because they are smiling at you every time you are trying to buy from them or hanging out with them(be it another backpacker) or taking a picture of them doesn’t mean they have to like you. There is that genuine passerby who will take the pain to walk all the way with you just so you will find the right subway station or that person who pretends to be nice to you and expects a reward. Dealing with all sorts of people over a time makes you identify genuine from fake. It will help you understand the person, the situation and puts you on alert while slowly attuning your mind to identify them.

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3. Every second counts.

Yeah yeah this is the speech we listened to every single day of our teenage years and early twenties. It might not have applied to many situations, might have been the perfect solution of some (AHEM! that night before the damn calculus exam) but right now when you are travelling this applies: 100%.

Stop dusting those running shoes. When I said every second counts, I didn’t mean you have to put on those shoes and start going from one monument to other. What I mean is you are making a memory every waking minute of the day.

Be it doing a city tour with 3 people you met may be 5 minutes ago or playing pool for hours together on a rainy day, be it sharing an amazing meal and talking as if you have met not two days ago but twenty years ago. You are making a memory every single passing beat of your travel. Well, there will be days when you want to kick back in the hostel room just watching movies, HUH! Not happening unless you can make the internet work. This constant Hello’s and Goodbye’s, amazing cheap street meals, friends who will leave you in three days in search of a new adventure but will never fail to drop in a hello once in a while, these amazing tips about hidden waterfalls are your new achievements.

4. You learn to “JUGAAD”.

Gman this is for you 🙂

There are these crazy bunch of human beings?! hmm yeah, may be, I have met in 2009 and who have stayed with me ever since. They taught me the meaning for JUGAAD.

JUGAAD means finding a low-cost/quickest solution to any problem in an intelligent way. Living on smaller budgets? no problem, phone not working, can’t get to that next destination because of torrential rains, no worries, we can jugaad something out. There are no beds available in town cos of the festival, oh too bad, its OK you will sleep in the hammock, under the stars and may be with mosquito repellent. I am not saying taking short cuts in life is what you learn. I am saying you will deal with the situation in the best possible way using as minimum resources as possible. Am I sounding like your HR manager? OOPS..

5. Beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder.

Did you ever wonder how any living being chooses its mate? Why that person? Why not someone more beautiful or successful or handsome?

Did you ever wonder how your language will sound to a person that has never heard it before?

Did you ever wonder why durian is the most talked about fruit? why some tastes are acceptable to some while others reject them out right?

While traveling you learn to accept that all these questions will never be answered. You might enjoy something immensely while the other person doesn’t think much of it. You will love that “grilled chicken feet” while others hate the sight of that thing. Every person is different. Every experience is unique. There will come a point where you will stop questioning and start living in the moment, just enjoying the sounds, tastes, traditions while understanding what fits you best is just tailored for you and you only.

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6. You learn self control.

Some of the countries you will visit in Asia has a per capita income of less than 1 USD a day. In these countries living on a budget of 20 dollars would not be too bad. But if you run out of money and have to make it in 5 dollars the next day? It can be done. A two dollars dorm bed which comes with a huge bed and mosquito net, fan and cold water is more than what you paid for. A meal of rice/chicken and cold coffee for 75 cents is delicious. You will savour every single morsel, every drop of your drink and live every single day you spend in that place. Learn to control yourself from buying those cute looking trinkets or that amazing dress. You learn to differentiate from what you need to what you want.

7. You learn different languages, traditions et al

From “Sawadee to Orkun”. From “Gamsamhida to Xin loi” every single word you learn now, you will remember the rest of your life. Imagine waking up in the morning and repeating a word 10 times and learning a new word from the lady you buy your “yogurt shake” from every day. You will remember it cos it comes with a situation, a memory that is etched into your brain. You learn various traditions as well for example there are 5 ways to greet people in Cambodia depending on their age and your age or the eating traditions at a local festival etc. Will you use this knowledge in the future? Well, its better than knowing an entire periodic table by heart and not knowing laughing gas from nitrogen dioxide.

8. You Know Yourself

Sitting on the mountain top waiting for a sunset for two hours lets you have enough time for these thoughts. Your inner thoughts. You understand what kind of a person you are. There is no one to judge you here but yourself. There is no right or wrong but your consciousness. You meet all sorts of people who are coming from different wakes of life. You realize there are experiences beyond your imagination. A street running model for a show brand? A gasoline tester? An American soldier? A professional poker player? an actual “Pirates of the Caribbean” type sailor? you learn from them and more. Get that first shot of adrenaline whether you are mountain sliding on a rainy day or cliff jumping or diving. Accept that first shot of local produce which inebriates you to the next Friday. You lose yourself. You find yourself.

This is the crazy awesomeness you will live everyday till the last moment of your journey. There will be many lessons you will take with you. As the days pass by, you might forget these things until you start packing your backpack again. But, given a choice or rather I should say taken a choice, deep in your heart you would know what kind of person you really are or you will be.

Small town charm vs. Cosmopolitan City – What’s your travel style?

What’s your travel style? When you are travelling in a country you will encounter all kinds of people and places. On one side, there are these humongous cities that have no limits, buildings that are sky high, food to satisfy your eclectic taste buds and traffic that makes you thank your stars you are not the one sitting the car honking away to glory but not moving an inch. On the other side you have villages that are so off the beaten path and serene that you don’t care if you have a single bar of signal on your phone.

Travel Style - Country Travel Style - Rustic Travel Style - Rustic

Travel Style - Rustic Travel Style - Rustic

Travel Style - Rustic Travel Style - Rustic

I have had the opportunity to enjoy both. Going from the big bad city of Bangkok which made “Hangover” happen once again to lazing on the bamboo raft for an entire day for less than 5 $ in that part of Thailand no one would have thought of. One day during this journey I have happened to listen to an interesting conversation at a hostel. A group of people are arguing about what is the best way to travel. Is it to touch and go all the cities and understand how the country is developing into something that the generation next can understand or to go and live the local style life at the rural villages and understand the culture of the previous generation.

After all, without a past you cannot have a future and without future your past is forgotten at best. Finally, living the fast paced life is the best way to understand where the country is going, what its present generation is dreaming about and being able to soak in the rustic charm at the villages will help you understand where those dreams are coming from. I would like to end this post with a quote that basically sums up everything I want to say.

“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world.  Churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realisation that you may have been born in the wrong country.

Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Wearing the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is accented sex after good wine and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Finally, travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.” 

Is India safe to travel?

India Safety Travelling Tips

This post might be a bit boring to people who already think traveling anywhere in the world is safe. But for others who have been asking me this question since the past two months here you go.

I have been travelling a little over two months. I have met people from various countries and this is how the typical introduction conversation happens:

Traveler 1: Hi ya, I am — and you are?
Me: Hi, I am Sai and where are you from?
Traveler 1: US/UK/Australia/Europe/Asia/Africa/South America and where are you from?
Me: India
Traveler 1: Oh thats an awesome country but is it safe to travel there? I mean with all these news about people getting assaulted/robbed etc.

India is a great place to experience various cultures, cuisines and people. Here people are friendly and would generally be helpful to other nationalities who are coming to visit. It is a fast developing country where there is no short of cosmopolitan clubs, fine-dining places as well as the authentic street food and local charm. And it is a pity that due to few of my countrymen many people who would love to experience this amazing country is backing down. It is a shame that we were not perceived as a safe country.

India Safety Travelling TipsIndia Safety Travelling Tips

As an Indian, I believe my country is safe as long as you follow the basic safety requirements.

Don’t stay at a place just because it is cheap:
In this era of internet it is possible to find out if a place is safe or not. Read the reviews and figure out  the location and if your intuition is screaming at you to get out of the place then do yourself a favor and get out ASAP!

Some people genuinely wants to help the backpackers and you go to the countryside many will offer you food or tea in their house. Most of them are curious about you and you could always accept or reject them politely depending on how comfortable you are. But if there are people who are offering food on the trains/buses well better be careful.The “taking food from stranger” rule applies in India as well.

Don’t trust strangers and don’t get inebriated to the point where you would black out. There are many more of these basic stuff that you need to take care of while travelling in any country.

I think we Indians have to represent our country and help people understand that India is like any other developing Asian country when it comes to safety. This is a call to all you Indian travel bloggers and enthusiasts out there. Lets tell people what its like to travel in India. Share your experiences and help people understand that it is safe to travel in India as well. To everyone who wants to travel in India you could contact me or any number of Indian travel bloggers regarding your queries.

India Safety Travelling TipsIndia Safety Travelling TipsIndia Safety Travelling TipsIndia Safety Travelling Tips - Rajasthan

 

Note: Indian government has recently introduced the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) for over 76 countries. Citizens of these countries below can obtain an e-visa prior to their date of travel and for 60 USD. For more details visit: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/
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