Pangong lake in the afternoon

Pangong Lake – The Most Popular Lake in Ladakh

My post today is more of a picture-post about Pangong Lake, the most popular lake in Ladakh. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The original name of the lake is Pangong Tso, with “Tso” being the Tibetan word for a grassland lake. One-third of the lake lies in India, and the rest in China.

A very large section of the Indian population had not heard of Pangong lake till 2009. That’s the year when the popular Aamir Khan movie “3 Idiots” was released. This lake was where the final scene of the film was shot. Since then, the popularity of Pangong lake has grown across the country and a visit to “the 3 Idiots lake” is a must-do for practically any Indian visiting Ladakh.

Pavilions alongside Pangong lake
Pavilions alongside Pangong lake

I’ve been lucky to see Pangong lake both in summer as well as winter. In summer, the colour of the water in Pangong keeps changing according to the level of sunlight and clouds. In winter, the water freezes over and I had a great time walking (and slipping) on the frozen Pangong lake.

Some more images from the late summer visit to Pangong lake –

Clear waters at Pangong lake
The water is crystal clear, salty and brr cold!

 

Pangong lake around sunset
The lake at twilight

 

Pangong lake at sunrise
Watching the sun about to rise over the mountains

Increasing tourism in the region has brought its own challenges of infrastructure and ecological balance to Pangong Lake and the area around it. I hope the local administration will continue to keep a control over the area, and not let it get over-touristed like so many other places in the country.

Getting to Pangong Lake:  Pangong Tso lies about a 6-hour drive away from Leh, the capital of Ladakh and the only airport in the region. Leh is connected by flight to Delhi, Srinagar and Mumbai. Cabs or bikes can be hired from Leh to Pangong for a day-trip or overnight excursion to the lake.

Stay at Pangong Lake: During summer (Mid-May until about the end of September) you will find seasonal camps set up near the lake. These will be basic tents with toilets but no other mod-cons. If you are in reasonably good health, and happy to rough it out for unforgettable sunrise and sunset views, then you might want to stay overnight. Be prepared though – the area gets terribly windy at night. Also, the lake is at a much higher altitude (14,200 feet) than Leh (11,500 feet), so you will need to acclimatize in Leh first.

If you are travelling with children or older persons, I would recommend a day trip and return to Leh, to stay at the lower altitude.

Camp at Pangong lake
Typical camp at Pangong

Whether you visit for a day-trip or brave an overnight stay, Pangong lake is an unforgettable, unmissable part of a visit to Ladakh. Do remember though that you are in an ecologically sensitive area, and act like a responsible traveller.

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Pangong Lake is the most famous and popular lake in Ladakh

 

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The best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji: Monsoon!

One part of India that I had not visited at all in my years of travelling, was the north-eastern states. I finally broke that jinx by visiting Meghalaya, the predominantly tribal state carved out of Assam in the 1970’s. After my wonderful trip to Meghalaya in the height of the rains, I am now convinced that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji, the two most important places to see in Meghalaya. It seemed right to be visiting the wettest place on earth, in the middle of the monsoon season! I’m now a huge fan of Meghalaya’s natural beauty,  and would love to share with you a little information about the places to visit in Shillong and Cherrapunji.

Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is a busy little foothill town with the usual urban paraphernalia of shopping centres, cafes, schools, markets, even traffic jams. However, if you take the time, you will also find charming places of interest in Shillong that will show you what this town might have been like a few years ago before the spread of urbanisation. There are some very pretty churches in town, and a lake called Ward’s Lake where you can go for a stroll. The town also has a few very nice cafes that play great music, and I enjoyed chilling out at some of them. In the military cantonment area, you will also find a pretty waterfall called the Spread Eagle Falls.

Misty hills on the drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji

Outside Shillong, in the midst of nature, is where you will really see the true beauty of Meghalaya. “Meghalaya” means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit; whoever coined the name must have visited during the monsoon! I found myself enveloped more than once in clouds of mist during the drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji and back. The distance from Shillong to Cherrapunji is only 50km but since it’s a hilly route the drive will take 2.5 to 3 hours one way. It is a really scenic route though, and you will enjoy the drive. Since there are limited options of hotels in Cherrapunji, most visitors cover Cherrapunji sightseeing in a day-trip from Shillong.

Aside from the fact that it was once the district with the highest recorded rainfall in the world (this position is now held by Mawsynram, also nearby), Cherrapunji or Sohra as it called locally, also offers amazing views of nature in all its grace. Places to visit in Cherrapunji include the Wah Kaba Falls, Dainthlen Falls, Eco Park, Nohkalikai Falls and the Seven Sisters Falls. I believe that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji because the highlight of this area – the waterfalls – are at their peak during the rains. The pictures do not do justice to the beauty that I was witness to.

 

Meghalaya also has a large number of limestone and sandstone caves; cavers from all over the world visit in order to explore them. One of the places to visit in Cherrapunji is Mawsmai, which has limestone caves that are open to tourists. The stalactites and stalagmites are indeed imposing to see. The world’s longest sandstone cave has also recently been discovered near here in Mawsynram.

Two other interesting places to see in Meghalaya are Mawlynnong and Dawki. You can either stay overnight at a homestay in Mawlynnong or take a day-trip from Shillong combining both places. Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village in Asia, and after seeing the place I didn’t really doubt the title. From here you can easily get to the nearby Living Root Bridge in Riwai. Living root bridges are natural bridges found in a few places in Meghalaya and are one of the most important places to see in Cherrapunji and around. Locals would take the roots of Indian Rubber trees, and train and weave them into a mesh. They would then plaster the mesh with mud and stones to form a natural bridge, allowing people to cross over streams. Ingenious idea, and the bridges are still going strong. Be prepared for a hike up and down several steps though!

The Living root bridge near Mawlynnong

Dawki is about 100km from Shillong and you can easily combine a visit here with a Mawlynnong excursion. It offers scenic views of the Umngot river and the India-Bangladesh border. Outside the monsoon season, the river is very popular for boating. It is said that the water here is the clearest you will find anywhere in the country.

At Dawki overlooking Umgnot river and the India-Bangladesh border

 

Getting there:

Flights to Shillong are only available on Air India from Kolkata and tend to be very expensive. Instead, fly to Guwahati. Guwahati to Shillong is an easy 2-3 hour drive; you can either take a shared cab that will cost you around Rs. 300 per person and drop you at Police Bazaar, or hire a private taxi and have the comfort of stopping en route as you wish. I had hired a private cab for the duration of my trip.

Getting around Shillong and Cherrapunji:

Local cabs charge more or less flat fares for Shillong sightseeing and day-trips to Cherrapunji. A private cab would probably cost you Rs 1800-2000 for local sightseeing in Shillong, and Rs 2500-3000 for a day visit to Cherrapunji. Your hotel can also probably arrange transportation for you if you ask in advance.

Hotels in Shillong:

Shillong has hotels to suit nearly all budgets. However, I would recommend that you try and avoid staying in the Police Bazaar area unless you want to be stuck in traffic all day. It would be much better to stay in the Laitumkhrah area, which is what I did. One big plus of being there was that I was within walking distance of the famous Cafe Shillong! If budget allows, go for Ri Kyinjai which is a resort near Umiam lake and is considered one of the best hotels in Shillong. I was, unfortunately, on a more modest budget.

 

Meghalaya is a must-visit destination in India that offers natural beauty, offbeat experiences and an opportunity to get away from the concrete jungle. The people you meet here will, in general, be really warm and friendly, and you will feel welcome wherever you go. I know that I will be going back someday soon! If you’d like to learn more about the state, you should visit the official website of Meghalaya Tourism, it’s extremely detailed and helpful.

Visiting a green hilly destination during the rains makes it feel even more magical. I also believe that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji because unlike summer vacations when everything is over-run with tourists, this time there were relatively fewer crowds. Always a plus as far as I am concerned!

You might also like to read Top 7 Monsoon Getaways In India

 

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Tungabhadra river at Hampi

Weekend Getaways From Bangalore: Places to visit in 2 days

If you are looking for some places to visit near Bangalore (or Bengaluru if you insist) over the next long weekend that comes up, this post is for you! Here is a list of just 5 of the popular weekend getaways from Bangalore, as recommended by travel bloggers.

1. Munnar

One of the most preferred destinations among travellers for weekend getaways from Bangalore is Munnar. Munnar boasts an enticing landscape enveloped in carpets of tea plantations. It is till date the greenest place I’ve ever seen on this planet. Not only is it famous for its tea plantations but also has small yet scenic waterfalls amidst hills, and the highest peak in South India – the Anamudi Peak.

The best way to soak in the tranquillity of Munnar is to sit back, relax, and let the sprawling plantations work their magic. However, this resort town is much more than just plantations. Head to these places to see what more Munnar has to offer.

Mattupetty Dam: A deadly combination of mountains, forest, and water with blue sky and clouds like cotton balls is what I call the Mattupetty Dam. It is true that all dams look almost the same but this one comes along with a splendid view which makes it a photographer’s choice. You could opt for a boat ride, too.

Echo Point: Play a duet with nature – call out your names and let nature scream back to you. Works better when the crowd is less. It lies at the other end of the same Mattupetty Dam. Echo Point is a great 10 minutes stopover en route.
Top Station: Enjoy the panoramic views of Western Ghats from the highest point in Munnar. Lying on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, it almost feels like breathing the clouds. It is around 40 km from Munnar but the scenery it offers makes it totally worth a visit.

Attukad Waterfalls: I went to these waterfalls in the off-season and found I had the Attukad waterfalls all to myself. The trek to this waterfall is much more scenic than the waterfalls itself. It was a delight to walk through that path that leads to the waterfalls. Having Maggi next to the waterfalls made it worth every mile that I walked.

Anamudi Peak: A treat to the eye! On your way, spot a massive peak awarding mesmerizing views. Stop the car and take a glimpse at the highest peak of South India. The best part is that during monsoons you can see the waterfalls gushing out which makes it simply mystical.

View of Anamudi peak, the highest peak in the region
Anamudi peak as seen from Munnar

The most unique thing about Munnar is the Neelakurinji (blue-purplish flowers) that blooms once in every 12 years, and it is going to happen in 2018. It has already started blooming and by August the hills of Munnar would be bathing in shades of blue and purple. Top Station mentioned above has the best views of the Kurinji flower.

Munnar is an overnight journey from Bangalore by road. You could either drive or take a sleeper bus which is easily available online. Shut your eyes at night and the next morning you find yourself in the middle of heaven! This ease of getting there also makes it one of the most popular places to visit near Bangalore.

Neha blogs at TrippIndian and you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook

 

2. Belur and Halebid

Do you want to see the extraordinary architecture of the south Indian empire? Take a trip from Bangalore to Halebid and Belur temples in Karnataka. Famous to locals, but not known enough by foreigners, are the hidden gems worth a visit one of your next weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Belur and Halebid are located about 200 km from Bangalore and are popular places to visit near Bangalore. Both of the towns were once the capitals of the Hoysala Dynasty empire, that’s why they are rich in architecture from that period. Currently, they are proposed to be added to the UNESCO Heritage List.

A view of the stone cut temple of Belur
The ancient Belur temple

Halebid temple, the most important place in Halebidu town, was built in the 12th century and dedicated to the God Shiva. The detailed artwork and the friezes cover every wall and ceiling with every piece carved in the smooth soapstone, telling a different story. Since Halebid is a Shiva temple, there are two Nandi shrines on both sides of the building. Nandi is a name of the Shiva’s bull. The 6th and 7th biggest ones in India are located in Halebid.

The Belur temple is located 16 km away from Halebid, so it’s easy to visit both at the same time. Belur temple has a beautiful sanctum with a silver sculpture of Vishnu God. I especially liked the delicate and detailed carvings on the roof of the main building. The Belur temple is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings of the Hoysala empire. It has a lot of details, and if you are patient, you can even find a few from 644 elephants located at the temple base. They are all different! Belur temple was initially built in the 12th century and its completion took 123 years. As the tradition says, you should always visit a temple in India in a clockwise direction, so remember that when going around the sacred buildings in Belur.

The closest city to Halebid and Belur is Hassan. It has good transport connections with Bangalore. You can take a train from Bangalore to Hassan and then a local bus to Belur and Halebid. There is also a possibility of arranging a private tour.
Both of the towns have several traditional shops and restaurants around, so you can grab a bite in between the sightseeing. There are not so many options for accommodation, however, you can find a few guesthouses around Belur. Alternatively, you can come back to Hassan, Bangalore or Mysore for the night. Hope this will inspire you to add Belur Halebid to your bucket list of weekend getaways from Bangalore!

Aga blogs at Worldering Around and you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram

 

3. Mysore

Mysore was one of the largest princely states during the British rule on India. It’s grand royal palace, planned roads and architecture makes it popular among places to visit near Bangalore. The royal family of Mysore still follows some age-old traditions and that makes them different from others royal families. Today Mysore of one of the most popular weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Places to visit in Mysore

Mysore Palace: My favourite place in Mysore is the Royal Palace, its beautiful Indo Saracen architecture makes it one of its kind in India. There are many valuable artefacts on display in the palace and the durbar hall is so beautifully ornate that you feel amazed at the workmanship. The Palace is illuminated with thousands of light bulbs on special occasions and holidays, it looks very nice with lights.

The Chamundeshwari Temple: Dedicated to goddess Chamundi, it is located on the Chamundi hill outside the main city of Mysore. This temple is one of the 12 Shakti Peeths of the Goddess. Also, visit the massive black colour monolithic statue of Nandi bull on the Chamundi hill.

Chamundeshwari Temple

Brindavan Gardens: These gardens are 20 km from Mysore city. It is a good place for a picnic or to spend an evening at leisure. The gardens are well designed and landscaped and there is a musical fountain show with special light effects every evening. This place gets crowded for this fountain show, so keep your belongings safe.

Cathedral of St. Joseph and St. Philomena: This is one of the tallest churches in Asia. This Neo-Gothic style church was designed by a Frenchman named Daly by taking inspiration from the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. The twin spires of the church are 175 feet tall and can be seen from a distance of 1 km. The inside of the church is beautifully designed with stained glass windows showing the last supper of Christ and other events of his life after the crucifixion.

Railway Museum: This is the second best museum of its kind in India after Delhi’s Rail museum. They have a good collection of vintage motor cars, the salon of Wadiyar royal family, a gallery with photographs and paintings displaying the growth of Indian Railways. A small toy train runs on the grounds for children.
GRS Fantasy Park: This is a place to visit if you are travelling with kids or like water parks. Though it is not as modern as some of the big parks in India, it is still an interesting place to spend some time with near and dear ones.

Food
The local food of Mysore is healthy and tasty. Eat at Vinayaka Mylari, Mahesh Prasad, Om Shanti, Hotel Parklane and Oyster bay for some good food.

How to travel from Bangalore to Mysore
The distance between two cities is 150 Km and takes about 2.5 hours. The road conditions are good, so driving is the best option if you are visiting Mysore on one of your weekend getaways from Bangalore. If you don’t want to drive than take a train, there are around 2 dozen trains between two cities. Both cities are well connected by bus service. KSRTC and private bus companies operate many buses throughout the day. If you want to go by taxi than Ola outstation is a good option. To travel in Mysore or nearby areas, auto rickshaws are available easily or you can also book Ola Cabs.

Sapna blogs at My Simple Sojourn and you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook

 

4. Chikmagalur

Are you looking for places to visit near Bangalore? You should consider the hill station Chikmagalur whose peace and tranquillity will give you the break you need from the city’s traffic and noise. The clean air is the perfect escape from the pollution. The nearest railway station is Bangalore and you can drive from there in four hours, or book a taxi. Chikmagalur is not accessible by public transport, unfortunately. Mangalore is the nearest airport and it is a three and a half hour to four-hour drive from there. Chikmagalur is famous for its home stays. There are even five star home stays which you may prefer if you are a luxury traveller. Chikmagalur is mainly a hub for nature sightseeing, hiking and treks so if you are a trekking enthusiast you should consider including Chikmagalur in your bucket list of weekend getaways from Bangalore.

You may want to spare an entire morning for a trek here. Mullayanagiri which is a 3km trek should be considered. This takes you to the highest peak in Karnataka at an altitude of 1950 metres. It is a 20 km long drive from Chikmagalur. There is another peak named Baba Budanagiri which is a 36 km drive from Chikmagalur or you can go here from Mullayanagiri as there is a trail that connects it to Baba Budanagiri. But it is a hard climb as it is a 12-kilometre trek. The other popular trekking trails from Baba Budanagiri are to Gallikere(4km), Manikyadara falls(7km), Attigudi Junction(6km).

A view of Mullayangiri from above
Mullayangiri

Non-trekking activities include a visit to the coffee plantations and a coffee museum which is located within the city. Kudremukh National Park which is located 96 km away from Chikmagalur can also be visited; there is a hill there shaped like a horse head hence the name Kudremukh (In Kannada kudre means horse and mukh means head).

The scenic manmade Hirekollake lake located 10km away from the city is a perfect picture clicking spot. If you decide to skip the trekking and have some time to spare, you must pay a visit to Bhadra Dam and Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary along which the river Tungabhadra flows.

Summer is not exactly the ideal time to visit Chikmagalur since it can get really hot and you may not enjoy certain activities like trekking. The weather is pleasant during the monsoon but the rain may spoil your day. The best time to visit Chikmagalur is winter between October and February. Do explore Chikmagalur as one of the possible weekend getaways from Bangalore!

Harini blogs at Miss Talking Feet; you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter

 

5. Hampi

The ancient Vijayanagar empire was once the richest and most important kingdom in this part of the world. Its capital was Hampi, and this town still bears witness to the striking architectural developments of the time. Hampi is a must-visit place for anyone who has an interest in history or architecture. The ruins of the temples, palaces and other structures here date mostly between the 14th and 16th centuries and offer a peek into the life of an earlier time. It can easily be visited during one of your weekend getaways from Bangalore.

The Virupaksha and Vijay Vitthala temples, as well as the Royal Enclosure, must not be missed while you are in Hampi. You can cover the main highlights of Hampi in two days although three would be even better; I strongly recommend adding Hampi to the top of any list of weekend getaways from Bangalore. Do read my detailed post on things to do in Hampi. 

The stone chariot at Vitthala temple in Hampi
Chariot at Vitthal Temple Hampi

Hampi is about a six-hour drive away from Bangalore, but you can also take an overnight train or bus from Bangalore to Hospet if you prefer not to drive. Hospet to Hampi is a brief auto rickshaw or bus ride away. Early in 2018 Trujet also started a flight connection from Bangalore to Vidyanagar airport, making it even more convenient to make weekend getaways from Bangalore to Hampi. Hampi is definitely one of the most culturally rich places to visit near Bangalore.

So there you have it, five ideas for weekend getaways from Bangalore for the next long weekend that comes up. The question is, where will you go first?

 

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10 Best First Time Solo Travel Destinations

Do you dream of travelling the world but lack company and are not sure about travelling alone for the first time? Are you an aspiring solo traveller looking for information on the best first time solo travel destinations, especially for solo female travel? Then you must read this! Here are 10 female travel bloggers telling you about their own first solo trips, and why these places can be recommended as great first time solo travel destinations.

 

Suzy from Suzystories recommends: Melbourne, Australia

A Brit travelling to Australia for their first solo trip is not an original idea by any means, but I believe that the allure and popularity are for good reason. I chose to visit Melbourne as a starting point for my first solo trip that would then take me around the world because I knew it would bring me comfortably out of my comfort zone. As a friendly, not completely unfamiliar, and welcoming environment it made the ideal beginner destination for a first-time solo globetrotting adventure. Read on to discover why I consider Melbourne one of the best first time solo travel destinations.

Australia is a great place to begin a solo trip for a number of reasons; firstly, they speak English which makes communicating, getting around, and planning so much easier for a Brit (and it’s a commonly spoken language if it’s not your mother-tongue). It’s also an easy-going and tourist-friendly place, and there’s so much to see and do that regardless of your interests you’ll find the perfect place for you to visit.

The decision to visit this particular city was largely based on a lot of research, the recommendation from friends and family, and gut instinct. I’d heard great things about Melbourne and trusted it would have the same charismatic and quirky vibe to match my favourite city of Bristol in the UK, but also provide enough new experiences to begin soaking up a different country’s way of life. The street art adorning walls through the city certainly confirmed the former, and the cityscape views from the beach confirmed the latter!

Sights like the Great Ocean Road make Melbourne one of the best first time solo travel destinations

Things to do: Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better first-stop on a big trip going solo. I was able to tick off some pretty amazing experiences such as seeing koalas in the wild, witnessing the penguin parade of Phillip Island, driving the Great Ocean Road, and exploring the city’s famous arcades and laneways. One of my favourite things to do in Melbourne was to visit one of the many green open spaces that are scattered throughout the city. Kings Domain is a particularly great spot and offers a welcome bit of peace and quiet after lots of sightseeing. You can even go to the top of the Shrine of Remembrance for stunning views of the cityscape and park – it’s especially magical at sunset!

Although it’s a hugely popular destination, with so much choice of things to do each person’s experience is entirely unique. Outdoorsy folk might enjoy heading out of the city to tackle Kokoda Track Memorial Walk (otherwise known as 1,000 Steps), whereas art-lovers might be inspired by the National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for the Moving Image overlooking the Yarra River. Or, if you’re like me, you might enjoy a bit of everything, and Melbourne certainly has that! And, if in those moments when you do miss home, there are lots of other like-minded travellers with a great sense of community who’ll certainly be able to offer advice and comfort.

Melbourne view from Shrine of Remembrance
Melbourne view from Shrine of Remembrance

If you’re looking to escape to the other side of the world, there’s nowhere better to start than Down Under. You can be assured that the notoriously chatty and vivacious Aussie characters are accurate stereotypes, so even travelling solo in Australia you’re never really alone. And, with Melbourne offering the perfect mix of edgy city life right alongside beaches, national parks, and dramatic coastal landscapes, you know that it’ll confirm your love for travel and fuel your desire to see more of the world.

You can follow Suzy on Twitter

 

Christine from And The Story Goes recommends: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Los Angeles is one of the greatest first time solo travel destinations. The city has so much to offer in terms of museums, shopping, nature, and great weather throughout most of the year. There are always public events happening, so one can enjoy everything in the sunshine without ever actually feeling alone.

Moving around: Los Angeles is made up of multiple cities one wants to visit on a trip (like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles). Driving in Los Angeles can get hectic, parking is expensive, and a two-mile drive can take upwards of 30 minutes. So, ditch the rental car and buy a TAP card which can be used on all public transportation. In recent years, the Metro light rail has been expanding into every part of the city. The newest line takes you from Downtown to Santa Monica in 45 minutes.

Stay: Most people associate hostels with Europe, but there are several hostels within Los Angeles County as well. One just needs to decide if they want to be based in Santa Monica, Hollywood, or Downtown. Many of these hostels offer tours for their guests and private rooms at a fraction of the price as hotels. With Airbnb becoming outlawed in many parts of the city, hostels are one of the most affordable places to stay, especially if you are a solo traveller.

Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

Things to do: For those wanting to meet others while they’re in Los Angeles, they can attend one of the daily free events in the city. Throughout the summer, the Twilight Concert Series offers concerts at Santa Monica Pier. On Halloween, there is a huge Halloween Party in West Hollywood. In the spring, there are city festivals every weekend. And throughout the year are pop-up outdoor movies of classics and cult favourites.

The worst part about solo travel is the cost since it isn’t split amongst multiple people. Luckily, Los Angeles is home to many world-class museums, some of which are free. The most popular is the Getty Center which houses not only the museum and breathtaking gardens but also the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s richest art institute, with an endowment of $6.9 billion USD. The newest art museum in LA is The Broad, conveniently located in Downtown. The museum houses 2,000 pieces of contemporary art; and while it is beneficial to reserve a timeslot beforehand, one can wait in a standby line for entry. If you visit the Broad, head next door to the Walt Disney Concert Hall; when there’s not a performance, they offer free self-guided tours to the public.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

For those wanting to get out into nature, it’s both safe and easy to do so. The popular hiking trails (Runyon Canyon, Griffith Observatory, and Temescal Canyon) are all favourite spots for locals and busy enough for a female to feel safe on when alone.

Eat: The best part about Los Angeles as a first time solo travel destination is the food. There is something for everyone and dining in the California sunshine cannot be beaten. Eating out can be hard for solo travellers, but at Grand Central Market, a large food court in Downtown, once you get your food, you’re bound to meet new people you as it’s communal seating.

I’m sure now that you’ve read about LA you will agree that it’s one of the best places to travel solo!

You can follow Christine on Pinterest

 

Megan from Red Around The World recommends: Costa Rica

I almost didn’t go to Costa Rica.  I didn’t know why I should go.  Then I came up with three reasons: coffee, sloths, and zip lining.  In case you’re wondering I didn’t see any sloths, but I did go zip lining and I did bring home my weight in coffee, so I still consider it successful.  I also just happened to love my week spent in the country.  My whole trip was two and a half months going from Mexico down to Panama.  I can confidently say that Costa Rica is one of the simplest first time solo travel destinations especially if you are based in North America.

Moving around: It can be a little annoying getting around the country on public transportation, as you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking to San Jose to change buses, but it’s super easy figuring out where to go and people are very helpful.

Costa Rica is great for first-time solo travellers because it’s so easy to get around.  It has a lot of good tourism infrastructure, probably the best in Central America or right behind Panama, making it even easier to navigate your way across the country.  English is pretty common and while some activities are a little pricey, you can balance that out with delicious local food and budget/backpacker-friendly hostels.

Things to do: You’ll most likely be starting in San Jose, which I might spend a day exploring, but I was there for the nature, so I left right away.  It does look like it has some cool things, though.  First I went up to Monteverde to see the cloud forest and to go zip lining.  Here I would recommend doing a night jungle tour the first night, then going to the cloud forest reserve to do some hiking the next morning and zip lining that afternoon.

Costa Rica is lush green

From there I went to the southeast and spent a few days biking around Puerto Viejo from beach to beach, even in the rain.  This is a little hippie backpacker town right on the coast.

That was all I was able to see, but some other must see things in Costa Rica would be Manuel Antonio National Park to look for wildlife, Corcovado National Park for a secluded nature getaway with, you guessed it, more wildlife.  Poas Volcano and Arenal Volcano are two other great places to go hiking.  If you are looking for a city getaway, Costa Rica isn’t it.  This is the place to get out and enjoy the wild that is the jungle.  So if you are looking for a solo trip with lots of nature and adventure, pick Costa Rica as your first time solo travel destination!

You can follow Megan on Facebook

 

Holly from Globeblogging recommends: New Zealand

Even if you were blessed with a travel-loving family, sooner or later the time will come that you are ready to spread your wings and venture out into the adventures of the world on your own and you’ll be shortlisting the ideal first time solo travel destinations.

New Zealand is the perfect choice to find your solo travel feet! Particularly for Australians. Flights are cheap, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump over the ocean, they speak our language and they really aren’t all that different from us. They do pronounce Wh as a Fa sound though, so don’t think that they’re swearing at you!

But even if you aren’t Australian, New Zealand offers an appealing blend of adventure, scenery and quiet relaxation. It’s rugged, volcanic landscape offers sights quite unlike anywhere else in the world, and it is a photography enthusiast’s dream. It’s incredibly easy to find your way around so no need for reservations over hiring a car and driving yourself.

Depending on what kind of solo trip you want, both the North and the South Island have their appeal. The South Island is best known for the skiing, glaciers and adventures in Queenstown, while the North is the place for spectacular volcanic parks, caves and the picturesque Bay of Islands. If you only have the time to do one it’s a tough choice, so try going through the travel brochure with a highlighter.

The museum at Rotorua

Things to do: My pick is the North Island, and Rotorua is not to be missed. Don’t be put off by the smelly reputation. It does smell quite strongly of sulfur but you get used to it quickly. Even just a walk around town offers plenty to see, including the local park and museum, but make sure to check out the following;

One for the adventurers, Kaituna Cascades run rafting and kayaking trips down the grade 5 rated Kaituna river. They provide all equipment and experienced guides, and transfers from your hotel are also available. There isn’t much that tops plunging over a seven-metre waterfall!

Immerse yourself in the traditional Maori culture with a trip out to the Tamaki Maori Village. You’ll get to see Maori huts and carvings, a traditional Maori warrior ceremony and dancing, before you sit down to enjoy a delicious Hangi – a feast slow-cooked on coals and buried underground. The food melts in your mouth.

You don’t need to organize a tour for Waimangu Volcanic Valley, just rock on up and pay your entrance fee and walk around the trails of the park. You’ll be amazed by the colourful geothermal landscapes you’ll find within. Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland might not sound all that different from the Waimangu Valley, and it is certainly in the same vein. The scenery is still spectacular and quite unique. It also features an active geyser and boiling mud. Hell’s Gate is yet another thermal park, but Hell’s Gate is also an exceptional day spa and offers cultural experiences. The massages are fabulous!

Skyline view NZ

The view from the top at Skyline is exceptional and the luge is a whole lot of fun! Take a cable car up the mountain and ride the luge back down again. You can also visit Te Wairoa. New Zealand’s version of Pompeii, the village was buried by the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera in one of New Zealand’s greatest natural disasters. Today it is the country’s most visited archaeological site.

Scenic New Zealand totally deserves to be right up there on the list of top first time solo travel destinations. What do you think?

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Neha from Travelbinocular recommends: Vienna, Austria

Although I have been calling Vienna home for the past 4 years, I am writing this guest piece from the eyes of a solo traveller. A little over 6 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Vienna as a solo traveller and little did I know, my destiny would bring me here for work.  I am certainly very happy it did. Vienna is a beautiful city, not just known for its cafe’s, cakes and museums, but for one of the best qualities of life. Vienna showcases a striking display of European Imperialist opulence, statues, sculptures and castles. The very air feels rich! I would any day recommend it among the top first time solo travel destinations, especially for women.

Stay: Areas around the main tourist attractions (Mariahilfer Strasse, Innere Stadt, Rathaus, Karlsplatz) are expensive but convenient. More affordable options can be found farther away from the city centre (close to subway stations).

Things to do: To get a better view of the city go for a ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater, at the Prater Amusement Park. If you appreciate modern art, visit Mumok. At Stephansplatz, visit one of Vienna’s most impressive landmarks, St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The Opera House

At Schoenbrunn, visit the world’s oldest zoo and spend time walking around the Tiergarten Schoenbrunn and the magical grounds of the Schoenbrunn Palace. At Donauinsel, take a nice long walk around the river. Also visit the historic Ringstrasse.  There are many trams (1,71, D etc). which you can hop on and get a glimpse of Vienna’s most monumental buildings including Rathaus, Parliament, Opera House. Rathaus is one of my favourite buildings in Vienna to catch a glimpse at night. It’s truly breathtaking.

At UNO City you can visit inside UNO by taking their guided tour at specific times.  At the Tiergarten, Vienna’s wildest park, you can see deer and wild boar roam free! Don’t forget to visit Hoher Markt, Vienna’s oldest marketplace. You can also see the famous Anker Clock by Franz von Matsch here. Also unmissable are Graben and Kaernten, central streets in Vienna, great for the trendiest boutiques and cafes in town.

The Anker Clock

The Belvedere Palace and its garden is impressive and houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Austrian art. The Hofburg, also known as Court Castle, was the Imperial Palace for the Habsburgs. The oldest parts date back to the 13th century. The Museum Quartier is one of the largest cultural centres in the world with a mix of Baroque and modern architecture. Don’t miss the Vienna State Opera – It dates back to the mid-19th century, is world-famous and one of the busiest in the world. You can also visit Kirschenhain (trees given by Japan), Hainburger Weg or Stadtpark to see the cherry blossom in Vienna. If you are interested in wine, I recommend a visit to Kahlenburg where you can take a wine walking tour with a great view of Vienna.

 Moving around: For just 20 euros, the Vienna City Card gives you unlimited travel on the subway, bus and tram for 72 hours (with an additional 200 discounts for city use). The subway (U-Bahn) is extremely developed with 5 lines and 100 stations and is arguably the best public transport option. Ticket prices depend on city zones, time and number of rides.

Tip: the mobile app Qando provides detailed information about getting around in Vienna.

There’s lots to do and worth a visit in this beautiful, safe and clean city. It is definitely one of the best places to travel alone in Europe. If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, please let me know!

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Matilda from The Travel Sisters recommends: Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is one of my favourite places I have visited and is perfect to be included among first-time solo travel destinations.  Located in northern Laos and bordered by two rivers, Luang Prabang is one of the most charming, pretty and delightful cities in Southeast Asia, with friendly locals and a relaxed and laid-back vibe.  Dotted with beautiful architecture and Buddhist temples, the entire town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  While Luang Prabang is a great destination for travellers that want to chill out and relax at one of its many cafes, there is no shortage of fun activities for visitors.

Moving around:  Luang Prabang is small so it is safe, cheap and easy to explore on your own by foot –  I always felt safe walking around town alone even at night.

Things to do: There are plenty of affordable and nice hostels that are suitable for solo travellers and cheap and tasty street food so you don’t have to dine alone in restaurants if you don’t want to.  One of the best things to do in Luang Prabang is to take a tour or a hire a tuk-tuk to visit the nearby Kuang Si Falls, a beautiful spectacular multi-tier waterfall where you can take a dip in turquoise pools. I also recommend waking up early to eat local food at the morning market and see orange-robed monks emerge from their temples to walk around town collecting alms at dawn.

Luang Prabang Sunset

Other fun activities to do include temple hopping, taking a cooking classvolunteering to practice English with locals and joining a sunset cruise on the Mekong River.  You can also climb the stairs to the top of Mount Phoosi, a hill which is located in the centre of Luang Prabang, to view the sunrise or sunset and enjoy panoramic views of the town. In the evening, the main street has a night market, which is a great place to shop for clothes or souvenirs without much haggling or enjoy some local street food.  If you don’t like making plans, you don’t need to – you can just walk around town enjoying the riverfront and you will run into temples and other things to see without much effort. Luang Prabang is a popular destination for backpackers in Southeast Asia, so it is easy to meet other fellow travellers if you decide you want some company, but it does not feel too crowded or too touristy.

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Rebecca from She Roams Solo recommends: Sydney, Australia

One of my favourite first time solo travel destinations would have to be Sydney. I’m biased, I grew up in Sydney. Yet the main reason I would recommend Sydney is because of the safety level. I never felt a high level of danger in Sydney, everyone speaks English and people are happy to help you when needed. Men will not harass you and catcalling is not the norm. On top of this, Australia is a very laid back country. We are a very friendly bunch, this means you won’t feel as awkward asking questions or trying to make friends when travelling alone for the first time.

 Meeting people: Stay in hostels; the YHA hostel in Central Sydney holds “Aussie BBQs” and other eventful nights. This makes for a great way to sit around and get to know other travellers. Meetup.com is a great resource is Sydney, you can join activities from hikes to pub crawls and you will certainly come away knowing someone new. However, if you wish to simply hang out alone, jump on a bus and head to the beach to relax, walk to Hyde Park and people watch or just simply walk around on your own.

Sydney's Harbour Bridge
Sydney’s Harbour Bridge

 Exploring: Get to know the different areas of Sydney. Australia is huge and so are her cities.  Once you have seen the main sections of Sydney CBD – The Opera House, Harbour Bridge (you should walk across it), the Botanical Gardens, etc… why not hop over to Manly on the ferry, check out Glebe markets on a Saturday and enjoy walking around the lively area, head down to Newtown for a coffee, check out some creative boutiques in Paddington or Surry Hills. I also advise walking over the Harbour Bridge and sitting under the bridge with a takeaway pizza from Pizza Rio whilst you stare out into the harbour. There’s even a bottle shop nearby if you want to try some of Australia’s fantastic wines or craft beers with your pizza. It’s a great way to see a different side of the Harbour Bridge and the beautiful harbour.

Day trips: One of my favourite day trips or even weekend getaways, depending on time is the south coast. Renting a car means you can drive The Grand Pacific drive, which is amazing! Stop in Kiama for ice creams and check out the blowhole or stop in hidden beaches around the Royal National Park. If you make it as far as Berry (A very cute Australia town), don’t miss the famous doughnut van or the creatively decorated pubs where you can try an emu burger. Another great one is the Blue Mountains, famous for beautiful hikes and nature. If you do get to the Blue Mountains, stopping at the famous pie shop Pie in the Sky is a must do.

Sydney beach

Other options for your first solo trip to Sydney include a train trip to Cabramatta for some of the best, cheapest Asian dishes and checking out museums to understand the short history of Australia even more. One of my favourites that isn’t so well known is the Susannah place museum which teaches you all about life living in “the rocks”, one of Sydney’s oldest areas and my favourite. And one of my favourite places is Coogee beach, where you can find large groups of travellers and locals alike having BBQs on the grassy area, listening to music and playing soccer… if you’re sick of spending the time by yourself, go strike up a conversation, before you know it, you have made friends for life.

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Shivani from The Wandering Core recommends: Paris, France

Paris was my first solo trip from Delhi, India. A dream trip for many, was more of paranoia for me. An introvert who never dreamt of travelling alone and that too to an international destination like Paris was daunting. Choosing Paris was a leap of faith which opened me up for my further travels. From the moment I landed in Paris to the day I came back, I remember every moment. Not only because it’s one of the world’s most travelled place, but also because of the warmth of the Parisians. Let me tell you how my story went, which will show you why I feel Paris is the best of all first-time solo travel destinations.

I landed at the CDG airport and headed towards immigration and found a spot for myself in the queue. I couldn’t help but notice that the airport staff were giving families with toddlers and elderly a priority. This gave me an impression that I will be safe here. Passing through all the formalities, I looked for the ticket counters for Paris metro. Coming to a country with no coins is a bad choice which I made. But once again, a travelling couple saw my struggle and helped me out there. Ideally, I hadn’t set foot in Paris city and I experienced these 2 amazing incidents. I found Parisians to be humble and helpful. Dragging my heavy suitcase, I saw a cop and asked him about the train for the city. Without saying a word to me, he said something in the walkie-talkie and waved me in the direction of the platform. While boarding the train, I noticed he had literally stopped the train for me as I saw the driver waiting for me. That was only the first day when I landed at the airport. Most of my days went by like this, meeting the most helpful people. Despite the language barrier, they won’t hesitate to help you out. Even the tourists are extremely considerate.

Travelling solo means no one to click your pictures and one can only rely on the kindness of strangers. The same happened to me but a touch of benevolence. I was trying to click a selfie from Trocadero with Eiffel Tower in the background. But obviously, I was craving for a picture more and being an introvert means I was too shy to ask anyone. It was then that another solo traveller came to me requesting a picture. I clicked hers and finally asked her to return the favour for me as well. She didn’t know English but still, she accepted. It was evening and my pictures turned out to be dark. With a little English she knew she asked me to turn on the flash for a better picture. I realised that’s Paris for solo travellers.

Things to do: Paris has something for every traveller. The history of WWII in Louvre Museum and Arc de Triomphe, the museums, the cafe culture and the cathedrals with intricate work. Paris will not disappoint anyone.

The Parisian culture, history and the food makes it a perfect place for travel. But it is the compassion of people, which stood out for me in Paris as the most important thing for solo travel. If given a chance I’ll grab the opportunity to travel solo here again.

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Jamie from Crashed Culture recommends: Madrid, Spain

My first solo travel experience was in Madrid, Spain, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice! Especially as a woman, the idea of travelling alone can be a scary one. When I travelled in Madrid, I was surprised that I felt more comfortable walking around alone than I ever did in the US! While back home I would never walk around alone at night, Spaniards are up and out until sunrise the next day, so you needn’t worry about empty streets and the unknown. During my year in Madrid, I also did not have to deal with catcalling once!

Moving around: But, while feeling safe is incredibly important to first time solo travelers, this isn’t the only reason I’d recommend Madrid as one of the best first time solo travel destinations. Madrid is particularly well-known for how easy it is to travel both within the city and around the country as a whole. In fact, the city is famous for its metro system! If you’re under 26, you can get an abono, or a public transportation card, and travel unlimited trips throughout the city for the rock-bottom price of 10 euro a month. Can’t beat that price, especially in a decent public transportation system! The metro is (mostly) predictable, clean, safe, and runs until 2 AM, which makes for a natural curfew for those who don’t have a car and don’t want to pay for a taxi.

Outside of Madrid, public transportation may be a smidgen pricier, but it’s still incredibly affordable and convenient – you can find yourself a bus ride to most any city within the country for under 50 euros. And don’t worry, the buses are just as nice as the metro: clean, safe, and organized. It’s easy enough to hop online and purchase a ticket to almost anywhere in the country, show up at a bus station, and find an adventure!

Madrid

Things to do: While travelling in Madrid, there is lots and lots to see. There are glorious castles, extensive parks, artistic performances, gastronomic adventures…the list goes on and on. My favourite place is Parque del Buen Retiro, or Retiro Park. This is a huge, beautiful park that used to belong to royalty, but is now open to the public. Retiro Park is great for a stroll, bike ride, picnic, row (in front of the beautiful Monumento a Alfonso XII), and even to join the variety of clubs that meet there. I once took a free Flamenco class there – talk about a Madrileño experience!

Not far from Retiro is Puerta del Sol, which is another must-see. Puerta del Sol is the plaza where life meets – stores, restaurants, street performers, clubs, and everything in between. If you want to find something exciting to do, this is the place to go, for tourists and locals alike.

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My own first solo trip took me to the charming Scottish city of Edinburgh, from where I also took a three-day trip to the Highlands and to the Isle of Skye. I would definitely consider Edinburgh among the top first time solo travel destinations, especially for female solo travellers.

Things to do: You can spend a couple of days exploring Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century New Town. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Old Town especially is very atmospheric and charming, with stone buildings and narrow lanes called Wynds and Closes leading into enclosed residential courtyards and gardens. The Royal Mile in the Old Town – the cobblestoned street connecting the Castle with Holyrood Castle – is where a lot of the tourist footfalls happen. You’ll find a ton of souvenir stores and cafes here.

The Old and New towns are separated by a beautiful green stretch called Princes Street Gardens, a perfect spot for relaxing and people-watching. It also offers you great shots of the Edinburgh Castle. The Castle itself is supremely impressive and worth a half-day’s time and the investment into an audio-guide.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh – The National Gallery in the foreground

When you are done exploring the city, you can take day trips into the surrounding areas to explore distilleries, visit the nearby St Andrew’s Golf Course, explore the seaside town of North Berwick or the castle of Stirling, the possibilities are many.

Moving around:  Edinburgh’s Old Town is best seen on foot, it is compact and easily walkable. To explore farther areas, you can get a day pass for the local buses. Trains run from Waverley station to nearby towns and are also very convenient.

Stay:  Edinburgh is great for solo travellers thanks to the large number of hostels and BnB’s available here. My hostel was just a 5-minute walk away from the Mile and a 10-minute walk from the station, and being in a 4-bed dorm meant I was able to make friends to hang out with later!

I would also recommend Edinburgh among the easiest first time solo travel destinations because of the energy and vibe around it. People are very friendly, so if you are a solo traveller and want to talk to folks and make friends, you will have no trouble at all. There is a large variety of things to do, from culture to adventure, so it will suit all tastes. If you want to party, there are plenty of bars and clubs in the Old and New towns. The city also hosts internationally known festivals like Fringe and Hogmanay.

 

 

My heartfelt thanks to all my fellow travel bloggers for helping put together this list of recommendations of top first time solo travel destinations. To those of you who have read this far and have been dreaming of solo travel, hope this post has helped push those dreams a little further into planning stage! All the best for your solo travel planning!

 

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The most beautiful places in Sardinia

Sardinia is often described as a small heaven in the heart of the Mediterranean. Its coasts and its candid beaches are the emblems of it, but there are numerous places and endless facets that are worth a visit. In this guest post, Italian blogger Simone would like to introduce you to the most beautiful places in Sardinia. All these places are ideal to visit both for couples or families, although some excursions could be fatiguing for young children.

Best places to visit in Sardinia

Here is a list of my preferred places in Sardinia –

Arbatax

Arbatax is something different, an alien place, dry, exotic and open as its sea. It seems that its name come from the Arab and means “14”, to point out the fourteen towers that dominate the promontories and that remind us the history of Sardinia, used by the main cultures of the Mediterranean, among them the Saracens.

After having crossed the inside land from Cagliari to the province of the Ogliastra, among dry and almost desert hills, the sea is what you’ll see once you arrive, a blue that loses itself to the horizon and that lays upon a coast of stones, great as the megaliths of the ancient civilizations, among palms and eucalyptuses.

Arbatax Park covers 60 hectares of Capo Bellavista, among small roads that climb and go down along the hill, a perfect walk between the white and the violet of the oleanders. The tall eucalyptuses pick up the wind and their leaves produce a rustle that you’ll hear all over the night when the sea breeze is stronger.

All it takes to reach the sea is a few footsteps; go down toward the beaches and the small inlets, where you can stay also in the warmest hours in the shade of a palm, watching the waves that slowly come from the open sea toward the rocks.

Best beaches in Sardinia

Gallura, north Sardinia

If I say Sardinia, what thought comes to your mind? To me, a fabulous sea that resembles a lot the ocean of the Caribbean islands, with the only and only difference that it is a little cold, but these are just details!

On a sunny day, I have departed for an excursion on a boat from the tourist village Marinedda, on the northwest coast of Sardinia, with destination the Red Tower harbour. Here I took a motorboat to discover the most beautiful beaches of the Gallura (some of which are visitable only by sea) to see the colours of the water that changes due to the clouds, to the backdrop, to the season.

The first beach that I have visited during the tour has been Cala Tinnari, a lonely and untouched place, and thereafter I continued to the best Sardinia beaches, Cala Serraina, Vignola, and Monti Russu. The word that unites those beaches is “wild”, in a positive sense. They are still unspoiled beaches where man has not destroyed anything.

I then continued up to the archipelago of the Maddalena! Among the most important islands of this archipelago, there are Maddalena, Budelli, Caprera and Saint Maria, that I warmly recommend you to visit. Each one has in store for you some unforgettable characteristics!

Here I have described an enchanting day articulated by the rhythm of the sea in a place surrounded by nature.

 

Things to do in Sardinia

I have spent one weekend in Sardinia and discovered that this big island is not only sea, even its hinterland has places rich in beauty that also deserve a visit. This is where the villages are surrounded by a veil perfumed of the past, where the pebbles of the roads have been stamped on by people who have made of their earth a source of life.

I have visited Aggius in the heart of the Gallura. It has a small inhabited centre, in which the houses are built with the granite rock. An important resource of the territory, it is specialized in the production and framework of carpets.

In the Museum Etnografico, the MEOC, there is the whole history of their traditions since 1600. Just with entering the building you seem to be catapulted in a new dimension, thanks to the perfume of the helichrysum in the air and the folklorist music of the place. You can see a “traditional house”, a representation with all the objects and the furniture, with the activities that had taken place during the day, like the preparation of wine, bread, and cheese.

Other things to see are the Nuraghe, a megalithic construction of conical form that goes back to the Bronze era (1700 B.C. around). Their main function was that of defense, but not only that, considering that during the excavations archaeologists have found utensils of daily use.

I have visited the Nuraghe Majori. Inside the building live a colony of bats that reach the nuraghe every April, where they give birth and then in October they go away again. The guide illuminated them for a quick instant, without frightening them: those little creatures made me feel really tender!

South Sardinia

To find white and untouched beaches you don’t need to go to the Caribbean! You just have to reach South Sardinia. This part of the island has, in fact, some of the most beautiful places in Sardinia.


Perhaps it is lesser known, but the southern part of Sardinia is as beautiful, even if slightly different in comparison to the zones in the north of the island, with breathtaking beaches of white sand. In the hinterland, the landscape is constituted of mountains covered by woods and cultivation.

Cagliari is the chief town of Sardinia and is an important destination of the Mediterranean routes. This city can boast the passage of the Phoenician around the IX century B.C. and of the Romans toward the end of the II century. You can visit innumerable historical monuments such as the Patrician’s Villas and the amphitheater that in the summer hosts different cultural demonstrations.

To the east of Cagliari (about 50 km through the beautiful coastal road) is  Villasimius, an old village of shepherds and fishermen, that has known significant tourist development during the 60’s. It offers a breathtaking panorama of white sand beaches and the crystalline sea. The city offers the tourists some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia as Porto Giunco, Punta Is Molentis, and Cala Caterina.


To the south of the Sardinian chief town, you will find Pula, a great agricultural and tourist village for all types of budgets, unlike the Coast Smeralda. Pula, other than a magnificent shore, offers also a series of attractions of cultural and archaeological interest. For example, Villa Santa Maria with its neoclassic style and the Archaeological Museum of Giovanni Patroni where are hosted some archaeological finds of the archaeological village of Nora.

Iglesias is deeply tied to the mining activity of Sardinia. The Carthaginian were the first ones to exploit these resources and subsequently, in the Middle Ages, Pisa. The city has preserved a medieval urban development, where you can visit the Cathedral of Santa Chiara, the church of San Francesco and for the interested ones, the Museum of Mineralogy and Paleontology where there are at least 8000 pieces of fossils and archaeological findings.

These are only some examples of thing you can see during your vacation in Sardinia: some sun, some sea and so many things to visit, here are the ingredients for your 2018 summer! Hope you enjoyed learning about some of the most beautiful places in Sardinia!

 

My name is Simone, I have a wife and two kids. I travel a lot, I like it and I like Italy. And I want to share it with you. Follow my website Lovinitaly and my Pinterest       

 

 

Hemkuta Hill Hampi

Temples, Coconuts and Ganesha: Hampi in Two Days

History buff that I am, visiting the ancient temples of Hampi had been on my to-do list for quite some time. I recently used a long weekend to make this trip from Delhi to Hampi in two days via Bangalore. If you enjoy history, architecture and nature then you will love Hampi. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in my opinion one of the most underrated places in India. Read on to discover more about the town’s history, the places to visit in Hampi in two days, and the nitty-gritty of planning a trip here.  

Hampi is a small, laid-back sort of town surrounded by paddy fields, coconut trees and banana plantations. The pace of life is much slower than what you’d typically be used to. In that sense, it felt like a mix of Kerala and Goa. There are homestays and small thali-serving “restaurants” everywhere. Coconut sellers place themselves strategically outside the various temple gates, offering them to you when you return from a visit, happy but dehydrated. Coconut water is great for rehydration by the way so drink away. I lost count of the amount of coconut water I got through during my two days in Hampi! 

The historic heart of the town i.e. Hampi Bazaar and its surroundings are considered sacred ground and you will not find any non-vegetarian food or alcohol being served here. To even find an ATM you will have to come out towards Kamalapur. The town survives mostly through income from tourism, as well as the neighbouring industrial belts. It is also a known centre for weaving. Cotton Ilkal saris from Hampi are famous, as are saris and textiles made out of the locally sourced banana-leaf fibre.

 

History of an Ancient Town – Kishkindha to Pampa to Hampi

Hampi derives its name from Pampa, the older name of the Tungabhadra river. The earliest archaeological records found here indicate that Hampi was inhabited by settlers as early as the 1st century AD. It is also believed to have been a part of the Mauryan Empire, and after that ruled by the Chalukyas and the Hoysalas. One can still see some surviving specimens of Hoysala temple architecture here.

The city really came into its own in the medieval times with the rise of the Vijayanagar Empire, the last great Hindu kingdom. The Empire was established in 1336, and Hampi as its capital city grew steadily and flourished as a centre for trade in gems, cotton, spices etc. Hampi was, in the 15th century, the second-largest city in the world (Beijing being the largest) and the richest city in India. It was a thriving metropolis, with a highly developed sense of art, architecture, agriculture and infrastructure. The society was multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

In the latter half of the 16th century, the Kingdom fell to the Deccan Sultans, and Hampi was destroyed, pillaged, and then abandoned. Today the ruins of Hampi consist of nearly 1600 monuments, are spread over an area of over 30 sq. km. Anybody who has seen the temples of Angkor Wat would be struck by the similarity in the layouts of the various groups of temples.

There is another mythological aspect to Hampi as well. It is believed that Hampi is, in fact, the Kishkindha kingdom mentioned in the Ramayana, where Rama and Laxmana met Sugreeva and Hanuman and stayed for some time before leaving for Lanka. In fact, Anegundi, located across the river from Hampi, has a Hanuman temple as well as a hill called Anjaneya Parvat where Hanuman is supposed to have been born.

Bali Sugreeva battle Hampi
Sculpture from a carved pillar showing the battle between Monkey Kings Bali and Sugreeva in Kishkindha

Places to see in Hampi

The ruins of Hampi are clustered into groups; the two main groups are – the temples and sacred monuments around the Hampi Bazaar and the royal enclosure near Kamalapur. The Vijay Vitthal temple stands in solitary grandeur about 2km away from the Hampi Bazaar. There are also various hilltops around Hampi with ruins scattered across.

If you have four or five days, you can visit every monument in detail and cover everything easily. However, given that most people only stay in Hampi for two or three days, I’m giving below a list of the most important places to visit in Hampi in two days.

 

Places to Visit in Hampi in Two Days

  1. Virupaksha Temple

This is one of the most important temples in the area and the only living temple. As you walk up the road to the temple, you will notice roofless stone pavilions along the entire side of the road. These are remains of the lively bazaar that used to exist outside this temple in the 15th century. The temple is dedicated to Virupaksha, a form of Shiva and the patron deity of the Vijayanagar Empire. The original temple was constructed in the 7th century i.e. much before the Vijayanagar kingdom came about. Time your visit to this temple for the early morning to avoid crowds. Also, if you visit in the morning you might get to watch an elephant getting a morning bath at the adjoining river-ghat.

 

Approaching the Virupaksha Temple from Hampi Bazaar
Approach to Virupaksha Temple

 

  1. Sasivekalu Ganesha

This is a monolithic statue of Ganesha, about 8 feet high. Walk around and look at it from the back, and you will see that the sculptor has tried to show Ganesha sitting in Parvati’s lap. “Sasivekalu” in Kannada apparently means mustard and the statue has been thus named because of the similarity of its belly to a mustard seed. Or so I was informed.

 

  1. Kadalekalu Ganesha

Located just a couple of minutes’ walk from the earlier Ganesha, this monolithic statue of Ganesha was damaged by the invaders. At 15 feet tall, it’s one of the tallest Ganesha statues I’ve ever seen. Its location is really great, a pillared porch on a rocky outcrop surrounded by hills. Quite scenic.

Kadlekalu Ganesha or Bengal Gram Ganesha statue in Hampi

 

  1. Laxmi Narasimha

Narasimha is considered an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu. Laxmi Narasimha as seen in Hampi is also sometimes called Ugra (angry) Narasimha due to the statue’s facial expressions. There was originally a Laxmi statue present in Narasimha’s lap, but this was damaged during the invasion of Hampi. What remains is the Narasimha statue and just the hand of Lakshmi. This statue is the largest of all statues in Hampi.

 

The Laxmi Narasimha statue is the tallest statue in Hampi
Entering the Laxmi Narasimha Temple

 

  1. Badaviling Temple

Located just next to the Laxmi Narasimha, this is a 3-metre high Shivling, carved out of a single piece of rock. It is believed that it was made by a poor woman seeking to please the deity.

  1. Underground Shiva Temple

This Shiva temple was until recently partially under water. It is still getting excavated and cleaned up by the ASI but is worth a look if you visit.

  1. The Royal Enclosure

This was the heart of the daily life of the royal inhabitants of Hampi. The Royal Enclosure contained living quarters, water tanks, stables, durbar halls etc.

Elephant Stables – This is a set of 11 stables for the King’s favourite 11 elephants.

Lotus Mahal – This beautiful medley of Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture was a part of the Zenana complex, and used as a venue for recreation and meetings. It reminded me of structures I had seen at Fatehpur Sikri in Agra.

Hazara Rama Temple – This Rama temple was the only temple within the Royal Enclosure and was the location for all ceremonial rituals of the royal family. The bas-reliefs on its walls depict scenes from the Ramayana – and instantly reminded me of the bas-reliefs on the walls of Angkor Wat.

Mahanavmi Dibba – This 8m high platform probably exists in the same shape as it was made all those years ago. The King used to watch the Navami celebrations from here.

Queen’s Bath – This was an enclosed pool surrounded by corridors. The queen and her ladies used to go here for bathing and relaxation.

The Elephant Stables in the Royal Enclosures at Hampi
The Elephant Stables inside the Royal Enclosure

 

     8. Vijay Vitthal Temple

The Vitthal temple is as significant and well-known among the Hampi temples as is the Virupaksha temple. Avoid going here in the afternoon – visit early in the morning or in the evening. There is a dirt road about one km long that needs to be covered either on foot or by the shuttle bus, for which demand usually outruns supply. Vitthal temple is a Vishnu temple, and the highlights of this temple are the detailed carving, the various musical pillars (it is now forbidden to play music on these pillars to avoid damaging them further) and the huge stone chariot that is so intricately carved that it almost looks monolithic.

The Vijay Vitthal temple is one of the two most important temples in Hampi
The famous stone chariot of the Vijay Vitthal temple

9. Hemkuta Hill

Hemkuta Hill near the Sasivekalu Ganesha is a famous sunset point in Hampi. I had read about it and decided to give it a shot. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend the sunset here to anybody. Get here at least half an hour before sunset to get a good place to sit, since it’s a very nice and peaceful place to relax. You get some amazing views of the surrounding hills. It’s a large enough hilltop to allow for a large number of people to gather without getting into each other’s space which is great.  

 

Other things to do in Hampi

Rock climbing: The rocky landscape with huge boulders attracts droves of rock climbing and bouldering aficionados to Hampi, with November and December being the peak period for this activity.

Wildlife watching: You can visit the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary, the only such sanctuary for sloth bears in India. It is located just 15km away from Hampi.

Visit the Tungabhadra dam: Located just outside Hospet, this is the largest dam in Karnataka. There is a lighthouse here which offers great views of the surroundings. There is also a garden with a musical fountain, somewhat popular with visitors in the evenings.

Coracle ride: You can cross the Tungabhadra river by coracle (a traditional round boat) that are still used in Hampi to this today. Look for these near the Virupaksha temple ghats.

ASI Museum: This museum in Kamalapur houses the artefacts found during excavations here, and also explains Hampi’s history in detail. The museum remains closed on Mondays and public holidays.

Tungabhadra river at Hampi
Tungabhadra river and Hampi’s classic boulder-strewn landscape

 

How to reach Hampi

By train: The closest railway station is Hospet, a town located within 30 minutes’ driving distance from Hampi. If you take the overnight train Hampi Express from Bangalore (Bengaluru), this is where you will arrive. From Hospet, you can easily get to Hampi by local bus or by autorickshaw.

By bus: Hospet has bus connectivity with cities like Bangalore and Mysore. From here you can continue to Hampi by local buses or autorickshaws.

By air: Till March 2018, the closest airport for Hampi used to be Bangalore which is a drive of about six hours. Luckily, since then Trujet has introduced a Bangalore to Vidyanagar flight connection. The new airport at Vidyanagar (Bellary) is just about an hour’s drive from Hampi.  

By car: If you wish to drive yourself, you can also bring your own vehicle as the roads, for the most part, are in decent condition, except for a few bits in between. Take the route via Bellary. Hampi being a popular weekend destination, quite a few people drive down from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Goa and so on.

 

Where to stay in Hampi

Hampi has accommodation to suit all budgets and requirements. The local administration has recently shut down most homestays and guesthouses in the Hampi Bazaar area, so check before booking. Kamalapur in southern Hampi is not a bad place to stay. It’s not much in terms of ambience, but the location is great. It’s where the bus-stand and ASI Museum are. It also offers close access to the Royal Enclosure side of the ruins.  The hotel I stayed at (Clarks Inn) was more than satisfactory.

 

Best time to visit Hampi

Being located in southern India and in an extremely rocky terrain, Hampi has a dry and warm climate. Summers can be quite unbearable, so avoid visiting between April and July. If you are making a long and lazy trip and don’t mind a bit of rain, monsoon would be ideal. If a quick weekend is what you have in mind, then the cooler months of November to February are good.

 

Getting around Hampi

If you haven’t brought your own wheels, then you have quite a few options when it comes to local transportation. You could walk of course, but I would not recommend this. The Hampi ruins are spread over rather a large area and the hot weather can really sap your energy. If the weather and your fitness levels allow, you may hire bicycles from your hotel or one of the local bike-hire outfits. Some places also rent out scooters and motorcycles, but be careful to check that it’s a legit setup. The bike you hire must have a commercial licence plate or you may get into trouble with the police.

By far the most common and ubiquitous way of transport within Hampi is the autorickshaw. They are everywhere.  Drivers will usually negotiate a flat per-day rate with you to take you around the temples of Hampi. However, they are not guides, so if you want a guide in addition, that will cost you extra. If you prefer a hired car and driver, most Hampi hotels and guesthouses can arrange this as well.

 

Overlooking Virupaksha Temple from Hemkuta Hill at sundown in Hampi
Overlooking Virupaksha Temple from Hemkuta Hill at sundown

 

I’ve seen a lot of temples in India and found Hampi to be really unique. The ruins and their stories are fascinating, and the quality of workmanship in the sculptures is outstanding. I do wish the local administration would focus on infrastructure development here. Given proper maintenance, better roads, shuttle buses, trained guides, etc., Hampi can easily be India’s Angkor Wat. In fact, I didn’t get enough of Hampi in two days and know that I will be back soon enough. 

 

Have you ever visited Hampi? What was your favourite part of the trip? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Two Traveling Texans

#Travel tips on what to see and do in two days in #Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Bangalore in southern India

Isle of Skye offers scenic views

Travelogue: Day-Trip to the Isle of Skye

I had posted a little while ago about my trip to the Scottish Highlands and promised another post about the second part of the trip, my day-trip to the Isle of Skye. Here it is!

Driving across the Skye Bridge, we took a long day-trip to the Isle of Skye from our base in Stromeferry. We spent the entire day exploring different parts around Skye. The beauty of this island cannot be described in words, and even the pictures don’t really do it justice. I fell in love with this part of the world on that day. I still count the Isle of Skye amongst one of my favourite places in the world. Maybe someday I will revisit and explore it in greater detail.

Cuilin peaks on Skye

On this trip around the Isle of Skye we stopped to see the Cuillin Mountains; Portree which is the main town of Skye and rather quaint and lovely; the “Old Man of Storr” rock, etc. We spent an hour relaxing and admiring the views in Glenshiel (Fairy Glen). As per legends, this is the point where our world and that of the fairies meet. It did feel magical and beautiful high up there (I had climbed up to the top of the rock described as the fairy fort).

Old Man of Storr (L), Kilt Rock (R)

Tip: If you wish to pick up travel souvenirs or gifts while in Skye, try out the shops in Portree. You can buy interesting stoneware, pottery, trinkets and jewellery, things incorporating the local products like heather, and so on.

 

After passing Uig and catching some stunning sea views, we stopped at an unmarked point surrounded by cliffs and cliffside paths. Our guide took us on a walk along a trail which was, in hindsight, probably not the best idea for me with my propensity for accidents. However, the views at the end of the trail did make up for the nervous moments.

We ended the day with a visit to the Kilt Rock and its waterfall. From here, on a clear day, you can see right across the sea to the islands of Raasay and Rona. We were told that we were very lucky to have this view, since there are very few days with such good visibility here.

 

I was really tired by the time we drove back to Stromeferry. But this day-trip to the Isle of Skye was probably the most beautiful part of my days in Scotland. Just thinking about it now makes me want to go back!

The next morning we left Stromeferry and drove to Inverness, crossing the Glenelg Scenic Way. I was finally getting to visit Nessie!! Loch Ness is a huge, and I mean huge, expanse of water –  25 miles long, 1 mile wide, over 700 feet deep. Interestingly it’s a mix of salt and fresh water – salt water stays at the bottom and fresh water on top, with some kind of geothermal layer acting as a barrier. Not sure of the technicalities but interesting fact anyway. I looked around for Nessie but maybe she was sleeping in, it was a Sunday morning after all! It was grey and foggy and rather cold so we took some pictures, I picked up some pebbles that I’d promised to get for my sister, and then we drove on.

Loch Ness on a grey day

I’d been lucky with the weather so far; in all my time in Scotland there hadn’t been a drop of rain and I’d seen some glorious sunny days. Today that changed and the day was dark, gloomy, and windy with bouts of rain every now and then. Apparently, this is more what Scottish weather is supposed to be.

From Inverness, we went on to visit the Culloden battle site. This was a flat patch of moor where the Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charles fought a final battle against a much larger English army under the Duke of Cumberland in the mid 18th century. It was literally a massacre, over in less than an hour’s time for the most part. No prisoners were to be taken, so all survivors including the women and children were killed. Once the battle was over, the Duke set two trained butchers on the field to ensure that none of the dead would be recognisable in any way. As a result, all that marks the dead of this battle is one big common cairn in the middle. There are also numerous small stones scattered around, each bearing the name of a clan that fought and died here. It was a very sad place.

Culloden moor

At Culloden, I took a coffee break because I found myself really affected by the whole story of the battle and the brave Highlanders. In time we all got back, and soon a short drive brought us to Clava Cairns, a prehistoric burial site 3000 to 5000 years old. It is the best preserved Bronze Age burial site in Scotland. The cairns of stacked stones were constructed in such a way that on a solstice day the light of the sun would hit the inside wall of the cairn. Nobody knows exactly why the cairns were built, but it is supposed that they came up gradually over many years.

Clava Cairns

From Clava Cairns, we drove to a tiny little town called Aviemore, which is mostly a base for people going trekking/skiing/hiking in the mountains. Practically half the town was built around the one High Street. I will remember Aviemore for the awesome hot chocolate I had here!

Leaving Aviemore we went past Blair Atholl castle (the place after which the original Scottish owners had named what is now Wallwood Garden in Coonoor, India) to Pitlochry, a slightly bigger town. It was raining much too hard to look around though, and we continued in the driving rain towards Edinburgh.  At the Mile I said goodbye to the others and left for the bus station with two of the American girls from the group, as all three of us were taking the same night bus back to London.

Midnight saw me bringing in my birthday in a National Express Coach somewhere on the highway to London!!

Visiting the scenic Isle of Skye in Scotland covering places like Portree, Old Man of Storr, Glenshiel, Kilt Rock etc.

 

Two Traveling Texans
Sunshine blogger award

The Sunshine Blogger Award

A month ago I received a Twitter notification that Megha, whose blog Delightfull Discoveries I follow, had nominated this blog of mine for the Sunshine Blogger Award. This came as a very pleasant surprise, and a real shot in the arm at a time when I have been struggling with things in general. So thank you Megha, this means a lot. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, do take a look. She blogs mostly about food and books.

These awards don’t just act as motivators to bloggers, but also help one discover new blogs to read. I know I have found a bunch of new blogs just by reading award nomination posts of blogger friends!

RULES

1. Thank blogger(s) who nominated you for the blog post and link back to their blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

 

Here are the questions Megha asked, along with my answers to them:

1. Since when are you blogging?
I have blogged off and on with a gap of years between phases. This blog was started in 2017.

2. What inspired you to start blogging?
My love for travel, and the desire to talk and write about it.

3. You have a beautiful blog name. Why did you choose this name?
It’s based on my Instagram handle, which I named because that’s what I am – a nomad dreamer!

4. What is the ONE thing you don’t like about blogging?
Being an introvert, I find the “plugging” pretty much impossible to do.

5. What is your favourite book?
Pride and Prejudice

6. If you could travel to a country anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Italy!

7. Which movie you can watch again and again and why?
Casablanca, because it appeals to the tragic romantic in me :-/

8. After a tiring day, would you prefer to cook a meal or order one?
Always order lol

9. What’s your favourite breakfast?
Something hot made by my mom!

10. What’s your goal for 2018?
Get back to a decent level of health and fitness. And finally make my first trip to Italy.

11. Which TV series are you watching currently?
It’s been a while since I watched any TV series…

 

My Nominations

  1. Sonam @ Soulspeak
  2. April @ Just Leaving Footprints
  3. Shilpa @ Metanoia
  4. Ramya @ Meotherwise
  5. April @ Travellingwanderer
  6. Verushka @ Spicegoddess
  7. KJ @ KJ Around The World
  8. Katie @ WeirdTravelFriend
  9. Chad & Stef @ Touring Tastebuds
  10. Madhu @ The Urge to Wander
  11. Lynn & Justin @ Mad Hatters NYC

 

My questions for my nominees:

1. What inspired you to start blogging?

2. Is blogging your full-time career or side hustle?

3. What’s the part of a blogger’s life that you love the most?

4. If you could rewrite the ending of one famous Hollywood movie, which one would you pick and why?

5. Describe yourself in six words.

6. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

7. What’s your secret superpower?

8. What’s your travelling style?

9. If a book were to be written about your life, what would it be named?

10. Beaches or mountains?

11. If you weren’t blogging, what would you be doing?

 

Thank you so much Megha for this. I will now look forward to reading the others’ posts 🙂

 

Liebster award 2018

I got nominated for the Liebster Award 2018!

I cannot believe my luck. I was nominated for the Liebster Award 2018 by the very sweet Marina Wang, an Aries who blogs about travel, fashion, and lifestyle at Wait Marina Who. 

Since my blogs are both just a few months old, and I’ve never been nominated for any kind of blogging-related award before, I am rather thrilled at this. The world out there is full of super-talented bloggers/writers doing amazing things. I hope I can also take my blogs to similar levels someday. So this nomination has really been the motivation I sorely needed. Thank you so much, Marina!

About the award: Liebster is a fun way to recognize and support upcoming blogs, increase your audience and also get to know some fellow bloggers around the world.

Rules for the Liebster Award 2018:

  1. Thank the blogger that nominated you, and link back to their blog (dofollow link, not nofollow).
  2. Pay it forward by nominating in turn 5-10 new bloggers that you appreciate. Of course, leave a message or comment for them to know they’ve been nominated!
  3. Answer the questions given to you, and write some of your own for your nominees to answer.
  4. Link your Liebster Award 2018 post to this post by the Global Aussie, and leave your blog post link in the comments section of this same post.

 

Here are my replies to the questions that Marina asked:

Use five adjectives to describe your blog.
Interesting, passionate, friendly, curious, mad (about travel)

Your favorite city in the world?
Impossible to name just one…but if I had to pick just one to revisit it would probably be New York City.

Where are you from and where are you currently living?
I’m rootless 🙂 My dad was in the army so we moved around a lot. They’ve finally settled in New Delhi and I live close by in Gurgaon, where work is.

Three best things about the city you currently reside?
a. Some of my closest friends live here too
b. There are lots of cute cafes around Gurgaon where I can sit quietly with a coffee and a book.
c. Lots of shopping around, if that’s your thing.

Your goals in 2018?
Get healthy. Write more.

Your favorite TV show?
A toss-up between The Big Bang, Gray’s Anatomy and CSI. Yep, I have eclectic tastes!

How did you come up with your blog name?
It was the title of an essay I wrote about myself in my diary many years ago 🙂

Where do you get most of your blog inspirations from?
I blog about places I’ve visited and food I’ve loved, so you could say that my blog inspirations mostly come from own life experiences.

 

Liebster Award 2018

Here are my nominees for the Liebster Award 2018. These are all people who have made good starts in blogging. Some are very new but promising, while others have been around a little while longer. All are worth following. List in random order:

Rashi at Live It Young

Saf and her family at The Travel Bugster

Anamika at The Yellow Bookshelf

Ashvini at Fitbewell

Penguin and Pia the Canadian-German couple

Manas at It’s Only Words

Danica at Jetlag & Wanderlust

Catherine at Working With Bipolar

 

My questions for you are:

1. If a new Superhero were to be created with you as inspiration, what would he/she be called and what would his/her superpower be?

2. What made you start blogging, and what kept you going?

3. If you could get a wish today, what would you ask for? This isn’t Ms. Universe so it’s fine if you don’t pick world peace 🙂 

4. Imagine your Twitter account as a person. Now, describe him/her using one sentence.

5. If you weren’t a blogger, what would you be?

6. Describe yourself using only words that start with the first letter of your name!

7. If x is the average (arithmetic mean) of m and 9, y is the average of 2m and 15, and z is the average of 3m and 18, what is the average of x, y, and z in terms of m?

Lol just kidding, that last one was just for fun. You only need to answer the top 6 🙂

 

Hope you enjoy answering these questions as much as I enjoyed thinking them up. I will look forward to reading your posts in turn. Don’t forget to comment here to let me know when your own post goes live!

 

 

 

Travelogue: My Visit to the Scottish Highlands

One of my most memorable trips so far was the trip I took from Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Even though it was a while ago, all I need to do is to close my eyes and remember, and I get transported to a happy place! I’ve decided to share my memories of that trip in two successive posts, starting today.

My great Scottish Highlands adventure started on a sunny June morning from Edinburgh, where I had already spent a few days exploring the city. I was travelling solo for the first time, didn’t know how to drive and wanted a cheap way to explore the Isle of Skye. Therefore, I had booked a three-day backpackers’ coach tour out of Edinburgh. There was a motley group of travellers on this tour – a mother and daughter from France, a couple from Argentina, female students from the US, a handful of Germans, two Russian brothers (one of them a Daniel Craig lookalike), a student from Taiwan, and me bringing in the Indian angle!

We left Edinburgh and drove out into the countryside towards the Highlands. A drive of about 90 minutes brought us to Bannockburn, the site of the famous 14th-century battle where Robert the Bruce had defeated the British. It was here that I realised that the movie “Braveheart” was not really as factually correct as I’d imagined it to be. Leaving Bannockburn we drove further west passing Stirling, with a brief halt to see Doune castle. We stopped for lunch at Callender, a small town with picture-book houses and pretty lanes lined with tiny cafes and shops. A single Main Street runs through the town, with most of the town businesses located on this street. I had a really delicious mint ice cream from one of the small shops here.

Just a little ahead of Callender we visited a personage called Hamish. Hamish is a Highland Cow (Hairy Coo!!) and something of a minor celebrity. Tourists flock to see this long-haired cow, feed him and take pictures of him. Everywhere we went in the Scottish Highlands, you couldn’t miss the souvenirs related to this animal. The Highland cow is a local VIP and an industry in itself!

As we drove further up into the Highlands I had my first glimpse of a Scottish Loch. We stopped at the rather beautiful Loch Lubnaig to stretch our legs and take some pictures of the spectacular scenery. Further up we stopped to see Glencoe, the valley (glen) where British troops had massacred the entire Macdonald clan. It seemed hard to associate this beautiful, peaceful place with so much bloodshed. Glencoe, by the way, is also where the set for Hagrid’s house was set up, for the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

After Glencoe we drove on past long lake-shores (Loch Leven, freshwater, and Loch Lhinne, saltwater) to reach the midsized town of Fort William. It is the second largest town in the Scottish Highlands. This area is also the beginning of the 100km long Caledonian Canal, which links Scotland’s two sea-coasts along with the Lochs Lhinne, Lochy, Oich and Ness. The town is the starting base for treks and hikes up to the Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles. We passed the Ben and then went up past the Commando Memorial. This is where a British Commando unit was set up and trained during the Second World War.

Our last stop for the day was the Eileen Donan castle. I recognised this as the castle from the Patrick Dempsey movie Made of Honour. Unfortunately the light was failing and I couldn’t get a good picture here. The current castle is actually just about 90 years old. The original castle was used to store gunpowder during the Jacobite rebellions and ended up getting blown up by British cannon-fire.

We finally reached Stromeferry (population seventeen) at around 7.30 pm after a long day. We were staying at a lake-side house called the Stationmaster’s House, a small B&B. It had bunk beds and hot showers and was quite comfortable. After dinner was done and we had all helped to clear and wash up, everybody scattered to do their own thing – showers, naps, walks. I took the opportunity to go for a short walk around the incredibly quiet and scenic lake-side.

Stromeferry where we stayed while visiting the Scottish Islands and Isle of Skye

 

I got back to find that the ice had been broken; the group was playing card games and talking about themselves. I think everybody was a little surprised to see a female solo traveller from India. We were a rare breed then, not that there are tons of us around even now. (You can read some more of my posts on solo travel here)

Over the next two days we covered Skye and Inverness. You can read about that part of my Scottish Highlands trip in this post  🙂

A typical sight from a visit to the Scottish Highlands

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A visit to the Scottish Highlands including Callender, Glencoe, Fort William and scenic Lochs

 

Two Traveling Texans

 

Qutub Minar complex courtyard

Exploring Delhi: The Qutub Minar complex

A casual conversation at work a few days ago brought up an interesting realisation – people will go far and wide to see the world, but often neglect to see their own city. Now I am not originally from Delhi, but having lived in Delhi/Gurgaon for over 15 years now, I guess I can qualify as a resident. I was quite surprised that my Delhi-ite colleagues had never been to places like Qutub Minar and Red Fort. After a quick mental inventory I realised that though I might have seen these two, there are still a number of places in Delhi that I have not explored yet. Over the next few months, I will be trying to remedy that, and also hoping to encourage others living here to explore their surroundings. This post on Qutub Minar is therefore the first of my “Exploring Delhi” series.

I first visited Qutub Minar as a young trainee in a travel agency, escorting a group of school children on a sightseeing tour of the city. Even though I didn’t get a chance to spend much time there, I remember wondering at the expanse of the site and promising myself I’d return. I returned one February afternoon, camera in tow, and ended up spending hours just wandering around the entire complex.  It was beautiful.

Calligraphic inscriptions on the Qutub Minar
Calligraphic inscriptions on the Qutub Minar

Some historical background now, for those who are not familiar with Delhi’s history.  Delhi is said to have been built not once but seven times, at different periods in history. One of these seven cities was Mehrauli (now an area in south Delhi), capital of the Slave Dynasty. The first king of this Sultanate, Qutb ud din Aibak, started the construction of the Qutub Minar in 1199 AD. His successor Iltutmish finished the job some 25 odd years later. At 73m high, this was the tallest brick minaret in India. Depending on which theory you believe, the Minar was either a victory tower or a place for the muezzin to send out his call for prayers.

qutub minar

Today, the Qutub Minar complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later rulers (including the British) added to it, making the complex quite a mix of influences. The original sandstone tower suffered damage on multiple occasions due to earthquakes and lightning strikes; in fact the two upper stories are later additions. Apart from the Qutub Minar, the complex also has the Quwwat ul Islam mosque (said to be the first mosque to be constructed in India), various tombs and arches, and the famous Iron Pillar.

Iron Pillar
Ancient inscriptions on the corrosion-resistant Iron Pillar

The Iron Pillar of the Qutub Minar complex was originally constructed in the 4th century by Chandragupta, one of the most famous kings of ancient India and the founder of the Gupta empire. Constructed of an iron-alloy mix, it’s highlight is that it has resisted corrosion for these thousands of years. A later king brought the pillar from Central India to Delhi, and it now stands near the Qutub Minar in an unusual juxtaposition.

You don’t need to hire a guide to visit the Qutub complex. Just pick up an audio guide from the ticket office and you’re set. You can wander around at your own pace and choose how much – or little – you want to know. The complex is open from sunrise to sunset, except on National holidays. If I were you I’d go in the morning or late in the afternoon, since that’s when the light is best for photography.

If you are ever in Delhi with a couple of hours to spare and have even a little interest in history, I would recommend a visit to this medieval remnant of the city’s past.

Getting there – if you are in South/Central Delhi or in Gurgaon, the Yellow Line of the Delhi Metro will take you to Qutub Minar. Alternatively you can take an Uber/Ola cab, or get someone to drive you over.

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Exploring the Qutub Minar in #Delhi

 

Why I write

Why I Write

Why I write? I write because I feel. Because somewhere inside me are a million thoughts waiting to find expression. And a hundred stories hoping to be told. Writing gives me a voice.

I write because to an introvert like me it’s the most natural way of self-expression.  And a way to reach out and seek connection with those who think the same way. Or those who think differently.

I write so that I can have a record with me, of all the wonderful and surprising and disappointing and unforgettable and heart-breaking moments I have experienced. To look back at life whenever I wish to, without having to rely just on a fading memory, is why I write.

Another reason why I write is the rush of seeing something I wrote, actually getting published and appreciated. Acknowledged and understood. Shared. I have so much to write about, that I actually have two completely different blogs!

I write because I know how much I need to improve my writing skills. Because practise is the only thing that can get me there.

I write, also, because it centres me. In that sense, in almost every sense, I write for myself.

 

This is a post in response to the #everydayinspiration prompt from WordPress. 

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

 

NYC

7 Popular Destinations for Solo Travel – 2017

You might remember an earlier post where I talked about why I travel solo. Solo travel is becoming increasingly common across the world. As a closing post for 2017, I have created a short list of some of the most popular destinations for solo travel this year. Read on to learn about the top 5 global and 2 Indian destinations that were popular among solo travellers in 2017.

 

Siem Reap

One of my personal favourites, this one. This small town in Cambodia offers a variety of things to see and do, the most famous being the fascinating temples of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes. The people are gentle, friendly and very hospitable; you’ll never feel unsafe or lonely. With plenty of nightlife, good food and a variety of accommodation available for every budget, it isn’t surprising that Siem Reap consistently figures amongst popular destinations for solo travel.

Getting there: Siem Reap is connected by air with Phnom Penh as well as neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. You can also travel here by bus from Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

The picture below is from a solo trip there in 2014.

Angkor Thom temples

 

Tokyo

The Japanese capital makes a great base for a solo trip. Not only is it very safe and well-connected by local transport, but the Japanese culture itself is based on tremendous respect and politeness, therefore making Tokyo ideal and safe for solo travellers. From Tokyo you can make easy day trips to Kamakura, Odawara, Mt. Takao etc. The city and its surrounds are also highly instagrammable – cherry blossoms anyone?

Getting there: All major airlines fly to Tokyo, usually into Narita airport. Tokyo is further connected with other towns by road and rail.

 

London

The British capital has always been a favourite for all kinds of travellers. While definitely not cheap on the pocket, the city is extremely easy to navigate (via Tube or on foot) and full of things to see and do. Apart from offering a rich collection of historic sights and major museums, London also acts as a base for trips to nearby places like Oxford, Windsor, Bath, Brighton, Stonehenge etc. The city also has a vibrant nightlife, with everything from clubs to theatre and everything in between. Travellers also like to try out some of the local foodie favourites and indulge in shopping while in London.

Getting there: London has two major airports with multiple flights from across the world.  You can also fly direct from India on airlines like British Airways, Jet Airways, Air India and Virgin Atlantic.

London
A cloudy morning in London

New York

I have yet to see a city with more energy than New York. It’s intense, it’s electric, it’s always busy and it’s one of the most popular destinations for solo travel across all age-groups and genders. From strolling in Central Park to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, from shopping at Macy’s to visiting the farmers’ market at Union Square, from museums to restaurants to Lady Liberty, there is so much to see and do that one visit doesn’t feel enough! Public transport is convenient, but I’ve found walking more convenient. While hotels in New York City are not exactly cheap, you can always try Couchsurfing or staying a little outside Manhattan if you want to stick to a lower budget.

Getting there: New York has multiple flight connections with the entire world through two major airports.  You can fly direct from India on airlines like Air India and United Airlines.

 

Barcelona

This Mediterranean city is known to be one of the friendliest places on earth, and ideal for solo travel. One of the biggest draws here is the fascinating architecture – 7 of the World Heritage Sites in the city are associated with Gaudi. The Catalan capital is also a haven for foodies, offering world-famous cuisine and friendly tapas bars to hang out in. You can also head out from the city to relax on Barceloneta beach, hike in Montserrat, visit Sitges, explore Gerona (GoT fans would know of this location!) and so on. Due to its laid-back feel, Barcelona is also a very popular destination for solo travel among students.

Getting there: Barcelona has an international airport with links to major airports across the world. There are also fast train connections with major European cities like Paris and Milan.

 

Puducherry

The small seaside town of Puducherry offers visitors a little bit of France in India. This former French colony, known internationally due to the Auroville community, offers a variety of things to do for every kind of traveller. Wandering through the French part of town (also called White Town) you will pass ancient churches and gaily painted homes constructed in a typical European style. There is a lot of French-influenced cuisine on offer, as well as the serenity of the Aurobindo Ashram. A lot of travellers visit Puducherry to visit Auroville and the Ashram and take a meditation course. The town is lately also becoming popular for adventure activities like scuba diving, surfing and canoeing.

Getting there: The best way to get here is to fly into Chennai and take a cab or bus to Puducherry. The drive along the coastal highway is extremely scenic.

Surfing
Photo by LECHAT Valentin on Unsplash

Kasol

This tiny hamlet by the Parvati river is often referred to as the Goa of the Hills. With its “hippie” vibe and chilled out ambience, Kasol is one of the most popular destinations for solo travel for young people. Visitors can stay in homestays or budget hotels, and indulge in activities like trekking, hiking, visiting neighbouring villages etc. There are a number of cafes and bakeries offering international cuisine (especially Israeli) apart from Indian food. Kasol is perfect for when you want to escape from the din of life in a typical Indian city.

Getting there: Kasol’s nearest airport Bhuntar (Kullu) is connected by air to Delhi. You can also take an overnight bus from Delhi to Bhuntar, and take a taxi to Kasol.

Are you planning any solo trips in 2018? If yes, I’d love to know where!

 

Some of the most popular solo travel destinations in the world

 

Soup in London

Foodie Friday: Of London, jet-lag and soup!

In today’s Foodie Friday post I want to tell you about the time I went to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant without knowing, and had the best soup I have probably ever tasted yet.

It was the first day of a work trip to London with my boss (we were attending a Trade Expo) and I was badly jet-lagged. We decided to get a bite to eat someplace nearby, as we didn’t have the energy to explore much.

So we basically just walked into the first nice-looking restaurant that we found close to our hotel. This happened to be The Narrow, a really cool riverside eatery that is part of the Gordon Ramsay group. I found out this bit later – at that point I just knew that it was a nice warm place where we could eat dinner and I could finally get to sleep! How’s that for serendipity?

We were seated quickly in the centre of the dining area. I remember seeing a glassed-in part of the restaurant which looked lovely. They call it the conservatory. I could see around me cheerful groups of people visibly having a great time.

Now I am not much of a soup person but since it was cold and there were not too many vegetarian options, I selected the roast butternut squash soup. Even in my jet-lagged hazy state I remember being blown away by the dish. It remains to this day one of the best soups I have ever tasted. Don’t ask me why, it was just right in every way. After the soup I declined a main and opted for dessert instead (naturally!). It was an apple crumble of some sort, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I wish I hadn’t been so exhausted and zoned out that day, because the place seemed really nice. Someday, whenever I am in London again, I must go to The Narrow again to experience it properly. If you are ever in London and anywhere close to the Docklands area, do give it a try!

 

 

Meeting locals

Travel Tip Tuesday: How to meet locals while travelling

To me, one of the most interesting facets of travel – apart from seeing a new place – is that you get to meet people. If you really want to take back a correct picture of the place you are visiting, you want to be sure that you also interact with actual locals and not just tourists like yourself. How do you get to meet locals while travelling by yourself and have no friends in the area? Today’s Travel Tip is from a fellow blogger Maria, who blogs at this very interesting site.

How to find a friendly local where you don’t know anyone

We live in such a globalized world that it’s super easy to find a friendly local to show you around or have a beer and a casual chat wherever you are in the world. All you need is to know where and how to look for them.

I am not a great fan of tour guides because they often tend to follow schedules, lack flexibility and all in all are just doing their job. What I love is having a local (a friend or a friend of a friend) everywhere I go to rely on for insights and tips, but I don’t have friends all over the world (yet). So what I do is use platforms like Global Greeter Network and MeetUp to meet locals who are more than happy to welcome and show around visitors to their cities.

Global Greeter is all about filling a short form pointing your interests like architecture, history or local cuisine, and then the website matches you to a local volunteer who wants to show you around. Unlike many other platforms, this one is completely free, which means you are not expected to leave a tip at the end. After having met tens of amazing people around the world, I became a Global Greeter local guide in my own city.

MeetUp is another hub for cool, open-minded people that meets locals and visitors who share the same passion. Everyone can organize an event (a meetup) and invite all people at this location to join. It could be anything from a yoga class, slacklining in the park, language exchange or a book club. If you don’t find an event you like, you can simply create your own.

Meeting locals instead of hiring tourist guides is one of my favorite ways to travel for free and how I can afford to travel almost every week.

Do you do something similar when you travel? Share your tips and thoughts with me in the comments below!

About the author of this post: Guest blogger Maria Angelova is a 20-something “traveling disaster” roaming the world. She’s crazy about mirto from Sardinia, speaking in foreign languages (mostly if she can’t) and studying fortune-telling. 

Things women travelling solo will hear

I wrote an earlier post about why I choose to often travel solo. Solo travel by women is getting increasingly common across the world. In India, while the number of women travelling solo are gradually growing, we still stand out sometimes as a bit of an oddity in the eyes of the more traditional thinkers. Hence, we also get to field a lot of curious queries. Here are some things that women travelling solo would often hear:

1. Aren’t you afraid of getting robbed or mugged or killed or something? Well, not exactly afraid, but one does exercise normal caution. Same as anyone else travelling with other people would. Depending on where I am, I might end my evening earlier than if I’d been with a group of people. But that’s just being practical, not afraid. Basic safety precautions are necessary not just for women travelling solo but for any traveller.

2. Don’t you have a husband? This usually happens when I am travelling within India, although I did face similar questions in Cambodia too. I guess they meant well. No, I don’t have a husband, and I am not going to let the absence of one imply that I cannot travel. Even if I were married, some of my travel might still be of the solo kind.

3. How does your family allow you to do this? Again, mostly heard this in India. My family, you will be happy to know, are very supportive and just glad that their daughter is independent and does things that make her happy. My mother follows my travel blog. Some amount of apprehension is normal I guess, and I ensure that I always stay in touch with them and leave my itinerary and other details with my sister.

 

 

Cambodia solo travel
A happy memory from a solo trip to Cambodia

 

4. Don’t you get lonely? Well, if it’s a long trip, sometimes you wish you had someone to talk to. But in this day of 24X7 connectivity, there is always a way to do that over Skype, Whatsapp or plain old phone calls. Most of the time though, I am really happy being by myself. Sometimes I meet up with other groups or even women travelling solo, and hang out for a bit. It can be interesting, and I would probably not have this opportunity if I was with family or a group of friends.

5. Would you like to go out tonight? Yep, happens a lot. A single woman travelling by herself will often attract invites of the sort. Entirely up to you to decide how to handle them. Most men will back off nicely once they know you’re not interested in a holiday fling. Unless you are?

6. How do you manage to finance your trips? Erm, the same way anybody else would. By working hard and saving money and forgoing some things in order to afford to travel. Why would it be any different for a woman?

7. Wow, that’s really a brave thing to do! Hmm, maybe the first time I travelled solo it was a brave decision, because I really was clueless. Now, not so much. Travel gives me joy, and how can you not do something that does that for you?

If you are reading this and have had similar experiences, do leave a comment! If you haven’t, leave a comment anyway!!

You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook. For travel inspiration check out my Instagram feed

A list of some of things said to women travelling solo