5 Red Bagful Moments of 2015

12:00 PM Naina Madan 0 Comments

This year I travelled good, far and wide. I utilized long weekends, too some extra leave and travelled. I travelled to some places because they had been on my list for long. I travelled to some places because I got a good last minute deal on airfare. I travelled to some places because I had nothing much to do over that particular weekend. After all that, now when I look back, it was a good year.

Here are those 5 moments that made me realize how lucky I am to be able to witness all this. 5 moments that defined 2015 for me. 5 moments that just made me feel very very happy.

1. Witnessing the evening aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Banaras

I had seen those evening aarti pictures in so many glossy travel magazines, watched it on countless travel shows. It was on my list. And when I was there, I cannot explain exactly what was going on in my head. I just felt very lucky to be there, watching it live in all its grandeur.

2. Bringing in the birthday with a trip

Now, I have never been out travelling on my birthday. This year, I decided to visit my sister and brother in law in Chennai and then have my birthday road trip to Pondicherry. Cute French styled buildings, posh cafés, quiet roads and lush sea waves. Could I ask for anything else on my birthday?

3. Celebrating Holi in Pushkar

I do not, I repeat, do not celebrate Holi. Nobody does at home. But when I read about a travel group going to Pushkar for Holi weekend, I knew I had to go. Believe me that Holi was nothing like the dirty Holi we play in Delhi. We walked through the streets, there was music, fun, colors. There was an order to madness and people were respectful of each other’s space. I think I might go next year too.

4. Sitting by the Ganga in Rishikesh

I am very scared of water so rafting was not my plan. So, I just parked myself on these rocks by the riverside, watched the rafts cross by, watch the sun go from east to west, listened to strong waves and still water, for hours. I think it was the best de-stressing time of the year. Sigh…

5. Enjoying the beach right from my balcony in Goa

This trip was the last-minute plan and it turned to be the best ending to an amazing year. For 5 days, I had booked myself in a hostel in north Goa. On a whim, for the last 2 days, I decided to stay in a beach hut that I had seen a famous travel blogger, Wandering Earl, stay in. And what a view from the balcony of my hut! So so worth it. Such a fab end to the year long tripping.

I am sure you had your bagful of awesome travel moments too. I wish you many more for 2016.

Have a wonderful 2016, you!





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5 Best Nom Nom Places Of 2015

1:00 PM Naina Madan 0 Comments

Year 2015 was quite a happening year when it comes to dining in some really cool places, from hills to beaches to cities. Delicious chaat of Banaras, soulful chicken curry and rice in Garhwal, kadhi- kachori in Pushkar to Xacuti in Goa. It was indeed a very delectable year. Believe me, doing this post has made me realize I need to do another for street food!

Listed here are top 5 eateries I stumbled upon in 2015 (in no particular order), great if you have been there and if you haven’t yet, make a note of these and visit them. These are delightful, little places serving great food at even great prices (that’s why they are on my list, by the way).

1. Tanto Italian Restaurant, Auroville
On the way to Pondicherry, this place serves the best Italian food I have had in a long long time.

Why?

Simple ingredients, great flavors, good prices

Must try
Risotto, wood-fired pizzas

2. Café Illiterati, McLeod Ganj
Run by a Belgian, this café is a little down the road, a pretty long walk on long winding roads though.

Why?
A sweeping view of mountains, valleys and sunset. No kidding, this is really cool.

Must try
Waffles, homemade ice creams

3. Artjuna, Goa
Very close to Anjuna beach and the famous flea market, this place had me at ‘all day breakfast’!

Why?
Chic and relaxed setting, with wi-fi (you know that’s the first thing I ask, don’t you?!)

Must try
Delicious breakfast menu with sandwich choices and fresh juices. Cold coffee was good too

4. Hide Out Café, Shimla
It was my first trip to Shimla and this was such cute place, I went there twice in two days.

Why?
First floor view of the Mall Road, with FREE wi-fi (this is a big deal in Shimla because some either didn’t have it or some were charging for it) and best of all, a warm, friendly staff

Must try
Mojito, sandwiches, Chinese

5. Vatika Pizzeria, Varanasi
It was recommended by a friend and I was not disappointed. Finding Italian food and that too good Italian in Banaras was a pleasant surprise unto itself.

Why?
Calming view of Ganga from atop Assi Ghat, cordial host who knows each and every little detail about the city, good prices and focused menu

Must try
Mushroom spinach pizza, apple crumble pie

Do drop by at these for a meal and tell me your experience. Anyway, who is starving? *runs to the kitchen for a junk fix*


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6 Kinds Of Fellow Countrymen (and Women) You Will Meet In Goa

1:01 PM Naina Madan 0 Comments

Having just returned from a blissful week in Goa, time divided nicely between north and south of Goa to get the 'feel' of both, believe me this post had to come out of me. It had to happen. You do not see much when you are frolicking with your friends, but if you are traveling solo like myself, you get a little more observant of your surroundings.

But I would be very honest. I did not have to be too observant. These 6 kinds of people were right there, out there, too much there to be ignored. One couldn't just miss them.

So, presenting the 7 kinds of Indians you are SURE to run into in Goa, from beaches to beach shacks to supermarkets to flea market.

1. The 'Hand In Hand' Newly Weds
If you go during the peak wedding season, like I did, safely better part of the aircraft, better part of the beach and better part of your holiday will be full of newly wedded couples. With red and white bangles, still dark in parts mehendi, brand new handbag and suitcases and exchanging smiles and giggles at every chance, you cannot just avoid them. Clicking selfies at every possible opportunity, airport, airplane, beach, shack, inside water or outside, I am sorry but so much love made me dizzy.
Moving on.

2. The 'Hyperactive Gang Of Friends' Ideally In The Age Group Of 22-25
With almost equal number of women and men, this bunch is loud, wants to live the moment, for them it is like 'now or never' kind of trip. The perfect check-ins, the pouting selfies and flowing maxi dresses, this gang is here for a life-altering trip, I concur.

3. The 'Sitting At The Seashore' Wife Admiring The Over-Sized Husband And Kids In The Water
I mean really what's the deal with those middle-aged women sitting at the shore, where waves come and make a whirlpool around them, looking admiringly at their over-sized husbands (wearing Lux Cozi, nothing against the brand though!), with kids also accompanying daddy dear in the waters.

4. The 'Sitting On The Sunbed' Women And A Little Toned Husbands
Basically, Gurgaon or a South Bombay version of the above-mentioned point. Just that these ladies, with mani-pedi done before Goa trip, sit at the sunbed with a tote and everybody's clothes, and the husbands are slightly toned and maybe wearing a swimming trunk instead of well, Lux Cozi!

5. The Boys Who Refuse To Be Acknowledged As Men
They are working in their late 20s or early 30s, taken some paid leave from office, want to smoke up, will always be seen with a beer bottle while walking (be it on the beach or road), mostly wearing bright colored shorts (Chumbak and Happily Unmarried stuff looked like a favorite), partying at Curlies or Club Cubana seems like the most important thing to do every single night. And of course, not going to bed till 5 in the morning is vacation mantra.

6. The One In Goa Mood, Airport To Airport
The shorts, the tees, the Hawaiian print shirts, the hats, the flipflops, everything is worn right from the destination airport to Goa airport and back. I saw one at Delhi airport still wearing the hat with a sweater.

Please tell me you have spotted one of these too!

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Loi Krathong 2015 – When Delhi got lit-up once again after Diwali

2:51 PM Naina Madan 0 Comments

Every year, as Diwali approaches, I am very kicked about it. It happens to be my most favorite festival and the very next day, I go in to those terrible post-Diwali blues phase. 

But this year was different. Soon as Diwali ended, a friend and a fellow travel blogger, Akanksha, asked me if I would be interested in accompanying her to Radisson Blu Plaza Delhi where they were going to recreate and celebrate Loi Krathong, Thai festival on the lines of Diwali. You can understand my joy, right?! Of course I said yes!

Just like Diwali, Loi Krathong has deeper cultural meaning for Thailand and its people. Loi, means 'to float' and krathong is a 'basket'. So literally it means floating a basket. Traditionally krathong is made with banana leaves but these days you can also find krathong made of styrofoam as well, which obviously is not very environment-friendly. These handmade krathongs are then adorned with incense sticks and candles. 

On the full moon night of the 12th month of traditional calendar, people light the candles in their krathongs, put a coin for good luck and float it in the river, pond or lake, and making a wish while doing so. This is done to pay respects to god of water, ask for forgiveness for causing harm to water and pray for good luck and health. The festival holds special significance in the life of Thai couples who float the krathongs together with a prayer for river god. 

Needless to add, when hundreds and thousands of such lit-up baskets make way in the river, the river comes alive even in the darkness of night. 

Let me take you to a quick trip to that night when Delhi lit-up againg, not on Diwali but for Loi Krathong.


Beautiful krathong all set with candles and incense sticks
Colorful and delicate
Don't you just love the colors and lights here? :)
Thai dancers from Chiang Mai
A synchronized performance with so much elegance
Thai boxers putting up a formidable performance
And then we made a wish and set it afloat
The pool became all lit-up with lit-up krathongs, so magical!


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8 Reasons Festa De Diu Is THE Place To Be This Winter

2:50 AM Naina Madan 2 Comments

Now if you are anything like me, someone who dreads winters and given a chance would love to hibernate for 3 months and come back once the fog is gone, this is FOR YOU!

As the winters are approaching slowly and steadily, with the fog, smog and morning nip, my travel plans seem to have taken a backseat as well. I really do not like heading out with layers on the body and stress on my mind. My love for mountains gets dormant too this time of the year.

When, my travelling chicas, gypsies-at-heart friends Akanksha, Manjulika and Aditi brought up a travel plan in our group chat, it was not another hill or a cityscape. It was Diu and the longest beach festival that happens on the beaches of Diu, Festa De Diu. Of course, they had me at the beach! Lying on the sand on a sunny day was my takeaway from that chat. But hey wait! There was a longest beach festival too, they mentioned.

I read about it and well, I am already planning my escape from Delhi winters. And there is not just one reason of it being a beach (obviously, that’s a sweet deal), there are some more reasons that I am sold on this.

Take a look.

1. Not one weekend or two. Festa De Diu runs for more than TWO MONTHS!





If not December, it can be planned any time all through January and till February. From a Christmas and New Year escape to a detox week in January to a romantic Valentine’s. Definitely being the ‘longest beach festival in Asia’ title is justified, I say.

2. Ease of booking. Literally




Just book for the tent and with that you get to enjoy ALL the performances happening right there! No hassle of buying the tickets of events separately

3. Benny Dayal, Neeraj Sridhar, Shubha Mudgal and Indian Ocean are my reasons




You can take your pick from over 20 musicians, 15 bands, 10 standup comedians and other star performers. Super, isn’t it?

4. The adrenaline rush of adventure sports




Yup. Right at the time of booking your accommodation, you can book from a range of adventure activities that will be happening at the festival, like hot air balloon, bungee jumping and zip lining.


I am most thrilled about hot air balloon ride over the gorgeous Arabian Sea.

5. Festival Village is nothing short of luxury




Tents that redefine camping, with fine-dining, spa and blue waters in front of it, spending a blissful one week seems like a plan already.

6. One week. One mood.





 Wellness, Colors of India, Laughter, Dance, Rhythm & Blues, Arts are just some of the themes of the weeks of the festival. Look at the calendar and plan around the week basis what mood you are in.

7. Music, food, starlit sky and ocean




Camping under a starlit sky on the beach in the month of December. I wouldn’t have thought about it otherwise, sitting under a blanket right now and typing this. Sigh…I am dreaming and drooling already.

8. Nearby attractions are no less ordinary



Now when you are taking off a week and headed that part of the country, might as well pay a visit to the majestic Asiatic Lion at Gir National Forest that lies just 67 kms from Diu. About 90 kms drive from Diu will take you to the famous Somnath Temple.

For a change, this winter is shining brightly. What are you thinking? Need more reasons? Go ahead, plan your trip.

Check out Festa De Diu official website if you need more information.

All pictures courtesy Fest De Diu.

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Banaras At Dawn – More Than A Sunrise Story

11:50 AM Naina Madan 1 Comments

The guy at the hostel reception said if I want to go for morning boat ride, I should be at the reception of the hostel at sharp 4:30am. The boat man comes to pick up whoever wants to go for the boat ride and waits for maximum 10 minutes. Early morning boat ride was on my to-do list but I was so tired that the idea to do it next morning looked tempting. I quietly and somewhat uncertainly put an alarm on my phone for 3:45am.

I did wake up, quickly showered and was at the reception even before the boat man turned up. There was one more guy and the three of us started walking towards the ghat where the boat was. Not to surprise you, it was quarter to five, pitch dark but it was all quite happening. There were people going about life as if it was 5 in the evening.

Anyhow, after a 20 minute walk, we reached Jain Ghat where our boat was. All the time I thought we will be the only ones this early in the morning. But again I was surprised. There were many like us in the boats, with cameras in hand and around their necks, rowing towards Assi Ghat for morning Ganga aarti.

Believe me, those two hours in the morning were surreal and like a dream. It was not just about a sunrise. As the boat moved from Assi to up north towards Manikarna Ghat, it ceased to be just about watching the sunrise. It became so much more. Banaras at dawn has a character that no other city can boast of. It is a heady mix of religion, nature and the beautiful people that make this city so colorful.

As the sun started coming up, the gray sky turned in to pink-orange hues, the ghats started brimming with people. Washing clothes at dhobi ghat, doing pooja and other ritual at Dashashwamedh Ghat to the cremation underway at the burning ghat, Manikarna, you have to be on that boat, rowing slowly on the river, witnessing all this.

Maybe you will know the story better through these pictures.



























After this early start, there was no way I was going back hungry. Found many hawkers selling small kachoris crushed and topped with black chane, served piping hot in a kulhad. Epic finish to an epic morning.



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This Is How I Manage To Travel Often. And So Can You.

6:37 PM Naina Madan 2 Comments

“You are taking off again??”

“How does your boss allow you so many days off?”

“You must be earning well to travel every now and then.”

Believe me I get to hear all these and many iterations of these every time I post a picture of the beginning of a trip. To set the record straight, let me tell you that yes I have a full-time job and yes I love to travel.

Some facts, tips and busting the myths here for all of you who want to travel and well, can't quit the full time job as well.

1. You really DON'T need to quit you job to travel



Unless you are looking at slow travel, in which case you can take a sabbatical for 3-4 months, go on a trip, come back and resume office. And unless you are very rich, you DO need money to buy flight tickets, accommodation, food (no matter how budget you go). So hold on to the job. Work those 5 days and earn money to make the best of the next 2 days.

2. Put extended weekends to good use 



Yes, the deals are expensive and there is crowd everywhere. But be smart. You get your office holiday calendar at the beginning of the new year. Take a look at next 3-4 months, mark the holidays that you can take, look for the places you have been wanting to visit and just book. No fear of last minute skyrocketing prices and no fear of having to fret over leave from office.

3. Save those 2 days casual leave that you get every month



Agreed there are days you just want to call in sick and lounge around at home with a cup of coffee. Take them. But collect these 2 days as much as you can and capitalize on them once every 4 months. This is over and above the extended weekends that you already have planned. Makes sense, right?

4. Some pennies saved are worth a Volvo ticket or a hostel bed for night



Save money by eating out less. That's where my salary mostly goes. And to the Ola and Uber cabs. Sigh. I once fancied a champagne peep-toed Jimmy Choos but now I realize that one pair is equal to four trips to Himachal. Basically, prioritize what is important for you. Save up for long weekend trips and you won't be disappointed.

There. Simple and doable, right? Now, don't make an excuse. Make a plan.


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Solo Travel And A Bagful Of Emotions

4:05 PM Naina Madan 0 Comments

‘One week!? What are you going to do alone for 1 week?’
‘Why didn’t you ask any of your friends to accompany you?’
These and many such questions were thrown at me as soon as everyone got to know about my first solo trip. Honestly, I was more amused than irritated with this volley of questions.
Those who know me know that I am usually very happy within myself. I mostly keep myself entertained with incessant blabbering and louder-than-humming singing. Almost all the weekends I take off in Delhi to be with myself. I eat, listen to music, look around, hear people talk, read a book, savour coffee and come back home at night. So, I am pretty used to spending time with myself. However, seven days in a new place with no one to talk to, now that was new. I knew I would sail through yet there was this unknown barrage of emotions going inside me. And what’s amazing is the progression these emotions went through over a period of seven days on an imaginery EQ scale!
The trip started with anxiety. I was not scared but anxious. Of what? Frankly not so much for the stay and everything in between. But traveling alone in Volvo from Delhi. There were questions swimming in my head about the co-passengers, on what if I am the only one in the bus (silly but hey it was my first trip!), on what if I can’t control my even otherwise uncontrollable bladder for the long journey. But when I entered the bus I remember I smiled really ear to ear. Because it was full of families, kids, group of friends, couples and all of them beaming with noise. I liked that. And I contently took my window seat. 
Next was this feeling of panic. How will I control my motion sickness, what if I feel the need to puke, who will take care of me and all that. I forgot to take the motion sickness tablet in time. Took it long after the bus had started on the altitude mainly because it was dead in the night and I realized it only when I woke up feeling quite eeky. Once I took it I felt better. I kept closing my eyes, tried to catch sleep so as to not focus on the movements of the bus. This way I missed great views outside many a times but it was the only way I knew to handle it. But yes, at eight o’clock next morning, I reached Manali without a hitch! J
Once there, first it all started sinking in that I was no longer in Delhi, that there were no office calls to be taken, that I could do whatever I wished to, that I am not answerable to anyone at least for this one week, that feeling of not knowing what to do next day. This feeling of nothingness was a first for me for I am quite used to loading myself with unnecessary emotional baggage. But this? This was a breath of fresh air. Waking up at my time, reading till late, going for long walks, setting the day’s agenda as I desired was so cool beyond words. It was like I was free of all the garbage of feeling I had been holding on to.
On my home stay lady’s suggestion, I set out for Rohtang. Little knowing the altitude or anything of the place. The trip started good and all through it was like picture postcard slideshow. Every frame was so gorgeous that you needed to have your eyes and cameras open. Me? I just kept swallowing orange candies to not feel the motion sickness because the altitude was the highest I have ever been to. But once I reached Rohtang, it was like a world I had never seen before. Snow and so much of it. I was on my own, roamed about, took a mountain bike ride, chatted with the bike driver, ate hot maggi, feasted my eyes on the all white snowy envelope and there, I had this amazing feeling that I did it. I braved the motion sickness and traveled alone to witness this gorgeous sight.  This feeling of freedom was my first taste of real freedom and now I know what travel does to you. It sets you free.
On the return journey, again I was just being too cautious of the motion sickness and kept having the candies to keep myself busy.  Somewhere past midnight, the bus reached the plains. I was kind of up, listening to an A. R. Rehman number on repeat. And right then, the moment I opened my eyes widely and looked out and saw the plains, I felt my eyes moist. A couple of tears might also have fallen down. I choked too. It was like I felt I had finally accomplished this small little feat of traveling solo first time, overcame the altitude sickness, explored a new place, met amazing people, had great food,  marveled at breathtaking views and kept myself good company. This feeling of accomplishment was something I have had after a long long time. A feeling that no academic, professional or personal success had ever brought me.
So this was me. Tell me, have you too gone through these? Or was I the only one? What was your baggage like? 

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McLeod Ganj Escapades - 5 Meals Worth Going Back For

11:46 AM Naina Madan 1 Comments

Now, I may not be the only one who travels for food. I am sure there will be many like me but believe me when I say that when I am traveling solo, once I start my day, a major part of planning is where to eat. I feel like packing in lot of places and meals in already crammed time schedule. On my very recent trip to McLeod Ganj, my agenda was very clear - ‘Hog till you drop’. Friends, colleagues, strangers and anyone who cared to share, had given me an impressive checklist of things to do which obviously included arduous treks. And that was conflicting with my secret agenda. And guess what won? My agenda, of course. Chuck the treks, catch the cafés, was going to be my modus operandi. Period. So, if McLeod Ganj happens to be on your list anytime soon, then do try these and you can thank me later. As for me, I am definitely going back to McLeod just for the food and have a rewind of these fab 5. And more.

1. Spiciest Egg Fried Rice, 8 Auspicious Him View Hotel (with their trademark red chilli chutney)


My stay at this beautiful, cozy place requires another post. For now, I can just say that my craving for a normal-ish egg fried rice was answered by this plateful of hot, spicy fried rice with generous portion of scrambled egg thrown in the middle. This, delivered in my room, with pitter-patter of rain out in the balcony, has to be one of my best meals there.

2. Cheesy Gnocchi Fungi, Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen


Slightly expensive compared to other cafés and if you are on a budget, but like a third of a cost from a nice Italian restaurant in Delhi. And food? This Gnocchi was right cheese, right warm and just very right melt in the mouth kind.

3. Hot hot hot Momos and Fruit Beer, Tibet Kitchen


It was a big recommendation from a good friend. And I was so not disappointed. The best momos I have had (not kidding, I know my momos well!) and tangy lemon beer was such a killer combo. All this in about 130 bucks. And since I couldn’t finish the whole plate, 4 pieces made for my dinner too. Value for money, I say!

4. Chocolatey Peanut Butter Cake, The Clay Oven


I love sweets but I don’t usually go ordering a cake slice on a lazy evening in the hills. But that’s just what I did. With a honey ginger lemon tea. A definite must-have. While sitting outside in the balcony, looking at the rush of the main square, biting in to the cake and listening to music. Stuff trips are made of!

5. Authentic Belgian Waffles, Illiterati Books and Coffee


The coolest café I have ever been to in my life. The coolest owner, a Belgian, and a wonderful staff. Waffles that will make you forget all other waffles that you may have had. And did I mention that the place has the most amazing views in the whole area? I discovered it just a day before I was to head back home. Next time, I know where to plot my ass all day. 
Suffice to say, the trip was wonderful and delicious. McLeod Ganj is full of big, small and hole in the wall kind of places to eat at and I have a feeling that none of them disappoint. 
And if you travel to eat, do keep McLeod on your list. Move it up on the list, if I may say so. You will be surprised and charmed! 

Promise to be back with more travel tales soon! 

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