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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