Having visited Phuket, Thailand twice in a span of six months we can safely say that this island paradise is not just about beach lounging, turquoise waters, trips to Phi Phi islands, strolling past strip bars and shopping streets. Phuket is also home to some very interesting local cuisine—this mountainous island located in the Andaman Sea has its fair share of tourist traps as well as hidden spots for every kind of holidaymaker—so, forget about calories and think Pad Thai, delectable curries, stir fry everything, mango sticky rice and…drumroll….hand churned coconut ice-cream.
A 14th century, virginal white castle-like structure resting on a carpet of manicured grass—a vision both alluring and awe-inspiring. The majestic ruins of a 13th century castle on a hill—a living relic of the past. A cascade of angels in a clandestine alley, slowly descending to Earth—ethereal, and yet, a little un-earthly. The European nation of Croatia may be better known for its Game of Throne sets in Dubrovnik, and lure of natural wonders, like Krka and Plitvice Lakes National Park—but on my recent trip, I unearthed these hidden gems nestled in smaller, story tale towns.
For an escapist like me, there’s no better joy than getting lost in old towns with magical stories, that urge you to travel back in time and speak of both mythology and mystery. And as any good philosopher knows, myths are nothing but true accounts of a remote past. Read on for the hidden gems I stumbled upon in Croatia, to find and live out your own, very real fairy tale.
Ruins of a castle in Samobor
A 30-minute drive west from the city of Zagreb lies the small quiet town of Samobor—known for its historic architecture, natural wonders, laidback vibe and un-real kremšnita. Fairly quiet even in the tourist-heavy month of August, it’s small enough to comfortably walk around on foot—and perhaps this is the best way, to make the most of its well-maintained architecture. The town square is filled with open-air cafes and little bars—where you must try the traditional kremšnita, a decadent dessert made from puff pastry and custard cream, that Samobor is well-known for. (I recommend Slasticarnica U Prolazu).
But the crown jewel of the town, and the sight I lost my romantic heart to is the Samobor Castle, a ruined castle atop Tepec Hill. A ten-minute walk from the town center, through a pretty public park takes you to the start of a hiking point. A quick 20-minute uphill walk takes you to the ruins of the castle that was erected back in the 13th century and sit at an elevation of 220m. I had the serendipitous pleasure of reaching the top just as the sun settled into a glorious sunset sky and the old castle moat, the massive entrance and most of the still-standing walls came to life against the fiery colours of the sky. And all I could think about was clandestine meetings with a Prince Charming as we soaked in the sights, with the stone castle protecting us.
Things to see: Samobor Museum, St Anastasia Church, Grgos Cave
Stay: Plenty of quaint apartments, but also ideal for a day trip from Zagreb
The angel alley of Varazdin
An hour north from Zagreb, lies a town from a different time. The former capital of Croatia, its cobbled streets, well-preserved baroque buildings and old town charm hark back to a simpler time and as you walk through Varazdin, you can’t help but be taken in by its medieval feel. One of the major tourist attractions strangely enough is the Varazdin cemetery—and one breezy, quiet evening took me through the immense space, created in the 20th century, filled with glorious, intricate garden architecture. While it is unsettling, walking around through the eternal homes of the deceased—deceased you don’t even know, the beautifully designed graves and regal air of the space are enough to keep you captivated as you digest the oddness of it all.
But it is the prevailing presence of angels, littered through the city that reinforce the magical energy—and the Angel Museum, set up by local artist Zeljko Prsetc is worth a fly-by (geddit?). Or just wing it, and wander down to Varazdin Andelinjak, where a tiny gate opens up to a cluster of angels descending towards Earth. Creepy, or cute? Have a look and decide for yourself… and keep your eyes (and heart) open for your guardian angel. I spent three days in Varazdin, and would have been happy to be there longer, spending evenings on benches beside the old fountain in the town square, because in addition to its architecture, the food deserves a special mention—the pizza at restaurant Angelus, and Domenico was the best I’ve eaten this side of the border, best followed by desserts and ice cream at Fontana.
Things to see: Varazdin Castle/Stari Grad (home to the Museum); Baroque palaces
Stay: Park Boutique Hotel; B&B Garestin
A centuries-old cave in Istria
Dating back to 1770, is an ancient cave that still stands today—rich in myriad-coloured dripstones, and gigantic stalagmites, the moment you enter, the temperature drops by 5 degrees, and you find yourself in a space better suited to the adventures of Indiana Jones. From microscopic little creatures that inhabit the caves, to the bats that you almost always miss, and the graffiti that cave-intruders left as little souvenirs of their adventure, the Mramornica marble cave is a cool (pun intended) hidden-gem on the Istrian coast, near Brtonigla, ideal to live out your Lara Croft-esque fantasies. Just don’t get left behind!
Istria, in the far north west of Croatia is dotted with pretty seaside towns and offers a little bit of respite from the international tourist-heavy stops of Dubrovnik, Split and the like. My home base was Porec, a 3-hour drive from Zagreb and providing easy accessibility to towns like Rovinj, Motovun and Novigrad. (Stay tuned for our Istrian road trip itinerary)
Things to see: Church of Euphemia, Park Forest Zlatni, Rovinj
Stay: Apartment Viva Molindrio, Porec; Apartments Casa Garibaldi, Brtonigla
Location: Croatia, Europe
Getting there: Connecting flights to the capital city of Zagreb
Best time to visit: May-June, Sept-Oct
A medley of landscapes frequently lauded as some of the world’s most beautiful sights can be found in Western Canada. Using the below images we attempt to brainwash you in to planning your next holiday to this relatively unexplored destination found on earth promising nature in abundance, wild experiences and unparalleled beauty.
Your 20 photos to inspire you to visit Canada begins now:
Rafting in Clearwater River, Wells Grey Provincial Park
To road trip through the Canadian Rockies in 15 days:
WE DID IT! All it took was an expensive ticket to Vancouver city, a sleek SUV, backseat filled with snacks, camera in tow and most importantly our rush of adventure. Driving in Canada was an unbelievable experience with its open roads, motorways flanked with snow-capped mountains or pine trees and a few surreal moments like the time we got really lucky to have spotted a bear casually hunting for berries by the road.
This road trip is not scary (Read: Iceland) but requires a dedication to drive long hours only because you cannot road trip in Canada without stopping every few kilometres to take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds you. From sea to summit, we have mapped out the perfect itinerary for your next vacation and epic doesn’t begin to describe what you’re in for.
Day 1 – Fly in to Vancouver city
This is when we tell you how much in love with this city we really are. Have you ever wanted to live in a city that boasts mountain views from all corners, a stone’s throw distance from major national parks and teaming with cultures from all over the world? That city is Vancouver. If time permits, spend a few days exploring the city and all the activities it has to offer.
Stay: The Buchan Hotel (minutes from downtown Vancouver)
Day 2 – Day 4: Drive to Tofino (283 km – 5.5 hours)
Known for testing the unknown, we decided to make a quick weekend stop in Tofino located in Vancouver Island and what a payoff it was! Firstly, you get to drive your car in to a massive ferry that transports you across to Vancouver Island from where you continue driving a few hours until you reach the seaside town of Tofino. From here, you get to see Pacific Rim National Park and numerous bear and whale sightings via local tours and not to mention glowing sunsets from Tofino’s beach. FYI bears happen to chill on the beaches too so stay alert!
Tour Company used: Adventure Tofino Wildlife Tours
Tofino has a variety of accommodations ranging from expensive to thrifty but we chose to stay at the cutest BnB owed by a local who spoiled us each morning with freshly baked muffins and other homemade goodness.
Stay: Storm Bay BnB by Jeanette & John
Day 4 – Drive back to Vancouver city (283 km – 5.5 hours)
Drive back to Vancouver city but not before making a few noteworthy stops. These can also be done in parts enroute to Tofino.
Tofino must-do stops include:
- Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Parks (Upper & Lower)
- Cathedra Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park
- Giant Cedar Trail
- Ucuelet (before entering Tofino)
Back in Vancouver, spend the late evening walking the famous “downtown” of Vancouver or strolling Stanley Park before heading to dinner.
Stay: Windsor Guesthouse
Day 5 – Drive to Clearwater & Wells Gray Provincial Park (482 km – 5 hours)
Get a head start no later than 7 AM in order to have a leisurely drive to Clearwater and Wells Gray Provincial Park. Upon arriving in Clearwater, grab a few beers, snacks and head straight to Dutch Lake. Here you can spend hours on the boardwalk sipping on a beer and taking the occasional dip in the lake to cool off or rent a kayak and explore the lake on your own.
Day 6 – In Clearwater
Time for some real adventure! The mighty and majestic Clearwater River stretches far through Wells Gray Provincial Park’s protected and undisturbed wilderness. This pristine river offers some of the best whitewater in all of British Columbia and that is exactly what we spent our morning doing – battling rapids and extremely cold cold waters.
For rafting: Liquid Lifestyles
The second half of the day was not devoid of water views as we made our way to Helmcken Falls, Spahat Creek Falls, Maul Falls followed by a lazy evening by Clearwater Lake.
Stay: Stoneshire Guesthouse (minutes’ walk to Dutch Lake)
Day 7 – Day 9 – Drive to Valemount for Jasper National Park. Overnight in Valemount (200 km – 2 hours)
You’ve probably seen it on Instagram or read about Jasper but nothing compares to what you witness in person. Just when we thought landscapes could not get any better, we began the second half of our road trip through more pine trees, dramatic mountain vistas and lakes.
Now is when you decide where exactly you want to stay when visiting Jasper National Park. The park houses a town – Jasper that offers adorable but expensive accommodation and if not booked months in advance (we’re talking 5 months in advance in the summer) you may not find suitable and reasonably priced accommodation here. As a result, we were left with virtually no budget friendly accommodations and chose the next best option and that was to stay in Valemount (100 km – 1 hour from Jasper National Park). Why Valemount? Valemount has good reasonably priced accommodations, gas stations and a few restaurants and supermarkets for basic needs.
Begin early from Clearwater, so you can make pit stops along the way to take photos of the scenery or a longer halt at Mount Robson for a quick photo opportunity.
P.S – Valemount sits in British Columbia while Jasper in Alberta that share different time zones! Ensure you change your watch each time you drive back & forth – you gain an hour, you lose one 🙂
Enter Alberta and Jasper National Park! From here onward the next few days transported us to a whole new world that seemed too picture perfect to be true with its sharp jagged mountains, turquoise lakes and dense forest trails.
Things to do in Jasper:
- Hikes – With all those mountains comes innumerable hiking trails one leading to a view more beautiful than the last. While summer may be the busiest time of year for parks in Canada, it is almost impossible to run in to massive crowds for all you have to do is walk a few metres following a trail and you’ve lost all your fellow hikers. This is when you realize just how massive Canada and it’s parks really are and how lucky you are to be there in that moment.
- Skytram to Whistlers summit: It is easy to take a CAD 45 gondola ride up to Whistler’s summit from where you walk a short path to take in the view.
- Cruising along Maligne Lake is one of the most popular activities you can indulge in when in jasper. The cruise is a little over an hour and stops at Spirit Island to take photos.
- Sunwapta Falls & Canyon – short hike to the falls
- Medicine Lake – For a peaceful picnic by a massive lake
- Quick stops at the 3 lakes – Pyramid, Patricia & Edith Lakes.
The town of Jasper deserves a special mention for it sits in the midst of Canada’s extraordinary wilderness unpretentious and pretty. Restaurants are plenty; locals are forever smiling and looking to give you suggestions or weather updates. We highly recommend spending your nights in Jasper for a quintessential rocky mountain experience.
In case you’re wondering when you’ll reach the much coveted Icefields Parkway for that unbelievable drive; you’re already there! The Icefields Parkway is a 230 kilometre mountain road running through Banff and Jasper National Park. This scenic road, rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller traverses the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. If you’ve made it this far, you’re really in for something very special. The entire drive takes no more than 3 hours NOT counting the incessant stopping to take photos of your surroundings.
There are numerous view-point pullouts, hiking and walking opportunities, waterfalls, lakes and attractions to see along the Icefields Parkway.
- Herbert & Hector Lakes
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake
- Waterfowl Lake & Chephren Lake
- Cirrus Mountain View Point
- Athabasca Glacier
- Sunwapta Falls
- Athabasca Falls
Stay: Valley Mountain Ranch – Valemount (Yes, it was a real ranch with animals!)
Day 9 – Day 12 – Continue driving to Banff National Park. Stay in Canmore (180 km – 2 hours)
You will spend the next 3 days exploring the scenic spots in and around Banff National Park. Take your time to soak in the various spots along the Icefields Parkway as you make your way to Banff. All the above attractions along the parkway can be split between your days exploring Jasper & Banff.
Alberta boats several turquoise lakes and one such underrated lake is Peyto Lake. At 2,068 meters, Bow Pass is the highest pass in Banff National Park and the watershed between the river systems of the North and South Saskatchewan River. A short branch road leads to the magnificent Peyto Lake glistening in turquoise and fed by many of the surrounding glaciers.
The moment you’ve been waiting for is finally here – The jewel of Banff National Park is Lake Louise with its shimmering turquoise blue green water and surrounding snow capped mountains rising up to 3000 meters high. It’s difficult to tear yourself away from the shores of the lake but you can also take one of the many trails (some running along the waters edge) up in to forest opening up to breathtaking views of the lake from above. The most popular of them is the trail leading up to Lake Agnes, which lies in a picturesque location between the two round hills known as the Beehives. The strenuous climb to the top of one of the Beehives is rewarded by a superb view over the entire area. In summer, the Lake Agnes Teahouse supplies food and drinks to weary hikers (such as ourselves).
While Lake Louise did not disappoint, it was Morraine Lake that stole the show and our hearts. An extremely cold and bleak morning was the chosen day to explore this lake. Hours of waiting in our car for the rain to stop and several playlists later the sun appeared and brightened the day. Pictured on the reverse of the old Canadian twenty dollar bill, Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks surrounded by peaks more than 3,000 meters high, and the Wenkchemna Glacier was one of the most beautiful sights I have personally ever witnessed. The most scenic walk involves a short climb up the Rockpile Trail to the best view of the lake which involved us monkeying around in the cold trying to not break any bones. WORTH IT!
At the end of each day we made our way back to our apartment in Canmore, a sleepy ski town in the rocky mountains.
Stay: Cozy Penthouse Suite – Mountain View (Air BnB)
Day 12 – Day 15 – Drive to Yoho National Park. Overnight in Golden ( 85 km 1 hour)
In case you feel that you can’t do justice to the above sights, you can always drive back to either of the aforementioned lakes as they’re no more than an hour’s drive from your next halt in Golden.
The next park on our agenda was Yoho National Park and one that is often skipped by most road trippers. Extremely underrated, we enjoyed this park a lot more than we expected. Located along the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies, in the province of British Columbia lies Yoho the smallest of the contiguous parks of Banff, Jasper and Kootenay. The most notable highlights of Yoho are Takkakaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest free falling waterfalls, the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River, Emerald Lake and Lake O’Hara.
With Golden as our base we spent the last few days exploring the above mentioned sights and simply breathing the crisp, fresh Canadian air.
Stay: Kicking Horse Lodge, Golden (Air BnB)
Day 15 – Drive to Calgary Airport & say goodbye (225 km 2.5 hours).
Car rental: Avis Canada
When: Summer months – June, July, August & September
How: Fly to Vancouver or Calgary and end with the same
What: Natural beauty in its wildest form.
Advisory: While the summer months are undoubtedly the best time to visit weather wise, the 3 major disruptions include:
- Higher prices everywhere due to it being peak season
- Lack of economical accommodations due to it being high season
- Forest fires. Forest fires are no joke and can entirely disrupt your travel schedule. We were caught in the middle of forest fires towards the end of our trip and had to make last minute adjustments to our itinerary due to the smoky air.
Nee more inspiration? We have it covered.
Check out our – “20 photos to inspire you to visit Canada”.
Electric. Dynamic. Chaotic. The maker (and breaker) of dreams – Mumbai city, India is a pulsating metropolitan city that’s filled with the best of the best (restaurants, hotels, eateries, shops), and the worst of the worst (weather, garbage, crowds). It also just happens to be our home. With our ongoing Landmarks of Mumbai series, we’ll explore small areas of the city, piece by piece, lending our insider knowledge and expertise to each area – so you, traveller, tourist and fellow Mumbaikar – know exactly what landmark to visit, where to stay and where to eat.
Gateway of India
This arch-shaped monument has been standing tall, (and pretty-much graffiti free) since 1924, when it was built to welcome British officials into the city. While the English left us a while ago, we’re not complaining about what they left behind—architecturally gorgeous, built in the Indo-Saracenic style, this imposing gateway is pretty much synonymous with Mumbai, and Bombay before it. Unmissable.
Why you should see it: The best time to ‘see’ this spectacular English-constructed landmark is just as the sun rises—the crowds at the lowest and you’ll get views against a spectacular skyline. While you can see the Gateway from the promenade nearby, it’s officially open for business between 7am-5:30pm, all days of the week, when it gets crowded with everyone from click-happy tourists (Look Ma, I’m holding up the gateway) to frenzied professionals going about their daily commute. But if you get there around sunset, the area comes alive with hordes of people taking walks along the seafront and meandering the nearby streets for food and drink spots, popular in this area. Walking around here is the best way to get a feel of the city as a local.
Tourist haunts: Around the corner from the gateway sits Colaba Causeway—practically as popular as the former; the popular go-to food stops for out-of-towners tend to be The Leopold Café, Café Mondegar, Bade Miyan (a food truck-turned-restaurant), Theobroma, Cafe Churchill and Delhi Darbar (for biryani). This area is extremely famous for Mumbai’s street shopping that includes artificial jewellery, bags and clothing. (Make sure to bargain)
GYG picks: A whole in the wall old-school Indian-styled Chinese restaurant Ling’s Pavillion, Bagdadi,a little Irani-styled eatery best known for their range of pulaos, fried fish and caramel custard,Le 15 Café for its quaint English-café charm, Colaba Social for a fun-well-priced drink and Bombay Stock Exchange’s terrace-top bar, Cafe Churchill for old school continental cuisine and freshly bakes pastries.
Basic: Abode Bombay
Breaking the budget: Taj Vivanta, Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
The resident ghost of Taj Mahal Hotel is an urban legend that dates back to 1903. While the building was commissioned to three Indian architects, the main architect passed away whilst it was still under construction and was replaced by English engineer WA Chambers. Rumour has it, when he discovered the building had been constructed facing the opposite direction to his intent, he committed suicide and haunts the halls, even today. A ghostly tale not enough to entice a visit to the gorgeous India-Saracencic styled building?
Why you should see it: Go for the incredible hospitality at any of its great restaurants (The Golden Dragon is a personal favourite) – or just to marvel at its incredible architecture (tourists are allowed to walk in and explore the lobby and stores). You can also get gorgeous images against the beautiful building.
Tourist haunts: The Sea Lounge coffee shop at the Taj, overlooks the Gateway of India and offers the most sublime tea time service. (think layers of coffee cake and finger sandwiches). Around the corner are little sugarcane juice vendors to get through the heat that a day in Mumbai is bound to impress upon you.
GYG picks: While we love all the restaurants at the Taj hotel, venture to causeway where Piccadilly has the best shawarma’s we’ve had in the city, Gables for unique Goan cuisine, Olympia Coffee House for their old-world charm, keema pav, caramel custard and Mumbai-staple chai. The Strand Hotel rooftop bar for gorgeous views along with your drinks.
Basic: Abode Bombay
Breaking the budget: Taj Vivanta, Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai
Home to more than a hundred thousand books, of which 15,000 are classified as rare and valuable, this heritage structure influenced by Greek and Roman architecture with its pristine white exterior is better known as a venue for loved-up pre-wedding photo shoots and general photo ops. We kinda like it for both, as you can see. Hehe. Asiaticsociety.org.in for details of accessibility and opening hours.
Why you should see it: One of the prettiest buildings in Mumbai has gone through extensive refurbishments to stay perfect. The interiors with their winding staircases, long columns and antiquated-style are perfect to take you back to Bombay of the past.
Tourist haunts: Horniman Circle Garden down the road from the Asiatic is the perfect spot of greenery in the midst of the bustling city, and if you saunter around in the afternoon, you’re likely to find a bunch of snoozing men under the shade of the tress. It’s also home to popular Indian-style stores like The Bombay Store, Chumbak and FabIndia for touristy (and quality) memorabilia.
GYG picks: The Nutcracker veggie restaurant for its delectable pancakes, Kala Ghoda Café for those who love being healthy on holiday, Trishna (arguably the best seafood restaurant in the city) and Ayubs (a hole-in-the-wall roll guy) who went from operating out of a car to having his own little space in Kala Ghoda. He’s also open until 3-4 am for late-night cravings. Britannia & Co. Restaurant a is synonymous with serving the best Parsi food in the city with its berry pulav (his berries are imported all the way from Iran) and salli boti (mutton gravy) are definitely not to be missed. You also get live entertainment from the kind old owner who dishes out tales from the British era.
Basic: Ascot Hotel, Residency Hotel Fort, Grand Hotel
Breaking the budget: Trident Nariman Point, The Oberoi Mumbai
Hanging Gardens of Mumbai
For endless, unfettered views of Mumbai’s iconic marine drive promenade and gorgeous aerial views of the city, and sunset views over the Arabian Sea, head down to this terraced garden, settled comfortably in a residential area of South Mumbai. From morning walkers to busloads of tourists, they all descend upon the garden for a look at ‘The Old Woman’s Shoe”. Sitting in Kamala Nehru Park complex, the shoe structure is inspired by the nursery rhyme, ‘There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe” and makes for a great whimsical photo-op.
Why you should see it: For the gorgeous sunset views of the city’s famed Queen’s necklace, for the quietude in the middle of this chaotic city and to take a quiet breath.
Tourist haunts: Banganga Tank an ancient water tank part of the Walkeshwar Temple Complex.
GYG picks: Dakshinayan, an authentic South Indian restaurant with high quality food and the best filter coffee; China Garden, an old-school, award winning Chinese restaurant, Narayan’s Dosa, grant road (a little hard to find, but Zomato should help you out).
Basic: The Regency Hotel, Nepensea Road
Breaking the budget: The Shalimar Hotel, Mumbai
To book accommodations we recommend: https://www.booking.com/
For more information on food: https://www.zomato.com/mumbai
Photographed by: Chail Shah Photography
My bags came in through a window at Pokhara’s tiny airport, I identified, claimed them and traipsed out in under five minutes of landing. I’d even touched down earlier, due to a couple of empty seats on an earlier flight from Kathmandu. Throw in the mountaintops I could see from the airport – and you could pretty much say I was in heaven.
If tourist reviews and Wikipedia pages are to be believed – Pokhara, the tourism capital of Nepal pretty much is heaven. A 30-min flight from Kathmandu, it’s home to a nest of lakes and offers views of the Annapurna mountain range on a clear day, not to mention, is the base for trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit. What Pokhara also has is lakefront cafes, endless rows of shops selling everything from tourist memorabilia (hi, prayer flags, come home with me) to climbing gear, world-class continental food to suit its largely European tourists and little spots for some R&R.
I almost didn’t get to any of it though. A seven-minute drive away from the airport, and a two-minute walk from the main street, The Temple Tree Resort and Spa with a mountain-facing pool, bar and spa, did all it could to keep me in the hotel. And so did its super hospitable staff. My first day passed in a blur as I made the most of the *tropical day-time weather in the pool with a piña colada and bundled up at night, but the next day it was time to explore Pokhara’s many many tourist spots.
When in Rome…
I’m not a devout practicing Hindu, but one of the ways I feel connected to a place I’m visiting is by doing local things, so I headed to the famous Bindhyabasini Temple – one of the oldest in Nepal. The little temples were pretty but I preferred gazing at the panoramic Himalayan views from the courtyard. Keeping in vein with the suddenly spiritual vein of the trip, my next stop was the Gupteshwar Mahadev Cave – where a huge stalagmite is worshipped as a Shiv Ling. As much as rock formations fascinate, it was the story of the Davis falls that intrigued me – the water forms an underground tunnel after reaching the bottom, virtually disappearing. Back in 1961, a Swiss couple called Davi went swimming here but the woman drowned in a pit because of the overflow and stories say her father wished to name it “Davi’s falls” after her. And it was here that I stumbled upon a wishing pond, where even a cynical heart like mine was tempted to toss a coin in and wish for the best. After a visit to the Seti River Gorge, my patience with tourist traps had waned and I sought refuge at Caffe Italiano – its outdoor seating, and park view was the perfect setting for the world-class pizzas that warmed my heart after a day of mingling with way too many tourists and is ideal for those with a slightly Western palate. My last stop for the day was Basundhara Park, a pleasant little patch of green which was barely occupied – leaving me and my new puppy friend in peace.
Looking to escape the crowds, I made friends with a server at the hotel who volunteered to take me up to the World Peace Pagoda (constructed by Buddhist monks from the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji organisation). On foot. We set out the next day at about 7:30 am, walked down to Phewa Lake, took a short boat ride and started our hike up to the pagoda that is at an altitude of nearly 1,000 meters
The nearly 45-minute super uphill hike blessed me with views of the lake, Sarangkot Mountain, a few frightening missteps, and a tan that I’m still living with – but the views of the gorgeous white pagoda, the whistling wind and the flower-filled courtyard made it well-worth the trip. I came home with a happy heart and rosy-cheeked from the rays of sun – feeling more like a swiss maiden in my floral dress than a girl who’d just hiked up to a pagoda in Nepal. While the trail is fairly simple, it’s safest to hike with a local who knows the area well – or you know, just drive up. I did get lucky – Pokhara is known for its daily rain – but while I made it to my pagoda pretty much dry, rain played spoilsport for the three days I was there, and I couldn’t make it to Sarangkot for sunrise or sunset, a half hour’s drive away from Pokhara, for the panoramic views of the Annapurna Himalayan peaks – but the day I woke up for my trek, the sun shone long enough for me to sneak a peek, at the peaks in the distance. And that was more than enough for this mountain lover.
The rest of my short time was spent sauntering around the main street, strolling in and out of the shops and popping in for a snack whenever my heart desired. With its range of low key cafes and creperies (think the chilled, stoner vibe of cafes in India’s Himachal Pradesh – Manali, Kasol, before they got over populated) and local shops, it felt super familiar to someone who’s spent many a holiday up in North India, where the hill towns have a similar feel. The food in Pokhara however? World class! Nepali Kitchen, across from my hotel had the freshest momos I’ve eaten, and I was served the Nepali Thaali by the shyest, sweetest young server. Med5 with its sun-strewn interiors and views of the lake was a perfect spot for brunch and post-trek, I made the most of its extensive menu – from momos to pizzas, and even the best burgers, this side of the border. Another great spot for a meal is Moondance Restaurant, dimly lit and full of secluded corner tables, its Chinese fare was quite a good break from all the continental food I’d been consuming. And with that my three days in the lake city came to an end.
My 30-minute flight back may have been delayed by five (excruciating) hours, I didn’t see everything I wanted to see in Pokhara, I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to – but I did meet a sweet boy who juggles work and college, who took me on a trek, the day of his exam (he made it in time); I did see my beautiful mountains even if not as close as I wished, and I did get the time to sit back, relax and watch the sun set in one of the prettiest, most hospitable places I’ve been to recently. The birds chirped, and I smiled. And for now, that is more than enough. Until we meet again, then, Pokhara.
Location: Pokhara, Nepal
Getting there: Direct flights from Kathmandu (30-minute flight), driving distance from Ktm 204Kms approx
Best time to visit: September – November
Visit: Sarangkot, Tal Varahi Temple, Rupa Tal, Barahi Temple, International Mountain Museum
To do: Trek to Annapurna and Ghandruk from Pokhara, Paragliding, Skydiving, Ultra-light Flying, Rafting
*The city has a humid subtropical climate, the elevation makes the temperature moderate. It rains frequently through the year
A cat adopted by the Dalai Lama wrote a book and introduced the world to the basic tenets of Buddhism— I read it, and its sequels. Buddhist monks chanted for positivity on youtube – and became the un-official soundtrack of my life. Prayer flags deck my bedposts in Bombay – transporting me to the mountain states of India where they flutter in myriad corners, as if making silent music. My anxiety-prone mind and I have been gravitating towards Buddhism for a while now, so I’d be lying if I said the idea of my holiday in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, didn’t give me rather lofty ideas of finding peace, happiness and myself in the mountainous kingdom. But my first stop, Kathmandu – had other lessons to offer.
With its brushed blue skies, blossoming lilac Jacaranda trees, a nip in the air even in May, the comforting momos at every corner and of course, the omnipresent prayer flags — the capital city, set in the Kathmandu Valley, appeared as the antidote to the frenzy of my home city — a starting point, to relax my anxious mind. But the biggest lesson I learnt from Kathmandu was that nothing is ever as it seems; or as promised. The Hyatt Regency Kathmandu set amidst 37 acres of lush greenery – with a view of the mountains in the distance, was a pure oasis and my temporary home. Plus, it is happily situated within short driving distances from the city’s most famous cultural spots – Boudha, home to the largest stupa in the valley and the Pashupatinath temple, one of the most important sites dedicated to Shiva, the guardian deity of the largely-Hindu nation. I was convinced between the hospitable people I’d heard so much about, dozens of spiritual as well as holy sites and the idyllic mountain stories my parents told me from their visit, I would find the balm to calm my millennial mind. If not, I’d find it at Durbar Marg Street – the shopping hub. Because, retail therapy.
But Kathmandu wasn’t the same spirited city of casinos, cafes and culture that my parents remembered from their honeymoon 30 years ago. Since air travel was established in 1956, tourism began to grow – and Kathmandu, both a pilgrimage spot and hippie-haven in the 60s and 70s, saw an influx thanks to its cultural significance and chill vibe. Today, however, crowds (of tourists), chaos and cynicism seemed to have infiltrated the metropolis. Devastated by an earthquake in 2015 that resulted in thousands of casualties, Kathmandu also lost many of its heritage, religious and cultural sites. Along with the physical loss, perhaps the soul of the spiritual city took a hit too. Not able to rebuild as quickly as they hoped and facing population saturation common to an urban metropolis, presently, a few streets still lie in disrepair, streetlights, including those immediately outside our hotel, are few and far between. A spirit of indifference seems to have permeated the consciousness of even those still knee-deep in the tourism business – I witnessed fewer smiles, more aggressive altercations, endless sad stories of the ravages of mother Nature and the inability of many to rebuild their homes three years later.
Perhaps even a nation so rich in faith, can lose it when faced with such seemingly permanent devastation. And while foreign aid was provided, the cracks left in the bustling city and the hearts of its people understandably, seem to be far from being filled, no matter how many tourists toast to Kathmandu’s resilience. I did learn a lesson – perhaps one of the most pertinent Buddhist lessons of all, that of impermanence, that *“one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.” And while Kathmandu may not have been the spiritual epicentre I expected, when I saw its “Welcome to The Land of Buddha” sign at the airport, or the welcoming city that my parents remembered—instead, it was a city physically rebuilt, but in its heart still inching its way to recovery, in spite of and because of its circumstances. Mirroring the resilience of the human spirit… and perhaps, reminding me of mine, as we both inch our way to being whole again, cracks and all.
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
Getting there: Direct flights from major cities in India, Stop-over flights from the US, UK and more
Best time to visit: September – November
Visit: Hindu and Buddhist religious sites: Boudhanath, Pashupatinath Temple, The Living Goddess, Budanilkantha, Garden of Dreams; Thamel and its hotels, cafes, shops; Casinos: Casino Shangri-La and Casino Tara at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu
*An excerpt from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Traffic. Loud screeching noises. Your face in someone’s armpit. Mumbai may be our hometown, and we love it but it can be too crowded and chaotic even for us sometimes – especially in the slick summer heat. So when we found out we could drive 2-hours away (an hour and 45mins, if you leave early enough) to enjoy ten acres of seclusion, spa sessions and silence at Anchaviyo Resort – we jumped in a car and took off. In the Palghar district of Maharshtra, its strategic location through a nearly 7km long isolated path of vegetation makes it an ideal hidden, yet accessible gem.
The island of Koh Pha ngan is best known for its Full & Half Moon parties that take place. Travelers from all over the world flock the island to participate in what they believe to be an unforgettable party experience. We attended the half moon party during our time on this tiny island and here’s what you should know before you go.