Why Pokhara is Nepal’s tourism capital

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.

Uphill girl
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.

Food factory
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.

Fact file
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

 

Kathmandu – chasing faith in the Land of Buddha

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.

Fact file
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

 

 

 

Find your escape at Anchaviyo – a two-hour drive away from Mumbai

 

 

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.

How we got dirty while she turned 30 – Thailand — Series 1

Chantelle and I met in 2012 whilst working in the United States and we instantly bonded over our love for food, our crammed basement living space and our insatiable desire to travel the world. One too many travels later, our time together had concluded and we were ready to move back to our respective home countries. Fast forward to six years later, we’re now cross-continental best friends that still brood over dreamy boys,  fancy foods and countries we wish to explore. Then came the time to meet mid-way and the chosen country was (*drumroll*) Thailand—because where else can you get down and dirty when you gotta turn 30? Read on for our adventures

Grab Your Globe presents Thailand island hopping in 12 days: Series 1 – Phuket

How to live it up in Dubai if you’re tired of shopping

It’s almost like a scene out of The Stepford Wives, sans the wives. The lawns are manicured, the homes, pristine — not a soul where he shouldn’t be – the drive from Dubai International Airport to the JBR area (Jumeirah Beach Residence), was like being ferried through a suburban Utopia. And even as the row houses gave way to metallic buildings and complex high-rises, everything seemed perfect in Dubai – or at least functioning in a well-oiled, processed manner.

And coming from Mumbai, where (mostly) organised chaos takes centre stage — roads are littered with buildings with peeling paint and people are everywhere— on my first visit, the perfection of the city seemed almost too perfect, even after I witnessed the crowded malls on weekends and the “bad” Thursday night traffic. But on my third visit there, I had finally scratched its seemingly perfect surface and begun to feel a little more comfortable around its manufactured perfection. And while I’m grateful to Emirati city and the access it gives me to global favourites like Cheesecake Factory to iHop and the hoard of malls to appease every shopaholic, I found there’s a lot to do in Dubai beyond simply shopping. From exploring Bur Dubai, the historic district, located on the western side of the Creek and Diera to picnics at Zabeel Park (when the weather permits) to making the most of its luxe food and nightlife scene, I’ve rounded my favourite things to do and the places you must eat at – if you want to give more than just your credit card a spin in the Emirate. Fair warning: This is a luxury holiday destination… so be prepared to spend a little money, even if you’re skipping out on the shopping.

Visit 
Ski Dubai
Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort created within the Mall of Emirates offers a bunch of snow sports and the chance for you to play in the snow, while technically still in the desert. My inner snow angel was particularly partial to the chubby penguins that we met there.

Dubai Frame
Officially opened in early 2018, The Dubai Frame at Zabeel Park, designed by Fernando Donis is made of glass, steel, aluminium, and reinforced concrete and stands in such a way that on one end the landmarks of the new part of the part of the city are visible, while the other end offers views of the old city—making it a great representation of a city that seems to change every time you visit.

Dubai Opera
In less than two years, the Dubai Opera has gained a steady fan following—with good reason. Located in the Opera district, in a stunning glass façade building, a trip to this 2,000-seat, multi-format, performing arts centre is the perfect way to spend an evening. We were partial to emotional classics like Romeo & Juliet.

Dubai Fountain
The world’s largest choreographed fountain system set at the centre of the Downtown Dubai development, watch the fountains dance and swirl under the moonlit sky – it’s free and is lovely in the winter time.

La Perle by Dragone
Franco Dragone is well-known for his aqua-based shows and it was in late 2017 that this Emirate got a taste of the Cirque du Soleil veteran’s vision, with a resident show in a theatre built at Al Habtoor city. Think 65 super in-shape artists who range from dancers to Olympic athletes, performing gravity-defying acrobatic, aquatic and aerial stunts that made sure I kept my groggy eyes wide-open even after an entire day of touring through the city.

Eat at
Seven Sands
Want to sample traditional Emirati cuisine? Seven Sands, situated at the JBR walk, should be on your list – think shark sambousas (which apparently inspired the Indian samosa), several rice-based main courses and of course, hummus in all its glory.

The Cocoa Kitchen
We love all things chocolate – so when a café promises that each of its dishes will include an element of cocoa, we couldn’t wait to try it. We visited Cocoa Kitchen at Citywalk and that hot chocolate is something we won’t be forgetting for a long, long time.

J&G Steakhouse, St Regis
With candlelit tables and a gorgeous, endless stairwell leading to the restaurant, J&G is hardly your average steakhouse (though it is well known for its range of American classics). For those who aren’t a fan of the meat, we recommend their foie-grass stuffed chicken, paired with a delicate white wine, from their elegantly curated seafood and steak menu.

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera
Nestled within the opera building, I almost didn’t notice the Burj Khalifa peeking down at me as I sat down at the rooftop terrace of Sean Connolly at the Opera for a winter-night meal. At the British-born chef’s first restaurant in the Middle East, a contemporary brasserie that opened its doors in late 2017, the menu features a range of seafood and steak, all impeccably cooked and plated. We loved the lobster burger and entrée of grilled white peaches, buffalo mozzarella and pistachio pesto.

Bleu Blanc by David Myers at Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai
Designed like a chic southern French farmhouse, a wood-fired grill takes centre stage at this in-hotel restaurant – we loved the roasted baby chicken and lamb kebabs! Morimoto Dubai is slated to open at the property soon – so stay tuned for the Japanese favourite!

Fact file
Location: Dubai, UAE
Getting there: Easily accessible via air
Best time to visit: November to March
Other attractions: Burj Al Arab, Jumeira Beach, Palm Jumeira, Grand Mosque, Dubai Gold souk, Dubai Spice souk, Textile souk, Al Bastakiya
For amusement park fans: IMG Worlds of Adventure, Motiongate Dubai, Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks

 

Winter in Iceland – Know before you go

Wondering why your friends and family look aghast each time you tell them your plans to visit Iceland in the coldest month of the year? Well, they have every right to raise concerns especially when you’re Indian, have no experience driving in snow and wear sweaters in the tropics. Therefore, in order to alleviate those concerns we’ve chalked out a winter in Iceland survivors guide so you (wherever you may come from) are well prepared for the ride of your life.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • It is possible to see sun, snow, rain, sleet and hail all within 1 hour of being in Iceland. Therefore, it is vital to check the weather updates before you begin your day and subsequently every two hours. This will give you 100% accurate information on whether the roads are accessible or if a detour is required. 2 weather websites we used along the way:

http://safetravel.is/

http://en.vedur.is/

http://www.road.is/

  • Drive safe, slow and obey traffic rules.
  • Rent a 4X4 (four wheel drive) only. If you happen to follow the above itinerary in winter a 4WD is necessary.
  • Do not book a northern lights tour. Due to the entire country being sparsely populated you can often see the lights from your guesthouse window. We do not recommend a tour as they are expensive with no guarantee, take away the element of surprise and excitement and the phenomenon is purely based on luck.
  • Stock up on food in case you get caught up in a storm and cannot reach your accommodation.
  • Ensure you have all the emergency helpline numbers, register your itinerary on safetravel.is for instant support, keep a shovel in your car and always help passersby in case you see anyone stuck.
  • Layer up because the only way to protect yourself from the cold is by wearing countless layers of clothing so pack smart. Always keep your head, hands and ears covered from the harsh winds.
  • Carry multiple power chargers as your battery tends to train very quickly in such extreme temperatures.
  • Iceland is EXPENSIVE (understatement) so budget your travels accordingly. Stock up on supermarket goodies, which can be used for lunch in case you plan to spend more on dinner.
  • The water at Lake Myvatn smells horrible due to the high Sulphur content but it is absolutely safe to drink (no one buys water in Iceland, do not embarrass yourself by doing so).
  • Limited daylight means you have to plan your itinerary for the day accordingly. It is not advisable to drive post sunset unless you step out a few kilometres for dinner or to chase the lights.
  • Thermal pools ruin your hair (suplhur again) so always apply conditioner before entering the pools/baths.
  • Go cashless – We have no idea what the Icelandic currencly looks like as we only used our travel cards and soon learned that purchases are very rarely made in cash.
  • Fuel up every time you see a gas station as when you’re driving cross country in winter you don’t know when your next stop could be.
  • Northern lights sightings are not as easy as they make it look as Iceland experiences a variety of changing weather therefore clear skies on a dreary winter’s day is not a guarantee.
  • Blue Lagoon tickets need to be purchased well in advance on their official website(especially in summer).
  • Everyone in Iceland speaks perfect English so you will never face any language trouble.
  • Alcohol cannot be bought in super markets (except for beer) so BYOB.
  • Have you ever wondered what takes place prior to entering the baths/pools? This time is spent running from your toasty changing rooms, stepping on to the icy ground, clutching the frosty handles of the pool until you have finally made it inside. So mentally prepare.
  • Truly the best way to see the country is by renting your own vehicle however if you are apprehensive about driving, you can find countless (expensive) tours for sightseeing.
  • Finally, brace yourselves for you may never want to leave this country.

Iceland – the country of your dreams

If there ever was a country that had terrain that seemed like it is from another planet, it is Iceland and where better to celebrate your marriage turning one than in a freezing country surrounded by absolutely nothing! My husband and I landed in the capital city of Reykjavik and began a 10-day journey traversing volcanoes, lava fields, icy, and snow laden roads with air so pure and views so magical; we may have lost our hearts to another world.

Day trips from Chiangmai

The scent of delicately basted meat being grilled over charcoal fire and the sharp, intoxicating trail of freshly brewed coffee is hard to ignore – old city Chiangmai is littered with meat stalls and petite coffee houses. I like low-key holidays with long lunches and easy living as much as the next girl… so days strolling through the old city and evening bazaars were perfect. But just outside the city lie wonders of a different kind, and I put my explorer shoes on (Dora, who?) and headed out.

Up, up and away
Endless views of Chiangmai city (if the sky is clear), a national park to trek through and of course, the Wat Phra Doi Suthep, to appease your inner devotee. The Doi Suthep mountain is 40kms from the city and worth making a day-trip for. My companion and I picked a bike, but make sure you invest in a heavy-duty bike that can handle the winding uphill roads, because ours started over heating after about 20 minutes on the highway.

The weather is pleasant in Chiangmai in January when we visited (and tends to get cooler as you get higher), so make sure you’re well covered. Head to the Bhubing Palace first, if you’re a botany or flower enthusiast – it’s all about the well-manicured gardens, stopping to smell the roses and appreciating the finery that you’ll probably never have. The next stop was of course the Wat Phra Doi Suthep, which I found way too crowded to enjoy. The views from the wat are sublime (they’d better be, after the endless stairs you have to climb up to get there) but the temple itself was too crowded to buckle down and enjoy the space.

That’s why our next stop was the (shockingly) isolated Monta Than Waterfall at the Doi Suthep National park that is en-route the wat. Quiet, remote and cut off from the cacophony at the wat and the touristy rush in Chiangmai city, we loved the 40-50 min trek that brought us right back to the waterfall we started at. Carry a swimsuit and a change of clothes if you intend to take a dip and snacks to make a day out of it (no alcohol is allowed at the park). Tents pitched a few metres from the waterfall are where you can camp out if you choose to stay overnight. (Check details in advance on the park’s website)

 Doi Inthano(t)

The highest mountain in Thailand. The popular Kew Mae Pan that offers endless views, the promise of waterfalls, cloud forest and a vigorous workout. We were super excited about our day trip to Doi Inthanon. About 104kms away from Chiangmai city, the day trip seemed doable on paper.

However, we stopped midway to the destination because our bike was overheating, and we realised belatedly that we needed a much more powerful (read reliable) vehicle for the long/uphill journey. Don’t make the same mistake we did and rent an able car or engage a city tour group to organise your trip – you’ll find agents scattered all over the old city. There are a couple of hotels around the park (still quite far) and you can camp overnight, so make sure to plan your day trip as soon as you land in the city, so you have enough time to plan correctly. While we were disappointed at this development, we stopped over at the Grand Canyon Water Park where you can drown your sorrows in food, drink, zip-lining and other water-based adventures. It’s no Doi Inthanon, but for us eternal children, there’s no place more fun than one you can cannonball into the water at! A word to the wise, while Chiangmai old city’s incredible food, exciting night life, endless bazaars and touristy vibe might tempt you to sleep in and saunter around at leisure, give the great outdoors a chance, set the alarm earlier than you’d like to… and we’re promising rewards of the best kind. Sunrises, sunsets, waterfalls gushing, viewing points with soul-stirring coffee, the wind in your hair and lots, lots more. Get set, go.

We recommend planning these day trips on weekdays as weekends at any of the above involve dealing with long queues and large crowds (both locals + tourists) 

Fact file
Location
: Chiang Mai City, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
Getting there: Easily accessible via road and rail (Approx 685 kms from Bangkok, overnight bus and train, booked prior to travel is your best bet – you can get tickets on the day of travel, if you are lucky) and air (closest airport: Chiang Mai International Airport CNX)
Best time to visit: October – April
Other attractions: Elephant sanctuaries (Elephant Nature Park; Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary; Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand), San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

Read more on our adventures in our complete guide to Chiang Mai