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.

Winter is coming – Our top 5 must visit winter wonderlands

When someone tells you that you “have to go to Amsterdam” in winter you don’t moan about how cold and windy it’s going to be, instead you pack all the warm clothes you possibly have and make the most of a winter vacation. I’ve always despised the cold, I mean who doesn’t love Margaritas on a beach but skiing on a mountain or sipping on mulled wine in a quaint little town in Switzerland is equally (or more) impressive. Each vacation, whatever the weather may be relies on what you do and how you experience it and a little tip, once you’re in the minuses example -1 and survived; all the minuses are endurable.

Travel like a pro – 6 steps to avoid over packing

 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found in your suitcase yet? Well, half way in to our American holiday we realised it wasn’t wise to carry a photo album with photos of our dogs or jewellery pouches filled with bobbles nor was it necessary to carry biscuits from India! You’re faced with this life or death decision whether to carry the sun hat for the beach, the 3 swim suits you’ve just bought, the striped or plain dress and which shoes you have to be photographed in on this holiday. It’s unpleasant lugging around a 32 kg suitcase that’s half your size and holding up lines because you also have a backpack and sling purse to balance all for your 10 day holiday. Therefore, we’ve devised the perfect guide to assist you with packing that won’t require you to sit on your suitcase to have it closed.

Mission Scuba – 3 reasons why Borneo turned us in to scuba junkies

With seventy per cent of the planet underwater, you mustn’t think twice before plunging in to the deep blue waters of any ocean. What awaits is a whole new world for you to immerse yourself in sans crowds, pollution and any form of mundane you’re used to. We’re talking abut scuba diving.

Blessed with some of the most marine-rich waters in the world, Borneo (Malaysia) promises to deliver those exhilarating experiences of swimming with hammerheads, cruising alongside turtles and gliding by the swirling tornadoes of barracudas. Not convinced yet? Read on

Borneo – the undiscovered paradise

Chasing tigers at Ranthambore National Park, India, scuba diving with fishies in Indonesia and road tripping through the snow-capped mountains of Kashmir, India—  we love adventurous vacations and we’re lucky to have a group of friends as crazy about them as we are. This year, our motley crew was on the lookout for something pocket friendly yet mega exciting and we found our match in…

… *Drumroll*  BORNEO, the land of rain forests, idyllic islands, noodles, hot curries and super-welcoming people! Borneo is the largest non-continental island in the world shared by the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny nation of Brunei. Known for its rugged landscapes, world famous dive-sites, orangutans, clouded leopards and unusual wildlife; Borneo was a no-brainer.

Here, we’re giving you a day-wise itinerary for those thrill seekers ready for an adventure like no other.

How to do Machu Picchu on your honeymoon – hostels, shared car rides, cuts, bruises et al

Life-long dream. To enter the ruins of Machu Picchu – the famed lost city of the Incas has been a lifelong dream. I had successfully annoyed my now husband to take me to this wonder on our honeymoon and no this story does not end in – “wow you’re so lucky, he surprised you!” Not exactly, it only took a few years of convincing, a promise to stop nagging for 1 month and strict instructions by him to fit it in our “working class” salary budget and if it panned out without the need to sell a kidney, HURRAY we were going to Peru!

While most of the online guides you read advise you to take a tour, we wouldn’t’. We live in a world where information to the remotest of places is a click away and questions are answered in a matter of minutes by bloggers and like-minded travelers. So immerse yourself in blogs and online content that spew information and in no time you’ll be narrating your itinerary in your sleep. Neurotic as I am, we meticulously planned this adventure right down to its last bus transfer and hotel requirement before we stepped on foreign soil but little did we know that some adventures just cant be planned.

Eight reasons why Aruba & Curacao are beach bum Utopia

How to do absolutely nothing & everything when on an island vacation 

How many times have you pictured yourself floating in the tranquil blue waters of an ocean breathing in the salty fresh air wistfully musing “I could stay here forever”. The thought crossed my mind only every dayum day as I spent 12 days in the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao.

Aruba, only 15 miles north of Venezuela is one of the “ABC” Dutch Caribbean islands known for its laid-back island life and friendly faces. Nicknamed ‘One Happy Island’ Aruba prides itself on its immaculate white beaches and turquoise waters so clear you may not even need a snorkel to see eye-to-eye with the colourful fish swimming by.

If Curacao bring to mind the legendary blue drink, it’s because the island of contrasts is in fact home to the legendary blue Curacao liqueur that’s guzzled all over the world. An island that seamlessly blends history and culture with gorgeous beaches and untainted waters, Curacao has something to offer to every kind of holiday-maker.

The Bachelorette of your dreams awaits – in Spain

Should we go to the Maldives? No, Greece obviously. Have you not watched and fallen in love with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? The most exciting part about getting married is the bachelorette— at least that’s what I was basically living for, maybe even a wee bit more than the actual wedding. With my entourage all packed and ready to rumble, the girlies I’ve known since the time we were no taller than smurfs, were obviously my fellow travellers. We did and still do everything together and share a bond not even of sisters, instead we’re more like enhanced extensions of ourselves— so spending a few days away with them before bridezilla mode kicked in was just what I needed. What attracted us to Spain? Candy, naturally – the food, sweet and men kind. Spain is a visual treat, right from its distinctive architecture to the endless sandy beaches to the banging beach clubs.

Here’s a little hint (just a hint, we aim to keep this blog PG) in to all the stuff we managed to cram in to 10 days in Barcelona and Ibiza and why Spain is a perfect bachelorette location.

  1. Cheers to the weekend and every other day when on holiday:

So if you’re agenda is bachelorette, then fight the lag and get down to business. Barcelona is vibrant in all forms and within a few hours the city manages to consume you and all you can do is let go and enjoy (a lot of) Sangria and tapas at a street side café. One of the highlights of this trip was the pub crawl we signed up for at our hostel. Pub crawls are common all around Barcelona and we highly recommend this as it is a great way to meet people and exchange (more than just pg) notes. Also, they’re highly cost effective and guarantee a happy high at the end of the night. Not to mention a hangover and the chance to meet some seriously cool people.

  1. Take a guided tour across the city:

Important note: Do not do attempt the bar crawl before the city tour unless no hangovers are a superpower.

A guided city tour is a great idea one which can be easily arranged by your hotel/hostel. Our tour guide was a young enthusiastic Psych student who made us walk over 7km across the city, explaining the history behind the gorgeous buildings. Highlights include meandering through then narrow streets of the Gothic Quarters gazing at the neo-gothic architecture of the La Seu cathedral or the Santa Maria del Pi church while your guide enthusiastically communicates legends of the history behind these striking structures. Bring coffee.

  1. Oh my Gaudi:

What’s Barcelona without Gaudi? Anyone that appreciates beauty will agree that Antoni Gaudi, one of the most distinctive architects in the world has left behind masterpieces in Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo will leave you spellbound while Park Guell will take you to a mystical place leaving you captivated by the artist’s creativity and attention to detail. We recommend you find a quiet spot in the park, whip that book out and bask in the Spanish sun, with a little sangria, or churros. After all, you’ll need some rest before the next wild night out.

  1. Eat, shop, eat, drink, eat, drink:

Holidaying makes you hungry. It’s (probably) a proven fact.  However, when you’re not gorging on tapas and Paella, you will find that Barcelona has some thrifty shopping that can make you buy a new suitcase just because you’ve over shopped and can’t fit anything anymore (true story). The popular stores include Zara, Bershka, H&M, Mango, Pull & Bear, Caramelo, Desigual, Massimo Dutti and numerous other brands we couldn’t pronounce and afford. What do you do once you’ve shopped a fair bit? Eat! Barcelona has cafes lined along the streets and they’re all amazing! A few worthy places we might have inhaled the food at are Cerveseria Catalana, Bananas and Marmalade.  Once you’ve made it through the day, head to the tree-lined streets of El Borne district to nibble on tapas or sip on some champagne at any of the quaint bars. This fashionable yet authentic district is safe, affordable and welcomes you with smiling faces and countless matchbox sized bars enough for you to enjoy an entertaining night out with your friends. (including those who break into 80s Bollywood songs, at 12am in Barcelona – traumatising / entertaining other humans)

  1. We’re going to Ibiza:

We played good children in Barcelona (wink wink) and soon it was time to head to Ibiza. Ibiza is the perfect island to let loose and celebrate yourself. While partying may be a way of life here, we found a way to strike a perfect balance between letting loose and exploring the natural beauty of this wild-child island. A great way to do this is to pick a good accommodation, close to the party strip yet not too far from the rest of the island. Although we stayed on the busiest strip of the island (Playa d’en Bossa), our apartment was quiet, spacious and just what we needed (Ebano Select Apartments). Mornings in Ibiza are best spent walking over to “Passion” to grab a smoothie and gorging on some healthy breakfast treats before spending the day sun bathing and exploring. While many might call Playa d’en Bossa commercialised, noisy and filled with drunken party goers, we found it to be perfect in terms of the safety of women travellers as the streets were always swarming with people and cars. The beach despite being crowded emits a fantastic vibe with happy faces always ready to help out.

  1. We’re back to eating and partying:

Well you’ve made it to Ibiza, it would be a criminal waste if you didn’t party until dawn. It’s very simple— begin your day by nursing your hangover from the previous night, then head over to a Yacht party after which you attend a pre-gaming party at Sankey’s or wherever the hell they’re offering cheap booze. Once you’re fairly intoxicated but can still stand on your matchstick-like legs, head over to the main event of the night usually being held at Ushuaia, Space, Amnesia or Pacha and party like there’s no tomorrow. Party, pass out, wake, repeat.

  1. Call it magic:

We found our highlight of this holiday and it’s called Sunset Ashram at Cala Conta. This picturesque spot is quietly tucked away from the hustle of Ibiza and surrounded by endless ocean views and cliff drops. As the name suggest it’s a hipsters paradise so feel free to laze on a cushion whilst sipping on some Sangria all while taking in the breathtaking view this gem has to offer. Alternatively you can head down to the tiny beach area to roast in the sun which makes it a perfect spot for reading a book, plugging in those headphones or simply meditating. The staff is kind and food is beyond delicious with ample variety to suit every pallet. P.S – Don’t miss the sunsets they rank No. 2 on our modest list.

Location – Barcelona and Ibiza

Famous for/as: Shopping, sunsets, architecture, Sangria and Paella

Route: Flight from Mumbai to Barcelona and domestic flight from Barcelona to Ibiza

Best Season: July – August – September