Gokarna Om Beach Chai Around The World Nikhil Kumar Mansi Pal

Travel: Too Much Inspiration, Too Little Courage


For anyone who loves to travel, there’s always that little voice in the back of their minds that keeps telling them to quit their comfortable job and explore the world. Lots of people have done it. There’s enough and more inspiration on the internet to convince anyone that it’s a wonderful idea. Shivya Nath has done it and she continues to be a source of inspiration for us. Every time I speak to her, I am distinctly aware of the fact that there’s this ocean of wisdom separating us. Wisdom that’s only accrued over time, in different parts of the world. Jinna Yang did it, and she’s been a wonderful comfort for me on days where I feel like I’m just about ready to give up and catch the next flight out to anywhere. I’m sure Jinna doesn’t know me, but I owe her a lot.

These are people who have braved it, but not stupidly. Quitting one’s high-paying job means relinquishing that safety net of a paycheck at the end of the month. If you have taken it for granted, then you haven’t experienced penury like I have. I once survived for more than a month with 8 rupees in my bank account, but unfortunately, I wasn’t on a beach in an exotic island. I was deep in debt, broke and unemployed. That experience taught me something very valuable – inspiration is plenty, courage is rare.

Hampi Cycling Mansi Nikhil Inspiration

The desire to just give everything up and Go!

Last year, Mansi and I had been toying with the idea of quitting our jobs and taking off. We had ideas worked out on how we’d survive – we thought we’d freelance, like so many travelers do; we thought we’d work on a farm in exchange for board and food; we thought we’d blog and write for money. Now, one year down the line, we just started new jobs that pays us more money than we know what to do with, and we are still waking up each morning feeling miserably out of touch with reality. Each time we speak to people like Shivya, an unspoken word of regret passes between us. We are too ashamed to say it. We sold out.

The one question we always keep asking ourselves is this: “When do we do it?”

The answer, however, is not simple. In the past one year, our collective debt has almost doubled because we bought a car. This means that we need to work longer to become debt-free. I think we both have this glorious time-table in our heads that the day we are debt-free is the day we quit and explore. Unfortunately, the wait seems almost eternal.

For me, the consolation is the fact that if I ever wake up one fine day and decide to fly away, the woman I love will be with me. Without her, I would just resign myself to the never-ending hell of a corporate cubicle.

What about you? Have you ever felt the need to leave it all behind and wake up each morning in a different bed in a different city, looking out at a different horizon? Share your thoughts with us.

All images are by Mansi Pal.

The tea & maggi maker

Juley, Ladakh! A Photo Essay From The Top Of The World

Leh, Photography, Travel

Ladakh was always on my bucket list for obvious reasons. The dry & mighty Himalayas, the pristine monasteries & the stark landscapes. What I did not know, was the perils of travelling at high altitudes. Lungs give away to breathlessness, vehicles break down, aerated food packages get deflated & the stamina that pretty much goes into hibernation. There is no way to fool the altitude and it is one of the biggest reality checks that you can put your body through.  So this trip was about discovering the beauties of nature & my body too. However what touched me the most on this wondrous trip to Ladakh was its people. Simple yet shrouded in beautiful complexities. Right from their faces to their lives, everything about these people is full of contrasts. I am sharing a few lives with you. Some imaginary, some real. That is how I go about life, observing people & forming delicate, trivial details in my mind.

Wrinkled In Time

Wrinkled in Time

I was resting on a hill after a steep climb. She came & quietly sat next to me like she has known me for ages. I looked at her, lost in her finely wrinkled face & light brown eyes. I smiled at her. She grinned back toothlessly & asked me if I had a crocin (a medicine to cure headaches). The nearest pharmacy being a five mile hike up & down a steep hill.

Not a hiker, a climber

Not a hiker, a climber

Meet Mr. Salim from Sonamarg. He has an interesting life. He reports early at base camps to make sure the tents are packed, supplies are aplenty & the horses are well fed & watered. He does all this by tapping & waving his walking stick around the camp. He looks amused at people who are struggling with unpitching tents & packing backpacks. There is a grace in his gaze. He is not a hiker but definitely a climber.

Mind your language

Mind Your Language

Complete ‘Mind your language’ happened to me.

Traveled from Leh to Sonamarg via Kargil, Drass with a Buddhist Swiss lady who loved samosas & ladakhi matar (apricots); a young man from Lucknow who only spoke Hindi & was in awe of the emotion the Swiss lady put when saying ‘Really’ and was amused why people would come to a place where there was low oxygen; a Kannadiga with very poor Hindi speaking skills & who excitedly introduced the Lucknow man to the virtues of rice eating; and a Ladakhi couple with a royal name – the man spoke Hindi & the woman was a mute spectator – and they had never traveled beyond Srinagar but still looked satisfied with life.

I did a fine job of translating conversations from Hindi to English & back for the benefit of respective parties. I was also the official photographer & now have the job to email photos to crazy sounding email ids!

The Ladakhi ‘Matarist’

The Ladakhi ‘Matarist’

I noticed her from a distance while looking for a lens cap at a camera shop at the Leh market. Her quirky hairdo is what caught my eye. I imagined her to be a curt, cool woman who was going about selling Ladakhi matars with German precision (an orange sweet fruit). She turned out to be just that as I moved closer to her to take a better a look & a good picture. She knew I was there to click her & she was quick with a business proposal, “Buy 500 grams of Ladakhi matar & you can take a photo of me.” The deal turned out sweet for me because the matars were delicious!

The Monk who blew bubbles with his chewing gum

 The Monk who blew bubbles with his chewing gum

The drunk shopkeeper

The drunk shopkeeper

He sat at a flea market selling Ladakhi artifacts. But he was hardly selling. While the others in the flea market jostled to make a profitable sale. He took long sips from a raw wooden mug, his eyes very apparently drunk. Effortless & yet observant. Noticing everyone but reaching out to none. The shadows from the sunset leaving half his face dark & the other red.

Friends from different times

Friends from different times

Open yet close

Open yet close

The Hemis monastery was shut for lunch & this monk moved around swiftly. He looked like a man with a purpose. I hesitated to ask him when the monastery opens again, he stopped & explained. I tried to chat, find out more about him & his life. He smiled & moved away.

On a mission

On a mission

The solider was moving between the huge green army tents. He got off at Khardung La to click a few pictures to send to his family. The family he hadn’t met for 6 months. Even on a break he knew where to point the camera, towards the sky!

Squatting spectators

Squatting spectators

Lazing around during their lunch break at the local departmental store. Watching the army officer playing a dusty game of polo. Wishing for time to stop, because this was the closest they got to watching a live sport.

 The tea & maggi maker

 The tea & maggi maker

She travels on a rickety village bus to work at a shop that sells maggi & tea at Pangong Lake. At 13,940 ft above sea level it does not make sense to have complex menus. She keeps tourists warm with the simplest & quickest foods on the planet. While the lake is a wonder of nature for us, for her it is a washing bowl.

An old man’s prayer

An old man’s prayer

He is the head of the family that works in & runs the Shanti Guest House near the Shanti Stupa in Leh. He has seen the hotel grow & a million people come & go after being wooed by the beautiful landscapes of Ladakh. He has aged. He now spends his last days with his prayer wheel at the hotel lawns, watching excited tourists chirping around. Winter is coming, so he is making the most of the summer sun!

 The Little MonksThe Fight Club

They start early, learning English, Math and Science along with their spiritual education. Though a lot of these kids are second and third generation monks, who know little of the outside world beyond the walls of their monastery other than what they read in their books, there are a few who are abandoned at the doors by parents who can’t afford to raise them. However they end up here, the little ones spend their childhood like any other child – fighting over marbles, running behind footballs and skipping classes.

The Kannadiga In The Middle Of Nowhere

A kannadiga in Leh

Malyalees are ubiquitous all over the world. Kannadigas aren’t. We ran into a Kannada-speaking Mysorean when our bike broke down in the middle of nowhere, on the ride from Leh to Pangong. We stopped at the World’s Highest Field Repair Camp to get our bike fixed. The army mechanic who fixed it for free turned out to be a Mysorean. Needless to say, Nikhil and he got on like a house on fire.

Leh: Do’s and Don’ts of High-Altitude Biking

Biking, Ladakh, Leh, Pangong

bike ride from leh to pangong lakeOn a recent trip to Leh, Mansi and I had the undeniably awesome experience of high-altitude biking. In an euphoric, light-headed moment brought on by the crisp, cool mountain air (or perhaps the lack of oxygen), we decided to hire a 500cc Bullet Thunderbird and ride the 150 kilometers to Pangong Lake. Something that usually takes four hours took us more than eight, and that day will remain unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. Compiled here are some of the things we learned the hard way about high-altitude biking that every traveler and wannabe biker should read before kick starting those rented monster bikes:

Check Those Brakes:

Bikes are rented out to a lot of people everyday. This usually means that the bike you will end up with would have been used by someone else barely an hour earlier. You should know that the higher up you get on the mountains, the worse the roads are, which adds an extra strain on the bike’s hardware. Though the proprietors claim it, it’s very rare that they tune up the bikes before every rental. Ultimately, the bike you rent out will not be a hundred percent. The brakes on our bike failed halfway through the ride, just after we passed the Chang La pit stop. Going downhill on tremendously treacherous roads on a very heavy bike with no brakes and a pillion rider behind you, is not an easy task. Be very sure that you double-check and tune up the brakes before you rent out the bike.

Watch Out For Sand Spots:

A little known danger, sand spots are very common once you descend into the Pangong valley. The last 30 kilometers of the road have patches where loose, desert sand covers the road. On a two-wheeler, sand spots are incredibly dangerous as the tires don’t get any traction and tend to skid. We almost careened off the cliff after riding over a sand spot and losing our balance. It was only a sheer determination to stay alive that gave us the presence of mind to turn into the direction of the skid and bring the bike to a shuddering halt. Always make sure that you don’t go beyond 10 kmph on a sand spot and never apply the brakes. Brakes just make the skid worse.

The Right Clothes:

There are a lot of clothing options for riding and I’m sure you’ll make a good choice. But one thing we discovered during our disastrous ridewas that the trousers you wear play as important a role in your safety and comfort as your sexy riding jacket does. There are patches on the road to Pangong where meltwater from the glaciers above flow across the road at tremendous speeds. Roads don’t exist at these places. Instead, there are sharp, jagged and uneven rocks – the innards of the mountain exposed by the constant stream of water ripping away the road much like a bad scrape rips away the skin and exposes the muscle and bone beneath.  At these points, jeans are not the most ideal, because you need to put both your feet down to balance yourself as you tiptoe the bike slowly and steadily on first gear. It’s recommended to wear water-resistent hiking pants that don’t get wet too much and dry out quickly. More than the miserable feeling of a wet, cold pair of jeans hugging your legs, the added weight is something you can do without.

The Painkiller

Pack your first aid kit with lots of painkillers. We recommend Combiflan. Especially if you are someone who does not ride in extreme conditions and long distances very often, this will be a blessing. By the time we reached Pangong after eight harrowing hours, we could barely move. We each gulped down two Combiflan tablets, huddled up beneath the thick blankets in the first guest house we came across and slept like logs. It was such a pity that we rode all that while to the most beautiful lake on Earth and didn’t have the energy to look at it for more than two minutes. Don’t do this to yourself.

All said and done, we’ve leaned our lesson. Unless we have the right amount of practice, we are not going to try something like this again. Have a wonderful and a safe trip to Leh. The place is breathtakingly beautiful and it takes more than a bad bike ride to tarnish our memory of the place. Rach out to us if you need any tips on where to stay, what to eat and where to rent out bikes, cabs, and other essentials.

prayer flags in pangong lake leh

5 Reasons You Should Visit the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand

New Delhi, Survival Guide, Travel


The Valley of Flowers, located in Uttrakhand and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, came into my life much before I visited it. As a child, I had often dreamt of living a childhood out of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, and waking up in the Alps everyday with fresh milk and cheese from the poultry in the backyard. The name, Valley of Flowers, elicited the same feeling.

Years later, I made a trip to that surreal paradise, and am ready to zoom out of my psychedelic bubble and give you the hard facts, the impact of which will be cushioned with alpine flowers and meadows! Choose the Valley of Flowers as your summer destination, if:

Off-beat turns you on

Conquering the Himalayas!

Conquering the Himalayas!

If you are a lover of unique experiences and are vary of the hills because come summer, popular hill stations have more people than trees, then Valley of Flowers is the place to be. The experience of getting to the valley is mildly strenuous and the sight of the valley guarantees a major adrenalin rush. The accommodation on the way is mostly basic and this too keeps the noisy tourists at bay.

You are yet to see the Himalayas in all their glory

A view of snow-capped glaciers from the valley.

A view of snow-capped glaciers from the valley.

For travellers in the north, the Himalayas are only an overnight journey away. But people like me, who live in the south or the west are closer to the Nilgiris or the Western Ghats. I have nothing against the hilly landscapes in the rest of the country. But believe me, these are mere slopes compared to the grandeur of the Himalayas. The Valley of Flowers borders China and Nepal, is situated 3352 to 3658 meters above sea level, and sits pretty between the ranges of the Zanskar and the Greater Himalayas. As a result, the breath-taking, gentle beauty of almost 300 species of exotic flowers overlook the mighty and rugged Zanskar in the north and the Greater Himalyas in the south. A beautiful grassland experience with a mountainous view.

You live for stories

Locals using kinetic energy to cook corn!

Locals using kinetic energy to cook corn!

If you are a person who loves to come back from trips with stories to tell and reminisce for years, then this trip is a fool proof plan to amass the quirkiest stories. The local bus at Badrinath is called Bhook hartal (Hunger Strike), named after the villagers who went on a hunger strike in protest of poor transport in the region. The authorities introduced this bus but there was a catch – the bus has no definite time of arrival. We met a corn maker who used kinetic energy to roast the corn instead of coal. And a village auto driver who chased us down because we were sick of waiting from him, and decided to flag down an oncoming local bus. So the locals were running after us, we wobbling and running with our backpacks behind the bus, and bus conductor egging us to run faster!

You want to witness pristine beauty

First glimpse of the valley.

First glimpse of the valley.

As you enter the valley from Ghangagria you encounter a V-shaped intersection of two peaks drenched in mist and cloud. As you get closer to the valley, you encounter pebbles, boulders, cobbled paths, small streams, rickety bridges and lush greenery all round. As you get used to the diverse surroundings, you’ll meet an open skyline bordered with mountains, glaciers and wide grasslands laden with flowers. For as far as you can look, you will see the valley spread, and intersect tiny glaciers and meadows peppered with different colours. It is this element of surprise, grandeur and gentleness that will make fall you in love with everything and everyone around you.

You are a budget traveller

Ready to trudge up the mountain.

Ready to trudge up the mountain.

If you are a budget traveller who relishes calculating money saved at the end of the trip and pushing your limits of adventure, then the Valley of Flowers will conspire to let you live the tough life. We covered the total distance of 523 kms from Delhi to the Valley of Flowers through the cheapest modes of transport and accommodations.

How to reach the Valley of Flowers from Delhi, on a budget:

Delhi – Haridwar: Overnight train journey from Dehradun Jan Shatabdi so that we could save on stay and not waste a day. You can also book bus tickets online from Delhi to Haridwar.
Haridwar – Rishikesh : We took a shared auto to Rishikesh from where we needed to catch a bus to Joshimath
Rishikesh – Joshimath : We took a rickety old village bus filled with locals and backpacking Israelis. This 11 hour journey was back breaking and through bad roads and sharp bends with the Ganges on one side and the mountains on the other.
Joshimath – We stopped at Joshimath for the night at a GMVL guest house after hunting for the cheapest accommodation.
Joshimath – Govindghat : After a good night’s sleep, we took a jeep to Govindghat, located at the confluence of the Alaknanda and Lakshman Ganga rivers. This is a straight trek to the Valley of Flowers; yes, we are just getting started!
Govindghat – Ghangaria : A 13 km trek through sleepy mountain villages with the Pushpawati river for company. This stretch is mostly uphill and you can get ready for your feet to groan for the next 7 hours of the trek.
Ghangaria: Welcome, rest your heels at very limited staying options here. We got a deal of Rs. 100 per night for a room with three beds.

Is the Valley of Flowers on your summer wishlist?

This was a guest post written by Mansi on Travel Yaari 


Malaysia Tourism

A ‘Truly Asian’ Dream

Malaysia, Travel
Tourism Malaysia

Malaysia: A Truly Asian Dream Destination

One of the must-do, -visit, -see things on our Chai List is Malaysia. We’ve dreamt about it, we’ve spent long hours planning it, we’ve spoken to almost everyone who’s ever been there and to top it all, we’ve made the most ridiculous excuses at work for time off so that we can do the trip. Four times now, all in vain.

No, it’s not because of the proximity or any other lame cliche, but it’s because we strongly believe that Malaysia is an experience not to be missed. It’s an experience in humility in grandeur, an experience in splendor and the best ever weekend getaway that someone in Bangalore can hope for.

Nikhil and I have managed to have every imaginable experience in weekend travel between us, but the one thing on our list that we’d die for is the best possible answer to “How was your weekend?”

“Oh, you know, it wasn’t too bad. Just got back this morning from a trip.”

“Oh, I love weekend trips. Where did you go? Goa?”

“Malaysia!” (The unsaid words would be “Ha! In your face!”)

Among all the other things that people want to see and do over there, our list of things to do in Malaysia is slightly different:

  1. Entrapment: We want to dress up like Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones and enact the final scenes of Entrapment on the Petronas twin towers.
  2. The British: We want to walk around the Cameron Highlands in Pahang dressed in Victorian outfits and sip tea and eat cakes at 4.30 in the evening.
  3. Blocks: We want to make life sized lego blocks of ourselves at Legoland in Johor.
  4. Going for Broke: We want to spend every penny we’ve ever saved on shopping for almost everything, everywhere.
  5. The Memory: We want to spread the word. About Malaysia. To Everyone.

Jari Bersilang!

Image Courtesy: Tourism Malaysia

Why We Travel


6570_147161582048_5944786_nWe often think that we are in control of our lives and our choices; decisions and inclinations are based on the intermingling of the right and left sides of our brains. But really, how many times have you had that feeling that you don’t deserve this or you are so happy you must have done something good in your past life to deserve this?  Your family accountant, priest or doctor is clearly not keeping a record of your rights and wrongs. Someone else is! This is the space where aliens, UFOs and urban legends thrive. What if your life is also part of that mystical world and your present, as you see it, is just a projection?

We get so lost in the daily rut of things that we do not realize why we do what we do. I am sure it’s not as simple as it sounds, but I love the enigma and the mystique that such a school of thought brings to my life – makes it a little less ordinary, atleast in my head. To feel, think and believe in such aimlessness and, in contrast, give my life some definition is what makes me travel. Travel is my umbilical cord to the uninhibited, trivial thoughts that feel very real and plausible in my head. In the words of Pico Iyer, “And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in.”

The #TravelIST chat hosted by @bijoyv and @Living_Escaping last night re-kindled and reiterated my thoughts about escaping. No, that does not make us wonky heads wanting to get lost and roll around like a zorb, but to escape the monotony of our daily lives, where every day is like living like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. What experiences we are exposed to, if we decide to have a chocolate milkshake one day and a cheesecake the next. It is travel that allows us to continuously alter our contexts and, at the same time, teaches us to keep moving. How long can a humming bird hold your attention when you meet a sloppy sea gull next? That is what we escape when we travel – we escape monotony and test the agility of our minds and improvise our lives every second.

Chalong Bay

Chalong Bay

Travel also brings out that person you always wanted to be but were either too conscious or too busy to be. We learn to let go and give up our thick skins. I am personally more uninhibited and more trustful when in faraway lands than the city I live in.  That jump into the unpredictable lake, the brief talk with the local about the tiny jars on their balcony, the most interesting hour-long conversation with a stranger you will never meet again and the ability to spend time with oneself plucking dead grass or gazing at the clouds without the support of a human being or the prison of a smartphone – all this comes to us naturally when we travel.

We travel to experiment, to lose our inhibitions, to learn, to discover, to find ourselves. How is travelling getting lost?

brigade road bangalore

Surviving Bangalore: An Essential Guide

Bangalore, Survival Guide
bangalore women special bus

Image Courtesy: RaoWords

A lot of people move to Bangalore each year for studies, jobs and criminal activities. A lot more pass through the city on their way to bigger and better things. Being a native of Bangalore, and being married to someone who’s not, I come across a lot of situations where a little local knowledge can prove enormously useful while navigating through this maze.

Here are a few things you probably did not know about Bangalore but should. Next time you are traveling to the city, or if you are living here, then these little things just might save your life.

hard rock cafe bangalore

Image Courtesy: Zomato

The Night Life
Bangalore is no longer the pub capital of the country. We still have more pubs than any other city in the country (over 200) but unfortunately, there is a city-wide curfew on bars, pubs and hotels at 10.30 in the night. Nothing stays open beyond 10.30PM except a few rare places. If you find yourself in a pub at 10.30PM, then you will notice that the last orders are being rung up, the music has stopped, the mood lighting has been replaced with harsh incandescent tubes and if you want just a bit longer, you’ll also notice the cops entering the pub with their sticks and forcing everyone out.

bangalore traffic

Image Courtesy: BWE

The Roads
The average speed on the roads of Bangalore is, believe it or not, 15 kmph. That’s just about 10 miles per hour. This is because there are no roads in Bangalore. It’s just one big pothole that pretends to be a road in certain places. If you find yourself on a two-wheeler in Bangalore, make sure that you don’t ride beyond 20-30 kmph, because you never know when the road ends and the pothole begins.


Image Courtesy: Kapi Nirvana

The People: Bangalore has one of the most multicultural populations in the country, after Mumbai. 62% of Bangalore’s population is migrant. This leaves the natives a minority – a fact they don’t really like. So, if you don’t know the local language (Kannada), do not attempt to perform everyday transaction at your local grocer or your bank. You will either get scammed or you will be snubbed. Neither of these scenarios is very pleasant. Make friends with someone local who can help you through these language barriers. Otherwise, the natives are quite pleasant people who will not lift a finger to bail you out of trouble, but will invite you for some awesome filter coffee after you’ve bailed yourself out.

bangalore auto

Image Courtesy: Unknown

The Autos: A lot has been said about the autos in Bangalore and I won’t repeat the usual phrases. As a native of Bangalore, I find the auto drivers to be notorious for their meter tampering. So, a word of advice: if an auto driver agrees to take you somewhere on the meter, don’t trust him. More often than not, the meter has been tampered with and you’ll end up paying a good 30-40 bucks more than a flat fare. If an auto driver demands a flat fare, there is at least a Rs. 50 markup. So start bargaining and don’t settle for anything more than his demanded fare minus Rs. 50.

The Weather: Historically known as a Pensioners’ Paradise, Bangalore has a lot of things wrong with it, but the weather is not one of them. Almost all year round, the weather is pretty fantastic. Sometimes, during the summer, it does get incredibly hot, but don’t worry. Like clockwork, after every 3-4 days of sweaty, unbearable heat, there’s a heavy downpour. Almost a storm. And the city cools down again for the next few days.

Culture: There was a time, not too long ago, when the best of the bands in the world would come to perform in Bangalore. I’ve attended concerts by Dire Straits, Roger Waters, Bryan Adams, The Rasmus, and others international bands. Bangalore had a very distinct heavy metal crowd. Then, three things happened which killed this culture:

  1. The government decided to disallow the use of Palace Grounds for any music concerts because of mysterious reasons and decided to rent it out for expensive weddings instead. Nothing ever happens in Palace Grounds but lavish weddings these days. An alternative location was allotted for all the music concerts – somewhere on the outskirts, about 35 kilometers away from the city. No one has the energy to go all the way to the middle of nowhere for a concert that has to end at 10.30PM. A very embarrassing moment happened once during a Rockathon concert in Bangalore – which turned out to be the last major concert, except for the NH7. The cops who were supposed to provide the security for the event streamed in at 10.30PM on the dot and started disconnecting the lights and the speakers on the stage even as the bands were performing.
  2. A lot of these heavy metal followers who made up the Bangalore music scene not too long ago, grew tired of waiting for a major concert, and grew up.
  3. Justin Bieber convinced a large portion of youngsters that he was a woman, and made them fall in love with his voice. This was a cruel way to nip the next generation of Bangalore rockers in the bud.

PS: About the concerts, Metallica and Iron Maiden continued to perform in Palace Grounds despite these restrictions. Maiden did it twice. And both of them performed way past the 10.30PM deadline. They’re bad-asses. They are like the honey badger. They just don’t care.

Metallica in Bangalore

Metallica in Bangalore: I was there!

Finally, if you are suicidal, then a sure-fire way of getting killed is to go an auto-rickshaw stand and bad-mouthing Ambareesh or Vishnu Vardhan, or God forbid, Raj Kumar.

rajkumar vishnuvardhan ambareesh

From L-R: Vishnuvardhan, Dr. Raj Kumar, Ambareesh

If you have any particular question about Bangalore, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. It’s a city that lets you live if you don’t complain too much. Whatever you do, for the sake of God and all that’s merciful, do not (DO NOT) attempt to voice a complaint with a government official in Bangalore. Especially the cops. Don’t argue with them. Don’t complain to them. Don’t get in their way. Don’t look them in the eye. They will eat your brains out. Literally.

My Alto - The master of my fate and the captain of my soul.”

Don’t Pimp My Ride!

Driving, Travel
My Alto - The master of my fate and the captain of my soul.”

My Alto – The master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

I love the mobility that comes from being my own driver as opposed to depending on someone to drive me around. More than freedom, what I love most about being my own driver is the absence of  the plethora of questions that one has to face while coordinating a drive:

  • What time should I meet you?
  • Are you sure you will get up that early?
  • Isn’t that too late?
  • Ok let it be, call me when you wake up?
  • Will you pick me up from my home or should I come to the main road?
  • Oh wait no, I have a huge bag (I have to transfer a dead body). You will have to come pick me up.
  • Are you there already? My hair got stuck in the hair brush, give me 7 minutes.
  • Do you want to take that route, there are many cows on that route.
  • You might want to try the other radio station?
  • Mansi, you do not have a radio in your car?!?

If God had made me a little more intelligent, I would have been able to handle this level of logistical proficiency. I feel very challenged, especially because driving, for me, is just not about going from Point A to Point B; it gives me solace, peace & liberation that can only come from walking naked in the house when no one is around.

I got my driving license at 18 and I have been driving myself around for nearly 10 years now and it has been quite a journey. I think the main reason I bought a car was the agony of not feeling the wind in my hair on a two-wheeler while wearing a helmet. Not to mention the injustice the helmet did to my hair. It’s been a roller coaster ride in my Alto – that special, maroon-colored claustrophobic beauty – right from getting the tire tube busted on the first day because my friends wanted to test how fast the car can go, to getting free boiled eggs in return for a ride, road trips in the jungle without a GPS and showing people my city in that tiny chariot.

After having moved out of Delhi, I have used public transport in Bombay & Bangalore and I enjoy that too. The good thing about taking the bus to work is that I don’t feel I’m causing the bus driver any inconvenience – there is no reason to coordinate the time, place or choice of music with him. It’s almost like going on a blind date.

I can hardly wait to start driving again in March, when I will again be “The master of my fate and the captain of my soul.”


Masinagudi: A Road Trip Through The Jungle

Masinagudi, Ooty, Travel

Madumalai forests, Casa Deep Woods

A wedding, especially if it’s your own, is a mind-boggling experience. The silver lining however comes after you have rampaged through the numerous gifts you receive. Anything wrapped in a gift paper has the ability to fill our hearts with childlike wonder. I will be blamed of being outright ungrateful and greedy if I describe how I can tell whether a gift is a hand-me-down, recycled or one that screams out, “Hello stranger, here is an indifferent gift and you are free to pass it on.” In the middle of all this there are certain gifts that aren’t gift wrapped but they strike a chord instantly.  Our friend Rohit falls in the latter category and he gifted us a weekend stay at the Club Mahindra property in Masinagudi called Casa Deep Woods. True to its name, Casa Deep Woods, was nestled deep into the Madhumalai jungle and unlike the artificially landscaped resorts, this one was built to be naturally wild and eerie.

The Ghosts of Nilgiris

We drove from Bangalore and clocked more than 700 kilometers in 3 days travelling to Masinagudi, Ooty and Doddabetta.  We did the road trip in our reliable Alto through roads that were scary, treacherous and devoid of human habitation. Getting there was a fantastic experience mostly because of the high you get out of driving on spotless roads. City driving can kill the pleasure of driving because it ends up being a tap dance between the clutch and the brake. So when we hit the NICE highway between Bangalore & Mysore, it felt like we were skating for the first time on an ice rink. And the “nice” roads followed us all the way through the Bandipur National Forest on the Karnataka side of the border, and crossing over into the Madhumalai forest range on the TN side. We drove continuously with just one pit stop  at Maddur for some scrumptious Maddur Vada.

It was the first time I saw elephants, peacocks and deer standing in the middle of the road, fearlessly watching the traffic pass by. It was one surreal moment after another as the roads through the jungles gave us something breathtaking at every twist and turn. After a lovely lunch, we checked into our cottage, which was right at the edge of the property line and gave us an unhindered view into the heart of the forest. When the manager informed us that there were leopards and cheetahs that were spotted on the property, I was in equal parts scared and awed. A big blackboard that captured the last time a guest spotted a tiger greeted us as we arrived, and our spirits were high. We were looking forward to three days of solitude, with nothing but the sounds of nature all around us.

On Saturday, we drove to Ooty, which is about half an hour away through the legendary “Road with 36 hairpin curves”. We didn’t Nilgiris Tea Estate, Ootystop in Ooty and proceeded to Doddabetta, hoping to do a bit of trekking in the jungle. As our luck would have it, all trekking routes were shut because of a cheetah attack not very long ago. We spent a few minutes exploring the Doddabetta peak and made our way back. The roads here are quite bad and we were constantly afraid that the tiny car would implode.

On our way down from Doddabetta, we stopped at a tea estate, had fresh masala chai and walked around the tea plantations. It was an experience like none other – completely cut off from the world, with just the two of us and a lot of tea! It was like a place made just for “Chai Around The World”.

A nasty detour forced us to drive 80 kilometers out of our way to reach Masinagudi on our way back. Travelers to Ooty beware – vehicles that are not TN registered are not allowed back on the 36-hairpin bend road to reach Masinagudi. You’ll have to take a very long and very dangerous detour. We almost became roadkill more than once, navigating crazy truck drivers and impatient tractors. After a hasty lunch at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, we arrived back in Masinagudi around five in the evening. Just in time for a scheduled “safari”.

The safari, which was supposed to show us a lot of wildlife, was a major disappointment. The forest department officials were not allowing any vehicles into the wild. We had to cruise along on the roads, hoping to spot a few animals. Apart from a herd of bison and an elephant far away in the distance, we didn’t see anything. Tired and frustrated, we reached our cottage around eight in the night and spent the night lazing around.

All in all, it was a very good trip and I still crave for those moments of absolute silence when all you can hear about you is the sounds of the jungle nibbling away in a corner. The overwhelming darkness, the wonderfully star-filled sky and the early morning haze – these are memories that are indelible.

Bandipur Flatlands

Gopalaswamy Betta: Not A Happy Road Trip!

Bandipur, Travel

We all believe that if we begin the New Year with something it will follow us like karma for the rest of the year.  January is the month where gyms register the highest footfalls and the maximum amount of optimism, adrenalin & sweat.  We too started this year with a road trip in the hope that our trail into 2014 will be full of hikes, treks and travels, both close and afar. Gopalaswamy Betta (betta = hill in Kannada), located in the Chamarajanagar district in the Bandipur National Park is the highest peak in Karnataka at a height of 1450m. We drove 280 kms from Bangalore in the hope of spotting some wildlife & burning a few calories with a trek through the golden flatlands of Bandipur.

But as Henri Frederic Amiel puts it, “Destiny has two ways of crushing us – by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them.” In our case, destiny and a certain blog crushed our first wish for 2014 and fulfilled my wish of creating poetry (of the worst kind).

 Ho! Ho!
What a shitty start to New Years Yo!

We did not dress up for the disco, neither did we jump with joy at midnight
We slept early & woke up at first light.

Drove 500 kms to Gopalaswamy Hill in Bandipur
The closed trekking routes filled us with anger!

So next time you want to take a risk like this.
Talk to a fellow trekker or your New Year’s Day will be a bucket of piss!

Nitin, Mansi & Nikhil

From L to R: Nitin, Mansi, Nikhil

Ok, ok you are either cringing or burying your head in a pillow, if you are in the habit of carrying your pillow everywhere. So I am going to exit and present to you the first guest post on Chai Around The World.  Meet Nitin, my brother-in-law who was dragged into this trip by Nikhil and me. The poor fellow just wanted to sleep and curl up with a book at home but we bestowed on him one of the worst beginnings to a new year ever:

Guest Post. By Nitin Kumar.

It was cold. Not the elements of nature outside but the way they had me sleep on the couch while they themselves slept, spread-eagled, on the bed. The damn weather was cold too. But I took it with a pinch of asafoetida, like the expression goes, what with it being the first day of the New Year and all, because WE WERE GOING ON A ROAD TRIP!

Nikhil, Mansi and I were off to Gopalaswamy Betta, in the family car. It was a tough competition between Coorg, Munnar and Gopalaswamy Betta but the place with the longest name won in the end. Nikhil was moved by a blog he found online which had a post about the place with pretty pictures in it. He convinced us both that GB was the place to be at on the first day of 2014. Not Coorg. Not Munnar. GB. We agreed because, quite honestly, we used to love Nikhil. Yes. Past tense..

The ride to GB was memorable because of the following events:

1) The speed breakers were just nasty. It seemed like the road humps got together, humped each other and popped out bastard speed breakers all over the place. It was real nasty.

2) Mansi had Maddur Vada for the first time and it was delightful to take her to the Kumar boys’ childhood haunt – Maddur Tiffany’s! Oh those glorious, deep fried discs of bliss! It was so nice to watch her nibble on it like a happy squirrel!

3) I drove the car (I normally don’t, so it was a big deal for me) and got shouted at by Nikhil for stalling on those horrible speed-breaker bastards!

4) We discovered a clean, sterile loo for all our loo-ing needs in the middle of nowhere – Columbia Asia, Mysore!


Bandipur Flatlands

Bandipur Flatlands

The journey up to the Betta (Hill) was really beautiful. Every hair-pin curve took us higher and got us better, lovelier views of the fields below. The hill looked like a giant rock that had gathered moss. A thick coat of foliage was wrapped around it and gently tapered down to the fields below. It was a stunning view and like all city dwellers, we were loving the wide open and the low horizon. Our minds felt like caged giants suddenly set free to spread their arms and breathe in deep. The ride up to the Betta, alone, was worth the ride in my books.

Some facts for the fellow traveler:

1) it’s hard to get lost en route. Just follow the road signs and you will be fine

2) The last three kilometers to the foot of the hill, where the check post is, has bad stretches of road, narrow and crumbly. Be careful

3) The check post is a badly organized affair. A member of your party has to get out of the vehicle, walk up to the office, pay the fee and grab the tickets. A toll booth is needed very urgently there.

4) You are given an hour and a half to ‘enjoy’ the Betta up there and be back on the road…very pimp-y behavior.

And when you reach the top, things start falling apart:

The Overflowing Petridish

We felt like we were 3 chubby bacteria in a Petridish witnessing the uncontrolled multiplication of other bacteria. The swarm of tourists kept ballooning out of nowhere. The sheer number of vehicles at the top of the peak made us forget the serenity of the place and forced us to behave like the crazy, space-hungry motorists on the roads of Bangalore – honking at everything that moved and narrowly balancing our vehicles on inches of free space on the road, while trying our best to run down as many people as possible.

The Forbidden Fruit

The beautiful rolling hills and valleys were unfortunately to be admired from afar. This vital bit of information was somehow missed by Nikhil. Mansi does not take kindly to such fools. After giving Nikhil a earful, she ‘rebelled’ against the ‘cruel’, lathi-wielding, adventure-not-allowing guards by crossing over to the ‘forbidden’ zone, albeit a foot, to take a snap. This only infuriated the guard who waved his lathi in the air and whistled away at her. Mansi would give us looks that suggested, “If only I had married a Jat… sigh… he would wrestle the guard and earn the right to enter the forbidden zone. Like Jat men do at tourist spots. Alas, I am stuck here with two idlis.”

We understood Mansi’s disappointment but if there is one thing Nikhil and I know, it’s that one never messes with a pot-bellied, lathi-carrying man-guard! Those bastards are a whole new level of crazy.


Hotel Dasaprakash

Hotel Dasaprakash

The Forbidden Meal

We escaped the betta after spending just 20 minutes of trying to sneak through barricades into the wild. The drive down took us more than an hour, as we were stuck behind a seemingly endless line of buses, cars, trucks and two-wheelers. Frustrated, hungry and hot, we decided to stop at Mysore for lunch. It was 3 in the afternoon and we headed with vengeance towards living another childhood dream at Hotel Dasprakash – a fairly well-known South Indian restaurant. But it was shut after the official lunch timing, We were about an hour too late. Trying really hard to retain our composure, we walked over to the classic Andhra-style restaurant – RRR and were thrown out by the mass of humanity that was feasting there and waiting to feast. By now, we were trudging the dangerous limits of hunger and irritation and hence ended up having a tasteless, rancid meal at a tiny hole-in-the-wall that boasted questionable hygiene.

We finally made it back to Bangalore late in the evening and decided that we still deserve another shot at happiness – cheese! We believe in the adage, “When all else fails, eat cheese.”

We stopped at Hot Oven, a quaint little café in Vijaynagar where we devoured a variety of dishes covered in cheese, with generous dollops of cheese on the side.

Our spirits were up again and we said “Cheese!” for the first time on the first day of 2014.