The City Girl goes Off the Grid

In November, A and I realized that the end of 2017 was fast approaching and we hadn’t gone on a trip this year (for those of you who know us, no, I don’t mean just the 2 of us. The plan also included the two best FB friends, V and AM). This wasn’t for the lack of trying given how we almost went to Acres Wild in October. Sadly, that attempt was thwarted by my involvement in a product launch. It was time to come up with a last minute getaway, and A managed to wrangle us a spot at a farm stay where we could spend the Christmas long weekend off the grid (literally).

That’s how we found ourselves on a 10-hour road trip to Castle Rock (near Goa) on Saturday morning. Originally, we didn’t plan to divulge the name or location of this place, because we think that some hidden gems should stay hidden. However, while we were stuck in the usual traffic jam exiting Bangalore, I discovered that Saturdays edition of The Hindu already featured the place, so it’s no longer our “secret”. And just in case the non-Hindu readers missed it, V proudly shared it on FB for everyone to see. Everyone knows, but let me remind you now, we got there first.

About 2 hours into the aforementioned jam, V claimed he could already smell the ocean air. Except, we hadn’t even hit Tumkur yet, and this was quite the achievement given that we left from our apartment on Tumkur Road. Also, we weren’t ever going to smell the ocean air on this trip given that we weren’t going into Goa, a fact he had conveniently overlooked. This, from the guy who accused A and me of pulling a bait and switch and pitching Dandeli as Goa when he first looked the place up on a map. Clearly, positive visualization of seas you aren’t going to see can get you through the madness that is the masses trying to exit Bangalore on a long weekend. That, and A’s peppy playlist that veered from Ed Sheeran to 90’s Bollywood in a matter of seconds, and kept us guessing at what would come next.

Once we reached Castle Rock, and tried to find our way into the forest to the farm, we were stopped by a forest official. He wanted to know why we were headed into the forest, and hadn’t heard the name ‘Off the Grid’. Once we mentioned John and Sylvia (the owners), he was happy to let us in, provided we showed him our ID proof. AM pulled out his Aadhar card, proving yet again, that one needs Aadhar for everything, including going off the grid. Remember folks, you have to be ON the grid to go OFF the grid.

Note: When they say you should get there while it’s still light out, they are not kiddofing. There isn’t a chance in hell you will find this place if you’re hunting in the dark, and you do not want to be lost in a forest that’s part of the Tiger Reserve with no cell network. It’s called ‘Off the Grid’ for a reason. You lose cellular connectivity about 30 minutes before you get there. Be warned, all you city folks! You also cannot drive right up to the farm, unless you have an SUV. There’s a clearing where you park, and honk to let them know you’re there.

We spent our first night in the stream facing cabin rooms, and about 10 minutes into the stay, I had my first run-in with nature.


Wall art and pretty mirrors! (Credit: AM)

Like all city girls, I thought nothing of going to the bathroom, and confidently flushing once I’d done my business. And then I saw that I’d unleashed a tsunami-level tidal wave upon two frogs who were hiding under the toilet seat and were now scrambling to climb out. I got over my initial surprise at being confronted by them and wondered how to get rid of them. I proceeded to spray them with a jet of water from the faucet, completely forgetting that frogs are amphibians and therefore, attempting to drown them did not constitute a plan of any sort. I gave up and went out for chai, where I told the others about my run-in with nature.

AM, the only one with true trekking experience in our little group used this teachable moment to remind the rest of us lost souls that we were in the jungle and we should do thorough checks that included the frog check I’d already missed, as well as shaking out blankets etc. to ensure we didn’t scare any other of the local fauna. Something this city girl desperately who for needed, given that it was easy for me to forget just how deep in the jungle we were, given the nice rooms (with included WC’s!). I think I scared the frogs, though, because we did not see them again for the duration of our stay.

That night, we had our first taste of the awesome spread that Off the Grid produces out of wood fired ovens and a tandoor (spoiler: their pizzas are to die for!).


One of the many mouth watering meals! (Credit: V)

Also, I forgot AM’s warning, and later that night, I managed to scare a lizard that was cozily napping in the corner of our bed by proceeding to jump in without shaking off the comforter. The lizard scuttled away in shock, and V realized that this city girl doesn’t freak out at the sight of lizards (always good for your spouse to learn something new after so many years). After the lizard incident, V decided to take over checking duties because he believes in co-existence with other species and didn’t want me to scare away all the fauna.

The next morning, we moved to their rooftop rooms, which V had been eyeing because they were the best spot to catch the early morning sun. The weather swung from about 32 degrees in the daytime to about 18 degrees at night, so the sunlight was important. The rooftop rooms are awesome, especially if, like us, you travel as a group of 4. You get the terrace all to yourself, and you can spend the entire day reading and drinking chai. Until 6.30PM, that is. At that time, you bring out the festive edition of Amrut (or whatever you choose to drink). The only break we took from lazing about on the rooftop (and trying to grab the only swing hammock there), was to head out to the waterfall that’s a 5 minute walk from this property.

A and I opted for the easy land-based route, but AM and V felt the need to walk upwards through the stream to reach the waterfall.


Scenic route through the stream (Credit: AM)

In both cases, we were disappointed to realize that the waterfall was a very popular destination on Christmas Eve. Gone were our hopes to be the only ones at the waterfall, as we spotted new groups showing up at five-minute intervals. We weren’t the only ones disappointed by the crowds. A group of local boys had stopped by with plans to cook lunch over a bonfire and go for a swim later. When we told them we planned to leave and come back the next day, they seemed positively delighted that we’d leave and thereby reduce the crowd by 4 people.


Our private pool (Credit: AM)

Since our reason to go off the grid was to try and avoid crowds, we crossed our fingers for luck and headed off to the waterfall again the next day. It was second time lucky, and we had the waterfall all to ourselves! While A, AM and I lazed about, V tried his best to catch some fish with a net he created using some twigs, and his vest. He didn’t succeed, but he didn’t miss out on the fish because it was part of the lunch menu. So in the spirit of eating food as close to the source as possible, he had fried fish by a stream.

For those who don’t believe in doing nothing, like we do, Off the Grid offers treks and bike rides. If Sylvia is around, you could also take a pottery class, something I wanted to do but couldn’t because she wasn’t there. We skipped the treks and bike rides, and spent our time going from hammock to hammock to read (and sometimes doodle, or take many photos of sunbirds).


Sunbird Posing (Credit: AM)

When the hammocks got boring, we moved to the tree-bridge over the stream for a very Calvin and Hobbes like setting.


“It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy…” (Credit: V)

For those of you wondering how I’m writing an entire blogpost on doing nothing, let me tell you that it took a lot of effort for A and me to pull off a plan that wasn’t a plan. We got over our OCD to do things by planning our meals/snacks for the roadtrip (an entire Excel spreadsheet was devoted to this). I also took great measure to ensure I wouldn’t be stranded without a book. I had 2 Kindles (with different accounts and therefore different books), and 1 paperback. Needless to say, I still ended up stealing a paperback from V’s stash. I also had my art supplies. So yes, it takes a lot of planning to do nothing.

V was the only one who veered away from the doing nothing agenda and decided to explore the area. He went on a walk where he was first attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes, and then squawked at by some angry roosters. As a true believer of co-existence, he wasn’t too concerned about these, but then he heard what may have been a jaguar/leopard (or maybe just his stomach growling), and he beat a hasty retreat to join us in our attempt at doing nothing, or as AM put it, our attempt to be “actively passive”.

So, that’s how we put our time off the grid to good use. Lots of reading, lounging around in various scenic jungle spots, and inhaling our way through every meal (plus snacks. We demolished many packets of chips, rum cake, cookies and more in-between the super sized meals).

And, the biggest bonus was that on the way back, Google Maps took us through the scenic route. This meant about 15-20 minutes of wandering through some village and wondering if Google knew what it was doing, but also meant we also drove through ghats, and fields (and missed 2 tolls!). Also, we didn’t get stuck in another jam while re-entering Bangalore so we got to keep our doing nothing glow for another evening.

If you decide to go Off the Grid, these are my top five city-girl rules to surviving the jungle:

  1. Ask your trekking friends what checks you need to do to ensure you don’t disturb the fauna. You do NOT want to be the person who squashed a lizard by jumping on it. If you don’t have trekking friends, I will introduce you to mine.
  2. There are no plug points in the rooms so don’t expect to charge that phone you aren’t using. If you take a Kindle (or two), remember to charge it before you get there.
  3. You will fall asleep on the hammocks. If you insist on wearing sunglasses, you may burn your nose (and your spouse may compare you to a certain deity). Be aware.
  4. Fresh air  and fresh produce will increase your appetite. We all ate about double (ok, maybe triple!) our usual at every meal. And the dismal number on my Fitbit can tell you that there was really no activity that substantiated this appetite increase.
  5. In the off chance that you believe in drinking chai in lota-sized mugs (like me and my friends), you may need to temper your quantity expectations because they cannot keep up with your chai standards. I suggest you decide who is making your homecoming chai right now.

Lastly, and most importantly, you will see the stars you only ever saw in picture-books (if you’re a city girl, like me). You’ll see enough stars to remind you of how insignificant you are in the scheme of things. If you’re really lucky, you will spot the milky way which will drive the point home even further. All those things you’re worrying your head over? None of them matters. You are a speck. As a city girl who spends all her time with her nose in a book, I know nothing about jungles, birds, flowers or fauna of any kind. But I will tell you this. Every time this city girl looks up into the inky-black sky shimmering with stars, she thinks about giving up all that city-nonsense and moving to the jungle.


PS: I know that somewhere in the jungles of the Tiger Reserve, there are some frogs and a lizard who are concerned about this last thought of mine. 

PS – I also spotted an Amazon box in one of the sheds at Off the Grid, so I’m hoping that if Amazon can find Off the Grid, then one can have the stars AND consumerism?


What I Learnt in Tanzania

There I was, in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, trying to find the gate to our flight to Tanzania while simultaneously scoping out bathrooms. I spotted one, and told my fellow companions (my husband V, my cousin NK, his wife RT, and their friends J & K) that I’d be out in a second. “No, let’s find one closer to the gate”, RT said, a woman on a mission to get to the gate in the minimal time left on our layover. So we trudged on, and finally found our gate. As luck would have it, there was a bathroom right there. It said ‘Gents’ so I confidently walked to the one right next to it, expecting that it would be the Women’s bathroom. Except, this one said ‘Gents’ too. I thought that maybe my sleep deprived eyesight was tricking me. Only to hear K say, “We have to go back – these are both men’s bathrooms!”

And that’s how on Day Zero of our Africa Trip, I learnt my very first lesson – When you see a bathroom, just GO! 



Dazzle – you heard it here first!

On Day 1 of our trip, we drove from Arusha (where we spent our first night post landing in Tanzania) to Tarangire Safari Lodge. Along the way, we went on our very first game drive through the Tarangire National Park. While the drive until the Park entrance was largely uneventful (highways all around the world look largely the same), we saw a dazzle of zebras as soon as we entered the park, thereby raising the bar for the overall trip right there (incase you’re wondering, I also did NOT know the collective noun for Zebras up until I Googled it). Before we could process what we’d seen, the Zebras began crossing the road, thereby bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Zebra Crossing’. V provided entertainment by responding to NK’s question, “How do Zebras recognize their mate?”. In case you’re wondering (and knowing his PJ skills you may wonder why you did), the answer is – “They can’t get confused. It’s all black or white for them!”

We also spotted wildebeest grazing, and got very excited thinking that they were all still in Tanzania and we would get to see the migration, which in our heads looked EXACTLY like what we’d seen on NatGeo specials. Our guide gently explained that most of them had already migrated, and these were just the lazy ones that continued to hang about on this end, and were likely not migrating this year.


So NOT planning to migrate this year.

In true Type A city-dweller fashion, I decided to re-visit the objective of the trip and work toward spotting the Big 5 instead. My quest began with spotting a memory of Elephants (language nerd alert – loving these collective nouns as much as I loved seeing the animals!). Check one for Day One!

We got to the Tarangire Safari Lodge in the evening and discovered that we were glamping in some fantastic tents. There’s no real fencing of the property so animals come right up to the tents! Their outdoor eating area also had a great view of the forest, and we got to see the Milky Way at night. I must admit, that the uncluttered view of the stars beat any city skyline hands down.


Tip: While at Tarangire Safari Lodge, try out the local Mango Wine and Honey Wine. They’re both quite awesome.


Our second day was another game drive at Tarangire. In addition to everything we’d seen the day before, we also saw elephants at lunch time. This was the closest that we’d seen them, and watching them eat was quite a relaxing activity.


Lunch and exercise, in one fluid move!

We also spotted some Wild Buffaloes, even though they were way off in the distance. We decided to count this as No. 2 on the Big 5 list, as well as consider this a ‘migration’ because they were crossing the river. After all, who knew if we would see the lazy Wildebeest migrate given how green everything was in Tarangire? As we discussed the technicalities of what we saw, we were also lucky enough to spot a Leopard (OMG! No 3!). Like the ones in India, this one was shy, and on a distant tree, so we had to be satisfied with blurry pics (and the hope that V’s photoshop skills could somehow make the yellow blob look more Leopard-like).

The highlight of the day (other than the Leopard), was spotting everyone’s favorite Disney character, Pumba, and his friends, leading to a ‘Hakuna Matata’ moment. Only to realize later that night, that we didn’t even know the REAL Hakuna Matata song. This was one of my favorite discoveries on this trip, and lesson 2: Disney does not always have the best version of the song. . For what it’s worth, this is a birthday song. On my next birthday, I’m requesting this instead of ‘Happy Birthday’.

Overall, the Tarangire game drives were fantastic, and we were quite convinced we’d seen a LOT. We even wondered if there was going to be anything new to see on the next couple of days.

Tip: Do NOT wear dark blue or black, if you do not want to be hounded by the dreaded Tsetse fly (bonus PJ – “Tsetse, tsetse, tsetse mujhe log bole!”). I made sure not to pack anything in these colors, only to forget that V’s sneakers are black with blue laces. Basically, he was wearing a Tsetse attraction flag on his feet!


On Day 3, we awoke to discover waterbucks peering at us through the thicket near our tent. I thought this was the pinnacle of what we were going to see, and wondered what we’d do over the next few days. That day, we drove from Tarangire to Ngorongoro, with a game drive through the caldera, home to the highest density of wildlife in Africa. I’d been hoping to spot the Black Rhino over here. Yes, that’s Type A crazy city girl for you – I took the “Rhino” requirement off the Big 5 list, and raised it to “almost extinct Black Rhino of which there are only 21 left in Ngorongoro.”


Ngorongoro is beautiful, with plains framed by mountains. As we drove down into the crater I realized that even if we saw no animals, the natural beauty of the landscape alone was worth the trip here. But, Tanzania doesn’t disppoint when it comes to animals – we saw our very first glimpse of lions amidst great excitement! V was also thrilled to see hyenas, jackals and wolves up close.

We got a better look at the buffaloes up close, looking all judgy at us and leading to our philosophical question of the trip – “What do the animals think of while they stand around all day?”.


Whatchu’ lookin’ at? HUH??

There were also vultures, kites and eagles perched on the trees here, in addition the the ostriches and other birds ranging from the Starling to Grey Crested Crane, and our favorite the Secretary Bird.


By this point in the trip, V was wondering where the African food he was promised went. RTs friends who’d visited Kenya a year ago mentioned that they got local food (and meat), and we’d thought this would be the same. However, all our lunch boxes offered us were sandwiches, chips, juice, mini pizzas, and enough fruit and peanuts to start a business selling them! V tried convincing our guide to take us to a local African restaurant enroute to Ngorongoro, but he was told that he should ask the chef at the hotel. That night, at Sopa Lodges, V asks to see the chef. The chef shows up, and he’s very clearly of Indian-origin. As V begins to ask his question, I can’t help but point out that V Singh was speaking to B Singh. A little more questioning revealed that B Singh came from Rishikesh, and moved to Tanzania about 5 years ago. He could name African dishes, but claimed they’d all take time to make, and instead tried to subtly convince us to request dal khichdi for our lunchboxes the next day. Thus ended V’s quest to eat local African food.

Lesson 4 – There may not be a Malayali on the moon, but there’s definitely a Singh in Ngorongoro!


Since this was our last day at Ngorongoro, I was all set to see the Black Rhino, and it seemed like our guide was, too. We stalked a black blob in the horizon for hours before it got into a reasonable zoom range and we could spot a horn and confirm that it was indeed a rhino, and not a hippo that had accidentally wandered away from the ‘Hippo Pool’. Unfortunately, these rhinos have been poached so brutally that they don’t come anywhere near the paths (except during mating season) because their survival instinct drives them to stay away from humans. So, while we managed to see the Big 5, I have no real proof of the fifth. For those of you who say pictures or it didn’t happen, that distant blurry, grey-ish blob, is indeed a Black Rhino.


Check your eyesight – can you spot the Rhino?

Also, we saw two of them, because we spotted the second later in the day. OK, maybe it was the same one twice. Nevertheless, we spotted the Big 5, with 3 days to go!

We also saw many more hyenas – they’ve apparently evolved enough to scare away all the leopards in the area, as well as a cheetah in the distance. V insisted that our best view of a cheetah will come when we are closer to the river, because “Cheetah bhi peeta hai” (if I have to listen to this on a daily basis, you may as well hear some of these once in a while!).


Do you know how to say “giraffe” correctly?

So far, our best views have been of the buffaloes, giraffe, elephants, zebras and wildebeest. We’ve also spent some time trying to learn how to say ‘zebra’ (more like see-bra) and wildebeest (‘wild beast’ NOT ‘wilderbeast’) correctly.



Lesson 5 – When in doubt, pronounce it like the locals do. It doesn’t matter what the British vs. American pronunciation is, if the animal is African. 



Just in case we felt we’d seen everything, we spotted a dead buffalo as we drove off from the crater toward Serengeti. “Oh my God! That poor buffalo’s head has been cleanly chopped off!”, I said. Only to be informed that I’d seen the wrong end, so I’d basically been looking for a head up the buffalo’s ass. Clearly, 4 days in the jungle haven’t really gotten rid of my city slicker ignorance.


Yes. He IS the Lion from those Shampoo commercials…

As we drove toward Central Serengeti, the grass got yellower and shorter. Everyone was concerned that no animal would show up in plain sight in these plains when suddenly we spotted a pair of lions by a signboard in plain view! We were thrilled to get such a good view of the lions, without realizing that we were going to see way more by the end of the day. Our grand total when we headed to the Wild Frontiers Central Serengeti camp was 34, including a 19 strong pride of lions that were taking an afternoon nap on the side of the road. In addition to the predators, we also saw all the usual suspects, none of whom seemed particularly concerned by the predators in the vicinity. There were more lazy wildebeest still lazing around, even though the yellow grass offered them slim pickings.

That night, V finally managed to get some African food. Our dinner included Ugali, a rice like preparation made with maize. No signs of any weird meats – looks like we will have to go back to South East Asia later this year, to update his chart. Meanwhile, for all the vegetarians reading this, I can assure you that you will get enough and more food to eat on a safari trip.

Lesson 6: While looking for a head, make sure you’re looking in the right direction.


As we began driving from Central Serengeti toward the North, the grass got taller and greener. This didn’t stop us from seeing lions – we saw the same pride of 19 having breakfast that morning, as well as some others. We also managed to see a pair of cheetahs (likely a parent-child pair) that crossed the road in front of our jeep so they could go catch some gazelle. Unfortunately, the cheetah gave up chase early on so we didn’t get to see the complete hunt.


Striking a pose before it’s time to chase the gazelle.

Our disappointment was soon forgotten, however, as we were able to spot a Leopard on a tree, and this time we were able to drive up to it. The Serengeti truly lived up to its reputation of allowing you to see all predators during the dry season!


Nap time!

As we drove by the Mara river, we  saw crocodiles, and spotted wildebeest that appeared to be interested in crossing over from Kenya to Tanzania. However, on that particular day they didn’t summon the courage to cross because one wildebeest had died in its attempt. Not to mention, that there were quite a few crocs who appeared to be awaiting the crossing as eagerly as  we were! This is when the guide decided to finally tell me that wildebeest cross over back and forth multiple times in this area, so we could still see the migration, so to speak. Given that the plains looked similar on both sides, this was clearly a case of wildebeest believing that the grass was greener on the other side!


On that last day, we truly believed that we’d seen all there was to see, especially since our personal bar had been raised every day. We were no longer impressed by the zebras, warthogs, giraffes, or even the birds. They seemed like everyday creatures, as common as pigeons on my balcony in Bangalore.

The Serengeti had saved it’s best for our last day though! We started out by stalking the wildebeest by the river in the hopes that we’d see a crossing. Until lunchtime, all we saw was one very brave wildebeest that tried really hard to escape the jaws of death as a giant crocodile attempted to drag it under. The animal put up a really good fight, and I was rooting for it. Until the guide informed us that even if it escaped it would likely bleed to death on land, at which point I decided that Nature was willing the crocodile to have a good meal that day.


The video is better than the photo.

Post lunch though, we spotted about 3000 wildebeest all set to cross the river. Once the first animal jumped in, the hordes followed and we watched them cross the river in full force. However, there were quite a few wildebeest who went back and forth in confusion, owing to which some friends were left on the opposite side. The friends and family looked for each other on the opposite bank and even went as far as the edge of the banks to cross over and bring their friends with them. However, they seemed to wary of being the first to jump. All it takes is one brave wildebeest to set off the move, otherwise they wave a sad goodbye at the bank and abandon their friends – until the next crossing. It’s interesting to watch how these disoriented and confused group of animals suddenly rally and go forth in a single direction.

Lesson 7: There’s a very real reason why the collective noun for wildebeest is ‘confusion’ (I did not make this up!)


On our last day, we took a bush flight back from the Serengeti to Arusha. The bush flight was an interesting experience, and offered us some nice aerial views over the Serengeti. I quite liked it, until NK told us how many risks the pilot took, and how many errors he made. Thankfully, he chose to tell us these after we were in Bombay, and not while we were on our way back.

Lesson 8: (For all pilots) The guy sitting behind you on that bush flight may just be another pilot who trains pilots.


I went to Tanzania expecting to see wildlife. What I didn’t expect was just how beautiful and varied the Tanzanian landscapes would be. I went to Serengeti to see the animals, but instead I felt the silences of the forest at night, I saw the blues of the daytime sky, and the silvers of the stars in the night sky. I’ve always been a total city girl, but something about these forests brought this city girl a few steps closer to being one of those “nature types”. And that’s probably the biggest lesson I learnt on this trip.

Until next time, Africa!

Tip: If you’re planning a Safari, I highly recommend BaseCamp Tanzania. And ask for Josef – he plans to retire soon, so go while he’s still around!

Of cycling, trekking and misplaced enthusiasm…

It all began with an innocuous packing list that started with “1. Cycling shorts”. I figured that hard-core cyclists like wearing specific shorts to prove their street cred, and ignored it. But after two more reminders with this item at the top of a must-have packing list for the cycling trip I’d signed myself and V up for, I realized it was time to Google this. Even after discovering that these shorts contained padding, I continued to stay in denial, and unilaterally decided that they couldn’t possibly make much of a difference. Finally, I mustered up courage to ask A (who couldn’t believe I signed up for this trip in the first place), and she’s like “yeah, you need them. That’s how AM does his long cycling trips. Your butt will hurt if you don’t have the padding.” That was the moment I knew I was in over my head. I’d signed up for this trip to Wayanad primarily because I’d get to see the place, and I thought maybe some exercise wouldn’t hurt. I should’ve known it wasn’t that simple, given my history with trekking, if not cycling.

With misgivings (and a brand new pair of cycling shorts), I showed up at the bus terminus on Friday night, wondering what I’d gotten us into. We reached Wayanad, and for a while I forgot about my worries once I saw where we were staying. I even optimistically took a pro-biker picture.


My optimistic bike shot

Post the photo clicking, I suddenly realized that all we got before we began the ride at 6AM was a cup of tea. I was essentially cycling about 10kms just to get to breakfast! But I had Plan B – the option of riding in the support vehicle once this exercise business got to be too much. We set off on our ride when I suddenly realized that Plan B had disappeared in a cloud of dust with the pack of cyclists ahead, leaving V & me to puff and pant while P helped us out at the back of the pack. I should’ve quit then, but well, I needed my breakfast.

We rode on, and on, and on, while I wondered when we were reaching those lovely flat tea plantations I’d conjured in my head. So far, we were just headed upwards on some hilly terrain that was way more exercise than I’d bargained for. I mentioned something about flat trails when P burst out laughing and asked me what tea plantations were found in the plains. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t just exercise, this was a cardio punishment that involved steep uphill riding. I was told that the downhills are worth the uphill pain, but let me be the first to tell you that a free fall downhill flow felt more like a rollercoaster gone wrong than a reward of any sort. I somehow muddled through to breakfast (finally!) and inhaled the food. At this point, I was done, but I didn’t want to give up that easily (I blame the food and the mountain air for impacting my rational thought process).



Getting high on the mountain air to forget the lack of breakfast

So I persevered, and pushed my bike up through the bad roads and steep climbs. Just when we could see the last stretch of our return up ahead, D was enticed by a local at a tea shop, and our plans changed. We were going to take a new path that would show up a part of the Meenmutti waterfalls. Oh and by the way, this was a route the support vehicle couldn’t take so there went my Plan B yet again (worst Plan B ever!).

We arrived at the water falls, and I was THRILLED to discover a swing by the river and promptly settled on it. I was contemplating if  I could get some reading done (yes, yes, I took a book along on a bike ride), when someone asked the pertinent question of how we were to get to our resort, given that we could see it on the opposite side. Turns out that we were supposedly going to haul our bikes across the river and cross it. Um, OK then. I’d almost resigned myself to living on that swing when enthusiastic V set up a process where he & D did most of the heavy lifting to get the bikes across. Reason #1000 that I married right! All that remained was for klutzy me to feel my way across the smooth river stones and somehow crossover without falling flat on my face, and thankfully this was one of those days when I pulled it off.


V keeps me company while I push my bike instead of riding it.

If you thought this was the 50KM ride I signed up for, you’d be mistaken. This was about 25KM. I still had the evening ride to get through. I started off by blocking space for myself in the support vehicle for the after-dark portion of the ride. Turns out I couldn’t even get that far. After a punishing uphill stretch of about 2KM, I quit wimg_9730ithin the first 5KM of the ride and checked out the scenery from the confines of the car (the way God intended man to enjoy these things!). I also doubled up as the photographer and took some of these after-dark photos, for those of you who are reading this and thinking, “this sounds awesome, what’s she complaining about?”

The next day, we had 2 treks. As some of you may know, I don’t do treks. The incentive for the “walk” in the morning was breakfast. It was fairly simple, probably because I’d recalibrated my expectations post the first day. We had breakfast by a lake, and while others ran around trying to spot birds and enjoy the scenery, I did what I do best when confronted by a nice peaceful space – I read (with my back to the lake, because who needs to see the angry bull stare at you).


The walk/trek to the lake, with very few uphill climbs!

The day was fairly light in that we got quite a bit of time to relax at the super awesome heritage bungalow we were at, so I also got in a Sunday nap. Then came the second trek, to the top of Neelimala peak.

As soon as we got to the start point, we were accosted by folks trying to sell us the option of going up on a jeep. Tempting though it was, I used my rusty Malayalam skills to pack them off so we could begin the upward trek. I was suffering my way through some treacherous uphill (at the back as usual), and was just about beginning to enjoy the views. I was ALMOST deciding I liked (ok, fine, tolerated) this climb when suddenly a forest dept official materialized to say we were late and we couldn’t go up. We tried arguing that half our group was already ahead, but he began grumbling. The tourism guide (who we’d paid) then began to have a conversation with the ranger and they promptly proceeded to argue for the next 15+ minutes. With all hope of peace gone, I soldiered on, wondering why I was doing this anyway. Finally we reached a point super close to the peak and the forest ranger decided that he was going to draw his imaginary Lakshman Rekha at this point, even though we could see the rest of our group. I was pretty mad by then, and I told him that I was fine to stay where I was provided he didn’t say anything more. All I wanted was the silence. He began complaining almost immediately so I stalked off to a point where I couldn’t hear him anymore.

A few minutes later, he’d let us go through. So we hurried ahead, saw the views from the peak, got some cursory inputs from the tourist guide, took the mandatory photos (I didn’t take any because it wasn’t worth the loss of mental peace on the ascent), and began our descent. This time though I made sure I was well ahead of everyone so I could get that elusive quiet that the argument had destroyed on my way up. And that’s when I realized, that silence is the key to trekking. It gives you time to just be, and you actually feel good (of course this was downhill, and it had been two days of inhaling mountain air so maybe I was just delirious and mistook it for happiness!).

At the end of it all, though, I’m still the city girl, who needs the city air. I’d rather get my mountain air as instant gratification by inhaling it through the windows of a 4-wheel vehicle. Huffing and puffing in the air does not have the same kick. I will probably still go on these trips with Pedal in Tandem, because of the awesome locations, stays and food. Most importantly, I can threaten D into letting me do most of it from a car! Also, I need some exercise and even if all I do is push a bike up a hill, Apple Health tells me that’s the equivalent of the 81 floors I’m NEVER climbing otherwise.

If you’re one of those who likes to cycle, trek and all that (*shudder*), please contact Pedal in Tandem – they’ll find you awesome locations to get your weird endorphin high every month. If you’re someone who just likes traveling, you should still sign up, the #protip is to be sure to block rides in the support vehicle upfront.

As for me, next time, I’ll get into the jeep instead of getting on the cycle so they don’t have the opportunity to strategically ensure I get the exercise!

PS – anyone who tells you the padding on the cycling shorts saves you from an aching butt is a liar. Also, lycra combined with sweat will give you a rash. Whoever thought it was a good idea to reduce the padding on the cycle seat and compensate it with padding on lycra shorts was clearly onto trying the printer + ink business model in the cycling industry. 

Food Trippin’ through Bangkok

As some people would know, the husband (V), is busy eating his way through the world. He even has a chart a la a second grade Science textbook of the Animal Kingdom that organizes all the species he’s managed to consume thus far. It’s therefore not terribly surprising he wanted to go to Bangkok for his birthday, with the sole objective of adding to this chart. I’ve been to Bangkok before, and done the touristy stuff like the Buddha temples, Ayuthaya, cruising down the Chao Phraya and more. If you’re looking to read about those, this blogpost isn’t it. If you’re interested in knowing about eating your way through the streets of Bangkok (and eating weird food), you should keep reading. For those with sensitive stomachs, consider yourself warned before you read this!

Day 1 – Khao-ing at Khao San 

We landed super early in the morning (cheap ticket alert), and spent 2 hours waiting for the visa on arrival. For anyone who decides to go to Bangkok because of the visa on arrival, I strongly recommend getting it in advance because the disorganized queue is no fun. We had about an hour to kill before checking in to our AirBNB, and so we chose to go to a mall that the owners recommended. This was a local mall in Sukhumvit, clearly not a tourist hangout – in order to get some bubble tea, we had to wait till the iPad on the table played the ad for bubble tea and point.

Once we’d checked in, and cleaned up, we headed out to our first stop – Khao San Road. We started our food explorations at the street vendors near Soi Rambuttri and sampled our way through Pad Thai and rice with two kinds of curry. We walked down the length of the Soi and picked from carts that looked most interesting.



V considered buying a scorpion on a stick, but skipped it because the 200Baht price was too expensive (yes, he knows how much insects on a stick should cost). Given how muggy it was, we decided to sample some local beer at Khao San road and then began the hunt for the insect cart (top of V’s agenda).


I recommend Chang for those who like lighter beers.

We found a cart almost as soon as we started looking, and she created a mixed box of insects (grasshoppers, silk worms, bamboo worms, beetles, crickets, waterbugs, frogs) for 200Baht. She also sold him a centipede for 100 baht, a spider for 200 baht and a snake for 500 baht; and threw in a discount for such a top-end customer (AND we weren’t charged 10baht for a photo of the cart).

V’s Verdict: Unfortunately, all insects tasted the same, and of the overused oil they’d been fried in. Of course each had its own texture, so V might be able to blind taste and identify them next time (or so he claims). V’s tip – buy insects from a wholesale market and fry them yourself. Overall, we recommend eating at the street stalls at Soi Rambuttri. We also ate at one of the restaurants at Khao San, but the food was nowhere near as good.

Day 2 – Khlong Tooey Wet Market

We planned to wake up super early and head to Khlong Tooey wet market, the largest wholesale market in the region. We overslept, but still chose to visit the market. We took a direct train from the Phra Rang 9 MRT station to Khlong Tooey. It took us some wandering around on the roads before we found the market, though. At Khlong Tooey, we found every possible species of fruit, vegetable and meat in an infinite maze of shops and alleys. Basically in the absence of a zoo or botanical garden, this market can be visited.

The market explorations started with what sounded like squid in banana leaf (per the vendor’s sign language), but was likely some other kind of fish in banana leaf (per V’s expert opinion).


Can you identify the fish?

The highlight, however, was finding a lady selling ant-eggs, which was one of the reasons why V wanted to visit this market. He believes he has amazing luck with finding food, because the market was ginormous and we only spent a couple of hours, yet he was able to find what he wanted. He bought about 100g of ant eggs as well as a 100g combo of ants and wasps for 100 baht. The transaction was conducted almost entirely in sign language, and pointing at calculators and weighing scales. When we started, we thought she was selling a kilo of ant eggs for 5 Baht. This turned out to have been a kilo for 50o Baht, so clearly some sort of translation app would have been beneficial! And these aren’t the tiny ants you find scurrying about aimlessly in our homes or yards, these are big-ass ants, of the size of wasps, and I’m sure they would be roaming around with serious business out there in the wild.

While we were heading out from this section (that also had chicken and other meats that I was trying to avoid looking at), V happened to find yet another delicacy that comes from the villages of the area – rats. I’d like to think he didn’t buy any because I couldn’t stand the thought of walking around with one and then cooking it. But actually, I guess he didn’t buy it because he couldn’t have possibly cut, cooked and cleaned it in the AirBnb. So that’s one weird food that remains off the list, thanks to me.


From Khlong Tooey, we headed to do some regular site-seeing because I couldn’t possibly let V leave Bangkok without seeing ANY Buddhas. I highly recommend the directions in this post to make your way to Wat Pho and then Wat Arun, like we did. Between the two temples, we had more bubble tea, and a very special dish of Thailand – the Boat Noodles – as always, presented in an especially deep bowl as it was traditionally a dish sold and had on the wobbling boats by the boatmen. In addition to seeing the Golden Buddha, and climbing up Wat Arun, V was able to sample some street side squid. I really liked how the street vendors presented the food – it was MasterChef level plating, complete with the flower.


Once we were done with the site-seeing portion of the day, we moved on to Chinatown, in search of Birds’ Nest Soup. If you Google Chinatown, there are many restaurants recommended to try out this dish, and we chose to head to Hua Seng Hong. For those who haven’t been part of a quizzing circuit, let me remind you that birds’ nest soup is a delicacy which gets its semi-sweet taste from the birds’ saliva used to make the nest.

While we were hunting through restaurant recommendations, I read about a street vendor who made awesome toast, but it was really hard to locate the guy. Until, I spotted a group of teenagers eating it. I couldn’t help but ask where they’d bought it, and I was given directions (and also a look of ‘doesn’t the crazy lady have a map?’) to the toast guy. This toast is so popular, there’s a huge line of people on the sidewalk just waiting to be served. They have a set of chits with numbers on them, so one needs to enter their name + order and drop it into a bucket. The servers pick these up and call out the number when the order is ready. We tried some toast with a local jaggery like paste. If, like me, you’re a mere spectator to the weird food eating, I highly recommend the toast to accompany your explorations. I also managed to pick up some Green Tea KitKat Icecream (verdict: weird, but yummy) at the 7-11 before we headed back.


At home, V finally got to cook the ant-eggs he’d bought. I also did him the favor of squishing (“pre-cracking”) the eggs as a result of carrying them in my bag all day (I had a book in the bag that I was speed reading, because I’d found it at the AirBnb and wanted to finish it before we left). He stir fried the eggs in butter, and added some soy sauce for flavor.

V’s Verdict: “The most tasty egg bhurji ever!” As a bonus, there were some wasps sized ants that got cooked in with the eggs, for added protein, flavor and crunchiness. The ant eggs had an inherent lemony taste, which he says comes from mango leaves that are a part of the ant’s diet.

Day 3 – Feeling Fishy at the Floating Market

Bangkok has many floating markets, which are large tourist attractions. Our research pointed us toward Taling Chan Floating Market which isn’t touristy, but is frequented by locals. So that’s where we headed. V thought he was being super prepared and had a Google maps shot of the destination, with Thai directions that he shared with the cab driver. However, it turned out that the words “market” on a Saturday meant only one thing to the cab driver who clearly did not know a word of English (and definitely didn’t read Thai) – Chatuchak Market, the giant flea market that tourists flock to in droves. We planned to go there, but only after we’d eaten at Taling Chan. So we were forced to get off at Chatuchak and find another cab that actually knew where to take us.

When we first got to Taling Chan, we were surprised to see that there were no boats. Just a bunch of stalls on a dock. We thought that we were so delayed that we’d missed the floating stalls. We were standing on the dock, when we noticed boats with vendors further ahead. We walked on to discover the actual floating market – clearly Taling Chan floating market has led to this dock that calls itself ‘Wat Taling Chan market’ for unsuspecting tourists who aren’t quite sure where they want to go.

The actual market had a bunch of street stalls before you head onto a giant boat with different stalls. Each stall buys produce and fish from a boat by the side – there’s everything from variations of the papaya salad, to different varieties of fish, mussels and other sea food. They also had variations of Thai Iced Tea to go with the food. And for dessert, there’s the famous Mango + Sticky Rice combination, to make the most of being in Bangkok during mango season.


We opted for a grilled fish and a plate of shellfish, both extremely tasty. Once we’d stuffed ourselves at Taling Chan, we headed back to follow the tourist path and explore Chatuchak Market.


While I busied myself buying random things that I will never end up using, V managed to find squid eggs at the food stalls near the homeware section of the market. We also had still more bubble tea, and a strawberry cooler while we roamed around in the heat. The highlight of Chatuchak for me, though, was the amazing foot massage at a stall near the apparel section of the market.

V’s Verdict: “Foods taste best in their natural place of occurrence. What’s better than buying fish from someone sitting on a boat? Chatuchak is a flea market with food options too, so neither were the expectations, nor was the experience high on the food dimension”. He is happy that he had a new species’ eggs and is now planning to make a separate egg chart. He claims he has had eggs of enough different kinds to start one.

So that’s 3 days of weird eating (and a LOT of bubble tea drinking) at Bangkok. If you’re interested in seeing V’s chart, let me know in the comments and I’ll share where he’s at in his quest to eat his way around the world. And if you’d like to know more about planning a trip to Bangkok, I can help with that, too!


Weekend Getaways from Delhi

Now that everyone’s done with the long weekend, here’s a way to plan for the next long weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve been to any of these places, given that I haven’t been in Delhi since 2012,but, I would still recommend each of these places (I am willing to bet they’re as awesome now, as they were a few years ago). So if you’re lost for ideas for your next long weekend, try some of thes –

1. Two Chimneys, Gethia – This has to be one of my favorite places from the region. It’s a longish drive from Gurgaon, about 10 hours but it’s totally worth it. The drive may be quicker now than it was a few years ago, because at the time there was a TON of roadwork going on. I highly recommend the Oak Room, which is where me and my friends stayed. Two Chimneys has an amazing library, and tons of games and is a perfect place to just chill out and do nothing (my favorite kind of long weekend). You will especially enjoy lounging around doing nothing if you choose to drive down – it helps you recover from the lack of roads. I also highly recommend the grape jelly they serve for breakfast (and pretty much everything else they cook, really). At night, remember to go up on the roof to get a beautiful view of the valley. With the stars above, and flickering lights below, it’s a beauty!

2. Writer’s Hill, Nahan – A friend suggested this place for one of our trips, and I was sold the minute I saw their room’s were named after books (shows amazingly good taste!). I was totally bowled over when I got there, and walked into ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’ – a beautiful yellow room with a bookshelf, and a reproduction of Ravi Varma’s ‘Lady in the Moonlight’, one of my favorite paintings. There’s not much to do in Nahan, but Writer’s Hill offers a bunch of board games (we played Monopoly all day long). There’s also the river Renuka nearby, and one can attempt a fishing expedition. Yet another one of those chill and do nothing places.

3. Suryavilas, Simla – This is a little different from my usual homestay type place recommendation. I got to go there because a friend of a friend was giving away a free trip. It’s just a little away from Simla, and is a beautiful property. Very luxurious, with great views.

4. Glasshouse on the Ganges – This was on my list of places to visit, and though I haven’t been there myself, I have heard enough about it from friends to know that it’s fantastic. They have rooms that open out right onto the river. I also hear that the food there is amazing! And of course, when in Rishikesh, there’s no way you can miss out on the rafting.

5. Raju’s Guesthouse, Tirthan Valley – Yet another one of those places on my list that I didn’t get to, despite my best efforts. I highly suggest Googling the place and looking for the reviews. It involves a sort of boat-cum-rope expedition to get to, that sounds highly interesting. And if you do get there, please please leave me a comment to tell me more. Hopefully, I will get there someday!

6. Chokhi Dani, Jaipur – I LOVE driving the Gurgaon – Jaipur route. It is one of the best highway routes I’ve driven on in India. Chokhi Dani is an awesome place to get an ‘authentic’ experience of sorts. They have hut-style rooms and they have a mela that happens every day (with camels, ferris wheels et all). During peak season it’s pretty expensive, but if you think you can deal with some heat, go in August, when it’s pretty affordable. While in Chokhi Dani, you should spend most of your time on the premises just soaking in the experience there. If you would prefer to stay closer to the city, and also during the peak period, I suggest Hotel Amer View which has a great view of Amber fort.

So that’s my list of quick getaway places for the next long weekend, for all those of you in the NCR. Feel free to let me know of more such hidden gems, if you’ve got any recommendations!

There’s more to Turkey than Istanbul…

Everytime I hear someone mention that they’re going to Turkey, I feel compelled to tell them to go beyond Istanbul. I have written multiple emails / FB messages listing out the top things to see and do in Turkey, so I think it’s time to write a blogpost that I can refer to, instead. So, here’s what you do if you can spend more than a week in Turkey.

1. Istanbul – this is a no-brainer. But remember that there’s more to Istanbul than the obvious suspects like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. There’s more.

2. Ephesus – if you are a fan of history, this has to be on your list. And please, remember to go see the one remaining column of the Temple of Diana at Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. (Pro tip – stay at Nazar Hotel. The owner used to own a travel agency in Istanbul and knows a LOT!) Also make sure you go on the trip to Serinje this little village nearby – they have the most amazing fruit wine.

3. Pamukkale – you may be wondering what places to pick, and which ones to drop when you plan your trip. Pamukkale can NOT be missed. Spend a few hours there (during the day time), but you absolutely must see the travertines (just Google this, and you will know what I’m talking about). I’ve seen pictures, and I can assure you the reality beats every photo hollow. I am not a natural beauty type person AT ALL (as anyone who knows me even a teeny bit can tell you), but this is still top on my list of places you must visit before you die. While you are there, remember to eat at Mustafa. The food was good, but what really got me was how the owner described the food – “My wife she make everything. She is the best cook I have known.” I also recommend staying at Kervansaray.

4. Antalya – there are many beaches in Turkey (including Fethiye which is known to be a party place). We chose to visit Antalya because of how our travel was planned. The Mediterranean sea is gorgeous, and I would definitely suggest breaking your Turkish journey with a beach visit amidst all the sight-seeing!

5. Cappadocia – the very first issue of Lonely Planet India featured an image of hot air baloons flying over the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, and that was when I knew I just HAD to go there. The hot air baloon experience is one more of those things that is even better in reality than it is in the most perfectly Photoshopped image. I also recommend the city tour of Cappadocia that allows you to explore the natural landscape. Make sure that you stay at a cave hotel while you are in Cappadocia. There are many options ranging from the super fancy to the more affordable Hills Cave hotel. When you make your reservation, ask them to also arrange the hot air balooning for you.

And, if your curious about how to get to each of these places, this is what I recommend:
Fly into Istanbul –> Fly to Izmir (near Ephesus) –> take a bus tour to Pamukkale (ask Nazar Hotel about this) –> take a bus to Antalya –> take an overnight bus to Cappadocia –> fly to Istanbul.
I loved the public transportation in Turkey, and I will highly recommend it!

There are many more places to see in Turkey that I didn’t get to, but I think this is a pretty solid itinerary (it took us 12 days). Here’s hoping you see more of Turkey than just Istanbul!

Crowdfunded Travel?

The latest rage on Facebook is this website thats collecting email IDs for a beta test of what they claim will be a crowd-funded travel portal. A bunch of my friends have been sharing this link and ooh-ing over it. I, for one, just cannot understand why on God’s earth anybody would be willing to pay for someone else’s travel, even if it is an inspirational trip of a lifetime.

The argument that the same rationale that applies for crowdfunding a movie, or contributing on Wikipedia does not hold good, to my mind atleast. If I fund a part of a crowd-funded movie, I eventually get to watch the creative output and enjoy it. The same goes for Wikipedia, where I get to read on sujects I don’t know of (I don’t want to get into the depths of Wikipedia’s contribution mechanism because that will send me off on a whole other rant).

But if I fund a part of your travel, I get to be inspired by your, um photos? Given that research has shown that the biggest source of unhappiness out of Facebook is the envy caused by travel photos, does this mean that we are now paying to make ourselves unhappier? I am totally on board with the idea that someone should pay for my travel (hey, free vacation!), but do I really want to pay for someone else to see the Northern Lights (I’m picking this example cos a friend went recently and it was the most inspiring trip I’ve seen pictures of) and share a beautiful set of pictures, when all it does is remind me that I cannot go there right now because I’m stuck at school, or work or whatever? I don’t know, something here just doesn’t add up, for me.

I guess I’ll register and see how they take this product forward, and then decide whether or not I believe this behavioral intervention of sorts works.

PS – I discovered the reason for virality. The minute you give them your email ID to be a beta tester, they claim they will give you $50 toward your first trip if you get atleast 3 more people to join. This gets more and more interesting, given that you are essentially advocating an idea that gives you a delayed monetary benefit of sorts. Now the marketer in me is intrigued.

For those who don’t yet know this, I’m an info geek, who enjoys thinking about products, design and behavioral economics.