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Being vegetarians while traveling

Six months of backpacking across 26 countries and we have successfully survived being vegetarians. The truth is, it is not difficult (note: not not easy!) being a vegetarian and you can manage in most of the countries without starving! The biggest problem we see is communicating that you are a vegetarian and it gets especially tough when a new meal needs to be prepared for you separately (which is always not possible)
Some tips that work everywhere when you are a veggie:
1. Have this card printed out and put it in your pocket. Works anywhere, not sure when it will come handy.

no meat
Keep a print-out of this card in our pocket!

2. Again, google translate(offline version – download the package of the required language when you are connected to the internet)  comes to the rescue.

google translate
Google translate to the rescue!

3. Ask the locals who understand English to translate and write it down for you.

no meat in iran
A Farsi friend wrote this for us 🙂

4. Do your research online noting down some of the local dishes that are vegetarian.
5. Stock up on veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds and snacks!

Fruit market in Mardin, Turkey
Fruit market in Mardin, Turkey

We deliberately chose to use the word “not difficult” instead of “easy” because obviously, let’s face it, there are some challenges being a vegetarian!

1. Be prepared to eat the same food in every restaurant. You will miss out on sheer variety and some must-try local dishes. For instance, we had to settle with Falafel for most of our time in Tehran.
2. Communication. In one instance, the guy had clearly understood that we wanted something vegetarian, devoid of any meat. So he gets a lamb curry and removes all the lamb pieces in front of us. Voila, there you go, here’s your vegetarian lamb curry!
3. Very dependent on super markets. Sometimes, restaurant are prohibitively expensive, street food will not have any veggie options and cannot be customized.
4. It’s not always tasty or healthy. You might want to resort to cooking. Check into a hotel/guest house with a kitchen.  If you are couchsurfing, you can always cook meal for your host. And, believe us, it’s fun!

cooking mardin
Cooking in Turkey!

5. The moment we say we are vegetarians, people start putting you under the category of an activists who have voluntarily stopped eating meat because of various good-for-the-world reasons like carbon emissions, inhumane treatment towards animals, global warming etc., but we are not vegetarians because of these reasons. To each his own – We just grew up being vegetarians and cannot shift to being something else now.

 

Surprisingly, we had an amazing time in almost every place! Our taste buds were constantly kept happy and we still recollect those lip-smacking dishes and try them at home! Here’s a teaser for you. 😉

turkish cuisine
Turkish cuisine.

Separate posts on vegetarian food in different countries coming soon. 🙂

Homecoming after a six month trip

In early 2014 we left home with a 12 kg backpack each and with dreams of traveling across the world for six months. We wanted to get a culture shock and experience a nomadic way of life. Like everyone else we thought we were bold to leave the comforts of a stable job and a cozy home to live out of a backpack. Leaving home and loved ones behind, we thought, would be the toughest.

leaving home
Saying goodbye was surprisingly not that tough!

The six months went by so quickly. But let me tell you, they were the best six months of our life so far! 🙂 Life on the road, the excitement of changing places once every third or fourth day, meeting new people, making friends, going to those places which we had only seen in travel magazines was something words cannot express! We did not know where our next meal would come from. We had no solid plans for the next day. Living in the moment and savoring life was what we were doing. 🙂

enjoying life
The carefree life! 🙂

Let us now fast forward to the present. It has been close to one month since we returned home. I clearly remember our flight back to Bangalore from Kolkata. We felt it to be one of the longest flights in the trip. Our minds felt numb and full of mixed feelings. Slowly it dawned upon us that we were going back home for good! All the wonderful times we had in the last few months flashed across my mind and for the first time, I got scared of going back home. I dreaded the feeling of a routine life, 9 to 5 job, and the traffic that was awaiting us.

Little did we realize that coming back home would be a bigger culture shock than going to those far-away lands!

The warm welcome we had at the airport by our parents temporarily pushed aside all our unpleasant feelings. There’s nothing like a hug from your mom to welcome you home, right? We felt good to be with our loved ones again.

family welcome
Meeting the loved ones after six months!

But it did not last long. We soon started feeling strange, as if we could not relate to most of the things that were going on around us. We felt so out-of-place, as though we did not belong there.

out of place
Culture shock – at our own place?!

We also realized that many people were really not interested in what we experienced around the world but were happy to have us back safe. Nothing much had changed in these six months. Of course people had got engaged or married, had babies, bought a new home or car but their life remained pretty much the same.

The everyday chatter and complaints seemed less important and more of a noise to us. The fact that both of us felt the same things kind of assured us that this was normal!

It is only then we realized that it was us who had changed a lot! People around us had not experienced what we had. We had to accept the truth that life on the road had made its mark on us.

Someone has rightly said, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”  

Eventually we found a new house and moved into it, enjoyed home cooked food, got back to our old jobs and are in the process of accepting the routine. I think within a short time we’ll get back into the groove. But we are and will definitely continue to miss being nomads! The uncertainty and excitement, the strange sights, meeting travellers and exploring will be missed thoroughly.

Our minds are filled with new ideas and lessons that travel has taught us. We are sure our lives are not going to be the same again.

travel fun
Travel has changed us for good!

Oh, wait! There’s a long weekend coming up! My feet have started to itch again! 😉

 

What to pack for a long backpacking trip

If there is one thing which you should not ignore when you are planning to backpack for a long time, it is packing.

Efficient packing makes life on the road easier!
Efficient packing makes life on the road easier!

There is tons and loads of advice on what to pack and how to pack depending on where you are going and how long you are going. Here is what we packed for our trip and nearly after four months on the road, this is what we think about it –  we should have packed lighter.

Some ground rules:

  • Pack light. We cannot stress enough, you need to pack light. Believe us, running around to catch a tuk-tuk in Bangkok’s scorching hot & humid weather with your large bag is not fun.
Hitchhiking in Turkey!
Hitchhiking in Turkey!
  • Choose the right backpack. The right fit is one that offers:
    • A size appropriate for your torso length (not your overall height).
    • A comfortably snug grip on your hips.
  • Let go. Think about all the things you need, put them in front of you and discard half of them 🙂 Our home was filled with so much stuff and how could we possibly fit all of that into our bags? Here is the answer – you don’t have to.
  • Choose the right products. We bought most of our stuff in Decathlon, the French sporting goods chain store with stores located in all major cities all over the world. We got ours from Decathlon stores in Whitefield, Bangalore. It is one of our favorite places in Bangalore with a feast to the eyes for travelers and sports enthusiasts. The products here are of good quality and are affordable. In case you are wondering, no, Decathlon doesn’t pay us anything for writing about them here.
Our home is emptied into these backpacks!
Our home is emptied into these backpacks!

Most important documents  –

  • Passport with at least six months validity. Some photocopies of the same.
  • Flight tickets
  • Hotel confirmation vouchers, if booked in advance
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Forex cards/credit cards/debit cards
  • Passport size photographs(at least 10)

We carried two backpacks each.

  • We got a 60 liter backpack and think it is too big now. A 40 liter backpack seems ideal. We got a Forclaz 60 from Decathlon and are quite happy with its utility and quality. We also got a rain cover/poncho like this. Another advantage of this backpack is that it opens from the side instead of the conventional top-loading. This makes it easier to pull out things from it.
Opening from the side adds to the utility of the backpack.
Opening from the side adds to the utility of the backpack.
  • Another day pack for taking out with us when we go out. For this purpose we bought bags by Wildcraft, a Bangalore based company producing quality products. Check here.
  • Always use the backpack at least once before starting on the trip to know if it fits you well.

Vijay’s packing list:

Is this really all that we need for six months??!
Is this really all that we need for six months??!
  • 4 T-shirts (We got these dri-fit T-shirts from Decathlon which are fine after 5 months of continuous usage! Check here)
  • 1 Cotton kurta (It was torn in Mardin, Turkey. Not usable anymore)
  • 1 Pair of jeans
  • 1 Linen pants
  • 3 Shorts
  • 3 Pairs of socks (These blister-free ones are just great! Even after 6-7 km of walking on a daily basis we did not get even one blister! Check here)
  • 6 Under-wear
  • 1 Micro fiber towel (Very useful! Compact, highly absorbent, dries quickly. Check here)
  • 1 Woollen cap (3 weeks into the trip and I lost it in Istanbul,Turkey. Left in a dolmus a.k.a minibus )
  • 1 Foldable hat (lost it after 2.25 months in Plitvice national park, Croatia. It just flew off my head and fell into the valley below me)
  • 1 Regular cap (lost it after 2.5 months in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I simply forgot it somewhere!)
  • 1 Fleece (Gift from a friend)
  • Swimming gear (1 swimming shorts, 1 swimming goggles)
  • Shoes (We would recommend getting good waterproof ones for all weather conditions. Check here)
  • Sandals (A pair of good hiking sandals would be good. Check here) (Lost them on a bus from Ahvaz to Tabriz in Iran, had tied them too loosely to the bag 🙁 )
  • 1 Pair of flip flops
  • 1 Rayban Aviator sunglasses
  • 1 Swiss knife (A very versatile and useful tool. Check here. We kept it in the check-in baggage without any problems)
  • 1 Padlock (with passcode)
  • 1 Rain coat (Lost it in a bus in Vienna!Check here. Later bought a rain poncho in Ljubljana)
  • 1 Multi-purpose neck gaiter (We had bought this in Ladakh earlier. Looks like this)
  • 1 Woolen muffler
  • 1 Bed sheet
  • 1 Belt pouch (Check here. For keeping passport, money and cards. More about it below.)
  • 1 Electronic trimmer
  • 1 Dynamo torch (Check here)
  • 1 Day bag / laptop bag

Gayathri’s packing list :

Living with less! Possible?
Living with less! Possible?
  • 4 T-shirts (Similar dri-fit ones from Decathlon)
  • 1 Micro fiber towel (Same as above)
  • 1 Pair of jeans
  • 2 Cotton pants (These are the harem pants which are baggy, long pants tapered at the ankle. I found them very comfortable which made me buy 2 more during the trip. Check here just to see what I mean)
  • 3 Pairs of socks (Same as above)
  • 6 Pairs of under garments and some sanitary napkins
  • 1 Rain coat (Same as above)
  • 1 Fleece (Check here)
  • 1 Woolen pull-over
  • Swimming gear (1 short, 1 top, 1 swimming goggles)
  • Shoes (I got these from Decathlon which I substituted for both shoes and sandals. I did have problems while walking in water and during rains. Getting water-proof shoes seems ideal)
  • 1 Bed sheet
  • 1 Flip flops
  • 1 Woolen cap
  • 1 Pair of sunglasses
  • 1 Padlock (with pass code)
  • 1 Dynamo torch (Same as above)
  • 1 Day bag

Toiletries – one set for each

  • 1 Tooth paste
  • 1 Tooth  brush
  • 1 Face wash
  • 1 Bottle of shampoo(100 ml)
  • 1 Bottle of body wash
  • 1 Tube of sunscreen lotion
  • 1 Lip balm
  • 10 Soap paper sachets
  • 1 Wet tissue pack
  • 10 Small packs of washing powder
  • 1 Deodorant.
  • 1 Toilet paper roll
  • 1 Nail clipper
  • Ear buds

To geek out:

  • 2 HDDs 500 GB each
  • 1 Battery pack – Anker, 13000 mAh
  • 1 USB drive – Sandisk 16 GB
  • 2 Smart phones – Nokia Lumia 920 with 32 GB internal memory
  • HTC one X+ with 64 GB internal memory and their chargers
  • 1 Kindle – 6″, Wi-Fi, E-ink display
  • iPad mini
  • 1 DSLR – Canon 1000D with 18-55 mm zoom lens and a 50 mm prime lens, battery charger
  • 1 Acer netbook with its charger
  • 2 Travel adapters
  • 1 Wireless mouse
  • 1 Running earphones
  • 1 Bose headphones

Some zip-lock covers can be useful for various purposes too.

Medical kit : A separate post on this awaits.

There are a few indispensable things which made our packing and traveling very easy.

Packing cubes – These are just wonderful! They are travel organizers which can fit all our belongings in an organized and efficient way.

They maximize the space and simplify packing beyond measure. They are available commercially like these. But we used some indigenous ones like below.

We packed our T-shirts and tops in one, pants and shorts in one and undergarments in one.

They made our life so easy! 🙂

Packing cubes - They make packing seem easy!
Packing cubes – They make packing seem easy!

Small sling/belt bag – one each.This is another boon! We keep our passport, money, credit/travel cards, ID cards in this and have this bag around all the time. As long as this bag remains attached to us, we don’t need to worry at all. Of course, don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

The small sling bag - my constant companion
The small sling bag – my constant companion
The most important bag! Can be worn as a belt pouch too!
The most important bag! Can be worn as a belt pouch too!

Swiss Army knife – A very versatile tool that is useful in wide variety of situations

The versatile and sometimes life-saving tool!
The versatile and sometimes life-saving tool!

Micro fiber towels and blister-free socks as mentioned above were very helpful too.

It’s best to have a checklist when you are travelling so that you don’t forget anything. Here’s a downloadable form of the same list.



Hope you find this article useful Let us know what you think!

 

Thermal baths of Budapest

Budapest is one of our favorite cities in Europe. This charming and historical Eastern European city has plenty to offer. It has been rightly called the ‘City of spas’ as it is the home to more thermal baths than any other capital city in the world. The city has around 15 public baths and handful of private spas which are fed by 80 geothermal springs that sit beneath the city, forming the largest thermal water cave system in the world.

What is a  thermal bath?

A thermal bath is a hot or tepid bath used to treat both chronic and acute diseases and to provide relaxation and stress relief. It improves the circulation of blood and lymph in the body which helps in the delivery of nutrients and removal of toxins from various parts of the body. These baths are believed to cure arthritis, rheumatism, skin complaints, lung disorders, digestive problems, etc.

How hot springs work?
How hot springs work?

A hot spring is any natural spring with water temperature above the body temperature (36.7 °C or 98 °F). This water is heated by geothermal heat, i.e., heat from the Earth’s mantle. Because heated water can hold more dissolved solids, warm and especially hot springs also often have a very high mineral content which adds to the medicinal value.

The most popular and oldest thermal bath in Budapest is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. It is also the biggest one in Europe and is supplied by two hot springs – of temperatures 74 °C (165 °F) and 77 °C (171 °F).

Other noteworthy ones are Rudas, Lukács and Gellért and Király baths.

The present account is of Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

The impressive exterior of the 100 year old baths!
The impressive exterior of the 100 year old baths!

There are three outdoor pools, 15 indoor pools and 10 sauna/steam rooms – all with varying temperaturesWe spent a full day here and had a great time hopping from one pool to another. What more? The baths are located in a city park nearby the romantic Vajadhunyad Castle and Heroe’s Square, making a trip to the baths and these sights a full day experience.

The city park and Heroe's square surrounding the baths
The city park and Heroe’s square surrounding the baths

Completed in 1913, the complex is gorgeous and boasts a modern renaissance style that makes visiting worthy just to take in the glorious marble columns, statues and archways.

How to get there?

The yellow metro line stops directly in front of the bath house. The actual name of the stop is Szechenyi, which makes it easy to know when to disembark. It takes roughly ten minutes on the metro from Vorosmarty Ter (Square).

What to carry?

It’s advisable to carry swimsuits, towels, toiletries, flip flops and spare plastic bags to keep the wet clothes. You can also carry some drinks as they are more expensive inside. These are mixed pools with both men and women at the same time.

Price: around $15 / 4100 HUF (Hungarian Forints) for an all day pass. Cash or credit accepted.

How does it work inside?

After paying at the front desk, they will give you what appears to be a watch to put around your wrist. As you proceed to the changing rooms, the attendant will activate your “watch” at the turnstiles, essentially, this is your electronic key for a secure locker to store your belongings. Do not take this off or lose it and remember your locker number! 

Once you change into your swimsuit and store your belongings in the locker you are good to get to the pools!

The outdoor pools for relaxation and fun!
The outdoor pools for relaxation and fun!
The impressive interiors
The impressive interiors

The outer pools are mostly for relaxation and fun. There are 3 of them (1 normal swimming pool, 1 thermal water pool and one with airjets / jacuzzis). Don’t forget to check out the in-built ‘chess boards’ in the pools where elderly Hungarian men play chess!

Elderly locals playing chess!
Elderly locals playing chess!

After enjoying the outdoor baths, it’s time to head back inside and check out the various pools and saunas included in your entry fee. For an additional cost various therapeutic services and massages are offered in the complex. We enjoyed the inner pools the most! There are 15 of them with varying temperatures and it’s total fun to hop from one to another and subject your bodies to a surprise each time! It very relaxing too. The water temperatures range from 20 to 40 Celsius. Don’t forget to get into the number of saunas (there is one at 100 °C too!), after taking a shower, of course, and keep hydrating yourself!

Numerous inner pools at varying temperatures.
Numerous inner pools at varying temperatures.

We spent almost 5-6 hours here and wished we had more time! It was so perfect to soak away our travel stresses! No visit to Budapest is complete without a stop at its famous thermal baths. We totally recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

Our maiden hamam experience

It was a tiring overnight journey from Nevşehir (Cappadocia) to Istanbul. And to be frank, we hadn’t showered for a couple of days! 😉 We were saving it up for the much awaited Turkish Hamam!

So, as soon as we met our host and dost (means friend in Hindi), Hamdi in Istanbul we asked him to take us to a good neighbourhood hamam. He was surprised at this unusual initial request but quickly suggested one of his favorite hamams which he frequently goes to – the Çinili Hamam in Uskudar area of Istanbul.

The simple and authentic neighborhood hamam!
Çinili Hamamı

We checked up the timings on the internet and were all set to go! Wait a minute.. were we really ready for the unusual experience yet?? Not really! We had a lot of doubts on our mind 🙂 We bombarded Hamdi with all of them. He simply smiled, answered some of them and said, ‘Guys! Don’t worry! Just go for it:) ‘ And the only way the doubts got cleared was after the whole experience!

Now, what is a hamam?

A hamam(Turkish bath) is a public steam bath. Hamams were especially beloved in the Ottoman Empire, and they can be found in many parts of the Middle East today. The hamam is far from just a place to get clean. It is also a place of ritual bathing, and a chance for social interaction for the bathers, especially in earlier days. And the most famous and authentic ones are found in Turkey, notably Istanbul.

How do you choose a hamam?

Well, it depends on a lot of factors, the important ones being your budget and location. The hamam experience can cost you anywhere between 10-200 USD! Almost eveywhere neighbourhood in Istanbul has its own hamam where the locals go regularly. Since we were on a low budget backpacking trip, we went to a simple but authentic neighbourhood hamam in Uskudar, Istanbul called Çinili Hamam (http://www.cinilihamam.com/).

Simple and authentic neighborhood hamam
Simple and authentic neighborhood hamam

It may not be listed in any of the travel guides or blogs but it dates back to 1640 and is surely authentic!! And if you want to experience what the locals do rather than the touristy places then we recommend this place! Or if you have a friend in Istanbul just ask him/her for other lesser-known neighbourhood hamams.

Some of the really famous and supposedly good hamams in Istanbul are – Cağaloğlu Hamam and Çemberlitaş Hamam. They can be quite pricy though.

The first visit to a hamam can be a daunting experience! Be prepared for some awkward moments and unusual experiences. As a general rule, hamams are segregated by gender. Men and women either attend at different hours or they enter separate baths. Most of the hamams are quite beautiful. Some are ancient, providing a fascinating view into the history of Middle Eastern art and architecture.

Here’s an overview of what happens in a traditional hamam –

First, you talk to the receptionist to decide the level of treatment you want. It could be –

Self-service: Obviously the cheapest option where you bathe yourself. It may cost anywhere between 30-100 Turkish Lira. We would not recommend it.

Traditional style: This is what gives you the real hamam experience where an attendant will scrub and wash your body! Costs between 40-200 TL. We paid 40 TL.

Other additional services: Oil massage, aromatherapy, head massage, etc. Not necessary.

Upon entering the hamam, you will be taken to a private cubicle where you are required to undress. Your attendant will give you a cotton towel along with a key to your cubicle.

The private cubicles where you can dress/undress
The private cubicles where you can dress/undress

Here, undress, could mean many things. Men usually completely strip down and wear nothing underneath the bath-wrap. Women on the other hand mostly keep on wearing their underwear ( but often not their bra) underneath the bath-wrap. The choice is yours.

The attendants may not speak much English so communicating what you would like – a bath and massage, or just bath — may be a challenge. Take the help of your local friend or try using Google translate. Also try to bring your own soap, towel or shampoo. Some baths do offer them, but they are expensive and not high quality.

Initially you’re taken to a warm marble steam room with a raised stone platform (goebektas) in the center, surrounded by bathing alcoves with basins around the perimeter of the room where you can splash yourself with cold water.

The central heated marble stone and the surrounding accloves
The central heated marble stone and the surrounding acloves

The attendant now leaves you for a while. This is the time you need to relax and loosen up and sweat a lot. You can look around and appreciate the architecture of the hamam too!

The impressive interiors!
The impressive interiors!

After 15 minutes of sitting in the warm room  the masseur now makes his/her entry. The masseur asks you to lie on the central raised stone platform and soaks your body with warm water and gives you a dry massage with a kese or a rough mitt. You’re scrubbed cleaner than you ever have been. All those dead layers of skin are gone!

Time to get rid of that dirt and dead skin!
Time to get rid of that dirt and dead skin!

Then comes the soap. The masseur will work up a copious amount of lather with an enormous sponge and squeeze it all over you and clean you yet again. He/she even washes your hair with shampoo. This is followed by a rinsing session with cold water. After the cold plunge and massage, you move into a cooling room to neutralize your body temperatures before venturing into the outside world.

This is a time to socialize with others and strike some conversations! So don’t be in a hurry. Hang around and soak up the experience. Carry some water or cold drinks as you will be dehydrated during the whole process!

You can take a nap in the cubicle or socialize with others!
You can take a nap in the cubicle or socialize with others!

After your rest, it is time to head back to the cubicle to get dressed. You may want to relax and take a nap and then head out.

That’s it!! Our first hamam experience which was initially filled with some apprehension turned out to be a great cleansing experience! We made sure we had no more plans for that day. We grabbed some food and went home straight for the most wonderful nap!!

Yeah, we were now hamam birds! Our friend Hamdi used this word to describe us the next morning when we felt so fresh and light! 🙂

 

So the next time you are in Turkey or Istanbul make sure you go to a hamam for the most refreshing and unique experience!! Ditch those apprehensions and simply go for it! 🙂

Some important tips from our experience:

  •  Try visiting a neighborhood hamam for the authentic local experience
  •  Always go for the traditional style for the first time where the masseur scrubs and washes your body.
  •  Carry your own soap, shampoo, other toiletries and towel
  •  Carry extra pair of undergarments.
  •  Take along some water and drinks to hydrate yourself
  •  Don’t be in a hurry. Set aside at least 3-4 hours for the whole experience
  •  Don’t plan any other activity for the day. Just go back home/to your room take the most wonderful nap of your life!

What do you think about hamam? Have you had your share of hamam experience? If so, tell us about it!

Being Indian

In these two months of traveling across the Middle East and Eastern Europe we have been extremely lucky to have had amazing experiences! A common thing we have noticed is that most of the people love Indians! And there is no reason why they should not, isn’t it? We are a peace loving and friendly nation, aren’t we? 🙂 A lot of people wish us while we are walking on the street, they like to talk to us, ask interesting questions (see here for a detailed list of questions) and even offer to help us.

Of course, we like to talk about India and tell our hosts or their friends more about our life in India and try to clear any doubts or misconceptions they may have about our nation. We were extremely fortunate to have had opportunities to talk about India to a wider audience in a foreign land! 🙂

It all started in Turkey, in a place called Batman(No, it’s not a nickname ;)). We were taking a leisurely walk on the street after dinner with our host, Şefik, when he suddenly asked us if we were interested in giving a talk on India in a live radio program that night!! We were sure he was kidding! Realizing this he asked us again 🙂 And we replied in unison ‘Yes!! Most definitely!!’ The next ten minutes saw us rush to a radio station! It was the most popular one in that region – Batman Super 90.0 FM.

We met the owner of the radio channel, Mr. Hasan Oluk, who was earlier a movie artist and is now successfully running the radio channel since almost 15 years! He was very happy to receive guests from India, one of his favourite countries.

After a cup of Turkish chai we were ushered into the room where the program would be conducted. There was a radio jockey, our friend Şefik who would translate from English to Kurdish(the native language in Eastern Turkey) and us!

And for the next one hour we were live! Talking about India, answering their queries, be it about our Ganges river, political situation, Taj Mahal, Indira Gandhi, Bollywood movies, etc., We tried our best to answer their questions :). We even played a Hindi song for the audience at the end! Guess which one? It was ‘Ye jo des hai tera’ from A.R. Rehman’s  Swades 🙂

We were thrilled, to say the least! :)
We were thrilled, to say the least! 🙂

It was an unforgettable experience for us 🙂 Being local celebrities in Eastern Turkey for a night 😉

Şefik teaches theology in a public school in Batman. He invited us to his school the next day where we met the other teachers, the head officer in-charge of the school. Most importantly, the kids! Yeah, we went to Şefik’s class and spent some time with the kids. We even took their attendance. We spoke to them about India for a short while. These are some of the naughtiest kids we have met so far!

The naughty kids of Batman :)
The naughty kids of Batman 🙂

After almost a month and a half while we were searching for hosts in and around Krakow, Poland we were extremely lucky to get a positive response from a wonderful family – Jessica and Grzeg Kucia and their adorable daughters invited us to their home in Wieliczka, a village famous for its salt mines.

Jess, Grzeg and their adorable girls :)
Jess, Grzeg and their adorable girls 🙂

And Jessica suggested that we go to their daughter, Pola’s class to give a talk on India! We were excited, to say the least.

The public school in Wieliczka village where we were invited
The public school in Wieliczka village where we were invited

We thoroughly enjoyed talking to the kids (8-9 year olds). We even prepared a short presentation about India with lot of pictures which the kids liked a lot 🙂 These kids were expecting us and had come prepared with questions! Some really interesting ones are –

‘Which is the largest fruit in India?’

We were really amused and answered watermelon. It was pumpkin in Poland 😉

‘Do you recycle things in India?’

Very mature question! We think they were learning about recycling. As much as we would like to, it is not happening much in India.

‘Do you have sushi in India?’

Yeah, we do get it in some Japanese restaurants but it doesn’t belong to us 🙂

The curious  and inquisitive kids with their equally enthusiastic teacher :)
The curious and inquisitive kids with their equally enthusiastic teacher 🙂

And guess what? We even showed them a video of the song, “Bum bum bole’ from Aamir Khan’s ‘Taare Zameen Par’ 🙂 and made them dance to it!! It was such fun!!

We were really touched when they presented us some handicraft as a token of their love in the end:)

Handicrafts made by kids representing traditional Polish costumes :)
Handicrafts made by kids representing traditional Polish costumes 🙂
It was great fun! :)
It was great fun! 🙂
They even asked us about our blog! :)
They even asked us about our blog! 🙂

A couple of weeks later we were in Ljubljana, Slovenia where we met a very friendly host, Darja, who was a teacher in a public school. This time we suggested if we could go to her school to talk to the kids. She was very excited at this proposal and quickly made arrangements! 🙂 Luckily the kids were studying about Asia in their geography class and were surprised by our unexpected visit.

Our impromptu visit was a sweet surprise for the students :)
Our impromptu visit was a sweet surprise for the students 🙂

We told them many interesting facts about India. They were astonished especially about the number of  languages spoken in India!

We were delighted to have even the headmaster of the school sit in the class to listen to us 😉 He was a very nice and highly educated person, holding a PhD in computer science!

Another important part of our travel has been FOOD!! We are so proud of our Indian cuisine and have filled almost all kitchens in most of the countries with our aromatic curries and dishes 🙂 But let’s reserve FOOD for another separate blog post 😉

As you can see it’s been great so far! We are so happy we are doing this – traveling around the world, to great places, meeting great people, learning so much and spreading something so unique to us – Indianness! 🙂

Questions people ask us

It’s been almost two months since we left home. We have met loads of interesting people. Some of them have asked us interesting questions about India and about our travel. Here are some of the most common questions we encountered.

  • Why are you traveling?Because we love traveling! We want to see and experience the world. We met an Indian guy in Budapest for business who even asked us – What do you mean by backpacking? Have you gone mad to quit your jobs and travel around the world, wasting time and money? He even suggested us to go back home.

    Into the wild @ Vitosha mountains, Bulgaria
    Into the wild @ Vitosha mountains, Bulgaria
  • Do you know how to dance?Yes, all Indians are expected to dance! It’s mandatory according to some. So, the next time we are off on a trip like this (oh! How we wish this one doesn’t end!), we are definitely going to learn some typical Bollywood moves 😉 Not that we did not try some this time 😉
Dancing to Hookah Bar in Shiraz, Iran ;)
Dancing to Hookah Bar in Shiraz, Iran 😉

 

  • Why is cow regarded as a holy animal in India? If you don’t eat cow, then what do you eat!?
    Well, how about some veggies?

    Yummy Indian veg food which doesn't remind you of absence of meat :)
    Yummy Indian veg food which doesn’t remind you of absence of meat 🙂
  • Is it true that woman always proposes first to the man before wedding?
    What! Now, where did you get that from? Women in India will definitely be amused 😉
  • How do arranged marriages exist even in 21st century? Please explain the process 🙂
    Haha! Yeah, they are still common and we have adapted to the system. But of course, the trend is changing these days. The process? Well, the family shortlists few guys/girls who meet each other a couple of times and make their decision! Yes, it’s simple and it works 🙂
  • Why is river Ganges considered holy?
    While we are not completely sure, we think the scriptures have made it holy. Sadly, it’s one of the most polluted rivers in India! 🙁
  • Is it true that the emperor who built Taj Mahal, also ordered to chop off the hands of the architect? That’s so cruel!
    Well, we are not sure. If true, we do agree it was cruel.
  • How can you be a vegetarian all your life? Where do you get energy from?
    Try it! 😉 It’s not so tough. Especially when you live in a country where almost ~50% of the population is vegetarian and more than half of the menu in most of the restaurants is veg! Still don’t believe it? Invite us to your home and we’ll blow your minds away by making yummy veg food 😉
  • How many languages are there in India?
    Total – 1652!! Not kidding at all! Check Wikipedia if you want. Official and regional – 24! Yeah, it’s crazy, we know!
  • What’s your national language?
    Nope, sorry, we don’t have a national language! Hindi is  one of the many official languages and is widely spoken.
  • Is it all true what they show in Balika Vadhu?
    What!  How do you know about Balika vadhu, of all things! Guess what? Balika vadhu is a popular soap opera in Bulgaria! We were shocked to know that it has a big fan following there. We even watched an episode of it along with our friendly hosts and answered their doubts 🙂
  • Is it safe for people to travel to India?Especially female travelers, after what they show in the media about rapes, etc?
    Hmm, it’s a matter of shame even for us, to come across such incidents! 🙁  But if you take necessary precautions, we think we are a safe country to travel to.What do you think of the questions? Have you been asked any interesting questions about India during your travels? 😉

Why is Couchsurfing amazing?

Guess what?

It’s been more than a month since we left home. And the amount of money we have spent on accommodation is zero! Yes, zero. And what we have experienced and learnt about the local people, culture, cuisine and traditions is immense!

Can you imagine a way in which we can live with locals in their homes? Sleep in their place, exchange our culture, experience their cuisine, give them a taste of our own cuisine and live with them like their friends?

Well, that’s exactly what Couchsurfing offers us!

The world is smaller than you think!
The world is smaller than you think!

It’s a great project and we are so indebted to it.

So, what is this couchsurfing(CS) all about??

The couch surfing concept involves members signing up on what is essentially a hospitality exchange site ( https://www.couchsurfing.org ) and by process of interview and elimination, finding free accommodation on a stranger’s couch or spare room while traveling.

Our first couch in Safura’s house in Tehran, Iran 🙂 These couches are extensible and can be turned into comfortable beds while sleeping! 🙂

Couchsurfing.com – the social website that makes connecting travelers with places to crash easier — now has more than three million members in 246 countries around the world!

It’s a boon for budget travelers like us! It also allows us to get an up close and personal look at different cultures, families, and households, seeing how they really live, far from the madding crowd of high tourist traffic and tours.

Want to know how it works? The website gives you a detailed picture of the whole concept. You can find it here – https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/how-it-works

We have met great people so far through Couchsurfing and we are sure we will continue doing so! We have made some friends for life and are sure of meeting them again, maybe in India, at our home or maybe somewhere else in the world. For we have come to realize that the whole world is one single family.

Our amazing hosts in Iran - Safura (our first host in Tehran), Ali Salamat & Ali Salimian(Isfahan) and Elyar (Shiraz)
Our amazing hosts in Iran – Safura (our first host in Tehran), Ali Salamat & Ali Salimian(Isfahan) and Elyar (Shiraz)

 

Our hosts in Turkey :) Fatin & Reme(Van), Sirin(Batman), Hasan(Mardin)
Our hosts in Turkey 🙂 Fatin & Reme(Van), Sirin(Batman), Hasan(Mardin)

 

Hamdi - Our best friend in Istanbul :)
Hamdi – Our best friend in Istanbul 🙂

 

Our hosts in Eastern Europe(so far) - Kostadin and his grandma(Plovdiv, Bulgaria), Slavi, Maria, Petya and Yanev(Sofia, Bulgaria), Nina & Mihai(Brasov, Romania), Betty and Andras(Budapest, Hungary)
Our hosts in Eastern Europe so far (from L to R) – Kostadin and his grandma(Plovdiv, Bulgaria), Slavi, Maria, Petya and Yanev(Sofia, Bulgaria), Betty and Andras(Budapest, Hungary) and Nina & Mihai(Brasov, Romania)

Not only did we stay with the locals but we also met their friends and family and had lots of great conversations and fun! For instance, luckily for us it was the New Year (Nowruz) time in Iran and people were free and in a good spirit 🙂 We went on picnics (Sizdahbedar) in Iran with some families and had really great times.

We had a great time with our host - Mohsen Parsa and his big family in Ahvaz, Iran.
We had a great time with our host – Mohsen Parsa and his big family in Ahvaz, Iran.

We also went to events organised by the local couchsurfers.  For instance, the day we arrived in Isfahan, our host Ali took us to a hike and breakfast event in Mount Sofeh where we got to meet lot of CSers. We later met them for a coffee and even went on a bike ride with one of them.

We went to a CS hike and breakfast meet up the Mount Sofeh in Isfahan, Iran
We went to a CS hike and breakfast meet up the Mount Sofeh in Isfahan, Iran

We also met an interesting person by name Pedram in Tehran through CS. He is very passionate about history and heritage of Iran and took us on a walking tour to some very interesting places. We had a great time with him and would recommend him to everybody who visits Tehran!

Walking tour with Pedram in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran. By the way that's the dressing style of the Qajar dynasty ;)
Walking tour with Pedram in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran. By the way, that’s the dressing style of the Qajar dynasty 😉

Sometimes the host maybe having several guests at the same time. It’s again a nice opportunity to meet other travelers from far and wide and exchange travel stories with each other! The same happened in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in our host Kostadin’s home. We met this very friendly Taiwanese-Japanese couple and a cyclist Evan from Serbia!

We met so many travelers in our host's places - Azar, Mohsen and Ali (Shiraz), Herman, Povalina and Peter (Uchisar, Kapadokya), Shiling, Susumu and Evan(Plovdiv)
We met so many travelers in our host’s places – Azar, Mohsen and Ali (Shiraz), Herman, Povalina and Peter (Uchisar, Kapadokya), Shiling, Susumu and Evan(Plovdiv)

We have had a first hand experience of the local cuisine at all places. Many a times our hosts have cooked delicious meals for us. We in turn have cooked Indian food for many of our hosts 🙂 Palak dal, lemon rice, baingan ka bartha, mushroom masala, wheat flour dosa and tomato chutney are pretty famous outside of India now you see 😉

Our hosts have thoroughly enjoyed the Indian cuisine :)
Our hosts have thoroughly enjoyed the Indian cuisine 🙂

We also had some very interesting experiences with some hosts!

Our host, Sefik, took us to his school where he teaches religious ethics to children. We had a fun time with the kids :)
Our host, Sefik, took us to his school where he teaches religious ethics to children. We had a fun time with the kids 🙂
Sefik also took us to the most famous radio station in Batman where we were live for an hour talking about India!
Sefik also took us to the most famous radio station in Batman where we were live for an hour talking about India!

Who knows? Without those insider tips on what to see and what not to do, and that really money-saving advice on sights and activities, we would have gotten lost in the horde of tourists.

And the feeling of coming back to a home, and not a hotel/hostel after a weary day of traveling is something money can’t buy!

Have you ever tried Couchsurfing while traveling?  What do you think of the idea? If you haven’t tried we sincerely recommend you to go for it!

We are backpacking! Let us travel together!

OK! Here’s a shocker for all of you!

We are not going to work from tomorrow! We do not know where our next meal is going to come from for the next few months! 🙂

Yeah! We have now taken sabbatical from our respective jobs for a good six months! We are about to leave our home to embark upon a backpacking trip across the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South East Asia.

Want to know how we came up with this crazy and awesome idea?? Read on.

In the summer of 2013, to make our first anniversary more memorable, we embarked upon a road trip to the magical land of Ladakh. Little did we know that it would change our lives forever!

Me and VJ were having breakfast at this place called ‘Wonderland Restaurant and Coffee House’ on Changspa road in Leh. We had just bid adieu to one of our new-found friends from Switzerland whom we had met during our journey from Manali to Leh. That was one amazing journey which we can never forget. We met so many travellers from far and wide who had left the comfort of their homes to travel the world!

Wonderland

Being passionate about travel, we had this thought lingering in our minds, which finally came out while we were chilling at the coffee-house. I voiced my thoughts out to him asking if we can take a break from our routine lives and go travelling for few months. My happiness knew no bounds when he said that he too feels like doing something similar!
There! That was when the seed of long-term travel was sown in our minds! After all, magic had to happen in Wonderland Restaurant 🙂

We pursued this thought consistently for almost nine months. Saving up all the money we could, fulfilling our family commitments, deciding on the places that we could travel to, planning the exit from our respective jobs and motivating each other through out!

So, finally, we have now taken sabbatical from our respective jobs for a good six months! We are about to leave our home to embark upon a backpacking trip across the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South East Asia.

Backpackers

  • We want to experience long-term travel as a way of life for at least a few months.
  • We value experiences over sights—participating in ordinary daily activities and connecting with a place through its people, food and culture, delving deeper into one destination rather than rushing through many.
  • We want to learn to live with less and out of a backpack.
  • We want to come out of our comfort zone and enjoy the moment.
  • We believe that travel is something that makes one not only a better human being, but a way cooler one too 🙂

We know for many this post may come as a shocker! You are friends with two crazy people you see 😉

So, friends, wish us good luck with our voyage as we go away from shor!

Any motivation, tips and feedback are most welcome! We are waiting to hear from you!

Gayathri and Vijay.