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Stranger #12 The gentleman who lives in the cave house

We made our way to the mystical village of Kandovan in the northwest of Iran. It was a short taxi ride away from Tabriz. We were completely in awe with the unique village – it looked like one big termite colony! Houses carved inside volcanic rocks were so peculiar.

As we were walking in the street, he approached us with a smile and greeting – ‘Salaam.’ He told us that he lived in one of the houses and offered to take us there if we were interested. We readily agreed.

‘I was born here and have lived all my life in this house. I learnt to speak English from my friend who lives in Tehran. Life here is quite simple. We have long periods of winter during which the entire village is covered with snow!

My children study in the school here. I want them to go to the city and have a better life.’

Meet this friendly stranger from Kandovan, Iran who owns a grocery store and gave us a lovely tour of the village. We even bought some juicy apricots from him 🙂

kandovan Here is a picture of the queer little village of Kandovan –

kandovan

Photo of the week #18 MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

 

Did you know that Singapore is ranked the greenest city in Asia?

This small city-country is truly a Garden City and is slowing inching towards being a City in a Garden. With careful planning, Singapore has been able to increase its green cover to 46.5%. The lush green cover and warm tropical climate make Singapore a haven for rich biodiversity despite the small land mass.

MacRitchie Reservoir Park is one of the several parks in Singapore and a popular spot for nature lovers and exercise enthusiasts. The TreeTop Walk (TTW) shown in the above photo is the highlight of several long hiking routes in this park which brings us through different stages of mature secondary forest. It also plays an important role in forest canopy research.

Photo of the week #16 Prambanan, Indonesia

Prambanan

Prambanan is a collection of massive Hindu temples (candi) built by the Mataram Kingdom, rulers of central Java and defeaters of the Sailendra Dynasty. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a masterpiece of the Hindu culture in the 10th century. 

Prambanan temple has three main temples in the primary yard, namely Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva temples. Those three temples are symbols of Trimurti in Hindu belief. 

In the wake of the May 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake, some parts of Prambanan sustained significant damage.

Photo of the week #15 Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An

 

Hội An, also Faifoo, is a city of Central Vietnam. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its  Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port. 

The name Hội An literally translates to a “peaceful meeting place”. At sunset most of the people head to Bach Dang dock to take a peaceful and scenic cruise in one of the local boats along the Thu Bon river.

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!

 

Photo of the week #14 Preah Khan, Angkor

angkor

 

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia and the world’s largest religious monument.

The structures one sees at Angkor today, more than 100 stone temples in all, are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings – palaces, public buildings, and houses – were built of wood and have long since decayed and disappeared.

Most of the photographs depict the popular temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom. The above photograph, taken in Preah Khan, one of the less popular temples which is left unrestored shows numerous rumbling stones surrounded by dense forest which is the actual picture in most of the temples in Angkor. Just a depiction of nature over powering and covering the grand history of the past.

 

 

Photo of the week #13 Luang Prabang

luang

Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city. Set at the confluence of two rivers(Mekong and Nam Khan) that almost surround the town, and beneath a temple-topped hill, Luang Prabang is a wonderful patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of European architecture; reminders of when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine.

It is one of those small cities with atmospheric personalities and is perhaps the most charming city in the whole of South East Asia.

This picture taken from across the street near a temple depicts the most famous ‘Alms giving ceremony’ where the monks at dawn (6.00 AM) collect alms of rice from kneeling villagers and tourists. It is advised to strongly consider only watching this old tradition from a distance instead of using it as a tourist attraction, as this may detract from the beauty of the ritual – both for locals and tourists alike.

Photo of the week #12 Ayuthaya

ayuthaya

 

Ayuthaya (full name Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) is the ancient capital of Siam dynasty after Sukhothai.

Throughout the centuries, the ideal location between China, India and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia and even the world. By 1700 Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants!! Unfortunately we do not read about this great city in our history books!

Many international merchants from around the world have proclaimed Ayutthaya as the finest city they had ever seen. All this came to a quick end when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city down to the ground.

Today, only a few remains, mostly temples and palaces, might give a glimpse of the impressive city they must have seen. The above photograph is taken in Wat Mahathat showing one of the few Buddha statues that is intact surrounded by prangs(towers).

 

 

Photo of the week #11 Oia, Santorini

santorini

Oia – a small and spectacular town perched on the crescent-shaped clifftop of the caldera on Santorini island in Greece. It is probably the most famous of all villages of Santorini. It is known throughout the world for its quiet life and fantastic sunset. It is Oia where there are many of the blue domed buildings you see in most of the postcards or photographs of Santorini.

By the way, do you know why the main color of the buildings in Santorini is blue and white?

With little to no wood available, the majority of the buildings on the islands were originally constructed out of dark, volcanic stone. The stone was a great insulator, but the color of the stone absorbed the heat making being inside on a hot day unbearable. Painting the buildings white to reflect the harsh sunlight was a necessary and practical way to stay cool. The color ‘blue’ was added to tone down the extremely white limestone plaster. Most of the households had a blue colored cleaning agent called ‘loulaki’ which was added to the limestone to give it a blue color.

Currently the Greek government  has mandated that all buildings must be painted in blue and white.