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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.

[100 Strangers Project] Stranger #9

Stranger #9

The driver who was always high!

The epic journey from Manali to Leh needs no introduction! Words fall short to explain the magic of this route.

Twenty of us (four Indians and rest foreigners) started from Manali early in the morning in a Tempo Traveler. Our driver seemed to be an enthusiastic guy, at least initially. It was only after we crossed Rohtang that we realized the danger of that enthusiasm! He would disappear at most of the pit-stops along the way, only to reappear after a while looking more happy and energetic! We kept wondering what he was up to all the time!

This journey is not the most comfortable drive in the world – spectacular, yes, comfortable, no way. This is not helped by the fact that some of the roads have drops to the side of a good few hundred metres. And yes, you can find those unlucky crashed vehicles covered with rust down the slope somewhere. To top all of this we had a rash driver who scared the hell out of us!

I somehow managed to make friends with him and tried chatting with him through the whole journey, nudging him to drive more carefully and preventing him from falling asleep!

I clearly remember a moment when his drooping eyelids closed while we were at a dangerous curve on the road! I was lucky enough to wake him up at the nick of the moment.

During our casual talks on the road I learnt that he was originally from Mandi village in Himachal. He had a loving family back at home and was making a living out of driving between Manali and Leh in summers, only to be jobless for the rest of the year. He would drive on these dangerous roads every day for four months!

At one of the pit-stops he opened up and shared with us the reason which kept him going – ‘smoking up’. He needed the constant stimulation to be on the road, enduring the treacherous journey-day after day!

Our crazy driver - Manohar!
Our crazy driver – Manohar!

Meet Manohar from Mandi, Himachal, our crazy driver during the epic trip.

Find more posts on 100 strangers project here.

15 Inspiring Travel Quotes Through My Lens

Travelling is one of the most affirming things we can do to ourselves. Although I’ve been travelling as much as I could since my college days it’s only been a year or two since I’ve realized that it’s my passion.

Travel makes me happier. It inspires me to be a better person. But what inspires me to travel?

Many a times it’s the great words of world travellers that inspire me to go places. As Kate Douglas Wiggins puts it, “There is a kind of magic about going far away and then coming back all changed.” I’m also lucky to have a life-partner who shares the same interest too! I guess we inspire each other to travel more. 🙂

I’ve always been a sucker for a good quote. Here are some of my favourites about, arguably, my favourite topic – travel.

To depict them I’ve used my photographs from our travels so far.

Let these quotes bring travel inspiration to your life as they do to mine!

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Near Rohtang pass, en route from Manali to Leh

educationGata loops, en route from Manali to Leh

Free heart

Outskirts of Leh

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Murren, Switzerland

184-IMG_2555Taking a stroll in the streets of Leh

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En route to Stok palace, Leh

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One of our favourite places – Mont St. Michel, France.

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Along with our new found friends at Pangong lake, Ladakh

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Kaveri Trail Marathon, Ranganathittu, Mysore.

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Atop Eiffel tower, Paris

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En route to Hemis monastery, Leh

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Annecy, France

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Thiksey monastery, Leh

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Tibetan breakfast, Leh

world

World’s second highest motorable pass, Taglang la

Hope you enjoyed the quotes and pictures as much as I enjoyed putting them together.

Feel free to copy the images and use them as you want 🙂

Do you have any favourite travel quotes that you find inspiring? I would love to hear!

[100 strangers project] Strangers #2 and #3

Stranger #2

The hard-working farmer

It is truly said that once in your life you need a lawyer, a doctor, a policeman or a priest but everyday, three times a day, you need a farmer.

VJ was speeding up, trying to reach home to catch some guests. We were scurrying through the countryside wishing we had more time to soak up the beauty of nature. We came to a stretch of road on either sides of which were lush green farms. We just couldn’t resist anymore! All of us started pleading VJ to stop and he eventually gave up. We finally got out of the car and began to walk into the green paddy fields. I remembered reading somewhere that green, which is nature’s colour, is restful, soothing, cheerful, and health-giving. And a simple walk in and around the farm made us realize the true meaning of it.

I noticed some women working in the field, picking the paddy stalks and giggling to themselves looking at us city-dwellers make such a big deal of their daily work place! The chatter-box that I am, I slowly began talking to one of the women. She was thrilled at this impromptu interview! Being made to work in the fields right from her childhood she has never known any other life. She has married off her daughters to farmers as well and is now actually helping the daughter in her farm.

I was full of admiration for her and all other farmers who are the real heroes in our society. Being a farmer is not an easy task. At the end of the day what is left is a tired and painful body but a high spirit that keeps them going. After all, our food on the table comes from them!

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Meet Kanakamma from Noolukunta village near Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. A cheerful and talkative farmer I met during my visit to VJ’s hometown.

Stranger #3
The host with never say die spirit

It was one hell of a journey from Leh to Pangong! We thanked our lucky stars to have made it in one piece! All credit goes to VJ whose confidence made us embark on that epic bike ride from Leh to Pangong. We reached the long, narrow, enchanted lake (Tibetan meaning for Pangong Tso) by early evening. We were totally exhausted, shivering with cold and were badly in need of a place to rest our weary heads. A quick search of the available options made us choose a small dingy home-stay run by a Ladakhi woman right in front of the lake.

She looked old and weary but had a spark of determination in her eyes. It is well-known that only the toughest survive in the harsh & testing climate of Ladakh. She was a living example of this fact. Single-handedly she arranged for our bed and blankets, made piping hot chai and egg maggi which we devoured in no time.

Dinner consisted of freshly made rotis, rice and black dal which we all ate in her tiny kitchen trying to understand her routine from whatever little Hindi she knew. After all the hospitality and warmth all that she charged us was Rs. 200 per person including food! It was impossible not to admire her sweet and simple nature and her never say die attitude.

Our friendly Ladakhi host Sonam with our co-traveller Yash.
Our friendly Ladakhi host Sonam with our co-traveller Yash.

Meet Sonam from Spangmik village near Pangong Tso who shared her simple abode with us and made our trip more memorable.

Find more posts on 100 strangers project on my blog here.

Discover SCUBA

Have you ever been to an alien territory? A place which is not for humans? Surrounded by colourful creatures, most of which are unfamiliar to humans?
Yes! I’m talking about going INTO THE BLUE!! Into the deep blue waters of the sea and experiencing a whole new world in there!

Discover SCUBA

It’s said that life is sweeter (though not literally! 😉 ) and more colourful at the sea. And there’s a whole new world beneath, unexplored. I’ve always dreamt of being a part of that world for at least a brief moment in time.
The new year was just around the corner and I wanted to welcome it in style! And what’s more stylish than going to a new world?
I’d heard a lot about this place called Netrani Island near Murudeshwara, Karnataka. It claims to be the best place for SCUBA diving in mainland, India.

A quick search on the Internet introduced me to Dreamz Diving which is the first professional Padi Recreational SCUBA Diving Company to open its doors at Murudeshwara.

It is run by Mr. Dhirendra Rawat who is an avid diver and an adventure consultant himself. I made a few phone calls to him and booked two slots ( for me and VJ) for the next weekend. They charge Rs. 4500 for a one tank dive which lasts for a good 45 minutes.
Murudeshwar is about 467 kms from Bangalore with a number of buses (both govt. and private) plying between the two. It is a beach town which houses the world’s second tallest Shiva statue which looks magnificent against the sea. There is also the Murudeshwara temple and Raja Gopura surrounded on three sides by the Arabian Sea. It’s a charming place worth visiting!
An overnight journey from Bangalore took us to Murudeshwara. It’s a journey through the ghats. Expect an hour delay at least in reaching the place. A short walk from the bus-stop leads to the temple beside which one can find the RN Shetty Residency. The dive shop is housed within the guest house premises. If you are planning a one-day trip, (like us) then the dingy rest rooms provided by the dive shop can be used. They are not that good, to be frank. On prior intimation, the dive school can arrange for accommodation in the nearby lodges. Expect a minimum of Rs. 1,500 for a room per day on a twin sharing basis.
After a few formalities (making payment, filling the questionnaire, signing the disclaimer) at the dive shop, a short walk towards the beach takes us to the boat which would take us to Netrani island.

Netrani Island
Netrani ( also known as Netragudo or Pigeon island) is a tiny island about 10 nautical miles (19 kms) from Murudeshwara. It’s a coral island and therefore suitable for snorkelling and diving activities. A two hour humpy bumpy boat ride took us to Netrani. Be prepared for some sea-sickness!
During the boat ride, our dive masters introduced the SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) equipment and the various hand signals that are essential for communication under water. Upon reaching the island we were given life jackets and the snorkels. Before the actual dive we were let to snorkel around for a while to loosen up and relax. It was my first snorkelling experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
When it was our turn to dive, the dive masters helped us wear the SCUBA gear. It essentially consists of the mask and snorkel, buoyancy compensator, air tank, weight belt, pressure gauge and regulator, wet suit and the fins. We, however, didn’t wear the wetsuit as the water was warm that day.
My heart started beating faster as I got ready to dive. My dive master Jessica was ready for me. I sat on the edge of the boat feeling very heavy with all the gear strapped onto me. With one easy push I tumbled backwards into the sea from the boat! Falling backwards is often the easiest way to make a deep entry into the sea without letting the mask slam into the face as one hits the water.
It was a tandem dive. My dive master Jessica held me soon enough and helped me relax for a while. Now we were all set to go deeper!
The main problem one encounters while descending is the ear pain. During descent, air spaces in the sinuses and middle ear must be able to equalize to the surrounding water pressure, which increases with depth. When pressure in air spaces can’t equalize, one may sense pressure or pain from one of these areas. The key is to descend slowly and perform Valsalva manoeuvre at regular intervals.
Slowly the magic began to unfold!
Imagine this: you’re 15 meters below the ocean’s surface, silently gliding through the water. The only sound you can hear is you slowly breathing in and out. Suddenly, you’re face to face with a group of Humphead Parrotfish….and then a black-spotted moray eel playing hide and seek. You even spot a turtle drifting through the ocean.

Schools of colourful tropical fish surrounded us on all sides!
Schools of colourful tropical fish surrounded us on all sides!
The black spotted Moray eel played hide n seek with us.
The black spotted Moray eel played hide n seek with us.

Sounds pretty amazing, isn’t it? It’s even more remarkable to experience SCUBA diving first hand in the deep blue sea.
The key is to stay calm and let your eyes have a feast! The joy of being underwater is indescribable. I was absorbing everything around me with wide-eyed wonder and sheer enjoyment. It was a meditating experience for me!

It was like an underwater meditation for me!
It was like an underwater meditation for me!

The 45 minute dive came to an end as we re-surfaced and got into the boat. I was lost for sometime unable to believe that I was in another world just a few seconds ago! I looked at VJ who had just finished his dive and we exchanged a silent smile knowing what it meant.

Divers for life?!
Divers for life?!

The journey back to Murudeshwara was mostly spent in silence trying to relish the magic of those few minutes under the sea.

With excellent visibility it was a feast to our eyes!  What a way to welcome the new year
With excellent visibility it was a feast to our eyes!
What a way to welcome the new year

We boarded the bus back to Bangalore the same night and were transported to our routine lives.

Quick info. on Netrani
Nearest place – Murudeshwara
Distance from Bangalore – 467 kms
How to reach – Overnight journey by govt. or private buses from Bangalore to Murudeshwara
Whom to contact – Mr. Dhirendra Rawat of Dreamz diving. Bangalore Mountaineering Club also conducts regular SCUBA diving trips from Bangalore.
Cost for each dive – Rs. 4500
Best time to visit – December to January
Precautions – Brace yourself for some sea-sickness, find tips to prevent sea-sickness here
What else can be done around?  – Murudeshwara temple and beach are worth a visit. If time permits Malpe beach, Gokarna and Yana can be planned.

All of this information is accurate as of December, 2012.

I loved SCUBA diving. I so want to do it again. Hopefully soon!
Do you want to go SCUBA diving? Have you done it already? How was it?

Cheers!
Gayathri.

The Story Of My Tattoo

On my journeys so far, I’ve met many people from different walks of life. While in college, most of my visits to home would involve encounters with foreigners in Hampi. I used to take a train to my hometown Bellary which passed by Hampi. And I would most often find some people from far and wide around me. I used to wonder what motivates these people to leave the comforts of their homes and live in a foreign land for months! I kind of envied them!

I used to inevitably get into a conversation with most of them and yeah, I’ve had some memorable ones.

Most of these people had tattoos on them. Tribal designs, stars, butterflies, Chinese and Indian script, and the list goes on. And the curious cat that I am, I always used to ask them what these permanent ink marks meant. And boy! I was taken aback to hear so many stories behind those tattoos!

My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.― Johnny Depp
My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.― Johnny Depp

And that’s when I realised that tattoos talk! That this form of art is often personal and complicated. And that a tattoo is a symbol of a story that is waiting to be told.

And that’s when the thought of getting a tattoo on myself entered my mind! But it was forgotten for a while in the hustle and bustle of life. After almost two years, an impromptu conversation with friends about tattoos rekindled my interest in getting a tattoo. And this time it was strong!

I introspected on what I’m most passionate about. The first thing that struck me was TRAVEL! Yeah, I wanted a tattoo depicting my love for travel!
So, there I was! Knowing what I wanted in just a few minutes!

Then began my search for a travel related tattoo!

While browsing the internet, one particular image caught my eye and I immediately knew I wanted it. It was a pair of FOOTPRINTS!

My birthday was coming up and I felt like giving myself a present in the form of a tattoo I would love!

tattoo_cake

So, I did it.  I went along with VJ and found a tattoo artist that I liked, discussed my thoughts and made the poor guy do the stencil three times before I was happy.  Then I sat back, stomach churning, but with a resolved mind that I was going through with it – I’d already come this far.

tattoo

The footprints are, to me, a symbol of my love of travel.
They have inspired the name of my blog too!
It was interesting to watch the tattoo being done. The pain isn’t much! Believe me.

So, I now have a pair of footprints just above my ankle. I want to travel the world and leave my footprints on the sands of time! Many people have questioned my decision of getting a tattoo. What if you don’t want it at a later point in time?

But I’m sure there won’t be any such time! I’m really very happy with it.  It’s mine.  It’s for me and I made it happen!

Do you have a tattoo? Or plan to get one for yourself? If so, what would you get? Do you like mine?

Cheers,
Gayathri