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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. 🙂

How I quit my job to travel

Here is the story of a doctor who quit her job to travel the world!

(Writing this in an organic farm in a remote village in northern Thailand where I and my husband Vijay are volunteering.)

As I sleep in an open hut, gazing at the fire flies outside, listening to the pouring rain, I ponder what made me leave the comfort of my home and job, put all that I need into an 11kg backpack and set off to travel the world!

Was I too bold or plain crazy to just quit my job to travel?  Well, I was working as an assistant professor in Pathology in a medical college. Dealing with cancer diagnoses and teaching young doctors about these terminal conditions was an everyday affair! What made me take this radical decision of resigning from a decent and comfortable job I had?

Traveling was something I always enjoyed. Even as a child I remember pestering my dad to take us out on a vacation at least once a year. He used to do his best, of course, but he was too busy with his work. I used to ask him, ‘Dad, there is so much of the world outside for us to see! You have to take a break once in a while to travel!’

My first ever visit to Bangalore!
My first ever visit to Bangalore!

And then medical school happened. Ten years of my life were sealed! Of course, I had lot of fun, made some great bunch of friends and went out with them on short trips and picnics but it was just not enough to quench my wanderlust! Sometimes, I feel doctors are so over-worked both during the grinding medical school and later on that we don’t have time to even think about our dreams.

With my school buddies near Mantralaya, India
With my school buddies near Mantralaya, India
Hyderabad with friends!
With my friends at Hyderabad, India
The enchanting Jog Falls
The enchanting Jog Falls, Karnataka, India

And then the most wonderful thing happened. I met Vijay!  Of course we knew each other from when we were kids but we started seeing each other only two years before we got married. You know what was one of the few questions I asked him initially? ‘Do you like to travel?’ Yeah, I was very clear with this one! I just wasn’t ready to be with someone who doesn’t like to travel.  And the stars were in my favor. He said, ‘Oh yeah! I love traveling! My current aim is to go to at least 30 countries before I turn 30!’ Wow! Now that’s something! Here I was, a budding and struggling doctor who had not even been on an airplane all her 25 years of life and there he was, a techie, counting the number of countries he had traveled to. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason we got married – I know life is not only about traveling. 🙂 After the wedding we went on a two week holiday to France and Switzerland which made me fall in love with those countries 🙂

Our favourite place in France - Mont St. Michel
Our favourite place in France – Mont St. Michel

Post marriage, we went through the usual phases – an initial honeymoon period, some ups and downs, settling down in a house, my adjustment to a metropolitan city (Bangalore), securing a good job etc., I was really bugged of relentless study in medical school for almost 9 years! I decided to take a break for a few months after marriage. And to this day I feel that’s one of the best decisions I took. It gave me time to settle down, accept new things and most importantly realize my passion for traveling. I always knew traveling was my favorite hobby but it was only during the break that I realized that it was much more than a hobby. We used to travel almost every weekend. I joined several trekking groups in Bangalore and went out with them. And the joy that used to fill my heart after each trek/travel was something that made me realize that this has to be an essential part of my life!

Hooked to trekking!
Hooked to trekking!

And then I got a job! A job which I was looking for – one that involves both teaching the medical students and working in a hospital. I was thrilled! It was going well but then I no longer had any weekends for my travels! I had to work on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sundays. It was a struggle to take even 3-4 days off to go somewhere! I liked the job but not the lack of freedom.

And then our trip to Ladakh happened.  It was our first anniversary and we decided to do something adventurous. The road trip to Ladakh was a life-changing experience for us and we were hopelessly bitten by the travel bug. This time we really had to do something serious about it. And we did.

Fell in love with the mountains of Ladakh!
Fell in love with the mountains of Ladakh!
Ladakh was a life changing trip
Ladakh was a life changing trip

I had most of the things that people usually aspire for – a happy marriage, good education, loving family, a decent job, good friends, overall, a comfortable life! But time and again I felt an unexplained lacuna – maybe the lack of freedom to travel, an urge to break free and explore the world in which we live, a wanderlust! I always discussed these with Vijay. He, being the most supportive spouse and my best friend, always listened to my thoughts and shared his own. Both of us diligently planned and collectively took the decision of traveling for a long time.

I definitely went through a mental turmoil before I actually submitted my resignation! Was I doing the right thing? Am I going to struggle after coming back? And I had to convince my family and friends too. They were skeptical initially but eventually saw what I was trying to tell them :). The day before I gave my resignation, I went to a coffee shop and pondered about what I really wanted to do in life then? And the first thing that struck me was my favorite saying –

Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail.
Explore.
Dream.
Discover.

There it was – my answer.  Yes, I really wanted to take a break to travel and see the world around me.  I knew this was the only time in the near future I could do this. And I had Vijay who shared the same thoughts. What else did I need?! My mind was very clear at that very moment and I happily submitted my resignation.  I was finally free to TRAVEL!

And the freedom that I have felt since then is something that words can’t explain. It is one of the best and most important decisions of my life and I’m so proud of it! I’m doing what I love – traveling to wonderful places, meeting amazing people from around the world, learning life lessons along the way. Traveling has opened up my world like nothing else. I have had such beautiful and eye-opening experiences which are helping me grow as a better human-being.

We also started our travel blog – Away from shor to write about our experiences while on the go and to inspire people to travel more.

Removing weeds in a farm in Thailand
Removing weeds in a farm in Thailand
Watching my first ever opera in the Vienna State Opera
Watching my first ever opera in the Vienna State Opera

I did not decide to travel to escape from my life or work or to ‘rediscover myself’. I simply like the idea of traveling as a way of life. Words fall short to describe the experiences I have had – be it listening with bated breath the painful account of how a Bosnian war refugee escaped from his own country to save himself or flying above the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon or talking to the school children in Poland about India or helping a farmer in Northern Thailand grow peppers or simply contemplating over a gorgeous sunset in a sleepy village of Laos.

Marveling the ruins of Ayuthaya, Thailand
Marveling the ruins of Ayuthaya, Thailand

Feel free to share your thoughts! 🙂

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? 😉

15 things we learnt from our one month of travel

So it’s been one month into our backpacking trip. We are loving it so far!

We think traveling is great. It has expanded our minds with new experiences. We have learnt a few lessons on the road and would love to share them with you.

  1. Strangers are nice and helpful. If anyone tells you otherwise, ignore them.

  2. Feeling comfortable about  meeting and speaking to new people is an essential skill.

    A group of cheerful teachers we bumped into in Mardin, Turkey.
    A group of cheerful teachers we bumped into in Mardin, Turkey.
  3. Saying bye to your newly made awesome friends is not easy. We never thought it can be that difficult to part ways with someone you have only met for a couple of hours!

  4. You will slowly learn to deal with the fear of unfamiliar – new place, people, food and language. None of these will bother you after some time.

    Sign board in Bulgaria :)
    Sign board in Bulgaria. Decoding Cyrillic alphabet can be fun! 🙂
  5. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and for help.  Ask the locals, it is their turf. This can save you a lot of time and effort.

  6. Learn to say ‘no’. That $50 meal in an expensive restaurant is not going to enrich your experience any better than a delicious local snack in the same area. (of course, there are exceptions)

  7. Learning some words/phrases in the local language always helps. Showing that you have taken that extra effort to learn their language will let the other person go that extra mile for you.

  8. Swiss knife is amazing. Just buy it! Has helped us in a variety of situations from cutting fruits to removing glass splinters stuck in our hand.

  9. Google translate offline version can really save your day! Imagine booking last minute tickets in a remote place in Iran and having to deal with somebody who knows only Farsi! Google can handle it for you, offline.

    There you go!
    There you go!
  10. It is really not that difficult to live out of a 11 kg  bag.

  11. You don’t have to be rich to travel. We have spent ZERO money on our accommodation until now!

  12. You can be a vegetarian and still have a nice time 🙂 You need to know where to eat and what to eat. Refer to #5.

    Our favourite snack in Turkey - Çiğ Köfte
    Our favourite snack in Turkey – Çiğ Köfte
  13. Indians are expected to know how to dance! 

  14. Walking for 5-6 kms everyday  with a big bag on you is not so tough.

  15. Hitch-hiking can be fun and is good for your wallet. Deciding to do it is a door to amazing experiences.

    We hitch-hiked to Persepolis with this friendly Iranian family :)
    We hitch-hiked to Persepolis with this friendly Iranian family 🙂

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.