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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? 😉
Naqsh-e Jahan Square

Photo of the week : #1 Naqsh-e Jahan Square

It’s been two weeks into our backpacking trip and we are just loving it! Iran has been just great, more so, because of the lovely, lovely people here.

Starting from today, we’ve decided to add at least one photo which inspired us during the week to our blog along with a short story. So, here we start our photo series with our most favorite place in Iran – Isfahan.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square
Naqsh-e Jahan Square

The Persian proverb “Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast” which means Isfahan is half of the world is true in every sense with its beautiful palaces, majestic mosques, amazing boulevards and pretty bridges. We went to Naqsh-e Jahan (image of the world) square (it is one of the biggest squares in the world) early in the morning at around 7:30 AM and is the best time to enjoy all the beauty it offers before it gets too busy with the crowd. We had a meditative experience being in the middle of the huge square listening to the prayers.

This is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and was a important stop along the silk road. This square houses important buildings from the Safavid era on all sides. The Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque and Qaseiraiyah along with the historical bazaar of the silk road times showcase Islamic architecture at its best.

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

IMG_1598

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

photo 1 (1)

Kaveri Trail Marathon, Ranganathittu, Mysore.

IMG_9607

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 #4 and #5

Stranger #4

The ever-smiling nurse from Italy

I was entering our home-stay after a blissful walk along the Pangong lake when a loud and cheerful voice greeted me saying she knew who I was and that she was happy to meet me! I was taken aback. I’d neither seen this smiling stranger before, nor was I a world-famous personality! Perplexed as I was, I greeted her back and tried not to sound thoroughly surprised and asked her how she knew me. For a while she kept me waiting and then she revealed that it was VJ who had met her earlier and told her about me! She knew that I was a doctor. And for the next couple of hours we chatted endlessly. She told me of the health-care system back at her place in Italy and that she was a nurse in a psychiatric care unit. It’s indeed a challenging job!
She was traveling across India with her husband.
What surprised me even more was the facts she revealed about her husband. He was an avid cyclist and had cycled across north India extensively. He was actually cycling from Manali to Leh right then and was expected to join her soon!
The following morning we bid adieu to her and the beautiful Pangong!

4
Franca from Italy.

Meet Franca, the cheerful and bold nurse from Italy.

Stranger #5

The horseman from Beas nala

It was our first pit stop en route Manali to Leh. We got out of our cab and were mesmerised by the beautiful landscape around us. Beas (Read as Byas) nala is the place before Rohtang pass where the river Beas flows in the form of a stream and forms a gorge. We were busy having a yummy bread omlette by the river when this man approached us with a hesitant but innocent smile and a horse bridle in his hand. He asked us if we wanted a horse ride around the place. I’m generally not an animal friendly person and wasn’t keen on the ride. He lingered around us for sometime and I started making a conversation with him.
He was born and raised in the same place(Beas nala) and has never stepped out of it all his life! I was astonished to realize that some people end up never leaving their home all their life and grow up to being more and more comfortable and losing the sense of exploration. But again it’s the circumstances which dictate these things most often. And of course, people are different. During the conversation I realised that he was a contented and simple man who earns his living by offering joyful horse-rides to tourists in Beas nala.

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Life here is simple and quiet….but very tough!
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Kabal Ram

Meet Kabal Ram whom we met during that epic journey of Manali-Leh!

Find more posts on 100 strangers project here.

Lake hopping in Bangalore

Are you exhausted after a hectic week but running out of things to do in Bangalore? Don’t have enough time to get out of the city but want to have a relaxing time? Want to do something different? Read on…

It was the last day of 2013 and my feet were itching (as usual :P) to go somewhere! I started pestering VJ. His twin brother AJ came to his aid and suggested something interesting out of the blue! Without a seconds thought he said, “Why don’t we go on a lake hunt?”. Yeah, now that’s what I call a ‘cool’ idea! The days were getting hotter in Bangalore and some cool breeze and a lazy walk along a lake was such a refreshing idea.

So, I quickly did some googling and short-listed few of the lakes we could visit. I knew that almost each area in Bangalore has its own lake.

Lakes in Bangalore
Lakes in Bangalore

But I was thoroughly surprised going through the history of lakes in Bangalore. The 262 wetlands that existed in Bangalore in 1962 had declined by a whopping 58 percent by 2007. And that many of them have vanished in the past few years!
We made a rough plan and set off!

1. Ulsoor lake:

Our first stop had to be the most famous lake of Bangalore. It happens to be the nearest one to our home as well. For me Ulsoor lake is like an oasis in the middle of the hustle-bustle of the city! Though it needs more care and maintenance it is still a beautiful lake in the city-centre.

Ulsoor lake - an oasis in the city-centre.
Ulsoor lake – an oasis in the city-centre.

The park adjacent to it lacks maintenance. But the jogging track is good. In the morning you can see army personnel doing kayaking which looks good. There is a boat club which operates in the evening hours. Part of the lake is covered with sea-weeds. Avoid going there during the Ganesh visarjan period to save yourself from the unsightly look.

Ulsoor lake - A beautiful lake which needs more care!
Ulsoor lake – A beautiful lake which needs more care!

Make sure you go there early to catch the sunrise! You can also make it a day trip by combining it with a visit to the nearby Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, have yummy breakfast at either MTR (Indiranagar) or the Egg factory, Ulsoor. For lunch make sure you go to Bobby da dhaba for some lip-smacking parathas!

2. Sankey Tank:

Our next stop was one of the most popular and well-maintained lakes in Bangalore and a walkers’ delight! It’s one of those few lakes which has resisted the time and damage caused by human settlement. Calm, serene and well-maintained.

Sankey tank - Calm, serene and well-maintained lake.
Sankey tank – Calm, serene and well-maintained lake.

Best time to go would be before 8.00 am and after 6.00 pm as it gets too sunny during the day. The lake is huge and the jogging track round its circumference is more than 1.5 kms which is well laid and fully connected.

Sankey Tank - A walkers' delight!
Sankey Tank – A walkers’ delight!

Take a walk, breathe easy, hear the chirping of the birds and go home completely relaxed.
It goes without saying that Malleshwaram and Sadashivanagar are some of the most charming localities of old Bangalore. And if you are a foodie (like me!) do not miss having breakfast at Veena stores (they have the crispiest vadas I’ve ever had!) or Halli mane (some nice dosas and Mangalore buns). We did both! 😉

3. Madiwala lake:

Our third lake for the day took me by surprise as I had no expectations from this one. In fact I was skeptical if we would even locate the lake easily. Little did I know that it was one of the biggest lakes in Bangalore. It’s also called as the BTM lake garden which is at one end of this huge lake. There is a well-maintained garden with children’s play area.

Madiwala lake - beautiful and pristine.
Madiwala lake – beautiful and pristine.

Also there’s a boating club which offers pedal boats in the evening hours. Entry tickets are nominal at Rs. 5 with no extra charges for cameras. Surprisingly many different types of water birds can be seen in the lake making it a popular spot for photo-walks. We thoroughly enjoyed the discovery of this beautiful lake!

Madiwala lake
Madiwala lake

How to reach this lake? It’s located in BTM Layout 2nd stage and can be easily reached if you know BTM area well. If you are new to South Bangalore, just reach BTM 2nd stage and look for 29th main road. This road connects the BTM main road and Bannerghatta Road. Keep going towards Bannerghatta Road via 29th main and you will reach BTM lake garden.

4. Agara lake:

This lake was once a serene nestling spot of migratory birds but eventually became a dump site of garbage and a hub for nefarious activities. Sometime last year in an attempt to restore the lake’s lost glory, about 400 volunteers responded to the call of Save Agara Lake Group to clean up the lake and its surroundings. So during our visit the lake was relatively clean with a walking track along its length.

The rejuvenating Agara lake.
The rejuvenating Agara lake.

The lake is under strict vigilance by the authorities who do not allow anybody between 10 AM and 4 PM.

Agara lake
Agara lake

One can find the iconic Calm, serene and well-maintained statue beside the lake facing the road.

Children-Globe-Rooster statue in front of Agara lake
Children-Globe-Rooster statue in front of Agara lake

Agara Lake is one of the rare natural lakes of Bangalore which hopefully will get back its charm!

5. Kaikondrahalli lake:

This small and pristine lake which is located off Sarjapur road is another example of a lake which was on the verge of extinction, but was revived due to the efforts of the people in the neighbourhood. Once a dumpyard, it is now the darling of the neighbourhood! There is a well-made walk-way around the lake.

The recently revived Kaikondrahalli lake
The recently revived Kaikondrahalli lake

Something about this lake was very impressive and when we came back home I searched for more info. about the lake and was thoroughly surprised to read about the community involvement in rejuvenating the Kaikondarahalli lake. To showcase this, the Stockholm Resilience centre has recently produced a short film titled ‘Kaikondarahalli Lake-The Uncommon Story of an Urban Commons’. It shows the story of how a group of engaged citizens in Bangalore transforms a polluted urban lake into a co-managed, healthy ecosystem with rich biodiversity, to the benefit of all in the neighborhood.

Kaikondrahalli lake serves as a model feat
Kaikondrahalli lake serves as a model feat

It was mid-noon by the time we decided to call it a day. We were tired but happy at discovering such peaceful and refreshing places in Bangalore.

Apart from these there are many more lakes in Bangalore like the lake in Lal Bagh garden, Nagawara lake(with Lumbini garden), Hebbal lake, Hesaraghatta lake(which received water last year after nearly six years!), Varthur lake(which totally lacks maintenance), etc.

Healthy lakes are not only the sources of recreation but are also important ecosystems that should be respected and cared for. Let us be responsible citizens and save these ecological clinics.

After all, sometimes it is that simple and quiet walk along a lake in the neighbourhood is all that we need to unwind!

Which is your favourite lake in Bangalore? Any recommendations for me? I would love to explore!

[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.