Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Planet Iceland- Day 1

29.5 hours

The day finally arrived when we reached Bangalore Airport at about 11:00 PM in late night for the flight at 1:30 AM on the 8th of September. This was a special night considering that we were kicking off our 5th year anniversary in a very memorable way.

A quick celebratory selfie at 00:00 and the boarding started soon enough.

The flight was a Malaysian Airlines to Amsterdam and in the quintessential anniversary celebration, we downed the fine wine that came along with the dinner and relaxed into the long flight after practicing the phonetic names of the places we were about to visit. Rey-kya-vik, not Rek-ya-vik we blabbered.

Just before the flight landed in Amsterdam, we were appreciating the view from above - the city was really well designed - the careful juxtaposition of the waterways and the roadways was a sight to behold. Lots of green and blue with a good sprinkling of colourful houses and spotless white wind turbines was very poetry like.


Amsterdam airport was huge - and lots of walking - and this was the entry point to Europe - the continent we were setting foot on for the first time. We had a couple of hours to kill and we had this major goal in mind - to exchange some of our Euro currency into Icelandic currency - and we found one of the Banks which advertised the currency exchange. After a brief wait in the queue, we exchanged some of our Euros into Icelandic currency - only to realise later that the exchange was at a terrible rate - it dawned on us later that when currency A is exchanged for B, you get the best value when A is not the common currency - essentially do not give Euro for any currency in a place where there is already lot of Euro - we should have exchanged Euro in Iceland and not in Amsterdam. 

This was also the time to ensure the new credit card that we signed up for actually worked outside India - so a quick testing of the contactless feature to buy some sandwich and coffee gave us a lot of relief apart from filling our tummies. Found out that Holland and Netherlands are pretty much the same after studying some memorabilia in the airport. While walking around the airport aimlessly, we visited an open garden - and that is where we got the first sense of the chill in the wind ! Soon it was time to catch the next flight - Anniversary was still on !

The next flight was Iceland Air and KEF was just 2 hours away now. We were hoping to see amazing landscapes before landing at KEF, but realised later that KEF was right at the shore - so, ocean ocean all along and suddenly the flight lands in KEF. It was 3:10 PM.

We held our hands and congratulated each other on successfully landing in the land of our dreams - Iceland was finally here, well, Iceland was where it was always, we were here now ! and that too on our Anniversary. It was super windy and raining and cold and ultra gloomy, but hey, it was Iceland !


We quickly used the Airport free WiFi to call back home to let them know we were still alive and kicking. Then back to planning - two SIMs, finish the formalities and pick up the rental car, settle down in the car and get set. We'd pre-booked the rental car (Hertz) - and on the advice of several blogs also picked up the GPS and WiFi in the car. The two SIMs for each of our phones was very interesting - the prepaid pack was (a) shit costly and (b) had only like 2 GB limit ! I couldn't help but think of how dirt cheap internet is so important to a country - in India we hardly have such limits and it costs next to nothing. Anyway we went to the parking section of the Airport and loaded the KIA - this was two things different - (a) Left-hand-drive and (b) Automatic - so we quickly took multiple rounds within the Airport to comfort ourselves. The one thing that was really troublesome for us was the rear-view window - somehow the muscular memory could ever look on the right side to view the rear-view ! But you get adjusted to the situation much faster than you expect when there's an adrenaline rush.

Our AirBnB at Reykjanesbaer was a quick 10 minute drive from the Airport, in Keflavik - we had chosen this place in order not to drive around a lot on the very first day considering the jet-lag and adjusting to the opposite driving direction.

Gulli (Guðlaugur) was the name of our host and going by the zesty name, we were expecting a fun loving cheerful young lady who turned out to be a really warm 6.5 foot gentleman in his late 70s. Our room / cabin was the basement and it was arranged so well - and was so warm. In most hotels in India, on the towel, there's a small Hamam or Mysore Sandal Soap placed on it - but here in Iceland, the very similar looking bar on top of the fresh towel was not a soap but yummy white Chocolate ! :)


Upon noticing the washing machine in the corner, we immediately proceeded to wash our travel wear - but there was only one problem ! The machine had all modes and measurements in German !

Google Translate quickly helped us understand the various modes and the clothes were getting washed. We wanted to quickly pack and plan for the next day and decided to go to the super market to get some staples. We drove around the small town which was by now practically empty - we visited Netto and bought some eggs, vegetables and a slice of brown bread.


By now, we had decided that our longest Anniversary was to be celebrated outside - so we searched around for places to dine - while most places were closed by 6:00 PM, there was this one quaint little cafe which was open. We ordered a hot-chocolate and a vegetarian dish called Hekla !


Hekla was this wonderful combination of sweet-potatoes, mushrooms, tofu and veggies in a brown sauce - it was the perfect way to end our longest anniversary of 24 + 5.5 hours.

We headed back to the BnB after the sumptuous dinner and again used Translate to open the german washing machine. Quickly repacked clothes and planned to leave early next day at 7:30 AM. The jet-lag exhaustion, the warm meal and the warm BnB helped calm the adrenaline and we were in deep sleep within minutes. 

The 29.5 hour anniversary finally came to an end.

Planet Iceland - The beginning

This travelogue has been on my mind from the time I was back from a magical and strange land but it took me almost a year to get my mind back on track into writing about this epic trip before it remains ONLY in my memory. For the initial few months after the trip I kept admiring the pictures but later, my mind itched to write and words just wouldn't flow. I wasn't sure, what to write and how to explain about a trip which definitely was a dream which we had ( my husband and I) had worked on, so that it comes true. Iceland, as a travel destination was NEVER on my list. In fact I hardly knew about this place unless I was forced to see various pictures and videos of the Northern lights, which can also be seen in Iceland. just like other countries close to the Arctic belt. 

So, what is it that made me come out of the phase of procrastination?????

Well...... it was a little bit , a lot of push from my partner, an old blog post surfacing up and a promise that I had made to a little someone. 

It was one of own my older blog posts( Living our dreams together on Valentine's Day), where I had to imagine a situation where I had been granted a wish of my choice for Valentine's Day 2015 and how I would utilise that wish to make it special for my partner. Back in 2014 and 2015, it was only and only Iceland that was on my husband's mind whose photographic and explorative eye exclusively wanted to go to places which are unique and are filled with natural wonders. I was quite a novice in travel planning 4-5 years back so, for me it was easier to imagine and write about Iceland, than to attempt planning for the trip or even thinking about executing it. I did a lot of research and compiled a beautiful post for Valentine's Day, won accolades for it and even forgot about the content after a while. The irony here is that, in reality, I never showed it to the Valentine for whom I had written the above travelogue conjured completely out of my imagination. 

2-3 years post that we both sat down to reconsider if we could plan a trip to Iceland in November. We discussed extensively with our travel planners( Pick Your Trail) and were about to book tickets when we suddenly dropped the plan and changed our destination. Going to Iceland in November( one of the core winter months) had its own challenges. The only advantage of going during that was longer and darker nights which increased the chances of sighting the Northern Lights. After a careful risk and benefit analysis,  my husband dropped this plan with a heavy heart. That's how New Zealand happened and that place washed all the gloomy feelings away. We stopped discussing about Iceland and decided to leave it to time. After a gap of 2 and half years, (late 2018) again my husband brought up this crazy idea of going to Iceland during winter. After being with him for almost 5 years now, I had gotten used to contradicting his statements which did not seem to be serious. I told him to not waste time thinking about a plan which was not going to work out. He took a week's time but meanwhile he had already done his background work. He was not just planning but serious about executing the trip this time. He started considering September as a good time to go to Iceland instead. Now, this seemed reasonable to me and if we planned well we could also make our 5th anniversary special. And, that's how it all began.

Thanks to Pick Your Trail for helping us create a trip itinerary keeping in mind our interests and giving us the flexibility of choosing our hotels and suggesting what could be done when we are in Iceland. They also created a WhatsApp group chat with constant day-to-day reminders so that we could not miss out on anything important. Oncet the flight tickets were sorted we went ahead and got the VISA done. We chose a mixture of Airbnb and hotel/ motel like set-up for the trip which could match with the other activities in our itinerary. We had to do this part by ourselves , which was a good learning experience , especially when we were applying for a Schengen visa. Our challenge was to pack smart, as the airlines had told us that only one baggage per person would only be allowed for check-in and we could just carry a minimal weight in our cabin luggage. We made a list of the items and even the number of clothes that we exactly needed for trip and kept everything accordingly. Decathlon was our go to place for shopping regular travel wear and also the winter+water-resistant wear. We had some thin fleece jackets and woollens which we could use as layers below the thick jackets. Layering was the key, as we had read in many websites and blogs. The weather could be a mixture of rain+ wind+sun as September was a mid-way time between the summer and rainy months and the beginning of winter in Iceland. Seeing many blogs mention more about the rain being persistent during this month, made us feel a little irritated as we had to even carry rain jackets. We did not have any specific water-proof shoots etc, but a pair of good sturdy shoes from Decathlon each and open sandals were what we had kept along with multiple pairs of socks. I wanted to flaunt a lot of beautiful t-shirts that I had but after going to Iceland, I ended up mostly in one jacket which was the go-to outer wear clothing for the maximum part of the trip. This probably was a good decision because packing minimal helped us manage our clothes better, we could carry stuff while coming back without increasing our luggage weight and we managed to wash our clothes in most of the places where we stayed. Gloves, jackets, sunscreen, medicines, shoes, socks, t-shirts, water-resistant/comfortable pants, grocery items like rice, poha, Maggie, instant soup/noodles, spices, etc with a very useful and multipurpose lightweight, microwave safe plastic cooker and light weight re-usable cutlery and tiffin boxes. The microwave-safe cooker was the best investment we had made for the trip as cooking a on-pot meal was quick and easy for us. Being lacto-ovo-vegetarians we we able to adjust to eggs, dairy and bread but it would not help us sustain for a one week in Iceland as we both love our food and cannot manage by having just soups and salads apart from eggs. So, these hacks saved us the trouble of hunting for vegan/vegetarian food in Iceland. We did our bit of research about what we could purchase after going there from Supermarkets and also utilise what we had got with us. Packaging of food items that we got from Nilgiris was good enough to even withstand the in-transit air pressure. These were some of the go-to places for grocery shopping that we banked on during our trip : Nettó, Krónan and Bónus. This website : Guide to Iceland, gave us most of the relevant info related to trip. Keeping Google Translate handy in our mobile which could convert Icelandic to English and vice-versa helped us to prepare well for the trip by learning to pronounce some basic names of places in Icelandic. Having heard that the language is tough, we practiced spelling and understanding few Icelandic words while we were sitting at the airport waiting to board the flight. Overall, these small key points made us feel a lot better during the trip. The rest what we did was based on everyday's exploration which will unfold in the upcoming blog posts. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

My little contribution to #NationalScienceDay

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National Science Day, celebrated on 28th of February every year is a day dedicated to mark the Nobel prize winning discovery 'The Raman effect'  by Sir. C.V. Raman. Many educational institutions keenly participate in this celebration where information about the scientific work in all the fields in spread as both awareness and knowledge for even a layman. Every year there is a theme based on which presentations are made. I always wish this kind of celebration could have started in the early 90s in my younger school days. Although we had science exhibition and workshops conducted by the school children which was open to the public where we had an opportunity to showcase our talent in all fields. 

In my current workplace and institute, National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, we celebrate Science Day every year and the entire institute participates in a day wide programme and exhibition where school children, students from various colleges, para-medical and medical educational institutions are invited to attend and also it is thrown open to the common public. The laboratory(Metabolic Lab) and the team from the Department of Neurochemistry where I work in, also participated and represented our scientific work in a simplified manner which could be understood by students and general public. 

This time the theme of Science Day was , "Science for the People, and the People for Science."  The preparations had started almost from the beginning of this year for this day. There were more than 250 volunteers from 30 different departments with 65 stalls spread across various disciplines like basic, behavioural and neuroscience who had participated in the day long event. Every team had ensured that they are able to convey important scientific work in a manner which could be creative and help children understand our work better. Many had made models, prepared charts, organised games, created puzzles and also conducted a street-play, which could kindle interest among the young minds and get their thinking caps on. 

While I was preparing the stall with our team and also interacting with the public and going through the course of the day I felt like I was transported back to my school days when I had the same enthusiasm in preparing for the school science exhibition. It was a way to interact with new people, spread and share our knowledge, get feedback for our work and also make new friends. After I started working, I almost forgot what it was like to be a part of this kind of a creative activity. In the scientific community at the research level we are only bound to scientific posters and presentations but science day triggered the creative juices in our minds so that we could also represent our high level scientific work in a way that could help the young bright minds think of new ideas based on our work and divert their interest in it as they are the flag bearers who would carry forward scientific knowledge.

We represented our work related to newborn screening where children/affected patients are screened for inborn errors of metabolism using just a small spot of blood. Presenting the scientific work that we do along with a more than a decade long specialized diagnostic service that our laboratory provides, was a moment of pride for us as we felt that we were able to reach many who were unaware of the importance of newborn screening and also were new to the fact that such facilities of testing were available for everyone in the country as well. 

I personally took out time to go to each and every exhibit and stalls kept by various departments to know about their work and also appreciate the amount of work put in by each and everyone in presenting their work in the best possible way. There were extremely good facts about neuroscience that were depicted by every team in the best possible way. Everyone had a message to share with the general public and especially a great learning for the students. There were also slogans like- ' Go green' and ' Say No to Plastic' message that were spread in the form of models which were like an interactive teaching tool for everyone.

Young minds and the Gen-Next are very talented and have access to technology and knowledge in a way I couldn't have imagined when I was in school. Technology has its own peril but science day explains how technology can be used in a productive way and teaches as to why a student who is interested in science should try to look beyond just books and learn to apply science in their day to day life. Overall, the experience of participating in the science day was an enriching one, not just for me and my team but also for those who took time to visit this and took home a positive message related to science, not just as a boring subject but as a practical approach to life. 

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.'

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eat fit, Grow fit and Be fit

In the current scenario that we are living in, where we have better access to technology which is full of gadgets, I wonder the kind of world we are heading towards? We have so many smart applications included in our day to day lives just to make our lives a little easier and better. Smart devices are useful at the same time also addictive. We are so dependent on smart devices that we have forgotten what is it like to even look at the time on a wrist watch or ask someone for directions or remember phone numbers and important dates in our schedule calendar or also take note of important notes, passwords etc. Devices have gone to an extent that they also help you in predicting the most fertile days to even try for pregnancy! Woah!! now devices are directing us in even planning for a pregnancy. Aren't they slowly encroaching our lives and our minds hence disrupting the natural flow of events which were always bound to occur?? I was watching few episodes of the series Black Mirror on Netflix the other day and the stories they have portrayed about technology engulfing our lives like a pathogen being engulfed by our immune cells are scary that I fear they will eventually be true some day. It was difficult for me to accept the fact that our future could be headed towards something like that and even imagining about it and visualising it gives me chills. I felt more scared watching this series that I would have felt watching a horror movies because I know what Black Mirror is trying to tell us could be not just fiction but reality in the near future.
Now, having said all of these, let me get out of the worrisome and the negativity zone. Let me look at the most important benefits of including smart gadgets in my life. For me, the first and foremost help would be from smart phones. The introduction of a good quality smart phone has made my life very very simplified and it goes beyond the use of phone just for social media and networking with people. My smart phones have always been bought from Flipkart and they have a wide range which one could choose from which allows users to buy what they exactly need. I am not a very gadget friendly person as I use gadgets only for what I need them the most. The phone I am currently using is Mi A1 which is able to give me the best out of what I need from a smart phone. Since I work in a hospital where research is involved I have used technology to the best when it comes to capturing clinical photos of patients with rare conditions which have added value to scientific data and has helped solved many clinical mysteries. I have used to capture processes and videos of my experiments, the type of equipment set-up I have used and put them in posters to explain to the scientific community about my work. And all this was done perfectly by using my phone which could capture photos and give a great output whose resolution was quite clear to be put up even on huge posters. I tried to use my phone in better ways than just capturing regular memories. There were times during travel where we have chosen to go without a DSLR and the images captured through my phone have been amazing enough to be blown-up into a large print. I have used this to download Apps which add relevance in my life not just with social media interactions but also by giving me the opportunities to connect with groups which talk about fitness, discuss about dietary regimes and also about doing things thr right way when it comes to fitness. If there were no smart phones I wouldn't be able to listen to the choice of music I want to. They are the best forms of additions that one could make into their lives.

The next in line would be the introduction of Smart televisions which is an important component of #SmartHomeRevolution. Although the use of mobile phones and televisions are not new but what we can do using a smart tv is much more than just watching the regular daily soaps. We are basically spoilt for choice when it comes to the use of a good quality internet facility at home coupled with a smart TV. Amazon prime, Netflix, Youtube and other channels which can viewed through a smart tv as well have added extra value to the concept of watching television. Although, these things can get addictive but if watched in limits they have added extra value to our life with a variety of entertainment and information which looks amazing on a big screen rather than being watched through a laptop.

Smart Home devices are the next gen revolution which give us answers for everything. You just need to say ' Ok! Google' and everything works post that. I personally haven't liked using them so I have limited their use for only playing songs of my choice. The other day, my friend, a busy mom of two kids was running around in the house doing multiple chores while I visited her. One of her 4 year old came in interrupting our conversation many times asking her to tell her some rhymes so that he could be entertained. She tried telling one or two rhymes but he kept coming back. So, after a point she was fed up and she told him to ask google and find out. He, being a 4 year old next gen smart kid asked Google and got all the rhymes that he wanted to hear to keep himself entertained. So, this clearly tells as to how much it had added value to every busy parent's life. There are cons to it too but in times of need this serves as a boon. At last, my friend and I were able to sit and have a cup of coffee together after 10 years. She had also installed a Smart Camera, (CCTV camera) linked with a door opening system in their house entrance so that even in their absence anyone would be very careful before opening the door and everything would be recorded which they could monitor even when they were at work. This added so much security to their lives and would be helpful for others as well. They are easily available on Flipkart and can be installed very easily.

My favourite among the smart gadgets is the Mi fitness band which is a Smart Wearable gifted by my husband. I am so thankful to this fitness revolution introduced that we have moved beyond expensive gadgets like FitBit where tracking our fitness goals isn't that expensive anymore. It is one of the simplest smart watches where all you need is the time, the number of steps walked per day, the number of kms done during the day, the calories burnt, the heart rate and foremost, once we connect it with the Mi Fit App it can tell us about the progress correctly. I usually put my phone in silent mode while I am at work and forget to put it back to the ringing mode. This band help me set a vibration so that every time I get a call my band vibrates which helps me not missed important calls. Every day seeing the number of steps I have taken and the number of kms I have walked/ run gives me a motivation to do more. Those little rewards that we get after our set target is reached for the day is very helpful in pushing me to do more. There are many gadgets available which have many other additions and functions but this basic fitness band works for people like me who are not gadget friendly yet want to use technology in the best possible way. After buying this band and using it for over 10 months now I can see my fitness progress and in the true sense this is #GetFitWithFlipkart. I am extremely motivated to evaluate my fitness progress at the end of 2019, after the goals that I have set for the year with this App.

Monday, December 24, 2018

'TRUE BEAUTY' is You and Me

I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.
Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.
Presenting Naturals TRUE BEAUTY… http://bit.ly/naturalsOF 

Thank you Naturals and Women's Web for giving me such an opportunity to pen my words down- A pen whose ink had dried for long and a mind whose creative juice had hardened due to life's unnatural circumstances.

This topic kindled many thoughts in my mind and raised questions which I always had different answers for.

If you ask a 5 year old, ' Who do you think is a True Beauty?'. 
 'My mother,' would be the prompt answer. 

If you ask a 10 year old, ' Whom you think to be a True Beauty?' 
' My teacher,' pat comes the answer. 

If you ask the same question to a 15 year old,' Deepika Padukone/any other actress would be the answer.' 

If a 20 year old is asked,' How would you define true beauty?' She may say,' P.V Sindhu/Sania Mirza/ V R Lalithambika/ Manushi Chillar....'

At 27, a woman may say, 'Mother/Mother-in-law/aunt/even a daily wage labourer/ household maid/ Nirbhaya/ fighters/ survivors, someone like Laxmi Agarwal.'

At 35, ' A woman might say,' My little daughter.'

At 50, may be, 'My daughter- in-law.'

This circle of life will continue and our perspective of beauty will keep changing with time as our life goes on. There might be many who might have that 'one person' whom they admire or consider as true beauty but I have always felt that true beauty lies either deep within or superficial in all women no matter who they are. It is defined by the way we women look at ourselves and move forward in society, despite all odds. The courage, love, compassion and grit that we all display defines us who we are. We spend a lot of time giving to the society, giving to the family but true beauty lies in giving some love for our own selves. I was in this delusion for a long time thinking that true beauty is only judged either by looks or by our talents/ capabilities, be it educational or our skills, but the word, 'TRUE BEAUTY' is every single woman on this planet who enjoys, loves and respects being who she is. 

I hadn't realized this until life threw certain challenges at me, which I was unprepared for.  

Life had turned topsy-turvy with sudden near death escape, hospitalization, surgery, consultation and getting in an out of the doctor's chamber- not for academic purpose or for diagnosing other patients, but this time, for ME. I had always been on the observing end when it came to pain and suffering because of the profession I am in and had been consoling many such parents at my diagnostic laboratory but suddenly one day, life chose to turn the tables and I was put at the 'being consoled' end as a mother to be , who had lost a precious life due to an ectopic pregnancy. Suddenly,  a swarm of well wishers surrounded me, trying to console me and get me out of a mental state of shock I was in, that time, I was on the OTHER SIDE

Incidents that followed post this during my physical and mental recovery process made me realize my true worth. I was in a disheveled state appearance wise as well as from within. I did not want to look at myself in the mirror as I was too scared - to see those red-swollen bags under my eyes, those heat boils and acnes on my face due to medications, to look at my stitches or my hands with swollen veins with the I.V. cannula inserted in. I forgot the purpose of being alive; I forgot to love myself in those times. I felt ugly not only from outside but from within.
In this state of melancholy that I was in, my husband held my hand one day and said, 'Look at yourself with a smile for what you have been, what you are and what you will be.' 
That statement was strong enough to shake me out of that delusion I was in and made me think deep. Situations can be circumstantial but what we think about our own self shouldn't change ever. I am just a minuscule representative of an entire community of women who would have faced worse circumstances than I did. But. the day we start feeling good about ourselves, that day we become the true beauties.

True beauty is nothing but You and Me

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Journey of life

Being open minded helps us live a more enriched life. Being open to new experiences shapes our personality, and traveling spurs just that: We open-up. We approach new people, we listen to them and we embrace their thoughts. We move away from the well-known paths. We activate our curiosity. As open minded people, we cherish variety and diversity in our day-to-day life; the more we travel the more we crave novelty. If we have experienced openness once, we start wanting more. 

This is definitely something beautiful that I read today and would love to contribute my thoughts to this. The above statements stand true and I feel it is a great initiative taken by Lufthansa#SayYesToTheWorld to kindle this feeling in all those travellers for whom travel has always given a new perspective and has helped in looking at the world in a better way. 

Before I talk about what impact travel has has on me I would like to quote the following lines which happen to be my favourite :

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

The very concept of travel was introduced only post 7 years in my life. Hailing from a small town like Jamshedpur, where we had a huge close knit family within a 5 kilometre vicinity, we never had the need to travel to any place beyond the city's limits. Life was quite fulfilling and content. The joy of going to my maternal grandparents' place during summer and winter vacations was what the travel was limited too. So, when I had the opportunity to take my first train journey, to a city called 'Madras'(Chennai) which was 1702 kilometres, my happiness knew no bounds. I was excited and as happy as any child could get. This journey was going to be more interesting because for the first time I would have a real story to tell - I would have a real essay to write post my vacations. All this while, I had written essays describing about my summer vacation based on what I read in Tinkle, Champak and any other regular story books which were a craze in the 90s. The time to travel in most iconic Tata-Alleppey express came sooner that I had expected. As any inquisitive, naive, innocent and playful child I was also deeply engrossed in absorbing the routine life that revolved around travelling by a train. It was as simple as waiting for long hours at the station because we always wanted to be an hour before the train would arrive. We spent time buying magazines, looking at the porters, interacting with the vendors, tasting the traditional snacks as the train made its course through different states, reading books, listening to stories, observing others, lying on the top berth and doing even the most boring tasks like counting the spokes on the ceiling fan, staring at the ceiling lights till our eyes got tired and we fell asleep, counting the number of stations that we had crossed, constantly nudging our parents and asking about the time left, forcing mom to open the tiffin( packed food) box for a two and half day long journey, getting to make new friends, answering queries from the elders, fighting for simple things like who would get to sit at the window seat, waving at locals randomly as the train chugged through various villages and cities and then repeating the same routine again and again till the destination arrived. These moments will be etched in every child's memories forever, just as mine. It was my first hand experience about the real life. It was just the stepping stone to looking at the world outside the map printed in our text books. Recently such precious memories of the nostalgic train journey experiences were shared by Paper Boat (Drinks and memories)with wonderful illustrations that pulled a string in everyone's heart.

As I grew up and started understanding about life a little more, developed my intellect a bit more, travel started becoming more interesting. Such was a visit to the Science City, Calcutta (Kolkata) with my cousins which made me attached more to the subject-'Science'. During this journey I realised that there was something in the old world charm of the city which made me feel so attached to it. The steamer boat ride on the Hoogly river, going around the city in a tram, taking the first metro built in the country, having tender coconut water at Babu Ghat, shopping in Behala, contemplating about the history of the Victoria Memorial or having chilli guava outside the Eden Gardens ; everything gave me a sense of pride that I was able to witness something which I had only read or heard about so far. At that age, I never knew how to judge people or to understand about the world but exploration in itself gave me a sense of connection with the real world. Seeing the lesser privileged I felt lucky being born in a family where we were able to afford good food, water, clothing and shelter.
I started becoming mature. Life moved on and so did I. When it came to travelling to Darjeeling and Gangtok for a school excursion I understood what it was like to travel without family. We were randomly put in different rooms with friends whom I hardly spoken to in school. It gave me a sense of handling small amount of money which parents had given with care, only for me to enjoy and experience life in a way which they hadn't seen when they were my age.  There were teachers with us to guide but the sense of responsibility came in automatically. That journey taught me how to bear extremely cold weather conditions, when it was freezing cold and snowing at Lake Tsomgo( Changu Lake). I realised then that, not always - do we get very friendly people around and our favourite delicious dishes served (exclusively made by mom), so we need to adjust to what life throws at us. It was the first lesson I learn after travelling. It was an age where I started understanding the meaning behind travel. It was not just about travelling by train, eating, sleeping and looking around but learning every bit from the exploration that I set my foot on. I started loving every part of the journey from then on. I started observing people around me, 'life' in itself, which was so full of opportunities and options.

That's when I took my step from home bidding adieu to my parents for a journey where I was all alone. It was my first journey alone when I went to college and got the first taste of hostel life. Innumerable journeys home sometimes alone and sometimes with friends gave me confidence to travel without fear. I learnt things the hard way too just like I mastered the skill of haggling with the porters and auto rickshaw drivers, learnt to be kind, patient and considerate, developed a sense of compassion, learnt to be responsible for my own well being, acquired the art of handling money with care, read a lot and gained knowledge not just about academics but also expanded my knowledge about the world.

Travel made me a better writer. It gave my imagination wings. I could sit for hours at the railway station or the bus stand and observe people around. It made me think in a better way. I started building stories on the life of the common. I could feel connected to many around me. I started studying people and their nature. It opened a new leash of life for me. Suddenly I had so many topics to write about and discuss. I found that writing about my thoughts could help me nurture my creativity.

During this phase I explored parts of Chennai, Vellore, Pondicherry, Manipal, Udupi, Mangalore, Gokarna, Mumbai, Kochi etc.

While I was moving away from college and was ready to face the world as a salaried employee, the transition in my life was very evident. I had to move to a new city, Bengaluru (Bangalore), try and settle here, look for shelter, food and try to establish my niche in my workplace. It was a challenge in itself. Travel was a part of my recruitment too because the hospital which had given me a position requested me to come down to Bengaluru for an interview and had also arranged for my travel from Jamshedpur. A girl from the Steel city had come all the way to the Garden city and that was the beginning of my journey in Namma Bengaluru which found me my life partner, helped me find a career that I had aimed for and also helped me in slowly adapting to this city and coming to stage of calling it mine. It was the beginning of my 'Bengaluru days'. The travel to this city made me fluent in Kannada, the local language here. Travel, again had made me learn a new language. I made new friends, I explored places on my own, I understood the fast paced life of the city and it made me a stronger and a better person day by day.

My travel during the initial two years after joining work was only limited to frequent visits home and Chennai for a wedding function. Additionally I got a chance to set foot in Nagpur, where my engagement ceremony was held. The function was fixed so quickly that we didn't have much time to plan and couldn't get air conditioned tickets for our family of 15 who were supposed to go for the engagement function. We ended up getting seats in sleeper compartments in the scorching hot summer season. There were many unreserved bookings done in our compartment for some reason and the situation was horrible. There wasn't even enough space to walk till the washroom. We had to walk in the opposite direction crossing the coach in order to find a clean washroom. The next day was my engagement function and here we were split in different coaches, having sleepless nights because of the crowd and the terrible heat. I realised something that day; Life is not always a bed of roses and times when we need a bed of roses the most, we will be denied the maximum. It is upon us to take such small situations as a learning for our future. This pretty much sums up the first phase of my travel.

What I will be talking about next is one such travel journey which I took up for a lifetime with my life partner. He showed me the world in a different light. He made travel a learning experience for me. I had never imagined going to places which I later went to. 'I' got replaced by 'WE' , post this phase. My husband is a well travelled man so his perspective of the world was much mature than mine, mainly because he had travelled to various parts of the country. We took our first step together as a couple to travel in and around the world. Our first international trip was to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi) and Singapore. We both were very naive back then. My husband had planned most of it as I was a little skeptical about planning an international travel. He got most of things in places, right from ticket booking, VISA application and the hotel booking. I went there trusting him completely without any preconceived notions or any expectations about the place.

We learnt from our mistakes on our very first international travel. We forgot to split our luggage equally so that the permitted weight of the luggage was within limits for each traveller. We lost a lot of money in the first stage. Not having much preparation about the kind of expenses being encountered, we both were dejected even before we began our journey. But, we consoled ourselves and decided to learn from our mistake. Being eggetarians, we assumed that we would be able to manage food in a foreign country where the major population was dependent only on a non-vegetarian diet , but only when we reached there did we realise that even coconut rice with small fish is considered vegetarian in Malaysia. We had already spent a bomb in paying the chauffeur to take us from the airport to our hotel. Had we been smart travellers we could have taken the metro which could take us closer to our hotel. We learnt about it later after spending a lot of money on day1. We couldn't even choose to buy packed chips as they were also made of fish. We starved for an entire day until we found a vegetarian hotel in Batu caves, KL. It was the longest I had ever starved. We both were on a water fast for more than a day. It taught us to do our research better and enquire about places in a better way before coming to a new place. But despite all this, there was a sense of togetherness which we felt. Travel taught us to face difficult situations calmly. We enjoyed every bit of our travel and quick learners that we are we took a metro back to the hotel from Batu caves. We learnt some terms in Malay and tried to talk to the locals to understand about the place in a better way. It was another skill added to our cap. From then on, we started travelling better, we could manage to even rent a self drive car in Langkawi which helped us in navigating the island in a better way. We were able to find an Indian restaurant as well after interacting with a local. We explored the local places of sightseeing on foot just to understand the people, the culture and their life. Our first adventure experience was at Langkawi, where we tried our hand at Snorkelling. It was a funny experience, yet something which we cherish till date. The kind of life we had observed in KL and Langkawi was totally contrasting to the mechanical, monotonous and busy life in Simgapore. We even learnt something like escalator etiquette in the Changi International Airport. We were extremely careful about our luggage as even the hand baggage was weighed before we boarded the flight. We took the MTS rail to go around places as we didn't find anything interesting to do. We were not the kind of travellers who wanted to go to the exotic places in the city. We took the MTS rail and went to all the places where the metro could take, tasted cuisines, found good places to hang out, observed the people around and spent our time fruitfully. Take home message for us was that if we travel smartly, we can enjoy well.

Snapshots of Langkawi

Post this travel, life opened numerous travel opportunities for us as a couple as we were into professional candid wedding photography. We were invited to places like Chennai, Hyderabad, Palakkad, Mumbai, Dhanbad, Delhi, Allahabad, Bhubaneshwar, Varanasi and Lucknow. This made us go through a phase as a team where we could be a part of other couple's joy and celebration. We were able to contribute a lot to various couples with our candid photography team work. During this phase of travel I learnt about various wedding rituals after seeing different cultures, made new friends across the country, started developing a lot of interest in photography, learnt few tips and tricks from my husband and took this as a great learning phase of my life.

We took short trips around the city too where we drove around with family. I trained myself to drive in highways and learnt the rules of driving in the city. While driving to places around Bengaluru such as Coorg, Sakleshpur, Wayanad, Cochin, Alleppy, Trivandrum, Varkala, Goa and Palakkad, I got a sense of freedom. It was amazing to drive along the countryside, stop by the roadside enjoy the local cuisines, talk to folks around and also travel smartly. We chose home-stays over hotels in some places where we could interact with our hosts who were the native of the place and we could get to stay in their property. One such visits to a home-stay in Wayand gave us a chance to eat food prepared by the locals who could get some income with such initiatives. We were also a part of a bamboo making workshop in Wayanad where were taught to make something as simple as a bamboo pen. Such experiences were something which we both longed for.

We  got our first hand experience of Airbnb when we stayed in Granny's Inn,Varanasi. It was the cleanest places in Varanasi. It was a beautiful homestay, old yet well maintained and run by two grannies who were full of life and extremely enterprising. There were an inspiration for me, who made me understand that there is so much we can do in this one lifetime that we have been bestowed with. We just need to believe in ourselves and work hard and be smart. We chose a lot of Airbnb's for our future stays which made us come closer to the place and understand about the place better. We were slowly becoming environment friendly travellers. We advised other travellers on the way if they were seen throwing garbage on the road.

In Nepal

En-route Coorg

Paragliding in Nepal

Life's biggest lesson was learnt during our travel to Ladakh with a group of close friends. Apart from exploring the magical place we could also feel the difficulties that the locals had to face each day due to the drastic climatic conditions. A land where places can be completely inaccessible. We had doubled our respect for the army after seeing their dedication and work to maintain peace in such areas. Hats off to BRO for maintaining the roads so well and building the world's second largest motorable road. We were rescued and sheltered by nomads in Ladakh on a dark rainy night when there was a snowstorm. We were with god sent angels that day. The people are so humble and honest that our hearts melted seeing their innocence. The way they treated us when we got stuck amidst a snowstorm without expecting any favour in return or even money, is something we all have to learn. There are also such helpful souls existing in this world. The more we went around Ladakh, the more we understood that people here are tough in physique as they can bear even extreme weather conditions, they are physically very active and their hearts are as soft as they could be.

In Ladakh- On the way to Lamayuru

In Varanasi- Boat ride along the ghats

Pangong Tso

Near Tso Moriri after a snow storm

Post Ladakh, we wanted to explore another part of the world so we chose New Zealand - The land of the Kiwis. This time our international travel was a smarter move as we chose to drive around North and South Island. I fell in love with the place the moment I started driving. The people, the roads, the infrastructure, the landscapes were something we were just so impressed about. The beautiful landscapes were a treat to the eyes and the cleanliness around made it look like paradise. It was not just about travelling in a first world country but also understanding how conscious the Kiwis were about their culture and their environment. While we were about to start for our NZ trip we heard that many places in NZ had been affected by a high magnitude earthquake. We felt shuddered when we heard about this. The places where were going to had not been affected but it was still a scary feeling that we had. After going to NZ we were surprised to know that the locals there are always aware that earthquakes can happen anytime as NZ is a very earthquake prone country. We learnt from the people there that life has to move on despite natural calamities. We learnt how locals took the initiative to pick up garbage thrown around by anyone and make it a point to put it in the dustbin.We chose many Airbnb's here too. One such Airbnb was hosted by a couple who were the friendliest of all. It was only after we left from NZ did we find out that the most humble family, whose house we had stayed in, belonged to ex- Olympic 1976 Hockey Gold medalist winners. They were our new found friends who visited us when we came back to India. We played host to this wonderful couple who taught us what simplicity was. This very day I decided to build a dream home and become an Airbnb host where I could invite people from all over the world to visit our city and place. I do not know when the travel bug had bitten me. 

Rangitoto Volcano, NZ

Cathedral Cove, NZ

Drive along the Coromandel, North Island, NZ

Wai-o-Tapu - Active volcano in Rotorua, NZ
En-route Queenstown, NZ

The scenic South Island, NZ

Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, NZ
With Barry Maister, Jan Maister in Christchurch, NZ 
With Jan Maister and Selwyn Maister at our home in Bengaluru

The next travel experience was in North East where we visited Guwahati,Kaziranga, Dhekiajuli(Assam),Dirang, Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh), Shillong, Cherapunji, Mawlynnong and Langkawet ( Meghalaya). We stayed mainly in home-stays spoke at length with our hosts who were native of each place, got to know about their culture and understood the hardships that they had to go through. They had been neglected as a community for a very long time as the north eastern states were not concentrated upon for any kind of development for many years. Only over the past 5 years the development was phenomenal. The people were honest, hardworking and living in difficult circumstances in few places, yet they had always adorned a smile on their face. The presence of the army was felt throughout our journey to Bomdila from the time we entered Arunachal Pradesh. The terrains were extremely tough where we had a terrible time driving. The locals were breaking boulders and rocks with hand tools so that roads could be made. Technology hadn't reached many of the villages. The villages were so clean in Meghalaya that we all have to take inspiration from. Their hospitality is beyond expectations. They are extremely friendly and innocent. We could see the tension in Arunachal Pradesh when we observed numerous army camps on the way but they were needed for protecting our country. Salute to the brave soldiers who protect us always. 

The circle of life- Monastery in Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh
Finally getting to capture the Milky Way in Kaziranga, Assam
Cherapunji, Meghalaya
Floating boat in Dawki, Meghalaya
Shillong- The Scotland of the East

Sualkuchi, Assam ( Manchester of the East)

Another such striking situation was observed on our trip to Srinagar and Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir. There is so much army presence in and around there that one cannot imagine the fear that people live in. But, life goes on smoothly despite these problems. People are extremely friendly and highly known for their hospitality. One cannot imagine how many innocent lives are lost to futile war each day. It is indeed a paradise on earth, but under the protection and scanner of the army and other opposing forces. A very sensitive topic to discuss upon but what we realised after going there is that truth is not what we read in newspapers or watch on television. Truth is way beyond what we see. Probably, all they want is peace but a kind of peace even they don't know how to attain for their city. We were having a casual conversation with a Shikara boatman who was blaming religious differences as a major cause of the regular fights. We saw messages written on every street wall by unknown groups but beyond all this there is a regular life that normal people are living and trying to build which goes futile as they are trying harder and harder to restore peace.

In Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir

A walk on the snow on the Apharwat Peak, Gulmarg

Shikara on Nigeen Lake, Srinagar, J&K

Travelling had opened my mind to variety of experiences which each time I am absorbing. Travelling has changed the way I think. Political turmoils leads to fear in travellers because of which they think twice before going to places. Tourism industry is a boost to any country's revenue in itself. Let us all be conscious, smart, environment friendly travellers who pledge to preserve the beauty of the surroundings they visit and also create awareness among other travellers to travel responsibly so that we can make this place an even better place to live in. Let us all join hands in making this world a green and clean place to live in. Let us all fight global warming. If it affects our ecosystem there will be no snow fall to witness, no water to drink and no clean air to breathe.