E For Explore

Vietnam is probably on every travel-addict’s Dream Destination wish list, and I’m no exception. Well, you could replace Vietnam with almost any place in the world, and the statement would still hold true for me, but I was in Vietnam this month, and so Vietnam it is!

It was that kind of a trip where the destination doesn’t matter, because of the people you travel with! Well, actually it does. It needs to be inexpensive, because even after four years of practicing architecture, we are all still broke. And Vietnam was a wonderful place, “international” enough and did not burn a hole in our pocket! (Umm?)

So, after immense planning, adjusting, discussing, pushing, scheduling and re-scheduling, we finally landed in Ho Chi Mihn City to realize that we could have very well gone to Pune. Oh my! The number of bikes this city has is obnoxious, even by Indian standards!

If you know even a little about the Vietnam War history, I recommend you take a tour of the Củ Chi tunnels on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City and experience the underground guerrilla network for yourself. Crawling through the hot and narrow tunnels will give you a momentary sense of what conditions must have been like during conflict. What an experience!

We left the city setting to explore central Vietnam. From beaches, to lakes and rivers, from the very romantic Hoi An to the Imperial City of Hue, from a day full of water-sports at Nha Trang to a quick excursion through Hindu temples at Myson, the Vietnam vibe is contagious, and everywhere you look, it feels festive, almost like a celebration is on its way. What’s not to love?

Generally, when people travel to a place with an unknown language, they tend to learn how to say “Thank You” (at least) locally. But when you are a vegetarian travelling anywhere outside India, you learn to say ‘No meat, No egg, No fish’ as well. In a country famous for its street food, local beer, coffee and “Pho”, Vietnam did not disappoint us vegetarians also. Though their local delicacy – Hot Pot – pretty much gave us an idea as to why Vietnamese people are so tiny!  It was even more evident when we went to their well-stocked night market, just to realize their largest size will fit only an Indian ant.

At first, when you enter this country, it pretty much feels like India. But only when you live and experience the place, you realize it is rather more developed, much more cleanly and with a better general civic sense. Post war, actual economic liberalization in Vietnam came in the mid-1990s and really got moving in the early 2000s. And India with its almost 70 years of independence still has a long way to go. I understand it is reasonably unfair to compare India to Vietnam- given the size, population and scale of everything, but we definitely have a benchmark to accomplish even before we look at the developed nations!

Well, when you are on a vacation with long-time friends, few of whom are planning to get married in the coming “wedding season”, there is a lot that happens, which cannot, should not and would not be told, and definitely not announced in the newspaper! Until next time Vietnam, cảm ơn!

The Curious Case Of Bhutan

People who know me well know that I do not like to travel a lot. I am not the kind of person who would go on 4-monthly vacations, sprinkled with a few weekenders in between, of which most I call – Oh that was a hectic wedding getaway! No, that’s not me. But then last week I did find myself in a paradise – Bhutan!

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Oh boy! If there is any country on this planet with every inch of it being really gawk-worthy, it has to be Bhutan! Wherever you look, whatever you see is beautiful – untouched.

Can you imagine a world without any traffic lights? Can you imagine a world without any McDonalds? Can you imagine a world without honking on street – Oh may be you could, if you are either born in the west, or an engineer from India. But, Bhutan definitely has been successful in maintaining its culture and has kept its traditions and heritage intact, with minimum or no influence from the west.

Having said that I believe that it is a perfect amalgamation of the west and the east! No, seriously! They have put together chilly from the east, and cheese from the west and made it into their delicacy! Ema Datshi (literally Chilly Cheese) is basically chilly (yes, the green, hot, raw chilies) in cheese curry, and is had with rice! However absurd it sounds, it probably is one of the most interesting local cuisines I have had, after Apli Misal of course.

This country not only has a high Gross National Happiness index, but also has a high number of pigs that are high. That’s right! Though it’s illegal, they grow a lot of marijuana there. And from what I hear, they let the pigs have a lot of it. This comes from their belief – Happy Pigs Mean Happy Pork. Woah, which is taking you-are-what-you-eat a little too far. Though I am sure a few people are now thinking that they would rather be pigs in Bhutan, than in a corporate office.

I wouldn’t say that one of the reasons of me wanting to visit Bhutan was visa on arrival, while the rest of the world pays about 200-250 dollars per day to be there! No, I am not such a sadist. But the wiser thing to do is to visit it before they give us similar treatment, because as an Indian – and a chindi Indian at that – I wouldn’t be able to afford it then! (I sense my dad raising an eyebrow at “I” and “afford” in the same sentence. I love you no but.)

Well, you must visit this country, the population of which is less than that of one Hiranandani Tower, if you are in love with nature at its purest. If you are a trekker, meditator, an explorer, a photographer, a reader, a thinker or basically anything- this country is an absolute must-do for you. If you are an introvert, this is a perfect getaway with not many disturbing creatures who don’t understand “your kind” around you. If you are lazy like me, it’s a stone’s throw away from India – provided hulk is throwing a comet in that direction. If you are none of the above, and stuck through this blog, book your tickets now!

PS- Bhutan ain’t paying me anything. This is heartfelt.

Done Done London!

Well yeah, I know that it is a very off-the-wall phrase from the movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan, meaning “it’s a deal”. But I have used it as a very bad metaphor to have checked “Visit London” off my bucket list. I am not even sure if it qualifies as a metaphor actually!

Anyway, 2014 has been a great year! A very quick, not exactly last minute, but a sudden plan to travel around England turned out to be a brilliant one! Thank God for sisters who decide to do their masters abroad – you get to plan a I-will-go-get-her-back trip there, not to mention she is the one who actually gets you back! (Also, is it too soon for Can-I-accompany-her-for-graduation ceremony-next-year?) It was also a one-of-a-kind trip abroad, since it was only us three sisters travelling! (We really missed you Jiji!)

Well, of course anyone loves to explore any area “as the locals do”, but when you come to London, I think there is a charm in doing the clichéd touristy routine – at least once in your life – whether it is the mesmerizing view from the London eye, taking a typical picture with the red bus, booth or cab, walking over tower bridge, feeling patriotic looking at Sachin’s pictures at Lord’s, visiting Buckingham Palace, feeling a star at Madame Tussuads or paying to see our very own Kohinoor at the Tower of London.  And meeting old friends at far off land is incomparable! They are local guides to places no internet website will mention but are worth every penny! The best lunch I had there was a place Samidha hunt down for us vegetarians! :*

And London aakar agar koi musical nahi dekha toh kya khaak London aaye! It was one of the most beautiful visual treat at lyceum theatre, watching the gorgeously done Lion King. Oh my! It has been one alluring sight I have witnessed in the longest time.  While we are talking about sightly, I have to mention the day trip to breath-taking Stonehenge, splendid Roman Bath and the exquisite Windsor castle! *Note to self – Next time in UK, stay an extra day at Bath.

Inserted between was a brief trip to Manchester! Though I am not a die-hard football fan, there was no two way about visiting the plush Old Trafford stadium! One just cannot stop gawking once there! And then a visit to the delightful York was very pleasing! It is definitely a must-visit town in England, just for the sheer beauty of the countryside!

And when you are with Vinita, there has to be some adventure (read amusement park) added to the outline – so that she leaves you at peace with rest of the list! And that led to a day well spent at Alton Towers – one hell of a park! I haven’t been to any other park with this variety of roller coasters! While I am really a scaredy-cat, I did manage to ride quite a few of them! *beams with pride*

Phew! We did manage to pack quite a lot of things in the short week in England, but that place draws you to it. The swanky London architecture, unblemished streets, neat parks, swift and smooth underground, delicious cupcakes, lively city centres….Ah! I just need a reason to be back there, and I dare say – hopefully soon! And of course, Scotland is yet to be checked off the list, you know!