Chettinad – It always stays with you

My first associations with Chettinad began with a stiff starched cotton sari – it was bright turmeric yellow, with a large chequered pattern (that’s Chettinad talking) and an olive green temple border at the bottom. I had seen my mother and aunts, and grandmothers in Chettinad saris and one day just had to have my own. That was my only association with Chettinad. The cuisine is famous too… who hasn’t heard tales sung about Chettinad curries… but being a vegetarian, it never interested me.

Then, 5 years after I bought that sari, quite suddenly I found myself planning a holiday, and soon found myself in Chettinad. What begun as a plan to see more of Tamilnadu, beyond the hill stations and temple towns, ended in Chettinad, bang in the middle of Tamilnadu, a place that none of my family had been to.

And Chettinad did take me by surprise. On the one hand, the roads were lined with beautiful houses that belonged to another time, artistically and aesthetically, and on the other hand, was their story of devastation, displacement and renewal.

Lanes of Karaikudi with Chettiar houses

Lanes of Karaikudi with Chettiar houses

I reached Karaikudi in the wee hours of the morning, and after a brisk roadside filter coffee (They have filter coffee by the road, I should so shift to Tamilnadu!) I made my way to Kannadukathan, a village off Karaikudi.

Visalam, Chettinad

Is this a hotel?

I was staying at a renovated Chettiar mansion Visalam, and the pictures couldn’t have prepared me for the splendour steeped in simplicity. A rich merchant gifted this house to his daughter on her wedding. The spacious front porch with thick wooden beams on either side supporting the massive and intricate teak door ushered me into another world. A world where teak wood pillars, thicker than an elephant’s leg, supported the huge ceiling dark wooden ceiling… where a silent coolness permeated the entire space only to be broken by the sound of the golusu (anklets) of the girls running past… where the veranda was lined with antique photographs, which spoke of a yesterday that still haunted the house’s today. I caught myself staring at this black and white girl in her grey polka dotted frock, wondering who she was, where she was from and why she adorned these walls.

Art Deco Window Grill Detail Chettinad House

Art Deco window detail

Chettinad House Door Detail

Door latch detail

Each village seems to have a small network of lanes where all the Chettiars lived. If you think it will be about a couple of noteworthy houses, and then you can be on your way, you are way off! It’s like a Gujarati thali with every corner of the plate having something different yet connected with that underlining similarity to tease your taste buds into submission. Camera strapped, I went from one home to another clicking away.

Street in Chettinad

Even a stroll down the road turns beautiful.

A quiet street in Chettinad

A quiet street creates a beautiful frame.

The manager of my hotel, Mr. Rama, was a local and a Chettiar too. He had a house in the village where his elderly aunt was the caretaker. Over dinner and lunch, he narrated many stories about Chettiars, their homes and the current situation.

The main bungalow at Kannadukathan

The main bungalow at Kannadukathan.

This business community travelled far and wide across South-East Asia and their riches were ploughed back into their villages here in Tamilnadu. They built houses over 10 – 20 years, section by section, depending on the money flow. They were global citizens, before that term arrived, tiles got shipped from Japan, glass and chandeliers from Belgium, teak from Burma; they refused to use local materials! A lot of these goods were smuggled.  Mr. Rama told us that the teak would be tied to ships with just a name written on it, when it got to an Indian port, anywhere along the Eastern coast, the Chettiar whose it was would go bribe the officer in-charge and take it by road to Tamilnadu.

The Japanese green tiles line the marriage hall. Athangudi

The Japanese green tiles line the marriage hall.

The first thing built was the marriage hall – a huge rectangular room with a double storied ceiling and a veranda that ran along all four sides, along one side of this veranda in a separate section was the dining room. These dining rooms were so long, and at times went along the length of the house. Even today, it is a matter of great pride to own a traditional house and have your child’s marriage conducted in your own house. A family marriage means the house will be bursting at its seams with family members from all over the world.

The dining hall along the length of the house in Chettinad.

The dining hall along the length of the house.

Given that most of the men were away in other countries, all the women slept together in the courtyard – for security and probably comfort. There were no big, spacious bedrooms, but tiny holes in the wall. Each Chettinad house was passed down each generation and each member of the growing family gets a small part of that house. At times, there are more than 16 different families, each of whom ‘own’ a small room, in these big, palatial houses.

Interestingly, the Chettiars were vegetarians a long time ago. Their ancestors traded in countries that did not know or understand vegetarianism, so they were forced to eat non-vegetarian food to survive, or so they say… today, Chettinad cuisine is famous for its chicken and fish curries!

The inner courtyard lined with small rooms on either side.

The inner courtyard lined with small rooms on either side.

The inner courtyard lined with small rooms on either side.

The dinner courtyard

In the Chettiar area, there stood empty plots, all that was left of that family was a couple of pillars and a pile of rubble. As a traveller, one might wish that people wouldn’t destroy such beautiful buildings… buildings that echoed the past… but their reality speaks a very different story.

Broken remnants of buildings lie in vacant plots.

Broken remnants of buildings lie in vacant plots.

Broken remnants of buildings lie in vacant plots.

Dilapidated gate leading to a vacant plot.

Maintenance and upkeep is extremely difficult, and with no jobs left in these villages, many Chettiars are forced to go to the cities nearby. So an old aunt, or uncle, lives in the house and takes care of it. Many of these houses are more than 70 years old, and are in serious need of renovations. Some families do find the money, the others don’t. Some houses are demolished, others sold or leased to hotel chains and converted into heritage properties, like the one I stayed at.

Old house in Chettinad

Some look maintained, others are not.

Chettinad is now a UNESCO world heritage area. So unesco will fund renovations, but then the family would need to keep their house open to the public, and unesco will collect a fee. It means their home and privacy, would be laid bare to the public, not something many of them are willing to do.

As, I stood in the midst of all these beautiful buildings; I tried to imagine how these areas would have been many years ago. There used to be more than 90 villages that made up Chettinad, but there are now only 77. ‘Chetti’ – coming from the word Chettiars, which is the name of this business community and ‘nadu’ means country or place. The Chettiars were the business community of Southern Indian. They lived along the coast of Tamilnadu until a devastating tsunami made them seek shelter and another life. They moved far away from the sea. More than a century later, standing in the middle of an arid scene with thin, tall shrubs offering no shade, a mud-brown landscape, parched even in mid August when most of India is covered with swaying greens, left me thinking about the Chettiars and their intense desire to get away from water. This place was literally the opposite of water.

Chettinad does not fade into the dying light.

Chettinad does not fade into the dying light.

My favourite places are not ones I tick off the bucket list, but places that make me want to visit again. Chettinad is definitely one of them.

 

About writer/traveller: Bhavani is a market researcher by elimination, traveler by choice, photographer by interest and writer by desire.
She lives and works in Mumbai, in the midst of the craziness that defines India!

Check her blog – www.merrytogoaround.wordpress.com

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Hiking Knees – Take care of your knees when hiking

Pain in your knees makes for quite an unpleasant hike. Knee injuries can happen doing practically any activity, but the constant pounding of hiking for hours can really wear out your joints. You may get a serious injury such as a torn ligament if you twist wrong or take a fall while hiking, but chances are your knees will just get tired out and inflamed from too much work. Just like a mechanical device, the joints in your body can wear out if they are overworked and not allowed to be repaired.

Cause of Knee Problems

Downhill hiking is the major cause of knee problems. When hiking uphill, the muscles work hard to lift your weight, but when coming downhill, gravity is pulling your weight down so muscles don’t work so hard. Unfortunately, your joints absorb the impact of your weight being pulled down the mountain and too much stress on ankles, knees, and hips can cause irritation and inflammation.
The faster you hike downhill, the higher you raise the risk of injury. You are in less control, have less reaction time, and have more inertia to arrest if a mis-step occurs. And, to top it off, the impact to your body is amplified as you hike faster. So, slow down! Taking your time going downhill is safer and less damaging to your knees and other joints.

Preventing Knee Problems

Condition your leg muscles. Making the muscles that support your knees stronger will help reduce the stress on the knee joints. Use weight exercises to strengthen your hamstrings, quads, and calves. Getting advice on exercises from a health trainer is a good idea.
Use a hiking stick or hiking poles for extra support. Besides providing extra stability against falls, the reduced weight on the knees is a big help. Two hiking poles are more appropriate for knee support since both legs need the help.
Hike fewer miles. If your knees or body are complaining, take it easier and don’t push so hard.
For insurance, bring along one or two knee bandages. If your knees start aching, a knee brace might give you support to finish the hike or return to the trailhead. Don’t rely on knee braces all the time, instead see a doctor about fixing the problem.
Hike slowly and carefully when going downhill. Don’t jump or run downhill. Take smaller steps and place your foot rather than stomp it down.
Side-step down very steep grades instead of pounding straight down. This will bend your knees less and reduce the strain.
Turn around and go down drop-offs backwards so you can use your stronger climbing muscles to lower your body down without the jolt at the bottom.

Treating Knee Problems

See a doctor about any knee problems.
Take ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and bring temporary relief.
Soak knees in cold water, like a stream for ten minutes.
Consider wearing more shock-absorbing shoes instead of sturdier boots. But, be careful of the lost ankle and foot support.

 

Resource – http://www.hikingdude.com

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Flying to Leh? 15 Awesome Reasons Why You Shouldn’t!

Nothing quite kills a road trip like, for instance, a flight. Especially if said road trip is expected to unravel breathtaking vistas of high altitude desolation, hitherto unseen and un-experienced. I refer, naturally, to the jaw-dropping scenes that unfold as you make your way to Leh via Srinagar and Kargil; as also to those on the Leh-Manali highway via Sarchu. Pastures galore, dizzy turns, bumpy surfaces, lofty passes, rivers both gentle and otherwise, wide valleys and narrow gorges; all combine to present before you the awesomeness  of Mother Nature.

The drive to Srinagar is quite unremarkable and offers little by way of road trip highs. It is perhaps this pleasing sight of the valley after Banihal that makes the journey from Udhampur somewhat worth your while. The road trip could just as well begin at Srinagar.

The celebrated beauty of Kashmir begins to work it’s magic on you as soon as you hit alpine Sonamarg. Never mind that you lose time to road sanitizing for army convoys. Hot tea and the surroundings keep you busy enough. This image has been taken after crossing over the Zoji La (about 9kms from Sonamarg) at 11578 feet.

Considered the second coldest inhabited place in the world, this image was taken at Drass, the scene of heavy combat during the Kargil war. This village was abandoned during the period, its residents moved to safety.

Kargil, as viewed from a plateau manned by the Indian Army, a heartwarming presence amongst a warm, welcoming local populace. A windfall visit, to the last but one post to the LOC, served as yet another reason to salute the soldier and his family. From where I was looking, you really wouldn’t want to trade places with him.

This moonscape makes its presence felt around the Fotu La, the highest point at 13,478 feet, on the Srinagar-Leh highway, and continues through Ladakh. In spite of a great reduction in colour in nature’s palette, the terrain lends itself to much drama. Usually played out by azure skies, snowy clouds and barren wastelands.

First sight of Leh. A green oasis offering plenty succour to hue-deprived eyes! God knows, you will begin to miss colour even as you take in the endless desolation around you.

Even loftier passes await you on the Leh-Manali highway. The first one being the Tanglang La at 17,582 feet. This image is that of the Zanskar range, taken midway, with the pass lost somewhere in the snowy peaks.

Still ascending! Almost two weeks into the road trip, we continued to be awestruck by the glory of nature. Almost at Tanglang La, I glanced back to capture this view.

Hearing or reading about the Morey plains of Pang does not quite prepare you for their actual character, leaving you quite speechless at their vastness. They are home mainly to shepherds and Kiang, the Tibetan wild ass.

This canyon suddenly looms up as you take a turn to descend to Pang, an army transit camp. Stop-gap dhabas in tents double over as havens for the stranded. Night stops at this height, I heard, can be very very uncomfortable.

Fortunately, our road trip that day ended safely at this camp in Sarchu, at an acceptable height of roughly 14500 feet! While breathing is easy, the howling winds can be a tad overwhelming.

The ascent to the oh-so-unpredictable Baralacha La snakes gently along the Bhaga river, seen here, soon after crossing Bharatpur City: roughly four colourful tents offering food, shelter and souvenirs!

The Bhaga river as it appears closer to the Baralacha Top. A gentle drizzle, wafting mist and angry clouds. It doesn’t get better than this…

Or so we thought! Descending from the pass, you soon recognize tarred surfaces, almost forgotten in the past weeks. The road loops downwards to the Suraj-Vishal Lake nestled snugly between you and the mountainside. It is named after the pilots who perished in a crash at the site. Ironically it is one of the most beautiful spots on this stretch.

Soon after you go past Darcha, the northernmost permanent settlement in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, the landscape turns verdant almost instantly. Terraced fields, waterfalls and meadows covered in wild flowers were, once again, par for the course. This image was taken at Koksar, short of Rohtang Pass, the last hurdle in what could otherwise be a dream road trip for all.

Photo Story contributed by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu – Author, columnist, blogger, but mostly a wanderer extraordinaire; thats how she describes herself.

You can check Puneetinder’s blog here

 

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Our story of Ladakh, our friends there. What is your story?

We all form special bonds with places in our travels. Ladakh is one of those really special places. Even before we started offering trips in Ladakh we travelled extensively in the area. We fell in love with the place like most of us, its people welcomed us with warm hospitality and the rugged harsh landscape left a spot in our hearts.

We offered many trips actively in the area for the last few years. Sometime last year – we decided to stop offering ‘FIXED Departures’ due to many reasons that you know of. But our relationship with the land continues. The local people with whom we have shared much time have been some of the most endearing of them all. The bonds that we have formed are more than just working relationships and mutual respect. We are proud to say that they are family.

We still offer customised trips for smaller groups and these trips support our local friends who are not tour operators or hotel owners. They are locals who run their own taxis, run their little guesthouses and love their land and are proud of their identity. This is the little we can do to support them.

Our friends from Ladakh

Our trips in Ladakh are special because of the people behind it – our local friends! They make sure you feel special.

This is our story of Ladakh. What is yours?

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The story behind “Daniel’s Dip” rapid on the Ganges.

Rafting on Ganges

Rafting on Ganges

The Ganges is a very popular ‘moderate rafting getaway’ up north, and it serves as a good introduction to rafting for both novices and moderately experienced outdoors persons. It is a must do for those who haven’t been there yet. Those of you who have rafted on the Ganges must be familiar with the “Daniel’s Dip” rapid, along with other popular ones like ‘The Wall’, ‘Three Blind Mice’, ‘Crossfire’, et al. A visitor on our website, while going through our rafting trips in India section, read about it and asked if we knew the story behind this particular rapid’s name. Here’s the story from our very experienced river guide, one of the pioneers of rafting in the country. A piece of history…

Whitewater rafting started in India in the mid – 80′s on the upper Ganges, introduced by the Americans where this adventure activity originated. The handful of Indian guides like myself who were trained then, were taught how to ‘oar -rig’ rafts down rivers. This was a style of rafting where the control of rafts was fully in the the oarsman’s hands. Soon enough the need to introduce a more team oriented type of rafting was felt and paddle rafting was introduced by Canadian river guides who were invited out to train the Indian oarsmen in this style of guiding in October 1985.  One such guide was Mark Daniel who came out from Ontario where he worked on the the Ottawa river, a popular whitewater river in eastern Canada. Of course in true whitewater tradition in welcoming fellow boatmen, young Mark was promptly whisked off to a nearby bar the moment his flight touched down. The rest is history – an 8 hour road journey to the Ganga followed the revelery, as the next morning there were a group of students from the AES school that were to raft down from Kaudiyala to Rishikesh. Jet lagged and hungover Mark was handed a paddle and shown his boat and enthusiastic student crew. Within the first couple of minutes from launching, his boat capsized in the first big rapid – you guessed it – thereafter named ‘Daniels Dip’ . Therafter Marks love story after mother Ganga first clasped him to her bosom continued for well over two decades. He endeared himself to all with his wonderful sense of humor and friendship and his name is forever embedded in whitewater folklore on the upper ganga in India.

If you have any such interesting story, please do share….

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Between Tradition and Tyrants

The morning starts with a small Puja on the tracks

The scorching sun only adds to the soaring tempers at the Kambala … It’s the annual Buffalo Race in Southern Karnataka – a festival that goes on for 3 months and displays a diverse set of traditions and beliefs which don’t quite concur with our modern thinking. Pairs of buffaloes from villages are pegged against each other in races in slushy tracks. Earlier, these used to be in the fields, now there are special tracks built for the races. These special buffaloes are reared for this purpose and taken care of for years – their diet, exercise regime etc being regimented to ensure they emerge as winners. Not that the winning amount is more than 4 -8 gms of Gold per race. Quite like the other traditional sports like Snake Boat Race in Kerala. Accolades are weighed in honour and prestige of the village more than the money itself.

Photography Onthemove was at the race this year in Feb and it was truly fantastic. After a recce done in January, the organizers of Nandi Kur Village knew us and were happy to share the vantage points with us. The sight is fantastic! 130 pairs of buffaloes make an entry in the morning in trucks. Their oily backs glistening in the heat, the team ensures that they are bathed often in a common tank to keep them afresh. The well toned buffaloes aside, it is unbelievable to see the level of fitness of the riders. Putting all our steroidal Bollywood Brawny Buffs to shame, these men train for months in the fields to enter the contest. Inauguration ceremony on crackling loud speakers, some traditional music and an entry March starts the show.

Then comes the most exhilarating set of sequences. For every pair to start, there is a five minute prep time to tame the buffaloes before the trip makes a dash in the water filled tracks. Colourful whips which everyone brandishes fashionably around the whole day are now put to actual use! Striking hard on the animals’ back, they are egged on with hoarse screaming. A 160 meter dash is completed in 11-13 seconds by the top runners. Imagine the tempo and the height of energy in that brief period. The spirit of competition and vivacity of the festival hangs heavy for this overnight period, till the race comes to an end the next afternoon. Till then, the buffaloes are whipped harder and harder – till the skin on their side tears and many of them have open wounds. Earlier, frustration and shame led to more hitting even after the races! This has now been discontinued; though you still see some riders go ballistic on the poor buffaloes. Ofcourse, when we spoke to the owners, they justify saying that they also love and care for these animals just as much at all other times.

This particular team could not get a hold on their anger & frustration over a few seconds lost.

No doubt that it’s not our place to challenge and condemn a 1000 years old traditional sport. Besides, it a great photo opportunity with all the action and the crowds! So we sat there, taking one fantastic shot after another, experimenting with the setting sun, swallowing our mixed feeling about ethical treatment of animals Vs an age old custom that we set out to capture. The torn feeling still persists after weeks and will probably subside over the next few. Ofcourse political patronage and community sentiment will not ever stop this , but we are just wondering if we should take more people there next year…

 

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The Spiciest Food Destinations the World Has to Offer

This is a guest post by Will Peach, editor at the gap year travel site Gap Daemon. He also travels the world looking for good eats, writing about them on his overland and environmentally-friendly travel blog DontFlyGo.com

We all know that thousands of people around the world enjoy a good level of spiciness in their food. Whittling down a list into the worlds top ten spicy travel adventures then? A pretty tough task!

Yet the show must go on. These culinary paradises? Each is ripe for trying out on a foodie-focused world trip. Let those ravenous senses loose!

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a must-visit destination if spicy food is what you’re after. Street food here can vary from quick hoppers, which are a kind of crepe that can come with an egg cooked in the middle, to hot curries. Be prepared for smoke to shoot out of your ears as you chow down on some chili fish curry too.

One of the most popular types of street food in Sri Lanka is kottu, which is a stir fried combination of flatbread mixed with a selection of vegetables, eggs and cheese.

India

The country’s neighbor India, of course, is no stranger to a bit of spice with street food ranging from the choke-inducing but delicious pani puri in Mumbai to the pork vindaloo in Goa.

Mexico

Looking further west in our countdown of the world’s best spicy travel adventures, it only makes sense to check in at Mexico. The local cuisine here includes some incredibly hot peppers, from jalapenos to habaneros pretty much appearing in everything. Even the humble burrito or taco is elevated to epic status with the inclusion of one of these tear-jerkers!

USA

Also in North America, make sure you check out the array of food carts selling everything from spicy buffalo wings to Korean BBQ on the streets of New York. The food carts have become such an icon in the city that they even have their own food awards!

Germany

Germany is yet another great travel spot that should make the list. The hottest trend in street food out there is currywurst, a spicy pork sausage drenched in curry with an extra sprinkling of curry powder.

Singapore

Not too far away, in Singapore you can take your pick of four different cultures in a single location, served hot at a table in one of the local food courts. The Malaysian pork rib prawn noodles they sell here feature are definitely one of the spiciest travel adventures you’re going to find.

Thailand

Asia is an easy choice when it comes to spicy food, so be sure to include the fast food options sold on the boats on the waterways in Bangkok, Thailand. Steamed crabs and grilled fish are common favorites; while they are not spicy on their own, the accompanying condiments will have you reaching for the bucket to cool your tongue.

China

Similarly, China’s street vendors offer a range of interesting items for the adventurous traveler with spice lovers reaching for the Malatang Sichuan dinner options.

Vietnam

Next we come to Hue in Vietnam, home to the country’s spiciest street food. The spicy beef noodle soup and the Nem Nguoi, a type of meatball, are well worth trying if you have the guts.

Indonesia

Last but not least, we have Indonesian street food! Ranging from kerak telor (a hot omelette) to nasi goreng (a type of fried rice), the abundance of options on offer around Indonesia put the rest of the world to shame.

Think you’ll ever have a bland food day again? Not in any of these places you won’t!

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Kathmandu – A short guide by Sana Rizvi

Kathmandu Travel, SadhuThe crowds, pollution and frantic speed of everything just hit me hard after having spent a month, working at a peaceful rafting camp up in the Indian Himalayas. But if you can brave all of this and look past it, this dense medieval city which has chaos and sophistication all wrapped into one is sure to charm you.

My advice to fellow budget travellers is that don’t live in Thamel which is the tourist ghetto and is Nepal’s answer to Bangkok’s crazy Khao San Road. I would even go as far as saying that don’t even live in Kathmandu but in nearby peaceful Bhaktapur or Boudha and make day trips into Kathmandu. But if you must live here I would suggest living in Jhochhe i.e. Freak Street right next to Kathmandu’s main Durbar Square. I would recommend the poky but clean Little Wings or the oldest running institution Annapurna Lodge for those on a tight budget like me.

TIP: Try to get a room away from the main street or carry ear plugs while staying in Kathmandu.

Thamel has scores of the typical touristy restaurants that serve anything from pasta to falafel but Freak Street has more of the authentic Nepali grub. Try the local Lumbini restaurant for Nepal’s national dish Daal-Bhat (lentils with rice) and Snowman Bakery for its delicious apple pie. I loved living at Freak Street because I would have my morning chai at one of the many temples at the main square and then eat the famous thick creamy Bhaktapur yoghurt out of a clay pot.
TIP: Use the pots later to put candles in. There are frequent power outages in Nepal.

I would spend most of my days sitting at the nearby square admiring the architecture, sights and sounds of this unique city. The area is studded with dozens of splendid temples and monuments, the Royal Palace, Kumari Chowk (home of a living goddess), traditional craftsmen shops, flower stores and more. The red brick temples and ornate wood work panels are divine. It is the first time I had seen pagoda style Hindu temples. Nepal is the world’s only Hindu kingdom but there is a strong overlapping between Hindu and Buddhist practices. The religious rituals in Nepal are quite elaborate. There is a puja almost every day, in one or the other temple with people lighting butter lamps, smearing themselves with vermillion, rice and flowers and ringing the dozen or more temple bells.
All around the square there are narrow alley ways teeming with humans, animals, cars, rickshaws and everything else you can dream of making it a dense experience. The walk from Freak Street at the south of the square to Thamel in the north takes you through various markets selling brass, antiques handmade paper, incense sticks, dentures and some bizarre local stuff: horses tail anyone? Kathmandu has some amazing antique shopping if you are good at bargaining and know a thing or two about antiques. Thamel is a good place to look for cheap trekking gear, funky hemp and felt merchandise and silver jewellery.

TIP: Thamel also has some excellent bakeries and you can get bread at half price, past 8pm at most of them.

Shopping is great around Indrachowk  as well for those looking for a bargain. A street in the market that was frequented by me was “Pote Bazaar” aka bead street. This narrow lane with its dazzling array of beads in every colour and shape is a must for those who like pretty things. Nepali women wear red or green beads with a golden pendant as a sign of marriage. If you can’t find it ask any women where it is by pointing at her beads and she will gladly take you there.

TIP: Meet Abbas at stall B4. He is a lovely young chap who is very helpful with picking the right beads.

I decided that I was spending too much time at the square when all the locals knew me by first name and wanting a change of scene headed to Pashupatinath, Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site. The holy Bagmati River runs through the elaborate temple complex which also has cremation grounds. If you walk slightly further up the east bank of the river you come across a much quieter enclave of tomb like structures which are actually Shiva shrines in a peaceful forest setting.

TIP: Watch out for the pesky monkeys here.

From here I walked down to Boudha (or Boudhanath) one of the world’s largest stupas and one of the most important Buddhist monuments. Like numerous other stupas in Nepal, I found it very unique that Buddha’s eyes are painted in blue on all four corners of the top section of the temple giving me a sense that he was watching over me at all times. Tibetan prayer flags and sweet smelling incense fills the air around the Boudha neighbourhood which has several Tibetan monasteries, shops and restaurants.

TIP: Boudha is best to visit early in the morning or late in the evening when you can see maroon robed monks chanting and spinning prayer wheels.

From Freak Street another walk you can do is to Swayambhu. This ancient Newar Buddhist stupa with some interesting Hindu shrines around is set on top of a hill and has quite a view of the Kathmandu valley. The architecture of the stupa follows a complex representation of Buddha’s teachings. You will find young and old alike walking around the dome, spinning the prayer wheels and chanting prayers. Each temple in Kathmandu has a fascinating story and it is worth getting a book giving a history and detailed explanation of the place.

TIP: A lovely book store in Thamel is Pilgrims which also has a quiet cafe at the back away from the madness of this area.

A must visit during your stay in Kathmandu is to the exotic old city of Patan. Spend a day ambling around the Durbar square and narrow streets of the oldest city in Kathmandu valley. The main square of Patan is very similar to that of Kathmandu but less touristy and richer in detail and architecture. Take notice of the ornately carved wooden doors with massive locks and beautifully decorated windows. Patan’s museum set in a splendid renovated section of the royal palace is worth visiting to understand better the history of the city and there is a great coffee shop at the museum as well. Outside of the square there are several other temples and monuments to explore by foot. Do check out the Mahabudda temple a smaller version of the famous Mahabodhi temple in India, made up of thousands of Buddha statues.
In total I spent about two weeks roaming in and around the complex city of Kathmandu and there was so much more that I would have liked to see. But as my Nepali friends would say to me “bistaarai bistaarai” meaning “slowly slowly.” At the end of the day I was quite happy with my slow pace to enjoy this city full of beauty, history, and extremely friendly people. It is quite unfortunate, though that the valley is developing at a frenetic pace and this tends to mask the natural intrinsic beauty of Nepal. Bistaarai bistaarai is what I would like to tell them!

To find out more about the writer please visit her blog

Picture by Sana Rizvi

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An introduction to Getoff ur ass

For us at Getoff, it is a way of life. We believe, all of us live in a box – may it be a bedroom box, a living room box, a cubicle box or a computer box.. Outside the box – we have a life, which we have forgotten to live or we have gotten stuck in the mundaness of everyday. Some of us dread, repent and want to get away and getoff at least for a moment. Out there somewhere we have a life that we dream off – a simple holiday, a long expedition, or a do nothing open space – we all have a simple dream that is forgotten. At Getoff we believe every moment outside of the box is worth it. For ten years now – we have designed “outside the box” experiences. May it be a simple weekend away or a month long tour or your hobby photography trip – We have designed many adventures for you. For some it has changed their life, for some it has shown a new path. Some have learnt to live outside the box.
Spend more time with us. We promise we will make our best effort to inspire you with what is possible outside the box. Its not just travel which we are very good at, also we share stories and philosophies of ordinary people who have gotten on the path of living outside the box and have some extraordinary experiences to share. We love the earth and the ways of simple living – we promise to share all that we know and all that is known through experiences of simple folks.

We love our community and we welcome you to the outdoors to take it within.

Cheers,

Getoff Team

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How to choose a campsite?

Things to consider when choosing a campside:

  1. Choose a level and shaded site.
  2. The site should have good drainage in case of wet weather.
  3. A water supply nearby is required.
  4. A place to dispose off garbage.
  5. How close are you to the facilities – phone, gas station, store etc.
  6. Consider the layout.
    • Is the site large enough to meet your needs?
    • Where will you put your tent(s)?
    • What area will you use for meal preparation and cooking & what about your picnic table?
    • How about your campfire?
    • Is there an area for activities?
    • Where do you park your car?
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