Gili Trawangan ‘fall in love’

One of the three mini islands near Lombok has a charm that can make anybody fall in love with it. Its a no motor vehicle island. Horse carts and bicycles are the only mode of transportation.

The island has magical powers to make you stay more than you plan to. The water is as blue as the sky.

WHAT I DID apart from chilling and meeting travelers:-

Every eve: Sunset

The sunset would be the most memorable one of your life with hues of orange, yellow, purple, blue.. The glittering water when sun is setting is breathtaking. It makes you forget time and all the worries. The restaurants have an amazing sit out areas with bean bags to enhance your experience.

On Day 1- Island bicycle tour

During the day enjoy a healthy breakfast by the poolside of your hotel. Later rent a bicycle, pack swimming necessities and go for an island tour, which can be covered in 1.5hrs if at all your mind is not lured by the pristine blue waters calling you to take a dip.

On Day 2- Snorkeling

Snorkeling tour are offered by all shanty located every 10 feet. Costing around 100K per person for a group boat, which will cover the statue point, turtle and the corals. Getting off the boat 3 times is a task for people like me who are scared of depths, but its worth the experience. (They provide life jackets for non/amateur swimmers 😎) Once in the waters you would become a part of the marine and wouldn’t want to hop back in the boat.

Every night- Eat, drink and party

The island has a variety of eating options ranging from fine dinning to street food, to restaurants with special dinner offers.’Ocean 2‘ is a good budget restaurant with waterside seating for dinner. They circulate an offer of any pasta at 25K and pizza at 35K. Yes there is a catch, the portion size is small. But you can fill up with the complimentary soup and salad counter. If looking for fancy dine then ‘Egoiste‘ and ‘The roast house‘ are some options.

Want to have a drink and chat , or sit alone and listen to live music, or want to dance till you drop, Gili T is an amalgamation of all. Open bar with a DJ and a fire juggler performance is where I went the 1st night. Amazing vibe, straight drinks for 30K and cocktails for 40K, funny Bartender (Harry) and decent crowd,what else can you ask for.

Nasi goreng with a view

The 2nd night I stepped into the ‘Irish pub’ as it had all the young travelers. But this is not it, if you still want to party more, ‘Jiggy boat party’ will fulfill your wish. Its a yacht party starting at 2pm and ends at 8pm. 1st drink is on the house, charges per person is approx 150K.

Where I stayed- The Laxmi villas

I know the name sounds boring but the boutique villa was a small paradise. Also it fit my budget. Its a 10 min walk from the ferry point. The rooms are clean, air conditioned and bathroom has hot and cold shower.

Gili T has a lot of hostels as well, naming some ‘Gili Divers’, ‘Gili castle’ , ‘Beach Bum’, ‘M box’, ‘Gili mansion’. They all are well maintained hostels with air conditioned dormitories.

Gili air and Gili meno are neighboring small and much more peaceful islands. Choice is yours…

Charisma of Paro (Bhutan)

Learning and experiencing butanese culture was of my major interest. I booked myself in a Homestay- Ama’s village lodge, a bit away from the Paro main town. A traditional bhutanese farmstay, with two dogs in the back yard, barn and wooden planks stacked at one end and agriculture field with new crops on the rear end of the house made it the perfect choice.

The room I stayed in, had traditional paintings on the wall, an interconnecting room (which obviously I din’t need). Also our room had a prayer room, which we sneaked in when grandma came to worship. It looked like a mini monastery with the statues of lord “Buddha” and ‘Padmasambhava’ and the chanting instruments.

None of the rural bhutanese houses have bathrooms attached to the rooms. They are usually constructed away from the sleeping rooms, somewhere in the corridors.

What’s in Paro??

The Tigers nest

It has always been an Instagram destination. But dint know that the complete hike can be so much more than an insta perfect pic.

The base is about 9km from city center. The ticket costs Rs 500. You could take up the support sticks or pony’s to take you up but then what’s the fun. Some eatables, sport shoes, warm jacket and a fit body is all you need to complete the hike in 3hrs.

It’s a steep route but I chose shortcuts, they pump the adrelin, hell out of me. The shortcuts through the narrow paths amongst the pine with ravine on one side and trees on other is exhilarating.

Quick altitude accent might make the head heavy.

There are storage rooms for bags & cameras. You can not take your belongings inside the temple premises. And there are no shops/cafe. Keep enough edibles.

Taktsang cafe is mid way, so if you are not on budget, definitely experience the dining amidst the jungle and fog while admiring the tigers nest.

The monastery is enlightening if you go with belief . A guide will accompany you inside(included in the ticket). They would walk you through the history and importance of each temple.

Post the trek I was so hungry that I could eat like a whale. So our driver took us to a low cost restaurant that served buffet lunch.

Shopping

Explore the symmetrically aligned shops for souvenir, traditional wear, incense sticks or local produce.

National museum of Paro

The museum showcases the culture of the country. It shuts by 3:30pm.

Read

Grab a seat in one of the cafe on the street of Paro market, order a pot of lemon tea with a piece of delicious carrot cake. Pick out the book you want to read from the book shelf and that’s my ideal holiday.

Paro is a panoramic town with snowclad mountains forming a fencing around. It has people living simple lives , witnessing the real emotions of joy, love and peace. “We” the city dwellers are just existing to earn, real emotions are far away from our knowledge. Hence I travel to keep me sane and maintain my balance.

Bhutan-Punakha & Dochula pass

I might not travel to Bhutan again so had to explore the maximum I could. Punakha was next on my itinerary. One needs to take a permit extension to visit Punakha. Not that there is strict border policing but you still dont want to see the violent side of the peaceful country 🤔

The permit can be obtained from the Thimphu immigration/visa office. Punakha is a day trip from Thimphu about 2hrs. A must site stopover is Dochula pass which is 19 km from the capital. It was constructed by the Queen in the memory of the soldiers of war.

You will experience extreme climates enroute Punakha. You would have to layer up at Dochula, but will be left with the last layer of your clothing at Punakha.

The attraction points in Punakha are:

The 370 years old, Punakha Palace

Life connector, the suspension bridge

We took a taxi from Thimphu at 8am, which was arranged by Gakyil hotel. It took us around Punakha and then dropped us to Paro. The driver also stopped at the Paro airport viewpoint. And all this for 4000rs.

Thimphu is midway Punakha and Paro

To know about my Paro adventures keep following….

Visiting Thimpu check this out https://voyagetrails.com/2018/08/11/things-to-do-in-thimphu/

 

Things to do in Thimphu

Located in a valley, ‘Thimphu’ is the capital of the peace loving country of Bhutan. It is the most developed city as well. Thimphu is a smooth drive of 4.5 hrs from Phuntsholing by cab.

The weather in April is cool at night and pleasant during the day. So carry some light woolens.

gakyil

Stay

The hotel we stayed in was ‘Gakyil’ is located at the city center (hence the choice). The market, cafes, banks and clubs are a short walk. Its a 3 star property with clean and well maintained rooms, equipped with bathtub as well. They also have a restaurant serving breakfast buffet and the rest is ala-carte. We booked it a an excellent rate using makemytrip.com

Luxury options are Le Meridien and Taj

Party

Everything shuts at 9 pm except the clubs that opens only at 9😉. Yes you read it correct Thimphu has a couple of clubs- Vivacity, Space 34 and Mojo park. All of them have an entry fee but we ladies have some perks and get free entry on Wednesdays. So girls plan your trip accordingly.

Tuedays are dry days

Eat

International cuisine

The Ambient cafe– the cafe carries a casual vibe with view of the busy streets of Thimphu. Collection of books to read while sipping coffee. My favorite dish was ‘whole wheat waffles with banana and homemade ice cream’

The Zone cafe– go in the eve, it is the hangout place for all the youngsters.

The Maggie point- in case looking for a quick and eco meal, go to this kiosk which serves pasta, Maggie and sandwiches. Its located near the theater.

Most of the restaurants don’t have a giant welcome gates, the way to them is usually from back of the complexes, through dingy stairs. So one needs to really look hard to find a way

Local cuisine

They don’t have much vegetation but Bhutan has chilies (Datshi) in abundance It is used in majority of the dishes. “Ema” means cheese and Ema datshi is there specialty. Its a must try.

The locals savor “Butter tea” that’s their everyday tea. Slightly pink in color and tastes more like soup and less like normal tea.

Pork is used for main course, because of its lower price and long shelf-life. Chicken is more of an exotic main course.

Don’t be fooled by the pepper in the cruet set, because it ain’t the normal one, every bottle contains the ‘wild sichuan pepper’, which isn’t spicy but numbs your tongue and lips for sometime 😁

I enjoyed eating the local cuisine and still crave for the cheese preparation.

Shopping

market

Handicraft market is the place for souvenir finders located opposite to the Thimphu visa office. Shops are in the shape of small huts, lined up straight adjacent to each other. The goods sold are ethnic and attractive, ranging from a fridge magnet to costumes.

Bargain well

Then is the main market with complexes and standalone shops. Bhutan doesn’t have a mall yet and is far from the status bragging branded stores. They have shops selling multi items like clothes, jewelry, cosmetics. Most of them are either imported from India or China.

 

Also not so far from the city center is a local bazaar, near the vegetable market. An apt place to buy cheap crockery ,basic footwear, traditional attire(cheap ones), household stuff etc.

Bhutanese people love chewing supari (betalnut), mostly all shops sell this and it smells awful.

Tourist Spots

The Buddha point- 12 km away from the city center, has the Thimphu view.

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Tashichodzong- ‘The King’s palace & office’. Open for public in the eve.

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Changankha Lakhang- Temple of fertility.

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Best way to cover these is to hire a taxi Rs 1500-2000 for all these places

This is Thimphu experience from my eyes and ears. Stay tuned to know more about Punakha and Paro.

Quick guide to ‘Bhutan by land’

It was the right weather and the time to set sail to another voyage. This time it was in seek of peace and what better place could I think of but Bhutan. As I had some extra days in hand, decided to club some cities of Sikkim for my 10 days itinerary.

A sneak peek of my travel

Bagdogra airport>> Darjeeling>>Ravangla>>Gangtok>>Silliguri>>Phuntsholing>> Thimphu>>Punakha>>Paro>>Phuntsholing>>Bagdogra

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Tip: The economical way to reach Bhutan for Indians is via land -Phuntsholing border. To reduce the travel time, take a flight to Bagdogra.

Tip: Cheap, quick and easy way to travel within Sikkim and Bhutan is the shared taxis.

Delhi>>Bagdogra>>Phuntsholing>>Thimphu

Reach Bagdogra before noon and directly head towards Jaigaon(Indian side of border). There are numerous taxi that charge Rs 2500 to Rs 4000 one way to the border (3-4 hrs journey). Indians are allowed free entry and exit in Phuntsholing (Bhutan side of border). You don’t need a permit to roam around/stay there. So enjoy the charm & simplicity of Bhutan. But don’t forget to use the Zebra crossing while crossing the road specially near the immigration office. That’s the first thing that would make you feel the difference.

Delhi>>Bagdogra>>Silliguri>>Thimphu

If you arrive late in Bagdogra, stay overnight at Silliguri (30 min away from airport). An auto to Silliguri costs around Rs’300 and a cab Rs’500 to Rs 800. Don’t expect a lot from the town but to kill time, ‘the Hong Kong market’ can be an attraction to buy cheap China goods. The buses are not readily available to Phuntsholing from Silliguri. The fastest and cheapest mode of transport is a train to “Hasimara”. All trains going to kolkata will definitely stop at Hasimara. From here if you are lucky, will immediately get a shared auto (20 min ride to the Border)

tea
Shot from moving train to Hasimara

Immigration process

It is important that the traveler carries hard copy of hotel confirmations and voter Id/ passport. Though they have 2 photocopy shops right opposite to the immigration office. The easiest way to skip the que is to get hold of an agent and ask him to file on your behalf  and for that they charge a small fee of approx Rs 250-500. Then your name would be called and you “enter the dragon”😉 that’s where your finger prints are taken.

Currency

Bhutanese currency is ngultrum. Not even once did we get a currency exchange done at a forex shop because Indian currency is widely accepted and as change we received ngultrum.

 

Sri Lanka with GG in Rs32000/ $500 (Yala)

We covered alot of terrains, so how could we miss a National park. Yala is a deroute from the road connecting Ela and Mirissa.

Its a huge territory where the animals rule. We are permitted only in a section of the forest. And I am glad its that way. Like other sactuaries the enterance gate is located 20km from the main town. The experience is incomplete without a ride in an open jeep, its windy and dusty but worth it.

Usualy tourists book a pre-packaged deal. And it is difficult to find a cheaper deal for the jeep if you are jus two. Coz they rent the complete jeep which costs around 8000-15000 SRs.(inclusive of enterance fees). We took an afternoon slot for the safari.

Since the permitted area is more of grasslands,its very easy to spot wildlife. In adittion to the below I spotted an elephant, wild boar, deers(ofcourse) and exotic birds. The guide said that we were lucky to find a leopard in such a clearing. (Lady travelers beware , the guides are big time pile ons, so maintain the correct distance) (Tip: carry multiple sets of camera betteries, mine got exhausted just after I clicked a mongoose😫, hence a mobile cam photo of the Leopord) To add on to the trail, the jeeps take everyone to the beach, swimming isn’t allowed but its good to be at a raw & non touristy beach. After the safari, our jeep dropped us to the town. And we were back to our guest house.

Sri Lanka with GG in Rs32000/ $500 (Kandy)

Early morning we were at the Colombo railway station. Breakfast for us was Nescafe and puffs.(Eating less and selective is the secret of not having a Delhi belly). A narrow gauge train, which looked similar to our Shimla toy train arrived at the platform. We boarded our coach, non ac but 2nd class. Apparently Sri Lanka hardly has any Ac coach in its trains.

After enjoying our 4hrs of journey we reached Kandy. The station was small, clean and less crowded. It felt like we were at a hill station, since the weather made us put on our jackets.

We took an auto from outside the station to our accommodation- Backpack Lanka Kandy (the same chain of hostels where we stayed in colombo) this one had a pool as well. Here we booked a twin room with balcony. (Don’t start to fancy the room readers, we had to use a common bathroom which was 20 steps from our room but was very well maintained). The other part of the story is that we were the only residents and it gave me creeps to go to the loo at night. The best part about the hostels is that they have a kitchen and water dispenser which ars accesible to the distressed guests like us😅

We had limited time in Kandy and had to make the most of it. I consulted the guy at the reception and he showed me multiple tour options. The one which attracted me the most was “The tuk-tuk tour”, that costed us 2400 Srs. The hostel had there own tuk-tuk. With no delay we jumped into the auto, grabbed an on-the-go lunch and were on our way to the beautiful sites.

Temple of the sacred Tooth relic

Girigama tea plantation

Bahiravokanda vihara Buddha statue

Railway museum

Kandy lake

Ranawana temple