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/

 

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.

 

Top 3 offbeat beaches of Goa

With the flight fares getting cheaper than Rajdhani train 3rd AC ticket, “Goa” is no longer an exotic location which is difficult to reach. While Calangute/ Bagha are over exploited (could be because of closest proximity to Panjim), Anjuna (not shiva valley) and Wagator are on the verge of commercialization. We still have some untrod-den beaches for the fellow backpackers, looking for some placidity.

So if you want to unwind and repose away from the laser lights and the loud DJ’s, here are the options:

Arambol– The northern most beach of Goa. The atmosphere is tranquilizing. It has fewer shacks and hotels. An excellent way of spending a rustic/hippie goa life. Indulge in yoga and ayurveda.

Agonda– My personal favorite in South Goa. It has got beautiful rocky terrain on the extreme ends. The beach has surfing waves, which makes a fun sport even for the non swimmers ( don’t be hard on yourself to try standing on the surfing board). Early morning walks on the wet sands, breathing in the cool breeze and absorbing the amber sunlight is essence of my holiday.

Palolem– It is the most popular beaches of South Goa and I wont deny that it isn’t busy but since its the southern most beach of Goa, it still has got that charm. One can experience a great balance of beach vacation with nightlife. Every Sat they organize a headphone party “Silent noise”. Also not far from the beach is an open air club named the “Leopard valley”. The days can be spent sunbathing and drinking, which makes this an ideal vacation.

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 (Ella)

Ella is more about the journey rather than the destination. We were way early at the station to grab the best seats. (As I said it was all about the voyage)

There was a seperate toilet for the tourists, and we took advantage of it🤣. We had our breakfast at the confectionary situated at the platform, the shop was fully loaded with eateries . I felt like a 5 year old in the candy shop.😋

Soon our jouney began, a loooooooonnng jouney 8hrs to be precise. As I mentioned before, the first class coaches were full of different nationality travellers, some were on a guided/packaged tour & some were like us. The train had a small pantry from where one could grab hot tea, coffee, water, all at higher price ofcourse. (Better to stock beforehand)

I was mesemerised by the landscape through out the route. Also made some freinds on the way, posed for cameras while looking out of the window and just couldn’t sleep. It is a experience that every traveler to Ella should witness.

Alas during lunch time we reached the mini hillstation. I had already booked a luxurious resort (for a change) “The Okreech cottages” costing $32 for a night.But there are multiple cheaper options available starting $12.

For some reason Okreech’s kitchen was not operational. So we went to the main road for our meals, we were so lazy to climb back that we decided to come back to the hotel after ohr dinner only. We were hardly in Ee for 18hrs in Ella, but utilized our time to the fullest. Travelers with liesure time stay for 3-4 days, to hike and to visit the nearby attractions.

What we did is ate!!

We had a big lunch at Chill cafe. I ordered for a srilankan lunch platter worth 800Srs. (Food at restaurants is very expensive). But I was stuffed. The vibe of the place was nice.

We took a stroll and by the time we finished it was evening. We enjoyed some drinks and live music in a bar. And by 9pm we were in our bed, fast asleep😴

The next morning we revived ourselves with a cup of tea at our patio and yet another journey was waiting for us.

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

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

It was october and I got a new job while the joining date was in December, I had to take out some days to plan a voyage between the switch. I asked multiple friends to accompany me but who knew a girl from school will become my travel partner. I immediately booked Jet airways flight to Sri Lanka which costed me Rs18000 two way. E-visa is available for Indian citizens which is trouble-free to apply and costs $20. Itenerary-Colombo>>Kandy>>Ella>>Yala>>Mirrisa>>Hikkaduwa>>Bentota>>Colombo Early morning we landed at the Colombo airport with no local currency, funny that the forex exchange counters denied accepting Indian currency( we were the victims of demonetisation) And my ATM card was not internationally enabled, luckily my freind’s card was a saviour. As per my usual budget trip rules, we took an auto to the nearest bus stand which is 2km from the airport. Secured a seat in a local bus that took 45 min to reach Colombo (30km from airport) Note:Auto’s are pretty expensive and charge like 200 S.Rs for 2km. Ohh did I forget to mention that we were not having iternational internet activated, so finding our accommodation was another story. We were finding it all around when it was right under our nose. We booked “Backpack Lanka hostel”, they were accommodating to our ,way too early checkin and let us crash in their lobby and cater to all our requests for food, charger, bathroom, toilet etc😆 We both were done with our morning chores ready to explore the city on foot. Took the feel of wide roads, cleanliness and the way people cross streets. Colombo doesn’t have much of attraction points so one day is good enough. In this one day, we booked the train tickets to Kandy and to Ella, also visited the Kelaniya temple. Local bus was our mode of transport to and from the temple which we boarded from, near the railway station. In the evening after taking a nap, we took a stroll at the “Galle face”. Family spent time here enjoying the local snacks and the breeze from the sea. It was a exhausting day and we had to catch the train the next day , hence we bid gudnight to our 1st day in Sri Lanka.

The cold dessert of Lahaul & Spiti (KAZA)

Kaza the main town of Spiti valley. Long journey trucks, halt here. It has a petrol pump, bunch of cafes, grocery and personal care stores  (which is a luxury).

But for me opulence was in “Zostel”. They have a combination of dormitories,  private rooms, tents, Swiss tents, colourful common room and open area with cannopes. They also allow travelers to pitch there own tents for a minimal cost. Staying there is in itself an experience.

This was the hub where all lost reunited.

It was already afternoon by the time I reached. I decided to take a stroll in the town on foot. A local fair was going on at that time. Traders from downhill came and exhibited various goods. Going further deep, I saw multiple cafes serving Israeli food, pasta but I was drooling at the sight of German bakery 😊.

The Sun had set, the moon was gleaming in the sky and I was back to Zostel where I ordered Rajma and rice for dinner. That’s when I realised that I need not hunt for food in the town. They had some excellent cook. The dishes were also priced reasonably.

SLEEP TIME….

I woke up to the view below.

I asked for ginger tea, cherishing the moments and sipping the epic beverage. Breaking the calmness of the dry valley I chatted with fellow backpackers and travelers.

The lady who was managing the place was very courteous. I asked her if I could get a car that could drive me to the “Key Gompa, langza, Hikkim and Khibber” and she arranged that for me in INR 2200 (which wasn’t a bad a deal at all)”. It was a full day tour ending at 5pm.

  • Langza- famous for its huge statue of Lord Buddha and you can find little kids selling fossils. It has scarce population, I could count the number of built houses.
  • Komik- till some time back there were no motor-able roads to this place and hence Khibber was the 3rd highest motorable village in the world, 1st being “La Rinconada, Peru”. But after roads have been built, Komik has grabbed this tittle.

  • Hikkim- known for the world’s highest post office. It’s located in a house. All the visitors send a postcard to there dear ones from here. Even I did but sadly it never reached.

  • Khibber-  is a well inhabited village. Has some restaurants and homestays. If one stays there, they can closely be connected to the lifestyle of local people.

    The high altitude definitely makes you breathless. But it is worth the view.
    I was back in the evening to the Zostel. As I entered the place I was delighted to see ‘the saviours’ our very own Mumbain freinds. We Ordered for tea and enjoyed the evening sitting in the cabana in the front yard of the place and discussing the experiences.

    The next day I was supposed to go to “Chandratal”  but decided to tag along with my freinds, so stayed one more night.