Know your everyday spices – Walk through the Spice Gardens of Thekkady, Kerala

Know your spices – a walk through the spice gardens of Kerala.

Christmas Eve, 1497, a European sailor, far away from his home in Lisbon, sat in a ship anchored at the coast of Natal after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, gazing at the endless stretch of water before him, and dreaming. Dreaming about the one place that was a part of myths and legends back from where he came. He had set upon this voyage 6 months ago, on July 8th, with four vessels. While he himself rode in the 200-ton St. Gabriel, his younger brother Paulo led the St. Rafael, and together they sailed with the very interesting and unusual company of thugs and criminals of Portugal.

You see, the journey this particular expedition was so infamous for having failed repeatedly throughout history, that the then King Manuel of Portugal deemed it fit only to risk lesser important lives for the journey. So on that fated Christsmas Eve as this sailor sat in his ship contemplating the possibilities of success and failure of reaching this destination, little did he know that in another 5 months he will not only fulfill his dream of finding this fabled land of the East, but also go down in history to be the man who changed the face of European trade, navigation and colonialism for many many years to come?

Spice paparazzi!

You already know the end of this unnecessary history lesson. More than 500 years ago, on 17th May 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India via the Atlantic Ocean. When he returned to Portugal with spices and silk, it is rumored that he earned four times the money he spent on his entire voyage just by selling the spices.

And where was this enchanted land of spices, you ask? On the shores of Kappad Beach in Kozhikode, fondly called the “Jewel of the Malabar,” in present-day Kerala, India.

Kerala, a small state on the map of a vast country, with a terrain so beautifully vast and varied, that it makes you marvel at the cultural and geographic diversity you encounter at every step. From the gently rolling hillsides to the palm-laden beach-fronts, from calm and serene backwaters to the dense and enchanting forest covers – Kerala offers its tourists several worlds packed in one destination. God’s Own Country, they call it. And it all began with the quest of one Portuguese explorer determined to discover the fabled spice gardens of the East!

Cruising over the famous Alleppey backwaters in Kerala. PC – Jinson Abraham

Spice tourism is one of the major attractions for Indian as well as international tourists finding their way to Kerala. We visited one of the many hill stations in the state – Thekkady, known as the spice belt of India.  Situated on the Munnar-Thekkady road, the drive to reach the spice garden was nothing close to how beautiful the spice trail experience turned out to be, and trust me, the drive was one of the most scenic one’s I have experienced. One little walk under the pleasant coastal sunshine and we saw plantations of a very wide range of spices like Pepper, Cloves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Vanilla, Ginger and Turmeric, along with many indigenous Ayurvedic herbs and beautiful lush-green coffee and tea plantations too.

Planting a mitti tree sapling at Greenwoods Resort, Thekkady.

Our tour-guide, a young and cheerful Malayali man, welcomed us to the spice gardens with warm greetings in every language. We were an enthusiastic group of 30 travel bloggers from over 20 countries, and I absolutely admired how comfortably he interacted with everyone.

Spice Tour at Thekkady, Kerala

We began with the King of Spices – Pepper, a flowering vine cultivated for the tiny fruits that are plucked and dried in different stages to be used as spices and seasoning. We were visiting in March, when the vine was filled with green pepper pods, which were ready to be plucked and sun-dried to procure the used Indian spice – black pepper. The same green pods if left unplucked, would eventually mature into red pepper, which can then be sun-dried to make white pepper – a crucial ingredient for the famous South Indian fish curries. Malabar Black Pepper, also fondly crowned “Black Gold” by traders, constitutes 75% of international trade of Kerala, and is historically famous for starting trade in India. On closer observation one will notice that these pepper pods are born between one male and one female leaf on the vine, and the pollination of the plant is favored by the mild showers of Kerala.

My “I’m confident this is pepper” face.

We then moved to another very crucial, and breathtakingly beautiful, spice of India. The tree is cultivated for two spices derived from the same fruit: Nutmeg and Mace, and is also commercially important for essential oils and butter. While Mace is made from the crimson-colored aril wrapped around the Nutmeg seed, Nutmeg spice is obtained by sun-drying the Nutmeg seed itself for six to eight weeks. Bloggers had a field-day trying to get the best picture of this colorful fruit that changed looks with every un-layering!

Blogger Patricia Schussel Gomes from Brazil admiring the wonders of a Nutmeg fruit

Next up was the world’s third most expensive spice – the Cardamom. Coming from the family of orchards, this Queen of Spices is used in two forms – black and green cardamom. A shorter plant compared to the others we had seen until now, we were informed by or guide that Cardamom is so expensive because not only does a simple Cardamom plant take 3 years to grow, it also has a maximum life-expectancy of 7 years, and it needs a special cover from sun and rains to truly flourish. This is why you will notice how the leaves of the plants grow in the form of an umbrella, thus protecting the flowers from the sun, and 3 meter tall plant is also grown in shade under another bigger plant. Cardamom picking and processing is also a painstakingly difficult process, as ladies sit patiently plucking one flower at a time, which are then dried using electric heat (not sunlight). The spice is not only used for seasoning and cooking, but is also sought out for medicinal purposes like teeth and gum healing, lung congestion, and digestive disorders.

Blogger Veronika Tomanova with a cardamom bud

Cloves were the easiest yet the most surprising spice to guess. To an untrained eye, what look like a beautiful cluster of crimson flower buds waiting to blossom, on closer observation reveal the presence of tiny little fragrant cloves wrapped inside. The buds have to be picked before they mature into flowers, and once processed, are used extensively for culinary as well as medicinal purposes.

Clove clusters

We went on to see many other spices like Cinnamon scraped off the bark of the tree, or turmeric procured from the roots. We also saw Cocoa and Coffee plants, and learned about the many types and processes that go into procuring the right quality harvest!

Cinnamon bark.

Photographing a Cocoa fruit.

Coffee plantations at Thekkady.


Blogger Raul Armando examining a ginger root.

The entire trail, which took us approximately 3-4 hours to complete, was a whirlwind of exciting trivia and surprising facts about the simple things we use regularly in our everyday life. We were promised a “Trip of a Lifetime” when we went to Kerala, and it was experiences like this one that really added meaning to that phrase! Now more confident about what we have to look in our spices, we ended our walk by stuffing our shopping bags with all the spices available at Spice Shop located on-property.

And of course, before we leave, one glass of fresh coconut water please!

We left after having a refreshing glass of fresh coconut water!

Details of the Spice Trail:

Location: Periyar Spice & Ayurvedic Garden, Munnar Thekkady Road, Thekkady
Best time to visit: Post monsoons
Duration: 3-4 hours

For more from my Kerala travels, I am sharing some of the older posts. This trip was a part of the Kerala Blog Express organized annually by Kerala Tourism.

Humble reminder: Travel responsibly. Keep your travel trails clean! Respect the local culture.


Kareri Chronicles : Kareri Lake trek, Dharamsala – For beginners


I know it’s been AGES since I last updated my blog, and I also apologize for being very ignorant with replying to comments too, but this post is my way of saying that I’m back and I won’t be missing in action again!

Now that this mandatory and much-needed apology is out of the way, let’s skip to the topic I’ve been dying to discuss! My very recent trek to Kareri Lake in Dharamsala!

Mornings like these 🙂

I want to start by saying that this was the first trek I’ve done in the last 2 years (third trek overall – after the Living Root Bridges & Triund). Now, you might wonder why I am emphasizing so much on my inexperience as a trekker. That’s because if there is anyone out there who is keen on taking this trek, but feels demotivated because it sounds difficult / taxing, don’t give it a second thought and just go for it. Like I always say – if a tiny, petite girl like me can do it, so can you, and lucky for us, so did some of my friends from Bombay & Chandigarh (some had never been on a trek before)


The happy Kareri crew!


Having said that, yes – the trek is taxing (if not difficult), mainly because the terrain is quite rough and wild including a lot of heavy climbing (STEPS!!!) for a very steep part of the way. If I am being honest, I did try to turn around and return once during the trek, but like all the best tour guides out there, mine too did not let me give up, and I willingly agreed to fall for the “just a little more” trap laid out before me. Was  it worth it? Why don’t you take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself 🙂

All pictures in this post have been shot using Google Pixel XL 2! It’s the first time I traveled without a DSLR, and I swear, I did not miss it for a second!

You will find the details of the trek (relevant contacts, itinerary etc) below the pictures.

Views enroute the scenic drive to Kareri Village


I swear I could’ve stayed back at the village and not regretted it at all! Such a beautiful place 🙂


Touchdown: Kareri Village, Dharamsala


My room with a view on the first night in Kareri village


And we’re ready to go!


Scenes from the start of the trek!


Still on the road to the trail. I have a thing for tree canopies <3


The first dhaba you encounter on the trail, right next to a beautiful stream. You can also get in touch with the dhaba owner for paid assistance for the trek (guide / tents/ food etc).

If treks did not have steps, I’d go for one everyday!


Shameless Wildcraft plug cuz free shoes!


Gorgeous ancient tree on the trail. I fell in love with this one! Look at the roots.


Manan of the Jungle 😉 Isn’t this tree just marvelous? We all took turns to climb this one.


Monkey’ing around! That’s our tour guide Amit, who is also a bouldering enthusiast.


Mera Highway wala ghar <3


When you can finally see your destination after 5 hrs of trekking. First view of the site.


Pic after trek fateh toh banta hai, boss! With Latha and Manan <3


First view: Panorama of the lake!


Panorama – Part 2! (With Arjun spoiling it)


Abhi captured this beautiful moment on our return from the lake. In the picture – me, Arjun and Manan 🙂 Picture credits: Abhinav Chandel



Trek level: Beginners
Start from: Kareri Village, Dharamsala (1.5 hours from Dharamsala main market)
Trek duration: 5-6 hours (Going up) 4-5 hours (Coming down)
Brief Itinerary:
Day 1 (suggested, can be done without this too):  Instead of traveling to Kareri early in the morning and starting the trek immediately, we chose to reach Kareri village a day early, and stayed at a village homestay for the night. The homestay had 3 rooms, and we were 9 people, so Arjun and I ended up setting a tent in the verandah for ourselves. This (in my opinion) turned out to be a good prep for the camping we had to do the next day.

Day 2: Wake up at the crack of dawn to see a very beautiful sunrise right outside our tents. If I can be honest, with Arjun snoring next to me, and Abhinav and Stuart snoring from the rooms behind me, I hardly caught a peaceful shut-eye throughout the night, and so the idea of it becoming brighter outside really came as a welcome escape for me. While everyone started segregating their essentials into trail backpacks and night bags (to be loaded on the khachchars), our house hosts busied themselves in preparing our breakfasts, enabling us to to start the trek on the right note! We left our homestay at approximately 8 am, and reached the lake at 1 PM. Whatever happened in-between can be seen in the pictures below.

Day 3: Another early start and this time we divided our group into two – 1) the ones who wanted to stick back and do some photography and 2) the ones who wanted to reach the toilet first! I was in the first group, and on leaving around 11 AM, we reached the village at 4 PM. It shouldn’t ideally take this long, but this was partially my fault, as I wandered off on the wrong path and that was an easy 1 hour penalty. I also tend to stop a lot on the way, talking to trees and soaking in the views, as opposed to most friends who can just run back to the destination.

If you need a tour operator to organize your trek (relieves you of the tension of carrying your own tents, food etc), you can contact Amit: 85797 20373

We were a group of 9 people, and we each Rs. 3,000 per person – this included the cab pickup and drop (ex-Dharamsala), the dinner + accommodation at the village, breakfast, trail food, and dinner the next day, and a simple breakfast on day 3, payment for the animals, tents & sleeping bags.

Trying to soak it all in!
Picture Credits: Fatima Sana Shaikh


The view from the starting point of the Gyu Village in Spiti. You can see the yellow speck on the mountain where the Gyu Mummy resides.
The view from the Gyu Village in Spiti. You can see the yellow speck on the mountain where the Mummy resides.


The quaint little village of Gyu does not attract many tourists. Being the village closest to the India-Tibet border, foreigners require a special inner-line permit to visit Gyu. Should you take the effort? Definitely, because this village is home not just to the living, for eere resides, since centuries, Lama Kanpo aka The Gyu Mummy, which brings with it a very interesting story.

The residence / temple of Lama Kanpo - The Gyu Mummy

The residence / temple of Lama Kanpo – The Gyu Mummy


So let me take you through my journey to Gyu…

Probably the most exciting part of my hitch-hiking experience in Spiti – my journey from Tabo to Gyu in a truck, and back on an Indian Army water tanker!

I woke up at the crack of dawn, I was out by the main street at 5 AM, and it was deserted barring the one truck that was just getting ready to leave. A little hesitant at first, the Alia fever in me caught up quite easily, and I ran to get what I had, and well – luckily for me they were heading in the right direction. The fact that the truck driver is still stalking me even after almost a month since that ride, is a story for another time.

My Highway experience, tinted brown when the truck driver started stalking me!
My Highway experience, tinted brown when the truck driver started stalking me!


The truck dropped me off at the junction marking the start of Gyu village, where stood before me the haunting 8 km uphill walk to the village.

The 8 km walk to Gyu, although tiresome, is insanely beautiful!
The 8 km walk to Gyu, although tiresome, is insanely beautiful!


Touch-base: the Indian-Tibet Border Police camp, where the cops directed me to the trek route to the Gyu Mummy! And what a beautiful walk this was.

While you can directly take your car / jeep right to the doorstep of the Gyu Mummy, walking up from the ITBP post is another alternative. Hardly a 10 minute walk, mainly steps.
While you can directly take your car / jeep right to the doorstep of the Gyu Mummy, walking up from the ITBP post is another alternative. Hardly a 10 minute walk, mainly steps.


I didn’t know what to expect from this visit, I just knew my trip would’ve been incomplete if I didn’t. What should you expect from a mummy? Maybe a dark dingy room that smells of the dead? But I was surprised at entering the room, the sight of the mummy was anything but creepy. The room was very nicely maintained, well lit with butter lamps lining up the walls and incense sticks working their magic. However, you won’t notice any of this at first, because the moment you step inside, the first thing that greets you is a withered cadaver, neatly tucked inside a glass case.

Lama Kanpo - The Gyu Mummy, Spiti
Lama Kanpo – The Gyu Mummy, Spiti


A shriveled torso with blackened skin, said to still be in meditating position though you can’t see the whole body as it’s covered with yellow silk, hollow eye sockets that hauntingly stare back at you, and one visible hand, with bony fingers curled as if rolling invisible prayer beads of a rosary.

The skin blackened over time and exposure to burning candles, the eye sockets of the Gyu Mummy stare back at you.
The skin blackened over time and exposure to burning lamps.


Fingers curled around invisible prayer beads.
Fingers of the corpse curled around invisible prayer beads.


I stopped over at the ITBP (India-Tibet Border Police) camp later, where the officer in charge – Nanak Chand Thakur went all out with his hospitality, too surprised to meet an Indian girl traveling alone! We sat together for almost an hour, he sipping chai and me having aaloo gobhi and paranthas very graciously cooked by the jawans, when he started reciting local tales about the mummy – some facts, some fiction.

So as the story goes, back in 1976 during an excavation project by the ITBP, an axe hit something that wasn’t earth and drew out blood. On further digging, the body of a Lama was discovered, still sitting in meditation position, in monk clothes, long hair and nails.

The site where Lama Kanpo's corpse was found by ITBP, under the white chhorten you see in the distance. These have been reconstructed after the earthquake of 1975.
The site where Lama Kanpo’s corpse was found by ITBP, under the white chhorten you see in the distance. These have been reconstructed after the earthquake of 1975.


Guessing from the maroon color of robes and yellow belt that was found on the body during excavation, it is believed that Lama Kanpo was a monk of the Gelugpa order. Recent reports have confirmed that the body is easily 400-500 years old. The mummy was shifted to the newly constructed temple later in 2006, where it now peacefully meditates, albeit a few noisy visitors with cameras, some even trying to take selfies 🙂

Meditate in Peace, Lama Kanpo!
Meditate in peace, Lama Kanpo!

5 ways to untravel Spiti Valley!

The valley of Spiti isi full of many incredible sights like this one!
The valley of Spiti isi full of many incredible sights like this one!

My fascination with Spiti Valley began when I saw Alia Bhatt pointing at a mountain and asking Randeep Hooda, her knight in shining armor, if there was any way they could go there! It wasn’t so much the scene than was the gorgeous monastery in the background that caught my attention, and I’ve wanted to visit the tantalizing valley of Lahaul-Spiti ever since! But what I didn’t expect is, not only will I get to see this monastery, but also live there… cooking, laughing and living with the monks.

Well, no points for guessing who is the over-elated city girl who just returned from Spiti!

Rudyard Kipling couldn’t have been more accurate when he called Spiti “a world within a world”. The valley has the most incredible landscape that’s green and blue and brown at the same time! You encounter a new sight at every turn, and every sight makes you wanna sit and stare in silence, until the end of eternity! But the real charm of the valley begins when you get over its exterior beauty (which is not so easy to do, I mean just look at that place!!!) and notice the exceptional purity the locals live with. Being low on budget, I opted for hitch-hiking (Dad if you’re reading this, it’s not as bad as it sounds), in cabs, in jeeps, in trucks – behind trucks, in buses – on buses… and not once did I have an unpleasant experience (which being a solo female traveler came as quite a surprise!). The people in Spiti literally open their homes and hearts for you, they all want to hear your story and share their own, and more often than not – they go out of their way to make sure you feel at home.

  1. Stay at Key Monastery – Undoubtedly the most beautiful experience from all my travels – staying at Key Monastery! Spiti boasts of a purely homogenous Buddhist society belonging to the Mahayana sect of Vajrayana Buddhism, and is home to numerous monasteries with history dating back more than 1000 years. While each one of these monasteries is worth a visit and is glorious in its own way, Key monastery holds a special place for how incredibly inviting it is! You walk into the kitchen at the monastery and are invited by monks for a cup of chai, no matter what time of the day it is, you can live in the Lama quarters of the monastery (at just Rs. 200 per night, including meals!), indulge in their irrefutable hospitality, sleep under the gorgeous starlit skies in the veranda, and I was lucky to also attend the annual Gaaye celebration of the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism! I may always recommend things on my blog, but never before have I been this confident about my recommendation. Take my word on this – this is an experience you shouldn’t miss!
  2. Go country with lovely homestays – I met this incredible lady from Mane village, who welcomes travelers to live at her house, and shares the finer way of living the Mane life! You can learn weaving, making chhang (Local beer prepared with semi-fermented barley), or simply experience the country life with her assistance. Similarly, you will be able to find humble homestays at Lhangza, Gomik, Demul, Dhankar, Lhalung, Cyoto or Tashi Gang, and I personally feel this will be the best way to discover the charm of Spiti!
  3. Finding Fossils – The Spiti we see today is an incredible sight of monstrous mountains with rock formations made by the force of wind and water over epochs, and the serpentine Spiti river adding a touch of elegance to the rather rugged landscape! It is also a known fact that the Tethys Sea ran through this mountain desert till about 60 million years ago, and in Spiti you can still find proof of this geological past. Step into Lhangza village and you will see kids running to you with stones in their hands. Look closely and you’ll realize they’re not stones, but actually fossils of maritime life, that probably died 100 million years ago. Innumerable such fossils can be found with a short walk to the Lhangza naala, all you have to do is walk 🙂
  4. Meditate in Caves – A visit to Spiti will be incomplete if you don’t visit Tabo, which has the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monument of India, famous for its wall paintings and murals. In its millennium of existence, the gonpa boasts of not having seen a day without prayer. But that’s not the only treasure Tabo holds, walk across the mountains adjacent to the tiny village and you’ll come across many meditation caves, some with interesting artwork inside.
  5. Rent a bike – One thing about Spiti, traveling locally can be quite expensive if you don’t have your own car. Cabs charge approximately Rs. 1000+ for 10kms, and while that pricing is totally justified considering the wear and tear these vehicles are subjected to on really difficult (or at times, non-existent) roads, not everyone can afford the luxury. So what do the rest of us do? While I chose to hitch-hike as I didn’t feel fit enough to do this, I came across a few people who rented a bike (which are easily available in Kaza), mounted it on a local bus while going uphill, and cycled their way back to Kaza on the descent. I can only imagine how exhilarating and challenging that experience must be, adrenaline rush max!

So that’s about interesting activities in Spiti. You can also go on an wild-life exploration trip, but for that you have to visit later in the winters. The best person to guide you with this will be Karan Bedi, who owns Hotel Deyzor (which, btw, is also the best hotel recco I can give even though I didn’t stay there myself). Just go to the cafe and ask for him, he organizes many culture & adventure tours in and around Spiti that you can easily be a part of.

I have so many stories to share from my short affair with Spiti. Working on a few photo-essays to take you through my journey, stay tuned 🙂



Help keep our travel trail clean. Don’t litter, motivate your friends to do the same!

How traveling made me an entrepreneur!

Flashback – May 2014: I visited McLeod Ganj immensely intoxicated by a supreme Highway and Queen overdose. It was my first solo trip as a traveler- my affair with the Himalayas! 2 months of living in McLeod Ganj, and backpacking around Himachal, the only thing I prayed for, every single day, was for one more day. Little did I know this in-between-jobs’ visit to the mountains will change my career graph forever!

I returned to Mumbai only in July, when I got an interview call from a company I had always dreamt of working for. I was to meet one of the owners of the company for the position of a celebrity manager. Having worked in entertainment and lifestyle PR for 3 years, and television production for 1, this job sounded like just the thing I should be doing next! Cracking the interview was not so difficult, but that’s when the tricky part began – the mountains had spoilt me, I wanted to return – I couldn’t chain myself to a 9-5 job again, no matter if it was with my dream company!

So despite numerous warnings from friends, family and my own mind – I turned it down, knowing very well that I was being a fool. It’s easy to fantasize about travel, the difficult part is making it work. I couldn’t travel if I didn’t have a job, but I couldn’t travel the way I wanted if I took up a job either. At the same time, I didn’t want to do something I didn’t love just for the sake of making money. Exactly a year ago, today, after weeks of planning, innumerable meetings and multiple rejections, I started my own PR and communications agency – The Owl Post. In just one year, we’ve grown from a one-person-venture to a 6 member team. I no longer live in Mumbai – I shifted to the very place that inspired the birth of this company, to McLeod Ganj. We have some great clients on-board, some of them congratulated me when I decided to shift to Dharamsala and said they were proud of me (Dream clients, right?). And above all, we have a team that has grown so much in the last year, which is one thing I will always be proud of! The journey hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies, but I’m not complaining. As I reflect upon the year gone by, I can only thank that first solo trip to McLeod Ganj for changing my life, for making me an entrepreneur, for making me independent not only in terms of career and location, but also in spirit! Had it not been for the will to travel, I don’t think I would have ever mustered the courage to start up on my own. I would have taken up that job, and would probably be running around trying to make some overpaid celebrity’s career work while getting underpaid by some other entrepreneur. Being able to do what you love, and being able to do it your own way, is the best feeling ever. Today, my dream to travel and that of a perfect work life are working so much in harmony, each trying to not come in the way of the other, each complimenting and completing the quest for the other, just like Yin and Yang, opposites but incomplete without the latter.

Today, when people ask me how I manage to live such a life, telling me “it’s not possible”, I tell them this story and ask them to sit back and think what they can do. Not everyone can be a travel writer, not everyone can be a travel photographer, not everyone can get a job as a tour guide, not everyone can start a backpacking company. So what do the rest of us who want to travel do? I have been in your place, and now I am here – I have seen and touched the grass on both the sides, and the only thing I can say is there are no rules and nothing is impossible. If you want to travel, find a way to make it happen, and not by following what I did, or what your favorite travel blogger chose to do. Do what you think you’re best at! A person who saves for months to travel once in 6 months is as legit a traveler as the one who makes money on the road. Give yourself some time, jot down your strengths, look into our skill sets, figure what you can do, and then go do it! If I could do it, I believe anyone can. The only trick is to never let your love for travel die, that flame will guide you through the tough times and lead you to your destination. Keep traveling, keep dreaming, keep living!

PS: Happy birthday to my baby venture – ! 🙂

Never stop dreaming!
Never stop dreaming!

Untraveling Hampi – Yabba-Dabba-Doo!

Untraveling Hampi
Untraveling Hampi!

I spent the last weekend (the Easter weekend), doing absolutely nothing in the humble little village of Hampi, and I can’t wait to go back! Having done my research, I traveled to Hampi prepared to be amazed by the “Land of boulders”, as it is popularly known. Once there, feeling ant-like in front of those giant, enormous, life-size, ancient boulders – here there and everywhere – where every rock, every boulder, and every ruined structure has a story to tell; Hampi took me back to my childhood days when I would be glued to my TV screen watching Fred and Wilma in their caveman outfits, riding in that tiny car with stone wheels, living in the cute little boulder’ish houses, taking pictures with the camera that had a hidden pecking ‘Da-Vinci’ bird. Is there any way to be sure Flintstones wasn’t shot in Hampi?

Hampi - The land of boulders
Hampi – The land of boulders

I won’t talk about the 500+ monuments Hampi is most famous for, because A) I’m not much of a sight-seeing person and you can easily read the zillion articles about it’s history online, and B) Hampi has much more character than just being a land of rock structures, and that’s what pulls me back! Situated in north Karnataka, a trip to Hampi – which is an overnight affair for Mumbaikars and Goans and just a 7 hour business from Bangalore – has something to offer to every traveler. Seekers of adventure may indulge in bouldering, cliff-diving, cycling on the treacherous hill-slopes, or taking a swim in the Tungabhadra (while being constantly alerted about the presence of crocodiles). It wins over off-beat travelers with its old-school charm maintained by preserving the flavor of a regular Indian village, and keeps history buffs entertained with centuries’ worth of stories. While on one hand it is a hippies’ paradise, filled with backpackers from around the globe, on the other it’s safe enough for you to travel with your family without feeling uncomfortable or out of place. If you’re bored of people suggesting Goa as a place to unwind (really guys, PLEASE be bored of Goa already!), I suggest you give Hampi a try!

Kids in Hampi posing for the shutterbugs!
Kids in Hampi posing for the shutterbugs!

Just throwing in a mythological fact here, Hampi is also known as the land of the Vanara Sena (Planet of the Apes) – a significant part of the Ramayana.

People here have very strong religious roots. The annual Rath Yatra of Hampi drew participation from each and every village in and around Hospet.
People here have very strong religious roots. The annual Rath Yatra of Hampi drew participation from each and every village in and around Hospet.

Oh, and did I mention it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Just a small, very insignificant detail.

Hampi - A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Hampi – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

I made the mistake of visiting Hampi in the scorching summer heat. Be warned, it really is the worst time to visit, unless you’re chasing an easy sun-tan. You can’t cycle, sight-seeing will test all your patience, you don’t feel like eating because you just want to keep drinking lime juice ALL the time, and walking on the boulders is like walking on red hot iron. But even despite the heat, my 30 hour journey to reach Hampi due to a bus break-down, my ego-crushing attempt at cycling, and my phobia of water – I came back to Mumbai with a resolve to revisit Hampi after summers. Here’s why:

  • Read to your heart’s content – So one thing unique about Hampi is that this village has absolutely no network. And I’m not speaking about 3G, but general cellular network. Being a heritage site, Hampi can apparently not allow cellular companies to set-up mobile towers in the village, which though annoying at times, can really be a boon once you welcome the change. No calls, no msgs, no whatsapp, no twitter, no instagram! And if you’re lucky enough to be traveling alone, this means spending some genuine undisturbed quality time with books! Step into a Café, order a nice glass of banana coconut milkshake, dive into your novel and just don’t come out.
  • Perfect place for solo travelers – While meeting fellow travelers always tops my bucket-list while traveling to any place, doing so in Hampi was all the more treasured. With absolutely zero connection with the world outside this village, it’s very easy to go out of your way and join tables, or hitch rides with other backpackers. Add to that, the locals, who are so friendly and welcoming, that you won’t miss home in their presence! From a guesthouse owner who offered to let me stay for free, to a kind family that opened their home for a famished me after cycling in the heat, to people at a make-shift refugee camp who let me have lunch with them because they were so excited about seeing a solo Indian female traveler – I had the best experience with locals over my short stay.

    Goat curry with rice offered by the people at the camp set-up by villagers traveling for the Rath Yatra in Hampi.
    Goat curry with rice offered by the people at the camp set-up by villagers traveling for the Rath Yatra in Hampi.
  • Cycling trails – If, like me, you come from a city where cycling is only an activity you’ve left for the time you travel to Amsterdam – say Hello Hampi! You can go rent a cycle for a day for as cheap as Rs. 100. Full dislosure: Let me add here, the only reason I went to Hampi was because I read an itinerary that said you could cycle everyday, and despite all that excitement I failed miserably, as I couldn’t cycle to save my life. While I can blame the Hampi heat for my tragic attempt to re-ignite my love for cycling, I’m actually taking this up as a challenge. Next time I return, I’ll be fit enough to cycle around the village. Or at least I’ll try.

My rented ride parked at someone's house after I finally gave up trying to cycle
My rented ride parked at someone’s house after I finally gave up trying to cycle

    • Light on that wallet! – Rooms for Rs. 300 – 500 (will be highly hiked up during season time i.e. October onwards), cycle for Rs. 100, a plate of idli for Rs. 20, a large glass-full of mango milkshake for Rs. 90, a complete meal for under Rs. 150 – Hampi is a budget travelers heaven! If you’re traveling from Mumbai, you can take the bus for Rs. 1000 all the way to Hospet, a bus from Hospet to Hampi for Rs. 20 (or a rickshaw for Rs. 200), rent a cycle for Rs. 100 or a moped for Rs. 150 (goes up to Rs. 250 in season)­­­, cross the river by boat for Rs. 7 to the other side of Hampi, find a cheap guest-house / hut for yourself, and spend the weekend being absolutely lazy. A solo traveler can easily spend a weekend in Hampi in less than Rs. 4000, inclusive of travel; but if you really want to soak in the experience, I’d suggest you extend your trip to at least ten days!

Ancient yet modern, soaked in history, culture and travel tales – there’s a lot to see in Hampi!

  • Hippie heaven – As I mentioned earlier, Hampi is divided into two parts by a tiny lake, which can be crossed by a ferry ride which is shorter than the one between Versova and Madh Island. While on one side is the Hampi Bazaar, the Virupaksha Temple and all the possible major ruins of Hampi, the other side of the reservoir houses the quaint Anegundi village, endearingly known as the “hippie island”. You won’t see the Goa nonsense that’s usually associated to hippie’ness among Indian tourists, but a genuine, laid-back, peaceful life, underlined by the perfect co-existence of locals and backpackers. Anegundi has good roads (a singular road actually), perfect for taking your biking lessons, and view points where you can sit-back with coconut water and relish a perfect sunset. Indulge in activities like dread-lock making, lend a hand to the rural women making baskets and other handicrafts, take part in drum circles and impromptu jam sessions, or enjoy quiet evenings by the rice paddy fields. Café’s here let you smoke (not just cigarettes), and the music scene is not just playing music on speakers. It’s also common to come across foreigners who have been staying here for decades at stretch, which again speaks about how very comfortable this place really is. Meera the Belgian nun, staying here since 30 years, or the Italian baba – Ceaser – these foreigners are now Hampi locals, and so famous that travelers from across the world take appointments to meet them. Unfortunately, owing to my advance bookings, I had to stick to the bazaar side of Hampi, but my second visit will surely be an extended stay by the rice fields of Anegundi!

Trees, farms and perfect sunsets! Hampi – a land not just of boulders.



  • The Land Out There organizes great weekend as well as extended backpacking trips to Hampi. If you don’t want to make the trip alone, I would highly recommend you get in touch with them!
  • Season time in Hampi is actually winters, i.e. post October, but I think monsoons here will be really beautiful. I will be basking in the glorious Himalayas this monsoon season, so I’ll give that experience a pass for this year. But if you’re looking for a monsoon escape, give Hampi a try!
  • The one guest house that stole my heart was the Shanthi Guest House, even though it’s slightly on the more expensive side.
  • The Hampi Festival, that takes place in January every year, seems to be a great time to visit this place, especially if you’re into travel photography.
  • To be honest, I didn’t make any efforts to try out the many food joints on both sides of the river. But from whatever I tried, and heard of, Mango Tree Cafe hands down wins the title for the best place to be.


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Gurudongmar Lake – The crown jewel of Sikkim! – Travel Photo Essay

Basking in the glorious enchantment of the gorgeous Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim!
Basking in the glorious enchantment of the gorgeous Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim! Picture credits: Nishit Gupta

Sleepy-eyed, tortured by the harsh temperatures, shivering to the bone despite four layers of clothing and 2 blankets – that would be me through the first half of the drive. But once I saw the sun rising in the mountains, leaving a shimmery gold trail all across the snow-capped peaks, and sprinkling peach pixie-dust over the clouds, sleeping was not an option anymore. You read it in the travel blogs and see it in a few movies, but it’s only when you see it yourself that you realize how magically overpowering a sunrise in the mountains really is!

The clouds waking up for the sunrise!
The clouds waking up for the sunrise!

We were driving towards the sole motivation behind my entire trip to Sikkim – The Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! Situated in the northern-most part of the state, Gurudongmar is one of the highest lakes in the world, and the second highest lake in India. At an altitude of 17000 ft, this place is a MUST bucket-list site for all Indian travelers!

Our journey had started just a day earlier from Gangtok, where we had to acquire our permits to visit the lake (being extremely close to the Indo-Tibetan border, tourists can’t go here without permits and have to go via authorized tour operators). Our driver, Arun, was the most rocking chap you can ever come across. He rapped to Yo Yo Honey Singh songs and kept us entertained throughout with interesting stories about Sikkim and his experiences with various travelers. This was a huge blessing, considering the 8 hour odd drive from Gangtok to Lachen, though very scenic and beautiful, did take a toll on us!

We reached our guest house at Lachen right in time for dinner! Our guest house was a small little home-stay of sorts, with the most beautiful arrangement for meals. We devoured on the humble feast served to us, and ran to our rooms, getting ready to wake up at 3 am the next morning!

Loved the interiors of our guesthouse at Lachen, Sikkim
Loved the interiors of our guesthouse at Lachen, Sikkim

Now, while waking up at 3 AM on any regular day is a task in itself, when you’re sleeping cuddled under 2 blankets, waking up at 3 AM is next to impossible! Had it not been for the unavoidable lure of the lake, we would have never managed to drag ourselves out of the comfort of our beds. After putting on as many layers of clothing as we possibly could, and packing the blankets from our guest house – we were finally ready for our Gurudongmar adventure!

We made a quick stopover at a small food joint, run by a sweet and ever-smiling guy named Rikjung with his Mom and younger sister. These were the most hospitable and friendly chaps! They cooked for us, helped us to servings of a local mixture called tumba – made from rice and taken with a bamboo pipe – effective to fight the cold, and lit up a fire to relieve us from our misery. This place won’t be difficult to find, as it’s one of the only places you come across on the way, approximately 8 kms before Thangu, at Yatang.

The family that runs the food joint enroute Gurudongmar! Do make time for a chat!
The family that runs the food joint enroute Gurudongmar! Do make time for a chat! Picture credits: Saloni Saraf

After fighting all that cold, a humble cup of tea brought all our senses back alive!
After fighting all that cold, a humble cup of tea brought all our senses back alive! Picture credits: Saloni Saraf

What started as a sleepy to-do journey, turned into the most scenic road-trip of my life! Be prepared to crane your neck left, right, to the front and back, all within a seconds notice, because there’s just so much to see all around, that you can’t help but act like an over-excited 5 year old in Charlie’s Chocolate Factory! Even though you won’t come across any kind of vegetation or human settlements that are usually a regular sight up in the mountains, the barren and cold landscapes with occasional spotting of Yaks holds a different charm to itself. This wasn’t my first encounter with the mountains, having had my fair share of adventure in Himachal. But there’s something about the untouched magnanimity and beauty of the mountains in North-East India, which is so exotic and mesmerizing, that captures you in its inviting embrace instantly! Have tried to put together a visual journey for you below:

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim
The road to Gurudongmar Lake, while barren and dusty, is the most beautiful drive you’ll encounter!

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim
Those black dots are actually Yaks. Loads of them! My camera could only zoom in so far!

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

Snapshots from our drive to Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

After 4 odd hours of driving, including a stopover at an army camp, we finally reached our destination! One look at the snow-fed crystal blue water of the lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides, dressed with Buddhist prayer flags across its breadth, the texture of the water perfectly matching the pristine blue  of the sky above – and you stop right in your tracks, losing all sense of time, place… and existence. There really isn’t much I can say that can justify how stunning this site is, I’ll let you decide for yourself:

Touchdown - Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim!

Touchdown – Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim!

The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim! The mesmerizing Gurudongmar Lake of North Sikkim!


PS: We made this trip in November first week, so the pictures above represent what the lake looks like in November. However this view may vary from month to month depending on the weather. My friend just visited the lake (only two days ago actually). So I thought I should share his pictures too, to give you an idea of how unreal the frozen lake looks in March.

A frozen Gurudongmar Lake in March- North Sikkim. Picture courtesy: Abhishek Gupta


Trivia about Gurudongmar Lake: Gurudongmar Lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, who is said to have visited this holy lake during the 8th century AD. Gurudongmar Lake is listed among the 108 saccred laked of Sikkim and is regarded as the northern door for entry into Demojong (Sikkim). This sacred lake is said to have divine powers to fulfill the wishes of devotees who visit the lake. It has been notified as one of the most sacred Buddhist places of worship in Sikkim.


  • If you have an extra day, choose to stay at Lachung after your Gurudongmar trip, and opt for a drive to Yumthang valley and Zero Point the next morning! There is also a famous hot water spring enroute Yumthang that you can stop at.
  • Unfortunately for our overseas friends, the proximity of the lake to the Indo-Tibetan (Chinese) border renders this site out-of-bounds for all foreign travelers. Even Indian travelers can travel here only through packaged tours organized by local operators in Sikkim, and everyone needs an Inner Line Permit from Gangtok.
  • Under normal circumstances, I would share the number of the travel agent who fixed our tour, but we had a really bad experience with him and wouldn’t suggest him to anyone. For reference (and warning) sake, his name was Tashi Thendup – Anoop, he owns a hotel in Gangtok (which is too costly for the horrible service they provide) and he tricked us into staying there despite our repeated refusals.
  • Our driver was a superstar! You should call him whenever you’re going for this trip. He can organize the trip too, cheaper than others. Arun – +919475715570
  • Note for people with breathing issues: The drive to Gurudongmar from Lachen starts at over 8000 feet altitude, and you keep driving constantly till 17,000 feet. Breathing here gets difficult for even regular people. We were strictly advised by the army officials to not run / walk fast near the lake, and keep drinking water regularly. You also have to make sure you reach the lake early in the morning, and drive out before noon.
  • Make sure you keep your permit and photo id proofs handy on this trip, as you will be stopped and checked at the army check-posts. Also, for safety, carry dry fruits with you.
  • The water of the lake is considered sacred. We were advised by one and all to fill bottles from the lake to carry back to Mumbai. 
  • The lake also has a small temple which is revered by Hindus as well as Buddhists, and attracts many pilgrims and monks.
  • Important: Just trust me and stop for a coffee with our jawans at the army camp enroute!!!


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