Category: Escape Stories

Road less taken: Place rarely visited

Posted By : Sumit Singh/ 467 0

From Line of Control to Line of Actual Control and that night…

India has a coastline as long as 7500 kms spanning 13 states, UTs as well as islands while the border line with 6 nations is almost the double at over 14000kms which is known as LOC, LAC as well as international border based on the relation with the particular country.

Ladakh is one region where you can move from one international border to another in a span of hours through terrains so surreal, that it feels out of the world. The road trip from Thang – northernmost village before LOC; Pakistan occupied Kashmir is a hours drive from Chushul – village on the eastern side of Ladakh close to LAC (Chinese claimed Ladakh). Both the landscapes are vivid and have a different vibe to each and what connects both is the road rarely taken.

We started from Diskit late morning and took the Agham – Shyok – Durbuk – Pangong – Spangmik – Man – Merak route to reach Chushul. The narrow passage runs through plains and mountain terrains while never letting go of the Pangong lake view making the drive more adventurous than daunting. As soon as you cross Spangmik village, you are on your own with rare sightings of gulls flying over Pangong Tso, kiangs (wild asses as tall as horses) and yaks grazing but rarely a human.

The farther you move, the closer you get to wilderness. By the time we spotted Chushul it was getting dark and we were getting restless if we were in the right direction or not. Vast lands with no sign of human life eventually get to you. Preparation for the worst is the only key to survival and our caravan is generally prepared for worse. As soon as we spotted Chushul village at a distance, there was a sigh of relief as dusk had just started spreading its gloomy wings across the valley.

By the time we made it to Chushul village, the darkness and the chill in the air alongside hectic drive throughout the day made us cancel our pitch-our-tent-where-we-like plan. All we needed was a comfortable place to stay, not fancy – just basic but cozy. As we spread out to fetch something to eat from the shops nearby, local children surrounded our cars, all staring at us. Most of the stuff at the general shops was well past its expiry date. Only after lot of looking around and being refused by a couple of locals to stay around, we realized staying at Chushul might be a challenge. The culture of home-stays is not common in the village. Thankfully, one good samaritan offered to help and made a call to one guest-house nearby. It was pitch dark by now and if the caretaker had not answered the call, we were in deep sh%$.

After waiting outside the guesthouse for what seemed like eternity, an old man walked out with a solar lamp on his head. He stared at all of us for a while and said, we need to get approval from the local authorities to be able to stay the night. Thankfully, he agreed to accompany one of our vehicles to the police station at night. Even waiting outside on plain road was difficult as the chilly wind would find its way to tease us one way or the other. When they returned with permission, our dear friend brought along some strict instructions from the local police station.

  • This place was a couple of kilometers from the Chinese border
  • Our purpose of visit to Chushul was seriously questioned
  • We were instructed not to roam around at night and under-no-condition with a torch (the Chinese troops kept a close watch at all night activities)
  • The officer joked about offering target practice opportunity to the not-so-welcoming neighbor and we were in no mood to defy his commands

As soon as we started to settle in one section of the guest house, the care-taker seemed to be in a hurry to rush back to his place. He was in no mood to share pleasantries, never told us his name and gave hurried directions on what’s kept where. He allowed us to use his kitchen at an additional charge and quickly got us two gallons of drinking water which was clearly filled from a running stream nearby. He demanded to be paid the complete amount in advance and retired for the night. It was barely 9pm, but somehow the day already seemed long.

A couple of us got into the kitchen to prepare maggi, toasts and thankfully we were keeping extra water bottles with us for odd days like this. One look outside and you would feel like you are in a completely different part of the world with grim borderlines of large mountains at a distance, a handful of stars hiding under dense cover of clouds and just one gompa completely lit-up in the middle of nowhere. We were busy talking about the day, food and time passed until dinner was to be served. The walk from the kitchen till the dining area was barely 15 steps but something was not right. It was an old low-roof structure where the passage from kitchen to dining room involved a 10 steps walk out in the cold.

The last person to enter the room felt someone walking besides him almost running through him while he was holding food in his hand. Downplaying his excitement and retaining his calm, he requested someone else to get the remaining spoons from the kitchen. The girl volunteered to fetch them and returned back to the dining room all out-of-breath and announced that she is not stepping out for the night.

Chushul
This was next to our homestay

It was soon clear that something about the place was not right and we all finished dinner and tried to divert attention to other subjects in whispers. Just after dinner, as we were to keep the leftovers in the kitchen, we all ventured outside with caution. It was a pitch dark night with cold wind making weird sounds. There was this little old room at a raised platform where the wooden door was dancing to the tunes to wind making a loud creaky noise. We took charge of shutting the noise as it would have made sleeping impossible. As soon as I moved my hand to shut it, the door suddenly opened completely with a loud thud and two people had to pull it and bring it close to the lock (making sure that none of us peeked inside). It took three fully grown men to control the door and tie it with a metal wire to suppress the noise.

In the entire Ladakh region, electricity is shut off at exact 11 pm, reminded one person and it was 20 minutes for absolutely no light in the area. We all retired to our rooms, this time placing our beds next to each other. It was very brave of two of us to fetch sleeping bags from our vehicles parked next to the rooms, however the few seconds long excursion left us breathless with an abnormally high adrenaline and the fear that we were being followed.

Throwing layers of blankets over us, we all pretended to sleep that night and no one said a word.

It was suddenly very bright at 5 am as if it was noon already. We had to wait for the caretaker till 0830 while I strolled and clicked a few pictures of the area seeing the vast landscapes in broad day light. It was just open lands and hills as far as the eye could see on one side and mountains on the other side. The all-lit gompa stood at a distance all pretty.

As soon as we saw the caretaker we were in a rush to leave and start our journey onwards. He demanded that we place the beds in the same order as we had found them previous night. We quickly heeded to his instructions and left the place all relieved.

Nobody looked back at the place or spoke about it, till we reached Rezang La, the site of the last stand of 120 brave soldiers of 13 Kumaoni Regiment who crushed waves of Chinese attack during the India-China war of 1962. They fought till the last man, last bullet and  last breath. If not for them, Ladakh would be under Chinese control right now. For the first time in the last 24 hours, there was something sad but positive about this region.

In that moment of comfort we started discussing about the previous night. None of us could sleep properly the previous night. My bed had a slant making me pull myself back up every 5 minutes. Henna kept feeling cold and hot at sudden intervals.

She asked me why did I tap her head repeatedly last night and I didn’t try to convince her that I did not. I was feeling sorry that I pulled back my hand and slept while she was feeling scared, but she thanked me for offering her comfort and support throughout the night.

Just as were joining the dots, Achal mentioned that he did not believe in anything until he was shaken awake thrice last night. Sunanda and Rahul did not flinch their eyes for a second and kept pointing their torches towards the weird noise that kept emanating from the broken window of the restroom. While at the pass, Sunanda revealed that she sensed Chinese soldiers in the room and I had dreamt of them in my short sleep.

ChushulIt has not even been a week and we are still discovering newer facts about that night. The contact number of that caretaker has been switched off ever since.

meteor shower

Of thunderstorm and meteor shower – a night I will never forget

Posted By : Shivangi Pandey/ 337 0

I took an impromptu trip with my two childhood best friends, two years back. We witnessed a rare meteor shower, among other things…

It was a journey full of thrill, fun and amazement. One of my friends is a Wildlife Filmmaker & Photographer and wanted to shoot the meteor shower of the Eta Aquarids created by debris of Hailey’s  a phenomenon that happens once in 76 years. As she told us about this, the two of us at once decided to join her and this impromptu plan turned into one of the best trips of our lives.

We started for Dhanaulti the next morning and reached in almost 7 hours. The first place we visited was Dhanaulti Eco Park, amidst thick Rhododendron, Cedar and Pine. We trekked towards the park and reached on the top from where we enjoyed a spectacular view sitting on the swings. These little joys make a trip worth cherishing and so we did whatever we could to make the trip memorable. We also stopped by to have some hot spicy Maggi and realised that “pahado ki Maggi” is indeed the most delectable thing one can have.

Dhanaulti Eco Park

Now was the time for all the challenges, thrill and chills as our hunt for a secluded and peaceful place to set our camp began. We were not looking for a proper camping area; instead an untouched place at a certain level from where we could have a clear view of the starry sky. In order to shoot the meteor shower, we needed a dim spot where light wouldn’t reflect.

A little ahead of Dhanaulti in Kanatal, with the help of some locals, we found the perfect place in the wilderness to set our camp. The place was far from the village with no or little sign of human intervention. The locals also warned us about the place being a little risky being a remote forest area but we were all ready for an adventurous night. Little did we know that the night would be more thrilling than expected. As soon our tent was set, mother nature surprised us with heavy rains, thunderstorm and lightning. For almost four hours we had to lock ourselves inside  with zero hopes that our tent would be able to survive the weather but when it did, we were thankful. The night grew so cold that we almost experienced what it would be like to freeze.

By this time, the possibility of shooting the meteor shower was washed away by a thick cover of clouds. So we decided to sleep in turns with alarms set for every half hour to check on the weather. We were well equipped with torch & lighters and pocket-size safety equipment like pepper spray, swiss knife and paper cutters to protect ourselves from wild animals and also unwanted humans. The night was quite scary; we could hear and feel every little sound of nature, even that of silence, in the forest area.

It was only after midnight that the thunderstorm and rain stopped. The stars became a bit visible and the rain-washed sky looked extremely beautiful that the three of us couldn’t help but admire it all with just our heads popped out from the tent; it was too cold to step out and we weren’t backed with enough warm clothes . (Tip for last minute travel plan to the hills: do not leave without a big thick jacket).It was around 3 am when we jumped with joy and could not believe our eyes; we were looking at the meteor shower!.. We gathered some courage and finally moved out of the tent.  While my friend was busy capturing the spectacular view in her lens, me and my other friend guarded ourselves by keeping an eye on all sides.

meteor shower
The starry sky and our camping tent

Once the shoot was done, we could rest our eyes with a little peace. Mornings in mountains amidst forest are peaceful and so unlike waking up to alarms, we woke up to the chirping of birds. The realization that we survived a terrifying night brought absolute relief and we gave each other a pat on the back. In difficult situations like these, positive attitude and encouragement means a lot and that is what the three of us kept doing to each other the entire night. When the locals heard about us they were amused as not often they see young girls doing something adventurous in the wild. One of them even told us that he will tell his daughters about us and that how brave we were to overcome our fears. Hearing this brought a sense of achievement for all of us in the true sense.

 

On our way back, we also visited the Tehri Dam and were mesmerised by the beauty of the region. We kept talking about how tranquil the morning was, in contrast with the night we left behind. Perhaps, that is how you feel after coming on the other side of a spine-chilling adventure.

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Trip

Thought: Life is like a trip

Posted By : Sumit Singh/ 323 0

Just like the beginning of life, each trip begins with an idea of hope, happiness and a new start…

A trip through unexplored routes fills us with freshness about an escape from the mundane. There is a start with determination that things will never be the same again and only better from thereon.

Sometimes you meet roadblocks in the beginning but those are soon overcome with the unending quest to explore something new, give our ideas the reality they deserve. As we grow, as we move forward in our trip, we meet new people. Each route, each person offers a new sight and new perspective. Every new stopover, every new interaction offers a new experience.

Each personality is developed by the perspectives we have built, experiences we have earned and that makes us decide what we like and what we will seek.

We have minimalists and glam packers, we have adventurists and comfort seekers, we have those who seek isolation and we also have story tellers, we have a variety of personalities, some seeking the same comfort everywhere and some seeking a new experience at each new turn. Technology and social media has coined a term for each and we have all become comfortable with our kind of personality whether it is in social life or real life.

While you are busy exploring newer terrains and yourself, you realize no matter what all you know and how good you are, there will always be people who face hardships better than you do. Those who embrace good parts of the trip, each new turn, condition, interaction, experience etc and you wish that you could be like them as well. You also learn that one trip is not enough to cover this big vast world and you start growing restless about what all you are about to miss.

There are challenging routes and there are fun routes but both are important for else, it will be meaningless to have a trip which did not present any hardships. By now you have realized that hardships make the best of stories, fun is just okayish.

There are also these parts of the trip where you are thankful to everyone for all that you have been able to cover and witness. There are these moments of eternal happiness and grave sorrow and sometimes they are too much to handle. But that’s just how it is and has to be dealt with.

While you are busy figuring out the answers to your own quests, discoveries, you realize the trip is already over and you must head back to where you came from. This generally results in an outbreak of emotions. Good or bad, ugly or beautiful, you realize that the trip was important. After all, all’s well that ends well.

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Can you relate to this? Please share your #thought in the comments below.

Komic

The road to Komic: It does not get higher than this

Posted By : Escape Route/ 432 0

“At last, we reached Komic; the signage read a height of 4587 meters and a village population of 114 inhabitants”…

The road that turns left from Koksar towards Spiti Valley does not look anything like a National Highway. It is full of challenges, adventure, risk and yet breathtaking landscapes. If you have covered the stretch from Jammu to Leh passing through the mud mountains, lunar landscapes, magnetic hill and more, you cannot expect Spiti Valley to surprise you, yet it enchants you like never before.

Our intention was to have evening tea at the highest motorable village in Asia, Kibber, and we crossed all hurdles with a smile. It was only at Key Monastery that we realised that the road now extends to Komic Village and the tag of the ‘highest motorable village’ had moved. The thing with tags such as highest, longest and brightest is that they can always be challenged. Unfazed, we changed our direction and set course towards Komic which was 21kms farther and much higher than the erstwhile highest village, Kibber. Not sure of what to expect, we were greeted by a narrow tar-less road uphill and a lot of dust, enough to change the colour of everything it touched. As we escalated up, the landscape kept getting more appealing and colourful. At last, we reached Komic village, the signage read a height of 4587 meters and a village population of 114 inhabitants. There was still no sign assuring of the highest-village-in-Asia claim. It was only after exchanging words with the indigenous lamas that the title was confirmed and we swell our chests with pride. Komic Village has a total of dozen odd houses and a 14th century old monastery which is the abode of Lamas. Most of the lamas keep shuffling between the Komic and Kaza as Kaza is the activity hub.

Komic means Snow Cock Eye. There are legendary stories associated to the village as robbers trying to steal the main deity but were unable to lift it after a point as it kept getting heavier, hidden treasures such as egg of the dragon, horn of a unicorn etc. Even the carving shapes of some stones will yell of delight. The earthquake in 1975 shattered the whole place around yet the deity statue at Komic held its place.

With one look around at the settling sun flickering over the Kaza mountain range, the thought of having tea at Asia’s highest village soon turned into the will to have dinner. We requested the head lama to let us stay the night and we were offered a room. We can never forget the delicious vegetable rice ‘pulao’ that the lama cooked up for us learning that we were hungry. We also gorged over vegetable ‘thenthuk’ for dinner. Well for tea, we are not sure how much we consumed as it tasted better than any other elixir in the world.

The village remains disconnected from the rest of the civilization for half the year due to heavy snow and lack of proper roads. The villagers are hospitable and are undaunted by lack of infrastructure or public services we, city dwellers, cannot live without. The trip to Komic is an essential escape from our worldliness to connect with the Lama life, to lay sight on landscapes and mountain ranges at same height as yours and more so to understand the true meaning of minimalism which cannot be taught better by anyone but the inhabitants of Komic village.

We are once again escaping to Spiti, in August this year. Know more about it here.

A rendezvous with history, at Neemrana ki Baoli

Posted By : Escape Route/ 400 0

It was early 2014 when we chanced upon Neemrana ki Baoli during a short detour from the NH 8 Delhi-Jaipur Highway…

Hardly a kilometre from the celebrated Neemrana Fort Palace, rested an unknown historic marvel. It was difficult to find the place as no one cared about it, forget about the direction signage. The locals seemed perplexed on why would anyone want to see a forgotten place!

When we finally arrived here, a conversation with the local youth smoking pot at the site revealed details about the historic site.

A ‘Baoli’ is a stepwell that functioned as a water reservoir and a resting place for travellers till as late as early 20th century. Neemrana ki Baoli is a nine-storey-well with each storey as high as 20 feet. It was built by the king, Rajinder Singh Chauhan, a descendent of Prithvi Raj Chauhan and is generally referred to as Rani ki Baoli and/or Neemrana ki Baoli by locals. The fate of the erstwhile ruler and his family is unknown after they sold off the property to be run as the Neemrana Fort Palace.

The NH8 Delhi – Jaipur highway is mostly a dud till you reach the pink city, but a detour towards Neemrana ki Baoli will surely help you reminisce the golden days of our rich history. Once you’ve travelled 120 kms from Delhi, you need to take the right towards Neemrana Fort Palace. One must pick up some kachorisamosaand dhokla (light Indian snacks) along with sweets and fruits from the small market on the way. The ‘Mishthan Bhandar’ on the left corner is the best bet for onion kachoris.

Driving through the old lanes now covered with concrete, towards the Baoli is an ideal escape from city life. First glimpse of the dilapidated Baoli is still refreshing and the Aravallis in the background give it the perfect timeless appeal. It is our favourite place for a breakfast stopover during any of our trips through the NH8. The Neemrana Fort Palace is a clear sight from the Baoli and it is very interesting to note the borders of the fort and how this Baoli would have fit in in the scheme of things back in time.

Some travellers have reached here over the years and have written about their sympathies towards the historic marvel. The authorities have surely taken cognisance of the historic significance it holds. A concrete road has replaced the muddy terrain and we recently witnessed a small signage welcoming you to Neemrana ki Baoli.

We would urge you to take the road less travelled and visit this beauty. A snacks-break at the Baoli is a must-do, just do not forget to dispose of the waste materials properly and not treat the site as a garbage dump. Do share your experience with us in the comments below.

Escape from monotony!

 

Jammu

Jammu: Beyond Temples

Posted By : Sumit Singh/ 444 0

The quintessential winter capital of Jammu & Kashmir, from the eyes of a native…

The city of temples, no not Benaras, not Rishikesh, not even Bhubaneshwar or Madurai… but Jammu. I grew up watching hoardings in the city that portrayed Jammu as the ‘City of Temples’, but with time I realized there are many contenders for the title.

J&K is a state with Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh being the three important pillars. Jammu and Kashmir both serve as the administrative capitals of the state for 6 months each. Jammu, other than being the gateway to heaven on earth – Kashmir, is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. While the winters here are freezing cold, it gets really hot in the summer. The official language of this state that is home to people from different ethnicities is Dogri. It would be interesting to note that the melody queen Lata Mangeshkar sang many a Dogri song, one of which equates the language and the people of Jammu as sweet and kind.

Until 1947, the state was under the rule of the Rajputs of the Dogra dynasty that left behind an air of royalty in the region; they were known for their élan. Many also relate the city to the revered Vaishno Devi shrine and the age-old Bagh-e-Bahu fort. But there is more to the city than one would find on Google.

The charm of this city dwells with its residents, like it is in most cases. If one does manage to escape the touts selling first copies of kashmiri pashminas and grade-two dry fruits at Raghunath bazaar, you would find the genuine shop keepers very helpful and honest. The narrow by-lanes of the old Jammu city are full of surprises. Most of the hole-in-the-wall eateries may leave you with an unmatched taste that the outer world is oblivious to. Sardarji’s kulcha shop in the third lane next to Raghunath Mandir will serve you an incredible fill of any type of a kulcha one can imagine, soya kulcha being the top favorite.

A revolving restaurant called Falak at the top floor of KC Plaza next to the famous Raghunath Bazar is a must go-to. By the time you are served with the main course you would be satiated with the breath taking views of the entire city and the Tawi River flowing below. The KC plaza lane is house to sumptuous eateries serving Punjabi, Jammu as well as Kashmiri delicacies and the bars such as Baron at KC plaza would leave you searching for a comparable hospitality anywhere else in the world.

Bollywood has had a huge impact on the life of an average Jammu teenager. Since the kids are blessed with good looks and talent comes in handy, you would come across many success stories in Bollywood as well as the booming saas-bahu series during prime time. I recently came across and inquisitive airport security officer, who was curious to know if actor Vidyut Jamwal is my cousin, blame it on the identical surname.

Maharaja Hari Singh – the last ruler of Jammu was a man of great taste. His gift to the society could not have been better than the Maharaja Hari Singh Niwas Palace which is now a heritage luxury resort in the city. The open air restaurant overlooking the Tawi River lets you gaze at the scenic hill range while you wine and dine. Luxury cannot be more reasonable at Jammu when you can own a part of this historical palace for a couple of nights without a dent on your pocket. Any trip to Jammu for me is incomplete without an evening spent at the museum palace with my college buddies.

For all the countryside fans, Jammu’s rustic charm shows up as soon as you move out of the by lanes of the old Jammu city and cross the bungalows at Gandhi Nagar, Trikuta Nagar, Chhanni Himmat, Sainik Colony and Greater Kailash.

Since Jammu also borders Pakistan at one side, our border villages house daredevil families who mostly appear on news channels as soon as there is an infiltration or shelling from across the border. Having grown up listening to the army shooting exercises as a routine affair, the noise does not intimidate the residents anymore. Jammu has diverse demographics yet there has never been a single religious mishap in the history of the city. In fact, everyone comes together and supports any cause of national importance.

Next time you are in Jammu, befriend a local and it is in our blood to be courteous and hospitable.

What to eat on a road trip

What to eat on a road trip?

Posted By : Escape Route/ 423 0

An endless open road, clear or in some preferences cloudy sky and no particular destination in mind; is an idea of freedom epitomised by the happy movie endings and we all wonder what fun it must have been. Nobody follows the car post the happy ending to see if the driver got a stomach upset in the coming days because he did not pack the right food for the road-trip. It gets even trickier if you are in a country like India; all thanks to the scorching heat, dust, unbearable cold, fog etc. alongside many roadside eateries who have sworn on not giving you fresh food ever.

What to eat on a road trip is an integral part of the overall experience. Make a mistake and you will be searching for the next relieving facility throughout the journey or would be cranky for reasons unknown to others. There can be other disturbances too, better left to the imagination of our discerning readers.

How light is light enough and is fried really bad? Is Mac’n’Cheese with iced tea a good idea and how can the Dhaba food be bad at all? You will never know unless it happens to you. Keep these following recommendations about what to eat on a road trip in mind to be rather safe than sorry:

  • There is no substitute to water – you can add lemon to it, but no masala and no soda please. Fresh Juices are excellent fluids and great companions for road trips. Green teas keep it all clear and happy.
  • If you have difficulty finding fresh fruit juice, opt for fresh fruits. Tip – try and find new fruits other than apples and bananas.
  • So you cannot do without snacks and salt – here are some healthier options: baked banana chips, whole wheat pretzels, dry museli or with curd, fresh cut veggies and dips
  • Some of us just cannot do without breads when thinking of what to eat on a road trip and hence, a peanut butter sandwich, jelly sandwich and/or cheese sandwich with sliced cucumber and tomatoes does the trick.
  • The only problem with boiled eggs packed in a container is the stench it leaves. So keep the shell on till you are ready to eat. You need your protein.
  • Granola/Protein bars are not for everyone. But if you dip your granola bar in yoghurt, it might be an all new experience for your taste buds to relish.
  • Home-cooked Indian breads aren’t a complete no; baked and not deep-fried fenugreek parathas will help you every time you crave for salt. Curd, again pitches in for the rescue.
  • A lot of us are lactose intolerant and it is bothersome, at least in the head. So avoid milk and try soy milk or curd instead. Have black coffee wherever necessary.
  • Nuts aren’t really that boring; Mix almonds, cashews, figs, dried apple, walnuts, drip apricots, pistachios etc and it tastes great.
  • If motion sickness bothers you, try mint/ginger/cinnamon tea (you could also chew on mint leaves). Mix pepper and lemon juice in a bit of warm water to get rid of headache and dizziness. Cloves are tried and tested too.

Quick-tip: Please carry reusable water bottles and do not have tap water if you are not sure. Always keep a multi-purpose knife handy for fruits and other brief preparations. Bread and your favorite seasoning always come in handy. Rather than eating too much in one go, eat little many times.

Cheat-tip: If nothing of the above really works for you. Pull over to the next road-side dhaba and ask the guy to make fresh baked breads (rotis) alongside dal tadka. Add green salads and curd to the same and you will be good to go for another few hundred kilometers. Just don’t overeat.

When it gets unbearable, I make samosa sandwiches, by pressing a samosa between two bread slices and a slice of cheese and it gets me going till the next salt craving.

#couplegoals

From one married couple to another: Here’s why staying in a hostel should be on your list of #couplegoals

Posted By : Shraddha Gupta/ 385 0

I won’t lie, we both were battling inside with various levels of being reluctant – but less did we know that this hostel experience would turn out to be one of the best bonding activity we did as a couple…

Three years of being married and Mr. H and I have found accommodation in endless hotels, resorts and Airbnb’s throughout our vacations. But never did the idea of staying in a hostel cross our mind (only god knows why), until recently, while we were looking for our options in Iceland.

Let’s accept it – marriages/relationships are not 24-hours rosy. Couples that don’t fight, don’t disagree and don’t demand their own space after a few years of being together are almost a myth (no offence to the ones who still claim to be perfect together – I am yet to meet you). And hence, we all need to re-bond every once in a while to make sure that the spark is still on – till death do us apart.

In January 2017, we both took a trip to Iceland and booked ourselves into a 6-bed dormitory at KEX Hostel in Reykjavik. The hostel boasted of some really cool yet cozy common spaces, live music, one of the best gastropubs in the city, and an easy-on-our-pocket kind of budget. And in one really impulsive moment – we booked KEX – ditching all our other luxury stay options. By now from the tone of this article – you would know we had an amazing experience (almost like an eye-opener) – and here is why we think staying in a hostel as a couple is an essential bonding activity (#couplegoals) all married couples should indulge in at least once in their lifetime:

  1. You connect with each other as FRIENDS again, because sometimes we forget how it used to feel like. A hostel environment is all about meeting new people and staying with strangers in a common dormitory. Once you check into a hostel – the idea of privacy is almost nil – so forget about getting a cozy corner to romance it out. With so much happening around you – PDA is not an option – which leaves you with only one choice of being best buddies all over again.You learn to look out for each other in washroom queues and guard each others luggage in common spaces. You hunt for a table to eat together and often hold onto seats while your better half is gone to fetch his/her breakfast. You both are two ‘individuals’ traveling together minus all the lovey-dovey feelings – which forces you to re-connect as friends.
  2. You push yourself out of your couple-comfort-zone and explore more outdoors. Staying in a shared dorm with bunk beds also means ‘no bedroom’, no cuddles, and no private bathroom. As a couple this very feature of a hostel is often THE deal-breaker; but a few years down a relationship – it’s an interesting experience. It pushes you both out of your room, and makes you concentrate on being outdoors, explore the destination a lot more, and spend more time discovering new things to do outside your accommodation.Or even just spending more time in the common areas of your hostel – reading a book, catching up with people and just enjoying some good music in the company of complete strangers.
  3. You discover each others likes/dislikes/ideas/opinions/habits in the process of meeting new people.You learn new things together. The best part of a hostel experience is the constant in-and-out of travelers from all over the world. It is the perfect place to communicate with strangers and make new friends over all kinds of engaging conversations. As a couple we often slow down on getting to know each other assuming we already know our better half inside out. But people evolve and change with time – so does your partner. On a table full of different world-views and ideas – it is more than likely that you will discover exciting things about each other once again. 
  1. You are more likely to make changes to your itinerary and try new things together. Meeting travelers from all over the world in a hostel opens you up to various experinces, tips, recommendations and guides that you might not have researched earlier. This gives you both the privilege to together tweak your plans for the better and come across different things to do or better ways to lead your trip just by being in the company of new people.
  2. You start flirting with each other again. This is probably my favourite part of being in a hostel – that you are constantly trying to steal a kiss from each other or grab a quick hug – when no one is watching. A crowded hostel is everything you need if you wish to rekindle that flirty spark you two once had and trust me it’s all worth it.

Or worst case – you might not like it as much as we did – but even that very feeling will be something that you will discover together and at the least will make you bond closer…

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This blog first appeared on Streettrotter and is the original work of Shraddha Gupta, Founder & Editor, Streettrotter.

Shraddha Gupta is an aspiring digital nomad who loves life in balance and stability at the same time. A part time journalism/fashion professional and a travel writer during the rest of her days – she is trying to find the right mix of being lost and discovering herself with new goals over and over again. A social media addict, a foodie, an essential photographer and a culture enthusiast – you will most likely find her planning a new dream for herself, always.

Bike trip to Ladakh

How to prep for your maiden bike trip to Ladakh?

Posted By : Escape Route/ 346 0

There is no dearth of reasons for you to ride across the terrain of Ladakh for it is such a heavenly experience…

Ladakh has over the years emerged as a benchmark of adventure, style and machoness especially if you are a new biker yearning to ride across the valiant passes of this cold desert. It is the land of snow clad high passes, freezing temperatures, rugged terrain and breathtaking landscapes in the Kunlun mountain range that later extends to The Great Himalayas in the South-East. One of the reasons you opted for a thumping engine on two wheels was to ride straight upto to the highest motorable road in the world and earn yourself the coveted display picture next to Khardung La signage (‘La’ is pass in Ladakhi language). There is no dearth of reasons for you to take a bike trip to Ladakh for it evokes such heavenly feelings in the explorer in you.

One feeling that stands out is that of power and accomplishment, but with great power comes greater responsibility. Rightly so, Ladakh offers a difficult terrain to ride on and over the years, we have come across many bikers/motorcycle enthusiasts waiting for help in the middle of nowhere. Here are few pointers one must keep in mind to make sure that this road trip of a lifetime is complete without any glitches; from one biker to another:

  1. NO ONE IS A BORN RIDER, plus it just sounds wrong. So hone it up before you start flaunting those tattoos on your bodies and stickers on your motorcycle.
  2. PRACTICE MAKES ONE PERFECT: Just owning a bike and rider suit will not make you a biker, It is imperative for you to have a bare minimum of 10000 – 20000 kilometres of driving experience, including driving in the hills and off-roading. Get comfortable with your bike before you test the rough terrain of Ladakh.
  3. KNOW YOUR MOTORCYCLE: Spend some time with your neighbourhood mechanic and ask him questions about your machine, the suspension, the cooling, the brake mechanism, spark plugs, oiling etc. No question is stupid, you never know which answer would help you when u are stuck on a pass in freezing cold with a over 150 kgs of metal and rubber.
  4. CARRY SPARES: with improved accessibility and so many people travelling to Ladakh, you will not be stuck for long, However it is a decent idea to carry basic spares like a spark plugs, an extra tyre tube, accelerator / clutch wire, the tool kit etc. That might make you the knight in shining armour for someone else in need. You would also need to carry extra fuel for there are long stretches without a fuel pump. If you do not have a proper riding gear yet, wear multiple layers of clothing for it gets pretty cold post Sarchu.
  5. SAFETY IS COOLER: you might look cooler riding your favourite motorcycle without a helmet, but remember it is not just hitting your head on the road during a mishap, Ladakh is famous for landslides and stones falling from above.
  6. DO NOT BE TOO ADVENTUROUS (read crazy): Yes it is your first bike trip to Ladakh, you have crossed the Rohtang Pass traffic jam and the dust has just settled after Keylong, do not let your guard down, not on the curves, not on the straight roads. Keep your head straight and enjoy the ride at a decent speed.
  7. RESPECT YOUR MOTORCYCLE: A lot of amateur riders will complain that it was the machine’s fault, but then again, machines do not have a mind, it is you who are responsible. Treat her well and you will have a fantastic trip, be rude to her and keep kicking the rear tyre for all she cares. Tip: be patient at tougher terrains and have a heart, you will pull through eventually.
  8. LISTEN TO LOCALS: If you have been paying attention to all the points above, you have earned yourself a treat. Forget what he or she told you, spend some time with the local, be nice and if they find you genuine, they might tell you about that mysterious place that is still missing from 5612 itineraries that you read before the Ladakh roadtrip.
  9. EXPLORE, AT YOUR OWN PACE: You do not have enough offs and there is so much to cover, you cannot explore the entire LADAKH in 8 or 10 or 16 days and that is not experiencing, it is called covering. So ask yourself what you want and let it soak in before you head to tick-off the next thing in your limited time itinerary. Come back next time and do more.
  10. CHERISH IT & PRESERVE IT: Observe more than you show, listen more than you speak, this way the land of high-passes and zen might give you a lesson in life. Remember it is you who is yearning to go this is beautiful place ever since you first heard of it and try and preserve the sanctity of this place for the next time you visit it is still the same as you left it.

If you’re yearning to go on a bike trip to Ladakh, join us as we Escape to Ladakh on 15 June this year!

Milan

That timeless evening in Milan

Posted By : Sumit Singh/ 358 0

It was a beautiful day in Milan. She was prettier than it seemed from a distance, at least her attitude made her so. And I found her at loss of words, just like myself

It had been raining the past couple of days and the overwhelming aroma of the city kept reminding me of South Mumbai. Only, the sights of beauties such as Ducati, Benelli on roads would bring me back to the happy realisation that I was trotting the streets of Milan, one of the most popular cities of Italy.

There are many aspects that make Milan different, when compared to the sights we are attuned to in India. For example; clearer skies, lazy sit-out cafes on the sides of the water canals, all lit-up restaurants with people sipping their wines in glory. It is also amazing to observe those small football goalposts in nets, partly on water and partly on ground with kids trying to perfect their kicks.

At Milan, you cannot take fashion out of even the mundane things. We don’t get to see as voguish people doing the regular things like picking up veggies, strolling or just enjoying a cuppa latte in our side of the world. The clothes, shoes, walk, jovial attitude and confidence of the Milanese say a lot about the culture of this upmarket city.

For a shopping crazy person like me, ticking all the marks on the ever expanding shopping list is always a challenge. However, I have perfected a trick to make sure that one reaches even halfway with the impulsive shopping list, by trying a thing called window-shopping before the-actual-shopping. It helps you check best deals and compare prices before the money leaves your hand. And if you are at the Buenos Aires shopping street at Milan, be double sure about two things. One, you will get the same pair of shoes for 300 as well as 30 Euros, just keep checking till you need to pinch yourself. Second, do not consider money back as an option even if the jacket you bought has all its threads coming out from everywhere; the salesman will rather ask you to let-it-go and pick-something-else. And there is not much you can do with a tough man wearing black tights with a loud unapologetic tone.

Somehow, even in that business, Milan shows less chaos in comparison to an average Indian metropolitan. I kept looking out to see two Italians roughing it over a traffic feud or a jealous boyfriend picking up a fight about his decked up doll…but nothing, it was business as usual, just in an unfamiliar quiet way. As a regular North Indian would say, ‘machoness’ was missing.

In Milan, they don’t cut the pizzas into those nice little slices; so you just fold one and gobble it up than fighting it with a fork and the usual blunt table knife. Unlike the sophisticated lanes of the coveted Hauz Khas village in Delhi, where the Michelin un-starred pubs entice you with a plus one or plus two on drinks, cafes and bistros in Milan entice you with endless servings of free snacks alongside a 5 Euro glass of wine.

It must have been my fifth serving of some amazing nachos when I found her blue eyes staring at me. Most of the times I am colour blind, but I am very sure it was a turquoise off-shoulder dress that she was wearing. With her black long hair, she sat elegantly as I was fixed on the most beautiful pair of blue eyes. I couldn’t breathe; all the food inside my mouth almost choked me and I had to down it with some of the wine on my table. She smiled and chuckled, making it embarrassing. I heard her friend ask what was funny but she hesitated to point at my face. For any sane guy, that would have been the apt moment for an introduction, but not for me. I had to wait it out till there was another choke building up and the awkwardness had reached newer heights. Like a fool, I finally got up and said ‘hi’. I was greeted with two smiles, one obviously better to my eyes than the other.

“How are you doing?”, I asked and was offered a seat. That was easy; I should have done that earlier… I actually said that, which was thankfully missed in the introductions. “Noah”, she introduced herself as we stared right at each other.

She was prettier than it seemed from a distance, at least her attitude made her so. And I found her at loss of words, just like myself. To our rescue, her friend Christine just could not stop talking. They were waiting there for her boyfriend. “Whose boyfriend?”, I asked. “Mine”, said Christine cheerfully as Noah smiled.

Christine had an Indian boyfriend called Varun. What followed was over thirty minutes of talk by Christine about how much she knows about India and how Varun has promised to bring her to India and everything else. Noah and I spent most of our time stealing glances. Noah liked India, but she did not want to come to India for a short trip, she wanted to explore. Noah didn’t like going out much, she would rather stay at home and watch TV Series than sit at a lousy cafe on a regular evening.

But since, it was Christine’s and Varun’s third month anniversary, she had to be part of the celebrations. How cute! In the middle of all this, Christine suddenly got up and jumped towards…Varun, it was him. While I was waiting to meet an Indian brother to find a common ground, it took me a while to get up as in all her excitement of meeting Varun, Christine had jumped right up, pushed the table and had sent a glass of water in my lap. Never mind, will look at the damages later…”Hi Varun, kya haal chaal?”, I said and I was greeted with a blank look in response. “Vrooon“, he corrected me.

Christine begged him to speak to me in ‘Indian’, and he goes, “Namuhste, kaise hain aap“, which was followed by a great applause and hugs and kisses from Christine. While I was still trying to fathom what had happened and to get over Varun’s err Vrooooon’s ponytail and tattoos, Noah handed me over some tissues alongside an apologetic smile. “Let us paarteh, you want to come bruh?”, asked Vroooon.

As much as I wanted to stay, I still had to go to my hostel and get into dry pair of denims before I could get to know more of Noah. I told them I would join shortly and Vroooon asked me to see him at the third lane under that big grocery shop. Noah asked if I’ll be alright and further explained the exact directions to the pub. I smiled and told her that I would see her at the grocery store and we go together to the place. Generally, i wont quote bollywood but our long handshake parted with each finger bidding adieu to each other.

I kept staring at her walking away in the excitement of knowing someone special. I began to fantasize about how the night shall unfold and just when I was about to name our kids, she looked back and signaled me to hurry back to my hostel. I never did really feel any wetness from the water, on my way back. I changed into another pair of denim and t-shirt making me look alright for the occasion.

I thought if I should take flowers on my way back, but that would not have been alright. I have two more days in Milan to make it work and who knows what the future holds…India and Italy might have better bilateral relations from thereon, I thought to myself. I reached the spot and realized that all the transit had made me 20 minutes late from the decided time of rendezvous. I rushed to the grocery store entrance and then inside it, checked across the road and even in other shops around. But maybe, 20 mins was too much of a wait for Vroooon and Christine…