9 day trip

Rajasthan : Of wild life and tips for your own adventure

A train for 2-3 hours from Jaipur and we were supposed to reach Sawai Madhopur well in time for dinner. However, considering all our trains were on time till now, chance had to catch up and this was significantly delayed- so we had to make do with oranges, biscuits, and some really bad chilly bajjis from the railway station eateries for dinner.  Once in Sawai Madhopur, we were just glad to crash to sleep barely registering that we were finally at the home of the Ranthambore National Park, the Bengal tiger reserve.

However, we were aware we had to wake up early the next morning for the safari. In the chilly morning, our hotel caretaker was sweet enough to stay up with us as we scanned every passing safari truck in semi-panic since the person we’d booked from wasn’t reachable to confirm we’d be picked up!

After quite a wait, we finally got to our truck and after picking folks from a few more hotels, reached the Ranthambore National Park. IMG_7018While one can always cross ones’ fingers to see a tiger when in Ranathambore or any other Tiger Sanctuary. However, in my opinion, it ruins the experience if you don’t enjoy all the other creatures around that, thanks to human overpopulation and general nastiness ,are seen less and less frequently today. IMG_7069So we enjoyed each one- the graceful deer running across the dry overgrowth, the peacock gang assembly, the langurs making warning calls to each other of the tiger in the distance, the interesting looking nilgai and a very fluffy eagle.IMG_7032IMG_7041IMG_7059

Back from the bone-chilling cold of the open truck we were grateful for hot alu parathas for breakfast before we managed a short nap and rushed to the train at noon back to Jaipur. We left out luggage in the railway station’s cloak room and tried to hire a bike. A delay by the time the rental guy arrived, then further delay since the bike ran out of fuel just as we were far away from the rental space and the with fuel that dried up just as the rental guy left the place and we trudged along with the bike to the not-so-near fuel pump and refuelling finally got to Bapu Bazaar for our last bit of quick souvenir shopping for those at home and a street food dinner. IMG_7075We then got back to the station for our luggage and made our way to a hotel closer to the airport so we could take our flight back to our home, and the weather that had spoilt us silly- back in good old Bangalore.

Here are our tips for your own adventure in Rajasthan:

  • Rajasthan is vast and has scores of tourist places. Prioritise how you’d like to spend your time based on your interests of you’ll end up rushing from one place to another anxious about missing out.
  • December end is horrible in terms of tourist crowds and expensive(in terms of stay and of course flights). We landed there then since we had an event to attend that brought us to Rajasthan anyway. It is also very cold at night – check the weather and dress/pack accordingly.
  • Tourist season in Rajasthan is relatively short due to the extreme weather. Though winter can get severely cold , summer is unbearable- in the words of a car driver in the Sand dunes – the searing hot, oppressive winds will not allow for you to even open your eyelids- so take care before jumping at the incredible deals then.
  • Food is primarily vegetarian in most places we landed up in Rajasthan. You may have other options in larger cities/more upscale hotels but I wouldn’t count on it. If you have a sweet tooth however, it more than makes up- the sweets are amazing -, especially milk-sweets. This is your place to indulge.
  • Hire a bike Vs a car if you’d like to spend more time exploring “old cities” in Rajasthan. The streets are very narrow and even the rickshaws in those parts are made extra narrow to be able to navigate through them. Rickshaws/taxis are however were quite expensive on an average- it maybe since we were there in December too- but budget accordingly. They, however, do not need to be booked in advance/online.
  • Plan your commute between cities with care even if you’re on a relatively spontaneous trip- inter-city taxis are very expensive in some places because there are simply no public transport options like trains/buses.
  • A rule that applies to all travel but especially here- carry drinking water everywhere, cover your head with a cap to avoid heating up during the day and wear good walking footwear- the palaces and forts are very expansive.
  • Wrt shopping, be aware of rough prices if possible, alternately decide what you’d like to pay – like any place highly dependent on tourism prices vary based on where you come from, how you speak, how you’re dressed and what you look like.

All the tips and stories aside, we hope you get to make your own memories of Rajasthan and share them with us too!

 

9 day trip

Tips for Turkey travel!

Note: These tips are as per 2019 September but there’s no reason many of them will not be relevant for whenever you’d plan your travel to Turkey. We hope you learn from our goof ups and make fewer of yours! 😉

Food :

  •  Food, in general, is significantly less spicy than Indian food – salt content is low and if lucky lemon is the only added seasoning on the table. That being said- please eat the local food – it was very healthy and irrespective of how picky you are, you’re missing out on an experience if you choose not to enjoy different flavours and cuisines.If you’re vegetarian learn the word for vegetarian in Turkish(it sounds similar to the English word). Vegan food is a little harder but vegetarian options are available.
  • For some inexplicable reason, water was never served at restaurants we visited. The only options were bottled water which we hated purchasing but it seemed like the only option. Even at the Airbnbs, there was no equivalent to a water purifier so we literally had to buy drinking water in bottles for our entire time there.

Internet connectivity:

There are a few options you have which you can pick based on your connectivity needs

  • If it’s very important to have your phone calls on your personal number active – you may want to enable international roaming on your number before you leave your home country to be sure.
  • If you’re ok with just internet being available on your phone + you’ve multiple devices for which you need connectivity, you can buy a pocket hotspot. We have not done a thorough price/quality comparison but we found this very convenient- especially their chat support to pick up and drop the device at the airport.
  • If you’d need to make local phone calls in addition to having internet connectivity, and you don’t have too many devices to connect you can purchase a local SIM at the airport. As of today, Turkcell is an operator said to have the most coverage in Turkey.
  • Understandably price may also be a consideration for your choice, so you may want to compare options based on your expected usage ,price and duration of stay to help take the final decision. Also just carry one good power bank at least for any travel in general.

Communication

  • Spend time learning a few basic words to help you in Turkey.  We simply installed a random free “learn Turkish” app and spent our long flight incoming flight learning the words and testing each other on them.
  • Considering how kind the local people are, you’ll be glad you at least learnt the word for Thank you-teşekkür ederim. Other words that are important are those for the restroom, sorry, help, how much, no, yes, hospital, words based on your food preferences etc. Install a translation app like google translate just to be sure.
  •  If you’ve food allergies or health conditions, please don’t depend on your memory/pronunciation/availability of internet connectivity/your phone battery.  Just print it out clearly in complete sentences and show it at every relevant place.
  • We had the best moments during our trip in short conversations with people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh who made a living in Turkey and who were so glad to see someone from a familiar part of the world. You will feel the same too. If you’ve a longer chat with the locals or them,  a general rule (in life) is to avoid conversations on politics and religion- especially in a foreign land. But otherwise, be kind, indulge them and yourselves for an opportunity to open your eyes and hearts to lives other than your own.

Clothing:

  • Always carry a scarf – works great for the sun and for entrance to mosques and tombs where you’d need to cover your head.
  • In general dress on the more conservative side so you can have a flexible itinerary and visit any of the stunning mosques and tombs. Conservative = cover elbows and knees, shoulders at the very least.

Getting around:

  • When commuting between cities take the bus instead of the flights.  The airports are also frequently very far from the actual “touristy” places which means in addition to the price of the flight you’ll be wasting both time and money for the cabs/buses from the airports to your destination. We learnt this the hard way actually choosing to lose our money on our flight booking since the bus from the airport to the tourist place would cost us more than the cost of the flight itself!

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    Free snacks and drinks in our bus!
  • The overnight buses between locations are very convenient- they serve snacks and drinks including water and have pitstops almost every 2 hours even in the overnight bus and stop at large supermarkets with clean paid restrooms. So restroom-worry is not a problem. However, bus booking is not available online at all. So you just need to walk up to the first tour agent you see in each stop- all town centers have them- and they can book it for you.
  • There is a LOT of walking everywhere we went in Turkey- whether it’s the immense Topkapi palace, the Ilhara valley or the ruins of Ephesus. Just wear the best walking shoes you can have and your feet will thank you.

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    So much to explore!
  • If you still decide to take a local flight, do note that connecting buses may not be available at odd timings (for ex: 3am in the morning). Just reach out to your Airbnb/hotel reception and ask them for options. They’d typically connect you to a paid cab/shuttle service that will get you to the airport on time.
  • Metrokart – is used for bus and tram in Istanbul ONLY. Always make sure you have around at least 40 lira in the card. You will need it immediately as you land to take the bus from the airport to your stay. You can purchase it at vending machines just as you step out of the airport building towards the bus stand.
  • Museumcard is a prepaid card for entry tickets to most tourist places but not all. The Museumcard we purchased cost 375 lira.  However, if you know your itinerary well I’d recommend going through the 2-3 options for Museumcards to pick the one that meets your itinerary. In our case, we had spent a little more on the card than we had had time to cover with our itinerary but were glad it allowed us the convenience of not having to carry cash/change at every place+ allowed mental budgeting of the entry ticket expenses in advance. You can purchase it at most places that accept the card ie., tourist places. We picked ours at Hagia Sophia.

Scams

Like any popular tourist place, the ones in Turkey too have scams. While we avoided most we were still victims of two:

  • An older gentleman looking a little down on his luck walked up to us while we were seated at a street-side restaurant selling almonds in packets of around a kilogram. Since almonds were in almost every market and we had decided to buy some anyway, we decided to buy it from him. Since we had a lot of our day left, we only tasted them when we returned to our stay that evening. They had completely gone bad though there were no signs on the exterior. Lesson: Do not buy other than from the legitimate stores- if not, find where locals are headed.
  • We purchased a bus ticket from Denizli (near Ephesus) to Pamukkale. The agent mentioned that we’d have to change buses at a point and charged us for the change too. However, on getting off the first bus, the second bus claimed we had to pay him explicitly again the amount we had already paid for the connecting bus. This was clearly not a one-off instance since there was another family that had been scammed in the same way who also were then forced to pay again and take the bus since the other option would have been to figure out your way. Not sure how to avoid this, but well maybe double check your payment receipt and keep some extra cash in hand.
  • Another scam was when we visited a restaurant and (thankfully) ordered just one dish. The owner had a whole 3 different menus with 3 different prices and of course billed you for the highest price among the menus despite your insistence that you remember seeing a different one. This happened once- but was quite a turn off.
  • Mercifully, we weren’t too impacted but there are more possible scams and we’d recommend you search online for “Turkey tourist scams” before your trip just to be a little more alert and avoid ruining your experience here.

Stay 

  • If you have mobility issues or are not physically strong, do run a check with your Airbnb in case you’d need to carry your luggage up and down the stairs. A lot of places we stayed on the trip had narrow stairs- we were quite prepared for it but one of our co-travellers hurt their back just before the trip which made it quite a challenge for them.

Miscellaneous

  • Cats and cats- There were innumerable cats everywhere we went in Turkey. They’re sweet and used to being pampered by people. However, they don’t often approach you themselves. If you’re a cat lover it’s heaven. Leave the dogs alone though, the few we saw very extremely fluffy but didn’t seem used to being petted and therefore could snap at you in fear.IMG_4098
>10 day trip

Travel tips : For the first time China traveler

Continued from here

General tips

  • We decided to take a Chinese-speaking group tour to save money- the one we found online with an English guide would have cost us 4 times as much. There may be other options but we found none easily online. The downside was that we didn’t understand a word of what the very enthusiastic and seemingly funny guide was saying. We were extremely fortunate that my friend decided to accompany us so the essentials were translated thanks to her. The group itself was very friendly and kind but our lack of Chinese language skills was a downer to more conversation.
  • Carry a toilet paper roll everywhere – while the restroom stops are much more frequent than on Indian package tours, the restrooms often did not have toilet paper. Locals know it and carry tissues and so should you. Some restrooms are quite dodgy but honestly, we were grateful to be able to be well hydrated knowing there were sufficient restroom breaks.
  • More often than not, you have hot water available to drink/take with you at restaurants and not room temperature water unless you purchase bottled water. Since we had a wish to purchase less bottled water it meant that we had to borrow a flask so we could fill it up with the hot water vs the water bag that we usually carry on trips that’s not meant for boiling water.
  • Learn to eat with chopsticks or alternately carry preferred cutlery wherever you go. It will save you the hassle of asking for spoons at every single eatery – spoons are not served by default.
  • If you’re vegetarian, you may have limited options but there will most likely be at least 1 option for you 🙂 See our food post for details. However, if you don’t eat mushrooms- you may need to explicitly mention it in addition to the other things you choose not to eat since mushrooms are very often on the menu. Take a print out of this on paper since it will be something you often translate. If you eat eggs, the most common dish is eggs with tomatoes (not my favourite) but if you can learn the words for that you will be well fed.
  • ATMs are not very commonly found in the rural areas just like in many countries. Take cash along with you stored in each of your luggage items.
  • The visa process to China is a little confusing. As of today, you can only apply for it from Mumbai and Kolkata so if you, like us, don’t live in these locations you will have to go via a travel agent. An online search yielded exactly one result and we went with that since there were no recommended agents on the visa site. It cost us Rs.7500 per person. The government site asks for a lot of documents (account statements, hotel bookings, ID proofs etc) but the visa agent required just our passports. So not sure how that works.
  • Carry good walking shoes you can rely on- there is a lot of walking – even if you choose to not go on a “trek”. We walked an average of 15 km per day. Also, a jacket that is both sufficiently warm and is good for light rains will help rather than multiple ones. We purchased one in Huanglong since we didn’t want to carry 2 separate ones during the trek.
  • Like all international trips carry copies of your passport, hotel address, local contacts (if any) and tickets in all your luggage items. You will have to keep your original passport close at hand since its required for getting entry tickets at many places.
  • In some areas during your travel, people may ask to take pictures with you, it’s easy to mistake it for them wanting you to take their picture. If you don’t mind getting your picture taken with them, give it your best smile 🙂

 

App Review: 

We were lucky enough to have my friend Summer along for most of our trip in China, but it’s good to be prepared.

  • Hexatech: Many apps – Google, Instagram, Gmail, Facebook- do not work in China. The only way to get them to work is via VPN. We used Hexatech and it worked seamlessly.
  • Google translate – Download the offline translation for Chinese so that it’s available to you. Install a Chinese keypad to allow for Chinese people to type back responses to you. It also allows you to focus on some text and translates it. It is hugely helpful with food menus (despite funny literal translations occasionally) and signboards towards the exit/restrooms. However do not expect people in rural areas/older people to be comfortable with typing on your phone that they may not be familiar with.
  • Bing search: Google search does not work in China. But Bing does. It is a good option when you can search for images and point at them to people instead of word translation.
  • Didi: This app company has bought over the Uber business in China, so other than the green taxis that you can hail on the street, this is the primary option for taxis. While the app is available in English, the problem still holds that the driver will call to confirm your exact location – and then your inability to speak Chinese will impede further communication. So we didn’t end up using this app.
  • ChengDu Metro map: We did plan to take the metro as often as we could and it was very convenient since you have an English option to purchase your ticket. Do note that liquids will have to be given to the security personnel to scan separately in addition to scanning your baggage. Also, you cannot take knives and sprays in the metro. (We purchased kitchen knives and on a previous trip I’ve lost a bottle of perfume to the metro :()
  • iPhone maps : While the all-too-familiar Google maps doesn’t work, the iPhone maps did. Incidentally, both of us currently own iPhones so we didn’t try other options. Bing Maps just may work. Other map applications locals use are only in Chinese.
  • Wechat : This app is the most commonly used one that doubles up as both a social network, payment gateway and a text message alternative – This would be the useful to communicate with local friends and contacts.

What to buy on your trip to take back home (personal pick)

  • Tea: Not the green tea (which is also great) but the flower teas. They look stunning and taste fantastic. Which tea? I’d say a little bit of everything. Anand liked the barley tea too.IMG_1003
  • Sunflower seeds: Yes, sunflower seeds are available in India too- however, there are a lot of flavours to choose from- both sweet and savoury. We recommend going to the local vegetable market to purchase them so you can try one of each before deciding on which one to buy.

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    Sunflower seeds still on the flower-we bought the toasted ones
  • Clothes: Clothes while fantastic are not inexpensive. The lower end shops cost as much as many branded clothes in India. Do purchase a style you may not get in India but the cost may not be too low.
  • Snacks: They have a glorious amount of vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks that we almost always loved. From wasabi flavoured peanuts to rice crispies with the lightest hint of salt, to ready to eat seafood. For this, you’d have to purchase small amounts during your trip and decide which ones you like to take back home.
  • Anything cute: The products there are unapologetically cute- for kids and adults, stationery, clothing, accessories – if cute is your style you’ll be in shopping heaven.

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    Yes, a panda shaped rice cake
  • Umbrellas: We did not purchase this ourselves, but if you’re in the market for beautiful sun umbrellas in everything from lace to bursting flower patterns – you’d be in the right place there.
  • Chopsticks: Needless to say it should be your go-to place for chopsticks. You have less expensive ones in all kinds of pretty prints, child sized ones with handles, elegant ones in gold, ones in steel and silver, wooden ones with carved designs- you name it and you’ll probably find some here. They make great souvenirs to take back to friends too.

 

Up next : A fort tale: Penukonda and Gudibande

 

Uncategorized

20 Road trip tips

From our road trips in the last several years, this is a distilled list of tips that have helped make our journeys so much more pleasant. Do comment if you have more things you do that you’d like to share too!

Take from Home

  1. Water is your friend. Stay hydrated and carry at least 3 bottles of water from home for 2 people. To avoid increasing your carbon footprint and if you have decent immunity, do request restaurants to refill your bottles with drinking water. After you have paid for your meal there, they are usually very willing. Carry a 2 lt bottle(at least) of tap water to wash fruits you may purchase on your way from the farmers and to wash your hands after you eat them. Also, carry baby wipes/wet wipes for the latter use.
  2. Carry old newspapers. They are marvellous to use in lieu of tissues, wipes, and just to spread on the ground for an impromptu picnic if that’s what you feel like.
  3. Carry non-perishable snacks from home if feasible. In some tourist places, you may not find food till the neighbouring town and the only options may be deep fried stuff in packaging more filled with air than food. Anand finds chewing gum helps him from feeling drowsy while driving on endless highways. (Note: Get rest and sleep if you’re actually exhausted. Do not push yourself then. It’s a safe road-trip, not an endurance test risking your own lives and that of others on the road.)
  4. Use one cover/basket just for garbage inside the car. You can empty it when you see a garbage bin.
  5. Do buy from farmers by the highway, especially fruits, palm jaggery and even honey combs! We’ve rarely been disappointed. They make significantly healthier snacks too. Needless to say get some tender coconut water when you pass by it. It’s refreshing, delicious and naturally free from contamination 🙂
  6. Carry a small pouch with change. It helps at toll booths and paying vendors for small items without searching all over the place and multiple purses.
  7. Carry one set of cutlery- a small knife (to cut fruits), a spoon (to eat unhealthy snacks with without getting them all over your hands), and a fork.

 

Technology

  1. Before your trip, download offline maps on your phone if you have the option.
  2. Even if you don’t want to book your hotels in advance, be aware of the closest towns/cities so you know which direction to head to once it’s later in the day.
  3. Get a good playlist of upbeat songs.(some of which you can sing along with while being severely off-tune). Slower songs though lovely for a relaxed evening at home are sleep-accelerators after a delicious local meal you’ve indulged in on your trip.
  4. Carry a power bank and have a charger you can plug into your car. Clicking pictures, looking up details of places and using maps drains battery faster than you realise.
  5. If feasible, download content related to the history of the place or the monuments you are going to visit. It seems most interesting just before and just after getting there and a random interesting tit-bit makes it that much more fun.
  6. Try some random games in the car- we’ve found 20 questions to be both aggravating and entertaining (depending on which side you’re on). It’s also an excellent undisturbed time to trade childhood stories and often detailed stories of your favourite movie that your fellow travellers haven’t watched yet. Or maybe that’s just us. Try different ones and see what you enjoy.

 

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Madagadakere : The lake that never dries up. Also, has a lot of skeletons at its bottom.

 

Car Love

  1. Fuel up as soon as your indicator goes off. Being stuck without fuel on a lonely highway in the dark is not safe at all.
  2. Do these checks before you leave
    • Headlamps, taillamps and indicators. You don’t want to be driving blind at night.
    • Water-level in the wiper – Helps to get rid of unwanted dust and bird droppings on your windshield (they happen more often than you’d like)
    • Tyre pressure on all tyres including the standby one.
    • That you have the car tools in the car at all times.

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      Our trusty car enjoying a break 

 

On the way

  1. Take breaks to stretch your limbs or take a short stroll, especially for the driver. Neck, feet, arms, legs and back could all use a good stretch. The fellow passenger could enforce the break taking 🙂
  2. Ask locals (and sometimes petrol station staff) for food recommendations – they often know of the only modest but good restaurant in a small dusty town.
  3. Seems silly but check different seat alignments to see what treats your backbone the best. Something as simple as that removes the strain from a long trip on the road. Carrying small cushions also helps and a neck pillow if you plan to take a nap.
  4. Inform someone at home of where you’re going and where you’d be staying the night. It reduces their anxiety and helps in case of emergencies.
  5. Stop and stare– there’s often beauty all along the way – whether in an unnamed lake with migratory birds, a field of marigolds in bright orange or a sky filled with stars like you’ve never seen before.

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    Our reward for an unplanned pitstop at an un-named lake on the way back from Bidar