Discover Central & Eastern Europe With Travel Tips From Locals + Top Bloggers

Most of you have told me how much you love reading about Europe on my blog. This is the last piece in the series, and this one is especially for my readers on a budget. Today’s list is a handpicked collection of extremely affordable destinations. If you are a solo female traveller on your maiden visit to Central or Eastern Europe, we urge you to look beyond the popular cities of Budapest (read – A Quick Guide To Budapest – The Capital Of Hungary) and Warsaw (read – What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay), and give these lesser explored places a chance to mesmerise you:

Česky Krumlov – Czech Republic

Česky Krumlov (Courtesy: Parampara)

Česky Krumlov (Courtesy: Parampara)

Recommendation by Parampara – Awara Diaries

“On the offbeat path as a solo female traveller, Česky Krumlov was one of the best adventures that I’d signed up for. With the aim of exploring Czechia beyond the party scenes of Prague, I took a trip south of the capital to the town of Česky Krumlov. To begin with, the Czech transport system is in great shape and connects the country with much ease. I took a 2 and a half hours’ bus journey to this Czech town.

Česky Krumlov was no less than a wonderland for me. Medieval mythical vibes with castles, towers, rivers, and bridges. Walking around this quaint town was the obvious choice, but unlike other Czech towns, there was life even post sunset. Making new friends at the hostel, walking around the town, looking at the lit castle and most importantly, eating around, trying some of the best ever grilled trout and apple strudel, Česky Krumlov had my heart. And for once, I could believe that I was living a fairytale with a possibility of getting lost in the woods and stumbling upon a dragon or just watching over the town quietly from the top of the tower! Indeed, one of the best and safest destinations for solo travel and making new friends.”

Viscri – Romania

Viscri (Courtesy: Andra Padureanu)

Viscri (Courtesy: Andra Padureanu)

Recommendation by Andra Padureanu – Our World to Wander

“The village of Viscri used to be one of Romania’s hidden gems. But now, thanks to Prince Charles, it has become a popular destination for people who want to taste the rural life in Transylvania. It’s a small and charming village where you can take a glimpse of the traditional way of life. Viscri is also famous for its fortified church which has put it on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It is a very safe destination for women travellers and highly recommended if you want to try a Romanian homestay. You will stay with a family in one of the small houses, and everybody will want you to taste the numerous delicious dishes of the region. It is a picturesque place where you can lose track of time while wandering through the narrow cobblestoned streets.”

Ljubljana – Slovenia

Ljubljana (Courtesy: Jessica)

Ljubljana (Courtesy: Jessica)

Recommendation by Jessica – Notes of Nomads

“Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana is one of my favourite destinations in all of Europe. It’s perfect for solo female travellers because it’s extremely clean and safe, the people are among the friendliest I’ve ever met and English speakers will find it’s incredibly easy to get around using English. I especially adore the café and market culture in Ljubljana. There are so many opportunities to take in the city’s relaxed atmosphere while dining and shopping outdoors.

Many eateries have outdoor and riverside seating, and on certain days of the week, you can also check out flea and farmer’s markets for cool finds and fresh produce. Sweet lovers must also try a piece of the city’s famed Ljubljana cake. The legend goes that a cook delighted the daughter of the Lord of Ljubljana Castle so much with this creation that he was offered her hand in marriage!”

Eger – Hungary

Eger (Courtesy: Sharon Gourlay)

Eger (Courtesy: Sharon Gourlay)

Recommendation by Sharon Gourlay – Simpler & Smarter

“Eger is a city in northern Hungary, just a couple of hours from Budapest. It is the perfect place to visit on your solo adventure if you love wine and baroque architecture. Or if you just love discovering smaller European destinations which aren’t flooded with tourists. Eger is an easy place to visit. All the main attractions are within walking distance and the city centre is pretty and easy to walk around.

There is a hilltop castle with great views, a big basilica and many other attractions. My favourite is the wine cellars in the Valley of Beautiful Women. These cellars are all in a row surrounded by nature with many indoor and outdoor tables. The wine is cheap and good and it’s fun trying out the wines.”

Istria – Croatia

Istrian Pasta (Courtesy: Kaila Yu)

Istrian Pasta (Courtesy: Kaila Yu)

Recommendation by Kaila Yu – NomList

“Istria, Croatia is an ideal destination for solo women travellers. Not only is it so safe that you could walk the streets at any time of the night and feel perfectly comfortable, but it’s also the ultimate foodie locale! If you love olive oil, truffles and wine, you must visit this magical area of Croatia. Many of the dishes of Istria have Mediterranean and Italian influence and the fresh seafood in the region is spectacular.

Istria is considered to be part of Croatia but it actually encompasses Italy and Slovenia too. The peninsula juts out into the Adriatic Sea, so it also has beautiful oceans views. One popular activity in this region is boating and exploring the many small islands in the vicinity. It’s definitely an off the beaten path location that is dreamy and a can’t miss for solo female travellers!”

Chisinau – Moldova

Chisinau (Courtesy: Gabriela Muller)

Chisinau (Courtesy: Gabriela Muller)

Recommendation by Gabriela Muller – Gabriela Here and There

“I recently travelled to Moldova as a solo female traveller and was positively surprised by how nice it was. Moldova is one of the least visited countries in Europe but this little nation has so much to offer from wine tours to beautiful countryside. Most of the travellers will visit Chisinau, the capital city, and it’s a great place to base yourself in Moldova. Chisinau might not have the Eiffel Tower or other famous sights but it’s a charming city with its own little spots. The best way to explore Chisinau is on foot and because of its small size, everything is within a walking distance. I never had any problems with street harassment or catcalling, and always felt very safe walking alone (even at night).”

Skopje – Macedonia

Skopje (Courtesy: Kamila Napora)

Skopje (Courtesy: Kamila Napora)

Recommendation by Kamila Napora – Kami and the Rest of the World

“Skopje is one of the weirdest cities you will ever see. It’s like the Disneyland of the Balkans with quirky, brand new but old-looking architecture all over the centre and the largest old bazaar in the Balkans. It’s also a safe and interesting city to visit for solo female travellers. I’ve been solo to Skopje 5 times by now and never encountered any issues. Local people are super friendly, the food is to die for and everything is really affordable. You should most likely stick to the centre and Debar Maalo areas. Like everywhere else, if you stick to your common sense you will be more than fine. There are many things to do in Skopje that will keep you occupied for at least 2 days. Just visit the city with an open mind and enjoy it!”

Belgrade – Serbia

Belgrade (Courtesy: Karen Turner)

Belgrade (Courtesy: Karen Turner)

Recommendation by Karen Turner – Wanderlustingk

“Belgrade was one of the easiest places that I’ve travelled solo in. People were so incredibly warm that I ended up getting drinks almost every single night with Serbians that I’d meet who would just invite me out with their group of friends. In Belgrade, I also found a female-run hostel with staff that just made my trip magical as they sent me on a food scavenger hunt. The walkable city centre and good public transit with the high level of English made it a breeze to travel in Serbia and I’d recommend it to any woman trying out solo travel!”

Kharkiv – Ukraine

Kharkiv (Courtesy: Megan Starr)

Kharkiv (Courtesy: Megan Starr)

Recommendation by Megan Starr – Megan Starr

“Kharkiv, Ukraine is a destination off the beaten path in Eastern Europe that doesn’t garner the tourism traction that it should. The city, often overshadowed by Kyiv and Lviv, sits in the east of Ukraine but is completely in the safe zone. It is one of the loveliest places I have ever had a chance to visit. Females shouldn’t feel unsafe in Kharkiv, even if travelling alone. There are top notch cafes, restaurants, and some stately architecture from various areas that make this Ukrainian city extremely compelling and a must-visit spot for travellers. Kharkiv has become more connected via daily flights and there is even a fast train connecting it with Kyiv these days.”

Olomouc – Czech Republic

Olomouc (Courtesy: Veronika Primm)

Olomouc (Courtesy: Veronika Primm)

Recommendation by Veronika Primm – Travel Geekery

Olomouc is a hidden gem lying in the east of the Czech Republic, right in the heart of the Moravia region. The city features a beautifully preserved Old Town with Baroque structures such as fountains and churches. You’ll even find an Astronomical Clock on the local Town Hall! Just strolling around feels fulfilling enough. There’s also no shortage of cosy cafés and large parks encircling the city centre.

Students rule Olomouc. If you go out in the evening by yourself, it’s easy to strike a conversation with local students. The town is lively and there’s often a lot going on – from events organized by the local Palacký University to markets/gatherings on the main square (Upper Square).”

Are you a fan of Eastern & Central Europe now? 🙂

Got more suggestions for solo travellers to these parts of Europe?

Let us know through your comments below. 🙂

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Italy Beyond The Usual: Calling All Women Who Love To Travel Solo

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites and the country also ranks quite high on my list. It has been more than 7 years since I last visited Italy. However, my naive old self had only done all the touristy things (read – What Not to do in Venice). Before heading out to that country again, I wanted to be sure to steer clear of tourist traps. So, I asked my travel pals to share some of their recommendations on offbeat places for solo female travellers. Here are 5 Italian destinations that are surely beyond the usual suspects:

Bologna

Bologna (Courtesy: Kate Storm)

Bologna (Courtesy: Kate Storm)

Recommendation by Kate Storm – Our Escape Clause

“Hoping to explore Italy’s beautiful architecture and cuisine without the overly romantic environment of places like Venice and Tuscany? Look no further than Bologna. As the capital of the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna offers a fantastic mix of offbeat experiences, delicious food, and beautiful streets to wander… all with an easy-to-use travel infrastructure and a much less romance-focused atmosphere than nearby Tuscany and Verona. While you’re in Bologna, consider joining a food tour to indulge in some of the best food in Italy (Emilia Romagna is the original home of delicacies like mortadella, tagliatelle al ragu, and more), climb the Asinelli Tower for epic views over the city, and take yourself on an informal scavenger hunt to find the hidden canals of Bologna.”

Modena

Modena (Courtesy: Ayngelina Brogan)

Modena (Courtesy: Ayngelina Brogan)

Recommendation by Ayngelina Brogan – Bacon Is Magic

“Although most travellers tend to stick to Rome and Florence, I love to recommend smaller towns in Italy for solo female travellers. Modena is just a short 30-minute train ride from Bologna and so many people miss it. Most famous for its balsamic vinegar, it’s also home to great prosciutto and many Parmigiano Reggiano cheese producers. As a town, it’s perfect for women travelling alone as the downtown core is walkable, yet there is a hop on hop off bus to reach all the factories and producers on the outskirts. There is no tourist section of the city, so you don’t need to worry about being targeted by pickpockets as you’ll see locals everywhere and it’s well lit at night. Modena really is a food lover’s dream and you can do it on your own.”

Favignana

Favignana (Courtesy: Leanne Scott)

Favignana (Courtesy: Leanne Scott)

Recommendation by Leanne Scott – The Globetrotter GP

“Favignana is a tiny island just off the coast of Sicily. Often compared to the Caribbean, this should be a must-see on any Sicily itinerary. For me, it was a tranquil haven. I spent a wonderful, peaceful day cycling solo from one stunning beach to the next. I have truly never seen an ocean so bright blue and crystal clear. I felt completely safe on this island as a solo female traveller. On mainland Sicily, I occasionally worried about being pickpocketed but on Favignana, life was so laid back, this didn’t even cross my mind. An easy day trip from Trapani on the west coast, it takes just 30 minutes to reach Favignana. Tickets can be purchased on the same day from booths opposite the ferry company. With only a handful of tourists and barely any traffic on the roads, the only way to get around this tiny island is by bike.”

Ortigia

Ortigia (Courtesy: David Angel)

Ortigia (Courtesy: David Angel)

Recommendation by David Angel – Delve Into Europe

“Ortigia is an island which was the historic centre of Syracuse, on the south-east coast of Sicily. For a time in the 5th century BC, Syracuse – originally a Greek colony – was the most powerful city in the known world. It’s fair to say it has retreated to the backwaters since then. Ortigia is just a few minutes’ ride from the main bus station in Syracuse, but it’s only served by a tiny electric bus that carries eight people every twenty minutes. The island itself is absolutely stunning, a maze of crumbling romantic 17th and 18th-century houses, with many of the streets pedestrianised, so there’s very little traffic.

We loved the walk along the island’s seafront, passing a medieval castle, a street of restaurants, several churches and a couple of tiny beaches. The backstreets are also beautiful, many lined with lovely little trattorie. We chose Ortigia because we were travelling with our two-year-old son who loves to run and explore, and this is a safe place to do so. But it would work just as well if you’re travelling solo. Ortigia’s highlight is the Piazza del Duomo, a large ‘square’ centred around the stunning Baroque cathedral. We went there every night for gelato and coffee around dusk, just as the lights came on. It’s one of the most beautiful squares in Italy – at a fraction of the price you’d pay in Venice or Rome.”

Porto Venere

Porto Venere (Courtesy: Christina Román)

Porto Venere (Courtesy: Christina Román)

Recommendation by Christina Román – Explore Now or Never

“Everybody loves the Cinque Terre, but just 15 minutes south is UNESCO World Heritage site Portovenere without the crowds! A soul-satisfying European destination for solo women. Begin by exploring the ruins of the Church of St. Peter, a 13th-century Catholic church high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Then wander the shops. (Great deals on linen clothing and tablecloths in sun-drenched colours.) While we were enjoying a lovely al fresco lunch dockside, a white Rolls Royce with newlyweds came zooming past, heavy on the horn. As everyone stood and applauded, we were reminded why we love locals-only destinations best. In the evening, you’ll have the Cinque Terre mostly to yourself. Here are more tips on how to see it and where to eat.”

Been to other offbeat places in Italy?

Got some solo travel tips for my readers?

Let us know through your comments below. 🙂

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11 Beautiful Rooftop Restaurants in India to Indulge Your Senses

My readers often ask me for recommendations on dining out. I know it has been raining cats and dogs in most parts of India right now, especially in my city – Mumbai. But that shouldn’t mean that you have to stay cooped up in your house all the time. If you can brave the rains, even if it is only to step out for a meal, you’ll be rewarded with some lovely views! Today’s article lists 11 restaurants from across the country that offer rooftop dining, and needless to say, breathtaking sights from above. My foodie friend, Vidya, suggests her picks from Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai & Chennai. Are you ready to be tantalized? 😉

Delhi

The Potbelly Rooftop Café

Courtesy: The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe

Courtesy: The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe

One of the few places in Delhi to serve Bihari cuisine, this restaurant tops our list. The Potbelly is a great choice for when you want to have a good time with your friends and family. Their flavours are not only authentic but also worth the money. The colours of the interiors enhance the overall ambience and act as mood-lifters. Also, we absolutely love the bamboo decor of this rooftop cafe!

Address: 116-C, 4th Floor, Shahpur Jat

Q’BA

Courtesy: Q'BA

Courtesy: Q’BA

Located in the capital’s posh neighbourhood, Q’BA is a high-end casual dining restaurant. Its distinct spaces let you enjoy a romantic dinner date at the same time as your friends gear up for a loud night of partying. Their rooftop seating offers neat views of Connaught Place. However, we think you’ll be more engrossed in the food on your plate. 😉

Address: E – 42 & 43 Inner Circle, Connaught Place

Parikrama- The Revolving Restaurant

Courtesy: Parikrama - The Revolving Restaurant

Courtesy: Parikrama – The Revolving Restaurant

The high point of Parikrama is its view. This restaurant on the 24th floor revolves and gives you a bird’s eye view of some of Delhi’s most iconic attractions. The classy character aside, you will delight in their service as the staff are quite courteous. Give their Mughlai items a try as that is what they specialize in (think kebabs).

Address: 22, Antriksh Bhavan, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place

Bangalore

The Tao Terraces

Courtesy: The Tao Terraces

Courtesy: The Tao Terraces

Craving for Far Eastern cuisine? Tao Terraces has got your covered! In addition to the hugely popular Chinese and Thai food, they serve Korean, Burmese and Japanese. This zen-themed restaurant scores high on ambience. The place looks decadent after sunset with its dimly lit space. If you are a family with a baby in tow, ask them for a high chair.

Address: 5th Floor, 1 MG Mall, opposite Vivanta by Taj, MG Road

Want to get amazing food at your doorstep? Try ordering from Innerchef and use Innerchef coupon codes for a discount.

Fenny’s Lounge & Kitchen

Courtesy: Fenny's Lounge & Kitchen

Courtesy: Fenny’s Lounge & Kitchen

These guys are really popular in Bangalore and that is why they are always busy serving their customers. The music in the background is not too loud, so you can enjoy your meal at peace. Prepare to be mesmerized by the greenery around you as there are plants all over the place. This is a nice lounge to sample some Mediterranean food and a wood-fired pizza.

Address: 115, 3rd Floor, Opposite Raheja Arcade, Koramangala 7th Block

The Local – Terrace Drinkery

Courtesy: The Local - Terrace Drinkery

Courtesy: The Local – Terrace Drinkery

With earthy interiors and quirky furniture, this terrace “drinkery” steals our hearts. Even though the items on their food menu are limited, you can choose from steamed, smoked or stir-fried starters. Thanks to the roof over this rooftop eatery, you can visit here even when it’s pouring. After a tiring day at work, this is the perfect place to chill with your friends.

Address: 467, 80 Feet Road, Opposite BMTC Bus Depot, Koramangala 6th Block

Mumbai

The Dome

The Dome (Courtesy: InterContinental Marine Drive)

The Dome (Courtesy: InterContinental Marine Drive)

The InterContinental hotel provides a beautiful way to enjoy South Bombay at its terrace restaurant – The Dome. This is where you can take your romance a notch higher, thanks to the gorgeous view of Marine Drive. The Arabian Sea ensures that your time here is always breezy. They mostly serve finger foods and nibbles to go with your drinks.

Address: Hotel InterContinental, 135, Churchgate

Sheesha Sky Lounge

Sheesha Sky Lounge Gold Juhu (Courtesy: Sheesha Sky Lounge, Lower Parel)

Sheesha Sky Lounge Gold Juhu (Courtesy: Sheesha Sky Lounge, Lower Parel)

This lounge is known for its tandoori preparations. Enjoy a refreshing mocktail with some kebabs. The open-roof ambience adds to the charm of this place. Sheesha Sky Lounge now has several outlets across the Maximum City. If you can’t make it to the one in Bandra, head to Juhu or Lower Parel. (You can also compare their service and let us know if there is consistency. 😉 )

Address: Bandra Link Road, Above Shoppers Stop, Bandra West

Quell your hunger pangs with the Zomato new user offer and save money on your next hearty meal.

The Cult

Courtesy: Peninsula Grand Hotel

Courtesy: Peninsula Grand Hotel

Not too far from the airport, The Cult is where you should go for your last party before you fly out of town. They only open after 4:30 pm, so this is definitely for the night owls. They play their best music after 10 in the night though. So if you plan on dancing, fill your tummy with some grub to fuel your moves on the dance floor.

Address: Hotel Peninsula Grand, Rooftop, Opposite Sakinaka Metro Station, Andheri Airport Road, Sakinaka

Chennai

Above Sea Level

Above Sea Level (Courtesy: The Raintree, St. Mary's Road)

Above Sea Level (Courtesy: The Raintree, St. Mary’s Road)

Couples in Chennai searching for a romantic place for a candlelight dinner look no further. Above Sea Level on the 14th floor of The Raintree hotel will enchant you. Their rooftop seating is by the poolside and dinners here are undoubtedly memorable. The restaurant specializes in seafood and the place is quite popular. So, make a reservation before you reach.

Address: The Raintree, 120, St Mary’s Road, Alwarpet

The Crown – The Residency Towers

The Crown (Courtesy: The Residency Towers, Chennai)

The Crown (Courtesy: The Residency Towers, Chennai)

A premium fine-dining restaurant, The Crown wins hearts with its terrace views that look over an infinity pool. Their selection of European and Indian dishes are gourmet and a tad heavy on the pocket. But they get full marks for their superior service and ambience. Live music is another reason to lavish on a meal here.

Address: The Residency Towers, 115, Pondy Bazaar, Sir Thyagaraya Road, T. Nagar

Been to any cute rooftop restaurant lately?

Send in your recommendations in the comments!

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Discover Kerala With Backpacker Panda: Fort Kochi And Beyond

The rainy month of July began on a sunny note for me as I flew down to Cochin to kick off my shoes and relax in Kerala. Even though this month sees terrible monsoons, my time by the Arabian Sea coincided with clear weather in the region. I should have guessed this South Indian state gets plenty of sunshine when I landed at the world’s first fully solar-powered airport. Cochin International Airport is power neutral, thanks to the acres of solar panels installed next to the aerodrome. A 90-minute drive brought me to Backpacker Panda’s Santa Maria hostel in Fort Kochi – conveniently located close to the harbour.

A Walk Down Kerala’s Past

Mattancherry Palace - a gift from the Portuguese

Mattancherry Palace – a gift from the Portuguese

The first European township in India, Fort Kochi’s culture is also influenced by the Chinese, the Arabs and the Jews. The marina is only a stone’s throw from the hostel – a nice place to watch the ferries transport people, animals and even cars and auto-rickshaws from the nearby islands. Sunrises and sunsets are best spent walking along the coast. There, you can admire the bright purple and blue Chinese fishing nets introduced to the local fishermen by Chinese traders. The neighbourhood of Mattancherry brims with Portuguese, Dutch and Jewish auras. The Mattancherry Palace and its surrounding complex are a result of the Portuguese and later, Dutch occupation. Almost adjoining is the oldest active Jewish temple in all of the Commonwealth nations – Paradesi Synagogue.

What’s So Special About Santa Maria?

Santa Maria Hostel - one of the cheapest backpackers' hostels in Fort Kochi

Santa Maria Hostel – one of the cheapest backpackers’ hostels in Fort Kochi

My choice of stay was an integral part of my Kerala experience. I had planned this trip in a hurry, hoping to make the most of the rare fair-weather window in the off-season. Nonetheless, Backpacker Panda was quite efficient in confirming my booking and assisting with the directions to their hostel. Santa Maria is perhaps the cheapest place you can find in a destination so loved by tourists. For as little as INR 250, you can have a bed in an air-conditioned dorm with en-suite bathroom! Their private rooms are not too costly either. The friendly owners of the hostel are generally around to help you plan your days in Fort Kochi.

Jew Town – Where Chaos & Calm Coexist

The busy marketplace of Jew Town

The busy marketplace of Jew Town

Kerala has a small Jewish population. Several years ago, displaced Israelites left their home-country due to religious persecution and sought shelter in various parts of the world. Some of the Jews settled in Mattancherry and brought their culture with them. Apart from the synagogue, the area has a shopping street – a long, narrow lane lined with shops that sell clothing, souvenirs, spices and handicrafts. You can very quickly escape the bustle of the marketplace as you enter their house of worship or stride into a cafe.

Inside A Backpacker Panda Dorm

The girls' dorm with 3 bunk beds is a cosy room.

The girls’ dorm with 3 bunk beds is a cosy room.

After a full day spent walking about, you long for a comfortable place of rest. Santa Maria’s rooms are basic but pleasant. During my stay at the hostel, I had a chance to sleep on both a double bed (in one of their private rooms) and a bunk bed (in the girls’ dormitory). All of the Backpacker Panda properties have mixed dorms also. The dorms have lockers under the beds but you’ll have to bring along a padlock. The bathrooms are neat and stocked with toilet paper. However, you’ll have to carry your own soap and towel (unless you stay in a private room).

Tour The Backwaters On A Houseboat

Houseboats docked by the palm groves in Kerala's backwaters

Houseboats docked by the palm groves in Kerala’s backwaters

If any object can be a symbol of Kerala, it is the traditional houseboat. These elegant floating vessels are wooden boats that are covered with bamboo and cane, ropes of jute and coconut husk tying them together. Depending on how much you love nature, you can cruise over the backwaters for three hours to a couple of days. Kerala’s backwaters are shallow and the person steering the houseboat uses a long bamboo pole to push against the foliage and earth. The ride really is delightful as it lets you hear the lovely sounds of birds, gaze at paddling ducks and pristine lotuses and occasionally, watch villagers go about their lives.

Where Art Has A Chance To Flourish

With all the paintings on the walls, it is easy to see that the hostel hosts a lot of artists.

With all the paintings on the walls, it is easy to see that the hostel hosts a lot of artists.

Fort Kochi has a vibrant community of artists, many from other countries. The Kochi Biennale held from December to March showcases art exhibitions across multiple venues. Apart from art galleries, these exhibitions are held at an art cafe. The art wave has birthed a lot of art cafes in Fort Cochin – Kashi & Mocha art cafes are worth a visit. Sharing the artsy spirit of the place, Santa Maria Hostel frequently hosts students and proponents of art. Most of the walls in the hostel show off the works of the artists who’ve stayed here.

Keralite Cuisine – More Than Rice & Spice

Traditional Keralite lunch served on a banana leaf.

Traditional Keralite lunch served on a banana leaf.

Culinary exploration is an essential element of all the trips I undertake. Kerala did not disappoint. Right from the roadside bondas to the elaborate meals served on banana leaves, Keralite cuisine promises variety. Rice is the predominant staple and curries are generally spicy. My personal favourite is the fluffy kalappam with a thick, mildly sweet centre which tapers out to a paper-thin consistency and crispiness. Coconut, whether shredded, whole or its milk, imparts a unique flavour and texture to the dishes.

The ‘Common’ Factor Between Two Strangers

The common space at Backpacker Panda's Santa Maria Hostel

The common space at Backpacker Panda’s Santa Maria Hostel

I like hostels that have common areas to facilitate interaction among the guests. Santa Maria’s common spaces are full of art. There are also books, board games and musical instruments for those who enjoy other kinds of art. Most of the furniture is of wood or cane, lending a sophisticated character to the otherwise carefree place. Tea and coffee are available round the clock and you can access the kitchen to make your own dish. Drinking water is free, but you need to get your own bottle which can be refilled at the water station.

Care For Some Kathakali?

Kathakali performance at the Greenix Village cultural art centre.

Kathakali performance at the Greenix Village cultural art centre.

When you are in a state that loves its art and culture, you cannot miss the dances. I spent an evening at Greenix Village – a performing arts centre in Fort Kochi. Apart from concert halls, the venue has a Kathakali museum that showcases all the musical instruments and dance costumes used in this traditional dance form. Before the show begins, you can watch the makeup artist paint that famous fierce green face on the male actor. The program commenced with a graceful Mohiniyattam piece – another classical dance of Kerala. The highlight of the evening was, of course, a Kathakali skit. That was followed by a demonstration of Kalaripayattu – a martial art style in which poles, swords and shields are employed. The final presentation was Tholpavakoothu – shadow puppetry with the use of leather dolls.

Be A Backpacker!

Peaceful mornings at Santa Maria Hostel - the perfect setting for some quiet reading.

Peaceful mornings at Santa Maria Hostel – the perfect setting for some quiet reading.

All of the backpacking trips that I’ve made around India and the world have taught me this – it is always a good idea to travel light. It is also a myth that there is no privacy in hostels. You often get lucky and find your room empty when the others have left. And those times are best spent relaxing with a book (for me at least).

Know other places in Fort Kochi that will interest me?

Ever stayed at an art hostel?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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You too can experience backpacking in different parts of India through Backpacker Panda. I’ve got an exclusive 15% discount for you! 😉 Use OINDRILA15 as the coupon code when you book your stay with them (valid till 31-September-2018).

What The Koli Tribe Of Purushwadi Has Taught Me

Purushwadi, a village that wakes up to the crowing of a rooster and sleeps soon after the sun has set, was my home last month. I had changed 4 modes of transport from Mumbai to get to this fully sustainable remote hamlet nestled in the Sahyadris. The people of this land are one of the most prosperous tribes in rural Maharashtra – Mahadev Koli. I did not know in the beginning how much I would learn from the simpletons of Purshwadi, but they overwhelmed me with their admirable lifestyle!

Age Is Only A Number (And Old Women Are Pro Farmers)

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Every family in this village owns a small patch of land and almost everyone is a farmer. Children as young as 9 help their parents in the fields when their school is shut for summer. It is more common to see women working away on the farms as compared to men. They head to the fields at about 11 in the morning, after they have finished their housework, and return only after sunset. Their active lifestyle is perhaps the reason why they are so fit even in their golden years. It is not uncommon to find grandmothers toiling in the scorching sun.

Animals Are Not Playthings

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

I was moved by the compassion that the Koli tribe shows towards animals. Their cows and goats have plenty of open greens to feed on. Their sheds are cleaned and they are given a bath soon after sunrise. Happy cows also mean tastier milk! It must also be mentioned that each home owns cows, goats and hens for its daily supply of milk and eggs. The self-sufficiency of these people cannot be overstated.

Women Can Carry More Than Their Own Bodyweight

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Purushwadi has not seen any of our fancy kitchen gadgets. There are no gas stoves or piped gas connections here. Firewood is used for fuel. It is not unusual to find women along the streets carrying bundles of firewood on their hike up their hilltop homes. What is particularly noteworthy is their superior physical strength that enables them to carry as much as 50 kilos (perhaps more than what they weigh) on their head.

Contentment Is More Precious Than Creature Comforts

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

I was astonished at how hard each woman works to run her home in this village. Not only do they wake up before anyone else in the household, but also sleep after everyone else has slept at night. Right from cleaning the house and the cowshed to cooking and serving meals to all to packing off their kids to school to tending to their fields to serving their families again to washing the dishes, and more… these women work like superheroes, saving the day for all. And they do all of this with such calm and poise! They ask for nothing in return, knowing somewhere within that their truest joy is in contentment.

Family Is A Gift, Not An Inconvenience

My guide, Balu's mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

My guide, Balu’s mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

During my short stay in Purushwadi, the women tried to teach me a lot of things – hulling rice, grinding it into fine flour, kneading a dough, making flat and round bhakris (roti made of rice flour). I proved to be a poor student, but they were patient and encouraging teachers. While all of this was happening, I observed how close-knit all the families are; also, how well the Koli tribe functions as a community. My guide, Balu, told me that his friend would work in his field for the day that he spent as my guide. And Balu would do the same for his friend when it is his turn to escort a visitor. They don’t compete against one another but work for each one’s benefit. The entire village is like a giant family. In stark contrast, most of us city-dwellers view family as an inconvenience that hinders our personal space and freedom. And despite all that we have, we are neither satisfied nor happy.

Authentic Organic Food Is In Little Villages

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

I would have all of my meals in a village home, and I’d have to walk past several fields of wheat, groundnuts, rice, amaranth and more. Gorak, a young village lad, explained to me how they decide to sow seeds based on what they would like to eat. They don’t do anything in excess. Everything is grown for the family, and only some wheat is stored for emergencies (which can be traded to other villages for money). He also told me that their land is blessed with fertile soil and they also now have proper irrigation, thanks to the dam which brings them the river-water. They don’t use any pesticide or insecticide, and this is where one can have the entire farm-to-plate experience of fully organic food.

Women Are Good Leaders

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

The Kolis astounded me with their progressive mindsets which were quite unlike those I’ve come across in other Indian villages. They don’t prefer either gender over the other. Their aim is to have equal gender distribution. Women here don’t shy away from talking to men, nor do they cover their faces or heads (as is commonplace in most traditional households). The Koli women smartly take on roles that I have generally seen men perform – herding goats, lifting heavy objects, constructing huts, and more. Here, the leadership potential of women is fully harnessed. And that’s something even modern offices have failed to do.

Entertainment Is Not Drowning In A Sea Of Apps

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha - Purushwadi's highest point.

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha – Purushwadi’s highest point.

It was a blessing not to have any cellphone coverage in this village. I did not have a chance to waste my time on social media. Gorak took me to the highest point of Purushwadi when we hiked up for a nice sunset view. That’s when he told me how he loves to spend his free time. He hikes with his best friend. Gorak is only 25, and does not have the time-and-money-zapping addictions (of gaming or clubbing) of the city-boys of his age. The village indeed is beautiful, not only in how it appears but also in how it has shaped its people.

Education Is Only As Valuable As You Perceive

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi's only school.

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi’s only school.

One morning, I went to the only school of this village. On my way, I saw a little boy running towards the school, a notebook in hand. He was late, and did not want to miss his classes. A village kid can only study up to class-7 in this school and will have to travel to another village to study till class-10. If students wish to study further, they’ll have to go to the nearest town. A chat with one of the school teachers revealed how precious education is to all of them. Teachers travel all the way to the nearest town to access internet required to download educational videos for the students. The respect that these students have for their teachers is of another level altogether.

Did you expect that a rural Indian tribe could teach so much?

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