Ngong Ping Village – A Quiet Escape From The Bustle Of Hong Kong’s Mainland

The very mention of Hong Kong usually conjures up images of skyscrapers, high-end restaurants and crowded shopping streets. There is, however, another side to this seemingly busy Asian territory. I discovered early this year, on my maiden trip to the Far East, the little-known wonders on the island of Lantau. This is the island on the Pearl River that houses Hong Kong’s bustling international airport. But barely a 20-minute drive away is an idyllic village called “Ngong Ping”.

Why I Chose Ngong Ping Over Disneyland

The giant statue of Buddha is visible from the Ngong Ping marketplace in Hong Kong's Lantau Island

The giant statue of Buddha is visible from the Ngong Ping marketplace in Hong Kong’s Lantau Island

Most first-timers with a Hong Kong visa prefer a trip to the famous Disneyland on the same island of Lantau – incidentally, the largest island of this nation. However, for those of us who prefer quietude over cacophony and natural sights over manmade rides, Ngong Ping Village offers some relief. Quite unlike mainstream Hong Kong, this hamlet, located on an undulating, hilly terrain, is a paradise of sorts – lush green mountain vegetation on all sides, a quaint marketplace lined with dainty shops, and a chilly climate, uncharacteristic of its subtropical position.

A Cablecar To Fly You There

There are several ways to reach Ngong Ping from the airport, but the prettiest way, undoubtedly, is to take the ropeway. You can take a taxi or a bus from the HK arrivals area and get off at the Tung Chung stop. The cable car ride begins from here. It is possible to buy tickets on the spot, but I had prebooked mine on Klook to avoid the queues (which get longer as the day wears on).

The Gondola Ride

I shiver inside my 360-degree crystal cabin gondola en route to Ngong Ping

I shiver inside my 360-degree crystal cabin gondola en route to Ngong Ping

The cable car ride is aptly named “Ngong Ping 360” for the 360-degree views of Hong Kong that it provides. The standard gondolas are glass-walled but have an opaque floor. For a slightly higher fee, you can get yourself a crystal cabin which is transparent on all sides. The premium gondola is worth the extra charge as it lets you view the forestlands, walking trails, treetops and many other gorgeous things without hindrance. The ride takes 30 minutes each way, and offers plenty of time to soak in the picturesque Lantau Peak, aerial views of the South China Sea, the amazing multi-layered road network of Hong Kong and several of its islands, bridges that connect the islands, and ships at the harbour. (If you ever plan to enter this country through another route, take a look at this set of information to help you prepare better.)

The Village Walkway

Starting point of the Ngong Ping Village walkway.

The starting point of the Ngong Ping Village walkway.

This high-tech village has free WiFi and is split into three sections: Village Square, Bodhi Path and Country Market. The village square is essentially the place for eateries. There are teahouses and umpteen restaurants and cafes waiting to serve you exotic teas and cuisines from Hong Kong, China and other international flavours. The Bodhi Path has the information centre and some installations from the Buddhist culture. The final section of the village walkway is the country market which has a string of shops selling a lot of unique cultural things, such as chopsticks, art, silver, gadgets, souvenirs and a lot more. When shopping

Buddhism In Lantau

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Monsoon is an interesting time to be anywhere in Asia. When I was in Hong Kong, I did not realize how erratic the weather could be. It was cold early in the morning, poured steadily when I made my way to the little village of Ngong Ping, and was sunny when I walked into a cafe for lunch. Even though packing for such a climate becomes tricky, its unpredictability only enhances the monsoon experience. Head over to my bio to find the link to my latest travel article on 'Beautiful Monsoon Destinations in Asia' written in collaboration with some of my travel blogging friends from around the globe! 🙂 #oindrilagoesfootloose #oindrilainhongkong #hongkongig #hongkong #hongkonger #monsoondiaries #monsooninhongkong #hkig #hkg #hk #lantaulife #lantauisland #lantau #ngongpingvillage #ngongpingvillage昂坪市集 #ngongping #solotravel #monsooninasia #asiatravel #explorehongkong #discoverhongkong #monsoon #rainyday #traveldeeper #bbctravel #cloudyskies #cloudyday #exploremore #doyoutravel #asianvillage

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Beyond the village walkway is the religious part of this island. After you have crossed the iconic white gate and the sprawling paved route, you will reach the palatial shrine area. This is preceded by a circular stage with flags all around it. To your right will be a stairway (with countless steps) to a giant statue of the Buddha – Tian Tan monument. You can either take on the arduous climb to the statue or stay back and explore the Po Lin Monastery.

Po Lin Monastery

This Buddhist monastery was built in 1906 in traditional Chinese architecture. The courtyard has a huge stand for worship purposes, around which devotees offer their prayers by way of lighting incense sticks. The scent of the incense wafts throughout the courtyard and perhaps inside the main shrine which has three large statues of the Buddha that represent his past, present and future. I am not a religious traveller, so without dwelling too long before the temple, I headed back to the food lane for some lunch.

Eat Like A Hongkonger

My bowl of udon noodles with curd bean sheets, sweetcorn and seaweed goes well with the chrysanthemum tea with wolfberries and honey.

My bowl of udon noodles with curd bean sheets, sweetcorn and seaweed goes well with the chrysanthemum tea with wolfberries and honey.

The average HK local has 5 meals a day, the last one being a sort of midnight snack (wow! 🙂 ) which is consumed hours after dinner and called “siu yeh“. While they have plenty of meats on offer, vegetarians will find sufficient options without having to resort to other cuisines. Dim sums, baos and congees apart, Hong Kong offers interesting soup bowls which are large enough to be the entire meal. Being China’s Special Administrative Region, the place is big on flavoured teas. They even have a tea museum!

Beyond Ngong Ping – Lantau Peak

For those who love to hike, Lantau Peak happens to be the second highest peak in Hong Kong at 934 metres. Also known as Fung Wong Shan, the peak is clearly the tallest on Lantau Island, especially when viewed from the Ngong Ping plateau. The trek begins from the same point as that of the Wisdom Path which passes a tea garden. If you are not up for the entire thing, just do the Ngong Ping Fun Walk and come back.

Nei Lak Shan Country Trail

Lantau Island's Nei Lak Shan country trail looks like an adventurous one.

Lantau Island’s Nei Lak Shan country trail looks like an adventurous one.

If you are of the courageous type, attempt the Lantau Peak hike early at around 4 am. This will give you enough time to reach the peak in time for a glorious sunrise. You can spend the night at the youth hostel along this trail, or just bring your own tent and sleeping bags if you prefer roughing it out. The Nei Lak Shan country trail will give you ample opportunities for bird photography and an insight into subtropical plants.

Useful Information For Hong Kong

Interiors of the Hong Kong International Airport in Lantau

Interiors of the Hong Kong International Airport in Lantau

  • Indians must apply for pre-arrival registration for Hong Kong before the trip. RedCarpet Assist ensures hassle-free visa application.
  • Hong Kong Dollars is the official currency of the country. However, some shops happily accept US dollars if you run out of HKD.
  • Most locals do not speak much English (if at all). So, come prepared to play some long rounds of dumb-charades 😉 (Just kidding! If you’re lucky, some expats or English-speaking students will help you out.)

Which version of Hong Kong do you prefer more – city or village?

Have you heard of any other offbeat places here?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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Garhwal In Pictures: Memories From A Week In Uttarakhand

It was midsummer when the Uttarakhand Tourism Board invited me to explore the little lake-town of Tehri earlier this year. While the world hyped about the annual Tehri Lake Festival, I was more excited to glimpse a few other gems. I’d previously been to the north Indian state of Uttarakhand on several occasions, but this time, I was determined to see a few new places of Garhwal. Enjoy this photo-story as I show you the Lower Himalayan valleys through my perspective.

Dhanaulti From The Sky

The Lower Himalayan range is distinctly visible from Dhanaulti.

The Lower Himalayan range is distinctly visible from Dhanaulti.

The day that I was to spend relaxing in my hotel (aptly named “Dhanaulti Heights”), I chose instead to go for a hike to the nearby Surkanda Devi temple. I’m not a supporter of idol worship but I fully encourage hiking in the hills for the gorgeous views, if nothing else. Dhanaulti enjoys good weather and it is a delight to breathe in the pure air up here.

Having The Ganges Up-Close In Kaudiyala

The prettiest room I had was in Kaudiyala – a wooden cottage by the bank of the River Ganga. You can see from the video above what the scene from my balcony was. Sunrises here are unmissable, especially because nature wakes you up (think chirping birdies). The Ganges looks incredible from close quarters, so do the Shivalik Hills.

How Kanatal Turns Orange At Sunset

The glorious sunset in Kanatal.

The glorious sunset in Kanatal.

Kanatal was only a short stop for me on my way to another Garhwali destination, but I didn’t know that when I got there early in the eve. Trotting up and down the mountain trail, I thought I would have nothing much to do except talk to the locals. But the sunset proved me wrong by turning the blue sky yellow and beginning to paint this sleepy town as well.

See How The World Becomes Smaller When You Look Up?

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The higher you climb, the smaller everything on earth appears – the houses, the people, the material possessions and the problems. When I feel low, I just take a hike. Do you introspect when you go trekking? I captured this shot on my recent trek in the Garhwali mountains near Dhanaulti, Uttarakhand. #oindrilagoesfootloose #Dhanaulti #trekking #hiking #beautifulhike #girlswhotravel #girlswhotrek #Uttarakhand #incredibleindia #lightroomedits #shotoncanon #canonphotography #canon📷 #canonshot #himalayasarecalling #exploretheunexplored #exploreuttarakhand #Garhwal #garhwalhimalayas #himalayangeographic #lonelyplanetindia #natgeoyourshot #exploremore #doyoutravel #travelawesome #indiaphotosociety #igersuttarakhand #ig_captures #simplyheaven #traveldeeper

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I’ve often realized that being away from humanity has a calming effect on my soul. Perhaps that’s why I’m mostly a solo traveller. Trekking really helps to leave the world behind and let your problems become smaller as you climb up. And believe me, the endorphin rush automatically makes you happy! 😉

Learn What Love Is From The Animal Kingdom

Caught this mommy macaque walking with her baby! <3

Caught this mommy macaque walking with her baby! <3

There is so much one can learn from the birds and animals. Loving, for instance. When I read horrifying stories of parents abandoning their children or women justifying abortion, I am inclined to think humans have forgotten all about love, care and self-sacrifice. So, I look instead at animals for some hope. And they never disappoint. I was able to click this macaque mom-and-daughter duo during my hike to Kunjapuri temple in Adali, near Rishikesh.

Rafting Camps For River-Lovers

Tents and wooden rest houses in Kaudiyala

Tents and wooden rest houses in Kaudiyala

If you are not such a fan of luxury and prefer to rough it out instead, Kaudiyala offers plenty of safari tents. These campsites are usually preferred by rafters who will eventually indulge in some whitewater rafting in the Ganges. Irrespective of where you stay, you still get the same clean air and the background music of hundreds of avifauna and a gurgling river.

Appetizers For Lunch, Anyone?

A stack of bread pakoras waiting to be devoured - at a roadside stall along Garhwal's national highway.

A stack of bread pakoras waiting to be devoured – at a roadside stall along Garhwal’s national highway.

I don’t have too many pictures of Garhwali food as I was too impatient (on most occasions) to take photos before quelling my hunger. I tried a variety of millet breads (both chapatis and parathas) with plenty of potato preparations. I also remember having just snacks for lunch – savoury bread-pakoras, phaan (a wafer-like bar) and kachoris. Uttarakhand also makes some amazing desserts – jhingore-ki-kheer, baal-mithai, and loads of other milk-based sweets.

Berry-Picking In The Hills

The easy path to Surkanda Devi trek (not what I followed though ;-) )

The easy path to Surkanda Devi trek (not what I followed though 😉 )

The Himalayas are a great place to find unique coniferous trees and various shrubs and outcrops. My hikes were more fun as I would stop to look at the leaves, smell the flowers and search for fruits. On one occasion, I had run out of snacks during my walk downhill and had to fill up on a peculiar kind of yellow berries (which I washed with water, of course) in the wild. Back at my hotel, a friend had picked some kafal (little red berries) which she shared with me.

Power-Dressing: The Pahadi Way! 😉

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I can't believe it's already been half a month! I met these beautiful ladies on a work+fun trip to Uttarakhand and was quite taken by their sense of humor. We'd spent most of our days in those hills in hiking gear, so we decided to play dress-up one evening. Any style tips for me? 😉 #oindrilagoesfootloose #girlswhohike #girlswhotrek #girlswhotravel #womenintravel #womeninbusiness #indiantraveller #indianculture #travelmemories #travelstoke #travelstories #Uttarakhand #incredibleindia #traditionalindianwear #indianwomen #indianwear #chamba #Himalayas #igersindia #beautifulwomen #beautifulindia #exploremore #simplyheaven #kurta #indiankurta #ootd #travelstyle #travelfashion #hillstation #indianhillstations

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One of the most memorable evenings I had was in New Tehri, just before we all set out for the lake festival. Our gang of girls had dressed up in traditional kurtas. After days of hanging around in hiking pants, we finally had the chance to wear some makeup and look like conventional ladies. 😀

New Tehri is still miles away from the lake (Tehri Lake)

New Tehri is still miles away from the lake (Tehri Lake)

And just like that, the rollercoaster trip came to an end. I have chosen to conveniently forget the endless, tiring road journeys and the sleepless state of mind I had on most days. I now only remember the beautiful tree-lined hills, the sweet smell of berries and the wry humour of my fellow travellers.

Do you think you’ll ever go to Garhwal?

What are your favourite things to do in the mountains?

Let me 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).

Beautiful Monsoon Destinations In India

I’m busy packing for a trip as I type today’s post. (Keep an eye on my social media updates to know where I’m headed! 😉 ) The weather in my city is unpredictable this time of the year – it pours heavily a few minutes, then it’s sunny as if it never rained. However, I’ll have to leave Mumbai alone in this game of hide-n-seek as I go to a part of India I’ve never explored before. Meanwhile, I have collaborated with three of my travel writer friends to tell you about four places from four different parts of this country that you can holiday in while the rains are on:-

East: Cooch Behar – West Bengal

Cooch Behar Palace

Cooch Behar Palace

The state of West Bengal has so much more to offer than the oft-hyped hill station of Darjeeling. If you are looking to beat the clutter of Kolkata and the tourist-traps of the Eastern Himalayas, catch a train to Cooch Behar. Before the independence of India, the region was a princely state under the reign of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. This district in North Bengal looks ravishing in the monsoon! Enjoy the idyllic backyard ponds of old brick-houses where Bengali men gather to talk about politics and education while they indulge in fishing – a favourite pastime.

If you appreciate history and architecture, take a tour of the majestic Cooch Behar Palace which was built in the late 19th century. Boasting of Italian Rennaissance design, this mansion draws its inspiration from London’s Buckingham Palace. There is a museum inside that displays photographs of the royal family and records the history of the province. The palace neighbourhood has a sprawling garden with manicured bushes and carefully chosen flowers, some the size of my head. There is also a lake and benches to enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

North: Jibhi – Himachal Pradesh

Jibhi (Courtesy: Natalia Shipkova)

Jibhi (Courtesy: Natalia Shipkova)

Recommendation by Natalia Shipkova – My Trip Hack

“If you want to experience the power of monsoons, Himalaya is the place to be. Since it becomes a popular destination during summers due to the favourable climate, I recommend looking for offbeat destinations there. One of them is Jibhi – a hidden village in Banjar valley. Jibhi is a very calm place with just a few vehicles passing daily. Though it’s a slow travel destination, there are a few interesting activities, especially for adventure seekers. Being situated close to Jalori Pass, it is possible to trek to a lake from there. You can explore authentic Himalayan architecture in the neighbouring villages or hike to a waterfall.

You will find accommodation in Jibhi within 8-15 USD (500-1000 INR) per night. Most of the houses are converted into homestays, though there are also a few camping sites. I recommend staying with a family to experience the Himalayan cuisine, local traditions and get a feel of the village. Note, if you are looking to work remotely, you can get internet connectivity outside of the homes (so seek stays with cute balconies overlooking river 😉 )”

South: Karimnagar – Telangana

Karimnagar (Courtesy: Neeharika Satyavada)

Karimnagar (Courtesy: Neeharika Satyavada)

Recommendation by Neeharika Satyavada – Map In My Pocket

“If you love photography and it is dramatic clouds that you seek, then Karimnagar in Telangana is the place to be. And, even if it isn’t photos you are after, Karimnagar, with its ancient Buddhist ruins, forgotten Hindu temples and striking Islamic forts makes for a beautiful monsoon destination. For instance, the Elgandal Fort whose beautiful Teen Minar – which oscillate when shaken – seemingly piercing the rain clouds, herald your entry to the fort. Even before you can cross the ancient moat and begin your hike up the hill.

Also in Karimnagar are two ancient Hindu stone temples whose ruins, now overrun by nature, make for a setting straight out of Jungle Book. The precariously balanced pillars, the lush green trees everywhere – inside, outside, through the fissures in the walls, make for delightful vistas and the rain clouds only set the scene. Karimnagar is a two and half hours drive from Hyderabad and you can read everything to need to plan your trip to Karimnagar, here.”

West: Mumbai – Maharashtra

Western Ghats (Courtesy: Rashmi & Chalukya)

Western Ghats (Courtesy: Rashmi & Chalukya)

Recommendation by Rashmi & Chalukya – Go Beyond Bounds

“Mumbai is a bustling city, popular for a plenitude of street shopping and street food. It is also the place if you love exploring heritage sites. But very few know that there are ample trekking places in and around Mumbai which are a great respite from the busy life of the capital of Maharashtra. Monsoons are the best time to visit these places when they turn lush green, the mountains peaks are shrouded in mist and covered with innumerable waterfalls by the rainwater – a wonderful sight to behold!

Most of the trekking spots are located close to quaint villages where the villagers have a part of their homes turned into small eateries and homestays, providing an unusual experience. Many other trekking spots are at the ruins of ancient forts and temples. So when you visit them, you get to explore and learn a bit about the history of the state of Maharashtra. These places can be easily reached by the local trains (the suburban railway network of Mumbai). From the station, you have plenty of options, such as autorickshaws and buses to reach the spot. Alternatively, hire a cab all the way to the destination.”

Are you a fan of the rains?

Which is your favourite monsoon destination in India?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂

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