Beautiful Monsoon Destinations In Asia

Now that monsoon is in full swing in my part of the world, I’ve been thinking of exploring places other than my city (Mumbai). A few days back, I had asked my travel blogger friends for some holiday suggestions in Asia, and they’ve sent me some amazing locations that I hope to explore someday. So, here is the list of beautiful monsoon destinations in Asia as recommended by seasoned travellers around the globe:-

Cherrapunji – Meghalaya

Cherrapunjee (Courtesy: Punita Malhotra)

Cherrapunjee (Courtesy: Punita Malhotra)

Recommendation by Punita Malhotra – 100 Cobbled Roads

“Meghalaya (abode of the clouds), a state of North Eastern India is famed and adored for its ‘all-the-time, anytime’ cloud cover. It is an experience in itself to soak up the full glory of the wettest place on earth at any time of the year in Cherrapunji (‘land of oranges’), also called Sohra. Monsoon is even more special if you’re ready to blend in with the weather. Think little villages, fertile farmlands, tin-roofed houses, vibrant wildflowers, grazing farm animals, and sarong-clad Khasi women.

Redefine your idea of green with the picturesque vision of lush meadows cloaked in a thick cover of mist. Just drive, drive and drive more till you can see nothing but green when you shut your eyelids. Indulge in a walk with the clouds caressing your cheeks. Witness the wonder of Nohkalikai Falls, India’s tallest plunge waterfall, dropping from a sheer cliff 1115 feet and foaming softly into a clear turquoise pool. Come back inspired and refreshed.” Read the full post here.

Udawalawe National Park – Sri Lanka

Safari in Sri Lanka (Courtesy: Eileen Cotter Wright)

Safari in Sri Lanka (Courtesy: Eileen Cotter Wright)

Recommendation by Eileen Cotter Wright – Pure Wander

“Animals love water – so what better time to spot Sri Lanka’s wildlife than during the monsoon season? In Udawalawe National Park, visitors have the opportunity to take jeep tours along dirt roads in search of protected Asian elephants. Hundreds roam this land, so you have a great chance of spotting them by the side of the road and in the wading ponds. There are plenty of other creatures who call this park home too, such as water buffalo, leopards, deer and countless colourful birds.

Do be mindful in the monsoon season though, flash floods and heavy rains can happen quickly. We got stuck in a downpour and also had to force the jeep to get to safety. Water levels rose and our guide joked we wouldn’t be out-of-range for the crocodiles. (I hope he was kidding!) But the local guides expertly navigate the rains so we felt safe. It was the highlight of our trip to Sri Lanka.”

Annapurna Circuit – Nepal

Annapurna Circuit (Courtesy: Zheng Yen Ang)

Annapurna Circuit (Courtesy: Zheng Yen Ang)

Recommendation by Zheng Yen Ang – Swing Abroad

“I guess a lot of people have been warned against trekking in the monsoon season due to unpredictable weather and disasters. Yep, I can’t deny that trekking the Annapurna Circuit during the monsoon is dangerous, but it’s also one of the best things I’ve ever done! What makes it so special anyway? Well, first of all, Annapurna Circuit traverses through some magical places which fall in rain shadow. That means almost the whole trek is protected against rain in the daytime. During my 14-day trek there, it only rained the first two days. It poured almost every midnight, for your information.

Secondly, crowds are never seen due to the unpopularity of trekking in monsoon. Most of the teahouses are unoccupied, and they will compete for any trekkers passing by. The best thing? They offer free stay as long as you dine in their hostel for dinner and have breakfast the next day! Some might need negotiations. If you’ve never tried trekking in the rainy season, try Annapurna Circuit. And only that! Most of the other treks are not in rain shadow, so they’re not protected against the rain clouds. Check out my article for more info – Trekking Annapurna Circuit in Monsoon Season: Good Idea or Not?

Koh Kood – Thailand

Koh Kood (Courtesy: The Lost Passport)

Koh Kood (Courtesy: The Lost Passport)

Recommendation by Josh Shephard – The Lost Passport

“Thailand’s monsoon season goes from July to October. While places like Bangkok experience flash flooding and chaotic traffic, islands such as Koh Kood are quite the opposite. Koh Kood is already an off the beaten track destination with only a handful of tourists in the high season. However come here in the monsoon season and you’ll just about have the island to yourself.

The mornings are hot and humid, perfect weather to go for a dip in the cool clear water surrounding the island, or hang out on the rope swings along the beach. As the heavy rain comes down in the afternoon, the island will transform into a beautiful rainforest setting. The rain is typically warm, so rather than hiding, you can just stand outside and enjoy a shower in nature, the way things should be. Koh Kood is a beautiful island all year round, but even more amazing during the monsoon season. The only tricky part is getting there, as some ferry services stop running.”

Hong Kong

Hongkong Skyline (Courtesy: Clemens Sehi)

Hongkong Skyline (Courtesy: Clemens Sehi)

Recommendation by Clemens Sehi – Travellers Archive

“Start of the monsoon season in Hong Kong is in May. However, that isn’t the worst time to be there. On the contrary, it might be a good idea to avoid the summer season when it can get really hot, humid and have bad rainfall. Hong Kong has a wealth of amazing things to do on rainy days, and staying indoors can be just as entertaining as exploring the islands.

Indulge in an afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hong Kong, go shopping in the huge malls, check out the galleries and boutiques at PMQ (the former Police Married Quarters of the Hollywood Road Police Force), take the Star Ferry between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and enjoy the view from Victoria Peak. Why? Because the most interesting part of the monsoon season in Hong Kong is the skyline that often disappears in the clouds with a somehow mysterious effect!”

Sen Monorom – Cambodia

Sen Monorom, Cambodia (Courtesy: Danny Newman)

Sen Monorom, Cambodia (Courtesy: Danny Newman)

Recommendation by Danny Newman – Coddiwomp

“When I think of beautiful Asian monsoons, I immediately travel back to my time in Sen Monorom, Cambodia. I went to this incredible country for a month last year with my girlfriend and, unbeknownst to us, we’d booked our trip in the heart of the rainy season, between August and September. Frankly, it didn’t much matter that the weather was wetter than we’d planned for! The country remained as accessible and superbly beautiful as it would have in the dry season, just with fewer tourists and a cooler climate. Having said that, the rain was something else- a true sight to behold. I’ve been in other Asian countries in the wet season, but I don’t recall rain falling the way it did in Cambodia. It fell relentlessly at times, bucket loads; raindrops the size of stones falling ceaselessly for considerable periods. Rivers rose and roads flooded. It was remarkable.

We got particularly wet in Sen Monorom- a town in the wild east of the country. Brave or stupid, we booked an overnight jungle trek there. Needless to say, we got wet. It started raining in the early afternoon and just did not stop. For hours it fell, soaking us to the core. But there was magic to it. Deep in the jungle, surrounded by nature- immersed in it, even- it felt utterly unlike home; totally and completely removed from normality. It was intense, fresh, wonderful and novel; a unique experience on the other side of the world. And isn’t that why we travel? To be displaced and removed, physically and mentally, from the confines of home? For me it is. And this beautiful monsoon made it happen.”

Sabah – Malaysia

Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (Courtesy: Karen Alexis)

Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (Courtesy: Karen Alexis)

Recommendation by Karen Alexis – Wanderlustingk

“If you’re interested in seeing wildlife IN THE WILD, you must visit Sabah, Malaysia. I visited Borneo in December and January. I was nervous that the rainy season would mean that it was downpouring all the time, but there was enough good weather that the rain didn’t interfere much with our plans. It’s low season during the monsoon, so if you dream of seeing wild primates in Borneo, you’ll find affordable rates for resorts that will take you out on wildlife safaris. If you’re lucky, you might even spot wild pygmy elephants!

Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of being a National Geographic Explorer in Borneo, and going in the rains made all my dreams come true, especially after I saw three wild orangutans as well as countless monkeys in the rainforest near the Kinabatangan river valley. It was a dream come true, so be sure to visit Malaysian Borneo!”

Have you been to any of these places in the monsoon?

Know other destinations that look beautiful in the rains?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂

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Precious Jewels From Around The World

Every time I step out of my house, whether to explore a new country or a new place within my land, I mostly think about what my eyes can see. And, most of that is above the ground – the buildings and monuments, the streets, the mountains and valleys, the lakes and rivers, the trees, animals and the culture of the locals, and then, the sky. What I often overlook is what lies under the earth. I am not talking about tubers or roots or the exotic dishes that are made of those, but what lies further below – several feet under, formed by immense heat and pressure – precious stones.

Austria – Emerald Waters And Emerald Rings

The beautiful country of Austria is also a major producer of emerald.

The beautiful country of Austria is also a major producer of emerald.

When I went solo to Salzburg a couple of years ago, I was busy admiring the lovelock bridge that spans River Salzach, connecting the modern world full of gardens and courtyards to the Old Town paved with cobblestones. I gazed at the lime green grass carpeting the banks on either side of the emerald river and longed to hike on the moss-covered hills in the backdrop. But not once did I think about Austria’s prominence as an emerald producer and exporter to the world. Even my journeys back home yielded similar results…

Diamonds In Golconda?

Golconda (Hyderabad) is popular not only for its fort but also for diamond mining and trading.

Golconda (Hyderabad) is popular not only for its fort but also for diamond mining and trading.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have visited Hyderabad – both when it was a part of Andhra Pradesh and after it became Telangana’s. I have even climbed all of the steps that lead to Golconda Fort, and spent a lot of money buying Hyderabadi pearls. It is only now that I see Golconda differently after my mum inquires why I never brought back any diamonds from this place that has one of the world’s most famous diamond mines.

“Czeching” Out Garnet

Czech Republic might be famous for Kafka, but it stores some of the world's best garnet, topaz and opal.

Czech Republic might be famous for Kafka, but it stores some of the world’s best garnet, topaz and opal.

3 years ago, I was exploring central Europe, and my journey had brought me to Prague – the capital of Czech Republic. Over days of checking out the most vibrant Old Town, its cathedrals, sailing over the Vltava river, being surprised over Kafka’s fame and buying copper rings, I discovered Czechia is also popular for its gemstones such as garnet, topaz and opal. But I asked myself how far and wide I’d have to travel to collect beautiful stones from different parts of the world. Could I not get all such precious stones from the comfort of my home? Would expensive gemstones always be too expensive for me to own? I’ve recently found an answer to my quest:-

Jewel On Fire – Gemstone Jewellery In Your Budget

Did you know Germany's Alps could have gemstones such as beryl, topaz and emeralds under them?

Did you know Germany’s Alps could have gemstones such as beryl, topaz and emeralds under them?

I came across the online jewellery store Jewel On Fire which lets you buy precious stone ornaments priced up to 90% lower than their retail cost. This is possible only because they cut out the middlemen and source jewellery directly from jewellery craftsmen and manufacturers. And their online presence means you can shop without having to spend a bomb on travel. They have a splendid collection of low-cost genuine diamond jewellery and those of other precious stones. I have a sweeter information for you! When you use my promo code “OINDRILADE” to make a purchase on their site, you get an additional discount on their already amazingly priced items! 🙂

Won’t You Travel Differently Now?

It's not only Sri Lanka's lakes that are associated with aquamarine!

It’s not only Sri Lanka’s lakes that are associated with aquamarine!

When I told my mum about this, she was elated. She won’t have to worry about lugging heavy jewellery back from her trips now. And travel would only be about the sights and experiences, not the expenses associated with shopping of gemstones. I will again be able to visit Germany for its castles, and not think about beryl or topaz or emerald. I will again be able to enjoy the forests and lakes of Sri Lanka without hunting for good quality yet affordable aquamarine. “Aquamarine” would only make me think of the water bodies again, and not the stone on my ring finger.

Still, You Should Know…

Hungary's creamy white skies know that that this country has a lot of creamy opal stones as well.

Hungary’s creamy white skies know that that this country has a lot of creamy opal stones as well.

Even though you will mostly shop online, lounging in your sofa, it helps to know a little more about the things you buy. It is the stories behind each earring, pendant and bracelet that makes the gemstones more precious!

Do you ever wonder where each of your jewels come from?

Write your comments below! 🙂

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Preserving Your Travel Memories on Travelibro

I was looking back at all of the trips I did last year, and I realized I couldn’t even recall a few! On an average, I had been on at least one trip a month in 2015. If I struggled to remember 12 destinations, I would certainly find it it a task to remember 12 times the-number-of-years-I-live (assumiing I keep up my pace of travel for the rest of my life 😉 ).

As I flipped through my Poland album (see What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay), I was suddenly gripped by the fear that I would someday forget all about those wonderful moments I spent there.

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

I knew there were myriad ways I could store all the pictures, but I wanted to keep a trace of the path I took at every place I went. That is when I stumbled upon Travelibro. This site showed me (and quite literally with its video and user-friendly prompts) how I could preserve some practical bits of my trips so I would never have to worry about forgetting anything.

My travel map on Travelibro

My travel map on Travelibro

After I created my account on the website, I could colour the world map with all the places I have already seen (and also pick those on my bucket list). I quickly filled up the list of countries as I went through one photo album after another, remembering my moments in every place I have been.

I stopped at Colombo (see First Impressions of Sri Lanka), and longed to plan another trip there.

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Travelibro created a neat little travel tracker for me with the flags of the countries on a timeline. I have only been to 10 countries so far, and that makes me a “globe trotter” already on the site. 🙂

Tracking countries on a timeline

Tracking countries on a timeline

After I marked my countries, I got to the task of documenting my trips. I started with Latvia (see The Romance of Riga). The process of creating an itinerary is very simple on Travelibro – you pick your country, the cities you have been to, the dates of travel, the type of trip (adventure, budget, romantic, etc.), the places you stayed at, the restaurants you ate at and the activities you recommend. Most of these have preloaded options to guide you. You can then start telling your stories (by each city/town/village) and create a day-by-day plan. You obviously get to upload pictures with captions and finally select the cost of your trip before you publish it for the world to see.

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

I currently have most of my recent foreign itineraries up on Travelibro. Do visit my profile – It will be fun swapping itineraries and taking travel tips from the growing community of travellers and travel bloggers on the site!

For those who prefer flash-packing, do check out their On-The-Go app feature. It lets you create shared timelines with your travel buddies on the fly with simple things such as check-ins, photo uploads and status updates.

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

I understand that many travellers prefer to have their hands held through the tedious process of preparing for a trip (think booking flights, hotels, planning the itinerary etc.). I have also gone through moments when I wished I could outsource the boring stuff to an agent, especially when I was planning a trip to Lithuania (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) – applying for a visa was a real hassle! If you like to relax while someone else plans your trip for you, Travelibro has something that will make you smile! You can choose from a collection of travel agents to bear your headache for you.

While I was running through Vingis Park - the largest park in Vilnius

While I was running through Vingis Park – the largest park in Vilnius

Of course, there are many of us who truly enjoy the task of planning every bit of our trip. (And I belong to this group.) Travelibro lets you search for itineraries (created by real people who have actually undertaken those trips) by destination and type (luxury, business, roadtrip, etc.), so you can look for some inspiration. Do read their blog posts for useful tips!

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

The site also interfaces with Skyscanner for flight search and Homestay for accommodation search. Now, you can’t even blame laziness for not taking that long-pending trip! 😀

We are never the same people when we travel. It changes us in beautiful ways. If you ever forget how fulfilled you felt when you just returned from a trip, you will thank yourself for storing your memories on Travelibro.

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

I read my own itinerary for Czech Republic a while back and remembered I haven’t written about it on this blog yet. Now, I know I won’t have to wrack my brains to recollect all my experiences there.

How do you record your travel memories? Let me know by commenting below!

First Impressions of Sri Lanka

A light post-rain breeze and the smiling face of my Sri Lankan driver greeted me at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. I was on a short trip to the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ in the lucky month of August. It was that time of the year when the monsoon pauses for a bit and lets this island country enjoy some good winds.

I was excited to be on yet another foreign trip, and a little confused to see how “Indian” most things looked. The people, for instance, look exactly like those in my country and I found it very hard to stop myself from breaking into some Hindi when I spoke with them. The locals would give me a blank expression every time I absentmindedly asked them something in Hindi, and I would have to switch to English again. Sinhalese and Tamil are the other two widely spoken tongues here.

Palm Trees and Forests 

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

I had a very stereotypical view of Ceylon. I imagined the land to be full of trees and elephants, with tea gardens and beaches interspersed in the landscape. That was obviously very myopic of me. I did find an array of palm trees and dense forest cover in certain areas which made me feel good about how green this country is. But I also discovered the industrialized side of Sri Lanka.

Colombo’s streets are full of fancy and vintage cars. You will spot the classic Rolls Royce and an electric Tesla in the same parking lot. If you notice a stretch limo easing past the traffic on one lane, you will see a cute BMW Mini on the other. I gasped at the flurry of glamorous and powerful cars on the main roads. It felt as if I was in the States or some such place. I shouldn’t have been surprised, for Sri Lanka ranks high on the Human Development Index.

Diversity in Life and Way of Living

Paintings by a local artist which succinctly summarize the essence of Sri Lanka

Paintings by a local artist which succinctly summarize the essence of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is territorially small, but has a huge variety of flora and fauna. I went there in search of elephants, but I found more animals, and even more exotic birds. The tropical climate of this nation supports the existence of diverse life forms.

Diversity here, is not limited to life though, but transcends to the culture of the Sri Lankans. Ethnic and modern styles coexist in this land. Women wear traditional cotton skirts and also designer dresses. Sri Lanka has an extensive textile industry. If you look into your wardrobe and read the labels, you will certainly find a couple of clothes with the ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ tag. Elegant tunics can be bought for a fraction of the price quoted in other countries.

Tranquility and Tolerance

Buddha statues adorn the premise of the Gangarama Temple in Colombo

Buddha statues adorn the premise of the Gangarama Temple in Colombo

Multiple religions are followed in Sri Lanka, yet Buddhism stands out through its magnificent monasteries and shrines. Many of the island’s temples are distinct in the fact that they are surrounded by water. The afternoon temperatures can soar to an uncomfortable level at times, but the temple complexes remain cool due to their unique architecture and proximity to water – the natural temperature regulator.

Where Tooth is Treasure

Sri Dalada Maligawa - a royal palace complex in Kandy

Sri Dalada Maligawa – a royal palace complex in Kandy

There is a popular legend in Lanka – when Gautam Buddha was cremated hundreds of years ago, his left canine was removed by one of his disciples. The tooth changed many hands over the years, mostly staying in the possession of kings and warriors. The same tooth is protected in the ‘Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic’ or ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa‘, inside the royal Kandy palace which is now a World Heritage Site.

No Glass Ceilings in Architecture

Timber is conspicuous in its presence in almost everything you see - roof, pillars, and more.

Timber is conspicuous in its presence in almost everything you see – roofs, pillars, and more.

Throughout my trip, I did not come across skyscrapers or too many tall buildings. The area I stayed in was a cul-de-sac of beautiful double storey houses with two entrances and spacious rooms. There was always a small garden or a string of pots charmingly hung from the roof. People in Colombo generally have large parking areas for the multiple cars they possess.

I noticed in Kandy the liberal use of timber in roofing. The rustic yet grand structures I saw in the Central Province told me that the Lankans like to stay close to their roots.

Calls of Nature

Spot Billed Pelican - exotic and endangered

Spot Billed Pelican – exotic and two places short of endangered

I thought Sri Lanka was very polite in how little noise they made. You will find crowded places relatively noiseless and streets largely free of honking. This always comes as a relief for someone travelling from India, where you could almost get used to all the noise.

If you listen carefully though, you will hear unfamiliar sounds. At Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, I heard the big animal’s trumpet. As I crossed the bridge of the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo, I heard the echoing squawks of pelicans. In the Beira Lake, I saw a scoop of spot billed pelicans washing their plumage in the green water. I later found out that this specie is near threatened. The island is still very lucky to enjoy a tropical climate which nurtures so many rare species of plants and animals.

Birds of Another Kind

Kites fly in the burning sky

Kites fly in the burning sky

When I went to the Galle Face Beach to watch the sunset, what I saw in the skies were man made birds – kites. A mishmash of coloured rhombuses with long trails of bow-tied tails fluttered in the evening sky. They always tell you the Sri Lankan beaches are beautiful. What they don’t tell you is how surreally splendid the sunsets on those beaches can be. Sun can be an ace painter when it washes the sky in hues of warm yellow to fiery orange. The presence of clouds and the reflection of blue waters can sometimes lend the sky a soothing violet tone also.

Mornings in the Mountains

Kandy is crowned by hills

Kandy is crowned by hills

Ceylon surprised me everyday. One night I would dream of the gorgeous sunset at the beach, the next morning, I would wake up in the hills! Kandy was much cooler than Colombo as it sat on a plateau with a crown of hills locking in the cold. Whether I was in the plains or in the hills, the lakes and the lush green foliage was everywhere. It is no wonder then that the air is crisp and clean – just how I like it. 🙂

Spicy Much?

Kottu - Sri Lanka's spicy quick-meal

Kottu – Sri Lanka’s spicy quick-meal

After the day’s explorations, when you sit down to eat, you will have many dishes to choose from. I, being the true traveller I am, would always only order a local dish. I figured I couldn’t keep up with the Sri Lankan standards though, for the spiciness was a tad too much for me. I wiped my tears through plates of Kottu, jackfruit curry, salty tapioca string hoppers and other spicy things. I did enjoy watalappam (a dessert of coconut custard pudding) though.

Find Sanity in a Renovated Asylum

The Arcade Independence Square glitters in the evening lights

The Arcade Independence Square glitters in the evening lights

When you visit Colombo’s favourite shopping complex – the Arcade Independence Square, you will not realize that more than a century ago, this used to be a lunatic asylum. The building is immaculately white and looks inviting, especially at nights when the fountains come on. Behind the giant windows of the facade, you will find many restaurants and boutique stores. You may not be able to linger here for too long though, for everything closes by 11pm.

*  *  *

Today was a teaser. One of these days, when you revisit my blog, you will find spotlight posts on Colombo, Kandy and more.

What were your thoughts on Sri Lanka before you read mine? If you have travelled to this island nation before, did you discover something I didn’t? I look forward to your comments. 🙂