Wednesday, 10 August 2016


There has been a lot of hullabaloo about solo travel lately and though, I in no way debate here to negate the positivity that solo travelling might bring into your lives, would love to digress tangentially and indulge in some of the experiential learnings that Group Tours bring to the table.
   Those who know me, will tell you that I belong to the cruise lovers club, choosing to cruise whenever and wherever possible with a strong belief that a cruise is a perfect blend of customized vacation and group travel. And so planning a ' Land Only' Eastern Europe Tour, after 6 summers of cruising, didn't come easy to me. We wanted to cover so many things and yet were constrained by time, travel arrangements, food and language barriers. So after much pondering, deliberation and a heap load of anxiety, we finally gave in to the lure of Group Travel. People did scoff and we hesitated and yet somehow, we found ourselves at the doors of a Group Tour Operator.
 Here's why it all worked out in the end ( and why it still doesn't top the charts)....

1. Ease of Planning : You pick a destination and forget the rest. The entire itinerary, to do list, must-sees are worked out for you. You won't have to fret about missing something, all famous sites and popular experiences are offered on the platter. Somehow everything that is there to see or do is made to fit the plan. The programme is designed to be a tourist's dream.

2. Economical : Do I even need to elaborate on this one. No questions asked, group travels win hands down when it comes to cost efficiency. Bulk purchases on tickets, accomodation tie-ups , promotional deals and local insight helps in making such tours economically viable and way cheaper than customized or DIY holidays.

3. Transportation/Transit : Usually a coach accompanies you wherever it can , your luggage safely stowed while you get down for that photo stop between Vienna and Prague (just saying....). A tour guide gives you a low down on the history and culture of your next destination while you sink in the comforts of the plush Volvo seats, headphones come handy in case you are in mood for some music. Somebody could always wake you up before the next stop so don't be nervous about missing the station.

4. To New Friendships : That is only if you want to! Being together for a good 12-16 hours a day does that to people, Man is a social animal after all. Group travel is great for kids and elderly too.Your children will not pester you in relatively dull moments of the trip, by now they have made friends, a lot of friends and they would be sitting some four rows behind you in the coach. Someone else is keeping an eye on them for you of course. The senior citizens are taken care of, given importance and priority, kept entertained and informed. Someone is always ready to help them around if they so require. You are in for some luck because you no longer have to depend on selfies and finally, your friends get to see your entire family lock, stock and barrel in one single frame. There is always someone around who is willing to click you while also holding your bag and bottle and hat....

5. Safety : Venturing alone in unknown territories is sometimes as overwhelming and anxiety inducing as romantic it might  sound. Group travel ensures that you feel safe and confident in strange, foreign lands. It takes you places you might not have picked up the courage to go alone, to head out of the main town and visit a local village. You make friends and then you make plans, you go for a stroll way past midnight in Budapest, not worrying about getting mugged on the streets. That popular nightclub, that beer bike, that sub-urban extravaganza, somehow, become more fun as you throw caution to the wind. You have back!! You know what I mean ;)

6.Language and Food: An all inclusive plan ensures that hunting for food will not be on the list, food barriers will not bog you down, all your time is to relax and enjoy the vistas. So sit back and soak in the spectacles while your stomach is satiated with cajun delights that remind you of home,  yes, I am talking of paranthas and pickle at Lake Titsee while enjoying Bollywood beats that someone has plugged in ever so thoughtfully. You chatter away joyfully in your native language while exchanging notes on the quality of food and other mundane things. Ok, wake up!!, we are somewhere in Europe ( or maybe Japan) , hope you haven't forgotten that amidst the familiar ambience.

   But before you start falling in love with the idea, let me warn you...Ah!! nothing in this world is perfect and alas! group travels fall severely short of being perfect.....

1. Compromise : Well, this more or less is the nutshell. The biggest drawback of group travel- you pick what they give. The dates are defined, the flights are fixed, the itinerary is non-negotiable ( detours will cost you through the nose), the daily schedules are tight and any deviation from the programme is almost unimaginable.

2. Luxury : Pictures don't always paint a true story, nor do Reviews and research, plus the option overload in the accomodation section of the itinerary leaves your head spinning because it could be Hotel A or B or C or Similar. More often that not it is the Similar which in no way is near to what you had expected or imagined or wanted or opted for. You might go for Luxury Plans on the offer but remember, it is their (Operator's) choice versus your choice. Their criteria of luxury might not match your level of expectations ( You have to accept that not even your Husband's perspective comes close). So in most cases be ready to reconcile, resign and settle because seldom can someone meet the standards you have set for yourself. And remember, unless you have shelled out a bomb, you are crossing borders in a coach alongside 40 odd people and it is not your convertible speeding away into the dusk while you sip on the margaritas.

3. Romance : Goes for a toss!!! Group travels are not meant for honeymooners even if this honeymoon marks your 20th wedding anniversary. You will die looking for some alone time, and when maybe you find some, you would be too tired to even fuss about the better half snoring away blissfully. You might still care to hold hands, share a romantic glance, give a little peck on the cheek, amidst onlookers either cheering you or judging you for all that Drama!

4. Time is of Essence:  You realize it more when you are in a Group Tour than when you are at your work desk struggling with deadlines. Group tours should rather be called Expeditions. Your day starts before the restaurants open for breakfast and your day ends, well mostly you are way too tired to remember exactly how it ended. Covering multiple countries also means that most of the time you are packing, unpacking or lugging suitcases. The schedule is so full and the day packed with sundry activities and so, everything seems rushed. You don't usually live the moment, you simply click the moment to savour it later, much later...You don't get to explore, engage, soak in, taste the travel because you are spoonfed, you gulp down everything in the hopes of bringing it back up like the cud chewers.
 You are always on the clock, either waiting for somebody to complete the group attendance or rushing so that no one is kept waiting because of you. You relearn to vie and run for that coveted seat in the coach which has more leg space, that corner table at breakfast or the top deck on the dinner cruise. Group Travel teaches you to adjust and adapt, to be patient and be responsible, to fight for your rights and remember your duties. And what is Travel if not a new learning each time to get up and decide to go away from home.

        The dynamics of Group Travel is perfectly, summed up by Henry David Thoreau -

" The man who goes alone can start today; but who travels with another must wait till that other day...."

So wait another day before you make up that Plan, wait till you are ready to unlearn and learn, wait till you are ready to Wait.

Saturday, 2 May 2015



I am a princess, that flaming yellow and red costume becomes me as I perch atop the marble sill,
peeping out of the tiny window, looking out at the world beyond the formidable walls of my Fort Palace; I am Vaselisa the Beautiful, my thick plait dancing wildly behind me as I amble along the dense silver forests, the carpet of grass spangled with lavender kissing my feet, the snowy white rabbits watching me wide eyed as I daintily pluck some cherry blossoms.


I am a dreamer, I SPIN STORIES. I am a traveller, I weave stories around places I see, destinations I visit, things I look at, people I meet. Road trips do that to me, I watch the world go by as I sit pretty in the cozy comforts of my car, time and again rolling down the windows to feel the wind in my hair, taste the salt on my face, touch the tiny raindrops that patter down, soak in the romance enveloping me, to see the new beyond.

I simply love the spontaneity and flexibility road trips offer. Nothing to do on the weekend? Tired of visiting the malls but hate to stay back and spend the Sunday at home?Your friend is lapping up the sun in Bali while you wait for that eluding increment. Voila! The solution lies in your car keys. You had to leave at 5 in the morning but the sheets refuse to let go of you. Hey, another hour of sleep won’t turn your world upside down, after all there are no planes to catch. You don’t need to plan months in advance, just pack up and go.

I can carry an entire wardrobe with me, three changes for the day, those new boots I so wanted to be clicked in, a silver, a gold and a black clutch, the classic sling and the practical hobo. I would need
my floral tiara too and throwing in some chunky chic accessories won’t hurt either. I might find the
novel, I plan on reading, boring so I better keep the other one along. Just in case.
The polaroid, the digicam,laptop, chargers, adaptors, my neck pillow... The boot of the car survives it all. I even carry my blanket along, you never know...

Road trips give you this feeling that you are in control, that you have the power to set the pace of
your holiday. You can take innumerable pit stops, the excuses can be varied, a washroom break, a photo opportunity, inexplicable hunger pangs or the uncontrollable urge to ask for directions from a
corner kiosk even though the GPS seems to be working just fine. Backseat driving adds a whole new dimension to cruise control.

Road trips have a No Fixed Plans recipe on the menu. I grew up at my grandparental home, visiting the small town my parents lived in, only during school vacations. While going back, away from my parents, I invariably developed (read-’feigned’) some kind of sickness which would help delay my departure by a day or two. Those complimentary days meant the world to me. As do now, the extra unplanned extended stays when you have yet not got your fill, when you are reluctant to leave just yet. One more day, another hour beyond lunch, a minute extra...the luxury of those stolen moments which only a road trip can offer.

Road trips are a time to bond, with family, with friends. Long conversations, those songs that stir up nostalgia, recounting funny old stories, making new memories, there is time for it all.
Journey is the reward. It is a learning process, smooth roads, rough terrain, concrete jungles, bucolic vistas, majestic ruins, off beat trails, a new adventure is always waiting around the corner.The thrill
of finding something new, unexpected, is what keeps you going. Meeting interesting people on the
way, exchanging pleasantries with strangers, reading signboards like “KFC-Kangra Famous Chicken”, waiting patiently as the shepherd navigates his scampering sheep from out of the way, tasting that odd cross between an orange and a sweet lime freshly and stealthily plucked from a roadside orchard, listening to the forest whisper and streams chortle, getting lost only to find something more bewildering, more beautiful. Travel is my Drug. Road trips confirm this theory.

Yet don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t just yet fall in love. The bubble is fragile, my romance has a
few enemies, the ride not without hiccups. The treachery lies in the deplorable condition of the roads, the unrelenting traffic snarls, that obnoxious and continuous honking right in your ear. You are
exhausted even before you begin. The back pain and stiff neck will follow for the longest time.
Finding a clean hygienic restroom, forget that, a restroom, any kind of it, becomes an impossible task once you steer away from the highway. You bide time, holding in and listening to “ I told you so”.
Be prepared to eat at road side stalls, forget all about your jasmine flavoured green tea, endless
cuppas of cutting chai and oil stuffed pakoras await you. Carry your own water in case you are
allergic to “Baislari”. Hand sanitizers, wet wipes, paper soaps, deodrant, mosquito repellant need to urgently replace some of your carefully packed make up in the hand bag.

Finding new routes, going off the beaten tracks, taking the roads less travelled, as paradisiacal as it
sounds in your head, can get a little scary when you actually get lost, the GPS won’t work, the
cell phone signals have dropped to a new low, street lights are alien objects, unheard of in this part of the world and there is no soul in sight. I say my little prayer, silently pledging never ever to be this
adventurous, striking off all dreamy epic road trips lined up on my bucket list.

Next morning, curled up in my hotel room at Palampur, fresh like a dew and stuffing my mouth
with hot syrupy pancakes, I tell my husband, `Let’s try Langsdown in October, maybe’.

                         My bitter sweet relationship with Road Trips continues....


Thursday, 8 January 2015


It Rained That Day In Zurich

When it comes to Switzerland, images of Interlaken and Lucerne flood our vivid minds but on our third trip to the country which technically, was 'just' a flight hop, we, that is, my husband and me, decided to spend a full three days in Zurich. We had it all sorted, planning to travel to the neighbouring touristy cities by train each of these three days while our luggage rested conveniently  at some Airport hotel. It had to be Bern and Montreux, I insisted as I had yet to sight the 'Barengraben' and the 'chateau' de chillon'. My husband meanwhile wanted to revisit all the places we had done before( how romantic, one must think, but turned out tickets to the latter were cheaper). So we had plenty of time in our hands and obviously, covering most of these places seemed very very achievable and we weren't ( when I say we, it is mostly I incase of travel plans and aspirations) the types to waste our precious holiday time in Zurich, the financial capital of Switzerland ( yeah! It sounds boring even in the head), especially after several well wishers had warned us about the drab and the dull Zurich. " There isn't anything to do in Zurich", " Why couldn't you catch a direct train to Lucerne and stay there instead", " Three whole days in Zurich, are you guys crazy"....and yet we didn't listen, were here, brimming with enthusiasm to explore Switzerland, we had smartly chosen a central hub, had no worries of chugging the heavy luggage from place to place and planned to take a new direction from here each day.
But what do you do when you wake up on the first morning in the hotel bed and are faced with the looming possibility of having to spend 24 hours in Zurich, Switzerland, as all roads going up to the mountains are closed due to incessant rains. And however crazy you might have pictured us to be, we weren't stupid enough to burn precious swiss franks in train tickets on such a sloppy wet day.
Well, what do you do when it rains in Zurich?! Actually, you are in for a real treat; grab your umbrellas ( in our case, we bought one from the nearest store which happened to be a kid's shop and tried sharing it!), get a Zurich city pass(ask your hotel for one.) and board the first tram to Zurich Zoo. This gem of a  rainforest themed zoological park hidden in the heart of Zurich will enamour you with its lively ambience and eclectic showcasing of exotic animals and their niches and a superb layout. The cherry on the cake is the Masoala Tropical Rain Forest under a geodesic dome where the entire Madagascar biosphere seems to come alive with the musical cacophony of birds flying around, myriads of buzzing, fluttering insects and chameleons and the likes gracing the giant green trees, not to mention the overgrowth of exotic epiphytes and ivys. The gurgling of a waterfall cascading down in the background and soft raindrops pecking your cheeks from an artificial downpour has a mesmerizing effect. The boardwalk through this paradisiacal jungle is a stimulating, exhilarating experience and removes you far far away from that cold blue rainy day of Zurich. Later, you can take a boat cruise on the Zurich lake and a little dance in the rain at the deserted promenade wouldn't hurt either, trust me I am speaking from experience. It was one of the most romantic days of my life, we wandered aimlessly, rode the free trams and city trains( thanks to the all day Zurich pass), drenched ourselves silly and shared umpteenth cuppas of hot tea.  Tomorrow would be another day!!


Friday, 2 January 2015

Manitoulin-Discovering Thousand Islands Canada

Where the giants walked: discovering the Manitoulin Island :: Lonely Planet India -

Sunday, 14 December 2014


" I live for the Nights I won't remember, with the Friends I will never forget'', and that sums up all that is Ibiza, the 'Ecstasy Island'. The word Nightlife is synonymous with IBIZA. Innumerable songs have been devoted to this emerald Balaeric Island in Spain, the land where electronic music is said to have originated and the land which is a hotbed of wild parties and crazy clubbing. That Ibiza is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a different story altogether.
 Pardon me if I sound a little aloof, somewhat disengaged, describing without being too attached, discount me, because what else would you expect from someone who is a teetotaler, whose husband has two left feet and who would almost always prefer,if given a choice, to grab a lounger and a book rather than those passes to a Rock Concert in the neighbourhood. But then being the traveller I claim to be ( to be honest, I don't mind the tourist tag any longer), Ibiza had long been on my to do list and so here I was, in the Entertainment Capital of the world, husband and my teenage son in tow ( yeah! I know..)
Ibiza is known for the razzmatazz, the glitzy summer clubbing scene, the wild theme parties but there is so much more to see, to discover and experience. It is like being at two different places in one, the contrasts are stark; the Old Town with its cobblestoned pathways, whitewashed villas, quirky boutique stores, the coastline dotted with innumerable sail boats and a handsome spattering of intimate cafes along the promenade, is a delightful glimpse into the Spanish way of life. The formidable ramparts of the moorish castle look magnificient lit up in the night while the cute little lighthouses are picturepostcardusque.

 The streets are filled with makeshift pubs, flyers luring tourists to nightclubs pasted everywhere, be wary of shady salesmen buzzing you constantly with offers of free drinks with club entry tickets. I should now post the first of the warnings- Go only for reputed clubs like Paccha, Amnesia or Privilege to name a few. Most of the action takes place around two hubs- Ibiza Town , Playa d'en Bossa which has a more cosmopolitan vibe and then there is San Antonio catering to the British uber. The tickets cost anywhere from $30 to $90 while a drink would cost around 20$. BEWARE of fake tickets and hideous sales counters and if you have no choice left in the entire universe, only and only then board the Disco Bus which plies through the night. You can save some money by buying tickets online or opting for PreParties showcasing DJs who would be playing later. Boat parties are another fancy way of cutting your losses. Though, the clubs are open seven nights a week and all seven nights feature different themes and music; the party scene begins to heat up only by May and come October  all tourist centres quieten down a little but not before some flashy closing parties make the round.While Privilege is the largest club, Space and Bora-Bora give you the oppurtunity to party even during the day. Paccha is the oldest club and built like a Tunisian temple, the guest list here boasts of Ursula Andreas and the Rolling Stones. Other than these and a handful more of the swish and swanky ones, I wouldn't suggest the dark, sweaty, overcrowded, asphyxiating dungeons to anyone except hardcore partygoers who are already past discerning the discomfort of it all. Some of the good ones don't fail to impress though, with some mind blowing theme nights replete with street performers, costume parades (be prepared for some very naughty costumes or none at all..) and International dance troupes. The parties go on until dawn, I wouldn't be exaggerating if the noon sun greets you through the glass roof.Ibiza is like a 24X7, round the year festival. The guilt free extravaganza of wild beach parties and in your face exuberance, the carnival like spirit draws you like a magnet, leaves you hypnotized. Being a bystander is not a choice, you have to become a part of it else the strangeness of it all will alienate and disengage you, will leave you feeling awkward and unsure.

  For the fainthearted, let me suggest a leisurely stroll through the charming old town, the Dalt Villa or High Town as it is known, or a romantic boat ride exploring the island with its secret smuggler's coves, salt lakes and long curved sandy beaches.

Take a pick from taking a trip to Formentera, another pristine blue gem some forty minutes away by ferry or visiting the Archaelogical Museum and Clock Tower. Or simply watch the sun paint the sky in several hues of pink as it bids farewell for the day. Find a quiet beach for that, we found Talamanca.

But again, if you are going only for soaking in some Island sun or want to walk through the rich Spanish History, check out Mahon or Mallorca instead ( In my head I might be thinking, ''you must be crazy to do that'' but seriously, if you are not a party freak, Ibiza won't mean the same to you). Also, it is a destination to do with friends, probably the only beachy affair where friends out do romance.
  Ibiza is not your run-of-the-mill destination and expectedly needs special travel plans. A short but usually choppy flight from mainland Spain aboard a low cost carrier is how most people arrive, then there is the option of a painful and long 9-10 hour ferry from Barcelona, though,you can choose to cruise aswell like we did.(P.S. Most of the big luxury cruise liners offering Ibiza on the itinerary, stop overnight and so there is no threat to the party frenzy you had always dreamed of, you still get to wake with that nasty hangover, hit the family beach in case you still care and go for that lazy stroll along the esplanade.) For those looking for a luxury stay can check out La Torre Del Canonigo with amazing views of the coastline of port Eivissa aka Ibiza Town. The Ushuaia and Ushuaia Towers offer a more International vibe.

  Go. Because even Nostradamus wanted you to.

P.S. It is believed that Nostradamus predicted that " Ibiza will be Earth's only refuge after Armageddon". And his prophecy had nothing to do with Ibiza 'culture' but because of something very scientific like prevailing wind patterns.

Friday, 14 March 2014


 When not working, which is more often that not, I spend time deciding where to travel next and to be true most of my efforts in recent past have been limited to finding the next cruise vacation. When most travellers would agree that there exists no such thing as a wholesome family holiday with the scales almost always tipping to one side, with you getting your decade's quota of popcorn in one Disneyland theme park visit or your kids finding themselves in the lap of an 'as strange as foreign' babysitter while you try to make a rush for that hip nightclub; the cruise lover in me would beg to differ. Pick a good reputed cruise liner and sit back to enjoy the loony, the noisy, the sultry, the seductive; from hip and happening to laid back and chillaxed experience of the Travelling Hotel, as I prefer to call it.

No hassle of working the luggage from place to place, no worry of arranging local transfers, a new destination each day and thrilling activities to keep the night young; throw in a selection of land excursions, onboard activities, extensive menu and endless shopping oppurtunities- the perfect recipe for a blockbuster holiday is for you to savour!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Most cruise liners nowadays give you great offers and believe you me, if you have the time to visit the online site every other day, the deals are a steal, especially a month or so before the cruise dates, prices also vary according to the cruising dates. Me and my husband, now that we consider ourselves no less than cruise pros ( just 4-5 cruise voyages young) , even choose our cruise destination as per the bargain offered ; bartering our Scandinavian dream for an Alaskan adventure if the 'situation' so demands, for, once you have delved deep in the life and style of a cruiser, there is no looking back and shifting the destination seems no big a compromise. From rooms with a view,dramatic public spaces, custom crafted accents, and an effusive welcome all over the place to gigs, art auctions, scintillating performances, deep blue pools, jacuzzi and lounges and lavish buffet spread; you are spoilt for choice.

All the elements of a blissful holiday come together in perfect symphony; the atmosphere, the romance; days spent sauntering through the exotic locales the cruise docks at, evenings spent on dock sipping a drink as sunset scatters languid, lemony light over the bay and finally, unwinding under starry nights or maybe, if you are a night owl- in a swank bar onboard with melody and martinis filling you up. Life is a beach when you choose to cruise, dawdling around ancient civilizations,bizzare skyscrapers, serene islands and rustic countryside;phones off the hook,  going caving, snorkelling, getting up close to sea creatures, riding cheap trams and HOHO buses to your heart's content, ogling at vintage collectibles at chic stores or just getting a taste of local cuisine and craft and clicking numerous selfies before returning to the thrilling exciting flamboyant life of stellar casinos, swank bars and crazy parties onboard.

You can take a pick from the exotic Greek odysseys, Spanish escapes, crazy Caribbean beaches, exotic Norwegian Fjords, Magnificent Alaskan glaciers to spectacular Scottish destinations; nowadays there are Hobby Cruises on the platter too, what with an exclusive Knitting cruise, Exploring Nova for the self confessed geeks and intellectuals and a Culinary Wine and Delights cruise for the foodie in you. A cruise ship is not just another mode of transport , its another life, another world - A dream world which leaves that unique flavour of content contrasting with the lingering greed for another taste.

P.S. While cruise is a great way to take a holiday, combining a land tour with it seems a better option. We mostly take 2-3 days extra at the port of disembarkation and sometimes a stretch at the hop destination if the flight is via a new country. Some of the countries are better covered by cruise, like Greece while others like Spain would need a more exhaustive itinerary.

'Cruise Tours', which are a combination of land stays and cruise customised by the cruise companies, are a waste of time and money and totally avoidable while Shore excursions which are optional should be purchased once onboard. Sometimes you get a better deal onboard, at other times you discover that the shore excursion you opted for is meaningless or maybe not interesting enough. Then there could be those who would find other ways and means to explore the destinations in a cheaper and more personalised way.

Cruise life is big and extravagant but talk about the cabins.....your bath back home could well be bigger than the entire stateroom. So consider this. as you have to spend the rest of the week or two in structures similar to portacabins( ok! that's bit of an overstretching of facts but umm!). I suggest take a short 2-3 day sampler cruise before you get more adventurous and embark on a longer voyage.

At times the ship doesn't dock at the shore but is tendered, they take you to land by tender boats which is quite acceptable, though, the days when the docking shore is way away from the main city and they charge a mandatory transfer fee for that- that's when the whining starts and rightly so.

Packing light is not an option; one because you can't and second because there are formal evenings and 'Portrait Days' where you need to strut your stuff. So from crazy beach wear, breezy lounge wear to elegant evening dresses - you need them all. Don't forget  bold accessories, heirloom jewellery( champagne art auctions and you wanna go in Tees, huh!!), sandals and the works. All I can suggest is to pack nothing much for the poor husband, he is poor anyways!!. They have Tuxedos on rent but ask the rent and you can live in Hawaii for a year with that kind of money.

Before booking your next cruise trip, do a thorough research because the recent reports of Norovirus outbreak in 3 cruise liners do disturb a little. The problem though, has been only reported from the Caribbean circuit.