Bengal pictures, Rural Bengal, Bengal countryside

“Romance with the innocent charms of Rural Bengal. Have a lazy morning tea, walk around the local villages, play with children, spend an evening by the rice paddies or tea gardens and end the day with a platter of home cooked fish and rice”

Rajasthan pictures, Rural Rajasthan, Rajasthan countryside

“Hike or Bike. Find your own way around Bundi Countryside and discover the tribes in their natural habitat co-existing with cattle and green pastures. Explore historic rock paintings and erotic temples”

Assam pictures, Rural Assam, Assam countryside

“Across the mightly Brahmaputra lie the origins of Neo-Vaishnavism in India. Spend few weeks with the 40 Vaishnavite sects of Majuli Island

Rajasthan pictures, Rural Rajasthan, Rajasthan countryside, Jodhpur

“Skip Jodhpur, explore the nearby villages. Experience the innocent Smiles from Rajasthan, play with children, have spicy food, sleep under the stars, go for a morning walk and discover an ancient sea bed”

Bhutan pictures, Rural Bhutan, Bhutan countryside

"Drive into a sleepy Last Shangri-La and spend a week with the worlds happiest people, find precariously perched monasteries and soak your feet in the emerald waters of Paro Chhu. Love Bhutan."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I am a Housewife and a Mountaineer

Surrounded by the dim light of an oil lamp, I am sitting in a kitchen looking at how 'Rotis' (Indian breads) are made on firewood. The lady dressed in an Indian sari is telling me stories of how the people in this remote village of Kumaon have taken up community based tourism for economic development. The kitchen cat climbs on my feet and we listen to the story together. The woman says…

“Once upon a time, a couple, one of whom was from Kerala and another from Punjab left their life's luxuries and walked into Munsiari. At that time, no one knew about this village on Indo-Nepalese border beyond which the roads end into Panchchuli mountain range. They chose to live a life without internet, television or phone.”

Stunning view of Panchchuli mountain range from the homestay
“Malika madam came from Punjab and took the position of head of ‘Van Panchayat’ (Village forest council). Over next five years, a community comprising of Kumaoni women called ‘Maati Sangathan’ was formed, the purpose of which is to enhance local governance using our skills like organic farming, bee keeping and weaving from yak wool. It trained women on managing finances and in mountaineering to serve the Rural Tourism prospects.”

To know about the scenic beauty of Munsiari, [Read: Celebrating Holi in Kumaon]

Women of Maati Sangathan | Image Source: www.sruti.org.in
“We created the plans for 'Maati Sangathan' and executed them on the ground. We were educated on how forests, farms, animals, humans and environment co-exist. We were educated on how deforestation results in migration of wild animals into villages and subsequent destruction of farms. We had not thought of our environment in this way before. We joined hands to regulate entry of humans into forests and on cutting wood.”

“Under the homestay program, we were trained to welcome tourists and host them in our homes. We came to know the importance of sanitation, our culture, how to have conversation with travelers, and cooking food that suits all types of visitors. Two decades ago, we were just farmers forgotten by our own government and trying to make our ends meet. Now we are entrepreneurs who know the importance of our skill. We are very thankful to madam. Few women were chosen for training in mountaineering from HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute). Now they take travelers like you on high altitude trekking.”

Organic farm produce | Image Source: www.sruti.org.in
A 80 year old typical Kumaoni house being used as a Homestay
I listen in awe, not realizing that the cat on my feet has not moved an inch as if she is also a part of our conversation. I go to sleep that night excited to meet a village woman next day who will come and take me for trekking.

Next morning, I am ready and a little impatient when someone knocks on the door. I open it to see the lady who cooked for me last night wearing trekking suit and shoes. She looks at me, smiles and says – “Yes, I am a housewife and a Mountaineer.”

video

Introduction video of how the movement started and how it diversified into community based tourism.

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Related Articles
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Celebrating Holi in Kumaon

Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur in Rural Travel @ www.thefolktales.com. As a travel writer, my work is published in The Hindu, Huffington Post, National Geographic Traveler and The Alternative

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Story of 'Time'

A small boy is lying on the marble floor flat on his stomach while his feet are in the air swinging back and forth. He is watching a long queue of ants crawling right beside him towards a crack in the wall. Few ants wander off in another direction but find their way back. Some of the ants are carrying crystals of sugar back to their homes. The rain outside the boy's home has now reduced to a drizzle with remaining drops of water falling from a tree in the courtyard into the puddles of water below creating a distinct splashing sound.

It has been almost two decades since then. This is just one of the ways I used to spend days doing nothing but observing elements of nature and creations of God. I travel a lot and often, I only write about the place. Today, through some of the serendipitous moments I experienced while observing people and living a slow life, I share what I 'Un-Learnt' about Time. (See: How to live a slow life as a traveler)

From a quite corner in Paris
The Story: While sitting in a cafe in Paris for early morning coffee, I saw this woman across the street feeding the birds from her hands. The tiny birds who were hiding in the bushes flew in, picked up the grains from her hands and quickly flew back. Towards my right was the Eiffel Tower with hordes of tourists getting their photos clicked. Somehow I found more pleasure in watching this woman spend time with the birds while the sweet aroma of caramel from my Irish coffee made my eyes a little droopy with happiness.

While watching her, I remember the busy life I have left behind for a week where I have stopped calling anyone sans for a reason. A life where I do not know when I wake up, go to office and work until night. This was the longest vacation I had back in 2008 when, for the first time I started shifting from being a tourist to a traveler.

Photographer: Padma Madipalli
The Story: There are many lesser known temples in the countryside of Bundi (See: Bundi - A Rustic Legacy), Rajasthan that are centuries old. When I found one such place in Bijoliya last year, I saw that for the village children it was a playground where they spent hours swimming together in a fresh water pool in the temple complex that was once probably used by priests. The sun was setting and gentle wind was blowing across the village. The children constantly called me to jump in with them but I chose to sit on a shelf and watch them live their life.

A day before I had done a marathon 500 km drive from Delhi and my basic instincts still asked me to be on the move. I rather chose to switch off my phone that was ringing and watch these children.

White temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand
The Story: It was drizzling when I alighted from the bus in front of the White Temple in Thailand. While everyone rushed to the main entrance to get in, I found this father-daughter duo beside a pool outside watching fishes. The daughter was amused and giggled at every move the fishes did and the father just sat beside her joyful in her happiness. Although I did not understand their language but I stood there watching this girl jump around. The fishes also seemed to experience the love because all of them gathered near her.

Being a city dweller, when I sometimes call up people, I am amused to see the lack of time we have for a conversation. The calendars are usually booked to the brim and conversations are almost always for a reason. Last time when I called a friend for no reason, we actually had nothing to talk about.

Local village life in Cambodia
The Story: While I bicycled around the Angkor Archaeological park in Cambodia (See: Getting around Angkor Archaeological Park), I ventured out into nearby villages deliberately to get away from tourists. I heard squeals of laughter from behind as two bicycles zoomed past me. The girls looked at me, smiled and said something in Khmer that I did not understand. I waved at them which made them even more happy. I also gave them slices of pineapple that I was carrying in my basket.

There was a time when I wanted to tick off every country in this world. However, now I want to spend quality time wherever I go and let's see how many countries I ultimately visit in my lifetime. Now I want to spend time getting close to the people I meet, get to know who they are, their food, languages, customs and hospitality. I believe it is more about the number of people whom you remember and want to be with rather than a checklist. I want to just lie down and see the row of ants crawl back to their home again.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur in Rural Travel @ www.thefolktales.com. As a travel writer, my work is published in The Hindu, Huffington Post, National Geographic Traveler and The Alternative

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Untrekking to Druni Taal

"Please inform your family that you will be out of phone range for the next 4 days with no connection to the outside world", our instructor Yog told us while we loaded our backpacks eager to be trekking through a forest, a moraine and a glacier for the next 5 days.

Moraine: Glacial debris comprising of rock and soil that forms in currently or formerly glaciated regions. ~ Source: Wikipedia

I had been eagerly waiting for this journey for the last one month. It is the first time that I will be camping at high altitude with similar freaks who have come from across India in different shapes and sizes. A three hour bus ride from Pathankot brought us to the Salli village where we have our base camp. I am amazed to see how beautifully the village is setup on the countryside as if someone has painted the huts and step farms of wheat on a canvas.

Rural Travel India
Huts in Salli village - Clicked from the forest
Rural Travel India
Houses were mostly built in a similar fashion making the village even more beautiful
While Delhi is melting under the summer heat, the Dahuladar mountain range overlooking Salli village is covered with snow. A distinct chill always accompanies me while I trek on day one to get myself acclimatized to the altitude and prepare for the main trek.

How to reach Salli: An overnight train from Delhi takes you to Pathankot from where buses run to Salli village every three hours.

Rural Travel Himachal
Base camp in Salli village
Travelling with Junoon Adventures Eco Tours was an amazing experience as we always felt taken care of and like a family. After two days of rest and acclimatization, we head off towards camp one. I am excited to be trekking through a forest. For the first time I came to know that trekking, when done in groups, involves a lot more than walking in uneven terrain and camping in a forest.

We had to be sensitive towards the wildlife, plants and use water judiciously. The backpacks were usually shared by buddies for half an hour each and each one was accountable for the safety of self and that of the people around him. We even collected the waste left over by earlier trekkers so that the trail is left cleaner than before.

Trekking Tip 1: Always swirl small amounts of water in your mouth for about 30 seconds before drinking it. It is an effective way to save water by quenching the thirst with less.

Trekking through the village and into the dense forest ahead
An hour of walk brought us to a clearing. We had left the village and its step farms behind. The wheat farms are now replaced by giant white boulders with the river Khauli flowing below. The weather is quite unpredictable and it has now started raining. We cover ourselves with our ponchos and keep walking towards the forest.

My tired lungs burdened with the smoke of metropolitan I live in dance with pleasure as they take in the cold unadulterated mountain air.

Trekking Tip 2: Carry minimum weight in the backpack and always find a flat surface to place your foot on. It increases the efficiency of walking by almost fifty percent and reduces the strain on calf muscles.

Trekking in Himachal
Leaving the village behind we trekked into the forest
The countryside beyond the forest is formed of meadows for as far as my eyesight can see. We often cross the sheep and goats from nearby villages chewing the grass vigorously while a couple of dogs always guard them from any threat. The shepherds often stay away from homes for weeks grazing their cattle and live in the makeshift stone shelters made all over the meadows. Their dogs guard the cattle at night from bears, hyena and sometimes wolves.

Although the dogs are guardians of the sheep, they come to us with their tail wagging and tongue hanging out. We can't help but pat them on their head which they thoroughly enjoy. I love moving my fingers through their soft and thick fur while they closed their eyes in happiness.

Trekking Tip 3: The wild animals like bear or hyena do not attack humans unless they feel threatened. Do not flash torches or show stick to them

Trekking in Himachal
Makeshift stone shelters for the shepherds in the meadows
Rural Travel Himachal
The sheep and goats from nearby villages
The mountains fill us with an energy that make us walk for great distances on rocky surface without getting tired. We walk on narrow rocky edges with mountain on one side and a deep valley on the other. Far ahead we can see the snow covered mountains and dark clouds over them. Thunderstorms and lightening always thrill me and I am excited to get close to it. As the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds, a gentle mist settles down in the valley making the meadows and coniferous trees look like creations of water color.

The phone signals are long gone and I have also lost track of the day or date. The feeling of being lost in time with no connection to the man made world can only be experienced once you are in it. Birds, rivers, trees, grass under my feet and fresh air are going to be my gadgets for the next couple of days. I don't mind giving up my urban connections for a life in these mountains.

Trekking Tip 4: Do not sit for extended period of time. Take short breaks and keep walking.

Trekking in Himachal
Like an artists creation with water colours on a canvas
After two days of walking and a pit stop in the forest, we reach camp two. The wind has picked up speed so much so that two of our tents were blown away by its force. I lie silently in my sleeping bag and look towards the top of the tent from where a fine beam of light is coming inside. I am getting goosebumps by the way our tent is shaking in the wind. If I close my eyes, my experience would not be less than camping in the arctic. Chattering teeth by the howling glacial wind add to the excitement.

On top of the stomach full of breakfast every morning, we are served finger licking lunch, soup, tea, snacks and then dinner at short intervals. I wonder that by the end of this trek, whether I will loose weight or gain it. It is a bliss rolling frozen fingers around a steaming cup of hot and hour soup with the steam from it gently condensing on my nose tip.

Trekking Tip 5: An alternate to wearing thick and heavy woolens that add to overall body weight is to wear multiple layers of thin cloth. The warm air trapped between the layers keeps the body at apt temperature and the overall body weight light.

Rural travel India
Camp two - The howling winds added to the excitement
Rural Travel India
This cow took a break from eating grass and gave a nice pose for the camera
We are blessed to be travelling away from the hustle and bustle of a tourist hub where we probably wouldn't have gotten space to enjoy what nature has to offer. Living in Salli village and trekking through the forests with no sign of any village or habitation within miles really made us get up close with the nature and take in the experience in its purest form.

Rural Travel in India has recently picked up pace with increasing number of travelers preferring to go off beat and see India in its true colors. The concept of responsible tourism and sense of contributing back to the local place is also picking up especially among the youth. Rural tourism is not only a way to experience the place in its original form but also contribute to the local communities by helping them preserve their culture, religion, art forms, architecture and handicrafts through tourism.

Trekking Tip 6: While trekking on narrow mountain trails, always walk on the mountain side and avoid the valley side. Cattle that graze in the mountains tend to use the valley side.

Rural Travel India
Always walk on the mountains side
We skipped Druni Taal due to adverse weather conditions and headed off to a glacier on the final day before descent. I missed seeing a mountain lake but for the first time walked on a glacier. We slipped, fell, walked on thin ice, slid from the top, and had oodles of fun. The thirst to explore was never ending and even after reaching the glacier my mind wondered what lay beyond them.

The Himalayas are home to many exotic species of birds. One requires immense patience to spot and click them in their various moods. While I preferred to click more of landscapes and human expressions, some amazing photographers in our group captured these beauties.

Source: www.junoonadventure.in
Trekking on glacier
Source: www.junoonadventure.in
Before I started with the trek, a friend told me that the mountains clear up your mind and transforms you from within. Over the last ten days, I have left many fears and inhibitions in the mountains, and indeed, I have come back as a changed man.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur in Rural Travel @ www.thefolktales.com. As a travel writer, my work is published in The Hindu, Huffington Post, National Geographic Traveler and The Alternative

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Secret Travel Wishlist

"I haven't been everywhere, but it is on my list" ~Unknown

It is one of my favorite travel quote because, in rest of the years of my life I wish to travel to every part of this planet. There are however some secret wishlists which I did not share till now and which are worth living for. Like any other Sagittarius I like to dream big, aim for them, and chase them. Today I share with you my secret travel wishlist and summon the energies of this universe to align and manifest these dreams -

1. I want to - Motorbike across the Silk Route: I want to follow the trails followed by ancient travellers but on an Enfield Classic 500cc. I want to drive from India to Eastern Europe following the Silk Route. I want to drive across the central Asian steppes and live with lesser known local communities. There is so less written about the people of Central Asia and Eastern Europe as compared to the more popular destinations. And that is what attracts me to this trail

Across the Silk Route - www.globebusters.com
 2. I want to - Fly a MIG-29: The sound of a fighter jet flying above my house always gave me goose bumps as a child. I wanted to become a fighter pilot which obviously I couldn't. I became a traveller but the dream of experiencing the thrust that a pilot inside a fighter jet experiences was always alive. Eventually I stumbled upon www.migflug.com. I couldn't believe that it is actually possible to fly a MIG-29 without getting an official pilot training. I will soon be doing somersaults inside a fighter jet and flying on the edge of space

MIG-29 Fulcrum
3. I want to - Spend a night under Northern Lights: The night sky emits colors that flow like waves. I sit outside a camp with my partner seeing the nature play with colors on a blank canvas. We watch silently in love with the deep silence of the snow clad Arctic. Camping for a night under the Aurora Borealis is a dream that I always nurtured even before I was aware of the universal laws of attraction. It will soon manifest exactly the way I have always visualized it

Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights of The Arctic
4. I want to - Travel in Trans-Siberian railway: People like bright sunshine but I have always been intrigued by thunderstorms, rains and snow. Across the snow covered plains of Siberia lies a journey that spans Russia from its far east to the west. I look outside the window of my train as the coniferous trees decorated with snow go by occasionally unveiling sleepy little hamlets with the windows of its wooden houses glowing orange. I will get down at such a hamlet that no one has heard of before. I wonder who I will meet

Trans Siberian Railway
5. I want to - Walk in the Tunnel of Love (Ukraine): I have seen many marvels of nature but this one is the most amazing naturally formed by the growth of trees around a train that once passed over these tracks. Situated in Kleven, Ukraine it changes its colors in spring, summers and winters each time looking more stunning than before. I don't know what lies at its end which is even more exciting

Tunnel of Love - Kleven, Ukraine
What are your secret travel wishlists worth living for?


Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur in Rural Travel @ www.thefolktales.com. As a travel writer, my work is published in The Hindu, Huffington Post, National Geographic Traveler and The Alternative

Monday, April 28, 2014

Celebrating Holi in Kumaon

Sitting in the small balcony of my homestay, perched on a plateau, I sip the early morning tea. Raindrops from last night are still dripping from the leaves. In the valley below, the farmers are tilling their step farms of rice and potatoes using cows. As the cows move, the bells around their neck ring creating the only sound that echoes far beyond the valley and into the mountains.

"Bhaiya, aj hum sab pahad pe holi khelnege. Aap bhi aiye" (Today we are all celebrating Holi up in the mountains. Come and join us). My host welcomes  me to join all the villagers for holi as she gets ready to go with her family. I could hear the muffled sound of drums somewhere up in the mountains as if they were preparing for a bigger celebration.

Panchchuli Range Kumaon Rural Travel
Panchchuli Range, Kumaon
A short hike through the village and forest brings me to a clearing where village women, children and a few men have gathered. Two old women sit in the far end of the ground making tea and snacks for everyone over firewood. Smoke is spewing out of the wood in backdrop of  the mighty Himalayas creating a mystic aura and filling the cold mountain air with a pleasant burning fragrance.

Women cooking tea and snacks over firewood
** Holi celebration in Kumaon is a five day fest where the village folk celebrate harvesting and sing songs for Lord Krishna. Holi was brought to this region centuries ago by their ancestors from Mathura, India

While the adults are taking time to loosen up with each other, the children have already become each others best friends. Watching them I think of the days when I did not need a toy or any object to play with. Chasing each other for hours was the best game we could play, occasionally falling flat on the ground only to be picked up by the very person we were chasing.

Children play while the adults sing
 We sit in a circle with children, men and women. I do not know their language and some of them do not know mine. Yet, we are having some of the most amazing conversations through the eyes, hands and facial gestures. The children now begin to play their drums while women get up one by one to dance to the tune. I am not too much of a dancer, yet, the imperfect yet unique sound of the drums make my feet join that of the others in a typical Kumaoni dance.

The imperfect yet unique sound of drums echoed far into the mountains
It took me a while to get my steps in sync with the village folk going round in a circle dancing to the songs sung by village women. I was touched by the sense of community and brotherhood. I miss it in a city where one has to check their schedule to give you time. The day seemed to pass at its own pace while people went with the flow. We were not in a hurry. Neither did we give a time slot to our celebration nor did we plan anything.

We could not stop ourselves from dancing with the village women
On the way back to my homestay, I saw smoke coming out of one kitchen and sounds of laughter from inside. I knew something was cooking. I peeked inside the kitchen to see women cooking sweets. They looked at me, smiled and said, "Come sit with us and have some sweets". I remember those days when people used to gather at my home years ago on Holi to make sweets.

Sweets are made in every home

I have celebrated the best Holi of my life with a community far away from the city I live in. I experience warmth, happiness, laughter, innocence and love.

I would love to know your unique experiences in comments below.

Travel with me on Twitter and Facebook



Gaurav Bhatnagar
Gaurav Bhatnagar
Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur @ www.thefolktales.com

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why it is more fun in Philippines

“What is really Philippines? What is there to see?” I was bombarded with such questions by people when I told them my next destination is Philippines. Quite vulnerable to natural calamities, Philippines is a hidden gem of the Pacific. From the tranquil beaches to archaic colonial towns, from remnants of World War ships to warm hospitality, the country has to offer much more than that. The country consists of over 7,000 islands and it can puzzle you a bit in choosing what to see and what to skip. Traveling within the Philippines is tricky since the islands can be reached either by flight or ferry and if you are on a tight budget, flights can be slightly expensive if not booked in advance.

After a lot of research for my 10 day trip, I strategically chose 3 islands - Bohol, Boracay and Cebu and the capital Manila by default. I sense it as my duty to spread about wonders of Philippines, the country which was recently hit by the worst cyclones ever. Here are five of the things that I believe that you can do in these places that will make your memories of Philippines indelible.

1. Dive with Balicasag Turtles

I regret not taking a waterproof camera with me. If you are in Bohol, scuba diving is a must activity. People say the island offers the best sea life in the country because of rare Balicasag turtles. Experienced Divers travel all the way to spot this magnificent species of turtles that is found only in Bohol. The dive can be booked easily with any of the diving centers on Panglao beach. Bargain doesn’t really work here, but you can choose the one that claims to take you to far away location in the sea where there are good chances of spotting Balicasag turtles. I chose my dive with the Seaquest Diving Center and it was pretty good.

Balicasag Turtle [Photo Credit: U-Dive]
2. Relax on the picturesque Virgin Island

By far the best island I have ever been to. You’ll know the significance of the name once you’ll reach there. The island lives up to its name. The island is a mere a strip of white sand in the middle of the humongous sea where you can forget about the world and be in the lap of nature carefree. It is the perfect place for a destination wedding. The place is away from the mayhem of tourists and offers a relaxing natural spa. Since it is not so deep around this island, you can enjoy wading in the sea. The island gives you ample opportunities to capture the best of landscape.

Virgin Island, Philippines
3. Eat, Drink and Dance with Midgets

Being of short stature myself, it was a delight to see the people shorter than you. The Hobbit House is one of its kind of eating place located at Station 2 near D' Mall on Boracay Island. The best thing about the place is that from its furniture to staff, everything and everybody is diminutive that makes the whole eating experience quite amusing. The staff was super-friendly and served great cocktails. As far as the food goes, I found it pretty decent and priced on par with other restaurants in the vicinity.

The Midgets on Boracay Island
4. Be Drunk and Proud in Boracay

If you are a party animal, Boracay is the place for you. The island has a number of clubs where the party never stops such as Summer Place, Juice Bar, Epic and Area 51. One such place where you can get drunk and famous is Cocomangas. Located at Station 1, the club is famous for its upbeat music and gimmick “still standing after 15". If you are still standing tall after combination of different liquor and spirit, you get a number for your country, a Cocomangas T-shirt and your name gets engraved on the club's Hall of Fame.

5. Get dirty on Burgos Street in Makati

Have you ever seen a red light area right in the middle of the posh area of the city? Experience P. Burgos Street, the prime red light area of Makati City (a part of Metro Manila) that is strategically located near all swanky hotels. For once I confused the neon light hoardings to any other Southeast Asian cities, but the raunchy names and signs on the boards explains it all which is complimented with half bald expats and a bevy of half-naked girls and lady-boys. If you are too shy being a part of all this, enjoy a drink at Cafe Cubana which is a decent pub with live band. The street has a very vibrant feeling.

Burgos Street [Photo Credit: www.burgosstreet.net]
I am sure this is not it. There are many other exciting things that I could not do in the Philippines, which is definitely a reason to visit it again.


Aditi Mittal

I am into a corporate job as a compulsion to earn money to travel the world. Exposed to traveling in 2010, I have spent a fair amount of time in the UK, Hong Kong, Europe and is now exploring the wonders of Asia. Visit my blog at www.travelzandstories.wordpress.com

Friday, April 4, 2014

Photo Essay - Why I Became a Rural Traveler

"We thought tourist always come in AC taxi, stay in big hotel and eat from restaurant. We thought they from different world. They no show any interest in our village", says my friend Shiva from Sikkim while we eat the steamed dumplings being freshly cooked in the kitchen and served with red chili and cheese sauce.

Many people ask me that why I travel to villages and far flung places never heard of. They secretly wonder if I am crazy. With their constipated look, I know they are not saying it on my face. I wish they knew that I like being called crazy. Here are some snippets from my journeys where conversations happened at leisure, relationships got created and I dared to be lazy. Here are the snippets from the journeys that continue to transform my life:

Northern Thailand

Two years ago, I sold my belongings to travel to Thailand. I am glad I drove to Northern Thailand. I hadn't planned but the place that I booked happened to be in the middle of a rice field. A short early morning walk took me to a vast expanse of poster perfect landscape with yellow mustard throwing a striking contrast.

Rice paddies in Eastern Bengal

Once again, my journey to Chalsa was unplanned. The mountains of northern Bengal were closed and hence I stumbled upon this place. These children kept following me at a distance while I walked around with my camera. There were times when I also used to run around on streets with my friends.

Majuli Island Assam

I had heard of the stories from Majuli Island and always had the curiosity to visit it. The stunning beauty of palm trees and wetlands topped with the welcome I got from my host family made me want to stay longer. The hymns of evening prayers that came from every Neo Vaishnavite monastery on the island still echo in my ears.

Holi in Kumaon Uttarakhand
I celebrated the best holi of my life with the Kumaoni community in Uttarakhand. The women had gathered in the forest to cook food, sing holi songs, and dance. Children did not have any fancy toys but they were very happy playing with whatever they could get hold of. I experienced a strong sense of community where everyone had time for everyone else.

With village children in Salawas Rajasthan

While I was watching the camels chew the food slowly in the barren yet colourful countryside of Rajasthan, these children appeared out of nowhere. Being a city dweller, I was taken aback and did not know how to react. Then I just went with the flow. After all I do not have to know everything.

Travelling to villages has given me an opportunity to live with different communities and know them in their purest forms. It has grown the gratitude in my heart for who I am and for humanity. I may live in a city and also travel to them, but I will always be a villager by heart. Or should I say 'Urban Villager'?

Do you also have some unique experiences? I would love to know them in comments below.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar
Gaurav Bhatnagar
Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur @ www.thefolktales.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Networking for Bloggers

Getting off the laptop and going out there to actually get connected to people is quintessential for a blogger. This was a fact that I realized after one year of blogging. I put aside my laptop, ditched Google for a while and went out to meet new people. I did not know what I will do or say once I meet them.

Networking is a frequently discussed topic and a challenge for some until they actually dive into it. Recently I attended the Indibogger meet in Delhi where bloggers from varied niches had come. Although I have attended many meets like these, still the demons cropped up and said - "What am I going to do here?" I have put down some tips here for those who are attacked by similar demons:

1. Go with the flow: Don't take the meets too seriously and walk around with a worried face trying TO GET something or meet a target you set for yourself. People will sense and run away from you. These meetups are meant to break the ice and have fun. A small talk between two bloggers may seem useless, but it breaks the ice. This brings me to the next point of "being interested"

2. Be interested in others: Most people are there to tell people about themselves. They want others to know who they are and what they do. Here is what I have to say - "People are NOT interested in who you are". At least not if you keep on blowing your own trumpet

Most people try to "be interesting" rather than "being interested". It is about forming relationships after all. You do not sell yourself and crack a business deal in a conference itself. You form a relationship with the right people with whom you may find a common purpose in future. Listen to what they say and know who they really are as a person

Networking for Travel Writers
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3Choose few over many: Often times I am tempted to meet and speak to everyone out there. After all some might be my role models. However, I have seen that in the attempt to speak to everyone and make connections everywhere, I do not give quality time with anyone of them

I might end up doing lot of conversations, but I will not come back having formed relationships with people whom I will remember

4. Carry business cards: I have met people whom I wanted to stay in touch with and know more about what they do. We spoke for a while and really got interested in each others work. But when I asked for a business card, here is what they said - "Oh Sorry. I am still getting one designed. Can I write it on a piece of paper?" I do not walk around carrying pieces of paper and neither do they

It is also considered unprofessional to not carry a business card or not offer yours when you ask for one. Be sure to carry a sufficient supply of well designed business cards that truly reflect who you are

5. Dress according to the occasion: Someone once said to me - "Who you are is how you dress up". I once saw a person walk into a meet with a polka dot shirt and blue knickers. In the world of travel writers, we do not expect someone to wear a Tuxedo. But, a casual, warm and welcoming attire would be good. This person got a lot of attention and he seemed to be spending good time with people. I wish he went beyond becoming an object of entertainment

Uh! I just realized. Was it an attention grabbing strategy to dress up like that?

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Gaurav Bhatnagar
Gaurav Bhatnagar
Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur @ www.thefolktales.com