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, December 25, 2014

Gandria Village - Poetry from Switzerland

Resting lovingly at the foot of steep Alpine slopes, Lake Lugano straddles both Switzerland and Italy. Entwined in the combination of shimmering deep blue waters and green mountains, the long winding shoreline is sprinkled with charming, quaint little villages and hamlets. From the lake which is perfect for leisurely boat rides and lazy hikes, it seems like a child has painted his colourful dream on a blank canvas. 

From Lugano, we head for Gandria by boat – a ride which takes a circular route along Lake Lugano. Approaching Gandria, we see the scenic, colorful little village at a distance with a dense cluster of charming old houses perched precariously along the incline of Monte Brè. The buildings are painted in white / cream and in warm shades of peach, burnt pink, red, chrome yellow and terracotta. It presents a splendid contrast to the aquamarine blue waters, the azure blue skies and the lush green mountains. We feel giddiness in our feet and love gently wring our heart.

We get off from our boat at the dock – a small wooden landing stage above the water. To our back is the vast expanse of the magnificent lake fringed by the mountains, and to our front is a steep rise of very closely spaced, small colorful houses with cozy balconies from which spring flowers hang in profusion. We stand among rustic buildings, perched on steep and narrow terraces. From the landing, we climb up the flight of steps towards the left and then turn left again, into a long alley. 

With barely 200 inhabitants, Gandria is considered one of the best preserved erstwhile fishing villages in Switzerland. Free of traffic, the center of the village is a protected heritage site. The village center, because of its very narrow streets, lanes, gradients and stairs, cannot be accessed with a motorized vehicle, not even two wheeler. The only way to get around in the village is to walk and be surprised with a new story at every corner that adds another line to your mind poetry. 

We discover that the village was organized around steep narrow cobbled alleys, angular lanes, arcaded passages, grottos, ramps and stairwells. It is an easy and ideal place to lose our bearings and wander about aimlessly.

After exploring the lower reaches of the village, we climb further up past the olive press made of granite and arrive at the plaza. From above, we see a beautiful view of the closely aligned, tight clusters of houses, realizing how steep the gradient of the village actually is and how old and charming the buildings and the labyrinthine layout is. The houses, most of which can only be reached either through a steep passage / alleyways or through a flight of steep stairs, are arranged in cascades, right up to the water front. The view of the village from above is as splendid as it was from the waterfront. 

Some of the houses that have facades embellished with ornate stucco and frescos date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and are still well preserved. 

At the center of the village, we find the St. Virgilio church (or Chiesa di San Vigilio), with its tall and prominent bell tower dating back to 1463. It has since then been renovated and altered.. The interiors, I am told, are elaborate and ornate, in the Baroque style. Sadly, when we reach, the church is closed.

We spend some time at the plaza and follow the green olive signs, climbing up a steep curved lane and then through a long, narrow flight of stairs, on to a graveled path that eventually lead us into the olive trail between Gandria and Castagnola. We pass through houses, whose walls have drapes of climbers and flowering shrubs, rooted in the crevices in the stones that make up the walls. All along, we catch some stunning vistas of the village, with Lake Lugano peeping in at different places.

Now considered a prosperous, up-market place, Gandria was even a century ago, a very modest, humble isolated little village in which main occupations were fisheries, farming and minor trading. We realize that change in fortune has not changed the essential character of the village where a quaint old world charm and spirit still lingers in the air. 

Back in 1913, writer Giorgio Simona noted lyrically:

“Gandria is a corner of the world, untouched by noise, located in sweet solitude on the steep mountainside, overlooking the deep lake in which it is reflected. The wave of human misery does not beat upon its shore, the spirit can move freely in ideal skies and the soul finds itself in the ecstasy of contemplation”.

A hundred years down the lane, we felt the same in Gandria. The words of Giorgio Simona echo true even today.

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Shumon Sengupta

Shumon has worked and lived around the world, and is proud to say - the Earth is my Home... I am a World Citizen. He works in aid and development sector and is in love with his work, travel, people, art and culture, and above all, his little daughter. He blogs at

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Travelers I am Grateful to - You Shaped me

Being a travel writer and a travel fanatic, I often get carried away on the horses of narcissism by sharing only my stories. However, the events over last 3 years that started with discovering self in Thailand [Related Article: Unseen Countryside from Northern Thailand] to being a travel writer to quitting job as a business analyst happened because some people inspired me immensely with their work. [Related Article: From Business Analyst to Travel Writer]

Image Source: needsupply[dot]com

I have met many exceptional travelers and writers during this journey, but few of them contributed in a different way and I look up to them. Here are they:

1. Ajay Jain: Three years ago, when I was swimming and often gasping in the murky waters of travel writers world trying to figure out the head or tail of this industry, a dear friend called me up and asked me to go to Kunzum cafe that is run by you. Being in a full time job, I was surrounded only by tie and suit clad sophisticated and some pretending to be sophisticated people. I found myself a misfit there but didn't have a choice. It was during a meetup of travelers in Kunzum cafe that I met people with whom I had common things to talk to. Kunzum was, and still is an amazing ecosystem of travelers and thank you Ajay for creating it. This was my first experience of meeting bloggers outside of the virtual world.

~ Ajay is a Travel Writer and Photographer based in New Delhi, India. You can visit his travel cafe, Kunzum and meet other fabulous people over coffee. Check out: Kunzum

2. Shivya Nath: Flipping through the pages of a daily newspaper, I stumbled upon an article by you. I thought that travel writers especially those who quit their jobs to travel are only non-Indian. I searched for you casually on Google, and what I found did not let me sleep that night - 'Literally'. Till dawn, neurons in my brain were firing at the speed of light. Ever since I was in a corporate job, I felt confined in a box. I was a spectator in the stands watching things happening in this world and unable to make any difference despite having the desire and skill. I never traveled beyond cities. Travel to a village in Rajasthan happened by chance, and, Oh! my God, I was blown away by what I was missing. [Related Article: Why I became a Rural Traveler] Shivya, having seen your blog at the same time inspired me to choose villages and countryside over cities. I was clear what I wanted to write on and work for.

~ Shivya is a Travel Writer who quit her corporate job and took the leap of faith into the travelers world. She blogs at The Shooting Star.

3. Candace Rose Rardon: At various stages in life, I have done caricatures, water and oil paintings and many creative crafts. And so I have a special place for art in my heart. Candace, I came in touch with you when I had to jab a knife through my heart and sell off the ticket to TBEX Dublin because Rupee had fallen and I could no longer afford the trip. You bought my ticket and I saw your blog. One can take incredible pictures from a camera, but nothing touches a heart more dearly than a hand drawn piece. Maybe that's why I never buy a gift for anyone. I always make them. The computer engineering genes still float in my blood, and often I tend to become mechanical in my speech or writing. Candace, your drawings bring me back to being human. P.S. We finally met in TBEX Greece. :)

~ Candace is a travel writer and sketch/ water paint artist. She blogs at The Great Affair

4. Padma Madipalli: Padma, I met you during a travelers meet in Kunzum and ended up starting The Folk Tales with you. You taught me trust when you embarked with me on a journey to Rajasthan after having known me only for a while. While I was still afraid and speculating, you were the first one to quit your job to create the life you wanted. You worked in development sector but was in love with water and oceans, and always dreamed of living in a seaside hut. You created your dream into reality precisely that way.

~ Padma blogs at The Pink Lotus

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Takeaways from TBEX Greece

Last year, with a heavy heart, I had to cancel the visit to TBEX Dublin. Rupee had suddenly gone down in value and I had to make a choice. Going to TBEX was still a dream that lingered everyday in my mind until I made it to Greece. I wouldn't rant only about how amazing the experience was (which it indeed was), but also some scary moments and mistakes I did.

TBEX Greece was the first opportunity where I was going to meet the faces that I had only seen on internet till now. I must say I was a little nervous because my mind was blasted with a flurry of new faces, languages, behaviors, and responses. In the midst of all the fears of whether I had taken the right decision to invest time and money and whether it will be worth it, I just went with the flow. Being an Indian blogger made me exotic - some attendees literally said that :)

Having said that, I wonder how far behind Indian bloggers are when it comes to taking blogging to professional level, provided there are some very talented ones out there.

Social media can never replace the magic of a personal touch

The three days went by like a flash, but they left me with valuable takeaways and tips to prepare better for next TBEX.

Invest time to do Pre-TBEX networking: My travel plans start by booking the flight tickets months in advance. It is worthwhile keeping updated with the website of TBEX and connecting with other bloggers. Time during TBEX meetups is limited and some small talk before the conference with other attendees can save up valuable time. Next time I would like to do better Pre-TBEX networking with brands as well. Do not be scared to write a mail and tell vividly who you are. This directly relates to my next point.

Set priorities: There was a swarm of almost 800+ bloggers and travel media professionals. Pre-TBEX networking helps in knowing who's who and the conversations you would want to give priority to. Knowing what brands do and how you can serve them as a blogger can help in pre-planning and in presenting yourself effectively during TBEX. Many bloggers, as I saw were speculating minutes before a meeting on what to say. I also faced this dilemma at times.

Set priorities | Image: Chase Elliott Clark
Real TBEX happens in meal break outs and parties: Most business deals happen over games of Golf or a drink. People are more relaxed and open when there is no pressure on them to do work and when they are enjoying. Show up at the parties and get to know others. Don't forget to have lots of fun after a long day :) Too much significance to make things happen 'Kills'

Be generous to others: I met Corinna Born from Munich Airport and after the meeting realized that I was not the best fit to serve her requirement. I was about to move on when I stopped and connected her with another German blogger I knew was in TBEX and lived in Munich. I ended up creating good relationships and somehow others suddenly started connecting me to relevant people (Universal laws of attraction?)

Be generous to others
Looking for acceptance? You are not the only one: "Don't be scared. Go, speak to him...... Jusssttt Go !" I heard one girl pushing her blogger friend to go and speak to someone whom she was afraid to speak. I suddenly felt at ease upon knowing that it is not only me who is dealing with 'getting acceptance'. Know that everyone has their own stops and often the other person is as scared as you are. Different people show it or hide it in different ways. Once I realized this, it became easy for me to speak to just anyone.

Looking for acceptance? | Image: Helenoftheways
Time for discovery: I have been in blogging industry for almost two years now. The session on 'Brand Partnerships: Before You Think Big, Think Medium' (by Sara Robles Romero from Sarification and Katie Hammel from Viator) was just apt for me at this point in career as a writer. The session on 'Building a Better Blogging Brand: How a Unique Identity is Key to Blogging Success' (by Bret Love) gave me valuable insights on partnering with right brands and on marketing your niche. I initially went as a 'know it all' but quickly realized that I need to let that go - Good for me :)

No matter whether you are a beginner or a pro at blogging. Be a sponge, ready to absorb all that comes your way.

Attend TBEX FAM trips: I enrolled myself in just two FAM trips. But those two trips were enough to tell me that next time I should enroll for more. Not only they show you the destination in various unique ways that you cannot see by yourself, but also you have sufficient time to create relationships with other bloggers and media professionals.

Follow up after TBEX: It has been more than a month and I am still not over with all the brochures and business cards I came back with. I suggest that you organize them and follow up with everyone you spoke to and exchanged cards with. It could be for a business partnership or just to show that 'you remember and you care'.

What new did you learn from your TBEX?

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tzoumerka - Villages Beyond Greek Islands and Sunshine

Most of you have associated my own country, Greece, with sunshine and summer holidays in the beautiful Greek islands. However, what most of you may not realize is that the country’s beauty goes far beyond its islands. Greece is a country of diverse landscape, hospitable people, mouth watering food, and an all year round mild climate. There are many less known, but equally beautiful, winter destinations which are ideal for family holidays and worth traveling to.

Tzoumerka is located in the northwest part of Greece’s mainland and more specifically between the cities of Arta and Giannena. The area might not be considered as one of the most cosmopolitan winter resorts, unlike Arahova, but it does definitely not does fall short in natural beauty.

Pramada is the largest village in the area and is very picturesque with stone houses. Interestingly, the love of its residents has kept the village alive. There is a mini market, a pharmacy and a medical centre - facilities that are really important when travelling with children. There are also a few tavernas offering traditional grilled delicacies, mainly using meat.  Try ‘Mpoutzas’ while you are there.

Pramada Tzoumerka Greece
Pramada Village, Greece
Locals are talkative and will proudly explain the history of square with the spring where Turks used to collect the taxes from the Greeks during the Ottoman Years.

Only a few miles away from Pramada you will find Tsopela village and Anavasi Mountain Resort, a wonderful place to spend your winter holidays. The hotel is located on the snowy slopes covered with pine trees and its tasteful decor creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The forest view from the windows gives an unconstrained feeling of relaxation. Furthermore, the owners of the resort go above and beyond their call of duty as their mission is to make all their guests feel at home. Yiorgos carries the wood for the fireplace in the living room – which is undoubtedly the most cozy spot in the hotel. Yiorgos is always ready with his treasure of expert local knowledge and advice on places to visit in the area. Konstantina bakes the best traditional pies for breakfast.

Tzoumerka Greece
Family celebrations on Christmas
The area is ideal for full or half day excursions.  You will be overwhelmed by the beauty of the country side. Small waterfalls spring out of the mountains and tall trees fill the landscape with vivid colours of the winter. Along the way the river Arachthos rages with its full force along its course.

One of the prettiest places to visit in the area is Plaka Bridge, the widest stone-made bridge in Epirus and probably of all of Greece. It is 61 metres long and stands 20 metres above river Arachthos.  Even today, it generates feelings of admiration as its construction dates back to 1866 when it was built with bare hands. Walk over the bridge and absorb this overwhelmingly beautiful landscape.

Tzoumerka Greece
Medieval Stone Bridges
The twin waterfalls are also close by. Although the water falls throughout the year, May is the best time to visit. At other times, the water is less but the path that leads to the falls is rewarding all the same, and after all, you don’t get to see virgin waterfalls every day. There is a canteen right next to the path that leads to the waterfalls where you can a take a break and have a little snack, and truly feel you have found paradise.

Tzoumerka Greece
Virgin waterfalls waiting for you to fall in love with them
Greece is full of monasteries that are built on mountain tops, caves and crevices. While everyone knows about Meteora, Kipina’s Monastery is another beautiful site if you are an intrepid traveler. Couple of miles before you reach the monastery, you will come across a traditional cafe in the middle of nowhere. Stop there and ask for the key to the monastery. Once you reach the monastery, you’ll be amazed by its location as it is literally built inside the mountain. The wild, imposing surroundings makes the monastery incredibly unique.

Kipina's monastery greece
Kipina's Monastery
You will see a wooden bridge by the entrance of the monastery and there you will notice a lever that was used by monks to lift the bridge which offered protection from invaders during the Turkish occupation. The interiors of the monastery are really special. At the end of an oblong and dark corridor with faded drawings you will find a staircase which leads to the monks’ cells. The cells are abandoned but still neatly organised. The scenery undoubtedly creates a spiritual atmosphere and intense emotions. Before you leave, don’t forget to blow out the candles and, of course, return the key to the cafe.

Kipina's monastery greece
The cells for Monks
Only a few miles away from Anavasi Mountain Resort, there is a mountain shelter which is hidden in the snow. Access is easy and it is not usually crowded as it is only known to locals. In fact, it is a family house which has been rearranged in such way so as to welcome visitors who are more into snowball fighting rather than skiing.

Tzoumerka Greece
Ride on the sledge
If you happen to be in the Tzoumerka Mountains, make a point of going to Giannena which is less than 60kms away and a relatively easy drive.  Approximately one hour away from Giannena you will come to Zagorochoria, one of the most beautiful areas of traditional villages in all of Greece.

Giannena Greece
Lake Giannena | Image Source : Flickr Creative Commons
Zogorochoria | Image Source : Flickr Creative Commons
If you have been to this part of Greece, we would love to hear your experience in the comments below. If not, what are you waiting for?

Note: This article is written in partnership with our friends. Kids Love Greece.

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Maria Giannouli

Maria Giannouli is the chief editor of, a site that offers authentic family friendly suggestions for Greece. Her work experience in the hotel industry has been invaluable, however, her true inspiration has been her two sweet daughters

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why You Should 'Never' Visit Greece

Before you get carried away by the photographs of Greece, the blue and white houses, and turquoise blue waters, I must warn you about why you should never go to Greece. I traveled to attend TBEX and was blown by the unexpected experiences with the locals and their lifestyle. Here is the list of warnings -

1. Greek Food - Greek food will churn your stomach upside down and have you crave for it long after you are back in your country. The aroma of Souvlaki that I had almost every day still haunts my senses. It's a pity that I can't find it in India. Juicy pieces of pork, chicken or lamb gently roasted with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, finger chips and Tzatziki sauce over pita bread.. Uh! I should go and eat something now before I write further.

Souvlaki | Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons
 Now that I am back after a meal, I remember the Greek salads packed with green leafy vegetables, slabs of cheese, tomatoes, olives (like LOTS of olives), olive oil and local spices. If you want to avoid my plight, please don't visit Greece.

Greek Salad | Image Source:

2. The Hugs and Kisses - Greeks will hug you and kiss you on both cheeks no matter how many times you meet in a day. Kisses might be too much in India but I have stopped shaking hands now with people. I only hug them. If you are allergic to lots of love, please don't visit Greece.

3. Their love for wine - Within few days, we were offered complimentary wine twice in restaurants because the host liked our conversations and our love for him. We were overwhelmed with the gesture and were short of words for him. As they say, love shows on the face. And it was evident on our hosts face while he offered us local wine in jugs.

Greek Wine
Image Source:
4. Their parties and boozing - I confess that I crashed into a Halloween party in Athens uninvited. Later I realized that most of us were uninvited and so I felt at home. After drinking till three in the morning and dancing to the music, when Greeks finally started to swing under the effect of alcohol they started hugging each other. They hugged, kissed, laughed and danced together. I was wary that after drinking so much they might become violent or abusive and start breaking things. If you don't like such surprises, don't visit Greece.

5. Flirting is their lifestyle - Not for jerks like me but women might get a surprise flower or a flattering compliment as they walk on streets. Someone might even sing a song for you and propose you for marriage. As I saw with women, they were quite flattered. After all flirting runs in the blood of Greeks. They got to be smooth at it. If you don't like flattery and flowers, don't visit Greece.

Image Source:
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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How Travelling Changed my Outlook

City dwellers like me are brought up with stories that people are bad. When we are children, we are fully self expressed and free. As we grow up, we are taught to be careful. We are taught to judge and evaluate others and situations. I am not sure about other countries, but media in India mostly show all the bad things happening with people, scandals and robberies. Here are few things that I learnt from society as I grew up and travelling changed it completely.

P.S. - Luckily, my family always stood by me. [Read: How my family helped me become a better travel writer]

1. Know your limits and do not think beyond it: I have heard this statement many times as I grew up. Sometimes from family, sometimes friends and sometimes teachers. I believed them for a while, but today I apologize to all of them because I choose to defy what they said.

Motorbiking in the mountains of Northern Thailand was a big breakthrough for me. Before that I had never driven either outside India and or in the mountains. [Read: Motorbiking in Northern Thailand]. During my travels, I learnt that most of the limits are in our mind and that they do not exist in reality. I learnt that if I could clearly see my limits, I will have a choice to go beyond them

2. This world is full of bad people: I am not going to ask you to act stupid. If you are going to walk on a deserted street with a garland of money you will most probably get robbed. But, this world is not filled with bad people either. Travelling has developed an intuitive sixth sense within me that always comes into play. Living with varied communities and people has enabled me to sense a situation.

There is no defined formula for it. It comes intuitively as we meet more and more people from various parts of the world. I was almost robbed in Paris. The thugs did not find anything and let me go. I don't know how but my intuition said that I had to leave everything at home before going out. On the other hand, a stranger helped me find my way to the hostel late at night when I lost the way on a highway in Thailand [Read: Getting lost in the wilderness of Northern Thailand].

3. If a person has money and status, he will be respected: On the contrary, when I travelled I saw that those who lived life out of passion, respected and loved people got respect in return. I met a couple living in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand who had spent their life working to make the region more environmentally sustainable. From their faces, they radiated a life well lived.

And then I met a couple that lives in the rice fields of Northern Thailand and runs a youth hostel. They migrated from Australia and chose to live here. I am sure the sunrise and fresh air every morning makes their life worth it.

I asked myself - "How much money do I need?" And I got the answer - "Enough to travel this world and live a life of fulfillment". Fulfillment has different meanings for different people. For some it may mean acquiring the latest gadgets or collecting cars which is also fine. For me, it is 'Collecting Experiences'. It also does not mean that I want to live poor. It is just that I disassociate my happiness from money. [Read: How I fund my travel]

4. Do not let others know about your fears: "You are afraid of the other person as much as the other person is afraid of you". It is true for us in every conversation. We just don't show our fears. After all we are brought up in an environment that defines fear = weakness and a lot of other things. Acknowledging my fears and being authentic has helped me build relationships with strangers. After all how could an engineer whose life was confined in a cubicle find people from a completely different realm.

5. Ones life is already decided by some norms: I called up a friend one day to congratulate him on the new house he had bought. He said, "I am very happy, I have now fulfilled all the criteria to get married". I asked him if he bought the house to fulfill another criteria or because 'he wanted' to buy it. He had no answer. Probably he didn't understand what I asked.

Celebrating Holi with Kumaoni community (Year: 2014)
We study not to learn but to get good marks and compete with other students. We choose a stream of study because others are doing it. We complete our higher studies for a job. When we get a job, we do not celebrate. We now want credit cards, mobile phones, cars or loans to buy things we do not need. We do all of this to get a good life partner ('No idea who defines the term good in this case'). When we get a life partner, we are under pressure to start a family, then give up our desires once again. Then we grow old and die. When will we live in the moment? We don't even know what living in the moment means. At the end of it, we will be nothing but a handful of ash over which a street dog will come and relieve himself. I asked myself - "Who has decided these norms for us? Do we really need to follow them?"

While travelling, I met people who had been courageous enough to follow their heart. They had to give up their fears, some material things and some unwanted comforts. But they were happier than many others I usually encountered in my corporate job.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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

From Business Analyst to Travel Writer

This is the first time that I am sharing on the blog about my journey from an engineer to a business analyst to a Travel Writer. My journey may not have been as dramatic as someone who sells off all his stuff one day and embarks on a world tour. It has taken me three years and meticulous planning from the time I wrote the first blog entry.

Back in 2008, when I travelled to UK for an assignment with British Telecom, I saw many people travelling for the sake of discovering themselves. They would live off a backpack, stay in youth hostels and meet many locals. On the contrary, the concept of travelling in India is quite different. For most of the people in India, travelling still means visiting relatives during festival or taking a week off from job to visit hometown. Experiencing another form of travel in Europe triggered an inner calling to discover myself [Read: How travelling changed my outlook].

My first solo backpacking trip to Switzerland was out of impulse because none of my fellow colleagues were ready to come. They were hesitant because of the expenses involved. I am thankful that they did not come because it made me spend time with myself in a country that does not speak English. Communicating in sign language with a bus driver who spoke only German when I had to find my way to the hostel in a small town was a thrilling experience.

Solo trip in Montreaux Switzerland
Montreaux, a small French speaking town in south of Switzerland (Year: 2009)
For people around me, it was strange to see someone go on a solo trip. Many Indian families whom I met in Switzerland looked at me with skepticism. They had many questions and wondered that what can I possibly do travelling alone. I overheard one comment - "He is crazy". And I must confess - I loved it.

My dormant desire to explore countries that I once use to look at in my pocket atlas was resurfacing. Soon I found myself exploring France where I found art and music on every street. It was like being transported to another world that took over my senses. Having mulled wine on the banks of Seine [Read: Mulled wine in Paris] was a cherry on the top of cake. It was during the economic slum of 2009 that I came back to India.

Life again took over and a person with insatiable desire to travel followed a 9-5 schedule for three years. Years passed trying to prove myself at work; work that I did not enjoy doing. The whole atmosphere of cut throat competition of proving oneself and of excelling in anything that you are asked to do took a toll on me. In spite of the many opportunities I was getting to manage a team and get promotion, my performance was declining.

It was during November 2012, when I decided to ditch everything for a month and do a solo backpacking trip to Thailand [Read: Discovering untouched Northern Thailand]. That journey where I lived like a local, cooked myself, explored untouched places and even got lost on a highway at night [Read: Getting lost in Thai countryside at night] set me on a path of no return. It was clear that I wanted to make a living by travelling this world. I just had to find a means to do it [Read: Ways to earn money by travelling].

Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand (Year: 2012)

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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

Ways to earn money by travelling

Traditionally, when one thinks of travelling, they think of expenditure. It is still an alien concept for many when we say - 'You can earn money by travelling'. It was alien for me also couple of years ago but being an avid follower of channels like National Geographic and Discovery, I knew that there are some people out there who are having one hell of a time and getting paid for it.

There are many ways you can get paid to travel. It will obviously not be a cakewalk and you will have to do meticulous planning with lots of trial and error. Here are some of my recommendations:

1. Learn a new language: If you have a thing for new languages, you may want to learn few of them. Apart from English which is the most widely spoken language in the world, you can learn French. Other than France of course, French is spoken in Canada, Switzerland, parts of Italy and most of the north African countries. Spanish is spoken in most of Latin American and South American countries. If you get good hold over these languages, varied opportunities of jobs will be available for you including being a translator or a tour guide that involves considerable travel and meeting new people. You could even teach the language once you become an expert.

Some of the good school of Languages in New Delhi are:

Learn a new language | Image Source:
2. Volunteerism: Many people choose to volunteer in a school or a Non profit organization in Asian or African countries. Sometimes they are paid a stipend and sometimes not. However, if you build up a good profile and are really passionate about contributing and adding value, you can get good stipend for you work.

Some of the good websites to find volunteer jobs are:

a), b), c) HandsOn Network

3. Become a photographer or a travel writer or both: This requires a lot of passion for the work. I mean, you can be a photographer or writer only if you really want to be one. And travel is what ultimately follows if you are good at it.

Over time it is very important to find a niche in both Photography and Writing. If you deliver good content and have good number of readers, you may get invited by a tourism board for FAM trips. You can also be an expert in one very specific area like, wine tasting, Italian cuisine, bicycling in northern Spain, or spiritual tourism. That will help you grow as an expert and you will soon be much sought after.

However, a nice or good number of readers do not happen overnight. Many Travel Writers start but soon give up out of impatience. Meticulous planning and patience is needed to be good at it.

Be a Travel Writer or Photographer | Image Source:
4. Take up a job on cruise ship: If you love to travel and be in hospitality sector, you might want to consider various jobs on a cruise ship. Although working on a cruise ship requires lot of work since you will be serving tourists, but your work will involve a lot of travelling nationally and internationally. Most of the jobs on cruise ship are well paid with all the expenses taken care of.

5. Jobs in hotels or resorts: Hotels and resorts are generally at tourist places and can offer a great opportunity for interaction with travelers. Many resorts have openings for bar tenders, scuba diving instructors, or performers. If you are good at these things, there are many opportunities for you to work with resorts all over the world. Most of these jobs require training and certification. So you really have to be good at the job to be in demand.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rural Tourism - Myths and Reality

This article is an edited copy of the original that was published in - The Folk Tales

In the last one year that I have been travelling in villages, I have come across many questions from other travelers on Rural Tourism that makes me understand the need to answer them on a public forum. Rural Tourism is still a new concept in India, and, as expected there are many questions around it. Here are some of the common questions and beliefs that people have which are nothing but myths. Here are some of the myths about Rural Tourism -

1. Rural tourism is unsafe: If someone was destined to get mugged, it can happen in a flashy metropolitan as well. Over the last two years since I have been travelling to villages, I have found them safer than the cities. I have grown up in Delhi and can clearly see the difference in safety, hospitality, warmth and a sense of community in a city and in a village. We have had solo female travelers, couples, children and families who have felt safer in villages.

It also depends on the organization you are traveling with and the amount of ground work they have done with locals before sending you. Usually, it takes months if not years to train locals in tourism and its aspects.

Tip: Check the authenticity and professionalism of the organization you are travelling with. Look for their sustainability practices.

Rural travel India
Intercultural interaction between students from Dublin and local community in Kumaon
Rural tourism India The Folk Tales
Indians also prefer it in large numbers and find it safe
2. Rural tourism = Discomfort: Rural does not always mean a dilapidated shack where you will have to sleep on the floor under the light of an oil lamp. In the last point I spoke about training. A responsible organization will always train locals on sanitation. Emphasis will be given on clean beds and washrooms. Rural tourism is a great way to give sustainable living to locals. And cleanliness is one of the basic requirements that any responsible Rural Travel company will take into account.

Tip: Check the facilities and photographs and ask your questions freely

Rural Travel Rajasthan The Folk Tales
Village stay in Rajasthan. A lot of hardwork goes behind transforming the villages
Rural travel India The Folk Tales
I find such places more peaceful and clean to stay at rather than a hotel
Rural Travel India The Folk Tales
I find such places more peaceful and clean to stay at rather than a hotel
3. Rural tourism costs nothing, so why charge for it: What I mentioned in last point about sustaining local communities brings me to the next point on charging. Most of the Rural population is currently being trained under western education system on learning computers and English and moving to cities. As a result cities are over burdened and villages are getting empty. Rural tourism is not different from any other form of tourism where you pay. The only difference is, your money goes directly to a local family and immediate community. A responsible community based tourism initiative will always give entrepreneurial opportunities to locals so that they do not have to migrate to cities. As a result, many art forms, languages, music, dances, and cultures are preserved. Rural tourism has the power to make these aspects an asset rather than a burden.

4. World is moving towards urbanization, why villages?: We are not against urbanization. It is just that we see the impacts of it in the form of cut-throat competition which leads to increasing crime, struggle for limited resources, degrading levels of cleanliness, impacts on our health and stress levels and a constant question in everyone's mind as to who they really are. After having lost connection to our roots, we are neither completely western nor Indian. Moreover, we are loosing warmth and sensitivity towards our people, trust, love and responsibility towards our environment. Mahatma Gandhi once said - "The future of India lies in its villages". This does not mean we remain backward, uneducated or poor. Everyone has the right to live a beautiful life. But only till the time that lifestyle does not begin to take a toll on those very humans it was meant for.

Rural Tourism is a tool to create a balance between urbanization and Rural lifestyle. This is very important for us to sustain.

Rural travel India The Folk Tales
Local women in Kumaon who play an integral role in Rural Tourism
5. The food and water will be below standard and unhygienic: Really? These days we are putting water purifiers in our homes and depending on mineral water because our rivers are too dirty to supply clean drinking water. Fruits and vegetables supplied in market are rubbed with oil to make them shine and injected with artificial colors to make them look beautiful. Our children are getting dependent of medications at an early age. Cancer has become as common as headache. The air we breathe in cities is so poisonous that many species of birds that once thrived have now either migrated or become extinct. Our children fall ill if they are left to play on a street. With each passing day, they are getting dependent on air-conditioned homes only.

On the other hand, I have seen 60 year old women climb a mountain daily and still manage to stay fit without any medicine. They do not need any cosmetics to look beautiful or to prevent their skin from sagging. I don't suggest that we should leave our homes and all migrate to villages. The point is, we are living in a myth. I have had some of the best organic food in villages cooked in homemade spices and butter. I have drank water from rivers and waterfalls and have never fallen ill. And I have played in mud and it only increased my immunity.

Rural Tourism is a way to bridge this gap. We do not want you to leave cities. We want you to become sensitive towards environment, our impacts on it and on how we can become responsible.

For more photos of local food we have tasted during our village travels, click here

Rural travel organic food India
Fish curry and rice at a homestay in Bengal
Rural travel Organic food India
Traditional Limboo Tribal food I had in Sikkim homestay
6. What is the difference between you and a Travel Agent: No difference except that - we give our heart and soul in making this country a better place to live using travel as a medium. We design training for villagers to enable them to earn a living from their own skill. For us, building relationships is more important than just getting a cheque from a customer. And that most of us left our plush corporate jobs to do this work.

If you have more questions about Rural Travel, please feel free to ask in comments below or contact us via our website: We will be happy to answer.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar

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