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, February 12, 2015

Chhattisgarh - Tribes, Ancient Civilizations, Eroticism and Responsible Travel

"Be careful! Confirm if the area you are visiting is naxalite or not", my sister tells me with a concerned look on her face when she comes to know that I am going to Chhattisgarh. Being a traveller, I know that every region in India is not what they show them to be in news channels. I am invited by Chhattisgarh Tourism to cover the Sirpur Dance and Music festival which is held in Sirpur annually. Little do I know about the treasures of this undiscovered state before being shown around by local experts who are not only passionate, but also extremely learned in their area of work including Dr. A.K. Sharma (Ex. Archaeologist with ASI) and Mr. Santosh Misra (MD Chhattisgarh Tourism Board). Interestingly, many initiatives are being taken keeping the responsible travel practices in mind. Some of the unique experiences I bring back to you from Chhattisgarh are:

Tribal culture: My heart skip a beat and I have goosebumps when the sound of drums echo as the tribes start playing out their unique music on the stage of Sirpur Dance and Music festival. I don't know that Chhattisgarh is home to about 34 tribes of India, many of which are thankfully untouched by influence of modernism. Yet, they are pretty advanced in their knowledge of wildlife, sustainable lifestyle and environment. The Gond, Bisonhorn Maria, Halba, Pajra and Kol are some of the many tribes that are spread across different regions like Bastar, Dantewara and Korba.

Mr. Santosh Misra shares with us an interesting and lesser known story of tattoo culture in Chhattisgarh. A tribe called 'Ram Nami' are known to tattoo every inch of their body by the word 'Ram' (in Hindi), which refers to Lord Rama.

Unlike city dwellers, the lifestyle of tribes is very sustainable. One has to spend time with them to understand how they live with minimal or no adverse environmental, economical and social impact. They live off their land. Everything ranging from their dwellings, dresses and cooking practices are environmentally responsible. Their dances and songs are made to complement important events like festivals, marriages and crop harvest.

Chhattisgarh Tourism has brought out and documented the aboriginals of this region. It is an amazing model of strengthening ones own roots through tourism rather than aping the west.

Bison Maria dance | Image source: www.esamskriti.com
Tribal performances in Sirpur Dance and Music festival




I must appreciate the Chhattisgarh tourism board website for following responsible tourism practices by educating travellers to not treat tribals as objects of amusement and put them through the test of judgement and evaluation. They rather advise travellers to involve culturally, and have mutual respect and nurturing.

Without such initiatives, the indigenous tribes and cultures of India will dwindle away only to be overtaken by western modernism and unsustainable lifestyle.

Ancient cities: We have all studied in our books about Harappa, Mohenjo Daro, Mesopotamia, and Egyptian civilizations. But, we do not know about the ancient city that flourished in Sirpur belt 2600 years ago. Dr. Arun K. Sharma, who is a passionate archaeologist and has a voice with power much more than that of a young man takes us on a walk across ancient temples built in vedic architecture. He shows us around the 'Surang Tilla' temple that belongs to 6th century BC. The architects built a structure from Dolomite that survived a massive earthquake in 10th century without a crack in its walls. Mr. Arun tells us about how technologically advance Indian architects were that they could create air vacuum in a building's foundation without the availability of modern equipment. The massive earthquake of 10th century literally bent and curved the stairs of the temple but it couldn't break them.

Dr. Arun K. Sharma showing us around 'Surang Tilla'
He tells us about the Ayurveda paste that was used for construction rather than cement. As compared to cement that has a life of about 60 years, Ayurveda paste that consists of 16 natural ingredients found in nearby forests lasts for centuries. Some of the ingredients are Fermented Jaggery and Acacia Arabica. "The ingredients are written in a book called 'Mai Matam' in the form of Shloka", he explains.

We walk across a historic market where merchants travelled from as far as China and middle east for trading of rice and iron ore. The market is very well planned with a dock for receiving ships, excellent drainage system, a watch tower and space for storing grains without effecting them from weather and rodents.

6th century trading market in Sirpur
Sirpur has the only terracotta temples of Lakshman and Ram. It has a Buddhist Vihara (Buddhist school and residence for monks) that was built by a Hindu king showing religious tolerance and respect. Students from South East Asia, China and Japan travelled here to study Buddhism. The wall sculptures show daily life. Communities had pets like dogs, indulged in bull fights, and considered lizard sacred. This prevailed centuries before bull fight started in Spain. Our childhood stories of Panchtantra are inscribed on the walls. "The Jarawas of Andaman, Aborigines of Australia, and Saharan Namibian tribes are from the same gene pool", Mr. Sharma explains as he tells us how early man travelled from Africa towards the Asian plate.

The terracotta temple of Lakshman in Sirpur
Bull fight shown in Sirpur Buddhist vihara

Eroticism: I often wonder why the Indian society is so hushed up about the topic of 'sex' but our own ancient temples depict stories from Kamasutra. I still do not have an answer to this irony, but Dr. Sharma tells us in this video about the reason behind depiction of stories of Kamasutra in ancient Indian temples.

[Video]: Dr. Arun K. Sharma speaking on sex education in ancient India


From the walls of Buddhist Vihara in Sirpur

Ghotul Culture: The tribes of Chhattisgarh especially Muria (settlers) and Maria (nomads) practice Ghotul culture. Men and women during puberty are sent to live in a dormitory called Ghotul (a tribal hut surrounded by earthen or wooden walls), where each member has a community task like sweeping, cooking and cleaning. The inmates can mingle with each other in love making and subsequently, over a period of time choose their partner. They then move away to build their own hut. Sex for them is not a taboo and is considered an essential part of life. Similar practices are also followed by some tribes of South East Asia.

I visited Chhattisgarh for only three days, but this region has so much to offer that I might have to come back again and again and each time I will bring back for you a new and intriguing story.

Note: This story is produced in association with Chhattisgarh Tourism Board. All the opinions are unbiased and are based on personal experience as on Jan 2015.


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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar



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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Himalaica Homestay - Luxury with Local Kumaoni Experiences

Ever since I had an experience of living in a homestay two years ago, I seldom stay in hotels unless necessary. With growing preference for the local experience, unfortunately many small hotels have also started naming themselves as homestays. However, authentic homestay experiences still stand out and leave me at awe. I recently spent few days in Kumaon with Himalaica Homestay surrounded by the sounds of birds and water flowing from natural mountain sources.

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Dawn is yet to break when I alight from my train at the pretty little station of Kathgodam for a further one hour journey to Shyamkhet village. It is still night when I arrive at the pretty house where the three dogs - Rajah, Lama and Cyber are jumping around to greet me. Every house that I visit in the mountains adds new ideas to my kitty. All these ideas will go into the small wooden house that I will make one day in the Himalayas. Basant, the house caretaker and an amazing chef has been working here since the last ten years and seems to be very happy to make a cup of tea for me. My room is a cozy one on the first floor overlooking the valley on one side and forest on the other.

The Himalaica homestay
The Master Bedroom
The Twin Bedroom
I decide to do nothing on the first day. After the deafening noise of Delhi, the silence of Himalayas draw me straight to the bed where I sleep for ages. I spend rest of the day exploring the house and reading a book in the conservatory and getting pampered by the homemade organic food from local vegetables. Basant seems to be very happy when I ask him to cook food in local Kumaoni way. He starts to tell me stories about his ancestral house which is in a far off village. He has a smile on his face with a hint of sadness. Unfortunately, due to lack of earning opportunities in the villages, people are migrating to cities and our cultural heritage in the form of languages, music, art & craft, architecture and food is getting lost. Homestay culture and community based tourism is playing a small but significant role in helping local communities preserve their heritage and give the travellers an incredible holiday experience.

The conservatory at Himalaica
The study room
Visiting village 'Bardo': On the second day, I decide to visit one of the mountain villages and spend a day with the village community. Shyam Singh, who is a fruit orchard owner takes me to a village that is one hour drive from Shyamkhet. Driving along the emerald 'Kosi river', we reach a pretty little village setup far from everything. Children are playing under a tree in a local temple and wood smoke is coming out of chimneys of village houses.

Walk to Bardo village
Kosi river on the way to Bardo
Birds in Kosi river
Children playing near local village temple
While taking the short trek to Bardo village, I am surrounded by farms of ginger, onions, garlic, wheat and rice. Women dressed in bright colored clothes are working in the green farms throwing a stark contrast. It seems like I am walking through a paradise.

Bardo still has those traditional Kumaoni houses that are build of stone and mud with wooden doors and windows having intricate carving in an art called 'Likhai craft'. This art is mainly done by carving wood of Deodar tree that has high resistance to insects and rot. The intricacy of carvings comprising of swans, parrots, lotuses, and serpents indicate the owner and social status. They also depict the folk tales from traditional Hinduism.

Today, Likhai craft is a dying art because of the lack of availability of quality wood and preference for alternate style of building houses that are not only ugly but also unsustainable concrete structures.

House with window and door facades in Likhai craft
I venture out on a short village walk with Nandan Singh, a local with whom we pluck wild gooseberries from the backyard of the village. We meet Trilok Singh, a teacher in village school who shares his life's wisdom with us. He shares how his ancestors migrated from as far as Maharashtra to settle in the mountain caves in order to hide from the raging Mughal armies. Trilok Singh lives in his 80 year old ancestral house with his children and grand children. He says that his grandfather who was an expert in Likhai craft and who made this house has long passed away and now no one in his house knows this art form.

Trilok Singh and his wife
Local Kumaoni food
Nandan Singh shares with me how their village Bardo is self sustained. Apart from tea, sugar and salt , they don't have to buy anything from the market. Everything grows in the village and is exchanged between families. The village grows everything ranging from gooseberries, lemons, ginger, onions, potatoes, local pulses (called 'bhat ki daal'), wheat, rice, garlic and other vegetables. "We are very happy in who we are and where we are. We are self sufficient and we do not have any worries", shares Nandan Singh.

I always see that whenever I travel with local people, even if they are tour guides, and I ask them about their life, their village, and their family, they become very happy. Initially Nandan Singh was a little apprehensive in having me come into his house because he thought I was a city dweller and thus superior. When I asked them to cook a local meal for me they not only became very happy but also gave me few souvenirs to take back home.

My souvenirs from Kumaon
Visiting Kilmora NGO (Knitting division): We head off into the high mountains the next day to visit the Kilmora NGO that is working with Kumaoni women to give them alternate sources of income other than farming. The women now do knitting and the products are used in markets that would otherwise have been unreachable for them.

Women knitting at Kilmora NGO
Knitting by women at Kilmora NGO
Knitting by women at Kilmora NGO
After spending three days at Himalaica homestay, I was a little sad to be leaving for Delhi. I will be back in few months to see the fruits bloom in this region. Incidentally, this region is full of fruit orchards ranging from Apples, Peaches and Plum.

How to reach Himalaica: Take overnight train (Ranikhet Express) from Delhi and reach Kathgodam by 4 AM. The cab from homestay will pick you up for a one hour journey to Shyamkhet village.

Note: This story is produced in association with Himalaica Homestay. All the opinions are unbiased and are based on personal experience as on Feb 2015.

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Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar



Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur in Responsible 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, January 31, 2015

Its fun travelling in a Local train

On the way back to Kolkata from a distant village on Indo-Bangladesh border where I was attending a friend’s wedding, I had to travel in a local train. While travelling in a local train where 70 people are cramped in the space for 10 may not be your fantasy, the two hours I spent on my first local ride left me humbled and at awe of how the travellers worked together as a community. Here are some of the experiences I had in a local that I haven’t seen in more comfortable trains I have travelled in.

Kolkata Local Train | Image Source: Flickr
1. Offering your seat: I have seen people push each other and run to grab the seats in Delhi metro. When the Kolkata local reached half way, I noticed that people started offering their seats to those who were standing. It was an unsaid agreement, as if the people standing were expecting it. Someone tapped on my back and offered his seat to me as well. He knew it was my first time. He smiled and said – “You must be tired. Take my seat”

2. Letting a stranger in your personal space: I was once out for drinks with few friends in London. While I was busy talking to them, I didn’t realize that my shoulder had nudged another person sitting next to me. He was aggravated and snapped back at me. Some of my British friends told me that they like little physical space and are uncomfortable if someone gets too close. It was strange for me at that time as we are used to hugging people while welcoming them even if they are strangers. The Kolkata local apparently knew no concept of personal space. But no one seemed to be uncomfortable because of it. By the way they spoke to each other it seemed that they were good friends. I later occurred to me that most people had met each other for the first time

3. Doing business on the move: The local train slowed as it passed through a village. As if it was a daily norm, a hand came in through the window holding a plate full of cups of tea. The person standing by the window quickly distributed tea to everyone around and returned the plate. Another hand came in offering packets of spiced almonds which people grabbed. And before the train could gather speed again, the money was given. I didn’t even see the face. All I saw was two hands

4. Finding your comfort zone: I saw five people playing cards. I thought they must be good friends who meet every day. But it was not the case. The person who had brought the cards started distributing them to anyone who joined them. When one person had to disembark the train, another would join in and the game would continue. While they played cards, another person read poetry from a book in his space of barely half a square feet

Game of cards in Kolkata local train
5. Men and women travelled together: I have heard of but never seen incidents of eve teasing in Delhi metro. Even the local train had separate space for women, but considering the space crunch it was surprising for me to see women travel in the same compartment as men and it didn’t seem strange to anyone

While I may still not travel in a local unless absolutely necessary, I will take back such perception altering experiences in my life.

Basic tips about local trains: They are mainly used by daily commuters who travel between cities or villages for work. The tickets are extremely cheap and no advance reservation is required. Local trains run around all major metropolitan cities of India including Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. If you are a first timer in India, it is recommended that you take some tips from a local person before experiencing local train ride.


What unique experiences have you had in a local train?

Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar



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

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 www.world-citizen-trail.net

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 @ www.thefolktales.com. 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 @ www.thefolktales.com. 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 KidsLoveGreece.com, 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