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."

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
Image Source: www.rockbot.com
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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Indiblogger meet 2014

Maneuvering through the oxbow of galleries in Le Meridien, a lone wolf seeks to pacify his hunger. A hunger that is not for blood, but to be with a plethora of bloggers who have come in various shapes and sizes from across India in the Indiblogger meet 2014.

He pushes through the gates of the main hall which is filled with almost 400+ bloggers comprising one of the largest gatherings in the history of Indiblogger. He finds a chair for himself trying to figure out what is happening. Everyone seems to know each other with few lone wolves absorbed in their android phones.

Indiblogger meet 2014
First Impressions of Indiblogger meet 2014
There is a storm of thoughts in everyone's mind; whether to eat the finger-licking lunch that is spread out or to get connected to more and more bloggers or both. I let go of my desire to do everything and resort to pampering my stomach for a while.

Indiblogger meet
Desserts at Indiblogger meet
Branding these days have taken an all new shape with more emphasis on building relationships by activities that are mutually beneficial rather than hard core selling. I liked the concept of Indiblogger and Skyscanner to bring together bloggers under one roof.

The emphasis is more on giving opportunities to use a product and let the audience create an acceptance for it. For example, around the world activity that involved planning the most cost effective trip starting from the Pope's hat, going through Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas and back to the Pope's hat gave us the opportunity to use 'Everywhere', a functionality by Skyscanner that alllows a user choose the cheapest way to travel by air without exploring multiple websites online.

Indiblogger meet
Group activity at Indiblogger meet
The initial stiffness in my body has eased out because the event is more of conversational rather than a typical conference where one person speaks and the others have to listen even if they are falling asleep. While we are absorbed in conversations, Indian Housewife is frantically capturing various expressions and emotions in her camera.

Expressions at Indiblogger meet
Our past experiences have given us an inhibition of immediately getting along with anyone and everyone. We tend to judge and analyse before opening the doors to our lives for anyone. When we are asked to click a 'selfie' with as many people as we can in most innovative ways, the fear crops up again and many bloggers are frozen in their chairs. The best 'selfie' would get a flight ticket from Skyscanner. I do not win but overcome my fear of connecting with new people in a matter of fifteen minutes.

All the upcoming Indiblogger meets will now see me on a chair somewhere among other bloggers for I came in as a lone wolf but I am leaving in a pack that will grow bigger over time.


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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Unseen Countryside from Northern Thailand

Although Bangkok is a beautiful city that is full of life, my instincts tell me that I would spend a few days in this city and go straight to the countryside. The more I travel, the more I realize that big cities are an amalgamation of different cultures, languages and religions. However, the essence of pure untouched countryside has a charm that lacks in big cities. Countryside villages have still preserved their cultures in a virgin state which allows me to spend some quality time in conversation with them.

I am heading from Chaing Mai to Pai. More than the destination, it is the journey that is beautiful. I take my time to drive at leisure and stop at the small villages I see on the way. While most of the people are rushing towards their destinations, I am in search of simpler charms that are spread across the mountains of Northern Thailand. Here is a shack run by a local family selling bamboo products.

Countryside of Northern Thailand
Countryside of Northern Thailand
While the traffic zoomed by, I stood in silence and soaked in the colors spread all over this hut. I come from a big city that is full of different kinds of sounds and smells. What would I not give up to spend a week in total silence and in the midst of such beauty.

Approximately 85 km from Chiang Mai, I see a narrow road going into thick forest. Not many people are going there, the road has pot holes, its raining and the sun is now beginning to set. But what compels me to take this detour is a small wooden board that says - 'Pong Duet hot water spring'.

Northern Thailand is filled with hot water sulfur springs, and most of them are nestled deep into the forests. While trekking towards a hot water spring, I find these huts in the middle of nowhere. If I had more time, I would love to spend a night here, sit in the wooden balconies of one of these huts, smell the sweet fragrance of wood mixed with rain water and sip from a cup of tea.

Basic info about Pong Duet: The hot water spring is situated inside the Pong Duet National Park and requires at least 1 hour

Entry Ticket: 50 Baht (as of 2012)

Northern Thailand
Cottages in the forest in Northern Thailand
I choose to ditch the hotels and spend the night in a shack. I wake up early morning while the village is still asleep. The rice fields around me are bathing in the sunlight that is making them glow in golden color. I am far from the maddening crowd of Bangkok. Behind me is a hut, and the only sound is that of the paws and nails of a dog that walks up to me with its tail wagging.

Northern Thailand
Shack in the middle of rice fields, Northern Thailand
I take an early morning walk into the countryside. The village is slowly waking up. I walk past the local colonies and see men and women going about their daily lives, feeding the elephants and going to their farms. School children are beginning to show up on streets.

I see these children who are dressed up in colorful attire and playing around. A local fruit seller who speaks in broken English tells me that they are from the Lisu Tribe. The children are talking to each other. I do not understand their language but, it is a dream to see a local tribe. Would I have seen this in Bangkok?

Lisu Tribe Thailand
Lisu Tribe
About Lisu tribes: Lisu tribes are spread across China, Burma, Arunachal Pradesh (India), and Thailand and are said to have originated in Tibet. Lisu people have traditionally sustained themselves on paddy, fruit and vegetable farming. They are mostly followers of Animism, Shamanism, Ancestor worship, Buddhism and Christianity.

I walk further into the countryside where the rice fields are now replaced by mustard fields. The postcard perfect countryside is dotted by few wooden huts. Local dwellings are fading away and I am in open space where I can see for miles. An occasional villager bicycles past me with a child on the back. I want to keep walking with no destination to reach. The journey seems more beautiful than a destination.

Pai Northern Thailand
Postcard perfect countryside of Northern Thailand
I stumble upon another hot water sulfur spring. Local families have come here for a morning walk and although its written that they should not boil eggs here, they still end up doing it. I wonder what eggs boiled in sulfur water taste like.

Sulfur springs thailand
Sulfur springs in Northern Thailand
The cold mountain air has suddenly warmed up in this area by all the steam that is spewing from the bowels of the earth. I even begin to sweat here.

A word of caution: The temperature of water is up to 80 degree Celsius. I recommend that you keep some distance unless you want to end up getting boiled.

I spent four days in the mountains of Northern Thailand and they were much  more worthwhile than spending that time in a big city. In these four days, I have driven 600 kms, seen local tribes, interacted with people that do not speak my language, stayed in a shack in the middle of a rice field and seen local tribes up close. I am going back as a more peaceful person having given up a lot of my own baggage.

Basic Information about this journey:

Ways to Travel: Hire a motorbike in Chiang Mai, Travel in local bus (not too comfortable), Hire a private taxi. Most people prefer to drive because of the natural beauty.

Best time for this journey: October - January is the best time as the temperature is moderate

Distance: 128 km from Chiang Mai. Best time is to start early morning as there are many places to stop on the way

What to experience: Curves of Mae Hong Son loop, Countryside, Small villages on the way, Groups of motorbikers

Good quality and cozy eating outlets are available all along the way.

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For any questions on traveling to Northern Thailand, write in comments below or email me on gauravbhan@gmail.com

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


Friday, February 14, 2014

How my Family Helped me Become a Better Travel Writer

It is late in the night. Only sound in our house is that of the news on TV playing at low volume. I am ticking off a mental checklist to see if I have packed everything for the solo backpacking trip to Thailand. My sister is sitting in a corner with the TV remote in her hand. I know she is as excited as I am. She wants to know where I will stay and what I will do. She wants to know if I will talk to her on Skype every evening. Probably she will be awake till 3 AM when my brother will come to drop me at the airport. Probably my brother is also awake because he does not want to remain asleep while I miss my flight.

I have seen numerous travel writers share that they went against all odds to follow their passion. One of the biggest is standing up against the usual questions from their families like - "Are you crazy?", "Our neighbors son has got a thick salary package recently. What are you doing?" They have stood up against suggestions like - "You should get married".

Hot water spring thailand
Soaking feet in hot water spring Thailand
I am lucky in that sense. Now that it is two years since I have been traveling and writing stories, I see that my family never doubted or questioned me on what I was doing. There were times when they did not completely understand what I was up to. Heck! Even I did not know what I was up to. For my family, travel is a vacation which you take once in a year as a tourist. On the other hand, I was looking for much more from it.

I did get my share of suggestions. When I went on the backpacking trip to Thailand, someone suggested me to "get married and then go". My traveler grey cells could not map a relationship between getting married and going on a backpacking trip. So, I laughed it off. That was the first and the last time.


Who do you want to thank from your life?

For me, it was not a bright light that flashed one day and told me - "You should travel". It began with a story that I wrote on my journey to The Netherlands. I never knew when I gave in to this addiction of storytelling. I didn't realize when I went too far, so far that the trails to return were lost for good. One thing lead to another and I started looking for ways to fund myself and travel more.

There are times when I have been completely unavailable at home. I travel for weeks, or get lost in dreams in my room writing stories till dawn. I do not remember when I last went to the market to buy groceries for the house. These things seem trivial but are important. This traveler has never worried about such things while he is at home. At the same time, his family has made him someone who can manage all odds and survive in any situation when it is needed.

Ko Tao Thailand
Trip to Ko Tao, Thailand that gave me the initial kick to keep on traveling
A learned man once told me - "When you are passionate about something, it shows in your eyes, on your face, in your actions and in your language. and others notice it. The key is to believe in what you do and share it with others". I believe it was the 'sharing' that got people around me into my shoes and look from a different perspective even if that perspective was alien to them.

Share! People will understand

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How I fund my travel
Mistakes I have made as a Travel Blogger

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

Monday, February 10, 2014

Go 'Mising' on Majuli Island

I lock the door of my bamboo hut and look in anticipation towards the sky. The dawn is breaking. I can see sunlight trying to break through the thick layer of clouds. I can hear the sound of my breath and that of the tiny raindrops falling on my umbrella. Although most people would seek bright sunny days, for me it has always been the thunderstorms, rain and dark overcast days that give me the adrenaline rush.

Kaziranga national park assam
My hut: Photograph not quite taken at the break of dawn though
I need to catch the early morning bus to the banks of Brahmaputra from where I will take the ferry to Majuli Island. While I am waiting on the highway for the bus, few school children wave and smile at me before walking into a village road.

The three hour bus ride takes me through many stunning paddy fields and dense forests. The fields are sparsely dotted with cattle and farmers. I zip past small hamlets. I wish I could stop for a while to just experience the thrill of being in the middle of nowhere.

Assamese paddy fields
The Paddy fields in Assamese countryside
Remote villages of Assamese countryside
Remote villages of Assam
Basic information about the ferry for Majuli Island -

Ferry Timings: 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM (may vary so reach early)
Duration from Neematighat to Majuli: 1:30 hours (downstream)
Duration from Majuli to Neematighat: 3:00 hours (upstream)
Fare: Rs. 20

I miss the morning ferry and have to wait for the one in afternoon. While I wait, I walk around to photograph some fishermen boats anchored to the banks. These boats move up and down over the gentle waves that crash onto the shore. I see some fishermen playing cards inside one of the boats with Assamese folk music playing on a radio in the background. I sit down, close my eyes and listen to the folk music the words of which I could not understand while gentle breeze rushes through my hair.

Fishermen in Brahmaputra
Fishermen boats anchored to the banks of Brahmaputra
I am sad to see the rate of erosion that is happening on the banks of Brahmaputra. The soil is more of clay with nothing to protect it from getting washed off by Brahmaputra. Majuli Island has been reduced to 500 sq. km. from 1100 sq. km. in a decade.

P.S. We are looking for volunteers and the right resources to help us take up a project to conserve Majuli. Visit this link to see more: http://www.thefolktales.com/social-initiatives.php. If you are the right person/ organization, contact us.

Majuli Island is a series of Folk Tales in itself. Neo Vaishnavism has its roots in Majuli Island and is still deep in the fabric of the local communities. In the evening while I am wondering what to do, I hear hymns that seem far off but alluring enough to explore. A local tells me that women gather in the Garamur monastery (Garamur Satra) every evening to sing (borgeet) for Lord Vishnu (incarnated as Garud - a large bird like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist stories). I am a little skeptical to walk into the ceremony, afraid to offend them. But a woman calls me with a smile and I feel welcome into the group.

Neo Vaishnavism Majuli Island
Women singing for Lord Vishnu (Garamur Sattra)
Lord Vishnu as Garuda Majuli Island
Lord Vishnu as 'Garuda' (A large bird according to Indian Vedic history)
While I walk around the narrow lanes, I hear school children singing. I see locals looking at me from behind their doors with a smile on their face. They are shy, but at the same time happy to see someone from far off walking among them. I can listen for the happiness in their voice as they speak to each other in their local language. I kick off my shoes and walk barefoot on the cold sand with palm trees and bamboo houses around me.

I get a phone call from a local who wanted me to come to his place and have dinner with his family. He is from the Mising Tribe community. I don't know how he came to know about me and neither did I ask. I said 'Yes'. First time in my life I am actually sitting in a bamboo hut of a Mising Family having rice beer with them while they cook rice and fish for the whole family. Mising Tribes are the aboriginal tribes of Majuli Island. Their ancestors migrated from Arunachal Pradesh and settled here centuries ago. Their main occupation is rice farming and weaving. They are followers of 'Doni Polo' religion in which they worship natural forces of nature like the Sun, Wind and Moon. They believe in animal sacrifice.

Rice beer and fish with mising tribes in Majuli Island
Rice Beer and Fish in a Bamboo hut with Mising Family
Majuli Island women cooking fish and rice
Local women cooking Fish and Rice for me
While I am walking back to my hut, I do not need a light because the moonlight is dazzling. I have not seen such a sight in my life. Or maybe I saw it in my childhood when the cities were not so polluted and we had time to take a walk after dinner. I wish I could do justice to the actual experience and bring it for you but no camera is sophisticated enough to capture the experience that eyes can.

Majuli Island
Yes, this is moonlight
I get up early and venture out in search of the mask makers of Majuli Island. A local riding his motorbike stops and asks me if I want a lift. I hop on hoping that he would drop me a little further. We did not speak a common language, but after few attempts were able to understand what the other person was saying. He was very excited somehow and said that he would take me to wherever I wanted to go in Majuli. We visit the Natun Samaguri Satra, home to mask makers since the 17th century.

Majuli Island
Masks made in Samaguri Satra
Mask makers of Majuli Island
Mask makers use bamboo and cow dung
The family at Samaguri Satra has been making masks for generations. Wearing masks is an integral part of the communities in Majuli Island especially during the festival of Raas Leela in the months of October-November. The locals celebrate fresh harvest and depict stories from the life of Lord Krishna through stage drama.

While coming back, I see a boatman maneuvering through the farms. I am amazed by the way they live in close harmony with nature and use boats to navigate through their plantations that have developed natural canals after annual floods emanating from Brahmaputra for years.

Boatmen maneuvering through farms
I came in a rush and stayed only for two days, but I developed a bond that calls me back to this land where people sing every evening in monasteries, make masks, boats and still follow ancient practices of living. I missed the 'Raas Leela'. I will come back soon in search of new stories from this Island and this time I will not 'Stay' here, rather I will 'Live' here.

I would love to hear your stories from Majuli Island

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

Sunday, February 2, 2014

10 things to do when you are not traveling

Traveling and writing is my passion. That's why I became a travel writer. It is my dream to travel and see each and every part of this world in the years to come. I have traveled for months at a stretch when I planned the year 2013 in different parts of India. However, there are times when I am at home doing nothing but staring at a computer screen, or trying to sleep, or dreaming about places I want to go to. It becomes frustrating to be sitting at home. I wonder what I can do while I am not traveling:

1. Make this a topic to write an article on (lol) - After writing for couple of years, I know that anything can be transformed into a story. There are many fellow expert and newbie travel writers who feel the same restlessness when they are not traveling. It is a good opportunity to write and share a familiar story with them

2. Plan and book tickets to the next place you want to go to - The moment I book tickets, I find that everything begins to fall into place. I begin to think of what I want to pack, people I will meet, food that I will eat and the stories I am going to write. Breaks between travel is a great time to fantasize your next journey

Travel Planning
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Tamas)
3. Do some house hold work - Yes, you heard me right. Wash those old dusty curtains, straighten up the book shelf, fix the broken tap, polish your shoes, clean your room and sell off any old and unwanted stuff (get some money for your next journey), and get an electrician to fix that bulb which broke six months ago. Indulging in the house hold work makes me all the more eager to get back to writing

4. Cook your favorite food - While traveling, I taste some of the most amazing and unfamiliar dishes around the world. But, the charm of making that cup of hot tea in the middle of night with the fragrance of ginger, cardamom, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon is unparalleled. I also take the opportunity to cook my favorite smoky chicken while I am at home

Photo Credit: Slow Living Radio
5. Watch movies and listen to music - I hardly watch any movies ever since I started traveling. Movies launch, wait for me and go away in disappointment. Last week I saw more movies than what I saw in the last one year. Trust me, it cleared up my mind and left me eager to chase my dreams once again

6. Fetch that old family album - Every family has that rustic old album with yellowed photos that are attached on their four corners. We are so busy that these treasures get easily buried under heaps of clothes or books. Find that old album and laugh over some old forgotten moments

7. Go for a spa - Travel writers live anywhere and everywhere they can. They wear the same jeans for weeks and sometimes forget to comb hair. While you are at home, go for your favorite spa experience. Surround yourself with fragrant candles, flowers and soft music. Even this experience will create a new story in the mind of a travel writer

8. Volunteer for a cause - There are umpteen opportunities if you want to volunteer for a cause. Teach English to students, or volunteer at an organic farm, or plant trees, or take care of street animals. Spend some time just giving to others without the need to get something in return. Global Help Swap is a good way to start with.

Photo Credit: www.catawbahumane.org
9. Meet old friends, they need you - They feel you are busy and let go of their need to give you a call. You feel that they are busy and let go of your need to give them a call. While you are taking a break from traveling, meet them for a coffee or climb that old school wall once again from where you used to jump off and run away for a movie

10. Give a surprise gift to someone - It could be just a postcard, a surprise visit, a book or something handmade. Last week I saw a drive on facebook where you had to say 'I am In' to a post. The first five people to say this would receive a surprise gift sometime during the year. You had to do the same to five other people. I received gifts from long lost friends and sent gifts to people I had never spoken to. Trust me, it was fun.

What other things you do when you are not Traveling?

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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The art of 'Small Talk' for Travel Writers

We all do it and we love doing it. 'Small Talk' is a part of our lives. However, many a times we wait for 'that comfort level' to set in. As a traveler, I come across strangers everyday. Strangers who are from different cities or countries, speak different languages, look different, and eat varied kinds of food.

After so many years of travelling, I still have the same fears when it comes to striking a conversation with strangers I meet on the way. My fears range from the most common to the most weird.

Small talk for travel writers

Can you relate to any of these fears?

An interesting thing I noticed is that all these inhibitions start with a 'What if'. I started noticing people who could strike a conversation with absolute ease in any situation and with any one. I saw that most of these fears had nothing to do with the people I was meeting. These fears were a residue of some past experience I had. Not getting that appreciation in school, being misunderstood by the very person I trusted the most,  or being laughed upon by school children when I wanted to be friends with a girl.

I started wondering how do these fears stop me as a Travel Writer. I may have missed the best story of my life because I did not strike a conversation with the lady sitting in front of me while I was travelling in a train from Zurich to Interlaken. I may have missed a hearty laugh when I did not speak to a group of students travelling in a train in India and laughing away to glory.

Small talk for travel writers

Last year, while I was on a solo trip to Thailand, I deliberately made an effort to speak to strangers. In all the heaviness about the outcome, I spoke. I was surprised by the responses I got. There was not a single person who ignored me or made fun of me. I had one of the most amazing conversation on Travel Photography with a guy travelling in a bus from Bangkok to Chumphon. While motorbiking from Chiang Mai to Pai, I got lost and walked up to a house to take help. I was welcomed with open arms and the family stood by me till someone came to pick me up.


If I am willing to go beyond my fears and let people come into my life with open arms, I saw I met absolutely wonderful people. It just started with a smile, or a 'Hello'. Once I complimented a lady on the way she kept her hair together and we ended up having one of the best conversations. One of my friend met her life partner while diving in Andaman Islands, India. I see that most people talk only about small talk and its importance. However, I believe it is important to see and confront ones fears upfront before doing small talk. Sometimes I wonder, if the person in front of me also wants to talk but has same fears as I do. How about if I give up mine and start the conversation.

Small talk could start in an elevator, on a beach, or while travelling in a flight. Couple of things to remember are that keep the conversation light and away from controversial topics like terrorism, financial downfall, sex, or race. Most people come up with the most innovative ways to start conversation and books have been written on this topic. However, as a traveler I believe that best way of them all is a smile, a hello and an open heart.

Which one of your most amazing conversations started with a small talk?

Travel with me on Twitter and Facebook

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Workshop on Travel Writing in Amity University

After two months of meetings, continuous revision of the presentation, and brainstorming on what's the ideal content, the big day finally came on 16 Jan 2014. Students of masters in Travel and Tourism, Hospitality, English Literature and Business Administration had come together to be in the workshop on Travel Writing, Travel Photography, Transformational Listening, Storytelling and Responsible Rural Travel.

It is amazing to see how the skills of a Travel Writer, like Listening and Storytelling can impact the students of Business and English Literature and help them go to the next level in their areas of study. Here are some moments from the workshop -


We started with the lamp lighting ceremony in the presence of Dr. Manohar Sajnani (Dean, AITT - Amity Institute of Travel and Tourism) and Mr. Anil Mathur (Veteran correspondent at Hindustan Times). The event started with the chanting of 'Gayatri Mantra' by teachers and students.


Dr. Manohar Sajnani addressed the students in the presence of Mr. Anil Mathur and Dr. Balvinder Shukla (Acting Vice Chancellor - Amity University).


Mr. Anil Mathur spoke to the students and shared his immense wealth of knowledge from Travel and Tourism industry with all of us. It is an honor to learn from someone who is not only experienced but passionate about his job.


We indulged in conversation with the students. It was a learning experience to speak with a diverse group of students and answer their varied questions. In my experience, the students were mature, willing to participate and learn from a practical experience. This workshop was the first of its kind which gave the students practical experience of Travel Writing industry.


The students participated in a guided meditation based listening exercise where they had opportunity to alter their listening on an experiential level. The students were then asked to write their experiences as a story. We wanted the students to be as self expressed as they can without the pressure of being in a competition. It was wonderful to read the stories they came up with. The intention was to really jolt up their imagination. The stories, which were from their own lives, were oozing with authenticity and simplicity.

The students whose stories were the best were: (click to read the stories):

1. Sakshi Goyal
2. Jayant Nair
3. Aastha Arya

It was a fulfilling experience to see the expression of peace and contentment on their faces after the guided meditation. It was even more fulfilling when some of them said that it was the best experience of their lives that influenced them to transform the way they interacted with humans and objects around them.


We managed to get a group photo, even though the students were rushing out to catch their cabs. It is a privilege to have become a part of a new family now.

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