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Why I wouldn’t go back to Phnom Penh

The bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was fairly uneventful, the so called highway was nothing more than a never ending dusty stretch of land, and by the end of it, we were pretty glad that we hadn’t attempted to drive around on our own.

A short Tuk Tuk ride from the bus stand took us to our hotel, The Plantation. I had read rave reviews about this hotel, as one of the best places to stay in this city and I wasn’t disappointed. The hotel is really artistic, the staff is very friendly and helpful, the buffet breakfast is fantastic, and the spa, totally relaxing (we were offered a discount which I obviously availed 😛). But the absolute best part is the huge pool with cabanas along it’s length, where you can relax endlessly with your drinks and books, and when the sun gets too much, just walk down few steps and jump right into the pool!

The giant pool at The Plantation

The giant pool at The Plantation (the cabanas are on the left, you can somewhat see them here if you look closely)

The room

The pretty room overlooking the pool

I had two days in Phnom Penh which I spent mostly at the pool and spa in our hotel, visiting the Killing Fields, sampling amazing cuisine at Romdeng and Friends, buying souvenirs at the Russian market, walking across the waterfront and enjoying a meal at one of the local café’s right opposite it. While that sounds like quite a bit, I must be honest in admitting that I didn’t really enjoy Phnom Penh. It’s not a city that made any impression on me, at least not a positive one, which is exactly why I wouldn’t go back a second time.

I recall that on our first night we decided to have dinner at the very famous Romdeng, which wasn’t even a kilometer away, so we wanted to walk the route. Our hotel strongly discouraged us and asked that we take a Tuk Tuk since pick pocketing was common on the road. We didn’t pay heed, since it wasn’t too late in the night(8 pm) and presumably safe. While walking in a fairly well lit lane, we were followed by this guy on a bike, constantly circling around us and it did scare us a bit. We clutched our wallets and phones tightly and walked hasty steps till we reached the restaurant. And this wasn’t the only instance, all of which eventually led us to leaving our phones, cards (even my earrings behind) carrying only the minimum possible cash. This left me edgy and uncomfortable for the most part, and as a traveler that is pretty disappointing. I have also known of others who have experienced this – a friend who went to Phnom Penh on a work trip was elbowed by a guy on a bike and had her bag snatched. This was while she was walking with another colleague in broad daylight. She bravely held on to her bag and the bike guy had to let go.

I had a fantastic time in Cambodia but Phnom Penh was probably the only place in my entire trip where I didn’t feel safe and welcomed – it seemed like everyone from the Tuk Tuk driver, to the roadside vendor was out to rip us off.

Possibly the only thing that you may want to specially visit Phnom Penh for is the Killing Fields and Genocide museum. These are the biggest tourist draws to Phnom Penh, and while one may argue why such a place has been opened to tourists, I do think seeing these places will offer you an insight into Cambodian history like nothing else. It is said that every Cambodian today, over the age of 50 has witnessed and survived Pol Pot’s extreme regime, every family has experienced this horror.

I visited only the Killing Fields and I can tell you that it is definitely not an easy place to visit. Under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, nearly one third of the population was killed or died out of starvation. The killing fields were where these mass executions were carried out and one of these is now open to public viewing. Since bullets were expensive, people were killed by torture, slitting their throats by sharp leaves, hacked by hammers, rods or hung from trees. The “killing tree” was used to kill babies, by smashing their skulls on this tree. The experience is disturbing and horrific. During rains, many times skulls, bones and clothes rise to the ground surface even today. A giant stupa now acts as a memorial for all those who lost their lives and displays skulls and bones of the victims, which were recovered from the mass graves. It is unimaginable, chilling, painful.

We walked back in silence, the air still, heavy and foreboding, and skipped going to the Genocide Museum that day.

Cambodia is now opening up to tourists from all across the globe, but it is a country which is still getting back on its feet, one day at a time. In a warped way, I could make sense of my discomfort, understand why locals are always out to make an extra buck, why you need to be careful with your belongings lest someone snatch them – I can’t justify any of this, but I could understand it.Somewhat.

The memorial, Killing Fields

The memorial, Killing Fields


Have you visited Phnom Penh? Would love to know of your experience in the comments section.

A Guide to Planning and Enjoying a Multi-generation Family Holiday

Travelling in a large group of friends and family, to the hills of Himachal or Uttarkhand was the only way we travelled while growing up. I have memories of those road trips, stretching over a couple of days, when we packed food for the road, still made frequent pit stops at local dhabas on the highway, were never in a rush to reach our destination, but once we did, we all settled in quickly. The parents were happy to have all the kids off their chest, and us kids would be thrilled to spend our days playing games and running around, and well, just being kids. Our demands and needs were much simpler and adjustments and joy came fairly easily.

Today, most of us are city dwellers with fast lives and jobs and commitments, and while we are travelling much more than the generation before, most of us chose to do it with our partners or a small close knit group of friends and family. In fact, the more I think about this, I realize how immensely our travel habits have changed from childhood to adulthood,  with a much greater focus on individual experiences and enrichment, that fulfil our desires for exposure and personal growth. In fact, I ran an Instagram and Facebook poll asking if people would consider travelling in a large family group and the majority on both platforms had concerns and felt that they would lose their mind 🙂 . In addition, changing lifestyles, challenging logistics and time all add up making large group travel almost non-existent in the modern family unit.

Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to travel in an extended family group, on my husband’s side, and I have been surprised that I enjoyed these travels as much as I did. I have always loved to travel in a small group of friends or with my partner, where I take the charge of leading the itinerary, and I have a lot of control over what I end up doing. I also like a bit of space and doing my own thing, so I wasn’t sure if I would every fit in with a very large group of family travelling together. It sure was a different way of travel for me, but different isn’t necessarily bad. In my experience, there is one main qualifier that tilts the balance in favour of this style of traveling.

Quality time.

When you live in a city, whether you are single or married, have kids or don’t, spending time with your own family and siblings can get difficult, and extended family, rarer. A holiday together can allow for all sorts of memories, and even if they are weird, funny incidents, they make for a good story for later. And from a personal standpoint, travelling with multiple generations can throw up interesting experiences that you maybe have never even considered otherwise.

If you are considering a trip with parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, here are my top tips to help you play an Effective Organizer –

Fix the Budget

This should be the starting point for any group holiday. And it’s also a tricky one, as not everybody is comfortable discussing budget openly. It needs some tact and insight to narrow a budget per person that is realistic and comfortable for each family and then get everybody’s agreement on it. You may want to have a one on one discussion with some members but this is one of the most critical pieces to align initially.

Keep in mind that flights/trains, activities, extra meals, drinks will all add up. And you don’t want people disappointed when they ended up spending way more than what they wanted to. So plan well, and be very clear on what’s included and what’s additional. You have to be comfortable discussing money with the family.

Hotels will be happy to share payment links that individual families can pay directly to. Flights can be paid individually by every family as well. Any common group expenses can be done by the organizer, pre-paid or post, on the comfort of the group.

Set a date and duration

Multiple generations and agendas, job responsibilities, school breaks etc. all mean that there is a narrow window in the year that will work for everybody. Fix the time of the year that works for all, then fix the exact date and number of days. For the first trip, a good duration is 4-5 days, enough to explore a place but not too long to get restless. And any family that wants to explore further can continue their trip independently post the holiday.


With budget and duration out of the way, you can start thinking of destination options. Again, for a first holiday, I would really recommend picking a place that is well connected and does not involve extended periods of travel on the road. Once you are on the road with a large group, everything takes longer. So pick a well-connected destination. Keep in mind the family members coming from different cities or countries and how easy or difficult it may be for them. Do the research on the visa requirements, weather, stay, activities, extra costs and line up 3 options, in order of priority and list pros and cons. Make the choice democratic and let everyone vote.

Accommodate everybody

With a group spanning three generations, it’s a fact that interests and physical abilities will vary significantly which is why you will need a destination that has a number of choices for activities. Resorts for example are a great option. So are cruises.  Facilities such as a swimming pool, walking trails or treks, kids club, shopping, local activities can keep everyone engaged. I have learnt that no matter how exciting a destination, if it does not have enough “to do” in close proximity, it will be extremely hard to keep everyone entertained.

Another important element to watch out for is the availability of a common space where everyone can get together. It could be a library or a private section of a lobby for example. This is important as the group will want a place to assemble at, at different times. Giving up your room or expecting anyone else to do it can be uncomfortable, so make sure to discuss the possibilities with the resort.

Allow for time outs

While it’s good to have a plan and activities lined out, accept that not everyone has to do everything together. Little breaks of being independent or in smaller groups are actually great for everyone to not feel restricted. In Coorg for example, we went for a rainforest walk that almost everyone in the group did (from age 3 to age 70), but there was a hike (Nishani) that a very small group decided to go for. Pushing those who don’t enjoy a harder hike OR asking some to skip it, are both are unfair and unnecessary. The idea is to spend quality time together but little time outs don’t hurt.

Fix the food

Food is an extremely important part that can make or break any holiday. In my experience, I have found it to be extremely tedious to do an ala carte menu with a large group. Ensure that a breakfast buffet is part of your package so that everybody gets their morning fix. Try and speak to your hotel for a fixed menu for other meals. If you are eating outside at another place, fix a menu and book a table. Believe me when I say that people can get very grumpy when they are hungry, and it is extremely hard for a lot of smaller restaurants to serve large groups efficiently, unless pre-planned. Food is one area that you should not leave open for any spontaneous decisions. Make sure to pick the right places that cater to popular tastes and also include local food in your plan. And if few people want to have some adventure with food, allow scope for them to do that independently.

Make evenings about a fun activity for everyone

Evenings are the best time for everyone to get together and spend time together after a day of activity. Make sure to line up interesting things that can be done in a group – for example games (our group loved Mafia and it has now become a staple at every family holiday), playing music, singing songs or just catching up on family gossip. Evenings are a great time to wind down and bond and draw a list of games or activities that can be enjoyed across generations.

A souvenir or memento

This one is of course not necessary but if the budget allows, as the organizer its great fun to source a small memento that everyone can carry back. A t-shirt, a group photo, a local souvenir all are appreciated. It’s really not about the value but the thought and memory.

With the practical tips out of the way, I also wanted to share some behaviour learnings I had, that go a long way in keeping the holiday fun and breezy. These are important for you as an organizer, but also for others in the group and your own attitude can help set the stage for everyone’s temperament.

Keep an open mind

You don’t think it’s really fun to go see a museum, but the cousin’s kids insist and you moan and complain and then put your grumpiest face on. Don’t do it. Part of the fun is to keep an open mind and do things that are not “you”. There is a fair chance that you will hate it; there is a very fair chance you won’t.

Get to know your family better

Quality time with family is rare and treasured. This is a great occasion to spend hours chatting and catching up, with no distractions. Make the most of it.

Take time out when you need it

If you need a break, take some time out. Chill in your room, or go for a walk or read a book. I am a firm believer of taking one’s space and returning back rejuvenated.

Don’t take things personally

Spending so much time together in such close quarters can trigger arguments or differences of opinion on the most trivial things. The reality is that when you are on a holiday together, you can’t walk away and leave. Sulking beyond a limit in unpleasant for everyone. So if things are said, letting it go and not making a personal deal out of it are important.

As an organizer specially, if people are not in agreement to your choices, don’t take it personally. Accept and move on.

Your opinion on every matter is not important

With so many people across generations and ideologies, there are bound to be some differences in opinion on matters big and small. How the cousin brother parents his kids and your own views on it are not really relevant to be stated out aloud. (Indian)Families can tend to be very opinionated on matters of parenting, drinking, sleeping, eating, basically everything and anything 😀 . Know that it’s not necessary to give out opinions on every matter, especially avoid trivial things that aren’t a real personal bother to you.

You don’t need to please

As an organizer, you should know that not everyone can be perfectly happy with every situation. Accept that some people will enjoy certain things and others won’t. While you want everybody to have a memorable time and laud you for your effort and skills, constantly trying to please can be a major dampener on your own experience and a strain you don’t want. So kick back and chill.

Go with the flow and spread good cheer

In large groups, not everything can go to plan every single hour of every single day. Some kid will cry, someone may not feel well, someone may feel too energetic. Plans will need to evolve to accommodate all of this. Don’t get too hung up on the “itinerary”, allow room for change, and when things don’t go according to plan, just smile and move on. Remember, there is nothing better than the one cheerful family member amongst a sea of chaos.

I hope this helps you planning a fun and exciting trip with extended family. It will be different for sure, but it will be worth it.



A Photo Essay of Madikeri, Coorg : 50 Shades of Green

Kodagu, popularly known as Coorg is a beautiful part of Karnataka that I visited last year. We stayed in a picturesque town called Madikeri, which is the district headquarters. Framed by the Western Ghats, Coorg is rich and diverse in its flora and fauna, as we experienced up close, through a walk into its rainforests as well as a hike to Nishani peak, organised by our hotel, Taj Madikeri.

The Taj Madikeri is built in a stunning location, surrounded by 180 acres of rainforests on all sides. They organized a walk with Nitin Subbiah, a naturalist and our guide and we were intrigued with his deep knowledge of the many mysteries of the forest, the unique balance of nature, the many examples of the harmony that exists between the flora and fauna – from funnel web spiders that create their home and trap their prey, to strangler trees, wild elephants, exotic butterflies, mushrooming of spices and coffee, this was an incredible walk that was enjoyed across age groups (our group spanned three generations from age four to seventy).

We also got a chance to do the Nishani hike which offers stunning views of the ghats, gorged on local food, shopped tons of spices and indulged in the allure of our surroundings. If there is one thing that stood out for me, it was the remarkable beauty of nature that is abundant in Coorg, in all shades of green.  A photo  essay  below-

The Taj Madikeri is a stunning property set amidst lush green rainforests (It’s an expensive stay and considering that, we had some unexpected teething issues, but all in all, what you get for the price is amazing scenery, plus they have a killer buffet breakfast spread).

Just look at that pool! We spent a lot of time here and the days(in Dec) were extremely sunny and pleasant.

The landscape as we went into the rainforests on our guided walk. As you go deeper, the forest gets dense, but what doesn’t change is the green.

If you love South Indian food, you will go wild at breakfast since a variety of local dishes are served everyday. Light crispy fresh dosas with a choice of chutneys was a daily staple for me.

And I loved this bamboo shoot curry with the rice balls. Yum!










Deep into the forest.

These funnel web spiders were everywhere. They find their spot, create their home and  use  the  web  to  catch  their  prey.  We  were  lucky  to  spot  this  guy  just coming  out  of his nook.

We plucked some peppercorns off a tree and actually tasted them in their current unripe form. Once ripe, these are cooked and dried and look like the black peppercorn we use in everyday Indian food.

Coffee and more coffee!

Star fern in abundance.








Stunning colors on  this  little  butterfly!

Lot of Elaeocarpus Ganitrus trees grow in the forest, the seeds are known as Rudrakash seeds and used as prayer beads in Hinduism.

This tree is called a Strangler Tree, typically grows in dark dense forests where the competition for light is intense. It grows around any existing tree and spreads itself upwards for light, and downwards to establish roots. Once done, it starts killing the tree inside, if you look closely you can see that the original tree is all but hollow. Survival of the fittest!

Polka dot plant, now abundantly  grown  in  city  homes.

We met this little guy and oh and aah-ed to capture  photos  till  we  were  told  it’s  poisonous! Nitin assured us that any animal would attack only if they felt threatened. As long as we kept a safe distance and didn’t come in their way, we would be fine.

Another good looker!

Stunning views from the top of Nishani peak.

More coffee!

And of course, ending with some coffee yogurt and strong black coffee  😀  .


A Guided Walking Tour of Lodhi Art District with St+Art India

Early this year, I stumbled upon Instagram photos of some very striking wall murals in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, and as I traced their origins, I learnt that they were part of a focused effort by an organization called St+Art India, a non-profit that aims to bring the art experience outside of a traditional gallery, into public spaces, thereby making it accessible to all.

The Lodhi Art District, as it’s now getting popularly known, is their largest project so far. Outside of Delhi, the foundation has also beautified spaces in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, with Chennai coming up next.

When St+Art announced the walking tours for Delhi, I immediately signed up for a slot this October. The weather gets better and this would be a perfectly fine reason to walk around one of the most scenic parts of Delhi, with tons of art around. This is a paid tour, but of course you don’t really need to pay since this is an “open air museum”. I just thought it would be more fun in knowing the stories behind the murals and the artists and meeting new people (which will cost you Rs. 700 per person).

The tours are running twice a month, every second and fourth Saturday from October 2019 till March 2020 and tickets are available on Besides Delhi, there are guided tours in Mumbai and Hyderabad as well.

I landed at the meeting point, Gate No.3 of the India Habitat Centre. We were a bunch of about 20 people – an interesting mix of travellers, expats and locals. Some people came in small groups but mostly a lot of solos. Priyanka, a St+Art employee, led the pack as our guide for the day.

The tour stretches over 2.5 hours. It is a very casual walk through the district and you end up covering about 25-30 murals. There is a lot of background sharing and stories about the artwork, the artist, their thought process and other fun anecdotes. And of course, enough time for everyone to take tons of pictures.

The walk itself is great, Lodhi colony is very green, wide roads, pavements and no traffic on the inside lanes. It was still  quite hot on the day of our tour(October mid), so a hat and water will be good to carry, but December-March will be perfect weather for this. There is a short 10 min chai and samosa break mid-way, at a local snack corner. Overall, this is a very easy walk and suitable for anyone who is comfortable being on their feet for two to three hours.

As we walked through the leafy lanes, I chatted with Priyanka to understand how St+Art is bringing this new concept to Indian cities, of beautifying public spaces through art. I learnt that the foundations works extensively with global and local artists (though the local artist representation is much thinner), to match them to the correct project and support them in fulfilling their creative vision. A lot of work also happens with residents and local municipalities and governments for access and permissions. These are the most time consuming but necessary. Funding is largely through their work with embassies of the country of artist. They have also been able to rope in as sponsor, one of the largest paint manufacturers in the country.

The murals are more than aesthetics and colour, and often depict messages about the city, society, people, culture and environment. It must be tricky to decide the message and if it actually resonates with its surroundings, I asked Priyanka. She explained that St+Art did a lot of pre-production work with the artists which involved briefings and alignment on what they would like to showcase, while ensuring that their creative vision remains intact. For the Lodhi project, while many artists stuck to their initial vision,  some drew inspiration from India once they arrived, from Delhi and the Lodhi neighbourhood and ended up evolving their initial idea, to reflect strong elements of Indian culture and life. It’s not surprising thus, to come across a mural of scenes from a Delhi neighbourhood, of clothes drying on the terrace, street vendors, sweet shops, roadside barbers, and simple everyday life scenes, drawn by an international artist.

Sharing a few of my favourite murals and the thought behind them. This is a super fun way to see a part of Delhi, through a lens of art and creativity!

German artist Bond Truluv created this super-cool mural which when seen through his app transforms into 3D!

Sameer Kulavoor depicts a social media obsessed generation that wants to share everything  online. He focuses on the plants made famous by Instagram  :-).

Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong showcases scenes of daily life in Lodhi – a sweet shop owner, a cow sunning on the road, carpets  drying  on  the  terrace,  a tea  stall,  a roadside  barber. Unmissable  scenes  typical  of  any  locality  in  Delhi.

Gond Artist Rakesh Kumar Memrot painted this majestic elephant, from whose’s tusks, branches and leaves flow on both sides of the wall. The detailing of the elephant, the leaves and birds is extremely fine and the impact is stunning.

The artist goes by the name of Daku(means “thief”) and his installation is called Time Changes Everything – metal cut outs that cast shadows of words such as Hope, Ambition, Desire, Life on a blank white wall. Bright daylight and noon sun are both necessary to see this installation. Pigeons have now screwed up the words and some alphabets are missing but there are no specific plans to restore it, said the St+Art team.

This piece didn’t look like much till Priyanka asked us to see it through our phone camera. “The Origin of the World”  by Borondo depicts life and the many passages one needs to cross between birth and death. He was inspired by the maternity hospital that faces this wall.  A boat just beneath the window  is  the  carrier  from  one  side  to  the  other.

Harsh Raman shows a fusion of tradition and pop, through elements of modernization on a Kathakali dancer.

This wall called “Saath Saath” was painted together with the residents of Lodhi. Artist Dattaraj Naik created the design and the residents shared words or phrases on what their neighbourhood means to them. These words have been incorporated throughout the wall  and  if  you  see  the  wall  from  a distance,  the  two  words,  Saath  Saath  emerge  through  the  explosion  of  color  and  design.

Travel isn’t always pretty – An eye-opening tour of Hebron, West Bank

I stood in the Abraham Hostel lobby in Jerusalem, 15 min to 9 am, looking around the group. People sipped their coffees and the room was full with the casual air of small talk. This could have been any day and any tour, except that it wasn’t. In a few minutes, we would be on our way to Hebron – the most conflicted and troubled city in the Middle East.

Shortly, a young chirpy girl marched in with Eliyahu McLean, our guide for the day. She called out our names, checking them off her list rapidly. Eliyahu was an orthodox Jew – as I could see from the Kippah (cloth skullcap) and Payot (long curly side locks) he adorned. He told us that we would walk to the Central Bus Station and then ride out to Hebron, 30km north of Jerusalem.

As we left the city and the bus picked up speed, Eliyahu told us that he ran Jerusalem Peacemakers, an interfaith organization that promoted peaceful dialogue and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. As part of his work, he organized the Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron, to give foreigners a perspective of the situation on ground in the conflicted city. We would hear both sides of the narrative – the first half of the day would be spent with an Arab guide Mohammed and the latter half with him. We should be safe, announced Elihayu, foreigners were seldom the target of any attack. We all knew that we were headed into a complex, volatile and unpredictable space, but I could see the lines of worry cross many eyes.

The Conflict

The history of the Israel Palestine conflict can be traced back to World War II and the holocaust in which millions of Jews were killed, and the remaining wanted to establish their own homeland, into what was an then an Arab-Muslim major territory. The Arabs resisted and two wars(1948 and 1967) later, the border lines that we today see of Israel and the surrounding Arab countries came into existence. The 1967 war left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, home to over a million Arabs.

Hebron sits in the West Bank and is the second holiest city for Judaism after Jerusalem, and one of the four holy cities in Islam. Jews and Arabs both feel that the land is rightfully theirs. After the 1967 war, Israeli settlers began moving into Hebron, leading to constant conflict between both sides. After a massive terror attack in 1997, Hebron was divided into 2 parts, with 80% under Palestinian control, called H1, and 20% under Jewish control called H2. Most of the Palestinian population, about 200,000 people live in H1. The Israeli “settlers” in H2 are approximated to be less than a thousand people, matched in number by the soldiers put there to protect them from the Palestinians. About 20,000 Palestinians also live in H2, under Israeli control. This proximity is a constant source of conflict even today.

(In case you are interested to get into greater detail about the conflict, this article by VOX is a fantastic read on the history of the Israel Palestine conflict.

We reached Hebron, and the bus stopped right outside the Tomb of Patriarchs, as I would learn later, a building of deep religious significance to both Arabs and Jews. Abraham is considered the founder of the three monotheistic religions and patriarch of the Jews through his son Isaac. From his other son, Ismael, descend the Arabs and therefore the Islamic religion, making this shrine a holy place for both Jews and Arabs. The Tomb of Patriarchs today is divided into 2 parts, a mosque on one side and a synagogue on the other.

Eliyahu told us that he would meet us after lunch and take us around H2. He dropped us off at a point where we met Mohammed, dressed in jeans and a khaki t-shirt, a cap on his head and sports shoes, he smiled openly as we approached him.

The Tomb of Patriarchs

The Palestinian Narrative

Mohammed grew up in Hebron, and didn’t remember a time when the city was devoid of politics and violence. Life as a Palestinian was hard, and he shared his anger that they were made to feel like outsiders in their own city. We followed him to the Tomb of Patriarchs, to the mosque side, divided by metal doors from the Jewish part. We removed our shoes and the women were handed a cloak to cover our heads. We entered the main praying area quietly, the carving, the intricate chandeliers, the dim lights and the men and women sitting on the floor and praying peacefully was surreal.

Mohammed took us aside so as to not disturb anyone and continued to tell us about the difficulty of life as a Palestinian, the ever expanding restrictions and checks by Israeli Defence Force, constant curfews and violence. ID cards were to be carried at all the times, there were enough cases of beatings or being sent to jail if found without it. These rules did not apply to Jews. Curfews were rampant and came without warning. Sometimes they stretched for days, sometimes weeks. There were cases of Palestinians being shot at, if found outside during curfew hours, even on their own terrace. A pregnant Arab lady was refused check point clearance to go to the hospital, and ended up delivering her baby at the checkpoint.

What made Mohammed and others like him go through this every single day, when an option to move to another part of town existed? How did kids study, businesses be run, money be made? How did anyone know that their family is safe and will return home at night? It was beyond my comprehension and I couldn’t help but ask Mohammed why he went through this every single day. That’s exactly what Israel wants, to drive us out and take full control of H2, he said, visibly agitated. This is just the beginning and they won’t stop. If we don’t resist, they will drive us out of H1 eventually.

We left the mosque and proceeded to go to the H1 side. To do so, we had to cross a shopping street but only a few shops were open, selling utilities, clothes, carpets, souvenirs, but barely any customers. I looked up to see that a mesh sheet covered the entire street and it was full of stones, bottles and trash. Mohammed told us that as the Israeli’s started taking control of Hebron, Israeli “settlers” moved into town and made illegal constructions on top of the Palestinian shops. The shop owners couldn’t do much as the military supported and protected these families. These families threw trash, glass bottles, water, bleach and even urine on the shops below. Many shopkeepers got fed up and left, and their shops remain permanently closed. There are others who are still resisting – since these shops and businesses have been handed down generations and they are determined not to leave them.

We walked till H1 and while there was no physical barrier separating the two sides, the contrast was stark. H1 was bustling with people, traffic, noise, shops, café’s, street urchins and chaos. Everywhere we looked, people smiled and waved hellos. It could have been any city, vibrant, normal.

We crossed paths with two volunteers from an international relief and peace agency, who stayed in Hebron and reported the on ground situation to their country. They waved to Mohammed and he asked them to share their views, both iterated the daily injustice and suffering of the people of Palestine. There is enough international attention on Hebron, and we met more agencies and volunteers on both sides of the fence.

Our next stop was a local family’s house for lunch. Through a small gate, we were led into the living room by a group of ladies and young girls, their heads covered in a hijab, and large brown eyes that smiled shyly. Tables with big bottles of cola and plastic cups were already set up. The ladies went to the kitchen working on the meal and two young girls were assigned the jobs of serving – pita and hummus, along with rice, chicken and vegetables. As one of them laid down my plate, I admired her large brown eyes, and I smiled at her. She must have been 10 or 12. I wanted to ask her name and if she went to school. What did she like to study? Did she have friends she played with on the street? Did she want to stay here? What were her dreams of a future life? All I could manage was a mumbled thank you as she laid down my food and she nodded and moved on. I ate my food quietly, tired and hungry.

The Israeli Narrative

After lunch, we said our goodbyes to Mohammed and thanked him and walked back to the Tomb of Patriarchs where Eliyahu was waiting for us. He introduced us to a Jewish settler who had been living in Hebron for decades. A gun hung at his waist and when someone asking him why he carried it, he gave a knowing laugh like he knew this was coming. His laughter made me uncomfortable, but I knew that this wasn’t just about him. There would be many others who mirrored his sentiment on ownership over Hebron and were willing to fight for it. And then he said something that stays with me even today – that there were no easy answers and as foreigners, we should experience both sides of the story and not rush to judge. What was I there for, if not to hear both sides with an open mind.

We followed Eliyahu into the heart of H2. Unlike H1, this side of Hebron looks like a ghost town, the streets empty and the shops closed, their shutters covered with graffiti and propaganda, and only a few buildings housing families. As we walked these streets, Eliyahu stopped and narrated horrific incidents about Jews that had died because of Palestinian bombers and shooters. One that I specifically recall was in 2011, a baby girl’s parents were walking with her from a parking lot to their family house. A Palestinian sniper fired to the baby’s head, killing her instantly. A mural was made to remember her tragic death.

He then took us to the Avraham Avinu Synagogue, the spiritual and religious centre of the Hebron community. He spoke about its history and revealed ancient and rare Torah scrolls which had been kept there since time immemorial, proof that Jews had always lived in this land. After that, we went to Beit Hadassah, a building constructed in 1893 by the Jewish community as a centre of benevolent activities. The building houses an exhibition showcasing graphic images from the 1929 Hebron massacre, post which no Jews remained in Hebron. The exhibition was dark and disturbing, and Elihayu went into a lot of detail about the massacre, it was all just too much to process.

We then approached the Al-Shuhada Street, which used to be the busiest shopping street in Hebron and is now permanently closed. As we crossed a checkpoint, an IDF guard waved out to us. He asked us where we are from and when we asked him the same, he told us that he was born and brought up in the US, lived in upstate New York till he was 19 and then moved back to serve his country. For someone who had never lived in Israel to come back and serve, that too in Hebron was unbelievable, and it spoke to me of a deep nationalist fervour amongst Jews, no matter where they are in the world.  Apparently, about 3% of the IDF comprises of Jewish soldiers that are also nationals of other countries.

Eliyahu told us that he would take us to see the best view of Hebron and we gladly welcomed the relief. We reached one of the main buildings in H2 where Jewish families live. We climbed the stairs to the terrace and it was hot and windy, but he was right. the views were spectacular. From here, Hebron looked pristine and pretty, peaceful even, ironically.

We walked back to the Tomb of Patriarchs, and entered from the Jewish side this time. Eliyahu took us to where the patriarchs and matriarchs were buried and he delved into more history. He was interrupted by music and chatter from a wedding party in one corner of the room. A bride, in a beautiful white fish tail dress, her hair done up in flowers and a thin veil covering her face, was surrounded by her bridesmaids talking and blushing. Then the groom joined her, both of them glowing with the excitement of new beginnings, passing shy smiles and looking so much in love. They held my attention, it was the most happy I had seen that day.

I was so engrossed in the wedding proceedings that I missed the last part of what Eliyahu was saying, and when I turned, he was wrapping up his story and telling us that it was time to head back to the bus.

I looked out the window as the bus left Hebron, tired and sad.

I thought of the smiling faces of the women who fed us lunch, the frustrated shopkeeper, the Jewish settler with the gun, the soldier, the horrific stories, the empty streets, the security, the pain and suffering of it all. I thought of Mohammed and Eliyahu, both with compelling perspectives, both trying to convince they were in the right. Who is the sufferer? Who is the perpetrator? What is right and what is wrong? Or the truth is nothing but versions of each side.

It’s not an easy tour to take, and it created more questions and answers, but sometimes, when you travel, you face tough things, unpleasant things, sad things, things that don’t affect your everyday life. And you have the chance to look away, to focus on the pretty stuff, the happy stuff. I found it hard to look away this time. And I am glad I didn’t, for my own perspective about the world and an attempt to face things that are far beyond my realm of consideration.

This tour was taken with Abraham Tours and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who visits Israel and wants to develop a deeper understanding of the Israel Palestine conflict and see the situation in the city of Hebron first-hand.


Israel to Jordan by land – What to expect when crossing the Beit She’an border

As I sat in the plane, I felt uneasy about the impending chaos. Our trip had begun, but we barely had an itinerary and barring the apartment in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem(which were also booked in the last 48 hours), we hadn’t made any arrangements elsewhere. We had booked a return flight from Amman, Jordan since we got cheaper tickets to fly back to Delhi from there, but we had no clue on how we would get there. I had vouched in 2018 that I will be more spontaneous on trips, but this was stretching my limits and spending precious time on the internet trying to figure things out while I could be seeing more of a new place was something that gave me a lot of discomfort. But here I was, on a plane to Israel, ready to take-off and I decided to reassure myself that things would be okay.
It wasn’t a surprise really that things turned out this way. A close couple friend was keen to take some time off and explore a new country, as were we, and with everyone’s work and commitments, a window of 10 days emerged, a month out. Israel was the agreed country, but when a couple of days later, conversations starting moving from “what all shall we do” to “shall we look for an alternate place”, I knew that it was a decision based on impulse that everyone was now questioning. Word travels fast in Indian families and our unusual destination of choice had stirred some feathers. If you must know, we are in our 30s, and our parents choose to have strong opinions about our choices still. Are you seriously laughing? Laugh if you must, but you aren’t Indian 😉 .
Anyway, the decision was made and there was no changing it. We applied for visas and got ours quickly, but our friends were delayed and got theirs 3 days before departure. So we spent(Read wasted) a lot of the month making plans, but never really finalizing them, since the jury on whether it was to be a party of 2 or 4 wasn’t out. The friends did get their visas 72 hours out, and those 72 hours were frantic to book the things we were sure of being asked at immigration. We all felt quite adventurous, venturing on a trip to Israel, into the unknown.

Anyway, Israel was interesting and complicated – a whole new world that I had only read about but now had the chance to experience. Tel Aviv was very hip , all fancy and beaches and cocktails, Jerusalem and West Bank were intense, we ate bucket loads of hummus every day, floated in the dead sea, marveled at the ruins of Masada, walked through local markets and ate tone of sweet treats at coffee shops(More on what I did in Israel here). The holiday was drawing to a close and we had to head to Amman, to catch our flight back to Delhi. We will just book a flight to Amman, or so we thought.

We were in for a rude shock – from Tel Aviv, a one way flight to Amman was upwards of Rs 25,000. There should be a cheaper way to get there and search revealed that we could cross the border by land and get a visa on arrival at one of the borders. Exciting as it sounded, there was a lot of rather worrisome information on the internet – difficulties travelers faced in crossing borders in the middle of nowhere, getting cheated by taxi drivers, tough immigration, the list was endless. If I was solo, I would have been discouraged, but we were 4 of us, and our collective courage meant something. So after some deliberation, it was agreed that we would be crossing the Jordan River/Beit Shean border, get a visa on arrival and travel to Amman.

Below is my first hand experience of crossing this border.

To get to Beit Shean, we took a bus from the central bus station in Jerusalem, which was quite easy. Buses run frequently and a ticket costs 40 ILS($11) per person for the 2 hour journey. The buses are air conditioned, clean and very comfortable and the journey was uneventful except when the bus stopped at a checkpoint, and 3 security personnel came aboard(guns and all, very commonplace) and asked for passports of a few passengers, of which 4 were us.  They had a quick glance at the passport and returned it back to us, not a word said and they left the bus quickly. There wasn’t any drama but it gave me enough fodder to talk about for the rest of the journey.

The bus dropped us at the Biet Shean terminal, which is ~4kms from the border. We got down, luggage and all, and stood at the curb to get a taxi. Taxis came, and demanded 10 ILS per person and when I tried to bargain(in vain, I must add), the drivers just refused and left. I had just about succumbed to the idea that I would be taking this very pricey journey, when a big guy called out to us from across the street. He had a mini bus and asked for 20 ILS for four of us, and we were obviously thrilled with our luck so we agreed and got on. I announced to everyone that the Israeli’s were so kind and generous and there was goodness and honesty in the world, and the driver was a blessed soul to be taking a fair price for the mini van etc etc. The mini bus came to halt suddenly and we could see the gate of the immigration center about 100m away, so we obviously asked him to drop us right at the gate but the guy insisted we get down then and there because the mini van was a school van and he wasn’t keen to get into any questioning with security.

We entered the facility upon showing our passports, and got to a counter where we had to deposit 105 ILS($29) as exit fee per person. The process was simple, you pay the fee, get the receipt, show it at the immigration counter and then you walk through a tiny duty free into a waiting area. It’s very self serve style and there isn’t staff around to help, but it really is very simple. As we sat in the waiting area, we weren’t sure if we should just walk out of the country(as was suggested by a lot of online articles) or if a transport would be provided. There was no guidance anywhere and we asked some other travelers but everyone was as lost. So we decided to wait it out and kill time by eating some junk from the sole vending machine and calling up people back home. Soon enough, a bus lined up and all of us got on to it and in a couple of minutes we had left Israeli territory and were at the Jordan Embassy.

Our passports were checked, we had to pay a fee of 40 JD($56) as visa fee. It was quick and fuss free and the overall vibe was very talky and friendly. 5 minutes apart but a whole new world. We came out of the embassy, and found ourselves in a middle-of-nowhere scenario. A parking lot with a couple of taxis and drivers, that’s it. This is probably the hardest part, getting a taxi in good price since there aren’t options and the drivers will quote exorbitant prices. We settled for a cab at 44JD straight to Amman, annoying driver who drove super fast, played Jordanian music and sang and smoked all along. We wanted to stop at a snack stall and buy some things for the way and the guy never stopped at any stall we pointed out, but said he will take us to a “nice” one. The “nice” one was no different than the others, we bought some more junk but it was so expensive, we couldn’t understand what was written on the packets, so me and my friend just rolled our eyes at the owner, waiting for some response but he just ignored us.

Overall, crossing this border between Israel and Amman is not as hard or complicated as some articles will have you believe. Some important pointers to keep in mind –

  1. You can check the bus schedule to travel from any city in Israel to the border cities on this website. We bought the tickets in the bus itself.
  2. If you plan to stay a minimum of 3 nights in Jordan, you should definitely check out the Jordan pass which allows you a visit to Petra and 40 other attractions, plus waives off the visa fee. We couldn’t avail it since we stayed only 2 nights, but overall it seems like a good option for those staying longer.
  3. The Beit Shean/Jordan River crossing is the only border where you can get visa on arrival.
  4. For all land borders, check the hours of operation and holidays online before you make your plans. This was very confusing as every website listed different timings but we went by what the Israel Airports Authority website listed.  I would highly recommend checking the latest update before you make your plans.
  5. Carry cash for the exit and visa fee. We saw some travelers struggling with their credit/debit cards at Beit She’an and the only option they had was to go back into town and withdraw money. Carrying cash was just overall more convenient.






2019 Travel Trends that I actually want to follow

I am not a trendy person, I will be honest. And as I age, my choices in food, fashion, lifestyle are veering more and more towards “going back to the basics”. So, I am surprised that I wanted to write this post. As the calendar rolled into 2019, and the internet was abuzz with forecasts of all kinds, I couldn’t help but enthusiastically nod yes on six trends in travel that I was already loving.

Travel reflects changing mindsets and culture, social and economics shifts. I grew up in Delhi in the 90’s and at its core, travel was about a large group of friends and family, hill stations and road trips in summers. Today, with greater disposable incomes, cheaper flights, options of bnbs, technology, a change in mindset and world views, people are travelling more than ever before. And the expectation from travelling is changing constantly.

Travel leaves an impact, not only on the traveler but also on the destination. And as travelers we need to be more conscious of that. I don’t think that there is any perfect way to travel, it’s all very personal, and it should be that. What is important though is to travel responsibly and respect local culture, peoples and the environment.

The trends this year are a strong reflection of the above – of changing expectations and a growing consciousness. So, it feels right to share these, maybe they will offer you some inspiration, maybe they will resonate with your ideas about travel, and you will also nod a yes 🙂 .

Multi-generation travel

Nuclear families with hectic lives find it difficult to meet their family members on a regular basis…and multi-generation travel is a great way to spend quality time.

Source –

The husband’s side of the family decided to start a yearly trip –spanning 3 generations and age groups from 3 to 70! To me, this seemed like a very complex idea – people like different things, one man’s meat is another man’s poison if you know what I mean. But surprise, surprise, the “tradition” is three years running now. And you know why? Because while differences will continue to exist, this is a wonderful way to bond and spend quality time, in a way that no meal or coffee allows for.

Travelling together with a group is something I grew up with, but as an adult, it fizzled out. Somewhere, I deliberately kept away because I wanted to do things my way and I gravitated only towards a select small group. There is absolutely nothing wrong in travelling solo or with a limited group, in fact it’s got amazing perks as well. Yet, a part of me has truly enjoyed the big group experience. It teaches you a lot of adjustment and patience, getting your way and giving in equally. And travelling with multiple generations actually makes for some very interesting perspectives, I found myself trying things that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise, even enjoying them. It adds a dimension to travel that makes for lot of stories and memories.

The Great Rann of Kutch worked wonderfully well for a large group.

Experiential Travel

There’s been growing demand around culinary travel, cultural exploration, and activity-based travel experiences for a number of years now. But the demand for experiential travel shows no signs of slowing down.

Source :

All travel is an experience, but for me, there is no better way to know a place than its food and every time I travel, I keenly scout for cooking classes, local café’s, food tours. I also love destinations that allow for sightseeing with long walks, bicycle tours, hikes, anything physical(that basically helps me digest food and get ready for the next meal 😀 ).

These options aren’t too hard to find today, all big travel agencies have tailormade experiences and if you search the internet, you will find smaller bespoke options. Even AirBnb has an “Experience” section which has some great options. Doing some cool experiences can be such an incredible add on to your trip and show you a totally new way to look at a destination. I was in Madrid for a work trip and extended it just by a day to see a bit of the city. I ended up taking a cooking class that I found on TripAdvisor, it was expensive and seemed a tad commercial but since I didn’t find a better option, I ended up going for it. It turned out to be such a fun experience, with a market tour and cooking with a varied group. It helped that we were chugging Sangria all along, but it was exciting to meet people from so many different countries, drink and chat over a self-made meal of Sangria, Gazpacho and Paella.

Cooking classes are a fun way to meet new people and bond over food.

Tackling Overtoursim

Tourism is growing year on year, and while people want to travel and explore, destinations may not have the required infrastructure to support this influx. If managed well, tourism can be great for local economy, but governments and authorities need to plan the eco-system better(which in my view doesn’t happen mostly, especially in developing nations). This article from CNN talks about  places, where overtoursim has had a negative impact on local flora, fauna, to the extent that the damage has been irreversible.

As a consumer it’s frustrating as well. You spend your hard-earned money and time on a place, only to be standing in queues, jostled or have a watered-down experience because there are just too many people. I remember I was in Kasauli, a hill station in Himachal Pradesh, on the Independence Day long weekend and there were just so many people and so much noise in this tiny quaint town that I vouched not to travel peak season or long weekends.

I decided to better my own research before finalizing on a place– sometimes there is a window of opportunity right outside the peak season when the weather is still right, but the crowds have started leaving and the costs have come down. This is the gold mine. If I am still travelling peak season, I make it a point not to stay in busy areas and definitely look for activities that don’t have involve crowds. I am not a big fan of exploring popular sites and museums so that makes it easier. As a traveller, I feel that it is your right to plan and enjoy your experience, and the responsibility of that is in your own hands. At the same time, we need to be more mindful and not leave a negative impact on the destination we visit. I was shocked and disheartened when I read about Leh, a stunning part of Jammu and Kashmir, now choking with overtoursim after it was popularized by the movie 3 Idiots. Cafes have been built to services tourists and photo opportunities created around Pangong lake, there is more construction but it’s unregulated in a region so ecologically sensitive and remote. This article by cntraveller was published in 2018 and shows how unplanned tourist influx can be extremely damaging. We all play a role in this, and we need to be mindful of that.

Tourists and locals at National Tulip Day, Amsterdam 2017

Rise of Responsible and Sustainable Tourism:

Every industry is undergoing sustainability reforms and have begun taking dedicated initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint. Travelers would prefer brands which provides human touch and social commitment to fulfilling environmental responsibilities.

Source :

I feel this movement is still in its infancy, but it is a positive one and in the right direction. I believe that anyone who travels, to whatever extent is privileged. Come to think of it, there are so many more pressing matters in people’s lives, and not everyone has the time, money or inclination to go on a trip. So, it is an absolute privilege to be able to travel. And I don’t want to misuse that privilege. Which means that I don’t want to be reckless, insensitive or dismissive about the impact travel creates. Part of it, unfortunately isn’t totally avoidable – whether it is catching flights or staying in hotels that aren’t exactly eco-friendly. Part of it is totally in my own hands – using an efficient means of transport to the extent possible like a bicycle or public transport, refilling water bottles and limiting plastic discard, not wasting food, trying to buy things from local artisans rather than high street stores, even if they are cheaper, eating local rather than at a fast food chain, staying in a bnb, there is so so much that everyone can do at an individual level. I am a firm believer that every drop adds to the ocean. We need to be willing to do our bit, even if it is small.

Handweaving at Bhujodi, Gujarat.

Micro Trips

2019 will be the year of ‘bite sized travel’ – squeezing in more curated travel itineraries into shorter time frames. Thanks to improvements in flight routes, transport, cheap flights, on-demand car rentals and accommodation, micro trips will become increasingly more popular and varied.

Source :

I am dying to follow this one. 2018 was a year that travel slowed down for me. I moved back from Amsterdam and spent most of my energy settling my home, a new job and catching up with friends and family. While I did take a couple of trips, it felt like had I planned smarter, I would have been able to do a few more shorter ones. I was dying to go to the Sula Fest in February, Serendipity Goa in December, skiing in Gulmarg in March, but it just did not happen. I have this idea in my head that I need to travel for weeks on end and only then can I do a place justice, and it does make sense if you are taking a trip to another part of the world, but it’s also limiting since I work a full-time job.  There are a number of cool experiences, treks, tours, food trails, festivals that lends themselves extremely well to 3-4 days. With good planning, you can take advantage of long weekends and holidays. I want to do more of this in 2019, especially with busy lifestyles, jobs and commitments , this is a wonderful break to catch up with close friends and family and try something new.

Kayaking in Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand

Healthy holidays are the new norm

We have entered the era of the healthy holiday, driven by young people who want to be sober enough to take a flattering selfie. But the staggering rise in wellness tourism – now worth $639bn globally and growing more than twice as fast as general tourism, isn’t just down to young people. Wellness resorts are targeting all ages, with holidays for every stage of life, from fitness stag dos to baby moons, mumcations and menopause retreats.

There was a time in my life when a holiday meant indulgence and nothing else, and since I love food, my natural gravitation towards it on a trip meant that I wanted to try everything, at every meal for weeks on end. I was younger and my body dealt with it just fine. But towards my late twenties and now thirties, I realize that I don’t feel as good about it anymore. It isn’t a happy feeling when you feel sluggish and bloated, and it takes away from enjoying a place to the fullest. Even on a trip, specially on a trip, I like to get my hours of sleep, catch on books, eat local food, pace my drinks. While I haven’t specifically gone on a holiday with only wellness in mind, it is definitely something I want to do this year. India is a treasure trove of Yoga, Ayurveda and there are some wonderful resorts that are wellness inspired. Basically, the idea is to return home feeling rejuvenated and energetic, rather than feel exhausted and sleep deprived, isn’t it?

Path of Gods trek, Amalfi Coast, Italy

How have your travel choices evolved? What are you looking forward to doing more of in 2019? Would love to know!





Home is a feeling – Memoirs from Amsterdam

The Beginning

It was a cold windy Saturday morning in June as I stood in the taxi line at Schiphol, tired from the lack of sleep but full of nervous excitement for what lay ahead. After months of thinking about this move, then dealing with the paperwork and permit, I had finally arrived. My company had put me up in a service apartment and after checking in, I dumped my stuff and headed out to the nearest grocery store to buy some supplies. There was a slight drizzle and the air felt crisp after the Delhi summer heat, as I shuddered walking the 800 meters to the store, realizing that I should have unpacked my jacket first. I ought to be more careful, I thought to myself. It was my first day in a new country and the last thing I wanted to do was to get sick. Being on my own was already making me mindful about the trivial things.

I didn’t really get a chance to think about much that weekend, since P joined me from Germany. P, one of my closest friends was working in a town called Maine and decided to stay with me the weekend of my arrival. We were both new to Amsterdam, so we did what every tourist does – go to the Dam square. We walked around, ate Belgian fries with dollops of spicy mayo, checked out many shops, chugged some wine and chatted silly. I didn’t say it to P, but I was glad she was there, a familiar face in a new city.

I figured the best way to go to work on Monday was to take the subway, so I did, a little earlier than needed and was one of the first few to reach office. It was in Zuid, the Amsterdam district with very corporate-y vibes. My office was on the 20th floor of a skyscraper with glass windows till the ceiling and spectacular views of the city. It was love at first sight.

I got entrenched into work pretty quickly, but I still needed to get my own apartment. It was the first time I was living on my own and I was excited to spend every single free moment before work, at lunch, after work and weekends to viewings, to find the right place. I wanted to stay in the city and not in the suburbs, a reasonable size apartment in a location that was close to everything, safe, quiet and residential. My initial euphoria died down really fast as I realized how hard it was to find anything that fit my needs – I saw old Dutch houses, sunny attics of lopsided canal facing houses that made me dizzy, boathouses on water, three story canal houses that were completely impractical for me. In a couple of weeks, it felt like I had seen every possible available apartment in Amsterdam and that everything was either way out of my affordability levels, or too touristy, or ill-maintained. It was a city of expats and demand was sky rocketing.

I grew frustrated with the service apartment and the lack of space, of living out of a suitcase, of the quiet suburb. I also knew that a large part of my comfort in this new life depended on where I ended up living, so I continued bearing it out and seeing more options. I was at work and one day, my agent called me to meet up for a few viewings. No luck all afternoon but as we walked towards the last apartment, he said to me with restrained enthusiasm that I might like this one. He was right.

I met the owner a day later, he hadn’t rented before, I hadn’t stayed in a rented place ever. He was giving up his home. I was making it mine.

Moving In

A week later, I moved in. It was a Friday and co-workers had decided to head out for vrjidag middag borrel, aka Friday afternoon drinks, very Dutch and a very boozy start to the weekend. I decided to give it a miss and move from the service apartment to the new house.

I rented an Uber and put my stuff – 2 big bags, 1 cabin bag and a back pack in the trunk. As impossible as it had seemed initially, I was able to fit everything I needed in just these many bags. I remember the last few days before I left India were full of decisions – of what to keep, what to take and what to give up. I had many tough moments; emotional moments and I constantly fought this urge of holding on to things till I returned. I am glad I gave up what I did. It made me feel lighter, freer and like I had simplified my life in some way.

I lugged all my bags, one by one and with difficulty up the dozen stairs and I could feel my arms burn from all the lifting. But I was too excited to bother. Once everything was inside, I made a small video and watsapp-ed it to everyone back home. I filled a glass with water and sat down on the sofa to relax.  I remember feeling happy. Proud. Strong. And self-sufficient.

I decided to do nothing else the coming weekend but clean the house, buy some furnishings, decor, flowers, a rug. I hung up some photo-frames that I had got along with me, my parents, my wedding photo, my sister. I cleaned the kitchen, got out my favorite mugs and set my Indian chai and spices in the drawer. I dusted the closet and hung my clothes. I made a list of everything I needed to buy. I found joy in setting up this new space exactly the way I wanted. It was home before I knew it.

My spot for many meals and books


I settled into this new life fairly quickly. I joined a local gym and enrolled with some expat meetups. I enjoyed my work tremendously and made some friendships with colleagues. That summer was beautiful, long warm days and full of the buzz that takes over Amsterdam. On weekends I always found something interesting to do, exploring the streets of the city, meeting new people, spending time in my home that I absolutely loved. I traveled to many countries, sometimes alone, sometimes for work. I would look out for the cheap flights, connectivity was super and I became more spontaneous with travel, the kind that can decide on a Thursday morning where to spend the coming weekend. It was not the sort of behavior I expected from myself, but I found a new enthusiasm to act on impulses.

This life exposed me to people, situations and perspectives that opened my own mind and horizon. When I didn’t have much to do, I enjoyed the simple things – getting my groceries, doing my chores, going for long walks by the canal and catching up on my favorite movies and books. I found joy in these rituals, all of which I did alone. I was surprised– I always considered myself a people’s person, someone who enjoyed being in a crowd and socializing, the caricature extrovert and I was amused that I could spend extended periods of time all by myself and actually enjoy it. I guess I had never really had the chance before to find out.

Solo-ing it in a cold freezing Paris

6 months

I decided to go back to India in December. It had been 6 months and it was a good time for a break. As I booked my tickets, I felt excited at the thought of meeting my friends and family and sharing tales of my new life and how exciting it had all been, I admit to feeling a bit smug about it all. I reached Delhi on a smoggy December night and over the next couple of weeks I constantly socialized, met friends and family, went out, ate, drank and tried to have a good time. Not much had changed, yet I sometimes found myself a bit detached from it all. At that time, I couldn’t really understand why. On the surface, everything was exactly as it should be. In hindsight, being away created a certain distance, and the reality is that not everyone keeps up. Another reality is that I didn’t keep up either with everyone. I realized that there were relationships in my life that existed, even thrived because of situations or convenience. Those had started fizzling out, organically.

What also dawned upon me were aspects of my past life that I just about tolerated, but they now bothered me much more. For instance, life in Delhi(at least my life) was too busy, too fast, no one had much time, and everyone was basically just running around. It was not the pace I enjoyed. I liked having time for myself and my well-being and I hated being rushed. I also realized that all of my socializing was only centered around food, and while I totally love food, I found the focus of meeting up, to be less on catching up and more on eating. I tried hard to suggest alternates but found most people comfortable with what they were used to, and unwilling to relent. By the end of it, I was all round and jolly and waiting to get on the next flight back home.

A change of scene is a great test of what you  can do without 😉 .

The Bicycle

Using a bicycle as a daily means of transport is a very prominent aspect of Dutch life. I wouldn’t be joking if I told you that a toddler learns to ride a bicycle before walking 😊. It is said that Netherlands has more bikes than the number of people, and tis true that you will see bikes everywhere – from formally dressed office goers, to families on a bakfiet (a cargo bike with a rider parent and two or three children in the cart),  to older people. The bike is unmissable and used as an everyday utility which I found very impressive. It is also extremely convenient in a city the size of Amsterdam, plus cheap and fitness friendly. The more time I spent in the city, the more I got asked when I was getting a bicycle for myself, a true test of my cultural integration.

It took me a lot of convincing myself, because bikers in Amsterdam are rough. Okay, rough is probably not the best explanation but I would say that it comes so naturally to Dutch people that there is complete fearlessness in riding (really)fast and overtaking. And I just wasn’t sure it was for me, the last I rode a bike was on a holiday 6 years back in Kerala and the lack of practice showed as I went crashing into a wall because I couldn’t control my speed at a turning. That memory hadn’t faded but my desire to get a bike overtook my fear at some point. A colleague recommended a store that sold second hand bikes and upon landing at the shop, I tip toed outside for a good thirty minutes. When I went finally in, the guy asked me for my budget and showed me a couple of bikes. I rode all of them and eventually settled on a black Bavaria, got the mandatory bell and the front and back light installed. I then invested in a heavy-duty lock to protect my bike from theft, which cost me a bomb. I wasn’t pleased but bikes get stolen all the time in Amsterdam and I was sure I wouldn’t have the heart to get another one. I then had the scary task of riding the bike back home which was thirty min away. It was too much too soon, and I was nervous as hell, but the deed had to be done. My palms sweaty and struggling to balance my phone so that I could see the route, I got on my bike and started cycling as crazy people whizzed past me. I was sure something terrible would happen, there was no way I would survive this. But I kept going on and when I hit a quieter street, I finally relaxed, the sun, the breeze and the feeling of childlike joy consumed me.

I got used to my bicycle quickly, I rode it to work and I rode it around the city. I crossed a beautiful park every day before I reached work. It had a bridge over a pond which became my favorite spot. It instantly calmed me, no matter how bad my morning. On sunny days, I would even stop at the bridge for a few minutes and watch the ducks and the water. I took my bike to Vondelpark in summers and set up a little picnic for myself, with chips and wine and my book. I went to the movies, I went for dinners, I went to buy groceries. I took my bike everywhere. Except the city center. In my 2.5 years in Amsterdam, that’s one thing I never had the guts to do.

Having my bicycle made me explore streets and alleyways of Amsterdam that I never would have, had I had a car or only used public transport. I especially loved riding it in a park or stopping at a picturesque canal. I loved the crisp autumn days when I could hear the leaves crunching under the tyres. I loved the rare sunny days when I would ride for hours and take in the beauty of Amsterdam. Sometimes, when the sun was shining, I would take a longer route to my destination. As I got more confident of the routes, I stopped looking at the map and would go by instinct. I got lost many times, Amsterdam is weird like that, sometimes the streets defy logic. But I found it fun. Having the flexibility of a bike added to my love for the outdoors and nature, in everyday normal life.

Views that I can never get enough of

Challenges and Lessons

I was on the way back from a work event one evening and as the taxi pulled up outside my apartment, as is my habit, I put my hand inside my bag to fetch the house keys. When I couldn’t find them in the pocket I generally kept them in, I looked in all the other pockets and still, no keys! By this time, I was getting a bit flustered since it was 11:30 pm and I really had no other place to go. I got out of the car and emptied my entire bag on the curb in panic. The driver was a nice guy and decided to wait. No key still. My mind was blank, and my first impulse was to call someone in India. I thankfully realized it would be 3:00 am and there was nothing anyone could do, so I called the event venue to check if they had found a key, maybe it slipped from my bag when I handed it over? They called me 20 minutes later that there was no key.

I decided to call the apartment’s owner, there was very little chance he would be up, but it was worth a shot before I started looking for a hotel. He answered(thankfully), surprised that I was calling him so late, but between unending apologies I was able to explain what had happened. He had a spare key and I told him I would come and get it. By the time I entered my house that night, it was 1 am and I slipped into bed exhausted.

This wasn’t the only time I was locked out of the house. The house was in an old Dutch building, and the door sometimes got jammed. It then needed multiple tries with the key to get it to the exact position and give it a hard push. I once stood outside for a good 30 min and the door wouldn’t budge. Sometimes I would stop a passer-by on the street and ask for help. Sometimes, I would ring my neighbor’s bell, but it was usually my last resort since he hadn’t ever seemed particularly thrilled to help. I still remember one evening, when I rang the bell and he came out, visibly pissed with a child in one hand. Before I could even complete what I was saying, he said “Sorry, can’t help, the kid is asleep” and shut the door on my face. I was shocked by his rudeness, and hot tears of frustration rolled down my cheeks. I also remember repeating this story to anyone who bothered to listen, it angered me so much. I questioned his behavior and painted many scenarios in my mind, eventually settling on an explanation that wasn’t particularly uplifting. For the most part, I was shocked by his indifference.

I had bad experiences, big and small, over the course of my time there. I guess that is inevitable anywhere. I used to get rattled with things too fast and would defend or explain or convince. These experiences taught me ignorance for those whose views or attitude I did not agree with. And if I just couldn’t ignore, I learnt to forget and move in. Some things just aren’t worth your time or energy.

And then there were more practical lessons to be learnt. One time the fuse went out and there was no heat and hot water in the house. On a video call, I learnt from the owner on how to fix it. I fixed plumbing and gadgets and appliances, lifted heavy things, did odd jobs. I learnt to keep my wits about.

I learnt patience and taking things in my stride. I learnt that all sorts of people make this world. And that people judge all the time. And I learnt that someone else’s opinion of you doesn’t matter, unless you let it. I learnt that you can have things in common with people from halfway across the world. That you can grow in different directions from people you have known all your life. I learnt that things can go wrong, anytime. And I learnt that that’s not the end of the world. I learnt to deal with loneliness. I learnt to be responsible for my own happiness. I learnt to mope.

And I learnt to get on with it.

The glittering city center of Amsterdam


I met a lot of people because of my work, colleagues, acquaintances, some of whom developed into friendships that I will always cherish. Many amongst these were some very strong, independent women. Like M, who I met at work, who came and left within a couple of months but our friendship continued. Her parents were Indian and she was born and brought up in Netherlands but felt a strong connection to India and I think it was this connection that tied us well. I grew to admire M’s creativity, she sang in three languages and her resilience to deal with personal challenges inspired me.

G, another work colleague who I didn’t quite hit it off from Day 1 but slowly, we developed a warm friendship, an understanding of each other lives and views and culture, an acceptance of our similarities and differences. She tried her hardest to teach me some Dutch and wanted to learn how to abuse in Hindi once too often. Funny, witty G, she taught me so much.

I met S at work as well, and she was from Mumbai, an expat now settled in Netherlands. I loved her vibe, she was smart, straightforward, fun and always smiling. One of those who do exactly what they want, probably why she was always such a happy soul. I was always happy with her.

And then there was J, a Dutch girl I met at an expat meetup and we continued to meet later on, we had many things in common, we loved our work, were crazy about travel and strong headed. It was natural that I would take a liking to her.

Ci, lovely Ci from Suriname, who dreamt of moving back one day, close to sunshine and family in a beautiful big home surrounded by greenery. She did many many things for me selflessly, a trait that I don’t find myself capable of but truly admire. She is the one I gave up my bike to, I couldn’t think of anyone better.

There was Ga from Mumbai, warm creative Ga, and she made me feel at home every time I spoke to her. She wanted to make the most of her time in a new country and was always making plans, to travel, to see something new, to meet someone. I loved her spirit to always go out of her comfort zone.

And then there was C, crazy sweet C. Once at her home, I saw how eclectic she really was, art in every corner, crazy tattoos on her body,  and then she surprised me when she took a year off just to travel the world. I could have never imagined someone as soft spoken as her to have this wild and adventurous side.

There were more, so many more people who inspired me with their wit, their intellect,  their ethics, their perspective of life, their take on relationships, their focus on happiness. In them, I saw a little bit of what I was, a little bit of what I wanted to become.

Making some good looking friends in the neighborhood


Most people at a distance in India felt that my life was one endless party in Amsterdam. There were recurring mentions of how cool it was to live in such a “happening” city, and it always made me laugh. I look at Amsterdam as cosy and cosmopolitan, you have everything, but it still feels very small and village like. After a year of living in the city, I would joke that I knew all the bus and tram drivers by face, that’s really how small it is.

There is no doubt that living in a new city alone is an empowering experience, there is also no doubt that it can get lonely.

It was a sunny Friday in August, and my WhatsApp was buzzing all day as friends were making plans for the evening. Friends in India. I spent my day feeling homesick and to make matters worse, I had no plans that evening for myself. I left from work at 6, constantly checking WhatsApp for updates. As I walked to my bike, I crossed a line of bars that were full of people drinking and enjoying the sun. The chatter and the laughs, the warm summer sun, the drinking, it just threw me off guard with such a strong dose of homesickness, of longing for conversations, of familiar places and home food, of the comfort of shared history.

These moments came to me many times, sometimes a lonely weekend, sometimes a Facebook update, a festival or wedding back home that I was missing, a familiar joke, there were many things that triggered it. In the early days, I would land in a spiral of emotion and find it hard to get out of. Over time, I learnt to handle this feeling better and rather than denying it, I accepted it as a part of living alone and abroad. I know that it’s far more glamorous to paint this picture of a life that is constantly exciting, full of travel and adventure, and that talking of things like sadness and homesickness dilutes that picture, but it is the truth, at least for me.

Rainy days, home and a little drink


One day, as I was buying my weekly groceries from the local store, I forgot to carry my phone, something I never did since I always needed Google Translate to read the Dutch labels. I managed to buy everything I needed without the app since I could decipher a bit. When I went to the aisle to pay my bill, the student at the cash counter recognized me and asked me how I was, in Dutch. I surprised myself by continuing the small talk in Dutch, till the billing was done.

Sometimes I went to my favorite coffee spots and the staff acknowledged me. Other times I would get stopped on the road and get asked for directions by confused tourists. It made me happy that I didn’t seem like a flustered outsider in some way. Every time these trivial connections happened, they made me feel less like an outsider.

Lots of family and friends visited me and I would have guests at home for weeks at stretch. I loved it, playing host and taking people around the city. It was a city that had become home and I was always eager to show my version of it. When I traveled, I liked coming back to the comfort of my home and my space.

I don’t know when the transition happened, but somewhere along the way,  all of these tiny little things started adding up and made me feel a sense of belonging to the city, it had become my own.

Final Days

While two and a half years seems like a significant amount of time, when the final days came, it felt like they came to soon. Reluctantly I found myself in a familiar spot yet again, of sieving through all I had accumulated and deciding on what to take back and what to leave behind. Yet again, I didn’t want to leave anything behind – it was all a collection of my experiences and leaving it was a hard thought. But it had to be done.

The bicycle had to go. The last Saturday before I left Amsterdam, I took it out for a spin around the city. I went to all of my favorite places, the park I crossed every day, my favorite streets and coffee shops, the route to work. And then I stopped at the canal that I loved so much. I parked my bike and watched the water and the birds and the boats. It was a cold sunny day in November, the kind of day I loved, the kind of day that Amsterdam looked it glorious best. I thanked my lucky stars for being there. But it was now time to move on. I called Ci to come and pick the bike up in the evening. It was time.

Over the next few days, I went through my clothes and shoes, the odd pieces of furniture I had bought, décor, linen and kitchen stuff. I made a pile of things to discard and started packing the rest in cartons and labeling them for the shipping company to pick up. I decided to take some things back, even though I knew I would get them in India, for memory sake. A heavy bottom pan that I had gone to Ikea to buy, because I wanted to make my curries. My first French press from Blokker which led me to loving my coffee black, some of my favorite mugs and cutlery, some candles and cushions and throws. It’s always hard to leave things behind.

And then came the task of giving these to their rightful owner, it made me feel sad, like I was leaving a part of me behind. It’s funny how many stories and memories tiny things can actually hold, things are memories in a way. My house looked sparse after all of it was done, the cupboards empty, a cold fridge with no food, no throws and candles that added warmth to my living room, no paintings on the walls. My home that I loved so much was now nothing but empty. I wondered who would live here next, would they love this home as much as I did? I wished they do. Maybe I will come back someday and rent this place again. That’s the last I thought of that home. A thought of hope.

My two favorite drinks at Coffee & Coconuts Cafe

Back Home

It’s been exactly a year of being back. Being back into familiar territory, into lives of friends and family and catching up and spending time, settling in. Back home, as everyone says.  I wonder what home really is? The house where I grew up. The houses I stayed with my parents. The first time I left home for a job and shared an apartment with random strangers in Orissa. My marital home. My first home in Amsterdam. My current home with my husband. All homes. They were all so different, but at some point, in my life, they all felt like my home. And then came the time to move on. So, what is home if not a feeling? A feeling of comfort and belonging at a certain moment. Sometimes it’s people that add to that feeling, it’s the walls and the furniture, your favorite books and paintings, things you love to eat, your bed and blanket. And what you feel amongst it all.

It’s been a year and I remember my time in Amsterdam often, but I now talk about it with decreasing frequency. Sometimes I wonder if with time I will forget it all, and that thought makes me very sad. But then I question that isn’t life about experiencing many things and enriching you and moving forward? And while I always want to cherish the past, I don’t want to live in it. Like many parts of my life, I am glad this happened, it taught me many things about people and the world, about food and culture, about independence and self-reliance. About myself. And it will always fill me with great joy and adventure when I think about Amsterdam – of bicycles and canals, of trams and parks, of home and solitude, of travel and food, of people and friendships. Of a feeling called home.

Have you lived in and loved a another city? How do you feel when you look back?

In Photos : What I did in Israel!

It was after spending a fair amount of time discussing on where to go, that we closed in on Israel. I  remember exactly what tilted our decision – a Youtube video with this guy trying to find the best eats in Jerusalem. He was overly enthusiastic and smiling too much, while stuffing his face with the gooey goodness of hummus  but it was just what I needed to make up my mind. We had friends joining us and as the respective families got whiff of our plans, growing concerns about our choice of country threatened to derail the plan. Anyway, the dust settled and we booked our tickets and on a breezy Thursday night, we landed in Tel Aviv.
My research had convinced me that Tel Aviv is very cosmopolitan and fun, and it was. The not so fun part was that I had a crazy case of bed bug bites our second night, and by the morning it got so bad that the crazy bites became massive red bumps that itched like hell. We called the dude who owns the apartment and he looked genuinely shocked and immediately moved us to another apartment. He also agreed to give us our money back in full, a gesture that pleased everyone greatly and was accepted as a good deal. Except by me, as I was the only one suffering but somehow everyone had been redeemed with the unexpected money 😀 . Anyway, I was irritable after the incident, and fairly cranky in the heat, always covering myself and sprinkling generous doses of talc and applying thick layers of aloe gel. The pictures below will obviously tell another story 😉 .

Chilling at the Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv is uber hip. Amazing beaches, beautiful people, food, bars, culture, art, flea markets, it’s all very cool and chic. The city breaks all the caricatures of being middle eastern, it’s global and it’s happening and it’s perfect for sun, sand and frolic.

Tel Aviv Beach 2

Just look at the color of the water!

Carmel Market

An iconic flea market in Tel Aviv, at Carmel you can find fresh produce, traditional sweets, clothes, accessories, homeware, basically everything under the sun. It was hot and very crowded, but I enjoy a street market greatly so I ended up taking a walk and bought some snacks and a really funky handmade necklace.


Carmel Market

Evening cocktails at La Shuk

I am not really a big fan of cocktails but our friends wanted to go to the trendy La Shuk, so I agreed to tag along. The evening weather was perfect to sit outside, and it all felt very European, with the tables laid out on the sidewalk from where you can observe the people go buy. It was very expensive though, and I think any restaurant that is empty but still asks if you have a reservation is pretentious, hihi! A cocktail will set you back by INR 900-1000, but I will admit that they did taste really good!

La Shuk 7

Cocktails at the very fancy La Shuk

Hummus at Mashawsha

This is hands down, the best hummus I had in Israel. It’s chunky, which I personally prefer rather than the super smooth variety, and is very flavorful. The pita is warm and fluffy, and they have a homemade style lemonade which is the perfect balance of sugar and lime. It was such a great meal that it made me forget about my rash, and I don’t easily forget 😉 . The set up is cozy and the prices are decent(by Israel standards).


The best hummus meal at Mashawsha

Sunset at Tel Aviv Beach

As the sun goes down the activity on the beach slows down and the last of the swimmers, sun-bathers and volleyball players start winding down. The golden hour is beautiful, all colors of orange, yellow and rust, and is perfectly enjoyed with a glass of wine.

Tel Aviv Beach_1

Sunset the the beach ~Tel Aviv

Getting some local Halva

I was intrigued with this stall called Halva Kingdom, with their massive mounds of a crumbly pie style dessert, and the pushy sales guy calling out to customers. I assumed it to be similar to the Indian halwa, which is basically a grain(chickpea, a lentil or a flour), roasted with clarified butter, sugar and nuts. It’s the sort of dessert that instantly warms you up and it’s made commonly in homes during festivals and auspicious occasions. I ended up buying a few varieties in Tel Aviv but did not enjoy as it’s too sweet and heavy. People seemed to love it but didn’t catch my fancy.

Carmel 6

Halwa King at Carmel Market

Walled City or Old City, Jerusalem

The walled city of Jerusalem is a 0.9 square kilometer area within the main city, home to hundreds of years of history, conflict and worship. The square is further divided into 4 quarters – the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. As I moved through the tiny lanes, some shopkeepers called out to check their wares. The old city is frequented by tourists, local and international so it’s business as usual for the shops, if they catch a “tourist”. I also crossed the significant monuments, the Temple Mount, The Church of Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, Al-aqsa mosque as I moved from quarter to quarter. The landscape, people, clothes, language, monuments, it all changes so dramatically from one quarter to the next that you don’t need a sign to tell you where you are. It’s fascinating, how tightly diversity is packed together in the old city.


Walled City Jerusalem



The Western Wall

The western wall is probably the most significant place of religious worship for the Jews. It is the only part of the Great Temple that survived the Roman destruction and throughout the year thousands of Jews come to pray at the wall. It’s one thing to know history, it’s totally another thing to see it’s impact play out in front of your own eyes. I reached the wall and was pointed to the “women area” , a separate side of the wall to pray. As I walked towards the wall, I could see  women leaning with their foreheads pressed towards the wall. I reached closer to see many putting folded notes between the stone cracks and weeping, not a lone tear but actually sobbing. It’s a very intense experience, even for a non-Jew to see how strongly people feel about the wall, even today.


Western Wall

Damascus Gate

As we were walking through the Arab Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem, we reached a grand exit gate called the Damascus Gate. We went through it and saw a police watchtower. A sign board pointed towards the West Bank city of Nablus. Curious as to why the security, we immediately took out our phones and got onto Google. We learnt that Damascus gate lies in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem and has been the site of recent attacks and unrest between Palestinians and Israelis, hence the watch tower. This has drawn criticism from Palestinians who feel it further restricts their entry into the walled city. Jerusalem is a divided city and crossing this gate lands you on the Palestinian side of the city. 15

Freshly baked breads

In the early morning hours, the smell of freshly baked breads, both sweet and savory wafts through the streets of Jerusalem. I especially loved the croissant style breads filled with warm oozing cheese. It’s the perfect breakfast on the go with a good cup of coffee.


Freshly baked bread

Float in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, with water so saline that no marine being can survive, hence the name, Dead Sea. The water has an oily texture and the saltiness makes it extremely easy to float. Plus a dip in the sea is said to have healing properties, and it’s mineral rich mud nourishes your skin . We visited the Ein-Bokek beach which is a free one, and it was fairly crowded with people either floating or covering themselves in the mud. The bed bug bites stung so badly in the salty water that I decided not to indulge further. It’s still fun though and a very unique experience.


Dead Sea


Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a fortress built atop a rock plateau. It’s all very orange and Martian, and you can take a cable car or trek to the top of the fort. We went for the trek but it was noon by the time we got there and it was so incredibly hot(in June) that we ended up avoiding the 2 hour trek. There is a cable car as well that takes you to the top of the fort but if you plan to do the trek, it’s best to go before sunrise.



Hummus workshop at Abraham Hostel

Abraham hostel is nothing short of a cult in Israel, with their economical hostels, events, workshops and tours. We decided to try a group hummus making workshop while in Jerusalem. A large community style table was set up and we were told that we will be cooking in groups of two, by our enthusiastic “chef” for the evening. The cooking part was pretty much non-existential, the chickpeas were boiled already, the Tahini was made and all you had to do was mash, mix and add the lemon and seasoning. Since I was really looking forward to a hardcore hummus making class, the cooking part was a downer. But the bar was open and we were enjoying the drinks, so I guess we made some evening out of it. Interestingly, this evening led us to one of our key highlights of the trip, a tour of the divided city of Hebron in the West Bank.


West Bank Tour

Abraham tours organizes what is called as the Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron,  a conflicted city divided between Palestine and Israel. We decided to do it, and while I had surface information on the Israel-Palestine conflict, once I started reading about it, I wanted to know more. It’s also neither possible nor advisable to visit the West Bank unless with a tour group so this seemed like our only chance. This full day tour took us to Hebron, and involved spending time with an Israeli guide and a Palestinian guide, both of whom present their own narrative on the conflict, their angst, and what the current scenario looks like. Their narratives are compelling and it is a hard hitting experience. I walked away feeling confused and sad. But if I am successful in documenting it to some degree of coherence, I will definitely share it in another post.


The group at the Hebron Tour


Hebron ~The Israel Side


A bird’s eye view of Hebron

Mahane Yehuda Market

The Mahane Yehuda market or “The Shuk” is a bustling street market in Jerusalem, frequented by locals and visitors. During the day, the market is a perfect place to roam around and get some small bites and drinks and buy local spices. By the evening, it’s a happening street with lights and music. It’s a lively place to hang out for a couple of hours and get some local shopping done.

Levinsky Market1

Mahane Yehuda Market

Levinsky market 4

A Jewish gentleman buying his groceries at Mahane Yehuda

Mahane Yehuda

If you love olives, you will love Mahane Yehuda for the variety and flavor

Tmol Shilshom

A cozy little cafe and bookstore, I loved Tmol Shilshom as soon as I saw it and ended up going multiple times. Jerusalem is an intense city and Tmol is just so calm and peaceful and artistic. I loved the Jewish breakfast of Shakshukya and the coffee. The staff is friendly and you can enjoy what you are eating in peace, without feeling rushed. Perfect to also catch up on some reading or emails.


At Tmol Shilshom – that’s my look of regret when I overeat!

Hope you enjoyed these highlights from Israel? Would you ever consider travelling to Israel?

5 Unintentional Discoveries in Kutch

At one point in my life, I loved planning my trips to a T, but I have come to realise that a strict itinerary leaves very little room for spontaneity. There have been times when I have come back home feeling underwhelmed with my travels, largely due to excessive research and having a feeling of “seen it before”. So, sometime last year, I decided that whenever I traveled, I would keep certain aspects like transport and stay finalized before the trip. I could add an odd experience that may be harder to book on the spot. And I would leave the rest to be figured out once there. Interestingly, this has led to some amazing experiences that wouldn’t have happened if I was too caught up in “living my plan”. The internet is a great tool to find information and build your own travel plan yourself. But sometimes, knowing too much and trying to fit it all in takes away from the spirit of exploration and impulse. In Kutch, the top 2 things on my agenda were seeing the White Rann of Kutch and the villages, both of which I researched and planned beforehand. Besides that, I had little else fixed, but I came away with 5 interesting discoveries, purely on local recommendations that I absolutely loved.

Vande Matram Museum at Bhujodi

On the last day of our stay in the Rann of Kutch, our resort manager asked us if we would like to see the Vande Matram museum. Not being a big fan of museums, I decided to skip it while some other members of our group decided to check it out. They were left spell bound and insisted we make the trip. And that is how we landed at this museum. Opened in 2017, this is a 4D museum, one of its kind in India and showcases the story of India’s independence through a series of 17 episodes. The storytelling is done through a compelling use of technology, sound, art, architecture, life size models, and effects. Having seen the grandeur of some of the world’s most renowned museums in Europe, I was not expecting to be wowed by this place. But I was so so wrong. It’s grand, it’s innovative and it’s totally immersive. Once you enter the museum, you move from room to room, 17 in total and each room showcases a historical event in India’s freedom struggle. No pictures are allowed inside. But I can tell you that this is a unique experience that you must not miss!

The exterior of the museum, modeled on the Indian Parliament. Image ref

Vintage embroideries in the bustling Bhuj bazaars

The bazaars in Bhuj, Vania and Shroff Bazaar are a treasure trove of interesting things and our hosts at the Bhuj House recommended that we check them out for vintage embroideries. Right when you enter the bazaar, under the archway, you can find a series of shops selling vintage embroideries, woven on blouses, skirts and patches by Kutchi women, worn and passed across generations. It is an absolute explosion of art and colour, and a wonderful part of town to explore.

Beautiful Kutch embroidery display at LLDC. Image Ref –

Using the e-permit facility to get a Liquor license

Considering that Gujarat is a dry state, I hadn’t expected getting a liquor license for a tourist to be this smooth. There is now an online portal for procuring a licence, you fill the form with all your travel details and id proof and get the printout to a registered liquor shop, details of which you can find on the site. The officers on duty will review the paperwork and stamp your permit. We expected it to be a tedious and time-consuming process on the spot, but it wasn’t, We were in and out in 15 min. You will struggle if you don’t have your paperwork ready or are trying to fill the form online on the spot. Once you have the permit, you can buy alcohol from the shop but know that drinking is an expensive proposition in this state.

Sleeping under a Chikoo tree

We stayed at Devpur homestay for 2 nights, a beautiful heritage property in central Kutch run by Krutarthsinh Jadeja. The room I had originally requested for did not have availability for both nights so for the second night we shifted to a tent in the family’s 12-acre mango and chikoo orchard. I was quite sceptical of the facilities; especially uncomfortable toilets make me nervous. But our hosts convinced me that I would love the experience and I decided to give it a try. The orchard was beautiful, and the tent was comfortable. The best part however was a big chikoo tree right outside the tent, it’s branches so luscious and green that it shaded a big part of the tent itself. There was a charpoy laid out and as soon as I lay down, I feel into a deep sleep, disturbed ever so slightly by the wind rustling the tree leaves and the chirping of birds. It was the best sleep I had had in months.

In deep sleep under the chikoo tree

Gujarat Thali at Osho Dining Lodge

From Devpur, on our hosts recommendation we headed to Mandvi beach. While I didn’t find the beach particularly exciting, we were advised to have lunch at the Osho Dining Lodge while there. We headed to this local restaurant between alleys and streets, steep stairs led us to the lodge and we were quickly seated. An over-enthusiastic waiter laid out our thalis and pickles on the table. And then the service began. From deep fried aloo bhondas to dhoklas, Gujarati dal, kadhi, rice, ghee laden rotis, pooris, aloo masala, vegetables and hot jalebis, the variety is immense. And the passion with which the food is served is even better. Our waiter kept on refilling our plates, despite pleas of being absolutely full. He insisted on just one more roti, a little bit more kadhi and rice. Till we were exhausted with all the eating and had to beg him to stop. The food is tasty(though heavy), the experience is even better.

The never ending Gujarati Thali at Osho Dining Lodge

I am glad I left some space in my itinerary that allowed me to indulge in recommendations from locals. What about you? Do you like to plan every detail of your trip or leave some things to chance?




The Artists of Kutch

After the spectacular Rann of Kutch, the agenda was to station ourselves in Bhuj over a couple of days, explore the town as well as the artistic villages of Kutch. Our first stop was Nirona, made famous by PM Modi after he gifted a Rogan art painting created in this village, to then President Barrack Obama during his US visit in 2014.

As we got down from the car, a swarm of school children, seemingly underwhelmed with new faces, walked past, waving and smiling. We decided to follow the crowd that had descended from a bus full of tourists, crossing a few narrow alleys and brightly painted doors framed with bougainvillea, and we ended up reaching the Khatri household, master craftsmen of the Rogan art.

The art form is intriguing to observe, and the Khatri’s willingly give a live demo. We quickly seat ourselves on the plastic chairs and charpoy in the courtyard. Out comes a piece of fabric, and a round tray with many bowls holding the different colours of the paint, which is a thick mixture of castor oil and natural die. The artist decides to seat himself on the floor and starts to work the gum-like paint with a needle, stretching the paint thin and drawing patterns on fabric, without the needle actually touching the fabric. He makes a flower, then a few more, and he continues drawing beautiful patterns. He then folds the cloth neatly along the centre and presses on the fabric. We wait for the reveal which he does without much fanfare, and as he starts to unfold the cloth, a mirror image of his painting appears on the other side. It looks beautiful, the colours, the detail, the creativity. I was spellbound and forgot to record a video but if you are interested check out this link to see the art taking shape.

The Khatri’s speak about how the art stood the risk of dying down some years back, as the younger generation didn’t find it financially attractive but streamlined efforts by the Gujarat government have given artists like them a global platform to showcase their work, drawing in crowds and money. A narrative that was echoed by other villages and artisans I visited. Many of them have been accredited with the coveted National Award for being master craftsmen in their field, proofs of which hang in the form of pictures in their homes and shops. All sell internationally and get access to a host of exhibitions, both in India and abroad. The exposure seems to have created a certain degree of confidence and pride in the artists, and rightfully so. They know that their pieces are unique, so they won’t hard sell, and you really won’t feel like bargaining. The prices are steep since all the crafts are hand done, but as I see it, it is a little bit of Kutch to take back home.

Our next stop in Nirona was the copper bell house by Husen Luhar. An elderly gentleman, Luhar sat on the floor and beat the copper thin and created various shapes out of it, creating bells and hangings. As I sat watching him, I couldn’t help but notice that he was constantly smiling while working, and as he beat every scrap of copper, he would hold it up to show it to everyone, a sense of pride in his eyes. I ended up buying a copper wind chime from his workshop, replicas of which I saw many later in Shroff Bazaar in Bhuj, at half the price. I can’t say if it was a replica really or the effect of middlemen, but this is probably the only art form that is fairly easy to recreate. It was disappointing surely, but I found comfort in the fact that the money went to the artisan directly, and that’s worth something.

It’s another day and we decide to explore Ajrakhpur and Bhujodi, both a 20 min drive from Bhuj. Ajrakhpur is aptly named after the Ajrakh art, which is block printing using natural dyes such as indigo, pomegranate, henna, turmeric etc, done by Dr Ismail Mohmed Khatri, who has been acknowledged with a doctorate by De Montfort University, U.K. as well as a Seal of Excellence by UNESCO. Bhujodi is famous for handloom textiles and embroidery, done by the Vankar community. You will find shawls, bedspreads, carpets, blankets, sarees, stoles, all handwoven and hand embroidered. Even if you detest shopping, the work is compelling to look at, and the artists are friendly and inviting, so you will at least come back with a cup of tea and good conversation.

If you don’t have time to visit the villages, I would strongly recommend checking out the Living and Learning Design Centre( LLDC), which is a project of the Shrujan Trust and a conscious effort to keep alive the unique crafts of Kutch. They train craftsmen and craftswomen to better their art, learn from each other and develop products that are marketable. The museum is a crash course into the art forms of 12 Kutcchi communities and is a real treat for your eyes. It’s so much colour and beauty in a room, it will fill you with awe about the talents of Kutch.

The final village that we visited was Bhadli, close to Devpur village, famous for the tie and dye technique of Bandhani. The work was extremely fine and detailed, and unlike I anything had seen before. It was extremely expensive as well and the artisans here didn’t seem too interested in showing their work. They mentioned that they cater to mostly foreign buyers and international exhibitions, and only do selective exhibitions in India. Names of a few of top Indian designers who have been inspired by their work was mentioned casually and I was categorically asked to specify what I wanted to buy and what my budget was. Since I was merely browsing and that obviously was far from comfortable here, I decided to make a quick exit.

A round up of these villages left me feeling creatively energised. It’s hard not to, when you see so much talent. I felt inspired to create something, anything, as soon as I got back home. Maybe I will do up my balcony, or paint something. There is great joy in creating something from your own hands, no matter how small it is right?

Tips for visiting the villages of Kutch

  • The roads in Kutch are really good and all villages are perfectly motorable. Just drive down and walk around. It is very easy to find the homes of the artisans.
  • The artisans are welcoming, and will be happy to show their work, even give a live demo. You can buy the art in all villages directly.
  • These are real home and families. You will meet the other members of the family, the children playing around, and sometimes it wasn’t comfortable to click pictures. When it wasn’t, I didn’t. Where it was, I asked for permission. The reason I mention it is that I found more than a bunch of visitors invasive enough to make some families feel uncomfortable. And that just isn’t right.
  • In Bhuj, I would strongly recommend staying in The Bhuj House, which is a heritage Parsi homestay in the heart of town. It is a home filled with history and culture, and every little nook is representative of the colours and warmth of Kutch. Besides the villages, Bhuj is a unique town in itself, with its walled city, the busy Shroff and Vania bazaars, it’s history and culture.
  • Another beautiful heritage property is Devpur Homestay. From either or both of these homestays, you can use them as a base and explore the various villages of Kutch.