A Travellerspoint blog

All packed, with everywhere to go!

sunny 40 °C
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T minus 10 hours...

Here I am. This is it. After all the hours, days and months spent planning, researching, talking and thinking about my journey, my departure is finally.. imminent.

I've spent the last 3 weeks buying stuff for The Trek (yes, from now on it will be referred to as 'The Trek'), stuffing myself silly (a result of an illogical fear that I will go hungry on The Trek) and saying goodbye to near, dear ones.

(As a side note, if you ever want to meet anyone urgently, tell them you're leaving the city. It's amazing how diaries are suddenly wide open and schedules are magically cleared when acquaintances get wind that you may not be around for much longer!)

I digress. So. First stop, Delhi.

Dilli jayenge, gol gappe khayenge! Ha! Don't know where that came from.

The most exciting thing about tomorrow? I will get to see my niece walk... for the first time. Does life get any better than this? :)

Just hope I don't have an annoying let's-talk-about-Indian-politics-while-I-OD-on-the-free-alcohol type old guy sitting next to me on the plane -- although, given the generally accommodating mood that I'm in these days, I'll probably turn into the but-what-do-you-think-of-the-CWG's-impact-on-Delhi type loser.

For those of you who need visuals to get jealous, here's something to get you going..proof that I am all packed. Na na na, boo boo!

DSC_0009

DSC_0009

Posted by pchaddha 13:23 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged dubai preparation Comments (1)

A "flashpacker" without even knowing it..


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I recently discovered that I am a flashpacker.

Here is a description of this term, from Wikipedia:

Flashpacking is a neologism used to refer to an affluent backpacker. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.

A simple definition of the term Flashpacker can be thought of as backpacking with flash, or style. One school of thought defines the flashpacker as a rapidly growing segment of travelers who adhere to a modest accommodation and meal budget, while spending freely, even excessively, for activities at their chosen destination. Another school of thought defines flashpacking as an incongruous mix of 'slumming it' and luxury; of adventurous travel with those on a budget by day and sedate dining and comfortable accommodation by night.

Flashpackers have been further defined as tech-savvy adventurers who often prefer to travel with a cell phone, digital camera, mp3 player and a laptop,[18] although none of these is required in order to be a flashpacker. As with other forms of travel, the term flashpacker is mainly one of self-identification. The origin of the term itself is obscure.

The term also reflects a growing demographic of travelers who are forsaking traditional organized travel, venturing to destinations once the reserve of more adventurous backpackers, and the increasing number of individuals who leave well paid jobs or take career breaks, using the time to travel independently, but with greater comfort and many of the gadgets they are accustomed to at home. As a result, hostels are evolving and offering more up-market accommodation and facilities to those still traveling on a budget in order to obtain their business. Hostels have realized a need to evolve in order to meet the changing demands of travelers.

Posted by pchaddha 12:52 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged wikipedia Comments (0)

A slight detour

A quick weekend getaway to Istanbul

semi-overcast 26 °C
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M and I decided that we should do something interesting for the Eid break. A whole 2 days off was not something to take lightly. Tag a weekend to that and you have 4 days to play with. Fortunately, our homebase offers us a myriad of options for a quick getaway. We both quickly agreed that Istanbul is definitely a place not to be missed. So off we were -- in view of my upcoming, extended adventure, we decided that this should be a budget getaway. So we booked a cheap-ish package with Emirates. The total cost of flights (direct from Dxb - Ist) and accommodation (on a b+b basis with airport transfers) came to roughly USD 850 for four days and four nights. Not bad eh? This was through a travel agent - and yes, I know that one can get cheaper deals on the net but we didn't have the time, inclination or the mindset to trawl through 100 different websites in the hope of finding that perfect cheap deal. What follows is just a snapshot of our trip but hopefully it will assist those who are considering stunning Istanbul as their next holiday destination.

VISAS

A number of nationalities do not need to obtain visas prior to reaching Turkey. I know it can be a real nuisance to try and figure out whether you need a visa (not just for Turkey but for any country) if you hold a non-US/UK/Aus passport. After doing a number of searches on the net, I finally came across the perfect visa inquiry page -- and it was on none other than Emirates' website. You just need to feed in your nationality, your place of residence and your destinations (main and transit) and voila! You have the required info. It is also kept up to date. So here is the all important link to the page: Visa check
Turkey is generally quite relaxed about tourist visas and, in my case, I was told that I could obtain one upon arrival at the airport since I had a valid US visa. If you are an Indian passport holder and have a valid US, UK or Schengen visa, you are allowed to get the Turkish visa on arrival. That is the new rule but did the Turkish immigration officials know about the new rule when I reached Istanbul?
If the answer was "yes", would I be asking the question? :) So, as you can probably guess my wait at immigration in Istanbul airport was not a matter of minutes but a matter of hours. Two to be precise. Interestingly, Emirates officials in Dubai airport were well aware of the new Turkish immigration rules. Emirates rocks.
The cost for the visa is USD 20.

ACCOMMODATION

As with any other major city, there are options to suit every budget and taste.

M and I chose a modest hotel in the Taksim area which was comfortable but not recommendation-worthy. My suggestion would be to stay at Sultanahamet or by the Bosphorus. Try the Pera Palace Hotel, where M and I enjoyed some delicious pastries. Apparently, Agatha Christie wrote her novel, Murder on the Orient Express, in room 411. Other fab hotels by the Bosphorus include the Four Seasons, the Hilton and Kempinski.

SIGHTS

You HAVE to visit Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Dolmabahce Palace. There is enough literature on them in the various guide books. Each of these can take as much time as you allot to them, i.e you can spend a few hours in each if you choose to so do. M and I spent between 3 - 4 hours in each place.

Grab something to eat/drink and spend time gazing at the locals from the park just outside the Blue Mosque too. Nice way to spend a lazy afternoon!

Dolmabahce was my favourite -- it's the place where Ataturk lived and died. Ataturk is the founder/creator of Turkey as we know it. The palace is absolutely stunning! Don't miss it. M and I braved a harsh downpour to visit but it was sooo worth it!

Walking along the Galata bridge was also very enjoyable -- tons of people fishing makes for great photographs!

We didn't have time to make it to Princes Islands but that was highly recommended by people who have been to Turkey more than once.

EATING/DRINKING/BEING MERRY

Do try the set menu at the seafood restaurant, the Blue Topaz, at Reina . The set menu is TL 90 pp (TL = USD 0.667 approx) and is a real feast! Entry to the restaurant means you can stay on until the DJ starts spinning. Reina seems to be the most popular place to party in Istanbul as of now.

Also have a drink at 360 which is located in an apartment building on Istiklal Street. The drinks are average and the service dismal - but the view is good!

M and I had lunch at the restaurant at Topkapi palace and were pleasantly surprised - yes, the prices were a bit steep but the view was magnificent. I had the spinach pastry, an apple tea and fruit salad. All yummy! Came to roughly TL 35.

Also try the restaurants and bars in the Beyoglu area -- very entertaining as a result of the mix of people who are around at any one point in time. M and I had dinner at Refik's which had excellent mezze. We also tried Raki, the local liquor (which reminded me a lot of Greek Ouzo), and let's just say it sent us on a bit of a ride. :)

The House Cafe and ADA Cafe at Istiklal Street are good places to have coffee or a glass of wine or lunch and just chill out and people-watch!

Do try the Pudding Shop at Sultanahamet -- very satisfying Turkish food at rock bottom prices - around TL 20 pp. M and I had the lamp doner and the chicken doner, respectively. Huge portions.

If you're after another great view of Istanbul, try the Pierre Loti cafe, located on the terrace of the Pierre Loti Hotel - M and I only had a drink there but the food looked good too.

We didn't care for the Turkish icecream that is available at every street corner in Istanbul -- it may be because it is apparently made of goat's milk and not cow's milk. The texture was very un-icecream like.

SHOPPING

Grand Bazaar is overrated for someone coming from the Middle East -- which has its share of souks and shopkeepers trying to rip you off. :) Worth a visit for souvenirs I guess but the haggling can be quite tiring. Start with 50% of whatever the shopkeeper quotes and take it from there. M and I ended up buying Turkish delight, t-shirts, evil eye medallions and apple tea. Other things you could buy there include carpets, lamps, jewellery, fake bags and shoes.

I quite liked the Spice Souk (the Egyptian Bazaar) -- people were warm, welcoming and friendly. Didn't buy anything from there but good to check out the atmosphere and locals haggling for cheap spices.

Istiklal Street is good for shopping, although we didn't do much as there were so many more interesting things to do!

OTHER STUFF

The Bosphorus cruise is a must - you could do the private thing (which lasts close to 6 hours) but M and I chose to do the shorter and more economical "Turyol" cruise which leaves from the base of the Galata bridge, lasts 90 minutes and costs TL 20 pp. It leaves every hour so you can just walk up to the counter and buy tickets. It's the way the locals do it. There are drinks and snacks onboard. Unfortunately, the audio commentary was only in Turkish so we missed out on the names of the buildings that we were passing but if you have your guide book handy this should not be too much of an issue.

The whirling Sufi/Dervish dancers show was hugely entertaining and trance-inducing. In a good way. It lasted one hour and tickets can be bought on the day. M and I watched one at a theatre off Istiklal.

Travelling by Metro is cheap, convenient and comfortable. Each token or "jeton" is TL 1.50 for a one way ride. Taxis, though metered, can be expensive.

and finally..

THE BATH

Nothing and I mean nothing can prepare you for a Turkish bath. But it has to be done. M and I chose to visit the Galatasaray Hammam which is located off Istiklal Street, in the Beyoglu area, for our quintessential Turkish experience. The hammam is one of the oldest in Istanbul and was built in 1481.

We were shown to the ladies area entrance and, after climbing a narrow staircase, reached the main reception area. It was basic and populated by a receptionist who spoke English and had a price list behind her. The price list set out the various options, ranging from "only bath" to "pasha service". M and I chose the "full service" (approx USD 65) which included a bath, scrub and massage. The pasha service also includes an oil massage after the bath.

We were shown to our changing room, given a sarong-type sover and politely asked to strip. Since the instructions came from a lady old enough to be my grandmother, who had a no-nonsense, mean look about her, M and I quickly did as we were told. I suddenly felt like I was 7 again and, this was the point at which, for M and me, our friendship reached a new, more familiar level.

We were then shown into the hot room, which has natural sunlight coming through the dome-shaped roof and where there is a huge stone in the middle (on which there are other bath-seeking individuals sprawled) made of marble. After a rinse, we were asked to lay on the stone. The steam pervading the room made our muscles go into a semi-coma state. There were basins surrounding the marble slab with side stones to sit on and wash. After a 20 minute lie on the hot stone, my human scrubber came in and asked me to come to the edge of the hot stone. She then proceeded to slather me with soap and scrub at the same time. Although my scrubber was on the heavy side, her arms were toned and rock solid, and my bones felt their wrath. Each soap-filled stroke was determined to extract whatever dirt it could find on my epidermis. Soap, scrub, repeat. This went on for about 15 minutes -- although in the hot room, time seemed to be irrelevant as a concept. After the soaping, my scrubber sat on the side stone of one of the basins and made me sit on the floor in front of her. She then proceeded to wash my hair and scrub some more. Finally, it was time for the much-needed rinse. De-soapified, I was made to lie on the edge of the hot stone again to enjoy a very relaxing head to toe massage. This lasted another 15 minutes.

At the end, my scrubber looked at me and asked, with a toothy grin, "Goodh?". I only had enough energy by that point to give her a thumbs up sign.

Having been soaped, scrubbed, rinsed, massaged and hung out to dry, I was then left alone. To just be. To reflect on the last 50 minutes.

And to ask myself the question: "So, if this is a bath, what have I been doing all my life?".

Inside Aya Sofya

Inside Aya Sofya

View from Galata bridge

View from Galata bridge

Turkish architecture at its best

Turkish architecture at its best

Sufi dancers

Sufi dancers


The Bosphorus

The Bosphorus

Posted by pchaddha 01:37 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul tips itinerary Comments (0)

To group or not to group..that, my friends, is the question.

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There are several ways to travel. Solo, double, group of friends, group of strangers. In line with the fact that there are a multitude of travel options available to today's adventure-seeking globetrotter - be it destinations, accommodation or transport, the options relating to the company or companion with which to experience the thrills that this world has to offer, are several.

A conundrum I have faced in etching this brilliant once-in-a-lifetime plan of wandering around globally is the question of whether I want to do it alone or with some company. My initial three month journey will (inshallah/prabhu ichha) take me to 9 countries in Asia. The first part of the itinerary consists of a trek in Nepal -- the Everest Base Camp trek. From my research it appears that one could choose to do this trek in one of the following ways -- alone, alone but with a guide and porter or in a group with a guide and porter. There are pros and cons to each:

Alone/Alone but with a guide and porter: pros -- flexibility in deciding one's schedule, i.e. if you feel you want to spend 3 extra days doing a side trek somewhere, you can; not being dependent on the fitness and altitude-sickness-resistance of other individuals; you and the guide become best friends by the end of it (whether you and he/she like it or not) / cons: more expensive; it's you, the guide and the porter..all day, everday.

Group with a guide and porter: pros -- the feeling of generally being in a group that cares or at least knows that you are doing the trek; having others to say "awesome, dude, awesome" with, when viewing stunning scenery; more people to beat at cards during the long evenings by the camp fire; less expensive than solo trekking / cons: you hate Ms. A and Mr. B said that to you and did you know Ms. C has some kind of weird contagious rash? ..you get my point.

I came across some interesting group-related options during my research and was impressed by the responsiveness and efficiency of the local companies in Nepal that offer trekking tours. I finally narrowed it down to three companies:

1) Ace the Himalayas - http://www.acethehimalayas.com

2) Earthbound Expeditions - http://www.enepaltrekking.com

3) 3 Sisters Adventure Company - http://www.3sistersadventure.com

I've fnally decided to go with Ace the Himalayas (with a name like that, do you blame me? :)).

It was a tie between (1) and (2) (they basically offer the same package) but (1) won because it had a fixed trek on the dates that I wanted. (3) lost out because it was slower to respond than (1) and (2) and at least USD 500 more expensive (with quite a few things, such as flights to Lukla from Kathmandu not included in the price). However, the story behind the establishment of (3) is interesting and can be read on their website. Basically, three Nepali sisters started this company with a view to empowering Nepali women by providing them with jobs and a steady income -- quite inspiring.

So come October 16, I shall hopefully be in Kathmandu, excited and hopeful (yes, I am hoping now and will hope then too) that the EBC trek with meet and exceed my already-burgeoning expectations! Watch this space.

Posted by pchaddha 13:15 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged trekking nepal preparation Comments (0)

Documenting it..

A new interest is born!

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Well, obviously the world at large will be privy to details of my escapades through this site. But somehow that did not seem enough. They say a picture is equal to a thousand words and so, with a view to snapping a thousand words in seconds, I have invested in a brand, spanking new D3000. Really? You don't know what a D3000 is? Ooof..amateurs.

Well, it's a Nikon DSLR camera. DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex -- which basically refers to the technology of a mirror reflecting the image to the viewfinder of the camera. I love my new camera. When I look at it, I feel reassured that it will help me capturing those once-in-a-lifetime moments that I hope to soon have! I even signed up and completed a photography course in order to learn the basics of digital photography. The course was good and it was extremely useful to understand how aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation play a part in photographs.

I know you're dying to see what D-bird and I are capable of so here are some pics I've recently taken:

Sunset view from my window!

Sunset view from my window!

Lone Lily

Lone Lily

Spectacular

Spectacular

Vase - can you see my living room in the b'ground?

Vase - can you see my living room in the b'ground?

More to come as I move from place to place, from experience to experience. :)

In case you're wondering what the camera itself looks like:

images.jpg

Posted by pchaddha 10:43 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged dubai photography Comments (0)

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