“I Love Spiti” -Shivya Nath

“I Love Spiti” – A Campaign to Save Spiti Valley from Single Use Plastic.



Six years ago, I set out on my first solo trip in India. The destination was a barren, high altitude mountain desert in the Trans-Himalayas. My mission was to volunteer and learn about sustainable tourism in India.

That trip changed my life.

One week after that trip, I resigned from my full-time desk-based job in Singapore, and started charting out a different path in life.

The destination was Spiti and the organisation I volunteered with was Spiti Ecosphere.


Remote and rugged – the upper villages of Spiti.


Back to Spiti Valley after 6 years!
Six years later, in August this year, when I finally decided to go back, it felt like life had come full circle. I had only one agenda in mind. To give back in what little way I could, to the place that changed how I perceive local communities, travel choices and my own beliefs.

My decision to return was sparked by a conversation with Ishita – the founder of Spiti Ecosphere. She lamented how much Spiti Valley has changed over the years, and the dire need to raise more awareness about responsible travel in Spiti.

I nearly cried when the shared taxi deposited us in Kaza, the administrative capital of Spiti. The town that I remembered with only a couple of shops and guesthouses, a handful of travellers, and nothing but the barren mountains all around, has changed beyond recognition. Taken over by chaotic concrete construction and shops and tourists.

The issues this environmentally-sensitive Himalayan region is dealing with are too many to summarise in one post. However, in collaboration with Spiti Ecosphere, astro-photographer Saurabh Narang, artist Michael Hickenberg, Instagrammer Aakash Ranison and fellow travellers passing through Spiti, we decided to focus on one big issue: plastic bottles.


Cycling in Spiti Valley – exhilarating.


Shocking facts about plastic bottled water in Spiti Valley

  • Based on a very conservative number of tourist arrivals, we estimated that 3,00,000+ plastic bottles are dumped in Spiti every season.
  • Imagine the irony of drinking bottled “Himalayan” water packaged in the plains and transported to the Himalayas, instead of drinking real (filtered) Himalayan water in Spiti!
  • On the arduous journey from the plains, usually Punjab, to Spiti, the exposure to heat often causes bottles to leach BPA (Bisphenol A) – a chemical known to cause cancer – into the bottled water.
  • Bottled water is known to have less oxygen than groundwater, and in a high altitude region like Spiti, you need all the oxygen you can get.
  • Even if discarded bottles are thrown in a dustbin, they typically end up in a dumping ground adjacent to the Spiti River. They take a minimum of 500 years to degrade, but no one knows exactly how long yet.
  • If reused by locals, these one-time use bottles leach harmful chemicals into the liquids stored in the bottle. The nearest recycling centre is ~500 kilometres away in Punjab.
  • If burnt or buried, the bottles release harmful chemicals into the air, groundwater or soil, ultimately landing in the local food or water. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, heart disease, hormonal imbalance and other serious ailments.


The dumping area by Spiti River, near Kaza.


A campaign to save Spiti Valley from single use plastic

To discourage the use of plastic bottles, we worked on three levels:

Local businesses in Spiti

Without safe alternatives to bottled water, it would be impossible to discourage their usage. So we began the conversation with hotels, restaurants and cafes across Kaza to install water filters and sell BPA-free water bottles that can be reused, as well as bottles fitted with a filter, like LifeStraw.

Ecosphere then worked on mapping out all water refilling stations across the valley. See my 2019 updates at the end of the post and save the map!

Local community in Spiti

Turns out, most locals in Spiti have been reusing plastic water or fizzy drink bottles to store milk, araakh (the local liquor) and water.

In a meeting with Kaza’s women’s self-help group, we shared studies that reveal how harmful chemicals leech from the bottles into the liquids over time. In a live demonstration, we showcased what happens to an empty bottle exposed briefly to the heat of a candle. Try it yourself, to see how it melts and fumes.

Pregnancy and heart problems, cancer and other diseases are on the rise in rural Spiti, and this could well be a contributing reason. The alternative for locals is simple – stainless steel containers to store liquids, available locally.

Travellers visiting Spiti (and the Himalayas in general)

Lack of awareness among travellers visiting Spiti – about the health / environmental damage caused by plastic bottled water – results in 3,00,000+ bottles dumped on the riverbed every season!

That number will only grow with the surge of tourism. So we came up with an idea…


The “I Love Spiti” installation

The idea occurred to me on the shared taxi ride from Manali to Spiti. We were awaiting our turn as each vehicle ahead of us tried to manoeuvre the stream flowing past the road.

Outside, I could see mounds of trash along the river bed. Just then, a fellow passenger opened a candy bar and threw the plastic wrapper right out of the window! It angered me and some of my other co-passengers, and we started explaining to him why he should keep his trash in his pocket till he finds a dustbin.

“If you keep throwing wrappers like this, there’ll be no mountains left. All we’ll have are mountains of plastic,” I said. And as I told him that, it struck me that we should create exactly that – an artwork of a mountain of plastic to illustrate what we are doing to our mountains.

The artwork idea emerged into a lifesize “I Love Spiti” installation after a discussion with Spiti Ecosphere.

All around the world, people take photographs with “I Love New York” and “I Love Amsterdam”. We decided to join the bandwagon, except that our “I Love Spiti” is made entirely of discarded plastic bottles, that we gathered from across Kaza and even retrieved from the dumping ground!

The heart alone is made of 300+ bottles, and everyone who takes a photo with the installation pledges to say no to plastic bottled water, atleast while in Spiti Valley.


Ishita, the founder of Ecosphere, as the “I” of “I Love Spiti”.


Michael Hickenberg, an artist from Australia, played an integral role in shaping the installation. It is an amalgamation of the creativity, sweat and physical hardwork of locals and fellow travellers, many of who just happened to see us work on it while passing through Kaza! In 2019, Michael dismantled and reinstalled a different design of the I Love Spiti installation.

The installation can be found near the Kaza gate (near Rangrik Bridge, on the way to/from Kee Monastery). We strategically chose this location for maximum exposure, but also because it overlooks the dumping ground next to the Spiti River.


Fellow travellers in Spiti Valley helping out with the installation.


Thanpa-ji, helping us install the lifesize installation.


Michael Hickenberg, the artist who helped shape the installation.


The World’s Highest InstaMeet at 12,000+ feet in Kaza

When I heard that the Worldwide InstaMeet was taking place from 8th to 10th September, I knew right away that we had to do one in Kaza. It was most likely the highest InstaMeet in the world – and my first one as a host.

Even at 12,000+ feet in this remote Himalayan town, we had a roomful of locals and travellers, and a thought-provoking discussion around responsible travel and how to eliminate plastic bottled water from Spiti.

At the InstaMeet, my fellow traveller and photographer Saurabh showcased a video he shot around Kaza, interviewing locals on how the town has changed, and travellers on the use of plastic bottles. Then we piled into the cars / camper trucks of locals, headed down to the installation spot and had the King of Spiti (yes!) unveil it.


The installation inaugurated by the King of Spiti!



It so happened that the local politician and his convoy were driving past as we were photographing the installation, and they stopped by to pledge off plastic bottles themselves! How often do you get to say that your InstaMeet was crashed by a local politician? 😉


Our InstaMeet at 12,000+ feet, crashed by the local politician and his convoy.


Even though our shitty internet connection in Spiti didn’t let us post on Instagram in real time, we were really grateful for the support of fellow Instagrammers who had travelled to Spiti in the past, and supported our campaign real-time with #IloveSpiti.


The Milky Way from Kaza <3


How you can help as a traveller visiting Spiti Valley

  • Take a photo with the installation and pledge to say NO to plastic bottled water in Spiti. Save the Spiti refill points map at the end of this post to figure out where you can refill water. Most homestays in the upper villages of Spiti also have water filters.
  • Before you book your tour, hotel, homestay or guesthouse in Spiti, ask in what ways they contribute to environmental conservation in Spiti. The best way to make businesses care is to demand it as their potential customers.
  • Volunteer with Spiti Ecosphere – in Spiti or virtually – to take this project to the next level.
  • Carry your non-biodegradable waste back from Spiti, and dispose it in a big city where some form of waste management or recycling is in place. For me, doing this puts in perspective how much plastic waste I generate, and inspires me to consume less plastic-wrapped junk food!
  • Encourage your fellow travellers to do all of the above.


Contemplating the beauty of Pin Valley.


I’m hardly an optimist, but even as we overcame apathy from locals, travellers and commercial establishments in Spiti and faced some setbacks, I still felt like everything we do as individuals counts.

Every less plastic bottle used and disposed counts. Every voice discouraging their usage counts. Every blog post that urges travellers to switch to eco-friendly alternatives counts. Every responsible travel choice counts.


The team behind “I Love Spiti”.


2018 Update: LifeStraw supports the I Love Spiti campaign

The “I Love Spiti” campaign has been featured on Hindustan Times, The Better India and Scoopwhoop. And LifeStraw has come on board to sponsor community filters at four public refill points across Spiti!

2019 Update: Public refill points across Spiti Valley

Delighted to share that there are now 4 public water refill points across Spiti, equipped with LifeStraw Community Filters sponsored by LifeStraw.

If you’re travelling to Spiti Valley, please remember to carry your own refillable water bottle (I recommend a steel bottle or LifeStraw bottle with inbuilt filter). Refill your bottle with safe drinking water at the following places:

  • Kaza: Taste of Spiti and Sol Cafe
  • Kee: Kee Monastery
  • Komic: Spiti Organic Kitchen
  • Dhankar: Dhankar Monastery
  • Most family-run homestays across Spiti are also equipped with water filters


Water refill point at Spiti Organic Kitchen, Komic.


Refill your bottle at Key Monastery in Spiti Valley!


A map of Spiti Valley with water refill points.


Do you use plastic bottled water when you travel? What alternatives have you found? Any bright ideas to take the “I Love Spiti” campaign to the next level?

 -Shivya Nath




Sikkim Travel Guide


It’s not usual that you come into a new place with one itinerary and end up doing something quite different, often changing plans while traveling as you learn about new places and gather new experiences. But this is exactly what happened as I explored Sikkim with Paradise Unexplored this monsoon – we started with an itinerary that they had suggested, but we kept customizing it all through the one week I spent there, down to the last day.


That’s me exjoying the magical landscapes of Sikkim right after a light monsoon shower!


I know many of you have been enchanted with my travels as you followed me on my journey through Sikkim on Instagram, and here’s now the full and detailed itinerary that you can follow too. Of course, you can do it all by yourself, but my journey was so special because I had Anand who made the time in Sikkim so worthwhile. Being from the region itself he knows everything that you might need to know like history, politics, folk tales, religion, and also spots for photography. Since I like to shoot at sunrise, we always started our days at 4am, and Anand was always around to make and update new plans based on the weather. It’s rare that I heap so much praise on someone, but he really is very good!

Practical tips for Sikkim

So getting on with the interesting bit now – the itinerary. I would suggest a minimum of one week, but if you have more days, it’s better. Before I go into details, let’s me share some practical details first:

  • The closest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal and it can take up to 5 hours to reach from there to Gangtok or other interesting parts in the state. So keep one full day for travel no matter where you are coming from.
  • However, the good news is that a new airport in Sikkim has opened this October 4, and this will certainly make it easier for travelers who plan to visit the city. It’s located at about 33 km from Gangtok so travel to Gangtok will come down from 5 hours to just one.
  • The roads in Sikkim are incredibly bad, and during monsoon landslides are a daily occurrence. Keep that in mind while planning anything – you might have to make adjustments in plans based on Mother Nature.
  • Having a cab with you for all the days that you spend there is a good idea. Driving on the roads can be very tricky and self-drive only if you are quite experienced in such places. Did I mention before that roads can be pretty bad – at times they aren’t even there and you still need to drive!
  • Food is not a problem at all, even if you are a vegetarian (I am one). If you are non-vegetarian, apparently its a heaven!
  • Most people think Sikkim is a Buddhist state, but in reality it isn’t. The state is overwhelmingly Hindu though Buddhism is an integral part of its culture. People from both faiths co-exist and often also intermarry – for instance my driver, Nima, was Buddhist but his girl friend was a Hindu and none of the families had a problem with that at all. Nice, right? 🙂
  • It’s also incredibly safe here as well. My driver told me that unlike rest of India, it’s very safe for women too. However, venturing out alone on foot in the night isn’t recommended. Go with a local.


One week travel for Sikkim!

So without much ado, here’s my personal one week itinerary for Sikkim!
Day 1: Reach Gangtok and relax

Land at Bagdogra and come to Gangtok in a cab. Seriously by the time you reach the capital city, you will be exhausted and would just want to take some rest. However, on the way, do stop by and admire the mighty Teesta river – it’s truly a sight to behold. If you are with Anand, ask him lots of questions for the long journey from the airport. The road is quite good, and it’s the only road that I found to be so good.

If you have energy in the evening, head out to the MG Marg – that’s where everyone from the city gathers to hang out. It has cafes and a few book-stores too – it’s nice, but not exactly my kind of place.




Alternatively, go to the spa and take a nice and long message and you will be fresh as daisy the next day 🙂


Where to stay in Gangtok?
I stayed at The Elgin Nor-Khill and would absolutely recommend the place. It’s a heritage hotel and absolutely lives up to it. The only downside is that the view from the room isn’t something to write home about. If you do want the view, stay at Denzong Regency – it has a great view of the city as well as the mountains.


Looking out from The Elgin Nor-Khill


Day 2: Nathu La and Gangtok

Since you will be already a little tired due to the travel the previous day, I recommend planning a trip to Nathu La in the first half of the day, and then spending the second half exploring a bit of Gangtok.


The road-trip to Nathu La


So Nathu La is a historical mountain pass which was the part of the ancient silk route between China and India. During the Indo-China 1962 war it was closed and opened again during late Atal Bihari Vajyaee’s reigh. It’s now both a pass for vehicles to take goods between the two countries (apparently Parle G is one of the most desired Indian product in China) and also a place for tourists from India to come and see. Frankly there isn’t much to see (except a sneak peek into China and some pretty hideous Chinese architecture) but the road-trip from Gangtok is beautiful. If you are traveling during tourist season make sure you go early and get a pass else you can be stuck in the traffic for a long time!

While you are going or coming back, make sure you stop at the gorgeous Tsomgo (or Changu) lake. Do take a walk around the lovely lake and enjoy the views. If you are going in winters, the whole area is covered in snow and the view is something to behold!


Tsomgo Lake


On the at back to Gangtok, stop at Bakthang waterfalls. There are many tea vendors as well there, so maybe you can have a hot cup of chai as well.


Bakthang Falls


If you didn’t go to the MG Marg the previous day, do it today. Have a cup of coffee there and a late lunch (I recommend The Coffee Shop) and then head over to Rachna book store if you like books (like I do). To watch the sunset head over to Denzong Regency hotel – make sure you reach a little in advance so that you can have some chai and then watch the sun go down.


Day 3: Gangtok to Pelling

As you might have figured out already, this trip will not give you a lot of time to rest. So if you want to be more relaxed here, I would suggest spending another day in Gangtok and basically enjoy the city. Walk around the neighborhoods, talk to the locals, go watch a football match (it’s truly an obsession here), drink local chai and eat local food (not just in the hotel) and maybe get a massage as well.

However, I had only limited time and very ambitious plans, so I started off from Gangtok towards a town called Pelling with numerous pit-stops on the way. This was the most tiring and also the most fulfilling day of my journey.


Rumtek Monastery

If you are leaving Gangtok, I would suggest leaving really early in the morning. Request your hotel for a packed breakfast and eat it when you are at Rumtek Monastery – one of the most well-known from the state. It’s a gorgeous monastery, but it’s story is even more fascinating. Today’s it’s better known for the controversy surrounding the place.

Rumtek Monastery


To better understand what’s known as ‘Rumtek controversy’, let’s quickly understand a bit of history. Now Tibetan Buddhism has four chief schools, and one of them is Karma Kagyu. Dalai Lama also heads a specific school, but is considered the supreme leader by all. The head of Karma Kagyu is known as Karmapa.
Anyway, when China invaded Tibet in 1959, Dalai Lama made a dramatic escape from #Lhasa via Tezpur (Assam) to India. Along with him, the 16th Karmapa also escaped and he set up his monastery in Sikkim – at the Rumtek Monastery, then in ruins.
A monk at Rumtek
Traditionally when a Karmapa departs from the world, he tells his followers about his reincarnation through a secret note. Some believe this secret note was tampered with and after his death, two different Karmapas emerged who staked claim to be his reincarnations.
Even today both of them continue to stake their claim to head the order. More controversy followed when one of the Karmapa was accused to be a Chinese spy. Due to the controversy and sometimes violent clashes between the two groups, the Indian government disallowed any one of them to take over the Rumtek Monastery.
So the monastery hasn’t had a leader after the 16th Karmapa. To prevent any of the Karmapas to establish themselves at Rumtek, heavy army bandobast is there. India’s position on the Karmapa isn’t exactly very clear and we’ve done our best all these years to simply maintain the status quo.
You can easily spend an entire day here – learning about the place and immersing yourself into the local culture. However, if you do not have the time, head on towards Pelling.
Temi Tea Gardens
We stopped a few more places, and the most interesting of them was the Temi Tea garden. Now tea isn’t something people connect Sikkim with, but believe it or not, Sikkim also makes its own tea and is actually fairly renowned for it! The history of tea in Sikkim isn’t very long though – hang on and you will learn something new today.
Temi tea gardens
So when tea came to India, or was rather smuggled here, it was a masterstroke by the British. Britain already loved tea a lot and China made a killing with it, so when the Brits figured out a way to grow tea in India, it was a huge economical win!
But Indian tea started with Darjeeling (which is actually Sikkim, though we’ll talk about that later), and then went on to win fame and money for the region. I must mention that people from Darjeeling absolutely love their tea, and think nothing of the Sikkhmese tea.
Tea in what we know as Sikkim today came only in the 1960s, but even that has a strong China connection. When China attacked Tibet in 1959, India took in hundreds of thousands of refugees (can you imagine that happening in present India), and many were resettled in Sikkim. Suddenly there was a large workforce, but no work and this is typically a recipe for disaster. So the king of Sikkim (it wasn’t a part of India then) decided to start a tea estate to provide work – and Temi Tea Garden was born! It’s a fairly large tea estate and a lot of tea produced here is also exported. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an opportunity to try the tea there.
We also stopped at Ravangla which has a huge golden Buddha statue with mountains as it’s backdrop. It’s a stunning scene, but somehow recently made large scale statues isn’t something I really enjoy, so won’t quite recommend visiting here unless you have a lot of extra time.
Buddha at Ravangla
Finally, before reaching Pelling, we also stopped at a rice terrace field. I was there right after the plants were sowed, and it was a sight to behold! You can’t really do much there though, except take pictures – and that’s exactly what I did.
Paddy fields
We reached Pelling after sunset and after dinner I simply crashed in my bed.
Where to stay in Pelling?
Pelling is a small yet charming town which is also very popular with the tourists – which means that there are more hotels than homes, and also hotels of all budgets. If you are on a budget travel, I would recommend walking around in the town main street and picking a hotel there. However, the place I would recommend is called The Elgin Mount Pandim. Overlooking the mighty Kanchenjunga peak, it’s a heritage luxury property and really beautiful too.
At The Elgin Mount Pandim

Day 4: Explorations around Pelling

Pelling as a town is place to relax and enjoy nature. Not just one, you can actually spend a few days here and rejuvenate.
Start your morning with a cup of chai in the beautiful back garden of the hotel (Elgin) and then head out to Khecheopalri Lake. It’s a scared lake and it’s a short walk away in the forest after you park your vehicle. I reached here quite early in the morning and it was just me and Anand (my guide). This was perhaps the most peaceful part of my trip – just sounds of nature and rustling of prayer flags.
Khecheopalri Lake
I would also suggest stopping by at the Rimbi Falls – the majestic falls are on the way and worth exploring. You can’t possibly swim here during or right after the monsoon as the water is really strong, but you can surely get close to it. I actually had fever that day, but still loved getting wet in the splashes of water 🙂
That’s me soaking it all in at Rimbi Falls
Have lunch at the hotel or a local restaurant, and then head out to one of the most significant monasteries in the history of Sikkim – Pemayangtse monastery.
It’s actually rather close to the Elgin hotel and you can even walk up to it.
Pemayangtse monastery
Later in the day, enjoy the town by walking around the local market, interacting with the locals and by just chilling in the back garden with your cup of chai, or maybe some local beer.

Day 5: Pelling to Darjeeling

As always, start your day early in the morning so that you can make it on time to Darjeeling to use some time exploring the city as well. Don’t rush if you are tired (which you will be) because the journey to Darjeeling is in one word – exhausting!

I was actually down with fever when I got up in the morning, so the trip was even worse. The roads are almost non-existent after a point even after you enter West Bengal. Except an interesting incident when the border patrol guard rejected my passport and insisted on a voter ID card, there wasn’t anything memorable about this journey. I believe we passed a few beautiful gardens too, but I was too weak to look outside!



Anyway, once you reach Darjeeling, check into your hotel and head out to the Mall Road to get a quick introduction to the city. By the way, did you know that Darjeeling was originally a part of Sikkim and was loaned to the British? When India gained independence, the King of Sikkim wrote to the GOI requesting that their territory be handed back to them. And what did we do? Oh…we ignored it.

Even today Darjeeling is far closer to Sikkim in language, culture and people, just more aggressive – or so I’ve heard. In fact when I asked if Sikkim skill wanted Darjeeling back, the answer was a no – they were worried about the trouble the region would bring with it!


Where to stay?
I stayed at the The Elgin – again a heritage property and like the others in Gangtok and Pelling, I can safely recommend this one as well. The view of the city from my room was simply to die for – so if you stay here, do ask for a room which overlooks the valley.

That’s me chilling at my hotel
I ate most of my meals here as well and the food was good too. Eating here almost feels like eating in pre-independence India with the British!

Day 6: Darjeeling and around

Start your day at 3am and by 4am you must be out and on your way to the Tiger Hill. No, this is a different Tiger Hill than the one in Kargil, and this one is famous for gorgeous views of the mountains, including Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest (on a clear day). As promised, the views are indeed captivating from up there. In fact I saw Kanchenjunga for the first (and only) time from here and so would forever be indebted to this place.


Kanchenjunga from Tiger Hill

I’ve been told that the jams here can get so bad that it can take hours to get down. Thankfully, I was there in the non-touristy season and had no such challenges.

Once you are down, eat some English-style breakfast and then head out to the railway station for a ride in the toy-train. You can ride in a steam engine as well as a diesel engine train, though during non-touristy season, the frequency is fairly limited.

The iconic toy train
Later, head out to a tea garden to drink the ‘best tea in the world’ – as the locals prefer to call it. It takes a while for chai drinkers to appreciate the taste of real tea, but it can certainly grow on you easily.
A tea garden just outside Darjeeling

Come back to the city in the evening and explore the markets, and the lively streets.


Day 7: Darjeeling to home!
On the final day, head out to the airport at Bagdogra based on your flight time! I know it will be difficult to say goodbye to this beautiful region, but then you must certainly plan to come back again to explore the northern part of the state which I didn’t explore at all due to excessive rains there.


How can you travel in Sikkim like me?
As I mentioned earlier, I traveled trough Sikkim on assignment with a fairly experienced group form this region – Paradise Unexplored. Though I was there to write about my experiences of traveling with them in Sikkim, all views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences.

Location: Sikkim, India

Siddhartha Joshi



South Goa is a peaceful alternative to the much touristic and crowded North Goa. If you’re someone who enjoys slow travel, local experiences, and seek lesser-known sights and an intimate rendezvous with nature, my South Goa Travel Guide is for you. 

When I decided to travel to Goa during the pandemic, I purposely chose South Goa. It was a trip without a specific agenda. I wanted to savour the slow and quiet life of South Goa. My idea was to extract unique experiences, spontaneous adventures and rare attractions without doing much.

I was conscious about choosing a destination, which was easy to reach, required minimal movement and human contact. I guess I was able to do that.

Besides, I avoided the hotels completely. I stayed at heritage mansions, homestays and AirBnbs to be able to experience the local life and discover the best places to visit in South Goa.

I believe we should make better travel choices, even when we have a vaccination for Coronavirus. Let’s not forget that travel is a privilege. Thereby, let’s be respectful towards the environment, nature, local resources and the communities. Let’s not be ignorant anymore.

It’s time we take responsibility of being good and kind travellers.

My ‘Slow Travel’ Guide To South Goa

Even though it was a long trip, I did not visit North Goa to be able to avoid crowded places. While South Goa is known to be less crowded and peaceful, North Goa also has some reclusive places. You got to choose the right kind of places with a little bit of research.

It was a three-week mother-daughter sojourn in the laidback villages of South Goa.

Here’s sharing my personal South Goa itinerary –


Majorda is an exceedingly charming village in Salcete, South Goa. I’d say Majorda is a great choice to begin your stay in Goa, as it’s not so far from the airport.

It’s an amazing concoction of the vintage appeal exuded by the Portuguese homes, old churches, art galleries and simple, unimposing, traditional village life of Goa. And, not to forget you also have Majorda beach, which is one of the most serene South Goa beaches.


Although I did not enjoy staying in Colva much, it is a reasonably beautiful coastal village in Salcete, South Goa. It is quite close to Majorda.

Colva has a highly commercial side to it – crowded beach, lots of shops and vehicles, which is why I did not like it much. However, there’s a quiet and appealing side to Colva, too. There are lush roads, ideal for strolling. There are imposing churches and chapels, cute cafes and bakeries, too.

I stayed in Colva for four days in an Airbnb, which was close to all the necessary shops and barely a kilometre away from Colva beach.


South Goa Homestays

I stayed at simply homstay owned and run by Nicole, Charlie and their wonderful children, Ethan and Emma.

Apparently, there are not many homestays in Goa. However, I found my kind of a place to stay in South Goa with quite an ease. Simply Homestay is located in Cana Benaulim, which is 3km from Sernabatim Beach.

My fondest memories of South Goa are from Benaulim. I stayed at Nicole’s homestay for six days. And, it was a time well spent in the midst of serenity and verdure. I have to mention that my room and the stay turned out to be even better than what I had expected earlier when I had seen a few pictures of the homestay online.

The homestay is beautiful. It is so full of love. It is your haven of peace and comfort.

Since I had stayed at so many homestays in India, especially in the mountains, I was aware of certain things that I’d experience at Simply Homestay. However, I need to mention that Nicole seasons her comradely hospitality with a lot of ‘extras’, which is rare to find.

Nicole and Charlie help you connect with nature in a more meaningful way. I’ve given it a new term – ‘green hospitality’. The homestay has a wide variety of trees and plants that fulfil all your kitchen needs. As you sit and enjoy a meal under a tree, with a view of the rice paddies, Nicole and Charlie join you for conversations.

It’s always more rewarding to stay with a local family, as they give you insights about their traditions and beliefs, and make you connect with the place in a more authentic way. I could discover things like how rice is steamed traditionally at Goan homes, Feni making, fish drying, and the much-loved baking culture of Goa.

You can give Charlie’s GOAGREEN a chance for offbeat South Goa tour packages. They create bespoke experiences of Goa for discerning travellers.

My most favourite part about staying at Simply Homestay were the breakfasts! I really, really appreciate Nicole for being so precise and particular about what I liked and disliked in terms of food. It was so generous of her to prepare breakfasts (and other meals) keeping in mind that I wanted to have only healthy stuff.

She was so accommodative towards my mom as well. Even my mom, who’s extremely particular about her food, felt at home.


Thanks to Nicole, I got to explore a bit of Margao aka Madgaon, the commercial as well as the cultural capital of South Goa. It was an unexpected bonus to my South Goa trip.

I had planned to sleep in the afternoon, and I get a message from Nicole, “I’m going to Margao. Would you like to join?” Well, the invitation was too good to decline. I get ready in a jiffy.

Margao is your alternative to Panjim’s Fontainhas, which is in North Goa. Nicole drove us to a viewpoint, which was from a church. It was a great place to enjoy some panoramic views. However, the sunlight was not appropriate. So, we came to Holy Spirit Church, a 15th century historic church, which has a lot of beguiling heritage around it – the rundown old mansions.

The significant old buildings of Margao to visit: Margao Municipal Council, Sat Bhurzam Ghor, and the Latin Quarters (Abade Faria Road).

Sadly, the heritage of Margao comes with a black history. On September 21 of 1890, 23 Goans were massacred by the Portuguese rulers.

As stated in Herald GoaThe municipal elections were scheduled on that day and there were allegations that the elections were rigged and people were denied their right to vote and as the murmurings increased, the Portuguese administrator directed his force to fire on the around 4,000 people gathered near Holy Spirit Church.

While 17 people died on the spot including a woman who was leaving the church and a young boy who was playing at his house garden wall. Ultimately 23 people died in the firing that lasted for 20 minutes.

The bullet marks can be seen even today at the house of Dr Slavador Alvares who has framed the marks with circular bass plaques.


If you want to completely drift from the Goa of sun, sand and beaches, sojourn in Curtorim (a village in Salcete) for a few days. The river Zuari flows along the village giving it a dreamlike character.

Curtorim is steeped in verdure. It’s just not about churches, chapels and old Portuguese homes. Curtorim has an abundance of beautiful paddy fields, water bodies, and a huge variety of birds. Thereby, it’s a totally different aspect of Goa.

There are plenty of nature as well as heritage trails in Curtorim. It’s really up to your curiosity and the spirit to wander.

I stayed in Curtorim for three days at Arco Iris Boutique Homestay.


Cavelossim is a perfect ‘workation’ in Goa. Fortunately, I found a beautiful Airbnb in Cavelossim, which offered me free WiFi, Netflix, a well-equipped kitchen, washing machine (much-needed for long stays) and a portico facing the lush garden of the property.

There were shops close to the house for all the daily essentials. I’d say Cavelossim is ideal for slow travel or a long-term travel in Goa.

Besides the Airbnb, you can also find quite a few popular hotels in Cavelossim – Radisson Blu Resort GoaThe Leela Goa Luxury Beach and Riverside Resort, and Novotel Goa Dona Sylvia Resort.

But if you’re someone like me who prefers to stay away from the touristic crowd, especially in times of Coronavirus, you should opt for a secluded accommodation in South Goa.

I loved Cavelossim particularly because of the deserted farms and fields and the distant blue mountains that I got to see while driving or walking. Not to forget there are some of the calmest beaches in Cavelossim.

I stayed in Cavelossim for four days, and it was the last leg of my trip.


Carmona is another beautiful village in the Salcette district of South Goa. It’s barely 4 kms from Cavelossim.

I discovered Carmona, as I visited Carmona beach, which I thought was one of the best beaches in Goa – it was serene and deserted. And, I witnessed an exceedingly gorgeous sunset from the beach.

However, I have a word of caution for you – make sure you have your own vehicle with you whenever you visit these isolated beaches. You might not get a cab and it’s not fun to walk after sunset through the lonely streets.

Top experiences & activities of my South Goa trip     

  • Elaborate breakfasts in old, heritage balconies or under a tree.
  • Long walks through Goan villages.
  • Visited lesser-known Goa beaches.
  • Explored the cafes and bakeries of South Goa.
  • Visited homes that make Feni, the local beverage of Goa.
  • Watched many beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
  • Relished a variety of fish at Goan homes.
  • Enjoyed panoramic views from hilltops.
  • Conversations with the locals.
  • Walked by rivers and lakes.
  • Savoured doing nothing.Where To Stay In South Goa

    South Goa has plenty of accommodation options for all kinds of budgets. You can either choose one of the heritage hotels in South Goa, such as Vivenda dos PalhacosArco Iris Boutique Homestay, or a comfy Airbnb for a budget stay.

    Goa has many tastefully made hotels to give you that unforgettable experience.

    Goa Travel Tips & Tricks

    The worst part about your Goa trip could be the local taxis that you hire for commuting. Wouldn’t you agree? You could perhaps save some money when it comes to your accommodation, but the taxis in Goa do make a hole in your pocket.

    Well, I found a cheaper alternative on my last trip in Goa –

    • Use Goa Miles App while you’re in Goa. Since there’s no Ola or Uber in Goa, the local taxi drivers exploit tourists. Say a big NO to them, and download Goa Miles app on your phone for much cheaper local cabs.
    • If you’d like to drive, rent a car for the entire trip.South Goa Trip Budget

      The budget of your trip depends upon many things, such as the length of your trip, the season, the choices you make in terms of accommodation, food and transport.

      You can follow some of my budget travel tips for your Goa trip –

      • Choose all-inclusive homestays for your stay. Stay longer and ask for discount.
      • Stay in Airbnb homes of Goa – the benefit is that you can cook your own meals and save money, which you would otherwise spend on restaurants.
      • Stay at hotels that offer activities and sights at walkable distances. Avoid spending on local taxis.
      • Make sure the first hotel that you check in as you land in Goa and the last hotel before you leave are close to the airport. You can save on kms and save on fuel.
      • Look for good hotel deals on websites like and Agoda. They are my favourites, as you get real good deals and also flexibility to cancel later without a charge.

Mesmerizing Kedarkantha -Bhumi Chotalia

Mesmerizing Kedarkantha

Kedarkantha will be one of the closest trek to my heart as it was one of the trek in my bucket list. I would love to share my experience that how did my dream trek go.

The trek starts from Dehradun , you need to reach Dehradun from your respective city. From Dehradun we started our journey to Sankri which is 187 Km away via road. We took a small break at Mussoorie , we had our breakfast near Kempty falls . The journey from Dehradun to Mussorrie is amazing , you will see a lot of beautiful mountains around, the sky is clear , the air is polluted free , you get a different vibe while travelling to such mountain roads, you feel like staying there staring at the mountains and the scenery all day long , you are never going to get full. Heading towards our journey from Mussorrie to Purola  is 54 km away from Sankri. We took a short lunch break . Purola would be your last stop to withdraw money and also would be the last stop where you will receive any network.

After having lunch at the Purola ,we began our journey  to Sankri  which  is 54 km. Sankri  was our first base for Kedarkantha trek. We reached at a small guest house. Got freshen up and had our evening snacks. Kedar Kantha, for  sure it’s  not a leisure trek , where  you would get all the facilities. You need to stay in dorm tents, you will get good hot meal for sure. So a total thrill and adventurous  experience. If it is your first snow or winter trek experience then trust me you are going to love it.  You will be so mesmerised and inspired with this trek that you would want to go on another adventure very soon. So, after reaching  Sankri  all the members got instructions from there itself that you need to leave your comfort zone at your respective city, because this is a trek not a sightseeing tour. You will get all rental trekking gears from Sankri  it self like gaiters ,crampons ,trekking  polls et cetera.

These gears are much needed in late December or January or else it is not much needed. So we were 22 members all of them came from different city. Some from Surat some from Bangalore some from Kolhapur and many other different places. Interacting and knowing new people is some different kind of experience. After giving all the instructions we had our dinner and people were advised to eat as much as they can for energy and take a good walk for digestion .

Quick Note: If anyone wants to keep extra luggage at Sankri they can , they do not need to carry whole luggage at the top just some extra socks and jackets , warm clothes and a bottle of water is fine.

So next day we headed to our first camp site that is Juda Ka Talab. The history behind Juda Ka Talab he is basically said  that there are two Talab is merging together so it is known as Juda Ka Talab.

Quick Note: Sankri to Juda Ka Talab is 5km .Your water bottle should always be filled do not drink much water while trekking and if you are resting then stand and take deep breaths never sit and relax.

We started around 10 AM and reached  Juda Ka Talab campsite at approx. 2 PM. Our campsite was 15 minutes away from Juda Ka Talab.

The trek from Sankri to Juda Ka Talab is phase 1 . The whole trail is not too steep but a good experience for beginner trekkers. After reaching campsite we had our hot meal and relaxed for some time .In winter the sun sets very soon around 6 PM ,so by 7 you will feel like it’s 10 PM. We had a dinner  by 7:30 PM. There were other members who were making their vlogs of their first winter trek as to keep their nostalgia. The sky was so clear, the stars looked so beautiful, the sky was filled with stars like the glitters are sprinkled on it , it looked damn beautiful. If you want bonfire that its for sure you need to find woods  by yourself . So ,we headed up to our tents by 9:30 PM. You get sleeping bags to keep yourself warm. The next day we had our breakfast and headed to Kedar Kantha base camp which was phase 2, and from Juda Ka Talab to Kedar Kantha-based camp is another approx. 5 km we took a break at Juda Ka Talab clicked photographs had some fun, created memories. The journey from Juda Ka Talab to Kedar Kantha base camp is much steeper.  We took  short breaks at the tea stalls which were coming over the route. We reached at our base camp at lunchtime around 2 PM had our lunch, played around snow.

Day 3,Everyone got instructions about next days summit trek as we were going to start the trek around early morning 3 Am . People who had difficulty in walking they got crampons ,those are, micro spikes and gators to protect themselves and a trekking  pole which was almost carried by everyone. All the members slept early, as we had to wake up around 2 AM. Instructors taught them how to wear gaiters and crampons. Because it would be really difficult to show them in the early morning. Early morning by 3 AM we all got a breakfast. After having breakfast we headed to top of the summit.

You don’t need to carry whole luggage to the summit ,just your water bottle is fine . This is the toughest part of the whole trek because it is the steepest part. It is around 4 km from Kedar Kantha base camp to the summit. We started at midnight at around 3 AM.I reached around 7:30 AM. The best part of trekking at night is that you just keep walking you do not get tired so easily while going on summit. Try wearing good 3 to 4 layers, as it is going to be cold and windy at the top. You will feel hot while walking but once you reach the top you won’t regret, wearing those 3 to 4 layers. It becomes more and more steeper when you are about to reach the top . The sun was rising at the moment i reached the top  .The experience ,the view is just magical  .The red colour, which is Shaded all over the sky ,The red rays of the sun touching the mountains it is so beautiful you just would want to sit there peacefully and look at the sun rising. Not only sunrise but sunset also has its own different vibe and tenderness

The peak was Crowded with a lot of people. As it was still too cold we left there by 9:30 AM. The trail of going back to the campsite was from a different route. We were just sliding ourselves on snow and coming down, it was so much fun or I would say “it was snow much fun”. We came down to our campsite ,relaxed had our lunch. All the members  shared a lot of memories together. After lunch we headed down to Juda Ka talab  campsite . Hargaon campsite was closed.

Fact it is much difficult to trek down rather than climbing , it is so much slippery you need to go carefully or else you would fall on ice and harm yourself. There were tea stalls in between where we took a break So it was the last night with this bunch of crazy people together. The best part of this trek was that there was no network , so people had  gathered  together and know each other .Share thoughts ,shared their experiences . Last night we sat on bonfire together and everyone shared their experiences. Members who had breathing problems even they had completed the trek.

Quick note: So if you have a breathing problem carry camphor it helps a lot in breathing

It was almost everyone’s first trek and they enjoyed a lot took a big bag of memories . Next day we had our breakfast and moved down to Sankri, in between our crazy people had Pahari dance .While coming down we reached around 11-11:30 at our first base camp. Then headed down to Dehradun . It was a crazy and unforgettable experience of my life I would suggest to anyone who is wanting to go for a winter trek or Kedar Kantha trek, do not quit or think it is difficult you can do the whole trek. Trust me it is so would you would never regret doing this trek.

“Experience everything, vibe at every place in life! Cheers to mountains! and cheers to AAWARA ADVENTURES”


Auli, Uttarakhand: Expect the Unexpected in the Lap of Himalayas – thetheiffyexplorer

Auli, Uttarakhand: Expect the Unexpected in the Lap of Himalayas 

Urgam Valley to Joshimath

I took shared sumo from Urgam Valley to return to Joshimath. It costs about 80 INR to cover 29 kilometres.

From Delhi, one can catch an overnight bus till Rishikesh, then a shared taxi or another bus till Joshimath.

The homestay where I was supposed to stay in, was located a few kilometres above the main Joshimath market, somewhere in between Auli and Joshimath and on the way to Manoti village on Parsari road. My homestay owner, Rana ji came to pick me and some groceries too.

Mountain View Abode Homestay

I was about to stay at this piece of heaven near Auli in a village called Ravigram or Manauti Auli. Mountain View Abode, a 400-yr old wooden property looked charming being surrounded by all these giant mountains, which were completely covered with fresh snow that fell a week before my arrival.

Mountain View Abode homestay which also comes under NotOnMap homestay revival initiative has 4 rooms. The cottage-looking like stay can host up to about 10 travellers and is made in traditional stone and mud style of construction.

My happiness knew no bounds. I could feel it. Seeing the snowy mountain tops and heavily clouded skies, snowfall could have happened anytime. The weather turned pretty cold and I took all my winter clothes out that I got with me from Delhi.

Mamta Ji, Ranaji’s wife, prepared a few cups of tea on her mud stove for us to relish. The couple is jovial and makes you feel instantly at home. They both love to interact with travellers. And Ranaji is a Kishore Kumar fan. I was given local wine the first night with his favourite songs and a bonfire to seek comfort.

A delicious breakfast was being prepared the next morning. They asked me to eat well because we were to depart for an important work-related hike. I was told that they needed kerosene oil for the coming days and it’s better to stock up since the weather looked unpredictable.

A thin trail took us a little above the homestay to another home, Ranaji’s neighbour. We made a quick stop in between to see the village temple. Our steps synced with Ranaji’s stories of how mercilessly it has snowed this year. I was made aware of how we are just 30 minutes below Auli.

Upon reaching, we quickly filled the 5-litre canister with kerosene oil, had a little tea with a small chat and instantly everyone saw my mood swing. Suddenly I felt like going even higher, up to Auli. I don’t know, what made me change my mind, I suppose it was the weather or maybe I just wanted to take the risk and experience what it felt like getting stuck in a storm. Whatever it was, it just thrilled me from inside-out.

“If only I could live here forever”

A little above the village I was staying at, one of India’s best ski destination is Uttarakhand’s winter wonderland seemed to call a snow-loving person like me.

The Untouched Trail to Auli

I then took an untouched trail to Auli. Trying to reach before the sunset in my newly bought yet cheap rubber shoes, I managed to reach the top in 30 minutes, not to forget with the help of a wooden stick that Rana ji handed me at the last moment and the rubber shoes that Nitin ji from my last homestay in Joshimath, advised me to buy.

On a white carpet, looking at the gorgeous snow-clad mountains, under heavy clouds which were about to fall and just not being able to believe the surroundings, I was in awe, with a gaping mouth and wide eyes, heart full, my day was made there and then, even before reaching the skiing slopes of Auli. I was surrounded by the peaks of Mt Nanda Devi Kamet, Mana Parwat, Dunagiri, Beethartoli, Nilkanth, Hathi Parbat, Ghori Parbat and Nar Parbat.

And I never even planned to be in Auli. Yet again my most impromptu plan etched something amazing in my memory.

Auli is located at an altitude of 2800 metres above sea level.

One can enjoy the views of the Himalayas from an even higher location by experiencing the chair-lift which charges about 500 INR per person. There were ski and snowboarding instructors present on the spot. I could see many newcomers falling hard and thinking about how much of the sport they can learn in an hour. The instructors charge 800 INR for 1-hour training.

There is this Hanuman temple here which is known as the resting point of Lord Hanuman when he came to the Himalayas to procure Sanjeevani, and provides a stunning of the mountains and the valley below. My rubber shoes proved to be the most helpful while climbing the frozen stairs of the temple. My newly made friend followed me everywhere, I treated him with biscuits in the end.

Auli hosted the first South Asian winter games in 2011. November to February is the best time to visit Auli. The world’s highest man-made lake is also said to be existing in Auli.

How to reach Auli?

By road one can travel from Delhi to Dehradun/Rishikesh/ Haridwar via private or government buses. There onwards, Joshimath is 16 kilometres away and can be reached via shared taxis or local buses. Then private or shared jeeps to Auli can be hired. A 5-kilometre trek can also be undertaken from Joshimath till Auli. The climb is via a staircase that takes you from Joshimath market till the Auli temple.

I hiked for a kilometre from my homestay till Auli, instead.


The trip ended on such a happy jubilant note that till date while narrating this story to you, I can’t contain myself from beaming ear to ear. This 12-day long trip to Uttarakhand has restored my faith in something most of us tend to forget.

Aren’t the happiest moments are found in the simplest of the things?

The simple homestays and even simpler owners served me like their family member, everything felt just complete right there. This is travel.

Travel to experience! Travel to live and re-live moments!



Solo Female Travel in India — Is India Safe?

My #1 India Travel Tip

India may not be for everyone, but if it’s calling you don’t hesitate. Go with an open mind and heart…but make sure you do your research ahead of time!


Solo female travel to India is much more popular than you might think.

In some ways, India is actually a very good destination for solo female travel, despite all the warnings and dire media reports. I’ve spent many years traveling solo in India, and I now live there – in Rishikesh, which is an ideal destination for a solo female traveler interested in Yoga. (It’s called the Yoga capital of the world!)

Having said that, I know that as much as I love India, and the adventure of traveling there, it’s not for everyone. People tend to either love India (me!) or hate it. For those of us who love it, India is the most exciting destination on earth. Every moment is an adventure, a sensory overload, and a crash course in learning to live in the moment.

To be in India, you really need to learn to surrender and go with the flow. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in frustration. I always say that India is in charge, and India always wins. So if you are willing to keep your ego in check, and open yourself up to the full-on experience of being in India, you may discover the magic that keeps us Indophiles hooked.

– This guest post is written by Mariellen Ward, owner of India travel site and an expert on India travel, particularly traveling in India as a Western woman. An earlier version of this post featured an interview with Mariellen; you can now find that here. All photos in this post are hers unless otherwise specified. See more on Mariellen at the end of the post.


Solo Female Travel in India

As I mentioned already, India is not for everyone, so before deciding to travel there, have an honest conversation with yourself. It’s an exciting travel destination, but not an easy one. Think of it this way: if you decided to take up mountaineering, you would not start with Everest. You would start with a smaller mountain and work your way up. India is like Everest.

Even seasoned travelers, people who proclaim, “Nah, I’ve traveled for months in Southeast Asia, I’ll be fine,” get their socks knocked off by India. It is not like Nepal, or Vietnam, or Thailand. There is nowhere else like India. So be prepared for a long learning curve, unless you start with a small group tour or a custom tour.

This is the reason I started India for Beginners tours. To give travelers the hand-holding they need – whether they just need help with some bookings, itinerary development, or a full custom tour with guides.

You also need to do some research to learn about the popular tourist destinations and better neighbourhoods. I recommend sticking to the well-traveled tourist hotspots when first in India. These places can be annoying because tourists also attract con men, touts, and scammers. But they are safer than wandering alone into a remote or sketchy area.

I also recommend reading blogs, books, and guides to learn about the local customs. I wrote a lengthy post on my top tips for women traveling in India to cover many of the basic things you need to know.


Tips for Women Traveling Alone in India

Dress modestly. Bollywood movies can be very racy, and there are many modern and westernized areas of the country where young Indian women wear short dresses, jeans, and sleeveless tops. But as a foreigner who stands out, and who isn’t likely to know exactly what’s acceptable and what isn’t, it’s wise to err on the side of modest.

This is especially true when you’re travelling in remote or traditional areas of the country, including Rajasthan, even though it’s a popular tourist destination. Here’s more detailed information on what to wear for travel in India.

Get a local SIM card. The first thing you should do when you land in India is get a SIM card at the airport. Having a local number will not only be extremely convenient, it can help keep you safe. Everything is done by WhatsApp or text message in India – everyone has a mobile phone and they use them for everything.

Use taxi apps. Download some taxi apps like Uber and Ola for use in the big cities. Traveling by GPS taxi is very safe in India, and also very inexpensive. You can use your local SIM and taxi app to arrange pickup at airports and train stations, for example – places that are notorious for scammers, touts, and drivers who overcharge foreigners.

(Note from Kate: I recommend locking up your valuables in a portable safe in your hotel room. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack.)

Get an extra debit card. You should have two debit cards to two different bank accounts. If you only have one, I recommend you get a debit card from Transferwise. Keep a few hundred dollars in your account, hide the card deep in your luggage, and use it if your primary debit card is stolen.

Pack light. India presents lots of travel challenges like transportation delays and infrastructure fails. If you pack light, it’s much easier to deal with the unexpected. You can just pick up your bag and “adjust a little,” as they say in India.

Don’t slum it. In some countries, it’s fun to travel as cheaply as possible, stay in cheap hotels, take local buses, etc. This can be true for India, too, but as a solo female traveler, or someone new to India, I don’t advise it.

Spend a bit more for 2AC class on the train (though 3AC is often fine as well), a decent guest house in an upscale part of town, and a taxi rather than a bus. There are also some good “luxury hostels” in India, too, especially in the major tourist centers like Delhi and Jaipur.


Best Destinations for Solo Female Travelers in India

The best destinations for female solo travelers in India are those that are already popular, and where you’re lucky to meet other like-minded travelers. You can get an overview of India (and more resources) in my India Travel Guide.


Delhi is the capital of the country, a huge, sprawling city with an illustrious past. Most people arrive and leave from Delhi, and there’s a huge expat community (largely due to all the embassies), so there’s lots of available for visitors in terms of hotels, hostels, hip neighbourhoods, tourist attractions, great shopping and much more. Delhi is the cultural and culinary capital of India, so you can spend weeks here exploring and never run out of things to do, see, and eat.


Close to Delhi, the desert state of Rajasthan is one of the most tourist-friendly areas of India. It’s also very beautiful, historical, and fascinating. In spite of my many years of travelling all over India, I still love Rajasthan, and I don’t think its popularity with tourists has diminished its charms.

You can follow the well-traveled route: Jaipur, Ranthambhore, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Jaisalmer. Or you can get off the beaten path and go to Shekhawati, Bundi, Bikaner, Mount Abu, Bharatpur…and all the small villages, fort hotels, and desert camps in between. All of it is worth experiencing.


Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is perhaps the most westernized city in India, and many consider it to be the safest. It’s definitely the most fun, with lots of cool neighborhoods, hip cafes, creative co-working spaces, and the best nightlife in the country. It’s also a densely packed and expensive city, and affordable accommodation options are hard to find. I prefer to stay in Bandra, a trendy suburb. Here, Airbnb is definitely your best bet.


Goa needs no introduction! Most people are aware of this tiny, tropical state – famous for full moon beach parties, night markets, and hippies. It’s a very touristy area, and most westerners feel right at home.

North Goa is where the action is. If you want to party, this is the place. Be aware however, that it’s not what it used to be. The government has brought in some strict laws against partying on the beach. It’s also probably one of the least safe places in India for foreigners because of the drug scene. There have been several murders over the last few years.

I much prefer South Goa, which is quieter, more remote, much more naturally beautiful, and probably safer. South Goa attracts a slightly older, less party-hardy crowd.


Kerala is a tropical state in the very south of India known for having beautiful beaches, a rich and unique culture, and a gentler, more laid-back vibe than many other parts of India. I often advise people to start their India travels in Kerala because it provides a soft landing. Also, there’s so much to see and do, aside from the obvious attraction of great beaches and some fun beach towns like Varkala (my favorite) and Kovalam.

Cochin, also known as Kochi, is a fascinating historical trading port that is well worth a visit – it has a small but lively café and arts scene – and it’s also quite near the backwaters, one of the most famous regions of the state. I recommend a day cruise on the backwaters, but would avoid an overnight journey.


Meet the Author

Mariellen Ward is a Canadian travel journalist who publishes the award-winning travel site, based on her extensive travels in India. She has a BA in Journalism, has been published in leading media outlets around the world, and lives up in the clouds in Rishikesh, India. Through her company India for Beginners, she offers itinerary planning, travel services, and custom tours.

Leh Ladakh Travel Guide

How my Delhi to Leh Ladakh trip turned into an extreme and unplanned adventure in the remotest part of the world

How my Delhi to Leh Ladakh trip turned into an extreme and unplanned adventure in the remotest part of the world – Changthang – Archana Singh


The downside of living abroad , is homesickness that hits you like a ton of bricks. I have a good job and a balanced life. But I still feel homesick, not so much for my family or the food but for the Himalayas. The urge to return was so strong at the beginning of the year that I brushed aside a serious threat of losing my job. I didn’t know which home was calling but I was hearing a call – O nadaan parinde ghar aa ja! But as the cliché goes, “When mountains call, you must listen to them.” I did exactly that.

The calling this time was different. There was a different tune to it. I sensed a deeper meaning, probably more than just the travel. Too often, traveling becomes just an itinerary on paper to squeeze as much in as possible. Rushing from place to place to get the boxes ticked, to snap the picture-perfect sunset and to hit the next scenic spot. Sometimes it feels like we are acquiring experiences rather than experiencing them. I had a super crammed itinerary but this time I was determined to travel slow and relish the experiences and not just gather them. As they say, the best dishes are cooked on slow and low flames. I wanted to do something different, go offbeat and live the unique experiences, for they are not found on the beaten track. And guess what, I discovered happiness in the remotest part of the world – Changthang.

Unlike my last three trips from Delhi to Leh Ladakh , this was completely impulsive. And the credit goes to nostalgia. I was going through my picture gallery on phone (not on Facebook) when suddenly a  picture clicked in the Changthang plateau in 2014 arrested my attention. Eureka! My eyes glittered with excitement. I called my Ladakhi friend right in the middle of the night. After a brief conversation, I discovered that he was posted in the very place that I wanted to be. Looks like destiny was working super hard for me!. The up-in-the-air-plan was made. But there are many slips between the making of a plan and its finalization. The plan got finalized only a day before I was to fly and I ended up paying a bomb for the flight tickets. The heart doesn’t understand the pain of a wallet. If it decides to go, it decides to go 🙂

My plan was limited to fly from Delhi to Leh Ladakh. I decided to leave the rest to serendipity and the local conditions. All I knew was, I was going to visit the unexplored Ladakh – the Changthang plateau. I had no clue beyond that. Locals are the unsung heroes who turn your good trip into a great one. My case was no different. The credit for an unforgettable trip goes to them – some I knew beforehand and some I made friends on the trip.

Time to buckle up folks! Hope you have your seat belts locked and have your munchies ready because this will take you through the stories of a lifetime.

From a sweltering 35 degrees to -8 degrees, Leh was a welcome change. The change in temperature had already triggered my “happiness” hormones. Before getting into my cab, I longingly gazed at the beautiful Himalayas, in the same way as long parted lovers look at each other when they meet after ages. Happiness doesn’t require words. It can only be felt by the heart and the eyes. I was relishing my share of happiness. The mountains were mountains, smiling at me and waving at me through gestures that only I could understand 🙂


I had booked myself at the Zaltak guesthouse, a place where I’ve lived in the past. The Didi who runs the place is one amazing person. She was preparing for my homecoming. After a lovely hug and exchange of heartfelt pleasantries, I was treated to my favorite Jasmine Kehwa and Ladakhi Roti. Memories of my previous trips hit me hard and off I went dreaming.

As a part of acclimatization, I wasn’t supposed to go out on the first day but I had no option. I had to secure my inner line permit from the DM’s office to visit the restricted areas of Ladakh. James, one of my good Ladakhi friends had done all the hard work in securing the necessary permissions, while I just signed the document.

And like clockwork, I fell sick. I was continuously throwing up, had a terrible headache and fever. When Didi saw my condition, she went out to get Diamox, a tablet that helps in acclamistisation. All the shops were already closed. But she still managed to get the medicines. She made khichdi and asked me to drink a lot of green tea. She checked on me several times during the night. And voila by morning I was back to my cheerful self 🙂

Next day early morning, I was on my way to Changthang. Around 3 pm, after a long and bumpy ride through the beautiful sights and sounds of frozen Ladakh, I arrived at Chumathang. A small village that is at the junction of many routes


My last minute call to an Army friend, who was posted at Leh, got me a comfortable stay at the Army Guesthouse at Chumathang. From a bathtub to comfortable cozy bed to room heater to cable TV to hot meals and packed lunch, I had all luxuries of life in a place where even getting potable water was difficult. That’s the perk of being associated with the Indian Army. The impossible word doesn’t exist in its dictionary.

The guest House in-charge introduced me to the village Sarpanch – Skarma. He was the most respected man in a village of 50 houses and ran Lamying Hotsprings Restaurant on the banks of the mighty Indus river on the Leh-Hanle highway. The all glass restaurant gave a greenhouse effect, amazingly warm in a cold barren land where temperatures plummet to -40 degree in winters. Almost everyone traveling on this highway stopped at his restaurant.

In case you didn’t know, Chumathang is a place famous for Hotsprings. There is one particular hot spring that hardly anyone knows about – it stays in the riverbed for ten minutes, the water looks very calm and suddenly it oozes out with full force. And the same loop continues. I would have been contended by seeing the usual hot spring site and would have never known something like this exists had Sarpanch not showed it to me.

They say mountain life is not easy. I experienced that first hand. Though the water is so hot here that you can boil eggs in 5 minutes, it leaves a pungent smell and taste to the food. That’s why the Sarpanch’s staff walks for four km uphill to the Chumathang village to fetch water for cooking, every single day. And it’s not a few liters. He gets water to cook for at least 100 people every day.

I spent a lot of time talking to villagers, army personnel, Ladakhi Scouts, and locals taking a break at Sarpanch’s restaurant. I was listening to all kind of unheard of stories, like a child glued to her grandparent’s bedtime stories. One of them I spoke to was the headmaster at the Puga Nomadic School. His stories about the school and the difficult life lived by the pastoral nomads inspired me to visit the place, which had nearby not-to-miss-at-any-cost attractions like Tso Morori Lake, Sumdo and Karzok Tibetan nomadic villages, Puga hot springs, and Chumur.

The only problem at hand was finding a cab. There were only two personal cars – one of a government servant working in Nyoma and other of the Sarpanch. Both were busy with their own schedules. Despite being out of bounds, I had to try! Nobody was ready to accompany me on this daredevil stunt. Even money failed to lure them. Reason – the area was completely frozen and cars would often skid. No connectivity. No help. But where there is a will there’s a way.

Curiosity takes you to places where no map or app can take. Are you curious enough to find out what happened next? How did I manage to witness the frozen wonders of Tso Moriri and the beautiful villages?

Leh Ladakh Travel Guide

A First-timer’s Guide to Leh

If Ladakh is paradise, Leh is your stairway to heaven.

The barren beauty of Ladakh in India with snow-capped peaks and the clean azure sky has continued to attract the intrepid travelers. The scenic destination has maintained to cast its spell since the region was opened to tourists in the 1970s. Since then, Ladakh has become a favorite haunt for trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts. The rugged terrain and the majestic mountains around, make an exotic cocktail for an adventure lover. But before you decide to fly away to the land of Buddhist monasteries and brave people, here’s everything that you need to know. It is imperative to understand that you need at least a week to acclimatize and enjoy your tour to Ladakh.

Plan a trip to the land of bluer-than-blue lakes and stark grey mountains with this quick guide:

Getting to Leh
You can fly to Leh from major Indian cities via Delhi (there’s also a 4am direct flight from Mumbai), but much of the time you save will be spent acclimatising to the altitude. Your other option is to drive, and there are two ways of getting there:

  1. From Srinagar (415km): The Srinagar–Leh road is open from the first week of May till December, depending on snowfall. The roads are well maintained, the ascent is gradual—chances of mountain sickness considerably reduce—and there are beautiful villages on the way. Perfect for families with elder members and children. You can stop overnight at either Dras or Kargil, which are 140km and 200km from Srinagar respectively.
  2. From Manali (482km): This high-altitude road is snowed under for most part of the year. It opens around the first week of June and remains motorable till October. The climb here is steep, the roads crumbly, and landslides are a real threat. Try this if you’re looking for adventure. Travellers usually halt overnight at Jispa, about 140km from Manali.

It is also possible to drive from Srinagar to Leh in a day. But you will need a very early start, an experienced driver and plenty of energy to sit through the drive. Certainly not the best way to arrive in Leh. The most recommended way to travel: drive in, fly out.

Local transport
Taxis can be booked through the hotel or a travel agent, and they charge as per the destination. The Leh main market also has a taxi stand—solo travellers can opt for shared taxis, which are cheaper and can be paid for on a per-person basis. Vehicles for overnight trips cost about 20% more than day trips. For reference, a day trip from Leh to Thiksey, Shey and Hemis monasteries and the Druk Padma Karpo School—of 3 Idiots fame—will cover a distance of approximately 100km and cost Rs2,500 for a Mahindra Xylo and Rs2,800 for a Toyota Innova. Most people don’t, but in case you want air conditioning, it costs Rs7/km in addition to the aforementioned prices.

Many of Ladakh’s top attractions are a day trip away from Leh, which is why it makes sense to camp here. Predictably, the town gets swamped in peak season and places are sold out months in advance. These are the ones to book:

  • The Grand Dragon Ladakh is centrally heated and has solar-powered rooms with views of the Stok Kangri mountains. (Doubles from Rs11,600)
  • The 45-room Hotel Shangrila is minutes away from the airport and has a Tibetan-inspired restaurant that serves Ladakhi food. (Doubles from Rs6,500)
  • A short walk from Leh town, Mahey Retreat has rooms overlooking sprawling gardens that grow most of the produce used by the restaurant. (Doubles from Rs4,600)
  • The family-run Mogol Hotel has friendly staff and 19 spacious rooms with views of the mountains. (Doubles from Rs4,500)
  • Backpackers and solo travellers can opt for Shaolin Guest House on Sankar road (starting Rs800 per person) and Zik Zik Guest House on Karzoo lane (+91-94191 79357; doubles from Rs1,000), which are homely, comfortable and easy on the pocket.

Eat here
Most restaurants are open throughout the tourist season and are great for people-watching or meeting locals. Settle down with a hot cup of cappuccino at Jeevan Café (+91-9419129157), which also has a small library on the first floor—ask for their pizza and lasagne. Lunch at the value-for-money Summer Harvest restaurant in Changspa and try their hearty thukpa (noodle soup), or walk up to the tavern-like Bon Appetit for a meal with a view—they make great chocolate momos. For a taste of Tibetan cuisine, try Tibetan Kitchen on Fort Road (tip: get a table outside) or the quaint Amdo Café in the main market, which serves steaming momos and thenthuk (noodle soup). Stop by Pumpernickel German Bakery on Zangsti road for fresh bread, cakes and cookies. Don’t forget to visit the charming Lala’s Café, which is housed in a restored Ladakhi house and serves butter tea. Lamayuru Restaurant on Fort Road is great for vegetarians and is the place to go when you’re craving Indian food. Check out our complete list of Leh’s best eats here.


Good to know

  1. Carry government-issued photo-identity proof—driving licence, Aadhaar card, PAN card, etc., which come handy at checkpoints and in case permits are required.
  2. Plastic bags are banned in Ladakh, so make sure you carry biodegradable/paper bags.
  3. The weather is unpredictable: it’s usually windy and can go from pleasant to chilly very quickly. Wear layers instead of bulky warmers to stay comfortable at all times.
  4. Keep in mind that most establishments in Ladakh are shut during the off season i.e. the time when roads are closed.
  5. Carry waterproof luggage; this will ensure that the contents of your bag remain dry in case it rains unexpectedly or you need to drive through water.
  6. Remember to take spare batteries for your camera, as the altitude and cold will drain them out quicker.
  7. When travelling around Leh, it’s best to avoid alcohol; drink water instead. Breathing in dry air drains the moisture from the lungs, so make sure you consume at least 4–5 litres to stay hydrated.
  8. If you’re the one at the wheel, it’s important to know that driving here is different from driving anywhere else. It’s a constant mental and physical test, and covering more than 50km a day is a challenge for anybody who’s not a seasoned driver. Don’t push yourself more than you need to. Kshitij adds, “If something goes wrong, you’ll fall 1,000ft into the valley.” Take it slow and easy, and enjoy the scenery.
  9. Prepaid SIM cards don’t work well in Leh, but postpaid do (Airtel, Aircel and BSNL are your best options). The main market in Leh city also has multiple STD booths.
  10. Most importantly, don’t try to do too much in too little time. Ladakh is not a place that you see in a hurry.


Do’s and Don’t

The following are some travel tips, do’s and dont’s to keep in mind during Ladakh trip.


• Check the weather conditions before you travel.

• Carry plenty of water to stay hydrated as this is very important at high altitudes.

• Remember to pack the right clothes when you are travelling to Ladakh. Cotton wear, woollens, thermals, sturdy walking shoes and sunglasses.

• Remember to pack extra batteries for your camera and mobile phone as electricity can be a problem.

• Wear appropriate clothes when you are visiting Buddhist monasteries.


• Avoid carrying plastic bags as these are banned in Ladakh.

• Don’t take photographs of monks without taking their permission first.