Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Inside Scoop on How Awesome my Life has been since I Quit my Job (& exciting news)

Quite frankly, much of it sucked!
(Well not entirely, but you'll know what I mean after you've read this post. 
Somewhere in the Steppes of Mongolia
With great power comes great responsibility and that's what has happened to me. I finally earned my freedom last year but as always with many good things, it was easier to achieve freedom than holding on to it! During the last few months I learned it requires a lot of self discipline to make freelancing work for you. And as it turns out, the queen of procrastination(me) wasn't ready to change her languorous ways despite the lure of an adventurous future. I won't elaborate on the practicalities of freelance life here, that's for another day but safe to say, it's twice as tough and half as glamorous.

When I was working in a full time corporate job, I used to wake up at 5 in the morning and file stories or pitch ideas before heading to work. I used to hole myself up in my home office over weekends working over ideas, stories and images. I thought if I could do so well with a full time job at hand, I imagined the moment I quit I would pick up new publications to write for and type thousands of words and process Gigabytes of images.

In reality, all I did was watch many of the epic TV series I missed out over the past years where I traveled or slogged to get my foot into travel writing industry. I had resisted the temptation for so long, to watch Game of Thrones or Sherlock even as my Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with spoilers and praises day after day. But in the first few days after I quit where I found myself waking up to days with so set agenda and full of "free" time, all my resolution shattered into pieces. I missed out on pop culture for way too long that I binge-watched series to my heart's content. I watched Game of Thrones, Sherlock, Homeland, House of Cards, Castle and several hundred reruns of F.R.I.E.N.D.S in the last 6 months. I took delightful afternoon naps on cold winter days of Bangalore. I woke up in no hurry, enjoyed several cups of instant coffee(I make horrible coffee btw) and thanked my stars a million times that I have escaped the wretched Bangalore Traffic!

While I don't entirely regret lazing around(after 7 years of corporate life, I think I deserve 6 months of doing nothing), it hurts that I wasn't at least half as productive as I wanted to be. Work and travel wise, it was good. I traveled a lot in the 6 months since I quit (Bhutan, Mongolia, Macao, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Sahyadris, Punjab, Western Ghats). I broke into dream publications and have been writing feature stories for leading magazines but I know I haven't even scratched the surface - of neither my ability nor the stories locked up in my mind. I haven't even started working on Mongolia stories yet or pictures and it's been 4 months since I got back!

I got so comfortable returning to my home in Bangalore that I passed up on many opportunities. Renting a place even after I quit didn't make sense considering I wanted to be a nomad in first place, but this was a new low. I preferred to stay here instead of chasing new adventures. That was the trigger that jolted me out of my slothful stupor, something was definitely going wrong. I found myself waiting for opportunities rather than creating them. And that's when I decided enough is enough. I now need to shake things up a bit and get out of this comfortable shell I've created for myself in Bangalore. I needed to move away from the distractions of lightning quick & unlimited internet. When the internet is so limited in hinterlands where I plan to be, I'm sure I'll be focussed on finishing the work at hand and shutting down the laptop because *slow internet*.  It's time to move far out of my comfort zone because we all know where magic happens!

To that end, I am finally moving out of Bangalore - a backpack, a laptop and my camera in tow, I will now be calling the road home! Come February, I will be embarking on this new adventure and I don't know where I'm heading yet. I know this will make me very very uncomfortable but I've collected/sold most stories from the trips that scared the shit out of me. If this decision is making me nervous, it's a good thing. The fear and uncertainty will keep me on my toes and push me to do much more than I am currently doing. And worst case scenario, if I continue to be just as lazy, I might as well be lazy in a place with a view! ;)
My New Year resolution is to be more adventurous, climb more mountains, spend more time outdoors and return to the kind of crazy trips that drew you all to my blog to begin with. 2015 will be year where I'll happily embrace discomfort in return for an epic story. 
What's your resolution for 2015?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gallivanting in the Land of Rising Sun - Arunachal Pradesh

Quick! What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think Arunachal?
Is it Tawang? It is Madhuri Lake/Jung Falls? Or is it Sela Pass? (Tell me in the comments)

My memory always served me exactly those places whenever I thought of Arunachal, thanks to the numerous & hackneyed lists that have inundated our virtual world. I knew there had to be more, much more to Arunachal, unexplored and exotic but I just didn't know what that might be. So when I saw images of long bamboo bridges spanning across clear green rivers, mountains covered in lush greenery instead of ugly gashes of development and small villages entirely comprised of thatched roofs houses set high on mountain slopes, I knew I was onto something exotic here.

Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal - Land of Rising Sun
And Arunachal didn't disappoint, not even a teensy bit! I traveled to this remote corner, mere 29kms from China border, where you'd hardly find any other travellers (notice how I didn't say tourists. Yep, a tourist would never find his way here). I traveled with a responsible tourism company called Kipepeo which places heavy emphasis on local and authentic travel experiences, on a 10 day trip called Magical Mechuka. Here's a glimpse of how Arunachal stole my heart and reinforced my belief that there's no place as exotic as Northeast in India!

Those exotic forests and the endless mountains!

My first foray into Northeast was Nagaland. Having heard so much about this area's natural beauty and indigenous people, I had imagined a land full of undisturbed forests and colorful people. The latter didn't disappoint, but the forests I had come to envision didn't exist. Instead of dense impenetrable forests, barren mountain slopes full of ravaged agricultural land welcomed me. Only a year later in Meghalaya, when I totally went off the beaten path, I found those hidden protected forests that I had dreamt of.

But here in Arunachal, the moment we crossed the Assam border at Likabali into West Siang District, it was clear this large state shelters untouched jungles full of creepers and giant trees. Over the next few days, we barely had mobile signal(even bsnl doesn't work fully) and it was nothing but a delight to be in the lap of pristine wilderness. The view like that of the image below was a common sight - lush greenery, winding rivers and endless mountains!

Arunachal Pradesh
Endless mountains and dense forests of Arunachal
Then there are villages, tiny villages sitting pretty on the mountain slopes surrounded by this dense greenery. The entire villages would only have thatched roof houses built traditionally on stilts. There are no roads to reach these villages, you'd have to hike. The views surrounding them would be breathtaking, needless to say. The village boundaries would be marked by wooden fences complete with dreamcatchers sort of hoops to keep the evil out. In those pretty villages, live such naughty kids playing in the mud and running with the wind.

Arunachal Pradesh
Children goofing around in an Adi Minyong Village
Arunachal, is blessed!

100 % Natural and Organic Living

In the heart of Arunachal Pradesh, we spent few days in and around a little town called Along situated on the banks of a meandering Siom River. Around this town were resplendent hills scattered with picturesque villages of the Adi Minyong Tribe. One afternoon, after hiking to several of their villages we arrived at a field for a traditional lunch of the Adi tribe. Seated on cane stools, we had fish and rice cooked in bamboo hollows, served on banana leaves. The chutney was a mix of ground red chilli and ginger. We drank the local rice wine, Apong, served in the bamboo hollows as seen in the picture below. All of this, while we sat around a the fire (yeah, it gets cold & dark soon in NE) in the middle of a field surrounded by a ring of mountains! This was by far, the most organic and sustainably sourced/cooked meal I ever had. 

Arunachal Pradesh
Apong, a local rice wine that tastes sweet and is delicious. Served in Bamboo hollows.
Oranges grow in abundance in West Siang district. There were orange orchards everywhere and we could practically pluck a fruit from the tree almost anywhere we wanted. Over the 10 days, we ODed on these all-natural, chemical-free, delicious citrus fruit. It's a different kind of high, eating a fruit straight from the orchard. And many of the bridges in remote Arunachal are still old school and incredibly fun! We found ourselves walking on a super shaky bamboo bridge spanning a quarter of a kilometer over Siang River near Along. The walk on this bridge was as adventurous as it was marvellous.

Orange orchards are everywhere in West Siang District. (Left) The 250m wide hanging bamboo bridge connecting Pangin village to Along side over Siang River.(Right)
At the end of it, I couldn't help but marvel at the Adi Minyong Tribe's resourceful and sustainable lifestyle that has evolved over centuries perhaps. 

Gate-crashing a local wedding and getting drunk on local liquor

One of those travel situations that can happen only when your lucky stars perfectly align happened to us on this trip in Mechuka. We stalked a bride, gate crashed their wedding yet we were welcomed with open arms and warm smiles. They kept serving local Millet Beer and refused to let our cups go empty. The wedding itself was quite fascinating, and we were given full access to the intimate prayers and customs of their traditional wedding.

Arunachal Pradesh
Welcome party, groom's side. That's Millet beer in the tray.
Earlier that day, while visiting a local village, few of us saw a group of women in traditional attire standing by the roadside to welcome a party. When we inquired, we were told they are the groom's side and are waiting for the bride to arrive. As soon as we heard this, we pestered our local guide to arrange for us to get invited to the wedding. After finding out the bride's location, we rushed towards her village only to encounter the wedding convoy on the way. We chased the wedding party, overtook them and reached the women standing on the roadside hoping to score an invitation. The trick worked, we were invited to be part of their celebrations!

Arunachal Pradesh
Wedding ritual of the Memba Tribe of Mechuka
It was an unplanned event and took up most of our day but we were more than happy to be part of a stranger's wedding and get high on the millet beer, talk about authentic local experience!

Raging rivers and roaring cascades

When you have such dense forests and such deep valleys, raging rivers and roaring cascades are a given! We had the pleasure of following the Siom River from Along all the way up to its source in Mechuka, where it is called Yargyap Chu. The road always snaked along with the river because of which gorgeous views were abound, forcing me to stop several hundred times to take pictures. On the last day, here at Pangin, we sat at the edge of a cliff watching the Siom River(right) meet the mighty Siang River(left) that goes on to become the super mighty Brahmaputra downstream.

Arunachal Pradesh
Where Siom meets Siang, at Pangin in West Siang District
The mountain sides along the entire route from Along to Mechuka were lined with several waterfalls, some falling gently in several steps from great heights into the valley below and some gushing through the rock faces only to half disappear into thin air. Either way, it was pleasurable company to have. But the biggest and baddest of all had to be this Siko Dido Falls, few kilometers before Mechuka. What you see in the picture was exactly half of the entire height of the falls, and the mist that rose from the forceful drop was so cold that it was hard for me to take a steady picture even; I was shivering!

Arunachal Pradesh
Siko Dido Waterfalls!
Back again on the Bramhaputra
We started our journey into this wild land by crossing over the monster of a river, Bramhaputra. My excitement was hardly contained as I was about to set foot into yet another state of the unexplored Seven Sisters. Rarely do expectations which you have built up in your mind match reality, but that's the thing about Arunachal. It's not a regular place. It's a special place where nature gods still thrive and our only hope is it continues to be so. For such pristine wilderness is hard to come by! As we crossed over Brahmaputra after 10 days to return to reality, the skies turned pensive reflecting my own thoughts - marveling at how exotic northeast truly is yet sad that it would take me ages to explore this enchanted land.

Arunachal Pradesh
Crossing the Brahmaputra on a stormy day

So why do I recommend Kipepeo?
Firstly, I support the company's ideology - sustainable tourism and community development by involvement. Plus, I like it that Kipepeo works in an ignored part of the country that has so much potential, northeast! Over the 10 days we spent in Arunachal, we always had a local guide with us which worked well for both of us. Especially in a place as remote as Arunachal, this was a game-changer. We gatecrashed local wedding, learnt about spies sent to Tibet and had our fill of Apong and warm Adi hospitality - none of this would've been possible without the local connections. 

Secondly, Piran, the founder of Kipepeo has been working and traveling extensively in North East since his early volunteering experience here that gave birth to the idea of this company. He knows the place very well and if not, he has enough contacts who can help him with such offbeat/exploratory visits. 

Have a look at the 2015 Calendar and you'll be spoilt for choices! No really, go have a look. 
Join their Facebook page for heads-up on future events. 

Note: This trip was sponsored by Kipepeo but as always, opinions are mine!

More Adventures from Northeast:
MeghalayaGoing Offbeat in Meghalaya & Learning Interesting Things
NagalandKonyaks - The tattooed Headhunters of Nagaland

The Epic Indian Landscapes 2015 Calendar Sale is still on, extended it due to the excellent response(Dear readers, Thank you for this!). Take a look and order your copy if you like what you see! :) 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Epic Indian Landscapes - 2015 Calendar

12 epic images from remote corners that showcase the incredible variety and beauty of Indian Landscapes!
(Sale closed) 
From the dense jungles of Meghalaya to the salt flats of Rann of Kutch and from Aquamarine Glacial Lakes of Himalayas to winding rivers through Western Ghats, this calendar features some of my best work. To maximize viewing pleasure, I opted to print them big - in A4 and A3 sizes.

So where are the epic images? Here!
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Ready to order now?

For lack of a better eCommerce solution, I'm selling the calendars as an event through doAttend. You'll buy the calendar as a ticket but good news is it supports all modes of payment - Credit Card, Debit Card and Net Banking. Pay the amount, enter your shipping details and you'll have a bright new calendar headed your way in few days. The packages will be shipped in last week of December.

Place your order here : 

(For Sample design & International Shipping see below)

If you love Indian Landscapes as much as I do, or have a serious case of wanderlust, I think you'll enjoy this. Besides, it'll brighten up your workspace and hopefully your day! :)

A4 size, 11" x 8" Desktop Calendar (Sample)
Price - Rs. 950/- 

A3 size, 16" x 11" Hanging Wall Calendar (Sample)
Price -Rs. 1250/-

Free shipping, anywhere in India.
Printed on FSC Certified High Quality Paper, sourced responsibly and sustainably.
Read more on FSC Certification here

Now you know what was my secret to maintaining sanity and keeping myself motivated back when I was working in a cubicle! ;) (6 months ago, I quit!) I used to print one every year using my pictures and it was my escape into wonderland during the dreary office hours. The pictures either reminded me of adventures that were had or of adventures waiting to happen.

If any you amazing people have a corporate offer, do drop me a mail to discuss. As a freelancer with no steady income, I'll be happy beyond belief to get a bulk order! :)

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Unique way of Traveling - Overlanding (In Mongolia)

When I first entered the room full of fellow travellers in Mongolia, I didn't realise Overlanding was a thing. I think almost 95% of the group had done this sort of travel before as I found out during our introductions. They overlanded in Africa, Central Asia and even India! When I was looking for options to explore the real countryside of Mongolia without compromising on quality of the experience and safety, this trip from Intrepid Travel looked like a good option. Personally, what drew me to this trip was the truck! I imagined it must be great fun to drive around in this truck, stopping and camping anywhere we pleased. There were a lot of camping nights involved as you can see from the pictures below.

Overlanding in Mongolia
One of the many exquisite camping locations and the truck named Xara that took us around!

So what is Overlanding?
Overlanding is a well known thing in North America, Europe and Australia. Its basically where you travel in a modified truck or 4-wheel drive with everything you need to survive for a few days. You can carry food supplies, water, cooking/camping equipment with you which gives you the biggest advantage of freedom to go wherever you want to.

So how to book yourself on one of these trips?
Well, the good news is we(Indians) are a bit late in catching up but overlanding is all the rage outside. It's especially helpful for all those of us who want to go on adventures/hiking/camping but find it too costly/impractical to self-organize or find a group. Small group adventures, as they are called, are organized by many companies such as Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Dragoman Overland Adventures, Exodus Travels etc. These are just the very famous ones that I've heard of but there should be many more who do these kind of trips in the remote places that you want to visit. 

So what is the biggest advantage of Overlanding?
There are two. 
First, it gives you a lot of freedom in terms of where to go and where to stop for the day. And because you are carrying everything you need to camp with you, you are not dependent on some town close by to shop for food or finding a stream for water. Stop anywhere you want to! That's just brilliant. 

Second, no hotels? No problem! In remote areas where tourism infrastructure is absent, like it was in Mongolia, you will have not have decent hotels to rest for the night. Camping is much better option in the absence of hotels instead of staying in dingy lodges and motels. This way, you get to experience the wilderness and countryside yet still be comfortable. 

When the driving distances are too long and driving time goes into days, nothing beats the freedom of having the option of covering as much distance as you want each day and camping when the clock strikes 6 in the evening. Overlanding brings this flexibility which is indispensable because we all know how travel plans can change in just few minutes.

Now moving on to the finer aspects of Overland travel, here are some pictures and their stories. Oh btw, our truck was called Xara!

Overlanding in Mongolia
Our trip was a mix of camping and staying Ger camps where available. The 10 nights we camped were this spectacular! Milkyway arched across the clear nightsky and all of huddled comfortably around a warm campfire. 

Overlanding in Mongolia
The truck has been modified keeping every requirement in mind for a long overland trip. The seats are comfortable, the windows are big so that every person has a good view of outside, not just the person in the window seat. The truck even has roof seats where you can sit comfortably enjoying a 360 degree view! The truck has several compartments to store food, camping/cooking equipment, tools, garbage, luggage, a fridge and even a secret locker! Seen here is our cooking set up. 

Overlanding in Mongolia
A typical evening in the Mongolian countryside on our 3 week trip. We were divided into 5 cook groups and we all would take turns cooking lunch, dinner and breakfast when we camped. At times, it felt tiring to actually cook instead of taking a walk around but it also kept us busy and gave us a good chance to socialize. And our campsites were always this pretty, every campsite beat the previous campsite's location. 

Overlanding in Mongolia
Irrespective of whether we camp overnight or not, we would almost always stop for lunch in places like this. Herds of sheep would pass us by, horsemen in traditional Mongolian Deels would come see us, local men on motorbikes would stop by. It was always fun to stop in such gorgeous locations and have lunch. 

Overlanding in Mongolia
But the most fun was definitely stopping somewhere in the middle of nowhere and calling it a day! Then going for a long walk and turn back to find this comforting view of a orange truck waiting to take you to a new place the next day.

So, how do you like Overlanding? Have I tempted you to book yourself on an Overlanding Trip yet? ;)

{Many of the pictures seen here are shot using a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens I rented from Tapprs. }

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