July 28, 2016

My First Impressions of Hong Kong

It was cold and windy when I landed in Hong Kong. Temperature had dropped to one of its lowest in the last many years. Endless blocks of structures welcomed me as the car sped from the airport to the city. Buildings seemed like matchboxes from a distance. Countless numbers of them.

The city has tall structures everywhere, many with glazing exteriors while a few without them. The roads meander themselves through these tall buildings with traffic signals present after every few hundred meters.

Hong Kong still holds an old world charm with its trams running through the traffic.

The red taxis are ubiquitous and easily available everywhere.

The best vantage point in Hong Kong is from Victoria peak where the city spreads itself in front of you. However, it was quite foggy and I missed out on the view. The place is quite a shopping paradise with numerous shops and outlets selling a wide range of things.

SOHO is the place to be in the evening with an exciting night life and innumerable pubs and restaurants. The narrow alleys here are wonderful for an evening walk.

There is no dearth of entertainment in other parts of the city too with clubs present everywhere.

Ladies night market is an ideal place to go on a shopping spree with a plethora of items on sale. I had to sharpen my bargaining skills quite a bit.

Hong Kong for some weird reason failed to entice me. Too fast paced, not so courteous people, tall structures everywhere. Am sure there is much more to see here and I have missed out a whole lot of it. But, would I go back to see them? Ain't sure about that.

July 26, 2016

Singapore- First Impressions

I had always imagined Singapore as that distant land with tall magnificent structures, glittering lights, luxury cars, Chinese influence, business headquarters of many organizations, financial capital, port city and fast city life. Yes, Singapore is all this and much more. I wasn't surprised as I saw all that during my visit, but there is more to Singapore than just these.

Green is the colour that welcomed me as I left the airport. Green carpets are laid out everywhere in the form of trees, shrubs and grass. Not even an inch of space is left underutilized and it is immaculately maintained. Undoubtedly the garden city of the world.

The green city looks all the more beautiful when it rains.

After blessings at a gurudwara early in the morning, I walked down the road lined with small double floored structures for some paratha and teh tarik (tea). The place has a colonial charm with nicely lined up buildings. Loved the teh tarik.

Despite rushing around due to the demand of work, I created time to visit a Buddhist temple. Hardly crowded, the well decorated temple had just a couple of visitors.

Orchard road is one of the most popular roads in Singapore. Lined with shops and malls, the place gets swarmed by shoppers and walkers through out the day. Again lined with trees, what pleasantly surprised me was the innumerable birds perched atop the trees and their highly audible chirping. Felt like I was at a bird park. Right in the middle of the city, and that was least expected.

As the sun sets, the city's glittering lights has a plethora of colours. Garden by the bay is definitely the highlight with its beautiful light show. A walk around the park is a surreal experience.

The lit up skyscrapers too look gorgeous in the night.

Clarke's quay is probably the most sought after night life destination. Love the concept of open restaurants.

The Indian quarter has its stark differences which is quite visible from the restaurants, shops and the crowd.

For every Indian, a visit to Singapore remains incomplete without the customary visit to Mustafa centre.

Being a world a city, global cuisines are available in every nook and corner of Singapore. The Korean cuisine I explored wasn't very enticing, probably its taste is an acquired one.

Changi airport offers a wide range of activities for travellers. It is not without a reason why it crowns the list of best airports in the world.

Purely on a business visit, all that I explored was the Jurong Bird park which you can read here. Whatever little I saw of Singapore has been very impressive, and would love to visit again to explore in detail.

July 12, 2016

Travel Blogging- The Paradox!

Long road ahead

While travel blogging seems to be the job many aspiring job- quitters are vouching for, most existing travel bloggers are still decoding this Pandora's box.  Today I complete seven years of travel blogging, and am pretty much nowhere near the border line where I can happily take it up as a full time profession. We live in an age where internet and google are flooded with articles labelled ‘How I quit my job to travel’, ‘Why I quit my job to follow my dream’ and many more on similar lines. Every second day some acquaintance’s post on my feed on Facebook pops up- ‘And I have quit to travel’. 

When the whole world is quitting to see the world or realise their dreams, I have done something more adventurous- I have cut down on my travels, to take up a full time job. Quitting your cubicle job has many motives, but going back to the cubicle has only one- to survive. People are tempted to quit jobs to the lure of travelling. Before you quit, what you require is a clear mindset and plan on how to survive. How much ever frugal backpacking you do, your bank balance can only dwindle if you don't have a regular inflow.

Let me jot out a few points travel blogging taught me, which might help people who intend to take up the travel blogging conundrum:

  • We live in a world where hundreds of travel blogs are born every day. Most of them die a premature death. Only the fittest survive. Make sure yours is one, keep it running.
  •  Sharpen your writing skills. Most people don’t like reading articles with grammatical errors even if the post is on the cheapest means to travel to Antarctica. There is demand only for good story tellers.
  • In travel writing, writing comes first, travel is secondary. Period.
  • It takes quite a considerable time to make a name in the travel blogging circle. Do not expect your blog and your name to be splashed all over the internet after you have posted 2- 3 articles.
  • Your blog needs to be fed frequently over a long period of time. Feed, feed and feed. Only when you have frequent posts, will you have more visitors. It is only through high traffic can you make your blog a known one.
  • Be a master at marketing through social media. Your blog needs to be present on every single social media out there. Be an attention seeker.
  • Money will trickle in only when you have a significant readership. Yes, ‘trickle’ is the word and not ‘flow’.
  • If you feel having Google Ads will help you earn money, keep waiting forever. Most of your readers are not going to click on Google Ads. Google doesn’t have answers to everything.
  • Dreaming of FAM trips? Quit dreaming before you quit your job. Long way to go before you get that FAM trip mail in your inbox.
  • If you don’t intend to take up small assignments and content writing opportunities that come your way, you are losing out on opportunities and money.
  • Photography is a part of travel blogging. Sharpen your skills and find ways to sell your gorgeous frames. 
  • Editors don’t approach bloggers for articles. If you want your article to be published, learn to chase them with repeated mails.
  • Negotiating with PRs, clients and editors for payments requires a special skill set. If you don’t have it, learn.
  • Getting the payment for your article is an equally tough job. Ask, request, plead. Keep chasing!
  • Find ways to sustain yourself over a long period. Try to get long term writing assignments. Take up volunteering.
  • If you feel teaching English in some remote village in Cambodia is the easiest way to sustain, please mail me the details when you do get your offer letter. Preference for such jobs is always for native English speakers. 
  • Travel blogging is a job, never see it as a means to travel for free, because it doesn't work like that. There are no free lunches anywhere.
  • Whenever you feel travel blogging is not worth the effort, read the above points again. There is definitely a huge struggle, but hard work pays. 
Now with all those points well taken up, are you going to be a top top notch travel blogger which every other soul in the cubicle dreams of becoming? Maybe, maybe not. Only time will reveal that. Keep putting in your hard work, success is never far off.

Keep travelling and churn out stories after stories of that distant far flung land, that weird stranger who helped you, that most delicious coffee you ever had, that invigorating festival you took part in and that longest hitchhike you ever took. Bring them on. There are readers who want to listen to you.

June 29, 2016

BR Hills- Call of the wild

The car screeched to a halt immediately after a sharp curve. The bewildered monitor lizard stared for a while, undecided whether to retract or cross over. After a couple of seconds, it crossed over, only to go back in a flash to where it came from. It gave one final glare before scurrying into the bushes. Interesting curtain raiser to what lay ahead for the next two days, I said to myself as the car crossed the forest entry gate into BR Hills (Biligiri Rangaswamy hills). The harsh summers had taken the sheen off the forest and almost all of it stood withered under the blaring sun. Another screeching halt and this time it was an elephant head that popped out from the bushes by the side. Luckily, this was a few meters away. However, it was reluctant to cross over completely, the reason for the same appeared shortly. A baby elephant with its mother followed soon and they swiftly walked into the bushes on the other side. Had the monitor lizard not crossed over, I would have happily driven quite close to these pachyderms. Even a few seconds make a difference. It is adventure time, I said again. The drive from there meandered through leafless tress, intermittent green patches, past loitering langurs and a couple of deer.

Monitor lizard hurrying across
The pachyderms
The blooming rhododendrons at Jungle Lodges resort at Kyathadevara Gudi (a.k.a K.Gudi) was a beautiful welcoming frame. BR Hills is known for its biodiversity, wildlife and a variety of avian fauna. K. Gudi is a small forest clearing in BR Hills, where the western ghats meets its eastern counterpart. A forest camp so typical of the Niligris, lined up with a few houses, a school, a dispensary, a lake and a resort. Serene life! Nice cottages adorn the premises of K.Gudi Wilderness camp with numerous trees, hammocks beside them and expansive vistas of the distant hills. An ideal place to sip some coffee and gaze at nature or read a book and doze off on the hammock.

K.Gudi wilderness camp
However, my naturalist had other plans. A heavy meal, a power nap and a hot cup of coffee later, we were on a jeep that grunted beyond the resort premises and the tiny houses into Biligiri Rangaswamy Tiger wildlife sanctuary. This wildlife sanctuary is home to more than 200 species of avian fauna apart from a host of mammals such as tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, deer, boars and monkeys. We went past a few more houses which I was told belonged to Soligas, the local tribe. A blend of the summer brown and the faded green was splashed all across like a canvas. I clung on to the handrail as the jeep lunged forward through the mud trail deep into wilderness. Out came cameras, binoculars and avian guide books as we spotted numerous birds one after the other, a few perched atop a branch and many happily chirping around. As we went deeper, mud trails turned into foliage, intermittent ponds showed up, alert deer gave a long gaze, langurs gave a chatter and wild boars ran around gleefully.

A buzzard
Wild Mynahs
A tree pie
A waterhole


Spotted deer
We did stop by a few half dried up water bodies, and waited patiently for more exciting wildlife. All that we spotted by the ponds were the camouflaged tortoises. I however love such moments, patiently waiting amidst the silence of the forest with peering eyes and sharp ears in search of a glimpse or a sound. Even though we were disappointed that nothing popped up, that blissful ambiance more than made up for it. As the jeep retracted, we spotted a barking deer peacefully grazing, but slid away into the bushes quickly. Never spotted a barking deer so close before. More birds flocked over us as the sun went down the horizon. The light slowly faded and we drove back through the mud trail to the main road. We enthusiastically still looked out in the hope of spotting wild dogs or a lonely gaur. None appeared and we were almost near the resort when at a curve the jeep stopped. We spotted a white colour on a flat rock 20 meters away from us. In a second, my naturalist whispered, "It's a leopard". It was lying on its back, and hence the white colour of its belly struck us. It twirled, twitched, rolled and we gleefully gazed at each other for long. In quite a playful mood, it happily posed for the lenses. Usually a shy creature, this one was least bothered about human presence within its short vicinity. Another jeep joined us and we spent more than 10 minutes staring at the leopard which absolutely had no qualms about its audience. It got pretty dark soon and we left while the feline rolled over and bade us good bye. It seemed quite ironical that while we drove all over and waited patiently inside the park, this fellow was happily enjoying himself very near to the resort. The safari couldn't have ended in any better way. 

Twirling and rolling

The gaze
Darkness had engulfed the whole premises of the resort by the time we had evening tea. I was told and did even read that wildlife was frequently spotted near the cottages at night. That sounded exciting, and the fact that there is no electricity in the premises after 10 P.M. made me more anxious. Would the leopard stroll by? My thoughts ran amok as I finished dinner and walked back to my cottage, 100 meters away, swaying a torch. 10: 15 PM and the lights went off. Though I did stay awake for a while in the hope of seeing some gleaming eyes in the dark, nothing turned up and I slept peacefully in the lap of BR Hills.

I was up before the wake up call for the morning safari and continued my gaze into the woods. A few colourful birds chirped and flew around happily. Soon we were on the jeep again for the morning safari. We went past the rock where the leopard was spotted last evening. Nothing there, the leopard was true to its nocturnal character. We were yet to enter the park when a couple of wild dogs or Dholes as they are also known as, crossed our jeep. Seeing us they ran into the near by bushes. We waited for them to come out and they in turn waited for us to leave, as they vigilantly stared through the bushes. We gave in shortly and drove ahead to spot a larger pack playing by the road. The sun had by then spread its colours, the fog slowly cleared up and the dholes trudged off together in a perfect line. Undoubtedly a beautiful frame. In between the two packs of dholes, we missed out on a lonely gaur that was peacefully grazing by the road. We traced back to have a closer glimpse of it before driving into the sanctuary again.

More dholes
The lone gaur
More deer, monkeys and numerous birds were sighted as we drove around the park. The dry ponds had packs of wild boars roaming around. Spotted deer were found locking horns and a few young ones were rubbing the velvet off their horns. A lone barking deer seemed puzzled as it posed for the cameras. We stopped by a water body in the hope of that elusive wild sighting. As the wait continued we spotted malabar squirrels jump from one branch to another, a lonely tortoise strained its neck to give a beautiful frame and more deer and fawns sprinted across. Beautiful sightings, I said to myself. These too are a part of the forest and am a firm believer that there is more to the jungle than just that elusive wild cat or elephant sighting. We drove around through the mud trails for long taking in the fresh air, the wonderful sightings and the blissful ambiance of the forest before driving back to the resort. We did find some bear droppings on the way back, sighting the bear was  probably meant for the next visit.

The mud trail deep into the forest
Locking horns

Barking deer
Wild boars

A lone tortoise
BRT wildlife sanctuary is one of the least explored sanctuaries near Bangalore and undoubtedly has loads to offer for the wildlife enthusiast. A short drive away lies the popular Biligiri Rangaswamy temple atop a hill.

Getting there: K.Gudi is 200 km from Bangalore.  BR Hills is about 15 km before K.Gudi. From Bangalore take the Kanakapura road which leads further to Malavalli. Take a left at Malavalli and drive past Kollegal to Yellandur. From Yellandur signage boards lead to K.Gudi.

Accommodation and Food: K.Gudi Wilderness camp is the best option for stay and food. There are a couple of eateries near Biligiri Rangaswamy temple.


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