The desert mountain valley of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh is as much an ideal destination for adventurers as it is for the solitude seekers. Nestled high up in the Himalayan Mountains, the scenic Spiti Valley presents wonderful opportunities for moderate to difficult trekking expeditions as well as Jeep safaris. However, those who wish to stay away from such adrenaline-pumping activities and spend their time peacefully exploring the region should opt for a homestay experience. This can be done at any of the six villages of Spiti, namely Demul, Langza, Dhankar, Kibber, Lhalung and Komik. On an average, each of this village has up to three homestays with each having one guest bedroom that can accommodate one or two people. These homestays are basically village homes, with one of their portions converted into comfortable guestrooms. These have been developed by the locals to generate an alternative and sustainable source of income for themselves.

If you know a bit of history, then you would be aware of the fact that India has been ruled by numerous dynasties. Many of these were not from the subcontinent, but from Central or West Asia. And back then, there were no proper roads, cars, aircraft or any other contemporary means to travel. Now, look at the geographical map of India for a while. You will realise that all those, coming from the north or northwest of the Indian subcontinent, had a natural barricade in their way in the form of the mountain system of the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. In the absence of modern transportation means, the question arises, how did they cross the mountains?

In the words of the famous Greek storyteller, Aesop, “Adventure is worthwhile”.
When it comes to holidaying, I guess most of us become a little too mainstream. We go where everybody else is going and do what has already been done by many before. The true adventure is when you take the road not taken; step into the unknown, without having an idea about what might come next.In the book of India, Arunachal Pradesh is a chapter which is skipped by most readers. The north-easternmost state in the country is still a virgin territory, waiting to be discovered by adventurers, who dare to do something new, something different.

Ask any 20-something about what they cherish the most and see them talk lovingly about weekends. Yes, weekends are truly the best! From extroverts who love to socialise with just about everyone to introverts who prefer to stay back in the familiar comfort of their home, weekends are fervently awaited by each of us. They are after all the only two days in a week when we can ignore work-related mails and focus on ourselves and our loved ones. It is that magical period of time which makes us feel that we were not born to just work, pay taxes and leave the world without having lived at all. Whatever our idea of a good time may include, a weekend is when we indulge ourselves in what we love.

What comes to your mind, when I say “adventure in the Himalayas”? I am quite sure your answer would include things like trekking, skiing, hiking, mountaineering, river rafting and paragliding. But there is more to excite you in the Himalayas than these; and that is the scintillating road trips, which are undertaken by thousands of people, year after year. There is a certain charm about riding through the Himalayan regions that beckons adventure seekers from across the globe. The challenges that one faces during these road trips are innumerable, but everything gets compensated by the satisfaction of successfully completing it.

Don’t know about you, but 2016 was amazing for me. I started the year with a bang, and that’s how it ended. Doesn’t it feel great when everything falls into place and all your dreams are realised just as you wanted them?! I hope it does not sound like I am bragging, but I get excited just thinking about it. Some moments that I had been longing for ever since I can remember, happened in the past few months. Here is an account of things that I checked off my bucket list this year:

What goes in your mind, when you read about someone else’s adventurous trekking expedition, especially in the Himalayas? Do you hear an inner calling? Does your heart and mind tell you that someday, you too should do this? Then, what is stopping you? Every year, thousands of amateur trekkers go on their first expedition into the Himalayas. All that one requires is a basic physical fitness level, necessary trekking equipment, a bit of mental strength and loads of zeal. We have listed down a few trekking trails in the Himalayas that are perfect for beginners like you. Read on to know about them so that you can start planning your impending desire to trek in the Himalayas.

Bestowed with dense forests and charming tea gardens, the town attracts thousands of tourists round the year, not just from parts of India but abroad as well. A place that promises a perfect escape from the hustle bustle of the city, the town of Bir offers numerous outdoor activities and thrilling sports; thus making it equally popular among tranquillity seekers, adventurous souls and nature lovers.

Life is a journey. In this long voyage, you meet people, make acquaintances and then continue on your way. But, some people are such that their memory remains with us forever. The same can be said about places. You visit tens and hundreds of places in your life, if not thousands, but the memory of only a few of those stays. Bhabha Pass in the Spiti Valley is one such place, a trip to which one just wouldn’t forget.

One has different shades of blue and snowy peaks to allure you and the other takes you close to the world’s highest peak. Still wondering which teahouse trek to go for first? Everest base camp is a dream for anyone who gets into the flavour of trekking, Everest being the world’s highest scalable mountain peak. Annapurna main of the mighty Annapurna range is the 10th highest peak in the world. Not many know that the toughest peak to scale is also The Annapurna main and not K2.

  • Where is Muktinath?

Muktinath overland tour is a thrilling journey that brings one closer to nature as well as God! Muktinath Temple is located in the Annapurna Region in the Mustang District of Nepal and is considered to be of spiritual and religious significance to Hindus as well as Buddhists. This Lord Vishnu Temple is situated at about 12000 feet, and to get here one has to undertake an overland journey by jeep, a 4 KM trek and an ATR ride! It is quite an adventure and ultimately leads one to a spiritual tryst with the Lord!

Muktinath Temple in the snow
Muktinath Temple in the snow

In addition to visiting the temple, this trip also gives one the opportunity to discover and explore the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara, soaking in the many marvels of these places.

The beauty of the Himalayas lies not only in its majestic snow-clad peaks, but also in its indigenous people and wildlife…also in its rugged terrains, and breathtaking rivers and lakes. And to witness these facets of this region, nothing can better than a trekking expedition! So, if you are planning a trip to this part of the world, then be ready to indulge in some adrenaline-pumping trekking action.   

One of my friends is a complete adventure freak, and consistently goes on bike tours and other thrilling ventures. A few weeks ago, he went trekking in Uttarakhand, and I was just waiting for him to come back so I’d have amazing stories to hear and pictures to see. Did I mention that he is a brilliant photographer? So, as soon as he got back and settled into his regular life, I went to meet him and ask about his experience, since I am quite intrigued by the magnificence of the state. To my utter surprise, he had only a few good things to say about the trip and was constantly complaining about how his whole trip was ruined by a shoe-bite.

A shoe-bite is one of those ugly sores you get on your feet when you wear ill-fitting or sometimes brand new shoes. Have you ever had one of those? These are brutal. My friend complained that as he was trying his trekking shoes for the first time, he was left with paining ankles for most part of the jaunt. He had a basic first aid kit, but that was unable to heal the wound in time. This kept him from enjoying the trip to the fullest and resulted in wastage of money as well as time. But, it didn’t necessarily have to be that way. He could have simply avoided it had he bought those shoes well in advance, and spent a few weeks walking in them.,  One mistake spoilt his adventure.

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This got me thinking that if something as small as a shoe-bite, which is totally unexpected, can ruin a trip, there could be so many other mishaps that could result in you not being able to enjoy the hike. So, a few days ago, I reached out to my traveller friends and asked them if they have been in similar circumstances. Surprisingly, they had many ‘interesting’ stories to tell of how their carelessness or ignorance ruined their holiday. Based on their experiences, I have compiled a list of a few things that every trekker or mountaineer should keep in his/her luggage to keep away from those ’shoe-bites’. I’ll also be suggesting a few tricks and hacks that can come immensely handy in times of need.  

  • Diamox: As you must have already guessed or may know, it is a medicine. If you go to altitudes of over 8000 or 9000 feet, you may feel dizziness, fatigue, consistent headache, nausea, shortness of breath or loss of appetite. These are the symptoms of acute mountain sickness or AMS. If the condition gets a little severe, there could be tightness in your chest, heavy cough, paleness of complexion and even decreased consciousness. Dosages of Diamox can help prevent or reduce these symptoms. Obviously, you shouldn’t just buy these medicines from a pharmacy and take one whenever you think you need it. Visit your physician before you leave for trekking.
  • Magnesium Flint Stones: Camping is undoubtedly an amazing experience. Lying under the clear sky in the middle of a lush forest or meadow; what could be a better overnight stay than that? But, what if you are camping at high altitudes in the Himalayas and all your matchsticks get wet or burned out, or your lighter is out of gas and you have to spend a night in the camp without fire? In case you are going camping, do not make the mistake of relying on matchsticks or lighters. Carry a magnesium flint stone, which will start a fire for you in a few seconds, whatever the weather may be.
  • Plastic Straws: This may sound funny, but these small, hollow plastic things are much more useful than just for sipping cola out of a container. You can use plastic straws to carry anything from salt and spices to toiletries like shampoo or liquid soap. What you do, is block one side of it by folding and sealing it with tape. Then, you fill it with the thing you want to carry and seal the open side of the straw the same way you did the first, and voila!
  • Coconut Oil: Most of us only saw coconut oil, when our moms used it to condition hair, but there’re numerous other benefits of it than you can count on your fingers. While it can be used for cooking, it also acts as moisturiser, protecting your skin from cold winds at high altitudes. You may not believe it, but you can also add a little of it to your cup of coffee to get an energy boost. If only my friend had a little bit of camphor and coconut oil, he could have used it to cure his shoe-bite.  
  • Zip Lock Bags: These plastic bags can solve major problems if you ask me. Anything and everything can be stored in these, be it eatables or gadgets. These bags will also keep your passport, money and other documents from harm. You can even use them to store your wet clothes while trekking. Just don’t keep them wet for too long as they might start to stink, and you don’t want that. You can empty packets of potato chips in one of zip lock bags and save them to enjoy later, and do carry those chips; they are a good source of sodium, which you will need for hiking.
  • A Book about Regional Flora: Have you ever heard the saying, “every rose has its thorn”? Well, the next flower you smell or touch on your trek might have a little more than just a thorn; it could be poisonous. Also, the delicious-looking fruits and berries might also do more harm than good. Therefore, it is better to know about these little things, which you can do by buying a book on the regional flora. In case you aren’t an avid reader, you can just pick up the book before going to bed. Even if you don’t learn anything, it might just help you go to sleep.  
  • LifeStraw: Although if you plan well and everything goes right, you won’t face such circumstances, finding clean water for drinking can become an issue on a trek, especially when you are far from a village or town. One can drink water from a lake, pond or river, but who’s to say there isn’t harmful bacteria or parasites in it? LifeStraw is an internationally recognised product that can be a lifesaver in times of emergency. One of these straws can purify up to 1000 litres of water, so you don’t need to buy a new one every time you go trekking.
  • Swiss Army Knife: A Swiss army knife is an important thing to carry on your trek. I do not just recommend it to hikers, but to every traveller. This pocketable tool can be your screwdriver, wire stripper, wire cutter, can opener, bottle opener, wood saw, scissors, corkscrew, or a knife, obviously; this list goes on. There are numerous models that you can choose from, based on what all you want to do with it. If not for the functionality, just own one ‘cause it’s cool.
  • Duct Tape: Duct tape is just like the coconut oil of synthetic products; there are infinite uses of it. Almost every broken thing can be fixed with duct tape, except for relationships maybe, and while wandering thousands of feet above the ground, you never know what might happen at the next step. It can prove to be quite handy to carry duct tape. You can just roll a few feet of it on your trekking pole, so it doesn’t even take any space in your luggage.
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After talking about what to pack, let’s take two minutes to talk about how to pack, which is equally important. I recently learnt a trick from one of my friends that rolling clothes instead of folding them saves a lot of space. What you do is fold the trousers vertically once and then roll them from bottom to top. You can also Google how to army-fold them. The tricks are really amazing.

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Pack not just what would need on the excursion, but also what you could need. Proper packing is one of the best mantras for a successful trek. Carrying the above-mentioned things, you can remain prepared for any unexpected circumstance that may arise.

May all your sojourns be as blissful and adventurous as you want them to be.

Ask any Indian if they like tea, and almost 90 per cent would answer in the affirmative. Every street corner you walk to, you will find a tea stall, and almost every time, they are literally crowded with connoisseurs and casual drinkers. Every morning, we wake up and have a cup or glass of tea. People from hilly areas, especially love their tea. Ask me, being from the hills, I can attest to the fact that for us, tea is one of the most prized things. Anyway, hill people or not, everybody loves tea here. There are so many local renditions of the drink in India: Karak Chai, Masala Chai and so forth. Unlike in England, where the 4:00 pm afternoon tea is like a whole culinary ritual with specially made finger food, tea time here is an occasion to take a break from whatever people are doing, and sit down together to chat and share some light moments.

Trekking really is a great activity for a nature lover and adventure freak. Seeing nature at its best, breathing the cool, clean air, climbing mountains, such bliss. But, like everything in the world, it has a downside, in the form of health risks. Every now and then, we keep reading about avalanches and rock falls high up in the mountains trapping hikers. Did you know that on the strategically important Siachen battlefield, more soldiers have died due to adverse weather conditions than from bullets?! Just last year, a massive earthquake hit the Everest Region, killing at least 19 people! While none of this could have been avoided, there is one weather-related condition which can be, and mind you, it can be a killer too: AMS.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

Religion and spirituality bring people together. Though no two individuals are alike, their religious and spiritual beliefs can be. Lord Buddha gave to the world what only a few have been able to; he gave a path to eternal peace and satisfaction, the state called nirvana. The religion which began with a man under a pipal tree in Bodhgaya has spread to all corners of the world. Today, more than 350 million people follow the path that Gautama Buddha suggested, and live their lives as per his teachings.

It is not necessary to work for people; you could keep Mother Nature pure for the betterment of living beings. If you want to do something good for society and fulfil your duty as a responsible person, you do not need to be continuously attached to an NGO or make hefty donations. You could simply volunteer for a few days and help loads of people. Would you believe me if I said that you could do all this while on a vacation?!

How beautiful would a place be, the name of which translates into the Abode of Clouds?! I am talking about Meghalaya, one of the seven states in Northeast India. The Northeast is arguably the least explored part of the country, and this is perhaps why it is not as chaotic and commercialised, and also as polluted as the rest of India. If you are anything like me, then you would want to stay in such a place, rather than concrete jungles. Now, I know it is a bit exaggerated as it is not possible for us to leave our job and comfort of city life to go live in the middle of nowhere. But, at least we can take a trip to a place like this; just to see how amazing nature looks, undisturbed by human influence.

Rajasthan, the name which translates into the Abode of the Kings is enough to make one think of unmatched royalty and grandeur. You do not need to mention the myriad opulent palaces that dot this state. But even if you do, you can’t just stop with one or two, since there are many and every single one of them is more captivating than the other. From Lake Palace of Udaipur and Umaid Bhawan Palace of Jodhpur to Lalgarh Palace of Bikaner and City Palace of Jaipur, these man-made marvels are located in every nook and corner of the state.

Moreover, these are not the only points of interest to explore; there are numerous others. For instance, if you are in the Pink City, you can spend time exploring Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar or Nahargarh Fort. In case your Rajasthan trip brings you to the City of Lakes – Udaipur, do not miss to visit City Palace, Monsoon Palace, Jag Mandir or Saheliyo Ki Bari. I can go on and on with the other cities of Rajasthan, but that’s no use. All of us know about these attractions, even those, who haven’t been to Rajasthan even once. There’s a lot to see and explore here.

I was shocked when one of my friends told me that he had grown tired of visiting the state. I thought that maybe because he is from Rajasthan, he must have seen everything. But then I found that this wasn’t the case. While conversing, I asked him about his trip to Alwar, and to my surprise, he told me he hadn’t been there. How can anyone claim to have explored the whole of Rajasthan when you haven’t even been to Alwar once? I know it’s not that popular, but it’s a visit-worthy destination.

While talking about the kingdom of Bhutan, nothing much really comes to mind; except for some basic facts like it lies in the Eastern Himalayas and is a landlocked country wedged between India and China. But, most of us don’t have the slightest clue about what this small country actually is. It has been enveloped in mystery for a long time, until the curtain, which has kept it hidden from the eyes of the world, slowly started lifting and the universe got to know that Bhutan is considered the happiest place on earth. Not only that, but it also measures its growth and development by calculating the Gross National Happiness? Yes, that’s true!