7 Thoughts That Crossed My Mind Before My First Bungee Jump

7 Thoughts That Crossed My Mind Before My First Bungee Jump

“Your turn”, said Olly, the jump instructor at Jumping Heights, Rishikesh. “OMG Whaaaaaat”, I thought. However, I smiled and said “Awesome!” I could hear my heart in my ears! I was standing at the edge of the bridge, 83 meters above the ground, ready to take a leap of faith. This was the first time I was going to bungee jump! What felt like an eternity but in reality was just a couple of seconds. In that moment, a lot of thoughts flashed through my mind but only a few of them I remember today. The common phrase is “butterflies in the stomach” but what I felt was more like a tornado through my nervous system. The tingling started from my toes, went up to my knees, made a circle in my stomach and rose up from my spine and I felt a little dizzy.

Things That Crossed My Mind Before My First Bungee Jump:

What if I accidentally pee while bungee jumping?

Don’t laugh but this can happen to anyone. Blame it on that MasterCard commercial where a guy actually poops in his pants while bungee jumping so the thought stuck in my head. What if I’m too scared while jumping and I end up peeing in fear?

What if I puke while bungee jumping?

Even though I had eaten a very light breakfast, I could still feel my it in my stomach. I was hoping it wouldn’t come out while jumping. What if I puke while bungee jumping? Will my puke fall back on my face?

What if my chord breaks while bungee jumping?

There is a reason why bungee jumping is a leap of faith. It’s because you have to trust the system. I still remembered a news article that I had read about an Aussie woman whose chord snapped in Victoria Falls and she fell into the water.

What if my back breaks during the bungee jump?

It just suddenly struck me that they had asked me if I had a back problem before I registered for the bungee jump. Is it because a jump can break someone’s back? What have I done?

What if I get a heart attack while bungee jumping?

What if this rush of excitement is too much for my heart? What if my heart cannot handle it and gives up. Do I have a strong heart? I was going to find out now.

What if I am too afraid to bungee jump?

What if I’m not as much of an adrenaline junkie that I thought I was? What if I chicken out? At this point, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t happen.

Am I crazy to be doing this?

Not completely crazy, but only a little. No sane person would ever jump off a bridge just for kicks. Why can’t I just eat chocolate and enjoy the rush? Or some form of intoxication for a decent high.

My first bungee jump in Rishikesh, India

My first bungee jump in Rishikesh, India

Yes, I did end up jumping and NONE of the above mentioned things happened. In fact, as soon as I jumped, the fear vanished and I was let out a sound that was a mix of laughter and scream. Oh and by the way, I was jumping with the famous Dangal girls – Fatima Sana Shaikh (“Geeta Phogat” in Dangal movie) and Sanya Malhotra (“Babita Phogat” in Dangal movie). In fact, Sanya did Jumping Heights’ 50,000th jump. It’s crazy but the first three jumpers at Jumping Heights were also women. Talk about celebrating girl power, eh?

Here, you can watch this video

https://youtu.be/LMWATmdF6eg Have you ever bungee jumped? If so, let me know about it in the comments. Note: Cover picture credit

Or, watch San’s first bungee jump in Last Resort, Nepal. This is Asia’s second highest bungee spot.

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A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her partner in crime (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sonal Kwatra Paladini

How to Experience the Maharaja Life in Bikaner, Rajasthan

How to Experience the Maharaja Life in Bikaner, Rajasthan

Some are lucky enough to be born in royal families, but the rest can just dream of it.

Ever visited a palace and wondered what your life would have been if you were a king? Or maybe you imagined yourself to be Queen Daenerys and living in a massive castle with dragons? Ok, if you’re a practical daydreamer, I will talk about the present day scenario – what about being a part the royal family of Wales and being either Prince William or his beautiful Princess bride – Kate Middleton?

Yes, there is a reason why these thoughts are called “daydreams” because they are so far fetched that turning them into reality is nearly impossible.

What if I told you that there is a way you can experience “the Royal life” of a bygone era and pretend you’re a Maharaja (or a Maharani) for just a few days?

It is possible because I just did it and so can you. Yes, it is a tad expensive, but not THAT expensive that you will burn a hole in your pocket. Why? Because there is a new luxury hotel that was once a grand residence for a Maharaja is offering an introductory price for a year and curating special “royal” experiences.

In case you’ve been crushing on my Instagram pictures where I’m posing like a Maharani, I will do you a favor and NOT let this place remain a secret. Yes, I got to live the Maharaja life (or Maharani in my case), got pampered and spoilt beyond imagination during my time in this Red city of Rajasthan. I will share exactly how you can experience the royal like in Bikaner like I did.

How to live like a Maharaja and Experience the Royal life in Bikaner:

01 | Get Pampered at Narendra Bhawan – the last Maharaja’s residence

Experience the Royal Life at Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner

Experience the Royal Life at Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner

The easiest way to experience the royal life is by staying in a royal residence. I picked Narendra Bhawan, and I highly recommend you do so too. If you check TripAdvisor for hotel reviews in Bikaner, Narendra Bhawan is definitely a winner.

What was once the grand residence of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner is now a boutique hotel. This beautifully preserved Haveli actually tells the story of His Highness Narendra Singh Ji (1948).

As a guest, I received a memorable welcome with drums as soon as I got out of the car. While entering, I noticed a few beautifully decorated tables, perfect for a cozy soiree outside the main door. As soon as I stepped inside, my eyes literally popped out as I noticed the opulence of the décor inside. My first instinct was to run around like an excited little girl and click thousands of photos. In all due respect, I was in a palace and was being treated like a royalty, so I tried my best to behave like a “lady”. Later I got to know that Ayush Kasliwal (yes, the same guy who designed Delhi’s beautiful T3) and Karan Singh (the President of the hotel group) are the hands and brains behind the décor.

The stunning interior of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

The stunning interior of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

During my stay here, I was amazed to see that there is so much to see inside the hotel itself. There are corners where His Highness Narendra Singh Ji’s memories are displayed as photographs, travel souvenirs and a few daily use items in a setting that’s influenced by south Mumbai’s timeless architecture and Bombay art deco. Btw, Bombay Art Deco style emerged in the 1930s and 1940s before the official end of British raj in India.

I have so much to talk about the hotel that I think I will write a separate post with pictures of the interiors, courtyard, lobby, food, rooftop pool, baby grand piano and my furry friends here – Eton, Simba and Nala.

Eton, Nala and Simba - Narendra Bhawan's furballs

Eton, Nala and Simba – Narendra Bhawan’s furballs

Wondering what my room looked like from the inside? Well, I wanna show you a 360 degree video because a single picture won’t suffice.

Don’t even get me started on the food here because even the fanciest of my words won’t do justice. I really enjoyed eating the royal Rajasthani cuisine – crescent thali, maas curry and kebabs.

On my first day here, I tried the typical Rajasthani breakfast of onion kachori, thali peeth, sabudana cheela with chaach. Yes, their local Rajasthani food is heavenly but I was very happy to know that their international food was equally good. I love their pumpkin soup, cauliflower soup, grilled chicken salad with sundried tomatoes, sandwiches and pizzas.

My favorite of course is their Mad Hatter bakery where I fell in love with their chocolate and apricot dessert which was very flavorful, yet light.

Enjoying a lazy meal in bed with beer in Narendra Bhawan

Enjoying a lazy meal in bed with beer in Narendra Bhawan

Being a professional travel writer, I have stayed in many five star hotels but the hospitality that I experienced in Narendra Bhawan is like no other. The staff in their comfortable looking imperial attire always said “Jai Jai, Ma’am” when they saw me. From simple things like never failing to give me a glass of iced lemonade as soon as I entered the lobby to something as fancy as pearl encrusted holders for water bottles – they definitely won me over.

Honestly, Narendra Bhawan is not the only royal resident in Bikaner. There is also the famous Laxmi Niwas Palace that is owned by the same group as Narendra Bhawan, and it’s bigger and obviously more expensive. Laxmi Niwas has a bit of subdued décor while Narendra Bhawan has more of a glamorous touch. You can also check out Lalgarh fort and Gajner Palace but none of them match the kind of lavishness that you can find inside Narendra Bhawan.

Note: If you want more information, you can check out Narendra Bhawan‘s website or find deals on Booking.com.

02 | Go for a jeep safari at Gajner Sanctuary and enjoy a Lakeside Meal at Gajner Palace

A Dry Patch in Gajner Sanctuary near Bikaner

A Dry Patch in Gajner Sanctuary near Bikaner

Around 30 kilometers outside Bikaner is a lakeside palace with a wildlife sanctuary next to it. This place is called Gajner Palace and right next to it is Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary.

Back in the early days, the royals often visited this place when they’d go hunting and then later enjoy a meal of their fresh kill. No, I don’t endorse game hunting and you should know that it’s illegal in India. However, I do recommend you visit this place and go for a safari in the sanctuary and then later enjoy a lakeside meal.

The best time to arrive here is early in the morning like we did; otherwise, it can get really hot. We arrived here at 7 am and then went on a jeep safari. As soon as we entered the sanctuary, we spotted a deer. It had twisted horns and later I got to know that it was actually a blackbuck. Yes, that’s the same animal that Salman Khan apparently shot in Rajasthan for “game hunting”. (Yes, I hate Salman Khan after this episode).

Jeep Safari at Gajner Sanctuary, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Jeep Safari at Gajner Sanctuary, Bikaner, Rajasthan

This is a small sanctuary and on 4 occasions we spotted a deer (or maybe it was a blackbuck or chinkara). At one point, we even saw an antelope. It is worth noting that everything around was beige and so were all these animals. I’m sure we missed many of them because they blended perfectly with the background. I did not manage to capture them on a picture because they move very fast. However, I do have a video from very far away where an antelope is running and looks as small as a dot.

A little deeper in the sanctuary we even saw a few structures that were used many years back by the royals as “shooting pods”. These were covered from all the sides and had holes from where they could look out and shoot.

After spending around an hour inside the wildlife sanctuary, we went back to Gajner Palace for breakfast. The location is really gorgeous but the food is average. I can imagine how pretty the ambiance would be around the lake after the sunset.

03 | Watch the Sunset with a few Drinks in the Hinterland

Deepti and I enjoying our sunset drinks in Bikaner

Deepti and I enjoying our sunset drinks in Bikaner

What would you do to cool off after spending a day exploring Bikaner’s famous landmarks? No need to think, I’ll suggest the best option. Head out to the outskirts of Bikaner to find an oasis in the middle of the barren land and watch the beauty around you with a cocktail as the sun goes down.

Having no idea about the location, my friend Deepti and I dressed up for the occasion and sat in the car with Faisal, ready to be surprised. By the way, Faisal is Narendra Bhawan’s Area General Manager and is an amazing company.

We drove for around 30 minutes and reached the outskirts of Bikaner. The barren land around me reminded me of Portugal’s Idanha-a-Nova where I went for Boom festival. Suddenly our car turned into a little lane and we reached our destination. We were in an oasis!

As we got out of the car, we heard the music of a flute. There was a lake on our left side and green grass all around it. There was a bar, a live grill and a sitting area that was completely white. This was our spot for the evening.

Perhaps it was because of the music of the flute or the beauty of the lake but it was one of the most memorable sunsets. We sat next to the lake and forgot about work as we sipped our cocktails, as the sky grew orange and then eventually dark.

Our set up in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Our set up in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Our beautiful set up for the evening in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Our beautiful set up for the evening in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Sunset drinks in the hinterland with Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

Sunset drinks in the hinterland with Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

Keeping in mind the legacy and lifestyle of His Highness Narendra Singh Ji, the staff at Narendra Bhawan has designed this epic sundowner experience for their guests. This is how he would occasionally enjoy his gratifying drinks after a long day of attending to his paperwork and guests.


04 | Go for a Sunset Swim and a Royal dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace

Swimming Pool at Laxmi Niwas Palace

Swimming Pool at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

You can’t just visit Bikaner and not visit one of the grandest palaces of this city. Just like Narendra Bhawan, even Laxmi Niwas Palace was once the grand residence of one of the Maharajas of Bikaner – Maharajah Ganga Singh. This palace is massive with a humungous sized garden area.

Apart from the garden, my favorite part of this palace turned hotel is the swimming pool. If you’re a guest of Narendra Bhawan, you can visit Laxmi Niwas Palace and enjoy a swim without paying extra because the same group owns them. This is how you can cool off from Bikaner’s heat, like a Maharaja.

Carry something special to wear after your swim so that you can enjoy the signature “Royal Dinner” in the lawn area of Laxmi Niwas Palace. Something worth noting is that you need to book this meal in advance and have to pay extra. (obviously)

Deepti and I enjoying our Royal dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

Deepti and I enjoying our Royal dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

We did a royal dinner in Laxmi Niwas Palace the day after we went for our sunset drinks in the desert. We didn’t expect to be very impressed after an experience like that but a royal dinner in Laxmi Niwas Palace was something else entirely.

With a backdrop of the grand palace, we walked on a path that was lit by rows of candles to reach our table. This table was decorated with a generous amount of rose petals and marigold flowers. There were candles on the table and literally everywhere around.

Just like the movie “Midnight in Paris”, I stepped into a forgotten era as I saw on my chair. I sipped my favorite cocktail with Bombay Sapphire gin and nibbled on tender Galauti Kebabs as I enjoyed being a queen for those hours.

Next day, as I narrated my experience to my husband, his reaction was “how will you ever get back to normal life?”

What to eat at Laxmi Niwas palace? Well, I ate here twice and I really enjoyed the food. For starters, vegetarians can order corn kebabs and hara bhara kebabs. I also had a mini roti here in starters with corn but I don’t remember the name. Non vegetarians will really enjoy mutton khasta kebabs, galauti kebabs, stuffed chicken tangari kebabs. For main course, vegetarians and non-vegetarians will both enjoy the typical Rajasthani crescent thali that has a variety of curries, veggies, rotis, papad, raita and optional meats. You can also order mutton biriyani, special Rajasthani laal maas and daal.

You can click here to find deals for booking a room at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner.


05 | Go on a Merchant’s trail on a Horse Carriage

Merchant's Trail in Bikaner on a horse carriage

Merchant’s Trail in Bikaner on a horse carriage – picture by Deepti Asthana

If you have traveled extensively in India, then I’m sure you know that almost every famous city in Rajasthan has the architecture of a different color. Most of the people know that Jaipur is “the pink city”, Jodhpur is “the blue city”, Udaipur is “the white city” and Jaisalmer is “the Golden city”.

Did you know that Rajasthan has a “Red city” and that city is Bikaner? It is because most of the palaces, Havelis and temples were built using red sandstone many years back. Oh, and by the way, a Haveli is a kind of old school Indian mansion with an open courtyard in the middle.

Many decades back, Bikaner was a trade hub and a preferred caravan route between Central and Western Asia. The noble families and merchants of Bikaner profited immensely because of the location of the city and the trade route. They built many Havelis in Bikaner’s old city. These Havelis are still there in the old town and some of them are very well maintained.

The Famous Rampuria Haveli of Bikaner, Rajasthan

The Famous Rampuria Haveli of Bikaner, Rajasthan

An exploration of this area is one of my favorite “royal” experiences that was designed by Narendra Bhawan because it really did feel like things had not changed here for decades, except for a few cars that were visible occasionally.

We arrived in Bikaner’s old city by car and sat on a horse carriage that was waiting for us. There was a sudden change in the architecture because everywhere around us we could only see red Havelis with blue or green doors. Almost all of these Havelis display a mix of Victorian and Mughal architecture.

There were many narrow lanes and at times a little traffic jam. We would have been completely lost if our exploration was not chaperoned. We even got to enter one of the Havelis that was maintained by Narendra Bhawan and looked like a dollhouse from inside.

This area of Bikaner was so beautiful that we woke up the next day at 4 am just to go back and click some pictures. If you have some more time on your hands, do check out Usta art of Bikaner.

06 | Discover Bikaner’s Places on a Royal Trail

I have mentioned the famous Laxmi Niwas Palace and Gajner Palace, but there is so much more to see in Bikaner. If you’re visiting Bikaner, I recommend you take out a day from your schedule to go on a Royal trail and see palaces and museums.

You can visit the famous Junagarh fort, which was built by Raja Rai Singh. The fort does look majestic from the outside but trust me it is the insides that will take your breath away. There are several sections that have a different theme and were built in different times.

They say that Junagarh Fort is one of the best-maintained ones in Rajasthan. As I explored the interiors, I understood why. When we entered, everything around was beige, but soon we reached a white section with a few blue rooms and later even saw a golden room and a silver door.

Apart from Junagarh fort, you can also check out Lalgarh palace and Sadul Singh museum. I was so mesmerized by Junagarh fort that it is my favorite out of them all.

7) Experience one of a kind Museum Dinner at Narendra Bhawan

Museum Dinner in Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Museum Dinner in Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner, Rajasthan

This is perhaps the most royal of them all. Imagine, sitting at the same table where the King sat decades back. Yes, it is called the “Museum Dinner” for a reason. Instead of just admiring the items from a bygone era, you’re a part of the whole setting yourself.

This table is actually in the main dining area but is in a separate enclosed space to ensure privacy. The enclosure is in the form of thick curtains on one side and wall on the other. Under the low hanging lamps, there is a long dining table that can seat six to eight people. The chairs around this table have a “golden” look with a soft cushioned seat. There are a few highly ornate mirrors on the walls with small lamps in front of them. The carpet is thick and dark and looks Egyptian (I’m guessing but I can be wrong). The ceiling is light with a lot of off-white and a few traces of gold. This little room actually looks like it is a part of a museum!

In fact, on my first day at Narendra Bhawan, I had reached this part of the restaurant just by accident while exploring. I was delighted when Faisal told me that we would be eating here the next day.


Final Thoughts – experience the Royal Life in Bikaner

Now that I have talked so much about Narendra Bhawan in this post, you must be thinking that it is a very expensive hotel. You couldn’t have been more wrong. They have an introductory offer going on for the first year and you can book a room for two for as low as INR 6000 ($100). I found even better deals on Bookings.com. This is a steal if you compare it to the other hotels because the services are better than any five-star hotels’. (Yes, Rajasthani hospitality beats everything else). In fact, this is the perfect gift you should buy for your life partner, or even your parents if you want to pamper them.

PS: This is just a glimpse of what I did in Bikaner. To see more pictures, check out my hashtag #SonalinBikaner on Instagram.

Have you visited Bikaner already and have a few stories to share? Let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: I was invited to Bikaner on a press trip. As usual, the views expressed in this article are mine.

Living life Maharani style - How to experience the Maharaja life in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
Rampuria Haveli in Bikaner, Rajasthan - how to experience the Maharaja life in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
Maharani style in Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner - How to experience the Maharaja life in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sonal Kwatra Paladini

Why I love Visiting Old Manali

Why I love Visiting Old Manali

Old Manali may have the prefix “old”, but it is way more awesome as compared to main Manali. While latter is one of the busiest summer destinations of India, the former is like a breath of fresh air. Geographically, the only thing that separates them is Beas River but everything else is completely different.

Don’t get me wrong; Main Manali is a good destination for honeymooners or families. In fact, family travelers may not like Old Manali at all because as per them, it has too many hippies. However, if you’re a backpacker or a hippie at heart (like me), you’d definitely prefer Old Manali. You must have read about Old Manali already in my post about hippie destinations in the Himalayas, but here are more details.

Here’s why I love visiting Old Manali –

01 | Nature Trails

One of the most magical aspects of visiting Manali is the beauty of nature. Perhaps this is the reason why this place invokes spirituality in many of its visitors. The air always smells nice because it’s pure, the water always tastes good, because in most of the places, it comes from waterfalls that emerge out of glaciers.

Moreover, it’s a lot of fun to walk around in Old Manali to discover new viewpoints and secret trails where one can be in the lap of Mother Nature. In fact, if you love walking and can go for hours, you can also reach the nearby Vashisht or Prini villages. Tip: find budget Manali hotels in the lap of nature so that you can make the most of your visit.


02 | Food

When in Manali, a meal of freshly caught river trout is not to be missed. This is butter garlic grilled fish from Kathmandu Cafe.

A post shared by Travel Couple Sonal+San 🇮🇳 🇩🇪 (@drifterplanet) on

No, I’m not talking about only Indian food here, but also international cuisines.

Over the years, the restaurant owners have learned international recipes because backpackers from all over the world frequently visit Old Manali. Whether you’re craving lasagna or shakshuka, you will not be disappointed when you eat in Old Manali.

During my multiple visits to Old Manali, I have never gotten bored of the food here. We even managed to find a decent cup of espresso here. I love the fresh river trout at Kathmandu café and Yak cheese sandwich at the German bakery.


03 | Weather

How can I not add the most important point why people visit this place? Of course, if you’re visiting the Himalayas, the weather would be one of your main reasons for doing so. People mostly visit Old Manali (and Manali) in summers but I also enjoy visiting this area in winters.

In my opinion, its a year round destination and it looks even more beautiful in winters. In fact, my fondest memory of Manali is when I saw it during winters because of sudden snowfall. It is indeed magical when it snows in Manali.


04 | Adventure

Due to its location and ease of reaching, Old Manali is a very good base for nearby treks to Spiti Valley, Pin Valley, Lahaul Valley, etc. Not just small treks but several intermediate treks start from here. More than just treks, you can also try rafting, paragliding, zorbing, rappelling, rock climbing, etc. In fact, I love trekking and a lot of my treks started from old Manali. You can read my posts about Chandra Taal, Kheerganga, Kasol and Hampta pass for more information about these treks.


05 | Flea Market

Do you like unique handmade things that can’t be found in big shopping malls? Old Manali is the place for you. As you cross the bridge that connects New Manali and Old Manali and walk uphill, you will notice many colorful roadside shops. Here you will woolen clothes, jewelry, bags, poi pairs, hula-hoops and even flag patches for backpacks.

This market is cheap and is geared towards the needs of backpackers. At the beginning of this shopping road, you will also find a “rasta” shop under Kathmandu café where you can get dreadlocks made. I got some of my dreadlocks made here. Wanna see?

06 | People

The most important reason why Old Manali has an amazing vibe is because of its people. Himachalis by nature are very hospitable people and the locals of Old Manali are one of the nicest. Many of them go out of their way to help people. In fact, I left my phone in one of the shops last year and was delighted to see that the owner still had it when I went back after three hours to check.


07 | Parties

Apart from Goa, Old Manali is one of the few places in India where I have attended some really good parties. From old school psychedelic trance to reggae, Old Manali definitely has a very good party scene.

If you like dancing on Bollywood or Rap music, then these parties are definitely NOT for you and you will get bored here. I have also attended a psytrance festival here in 2016.


Please respect the locals and travel responsibly

Yes, I did say that Old Manali is an amazing place and the party culture is awesome, but please travel responsibly. Respect the locals and don’t get drunk and be loud on the road. It is very sad to see the remains of broken beer bottles in some places around Old Manali. If you’re visiting this beautiful place, please don’t mess with Mother Nature and ALWAYS remember to pick up your trash.


Why I love visiting Old Manali in the Himalayas, India

You may also enjoy reading:

Kasol and Around

Kheerganga – on the hippie trail

Dharamkot – a hippie village

Triund – a small trek

Chandra Taal – the Moon Lake in Spiti Valley

Gallu – waterfalls and cute goats

Hampta Pass Trek

11 Hippie Destinations in the Himalayas

Goa, India

17 PsyTrance Festivals for 2017


A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sonal Kwatra Paladini

Chandra Taal – The Moon Lake in Spiti Valley

Chandra Taal – The Moon Lake in Spiti Valley

Have you ever stretched your limits to see the place of your dreams? I did a few months back when I trekked for five days to reach Spiti Valley from Manali. In these five days, I crossed the Hampta pass with GIO Adventures, camped at a new spot every night and eventually got to see one of the bluest lakes that I have ever seen. This lake is called Chandra Taal and it is in the middle of Spiti’s wilderness.

Chandra Taal - the lake of my dreams

Chandra Taal – the lake of my dreams

Chandra Taal in Hindi directly translates into “the moon lake” or “the lake of the moon”, because of its crescent shape. Some locals in Spiti Valley believe that fairies frequently visit this lake at night. I felt a need to visit this lake because I had a dream that I was flying over it. (Maybe I am a fairy and I don’t know it? Hehe)

Chandra Taal Lake – Legends and Fables

There are many legends that are associated with Chandra Taal but I will only tell you about two. The first is from Mahabharata, the Sanskrit epic of ancient India. It is believed that this lake is the location where the rain God Indra’s chariot took the eldest Pandava, Yudhishthira to heaven.

Chandra Taal Lake - no picture could capture the real blueness of the water

Chandra Taal Lake – no picture can capture the real blueness of the water

The second legend associated with this Chandra Taal is something that locals believe. As per this fable, once upon a time, a shepherd often visited this lake with sheep. On one of his visits, he met a beautiful fairy that emerged out of the lake. He fell in love with that fairy and often spent time with her and away from his wife. The fairy made him promise not to tell anyone about her; else she would leave him forever. Years went by peacefully but he eventually broke his promise to her in a fit of rage. He went back to the lake but obviously, she had disappeared. He cried in front of the lake, pleading the fairy to return. The locals believe that the decedents of the shepherd still visit the lake in a hope to meet the fairy.

Where is Chandra Taal Lake?

Chandra Taal is located in Spiti side of Lahul and Spiti valleys in Himachal Pradesh. These two valleys are a part of tribal Himalayas and are remote. These valleys are arid and that’s why this area is called “cold desert”. While most parts of Himachal Pradesh are green, the barren beauty of Spiti valley is something that I had never seen before. Most parts if these valleys are inaccessible from the months of October to May.

Perhaps it is the air of mystery.. or the magic of fables but as per me, this part of the Himachal is insanely beautiful. The strange beauty of Spiti is something that I will remember for life.

How to reach Chandra Taal?

Hampta Pass Day 4 - Spiti Valley's Barren Beauty

Spiti Valley’s Barren Beauty

If you remember I mentioned that I trekked for 5 days to reach Chandra Taal. My last camping location before visiting this lake was Chatru, which is in Lahaul valley. Fatigue won over adventure on the last day and we decided to take a taxi from Chatru to Chandra Taal. If you’re visiting from Manali, you can hire a car from there to reach this lake. Please don’t drive here yourself because the condition of the road is treacherous after Batal. Alternatively, you can trek to Chandra Taal from Manali or Batal.

From Chatru to Chandra Taal

The roads in Spiti Valley are definitely some of the worst ones that I have ever seen in the world. They call them treacherous for a reason. The drive from Chatru to Chandra Taal was bumpy and torturous. The fact that I got the most uncomfortable seat in the car did not help because I had very little space in the back of my car to move. I ended up hurting myself every time there was a bump on the road, which was often. I got this seat because everyone in our group was sick except me. The next day, I had massive blue marks on my thighs because of repeated bumps.

Spiti Valley's narrow roads and traffic jam

Spiti Valley’s narrow roads and traffic jam

On our drive from Chatru to Chandra Taal, I often saw boulders on the road and at times even streams that had overflown on the road. One of these streams is named “pagal nala”, which means “insane stream” and true to its name, it had flooded the entire road and had caused a massive traffic jam. It took a little more than an hour for the traffic to move. It was pretty impressive how the local drivers encouraged and help each other to get out of the mess.

There was no cellphone connectivity here but on our way to Chandra Taal, I saw a sign that said “PCO”. Having not spoken to my family since the last few days because of no phone coverage, I was very happy to see this phone booth that was operated by the Indian Army using satellite phones. A little phone call to my family made me forget the torture of the car journey.

Anyway, the drive from Chatru to Chandra Taal parking lot took around a little more than two hours including the one-hour traffic jam. There were just around 3 cars parked and from here we had to walk for a kilometer to reach the lake.

Chandra Taal – so much blue

At the parking lot outside Chandra Taal, I couldn’t believe we were near the lake because everything around me was barren. How in the world can a water body really exist in this arid landscape?

As compared to our last 5 days of trekking, the walk to the lake was very easy. However, it was the high altitude and thin oxygen that gave some of us headaches. After all, it’s 4300 meters above the sea level, literally half the height of Mount Everest.

My headache was soon forgotten because in the middle of all the dull colored landscape; I finally saw a splash of blue. The sight of this blue dot was like a sip of coffee on a lazy morning because I felt suddenly energetic. This shiny turquoise pendant on Spiti’s barren collarbone grew bigger and bluer as I got closer. Finally, I was at the edge of this lake.

Drinking in Chandra Taal's beauty

Drinking in Chandra Taal’s beauty

At this moment, I felt I was a part of my computer’s wallpaper that I had stared at for a long time, except it was way more beautiful in reality. Maybe it was in the air or the Buddhist prayer flags but I felt a magical energy that the lake was radiating. I felt a need to stay quiet as I stood next to it. It was time to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings and be thankful for life and Mother Nature for her wonders.

Buddhist Prayer Flags next to Chandra Taal

Buddhist Prayer Flags next to Chandra Taal

Maybe it’s a good thing that Chandra Taal is a little hard to reach.. or Amir Khan chose Pangong Lake instead of this lake for his movie Three Idiots, else the area around this lake would not have been as tranquil as this. A few years back, it was possible for people to camp right next to the lake but I’m glad it’s not allowed anymore. As of now, the nearest campground is a little more than 3 KMs away from Chandra Taal.

Have you ever worked very hard to see the place of your dreams? Let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: I was invited by GIO Adventures for a trekking trip where I crossed the Hampta Pass and visited Chandra Taal. The trip was complimentary but the opinions expressed in this article are mine. If you’re planning a trek or any other adventure in the Himalayas, then do get in touch with them – they’re AWESOME.

Chandra Taal - The Moon Lake in Spiti Valley. I trekked for 5 days in the Himalayas (India) to reach this spot.

You may also enjoy:

Kheerganga – a hot water spring, surrounded by snow in the Himalayas

Triund – a small trek in the Himalayas that’s perfect for a day trip

Dharamkot – a little hippie village in the Himalayas

Kasol, Tosh and many hippie villages in Parvati Valley

Old Manali – in Himachal Pradesh

Goa – I lived here for a few months and have written many articles about it. Read my posts for the insider’s tips.

Hampi – looks like it’s right out of a Flintstones movie

Delhi Travel Tips – for first timers

A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her partner in crime (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Sonal Kwatra Paladini

Tips for celebrating Holi in India from an Indian

Tips for celebrating Holi in India from an Indian

So you want to celebrate Holi in India and want some basic information before you start? You’ve come to the right page!

Being an Indian, I have celebrated Holi all my life at many locations all over the country. As per me, it’s the most awesome festival in the world! Based on my experience, I want to share some tips with you so that you can enjoy my favorite festival as much as I usually do.

A little clarification – Holi is not a type of party, but it is a festival that’s celebrated in India and Nepal. No, it’s not a psychedelic music festival but a traditional Hindu festival, which is of course, can be psychedelic because it’s colorful. And yes, it is more colorful than you imagined it to be!

I felt a need to explain the basics because I did met a few people while traveling who mentioned they love “Holi parties”. I later found out that thought that Holi is a kind of a trance party where colors are used while dancing because that’s how they celebrate it in Europe.

When is Holi celebrated?

There is no fixed date when Holi is celebrated (at least not as per the international calendar). It is celebrated at the arrival of spring, which is the full moon of the Falgun month as per the Hindu calendar, which can be in the month of February or March. To be exact, the actual day when people apply color on each other all over India is usually a morning after the full moon of Falgun.

Where in India should you travel for Holi?

San and I celebrating Holi in India

San and I celebrating Holi in India

Well, don’t just change your itinerary based on Holi because it is celebrated pretty much all over India with slight variations. In some parts of UP state of India, Holi is celebrated for a longer duration. UP is also famous for Lath Maar Holi, which is mostly celebrated in Barsana town near Mathura where women playfully mock – beat men with sticks. The state of Uttrakhand celebrated Kumaon Holi, which is a musical celebration. In most of the Indian states, Holi is actually a two-day (or longer) celebration with Puja on the first day and color games on the second. If you want to know more about how it’s celebrated in each state, you can see this.

Anyway, I don’t want to confuse you, but I know you’re most likely interested in the second day of Holi (gotcha!). Truth be told, I have hardly ever participated in the puja part of Holi and have celebrated the second day, which is the color day”. So just go to any part of India where you have friends (or at least can make some) and celebrate! Or what if you’re traveling solo? Read my next point.

What to do for Holi if you’re traveling solo?

While it’s a different thing to go to a music festival alone, but celebrating Holi in India alone as a girl is a whole different matter. I love my country, but sadly a lot of my countrymen will leave no chance in groping women when they can get away with it. Holi is one such day when they think they can get away with it. They will find reasons to touch you, maybe at pretense of putting color on your face before they grope and run away. Sadly, crime rate against women is very high on this day, so please don’t venture out alone.

Try to make friends before Holi at your hostel or around. The best would be if you can find local women / families and just ask them if you can celebrate with them. If you don’t know where to find them, you can join this women travel group from India. Don’t worry; you won’t be forcing your company on them because most likely, they’d love to show you how they celebrate Holi. Oh but please be careful about Bhang lassi.

What to wear for Holi?

My cousin and I celebrating Holi in our oldest clothes

My cousin and I celebrating Holi in our oldest clothes

Find your oldest clothes, because you won’t be able to wear them again. This goes for your undies too because they will also catch the color.

A lot of websites say you should wear white on Holi but I have mixed thoughts about this. If you’re a girl, you should definitely avoid wearing white because people will throw water on you and many will openly see through your clothes. While in Western countries you may just only receive attention, in India you will receive way more than that.

Wear clothes that are comfortable, can dry quickly and can’t be ripped off easily. I normally wear an old tee shirt with cotton pants or shorts. I always wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the color and I highly recommend you do the same!

How to protect your skin and hair on Holi?

This point is for both boys and girls. You do need to protect your skin and hair because you can never be sure what kind of color people are applying on you. The easiest thing to do is to apply layers and layers of baby oil on your skin and hair. Make sure you even apply it on your neck and around your ears. Don’t just put it on your exposed skin, but even under your clothes. Not only will you protect your skin from rashes and dryness, but you will make it easier for yourself to remove the color. I also wear a headscarf or a hat to protect my hair because my cousin throws eggs on our heads to take Holi a level higher.

Where to go to celebrate Holi?

Usually the best (and the safest) places to go are local parks, colleges, or a local family’s house. Try to find a Holi party if you can. I usually know of a few, so email me if you can’t find one.

Where should you keep your valuables on Holi?

Carry a waterproof pouch and keep a little money. Try not to carry your phone, but if you still insist, at least invest in a waterproof bag or a pouch. For many years I just carried a little money in a plastic bag and kept it in a cheap pouch.

So do people just apply color on each other?

Many of them do, but mostly it’s like a color war. While some people will politely put a few dots on you, others will take this opportunity to get rid of their yearlong frustration and literally bash you up with colors. More than just colors, it’s also watercolors and waterballoons.

Don’t get shocked when you see people throwing eggs at each other, its pretty normal for a few of them. Back in Punjab, I also saw a few boys who were putting grease on each other’s faces!

About buying Holi Colors, Waterguns and Waterballoons

Holi in India - Holi colors on display in a street market

Holi in India – Holi colors on display in a street market

If you love colors, you’re going to love Holi markets because they’re full of colors. Buy chemical free colors that are made of herbs so that you don’t cause any damage.

You don’t have to buy all the shades but just one or two will suffice. Trust me you will look like a rainbow by end of the day, because everyone would have picked different colors to apply on each other.

Want to go a level higher than colors? Get a water gun! I’m sure if my mom would shake her head in disapproval if she ever reads this article. I don’t personally carry one but I am lucky that I celebrate it with my nephew and I borrow his from time to time to annoy my friends. Water balloons are even a level higher because they can seriously hurt! I don’t ever carry them but normally I get thrown at.

What is Bhang?

Bhang is eatable preparation of marijuana. It is usually in the form of milk-based drink such as lassi or thandai. Lassi is a yogurt drink and thandai is a milk and almond drink. It can also be in food, such as pakodas. It’s much more potent than just smoking a joint. You will not feel the effects while consuming it but it can really hit you hard after an hour.

On Holi, people openly consume Bhang in form of thandai, pakodas or lassi. So please be careful of what you drink or eat.

What should you keep in mind for general safety?

Don’t move around on the streets alone. There are enough frenzied groups that turn into mobs and circle around on Holi to look for a new target.

Don’t throw colors on animals. It irritates their skin and they end up licking it which can cause them poisoning.

In many places in India, small children hide in the balconies and throw water balloons at people. This doesn’t just happen on the day of Holi, but also a for week before the festival. These balloons really hurt when they hit the flesh, so please keep your eyes open. I once had a water-balloon thrown at me while I was safely sitting inside my car. It was funny and annoying at the same time!

Want epic Holi photos? Buy an action camera like GoPro! (this is an affiliate link, if you click this link and buy something from Amazon, I may earn a little commission at no extra cost to you 🙂 )

Be a child and have fun. Seriously, it is the most fun filled festival that I know of and I hope you make the most of it.

A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sonal Kwatra Paladini

Time Traveling to Goa’s Past at Goa Tribal Festival

Time Traveling to Goa’s Past at Goa Tribal Festival

Ever heard of Goa Tribal Festival? No, it’s not a psytrance party but a festival that involves REAL tribes of Goa. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you must be aware that San and I were volunteering in Goa and living here for a few months. In fact, I often call Goa my second home because I have visited it more than 20 times, but I never got an opportunity to meet Goa’s tribes.

Anyway, so talking about Goa Tribal Festival, are you must be wondering what it is all about, so here’s the basic info you need to know before I tell you what I did here:

What is Goa Tribal Festival?

A food stall at Goa Tribal Festival

A food stall at Goa Tribal Festival

Goa Tribal Festival is an initiative by the local villagers to spread the awareness about Goa’s unique culture, heritage and core. To be specific, the community that took the initiative to organize this two day festival is the Adivasi Sangatna of Quepem village. The idea is to preserve and celebrate Goa’s age old traditions, which are not just limited to food or but also craftsmanship, games, folklores and more!

Many of us have visited Goa many times and spent most of our time on beaches and parties, but how many of us ever got a taste of Goa’s old culture? I hardly ever did! And no, Goa’s old culture is not just limited to Old Goa’s churches and Portuguese influences, but is so much more. It’s got a lot to do with Goa’s oldest communities, which I got to meet at Goa Tribal Festival.

Where is Goa Tribal Festival Celebrated?

The 2017 edition of this festival, where I went was held at Village Panchayat Ground, Xeldem. Xeldem is in Quepem, which is in South Goa. Yes, Quepem is where the famous Goa Carnival is also celebrated. If you get a chance, do visit it because it is on the banks of Kushawati river and is scenic.

When is Goa Tribal Festival Celebrated?

It is usually celebrated in the beginning of the year. I went for the sixth edition, which was on January 7th – 8th 2017.

My day at Goa Tribal Festival

Ok, enough about the facts but I’m dying to tell you about my day here. After an amazing breakfast at Miramar Residency, we started our journey to Xeldem for the festival. I’m not a fan of Miramar and it’s my least favorite beach in North Goa, but the area around it is very crowded. However, the drive from here to Quepem is really beautiful. For many kilometers we could only see lush rice paddies. Everything around us was very green.

First Impressions

An hour later, we were in Xeldom. It was time to enter the festival! Let me be honest, I was expecting an overly crowded area like a Diwali mela or something like a Goan flea market but as I stepped out of the car, I felt I had gone back in time. I saw a spacious ground with a lot of room to move around. An elevated area was set up, with many chairs around it – like an old fashioned stage.

The Stalls

Villagers crafting new things at Goa Tribal Festival

Villagers crafting new things at Goa Tribal Festival

Around the stage were a few stalls and behind the stalls which were made with bamboo and coconut leaves – very old school and charming! Yes, this is the first area that caught my interest. Believe it or not, I must have taken 20-30 rounds of this area to sink as much details as I could. Most of these stalls were being handled by local women from various tribes. Some of these stalls were food related and the others were the ones where the tribes were crafting new things such as mats, brooms, flower tiaras, etc. I got to witness how they meticulously crafted these items with palm leafs and paddy grass.

The People

A beautiful tribal woman at Goa Tribal Festival

A beautiful tribal woman at Goa Tribal Festival

The women behind the stalls wore beautiful red sarees with puffed sleeves blouses, which were draped a tad higher when compared to the rest of India.  They all had flowers in their hair and smiles on their faces – the real hippies!

Beautiful Young Women at Goa Tribal Festiva

Beautiful Young Women at Goa Tribal Festiva

I also saw groups of younger women and children that were moving from stalls to stalls – all traditionally attired.

Beautiful Children at Goa Tribal Festival

Beautiful Children at Goa Tribal Festival

The Age Old Apparatuses

Using old instruments at Goa Tribal Festival
A few tribal women using traditional methods for grinding at Goa Tribal Festival
A traditional appratus for making food

As I moved from stalls to stall, I noticed their traditional methods of food preparation. Some of the apparatuses that they were using looked like they were right out of a museum. (To be honest, we did see some of these apparatuses in Big Foot museum and Chitra museum – both in Goa. It was interesting to see that these instruments were still in use.

The Food

Ever heard of ambil? Well, I had not and I got to try it here. It is a kind of porridge which is sweetened by jaggery sugar. I also got to try other things like san’na, soji, pez, chirke manda, shevyo, and pita gulio. Most of these things were just priced at INR 10 or INR 5. Unbelievable!

Fried Fish and Salad at Goa Tribal Festival

Fried Fish and Salad at Goa Tribal Festival

At lunch time, we had a buffet style meal which had rice, salad, fish and one of the most delicious Goan prawn curries that I ever got to taste. The curry was mildly flavored with coconut and was comforting. Yum! Yes, I took a second helping.

The Activities & Performances

Local Children Drawing at Goa Tribal Festival

Local Children Drawing at Goa Tribal Festival

There were many little competitions and games for children and adolescents such as drawing, guli danda, saree draping and more. There were dance and song performances as well where children dressed up in traditional clothes and won our hearts!

Amazing dance performances at Goa Tribal Festival

Amazing dance performances at Goa Tribal Festival

Do you love Goa as much as I do? Then let’s revive its oldest traditions by spreading awareness about them. Share this post with your friends and family, so that they can also visit Goa Tribal festival and time travel to Goa’s past.

Disclaimer: I was invited to Goa for the 6th annual Goa Tribal Festival by Goa Tourism on a press trip, but like always, all thoughts are my own.

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