Category Archives: Travel

A dirty weekend with the Polaris Phoenix 200 ATV

Sick of grumpy bosses and commutes that make being waterboarded seem like fun? We just might have found the right antidote: Spending a dirty weekend with the Polaris Phoenix 200 ATV…

You’d have found this article in the February 2016 issue of Stuff India. Missed it on the stands? No worries; head over to our website to read the online version. Meanwhile, here’ s an excerpt to keep you entertained (for a few seconds at least):

“Going mad with the hectic pace of life? Dream about running away to a tropical island? Wait up! There’s a far easier way of getting rid of the city blues – by grabbing your pals and heading out to play in the dirt.

That’s exactly what we did when we woke up one weekend with a burning desire to be outdoors. We’d heard the Polaris ATV chaps had set up a few Experience Zones around Delhi, and guess what? There was a spanking new one on National Highway 1, near Sonepat. You can guess where we’re going with this…

VS - Stuff Feb 2016 - Polaris Phoenix 200There’s a dirt track laid out, designed by Polaris to ensure you get plenty of thrills without risking a nasty tumble. A long straight to build up speed, a few turns to slide around while pretending to be the baddie from a cheesy Hollywood flick, a slush-filled pit for powering through (with a big grin plastered all over your face), and a couple of ramps and bridges for a butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling. A recipe done right? We’d be inclined to agree…”

Advertisements

Summer Getaways

It’s awfully hot here in India (unless you’re one of the lucky few who lives in the Himalayan states). In fact, it’s so damned hot, it almost seems like  the sun’s trying to burn you to a cinder. Yup, it’s summer all right. Doesn’t a nice vacation sound good right about now?

That’s exactly why I wrote about the best summer getaways for the June issue of Stuff India Magazine. Catch some excerpts here or pick up a copy from the news stands.

Summer Getaways 0 Stuff India Magazine - June 2015

“…Kanatal / Landour, Uttarakhand
Kanatal’s lake might no longer exist, but it more than makes up with its refreshing lack of tourists, the miles of winding roads, the lovely weather even in the middle of summer, and enough little picnic spots for you to make every meal an al fresco experience. Walk through pine forests straight out of a fairytale, explore the lush Dhanaulti Eco Park, or drive over to nearby Landour, a beautiful little cantonment town adjoining
Mussoorie, for some piping-hot paranthas and Maggi…..

Vembanad Lake, Kerala
Luxury experiences don’t get better than a few days spent at Kerala’s largest lake. Take backwater cruises, spend the day in a spa, sample the local seafood, and don’t forget to carry your camera along when you visit the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, home to almost 200 species of birds. And when you think you’re as rejuvenated as can be, head over to Kochi to explore the old colonial quarter, and satisfy your geek lust with a quick stopover at the Indian Navy’s Maritime Museum…

…Great Lakes Trek, Jammu & Kashmir
The ‘golden’ meadow of Sonamarg might be overrun with tourists , but it guards a secret that makes it a worthwhile destination when all you want is some solitude. That’s ‘cos Sonamarg happens to be the jumping-off point for the famous Great Lakes Trek, a week-long experience which takes you over high-altitude meadows and mountain trails as you visit a bunch of placid Himalayan lakes…

…McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh
This little hippie haven’s quite famous for being home to a large Tibetan community, and offers a laid-back vibe most of the time (weekends can be packed, though). Check out the Dalai Lama’s monastery, take Tibetan food lessons, catch an art cinema night, or fuel up on beer and pizzas while you play a game of chess at a cafe in Dharamkot…”

Running to the hills in a ‘lil Datsun

One of the best things about Stuff magazine is the breathtaking variety of er, stuff, you get to review. Nope, it’s not just phones and gaming gear that floats our gadgety boat, but a helluva lot more. But what’s my favourite? The chance to travel. Like that time when the folks over at Datsun decided to take us up to Rishikesh to drive their new Go+ MPV…

Datsun Go+ drive to Rishikesh - Stuff India Magazine

“…Weekend Warrior
Delhi’s infamous fog has us thinking we’re stuck in a horror movie, so
when Datsun asks us if we’d like to drive the new Go+ MPV around
Rishikesh, we don’t think twice. Heading out of Dehradun, we’re impressed by the Go+, with its 1.2-litre engine making up in torquey-ness what it lacks in capacity. Yup, powering up steep climbs is surprisingly easy for this little car, with not many gear changes required…

Rallying round for the picnic basket
Sliding the Go+ around in a dry river bed makes our day. What makes it even better is our picnic spot, hidden in a corner of the Rajaji National Park. But more than the pakoras, we loved the drive down here. In fact, I think we’ve struck upon the formula for happiness: A torquey engine, a suspension that can take a beating, and a dirt track, far, far away from civilisation. Bliss indeed…

…Temple Town
Sunrise and silence at the Triveni Ghat, with only a few worshippers (and cows) around. It’s also time for us to head back and we gotta say we’ve had fun. The Go+ drives better than you’d expect, and while it’s just not spacious enough to seat 7, you can pack enough stuff for a long vacation. Too bad the interiors are disappointingly spartan. Verdict? The Go+ isn’t really an MPV, but does make a decent hatchback for anyone who can’t resist the lure of the open road….”

Read my stories in Outlook Traveller Getaways’ Karnataka Travel Guide

Pick up a copy of Outlook Traveller Getaways’ Karnataka Travel Guide to read my stories on the rich and varied experience this ancient land offers. Here’s an excerpt from my article on Carnatic Music; to read more, head to your nearest bookstore:

VaibhavOutlookCarnatic

“…The unmatched complexity of Carnatic music stands testament to its rich cultural underpinnings. This near-ethereal form of art could only have sprung from a society that valued the guru-shishya parampara, carrying forward the hard work of poets, composers and artistes from the years gone by. Energetic and soulful, Carnatic music is the sound of our ancient civilisation, distilled down to its purest form….

…It was around the 12th or 13th centuries that India’s music traditions, regarded by purists as a divine gift from the heavens, began to evolve into two distinct schools, with a clean break happening some time between the publication of the Sangita Ratnakara (mid-13th century) and the Sangita Sara (late-14th century)….

…In north India, the arrival of Persian and Islamic influences led, eventually, to what’s now called Hindustani classical. But south of the Vindhyas, it was the Vaishnava Bhakti traditions (such as the Haridasas) that held sway, and under the patronage of kings and emperors, eventually evolved into the highly complex style of Carnatic music….

…Like all traditions must if they are to survive, Carnatic too has moved with the times, keeping its essence intact, while incorporating new elements. Many musicians have expanded their repertoire, putting their classical training to use in jazz, fusion, pop and rock, and taking classical music to new audiences: There’s Lakshminarayana Subramaniam, who’s recorded with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and Herbie Hancock, and performed with the New York Philharmonic. His brother, Lakshminarayana Shankar, famous for his work in fusion, can name John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, Lou Reed, and many, many more global stars as collaborators. Then, there are Nithyasree Mahadevan and Sudha Ragunathan, who’ve made their mark in fusion and cinema….

…Carnatic lives on, stronger than ever, sometimes flying the standard of tradition, and sometimes welcoming new influences.”

Catch my stories in Outlook Traveller Getaways’ Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh Guide…

Catch my stories in Outlook Traveller Getaways’ Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh Guide… These are just a few excerpts, and if you want to read more about this gorgeous land, head to your nearest bookstore!

Mamer-Naranag – Riverside Tranquil

VaibhavOutlookJKMamer

“On the face of it, Mamer seems an unlikely destination. Most travellers who cross this sleepy little town dismiss it as a mere highway stop, a place to stretch your legs and perhaps wolf down some pakoras before hitting the road again. Cars whiz past, heading east on NH1D, hoping to make it to Sonamarg before trucks clog up the highway. Tired motorists heading west look eagerly to arriving at Srinagar. No one gives Mamer a second look. But scratch below the surface, and this little gem of a place begins to shine in an altogether different light. There are idyllic village paths to tread, river banks to sit on and watch the world go by, verdant forests that tower over you, and for the heritage lover, the ancient temples of Naranag, located in a pristine, sun-soaked valley not far away. And if that’s too tame, Mamer has some high excitement to offer indeed — rafting on the Sind River…”

Sonamarg – The Gold Rush

VaibhavOutlookJKSonamarg

“Any place with the moniker ‘Meadow of Gold’ has a reputation  to live up to. Luckily, Sonamarg, with its exquisite high altitude valley that packs it all in — rolling hills, craggy peaks, rushing streams, a glacier, a trout-filled river, and miles-upon-miles of pine trees — seems to do so. Even by the high standards set by the many beautiful spots in the Vale of Kashmir, Sonamarg manages to stand tall as a veritable goldmine for the nature lover.

But with that comes the gold rush. In winter, Sonamarg lies covered under a blanket of snow, but come summer, thousands of tourists descend upon this small town, which is also the last major supply halt for troops bound for Kargil, Drass and the battlefields beyond, and for truckers ferrying supplies to Leh. And then, in summer comes the stream of devotees heading to the holy Amarnath Cave, placing further strain on the ecology of this beautiful valley. But even amidst the crowds of tourists, taxis and ponywallahs, and the black clouds of diesel from the trucks on the Srinagar-Leh Highway, it’s possible to snatch moments of tranquillity. On arriving you could be tired, jaded, and wondering what possessed you to come here, but a split second later, all doubts will be gone, when the clear, blue skies and gorgeous mountain vistas reveal themselves, the sun glancing off the peaks, casting a golden glow across the valley…”

Manasbal – Where the Lotus Blooms

VaibhavOutlookJKManasbal

“A lovely lake close to Srinagar, Manasbal has always played second fiddle to its more famous brethren. The origins of its name can be traced back to it being a pilgrimage destination for those who couldn’t make the arduous trip to Manasarovar Lake in Tibet. The Mughals did build a royal garden here, but it’s eclipsed by the gardens they built in Srinagar and Achabal. Even today, Manasbal lives in the shadow of Kashmir’s more famous lakes, Dal and Wular, a short drive away. For Manasbal, this proximity has resulted in a twilight of sorts. Not many people know of it, and unjustifiably so. For while Manasbal might lack the tourist trappings of Srinagar or the wild allure of Wular, it possesses a charm of its own. It’s a friendly, quiet, non-touristy place that offers a respite from the crowds at the more popular destinations. And it does have its own claims to fame — at 13 metres, it’s perhaps the deepest lake in Kashmir. Manasbal is a major stopover for migratory birds, and best of all, in the months of July and August, the lotus blooms in abundance, covering the periphery of the lake in an almost ethereal glow…”

Yusmarg – In the Footsteps of Jesus

VaibhavOutlookJKYusmarg

“There are a couple of legends surrounding the origins of Yusmarg’s name. The more prosaic one hints at ‘Yusmarg’ being a corruption of ‘Roosmarg’, or ‘meadow of the musk deer’. The more interesting one comes from a belief that Jesus Christ spent some of his ‘lost’ years in India, and passed through Yusmarg, earning it the name ‘Meadow of Jesus’. Given that Yusmarg’s an excellent base for treks, it’s a lot more fun to believe it was named after someone who’s said to have walked on water…”

These Colours Don’t Run – India’s Gamble at Monte Cassino

Indian Graves, Commonwealth Cemetery, Monte CassinoMy article on the Italian town of Monte Cassino – the site of a famous WWII battle – was published in the Times of India Crest Edition in November 2012.

In a little corner of Italy, far away from the tourist trail, lies a small town with an Indian connection. It’s a place I first heard of a decade ago, and finding myself sick of Rome’s crowds, a visit to Monte Cassino is something I just can’t pass up. As the train sets off from Roma Termini, my thoughts keep coming back to all I’ve heard. Barely a two-hour train ride from the capital, this town is where scores of Indian troops gave their lives pushing back the Germans in one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and of all the times when human endurance and spirit has been tested, it’s the Second World War that stands out. Not just for the hopelessness and despair that seemed to enshroud our race like a dense fog, but also for remarkable tales of courage and selflessness. And nothing exemplifies this triumph of human spirit over seemingly insurmountable odds more than the Indian troops who fought for freedom thousands of miles away from home. In an alien land, alongside men who, it hurts to say, would have regarded them as less than their equals. Alongside men who professed to defend freedom, as long as the freedom wasn’t for Indians. However, our countrymen came through this dark period with distinction – their showing cementing the Indian soldier’s reputation for gallantry, toughness, and sheer effectiveness.

The train seems empty. There don’t seem to be many people heading in this direction, and watching the Italian countryside flash by, my thoughts turn to what it must have been like 60 years ago. It’s hard to believe that the gorgeous Italian scenery that surrounds us could have been the setting for the deaths of thousands of young men.

At the Cassino station, I’m the only one who gets off. It’s a quiet place indeed. Peaceful. Sleepy. Walking into a café by the station, I ask for what’s become my staple breakfast in Italy: Cappuccino and a croissant. The café owner, who doesn’t speak English all that well, guesses I’m Indian. A grin and a handshake later, he directs me to the museum. There seems to be a unique warmth in his manner – perhaps a certain nod towards the sacrifices my compatriots made helping this beautiful land regain its freedom.

Yes, the world may have forgotten the battles of Cassino, but the town hasn’t. That’s because in the early months of 1944, Cassino was the epicentre of perhaps the hardest-fought battle of the Second World War. Over a nearly five-month period, as the Germans tried to stem the Allied advance to the north, fierce fighting saw most of the town turned into rubble. It was perhaps the town’s misfortune to be placed smack bang on the Gustav Line. The battle for Rome was, in fact, fought here, and by the time peace came, there was so much damage that the few surviving buildings had to be torn down and a new town built. That explains the grid-like layout of post-War Cassino – the American influence is striking, and admittedly, surreal. One doesn’t expect a small Italian town to look this way – the Fiats and Alfa Romeos amidst the grid-like streets and art-deco architecture just add to the cognitive dissonance.

Continue reading These Colours Don’t Run – India’s Gamble at Monte Cassino

History & Cappuccino

Italian Afternoon - Lucca, Italia

Back in 2010, I had the fortune to visit the beautiful nation of Italy. My travels took me through Milan, Rome, Capri, Monte Cassino, Lucca, Siena, Florence, Maranello & Modena, and the Tuscan countryside. Some of my photography from this trip was also published in the Sunday-Guardian. You can view this online at: http://www.sunday-guardian.com/picture-essay/History-&-Cultural-Mystique-with-Cappuccino