Sunday, 3 September 2017

Solo Travel 101

While I am not expert at this I can certainly help the first-timer with my two-cents.
Now, if you’re looking for some transformational article - Abracadabra... stop reading now.
If not, go on.


Well... Alright! Here we begin.


  1. Don’t let excitement blind you -

    Quite likely that the excitement would overwhelm you. Relax. Give that emotion a little time and play along. Once that’s done, begin preparing. I’m not asking you to begin packing weeks ahead. Preparation begins with visualization. Visualize your journey. This will give a direction to your planning process. Preparing for a journey is a project. Any well-executed project is a result of good planning.

  2. Keep the first travel brief -

    It’s always a good idea to keep your first solo travel brief – will help figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember swimming classes with those tubes around your waist or cycling with those side-wheels? Pretty much the same.
  3. Research. Research. Research. -

    Read up as much as you can. Read up about the place. Read up about the local culture. Read up about the place’s history if you wish to give yourself better context. Read all that you can. This is the most important step. The internet has a world of information. You and I are not the first people doing this. Some hard-core travel enthusiasts have made lives incredibly simple. Spend time on their sites. I usually begin with Google and Tripadvisor and go on to blogs there after.

  4. Make your essentials list -

    Now that you have a vague idea of the weather, culture and destination, make a list of essentials. I have been around only in India and South East Asia. So my essentials looks something like this – Spare spectacles, power banks, batteries, torch-lights, mosquito-repellents, a multi-purpose piece of cloth that can act as a dupatta, a sun-protection bandana and sometimes even a bed-sheet, a raincoat/umbrella, basic toiletries, some women hygiene stuff and the like. Your essential list could be very different from mine. Take your time and make that list.

  5. Travel light -

    Clothes can wait. You don’t need 4 pairs of footwear for a week long journey. Pack less. Pack clothes and gears that you’re most comfortable in. Comfort is the most underrated style statement ever. If your trip is longer, carry clothes that dry soon and carry a few travel-friendly packets of detergents. The most hard-core backpackers that I’ve seen carry not more than 4 sets of regular wear.

  6. Store cash in multiple places -

    Quite self-explanatory. If at all something wrong happens, you are not broke. Keep debit-cards or forex cards in the most atypical places in your baggage. And remember that place!

  7. Keep copies of important documents -

    Should the worst happen, no hero is coming to help you. Keeping copies of important documents may be useful. Keep copies in multiple places – one or two in your hand-bag, one in your actual bag or backpack (I said bag not bags, consciously). Carry a few passport size photographs – sometimes you may need one even for a local sim card.

  8. Rule of three-fourths -

    Rule of three-fourths is a self-created rule for packing which is to try and pack only three-fourth the capacity of the bag. This is definitely not a universal recommendation. Works for me because I almost always end up buying souvenirs for folks in the family. Also, sometimes tossing stuff into the bag without caring to arrange will occupy more volume. Bear in mind what you might add along the way of your journey and factor-in some space.

  9. Secure your electronics -

    If travelling in monsoon or if you have the slightest suspicion that rain gods will welcome you, secure your electronics, even if your bag or camera-case is water-proof. I use transparent zip-locks. If you can’t find zip-locks use transparent plastic covers and secure them with rubber-bands.

  10. Keep a real phone-book -

    Late in the evening. New city. Phone conked off. Power bank was trying to give my phone a CPR. No charging points in the vicinity. Uncle Murphy was at his best. What saved me was that brainwave to scribble down the address and phone numbers on a piece of paper, moments before the phone died.

  11. Maintain a journal -

    No romanticizing here. I don’t mean cute notebooks and all that jazz. A simple document on your phone or a small real notebook. You might want to offload the key nuggets of your research on this journal – like which is the place you ought to visit, which train station to get off at and the like.

  12. Trust your instincts and go with the flow -

    Once you’re on the move, switch to the chill-soak-in-and-travel-mode. Don’t worry. You’ve done enough homework to keep yourself safe. Go with the flow. Take detours. Your plan is 'your' plan after all. Trust your instincts. Be aware of the worst that can happen and ensure that you’ve a risk mitigation strategy in place to handle, just in case.


Get up. Pack up. Go! There is a world waiting for your arrival. Good luck!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Mysore - The benchmark of royalty

Think Mysore and you cannot miss the palace. The Mysore palace was built in the princely state of Mysore and was completed in the year 1912 costing a total of INR 42 lakhs at the time it was built. Built in the Indo-sarcenic style, the palace draws inspiration from Islam and European architecture. A man-made marvel, there is royalty in every inch of the palace.

View from the entrance of the Mysore palace 
Dussera, a Hindu festival - also known as Navratri - is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Mysore. The palace is decorated and procession of elephants decked up is a sight that has never failed to catch the attention of tourists and connoisseurs of art & culture alike.

But here's a lesser known fact. The Mysore Palace is lit up, with 70,000 light bulbs every Sunday between 7pm and 7.30pm!

Side view of the Mysore palace when lit

So if you don't have the time during Dussera or patience to wait until Dussera, remember to slot Mysore for your next long-weekend trip and be there at the palace by 7pm local time.

How to get to Mysore Palace the budget way
Book a bus from Bangalore on the KSRTC website. At INR 270 per person in about 4 hours the bus will take you to Mysore. Mysore Palace is walkable from the city bus stand at Mysore.

Other recommended activities at Mysore - 
1. Take a ride in the horse-chariots - Recommended price for a distance under 1 km is INR 50. During Sunday nights these carts are also decorated to match the royalty that Mysore radiates.

The carriage of a horse-cart outside the Mysore Palace


2. Dinner or Lunch - RRR Restaurant - Biriyanis and meals in Andhra cuisine - RRR park-lane branch is less than 500 meters from the palace.
3. Breakfast or evening-snack (tiffin) - Hotel Mylari - Masala Dosa with sagu and filter coffee.
4. Mysore Zoo. 
5. Chamundi Hills & Nandi Hills.



Monday, 2 September 2013

Kovalai Lake - A hidden gem in the outskirts of Chennai

One of these days, I had to go to Chengalpattu, early in the morning (does 6am qualify for morning or night?) for some stupid reason.
Battling a sleepy eyelid, I hopped into the local train to Chengalpattu. Train crossed Tambaram and a few more stations after that. Impatient and irritated I peered out of the window and saw the train getting onto a bridge over a waterbody, with curves (on the train track, I mean) making the trail look sexy. What followed was a wonderful spectacle!


Having been in Chennai for more than a decade now, I cursed myself for missing the beauty of Chengalpattu railway station on a rainy morning. As the train approached Chengalpattu, it halted for a signal. To my left was the Kolavai lake of Chengalpattu, with the sun just above the horizon.

Stealthily the train chugged into Chengalpattu railway station. But the sight didn't cease. Platform No. 8 of the station offered a wonderful view. In few minutes, after the sky cleared quite a few birds that looked like cranes were to be seen.

Serene and soothing the Kovalai lake, (according to statistics) is 60km away from Chennai and the absolute location on the globe is 12.7 degrees north and 79.98 degrees east.
The lake is certainly a place you must try if you like nature. For the wannabe P.C.Shrirams and Hari Menons, here's something your camera lens will fall in love with. Maybe Chengalpattu railway station for sunrise is an option I could use to replace Bessy for sunrise, once in a while. To all my fellow Chennai makkal - shutter-bugs and quarter-bugs alike, watch out!

Destination - Chengalpattu Railway Station

Ideal time to visit - Sunrise.

How to get there - Take the less-frequent direct local train to Chengalpattu. Alternatively take a train to Tambaram, switch platforms and take another train to Chengalpattu.  If you have enough petrol in your auto(mobile), Chengalpattu is approximately 40km from Chennai Airport. Keep driving on NH45 and look for directions to Chengalpattu/Trichy (the lake is on the Chennai-Trichy highway) and you will find yourself in Chengalpattu.

Caution - Carry sapaadu and go. I am not responsible if you get hungry and don't find places to eat at 6.30am.