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Why I Quit My Job To Travel

Smiling faces

Last week, I took a wee trip to Rishikesh – the land of sadhus and of many people’s spiritual rebirth. I have a personal affection, some attachment to this place. This is where I once spent two months, practicing meditation and taking spiritual lessons.

But this time, my arrival was accompanied by a sense of unexpected realization. I wondered, as I grabbed myself walking through its frenzy, confused walkways, how lucky I am to experience places like Rishikesh again and again. And yet, it is never the climax of my trip. It is always the beginning.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls” Anais Nin

It’s been almost two years now, since I quit my job to travel, yet I never shared here why and how it all happened. It would be nice to say that I wanted to understand myself, and find my inner consciousness, but frankly speaking, it’s not true. The only part which is true is that I’ve had enough ogling into the same old, boring computer screen, 9 to 5 every day. I wanted to see more than that. I wanted to see the world. Meet new people. Learn better ideas. Find out what’s wrong with this system of corporate culture, that it never made anyone happy – no matter what they achieve in their life. Simply put, I wanted to educate myself in a way that no school, no job ever did before.

traveller

But one thing is saying that I want to do this and the other thing is realizing I am actually doing it.

Traveling is no less than a pursuit of happiness for me. Yet, throughout this time, I’ve often stumbled upon questions like “Why I quit my job to travel” or “How did I manage to make such a decision” or “What’s next” – with all this, what they actually wanted to ask me was why did I not go for a two-week calculated holiday (or a couple of month’s sabbatical, if I am being pretentiously brazen about it) to quench my thirst of travel, as an averagely sane person would otherwise do.

The truth is, there is no fun in that. I have taken enough of these recreational holidays – as people often term them – in my life. When I was working I found myself claiming the boundaries of my city almost every weekend, with a couple of friends, drinking a bunch of beers and coming back, but that was no solution. The minute you enter the premises of your office, the next day, it feels as if that sweet, sally trip, that in fact, went past in the blink of an eye, actually never happened. I wanted something more than that. Something bigger. Something permanent.

footloosedev

Discontentment Is Good

Discontentment is the very first step to a new beginning. My discontentment towards my job brought me into this. I’d always loved India, but I never loved my life in India. I loved my profession (of writing), but I never loved my job. It seemed I was just accepting things as they came, and as everyone says “this is life and you got to learn to deal with it.”

But I think I never managed to master that art. Though I tried to suppress my unsatisfied soul the traditional way, by changing jobs and running after money. But it was just not enough. My audacious, fertile mind – discontented and grumbling – kept pushing me until I shift the focus.

writing

The Journey That Changed It All

I took my first solo trip back in 2014 (you can read about it all here) to trek a little in the colossal mountains of Himalayas. It was a life changing experience. Though there was nothing extraordinarily great about the journey, the freedom in travelling solo was, in fact, quite addictive. And that was it. I spent the entire next year, saving as much money as I can from the job I was doing, having a very clear focus in my mind – to leave this lifestyle behind and travel the world.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” Mary Anne Radmacher

As they say that life experiences aren’t something to be denied, but to be celebrated. I think I just happened to celebrate my first solo trip so strenuously that it eventually became a way of life. I know it sounds pretty cool and easy how I managed to quit my job and get ahead with my operation Mission-See-The-World. But trust me, it wasn’t.

streets

 

Inspired enough? Then find out how I afford my travels, and how can you do that too.

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Hampi: A Journey To The Unknown

hampi

The sun set; the dusk fell on the river, but no lights appeared along the shore. Hunters for treasure and the seekers of fame – it felt – this river has seen them all, back in time, when they came possessing whatever they found, within the greatness the of this land, until that greatness surrendered, and started losing itself into the oblivious mystery of unknown.

I wonder how many times this town fell prey to human greed, generation after generation, as people submitted themselves to the insatiable thirst to acquire more and looted the place and took back with them, all they assumed was of any value.

hampi tourist

It reminded me of that computer game I used to play, where you take a big army of knights and swordsmen and bring down your neighbouring empire, something similar – or perhaps much uncomfortable and eerily painful – it feels, might have happened here, as you walk  about the empty ruins of Hampi.

Beautiful, but missed monuments, lying wasted, losing their significance to the impenetrable gloom. Temples, either sealed or left wide open – as if gotten robbed of their spiritual value, too.

lock

shivling

Though that’s a different thing that its many world heritage sites now never sleep or find themselves deprived of caretakers, drilling and fixing up the debris of big boulders – which, however makes pretty much the entire town – but when it comes to answering the ubiquitous question of what actually might have happened to the city, back in time, everyone find themselves despairingly helpless.

There are two sides to the tourism in Hampi. One that caters to the new age tourists, offering them a place much tranquil and strangely defended, crammed with budget lodges and open roof restaurants. And the other, which narrates the many confusing stories of its past. Stories that date back their existence thousands of years ago.

world heritage site

I often find tourists defining their experience in Hampi with a set of few permanent words that go something like “a laidback and soothing experience”. After all the town, as you find it today, has almost modified itself into a place no short of ‘authentic experiences’. From renting scooters to getting lessons on rappelling, expect everything that you might otherwise find in the humble mentions of your favourite guidebook.

bike hampi

But if you explore this town in a little untraditional way and try to see it from the eyes shuttered with imagination, you’d get reminders of the gruesome past, experiencing timely indications of the flourishing empire that Hampi once was.

I remember taking an unexciting walk through its dead, uncelebrated emptiness in search of some pictures. There are very few vehicles running in Hampi. Occasionally, a rented scooter or a hired auto-rickshaw would churn past, but then it was gone again, and the place becomes empty, roaring winds once more.

hampi footloosedev

ruins of hampi

I’ve seen remote towns of Laddakh and the isolated mountains of Bhutan but the kind of unfamiliarity this place made me feel was, by far, unparalleled. It appeared to me like one of those places, that stays deep inside you, leaving you confused and muddled with its current state of affairs.

As I continued, taking a few confused steps, I found myself walking, looking out for some undemolished, not to perfect ruins, down a long, straight, hushed walkway – the silence stretching out on every side of me.

Occasionally I went rendered, speechless by the emptiness of the landscape, the invisible wind that swept across the barren land, the hot angry sun, and the utter silence. My heart and soul felt empty. I walked and walked, but couldn’t find any hint of a world where this place – even in the recent history – was actually alive.

ruins

hampi monuments

hampi ruins

Tip: If you visit Hampi during peak tourist season, which I think goes sometime between November to February, you’d find this place swarm with tourists – almost breaking your connection with the emptiness of this town. I’d recommend a visit during the hot summers, when there are hardly anyone sane around, studying the dead ruins under the angry sun; but for an experience, it will allow you to go back into the time and connect yourself more with the Hampi, you want to know.

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How To Start A Travel Blog In 7 Easy Steps

Travel blogging has given me the freedom to travel the world. But more than that it has provided me the financial help and support I needed to make travelling a full time career. So if you want to start your own blog too, and make living out of it, read ahead.  

Before I start, let me warn you that travel blogging isn’t as easy as it looks. Bloggers like me rarely share the huge amount of behind-the-scenes fuckups that go into making this lifestyle possible. My journey, too, has been a rollercoaster ride – but to tell you the truth, all the efforts were totally worth it.

Travelling is already an interesting profession, and blogging makes it a little more exiting, and motivating. Moreover when you want to make travelling a full time career, you need to look for ways to make money out of it. To me, there seemed no better option than blogging. It has taken me more than one year to become a professional blogger – professional in the sense that I’ve now started making money out of it.

So today I want to share a useful guide about how to get started with blogging, including a few important tips I didn’t know when I’d originally initiated the journey myself:

7 Steps to Start Your Travel Blog

  1. Pick A Blog Name As Per Your Personality
  2. Choose Hosting
  3. Install WordPress Software
  4. Install Plugins
  5. Install A WordPress Theme
  6. Your First Blogging Steps
  7. Making Money With Your Blog

How To Start A Travel Blog

Some people get confused between the word ‘blog’ and ‘website’. So before we start, let’s understand that having a blog is no different than having a website. Though I’d call Footloosedev a blog, only because it looks like a magazine and helps people understand — before they even check it for themselves — that it might contain articles and stories about a topic. But even if I called Footloosedev a website, I won’t be wrong. All self-hosted blogs are apparently websites.

Now, starting your very first travel blog is actually pretty easy. If you follow this guide, and reciprocate everything what was told, you can establish your own professional travel blog in less than next couple of hours.

A lot of people plan on starting a travel blog just to keep their family and friends updated. If that’s all you want, go create a free WordPress.com blog. BUT if you want more people than just your friends and family to read about your journeys, and if you want the possibility of making money with your travel, like I did, then keep reading.

What Defines Your Blog?

1. Decide A Blog Name

I accept that I ended up being lucky about choosing FootlooseDev as my blog name. It represents my personality; it is short, memorable and long-term; and it perfectly syncs with the kind of travelling I am into — that is freestyle backpacking!

But I’ve seen people making a complete disaster choosing something like A20SomethingNomad or HimalayanTraveller. Now both the blog names sound interesting, but they’ve their limitations. What when you turn 30? And you decided to travel beyond just Himalayas?

Make a name that lasts. Be flexible with it, so that if you decide to shift gears or change your focus, you can keep the same domain name.

Secondly, avoid popular worlds like Nomad, or Wanderlust, or Wanderer – for two reasons. One, because you don’t want to confuse your future readers with an established blogger having a similar name. And two, because you don’t want to come in the last position in search engines, as other blogs (with a similar name) would might otherwise appear on top, due to their better SEO.

Thirdly, keep the name simple and memorable. Your travel blog domain name should be relatively short, and easy to remember. Do some brainstorming, write everything down and start playing with different combinations of words. Try using a thesaurus, to find better synonyms.

Avoid Hyphens, number and abbreviations. I never understood the fascination behind using abbreviations or numbers etc in the blog name. When you use numbers like ‘2’ or ‘4’ instead of ‘to’ and ‘for’; or use abbreviations to long words, you only make it risky for your business. A blog called “Footloose hyphen Dev the number 100 dot com” can never be effective for word-of-mouth marketing, which, in fact is the best kind of promotion – particularly during the early days of blogging. So avoid hypens. And avoid numbers.

Your Blog Is Hosted On Servers

2. Choose Hosting

I remember that setting up Hosting was the scariest part for me, because when I started out I had no idea what it even was. So if you too are confused about what I mean by hosting, understand it this way… by choosing a hosting, you “rent” a space on the internet. Almost like having a space for your email account.

If you want to create a free Wordress.com website, you don’t need to buy hosting, but then again, with a free WordPress account you’d only get something like ABC.wordpress.com as your domain name. However, if you choose a domain name and buy hosting you can have whatever blog name you like and an impressive ‘.com’, ‘.in’, or ‘.co.in’ etc.

There are a lot of basic hosting companies out there, with Godaddy and Bluehost being the two biggest and popular ones. I personally prefer Bluehost for their cheaper deals and better customer service. I am currently using Bluehost.

Moreover if you are just starting out, BlueHost is always of a better value. So if I were to suggest anything, let’s start with Bluehost, and here’s how to buy their hosting…

Part 1 – Click on the green button that says “get started now.”

 

Part 2 – Pick a plan.

 

Part 3 – Check to see if your blog name (domain name) is available.

Part 4 – Add Extra Features

To tell you the truth, you don’t need any add on features (except for Domain Privacy Protection), at least not during the first year of your blogging stint. So skip them.

Domain Privacy Protection, however, is something you SHOULD consider opting for. Why? Because if you don’t pay for Domain Privacy Protection, anyone can see your name and mailing address on your site. So it’s worth the extra few bucks to stop that from happening.

3. Install WordPress Software

Though there are a few other softwares to establish your website, I particularly recommend WordPress for its ease of use. Unlike other softwares, like Druppal etc. anyone can work on WordPress, without having any prior computer knowledge. Just invest a few hours to understand its basic functionalities, and you’re good to go. It’s as simple as understanding Microsoft Word, or is perhaps even simpler.

WordPress is the king of blogging, and probably always will be. Most professionals use WordPress, even major newspaper websites like BBC & TimesOfIndia are WordPress hosted. Installing WordPress with your BlueHost Account is super easy, and allows you to start your website, without having a need to hire a developer.

Click through the simple installation process on your BlueHost cPanel. When it asks you where you’d like to install it, choose your new domain (ex: http://YourTravelBlogName.com).

Once you install WordPress, it will tell you where to log in (usually http://YourTravelBlogName.com/wp-admin). Use your username and password. From that page, you’ll be able to log in to your WordPress dashboard.

And that’s it! Welcome to the club! You now own your personal travel blog! Only a few steps more, and you’d be able to share your first blogpost and flaunt about it with friends.

Download Plugins That Best Cater Your Needs

4. Install Plugins

After you’ve installed WordPress, go to ‘http://YourTravelBlogName.com/wp-admin/’ and use the username and password you’ve created to login.

From there, the first thing you want to do is install some useful plugins. Plugins are a great way to add additional functionality to your WordPress-powered site. There are thousands of premium options to choose from, but initially, choose only a few important, and free ones. Don’t get excited and pay unnecessary money in the start. You can always buy paid plugins later if you want.

A few important plugins to get basic functionalities and improve SEO are:

  • Jetpack: My personal favorite – It offers you a spell-checker, contact forms, extra widgets, and a whole slew of more features
  • Google Analytics For WordPress – To allow Google to track on your website traffic and use Google Analytics.
  • Akismet– To protect your blog from spammers leaving comments on your posts. Totally recommended from the first day.
  • Yoast SEO – For optimizing your articles for Google search, plus integrating Google Sitemaps and Analytics.
  • Easy Social Share Buttons – To add social media sharing buttons for your articles.

Design Your Website With An Elegant Theme

5. Install Your Website Theme

A Theme is how you want your website to look like. And your new WordPress blog comes with a few standard themes.

While this is ok for playing around and using free themes in the beginning, if you want to take blogging seriously and eventually make money from it, you should consider buying a premium design – unless of course you’ve it custom made, from a developer.

I’ve changed my theme a few times, but after a few months of endless confusion, I’ve finally found something that fits my need better. The theme I am using at the moment is called Zuki, by Elmastudios. It costs 20 Euros and gives you much flexibility to customize your Home Page. What’s good about this theme is that it is very light – allowing visitors a fast browsing.

You moreover, just like other professional paid themes, get a support forum with Elmastudios where you can ask questions about customization, and someone will help you with any CSS/HTML coding. This moreover saves money in hiring a developer to get small things done.

Getting Started With Blogging

6. Your First Blogging Steps

Create An ‘About Me’ Page, to help readers know who you are, and what you’re doing. An About me page is the most important page for you as a travel blogger, particularly if you’ve just started blogging, as 90% of the readers, who become your regular follower are going to read it, to know a little more about you. But make sure it lets your personality shine through. I remember, when I’d initially started blogging, I was so concerned with being professional that I ended up writing a bland introductory post that read no different than a Wikipedia page. Do not do that. Let people know who you actually are.

Create Accounts On Different Social Media Networks, because it is by social networking only that you can engage with your followers on a day to day basis. Social medias are engaging, and let you connect with your readers. Learning how to master Social Media is however another thing, and you’d only learn that with time. But for a start, and as a blogger, you must have your profile on different social media networks, particularly on Facebook (have a Facebook Page, not a profile), Twitter, Instagram, Google+ (very important for SEO), Pinterest and Youtube.

Start An Emailing List, and build your base. Why? Because people are far more likely to see your content via email than any other network, and while social networks come and go, emails are here to stay. Having a rich emailing list moreover helps bloggers, at a later stage, to get sponsors.

My biggest mistake so far was not starting an email list at first. And when I finally did, 6 months had already gone past. I regret ever moment of not working on an email list during the initial days. At the moment, I use Mailchimp as my emailing newsletter service, as it offers upto 2000 free emails per month, which is a pretty sweet gig for your initial blogging days. Once your subscribers reach a certain figure, you can always buy their premium plans and send more than 2000 emails in a month.

Network With Other Travel Bloggers, and read their blogs for more inspiration and ideas. Do not forget to leave thoughtful comments on their articles for some link building. Moreover link to other people’s blog posts from your site whenever appropriate, and try to become an active member in the blogging community.

Blogging As A Full Time Career

7. Making Money With Your Blog

Different bloggers have different ways to monetize. Some make money by getting sponsors for their travel, while others, by placing ads on their blog and/or writing blogging tips only to later sell them as books. Some even use a mix of all, and you can count me among them.

Affiliate Programs: Affiliate marketing is when a customer buys a product online after getting redirected from your website. And you get a commission of the total sale, in the process. Affiliate marketing is an amazing source of your passive income. And as long as you don’t crowd your every page with a ton of affiliate links, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t join affiliate programs. Some popular affiliate programs that I currently use are Amazon, for the travel products I use; Agoda and Booking.com, for linking back to the places I stay; and MakeMyTrip for whenever I talk about transportation, or flight deals.

Sponsored Posts: Though a good source of income, sponsorships initially takes some time. But once you’ve gained a certain traction, and people in the industry start noticing you, getting sponsors is no tough job. Read How to Get Your First Few Sponsors In Detail Here

Adsense: The easiest way to start making money with advertising is through Adsense. Sign up for an account approved by Google, enter the ad settings you want, and you’re good to go.

Skimlinks: Though another form of affiliate marketing, Skimlinks offer easy money. The only problem is you do not have much control over making money from them. Skimlinks is when another service provider places some Do-follow backlinks to your website/blog and pays you money in return. This type of monetization is great if you’re lazy and forgetful like I am, as you don’t have to spend your time actively hunting down and joining different money-making programs.

Now that your blog is ready, and you’ve also learnt how to make money out of it, What Next?

Well, nothing much really. But as I said earlier, blogging is not easy.  It will take a long time and a tremendous amount of effort before you gain a valuable audience interested in what you have to say. But once you start getting the exposure, the perks in this field are OVERWHELMING.

So Good luck, welcome aboard, and let’s shine through your amazing travel stories!

 

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A Quick Guide To Ahmedabad’s Top Travel Secrets

I headed to Ahmedabad, not because it was a logical destination for backpackers. The French haveli I was going to stay was in fact the fascination. I mean the idea of staying in a 150-year-old (though now artistically restored) tradition Gujarati haveli, would interest anyone, and I was no different.  Then later I found that French Haveli was located in a 400-year-old walled community of Dhal ni Pol, which only added to the charm of staying in the old city of Ahmedabad. It brought me back to the age when Ahmedabad was known as the Manchester of India.

As I got off the auto-rikshaw at Raipur Darwaza and slowly walked inside the gated community of Dhal ni Pol, the Kites, a few dozens of them, suddenly reappeared like memories. It turned out that I happen to be in Ahmedabad a few days before the kite festival season Uttarayan, a holiday also known as Makar Sakranti. Evidently, more colourful street scene and the many lively conversations were only waiting for me in the days to come.

As I walked a little deeper, I found the many happy locals sitting outside their congested homes, as if only waiting for my welcome, in their own unconditional way. Some were even peering from their ancient looking window, sharing a confused look at my 60 ltr rucksack and a much customary Indian face. As I struggled through a few intermingled by-lanes of Dhal ni Pol, and before I could even reach my place, I was stopped by a curiously looking family, asking for my whereabouts. The youngest of all, probably in his late teens, spun an immediate invitation to join them for some kite flying.

My first few hours in the city, and it turned out to be that simple – travelling in Ahmedabad, talking to the locals and even celebrating a festival with a family.

At this time of the year, people from across the world might just be looking uninterested and lazy after a series of traditional Christmas and New Year festivities, but not so in Ahmedabad. Here the streets were preparing for some action. People were ready to revel and celebrate.

Uttarayan – Possibly The Best Time To Explore Ahmedabad

Unlike other Hindu festivals, Makar Sankranti is the only festival to fall on a fixed date every year – January 14th, and is celebrated across the country, in different forms.  This is the day when winter officially ends and spring begins – making a transition period symbolizing harmony and growth.

I have grown celebrating it as lohri – a Punjabi tradition celebrated with an incredibly massive bonfire (the bigger the better) and family gathering. In Gujarat however, Makar Sankranti is known as Uttarayan, synonym with kite flying – and is celebrated across the city, with a total bang.

For days, preceding the festival, the markets in Ahmedabad fill with colourful kites waiting to be bought by the heaps. Pretty much every street, particularly inside the old town, start preparing for the big day.

As I reached Ahmedabad, a couple of days before Uttarayan, I found almost every local vendor busy coating the glass powder for the kites’ flying and fighting string – with their hands painted in red and yellow and green. From mobile kite vendors to big shop sellers – everyone was dwindling with their own share of ration.

The day of Uttarayan only provided what was expected – perhaps to the next level. Pretty much the entire town spend the day on their terraces. A few thousand kites (creating a confusion of which one belonged to whom) claimed the skies. They were everywhere — in the sky, on tree tops, on cables. The atmosphere was not short of a carnival. Festivities were in the air!

Later in the evening, as the sun went weary, the night festivities began. People released paper lamps. The sky was now filled with floating lights. The entire sight was phenomenal — something that I’d never experienced in any other part of my country.

The Lifeline Of Ahmedabad, Its Pols

Pols, or the neighbourhoods, is yet another exclusivity. They are the lifeline of Ahmedabad, and make up its old city, in a more conscious form. Exploring the pols during your time in Ahmedabad is definitely a no miss.

Each pol is a housing cluster which comprises many families of a particular group linked by caste, or religion. It is believed that they were originally made as a protection measure during the communal riots in the city. Today, they act as the city’s tourism highlight, laden with stories which go down generations.

Many pols are now part of the cottage industry, thereby creating a lively atmosphere as you walk inside them. Heritage of these pols has helped Ahmedabad gain a place in UNESCO’s tentative lists. No wonder, they are an interesting evolution in urban lifestyle, and the testimonies of Ahmedabad’s rich history and heritage.

To best experience the pols just walk down a few narrowest streets in the town (the narrower the better), watch happy locals busy in the daily life and soak up the amazing architecture — representing Mughal, British, Maratha and Persian colonies.

Exploring The City On A Heritage Walk

The Heritage Walk organised by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is nonetheless the best way to understand the city’s rich history. It starts at 8 am daily, at the Swaminarayan Temple and ends in nearly two and a half hours at Jama Masjid. [No pre-bookings required. Just show up at the temple a few minutes before 8 am and you can buy your pass right then and there]

I would have walked through the same parts of the city, as I did during the heritage walk, and not carried a mind-set to remark, as I rather did during the walk. After meandering through the many historic alleys and a few pol communities, I could see the old town of Ahmedabad much clearly.

The amazing part was that I could amble in the old city without ploughing my way through milling crowd. Early mornings are wonderful, silent and uncrowded. I noticed the residents busy with their mundane. We even entered a couple of houses to see the architectural heritage, amidst of the owners of houses busy with their routines, and not a slightest sign of antipathy on their face for us intruding their privacy; actually many would be intruding their privacies each day. Perhaps that is the essence of our cultural heritage, I learned. You feel familiar.

 Where To Stay

Inside the old city of Ahmedabad, you can find a cluster of 300+ pols. And among them, nearly 2000 traditional Gujarati havelis (as the number stands today). They share the standard architecture, with a central internal court, an ancient rainwater harvesting system and the many intricate wooden carved facades.

Of these 2000 traditional havelis many have recently been restored as tourist homes. To my experience, staying in one such traditional homes is the best way to experience old Ahmedabad – even if for just a day, as most of them charge a big price, which often exceed many backpacker’s travel budget.

I stayed at the French Haveli, 150-year-old Jain haveli, which has been restored by Rajiv Patel and his organisation, City Heritage Centre. It was located inside the heart of Dhal ni Pol. A few minutes’ walk from the haveli took me to the famous and always busy Manek Chowk market, the nearby Muslim tombs of Ahmedabad’s first King and Queen and the beautiful Jama Masjid. Totally recommended! Other places of interest that often make the chart of top accommodation options in Ahmedabad can be Mangladas ni Haveli and The House of MG.


I stayed a total of three nights in Ahmedabad and sadly, ended up rushing across the city. From the most frequented attractions of Sabarmati Ashram to Law Garden, I tried to cover them all. And perhaps that’s where I spoiled my experience. So if I were to suggest a few days of itinerary/activities in Ahmedabad, I’d say — go no beyond than exploring the pols. Just try to soak up the town’s rich history as it slowly reveals itself to you.

Have you been to Ahmedabad? Let me know about your experience!

If you found this post useful, you can…

Adalaj Ni Vav: A Stepwell In Gujarat Like No Other

Located about 12 kms outside the north end of Ahmedabad, Adalaj ni Vav acts as one of the prominent historic establishments and many tourists’ first choice to see a stepwell, around Ahmedabad.

Other than its impressive ancient structures, what sets it apart from the other stepwells in Gujarat is its spectacular mix of Indo-Islamic architecture and design. And that’s not it. Its completion speaks of a story that goes in the usual Bollywood style of the bygone days – containing the bits of love, war and hatred!

The Story Behind Its Existence

The legend has it that Adalaj ni Vav was originally commissioned by King Veersinh, sometime during the early 15th century, who was ruling the town of Adalaj at that time. But before its completion, King Veersinh got into a fight with a neighbouring King Mehmud Begada, and lost his life. As a result, the construction work for Adalaj ni Vav stopped.

When King Veersinh’s wife Rani Roopba got the news, she vowed to complete her husband’s work and schemed to trap King Mehmud Begada fall head over heels in love with her. When King Mehmud proposed her, she agreed to get married with him, but on a condition that he would finish the pending work on the stepwell.

Soon after, the work on Adalaj ni vav continued, keeping the original style unchanged. However King Mehmud got some Islamic influences on its architecture.

As the stepwell got completed in 1499, and King Mehmud asked her to finally get married, Rani Roopba jumped into the vav and committed suicide, resulting into Adalaj ni Vav gaining a prominent spiritual position among the people in the area, because of the story behind its existence and the many intricate gods and goddess on its walls.

No wonder Adalaj ni vav is a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture. Its walls depict Islamic floral patterns seamlessly fusing into Hindu symbolism embodying the culture and ethos of those times.

Another remarkable feature of this stepwell, which sets it apart from the many other stepwells in Gujarat, is the three entrance stairs. All three stairs meet at the first storey, underground a huge square platform, which has an octagonal opening on top.

There is an opening in the ceilings above the landing which allows the light and air to enter the octagonal well. However, direct sunlight does not touch either its well or any of the five stories, except for a brief period at noon. Hence some researchers say that the atmosphere inside the well is six degrees cooler than the outside.

It was because of this smart architectural design, it also acted as a place to socialize, for locals for centuries, who wold come here to interact with each other in its cool shade. And it turned out that my visit, during the hot hours of the noon was no different.

Please note that the visiting hours for Adalaj ni Vav is between 8am to 7pm only. However the best time for a visit would be early morning, as it often get pretty much very crowded later in the day.

Stepwells can be found in the entire western India, starting from Karnataka, to Maharasthra, to Gujarat, to Rajasthan. Even Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have a few. Other than acting as a stored drinking water, they provided a resting place to travellers and prevailed as a place for socializing. It is believed that more than 200 stepwells can be found alone in Gujarat today – making it easy to imagine their numbers in the bygone era.

Although they were secular in nature – meaning anyone could use them – the sanctity of water drove the benefactors to incorporate religious icons into the structures, making some of the vavs an extraordinary heritage sights.

Other Stepwells (vavs) in and around Ahmedabad that I visited are Dada Hari ni Vav and Mata Bhawani ni Vav and you can Read About Them By Clicking Here.

Further reading: A Traveller’s Guide to Ahmedabad’s Best Kept Secrets

If you found this post useful, you can…

Stepwells Of Ahmedabad: Taking You Back In Time

From Baroda, in South; to Patan, in North – Stepwells (or vavs, as locally known) can be found almost all across Gujarat. For hundreds of years, their efficiency in storing water, in response to the semi-acrid climate and seasonal fluctuations, helped the local population strive and survive.

Today vavs represent rich history, and act as prominent historical sites for architecture students and tourists alike. It is believed that some of the vavs must have been built at Mohanjodaro during the Indus-Valley civilisation. Ahmedabad, too, has two prominent vavs, both of them an extraordinary heritage site to visit.

I ended up visiting them after an undeniable request from an auto rikshaw driver in Ahmedabad, according to whom, Mata Bhavani and Dada Hari vavs are an important cultural heritage, gifted to his city. Hopelessly driven by his encouraging gamut, I decided to give them a visit.

My first stop was Dada Hari ni Vav, a carefully designed 500-year-old, which was originally built under the reign of one of the most prominent sultans of Gujarat named Mahmud Begada. A total delight to eyes, it offers a four storeyed massive structure, all full of intricately carved walls and columns. The sunlight filtering through was making it look even more beautiful.

It gets darker as you go deeper. I wondered how the artisans would have managed to see their work down there back then.

 

Just behind the Dada Hari ni Vav is the mosque of Sultani, where tourists are totally allowed to walk in and even take photographs. This was also built about 1500 AD, and is said to be the final resting place of Bai Harir.

A few minutes walk from Dada Hari ni Vav took me to Mata Bavani ni Vav. Unlike other vavs in and around Ahmedabad, Mata Bhavani’s vav apparently seemed to have a total Hindu influence, with its much later constructed small shrine of Hindu Goddess Bhavani, located at lower gallery. It is from the shrine from which it has derived its name.

Though few may find Mata Bhavani’s vav a little smaller in size, its beauty and rich history cannot be disregarded. Built in 11th century during Solanki dynasty rule in Gujarat, it is one of the earliest existing example of vavs in India.

The contrast between the two was stark. Where Dada Hari ni Vav appeared to be lost in oblivion, as if slowly losing its battle against the changing time and generation, Mata Bhivani ni Vav was all lively, colorful and perfectly restored. It moreover had a specified visiting hours between 10am and 6pm. Dada Hari ni Vav, on the contrary, was open wide apart for humans, dogs and apes, alike. Can’t say which one did I prefer. I think both had their charm.

Another stepwell that you can visit around Ahmedabad is Adalaj ni Vav. Click Here to read about it.

Further reading: A Traveller’s Guide to Ahmedabad’s Best Kept Secrets

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Bodhgaya — What To Expect From The Birthplace Of Buddhism

The birthplace of Buddhism. The crucible of a new philosophy. The epitome of knowledge and compassion. That’s what Bodhgaya is!

Located in the Gaya district, in the Indian state of Bihar, Bodhgaya is a tiny little town where prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment beneath a Pipal tree, some 2500 years ago.

In terms of blessedness, consider this tiny temple town for Buddhists what Mecca is to Muslims, or Varanasi to Hindus. Unsurprisingly, the town attracts thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from around the world, who come for prayer, study and meditation – with some in their flaming red robes, and other, in Turmeric and Saffron ones.

Though of course the most hallowed spot in Bodhgaya is the Bodhi tree which flourishes inside the Mahabodhi Temple complex, the many Buddhist monasteries and temples that mark its bucolic landscape, built in their national style by foreign Buddhist communities, no less add to the city’s charm.

Every country in the world, which has a Buddhist population, including Japan, Burma, Bhutan, and Nepal, among others, have erected their own respective monasteries and temples in Bodhgaya. And the diversity in architecture brought about by them is nothing short of amazing. Walk along the many streets that mark the territory of Bodhgaya and you will find a mix of monastic tranquillity and a small-town commotion.

No wonder Bodh Gaya is fascinating – as the birthplace of Buddhism, as well as a town which offers a multicultural Buddhist experience.

But the scene inside the Mahabodhi temple entertains no distinctions, and rather favours only one idea, follows a universal god. Here the many modern pilgrims, representing different worlds, can be found practicing meditation or devotional exercises at the very place where the Buddha himself did.

Though many Buddhists, across the world, travel to Bodhgaya, and moreover to India, only to spend a few days by the sacred Bodhi tree and pay their tributes to its temple complex – my visit to Bodhgaya, to my guilt, took place because I was so close from it.

From Varanasi ‘the spiritual town of India’, Bodhgaya is only a few hours drive away. Take the late night train/bus from Varanasi, and the next thing you know is that you’ve already reached the auspicious boundaries of Bodhgaya.

Before I visited Bodhgaya, I expected the town to be no different from the Himalayan town of Dharamshala – where a bunch of Buddhist monks can be found rotating a prayer wheel, while chanting their favourite mantra, and representing a long lost community. “One day to explore Bodhgaya, and visit its few monasteries would be enough,” I thought. But as I arrived here, and found myself lost in a place, representing different cultures, following different routines, I realised that one day was perhaps not enough for Bodhgaya.

Therefore for you, my fellow travelers, my suggestion would be to dedicate at least a couple of days to explore, understand, and feel the spirituality and the innate peace that Bodhgaya brings to the soul.

Few Popular Attractions: Mahabodhi Temple, 80-foot Buddha statue, Thai Monastery, Royal Bhutan Monastery, Indosan Nippon Japanese Temple, Chinese Temple, Burmese Vihara Monastary and Vietnamese Temple.

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Getting Your First Few Sponsorships

I know I took a long time in delivering my promised tips on How to Score a FAM Trip. And I apologies for that. The problem is, I am one of those unskilled writers who need some inspiration, a fresh perspective perhaps, before they can pen down their thoughts. And I got my inspiration just a couple of days few, hence I am writing.

What inspiration, you asked?

For my Europe backpacking trip, which is happening sometime between March and April, next year, Basil Tourism Board (in Switzerland) and German Tourism Board, have just confirmed that they’ll be supporting FootlooseDev, on his trip. Though they’re not paying me any money (I did not even ask for it), they’re offering a few days of free stay, transport and a guided tour – in short, they’ll put in a complete itinerary in place. Isn’t that awesome?

It sure is. Blogging itself is awesome, and rewarding, if you know how to do it right!

It has been 11+ months now since I’ve been blogging. And I’ve started getting amazing free trips already. It was only last month, in November that I worked with 6 different travel brands – including a couple of hotels, a corporate group and even a Tourism Board!

I learned Scuba diving for free, had my first ever Hot Air Balloning experience, stayed in beachside resorts, and visited coffee plantation – without having a need to pay a penny.

But that doesn’t mean I always ended up lucky.

As I started this business, (in January 2016) I thought, “if I will keep writing great content, getting more likes on Facebook and Twitter, I’m going to succeed. People will notice me, and travel companies will write to me asking if I can promote their brand”. Though I am not claiming that it was a wrong approach to follow. But it was not entirely correct, either.

In the last few months (precisely speaking, after August 2016) I’ve realised that there’s much more to blogging than just getting impressive traffic, or writing great content. I mean you sure want some good numbers to show, but if you’re investing all your time in improving the figures, and are not approaching the sponsors on your own, writing atleast 10 emails per day, you’re not doing yourself any favour. You’re only losing the game, slowly, and every day.

Travel industry is the fastest growing in the world. No automobile, no banking, no retail is growing as faster as this industry. There are hundreds and thousands of travel startups entering into the game, everyday – looking for new and cheaper means of marketing. And what could be better than promoting their brand on a website which is delivering its posts to a few thousand people, every month – almost 90% of whom are only interested to know about travel, right? And that’s when travel bloggers come into the picture. We Are Needed! And There’s No Denial To This Fact!

So build a ‘Minimum Required Traction’ on your blog, and start pitching! (I believe you’re already in the business, if not, read How To Start A Professional Travel Blog In 7 Easy Steps)

What does ‘Minimum Required Traction’ Mean?

Though there is no ideal size, I’ve felt that once you cross a 10k-pageviews-per-month mark on your blog, and at least over 1k likes on your different social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, among others – you’re good to go.

Building an online presence is important. After all that’s what you’re vouching for in the business.

So make sure you reach a point, where you have 10k page views per month, and over 1k followers on all your different social media channels. I don’t mean you’ve to be active on every network, but choose at least top three – with Facebook being the unavoidable.

I chose Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Facebook because it had to be there. (Currently writing another story on ‘Why Facebook is the lifeline for a blogger, will share it in my next update).

Twitter because it is the only major social media channel, where even Obama is going to reply to you. Use twitter to engage with brands, and for a quick and certain reply.

Instagram, because as a travel blogger, you need to tell the brands that you can click pictures, and Instagram can be your ideal portfolio. I moreover consider myself a travel photographer as much a writer, so Instagram was my third choice.

Though I use other medias as well, including Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr – but I hardly share my stats when I contact someone for a FAM trip, unless I was asked.

Gaining followers on social media is fairly easy. Use ‘Follow-Unfollow’ technique and you can gain followers on your different social media channels in no time. (Currently writing another story on ‘how to gain 1000+ followers in less than 1 month, will share it in my next update)

Hunt For Sponsors

Understand what kind of travelling you’re into. Search for companies working in your niche or Google for local travel boards, and starting pitching them.

Send them an email introducing yourself and your blog, tell them about your/your blog’s reach, and how you/your blog can help redirect your readers to their website and social media accounts.

Be very precise with numbers.

1. Crafting The Right Pitch

Depending upon your position, craft a pitch. When I’d initially started approaching sponsors, my email often sounded more of less a request. After a little introduction, I used a simple sentence mentioning “Since I am travelling in your city next, I was thinking if you’d be interested in working with Footloosedev. Any help (regarding accommodation/activities etc) would be greatly appreciated”.  And the template worked just well. I got around 30 percent replies to my emails – this makes 3 replies for every 10 emails. Not a bad figure at all!

I think it was because the term “any help” gave the other party the upper hand, from small startups to big companies, almost everyone replied. And once you engage in a conversation, you always get a deal. It might not be as beneficial to you, in the starting, but that does not matter. Because initially it is all about scoring more and more sponsors and building your portfolio.

Once you work with a few travel companies/travel boards, edit your email in a way that it gives shows your experience. This is when you tell them ‘how your partnership can help them gain more customers’. (Currently writing a separate story on ‘How to craft a sponsorship request email’ more elaborately. Wait for the next update.)

2. Writing Emails

Since August, when I initially realised that I should start pitching the sponsors, I am writing about at least 10 emails per day, when I’m not travelling. Some days I even write over 50. The point here is, when you’re new in the business, you got to reach out to people, and tell them who you are. And how you can bring value to their business.

I wrote about 50 emails for my Goa and South India trip – I found 5 sponsors.

I wrote about 50 emails for my Gujarat trip – I found 3 sponsors.

I’ve written about 50 emails for my Europe trip (happening between March & April’17) – have already found 4 sponsors.

If it wasn’t about the first email from my side. I would still be travelling without sponsors. Again, they’re not paying me anything in return – because my followership still lacks impressive numbers, but they’re paying for my food, stay, activities, and sometimes even transport. In short, I am travelling for free.

3. Pitching Tourism Boards

Believe it or not, Tourism Boards are always in search of bloggers. It doesn’t matter how unpopular your blog is, there is always a Tourism Board out there waiting for you!

When I’d initially started blogging, and found other bloggers, posting on Facebook about their sponsored trips with a state/country Tourism Board, I always thought that it would take at least two to three years, and a few dozen thousand Facebook likes, at least, to persuade a Tourism Board to sponsor your trip.

But I was wrong!

It’s true that top travel bloggers might get better prospects than you do, which can even include free flight tickets, but working with travel boards, only for the sake of working with them, and having them included in your portfolio is no tough deal.

The first ever Tourism board I worked with was GoaTourismBoard, and it was when they were organising an annual blogging event, inviting a group of bloggers from across the world, to stay with them for almost a fortnight, and participate in different activities. Though my reach was not enough to what they’re looking for, they still offered me a sponsored HotAirBallooning ride and other activities, because they had space to fit-in another blogger – any extra exposure was good for them.

Now that I already have a Tourism Board under my clientele list, finding small sponsors have become easier. And as far as I believe, it is because of GoaTourismBoard that I’ve managed to gain sponsorships from the Basil Tourism Board (in Switzerland) and German Tourism Board.

4. Give Blogging Some Time

Last but not the least, blogging tests your patience like a slow, uphill journey. So be prepared!

Before I started blogging, I found almost 90% of (travel) bloggers claiming that it took them at least ten months before they started getting sponsored trips – while many lost the fight before they turned 10 months old.

If you look at the industry at the moment, most of the successful travel bloggers out there have been doing it for the past few year – as many as 5 years, or even more.

Travel blogging requires a tremendous amount of work, as well as a tremendous investment of time and effort before you begin to see any benefits.

The general rule is that you shouldn’t expect money for the first year.  Most advertisers, whether they be link agencies or travel companies, won’t work with a site less than one year old.  Why not?  You haven’t proven yourself as an investment yet.

While there are exceptions, you should be prepared to not make anything for the first year.  What’s nice is that it weeds out the people who aren’t serious.

Subscribe to learn more about the Business of Travel Blogging, as I share with you my learning, throughout the journey, and as it happens!

Where To Travel In India: My 9 Personal Faves From 2016

2016 turned out to be a promising year for my travelling stint. If the entire year put together, I think I spent more than 300 days on the road. I covered a part of Southeast Asia, a bit of Nepal and much of India (now only left with 6 Indian states, including Gujarat and Rajasthan, and they are next in my list).

Where most of the places I visited were great, some were exceptionally better. Better in a way that they carried the essence of Indian culture, its diverse landscapes, and represented India as a rich travel package. So if I were to recommend any places from those I visited in India, in 2016, they would be…

Alappuzha Backwaters, Kerala

Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey, is home to a vast network of waterways and a few thousand houseboats. And the experience of sailing downs its interconnected lagoons and smaller canals, while overlooking the paddy fields of succulent green, curvaceous rice barges and village life along the banks, is totally magical. You can also call it romantic.

Though there are over a dozen places where you can experience Kerala backwaters, what sets Alappuzha apart, is its sheer size, and a life-culture you get to experience here – which totally strives on backwaters.

Tip: Get a houseboat experience, for obvious reasons; or take a public ferry for a cheaper and local experience!

Bylakuppe, Karnataka

Though McLeodgunj, in Dharamshala, is often the first choice for people to experience the Tibetan culture in India – in my view, Bylakuppe was the true representation of Tibet in India. Out of nowhere, and amidst a dominating South Indian society, Bylakuppe is a symbol of how Tibet is being rebuilt, in its true, more conscious form, outside the borders of Tibet.

The town has South India’s largest monastery, known as Namdroling Monastery, housing more than 3000 monks and nuns.

Darma Valley, Uttarakhand

I am not a big fan of exploring Himalayas in Uttarakhand, for two reasons – one, because people here aren’t very hospitable, as compared to other Himalayan states; and two, religious tourism has made backpacking in Uttarakhand far less enjoyable, particularly between April and September. But Darma Dharma Valley, turned out to be different.

Located in the eastern Kumaon region (bordering Nepal and Tibet), Darma Valley fascinated me for its hospitality, its setting, and a culture which was far different from the rest of Uttarakhand. I trekked to Panchachuli Base camp trek and totally loved how small towns were periodically placed, after every few kilometres. The valley was continuously green, and occasionally colourful. If there’s one place in Uttarakhand where I suggest backpacking/trekking it will be this.

Eastern Khasi Hills, Meghalaya

You ask me one reason why you should visit Eastern Khasi Hills, in Meghalayas – I’ll give you 10. This is where you will find root bridges made of rubber fig, Northeast India’s worrier tribes, Asia’s most cleanest villages, hundreds of natural pools offering free pedicure, India’s first matrilineal society, an unspoilt nature… well I can go on.

And no matter how much I write, I cannot show my love for this part of Meghalaya, and the towns of Nongriat, Cherapunji and Tyrna. So I’ll rather conclude by saying… if this list wasn’t following an alphabetic order, I’d perhaps mentioned Eastern Khasi Hills at first position.

Hampi, Karnataka

Honestly speaking I am much not into history. Not because I don’t find it fascinating, but because it confuses me. And Hampi is all about history. It’s about exploring old age temples and ruins dating back their existence thousands of years ago. Hampi takes you back in time, and to a place which is unlike any other in India. For miles and miles you find big boulders, ruins and debris spread on its naked ground.

But that’s not all. Out of nowhere, Hampi has established itself as a hippie ghetto entertaining a large number of western tourists who come here to relax and experience its laidback vibe. So whether you’re into history, culture, or exploring relaxing places – be rest assured that Hampi won’t disappoint you.

Majuli Island, Assam

Otherwise known as the India’s largest river island, Majuli has its own charm. Its 400+ square km of land offers you a place to relax a much laid-back vibe. A few highlights include birdwatching, exploring the tribal ‘Mishing’ community and learning about neo-Vaishnavite philosophy at Majuli’s 22 ancient satras (or Hindu Vaishnavite monasteries).

Majuli flaunts unparalleled scenic beauty. The island is a relaxed, shimmering mat of glowing rice fields and water meadows bursting with hyacinth blossoms. The best way to experience Majuli is by renting a bicycle and staying in one of the many bamboo huts.

South Goa

I avoided Goa for a long time, travelling the length and breadth of India on several trips, but never making it to the vacation hot-spot known for beaches, sunsets and parties. I always thought that Goa must have lost its charm due to waves upon waves of tourists that visit here, but earlier this year, when I finally visited Goa I realised where I was wrong. And honestly speaking, I felt that only in South Goa.

To tell you the difference, South Goa is quieter and newly developed, whereas North Goa is lot densely populated and action packed. Go to North, if you’re looking for the best nightlife, moon beach raves, hippie-run crazy markets, and a lot more noise. South, on the contrary is quieter and mainly interests those who want to listen to the waves and experience the luxury of beach-side resorts.

Tip: My three best beaches in South Goa were Agonda, Cola and Palolem.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

If you’re into motorbike adventure and exploring the harsh/desolate landscapes of Himalayas, look no further. I did a solo bike expedition across Spiti Valley, earlier in June, and it turned out to be the one of the most memorable experience so far.

What makes Spiti Valley better than Leh-Laddakh is its raw and uninviting nature – which, in other words, offer a real adventurous experience. Spiti is moreover less commercialised, cheaper and perhaps equally beautiful. I’d recommend Spiti over Laddakh, any day!

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Also known as Benares, Varanasi is unlike any other spiritual town in India. It is sacred yet wild, and soulful yet depressing. I’d particularly recommend Varanasi over the most frequented religious towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, as Varanasi depicts Hindu culture and portrays the societal beliefs, without any fancy makeovers.

Here the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public. And the sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats – can be overwhelming. Come here to explore real Hindu culture. Come here to explore true Hindu beliefs.

If you found this post useful, you can…

11 Travel Tips For Varanasi

Varanasi turned out to be such an amazing city, that I had to have at least 3 posts about it. I recently shared an intro to Varanasi about where to stay and how to best experience the town. I also told you what to expect at the Ghats, which are famous for cremation ceremonies.

But then I realised that none of them address the basic etiquette, you must follow, while you’re here. Being the spiritual capital of India, Varanasi can be confusing. Right from “can we click pictures of burning pyres” to “how to deal with touts” – people have their doubts. In an effort to answer those random but important questions, here are the 11 most important tips you need to know:

1) Come to Varanasi, but don’t come here first. Varanasi is wild, particularly for those who are new to Indian culture. Watching dead bodies lit on fire, and naked sadhus whitewashed in ash, can scary you to a degree that you would not want to leave your hotel room. So before coming here, ease into India for a month, and see if you’re ready for such a show.

2) Do not stay at Manikarnika Ghat on your first night. Manikarnika Ghat is where the real action takes place. With at least 20 burning pyres, placed right next to each other, the sight can be overwhelming. Reverberations of chanting adds to the melodrama, furthermore. I remember staying at Assi Ghat for the night, which was a simplified version of the city – and I advice you do the same thing, because Manikarnika was perhaps the next level.

3) Varanasi is not a city to party, or enjoy the nightlife. Save another city for that. Instead come here to explore the city, to sit on the ghats and soak up the complexities of Indian culture.

4) Experiment with the food. Being the synthesis of several age-old religious traditions, Varanasi offers a divine and enriching experience in the form of its popular street food. Just hit one of the old streets in the main bazaar, find a crowded food joint and try different delicacies – you’re going to love them all. Deepak Tambul Bhandar, Deena Chaat Bhandar and Baati Chokha are a few recommended places to start with.

I would also particularly recommend eating Paani-Poori at one of the roadside traditional shops, that offer a true traditional experience.

5) You can take photos of the cremations. According to Hindu religion, counting your last few days in Varanasi, or at least getting cremated here is a great thing. So rest assured, that families relating to those who are getting cremated are not in a shocking mode. Rather, some of them can even be found in a celebrating mode. So unless you keep your wits about how not to offend the families of the deceased, it is totally okay to click pictures.

6) The popular Viswanath Temple is not open to foreigners. Though makes sure you check with the local authorities once, as the rules change here every other day.

7) Make sure you ask saadhus for their permission before taking their pictures. Why? Because if you won’t, chances are you’re going to end up paying a hefty price for each click. However, if you ask for their permission beforehand, with a bright and smiling face, you might bail out for free. Smoking pot with them moreover often comes as complimentary.

8) You don’t have to make a trip to the Ghats, because the old town is rather built on them. There are more than 80 ghatns in Varanasi in total, and a part of your daily walk will eventually lead you to the ghats, even if you stay away from them. However, to best experience the town, it is recommended to stay near the ghats.

9) If you think you’re smart, consider Touts in Varanasi smarter. They are persistent, shrewd and quick on the update. Where most of them will offer you a boat ride or a quick trip around the city, some of them will go to a level where they will approach you asking for the “wood” money, to have their deceased relatives cremated. Just do not believe them!

10) Extending back from the riverback ghats, is a labyrinth of alleys, called They are disorienting, confusing and the chances are you’ll probably get lost. But however lost you become, just keep walking and you will eventually end up at a ghat. Also make sure you memorise the name of your guesthouse and the ghat where it is located so you can ask people which way to go when it’s time to get home.

11) Expect almost no one telling you the right price for a service, unless they’ve it printed on a brochure. So whenever you purchase a thing, eat some food make sure you negotiate hard. This particularly applies for boat rides in Ganga. Don’t feel bad about negotiating. It may be a holy place, and might feel wrong, but business is business.

If you found this post useful, you can…

From Street Scene To The Ghats of Varanasi: What To Expect!

If you’re travelling alone, and are unaccustomed to the frenzies of India, Varanasi might just be the craziest Indian city for you to travel through!

Varanasi, also known as Benares, is considered as the holiest of all Hindu towns, bringing people from all over the world to see the religious ceremonies that take place there.

As believed in Hinduism, death in Varansi brings salvation. By getting a cremation on one of its ghats, you get a direct ticket to heaven. Throughout India’s long history, it is in Varanasi, that many prominent figures – including Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi – have spent time on the Ganges River, meditating and practicing spirituality.

But that doesn’t mean that you’d find people meditating or chanting god’s name here, or in any way, living their life in a subtle manner.

Street Scene In Varanasi Is Wild

If you think that the street scene in India is crazy, in Varanasi it is wild. Consider Varanasi as New Delhi on steroids. Nowhere have you been and nothing you’ve seen, in your entire life put together, can prepare you for what you’re going to see in Varanasi – particularly if you’re new to India and its culture.

The pollution here is intense, the honking absolutely defeating, and the street crowd – undeniably overwhelming. Here you might not need to be careful about speeding motorbikes or tuktuks, but giving a proper consideration to the many bulls and cows, jamming the narrow alleys, is nonetheless the prime requirement. So be watchful! The excess of cow-dung (particularly during the monsoon) moreover makes it a little tough to walk.

What to Expect at the Ghats in Varanasi

Coming home after spending time at the Manikarnika ghat, I had human ash covering my body and images of bloated bodies in the river. To add to the melodrama, a few men can be spotted in the same river, going for a dip, or taking selfies with the deceased.

The cremation of bodies on this ghat is a very public experience. Many visitors who are unfamiliar with these customs are often shocked at how graphic the process is. At Manikarnika Ghat, you can witness as many as 20 cremations taking place in the public, in one sight — making the entire scene look quite unworldly!

If you’re unsure whether or not it is allowed to take pictures, let me tell you that it is! As per the Indian culture, it is a great thing to die in the holy city of Varanasi, or at least getting cremated there. So rest assured, many of the relatives of the deceased, would in fact, not be in a shocking mode!

Unlike the rest of India, Varanasi does not seem to have the “organised chaos”

Despite being India’s spiritual capital, Varanasi is one of the hardest places to prevent scamming. Consider one in ten people wanting to rip you off, regardless.

During my first Ganga Aarti experience, at Dashashwamedh Ghat, I was offered a front row seat, for a clear view, for 200 Rupees. Next evening, I found out there was no ticket for it, at all. The person who charged me possibly held the space, until the entire place got overwhelmingly crowded. He spotted a confused tourist (me in this case) and touted for any money he can get. Our bargain ended at 200, and he was happy with anything. This might just be his daily business. Or weekly, who knows!

Like much of India, Varanasi is a contradiction of travel emotions but the beauty it holds far surpasses the daily hustle and bustle!

More than 200 people are cremated everyday on the ghats in Varanasi

Varanasi has more than 80 ghats along the river. While most of them are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, some are used exclusively as cremation sites. This included Dashashwamedh, Manikarnika and Harishchandra – with Manikarnika being the most popular.

If you get comfortable with the entire cremation ceremony, you will realise that the entire process is nonetheless really neat and the poojas offered can be over the top beautiful. The wood is expensive for families and many touts can be seen begging for wood money.

Seeing bodies dipped in the river, and lit on fire, and watching them with a crowd is… well indescribable! Not a place that shows sadness; instead people around the ghats seemed to be having a party.

Not everyone can afford the cost of funeral pyres either. Even the cheapest wood is beyond the reach for much of the poor. Therefore many bodies are discarded into the Ganges partially cremated or not at all. If you fancy, you can take one of the early morning boat rides, pay your oarsman a fifty or hundred rupees extra and they will guarantee you’ll see a dead body floating on the water. I did not want such a tour, so I skipped! I think I felt a little sick about it.

I did nothing more than taking a boat tour around the sunset to see the lights from the river which was pretty cool and a nice end to a long day. Most of my days would pass by simply walking around its streets, taking it all in, and chatting with the locals.

Varanasi has an amazing way to entertain tourists, and as I found my own way to feel comfortable in hustle-bustle of the city, I’m sure you’ll find your own way too!

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Introduction To Varanasi

When I first arrived in Varansi, I had its most clichéd picture in my head: a group of people surrounding the burning pyres on a ghat, a few lost sadhus whitewashed in ash, and the daily Ganga Aarti. Though I knew that the town is more or less comprised of 80+ connected ghats, running to a length of almost 10 kilometres – visualizing it anything more than the many recent spiritual towns of India, was quite impossible.

During my first 15 minutes of arrival, I remember attesting it to the auto rikhshaw driver, that I’m finding Varanasi quite similar to Haridwar, or “Rishikesh without mountains”. I asked him if he has ever visited Uttarakhand. He rejected, in the most uninteresting manner.

But as the time went past, and I thoughtfully overstayed in the town, one day after the other, I realised that Varanasi was perhaps not anything like Haridwar, or Rishikesh, or any other Indian town for that matter. After all, it is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited place on earth – dwelling a civilization as old as 11th century BC. The town had to have its own appeal.

The First Encounter

During my overnight train journey – from Delhi to Varansi – I asked a group of students, from Benaras Hindu University, about where a tourist must stay in Varanasi to get the “real feel”. They suggested the tucked away ghat of “Assi”. Following what I was told, I decided to spend the first night at Assi Ghat – what appeared to be a simplified version of ‘Spirituality and India’. Here Ganga was flowing almost flawlessly. A few oarsmen were busy persuading foreigners for a boat trip.

But as I explored a few more dozen ghats, the next morning, Assi felt no more than the introduction of a book – containing a set of subtle and restrained words. Manikarnika and Brahma Ghat, were perhaps the next level.

At Manikarnika, the many Aghoris could be easily spotted, alongside a much intense view of 10, or perhaps 15 adjacently burning pyres, making sky all foggy and unclear. “Here even dead come to life,” said a local Brahmin I was speaking to, as if innocently trying to add to the melodrama. Well, Varanasi has its own charm – something definitely not meant for a faint heated.

Varanasi – An apologetically Indiscreet Place On Earth

Varanasi can be a chaotic and an unapologetically indiscreet place – depicting some of the dark realities of Hindu culture. So brace yourself. Most travellers, who find a perfect harmony with nature and its laws, agree that Varanasi is a magical place, but those who don’t, couldn’t take the city for much longer. No wonder, Varanasi is not for the faint hearted!

[Also Read: 10 Tips To Travel Varanasi]

Here the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public, and the sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats – can be overwhelming. So persevere. I remember watching at least 20 burning pyres at Marnikarnika Ghat, and the sight was literally daunting, at least for the first time I saw it.

Being closely connected to travel, I’ve come across tourism of all kinds – adventure, eco-friendly, cultural and even virtual. But nothing as unusual and macabre as death tourism. And the many unearthly ghats in Varanasi, particularly Manikarnika, thrive solely on that.

Not a single day passes when dead bodies are not cremated here with the number going up to two to three hundred every day. And to know that tourists come here to see the funeral pyres being set to fire in the open is more weird than fascinating.

How To Best Experience The Town

Like any other historical town in India, the best way to experience Varanasi is by going slow. You try to fit in a few extra activities in your itinerary and you won’t be able to fell the town. So do not – even once – read any article on the internet relating the customary ’10 Best Tourist Attractions in Varanasi’. They are only going to spoil your experience.

During my initial couple of days, I did the same thing. I raced around a few popular attractions, and honestly speaking it did me no favour. I would take a tuktuk, travel from one corner of the city to the other, only to come back and head to the other direction. I moreover hated the chaos.

Once I finished the most sought after attractions (which included the popular BHU campus, Kashivishwanath temple and Ramnagar Fort, in addition to a few more), I was left with nothing but to spend of the time walking along the ghats and connected alleys. And that’s only when I actually enjoyed my holiday better.

It turned out that going slow or not doing anything at all, was perhaps the best way to experience, and moreover understand Varanasi.

Where To Stay | Other Recommendations

To best experience Varanasi, stay in the old city – situated along the western bank of the Ganges, from where it extends back to a labyrinth of alleys called galis.

I’d particularly loved my stay at one of the river view hotels at Meerghat – which was a few steps away from Dashashwamedh Ghat (where the evening Ganga aarti takes place). You can rent a room between 300-800 Rupees, pretty much on any of the 80+ ghats in Varanasi. Their prices surge dramatically during peak tourist season, and the availability can moreover be a problem.

As I mentioned, the best way to explore Varanasi is by doing nothing, following no routine. However, if I were to still speak about a few highlights and recommendations – take a sunrise/sunset boat ride, explore the disoriented galis (or alleys), walk the way along the ghats, take part in the evening Aarti, and soak up the town as it reveals itself. And I’m sure it will just turn out to be your favourite stop of all.

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