A quick run to the Rann!

We bought our car in July 2021 and have been itching for a nice, multi day-long drive since then. We have been on multiple day trips already, had just completed 5000 kms. Our initial plan was for a Nashik-Saputara trip from Vadodara, with some friends coming over during the Christmas-New Year break. But then, Omicron started happening all across, and their trips got cancelled. We, me and my wife, decided that the trip must happen, but maybe somewhere else. The top candidate was the Rann of Kutchh and that is where we planned to go.

Day 1

Our trip began on the cloudy and dark morning of 28th of December, 2021 at around 0630h. Google maps said it would take about 8.5 hours of driving to our destination, we were expecting around 10 hours total. Our breakfast stop was planned near Viramgam. There was a hotel which provided good food and had clean toilets, so, that was the spot.
The traffic on the NE1 was moderate and there was quite a bit of weaving involved throughout, but since it is an expressway, the general speed of the traffic was about 70kmph +, so, not a lot of issues there. We arrived at the breakfast spot, Hotel Sahyog at about 0930h. 150 kms in about 2.5 hours, not bad. Our objective was to be consistent in the drive to be able to extract maximum efficiency from the car. After having breakfast, utilizing the toilets and giving the car a quick wash, we were on our way at about 10 am.

We arrived at the edge of the Rann of Kutch, past the small town of Balasar at about 1500h. This is where you get the first glimpse of the beautiful Rann (Desert, in the local language). My wife had been itching for her share of the drive and I wanted to take some photos and videos, so, we switched seats and off we went. The roads are simply wonderful and a driver’s pleasure. From the edge of the Rann to our resort in the Khadir Bet island, it was about 20 kms and we savoured every bit of the drive.

There were patches that had dried sea bed on either side to times where there was water. One has to be there to experience it and I dare say, words or photographs do not do enough justice. A point of caution, the town of Balasar is where you find the last petrol pumps. Google maps may show a Reliance Petrol Pump in the Khadir Bet Island, near the Dholavira Metropolis site, it does not exist. We arrived at the Khadir Resort close to 1530h and had some food. On the way, there was a viewpoint named Chipper Point, which we had planned to check out on the next few days, so, after a quick refresh at the resort, we headed towards the Sunset Point at the edge of the island. Again, one must say, that the roads are amazing. Even at a village level, the roads are paved, even though single lane, yet clean, and well maintained. Being a border road may have some merit though. Anyway, at the sunset point, there is a newly erected White Rann Tent City, a sister tent city of the one at Dhordo and offers similar experiences on this side of the Rann. We watched the sunset into the sea while being absolutely swept by the howling wind.

We returned back to the resort, quite cold, but happy at the location and the facilities available. Now, to combat the lack of petrol pump issue, most, if not all of the resorts maintain a stock of fuel with them in 1 litre bottles. Our resort also helped us to a few litres to top-up for the next day, we would embark on a unique kind of trip.

We had freshly baked Rotlos (bigger and stouter cousin of Rotis) made of Bajra, Kadhi, Khichdi, Chutney and lip-smacking potato curry for dinner and turned in for the night. We were tired by the drive and excited at what was coming up the next day, so we slept almost immediately.

Day 2

29th of December began with early morning tea being served. While the hosts were cooking up Poha, we made acquaintances with the other families which had arrived there already. Our itinerary for the day was one that would take us to two unique geographical features, through one of the most scenic routes ever imaginable. At around 0945h, we were on our way towards the White Rann of Kutch, through the Rann of Kutch lake. This road is formally known as the Aadhav-Dholavira Road, more commonly, as the Road to Heaven. It is a 10 feet wide, under construction road that cuts across the lake joining the landmass near Khavda (where there is a petrol pump) to Dholavira. With water or dried sea bed, depending on the season, on either side, driving on this road is a pleasure to the senses. The dried sea bed is white, due to the salt and it is so close to the road that I could actually get down and touch it. Since it was not completely dried out, the land is a bit mushy and you will sink a bit, so any thoughts of taking your car on to the Rann at this place, kindly throw it out immediately. Anyway, through this amazing road we went and arrived at the Khavda petrol pump.

Emptiness on either side and a nice road in front of us!
The road through the Kutchh lake!

Our car, being the only petrol car waiting in line got served quickly and we were on our way towards the White Rann, near the tent city of Dhordo. There is a road which borders the Rann, with absolute emptiness on either side from a little south of Khavda to effectively the gates of the White Rann, we found and took it. While the road surface is awesome and invites high-speed driving, please be careful since it is also a single lane road and you have to move away from the road to the shoulder to give way for oncoming traffic, and the shoulder is a couple of inches below the tarmac, so caution is advised. There is a BSF checkpoint at the entrance to the White Rann where you must show your pass, which can be obtained online easily, or there itself at the check post. Past that, we arrived at the White Rann of Kutch.

As far as the eyes could see, right up to the horizon, it is white. The entire ground is white with salt crystals and quite a bit of crowd around. Despite the crowd, the Rann is so huge and the space is so plentiful, it is easily possible to avoid fellow humans in the background of the photos if so desired.

There are options to go into the Rann up to a few kms using camel or horse-drawn carriages. There seemed to be provisions of driving on the Rann too, but I was not interested in that, so didn’t explore further. Toilet facilities are lacking at this spot. There is a toilet block nearby though, which is still in the construction phase and lacks water supply, hence cleanliness. Toilets are available at the border checkpoint and the tent city though, which should be accessible.

Next up, we had an 85 kms long trip to the next destination. En route, we stopped at the location where the Tropic of Cancer passes through and took a few photos. Our destination was the Khari river canyon. This is a river canyon or gorge of sorts made by the Khari river. At its deepest, it is about 50 ft deep. While it is not as big as the famed river canyons, it is still a unique feature and a first for us, so naturally, we were thrilled to see it. We took photos to our heart’s content and now, we turned back.

En route, we had a quick lunch at a roadside dhaba and were looking at a drive of about 200 kms back to the resort. One can go back the way they came, across the lake, we took the conventional route through the outskirts of Bhuj, Rapar, Balasar to reach our destination. Of course, night fell before we were anywhere near the resort. The roads are quite empty, which, provide you with the confidence of driving quickly, also make you wary of the surroundings. Uneventfully, thankfully, we arrived back at our resort. The place is so pristine and has such little light pollution, stars are visible even in the dashcam’s video. We went out for a bit, switched off our lights and got off to admire the beautiful skies around, could identify a couple of constellations, saw a shooting star, then we felt cold and could hear foxes close by. My wife, not being fond of furry things, pets or otherwise, urged me strongly, to get back in the car, and hence we returned to the resort.

The second night, we stayed at the Flamingo resort, which was about 200m from the Khadir resort. The hosts are amazing and the fact that the stay at Flamingo caters to the residential school being run makes you feel good. After a hearty meal, we retired for the night. The next day, we would be visiting the nearly 5000-year-old metropolis of Dholavira in the morning, and then drive back home to Vadodara. Long day ahead!

Day 3

Our final day’s trip began with Poha and tea. A few photos at the Flamingo’s premises and off we were towards the Dholavira site. Today, we had decided, until it gets too crowded, my wife would be at the wheel, then I shall take over if required.

The Dholavira site is nothing short of a wonder. We all know of the Giza Pyramids, what if I told you, that here in Dholavira, people from the same age had homes with attached kitchens, had amphitheatres, had a complex multilevel water filtration plant, lived and traded and buried their dead. Without trying to take away the Pyramid’s thunder, I am simply saying, please come visit Dholavira. It used to be the biggest metropolis in what we know now as the Indus-Valley civilization. With a few hectares of space which has water tanks, wells, upper-middle-lower towns, houses, a common playground and a stadium, this place is not just a bunch of ruins from the past. In fact, this town a few millennia old is in better shape than a few forts we trek to near Pune. You can see the indentations made by repeated use of ropes, pulleys, earthen pots, etc. For someone who is remotely interested in history and of course has the patience to hear the guides out, this place is simply mesmerizing. We spent almost 3 hours here for the tour of the upper and middle town areas and then we were on our way back.

The route back was the same route as we had taken on the first day, we stopped at the same place again, utilized its resources, and were back home by about 2100h. In all, the car had run 1456 kms and the average calculated was 19.1 km/l. There was no physical fatigue, no joint pains or muscle cramps, but we both slept for at least 10-12 hours a day for the next two days, not complaining!

Final driving stats!

In all, the car went through some amazing roads to places with no roads and only rocks. There were patches that felt like they would kill the suspension, to getting stuck on a sandbank thanks to a wrong turn. In each of the situations, the car performed as good as it could be imagined and delivered what was expected out of it. By the end, I am hearing a faint rattle from the left front door and seats squeak a bit. The second service is due this Friday, hopefully, the issues will get sorted out with no issues and the service centre guys do not curse me on account of how dirty and grimy the car has become.

To conclude, I will echo the tagline for Kutch, Kutch nahi dekha toh Kuch nai dekha ( If you haven’t been to  Kutch, you haven’t been anywhere).

Your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome and eagerly awaited.

Cheers!!

TTL : Thailand for a week

Hi all,

Now, with the Covid restrictions slowly easing up, tourism is bound to pick up pace. The timing is apt for a reminiscence of our trip to Thailand in January, 2020. Our trip was a weeklong one, covering Phuket, Krabi and Bangkok. The details follow below!

The planning began in early December ’19 scoping out the locations, tentative dates and duration of stay. We finalized to go to three places, Phuket, Krabi and Bangkok, spread over a duration of 1 week.

Our journey began from Mumbai to Bangkok. On the evening of arrival, we spent the night at a nearby hotel (Silver Gold Garden, Suvarnabhumi Airport) for we had the flight to Phuket early next morning. This is where our trip began in earnest.


At Phuket, we had booked for 2 nights’ stay at Arya Eightball Records Hotel, Patong. The hotel was clean, simple and served our purpose. We had planned to roam about the entire day on scooter and have a clean place to sleep, nothing fancy.

At Phuket, on the first day, we went to Wat Chalong, The Big Buddha and the Phuket Aquarium.

For the second day at Phuket, on recommendation from our host at the hotel, we booked a 3 Island day tour. It would be an entire day of island hopping to the Phi-Phi Islands and then back. Once we were back, we went to the Thalang Road to take some pictures and then to the Patong beach to find out why it is so (in)famous.

It was quite fun the stay at Phuket. With rolling hills all about and amazing roads, riding a scooter on the twists and turns are quite amazing. One must be a bit careful though, but it is fun.

From Phuket, on the next day, we took a mini-bus/van kind of a vehicle to Krabi. It was cheaper than flying or via boat, but it was more tiresome and time consuming.

At Krabi, we chose to splurge on our stay. We stayed at an apartment booked via AirBnB at Muang. It is a few kms out of the Krabi town, peaceful, serene and very beautiful. At Krabi, we visited the Noppaharat Thara beach, the Ao Nang beach, took a small boat to the Railay Beach. One of the most amazing things to see was a shell cemetery. It is a place where shells, millions of years old have become fossilized and have now become effectively rocks. We also visited the Thapom Resort which is basically a mangrove forest with elevated walkways within to enjoy. It is interesting to see such forests up close, knowing the major significance they have in preventing rogue waves from causing destruction inland.

The sunset at the Nopparahat beach is absolutely spell binding and it makes you feel happy. Try not to miss it.

The next day, we flew to Bangkok. As with the stay at Phuket, we needed a place to go to sleep at night and the Chocolate Mint Box was just the place for it. It was clean, simple and had complimentary breakfast, which was very tasty. At Bangkok, a realization that helped us a lot to save time and money, is to use the extensive and frequent boat service. Do not fall for the Tourist trap of Hop on Hop off boat, rather, travel as the locals do, in the express boats. They are economical and they shall get you from point A to B easily.

At Bangkok, we visited the Wat Arun and the Patpong night market. We made a quick tour to the China Town area too. We skipped the Grand Palace though and instead went to the Asiatique Sky. The place is nice and lively with the giant wheel being the main attraction. The Bangkok Eye provides a birds-eye view of the city and its surroundings.

Apart from all the wonderful places to be, there were loads of amazing things to eat. The place is an absolute paradise for the non vegetarian people. Huge varieties of sea food along with the commonly available meats are for sale. Crocodile meat was also for sale, didn’t try it though. A fruit, which looks like Jackfruit for us back home is the Durian. Apparently it has such a smell, which some love and some hate, that you are not allowed to carry durians in cabs, buses, trains or flights. Someday, am sure I ll find out why it is so.

So, this was a quick recap of our weeklong Thai tour. The final cost to us, including the flights, transfers and boat tours was about ₹1.3 lakhs. So, in about ₹1.5 lakhs, it is possible for a couple to spend a week having fun at Thailand.

The Visa fee was waived at the time we went for our trip, but we paid 200 THB per head to skip the queue. That smoothened up the Visa entry procedure considerably. The people around are helpful and the signboards plentiful. There should be no problems. Booking a scooter is easy. Cost is reasonable, so is the fuel cost. We had to keep our passports as collateral to take the scooters, which feels a bit scary, but then, that’s how things are. One must always ensure that they are decently dressed while entering a place of worship and be respectful to the people. Give respect to earn it.

I hope that you enjoyed the account of our trip. More to follow soon.

Cheers!!

TTL : Kelwa Beach

It has been months since the last post and a lot has happened in my life since then. It is time that the posts must continue, once more!

Let me take you all to Kelwa Beach at Palghar, Maharashtra.
About 100 km out of Mumbai is this beach on the western coast of the country. The route is quite scenic and both the driver and the rider would enjoy the route. Some twists and turns along the road, a wide road and some natural beauty to keep one company. Following the route using Google Maps is easy and hassle-free.
The place is quite amazing for a one-day trip with friends. Come, have a look!

As with all beaches, do not forget to carry loads of water and sunscreen. Have a beach ball along and you shall be having quite a nice time out there.
The beach is frequented by locals mostly and is generally peaceful.

Go on, have a good time! Until the next post..
Cheers!!

Hampi : Places to be!

If you have read the previous post, you ll know that I made it to Hampi. An ancient kingdom capital which finds references since the epic Ramayana in the Hindu mythology.
In the first day at Hampi, I walked about and went to the main temples around the place. Then, a little walk down to the Vitthala temple to visit the coveted stone chariots. With that, my day 1 was at an end.

The second day, I had a bicycle tour planned. The tour began at 0900h sharp at the Virupaksha temple. A temple tour and a history lesson later, we were on our way on cycles.

We stopped at the Kadalekalu Ganesha temple to observe the beauty of the carvings on the columns.

On the other side of the street is what used to be the market of Hampi also known as the Krishna Bazaar.

Past the bazaar and the temple across the road, we rode our cycles down the path to the Badavilinga temple and the Lakshmi Narsimha Temple.

Along the way, we stopped at a few places to have coconut water and a few ice golas, all very welcome due to the hot weather and the cycling across the terrain. One must always remember to stay hydrated!

Our subsequent stops were at the Queens Bath and the public bath. Honestly, neither were too impressive. Public bath was basically a stepped well, thats it.

Next up, our stop was the Lotus Mahal. The mahal was pretty, that’s for sure; what was more interesting is the ingenious way to keep the place cool. The walls are double layered and have a means to make water flow through them. So, as the air circulates, it looses heat to the water in circulation and keeps the inhabitants cool.

Our next stop was literally next door to the Elephants’ Stable. It used to be the royal stable for the procession and war elephants during their time of reign.

From here, we rode our bikes nearby to a quite place where we had lunch served to us. Homemade lunch comprising of rice, chapati, dal, tomato curry, cauliflower and potato curry and papads. Loved it. After riding the bicycle for hours, the food felt doubly tasty.
Once we were done with refilling ourselves, we were en route to the Hazararama temple. Filled with intricate architecture, this temple depicts various scenes from the Ramayana, and that is how it derives the name, Hazara Rama (thousand Ram).

Once past the Hazara Rama temple. we parted ways, and returned back to the village. I went to sleep.

On the way back we stopped briefly at the Saasivekalu Ganesha.

Woke up in the evening to sporadic firecrackers bursting about, owing to Diwali.

It was fun to see the kids dancing about the firecrackers, felt happy and good 🙂

I was scheduled for a bus ride back to Mumbai next evening, so I went to bed quickly, for I wanted to go to the other side as quickly as I could and venture about a bit.

On the third day at Hampi, I took the ferry across the river Tungabhadra and rented a Honda Navi from the other side.

The Honda Navi

My itinerary had the Anjaneya Hill, the Sanarpur lake and the Hampi waterfalls.

En route there was a stream, in which there were ducks. Hundreds of them, and all were trying to swim upstream. Seemed like a ducks’ school of swimming.

The ducks!

It is quite amazing that how small the world is. At Hampi, while riding to Sanarpur lake, two wonderful ladies found me, a little confused of a turn and looking hither dither. The offered to help with the way to the lake, turned out, they were friends with some of old friends from college. Of the two, Akshita, is a gifted sketch artist. Do check out her sketches on her instagram profile.

Sudha and Akshita at the Hampi waterfalls

Later I returned back to the hotel, for yet another bout of sleep.

The return journey was equally torturous worth of 15hours of bus journey. It was outright horrible and I hated every bit of it, but then, maybe it was just me.

My learning, Hampi is an amazing place to be and is a must visit. It is better if you visit with a friend, but then I met people who were solo camping on the banks of the river too. It takes at least 3 full days to travel around and explore the place. So, fix a time, and get there; you ll love it.

Cheers!!

Hampi : Getting to and getting around!

It had been long overdue, and a holiday was coming up too, so, without wasting much time contemplating, I made the necessary arrangements to get to Hampi.

Hampi, is a tiny village on the banks of the river Tungabhadra in Kartaka. It is famous for the ruins of the erstwhile Vijayanagar kingdom. There are ruins of temples, baths, forts, bridges, markets, etc, an entire township in ruins. A major appeal to the place, apart from the ruins and the endless opportunities to hike around, is the setting of the location. It appears to be a valley full of sand coloured boulders all around. There is a warm tone to the entire place, and it feels….cosy!

Getting to Hampi is not the easiest of jobs. It does not have a direct train, bus or flight connection. Hospet or Hosapet is the nearest well connected location, about 15 kms out. Auto rickshaws are available to ply between the towns. Trains are available from Mumbai, Goa and Bangalore. Bus connections exist, but they are long and tiring. 

I took a sleeper bus from Mumbai, and it was the second most horrible bus journey in recent times. For about 15 hours, I spent rolling left and right and feeling dizzy. Reached Hospet in one piece, a little dizzy and hating bus travel to the core. 

I will talk a bit about hotel bookings at Hampi. The place is divided into two major hubs, the Hampi village, and the Hippie Island. The village is on the mainland side, while the island, is across the river. You can find plenty of hotels and homestays on either side within your budget. The hotels in the village are simple and offer a more peaceful environment to stay in. Good for people who want some peace at night. The other side, is a different story all together. You can find a nightlife on the Hippie Island. Free flowing alcohol and puffs of smoke all around, a little party island! As I said earlier, depending on your budget, you can find accommodation almost any time of the year without much hassles.
Most of the hotels operate on the Booking. com website so, do check that out. I made my booking at Kiran Guest House for two nights, and then extended for another. Kiran, the host, and his family was very welcoming and the stay was hassle free. He also made sure that there was an auto rickshaw waiting for me at the bus stop and also to drop me back. His is a no frills hotel, I recommend it.
Within Hampi, getting around is easy. One can  roam around walking, or on bicycles, which are readily available. Most of the temples are nearby. 

Upon reaching Hampi, my day began with a nice long sleep. Woke up, strolled out famished. A place of choice is the Mango Tree Restaurant. I had omelette and bread and was off.

First stop, the Virupaksha Temple! It is the main temple of the place and dedicated to Shiva. Entry is free, camera chargeable. Inside, you can find Lakhsmi, the temple elephant, blessing people and posing for photos, having bananas, and doing other elephanty stuffs. There are a few Nandis around too to keep you company. One must also remember, that Hampi, is also known as Kishkinda. So, anyone who read Ramayana, would know, that Kishkinda used to be the capital of the monkey kingdom, so, you ll find a few of them there too.  

Having visited the temple, I strolled out towards the Kadalekalu Ganesha. He is called so for he appears to have a peanut shaped belly. Grand and carved out of a single stone, Ganesha here is massive. One can see ruins of erstwhile jain temples around too. The setting is beautiful and peaceful.

Next, I turned towards the Vitthala temple. This temple is famous for the Stone Chariots of Hampi, which is widely found printed on the Rs. 50 note of the indian currency. En route, the Kings’ Balance and some other temples were also crossed.

After I was done with the trip to the chariots, I went to the nearby Matanga hill. The hill top is the highest point in Hampi and offers amazing panaromic view of the village. It is a view worth climbing the 600 or so steps.

A view of Hampi village from Mathanga hill. Virupaksha temple can be seen at a distance.

Later, I returned back to my lodging and went to sleep. Next day, I had a bicycle tour of the place booked and I was going to need all the rest that I could get.

From the food bowl of India!

Hi there,

In this post, let me take you to the fields of my village. My village, Birati, is located in Hooghly district in West Bengal, India. Agriculture is still pretty much the mainstay source of income for the majority of the population out there.

I was there for a couple of days last month, and it was the beginning of the rice plantation season. So, here is what transplantation of paddy looks like. Transplantation is when the saplings of paddy are moved from the nursery where they germinate to the fields where they shall actually grow to become lush green paddy.

A tubewell coupled with a motor to irrigate the fields

Man carrying a produce of earlier crops

Testing the Autofocus on my camera!

My father and uncles on the way to a field inspection

Transplantation in progress

Man with a bunch of paddy saplings

Transplantation of paddy saplings in progress

In about three months time, these fields will turn golden yellow and the rice plants shall be ready to be cut, sheafed, thrashed, and go on to become edible rice grains. That is also the time around Durga Puja, so, I will be in my village for the same. An update can be expected on this topic. Plus, posts with insights into a Durga Puja at a bengali household shall be up too.

I was at a noodle making workshop lately. While learning how to make noodles, some amazing photo opportunities did come up, and I shall share them here, in the next post. Stay tuned.

Cheers!!

TTL: Sassoon Docks

I had become quite restless at the lack of what I perceived as apt content for a blog post and it was making me jittery. A text out of the blue from dear old Subhanjana asking about Sassoon Docks was the best thing that happened a couple of days back. I realized that it had been more than a year, here in Mumbai, and I was yet to pay one of the largest fish market of the place and the first wet dock of Mumbai a visit. I called up Haldar if she would be interested to join in, and she was. So, Sunday was the planned day.

Information was that one must get to the docks as early as first light to get the fishing trawlers coming in and fishes being unloaded. Since, we had to travel by train and cab to the docks, we were late, and did not get those shots.

What we got were shots of the fishing auctions and the market, with all the chaos and hustle bustle. Enjoy.

Fish Auction in Progress, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Fishes being readied for auctions, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Fishes being readied for auctions, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Fishing Trawlers in the dock, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Fishing Trawlers in the dock, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Fishes for sale in the market, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Basket transfer in progress , Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

As we were walking about taking photos, this lady in the following photos took interest in showing off her merchandises. She also showcased the octopuses. Live octopuses. We were quite excited 🙂

Lady holds up a fish for display, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Lady holds up octopus for display, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Sassoon Docks is also famous for the street art one can find in the location. It was the site for a street art exhibition in November, 2017. There is an art exhibition centre at the docks, which were not open when we were there, so, we shot the walls.

Wall art at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Wall art at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Wall art at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Wall art at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

Haldar posing in front of a wall art, Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

As we walked out of the place, I noticed a crow, flying with a fish in its mouth. Lens cap was off already. In one fluid motion, the camera was switched on, tracked the crow and let the continuous high mode fire.
Behold the result:

Flying crow with a fish in mouth, Mumbai

I am mighty impressed by the auto focus system of the Nikon D7200. Am yet to fully understand and use the 3D focussing system properly on the camera.

As we got to Churchgate station, a piece of art caught my eye.

Mural at Churchgate Station, Mumbai, India

Apparently similar installations shall be done in other stations too. That shall be something to look forward to.

A sequel of this post shall follow soon with Haldar’s shots!

Cheers!

To Vietnam: Epilogue

Hi there all,

Recently, I and three of my friends, Manas, Ankita and Ritwik, we went to the amazing country of Vietnam. Detailed accounts of the planning, travel, places we visited, food we ate, what we liked, what we didn’t are typed down in the links below:

  1. Prelude
  2. The Planning
  3. Touchdown – Ho Chi Minh City
  4. Ho Chi Minh City and onwards…
  5. Hoi An by the day!
  6. Hoi An by the night!
  7. Hoi An to Hue
  8. Hue
  9. Hue – Imperial Citadel
  10. Hanoi
  11. Ha Long Bay

You can go through each of the above links or find them all at a glance by following this tag: A week in Vietnam.

There are a few things I wanted to add which I felt is necessary to be known to all the travellers who are planning to make the trip:

  • Plan early and plan meticulously. Go through every blog, website, journal and book that you can find and gather as much information that you can get.
  • Save money for the trip. Yes, Vietnam trip can be done on a shoestring budget, you never know what extra expense you may incurr or rather what new dress shall entice you suddenly. It is always good to have a certain amount of headroom.
  • Travel insurance is a must. No arguments whatsoever.

  • Book through tickets. Cant stress this enough. Book tickets which belong to a single airline. The booking must be point to point, say from Mumbai to HCMC. In case there is a need to change flights, and the journey is in parts, please make sure you have the Visa already. It becomes very frustrating when you have the boarding passes but cannot get past the immigration to transfer the luggage to the next flight.
  • Get a local sim. You may not need the calling facility, but to have internet is a blessing. Most of the places within the country has a good network coverage and speeds are decent.
  • It is generally a better deal to withdraw cash from the ATMs in Vietnam than to trade in USD at restaurants or jewellery stores.

  • You will need to pay USD 25 as visa stamping fee at your port of entry.
  • Do not give up on the opportunity to travel in the train in this country. The trains are smaller, so are the berths. The view is scenic. I can vouch for the Da Nang to Hue.

  • The Ben Thanh market at HCMC is pricey, the food is fine though. A must visit off course, maybe just to enjoy the place. Bargain, and bargain hard. Be ready to be hear “You handsome/pretty, I give you best price…xyz dongs”.
    Despite being pricey, the collection in this place is damn impressive.
  • Try your best to transact in VNDs. Every time you transact in USD, you lose out some value.

  • Be careful of the notes. The denominations have a lot of zeros. Mostly the shopkeepers return or point out the correct denomination if you are paying excess or less.
  • The paper cut out cards are really interesting.

  • Veg food is rare. Chicken is scarce. Pork and beef galore.
  • Banh Mi is a lifesaver. Pho is bland, to a Bengali palate at least.
  • Pack carefully; for south of the country is warm and cosy, while the north is chilly and grey.

It is a beautiful country, Vietnam and I suggest you do visit it. Respond in the comments if there is any thing that you would want to enquire about.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Ha Long bay

It was effectively the last day at Hanoi, for the next day, we would fly back home.

Our day began, yet again with the tour bus picking us up from our AirBnb and we were happy to know that we were headed to Ha Long bay. Our back up plan was Ninh Binh province.

En route, we crossed the Red River and realized that kids, in both our country and theirs, are absolutely same. They get excited to see a bus full of foreigners always 🙂

The Red River, Hanoi, Vietnam

Happy kids waving at us, Hanoi, Vietnam

Now, as we were closing in on the coast, we could see the isles at distance and it was very beautiful! Honestly, it felt very much out of the world.
Soon, we were at the dock, which looked more like a transit station, with people bustling all about. Our tour guide kind of herded us to our boat. As soon as we were seated, we were underway and lunch was served.

Lunch included eggs, chicken, squid, prawns, potatoes, rice rolls and a full fish. Accompanying these was a bowl full of sticky rice and some condiments.

Rice Rolls, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Rolled fried eggs, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Boiled prawns, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Fried chicken, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Squid salad, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Fried potatoes, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Full cooked fish, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Now, that we were well fed, we moved to the upper deck of the boat to take in the views and we were amazed. The islets rising out of the bay, hundreds of them and some even had caves.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

As we cruised on, we approached an encircled area within the bay where there seemed to be a floating jetty of sorts.

Towards the fishing village, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

On that floating jetty, it turned out to be a hub for kayaking or guided boating. Now, neither of us had ever done kayaking, and when offered with the prospect of kayaking, I and Ritwik were beyond ready, immediately. Ankita and Manas were hesitant, but since a boat would take 4 people, and the two of us had left them on the jetty and were donning our life vests already, they got themselves a kayak too. It seemed very easy to kayak, you pedal, you move, simple. Except it was not. Instead of us taking a turn and going towards the caves, we were moving towards the open sea, unable to turn left or right. Finally, we realized that we were horrible kayakers and pedalled back to the jetty. The men took pity on us and let me and Ritwik to the boats. In the meantime, Ankita and Manas, also first timers, had proved that they understood physics better and were already kayaking away to glory.

Boats and kayaks exploring, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Boating on the emerald green waters of the Ha Long bay was nothing short of a cinematic sequence.

Through a cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Boating, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

There were collective ooohs and aaaahs as we crossed the caves with limestone karsts and we spotted Ankita and Manas, happily kayaking away.

Ankita and Manas Kayaking, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

We went about boating for some more time and then headed back, on towards the limestone caves.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The limestone caves with their stalactites and stalagmites all about, was eerie and it fueled our imaginations.

Limestone formations in the cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Limestone formations in the cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The views within and from the top of the hill were just amazing.

We had booked the tour after extensive searches on TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet websites and came across many wonderful options, including this one Halong Bay luxury day tour, which turned out to be quite interesting.

I thank Ankita for being steadfast in her orders to go to Ha Long Bay, no matter what! Glad we carried it out 🙂

That evening, after we were back, we went back to the streets near the Hoan Kiem lake and got sloshed. Tottering, we made our way to a tiny shop, which was closing down, and asked for food. The guy had two options, a roasted quail soup or a beef jerky salad. We took one of each type and wolfed them down. Honestly, they tasted horrible!

Beef Jerky Salad, Hanoi, Vietnam

We had our taxi booked, and the next day, we flew out of Hanoi!

With this, our tour of Vietnam came to an end. It was an amazing experience and a welcome break from the daily grind back home.

In the next post, I shall do a quick recapitulation of the places, and also thrown in the learnings from the trip.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Hanoi

Apologies for being away for so long, the previous weeks had been hectic.
Anyway, we reached Hanoi on the noon of 5th of April, 2018. We met an amazing Portuguese couple in the airport and they suggested we take the bus to the Old Quarters. So, we boarded the bus number 17 (bus number 7 also takes a similar route) for a ride which dropped us close to our place, a lovely AirBnB located on the Hang Ma road in the Hoan Kiem district.

That evening, we just strolled around the place, enjoying an occasional Banh Mi with a Bia Ha Noi. The street 9 Ta Hien is a an amazing place to be. Foodie’s paradise and you shall be spoilt for variety.

The food street, Hanoi, Vietnam

We were excited about the next day, for we were scheduled to go the amazing Ha Long Bay.

Rain on window, Hanoi, Vietnam

The weather next day was gloomy as the tour bus came to pick us up. There were chances of rain, and by the time we made it to the halfway point between Hanoi and Halong, news arrived that it was too dangerous to go to sea. So, we turned back. Apparently, this happens quite often, and we blessed our lucky stars that we had planned the trip on the first day at Hanoi, we still had the next day to take a shot. If a situation like this happens with you, make it a point to talk to your booking agent so that an alternate may be arranged.

Once back in the city, we found no reason to waste any time by not sightseeing within the city. Leaving Ankita and Manas lounging back home, scheduled to join us in some time, I and Ritwik went out on foot.

There is a Train street in Hanoi, which is basically a train crossing right in the middle of the city, with houses very close to the track.

Train Street, Hanoi, Vietnam

We had our customary Banh mi, yet again, and were headed towards the Hoan Kiem lake.

Freshly baked banh mi buns, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Flowers on the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

The lake sits in the middle of the crowded city, with buildings on the banks and people thronging all about. Despite the bustle, there is a sense of calm and peace near the lake. Within the lake, is the Turtle Tower.

The Turtle Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Turtle Tower against a modern background, Hanoi, Vietnam

Next up we made our way to the famous Opera House. This is a grand French opera house in the city centre, which was commissioned in the early 1900s and is still in operation.

The Opera House, Hanoi, Vietnam

A short walk ahead, took us to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a grand building in memory of the country’s leader Ho Chi Minh. Right beside the mausoleum is the museum, which we could not go in to.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam

We did go to the One Pillar Pagoda situated behind the mausoleum.

A paper cutout pop up of One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam

Somehow, I am not getting the actual photo of the pagoda, so, making do with a paper cut-out pop-up model’s photo of the same. These pop-up models were available in plenty in the night market street.

Now, it was getting dark, so we decided to meet up near the lake. We took an Uber to the night market on the way, which turned out to be a long street, where almost everything is up for sale, from apparels to jewellery to food and the market culminated at the lake.

Various pop up cards in the night market, Hanoi, Vietnam

Soon, we met up and were trying to find a decent place to have dinner, when we heard the unmistakable music of the song Despacito. We followed the music, and found this.

A street performer near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

He had a small team on a synthesizer and drums to back him up and he played around effortlessly to a crowd. Since we had nothing else to do, and were quite enjoying the music, we stayed there for more than an hour listening.

We found some banh mi yet again, and wrapped up for the day.

For the ones who want to explore the city, wandering around is a way to go. For the more structured ones, Hanoi Walking tour may be the easier way.

The next day, would be our shot at going to Ha Long bay.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Huế – Imperial Citadel

The next day, our itinerary was clear, get to the Imperial Citadel, have a tour of the place, get to the airport, and fly away to Hanoi.

So, we hopped on our bikes and made for the citadel. Getting to the citadel was simple and easy. The signposts are ample, and the maps are easy enough to follow. An entrance fee of VND 150k / pax is present, which includes the Royal Antiquities Museum within the citadel.

There is a huge courtyard within the citadel, which has the massive flagpost we had seen the previous night, right opposite the main entrance.

The flagpost at the Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

Within the citadel, are the old palaces, a museum, numerous gates and loads of places to walk. Honestly, I was not vastly mesmerized by the place.

The gates had nice carvings though, and Manas did get a nice photo 🙂

One of the many gates of the Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

Onwards to the centre of the citadel, Hue, Vietnam

Manas under a gate, Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

The place seemed to be frequented by school children.

The central courtyard, Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

The place is huge, and needs patience to go through each of the buildings and read all the plaques. Patience and time were something which we didn’t have then. Ritwik went in to look at the museum, while the three of us found shade and rested.

Later, we got to the airport and were on a flight to Hanoi. We were excited for Hanoi as a city, as we had read, was amazing…and then there was Ha Long Bay.

Coming up soon, cheers!!

To Vietnam: Huế

We arrived at Huế in the afternoon. As we made our way out of the railway station, we noticed the absence of Uber in the area. So, we settled for USD5 for a Toyota Innova to carry us with our baggage to the Serene Shining Hotel. The hotel was quite a nice one, with rooms facing the river. But, we did not have time to enjoy the views from the hotel, for we were already late for the day’s plan.
Huế has a lot of tombs scattered all over the place and the imperial citadel as its main attraction. There is also a bridge, Truong Tien Bridge, on the Perfume river, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel. Now, the problem was that all the tombs and temples and pagodas close for the day by 1700h, and it was about 1600h already. We decided to skip the tombs all together, and went directly to the Thien Mu Pagoda.

A boat on the Perfume river, Hue, Vietnam

We had hired a couple of bikes for us, cost us USD 25 for 24h. Fuel extra. So, Ritwik and Ankita were on one bike, while Manas and I followed them. The roads are wide, clean and people seem to follow the traffic rules here better than Hanoi. So, without any scare or incident, we made it to the pagoda. It was beautiful, peaceful and serene.

The Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue, Vietnam

Incense sticks, prayers, Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue, Vietnam

Since we were in no hurry, we spent quite some time there. While Manas and Ankita sat on the stairs of the pagoda, listening to distant chants from boats on the river, I and Ritwik were experimenting with long exposure shots of the gates of the pagoda.

Gates of the Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue, Vietnam

Then, some time later, as the dusk had passed and night descended, we rode our bikes on the way back. Agenda, to take shots of the Truong Tien Bridge.

On the way we passed the citadel, which has a huge flagpost and a gigantic Vietnamese flag fluttering in the wind. Looked nice. Took a shot 🙂

The Vietnamese Flag, Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

In my opinion, the best view of the Truong Tien bridge will be from the parallel, Phu Xuan bridge with a wide angle lens, 18mm-ish. Since the parallel bridge was under renovation, we chose a park kind of place, between the bridges on the citadel side bank and set up our cameras.

The Truon Tien bridge, Hue, Vietnam

The Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam

I found the results quite satisfying. To watch the water of the river turn into a mirror and to get the glittery lights with starbursts, I was happy.

We had our daily dose of Banh Mi for dinner, and rode our bikes back to the hotel. Be aware, in the evening, you will find men on bikes, come at you with offers of girls, marijuana and cocaine. Tread carefully. The Phú Hội district of Huế is a hotspot for tourists, with numerous bars and backpackers hostels all around.

Next day, we would be off to the citadel. But for now, a couple of beers and a good night’s sleep was on the charts!

Cheers!!