The ultimate guide to plan your travel – Part 1

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As a Tax Analyst, planning is of the utmost importance in the tax profession as deadlines are tight and requesting extensions with tax authorities might cost the company thousands in interest payments and penalties. My skill in planning ahead has helped me a great deal in my travels.

At the start of the year when people are making resolutions to lose weight, quit coffee or go on a diet I make a resolution to visit one country where I have never been before. I don’t decide on the destination straight away but spend the first few weeks of the year researching and planning. Once I decide on the destination, I follow a particular pattern which has helped me immensely in my travels. Here are a few key indicators I check before I make my final plans.

  • Does my travel plans coincide with any school holidays (both home and my travel  destination) or any special festivals or occasions, Christmas holidays or any sport events? If you don’t check you might end up paying more for your accommodation and other incidentals. The best place to research is the tourism board of that country to get first hand information or refer to travel books but be aware that the travel books might have been written 3-4 years ago and some of the information could already be out of date.

 

  • When is the best time to visit? The next important thing is to check the tourist season. During this time the prices are 2-3 times higher than off-peak rates and you may spend a lot more time waiting in queues, especially at a museum or popular  attractions. I always check the dates of  the shoulder season, they usually fall at the beginning or end of the tourist season. A shoulder season doesn’t mean that the weather will be awful or the doors to the attractions might be closed (except for a few cases if you want to take a boat ride at Niagara Falls then you are out of luck). It is usually just before the busy tourist season starts and after the tourist season ends. Recently I travelled to Scotland with my travel companion J and the shoulder season was May so we were  able to plan the trip on a minimal budget. The weather is much better in May in Scotland and there are more sunny days in May than any other month of the year and no midges… (small insects found in the Scottish Highlands and the female midges love to suck blood as they need the blood to develop yolk in her eggs. Don’t worry no one has ever died being bitten by midges but they are nuisance).

 

  • The next  important element to check is the weather as we would all love blue skies when we venture out to travel. Weather is an important element to consider,  especially when you start a conversation in the United Kingdom or in Australia. We in Australia love to talk about the weather. I always check what time of year has the lowest precipitation or rainfall and also the day time temperatures. It’s individual preferences as I prefer to travel to Europe in Winter or Spring as it is  much more spectacular when it’s covered by snow in winter or the first blossoms on the deciduous trees during spring. So it’s just individual preferences but as I always say “wherever you are, whether its raining or overcast or sunny enjoy the scenery” as weather is out of our control but sometimes pictures can turn out to be spectacular on an overcast day as too much sun can interfere with the light and you will spend hours editing your pictures to get them just right.

 

  • The next stage of planning is to select the cities and towns you would like to visit, the best way to decide where to go is to print a map of that country and get orientated with the geographical setting of that country. This helps you in creating an itinerary for your trip.

 

  • Once I have decided on the dates to travel the next thing to do is prepare an itinerary, I prefer to use Microsoft Excel as its much easier to use and is also useful to keep track of your travel costs.  Here is an example of my itinerary that I created and followed for my recent trip to the United Kingdom UK May 2017 Itinerary 1.09  The itinerary will be useful when you book accommodation, internal travel bookings and other attractions that require advance bookings, you may be surprised at the discounts you can achieve by booking in advance so planning ahead can be financially rewarding and allow you to spend your savings on other attractions or some nice souvenirs.

Before you finalise your trip always make sure to check whether you need a visa to travel to that country and the time required to get a visa. Always carry your dual passport and residency cards every time you travel as you never know one might come helpful.

In my future blogs I will write about when is the best time to book  your  accommodation, flights, car hire and internal bookings.

In Bruges

It’s 5.30am on a cold spring day and I arrive at the beautiful and elegantly designed railway station, Paris Gare du Nord. Paris Gare du Nord is one of my favourite stations in Europe. I could easily spend a day watching the high-speed trains arriving and departing the railway station. It is the busiest railway station in Europe. I developed my love for railways at  a very young age, as I grew up in the steam era. My school was located next to a railway line and frequently saw trains going past. Every passenger train in India has a name and I used to write down the name of the train whenever I would  come across a new passenger train I hadn’t spotted.

Paris Gare du Nord

My train wouldn’t leave for another 3 hours, and one needs to be at the train station 30 minutes before the train departs ,as the platform number is announced only 15 minutes before departure. I stand in place in front of a huge display board so I can  spot the trains arriving and departing Gare du Nord. The next 3 hours go pretty quickly, and soon it was my turn, and I head to the platform to board my high-speed Thalys train to Brussels in Belgium. The train departs on time, and in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes I arrive in a new country, and thanks to one Europe, I didn’t have to show my passport. I had no plans to stay in Brussels but instead headed to a beautiful fairy land town, Brugge or Bruges located less than 2 hours by train from Brussels. Bruges is a UNESCO World heritage site and the slow train from Brussels pleasantly passes through the country side of Belgium and arrives in this modern railway station.  I was bit confused when I saw the modern railway station. The Bruges I had been told about was different. The disappointment only lasted for few minutes when I realized  that I had arrived at the new part of the town, and the hotel I had booked was located inside the old town which was surrounded by an old wall.

Once I entered the old town, my heart pounded, and I felt that I had actually travelled back in time as I walked into this wonderful medieval town. Nothing much has changed in Bruges since the 14th century and it has escaped the modernisation and globalisation. I lost the interest to locate my hotel but rather wandered around like a kid in a candy store. I walked through the cobble lanes through the idyllic canals and passed on the stone bridges and had no idea where I was heading as if I had no worries in the world. I had not seen such a beautiful town and only heard in fairy tales. I spent the next two hours wandering aimlessly on the cobblestones. I had no idea where I was in town, or  where my hotel was. It had been more than 10 hours since I had checked out my hotel in Paris and since breakfast I hadn’t eaten anything. But the thought of eating didn’t even enter my mind. Instead, I enjoyed walking aimlessly around the winding streets of Bruges until the sun started to set, and the chilly wind started blowing through my jacket, reminding  me to start looking for my hotel. I had planned to stay in Bruges for 3 days, and had enough time to explore this beautiful medieval fairly land. I went and located my hotel. Finally, I settled down for the night and fell asleep listening to the horse carriages going past my room and the noise from the horse shoes trotting  on the cobblestone.

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Bruges is often called Venice of the North due to its numerous and tranquil canals.  It mentioned on the brochure of Bruges that this magical town will capture your heart, and definitely it did for me. It was indeed magical, and I had never stumbled across anything like this beautiful, peaceful, picturesque fairy land. Perhaps next you would ask me if I had spotted any fairies in this magical land, but of course not. It is the image of an ideal place, that was prefect in every way. If you are on a diet, I don’t recommend visiting Bruges as its famous for its hand-made exquisite chocolates and there was a chocolatier shop every few meters you walked. I did finish 250 grams of these exquisite chocolates in one sitting.

Bruges gets very busy during the day, with  the tourist buses arriving in the morning around 10am from Brussels bringing loads of tourists. The streets are crowded with tourists and a peaceful stroll along the canals can be challenging. The tourists start to disappear around 4pm,  and then the  town’s quietness is finally restored. Only a handful of tourists stay in Bruges to explore the quietness of Bruges. As the night falls and the wind starts to get chilly, its time to once again explore the cobblestone streets and wander through the alleyways once again enjoying the tranquillity.

The next morning I decided to wake up just before sunrise, and so headed to the historic part of the town to  explore more of Bruges before the tourists arrive. The churches were open for the morning service and was a perfect opportunity to sit in silence and gaze over the medieval building. The architecture in Bruges is beyond belief and they have a unique way of designing the buildings. You can easily spot Bruges if you happen to see a picture of the buildings in a brochure, or in a book, because of its uniqueness.  I found an old cafe , and a perfect spot next to the window and gazed at the Markt (market square) and admired the architecture. I spent few hours at the cafe,  ordering coffee, one after the other. Then the coffee order turned into glasses of wine. I had done most of the sightseeing for the day, and wanted to relax and watch the world go by.

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The best time to take a boat around the canals is during lunch time, when most of the tourists are having lunch or have  already completed the boat trips. The journey through the quiet canals, winding along the streets was very peaceful. There were only few people on the boat, and I  could enjoy the quietness after a very busy morning at the public square. The boat drifted through the quiet waters of the canal, and white swans swam in pairs made it a perfect journey. I still remember this day and takes me back to this peaceful medieval town. Bruges is a place I would go back again and again and should be on one’s itinerary if you are in Paris or Brussels. I had the perfect 3 days and it gave me the chance to unwind after a hectic few days in Paris. It felt that I had taken a break from my 7 week-long  holiday in France.

I left my heart in Bruges and as it was time to step away from this magical place. I walked past the walls of the old city and entered into a different world of chaos.  I said goodbye to this fairyland while finishing my last box of exquisite hand-made chocolates as the train zipped past through the idyllic town and in few hours I was back in the chaotic Paris Gare du Nord.

If you would like to see Bruges through my eyes, click on this link In Bruges.

Now is the time to say Au-revoir (Good-bye until we meet again), I  hope you’ve  enjoyed reading this week’s blog. Your comments and feedback are highly appreciated. Have a great week, and warm thoughts for my friends in Perth who have been experiencing the coldest and wettest winter in decades.

My childhood days

I have travelled to more than 28 countries, and the place closest to my heart and soul is my hometown, Koppal.  Koppal is  located in Karnataka State, India. Even though I was not born in Koppal, this place is  significant to me. During my childhood Koppal was a small town with a population of less than 50,000 people, you could walk from one corner of the town to the other end in less than hour. There were hardly any vehicles on the streets of Koppal everyone either walked or bicycled in the town. There were horse driven carts  called Tanga in Kannada, which took people around the town. Our only mode of transport to the school was the Tanga and 10-15 students crammed in this small Tanga. The lucky ones got to sit on the edge of the Tanga and I was one of them, the last one to be picked up.

My life was very simple growing up, we didn't have television, nor any electronic gadgets. The only entertainment was playing outdoors and running around in the streets.  We didn't have a telephone at home, and only 5 houses in the whole town had their own telephone. There were no public payphones as it was unheard during those days. It was safe to play outdoors even late in the evenings as everyone knew everyone in this small town. When my parents were looking for me and my brother, they would ask people walking past the house to inform us to return home if they happened to see us somewhere on the streets. I spent most of my spare time at my grandparents house, often with my cousins. My cousins were much older than I, but I accompanied them to the markets as my grandfather wouldn't allow my female cousins to go out on their own. My eldest uncle looked after my grandparents and had a big family and they all stayed at the ancestral home. My grandfather was well-known in the community and he had a lot of visitors everyday, and no one went home without having food. My aunt always made sure to cook extra everyday as she knew that there would be many visitors dropping in unannounced.

Our ancestral home is still in Koppal and currently no one lives there.  Its not a modern abode as we the younger generations long for modern, contemporary and sophisticated houses. The ancestral house was warm, elegant, relaxed and foremost very inviting. Our ancestral home is a traditional and beautiful hand crafted home, with wooden doors and windows. There were beautiful handcrafted teak pillars inside the home, and it had a grand entrance. Unfortunately due to town planning we lost the front part of the house and we were all devastated to see it being torn down by a bulldozer. Our once a grand ancestral house is now a vacant home haunted by old memories longing to be called a home again.

 

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Our ancestral home in Koppal

My grandfather was very protective of his grandkids and I still remember one incident that my mum reminds me of again and again. I was 9 years old,  and it was school time and as usual I was  ready to be picked by the horse cart. I hadn't done my homework  for one of the subjects. My teacher was Miss Isabella, and I was sure that I would be punished. She was the strictest teacher in the school and everyone was scared of her. I was feeling anxious about going to the school that day. We had a another floor, it was rarely used since it was infested with bats. I sneaked in there and hid under a bed so that I could feel safe from Madam Isabella.  The tanga came on time as usual, and the tangawalla (carriage driver) didn't find me standing in front of the house, and without informing my mother he drove off.

My mum always came to school with my brother's and my lunch everyday. We always sat under the tree and had lunch with other friends and their mothers. When I didn't show up for lunch, my mum was worried as my brother and friends mentioned that they haven't seen me at the school on that day. She immediately contacted the school headmistress Ms. Mary Vaz  and she checked the school attendance and the register was marked absent. The school principal re-checked year 6 and both the sections and confirmed that I was not in the school. There had been an incident few months earlier,  a small boy was kidnapped and taken to another town to be sent to a big city, but luckily he escaped and was returned back to his parents. Nobody is sure if the story was true or a made up story to get away from school. My mum panicked and  didn't know what to do. She immediately returned home and informed my dad and he searched our premises. We have a huge factory and huge warehouses located next to the house, so he sent everyone working at the factory to look for me. I could hear all the conversations from the first floor but was too nervous to go down as I was afraid it was too late  and would get into trouble. My mum sent the factory mechanic to my grandparents house to see if I was there instead of going to school. My grandfather found out that I was missing, so he immediately arrived at my parents place. He saw my mum crying and immediately summoned the Commissioner of Police and the town police superintendent. They arrived as soon as they could and a search party was sent to search for me. I could hear and see from the window, many people gathering in front of the house.  After hearing the news my relatives started pouring in and also some politicians, one of whom is my uncle, a well known politician. The news spread throughout the town and since our house was located on the main street of the town I could see people standing in groups and chatting amongst themselves. I was pretty sure that I would be in trouble once they found me. There was one way I could get out of the house, but was  risky. It was the balcony outside.   I wasn't worried that someone would see me, but outside our balcony there were lot of monkeys hanging around. They lived there most of the time, and they were a nuisance to the neighbourhood as they stole fruits and vegetables from the vendors. So there was no chance I could venture out, and I was sure the monkeys wouldn't allow me to pass to get onto my neighbours roof and then use the back alleyway to go to school. I had already made up a story to tell everyone, that I was kidnapped and ran from the clutches of the kidnapper. My plans didn't work, so I had to sit under the bed and think of something else. It was mid-afternoon and more and more relatives started arriving. There must have hundreds of people outside the house and the factory was shut down as the factory workers went looking for me.

It was almost late afternoon. One of my cousins would smoke in secret, as he would get into trouble if my grandfather ever found out. So he decided to come upstairs to smoke, as he was climbing the stairs, he spotted me hiding under the bed. He immediately called my mum and asked her to join him on the stairs. She saw me hiding under the bed, instead of feeling happy and joyful, she was feeling very embarrassed and regretful that she forgot to check the house first. The search party was called off and then everyone went back to their daily routines. I still had to go to the school that afternoon and guess what, Ms. Isabelle's class was the last class during that day and still got punished for not doing my homework. The plans of hiding didn't work and embarrassed my parents. The one things I learnt that day was how protective my environment was and the support received from my extended family. I never attempted this again as I didn't wanted to embarrass my parents.

 

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The first floor of our house where I was hiding 

 

 

Part II – Memoirs of Japan Kyoto – Japan’s Heartland (Day1)

Kyoto is one of my favourite city and the most visited city in Japan and should be included in one’s itinerary. Kyoto is located in the central part of the Island of Honshu. It’s place where you see authentic Japanese traditional culture, ancient temples, colourful shrines and sublime gardens. Kyoto’s is world’s culturally rich and diverse city. It’s one of the busiest destination for international as well as domestic tourists in Japan. Kyoto is packed during Cherry Blossom season and finding accommodation during this time is impossible. I would suggest booking as early as 3-4 months in advance to avoid disappointment. The best times to visit is during Spring to witness the beautiful Cherry Blossoms and during Fall to experience the colourful foliage. Kyoto has a lot to offer and can be done in 2 days, but four to five days  is about perfect amount of time to spend.

Kyoto is on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line and there are frequent services available on this line. There is no need to book your tickets in advance as there is a Shinkansen (Bullet Train) every 3 -4 minutes. The fastest is the Nozomi with fewer stops and can cost around 13,200 Yen in Reserved car. If you are travelling from Tokyo, try to get a seat on the right side of the train so you can see Mt Fuji from your train window.

The best way to travel around Kyoto is by Kyoto City Bus and one day pass costs 500 yen and can be  boarded or alighted as many times during the day. A single ticket costs 220 yen and is only valid for one journey.

Suggested Itinerary in Kyoto –

Day 1

Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) /  Rokuon-ji Temple 

Kinkaku is located in the Kinkakuji Area in Kyoto and is one of the most visited sites. It’s also called The Golden Pavilion as gold foil on lacquer covers the upper two levels of Kinkaku. It is a representation of Muromachi-period architecture. The temple’s main image is a stone statue of the Buddhist deity Fudo-myo-o. The statue is hidden from public view and the image has long been revered for miraculous power.

The easy access to the temple is by Kyoto Bus and can be accessed by various locations throughout central Kyoto. The buses you need to look out are – Kinkakuji-mae (Bus # 12 and 59) Kinkakuji-michi (Bus # 101, 102, 204, 205).

Try the Japanese powdered green tea at the Tea House for 500 yen which comes with a Japanese sweet. It’s worth the experience.

Ryoanji Temple

This temple is located 20-30 minutes by foot from Kinkakuji Temple or if you feel lazy then take the bus either # 12 (5 minutes walk from the bus terminal) or # 59 goes directly to the temple.

This temple was founded in 1450 and the main attraction is the garden arranged in the kare-sansui style (Japanese Rock Garden) or often called as Zen Garden. The garden is meant to be viewed from a seated position on the verandah. It gets very busy and going early in the morning before 10am is advisable. The garden represents an austere collection of 15 rocks, apparently adrift in a sea of sand, is enclosed by an earthen wall. The wall behind the garden is one of the important feature, pay close attention to the wall; it’s made of clay which has been stained by age with subtle brown and orange tones.

 

Daitokuji Temple

Daitokuji Temple is a collection of Zen temples, raked gravel gardens and wandering lanes. The entire complex contains a total of 24 temples. This temple is not usually crowded by tourists, so it’s worth visiting the temple any time during the day. The temple is of interest who have fascination for Japanese Gardens.  The Rock Garden of Daisen-In Temple is located in the temple complex and costs 400 Yen, but worth the experience to witness the peaceful Zen Gardens. The Spirit of Zen is expressed here through the media of only rocks and sand. At the end of the touring the gardens, experience Japanese style tea for 400 yen along with a Japanese sweet (Photography is not allowed inside the Daisen-In Rock Garden).

Daitokuji Temple can be accessed by Kyoto City Bus # 12, 204, 205 and 206.

Well that’s the end of day 1. I will be writing more on Kyoto and Nara in my furture blogs. Stay tuned, until then Sayōnara.

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Part 1 – Memoirs of Japan

Konnichiwa (Hello)

 

Japan is often called The Land of Rising Sun.  To me it is not just that, but a well-organised country with rich history, traditional architecture and culture and most importantly, punctuality. Time is very precious in this country and everything runs on time, to be even a second late is considered disrespectful. When we arrived into Kansai Airport from Sapporo we were a few minutes late; precisely 2 minutes, the captain apologized many times, and then a crew member apologized personally to every passenger on the way out of the plane.

Japan is a wonderful country and a place everyone should visit at least once in their  lifetime; it’s land of beautiful landscapes, old and new architecture, lush green mountains, beautiful temples and vibrant cities. Japan is a land of modern technology and one to has to be there to experience it. In this modern-day and age the Japanese people are very polite and gentle. They respect each other’s personal space, the best time to experience this is to take the subway during the peak times, you will find it quiet inside the train carriage, and you don’t hear people chatting nor speaking on their mobile phone nor watching videos on WhatsApp or You Tube without a headphones. If you watch closely you will see people reading a book but they don’t disclose what they are reading as it’s nicely wrapped in a plain brown paper cover.

During my last trip to Tokyo my travel companion Johnathon and I were trying to get to the Imperial Palace gardens and couldn’t find our way from Ginza. I politely asked a lady who was passing by but unfortunately she couldn’t speak a word of English and instead replied to us in Japanese and walked away. We were quite puzzled as what she meant, we anxiously waited at the same spot hoping that we could find someone who spoke English. We stood waiting at the same spot for more than 5 minutes and then suddenly the same lady we had spoken to appeared accompanied by another Japanese person who spoke fluent English. We learned that the lady actually tried to tell us that she was going to look around for someone who spoke English and help us with the directions to the Imperial Palace gardens. The Japanese people are not only known for their hard work but they are most courteous and extremely helpful.

The first part of the Memoirs of Japan will take you to an amazing UNESCO World Heritage site, Kamakura which is located nearby Tokyo.

Kamakura is an ancient city located 60 minutes from Tokyo Station on the JR Yokosuka line. A ticket costs 780 Yen from Tokyo Station to Kamakura Station. The main sights in Kamakura are easily accessible on foot or a short trip by local buses from Kamakura Station. I prefer walking as you can experience the hustle and bustle of the small town . Not to be missed is the shopping, the busiest is on Komach-dori street. You should avoid going there on Sundays as Kamakura gets busy. The best way to get acquainted with the sights around Kamakura is to ask a volunteer guide outside the train station located next to the clock tower, as an added bonus they speak English.

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The closest site near the train station is Tsurugaoka Hachiman gu shrine , located just 10 minutes from the train station on foot. If you ascend the steps of the shrine, you will have a full view of the beautiful city of Kamakura.

Kamakura is also renowned for the famous Daibutsu , which means Great Buddha. This site can be reached either by a bus to Daibutsu or by catching a local train to Hase Station from Kamakura Station. The Buddha Statue was made in 1252. It’s height including the plinth is 13.35m and it weighs 121 tons. It is a beautiful statue, not only for its size but also has retained its appearance since it was  originally cast. At first, it was housed inside a building, but the building was washed away by a great tsunami at the end of the 15th century, and since then it has remained outside.

Another temple not to be missed is Hase-dera Temple, located few minutes by foot from Daibutsu. The historical Hase-dera Temple was built-in 736 AD. It’s  a great spot to visit during Fall to enjoy its lovely Autumn foliage. The Temple is situated on a hill and has a lovely view of the sea. It’s garden is worth a visit in any season for its beautiful flowers, seasonal plants and beautifully raked Zen garden.

It’s almost the end of the day,  and nice way to finish the day is to relax in Kaikoan Restaurant. Don’t forget to try powdered green Japanese tea, also worth a try are delicious Rice balls dipped in sweet syrup. There are also vegetarian options available in this restaurant. It’s time to start the journey back to Tokyo. A short 15-20 minutes easy stroll through the streets of Kamakura will take you to the train station or there are buses every 5 minutes to the train station.

Sayōnara (Bye)

An old saying goes “ಕಾಲ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಹಂಪಿ ನೋಡ ಬೇಕು”; translated from Kannada, “If you have legs, visit Hampi” an UNESCO World Heritage site

When I first heard the phrase  “ಕಾಲ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಹಂಪಿ ನೋಡ ಬೇಕು”; translated from Kannada, “If you have legs, visit Hampi” (Author – Anonymous); I couldn’t understand what it really meant until I experienced it  myself  and found the real meaning of the phrase. An UNESCO world heritage site, Hampi is located in Karnataka State in India and 50 km from my hometown Koppal. This is one place I must have visited countless times during my childhood.  Whenever we had relatives and cousins visiting us at Koppal, the first place we would take them for a day trip was Hampi. My mum packed delicious home cooked food and we kids made sure to pack our cricket bat and ball so we could have a quick match after lunch.

The journey to Hampi took more than 2 hours by bus and we changed at Hospet as there were no direct connections from my town. My cousins, brother and I always sat at the back of the bus so we could have a bit of fun along the way so the 2 hour long trip passed quickly. We didn’t have an iPad, or personal audio system nor video games,  the one thing we did was to chat.

The Vijayanagara Kingdom was founded during the early 1330 AD and flourished for more than 300 years until it was destroyed by Deccan Sultanates. The beautiful city of Hampi which was once a rich and vibrant capital city of the Vijayanagara Kingdom was ruined by the Sultanates. They destroyed and defaced the statues and the temples and the damage to these beautiful monuments is still visible. The main bazaar or the market place in Hampi was a vibrant marketplace where one could buy precious gems and stones just like we buy vegetables today.  There was no gap between the rich and poor in this Kingdom and every citizen enjoyed the prosperity of the Kingdom.

After arriving in Hampi, the first place we always visited was Sri Virupaksha Temple, a Shiva temple situated on the banks of Tungabadra river. Once we had paid our respects at the temple and being attacked by monkeys after they stole coconuts and bananas from our basket it was time to head off to the local cafe. We had a nice sumptuous South Indian breakfast and my favourite dish was Idli Vada Sambhar and my brother’s was Puri Bhaji. It was time to start the sightseeing by foot as there were no buses or taxis that took us around the monuments. The only way we could cover all the places was by foot, so the term “If you have legs, visit Hampi” made a lot of sense. We started the long walk along the banks of Tungabhadra river through the rocky terrain as there were no proper paths. It was the only way to see the real Hampi as most of the monuments were not easily accessible by vehicle. The temperature during summer peaked around 40 degrees celsius.

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After walking over 10 km we took a break at Purandaradasa Mantapa which is situated near the banks of the river. It is huge open temple with no walls but beautiful carved pillars built from local stone.  While my mum and aunties were busy arranging lunch, we kids took the opportunity to swim and play in the river. After a heavy lunch it was time for a quick 2-3 overs cricket match while my mum and aunties took some rest before we started the next leg of the journey.  The cricket match always ended in a draw as somehow there was often  a complaint that one of us was cheating, or the umpire wasn’t fair etc., None of us would talk to each other and we maintained a distance between us when we walked. It only lasted for an hour, then we were back to being friends and forgot why we had the arguments in the first place.

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We covered most of the monuments during the day and also learnt about the historical significance of Hampi. I always carried a small book to note down the places we visited  so I could write to my pen friend Mikhael in Sweden about my visit to Hampi.

After a long and tiring day we stopped at a small town near Hampi, Kamlapur where we had tea and snacks at a roadside tea stall. We all sat on the bench outside the stall and watched the world go by. It was the last stop for the majority of the tourists and also the transport hub to nearby towns.  The bus trip back to Koppal felt long and exhausting but the memories of the day lasted a lifetime.

If you like to see more of Hampi photos, please click on the following link https://goo.gl/photos/61uy6JofsY4FsaGZ8 

This article was inspired by my fellow writer and childhood friend Ms. Geeta Canpadee in her article titled ” Hampi, Rome of the East”.

The first time I saw Perth

21st July 1999, a memorable day, the first time I arrived in Perth, Western Australia, it was a beautiful winter’s day with clear blue skies I had never seen such a clear sky.  I was delighted to be in Australia as it my first ever trip to an overseas destination and at the same time excited and nervous to come and study here. It was a chilly Wednesday afternoon and after clearing the immigration and customs I headed off to the city centre and checked-in at the YMCA which had been pre-organised by the University. The traffic towards the city was very light and I hardly spotted any people on the streets, it was a culture shock  especially arriving from India the second most populated country to Australia a least populated country in the word. It was an extreme experience as in my home country I was always surrounded by people. I struggled to live and adjust to a very quiet and laid back Aussie lifestyle.  Whenever I got a chance I would go and sit near Albany Highway so I could hear the traffic noise.

I settled down in my new apartment and slowly the routine took over. In the first semester all my lectures and tutorials were in the first few days of the start of the working week and my weekend began on Wednesday evening.  I used to have a quiet weekend as I didn’t know anyone and hadn’t made many friends as it was only few weeks at the University. I spent my free time on the foreshore of the Swan River and found a bench under a palm tree where I spent most of my time looking at the Perth skyline and the birds flying over the serene Swan river. The bench and the palm tree are still there and I do visit that spot sometimes and sit in contemplation.



It was a big step for me move away from my parents and brother to a new country where I didn’t know a soul. I was bought up in an emotionally supportive and secure home. I was admired by my family for the way I was and they supported in every way including to come and study in Australia.  It was a tough choice to leave my parents and brother behind but I wanted to take this journey to be independent and learning to survive on my own,  it wasn’t easy but it was achievable. I was a long way from home in a different continent and a culture that I wasn’t used to.

The first few months were exciting and I was a happy chap as it was something I hadn’t experienced before. The happiness and excitement didn’t last very long and I started feeling homesick and missed my family and regretted my decision to come to an unknown place so far from my home.  There were days and nights I cried in vain as I couldn’t find a solution to overcome my homesickness. I used to call home once a week as it was very expensive to make international calls during those days and it cost more than $1.50 per minute. I could only budget for less than 5 minutes and had my watch next to me every time I made an international call to make sure I didn’t go over 5 minutes. These 5 minutes were the only thing that gave me comfort for the next few days. I also wrote letters to my mum, they took 11 days to reach India and my mum used to reply on the same day and took 8 days for the letter to arrive in Perth. So on the 19th or 20th day I used to anxiously wait around  for 11am, the time the postman delivered letters to the apartment building. The joyous moment of my life during that time was to see a letter in the mailbox and it was from my mum; tears rolled down my face as soon I started reading the letter but also gave me comfort and strength to continue staying in Perth. I found words of courage and encouragement  in the letter which helped me until the next letter arrived. The letters back and forth were the only things that kept me going. I kept writing to my mum for the next 2 years until the time the internet arrived in my town and the excitement of checking the letters in the mail box dwindled quietly. In this modern world of technology and instant messaging I do miss writing letters and sending picture post cards.

It took me almost a year to get used to a quite lifestyle in Perth. My student visa allowed to work for no more than 20 hours during the semester and full-time during the summer and winter breaks. Since my parents helped me with the University fees so I decided to get some part-time work to support my day today living. The weekly expenses was around $60-$70 which included rent, utilities, travel and other incidental costs. It took me more than 7-8 months to get a research job at the University and I was able to cover my living expenses in Perth.

When I first arrived in 1999, Perth was a small sleepy laid back city and there were no big shopping centres nor the public transport was very efficient. The last bus on a weekday was around 8.45pm from the University so if you missed the last service you will have to  walk to Victoria Park from Curtin University and the walk felt long on a cold rainy day.  The public transport service on Sunday and public holidays was poor and the last service was at 5pm. The shops closed everyday at 5pm except for Thursday and it was the only late night shopping and the shops were open until 9pm. The shops were closed on Sunday.  It took more than 12 years to get extended trading hours and Sunday shopping in Perth.

I travelled extensively around Perth and took every opportunity to explore the South West region of Australia. I also volunteered in Laverton in the outback and went camping to South-Western Australia along with my university friends.

DSC_0251After overcoming many hurdles and battles in my personal life during the first few years in Perth I successfully graduated in 2001 from Curtin University and completed my degree in Master’s in International Finance.

I have now been living in Perth for more almost 18 years and lot has changed since I arrived in 1999. I witnessed Perth grow in to a small sleepy city into a major city during the mining boom which lasted for more than 5 years. It’s one of the top 10 most livable cities in the world and also the loneliest capital city in the world. The nearest city to Perth is Adelaide which is around 2,700 km from Perth.

…but I still call Koppal my home!

 

 

 

How travelling pushed me out of my comfort zone

Today we take most things for granted in life and along with that is the technology. The internet era has  helped us immensely with information and facts. Most of us plan and book tickets, hotels, tourist attractions, insurance etc on the internet and confirmations are instant. If we get lost in a new city, some of us turn to our smartphones  so we can access the location where we are and where we want to go rather looking at a map or asking a local for directions. In this age of globalisation, we visit the fast food chains in a foreign country such as Mc Donalds, international cafe such as Starbucks as we don’t want to take risks dining in a local restaurant or cafe or support the locals.  Today travelling has become easier and comfortable compared to the first time I travelled solo.

I have been lucky to witness both the eras before and after globalisation, internet, smartphones and the jet age. Planning was especially important before the era of internet as there were limited modes of transport especially in India. The air network in India was still in its infancy and there were only dozen domestic airports and four international airports. The rail network was well established and expanding as it was one of the cheapest modes of transport in India especially for inter-state travel.

I was 21 years old, a recent commerce graduate and running a successful cement franchise in my hometown Koppal and some hefty savings up my sleeve and started planning a solo trip. There was no access to travel books nor information was readily available. I spent few months enquiring with few family friends who had travelled to north India and getting their advice and the places I should be visiting. I meticulously  noted down all the details in my new little note pad and started planning my first solo trip. It was time to book my railway tickets and so travelled to a nearest city Hubli which was 120 km from Koppal even though there was a railway network in my town but there was no facility to book and reserve long distance trains. The computerised reservation system was still a decade away so the reservation system was manual and each station had a limited seats available. I anxiously waited in the queue for almost 5 hours and when my turn came and to my surprise the seats were all booked for the next 3 months. The only option was travelling to Madras, now Chennai, which is located south of Koppal around 600 km which took more than 2 days to travel by bus and then I started my journey by train to Delhi located in the north of India which took more than 3 days from Chennai in peak summer and with no air-conditioning. Yes, it was a long detour.

I was excited but at the same time nervous to go solo on this big adventure. I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision to travel solo but the first step was taken and there was no looking back. The journey had started and slowly the contentment overtook anxiety and satisfaction overtook my nerves. The first step was hardest but as soon I started taking more steps I felt comfortable and slowly started winning the battles to overcome shyness, anxiety and the fear of travelling alone.

After my first solo trip the exhilaration to travel kicked in and I took the opportunity to travel to other parts of India and covered most of the northern, southern and western part of India. I overcame my anxiety to travel solo and never looked back. I conquered my fear of travelling solo by taking the plunge to travel in my early 20s.

When was the last time you travelled solo or how did you conquer your fear to do anything?

 

 

 

My home-town stands still for this once a year event

As kids sleep with one eye open on Christmas Eve in the West to make sure that Santa has visited their house and brought their  presents, we kids at Koppal start getting excited in the month of January as the preparations for the once a year fair are underway. There is huge excitement in the school as we tee up with friends and plan a day so we could visit the fair. We made sure that we had enough money to go on the rides, buy snacks and toys. I remember receiving around a $1 from my parents which at the time was generous amount of money.  My grand parents also gave us money to spend at the fair, it was around $2 but the accountant in me which I must have embedded from my family genes made sure that $2 went straight into my savings bank which was a secret place under a stack of my clothes, no one ever discovered my hiding place and even I used to forget that I hid the money there.

We used to have a great fun at the fair and went there many times during the 15 day event. We went with friends one night, with our parents another night to buy us the toys we wanted and then another trip was organised by my grand parents along with cousins, aunts and uncles.

Once the school holidays were over I was very excited to be back at the school so I could tell my friends about the toys I bought from the fair and for the next few days all we talked was about the fair and the fun and excitement we all had.

This was one of the simple pleasures I still remember and how simple our lives were as kids. We didn’t have many expectations and the only thing we thought of was fun with friends and family.

The Koppal Chariot festival popularly known as Koppal Jatra or Koppal fair is one of the biggest annual events that happens in my hometown Koppal located in South west part of India. Approximately 500,000 people attend this annual event and celebrate over a period of 12-15 days. Various religious activities take place before the start of the fair.  In the modern millennium of new technology one can witness a true devotion among the devotees towards Lord Sri Gavisiddeshwar.

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The Chariot beautifully decorated for its annual Rath Yatra
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Lord Sri Gavisiddeshwar Temple

 

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The crowd waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the Chariot or Rath Yatra

The citizens of Koppal and the surrounding  villages come together to contribute towards the fair and the Sri Gavisiddeshwar Math (temple), the donations take many forms; such as money, vegetables, pure Ghee, groceries and volunteering their time. Many devotees contribute their time, working voluntarily during the 15 day fair, approximately 5,000 people contribute their time during the fair.  Many volunteers work around the clock with the intention of serving the devotees with devotion and service with a smile. An orderly chaos exists but everything gets done with few interruptions and no complaints.

The fair starts with the Chariot or Rath being drawn onto the grounds of the temple. It takes place on the evening of the third day after the full moon in the month of January. The devotees start to gather so that prime spots can be secured to witness the blessing of the Chariot or Rath Yatra  five to six hours before the Chariot or Rath is drawn.  An estimated 500,000 people assembled in January 2017 and I was fortunate to be one of them, witnessing this crowd in a photo or a video doesn’t bring justice to this event as one has to be present to see the immense wave of people gathered on the grounds of the temple. When the Chariot or Rath is drawn by a group of volunteers on the grounds of the temple, the devotees throw dried dates and tiny bananas towards the Chariot or Rath, which is a tradition dating back thousands of years. It’s been said that if the dates or the bananas reach the inside of the Chariot or Rath, your wishes will come true. So the devotees try to make sure that their offerings reach the inside of the Chariot or Rath.  If you happen to catch either the dates or bananas it’s considered as a blessing by the Lord himself.  The whole event lasts for around 30-45 minutes. After the event Prasad (food) is served to all the devotees. An estimated 200,000-300,000 people are served Prasad on the first day of the Fair. The food service on the first few days of the festival lasts until the next morning.  The volunteers make sure that everyone is served and no one goes home without taking the Prasad. The chefs in the kitchen work round the clock and women from various villages travel all the way to Koppal to help clean and chop the vegetables.

Four of my childhood friends who live in Koppal play a major role in organising this big event. They divide the responsibilities between them so that the tasks are shared. Their selfless sacrifice and commitment before and after the fair is extraordinary. I was fortunate to be at 2017 fair and lent my hand for the first few days of the event as unfortunately I had to be back in the Perth before the fair ended.

The next fair will be on January 3rd 2018 and you are welcome to join us to witness this once a year event firsthand and behind the scenes tours can be organised. You can take part in this great event by becoming a vounteer and return home with a guaranteed satisfaction as a parting gift and stories to tell.

 

 

My first post – A brief about me

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I can’t really remember when I got bitten by the travel bug, but I do remember the fascination to travel began while I was studying in year 5 when I started writing letters to my first pen-pal Michael from Sweden. We exchanged letters regularly by post as internet or email was unheard of during the 80s.  My letter took around 15 days to reach Sweden, so it took more than a month to get a reply from Michael. We started exchanging stamps, post cards and family pictures, and I wondered how different Sweden was to India as Michael mentioned how cold it gets there and rarely gets warm during summer months as I grew up Koppal in India which was very hot most of the year and temperature reached around 42 degrees centigrade during peak summer. I had never seen snow except in photos sent by Michael as television first came to my town in early 90s. The night temperature in my town rarely dipped below 12 degrees centigrade and it felt cold.

The first time I took my solo trip was after my graduation in 1994 and decided to venture on my own. I was scared to travel on my own to the capital city of India, New Delhi as I had never travelled to Northern part of India. The train journey took more than 2 days and there was no air-conditioning as I travelled in peak summer. Initially felt scared and tense but gradually started to enjoy my trip. I covered most of the tourist places in around Delhi by taking day trips or short 2-3 days trip.  This trip gave me the courage to venture out of my comfort zone and I started to enjoy travelling.

The fun part of travelling I enjoy most is the planning as I get to research, read about the country and the places I will be visiting. I plan my trips well in advance as I never done impromptu travel as I tend to save money on flights and accommodation when I plan and book in advance. In my next blog I will be writing on tips on planning a trip overseas.

I work full-time as a Tax Analyst in Perth, Western Australia. I travel for pleasure a couple of times in a year and take advantage of holidays that fall on a long weekend. I plan the trips I intend to take during the year well in advance. I try to avoid the busy tourist season as its gets very expensive and also you will be spending time in queues and paying a premium price. Once I planned my trip to Italy in December just after Christmas so I was able to book some nice hotels especially in Venice and Rome at a huge discount as most of the tourists were returning back as the holidays were almost over. There were no long queues at various attractions and it took less than 30 minutes to get to the ticket counter instead of 2-3 hours wait time during peak tourist season. I was able to attend the Sunday service at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City as there were not many tourists at Vatican City as I was there by 9am as most of the most of the coaches get their by 11am. If you plan your day’s highlights a day in advance you will beat the crowds and get to enjoy the sights at peace or you will be stuck waiting at the queues or behind tourists with their long selfie sticks trying to block your view.

My future blogs will be mostly on when to visit and where to go in a particular season to avoid tourists and save money. There are simple things to look out for when you book your trip as we all want to have a good time.

I have come up with a challenge to write one blog each week so in a year I will have written 52 blogs. Please subscribe to my blog so that you receive notification when I have a new post on my blog.

Happy reading!