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Postcards from a village near Pushkar, Rajasthan

I've always wanted to go to an actual village, and on a recent trip to India - I got to experience one of the best 24 hours of my life. When you live in a big city like Dubai, the idea of silence, barren land and 'no wifi signal' fade to make sense. We live immersed in so much convenience and technology even without actually understanding it, that to see how lives are lived in small villages in the middle of the desert in India can be a heart wrenching experience. (I am not exaggerating)


Why did I choose Pushkar - and where is it? 
Pushkar is a small town a couple of hours from the capital city of Rajasthan. It is very famous for its annual camel fair - when thousands of camels from all over India are brought to this town to trade, showcase, breed etc. That's how I know about this place. I have a fascination for small towns, the community - what makes the people stay in these towns, how they earn a living, how the children think, where do they buy their every day groceries from and what kind of functions/ festivals do the people go to. The fact that there was easy access from Jaipur via the railways and that I found this amazing farmer who had a small boutique hotel (like really a tiny hut) that seemed like an experience worth having combined with the fact that I did not have a reason to travel to Pushkar; made me go to Pushkar.

How did I get there?
I bought a ticket 15 minutes before the train left the platform. I'd searched before hand on xx which the fastest train would be and went to the ticket office and bought a one way ticket - a tiny paper slip that in all probably nobody was going to check. The ticket for the ride cost less than a dollar. I could'v'e gotten the reserved + air conditioned cabin had I booked my ticket before hand which I didn't. 
It was a real hustle just getting into the train - lots of families rushing in to get a seat - it was first come first serve. I was no competition to the ladies around me, all pushing each other ensuring their own kids safely get in. I still managed to get a window seat. I can't describe how beautiful the journey was - dotted villages, women in colorful long skirts working their way around large farms, tiny huts, children who would try and wave at all passing trains and sudden occurrences of large trees that seemed to be hundreds of years old.
The train would stop in Ajmer. I was accompanied by a few acquaintances - we took a shared tuk tuk to the main bus stop from the Ajmer train station. I was very tempted to visit the famous Ajmer Sharif Dargah - one of the most famous shrines in India.
The bus ticket to Pushkar was less than half a dollar. A tiny discount for women (small win).
We got off at the Pushkar stop. It was literally in the middle of now where. Our host - the farmer and hotel owner came to pick us up in a rented car (I was surprised it wasn't a camel).

The farm.
My friend and I, a female backpacker from Canada, were both quiet. This was too much to take in. A small town getting smaller every minute. We traveled for around 15 minutes until taking a turn onto a side dirt road to the farmers home.
The house was a tiny concrete box type structure in the center of a large barren area. We could see lots of family members - all excitedly, though terribly shyly, slowly coming to greet us. There was genuine warmth - the kind you don't get to see or feel in a Dubai or a Delhi.
Water is a serious concern in these areas - so even though this family's main income used to be farming - it's now renting out the two horses and two camels for weddings or a desert safari. A family of around 12 members supported by a couple of farm animals - I found that weirdly powerful.
It was beautiful - there was a hardly a friendly wind - but it being end of February - the sun wasn't so harsh.
I was a few kilometers away from the nearest town; Pushkar. For miles and miles, I could see plains - an earthen colour. I could see a couple of camels grazing so lazily in the neighbors compound. It was like another parallel universe.

A few photos :


When was the last time you had a meal that was cooked using charcoal in the open in the middle of nowhere. This small farm looked even more stunning at sunset. I stood on the farm land, doing nothing for a few minutes. There was pin drop silence. Just a few goats and cows doing their thing.



There was a dog as well - Max, he was the protector of the farm animals - chasing away stray animals. The dog was a sweetheart. The few trees that dotted the farm seemed like they'd been there since eternity.




Milking a goat was a first for me. Very weird experience. I would've been scared to milk a cow - thankfully this goat was calmer and well, smaller.





Village children, chasing our camel, saying a hello - truly a heart  warming scene.




The farmer's sons took us on a camel safari towards the mountains - an amazing experience I shall never forget.




I lay there, looking at the foliage, the sky, the old tree, hearing nothing but the chirping of a few birds, a few sentences exchanged with Melissa and nothing else. While this was a popular camping site for backpackers, we were lucky not to see too many people.


Hippies who have been staying here for years.


Hello.


The youngest girl was obsessed with my phone - she was amused rather. Her brothers were shy.



Max liked me. He'd come and quietly sit beside me and loved it when I petted him.

Okay, so was this a safe experience? The concept of being safe never leaves my head the moment I step out of my comfort zone. I did some research, had company - I may not have done this alone, and was at peace only after I saw the big family. Spending a few hours here was an ethereal experience. I had taken the necessary precautions. However, I did get an upset stomach after my trip to India. I was really careful but probably got carried away seeing so much of desi food. Or it was the buffalo milk - it's quite heavy and maybe my body did not take it well.

How can you book  this experience? Honestly, I doubt the farmer's family has any presence online - so the only way to book is to go to the main street in Pushkar - the one beside the lake. He owns a small kiosk that offers camel desert safaris inside a travel agency store. His name is Kalu and he's a quite famous. Ask around.

You can decide to visit the farm and his family for a few hours and he'll include a home cooked meal and a desert safari for merely 1000 INR (15 USD).
This experience was definitely outside of my comfort zone - but I'm so glad I made it. I hope you will too if you do get a chance. It'll be an experience to remember.

It's been a while in Dubai

It’s just any other Friday evening. As the colours of the sky change from a dull indigo to a pale crimson to a beautiful midnight blue, I can see the lights come on. From where I sit, I can see the skyline of the famous Dubai Marina. The shadowy silhouette is slowly changing to a beautifully lit silhouette. I am tempted to take a bus, the F29, my lifeline, to Dubai Marina; just to walk by the water – with the many yachts parked, swaying almost negligibly, on one side and the tall rise buildings on the other side. There are residential buildings, hotels and office buildings, all shining glamorously as the designers have ensured that the steel and glass live up to their reputation of being popular modern architecture elements.


I don’t know if Dubai has ever been called the land of dreams, but for more than a million Asian and Western expats, this city has become synonymous to being called a second home. From the outside, Dubai is a perfect city – I say perfect thinking of Nadia Comaneci and her famous 10 score at the Olympics. But Dubai allows, or rather unceremoniously ignores the chaos, the tiny streets where hustlers sell their artefacts, where taxis park erroneously; surely making the visionaries of this futuristic city scratch their heads in their sleep, where an older generation – the one that came to Dubai in the 90’s – lives in buildings so old, it could remind you of a section of Mumbai’s Dadar.

Art inspiration in Dubai

Last weekend, I visited Alserkal Avenue, which is alternatively called a hub of creativity and art. I wanted to check it out for myself, see what exactly the place was all about. Even though it's October it is still hot and humid here in Dubai (I would have loved to declare that Autumn is here, but alas, not yet).

There's a lot of walking around to be done, the Avenue is a maze of warehouses, dotted neatly alongside a criss-cross of tiny lanes. Unsure of where to begin, I walked over to the A4 Space, it seemed like a popular meeting spot. The day I went, there were dozens of NYU students who had come to check out the place, like I had.


The A4 Space is a minimally designed, artsy warehouse space, with benches and chairs, plants and eclectic lighting fixtures all over. A small stairway led me to the top - where there were more couches and hundreds of books to browse through. This was only my first stop at the Avenue, and I couldn't wait to walk around (in spite of the heat).

Some photos from my visit.

Swimming with dolphins in Dubai

At around 7 am on a lazy Friday summer morning, I look out of the window - hoping for a slightly less sunny day than usual. I was nervous, I hoped that day would go as expected. We took a cab by around 9 am after a quick breakfast - we'd rather be early than be late. Atlantis is a luxury resort located at the northern tip of the Palm Jumeirah (I always wondered how these artificial islands look like - would there be a lot of swaying palms ? Apparently not.).

We drove past the Atlantis hotel, and it was definitely majestic. On one side was the hotel on a sprawling piece of land, on the other side was the Arabian Gulf - the water looked a beautiful blue. As we walked into the Atlantis, along with 100s of other tourists, I was surprised. I did expect company, not throngs of people - the activity we had chosen was quite expensive (or so I thought). However, eventually I realized that most of the crowd would take a small turn towards the aqua park and the aquarium called 'Lost Chambers'. I was restored to my original state of mind. I really wanted to enjoy the morning.

We were given a map of the property, and I remember rolling my eyes (unconsciously of course) when I realized the Dolphin Bay was at another end of the property. 'Don't worry ma'am, there's a buggy that'll take you around' a nice lady quickly told me.


As we walked towards the buggy, we were instantly transported to a tropical island kind-of place - there was lush greenery wherever our eyes could see. After the buggy dropped us at the entrance to the Dolphin Bay, we were greeted by the staff. But hey, I wasn't listening. I had spotted the shiny dark grey figures swimming around casually in the bay. I stood fixed to the ground, seeing them swim around in one of the large pools was so beautiful. For someone who has never seen dolphins, this is a beautiful spectacle - for kids and adults alike.

Traveling solo, tips and some safe destinations : Aswathy Honeylal

I am always in awe and inspired by a few friends of mine, who are bitten by the wanderlust bug, those who have full time jobs and yet, manage to travel, quite a bit. We got talking to Aswathy, an ex-colleague and a friend, who, yes very much, hopes to see as many countries and experience as many moments all over the globe as she can. She has been traveling solo for a couple of years now, and has traveled to 24 countries, and while I write this, I am sure she's planning her next trip.


1. Why did you first decide to travel solo?
I first decided to travel solo mainly because it was difficult for my friends and I to manage our leaves at the same time. At one point the desire to take a break and travel was so overwhelming, that it made me take the leap of faith, and do a solo trip (the best decision of my life :)). The mantra running in my head was, if not now, then when?

#Stylefile Styling the Kalamkari skirt

I love Indian prints. Period. Whether it is Ikat or Kalamkari, these prints, if worn well, are statement pieces. Last time I went home, my mum gifted me this Kalamkari skirt. It was a full length one, which she'd got from Gujarat (she got it directly from the artisan). I loved the skirt, but was unsure how to style it. One immediate option was to pair it with a silk camisole, tucked in of course. I would have picked maroon or dark red - it would have been a good contrast to the earthen colours of the skirt. But I wanted to wear something, umm, more sturdy, so to speak. Also, I did not want to buy something new.

So I paired it with a cotton shirt. It was unconventional, but I think a plain cotton shirt with a full length printed skirt looks quite nice. It is not too formal but still quite sophisticated. I wanted it for an everyday wear, not a function.


While driving around Dubai, one location which I really have been meaning to check out was Al Serkal Avenue. The Avenue is filled with cafes, art exhibitions, creative spaces and it was perfect for spending time just getting things done, or reading (if it is me). Quiet dreamy spaces are so rare. We shot a few photos here and then hanged a bit (there were hammock chairs!!!!). This space is called Nadi Al Qouz, but I am pretty sure that every space inside Al Serkal is this pretty.

Would you travel solo? Some notes.

A younger version of myself would have dismissed solo travel, putting it under the 'too daring, unsafe and 'not me' bracket'.

But last year, I had traveled to Andaman Islands alone. I was quite nervous for so many reasons. I had never traveled solo before. Of course, I have taken long flights alone but traveling alone by choice, that was a first.


With every important experience comes lessons and confidence, and of course, observations aplenty. Here are some notes from my solo travel experience.

10 all time favorite feel good movies

Yesterday, I saw myself flipping through three hard dives searching for that perfect movie. This has happened to me before. All I wanted to do was watch a feel-good movie, otherwise, in my terms, defined as a chic flick. There are some movies, which even if you watch for the hundredth time, still leave you dreamy. And then there are some, which you've heard about so often, that you want to push yourself to watch them, but just can't go ahead.

We all need happily ever afters amidst our daily chores and a good laugh after long meetings. Here, I'm listing my happy movies, the ones I can rely on to cheer me up after a bad week or a blah day at work.