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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Five Reasons You Should Go To Bali With This Guy's On His Own Trip

Think of Bali and the images that pop up in one’s mind are those of beaches and of waves crashing on those sands. Of travellers making their way to the  beaches. Some of these people have come on their honeymoons. Some have come alone. Some have met an interesting person in a hostel,on a tour or on a cruise. Maybe one of these boys first saw that girl drawing outside a temple, and they started talking. Maybe they will become closer over the trip, and maybe they shall never see each other again.

Think of Bali and you imagine pubs, and loud songs and laughter and orders for drinks being placed across the busy bar. Delve deeper and let your mind take you to the countryside, to the temples, to the villages, to bicycling through those villages, to smiling kids that wave at you as you breeze past, to peace and to tranquillity.

On such a trip we now embark, to the island that became so immortalized in Julia Roberts’ ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Come December 9, and Cap’n Nero (yes I have started calling myself that, and stop rolling your eyes) will lead a group of boys and girls to a few of the world’s most beautiful tropical places – Bali and Gili Islands.

And here is why you should join us on this 6 day trip (@Rs 24,000 per person not incl. flights)

1) We are climbing a volcano.

How many of you have actually climbed an active volcano. We all have our travel bucket lists, and I always wanted to swim with dolphins, stay for a few days at an elephant camp, go to Antarctica, visit Madagascar, do the Tango in Argentina.

And climb an active volcano.

In the middle of the night, we shall set out on our adventure, my hearties, to climb Mount Batur – Indonesia’s active volcano. An approximate two hour hike from the base, we first hike through a forest,and then walk up on cliffs, and on volcanic ash that scatters under your boots. Look up to see the whole sky lit up with stars. We shall reach the summit just before dawn. And then the sky will erupt, into an orange golden pink haze. And the sun will come slowly, and what a sight it shall be, the sky a plethora of colours and foamy white clouds shrouding the mountains. We shall look down the crater, at the smoke spewing out from the depths of this extraordinary piece of formation.

The views of the mountains and the lake while going back are even more spectacular (since its daylight and arguably this trek is one of the main highlights of any trip to Bali.

2)  We are going to the Gili Islands.

Do you have a fascination for smaller islands in the middle of nowhere? For less frequented places? I read about the Gili Islands a few years back, these small three islands about two hours away from the coast of Bali and immediately fell in love with them.

For the Gili Islands have no motor transport. We shall spend our days there riding bicycles across the countryside. We shall take moonlit night walks on the beach, with the water lapping at our feet. I plan to lie on the beach for an entire night.

We shall have lazy breakfasts, and on one of the days, we shall take a glass bottom boat ride into the middle of the ocean and watch the colourful coral formations and marine life. And then we shall snorkel in the water, and watch Nemo and his friends - fishes of all shapes and sizes and colours scuttle across us.

Maybe a few hours after our boat has docked back at its resting place, somewhere in the middle of the ocean a little fish will be telling his mother, “Mom, I saw humans today. Isn’t that the coolest?

3) I always have a great set of people signing up for the trips

Because I am not just a regular travel agency, am I?

A standout (and maybe deliberate) feature of my group trips is that they attract a certain audience. People often ask me what type of people come on the trips. In all the trips I have conducted so far, I have got some really nice, likeminded people.

Not everybody is of course adventurous or athletic. Mostly no one is a mountaineer or a rock climber. But what is common in all the people who have come so far is that these are all people who are excited by the thought of travel, people who want to explore, who want to get fascinated and who love nature.

A lot of them come solo, by themselves. Some of them are nervous, before a trip, about whether they would be able to gel with the rest of the group.

But then it all changes. For everyone here is excited by good conversations. And they find these conversations, sometimes when we are travelling together in a bus, sometimes when we are sitting on the banks of a river, and sometimes when we are sitting in our own little mini pairs or groups.

Everyone fits in beautifully. At the end of it all, I am yet to meet anyone who wants to go back home.
There are already five people who have signed on for the trip. And I already like them.

Hah, so if you are interested in coming to Bali, get some pairs of shorts, get those summer cotton dresses, get a lot of tanning lotion, those beach hats and sunglasses and have the trip of your life!

4) We are going on a sunset cruise

A trip can’t be only about adventure, no? Must bring in some romance as well.

 In Bali, one evening we shall dress up and go on a cruise boat into the middle of the ocean. There is music on board and dancing, performances by Balinese dancers and fire eaters. But the best bit, according to me, is catching the sunset with nothing but the ocean all around you.

Few things have the power to silence as much as nature does.

After a magnificent dinner on the cruise, the boat will take us back to the dock.

5) Eat, Pray, Love

It has been 17 months since I quit my job and started travelling full time. And there have been several adventures that I have fallen headlong into.

But travelling is not just about that. Some of my favourite travel moments have been just walking in a new country, or striking up a conversation in a cafĂ©, drinking with strangers in bars and sometimes liking someone enough to change my own plans and join theirs’.  At the end of it all, travel will be as much about the people you meet along the journey, as much about the places you see.

And hence, I absolutely want to encourage people to not just stick to a schedule, but also do their own thing. If you want, just pick up a bicycle and go find and see that temple that you had read about. No one’s stopping you here.

Go talk to that person across the bar you find cute. And if you get rejected, don’t worry, it happens to all you mortals ;) Just come back, and we shall have a beer and make fun of you.

Don’t only try to eat Indian or Western food but try the local cuisine as well. Be sensitive to the local customs and know that a country’s rules were made to suit its own people, not you.
In our regular lives, there is so much we do not explore about ourselves. And that is the special bit about travel. It gives us the opportunity to wander and discover, to learn and unlearn, to accept and even love, and to get inspired.

These trips are about all of that.

And if all these things appeal to you, or make sense, come join us on boys and girls on this trip to Bali with This Guy’s On His Own Trip.

Trip Dates:  December 9 – 15
Group Size: 10 - 12 people

Total Cost: Rs 25,000 (not incl. flights)
Fb Event Page:Here
Last date to Book : Nov 13, 2014 (5 bookings done already)


Now Read:

1) Five Reasons Why You Should Go To Meghalaya With This Guy's On His Own Trip
2)  Nero's group trip to Bhutan

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Five Reasons Why You Should Go To Meghalaya With This Guy's On His Own Trip

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

So after four trips to Bhutan and Ladakh, the next destination that I am leading a group trip to is Meghalaya (See trip details here)

It has been an exhilarating ride so far. Four trips have seen 58 people go up and down the mountains of Bhutan and Ladakh, and I wonder if the mountains still echo with our songs and laughter.

For we have gone sliding down snowy hills, we have gone barefoot into an almost freezing river and tried to see who stays longest, we have hung out of buses, we have spent a night under the stars next to a river in Nubra Valley, we have jumped into waterfalls. I am not going to talk about the time we stole apples from an orchard, nor the time when we climbed over locked gates to enter Shanti Stupa past midnight.

After all, this is not a regular travel agency organized trip.

Bear Grylls himself would have been hugely excited with this trip to Meghalaya. The place is stunningly scenic, and for someone who loves jungles, wild waterfalls, rivers, caves, it is a treasure chest.

Still, let us give you five good reasons why you should come on this sojourn with This Guy's On His Own Trip.

1) We are hiking to the living root bridges

In Cherrapunji (once upon a time the world’s rainiest place), we are hiking to the living root bridges, found nowhere else in the world. But what are these bridges, you may ask?

Well, in the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built—they grow. On the slopes of the lush Khasi hills, a specie of the Indian rubber tree grows with an incredibly strong root structure. These gnarly, thick roots rise up the tree trunk, wind themselves around boulders and rock and crisscross over each other to form natural bridges over swift flowing streams and rivers.

And it is to one of these natural “living roots bridges” that we shall trek. In our quest, under Captain Nero, the team shall pass cut past the main road off Nongriat and pass through jungles, streams and small villages with kids peering out from behind wooden doors.

The bridges, which are over 500 years old, are said to be strong enough to support the weight of about fifty people at one time.

2) We are going to the highest plunge waterfall in India.

What’s more, since we are we, we are going from its top down to the base as well.

The Nokalikai falls is possibly one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll ever see in the country. It falls almost 335 metres in  a straight sheet before hitting the surface and forming a deep blue green lagoon at the base. What makes this waterfalls even more beautiful is  that the gorge here is green and trees grow around like in a rainforest.

You can take some fantastic photographs from afar, of the entire panorama, of blue sky, a green carpet-like forest and a single sheet of white falling down the cliff.

When everyone is done with their selfies and are looking all happy, well nobody’s going back. We are then going to go down a small path down to the base of the falls. Cmon lads and lasses, you haven’t come all the way to India’s most incredible, just to stand and take pictures, have you?

Check how people who have seen these falls have raved about it?

3) We are going to the Cleanest Village in Asia – Mawlynnong.

Somewhere in the east khasi hills, lies this little village of friendly Khasi people. In 2003, Discover India Magazine declared it the cleanest in Asia, and the BBC reinforced this a couple of years later.

We are going to mingle with a few of the 95 families in the village. If your approach doesn’t work, don’t worry, we still have my dimple. As the saying goes “Khasi people like Mallu dimples”.

Obnoxiousness apart, yes, the idea is to spend time with these villagers and have lunch with them. Then if one of the boys or girls is nice enough to guide us, we shall follow them to the streams and see how the locals fish. We’ll also go to the treehouse, made completely of bamboo, and raised high on stilts on a sturdy tree with two bedrooms, a living room, a machan and a view of a waterfalls and a natural pool. And once we are on top, we shall know how the characters in Enid Blyton’s books felt. 

There is also the Sky View, an 85 feet high viewing tower that’s made of bamboo. There are stunning views from here of not just the village but Bangladesh as well. And guess what? Since Bangladesh is just a stone’s throw away from here, we might just step foot into that country and hop back. Actually, I am going to put one foot on either side and take a photograph.

4) We are going for a ‘caving’ experience.

Meghalaya has the best caving networks in India, and attract visitors from hundreds of countries. A few of the caves in the state are among the longest and deepest in the world.

And we are going to one of the finest ones – The Mawsmai caves. One of the best lit by Meghalaya tourism, it is the board’s shining beacon (pun intended) and has become quite famous due to the stunning natural limestone, stalactite and stalagmite formations inside. Now, there is a 150 metre ‘regular path’, but hey on our trips, nothing is regular is it? We shall find our own nooks and crannies, and do our own caving.  In some places, the roof is so low that one has to bend over, in some places one has to practically crawl. Narrow, wet, uneven, we shall be like Indiana Jones and his adventurers exploring caves with torches in our hands and pluck in our hearts.

5) This Trip is Going to Be one of your favourite ever

To be honest, at heart I am a solo traveller. Have never been much of a tourist, so rigid itineraries and plans don’t do much for me. In these trips, we stop where we feel like – If we are driving on the road and we spot a stream, we run down and play in it. I live by the rules  that one must play in a waterfall whenever one can, pat a dog whenever one can, befriend strangers, try local food, and sometimes just be with oneself and the universe without anyone else intruding in that space.

Some people who haven’t been part of group trips feel it is not for them. That, they don’t like itineraries and that they don’t feel comfortable in groups. I have taken 58 people on my own trips, (and maybe as many on my heritage walks in Delhi), most of who came alone, and at the end of each trip, I have never seen anyone not being upset at the thought of going back home. The hangover that people have once they are back in the cities is, heh, a story for another time.

What we don’t know is that often people find it easier to open up with strangers rather than close ones back home. And over sixth months of conducting tours, it makes me smile to see some of these people become such close friends and plan their own travel together.

The credit for all the bonding, of course goes to the travellers on these trips. The people that come for these trips are usually similar in some ways – They aren’t hardcore adventurers but people who are all ready to be enchanted by nature, by new cultures, by the thought of chasing butterflies, and an evening of great conversations.

Want to join us?

Trip Dates: Nov 22 – 27
Facebook Event Page: This
Trip Cost: Rs 17,000 per person (not including flights)
Group Size: 10-12 people
Status: 6 bookings done already

If you want to join us or receive an itinerary, please contact me:

Now Read:

1) Nero's group trip to Bhutan
2) Nero goes to South East Asia
3) Nero goes to Spain

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nero goes deep sea soloing: The scariest adventure I have ever been part of

Disclaimer: The deep sea soloing pictures aren't mine. A camera was the least of my concerns that day.

Below, the water looks black and menacing at this hour in the night. We are sitting at the edge of the pier, our legs dangling over the sea. They are playing with me, the three of them. Rob tells me that he’ll push me into the water. And that I’ll be an expert swimmer by the time the night ends.
I met these fellows in Laos, a week ago. I never thought I’d see any of them again. The life of a solo traveller is such. But here we were, the four of us, Rob, Keegan, Jason and me, in an island in the South China Sea, off the Vietnamese coast.

It is 2 am. We have a big day tomorrow. We finish our beers and walk back from the pier.

-------- Earlier in the day ----

We walked into an adventure agency offering sea kayaking, rock climbing and deep sea soloing.

I couldn’t believe it. I have been watching deep sea soloing videos for over a year now.

For those who do not know, free soloing is a sport where you climb a vertical mountain, without using any ropes, gear or any sort of protective gear. All that you use are your limbs, finding crevices for your handholds and footholds. It involves an incredible high amount of risk as one mistake and you might fall off a mountain, and lose your life. Deep sea soloing is, free soloing in an ocean.  There are regions in oceans which have mountains emerging from underwater and you climb these. If you fall, well you better know how to swim.

You must watch this video (but in a new tab)

The guy there told us that it would cost us 37$. This would include the cost of the climbing shoes. A boat would take us into the the ocean to the cliffs, and would return after two hours to fetch us.

Rob and I signed up.

                                --------- The Affairs of the next morning -------

We were in the boat by 8 am. Besides us, there was another group of people who were going kayaking. They were in high spirits and there was a lot of chatter going on in the upper deck. Feeling a bit unsettled, I took the staircase to the lower deck and sat at the edge of the boat, with my feet only a metre above the water.

I could not shake off the nervousness that came with the task in hand. The sky was overcast. It did not look like a good sign.

My head kept going to how shocked the organizer had seemed the previous day.  Alan was a really nice guy, and had smilingly explained everything. We had all but paid up the money, when I decided to tell him.

Err, I need to tell you something. I’m hoping it won’t be a problem”, I said laughingly. Alan looked at me enquiringly.

Err I am not a trained climber. I have trekked and hiked, and I love adventure sports, and am half decent at most. But yeah, I haven’t really every been trained in rock climbing”, I confessed.

But mate, that is serious. You can’t expect to be deep sea soloing if you aren’t good at this” he exclaimed.  As I looked on, he continued. “You realize that when the cliffs come of the water, they are at an obtuse angle before straightening out.  You will have to climb at a backward incline for a bit, and then climb straight up, and it will be extremely difficult if you haven’t done this before.”

I told him that he had nothing to worry. That, if I could not climb properly, I would lose grip and fall into the ocean. But from a lesser height. That, in a twisted way, was better than falling off a higher elevation. He just shook his head.

“Umm”, I continued, “there’s one other thing” I said hesitantly. My friends grinned for they knew what was coming up. “I am not a swimmer really. I mean I can float for a bit, but.. yeah not really a swimmer.” Alan stared back as if he could not really believe what he had just heard.

After a long pause, he finally said, “You can’t swim? But how in Jesus Christ’s name do you expect to survive when you fall into the ocean then?”

 Err I don’t suppose you could give me a life jacket, eh”, I said as casually as I could. From the snickering, I could make out that my friends were really enjoying this now.

You don’t realize the gravity of the situation, do you Nero?” Alan said, wincingly. “When you fall from that kind of height, the gravitational force will cause your jacket to shoot up from your body, and fly off your head and you will go right into the water, to the bottom of the ocean.”

That did not seem like a good thing to happen.

It took a lot of convincing from me and Rob to let Alan sign me up. I insisted I would tie the life jacket tightly, even through my legs so that it would not fly off when I fell.  Shaking his head he gave me a form that said that we, solely, were responsible for our lives and I quickly signed it before he could change his mind.

You know Nero,” he shot as we left his shop, “You are probably the stupidest man I have ever met.  All the best mate, and I shall see you back here tomorrow evening.”

All this was twenty four hours ago. Now, Rob and I were here, in the boat in the middle of the ocean. A South African, Rob was just twenty one, and was a stuntman by profession. He joked that he had learnt swimming even before he could walk. He joined me now at my place on the wooden floor and together we looked at the ocean.

It was an emerald green.  Even under the grey sky, it looked beautiful. They say one must visit Halong Bay before dying, and here we were in the bay that was so raved about.  I wondered how much greener the sea would look when the sun came out.

Slowly, the first of the cliffs came out of the ocean. They seemed to come out of nowhere, out of the mist, and as the boat drew nearer, they towered over us - those faces of limestone rock. It seemed like one of those shots from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. An old sailing vessel riding the sea, turquoise water all around, islands - festooned with trees – in the distance, and gigantic mysterious cliffs in between which the vessel silently passed.

Such was Halong Bay’s effect on me that for a brief period of time, I forgot my nervousness, and was seduced by all that I saw.

The nervousness returned when we neared another set of cliffs and the captain told us that this was where we would alight. There must have been a hundred knots in my stomach at that moment.

The sea was icy cold when we stepped into it. With my life jacket firmly secured, I swam with as much purpose as I could behind Rob.

Fear was not an option anymore. The only way I could do this thing was if I could enjoy it, and not be scared. I decided to take on Rob at this. I was going to beat him in the swimming race to the cliffs, and I was also going to climb higher than him.

I obviously reached the cliffs after him.

We looked for a suitable place where it was relatively easier to start climbing. As the cliff came out of the water, it almost immediately and slanted backwards. We tried hanging onto the lower reaches and pull ourselves up, but lost grip and kept falling into the water. Then, after about a dozen tries we finally managed to hold onto the rocky surface.  It was quite a sight, holding tightly to the rock, hugging the sharp surface.

Slowly, we climbed high enough to reach the bottom end of the vertical face off the cliff. The surface was jagged at most places, and already my palms were bruised and my arm had a cut. But the maximum pressure was on my shoulders, to hoist my body higher.

Rob grinned at me from his position, and asked if I was doing okay.
I’ll meet you at the top”, I answered.
We’ll see Tinkerbell”, came the reply.

The crevices weren’t very difficult to find. But once we lodged our fingers firmly in, it was trickier to pull ourselves up. I figured that the longer I stayed at a point, with my hands hanging from a crevice, the more difficult it would become.  So, I decided to do quick movements, coordinate my limbs in a manner that there was never too much stress on one sole limb at any given time. The sharp rocks kept cutting through my fingers.

I must have climbed some fifteen twenty feet when I first looked over my head. It was a terrifying sight, seeing the ocean below me, and having only a rock to hold onto. It probably would have made sense to let go off the mountain and jump into the water right then, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to jump then.

I decided not to look below anymore after that.

It is amazing how aware you can be of your surroundings in the face of fear. There was a steady wind blowing around, and as it whistled around me, fear made it almost sound like a din. The ocean below seemed to be inviting me to its depths.  The one time I had looked down, it did not seem to be the nice pretty green that it was when I was in the boat. Trembling, I put out my right arm and tried to find a crack in the surface.  When I had found one, and locked my fingers firmly in, I did the same with my left, all the time bending my right knee as if to shoot up the surface the moment both my arms were firmly locked in their spots.

I could feel the force flow through my shoulders as I went up another foot.  I could feel the pain in my fingers and the bump in my knee where I hurt it. But most of all, I could feel my blood surge in my head. It was a familiar feeling. A feeling of sporting pride.  Of resolve. To not quit. To keep going, till you bloody well couldn’t move an inch. To never give up.  Maybe I wasn’t skilled enough to climb this cliff. But adrenaline and stubborness, I don’t lack in. This cliff I was going to beat. A grunt erupted from somewhere in my throat as I moved up by another foot. 

And then there was a loud splash. Rob had fallen. I turned my head, just for a micro second, and it was enough. My left hand slipped and then my feet did. My right wrist was still firmly in a crack, but realizing that I would not be able to pull myself  back on to the cliff’s face, I let go.

I was going down.

I am not sure if I screamed, but my hands instinctively went around my life jacket in order to hold it where it was.  I must have gone down at an incredibly high speed but to be honest, those three four seconds seemed long stretched out. Here I was falling down, and there was a cliff in front of me, but oddly it would just not end. After what seemed like a long time, my feet touched and then cut through the water, and there was a resounding sound. 

It is but sweet irony that in the moments that I felt I was closest to death, I found myself living the most in them.

Once up, it took but a few moments for it to sink in that we had done it. That we had climbed maybe twenty fivefeet and fallen and were quite alright at the end of it all. And that’s when all the pent up energy came out flooding, erupting from every pore of my body. Like a man enraged, I pumped my fist and roared looking at the sky, and then thrashed my hands in the water as if to punch it. When Rob came up from behind, and hugged me laughingly, I was still punching, but then immediately subsided.

We floated around for about ten minutes before Rob told me that he was going to climb again, and if I would too.

“I’ll meet you at the top”, I told him and we set off.

Heh, we never really reached the top that day. But it felt amazing, that feeling of almost flying. We climbed a few more times, and fell too.  For anyone who is reading, there are few feelings as overwhelming as jumping off a cliff into an ocean.

But yes, please do it only if you are a good swimmer. You don’t want Alan to call you the stupidest person in the world.