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Sunday, March 8, 2015

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

Kashmir is the fourth group tour I am doing in 2015, and it comes quickly on the heels of an Agra-Rajasthan trip I am doing for a group of Europeans in the first week of April.

By the time we leave on April 11 for Srinagar, I'd have already taken 125 people on 10 trips across Bhutan, Ladakh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Bali, Vietnam and Cambodia.

What haven't we done in the last ten months! In Bali, we climbed an active volcano. In Vietnam, one of the days we stayed on a luxury cruise in Halong Bay. In Sikkim, we sat in front of India's second highest lake, the Tibet border just a stone throw away. In Ladakh, we played and pelted each other with snow. And in Rajasthan, we saw culture and a thousand colours - in houses, in clothes and in food.

I guess what will still remain most strongly imprinted in my mind are the people who came along, their laughter and chatter, the conversations around the bonfires, the sitting together in one room every night, everyone running and huddling when a picture was being taken, everyone going silent when they were overwhelmed by nature. The hills, the mountains and the rivers have so many stories of our trips. 

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

And now, we are going to Kashmir, which along with the Andamans is my favourite place in India. But how does one even start describing Kashmir! It is but one of those few, rare places that can inspire a poet as much an adventurer,

But still, let me try give you five reasons why you should come on this sojourn with This Guy's On His Own Trip.


1) We are going to ride the world's highest cable car




Gulmarg, literally meaning 'the meadow of flowers', is spectacularly scenic. But that is not enough. We are going to take the world's highest gondola all the way up Apharwat Peak. The 4000 metre high mountain is very close to the India Pakistan Line of Control. At the top, the snow is fresh, soft and spotlessly white and lets see who makes the best snowman, eh!

More than 700 out of 925 reviews on Tripadvisor rate this as "excellent" or "very good". Read about it here.



2) The scenery enroute to the various towns will make your heart sing


But you will want to always have the window seat. And as our mini bus moves along merrily from Srinagar to Sonamarg to Pahalgam to Gulmarg, every day we shall pass by green meadows and tall mountains, lazy horses grazing in the pastures, apple orchards, Chinar trees with massive trunks, flowers growing wildly, and icy streams. Often we shall stop, wherever we feel like, to run to the streams, to stop by a dhaba and have hot chai and pakoras, to steal a few apples. But what is a man who never knew how to love nature.



3) We are going to the stunningly pretty Betaab Valley





Named such after some scenes from the movie 'Betaab' were shot there, this valley (about 15 kms from Pahalgam) is gorgeous with its manicured lawns, a crystal clear stream and the towering mountains in the background. It is easy to mistake this place for a Swiss alpine village. Besides Betaab Valley, during our time at Pahalgam, we shall also be visiting Chandanwadi - a beautiful mountain which has come into prominence for being the last motorable point for trekkers going to Amarnath,



4) Living in a Houseboat on the Dal Lake

One night in Srinagar, we will stay in a pretty houseboat on the famous Dal Lake. We shall also ride a shikara around this huge lake and do feel free to do a Shammi Kapoor if you spot your Kashmir Ki Kali. If that reference is too ancient for you, go ahead and be an Anushka Sharma of the Dal. I for one shall not complain.



Just don't fall into the water. 



5) The USP of the trip lies in the way we go about it and the people that come for it

A number of people who haven't been on one of these trips before feel that maybe group trips aren't their cup of tea. That they aren't sure about what kind of people come for the trips. And that is where communication plays such an important role. Earlier I used to think I was extremely lucky that I was always getting people who were enthusiastic, who were non fussy, who were not looking to just do point to point sightseeing, but were looking for a lot more and who could hold their own end in a conversation. Most of them aren't hardcore adventurers but people who are ready to be enchanted by nature, by new cultures and by the thought of chasing butterflies.

But over time I realized that it is not just luck, I think it is the kind of communication about the trip event on Facebook and the blog that attracts people with a certain bent of mind. And I am glad to have that set travelling with me. 

What we don't know is that people often find it easier to open up with strangers than with close ones back home. A number of people who came as strangers to each other end up becoming good friends and it makes me grin to see them planning their own trips together.



Unlike other travel agencies, these trips don't have people from a lot of different age groups. Though there is no fixed rule, almost eighty to ninety percent of the people coming have been between 26-35.

I am a solo traveller myself, so rigid plans and itineraries don't do much for me. We stop where we want, we spend more time in the places that we like, and the idea is to absorb moments in these places instead of trying to cover every single point.

Heh, ten trips, 125 people later, I am yet to meet someone who did not feel sad the day they were leaving back. 

Want to Join Us?

Trip details link: Here

Trip Dates: April 11-17
Fly in and out of: Srinagar
Trip cost: Rs 23,000 for 7 nights per person (not counting flight tickets)
Group Size: 10-14 people
Seats booked already: 6

If you want to join us or receive the trip itinerary, please contact me: narayanan,neeraj@gmail.com


Now Read:

1) Nero's 2014 group trip to Bali
2) Nero goes to Spain
3) Nero Backpacks through South East Asia

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wonders of the World: Christmas Island!

Photo posts have never really been my thing,but then we must always try and remain flexible.

The story is from the fascinating Christmas Islands - a tropical island lying about 36 kms south of Indonesia (Java). Two thirds of this Island is national park, and the majestic rainforests, the bountiful marine life, the stunning seascapes, and the presence of  large number of endangered species of animals on this island makes this Australian territory a haven for nature lovers.

Again, birdwatchers would love this island as this is one of the world's most magnificent sea bird breeding sites. Around 80,000 birds nest on this 135 square kilometre area island every year, and you see and hear birds just about any time of the day. The evergreen forests here are the world's last nesting habit for the endangered seabird Abbot's Booby, besides also being home to the Emerald Dove, Imperial Pigeon and Glossy Swiftlet all of which are endemic to the island.

But Christmas Island is most famous for something else - the unique red crabs and their spectacular annual migration from rainforest to the sea. And it is that picture story, moi shall be sharing with you.

Tens of millions of red crabs live on Christmas Island and are the region's keystone species. Every year when the wet season starts (between October and November) the adult crabs embark on a remarkable migration from forest to the sea, to breed.























This natural 'travel' attracts both national and international visitors. During the peak season, it is possible to walk among thousands and thousands of crabs as they journey to the coast.



Every year, many crabs also get killed (mostly accidentally) while crossing over roads, human habitats etc. As a result, the island has come up with a series of plans that would help the crabs cross safely, and constant efforts are being made to improve the same.

















The picture (above) is of an underground crossing built for the red crabs to pass through.

The picture (below) is a "pavement" built only for the red crabs' migration.


There are signboards placed all over the island, to ward off, warn, inform and sensitize people about this species.

























It is wonderful to see, how the people care about other species on their land, and are willing and enthusiastic about going to difficult lengths to protect the species.

This is a wonderful picture of two girls on their bicycles, stopping, pedalling, stopping again, because they want to make sure they don't hurt the crabs.






















Once the crabs have reached the coast, they start breeding. If you are lucky enough, you might even see some of the female crabs releasing the eggs.

Some of the best spots to see the breeding is near the blowholes, along the southern coast of the island. The Blowholes are holes in the ground where air and seawater are blown out due to waves crashing into caves in the the bottom of the cliffs. Depending on wave conditions, the water and trapped air in the caves are forced out from the holes formed at the top of the cliff caves, leading to spectacular plumes of water thrown up into the air. It is another attraction that Christmas Island is quite popular for.

So that's it for today. If you can, do visit Christmas Island some day for its magnificent migration, the teeming wildlife, the beautiful sea and marine life. If you do go there, make sure that you do not hurt the crabs at all.

Getting here: You can fly into Christmas Island via Perth, Australia. There are 4 flights every week from Perth to this Island (Virgin Airlines).

Leaving you with one of my favourite pictures of the island.


























You can also read:

1) The Day I Ran With The Bulls
2) How I Met A Bear And Got Chased By It In Croatia
3) Nero goes deep sea soloing: Scariest Adventure Of My Life

Monday, February 2, 2015

Vitaliy Raskalov: World's Most Adventurous Photographer: (This Guy's On His Own Trip Series)

Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers


It’s a blisteringly cold day in Moscow. The five men have been standing behind the building for two hours now. From time to time, one man steps up to click a picture. Decembers are cold in Russia and not many people are on the streets. Nobody notices this group. The building, Mercury City, is an imposing structure. It must be, for once its construction is complete, it shall be known as the tallest building in Europe.

Later, they are deep in discussion. It will be tough to enter the building. It has a multi-level security system. There are cameras and motion detectors on every floor and security guards man the building twenty four hours.

The biggest hurdle is to avoid being seen by the construction workers.”

The workers here are as good as any security team. If they catch anyone entering the premises illegally, they will beat them to pulp.

The group has been watching the building for weeks, mapping the cameras’ blind spots, working out the guards’ walking paths.

The still unfinished Mercury City office is about 1100 feet high but that’s not all that Vitaliy Raskalov and his group are aiming to ascend. What they want to scale is the wobbling apex of the building’s spire - the top of a construction crane rising high from the roof, 1214 feet from the earth. It is called Skywalking – the pursuit of scaling high structures without any proper safety equipment.

So far does the crane jut into the atmosphere, that halfway up, it’s shrouded in the clouds and covered with ice. At this height, the winds are powerful enough to blow a man away.

The next day, the group is ready to conquer Europe’s tallest building. They will enter at 1130 am, during the guards’ switch over. They have exactly five minutes to steal themselves in, before a new set of workers come in.

They enter as construction workers, hide and steal their way up. By the time they reach the base of the crane, two men decide to pull out of the last climb and instead base jump off the building. Vitaliy, Alexander and a third accomplice keep climbing. The ice on the crane stings their hands, the wind bites into their faces and tries its hardest to dislodge them and throw them to certain death.
These adventurers’ objective is not just to scale the building without using safety equipment. They are also to click photographs from such terrifying angles that would send shivers down the spines of anyone looking at these snaps. Or make us marvel.

They reach the summit. From the top, all that Vitaliy can see below are clouds and the ice caked crane. The wind is whistling in his ear, and he can’t make sense of his friends screaming. He grips on to the crane tightly with one hand and pumps the other fist.

This isn’t the first or the last building that Vitaliy Raskalov and Alexander Remnev will scale in this outrageous manner. These two fellows have already clicked photographs standing on a precarious plank on the top of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and scaled a turret on top of the Kiev railway station, again to capture mind-blowing panoramic shots. The police caught them earlier for climbing the 1,000-foot-high Russky Island Bridge.

Skywalking has become a fad, a rage in Russia and more and more young men and women are trying this extremely dangerous sport, pushing themselves to scale terrifyingly high and steep buildings, without much advance thought to the possible consequences.

The question is, should such a sport exist? Should we celebrate the achievements of a Vitaliy and an Alexander, men who take fantastic photographs from unbelievable angles but put their lives in danger to do so. Should we celebrate these brave men knowing that doing so might make them mini celebrities and an example for others to follow. To risk their lives. Even if only one person dies trying to do what Vitaliy has done, could his or her family ever recover from such a loss.

Alternatively, should we condemn Vitaliy for breaking the law and rules, for being a misfit, for putting others’ life at stake besides his own.

It is difficult to take a side. Hard to criticize him when what he does is so aesthetically pleasing. Make no mistake, the world will always love a misfit, love the reckless, love one who will not care for his life to pursue something that is beautiful. So what should we do?

The point is, that the world needs a Vitaliy Raskalov, and an Alexander Remenov. The world needs mavericks as much as it needs sensible and practical men. It needs an adventurer as much as it needs a engineer. It needs a Michael Angelo as much as it needs an Einstein, a Sherlock as much as a Madam Curie. We do need a Don Quixote in pursuit of his ladylove Dulcinea. The world needs its Robin Hood.


With his photographs, Vitaliy brings sport and art together. He might be breaking laws, but he is also a genius. He might be causing a lot of people unrest, but he is doing what very few men or women have the courage to attempt. This man has the power to make us gasp, overwhelmingly so, and that quality is rare.

We live in a relatively boring age. The age of discovery and exploration have long left us. Scott, Shackleton, Hillary, those courageous men who stepped into the unknown, travelled over sea for months at a stretch, trudged on ice through storms, risked their lives, and helped mankind chart new borders in science and geography have now become chapters of history.

We live in a century where we spend more time on a computer than being out there.  Vitaliy goes beyond all that and more.

This Guy's Definitely On His Own Trip.

A few months back, Vitaliy Raskalov and Alexander Remenov waited for visiting hours to be over before climbing the Great Pyramids of Giza and after a short spell of taking in the magnificent surroundings, they took some spectacular photographs. Of course we should be furious, for it is a world heritage monument, possibly the most famous in the world, and it deserves a little more respect.



Tutankhamen might not mind it too much though.  Enjoy the images.














Tuesday, December 2, 2014

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



Come Christmas and we shall set forth on the last “This Guy’s On His Own Trip” for 2014. And what could be better than that haven for backpacking, that circuit which has enamoured so many westerners, travellers and backpackers. It is a place where many begin their solo backpacking journey, it is also a place where so many hearts have changed. There is so much to see, so much to do, so much to fall in love with.

Ladies and gentlemen, this Christmas ‘This Guy’s On His Trip’ is heading to South East Asia’s finest – Vietnam and Cambodia.

Cap’n Nero and twelve boys and girls (nine bookings done already) will travel across the length of Vietnam and Cambodia. We shall venture into the ocean, and climb mountains. One day we shall sit on the decks of a luxury cruise and another day we shall pedal our bicycle past green fields. We shall do it all.

And here are five reasons why you should join us on this trip.


1. We are going on a cruise in Halong Bay






















Quite simply put, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. In seventeen months of travelling, some of the places that have most stunned me most are the Pltivice lakes (in Croatia), the Kuang Se Falls (in Laos), Gurudongmar (in North Sikkim) and Halong Bay.

A beautiful bay in the South China Sea, on most days it is of a heavenly turquoise green colour. As the boat goes deep into the sea, limestone cliffs appear magically, mysteriously out of the sea, and as the boat passes between two such cliffs, it is but difficult to not get overwhelmed.

The tour starts from Hanoi and as we drive to the port, we pass by lush rich farmlands of the Red River Delta, rice fields, bemused looking water buffalos and pretty villages.
 























Once aboard the cruise, it takes us into the bay and we pass by several islands. At Titop beach, we hike up to the top. There are splendid views from this point (it is here I took this picture). 























At night, after a dinner of delicious sea food and fruit, one could retire to their cabins. Or we could all go lie on the deck and talk and look and eventually sleep off under the stars. Want to join us?



2. We are going to kayak in the sea

The water in Halong Bay is crystal clear. And I can’t think of a better way to enjoy ourselves than to swim, or to kayak in the placid waters. 

For those who haven’t tried kayaking or don’t know how to swim, there is nothing to worry. The first time I kayaked in Halong Bay, I could neither swim nor was I an expert at kayaking.

All I did was strap a life jacket onto myself and set forth. One can’t be a captain (at sea) if one does not lead from the front, eh!

























We shall be kayaking in the smaller inlets and lagoons that are naturally formed by the cliffs. We shall also take our kayaks and go into some caves, the best of which is named ‘Surprise Cave’. Some of the cave roofs are really low and inside is quite dark, and you get a tremendous rush having to really lower your heads and yet balance and row your kayaks in the sinister surroundings.



3. Cycling to Angkor
So, there are a lot of ways to see Angkor- one of the most famous temple complexes in the world – by tuktuk, by moto, by air conditioned transport, with a guide or without.

We are going to cycle to it. 




 
 
Situated about 8 kms out of Siem Reap, we shall set out early in the morning. Once the town is left behind, the route becomes prettier and towards the end of the 8 km stretch, as you turn left, you ride along the moat that surrounds the most famous of Angkor Temples – Angkor Wat. Usually there are kids playing in the moat, and don’t forget to wave back at them.


After a few hours of lazily wandering around the grounds of Angkor Wat, we head North towards Angkor Thom - the great walled city that is home to Bayon, the other jewel in the Angkor temples crown. The road is flat and wide and flanked by enormous trees that provide some well-deserved shade from the sun.


4. It is New Years’ time & we know the best streets to party at

The South East Asian travel circuit is designed in a manner that one can have fun all the time. Just like Thailand, both Vietnam and Cambodia have an extremely vibrant street party atmosphere.  On New Year’s Eve, we shall be in Ho Chi Minh City, and in the evening shall head for the very popular Backpacker Street – where every day hundreds of backpackers and locals converge, sit on the pavement and roadsides, drink beer, eat food and have a gala time with their friends. It is loud, it is exciting, it is very different from what we see in India, and it will leave an impression on you.





5. There is a great set of people
signing up for the trips


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

People often ask me what type of people come on the trips. And I think, the communication (whether on Facebook or on the blog) attracts a certain audience. The crowd I have attracted so far has been very young – the average age group would be 26 – 32 years. In all the trips I have conducted so far, I have got some really nice, likeminded people. I love adventure and try to add that in all the trips, but of course not everybody has to be athletic. No one is a professional mountaineer or 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 nine people who have already signed up for the trip and I am looking to take a maximum of 14 people on this sojourn through South East Asia’s finest.
Over the last year and a half, 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 art gallery 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 Vietnam and Cambodia with This Guy’s On His Own Trip.

Contact: narayanan.neeraj@gmail.com 
Trip Dates:  December 26 - Jan 2
Group Size: 12 -14 people
Fb Event Page:Here
Last date to Book : Dec 10, 2014 (9 bookings done already)

Now Read